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Chapter 23...... The Manor

Silas woke up on the floor feeling half-dead. The pain was gone, and in its place was an overwhelming fatigue and… not-there-ness. Like being in between consciousness and unconsciousness. The world had gone utterly quiet, like it had been muffled.

“Silas!” Faye cried, breaking that silence extraordinarily.

Silas started to get up but was promptly knocked back down again as Faye landed on top of him.

“Faye,” he choked, stifling a sob and pulling his arms around her, clenching the back of her hair so tightly that she winced.

“Oh, brother,” he heard George say.

Silas pulled her even closer and closed his eyes. “I thought…”

“We’re fine, too,” George said. “So kind of you to ask.”

Silas held Faye a long time, feeling her breath against him and listening to her heartbeat. Eventually he pushed himself up on one elbow and looked around. They were still in the library – all the bookshelves were on the floor in a catastrophic disaster, but the grey men were nowhere to be seen. And… everything looked different. All the colors were off – like old clothes washed out and greyed.

George was standing next to the wall pulling his arm in and out of it like it was made of water.

“Where are we?” Silas asked.

“Beats me,” said George. “After Skander and I touched the marble, everyone disappeared. Then there was a bunch of stuff falling around the room for no reason, then Faye appeared, and then you did.”

Silas shivered. “Are we dead?”

“Beats me,” George repeated.

Silas looked up and saw the marble above their heads, still floating in midair.

“I tried touching it again,” said George. “Seems to be a one-way road.”

“Where is Ira?”

They all looked at each other.

“She didn’t come through,” said Skander. “I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

Silas let out a sigh and fell back to the floor.

“Well, if we’re ghosts now,” said George, “for one, we’re going to have to change our name to the League of Ghostly Scholars – for accuracy’s sake. And we should probably go find someone to haunt. I want to haunt my boss. He’s evil. How about you, Faye?”

“I’d like to haunt those men,” Faye glowered.

“Good choice, good choice. You, Skander?”

“George,” Skander snapped. “If you don’t stop joking around, I swear I am going to strangle you. This is no laughing matter!”

“Ha! One day, you’ll learn, old boy, everything is a laughing matter. It’s only a matter of perspective.”

“We could be dead for all you know! And you want to sit there laughing at it? We don’t know where we are, or what we are, or what those men wanted. We don’t know what the book is, or what the locket is, and who knows what they want to use them for! This is a disaster!”

“Cheer up, you sodding wet blanket. We’re on a new adventure and we’re together! What could be better than that? And, watch this,” George stuck his hand straight through the wall again.

Skander swung a punch at him. It went straight through George’s head and threw Skander off balance enough that he tripped and fell on his face. George laughed mercilessly.

“I’ve had it with you,” Skander snapped, getting up and storming toward the door. He fumbled with the nob, his hand going through it like grasping water. Exasperated, he kicked at the door, but his foot sailed straight through it. He went sailing after, stumbling into the hall.

“If we can go straight through objects, I wonder what’s stopping us from falling through the floor,” George mused.

As soon as he’d said it, he fell through the floor. They heard a muffled thump from below. Silas was still lying on the floor staring at the ceiling. Faye looked down at him and he met her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Faye said. “I suppose I should have listened to you. If I hadn’t tried to fix things…”

“It’s so quiet here,” Silas said.

“Apart from those two, you mean?”

“Mm.” Silas looked back at the ceiling.

“I’m sure Ira will be alright.”

“Really?” Silas laughed without smiling. “What makes you so sure?”

Faye bit her lip.

“I’m sorry. I’m not blaming you,” Silas said, getting up. “It’s my fault, all of this. Me and the violinist. That’s how it started. Lord, I’d like to strangle him.”

He held out a hand to help Faye up. She put her hand in his tentatively. She’d never heard him talk like this before, and it worried her. He wasn’t acting like himself. And she didn’t know how to help him get himself back. Oh, why couldn’t he just do something completely absent-minded and smile for once?

“We should go make sure those two idiots aren’t killing each other down there,” Silas said, stepping over the rubble and heading for the door.

Faye nodded and followed him to the door. He reached for the doorknob then paused. Instead, he put out a hand and pushed it through the door. He shook his head and walked through it. Faye put her hand on the door, feeling it go through the wood. It did feel like something, like a chill or a mist, and it took effort to push through despite its etherealness. She pulled her hand out and thought about George falling through the floor. Perhaps it all had something to do with the way you thought about things.

She concentrated very hard on believing the door was solid and stretched out her hand again. It hit the wood and stopped. She grinned and took the doorknob, concentrating on each movement as she turned it. It was hard, like turning a rusted bolt, but she did it, and painstakingly pulled the door open. When had it gotten so heavy?

After getting it open three inches, she gave up and walked through the wood. A chill passed through her like a cold draft. Silas was already at the bottom of the stairs.

“Silas!” she called, rushing down after him. “I think somehow the way we interact with objects is related to how we think about them. It was hard, but I got the door open just by concentrating on what I was doing.”

“Hm.”

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?”

“Sure.”

“You’re not at all curious about how everything works?”

“No,” Silas sighed. “Where did those two run off to?”

Faye saw movement out of the corner of her eye and looked out the window.

George and Skander were deep in an argument right outside the window and Skander was gesturing wildly down the driveway and jumping up and down. Silas sighed again and walked through the wall to them, with Faye behind. He glanced down the road where Skander was gesturing.

“Silas!” Skander said. “We’ve got to go if we’re going to catch up with them.”

“I told you,” George said. “I ain’t going anywhere I’m liable to run into those freaks again.”

“You saw them?” Faye asked.

“No! But suddenly the coach started moving all on its own,” Skander went on. “No horse, no driver. See?”

Faye stared after the coach, moving along in complete silence with the shaft bobbing in front, connected to nothing. She shuddered and looked at Silas, who was watching the coach expressionless.

“It could mean anything,” he said.

“Shouldn’t we follow it?” Skander asked.

“And do what?” Silas turned away and looked into the forest.

“Well, there it goes,” said George as the coach disappeared around the bend. “Can’t catch up with them now. Too bad.” He turned and squinted into the sky with a thumb stuck in his jacket buttonhole.

“We can still catch it if we run,” Skander said with a pleading tone. “If they’ve left the house, it means… well, they might have Ira.”

“Silas is right,” Faye said. “What would we do? We can’t even see them.”

“What else can we do?” Skander stomped.

“We can check that mansion out, for one,” George pointed.

They turned to see what he was staring at, and then they stared at it for a while, too.

About a mile away was a huge baroque mansion. It was set on a shallow hill, encircled by a garden of trees over which the rooftops peaked and spread to either side like a mountain range. Its spires and windows glinted with the evening light. But Silas didn’t remember it being there before – the hill or the mansion. He tipped his head to the side and frowned in thought.

“Well, come on, then,” said George, setting off.

“What? We’re – we’re not going over there are we?” Skander asked.

“It wasn’t there in the real world, so I’d say it’s a good place to start with finding some answers.”

“I don’t know,” said Skander. “Those men were like us, going through objects and all. What if there’s more of them over there? They probably sent us here because they knew we’d go see what that place was.”

“Or we’re ghosts, and that’s a ghost hot spring and spa,” George suggested, “in which case we should head over at once.”

“I swear, George, if you don’t stop joking –”

They began arguing and Silas felt Faye slip her hand into his.

“Where are your shoes?” she asked.

Silas looked down and kicked the snow with his bare feet. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You can’t walk through the snow in –”

“Are you cold?”

Faye paused. She was wearing only her dress with short sleeves and likely hadn’t even thought about the temperature. Everything felt like nothing here. Silas hadn’t realized he was barefooted until he happened to glance down a minute ago. The snow felt like snow – sticky and wet – but it wasn’t cold.

“Skander’s right,” Silas said to all of them. “We shouldn’t all of us go. I’ll check it out first, and if it’s safe, I’ll come back and let you know.”

“No!” said Faye. “Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not letting you disappear again. Not without me, leastways.”

“Faye,” Silas started.

“No, she’s right,” said George. “We ought to stick together.”

“We don’t know what’s over there.”

“My point exactly.”

“All in favor of staying together,” Faye proposed.

She and George and Skander raised their hands.

“Three to one,” she said.

“Wait, but I don’t want to go to the ghost mansion,” Skander clarified. “I think we should stay together, and go the opposite direction. That way.”

Silas let out a short breath and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Perhaps we should flip for it?” Faye suggested.

“Good idea,” said George. “Heads, we go see the mansion.”

Silas shook his head and turned, walking away toward the mansion.

“Not the two-headed coin,” Skander stopped George, taking a coin out of his own pocket. “Here.”

“Mmm,” George frowned.

“George!” Faye gasped. “How long have you had that?”

“Forever?” George cringed.

“You swindling, lying thief! I can’t believe you!”

“I thought you knew! Gosh, Faye, you never wondered why I won every single coin toss?”

Silas was halfway to the trees by the time Faye noticed.

“Silas!” she called, running after him.

“Well, that settles that,” George shrugged.

Skander muttered something to himself but ran to catch up with the others.

“If you’re going to come along,” Silas said, “please just be quiet. If you have nothing serious to say, don’t say anything at all.” He added under his breath, “that should rule out most conversation.”

“Sure, sure,” said George.

Silas looked over his shoulder and met George’s eyes. George sighed.

“I swear on my reputation as a world class chef. Not a peep.”

That was close enough.

They walked through the forest in silence, the white light of the low sun filtering through the trees and giving the forest a sketch-like appearance. Everything was grey. There were tinges of color here and there if Silas looked for them, but the second his eyes glanced away they faded away.

When they reached the foot of the hill on which the mansion stood, Silas saw they were at the back of it. A short hedge marked the boundary of a garden, which contained a water fountain and walking paths in well-tended patterns. Silas held out his hand and they all stopped, stooping behind a bush to watch. Several minutes passed and they saw no movement.

“Let’s go around to the front,” Silas whispered.

“If we’re going to sneak in, shouldn’t we sneak in the back way?” George asked.

“We’re not sneaking in until we’re sure of what we’re sneaking into.”

“Well, that’s very sensible,” George acquiesced.

They circled the mansion to the front, which was even grander than the back. There were spires mirroring the entryway, which was built outwards to cover part of the driveway for carriages. The doors were tall and ornate and there were windows everywhere so the building almost sparkled.

They watched for a while longer, but there was still no sign of movement.

“Here’s a thought,” said George. “And you’ll be pleased to know it’s a not-half-bad one. If the grey men sent us here to be caught by the people in the mansion, why wouldn’t those people have just met us at the house? They’d at least be on the lookout?”

“Your point?” Skander asked.

“I don’t think anyone’s home.”

“What happened to your idea about the hot spring?”

“It’s still another good potential option.”

Silas gave them a look.

“Right,” said George. “On a more serious note, if we’re going to sneak in, let’s go through that open side window. I’ll bet you anything it leads to the kitchen. If anyone’s home, there’ll be someone in there and we can make sure of it before breaking in.”

They all looked at him, surprised.

“That’s… oddly helpful, George,” said Faye.

“It's common sense,” George shrugged.

Skander almost said something but stopped himself.

Keeping low, they snuck across the lawn and ducked below the window. George peeked his head over the sill and looked inside.

“Clear,” he whispered to them.

“Perhaps just one of us should go,” Silas suggested again.

George pulled open the window and see-sawed inside, crashing to the floor with a loud thump. Skander was right behind him. Silas glanced at Faye and took a breath to say something. She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head.

“Alright, alright,” Silas gave in, helping her through the window.

He climbed inside and pulled the window most of the way closed, like it had been before. George was standing at the doorway, looking out into a hallway. Silas looked around the kitchen for signs of life, but everything was clean and put away. It didn’t seem like anyone had used it recently.

“Coast is clear,” George whispered.

They followed him down the hallway, keeping tight against the wall, until they reached the end where there was a door. George looked through the archways on either side to make sure they were empty before beckoning them forward. Skander reached for the doorknob.

His hand touched it and the knob turned easily. He raised his eyebrows and looked back at them with a shrug, then cracked the door open and peered out.

“Empty,” he said, slipping into the next room, which was a dining room bigger than any Silas had seen in his life.

Three chandeliers hung in a row across the length of the room. There was a fireplace on both sides with ornate mantles and larger-than-life paintings hanging over them. The windows along one wall were made of stained glass in patterns of the four seasons, without a doubt a half a year’s worth of labor by a master craftsman.

“Fire’s cold,” Silas noted.

“Like I said,” George nodded. “I don’t think anyone’s home.”

“I wonder why we can open doors and pick things up here, but not back at the house,” Skander said, still staring thoughtfully at the doorknob.

Silas wandered across the thick carpet, skirting around the long table, to the other side of the room where there was a large archway. It led to a smaller parlor, with cushioned divans clustered around the two fireplaces and a tall window looking out into the trees. The others followed behind him.

“You’d think there would at least be servants around,” said George. “I just don’t understand why the grey men would have sent us here. Is this their house?”

“If I were them, I wouldn’t want some strangers wandering my house,” said Faye. “Not if it looked like this.”

Silas cracked a door open. “There’s a library in here.”

He opened it all the way and they followed him inside.

“Bloody hell,” George whispered. “Someone likes to read.”

There were rows and rows of bookshelves reaching up to the ceiling twelve feet above them. Rolling ladders lined each row and everything was labeled meticulously. Leather reading chairs were interspersed here and there, and every ten feet or so was a large study table. Silas ran a hand over a row of spines, reading the titles. They were all of them unfamiliar, by people he had never heard of. This was the section on history and not one of the titles referenced any history he knew of, except… his hand froze on a black leather spine. The Early Years of the Sovereign Order.

His body went cold and he glanced around the library. What was a book about the Sovereign Order doing here? Especially since, so conveniently, they were there? He started to take the book from the shelf when George called from the other room.

“Um… fellas,” he said. Silas shoved the book back in place and hurried towards him, Faye and Skander following close behind. “You remember what I said about nobody being home?”

He didn’t stop in time as he rounded the corner and came face to face with ten men facing George, all armed with guns, muskets, knives, and swords. George had his hands up and looked back with a sheepish smile.

“I’ll have to admit I was dead wrong.”

“Who are you?” one of the younger men demanded. “And what are you doing here?”

“Albert, Albert,” a man with an impressive white beard and unimpressive knitted hat. “Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

“So sorry to disturb you folks,” said George. “Being as we’re really nobody in particular, we’ll be going now. No harm, no foul, eh?”

“Tell me, then,” the man named Albert said, “do you know Washington?”

“Sure, I love that song.”

“It’s not a song, it’s a president,” Faye corrected.

“Who is Washington?” Skander asked.

“Are you joking?” George almost shouted.

Silas closed his eyes.


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Mrs. Ansford dropped onto the sofa and let her head fall back. She was exhausted, and it was only one in the afternoon. They’d been to...

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