Content warning: descriptions of murder and violence against a child, children in peril
When they reached the Governor’s manse, Genevieve considered it skeptically. The smell of smoke still billowed around it and much of the eastern-most wing had been entirely consumed by the blaze. Roofs caved inward and broken windows were patched with rotting boards.
“Are you certain the entire thing won’t just cave in on us?” Darnell asked, his chin also lifted to survey the dilapidated wreck that had likely once been palatial in its enormity.
“Maybe that’s his plan,” Genevieve replied. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, a significantly smaller model than her usual and uncomfortable for any length of time. In truth, she hated the thing – its experimental metalwork frame constantly jabbing through the thin cushions beneath her bottom and behind her back, constantly threatening to tip over from the slightest turn or jolt – but it was a necessary evil. Even Darnell could never heft her other chair over so many steps – Genevieve counted sixteen just to the doorway – and it did have a nasty habit of getting stuck in doorways and causing property damage with its bulk. Considering the destruction, Genevieve worried the floorboards might no longer support her usual chair’s exceptional weight.
As it was, Darnell lifted the light frame with ease and Genevieve grasped its metal arm rests to maintain her balance as they ascended the stairs. The heft of the revolvers, tucked into the secret folds of her dress, gave Genevieve confidence, though she did miss the reassuring presence of her whip. Darnell set her down before the soot-stained double doors where she wheeled forward and rapped several times.
To both of their surprise it was a young woman who answered the door – familiar to Genevieve though it took her a full minute to place her as the mother she had met upon her arrival. The woman’s face was pale and drenched in sweat, and her hand was clenched at her skirt.
“Insurance?” Genevieve asked Darnell, and he nodded in turn. “Bastard.”
“M-my master is waiting in the Great Hall, Mademoiselle. This way,” she indicated with a trembling hand before turning down a passage to their right.
“Has he given you anything to eat?” Genevieve asked, and the woman shook her head.
“My daughter,” the woman whispered, “the eldest.”
“Is she here?” Darnell asked.
The woman nodded. “They all are. But she’s… if she changes…”
Genevieve stopped and slipped a hand into the folds of her skirts to retrieve the smaller of her revolvers. She opened the barrel and carefully removed three capsules, handing them to Darnell. He looked down at her hand but made no move to take them.
“We’ll find them together, after we deal with L’Amie.”
“There may not be time for that,” Genevieve thrust her hand forward again, “You can come for me after.”
Darnell still hesitated. “What if you don’t have enough?”
“Then three more would never have made the difference. Take them. Please.”
Darnell’s shoulders fell with a sigh, but he took the capsules nonetheless. The woman watched this exchange with red-rimmed eyes but said nothing, only leading them on once more when they were finished.
“In here.” She bowed and opened the door onto a long room that was likely once very grand but now showed the signs of neglect and disuse. A grand fireplace lined the left wall, a layer of dust and soot like dirty snow across the mantle, and a cavernous darkness where once a bright fire might have burned. The air was cold and musty, and there was little light save what was provided by the handful of candles gracing a once-elegant table that stretched from one end of the room to the other. The candles and a few small plates of food were all crowded at the far end in front of a solitary figure.
He rose when they entered, bowing his head. Governor L’Amie was not a tall man, and side-by-side he might have only come up to Darnell’s shoulder. He was what they called barrel-chested, the white of his pressed shirt threatening to burst free of his snugly tailored black jacket, and yet this still did not account for the immensity of his presence for, though he was one small man in an abandoned room, Genevieve had the impression that he was staring down at her, his face mere inches from her own. She shook her head and steadied herself for his introductions.
“Welcome Mademoiselle Gregoire. Monsieur Furst,” he motioned toward the table, “Everything has been prepared for us. If you would be so kind as to join me, I would be honoured by your presence. There is much we wish to discuss with one another, I’m sure.”
Like a woman’s costume jewels, Governor L’Amie’s hospitality was gaudy and put-on; Genevieve had no intention of participating in such a rouse.
“I’m afraid my assistant will not be joining us. He will be leaving with this woman and her children. I assume that won’t be a problem, Monsieur?”
A smile flickered across the Governor’s face before he forced it into a look of disappointment as unconvincing as his tone, “If he must. I suppose I will have to resign myself to enjoying your company in private, Mademoiselle.”
“So it seems,” she said in reply, turning to give Darnell a stern look until he finally nodded and backed out of the room to follow the woman to whatever place the monster had locked up her children.
Genevieve returned her attention to the Governor and to the empty space at his right hand where a chair had been removed to make room for her. Her right hand itched beneath its silk glove, ready to release the wheel of her chair and seize her revolver at any sudden movement.
Thankfully the Governor did nothing more than sit, pour her a glass of red wine, and serve some roast and boiled potatoes onto a dainty little plate. Genevieve smiled to see him pour himself his own glass as well.
“You really intend to dine with me tonight?” She prompted, moving her food around with a tarnished silver fork, “I rather thought you might be more inclined to gobble me up instead.”
Governor L’Amie took a sip of his wine and grinned. “I considered it. But I thought I might have you answer some questions first. Though I thought you might be inclined to sick your pet on me the moment you arrived.”
“It crossed my mind,” she admitted, taking a bite of the roast on her plate and rolling it around in her mouth. It was dry, and it had a familiar bitter flavour she recalled from childhood. “But to be honest, I have some questions for you too.”
“Oh?” he inquired, eating a morsel from his own plate.
“Mm,” she said, taking a small sip of wine. Too much and it might make her ill.
“Well, we shall take turns then, shall we? Ladies first?”
“Twenty-three years ago a Hunter came through here, following his quarry. He never returned to the College. What happened to him?” She knew the answer already, but it would be a good way to gauge his honesty.
“I had him hung for assault and robbery.” His grey eyes – a shade darker than Genevieve’s own, crinkled with their own private humour.
“And was he guilty?”
“Of course not. I tortured him until he told me all about these creatures you call Beasts and how such a condition spreads. It wouldn’t have been… strategic to let him return to the College.” The humour spread to his lips now, the deep wrinkles there creasing at the effort.
“Of course not.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?” he asked, running a hand over his stubbled chin, cleft like Genevieve’s own, though the skin there was several shades lighter.
“Strength. Influence. Perhaps health. You are hardly the first to have taken on the change by choice.” Genevieve shrugged, watching him pour himself another glass of wine and topping off her own. She took another sip for good measure. “It’s your turn to ask a question.”
“I didn’t know the College allowed Beasts among its ranks. Are companions like yours common?”
“Not at all. Darnell’s mother forced him to undergo the change as a child to cure an illness which should have taken his life years ago. He volunteered with the College on the condition that we aid him to maintain better control over his transformations. Our research has yielded a formula which inhibits the change to a certain degree, though it renders the process much more exhausting to him than to typical Beasts.” Genevieve smiled into her wine at the widening of the Governor’s eyes upon hearing this. Good, she thought, he’s been too busy to pay enough attention to us. He has no idea what we’re capable of.
“I thought the College’s policy would be to kill him on the spot,” he admitted.
“That would hardly be humane. Besides, what use is he to us dead?”
“Ah,” the Governor said, “Very shrewd. Your turn.”
“How long do you really think you can maintain your control here? Your kingdom is falling apart,” Genevieve reached out an arm to indicate the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, and the broken arm of the chair next to her.
“As long as I want to,” he spit, taking another sip of wine to cover up his irritation. Genevieve would have to tread carefully. “My turn. Tell me a little about yourself, Mademoiselle. How did one such as you end up with the College? And a Hunter at that? Were your legs injured by a Beast?”
Idiot, she thought. “There’s nothing wrong with my legs, Monsieur, but I’m afraid I was dropped as a child and my spine was injured in the fall. My mother is an important doctor within the College, so I came to it naturally you might say.”
“Naturally,” he repeated, his eyes devouring her from head to toe. He smirked.
“My turn,” she said, feeling that his patience was drawing to a close. “What was the name of the woman who you threw from the cliffs behind this mansion twenty-seven years ago?”
His heavy dark brows hung over his eyes like storm clouds. “What was that?”
“Oh, perhaps you had someone do it for you? That is your usual method, isn’t it? And you would have been a simple human back in those days, isn’t that right?” Genevieve felt the anger rising within her, the ghost of an ache shooting through the long abandoned nerves of her legs.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, laughing as if she had just told the most outrageous of jokes.
“A prostitute. She had a baby. You threw them from the cliffs.”
“Ah. Yes. I do recall the incident though not the name. If I recall the baby had no name, and she had returned to have me bless it with one. As if I had any intention of breeding some bastard child with a creature like that.” He eyed her suspiciously now, a mischievous smile playing around his lips at the sight of her clenched jaw and fist. “What do you care? It had nothing to do with the College.”
“She was my mother.”