The Eterna Solution: The Eterna Files #3

The Eterna Solution: The Eterna Files #3

by Leanna Renee Hieber

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765336767
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Series: The Eterna Files , #3
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 685,359
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Leanna Renee Hieber's novel, Strangely Beautiful,is a foundation work of gaslamp fantasy and the winner of two Prism Awards. Her other novels include The Eterna Files, Eterna and Omega, and The Eterna Solution. Hieber has been a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award. Rarely seen out of Victorian garb, Hieber lives in the New York City area.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

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.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Eterna Solution"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Leanna Renee Hieber.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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