The following morning the house awoke early.
Ivy who was used to operating on only a few hours of sleep was unconcerned.
Lake on the other hand looked a little worse for wear.
She, Greta and Rose sat together at Breakfast during which they listened to Davenport regales them with tales of his explorations of the untamed wilds. Hunting was more like it as far as Ivy could tell.
All his tales seemed to revolve around him waiting until the last possible moment then blasting something with his gun. The weapon having just been retrieved after being dropped, lost, or in one memorable tale stolen by the primitives who worshiped the offending creature as deity. Obviously, he had told this one in the presence of conservationists since the creature had been abusing the peaceful primitives who rewarded Davenport for his intervention on their behalf. There was always a tribesman with a daughter. The girl would be offered to him as reward but of course he would refuse and would drop the girl off in the closest town where she could begin her new life away from her primitive upbringing.
Ivy had met such girls during her travels and found them uniformly to have a different tale to tell. The westerner would usually come in, kill everything that could be killed, infect the local populace with the some sickness, usually fatal. The westerner would take a fancy to a local girl and the tribesmen wanting to be rid of troublesome girls with ideas above their station and the creepy westerner would offer up the girl as a bribe, usually taken. There would be several days of exotic lovemaking, often amounting to little more then a polite form of rape assuming the man wanted to be polite. Then she would be abandoned in a town upon it being disclosed that the girl was with child or more frequently because the man grew bored with his new toy.
She briefly summoned the picture of the old bluffer trying such base moves on little Xianghua. Then she found herself amused at the thought of the little girl beating the old man to within an inch of his life. Her giggling attracted attention and when asked for the source of her amusement she answered only that she hoped one day to accompany Davenport on any such trip he might take to China. His wife seemed less then pleased at the thought of such a journey. Feeling as she did, that such foolishness was the purview of men, women were above such things.
Rose supplied silently to Ivy that it was well known that Lady Davenport looked forward to her husbands trips abroad. They offered her the opportunity to indulge in the most depraved behavior polite society tolerated from a woman of her social station.
After breakfast, Victor found a moment to speak with her out of hearing of the others. "I hope you slept well."
"I was restless for a bit but, I am fine. I could get used to accommodations like this."
"Well I am sure you don’t have to rush out on to the road anytime soon. Why not stay at Mugson House and reacquaint yourself with British hospitality."
"A tempting thought actually, but there is something you can help me with. Alex was saying that my father discovered information about an antique sword that he tried to find but never did."
"Ah the Sword of Destiny. He who wields it controls the fate of nations and shall taste not the cup of death."
"That’s the one. Alex mentioned that he borrowed some materials from you I hoped to see some of them for myself."
"The Valentine obsession with ancient weapons continues. In fact, my father obtained a lot of material about that very subject. he would have passed it all on to Leo but they fell out of touch. Allow me to redress that wrong. I could give you the library to study in. There is quite a bit. It would take you a few days to go through it all."
Ivy paused, Mugson was hoping to delay her departure. Obviously, anything she could do to block that plan was in her own best interest.
"What I need is a good secretary someone who can organize things and survey them quickly." Greta chose that moment to walk by and Ivy sized on a plan. "Greta can I borrow Rose for the day you will be on the countryside with Victor and I need someone with her special skills to help me."
Greta's eyes sparkled. "Really, you need her special skills."
"Unless you think she is unprepared to give me the help I need."
"Oh I am a very demanding taskmaster Ms Valentine. Rosie is more then ready to aid you." she snapped her fingers and Rosie appeared as if by magic. "Rose, Isabella requires your… assistance today. Since you have been so good lately, I have decided to be accommodating. Is that not kind of me?"
"Good then it is agreed and since Isabella will be giving me a full report afterward you can expect that I will discover if your performance is at anything less then the high level I demand."
"I will do my best Ma'am."
The Tour party left the mansion an hour or so later. As the Carriages disappeared around the bend Ivy turned to Rose and asked "Are you ready."
"Of course, are we doing this in your room."
"At first I thought so, but Curtis informs me that the sheer weight of the project requires us to do it in the library."
"Sounds exciting " they two women headed into the large room. It was packed to the ceiling with books. On the table in front of them were several dozen tomes some old, some new. Rose was just shaking her hair loose from the bun she had put into that morning when she caught sight of the size of the undertaking.
"I know it looks big but I can do some translation so hopefully it will go fast." Ivy smiled and headed toward the pile. Rose let her disappointment flash across her face briefly then shrugged her shoulders and dug into the pile of old books.
Rose was as good with her mind as Ivy was with a sword. In an hour, the two had managed to separate the plies of books into stacks. Mentions of the sword, history of the sword, magic associated with the sword. By the time they had finish Ivy realized that after all her years of questing for the Souledge she still barely understood anything about it.
So many stories, reports and accounts and yet Rose rationally took the whole thing apart. They would read account after account, essay after essay and she would make little notes on a pad of paper. Then as the day wore on Ivy noticed that she would read something to her and the secretary would grunt flip back a page or so and make another note.
The servants brought them lunch and Ivy looked at what she had written. In a few hours, she had begun to make sense of the many conflicting accounts of the Souledge forming a picture of a weapon that had been lusted for and searched after for centuries.
"This is amazing work Rose." Ivy commented as she read over the woman's neatly printed notes
"It a fascinating puzzle. I like the elements of Greek myth that are attached to it as well."
"What do you mean?"
"Well it seems as though Hephaestus, the God of the Forge and Ares, the God of War both appointed champions to get the blade. Ares contracted out, he appointed a tribe of mystics to create a warrior who would go after the sword for him, A golem of some kind. It goes by many names here. The reaper of souls, The Executioner's Hand, Astaroth, and The Cursed One. It’s a funny tale."
Ivy looked up from the pad. "Where did you see those names."
Rose picked up a text from the table. This one has the whole sordid tale and the ceremony for creating a duplicate."
Ivy grabbed the book and searched through the text there on a page was pictures of the warrior she had faced. She turned the page and saw a symbol that resembled the patterns on the floor in the basement. "Rose, does the text say what you need to create the golem."
Rose nodded and retrieved the pad. "Various plant extracts, none native to this part of the world of course. And candles mixed with …well the list is long but trust me you'd need to custom make candles like these. In fact, all of this stuff would have to be imported. It would take a small fortune."
"Which would present a problem only if you didn’t already have a big fortune."
"What do you mean Ivy, you don’t really believe all these tales do you?"
"Someone does. Tell me, do all these golems look like the one in the picture."
"No in fact, here look at this one." She held up still another book. "This one says that you can make the golem look like whatever you want. You just have to use the essence of the thing you want the golem to resemble. Rocks, mud, metal…"
"Flesh, human flesh could it look and act human."
"Possible, but you would need something more then essence to power it, an object of great power. It would become the heart of the golem. I guess the real question is what would someone do with a creature like that."
"I'm not sure Rosie." Ivy was certain that she would find out soon. For it was obvious, Mugson had made a golem. Where was it? That was the question now. Astaroth was a killing machine, quite unstoppable. If Mugson had control of such a beast then it was only a matter of time before he unleashed it again.
After the touring party returned to the Mansion, Lake pulled Ivy aside. "I have a way out of here but I need your help."
"I thought you were going to wait until we had more proof." She asked him acidly.
"How much proof do you need. He obviously has some fixation on you and wants to keep you here and I think he is planning some mischief. You know that the train tracks run through the property, at a bend in the tracks a man can run alongside and slip on board unnoticed."
"All that proves is that he is like every man I have known, a fixation on trains and the idea of hopping one."
"All right, what were you doing in the library all day "
"Discovering what Mugson was up to in the basement. The ceremony he used down there would create a creature capable of killing a man. Assuming he actually succeeded he is probably hiding it somewhere on the estate."
"Well having gotten the grand tour; I can tell you we will never find it." Lake muttered.
"And, we have no idea what he wants it for anyway."
"Yes we do. I heard Davenport complaining. Apparently, one of the committees he is on is pushing for land grants, grants that are being blocked by the Minister for the Interior."
"I assume Mugson tried the usual methods of persuasion."
Lake nodded "The Minister is returning to the city by train. That train passes through Mugson land tonight. I figure whatever happens will happen then. I want to jump on board the train and warn the minister. That should blow the lid off this whole thing."
"So you need a distraction."
"I already have a distraction, It seems that Mugsons know a fencing trainer who returned to his house last night. I volunteered you for a little demonstration."
"You did what?" Ivy snapped,"How dare you. How do you even know that I am any good."
"If you don’t mind my saying Ivy you're not exactly subtle when it comes to showing your skill with a sword. Everything about you says expert fighter. I figure, you put on a show, get Mugson distracted I slip away, board the train, warn the Minister thus saving the day."
"I've read the pulp stories they publish in your newspaper. Isn't the brave man supposed to risk his life while the female sips away to safety."
"One, those are stories, not real life. Two, the …whatever it is, is going to be going for the train so I am in the greatest danger of the two of us. And three, not to be catty or anything Ivy, but you've got more steel then the great white hunters in there so pleading to be treated like a blushing maid is laughable."
Ivy was all set to tell him what was laughable when she saw Victor. He was speaking with Rose who directed him toward the arguing pair.
"Isabella was your day very productive?" He asked when he joined them.
"Very, your records are impressive."
"Feel free to make use of my resources whenever you need them."
"You are being too kind."
"Robert tells me you are you are quite the sword fighter."
"Robert is telling tales out of school. But yes I can fight with a sword."
"Expert class, I hope?"
"I have never rated myself officially, Poulson the family lawyer tells me I should fence on the national team."
"Well then this is perfect. There is a national team coach who lives down the road. He tutors me occasionally, but I would love to see what he could do against a real opponent. "
Ivy looked at Lake and then back at Victor his eagerness was almost child like. "Fine I'll consent but only if we are using practice weapons."
Victor looked at her vacantly so she explained. "In Japan when they are practicing they use wooden practice swords to prevent injury to either party."
Lake snickered. "Blunting the tip is usually sufficient for European swords why go to that trouble."
Ivy glared at him. "Possibly because the dullest Japanese sword I have encountered got so because it had been used to cut a man literally in half. Whereas, I have seen Japanese fencers bring European swordsmen to their knees with a simple wooden sword skillfully applied."
"And a test of skill is at the heart of this contest. Say this evening." Victor stated rubbing his hands together briskly.
Ivy nodded "Are we going to do this in the dining room."
"No I was going to have the main hall redone. Create some atmosphere."
Ivy snickered at him. "Just so long as you don’t go overboard."
Victor smiled "Ivy, you'll find that I spare no expense in making sure My guests get everything they deserve."
Victor was good to his word. During the next several hours, the main hall was converted to a makeshift arena with four braziers at the cardinal points. Ivy got a look at her opponent a tall slight whiplash of a man whose name was Max Saufield. On his arrival, Mugson took Max aside and they spoke at length. Ivy lingered near the conversation hoping to know what they were discussing but when Victor noticed her, he smiled, "Ivy, Max was just telling his needs aside from payment of course." The coach it seemed was in training and thus needed a salad with his high-energy low fat diet in mind.
Rose confirmed that Max was a star of the national fencing team. Greta, as it happened, was an enthusiastic follower of the sport and had been heart broken to witness a loss by her beloved Germans to Saufield's British team. The two women viewed it as an honor Ivy being allowed to compete against such a foe. Ivy kept her own secrets. Her training and experience made her easily Max's equal if not his superior.
Assuming Victor even knew what he was. He must sense how this contest was going to go. "Well" she thought "that’s his business, I just have to vamp until Lake is far enough away that Victor won't be able to stop him."
All the guests sat for a meal except for Max who went with his salad prepared by Mugson's chef. Ivy scarcely cared about such things but elected to forgo eating entirely. No sense walking into a match on a full stomach.
After the meal, the guests moved to the viewing area. Ivy picked up her wooden foil and began making passes through the air with it to get sense of its weight. Four servants lit the braziers, which filled the hall with eerie light and smoke. Ivy began to turn and watch the guests settle themselves into place for the coming contests.
There was sea of faces surrounding her. She looked across the floor at Max and saluted him. He returned the salute with a pretentious smile. She made a mental note to beat him to within an inch of his life.
"My cherished guest and friends we are gathered this night for a unique exhibition of skill." Victor turned to the both of them. "In the words of Shakespeare, battle on and dammed be he who first cries hold."
Young Mugson was holding up his hands as if he were Caesar "or Caligula" supplied a dark voice inside her. He dropped his hand and the two advanced on each other.
They traded blows. Ivy scored the first hit striking him on the thigh. He backed off then swept in spinning and around her thrust to score a hit on her chest. Ivy stumbled backward and Max pressed his assault. She angled her next block so that his blade skidded off hers as she allowed him to stumble past her. However, he seemed to read the move before it was even launched. He slashed at her middle. She blocked but the effort left her off balance and she stumbled and fell. She looked up and saw…Sophitia grinning down at her. Wait …Sophitia.
The blonde gave out with her bright cackling. "So bastard, still pretending at a place amongst the decent and highborn. " she flipped into the air to land on top of Ivy thrusting her sword downwards.
Ivy spun to the side and kicked out. "Get back, vicious little zealot." She hissed and attacked the woman. Her sword slash bounced off the Grecian warriors shield then she turned in place caught Ivy's blade. As she turned Ivy was pulled off centre and found she was tumbling through the air to land on her tail.
Rolling to the side she was preparing to get the young girl she focused on her opponent but…Sophitia was gone. She heard laughter coming from above before the weight landed on her shoulders baring her to the ground. Then she was slammed down again as the person jumped on top of her. She rose from the ground. Taki was standing arms folded looking at her.
"Stay away from me." Ivy cried out backing away from the demon hunting ninja.
"Demonspawn, your place is in the underworld along with your vile father."
"I hate Cervantes more then you do."
"You revile the darkness, yet you glory in the power granted you by that darkness."
"I have my mission just like you. If you won't help me destroy Cervantes and his evil then I'll sweep you aside." She slashed at the girl and they battled over the length of the floor. Taki was easily fending off Ivy's attacks. Ivy darted forward in a raking slash but was surprised to find herself sprawled to the ground.
She turned to make sure where Taki was…but the only one there was Cervantes himself.
Rage filled her soul watching the pirate grinning at her. "You bastard." she screamed and flew at him.
He blocked her blows and pressed her attack back on her. "Little One you have so much potential but like your mother you have watered it down with your weakness."
"Don’t speak her name you vile raping fiend."
"How do you know she was forced. She could have been every bit the wanton that you are. Maybe she just tossed you aside so that I might be tempted to return to her one day."
Ivy slashed at him and beat at his chest even as tears crept out the edges of her eyes. "Shut your filthy mouth."
"Tossed to the first family she could find. No doubt expecting you to be raised as a scullery maid. Who knew that Valentine lacked the manhood to father his own mewling babes." His laughter echoed off the walls.
She shut her eyes and ears to his taunt and rushed him. But it was not Cervantes that grabbed her. She opened her eyes. It was Leo Valentine. He was holding the Ivy blade and bringing its chain around her. "Father no" she cried out.
"You can't be daughter to me. You failed to find the sword, failed to protect the family legacy, failed to protect your mother, you are a failure and failure demands one punishment." He channeled all his righteous rage into the Ivy Chain. Fire surrounded her body burning her right to her soul.
She couldn’t tell which was the greater mercy, not facing her mothers, either of them, or passing out.
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