The Secret Garden

Chapter Thirty-Two: "Of Wine and Roses"

In the Ruins of Rosedale

The cast and crew of Spook Spotters arrive in the village of Rosedale, where they are to investigate ‘the most haunted place in Yorkshire’ – the legendary Rosedale Manor. With the daylight already waning, they make their way to Pippin Lodge (or, rather Pippin Odge, as the damaged sign claims), where they are welcomed by Grace Potter.

Danny Dawn turns on the charm when Zach Farley’s foul mouth wins Grace’s ire, and she bustles about, clearly star-struck. While Zach and Weird Pete unload the team’s SUV, Danny and his wife, presenter Yvonne Meadows pander to their host’s ego, signing the guest book (with a huge marker pen in Yvonne’s case) and coo appreciatively at her oddly extensive collection of pictures of trams. After some confusion over the rooms (Grace has booked them all singles, and the only double room is reserved for another couple arriving later that evening), the team unpack and decide to head up to the manor to scout the location and shoot some night-time footage.

Danny and Pete prep the gear and load the car and Yvonne and Zach take advantage of their absence to indulge their illicit passions in Yvonne’s bedroom. Unbeknownst to them, the suspicious Danny has already planted a hidden camera in Yvonne’s room. Unfortunately, he mangles its placement – it falls down behind a cushion – but the audio it records is quite unambiguous.

With everyone engorged and tingling and eager to see what Rosedale Manor has to offer, they head up out of the village and onto the moors. Although rainclouds threaten a downpour, the vistas are stunning and, before long, masses of overgrown wild rosebushes show that they are near their destination. They have heard all manner of conflicting tales about this place, and its appearance does not disappoint. After forcing its rusted gates open, they are treated to a splendorous ruin of crumbling majesty, overgrown with an ambitious profusion of roses, creepers and twisting vines.

They park the SUV and explore the grounds. Most of the building is an inaccessible ruin. The east wing is almost entirely collapsed, and much of the roof has fallen in elsewhere across the building. Zach and Yvonne film some preliminary and interim footage outside, while Danny and Pete explore the interior. Danny searches for the best places to fake communication with The Other Side, while Pete simply wanders about, allowing his own sensitivities to point him in the right direction.

With the light failing, Zach and Yvonne are startled by furtive movement in the undergrowth. Switching to infra-red, Zach picks up a heat signature and then spots two feral blazing eyes. Out of the undergrowth rushes… a cat! Yvonne shrieks, back-pedals, and falls flat on her backside, which sends Zach into paroxysms of insensitive laughter. Yvonne’s irritation only provokes his mirth further, and she stomps off in search of the others.

Danny is exploring the old stone kitchen, wondering if this would be a good place to stage a séance with the alleged cannibal chef of the manor. The cat wanders in through one window to observe him with cool disdain. Pete feels a strange pull towards the east wing but his explorations only confirm that it is too badly damaged to locate any routes into its basement area in the poor light – and the sudden opening of the heavens does not help matters at all. He heads back indoors to see if there is a route through one of the house’s cellars.

Zach and Yvonne are already in the cellars, snooping around, filching bottles of wine and sharing a mutual grope. Pete catches them in a particularly exposed moment atop a huge wine vat but doesn’t seem to care, being far too obsessed with locating a route through the cellars to beneath the east wing. He is now certain that something supernatural is located there. However, the route is completely blocked off, and he reluctantly accepts that he might have better luck above ground in better light.

Satisfied with an evening’s productive work, they are about to head back to the Odge when the ever-vigilant cat alerts them to the arrival of another car. The team douse their lights and huddle together in the hallway, unsure if they are about to fall foul of local authorities displeased with their intrusion onto the property. The truth is far stranger.

A young woman in a black leather jacket and a young man in similarly dark clothing park their car at the end of the drive and walk up towards the house. Once they are within earshot, the team hear snatches of an extremely strange conversation – and catch the names of the two newcomers: Theora and Shelton.

The two are at the house looking for something (although it is not clear what). They are also concerned that four others have beaten them here. At first the Spook Spotters think that Theora and Shelton are referring to them, but Theora’s next words soon disabuse them of that notion:

‘They’re not here. If they were, we’d be dead already.’

She looks around, clearly nervous, and then insists that they leave before they are noticed. None the wiser as to who these people are, the team wait for them to depart before emerging from hiding.

The investigators then regroup in the kitchen and stage a thoroughly convincing interaction with the spirits of the dead who were burned alive in the furnace by the manor’s cannibal cook. Pete rigs a heat emitter to fake a rise in temperature in the oven for Zach’s camera, and Yvonne interviews Danny while the latter communes with the ghosts of the dying. Their work done, they head back to Pippin Odge.

Back at the hotel, they discover that Shelton and Theora are the couple who were due to arrive that evening – the Hetircks – and Theora is in the kitchen drinking tea with Grace. Zach clocks her as something of a badass through certain small, tell-tale signs. She is polite but noncommittal and the team decide to head over to the local pub to learn a little more of the lore of Rosedale.

At the Rose and Crown they find some decent food, decent ale, but poor conversation. The usual babble about mad monks, cannibal chefs and black dogs is repeated. Danny finds that not everyone here is a fan (the barmaid much prefers Derren Brown, to Danny’s disgust) and Zach’s ebullient nature brings swift scorn from the locals (a wholly unfortunate incident that ends with Zach chanting “USA! USA! USA!” while throwing the horns to all present).

Pete takes a more subtle approach and plies one of the locals with a few pints of ale and learns that the supposed “mad monk” was once a denizen of Rosedale Abbey here in the village, but was ousted for his heresies and went on to build Rosedale Manor out of his own pocket – something that failed to endear to the other inhabitants at all. Pete resolves to investigate this further in the morning.

The team retire to the Odge and settle themselves down in their rooms. Zach spends some considerable time hovering by his door, trying to decide whether he should go and pay Yvonne a visit. In the end he decides that “the bitch should come to me” and consequently goes to bed without any action. Yvonne has already decided against any late-night liaisons anyway, having donned her granny-pants and settled down for the night. Her sleep is disturbed only by the sound of the Hetircks leaving the Odge in their car at some point during the night, returning just before dawn.

The next morning is dominated largely by a quest for coffee by Zach, who is appalled that Grace has none in the house. Pete takes the time to look around the abbey graveyard for any signs of the mad monk’s heresy. He finds none, but he does encounter Rodney Mellor, church groundsman. Rodney tells Pete a number of interesting facts about the mad monk (locally known as “Bloody Barraclough”). Barraclough apparently got up to all sorts of misdeeds in the abbey and was thrown out. He went on to build Rosedale Manor and started abducting children from around town and cutting their heads off for some insane reason.

Yvonne is thrilled with the idea of adding some local colour to the show and so persuades Rodney to allow the team to interview him. Although at first reticent, Rodney soon warms to the idea. Yvonne tells him that they’ll do a dry run first without the cameras rolling, but secretly has Zach film anyway in the hope that Rodney will relax and provide more natural candid detail. Which he does when he explains how Barraclough was actually thrown out of the abbey for “buggering the nuns up the arse”.

Needless to say, the interview comes to a grinding halt, with Yvonne convinced that Rodney is just winding them up. Rodney insists that he thought they weren’t filming and Yvonne grudgingly agrees that bleeping the rude words out will only lend authenticity to the footage. They film the rest of the interview with Rodney and head up to the manor once more to complete the rest of the filming.

With the rain stop, a spectral mist hangs about the moors, lit by patches of diffuse sunlight from above. The manor itself sits in a pool of hazy darkness, however, and so the team park their SUV and head back into the grounds to investigate.

At Pete’s insistence, they search the ruins of the east wing for a way into the basement below it. Danny finds one in a most unexpected manner when rotten floorboards collapse beneath his feet, and he plummets 20 feet into the darkness below. Battered and bruised, with a badly sprained leg, he is lucky to survive, and calls up to the others for help. Zach and Pete rush back to the car to find some rope while Yvonne stays at the edge of the hole.

Danny groggily sits up and realises that he is in some deeper basement level below the east wing. Any alarm he might be feeling due to his predicament suddenly deepens, however, when he spots a spectral glow. It is coming from the figure of a woman in lace skirts – a real, honest-to-goodness ghost. Danny can scarcely believe his luck, and shouts up to Yvonne to go and get a camera. His shocked enthusiasm swiftly ebbs when the spectre hisses his name and begins to lift her skirts, revealing a strange, phosphorescent fluid running down skeletal thighs. She beckons towards him and Danny feels an overwhelming urge to go into her embrace. With a burst of willpower, he resists the compulsion, pulls himself to his feet, and flees into the darkness. The apparition follows.

At the car, Zach and Pete are rummaging through the boot for tow-rope and a first-aid kit when they hear a moist slithering from the undergrowth behind them. This time it is no cat. A group of vile serpents – seemingly formed from human waste and other fluids – with lamprey mouths come rushing towards them. Pete leaps into the car and locks the doors, and Zach is overwhelmed by the creatures. He fights two off, but the third deals him terrible injuries with its suppurating jaws. At this point Yvonne comes racing over, shouting for them to grab a camera. At the sound of her voice, the serpents turn and race towards her. She runs for her life.

In the darkness below the house, Danny arrives in some kind of subterranean sepulchre hung with faded tapestries. In niches in the walls are dozens of tiny heads, stitched shut at eye and nose and mouth and neck, yet still whimpering, still weeping. The stairs out of the chamber are blocked with rubble and Danny realises that he is trapped. He begins to pray – half-remembered snatches of the Lord’s Prayer – and the apparition closes on him. She pins him to the floor and hitches her skirts all the way up. And there, in the crux of her loins, is a suppurating growth like a sea anemone, fronds waving in anticipation, gleaming fluids pattering to the floor. To Danny’s horror, his own manhood betrays him, rising to meet the spectre’s engulfing grasp. He screams. The severed heads whimper in stitched sympathy.

Outside, Pete guns the engine and crushes the serpents pursuing Yvonne under the SUV’s wheels, even as Zach scrabbles to his feet and flees away from a fresh wave of the creatures. Yvonne throws herself into the car and Pete spins the wheel, driving back to help Zach. Bleeding copiously, Zach stumbles into the car and Yvonne starts trying to help him as best she can. Pete barks at Yvonne to grab his anti-ghost kit from the back of the car, and then spots something strange in the wing-mirror. It is a small girl, clad in 19th century clothes, translucent, and gesturing towards the manor gates. Pete looks in that direction and sees Theora and Shelton arriving in their own car. Pete wastes not a moment, floors the accelerator, and drives straight at them. By some freak coincidence, however, he hits a chunk of rubble in the driveway, loses control of the SUV and crashes into the undergrowth.

In the sepulchre, Danny is lost in a world of horror, his treacherous body bucking and trashing in the spectre’s embrace. And then, of all things, he smells the pungent aroma of cannabis smoke. A sing-song voice comes to his ears and the apparition slides herself off him. Drawn by the curious melody, the ghost-woman is entranced, and Danny seizes the moment and flees. As he rushes out of the sepulchre, he catches a brief glimpse of a strange, elfin woman, and then he is stumbling for dear life, back the way he came.

Back at the car, Yvonne, Zach and Pete come to their senses after the crash, battered and bleeding. Theora and Shelton appear, yank the car doors open, and order them out at gunpoint. Our team of intrepid investigators are no heroes, and they meekly comply. The duo order them down the driveway, muttering darkly to one another.

‘Are you sure that the wards are intact?’ Theora asks Shelton.

‘Yes!’ Shelton snaps. ‘Jesus, Theora, I told you already.’

‘You’d better be right,’ Theora growls. ‘There are four of them, remember. I’ve tangled with them before and they’re no idiots. It won’t be long before they find us. I want to be done and away from here long before then.’

Danny reaches the bottom of the hole through which he fell and sees a length of tow-rope come snaking down. He grabs hold of it and is yanked to the surface with surprising speed. His relief at being rescued evaporates when he sees the predicament he and his team-mates are now in. Theora doesn’t help his state of mind:

‘For fuck’s sake, pull up your pants,’ she says.

Danny does.

And so the team are ushered around to the back of the manor house where there is an oddly vacant patch of ground, devoid of any overgrown plant life or riotous rosebushes. There, Theora turns on the team and grins unpleasantly. At the same time, Pete sees the strange Victorian child-ghost once more.

‘Don’t worry,’ the ghost says. ‘Everything will be fine soon.’

‘So,’ Theora says, producing an elaborate, rune-carved dagger from within her jacket. ‘Which one of you will it be?’

Yvonne is the only one who can find her tongue. ‘What?’ she manages to gasp, knowing all too well what Theora is talking about. ‘What the hell is this?’

Theora laughs. ‘What do you think? I’m asking if any one of you wants to nominate someone else to be the one to die. No? No desperate screaming? No “please take him, not me, oh God I just want to live?” No? That’s what normally happens.’

‘Just kill the douchebag,’ Shelton says. ‘Look at him. He’s half dead already.’

‘Good point,’ Theora says. She turns towards Zach, blade glinting in the witch-light. Both Yvonne and Pete leap to save him. Shelton clubs Yvonne prone with the butt of his shotgun but Pete leaps past Shelton and splashes a vial of holy water into Theora’s face. Nothing happens and Theora sneers at him in contempt before stepping forward and stabbing Zach through the throat.

Zach gargles horribly, wheezes ‘You’re ugly,’ and then collapses, one leg spasming in death.

Theora strides to the middle of the clearing, kneels, and raises the the bloody dagger high.

Shelton looks over at the Spook Spotters. ‘Rabbit hole time, motherfuckers,’ he says.

Theora plunges the blade into the earth. She begins to whisper strange words over it, words that the team’s minds cannot accept, much less understand. And then, in their final moments, their world is upended forever.

As if the world had previously only been a night-bloom, its petals closed against the day, now it unfurls and reveals its petals in all their splendour. The wall between spirit and matter rolls away and a tower appears in the midst of the clearing. Up until now concealed within a fold in the Periphery, Theora’s blood sacrifice has opened the way to reach it.

Shelton keeps the three surviving members of the team under guard while Theora rushes into the tower. Wild, primal energies flood out through its doors, and she is soon lost from sight. Moments later, however, a blast of argent fire erupts out of the tower door, and Theora comes stumbling out, her shoulder smoking from a wound.

‘It’s the Cataphractine!’ she shouts. ‘We’re out of our depth. Get the fuck out of here!’

Theora levels her gun and puts a bullet between Danny’s eyes. She turns the gun on Yvonne, who can only stare dumbly down its barrel. It is the last thing she sees, as Theora blows her brains out the back of her head.

Pete knows that he has only seconds left to act, and runs for the tower. Theora spins, trying to draw a bead on his fleeing back, but the lights from the tower engulf him.

‘How the hell is he doing that?’ Shelton shouts, squinting after Pete.

‘He’s Awakened,’ Theora snaps. ‘It’s the only explanation. We’ve wasted enough time here. Let’s go.’ And so they race back towards their car, leaving the three bodies where they lie.

Gunshots. It is the gunshots that alerts the Butterfly Effect to the fact that all is not as it seems at Rosedale Manor. They have been here for a day or so, watching the Spook Spotters bumble about the place. Sent here by Mama Nettie to leave a message for Balthazar of Thebes at the manor’s Node, they have been unable to find said Node. Kailani has divined that it lies in a pocket realm in the Periphery (much like Caractacus’ Isle) but can’t figure out how to access it. Theora, of course, had no such trouble – but then blood sacrifice comes easy to her kind.

Felix, investigating the upper floors of the ruined manor, races to a window in time to see Theora and Shelton running back towards their car. The duo’s wards are now down and they and their misdeeds are fully visible. Felix opens his Correspondence senses and tracks their progress around the building. Alastair reacts equally swiftly, leaping through a window and taking aim at Theora and Shelton. Aiden thwarts their flight by putting a bullet through the engine block of Theora’s car. The car erupts into flames. And Kailani calls upon the spirits of fire in the burning car, rousing them to furious heat and lacing the fires with waves of fear and loathing.

Theora does an end-run around the burning car but Shelton foolishly stands his ground, leveling his shotgun at the cabal. Alastair, gun at the ready and already aiming for the perfect shot, puts a bullet through his knee and Shelton hits the deck. Felix sees that Theora is close to escaping and so unleashes his most powerful attack – Rip the Man-Body (or woman-body, as the case may be.) Theora collapses, howling and screaming, blood erupting from her form. And yet even in the depth of her agony, she finds the focus to bring her will to bear. Shrieking chants in High Speech, she vanishes in a whorl of Correspondence arts.

Aiden sends his etheric senses out after Theora, tracing her flight. He follows her trail halfway round the world, until it is lost in a mire of clashing mirrors and other defenses in the city of Calcutta. He files this reference away for future use and heads over to question Shelton. Alastair is already standing guard over the downed mage, pinning his knee beneath his foot.

Shelton bleats and screams for a short while longer. Felix erects a ward around him to prevent others from listening in, Kailani sends spirits streaking across the Umbra to learn more about the location where Theora has fled, while Alastair begins questioning the hapless mage. Aiden uses his Mind arts to infiltrate Shelton’s mind to learn what their captive knows.

Together the cabal discover some alarming facts. Shelton and Theora were members of something called the Freedom Razor. Led by Ayman Loufti, its other members included Virginia Adams. The Freedom Razor is part of a great chantry known as the House of Helekar, ruled over by someone known only as The Harvester. The Freedom Razor was sent here to locate the Butterfly Effect, find out what they were doing here, and locate the Node of Rosedale Manor.

As the interrogation – mental and verbal both – progresses, Felix becomes aware of an immensely powerful mind probing at the fringes of his ward. He immediately begins to reinforce the ward, as that other mind simultaneously attempts to batter it down. He informs his companions that they don’t have much time, and the mages decide that there is only one option. And so Alastair puts a bullet in Shelton’s brain, ending the matter for once and for all.

And then they turn their attention to the Node.

Entering the tower, they find the Node blazing and alive. Its lights dapple the ruins of the manor, alternately showing it as a fire-blackened husk, an empty conference centre, a vine-choked mass of stone, or even a grand building, untouched by time or damage. Above the Node hovers the wondrous form of the Cataphractine. And leaning against the Node’s shimmering basin is Weird Pete.

‘Hello,’ Felix says. ‘Who are you?’

Pete smiles. ‘I,’ he says, ‘am The Hammer.’ He nods towards the other side of the tower. ‘I’m going to head out to get some air. There are some people here who want to talk to you.’ And so saying, he heads outdoors, looking up at the shimmering lights playing across the manor.

‘Weird,’ he says, and wanders out of sight.

The cabal cautiously walk around the blazing Node to the rear of the tower, and there they find three women. One is an aged crone wrapped in a shawl. The second is a woman half her age, kneeling on the floor, busy with a tangle of knitting. And the third is a women half her age, leaning against the rear wall of the tower, chewing on her thumb.

Kailani bows immediately, and orders the others to follow suit and show respect. Even the least-educated mage known when he stands before the Three Fates (or their avatars) and the mages greet the three women with deference.

The three women, of course, know exactly who the mages are and why they have come here. They tell the mages that they will offer them a favour, advice and a gift. The favour is to pass on their message to the Thebian. The advice is simple: they should think carefully before they proceed along their chosen path to contact the Thebian. Just as one cannot tell a book’s contents from its covers, so also one might not like what one reads once the book’s covers are opened.

The Butterfly Effect, of course, have come too far to give up now. Aiden surmises that he and the book they seek are too closely bound to turn away. And so they ask the women to pass on their message. The women smile, and say that this has already happened.

No sooner are these words uttered, than the Node erupts with primal energies. The Umbra opens and a man, wracked with sour and smoking wounds, pitches out, collapsing at their feet. As the rift in the spirit world closes, the mages catch a glimpse of a terrible figure – a broken-winged angel with eyes that bleed white fire. And then the rent seals and the Thebian’s pursuer is lost from sight.

‘He is yours now,’ the three women tell them. ‘Nurse him to health. Heal his ills. And hope that he treats you with gratitude when he awakens.’

Left with little choice, they mages agree. And their reward? The three women smile, and the eldest hands them a pack of cards – a sacred tarot – and tell them to use them whenever they are in need of the wisdom of the Fates.

With the Thebian in their care and gifts from the Fates in hand, the Butterfly Effect cabal depart Rosedale, for a future unwritten… except, perhaps, in the cards…

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