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Point Hope was one of the dirty, backwater towns that Richard usually avoided. It had no culture, no panache. The town itself, if you could even call it a town, was located on the edge of the marshes—a large expanse of waterways, decaying detritus, and foul aromas that flowed for miles until it reached the more well-known settlements. Most of the residences were ramshackle huts, places that Richard wouldn’t even deign to store his shovels. There was only one decent building in the area. The fact that the building was owned by one of the most powerful individuals of Richard’s acquaintance didn’t make up for the fact that it was surrounded by poverty and ignorance.
He sat in the drawing room of that very same building. A crackling fire blazed in a stone fireplace across from him. Leather chairs and sofas were placed artfully around it, centered over a carpet that was ridiculous in its extravagance. The faint glow of an autumn sunset filtered through the high windows, casting rays of golden light on the cream colored walls. Richard took a careful sip of the mulled wine in his cup, enjoying the flavors of citrus and cinnamon. It would have been the perfect evening, if you hadn’t counted the man sitting in the other chair.
He was thin, almost skeletal in appearance. His pale skin stretched over angular limbs. A mop of greyish hair tufted out of the top of his head, reminding Richard like nothing so much as dried grass. Despite all of that, he still dressed like a gentleman; his suit and tie were immaculate, carefully maintained and still fashionable. Gold rings glittered on his thin fingers, signs of his power in the area. No, Richard couldn’t find fault with his appearance. His personality, on the other hand…
His voice rasped out at Richard, a dissonance that made him want to cringe, “You say that he’s bringing the girl here? Are you sure?”
Richard took another sip of his wine, leaning back in his chair, “Yes, Julius. I received another note just this morning. He should be here in less than a day.”
“Good…good.” Julius glanced toward the fireplace, the light making his pale blue eyes glitter, “Though the situation really is inexcusable. The serum was supposed to be in my hands weeks ago.”
“My apologies. I didn’t count on a girl letting herself into my private study.” Richard cast a brief glance toward the exit. Samuel stood there, his arms folded across his chest as he waited for the conversation to finish. As usual his expression was unreadable. He didn’t necessarily need to be there, but it was always best to be cautious while in the presence of Julius.
“It’s due to your tastes, Richard. You see a pretty face and you automatically let your guard down.” Julius turned to face him with a leer, showing his yellowish teeth, “You’ll find I have no such weaknesses. I trust that this will never happen again.”
Richard took another sip of the wine, hiding his irritation. Yes, she had lured him in with her looks and her charm. Yes, he may have been a bit reckless; but hadn’t he paid the price already? He set the cup down on the wooden side table, “My tastes do differ from yours. But you can rest assured that my interest in business always comes first.”
“I never rest, Richard.” Julius’s eyes narrowed as he peered at Richard, a singularly unnerving effect with his features, “But on to other matters. Once the serum is secured, we will have to experiment. I have subjects in town, but it would be best to recruit outside sources as well. My current stock is…limited.”
“I’m sure it is. Are you asking me for help, or are you merely stating facts?”
“You know I’m asking you for help. You are the kind of person who can find others who will willingly follow you…volunteer.” Julius smiled, an expression that turned into a sneer as he spread out his bony arms, “I, alas, am not the same.”
Richard arched an eyebrow as he watched his companion. His eyes slid past him and toward the walls, covered in framed paintings of bridges and towers—structures that had either never existed or had been destroyed long ago. A massive clock tower stood over a sea of people in one. Their hands reached upward as if they could hope to summit its constructed peak.
“I’ll see what I can do, but you have to be sure that they will not be used for any other…” Richard paused, his eyes turning toward Julius again. It was important to emphasize these points, to drive the dagger home. “…Pursuits that you might have.”
Julius waved one pale hand, his eyes moving back toward the fire, “Oh, don’t worry, Richard. They’ll be far more useful to me in my lab than anywhere else.”
Richard nodded and drank the rest of the wine; it had turned cold by now, its flavor diminished. He rose from his chair and nodded politely to his host, “Now if there isn’t anything else left to discuss, I think I’ll retire early tonight.”
Julius nodded in return, “Go ahead. I’ll be here.”
Richard turned and left the man in silence, striding across the floor as his host stared at the fire. As Samuel opened the door to let him outside, he heard Julius muttering under his breath, a chant that repeated itself over and over and which made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.
“…We are coming. We are coming. We are coming…”