The Spark: An Eterna Files Novella – By Leanna Renee Hieber
Introducing The Spark, a prequel novella to Leanna Renee Hieber's Eterna Files trilogy, hailed as "smart, boundlessly creative Gaslamp Fantasy." (RT Book Reviews)
Theorist, Spiritualist and New Orleans native Louis Dupris leaves his former life behind to join the secret, unorthodox Eterna Commission in New York City as their strange cabal attempts to find the cure for death. Led by Spiritualists and mediums, Senator Rupert Bishop and his enigmatic ward, Clara Templeton, the covert Eterna Commission was created from torturous grief surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln. Over a decade later, with no progress made, Dupris and his unique ideas might give the Commission new life, but his own is endangered in the process. Not only must he and Clara hide a newfound passion for one another, one that has been expressly forbid, but he must contend with the sudden appearance of his long-lost and unreliable twin brother who arrives bringing significant trouble of his own. When Dupris discovers what he believes is an unprecedented breakthrough in localized magic; an incredible, life-saving and protective measure, he awakens a terrible, violent force. He races to alert his forbidden love before his spirit gives out and he's no use to anyone, dead or alive.
Clara Templeton sat surrounded by precarious towers of paperwork. This was unwise in her gas-lit office, where she liked to keep her prized, brand-new, Tiffany gas lamps trimmed high. That way it was easier to marvel at the bright, exquisite colors and the stunning textures and effects the artistic genius and his workers wrought on lamp-shades and sconces. Nevermind the fact that the whole place could burst into flame with the least tip of a stack of paper; Clara never felt happier than when she was entirely surrounded by interesting things.
Curiouser and curiouser were Clara's general states of mind. This hadn't wavered much since childhood, and now at the age of twenty-seven, working in a career that was entirely unheard of, especially for one of her sex, she felt the quality was her most vital asset.
Franklin, her partner in the Eterna Commission office, would have thrown a fit if he'd seen how she was keeping the place, but he wasn't there. She had taken the liberty of spending the entire day giddily abandoning his fastidious principles of organization.
Clara was infamous for collecting everything, throwing nothing away, and making an ornate mess of things. To her credit, she knew where every item within the mess was, and could find anything in impressively short amount of time, if asked. Eccentric flair notwithstanding, she had an eye for décor, so even though the place looked a bit mad, it maintained a distinct style.
Her taste in art was cutting-edge; her gold-framed Pre-Raphaelite paintings, lit by the Tiffany lamps, made the place a treasury of rich colors and bold, iconic sentiment that nicely offset the dark mahogany of the office paneling.
Talismans of luck and power resided in an overflowing curio cabinet near her desk. If she felt in particular need of protection, she would hang up a number of the pendants and icons, tacking them to the window behind her desk. Today was one of those days. Something was "in the air," so she guarded her delicate, sensitive's sensibilities with care.
Early in their work together, the impeccably neat Franklin had knocked over yet another of Clara's carefully stacked piles in a maze of notebooks and papers and burst out with, "May I ask, Miss Templeton, why you keep everything that comes into your hands? I try to keep our office from falling into the state of an unmanageable hoarder's den, but it's hard to keep up the pretense, let alone some kind of cataloguing system."
She remembered blinking up at him from behind a precarious stack of ledgers topped by a small stone gargoyle that looked out in scowling protest of his surroundings. In an earnest, childlike voice, she replied; "because all of this means something to one of them. I… don't know how to let go of any of it."
Clara had an uncanny sense of how many times her individual soul had made its rounds about the world and through time. And while she tried not to let her current life get too busy with all the others, sometimes the past "hers" were terribly sentimental. She simply had to honor the things that reminded her, variously, of home. She was her own living graveyard. While others might find that morbid, Clara found it endearing.
"What are we missing?" she asked the room, the papers, the items scattered atop her desk, the gargoyle, her army of talismans, all her various and sundry tokens of ritual and meaning.
It was her passionate belief that something would finally tip the scales; a powerful object, an important tract, an infused pendant. At some point she would reach critical mass. If she could only gather enough interesting things in one space, like spontaneous combustion, inspiration would simply coalesce, in a roaring fire of world-altering truth.
"We're missing the spark for the fire," she said aloud. She had long ago felt the room listened when she spoke—she was fond of viewing buildings as entities and she imbued them with identities. "We've lost spirit. And that's what this is all about, isn't it? Spirit? How can we seek to gain the right of immortality without addressing spirit? The body is one thing, but the spirit… that's got to be the ticket…spirit. Spirits?
"Thoughts?" she asked, turning the little gargoyle atop the spire of ledgers to face her. He gave no answer save his continued, open-mouthed scowl of protestat. No winds of change took to the room at her query—which was for the best, considering what mess would be made of her labyrinthine stacks of papers if they had.
While Clara, due to certain health concerns, was not as practiced a medium as some of her friends, she had followed interesting leads from the beyond down proverbial rabbit holes. She had the distinct sensation that however much she knew about the world, there was always something more. For a soul that had gone around as many times as hers, this was like the fountain of youth. Curiosity. Learning. The chase of discovery.
Maybe that was something to include in the Eterna Commission. Could death be staved off by a ravenously hungry mind?
"The Thirst for Knowledge," Clara scribbled in her idea book, a leather-bound volume which contained more doodles than complete sentences. A few gems stood out as she flipped through past musings: thoughts on emergent technologies such as electricity; on elder curiosities like the fountain of youth; on ethics associated with historic and present-day blood-drinking, and examples of same; and on the balance between the corporeal and the spiritual.
The Eterna Commission was something Clara Templeton took quite personally.
After all, it had been her idea.
Well, as much of an idea as an excitable twelve year old could muster in the presence of a grieving first lady. That single meeting had birthed an entire government office.
Mrs. Lincoln had asked for Spiritualist counsel after the assassination of her husband. Senator Rupert Bishop was well-known to be an open practitioner, and he had brought Clara with him on that fateful visit. The girl had suggested that perhaps persons in an elected office such as the presidency should be given some kind of cure or protection that would ensure no one could so cruelly remove them from their hallowed positions.
Clara's parents had died one directly after the other; her father, a doctor, had simply faded once her mother had gone. It was terribly romantic in its way, but left young Clara somewhat bitter, abandoned as she was. There was no question that she would end up in the care of the family's dear friend, Rupert Bishop, then a young Congressman from New York. As she grew, her psychic gifts blossomed, but unfortunately, so did her ailments.
Thus, out of a widow's—and a nation's—grief, out of the words of a child who was already no innocent, a commission was created. Bishop was at the helm, and Clara was widely considered, by those few who knew of Eterna's existence, to be a figurehead. Women of good breeding did not work. However, per the Quaker principles of the Bishop and Templeton households, Clara was highly educated, and the Senator, as he now was, knew of and honored her desire to be useful and independent despite periodic ills that rendered her entirely helpless.
Bishop deemed it vital for Spiritualists to maintain the core of the search for death's cure, for the simple and singular reason that Spiritualists believed in the continuation of the spirit. They were living proof of life beyond death; they communicated with it, they looked at the body as merely one form of a living thing. Who better than Spiritualists to ask such questions and to take on such tasks? They did not need a cure for death, not in the same desperate sense as a terrified person panicked that the end of this incarnate life was the end of all things, that once one's coffin was laid in the ground, all was lost.
The hope was that Spiritualists would keep a balance and keep the Eterna Commission on task; maintaining the union of the Union. Not for personal gain, not for indefinite immortality, but as a matter of national sanity and security for a president's terms.
It was a grave, grey area, but one Senator Bishop held absolutely firm. Clara respected immeasurably that all his influence and insight had not made him greedy. If anything, he had become all the more cautious. He made her feel a great many things, but most of all, safe. She did not dare put this in jeopardy, so whatever her feelings for her guardian, she did little to affect their status quo.