Charlotte had been careful to cover her damages to the door, lest she find out that someone else might dare to venture there. She worried nothing of the poor Juliette, who seemed terrified of even the thought of discovery at this point. Still, there was a small part of her that also seemed to wish to make her little protege wait a bit. After all, Charlotte had gotten this far not by giving away all her advantages at once, if ever. She could be generous with them when time allowed but right now, she wanted to see things for herself. When she was sufficiently satisfied that she had everything that she needed for herself, then it would be open for the rest. No sense in giving away her secret before she could properly enjoy it, after all. While some might believe this to be an act of selfishness, she preferred to believe that a toy that was given to her first should be enjoyed mostly by herself before she’d exhausted its charms. Granted, she broke most of her toys before she’d been able to share and Victor had little interest in anything broken. Now, she broke most of her human toys and was less interested in the wants of those around her.

While this lovely gift was simply waiting to be enjoyed, Charlotte found this situation in the house most frustrating indeed. The Master of the house, his smugness ever present but his temper never far away, might have provided ample opportunity for her to make her way to the attic to explore. There was no shortage of times still when he was busy making a bloody fool of himself. That said, with his increased sense of arrogance, he was often around and his tantrums were a little less frequent. Likewise, the Lady of the house seemed to be in a dour mood and often wished to be in the company of those that she could abuse at will. Charlotte, while grateful for the added conveniences that it provided, found herself often in company of those who had started to seek refuge here. Apparently this was a place where such shelters could and were found before her arrival. They didn’t always work but there were means of disappearing here that even the most lowly maids knew. Given her need to stay on the courteous side, Charlotte played as good a hostess of the forgotten wing as she could but it was a trifle bothersome. For one, it was more likely to bring the attentions of those they would all rather avoid into the area they were in. Kent might be a fool and may have some aversion to this area but Vivian was less so. As much as it pained her to acknowledge her enemy for her skills, she knew a predatory woman when she saw one. Vivian knew her lot in life but she also knew the house. Well, she knew where to look if she couldn’t find something. She knew where her vermin were running to and so she also knew that Charlotte had been cultivating their favor. It was curious to her that the Lady of the house did not seem to react to this but she knew that it was likely only a matter of time before it unfolded into a larger, more violent problem. Charlotte was well on her way to a plan to avoid these things, however. She had given up on hoping to escape this dreaded house with a decent pair of passable shoes but that was no excuse why she could not leave here with at least one outfit that was not stained, damaged or otherwise hopelessly out of style. At least, this is what she had hoped to find some trace of as she made her secret moves to in the day to prepare for some evening explorations.

Much to her delight, the weather had been somewhat more accommodating on that day. The cold snap had broken about a week before but with it came the warmer winds that had caused more than enough melting and shifting in the ice and snow that made the old house groan under the rapid changes. Charlotte had been gifted the same evening she’d planned to make her way upstairs when the pipes in the basement burst quite unexpectedly. Everything in the house was at a standstill and every extra body was put to work to try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. It left Charlotte with ample time to herself and everyone else too occupied to worry about the woman captive in the forgotten wing. It also allowed her the chance to wander through some of her new hiding spaces, giving her the necessary means to simply disappear for a while. There were others who had taken to hiding in the house during such an event and she’d been careful to avoid them. While they were valuable in gaining favors, Charlotte was less inclined to be called upon at this time. She wanted to be left to her devices for her little trip upstairs but first, she had to be out of sight completely. How better to vanish than to pass the time in her little crawl space opposite the main hall?

Charlotte had been quick to retreat there upon hearing of the burst pipes and had been silent upon reaching the small area. It was tucked away easily enough that no one would likely find her unless they knew of the place. She had remained there for a while, able to hear nothing but the occasional passing of people through the room on the other side of the thin wall and the even more infrequent passing of footsteps on the floorboards beyond where she hid towards the hidden stairs. She was quite certain that Juliette had found her way to safety, like the good little protege that she was. With no other noises about, Charlotte allowed herself time to relax, though she was rather unhappy about the amount of dust surrounding her. She had already taken note of this prior and had prepared by taking along a large, unflattering coat to guard her clothing. It would do the trick and the coat itself was hideous and easy to cast off should she need to make herself presentable quickly. That said, it was dreadfully embarrassing that she should find herself in such a deplorable state as this. Still, safety was more important than dignity in this case, as it had been in the past. She would simply take revenge on someone who might marginally deserve it and be done with it later.

As time passed and the small, quiet foot falls of someone came and passed by her hiding spot, moving towards the hidden alcove in the kitchen, Charlotte had nearly decided to simply move forward in her plans for the upper area of the house. She was stretching the boredom from her body when she heard loud footsteps enter the room and the way they shook the boards, for a moment she thought she’d been discovered. She stood quickly to address the intruder, grasping at her hidden defenses to try to fend him off but she was alone in the dark alcove. Instead, she heard a second set of steps, much lighter enter the room and now realized that they were standing on the other side of the wall. She knew the sound of the heavy footfalls to be that of Kent but who the newcomer was she couldn’t guess. Even as he spoke, she couldn’t place his voice nor could she think of a face to match.

“You’ve made all the arrangements then?” Kent said, not bothering with pleasantries. His voice sounded so loud in this room, it was as though she were standing next to him. Charlotte felt completely exposed, though she knew better.

“It’s all gone according to plan,” the new man said, nonchalantly. “The property is as wretched as it was described in the letter, I’m afraid. It’s perfectly cheap but I should suspect so. The foundation is utterly rotten.”

“This is of no concern,” Kent said, dismissively. “What of the packages? They are prepared as well?”

“Not a single one lost,” the man said, smugly. “I’ve told you that I only work with the finest of our vast Brotherhood. We produce results, as proven.”

“I will agree to that,” Kent said, slowly. His pregnant pause made Charlotte grimace. “I would, anyway, if I could see the fruits of your labors. I don’t doubt that you have good men at your disposal. That you’ve wasted so much time with the disposable help in getting everything where it belongs is less encouraging. This blasted weather has pushed everything back and my patience with this plan is souring.”

“And yet I am here and producing even as I am being insulted for my efforts,” the other man said, coldly. “I repeat: We have not lost a single package of your precious poison. You have every means to make this household tremble at your power. If you can pay, that is.”

“You have been paid,” Kent growled.

“And I have come to realize it was not enough,” the man replied sharply. “You forget yourself and the connections of our Brotherhood. You may well feel confident enough to criticize our methods but the disposable help you complain about has managed to secure our packages throughout the county without a paper trail nor a reliable witness left to give any account of what has been happening.”

“There are some still alive,” Kent replied, his tone sullen. Charlotte didn’t need to see him to know that he knew he was in trouble now. Smiling like a demon, she crept closer to the wall, itching to see the action unfolding. “And Greyson. Forgive my lack of confidence when it comes to such matters but I feel we are a bit premature in declaring this a success.”

“Don’t get too broken up about the price change, old man,” the other man said, his arrogance dripping in every syllable. “The disposable labor is nearly at an end. They have been worked to near starvation and most of them were on death’s door when they came to me. There are a few more robust ones and they’ve taken on the heavier duties since then. If there’s one thorn, it might be the woman but she’s a nutter who’s come in handy when it came to concealing the package meant to come here within the week. If all else fails, she can last long enough to come here and you can place her in the fine ranks of the laundry servants you go through so quickly.”

“I worry less about a laundry maid than I do about this rube Greyson,” Kent replied, sounding more like himself. “I assume that he’s checked out?”

“But of course,” the man replied, annoyed. “His name is pristine when it comes to his legal affairs and as far as I have found, he has managed to find a method to secure that title to the land. Everything I had sought out about him was readily available so as far as I have seen, he is who he said he is. His former client, on the other hand, is a bit of a pill. There’s next to nothing on him and the hospital will not allow us to find out more, regardless of our connections. It’s the only part of his letter that cannot be verified and though we can find some record of the man’s existence, what little we can figure is that he is not at all what Greyson claimed.”

“Likely a swindler and Greyson realized too late that the chap was a cad,” Kent replied. “As long as the property dealings are well under way, it is of no real concern.”

“Agreed,” the other man sighed. “The deed to the property is being made up and should be yours by the time the snow is gone. When the package arrives, it should help you achieve the rest of the plan without a hitch. All you have to do is ensure that the next one is ready to go because this venture is likely to get expensive in a hurry, Kent.”

“She will bend,” Kent said smugly. Charlotte cringed as she knew that he spoke of her. She snarled at the sound of his arrogant laughter. “The old girl has some fight in her but then again, so did Vivian once. They all fall eventually and she’s nowhere near as young as she was when we met the first time.”

“You really ought to tame your taste, Kent,” the other man said. “These wild ones have quite the way with their tempers.”

“That’s what the maids are for,” Kent said, dismissively. “Help yourself to the brandy. I have a wife to break down while the other is busy screaming at someone.”

Charlotte wasted no time in listening to their ending banter. She quietly made her way up the steps to the door that she’d broken open and quickly slipped through it as she heard the steps echoing up towards the forgotten wing. Though anyone else might have been trembling in fear at the prospect of Kent coming up only to roar with rage when he couldn’t find her, Charlotte shook in the darkness of stairwell as she ground her teeth together in barely restrained anger. Old girl? Oh how he would pay for that!

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