It had been a full week since Caroline had allowed herself to part with some of her finery and jewels that she’d arrived with. It was precious little when she thought about it. Just some earrings that had once belonged to a relative that she no longer knew and a few small items that were made with silk. They were older and weren’t quite as lovely as they had been when they were new. It was time to part with them anyway, she had reasoned. While a part of her mourned the loss, she had been able to finally afford to move on from where she had been stranded in that hovel that she’d been wasting away in and she was feeling more confident now. She’d been able to see clearer and as soon as she had her wits about her, she had dyed her hair once more, shed her costume and left the room with the broken doll and other elements that were once the lie that she’d pretended to be. It had been a difficult adjustment at first but soon, Caroline found that her feet hit the ground and she felt something like renewal. Not in her purpose. If she dared think of what was to come, she would fall into the bottle with a despair that would lose her precious time. Instead, she found a new shack to call home for the time being, allowing herself to stay closer to the downtrodden than the fancy young men with more money. They were far too cocky for her liking. She could barely hold her contempt around them and while she was in hiding, it was for the best that she not allow anyone to see her true nature. Sadly, they were far more prevalent these days and difficult to evade, even in the most unsavory parts of this small part of the world.
Caroline had wasted no time in finding a new hotel in which to hide following selling her wares. It was further out of the way of most of the civilized world that ran along the main street of this town which suited her just fine. That said, the darkness that fell over the windows earlier now was difficult to take at night. So silent and eerie, like the nights she’d spent in Victor’s house. The new place that she had taken refuge in was a might bit less dirty than the previous one, however, and it had done her heart good to be in a place with decent running water. This evening, she was using the aftermath of the steam to help keep her nerves calm as she kept her eyes on the gloom of dull streets below. She had found the bath rejuvenating and it had given her some clarity of thought as to what her next move should be. It helped to shove aside the deflating thoughts that the dirt on her skin had brought with it. She found that she was almost convinced that she was becoming the beggar that she portrayed herself to be most days. She would not actually beg for money, of course. That was beneath her and she could never look her Papa in the eye again should she have reduced herself to such a state. Of other things, he need not know and Caroline was less inclined to be that forward about it. She could not look into his face and know that she had been reduced to being a wretch due to his selfishness, though. She would not allow him the satisfaction.
Upon coming to this place, Caroline knew for certain only three things. One, she was known to someone in this town. A person calling themselves her sister had contacted her more than once now. A person who had sent her the dastardly cloak that she’d carried with her since first she fled the house that loomed in the trees. Victor’s prison. Caroline had been too overwhelmed before to take stock of her emotions on the night that she had been visited by her so-called sibling and she had missed some crucial clue to these packages that had mocked her so. She knew that writing. It was the same upon the package sent to her that contained that wretched doll. She knew that spidery hand as soon as she saw it but she could not place it then as she could not place it now. Oh how she wished it to be Vivian’s crooked scrawl but she knew better. This was the handwriting of someone far less refined than even that. Vivian might be a harlot but she was a well-trained one and could never have caught the eye of the Kent family by showing such low birth traits with writing so sloppy. For the time being, it wasn’t her that wrote the notes but she wasn’t yet proven innocent and Caroline would have to keep her eyes peeled for more clues. The wench would get careless eventually. She would have to reveal her true nature at some point. If not her, then someone would show themselves for this treachery.
The next point of focus, one that was in dire need of rectifying, was that someone had managed to undo all her precious work in securing the financial ends of getting Victor to come with her. When she was in the house, it had been far easier to work on getting to him but that had been squandered on trying to get him to see reason. She saw her error now and it would not be repeated a second time. She had spoken to him like a man but he was just a boy and needed more guidance. She should have trapped him then. Allowed herself to become the stern woman that she needed to act as now but she had been overcome with the need to find him. To know that he was indeed the boy they had lost. She did not yet know the depth of horror that had awaited in finding that wretch lingering in the shadows here. She had made the arrangements later than planned but by that point, someone had found a way to lock them away from her. She suspected that whomever had posed as her sister had also informed Victor of her workings and now the sums in the bank could not be counted as part of her resources. There was more, of course. It would take much to find a way to get it but there was always more to be found. If she had discovered anything about her dear, horrible Papa, it was that a man could have many valuable secrets. She, herself, had stumbled on her own father’s quite by accident and managed this far on those alone. She had, in recent days, also managed to find methods to getting to other resources. Some of them regrettable but others well worth the regret. In any case, it had been one that knew how to hurt her that had managed to make her sink to this lowly state and this was an offense that she had every intention on punishing. It was only proper. She only prayed that Victor was not aware of everything she had done thus far. That he wasn’t too far gone.
The final thing that she was utterly aware of, much as it broke her heart, was that her dear brother was the victim of that whore and that he would never come to see reason while subject to her poisonous influence. While she had come here to become his savior, she had not counted on such a fight nor had she properly prepared for such a cruel truth to reveal itself. The devil herself had come to find him and steal him away. Imprisoned him in that lonely tower to dwell upon things of a mysterious nature. He had told her nothing while she had come there and she feared for his very mind now. That he might yet be entertaining that he loved that wicked temptress. Vivian lived with a man as vile as she and yet she still wished to trap Caroline’s beloved brother. Her only brother. Caroline knew that she must rip him from her clutches and that he would fight. His addiction to this false freedom was too strong and she must be the one to curb that wild spirit in him. It was as it always had been but so much more difficult. She could not talk him down this time. She must trap him. Must take him to a place of vulnerability where he could not return to strength and flee like he had. He would fight but she must not allow him to find his footing. It was simply a matter of drawing him in long enough to keep him subdued. Long enough to make him serve.
There was a shuffling at the door before it opened and Caroline felt her heart seize. She clutched at her robe, ready to strike at the one who entered.
“Who has entered this room uninvited?” she snapped, hiding her fear in her tone beneath her anger.
“Ain’t no one fancy coming in, miss,” a haggard female voice replied. “Building manager noticed the tip you left when you came. Sent his regards.”
Caroline stood straight upon the woman entering her room, her back hunched and her face weathered like a crumpled leather glove. The gnarled body before her moved unevenly as she hastily hobbled in the door and quickly closed it behind her. Her eyes were clouded and immediately upon entering, the hag was feeling her way around, carefully cradling a small bundle of towels. Though the wretch was clearly blind or nearly so was of some comfort, Caroline did not allow herself to be taken off guard. She watched, unmoved as the hag put the bundle down on the bed and used her now free hands to feel around to the end of the bed post.
“Mighty cold around here at night,” the elderly woman said, her voice coming out like it was straining to escape. “Sir downstairs wouldn’t want you to be getting ill. Happens more around these parts and you might find the fire needs a bit of help some nights.”
Caroline carefully made her way forward while the woman waited. The hag was listening to the rustle of the robe as her host approached the bundle and unwrapped them. Buried in the stain-laden hand towels was an unmarked bottle filled with amber liquid. The wretched woman smiled a toothless grin upon hearing the cloth moving around near her.
“First bottle, compliments of the house,” the hag said.
“Since that’s the case, why don’t you share a small sip with me,” Caroline said, her tone polite but a sinister gleam in her eye. “It is a cold night, after all. Why don’t you tell me more about the kindly gent who sent this?”