Miss Lucy Hyde stood at the far end of the room, strolling with an ease and grace befitting an angel. She moved slowly toward the small group gathered in the large hall’s center and nodded curtly to everyone as she came to a stop before them.
“I am pleased to see that you could all make it.” Miss Hyde said. “This is a rare and special occasion. I am certain that all of you have questions, questions which I intend to answer in due time.” Her voice was soft, silken in a way that only a voice can be. It melted with each word as she spoke, dripping with a seeming sensuality that everyone around her, including Miss Wilder and Mrs. Shelly, could not help but feel. It was like the sweet honey of a warm summer day, running from the comb into a crystal glass. The soft intonations lit with a perceivably light airiness, floating in the still air like a cool breeze scented with cherry blossoms.
“Thank you all, for coming.” she said. The mood in the room almost instantly changed. Where once cautious apprehension and a tense but invisible dread loomed, there was now a soft and silent bewilderment as all five of the summoned guests looked at their host with curiosity and wonder. It seemed nearly impossible that a woman so beautiful both in voice and appearance could simply exist. Yet there she was, standing among them.
Her elegant and shimmering red dress spoke volumes of the woman, and there seemed, though most didn’t catch it, a smirk or recognition on her face which said to the watchful observer she was aware of the statement her clothing made, even if she pretended to be ignorant of it. The gown was modern and elaborate. The dress itself was fitted tightly against the full figured woman’s body. The corset beneath, no doubt made from expensive silks and steel, only added to exaggerate her already visible hourglass shape. In place of a full bustle beneath her skirts, her shapely hips were easy to see in the modern silhouette style of her A-line gown. Sewn intricately to the red satin and silk of her dress and jacket were thousands upon thousands of finely detailed sequins and jewels which only the richest blood could afford.
It was clear, whomever Miss Hyde turned out to be, she came from wealthy stock indeed. The design of her outfit overall, and the brazenness of her demeanor, the openness of her sensuality and, dare anyone think, her sexuality, it was quite obvious even to a lay observer, Miss Hyde was a modern and independent woman.
“The Order of the Five,” Miss Hyde began. “Has existed longer than most modern nations. It was founded, hundreds of years ago, with one purpose. To seek out and protect ancient and powerful artifacts. Artifacts which if left in the wrong hands, could spell certain destruction for humanity. We have existed within, but never a part of, many governments, churches, and organizations for centuries. We are the silent protectors of all that is holy and all that is sacred.
“The Order of the Five is a far-reaching entity whose members are as secret to the world abroad as they are to most within its own ranks. We reside in the shadows and use them to our advantage.
“You have been invited here, this evening, because the Order of the Five believes you, in your own ways, are each capable of serving our cause.”
Miss Hyde glided over to the bar and poured herself a glass of deep burgundy wine. She sipped at it, allowing the crimson liquid to roll over her pallet before swallowing.
“As you have begun to discuss and understand, you come from varied backgrounds and have among you, particular skill sets which we feel are vital and necessary to completing a task, well, only you can complete.”
“Please, my Dear,” Watson said. “Enlighten us. What exactly is it you’ve invited us here for?”
“Of course, Doctor,” Hyde replied. “What I am about to tell you will be difficult to understand, harder still to believe. I ask that you refrain from disregarding the information I am preparing to share. Listen with an open mind and be open to accepting that you may not have all the answers. Not yet.”
The woman, slender and lithe, finished her glass of wine and made her way back to the center of the room.
“Heaven and Hell are real. Angels and demons are real. The Devil is very much real. Since the time before man, Satan and their followers, cast from the heavens, have sought a way to regain their power and seek revenge against God.
“One legend, which has existed since the time of Christ’s death, is that of an ancient tome. An apocryphal gospel, the Book of Judas. It is said that hidden within the pages of Judas’ gospel are the ancient evil rites which contain the ability to grant Satan themselves, untold power on Earth.
“While it is said that the Book of Judas is nothing more than fantasy, an Unholy Grail to the demons and monsters who worship the Devil, recent evidence of its existence has begun to change our minds.”
Somewhat intrigued by her tale, and enthralled completely by her beauty, Monsieur Claudette raised a single eyebrow and said, “Of course, this is all myth, legend as you say?”
Miss Hyde nodded slowly, confidently. “Yes, Monsieur.” She said. “Yet, as I have mentioned, recent evidence has surfaced which gives the Order reason to pause and rethink their beliefs. Because of the very serious implications surrounding this tome, the Order has decided to put together a highly specialized team from many fields with many skill sets. This team is to travel the world, seek out this Book of Judas, and return it to the Order for its utter safety, and ours. You are that team.”
Miss Wilder stood, clasping tightly to her handbag as she spoke. “This makes no sense. What skills could I possibly lend to a team of… of… what? Researchers? Librarians?”
Miss Hyde moved toward Miss Wilder and placed a small, gentle hand on her shoulder. A warm heat rose in her bosom and she inhaled with a deep sigh. A sudden nervous calm overcame her.
“Please, Miss Wilder,” Hyde said softly. “The Order has thought long and hard about their choices and you are on that list. Despite your personal feelings on the matter, or your abilities to achieve the goals set before you. The Order has made a very conscious decision in selecting you, each of you, for the task at hand.”
Monsieur Claudette rose, making his way as steadily as he could toward the bar to pour himself another drink. He stumbled but recovered gracefully with a practiced performance which, for a room of strangers not watching directly, would have been easily passable as sober. However, standing in a room surrounded by five others, each of whom watched his every half-cocked step toward the bar, his discrete stumbling might as well have been the overly exaggerated act of a pantomime. Glasses clinked together loudly as he filled himself another drink.
“And what, exactly,” He said, gulping down his drink in a single swallow. “Is our task to be?” He didn’t wait for an answer before pouring himself another drink.
Miss Hyde nodded, ignoring the Frenchman’s drunkenness. “The Order of the Five first heard of the tome’s existence eons ago, but it was only recently in the depths of the Amazon rainforest, that truly substantial evidence came to light. Evidence which suggests the myth might be more than just that.”
The slender blonde turned her attention toward the doctor and the detective, gazing at them with a deep emerald stare. Both men seemed entranced, either by the green wildfire burning deep within her or the curious tale she spun as she spoke.
“The Amazon, you say?” Watson asked, clearing his throat loudly.
“Yes, Doctor. An American researcher, a man of science by the name of, Arthur Hemmings has been investigating the ruins of the native peoples in South America. The Order found it odd that such a place would deliver such astounding results pertaining to an ancient Christian text. No less, that is what we learned.”
The detective, who up until now, had stood stark mulling his unlit pipe between his lips and listening to the story intently. Only now, as he stirred, did his face reveal any true emotion. He squinted for a second, gathering thoughts and weighing his next words carefully.
“Miss Hyde, you’ve told us an incredible tale. One filled with mystery, intrigue, and something else, something which only stirs in man when he is faced with God and religion. A sense of devout loyalty to the creator, I suppose? Yet, you have done very little in the way of producing evidence to us, which would, at least in my case as you no doubt have guessed, persuade me to believe a single word you’ve said.” Holmes relit his pipe and began puffing, waiting patiently for the elegant woman in the red dress to reply.
“Mr. Holmes,” She said with a perfect smile. “You are not wrong to request evidence, but you will receive none. There is nothing I can offer you, in physicality, which might persuade you to believe anything I have said. I am not asking you to believe me.”
At this Watson stood, taking the chance to stretch his stiffening leg, all the while addressing the woman who now stood on the other side of the room from him.
“But you have asked us to, what?” He asked. “Find the tome, bring it back to you? Protect the world from demons and fallen angels?”
“Precisely, Doctor,” said Miss Hyde. “I have arranged your trip aboard the Vasilisa. A Russian steam vessel which is headed to the Eastern Coast of South America.” From within one of the many pockets in her dress, Miss Hyde retrieved an envelope. Opening it so everyone could see, she slipped out several large tickets.
“From the coast, you will head inland, make your way to Dr. Hemmings camp, and discover if his findings are true.” She said. “If you do, in fact, find the text, you are to return here immediately. The only way to ensure the legions of the Devil never get their hands on that book is if it’s in our control.”
At hearing this, Miss Wilder stood again. Her hand still grasped tightly at her handbag and the contents inside. “You cannot,” She began, “expect us to simply drop everything in our lives and sail halfway around the world!”
Slurring several of his words together, Claudette managed to speak. “What incentive have you offered us? Are you paying us for this trip?”
As if expecting to hear each and every one of the replies she had just heard, Miss Hyde simply smiled and with a gentle tone responded. “The Order will provide all lodging, transportation, and dining expenses required in your work. However, the Order will not be supplying you with anything more.”
Monsieur Claudette smiled as slinked awkwardly across the carpet toward Miss Hyde. “Then why should I stay?” He asked, sipping on the last bit of his drink. When he could not find a table near where he stood, he placed his empty glass on the top of a chair. Almost immediately the glass fell and shattered on the floor. Everyone stared at the mess on the floor. Miss Wilder, unable to understand or control her emotions, felt a sudden pang of embarrassment watching the drunk man.
“I’ll tell you, Monsieur Claudette,” Hyde said, her tone suddenly cooling. “As I’m certain the rest of you have figured out, the Order of the Five has obtained some rather damning evidence against each of you. Should you choose to walk away from this task, either now or later, that said information will find its way into every city paper from Moscow to California.”
Claudette smiled a toothy grin. “Iamacriminal,” He said slowly, the words blending one to another. “There is nothing you could have on me, that the police don’t already know. Nothing which would motivate me to do anything for you. Least of all without the promise of money!”
Her gaze locking on the young Frenchman, Miss Hyde’s voice turned to ice. Any trace of the warmth or soft-spoken tenderness she’d once displayed now little more than a ghost. “Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, we are not asking you to help us. We have demanded it. You will choose to help us because there is no other option. Should you at any time decide to change your mind, the Order will not hesitate for a moment to publish everything.”
It was Holme’s turn to speak. He puffed several times on his pipe, stepped over to a chair he’d first claimed when entering, and picked up his warm outer coat. “Miss Hyde, Monsieur Claudette and I are in a similar situation. I have nothing to hide which I would be so terrified of coming to light, that I’d be willing to do anything to keep it secret. I could walk away right now, and even your publishing of my secrets would do little harm to me.”
The detective began walking, making long strides with his thin legs towards the door. He listened to Miss Hyde speak as he donned his coat and prepared to leave.
“Mr. Holmes, Monsieur Claudette, to further incentivize you, we will not only release the information we have on you, information you might feel is not damning, at the moment, but I can guarantee is much the opposite; we will release everyone’s secrets and shames. In this, your fates are bound. You are a team and you must begin to work like one, together.”
Holmes stopped, turned, and made his way back to Miss Hyde towering over her like a perched raptor on a tree. “Again, I shall remind you, I care little for what you think you may have on me. I care nothing for those around me for I know nothing of them. Should their secrets come to light, I will no more be harmed by that than by whatever secrets you say you have over me coming to the surface.”
With a sudden and familiar click, the detective froze. Pointed directly at his back was a small pistol.
“Mr. Holmes,” Miss Wilder said, raising the pistol toward his heart. “I implore you to reconsider.”