It is the twilight of the Victorian Age. Airships and ornothopters traverse the heavens, telegraph and telephone lines connect the continents, and the electric fires of Edison and Tesla banish all but the darkest of shadows.
But in those shadows, a Secret War rages. As the battle-scarred States in North America observe a tenuous peace, and the princes of Europe and Asia rattle sabers and marshal their forces, the ages-old conflict between Good and Evil is waged by secret societies and ancient cults on the fringes of civilization. In the dark places of the world, blood is spilled by science and magic, and monsters still roam the earth.
Sean O’Rourke, smuggler and captain of the airship Morrigan, and his stalwart friend and engineer, Bill Gunn, are thrust into this epic struggle when they unexpectedly help the mysterious Professor Artemis Needlebright and his loyal bodyguard, Barnabas Carnehan, face down a Satanic cult in a New Orleans brothel.
Forming an unlikely partnership, the four men later find themselves hunting the notorious Jack the Ripper through the rookeries of Whitechapel before the machinations of another ancient order threaten to sunder their fragile alliance while casting North America back into the bloody crucible of Civil War.
“Order of the Secret Darkness”, “The Ripper”, and “A House Divided” are the first installments in the ongoing adventures of Sean O’Rourke, Bill Gunn, Professor Needlebright, and Mr. Carnehan as they battle the forces of The Enemy across the globe in the Secret War.
Fireworks burst overhead as the Crescent City celebrated Secession Day. It was the 24th anniversary of Lee and Jackson’s victory at Gettysburg which had forced Lincoln to sign the Armistice and formally recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation. Though a state of war still technically existed between the neighboring countries, there had been no open hostilities for six years. Rumor had it that both governments were currently engaged in secret talks in London to officially end the war. Even wilder rumors used the word “reunification.” However, all New Orleans knew for certain was that the Confederacy was still a sovereign nation. So the fireworks continued to color the night sky well past midnight and the steam-powered calliopes of over a dozen riverboats—having started out as an amazingly-choreographed ensemble at sunset—continued to warble out renditions of “Dixieland” long past the organists’ stamina and sobriety.This only mattered academically to Sean O’Rourke, who was Irish by birth but had served as an officer in the United States Army Air Corps for seven years before fleeing the country under spurious circumstances. He doubted if the other four men at the card table of Le Chateau de Noir’s backroom cared even that much, three being citizens of the Empire and the only American—a Texan—being nearly drunk.Le Chateau was one of the nicer bordellos in one of the rowdier corners of the Quarter. Owned and operated by the handsome and witty Monsieur de Griese, a former slave and self-made man, the establishment was widely renowned for its three great attractions: the beauty of the caramel-colored ladies, the quality of the dark Caribbean rum, and the caliber of play at the back room tables. At this particular moment Le Chateau de Noir was nearly deserted because, like its girls, its potential clientele had exhausted itself during the holiday’s festivities. The front rooms being abandoned as the last of the “performers” had ushered their customers upstairs for the night, Monsieur de Griese had turned out the lamps of the ground floor save for those illuminating the slow-going game in the back room. Dutifully, the imposing proprietor then took up his position behind the mahogany bar; incongruous in his French-cut tuxedo and white tie standing in front of the large painting of a dusky and voluptuous odalisque.“Must be late when they turn the lights out in a whore house,” drawled the Texan as he tiredly eyed his cards. Though dressed in an expensive black-and-gray pinstripe suit with a fastidiously waxed mustache that smacked of the big cities of “the east,” the wiry man’s accent and manner marked him as a frontiersman. The nickel-plated Lightning on his hip was another unmistakable clue to the man’s western roots.“Did you fancy another go at one o’ the girls, then, Monty?” Sean asked, enough County Kerry still in his accent to avoid sounding like a Yankee; a good thing in this place and time. “’Cause you might have enough money left for just one, and I’m sure you’d have a better time losin’ it to a lady than to one o’ us.” He ran a tired hand through his blond locks and shifted in his chair, the butt of his holstered Le Mat raking across the spindles.“So that’s it, is it? You bunch o’ limeys gangin’ up on the American, O’Rourke?” The Texan smiled but something in his dark eyes said he wasn’t joking.“You play so poorly, we don’t have to cheat, Mr. Creed,” growled Bill Gunn, the big Scotsman seated to Sean’s right. The red-haired giant wore wire-rimmed spectacles which seemed to divide his bushy auburn brow from his bristly copper whiskers. Powerful muscles clinched and rolled beneath his sweat-stained shirt, threatening to snap his braces or send the buttons on his chest across the room in a lethal barrage. The black-and-gold plaid jacket which matched his trousers hung on the back of his chair, exposing a brand-new Webley revolver in its shoulder holster.“That don’t mean you ain’t, Mr. Gunn,” Creed countered as he tossed his cards into the pot. “Fold.”“Smartest play you’ve made tonight, my friend,” Sean said spreading a Jacks-over-threes full house on the table with a twinkle in his gray eyes. “I do believe the pot is mine.”Monty Creed pulled a thick black cigar from his waistcoat and lit it as Sean began to neatly stack his chips. Bill gathered up the cards for the next deal while the two Englishmen at the table continued to look bored. One was a battle-scarred soldier dressed in a faded khaki shirt and black military trousers tucked into polished black riding boots while the other was a pale, bookish fellow with prematurely thinning hair and dressed in an expensive tweed suit of somber gray. The latter was the only one at the table not visibly armed.Sean surveyed the group one more time, sizing them up. Bill had been his engineer and partner-in-crime for two years now. Some men had a weakness for the bottle, others for women; for Bill Gunn, it was science. Having already mastered the mechanics and applications of the steam engine—as well as improving upon them—the stingy Scot would live for a whole month on hard-tack and jerky if it meant scrounging up the coins to procure a copy of anything written by Edison, Maxwell, or Tesla. This avarice for technology and a healthy dose of wanderlust made the pragmatic Scot pliable to the idea of smuggling; Sean’s current occupation.In this case, the smuggling was that of passengers rather than contraband. Monty Creed had been a performer for “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s Wild West Show—which was currently touring Europe—until an altercation with another actor over a woman necessitated the Texan’s hasty departure from London. The wish to avoid official entanglements in England as well as those which would undoubtedly occur upon re-entering the Confederacy or its Northern counterpart prompted the fugitive to seek out O’Rourke and his airship, the Morrigan.As is often the case in smuggling, Sean had learned: one job leads directly to the next. Creed had sang the virtues of Le Chateau de Noir, including its special blend of spiced rum, on the long trans-Atlantic voyage, which had piqued the Irishman’s interest in possibly making a deal with Monsieur de Griese to transport several cases to the British Isles on the return trip. It had taken very little effort to convince the bawdy Texan to lead them to the mulatto and his establishment in hopes of making the deal.The trio had met the two Brits upon entering Le Chateau earlier in the evening. The bookish fellow claimed to be a Professor Artemis Needlebright of Winchester desiring a speedy return to England after “acquiring” certain antiquities from the American natives in Tennessee. Sean suspected this was at least a partial fabrication, since the man was younger than he pretended to be with his skillfully—if imperfectly—applied stage makeup. Not that Sean particularly cared about the subterfuge, as the “professor” had not batted one of his eerie green eyes when he agreed to the ridiculous price Sean had quoted for passage.The grim-faced soldier was Barnabas Carnehan, Needlebright’s bodyguard. The man had dark hair and pale blue eyes—one of which had just missed being removed by whatever had left a straight scar down the left side of his face. Carnehan spoke little, though when he did his Yorkshire accent was evident...
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