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Daemon Bound

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Betty first saw her in the library; a pale girl in a ruffled white night dress who walked between the shelves, light as mist. The girl peeked between books and stood in dark corners, never speaking, never completely seen. She was older than Betty. By how much, there was no way for Betty to tell, but the girl was taller, with hair ornaments better suited to a girl going on her teens.

The girl seemed faded. Smudged. And no one else could see her, but Betty was sure she was there, even if looking at the girl felt like watching her through a shroud. Sometimes she looked like one amongst a crowd, particularly when Charles’s house was filled with people, running between jeweled guests like a shade, casting shadows where no one looked, and tinkling crystal when it wouldn’t be noticed.

The girl liked to watch the ladies in their layered bustle skirts and feathery hats.  She liked to touch the trimmings on their parasols and the bones on their corsets. She seemed endlessly fascinated by the men’s top hats and their tailored coats. And she always took the time to tip over a few jeweled canes.

Often, the girl looked unchanged by time, her features delicate and unmarred. But when the days were dark and dreary, marked by ill news or when the air was heavy with worry, the girl looked ghastly, with mottled green skin, a clot of blood matting her hair, and her fingers and nails brutalized, like she had tried to claw her way out of her coffin. 

Betty had never seen anyone like her before, but even at ten, Betty understood what the girl was. She was a spirit, a spectral remnant of a young girl that had once lived.

Betty sometimes found her frightening, even when Betty told herself the girl seemed harmless enough, but it was difficult to stay brave when the girl looked like a rotting corpse.

Still, Betty tried her best not to dive under her sheets and hide.

And so one day, after having seen the girl haunting Charles’s library for weeks, Betty finally turned to her and spoke, “What’s your name?”

The spirit, having set herself on the other side of the bookcase to watch Betty, said nothing at first. She stood unmoving, silent as the dead.

“Do you have a name?” Betty asked again.

As the silence lengthened, Betty did not think she would get an answer, but just as she thought the spirit did not want to be bothered, that all she really wanted to do was watch the living, she spoke.

“Evelyn.”

Betty looked at her through the books. She could only see Evelyn’s fathomless eyes, black as night and nothing else. “Did you used to live here, Evelyn?”

“No. Never. Here, I died.”

Betty thought that to be incredibly sad. She had imagined that Evelyn stayed on because the house was filled with memories she could not leave behind. She could not imagine the reasons a spirit would stay at the place they died in, if they weren’t happy ones, for when one died as young as Evelyn, the circumstances for which they lingered could not be good.

“How old are you?” Betty asked.

“I was twelve when it happened.”

“When you died?”

“When I was murdered.”

Betty was shocked. She was ten, and in her world, children were not killed. Children died, yes, of disease. Perhaps even of accidents. But they were never murdered. Who would murder a child? “Who would do such a thing?”

Evelyn did not flinch. “My betrothed. Lord Edgar Evernever.”

“Does anyone else know that he killed you?”

Evelyn shook her head.

Betty felt like she needed to do something. One simply did not get murdered and forgotten. If one had gotten murdered, justice ought to follow. “I should tell my brother.”

Evelyn’s lips tightened to a line.  “The likes of him… don’t help the likes of me.”

Before Betty could insist, Evelyn disappeared, fading in the slant of the sunbeams streaming through the windows.

Betty didn’t see Evelyn again until several days later, when while waiting for sleep to come, Evelyn materialized at the foot of her bed.

It was the clearest Betty had ever seen her, far more solid than the times before.  Her hair, fairer during the day, seemed to be made of shadow. The hues of her dress seemed deeper. Evelyn’s eyes looked even darker at night, if that were possible--two deep wells that swallowed light.  

“Come with me,” was all Evelyn said before gliding backwards towards Betty’s bedroom door.

Betty did not ask. She jumped out of bed, never minding the shock of the cold floor against her bare feet. She pushed back the tangles of her blonde hair and threw her braid behind her as she raced out of the door.

Betty saw Evelyn’s spectral form materialize at the end of the hallway, disappearing behind the corner. Betty followed her, and next Betty saw Evelyn disappearing at the bottom of the stairs. Wherever Evelyn was leading her, it was downwards, and it was only when Betty pushed open the door to the wine cellar that the chase seemed to stop.

Evelyn stood at the edge of the room, where the brick wall behind her was old and untouched. The floors and shelves, often refurbished through the years, were free of the evidence of age that marked the cellar walls.  The walls, she’d heard the house cook say, were perfect the way they were: old, but just right for housing the wines, so that they may be properly kept, or even aged.

Evelyn turned and glided her hand over the chipped bricks and mortar.  “I’m here. Within this wall.”

And Evelyn disappeared then, like a candle in the wind, blown by an unseen breath.

Betty touched the stone where Evelyn’s hand had lain.  It was cold as winter and bone dry. There could have been no means for  anyone to have known that there was something behind those ancient walls, no indication that a young girl’s slain body had been bricked up and sealed, evidence of a murder that may have never been solved.

There should’ve at least been a blood stain, thought Betty nonsensically. Aren’t blood stains impossible to wash off?

It then occurred to Betty that Evelyn could’ve been killed by strangulation, where often such means shed no blood at all, though it would have been no less horrifying, where Evelyn could’ve stared into her killer’s eyes as he squeezed the life out of her, gradually, slowly, painfully.

She had to have been stabbed, or maybe bashed on the head. It must have been sudden, and Betty supposed that Evelyn hadn’t even seen it coming. There had been times Betty saw blood in Evelyn’s hair. Surely, that had something to do with her death. 

She wondered then if it was polite to ask someone how they died. There was no prescribed etiquette for speaking to dead people.  

As she turned away from the wall to head for the door, she saw Charles standing at the threshold, blocking the candlelight beyond.

His presence surprised her. She had not heard him following. 

She said nothing, for she was at a loss at what to say. Should she apologize for being out of bed at this late hour? If she explained what had happened, would he think her a fanciful ten-year-old?

"Who were you following, Betty?" he asked.

The question startled her. She had expected a question along the constellation of, "What are you doing out of bed at this hour, young lady?" 

Still, she was cautious about giving a truthful response. "No one, Charles. Just an imaginary friend."

His lips tightened to a grim line for an instant, then the look in his hard green eyes softened. 

He had just turned 20 and his face was still fresh with youth, though sometimes his eyes made him seem older than he was. He had arms like a workman, even if he didn't appear to do much heavy lifting. He was a budding businessman, she was told, so manual labor was not in his daily routine.

She often saw him with a companion—a younger boy, whom he seemed to treat like an apprentice, apparently 14, as the boy once enunciated it in a very sarcastic tone to her clearly amused brother. 

In spite of the sarcasm, he seemed to regard Charles with clear admiration. 

Everyone else deserved nothing but his deep set scowl. She’d heard Charles call him Forsythe, but when the boy frowned at the name, Charles would laugh and call him Jughead, instead.

However responsible her brother was, Betty was never afraid of him, because he was kind and he cared about his family and other people.  

Everybody loved Charles.

He sighed, coming towards her and placing a hand on her head. "Was it a spirit, sister?"

Betty felt instant relief. Such a question meant he'd believe her. It meant he somehow expected it. Did he see Evelyn too? 

She nodded.

A small smile, a sad one, played on his lips. “I thought I had gotten them all to move on…”

Betty did not think much about what Charles said then, that it meant he had spoken to spirits himself. Instead, she touched the stone wall. "She said she's in the wall. Buried, I think."

Charles placed his own hand upon the wall. "Did she say who did it?"

"Her betrothed, Lord Evernever."

He shook his head. "Lord Evernever.... probably a previous owner of this house. Easy enough to find out more. It must have happened at least fifty years ago, for this wall was in place when we purchased this home, and the gentleman who sold it said the cellar had been untouched for at least forty years. Have you always seen this spirit?"

She shook her head. "Only in the last few months."

"Shortly after you turned ten, I'd wager. It usually happens thereabouts... that time. A woman, you said it was?"

"A girl. She's twelve."

"Gods, twelve. Who kills a child, honestly?" He seemed not so much shocked but resigned. He'd heard of this sort of thing happening before, even if he could never fathom why. "Well then, back to bed with you. Tomorrow, I'll give you something new to read, how about that?"

It was odd the way Charles spoke so easily of it all, as if it happened everyday one’s ten year old sister would communicate with the souls of the dead.

He led her back out of the cellar, up in the hallways and back to her room. He tucked her into bed and sat at the edge of it, smoothing the covers over her. "You might see more spirits from now on. When you do, come to me and tell me all about them. Understand?"

She didn't quite understand but she nodded anyway.

He left her then, bidding her goodnight as he closed her bedroom door. 

******************

The next morning, Charles gave her a book from what he called his personal library. She had never seen the book before, but it looked old and well used. There were notations on the pages of it with Charles's handwriting, and on the acknowledgements was written "With strength, we defend, but in kindness we set them free."

The book was entitled "Introduction to the Spirit Realm, Vol. 1"

She asked how many volumes there were and he said, "Ten."

It seemed so monumental a number at the time, but as she began to read, the subject matter had her spellbound. Ghosts and entities of various types graced the pages of the book, how to identify them, how to approach them, which of them were dangerous, how to trap them, and all sorts of extraordinary things.

She was so engrossed by her books that she barely noticed that Charles had contracted masons to refurbish his wine cellar. Barely heard it when Charles spoke of going to the country where one very old gentleman resided. Not until their mother, Alice, while at the dinner table, demanded to know from him what he intended to do with the corpse they had found bricked up in their cellar.

"The authorities would know what to do with it, I trust," he simply said.

The constabulary never showed any indication that they did, for they never appeared to collect Evelyn's bones.

 

*********

 

Charles took her on a trip.

Just the two of them, with very little luggage and even less supplies.  How he explained to Alice the purpose of a brother bringing his ten year old sister on a business trip, Betty did not care to know. All she knew was that she was leaving the house on a trip and that this was an adventure.

As they got off the train into a small village in the rocklands of Connecticut, they boarded a coach that brought them to a tiny villa further into the mountain range. There, Charles brought her to the forest and gave her weaponry.

“We will start with a bow and arrow,” he said casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.  He showed her how to wield it, and much to her surprise, her fingers were nimble on the string and fletch. The point of her arrow found the trunk of a tree without need of much practice.

Charles seemed pleased but unsurprised. Next he gave her a crossbow, and when she proved that she could manage that, he gave her a firearm, and it was with this firearm that she caught them a hart.

The hart was a young one, whose antlers were free of fuzz, but only just beginning to shape themselves into a crown of thorns. It would have been a beautiful animal, and as Charles hitched the buck upon his shoulders, she found that she regretted killing it.

When Charles saw the tears threatening to spill from her eyes, he smiled. “You have saved us from hunger, sister. You mustn’t be sorry for that.”

“We could have scavenged for berries or greens,” she said.

He smirked. “Berries are poisonous in these parts, and greens are scarce in the rocklands. We aren’t in a farm.”

“Perhaps a rabbit would have sufficed. Or a bird.”

“And you think their lives less than a buck’s?”

That caught her and she was sorry for what she said. She turned away, her tears now wrought with shame.

Seeing her distress, Charles relented with a sigh. “You, Betty, are a Peace Dealer. Only one who values life like you, can be one, and it is only in valuing life can you do your duty with compassion.”

She looked up. “What did you just call me, Charles?”

He smiled but did not reply. He began to make his way back to camp with the dead deer over his shoulders, “Let us not waste your regret. Let this buck sustain us while we bide our time to meet with our host.”

As of yet, she did not know who this host was.  That evening, Charles taught her how to skin a deer and build a fire to cook it. 

The next morning, he taught her how to fish and how to clean their catch. And the day after that, he told her to climb a rock. She knew without need of asking, that he was serious. And so she climbed the rock and found herself surprised at her success and the delight she derived from it.

Charles, watching her from the ground, smiled up at her as she scanned the land from her new vantage point.

The rocklands were vast, misty, and beautiful, unrelenting in the brutality of the rocks and landscape. And however overwhelming the isolation was, the last few days had taught her that she had absolutely nothing to fear.

From the tip of the rock, she stood on her toes, raised her arms and cried out that she was not afraid.

 

**********

 

A week through their expedition in the wilderness, Charles finally brought them to their “host”. They had, Betty discovered, gone to the rocklands to meet with Evelyn's father, who was old and nearly senile. 

The gentleman remembered little, but he remembered his lost daughter well, and Betty listened with tears in her eyes when Charles revealed to the old gentleman that Evelyn's bones were found in her betrothed’s former home. The gentleman never doubted that the man, Lord Evernever, could perpetrate such a crime of murder. 

Long dead after a prostitute's pimp disposed of him for skiving on his brothel fees, Lord Evernever was never properly put to rest, for his body, after having washed up on the shores of the Thame, was never claimed from the coroner's. Such was the shame of his family.

“He was a charismatic fellow, and his father convinced us that it would be best if Evelyn and Edgar knew each other better before they became formally engaged when they came of age. I never believed them when they said Evelyn had run away and they knew not where she went, but I never thought that he could be murderous.”

Betty then realized that Charles never trusted the constabulary to know what to do, and she did begin to understand what Charles told her that night he found her exploring in the wine cellar. He saw them, too. He saw the spirits. He spoke to them, and he helped them “move on.” To where, she did not know, but whatever it was he did, he was teaching her how to do it, too. 

She discovered that her mother was complicit in all of it and that Alice would do what was necessary to lay whatever spirits that asked for help to rest.

Evelyn came to her one last time, the night before her bones were to be collected by her father. "He hit me over the head with a bottle," she said in a dreadfully forlorn tone, speaking of the murderous Lord Evernever. "But I wasn't dead when he hid my body behind the bricks. I screamed and screamed, but no one heard me. Dying was agony."

It was revolting, this final tale. Betty would have nightmares about it for years, of being encased in a wall alive, her voice rendered soundless by stone. But she realized then that souls stayed on for a reason, that the restless dead was not synonymous with a peaceful passing, and that the more horrid the death, the more corporeal the spirit.

Only true resolution can give a troubled soul rest. Only in the dealing of peace can a spirit leave behind the land of the living for the land of the dead.

Charles continued to teach her what he had begun in the rocklands of Connecticut. 

Alice watched on, interested in her daughter’s education but always deferring to Charles’s tutelage of her. Charles brought in the strangest instructors to teach her.  Charles also taught a great many of her lessons: how to ride a horse, how to fence, how to swim, and how to run. He taught her how to defend herself, and taught her how to wield weapons. He brought her tutors so that she may learn things only sons were expected to learn, and he made her read books beyond the 10 volumes of "Introduction to the Spirit Realm". 

In the course of all her lessons, she discovered that she had a strength and agility uncommon to women and men, and that none of this surprised Charles in the least. She always wondered how he became learned enough to teach her these things in the first place, but while she was constantly reminded by Charles and Alice that her lessons were secret, that she was to tell no one of them, she discovered that they had their own secrets and that they would not share them with her.

 

************

Charles formally introduced Betty to Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” Jones III shortly after they came back from the rocklands. 

Betty was reading one of her many assigned tomes in the family library when Charles walked into the room with a sullen, scowling boy trailing behind him. 

Having only ever seen him from afar, she was surprised at how tall he was, but even then, his clothes were too big for him. His trousers bunched at the bottom in spite of the suspenders he wore holding them up higher over his waist. His jacket did not match his trousers and his vest hung open, the buttons missing. His shirt was the only thing that fit him well, and that was perhaps a result of having somewhat outgrown it.  His grey boilerman hat, which he never seemed to take off before, was now rumpled in his hands. His work boots looked sturdy, but they were scuffed all over. 

By contrast, Charles looked impeccably dressed, even without his coat on.  His vest and blouse alone looked well-tailored and made from rich material.  

“Elizabeth, this is Forsythe Pendleton Jones III,” Charles said without stopping to look at her. He was headed to one of the shelves, looking for something among the row of books. “He is… an apprentice of mine--for my business, you understand. He sees spirits, as well. You and he will occasionally be learning things together. Forsythe, I told you about my sister.” 

The chair across from Betty scraped loudly against the floor as Forsythe settled himself on it. His blue eyes were sharp enough to pierce her skull, and she eyed him back, defiant, though she could feel her face growing warm with suppressed anxiety. 

His fingers were long, and they nimbly held a notebook, which he easily tucked away in his coat. 

She stood, smoothing over embroidery on her white pinafore. “Occasionally?” she asked, shoulders back and chin raised. “Why only occasionally? I am forced to read these books for hours on end--”

“He works for me,” Charles said, his expression weary of, no doubt, her dramatics. “He has a job, and I pay him.”

“Pay him? How come he gets paid and I don’t?”

Charles shot her a frown. “You don’t work for me. You cannot.”

“Why not? Because I’m a girl?” 

“No, because you’re ten and the places I send him to will no doubt be the death of you.”

She looked at Forsythe for confirmation, and though he had averted his eyes, he did smirk, mostly to himself.  

A pout blossomed from Betty’s lips. “What he can do, I can do as well.”

Forsythe scoffed and she dealt him a glare that he didn’t pay attention to. Charles came over to the table and placed several more books between them.  

“When you turn fourteen, like Forsythe here, you very well may be able to,” Charles said, gently. “But right now, you will learn what Forsythe’s known since he himself was ten. Now read your text. Forsythe will read his.” He took the book at the top of the pile and gave it to Forsythe, who opened it without complaint. 

Betty eyed the tome in his hands. It was one of the advanced volumes, one she was told she was years away from reading. The rest of the remaining books were just as advanced. 

“I have some paperwork to attend to,” Charles said, cutting through her thoughts. “I will be back in a couple of hours. I’d expect you both to have gone through five chapters of your reading by the time I get back. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Forsythe said, though his eyes never left his text book. 

Charles looked at her for a similar response. 

She nodded, her chin set and her teeth pushing hard against one another.

Satisfied, Charles left, his footsteps fading and finally receding at the click of the library door. 

The moment Charles was gone, Betty made a grab for one of the advanced books. It smelled like old parchment and well-worn leather, and when she opened it and skimmed its yellowing pages, she could feel the ink of its contents against the pads of her fingers. There were sigils and diagrams, computations and symbols, constellations and intersecting lines. None of it meant anything to her, but she felt good about defying Charles’s strictly enforced curriculum. 

“You’re too young for that,” Forsythe said. 

“Tisn’t a sin to look,” she shot back.

The corner of his lip lifted. “Tisn’t, but read the advanced text the wrong way and it will cost you dearly.” He pulled down one side of his coat from his shoulder and then pulled back the shirtsleeve inside. She saw a palm-sized scar on his skin. “It hurt for days when the mark came off.”  

Her jaw dropped and she almost demanded him to tell her what happened, but she clamped her lips shut. The Mark. She’d heard Charles refer to “Marks”, but when she asked him about it, he always told her “not yet.”  

She didn’t want Forsythe to think she knew almost nothing of it at all. He already called her “too young.” She didn’t fancy him thinking that she was “too ignorant” as well. 

She closed the advanced book and slid it back into the pile. “Did Charles scold you for learning out of turn?”

“No. He didn’t think it necessary. Losing the mark was punishment enough. It wasn’t my Daemon mark, but I worked hard for the one I lost, had days I starved myself for it. I paid a lot to get that enhancement, and then because I was stubborn and impatient, I destroyed it.”

Her eyes widened at the word s tarved. 

Charles took care of hers and her mother’s upkeep. She slept in a warm house, she had her own room, she slept in a soft bed, and she never went to sleep hungry. She tried not to think it, but Forsythe’s threadbare suit and worn out shoes made her. He’s poor. 

That sort of thing never mattered to Betty. Perhaps she was too young to think of class and privilege, but she understood on a certain level how some families had more than others.  How some children grew up with harder lives. 

“Where does my brother send you that would have me killed if I went to it?” she asked. 

Forsythe chuckled. “The Southside. It’s a nasty place, with hardened roughs and wiley thieves. They take little girls like you and toss them into ships to trade them to masters who live in far off lands. They size you up for the coin in your pocket and calculate the reach of their blade to your throat.”

Betty recoiled. What a terrible sounding place. 

“It’s where I live,” he finished, shrugging. “I wouldn’t recommend it. Not even if you want to prove to your brother that you can do what I can do better.”

She felt her face warming from the neck up. “I didn’t mean that I can do things better. I just meant to say I can do what you can do.”

He gave a soft huff, but he was grinning. “I have no doubt you can. But not yet, Elizabeth.”

That he thought her such a child bit at her pride more than she cared to admit.  “Call me Betty. Only my mother calls me Elizabeth.” She said this to be stubborn. To show him that she had a mind of her own. To seem more grown up. 

It only served to amuse him more. “Well, Betty, call me Jughead, then. I don’t much care for my birth name, myself.”

 

************

 

At thirteen years old, Betty was well-acquainted with how the Southside was dark and full of shadows, thanks to her “occasional”—or rather daily studies with Jughead. As it was, she saw with her own eyes how the people who walked the streets around them were not well dressed and their shoes—which, Betty saw most as she tried to keep her eyes trained to the ground, were splattered with mud and dirt, so unlike the pristine and shiny footwear of Charles’s peers.

Charles walked in front of her, a cane gripped tightly in his hand. It didn’t look like any cane she had seen the other gentlemen carried. His was made of wood, shaped oddly with a curve to it. It wasn’t particularly decorative or fashionable, and she had never seen him carry it before. Sometimes it fell within the confines of his voluminous cloak, a cloak that covered most of him, as if to protect him. Yet he held this cane in his hand with purpose, much like a weapon. Perhaps being out here in this rough place, it was.

To the side of her, Jughead walked with a confident swagger. This was his home and here he walked like he was king. The suit he wore was better than most, for one.  Over the last three years she’d known him, she was aware of how Charles had increased his pay, and how Charles’s old suits got handed down to him.  

Charles had, at many times, made a gentleman of him, smoothing down the rough edges, if only temporarily, so that Charles may present him as a “distant cousin” during certain social functions. At seventeen, Jughead cut a fine figure, with his perfect nose and attractive blue eyes. 

Her favorite feature was his hair, how it was so dark and silky, tumbling over his forehead when he got flustered and when it lost all semblance of poise as he ran his beautiful long fingers through it.

The girls twittered around him--she heard them, sighing and batting their eyelashes at him even while he scowled and paid them no heed. He talked only to Charles and to her during these functions, and Betty didn’t mind that exclusive attention at all, even if it was earned by default.

Betty, at thirteen, was yet to be perceived as a “lady” to society. She was still a child by most standards, but her crush on Jughead Jones increased with steady intensity.

She would die if he found her out, but it was surprisingly easy to hide her feelings from him, especially because he perceived her as a little girl. Sometimes she thought he may perceive her as a sister, though he claimed to have a sister of his own whom he referred to as Jellybean.

Still, she’d heard Charles refer to Jughead as his brother, and he’d told Betty time and time again—“I would trust Forsythe with my life and yours.” They were that close, and Jughead deferred to Charles almost to a fault.

She knew many things about Jughead Jones—about the things he liked, about the things he abhorred. She knew what books he enjoyed and what amusements he kept. He was heroic and brave and sullen. He was serious and protective. He liked a good meal and he seemed to like her company enough. 

When a room full of men suggested leaving for the smoke room, Jughead always said he momentarily needed to “escort Ms. Elizabeth” to the refreshment table, at which point he would make his escape, opting instead to accompany and amuse her. 

But at the moment, they were far from such niceties. This was not a fashionable soiree. 

“Stop gawking, Betty,” Jughead told her, snapping her back to the present. “You look too obviously mystified.”

A hot flush rose up her neck, her shoulders tightening with tension. She wanted Jughead to think that she was capable of holding her own in an environment like this. “I don’t mean to…”

He sighed, taking her hand and draping it over the hook of his arm. “Look straight ahead and stay close. No one will bother you if they see you’re with me.”

Her fingers flexed in his arm. Again, she felt her collar grow warm.    

She tripped and she held her skirt up desperately, hoping not to soil her clothing. The uneven ground was filthy and bug infested. She wanted nothing more than to leave the streets. Only Jughead’s strong hold on her kept her from falling and he stopped briefly to make sure that she was alright.

Betty saw some ill-dressed ladies nearby, laughing at her. Their teeth were blackened into rot.

Glass broke and foul language punctuated it. This was no place for her and Charles to be, and yet Charles walked deeper into it with confidence, knowing exactly where he was going. Jughead made no objections whatsoever.

The lights on the street were dim and the small alley they turned into was even dimmer, enlivened only by shifting bodies.  There were candles, singular or in groups of two and three, and as Betty walked past them, she smelled an odd scent—like burning pickles.

“What’s that smell?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Don’t inhale it,” was all Jughead said.

They finally stopped in front of a wooden door. Compared to everything else in that alley, which was wrought with decay and overuse, this door looked sturdy and impenetrable. Charles rapped the head of his cane upon it.

When the door opened, light spilled into the alleyway and Betty had to squint at the woman who stood at its threshold. She did not look any older than Charles and her face, though perhaps lovely on its own, was made steely by the ferocity in her eyes. She was dressed in a simple ladies’ pinafore, with embroidered detailing and lace sleeves. Her pointy black shoes looked durable and shiny, but she could tell by the word down heel that she wore these daily, just that she kept them well-maintained in spite of its constant use.

“And the forsaken meet again,” she said with a grin tainted by bitterness.

Charles did not see the humor of her words. “May we come in? This street is no place for a child.”

Betty scowled. She was thirteen.

The woman’s eyebrow arched but she stepped aside and let them through. As soon as they stepped inside, the woman swung the door closed and slid three metal bolts through.

Perhaps seeing the surprise in her eyes, the woman told her, “You can never be too safe.”

“Thank you, Sabrina,” Charles said, taking his hat off and hanging it on a nearby rack.  “For having us.”

In more gentle lighting, Betty saw that Sabrina’s face was not as steely as she first thought, and that the ferocity in her gaze had gentled. “I can never say no to you.”

Charles’s lips tightened to a line. Whatever that meant, it did not look like he was particularly pleased by what she said. “I thank you for this favor and wish to pay you handsomely.”

She shook her head, eyeing Jughead briefly as she told them to sit down. The furnishings were mismatched, though it was styled to make the room oddly cohesive in design. The small space was well furnished, overall. It was clean, and the décor was tasteful. This woman did not belong here, and yet here she was. 

Betty noted that some art had been painted against one wall, though it looked unfinished.

“The Ink Masters would’ve done this to her for free, you know that, don’t you?” Sabrina said as she brought in a tray of tea. 

“Of course I know that,” said Charles, quietly. “But I risk them taking Betty from me--from us . I am not ready to take that risk. She is only thirteen.”

Sabrina snorted. “Some may consider that old enough for marriage.”

“Well, luckily enough for Betty, she is under Charles’s protection,” Jughead muttered.

Jughead shot Charles an anxious look. Charles’s only response was a reassuring nod. 

Betty wished that they shared their anxieties with her. Sometimes she felt like Charles and Jughead talked about her. She never heard them but sometimes one or the other would say something to her that seemed so parallel that they had to be colluding.

Sabrina huffed. “They have better tools.”

“None of them are as gifted as you.”

Sabrina did not argue that point. “She is a little too old to get the mark. She should’ve gotten hers when she was ten, like young Master Jones over here.”

Jughead frowned. 

Sabrina responded with a smirk. “Her Daemon will come to her slowly or never at all.”

“We’ll take that chance.”

Sabrina stared at Charles and probably saw no chance that he would change his mind. “Does she know what to expect?”

“No.”

Sabrina looked at her and arched an eyebrow. “Best you don’t know, lass.”

When they finished tea, Sabrina began to lead her into another room. Betty clasped Jughead’s hand, resisting Sabrina’s summons. 

“Betts—“

“Oh, it’s no bother to me, Master Jones,” Sabrina said. “You can come along.”

Jughead looked over his shoulder at Charles, who nodded.

Betty was grateful that she didn’t have to go alone.

At the center of the workroom was a chair designed for stradling instead of sitting. It was designed to support one’s chest, shoulders, and chin, not one’s back. 

Sabrina had Betty settle on it. Pressing Betty forward by the shoulders, she carefully fitted Betty’s chin on a rest, and guided her arms onto planks to rest her arms. 

She pulled up another chair for Jughead to sit, close enough so that Jughead can keep holding her hand.

Sabrina loosened her own collar and began to fold up her sleeves.

Betty’s eyes widened as she saw the marks that covered Sabrina’s throat, chest, and arms.  She had never seen a tattooed woman before.

Sabrina then crouched down to look her in the eyes. “You must trust me. Your brother does. Master Jones does, too, don’t you?”

Jughead shot her a withering glance but didn’t contradict her.

Betty nodded as much as her chin rest would allow.

Satisfied, Sabrina went behind her and Betty could hear her pulling up a stool and rolling a table closer to her.  Sabrina began to undo the ties on the back of Betty’s dress and she made a sound of discomfort. The thought that she would be undressed in front of Jughead mortified her to no end.

“Settle down, child,” Sabrina said. “I will preserve your modesty. And Master Jones won’t look anyway, yeah?”

She could see his face turning red, but he nodded, looking Betty in the eyes. “It’s going to be alright.”

A cool breeze touched the entirety of her back and she felt Sabrina wipe the skin just underneath her nape with a damp cloth.  It felt even cooler. 

Sabrina lit a match and the room began to smell like lavender. 

Betty felt Sabrina’s cool hands on her spine as Sabrina began to chant something under her breath.  It was a rhythmic sound, in a language Betty did not know. Sabrina’s fingers pressed points on Betty’s back and this went on for several minutes. Betty began to feel sleepy. 

When Sabrina stopped chanting, Betty blinked at the silence. 

The silence stretched, and Betty craned her neck over her shoulder. She was horrified to see that her back was filled with long, almost hair-thin needles. And yet, she felt no pain.

“Stay still child,” said Sabrina sternly.  She stood, heading for the door. “I will return. Do not move.”

Betty stifled her urge to cry and tried to do as she was told. She could hear Sabrina and Charles talking, but only if she listened very hard.

“Why did she leave, Jughead?” she asked, whispering.

Jughead shook his head. “I don’t know, but don’t worry. I’m not leaving you here by yourself. Now hush. I’m listening to what they’re saying.”

“Do you want this mark on her?” they heard Sabrina say.

There was a pause, then “She needs her mark,” said Charles in a firm tone. “She is a born Peace Dealer. We cannot deprive her of her Daemon.”

“I understand that, but this mark is bound to someone. I did not choose it—it chose her. I know not who she will be bound to, but—”

“Do we have a choice?”

“It’s either she gets this mark or she gets none at all.”

“She doesn’t need to seek the other half of the mark. You said the same thing of Jughead years ago, and yet he is fine. Betty will do what she is meant to do without the bother of this other half.”

“The other half might lead her down a path I know you don’t want her to take. Do you want this mark on her?”

“It is her natural mark, isn’t it? And it will be a fierce protector. That is all I can ask.”

“We give her this mark, you run the risk of them discovering her.”

Charles paused, then said, “I will prepare her. As well as I could.”

“It will not be enough.”

“It will have to be.”

Sabrina sighed. “Fine. I can do something with it now. Mask it so that the Kin can’t easily track her. It will make her difficult to find—even for you. To make the mask effective, I would have to ink an enhancement. She will receive two tattoos tonight, but it will cost you dearly.”

“I am aware. Do it.”

There was another silence, and finally, Sabrina came back into the room. She sat back down behind Betty. “Why do I always get the special cases?” she muttered.

Betty held very still, and she could hear the soft ring of metal against metal. 

When that stopped, Sabrina took a deep breath and Betty heard the whir of something mechanical.  Something was spinning very fast and Betty felt a little nervous.

“This will sting child,” said Sabrina.  “You must bear it. It will be bearable for a while, but it will take time, and it may be less bearable later on. Tell me if you can bear it no longer, alright?”

“A-Alright.”

And when it began, the tiny sting of a needle piercing her again and again tingled through her body. She grit her teeth and bit her lip, staunching tears until she could no longer hold them back. She whimpered and cried, but she held still, and Jughead held her hand tight, wiping her tears for her with his handkerchief. 

That was the only thing that kept her from giving up in the face of unbearable pain.

 

 

************

 

When next Betty woke, she was at home, and she felt the bandages on her back and another on the underside of her left arm.  Her mother stood by her bedroom door as she watched Charles press a cooling bottle over the dressing of Betty’s mark to ease the burning sting underneath.  

Betty did not know yet what this mark looked like and her mother did advise to keep it covered for the meantime.

“It would be a week before it’s fully healed.  Daemon marks aren’t like regular tattoos,” Charles explained. “It is threading its lines into your soul. You will feel weak most of the day, but you’ll feel better in the morning.”

Betty could hardly bring herself to care about anything Charles said regarding the state of her body. All she wanted to do was lie in bed and possibly drift off again, and she did, until dinnertime. 

She felt slightly better when she woke, feeling strong enough to get out of bed and make herself presentable. 

Jughead came for dinner most nights now and she always looked forward to seeing him, if only to stare at him when he wasn’t looking. 

He was always so preoccupied with Charles’s instruction. Always heeding his advice on his lessons and training. 

Of course, Betty had long cottoned on to the fact that Jughead’s “job” was two-fold. 

Most days, Jughead was actually running errands for Charles’s steam engine manufacturing business.  It was a small business compared to the titans running similar businesses from England, but Charles was optimistic it was a growing industry in America, and as far as return went, it appeared to be doing quite well, if the size of their house and the comfort of their lives were to be assessed. 

Charles would often say, “Who knows? You may inherit this business one day, Forsythe. Know it well.”

Jughead would scoff and Betty always wondered if Charles was joking. Aside from the fact that she, as a woman, wasn’t allowed to inherit any kind of estate, she could fathom how Charles loved Jughead enough to give him everything. 

Their mother, Alice, never contradicted him. She would merely sigh and roll her eyes. She never said anything about Jughead’s constant presence in their house and family functions, either, but she did seem to sigh a lot when Charles said something that enforced how well Charles thought of him. 

When Jughead wasn’t learning the steam engine business, however, he was helping Charles find lost spirits and crossing them over. The Southside, from where Jughead lived, was rife with restless ghosts and it seemed that the only two people who cared about helping them along were Betty’s brother and his ward.  

Betty wasn’t even allowed to accompany them. But for the one time they took her to Sabrina, Betty had never set foot on the Southside. 

It was an experience she wasn’t sure she was quite ready to repeat, but as she brushed her hair up into a ponytail and saw the bandages peeking from her high collar, she wondered if her mark meant that things were about to change. 

As she stared at the image in her looking glass, she noted how her neck seemed longer, how her green eyes seemed sharper. Her mother had allowed her to wear a hint of kohl and lip tint, enhancing what she considered to be her best features. 

Her lady’s maid had mentioned that her breasts needed to be corseted. “You got them, that’s for certain. Gentlemen will notice, so let’s brace ‘em.”

There was only one gentleman she hoped would notice, but honestly, he didn’t appear to care. 

She sighed, telling herself she ought to be content that he liked her conversation more than the way she looked.  

At least she could enjoy his company almost everyday. He even had his own room in the house-- when he stayed in it. He still often went home to his Southside residence, telling them that he needed to make sure his father wouldn’t get himself killed. 

She felt bad that he cared so much for someone who didn’t give him as much back, but that was how Jughead was. He loved to a fault. 

Jughead was, as expected, seated at the dinner table when she arrived, and both him and Charles stood to receive her.

“Feeling better?” Jughead asked, pulling back a chair for her. 

She thanked him as she sat, nodding as she unfurled a folded napkin and began to set it on her lap. “Yes, thank you. I did not expect to feel so tired.”

Alice reached for her wine glass. “Nobody does, but it’s old magic, and it’s powerful. If you’re tired, it just means it’s working.”

Charles nodded, picking up his fork and knife. “Of course it’s working. You’ll be up and about before you know it. I remember when I accompanied Forsythe--” he pointed his knife in Jughead’s direction “--he swore he wouldn’t pass out. You held out longer than he did, by the way.”

Betty turned to Jughead, grinning, and she saw Jughead rolling his eyes. “Miss Sabrina must have put something in the tea she gave me.”

Charles smirked. “You were always long and lanky, even at ten--Forsythe senior didn’t fancy carrying you around like a sack around those parts, his body incapacitated by your weight. The toughs would’ve seen naught but a wounded animal and robbed all three of us.”

Mention of Jughead’s father from Charles was rare among them, but everytime Charles mentioned him, it was always the three of them--Jughead, Charles, and Forsythe senior, as if it were some amusing memory. They were always quick mentions, never lengthy or nostalgic, like it had been edited down to the best parts, with the worst parts cut off. 

Betty felt this keenly, especially since Jughead told her that his father was a worthless drunk most times. 

“He was never the father Charles--I hoped he could be.” Jughead had once told her, a cigarette between his lips. 

She would never forget how, at the time, she was seated on a bench in their gardens and how Jughead sat on the grass by her bare feet. She had imagined him to be her suitor on his knees, speaking tenderly to her as he looked up at her with lovelorn eyes. 

The fact that he was smoking a cigarette without having asked her permission first, and how his back was mostly turned to her was something she could ignore in favor of her fantasies, especially when he had looked up at her from his vantage point, smiling his rare, open smiles. “Charles is father enough for me, I think, so I’m not so mad about pap anymore.”

Betty remembered pulling lightly at a lock of his hair, something he didn’t mind her doing because she knew he saw her as a child. “Maybe you can live here forever.”

Jughead had chuckled. “Maybe while Charles rules this home. But what if you marry and your husband inherits this place? What of, then? He won’t want riff raff like me lurking in his lady’s house.”

She did not like it when he teased her about husbands and being beholden to a stranger. She did not fancy the idea of marriage, especially since she realized that hers would be done for convenience, as so many other ladies have had to do in their society.

Seeing the look on her face, Jughead had laughed and turned his back on her again. He did lean against her knee, however, which was something she could work into her fantasies even as the the smoke he blew from his lips carried to her face. 

“Do you mind ever so much?” she whined, waving the smoke away.

He laughed again, but to his credit, he did offer his apologies and he stamped the cigarette away. “I forget myself, Lady Elizabeth. No doubt, your husband-to-be would have treated you more dearly.”

She wished he would stop talking about this theoretical husband, especially because he never seemed to figure himself into that role, even for fun. 

“Maybe if you married me, you wouldn’t have to be sent away,” she boldly said. “Ladies marry for convenience, anyway. I might as well put my marriage obligations to good use—ensure that you’ll always have a place here.”

He scoffed, shaking his head. “I doubt even Charles would allow that sort of arrangement. Not for his precious sister. I know, because he does mention looking for suitable bachelors for you when you come of age and I never figure in that list, so your plan is dead from the beginning. Besides, you are only eleven. You needn’t worry about it for at least another five years.”

Sixteen, for her, was a deathknell. That Jughead saw her as such a child felt like a knife in her heart.  

She was eleven, as he pointed out, when they had that conversation. She wondered briefly if it would be different if they had that conversation now. 

In spite of himself, Jughead did seem to treat her more like a lady, lately. She was 13 now, and according to her lady’s maid, developing. He certainly thought her lady enough to pull out chairs for, and she did notice that when he wanted to smoke, he asked her first now. Then again, he never shied away from holding her hand, which told her that he didn’t ever think unplatonic things about her. 

“Did you see what the mark looks like, Jug?” she asked in the middle of dinner. 

He reddened but never missed a beat, shaking his head. “I promised you I wouldn’t look and I didn’t.” He smirked. “Besides, you ought to be the first, I think. I wouldn’t take that away from you.”

He might never be romantic with her, but he was almost always so caring. 

“I can’t wait,” she said. 

Charles and Jughead exchanged amused looks. 

Betty seethed. She wished she wasn’t always such an amusement to them.

 

***************

 

When she planned to show Jughead her mark, she selected a lower cut dress and she let her hair down, just so she could pull her hair over her shoulders, like the heroines she read in her books, sweeping their hair aside for their lovers to fix the clasp of a necklace.  

He was in the library when she caught him and showed him her mark. He had stayed silent for two heartbeats. “It looks like mine.” He finally said, his eyes never leaving her mark.

She laughed. “Silly. What do you mean?”

“It looks like mine.” His voice was soft, like his mind was racing with a million thoughts. “But for the broader silhouette of my mark’s shoulders, it looks just like yours…”

The warm touch of his finger on her skin surprised her, but when an unexpected wave of pleasurable warmth spread through her, she found herself closing her eyes, feeling boneless and bathed in hypnotic calm.

She breathed, realizing that Jughead’s hand was splayed in the crook between her neck and shoulder, and his finger, possibly his thumb, was tracing the line of her spine, or perhaps the shape of her mark.

She must have said something under her breath. She couldn’t quite remember, but in a moment, Jughead was gone, stepping away as he looked at his palm in slowly increasing shock. The tingle that spread through her body originated from her mark, and she gaped, wondering why she suddenly felt so completely removed from him. 

“What just happened?” he asked, staring at his hand and then at her. “What just happened there?”

She didn’t know what to say, except that it felt good and it felt right. Maybe it was the opposite for him. “Was it terrible for you?”

Several heartbeats passed before he replied. “It was anything but terrible.”

She motioned to speak but he turned to leave. “I have to go. Father asked that I don’t stay out too late. That he wants me home by dinner.”

“But you just got here--”

“I just wanted to see how you were doing. You seem quite well. Say hello to Charles for me.”

He was gone, and Betty stood there, wondering if she had done something wrong. 

Instinct told her that what happened between them was no common thing, and that the extraordinary was not always met with enthusiasm. Charles had taught them that people feared the unknown and would do all they can to preserve the status quo. This felt like the unknown. It felt like something they needed to keep between them. 

Betty wasn’t sure if she could learn more, but there were still many books in the library that she hadn’t yet read. She may find her answers among the shelves, yet. 

Then again, she could go to the person who inked her mark. 

She had a feeling Sabrina knew exactly what happened to them. 

***************

The ideal course was for Betty to ask that Jughead escort her to Sabrina’s hovel.  She understood the difficulties. Charles would never let her go without him and Jughead didn’t want to gainsay the man he looked up to. 

To convince Jughead to do this in secret was hard enough, but to convince him that this should be done in the dead of night, where she can sneak out of her house to gallivant in the Southside was near impossible. 

He refused, and he refused again. 

“But Juggie--!”

“Don’t,” he said, forestalling her. “I won’t do it.”

“Then I’ll go alone,” she huffed, determined to do so even if the prospect terrified her. 

“That is a spectacularly horrible idea,” he replied through grit teeth. “If you dare, I will tell Charles.”

“Don’t you want to know what happened? Doesn’t it make you wonder?” she cried. 

His fingers ruffled his hair and ran down his face in frustration. “It does, but we seem fine. There appears to be no after-effects. It means nothing, Betty!”

He could be right. It could mean absolutely nothing. But what if it was something?

As frightening as it was, she made plans to steal out of the house in the dead of night. A carriage certainly wouldn’t be able to bring her to the Southside--not at that hour, unless she bribed their coachman, but if Jughead threatened to tell on her, the coachman would surely rat her out to Charles. 

She could use a bicycle. They had a few stored in the carriage house for the errand boy. It was perfect for her midnight excursion. It would be a rather long and sometimes strenuous trip for her, but she was equal to it. Charles’s training of her gave her endurance. She would be perfectly capable of cycling to and from the Southside and make it back to catch a few hours of sleep before breakfast. 

She needed a disguise, she realized. It would be folly to go out by herself at that hour. She would be found out in a second. She had to go out as a boy. 

This, she realized, was the hardest part of the plan. She couldn’t possibly use Charles’s old things, if they were even wearable. They would look too expensive. She needed clothes that looked well-worn, handed down from master to servant. Something that would make her one among a crowd. 

She bribed the errand boy for these clothes, telling him that she needed it for a lark--a prank for the coming all-hallows eve celebrations, which was more than a month away, but the errand boy perhaps could not have cared any less what her reasons were. He procured the clothes and shoes, took her money, and didn’t ask questions. 

She was ready. She just needed to pick a night.

As she stared at her calendar, she realized that she had been so busy preparing for her mission that she hadn’t noticed Forsythe’s upcoming birthday. He was about to turn 18. 

 

***************

 

18 was such a significant number for their kind, Charles said. It was a time of change. It was when those of the Daemon Kin were awakened to their powers. It also tended to be a time of great upheaval, where decisions were made and paths were chosen. 

Most of the time, it was also an occasion marked by celebration. 

Charles made plans for Jughead. 

“We can’t have a party, you understand,” Charles told her as they ran errands in town together. “I’d have to make up some lie for everyone to swallow--they gibber enough about Forsythe’s strange arrangements in our home as it is, and besides that, Forsythe would never forgive me if we threw a party for him. But I think he would appreciate a trip to the rocklands, something close to what you and I did all those years ago, but perhaps with a bit more style, a bit more preparation, so that our tents would be better, our sleeping bags more comfortable--a more glamorous camping trip, where you, he, and I could huddle in a tent, have a fire outside, hunt deer, and swim in the river. And then--well, it’s a surprise. Do you think he’d like that?”

Betty nodded enthusiastically. Jughead would enjoy a camping trip. The very idea that they would isolate themselves from society would appeal to a curmudgeon like him. And with his two favorite people, no less. 

Charles had planned to tell Jughead about the trip the day before--Jughead’s schedule was always open for them. That, or he simply refused to socialize with anyone outside of their circle.

But when Jughead arrived at their home on the evening of October first, he caught her and Charles at the library. 

He stood above them in the light of the hearth and said, “My mother’s come to town--has been in town, actually.”

Charles’s eyebrow arched and Betty scrambled to find the words. She knew that Jughead’s mother had left him when he was but 9, taking with her his little sister. Gladys Jones was never a welcome topic and whenever Jughead did bring her up, it almost always seemed to Betty like gouging out old wounds. 

“Well, what does that mean?” Betty asked. 

“Why, after all this time, Forsythe?” Charles asked, but before Jughead muster a response, Charles shook his head. “Nevermind that--it doesn’t matter. Would you like to live here for the duration of her stay? You know you’re always welcome here. You never need to ask--”

“She came for my birthday. She came to take us back.”

Charles stopped speaking. 

Betty did the opposite of that. “Take you back? Take you back where? What--”

“Take back her family, she said.” Jughead’s eyes lowered then, but Betty could see that they were going liquid. 

Anger filled her heart--for the woman who broke a little boy and never cared enough make up for it before. “How dare she? After all this time--”

“Betty,” Jughead interrupted, his tone firm. Resolved. “I want to give her a chance.”

This was like him. This was just like him. He was so brave and strong, but he was soft for his drunken father, clearly forgiving of his negligent mother. Neither of them deserved him. 

“But--”

“What did she propose, Jughead?” Charles’s tone was quiet as he placed a firm hand on Betty’s shoulder. 

Jughead took a deep breath. “She wants to move us to the city. To New York city. She said she has a position with the Guild--has had it for the last two years. It has earned her prominence and stature. She has for us a house like this to live in, a life that we would be proud of.”

Charles’s lips pursed. “The Guild. That is Kin society, lad. Once you let yourself, everything I’ve ever taught you, everything you’ve ever learned from me will be rendered insignificant by their ways--”

“I can make a difference,” Jughead said, a rough edge to his tone. 

“And find yourself Forsaken?” Charles hissed back. 

They stood there, staring at one another. 

Charles stepped forward. “That is not what I want for you, Jughead. You are my brother. I want for you to prosper. Do you believe her? Is there veracity to her claims?”

“She is a woman,” Betty blurted out. “How can she have a trade? How can she own anything?”

Charles cast her a sympathetic look. “The ways of the Imperium—the Kin, are different from that of the Daemon Locked.”

Betty stood mystified by all of these new words: The Guild, the Imperium, Daemon Locked, women who owned property. It was beyond her knowledge, and she was equal parts furious and confounded.

Jughead confirmed Charles’s question with a nod. “My mother is a great many things, but she was never a liar. She is telling the truth.”

It began to dawn on Betty that they were talking about Jughead living somewhere else. In a place she could not so easily go to. “Well, when are you coming back?”

Jughead’s gaze darted to her, and when she saw the tears, something inside her began to rip in two. 

“You’re not coming back,” she whispered, her eyes growing achingly tight. 

His breath hitched, and he seemed to be forcing a smile to his lips. “I would like to, Betty. So much, but--”

“He is going to live with the Kin,” Charles finished for him. “Once he is among them, he cannot associate with the Forsaken. He cannot write, he cannot come back, else they will find me and kill me, then they will take you, because you are underaged and they like to get you while you’re young.”

The Forsaken meet again. 

“And then they will Forsake him, too,” Charles added. “Jughead deserves better than that.”

Betty’s resolve broke, and sobbing, she ran into Jughead’s arms, her tears soiling the front of his shirt. His arms held her tight, his lips falling upon the top of her head.

She stood huddled in his embrace, crying into his heart. In the background, she heard Charles say that after they were done, Jughead must come to his study. 

Charles left, and only when they were alone did Betty thump her fist against Jughead’s chest. 

“You are my best friend,” she cried. “You were to move here when you came of age, remember? You would stay here until my theoretical husband tried to kick you out and I had to fight him. How could you leave me so soon?”

The corners of his lips lifted into a painful smile, his own tears falling upon his cheeks. He held her face in his hands.  “I will always be your best friend. No place or circumstance could change that.”

“But you won’t be here!”

“You are stronger than this,” he hissed. “Betty Cooper, didn’t you promise that what I can do, you can do better?”

She placed her own hands upon his. “Shut, you. I never planned to do that without you.”

He looked upon her with the fondest eyes, and she didn’t care if he never saw her as anything more than a little girl. She just didn’t want him to leave.

His thumb wiped the tears beneath her eyes. “You are destined for great things, Betty.”

He didn’t know that. He wasn’t a soothsayer, but it meant everything to her that he believed in her. 

She wanted to tell him she loved him, but she was afraid that her eyes would give her away—that he would know that her love was more than familial. 

“I was going to go to Sabrina,” she confessed. “By myself. To ask her about my mark.” 

“Betty,” he said in a gently chastising tone.

“I may still go—distract me from your leaving.”

“Sabrina is gone. She left soon after she marked you. I know, because I checked, and I checked because you kept asking and I didn’t want you to get any fool ideas about sneaking out unaccompanied.”

She couldn’t believe he went behind her back. She couldn’t believe he so easily knew what she was going to do.

“You are the only person who understands me,” she told him in a plaintive voice.

“Charles understands you.”

“He is my big brother. I can’t tell him my secrets the way I tell them to you.”

His eye began to fill again. “I will miss you so, Betty.”

There were no words enough to tell him how devastated she would be by his leaving. So she sank back into his arms, relishing these last few moments she would have with him for a long time.

***************

 The day Jughead left was Betty’s first heartbreak.

She took a carriage to the train station, against Charles’s wishes, and rushed through the crowds to find Jughead’s train.

She was caught in a frenzy, realizing too late that she quite  possibly may never see Jughead again, and the idea that he would never know how she felt scared her. It made so little sense, but she felt a real sense of urgency, and so here she was, her confession nearly choking her. 

She saw him, already settled in his seat, the whistle of the steam engine loud and shrill.

Above the din of bustling travelers and the slow chug of the train’s engine, Betty screamed Jughead’s name as she bound towards his window seat.

He turned at her voice, which had miraculously cut through the noise, and when he saw her, he at first looked shocked, then glad, and then he looked so impossibly worried. 

She pushed forward, determined, because his train was moving and she didn’t have a lot of time.

“Betty!” he cried back, leaning out through the window as she kept up the pace. He reached for her and their hands clasped. “You must stand back! You can get hurt!”

“I can’t let you go without telling you!” she said as loudly as she could. She didn’t care if anyone else heard. 

“Betty, be careful!”

“I love you, Jughead! Do you hear me? With all my heart!” She didn’t feel like she needed to explain. She had no doubt that her eyes and her face conveyed exactly what she meant. He knew her enough to understand. 

And when she said them, she could see his expression change from worry to wonder, then regret. His grip on her hand loosened and her fingers fell away.

He said nothing back. Nothing at all, and when the platform ran out, Betty had nothing except the image of him pulling away. Leaving. Disappearing into the distance. 

She cried on the platform, alone and distraught, because Jughead Jones had not said the words back.

 

******************

 

When Betty turned eighteen, her world turned completely upside down.  

It had been tilting for many years already, slowly going askew as she helped wandering spirits find peace or whenever she delivered the living from the torment of the dead.  She watched her life going sideways each time she put away a Wraith or sealed off the powers of a summoner. She did her duties behind a veil, because Charles told her to stay in the shadows. 

When Jughead left, Charles intensified her training, and he told her that with Jughead gone, she was all that was left to carry out their work. 

Charles was demanding, even difficult, but she bore it with steely resolve, and she handled the challenges it brought with the skills Charles made certain she had acquired.

She felt prepared.

Until she wasn’t. 

It was an accident. Or so they claimed.

Betty and her mother were told that he had fallen off his horse and fell badly--broke his neck on impact. No one was with him when he died, only that he had been missing from the hunting party for hours, and that when they found him, he was already dead.  Betty’s grief could only be measured by her bitterness. He did not even enjoy hunting by horse. He had only done it to entertain a client. It could have been avoided. Betty was inconsolable for weeks.

Charles, her teacher, her mentor, the only friend she had left, was lost to her forever, too. She had lived her life, to that point, believing that she would be at Charles’s arm her entire life, that his death would come at old age.  

He was so full of life, so strong. Nothing could possibly kill him except a body grown aged and weary. And yet he had died in the prime of his life. 

Betty did not think she could possibly go on.  She mourned alone for weeks on end and not even her mother could console her. And when she had come out of her room and faced her life without him, she mourned him for months, in black.  

And after she and her mother had to shed the black, she was finally forced to confront the realities and practicalities of the loss, of inheritance, or rather—the lack thereof.

It was only then she began to wonder, when Charles's spirit did not manifest--how he could rest peacefully when she and her mother had been left with nothing. Their home and their wealth, so indisputably Charles's, could not go to them by law, because women could not inherit in the realm of the Daemon Locked.

There was a will, they were told, but the properties had gotten bequeathed to someone else— someone, the solicitor said, who bore with him the keys to Charles’s vault. She didn’t even know Charles had a vault. All Charles left her was a timepiece. A watch, it seemed, that didn’t even look attractive enough to be sold.

How can he possibly think that the timepiece he left her, with a note as delivered by his solicitor,--valued so little that she could not even exchange it for money at the pawnshop--would be enough?

It wasn't enough, but there was no sign of his ghost. No sign that Betty and her mother's ruination troubled him at all.

 

Betty,

If you have this watch, it means I perished. If you find yourself desperate and without hope, turn the dial. But beware, and remember everything I taught you.

-Charles

 

That was all the note said.

So she turned the dial, half expecting that the world would stand still. But nothing happened, except that the watch started to run, and she grew all too aware that her life, without Charles, was going to be a bit more difficult than she anticipated.

 

Tbc