At first it had been easy to balance his life and his work–he would go to societies parties and balls with regularity in the evenings, as expected, and make professional visits during the days, maintaining his practice. Most of the town were amazed at how quickly John seemed to come back from profound melancholy.
After midnight, when everyone else had gone to bed, he would creep downstairs to the locked basement, light the sputtering gas lamps that illuminated his worktable, and recommence his real work. As time wore on he left his house less and less, spending more and more time alone in the basement mixing alchemical elixirs and sending foul smells drifting up through the floorboards.
The servants left fifteen months after Marta’s death. Larson lasted longer than the others, having worked for the Troyden family for three generations, but ultimately even he couldn’t continue with John’s late hours scrabbling away in his study and bashing about in the lab. The noises from the basement were too much, he had said, and it was clear that his function as butler was neither needed nor desired.
John was not sorry to see him go–it made hiding his work from the Order much easier.
The Order of the Holy Torch had been ordained two years after the death of Queen Victoria, when the Church of the Bloodline successfully revivicated her corpse, and attempted to reclaim the throne from successor King Wilhelm. The empire was thrown into turmoil as loyalties were divided, families torn apart, and civil war seemed inevitable. The parliament disbanded for three months while lawyers, politicians, merchants, and nobles all studied and argued furiously over the rights of succession, and which crowned monarch was truly in charge.
The Order of the Holy Torch won the argument when they kidnapped the Queen and burned her alive in front of the palace gates.
Some things were sacred, they had said. Science and industry marches on into the future, and there is no stopping it, but for the sanctity and holiness of the Monarchy, and the Mandate of Heaven, death is a boundary that the Order would brook no crossing.
John didn’t care. He needed his wife back, and no madmen in robes were going to keep him from his love. No matter how hard it was to find the proper tools, or research the vital formulae, he would persevere!