Mercedes Lackey’s “Elemental Masters” series: A Scandal in Battersea

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A Scandal in Battersea (2017)

[Again, Ms Lackey combines her Elemental Masters world with the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.]

[I don’t know what story this is based on. The author’s website gives this as being based on “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” (which is also reflected in Wikipedia), but this doesn’t seem right. I can’t see any parallel between the two stories, other than the flimsy one of young people being abducted. Maybe the website editor has entered this without consultation with the author.

I have seen some reviewers on the Internet compare the alien creature in this story to H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, but I haven’t read those stories.]

This book continues with the main characters of “A Study in Sable”: Nan, Sarah, Suki, and Lord Alderscroft, and John and Mary Watson and Sherlock Holmes; and also Isabelle (Memsa’b) and Frederick (Sahib) Harton from “The Wizard of London”.

The story alternates between the experiences of Nan and Sarah on one hand, and the villain Alexandre Harcourt on the other.

As the story starts, it is a week till Christmas.  Suki has been attending the Hartons’ school, but is now on holidays, staying with her guardians Nan and Sarah.

Nan, Sarah, Suki, John and Mary Watson, and Lord Alderscroft attend a Christmas Pantomime of Aladdin.  Afterwards they go to dinner with Lord Alderscroft.

Lord Alderscroft gives Nan and Sarah an assignment.  From time to time John and Mary Watson visit mental asylums, checking for patients who have been seeing things: they may actually have Elemental magic, and are seeing Elemental creatures.  Lord Alderscroft asks Nan and Sarah to go with John and Mary on their next visit.

The girls have a sense of foreboding: the dark of the moon falls on Christmas Eve this year; this means it is possible for evil spirits to take action.

***

Alexandre Harcourt is a nasty man, a magician who is a practitioner of the occult.  He lives in Battersea.

He buys a book from a bookshop which specialises in the occult.  The book is handwritten and appears to have powerful magic spells in it. Alexandre has to transcribe it, to ensure he has the spells correct.  The task becomes an obsession.

Alexandre has an employee called Alf, who performs general work in the house, and assists him in his magic. He is quite willing to get his hands dirty.

***

Dr Watson has received a letter from Dr Huntley at the Hampstead Hospital and Sanitarium.  Dr Huntley has a female patient who goes into a fit, but then talks about seeing a horrific murder happening.  And then it turns out that the murder had actually happened.  The doctor had treated her with drugs, supposedly to suppress the visions, but had probably made things worse.  And two days ago, she was found in her room in a state of collapse and utter terror.  She has remained in this state ever since, without sleeping.

Nan and Sarah travel with John and Mary Watson to the Hospital.  Dr Huntley takes them to the girl’s room.  The girl’s name is Amelia, and she turns out to be only 14 years old.

Nan, who is a telepath, contacts Amelia mentally, and sees the vision that Amelia is experiencing.  It is of London, but transformed into a horrific place.  It is ruined and deserted, and dark clouds loom overhead.  There are shadowy creatures lurking.  A man tries to run across the street, and inky tentacles reach out and engulf him.

Nan speaks mentally to Amelia, and convinces her the vision is not real, and manages to bring her out of it.

They explain to her that she is a clairvoyant, and propose that she be transferred to the Hartons’ school to learn to use and control her gift.  Dr Watson arranges it with Dr Huntley.

They all wonder what the significance of the vision is.

***

It is two days till Christmas.

Lord Alderscroft has lent Nan and Sarah the use of his private carriage and coachman, to take them and Suki to the Christmas party at the Harton School.  The carriage is loaded with presents from Lord Alderscroft to the students.

When they arrive, Nan and Sarah meet with Memsa’b to discuss Amelia’s visions.  Amelia is now at the school and has had another vision of London in ruins, which Memsa’b shared.  Memsa’b suggests the girls try to contact Puck.

They attempt to do so in part of the conservatory designed as a pocket wilderness, but are unable to get in contact.

After the party, they meet again with Memsa’b and Sahib.  Also present are four men from different parts of India, who live and work in the school: Karamjit (a Sikh), Agansing (a Gurkha), Selim (a Moslem) and Gupta (a Hindu).  They are experts in their respective mythologies.  (Karamjit, Agansing and Selim are also mystical warriors, and have appeared in previous stories.)

Nan and Memsa’b describe Amelia’s visions, and realise there are differences: in the first, a man was captured by tentacles, in the second, the earth opened up beneath a woman. The group discuss the creature from the visions, but none of them know what it could be.  They need to get Lord Alderscroft and members of the White Lodge involved.  And Nan will visit Beatrice Leek, who is an Earth Magician, and leader of a circle of benign occultists.

On their return to London, Nan visits Beatrice.  Beatrice summons a brownie (an Earth Elemental) called Hobson who lives in her house.  Nan writes a letter for Hobson to take to Puck, asking him to meet her at Kensington Garden on Christmas day.

***

It is Christmas Eve.  Alexandre has worked out the ritual from the Book. It requires the sacrifice of a virgin, and Alf has provided a baby stolen from an orphanage.

Alexandre performs the ritual in the basement. The temperature suddenly drops. Some of the candles go out. There is a big pool of blackness, which expands into a column, and swallows up the baby.

Alexandre hears a voice in his head: it says the offering is inadequate, but accepted. It tells him to return in 3 days for further instructions.

***

It is Christmas day. Nan, Sarah and Suki take a cab to Kensington Garden, where they meet Puck.

Puck says they were right to be alarmed: there is some kind of alien creature attempting to break through into their world from another world.  He doesn’t know what he can do about it, but he is determined to defend his land.  But in the meantime he introduces them to two hobs (Elemental Creatures similar to brownies), Durwin and Roan, who will act as messengers between themselves and Puck. They will stay at Nan and Sarah’s flat.  Then when Suki returns to the Harton school, Roan will go there too, to carry messages from Memsa’b to Puck.

***

After the 3 days have passed, Alexandre returns to the basement.

The entity tells him to bring two offerings.  They may be male or female, in the age range 10 to about the mid-twenties, and preferably virgins.  One will be to strengthen the creature.  The other’s purpose will be to serve the creature in Alexandre’s world.  That one must be returned to where it can be cared for.

So Alexandre and Alf set out in their horse-drawn carriage to pick up their victims.

They hunt around in the West Ham area.  They see a girl beside the road; Alf creeps up behind her and applies chloroform to her nose and mouth.  They load her into the carriage and tie her up and gag her.  They repeat the process with another girl.

They return home and carry the two girls to the basement and lie them on the floor.  The pool of darkness becomes a pillar and tentacles reach out and pull the two girls in.  After a moment the first girl stumbles out of the pillar and falls to the floor.  The voice tells Alexandre to take her away.

The girl seems to be mindless and her skin is cold.  Alexandre tells her to climb up the stairs and she obeys.  She seems to have no will of her own, but will do anything she is told to.  He takes her outside and tells her to keep walking down the street until someone stops her.

***

Suki has returned to school, and Roan has followed her there.

Nan and Sarah receive a message from Sherlock Holmes. Dr Watson has a female patient who needs Nan’s talent.  They take a cab to Baker Street.

Holmes tells them the patient is at Dr Watson’s surgery.  The girl’s parents are Holmes’s clients.  The girl had disappeared the previous night, but then been found later in the Battersea area, wandering around, apparently witless.  She had obviously been abducted.  Watson wants Nan to read the girl’s mind, to see if she’s just in shock, and Holmes would like her to find out anything which will help him investigate the abduction.

They take a cab to Watson’s surgery.  There is the girl sitting motionless in an examination chair, with no expression.  She has the appearance of a wax doll.

Nan attempts to read her mind – and finds that there is nothing there!  Her mind seems to be wiped, and her soul has gone.  It’s all very creepy.

Sarah wonders if there is a link between what has happened to this girl and Amelia’s visions.

That afternoon Nan and Sarah and the Watsons meet with Memsa’b at the school.  They discuss possible supernatural reasons for the girl’s state, but come to no conclusions.

Memsa’b had given Amelia medication to suppress her visions.  But now Amelia agrees to discontinue the medication: her visions may help solve the case.  Nan and Sarah agree to stay at the school for a few days.  Nan will sleep in Amelia’s room to be present when Amelia has a vision.  And Neville, the raven, will also be present as a mystical guardian.

***

The creature tells Alexandre it needs more offerings: they need to be supplied two at a time as before.  And those who are returned to Alexandre’s world to serve the creature – it calls them witnesses – they need to be better quality.  The witnesses need to be gathered together in one place.  Alexandre realises this means they need to be upper-class girls, whose families can afford to send them to an asylum.  The creature says it will take control of the victims when Alexandre starts talking to them; this will make it easier to abduct them.

Alf’s advice is that Alexandre will have to meet his victims (those intended to be witnesses) at places like concerts, art galleries and museums.

***

Nan is asleep in Amelia’s room when Neville wakes her up.  Amelia is having a vision.  Nan goes and touches her and makes mental contact.  And she finds herself standing beside Amelia in the ruined version of London.

In times of crisis, Nan transforms into a Celtic warrior woman – a distant ancestor.  She does this now; she is wearing bronze armour and carrying a bronze sword.

A girl runs out from a house.  The ground opens up, the girl falls in and the hole closes.

Nan calls Neville.  He appears as a gigantic raven, picks them up and flies into the sky.  They find themselves back in Amelia’s bedroom.

In the morning Nan and Sarah have breakfast with Sahib. (Memsa’b is taking her meal with the students.)  Nan tells him about Amelia’s vision.  Sahib tells them he has received a telegram from Dr Watson: a second girl has been found.

The Watsons arrive in the afternoon.  John Watson tells them how the second girl had disappeared from the Grosvenor Gallery.  She had last been seen in the company of a young man.  She had been found in the same area as the first girl, and in the same state.  Watson had persuaded Dr Huntley to take both girls at the Hampstead Hospital, even though the first girl’s parents couldn’t afford it.

At teatime they meet Puck in the greenhouse.  He will do what he can to find out what is going on.

***

Nan and Sarah have returned home.  Memsa’b can help Amelia with the visions, and Holmes and Puck are engaged in their separate investigations.

There is not much Nan and Sarah can do at this stage, so they go to the theatre and see a performance of Hamlet.

But at the end of the first act, Nan feels the presence of an evil alien creature, who seems to be on the hunt.  It is the same presence she had felt in the ruined version of London in Amelia’s vision.  But then it is gone.

She tries to sense it again throughout the rest of the play, but it doesn’t show up again.

In the cab on the way home, they stop at the Watsons’ home. Sarah goes in and finds Mary and tells her about Nan’s experience.  Mary says she will fetch John from the surgery and they will go and see Lord Alderscroft and convene a meeting of the White Lodge.

Nan and Sarah return home.  Nan asks Durwin to take a message to Puck and to Memsa’b.  Amelia will most likely have a vision tonight.

Nan realises now that there must be a human in their own world who is in partnership with the alien creature in the other world.

***

There are now six girls who’ve turned up in a mindless state.  They’ve all been taken to the Hampstead Hospital.

Everyone involved in the case has gathered in Sahib’s study at the Harton School, including Sherlock Holmes and Puck.

Suddenly the door is replaced by a black void and tentacles erupt from it.  Everyone backs up.

Nan transforms into the Celtic Warrior.  She and the three Indian warriors rush forward and attack the tentacles with the swords.  The tentacles disappear.

Puck rushes forward and thrusts his staff through the portal.  He urges the others to pass through, to try and defeat the creature.  They all go through the portal.

They are in another world, in the London of Amelia’s visions.

As well as Nan, Memsa’b, Sahib and the three Indians have transformed and are all armed.  The birds, Neville and Grey have changed to larger forms.

Puck invites the ones without weapons to touch his staff, and vines break off and become fighting sticks.  Puck will remain to guard the portal.

A man comes running toward them, chased by strange creatures.  His clothes are in tatters; he is exhausted and bleeding.  He tells them he is from their world, but had suddenly found himself here.  He had wandered around, drinking whatever water he could find, but there was no food.

Then he had heard the call from the creature that rules this world.  He had followed the call to the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral.  There were other people there too.  They were given strips of meat, and then the creature’s minions had driven them away again.

Then the man dies.

The group continues on to St Paul’s.  They are surrounded by the strange creatures, which seem to be herding them in that direction.  They enter the ruined cathedral.

And there they see a creature sitting on a pile of rubble.  It is robed and hooded, but doesn’t seem to be human.

The creature tells them that soon it and its minions will be coming and taking over their world.  The group may now return with the message – if they survive the attacks of its minions.

The group starts back toward the portal – not running, as this is bound to invite the creatures to attack them.

But then the creatures attack.  The group fights back.  But it is not looking too good for them.

Mary contacts the Air Elementals of this world – and suddenly there is a powerful wind blowing all around them, which blows the creatures away.

The group run for the portal and pass through.  As Puck passes back through, the portal closes.

Selim has been critically injured.  Puck heals his wound, but he will still need medical attention.

The group discuss their experience and how they can counter the creature’s threat.

The creature must be controlling the girls that it had taken and then returned to their world.  They must have to perform some ritual to open a portal and let the creature and its minions through.  It needs one more girl to make up the magical number of seven.

The group decides they need soldiers and guns.  John Watson will ask for help from Lord Alderscroft and Sherlock will contact his brother Mycroft, to approach the government for support from the army.  And Amelia can give them a warning of when the creature makes its move.

***

Nan is staying at the school again, to be present when Amelia has her vision.  Amelia wakes her to tell her she is about to have a vision.  Nan shares the vision and they find themselves in the other world again.  The creatures there are in frantic motion and there is a sense of expectation.  Apparently they now have the seventh girl.

Nan tells Roan to take a message to the hospital where the combatants are gathering.

***

The six girls have been moved to a concert hall in the hospital, where there will be more room for fighting.

It turns out that Her Majesty’s Army has a special platoon for dealing with “unnatural situations”.  The soldiers are there with their weapons.

Lord Alderscroft is there with those Elemental Magicians with offensive powers – mainly Fire Magicians.  John and Mary Watson are with this group.

Memsa’b, Sahib, Nan and Sarah are with a group of psychics.  This group includes Agansing and Karamjit.

Puck will be coming with some of the more aggressive Elemental creatures: trolls, giants, salamanders and various other weird creatures.  And Puck will summon the Wild Hunt, with some reservations, since the Huntsman is a law unto himself.

Sherlock leads the seventh girl in.  Once the girls perform the ritual, the monsters from the other world will start pouring through the portal.

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