by Lynn Vieh
I wanted to climb out and hug him, but settled for strapping on the eyewear and giving a fond wave.
The carri puttered along steadily as I drove it to the Silken Dream. From Bridget’s storefront I could see the houses on the Hill still burning out of control, and the long line of carris and heavily laden carts clogging up the roads down. If anyone survived this night, it would likely be the rich, as they had all the cops dancing attendance on them.
I knew Bridget kept a spare keylace in one of the lilac-filled planters flanking the front door, which I used to let myself in. The dresses on the forms in the front were all ball gowns, which would be impossible to put on without a maid, so I went to the back storeroom. There hung a selection of day and evening frocks on long racks, and I searched through them looking for something simple I could pull over my head.
“Thieving bitch. Get your filthy hands off my clothes.”
I whirled round to see Bridget standing behind me, a pistol in her fist. “Bridget, it’s me.” I pulled up the gogs to show her my face.
“Kit?” She lifted the lantern in her other hand and peered, and then lowered the gun. “What in nine hells are you doing here?”
“I needed something to wear.” I gestured at my stained, torn skirts. “Something a bit cleaner.”
She set down the lantern. “Rumsen’s been attacked, there are Talians out there torching the ton and slitting the throats of disbelievers, and not a cop to be had away from the Hill.” Her voice climbed to a piercing octave. “And you’ve come to borrow a dress?”
I nodded. “If you wouldn’t mind lending me another one that will end up fit only for a ragbag.”
“Blind me.” Bridget flung her hand about. “Take whatever you want. I don’t care. Take it all.”
“Only need one, but thanks.” I pulled a pretty light green silk from one of the hangers. “Why are you still here in the city?”
“Charlie got wind of this yesterday,” she said as she came over to help me. “I told him to take the kids and go south. We’ve a place down in Zhuma, on the coast, where they can wait it out. They’ll be safe there.”
I knew her husband to be an extremely practical man who would naturally protect his family first. “He wouldn’t leave you behind.”
“He thinks me and my parents are following him by train. Lift your arms.” As I did, she pulled my skirts over my head and tossed them aside. Wrecker’s knives, which I had forgotten, fell to the floor. Gingerly she retrieved them. “Why are you carrying kneecapper blades?”
“Because a cannon’s a bit too bulky.” I watched her set them on a pin table. “Why aren’t you and your parents on a train now?”
“You know Da; he won’t leave the mill to burn, not with all the goods still on the looms. Mum won’t leave him, so I had to stay to look after them. I only chanced coming to the shop to see if any of the gels were using it as a hidey-hole.” She stripped off my petticoats. “God, you reek. Don’t you ever bathe?”
“Not of late.” I wriggled as the first fresh petticoat went over my head, and withstood another atop that before I protested. “That’s enough. Any more and I won’t be able to run.”
“These are silk, not cotton. You can fly in them.” Bridget eased the dress over my head and worked it down, straightening the full skirt and adjusting the sewn-in waister. “I’m going to the mill when I leave here, and that’s where I’ll stay until it’s finished. You should come with me, love. Mum and Da have laid in enough supplies to last us to Doomsday, and Charlie left five of the stablemen behind as my guards. They’re proper bruisers, all of them.”
I shook my head. “When you get to the mill, take down all the wardlings your Da has about the place. “I picked up a thin hairpin from a dressing table and tucked it inside my mouth. “Then toss them in the gin.”
“What?” She stopped buttoning me up. “That’ll mash ’em to pieces.”
“Exactly.” I told her what Mr. Jasper had said, and added, “You don’t have to believe it. Just do it for me. Please.”
“No, I believe you.” She backed away from me and pulled out the pistol. “What I’d like to know is, how did a stupid little twit like you find out?”
My heart almost stopped. “You’re not funny.”
“I’m not jesting.” She didn’t take her eyes off me as she called out, “She’s ready to go now, boys.”
It didn’t seem real until two of Walsh’s footmen came in. Even then I didn’t want to believe it. “You can’t be part of this, Bridge. Not you.”
“Why not me? You still think I’m a loomgel at heart? I haven’t been, Kit, not for years.” Her face changed as she put on one of her haughty Madam looks. “I am Madam Duluc, wife to one of the richest men in Toriana and France. Why should I care about the likes of you?”
She was acting. She had to be. “You’ve always been my friend.”
“Wait,” Bridget said to the men as they started toward me. “She’ll try to run, this one. Get some rope.” She handed one of the blades Wrecker had given me to the other brute. “Put this in my carri. I want it as a souvenir.”
Once the brutes had left and we were alone, I expected Bridget to lower the pistol and tell me it was all a farce. She didn’t.
“You’re not really going to do this,” I assured her. “You can’t hand me over to them like I’m nothing to you. I was your friend long before you met Charlie.” When she said nothing, I felt my heart clench. “Sweet Mary, Bridget Sullivan. Were you ever mine?”
A mask of real anger settled over her face. “I never met anyone as bloody mule-headed as you, Kit. Told you to stay away from the Hill, didn’t I? But no. You had to go nosing round Walsh and his business. You did this to yourself, dearie.” She strode to me, grabbing me by the hair and jerking me close. In a murmur, she said, “They took Charlie and the kids, and they’re holding them on a ship somewhere. Said I’d only get them back alive if I did this. Sorry, love.” In a louder voice she said, “And I’m done with you.” She slipped her hand into a seam on the side of my skirt that shouldn’t have been open. I understood why it was when I felt the second of Wrecker’s blades being tucked in my garter. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up now, and when they take you to the master, give him exactly what he deserves.”
I had to put on a show for Walsh’s men when they returned, so I struggled and called out to her, begging for her to save me while wanting her to do no such thing at all.
Bridget pretended to be indifferent, although just as they dragged me off she looked sick.
Outside the shop the men used the rope to bind my wrists and ankles, so there was no getting to Wrecker’s blade after they tossed me in the back of their carri. I fell over on my side and stayed there, enduring the jolting as I thought through every possible course of action.
Obviously Zarath wouldn’t be fooled by renewed protestations of my love this time round. I’d count myself a lucky gel to get a word out before he took retribution. As long as I was bound I couldn’t use Wrecker’s knife to defend myself. Anyway, the blade was steel, and would do nothing to hurt the Aramanthan. If I was smart I’d plant it in my own heart as soon as I got a hand free. Zarath couldn’t hurt a corpse.
But the Reapers intended to turn everyone in Rumsen into walking corpses, and I couldn’t allow that, not if there was something I could do to stop them. I’d also promised Dredmore that I would set his spirit free.
I smelled the docks a few seconds before the carri screeched to a stop. I closed my eyes and went limp, keeping up the pretense of a faint until one of them tossed me over his shoulder. From that vantage point I saw (upside down and in snatches, of course) that they were delivering me to a big clipper with black sails and a pitch-covered hull. Up the gangway we went, and I caught a few glimpses of a group of men in bankers’ suits before I was dumped on the deck before them.
“Untie her; she’s not going anywhere. This is the one who attacked the master?” one of the suits asked as the rope was removed from my wris
ts and ankles.
“Aye. Caught her at the gowner’s.”
Through the slits of my eyes I watched the two footmen retreat before I concentrated on being nothing more than a pile of laundry.
“Very good. I wasn’t anxious to cut the throat of such a valuable pawn as Duluc,” the suit said, his chilly voice closer now. He nudged me over with a careless prod of his shoe. “I know this tart. She hires herself out to dispel magic.” His tone hardened. “Bringing her here was foolish. Even on the Hill she has a reputation for being most effective.”
“She has but a few pathetic tricks,” a new but very familiar voice replied. “None of them will stop us or save her now.” Celestino. So he had survived my stabbing.
I could only cringe on the inside and pray that Zarath would make an appearance before his underling repaid me in kind.
“I know what happened when the master returned to us,” the suit said. “If she is so harmless, then why would Lucien Dredmore surrender his body to protect her?”
“Walsh said the fool was in love with her.”
I dared lifted one eyelid, just enough to see the Talian, his hair hanging in oily rings over his forehead, his arm bound up in a sling tied over his blood-blotched jacket. He walked to me and as he crouched down I closed my eye again. “Why is she like this? Did you beat her into unconsciousness?”
“No, sir,” the footman said. “She fainted.”
“They are so delicate, the ladies of this country.” Celestino stood up. “But this one, she is more like the cockroach. You must crush her under your heel slowly, like a tick.”
Guessing what he meant to do, I bit the inside of my lip, but the boot that slammed into my belly kicked a cry of pain up through my teeth.
“That would be for stabbing me,” the Talian mentioned as he drew back his boot. “And this”—he kicked me in the back—“is for the master.”
Knowing there would be more of the same or worse, I curled over and made pitiful noises, crawling a bit while I measured the distance between my body and the edge of the deck. There was railing to contend with, but not a great height of it.
“Zarath wanted her alive, did he not?” one of the suits inquired.
“So he will have her,” Celestino said. “A few broken bones will not make any difference to him.”
When his boot struck my ribs, I turned onto my side, tucking my arms against me and wailing as if he’d cracked something. The fourth time he came at me I let the impact roll me over—and kept rolling until I collided with the railing.
I was up and over the side before anyone could react, and plummeted down the side of the ship like a stone. Before I fell between the hull and the dock into the murky water I reached out, catching a mooring rope with my hands. Splinters of oakum stabbed into my palms, and grabbing on in midfall nearly wrenched my arms out of their sockets, but I didn’t let go. Once I stopped bobbing I swung my legs out and back, out and back until I had enough momentum to make the leap to the dock.
I collapsed on the boards as soon as I landed, and for a moment I wasn’t sure I could rise again. Then I heard fast, heavy thuds and the gangway bouncing and struggled to my feet.
I hiked up my skirts and ran from the ship to the way station, where I glanced back. Celestino and his men had reached the bottom of the gangway, but they weren’t chasing me. They were just standing there, watching.
Slowly I turned round to see Dredmore walking toward me with an unhurried pace. He wore a new set of powder-free clothing, over which he had put on Lucien’s greatcoat, and carried a strange black club covered with scarlet symbols.
“Oh, hello, Lucien.” I had nowhere to run, and too many reasons to stay. “Did you have a nice nap? Sorry about the headache. A little chamomile soother will work wonders on that. Shall I go fetch some for you from a cart?”
“I knew you would return.” He didn’t try to club me over the head or grab me, but put his knuckles under my chin to tip up my face. “Mortal love makes you this foolish. But even if you could dispossess me, woman, the spirit of your man will not return to this body.”
“I know.” And I was a fool for thinking I could do this.
Someone groaned, and I heard the door of the way station rattle. “You out there. I can’t get out. Help me.”
“I see.” Zarath ignored Montrose Walsh’s squealing as he stroked my cheek with his fingertips. “You came to prevent me from casting the spell. That will not happen. You may watch instead. In a few moments, you and every mortal in this city will belong to me.”
I turned my face away. “Not if I break the spell first.”
“It is not one spell, foolish child. It is thousands upon thousands. Once it is released, not even I could stop it.” The scarlet symbols on the black club began to glow. “But I shall use it to send you into a waking dream, where you will know every time I take my pleasure of your pain and your flesh, where you can do nothing but feel it.”
“How delightful.” I shuffled back and reached behind me for the way station’s door latch, and from it removed the iron rail tie I’d used to keep Montrose imprisoned inside. “I can’t fathom why everyone finds you so utterly repulsive,” I mentioned as I pocketed the spike. “I mean, other than the way you talk, behave, think, and smell, you’re quite the catch, aren’t you?”
He grabbed hold of my bodice, tearing it as he jerked me close. “Open your mouth.”
“Go back to hell.” I spat in his face.
He took hold of my throat with one hand and cut off my air, and no matter how I clawed at him, kept strangling me. Shadows loomed before my eyes, inviting me to throw myself into them. Looking into death was such a terrible relief that I gasped.
Zarath’s hand clapped over my mouth at the same time he released my neck, and the need to breathe overcame everything. I didn’t realize he had shoved a stone into my mouth until it slid to the back of my tongue and went down my throat. It burned my insides as it went down, and I fought to stop it, coughing and retching violently. Nothing came out, and then I felt it in my stomach, hot and cold, an unbearable weight.
Zarath put his mouth next to my ear. “Do you feel her? That is my queen, Anamorg. She is inside you now, and she will keep you from breaking any spell. I have only to release her from the stone, and your body will be hers. Then Anamorg will devour your spirit, and you will be nothing.”
“Not a very pretty name, is it? Anamorg.” I rasped out the words as I reached in my pocket for the rail tie. “Sounds to me like a disease of the bottom.”
His expression tightened with outrage. “For that I will make you know agony as you could not imagine.”
“Sorry, but it’s my turn now.” I threw myself against him, knocking him down on his back. I had only a moment to straddle him, raise the iron spike I’d taken from the door handle of the way station, and strike.
I thought I might hesitate, staring down at Dredmore’s face, knowing what I was about to do. Yet my hand never wavered or faltered, and I plunged the spike deep into his chest, thrusting it down with all my strength.
Zarath heaved me off, clutching the end of the spike as he convulsed. He rolled onto his side, curling over before he lurched onto all fours. His head came up and he roared out his pain and fury until the sound died and a bloody froth bubbled from his lips. I backed away into Montrose, who stood gaping at the sight.
“What have you done?” he yelped.
Zarath staggered onto his feet, pulling at the spike as obscenely wet sounds poured out along with the blood from his mouth.
“I killed a monster.” I couldn’t bear to see him die, but I couldn’t look away until I was sure he had. “And I saved a man.”
The Aramanthan reeled toward the ship, but he strayed too close to the edge of the dock, where he fell into the water with a tremendous splash.
Celestino, who had run toward us, stopped in his tracks. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed like a rag doll. I saw the other men by the gangplank do the same, and then Montrose fe
ll in front of me, face-first into the dock.
I knelt on the edge of the pier, shoving my fingers deep into my mouth so that I might cast up the stone, but it wouldn’t come out of me. The sensation of burning and freezing faded, leaving me with only the feeling of a rock in my belly. Anamorg, queen of the Reapers, waiting to awake inside me.
I turned my head and saw Inspector Doyle standing a few feet away. “Oh, hello, Tommy.” Two beaters flanked him, and each held their nightsticks ready. “Filthy day, isn’t it? All this smoke is plaguing my eyes something awful.”
As I sat in Questioning at Rumsen Main Station I idly wished for a dagger. They’d taken Wrecker’s from me, but I didn’t especially need a kneecapper’s blade. Any dagger, even a penknife, would suffice for the last bit of killing I had to do.
I caught a whiff of piss as I imagined it. A quick slash across the carotid. Lots of blood—lots of mess—but they were used to tidying up death here. I knew no one would shout for help or call for the whitecart. If anything, they’d have their tea hour down at the pub and share a few good-riddance pints.
They might still at that. I had one sleeve left intact. When they tossed me in my cell, I’d be alone.
For now I’d have to endure this. Sitting shackled to a chair for hours wasn’t comfortable, but it was a nice break from the hell I’d been through over the past two weeks.
Questioning, for all its hideous rep, wasn’t as bad as all that. Dust coated the gaslight chimneys, all of which were blackened on the inside from long use. Yellowed wanted posts and faded ambrotype tints hung on point from a warped cork-backed board, on which someone had pasted a headline from The Queen’s Voice: Your Colonial Taxes at Work. It hadn’t taken that long for Her Majesty to decide to appropriate all unprocessed colonial gold for Herself, or men would still be out panning the rivers.
Grimy footprints and skid marks from rubber-soled shoes made odd trails across the cheap pine floor planks. Old pipe and cigar smoke had shriveled an orange-clove pomander hanging from the window bars to the size of a walnut.