Author: Chris Cook
Danielle walked in Mem's wake, still wary of the strange... something that had her - both of them - in its grip. They were walking along a crowded street, but pedestrians just happened, by chance, not to bump into them, or even be in their way much. Mem strolled along looking this way and that, as if perfectly acclimatised to this strange condition; Danielle walked with a nervous stood, scurrying a few steps at a time and perpetually sure the spell would break and one of the bustling people would cannon into her.
"Where are we going?" she tried again, as they turned down a side street.
"Told yer," Mem said without slowing. "London."
"Oh, a'right, Blackhorse Road if you must know."
"B-but... that's the other way," Danielle frowned, pointing over her shoulder. "And quite a way, are we going to walk all that-"
"Nah, not that one," Mem shook his head, grinning. "Almost there, 'ang on."
"It... it really is the other way," Danielle said, mostly to herself, as she allowed herself to be led on.
The dandy put a hand to his top hat's brim and inclined it ever so slightly, making the gesture seem cheerfully disrespectful. The woman he had come to see gestured to a seat, quite accustomed to her visitor's manner and apparently not ruffled by it in the slightest. The dandy sat on the edge of the worn old leather armchair facing the woman's couch, and looked around the room.
Portraits stared back at him from every wall, the many sizes of their frames fitting together like Mayan stonework. Between the rich, thickly painted canvasses and their ornate, gilded frames, it was difficult to tell if there were walls behind them at all. Only two doors broke the diverse uniformity of the room's decorations - the one the dandy had entered by, and closed behind him on the dusty passageway beyond, and the other, behind the woman's couch. The doorknob was polished, but not completely - rather, constant use had shined it irregularly. The dandy's eyes lingered on it, then returned to the woman.
"I met a man, as I was a-walking here today," he said, with a musical lilt in his voice.
"The Keeper of the Keys?" the woman asked.
"Milady has, as always, a most keen insight," the man smiled, again managing to make 'milady' sound roughly as respectful as 'hey you,' but with a mitigating touch of humour in his voice.
"Milady knows you better than you think, Colonel," the woman said, mimicking the man's tone of voice very well. "You always get a particular expression on your face when you've been down that way."
"I'm horrified to think that I might be so transparent," the 'Colonel' replied. The two let their gazes meet, and the air of humour dropped from around them.
"I was seen, I know," the woman said quietly.
"You must be more careful!" the Colonel insisted, also keeping his voice down, though his warning lost none of its urgency for being delivered in a near-whisper.
"I had to know," the woman shrugged.
"If you'd but told me, I could have come with you and watched your back-"
"And we all know how many eyes watch you," the woman said, shaking her head. "You know I couldn't have asked that of you. If your master finds out what you've been up to..."
"Pshaw," the Colonel dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand.
"Don't" the woman said quickly. "You and I both know there are some things even you can't talk your way out of, and... you've been a good friend. Losing you would be..." She trailed off, and made no attempt to hide the stricken look in her eyes.
"Would be a sad blow to your potential as an unscrupulously devious rogue," the man finished for her, injecting a little levity into the conversation. "Don't think it's been easy, getting you to so much as bend the rules - I'd hate to leave such a grand accomplishment half-done."
"I saw her," the woman said softly. The Colonel's gaze met hers, then dropped to study the patterns on the polished wooden floor.
"That's what the rumour was," he admitted. "But you know rumour... You're sure?"
"I'm sure," she said, in a voice which allowed no contradiction.
"She... Knave, I swear to you, I was as close to her as you and I sit now, and she didn't recognise me. I was disguised of course, to go above without being stopped, but... she didn't know me. My voice."
"Aye," the Colonel nodded.
"You knew?" the woman demanded, letting her voice rise.
"No," he said quickly. "No, but... Damn it all, I saw the two of you together often enough. I'd wager good money that the only way she'd have gone, and stayed gone, was if somehow she didn't know how to come back to you."
"She didn't know me," the woman said, shaking her head. "How... Why would anyone do something like that to her? To us?"
"Why do people do anything?" the Colonel said grimly. "Greed, fear, ambition, jealousy - you're high among us still, but while you and she were together, you know better'n I how much weight the two of you carried in our city's affairs."
"I don't know what to do," the woman said, sniffing back tears. "I could barely be there a second, with the bats and the Beneathers about, but I thought if only I could find her, if only I could be with her, it would all... just... What do I do?"
"You... sit tight," the Colonel advised, getting to his feet. "And wait for word of me. I'm going to see what can be seen, out and about. And when that's done, and we know better where we stand... well then, you're going to get her back."
The woman looked up at him, speechless but grateful by her smile, which he returned before turning to the door.
"I promise," he said, over his shoulder, just before leaving. "You'll get her back, Tara."
At 4:28pm the man who was going to kill London received an inoccuous email from a man he had come to think of as a brother. He read it, betraying no surprise, replied briefly, and continued with his work, his co-workers unaware of the event that had taken place. He knew there would be another email soon, to his home, private.
"We're going down there?" Danielle asked, when Mem had led her down another side street, into an alley, into an even smaller alley, and was now standing on the threshold of a dimly-lit access passageway between two warehouses. Buildings had encroached on the space, from either side, and covering it from above, leaving little more than a tunnel, with only the faintest glimmer of light from the other end.
"Shure," Mem nodded. "C'mon."
"I don't believe this," Danielle grumbled, stooping down to follow the boy into the tunnel.
"S'not the best way down," he said as he scuttled along before her, his voice echoing oddly. "But it's the safest - at least, that's what they say, but I reckon the White City's not so bad, s'long as yer got a quick pair o' feet. Okay, 'ere's good." Danielle bumped into him as he stopped abruptly.
"What?" she asked.
"Turn around," he said.
"Turn around. Just once, turn right around so's you end up facing back t'wards me."
"You want me to...?"
"Turn around," Danielle said to herself, manoeuvring awkwardly in the cramped tunnel. "If this is some kind of practical joke, I'll... wha..."
She straightened up instinctively, ducked in sudden fear she'd hit her head, then straightened again as she realised she hadn't. At some indeterminate point as she had been turning the damp, dingy length of the tunnel had vanished, and in its place were doorways, stone arches with wooden doors in them, lit dimly by flaming torches in iron brackets far up above them. Danielle stared up, but couldn't see the sky.
"This one," Mem said, pushing on a door. It creaked as it opened, and Danielle jumped in fright as Mem suddenly stepped back from it, startled. As the door swung open she saw what he had seen - a woman just beyond the door, dressed in a black evening dress, a cigarette in a long silver holder in her hand.
"Lamia," the boy muttered, moving his hand across his chest in a way that reminded Danielle, somehow, of a person crossing themselves.
"Thank you, dearest," she said to Mem. "I'll take her from here."
Far away, a man lit his pipe and scowled at the darkness. The tiny flame of the match in his hands was the only light, and for all that it lit he might have been in a room barely the size of a closet. But there was a sound, all around, creaking wood, shallow waves slapping on hulls, sails whipping, wheels trundling, sound that filled the mind's eye with huge forms, and the sound, and the space it occupied, stretched on forever and ever and ever.