My head rocked side to side, while my eye remained locked onto the Baron, who slouched against the wall, chest rising and falling. Now and then he twitched, or he tried to breathe and found his nose clogged, and snorted out a wad of bloody mucus. I wasn’t sure why his nose was bleeding when I’d pierced him through the eye, but I didn’t mind. Once proud and arrogant, the nobleman drooled.
Candida’s ministrations at the side of my head continued, jarring me and moving my head this way and that. I was being bandaged, pieced back together. If I’d had two eyes, one would have been on the door, in case the Baron’s elite soldiers wondered at the silence, and one would have remained on the Baron while I convinced myself that it was really over. As it was, I kept my eye on the Baron and kept my ears out for trouble.
As my other senses went, my instincts were that the soldiers wouldn’t intrude. He wasn’t the type that encouraged others to stick their necks out on his behalf – he was too fond of beheadings and slit throats.
“Almost done,” Candida murmured. Her face was so close to my bandaged ear that I could feel her breath. She squinted. She fumbled for and then took hold of my most intact hand and raised it up to the side of my head, where the bandages had been set, “Hold this in place for a second.”
I could hear the ripping sound as she tore at the dress the Baron had given her, turning it into strips. She tended to my hand.
The Baron raised his head up, very suddenly, and then let it drop. It lolled. One of his hands moved a great deal, fidgeting, the other remained still, as if the symmetry of his body had been absolutely broken.
“We still need to get out of here,” Candida said, her voice hushed.
“Talk louder,” I said, my voice a croak. The wound at the base of it had been closed. “They won’t hear the words. Hearing speech, they’ll be less suspicious.”
“I don’t know how you can talk,” she said. It seemed to take some effort for her to speak with more confidence. “The way I cut into your throat… I’m a hack when it comes to medicine, my knowledge is piecemeal, things Drake and the primordial text taught me.”
“Third time,” I croaked the words, touching my throat. “Throat slashed, first time. Then dog. Then the burrower worm. Think… doctors were proactive, second or third time. Relocated bits.”
“That doesn’t sound like any way to live,” Candida said. Her hand found and touched the back of my head, stroking my hair.
My first impulse was to argue the point, but my mind, even as tired as it was, was quick to jump to why, to call up counterpoints, to draw conclusions. Before I even asked for it, I thought about those days. The early days of the Lambs. After my throat surgery, I’d been rendered mute for a week, on strict orders not to speak or laugh. Gordon had had a field day, teasing me.
I wanted to tell Candida that she was wrong, that those days had been the good days, but the thought of Gordon made emotion well up in my throat, and some combination of being choked up, trying to talk, and the damage to my throat left me hacking out some fantastically painful coughs instead.
“Thank you for coming,” Candida said. She’d dropped her voice again, despite my urging to the contrary no more than a minute ago. “Thank you for killing him. For rescuing me.”
Still suppressing my coughs, I nodded.
“I thought you’d take longer. I thought, maybe, that by the time you came, I wouldn’t have any fight left in me. It’s stupid, I hate feeling weak, but everything I did, every change I had made, to be stronger, fiercer, he had the doctors take it away.”
“You get it back,” I croaked. I coughed some more, and then climbed down off of the stage. “After we leave. You go to Drake. Understand?”
“It sounds too good to be true.”
Someone should get a happy ending, I thought.
I checked my pockets, and found them largely empty. All I had was the ribbon and the empty syringe, now. I approached the Baron, periodically glancing at the door. I stopped roughly ten feet short of the man himself.
Laboriously climbing to the ground, I swept my hand along the stone floor, brushing up the dust.
“I’ll help,” Candida said.
“No,” I said. “Poison.”
And you can barely see.
All of the poison that I’d dashed into the air while trying to drive back the Baron had gone somewhere – and most of it had gone down. Now I collected it again, with a side helping of the dust that had layered the floor of the unused church.
Once I had two piles of the dust in hand, I gently transitioned it over to a bench. I stared at it, thinking.
I ached, every single part of me, from the physical to the mental to the emotional. Staying still and thinking of nothing in particular meant not hurting. Not hurting that much, anyway.
The plan was straightforward, the execution simple and very possibly easy, depending on how things unfolded. But the plan in and of itself, for reasons entirely separate from the execution, was the furthest thing from easy.
I was shaking, I realized, and I had no idea why. The chill in the air combined with me being soaked in sweat? Suppressed emotion? Shock?
“Sylvester?” Candida spoke, venturing. “Are you still there?”
I raised my eye from the pile of poison. “Yes.”
“Are you okay?”
I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I would have choked up, started coughing again. Even nodding would have been a bad lie, and I didn’t have it in me. Shaking my head would mean making an admission to both Candida and to myself that would have brought tears to my eye. If that happened, it could be treacherous. A tell for Mary to use to know that something was wrong. I’d already given her so many.
A huge part of me didn’t want to move forward. I wanted to just stay where I was, hurting, in the candlelit church, and postpone the next hour, the next few days.
I managed to convince myself that if I stayed still for one second longer, I wouldn’t ever be able to move. “Help me move the Baron.”
“I’m not very strong, Sylvester. I could barely lift the sword.”
“I know,” I said, my voice reedy. “I know. Just help.”
She gave me a nod.
I took one arm, and Candida took the other. It was very possible that she weighed twice what I did, and she wasn’t exhausted and hurting to quite the same extent I was, in the end, but she only contributed roughly as much as I did as we managed to drag the Baron around. We left him between the first and second pews on the far end of the church.
“Is this good enough?” Candida asked.
“No,” I said. I walked over to the nearest corpse that had been nailed to the pew, and I dismantled it. I took the first armful of rags and scattered bones, and draped them over the Baron, camouflaging him.
I was midway through my second trip when Candida got over her shock and horror and began to assist me. She could only see the vaguest of shapes, but the white bone against dark wood and darker stone seemed distinct enough for her to work with.
When we were done, I stopped, and I watched the Baron’s chest rise and fall. One of his hands still twitched, dancing like the entirety of his ability to move had been trapped in the one extremity. I paid mind to the corpse that draped him, a woman, if I judged by the hips.
“I hope she would be happy, knowing she helped,” I said.
Candida nodded, but she wasn’t able to bring herself to even face the scene. With eyes as bad as hers were, she was still unwilling to look at it.
“This next part,” I croaked, “It’s on you. You’re going to go to the side door of the church. You’re going to open it. You’re going to talk to the soldiers standing guard.”
I expected her to balk, to give me another excuse. But her offer to help earlier had been earnest and carried over even to this, and I seemed to have her trust.
“You tell them the Baron wants me taken to Richmond House. To amuse himself with. To interrogate.”
“They’re to take you to Richmond House, for the Baron’s amusement and later interrogation.”
“Make yourself smaller, weaker,” I said. “While you’re at it, scratch at that cut on your neck. Open it up, so it bleeds. Then hide it, keep your arms up and in front of you…”
I watched her as she moved her arms, thumbnail working at the cut until blood trickled down. She held them up, more of a fighter’s style than anything.
“Wrists closer together, elbows out. Head down. Like the world is a bad place and your arms are the only thing between you and that badness. Like you’re a child again, and cover that wound. They’ll see the trickle of blood.”
“They’re going to wonder where he is,” she said.
“If they wonder, then say he’s in the back of the church, he’s angry, because I hurt him, but he doesn’t want the guards to know, so tell the guards they need to be very, very quiet. They’ll know-”
“They’ll be quiet, if I say that,” Candida said. “Definitely.”
She understood how things worked here, then.
“And you?” she asked.
I walked around the first pew, and I scooped up the dust I’d collected, a fistful in each hand. I made my way to the carpeted space between the first pew and the stage. Slowly, carefully, I lowered myself to the cold stone floor, curling up in a fetal position, fists held tight to my chest.
“Just like that,” she said.
“I’ll need the sword,” I croaked. “And you’ll need the knife that’s lying somewhere, just in case. Let me know if you can’t find it.”
She brought me the rapier. I raised myself up, indicating where she should set the rapier, and then lay down on top of the blade, the length of it running between my arm and my ribs.
Once I was settled and sure I wasn’t going to slice myself by lying the wrong way, I let my head drop down to rest on the floor, bandaged side down. Once there, I altered my breathing, making it hyperventilation-quick, coinciding with sharp movements, as if I was in pain. It was the convulsing of a dying rabbit, a pig that had been struck in the spine with a blade, but without enough force to instantly kill it.
“When?” she asked.
“Give it a minute. Let the silence sit with them.”
The side door had had three soldiers stationed there, last I’d seen. If it was four, this got that much harder.
I lay there, controlling my convulsed breathing, listening as Candida paced.
When the door opened, I suspected it caught Candida and I both by surprise. Small fortune that it was the side door that creaked open.
“My lady,” one of the soldier’s voices echoed through the church.
Then silence. It took me a second to realize that Candida had raised her finger to her lips, shushing the man.
Good of her, to do that. It would be ideal if she didn’t expand on that, if she let their imaginations draw the conclusions instead of relying on her words to do it.
I couldn’t make out the words of the conversation that followed, only the tone. I wanted to give more pointers, even though I doubted it mattered. She would be playing the battered fiancee, looking after the aftermath of one of her husband’s sadistic games.
Hearing the footsteps, I knew that it was two men approached me, not three. I was dimly aware of Candida hanging back, closer to the door.
The third was still watching the door. Was he watching this?
That would be a problem.
Still, I would do what I could. Two was easier to deal with in the short term, if not the long.
They bent over me, and I resisted their initial efforts to budge me, keeping my body stiff and curled up. As one hooked an arm under my armpit and the other seized my knees, I moved. Nothing sudden. Sudden would have caught them off guard.
Fluid, easy movement, raising one hand to my mouth, then blowing through my fist, expelling a cloud of dust. Before the one at my feet could react, I moved, hurling the fistful in the direction of his face.
Both stumbled away, coughing and choking. Their efforts to take in breath only choked them more, and they were nearly silent. The person still at the open door would hear, I suspected, but the ones at the front door wouldn’t.
My movements felt glacially slow as I got my feet under me, picking myself up off the ground, taking up the sword. Every muscle that I used to lift and thrust with the sword resisted me, pushing almost in the opposite direction. The soldier at my feet was my first target, and the rapier thrust beneath his sternum and up into the space between his ribs. I stumbled to one side, levering the blade inside him, but it was far less than I’d hoped for. It made a sucking noise as I pulled it free.
I half-turned, facing the other one that I’d blinded and suffocated, and swung the blade around. I caught the soldier’s face instead of his neck, summoned the strength, and then swung again. It bit deep into the neck and shoulder, and blood started spurting out of the wound in a rhythmic fashion.
I looked to the door. Candida was there, on her knees, her arms around the third soldier. He must have seen her as weak or inconsequential, a bleed-over of the Baron’s attitudes, overlooking her in the moment of crisis. She’d managed to grab him from behind probably with one hand to his mouth, and she’d opened his throat.
Carefully, I divested the man I’d stabbed of his pistol. I tucked it into my belt, at the small of my back, and pulled my shirt down over it.
I gave Candida a hand, helping her to rise to her feet. I then had her wait, while I peered out the open door, checking to see if the coast was clear.
I saw a flash. Light reflected off of a mirror or a very well-polished blade.
“There’s a signal. A friend.”
“We could have used a friend in here.”
One hand went out to my left, indicating that one side.
I switched sides, indicating the right.
That meant there was probably one soldier at one corner of the building, and two at the other.
I indicated the way forward, hand out in front of me like I was offering a handshake.
A long pause, then one flash. No soldier, followed by the universal one-for-yes, two-for-no.
The dance. Coordination, knowing how each of us thought. I felt a pang.
“Go,” I said.
My injured chest hurt with each deep breath I had to take while running. Candida had a much longer stride than I did, but she wasn’t quick. She was blind, reliant on my lead, and the alterations to her muscles, the removal of the enhanced strength she’d sought, it impacted her ability to move. I thought her more akin to an animated doll in the way that only some limbs could move, and only in certain ways or on certain planes. Arms that could raise and lower, but not stretch out to either side. Legs and hips that were much the same.
We made it across the street before anyone started shouting.
The soldiers started toward us, but it wasn’t the whole contingent. Others were going inside, to check on the Baron. They would find their fellow soldiers first. Wariness would slow them down.
Not so for the ones chasing us. They were faster, picking up speed. Only a winding path and the use of corners for cover spared us from gunshots. That, and perhaps a fear of bringing on the wrath of Firstborn or of angering a Baron who wanted us alive rather than dead.
We reached the building where the flashing had originated from. A door was wide open, Mary, Chance, and Lainie on the other side. We hurried through, and Mary closed it after us, turning the deadbolt.
“You killed him?” Mary asked me. It was almost accusatory. You got to kill him and I had to sit around doing nothing?
I coughed in response.
“Are you okay?” was her second question.
“Alive,” I croaked. “Mary, meet Candi- Emily. Emily, meet Mary, Lainie, and Chance.”
“Call me Candida,” Candida said, between gasps for breath. “Emily is… gone? Maybe I’ll be Emily again when I get stronger. When I get my horns and my eyes back.”
“Candida, then,” I said.
“I picked locks, we have a route through, we can shut doors behind us,” Mary said.
All business. I nodded. Business was the last thing I wanted to attend to.
“I’ve got two wire traps, I left the rest of-”
“Take them down,” I croaked.
“Take them down,” I said, again, fiercer. “We’re wrapping up. Can’t leave any leads. Wire traps are too you. Too Mary.”
“I’ll catch up, then,” Mary said. “Chance, Lainie, you show them the doors I opened.”
“We’ll go to the train station, find a spot nearby,” I said. “The trains come several times a day.”
Mary nodded, “Chance, take my bag?”
Chance nodded. He looked wary.
“Almost done,” I croaked the words.
I felt a pang of loss. I didn’t blink, because I worried it might squeeze excess moisture out of my eyes. I had to be stoic, inhuman.
It was merciful, in a way, that someone banged on the door, distracting everyone in the room. A window at one side of the house broke.
They’d seen us enter. Now they were giving chase. Some would be circling the building.
We cut through the house, entering the side-street, where Mary parted ways with us. Chance led the way as we crossed that street to another house, where a door was only slightly ajar. We cut through that house as well, then a third, deadbolting and flipping latches where we went.
She was a clever girl. The doors, setting out the escape route, laying traps, it was smart. I’d asked her to use her head while I saw to the fighting, and she’d done so in a very Mary way. The traps were unfortunate, but she couldn’t have known.
I was left pretty damn secure in feeling that we were out of the soldier’s reach, after the third house. We were able to slow down, making our way toward the train station. Not terribly far.
Once we were a fair distance away, we found a place to hunker down, not on the north side of the tracks where the landing was, but across the tracks, on the far side. The occupants would exit onto the landing, and we would hopefully be able to sneak onto the train and hitch a ride out of town.
Time to leave Warrick.
“You said-” Chance said. He startled a little as I snapped my head around to look at him. “You said you would let me go? That you wouldn’t kill me, like you did the doctors.”
“I suppose I did,” I said, my voice rasping.
I saw Lainie shrink into herself.
“Lainie can’t go home,” I said. The words were painful to utter. Can’t go home.
They seemed even more painful for her to hear.
“I’ll scream,” Lainie said, her voice firm in a very tremulous way, as if that firmity would crumble at the slightest touch. “I’ll bring down hell on our heads, guards, soldiers, Firstborn… I’m sorry, Chance.”
“No,” Chance said, “Don’t be sorry.”
The young gentleman.
“Lainie,” Candida said. “He’s not a bad-”
“He’s going to kill me,” Lainie said, abrupt, interrupting. “He’s going to kill me because I know things. He told the Infante that he would punish me, that-”
“No,” I said, my voice hard.
I paused, taking in a breath, “No. You live, Lainie. But you can’t go home.”
The change in her expression, it was as if what I was saying was even more terrifying than the idea of dying.
Perhaps death was a great mystery, but the idea of never going home again was something she could understand.
“No,” she said. Her eyes were as wide as they could get. They might have been puppy dog eyes, but they were too haunted. “I tried.”
“The Infante saw you. He said he would check up on you,” I said. “He wanted you punished. If you show your face, if you reach out to family, give him or them any clue at all, he’ll see to it that you suffer the worst sort of fate.”
“It’s not up to me,” I said. “The only thing you can do is to stay away. Keep your distance. So long as he never sees hide or hair of you, his imagination will fill in the blanks, and he’ll believe you’ll have suffered.”
“I’ll stay away for a few years, then. Five years? Won’t that be enough?”
“Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?”
“No,” I said, again. “He remembered one incident from when you were a newborn, didn’t he? Fourteen or fifteen years ago? He’ll remember your face.”
Lainie’s hands went to her mouth.
I screwed my eye closed and turned my face away as I heard the cry pass through her lips. It felt so real and tangible that it almost physically pained me to listen to.
“Candida will look after you in the short term,” I said.
“I will too,” Chance said. I could hear the emotion in his voice. “I will too, I’ll be with you, okay Lainie?”
Her broken wail shifted tone. She threw herself into his arms, and he hugged her.
I was only barely able to push down the vicious jealousy I felt, seeing that. She had family.
I turned away, looking out the window. In the doing, I glimpsed Mary, who had made her silent entrance.
“Traps disarmed,” Mary said. “I’ve removed some of the etched guides I put into the wood, too.”
“Good,” I said.
“You said you’d lose,” Mary said. Back to the accusatory.
“Couldn’t break away,” I said. My voice sounded like an old man’s, with all of the requisite tiredness.
“I came here to contribute. I wanted to end him, for Lillian. Then you, what, you fought him? You told me to stay back, look for an opportunity, think about how to tackle the problem, and you went and fought him yourself?”
“I had help,” I said.
“I don’t understand what you’re thinking, Sy,” she said. “Why? Why all this? Is it Gordon? Are you doing what you did with Jamie? Trying to be some golden warrior, tackling problems head-on? Are there other reasons?”
I couldn’t give her an answer. I glanced out the window.
She reached forward, putting her hands on my shoulders. Her face was too close to mine. “Look at me, Sy.”
There were tears in her eyes. Seeing them made tears threaten to well up in mine.
“I’ve never seen you like this,” she said. “I’m asking because I care about you.”
My already ravaged voice was rendered hollow. My mouth moved, but the words didn’t come. Not on the first try.
“I care about you too,” I managed. The rest of the words followed without my bidding. “I love you, Mary Cobourn. You’re my family.”
She let the distance between us close. Her forehead touched mine, resting there. Her eyes were closed.
If I ask, she’ll come with me.
How long ago was it, now, that I was told I should be more selfish?
Lillian would understand, given time. She had the others.
We’d interrupted each other. The rest of my words went unsaid. I’ll explain. Just hear me out.
“You first,” I said, the words heavy, the choked-up feeling threatening to send me off into another coughing fit.
“Sy,” Mary said, she straightened, hands on her hips. “If nothing else, you have to tell me how you managed to do it.”
I opened my mouth to speak, and only a cough came out.
“How did you kill him?” Mary asked.
“He’s alive,” Candida said, before I could stop her.
“What?” Chance, Mary, and Lainie all said at the same time, with minor variation.
“He’s alive. He’s just, not there anymore,” Candida said. “A syringe, right into the eye.”
“Syringe? The anticoagulant?” Mary asked. I saw her eyes move, the thoughts clicking into place. “Wyvern.”
“Wyvern,” I said.
This time, when she seized my shoulders, it was forceful, fingers digging into flesh. “Are you an idiot?”
Now Chance and Lainie seemed just as frightened of Mary as they’d been of me. Lainie had seemed to forget to cry, and was staring at the ongoing dialogue. Candida seemed to be realizing that she’d said something wrong.
“It’s part of the plan,” I said.
“The plan? Sy, they’ll do a checkup, they’ll find the wyvern, and they’ll know it’s you!”
“They’ll think it’s Fray,” I lied.
“You don’t know that. Your disappearance, the timing, the- no, this wasn’t the way to do it!”
“It makes sense,” I said.
“No, Sy. If they even suspect you, it’ll tie our hands, they’ll start questioning everything! This-” her voice broke a little. “We don’t have much time, Sy. A handful of years. Two to five, with the rest of the Lambs. If they cancel the project-”
“They won’t. They can’t. They need the Lambs to hunt down the biggest threats to the Academy. There’ll be bluster, and threats, but they’ve mostly tied their hands at this stage. They don’t have enough smart special weapons.”
Her fingers continued to dig into my shoulders, suggesting how little I’d convinced her. “You can’t be sure.”
“That is one thing I’m positive of,” I said. “I wouldn’t have done it this way otherwise.”
“If they cancel the Lambs,” Mary said, again. She didn’t finish the thought.
“They won’t,” I reassured her.
“All I want, is to be a Lamb. From the very beginning, with Percy, I thought I would be part of something bigger, part of a team. Then Percy let me down, and you raised me back up. The rest of you, you helped me become something I’m proud of. Even better than what Percy could have done with me.”
“Are you proud of working for the Academy?” I asked, knowing full well that I shouldn’t. “The Crown?”
“I-” she started.
I could push. I could make her side with me.
I didn’t push. I let her organize her thoughts.
“What you said about Lillian, about wanting her to be something great. I want that for her too. I believe she can change things at the top, where they need to be changed. I won’t pretend I’m pretty or good at heart. Lillian is the one good thing. The one light.”
“You say that even knowing that they sabotaged her? They wanted to take her black coat away from her?”
“Yes,” Mary said. “They can try and try again. She’ll have me at her back. She’ll have you. Helen, Jamie, Ashton, Duncan. We’ll find a way. We killed nobles. We can find a way forward against stupid bureaucracy.”
I nodded slowly.
I could see the light in Mary’s eye. The passion. She believed it. That was where she belonged. Lillian belonged with the Academy and Mary belonged with Lillian.
I spoke with careful deliberation, lying through my teeth. “They’ll think the formula was Fray’s, because it was imperfect. It wasn’t prepared with the same doses and quantities the Academy would use if they were giving me my dose. They’ll think that if I had a dose of wyvern and used it, then I would have used an Academy dose, not the imperfect dose that Simon brewed.”
Mary, going by the expression on her face, clearly didn’t believe me.
“Trust me,” I said.
“Trust me,” I said, again.
I prayed she wouldn’t speak up again. I wasn’t sure I could ask her to do it a third time.
She didn’t make me. She still looked obviously uncomfortable as she sat beside me, looking out the window.
Her hand found my bandaged one, and she squeezed, very gently. Her thumb rubbed back and forth along the back of my hand.
Candida was staring in my general direction. Not quite at me, but in my direction. She’d heard everything, and unlike Chance and Lainie, she had something of an idea of what was happening and who the Lambs were.
Mercifully, she was silent. She’d opened her mouth once already, and in the doing she’d spared me from asking Mary to come with me. I would thank her for it later, but until I did, she would likely see it as a mistake, an overstep.
Chance and Lainie, meanwhile, were silent. Lainie’s wide-eyed stare at me was filled with emotion. Blame, fear, dependency and horror. There was less life in her eyes than there was in Candida’s.
And Chance… Chance was quiet. Tension stood out in his neck and shoulders. His focus was on some point a thousand yards off, his mind at work as he wrapped his head around his new reality. One day, perhaps, he would blame me. Or perhaps he’d think back to when he’d picked us out, thinking it was his choice, and he’d blame himself.
I counted the seconds in my head, because I was impatient and simultaneously didn’t want another second to pass.
I felt the rumble, the movement of the train along the tracks.
Chance held the bags in one hand and supported Lainie with the other. Mary helped Candida to her feet.
From the look of it, the train was all cargo. Things for a celebration tomorrow, perhaps, or bags for the nobles who had arrived while I dealt with the Baron. As a group, we all made our way to the train. I let Mary take the lead with Candida, and kept an eye on Chance and Lainie, walking beside Lainie.
“The train is going the wrong way,” Mary said, looking back at me.
“It’s fine,” I said. “We get out of here first, and we get home second. We’ll be able to drop these guys off and see them on their way.”
Candida said something, and Mary responded. I didn’t listen and I didn’t hear. My ears and the space between them were all full of noise.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I needed to be able to see.
Falling a half-step behind Lainie, so she wouldn’t see what I was doing, I reached behind my back and I drew the pistol I’d taken from the Baron’s soldier. Holding it at my hip, so my body helped further block the view of the weapon from Lainie and Chance, I pointed it at Mary.
Almost, I almost got so choked up I started coughing. It would have been disastrous.
“I’m going to retaliate,” Mary the Phantom whispered to me. “Unless you kill me.”
The real Mary walked on, oblivious.
Passing it behind my back, I put the gun in my other hand. The fingers were damaged and weak, the bandages made for padding that made it harder to get my finger inside the trigger guard, and it was closer to Lainie.
I aimed it, glancing around the surroundings. We weren’t in plain view of the train. We had to round corners to get there.
Tears flooded my eyes, and I blinked them clear. It left me only a moment of visibility before I would be blinded by my own biology once more.
My thumb pulled the hammer back, and it clicked.
Mary turned, whirling on the spot, hair and skirt moving around her. I had to pause a fraction of a second, to ensure I had the shot.
I didn’t even see the knife before it flew out of her hand, embedding itself in my shoulder.
I’d tipped her off. She’d had an inkling of suspicion.
But she’d played with kid gloves, made assumptions. The knife was in my right shoulder, the gun was in my left hand.
I pulled the trigger, and saw the spray of blood. Mary toppled before she could throw another knife.
She collapsed onto the road, and I hurried to point the gun at her again as she reached for the bottom of her shirt. Her right knee was obliterated. The bullet had gone in the back and out the front where the kneecap was.
But the hardest thing to look at, above the pain, the damage I’d done to beautiful, graceful Mary, was the look in her eyes. So much anger.
“Don’t,” I warned her. My voice went high, “Don’t make me shoot again.”
Her hand moved away from the bottom of her shirt.
“Thank you,” I told her.
Her mouth opened, her jaw chattering in the process. The pain was already hitting her, then.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I’m not going home,” I said.
I watched her expression change. I saw the pieces fall into place.
“Since when? Gordon?”
“Yes. Lillian’s black coat was the final straw, but I think I would have left anyway.”
I saw the pain touch her expression. She brought her knee closer toward her chest, hands moving toward it.
“Don’t,” I warned her, again.
The pain remained, but she stopped reaching for the knives under her skirt and at her boots.
“The Firstborn,” she said.
“The Firstborn are with the families and the families are steering well clear of the train station,” I said. “You’ll find a way onto another train. And you know where Mcormick is, though that’s a bit of a distance to crawl. You’ll live.”
“You’re a bastard,” Mary said, with more vehemence than I’d imagined.
“Absolutely,” I said. “But I’m a bastard that tried to cover the bases. I left a message for Jamie. The story is that you saw me leave and you figured out why. You left a message for Jamie, he’ll forge it, saying that you chased me. You tried to stop me from killing the Baron.”
I suspected the gunshot wound hurt me as much as it hurt her. I heard her make a small sound of pain.
“They’ll be suspicious. Knee injuries are a pain to fix, and they won’t be in a rush. The Lambs will be questioned, but with the Baron and the Duke removed from the picture, it should be just the Academy that’s focused on you. With all of the key pieces that are in play, the Lambs are too valuable. But a couple of months, half a year? They’ll keep you guys out of the picture. That’s enough of a head start for me.”
“I’m supposed to tell them that you got the drop on me? While I was tracking you?” Mary asked. The anger was there. Fury like I’d never seen before, even when Percy was in the picture.
“Tell them I got lucky,” I said.
She shut her eyes.
I took hold of Candida’s wrist, and I backed away, keeping the gun leveled at Mary.
“You won’t ever get the drop on me again. You know that, don’t you?”
I nodded, blinking away the tears.
I turned away, fleeing the scene. My companions were only with me because they had no place else to go. We found our way onto one of the cargo cars, and they, Candida included, sat as far away from me as they could.
I love you, Mary Cobourn, I recited the words again, in my head, as I pulled the knife free of my shoulder.