“It looks like we’ve reached Tynewear,” Chance said, as he peered out the tiny window of the train car. The train was slowing – we’d had to change early on, and had then resigned ourselves to a very long train ride. Warrick hadn’t been close to Radham, a full night of travel away, and we’d had to go past Radham and then some. The days were short, given the season, but it was demoralizing to be cooped up from the time the sun rose until it started to set again.
We hadn’t had long to operate between trains, and the bread and cheese I’d scraped together during that short span of time amounted to one modest meal each. Lainie hadn’t wanted to eat, but as the day stretched on, she’d found her appetite, eating ravenously and then crashing into an exhausted, depressed slumber, her back to me. Chance had come with me to get water, but the water hadn’t lasted long.
I’d suggested another stop for supplies, which would have meant waiting for a later train, but they’d decided to endure. There was an eagerness to get where we were going, to break away from the purgatory that came about in striving to get there.
The train car had been too quiet, despite Candida’s efforts to make conversation. She was perhaps the only one who was looking forward to getting to our destination, and made heroic efforts to highlight the good parts that had been working and living with Drake and Horace and her other companions. I admired the effort and simultaneously doubted that Lainie or Chance were listening that avidly. Something might have percolated through, but the effects would be slow to show up.
One person could only hold up a conversation for so long. Candida had tried. I hadn’t even really been able to make the effort. I’d dozed without sleeping and I’d recalled the Lambs, bringing up the mental pictures and imaginings while not talking to them. Chance and Lainie were uneasy enough around me as it was, without me talking to thin air.
I banished the silent ghosts. It didn’t make me any more or less lonely, or do anything to ease the pressure that weighed on my chest and shoulders. I wanted to cry like I might want to vomit if I were ill, in hopes of finding some relief from the horrible churning feelings. I didn’t let myself.
I started standing in the same moment that Candida extended a hand to Chance. Oblivious to what I was doing, she asked, “This is it, then. Could you help me stand?”
He did, with Lainie offering a hand. Candida rose to her feet, a full head taller than either of the adolescents.
“You’re leaving too?” Chance asked me, on noticing my movement. “You said you were making sure we safely got where we were going, but you didn’t say you were coming.”
“Yeah,” I said. My own voice sounded strange to my ears, and it had nothing to do with the latent damage to my throat. Had I even said that much during the train ride?
“How long are you staying with us?” he asked. Still wary, his body language and tone were very clear about how displeased he was with the idea. Not that he would fight me on it. He wasn’t in a position to.
“Not long,” I said. “An hour or six, depending. We just happen to have the same stop, and I want to see my promise to Candida through.”
The train came to a stop. We were still gathering ourselves together, Chance getting his coat that he’d rolled up and offered to Lainie as a pillow. I collected the paper bags from the bread, and the cloths the cheeses had been wrapped in. I carried the Baron’s rapier in one hand, and held both the trash and my little bag of stolen luggage in the other.
“Tynewear is Crown-controlled, isn’t it?” Chance asked. “I mean, the Crown States are all Crown-controlled, but this is an especially unfriendly place, if you don’t get along with the Crown.”
“I don’t know much about Tynewear,” I said.
“I remember,” Candida said. She had to pause as another train came rushing past us. The fact that the train had stopped was allowing another one to pass in the opposite direction. “When you asked what cities were close to Lugh, your friend suggested this one.”
“Yeah,” I said. The fact that the train was passing us meant we couldn’t step out onto the tracks on the far side. We had to leave by way of the station. I stepped up onto a crate and peered out the window, then stepped down to haul the door open. Though it wasn’t a coastal city, I could smell the ocean, and the cold air had a sharpness that owed to the moist environment.
The station platform was well lit by a combination of lamp-posts and by trees. The design of the lamp-posts seemed to encourage a very diffuse light, and the light frost that had accumulated on the glass made it almost ethereal. The leaves of the trees glowed a soft blue, and the snow muted that glow, too. The train platform was wide enough for two carriages to safely pass one another, yet it stood empty, the landing layered with a light snow that would need shoveling soon.
I looked further out. The buildings were tall and narrow, spread across several islands and joined by bridges that arched high. The water that flowed between the islands was the likely source of the smell of the ocean. A light snow, frost, and a combination of the bioluminescent leaves and the yellow-orange of the artificial lights decorated everything. It was only the early evening, and yet the city seemed to be at rest. No tension ran through everything, no monsters lurked, and no people stared.
Turning around, looking to the horizon, I spotted the weak glow of the nearest city to Tynewear. Lugh was out there, burned and wounded, but still perched on shores. Tynewear had areas where the buildings were different, each delineated enough that I could mentally mark out the boundaries, and the area closest to Lugh would be where the military was set, as if they’d wanted to be ready to respond all the sooner if the order to wipe out the decrepit port city was given.
Lugh had been a barnacle, clinging to the rocks. Tynewear was an artificial city, planned and carefully cultivated. Where water formed the lifeblood of any city, the point around which most cities grew, Tynewear had an abundance to the extent that I could imagine, with diffuse lights and all, that the city was a modern Atlantis, drawn beneath the waves. At the same time, the city lacked any bones I could easily make out, with few points or reference, landmarks, or even major roads. A jellyfish city.
“You’re right,” I told Chance. “It’s an Academy city.”
Candida spoke, “When the first war over the Crown States happened, Tynewear was a major victory for the Crown. In Lugh, they say some of the people who fought hardest fought at the battle of Tynewear.”
“And they plopped this pretty little city down to commemorate the occasion?” I asked.
“I think they hoped to extend their influence outward,” Candida said. “But they took Scarborough Harbor, and the dissidents moved to Emers, where my parents are from. They moved into Emers, and the people moved to Angler’s Port.”
“Oil and water,” I said. “The troublemakers wouldn’t mix. In trying to wipe out the troublemakers, and they just concentrated them in smaller areas.”
“It’s strange, hearing people talk about the Crown like that,” Chance said.
“If you’re coming with me, you’d better get used to it,” Candida said.
Lugh would have been one of those last points of concentration Candida had talked about. Too much trouble to take, too stubborn, the Crown had set up this shining gem of a city where the people of Lugh would have to pass through if they wanted to leave, as if to show off the disparity in power and wealth, and then they’d let Lugh slowly rot away.
Candida hugged her arms to her chest, “I’m only here because it’s where Drake and I were going to meet up, after we left Lugh. But he doesn’t know… he doesn’t know I might be coming back, does he? He might not even be here.”
Might not even be here.
I took one last look over the city. I found the brightest point and spoke, “Candida? You’ve been here before, right?”
“Often enough. My mother used to take me shopping here, twice a year.”
“There’s an area, and I’m hesitating to call it the downtown area, but the buildings are taller, and the lights bright and artificial. There are four buildings with bioluminescent plants growing up the sides, almost like they’re crowning the city?”
“That’s-” Candida paused, thinking. “The theaters. There’s some shopping along there. The most high end stores. I think the dress my mom wore at the event in Warrick was bought there?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Why does it matter?” she asked.
I didn’t want to talk about it, just in case things went sour at any point. They were sour enough as it was. “It doesn’t, really. I just wanted to wrap my head around the city. Are there any areas your mom wanted you to steer clear of?”
“The Marina, and the Boatyards. They’re close together. The Marina is where young soldiers and young gentlemen mingle,” Candida said. “The Boatyards, similar idea, but the boys who gather there aren’t gentlemen at all. They’re laborers who build the boats and bring in cargo from the docks. My mother worried about my reputation, if I went down to either spot.”
“So you made a point of sneaking away to visit every chance you got?” I guessed.
“I got one chance,” Candida said. She hugged her arms close to her body, cold, and then allowed herself a smile. “It was a good night. My mother was apoplectic.”
“We’ll go that way, then,” I said. “The Boatyards. Even if we don’t find Drake, we’ll find people who might know where to look. Just give me a few seconds to see if I can get this sword in my luggage without it sticking out and looking weird.”
My voice still sounded alien, like something detached from me. If that part of things came through to Candida, she didn’t let it show on her face or in her voice. “Thank you, Sylvester. Not just for this. For everything.”
Where they stood, a distance away, Lainie and Chance stared at me, standing further back than necessary. Lainie with her red hair was standing in the orange-yellow light of the streetlamps, Chance stood in the pale blue light from the nearest tree.
As if they were accusatory specters, reminding me that my rationale for helping Candida find her way and get her life back wasn’t wholly altruistic. A big part of it was that I just didn’t want to be alone.
“I don’t do charity,” the woman said. She was done up with too much makeup, which was a damn shame. I felt like she lost more in trying to be glamorous than she would have had if she’d gone with a bare minimum. She was cute, in a girl-next-door sort of way. Perhaps that was the city at work, with no room for girls next door or for cuteness. When seeking ladies of the evening, were the sailors and young noblemen unconsciously rising to a higher standard, because of what Tynewear was?
A city that people visited, that nobody seemed to stay in, they wouldn’t come just for what they could find at home.
“You have carvings on the frame of your building here, and while they aren’t like the ones I know from back home, they seem to suggest that children in need can find refuge here.”
“That’s right,” she said, imperious. Right here, in her element, she was practically a noble, she was so sure of herself. “Children. You look old enough to have hairs on your balls, and you’re the youngest one here, looking at you. The boy there stared into my cleavage like he was going to fall in, and I’d guess the blind girl is older than me.”
“She’s just tall,” I said. “And in his defense, you have very nice cleavage.”
She didn’t look impressed in the slightest. One hand perched on her hip, which sat askew.
“We’ve been through hell,” I said. “And I know you hear that every damn time, probably, but it’s especially true here. Look at me. I’m missing an eye and an ear, and those are the third and fourth worst things I’ve had to deal with in the last week.”
I endured her penetrating stare.
“For the record,” she said, “That language is the sort that starts fights in a city like this, with the clientele that comes knocking on this door.”
Language? What had I said?
Oh. Hell, and damn. The anti-church sentiment was strong, here.
“You do a very good job of looking piteous,” she admitted.
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s a skill I’ve cultivated.”
“Most try to hide how clever they are. They play dumb and act meek.”
“If I was planning to stay and hoping to game you and take advantage somehow, I might, but when I say I don’t plan to hang around, I mean it. I need half a day to get some funds together, see about visiting a doctor, and run an errand. One third of the funds I get will be yours, in exchange for your hospitality.”
“Only a third?”
“One third for them, one third for me.”
“I have only so many beds, and the working men and women who rent beds from me to do their business pay me more than a third. Not to mention that that’s money I know I’m getting back. Not some hypothetical amount from a brat I don’t know.”
“Name an amount. I’ll stay up to a week, and I’ll get you that amount.”
“Within the bounds of reason,” I said.
“For four people? Eight hundred for one night.”
“That’s outrageous!” Chance cut in.
I raised a hand, not looking at him. “Three people. I won’t be sleeping.”
“Six hundred, then.”
“It’s… eight o’clock?”
She stepped back and away from the door to move further inside, and looked over her shoulder into some adjacent room. “Just past seven.”
“Get them settled. I’ll get you half by midnight, or you can kick them out. Then I’ll get you the rest by dawn.”
“You seem confident.”
“I’ll give you collateral,” I said. “Provided it doesn’t come with questions.”
She arched a neatly-plucked brow.
I removed the bundle of cloth from the top of my little luggage case. The handle of the rapier was visible, the blade stabbing into the case, which I’d latched closed around it, pinching it in place. I checked the coast was clear, and then drew the blade, extending the handle in her direction.
“Probably worth three hundred on its own,” I said. “If you could find a place to sell it. You keep it, up until I come up with the money at dawn.”
“Where did you get this?” she asked, turning the blade over in her hands.
“A dead noble,” I said.
They were the magic words. Dangerous ones, to be sure, but magic all the same. I could see her eyes widen, her composure briefly defeated.
“You were telling the truth, then,” she said. “You really have been through the gauntlet, if you had to deal with them in any capacity.”
The most direct capacity.
“Midnight, then,” she said. “Three hundred. Another three at dawn. They stay in the room I give them.”
I nodded. “Can you feed them?”
“If you pay three hundred and fifty at midnight and dawn,” she said.
“Alright,” I said.
The price was almost worth the looks I was getting from Chance and Lainie. A complete outfit meeting their higher class standards might have cost that same forty or fifty dollars.
“And you don’t bring trouble down on my house,” she said, in a warning tone. “If you get nabbed, then don’t send anyone to come get me, asking for help.”
“I wouldn’t,” I said.
“And I almost believe you,” she said. She looked again at the sword. She gave me a concerned look. “You said something about a doctor? For your face?”
“Someone who does good work,” I said. “In a city like this, there has to be one. The trick is finding one who would work with me.”
“We have one in-house,” she said. “He rents the top floor, so he can pursue his own projects, and provides discount work if any of my girls need or want it.”
“Student,” she said. “He wanted a place to study, and a house here was better than the dormitories, he thought, with more elbow room to practice. Come on in, I’ll introduce you. Don’t expect the house discount, though.”
A doctor in-house. Exactly what I’d hoped for when I’d chosen a place like this. I walked inside, and held my breath, willing my sinuses to adapt to the air, that was no one part oxygen to five parts smoke and ten parts perfume. It only got worse as we made our way up to the middle floors, where Lainie, Chance, and Candida were given a room, and then worse still as we made our way up to the topmost floor. The house madam knocked, and a man opened the door. Young, skinny, and wearing a bathrobe like most doctors wore lab coats. Close to a hundred cigarettes had been extinguished across three ashtrays on his desk. Clove, by the smell of them. The room was almost worse than downstairs, stench-wise.
“Work for you,” the madam said, in a perfunctory way, before stepping back to the stairwell.
I flipped up the eyepatch, and saw the student wince.
“One eye, then?” he asked.
“And an ear, for me.”
“Ears are easy. Does the eye need to work? Does the ear need sensation?”
“No,” I said. “Not for now. I just want to look presentable. But there’s a young woman in a room on the middle floors, a guest of mine. Before she leaves, I’d like to get her some working eyes. Maybe fix her muscles. They were surgically ruined. I’ll pay.”
He took a step back, before falling into his chair. He leaned back, reached for a box of cigarettes, and popped one into his mouth, lighting it with a match. “Expensive.”
“Give him the discount, Marv,” the madam said. I was a little startled that she’d lingered, waiting in the stairwell. I looked back at her, and I saw that her whole demeanor had changed.
“Even with the discount,” Marv said. “Five hundred bucks? I’d have to buy the eyes and muscle, which is the only reason it’s-“
“It’s fine,” I said. “Five hundred, then. If you find the work on her is more comprehensive than I’m describing it, let me know. I’ll pay the added costs. And if you honestly don’t think you can do the job, because it might be a real horror show, once you get beneath the skin and take a look at her, then let me know. I’ll pay you what I would for finishing the job and find someone who’ll do it properly. I just want her looked after.”
Behind me, the Madam gently shut the door.
“Alright,” Marv said. “She likes you, it seems.”
“I’m giving her horrendous amounts of money to like me,” I said.
“Isn’t that the nature of the job?” Marv asked, smirking. His expression sobered, “No, it’s beyond that.”
“I don’t suppose I could ask how old she really is, huh?” I asked.
Marv busted out a laugh, almost losing his cigarette. “No you cannot, kid. No, no. I want to keep my accommodations here. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, as a testament to my abilities. That face of hers? My work. She came to me stunning, statuesque. One of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen who’d never had a lick of work done on her. She asked to go under my knife, after she’d seen me patch up a pair of her faggos who’d gotten beat.”
I frowned, glancing toward the door. I could put the pieces together. She’d gone from gorgeous to cute, from exactly what Tynewear was looking for in glamour and flash to the girl next door. Why? Perhaps to draw in a clientele on a level beyond the obvious. Someone who could win over their hearts, not just their nethers, and get them coming back again and again.
“And I don’t get the feeling I have to even explain it to you,” Marv said, adding another puff of smoke to the room’s faint haze, “Which makes me like you. Sit down on my bed. Let’s get a look at the damage, there.”
The sun was threatening to rise, but I malingered. A false eye in place, the damage and swelling taken care of to the extent that it wouldn’t draw attention. In much the same fashion, an ear had been tacked on the side of my head, partially hidden beneath a cap and my hair. I had the second payment for her and the first payment for the doctor, but I made my way down the street in the complete opposite direction from the Madam’s house. I’d broken into a store to ‘borrow’ a change of clothes that let me blend in among the well-to-do, with a wool jacket and scarf and black slacks with shined boots. I was indistinguishable from the dozens who were just leaving their homes and heading to their places of business.
I found myself in one neighborhood that sat at one hill, by two of the theater buildings. The sun came shining down between the buildings and lit up the hill. Water features and the glass exterior of some buildings helped to illuminate the area. I was staying too long, wandering, searching. I checked outdoor tables, brushing away snow with a gloved hand, as well as doorframes and wagons that had been parked.
It was too early, I knew, but I was still willing to risk the madam’s ire just to check. I heaved out a sigh and started on my way back. Pushed all the way to the back of my mind was darkness, loss, anger, and loneliness, but the cloud seemed to grow, and I was running out of space to push it all away.
One night to travel to Warrick. We’d spent the first day getting ourselves prepared, acquiring Simon and the other Doctors, and we’d given them one night to prepare the dose of Wyvern, the gas, and the coverings needed to turn Simon into a Firstborn. Dealing with the Twin and the Baron had taken the following day. Traveling to Tynewear had taken a night and day.
This would be the fourth day since I’d left the Academy. Mary would be back or heading back, if I had to guess. By the end of the day, everyone that mattered would know for a fact that I was gone.
I found a seat on an outdoor table, sitting on the snow with my coat serving as a barrier between the ass of my pants and the wet snow. I exhaled slowly, letting the breath fog in the cold air.
My hands shook. It felt like it had been days since I was able to regulate my breathing and be calm. My entire body felt like a house that had been shaken by so many quakes that the nails were working their way free.
I had to put on a brave face for Chance, Lainie and Candida. I’d shaken them enough by shooting Mary. Letting my emotions show again might scare them off completely.
I managed to will my hands to be still. Step by step, from my eyebrows to my feet, I worked out how to get my body to suggest calm and confidence. Making the effort cost me a little something in that it added something to that growing storm in my breast and the back of my mind, but it was important.
I climbed down from the table and started on my way to the house, joined by my imagined Lambs. Just before the area was out of sight, I glanced back over my shoulder, double checking.
I placed a cigar box on Marv’s desk.
“I’m more of a cigarette man,” Marv said. “And I’m particular in my tastes.”
“I thought you’d say that,” I said. I reached into a pocket and produced a carton of his favored kind. “Here.”
He smiled wide. He’d done away with the bathrobe, now that it was daytime, and wore a sweater that accentuated how skinny he was. “So what’s in the box?”
I gestured toward it.
He popped it open, then frowned as he gazed at packed snow. He gave me a look, then started pushing the snow aside. He jumped a little as he found the treasure buried within.
“Do I want to know who you harvested these from?”
“If you’re asking because of conscience,” I said, “Then I’ll just say that the person that I got these from… well, if and when news gets around that he went and misplaced his eyes, nobody’s going to feel sorry for him. I think he even has a few enemies who’ll go after other, more vital pieces of him.”
“Ah,” Marv said.
“You even included the retina! And some of the optic nerve! I should hire you on an ongoing basis!”
“Will they work?” I asked.
“Hm? What? Oh, for the girl downstairs? They’ll do. I’ll need to soak them in a solution, and clear away any chance of post-transplant rejection, but they’ll do. Give it a day.”
“I’ll be gone before then,” I said. “But I’ll let her know as I go out.”
“Leaving again, so soon?” he asked.
“Trying to stay busy,” I said. “I might lose my mind if I stay still.”
“Sure,” Marv said. “Hey, listen, Donna from downstairs went out for a walk, I told her to drop in and talk to a friend of mine? About what you asked about, the studying drug.”
“Most places, they make it in the Academies and parcel it out on a controlled basis. The recipe is mostly limited to people at the professor tier, the elite, maybe some Academy graduates. Students like me? My friends who got their know-how by back channels? It’s not very likely. I can keep asking, though.”
“Thanks,” I said, then with very little hope of results, added, “Please do.”
“Black scales,” I said, pointing at body parts to indicate roughly where. “Narrow build, quick? He would have been looking for work with a lot of climbing, like on the ship hulls? He might even know some Academy medicine.”
Of the three people who I was addressing, two shook their heads. I glanced at the third, studying him, searching for the reason he hesitated.
He’d seen Drake.
“You’ve seen him,” I said.
“Is he in trouble?” the third man asked, effectively confirming my statement. “Or is he trouble?”
“He’s not trouble. He’s a good guy, as far as I can tell, and judging by the look on your face, you probably feel the same way,” I said. “As for any worries about this being trouble… tell him it’s regarding Candy. Let him decide.”
“Candy?” the first of the men asked. “This is about, ah, the sort you wouldn’t want people to know you were selling?”
“No,” I said, “Not drugs. Just tell him. If he’s here, he’ll be interested. I’ll loop back around this way…”
I judged the distance. About an hour to walk across the city. About an hour to walk back.
“In two hours and thirty minutes,” I said.
“Alright,” he said. “We’ll see, then.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I glanced up at the cloud-obscured sun, judging it early afternoon, as I started on my third trip to the theater district for the day.
“I think,” Evette said, as she joined me for the walk, “That you should have postponed getting the eyes for Candida until later in the day. You look like you could stand to burn off some nervous energy with some exercise and aggression.”
I silently agreed.
“Feel up to getting some muscle tissue?” she asked, with a grin.
“No,” I spoke aloud, because I needed to let the phantoms feel a little bit more real. “Just some shopping, for now.”
“Yay!” Helen said.
Candida’s new eyes were working well enough for her to see, it seemed, judging by how her expression transformed.
Her movements, however, were still hobbled, slightly, as she ran toward Drake, who stepped down from the carriage. Her prince, except in her inverted fairy tale, her prince was the black scaled dragon. Drake wrapped his arms around her, picking her up off the ground.
The two of them almost immediately started talking so fast their words ran over each other. I saw Candida laugh, even as tears erupted around her new eyes. She hugged him again.
“Do not cry!” Marv lectured her. “Hey!”
I couldn’t even look at the scene. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t even will them to stop. I was happy and sad and angry and jealous all at once, and it might never have happened if I hadn’t taken the extra steps, so all of the bad feelings were hypocritical feelings too.
Chance and Lainie retreated from the scene. It was so personal and happy, and they lacked both the personal connection and the ability to expose themselves to that joy when their own loss was so new and raw.
Candida was just sobbing now, her arms around Drake. All of the fears and pain of the past week finally seeing release. She was safe, and in his arms, she was home.
“Chance,” I said.
He seemed almost relieved to have an excuse to focus on something else.
I reached over to the seat next to me, and passed him a case of luggage.
“My best guess, for your fit. There weren’t many options for dressing as a member of the lower class, so be careful if you decide to stay with Drake and Candida, wearing outfits like these will make you stand out. There’s a wallet in there, but it’s only got enough to last you a few weeks, maybe, depending on how thin you stretch it. If you try to maintain a higher station in life, that money will run out, and you’ll have a hard time earning a living without drawing attention or running into someone you might know. I really recommend staying with them. They’ll find you work, help you figure things out.”
“At least for a while,” Chance said.
“Yeah,” I said.
He looked vaguely displeased, but he nodded.
“Lainie. Same idea,” I said. I handed down the last case of luggage that wasn’t my own.
She nodded. She still looked devastated.
That, at least, I understood.
“You’re leaving?” Chance asked.
“I might stay in town just for a few weeks. Get my bearings, ask some questions and see where I’m going next,” I said.
“Can I ask-” Lainie started. “No. It’s a stupid question.”
She seemed conflicted.
“What did I do wrong?” she asked me.
“What did I do to deserve this?” she asked. Now almost pleading.
You didn’t run when I said we needed to run, I thought. You tacitly played along with the Baron’s game and toyed with the people of Warrick you thought were fair game.
“Sometimes things are unfair,” I said. “It’s not an answer, I know.”
She looked deeply unhappy as she took that in. Chance put an arm around her.
“Is this goodbye?” Chance asked.
“No,” I said. “I expect we’ll cross paths again. I’ll be around, and I’ll be looking to keep an eye on Candida. There’s a dim chance her parents might go looking for her, or her ties to the Baron might mean having enemies. I don’t think it’s a problem in the short-term, but… I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Chance looked like he was going to ask a question, then dropped it. I could imagine a half dozen possible questions he might have asked. He wanted resolution, but this situation wasn’t that. I was a puzzle in his mind, and he wanted a tidy answer to it.
Why would you show us so much concern when you showed so little to your friend, who you shot? Who are you? What are you doing next? Whatever the question was, I doubted I had a neat answer to it.
“Be nice to girls, Chance,” I told him.
He looked vaguely offended at that, and then he nodded.
I got the attention of the driver of the rented carriage, who’d stepped away to look after his stitched horse, and indicated the direction of the theater.
I looked skywards. It was evening.
Dusk became night. Snow fell, and the city was once again lit up by mingled soft blues and ethereal yellow lights. As the wind changed direction, passing over the water, it also dropped several degrees in temperature. I sat on the same table I’d chosen earlier, and I propped up my luggage beside me, to partially block that cold wind.
At what point did I give up? When did I say enough was enough and let myself stop hoping?
Instinctively, I knew the answer. How slim the chances were.
On the day I’d left with Mary, I’d left Jamie a note. Four days. I gave myself three to deal with the Baron and one to travel. I’d told Jamie to talk to the other Lambs, to explain. I hadn’t spelled it out entirely or clearly, suggesting that I was leaving and Mary was giving chase, while including enough false details that he would know that I was mucking with the truth and that he should be reading between the lines.
In very clear terms, I’d told him that I was leaving, that I couldn’t come back, and why. In increasingly roundabout ways, I’d asked him to send Helen to look after Lillian, to explain that Mary had run off to chase me, and to forge a note in Mary’s handwriting saying that she’d gotten on a train in pursuit of me, but she wasn’t sure where it was going. I’d also asked him to talk to the Lambs individually, so that they knew. If they wanted to come with me, then they could meet me at the brightest spot of Tynewear, except I hadn’t named Tynewear exactly. I’d only referenced the city that Drake and Candida had been going to retreat to.
Jamie would, if nothing else, do what the old Jamie had asked him to do, and help me. He would give me this, and let them make the choice.
Didn’t I hope? Or was it better to think that he’d betrayed me and torn up the note, but that Helen would come with me? Or that Lillian would realize what was happening and get on a train?
Had the note been intercepted? It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, and my efforts to obscure and obfuscate wouldn’t wholly clear the Lambs of blame. People would wonder. They would look for the codes and the meta-messages.
I’d spent a full night and day working on behalf of Candida, Chance, and Lainie. In a way, it was the last tie I had to the Lambs, my promise to Lillian. Now I had nothing to occupy myself with but this. I could come up with reasons and excuses, dream up possibilities, and try to avoid the cold, honest reality.
Lillian was tethered to the Academy by her dream. She was an Academy student at heart. Mary was tethered to Lillian. Helen and Jamie and Ashton couldn’t leave the Academy for any substantial lengths of time without degrading and breaking down.
No, as much as I tried to convince myself of conspiracy, I had to face the uglier truth. Much as I’d made the hard choice to leave them because I could no longer stay, they were making the choice to stay.
Without the passage of the sun in the sky to mark time, I could only judge by the traffic of people. The shops closed, and only the drinking establishments and restaurants lingered. Then those places, too, closed. People went home. Employees cleaned up, and the lights went out. A few people stared at me.
I judged it to be close to midnight. I imagined the hands of the clock, vivid in my imagination, and saw them sweep past the twelve o’clock mark.
Day four had come and went.
No Lambs had made the trip, to find their way close to the theaters.
I drew in a shuddering breath.
“Alone,” I whispered under my breath.
My memory was weak, but I could remember the time I’d run away before. Was this really so different from that? I had no Wyvern, but I could figure out a way to get some. Probably.
But having no Lambs? There was no hope for an easy replacement there.
I had taken Wyvern so I could mold my mind, and I had molded myself to work alongside them, to fill in the gaps.
Now, without them to help give me shape, I already felt less like myself. I wasn’t sure what direction I’d go.
I could find Fray, but… the idea spooked me. I would adapt to her. I’d be nothing more than her lackey.
Mauer? That was somehow worse.
I hunkered down a little, shivering. The dark storm of thoughts I’d pushed to the back of my mind had now expanded out to the forefront of it. There weren’t any people out there that I respected and trusted in the way I’d need to trust them. I could believe that Fray would keep to her word, and suspected the same of Mauer, but I couldn’t trust them to refrain from abusing me, when I was vulnerable and fluid.
I looked again for Lambs, and when I didn’t see any, I made some up.
“If you strike out on your own, you’re going to unravel, Sy,” Gordon told me.
“Yep,” I said, my own voice barely audible.
“Are you passionate about anything?” he asked. “Because if you’re going to go out in a messy blaze of glory, you should pick a good cause.”
“I’d like to help the mice,” I said, muttering. “There are some in every city. Though some have different names and different structures.”
“Not very intense,” Helen said. “That kind of love is like a hug, it’s nice and simple but it’s not going to get to the center bits of you and really nourish.”
“Except when you do it,” Ashton said. “You squish and the center bits become outside bits.”
Evette cackled at the image.
I shook my head a little.
For a moment, the Lambs were gone. I stared down at the snow below my dangling feet. My legs were going numb from having sat for hours.
“Killing nobles?” Mary asked, her voice hard.
I looked at her, then wished I hadn’t. Blood, a destroyed knee.
“Killing nobles, maybe,” I said. “But I’d want it to matter more than it did with the Baron.”
“The King?” Mary asked.
“Ha,” I said.
“The Academy?” Lillian asked.
Her voice sent chills up my spine. I looked at her. I hadn’t heard her speak since I’d left Radham.
“Aren’t they the cause of all of the worst pain you’ve experienced? The biggest losses?” Lillian asked.
“You wouldn’t ever forgive me,” I said, my voice hollow.
“I understand more than you let yourself believe,” Lillian said. “I care about you, and I’m horribly conflicted about what the Academy does. I love the Lambs almost as much as you do, and I know about the expiration dates. Don’t you think I care?”
“I know you care,” I said.
“The number one thing you need to do, Sy, is get inside from the cold,” Lillian said. “You don’t have a lot of meat on your bones, and you’ve been sitting there for a long time. Okay? You’re going to freeze.”
I shook my head a little.
“Oh, honey,” Lillian said, and the word choice was so jarring and the caring I put into her tone nearly broke me. I hunkered down further, bringing my knees up to my chest, my hands to my head.
“Sy,” Jamie said, as if he was trying to get through to me. Jamie had always cared, too, even if he was hard to face, sometimes.
“Another half hour or an hour,” I said. “Just a bit longer. Then you can all convince me to go inside.”
“Sy,” Jamie said, again. He put his hands on my shoulders, and he wrapped me in a hug.
I went still.
One by one, I pushed the Lambs away, dismissing the false, vaguely reassuring images.
I made Jamie the last, because I wasn’t sure, and I couldn’t bear for him to fade away.
He didn’t fade. He gripped me tighter instead.
“I’m sorry it took me so long,” he said.
“You can’t be here,” I said, blinking fiercely. “You can’t. Without the Academy, you’ll-“
“I’ll manage,” Jamie said. “We’ll manage, the two of us, okay? I know how to create Wyvern. You and me, we’ll figure out an answer for my problem. There’s time.”
“You can’t,” I said, again.
“Be selfish, Sy. Just this once. Put yourself first when you know it matters. You need a Lamb in arm’s reach.”
I nodded, no longer able to speak. I screwed my eyes shut.
“I want you to take the ghosts, or the hallucinations, or whatever you were talking to, and put them away, okay, Sy? I don’t want to hear you sound like you were just sounding again. You can talk to them again when you’re in a better place.”
I nodded, though I’d already put them away.
“Okay? Come on, Sy. Let’s get you warm.”
I nodded. My body was stiff as I climbed down from the table.
“It’s-” I managed, before my teeth chattered. I reached for the luggage, but Jamie beat me to it.
“It’s what?” Jamie asked. His hand found mine, gripping it fiercely.
“The Academy experiments, the Academy itself, even the Lambs, especially the Lambs, they’re going to come after us. Because of what I did, and what I’m doing, and because you’re with me, now they’re the-“
“Enemy,” Jamie finished for me.