“Fugitive,” the noble said.
“Ah,” Gordon said. “That’s no good.”
I exhaled, as much as I was able, with the cane pressing against my throat.
The young man who was sitting across from me looked as though he had just had a team of hairdressers, a barber, and a tailor just finish working on him. His black hair was slicked back, the faint messiness at the front of his hair and over his ears looked sculpted. It was late, but his chin was clean of even the shadow of stubble. Chin and cheekbones were sculpted, giving his face a mask-like appearance that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He wore a white collared shirt with ornate silver trim at the edges of the collar, a tie, vest, and a long black coat. The silver ornamentation extended to his cufflinks, embossed buttons, the buckles of his shoes, and, now that I looked, to the irises of his eyes.
He was the biggest threat, so I fixed the whole of my attention on him.
“What a shame,” he said. “By bringing you in, we’re denying a good citizen the ability to do the same. There was good money placed on you, sir. Good money the Crown was willing to part with, a sum that could have raised someone up from obscurity to aristocracy.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could kill them all?” Helen asked. “Make a lovely bloody mess.”
“Not practical,” Gordon said. “We need to play along for now. We kill them later.”
“Lord Monte,” one of the two girls in the group spoke, with a posh accent that pronounced ‘Monte’ as “Mont-ay’. I didn’t take my eyes off of ‘Monte’ as she continued, “If you talk about the citizens of the Crown in that way, they might get offended.”
She made it sound like play. As if to set up Monte for a retort, a joke at the citizen’s expenses.
But he was more focused on me than on verbal wordplay or making light of the citizen’s feelings.
“You don’t look like much, do you?” Monte with the silver ornamentation spoke, studying me. “But you certainly did something to deserve being worth that reward money.”
Jamie’s voice overlapped with his, “Think. Gordon’s right, we need to play along, and we’re getting swept up in the observations without picking out the things we can use. You used Wyvern to shut out the world, Sy, but we need you to access the world again.”
I stared into Monte’s silver eyes, and I was reminded of how I’d met Lillian’s, when she and I had been so close. It was a painful reminder, but it was a barb that helped wake me up to reality, connect this situation to the way I’d been thinking there.
The emotional equivalent of reaching out, seizing a knife by the blade, and squeezing.
Something must have changed in my expression, because Monte said, “There you are.”
“Good evening,” I said.
“Titles!” Jamie urged.
“No titles,” Evette said. Evette was now behind Monte’s seat, arms folded over the top of the seats. Her chin had been resting on her forearm, but now her head was raised just enough to let her talk. “Look at him, look at them. They’re deferring. The woman, the way she talked, you know He’s the leader of this pack. Your instincts said to focus on him for a reason.”
Whatever the case, the window of opportunity had passed.
The cane moved from my Adam’s apple to the side. It jerked, pressing in hard, just beside my windpipe. Had it been sharp, a thrust of that force would have gone right through my neck to the seat behind me.
He knew where nerve clusters, veins, and arteries were, I was guessing.
“Customarily,” Monte said, “One addresses a noble lord in a more appropriate manner.”
Already, my vision was suffering for the continued press of the cane. It was crumbling to black at the edges, especially around my left eye.
“Stay strong, he won’t kill you this quickly,” Gordon said. “Bend the knee, Sy.”
“Bend the knee,” Jamie echoed.
I looked up at Evette. Her chin rested on her arm, now. She only smiled.
“Ah,” I managed.
Monte let up with the cane. I took a second to let my vision start to go back to normal, the light returning at the periphery.
“My apologies,” I said.
Monte declined his head in acknowledgement of my apology.
“Good evening to you,” I said, looking again at Evette. “Monte.”
The cane stabbed forward before I was even done uttering the word. Fast reflexes. The butt end of it thrust past my teeth and into my open mouth, then stabbed at the soft flesh at the back of my throat.
My eyes went wide. The contact there and the natural physiological reactions mandated that I gag and upchuck, but the fact that I hadn’t eaten in recent memory, giving my lunch to Shirley instead, and the fact that I’d dulled my senses and put myself into a kind of hibernation mode meant I was only barely able to repress my reaction.
My hands went out, gripping the armrests to either side of me, as he pressed hard, the back of my neck being compressed against my pillowed seat back.
He kept me like that, my breath coming in short, pained gasps, while he continued to stare me down. The others stood on the sidelines, quiet and analytical. Even bemused.
“I don’t think Evette gives very good advice,” Ashton commented.
“I’m inclined to agree,” Gordon said. He gave Evette a pointed look. “Why are you even here?”
Evette spoke, “You’re all here for Sy, you’re paying attention to him, you know him. I’m more focused on them. You’re in lockstep, you work together, and one of us has to be a little unconventional.”
Distant, sitting back, the problems beyond. That made a degree of sense.
Monte might have sensed that my focus was elsewhere, because he rotated the cane, still pressing it against the soft tissue at the back of my throat. I’d already been bleeding, no doubt, but now there was actual damage. He was grinding the tissue there much as someone might do to make absolutely sure that the bug underfoot was being extinguished.
“Ow,” Helen said. Jamie had his face in one hand, beside her.
“I did want this to be my chance to show Sylvester what he could do if he just did things right the first time around,” Gordon commented.
Evette commented, “Which translates to you being informed by a fragment of Sy’s personality that wants to be fantastic at everything he does.”
“Well, yes, but we’re glossing over that,” Gordon said.
I started to raise my hands, intending to grab the cane.
“No, Sy,” Gordon said. He put his arm out, between my hands and the cane. “You’re not going to win that battle of strength, not when he has the leverage and most certainly not when you’re you. You took Evette’s advice. See it through, at least.”
I lowered my hands, settling them into my lap, and clasped them there, as if I’d never been more comfortable.
“Good. Upside,” Gordon said, “Is we’ve made this a battle of wills. There’s room to move to make that a battle of wits.”
“Monte has an image to maintain,” Evette said. “He wants to resolve that image. The hope is that he realizes he can’t just extinguish us without turning us into… a kind of martyr, I suppose? Our last action would be a mad, curious kind of defiance of him, and our deaths would seal it in the memories of his peers. That would nettle him. More a loss than a win.”
Helen leaned over, peering along the cane and into my open mouth. “There’s a fair amount of blood. Even with Sy’s tolerances, he’s going to choke soon, or ingest so much of his own blood that he reflexively vomits. He might be able to suppress that, I know, but-”
“He might not,” Gordon said. “Damn it. Okay. That’s the nature of the battlefield then. Will Monte take an out if we give it to him?”
“No guarantee,” Jamie said.
“I don’t think so,” Evette said. “They barely even recognize us, let alone recognize us as an enemy.”
“Alright,” Gordon said. “Damn it to hell.”
The train rattled as it bumped over some mild obstruction on the tracks. I involuntarily winced as the cane shifted even more than it had been.
If he was going to say anything, it would be now.
He was true to form. Monte spoke, “Shall we stay like this all the way to New Amsterdam? My arm won’t get tired. I can smell the blood coming from the back of your throat. I can see your muscles moving as you hold yourself back from gagging. If you try to vomit, you might tear your own throat open. How many hours is it?”
“Long enough,” one of the other nobles said. A man, wearing only a vest over a collared shirt. His blond hair was damp from the rain of Radham.
“This is dull, Monte,” one of the other nobles said. The second of the two young ladies. She was the shortest of the group, with black hair, intense blue eyes, and a light fur ruff at her collar, built into her dress. Where the fur ruff might have been too warm for summer, the fact that her hair was an ‘up’ style that exposed her neck and that her dress was open backed and mid-thigh in length made up for it. The series of careful balances continued, as she wore just enough tasteful jewelry to make up for the minimal quantity of cloth. She, too, had chosen silver.
The dress tied at the back, behind the neck. The elaborate tie looked like a small set of wings.
“She called him Monte. Is she testing him?” Jamie asked.
“There’s a greater game afoot,” Gordon said. “That’s their interplay.”
Monte stood, and his hand slid down the length of the cane as he approached.
“And they’re related,” Helen commented.
“See, fugitive,” Monte said, his voice low. “My sister, she can call me by my name. But my friends and peers? Even they know enough to call me lord.”
“You,” Gordon pointed at Evette.
“You got angry at me last time. My lips are sealed.”
“Good. This is a power game, contest of wills. I think… there has to be a way out of this.”
“I can think of one, but it’s a case of frying pan and fire,” Jamie said.
“No,” Gordon said. “There has to be a straightforward solution. Helen? Please? Ideas?”
“Charm him?” Helen offered.
“Yes, because Sylvester is such a darling,” Evette said.
Gordon gave her a warning look and a stern point that threatened future repercussions. Evette clapped a hand over her mouth.
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Gordon said.
“Nothing is going to work,” Jamie said, “Sylvester is Sylvester, we’re not him. As a composite, we’re a mess, we’re functioning too slowly. He’s turning to us because he just had to face the hard reality that being Sylvester often doesn’t work out. He doesn’t want to be him, so…”
“He’s being us,” Helen said. “And it’s like it was back in Brechwell, when he was missing you, he’s not very good at being you. That’s why we’re stumbling.”
I suppressed a cough as I failed to swallow the blood that was making its way down the back of my throat.
“We don’t have another option,” Gordon said. “At least not right now. And we’re out of time.”
Prey instinct, again.
Something in Monte’s demeanor had tipped Gordon off. The cane came free, sliding out of my mouth.
“Were you going to say something?” Monte asked.
“He knows full well that was a cough,” Helen said, indignant.
I started to speak, and felt the pain in my throat, the blood, and coughed fairly violently, turning my head and coughing into my hand.
“He’s sensitive to his sister’s boredom,” Gordon guessed. “And we need an answer to give, now. Jamie, the frying pan, the fire, does it buy us time before the fire?”
“Yes, it definitely does, but… the timing is wrong. It’s a gamble as is, but it could be disastrous.”
“Damn it,” Gordon said, for the third time. He watched as I continued coughing. “You’re sure?”
“Cease your barking and speak, boy,” Monte said, imperious. His hand gripped my hair and pushed my head back against the seat. The movement of my head made my throat hurt, and the shift in angle forced blood out of the open wound, which only exacerbated the problem.
He’d known about the veins and nerve clusters. He had to know he was demanding I speak while I was helpless to do so.
“Violence?” Gordon asked. “Stupid question. Threaten? No.”
“Can’t negotiate,” Helen said.
“Can’t play them off each other,” Gordon said.
“Bargain?” Jamie suggested.
“Would be too close to begging. And if he’s anything like I think he is, he hears begging often enough,” Gordon said. “And we don’t know what they want.”
“No tools available,” Evette said. “We have a knife, the packet of poison from Lillian’s bra in his pocket. Nothing too useful. There’s the cloak? If we were quick, we could use the distraction and slip under the seats. No…”
“Thank you for contributing,” Gordon said. “And I agree, no. We’re not that quick, and there’s nowhere to go.”
“And Shirley,” Evette pointed out.
“And that,” Gordon agreed.
I regained my breathing. I swallowed, hard, and didn’t make myself cough any further.
I could tell that their patience had run thin.
Nothing to give me? I thought.
“Sorry,” Jamie said, his voice quiet.
I looked up at Evette.
“Don’t,” Gordon said, sounding pained. “Don’t take cues from her.”
“I confess,” I managed, and my voice was hoarse, my throat much abused and heavy with fluid. “If your friends and peers have the sense to call you Lord, I must be exempt from that same rule, because I am not your friend, and I am most certainly not your peer.”
Ah, I could see, the way his face changed.
He didn’t like the response.
All that remained was for him to figure out the best way to punish me.
But his sister broke into laughter. My eyes moved, and I saw smiles spread across several faces.
“I like him,” the sister said.
“You are notorious for your horrible taste, dear sister,” Monte said. He had to be taking note of the expressions of his peers. His sister’s response had disarmed him. He couldn’t take action now without seeming petty.
“And you’ve grandstanded long enough,” she said. She moved down the aisle, gave her brother a light push, and flounced down into the first available seat, sitting across from me. “And this is my first time meeting a notorious criminal. Hello notorious criminal.”
“Sylvester,” I croaked. I suppressed a cough.
“Sylvester,” the sister said. The others were drawing nearer. The spectres of the Lambs moved to accommodate the group.
“Monte is the leader, he gets first pickings,” Gordon commented. “But if he doesn’t maintain that standing, the power moves to the next figure in the hierarchy. We have hours left on this train, several stops, and they’ll keep rotating out until they find an excuse to eat us alive.”
The sister was shooing at her brother, talking, “Sit. I don’t like it when you’re looming over me like that.”
“I’ll stand, thank you,” he said. “And I’ll point out that insolence can’t go unanswered.”
“It won’t,” she said. She met my eyes, “But damage to the body is one of the least meaningful ways to destroy a man in our modern era.”
“There’s a wedge,” Gordon said, quick. The second half of the thought was mine to complete.
“I quite agree,” I said. “I’m rather resistant to pain, so physical torture doesn’t work very well in the short term, either-”
“My lady,” Helen whispered in my ear.
“-My lady,” I finished, seamlessly. I gave her a small smile.
The sister looked up at her brother, offering him a polite smile, followed by a very smug, “Hm.”
“Yes, dear sister,” Monte said. “I know. You catch more flies with honey. But this involvement soils the honey.”
The sister rolled her eyes.
“Don’t be a sore loser now, Monte,” one of the other nobles said. The blond male that had been doing most of the talking.
“Third in the hierarchy,” Jamie guessed.
“Sylvester,” the sister said, as if she was trying on the word.
“Yes, my lady,” I said. I suppressed a cough. With my luck, I would have spat a fine spray of blood into her face in the process.
“What did you do?” the sister asked.
“Wow her,” Gordon said. He sounded dejected. “Might as well.”
“I murdered the Baron, for a start,” I said.
Her mouth made a very neat, practiced ‘o’ of surprise. I was put in mind of Helen. “That was you.”
“It was,” I said. “I’ve done quite a bit else. Much of it in service to the Academies, not nearly as exciting.”
“Exciting is not the word I would use for murder of a noble,” Monte said.
“How curious,” the blond noble said, ignoring his friend. “You say in service to the Academies. Not in service to the Crown. Is this the way it is normally said?”
“Misstep,” Jamie said.
“No,” Gordon said, “We need to wow them. Buy time. Try…”
When I spoke, it was in coordination with Gordon, and the response was for the sister, not for the blond noble. I shifted my body language to match my words, to use the very same key pieces of body language I’d taught Shirley to convey attention, power, and the same sort of intensity I’d used to ensnare Lillian.
Another painful barb, that. A firm grip on the knife blade, emotionally.
Gordon’s voice in my head overlapped with my words in reality, “…I might be the wrong person to ask, my lord, given I’ve just admitted to murdering one of you.”
“Are you flirting with a noble?” Helen asked, caught between incredulity and horror. I ignored Lillian and Jamie, who had been sitting in the background, their backs to me. Were they turning around? Reacting? What would I feel, if I let myself recognize that and my internal responses to it?
“That’s flirting?” Jamie asked.
Another self-inflicted barb. The innocence, bubbling to the fore alongside thoughts of Jamie. I missed the innocence we had in the early days. I’d grasped for it, in a way.
The sister crossed one leg over the other, so they folded over at the knee, her hands clasped in her lap.
“You’re a hard one to get a read on,” she said.
“I’ve been told that,” I said.
“You’re more methodical than I thought you’d be, at first glance,” she said. “You think before you say or do anything. I even suspect you feigned coughing for longer than you needed to, to work out what you were doing. I suppose that’s necessary for an assassin, but it feels very mechanical. Like a stitched, albeit a clever one.”
“Because we’re handling this by committee,” Jamie said. “Gordon. Take over. You call the shots. One person at a time.”
“It’s going to be unbalanced,” Evette said.
“Shh,” Helen shushed.
“I’m an experiment, after all, my lady,” I said. “But I can be more fluid, if that would please you.”
“We’ll see,” she said. A non-answer. Then, abrupt, “I’ll confess, I thought this time on the train would be a bore. Our trip out was dreary, but it was at least broken up with stops here and there. But one long, straight trip back? Ghastly. To think we’d claim a train car for ourselves, resign ourselves to drink and discussion, and find a wanted fugitive instead.”
“I’ll strive to entertain,” Gordon and I said. Care was being taken to emphasize certain words without actually putting stress on them. The last word or two of each sentence was key.
“I’m sure you will,” she said. “About your traveling companion, who was getting you tea…”
“No,” Jamie said, in the background.
“Shirley,” Gordon and I said, without flinching.
“Aiding and abetting a known fugitive. I’m thinking, for punishment, a bidding.”
“And how would that work, dear sister?” Monte cut in. His sister gave him an annoyed look at the very calculated intrusion.
“Each member of our group here has our own doctors, who are occupying the next car and keeping miss Shirley company. There are twenty four doctors in that train car. Many were the top of their class in their respective years and Academies. They can bid with ideas, from their polished, Academy-trained brains. The doctor who can devise the most fiendish punishment for miss Shirley gets a reward. Predicated, mind you, on their follow through after the fact.”
“I imagine,” Gordon and I said, “that if they can’t follow through, they’ll be discarded. Or perhaps, you could offer up the reward to any of the doctors who can follow through, but using the doctor who failed as the subject, this time.”
The sister smiled, looking at her companions. “I do like the way he thinks.”
“My lady,” Gordon and I said, “I am honored by the compliment.”
I’d very nearly said we. I was fairly certain that would have been a disaster.
Every ‘my lady’ was a jab at Monte, a courtesy we’d refused to give him. Gordon and I were both calculating how much we could push him before he snapped.
How did that play out?
The moment we gave any evidence that there was something we wanted or valued, he was liable to dash our hopes and take that from us.
Strengths, weaknesses, attack, defense. That was the focus right now.
“Can we participate, my lady?” the blond asked.
“We. In the bidding?” the sister asked.
“This is bad,” Gordon observed. I was in agreement. If there was a way to keep the young nobles out of it, build the idea up and then deflate it, or make it too complicated to see through, or to buy time, at the very least, then there was a way out, and Shirley could be okay.
Not so, if they had a personal stake in seeing this through.
“I think so, Lord Leeds,” the sister decided.
Lord Leeds, the blond noble, smiled.
“What would you do, my lady?” I pressed. Deny the enemy the chance to maneuver, don’t give them time. Force them to act without enough time to reason.
“Me?” she asked. “In this sort of game, it’s a disadvantage to go first. I only encourage the others to top me.”
“It’s only fair that you set the bar, as the inventor of the game,” I said. “Besides, I suspect you’re more interested in seeing the creative efforts of others. I imagine you have an idea in mind already.”
She wanted us to be fluid, less mechanical. Now we were responding faster, ready with answers the moment she spoke. Throughout, we maintained the eye contact, the confident body language, the faint mirroring of her own body language here and there.
And she had to know that we were moving to force her hand. If she said that no, she didn’t have an idea in mind already, then she looked ignorant, she forfeited power in the eyes of her peers.
Where the eye contact, the body language, and all of the word choice up to this point were important was in making this more of a tease than an attack. It wasn’t so different from how I’d approached Lillian. ‘I know you’re capable of handling this.’
I could handle teasing, as painful as it was to execute.
So could Gordon, for that matter. His teasing had been a different sort. Natural, less manipulative, and more because people had been drawn to him automatically, and all he’d had to do was step back and let them follow.
She knew what I was doing.
“We take that young lady, who was helping prepare the tea, the biscuits, and the plate of cake, and we make her a warbeast,” the sister said. “Transplant her brain, or take her body and build up the warbeast around her, extending her nervous system. Whatever road we take to the destination, she should be elephantine, ugly, slow, and securely confined. One of the brood beasts, good only for rutting once a season, followed by pregnancy and the birth of a generation of warbeasts for the Crown.”
“A fair start,” Leeds said. “I’m sure I’ll best you after I think for a moment.”
“Can’t let him,” Jamie observed.
“Shh,” Helen whispered.
“I’m sure you will, Lord Leeds,” Gordon and I said. We turned to the sister. “It doesn’t seem terribly fair that you have no consequences for losing the contest. How do we decide if it can be followed through on?”
“The nice thing about maintaining the status that we do,” the sister said, “Is that when the scales are unbalanced, we’re invariably on top.”
“Existence is unfair, but it’s unfair in your favor?” Gordon and I asked.
“Exactly. I have a team of doctors at my disposal. The three of them can work on making my project a reality,” she said. She gave me the same smug smile that she’d given her brother. “I find it very telling that you jumped straight to finding objections and flaws in my design. Are you not keen for my bidding game?”
“More like a game is more fun if there’s something at stake, my lady. What if we said that if they couldn’t make it a reality, one of them would be executed at random?”
“Perfect,” she said.
She hadn’t hesitated a second. Was there no loyalty to the doctors that maintained her, or was she an effective bluffer?
“It does become a charade, though,” Gordon and I said. “A farce, to have twenty-four doctors submit their individual ideas, to be independently judged-”
“-And a long train journey to manage it,” she said, without missing a beat. “Your reluctance is showing through, Sylvester.”
“That isn’t where I was going with my objection,” Gordon and I said. It was so hard to avoid saying ‘we’ while still maintaining the independent schematic in my head. Gordon was a machine of memories and ideas and impressions that required constant attention to maintain.
I paused, making use of the hanging thread of my statement to reorganize, to get everything straight, before Gordon and I said, “I’m saying that the doctors will intentionally fail. They know full well that existence isn’t fair, as you just said, and they would throw the game rather than slight any of you. A lot of work to tally their responses, when they won’t take your game seriously.”
“He does have a point,” Monte said.
“Oh, shush, dear brother,” the sister said, waving him off.
“The game only works with the seven of you as participants, or the twenty four doctors,” Gordon and I said.
We need them to favor the doctors, then take the joy out of the idea, focus on the work and execution of it.
“We’ll have the contest among us, then,” the sister said.
“Damn it,” Gordon said. I kept my own mouth closed, my poker face intact.
The sister smiled. “I just had my pick, so I think I get to choose who goes next…”
“There’s a way,” Jamie said, “I- Let me.”
“Your synergy with Sylvester is terrible,” Helen said. “You work together as a pair only because you’re so different.”
“That was the other Jamie.”
“Do you remember Brechwell? Do you remember how bad he was at emulating you?” Gordon asked.
“I remember,” Jamie said. There was none of the new Jamie’s characteristic annoyance of having to reaffirm that fact. It made me wonder if the new Jamie’s annoyance was fueled by the fact that his predecessor…
No, that was still too painful to dwell on.
Gordon ceded control. Jamie stepped in.
I shifted my approach.
Not attack, not defense, nothing direct. We’d gathered the materials. We needed to draw on what we’d already established. I already knew what we wanted to use.
Jamie and I patiently watched as the sister seemed to decide on the other girl as the next to take her turn. The taller, blonde noblewoman, the only other girl in the group of seven.
The finger pointed, the sister enjoying her moment. “Marcella, dear.”
“My lady,” Marcella said, curtsying in the aisle.
Patience, timing. I leaned forward, knowing the movement would draw attention. They were still wary of me sprinting for freedom.
Jamie and I spoke, and in it, I felt a moment of the playfulness we’d enjoyed, roughhousing, teasing each other.
Not a barb. No fierce gripping of a knife, that made me feel pain while sharpening my focus in the moment.
Just a sad, dull ache.
“My lady Marcella,” we said. “What’s your greatest fear?”
“I beg your pardon?” the sister asked, startled.
Beside her, Monte chuckled.
“Isn’t that the trick of the game?” Jamie and I asked. “In devising horrific fates for others, you reach deep inside, and to recognize what others might find horrifying, you tap into what you yourself fear. To win the game, you have to dig deeper into your mind, memories, and self. In the doing, you reveal vulnerabilities. Even when one wins, it’s a bittersweet victory. That is, unless you trust your friends to keep confidence.”
Monte’s chuckle continued, picking up as I said that last part.
“I do believe you’re suggesting something unsavory about my character, now,” the sister said, to me.
Ah, this was tricky. The diplomatic riposte. I could say yes, and she would kill me for the insult, or I could say no, back down, and risk letting her recoup and continue forward.
Were I dancing with Gordon in the here and now, we might have said no, maintained our stance, as part of the conversation, and tried to steer things as it continued, so that that one sour note Jamie and I had seeded it with would recur, spoil things, and create divides we could use.
But I wasn’t.
Yes was an answer, so was no, but silence was the third option that remained at our disposal.
Let one second pass, confident, accusatory.
I’d expected Monte to take the bait. He didn’t.
It was Leeds.
“Not to worry, Moth,” the blond noble said. “Our collective lips are sealed.”
Joining his strength to mine, to bring down the Lady.
Moth, though, was a curious appellation.
Moth, Leeds, I thought. Then, Monte?
Nicknames. Place names.
No. Mothmont. The place was named after the people.
Members of the branch of the family that the school was named after.
Nothing we could use, but a detail to file away later.
Monte’s chuckle died. “You walked yourself into that one, dear sister, with your made up punishment. It would be like you, to fear being grotesque, huge, and good for nothing but-”
“And,” Moth said, very pointedly, “It would be crass to imply any more.”
“I don’t think you’re going to find any more takers in your game,” Monte said.
The Lady Moth pouted, the expression very calculating. “True. I had my try of it.”
“Shall I have my try?” the Lord Leeds asked.
“No,” she replied. Her affront was feigned as well. “No, that wouldn’t be fitting. We’ve toyed around, but at the end of the day, my dear brother is the highest ranking nobleborn on this train.”
The pause was a loaded one.
She was passing the lead back to Monte. Not everyone would get their try.
I’d insulted her, and now Monte had no reason to play, no reason to tear me down strategically before finishing me off.
“My idea about the cloak, and going under the seat?” Evette murmured.
“Won’t work,” Gordon said, his voice soft.
Fire and frying pan, I thought.
The timing was good enough, and the situation dire enough to warrant the gamble.
The first part of the gamble was plain. If our educated guess was correct.
“Unfortunately,” Jamie and I said, “You are not the highest power in play here, Lord Monte.”
The sheer audacity of what I’d said gave him momentary pause.
“We’re on our way to New Amsterdam for a meeting with the Lord Infante,” Jamie and I said, with confidence, our voices still ragged.
The sheer audacity of that bought me another moment of life. Then Monte said what Jamie been worried about him saying, “The Lord Infante is not in New Amsterdam, fugitive, so that meeting is unlikely and impossible.”
My eyes and the eyes of every phantasmal Lamb in the train car turned his way.
“He is,” we said. “And I’m sure he’ll thank you for delivering us securely to him.”