Heart of Iron Page 33

“If I wanted you dead, you would be. That was never my intention.” Rosalind gestured to the side. “Would you like some tea? You’ve gone white as a ghost.”

“I don’t want any of your damned tea, thank you very much. And considering recent events I’m not sure I believe you.”

“Mendici? That was nothing.”

“I’m talking about the humanist who held a damned knife to my throat the other day and threatened my brother!” she snapped.

Rosalind stilled. “I know nothing of this.”

Lena licked her lips, uncertain whether to believe her or not. “You want me to break the treaty.”

“You told Mr. Mandeville no, that you wanted to meet with us first.”

“Then someone wasn’t listening,” Lena replied. “I was delivering Mandeville’s message to my contact in the Echelon.” She tipped her chin up. “Someone accosted me and held a knife to my throat. They said I had to destroy the treaty or they’d hurt my brother. They had one of his toys, from his room. A place nobody should be able to get to. And,” she whispered, “they were a blue blood.”

The color washed out of Rosalind’s face. “You’re sure? They didn’t follow you there—”

“They knew the humanist codes,” Lena replied. “Knew things only someone close to the Council could know. About Will’s involvement in the treaty. And where I would be delivering the letter to. It had to be my contact.”

“That had nothing to do with us,” Rosalind said.

“I thought you were in charge?”

A long, drawn-out moment. “Not everything around here is what it seems,” Rosalind murmured. “What if I told you the draining factories were not our doing? That I knew nothing of this threat against you?”

Lena stared her in the eye, forcing herself to be strong. Have courage. Like Will would. No, don’t think of that. She balled her fists. Choked the pain down. She could fall apart later. “What if I told you I didn’t believe you?”

Rosalind grimaced and leaned back in her chair. “What I’m about to tell you must never leave this room.” At Lena’s nod she continued. “As I’m certain you’ve realized, there are two factions amongst the humanists. Those that fight for freedom and those that fight for revenge. It wasn’t always so, but a year ago we made a daring attack on one of the enclaves and freed a group of mechs. We needed their skills in working metal. Unfortunately, they’ve not been as cooperative as we’d hoped for. There’s a splinter group within the faction, taking matters into their own hands and using our name and information to wreak havoc.”

“Why not cut your ties with them?”

Another long look as if wondering whether to trust her. “Come,” Rosalind finally said, pushing to her feet. “I have something to show you.”

There was no point resisting. And she was starting to grow curious now. “Where are we going?”

“To the cellars.”

Pushing into the dark corridor, Rosalind grabbed a lantern from the wall and led her along the tunnel until they finally came to a small door. The smell of chemical lingered in the air. Hanging the lantern from a nail in the wall, Rosalind tugged a key from her shirt and opened the door ahead of them.

Dark shadows waited silently, the faint gleam of lantern light shining off cold steel. Rosalind lifted the lantern and stepped through, spilling light into the enormous cavern and chasing away the shadows. Dozens of enormous automatons sat still and silent, the spark of gaslight absent from their eyes. Dozens more of the metal suits that Rollins had been strapped into. Rows of Percys.

“These are the Cyclops.” Pride warmed the other woman’s voice and she handed the lantern to Lena. Stepping forward, she ran a hand over the hydraulic hose of the heavy steel arm. The hollow tube of the flamethrower on its arm gleamed.

Leaning under the arm, Rosalind hit a button. With a hiss, the chest cavity opened and the head slid back revealing a hollow space wide enough to fit a man. Rosalind stepped up on the Cyclops’s bent knee and hopped into the cavity. Turning around, she eased back and slid a leather harness around her chest and waist. Two handles rested at arm height. She gripped them, pressing a number of levers and twisting a dial. The steel carapace of the chest slid back into place, a thrumming sound coming from deep within.

“Takes a few minutes to heat the boiler packs,” Rosalind explained, her small, heart-shaped face peering over the top of the chest piece. With an expression of concentration, she toyed with something inside and then the hydraulic hoses hissed, the Cyclops straightening to its full height of ten feet. “They’re fully mobile, with more flexibility and control than a metaljacket and run on a liter of water a day.” With a sudden smile, she forced the arm to lift. “We modeled the flamethrowers on the Spitfires. Burns like buggery when you hit something with it.” The fingers on the end of the iron arm gave a wiggle, revealing complete dexterity. “Mech work,” Rosalind explained. “The whole thing is mech work.”

“That’s why you need them.”

Rosalind grimaced and the Cyclops sank back down, its engines fading. She slung the steel chest plate open and hopped down. “Aye. The plans were ours.” A brief look in her direction. “But the work’s theirs.” A rusty laugh. “The Echelon forced them into the enclaves to work steel for them and earn out the repayment of their mech enhancements. Not once did they suspect we’d turn their own technology—the skills they taught the mechs—against them. It’s the one thing we humans have never been able to counter. We might have been able to overwhelm the blue bloods in France and put them to the guillotine, but our blue bloods are smarter and hide behind automaton armies. Human flesh can’t fight metal. So we must even the odds.”

“To fight for freedom,” Lena said, with a slightly sarcastic lilt. “It sounds remarkably like fighting for revenge.”

“Do you think the Echelon are simply going to turn around and give us our rights?” A hint of anger stirred Rosalind’s voice. “Perhaps if we ask nicely?”

“People are going to die.”

“They already do. Four hundred and thirty men and women took to the streets to protest against the latest hike in the blood taxes. The Echelon mowed them down with the Trojan cavalry, leaving barely a hundred alive.”

“They wouldn’t have raised the blood taxes if the draining factories hadn’t exploded. Now there’s a shortage and the Echelon need blood fast. Don’t you see? This becomes a cycle of blood and death!”

Rosalind jerked the lantern out of Lena’s hands. “I’m disappointed. I thought you would understand. Especially considering where the plans for the Cyclops came from.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Your own father. Sir Artemus Todd, with his brilliant, erratic mind. He spent the last year of his life discovering a blue blood’s weaknesses. We use the toxin he created to incapacitate them and his firebolt bullets to kill them. Instead of fleeing from Vickers with you, with his family, he risked his life to place his final plans for the Cyclops in our hands. It cost him everything, but he’ll forever be remembered amongst our ranks.”

Lena could barely remember the night they’d been forced to flee. Being shaken awake early in the morning and bundled into a carriage. Her father demanding that she look after Charlie, and though she’d seen him speaking with Honoria, pressing a coded diary into her hands, she hadn’t caught any of their words.

That night had changed her life forever. Torn from her lessons, her world, her hopes of a future amongst the Echelon, she’d been dragged into the dark, grim confines of the rookeries. All she’d known was that her father’s patron Vickers—the duke for whom he performed his brilliant experiments—wanted them dead.

She’d never known why.

“Father was a humanist?” she asked, her voice breaking slightly.

“To the bone.”

Another shock on a seemingly never-ending series of them. Lena reached out, trying to find the wall as her knees shook.

“That’s why we wanted you,” Rosalind continued. “Your sister had betrayed his memory by marrying a blue blood. She could be of no use to us. You, however, showed some skill with clockwork and cogs. You design things that could be useful—”

Lena’s mind made the leap. “You think I could learn to create the Cyclops?” Then there would be no more need for the mechs. Would Rosalind—or Mercury rather, for she was starting to see the difference between the two—simply have them killed? The way she’d done to Mendici? A shiver ran down her spine. What would Mercury do if Lena said no?

There was nowhere to run. To hide. No allies remaining. Not even—

No, don’t think of him. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep, steadying breath, trying to ignore the nausea.


The only way Rosalind could have known of Lena’s skill with clockwork was from Mr. Mandeville. Suddenly the way he’d always watched over her so carefully became something far more sinister.

“I design toys,” she whispered.

“But you could make a Cyclops.” Rosalind took a step closer. “The transformational clockwork is proof that you have the skill and the ability to design such things.” Her eyes lit up like warmed chocolate. “You would be a hero.”

A hero. Three weeks ago, she might have still cared for such things. Recognition, finally, but never from her father. He had died for the same schemes that lit this woman’s face with excitement.

Everything in her life was a lie. Mrs. Wade spied on her and Mr. Mandeville too, no doubt. Her father, a man who’d virtually ignored her as some kind of little doll, had designed weapons to take the Echelon down.

And Honoria had likely known.

Lena leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. Who could she trust? There were so many secrets she felt as if her head was going to explode. But then she’d been keeping her own from her family too, hadn’t she?

The loneliness hit her like a punch to the gut. No one to trust, no one to tell. Nobody who knew her secrets or had shared their own. Nobody except Will and he was—

Lena lurched to her knees and threw up, her whole body shaking in misery. She’d been trying so hard not to think of him, trying to keep the hurt buried, but it welled up, choking her, forcing her stomach to heave.

Tears burned in her eyes and she wiped her face with her sleeve. Oh God, what was she going to do? How was she going to tell Blade that Will…that he was gone? The thought was inconceivable. He was so large, so full of life and heat and fire, his eyes snapping amber flames whenever she looked at him. She couldn’t bear the fist of pain deep inside. She needed to see the body, needed to get him back to her. To bury him properly.

To tell him that if she’d ever suspected he might have kissed her back, then she would never have returned to the Echelon. To this mess.

But first she had to get out of here. She looked up. At the pair of shiny boots in front of her, and the rows of metal drones.

“No,” she whispered. “I won’t do it.”

“Not quite the answer I was hoping for,” Rosalind said quietly. The hammer on the pistol drew back. “How disappointing. Come. Get to your feet. I’ve no further use for you.”


“I won’t tell anyone,” Lena said, staring at the barrel of the pistol. Her father’s own design. How ironic. “I want nothing more to do with this. All I want is to go home and forget this whole nightmare.”

Rosalind knelt down, the pistol resting on her knee. “Didn’t you realize? This isn’t a game, Miss Todd. You know too much.”

“I won’t breathe a word of it—”

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure I believe you.”

Bitterness welled. “You were never going to let me go, were you? You’re worse than the blue bloods, than the Echelon. You use people, then discard them when they no longer suit your purposes.”

A distant look came into the other woman’s eyes. Her eyelashes lowered, fluttering against pale cheeks. “It surprises me how innocent you still are.” A bitter smile. “I am what I have been made. A weapon. A hunting hawk, finally unleashed from its master’s jesses. There can be no mercy, for I expect none.”

The gun wavered again.

“Wait,” Lena cried desperately. “Please. Please don’t do this. I have lost everything today. There is nothing left for me.” Tears blurred her vision, made the pistol vanish. She held her breath, her eyes screwed tight, waiting for the retort of the pistol, the pain.


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