His Lordship Possessed Page 22

Guessing what he meant to do, I bit the inside of my lip, but the boot that slammed into my belly kicked a cry of pain up through my teeth.

“That would be for stabbing me,” the Talian mentioned as he drew back his boot. “And this”—he kicked me in the back—“is for the master.”

Knowing there would be more of the same or worse, I curled over and made pitiful noises, crawling a bit while I measured the distance between my body and the edge of the deck. There was railing to contend with, but not a great height of it.

“Zarath wanted her alive, did he not?” one of the suits inquired.

“So he will have her,” Celestino said. “A few broken bones will not make any difference to him.”

When his boot struck my ribs, I turned onto my side, tucking my arms against me and wailing as if he’d cracked something. The fourth time he came at me I let the impact roll me over—and kept rolling until I collided with the railing.

I was up and over the side before anyone could react, and plummeted down the side of the ship like a stone. Before I fell between the hull and the dock into the murky water I reached out, catching a mooring rope with my hands. Splinters of oakum stabbed into my palms, and grabbing on in midfall nearly wrenched my arms out of their sockets, but I didn’t let go. Once I stopped bobbing I swung my legs out and back, out and back until I had enough momentum to make the leap to the dock.

I collapsed on the boards as soon as I landed, and for a moment I wasn’t sure I could rise again. Then I heard fast, heavy thuds and the gangway bouncing and struggled to my feet.

I hiked up my skirts and ran from the ship to the way station, where I glanced back. Celestino and his men had reached the bottom of the gangway, but they weren’t chasing me. They were just standing there, watching.

Slowly I turned round to see Dredmore walking toward me with an unhurried pace. He wore a new set of powder-free clothing, over which he had put on Lucien’s greatcoat, and carried a strange black club covered with scarlet symbols.

“Oh, hello, Lucien.” I had nowhere to run, and too many reasons to stay. “Did you have a nice nap? Sorry about the headache. A little chamomile soother will work wonders on that. Shall I go fetch some for you from a cart?”

“I knew you would return.” He didn’t try to club me over the head or grab me, but put his knuckles under my chin to tip up my face. “Mortal love makes you this foolish. But even if you could dispossess me, woman, the spirit of your man will not return to this body.”

“I know.” And I was a fool for thinking I could do this.

Someone groaned, and I heard the door of the way station rattle. “You out there. I can’t get out. Help me.”

“I see.” Zarath ignored Montrose Walsh’s squealing as he stroked my cheek with his fingertips. “You came to prevent me from casting the spell. That will not happen. You may watch instead. In a few moments, you and every mortal in this city will belong to me.”

I turned my face away. “Not if I break the spell first.”

“It is not one spell, foolish child. It is thousands upon thousands. Once it is released, not even I could stop it.” The scarlet symbols on the black club began to glow. “But I shall use it to send you into a waking dream, where you will know every time I take my pleasure of your pain and your flesh, where you can do nothing but feel it.”

“How delightful.” I shuffled back and reached behind me for the way station’s door latch, and from it removed the iron rail tie I’d used to keep Montrose imprisoned inside. “I can’t fathom why everyone finds you so utterly repulsive,” I mentioned as I pocketed the spike. “I mean, other than the way you talk, behave, think, and smell, you’re quite the catch, aren’t you?”

He grabbed hold of my bodice, tearing it as he jerked me close. “Open your mouth.”

“Go back to hell.” I spat in his face.

He took hold of my throat with one hand and cut off my air, and no matter how I clawed at him, kept strangling me. Shadows loomed before my eyes, inviting me to throw myself into them. Looking into death was such a terrible relief that I gasped.

Zarath’s hand clapped over my mouth at the same time he released my neck, and the need to breathe overcame everything. I didn’t realize he had shoved a stone into my mouth until it slid to the back of my tongue and went down my throat. It burned my insides as it went down, and I fought to stop it, coughing and retching violently. Nothing came out, and then I felt it in my stomach, hot and cold, an unbearable weight.

Zarath put his mouth next to my ear. “Do you feel her? That is my queen, Anamorg. She is inside you now, and she will keep you from breaking any spell. I have only to release her from the stone, and your body will be hers. Then Anamorg will devour your spirit, and you will be nothing.”

“Not a very pretty name, is it? Anamorg.” I rasped out the words as I reached in my pocket for the rail tie. “Sounds to me like a disease of the bottom.”

His expression tightened with outrage. “For that I will make you know agony as you could not imagine.”

“Sorry, but it’s my turn now.” I threw myself against him, knocking him down on his back. I had only a moment to straddle him, raise the iron spike I’d taken from the door handle of the way station, and strike.

I thought I might hesitate, staring down at Dredmore’s face, knowing what I was about to do. Yet my hand never wavered or faltered, and I plunged the spike deep into his chest, thrusting it down with all my strength.

Zarath heaved me off, clutching the end of the spike as he convulsed. He rolled onto his side, curling over before he lurched onto all fours. His head came up and he roared out his pain and fury until the sound died and a bloody froth bubbled from his lips. I backed away into Montrose, who stood gaping at the sight.

“What have you done?” he yelped.

Zarath staggered onto his feet, pulling at the spike as obscenely wet sounds poured out along with the blood from his mouth.

“I killed a monster.” I couldn’t bear to see him die, but I couldn’t look away until I was sure he had. “And I saved a man.”

The Aramanthan reeled toward the ship, but he strayed too close to the edge of the dock, where he fell into the water with a tremendous splash.

Celestino, who had run toward us, stopped in his tracks. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed like a rag doll. I saw the other men by the gangplank do the same, and then Montrose fell in front of me, face-first into the dock.

I knelt on the edge of the pier, shoving my fingers deep into my mouth so that I might cast up the stone, but it wouldn’t come out of me. The sensation of burning and freezing faded, leaving me with only the feeling of a rock in my belly. Anamorg, queen of the Reapers, waiting to awake inside me.

“Miss Kittredge.”

I turned my head and saw Inspector Doyle standing a few feet away. “Oh, hello, Tommy.” Two beaters flanked him, and each held their nightsticks ready. “Filthy day, isn’t it? All this smoke is plaguing my eyes something awful.”

Chapter Eleven

As I sat in Questioning at Rumsen Main Station I idly wished for a dagger. They’d taken Wrecker’s from me, but I didn’t especially need a kneecapper’s blade. Any dagger, even a penknife, would suffice for the last bit of killing I had to do.

I caught a whiff of piss as I imagined it. A quick slash across the carotid. Lots of blood—lots of mess—but they were used to tidying up death here. I knew no one would shout for help or call for the whitecart. If anything, they’d have their tea hour down at the pub and share a few good-riddance pints.

They might still at that. I had one sleeve left intact. When they tossed me in my cell, I’d be alone.

For now I’d have to endure this. Sitting shackled to a chair for hours wasn’t comfortable, but it was a nice break from the hell I’d been through over the past two weeks.

Questioning, for all its hideous rep, wasn’t as bad as all that. Dust coated the gaslight chimneys, all of which were blackened on the inside from long use. Yellowed wanted posts and faded ambrotype tints hung on point from a warped cork-backed board, on which someone had pasted a headline from The Queen’s Voice: Your Colonial Taxes at Work. It hadn’t taken that long for Her Majesty to decide to appropriate all unprocessed colonial gold for Herself, or men would still be out panning the rivers.

Grimy footprints and skid marks from rubber-soled shoes made odd trails across the cheap pine floor planks. Old pipe and cigar smoke had shriveled an orange-clove pomander hanging from the window bars to the size of a walnut.

I wasn’t in any better shape. I needed a bath, a drink, and my head examined. Whatever they did to me, though, I wasn’t explaining what had happened at the docks. I wasn’t even sure I understood it. All I could feel was the awful weight inside me, like some hidden rot just waiting for the right moment to bloom.

Chief Inspector Tom Doyle came in and closed the door behind him. He didn’t come at me but walked to one end of the room, and then the other.

I watched him back and forth it. Working three straight shifts hadn’t wrinkled his jacket or trousers, and damp comb marks streaked his short hair. It didn’t surprise me that he’d taken the time to wash up and shave. He’d spent ten years in H.M.’s Fleet, and now had a bit of that all-hands-on-deck look about him. Now I was the enemy, and naturally he had to evaluate my threat potential before he issued any orders. I wondered if he’d ever dreamt we’d come to this.

Doyle finally tired of pacing, yanked out the chair on the other side of the table, and dropped in it. Gave me that cool, flint-edged stare he’d inherited from his Grandda, and said: “Why did you do it, Kit?”

I gave him my full statement in four words. “I didn’t kill him.” Of course I had, but admitting it wouldn’t gain me much chance to finish the work. For that I’d need a nice, quiet, isolated cell in lockup. “Is that what this is about, then? You’ve got the wrong—”

“They’ll send you to the gallows.” Beneath his rage was something more I hadn’t expected to see: regret.

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