The second principle of the forge is Method, or perhaps Technique. The artisan must be skilful in all
aspects of Her craft. Such perfection comes only from long practice, which inevitably litters the floor with
the misshapen remains of Her failures.
Missy had not been truly introduced to drink until she met Thomas Moore. Matron Gisella had laid
down strict rules concerning imbibing by her girls: they were not to have any at all, except if the client bid
it. Even then, they were to touch scant a tenth of what the client consumed. Missy had rarely had
occasion to even smell brandy or scotch, as the majority of the customers were upstanding, proper
gentlemen who came into the Matron Gisella’s house to vent their carnal lusts and then flee into the night
Sit up straight; fold your hands across your lap. Hold your head upright, your knees together. You are a
shy, naive gentlewoman.
Missy drained her glass and poured another. The brandy seared its way down her throat.
No, she had been introduced to drink truly on the third night that she had been invited to Sherwood
Forest. She’d walked in on them unannounced, unobtrusive as she had been trained. Thomas had been
caught mid-swallow, choked on his mouthful, and then scrambled to hide the glass by slipping it half full
into his pocket. Thinking back, perhaps she’d wanted to spare him the embarrassment.
She’d stepped over to him, relieved him of his drink, and tossed the whole of it down her throat without
so much as a sip to gauge it.
Your sleeves shall be crimped and even. Your hem shall be free of stray threads. Every hint of lace shall
be sparkling white.
That vile liquid had been the strongest of Tom’s collection. It had taken all Missy’s aplomb to remain
upright and charming as the fire surged into all her limbs, then her brain and her lips, and then lit her
cheeks like twin suns rising on a winter morning.
But she’d held her composure and had reigned in her laughter at their gapes. And for one glorious,
memorable evening, the matron’s voice had been silent.
You shall move to reveal not ankle nor wrist nor neck lest the client bid you or take the initiative himself.
Should your client wish you to surrender to his advances, then do so. Should he wish you to resist, do so.
The glass was full again. She started in on it without delay.
Sherwood stood empty. Heckler had taken watch at the lift with a pair of street urchins Oliver held
sometimes in his employ. The rest of the crew were likely rotting in the downstreets by now, and Oliver
She swallowed, and examined the amber liquid as it caught and mutated the light of the single oil lamp.
Always remember that your client has paid for you. I expect that he should come away satisfied and that
he should return to my house when the mood next strikes him. I expect to be spoken of highly in the
circles. A lady has only her reputation, after all.
More brandy scalded her throat. Since that third night at Sherwood, she had made alcohol her daily
tonic, to keep the Matron Gisella silent.
She poured the brandy onto the floor, for tonight it had lost its power.
A good lady doesn’t cry. Only if the client wants you to cry shall you permit yourself. Oh, don’t worry
yourselves; he will make it amply clear.
Gisella was lecturing from some long-ago memory. Missy had heard the speech dozens of times and
remembered it perfectly: always the same wording, the same sharp gestures, and the same piercing glare.
She stomped one foot into the puddle of liquor. Droplets splattered her dress and shoes.
You wouldn’t approve of this at all, would you, Witch?
My, my, isn’t someone testy? Have you a reason for throwing a tantrum like a child of six?
Missy refilled the glass. She sipped it, realising suddenly how light-headed she was.
What if they didn’t come back? What if Bailey’s mad crusade left them all corpses and Sherwood
stayed this empty forever?
Then you will come back to me, my little one. When you were brought to me, you were coated in dirt
and crawled on your hands and knees. You were born a dog, little girl, by God’s hand. That kind of filth
never truly comes clean.
She felt oily inside and out with perspiration. It was too cruel to contemplate, that her new life should be
wrested from her after three short months. Oliver had not even asked where she came from or what she
had done before. Nor would he, or any of them. Here she had found men who did not judge her, and a
place to rest her feet.
Her throat cringed as the brandy scorched it again and she refused to think on such things any further.
A rap sounded at the door.
Oliver had told her never to answer that door. One of the men should always do it and even they should
always be armed. The caller was to be checked by peeking from the second-storey windows, and the
door traps released only if it proved to be one of the neighbourhood folk.
Well, Oliver wasn’t there, and she had a gun. Even if things became dangerous, she could defend
herself. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t done so before.
Gisella had been silent that night as well.
She drained her glass and tottered to her feet. The world spun. She snatched the lamp from the card
table and her handbag from the chair. She politely forced the doorjamb aside and staggered into the hall.
The rap came again.
“Hold on,” she cried, though it may not have emerged so eloquently.
Each stair smacked heavily against her feet as she descended. The railing pressed inappropriately into
The rap sounded again, suddenly pounding against her ears like thunder.
“You, sir,” she said accusingly to the door, “have no manner of patience at all.”
Her fingers found the right switches, pulled the right chords. The deafening clicks told her Heckler’s
traps had been withdrawn. She grasped the handle and yanked the door wide.
A face stepped out of her nightmares and into the foyer.
“Oh, mother of mercy!” The handbag fell from her fingers. The lamp tipped and burned her hand with its
“Heh. I see you remember me.”
Her knees buckled like so much wet cloth and she crashed to the ground on her tailbone. The lamp
bounced on the floor and rolled away.It can’t be real, she screamed.He can’t be here.
The intruder righted the lamp with a deft flick of his cane.
“Gisella was distraught when you left, Michelle. Even my considerable powers of persuasion were barely
enough to keep her from murdering you.”
The man closed the door.
“Imagine my surprise to find you here, of all places, in the lair of my recent rival. The Lord does indeed
move in mysterious ways. Don’t you agree?”
A hobgoblin face beneath a fur top hat. Gnarled bone-white clawed fingers reaching from a black coat
as large as the night sky. All the girls knew him, all had felt his nails tearing at them, heard his voice
commanding them. Gisella rendered them helpless with her potions and thenhe came in fevered dreams, a
visage of terror half remembered upon waking.
Sweat slicked her hands. The floor tilted and rolled as she scrambled for the bag, and for the cool,
comforting lump of steel inside. Suddenly he was in front of her, squatting. He jammed a handkerchief
over her face and a jolting ozone stench blasted up her nose.
“The yellow man calls thisbeng lie, my dear. It is Gisella’s favourite, as I recall.”
Her nails raked over the handbag’s edges, spinning it towards her. Her legs and fingers began to twitch,
then to numb.
“Gisella needed my help to train her little whores, you see,” said the man. “You were one of my earlier
attempts, as I recall. Probably, there is no one to blame but myself for your present waywardness, but I
was new to this then. One learns, doesn’t one, child?”
The clasp of the handbag fell apart beneath her fingernails and the bag yawned wide. Her fingers snaked
inside, the motion in them dying one by one. The muscles in her back jerked and she collapsed, knocking
her head on the floor.
You didn’t think he would find you, you stupid girl? You came into the world dirty and vile and pretend
at decency. It is God’s will that you be found.
The edges of her vision swam with tears. The room swung like a pendulum. The man crouched like a
gargoyle next to her, reaching skeleton hands for her face.
“Gisella will give me a tongue-lashing, it’s true, but I’m afraid I shan’t be returning you to her just yet.”
His fingers pressed into the skin of her forehead and scalp. The contact burned and sent shoots of pain
deep into her head and neck.
“I had to look to the East for this process, you know,” he said. “It requires a certain exercise of the mind
and the energies, but it makes Mesmer and Braid into simpletons by comparison.”
His words blurred, one into the other, until they hissed and crackled together. Missy slipped deep down
into a warm pool of thick liquid. His voice came to her in flickers of dream thought, as flashes of hot and
cold and terror.
“Listen, now, little one. Follow carefully my every instruction. You will not remember any of this until I
command you. When I do so, you will answer all of my questions truthfully and without evasion. You are
to remain with Oliver Sumner. Do as he asks, and act as you always have. Remember all you see and
A pause. Mind distant across expanse. No movement.
Scared cleared his throat.
“My dear, I want you to discover why the Great Mother finds Oliver Sumner so attractive.”
Missy vomited on herself. She choked, spat, sat up.
The foyer was empty. A single lamp lit the dark from its place on the floor some three feet away.
Oh, goodness. The mess! My lord, the smell!
She scrambled to her feet, gasping in horror at the hideous stain on her blouse. She snatched the lamp
and fled to the bathroom. She filled the washbasin with water from the room’s iron bathtub, then stripped off her shirt and submerged it.
If you put your coat on and run straight home, they’ll never know. Just bundle the shirt and take it in a
basket—surely they keep a basket somewhere.
Filth follows you like a hungry dog, dirty girl.
Shut up, you shrew.
Missy held the lamp up and surveyed herself in the mirror. Her hair had fallen out of its tight bun; her
lip-stain had run down the length of her chin.
“Not right at all,” she murmured.
She screamed and jumped back, nearly dropping the lamp. She’d seen…No, it couldn’t have…But it
had been there…an ogre’s face grinning at her from the mirror.
It wasn’t him. He wasn’t here.
His voice whispered to her, from far away or from inside her own ears, she could not tell.
“Tick, tick, tick.”
At the first sound Oliver unhitched the express rifle and lugged it into his arms. At the second he had it
butt to shoulder ready to fire.
Damn it, this was not just a product of his imagination. Something had been stalking him for the past
He didn’t even know where he was. He thought he was heading northeast, though after the long,
confusing slide down to street level, he might have gone any which way. His hip-mounted lantern
provided only enough illumination to see three strides around him. He probably stood out like a
lighthouse down here, though he’d rather that than be in complete dark.
The sound came again: a heavy crunch, a shifting of debris out in the ruined buildings of Old
Whitechapel. His bandaged hand twitched on the stock and the single unwrapped finger on the trigger.
When the streak of white blasted into the light he’d let the shot off before he even had time to register it.
The heavy slug escaped into parts unknown, kicking Oliver nearly off his feet with the recoil. He
stumbled and brought his rifle to bear on the object approaching him.
It was a clickrat. Moving slower now, it tottered forward on its six legs, maw opening and closing in
random rhythm. The noise had been far too loud and slow to be from a clickrat, and that left one
He’d hoped to catch up with Bailey’s crew before the hounds found him. It should not have been
difficult to spot seven lamplights in absolute dark. Most of the buildings of Old Whitechapel had long
since decayed into lumps of sodden debris, so the terrain was mostly clear, but multiple trips to the tops
of said mounds had garnered him nothing but more black all around.
And probably brought me to the attention of every whelp creature down here. Damned foolish.
The clickrat ticked a few steps closer. It sat back on its stubby tail and wailed a low buzzing sound, then
tilted its head and regarded him in a pose resembling curiosity.
“Jeremy Longshore!” Oliver said. The clickrat bounced back to its legs and scuttled up next to his shoe.
Oliver smiled down at him. “You clever little bastard. You must mean Phin and Tom aren’t too far.Tom!
His voice echoed away into the dark. A growl like glass being ground down reverberated back to him.
Stupid.Oliver swung the express rifle back into position and began scanning the shadows as much as his
fogged goggles would permit.
Jeremy Longshore hopped a foot forward and bobbed his nose in a direction to Oliver’s left. Oliver
swiveled to face the rifle that way, just as a black and silver shape broke the perimeter of the lamplight.
He put a bullet into its shoulder. The hound twitched, but did not back off.
Jeremy Longshore leapt forth and confronted the creature, balancing on tail and two rear legs and
clicking into its face. Oliver shot the hound again, this time in the flank as it reared back to take stock of
its second opponent. The impact jerked it to the side, but it barely seemed to notice, its attention fixed on
Oliver swept away the gun smoke with his left hand, keeping unsteady aim on the hound as it circled
right, its sleek muzzle poking into the clickrat’s striking range. Jeremy Longshore stood his ground,
emitting an unceasing string of clicks in patternless rhythm. Oliver orbited the clickrat as well, keeping it
between him and the hound.
The thing would eventually figure out that Jeremy was bluffing and crush him. Could Jeremy keep its
attention if he bolted? Oliver had no delusions about outrunning it if it chased him.
The hound paused and dipped its head. From deep inside its silvery, steel-sheathed ribs, Oliver heard a
ticking—like someone tapping a wooden spoon on a large pot. After a few moments of overlap, they
began to tick one to the other, then the other to the one. Back and forth: a conversation.
Oliver squinted hard at the pair. For an instant, the hound seemed to have a human face, indistinct and
blurred, like a botched daguerreotype. The face tilted and changed, shifting into and out of expressions
that Oliver could not quite identify. Jeremy, as well, took on an aspect far more human seeming. It was
something in his bearing, in the gestures made with his front two legs.
The conversation ended, and for a long moment the two stared at each other. Then Jeremy dropped to
all six legs again, and the hound turned and slunk out of the light. Jeremy Longshore ticked a few times
and scuttled back over to settle beside Oliver’s shoe.
Oliver remained perfectly still until the hound’s receding footsteps passed into the distance. Then he
lowered his rifle and breathed.
“You’re a handy fellow,” Oliver said. Jeremy clicked. “Remind me to stop thinking that Tom is crazy.”
Oliver considered the mechanical animal winding around his feet. Tom hadn’t had time to train the thing
to do what it had just done. Jeremy himself was different from his kin.
“Can you lead me to Phin and Tom?” Oliver asked, thinking it was worth an attempt.
Jeremy clicked and buzzed, then started off at a fair clip into the darkness.
“Slow down!” Oliver called, and limped after.
The creature led him on a chase past tumbled beams, ruined buildings, and pits of dank slime. The rotted
underworld passed through the arc of his lamp, fading into view from illuminated mist and seeping back
into the absolute shadow of Shadwell Tower that flanked him and loomed always over his shoulder.
He scrambled along as best he could, hobbling on his ankle as the pain swelled with each step. He called
out again and again for Jeremy to hold back, but the little creature tore ahead, hell-bent on whatever goal
it had chosen. It escaped the range of his lamplight as they entered what might have once been a public
square; the constant jumble of beams, debris, and upturned chunks of roadway gave way to an unbroken
succession of tightly fitted bricks.
The pace wore on Oliver’s lungs. Even through the mask, the air was coarse and heavy with
particulates. The heat, unnatural even for Whitechapel, provoked an unending sweat that beaded and ran
down his neck, slick and sticky in the oily air.
Panting, Oliver finally halted the mad dash. Holding his breath and his nose, he carefully lifted the mask
and splashed some water in his mouth. It tasted of ash, but calmed for a moment the tickle in his throat
and the rampant thirst drying out his lips and tongue.
Out in the dark, the skittering of clickrat legs faded.
No use trying to follow now.
He set himself and his rifle gingerly down on the brick and rubbed at his ankle. He scanned his
surroundings and made out nothing beyond the flickering lamplight but for a far-off glow. It might have
been a hint of the bright lights of Aldgate.
If so, then that way was northwest, where Bailey’s crew would be heading.And since I couldn’t possibly
trace my way back to the stair…
Oliver wiped his goggles, chewed a piece of jerked beef, and put some more oil in his lantern. After a
few minutes’ rest, he struggled back to his feet and began walking. For twenty or so steps the bricks
rolled beneath his feet, unchanging. Then he came to a low wall of concrete, topped with a twisted and
rusted wrought-iron fence: too tall and too uneven to climb. He unhooked the lantern from his belt and
lifted it up. The light cast dancing doppelgangers of the fence on the wall beyond. Something twisted and
fled as the light struck it.
I hope that was Jeremy,Oliver thought, knowing it wasn’t.
Oliver tilted the light farther back, revealing the façade of a building reaching high above the fence’s top.
Mortar had worn away between the blocks used to build it, leaving deep black slashes on its pale
A sudden scuffing sounded from behind the fence. Oliver hefted his rifle to face forward in one hand,
then leaned into the fence and panned his lamp back and forth. The gap between the wall and the building
seemed devoid of anything, including debris. A sparkle caught his eye at the far right of the lantern’s light.
Red?He took a few strides down the wall to the right.
Red and yellow and purple and blue, a jumble of colours glowing in the flickering light. It resolved itself
into the shape of a stained-glass window.
It’s a church,he realised, then smirked.A white chapel.
He panned his lantern upwards, revealing an arched top to the window, a peaked roof, and hints of a
steeple at the light’s farthest edge. This was not a church as he knew them, as little decrepit buildings
constructed from scrap and tolerated by the cloaks so long as they stayed that way. No, this church was
a magnificent structure, designed to stand out from the city around it, bold and proud. It was a piece of
that London spirit that Hews and Bailey always went on about. Oliver felt a welling of uncomfortable
emotion: some mixture of pride, longing, shame. What was he supposed to feel at this sight? London
wasn’t his city. England wasn’t his home.
Maybe it could be.
When the clacks sounded behind him he knew it was already too late to run. He hooked his lantern to
his belt again and wrapped both hands around the express rifle. He took a deep breath, held it, let it go.
Then he turned.
Faces: brass eyes, steel teeth, iron bones, and long snouts. Shapes: canine and simian, some hunched
parodies of human, even sporting a few last remnants of flesh and hair. Not a sound from any of them,
nor breath disturbing the air.
Oliver’s own breath and heartbeat suddenly became thunderous.
The circle was tight against the wall on either side. He counted seven hounds, maybe two dozen clickrats
of varying composition, a legion of Frankensteins behind that had once been men, fading shadow over
shadow to the edge of the light. None of the clickrats sported the silver colour of Jeremy Longshore.
He fitted his bandaged hand around the stock and curled one finger on the trigger. The barrel shook
wildly.Hold together. You’ve been in worse spots than this—remember the battle in Marlow Square?
Only that had been Boiler Men, and Boiler Men were slow. One might run away.
Oliver risked a glance over his shoulder. The fence might be scalable, if he abandoned his pack and his
The dogs could leap it, or might simply bite through. No good.
Oliver skipped his eyes back to his grim audience. There had to be a route of escape. He noted two
gaps wide enough to run through, assuming the hounds held still. He could maybe hold them off with the
All of them? With the clickrats and…those ghastly things?
His breath began coming in staccato pulses. There had to be something else. Could he toss them some
meat maybe? Or…
One bloody stick of dynamite.
With numbing slowness he shouldered out of his pack and slipped it to the ground. He knelt and reached
inside. The dynamite slipped into his hand as if it had been waiting for him. The matchbox he clasped
between two fingertips.
His eyes never left the horde around him. The snouts and muzzles and bared skull teeth began to shift,
taking on more human features. They became rounder and softer, a shifting image of translucent flesh
over the metal beneath, like a trick of the smoke, a trick of the light, the unhinging of a tired mind. A chill
touched the air.
Hold together,he thought, repeating it like a manta.
Oliver set the butt of the rifle on the ground and leaned the barrel against his leg. With his left hand, he
slid the matchbox open, then plucked a match out with his right.
One toss. How many could he catch in the blast?
The metallic heads continued their stares unbroken. The phantom images dipped as one, as if in prayer.
The air grew cold.
Oliver laid the match head against the edge of the box.
A wind cut across the square. Yellow-green mist began collecting in the empty space between Oliver
and the hounds. It lapped at the stones and the feet of the creatures, seeping into cracks and between
toes and claws. Oliver stayed the match, retreating back against the fence. The yellow mist, blackening as
it swept the brick, began a steady undulating pulse, propelling itself along the stones like an inchworm.
The ground began to boil.
Oliver stuffed the dynamite in his pocket and leapt for the fence. His injured hand landed on a
rough-edged slat of iron that tore into the bandages. He wrapped his other arm into a tangle of bent
crossbars and held himself up by the sheer strength of fright. His legs kicked for purchase, scuffing the
edge of the low wall.
Below, the square suddenly became a seething lake of black-yellow pus. Bubbles churned to its surface
and burst, spraying up into the air. Tendrils of yellow mist snaked up beside Oliver’s face, then swept
over him with a rank odour of decay. They got in his nose, his throat, his ears.
And something crashed through into his mind.
Not this time, by God!Oliver released one hand and grabbed for the dynamite, and at once the world
He was hanging above an endless sea of filth: blood mixed with oils, ashes, white and yellow ichors, and
pus. Above loomed a sky of towering grey fingers, their steel ends lancing into the ocean. Bodies swam
the seas, drowning, choking, flailing, bloated and pustulant.
Oliver hung from nothing, having lost all perception of his body. He clawed with no hands at the iron
fence he knew to be there.
A figure came walking across the ocean, stumbling over the roiling bubbles. He wore an oversized long
coat, speckled with additional pockets, which the spurting filth did not seem to touch. He fixed Oliver
with startling blue eyes.
“You’re Oliver Sumner,” he said.
Oliver clung to the invisible fence, still trying to secure his feet.
“My name is Aaron,” he said. “Aaron Bolden.”
Could I trouble you for some assistance?
His slight smile flattened. “I’m not sure how.”
Perfect.Oliver gave up on his fingers and tried to will himself to stay above the frothing liquid.You’re the
Aaron, aren’t you? You know, Hews and Bailey speak very highly of you.
“For watching, perhaps; for intelligence. I haven’t had much luck with action, I’m afraid.”
Hews mentioned that you had certain faculties of sight.
“And so I do.”
What do you see?
“Do I see you hanging off a fence, you mean? Yes, you’re there.”
With a mental sigh, Oliver concentrated on loosening his grip.
“No, no. Don’t drop down,” Aaron said hastily. “It isn’t real, but it may still harm you.”
How do you know that?
“I…” A sudden jolt of pain stole across the man’s face. “Grandfather Clock…hurt me. The noise wasn’t
real, not in the auditory sense, but it was still…I remember my bones breaking.”
Oliver looked up and down the man’s limbs. Aaron followed his gaze.
“It’s strange, I know, that they’re intact now. Though I’m not quite dead and may thus retain a bit of
Bailey said they’d hooked you to the Chimney.
Aaron’s hands began to tremble.
“I…true…though I…” He inhaled, still shaking. “I should not be alive. A thousand times I should not be
You seem quite alive to me.
The small smile returned.
“A conclusion drawn from observation. I suppose I can accept that.”
Oliver looked around, seeing no visible means of escape. He realised with some relief that his sense of
smell did not appear to be working, nor could he feel fatigue in his clinging arm, nor nausea in his gut from
the vile sights. The sloshing and moaning of the ocean’s prisoners echoed undiminished by distance.
Where are we, Aaron?
“We are inside his mind.”
“The third one,” he said. “Not the Lord, not the Lady. Someone else.”
I would hope I heard you wrongly.
“Except that you heard perfectly.”
Aaron began to pace beneath Oliver.
“I have gathered through my limited observation of him that he is an exile of sorts. He hates the Lord and
Lady so powerfully…” Aaron’s eyes flickered almost closed. He tilted his head as if craning to hear a
sound Oliver couldn’t hear. “They’ve done something to him, I think, to hurt him, to cause him pain.
That’s what all this is.” He swept his arm to indicate the sea. “His pain.”
And those?Oliver said, casting his glance at the moaning souls slipping between the waves.
“They are those of us who have been claimed by the downstreets, and the machine disease.”
You know that?
Has he claimed you as well, then?
The man’s face fell. “I don’t know.”
Oliver thought for a moment as Aaron stood caught in his melancholy.
Would he help us, do you think, Aaron?
“Help us? This is not some Titan that can be bribed.”
You said he hates the Lord and Lady. Well, if Bailey does his job, we will have what we need to kill Grandfather Clock, but we may need help with Mama Engine. We haven’t even begun to look at how to
deal with her.
Aaron hunched his shoulders and glanced out across the ocean. “He hatesus too, Oliver.”
Then we’ll have to deal with him as well, won’t we?
Aaron sucked in a breath. “He could very well have heard that.”
Talk to him. Offer him an…an agreement. Between him and myself. Let him know we have common
“Are you certain about that?”
No. It may turn out to be the most fool thing I’ve ever attempted, but it’s prudent to keep your doors
The cries of the damned hammered on Oliver’s ears. He struggled to keep his concentration amidst
At last, Aaron nodded; then his eyelids began to flicker again. Oliver hung for an endless few minutes as
his impromptu companion performed whatever inward gyrations the contact required. Doubt worried at
him—What are you thinking, allying with this horror?—but he quashed it with logic: one of these unholy
creatures was easier to deal with than three. That made sense, didn’t it?
Aaron jerked and came back to himself.
So? What’s the word?
Aaron shook his head. “I can’t tell. I know he understood.” Aaron took a deep breath, rubbed his
abdomen absently with one palm. “But this doesn’t feel right. What if he turns on us after…”
And suddenly Oliver was hanging from a fence, with his left arm cramping and a stick of dynamite in his
The ground rushed up to meet him. He landed squarely on the already-injured ankle, toppled forward,
and slammed cheek first into the brick. His stomach clenched and he barely had time to tear the mask off
his face before yellow and white vomit surged up and out. After that, the scalding air rushed in and he
hacked up more vileness. Vomit be damned, he slapped the mask back over his mouth and took long
breaths until his lungs settled back from convulsions to mere searing discomfort.
He pushed himself up and leaned heavily on the wall. His pack and rifle lay where he’d left them. The
lamplight guttered out, disturbed by its rough treatment. A few minutes of exhausting struggle found a
match struck and the flame reluctantly wiggling back to life.
A silver, eyeless snout regarded him from just past his shoes.
“Jeremy?” Oliver said.
The rat shook its head.
Jeremy ducked his head and clicked backwards and sideways without turning. Oliver lifted his gaze
slightly and found the glinting brass eyes of his choir staring back. They’d stepped off to the sides. A
clear path spread in front of him, out into the dark.
Jeremy backed some more and ticked three times.
“Jesus. Give me a minute.”
Oliver took a pull from his rapidly emptying water flask and fixed his mask. Then, with aching joints and
muscles, he collected his gear and his rifle and pushed himself to his feet. He kept the dynamite and the
matches in his pocket.
Jeremy turned and scuttled away. Oliver followed at a slow limp. When he’d gone twenty feet he heard
noise and turned.
Ticker hounds and clickrats and half-human Frankensteins gathered behind him. He stepped forward
and they followed. He started again at a steady pace, and they trailed behind him like a herd of
cattle…or a pack of wolves.
Guess we know his answer, eh, Aaron?
Albright had fallen with a bullet in his throat.
Kinney had died screaming with a hound tearing into his belly.
Sims had crawled nearly thirty yards with a severed arm before the Boiler Men cooked him like a pig
with their copper rods.
Phineas had just vanished, and he’d last seen Thomas Moore assaulting a Boiler Man with his bare
And who had run away and hid himself in the shadows of old Mile End Road?
Bailey crouched behind a piece of rotted and soggy wall, once the façade of a building, and clutched his
rifle to his chest. It was an old Enfield from his days in the army, made in ’41, and it had seen him through
worse snags than this.
Worse than metal beasts impervious to bullets at war with metal men equally impervious?
He silenced his own thoughts to better hear the movements of the enemy.
The Boiler Men had been waiting right at the base of the rusted stair. Phineas Macrae had been the first
to spot them. They might have been waiting for hours, not needing air or rest or water. Luck was with the
queen’s agents, however, as the Ironboys were some ways off and facing away from the stair, as if
waiting for someone to return to it. Bailey had ordered retreat, hoping to slip away and circle around outside their field of vision.
Then the dogs had come at them, tearing out of old shop doors and from beneath the uneven flagstones
of the street. Nothing Bailey’s crew had thrown at them had done anything to slow them down. Then the
Boiler Men had caught them, charging impassively into the fray and killing everything in sight with Atlas
rifles firing as fast as Maxim guns and copper lightning rods lancing through the perpetual night. At some
point Bailey had ordered retreat and fled.
There had been noise, then silence. Now there was only the thudding footfalls of the baron’s soldiers
patrolling the perimeter of the street, and the shuffle of their guns poking into cracks and beneath rubble.
Bailey held one lapel of his vest over his mouth and sucked a breath. His mask had vanished in the
fighting, along with his lantern and half his ammunition. He squatted, sweating, and fiercely willed himself
not to cough.
He wished for a moment he was back in India, where the heat was not so oppressive and the enemy
died like men aught to. But Boiler Men did nothing like normal men. Even their movements were strange,
executed with the confident, measured precision of creatures who knew themselves to be invincible.
A foot fell on the other side of the wall. Time to move on.
Bailey sucked one last burning lungful of air, blinked the soot from his eyes, and crept backwards from
his place of concealment. The old shop’s floor had rotted and fallen through, and had formed a shallow
crater into which Bailey retreated. He slipped silently into a viscous pool at the bottom, cursing the lack
The Boiler Men seemed to have no need for illumination, and thus hid their movements. Worse, Bailey
could not see far enough through the smoke to determine how visible he might be. Did the sides of this
hole provide any cover at all?
He exhaled his held breath quietly and drew another through his lapel. The Boiler Men could not be
stopped with a single Enfield rifle. It would be at least another two or three hours trekking though these
depths to reach the base of Aldgate Tower. Bailey had no mask, no eye protection, no water, no food,
and thirty rounds of ammunition that were useless against such adversaries anyway.
But the tape had to be retrieved. No matter the cost, those horrid godlings of Whitechapel had to be
“Praise to England,” he muttered to himself. “God save the queen.”
The oily liquid moved.
Tentacles shot out of the pool at the base of the hole, entangling his legs with terrible speed. In an instant
the faithful Enfield was readied and a shot plunged into the opaque waters. Whatever lay beneath
spasmed with the impact. The tentacles contracted, shredding though Bailey’s trousers with serrated
metal edges. The sting of sliced skin shot up through his spine, followed by the blazing fire of slime in the
wounds. A second shot shattered the water’s surface, sending up bits of metal and gore. The tentacles
shuddered and fell limp back into the pool. Bailey staggered from the water, collapsing on the bank of the
A ness. Damn it—how could he have been so careless? He tested one leg to see if there was any tendon damage.Flesh, mostly. Good. First order is to get out of this blasted hole.
He planted the butt of his rifle in the muck and pushed himself up.
A shot rang out, and a portion of Bailey’s arm exploded.
Another, and a force like a charging elephant bore him to the ground, smothering his face in the clinging
mud. White pain flared in his back and abdomen.
His gasp drew in the unfiltered razor smoke of the downstreets. Choking, he clawed at the slick, cold
earth and cursed every machine built since the dawn of history.
The ground shook with the approach of iron boots.