True to Reuben’s word the guards came for them within the hour, watching with impassive stares as they were herded out of the room. They were lead through the hallways of the tower, up and up, to a room that was lined with windows from floor to ceiling. They could see the city spread out below them, so neat and orderly that it looked less like a city and more like a piece of clockwork. Like a watch, made all of glass.
Jutting out from the side of the tower was a long pier, to which a ship had been moored. They immediately recognised the slender shape, black with green and silver trim.
A pair of large doors lead out onto the pier, and they were marched out towards where Reuben stood waiting on the deck. He gave the guards a satisfied nod and gestured for them to head inside. Dock hands untied ropes and adjusted parts of the rigging as the ship made ready to sail.
Inside, the vessel was every bit as polished and precise as without. The soft grey walls and white oak floors were a stark contrast to the weatherbeaten look of the Triskelion, yet it did not feel the slightest bit welcoming. They were guided to a spacious guest room, which they were clearly meant to share. The guards who escorted them remained outside of their door, and Rachael heard the clear sound of the lock turning as the door was closed.
Tired and frustrated, she dropped down onto one of the beds. It all felt so familiar, despite how strange it should be. Another cage, as beautifully gilded as the last.
Arsha stood by the door looking nervous and confused. Rachael couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She just lay back and closed her eyes, as the ship swayed into motion.
The journey was an empty succession of silent hours spent staring at the same four walls. Their meals were brought to their room by the guards. Their plates were collected an hour later. They were permitted to use the bathroom, one at a time, always accompanied. They woke up, ate in silence, passed empty hours, and slept. They said little, none of it meaningful. Sometimes they invented games or read some of the books that lined the room, but neither of them found the slightest joy in any of it.
Rachael began to relish sleeping. It was an escape from the agonising greyness that filled each day. In her dreams she would catch glimpses of Justin’s face, the smell of his body, his hair, the feel of his hands on her skin, the touch of his lips against hers. Always she woke with an aching feeling, as if reaching for something distant. Sometimes she dreamed of London, but those dreams were brief, flashes of fire and crumbling towers of rusted iron, black smoke blinding her, filling her lungs until she fell to her knees, gasping for breath. Then the dream would pass, and she would wake to sheets soaked with sweat, white lines scored into her palms where her nails had dug in.
It might have been the seventh or eighth day when something else woke her. She sat up in her bed, in a room dimly lit by a single slumbering ghostlight. She could hear the sound of the engines humming through the walls, a softer note than the Triskelion’s, but nothing seemed amiss. Then she heard other sounds. A muted shout. A sudden thump. Footsteps on wooden floors, hard and heavy. Glancing at the other bed she saw that Arsha was also awake. Just the girl’s face could be seen, peering out from under her sheets, looking at Rachael as if waiting for directions.
Then the sound of a gunshot rang out clear and sharp, careening off the walls to reverberate through her bones. Two more followed, in quick succession.
Rachael didn’t waste a moment. Rolling out from the covers, she hit the floor and immediately ducked under the bed, gesturing for Arsha to do the same.
“Rachael…” Arsha hissed. Before the girl could say more, Rachael turned and pressed a finger to her lips. Arsha swallowed and bit back whatever she had been about to say.
The sound of shouting grew closer, before they heard something heavy slam into the wall from outside. Another pair of gunshots rang out, deafeningly loud. Then the lock clicked open. The door swung wide, as the light from the hallway framed a figure in silhouette. Rachael slid back deeper beneath the bedframe, already beginning to realise what a futile gesture it was.
Footsteps, slow and measured as the man crossed the room. A swaying pool of light accompanied him. He wore heavy looking boots and his trousers were patched and grease-stained. Standing between the beds, the man dropped to one knee and set the ghostlamp he carried down on the floor as he glanced to the left and the right.
Rachael recognised Korban’s face immediately. His eye almost seemed to slide over her, fixing on her face only long enough for her to be sure that she had been found. Then he rose to his feet and turned to survey the room again, as if they were little more than incidental details.
“That’s both of them. Bring them to the bridge,” he barked to the men outside the door. Then he turned and stalked out of the room.
More men entered, and rough hands pulled them out from their hiding places. Between the two broad shouldered thugs she could see Korban talking to someone, his voice too low for her to make out clearly. Then Korban stepped aside and her breath caught in her throat.
Justin’s eyes were cold and impassive as he nodded silently in Korban’s direction. His hands were folded behind his back, as if he was a soldier standing at ease. It was only as Korban turned away that she caught a glimmer of anger in Justin’s expression. As she met his eyes he glanced away immediately.
She called out his name, but he didn’t seem to be listening, and as she tried to run to him one of the guards caught her shoulder. Holding her put, the man thrust a dressing gown into her hands.
“Let’s have you decent first,” he growled.
Feeling her cheeks burning, Rachael slipped the dressing gown on as the men watched impassively. A semblance of dignity observed, the men proceeded to march them both out of the cabin.
The blood splattered walls were the first thing she set eyes on as they stepped through into the corridor. Two crumpled heaps of cloth turned out to be a pair of dead men, their clothes soaked through with blood, faces ashen and still. She couldn’t even make out where they had been shot. The blood had drenched everything, splashing onto the walls and spilling out over the ground. Someone had taken the time to throw a couple of sheets down.
Arsha doubled over, heaving out what remained of their dinner from last night. The sound of the girl retching seemed to come to her from a long way off. The walls were spinning. Rachael reached out a hand to steady herself, and when she brought it away she saw that her fingers were smeared with red. There was an acrid smell in the air. She supposed it was gunsmoke.
“Why? Why did you have to kill them?” Arsha sobbed, barely able to get the words out. Rachael turned to see Justin watching them both with those same cold eyes.
“What the hell is this? What did they do?” she snarled.
“What we had to. You should be happy, Rachael. I promised I would come for you, and I did.”
He knelt down and tore a clean strip of cloth from the clothing of one of the dead men. Then he went to Arsha’s side, gently lifting the girl’s chin to wipe the spittle from her lips. Rachael watched, scarcely able to believe it was really him.
Arsha’s eyes focused on his and she recoiled, slapping his hand away. Rachael saw the hurt expression on his face, but she couldn’t even say why it mattered to him.
“What is this Justin? Why are you with these guys? They tried to kill you, remember?”
He looked up at her, sadly.
“They’re not what we thought, Rachael. Manindra saved me from their prison. He showed me what he really is. We were wrong about him, this whole time.”
She couldn’t even understand what he was saying any more. She stared at him, feeling like she was falling, spinning through the air. One of Korban’s men gave them a hard look.
“That’s enough talk. Get moving,” he growled.
They were marched towards the stairs at the end of the hallway. Half-stumbling, unsteady on their feet, they were forced to ascend until they emerged onto the bridge of The Dawning Light.
Like everything on the ship it was a study in clean white lines and silvered edges, now smeared with blood, riddled with bullet holes and scorch marks. Strewn as the floor were the shattered remains of Reuben’s automs. She couldn’t say what had been used to destroy them, but Korban’s men had certainly been thorough about it.
Reuben Ben Mahir was sitting in the captain’s chair, but it was clear that he wasn’t the one giving orders anymore. Manindra stood with his hands clasped at his back, Korban standing to his left and Rakesh on his right. More of Korban’s men were standing around the edges of the room, their weapons held loosely but with obvious menace.
In the stillness Manindra sighed.
“I am deeply sorry that it came to this, Reuben. Your father was a great man. This will sadden him greatly.”
“Are you insane?” Reuben said, almost seeming to spit the words out. He leaned forward in his chair, red faced with anger. “This is open war. The whole Guild will be after you for this. My family will see you dragged before the Inquisition in chains.”
“Yes, I am quite sure they will try. However it’s rather too late for that now, don’t you think?”
Manindra spoke with an icy calm, and Rachael saw how Reuben shrank back a little, his confidence already waning.
“Fates, Manindra, what can you possibly hope to gain from this now? The Seed is awake, whether you like or not, and it’s tearing open the Veil around it. Whatever secrets you meant to unlock from the thing, they are buried under a sea of rust. The whole city is contaminated,” Reuben stammered, his hands tightening around the arms of his chair. “If we don’t put a stop to it now, the Hearth will descend into chaos.”
“You think I mean to study it?” Manindra said, incredulously. “To put an ancient wonder in a box and poke at it until it reveals some meagre insight? If I give my son a sword, I do not mean for him to study it, I mean for him to use it.”
“Use it? Manindra, you can’t actually be planning to open a gateway in the middle of the city. The Dream will coming flooding through, the damage will be irreversible.”
“A regrettable outcome. If we had been able to secure the Seed and the girl we might have forged our gateway somewhere safely secluded. Alas, Rishi’s meddling put an end to that.”
Reuben’s eyes seemed to grow even wider as he stared up at the old man in disbelief.
“But why? What could you possibly hope to find out there that was worth condemning an entire city to die?”
“Our salvation, my boy. There is a darkness coming, and she is the only thing tat can stand in its way.”
Reuben looked perplexed, but Rachael had the uncomfortable feeling that she already knew what Manindra meant. Then Reuben’s eyes narrowed, as if a piece of a puzzle had just fallen into place.
“So that’s what you were doing at Fallen Peak. Searching for one of the Dreamwalkers.”
Manindra gave him a measuring look.
“Seven years, and you really think that all we did was try?” he said, pausing for a moment as if to let the words sink in. “The gateway was destroyed during our return, unfortunately. One of Rishi’s little parting gifts. I have been forced to wait a very long time for a chance like this.”
“You told me they was dead,” Rachael exclaimed, unable to restrain herself any longer. “All of them.”
Manindra’s eyes flashed with cold anger as he turned to look at her.
“Yes. I lied. Never give the truth when a lie will suffice.”
“So I am connected to them,” she said.
“Unfortunately for you, my dear, there was a great deal of truth in what I told you. Yes, the Lady of The Falling Leaves still lives… But you are not her daughter.”
“Right. Cos I’m just an echo,” Rachael said, her lip curling in a sneer.
“No, I’m afraid you are barely even that. A cheap copy, perhaps. A sacrifice play.”
“Only you just said yourself that you’re nothing but a lying bastard,” Rachael spat. “Tell him, Justin. Tell him it’s not true.”
As she caught Justin’s eye, his gaze remained cold, but only for a moment.
He shook his head, sadly.
“I can’t. I’m sorry, he’s right. You’re not her daughter.”
For a moment her breath caught. She almost felt as if she had been struck. It was strange that, even after everything that had just happened, she could still feel betrayed.
“But you told me…”
“Rachael, I promise I didn’t know. I was tricked, just like you were.”
She stared at him, coldly.
“By Chandra,” he said.
“For what it’s worth my dear, you companion truly was deceived,” Manindra said, with a barely concealed smile. “Chandra’s plan was most resourceful. It took me years to puzzle out precisely what he’d done. After our return from the Deep Wild, he knew that his daughter could not be safe within Guild lands. And of the great houses would be eager to lay their hands on the child of a Dreamwalker, even if interested parties in the Guild didn’t snatch her up first.”
As Manindra spoke, he turned to look at Arsha. The girl took a step back, seeming to shrink under the man’s commanding gaze.
“His daughter…” she said, her voice seeming quite small. “What do you mean?”
It almost made her angry, the way the girl could seem so genuinely perplexed. She could feel the last pieces falling into place, as a cold certainty clenched at her stomach. Arsha turned to look at her, eyes wide and frightened.
“What does he mean, Rach?”
When Rachael spoke, it was almost like she was hearing the words from a far distance. She felt numb. Disconnected. Like a passenger in her own body.
“He means you, Arsh. It was you all along.”
“That was the question that tore at my mind for many years,” Manindra said smoothly. “At first I suspected a warding, but no ward could ever have been that effective. Besides, a warding might have kept you safe from the rest of the Guild, but I knew the truth. No, he needed something more permanent.”
“He traded your fates,” Justin said, his voice hollow. “That’s what lead me to you, in London. That’s why the Seed called out to you.”
“A very old piece of Fatework. One that I had almost forgotten existed. He took all of your mother’s power from you, and gave it to your ersatz sister here. Severed from your legacy, you were of no more use to me, and concealed beyond the Veil the recipient of your power would have been almost impossible to find. It wasn’t until my spies in the Chamber of Foresight picked up word of the Seed that we were able to narrow our search.”
“You mean your daughter told you,” Rachael said, coldly.
“Not wittingly,” Manindra replied, with a sharp gleam in his eye. For a moment no one spoke, as Manindra turned to look over at Reuben again.
“Ironically,” he continued, “in your attempt to stymie young master Ben Mahir, your blood rite undid your father’s hard work, returning to you the Fate which you had been so cruelly denied.”
He turned to look back at Rachael, lip twisting cruelly.
“In that, at least,” he said, “your worthless vagabond proved to have some value after all.”
A haunting silence fell across the room. Rachael could feel her hands clenching at her sides. Part of her wanted to scream. Part of her wanted to launch herself at the man, to tear him to pieces with her bare hands. And yet, she did nothing. That cold, numb feeling had seeped into every part of her body. She seemed to no longer be in control. She felt powerless, immobile.
When Reuben spoke, his voice was soft, almost pleading.
“Manindra… Lord Bhandari… If this is true, if one of the Dreamwalkers still lives, then we must proceed with caution. That kind of power could be incredibly dangerous. Please, let me bring this to the Inquisition. They have resources that could help you. This is a matter for the entire Guild.”
Manindra turned to look at him, and shook his head, sadly.
“But as you pointed out mere moments ago, my boy, I am rather beyond reasoning with the Guild. For your father’s sake I had hoped that you at least might be saved, but I think that has proven a forlorn hope.”
He sighed, and turned to his son.
“Sir,” Rakesh nodded.
“Make it clean.”
“As you wish,” Rakesh replied. At his gesture, two of Korban’s men stepped forward as Reuben began to rise from the chair, a panicked expression on his face. The men caught him by the shoulders and began to force him from the bridge, in spite of his struggling.
Manindra turned to Korban and continued to speak, over the sound of Reuben’s terrified pleading. “Get everyone back aboard the Jyoti, then scuttle this vessel. Be thorough. Nothing may remain.”
As Reuben struggled, one of the guards calmly smashed the man’s nose in. A fountain of blood came gushing down Reuben’s shirt, spilling down onto the floor. Manindra turned to look with a disapproving glare. Then they were gone, and Rakesh calmly followed them out.
“We’ll lay whitefire charges from bow to stern. She’ll burn to cinders before she touches the ground,” Korban said, barely seeming to have noticed the interruption. A moment later one of his men spoke up.
“Commander, we just received a message from the Jyoti. The Triskelion set sail from the Citadel, not long after we did. Looks like they’ve been following us.”
“Good,” Manindra said. “I’d hate for young Rishi to miss out on all of this. Just keep us far enough ahead of them, Commander.”
Rachael felt Arsha clutch at her arm unsteadily, looking as if she might be about to throw up again. Even Justin, despite his outward calm, was clearly uneasy. She could see it in his eyes.
An awful silence settled over the bridge. Then Manindra turned to look them over with an imperious gaze.
“Make haste, gentlemen. London awaits us.”
They were lead out onto the deck. Drifting close by, matching speed with the The Dawning Light, was a sleek white vessel with a stripe of crimson across its flank. The name ‘Jyoti’ was painted on the prow in letters of gold.
A rope bridge connected the decks. They were lead across, empty sky beneath their feet as the bridge swayed and clattered. Once inside they were shown to separate rooms. Rachael was thankful for that. As the door closed and the lock clicked shut, she fell down on her knees by the narrow bed, pressing her face into the sheets. The soft linen grew wet with her tears as she screamed until her throat was raw.
Three more days passed. She did not bother to dress. She refused showers. She ate when she was told to. In the empty hours she sat and stared at the far wall, as everything around her seemed to turn to grey.
After three days, they came for her. Clothes were pressed into her hands, and she put them on without any thought. Then they brought her out onto the deck. The ship was still, hanging over a familiar landscape. Manindra stood at the prow with his son at his side. Justin and Arsha were already waiting. She walked towards the railing, her movements wooden and lifeless, and looked out at the city below.
London was not the same. Somehow, she had held in her mind the idea that this one thing would not betray her. The streets that she had known so well could not possibly be reinvented like this.
What she saw was a kind of elegant, impossible chaos. The entire skyline had been overwhelmed by a forest of rust red towers that stretched into the sky like frail and gnarled fingers, desperately reaching for the clouds above.
One needle of twisted metal towered above all the others, a slender spike of iron that seemed to pierce the sky. It was impossibly tall, the highest towers of Southbank seeming like dots beside it. It took her a moment to recognise a shape in the water, at the tower’s base. The twisted remains of Tower Bridge, half sunken in the Thames. The tower had grown from the spot where the Shard once stood. Nothing of that fine sliver of glass remained.
“Did we do all this?” she said, looking over at Justin. Immediately she wished she hadn’t spoken. In the shock of it all, she had forgotten that he wasn’t hers anymore.
She was surprised to see him turn to her and nod.
“God… It’s horrible,” she said.
“No. It’s beautiful,” he said, his eyes shining with earnest intensity. “We’ve changed the world. Everywhere, everyone will know about this. They can’t hide, they can’t forget about it. It’s too big, too strange. It’s… Impossible.”
“Why would you want that?” she said.
“Think about it Rachael. No one will ever suffer the way we did. They’ll finally understand. They’ll see the world as it is.”
She said nothing. She had nothing to say. She just stared at her city, so monstrously transformed, not sure if she was astonished or appalled.
She noticed the sound of the ships engines rising in pitch. They were were descending, the prow beginning to gently incline towards the tallest of the spires. Towards the Seed.
Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.