They had lost three days. It had taken them almost a full one to find their way back out of Ostevadel and then two more to reach the dilapidated train station in which they were currently collapsed. Peter had stopped several times along the way to do some shopping without money, as he liked to call it. He had outfitted Lori with some nice, probably unreasonably expensive clothes that were quite close to her size, if not exactly so. She had given him instructions concerning the footwear and was now basking in the comfort of one high-end sneaker. Aidan was unrecognizable in a long coat, gloves, and cowboy boots. Peter had presented these to him with the rationalization that boots helped to hide his skinless ankles and would not betray him as would sliding socks, but Aidan suspected the fool simply wanted him to look ridiculous. He would never admit it, but for some reason the boots felt right.
His face had been another matter entirely. He was wrapped in medical bandages and hidden behind sunglasses like some H.G. Wells manifestation. It was crudely put together and rather obnoxious for a disguise, but masquerading as the victim of some terrible accident was better than walking around bare-faced—literally. The heat of the layers was no bother to him, and so there he was, a bundled corpse.
It was an In-shift train station. Peter had forbidden them from riding Lyle’s Way, even though it would have been a straight shot and a much shorter journey; there was a ninety-nine point nine percent chance of Sir Hugo-friendly spies riding alongside them. Far better to take their chances in the noise and the rush of the living world. It was only supposed to be a three hour train ride; at this point the destination was far more concerning than the journey.
Aidan listened in the muffled silence of his bandages as Peter told Lori about the various company members of The Masque. Most of them he had met or at least heard of, but now and then a few new ones popped up and made him tune in a bit more. He learned about two pairs of Russian twins who were not only incredible gymnasts, but also able to completely detach various body parts if necessary. Apparently Sir Hugo had ordered them put back together after they had been drawn and quartered. It was from this story that Aidan learned about the theatre’s surgeon, who evidently was quite skilled.
“You met him once, actually,” Peter said, poking Aidan in the side. He didn’t even feel it through all the sweltering fabric. “He was the doctor on the train. The one with the great big trough scooped down his back.”
Aidan made a vague noise of interest and the fool went on, “The only person who would never let him touch her was the poet. For some reason, she likes that quill right where it is.”
“Where is it?” asked Lori.
“Right in the middle of her damn eye socket.”
“She didn’t want a new eye? Or at least…to let him stitch it up?”
“Nope. Sir Hugo used to make me go and ask her now and then, but she always spat in my face. Which, in this case, is not metaphorical. She’s vicious when she wants to be, that one.”
“Maybe she wants to keep it because it reminds her of what’s wrong with that place,” said Aidan.
Both of them looked at him. “Possible,” said Peter. “You never told me what she said to you.”
He shrugged. The memory of it was clearer now, but the conversation they had shared in his studio still felt private for some reason. Reluctantly, he went over it, doing his best to remember each detail. “She knew I wasn’t Aidan Lawrence. She said she was glad I was back. She said the company was counting on us—on me and Eve and Eastling, that is—to sort things out. Then she mentioned her father.”
Peter frowned, which made Aidan suddenly even more uncomfortable. “You don’t know?”
“No?” said the fool.
“It’s Sir Hugo. She’s his daughter.”
“Whoa,” Lori muttered. “That’s twisted. Did he kill her? Did you kill her?” she asked Peter.
“No! Well, I don’t think so,” he amended. “That is, I don’t remember killing her. I think she was there before I was. Which…if she’s his daughter…that makes sense, I suppose. Did she say anything else? Anything helpful?”
“Just that there were people who could uproot him.”
“Uh, Bare Bones, this is information that you perhaps should have shared.”
Aidan sighed and imagined what it would be like to be able to roll his eyes. “She said madness could get rid of him. Then she mentioned death, fear, wickedness, and something else. It made no sense.”
Peter fell silent, pondering. Lori glanced at the station ceiling, furrowing her brown as she thought. Aidan didn’t have anything more to contribute than they. He supposed that it could be some riddle; maybe they would need to incorporate all of those things into their strategy of extracting Sir Hugo from The Masque. And that was another thing; how in the world would it be done? Did they need an exorcism? Some Voodoo ritual? Pagan rite? Suddenly Peter’s proposed plan of confidence and improvisation seemed extremely precarious.
A few yards away, a scene was taking place at the ticket window. It caught Aidan’s attention not only because the volume of the people involved was escalating, but also because one of them was familiar.
“I’m not going to say it again,” the clerk snapped. “Passes cost money, and if you don’t have any, you’re not getting one!”
“But it’s going where I am,” pleaded a small voice. It belonged to a man with no shoes. With olive-toned skin and dark, dark hair. He was wearing different clothes, but when at last he turned away from the window in defeat, Aidan’s heart sank to see his eyes full of blue ice. Their gazes met in an instant, and just like the look of helplessness and confusion was replaced by an iron thirst for blood.
“Peter!” Aidan jumped to his feet, pulling the fool up with him. In the same moment, Lori saw Despernot and grabbed the fool’s other arm.
“Let me go, you idiots!” he yelled. “What in hell’s hammock’s gotten into–”
Despernot crossed the space between them in a few quick steps, weaving through the crowd as if it was not there. Aidan might have had a chance to run, but there was no way Lori could have kept up. They were trapped.
He stood very close, his blue eyes pinning Lori in place like a bug in a shadowbox. A muscle twitched under his eye and he smiled the nervous grin of a sick dog and pulled back paper thin lips. “I’ve come for your pelt.”
Peter yanked his arms free and plunged a hand into his coat pocket. By the time Despernot had a hand around Lori’s throat and was beginning to twist and squeeze, the fool had a gun pressed to his head. “You let her go,” he said quietly, ignoring the shrieks of bystanders, “or you’re going to be leaving your brain behind on your trip back to the road.”
Despernot’s grip did not relax, but he turned his grin to the fool. “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife, but couldn’t–”
Blood and bits of tissue splattered the wall. The roar of the gun echoed through the station, and Despernot’s body collapsed, dragging Lori with it. She cried out in pain as he landed on her bad leg.
“How long have you had that?” Aidan asked, helping him to lift Lori from the mess.
“I picked it up during my shopping spree,” the fool replied. “Seemed like a wise precaution. We knew he was after her, after all.”
“Nicely done….is he moving?”
Despernot’s back arched and he took a gasping breath. More people screamed. They could hear police whistles getting closer, shoving their way through the panicking throng. “Carry her,” Aidan said. “Now!” He took the gun and did what he could to help Peter scoop Lori into his arms, and then they were off. He had been afraid people would try to stop them, but the living seas parted—most likely a result of the smoking weapon in Aidan’s grip. They fled the station in a blind rush, followed by an agonized cry of despair that grated at the backs of their skulls.
“He should be back on the road!” Peter cried as they ran. “What the hell is wrong with him?!”
“Who cares?!” shouted Lori.
Half a mile later, their feet passed over a pocket of Out-shift and they stumbled headlong into somebody’s garden. Peter stopped for a moment to get his bearings, while Aidan remained facing the way they had come with the gun ready at eye-level. Some small part of him found the feel of the weapon just as familiar as the boots. “What was I, a cowboy?” he muttered to himself.
“What’s that?” said Peter.
The fool turned on the spot a few more times and then nodded. “I know this place. There’s a house up there, and it belongs to an old family. There are bodies all over the grounds, from hundreds of years back, which is why-”
“Hey, maybe we should be getting further than one shift away from him?” Lori interrupted. Her voice was slightly shrill. Fearful tears glistened on her cheeks.
“Right, sorry. Like I said. I know this place. There’s another shift just up the road, but it…” he sighed in defeat. “It leads straight to Lyle’s Way.”
“Between spies and him, I’ll take the spies.”
“But our plan, not to mention the element of surprise-”
“GO!” she screamed wildly. Peter swallowed his doubts and began to run, with Aidan following close behind.
(TCOS will continue next Monday!)