Now Reading ‘The Seventh Knife’
The steel wrench missed Noel St. Claire’s head by inches, then clattered against floor somewhere behind him. Instinct made him jerk away in time, and he let out a slow breath.
His aim is improving, St. Claire observed. I need to lay hands on him before he improves any more.
St. Claire had cornered Farrow in one of the Britannia’s long workshops below the passenger decks. A claw hammer sailed through the dim gloom. This time St. Claire ducked for the relative safety between two shelves. The hammer rang against the leg of a shelf, then skidded across the deck.
“You’ve nowhere to go, monsieur!” St. Claire called out. “Whatever you and the Duchesse have been planning, it’s over!”
Past shelves loaded with boxes and crates of supplies, St. Claire could see Farrow. The sailor was wide-eyed, and acting like a caged animal looking for an escape. Farrow glanced in the direction of St. Claire’s voice, then darted over to a set of pressurized pipes for the steam engine that powered the room. He yanked on the tarnished chains. A loud hiss answered him, and a thick cloud of white, billowing steam filled the room. It did not block St. Claire’s view, it just complicated it like a thick fog.
“You’ve no damn idea what you’re talking about!” Farrow spat. “It’s not over by a league.”
St. Claire squinted against the warm steam, and took a slow sidestep to his right. That kept at least two shelves heavy with parts between himself and Farrow. Most of the boxes were filled with pipes, and were heavy enough to withstand a thrown hammer or two. St.Claire’s position also kept himself between Farrow and the sole door out of the workshop.
The other possible escape was a pair of large windows on one bulkhead that gave a majestic outside view. They were also double-paned, and thick. Even if Farrow could open one, the only place they led was to the ocean. A fall from their current height would be as lethal as falling head first off a building to a cobblestone road.
“Come now, mon ami, how can that be?” called St. Claire with a light tone. “You’ve no escape. And we know the Duchesse is driving the problems aboard. She is on the run, and will eventually be caught before she can cause any more mischief, or accomplish whatever the pair of you set out to do.” He swallowed the bitter taste the next words conjured. “No matter what you’ve done, you could help us stop her. It would go in your favor with any authorities later.”
St. Claire took another step between the shelves, then scowled at the fog. His quarry was a dim blur, half-hidden by steam, a tool locker, and a large gas cannister. The young man adjusted his grip on the needler pistol. It was not his preferred weapon, but he knew how to use it. He just needed a clear shot where a ricochet would not risk setting the airship on fire. In a workshop like this, at least a dozen or more items were volatile. That meant he needed Farrow in the middle of the room, at best. Certainly not near that tool locker, where most workshops kept their precious few acetylene canisters. From across the room, St. Claire heard the tool locker protest as Farrow eased it open.
“How’s your big friend?” Farrow asked, wiping sweat from his face. The workshop had already turned into a sauna. He sunk his hands into the locker, and rummaged through the tools. “Skin looking a bit peaked? Maybe gray? It’s nasty stuff Her Grace cooked up. Works quick enough, depending on how many needles got to his skin.”
The memory of the gray-black welts on Parker’s skin made St. Claire clench his jaw until it ached. He did his best to ignore Farrow’s comments, and instead focused on how to capture the man. If, for no other reason, he might know whether the Duchess had formulated a cure for her hellish toxin. But, deep down, St. Claire felt the attractive lure to end the foul man’s life.
“He’s not your concern, you dégénéré fils de pute,” St. Claire snapped back.
Farrow stepped away from the locker with a long object in his hands. Before St. Claire could see what the man had found, Farrow slipped behind a nearby set of shelves beside the tool locker.
“Hit a nerve there, eh?” Farrow replied, his voice echoing through the mist. “But that’s the point of all this theater. Hitting a nerve.” Another few steps put himself behind another of the ever present shelves. Then misfortune stepped in to provide a thick gout of steam, obscuring the man from view.
St. Claire frowned, and rubbed his eyes with the back of a hand. He scowled at the humid fog, wishing he could slice it apart. “What are you talking about?”
There was no answer. Uneasy at not hearing anything out of Farrow, St. Claire continued along his original course, listening for any sign of his quarry. His chest tightened with anxiety.
What if Farrow slipped past me? The brief thought sent chills along his spine. If Farrow had slipped out, it would take some time to find him in a ship the size of the Britannia. In that time, the man could cause plenty of trouble.
St. Claire took a gamble, and eased out beyond the edge of the shelves. He was hoping to catch some hint that Farrow was nearby. A footstep, or even a lingering shadow through the clouds of humid, white steam would do. In an instant, there was motion to his left. A pipe wrench cut through the steam, careening for his head. St. Claire jumped backwards, and the wrench deformed a metal corner of a shelf with a hard bang.
“Damnit!” Farrow snarled.
St. Claire snapped off a quick shot of needles, but Farrow was a second faster. The Britannia sailor grabbed a nearby box, and shoved it from the shelf the moment St. Claire fired. Needles hammered the box, instead of Farrow. The box tumbled over, spilling bolts onto the deck in a thunderstorm of sound. The Britannia sailor rushed forward, brandishing his pipe wrench. St. Claire backpedaled to put safe distance between them.
“What am I talking about? What do you think I’m talking about?” Farrow snapped. He swung again, but St. Claire was ready. He ducked aside, and the wrench sailed past. It crashed into another box, sending it flying off a shelf. “All of this was to hit nerves. Make people react. Her Grace wanted everyone distracted, isolated, and above all, out of her way. That way she could get at what she’s wanted all this time, your spitfire engineer, Moira Wycliffe. She’s the prize, or at least the key to it.”
“Moira would never give the time of day to the likes of the Duchesse!” St. Claire snarled. “She knows the Duchesse’s history with Capitaine Hunter!” He squeezed off a shot, but he was still too close. Farrow jumped back a step, and the darts peppered the shelves harmlessly.
“Which was why Her Grace wanted the spitfire cooled off, and broken down. More ‘manageable’, is what she said. That’s where I came in. To get close, befriend her, then break her.” Farrow raced around the shelves before St. Claire could open fire again. He closed the gap in seconds.
St. Claire snarled at the man, and fired twice more. Needles grazed Farrow’s arm, but only scratched him. The electrical charge in each dart did not have time to do more than make the man twitch for a second. Farrow smashed the pistol out of St. Claire’s hand with the wrench. The needler flew across the workshop, vanishing among the boxes while St. Claire yelled from cracked bones. He staggered backwards, dizzy from the rush of pain. Farrow grinned, stalking toward his wounded prey.
“It wasn’t easy, y’know. She’s a right tough one. Getting her trust, then later jolting her with electricity so I could abduct her. At least I was there before Maris tried to deal with her,” Farrow shrugged. “He’s a bloody one. He would have tried cutting her up to break her spirit. That would have been a damn shame. But he’s easy to manipulate.”
St. Claire heard the man talking, but he was more focused on looking for his pistol. He needed to find it, or any sort of weapon, to even the odds against Farrow. St. Claire ignored the flash of white hot pain from his hand, and ducked down a row of shelves heavy with parts and boxes. After a few steps, he darted across the room, using the steam as Farrow had earlier.
Farrow hesitated as he lost sight of St. Claire. When he heard running footsteps, he turned and continued as if he was on an afternoon stroll. “Imagine my surprise when that electricity did the trick! It terrified the devil out of her.” He gave the pipe wrench an experimental swing, considering the long, heavy tool a moment. “Made my work almost too easy. She seemed to snap pretty hard, too, given the beating she handed out. Nearly broke my jaw! Did you know, she even locked herself in with some of Her Grace’s clockwork terrors. Probably why she tried blowing herself to bits.”
St. Claire darted down another row of shelves, where he recognized a familiar box with arm-length steel pipes. Reaching in, he lifted one, ignoring the pain in his right hand. St. Claire closed his eyes for just a second to see if he had been heard. Farrow stalked not far away but gave no sign that he had noticed anything. St. Claire wiped sweat away from his eyes.
“Where is she?” St. Claire demanded in a loud voice. “I will take you apart, monsieur, for hurting her!” With that said, he eased down another row of shelves, and further out of sight.
Farrow laughed off the threat, then changed course towards the muffled yell from St. Claire. “Well, well. Have a few feelings for the spitfire? Don’t blame you, she’s quite a catch.” He squinted into the steam for any motion. “But, I think you’re a bit late. If Her Grace is right, she’s likely good and broken right now. Ripe for the duchess to swoop in with reassuring, kind words. Might take a little time, but Her Grace will have your spitfire thinking in the right way, soon enough.” Farrow raised his pipe wrench, then took a careful step between the shelves towards a suspicious shadow.
St. Claire darted out of cover, and charged Farrow from behind with an enraged roar. Farrow turned in time to take a shoulder to the ribs that sent him flying backwards into a worktable. He rolled over as St. Claire swung down with his pipe. Farrow raised the wrench to block, but was a second too slow. St. Claire slammed the tool aside. Two more blows later, Farrow had collapsed to the deck, his face an ashen gray. He clutched at his arm in agony. St. Claire loomed over him, fury painted across his dark, tattooed face.
“My arm!” Farrow yelled. “You broke my bloody arm!”
“You were trying to do worse to me,” St. Claire snarled. He took a long breath to rein in his nerves, and his rage. “Where is she, and where is the antidote?”
“Like it’d do you any good!” Farrow spat back. He cradled his broken arm, and moaned in pain.
“Answer the questions!” St. Claire seethed. “Or I’ll get some of the thrice-damned darts myself to use on you!”
“Fine! I don’t know where she is!” Farrow screeched back. “When that utility room blew, I thought she ended herself. When I got in there to check, there wasn’t a body. Not even a trace of one. But there were smudges around the steam pipes running through the ship’s Rat Tube that connected to the utility room. I figured she probably went through there, and deeper into the Britannia’s bowels. So, I let Her Grace know, and she set her clockwork nightmares out searching for her. It’s only a matter of time before she finds your Moira.”
The last bit of information set St. Claire back on his heels from surprise.
Farrow noticed the surprise. “She’s had things done to herself,” he explained through gritted teeth. “Horrid things. It’s why I take her threats seriously when she says I ought to obey or she’ll have her associates turn me into one of her ‘clockwork playthings’.”
St. Claire recovered his wits. The implications were immense. Far broader than he had time to contemplate.
“And the antidote?” He asked.
Farrow looked down at the deck, “There isn’t one. Whoever has been stung by those devil darts, they’re as good as dead.”