The pair of large black horses had raised up to stomp their hooves down onto where the young man lay. Darting back and forth, he tried to roll aside, but the mud and grass in which he lay seemed to clutch at his skin and clothes. Striking once, then twice, the horses missed, only destroying the tendrils of grass that had quickly whipped around him, holding him immobile. The black stallions reared up once more, thrusting their hooves towards William’s chest when the young man spasmed awake from the nightmare with a garbled cry. He rolled onto his side with a dazed groan, the throbbing from a thousand drums in the back of his head reminding him – he had awoke from one nightmare only to find himself living in another.
The young man instinctively tried to reach up and wipe his eyes, only his hands remained where they were, behind his back. Slowly, the veil of fog lifted from his mind. Snatches of memory danced like ghosts at the edge of his perception. A fight in the cemetery, shouts of anger, flashes of white hot pain, then the rough feel of rope while he was being bound, all taunted him with a complete picture of what happened.
Grunting, William struggled to right himself from a wooden floor, slick with some nameless mucus. After two tries, he managed to get his feet under him, brace against the wall and push up into a sitting position. He tugged experimentally at the rope bonds. They were still secure, however, his feet were unbound. That told him his captors were not worried about him walking away.
Despite the fact he could not really see, the young man looked around in the pitch-black darkness and sniffed the air. The room still smelled of rotten cabbage, an overpowering odor that made William’s stomach turn. He slowly took shallow breaths until he became numb to the smell. He leaned heavily against the wall, flexing his fingers to try and bring some sense of life back. The walls were wooden and seemed familiar. “Only one way ta know,” he muttered to himself, slowly sidestepping along the wall, feeling his way with half-numbed fingers.
Eventually, he found what he was hoping for: the top edge of a loose set of boards tucked away in one corner. With the tips of his fingers, he could just feel the edge of a steel nail protruding from one of them. That meant they were keeping him in the same room. Earlier, he had been awake long enough to find this nail and loose boards before the Irishmen found him and knocked him out cold.
William stood stock still in the darkness, listening for any sound, any indication that he was about to be discovered like last time. The seconds ticked by slowly. Finally satisfied no one was about to enter, he squatted down on his heels, feeling behind him for where the nail was. Doggedly, he sawed at the rough hemp rope, occasionally pausing every few minutes to try and pull the severed rope in two.
On the fourth tug, the rope snapped with a dry, brittle shearing sound that, to William, seemed to echo throughout the room. Quickly, he pulled his hands around in front and massaged his wrists to encourage a better sense of feeling into them.
“Now, just where in the bloody hell am I?” William asked the pitch darkness. As feeling returned to his fingers, he reached out and carefully ran his hands along the walls. They were primarily wooden, with the occasional odd metal band nailed in place. He slowly explored one of the pieces of metal.
“What’d they put these in here for?” he whispered to himself. Unfortunately, he had no good answer. He reached down, then up. The metal straps seemed to run the height of the walls from the wooden floor to the ceiling, which he could not reach.
Eventually, with a dissatisfied grunt, he moved on. A minute later, his fingers encountered the frame of what could only be a door. Unfortunately it was closed, with no handle on his side. Stubbornly, he continued exploring, only to discover that not only was there no handle, the hinges were on the other side. He rapped his knuckles on the rough wood out of frustration. The door sounded quite thick.
“Well, I’m not gettin’ out that way,” he grumbled. With a heavy sigh, he extended his hands to the wall and continued his painstaking search in the heavy darkness.
Finally, he found what he wanted – a set of boards that seemed to be either swollen or otherwise an ill-fit for the wall. He felt around the discernable edge. The boards, three wide planks in total, extended out just far enough that he could get a purchase with his fingers. Slowly, he tugged. Inch by inch, the boards pulled away from where they had been hastily nailed in place until they came free of the wall.
Twice while working, William had to stop when he heard voices nearby. He could not hear what they were saying, but he recognized the tone and pitch. They belonged to the two men that had attacked him at Greyfriars. Both times the voices receded quickly into silence. Fortunately, they had no apparent interest in checking on his well-being this time.
Removing the boards exposed a hole, easily three feet wide and two feet tall, that reeked of coal dust. William grinned. If this was a coal chute, and where he stood was an old coal bin, the chute ought to take him up and out. At the very least, he would be out of the room. Though why there were rotten cabbages in an old coal bin, he just could not understand.
With a shrug, he got down on his hands and knees in the thin layer of slime coating the floor and crawled up the coal chute. A moment later, William tumbled out the other end, face stained black and eyes burning from coal dust.
He half-collapsed out of the entrance to the chute, having the last-minute presence of mind to thrust out a hand and catch the small coal-stained door before it could slam shut in the silent room. Carefully, he eased the door back into its resting place, then looked around.
Open crates, some as large as five feet on a side, were haphazardly clustered about the room. Illuminated in the dusty, stale air by weak shafts of light leaking through the boards far above, their contents sat silently forgotten. From steam engine pistons, turbine fan blades, stout wool and cotton thread to industrial strength needles, all manner of unusual materials were collecting dust. In general, they shared one common trait – most were in need of repair.
The young man looked up. The wood was old, but not rotten. Here and there, sections of pipe ran in groups of two or three along the ceiling, eventually vanishing upward through rough-cut holes in the aged wood above William’s head. Distantly, machinery was clattering along its repetitive way, but what kind, he had no idea.
He put a hand over his mouth and coughed at the dust assailing his nose. The young man assumed, based on the pipes and crates, he was in a basement of some kind. Where, he had no idea. However, if it was a basement, William knew it had to have at least one or more way out, especially with such large crates laying about. Slowly, carefully, he navigated the maze of boxes until ahead he saw the dim outline of stairs leading up.
“Finally,” he muttered to himself, racing past the last few crates towards freedom.
“Sure we can’t be sellin’ just one more?” Conor’s Irish accented voice whined through the gloom.
William immediately ducked down, scurrying into a dark space beneath the stairs. He closed his eyes a moment, silently repressing a frustrated sigh.
“I swear, I gotta be cursed,” the young man muttered to himself in the darkness.
“Use yer head,” Liam snapped back to his accomplice, “we don’t dare.”
The pair of killers lumbered out of the darkness into view from William’s new hiding place. Liam labored at pulling a long, wooden wheelbarrow behind him. Conor had no cart, but carried Lydia Olivander in his arms, where she dangled like an oversized rag doll. In the cart two figures were slumped over in a pile, however William could not make out who they were.
Liam set the wheelbarrow down on its stubby front legs. He flexed his fingers, rubbing them as if they ached from the work, and scowled at his partner, “them peelers are sniffin’ around far too close for me comfort. I doubt that they’ll notice the old lady or the kid, but ye never know. And ye rightly know we can’t go and sell off that Olivander girl. I was right there, just like ye were, when the sawbones told us she had plans for her.”
Conor stared at Lydia’s limp form with a sour, regretful look, then rolled his eyes with a sigh. “Fine, fine.”
Beneath the stairs, William squinted to make out who was on the wheelbarrow. It was useless. The silhouettes of the two figures gave nothing away as to their actual identities. Frustrated, William eased out from beneath the stairs, crawling through long shadows until he stopped behind a stack of crates four feet away from the resurrection men.
He glanced up warily at the tarnished steel gears precariously balanced above him. Satisfied that they were not about to fall on him, he slowly leaned down and peeked around the rough-hewn crates for the two Irishmen and their burdens.
William strained to make out any details, but the shadows were just too dark. Then, just before the young tracker was going to try and move again, Liam picked up the wheelbarrow by the handles and slowly wheeled it forward a step. In a shaft of dim light, William could see the two figures, a young boy whom he did not recognize and an older woman. It was the woman that made William’s heart thud in his chest.
It was Mrs. Givens, the flower grower whom he had spoken with just the other day. William shivered from a rush of nerves and cold sweat.
Liam set the wheelbarrow down to rub his sore hands again. “At least that bloody cap’n’s out of the way. By now he ought to be gone, or at least getting ready ta shove off.”
Conor chuckled evilly, “oh, I’d be sayin’ so!”
Liam gave his partner a nasty look, “What did ya do?”
“What?” Conor asked in surprise. “I didn’t do nothing, ‘cept leave the note with the body of the boarding house woman ta scare off that Cap’n.”
“Ya bloody damn fool!” Liam exploded. He balled his hands into fists, nearly striking Conor, but stopped himself with obvious effort. “Ya were only supposed ta be doin’ that if he didn’t leave Edinburgh!” The Irishman ran a hand though his greasy hair, “bugger me dead, he’ll never leave now.”
“But he wasn’t leavin’!” Conor protested.
“Ye didn’t know that any more’n I did, cause there wasn’t time for the plan to be workin’!” Liam sighed heavily, “all right, well, get the girl to the workshop. I’ll drop these off at the larder with rotten cabbage to cover the smell of dead bodies if either of ’em kick off before we can do ’em in later. We need ta speak to the doctor and see what she’s got planned for these three we’ve caught. Though, she’ll likely kill us now, thank ye very much!”
Conor looked away, red with embarrassment. “Ya, all right, all right.” He shifted Lydia’s weight, which prompted her to grunt slightly as they both vanished into the darkness.
Meanwhile, Liam, muttering angrily under his breath, hefted the wheelbarrow by the handles and quickly hauled it through the shadowy gloom.
William watched the pair leave in opposite directions. He glanced after Conor, then Liam. He could not fight both at once, but separately … perhaps so.
Searching about, he crept out of his hiding place and quickly located a three foot length of wood. Once satisfied with his grip, he turned after Liam who was the closer of the two. William eased quietly up behind the big Irishman.
Liam, from a combination of preoccupation with his own anger and the dull throbbing of machinery overhead, never heard William approach. He never even heard the whistle of the wood, but definitely felt the moment of pain when it struck. The man’s knees buckled under him and he collapsed to the floor, dazed and nearly unconscious.
William quickly set his wooden club aside and checked Mrs. Givens, then the young man in the rough, patched clothing. They were breathing as if deeply asleep. “Some drug o’ some kind, I suppose. You’ll be fine here for a few minutes, but that big bugger, I gotta put him somewhere.”
He looked around and spied a rotten door nearby. Running over, William threw open the latch and yanked hard. The hinges squeaked once as the door swung wide. It was a storage pantry partially filled with old wooden planks. William knew it would not hold Liam for long once he had regained his senses, however it just had to hold him long enough. The young man grabbed the Irishmen by his heels, huffing and puffing while he dragged him into the pantry.
Once he had deposited Liam inside, William shut and bolted the door. Quickly, he ran back to the wheelbarrow. He grabbed the handles and, all too slowly, wheeled it out of sight behind some crates. He studied his handiwork while wiping the nervous sweat from his hands.
“You two’ll keep fine here. Now, I just gotta find the other one,” William said quietly, walking away from the wheelbarrow to recover his wooden club.
“Hey! What’re ya doin’ loose!” A deep Irish voice growled from the darkness .
William spun on his heels, grabbing his club in a swift motion. Behind him, Conor – lacking any sign of Lydia now – grabbed a brass tube of equal length to William’s plank and rushed forward. The two closed the gap between them like a pair of ancient swordsmen, William, his wooden club held low, and Conor brandishing his pipe high over his left shoulder. Conor swung, William ducked, sidestepping to the man’s left. The Irishman’s pipe whistled overhead as William rammed the end of his club forward and up.
Conor grunted as the air exploded out of him in a rush. Staggering forward, he grabbed the edge of a crate and steadied himself before turning around. William was on him in a flash, swinging the shaft of wood down against Conor’s right thigh – the exact spot William remembered kicking the Irishman in the leg before.
Hissing and swearing in pain, Conor collapsed as his leg buckled. William swung again, but this time Conor managed to get his pipe up in time to block the blow. The dry wood finally shattered from all the abuse, breaking into several pieces and ending its usefulness. William immediately tossed a hand-sized chunk of his destroyed club at Conor’s face then bolted away, heading back the way he came.
“I gotta find Miss Olivander and get us all outta here,” William said with a gasp, “or get out and get the constables! Right now, I’d take either.”
He raced on through the basement, searching frantically for any sign of stairs or a door. Anything that would lead him to Lydia or a way out. In his headlong run through the darkness, straps and bolts of cloth battered into him, slowing his progress and his search.
Finally, in the bleak, shadowy gloom he saw the outline of light shaped like a door. Racing over, he ran his hands along the wooden surface, locating the handle. He turned it, jerking the door open in haste. The room inside, and its contents, stopped him cold.
The room beyond was small, perhaps only five feet on a side and ten feet across, at best. Cabinets and shelves, heavy with countless jars, large glass batteries and a few books made the room seem compact and terrifyingly close. However, it was the middle of the room that chilled his blood.
A lone table comprised of nothing more than rusted metal legs and a bloody wooden top dominated the room. Leather straps dangled from the table like tendrils from a sleeping squid. Atop the dirty, stained surface lay the still form of Lydia Olivander.
William slowly walked in, his mind rushing to cope with the horror before him. All around him, diagrams hung from shelves and cabinet doors. Designs and drawings detailed autopsies and mechanical devices of all kinds. Jars filled with light and dark oily fluids decorated the shelves, sagging their thin wood from the weight. Just to his right, a series of mason jars each held a heart suspended in some yellowish liquid. One of the hearts was attached to a set of wires and a small, crowfoot glass battery equally as large as the mason jar.
Next to the hearts, a long jar was set apart. It held the same yellowish fluid, but inside floated a round brass ball with a set of cables that dangled out the back. William took a step closer. Suddenly, the brass cover split open revealing a clockwork eye! He jerked back, stumbling sideways in his haste. A cold chill ran along his spine when the eye watched him, and blinked.
William looked quickly away, then jumped in fright. A smaller table that was out of sight of the door supported a dismembered clockwork dog, only partially covered in fur. Cables and springs hung loose like severed tendons, giving the body a surreal and grotesque appearance. The young man grabbed the edge of a counter, taking a long deep breath to steady his ragged nerves. He glanced over at Lydia. Much to his relief she was breathing softly as if asleep.
“Get away from her!” Conor roared, lunging into the room.
William spun in surprise, immediately ducking as Conor swung his pipe at the young man’s head. The two danced about the table, Conor swinging one way, then the other while William dodged, keeping the brute just out of arm’s reach.
Desperately, William reached out, blindly selecting a random jar from a shelf. Without a second thought, he hurled it at the Irishman’s head, bolting for the open door.
Conor batted the jar aside with a snarl only to have it shatter, depositing its bluish fluid all over his right arm. He lunged for William, latching onto his shirt collar. William twisted in the big man’s grasp, swinging frantically for Conor’s bad leg. Only this time, Conor was prepared.
“Not again!” Conor snapped, slamming a hard fist across William’s mouth before the young man could land his own blow. William’s head jerked abruptly to one side and his body twitched. His mind fought like a wild animal against the unstoppable darkness while his body flailed about weakly trying to defend itself. Conor struck the young man repeatedly until William sagged to the floor.
William grabbed the leg of the table on which Lydia rested, struggling to rise as he could dimly see Conor preparing to hit him again. Suddenly, a beefy hand grabbed Conor’s arm, blocking the attempt.
“That’ll be enough o’ that!” Liam snarled. “Remember, he’s gotta stay alive till Hunter’s outta the way. Even then, he belongs ta her.”
At last William’s strength gave way. He sighed once, and with a half-frustrated sob, glanced up at Lydia’s sleeping form, “Bloody hell, I’m sorry,” he mumbled through swelling lips, “I tried … I really tried.”
Then, the soothing bliss of unconsciousness claimed him.