Authors: Jenna Burtenshaw
‘Trust me. I have a better way in,’ said Edgar.
Edgar set off to walk the short distance to the city’s encircling river. As rain clouds lingered overhead, it was dark enough for them to go unnoticed so long as they did not move too quickly.
Silas might have known how the wardens worked, but Edgar had a few tricks of his own. Every warden posted on the walls carried a light with them at all times. If you could see a lantern, a warden could see you. He kept a close eye upon two fiery lights, waited for one to disappear into the shelter of a watchpost and tracked the second as it moved out of sight behind a raised section of the wall’s battlements. ‘Follow me.’
He crouched at the edge of the riverbank and slithered down its steep side. A thin trail of bricks had been sunk into the mud beside the water and he walked along them with Silas close behind. From what Edgar had heard, there were at least twenty secret ways in beneath those walls; all he had to do was find one.
The river was clean and webbed with ice along its shallower edges. The water rushed over layers of submerged rocks and splashed over Edgar’s boots as he picked his way along its slippery course. He was not quite sure what he was looking for, but as long as the bricks remained underfoot he was sure he was heading the right way. He held on to the muddy banks for balance and soon his fingers touched something that was not meant to be there. Pressed flat into the steep bank was a slab of stone caked in a layer of mud, and beside it was a slice of rusted metal.
‘This is it.’ Edgar felt a sudden pang of guilt about showing Silas a pathway people had used to hide from him and his wardens. ‘Er . . . don’t tell anyone I told you about this,’ he said.
Silas’ wide shoulders blotted out the moonlight and his eyes shone with a faint grey glow. ‘Your secret is safe,’ he said, with the slightest hint of a smile.
Edgar pulled at the metal door and a glut of stale air gusted from a passageway on the other side. ‘The land out here is covered in graves,’ he said. ‘People emptied a few of the larger crypts ages ago, hollowed them out and cut tunnels into them.’
‘While no doubt casting any bones they found into the river,’ Silas said with a hint of disgust. ‘I thought I had brought down the last of these passageways.’
‘You knew about them?’
‘Not all of them, clearly. I would have found this one, given time.’
Silas bent down and entered a space that was too low for him to stand in, but high enough for someone to
scramble along at speed if they needed to. The passageway was neatly made. The walls were perfectly straight, running directly towards the city, making it easy to navigate without a light. Edgar followed him inside, his boots squelching through a layer of mud where moisture had leached in from the land above.
They kept walking until the soft glow of a street lantern silhouetted Silas’ body up ahead. A small door led out into a narrow alleyway, barely wide enough for two people to stand side by side. The tunnel had cut straight through the foundations of the outer and inner walls, and into the very edges of the city.
Silas had spent most of his adult life within Fume. He had patrolled it as a warden, returned to it as a soldier, and fled through it as a traitor. Despite everything that had happened to him there, he felt as if he were returning home.
‘This entrance is badly hidden,’ he said as Edgar joined him in the open air. ‘The wardens should have found this tunnel.’
‘It’s a good job they didn’t.’
‘My men do not make mistakes.’
‘They’re not your men,’ Edgar reminded him. ‘This isn’t your problem any more.’
Silas walked down the alleyway, whispered something to his crow and sent it fluttering up above the rooftops before he headed straight out into a lantern-lit street.
‘Wait!’ said Edgar. ‘You can’t go out there.’
Silas walked into the centre of the road and stood there within full sight of anyone who might be looking out of
the houses nearby. He was standing in one of the older districts of the city. Memorial towers rose from the ground all around him like fingers clawing their way out of the earth. Their old stones leaned in towards each other, while their upper levels gradually crumbled beneath the weight of time. High up in their furthest reaches, statues and cracked gargoyles looked down over the streets. Silas could tell exactly where he was from the skyline alone. It all appeared exactly as it should have been, except for one detail.
‘Where is everyone?’ asked Edgar.
‘There are people here,’ said Silas, looking at the buildings around the square. To his right, a curtain moved. A shadow passed across a pale window directly ahead. ‘They are hiding from something.’
‘Maybe they saw you coming.’
‘Not this time.’
With the city so quiet, the sound of carriage wheels carried freely through the air. Silas moved instantly and was already at the edge of the square before Edgar even realised he had gone. A warden patrol was due to march through that section of the city, but instead of hiding away from the oncoming vehicle, Silas sought it out. There were no wardens in sight, only a lone taxi carriage searching futilely for a fare.
Fast footsteps sprinted along an alley to Silas’ left and Edgar ran out into the light, his face relaxing with relief when he spotted Silas again.
‘Warn me before you do that next time,’ he said. ‘I almost lost you.’
Silas looked past him, his eyes settling upon the frontage of a theatre that should have been filled with people at that time of night. Its doors were closed, its tall windows black, except for a small face peering out from behind the glass.
‘Remain . . . still.’
‘Why?’ Edgar froze at once as Silas walked past him.
The girl’s breath did not steam the pane as her nose pressed against it. She blinked as Silas watched her and her eyes were touched with spirit light. She was there, as clear as any living creature, but her life had ended long ago.
Unable to resist any longer, Edgar turned to see what was happening. ‘There’s someone in there!’ he said. ‘Don’t let her see you.’
‘You can see that girl?’
‘Of course I can.’ Edgar noticed the chains locking the doors together. There was no one with the girl as far as he could see. ‘Do you think she’s all right?’
‘As well as she can be,’ said Silas. ‘She is dead.’
The girl drifted back into the walls as Silas’ dark presence approached her, until the theatre’s glass door was empty once again. Edgar stared, unable to believe what he had just seen.
‘She was . . .’
‘You should not have been able seen her,’ said Silas. ‘This could be why people are fleeing the city and hiding in fear. They are not running from the wardens. They are running from the dead.’
Edgar glanced back at the theatre and saw the little
girl’s face, just for a moment, before she dissipated again.
Silas soon caught up to the idling taxi carriage, which was standing at an empty crossroads. He grabbed the side of the driver’s chair and pulled himself up beside him. The man’s face crumpled with fear.
‘Do you know who I am?’
The man nodded silently. His hands, wrapped within the reins, were quivering.
Silas signalled for Edgar to climb into the back. ‘You will take us where I tell you. You will not stop unless I instruct you to do so.’
Silas patted the man hard on the shoulder, making him wince with fright, then stepped down and entered the carriage, sitting with his back to the driver’s seat. He slid open the small hatch between him and driver and gave his orders. ‘The Museum of History,’ he said.
The driver kept his head down, and stirred his horse into action.
‘Why are we going there?’ asked Edgar.
‘Preparation, Mr Rill, is everything.’
As they drove, the streets they moved through gradually became more populated. Not everyone was ready to give up everything they had earned because stories were being told of the restless dead. Edgar tugged the short curtains closed on his side of the carriage, not wanting to be seen by anyone outside, but Silas kept his open. The people of Fume did not need to see him to know that he was there. His presence oozed from that carriage like oil across water. He had not been inside the city for some
time. Now he was back, it would not take long for word to spread.
‘The wardens are going to find us,’ said Edgar, unable to hold his nerve with so many eyes upon the carriage. A cluster of paper notices were pinned to a panel behind his seat and he pulled one down, holding up a small wanted poster with drawings of Silas’ and Kate’s faces printed upon it. ‘People don’t ride straight through Fume when there is a price on their head.’
Silas did not look at the poster. ‘I do,’ he said.
When they arrived at the museum, Edgar stood looking up at the huge old building with its long windows of green glass while Silas spoke to their driver. Edgar was surprised that he and his horse did not just trundle away into the night the moment they stepped out. Whatever Silas had said to him, he waited there quietly while the two of them slipped inside.
The museum’s main hall was a cracked, dirty shell of what it had once been. Floorboards were torn up and cast against the walls. Bones from old exhibits were strewn across the floor, tangled in wires that had once suspended them from the ceiling, and in the centre of the floor was a listening circle: a carved ring of stone symbols left by the Skilled long before that abandoned place had ever been used as a museum.
Edgar had bad memories of that hall. Silas marched straight across it, heading for the winding corridors and the staircase leading to the floors below, while Edgar stayed close to the walls, still wary of the circle that he had once seen open up and reveal its true purpose as an
active gateway into the half-life, letting him, Kate and Silas see deep into the realm of the restless dead.
Silas’ voice, calling him, echoed around the vast empty building and Edgar could not shake the feeling that there were eyes watching him from the high galleries above. He hurried after Silas, lit a candle from the wall and followed the voice down through numerous cellar floors, along into the deep part of the museum that Silas called his home.
‘Get yourself cleaned up.’ Silas stepped out of a room up ahead and threw a towel into Edgar’s hand. ‘There is running water in there. Clean clothes through the door opposite. You have ten minutes.’
Edgar’s clothes were filthy. The coat was not too bad, but the rest almost had to be peeled off his body, they were so engrained with mud, blood and sand. He washed quickly and was soon clean and dry. He scuffed his hair dry with the towel and sneaked into the second room.
The candle wavered in the doorway and Edgar wasted time just staring at a maze of garments hanging from slim wooden rails. He had the pick of anything from leather-strapped soldiers’ uniforms to robes belonging to past councilmen. Tempting as it was to choose one of the uniforms, Edgar settled on a black waistcoat with deep blue edges that hung down long at the back. The trousers he chose fit well enough, but he bulked out the waistcoat with a vest and two shirts layered on top of one another. It took a while to find boots that fitted, and he topped it all with a dark blue coat that reached to his knees. When he was ready, he stepped back into the corridor, where Silas was already waiting.
Gone were Silas’ bloodstained and travel-worn clothes. His dark hair was washed and loose. He wore a blood-red shirt, black trousers and polished boots, and had a short black coat with silver buttons sweeping from his right shoulder to the scabbard holding his black-bladed sword against his left hip. Edgar might have taken the opportunity to wear clothes fit for Fume’s upper classes, but Silas looked as though he were truly one of them.
‘The driver is waiting,’ said Silas, walking straight past him.
‘Where are we going?’
‘To help this city.’
True enough, the carriage driver was still waiting outside. When Silas appeared at the top of the museum steps, the thin man dropped from his seat and held the door open for them both to climb in. ‘Sirs,’ he said, with a nervous nod.
Edgar smiled awkwardly, but the driver dropped his eyes at once.
Silas did not have to give an order. The driver already knew where they were going, and the moment they were seated the carriage was on the move again. Edgar began to feel trussed up and uncomfortable in his unfamiliar clothes. The route the carriage followed, however, was all too familiar. As the gargoyle-guarded streets passed swiftly by, a knotted feeling of dread twisted in his stomach. He knew this route. He had travelled this way before.
‘I know where we’re going!’ he said suddenly. ‘We can’t go there. You have to stop the carriage.’ He leaned forward and shouted at the driver. ‘Stop the carriage!’
‘He will not listen to you.’
should listen. This isn’t a plan. This is insane!’
At last the carriage stopped at the end of a long straight street leading to a place that Edgar knew well. The driver knocked open the little hatch behind Silas. ‘Are you sure about this, sir?’
The hatch clicked shut and the carriage continued on, climbing up a slight hill towards a collection of grand ancient buildings circled by an old iron fence. Edgar sank back in his seat as they stopped in front of a heavily guarded gate. Wardens converged upon the vehicle and Silas opened the window as a hooded man’s face filled the glass. The warden looked in at the two passengers and his eyes widened in surprise. For a second, Edgar thought he was going to order his men to attack, but instead he bowed slightly in Silas’ direction.
‘Officer. Open the gate,’ said Silas.
The warden stepped back and immediately raised a hand to his men. Two of them pushed the gates aside, opening up a clear path into the most protected part of Fume, the chambers of Albion’s High Council.
‘This has to be a trap,’ said Edgar. ‘They wouldn’t just let us in.’
The carriage horse walked slowly forward, and Edgar spotted three more wardens standing close by. The carriage rolled past their post, through an archway and across a courtyard, heading directly towards the chambers’ main door.