Read Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) Online

Authors: Terry Kroenung

Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy

Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) (9 page)

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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“Say, little girl,” the tall soldier, the sergeant, said, stepping toward me, “this here your brother? He’s been lookin’ for his family. Awful scared.”

Since I’d already been spotted, we had to either run for it or bluff. The former meant maybe getting shot in the back by our own nervous sentries, while the latter meant getting closer to that disturbing child than I cared to. His unblinking black eyes seemed as large and round as an ox’s. Pretty and dead at the same time, they made me feel like I stared at an orchid floating in a cesspool.
Fascinatin’, though. I just wanna hold that little boy’s hand and go find his mama for him. Hug him and let him know that everything will be all right.
Without making my mind up to do so, I found myself walking toward the kid.

“Verity, no!” Ernie squeaked, running up my arm. I heard him but kept walking. “Romulus! She’s witched!”

I’m watchin’ a puppet show starrin’ Verity Sauveur. Somebody’s pullin’ her strings and makin’ her move.
Jasper chattered inside my head, but something mixed his words up. They made no sense. Ernie pounded his tiny fists against my cheek, but on I went. Reaching out, probably planning to pick me up like a barley sack and carry me away, Romulus’ mitts found Eddie instead. My stage brother jumped between us, told him to stay put, and followed me.

“Excuse my sister, sergeant,” Eddie said, placing himself a little in front as we reached the soldier. “She just had a fright.” His hand took mine. The moment we touched, the spell blew away. I gasped and stopped dead, startled as if I’d caught myself at the edge of a cliff.

“Fright?” asked the sergeant, eyes darting about. It seemed plain that he worried about Confederate agents more than a lost kid.

“We were chased by some rowdies. They wanted to rob us, I think.”

I jumped in to help him sell it. “We saw a knife and took off runnin’. They gave up about two blocks back. One of ‘em upchucked into a bush. Drunk, I expect.”

The soldier looked like he wanted to get on with his real business. “Well, you kids be careful goin’ back home. Where do you live?”

“Just a little ways west,” Eddie told him. “We were going that way when you stopped us. Folks’ll be waitin up, I expect.”

“All right, then. Take your brother and run along. Be careful.”

“But he’s not our brother, sir,” I said, watching the blonde boy out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t dare look straight at him. “Poor little feller’s so scared, I think he’s mistook us.”

The face the sergeant made said that he didn’t relish the prospect of being stuck with the child. I couldn’t blame him. That kid made me wish I stood on the other side of the ocean from him. “Not your brother?”

“’Fraid not,” said Eddie. “Too bad. Cute kid. Hope you find his mama.”

We backed away, keeping the burly sergeant between us and that disturbing boy, who hadn’t moved a muscle since pointing at me. The short corporal with him hadn’t moved either, or said anything. He seemed frozen to the street. Odd, but no stranger than the rest of my day. With a grumpy sigh the sergeant turned from us and moved back toward his partner.

“That was close,” I whispered when we got back to Romulus.

Eddie nodded. “Too close by half.”

I hugged him. “You saved my bacon, boyo.”

“Had to. Otherwise I’d have to get a new fencing partner. They’re heck to break in.”

Ernie poked his snoot out of my haversack, where he’d been hiding ever since I’d started my trance-walk. “You two’re talkin’ like we’re clear o’ trouble.”

“We’re okay, now,” I said. “Bluffed ‘em good. Let’s go.”

Jasper spoke up, able to talk now that the blonde boy didn’t control me. “Who’s bluffed who? He wasn’t tryin’ to catch us, just slow us down and mark you.”

“Mark me? For who?”

Romulus touched my shoulder and pointed across the street. “For them.”

I frowned and followed his finger. It aimed at the blonde kid, who still pointed at us, still not moving. Now the sergeant stood as motionless as the other soldier. The trio looked like some kind of weird stage tableau. But even weirder was what came at us from the grounds of St. Bart’s.

More eerie little white-blonde kids, almost identical to the first one. At least a dozen of them. Some fell out of the trees like albino raindrops. Others shinnied down the drainpipes of the school, or oozed out of ditches. One slid down the flank of a sleepy horse hitched to a patent medicine wagon. They made no sound at all. My magicked hearing picked up no footsteps, no breathing, no rustling of clothing. Nothing. All of the boys had the same unnatural, long froggy fingers that the first boy had.
I imagine we shouldn’t call ‘em boys. I have a feelin’ in my belly that they’re older than original sin.

None of them blinked their beautiful eyes.

I caught myself beginning to meet the gaze of one of the advancing children. Ernie hung from my hair and poked me in the eye. “Ow!”

“They’re tryin’ to trance yer, missy,” he said, dropping onto my shoulder. “Skedaddle!”

Romulus shoved Eddie and me down the street, toward the river, following the smelly Canal. Our giant protector took up the rear, herding us like a…well, like a dog would herd sheep. We ran hard, but at a pace we could hold for the long haul to the Potomac. Pursuing us with a strange disjointed gait, shoulders rolling and hips following, the boys traveled at about the same speed as us, staying maybe fifty feet behind. The first one had joined them, leaving the Provost soldiers standing like blue statues.

“What…What are they?” I asked Jasper, huffing along. Anyone who saw us would have thought me just a loonie, talking into a tin cup while scampering down the road. Or maybe they’d just write me off as poor Ellen’s child. ‘Verity’s always been pixilated, you know.’

“Bullies,” he told me. “That’s what the Equity calls them. Corrupted mages who do their penance by kidnappin’ and assassinatin’ whoever the Merchantry sends ‘em after. They were caught stealin’ from their masters, or betrayin’ secrets.”

“Secrets? Like what?” It occurred to me that I didn’t have to talk, only think. That gave me more wind for running.

“Things the Honourable Merchantry would rather most people never find out. Like how they nearly destroyed the world. How they manage to profit from every bad thing that happens anywhere. That they plot to make those awful things occur.”

I checked over my shoulder, worried about the Bullies. They were keeping the same distance from us. Why?

“What things?”

“Wars. Plagues. Revolutions. Storms. Earthquakes. Economic panics. You name it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “One group of people causes all that, over the whole wide world?”

“Most of it. When that stuff happens on its own, the Merchantry encourages it, makes it worse, keeps it from stoppin’ too soon.”

“Yeah?”

“And they don’t want people to know they’re behind it all.”

“Don’t folks know anyhow?”

“Some do. Very few. Most of ‘em get bought off or warned off and don’t say anything. The rest get visits from the Bullies.”

Our Bully visit made me suspect that something wasn’t right. They didn’t get any closer or farther away, even if we slowed down for a ditch or a fence. Whenever we changed direction, sped up, walked instead of sprinted, the horrible squad of boys altered with us. What were they up to?

“Ernie,” I asked my mousie friend, “what gives? Why don’t they attack? They outnumber us four-to-one. I know they have magick. Are they just playin’ with us, wearin’ us out so we’ll be easy to take down?”

“P’raps,” said Ernie. “But that’s not how they usually operate. They prefers a quick vicious assault out o’ sight o’ pryin’ eyes.”

We were getting tired. Big and strong as Romulus was, he had too much bulk to be able to move it fast for a long time. His breathing sounded rough. Though Eddie had more stamina, even he drug his feet. I didn’t feel any worse than I had before we’d been jumped, but that might’ve been the Morphageus’ power holding me up. If we didn’t get to the river and whatever safety it offered, standing and fighting might be forced on us. Two kids, a man, and a mouse weren’t the kind of odds I liked in a scrap with those witch-boys.

Bursting out in the open, our little band could see moonlight on the wide Potomac where the canal emptied into it.
OK, so this is our goal. Now what?
The Bullies didn’t miraculously stop because the river lay in sight. In fact, they now sped up a bit, spreading out in an arc so we couldn’t move but in one direction. And I realized just what had been going on. The idea made me sick at my stomach.

“Romulus!” I hissed. “They’ve herded us here, just like Injuns do to buffalo.”

“Don’t I know it, chile,” he nodded, backing up to keep the bullies in sight. “They’s got theirselves a plan.”

“But what is it? There’s nothin’ here.” I waved the cup in a circle. “Just open ground, the river, and---“

That sinking feeling got worse.

“---And Washington’s Monument,” said Eddie and me together, skidding to a stop.

Washington’s haunted Monument, some folks said. All those stories we’d heard about spooky happenings at the half-built tower skittered through my mind again. Guess I shouldn’t have laughed so hard at the kids who’d told us those tales. Because now I saw that I’d have a ghost story of my own to share.


Once upon a time, ten sinister little boys crept out of Washington’s Monument. Their hair the color of a burial shroud and their fingers like those of decayed skeletons…’

We were surrounded by the Bullies.

Close to two dozen of them. They had us backed up against the foul Canal and were creeping in, constricting their line like a noose. Dark as it was, we could still see them. The moon picked out their hair and pasty translucent skin as if they stood under gaslights. But their silence disturbed me more than their appearance. It would have been easier to deal with them if they’d said something, anything. At school the bullies I’d grown used to fighting made all sorts of noisy threats. I had no trouble turning their foolishness against them and confusing their tiny minds.

Romulus stayed out front. I hoped he didn’t planning to sacrifice himself for me. The Marshals of the Equity might make that sort of grand gesture every day, but it would only delay things a little. We needed to get through the line of Bullies and make it to whatever safety the Marshals had arranged.

“Romulus, what’re we gonna do?” I asked, turning my head non-stop to check the line of attackers. “Can we use the Canal? Back up through it and get away? It’s runnin’ water.”

He shook his head and reached into a shirt pocket. “Has to be deep water. The river might just do it, but not the Canal.”

“They’d still come after us,” Ernie added in my ear. “Focus their magick and part the water like the bloody Red Sea.”

“They can do that?” Inside I felt glad, because wading through a river of outhouse leavings didn’t seem much preferable to being tranced by evil mages.

“Ducky, they can do things that’d turn your pretty red hair as white as theirs.”

Romulus laughed. “So can she.” He’d crouched down so low he almost stood on all fours.

I frowned. “Huh?”

“Morphageus,” he said, hefting the small flat item from his pocket. “Now.”

Jasper must’ve been waiting for that, because the instant the word hit my brain the sword blazed into life. My shaky hand held it high for all to see. It made me feel like some kind of Roman god when all the Bullies stopped in their tracks to watch the flaming runes pulse along my blade.
Yeah, who’s a tough guy now!

My superior feeling didn’t last long. All of the Bullies started laughing. A high-pitched cackle, like a flock of ravens.

“They’re just tryin’ to unnerve you, missy,” Ernie said.

“Doin’ a darn good job of it,” I muttered.

“Notice how they never blink?” said Eddie.

“Uh-huh. Spooky.”

Jasper chuckled inside my mind. “Remember, everything that lives has a weakness.”

With a low growl Romulus said to me and Eddie, “Follow close behind me, both you. I can make a hole in they line, but this won’t work on very many of ‘em for long. Run straight for the point o’ land beyond the Monument. Verity, chile, if any of ‘em gets too close, give ‘em what-for.”

Saying that, my protector snarled and strode right for the closest Bully like he planned to shake hands with him. His muscled arm shot out at the terrible tot’s face. The enemy froze and stared at the Marshal’s fist.

It held a small shaving mirror.

The Bully evaporated. I can’t describe it any other way. In the same instant that he saw his reflection in the glass he seemed to collapse in upon himself, then poofed out in a cloud of orange and purple mist that faded into the night breeze. I saw the ghost image of a death’s head for an instant before it shredded in the air. My ears picked up the faintest angry gasp, like whatever animated his shape was being torn apart. The grandest sight I’d seen in a night full of wonders. Romulus did the same favor for two others before they all learned the lesson. They covered their soulless eyes with amphibian fingers, hissed, and kept coming.

But we had a gap. A chance. Bursting through, Romulus howled a battle cry and motioned to us to run for it. We didn’t have to be asked twice. Eddie and me took off as if shot from a howitzer. Surprise let us through untouched, though the crowd of Bullies recovered quicker than I’d hoped. All of us sprinted west, our tiny band pushed by fear. Rage and hate propelled the Bullies. They weren’t interested in herding us anymore. Now they wanted to catch us. That didn’t bear thinking about. Our legs pumped even harder.

One of the little monsters, faster than his fellows, almost touched me with one of those awful hands. Without thinking I swung the sword with a sharp wrist snap. The blade sliced through him with no physical resistance at all. As if I’d hit nothing. Yet a spasm of cold ran up my arm. The Bully exploded in a shower of the same sunset-colored fog as Romulus’ mirror victims had. He vanished with a sigh into the night air as if he’d never existed.

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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