The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2) (13 page)

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
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LONDON, 1891

 

Serenade

 

Salem half-climbed the ivy trellis that clung to the wall, using his small supply of gravity to help him the rest of the way up. It extended three flights up the side of the grand house and ended just short of the window he was looking for, where a wide ledge waited for him to perch upon. When he found the ledge, he sat for a moment and caught his breath, his chest heaving more from the use of his powers than the physical effort of the climb. His shade skills were still improving as time went on but, even at three hundred and seventy, his powers were only slightly more impressive than the sight of human magic tricks. Still, he had other talents he could use.

Once his breath had returned, Salem wet his lips with the cold underside of his silver tongue, checking his pocketwatch to ensure that midnight was about to strike. The residents of the house at which he was trespassing would surely all be abed, the sounds of London’s busy industrial heart had all died to give way to a peaceful summer night. Salem Cross cracked his knuckles with a smile, and started to sing.

Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low

And the flickering shadows softly come and go

Though the heart be weary, sad the day and long,

Still to us at twilight comes love’s old song

Comes love’s own sweet song

It was a popular song of the moment, not one he particularly enjoyed, but Salem knew that every girl in society would have heard it sung in the parlour after supper in recent months. The girl who lay asleep beyond this window was no exception. Except that she wasn’t asleep. Even at the first strains of Salem’s magic-fuelled lines, the window began to open, a pale pair of arms wrenching rabidly to force the frame out as far as it would go.

“Master Cross? Is that you?” she whispered.

“My sweet Jane,” Salem chuckled in reply.

Jane stuck most of her body out of the window, her unravelled hair flying in the mild summer breeze as she found the sight of her lover on the sill. Her young face, lit by moonlight, glowed with utter delight. Salem felt a stab of unease in his stomach, but he pushed it aside, rubbing his hands together before he reached out to trace a line down her cheek.

“Are you coming in?” she asked with lascivious excitement.

“No my darling,” Salem answered, “you’re coming out.”

Jane began to climb from the window instantly, her face wild with the throes of magic from Salem’s serenade. He held her shoulder, pushing her gently back into the room.

“Get dressed first, dearest,” he added.

“Oh!” Jane said with a giggle. She shook her head as she retreated. “I don’t know why I forget such things when I’m with you. I’m a level-headed girl without your presence, my dear one.”

Salem believed her. He knew full well that Miss Jane Pritchard was a respected young lady, recently debuted in society. It was for that reason that he had enjoyed engaging her in their secret affair. She was a challenge for his skills, proving to him that even the most disciplined of creatures could be tamed by the silver side of his tongue. He waited on the ledge in the moonlight, listening to the sounds of Jane readying herself for a midnight jaunt and wishing that this didn’t have to be their last night together.

You don’t have a choice in the matter.

He had to remind himself of that all too often, especially when the girl he’d been seeing was as pretty and sweet as Jane. But soon she would be gone, and soon a new girl would catch Salem’s keen eye. Jane would be pushed to the back of his memory, just as so many others had been, over the years.

“I’m ready,” Jane whispered, her head peeking out of the window once more. She frowned down at the ground below. “I don’t believe that I can scale this height, my love.”

Salem reached out, lifting her from the window with his powers for a small aid. She travelled over his shoulder, giggling all the way as he begged her to be silent until they were farther from the house. Tonight they had a specific time and place to arrive at, and Salem couldn’t afford to wake her family – and her shotgun-wielding father – from their sleep.

“Where are we going that’s so important?” Jane asked with a girlish grin. “Are we eloping at last?”

Salem didn’t remember making a promise of elopement, but he was almost certain that it was the kind of thing he would say in the midst of a passionate embrace. He left Jane’s question hanging with an impish grin, taking her arm and keeping to the shadows as the pair took to the London streets. The young woman clasped him like he was the most precious thing in her world, but Salem could take no pleasure in her touch that night. When he charmed women with the power of his songs, he found that they all behaved in much the same way.

There was only one woman that had ever been on his arm in earnest, with no need for sorcery or tricks. But after Evangeline Novel bore Salem Cross a son, the idea of their union seemed to have come to an end in her mind. She dumped the child with Salem in the January of 1745, named him Lemarick, and turned up some two decades later with the fancy that she would take him away again to be educated in the proper ways of shade living. She had barely spared Salem a glance when they were reunited. The bitterness of the end of their half-century together had stopped him from trusting women that weren’t under his spell, but now even Salem was bored of seducing the same type of girl time and again.

He had met the real Jane once, before he sang his magic to her. He liked her, for she was intelligent and amusing, and more judgemental of men than the others her age. Jane was wise beyond her beautiful young appearance, far too wise for the likes of Salem Cross. Jane had shunned Salem and his American ways, called him uncouth and a pitiful rake. But, when he appeared at her window and sang in the depth of night, she welcomed his advances with a whole new girlish façade. Salem sometimes wondered if perseverance with the real Jane might have rewarded him eventually, but he didn’t have that kind of time on his hands.

The girl was a delivery, after all, and he was only the go-between, however fun the interim may have been.

“Is this the way to St James’s Park?” Jane asked.

Salem found the weight of his silver tongue made it harder to reply.

Delivery

 

St James’s Park had been remodelled in recent years. The long, broad public avenues had been reshaped into swerving, secluded pathways that wound among the trees and flowerbeds, affording young lovers brief moments of privacy to hold hands or steal kisses when they came to promenade together in the daytime. At night, those same winding trails held a far more sinister purpose. The finest of gentlemen criminals were known to meet in St James’s by moonlight. Even within the thrall of Salem’s magic, Jane was shivering against him as they set forth into the leafy shadows ahead.

“You keep looking at your pocketwatch,” she said, clutching his thick arm tightly. “Are we late for something?”

Salem looked up into the sky, watching one curved edge of the bright white moon peek out amongst the dark clouds overhead. Not quite full and by no means clear. This was the kind of night he needed, but the stroke of one was quickly approaching after their languid walk thus far. Salem smiled at Jane and she immediately returned his grin, unfalteringly faithful as ever.

“Would you do anything for me, darling Jane?” he asked.

She leaned on tiptoe and stole a kiss from his lips.

“Anything, Salem,” she answered.

“And would you believe anything of me, anything I should like to tell you?”

Jane’s eyes flashed with that spark of intelligence he had first seen, weeks ago when she’d turned him down. But it was gone in another moment, her doe-eyed look returning.

“What is it that you wish to tell me?” she asked.

Salem stopped walking, pausing with Jane under the covering shadows of a huge tree. He took both her hands in his, squeezing them tightly. Jane was sweet and clever. She had so much more of a life to look forward to in the future than the trollops and hags that Salem usually brought to St James’s at night. Perhaps there was a way to change things. Perhaps he could at least give Jane a fighting chance to get away.

“I shouldn’t have brought you here,” he whispered, a tone so soft that Jane had to lean in close against his lips to hear him speak. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” Jane asked, her tone matching his for sorrow.

“Oh, you’ll see,” said another voice in the shadows.

Jane leapt with fright and Salem stiffened, pushing her back behind him with one arm as he searched for the figure that the voice belonged to. From the darkness of the bend ahead, a huge bulk of a man emerged. Jane stifled a whimper at the sight of his gargantuan, bare-chested frame. He was a young man with long, dark hair that flowed to his muscular shoulders, but his face was a picture of venom, worthy of any thug or ripper in London that night. His eyes glinted black in the moonlight.

“Salem,” he said, mocking with a sing-song warning. “Don’t you go playing at being a hero now. We have an exchange to make.”

Fen Wohlgamuth waggled a warning finger, and his long, sharp nails were translucent by the light of the moonbeams breaking through the clouds.

“What’s happening?” Jane whispered, holding onto Salem’s back for dear life. “Salem, how does he know your name?”

Salem was speechless, transfixed by fear and guilt. Fen stepped forward in the darkness, his arms open with a casual shrug.

“It’s simple really, my dear,” he answered with a throaty chuckle. “Salem here is my delivery boy. And you’re the prettiest parcel he’s brought me in a long time.”

The Wolves of London

 

“Let go of me!” Salem demanded, as two long-nailed pairs of hands dug hard into his biceps. “You’ve got the girl, I’ve got my money! We’re done! Fen! Where are you taking me? This isn’t part of our deal!”

The young thug strolled ahead in the moonlight with Jane over one of his massive shoulders. She had passed out from shock when Wohlgamuth’s other followers appeared to apprehend Salem, and now Fen carried her as though she were as light as a travelling cloak about his neck.

“My father’s instructions, old boy,” Fen explained casually, not looking back. “He had a feeling you were getting a bit… reluctant, shall we say? He’s got a right good remedy for that.”

Salem didn’t like the sound of any remedy that came from the Wohlgamuth clan. He knew by the path he was being dragged along that Fen was leading them to his father’s current lair: a schoolhouse that had recently emptied for the summer, just off Princes Street. Salem had stood outside the old brick building, just the once, to collect a late payment for one of the girls he’d led to the park some weeks ago, but now he had a nasty feeling that he was going to become much better acquainted with the building’s interior and its undesirable inhabitants.

“Reluctant?” Salem questioned, “Don’t be silly, Fen. I was holding the girl steady for you. I knew you were there.”

Fen just laughed, but after a moment he turned his head back in the struggling shade’s direction. He narrowed his eyes on Salem, those jet black orbs glinting with thought.

“Stuff his mouth, boys,” he barked at his underlings. “I don’t want him trying to magic his way out of this.”

The group paused on the deserted, foggy street and Salem was slammed to the ground by a great hairy henchman, who landed on top of him to keep him still. The other assailant took from his pocket a thick rag and a slim belt, forcing one into Salem’s mouth and tying the other around his head to keep it in place. Salem gagged on the filthy fabric, trying to push it to the front of his mouth lest it choke him with its foul taste alone. His eyes stung from the brutality as he was hauled back up to his feet, where Fen appraised him once more. The huge man put a hand to Salem’s jaw, pulling his head up to face him.

“You’ll come out of this alive, Songspinner,” Fen said with a wicked grin. “Your talents are too important to us to kill you. But it’s time you saw the merits of your deeds.”

The schoolhouse was a morbid shade of grey, its uneven brickwork cast into jagged shadows by the emerging moon. When Fen Wohlgamuth was bathed in the shaft of white light that shone down through the clouds, the muscles in his bare back rippled as though they’d been soothed by healing hands. He approached an arched doorway and rapped hard with his thick knuckles, waiting mere moments before the wooden door swung back to grant him passage.

Salem was dragged in behind him, still gagging on the rag and the belt between his teeth. The small crew traversed a narrow entryway that branched around a corner, suddenly expanding into a wide hall filled with life. Torches on the walls illuminated the gathering with a pleasant orange glow as scores of people lay about laughing and joking with one another. When Salem grunted in agony at the feel of a boot in his back, the assembled crowds turned their heads, falling into hushed tones.

A man sat in a throne-like arrangement in a far corner of the school hall and, when he rose to his full awesome height from that throne, Salem knew there was no mistake in thinking that he was Fen’s father. He had never seen Scholl Wohlgamuth in person, but his vicious reputation carried across the whole south-east of England, and it was a record practically written in human blood. The most rancorous werewolf in London approached Salem with long, swift strides.

“Master Cross,” Scholl boomed, his voice more growl than timbre, “how nice of you to come to our little den.”

Some of the gathered people laughed, but others were silent and craning to see the goings-on as Scholl centred in on his quarry.

“Take that rubbish off his gob,” the wolf-leader commanded. “He’s not stupid enough to try his magic with fifty of us gathered.”

Salem heaved in grateful breaths and spat out the foul taste of the rag once it was removed. He wiped his mouth on his own clean handkerchief, hesitating for a long while before he let his head rise to meet Scholl’s black gaze.

“You really didn’t have to go to the trouble of bringing me here, Sir,” Salem crooned, hoping he sounded suitably demure in the presence of the werewolf equivalent of royalty. “The arrangement I’ve made with your son is working just fine.”

Scholl clapped a powerful hand on Salem’s shoulder that nearly drove the shade into the ground like a fence post.

“I’m sure it is,” he said, in a tone that suggested anything but agreement, “and that’s why I thought it would be a good time to show you the fruits of your labour.”

He stepped aside, allowing Salem his first proper view of the sea of curious faces that were watching the exchange. A woman rose to her feet amid one of the nearer groupings, clad in rough white robes that clung to the curves of her body. It was a body that Salem remembered all too well.

“Lisa, the barmaid?” Fen prompted, coming to stand beside his father. “I think you delivered her to us about four months back.”

Lisa looked well – healthier and leaner than Salem remembered – but he knew by the glittering blackness in her eyes that she was no longer human. When she smiled at him, she bared her teeth and gums just a little too much.

“And who could forget the lovely Rose, our harlot from Spitalfields?” Scholl added with a chuckle. “I think she joined us at Christmas, by your invitation of course.”

Salem had never known the specifics of what happened to the girls after he handed them to Fen and got his money. He might have guessed that they were being transformed, but the shade found it too unpleasant to stop and really accept that reality. Fen had always promised Salem that the girls wouldn’t be killed, and that had always been enough. Now that he saw them strong and healthy, but most certainly no longer human, Salem didn’t know quite how to feel.

He didn’t have long to puzzle it out, because that was the moment when Jane woke up.

BOOK: The Bloodshade Encounters & The Songspinner (Shadeborn Book 2)
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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