8, Napier Terrace
3rd September 1896.
My dear friend Abraham,
concerning the grisly events occurring in London in your absence, I shall conclude my account, knowing that as you read it, you will doubtless think me mad. I must ask your forbearance. With these things that I have witnessed and done, I am no longer the same Joseph Barker, the rational attorney at law that you knew.
After the respite of six short weeks since the original terror, it began again. Seemingly random, the corpses were discovered in the streets and alleys within walking distance of this address. Male, female, old and young, one each morning over the course of a week. Using my connections with the coroner, I gained entry to the city mortuary to view the remains. It was the same with each; all without cuts, punctures or any outward sign of preparation, but entirely drained of blood and bile, much in the manner of those disinterred mummies lately brought back from Egypt. In a similar state of advanced dessication, as bodies interred in airless tombs over many centuries. The victims were all witnessed alive but days earlier.
Rumour ran rife. There was talk of quarantine, which was immediately quashed by the authorities for fear the capitol of the Empire should become known as a plague city, bringing ruin. In any event, the coroner could find no contagion. Wilder rumours began, both old and invented superstitions, ever more elaborate and occult, such as uneducated common-folk fall prone. Scotland Yard filled the district with constables, but these also fell prey to rumour and superstition, failing to turn in for duty with the flimsy excuses and minor ailments, or else simply chasing shadows around the boundaries of their allotted area.
How difficult it is to describe the disquiet that lay over this quarter of the city, to within this very building. The sense of unease permeated from the street entrance unto these very rooms. I saw it so evidently in the visitors and staff, even as I dismissed it as superstitious nonsense. Unlike the previous tenant, who had quit at the height of the first outbreak of unnatural deaths, so expediently emptying these rooms for my practice scant weeks before. Having found such affordable rooms for the practice, I had ignored it, for you know that money does not remain attached to me for very long.
Nothing could have prepared me for the events of last night.
About ten of the clock, I parted company with my dinner companions from the Inns of Court. I returned to Napier Terrace to retrieve several legal texts for study at home. I passed the usual exotica of the city of London, diverse citizens of the empire; Afric, Indian, Chinese among the rest. Almost at my door, my eye was taken by an unusually striking gypsy girl, not merely for her impenetrably dark eyes, but that she stood level with me in stature. Her habit was a mixture of male and female clothing, in long coat and trousers, in the style of the women who work the Port of London. All the more incongruous, then, that her fine features better belonged to a courtesan or actress. Her gaze fixed upon me as we passed, so brazen and unflinching, that I fumbled my latch-key at the door.
As soon as I got the door open to the entrance hall, I could see the length of the passage, straight through the servants’ and back doors standing open to the rear yard. This was quite contrary to the locks and bolts employed for myself and the other two tenants of Number Eight. Thus alerted, I stood stock still and listened, grasping the cane with the concealed blade in my hand. Sure enough, from the second floor, a series of crashes and splintering sounds gave away the presence of a intruder in my rooms on the second floor.
I advanced up the stairs as quietly as I could and loosed the catch on the concealed blade; twenty-two inches of finest Wilkinson steel which I might wield with some confidence, having served with the Northamptonshire Auxiliary.
The outer door of my chambers was ajar. There seemed but a single figure within. A single lamp lit the interior and a monstrous shadow moved in the flickering light.
I crossed the landing under cover of the noise he made. At the open door, I was greeted by the sight of a large man in the wreckage of my own office. This ill-favoured ruffian, wearing a long, black, military coat of uncertain age, was intent on removing sections of panelling from the wall, in search of – I knew not. Outfitted all in black, from his coat, over-shirt, to leather breeches and riding boots; all of it looked to have seen better days.
Whilst I contemplated my course of action, some instinct alerted him to my presence. The man turned to face me. He had a long-featured face, dark stubble, long dark hair, lank, down to his shoulders. A thick ridge of black brows almost hid his eyes in shadow, the second pair of uncommon eyes I had seen that night; pale green irises with an inner white ring before the pupil. More like animal eyes than a man, those of a wild dog or wolf. This, with the character of his face, gave him a most wolfish aspect; altogether the aspect of a brigand.
I was uncertain whether to cry out or strike first, knowing his only escape being through me to the stairs. I bared the blade from the cane and held it en garde before me.
“Stand to, sir! I am armed and ready!” I cried.
With blinding speed, this ruffian pulled a sword from beneath his long coat and crossed the room in three short strides. With practised judgement, he swept the blade before him and with great violence struck mine clean from my hand. Through his onward rush, he cannoned into me, one hand about my throat, the hilt of the long blade at my diaphragm, the sharpened edge resting level with my jugular. I was driven back against the door frame and pinned there with a force which almost took the breath from my body. Against the bulk of him there was little I could do with my numbed right hand, so I pressed him with my left and encountered something hard and metallic beneath his rough shirt: metal links. The fellow wore some sort of chain-mail.
“Stand to,” he growled, more like an animal than a man, in an accent so thick it was barely English. A Frenchman, no less! It accounted for the feral smell of him.
I made one more attempt to push him from me when my hand connected with his shoulder. With a guttural cry, more animal than man, he twisted away from me and lurched back across the room.
Seizing the opportunity, I ran to the corner and reached for the sword-stick, whereupon I saw my hand that had touched him was smeared with blood. I had inadvertently struck into a fresh wound upon his shoulder, noting the rip in his sleeve and the dark trail of blood running down. Thinking the advantage mine, I advanced upon him with my blade extended. Yet with uncommon reflexes, he straightened and struck out with such strength, my blade was merely swept aside and I, with great force, was hurled flat across my own desk. Striking my head hard on the wooden surface my vision blurred as this ruffian pinned me there with his sword point pressed to my throat. I was entirely helpless, clearly no match for this offspring of beast and man. The sword-stick lay somewhere on the floor beneath the desk. He paused.
“Be still! I am not for you.”
Even one-handed, he lifted me as a child’s weight and fair flung me into the armchair in the corner. I sat, awaiting my vision to clear, considering my next course of action. In the low light I could see the office was not as badly ruined as I had first thought. This fellow, having no concern for papers, had merely turned out any place of concealment, ignoring the contents.
There was a thud of metal as the sword was laid across the desk, a slim blade, slightly curved in its’ upper third. In truth, a much more elegant weapon the than the sabres of the Auxiliary. A most exotic design, Moorish or other Arabic in character and the most maintained of all of his armaments, for I glimpsed several belts with an assortment of knives and daggers beneath the long coat. He was not impervious to harm, however, nor pain, given the way he attempted to staunch the wound through his rent sleeve.
“What is the meaning of this wanton vandalism?” I asked at last. The sound of my own voice was somewhat thin. Those extraordinary eyes ranged about the dimly lit room, seeking other hiding places, finally settling on me.
“You are Barker, the man of laws?”
Capable, then, of reading the plaque at the street door. I answered him.
“I am, Sir. Let it be understood, I have some connections with Scotland Yard –”
“The tenant of these rooms before you – left no objets?”
He spoke passable English, albeit with the pronunciation of some uncultured provincial Gascon.
“Objects? What sort of objects?”
“A vessel. Metal. Not so large.”
“No. In any event, I would not turn over another man’s property to a thief such as you.”
Too late I considered it rash to antagonise him, but my uninvited guest did not bridle at the label of thief. I surmised he had been called far worse.
“It must be no man’s property. It must be destroyed.”
“No man should possess it. It is a key.”
His masquerade lifted. Despite sounding like a rough, peasant Frenchman, there was in every word a keen intelligence at work which belied the outward appearance of a fighting vagrant, sufficient to wrong-foot his enemies and me. Despite our encounter, there seemed no threat directed toward me. Even so injured, had he wished, he might have killed me several times over. A change of tack seemed in order.
“You have the advantage of me sir,” I said. “Knowing who I am, yet I know nought of you.”
“Philip Anjuron de la Mer.”
French indeed. I had not expected such a guileless introduction.
He perched on my desk, holding his shoulder, deep red oozing through and beneath his fingers.
“Then our first act is to stop that wound before you add to the count of the dead. Far too many have expired before their time in this district of late.”
Anjuron gave brief pause in which he weighed my own character and merely nodded. A man quick to judge, for better or worse.
I bade him remove his coat and ripped over-shirt, both of which we removed with difficulty. Sure enough, beneath was a shirt of mail links, of an antique design that well suited the character of him. The weight of it bought more pain for him as we sought to remove it. Suffice to say the padded under-shirt had seen better days. On disrobing, the low lamplight could not conceal the collection of battle scars, old and new, that covered his arms and chest. Healed cuts and stab wounds, a testament to many years campaigning. Of immediate concern was the puncture wound to his shoulder, which must have been given with great force to pierce the steel links of his chain-mail shirt. The mail had doubtless saved him from further harm.
“You need a doctor to get this stitched,” I informed him, trying to staunch the flow with my scarf.
“No doctors. Keep it clean. It will close up later.”
I did not ask from whence he anticipated this medical miracle.
“Will you tell me who gave you this wound?”
“Schroder, the railway engineer that occupied these rooms before you.”
I was taken aback by this. I knew little of Schroder, the previous tenant, who had quit so suddenly without notice, except that he was an elder gentleman approaching his sixties.
“You are sure?” I enquired hesitantly.
“At arms’ length, only the aim was in doubt,” Anjuron said firmly, with rueful disappointment.
I attempted to clean the wound, soaking my handkerchief from the stand-by bottle of Port, fortunately unbroken in Anjuron’s assault on the fixtures. Barely had I had finished its medicinal application when he had the audacity grab it from me and swig a quantity of it.
I then dressed it as best I could with my scarf, taking instruction from this fellow, most familiar with the practicalities of battlefield medicine. I did note the square edges of the wound.
“What made this injury?”
“A nail – chemin de fer.”
I took this to mean a rail spike and said so.
He nodded. It seemed unlikely the engineer could strike with sufficient force to punch an iron spike through both steel links and this particular man. I stood back at last, satisfied Anjuron would not expire before morning.
“Then what is the story of this vessel, this key?”
I received a glance of condescension.
“You will not believe it.”
“Sir, I deal in unbelievable tales in answer of criminal charges every day. I shall take yours no better or worse, I assure you.”
I took a certain pride in demonstrating English manners and tolerance. He thought for a moment.
“Across this world, there are croisées – crossing places. The vessel I seek may be used as a key.”
“What manner of crossing places?”
“Instant passage from place to place. One time to another. One existence to another.”
I found myself imagining the the realms described by Milton, Dante, Pope; of Hades and Pandemonium described in ancient mythologies and more besides.
“This thing would open the gates of Heaven and Hell?” I exclaimed, with more disdain than I should.
Anjuron shook his head slowly.
“The vessel was used as a key once before. Many years ago. I stood by as a path was opened.”
“A path to – ?”
I was interrupted. He was not there to answer my questions.
“I must destroy the vessel, before it can be used again.”
I reserved my doubts, for certainly he believed in it.
“What does it look like, this vessel?”
“A funery urn. No longer than this bottle of port,” he growled at me, waving the bottle, which, I noted, he all but emptied as he spoke.
Anjuron stood suddenly. I thought he intended to do me violence, instead he heaved aside the chair I had lately sat in and knelt in the corner of the room. Without pause he punched the panelling along the wall with his left hand. The wood splintered, revealing a compartment in the wall behind. Light fell on the vessel in question, a plain, egg-shaped lump of grey material. I stepped forward to better examine it. Unlike metal, the surface gave no reflection. It had the colour of discarded foundry spoil and the texture of unglazed clay.
Anjuron was already looking about the room.
“We need something to wrap it.”
I regarded the innocuous lump of matter, just sitting there.
“What ever for?” I asked as I reached for it. My fingers were met by an unnerving tingling sensation, the vessel felt almost alive. I withdrew, immediately cursing my childish behaviour. I reached again, resisting the vibration of the matt grey lump to find it slightly warm. I attempted to grab it, only for my fingers to slide right across the surface. I tried again to grasp it with both hands. With a disturbing lack of friction, it resisted any attempt to raise it from its resting place.
Anjuron perched on the edge of my desk with the bottle of port in his hand. Head cocked.
“We need something to wrap it,” he repeated. “Find a cloth and soak it well in water.”
I found myself descending the stair, obeying his instructions. I went downstairs to the maid’s scullery. The door to the back alley stood open, as I had first seen it. As I pushed it closed, I found an apron hanging on a hook. Beside the door was a bucket of mid-grey water standing ready to wash down the front step in the morning. I gave the apron a thorough soaking and wrung out the excess water. As I stood, I recoiled in shock.
The door stood wide open again and a figure stood framed in the half-light.
The gypsy girl I had seen in the street, there but momentarily, then gone. The back yard stood empty. I was certain. Heart racing and breath short, I ran up the stairs, returning to the second floor.
“There is someone downstairs! Some gypsy girl. I saw her in the street earlier.”
Anjuron sat behind my desk, facing both the door and the vessel. My reserve bottle of whiskey stood on the desk, already somewhat depleted.
“What did she look like?” he asked, without surprise, alarm, or it seemed, curiosity.
“Like some docker or street trader, mostly man’s clothes. Uncommonly tall and somewhat thin.”
“Non. What did she look like?”
“Her face, you mean? Well -” I gave it my consideration, composing a description such as I would hear many times a week in the courts. For all my training as an observer of detail, it eluded me.
“I – I have no exact recollection,” I was forced to admit. I was utterly unable to describe her features at all.
Anjuron smiled. It made his countenance no less threatening, his wolfish features no more appealing.
“Nothing distinctif – in the eyes?”
“Most unusual – so dark as to make iris and pupil quite indistinguishable.”
Most unusual, like the green, white, black of the wolf’s eyes in front of me.
“Ianua ut animus”
My guest revealed himself to be an educated man. I was forced to reappraise my opinion of him yet again.
He gestured to the compartment with his left hand.
“Wrap the vessel and bring it out.”
I did so with difficulty, sliding the wet cloth behind and beneath, wrapping the vessel tightly, leaving no gap through which it could slide. I detected a slight hiss of steam. Dangling from my hand, I felt it vibrate and tingle even through the apron cloth. I was reminded of certain Latin texts, Medieval ideas of a certain sympathetic vibration in all matter that ensured the harmony of heaven and earth. I had once thought it baseless nonsense.
“How came it here?”
“Schroder found the vessel, bought it from Alexandria.”
I thought on the engineer, some of whose papers remained downstairs. Siegfried Schroder, on retainer with the Imperial Railway Company to build railways across the empire, had lately been surveying across Palestine for a new track.
“A key, you say? Made by whom?”
I set it down on my desk, wrapped in the apron.
“A thing of darkness, dwelling in darkness, reaching into this world that it covets. Jealous of the light of this world. It poisons the minds of men.”
“This vessel, this key…?”
“Is enough to tear open a passage into the light.”
“A passage for the devil?”
“I give it no such name.”
In my regular practice, I dealt often with habitual felons whose wild tales of fearful persecutions betrayed their frayed wits. Here was a rare one indeed. In such terms as he described these things, with his calm intelligence, here was one either brilliantly sane or the most dangerous of them all.
“How should such a vessel come to be made?”
“Directed by that same devil. Part of a long stratagem, played over many lifetimes of men. Across the rise and fall of every empire of man – ”
“Not the British Empire, sir – ”
I reasoned it was not the time to argue the permanence or benevolence of the British Empire.
“You say this artefact was used before?”
“In the mountains beyond Jerusalem. The vessel was used to bring the essence of the enemy across the void to this world.”
For all its extraordinary properties, I could not imagine how such a lump could convey the essence of anything.
“Sir, I am a lawyer, but even I know enough of the new sciences to know one cannot change the laws of physics.”
“You know them so well? The things you feel and touch? You know what is within the elemental dust that makes up all things? The laws that bind it together? Without those your very body would dissolve back into the dust that makes it.”
In questions of criminal law, I count myself as capable as any. For such questions as these I had no answer.
“These are mysteries of the physical world, how should anyone –”
“Anyone with five senses and an imagination might know them in time. To an enemy such as this, matter is not so solid, time is not so fixed. Believe – a crossing may be opened. I saw it.”
His opinion would not be moved. I pulled the leather armchair to the desk, where we sat facing each other, this French brigand and myself; he in my work chair, stripped to the waist and bandaged.
He pushed the brandy bottle across the desk, where it stood beside this egg-shaped thing, this key. By some means the wet apron had loosened and the dull grey surface once more ate up the lamplight in the room. It was a rare object indeed to have been excavated in the Holy Land, but I thought on the many foreign antiquities on show in British museums. Perhaps long enough exposure to its rarer properties were enough to cause insanity? I wrapped the apron over again and sat back from it.
I took a swallow from the bottle, the heat of the brandy at last calming my nerves. Followed by another.
Taking the blotter and notepaper onto my knee, I uncapped the inkwell and began to record these events.
It was the most mournful, lonely sound that ever I remember. The long, keening sound of a wolf, startlingly close by.
I awoke in the leather chair, cradled in its high winged-back. My neck was a little stiff from the upright position in which I had slept, not for the first time. The sooty glow of the gas lamp illuminated the room. Besides myself, the room was empty. The brandy bottle stood on the desk, rather depleted. The uninvited guest was absent.
In that moment, I decided the entire episode had been nothing more than a dream. I had invented the Frenchman, the assault, the wild tale, all of it. Such outrageous flight of fancy nothing more than the indulgence of the port bottle and the cheeseboard over a late dinner.
I moved forward in the chair and was immediately struck by physical sensation, namely the pains in my wrist, shoulders, back. Those injuries sustained when I had been flung about by Anjuron. Forward of the wings of the armchair, the rest of the room hove into view. There was the grey egg-shaped ‘key’ on the desk, atop the apron. There too, devastation of the drawers, cabinets and panelling about the room. On my work chair, behind the desk, a pile of his gear; padded under-shirt, chain-mail vest, loose black surcoat. Belt and harness of knives, the baldric, scabbard and the Arab sword.
I had not imagined him. This Anjuron existed and had been in the room.
But where now?
The office door was open. I felt the up-draft from the stairwell and the hall below, inferring that one or both of the front and back doors was open.
Then I heard a creaking of the stairs. Irregular footfalls, accompanied by tapping or scratching on the bare wooden treads, rising from below. As it ascended, the noise became clearer. Footfalls made not by a pair of feet, but four feet; rather not feet but paws, defined by the tap or scratch of claws on the hardwood. The sounds were accompanied by heavy, canine breathing. The creak of the staircase attested to the weight of the beast, as great, or greater than a man my size might make. No common domestic dog. Nothing as might wander in off the street, yet purposefully climbing the staircase. The pattern of footfalls changed as it topped the first flight, crossed the short landing and began the ascent of the second flight.
No question but it headed directly for my rooms, without hesitation.
In the darkness in the middle of the night, in the wrecked room, my senses addled by sleep and brandy; at that moment the imagination of one Joseph Barker, attorney, took flight. I leaned full forward to peer around the wing of the armchair, sighting the half-open door to the stairwell. Lit only by the dim glow of the lamplight – I saw, or imagined I saw, a shadow against the wall.
The shadow of a monstrous canine head and shoulders, approaching my office door. The creak of boards and tap of claws accompanied each step, as with certainty of purpose it reached the top of the stair. In that moment, imagination convinced me of the only creature it might be. From out some fairy tale, some predatory wolf.
I remained fixed on the half-open door, like a child, frozen with indecision. Three steps to traverse to close the door, but the jamb hung broken from the frame, capable of securing nothing. I risked a glance about the room. The sword-stick lay in its component parts where they had landed in the earlier scuffle, the wooden outer sheath just inside the door, the blade in the corner of the room.
Eyes fixed on the door I reached for the neck of the brandy bottle, wrapping my fingers around it intending to use it as a makeshift club, perhaps after one good blow, the broken glass neck as a makeshift blade.
The steps had ceased. The breathing continued outside the door, the depth of it magnified in my foetid imagination as the wolf took on giant proportions in my mind’s eye.
It did not advance. No wolf came through the door. As I listened, the breathing seemed to diminish, or at least change, becoming shallower, more regular.
Something pushed the door, which swung fully open.
In the dim light stood my visitor, Anjuron.
Still bare-chested, the bandage was missing, the injured shoulder bore the clotted wound, ugly and surrounded by dark bruising, but not bleeding. Anjuron stood in the doorway tying the drawstrings on his leather trousers. I noted his feet bare on the boards.
“The bottle best be empty. Or you will waste a good brandy.”
His words were loud and clear in the room and shocked me out of my paralysis. Anjuron crossed to the desk, gathering up his belongings.
Frowning, I scrutinised the stairwell through the open door. The beast of my imagination was gone. I questioned whether it had ever been there, when Anjuron had entered via that very spot where I had imagined it stood.
I consulted my pocket-watch. It was gone two in the morning.
Anjuron planted a foot on my desk to re-tie his horseman’s boots. Now only a few feet from me I was better able to study his countenance. The wound to his shoulder was almost wholly closed over, the edges kitted to an angry red diamond-shaped scar. It was a remarkable act of healing, such as I had never known before. In himself he seemed re-invigorated, I dare say even cheerful. He stood and with a disapproving glance at the ragged, stained hole in his under-shirt, dressed himself quickly and with barely a wince as his shoulder flexed.
“You are drinking that or no?”
I realised I was looking up at him still holding the neck of the brandy bottle to which he referred. Releasing my grip, I pushed it across the desk, whence he threw back several large gulps.
I sat on the edge of the seat as he re-equipped himself with armour, knives and sword, until he was again the formidable opponent I first encountered. More so. With one glance up from buckles and tack, he caught me studying him. So in that moment, as I framed the question how a man so injured could be in a space of a few hours so miraculously healed, I looked up into those eyes, pale green, white and black.
I found myself captured by the singular conclusion how the wolf made way for a man and how that man should embody so much of the wolf in his place. It is not a conclusion that a man of laws can readily accept. I felt at once hot and cold and in the silence of the room, heard as well as felt the blood rushing through me. I took a sudden startled breath, having paused so long. I groped for the bottle on the desk and took a swig of brandy myself.
Of what passed, nothing was said.
The clock on the mantle shelf struck four in the morning, startling us both.
The key, as I had come to accept it, now lay on it’s side on the desk, the oval shape sitting on the crumpled folds of the apron cloth. Neither of us had touched it. Nor did I recall it toppling.
A thought struck me that should have occurred to me hours before.
“You stated your purpose is to destroy this thing. Why do you remain here with it?”
“The engineer. We possess this thing Schroder needs.”
According to his plan, my rooms had become a place of ambush.
“What do you intend to do with him?”
Anjuron’s expression did not indicate an amicable resolution.
We sat with the sound of the clock ticking, as it did every working day I had spent in these rooms. I had never listened to it. Eventually it became too much.
“You carry a great many weapons. Enough to fight a war…”
A war in a bygone age. Cold steel, in many shapes and sizes, but no firearms.
“Vous desirez le catalogue des guerres? Antioch. Jerusalem, Constantinople. I sold my soul in God’s name, took part in the things that were done. Things do not change. Byzantium, Magdeburg, Baturyn, a dozen cities besides.”
Anjuron broke off his bitter list, the names of battles long past. Inglorious episodes, all of them, filled with atrocities, stained with excess of faith or lust for money. I wondered at the campaigns he had seen that he chose to cast himself in those events.
“Where did all this begin?” I pointed toward the key.
“After I fled the wars, my sins. To a place in the mountains. A voice came to me. A whisper in the desert. Full of false promises. Deceit. Malice. I gave in to the will of the voice.”
I recalled the Testament tale of forty days and nights in the wilderness, the testing of the Christ in the desert. This certainly was no prophet, no holy man, yet here he spoke of sin, this one whom I had thought godless.
“You say you saw this crossing place?”
“Centuries ago. A crossing buried in ritual and superstition. The coincidence of time and place and energy.”
“Created by this vessel?”
“I was there. When the crossing opened. When she was sent as a slave. To bring the father to this world.”
I realised with some alarm, I had been drawn into the elaborate tale he had spun in his own mind, in which time itself had become plastic. Believing himself a man out of the past. Time, I thought, to tear down the edifice.
“You say it must be destroyed? It is metallic. We shall take it to a foundry in the morning. It can be melted down.”
“It will feed on the flames, its’ energy will multiply. It must be shattered.”
This fantasy of his, this compulsion, defied all rational attempts to dismantle it. I spent a moment considering how this should be achieved, arriving at the means that might also give me some advantage against one for whom I was clearly no match in arms.
“Might a bullet do?”
He was momentarily disgusted at the suggestion, before conceding.
“Yes. It would serve.”
From the bookcase, I selected the shiny leather-bound spine between Sir Arthur Streeb’s English Criminal Law and Dougherty’s Articles on Common Assault. Placing it on the desk, I unsnapped the catch on the artfully concealed mahogany case and lifted the Enfield service revolver. I opened the cylinder and placed six rounds within. The heavy revolver was a comforting weight in my hand, comforting as the misplaced feeling of power. So armed, I felt ready for whatever the day might cast upon me.
“One thing I do not understand. If Schroder possessed the artefact, why should he quit London so suddenly?”
“We made known the location of an almanac. A book of times and places. Where the placement of that artefact would be most effective.”
Thusly stealing the time to find Schroder’s place of concealment.
“You think he found the almanac?”
Anjuron took a battered brown leather-bound book from his coat pocket and cast it onto my desk.
He gave a grim, rather wolfish smile, allowing himself a moment of satisfaction. It was, I considered, ill-judged.
“But Schroder has returned. The deaths have recommenced.”
I pointed to his shoulder.
“You have met and this is the result?”
His smile faded as he growled somewhat threateningly.
“It comes to a reckoning.”
I heard the sound of hooves from the street below, some drover’s cart much louder than usual. One or both the street door and back door remained open.
Through them came the sound of a scream.
At once, Anjuron, arose and crossed the room, before I could even gather my coat and the revolver.
He descended with long loping strides, running down the flights of stairs, while I struggled to keep up with him in a dangerous, headlong rush.
When I caught sight of him from atop the first landing, he was already out the street door, standing on the cobbles, a wash of fog about his calves. He darted left along Napier terrace. I made it to the street, slipping on the damp front step, sliding on the wet cobbles, but managed to see Anjuron turn into the alley at the end of the terrace, drawing the Damascus blade as he went.
There was a further shriek of alarm, doubtless at the sight of him, the weathered brigand in a long black coat, brandishing the sword in a London street.
Turning into the alley myself, I all but collided with an elderly woman, backed against the brickwork, pallid and in considerable distress. She started upon my arrival, but made no more noise.
“Are you injured?”
I had to repeat myself.
“Madam, are you injured?” at which she looked at me, wide eyed. With a shake of the head, she pointed down the alley to where the dimly lit shape of Anjuron knelt over something in the low-lying fog.
“Call the constables!”
I rushed to join him, but already Anjuron was up and moving further into the alley. I advanced, and almost fell over the shape in the fog. It was the body of a man, that much I could tell, but in such a state that at first I recoiled. The jacket and cap-badge I recognised as belonging to the lamp-lighter that attended the lighting and dousing of the street lamps about the White Chapel district. My foot kicked the lamplighter’s long staff, complete with wick and cap. I was quite unable to recognise the facial features of the remains before me. The lamplighter had been no more than thirty years old, yet these remains appeared dried out and dessicated as such had lain underground in a sealed crypt for some centuries. The flesh was shrunken, so rapidly it had split over the cheekbones and skull, the hair whitened and brittle, so that the strands had broken off with the fall. But the expression. – the features were contorted into a mask of agony. If this was indeed the lamplighter, then the mysterious affliction had befallen another. I had seen him scarce eight or nine hours earlier, yet the remains seemed to have expired long since. By what means, I knew not.
The body lay in the junction of the alleys that served Napier Terrace and its three nearest neighbours. Anjuron stood in its centre, peering keenly through the gloom of the four alleys, including the way we had come. A body abandoned so close to Number Eight, on this night, could not be coincidence.
He and I concluded at once. No ambush, but diversion.
As I stood, taking the revolver from my coat pocket, Anjuron was already moving along the back alley in the direction of Number Eight.
Rushing after, in the gloom and the fog, I almost cannoned into him.
We stood before the open back gate of Number Eight, while shadows approached us, departing the property. The shadows resolved into two large men, a ginger-bearded fellow in the rough apparel of a drover and a Negro fellow from the Indies carrying a dock-side porter’s hook. At sight of us they parted, revealing a stocky fellow, a European traveller outfitted in a light-coloured suit for the tropics and stout boots. His waxed moustache was neatly trimmed on a deeply tanned face. Possessed of a full head of dark hair, he appeared aged no more than forty.
Dangling from his right hand, the apron-wrapped, egg-shape of the vessel from my rooms. In his outer pocket, I saw the top of the battered almanac. I concluded this was the Swiss himself, Schroder. Anjuron’s fantastical conspiracy appeared to have some truth in it after all.
“Der alte wolf – I thought I had seen the last of you. He said you would be hard to kill.”
Schroder spoke with a noticeable accent, almost booming with a vigour more common to a youth. This was not the elderly man described to me by the maid and the landlord.
“You brought a pet with you – ”
By which I took to mean myself.
“– but not the Daughter? Has she finally given you over?”
Behind the Swiss, two more figures emerged from the yard of Number Eight. A be-turbaned Indian from the Raj carrying a long, curved knife and some shaven-headed European fellow looked more like an habitual inmate of the London gaols.
Schroder raised the wrapped vessel.
“It is not too late, alte wolf. You can be part of this. A few centuries disobedience is soon forgot.”
Anjuron put out a hand to move me, slowly backing us up toward the junction of the alleyways.
At the centre, I turned left to return to the lit street the way we had come, but two more figures blocked it. I made out the glint of a knife and long shape of a cudgel.
Glancing right in the hope of an retreat into the next street, there were two more figures, wearing shiny dockers’ leather aprons carrying long cleavers. In the properties to either side above us, the screams had awakened the residents, lamp lights spilling a little from windows into the damp brick gorges. The head of the four alleys ended with a blank, brick wall.
I began to fear for this encounter. Here was clearly malice in mind, an ambush after all.
Anjuron remained intent on the Swiss.
I slipped the safety catch of the revolver and raised it to the sky, hoping still that gunpowder and shot might stave off a mêlée
Before I could fire, Anjuron rushed the four accomplices ranged before the Swiss, as infantry before the general. He attacked suddenly in silence, uttered no battle cries or curses, moving swiftly to batter a way through the lines. Blocking a weapon with the Damascus blade, he struck out with fist, feet, body.
The Indian with the knife rushed through toward me as I back-stepped through the cross-way. As he raised the curved knife, my rear foot landed on an object that yielded. I fell back, my feet striking the remains of the lamplighter. With an involuntary jerk of the trigger, the flat crack of the revolver echoed from wall to wall. The curved knife passed above me.
I landed flat on my back, as the two figures from each of the side alleys closed in. Then above me, I saw her, the gypsy girl, as she leaped from atop the backyard wall of Boyle Street. Landing as a cat, perfectly poised in the cross-way, a long blade glittered in her hand.
I was reduced to spectator. Anjuron ferociously battered his way toward the Swiss. The tall dark-haired gypsy girl, in mannish clothes, hair flying and wielded a long oriental blade from the Nippon. She startled the Indian who attempted to engage the blade. She evaded and delivered so rapid a cut, I could not follow it. I felt the spatter of warm blood across my face as the Indian fell.
She executed a series of cuts with the Japanese sword, or rather a single flowing movement which cut through several targets. Within mere heartbeats, three of the four assailants that rushed into the cross-way lay on the ground.
The fourth, wary of the razor-sharp blade, charged into her from behind, pinned her arm with a cudgel to the brick-work, covering her body with his weight. The Japanese sword fell with a clatter to the cobbles.
On the far side of the cross-way, the shaven-headed convict, lay in the gutter, his neck so angled to be surely broken. The Negro lay across the corner, his own dockers hook protruding from a rent in his neck, from which the lifeblood drained inky black down his chest. The bearded fellow slumped against one wall, the Damascus blade protruding from his chest. Anjuron crawled on his knees, a large, deep bruise already rising on the side of his face, reached unsteadily and pulled the Damascus blade from the body.
As I regained my feet, I saw the departing back of the Swiss running away from us down the far alley toward Scutters’ Row. I raised the revolver and fired twice at the broad target filling the alley. With dreadful fascination, I saw him stagger and clutch at the brickwork for support as his steps faltered. I had struck him both times in the back. I waited for his inevitable fall. Instead, Schroder gathered himself, took another step, then another, another, gathering to the run, unhindered, to the end of the alley and out of sight to the street beyond.
The gipsy girl had turned the tables, had the last of the dockers by the throat. She pinned his other arm, pulling him closer. He was quite unable to break her grip. Amazed how so slight a figure should immobilise so large a man, what followed shocked me still further.
She planted a kiss full on the mouth, or so I thought, until the docker emitted a muffled sound. A scream, muffled by her mouth locked to his, as some ungodly process overcame him. The large docker convulsed, the convulsions became a full fit, uncontrollable, a fearful agony that can only be guessed at. Within seconds, the docker was transformed. No longer the man had begun the attack, before my eyes, he was changed from vital to lifeless. His body physically shrank, deflated as a piece of rotted fruit collapsing within an aged skin. A corpse in her grasp, the limp, skeletal form hanging in the loose clothing that had fit the solid-built docker. Skin and hair were colorless, the eyes open, blank and milky.
She opened her hand and dropped the withered husk to the ground, her breathing, rapid and deep, a sheen on her skin. There was a flutter of breath and eyelids, as if in the grip of an opiate. She stood a mere three steps from the body of the lamplighter, the source of the devilry revealed!
Here was no disease, just the fiend that preyed on the town all these weeks. I raised the revolver.
“No! It is Schroder you want.”
Was I to understand Schroder was the curse of Whitechapel, the cause of the unnatural deaths? The trail of death began with his return from Alexandria, halted in his absence, resumed on his return from seeking the almanac. Was this how the elderly Schroder had shed his advancing years and gained the strength to best the soldier in combat? By consuming life?
Anjuron sagged against the brickwork. The gypsy girl first retrieved the Japanese sword before going to his side. She reached down and lifted his considerable weight with ease. Ignored, I lowered the revolver.
From several directions, I heard the shrill sounds of police whistles. Arriving conveniently late and in numbers, the constables approached the scene of a bloody massacre.
“We should not be found,” Anjuron whispered, barely able to focus on me.
I had but a moment’s indecision.
“Quickly then, back to Number Eight!”
I led them the short distance along the alley to the rear of Number Eight. The gypsy girl half-carrying the Frenchman through into the backyard.
A confusion of constables entered the cross-way behind us, filled with shouts and expletives on discovering the slaughter of Schroder’s associates. Thanks to the gloom and fog, we were not seen.
I closed the back gate behind us. Through into the kitchen, I closed and locked the back door also. I was left locked in the house with the two of them. I rummaged about for a lighter and spill, lit the gas lamp, filling the small room with a sooty, yellow light.
Anjuron, looking far from fierce, slumped on a wooden stool, his back to the wall. There was a large bruise and swelling down the side of his face and the unfocussed gaze of a downed prize-fighter.
The gypsy girl shrugged off the baggy brown top-coat, which I saw was badly spattered with two intersecting lines of sprayed blood. The coat dropped in a crumpled heap at her feet. Her manner was perfectly composed, one might think she shrugged off a coat muddied from a walk in Hyde Park.
By the lamplight, she looked less gypsy in her features, more of the East, the Ottomans, or perhaps some Bedouin Arab. Despite what she had done, what I knew her to be, I felt drawn to her, this Arab girl, standing taller than I, so slim one might think she would break in a breeze.
Of a sudden I found my knees weak, my legs shaking and barely able to support me as I all but fell against the back door and clung to it. I had never seen action with the Northamptonshire Auxiliary, had never seen a slaughter like this. No matter that Schroder and his men had intended us mortal harm. I had to confess that I was in fact a tin soldier, lacking the physical or tactical resources of these two. The ferocity of Anjuron’s violence in the cross-way, the worst combination of brutality and blood-lust of man and animal, whilst she – I recoiled from what she had done.
I was rooted to the spot with indecision.
My mind racing, should I fumble the key and exit by the back, run for the constables and admit my part in the massacre outside? Or attempt to run for the hall and through the front door, out into the London streets and anonymity once more?
She began to move about the room. I reached for the pistol in my pocket. Could I pull it, aim and fire, in cold blood, at such proximity as this? A woman filled with the essence of – of what, some devil? Was it even possible she could die?
In this question, cowardice had the better of me. The pistol lay heavily in my hand.
“I hit him. I fired and hit Schroder twice. I am certain of it. He barely faltered.”
“You see what malice and corruption have made of him.”
I saw and judged Schroder to be a creature more than man and less than human. How was I to judge my companions?
Searching around the kitchen, she found a pair of bottles of ale. She cracked the caps on the stone sink, gave one to Anjuron, who fair downed half of it in one long draw, while she took a swig out of the other. Finally looking directly at me, she extended her hand, offering the beer.
I was unable to reply, held there by her black-within-black eyes, a birth-mark only now I understood. That same hand immobilised a man while she killed him at leisure with no other weapon than –
“You are not injured, Barker?”
Anjuron spoke, brighter already with a drink inside him. I was slipping into a darker mood. I shook my head.
“What was I thinking?”
“Que’ce que c’est?”
“We just killed eight men in the streets of London.”
“We killed. Not you. Your soul is untainted.”
In panic, I had been prepared to shoot any or all of them. I shot Schroder in the back, thinking him an ordinary man, before I fully understood what he was. In the aftermath, I was left shaking and ashamed.
“None the less, I am sworn to uphold the law. I have dedicated my life to it, yet in the first confrontation of violence, I left the scene of a crime. I fled for fear of the law and for my own reputation!”
“So what will you do now? Turn us over to the constables? While Schroder escapes the city?”
This was a new and terrifying thought. Schroder at large and in thrall to darkness, possessing both the almanac and the key, which, if the rest were true, might bring about the end of the world.
“Best close the front door,” Anjuron instructed her.
She walked the hall to close the street door.
I arrived at the only conclusion.
The daughter that Schroder had mentioned. The essence sent to open the way for her father. Daughter of a thing Anjuron would not name.
“This is the daughter of your enemy, your watcher in the dark.”
Anjuron raised the bottle in salute.
“Very good, Barker, I can keep no secrets from you.”
I ignored his attempt at English sarcasm.
“You said you were there. When the crossing opened. When she came.”
“You said she was a slave, with one purpose, to bring her father into this world.”
He leaned forward on the stool, eyes clear and balance returned. Some constitution he possessed, strengthened, I suspected, by the other half of his nature.
“Is this your cross-examination, Barker? Will you now believe it?”
I attempted to moderate my voice, but fatigue and fear gave it greater volume than I intended.
“I have seen what she and Schroder do! The foul manner by which they kill! I have seen the vessel! I have heard Schroder’s confession from his own lips!”
“But one thing I do not understand. If she is her father’s slave, why is she here with you and not with the Swiss?”
Despite the beer, his face fell.
“The only amends I could make. Because of me, the key was used. Because of me, a mortal woman died so that she could live, to bring about the ruin of the world.”
Anjuron drained the bottle, with ease.
“She is a runaway. She would be free from the father’s purpose. We run before it, skipping across time like stones across a lake. From crossing to crossing, fearing her father will be there before us.”
“You would have me believe this murderous existence is your – what, penitence? Redemption?”
I was outraged at his attempt at self-justification. The louder I became the lower his growling answers became.
“There is no one else left. None that I knew. Family, friends, all crumbled to dust. If I cannot save myself, I will try to save –”
He broke off. I looked across the kitchen. The girl stood in the doorway from the hall.
She crossed the threshold to stand beside him, reached to touch his hair, the undamaged side of his face. For the first time, she spoke, or I imagined she spoke.
There they were, two creatures the minister of the parish would condemn as damned. Myth and legend come alive before me. Vital creatures of flesh and blood, pain and ecstasy: conscience and compassion. Creatures I was not fit to judge.
The silence was soon broken by the sound of knocking next door at Number Six. Within seconds, there came a knock at my own front door, then on the other side. The constables, going from house to house, seeking witnesses. Many in Napier Terrace were commercial properties like mine, unoccupied at night. The knocking moved on along the street.
I consulted my pocket watch. It was not even half-past four.
There was a decision to be made. All along, Anjuron had sought to destroy the key to this nameless horror. Schroder, under its’ influence, had killed merely as a diversion, in order to possess it, hired hands to kill us in order to keep it. My thoughts were of Wilhemina, her family, our friends, the whole city.
I stood upright and faced them across the kitchen table.
“Schroder. Where will he go?”
“Find a quiet place to consult the almanac. Discover the next auspicious time and location to use the key.”
“When and where might that be?” I demanded. Anjuron gave the smallest of shrugs.
“None en Angleterre.”
“Then he will need – ”
A moment passed, as we considered the vast, teeming mass of the port of London, the centre of international trade, Commonwealth and foreign.
“ – a ship!”
I raced upstairs. I heard the heavy footfalls and metallic sounds as Anjuron followed after me. Winding through the turns of the staircase, I saw that she followed, completely silently, as a ghost.
In my rooms, I bent down to sift through the papers swept from my desk onto the floor. It was not long before a slender hand held yesterday’s newspaper before my face. Looking up, she was a tall, dark shape silhouetted against the lamplight. The Angel of Death come to visit me in my own office. I put such thoughts from my mind.
She fluttered the paper in front of me. I rose, laid it on the desk and turned to the back pages for the shipping news, specifically the scheduled departures on the early morning tide.
“There are six ships leaving the Port of London today. The customs house will list the berths.”
I pocketed an extra handful of cartridges for the pistol and wrapped my overcoat tighter about me. I stopped at the top of the stairs, waiting for them. Anjuron sat in my chair, shaking the empty whisky bottle. She stood beside the gas fitting on the wall, playing with the screw turn, watching the flame and the shadows as the gas rose and fell. Her fascination with gas and flame and shadows contained such innocence. Enough to set the building on fire.
“Don’t do that – ”
I stopped. For one thing, I had spoken to her like a child, for another –
“I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
It was a low breathy exclamation. I was reminded of tales from the East, something in that name used for the goddess of death.
“Are you sure you want this, Barker?”
There came that low, calm voice again. Her accent had a hint of Northamptonshire, like mine, when I had expected Arabic or some other exotic tongue. I was more curious as to how she formed the words, her lips and sounds did not correspond. It took a time for the question to register with me. I roused myself.
“Schroder kills indiscriminately, on my very doorstep. Despatches his brigands to kill me. I am liable to take this matter somewhat personally. Be assured, I shall not hesitate again.”
“I’ve been bested twice,” Anjuron declared ruefully, feeling his bruised face as he rose from the desk. “This may not go as we wish.”
“I’m going to the Customs House. It’s barely two hours before the high tide.”
I descended the stairs, knowing they followed. Anjuron had become the hunter, only the whisper of mail links and harness as he moved down the stairs behind me, avoiding the creaks and groans of loose treads. Khaledra made no sound at all.
I paused at the street door to survey the collection of black mariahs and the coroner’s wagon clustered around the alley. White coats, black coats and uniforms scurried about the scene, between a few civilians drawn by the screams, shots, police whistles and transports.
We slipped quietly away without notice. I found myself leading them, from Napier Terrace, crossing into Berners Street. Onward through an alley toward the river, walking quickly through streets that would soon be waking to activity. Walking with confidence through usually hazardous streets. I was hoping we should not be accosted at this early hour, knowing it would go hard on any who attempted robbery or violence on my two companions.
We approaching the customs house, hugging the alleys and warehouses. The city was still in darkness, fog across the river, a dirty grey fog, tinged yellow with the soot of coal gas. Anjuron waited behind us, a wolf in shadow. He had a quality of stillness I had not noticed before. I was about to step out across the square to the customs house when a firm hand on my shoulder stopped me. Hers. Startled, I looked around into dark eyes, unreadable black-within-black. I was about to speak, when her words flowed over me, low and slow and sinuous.
“It is close by.”
Meaning the key.
“How do you know?” I whispered.
“I feel its’ energy. Do you not?”
There was something unsettling in the air, a chill not belonging the early hour or nearness of the water. Khaledra removed her hand. I stepped out into the square, only to be struck by a white-hot searing pain in my left shoulder. The impact pushed me back, whereupon my legs failed me and I staggered back into her grasp. I looked down at the square puncture through my coat and jacket into the flesh, felt the warmth of the blood as it began to flow.
Schroder stepped around the corner of the warehouse into the illumination in front of the customs house. The nine-inch rail spike in his hand glistened wetly, darkly, not with fog, but my own blood.
Anjuron rushed forward, the Damascus blade arcing low. There was a shower of sparks as iron met steel, then a distinct hollow thud as the apron-wrapped vessel landed heavily against the Frenchman’s head, swung at arms-length with deadly precision by the engineer. Anjuron fell some distance away onto the cobbles, rolling away, the blade sliding away toward the gutter. He attempted to rise, despite suffering a blow that might kill an ox. A few paces away, a crumpled heap of clothing lay on the ground, a skeletal hand outstretched from one sleeve. Beside it a staff and a tallow lantern, still lit, although the glass lay shattered on the cobbles about the brass frame. It was the night watchman for the port authority.
Schroder stood as a rock in defiance of us all, as Khaledra unwound her neckerchief and stuffed it into my wound. There were two dark stains in the front of his jacket, dried to black in sharp relief against the light linen cloth. I had indeed hit him with both bullets when I had fired in the cross-way. Curiously light-headed, I gave a satisfied smile at that moment. However, Schroder stood straighter, broader, radiating vitality, as though more years had fallen from him. In truth, my vision began to whiten and fade with the pain, unlike anything I had ever felt. The brick wall of the warehouse was at my back as Khaledra lowered me gently to the ground, my weight seemingly no weight at all.
She stood, drawing the Japanese sword and approached Schroder, who brandished the rail spike, the key swinging in its wrapping at his side. The faced each other in the square as latter-day gladiators.
“You broke faith, Daughter.”
Khaledra had killed those men in the cross-way with complete calm, without the slightest emotion, yet confronting the Swiss was filled with it, anger, resentment, defiance, most beautiful and most terrible.
“You’re not my father. You don’t speak for him.”
“It is the power he promised me.”
“Lies. Malice. Corruption. All my father is. Will you follow him even to death?”
“I was already dead.” Schroder thumped his own chest. “Emphysema! His power re-made me as I am. I am re-born!”
“Re-join us. Be as you were named. Be his Daughter again. Bring him to a new world!”
Khaledra raised the sword, braced for the assault.
“I made my choice.”
Schroder nodded toward Anjuron, squatting unsteadily on all fours.
“To live with your dog as you skim across time? When you should be queen of the world?”
“The only man in this world you cannot kill? That is no choice at all.”
Then it happened, a few short steps, the hiss of the blade through the air, the two of them coming together. The long blade pierced the apron cloth, the vessel tumbling out and struck the ground, the blade become entangled in the loose folds. Khaledra grasped the fist holding the rail spike, aimed in deadly earnest for her heart. With a sharp twist and an audible snap, she broke Schroder’s arm, the Swiss bellowing with the pain. The spike struck the ground with a clatter. Weapons abandoned, it became a hand-to-hand tussle, Schroder with his good hand around her throat, clenched tight around her windpipe.
I reached right-handed into my coat pocket, feeling for the Enfield. Every shift of movement was agony through my injured shoulder, but I was never more determined.
Khaledra struck through Schroder’s elbow, breaking his grip, so she was able to pull him in closer, their lips touching until I knew, with a terrible certainty, the ending of life lay in that embrace. Silently, Schroder contorted in her grip, convulsed, as his movements turned from attack to escape. Right before me, the solid bull of a man who had for the third time battered Anjuron to the ground, began to shrink as the life was sucked out of him.
In a few moments, it was over. The linen suit hung limp from her hand, the skeletal remains of the Swiss so wizened and shrunken as to be unrecognisable. Khaledra stood in the square with he face raised to the sky, gulping in great lungfuls of air.
Anjuron loomed over me, leaning unsteadily against the same wall as I, with some concussion, I suspected.
“Can you stand?”
His hand descended to assist me. Startled, I lowered the revolver. I had not even cocked the hammer. Stuffing it back in my pocket, I took the Frenchman’s hand as he did most to raise me to my feet. The shoulder was exquisite agony. He left me there as he staggered his course around the square. First, to Khaledra, a light touch of her hair and a brief whisper. He bent gingerly, feet wide apart as an inebriated man, to retrieve the Damascus blade. Khaledra walked to the river’s edge and cast her burden into the water. The splash was small into the flowing current. There was nothing of life left within the body of the Swiss to contaminate the water. Lastly, Anjuron took the apron cloth and gathered up the vessel from where it lay, perfectly undamaged on the cobbles. To my surprise he brought it over and handed it to me.
“Set the vessel on the jetty.”
With his support to walk, I did as he bid me, setting the vessel atop a jetty post, gathering the cloth to ensure the wretched, impossible thing stayed upright. The matt grey lump was so utterly frictionless the drifting fog itself left not a drop on the surface.
Anjuron drew me back a half-dozen paces. I took the Enfield from my pocket and this time cocked the hammer. Firing at such close range, there could be no doubt. In time with the sharp report of the revolver, the non-metal exploded like pellets of glass with the percussive force. A cloud of fragments showered from the post and into the fast flowing waters of the Thames. The remainder bounced and trickled down onto the worn edge-stones of the jetty, off into the darkness until there was no trace of it.
Khaledra stood beside us, the Japanese blade sheathed beneath the coat, the battered almanac in her hand, her face again a serene mask.
“The shot will alert the night watch. We should go. Know you a surgeon can tend your wound?”
Without thinking, I flinched from her as she reached out to inspect the wound and immediately regretted it. An instant of fear, suspicion and disgust betrayed both myself and her. Her hand dropped.
I thought for a moment; there was a good doctor belonging to my club who could be relied upon for his discretion.
“Yes. What of yours?” I enquired of Anjuron, for only then I saw he was bleeding down the other side of his head to the earlier injury.
“No surgeon – ”
“I know. It will close up later.”
We could say no more, as she began to march us out of the square the way we came, in which we had no choice, one of her hands on each of us propelled with the force of a steam tug on the river.
“We must go.”
At Berners Street I was released to walk unaided. As I turned once more for Napier Terrace, I realised I was alone. Somewhere in the rat run of alleyways, my companions silently took their leave of me, as the sun began to rise.
Sitting at last at home at the foot of Primrose Hill, far from Whitechapel, I struggle to conclude my account. These events into which I stumbled are enough to drive any sane man mad.
I returned home to Wilhemina. My wound was made good by my friend the surgeon. I could not give either of them the full account of the night’s events. I made do with the assertion that I had interrupted a burglar and had seen him off the premises after a brief fracas. I am not so accomplished a liar as many of my defendants. I am sure neither of them believed me, my changed demeanour alluding to far darker secrets.
I have yet to decide what I should disclose of these homicides to the authorities. I have no scientific evidence, no independent witnesses. To step forward now with these revelations would be to condemn myself to ridicule, disbarment and confinement to an asylum. And so I justify my cowardice in this.
I am unsure how I can continue to practice law. Without trial or evidence, making myself judge, jury and executioner, I shot a man in the back rather than let him escape. No matter that Schroder could not be killed by such as I, a line once crossed cannot be erased. Like Schroder, I have stepped out of the light, toward this thing that awaits us in the darkness, waiting to break through and consume all. It has torn down the very foundation of my character, I cannot claim to be the same man; Barker the straight-backed attorney, Barker the bon viveur, Barker the blind man. I have now to consider every choice of every day, to determine on which side it falls. Most strange of all, I have my examples by which to measure.
Khaledra is both the light and the darkness. Schroder called her Queen of the World. I hope she is strong enough in her choice to overcome her nature. Should she turn back, there may be no one to stop her. Not even Anjuron, fighting his hidden war, unafraid to act and accept the consequences. Khaledra carries what little hope he has left. Society considers me qualified in matters of law, but in this, I am in unknown territory.
It may be that hope, redemption, salvation are beyond my understanding.
I shall be ever vigilant.