Book 2 – House Immortal
Abraham was sitting on the exam table, covered in sweat, his hair finger-combed off his forehead. He had on pants and boots. Quinten was tying off a knot in a bandage he’d wrapped over both Abraham’s shoulders, and down around his chest and stomach.
Gloria looked up from where she was putting things away on a shelf.
“We’ve been made,” Left Ned said. “In the shop. Domek. Assassin. Run. Now. You want to get out of here quick, Gloria. He’s armed.”
“Domek?” Abraham’s head snapped up and his eyes cleared. “Are you sure?”
Everyone seemed to know about this assassin except for me.
“More than sure,” Left Ned said.
“How long until he can get back here?” Quinten asked as he quickly shoved medical supplies into a duffel Gloria tossed to him.
“Can’t get in from the front,” Gloria said. “Did he come into the shop?”
“Yes.” Neds cased the room and stuffed his pockets with jars of pills.
“He’ll discover there’s no access to this part of the building in five minutes or less,” she said. “How quickly he gets in here depends on how much firepower he’s packing.”
I jogged over to Abraham and helped him into a flannel shirt and jacket.
His hands trembled. He was kicking off an awful lot of heat even though he was shivering.
“Can you stand?” I asked as I helped him up off the table. “Can you run?”
His feet touched the ground and his eyes tightened. He hissed air between his teeth, and I looked around for the stretcher.
“I’m fine,” he gasped, one arm pressed against his stomach. “Let’s move.”
“Are there any other ways out of here besides the parking lot?” Right Ned asked.
“Basement,” Gloria said, pulling a coat off a hook and slipping into it. “This way.” She ran toward the hall Neds and I had just come in from.
“Hurry,” Quinten said, throwing the duffel over his shoulder and following Gloria.
Abraham took one step, then another. From the way he body stiffened against each movement, I knew it hurt like hell.
If he was already feeling everything, then I didn’t see how me touching him could make it worse. “Here,” I said, sliding my arm around his back and drawing his arm over my shoulder. “Lean if you need it.”
I helped him take the next few steps, and wanted to scream for how slow we were moving. But with each step his body seemed to come back to itself; muscles and joints and nerves seemed to remember how to move as one whole.
And then he seemed to remember how to move smoothly and quickly, until we were walking at a fairly fast pace.
But we were not running. We were nowhere near running capabilities.
“Faster, faster,” Left Ned chanted behind us.
Gloria and Quinten dragged a heavy cabinet away from the end of the hall and shoved it up against one wall. Gloria crouched down and pressed a button in the floorboards. A hatch popped up, and she pushed it to one side, where it slid seamlessly into the floor itself.
“Watch your step.” She started down a ladder, Quinten hurrying after her.
I looked up at Abraham. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
He scowled at the ladder. “Go,” he said, pulling his arm away from me.
“I won’t leave you.”
“Down. I’ll be right behind you.”
I didn’t waste any more time arguing. I sat and slipped my boots to the first rung, then scurried down as fast as I could.
Not a lot of light at the bottom of the ladder. It smelled of damp and mold and rot. I took a few steps away from the ladder. The ground beneath me felt like hard-packed dirt.
“What’s taking them so long?” Quinten whispered from the shadows to my right.
Abraham’s boot, first one, then the other, pressed against the ladder rungs. He climbed down methodically, but not nearly as slowly as I’d expected.
Neds scrambled down almost on top of him.
As soon as Neds’ heads cleared the floor above us, the hatch closed, snicking into place, then sealing with a thud of metal sucking down vacuum tight.
The darkness was complete now.
“This way,” Gloria said. She shook something and a soft yellow glow appeared in her palm.
I heard Quinten shake something too, and then the little packet strapped to the back of his hand glowed.
“Do you need assistance?” he asked Abraham.
Abraham was leaning against the ladder, still breathing hard. Sweat caught in small droplets at the ends of the hair over his eyes, and his clothes were soaked with it. He looked like he’d just run a marathon, not walked down a single hallway and a single ladder.
“Go,” I said to Quinten. “We’ll catch up.”
Abraham pushed away from the ladder. “We’ll keep up,” he said.
Neds, probably Left Ned, swore softly. He stepped over to Abraham and wrapped an arm around him.
I came up on the other side and did the same. I’d expected Abraham to argue, but from how much he was leaning on us both, I didn’t think he had the air for it.
“Don’t like ladders?” I asked, as we moved forward over the hard, uneven dirt.
Abraham breathed for a bit, as if just trying to keep his lungs and feet moving at the same time was taking all his concentration.
“Most. Repairs,” he said, one word on each exhale. “Days. To recover. Coordination. Difficult.”
“It’s coming back to you pretty quickly,” I said.
“Wouldn’t hurt to step it up a bit though,” Left Ned said.
The glow of Quinten and Gloria’s lights bobbed ahead of us faster than we could keep up.
“Think you can?” I asked Abraham.
Instead of wasting breath, he just put a little more effort into walking. He had longer legs than either Neds or me, but I was wished he was moving at about twice the speed.
“Do you think Domek will find the hatch?” I asked Neds.
“Yes,” Right Ned said.
“Hopefully not before we’re out of this tunnel,” Left Ned said. “We’re fish in a barrel down here.”
“Where do you think this empties out?”
“No idea,” Right Ned said.
Abraham was doing what he could to stay breathing and moving. Even wounded, fevered, weak, and hurting, he didn’t complain.
“Hold up here,” Gloria said from ahead of us. “I’ll see if we can cross.”
“Just a little more,” I said to Abraham. We finally caught up to Quinten where the tunnel widened a bit. The walls were a rough mix of dirt and bricks, the ceiling supported by wooden beams. Gloria’s light skipped ahead, casting yellow over more bricks and more beams; then she took a sharp right and was gone.
“Let’s lean for a second,” I suggested. Neds and I guided Abraham to the wall and leaned against it.
We were all sweating and breathing a little hard. Abraham closed his eyes and tipped his head back, trying to get his breathing under control.
Quinten squinted at the shadows that filled the tunnel where Gloria had been moments before. Then he dug in the duffel over his shoulder and pulled out a soft canteen. “It’s water,” he said, offering it to me. “He should drink as much as he can.”
I took the container, a waterproof fabric with a hard nozzle and cap at the top. I unscrewed the lid and held it up for Abraham. “You should drink,” I said. “Doctor’s orders.”
It took him a moment, but he opened his eyes and tipped his head down again. He shifted and pulled his arm from around my shoulders, then did the same with Neds.
He locked his knees to hold himself up against the wall and held out his hand for the water.
I gave it to him and he drank several long, deep swallows. He pulled it away from his mouth, paused to get his breath again, then drank more.
While he repeated this, his breathing getting better and better after each time he drank, I studied the tunnel, trying to set its location in my head.
“Do you have any idea where we are?” I asked Quinten.
“Other than under the city? No. She’s told me she had a way to get out if she were ever discovered by a House.”
“I think I love her a little for that,” I said.
He smiled, the shadow and light carving into his profile as if he were made of wax. “There’s a lot about her to love.”
I walked the short distance to my brother and leaned in close. “I need to talk to you about Abraham. Now. In private.”
“Wait here,” he said to Neds and Abraham. “We’ll walk part way down the tunnel, to watch for Gloria.”
Before Neds could argue, Quinten took my wrist. We strode about halfway to the junction Gloria had taken to the right.
“What?” he whispered.
“He feels pain. Ever since he first woke up, he’s had sensation,” I said. “I told you that. I think it’s the thread you used on him. My thread. And the scale jelly. Whatever it is, he can feel now.”
Quinten frowned and glanced back over his shoulder, then back at me. “He seemed to handle the procedure normally. We administered the block before we did it.”
“I’m sure. How painful would that procedure be on a normal human?”
“It would be excruciating.” Quinten wiped at his mouth with his nonglowing hand,. “He shouldn’t be walking. Matilda, we need to find a safe place to leave him. He won’t be able to keep up. Running will only do more damage to him.”
“I won’t hold you up,” Abraham said. He walked on his own toward us. I had to admit, he seemed to be carrying himself better.
Neds followed behind him. I couldn’t see their expressions in the darkness, but Right Ned shook his head.
Abraham appeared calm, confident, and collected.
Yeah, I’d seen him put on that act before. I knew he was weak, wounded, and hurting.
“If you care for your well-being,” Quinten said, “you’ll allow us to find a safe place for you so you can recover fully.”
“There’s a price on my head,” Abraham said. “There is no safe place for me.”
“Then if you care at all about my sister’s life,” Quinten said, “you will put her safety before yours and leave this group.”
“Hey, now,” I said, “Stop it. Both of you. Fighting isn’t going to help anything.”
I may as well have been scolding shadows.
Abraham advanced on Quinten and glowered down on him. “I care very much about your sister’s life. Do you understand me, Quinten Case? I know what you’ve done to make her. I know what you’ve done to keep her. I know what you’ve done to hide her. But she is no longer your secret to own. The Houses know about her; the world knows about her. And they know about you. If you think you can outrun those who rule this world, you are an idiot..”
“She was safe until you put her in danger,” Quinten snapped. “She would have stayed safe if you hadn’t stepped into our lives. I blame you, Abraham Seventh, for all the damage done to her. All the damage done to my family.”
“Hey,” I warned again. “We’ve done plenty on our own to damage our family.”
“I will only tell you this once, Mr. Case,” Abraham said in a low growl. “You will regret choosing me as your enemy.”
What? No one was choosing enemies here.
“Enough!” I pushed my way between them, grabbed the sleeves of their jackets, and physically pulled them apart.
Yes, I’m strong enough to do that. “We are all going to get along—do you both understand that? I do not care one bit about who thinks they have or haven’t done enough to keep me safe. For one thing, keeping me safe is my job. I will not be argued over like I’m a fragile knickknack someone dropped and chipped.
“Right this second, I could wrestle you both to the ground and make you cry uncle, so do not even think of testing how serious I am about this. We travel together. Period. We keep the hate, the blame, and the anger where it should be kept: against the Houses who have apparently sent an assassin to kill us. Our enemies are not in this tunnel. Not yet.
“We’re all in, all the way together. Are we gold on that?”
Neither of them said anything, their gazes locked, hands in fists.
“Do not make me knock you both out and drag you through this tunnel. Are we gold?” I shoved back my sleeves so I’d have better reach to wrestle them.
“We’re gold,” Abraham said, still staring at Quinten.
“Fine,” Quinten said. “We travel together. If Abraham falls, we all fall. That should be a familiar refrain to you, Abraham Seventh, now that all the galvanized are falling because of your actions.”
Abraham lifted his head and it was a massive, obvious effort to force himself to take a couple steps away. I noted it put him out of strangling range, which was pretty much what it looked like he wanted to do to my brother.
“Uncalled-for,” I said to Quinten, stepping up and placing my hand over his racing heart. “Look at me.”
He finally did, and some of the caged-animal wildness left his eyes. Quinten had been out of captivity for just over a day. It was no wonder he was running a little close to the other side of sanity.
“Slater Orange is the one who started this,” I said. “And Helen Eleventh. You know that. You do. We’re going to fix it. All of it. The entire world. But right now the only thing we can do is get through this tunnel and get back to the property.”
Quinten swallowed and nodded, lifting his hand to touch my arm. “I know.” Then, quieter, “I’m sorry.”
I smiled, hoping he could see it in the low light. “We’re gold.”
“Property? Your property?” Abraham asked. Abraham wasn’t an stupid. He knew Quinten had been held by Slater. I supposed he even has some ideas of what Slater may have done to him.
“Yes, our property,” Quinten said.
“Why?” Abraham asked me.
Quinten answered him. “Because if we don’t, the time anomaly that has given the galvanized such a long life will end, killing all galvanized instantly.”
Abraham was silent for a moment. Just a few hours ago, I’d told him his friend Oscar Gray was dead. Just a few hours ago, he’d found out my brother had killed his friend Robert Twelfth. And now he was being told his own death was days away.
The bad news just kept coming.
“What time anomaly?” he asked with far more calm than I was feeling. I kept glancing back in the shadows behind us, expecting Domek to be there with a gun.
So far the shadows were just shadows.
“Wings of Mercury experiment,” Quinten said. “It was our great-great-and-greater-grandfather’s experiment. And, according to the notes I’ve compiled, the break in time he triggered is going to mend. In just over two days. I think I can stop it.”
But there was no time for an answer. A blast ricocheted through the tunnel. A bomb?
“Go,” Left Ned grabbed Abraham’s arm pushing him move past us down the tunnel. “Domek must have blown the hatch. He’ll be on us.”
I jogged after them, caught up, and took Abraham’s other side.
Abraham was supporting more of his own weight and his breathing was steady. He’d gotten enough water and rest back there that we could sprint for it.
So we ran.
Down to the end of the tunnel. Hard right following where Gloria had gone.
Could be a dead end.
Could be a trap.
Could be Gloria had been captured and we were running to our doom.
Could be none of that mattered because Domek was behind us, and he would kill us deader than dead if he caught us.
A light ahead of us descend in a single dull-yellow beam from the ceiling. That light showed a shaft leading upward at the end of the tunnel.
“Hurry!” Gloria pulled a cage door to one side and waved us in behind it. “Where’s Quinten?”
I ducked out from under Abraham’s arm, leaving him to lean against the back of the cage—maybe an elevator—and peered through the darkness and dust behind us for Quinten.
I couldn’t see him, but the light he carried arced and then hit the ground. He’d thrown it away. I didn’t know why.
“Quinten!” I got three steps into the dust toward him when a hand shot out and grabbed my wrist.
“Run, run, run!” Quinten said.
We hauled it into the elevator. Gloria worked the controls. It was an old freight lift, mechanics and gears, pulleys and chain. It clattered and rumbled, starting up.
“Did you see him?” I asked Quinten.
“Cover your ears,” he said.
Which was a weird answer, but then it all clicked. He had a lot of different medical compounds and chemicals in that bag he’d packed. If he didn’t have something that was already a bomb, he was sure to have packed something that could pretty quickly become a bomb.
I covered my ears.
The blast hit, sound and impact simultaneously pounding over us. Dust and rock smothered out the air, stung my eyes, and covered us in grit. I prayed the mechanics on the lift would withstand it. I prayed that Domek wouldn’t withstand it.
The elevator shuddered like an animal that had just had its jugular cut.
It slowed but kept rising, grinding and shrieking as it cranked up and up.
Quinten was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him after that blast. Gloria shook her head, pointed at her ear, then pressing her fingers over her lips. Quinten shut up.
Neds and Abraham were covered in a thick layer of dust. I supposed we all were. They had seen Gloria’s signal and weren’t talking either.
The elevator hopped to a stop. I hoped we were at the top and not dangling somewhere between.
Gloria pulled the cage door open and stepped through it. We were in a concrete enclosure lit by a dull bulb on the wall, a single steel door directly opposite us. “This is it,” she said. I didn’t know how loud she was talking, but I wouldn’t have understood her if I hadn’t been watching her lips.
She took a second to bat the dust off her shoulders, head, face, and hands while we all stepped out of the elevator, Abraham under his own power.
“Which wire do I cut?” I asked.
Quinten flicked a look at me, then at the elevator gears that were exposed. He pointed. “That should work.”
I reached over, wrapped my hand around the cable chain, and pulled.
Not as easy as it looked, but I am an uncommonly strong woman. It finally gave under my insistence.
“It won’t stop him,” Left Ned said. “He’ll keep coming until we’re dead.”
“Just trying to buy us some time,” I said, as we hurried over to where Gloria was picking the lock on the steel door.
“No key?” I asked.
“Never had one,” she said.
“Let me.” Right Ned flicked a ready-all out of one pocket and a slim knife out of the other.
Gloria moved aside, and Neds got busy with the lock. Right Ned gave a little “Ah-ha,” and had it sprung in less than three seconds.
“Three seconds? You’re getting rusty, Harris,” I said.
“Want me to reset it so you can give it a try?”
“There’s no time for squabbling, children,” Quinten said.
Neds stepped back and pulled his jacket hood up, so that at the casual glance you wouldn’t suppose he had two heads.
I adjusted my scarf and took a look at Abraham. He had his hands in his pockets, and with the dust and scruff, even the stitches on his face were difficult to see unless a person got close enough.
Quinten and Gloria left their heads bare, which was a good move. Five people all hooded up might be more than a little suspicious.
Gloria opened the door and we all stepped through.