“The Death of Angelica Blackmore”
Dreams of Steam 5
M. B. Weston’s steampunk story, “The Death of Angelica Blackmore,” begins just a few months after “The Survivor.” Discover more about Angelica Blackmore and the mysterious organization she works for, as well as her desire to escape.
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“The Death of Angelica Blackmore” preview:
The butler clasped his hand to his neck as blood spewed out between his fingers. He sank to his knees and collapsed face-first on the Turkish rug. The fireplace’s golden embers poked out from between the cinders. Their glow outlined the silhouette of a figure standing over the butler’s body. He wore clothing designed to help him slip into the night: black pants, a black shirt, and a black hood that covered all but his blue eyes. Both of his hands were flexed back, and two slender, three-inch-long daggers, covered in the butler’s blood, pointed out from under his wrists.
He relaxed his hands, and the blades retracted into spring-loaded sheaths hidden beneath his sleeves. The intruder stepped over the guard’s body and stole across the Victorian drawing room. He hated being surprised, especially by those whose business had nothing to do with his mission, but whose accidental presence required their death.
He crept to a portrait of Hiram Maxim, an American inventor who had immigrated to England five years earlier. He removed it from the wall, exposing a safe.
He turned the knob to the left until he hit a number: five. He spun it to the right until he reached two. A quick twist to the left again, and the safe opened at forty. The intruder let out an almost imperceptible grunt.
The safe was empty.
He closed the safe and replaced the picture. The evening’s events made his frustration simmer. He had made a mess of a handsome Turkish rug, he was missing what had promised to be a delightful dinner party, and now his entire mission had failed because someone gave him faulty information. He turned toward the window to leave.
He stopped. Footsteps echoed outside the door.
With a jump, the burglar climbed up the wall and twisted in midair. With his arms and legs pressing against the wall’s corners, he stayed plastered near the ceiling, staring at the floor. He hoped whoever headed down the hall would decide to pass the room.
The doorknob twisted.
The burglar huffed. Luck had abandoned him this evening.
The door opened with a creak. A maid peeked inside. Her golden braid lay against her white nightdress, and she held a candle in one hand. “Mr. Maxim?”
He’s not here. Look somewhere else, the intruder silently commanded. He loathed missions that involved occupied homes. His organization, known to its members as Ironstone, had rules. These rules had allowed it to survive undetected for thousands of years. Unfortunately, they required him to eliminate anyone who discovered him during a mission. Ironstone viewed collateral damage as an acceptable cost of bringing about greater good.
The servant pushed the door open a little further. “Was that you?”
Don’t come in; don’t come in. The burglar wished he could twist people to do his bidding with a simple thought the way others in Ironstone could.
The girl took a few steps inside.
The intruder held his breath. He should have dragged the body to a less noticeable spot in the room.
The candle’s flame flickered across the girl’s eyes as she peered around. The eyes were kind and far too young.
Walk away. He ignored the fatigue trying to seep into his arm and legs as he held himself against the walls.
The maid searched the room.
Don’t look at the floor. The intruder hoped the girl might bring the candle closer so he could blow it out and disappear out the window rather than have her suffer the consequences of her ill-timed curiosity. Turn around and walk out.
Too late. The maid noticed the butler’s body. Her candle dropped to the floor. She raised her neck and opened her mouth to scream.
The scream never came, for the burglar had already sprung. He wrenched her neck until it snapped and threw her body to the ground. He stood up and sniffed. Something far stronger than the fireplace’s dying embers was burning. The maid’s candle had set the rug on fire. He grabbed an oil lamp off a nearby table, broke off its top, and created a trail of oil from the nearby curtains to the rug. He dropped the lamp next to the bodies. The fire ignited the oil and raced across the room. The intruder turned to leave, but he noticed two tiny eyes in the doorway. A young boy, maybe three or four, stared at him.
In two steps the burglar pushed the child against the wall and flicked up his wrist. A thin dagger shot out from his sleeve. He should have rammed the spindle into the child’s neck, but something stopped him. Too many children deemed collateral damage had already died from his hands. When the world became calm and thoughts about missions couldn’t get in the way, their screams echoed in his thoughts. Their faces rose to the surface of his memories.
His wrist snapped down, and the dagger retracted back under his sleeve. This child’s screams would not haunt him.
He shoved the boy into the hall and raced back to the room. Amber flames engulfed the curtains surrounding the windows.
Take your medicine, he thought. In his haste, he had set fire to his only escape route; he would endure the consequences.
He bounded across the floor, sprung over the flames, and climbed out, taking a final glance at the bodies of the butler and the young maid before the fire devoured them. Their faces, like many others, would haunt him. Only as he scrambled up the side of the house did he realize his left pant leg had caught on fire. He continued climbing; he could not extinguish the flames while dangling against the wall. He reached the top and flung himself onto the roof. He ripped off his black, turban-like hood and used it to smother the fire.
The intruder’s brown, spiral curls blew about in the evening breeze. At that moment, anyone watching would realize he wasn’t a he. He was a she, and her name was Angelica Blackmore.
She tore off the all the charred fabric remaining on her pant, exposing most of her leg. The milky skin had turned bright pink, and the burn throbbed. After a few moments, the rosy tint had faded. In just a few more, it would heal completely. A miracle, some might say. Angelica, and other immortals like her, often scoffed at that. Only humans needed miracles.
She knew she should leave. Even now, people were running out of their homes below, pointing at the fire she had started. Her leg still throbbed a bit, however, and she seethed inside. Faulty intelligence had caused her mission to fail. She could spare a few moments. No one would look on the roof, anyway.
Once the aching lessened, she pulled herself to her up in a crouch. The peaked rooftops of London lay in front of her—a forest of chimney smoke and stars that she knew better than her own bedroom. The full moon illuminated the shingles on the roofs and reflected off the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. With a leap, she bounded over the alley and landed silently on the neighboring roof. She scrambled up and over that roof and vaulted from rooftop to rooftop, enjoying the chilly night air swirling around her arms and legs. With her hood off, she felt the breeze blow through her hair and across her face. She loved missions like these when she could escape her confining Victorian dresses, underthings, and the dreaded corset.
Though gas streetlamps glowed around the streets below, she rarely worried about being seen. Angelica knew which streets were lit and which weren’t, and she kept in the shadows. Light, for her, was a dangerous informant; darkness was her confidant.
A crash down in an alley interrupted her travels. Angelica landed on the peak of a roof. She crept down the incline on her hands and feet, keeping her center of gravity close to the tiles. She crouched in the shadow of a chimney and stared below into one of London’s more dangerous neighborhoods.
This alley had no streetlamps, but the moon cast enough light to reflect off some of the cobblestones.
Below, four men were brawling next to a carriage. Three of them were unshaven ruffians wearing cast-off, patched clothes. They had ganged up on the fourth, who dressed much too elegantly for such a neighborhood. Angelica might have passed it off as a drunken brawl or—more likely—a robbery, but something about the fight grabbed her attention: the gentleman was winning.
His own lightning-quick blows caused far greater damage than theirs. He anticipated their movements, spinning around and blocking their punches before he could have possibly seen them. One swung a metal pipe at him, striking his shoulder. Without even a flinch, the gentleman wrenched the pipe away. He used it to knock out the first assailant and then turned it on the others.
He clobbered the next, rendering him unconscious as well. The last one took a look at the pipe and fled.
“Tell them I’m coming!” yelled the gentleman. He bent the pipe in half and tossed it aside. Though his wrist and arm barely moved, the pipe bounced and rolled down the street at least twenty feet.
Angelica gasped. His strength wasn’t human. He’s like us, she realized.
Angelica pushed herself up, intending to bolt. The gentleman looked over his shoulder in her direction. She froze. How could he hear her from that distance? She had barely made a sound. Angelica stayed still, confident that the night shadows offered her enough cover.
The gentleman turned away. He walked to the side of the carriage, placed his ear to the door, and listened. He jiggled the handle, but it was locked. The windows were also blacked out—a rare thing in carriages.
The man pulled back his fist and hurled a punch through the window. Glass shattered. When he yanked his arm out of the carriage, his fist was attached to the neck of another grisly fellow, who looked quite surprised at his turn of luck. The gentleman flung him against a building—across the alley. His body slid down the wall until he crashed on the curb, where he lay unconscious.
The gentleman reached again through the window and unlocked the doors from the inside. His stern face turned gentle. Though Angelica couldn’t hear his voice, his lips formed the words, come on. He reached inside the carriage and, with great tenderness, lifted out a small girl whose hands were bound behind her back. Her mouth was gagged. Bruises on her hands and face indicated beatings. He removed her bonds. He reached into the carriage and pulled out another, and another. Five children in all: two girls and three boys. He took the two girls by the hand and led the rest down the alley. Before stepping out of the moonlight, he turned around and stared dead into Angelica’s eyes.
His expression was not so gentle.
Angelica intended to heed his silent warning, and she wondered how he knew her location.
Once he left her sight, she stood up. She fought the temptation to follow him. She needed to give her report to Ironstone as quickly as possible, and she wanted to find the leak in her reconnaissance efforts that led to this evening’s failure before she returned.