Queen of Volts – Amanda Foody

Lola Sanguick strode down the Street of the Holy Tombs carrying a leather briefcase crammed full of newspapers. Dark circles sagged beneath her eyes, a souvenir from sleepless nights spent with her ear tethered to the radio. For the past week, everyone in her life had boarded themselves indoors. They’d chattered and drank and mourned and cried, but no one—no one—had stopped their noise to pay attention to the omens really gathering in the City of Sin. Sometimes Lola felt she was the only one who did. The Street of the Holy Tombs was the unsettling heart of Olde Town, a historic North Side neighborhood of spindly streets and church towers casting it in perpetual skin-creeping shadow. The superstitions of New Reynes thrived here: the haunted tinkling of Faith bells, the wrought iron gates and gothic spires reaching teeth-like toward the sky. As though this street was designed to coerce a frightened prayer from even the lips of nonbelievers. A tinny bell chimed as Lola shook away her goosebumps and opened the door to an office. Despite the welcome mat by the door, the place must not have received many visitors. Dust clung to every surface, and the air smelled stale, all of the windows boarded, curtains drawn. Lola would’ve thought it abandoned, if not for the woman hunched over her work. The woman was fair and middle-aged, with a waist-length braid of brown hair and a massive wooden Creed dangling from her neck—a Faith symbol that resembled a T with a circle at its base. When she blinked, Lola noticed black tattoos of eyes inked on the back of her eyelids, as though, even with her eyes closed, she could always see. Lola had never met the woman before, and a shiver crept up her spine at the woman’s cold, fixed stare.

“Why are you here?” the woman asked, by way of a greeting. Because no one else will listen, Lola thought bitterly. Lola didn’t tell her that, in case that made her sound paranoid. More than anything, Lola hated being called paranoid, and it was that word—spoken groggily that very morning by her half-asleep girlfriend when Lola tried to explain her worries—that had prompted Lola to yank her briefcase out from the secret nook in the closet and storm her way here. Lola liked to consider herself clever for the way she noticed details others overlooked. Like when she’d spotted bloodied handkerchiefs buried at the bottom of her family’s waste bins, and her father had succumbed to pneumonia less than a week later. Like when her eldest brother had stopped buying more paper for his typewriter, and the month afterward, Lola had discovered he’d been expelled from university. Or when her other brother’s mood swings and rages turned to silence, and then he’d abandoned their family altogether. There were warning signs now, too, but her friends romanticized the city’s tragic legends too much to understand where their story was truly heading. Twenty-six years after the tryannical ruling class had been slaughtered, a Mizer had been discovered alive.

A Mizer in known partnership with an orb-maker, both of whose ancestors had governed the world side by side. Partners who’d assassinated the man who’d started the Revolution. Partners who’d committed countless other crimes against the Republic, and who kept company of the seediest sort. And meanwhile, an election even the public regarded as corrupt. A massacre committed by a malison who possessed the very talent the Mizer kings had once vilified. And the victims—so many, too many—dead. A reckoning was coming for the City of Sin—and if not revolution, if not war, then it would bring violence all the same. Lola wasn’t paranoid for heeding its warning signs; she was merely clever enough to pay attention. But there were still mysteries left unsolved, which was why Lola had wandered so deep into Olde Town for answers. Her friends dismissed her concerns now, but they might need these answers, once the reckoning arrived.

They would need every weapon they could find. Rather than telling the woman why she was here, Lola decided it would be better to show her. Lola slammed her briefcase atop her desk and unlatched it. She pulled out stacks of newspapers and clippings. Many came from The Crimes & The Times, including editorials comparing the most recent turmoil in New Reynes to the so-called Great Street War nineteen years ago, the golden age of North Side crime. Others dated from the Great Street War, historic pieces which Lola had stolen from the National Library. Scattered through were copies of Her Forgotten Histories, the very newspaper printed in this office. Lola’s simple and neat handwriting wove between the indents and margins of everything in violently red ink. “How…” the woman started, and Lola braced herself for that word she hated “…diligent.” “Yes, well, I have lots of questions,” Lola said, somewhat flustered, somewhat proud.

“And I think you’re the only one who can answer them.” “Why me?” asked Zula, knotting her brow. Because Zula Slyk wasn’t just the publisher of Her Forgotten Histories, the only newspaper Lola had come to trust; she was the last surviving member of the Pseudonyms, a group of anonymous journalists who’d once dug up the secrets so damning that even the City of Sin had tried to keep them buried. “Because you were Lourdes Alfero’s friend,” Lola answered. Enne’s adoptive mother used to write for Zula’s newspaper. “And I’m her daugther’s.” That answer must have sufficed because Zula leaned forward and parsed through Lola’s feeble collection of discarded history. “What do you already know?” Zula asked her. Her words had a grave quality to them, like a physician asking how far her symptoms had progressed. “I know…” A lump caught in Lola’s throat.

Zula might have spent her days surrounded by empty desks, suspicious of visitors, her frown and worry lines etching deeper into her face, but Lola had never wanted to impress anyone as much as she did her. She would not call Lola paranoid. Lola frantically flipped through the clippings until she came upon a page torn from a book, and her finger trembled as she jabbed a highlighted name. “Enne’s real blood name is Scordata, and I discovered that before the Revolution, the Scordatas were a lesser noble family here, in Reynes. And I know the name comes from her father, that he was the Mizer who passed down her blood talent.” Lola was a blood gazer, someone with the ability to read another person’s talents and discern from which parent they had inherited them. Talents were a tricky business: every person was born with two. The stronger was called the blood talent, and the weaker was dubbed the split talent. Their abilities ranged from simple skills like music—Lola’s own split talent—to powers crudely described as magic. Parents only passed down their blood talents, but it was random, which parent gave the child the stronger or weaker one.

Lola had been the only powerful blood gazer of her siblings. But she wasn’t just powerful—she was good, relying on thorough research to supply whatever information her talent could not. Otherwise Lola wouldn’t have deduced as much about Enne’s lineage as she’d managed. She just needed to prove herself to Zula. “So I know a lot, but I still have questions,” Lola continued, attempting to sound confident. “The whole Scordata family was supposedly killed at least nine years before Enne was born. So who was her father? Some kind of bastard?” This was the only conclusion Lola had come up with, but the Mizers had been meticulous about records and registering talents. It wasn’t likely. “A lucky find,” Zula told her flatly, “but a dead end. You won’t find anything thinking like this.

” Lola’s pale, freckled cheeks grew warm. “I also know her mother was Gabrielle Dondelair.” During the time of the Great Street War, Gabrielle had been a famous criminal and Mizer sympathizer, and she’d gotten herself killed for it. “Well, you clearly know everything. So you don’t need me.” Zula measured every bit as unpleasant as Enne had described her. Lola squeezed the fragile papers so hard they ripped. “I do need you,” she said desperately. “I need to know the answers. How did Enne’s father survive the Revolution? How did Enne end up in the hands of an underground journalist, to be raised hundreds of miles from New Reynes in secret? Why would Lourdes Alfero ever send Enne back to the same city she’d kept her from? To an orb-maker, when that association looks so…damning? I feel like I’ve been circling the answers for months, but I can’t seem to—” “Get out,” Zula snapped, closing her eyes so her tattooed ones could seem to glare at Lola instead.

Lola’s confidence tore even easier than the papers. “I—I just want—” “No, you don’t. You don’t want this.” Truthfully, Lola Sanguick had never wanted any of it. She hadn’t wanted to work for the Orphan Guild, but the criminal temp agency had offered a flimsy means to find her last surviving brother when nothing else did. She hadn’t wanted to pledge her allegiance to Enne with a shard of glass pressed against her throat. She hadn’t wanted to find herself at the center of a new street war, of a tragic legend, one all of her friends seemed so willing to die for. Well, she wasn’t going to let them. Lola pulled a card out of her pocket and threw it on the desk. The illustration of the Hermit stared warily at the both of them.

Zula’s face went ashen. She glanced—imperceptibly—at the stack of papers beside her, and Lola wondered if another card like hers lay hidden beneath, one also with gold foil on its back instead of silver. Zula knew many of the city’s secrets; maybe she was a player, too. Lola pressed further. “Whatever this game is, whatever Bryce Balfour is—” because despite the claims of Bryce’s display of power at St. Morse, Lola still struggled to believe in malisons “—it’s not about whether I want it. I’m already in it.” Zula’s gaze swept over her with a look almost like pity. Lola tried not to feel self-conscious. If she’d wanted to inspire confidence, she should’ve dressed the part.

Instead, Lola’s houndstooth trousers were wrinkled and gaped at the ankle, and her crimson hair had grown out at the root, letting her natural, lighter red peek through. The dark under-eye circles. The deranged annotations and clippings she’d waved about. Lola hadn’t even raised a gun the night it all happened at St. Morse, but she still looked like collateral damage. Finally, Zula spoke. “I was with Lourdes Alfero not long after she received that same card, the Hermit, when it’d meant a warning from the Shadow Game. But this card is gold. It’s clearly meant for something else.” Zula’s expression softened for the first time.

“You remind me of her, though. Quiet. Stubborn. The three of us are the sort meant to tell the story, once all the violence is over.” If that were true, then Lourdes Alfero would still be here, and Zula wouldn’t be the last Pseudonym left alive. “I don’t have answers for you,” Zula told her, “so you might as well—” “I want to work for you,” Lola blurted. “Teach me. Let me prove that you can trust me.” Zula shook her head. “It has little to do with trust.

I know the answers you seek, but I’ve been forbidden from speaking the truth. That was the bargain he made.” Lola’s mind whirled with Zula’s words. Someone had made a deal to hide the truth? Only the Bargainer was capable of sealing away such information, so that the words couldn’t even be uttered. This only confirmed Lola’s instinct that the truth was valuable and that she needed to find it. No matter what. “I don’t care. Let me stay,” Lola urged. Zula gathered Lola’s papers and slid them back into the briefcase. “You don’t want to work here.

I’m afraid the paper won’t be open much longer, anyway. With Vianca Augustine and Worner Prescott dead, what dregs remain of the monarchist party will likely dissolve. And Chancellor Fenice will see to it that they do, I’m sure.” “But I do want to,” Lola countered. Zula’s eyes flashed. “They’re all dead. Every one of them but me. Is that what you want to be a part of?” Lola had no desire to die, but she was growing desperate. These secrets didn’t feel like pieces of history that she could ignore. They felt important.

Lola might not have wanted any part of this, but Enne was still Lola’s best friend. And now that the world had learned that the famous criminal called Séance was really a Mizer, they would only see Enne as a threat. Maybe unraveling the mysteries of Enne’s past could help change that. “No, I don’t have a death wish,” answered Lola. “But I’d like to finish what the Pseudonyms started.” Zula snorted. “Don’t insult my friends’ memories. None of this is what they wanted.” Jac Mardlin’s face came to Lola’s mind, his ridiculous fake glasses and dimples. The thought of him left a raw and aching wound in her heart, as though one of the knives from her own collection had been plunged into it.

Even if his death had been an accident, Jac had died a legend. He’d gotten exactly what he’d wanted. And Lola would never, ever understand how she was supposed to find peace in that. Lola opened her mouth to apologize for bothering Zula, to return to her girlfriend, Tock, likely still in bed and waiting for her, but then Zula handed Lola back her card. “Are you prepared to die for this?” Zula asked her, her voice heavy with wariness, her frail hands quaking from stretching out her arm. Lola realized Zula didn’t use cruelty to wound—she used it to warn away anyone left who dared to tread too close. And so she locked herself alone in her office, writing and watching and waiting for the day the leader of the Republic came to take her work and then her head. “I am,” Lola answered, and she was horrified to discover it wasn’t a lie. Maybe that made her no better than her friends, but unlike them, Lola wouldn’t throw her life away to become a legend—she’d die to make sure the legends were finished. “Then come back to me when you find this one answer,” Zula said, clicking Lola’s briefcase decidedly closed.

“You can be my protégée, little Lourdes, when you learn Lourdes Alfero’s true name.”

.

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