These Vengeful Souls – Tarun Shanker

THE WORST MOMENT of my life was not the one in which one hundred and twenty-two people died due to my selfishness and a monster’s rage. It was not the moment I nearly lost Sebastian on the bridge, either. It was this moment. It was this moment, hours later, when the enormity of what had happened finally sank in. This moment, when I could no longer convince myself it was a dream. This moment, when the moon and the stars were shrouded by the smog, leaving a darkness with only one thing to say: There was nothing left. Sebastian and I sat in a frigid church, the wind howling against the stone. He lay in my lap, staring straight ahead. He did not cry. He did not curse the heavens. He did not pray. He just stared and stared at the wooden pew in front of us, his eyes empty. I ran my fingers soothingly through his black hair. I rocked him back and forth, hoping it might put him to sleep and give him a moment free of misery. I whispered the words I’d been repeating for hours.

“It will be all right, Sebastian. It will be all right.” But they rang hollow and I no longer believed them myself. I was frozen with despair for my friends—the ones I had seen die and the ones I hadn’t. The fate of anyone besides Sebastian and myself, I did not know. I could repeat words of comfort to Sebastian, but I could not even convince myself that it would ever be all right again. Mr. Kent, Miss Chen, Emily, and Laura had been shot out into the sky with more power than they could control. Rose and Catherine had been left out on the street with no power to defend themselves. I only clung to the thought of finding them because I couldn’t fathom the alternative—that we might be completely alone.

And it was all the fault of Captain Goode. I crumpled the skirts of my dress, the fabric stiff with his blood. I couldn’t get Captain Goode’s message out of my head. The message I had seen in the dim light as we’d passed by 43 Belgrave Square. The message he had written in blood on the front of my home, just to tell me he had survived. We will find you. He still wasn’t satisfied. Even after he’d made me choose between my sister and everyone else. After he’d taken them all from me. After he’d taken every place I’d ever considered a home.

My parents. The Lodges. The Kents. He’d left me with nowhere else to go, no idea what I was fighting for, and nothing more I could do. A draft whistled into the church, flickering the low candles, bouncing their light off the statues and sculptures. Twisted shadows were painted across the wall, figures in agony. There was one thing I could do. I could cut Captain Goode open from head to toe, listening to him beg for mercy, for me to spare him. Eventually I would give in and heal his wounds, all so I could serve him arsenic in his food, which was a second thing to do. It would tear apart his insides, but I’d keep him healthy enough so he could scream at me to end his life.

But then I could find a collector of medieval torture devices and offer to test whether their rack was in working order. Three things. Three things to do. My mind swam with visions of blood for minutes or hours, so long I began to doubt what was real and what I was seeing through a sleepless stupor. But the vengeful fantasies got me through the long night. By the time dawn came, I had a list of thirty-six things I could to do to make Captain Goode pay. And one thing I could do to find my friends. A door squeaked open, sending my heart racing for a moment. A quiet young man slipped in to extinguish the candles. The morning light had started to leak in through the dusty windows.

I looked down to see Sebastian’s breathing had turned easy and slow. His eyes were finally closed. But even now, he did not seem fully asleep, his eyes moving rapidly behind the lids. I reached out to gently touch the crease between his brows, the one that never seemed to go away. How much deeper had it been made tonight? Was there anything I could do to help him rest easier, to find a measure of peace? That fierce sensation of our clashing powers traveled up my fingertips. I sighed, hoping to draw a little comfort or strength, to make myself move. I’d promised him that I would be with him. I’d told him that we would help people. None of that was going to happen if we stayed here. “Sebastian,” I whispered.

Immediately, he sat up. His hand clenched around my knee, his muscles bunched, and his eyes flew open, whites showing as he looked around wildly. “It’s all right; it’s all right.” I tried to soothe him, but my voice cracked repeatedly after our cold, silent night and lack of sleep. “It’s just me.” Slowly, his eyes found their way back to me, his hand unclenching slightly. His chest heaved rapidly beneath the grubby and torn white shirt. I swallowed hard and tried to sound confident. “We should go. I have an idea.

” He looked to the door, then back at me, and I felt sure he was pleading for something, but he said nothing. He had not spoken since the bridge. I wanted so badly to find the words that would make him understand how it had not been his fault. But I had only the coldest of comforts to offer him. What could I possibly say? At least the two of us had survived? It wasn’t his enhanced power that had killed so many? Tell him it was actually my own selfish fault? I took a deep breath and stood only to immediately lurch forward as my numb legs failed to support me. But Sebastian was there, from sitting to standing before I could even register what had happened. His arms went around me, pulling me up against his chest. I clung to him, his breath in my ear all I heard for a moment, and even that sounded full of misery. There it was again: the despair that wanted to sink me. I stepped back, letting my hand fall into Sebastian’s.

His eyes were hooded now and downcast as I pulled him from the pew. “We have business with a newspaper.” He did not acknowledge me in any way, just let himself be led down the aisle. Our steps echoed a little in the small space as we headed to the back of the church. Doom was building inside me as we reached the door, panic filling my head, shrieking its protest. I had no idea if this would work. I had no idea if I was going to make everything worse, yet again, but I had to try. I had to claw back into the world, dig in no matter if my nails cracked and bled, hold on with everything I had. I owed it to Sebastian, to Rose, to my parents, and to everyone else we lost last night. I gave the altar one final glance, then we were outside in the bright light of morning.

Chapter One “MY MA’S LANDLORD was there! She swears it were a man with glowing red eyes that burnt them alive!” The city was still full of talk of the ball three days later. We had already heard two arguments the day prior about who could have committed such crimes. The French were suggested, but, more disturbingly, so were unnatural people with unnatural gifts. The Queen was even planning to make a rare public appearance to quell the panic. Which, of course, only made the rumors grow more outlandish. “And the only part he didn’t burn were his victims’ eyes. He left ’em behind as a warning. A ballroom full of ashes and eyes!” I resisted the urge to reach out and smack the loudly arrogant fool trying to convince his companions. I did not know if it was my paranoia or if London really was bubbling over with suspicion and fear of something more than human responsible for the crime. But either way, I knew I’d feel safer if we found our friends soon.

The air was still and almost warm, but Sebastian and I huddled together as we walked toward Hyde Park Corner, faces down, hoping to draw little attention. The streets were filled with the usual morning crowds—the ton in carriages on their way to Rotten Row, bakers finishing the last of their morning sales, young men on their way to apprentice and clerkships. Nothing inherently suspicious, but I remained full of dread. I glanced up every few feet and everywhere I looked, I saw a potential threat, a potential ally of Captain Goode’s waiting for us, waiting to finish the job started at the ball. We were almost at the park when Sebastian stopped midstep, jerking me back. I turned to see what had finally arrested his attention after these three days. The answer was pastries. In the dusty window of a pastry shop, a police notice was posted for a tall, dark-haired, highcheekboned young man last seen fleeing from the scene of the Belgrave Ball three nights earlier. A sketch of Sebastian’s face filled the page, a caricature made of his deep-set eyes and thin lips. He looked vicious, monstrous.

But he was still recognizable. A lump filled my throat, and I swallowed it down like a stone. In all my worries about Captain Goode and in the rumors flying across the city, I hadn’t thought that the police would be looking for Sebastian. I surveyed the street. One, two, three, four, five of the notices decorated building walls and lampposts, and those were just what I could see from where I stood. Which likely meant hundreds if not thousands were plastered across the city. “Why, it’s … it’s ridiculous,” I said shortly, looking between Sebastian and the warrant that looked too much like him. Why didn’t he have a scarf he could pull up over his face? A hat to pull down? The man didn’t even have a blasted hat to wear! I turned him to me and pulled the collar of his coat up around his ears, wishing for the hundredth time that he was less tall and striking. He did not respond, did not look nervous, just utterly defeated. “We will find our friends.

” I stared at him, willing him to believe it. “We will find our friends, find Captain Goode, and make him confess.” He still said nothing. I continued walking, gathering his arm in mine and pulling him down slightly so he was hunched over, hopefully disguising him somewhat. “The plan is still the same,” I said, wondering why I was even bothering. Sebastian did not notice, let alone care, what I was saying. My eyes darted around till I felt almost sick. My heart was beating uncomfortably by the time we reached the park entrance. Any person could stop and notice Sebastian, could cause a scene and ruin everything. As soon as was possible, we turned off to smaller paths, winding quickly toward the south.

“Good morning,” a male voice said. A well-dressed stranger approached us on the path, tipping his tall hat. Was his scarf tied a little too tightly? Did his eyes linger too long? “I— Good morning,” I muttered back, tightening my hold on Sebastian’s arm. I tensed as the man passed us by, my lips painfully caught between my teeth until I realized he wasn’t here for us. “They will come today,” I said, eyeing the sword of the Achilles statue ahead. “Catherine and Mr. Kent will see the Agony Column and know what it means.” Sebastian’s arm moved slightly then, and I realized I was still gripping it far too tightly. I began to slip my arm from his to stretch my stiff fingers, but he reached out and clutched my hand. Even with our powers returned to their normal levels, he refused to put any distance between us.

I turned to catch his eyes on mine, as bleak and broken as a dead tree in winter. His tongue darted out and wiped the smallest drop of blood from his chapped lips. I squeezed again, leaving my aching fingers in his. His breath warmed my skin slightly, his head so near my shoulder. How tired he must be. How tired we both were. The statue of Lord Byron loomed ahead, fittingly, in such a remote corner of the park. Surrounded by trees, Byron sat high above us, chin held arrogantly in his hand, passing judgment on those of us who dared to continue living after he and his brilliance had passed on. Cautiously, we approached. Sebastian’s eyes did not seem to see anything, but mine were straining to look for signs of danger and signs of hope.

The only figure I could make out was an older man smoking on a bench some distance away. There was a carriage on the road just outside of the park but not another soul in sight. Damn and double damn. As grateful as I might be that no one was here to spot Sebastian and accuse him of the murders, it was yet another blow that our friends were not here to meet us. I needed to see my sister, needed it more than I needed to breathe. A slight breeze provoked a chill, and as I pulled my cloak tighter, I chanced a quick glance behind me and felt my hopes fall even further. Two men were on the path behind us, one with a tall hat. The man who had greeted us not five minutes ago. “We’re being followed,” I told Sebastian, tightening my grip. I veered us north on a path away from the Byron statue.

He said nothing. “We have to go,” I said, filling in his side of the conversation. We had to get them off our trail before returning. We couldn’t lead them to our only meeting place. I prayed we hadn’t already given away the secret with that brief pause. Steering Sebastian down another path, I continued to sneak looks behind us. Our pursuers had increased their pace. Wonderful. Why, oh why, had I chosen a statue in Hyde Park of all places! The entire point of Hyde Park was to see and be seen. And now it was going to get Sebastian arrested.

And suddenly, our luck got even worse. For entering the park from the opposite direction of our two pursuers was a pair of policemen, their proud, bright uniforms gleaming in the morning sun. As they quickly closed in, I could make out a sheaf of police notices held in one man’s hand. “Oh blast. Oh blast,” I muttered, trying to calculate my options. Could we duck off the path and run? But the murmurs behind me were equally suspicious and growing louder. I chanced another look behind—the man in the hat was indeed pointing at Sebastian. And now we were coming up on the policemen. The only saving grace was that they were not paying us any attention whatsoever. If Sebastian wasn’t going to help (and he wasn’t), it was up to me to decide.

And I decided to brazen it out. Just before we crossed paths with the police, I reached for something absurd to say and pulled out the catty purr of the worst debutantes I had encountered during my Season. “It’s simply terrible, John! She copied my hat entirely! I had not even worn it yet! Can you imagine such a horrid creature to treat me so? And I considered her my greatest friend! You know how I feel about my haberdashery!” Sebastian did not pay my change in character any mind, but most important, neither did the police as they continued past us. Safe, for now. I continued my nonsense for another second in case they turned their ears to us, but I also moved us forward at a quicker pace, increasing the distance between us. “You! Wait!” The shout came from behind us at just the right moment for the police to have crossed by the suspicious men following us. Blast and damn and bloody damn. We kept moving, exiting the park where the police entered, crossing the street to a narrower, empty one. I chattered about something earnestly at Sebastian, hoping maybe the men were yelling for someone else out there. But their boots clicked determinedly closer and closer, echoing off the brick buildings around us.

Should we run? Or pretend to know nothing? Play mute? No, they had already heard me speak. “Oy!” A hand reached out and turned Sebastian around, swinging me with him. “Well, I never!” I twittered, fluttering my hand nervously. “What on earth is the meaning of…” But they weren’t paying attention to my babble. Their eyes were only on Sebastian. One of them was pulling a club out cautiously. “You’re the one, aren’t you?” he spoke up, taking a brave step toward us. “Killed a lot of people, we hear.” “Just come quiet,” the other said. “Don’t want your lady to g—” I didn’t wait for him to finish.

I seized Sebastian’s hand, yanked him in the other direction, and felt myself anchored. One of them had grabbed Sebastian, and the other one was striking from behind with his club. Sebastian winced and struggled against their hold, but he refused to fight back, to hurt anyone else. I held on to his hand as long as I could, our fingers turning white with strain, but one of the policemen struck his arm, and Sebastian lost hold. They pulled him away and shackled his hands behind his back. He looked helplessly at me, confusion and panic flitting across his features, the first emotions I’d seen from him in days. His power would overwhelm these men, and he knew it. “Stop it! He’s terribly dangerous!” I shouted. Sebastian was moaning, wriggling hard to free himself as they dragged him away and the distance between us widened. My mind scrambled to think of what to do.

Unfortunately, violence was at the forefront of my thoughts. I flung myself at one of the policemen, slapping him solidly across the face. My palm went numb for a second, then prickles of pain bloomed across it. “We’re both terribly dangerous. Arrest me, too,” I yelled in the shocked silence. The policeman pushed me away, and I immediately latched on to Sebastian. The man looked at his companion, a sneer on his face as they both began to laugh. “She says she’s dangerous!” “The little lady!” Which was ridiculous. I wasn’t little at all. And less and less a lady.

I threw myself at them again, this time with dagger fan in hand. The blade sliced deep into an arm, and the smaller man recoiled back in surprise. “She stabbed me!” “It … it was a stab to help you!” I argued back. Ignoring my poor reasoning, the other policeman pulled out his club to strike me, but Sebastian slammed his shoulder into the man’s gut, throwing them both off balance. My hand found Sebastian’s jacket, and I pulled him to me. “Run.” And run we did, a whole five steps. “Stop there!” A huge policeman stepped out from an alleyway, triumphantly blocking our path. He held up a policeman’s club, but it was his sheer bulk and his eager crouch that bothered me more. Sebastian and I were both dazed and weary from the fight, little sleep, and less food, while the policeman looked ready to pounce.

I doubted we could slip by him. I doubted even more that Sebastian wanted to risk hurting him.

.

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