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The Ripper Affair
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Sorcery. Treason. Madness. And, of course, murder most foul. . .
A shattering accident places Archibald Clare, mentath in the service of Britannia, in the care of Emma Bannon, sorceress Prime. Clare needs a measure of calm to repair his faculties of Logic and Reason. Without them, he is not his best. At all.
Unfortunately, calm and rest will not be found. There is a killer hiding in the sorcerous steam-hells of Londinium, murdering poor women of a certain reputation. A handful of frails murdered on cold autumn nights would make no difference. . .but the killings echo in the highest circles, and threaten to bring the Empire down in smoking ruins.
Once more Emma Bannon is pressed into service; once more Archibald Clare is determined to aid her. The secrets between these two old friends may give an ambitious sorcerer the means to bring down the Crown. And there is still no way to reliably find a hansom when one needs it most.
The game is afoot. . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of Full Blooded
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A Messy Method
The trouble with dynamitards, Clare had remarked to Valentinelli that very morning, was the inherent messiness of their methods.
Of course, the Neapolitan had snorted most ungraciously. Anyone who killed with such a broad brush was a bit of a coward in his estimation–a curious view for one who named himself an assassin, certainly. Still, Clare had not meant merely their means of murder, but everything else as well. It was just so dashed untidy.
This Clerkenwell courtroom was packed as a slaughteryard's pens, and the lowing crowd stank of rotting teeth and stewed potatoes, violet or peppermint cachous and sweat, wet wool and the pervasive breath of Londinium's yellow fog. It had been a rainy summer, and even those venturing into the countryside to pick hops had been heard to grumble. The weather did not fully explain the crush; there were hangings elsewhere in the city that served the lower classes as better amusement.
However, the public–or at least, a certain portion of that great beast–expressed quite an interest in these proceedings. It did not take a mentath's faculties of Deduction or Logic to answer why–the Eastron End of Londinium's great sprawl was slopping over with both foreigners and Eireans; Southwark crammed to the gunnels with Eireans as well. Twenty or more to a stinking room and their blood-pricked fingers, Altered or not, largely responsible for the gleaming, expensive mechanisterum shipped out each Tideturn.
It was no wonder they were restless, given the ravages of the Red, cholera and tuberculosis as well–and the rampant starvation on their Emerald Isle, where their overlords, most of supposedly healthy Englene stock, behaved more like petty feudal seigneurs than benevolent citizens entrusted with the task of dragging Papist potato-crunchers from their ancient green mire.
That was, however, not in the purview of a lone mentath to speak against. He was merely present to give evidence. He could not allow Feeling to intervene with Logic or Truth.
Sometimes, even a mentath could wish it were otherwise.
"The device you refer to is unquestionably the work of the accused," he said, clearly and distinctly, and ignored the rustle that went through the courtroom. Whispers and hisses rose. "For one thing, the manner of twisting the fuse is very particular, as is the signature of the chemica vitistera used to make the bomb itself. Had it not been defused, it would have been rather deadly for anyone visiting Parliament that day."
"A modern Gunpowder Plot, then, sir?" the judge enquired, his cheeks flush with pride at his own wit.
Archibald Clare did not let his lip curl. Such a display would be unworthy of a soul dedicated to pure Logic. Still, the temptation arose. Under the powdered wig and above the robes of Justice, the man's petty chuckling and drink-thickened face was a florid insult to the very ideal he had theoretically been called to serve.
Still, one could not have shaggy brutes blowing up Parliament. Once that was allowed, what on earth was next? He had no choice but to send the young Eirean, shackled in the Accused's box and guarded by two sour-faced bailiffs, to the gallows. There would be a crowd of murdered souls waiting for the lad in whatever afterlife he professed, since he had already been twice successful–the explosion on Picksdowne, and another at the Bailey. Now that had been a horrific event.
The question of how these events could be traced to the Great Blight wracking the young man's homeland was an open one. There were whispers of the Eirean spirit of rule struggling to manifest itself–a blasphemous notion, to be sure, but even such blasphemy found a ready hearing when the staple crop rotted in the ground and the tribes of Eire found themselves starving as well as browbeaten and outright terrorised. Could such a thing excuse this young man, or mitigate his murders?
When, Clare was forced to wonder in some of his private moments, could a man, even a mentath, cease unravelling Causes and concern himself only with Effects?
The young Mr Spencewail was accused of treachery to the Crown, both as a dynamitard and as a member of a particular Eirean brotherhood that called its members Young Wolves. Eireans were subjects of Britannia; but the Englene's privilege of a trial by jury did not apply to them as a whole, and the Crown had not seen fit to intervene or offer a pardon.
Distaste for the whole affair, finished or not, was a sourness against Clare's palate. "Perhaps," he said, carefully. "That is outside my concern, sir. I may only speak to what I witnessed, and what may be deduced."
As a sop to his conscience, it was not quite all Clare could have hoped for. As Emma Bannon sometimes remarked, conscience was a luxury those in service to Crown and Empire did not often possess.
"Quite so, quite so," the judge bugled, and fetched a handkerchief from some deep recess of his robe. He sniffed loudly, affected to dab a patriotic tear from his deep-set eyes, and launched into upbraiding the young Eirean.
Clare turned his attention away. He was not given leave to go quite yet, but experience told him this particular judge would not ask anything resembling a question for a long while. Mr Spencewail had no solicitor: he might as well have been a sullen lump, voiceless and inert.
Miss Bannon would have been watching him with bright interest, though, ever unwilling to let a potential danger go unobserved.
Upon Clare's thinking of her, the small crystal and silver pendant tucked under his shirt on its hair-fine chain–a Bocannon's Nut, meant to warn the sorceress when Clare was in dire danger–chilled sharply. Wearing it while engaged upon investigations of a somewhat dangerous nature had become routine, even if the thing seemed to have some variance of temperature even when he was not in any difficult strait. He had not yet had a private moment to take the necklace off, or sleep. It was a bloody miracle he had possessed a few spare moments to wash his face and shave said countenance before appearing here, and once he was excused there was more work to be done.
As far as the authorities were concerned, the culprit was caught and further danger averted, but Clare was not so certain. He would not rest until he was. His faculties–and his quality of thoroughness, however inconvenient–would not allow it.
The courtroom, packed to the gunwales as it was, positively wallowed every time a fresh piece of evidence was introduced or a rise in the judge's voice denoted something of interest. Somewhere in the high, narrow, stone-walled room–a leftover from the Wifekiller's time with the rose of his royal dynasty worked into chipped, cracked carvings near the ceiling–was Valentinelli, who had flatly refused to cool his heels in Mayefair or at Clare's often-neglected Baker Street quarters. Mrs Ginn, redoubtable landlady that she was, sometimes complained that Mr Clare kept the rooms so as to gather dust, but allowed that a gentleman was sometimes allowed to live as and where he pleased, even if he was one of her blessed lodgers.
Another ripple ran through the crowd. Were they bored with the lord justice, as he was? Did they think his refusal to speak outside his purview as a sign of support for their Cause? Did they have anything so concrete as a Cause, or was their dissatisfaction that of the mute beast?
What is this? Feeling, in place of Logic? It was not merely the press of the crowd; for a moment Clare's collar was far too tight. He did not lift a finger to loosen it; the Bocannon was a chip of burning ice. The curious internal doubling a mentath was capable of held the crowd in a bubble of perception, while his faculties raced under the surface of his skull to pinpoint the discomfort.
What is amiss?
Sweat. Beads of sweat, a slick brow under the brim of a wool hat; far too flush even for a man caught in this press. High colour on scrape-shaven cheeks, but a pale upper lip told Clare the young man had possessed a moustache just this morning, and the line of his jaw was very familiar. His cloth was wrong as well–the coat was ill fitting, and too rough for the shoulders of a clerk unaccustomed to a drover's work. Besides, there were traces on the sleeves, smears of familiar blue chalk, and the connection blazed into life.
Ah. So Spencewail does have a brother! The satisfaction of having his deduction proved correct was immense, but at the moment Clare could not luxuriate in it, for the man in the chalk-smeared coat undoubtedly had explosive sticks strapped to his torso.
The man ripped his coat open with blistered fingers, a single horn button describing an arc as it fell. A familiar brass dial attached to strips of leather gleamed against his sunken chest and the stained cloth of his workman's shirt.
Spencewail, standing in the dock, had not yet realised what was afoot. He still glared at Clare, who had already begun to shift his weight. The blast would be quite vicious if they had solved the problem of sputtering in the catch-dial—
"Bastarde!" A familiar cry, Ludovico Valentinelli's voice catching halfway, and the Neapolitan assassin appeared from the crowd, his pox-pocked face alight with fury, his lank hair still plastered down from his morning's hurried ablutions.
Clare had enough time to think oh, dear before the Eirean rebel in the dock screamed something in his ancient Isle's equally ancient tongue. The crowd, not realising what was afoot, was busy shouting its own discontent, for the judge had reached another pitch in his denunciation.
A simple twist of the Spencewail brother's wrist, and not only would the nitrou-glycerine soaked into sawdust and pressed into sticks tear its bearer to shreds, but also everyone around him.
Including the mentath who had brought the accused to this pass.
Clare's hand slapped the flimsy wooden barrier behind which a witness gave evidence, and his legs tensed. A single leap would bring him to Valentinelli's aid.
It was a leap he did not have time to make. A great ruddy light bloomed as the Eirean student's ink- and chalk-stained fingers found what they sought and twisted, and they had solved the problem of the stuttering fuse.
A soundless sound filled the courtroom, and a great painless blow hammered all along Archibald Clare's body.
His last thought was that death had come while he still had his faculties intact, and that, strangely enough, it did not hurt.
A Remedy For Concern
Morning at 34½ Brooke Street thrummed with orderly activity. The kitchen bubbled with preparations for luncheon, tea, and the evening's dinner; footmen hurried to and fro in preparation to accompany a maid or two a-marketing; a bath had been drained; and the mistress of the house, in a morning dress of amber silk, stood in her conservatory, her fingers infinitely gentle as she parted a tinkling climate-globe of golden ætheric force over a struggling hellebore.
The experiment was not going well, and Emma Bannon probed delicately at the plant with several nonphysical senses, seeking to find the trouble. She hummed softly, finding the proper series of notes, and winced internally at the dissonance in the plant's response.
A slight cough near the door informed her that her lean, yellow-eyed Shield was not finished with his own troubleseeking. He had already ruined breakfast by almost quarrelling with her.
Or, perhaps not quarrelling. Perhaps he really did believe her in need of coddling, or maybe he was truly anxious that his mistress was sinking too deeply into eccentricity. Primes were notorious for their oddities, which grew more pronounced over the course of a very long life. In some instances, the peculiarities turned deadly.
In any case, he chose exactly the wrong way to express said anxiety, phrased as a command. "Sooner or later you must face the world."
If she were charitable, she would concede that it was not quite a command, and most probably intended as a statement of fact. Her skirts rustled–this morning dress, with relatively loose corseting and an unfashionably small bustle, had the advantage of being almost comfortable. "I will," she replied, absently. "Not while she reigns, though. At the moment I am very busy with events occurring under my own roof."
Mikal subsided, but not for long. "You are unhappy."
Why on earth should that matter? She untangled an ætheric knot, her concentration firming and the pleasure of sinking herself into a task almost enough to soothe her irritation. "I am quite content, except my Shield continues yammering while I am engaged upon an experiment. You were trained to act more appropriately, Mikal."
She sensed the flare of unphysical heat from him, denoting his own irritation and further sensed a tightness in his limbs. Did he perhaps wish to strike her?
It was a novel idea. It would certainly save them both from boredom.
If he wishes to, that is all very well. As long as he does not attempt it in fact.
Boredom, too, could drive a Prime to experiment too rashly with certain facets of the irrational arts. She was not yet at the point of seeing certain necessary precautions as mind-numbingly time-wasting, but she was perhaps very close.
"Now, what are you about?" she murmured to the hellebore. The plant was carrying on gamely, but traceries of virulent yellow and twisting black ran up its stems, down the central spine of each drooping leaf. Leprous green sorcery sought ineffectually to contain it, but the yellow would not be halted. Even loosening the invisible knots did not help.
Bloody hell. The ætheric tangle was growing worse, and strangling the life out of the hellebore's tissues. I wonder why it does that. Hmm.
Unravelling the sorcerous threads required a light touch and considerable patience. The problem was a resonance; she caught herself worrying at her upper lip with her teeth. A lady's face should not make such a display, Prima Grinaud would have said, and the thought of the wasp-waisted teacher and her whispering black, watered-silk skirts was enough to smooth Emma's expression while she hummed a descant, seeking to find the vibration responsible.
Ah, there. Her humming shifted. A tiny thread of ætheric force spun down, the ring on her left index finger–a confection of marcasite and chrysoprase–glowing sullenly. Yellow veining retreated as the hellebore lifted its drooping leaves, the stems firming and the sudden rightness of a correct bit of sorcery sending a delightful thrill all the way down to Emma's toes, encased in dainty button-up boots that also were unfashionable, but reasonably comfortable.
"Very satisfying." She brushed her fingers quickly against her skirt, flicking away a tiny crackling of excess force. The climate-globe sealed itself, singing its soft muted bell-tone; the plant would survive. Not only that, it would downright thrive, and the manner of its cure gave her a fascinating new vista to experiment upon.
Clare would approve. Chartersymbols flashed along the globe's shimmer, naming its confines and its function; a spatter of rain touched the conservatory's windows.
Mikal, tall in his usual olive velvet jacket, the knives worn openly at his hips and his dark hair freshly trimmed, stood to one side of the door. Perhaps inevitably, he was boiling with carefully reined irritation: a lemon-yellow tinge to Sight. "You have not left the house in months, Prima."
Which was true enough, she supposed. At least he was not asking why. "I have seen no need to go gadding about. Should you wish to visit the Zoo or perhaps take a turn in Hidepark, you are more than welcome to." She clasped her hands, tilted her head and felt the reassuring weight of her lapis earrings as they swung gently.
"The Palace sends you dispatches."
She decided the familiar tone he currently employed could be borne only so far. "Which I return unopened, Shield." The Empire has not crumbled without my help to prop it up. I cannot tell whether to be pleased or vexed. "And," she continued, "no doubt you are relieved I am no longer in any possible danger, feeling no urge to step outside. It must be wondrous calming for a Shield when his charge behaves so."
"I am… concerned." The thundercloud knitting upon his brow might have cheered her own darkening mood, had she let it.
"Ah. I believe there is a remedy for your concern." Her tone dripped with sweet solicitude. "You may leave the worrying to me, Mikal. Your head is simply not fit for it."
"Your temper, Prima, is as sharp as your tongue."
She took a firmer hold on said temper. "And you are speaking out of turn."
"Emma." His hands spread slightly, and she wished he would not look so… downcast, or so pained. His presumption she could easily parry.
His affection was another matter entirely. It took a long while to undermine a citadel with kindness, but it could be done.
She was saved the trouble of responding by a sharp, almost painful internal twitch.
The sorceress stilled, her attention turning inward, and her Shield's sudden tense silence was a familiar comfort. What on earth is that?
It had been a long while since she had felt that particular sensation; she flashed through and discarded several invisible threads before finding the one that sang like a viola's string. Plucked by a long, bony finger… he had marvellously expressive hands for such a rigid logician, though Emma had never told him so.
Clare. In danger. But he has the… The string yanked sharply again, a fishhook in her vitals, and Emma almost gasped, training clamping down upon her fleshly body's responses to free a Prime's will to work unhindered.
She returned to herself with a rush, the walls of her house vibrating soundlessly. Her indentured servants, well accustomed to such a sensation, would be calmly pursuing their duties.
Mikal leaned forward, his weight braced, ready to move in any direction. "Prima?" Carefully, quietly–no matter how he might test her temper, it was best not to do so when there was sorcery to accomplish.
She supposed it was a small mercy that he was, at least, willing to cease his questioning when an emergency threatened.
"It is Clare," she heard herself say, distantly. "To the stables, saddle two horses. Now."
Moans and cries, an acrid reek, blood crusting or fresh, the throat-coating nastiness of scorched stone. There was no ventilation, and the crush of the crowd had only worsened.
"Move back!" Clare coughed violently, a painful retch bringing up a dry thick gobbet of something he spat to the side with little ado. "He cannot breathe, give him space!" The Bocannon was a cicatrice of frost upon his chest; his shirt and jacket were in tatters. His bare knees grated against shards of smoking wood, and somewhere a woman screamed, high-pitched repeating cries piercing Clare's aching skull. "And for God's sake clear the doors!"
"Bastarde," the wreck of a body in his arms muttered. "Cold."
"All will be well," Clare lied numbly. "Ludo—"
Whistles sounded, shrill and useless. Help had arrived outside, perhaps, but the shouts and curses amid the struggling mass at the door sought to bring a deduction to surface amid the porridge his brain had become.
Ludovico… The struggle to think clearly stung his eyes, or was it the thick smoke? Blood, hot and slippery over his hands, and the foul stench of a battlefield. He knew what it meant, knew he should gaze dispassionately at the shredded flesh and shattered bone he clasped, so heavy.
So, so heavy.
Do not think such things. "All will be well," he repeated. "Help is coming."
Half the assassin's face was a scorched ruin. Well, he had never been pretty, even on the best of days.
Why had he thrown himself upon the dynamitard?
He thought to do his duty. As always. Quite remarkable sense of honour, for an assassin.
The body in his arms stiffened. Ludo's dark eyes dimmed, blood bubbling at the corners of his shredded mouth. There were spots of soot on his pitted cheeks, and dewdrops.
Do not be an idiot. There is no dew. His eyes were burning, blurring. It had to be the smoke.
The crowd screamed and surged for the doors again. Ludo's lips moved, but Clare could not hear through the din. Trampling and thrashing, the courtroom had become a seething creature with its own panicked mind. The pressure against the inward-opening doors would preclude those outside from offering aid.
Nevertheless, a great stillness descended. Clare stared down, into the face he knew as well as his own, horribly battered now. A shudder heaved through the floor–no, the body he held? Or was it his own frame, stiffening against the onrush of irrational emotion?
The Bocannon gleamed, clearly visible now that Clare's shirt and jacket were in tatters. Ludo's gaze fastened on that spark, and his lips moved again. The pendant gave a last flare of fiery ice, and Clare's nerves were alight all through his skin.
His whole, unbroken skin. He had survived, fantastically, unbelievably, suffering only rent clothing and the stinging of smoke. "Ludo—"
"Stregaaaaa…" the Neapolitan sighed, and Clare bent forward over him, unheeding the illogicality of his own broken sobs.
No. No, no no—
No protest would avail; no exercise of deduction would halt this. The mentath closed his eyes.
He did not wish to see.
There was a sound. Low and vicious as a blade cleaving wet air. The noise of the crowd was pulled away, a curtain swept aside by an invisible hand. The Bocannon gave out a high tinkling rill of notes, and a breath of sweeter scent cut through the reek.
Clare could not look. He crouched over the body, even heavier now that its occupant had fled. The quiet was immense, crushing, the blackness between stars, and when they found him he was no longer weeping.
Some Order Here
It was, as a Colonial might say, a bloody horrific hell of a mess.
By the time Emma half fell out of the bay clockhorse's saddle–her morning dress was never going to be the same–into Mikal's hands, the narrow street leading to the Clerkewold was jammed with a milling crowd, straining carriages and a great deal of nasty smoke, as well as policemen blowing their damnable silverwhistles and clacking blocks together instead of doing anything useful.
In short, it was a situation only a sorceress could remedy, and Emma Bannon stalked forward. The tugging of the Bocannon had crested and subsided, and why it should lead her here she had no idea, except that Clare was somewhere in this disorder and needed her aid. She had not seen him for a week or two, but that was normal, when he had an affair engaging his attention.
The fog was not bad this afternoon, pale yellow and merely unpleasant instead of choking. Still, Londinium's great bowl seethed differently, as if potent yeast had been added during her absence. Or perhaps it was merely that she had lost the habit of familiarity with crowded, odiferous streets and high-pitched cries.
First, a bit of quiet. A half-measure of chant slid from her lips, spiked with ætheric force, every inch of jewellery on her flaming as she drew upon its accumulated charge. The screaming, both human and equine, cut off sharply. It was a moment's worth of work to clear a path to the Clerkewold's set of high narrow double doors, but three of the four were fastened shut and the stream of people fleeing whatever disaster had taken place had dammed itself to a mere trickle.
Emma paused, the crowd exploding away as it realised one of sorcery's children was present and quite likely irritated. Mikal was at her shoulder, having no doubt attended to the clockhorses in some fashion; she set her heels, her hands coming forward, fingers curled around empty air.
She pulled, a second rill of notes issuing from her throat, and expended a little more sorcerous force than she strictly had to. The doors exploded outwards, shards of wood whickering as they sliced the air, and smoking bits peppered the crowd.
A torrent of persons issued forth, stumbling down the stairs, their cries shrill and tinny as they met the blanket of silence Emma had laid over the street. She unknotted a single strand of the first spell with a discordant note; it would unravel on its own and slowly return clamour to this part of Londinium.
She picked up her skirts, suddenly acutely aware of being outside her domicile with nothing even approximating gloves, a shawl, or a hat. Her hair was likely disarranged from the ride here as well, and familiar irritation at being dishevelled rose inside her.
At least the escapees, singed and shrouded in foul smoke–had Clare been conducting experiments in a courtroom?–had the wit to give her space as she climbed the worn stone steps; dividing around her much as a river embraces a stone.
The Bocannon's tugging was faint now; whatever had occurred was now largely finished. Its bearer was still alive; beyond that, she could sense nothing.
He has Ludo to guard him. And he has… it. The Stone.
She discarded the thought as useless. Besides, why would she wish to be reminded of that nasty affair? It had cost them all dearly.
The vapour was foul, and there was a sick-sweet odour of roasting. What manner of disaster had he embroiled himself in now? She should have paid closer attention to the affairs he was engaging himself upon.
It was no use to scold herself now.
Mikal's hand touched her shoulder. He pointed, and there was another set of doors, old wood rubbed with so much oil it had turned black. The walls teemed with the rose of Henry the Wifekiller's family crest, worked over and over again, an explosion of arrogance. Of course, the man had been an apotheosis of pride, almost rivalling a Prime's traditionally large self-regard. It was a very good thing a reigning spirit would not deign to inhabit a vessel with sorcerous talent. A double measure of such overweening vanity might well leave whatever Empire it graced a smoking ruin.
- "Promises excitement and chills and delivers the goods."—Booklist on The Ripper Affair
- " Saintcrow scores a hit with this terrific Steampunk series that rockets through a Britain-that-wasn't with magic and industrial mayhem with a firm nod to Holmes. Genius and a rocking good time."—Patricia Briggs on The Iron Wyrm Affair
- "Saintcrow melds a complex magic system with a subtle but effective steampunk society, adds fully-fleshed and complicated characters, and delivers a clever and highly engaging mystery that kept me turning pages, fascinated to the very end."—Laura Anne Gilman on The Iron Wyrm Affair
- "Innovative world building, powerful steam punk, master storyteller at her best. Don't miss this one....She's fabulous. "—Christine Feehan on The Iron Wyrm Affair
- "Lilith Saintcrow spins a world of deadly magic, grand adventure, and fast-paced intrigue through the clattering streets of a maze-like mechanized Londonium. The Iron Wyrm Affair is a fantastic mix of action, steam, and mystery dredged in dark magic with a hint of romance. Loved it! Do not miss this wonderful addition to the steampunk genre."—Devon Monk on The Iron Wyrm Affair
- "Lilith Saintcrow's foray into steampunk plunges the reader into a Victorian England rife with magic and menace, where clockwork horses pace the cobbled streets, dragons rule the ironworks, and it will take a sorceress' discipline and a logician's powers of deduction to unravel a bloody conspiracy."—Jacqueline Carey on The Iron Wyrm Affair
- On Sale
- Aug 19, 2014
- Page Count
- 416 pages