The Girl with the Iron Touch Page 24

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“You’re mad. You know that, don’t you?” Finley folded her arms over her chest. They were still underground. “Mad as a bleeding hatter.”

It was obvious from the way Griffin looked at her that he didn’t believe she meant it, that he was amused by it. “It’s the fastest way to find Garibaldi and bring Sam and Em home.”

She hated that he was right. Hated that putting himself in danger was the only plan they had. Mei was connected with Garibaldi, and Griffin figured that she would be able to locate the villain. “I’m coming in with you.”

He arched a brow. “I beg your pardon?”

Finley lifted her chin. “Don’t you get all haughty with me, Griffin King. If you need to be the hero, fine, but I’m not letting you do it alone.”

She expected him to fight her on this. “Fine.”

Now she was the one whose brow rose. “Honestly?”

“We don’t have time to waste arguing, and having you with me is a sound suggestion.” He held out his hand. “Come on.”

“Oi, mind fillin’ the rest of us in on the plan then?” Jack leaned against the rough wall. In his head-to-toe black, he was like a shadow coming to life.

“He’s going to go into the Aether,” Jasper explained. He and Wildcat had arrived a quarter of an hour ago after Finley sent him a telegraph asking him to return, and for him to bring the American girl—they needed all the help they could get.

But if Wildcat thought Finley was going to owe her a favor for this, she was mistaken. “And then he’s going to get Mei to lead him to the Machinist. Am I right?”

Griffin nodded. He held out his hand, and Jasper took it. “Thanks for joining us. I know the two of you had your own intrigue.”

The American shrugged. “Emily and Sam went to another country to help me. The least I can do is show up when they’re in trouble.”

Finley smiled. He sounded more like the Jasper she’d come to think of as a friend. How much of the credit for that needed to be laid at Wildcat’s feet?

Watching as Cat and Jack were introduced earlier had been extremely interesting. Cat was as dusky-skinned as Jack was fair. She had incredible curly dark hair and bright jade-colored eyes. She also had retractable claws and little fangs that she managed to hide. She was something of an underworld lord herself back in New York. She and Jack seemed to understand each other in one glance. That was obvious from the way they greeted one another—with curiosity, respect and a good dose of wariness.

“Jas, do you want to go into the Aether with us?” Finley asked. He had history with Mei. He’d loved her once. Just maybe there might be some unfinished business there.

“No,” the cowboy replied, casting a glance at Cat. “I said goodbye to her a while ago. No point in doin’ it again.”

Finley’s nosy side wondered if Jasper and Cat had rekindled their romance while off on their own adventure, but that didn’t matter at the moment. She needed to prepare herself for entering the Aether again. At least she knew that if something came at them she could fight it.

“You be needin’ anyfing special, dukey?” Jack inquired with patently false sweetness. “Mood lightin’ or the like?”

Griffin shot him a dry glance, but one corner of his mouth twitched. “Have some candles on you, Dandy? Maybe some incense?”

Finley rolled her eyes. “I swear when this is over, I’m going to lock the two of you in a room together for a week.”

“Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep, Treasure. Now, be a good girl and do whatever needs to be done so we can return to civilization, will you?”

Perhaps she wouldn’t lock him and Griffin in a room together. That would be too cruel to Griffin, who had just reached out and entwined his fingers with hers. “Come on, Fin. Let’s get this done.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and closed her eyes— it made her a little dizzy if she watched the veil separate and the two worlds merge. It was unsettling enough that the rune tattoos he’d given her tingled at the shift between dimensions. Griffin had taken her into the Aether a few times to help with the mashing together of her two personalities, and she’d been around his power enough times—gotten right in the thick of it with him—that it was easier for her to cross over. Still, it would be impossible for her to do it on her own. Like most people, she simply hadn’t the talent for it.

And, honestly, it wasn’t as though hanging about with dead folk was her idea of a good time. Though, someday she would like to ask Griffin about her father. He had died before she’d been born. It might be nice to meet him, if it were at all possible.

Griffin squeezed her fingers and she opened her eyes. They were in the Aether. She could see everyone watching them. To their eyes she and Griffin would be interacting with things they couldn’t see, as though they acted out charades for the others to guess at. For her, it was like looking into an old, warped mirror.

“Mei?” Griffin’s voice was strong in here. He sounded louder, older. How much of his soul belonged to this place already? Would she wake up one day to find that it had taken him? Or worse, that he’d given himself over to it voluntarily? How long could a human traffic in the world of the dead before it became home?

“Mei, if you can hear me I need your help.”

Finley glanced around. At first she saw nothing, but then a small ripple appeared before them. The ripple grew, elongated and widened until Mei walked through it, a gray shadow of her former self.

She looked tired, battered and lost. Wasn’t death supposed to be a peaceful thing? Or maybe that’s what hell did to a person.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

Griffin frowned. “What happened to you?”

“Your friend decided his demons needed a new toy. He gave them me.” She looked as though she blamed Griffin for her current situation.

“Look, that rots,” Finley began, “but he has Sam and Emily. We need to find him.”

The ghost looked as though she might start laughing. “You want me to find him for you? No. I won’t. What he will do to me is worse than being trapped in a wall still alive.”

Griffin didn’t even wince. In fact, he didn’t look the least bit sorry. “I’m not keen on going after him myself, but I have to. You will help us.”

“Or what?” Mei gestured around them. “What can you do to me that’s worse than this?”

“Nothing,” he replied. “But if you do help us I’ll personally free you from Garibaldi’s control.”

The girl looked dubious. Her large, dark eyes narrowed. “You can do that?”

“I can, and I will. You have my word. Will you help us?”

Mei looked around, then closed her eyes. She began to flicker in and out, like the “moving” photographs Emily liked so much. Finally, she stuttered to a stop, coming fully back to where Finley and Griffin stood.

“He is on a train beneath the city.”

Griffin swore—the kind of language that made Finley arch a brow. She wasn’t certain if she was alarmed or impressed. “Is it moving?”

“No. It’s stopped.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “At least we have that in our favor.”

Mei looked back and forth between them. “He’s beneath a place called Russell Square—I checked the street signs. You need to hurry. It looks like your friends are in trouble.”

“What sort of trouble?” Finley asked.

“The sort that may put them here,” came the flat reply. “Now shouldn’t you be going? I helped you, so go help them so I can be free.”

“Nice to see you’ve become a less selfish person,” Finley commented with a sardonic smile.

Mei’s eyes went totally black—no white anywhere to be seen. “He’s looking for me. Go now.”

They didn’t need to be told twice. Finley pulled hard on Griffin’s hand. “Get us out of here.”

He did. Just as Mei flickered and disappeared, a black wisp no bigger than a silver dollar appeared near the spot where she’d been. It swirled like water down a drain, growing a little larger with every turn. They popped back to their proper side of the veil before it came for them.

“Do you think it saw us?” Finley asked. More importantly, had it seen Griffin? Those things had been able to attack him outside the Aether.

“I don’t know. It’s not in this dimension, regardless.” He turned to the others. “Russell Square. Let’s go.”

As they left the tunnel, Griffin faced Mila. “You don’t have to come with us. We’ll be fighting your friends, your creator.”

She met his gaze. Finley wondered if he found it odd to peer into eyes that looked like hers but weren’t. Also, she wondered if her own stare ever looked quite so determined and fierce. If so, she could be deadly intimidating.

“Emily is my friend,” Mila replied. “She stayed behind so I could escape. I’m going back for her.”

Griffin nodded. “Fair enough.” He stopped two stairs up, and pivoted to look at his followers. “Getting Emily and Sam out is our top priority. Take out any automatons that get in your way.”

“What about Garibaldi?” Finley asked.

His jaw tightened, but there was an odd light in his eyes when his gaze locked with hers. “Garibaldi is mine.”

Chapter 16

Sam’s eyelashes fluttered. For such a rugged lad he had the girliest eyelashes—long, dark and thick. Emily’s weren’t nearly so long or lush, and were the color of rust beneath a layer of mud.

She knew the exact moment he regained consciousness, because his entire body tensed—so much so that the cot beneath him groaned under the stress.

“You’ve got to rest easy, lad,” she murmured. “Don’t let them know you’re awake.” Her entire plan rested on him being alert and able to fight as soon as she killed Garibaldi. Maybe they’d both make it out alive.

“Em?” At least he had the good sense to whisper— and he kept his eyes closed.

“Aye, it’s me. I don’t have much time—they’ll not leave me alone with you for long. I have a plan. I may have to cut you, all right? Garibaldi has to believe I’m going to do what he wants.”

“I trust you.”

Her throat tightened. Did he know how much those words meant to her? Ever since he realized what she’d done to save his life they’d been at odds with each other. Oh, they still had moments of closeness, but not like before. Everything changed that night he died and she brought him back; she thought she’d lost his trust forever.

A laborer automaton—a digger—had malfunctioned. They had gone to fight it and Sam was badly hurt. Mortally so. This was before Finley joined them. Things might have been different if they’d had her on their side.

Emily blamed Garibaldi just as Sam had blamed her. He was responsible for that digger’s malfunction because he’d been mucking about with organite energy cells and causing mayhem around the city.

And then he’d had the stones to try to manipulate Sam and use him against Sam’s friends.

Emily cast a glance at the Machinist in his tank. He floated like a lazy swimmer in his vat of goo. Most of his face was obscured by the breathing mask he wore. It looked as though his hair had fallen out on one side— or that might be scar tissue.

Was it evil of her to hope that he had suffered and suffered greatly?

Cuts and abrasions on his skin healed only to reappear a little while later—she’d noticed this while studying him. The organites struggled to heal a body past the point of repair, but they couldn’t keep up with the damage and keep vital organs functioning.

He said he’d go after the people she loved via the Aether. Was he responsible for the attacks against Griffin in New York? With no evidence it seemed too farfetched to believe, but she couldn’t shake the suspicion.

Threats against her life was how he managed to take both her and Sam earlier out in the tunnels. She’d taken down the digger, but other machines came out to play. Emily had dropped in and out of consciousness after her own encounter with Garibaldi’s monstrous machine, but she’d remembered hearing someone tell Sam that if he came with them she wouldn’t be hurt. When she took the digger down she must have been immediately set upon by more metal.

They’d been so close to escape.

How did such evil as Garibaldi even come into being? He’d been a child once, had a mother and a father. If she could suffer all she’d been through and still come out believing in love and the inherent goodness of man, what had happened to Garibaldi to make him so very twisted?

Her mother used to say that some people were just born bad. Perhaps that was true. The boy who had violated her came from a good family. He had friends and people who loved him. There was nothing about him that identified him as a monster.


She shook her head and looked down. Sam’s eyes were open the tiniest fraction. “What?”

“Are you all right?”

“I will be.” She gave his hand a squeeze as she heard a door open from the other car. “Back to pretending now. They’re coming.” Frankly, she was surprised they’d left her alone with Sam and their precious Master for this long. The machines might be sentient, but they hadn’t quite figured out the art of lying. And Garibaldi was still so full of his own importance that he didn’t realize that she’d kill him to protect the people she loved.

The door behind her opened, allowing a rush of damp underground in, followed by the smell of metal and machine oil.

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