Blurb Addendum:- the last 16 chapters have been removed in the event the story does not get published via Inkitt - and I go self-published!
1878: Kolkata, India
Boot planted firmly on the backside before her, Shakti O’Malley reached down and with slim, dark fingers tightened the laces. They did not need tightening; it was purely for effect. The tea-house customers were holding their breath. Hands on hips, she shoved at the prone figure, grinding her heel through the thin cotton on his lower back she hissed,
“If I ever see your face in here again, I will rip it off and present it to Shiva in devotion.” She removed her foot. “Now go, excrement of a jackal!”
The man scrabbled on his hands and knees until he was out of her sinuous reach then stood to leave.
“Stop!” Shakti called, “Have you nothing to say before you leave this place?”
He paused, uncertain, his bruised eyes staring. Shakti twitched her head towards the terrified, motionless woman leaning against the wall. He turned to her, with his palms pressed together and gave a wobbly bow as he babbled terrified apologies, then he ran out the door. The room breathed again. Shakti O’Malley went to the girl looking her over. Her clothing was shabby, the marks of his assault beginning to show on her brown skin, she looked cowed. It was as though she could sense the strength of Shakti and it made her tremble. Shakti spoke to her, gently,
“Sister, you are a human of great potential. You are not lesser person than he because you are a woman. You have the strength of Parvati in you. Be who you are meant to be and never, never, let a man strike you again.”
The woman attempted to kiss Shakti’s feet, but as she bent, Shakti prevented her. The woman instead turned to collect her saviour’s dupatta, from where it lay strewn on the dirt floor amidst fallen chairs and cushions. She offered the fallen silk with reverence. Shakti thanked her and left feeling a mix of peace and self-consciousness.
The street was heaving with life. The smell of it filled her nostrils, thick, clinging almost tangible; labourers sweat, spices, and coconut oiled hair. Aromatic perfumes, unwashed loins and foetid breath, the bitter tang of curry and rancid ghee. Shakti loved and loathed Kolkata in equal measures. The street seemed dark, even though it was mid- afternoon, with overhanging awnings craning across upper stories almost in contact with the opposite side of the street. Curls of smoke issuing from Salty Pathrus, the factory chimney that produced saltpetre; for the East India Company. Casting a darker shadow was the Namaste Airship Docking Tower, a frighteningly omnipresent feature, a testament to British engineering and Indian stamina. Airships of varying sizes protruded from the central ring making the whole thing look like a virulent, mechanical flower, its petals occasionally breaking loose and floating away on a zephyr. Other craft dotted the sky and up there too; her beloved ship, the Emperor Ashoka.
1878: Paris, France
The Rue Saint Germaine thronged as ever with the demi-monde. Peacock blue walking dresses, indigo vests, and plaid pants. Chains glinting through scarlet waistcoat buttonholes, attached to pocket watches telling time in which the owners had no interest.
He sat outside the café sipping tea and drawing leisurely on a long, slim stick. His clothing was linen, pale, undyed, pure. He watched and viewed and collected with his irises.
A slim figure paused uncertainly before him, five, maybe eight feet away. A young woman barely into her teens, possibly lost or awaiting a companion – even, perhaps, her lover. She held a dainty parasol at an angle to prevent the sun from attacking the delicate, tantalising skin on her cheek.
His gaze pinned her – a lepidopterist pinning a butterfly.
The early evening turned the sky and rooftops into feathery pastel hues. Blue shadows crept from under the eaves bringing with them the prospect of a cooling night. Gentle conversation and music filtered through doors as they opened and closed. He could smell pastries, coffee, and a hint of iris and lily from the florist shop along the way. But he wanted no patisserie, he did not need beverage and the perfume of the flowers held no interest. His eyes were fixed, his senses blinkered to everything but the girl. He had spent the greater part of the afternoon shadowing her. Her companion eventually arrived. They sauntered arm in arm, tasting, smelling, and caressing the wares outside shop fronts and of street traders alike. The friend may as well not have existed as far as he was concerned, his sights were resolutely, obsessively fixed on one thing only. He was familiar with a tendency for most people to ignore him. His plain, light clothing drew no admiring glances. His voice, when he spoke, was soft, his demeanour modest. His hair was such a pale brown as to be neutral. He was a monochrome man. He liked it that way. The two girls wandered through the boulevards into the cobbled side streets pausing only at the tobacconists and to peer in through small soot smeared windows. At one point, only a metre from her, he smelt her fresh, youthful aroma. She never noticed him. Presently, the two friends’’ paths diverged. A kiss on the cheek, promises to meet up on the morrow and then, and then he found himself alone with her. She swung her small, embroidered reticule, merrily humming; rather like a canary he thought. High walls concealed gardens of fruit, summerhouses warm with the day’s sun, borders of fragrant roses. He removed his gloves, and the last threads of golden sunlight revealed his left hand; integrated with cruel metal. It encased his fingertips and insinuated itself beneath the skin, shiny as beetle shells it re-emerged around his bone white knuckles, a gauntlet of polished brass. The young woman stooped to tickle a cat behind the ears as it sat on a doorstep. Then she skipped over a small puddle and twirled her bag overhead as she moved ever farther from the sounds of the boulevard, the lights and the hum of life.
He pounced upon her in an instant, no time to cry out as his fingers took hold of her slim, soft throat. It was with his right hand that he seized her. Even though his left hand with its harsh adaptations had the strength of many men, he preferred skin against skin as he choked the life from this frantic, fluttering creature. Her hands trembled and beat uselessly, he could practically hear her heartbeat, like a moth, trapped, pulsating in a jar. He leant closer to inhale her fear, bloodshot eye to crystal-blue eye. Cartilage grated against bone, he sensed a tiny snap beneath his index finger. Her skin smelt sweet as a crushed petal, her last microscopic breaths honeyed his tongue, and the final tear salted his cheek. He, like her, had not made the slightest sound, only his flaring nostrils as she faded gave any signal to his gratification. He let go of the lifeless form. It held no interest for him now; it was finished. Stepping over the fallen reticule, he ambled silently into the night.