A Soul's Worth

By TS_Barnett All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Chapter Eighteen

The autocar was a bit cramped on the way to Wakefield’s dinner, with Elizabeth squeezed in beside Warren and the twins across from them taking up most of the leg space. Owen sat across from Elizabeth, and he smirked and winked suggestively at her while they bumped along the road, but she only sighed through her nose and watched the street go by out the window.

The twins got out of the autocar first, and Warren stepped out to offer Elizabeth his hand. She smiled politely at him in thanks as she stepped down onto the pavement, and they walked together to Wakefield’s door. Warren greeted Wakefield’s butler by name as they entered, and their host sniffed them out within moments, approaching Warren with open arms and lifting him off his feet in a hug.

“So glad you could make it,” he said brightly, and he gave Elizabeth a deep bow and lightly kissed her knuckles once she allowed him access to her hand. “Miss Trentham, you are positively aglow. So excited to hear about your upcoming nuptials.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wakefield.”

“Come along. We must show you off.” Wakefield urged Warren forward by his shoulder, only pausing long enough to allow Elizabeth to take her fiancé’s arm.

Wakefield walked them around the room and called out to anyone who would listen that the happy couple had arrived, clapping along with his guests when someone called out, “Come on, give us a kiss!” This was precisely the sort of thing that would only be acceptable at a party thrown by a man like Wakefield, and not in more conservative circles. Warren wondered briefly if he shouldn’t make an effort to be more accepted in situations that wouldn’t lead to him kissing women in front of strangers.

Warren held up a hand, feigning shyness or propriety, but Wakefield elbowed him with a nod, lifting his eyebrows meaningfully. With a short sigh that he hoped went unnoticed, Warren turned to Elizabeth and inched toward her. She only tilted her head slightly in anticipation, restrained amusement on her lips, and he narrowed his eyes at her. He gave her a brief kiss, lightly brushing her cheek with his fingertips in a mimicry of affection, and he nodded and laughed as he should in response to the joking cheers that followed.

He spent most of the evening being congratulated, but as soon as he spotted Callaway across the room engaged in conversation with a small circle, his eyes barely left him. He had spent every spare evening since that first with Simon down in the cellar with his guard, practicing his blood magic on any unfortunate stray animals that had happened to make their way into the garden. They all died eventually, but Warren had slowly learned to control the intensity of his command, so that he no longer killed them by accident. It was harder to tell how strongly he was affecting the mind of a cat or a dog, but he could feel the connection to them as Simon said he would, so he could at least judge when he was pushing them past the breaking point. Simon had even let him practice on him, once or twice, and Warren had managed not to kill him. He felt ready to put his skills to the test, especially since it wasn’t of particular importance to him whether Callaway lived or died.

He danced with Elizabeth twice, which reminded him quite how much taller than him she was, but he was satisfied by the fact that she was about as graceful as he was—which was to say not very.

“Your man has been leering at me all night,” she told him in the middle of the waltz, nodding over his shoulder at where the twins stood at the edge of the dance floor.

Warren almost asked which one, but he knew better. “Just ignore him,” he said. “I’m not sure he’s very particular beyond requiring a pulse and a willing participant. He’ll get discouraged soon enough.”

“It’s true, I am little more than a pulse,” she said dryly, and she moved her hand from his shoulder to lightly slap his cheek. “So rude. Do you treat all your wives this way?”

“Only the ones I don’t like,” Warren said, shrugging his shoulder, and she gave him a small smile in return.

He ate dinner with Elizabeth sitting next to him and the twins lurking at the back of the room, and when the crowd split into groups for drinks, he made his way immediately for Callaway. He inserted himself into the conversation easily and turned to his target with mock surprise.

“I don’t believe we’ve formally met,” he said as he offered his hand. “Warren Hayward.”

“Peter Callaway,” the man said tersely, giving Warren a brief, tight handshake. Wakefield was right; he was a rat-faced sort of a man, with too much oil in his hair and teeth slightly too large for his mouth. “I’ve heard of you, Mr. Hayward. I hear you’re responsible for the rash of automatons finding their way into every worthy home in London.”

“And the Americas, fortune willing,” Warren said brightly with a quick glance to Elizabeth.

“Fortune and connections,” she corrected him, but she didn’t argue.

“I believe you’re also in automation, aren’t you, Callaway?” Warren asked pleasantly, feigning and interested smile.

“I am,” he answered brusquely.

“Well, a bit of friendly rivalry never hurt anyone, did it? I hope I haven’t infringed too much on your business.”

“Hardly at all,” Callaway said with a haughty scoff, but Warren could see the disdain in his eyes.

“Good, good,” he said anyway, and he allowed someone else to take up the conversation while he merely listened. He hoped it would be as simple as he imagined. He spotted Simon near the wall where Wakefield was engaging Owen in what was apparently riotous conversation, and the twin gave him a small nod as though reading his mind.

Warren focused his attention on the champagne flute in Callaway’s hand, and he softly hummed in the back of his throat, slightly altering the pitch in an on—the-spot tune until he felt the air trembling around him. None of the mundanes would be able to feel it, but a single breathed word from Warren caused the glass in Callaways’ hand to shatter.

The man cried out in alarm and hissed as a bit of broken glass lodged itself in his palm. Blood dripped on the floor from the wound, and Warren was quick to offer his handkerchief, wrapping it tightly around Callaway’s hand in an affectation of concern.

Someone called for Wakefield, and Callaway was led away quickly to be cleaned up and tended to, but Warren kept the stained handkerchief balled tightly in his fist. He passed it off discreetly to Simon as he passed the small group, and the Irishman disappeared into a back room.

Warren watched Elizabeth carefully, but if she noticed the clandestine operation, she said nothing.

The rest of the evening passed with the usual amount of mirth and alcohol, for which Elizabeth seemed to have little patience They excused themselves rather early, which subjected them to Wakefield’s objections and loud declarations that clearly Warren’s love for his lady was greater than his desire for fun, which marked the beginning of his transformation into the lowly creature known as the married man. Warren swore at him with a smile on his face, and Wakefield gave him a surreptitious wink as he and Elizabeth bid their host goodnight.

“A successful evening, Mr. Hayward,” Elizabeth commented as Warren stepped down from the autocar to let her onto the street outside her hotel.

“I believe so.”

“Goodnight, Warren,” she added with a small smile. “I’ll be in touch.”

Warren climbed back into the autocar, and Owen sat back in his seat to stretch out his legs in Elizabeth’s absence. “Don’t leer at my wife,” Warren warned him, though he could hardly keep the smirk off his face as he said it.

“D’you see the look she gave me at dinner? Gives me the willies,” Owen said with an obvious shudder.

“That’s because she’s a lady with no patience for brutes, and you’re a brute.”

Owen shrugged. “I’ve converted quite a few ladies to my way of thinking, haven’t I?” He gestured to Warren and the empty spot beside him, clearly indicating Elizabeth. “So if this is all a big make-believe, you two aren’t...you know, keepin’ to the program, eh? She’s available? An’ you wouldn’t mind?”

Warren laughed. “Owen, if you think you can convince Elizabeth to have anything to do with you, you have my blessing to try.”

Simon cleared his throat quietly and sat forward in his seat as he reached into his coat pocket, and he presented Warren with a tiny vial of blood and a perfectly clean handkerchief. Warren himself hadn’t quite mastered Simon’s level of manipulation when it came to blood—for some reason it was more difficult than simply moving other physical objects. There was probably some deep philosophical reason why, but Warren was content not to concern himself with it.

He took the vial from Simon and slipped it into his own pocket along with his handkerchief.

“You plannin’ on buyin’ a bigger autocar, boss?” Owen spoke up after a moment. “I don’t think ‘er ladyship appreciated bumping knees with me all night. Not like she will later eh?” he added as an afterthought.

Warren sighed lightly. “Has anyone ever told you what a charming person you are, Owen?” The Irishman shrugged. “No, I thought not. As for the autocar, I suppose I’ll have to, won’t I? I didn’t anticipate having an entourage when I bought it.”

“You should get one of those ones what have the nice long insides. Maybe one that has those brass horses to pull it. You could ‘ave Cam pull it and get a discount on the ‘orses.”

“You’re a mind before your time, Owen,” Warren chuckled, and they rode back to Belgrave Square in relative quiet.

In the cellar, Warren sat the vial of blood on the workshop table and leaned over it, peering through the glass at the red liquid inside. Such a small thing, but it would allow him to be free of rumor once and for all. It would be different doing it to someone who wasn’t standing in front of him, but Simon had assured him that the distance made no difference. He would be able to feel Callaway’s mind.

He reached out for the small knife on the table, and he reopened the small wound on his forearm that he had been using to practice with Simon. A cut on the arm was easier to explain to Ben than a clearly purposeful gash in his palm. With his own blood oozing out over his skin, Warren took up the vial from the table and removed the tiny cork, dripping Callaway’s blood into his wound. He said the words that Simon had taught him, and he let out a low sigh as he felt the heat drawn up from his arm to his heart.

Warren leaned back against the work table, his body seeming heavier than usual. His vision was foggy, but when he shut his eyes, he could feel a second heartbeat alongside his own, a second set of thoughts running parallel to his. He could see through Callaway’s eyes—he was at home, looking into the mirror and unbuttoning his waistcoat. He paused to click his tongue and pick at the fresh cut on his hand. For a moment, Warren considered all the ways he could torment this man. He could make him see anything, feel anything, do anything. But he wasn’t worth the time.

He pressed into Callaway’s mind with more intensity than he had dared push Simon, and he felt no resistance. An unsuspecting mundane had little chance of defense. Warren felt the man stop short as the blood in his veins began to boil, felt him clutch at his skull as the pressure built. Not too much, Warren thought, and he kept steady, his own heart pounding madly somewhere far away.

Callaway’s cry drew someone to the room—a servant—and he collapsed onto the floor, writhing and pulling pointlessly at his hair. Warren pushed harder, feeling distantly that he was clutching the table too tightly, and after another moment that lasted an eternity, Callaway went still, his arms falling uselessly at his sides and his eyes staring blankly down the hall. The girl was tapping his cheek, calling his name, and then she was gone, but Warren could still hear her muffled voice. Warren lay there with Callaway on the floor, breathing huskily and pouring a line of spittle down his cheek from his slack mouth. Enough.

Warren opened his eyes, attempted to ground himself, and repeated the words he’d said many times over the past week. The wound in his arm let out a small gush of blood onto the floor, expelling Callaway from his blood, and Warren let himself slip slowly to the floor with one white-knuckled hand still on the table. A cold sweat matted his hair to his forehead, and he took shaky breaths as he slowly released his grip on the table, flexing his fingers to loosen them.

It was done. Callaway wouldn’t be a trouble to him any longer. He wondered briefly if he would begin to feel different anytime soon. For now, he took his leather case from the shelf and retrieved the stone that would stop his bleeding.

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