A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Twenty-Two

Elizabeth and Warren had discussed the idea of a honeymoon for the sake of authenticity, but ultimately decided against it on the basis that neither of them particularly wanted to have one and both of them had entirely too much work to do. Cam was excellent at building the husks for the golems, and he worked more quickly and precisely than Warren himself would have been able to, but even he needed supplies. There wasn’t much room for storage in the cellar, so Warren set out to lease a warehouse on the river so that he could purchase the parts in bulk and Cam could collect from the store as needed.

Everything was prepared for the paperwork to be signed, but Warren got a telephone call from the solicitor the day before he was to come and finalize the agreement. By the time Ainsworth called, the Travers had already come and gone with their Tuesday evening’s business, and Warren had to rush up from the cellar to take the call, wiping his hands on a spare cloth.

“There have been some...alterations in the agreement,” Ainsworth said with a bit of a cough. “We can renegotiate, as you please, of course, but the owner of the property expressed some dissatisfaction with the previous offer.”

“He did, did he?” Warren sneered. “I suppose he thinks he owns the only warehouse in London. What precisely was the source of his dissatisfaction, if I may ask?”

“I...am loathe to discuss the details without both parties present,” Ainsworth said, “but the seller made certain—certain insinuations as to your character, sir.”

“Insinuations? What manner of insinuations?”

“He suggested that he knew some things about you that would perhaps be an incentive for you to pay him more than the agreed-upon price. Oh, it is nasty business, sir, and I almost told him that the contract should be torn up on the spot, except I didn’t want to make any decisions without consulting you, sir.”

Warren scowled and his grip tightened on the receiver. Now he was to be blackmailed over the simple matter of renting a warehouse? Lunacy. Perhaps the money wasn’t as impenetrable a shield as he had imagined it to be. Even if it could keep him from going to prison, he could hardly afford a scandal. Without his business, he would have no protection at all.

“Shall I send him a counter-offer, sir?” Ainsworth said after a few moments of silence.

“You can give me his address,” Warren said. “I’ll speak to him in person and see if we can’t work this out.”

Warren thought he heard Ainsworth whimper faintly. “I shall have to ask permission to give out the gentleman’s information, of course, you understand. Is it all right if I telephone you with it in the morning?”

“I suppose it must be, mustn’t it? Keep me informed.” Warren hung up the line just in time to hear his TXM chime from his pocket, and he read the message from the twins—They want to see you.

A slight chill ran down the back of Warren’s neck, but he muttered “Christ’s sake,” and asked Cam to drive him down to the docks. It could only mean the Llewan, of course. He had the golem park the autocar a fair distance away and wait, and he walked the remaining distance to the rusty warehouse. Just inside the heavy door, he found the Travers waiting in silence.

“The elder said you were to come alone,” Simon said. “But we’ll follow if you like.”

Warren hesitated. He didn’t know what sort of favor the Llewan expected from him, but he doubted it would be pleasant. It hadn’t even been that long since their agreement—not for something like this. Did they really want to cash in their favor before they knew how long Warren would be sending them bodies? “No,” he said at last, looking up at the Irishmen with a faint frown. “I’ll be all right.”

“You’re sure?” Owen said, and Warren nodded.

“I’d appreciate it if you waited. Make sure I come up for air by morning.” He stepped by the twins and cut his hand with his small pocket knife, opening the hidden entrance with a quick incantation and lifting the door. He lit his way with his wooden token, the fire flickering from his palm over the dripping stone around him. He took a wrong turn once or twice, but eventually he recognized the wide arch into the Llewan den. He held his hand in front of him to keep the corridor lit, and the old man soon appeared from the mass of black, twisting and shuffling his way along the dusty floor to peer up at Warren.

“You’ve come alone,” he croaked, and Warren frowned at him.

“As you asked. What can I do for you?”

“Come here, Hayward; let us have a look at you,” he said. Warren bent down to be more at the old man’s level and found his chin caught in thin, greasy fingers, blackened fingernails pressing into his cheeks. “Let us see,” the Llewan whispered, and he pulled Warren’s wrist to bring the flame so close to his face that he flinched slightly from the heat. They stayed a long while like that, Warren hunched while the old man stared at him. “Your business is doing well, Hayward,” he said at last.

“Does that mean you’d like to collect your favor now?”

The Llewan paused and seemed to consider. “No,” he whispered. “No, I think not.” He released Warren’s face and allowed him to stand, and he showed his yellow teeth in a grim smile. “We like to check up on our investments, yes? That is all.”

Warren watched him, attempting to divine the true purpose of this visit, but the old man only shuffled and wrung his shaking, wraithlike hands. “Might I ask you for a favor, in that case?”

“Another?” The man cackled. “You are already in our debt, Hayward.”

“Answer me a question then. Do you ever take your blood from living victims?”

“On occasion,” the elder said with a slow, twisted smirk. “Are you learning new tricks, Hayward?”

“How do I take the blood from a man without his knowing? Must I always put it into a wound of my own?”

The Llewan stared up at him curiously, swaying slightly on his feet and humming a short, croaking tune. “There are ways,” he whispered. “If you are willing to learn old tricks,” he added with a cackle that became a cough. “Very old tricks indeed.”

“You mean your rituals?” Warren asked softly, glancing out at the moving mass of black in the dark of the den. It was impossible to tell how many people were inside, covered in moth-eaten black cloaks and years’ worth of sewer grime. The story went that the Llewan began ages ago as a sect of necromancers whose interests turned to the consumption of corpses rather than the raising of them. They were said to live extremely long lives, but to be stricken with awful diseases unknown to most men. Supposedly drinking blood and eating the flesh of their fellow men gave them terrible symptoms—like the elder’s shaking hands, or sores, or even insanity or fits. Warren wasn’t certain anything they could teach him would be worth the price.

“You’ve encountered enemies, Hayward, eh?” the old man said with a toothy grin. “Likely to encounter many more, yes?”

“I suppose so.”

The elder hummed a bit more, watching Hayward as though making a decision. “I will teach you an old trick, Hayward,” he said after a moment. “It should suit your purposes very nicely.”

Warren’s brow furrowed. “For what in return?”

“As a gift,” the old man said immediately, offering his filthy hand. “We are old friends, you and I,” he chuckled.

Warren hesitated. The thought of the warehouse owner blackmailing him for higher rent infuriated him, but he couldn’t be taking vials of blood from whomever he pleased or turning acquaintances into golems. “Show me,” he said, and the old man took his extended hand and led him deeper into the den with a limping stride.

The ones inside skittered away from Warren’s light like insects as the elder showed him to a low table set against the stone wall. The entire surface of the wood was crusted with ages-old blood and tissue, and Warren thought he saw the man brush aside a human hand to clear space on the table. He turned and called out into the mass of bodies a word that Warren was positive wasn’t English, and one figure slunk forward draped in a filthy cloak. She was barely recognizable as a woman underneath all of the dirt. Her black hair hung in matted locks so far that it brushed through the dust on the floor, and her cloak had slipped off of one shoulder to show the pale, grimy skin of her shoulder and breast. The fact that she was exposing herself didn’t even seem to cross her mind—she only stared at Warren with sunken grey eyes, her full lips and narrow chin stained brown from aged blood. If she had been beautiful once, it was impossible to tell now.

“My daughter,” the elder said, and Warren had to fight down his bile at the thought of these people reproducing in the usual way. Were there children down here? “She will show you,” the old man went on. “Tell me...hm, what shall we choose,” he chortled. “Tell me your favorite color.”

“Is this a joke?” Warren asked. Was the only way to teach someone blood magic to do it to them first? He was rather tired of being the example. The old man clicked his tongue impatiently at him, so he said, “Blue.”

The woman held out her hand to him. Her arm was bony and her nails were long and sharp, stained black like everything else in the Llewan lair. Warren reluctantly offered her his free hand, and she snatched it up, her nails digging into his wrist and drawing blood. He winced but didn’t pull away, watching with dark curiosity as she drew her hand down his arm to pull the blood from him, letting it pool in her cupped hands before bringing it to her lips. With fresh stains on her mouth, she tilted her head at him suddenly, like a bird, staring at him with wide eyes while her hand snapped out to grab tightly onto his wrist. He felt a strange tingle in the back of his mind that he wasn’t sure he would have noticed without Simon’s teaching.

“Now,” the old man cackled, “what is your favorite color, Hayward?”

“Yellow,” he said immediately, and he paused and looked down at the elder. “That’s it? But did she just change my answer, or did she change my aesthetics?”

“You can answer that yourself,” he answered in a harsh rasp. Warren frowned. He knew that the answer was the latter. There would be no point in simply forcing someone to answer a question one way when they could change their mind as soon as they were out of sight. And now that he thought on it, he really did feel that perhaps he had been undervaluing the color yellow all his life. This was more than the subtle press he would be able to give with the spells Simon taught him.

“The answer is to drink it instead? That’s even more inconspicuous, isn’t it? How on earth would you do that without anyone noticing?”

“You think too small, Hayward,” the old man rasped, his eyes on Warren’s bleeding arm. “Blood has power—the source doesn’t matter. With an half pint of your blood, my daughter could convince Queen Victoria she was a monkey, if only she could lay hands on her. It’s here, you see.” He pried the woman’s hand away from Warren’s arm and tapped the inside of his wrist. “A man’s pulse is the way to his heart. If you’ve blood in you, and you can get at a man’s heart, you can do anything. The spells they teach you on the surface are enough to wear down a body, to play a trick on a mind. You must make the blood a part of you if you hope to truly hold onto one.”

Warren frowned down at the man’s clammy hand on his arm. Perhaps the Llewan weren’t as insane as the stories said—or perhaps they were even more so. “Any blood?” he asked.

“Any human blood,” the elder answered. He let out a short laugh. “But I don’t think you’re in short supply of bodies, are you?”

“I suppose not,” he said softly. He glanced back at the old man. “No words?”

“You don’t need words, Hayward,” he croaked. “You need will. Just look your enemy in the eye and break him.”

“That simple,” Warren said to himself with a quiet chuckle. “And you don’t want anything in return for this knowledge?”

“It is a gift,” the elder said, releasing Warren’s arm and offering a small bow. “To ensure our friendship, yes?”

“Then I should thank you. May I go?”

“You are welcome in the home of the Llewan, Hayward.”

Warren gave a quick bow, pausing to glance at the women before deciding against even offering to touch her, let alone kiss her hand, and he turned and left the foul-smelling den, hurrying through the tunnels until he could breathe the comparatively fresh air of the dockside warehouse. The twins were waiting for him, and Warren snuffed the flame in his hand when Simon offered his handkerchief to cover his wound.

“I need another one,” he told them. “Tonight.”

“Risky,” Simon said, and Owen frowned at him.

“You’ve been gettin’ up to trouble in there, boss. You thinkin’ straight?”

“My head is clear,” Warren assured them, glancing between the brothers with a hard stare. “Can you do it or not?”

The twins exchanged a brief glance, and Owen nodded.

“Aye. We’ll see ye at ‘ome, boss.”

“Good.” Warren stepped by them and made his way back to the autocar, where Cam waited patiently by the carriage door to let him in. “We’re stopping at the apothecary,” he said, ignoring the golem’s objections that the place was surely closed.

It was closed, of course, but it was a simple enough matter to unlock the door. He left Cam with the autocar and gathered the equipment he would need. Syringes, vials that could be made reasonably airtight, a collection of replacement needles. He tucked them all into a small bag and knocked over a few jars of herbs for the sake of making it look like a proper robbery, then went back to the street and climbed into the carriage of the autocar.

At the house, he arrived before the Travers and waited in the cellar, his new supplies tucked away on a shelf. He closed the wound on his arm, wondering precisely how many times it could happen before a scar formed and he was forced to make up an excuse to Ben. It was almost dawn before the outside door opened, and the twins carried a man down the steps and placed him on the floor near the circle. Owen retreated into the house, as he usually did, but Simon lingered, an expression that could pass for curiosity on his face.

“Did you need something?” Warren asked, hesitating between the table holding his knife and the shelf with his syringes.

“I’m here to do what you tell me, not to ask questions,” Simon said quietly, “but I believe you and I have become a bit closer than that, haven’t we?” He lightly tapped his temple, and Warren frowned. If there was any truth to what Simon had said about never truly separating from a person once you’ve done magic with their blood, then he was certainly still connected to the Irishman after all of their practice. Even if it wasn’t a literal connection of the minds that they retained, they had seen inside of each other in a way that was impossible otherwise.

“With that in mind,” Simon went on, “I just want to make sure you know the path you’re taking. The Llewan are powerful, but their rituals come with a higher cost than you may be willing to pay.”

“I’m not a cannibal, Simon,” Warren objected. “I’m not going to live in a sewer and crawl around naked in the dark. This is a means to an end, and one that I don’t mean to abuse.”

“It’s your choice. We’ll be upstairs if you need us.” He turned and left then, clicking the hidden door shut behind him and leaving Warren alone with the unconscious man.

Warren looked down at him with a furrowed brow, and after only a moment’s indecision, he took his bag from the shelf, pulled off the hood covering his victim’s face, and pierced the skin of his neck with the syringe. He filled three tall vials with blood and hid them in the bag, pulling the man over the circle just as he was beginning to stir.

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