Authors: Gail Carriger
Tags: #Fiction / Science Fiction / Steampunk, Fiction / Fantasy / Historical, Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary, Fiction / Romance / Fantasy, Fiction / Fantasy / Paranormal, Fiction / Fantasy / Urban
Rue chose to ignore this in turn, jumping on the opening her mother had inadvertently given her. “Speaking of Paw, where is he this evening?”
Lady Maccon was taken aback. Rue generally showed little interest in the nightly duties of her parents. All three of them were heavily involved in secret government work, so they preferred it this way.
“With BUR, I suppose. I didn't ask. Why do you want to know?”
“He's not with BUR, or I would have seen him.”
“Oh? Was BUR called in to your meeting with the queen?” Lady Maccon's voice went dangerous.
“No. I was no threat. Do give me some credit. They were called to deal with the pack. There was an incident at Claret's. You haven't heard?”
Lady Maccon looked very tired. “What did they do now?”
Lord Akeldama removed his monocle and began to clean it carefully with a silk handkerchief. This was, Rue knew from experience, him trying to hide how interested he was in the conversation.
Fascinating that neither of them had yet heard of the werewolves attacking the drones. Lord Akeldama, at least, had a fast network of informants. Rue had come directly home, but still, she wasn't accustomed to being the only one who knew what was really going onâ¦ except with her own private business.
She took a moment to relish the sensation but then realised that Mother and Dama
know. It was their
to know what went on in London, especially with the supernatural. She became worried, which made her less diplomatic than she ought to be. “They were sloshed. In public. The entire pack. And they were
drones. It was most decidedly
Lady Maccon's face fell, her large dark eyes troubled. Rue had her father's eyes, a weird yellow colour, and she'd always envied her mother for the soulfulness her brown eyes could impart. Now, however, Mother looked as if she might cry. It was more sobering than anything else that had happened that evening. Rue instantly regretted her harshness.
Dama gave Rue a reproving look. He bent over Lady Maccon, taking her bare hand in one of his. The action turned him human, as Mother's preternatural power stole away his soul. It wasn't like Rue's abilities: Lady Maccon did not turn into a vampire herself. She simply made Dama mortal while he touched her. It was a mark of concern that he would take the risk; Dama was usually so careful about such things.
Mortal, Dama was less ethereal â less like some woodland sprite and more like a warn attic-bound artist with a taste for laudanum. There were lines on his face and smudges under his eyes. His hair was dulled to an ashy tone, and his movements became weighted.
“Don't worry, Alexia, my
. We shall get you both moving soon. You're right. It's past time. We must merely find the right
Lady Maccon stood and reached for her trusty parasol. “I should go and find him. He'll need my touch. Would youâ?” She hesitated, unsure.
Another frisson of fear spun up Rue's spine.
Paw is ill; there's no other explanation.
Lady Maccon closed her eyes and took a short breath. “Would you consider talking to Rabiffano? He might listen to you. Quite frankly, I've run out of options.”
Dama let go of her hand. His features and manners snapped back into smooth immortality. “I don't know that it should come from me.”
“You're right. I shouldn't have asked. I apologise. I shall send an aetherogram to India. Perhaps it's not too late.”
Dama smiled without showing fang, a sympathetic smile. “Now
, my dear dandelion, I
help you. I have already alerted them to the situation.”
Lady Maccon relaxed. “Good. Good. Thank you.”
“Mother, what is it? You're looking quite green round the gears.”
“Infant, I do wish you wouldn't use such ghastly modern vernacular. It's nothing for you to worry about. Justâ¦ I should find that errant husband of mine.”
She whisked out of the house. She didn't stride, not like Rue strode, although she was a good deal taller and more stride-worthy. No, Lady Maccon kept to the current fashions, her movements hindered by underskirts, but she still managed an air of purpose and authority which Rue envied. She'd never have her mother's presence, curse it.
Rue turned back to her vampire father. “Dama, what on earth is going on? What is wrong with everyone? And why do we need the Kingair Pack? I assume that's who you sent for in India.”
Puggle, if your other parents haven't told you, it's not my place at all.”
Rue frowned. Someone else had said something exactly similar to her recently. Who was it? “You sound like Uncle Lyall,” she remembered out loud.
Lord Akeldama started. His mouth twisted a tiny bit. Which surprised Rue. Uncle Lyall, London Pack Beta before Uncle Rabiffano took over and now stationed with Kingair in India, was a sublimely
. Why should Dama not like him? Everyone liked him.
Dama would not allow her to question him further. “Enough, Puggle. This is
your problem to solve,
when a solution is already in place. It simply needs to be acted upon.”
He was annoyed enough for Rue to hear some long-forgotten accent slip into his words. Everyone was fracturing this evening.
“I hate it when you are cryptic. I'm all grown up now, remember? I assure you I am equipped to handle truths.”
Dama tilted his head at her and raised his monocle. “No, I don't think you are if it means too much change. But you'll have to be soon. You were a little tough on your mother just now, dear. Not to put too fine a point on it.”
“Oh, really! That is unfair. I had no idea she would be sensitive. This
my mother we're talking about. She's
Dama puffed out a suppressed laugh. “You must begin to think through the consequences of your actions.
, you've already caused an international incident and risked your own safety. You can't go around mucking up London politics as well. They're quite
“Are we still talking about Mother or have we moved back to the weremonkeys again? I am sorry I had to bargain away your tea, Dama. Really, I
. But I couldn't think of another solution. I was trying to save lives.”
” The vampire flopped one hand dismissively. “I'm concerned about
, Puggle. You gave the queen her opening and she's removed Crown protection. Plus you've achieved your majority, so you no longer have me as a guardian.”
“Freedom!” crowed Rue. “I shall shop wherever I please.” Rue had always known her majority had all kinds of legal repercussions, but she'd never bothered with the details except the part where she no longer had to do what any of her parents told her to do.
“Exactly, you take on
and danger now, my
little poppet. The proper shoes aloneâ¦”
Rue knew he was being flippant to cover genuine concern. “I know it doesn't seem so to you, my darling Dama, but I've got old. Twenty-one and no one's ward. But you needn't worry. I've got my own dirigible and friends and everything. You and Mother and Paw have given me all the advantages of a” â she paused, struggling for the right words â “peculiar upbringing.”
Dama looked modestly pleased. “We have done our best. But, my dearest child, we have all trained you, in our way, to compensate for the mistakes of our own pasts. We cannot predict your future. I worry that you are no longer quite safe.”
“Isn't that part of being an adult?”
“Yes, but you're not the same type of adult. You're unique, not exactly human, and there is some question as to your right to legally exist. I don't think any of us fully understand the implications. Without government protection, or we vampires looking out for you, there are people who may want you dead.”
Rue rolled her eyes. Really, this was too far. “
wants me dead. That's nothing new. Dama, I love you, but you are overreacting. I can take care of myself.”
“Like you tried to take care of a drunken pack? You cannot expect me to believe that you stayed out of
, puglet. Your mother may be distracted, but I am
Rue pursed her lips, suppressing the urge to frown furiously. All right, so she shouldn't have challenged Channing, but someone had to do something! However, there was no way to justify the action to Dama when she was already fighting from an inferior position. She didn't want to admit to any wrongdoing.
So she finished her tea and stood, radiating smugness. “You'll have to ask Winkle for a full report now, won't you, Dama dear? I'm certain he'll be most forthcoming.”
With which she was about to whisk dramatically out of the room, except that at that precise moment the front doorbell rang. Dama had recently had the latest style installed, which tolled deeply rather than a proper ringing. It sounded a bit like a death dirge. But Rue supposed that even Dama needed the occasional undead wallow.
She paused and cocked her head; a familiar voice was chatting with the drone at the door.
Moments later, Primrose Tunstell came trotting into the drawing room trailing Virgil in her wake.
“Oh, Rue, were you heading out?”
“Only in a huff. What is it, Prim? You look positively overcome. And what are you doing with your brother's valet? Much as I respect you, Virgil, you're hardly an ideal chaperone for someone in Miss Tunstell's position.”
Virgil didn't take offence. Despite being a jaunty lower-class stripling, he was well versed in proper etiquette. He knew he was the worst possible escort for a lady of Prim's rank. Since he was also an inveterate snob, he would have been the first to tell her so.
Primrose is usually good about such things.
Rue examined her friend.
Despite her odd companion, everything else seemed in order. She was perfectly dressed in an elegant cherry gown patterned in cream mignonette with ribbon detail exactly on point, right down to the wide sash at her enviably small waist. Her rich brown hair was swirled atop her head and crowned in the latest gentleman's inspired boater hats. She wore a not-too-ostentatious brooch at her throat, below which fell a quantity of not-too-ostentatious lace. She held leather gloves in one hand and a decorative fur purse in the other.
because Primrose would
be so crass as to actually carry money on her person. The only thing even remotely out of character was the fact that she was trailing her brother's valet. However, Rue was confident that a perfectly sensible explanation would be forthcoming.
The net over Prim's face did nothing to disguise her worried expression. Primrose was an even-tempered little thing. On those few occasions when sentimentality overwhelmed her, Prim was ever willing to share her feelings with her dearest friend. In fact, it was practically a requirement of their relationship.
“Prim, my sweet, what is it?” Rue rallied round. This was
what she needed right now. Prim's worry was something Rue could manage. Prim would tell her what was wrong, with no attempt at redirection or miscommunication, and Rue would find a way to fix it. Whatever it was.
“It's Percy. Virgil says that he stormed off in a temper several hours ago. You know I wouldn't ordinarily trouble you, but he left his club, unaccompanied, at night. I understand that he dashed out of the reading room leaving behind an
“Oh yes! You know my brother. He is not equipped to handle London, even during the off-season. I'm certain he forgot his hat. Virgil, did he?”
“You see? There he goes, outside, into society, without a hat. Did he at least have a cravat on?”
Virgil shook his head.
Primrose went white. “Oh. Oh no. No.”
Dama, until that moment lurking quietly in the background, could not repress a gasp. “I must
, darling ladies, but I simply
listen any further. It's
Primrose looked at him, eyes shining with tears. “No, of course not. Nor should you. I do apologise, dear Lord Akeldama. And if you could try to keep the shame of this from getting out? For as long as supernaturally possible. Perhaps Rue and I can find him and convince him to return indoors before anyone of any importance
Dama came over all severe behind his monocle. “Yes, I think you had better. But surely your mother will have her drones posted to follow him?”
“Oh, dear me. Imagine what Queen Mums would say if she heard Percy was gallivanting about without a hat in public? This is a
; hats are all she loves best in the world. Rue, we really must go
“But he was staying at his club. Where would he go? Any ideas?”
Prim shook her head so violently she nearly dislodged her own hat from its position, exactly where it ought to be.
Rue looked into the forlorn face of Percy's young valet. “Virgil, we don't blame you, of course we don't. But can you recall anything that might help us track your master?”
He felt this keenly, naturally he did. Virgil was a gem. He took more care of his master's reputation than the Honourable Percival Tunstell warranted. But even a fully grown valet could only control his master so much, and Percy at the best of times was eccentric in both his manners and his dress. Still, Rue could hardly have supposed even Percy to be so rash as to head out at nightâ¦ hatless.
“He read an article, Lady Captain. Got quite steamed up about it. I've never seen him so pipped.”