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November 9th, 2013 (3:25 AM).
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
leaving a big, smoldering dent in the bull's eyes.
That ought to be singular: there is only one bullseye on a target.
Realizing he's setting off alarms, Oshawott tried to hide his misgivings the best he could.
Rather than "he's", I'd put "he was" - otherwise you automatically read it as a contraction of "he is", which is disconcerting.
[My apologies for the inconvenience,] said Minnie with a smile on her face, [but outside is where you're most susceptible to grim and germs. Something I absolutely cannot tolerate.]
I'm not entirely convinced by this. Is this person going to drench them all purely because they've been outside? It seems... a disproportionate reaction, to say the least. Also, "grim" ought to be "grime".
I think you lay on Snivy's superiority a little thickly - you don't have to remind us of his arrogance every time he's mentioned, and in fact the way that you do makes it less convincing. It's better in the parts where you show it to us - as when he says that he doesn't need applause - than when you mention it directly through those parenthetical remarks. One or two of those would be fine, but so many instances veers towards overuse.
Overall, it's not a bad scene, but I'm not sure it stands alone well; it probably needs to be taken in context.
Now for something from me. This is a scene from something I wrote a while ago; the year is 1905, the place is London, and a Massachusetts cat and an English thief are stealing Queen Victoria's soul from those who embezzled it on her deathbed in order to ransom it back to the Royal Family.
Cornhill at midnight. Deserted, save for the dauntless lampposts, standing on guard in all weathers without cease; dark too, save for where they cast their glow, and those rare spots that fell beneath a gap in the clouds and received the blessing of the moonlight. The streets surrounding the Bank were always empty at night, or nearly so; few cared for the place in daylight, but in the dark the great building looked more predatory than ever, a great rusting dragon coiled over its precious hoard of souls.
Isidore Swan had been waiting for the dragon to breathe for a long time, and so had Edgar. Neither of them had moved an inch since taking up their positions: Isidore was taut with anticipatory excitement, while Edgar had the quiet, calm patience of the hunting cat.
(It might have been called foolhardy to attempt to enter the Bank straight away, without more preparation, more refinement of the plan, more casing of the joint. Isidore did not care: he was full of the confidence of youth, and besides, how could one case the Bank of Asphodel any more than he already had done? He could not have done so without actually breaking into it, at which point he might as well just have gone ahead with the finished plan. Besides, time was of the essence: every day that the erstwhile Queen's soul resided in the Bank's vaults, its masters came a little closer to leaving London, and taking the better part of its wealth with them.)
And then it happened, while they were blinking: one moment, there was a hot iron wall there, and then – blink! – there was a green door in its place, and there was a Banker emerging from it.
At his side, Isidore sensed Edgar stiffen. He could not, he reflected, be enjoying this little adventure very much. After all, no ex-convict relished the prospect of returning to prison, and the Bank, he imagined, was a significantly worse place to be imprisoned than any mortal jail.
The Banker stepped lightly away around the corner. Isidore waited to see if another would follow – but none did, and so, clenching his shaking hands into fists to steady them, he crept across the road and over to the door.
He took a deep breath. He looked at Edgar.
Then, afire with trepidation and delight, he turned the handle, and stepped into the Bank.
Immediately, he recognised where he was: the main hall, by the counters – the same place where Augustus Pinch had noticed the mysterious stranger being led to. Yes, he thought, there was the other door, and over there was the little low arch between the desks. And here, he reflected with a grimace, was the Bank's famous heat. It was a little cooler at night, but it was still close to stifling. A fitting sort of air to find in the lungs of the dragon, he thought to himself.
Edgar tugged gently at his trouser leg.
“Come on,” he said softly. “The less time...”
Isidore Swan nodded and stole across to the arch with him. Kneeling, he found its interior studded, as expected, with the same small holes that were in evidence in the door frame; he plugged each one with a tight-fitting length of rubber-coated steel – a device he had invented himself, after he had first encountered spring-loaded spikes. (With the arrival of the goblins' mechanical wizards had come several rather brutal innovations in home security. Apparently goblins regarded theft as punishable by death; many wealthy homeowners seemed to agree, judging by the readiness with which they had adopted their security mechanisms.) It had been his luck that he had had rods of the right width in stock; Augustus Pinch's measurements had stood him in good stead.
He realised then that he had forgotten to plug the holes in the frame of the green door, and went back to do so, hammering each rod in so it was flush with the iron frame. He didn't doubt that whatever infernal spikes the Bankers used would be capable of dislodging or even spearing straight through his plugs – but in the event that they were activated, Isidore preferred to have at least a second or two of protection.
“I'll check ahead now,” he whispered to Edgar. “One moment.”
Without waiting for an answer, he crawled silently through the arch and peered cautiously out of the other end. He was greeted by what looked like a continuation of the main hall, only perhaps slightly narrower: a huge, dark space bounded by iron walls, stretching away further than he could see. It was also, as far as he could make out, deserted.
Isidore wriggled backwards and nodded to Edgar.
“Seems clear,” he said. “Now you check.”
“You have better night vision,” explained Isidore, “but I had to check first to see if anyone was close enough to see your eyes shining.”
“Ah.” Edgar nodded slowly; it was gradually dawning on him that there was a whole host of things about burglary that Isidore knew to do without thinking that he had never even considered. “All right.”
He disappeared into the arch, and Isidore turned his attention to the green door. If the Banker returned before they had left the hall, and if he saw them... Well, he said to himself, there was no need to think about
unless it happened. If Raffles had thought about how he might be tortured before he set to work, reasoned Isidore, he would never have got anywhere at all.
“Clear,” hissed Edgar, intruding upon his thoughts and recalling him to the present, and he crawled through the tunnel to join him on the other side.
“Left-hand corridor when it comes to it, isn't it?” asked Isidore quietly. Edgar nodded, and they began to make their way down the hall, keeping to the left wall, where the shadows gathered most thickly.
It was getting hotter, thought Isidore – hotter and tenser; if for whatever reason a Banker should leave the living quarters for a walk, and if they should come this way, and if...
He blinked the sweat from his eyes and cleared his head with practised ease, as if he were about to change personality; Isidore Swan was not a brave man by nature – in fact, he possessed a remarkable aptitude for slithering away out of windows or half-open doors when real trouble raised its head – but he valued the appearance of bravery as much as he valued the appearance of expertise, or the appearance of wealth. Appearances were all that other people could see of you, after all; what was on the inside wasn't worth a damn.
There were footsteps in the corridor.
Isidore froze. At his feet, Edgar seemed to contract, shrinking into a tiny dark ball.
The footsteps came closer. He could hear them more clearly now – the light, arrhythmic quadruple-thump of a Banker's feet.
They were coming from behind him.
Isidore resisted the urge to turn around, resisted the impulse to try to find out who was coming; he felt for the corners of his psyche and, fumbling in his haste, tugged once – twice – three times, and with the third pull he felt Isidore Swan leave him, and John Smith settle in his place.
And John Smith, as he always did, stood still.
The footsteps were right behind him now, and had John Smith been able to, he would have felt the swish of the air as the Banker's cloak fanned it gently—
And then he was past, and the footsteps faded on ahead of them, swallowed up by the silence like raindrops drowning in a puddle.
Edgar pawed at John Smith's ankle.
“Isidore?” he hissed. “Come on. He's gone.”
There was no reply. One did not generally receive replies from John Smith. He was not so much a personality as an absence of personality; he was oblivion, an empty driver's seat in a darkened omnibus.
Isidore Swan blinked slowly awake on the back seat of the omnibus, clawing his way out of sleep with weak fingers, and with a tremendous effort hauled himself onto his feet; the world seemed to flicker like a dying candle-flame, halfway between reality and somewhere else entirely, but he managed to get at least halfway down the aisle before collapsing. His eyes slipped shut for a moment – but he hooked his fingers under his eyelids and dragged them back open, heedless of the pain. He must not sleep, or someone else would take the wheel, and considering the circumstances, that could be fatal...
Isidore Swan shouldered Charles Devereaux aside and slipped into the driver's seat.
“My apologies,” he said. “He would have sensed a human, even one hiding, so I had to, er, retreat quite deeply within myself to escape his notice. Something like a self-induced coma.”
“Is that even possible?” asked Edgar. There was a note of scepticism in his voice.
“I assure you it is,” replied Isidore. “Mental tricks are something of a speciality of mine; I'm a man of many talents.”
“All right, all right,” said Edgar. “There'll be time to argue later. For now, there are more important matters to take care of.”
Isidore could have pointed out that it was in fact Edgar who had started the argument (and in fact was sorely tempted to do so) – but, as he said, there were more important matters to take care of, so he simply nodded his agreement and moved on.
The junction, when it came, was more forceful than Isidore had expected: he had envisioned a gentle fork, but instead the two passages curved back on either side of the hall like the prongs of an arrowhead. One seemed to slope gently upwards, as far as he could make out in the dark; the other, the left-hand one, sloped down.
It was a lot shorter than Isidore had thought.
This meant he could see what lay at the end of it.
“Edgar,” he said. “That shape there. Is that...?”
“Yes,” he answered. “That's the dog.”
“Good Lord,” breathed Isidore. “It's
It was more than enormous. The dog was easily the largest animal he had ever seen; its soft dark bulk filled the corridor as if the walls had been built up around it. The details of its heads, its limbs, its tail were all lost in its sheer immensity; all Isidore could appreciate of it was its size.
“Not even Mister Holmes ever had to deal with a hound this size,” he murmured. “And his had only one head into the bargain...”
He reached for the bundle on his back and tugged it free, turning it over in his hands.
“I hope to God that thing's strong enough,” said Edgar, echoing his own thoughts.
“There is,” replied Isidore, drawing himself up to his full height and resolutely banishing all visions of the possible consequences from his head, “only one way to find out.”
And taking the wrapped steak in hand, he set off down the corridor towards the slumbering beast.
Edgar watched him go with a look that implied that, while he wished him all the best, he did not hold out much hope for his safe return. The dog was asleep at least, he reflected, which was something of a blessing. It would give him a chance, albeit a slim one. If it had been suffering from indigestion this night, or had chanced to wake from a dream of chasing rabbits in its godforsaken homeland, then they would have been killed as soon as they turned the corner.
“Rather you than me,” he muttered, and curled up as small as he could in the shadows to wait.
Isidore was a man with a quiet pace. He had honed it for years, first at home as a boy, sneaking in and out of rooms behind his parents' backs – practice, he had told himself, for the life of larceny he was to lead – then at school, during unauthorised late-night excursions from his boarding house. By that point, he had it down to a fine art, but he was a perfectionist in this matter and never satisfied: suppose, during some crucial heist, he should step on an unexpectedly creaky floorboard? His feet must be so silent that he could not only recover from such a mishap, but move away without detection so that the noise was attributed to jumpiness or the wind.
So he had gone on practising at Cambridge, where his first real robberies (and indeed first murder) had taken place, and by the time he had graduated and come to London to set up shop for real, he was able to creep up on charnel-bats without them noticing, so silently did he tread.
Tonight, though, as he crept through the hot, oppressive darkness towards the great hound, he surpassed all of his previous achievements in one fell swoop. It was the performance of a lifetime; his feet made so little noise that it was a matter of some debate whether they existed at all, and if he breathed, it was so faintly that even a doctor would have been hard pressed to work out whether he was a man or a phantom. His clothes did not rustle, his sweat did not drip to the floor – and somehow, impossibly, Isidore Swan found himself standing less than a yard from the vast central head of the great dog.
He studied it for a moment. It was as long as his leg, if not longer, and many times as thick; the huge folds of skin on its jowls puddled on the floor like clods of melting fat, and somewhere in that morass of wrinkled skin were two piggy black eyes, shut fast against the night.
Isidore looked to his left. There was another head, as big as the first but with prominent scars on its neck; perhaps one of the other heads had bitten it. The head on the right, he saw, was scarred too; the middle head alone was unmarked, so, he reasoned, it must be the leader.
With the greatest of care, he unwrapped the thick layers of scent-obscuring cloth from the slab of horsemeat and laid it just before the noes of the middle head.
And now it was time for the encore to his last great display of stealth: he slipped away, hugging the wall, as in its sleep the hound recognised the smell of food and began twitching into wakefulness. First an ear twitched, then a paw; Isidore went as fast as he dared, hearing the creature stirring but unable to look back for fear that, somehow, it might sense his eyes upon it.
Edgar watched it all from his end of the passage, eyes wide in the dark, drinking in every detail – see, Isidore almost stumbling in his haste – now the dog, thrusting a paw forwards – and Isidore was moving away faster – and—
All at once the whole mountain of flesh and fur surged up and into life at once, and if the dog had seemed huge as it slept it was positively Brobdingnagian awake: its heads brushed the ceiling and its shoulders the walls, and the light that shone from those six fist-sized eyes was something unholy to behold, lighting up the corridor like bloody suns.
Worst of all, Isidore was only halfway down the corridor.
He froze, too startled even to call on John Smith, and the dog took a step forwards—
And stopped, bending all three heads down to see what it had stepped on. Delighted, it completely forgot that it was supposed to be a vicious guard dog and sat down, wagging its tail vigorously and setting the middle head to tearing chunks of meat from the slab. Occasionally the right and left heads tried to steal a piece, but would always back away if the central head started growling; when the right head finally managed to get a sliver of meat in its mouth, the middle one sank its teeth into its jaw without hesitation, and it dropped it with a whine.
Isidore did not dare breathe.
In ten great bites the meat was gone, and the hellhound sniffed appreciatively. Then it sniffed again, puzzled this time, and got back to its feet. The middle nose began sniffing along the ground, trying to track the odd scent to its source, while the left and right heads kept a strict watch, panning back and forth like indecisive artillery pieces.
Isidore was good at holding his breath, but to tell the truth, he was starting to run out of air. He would have loved to give up his body to John Smith, but twice in one night was too risky; it would not be wise to give him a chance to tighten his grip on his body.
The hound padded closer, sniffing and staring. Perhaps he had calculated the dosage wrongly, thought Isidore – perhaps there wasn't enough toxin to fell such a gigantic animal – God knew that it seemed bigger than Edgar had described—
The questing nose of the middle head was less than five yards away. Why hadn't the others spotted him? Isidore was not sure, but he was in no mood to complain; if he could stay alive, not even necessarily get the soul but just
this evening, that would be enough for him. He began to imagine what it felt like to be torn in two, to feel inch-thick fangs puncturing your waist, one paw holding you down while the head bent back and pulled, pulled, pulled until your spine gave way with a
The left head, he noticed suddenly, the one that really should have seen him by now, was drooping limply at the hellhound's side. And as the dog snuffled closer, he saw that the right one had slumped as well, and the forelegs beneath them looked a little less certain.
But the middle head was still indisputably awake, and one bark from it would bring all the Bankers in the building down upon their heads, and
Isidore could feel it sniffing at his shoes
The head rose slowly, like a sea serpent raising itself up gently above the waves. Its burning eyes swept up his legs, over his jacket and finally came to rest squarely on Isidore's face.
Isidore Swan smiled weakly. The hellhound, all blazing eyes and foetid breath, did not return the gesture.
It opened its mouth to bark, and Isidore braced himself to run—
A soft, wheezy snore emerged from its throat, and with a great whumph the hound collapsed at his feet.
For a long moment, Isidore stared at the sleeping dog. Then, realising he was close to passing out from lack of air, he let out a long breath and gratefully sucked in another.
,” hissed Edgar, making his way cautiously around the comatose dog. “Where do you buy your nerves? I could use some as strong as that.”
Isidore Swan cast his fears aside and gave a roguish grin.
“All in a night's work,”he said. “In London, a thief must be prepared for anything.” He glanced down the passage to the wall the dog had been sitting in front of – the wall dominated by a tall, thin door like the lid of a coffin. “Now,” he said, advancing on it. “Let's see if we can't get inside that vault...”
Inside the vault, it was as hot as hell and as black as sin. All in all, it seemed rather appropriate.
Isidore had taken care of the door with ease – there was, he liked to say, not a lock built that he could not pick given a couple of wires and ten minutes' jiggling time – and now he and Edgar stood on the threshold of what was quite possibly the greatest treasure trove in the history of the Earth.
“It's so hot,” muttered Edgar. “I don't remember it being this hot.”
“You said yourself your memories were a little fuzzy,” pointed out Isidore. “Come on, let's get inside. We can shut the door then and light the lamp.”
“If you shut the door, we'll be baked to death,” Edgar said. “Leave it open a little, at least.”
Isidore pondered. He did not relish being slow-cooked in a gigantic iron oven, but nor did he desire anyone outside to notice that the door had been opened. In the end, he left the door just slightly ajar – hopefully so little that the glow of his light would not be visible from outside – and backed carefully away from it before lighting the lamp.
(It was an oil lamp, of course. Tesla reception was notoriously unreliable even in the main hall of the Bank, and here at its heart he didn't doubt that the electric torch would have failed to start at all.)
“Good Lord,” he breathed, blinking in the sudden light. “Isn't that...”
There were no words to finish the sentence, and how could there have been? So many souls, glimmering and glittering in their little jars, stretching away forever on rusty shelves; in the dark, they appeared as very slightly discoloured patches of shadow, but when the light caught them – ah! They iridesced like magpie wings, like puddles of oil, like exotic coral; they flowed and twisted and shaped themselves into little faces before falling apart into drops of pure beauty once again, forever in glistering motion.
“Have you ever seen a soul, Isidore?”
Isidore shook his head.
“No,” he admitted. “Not before tonight.”
“They're pretty, aren't they?” Edgar watched one with avid eyes. He felt an urge to break its jar open, to bat it about between his paws like a moth or a mouse, but he suppressed it: he was not a cat, after all; he was
than a cat, now. “They'd make lovely decorations.”
“That they would,” agreed Isidore. “If I wasn't certain the Bank would be able to sense large quantities of them moving around, I would almost certainly take some home and pump them into the light bulbs.”
“I take it you don't believe in the sanctity of the soul, then?”
Isidore laughed – quietly, but mockingly.
“Really, Edgar, the soul is a metaphysical appendix, as far as I make out. It does nothing, you get on very well without it, and there's always a risk that it will go bad and cause you the most frightful pains.”
“Conscience is the appendicitis of the soul, is it?”
“Exactly.” Isidore beamed. “Now, where is the Queen's soul?”
“I think it's over here,” said Edgar, padding away down the aisle. The souls fluttered in their jars as he passed, pressing themselves against the glass in a fruitless attempt to reach him. When Isidore followed, however, they relaxed, drifting back to the centre of their cells to float and twist aimlessly.
“A long way,” muttered Isidore, after a few minutes. “Just how big is this place?”
“Vast,” replied Edgar. “It's not just souls here, you know – that's just the area near the door. They keep visions here, and memories of distant lights; trophies of old dead monsters, and books that no one can read. Victoria's soul, as I recall, is tucked in among the memories – I'm not sure why. It's part of their filing system; it only really makes sense to Bankers.”
“I see. Perhaps they feel a royal soul ought to be kept apart from the plebeian sort?”
“Perhaps,” agreed Edgar. “I don't rightly know.”
They walked on in silence for a while. The heat seemed to be growing, if anything; Isidore could feel the blood pulse in his head with every heartbeat, and his hair was slick with sweat. It was a wonder, he thought, that all these souls were so well preserved; presumably metaphysical entities didn't go bad in the same way that, for instance, a lamb shank might.
After a little while, the shelves' contents ceased to wink and twirl in the lamplight, and instead of jars Isidore saw aromatic wooden boxes and strangely-shaped tusks; on one shelf were the clawed feet of no creature living, on another a long thin skull like that of some monstrous heron.
“The trophies,” said Edgar. “I don't know where they came from.”
The pickled hand of a European troll; the lethal curved pincers of a bandersnatch – those were the only two items that Isidore could name, and even then their identities did not come to him until days later, when he suddenly recalled pictures from a bestiary he had read as a boy. The rest of the trophies – claws, glands and eyes, makeshift maces and jagged teeth – remained forever mysterious to him. Sometimes he would dream of that place, of the money that could have been made through selling those relics to the right buyer – but he did not take a single one.
(He told himself that this was because he could not identify them and therefore couldn't be certain of finding the right buyer – dead monster parts were not his area of expertise, after all – but in reality, it probably had more to do with a strange feeling he had that this was somewhere not even the bravest thief ought to be, and that if he really
to steal something here then he had better make sure he took as little as was humanly possible.)
After the trophies came the memories: tiny Egyptian faïence pots, no bigger than Edgar's paw, that occasionally began to shake on the shelves for no good reason; they always calmed down after a few seconds, but Isidore couldn't shake the unpleasant feeling that they were about to explode.
“They crammed her into one of these to make her fit in,” said Edgar, casting an eye over the shelves. “It's a blue-black one, slightly bigger than the others. There's a V on it for Victoria.”
The search went on a lot longer than Isidore had envisaged, even with two of them; Edgar could only search along the bottom shelves, for he didn't trust the decrepit metal to take his weight if he climbed it, and that left the best part of the section to Isidore. There didn't seem to be any blue-black pots at all, he realised. Almost all of them were an odd off-white, and most of the rest were green.
All, that is, except that one there.
“Ah,” he said, picking it up. “Edgar, is this the one?”
He knelt down and held out the pot; Edgar came bounding over, whiskers quivering in anticipation.
“Yes,” he breathed, staring at it with naked avarice. “Yes, that's it... that's the one!” He ran a pale tongue over his lips. “Right,” he said, with what was clearly a tremendous effort to keep his voice level, “we can't take it out like that.”
“The pot's marked,” explained Edgar. “There's a kind of magical tag on it – if it leaves the area, it sets off an alarm. Or at least, I
there's a tag on it; there was one on me.” He scowled, which was an unusual look for a cat. “That's how they got me the first time I tried to escape. Thankfully that summoning business scrubbed it off me, but there'll be no such luck with this one.”
“So what do we do?” asked Isidore, keeping a tight grip on the pot. (It was starting to go through the shaking routine.) “Pour it out into my pocket?”
Edgar gave him a withering look. Coming from most people, this did not usually affect Isidore, but Edgar's was a
withering look, and he winced slightly under its force.
“It's Queen Victoria's
,” he said. “Not her jewels. You can't keep it in a pocket, only in a special container. Or in a body,” he added.
“Ah,” he said. “So one of us needs to absorb it. But then how do we get it out again?”
“Well, we have souls already,” pointed out Edgar. “A second soul won't take. It'll just ride on the top – we could push it out at any time, given a little effort.”
“I wish you'd told me all this before we came here,” said Isidore. “I was under the impression that we could just pick up the soul and get out of here.”
“Perhaps I ought to have made all this a bit clearer,” he admitted. “But we're here now, and we need to get out soon or we'll both collapse from heatstroke. One of us has to absorb the soul.”
“Then, er, it had better be you,” said Isidore diffidently.
Edgar stared at him.
You lost your...?”
it,” snapped Isidore. “I know exactly where it is: here.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the soul aisles. “I just decided I didn't need it. And I did need some money for a house.”
“Couldn't you have done what normal people do, and got a loan from a regular bank?”
“Look,” said Isidore, with a certain quiet intensity, “what I do with my soul is my own business. I had my reasons for getting rid of it, and they're as valid now as they ever were. So. If you please, Edgar, ingest Queen Victoria's soul and have done with it.”
“All right,” said Edgar. “Lord. There's no need to be quite so defensive about it.”
“Let's leave it at that, shall we?”
“All right,” agreed Edgar. “We'll leave it at that. Could you do the honours with the lid?”
Isidore held the pot close under the cat's snout and popped the stopper free, expecting the soul to rise up and out of it – but nothing happened.
“Hm? Are you quite sure there's something in this on—”
Something flickered between the pot's mouth and Edgar's face. It moved when Isidore was blinking, or it moved on planes he could not fully see; whichever it was, it was an odd, shivering thing, a thing that looked like a living breath, and that left the pot unusually light when it was gone.
“Is that it?” asked Isidore, but there was no reply. Edgar was staring straight ahead into space, an odd look in his eyes. “Edgar?”
“Yes!” he cried abruptly. “Yes. Sorry. Who am—? No, never mind.” He shook his head so vigorously that his fur fluffed out. “Ahem.” He looked up at Isidore and blinked rapidly several times. “Now
was odd,” he said. “I've never felt something quite like that before.”
just absorb the soul of our erstwhile monarch,” said Isidore. “I wouldn't be surprised if you had a touch of indigestion.”
“Cosmic indigestion,” said Edgar. “Indigestion of the anima.” He shivered. “Like having curry powder thrust directly into your soul.”
“She may have been marinated in spices,” ventured Isidore. “She
the Empress of India.”
“She was also Queen of England,” replied Edgar. “A country where good food is boiled to a flavourless death.” He shook his head. “No, it wasn't spicy. It was just...
. I've never done that before – only heard about the theory when the Bankers were discussing it.”
“Indeed. Well,” said Isidore, “might I suggest we drink the water and then leave? I don't know about you, but I fear I may be on the verge of unconsciousness, and I have precious little desire to pass out here for a Banker to find in the morning.”
“Right,” agreed Edgar. “Good idea.”
Isidore brought out the bottles and they drained them swiftly, then set off back down the aisle. This time, as Edgar passed them, the souls twirled and bounced even more vigorously; Isidore, by contrast, seemed to inspire something like absolute revulsion in them.
When they reached the great door, Isidore extinguished the lamp and slipped through the little gap into the corridor. It was excruciatingly hot here, too, but after the vault it felt like stepping into a cool breeze. Even the warm, rank wind of the hellhound farting in its sleep didn't seem that bad.
“Lord,” hissed Edgar. “I hate dogs.”
“You would,” whispered Isidore. “Come on.”
So began the long journey back down the passage, and then around into the hall – and on further still, down the main corridor, until from behind them they heard the dog wake with a pained, groggy yelp, and without a word Isidore and Edgar both broke into a run.
Isidore was, of course, far faster, and he snatched up Edgar as they neared the archway; he could hear the leather flutter of wings, and the yowling caterwauling of an alarm, but he ignored them and flung himself to the floor, rolling through the little tunnel. The holes in the walls clunked as he passed, trying to disgorge spring-loaded spikes – but the plugs held firm, at least for the two seconds it took him to scramble out the other end, and it was not until he was back on his feet and sprinting for the exit that the tunnel became a mess of criss-crossed metal.
Here in the main hall, ports were opening in the ceiling, and furry things were falling like rain; one landed on Isidore's arm – but pain is something one feels, and Isidore Swan almost never felt anything at all, and so he barely noticed as the lump of fluff sank its iron teeth into his flesh all the way to the bone.
And then there was the door, and Isidore slammed it open with his shoulder and stumbled through—
—and out onto Cornhill, the October night air taking his breath away with a short sharp gasp. The alarm stopped abruptly: it only sounded within the Bank's walls. If the Bankers had a grievance outside the limits of their home, Isidore thought, they came and dealt with it themselves.
With that thought in his mind, he gathered himself and kept running, shifting Edgar onto his back for ease of movement; and when he saw a corner he took it, and when he saw a wall he climbed it, and when his breath finally ran out, an hour and a half later, he found himself standing on the roof of a set of chambers at Inner Temple, leaning against a chimney-stack and panting heavily.
The Bankers were nowhere to be seen.
Isidore checked again, and let Edgar down so that he might check as well.
“Any – one?” he gasped.
“No,” replied Edgar. “I don't see them, don't smell them... Bloody good job of escaping, there.”
“Why – aren't – they here?”
Isidore straightened up. A few silent charnel-bats fluttered by overhead.
“They should have – chased us to – the end of the earth,” he said. “If they knew we had – broken in like that.” He paused for several more deep breaths. “The Bankers would never let us get away with it,” he said in the end. “They would have caught us...”
Edgar shook his head.
“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe they were impressed.”
It was an odd thought, and it fell clear and cold into the depths of Isidore's mind like a rare jewel.
“Maybe,” he agreed. He walked over to the roof and looked down into the Inner Temple Gardens. “I don't know,” he said. “But for now, we have another destination.”
“We're doing that tonight as well?” asked Edgar, surprised.
“We do it all tonight,” said Isidore. “We keep that soul for as short a time as possible.” He probed at the furry thing latched onto his arm and winced as it tightened its grip. “And we find a way to get this bloody thing off me,” he added aggrievedly. “But first – business.” He swung himself off the edge of the roof and down onto the drainpipe. “Come on, Edgar,” he said, climbing down. “We have an appointment at Buckingham Palace – and I'm sure you'll agree that that isn't the sort of appointment one turns down...”
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World
The Rocket Case
The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There
Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol
Stranger Than Fiction
My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon
A Smell of Petroleum Pervades Throughout
For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click
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