My Lady Quicksilver Page 1


“You have three weeks to find Mercury…or I swear you’ll share his fate…”

Smoke belched with a coughing roar from a distant furnace as Sir Jasper Lynch leaned against the edge of a chimney, staring through the smoky gloom, the echo of the prince consort’s words ringing in his ears.

His gaze tracked the foggy streets below, hunting for any sign of movement as he slowly stretched cramped muscles. As Master of the Guild of Nighthawks—thief-catchers and trackers—he’d spent the last week hunting for leads on the mysterious revolutionary leader, Mercury, whose humanist movement was plaguing London.

And now he’d found one.

No mention of the name Mercury, but Lynch’s instincts were on fire at the rumor of a shipment that was due to be smuggled out of the steamy enclaves on the edges of the city—a particular shipment that was received every month at this time, though his informant hadn’t known what it was.

Easy enough to guess. The enclaves were both jail and factory, where the mechs within were forced to work steel in repayment for their mechanical limbs. This particular enclave was responsible for manufacturing mech parts for the automaton army that protected the aristocratic Echelon.

In the distance, chimneys lurked in the smog like little watchtowers. A foghorn echoed mournfully as the boat slowly traversed the Thames. The world seemed unnaturally silent beneath its ethereal blanket, but for the faint whisper of movement in the shadows.

“Here,” someone murmured in the alley below him. “Is that them? Someone give ’em the signal.”

Lynch’s head snapped up.

Tendrils of fog eddied around a man on the other rooftop, licking at his legs and cloak—Garrett. Making a sharp gesture with his fingers, Lynch silently directed his lieutenant. There were four other shapes in the dark, but he couldn’t see them, only hear a faint scraping sound that whispered on the tiles through his aural communicator. Made of fine brass pieces and leather, it fit in his ear perfectly, a transmitter receiving every whisper that Garrett made. Garrett’s matching piece could relay his commands no matter where they both were.

The sound of iron scraping over cobbles echoed in the still night. Someone hissed a warning and the sound cut off. Lynch leaned forward, cocking his head to listen.

“Quiet.” This was a voice of command, cool and low. “D’you want the world to ’ear us? Remember, the friggin’ bleeders can ’ear for miles.”

Definitely humanists.

Lynch crouched low on the edge of the tiled roof, his heart fluttering in his chest with anticipation. Darkness swallowed him as he leaned over the edge, his eyes picking out his prey immediately. One of the benefits of the craving virus that afflicted him was superior senses. A blue blood could see on the darkest of nights and hear the faintest whisper, though that barely made up for the fierce hunger he could never quite assuage, the unrelenting craving for blood…

A trio of cloaked figures hovered in the alley, a phosphorescent flare stick shielded by one of their cloaks. One was a tall man, with broad shoulders beneath the concealing cloak and pockmarked cheeks. He knelt and dragged a heavy crate out of the open sewer grate in the cobbles.

Lynch’s eyes narrowed. There were men within the sewers, but he couldn’t tell if they were from the enclaves or more of this mysterious group.

Holding up a hand to counteract his previous command, Lynch melted back into the shadows to listen. If the mechs were using the nearby sewer systems to smuggle metalwork out of the enclaves, then the prince consort needed to know.

A month ago, the humanists had tried to bomb the Ivory Tower, the seat of the Echelon’s power. The handling of the bombing had been a disaster, with half the aristocratic Echelon trampling through his evidence and only one witness, who sullenly refused to talk, in custody. The only piece of evidence Lynch had was in his pocket: a piece of leather that had torn from a woman’s cloak in one of the antechambers. A humanist, he suspected, and one involved in the bombing. The scent of her was long faded from the worn leather, but if he closed his eyes, he knew he could bring her scent to mind. It filled him, branding his memory as if he could never escape her.

Maybe she would be below? His blood fired at the thought. He wanted to find her—he needed to. Though sometimes, in the dark of night, he wondered if his reasons for this madness were the same as the prince consort’s.

Swallowing hard, Lynch forced the thought of the mysterious woman from his mind. He had a job to do.

What could the humanists be doing here? Were they after explosives? Or maybe a weapon to counteract the heavily armored metal automatons that patrolled the streets?

He needed to get his hands on that crate.

“Hurry,” the leader snapped. “We’re already behind schedule.”

A man grunted. “’S bloody heavy, you know?”

“Steel often is,” came the reply.

“What’s that?” someone hissed.

Silence fell. Lynch faded back against the brickwork of a chimney.

“Thought I saw somethin’ movin’,” the same person murmured. “Up there. On the roof.”


“’Urry it up,” the leader snapped. “We need to move. Now.”

Lynch scowled as one of the Nighthawks darted between chimneys. Too late. They’d been seen.

Lynch stepped onto the incline of the roof and rode it to the edge, leaping out over nothingness. He saw Garrett and the others moving at the edge of his vision, then he landed in the swirling fog that clung to the cobbles below, his knees bending to absorb the shock.

A man in a rough jerkin, with shoulders the size of a pugilist’s, staggered to a halt in front of him, his mouth gaping in shock and both of his arms missing from the elbows down. He wore instead the heavy hydraulic arms of a mech, the work crude and rudimentary, without even the synthetic flesh the Echelon’s master smiths could create. Enclave work.

“Nighthawks!” the man bellowed, the hydraulic hoses in his steel arm hissing in the night as he swung a blow at Lynch.

Grabbing the man by the wrist, Lynch kicked his feet out from under him and drove him onto his face on the cobbles.

A shadow shifted in the fog. Lynch caught a glimpse of a dark-hooded cloak and a pistol gleaming in the weak, phosphorescent light of a fallen flare stick. “Let ’im go,” the leader commanded in a low voice. He thumbed the hammer on his pistol back.

Lynch could see little of his opponent beyond the cloak and a gaping blackness where his face should have been. A black satin mask covered his entire face and throat, leaving not an inch of skin visible. And he suddenly knew.

“Mercury,” he said, staring down the barrel of the pistol. Hungry exhilaration leaped through him, shadows sweeping through his vision as the hunger of the craving momentarily overtook him. The bastard was right in front of him.

He heard the click a moment before the gun barrel coughed.

Lynch flung himself into a roll as the gun retorted with a hollow thunk. A Nighthawk appeared behind him and stiffened, a tiny blue-feathered dart sticking out of his chest. Lewis Hicks, one of the novices. He staggered forward, gave a little sigh, then crumpled at Lynch’s feet.

Hicks’s eyes remained open and he trembled on the cobbles, rigid as a board, momentarily paralyzed.

Lynch looked up. The new hemlock darts the humanists were using to bring down blue bloods made him wary. The poison paralyzed a blue blood for a good five to ten minutes, leaving them at the human’s mercy. As a predator, the sudden sense of vulnerability unnerved him.

Mercury’s shoulders stiffened but he wasted no breath. Instead, he turned and bolted down the alley, his cloak swirling the remnants of the fog and his shadow lengthening.

“Scatter!” someone yelled.

Men poured out of the sewers, scrambling past the Nighthawks. Garrett had a man shoved up against a wall and slapped cuffs on him. The humanists fled like mice, darting down alleys. There weren’t enough Nighthawks to catch them all, but Lynch only needed one. Oh yes. Cut off the head of the snake and you had them all.

“He’s mine,” he snapped to Garrett, leaving his lieutenant with the rest of them. Sprinting down the alley, he swiftly gained on the revolutionary, making a snatch at the man’s cloak. It tugged for a moment and Mercury spun with a vicious left hook that smashed Lynch across the face. Pain slashed through his cheekbone, leaving his vision white for a second. There must have been something in the revolutionary’s hand. Brass knuckles perhaps.

Whirling, Mercury tore free of the cloak and bolted, leaving Lynch with a handful of fabric and the elusive scent of gunpowder.

Curse it. Lynch started after him with deadly focus.

The alleyway was running out, the stone walls that surrounded the enclaves rearing up into the night. Lynch slowed to a halt as Mercury spun, staring at him through the thin gauze of his eye slits.

“Don’t come any closer,” the revolutionary leader warned, lifting the pistol again.

“The problem with the new make of recoil dart gun is that it requires manual reloading. You appear to be out of darts. Or you would have used it on me already.” He had no doubt of that.

Mercury’s chin tipped up as the pistol lowered. “That don’t make me no less dangerous.”

Lynch rubbed at his jaw and the bruise that was no doubt starting to form. “I never expected it to. What did you hit me with?”

“A love tap, milord.” The words were laced with sarcasm. “Come closer and I’ll give you another.”

They stared across the expanse of cobbles. Lynch frowned at his enemy’s choice of words, something about the situation stirring unease through his gut. Behind him came shouts. He sensed Mercury’s attention shift over Lynch’s shoulder and then the revolutionary took a hesitant step backward, hitting the wall.

“Nowhere to run,” Lynch said softly. “Nowhere to hide.”

“There’s always somewhere to run. Au revoir, sir.” Tossing the steam pistol aside, Mercury whipped a heavier gun from the belt at his hip, with a sharp four-pronged hook at the end of it.

For a moment, Lynch thought the revolutionary was going to fire it at him, but then he pointed it into the sky above and pulled the trigger.

The grappling hook soared into the darkness with a hiss of rope trailing behind it. Metal clamored on stone far above, then the revolutionary jerked on the rope. It held and he pressed something on the side of the grappling gun.

“No—” Lynch snapped, leaping forward.

His fingers grazed the toe of Mercury’s boot as the revolutionary sailed into the air. Laughter rang down through the darkness, thick with huskiness. Lynch snarled and slapped a palm against the stone. He’d had him. In the bloody palm of his hand and he’d lost him.

Looking up, he bared his teeth. It was risky for a blue blood to enter the enclaves. Recent mech riots had seen dozens of mechs trampled in the streets by the metal Trojan cavalry. There was no love lost for a blue blood—or a craver, as the mechs called them.

His eyes narrowed. He was dangerous too. And he’d spent over a year hunting the bastard, only to have Mercury slip through his fingers. The prince consort’s warning rang dire in his ears. Bring me his head. Or share his fate.

Not bloody likely. Looking around, Lynch shoved his boot into a crack between the stones in the wall and hauled himself up through sheer strength, biceps straining.

It was the last thing Mercury would expect.


Steam hissed as the enormous piston rolled through its rotation. The woman known as Mercury hurried past, her breath hot and moist against the silk mask over her face and her eyes darting.

Here in the enclaves, hot orange light lit the steel beams of the work sheds and enormous furnaces. The place was riddled with underground tunnels where the workers lived, but aboveground, the work sheds dominated. It wasn’t quite a jail—mechs earned a half day off a fortnight—but it was close.

Metal ingots glowed cherry red and the air was thick with the smell of coal. Men worked even at night to keep the furnaces hot, silent shadows against the shimmering heat waves. Rosalind slipped past a mech in a pitted leather apron as he shoveled coal into the open mouth of a furnace, the blast of heat leaving a light sheen of perspiration on her skin. Droplets of sweat slid beneath her breasts and wet the insides of her right glove. She couldn’t feel the left. Only a phantom ache where the limb used to be and where steel now stood.

Damn it. Rosalind tossed aside the spring-recoil grappling gun and started tugging at her right glove. Her heart wouldn’t stop rabbiting in her chest, her body moving with a liquid anticipation she knew well. Foolish to relish such anticipation, but the danger, the edge of her nerves, were a drug she’d long been denied.

She couldn’t believe her bad luck. The Nighthawk himself, in the flesh.