Unedited preview of REQUIEM coming January 2016
Copyright Skye Knizley 2011-2016
Cover by Dreams2Media
Thunder rolled and lightning flashed in a darkened sky shot through with deep red clouds that poured blanked of rain across the city of London, filling barrels and washing the day’s muck from the streets into the sewers below, where Chastity Macleod moved with cat-like grace through the stink-filled sewers, her footsteps making almost no noise in the ankle-deep water. She was clad in leather breaches that were tucked into boots that came over her knees, a blousy shirt made of dark blue silk, a tightly laced corset which matched her pants and a cropped jacket that ended just above her neat waist. A silver comb held her ink-black hair in a high ponytail and the dark column swayed nearly to her knees when she moved. In her hands she held a matched pair of Enfield Mark I revolvers, the silvered barrels etched with symbols that seemed to glow even in the gloom of the tunnels. A Scottish broadsword hung from her right hip set for an easy draw with her left hand. Sigils that matched those of her pistols had been etched with platinum into the scabbard of her blade.
She paused at an intersection of three passages, her keen eyes searching the darkness for her quarry. The only sound in the tunnel was the rush of water falling in torrents from the city above and the distant crack of thunder. After a moment her attention was drawn to a footprint in the mud near the edge of the right hand tunnel; she knelt to examine the track, her eyes still casting glances at the flickering shadows around her. She holstered her pistol and reached out to trace the contours of the print, her nails passing lightly over the mark.
The print was that of a woman’s shoe or boot with a pointed toe and a square heel. The shoe had been pressed deeply into the mud, leaving a trail of perfect prints that led into the gloom of the right hand tunnel, back towards the center of the city.
With a smile, Chastity turned and walked into the other tunnel, not bothering to draw the holstered pistol. She leapt lightly over a noisome grating that dropped waste into a cistern far below and moved further into the murky sewer. Here, most of the gas lamps had either failed or been intentionally snuffed by her quarry. Uncertain which was the case Chastity paused at the nearest lamp and pressed her ear to the bulb. From within she could hear the faintest hiss of gas being pumped through the wide-open valve. Likely the foul tunnel ahead was dangerously full of methane.
Rolling her eyes at the antics of her target Chastity holstered her remaining pistol and drew the sword from her hip. Any discharge of firearms in the closed tunnel could cause an explosion that would rip through not only the tunnel but possibly the city above, either of which was an unacceptable result.
She moved with greater caution and walked along the edge of the tunnel, trying to stay out of the clinging sludge as much as possible. A dim light flickered ahead and to the right, indicating the presence of an antechamber of some kind, and it was towards this that she moved, her footsteps masked by the noise of the rushing water. She was nearly there when a ghostly hand appeared from within the chamber, a glowing taper held between thumb and forefinger. Chastity was leaping forward even as the burning taper dropped into the gas-filled air; she reached safety beneath the foul water just as the cloud of methane ignited and exploded into flame that raced down the tunnel in a violent whirlwind of fire and charred debris.
Chastity swam to the bottom of the tunnel where the mud was thickest and continued onward, the muck and grime protecting her from the explosive heat above. When she reached the ledge beneath the antechamber, she erupted from the water as if shot from a cannon. She landed in the corridor, both revolvers now drawn and pointed into the chamber. She stood gasping, water and waste dripping from her clothes, and surveyed the room beyond.
The antechamber appeared to be a foyer, of sorts. Though the walls were made of the same brick as the rest of the underground passages, these were devoid of the slime and mold that were common in the wet tunnels. A single gas lamp hung from the wall, its tiny flame casting a merry glow throughout the small room. Two the north lay another passage from which light flickered merrily, in contrast to the stench of death emanating from within. It seemed the city’s sewers and tunnels were littered with hidden passages and secret rooms, most of them occupied the most loathsome of denizens.
She hesitated a moment, weighing caution versus surprise then began to move along the wall, her viridian eyes searching for her quarry, her practiced hands automatically popping the wet cylinders from her revolvers and replacing them with fresh ones from the waxed leather pouch at her hip.
The short hallway emptied into a larger chamber that was very well decorated for a sewer. Heavy wooden bookcases lined the far wall and the floor was covered with a deep red carpet plush enough to keep out the worst of the cold. Chastity could also see a large desk covered in books and a massive wardrobe that seemed to dominate the entire corner of the room. There was, however, no sign of the Red Widow Chastity was pursuing.
She pressed herself to the wall and shuffled into the room, her revolvers held at the ready. She had just crossed the threshold when a sandaled foot lashed out from around the corner, kicking the revolver from Chastity’s left hand.
Ignoring the loss of her weapon, the black-haired woman danced sideways and fired, the cold iron bullet narrowly missing the well-dressed person that stood near the entrance.
The Red Widow, as she was called, appeared to be an attractive upper class woman with flowing red hair that cascaded down her back, piercing brown eyes and a figure women would envy and men would drool over. She was dressed in a crimson gown that displayed her generous bosom to its full effect and then tapered down to an impossibly small waist. She had her hands raised in surrender and seemed to be unarmed, but Chastity knew better. The Red Widow was far more dangerous than she appeared.
The widow smiled, a gesture Chastity had seen besot men on the spot. “Ah, Chastity MacLeod. It is so good to see you again, my dear. You’re going to catch your death in those wet clothes.”
Chastity moved sideways, shuffling like a fencer, her remaining revolver trained on the Widow’s head.
“Likewise, Countess,” she said, her accent hinting at her Scottish ancestry. “I missed you at the Queen’s Masquerade last night.”
“Only just, Miss MacLeod,” the Widow said. “You also spoiled my evening meal with dear Lord Guilder.”
“If you mean I saved you from eating his living brain, then yes, I spoiled your meal,” Chastity said. “I must inform you I have been charged by the Church to eliminate the threat you pose to the great City of London, as well as the rest of the world.”
The Widow pursed her lips and shook her head sadly. “Then I suppose there is no sense in idle chatter; I have already been sentenced to death.”
Chastity nodded and thumbed back her revolver’s hammer. As she did, time seemed to slow and the Red Widow grew and exploded outward. Mandibles jutted from her lower jaw, her head elongated gruesomely, the comely flesh falling away to reveal eight sapphire eyes in a bulbous spider-like head while eight hair-covered legs sprouted from her back, tearing away the beautiful dress that had once covered her human façade. In a flash the Red Widow appeared in her natural form; that of a giant black widow spider.
“Goodbye, Miss MacLeod,” the spider hissed in a chorus of voices. “I shall enjoy tasting your memories and adding your voice to my own.”
Giggling with manic glee the spider lunged forward with amazing speed. Chastity, however, was ready for the giant spider’s move and was already falling backwards, away from the spider’s pounce. She rolled and came up behind the creature, her revolver aimed at the Widow’s soft thorax. She pulled the trigger and fired, fanning the revolver and emptying the remaining five bullets in the blink of an eye. All of the cold iron slugs found their target, piercing the Widow’s soft flesh, paralyzing her. The giant spider collapsed to the floor, cries of pain echoing from her mouth.
Chastity stepped forward and knelt next to the creature, her eyes hardening against what must be done. In a soft whisper she said, “Requiescat in pace,” and placed her hand upon the creature’s head. She then picked up her discarded revolver and shot the Widow cleanly through the middle of her eight eyes, ending her yearlong murder spree.
Chastity sat and watched the light fade from the creature’s eyes. After a time the creature metamorphosed into an attractive middle-aged woman, the vessel the Widow had corrupted. Chastity sadly reached out and closed the woman’s eyes and pulled a vial from one the many pouches at her belt. She sprinkled the contents of the vial on the woman, being sure not to splash herself. The nitric acid hissed and steamed as it began to dissolve the Widow’s flesh. There would be nothing left but the stain of blood and the stench of sulfur by the time Chastity reached the city streets.