I turned and made my way back down the alley and onto the next street. I hadn’t realized just how tense I had been until I felt my shoulders relax in the warm glow of the gas lamps. I was only a few blocks from home, and the proximity gave me a sense of safety, real or not.
I was just turning my key in the lock of my flat when I heard booted feet hurrying toward me. I turned, ready to attack if need be, then sighed when I realized it was the Shadow Walker. “Look,” I said when he got close enough to hear me. “I’m tired, and I’m cold, and it’s been one bitch of an evening. Can whatever you have to say wait until the light shines?”
He nodded and gave me a small smile. “Yeah, but I need to know where to find you. There’s something not right about those guys, and I need to figure out what it is.”
I sighed again and nodded. “Fine. Where will you be mid-morning? I’ll come to you.”
“I’ll be at the Shadow Walker guild hall,” he replied. “My name’s Elbert. Elbert Kickilpenny.”
“All right, Elbert Kickilpenny. I’ll come in the morning. Now, good night.” And, with that, I left him standing on the doorstep as the snow began to fall in earnest.
I awoke the next morning to a light cover of snow over the city. I had to admit that Sangeron covered in snow was a beautiful sight, even this part of town, which wasn’t the poshest. Still, though, it was enough to make me regret telling Elbert that I would meet with him, so I decided that whatever it was he wanted could wait and curled up with a parchment pad and a cup of hot cocoa instead.
I was halfway through writing an article I wanted to submit to the city’s paper when a knock at my door interrupted my thoughts.
I placed the pad on the small table beside my chair and shuffled to the door. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about the intrusion and had a good feeling I knew who was going to be standing on the other side of the door. I had no desire to see the Shadow Walker, no desire to get involved in whatever it was that was going on.
I opened the door and cursed again. I was wrong. It wasn’t Elbert standing on my doorstep. It was worse. Far worse.
“It’s freezing out here. Let me in.”
I sighed and stepped back from the door. The woman brushed by me without so much as a glance, her fur scarf slapping me in the face as she passed.
“Shut the door. I don’t want anyone to see me here.”
I sighed again and closed the door. By this time the woman was in my parlor in and reading the article I’d been working on.
“Are you seriously still working on this drivel? Come on, Mully, you’re never going to make is as a writer. Just come work with me and Rupert and do something more appropriate for our station.” She looked around the room at the worn furniture and the faded wallpaper. “I mean, really…” She waved her hand at the parlor. “This is so beneath you.”
I reached around her and grabbed my cup, one of the few delicate pieces I owned. “I know, Matilda. You tell me this at least once a week.”
My sister, twin, to make things even worse, rolled her eyes at me and plopped herself into my favorite chair. She slung her scarf over her shoulder in that annoyingly pompous way she had and crossed her legs. She dangled a delicate heel and examined long, polished fingernails. I glanced at my own gnawed ones for a moment, then crossed my arms and stood tapping my foot.
“What do you want, Matilda? Why are you here?”
Matilda looked up at me with the same magenta eyes I saw in the mirror every morning. “All right. Look. Rupert has an opening for a secretary. It’s not a glamourous job, but it’s better than the one you’re working now. I mean, come on, having my twin sister work at the Steam Whisper is embarrassing.” She sniffed and patted her hair. “The job won’t be hard. All you’ll do is check in the patients and take their money. Rupert and I take care of the biotics.”
Anger seethed in my gut, and I nearly choked myself trying to swallow it. Why in the hell Matilda had followed me all the way to Sangeron, I’d never know. All I’d wanted was a little peace from the expectations of my hoity-toity family and a chance to pursue my own dreams.
“What’s it to you?”
Matilda rose, every movement designed to keep my attention on her. “It’s simple. We look alike.” She took a step toward me, and it was all I could do not to punch her in the face. “Same hair, same eyes. I get tired of being mistaken for a serving wench in a tavern.”
I took a step back and clenched my fists. “Then dye your hair or something.”
Matilda laughed, a sound that had never failed to get on my nerves. “Why don’t you die yours?”
“Because I’m not the one with the issue. You are.” I stomped toward the front door without looking to see if Matilda followed me. “Now, I’ve got things to do. You and Rupert can live your own lives and leave me alone to do the same.” I opened the door and shivered in a blast of cold air. “Go.”
Matilda rolled her eyes again and looked at me like I was a ghighet in her trash, then she sauntered out into the snow without looking back. I slammed the door behind her and let off a string of curses that I was sure left a visible cloud in my flat, then I returned to my parlor and tried to get back to my article.
No luck. A low boil of anger and hatred burned within me. My sister had been the bain of my existence since the day we were born. Always wanting to please, always wanting to raise her station, she’d pushed and prodded me to the point that my job at the Steam Whisper was far preferable to anything Matilda had to offer.