I shook my head. “I have to work, Elbert. It’ll have to wait.”
Elbert shook his head then looked past me. “Barkeep. I think your serving girl is a bit under the weather. She’s as pale as the snow outside.”
Bramwell turned from where he’d been washing glasses and looked at me. He scowled then asked, “What’s wrong with you, girl? You’re as white as death.”
I shrugged and shook off Elbert’s hand. “I’m fine, Bramwell.” I stood, but my legs shook, and my head spun. I fell back onto the stool. My stomach lurched, and I was sure I was going to vomit all over the floor.
“Go home, Muhulda,” Bramwell said. “I’ll take care of this lot.” He didn’t sound happy.
I nodded and stumbled to the back room to get my coat. Elbert was waiting for me by the door, and we stepped out into the cold. I leaned against the building and let the tears flow, while Elbert stood by and watched for the ba’soray inside to come out.
“Muhulda, what’s wrong?” he asked. I could hear the concern in his voice.
I shook my head, determined not to let this defeat me. “Come on,” I replied. “I know where we’re going.”
An hour later we stood in front of a warehouse-sized building in Barhope, a professional district next to Woolhope. It wasn’t an area of town I frequented, as much to stay away from my sister and her condescension as anything else, but I knew where to find Rupert’s office. “In there,” I pointed.
“How do you know that?”
“This is my brother-in-law’s office. He implants biotics.” I turned to Elbert. “That’s one thing I noticed. All those who came after me had them.” I pointed again. “This is the only place in Sangeron to get them. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.”
“All right,” Elbert said. “Head home, and I’ll get these taken care of.”
I shook my head. “If those things came from here, then I want to know why. You’re stuck with me.” The knot of fury was back. I couldn’t suspect Matilda, but Rupert was another story. He’d always been a self-serving son of a bitch from the low end of the social ladder, and I was pretty sure my parents had given him the money to open his office. Either that, or Matilda had. But Matilda wasn’t so much the giving type unless there was something in it for her.
“All right, but stay behind me, and don’t do anything stupid.” I wondered if he realized just how stupid that line sounded.
I growled at him but didn’t respond. Instead, I marched up to the door, a glass piece with my brother-in-law’s name in gold letters across it, and snatched it. Of course, it was locked this late at night, but I didn’t care. I banged on the door and yelled for Rupert to open the door. Elbert grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back.
“Nothing stupid,” he hissed. “You want to bring the Enforcers? They actually monitor this part of town.”
I swung to hit him, the anger than had been building within me exploding beyond my ability to control, but Elbert dodged and grabbed my arm. He put me on my knees in the snow, his hand over my mouth. I fought for a moment, then the rage drained and left me barely able to move. “I’m okay,” I said, but it wasn’t true.
Elbert didn’t respond. Instead, he pulled a set of picks from his pocket and went to work on the lock. A moment later, he had the door open. He motioned for me to be quiet and led the way inside.
The office was dark and smelled of chemicals. There was an underlying scent that crept into my nose and lodged in my throat. It was familiar, yet not.
A spot of deeper darkness past the desk indicated the doorway to the other part of the building. I moved in that direction with Elbert close behind me. He reached out and grabbed my shoulder to try to get in front of me, but I snatched away from him and continued. This was my sister’s place, after all, and I had more right to be here than he did.
The door led to a long hallway. I searched for a switch in hopes of finding incandescent lamps, and I wasn’t disappointed. Light flared along the corridor to show me a metal floor free of rust. The walls were wood and polished to a shine, something I saw little of in Sangeron, and only served to show me that my sister took an active hand in the place. I just couldn’t see Rupert as the type to care about polishing a wall. Doors lined the passage, all of them open maws that threatened hidden dangers.
“Muhulda, stop.” It came out as a hiss, barely heard, but I stopped and turned to face Elbert.
Elbert moved close, too close, so that I alone could hear him. “You aren’t a Shadow Walker,” he said. “You have no idea how to fight these things.”
I shrugged. “So? Make me one?”
He arched his brow and looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the Xaggarene Empire. “I can’t. Only the gods choose Shadow Walkers.”
I humphed and turned away. “Fine. But you’ve never been here before.”
Elbert moved in front of me and looked back with a grin devoid of humor. “Then direct from the back.”
I crossed by arms and followed behind him, sullen and angry. We moved through the hallway and into another area of the warehouse, a place I’d never been before. Of course, if I was honest, I’d never been past the front office, but he didn’t need to know that.
The room in front of us had the same metal floor as the rest of the building, but the walls in here were metal as well. Tables sat in rows, each with a machine of some sort attached at the top. The machines were connected to a larger machine on the far side of the room, and all of them beeped softly. Each table was covered with a pad and sheet, and I assumed this was where Rupert put his patients after their surgeries.
The smell was stronger here, and I sniffed as I tried to identify it. Elbert heard and turned to me. “It’s demon,” he whispered. “Demon and death.”
I didn’t reply. There was no need.
We moved on through the room, and it was then I noticed a large window on the opposite side. I looked through it and gasped. Rupert stood on the other side with a tray of tools laid out beside him. A naked man laid on the table with some kind of cup over his mouth. A machine like the ones in this room beeped over his head, and three incandescent lamps hung over the table. Rupert’s face was covered, and the coat he wore was splattered with blood. He took a mechanical arm from the table next to him and began attaching it to the stump of the man’s right arm. His real arm lay on the floor, blood oozing from it. I gagged, and Elbert grabbed my shoulder.
I forced myself to watch as Rupert continued to operate. It was only when Matilda entered, dressed in a white coat with her hair pulled back in a tail that I did it voluntarily. She said something to Rupert, but I couldn’t hear through the glass. He pointed, and she moved to a cage hidden in the shadows on the far side of the room. When she returned, it was with a small, wriggling creature that looked like a worm with several heads.
I gasped, and Elbert put his hand on my arm to keep me quiet. He pulled me down so we were crouching below the window, out of sight.
“That’s a ba’soray,” he whispered, as if I hadn’t already figured that out.
“What do we do?”
“We don’t do anything. I go in there and deal with the threat.”
He started to rise, but I grabbed his arm. “That’s my sister in there.” I peeked up over the bottom of the window. “Granted, it’s my twittershit crazy sister, but she’s still my twin.”
“I know. I’ll be careful, but these things can’t be let loose in the world. There aren’t enough of us to stop them if they start breeding.”