Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 42

You can't go home again

The drugs at last lulled Milada to sleep. The narcotics freed her dreams. Dreams that flew her halfway around the world. Dreams that loosed the restless past from its sepulchral moorings. The rain fell, the hurricane roared, and the doors of the manor house shook with heavy reverberations.

Milada awoke with a start. Her breath caught in her throat. The shock of realization raced through her veins and struck hard at her heart: the consummation of her own design, sooner than expected and hostile beyond expectation.

She parted a slit in the heavy curtains. The street below her window was painted with the flickering orange glow of fiery torches, the dancing gray and black shadows of the jostling throng. She crossed to the door, cracked it open, and peered out. She heard the swift padding of small feet behind her, turned and caught Kammy by the shoulders.

“No,” she whispered in their native tongue. “Leave it be.”

An awful crash below made them both jump, the battering ram at last deployed. Across the room, Zoë’s wide, frightened eyes stared, aglow in the dark. Milada spun her sister about and pushed her toward the bed. “Stay with Zoë till I return.”

She looked once more to ensure that Kammy did as she was told, and then she stole down the hallway. The way was clear. She darted to the balustrade and crouched low behind the banisters.

The Master staggered from his bedroom. “What? What?” he exclaimed, his mind confused by sleep. “Robbers!” he shouted. “Brigands!” He twisted his head, the movement almost a spasm, toward the narrow staircase.

Milada ducked her head, overcome by guilt and fear.

The final assault splintered the jamb. The door fell inward and crashed onto the flagstones. The Master shrieked and stumbled backward. A phalanx of uniformed men swept through the entrance hall, an angry tide drowning the Master in a rain of pummeling fists and kicking feet. Furniture broke under the force of blows, as did glass and bones. The Master was as strong as half a dozen men; half a dozen more surged into the breach. Milada heard the harsh clank of chains, the muffled roars and curses as the bolts were locked and hammered into place.

She smelled blood in the air. The rich odor of steel and salt brought out the prickle of sweat on her skin. A casualty supported by two compatriots hobbled to the shattered entranceway. Another man followed, hand clasped to his bloody forehead. The clutch of constables came next, dragging the bound Master. They needed no more violence. Terror had numbed his faculties to the point of paralysis. They dragged him out of the house, onto the cold, cobbled street. Then came the thud of a body cast hard onto the bed of a wagon, the rattle of irons against rough wood.

The horses unhitched. The shake of reins. The creak of wheels on the stones. Leave, Milada urged them in her mind, and leave us alone.

Just as suddenly, the storm subsided.

She waited until she believed they had gone for good, until she believed her plan had worked. She stood to return to the hall just as a man walked into the quiet house. He was different from the others. He wore the colors of some official rank. He stepped carefully over the fallen door and surveyed the damage.

“M’lord?” A constable bearing a lantern joined him. “Shall we search the house, sir?”

The man shook his head. “On the morrow. A devil such as this—this Rakosi—he might have lain traps for us to stumble upon in all this darkness.” He reassured the man with a friendly push on the shoulder.

The constable was only too eager to agree. He departed, leaving the man once again alone in the dark.

The man made ready to leave as well. But he hesitated. He glanced back over his shoulder, eyes focused on the stair head, then to the left. For an infinite, horrifying second, his eyes met hers. He was the man from the White Hart. She knew at once that he’d recognized her, even in the dark.

Milada shrank back from the balustrade and pushed herself across the floor to the opposite wall. The man approached the staircase. His boot heels clicked on the worn steps. He did not rush. Milada finally picked herself up and fled down the hall. Kammy stood outside the bedroom door. “What’s going on?” she demanded. Her eyes narrowed. “What have you done?”

Milada shook her head—in despair, not in denial. “Someone is coming.” Kammy lunged forward. Milada caught hold of her and dragged her into the room and shut the door behind them. She sat on the bed. She could think of nothing else to do. Zoë clutched her arm. Back then, Zoë always stayed close of her own accord. Milada closed her eyes. This she had not counted on. She only suspected what he was, only knew that he was the law. She had not dreamt of rescue. She had dreamt of freedom, the freedom to rule their lives as she saw fit.

The iambic rhythm of his footsteps came closer. The knob turned. The door opened. The three sisters drew breath simultaneously.

The man stepped into the room.

The glow of the moon glinted on the shrouded windows. Yet they saw him plain as day. He removed his hat, a strange courtesy to them. He stepped forward. He was young, yet his hair was a silken mane of silver and white. His eyes clear as glass. His skin like porcelain.

Kammy gasped and whispered, “But he is one of us.”

The man smiled. The first genuine smile any man had given them in half a hundred years.

Brilliant light exploded in her face. Milada flinched awake. She heard the pelting rain, the rolling crash of thunder from the lightning strike. She got to her feet, pulled aside the curtains, and opened the sliding glass doors. The air smelled of rain, cool and fresh and wet, sweet with the electric taste of ozone. Flashes of blue-white illuminated the mountains.

The storm cell drifted north. The echoes of thunder died into the distance. Milada closed the doors and descended to her subterranean chamber. She slept till morning. The sun once again rose into a shocking blue sky, shining across the clean, new day.

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