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.

A man of shadow and myth. Rosalind hadn’t gotten a good look at his face in the darkness, but the intensity of his expression was unmistakable and she’d felt the heavy caress of his gaze like a touch upon the skin. Her most formidable opponent, a man dedicated to capturing her and destroying the humanists. The shock of his arrival had thrown her, and Rosalind wasn’t a woman who was surprised very often.

She slipped between rows of fan belts with heavy metal automaton limbs on them. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She’d known it was risky, making this one last trip, but she didn’t have any choice. Martial law had choked the city ever since the bombing of the Ivory Tower and she needed the parts the mechs had promised her.

The bombing had been a mighty blow for the aristocratic Echelon. Every major blue blood lord in the land, including the prince consort and his human queen had been gathered. If the attack had succeeded, it would have wiped out nearly all of the parasitic blue bloods, leaving the working classes—the humans—to cast off the yoke of

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