high-ranking gentleman who was recently stabbed to death.”

“Your nerves are obviously quite sturdy. Nevertheless, this is not the time or place to discuss the nature of my talent.”

“And why is that?” she asked.

“We have more pressing priorities at the moment. I would remind you that if you did not stab Hollister to death, then it follows that someone else did. That individual may still be in the vicinity.”

She swallowed hard. “Right, then. I’ll save the questions for later.”

“A wise decision,” Owen said.

He stopped so suddenly that Virginia stumbled against him. He did not seem to be aware of the impact. He raised the lantern and held it so that the yellow glare lit the passageway to the right.

“Do you feel some energy?” he asked in low tones.

A strange flicker of icy awareness brushed Virginia’s senses.

“Yes,” she said.

The sensation grew stronger. It was accompanied by a rhythmic clank-and-thud.

A miniature carriage rolled toward them out of the darkness. When it came into the light Virginia saw that it was drawn by two clockwork horses. The toy vehicle stood about a foot tall. The equipage was a work of art, not a child’s plaything. Every detail was exquisitely rendered. The cab was finished in gleaming black enamel and elaborately gilded. Small windows glinted in the lantern light. The horses were realistically sculpted, complete with flowing black manes and tails. Their harness fittings were trimmed with gold.

“Why would someone leave such an expensive toy down here?” Virginia asked.

Owen took her arm again and drew her back a step. “That thing is no toy.”

She could not take her eyes off the carriage. It fascinated her.

“What, then?” she asked.

“Damned if I know.”

Another wave of chilling energy feathered her senses.

“I can sense the power in the device,” she said. “It’s glasslight, the same kind of energy that I read in mirrors. But only humans can generate psychical energy. How is that carriage doing it?”

“We are not going to investigate.” Owen hauled her around a corner, out of the direct path of the clockwork carriage. “We must keep the wall between us and that device, whatever it is. Stone blocks psychical currents.”

A faint, frightened voice came out of the dark passageway behind the carriage.

“Is there someone out there? Please help me.”

Owen stilled. “Damn,” he said, very softly. “One complication after another.”

Virginia turned back toward the intersection of the hallways.

“Who’s there?” she called in a low voice.

“My name is Becky, ma’am. Help me, I beg you. I can’t get out. It’s very dark here. There are bars on the door.”

“Another one of Hollister’s victims,” Owen said.

Virginia glanced at him. “We must do something.”

“We can’t get to her unless we can get past that clockwork mechanism.”

“It is producing my kind of energy,” she said. “I might be able to control it.”

“Are you certain?”

“I must try. Let me take a look.”

Owen’s fingers closed like a manacle around her wrist. “Whatever you do, don’t let go of my hand. Understand?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” she said, impatient now. “I need some light.”

He held the lantern out and aloft so that it partially illuminated the intersecting corridor.

The clank-and-thud noise had ceased. Virginia risked a peek around the corner.

In the flaring light the windows of the miniature vehicle glinted ominously. As though sensing prey, the automaton lurched forward again.

“Interesting,” Owen said, listening. “It seems to be activated by movement. Since it is a psychical device of some sort, it is probably reacting to our auras.”

“Yes, I think so.” She pulled back out of range of the carriage and flattened herself against the stone wall. “The energy is infused into the windows. I cannot be absolutely positive until I try, but I believe I may be able to neutralize the currents, at least temporarily.”

In the adjoining corridor the clank-and-thud noise ceased again.

“It definitely reacts to motion,” Owen said. “If you can neutralize it long enough for me to get to it, I may be able to smash it or disable it. If it is a true clockwork mechanism, there will be a key.”

“Are you still there, ma’am?” Becky called from the darkness. “Please don’t leave me here.”

“Coming, Becky,” Virginia said. She worked to keep her tone calm and reassuring. “We’ll just be a moment.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Please hurry. I’m so scared.”

“Everything is under control, Becky,” Virginia said.

Owen tightened his grip on her wrist. “Give it a try. If it feels as though you are being overcome, I will pull you back out of range.”

“That sounds like a reasonable plan.”

She gathered her nerves, heightened her talent and stepped cautiously around the corner. Owen angled the light so that it fell on the motionless carriage.

There was a brief, tense silence before the dark windows of the miniature vehicle started to glitter as though illuminated from inside the cab. Virginia sensed energy pulsing once more in the atmosphere. The mechanical horses started forward. The wheels of the carriage began to turn. The device was much closer to her now, only a few feet away.

Without warning, currents of senses-freezing energy lashed at her. Although she thought she was prepared, she nevertheless flinched at the impact.

Owen tightened his grip. She knew he was preparing to pull her around the corner and out of reach of the carriage weapon.

“It’s all right,” she managed. “I can handle this.”

Ignoring the freezing wave of energy, she found a focus the same way she did when she looked deep into a mirror. She established a counterpoint pattern, dampening the oscillating waves of power coming from the device. The effect was swift, almost immediate. The currents smoothed out rapidly. The carriage continued to roll forward, driven by the clockwork mechanism.

“It’s done,” Virginia said. She did not dare look away from the carriage. “Do what you must. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to maintain control.”

One could draw on one’s psychical reserves for only so long when employing them to the maximum degree, as she was doing now.

Owen did not waste time asking questions. He released her and moved swiftly around the corner into the passageway, where she stood facing the device. He used one booted foot to tip the entire miniature equipage onto its side. The legs of the horses continued to thrash rhythmically but uselessly in the air.

Virginia became aware of a muffled ticktock, ticktock. “Sounds like a clock.”

Owen crouched beside the weapon. “There must be a way to open this thing.”

He stripped off a glove and ran his fingertips lightly over the elegant curiosity.

“I thought you were going to smash it,” Virginia said.

“I’d rather preserve it intact, if possible. I want to study it. To my knowledge, no one has ever succeeded in infusing energy into an inanimate substance like glass in such a way that the currents could be activated by mechanical means. This device is really quite extraordinary.”

“Perhaps you could conduct your examination another time?” she suggested icily. “I cannot maintain control indefinitely.”

“Are you still out there, ma’am?” Becky called plaintively.

“We’re here, Becky,” Virginia responded. “Mr. Sweetwater, if you don’t mind?”

“Got it,” Owen said.

Вы читаете Quicksilver
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату