Richard's eyes snapped open. Had there been a noise? His hand fumbled out to the table by the bed, closing on the hilt of his knife as his heart raced. He listened in the semi-darkness. Nothing. The only sound he heard now was the soft pattern of Door's breaths, rising and falling with the quilt she'd curled around her shoulders. Whatever he'd heard, she'd slept through it, or else the noise had been in his dream.
Awake, he crawled out of bed, rummaging around on the floor until he found the ill-fitted dressing gown she'd acquired for him last week at the floating market. "It's not that I mind wandering around your house in the altogether," he'd told her. "It's that I never know when I'm going to bump into him."
"You can't wander around the house," she'd scolded him.
"Even worse. What if I'm locked out of the room without my clothes?"
The following day, he'd found himself the dubiously proud owner of a second-hand dressing gown that still had the previous occupant's cigarettes in one fraying pocket. His recent experiences in mind, Richard fancied the pockets were a bit magical. He would occasionally dig through them, his hands finding old ticket stubs, subway tokens from New York, and once, a pair of glasses. He wondered at times if the dressing gown were somehow a virtual gown, connected via tenuous rills through hyperspace to the pockets of other dressing gowns in other centuries. He had yet to venture this hypothesis to Door or the marquis, not because he was afraid of their laughter if he was wrong, but of their explanation if he was right.
Battened down with his probably not magic robe, Richard made his way to the adjoining room which was the only one he could access. A fine bedroom suite Door had somehow attached to her own growing House was one thing, and a welcome piece of security, but a man had to take an early morning slash and couldn't always wait until Door was awake enough to open a door into the loo.
He settled into the armchair beside the dim window. Their bedroom looked out onto a foggy scene in which only the vaguest shapes could be discerned: doused and skeletal black streetlamps, the looming jagged corner of a brick building edge-on, and above, a weak light that could be a strong moon or a weak sun failing to penetrate the deep cloud cover. The first time Richard peeped through the lace curtains, he'd panicked. Door must have brought him to some hell world in-between realities.
"It's London Above," she'd said, but not from their time. This room had been abandoned and forgotten fifty years ago. She'd simply plucked it out of one lonely day and attached it to the House she was slowly building. Plump but dismal furniture crowded along the wall by the window. Most of the room was taken up by the four-poster bed, its heavy draperies pulled back. He smiled, remembering how she'd squealed when she'd first Opened the door to see it, immediately dropping all pretence of maturity to jump on the bed like a child.
The marquis kept another suite in the House, sumptuous and flowing through room after room. Richard had been to visit, picturing the marquis prowling his halls like a cat, resting languid on the threadbare red velvet couches that adorned the hallways. Yet when Richard and Door visited him, he was ever poring over old documents. Maps that looked as if they'd been drawn centuries ago lay strewn about. When Richard picked one up, though, the spindly, archaic handwriting referenced the Millennium Bridge, which had only broken ground last month. He'd set it down again instantly, uncomfortable as the time in his teens when he'd seen his mother naked.
"Maps lie," the marquis reminded him often, plucking his finds away and placing them back in the haphazard order of the pattern only he could see.
Staring without really seeing into the fog now, Richard wondered what maps could chart the place outside his window, completely alien from the carnival he'd peeped through the rich curtains of the marquis' rooms. If Richard cracked open this window, would he wander alone in a fog that never lifted, hiding a sun or moon he never saw? If he climbed out the window of the marquis' lounge, would he be greeted by lights and noise and the press of carnival-goers at play? Or would he find something far worse, find faceless beasts who traded gaudy masks as identity, only to rip the masks free to feed with needle-sharp teeth on unsuspecting prey?
"That's not how it works," Door told him once when he asked, and she'd silenced his questions with a better distraction.
She moved in her sleep now. Automatically, he turned to watch her. They'd been sharing a bed for the past month, assuming he tracked days correctly in London Below. He'd worried about this at first. Door looked like a teenager, and acted a bit young. But she'd laughed at his awkward question, assuring him she was no child, and he'd come away from the conversation wondering if she was in fact his elder by several years. She'd been no virgin, and although he didn't think she'd been with many men before him, he'd discovered she was better-informed than he, and even more enthusiastic.
Something moved in his peripheral vision. Richard's head snapped over, expecting another trick of his imagination in the low light.
A dark figure, man-shaped and furry, hung outside the window, staring directly through the lacy curtains with evil yellow eyes.
Richard screamed, falling out of the chair in his hurry to be away from the apparition.
Door awoke instantly, bolting out of their bed fully nude and unselfconscious.
"Get over here," she growled, her eyes locked on the thing. She'd gone from unconscious to fully awake in moments. Richard crawled over to her, bollocks shrinking into his body from fear.
"What is it?" he asked in a breathless squeak. His knife was on the bedside table. Hunter's knife. He'd killed the Beast of London Below. He shouldn't be quaking this way, clawing his way up to his feet beside his maybe-girlfriend.
The creature squealed claws on the outside of the window. In his horror, he could see each pointed tip on the end of the four furred digits. Oh god oh god.
Door said, "Get your clothes, get anything you can't bear to live without. Now."
He was already scrambling for his trousers, grabbing hold of his knife. Door had a shirt and jeans which he grabbed along with her jacket. His own shirt dangled from one elbow. Nothing else here held any value for him.
Without taking her eyes off the window, Door walked to the door of their suite. It wouldn't open and led nowhere, except when she placed her hands against the frame. Richard joined her, fear sour in his mouth.
With a loud crack, the window gave way. Outside, he heard warbling, but deep, like hyenas sniffing for a meal. "Door?"
"Come on!" she said, and tugged him through the opening. Together they slammed the door shut behind them as Richard watched the hairy man-beast charge at them.
He sank to the rich carpet of the marquis's floor. Door gathered her clothes and dressed in a hurry. Another door opened down the corridor. A sleepy marquis de Carabas peered out at them. Squinting at their state of dishabille, he let out a yawn. "I'm flattered, even intrigued, but I'll need an hour's rest before I join in. Feel free to start without me."
Door shrugged on her blouse, buttoning furiously. "We've been found. It's only a matter of minutes before this wing is compromised."
The marquis sighed with the same hugeness with which he'd yawned. "So soon?"
Compromised? "What was that thing?"
Door said to the marquis, "Fallucks."
His eyes went large. "Give me two minutes. Gather the maps."
She snapped to Richard, "Hurry." Immediately he obeyed even before the word registered. He scooped up papers, rolling brittle documents haphazardly. Fallucks? "The monster was a Falluck?"
"It's not a species, it's an order," Door said, helping him to pick up the debris. "A religion. Sort of." She paused in her not-explanation to gather up a sheathe of deeds, tapping them neatly into a stack then stuffing the lot into a satchel. "You remember the Black Friars?"
He did. Richard couldn't quite overlay the kindly friars with the monster outside their window. "Are you saying the Bollocks work for the Friars?"
"Fallucks. No. Just fetch those maps over there. And hurry."
The marquis emerged from his bedroom, dressed elegantly if hurriedly. He wore three bags slung over his shoulders, two bursting with documents and the third tightly pressed against him. "I have the most important ones. Are you ready to travel?"
Door thrust her armload into Richard's fumbling grasp. Down the corridor, he heard something like sniffling, and like claws scratching for entrance at a wooden door. Door didn't even give the noise a glance, instead making her way to a closed door which normally led to the marquis' lush bathroom. Richard was not at all surprised to see her turn the knob and open them onto a day bright with winter sunlight. He took a breath and followed the marquis out, blinking in the sun as they apparently exited the toilets in – Richard took a long look around them – St. James Park.
He tried to think of something clever or pithy to remark. Before anything came to mind, his two companions struck out. He hurried to follow, remarks unmade.
Ingress shivered in her dark room. The two bad men hadn't come to feed her, nor change the stinky bucket they left for her in the corner. Only the drip-drop water leaking from the faucet on the cold concrete wall kept her thirst slaked. Even so, her ears told her the drips were slowing each hour. In a day, they'd stop. No water, no food, no light. No Ingress.
She'd sobbed out all her tears weeks ago. Mummy's face, covered with blood. The sneer on old Mister Croup's face when he told her how Arch had squealed as he'd died. Daddy too.
"We'll soon have Lady Door as well," nasty Mister Vandemar had said.
Mister Croup snarled back at his friend. "I'd been going to tell the little tot we already eradicated her sister with great prejudice. But we will," he told her sweetly. "Door will have her moment shuddering on my knives. And so will you."
The Angel had watched them, its pretty face quiet and thoughtful as they spoke. It said, "Come, Ingress." It had fed her a nice sweetie, and coaxed her to Open the big door. She liked the Angel. It had been kind when the other two were cruel. Yet as she strained and strained, its face twisted into disappointment, then anger. It had screamed at her, sending Ingress into terrified fits of sobbing until it ordered Croup and Vandemar to take her away.
She'd been here ever since, eating the slimy food they used to bring. The part of her that was old enough to understand knew she would die here in the cold darkness.
She had to open a door. She had to run away before she was too hungry and sleepy to try.
This wasn't her first attempt. Mummy and Daddy had always tried working on her gifts, yet time after time, she could only open cracks. Here in the darkness she'd been too spooked to get a proper hold, and Mister Croup had promised her if she ran he would personally find her again and cut off her feet at the ankles.
Safe, she thought or tried to think. She had to open a door to somewhere safe, to someone safe. Numb terror gripped her as the drips slowed, as her quick imagination heard the long-missing footsteps of her captors. Someone safe, like Mummy as she lifted Ingress in her arms.
She thought about atoms splitting apart from each other, the baby magnets inside them letting go just as Daddy had taught. A crack grew in the wall of her cell under her hands, not wide enough for a mouse to crawl through. Ingress let out an anguished wail, and pushed the last of her strength into widening the crack.
The wall opened under her hands. She tumbled through it into more darkness.
Night lasted a million years when Anaesthesia fell off Night's Bridge.
She remembered fear. She remembered cold. She remembered falling. She remembered death.
She fell in the Night, fingers dragging her into the dark of caves beneath caves. As a rat speaker, she knew dark corners and hidden crevasses. Yet the shadows of Night's Bridge chuckled outside the bright rings of the first human fires, growled under the trees where pre-humans shivered and waited for dawn, and snarled underground in the lairs of the small, furry creatures who trembled as the thunderous lizards trampled overhead. Darkness here had form and texture and personality. That form was hate, the texture fear, and the rest all gnawing hunger which chewed Anaesthesia's broken bones forever and ever.
One night, her fall stopped, the way most falls do: she hit the bottom of the well.
The girl who may have been named Anaesthesia lay in the dark pit, eyes incapable of sight here in a blackness as absolute as the floor of the ocean. Perhaps strange creatures swam by her as she lay, floating in the noisome air and evolved to grow here, feeding on the limp remains of tribute taken from the Bridge.
Who knew? Not her. She knew nothing, saw nothing.
Her arms weren't broken. She raised one hand to her shirt. She felt her lucky button under her fingers, and knew she was still alive.
Beside her, there was a change in the air pressure, like a sudden ripple felt in a long-stagnant underground pool. Anaesthesia clenched her body with fear: here came the Night, or the Night's hungry fishes. She would be devoured.
Something warm moved next to her. Heavy panting breaths filled her ears. She was too tired to scream. Anaesthesia tried to pull her body up, curl away. She expected sharp teeth to bite her neck, chew through her spine. The hot form moved closer.
It started to cry.
Something moved inside her. She remembered Mum. She remembered the twins. She hadn't spoken in millions of years, so when she went to move her lips now, dry air came out. Anaesthesia tried again. "Hullo?"
The sobs turned to wails. A voice, reedy and small, said, "Please don't hurt me."
She reached out, feeling fur. No, hair. A child's head of hair, gone tangled and matted with lack of care. A small body wearing what felt like warm clothes, and a little smooth face. She felt all these things without shame, and as she made calming gestures with her hands, felt the small heart racing under their touch gradually slow.
"I won't hurt you."
She heard a small hiccup. The child had slowed its crying. "My name's Ingress," said the little girl.
Her name hadn't been Anaesthesia. She'd been called loads of things, though, Essy and Doll and My Special Girl. (She hated that name still, quaking with fear and shame in her memories.) But her name given by the rats wasn't one she could share. She settled for the one she could.
"That's pretty," said Ingress. The sobs had ceased. "Where are we?"
"Hell, I think."
"Oh. All right."
They sat around a table in the park, sunlight beaming down on the maps they'd saved. Around them, passers-by ignored the three mad people at the bench, swerving without looking to avoid their patch of sunlight. People from London Above didn't have space in their heads to see those from London Below, nor those touched by its strange magic. Richard tried waggling his fingers in front of a woman's face, with no recognition that he stood there. Door made him stop.
The marquis said, "No, be useful. Find us breakfast."
Richard could have argued, but Door and the marquis had already turned to their maps, discussing in low voices what their next step should be. Richard was uninvolved with the discourse, nor did he know if words like "Whitechapel" meant the same to them as they did to him. Possibly they'd wind up sleeping in some ivory-stoned underground church tonight. He stood, and went looking for food.
A busker with a cart sold sausages to the late morning crowd, or tried. Richard made a vain attempt to get his attention, then simply took a handful of hot, greasy meats in a paper serviette, leaving approximately the right money. He was almost out of pound notes, whatever had been in his pockets when he'd returned (home) to London Below. By the definition he'd grown up with, he was a crazy homeless person now, given to fancies about magic portals, angels, and huge beasts in the London sewers which he'd slain. Whether that was all a fantasy his broken brain had concocted, or a different form of reality than he'd known previously, Richard still had trouble identifying himself as a member of London Below's odd community. He followed the rules he'd been taught as a boy when he could. He paid for his food, and thanked the busker, who didn't see him. When he ran out of money, when he ran out of patience, perhaps then he'd allow himself to identify as one of Door's people. He'd be another one like Anaesthesia had been, lost to the world above and glad for it.
As he carried their breakfast back to the table, Richard thought about the rat girl. She appeared in his thoughts from time to time, the thoughts he still entertained which squirmed with guilt. Her death had allowed him to reach the floating market, allowed him to find Door, put him in the right place to find the Key and face the Beast, and perhaps, just perhaps, prevent the downfall of Heaven by a vengeful angel. (Although the marquis, with uncharacteristic forbearance, had explained the latter to him, Richard still found that part of his mad situation difficult to believe.) Without the unearned kindness from the girl, albeit on order from her superior, the world might be very different now, and Richard and Door would both certainly be dead.
"Thank you," he said quietly, wondering if her spirit could hear him. Angels he wasn't entirely sold on. Ghosts, or least the lingering presence of loved ones, he could spare a spark of belief for.
"Great," said Door, not hearing him as he handed her the food. She tore into her meal ravenously, opal-coloured eyes wide in delight at her breakfast.
Richard smiled at her, as she leaned away, careful not to drip grease over the delicate papers. He noticed the marquis watching them both as he ate rather more fastidiously. Without words, the marquis assured Richard that he, the marquis, had accepted a more permanent role as Door's protector, co-conspirator, and possibly friend in payment of his own debts; that he, Richard, despite being Protector of London Below and somewhat less useless than previously thought, was still not nearly good enough to be considered as a long-term consort to Lady Door; but that he, the marquis, wasn't about to educate Door of this unalterable fact but would allow her to come to the same conclusion in her own time. There was nothing of jealousy, nor threat, nor even the joking desire with which the marquis occasionally peppered his interactions with them both. All in all, Richard noted, it was a very significant expression, before the marquis turned his attention to polishing off his breakfast.
Richard chewed his food slowly, and followed the movement of the marquis' finger over a particularly modern-looking map. "I know that one," he said. "There's a hospital there, isn't there?"
The marquis nodded reluctantly. Richard beamed; he had made a contribution. "Croup and Vandemar made their home base there. I've been back to visit," this was said with the mildest of winces, "thinking perhaps they'd locked the girl up somewhere inside."
Door said, "I've called in every family favour I can think of, but no-one has heard anything of where Islington had her taken."
Richard nodded. They'd gone back through the labyrinth, now that he knew the way, and searched for days for hidden rooms Door could sense. They had turned up more than one dead body, locked away and forgotten, left to starve in lost pieces of London. None, Door claimed, were small enough to have been her little sister.
"We'll try the hospital again," she said, a tremor in her voice. They'd been at this for weeks. Surely if Ingress were chained up somewhere, without her captors around to feed her, she'd have joined the ranks of the sadly deceased. Richard knew that. He believed his companions also had to realise they were most likely searching for another corpse.
Ingress slept for hours or days. Anaesthesia couldn't tell time here in the dark, let it lengthen around her like a scarf knitted by an aunt who never knew when to quit. She'd pulled herself up to a sitting position, hands clasped around her own knees, just listening to Ingress as she made tiny, fitful snores.
When she awoke at last, Anaesthesia felt the girl sit up beside her, clutching for anything close. Anaesthesia took her small, cold hand, squeezing in comfort. Ingress settled her fear.
"Is there any food?"
Food. She hadn't eaten since the fruit from the man's bag. The word reminded her of a lifetime of meals: basted alley cat, and cold beans from cans, and the sticky treat on a stick she'd eaten once at the market. She remembered dinners from long, long ago, roast chicken and ham and savoury puddings. Her mouth watered. She'd suddenly never been so hungry in her whole life.
"No," Anaesthesia said with pure sorrow. "There isn't anything."
Ingress began sobbing. Immediately, Anaesthesia wrapped her own thin arms around the little girl, just as devastated. "It's gonna be okay," she said, not meaning the words. Empty noises of comfort were all she had on offer.
"I'm hungry," sniffed the child.
Ingress stood. Anaesthesia followed her to her feet, then was dizzy. She held out her hand, found a small wall to one side, and she fell against it, clutching for purchase against cool, smooth blankness. Ingress walked up next to her, splaying her hands against the wall.
"I think I can," she said, but what she thought she could, Anaesthesia never knew. The wall she leant against vanished. She tumbled down, scraping her knees and arms as she fell roughly against a wooden bench onto a polished floor. Light stabbed her eyes, and she shuddered away, gradually coming to notice the brightness was dimmer than first thought. Security lights illuminated the walls with a reedy glow, but to her dark-accustomed gaze, they were sunshine-bright.
Ingress had left her to stand near a wooden table full of glass jars.
Chocolates, confections, and garish, rainbow-coloured sweets filled every jar. With no self-consciousness, Ingress tore the lid off the closest jar and shoved her hand in, grabbing a fistful of chocolate-covered somethings. In the light, her hair was golden, in what may have once been a neat plait. She wore the same gaudy mixture of clothes that everyone did in London Below, but Anaesthesia realised they weren't in London Below now.
"Where'd we go?" she asked, wiping the trickle of blood on her palms on the legs of her own filthy trousers.
"I'm hungry," said Ingress through her chewed food. Chocolate ran out in a dribble from the corner of her mouth.
Anaesthesia looked round for something to clean the little girl's face. As she turned, she spied a display of chocolate-covered fruits. She wisely decided cleaning could wait.
Door crumpled despondently at the foot of the last door in the terrifying old hospital. They had come by foot rather than portal. The marquis appeared to know this place, and not with any positive associations. His usual suave charms flittered away from him, leaving his tongue dull and witless. He fingered the cravat he'd taken to wearing after their first adventures together, florid cloth covering a bizarre scar. Richard found both his silence and his nervous twitches unnerving, even more so than the broken hypodermics crunching under their feet, or even the room they'd found filled with decayed old baby dolls with their eyes slashed out.
He wanted to go, be free of this horrible place, and the flat misery in the eyes of his very nearly friend. Instead, Richard sat on the unspeakable floor next to Door.
"I'm sorry," he wanted to say. "I thought we'd find her, rosy-cheeked and ready to fly into your arms." Even, "Actually and honestly, I expected we'd find her dead, poor little throat slashed open like a tyre." He said nothing. They'd found nothing, and as the days passed, this was far worse. Now he expected to stumble over a starved little body, gnawed by rats. He expected Door to scream in pain at being too late, a day or a month, and to have to stand beside her as she wept.
Finding nothing was awful.
"Door," he said, voice cracking in dry sorrow.
The marquis interrupted him. "How well was she trained?"
Door's head rolled over on one shoulder. "Trained?"
"She was a member of your family. Could she open doors yet?"
"Not well. A little." Door gestured, her hands white against the dark leather of her coat. "Father had puzzles for us to solve. Mother helped us walk from room to room. Ingress wasn't good at either yet. The House had a small suite of rooms for her, just like I made for us."
"But she could have opened a door to somewhere else. Even if our homicidal associates locked her away, she may have escaped on her own."
"Maybe," Door allowed.
Richard asked, "Where would she have gone?"
"Home," said Door. Then she shuddered. "No, she wouldn't have gone home."
Richard had seen only glimpses of her old home. The bodies had been taken, cleaned, dealt with somehow without her intervention, just as Hunter's body had vanished. Richard still didn't understand how things worked here, although he'd stopped pointing out the stranger aspects. He'd gone with her to her old home, seen the bloodstains, and helped her gather the few possessions she wanted to keep. Most of these had been left behind when they'd fled the Fallucks. He still wasn't even clear what the Fallucks were, and none of Door's dashed-off explanations had helped. A religious order sworn to something unclear regarding the uneasy composition of London Below? The marquis had muttered they were parasites, and Richard pictured them gnawing like termites on the fabric of the in-between places, burrowing in and destroying the lost spaces in their holy quest to unite a single reality.
"What if she's somewhere in-between?" Richard asked, now that his thoughts had turned back to the furry proto-men. "Maybe she's here in the hospital, but locked between spaces."
From the pair of expressions this earned him – resigned patience from her, amused condescension from him – Richard thought he may have said something more stupid than usual. Stubborn, he stood up, rattling the doorknob until the cupboard opened. "Look," he said in what he hoped was a reasonable tone, "you can see the thickness of the wall. You've told me before London Below isn't like normal space, that pieces of history fall through or get locked inside each other. Your family could create a whole house out of pieces of forgotten parlours and abandoned kitchens. What if Ingress is inside the walls?"
"I've searched there," said Door, exhaustion and sorrow shining in her opal eyes and hissing out in her sobbing breath. "I've looked between the walls for openings."
The marquis asked, "Even openings that aren't there any longer?"
She turned to him. Then she looked at Richard and sighed. "We'll search again."
She hadn't eaten sweets, not like this, in years. She didn't feel so bad for not remembering what came next. When Ingress was sick all over one part of the floor, Anaesthesia found towels in the loo in the back of the shop, and cleaned both of them up with the liquid soap on the wall. Her own stomach heaved with too much sugar and the bad smell from the floor.
"We should go," she said, staring around herself at the mess they'd made. She rarely let her thoughts dwell on the goings-on in London Above, nor to what they might think about traces left behind from people like her. She thought there'd be an outcry. She knew someone would blame vandals. Best not to be present.
"I'm tired," said Ingress, who still shook. Anaesthesia took a searching look of her now: pale and skinny, limbs shaking from hunger and from her stomach woes. Bruises darkened the skin under her eyes, and the skin on her arms had fading fingerprints from meaty hands. She wasn't up to a long walk anywhere.
"We'll find a place to kip, yeah? Then it's back to London Below."
She paused. She'd assumed because Ingress had come into the darkness below Night's Bridge that she was one of them. But Ingress only nodded sleepily. "I want my mummy."
"I know," she said absently, casting about for the exit. There. A door to the back. It was locked, but Ingress touched the knob and it fell open. Anaesthesia recalled stories, faces she'd seen in her rare visits to the market, and a recent conversation. "Are you from the House of the Arch?"
Ingress nodded. They were in an alley, smelly and dark and unfamiliar. At one end, cars grumbled by, the miserable meandering of too late to be too early traffic. Anaesthesia had ridden in a taxi once, when she'd been a little girl. She'd sat back on the seats and watched the streets go by. Now she knew the drivers wouldn't even see her, see them. They blended into the landscape. A word from school, ten million years ago and filled with little grey faces she barely remembered, came back to her: camouflage.
Brazenly, she took the child's hand and marched down the alley into the street. Even at this hour, London was alive, some neon-throated beast. People passed them in cars, and a few on foot. Loud music blared out the door of a club down the road. Once she had her bearings and figured out where they were, she could find her way home.
Beside her, Ingress tottered unsteadily.
First, though, they'd need to find a place to rest.
The manky, disturbing rooms of this place had merged together for Richard. When Door opened a portal from a corridor into a doorless room, he saw nothing except a walled-off area of wasted space between offices and supply cupboards. The marquis removed a battery-operated torch from somewhere in his pockets and shone them around yet another empty room, albeit one that appeared slightly larger than the walls around them would suggest.
"Here," said Door, crouching down. Her fingers darted out of her sleeves to clutch at a filthy ribbon. She stood, and brought it into the torchlight.
"Are you certain?" the marquis asked.
"Yes. Croup and Vandemar could teleport. They must have thrown her in here for safe keeping."
"And threatened her to keep her from running off." Door's voice was bitter. Richard saw her eyes on ropes left in one corner, and a horrible bucket left in another.
"But she's gone," he said, placing an unsure hand on her arm. "She's not here. She got away. Where would she go?"
Seeing the despair climbing back over Door's face, Richard turned to the wall, scanning its dark, scratched surface. "Maybe she left a message. Something."
"And let her captors know where she went?" asked the marquis with wry disbelief.
Door's hand closed over the ribbon. "She's alive. She isn't captive, not here." He could hear the care in her voice, not touching on the many possibilities outside these walls. London Below frightened him with the variety of hard people thronging the unknown spaces, all out for their own interests. Door's sister would be a valuable commodity for her gifts, for her contacts, for her small frame.
He glanced at the marquis, who unexpectedly nodded acknowledgement. He'd put out feelers before the next floating market. Valuables tended to find themselves for sale. If someone else had found Ingress first, the marquis would determine what price was being asked.
Door spent more time studying the walls of her sister's prison as Richard waited patiently. He didn't know how Door's powers worked, if she could see the shape of the exit made by another with the same talent. He'd give her space to work. The marquis stood there with less tolerance now they'd discovered the room was empty. He entertained himself with something out of one pocket, a broken spring or Slinky, occasionally looking up at Door with the expression of a man who would be tapping his wrist if he wore a watch and was regretting only the lack of watch with which to do so.
Finally, Door let out a breath. "I can't see the place where she went." She closed her eyes. "We're back where we started."
"Not entirely." The marquis held out his hand. For a moment, Richard thought he was asking Door to dance, in his peculiar fashion. But, sniffing, Door handed over the ribbon she clutched. He examined the fabric, then stowed it away in another pocket. "We'll go to the Trackers. They'll cost," he warned her.
Ingress could barely keep her eyes open. She was so sleepy, and her belly still ached from glutting herself on sweets, and the terrible aftermath. The girl who held her hand dragged her along street after street, peering around corners at garish lights. This was London Above, noisy and smelly. Mother had warned her never to emerge above the streets. Father had petted her hair and told her about the secret places to hide away from the barely human beings who stalked the alleys far above them. Arch had laughed and made up stories to terrify his sisters, full of slavering beasts and worse, until Door punched him in the arm.
Door had always said, "It sounds fascinating."
Ingress pressed herself closer to Anaesthesia, huddling with chills and misery. Anaesthesia was her one link to home, the one warm person in her recent memory. Around them, people barely noticed them walking by. Anaesthesia dipped her hand into pockets as strangers passed, digging for coins out of habit. Upworld money would do them no good, Ingress knew. None of the machines would notice them, none of the sellers would sell to them.
"Why are you stealing?" she asked. Anaesthesia pulled her hand from a purse.
"We might need it."
"Stealing is wrong," Ingress parroted. Not a single cell within her regarded the raid on the sweets shop as stealing; she'd been hungry, and she'd eaten. She wouldn't take things. You just didn't take things from other people in London Below. Mother said that broke the rules. She frowned a little, thinking now. People killed each other, sold each other, hurt each other. But no stealing.
"Fine. Hurry on."
But either she'd placed her hand in the wrong pocket, or they'd met up with some of the rare Londoners who set uneasy feet in both worlds. As they walked down the dark streets, Ingress saw boys behind them, big boys older than her brother. They weren't ignoring the two girls alone on the street at night. They were following them.
"Anaesthesia," she said, heart jumping into her mouth. Behind her eyes, the terrible image of her mother's blood flashed over and over.
"Just keep walking, yeah?" She tugged on Ingress, making her walk a little faster towards the next street. But when they reached the intersection, this street had no more lights, no more people who might see them. The boys behind them had also quickened their steps. Ingress heard one snicker, and another say something in a low voice to his friend that made them both laugh nastily.
The knife had glinted in the greenhouse light, and the blood had splashed over the walls, over the floors. The big one, Mister Vandemar, had held Ingress still whilst his friend Mister Croup viciously and precisely cut Mother into bloody gobbets. Mother's body had twitched and twitched, and Ingress had screamed until Mister Vandemar shoved a cloth crusted with indescribable humours into her mouth to silence her.
Walking here on the street, she could taste the foul cloth.
"Anaesthesia," she said, just to hear her own voice, just to remind herself she was here and not in the bright room with all of her mummy's pretty plants watching Mister Croup desecrate her mummy's body.
"Dad will catch us up at the next corner," Anaesthesia replied, loud enough to carry to the boys behind them. There was another muttered laugh, much closer.
Beside them, around them, the few Londoners about ignored the girls, and would ignore everything that happened to them next. Ingress felt her hands and legs grow cold. She fell, suddenly, leaning against the wall to a shop and yanking Anaesthesia with her. She opened a door without thinking, and they fell through, to the astonished cries of the boys, which cut off sharply as the door slammed shut.
Richard shivered hot and cold as they wound their way to where the Trackers made their den.
"This is awful," he breathed. Door walked close to him, wrapping her jacket around herself and not daring to agree or disagree.
London Below was a patchwork city. This much Richard had slowly come to understand even if the mechanisms made his brain bleed out his ears. Yes, the half-magical world existed in the sewers and forgotten cellars and tunnels beneath London proper, and it simultaneously existed in the lost memories of London Past, even London Never Was.
This London had burned.
Charred, blackened ruins surrounded them, still reeking of sulphur and ash. He thought he saw, and hoped he was mistaken or only imagining, the shells of crisped bodies with a limb tossed out here, or a skeleton frozen forever in crawling away there. Too many shadows to be sure.
"Where are we?" he asked, not wanting the answer.
The marquis brushed past a broken-toothed pile of brick and coals. "The Fire. One of them."
"That's not right," said Richard. He remembered his history, a little. "Only a few people died in the Great Fire. Six, I think."
Door glanced at him with that same 'oh, you poor baby' expression she reserved for the times he said something incredibly stupid or naïve. Richard hated that expression. Rather than backing down, he said impatiently, "And don't look at me that way. It's established fact they only found a handful of bodies."
The marquis said, "The rest wound up here. The first Fire. The second. The Blitz. Even the Plague, those streets they burned to ward off evil spirits." He kicked one boot at a pile of ash, which scattered.
They found the Trackers nesting in another burnt hulk of a building, a lost printing press or something. Richard couldn't decide, and the sight of one Tracker gnawing a clearly long, clearly baked bone forestalled further questions on his part. The Trackers were human, he was sure, but something about the wild expressions in their eyes, the unnatural tilts of their necks, made him feel suddenly far more brotherly towards the hairy Falluck that had chased him from his last bedroom.
Door and the marquis de Carabas crouched down beside the head Tracker, resting on haunches like dogs. Richard stood guard, as much as he could. The weight of Hunter's knife at his belt gave him no particular comfort. The Trackers could kill him easily, thoughtlessly, and chew his bones until they crunched. He wasn't her bodyguard, her bravo. He was the upworlder she felt beholden to, and seemed to enjoy sleeping with. That was all.
He watched the marquis pass over the ribbon to the Tracker, who sniffed the fabric before stretching out her tongue and laying a long lick down the length. She handed the ribbon back to Door, who placed it reverently in one pocket.
"Yes," said the Tracker, snuffling like a dog. "Will cost."
"My family has many connections. I can find wealth for you."
The Tracker affixed Richard with a stare. He clamped down on his shudder, feeling her eyes go through him. He met her gaze.
"One year, each. You and your men." The Tracker spat. "Then the girl. Another year."
Door stood. "You can take the years from me." But the marquis stood with her, and pressed her back with his arm.
"Lady Door, stay your offer. I have the better years." He smiled thinly. "You may even have the first four off mine. Bright and sweet."
Richard came closer, trying to stay aware of the Trackers drawing in around them. "What's going on?" he asked, hoping he wouldn't be taken for an idiot yet again.
Door smiled, keeping her eyes on the head Tracker. "Trackers trade in time. They're asking for a year off the end of each of our lives."
"They're going to kill us?"
"No," said the marquis. He'd rolled up his sleeves and offered his arms to the Tracker. Richard couldn't help but notice the scars. He'd been tortured, killed, all for Door's sake, and here he was offering four years of his life for her again?
Once, when he'd first returned to London Below, he'd asked Door why the marquis stayed with them when he had already discharged his debt and collected his favour. She'd said it was complicated. Watching him now, watching the carefully protective stance he took shielding Door from the attentions of the Trackers, Richard thought his motives may in fact have been very simple.
"One year, early," the Tracker said, and she set her lips against his wrist. The marquis shuddered but did not otherwise cry out as she drank his life. At last, she drew off, smacking her lips and making an "Ah" sound of satisfaction, like a thirsty woman who'd just downed a bottle of ice cold fizzy drink.
She turned to Door. The marquis attempted to dissuade her. "Ma'am," he said hoarsely, "you may have more of mine."
"The lady, or nothing."
Door held out her wrist. Richard came up behind her. No-one stopped him from wrapping his arms around her as the Tracker drank from her. He only let go with one arm when it was his turn. Terrified, but firm, he unrolled his own sleeve.
Pain, age, rheumatic phlegm, and the cataracts of time slammed into him, as wet lips suckled at his wrist. Richard felt time pour out of him in a torrent, one horrible minute after the other. A year of his life flowed into the Tracker as he barely stopped the sobs choking out of his throat. Door held him now, and he sagged into her.
When the Tracker pulled away, the lines on her face had smoothed.
She would do this to Door's little sister, he thought, as he groped for Door's shoulders. She would steal this life from the little girl. "Take mine," he said dully, dry dust in his mouth. "Not Ingress. Take another year from me."
"No," said the Tracker, turning away. She went to her fellow Trackers, embracing them in unseemly kiss after kiss, maybe transferring the life energy, maybe getting off on the spark. Who could tell? When the display finally ended after a long, uncomfortable time, the Tracker came back. "Go."
"You'll find her?" Door asked, pale and troubled even as hope flickered in her eyes again.
Richard asked, "How will you find us?"
The Tracker fixed him with a familiar, disgusted stare, and didn't reply.
Once again, they found themselves in darkness. Anaesthesia shuddered, wondering if Ingress had taken them back into the depths below Night's Bridge. The air here had the same stale, unmoving quality as a tomb, and the pitch black had the sluggish feel of a world unlike even the funhouse-mirror of London Below.
"Where are we?"
Ingress squeezed her hand and started walking. In what direction, Anaesthesia couldn't say.
She felt the shrug move up her arm. "Between doors."
The truth was, Mummy and Daddy had told their daughter never to walk here. Children could get lost in-between, they'd said. Ingress had nodded seriously, then skipped in-between whenever she could to peek at the places she oughtn't go. She couldn't properly open doors, not the way her brother and sister could, but this, this she could do with ease.
In-between made the best hiding place during the rare times when she played with other children. In-between was a perfect place to hide packets and toys and things Ingress was not supposed to have. Stepping in and out had been just as simple as opening doors was for the rest of her family. But Mummy and Daddy were old, and they worried, and they told her not to, so she played secretly. Someday, Ingress would show them how talented she was at walking in-between, and they'd see.
They never would see. Mummy and Daddy were gone.
So caught up in sudden sorrow, she didn't hear any padded footsteps begin to prowl behind them as they walked.
They left the Trackers by a different route than the one they'd followed here. The burned remnants of London they passed now had a more modern look, and the fallen bricks denoting sudden explosive force. Richard shoved a broken piece of masonry with one foot. The Blitz?
"How many pockets of time are lost down here?" he wanted to ask. How did they connect up with the rest of London Below? What happened to the people who'd lived there? Did they fall through the cracks like Anaesthesia had? Like Richard himself had?
Door saw his face and took his hand. "It's best if you don't consider it too long."
"This place makes no sense," he said miserably. He could still feel the rips from his life, the ragged edges of a year torn out of him.
"In London Above, you could carry a telephone in your pocket and have a conversation halfway round the world. You could get on the back of a silver bird and fly there in a day."
"But that's different! That's science." Richard clung to this, perhaps foolishly. He'd spent just enough time down here to know the laws of physics weren't the same. Yet, despite being confronted with walking through walls, hallucinating subway stations, and angels, the core of him believed deep down there was a logical explanation to everything he'd experienced.
The marquis de Carabas said, "And this is magic. There are rules. Learn them, and you might live long enough to appreciate your situation."
He swept ahead of them, more than a bit self-important, as Door let out a slightly unladylike snort.
"Where next?" he asked her, grateful that his … girlfriend? Lover? Was laughing at someone else for a change.
"The Trackers will search places we can't. Meanwhile, we can set up a new home to bring her back to, and work on our other project."
Her tone was off. Door was aiming to sound confident and not worried sick, and failing, but it was enough for the marquis to stop his stride and hang back for them to catch him up.
"We have more maps. We can find another place to build," he said. In a kinder man, his tone would have been soothing. Richard rather thought Door didn't want soothing, and regardless, her jaw had set in a fashion he knew. He'd worn that face himself.
"You want to go back to your house, don't you?"
"It isn't the impregnable fortress I grew up believing. We wouldn't be completely safe there. Croup and Vandemar got in. Fallucks never have, but I'm not as powerful as my parents were, not yet. We'd have to be on guard for the rest of our lives. I think it's the best choice, though." She still held his hand. Whatever plans were turning in the gears of her mind, she was happy to include him.
"How's that different from our life together so far?" he asked, which made her smile. "One thing, though. I need to make my own way." Richard fumbled through his words, aware of the bored expression on the marquis' face, and more aware of the tolerant amusement on Door's. "I mean, I don't intend to be kept. I want to do whatever passes for work here." Truth be told, he wasn't fit for much. Yes, he was a hero. Yes, he'd defeated the Beast of London, had been knighted by the Earl of Earl's Court, and bested the Trial of the Key against the Black Friars. However, strictly speaking, those accomplishments wouldn't keep him in sandwiches.
"All right," said Door slowly. "If it makes you feel better, you can hire yourself out as a bravo at the next floating market. I'll meanwhile barter my services picking locks, and the marquis can trade off in favours, where people agree to help him and in return he agrees not to be an arrogant arse around them."
"Hardly a fair bargain," the marquis sniffed, and made his way ahead of them once more.
Door squeezed Richard's hand. "That doesn't change the fact that my family was incredibly wealthy by our standards. If you don't want to work another day in your life, you can do that as well. Whatever makes you happy, as long as you intend to stay."
And as they kept walking back through the burnt-out shells of buildings, Richard rather suspected he'd just got married.
She couldn't see the monster behind them, but she could smell it. Fear clamoured inside Anaesthesia, the primal fear of all creatures who descended from a small, furry beast that hid from large, hungry teeth.
"We need to hurry," she told Ingress, but hurry where? They'd run from the boys, were running from the thing she couldn't see. Everything was fear, and worry, and trying to escape.
She missed her home. She missed the rats. She was so very tired of running.
"I don't know if I can move us again," said Ingress, in a worn-thin voice.
Darkness became grey half-light. Perhaps the monsters brought the light with them, or perhaps her eyes had finally adjusted to the dimness.
"Stay behind me," said Anaesthesia, for all the good it would do. She stared down the approaching monsters, frightened and tired. "Leave us alone," she said, pushing anger into her voice. "That's right, you shove off. We don't want any, thank you."
The monsters slowed as they came closer. She saw furred bodies, human-like forms, and she trembled, but she wouldn't move from her place in front of the little girl. If they couldn't run, she could fight. Perhaps. She could try, leastways. Someone ought to. No one had ever stood up for her, not once. But she could stand up for Ingress.
Anaesthesia felt Ingress tremble behind her. "Sh," she said. "It'll be okay."
From behind, she heard another noise, much more rapid and terrifying. The attack came from two sides, and they had nowhere to run. She wrapped her arms around Ingress, and in the dimness, saw what she couldn't have dreamed.
Trackers from London Below leapt at them, past them, and with savage snarls, attacked the Fallucks as the hairy beasts met them in ferocious combat. The two girls stumbled back. The rats hated the Trackers. Vicious, mindless things, they said, only interested in stealing away lives. How were they here now, and what had they come for?
As she watched, the Fallucks ripped through two Trackers, shredding them. She knew that story as well: the beasts sworn to keep reality whole, kill those who threaded themselves in the gaps. The House of the Arch would be an abomination to them, but so would Trackers who could walk through reality itself in search of their targets. She covered Ingress's head with her arms. They had to escape, for whoever won this battle would surely eat them both alive.
"Walk quickly but don't run," she whispered. "Keep low."
"I want to go home," said Ingress.
"I know." Perhaps, perhaps, as she heard the snarls and yelps behind them, she thought perhaps the two parties would kill one another and leave them alone. Perhaps they could slip away again.
A Tracker broke off from the rest, dashing on four limbs like a dog to cut off their escape.
"You," it sniffed at Ingress. "Come."
The little girl flinched back. "No."
"COME," it commanded, stalking closer.
"No," shouted Anaesthesia, drawing the attention of the combatants. Worse, this was much worse. "Run," she said to Ingress, knowing there was no hope.
"We find her, we take the price," said the Tracker, watching the girl flee as another Tracker broke off from the battle to chase her down.
"What price?" Anaesthesia said, desperate to put herself between the monsters and Ingress. The Trackers took payment. "What's the payment to leave us alone?"
The Tracker closest to her sniffed. "Two years each."
Behind her, she heard the snarls dying, and she prayed to the Temple and Arch that the Trackers had won. If the Fallucks won, they'd kill her where she stood.
"Take it," she said, and held out her arms.
The marquis had left, venturing forth for supplies.
"If we're to live in your House, we'll need to eat," he'd said. Richard thought that wasn't what he'd meant at all. Maybe he was off to work on his own errands, or send out feelers for his own search for Ingress. Richard could picture the future: the cavalier grin on the other man's face as he swept aside a curtain, revealing the long-lost child for Door's approval. Another favour owed, a huge one. Someday soon, he'd collect that payment, but Richard couldn't worry about that, not now. Door's mouth pressed too insistently against his to fuss about the future.
Their last bed had been nice, rich and soft with cushions. The cold concrete walls, wet with condensation and lit only with sputtering torchlight that stank of kerosene, hardly rated. Her hands were at his waistband, though, eager and a little desperate. Lonely, scared, or just reminding herself she was still alive after the year of her life had been sucked away?
He didn't know.
He'd ask her later.
Door pushed him hard up against the damp wall, dragging Richard's head down for more kisses, her teeth grazing his lips hungrily. His hands went to her waist, discovering she'd already unfastened the bizarre closure to her trousers, the one he never could fumble off.
With her help he shimmied her trousers down to her knees, and brought his hand up, cupping her as she moaned into his mouth. Life, this was life, he thought, as she guided him into her, as she sparked against him and opened him from inside.
Ingress sat huddled in-between worlds. Dead Fallucks lay in a heap, their furry bodies already decaying into the weird mist from which they'd come. The Trackers were sorting out their own dead. Having sucked life from Ingress and Anaesthesia, they now ignored them.
Beside her, Anaesthesia shook. Ingress rested against her without speaking.
The problem with in-between was getting out. If she fell asleep here, she knew she'd never wake up in the real world, Above or Below, ever again. She was so very sleepy, though, and she ached for the time that had passed out of her.
Anaesthesia began nodding off. "Don't sleep," said Ingress.
"Tired," she mumbled.
One more opening, Ingress thought. One more trip, somewhere safe where they could sleep and sleep. Exhaustion crashed through her. She knew she was small, and her powers weren't strong enough for this, and she wanted her Mummy.
She took Anaesthesia's hand again, and thought of the one place she wanted to be.
The House With No Doors had been cleaned, quietly and efficiently, while Door had been on the run. When she'd first come home to find her family slaughtered, their bodies had lain where they'd fallen, and she'd barely had time to pull Arch's poor, abused corpse from the swimming pool before discovering his murderers had not gone far. By the time she'd returned with the marquis to search for her father's diary, they'd been tidied away. Had she done the duty that had been hers, she'd have seen in a glance that Ingress wasn't amongst the dead. Perhaps she'd have found her already. Perhaps everything else would have been different.
Perhaps the marquis would not have returned from his errand with the news from the Trackers: Ingress had not been found, not a sight nor a scent, and they had called off the search.
As Door walked the corridors of her home, she noticed bloodstains splashed against a wall, soaked into the carpet. Each time she saw a new one, she startled all over again, remembering death.
Richard, dear sweet stupid Richard, watched her face, and without saying a word, found sponges and water, and he did the rest of the duty that ought to be Door's. He had a good heart, and she was beginning to think she might love him, just a bit.
The marquis de Carabas walked up behind her. He nodded at Richard's work. "He'll have far more to do to clean the stains from this place. Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," she said. Then she looked around them, really looked. "No." She sighed. He was right. This house had too many memories. She'd known it from the start. He'd known it from the first time she'd brought him here. And if she wanted to stay, Richard would stubbornly clean every inch to make it home again for her sake. If she did care for him, she wouldn't make him.
"Richard," she said, taking his arm to stop his scrubbing, "I think we'll just gather some of my family's things, and go."
He looked at her, looked at the sponge, and the wall. "I think we should stay."
Before she could argue, a sharp noise came from somewhere close. The entry hall ought to be the only way into the House or from room to room, but Croup and Vandemar had broken that. Were they already invaded?
Anger flowed through her. How dare they? How dare they again, after all she'd endured, after all her family had lost.
Door's hands curled into fists. What sadness had convinced her into, wrath now talked her right out of again. This was her home, and she was staying. How dare they!
"Come on," said Door, storming down the corridor towards the noise. Behind her, she was certain Richard was looking to the marquis for assistance. Then they fell into step.
"Show yourselves!" she shouted. "Or better yet, run. Get out of this house!"
She saw movement, and full-blooded now, she stalked that way. Mother was gone. Father was gone. Arch, dead. This had been their home, was her home, and she was going to defend it.
"How dare you!" she shouted.
Ingress peered around the corner at her, peeping with tired eyes. "Door, you are making a racket. Pipe down." And yawning, she turned around and went back into the room.
Ingress, and Ingress's bedroom. Door, not trusting her eyes, ran pell-mell down the hallway and into the little bedroom, attached here to other rooms. Her sister had been so little, and couldn't walk between worlds, and here she was, crawling into her own little bed. A thin girl of perhaps Door's age already lay there, half-asleep. Ingress wrapped her arms around her.
"You can be loud later," said Ingress, and she shut her eyes. She let out a disgusted noise as Door flung herself at her baby sister, enveloping her, and the other girl since she was there, in an enormous hug she never wanted to end.