It was not until her father came back from the Consistorial Court for the third time that Tasma realised what terrible trouble she had caused. Korakot had been warming his big square tail by the fire and his head out the front windows, soaking up the warmth. Before he'd settled in his true form a year ago he hadn't minded the chilly Oxford winters at all, but now he complained when Tasma wouldn't let him bask at least once a day. Besides, there were only three rooms in the house that were big enough for him to enter, and all three just so happened to have fireplaces. Snow was starting to fall on his great beak and flat head when he spotted Tasma's father staggering down the street. He pulled his head in and called out to Tasma in alarm, though she was barely two feet away.
"Tasma! I see him! He looks hurt!"
Tasma ran outside, heedless of the winter cold, and helped her father back into the house. One of his hands was wrapped in a huge, blood-soaked bandage. Gemina, his starling daemon, was usually on the wing, but now she was perched on his arm, shivering and dull-eyed, but still guiding him home. Tasma exchanged a worried look with Korakot as she guided her father in to warm himself by the fire, Korakot shuffling out of the way. Before she could ask her father anything, her mother burst into the room, her hedgehog daemon riding in the pocket of her housedress.
Tasma helped her father fold into an armchair, while her mother tucked a woollen rug over his lap. His long face was blank with pain and he looked a good ten years older than when he had been taken away for questioning this morning, and neither Tasma nor her mother could quite bring themselves to look at his bloody hand or ask about it. Rolf, his spiky head protruding from the apron pocket, was far less hesitant.
"Gemina, what did they do to Laurence?"
"They used a thumbscrew, Hannah" she answered, her voice raspy. Gemina had climbed wearily up to his shoulder and settled there, pressing into the crook of his neck and gently grooming his dishevelled hair with her beak. "They're very frustrated," she said in a stronger voice, as Rolf crept onto the back of the chair and gently stroked the starling's ruffled feathers in the same soothing way that the daemon groomed Tasma's father. "They want answers, and the idea that no-one has answers is something they're not willing to accept."
Tasma crept a little closer, hoping that if her father's daemon was still confident, perhaps he wasn't as badly hurt as he looked. A glance at the shape of the blood-soaked bandages and the deep marks on his wrist made her shudder and turn away, pressing her own handkerchief to her mouth. She threw an arm over Korakot, glad for his solid bulk.
Her mother caught her by the arm, too, steadying her with just a touch, though she couldn't possibly have caught her tall daughter if she'd actually fainted. "Tasma, dear, I need you to fetch the antiseptic and the bandages from the cabinet, please."
"Yes, mother!" Tasma hurried into their cluttered dining room. Korakot quickly followed her, and Tasma held the door open for him until he was completely through. She'd caught the end of his tail once, and despite how thick and powerful Korakot's tail looked, he'd howled like a great baby. It was hard for him, only being able to get into the few rooms with wide doorways, but her father had promised to have the rest of the doors widened next year. Maybe then Tasma could move back to her old bedroom – the house was quite old and had a wide staircase that the nimble Korakot could creep up, as long as he remained low on his belly, but he couldn't make it through the small upstairs doors.
If Tasma had been a good eight inches shorter, she would have been romantically plump and dimpled like her mother. She had inherited both her mother's rounded shape and her father's height, though, so she had always felt like some great clumsy beast, blundering through the world with her broad shoulders, huge feet and wide hips, taking up more space than any girl should. The moment Korakot had settled on his true form, Tasma thought the world had let out a breath and expanded a little, just enough to fit her perfectly – for Korakot's true form was not a starling or a hedgehog, like her parents' daemons, but a dinosaur. Korakot was half again as big as a carthorse, but moved with such swift grace, that Tasma had never felt herself out of place since. He was a Camptosaurus Prestwichii, the very kind that Tasma's father had helped excavate from Hurst Hill over the last few years; something close to the shape of an enormous pebble-skinned kangaroo, though with much bigger front legs so he could easily walk on either all fours or on his hind legs. In his natural habitat, he would have used his great claws and beak not to hunt prey, but to crack open tree bark and seed pods; in this habitat, he tended to greatly startle people who would never think that such a fearsome-looking creature could actually be a herbivore whose greatest pleasures were to mingle with friends and lie by the fire, who would no more savage a person than he would volunteer to move to the Arctic. Tasma had no idea what other people with unusual daemons did – in fact, she'd never seen anyone whose daemon took the permanent shape of an extinct creature – but she tried to keep company with people who knew her, and who would appreciate Korakot rather than stare.
Tasma hurried the medical supplies in to her mother's waiting hands, then rushed out again and leaned against the dining room wall, suddenly weak with the mixed rush of terror and relief that her mother was taking care of everything, when really it was all Tasma's fault that the Consistorial Court was after them. Tasma's father was right-handed, but his work as a palaeontologist required a lot of fine manipulation of tiny fossil fragments, and the thought of him being unable to pursue his vocation because of her was a dreadful one. Quite apart from his daughter's daemon settling into the form of a dinosaur, palaeontologists like Tasma's father were hardly the most popular of Scholars. They were far too likely to suddenly confess a liking for the work of the reviled Charles Darwin rather than following the orthodoxy of the esteemed Scholar Alfred Russel Wallace, though frankly Tasma could see little difference between the ideas of the two, apart from Darwin's Great Heresy, of course.
She sat on the stairs, just a few steps up so that Korakot could crouch at the base of the stairs, close enough to have him resting his head on her lap. She stroked his head pensively, repeating long, firm pats from his broad forehead down to his hard parrot-like beak, causing him to pull back his lips with happiness, an expression that bore a surprising resemblance to a human smile. He didn't once complain that the stairs were cold; she didn't express her fear that the Consistorial Guards would just come back again tomorrow, and this time take her father away for good. Eventually Korakot stirred and nudged at Tasma's belly – she had half gone to sleep in the cold, waiting. The door opened and Tasma's mother peered out, though her daemon had stayed inside, so she didn't actually leave the sitting room.
"Tasma, darling, come and say good night to your father. I've dressed his thumb as best I can, and given him some morphium, so he'll be off to sleep soon."
Tasma unfolded her stiff limbs and followed after Korakot. "Is he all right, Mother? Is the Consistorial Court going to take him for questioning again?"
Her mother shook her head, her usual cheery smile replaced by a pinched look. "Today he told them that Korakot was evidence that none of God's creatures ever vanishes. Maybe they'll be happier with something phrased in their terms."
"Oh, I hope so!" Tasma hugged her mother tightly, though not squashing her as hard as she usually did, worried by her tired face. Rolf trotted over from beside the fire and lightly touched his nose to Korakot's beak, before going back to watch over Gemina and Tasma's father.
Tasma's father finally looked more like himself, his face relaxed and his horribly injured hand hidden by clean white bandages, Gemina snuggled into his dressing gown. He had his feet stretched out towards the fire, so Tasma pulled over a little stool and sat at his knee, not wanting to jar him now that he was finally comfortable. She looked up at him and the tears that had been threatening all day finally started to spill.
"Father? Please don't let them hurt you again. You should just lie to them, or let them take me away."
Her father rested his uninjured hand on her dark hair. His words were slightly slurred and he could barely keep his eyes open. "My dear girl! My profession as a scholar demands truth – and besides, I cannot fathom what kind of lies they would want to hear, or else I fear I might have told them that today. And I would never let them take you from me, my dear Tasma, never."
Two days later, the day before Christmas Eve, the Consistorial Court came and did exactly that. The Consistorial Guards entered the house just as the family sat down to breakfast, knocking the two housemaids aside as they stormed through the front hall. Tasma's father tried to come between Tasma and the Guards, but they contemptuously slapped at his injured hand, and he collapsed to the ground with a shriek of pain.
"Run!" he bellowed, and Tasma used all her size and strength to shove her way to the back door, Korakot far too frightening for even the largest of the soldier's dog daemons to attack. Before she got any further, one of the dogs, a sharp-eyed Alsace Hound, turned and seized her father's daemon in its mouth. Gemina flapped her one free wing ferociously, but was held fast.
"Stop there, girl, by the order of the Magisterium!" the dog's human yelled, but Tasma had already halted at the expression of terror on her father's face. Two soldiers grabbed her arms and pulled her over to their leader.
His face was cold, but he sheathed his sword, and the other men followed suit. "Go and pack your necessities."
Tasma looked at the Guard in surprise. "Am I not under arrest?"
"No – you are to be a guest of the Magisterium in London."
Tasma looked to her mother, and, at her nod, walked slowly to her ground-floor bedroom and took her school valise down from the wardrobe, feeling rather nonplussed. "Surely you could have asked my parents, rather than bursting into the house like that?"
The soldier shrugged. "The Bishop Inquisitor predicted that you'd be likely to flee, and it seems he was right."
Tasma's mother bustled into the room, indignant, but no matter how she and Rolf protested, the only result was that she was allowed to help Tasma pack her things. Neither Tasma nor her mother dared argue too much, each of their daemons feeling the intense fear from poor Gemina as she lay trembling in the hound's jaws in the dining room. There was barely time for a kiss goodbye before Tasma was marched down the road towards the station, two guards holding her arms but a third politely carrying her suitcase. Nobody looked in her direction, too scared that the Consistorial Guards would think they were trying to aid her. Tasma could see a few people peeping from upstairs windows, people she had known half her life, but she really couldn't hold ill-will towards them – they would know by now what had been done to her father, and there were only protecting their own families as her parents had tried to protect her.
It quickly became clear that they were marching not to Oxford itself, but the half-mile or so to the train station, and Tasma would have dragged her feet if she possibly could, knowing what was likely to be there. Korakot nuzzled at her shoulder – the Guards seemed nervous about his tremendous size, because while they had their dog daemons keep Tasma and her daemon a little way apart, as they did with most prisoners, they didn't stop him when he simply reared up to walk on his hind legs and reached right over their heads to comfort Tasma. The guard holding her arm on that side automatically shied away from the great beak, even though Korakot never would have touched him, of course. It was only Korakot's solid presence that kept Tasma from weeping with fear, and she was very glad of him. She didn't want to shame herself and her parents by crying and begging like a child, when she was a grown girl of almost fifteen.
The narrow paved road to the station was suspiciously quiet, the few travellers who had not heard about the Consistorial Guards' presence quickly stepping aside to let them pass. At the station, Tasma saw what she had dreaded – one of the Magisterium's little windowless prison carriages, which were kept at every major city, had been attached to the back of the train. The Guards marched her straight into it, though there was a tense moment when it seemed that Korakot wouldn't be able to squeeze through the doorway into the carriage. He certainly wouldn't fit into any of the four small cells, which caused some consternation amongst the Guards.
"We can't put her in another carriage!" the Commander muttered to his second, their dogs crouching at their feet in some confusion.
The second-in-command – the man with the Alsace Hound – stroked his moustache for a moment and his daemon thumped her tail against his leg. "Sir, when I was first assigned to prisoner escort, there was a prisoner who had a great Suffolk Punch for a daemon. We just put him in the cell nearest the door, here, and let the mare lie down in the guards' area. We had to sit in the corridor between the cells ourselves, but the transport went without a hitch."
The Commander nodded, and Tasma was quickly in one of the small, clean cells, though she could easily reach through the bars to touch Korakot's flank as he crouched in the entryway. The guards all retreated down the corridor and Tasma thought for a wild moment that perhaps Korakot could bite and claw through the wooden floor to free them, but then she thought of her parents and her father's terrible silence as his Gemina waited for death in the hound's jaws. Tasma sat down on the cell's wooden seat instead, stretching her hands behind her to stay in contact with Korakot's thick, pebbly skin.
"Do you think they're going to kill us?" she whispered, too low for anyone else to hear.
"Surely they'd put us on trial in Oxford, if they were going to do that," Korakot grumbled back. "No need to go to all this fuss."
Tasma nodded, and tried to let go of her fear a little. Barely half-an-hour from the moment the Guards had rushed into the house, the train with the little prison carriage was steaming out of Oxford towards London. She wished she'd paid more attention as they walked to the station now – she hadn't known that would be her last glimpse of the familiar countryside, and now it was too late.
Tasma and Korakot had vowed to be most dignified prisoners of the Magisterium, but the hard wooden seat had sent Tasma's thighs and bottom completely numb long before they arrived in London. When the train finally sighed to a halt and the Guards came to unlock her cell, she stumbled right into one of them and he had to prop her up in a very undignified way, rather undoing her resolve to be aloof and respectable.
"Are you all right, Miss Hartle?" the young Guard asked kindly, though his sturdy Collie daemon kept a close eye on Korakot.
Tasma regained her balance and looked the man square in the eye. "As well as I can be, under the circumstances."
He didn't look embarrassed, as she'd rather hoped, but nodded politely and escorted her out of the cell. Korakot had to leave the train first, carefully wriggling his wide, muscular hindquarters through the doorway before descending awkwardly to the station platform, leaving a deep scratch in the wood of the door frame where he had to hold it for balance. Once Tasma had made sure Korakot was unhurt, she realised that another group of uniformed men was on the platform, standing behind two nuns. These Guards did not wear the bright red livery of the Consistorial Court, but the pale blue of the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit. The nuns wore black, of course, but the light blue was present at the edge of their wimples, framing their faces most attractively. They reminded Tasma so strongly of the nuns who taught at her school that she had to remind herself not to automatically trust them.
The Commander stepped forward, Tasma beside him. "Sisters, Sirs, Miss Hartle. I release her into your custody."
"Thank you, Commander Wyn," the elder of the nuns replied. "Miss Hartle, welcome to London. I trust your journey was easy?"
Bewildered, Tasma nodded. One of the Guards handed over Tasma's valise to the men accompanying the nuns and the Consistorial Guards departed at once. Tasma looked after them, rather glad that the sharp-eyed Alsace Hound was gone, at least. The nun took Tasma's arm and led her away from the station. Unlike the people of Oxford, Londoners seemed to have no qualms staring at what the Guards were doing, let alone at a girl with such a big, fearsome daemon. Tasma was starting to feel very self-conscious, so she put an arm around Korakot to at least shield her from half the stares. Korakot was never bothered by such things, and although Tasma shared a lot of that attitude, the day's events had left her exhausted and hungry and unwilling to deal with such things.
"I can see you're tired, Miss Hartle, but we're nearly at the Holy Spirit Convent now."
"Convent?" Tasma was thoroughly confused now.
The nun looked up at her and her expression softened, her little mockingbird daemon clicking its beak in sympathy. "Oh, dear, no-one's told you what's going on, have they? I'm Sister Rosamundi, and this is Sister Marian, of the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit. Do you know what we do, Miss Hartle?"
Tasma thought for a moment. There were so many Church organisations, committees and Orders that it was hard to keep them all straight, but this Society was an important one, and it only took her a moment to remember. "You're responsible for making sure Church dogma is promulgated correctly throughout the world?" Now she really did feel as if she was back in school.
Sister Rosamundi smiled. "That's right. The Consistorial Court has been studying your rather unusual case very intently, but it so happens that…special daemons fall under our jurisdiction, not theirs."
"So they won't be visiting my father again?" Tasma clutched at Korakot, hoping that this meant her parents would be safe now. Korakot swung his long head around to at the nun, too, though she didn't seem discomfited by his gaze, as many people did.
"No, the Consistorial Court has no further interest in him, or in you."
"Oh, thank you!" Tasma felt the heavy stone in her stomach vanish entirely, and Korakot flicked his broad tail, showing his pleasure. The Guards behind him didn't seem so pleased at his unexpected movement, but Tasma didn't care about them right now. "May I ask what you plan to do with me, Sister?"
The nun turned to Tasma with a big smile on her face, her eyes shining. "Of course, dear. We're going to use you to put an end to the Darwinian Heresy once and for all. Isn't it wonderful?"
The Holy Spirit Convent was a beautiful building, but the attic to which Tasma and Korakot were shown was, like the other nuns' rooms that they had passed on the way up to it, very plain and rather chilly. It must have been a storage room until recently, as Tasma could still see dusty outlines on the floor where boxes had been – perhaps Korakot wouldn't fit into any of the actual bedrooms on the lower floors. The wide staircase that led up here had a sharp turn in it – Korakot could negotiate the corner, but he had to come to a complete halt, get up on his hind legs and shuffle slowly around it. Tasma suspected that this was deliberate so that they wouldn't be able to leave in a hurry. Sister Rosamundi had been perfectly welcoming, but there was something in her face, like the nuns at Tasma's boarding school, that made Tasma unwilling to cross her. The two Sisters started to unpack Tasma's valise, unfolding her clothes and placing them in the small wardrobe by the narrow bed. There was a window, big enough for a child to slip through, but Tasma would never fit. Besides, it was a long drop down to the leaded roof of the chapel below.
"Please, Sisters, I can unpack my own things. I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all." Sister Marian smiled, running one hand expertly along the lining of the valise while her squirrel daemon fiddled with the elasticated pocket. Tasma wasn't sure what she was doing for a moment, then realised that Sister Marian was searching for anything Tasma had hidden in the lining, like Matron at school might check for contraband sweets.
"We want you to be comfortable," Sister Rosamundi added.
Sister Marian lowered her voice confidentially. "People with unusual demons are so hard to hold onto."
Tasma opened her mouth to ask if they knew other people with dinosaurs for daemons, but the hard and quelling stare that Sister Rosamundi was giving her fellow nun closed that topic immediately. For all the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit tried to put on a friendly face, it was becoming obvious that Tasma was as much their prisoner as she had been in the train carriage with the Consistorial Guards. Korakot shifted uneasily and the nuns flinched away – there was not much room up here, not with Korakot present, and they were very much aware of him.
Tasma took advantage of their uncertainty and asked, in her sweetest voice, "Sister Rosamundi, could you tell me how I will be able to help the Society, exactly?"
"Do you know much about the Darwinian Heresy, my dear? Most people don't, anymore, but you are from a family of natural scientists, I believe."
Tasma smiled, doing her best to look like a big, silly lump of a girl, as her teachers sometimes accused her of being. She could see that this conversation was littered with traps and, after all, the Sister hadn't promised that the Society had no further interest in her father. "No, I'm sorry. I've learned about Professor Alfred Russel Wallace's work on natural selection, not Mr Darwin's. Professor Wallace says that animals are created by God to slowly change to suit their natural environment, becoming more complex over great periods of time. In environments with humans, of course, the animals develop in concert with the human Will. Our daemons show, um, the 'unseen universe of spirit' in human affairs. Is that right?"
Sister Rosamundi looked pleased. "That's very good. Professor Wallace and Darwin were friends, I hear, and used a great many similar principles to come to very different conclusions – it just goes to show that the Devil can make much of God's work. Now, Darwin thought that animals competed with each other for resources, rather than growing more fit for their environment, which is ridiculous – God's bounteous world has space for all of us, doesn't it."
Tasma nodded. Her face was starting to hurt from smiling pleasantly. "Yes, Sister."
"Well, the Magisterium didn't approve of that research, needless to say. Then, just before he took his family and fled the country, Darwin tried to publish another book, which is rumoured to still be circulating among the Colleges. It says that humans are no more than another kind of monkey which has fought its way to the front of the line, for now, and we will be replaced in turn."
"Oh dear!" Tasma was relieved to finally stop smiling. She had actually heard of this theory, she thought, sitting on the stairs outside the drawing room while her parents hosted gatherings of other natural scientists. She didn't understand why it was so terrible, though – as far as she could see, coming from humbler animals gave hope for more growth and change in the future. Every Scholar she had ever met wanted to explain everything in the universe with regard to their own discipline, and natural scientists were no exception. She thought back to the arguments that she had thought so exciting and grown-up, trying to put the image of her father's bloodied hand out of her mind. "But Sister, how would that explain the existence of daemons? Monkeys don't have daemons – I've seen them at the zoo!"
Both Sisters laughed, and Sister Marian answered this time, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "Well, Darwin claimed that since man was nothing more than another animal, daemons are just some outgrowth of particular human ability. A man will have a daemon suited to the environment and time in which he lives – like an Abyssinian may have a crocodile daemon, and an Englishman a dog." She cleared her throat, obviously preparing to quote someone. "Daemons are no more representative of our humanity than the ice bears' skill in bending steel with their claws, or a cat's ability to land on its feet when dropped."
Tasma opened her eyes very wide in surprise and put her arms around Korakot's neck, protectively. Korakot gave her a sceptical glance, hidden from the nuns, and she nodded, not wanting to overdo anything. She didn't know how long she was going to be here, or how she would have to protect her parents. The nuns were also pulling their daemons close, though, and Tasma didn't feel too worried – they really didn't expect much of her.
Sister Rosamundi stroked the little mockingbird on her shoulder soothingly. "So you see, Tasma dear, Darwin claims that the daemon is just the product of man's environment and your daemon Korakot rather strikingly disproves that. There are no living dinosaurs, so he has developed through your Will, or your soul, you see?"
"And," Sister Marian chimed in, "If the strongest animals survived, well, there would be no doubt that we'd be surrounded by dinosaurs rather than horses and oxen. The world has become amenable to man's destiny, not a vicious and Godless Natural Law."
Sister Rosamundi was slightly flushed with excitement now. "The Society has put together a series of lectures in which you are to be the centrepiece. All the natural scientists and Scholars will be required to attend and they will see the truth of the Magisterium's law and the foolishness of the Darwinian Heresy, thanks to your magnificent daemon."
"I see," Tasma nodded seriously. "So we will be an exhibit?"
"Yes, a living proof of God's truth. You're a very blessed girl."
Tasma lowered her gaze modestly, but in truth she was deeply worried. The two enthusiastic nuns didn't espouse particularly complex dogma, but Tasma suspected that the priests giving the lectures would, and that would be full of traps for the daughter of a natural scientist. Frankly, Tasma didn't care one way or another where Korakot originated. Whether he was an outgrowth of her mind or, as the Magisterium taught, the visible manifestation of her soul, he would always be with her, and part of her. She knew now that this was a dangerous line of thought, and if the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit was still trying to destroy a man who had been driven from the country before she was even born, and clinging to medieval ideas like torture by thumbscrew, she had no doubt that they would wear her down until she made a mistake. All their infatuated excitement over Korakot could just as quickly turn to cruel anger and disappointment – she'd seen the same story play out a hundred times on a smaller scale among the girls of her school. The newest and shiniest toy would soon be the most despised.
It was not, as it turned out, very exciting to be a demonstration of the failure of the Darwinian Heresy. Tasma was required to stand on a lecture stage while various priests and theological Scholars pointed at Korakot and discussed natural adaption and the reign of Creative Force, in varying levels of incomprehensibility. Tasma didn't mind when interested laypeople were present – the discussion was quite lively and the audience's questions, if not the lecture itself, interesting and varied. Most of the time, though, the audience consisted of resentful and fearful Scholars of nature or theology dragged down from various Colleges – some from as far as Newcastle or even Glascu – and dusty-sleeved staff of the Brytish Repository of Natural History, just as cranky to be taken away from their actual work. The Society was determined, though, to stamp out the traces of heresy amongst these independent-minded men and women, and thus Tasma continued to stand on the stage in a prickly, hot woollen dress far too young for her and rather too tight across the bust. Korakot, at least, enjoyed basking in the warmth emitted by the new anbaric lights at the base of the stage.
Tasma ate with the nuns and novices three times a day, went to chapel every morning and night, attended the anti-heretical lectures, and was otherwise all but confined to her room. This wouldn't have been so bad – she was too scared to mingle with the nuns and occasional priests because of the ongoing little tests about Darwin and Wallace, sly questions dropped when she least expected them – except that the cold room made Korakot grumpy and there was nothing to do. She wasn't allowed any books other than those approved by the Society, which were few and very dull, and letter writing held little charm when one knew that every word would be carefully vetted for heresy before it was posted. She had at least been able to let her parents, brothers and school friends know that she was well, but her parents' letters in return, while frequent, were so stilted and careful that they were painful to read. She had sounded out Sister Rosamundi on the possibility that she would be allowed to go to school – how her brothers would have laughed to hear her asking for homework – but the Sister had brushed her off with vague promises about talking to someone.
Mostly, Tasma just sat on her bed, mended her stockings, embroidered the reticule she was making for her mother's birthday, and stared out the window with Korakot. Their view was mostly of the roof of the building below, but one angle let them see right down to the street, where they could watch the comings and goings of the Londoners. The attic window was directly opposite an entrance down to the chthonic railway, and it was always entertaining to see nuns and priests making their way through the swarms of clerks, schoolchildren and working men and women streaming down into the railway tunnels or up into the daylight. Tasma particularly looked out for her favourites – an elderly Oriental gentleman she saw most mornings who kept his frog daemon right on top of his head, where it sat holding onto his hair like reins; a tiny, pretty woman in high heels with an elegant Arabian stallion daemon, both of them picking their way up the stairs as delicately as if they were about to visit the Queen; a tall, scrawny, miserable-faced priest with a perfectly round, happy little spotted pig trotting beside him. Not once, though, did she spot a daemon anything like Korakot, and nor did she really expect to.
"Korakot, if it wasn't for you, I think I'd go mad." Tasma lay in her bed one evening, Korakot leaning his forequarters on the bed so that they could at least share some of the blanket. "Stark, staring mad and they'd have to lock me up here forever, like the madwoman in Jane Eyre."
"Until you set the building on fire," Korakot added gloomily. "At least it would be warm."
"Oh, don't be a baby. England might have been tropical 140 million years ago when your kind roamed the forests, but you're a daemon, not an actual dinosaur. You're not going to freeze to death."
Korakot poked her ribs with his beak and she wriggled away, muffling her shriek of laughter in her blanket – he knew exactly where her most ticklish spots were and wasn't afraid to exploit that knowledge. The novices' dorm was just downstairs from her, and she didn't need the nuns wondering what was going on in her room. As she pulled the blanket off her face, a bright, golden light hit her eyes, and she thought for a moment that a Sister with a lantern must have come to scold her. The light was far too big and steady for that, though, and Korakot was trembling, something he'd never done before. Tasma would have to be brave for both of them, then – she sat up in bed and looked directly at the source of the light. It was not someone with a lantern at all, but the diffuse outline of two men, both at least eight feet tall, their indistinct head-shapes almost touching the ceiling at its highest point. They would have to crouch to get any closer, and Tasma was immediately glad that her bed was at the lower end of the sloped roof, for all that she had cursed each time she bumped her head.
"Tasma Hartle." One of them spoke, in a deep, ringing voice that made Tasma's own name seem musical and strange.
"Yes?" Tasma didn't want to get out of bed in just her night corset and her long nightgown, not with two men watching her, but she sat up straight and tried to look dignified, one hand on Korakot's trembling head. Looking closer, she could see that they weren't identical, for all that they shone with the same light. One was taller and thinner, the other had a much clearer face within the glow.
"You have come to the attention of the Authority and thus we angels have been sent to alter you, or else unwrite you."
Korakot hissed at them, and Tasma glared. "If you're angels, why do you look like men? Where are your wings?" She felt like she'd been tricked enough, these last weeks, and was taking nothing at face value.
"I was a man," the one with the clear face replied. "My name is Baruch, and this is my dear Balthamos. He has always been of the bene elim; our office is that of angels. Look closer, and you will see our wings, though be careful not to hurt your daemon's eyes."
Tasma stroked Korakot soothingly, and glanced at the bright figures from the corner of her eye instead – Korakot was certainly far more disturbed by them than she was, and she didn't want to accidentally hurt him. Sure enough, the silhouette of wings hung behind both men, though they were long, narrow, neatly folded wings, not the great feathery shrouds she would have expected from art. More disturbingly, she suddenly realised that both of them were entirely naked, their arms around each other, and a deep flush of embarrassment surged through her as she turned her gaze away completely.
"Why do you turn away in shame?" Balthamos asked, his beautiful voice puzzled.
Baruch answered before Tasma could raise the courage to speak. "This culture has a nudity taboo – men and women may not view each other naked. She is embarrassed that the taboo is broken."
Tasma could feel one of them come closer by the warmth that he shed, though she didn't look up. "Do not be shamed, Tasma Hartle. We are not of the flesh, but of the spirit. You may look upon us and we will feel no hurt."
It was Korakot who spoke next. "Please don't harm us, angels, or alter or unwrite us. We have done nothing wrong."
"Indeed, you have not, dear Korakot," Balthamos explained, his voice gentle. "There is no wilful sin, but there is disorder in a perfect Creation, and that disorder is you."
"No!" Tasma kicked aside her blankets and jumped to her feet, heedless of her less-than-decent state. "Why does everyone care so much about what Darwin and Wallace wrote? Korakot is not disorderly – he is part of me!"
The angels nodded, and Baruch spoke for them, leaning forward, his hand still clasped in Balthamos'. "Yes, hence you are together an affront to order."
Tasma clenched her fists, trying to ignore the fact that the two angels were naked by pretending they were statues. "Why do you say that? Lots of children have strange creatures for daemons – Korakot at least bears the appearance of an animal that once walked the Earth."
"Children may create all kinds of passing fancies, but you are no longer a child. What you have created is so far out of his place in the firmament of time that he has drawn the attention of the Authority, and we are sent to unwrite you, who are one with him." Baruch's light mingled with Balthamos' so that it was hard for Tasma to see where one ended and the other began.
"What does that mean?" Tasma snapped. She had her back against Korakot now, but there was barely enough space in the tiny room for all of them. The hem of her nightgown brushed against one of the angels, but was not impeded in any way – it moved through him as if he was not there.
"It means that you will be a new person, one who will make a different kind of daemon, and the troubles you have experienced will be erased as surely as a pencil line is taken from the paper. Please, don't be distressed." Balthamos seemed far more concerned for her than Baruch, and far less certain of himself.
"Of course I'm distressed!" Tasma turned to Balthamos, who slid a little way behind Baruch under her scrutiny. "You want to undo my soul! It may save my father some pain, but what if I'm just strange? What if I make a different daemon you don't like? I will have lost my Korakot, and you will have to do this all over again." Her eyes narrowed. "Would you want to undo Baruch, who cares for you?"
Balthamos retreated again, and wrapped himself around and through Baruch in a way that reminded Tasma of nothing so much as her parents sitting together of an evening, sharing one large armchair and reading by lamplight. There was an ease about their actions towards each other which was notably absent in the way they spoke to her or moved in the limited space of the attic. Tasma almost felt bad, frightening him, but he was threatening to untie her very soul, and she owed it to Korakot to fight.
Baruch's wings flared out and the entire room was awash with streaming motes of light. Korakot cried out softly, and Tasma turned to shield his eyes with her hands, soothing him.
"Do not threaten us!" Baruch's voice rumbled through Tasma's bones, but she was suddenly unafraid. The angels were just as nervous of her as she was of them, like a dog that had been ill-treated and now bared its sharp little teeth at the slightest provocation, trembling all the while.
"I'm not threatening you," Tasma said quietly. "But could you please dim your light? You're hurting Korakot's eyes, just as you warned."
Baruch hesitated, then at a touch from Balthamos, complied. "I did not mean to hurt you."
Tasma blinked in the relative darkness, then looked directly into the angel's indistinct face. "You don't really want to unwrite me! You're trying to scare me with your light and your size, but you feel sorry for me, don't you? You warned me that your light might hurt Korakot's eyes, and you didn't want me to feel shame. Please, tell me why you're here, and why you are talking about undoing my soul."
Both angels seemed to reduce in height a little, as if they had let out a sigh, though their forms solidified somewhat. Tasma could almost make out Balthamos' face, now – it seemed almost a reflection of Baruch's, as if an eternity together was moulding them in each other's beloved image.
Baruch reached out to Korakot – Tasma winced, but felt nothing when he touched Korakot on his broad forehead – and bowed in apology. "I did not mean to hurt you, Korakot. I grieve that I have done so."
"I forgive you," Korakot rumbled, and he did not seem uncomfortable at the angelic touch as he would be horrified by another human's. "Why would you hurt Tasma so, when it's obviously not in your nature?"
"To bring my Balthamos peace and ease," Baruch sighed. "There are many battles amongst the angels, and we once chose questioning and learning over obedience and duty. But we are not creatures of flesh, and our existence is very long. My brother, the Voice of the Authority, calls for our obedience – and that of all Creation – at the cost of beings like you. I dearly love my brother, for all that he hunts and hurts us, and I want to transform his anger back into love, our battles into grace."
"No!" Balthamos cried softly. "It is your grace and truth that I love, and my peace and ease is in you. You did not tell me we would be doing such harm – only that others would treat poor Tasma and Korakot far worse."
"This is still true. Tasma, Korakot, if we leave you alone, others will hunt you down and they will not simply alter a part of your soul's history. They will undo you utterly, as if you never were."
Tasma bit her lip. "They have to hunt us down? Doesn't God know exactly where I am?"
The light of both angels swirled and settled again, and Baruch spoke, his voice quieter now. "The command for obedience comes from the Voice, my brother, not because he is omniscient or because your unmaking is a necessity, but because of his own desire for order. He must send his angels to seek you out once you have been brought to his attention. He cannot bear to see your strangeness."
Korakot chimed in. "I've been in my true form for more than a year now – could he not see me until the Magisterium started to parade us around like circus creatures?"
Tasma shuddered. "I'm certainly not going to the circus or the zoo again, not in my whole life! Is Korakot right, though? Did he only see us because the Society showed him?"
Balthamos gently touched Korakot, this time. "Yes, that is the truth. If you can remove yourself from his sight, he will not trouble you. Others have done so."
"I am sorry, Balthamos, my love." Baruch was overlapping with Balthamos again, their ethereal bodies swirling with bright energy where they touched. "I bring persecution upon you."
Balthamos laughed, a surprisingly wild, free sound. "Baruch, I chose you as a man and I choose you as a spirit, no matter the consequences. No more apologies – Tasma and Korakot need our help."
Tasma picked up her current dreary, moralistic book from the nightstand. "Here – this book has a map of Brytain inside the cover. Is there any place that you don't know? Anywhere that you have not seen in your flight?"
Baruch touched the book, though he did not try to hold it, and his hand drifted along the map, illuminating the fine lines of the engraving. "Some of these islands," he said, touching the scattered islands around the Hebrides. "I don't know of them. And here." His hand rested on the Somerset Levels, the great flooded marshes extending inland from the Bristol Channel.
"I'll have to go to Scotland, then," Tasma resolved, stroking Korakot's back to steady him for the bitter cold she expected there. "It's much further than Somerset, but no-one lives in the Levels since the Vikingers destroyed all the monasteries there, a thousand years ago. There are only wraiths and their wailing lost daemons, and strange creatures that terrify all who try to…" Tasma slowed down as she realised what she was saying. "That's the place, isn't it? That's where people and daemons like us hide from the Authority and his angels? Every time someone has tried to survey the Levels for drainage, they have come away terrified and lost. That's where I need to go."
Baruch vanished for a moment, reappearing before Tasma even had a chance to be surprised. "Yes, Tasma. I see that there is a great island there called the Isle of Apples, and you will find sanctuary. You must leave at once."
"Wait – can't you help us? Can't you take me there?"
Balthamos shook his head, his voice still resonant although both angels were already fading away. "We are creatures of spirit, and you are far stronger than us, possessing both spirit and flesh. Goodbye, Tasma, and may you walk in freedom and beauty."
With that, they were gone. Tasma scrabbled at the wall for a moment, trying to hold onto them, but there was no hope of stopping them. Korakot reared up on his hind legs and retrieved Tasma's valise from the top of the wardrobe.
"Here, Tasma. We should get started now so that we can be on the first train. I'm always going to be visible to Magisterium informers – the more of a lead we have, the better our chances."
Tasma nodded, her head still spinning, and quickly dressed and packed her suitcase. She had a little money which the nuns had not bothered to take from her, and it should be enough to manage a train journey or two. She transferred the money into the travelling pocket buttoned inside her waistband and hurried down the stairs, Korakot squeezing his way after her, as fast as he could go on the narrow, twisting steps. He scraped his flank on the wall as he manoeuvred around the corner, as usual, but Tasma thought nothing of it until they reached the door to the street and Sister Rosamundi was standing in front of it, her arms folded. She was wearing a long black dressing gown over her night clothes, her wimple was askew and her face slightly flushed, as if she had just been woken from sleep and raced to the doorway.
"Where do you think you're going, Miss Hartle?"
Tasma was so taken aback at the Sister's unexpected appearance that she couldn't say a word. Had she heard everything that the angels had said, or had she just been alerted when Korakot struggled down the stairs?
Korakot spoke for them. "It's time for us to go, Sister. Thank you for your hospitality."
Sister Rosamundi smiled pleasantly. "I'm sorry, but you are not permitted to leave. The Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit requires your presence here, and while that is the case, you will do as you are told."
For all that Sister Rosamundi looked like a teacher, Tasma could only see her as a sneaky little girl telling tales to the next most important girl, until the tales went all the way up to someone with real power. If Tasma could argue with the representatives of the Voice of God, there was no reason why she should obey this woman.
Tasma took a step closer. "No. I'm leaving."
"You're staying here!" Sister Rosamundi lost her smile, and grabbed Tasma's upper arm, digging the sharp ends of her fingers into the soft flesh. She tried to drag Tasma back towards the steps, but Tasma simply planted her feet and didn't move. She looked down at the slightly built Sister for a moment, and remembered that moment of understanding Korakot's true form, feeling her size and strength fit perfectly in the world. Sister Rosamundi pulled harder, not comprehending what was happening, and then Tasma pulled her arm back, hard, sending the Sister spilling to the floor. Her little mockingbird daemon opened its beak to cry out, and Korakot reached out a front foot ten times the size of the bird, and caught its body between two massive claws, holding it gently but with no chance of escape.
"You have no authority over me, Sister." Tasma's voice was light and cheerful, knowing the truth of her words. Before the nun could answer, or call for help, Tasma hauled her to her feet and half-marched, half-dragged her straight into one of the large, built-in cupboards where the nuns and priests kept their overcoats and umbrellas. Tasma heaved the struggling woman into the cupboard, waited for Korakot to put the mockingbird in with her, and closed the door. Korakot took a heavy sandstone and iron boot scraper from inside the front doors and dragged it into position in front of the closet door to prevent her immediate escape. Tasma draped it with a heavy woollen coat from another closet to muffle her angry cries.
"Goodbye, Sister!" Tasma waved at the door, then unbarred the front doors and walked out without a glance behind her, straight across the rainy street which glittered like angels in the glare of the anbaric lights. Tasma imagined she could feel the eye of the Authority on her, his gaze bearing her to the ground.
"He's not looking for us," Korakot hissed, seeing her duck her head. "He sends the angels to do that, and they need people to report to them."
Tasma nodded, but dashed for the steps down to the chthonic railway anyway, Korakot walking lightly at her side. Even at this early hour of the morning the railway was starting to disgorge passengers, mostly working men and women headed for the factories, and many of them stared openly at Korakot as he squeezed in and crouched in the space near the doorway. Tasma wasn't sure what they were to do if they didn't get out of London before the carriage got crowded.
"Never seen one like that, love!" called a ruddy-cheeked woman with a fancy white poodle.
"He's a crocodile," Tasma answered, politely. "From Brytish Cairo."
This caused a minor ripple of excitement, but everyone soon settled into telling each other about strange things they'd seen or heard about from the Dark Continent, and Korakot was ignored again, apart from occasional gestures at his teeth and claws. At Charing Cross, an olive-skinned man wearing a business suit and a small felted hat boarded the train with an actual crocodile daemon over his shoulder – a small creature, about arm's length. Tasma winced, but no-one seemed to consider his genuine crocodile daemon half as interesting as the much larger fake one by the door. The man himself paid absolutely no attention to Korakot at all – he must think Brytish people had all kinds of strange daemons, Tasma thought, coming from a land of crocodiles.
It was much warmer on the chthonic railway than it was aboveground, though not quite enough for Korakot to unfold himself and bask in it. There was little enough room around him already, so that was probably a good thing. Tasma was glad of her height, because, if she stood on tiptoe, balancing on Korakot, she could see over the heads of most people and keep a lookout for Guards on the underground platforms. Unfortunately, they were a great deal more organised than she was, because as the train pulled into Embankment Station, Tasma spotted a good four dozen men on the underground platform in the pale blue of the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit or the bright red of the Consistorial Court, some of them armed with rifles, others with police batons. Someone must have reported her. They lined the platform, ready to peer into every window, and there was no way she could hide Korakot. The only thing in her favour was that everyone on the train was alarmed – jumping out of their seats, crowding at the windows, holding their daemons close, and it was going to take a moment or two for the Guards to make it into the train.
Tasma glanced up and down the long platform, looking for means of escape, but more men stood at each end of the platform and on the stairs up to the surface, and even as the train halted, the men with batons were moving forward in an orderly fashion to enter every door in the train. The men with the rifles stood further back, their eyes sharp – more than one had a small bird for a daemon, and they were fluttering around the train windows, extra sets of sharp eyes. Korakot reached out one foreleg and used his massive claws to rip open the wooden door on the other side of the train, facing the tracks rather than the platform. Tasma jumped down, careful to avoid the live rails, for all that they were covered, and Korakot squeezed after her, grasping her valise in his mouth.
"This way!" Tasma called to him, as loudly as she dared, running along the tracks towards the front of the train – while this train was stopped for searching, no more could pass it, and it wasn't all that far down the tunnel to the next station.
They hadn't gone twenty yards before one of the bird daemons shrieked a warning, swooping over their heads. Tasma turned and glanced over her shoulder to see the uniformed men climbing through to her side of the train, jumping down from the train doors to chase after her, heedless of the protests of the train guards and the shouts of other passengers.
Tasma and Korakot ran as fast as they could down the tracks, but the men behind them were faster. Korakot snarled at the dog daemon of the first man to catch them and the dog hesitated in her attack, but her human grabbed Tasma by the hair and dragged her to a staggering halt, his baton held across her throat.
"Let me go! I haven't done anything wrong!" Tasma shouted, kicking and twisting in the man's grip, but he was an experienced and strong Guardsman, and didn't let go even when she caught him in the knee with a boot heel, though he did let out a pained grunt.
"I've got her!" he bellowed, and his fellows approached quickly, though their dogs and hawks still did not dare attack Korakot.
Tasma kept twisting and screaming, knowing that not just their freedom but Korakot's very existence was at stake. "Let me go! They'll kill him! Let me go!"
The Guards paid no attention, but took her by the arms as Korakot circled them anxiously. He could easily bite and claw the life from at least a few of their daemons, but they would surely kill Tasma in return – the Guards' and their daemons were smart enough not to engage him. Tasma's cries went unheeded, and they started to drag her back towards the platform. Many of the passengers were taking the opportunity to scarper up the stairs while the Guards weren't watching them; others hung out the windows and doors, gawking.
Without warning, a great rumbling sound shook the ground, and everyone looked around in surprise. A tile popped off the wall on the far platform, then another, and some of the people remaining on the train shrieked and started to run for the stairs. Before the Guards or Tasma could do anything, the far wall abruptly collapsed in a rush of water, pouring through a rapidly enlarging hole down onto the tracks. The Guards started pulling Tasma towards the platform, but the station suddenly went dark – the water had wrecked the anbaric system. Only a small number of lights in the platform's ceiling remained lit, casting everyone in a dim, drab light. The water was quickly to knee-height, and Tasma pulled back at the Guards, trying to get away in the confusion. It was two fairly young men who held her, and as the water rose, one let go and raced through the mucky water for the platforms. The other Guard vacillated for a moment then released Tasma with a hard shove to the tracks. She fell into the brown, swirling rush and was slammed into the underside of the platform for a moment, until Korakot caught her dress with his beak and dragged her back to her feet.
Tasma spluttered and clung to Korakot for dear life as he waded against the tide across to the other platform, away from the Guards, as the water kept rising. It was waist deep on Tasma now, over Korakot's belly, and they could barely move against the force of the water. They kept on, though, without a moment's hesitation, knowing that to turn back was death. The moment they reached the edge of the far platform, Tasma looked up at the broken wall that was letting in the Thames, and recoiled in horror – a great crimson tentacle was emerging from it, curling and flexing its way across the platform, closer and closer. Tasma screamed, a sound barely audible over the rush of the water, but enough for Korakot to hear. He bared his teeth and planted his feet, preparing to fight it, but the massive tentacle simply seized Korakot just behind his forequarters and lifted him free of the water. Tasma clung desperately to Korakot's neck, and he lodged his claws firmly in her corset – she knew he wouldn't let her be swept away, and that gave her little comfort, despite the terror of the rubbery limb dragging them under the water and through the hole.
Tasma had just a few moments to wonder if the creature was going to drown them before the great soft limb lifted them high above the wave and into the air. A great beaked monster, a Kraken, floated in the Thames, its one huge eye glaring lidless at all who dared behold it, its crimson body and tentacles writhing endlessly. It must surely be bigger than the station itself, its bulk so great that Tasma could not even see it all at once. Tasma screamed just once, then spluttered and closed her mouth and looked closer. A woman clung to the Kraken's body, laughing in the water, her woollen bathing dress clinging to her body and her long auburn hair whipping around her face. She grinned at Tasma and the great Kraken daemon – for surely, with its care not to touch Tasma, that's what it was – launched itself into the other fork of the river and propelled itself through the water at amazing speeds, as fast as a train, its passengers perhaps six feet above the surface of the water. Tasma was soon as soaked through as the Kraken's human, and shivering, but the cold was nothing to the exhilaration of their escape. The Kraken propelled itself forward on a huge jet of water streaming from underneath its massive mantle and in minutes London was behind them as they sped towards the sea, knocking boats aside in their mighty wake.
Fog obscured much of the surroundings and the constant splash of water kept Tasma blinking and clinging to Korakot as tightly as she could, but she did notice when the water changed from mostly fresh to mostly salty, and the Kraken's speed increased greatly. It could lie lower in the deep water here, its passengers barely above the waterline, and Tasma tried not to inhale too much of the salt water that washed over her every time the Kraken hit a wave. Before Tasma had seen a thing, they were slowing and stopping beside a large boat, and the Kraken lifted Korakot up – his claws still lodged in Tasma's corset – and placed him gently on the wooden deck. Tasma blinked in surprise and looked over the side at the woman who had brought them here. She too had been deposited on the deck, but the massive tentacle that had put her there hadn't retreated – instead, it stayed, writhing, on the deck, the very tip of it curling around her waist.
There were other people on the ship, too, walking neatly around the tentacle as if it was something they did every day, holding out blankets to Tasma and the Kraken-rider.
A man with a tiny human-shaped faerie lass sitting on his shoulder was the first to reach them, a broad smile on his tanned face.
"Tasma! Korakot! The angels told us you were on your way! We've just made it here from Somerset!"
"Thank you," Tasma gasped, suddenly ready to collapse, and a brightly-dressed woman wrapped her in a blanket while her unicorn nuzzled gently at Korakot. Other men and women crowded around, all with daemons that Tasma had never seen before – a tiny carnivorous dinosaur no bigger than a baby, a long green lizard with tiny flames dancing above its nostrils, a clockwork owl flying above them.
The woman patted her arm. "Don't worry – you're safe here. You bring us no harm. We're here to take you to Glastonbury Isle."
Men and women were throwing ropes down to the Kraken and his human had climbed back down to him, to help attach the ropes to the Kraken. The boat was soon in swift motion, pulled behind the Kraken regardless of the wind, and Tasma stood astonished for long moments before she threw herself against Korakot's side and burst into tears. Her beautiful Korakot was safe; she was free; and no arbitrary law could find them, no matter their true forms. They were not trouble. They were perfect.