It all began because of the woman.
That is what he calls her: "the woman." It may be a title of respect. It may be that to his mind, her name does not deserve to be spoken.
Given what she almost brought down on us, I understand the sentiment.
Not that my friend is much for sentiment. James Moriarty calls his mind a reasoning machine, and has no use for softer passions. He values instinct, yes - when it proves useful - but not emotion. How our friendship came to be, I still do not know. What place friendship, in such a philosophy?
We shared lodgings. I accompanied him on his cases. I learned his habits and moods. And from the start, we called each other "friend". Perhaps he is right, and we were meant to be so, foreordained by some past or future fate. There are things in the world we cannot understand.
I wanted to feel I had some worth. He gave me that.
But I was writing of the woman.
I first heard of her as I returned from a walk. The crimson moon was full beneath a foggy haze, and I ignored the preacher at the corner and his apocalyptic speeches prophesying the return of the Sleeper, the punishment of the undeserving. These had grown common after the Russian events four years past, and I no longer heard the words.
It is still dreadful to contemplate. They blew him apart, the Czar Unanswerable. They tore the remains with their fingers, green ichor dripping, and threw them into the harbour. And then, as they cheered -
My pen sputters.
From the waters, He rose again, in all his awful glory, and His fury unleashed itself over the city. They say His presence swept through each mind, unmitigated, ungentled. There was not a sane man or woman or child found in the whole city, afterwards.
I climbed the stairs to our lodgings, and stopped at the door. My friend was staring into the fire. A shadow hung over the room. It might have been my imagination that sent a smell into my nose, a sound into my ear as if I were back in - in -
I forced the memories down. I was at home.
Moriarty turned. He said, "The effect of gambling on your constitution is not altogether a salutary one, my dear Moran."
I did not ask how he knew. He answered anyway.
"The pallor on your cheeks tells me what you have been contemplating. There is but one subject that affects you in such a manner. But you have not listened to the preachers in weeks. Something, then, must have made you newly susceptible. What else could it have been but the gambling tables, with their reminder of your brother, and the sect he has joined -"
"Quite," I interrupted, desperately.
"My apologies. I did not mean to disconcert you more." He smiled at me. His eyes glittered. "Perhaps you would care for a trip to the Continent? It might do you good."
"You've had a visitor," said I. "You have a client."
"Yes." His gaze was dark, thoughtful. "What do you know of the Royal Family of Bohemia?"
I twitched. My shoulder, once withered and now recovered almost to full function, ached.
It had been the first case of his I had seen: the murder of Prince Franz Drago, and everything that followed from it. It was a difficult memory. It made me fear for my friend. For us both.
It made me fear him, too, sometimes. It shames me, but it did.
We had tangled with royalty after that, and the mission we accomplished for the reigning family of Holland will forever remain burned into my mind. Only once, to my knowledge, did we cross paths again with the man who'd called himself Vernet, who'd planned the death of Franz Drago: in the horror of what the papers called the Boscombe Valley Terror.
"No, no," my friend assured me. "No connection, my dear fellow. Now, tell me what you know."
He acts that way, sometimes - the professor examining his student.
I told him: The Prince had been a half-blood. I knew nothing of the Queen. The King was not among the Great Ones who had first come to us from beyond the world, from R'lyeh and Carcosa and Leng. I knew nothing of his line.
Moriarty held out a photograph, and I took it. The woman in it was beautiful and pale, gorgeously dressed for the stage. There were arms around her shoulders. Three. Nothing more was visible. It looked innocuous, but there was something in her eyes, and something in his hands.
I looked again. I had missed the marks on her bare, ungloved arms, on her throat, but I saw them then. Bone-white, spot by spot by spot.
I thought of Prince Albert, hale and hearty and sane, his close companionship with our Queen no visible burden to him. This was not that.
Words returned to me, the words of a letter I should have burned: He would have feasted on her madness while he took her, like a man sucking the flesh from a ripe peach leaving nothing behind but the skin and the pit - This seemed the opposite, a slow devouring, bite by dainty bite.
That was the kind of picture it was.
My friend had been observing me. "Yes," he said. "It's quite the picture, isn't it?"
I felt sick, as if I had witnessed something obscene. "Who is she?"
"This," said James Moriarty, "is Irene Adler, the famous operatic singer of the New World. Retired singer, I should say. She has been in Bohemia for two years, moving in the highest circles. The arms," he added, "belong to the King himself. Now she has vanished."
"You are to find her for him?"
The King's mistress, concubine, whore. Whatever term one might wish to employ. Another word came to mind, one that should not be spoken in connection with the blood royal.
"Indeed I am."
I looked again at the picture. It was not a pleasant thought. But James Moriarty had never been able to resist a puzzle. It would kill him one day, I was sure.
"Be careful, my dear Major," said he, and his eyes were gleaming, his head moving as he appeared to contemplate a private joke. "Another man, one who does not know you as well as I do, might find such displeasure suspect."
It could have been a threat. It was certainly a warning. I nodded.
"She has been sighted in Brussels," he continued, as if his remark had never been.
"Then we will go there?"
"You will," said my friend. "I have other avenues to pursue."
I took the time to look at the famous temple, but could not face it for long. It had been begun in the thirteenth century as a church of the Roman god, and finished in the sixteenth dedicated to R'lyeh of the Deep. Such was its architecture. Its windows were eyes, its columns arms reaching down into the ground. Its lines were not those of ordinary buildings. I looked too long, and found my balance lost, as if I were falling into an abyss, into an Afghan cave and the waters within -
I turned away, and I caught my breath, and I did not look again.
All the while, every corner I turned - from my hotel, the temple, the railway station - I expected to see him. Even crossing the Grote Markt, I expected to find James Moriarty waiting.
He had done that before, more than once. I remember Baskerville the most, for the length of his charade, and the depth of his chagrin when the case upended all our assumptions and the terrible creature from beyond the world proved merely a dog with a painted phosphorous eye. I felt avenged, somewhat, by that.
I did not see him in Brussels.
"By no means," said he, smiling. "I suspected - yes, I certainly suspected. But it would not at all do to ignore a potential source of data merely due to suspicion. You have done me a great service, my friend, confirming the truth for me."
"What did you suspect, then?"
"She has vanished, and the King has not found her. Surely if you were an American who wished to remain unfound by a King, you would think to return to your native continent. It is the natural assumption, and so the King must have thought as well. The number of transatlantic steamships is simply too great, and indeed I believe he had counted the woman lost until he heard she was seen in Brussels."
"You do not believe she was in Brussels at all."
"Naturally not. Yet it was that very sighting that made me suspicious, my dear Moran - as I said, very suspicious, indeed."
I did not understand.
"She means us to think she is in Brussels, so she must be elsewhere in Europe instead. In London, quite probably, I should think," he said calmly.
"Nearby, to be sure." He laughed softly. "You have not asked, my dear fellow, how I have been passing the time while you have enjoyed your travels. I have been travelling as well - in mind, if not in body. With the aid of a great amount of newspaper print and not a small number of telegrams to boot, I have travelled to Prague and followed the woman herself."
"And you have found -?"
"I have found another disappearance."
I sat up straighter. "Another woman?"
"A man - a man of Albion. Not a famous one, and his disappearance did not draw notice, but I was looking for it, you see. For someone who left at the same time as she."
"You suspected she did not vanish alone?"
"I thought it possible. There have been precedents - at Paris in 1832, and at Riga in 1857. It was merely one out of a number of options, yet this was the one that paid off. The gentleman in question is a Godfrey Norton, with no surviving family save a younger sister. Their father has been dead some three months, and the sister remains alone in his house in Harrow, awaiting her brother's return."
I considered. "You believe Miss Adler has eloped with this man Norton, and has gone with him to his home?"
A quiet life might please a woman who once held the attention of a King.
And my friend meant to tear her from that life, return her to her prior life. It did not sit well with me. But he could hardly have refused the King, not even he. Not after Prince Franz Drago, no.
Moriarty's head swayed. "Not quite that simple, perhaps. Then again, perhaps it is." He would not say more.
The question pleased me. "I would not be in the way?"
"Not at all." He looked wry. "And I would be lost without someone to speak to."
He meant he would speak to the walls and the lamp posts instead. He always enjoyed an audience.
"I'll come gladly," I said. It was not a lie. Seeing him work was always a pleasure; being of use to him even more so.
That was why he asked me often, I think. He always knew what people needed. I was his friend, and so he did not stop at merely knowing.
"You won't mind breaking the law, will you?"
I blinked. "No." Not for him. With him.
"How steady is your hand today?"
My condition had much improved since Victoria herself had touched my withered shoulder. No matter how awful - in both the old and the modern sense of the word - her presence might have been, she had shown me a kindness I could never hope to repay. But I still had good days and bad.
"Steady enough. You want me to shoot someone?"
"No, no. Would you find it very disconcerting if I did?" His smile was thin and dangerous. I did not know how to answer. "But no. I want you to provide a distraction."
He pointed out a brick-and-timber house. "This is the one."
"The spinster sister's home."
"Indeed. There is only the lady herself, now, and a maid, who does not live on the premises."
He told me my part. I soon found myself perched at a window in an apartment whose inhabitants were out for the day, holding my air-gun, waiting. It was a nasty trick to play on a lady, but it was only a trick. She would have a shock, but would not be harmed.
I had used the silent air-gun before. Moriarty had ordered it made for me, in payment, by a mechanic he had once helped. I had been glad for it in Aberdeen. My friend had walked out of the deadly trap we found there only due to my unusual weapon, which our enemies had not expected.
The weapon, and my marksmanship. I felt proud that day, and full of purpose. It was a feeling no one but Moriarty had given me, not since Afghanistan.
He knew my strengths, and how to use them.
That day in Harrow, when the girl - she could not be twenty-five - came by for her daily walk, I shot down a single loose shingle. It fell. It gave the girl a terrible fright.
I did not ask my friend his purpose until after, sitting on a bench with a labourer's packed lunch. He looked thoughtful, distracted, and his fingers drummed on the edge of the bench.
"She has not been warned," he said. "She was startled - shocked - but she did not look around herself, fearing a foe. A shock will bring such things out in us, you know. If there is a foe to be feared, we will look for him when frightened. It is instinct. And she did not."
"What does that tell you?"
"On its own, either that they are not coming, or that they are coming swiftly, to whisk her away without warning."
"On its own?"
He looked at me, and did not elaborate. "There's not much time. They cannot approach during the day, but at twilight we must be here. We must break into the house, to lie in wait."
I had been shocked, the first time he had suggested such a thing. That day, I merely nodded.
"There was no breath and no movement that I could hear, so I chanced the opening of the door - I know, I know, my friend; how daring of me to intrude upon a lady's privacy in such a manner! Yet the lady was not there. The bird has flown." He looked very grave. "Let us search -"
At that moment, I heard something behind me, and my instincts took over. The man who appeared before me was short and thick-set, someone I had never seen before, but my revolver pointed at him steadily enough. Unfortunately, so did his at me.
Moriarty drew in a sharp breath. So did another man, behind the newcomer. He, like Moriarty, held a small lamp. They had entered as silently as we had.
The gun-man's eyes widened when he saw Moriarty. He cursed, and he turned his aim on my friend. I felt cold.
"And you, Moran, if you would," Moriarty murmured.
I took his meaning, and aimed my weapon at the second man. He was tall and wore the habit of a priest, with the medallion of an apocalyptic sect. His grey eyes were calculating. I had seen them before.
The parlor was dim around us. I felt displaced, at sea. Where had I seen the tall man before?
"Moriarty," the gun-man snarled.
"I would call it a pleasure," said the other. His voice was familiar, too. "But not under these circumstances, I'm afraid."
"Or any, surely," said Moriarty, blandly, and turned to me. "You remember Sherry Vernet, don't you? Though of course that is not his name. And Doctor Watson, isn't it?
"Rache" and the Limping Doctor. The murderers of Prince Franz Drago. Men who had stood before royalty, undaunted, and had spilled emerald blood.
What had I walked into? I would have flinched, had I not been holding a revolver. Weapons steady me.
I had been steady enough on my own, before Afghanistan. Since then, I have needed the weapon to regain the steadiness.
They were Restorationists, anarchists who thought humanity should manage its own affairs, free of those above us. They had eluded even James Moriarty, the great detective. All the forces of the Kingdom had sought their trail, to no avail.
And here they were before me. Here was "Rache" himself, my revolver's muzzle trained on him.
He had asked to be called Rache, in a letter sent to Moriarty at the culmination of the Franz Drago case. The word meant hunting dog. I could not think of him like that. I decided to keep to the alias of "Vernet".
Watson glared at Moriarty, then at me, but said nothing.
"I'm afraid you're too late," said Moriarty, striding over to the wall and turning on the gas to light a proper lamp. I turned my eyes away, but it did not flash so brightly as to blind Watson. I watched for an opening, and found none. "Your quarry has flown."
Vernet's eyebrows went up. "You're certain?"
"The house is empty."
There was displeasure on Vernet's impassive face, just for a moment, then satisfaction. "She has escaped you, then."
"And you. Though you were interested as much in her companion, were you not?"
"Husband, by now," said Vernet. "They married before crossing the Channel."
They both had weapons trained on them, and they conversed as if they had met at a club.
"I expected as much. Your agent has eluded you, then, just as Irene Adler has - ah. I see I am right; your expressions tell me so."
Then his eyes fell to the mantel next to him. The brighter gaslight showed what the twilight before had not: There were two envelopes propped up against it, both addressed in large black letters: one to "Mr James Moriarty", and one to "Rache".
My friend took them. He said, "She did not know which of us would arrive here first, but she was quite certain that one of us would." He inspected both envelopes. He opened one, reading it over impassively. Then he opened the other. This one made him raise his eyebrows. "I see," he said.
Vernet looked at him. "May I? Yours as well, I should say, since you have been so discourteous as to read mine."
Moriarty smiled thinly. "Very well. I don't see why not." And he smoothly handed them across.
"It appears we are at an impasse," said Vernet, once he had read them. He seemed calm.
So did my friend. "This has proven to be rather less dull a case than I initially feared. A pity that Miss Adler - or Mrs Norton, we must call her now, I suppose - is not likely to present me with further problems."
Vernet's look was sharp and keen. "The King of Bohemia is unlikely to share your sentiment."
"Unfortunately, yes. You see my dilemma."
"Naturally." Vernet narrowed his eyes. "If this escalates, it may very well be that neither of us shall survive."
He was right. There were two revolvers, held by men who had been in the army. That alone was deadly enough. Moriarty, and this man Vernet - I did not care to consider the odds.
"That would be unfortunate." Moriarty took a step forward. "I believe alternative options are indicated."
Vernet stepped forward as well, matching him. They were now standing an arm's length apart. Far enough not to impede my aim, or the doctor's. "An intriguing proposal."
"No!" exclaimed the doctor. "You cannot -"
"On the contrary, my dear doctor, said Vernet. "I believe that we must. You see, the good detective here has not very many options himself."
"We have the same ones," said Moriarty calmly. His head swayed a little, a sure sign of a quixotic mood. "Surely what I have to say to you has already crossed your mind."
A fleeting smile crossed Vernet's face. It was as if he had read Moriarty's mind. "And undoubtedly my answer has crossed yours."
"Of course I cannot let you go. So we may fight, and risk death. Or we may come to an agreement."
"And why would we do that?" Watson snapped.
"The King, Watson, the King!" Vernet said impatiently. "He wants Miss Adler returned, and now he cannot have her. He could prove to be very unpleasant to the man who disappointed him."
It had been on my mind. Irene Adler was gone. What were we to tell the King?
"Delivering us would be an acceptable substitute, I'm sure," Watson said tersely.
"Oh, indeed." Vernet was almost laughing now. "But there is that risk I mentioned, since you and I, my friend, would hardly come quietly."
It was a deadly trap that held us, between a vengeful King and a pair of traitors to the Crown.
"Alternatively," said Moriarty, "you stand the chance to retrieve an opportunity thought lost with the defection of young Mr Norton."
I did not take his meaning, but did not ask. Watson looked horrified, and fascinated.
Vernet regarded Moriarty, long and thoughtful. He seemed to understand perfectly. "I'm not altogether certain I should applaud your lack of scruples."
"You have few yourself," said Moriarty. I could not follow the turns of their conversation.
"I know what end I strive for," said Vernet, calmly. "Do you?"
Moriarty smiled. "Ah, yes, your rather intriguing theory. After the Russian catastrophe, I believe it has acquired greater urgency than before."
Vernet did not speak immediately. "Yes," he said after a moment, gravely. "I should have expected you to deduce this after the attempt on Princess Marta Lamia."
"So you should. - I cannot let you leave, of course, no more than you could us."
"No. We could not, could we?" For a moment, Vernet's expression was dark. "Yet reason is always reliable."
"Indeed. Shall we proceed?"
"Watson or Moran?" asked Vernet, inexplicably. Here, Watson seemed as lost as I.
Moriarty considered me for a long moment. "My dear Major," he said then, "you'll have to hand me that revolver of yours."
"She will be diverted in the morning," said Moriarty. "I anticipated a need for privacy, though not quite for these reasons."
They believed each other, though they had every reason not to - as if they truly could read each other's minds.
The danger was real. I wanted to save him. But I knew better than to endanger his plans.
I went to the post-office. I sent the telegram I'd been instructed to send, written by Moriarty and approved by Vernet.
It was I who went, not Watson. It was I, then, who lured the King to his death.
The subject of their debate escaped me. Their speech was cryptic. But there was a gleam in Moriarty's eye that I had not seen turned on any living thing before.
I was ... jealous.
"It will be some time," said Moriarty calmly, handing my revolver back to me. "Shall we explore the kitchen?"
We made a picnic of it, stranger than any I could have imagined.
Moriarty and Vernet looked at each other.
"The question should be," said my friend pedantically, "How did Miss Adler come and go unseen? That she did is indisputable; she did leave us those charming missives." He raised an eyebrow toward Vernet.
"Seeing these apartments from the inside, it is quite clear they were each connected to their neighbour, once. If a door still exists -"
Moriarty smiled thinly in agreement. "Then Godfrey Norton certainly would have known."
No, that is wrong. Watson and I dared not sleep. Moriarty and Vernet would have dared, had they not been so entranced with each other. So engaged were they in their conversation, so clearly pleased with it, that I found myself sharing a brief look of commiseration with Watson, though his turned to a glare quickly enough.
Even then I was not entirely sure. Even then, there was doubt in my heart. Might not my friend be planning some gambit that would turn the situation around? Might there not be some other end to this than -
I was holding a gun. My hand did not tremble. I waited.
I am not certain what I hoped: for it to be true, or not.
"I am used to it." I was.
My friend's eyes went over to Vernet for a moment. His head moved from side to side. "We have not been altogether forthcoming with each other, have we?" he said drily. "Yet your loyalty has never faltered."
The praise was unexpected. It made me tense. "We," I said.
"Shall I mention the letter whose preservation you have so carefully attempted to conceal?"
I flinched. I had kept the letter Vernet had written to Moriarty: a missive full of - what had my friend called it? Seditionary nonsense, that was it. I had never spoken to him of it, had not dared.
But he knew. And he was still smiling.
"Destroying it would have been the safer option, my friend, no matter your thoughts. But instead, by its preservation, you have ensured that today I would place my trust in you, even with the course these events must take. So I must thank you after all. Your loyalties were clear to me when I needed them to be."
"Yet you deceived me about yours."
His head moved on his shoulders again. "Did you imagine I had any, my dear Major? I am a scientific man; I do not allow such sentimental notions to intrude upon my work."
"You call me friend. Is that, too, merely a word to you?" I should not have said it. Not with Vernet and Watson present. But I could not take it back.
"Ah. Is that what has been preying upon your mind?" Moriarty looked as taken aback as I'd ever seen him. "Look around you, Moran. Consider what I have entrusted to you today."
It was true. What I knew about him now could have been fatal for any other man. But given who he was, which of us would have been more likely to survive, had I turned against him? We both knew.
It did not diminish the fact of his trust.
"There are several aspects of this case that are still less than clear to me," I said, instead of an answer.
He smiled. "Shall I explain, then?"
And explain he did. First, he handed me the letter addressed to him. I read:
My dear Mr. James Moriarty:
It was you, was it not? And you really did it very well. Until my informant told me of the fright Godfrey's sister had, I had not a suspicion. But then I began to think. Norton had warned me against you from the start, telling me that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you.
I had hoped you would allow yourself to be diverted to Brussels. Instead, you frightened my poor sister-in-law to make her betray herself.
It must have been you. The other, who is after Godfrey, would not have risked alerting him to any danger. But you did not know about Godfrey, did you? I do not see how you could have.
We both thought our best chance was to hasten our departure, when pursued by two antagonists so formidable; so you will find the nest empty when you come.
As for the King, he must reconcile himself to his loss, and should be grateful for his life, which he still possesses by the grace of one whom he has cruelly wronged. I only did it so we could escape without all the hounds of Europe on our tail.
I hope for better days to come, and I remain, my dear sir,
Very truly yours,
Irene Norton, née Adler.
Moriarty added, "Young Mr. Norton is, shall we say, a colleague of our friend Rache here. I gathered as much from certain pieces of information that came into my possession from Prague. Their target was the King; Miss Adler was to be the means to that end. Miss Adler proved not amenable. Not out of any fondness for the King, you understand - but she had her own agenda, which was incompatible with assassination."
My friend then turned to Vernet, who was, quite inevitably, listening. "Might I trouble you for that letter? I could quote it, of course, but I do believe it speaks better for itself."
To my surprise, Vernet acquiesced. They did not act like adversaries, and it disconcerted me. And though I was glad - it would have been deadly if they had - still, I could not be at ease.
This second letter was a close cousin to the first, though less easily understood:
My dear Rache:
I apologize for besmirching Godfrey's reputation in your eyes. I assure you, he remains dedicated to the cause.
Your goals have impressed me. You've planned it all very well, and I think not a man had a suspicion. But I could not be a party to it. I had to leave, and would not endanger my escape.
As for the King, you may have him with my blessings, now that I am well out of it. If, in the process, you avenge me for the cruel wrongs he has done me, all the better.
May both our work be fruitful and bring us better days. It may interest you to hear I am pregnant, so I have hope. I remain, my dear comrade-in-arms,
Very truly yours,
Irene Norton, née Adler.
I looked up from the impenetrable missive, as confused as I had been before.
My friend nodded. "The woman has been very careful to give nothing away to one who does not already know. And you have not understood the significance of her pregnancy."
I saw that Vernet and Watson both were watching us with apprehension.
"She has deduced the same thing our friend here has," said my friend, smiling - at me or at Vernet, I was not sure. "The Royal Family of Bohemia is not full-blooded, and never was. Yet it goes back to the days of the Rising. There have always been rumours, of course. It is said the first of that line was sired by the Sleeper himself. You know your theology, Moran."
Every child in Albion does - every child in the civilised world. He-Who-Sleeps, He-Who-Returned-to-the-Flood, He-Who-Lies-Dead-and-Dreaming: the most ancient of the Old Ones. The religious say we did not prove ourselves worthy of him, so he left us to sleep again in R'lyeh until the day we either proved ourselves worthy, or indeed so worthless that he should have to rise again only to destroy us all.
I looked across at Vernet, who was still wearing the habit of an Apocalyptic. I shuddered.
"What does it mean?" I asked. "Why does it matter, whence that line comes?"
Vernet's face was hard. Moriarty's was unreadable.
"You know the Restorationists' goals," Moriarty continued. "Yet how are they to accomplish them, when only the half-blooded fall under their blades, while the Great Ones, the First Risen, can not be slain?"
It was a question I had asked myself before.
"Mr Vernet has surmised," my friend said, smiling, "and Miss Adler appears to share the theory, that in the blood of that line, the oldest of them all, lies the answer to that question. Hence the killing of Franz Drago, and of his cousin Karl, the year after. Also Princess Marta Lamia, though that incident did not leave them a body to examine. And hence the attempt on the King, closer to the origin of their line than the others."
"Others have been killed." In Russia, many had. The killings of royalty in Albion, in Germany, in France had been said to be inspired by the Russian anarchists' deeds.
"Naturally," said Moriarty, blandly, as if it went without saying. "Our friends here took advantage of an existing pattern to hide their deeds."
I thought of it. I imagined it.
Dead bodies of that royal line for Watson to dissect, for Vernet to examine. An unborn child of the same line, for Miss Adler to do with whatever she considered necessary. I shuddered. And then, if they succeeded - the death of Old Ones. A world in which the horror of the Russian Rising would not repeat.
I thought of it, and I was afraid.
"You believe this," I said.
"I believe it to be a creditable theory," said my friend. "Whether it yields any results remains to be seen."
Moriarty and I were not in the room when they did it, but we heard. We felt it. It was a chill fallen over the house, a ceaseless scream under water, a buzz against my skin. My friend's face never moved, the entire time.
I shuddered to look at Watson, after: a man who could stand in the face of this, and calmly use his knifes.
It was not quick, and it was not clean. I only saw a glimpse of the aftermath, all limbs and mouths and ichor, and my stomach nearly betrayed me.
"I will leave you to your research," said Moriarty, as we made to retreat.
The doctor's gun did not waver. He spoke, for the first time in a long while. He was angry. "I should shoot you. How do we know you won't betray us now?"
I kept my revolver ready, trained on Vernet. If Watson betrayed us first, I would make him regret it.
"He wishes to see my results," said Vernet to his friend, coolly. "He will not act in advance of data unless his hand is forced."
Moriarty mimed a bow. "If you can achieve the results you seek, we may speak again."
"I'll look forward to it," said Vernet. "I admit that before this, I had never been more stimulated than by evading you, save perhaps by corresponding with you. Conversation in person has proved enlightening."
"I agree," said Moriarty. "I will not wish you luck in your endeavour, but I do wish you speedy results." He smiled, and his eyes glittered. "Undoubtedly soon you shall have the pleasure of attempting to evade me again."
I do not know how my friend means to conclude this case. Failure would not be wise. But they must have known this, both of them.
James Moriarty is the most cunning man I have known, and the least set in his ways. He will turn where he must, and walk whatever path presents itself.
I am glad I am with him. If anyone can find us some safe path through these troubling times, it is he.
S________ M____ Major (Ret'd)
London, New Albion, 1885.
I did not burn Rache's letter four years ago, even though I should have. I will burn this. If the contents of my strongbox are discovered, my friend shall not suffer for my indiscretions.
When I allude to Miss Adler now, he will not speak her name. She is only "the woman" to him. Vernet, I have noticed, is not "the man".
They both evaded him once, outplayed him, and left him in their wake. Other men grow angry when they are beaten at their own game. My friend gained a gleam in his eye, as if he had finally found something worth waking up for. Vernet remained, while she is gone from Albion, gone from Europe, and no longer in his thoughts. She is "the woman" only, in honour or in censure.
As for Vernet, I think they mean to meet again, and not for the chase. I think there is more that I was not privy to. I think they mean for there to be more. I have not asked. I am not sure I dare.
I am afraid.