The April afternoon was ending where the train ran hurriedly along the tracks, the darkness soon enveloping the passing buildings, the run down houses of the pour and the town houses of the wealthy alike. The rain was pouring down in sheets, water trailing every surface, seeping into the brick walls and spreading a penetrating chill throughout the city.
Inside the living compartment of the railway carriage, it was considerably warmer and cosier, a roaring fire in the fireplace and oil lamps casting their flickering warm sheen about the room. The atmosphere, however, was shattered by angry raised voices.
“Evie, you have to abandon this meaningless search!”
Sitting at either side of the table, glaring daggers at each other were the Frye twins. Both set of eyes blazing, both wearing a hostile countenance and none of them ready to budge under the glare of the other.
They were discussing Evie’s search for the Eden artefact. To Jacob the hunt was a dreary waste of time; shuffling through old books for clues and trailing supernatural antiques was not his cup of tea. He was one for stalking people, not following paper trails, and his patience with his sister was running very low.
Leaning forward and slamming a fist on the table, Jacob forcefully continued.
“The Templars have taken over London; they are a step away from controlling all of Britain. Forget the magic trinket; we need to stop them! Hunting for ancient artefacts is getting us nowhere!”
His anger did nothing to faze her and Evie’s expression hardly changed from his outburst. Her jaw clenched slightly tighter where she sat leaning back against the chair, her arms crossed over her chest and her bright blue eyes ablaze with anger.
“You know we will not take over London if the Templars find these artefacts, Jacob.”
“Stubborn, bloody Evie!” Jacob thought.
Evie’s trails had come to a dead end. The standstill was a great frustration to her, but still she would not abandon the search. That was a contradiction, and Evie could not deny it.
“There aren’t any trails to follow, Evie. Until there are you could help me fight the Blighters.”
She recognized the devilish gleam in his eye even before he spoke and his words only served to make her frown deepen.
“You and those bloody Rooks of yours’s are going to expose our Brotherhood!” she spat before taking a deep breath collecting herself. Turning to him, she forcing herself calm and collected.
“I know we would find the clues we need, Jacob, if you would just help me look for them!”
Her rational reasoning was not going to change his mind. Jacob refused her with a hostile glare and anger sparked back in Evie’s eyes.
It was a battle of wills, one they had been fighting since childhood and since coming to London, those rows had only increased in number.
Henry Green was occupying the couch nearby, silently following their bickering while reading a book, knowing too well it was better not to get in the middle of their argument. Now he sighed, and mumbled to himself.
“If only Nathan Cole had reached the London Brotherhood 17 years ago, things might have been different.”
Evie had had enough of Jacob’s arguments and turned to face him, ignoring Jacob completely.
“Nathan Cole? Henry, what are you talking about?”
Henry lifted his eyes from the book and turned a questioning gaze to Evie.
“Don’t you remember? The Assassin who disappeared?”
Evie’s small shoulder shrug and interested attention encouraged him on. Jacob grumbled at Evie’s back and listened annoyed with only half an ear as Henry continued.
“Seventeen years ago, the London branch had words from an Assassin, Nathan Cole, stationed in India. He had come across information of importance to our cause. He did not give any further description of what he had found, but he wrote he was planning to bring it back to England. The council was expecting his arrival for some time, but he never came. By the time he was missed and they started making inquiries, the trail had gone cold. What happened to him and the information has been a mystery ever since. Did your father never talk about it?”
Neither Jacob nor Evie had heard the story before. Jacob was not amused. It was another useless clue, a dead end trail.
“Now there is a trail suited for you, Evie. A real ghost hunt!” he snarled mockingly. By then Evie had had enough. Her eyes turned dark as she abruptly turned to face him. Leaning over the table, she pointed to the door and spoke through gritted teeth.
“Just GET OUT, Jacob!”
She knew how to get in his face, but he also knew how to drive her around the bend. They were at a draw, none of them was going to budge and Jacob was fed up with the whole argument. They both needed a break before they tore each other apart, literarily. Without another word, he got up and left.
Pulling up the hood and turning the collar of his coat up against the rain, Jacob stepped outside and climbed to the top of the carriage. He had no patience to wait for the next stop, and shot the grappling hook at the first passing building. The line pulled him sharply into the air and the rattling noise of the train faded as he shortly made his way up on the roof. He watched the train disappear in plumes of steam billowing out in the falling rain, the anger against his sister’s stubborn conviction boiling hot inside, before turning his back on it as it moved out of sight.
The lads were waiting for him at the Thistle and Crown. Stepping off the train early, meant he had to trek across the burrow to get there, but that suited him well. Jacob needed to blow off some steam before joining his Rooks, and exertion was the outlet he favoured when Evie got to him.
She never saw eye to eye with him about how to fight the Templars, always trailing the Eden artefacts. Jacob was fighting the Blighters, toppling the Templars from the bottom, making a difference in people’s lives every day. Since coming to London, it was a constant source of disagreement between them.
On the roofs Jacob used the anger, channelling it into energy, letting it fuel his speed and strength and use it to drive his body to the limits until it blew away, or he caved under exhaustion. He moved over the rooftops through London, finding footholds and handholds without thinking, his mind absorbed with the nuisance with his sister.
London had changed her; Evie was all work and no play, trying to live up to, some glorified ideal of father’s teachings. Jacob missed the sister who was always up for a challenge, who had followed him to London on a whim, turned around and boarded a passing freight train with little to no thought. Now, she would not take action before everything was analysed and planned. She was relentless in her search for the artefact even when all her trails had gone cold. He wanted her to fight by his side, to join him and the Rooks in the battles against the Blighters, but she had blatantly refused. She did not approve of forming the gang nor did she want to place her trust in the Rooks. He knew she saw the potential and the strength their numbers represented, and still she refused to utilize it.
“Stubborn, bloody Evie” he thought again, and despite himself, Jacob found a smile pulling at his lips.
The anger died away, faltering like embers falling onto wet sand. He stopped his arduous trek across the roofs, bending over, leaning his hands on his knees and breathing heavily.
Evie would not be Evie if she let go her convictions easily.
Although he would never admit it to her, deep down he knew she was right; they needed to find the artefact before the Templars got to it or they would be in deep shit, but as long as there were Templars to kill and Blighters to fight, he would refrain from going through old books.
Jacob straightened and continued his trek at a walk while his breathing came down.
He would make her see reason eventually, that the Rooks had their use, and that fighting the Blighters was essential to take over London. In the meantime, Evie was still his sister and would always be his ally, as he would always be hers.
His mind calm and his coat dripping water, he arrived at the pub where the Rooks had gathered for the evening. As he approached, the door opened and the face of the man exiting lit up in recognition.
“Leaving already, Ed? The evening’s just begun.”
“Other obligation calling, Boss. You’ll see how it is one day,” the Rook answered smiling.
Edward was a father of two and his wife was heavy with child. As her due-date was drawing close, he made his way home at a sensible hour, and refrained from the stronger drinks.
Ed turned his head and gestured to the pub.
“The lads are sitting at a table in the back. They’re waiting for you.” Then he took his leave and disappeared down the street in the rain as Jacob entered the pub.
The room was full of chatter, green coats and yellow armbands displayed all about the room except in the corner by the door, where a traveling merchant was sitting by the table with his wife and two children, looking slightly pale at the boisterous company having taken over the public rooms of their would-be quiet lodgings for the evening. Dining in a hall with a criminal gang was clearly not what they’d anticipated when choosing to stay in the Thistle and Crown.
Jacob tipped his hat in their direction, seeing their faces lighting up in relief, thinking they had found someone with a fellow destiny, and that ordinary people did visit the site. Their smiles shortly faltered when the Rooks noted Jacob’s arrival and greeted him with shouts and cheers.
At the back of the room, he spotted the unmistakable fiery red hair of the Cullen-brothers, Tom and Liam and knew the company he sought was there, as Ed had told him. He was about to make his way through the crowd to the back of the room when a hand fell on his shoulder. He turned to find Charles, a former Clinker and one of the first to join the Rooks by his side, carrying two mugs of beer in his hand.
“Ya might as well ‘ave this, Boss. Greg ‘as no use fer it.” He gestured to the corner where Jacob could make out Greg, sitting with a girl on his lap. Beer was clearly not on the lad’s mind, as he buried his face against her neck, an arm around her waist and his other hand well under her shirt.
“‘E’ll end up with more children than king ‘Enry the first if ‘e’s not careful,” Charles mused grimly before shooting Jacob a slight smile.
“As long as he’s not going after my sister again,” Jacob thought to himself.
The first time Evie had joined Jacob for drinks a few months back, he had been late and Evie had been waiting for him, sitting at a table by herself in a pub full of Rooks. Greg had taken an interest as soon as she had sat down and had bestowed his charms upon her. Evie had kindly tried to reject him but Greg took her uninterested and dismissive countenance as a challenge. When Jacob arrived, he had stayed back and watched, amused at the situation and curious to see how Evie would deal with it. Greg’s pursuits ended abruptly when Evie was fed up and made clear who he was dealing with, slamming him into the wall and all but lifting him off his feet. Greg had never mentioned the incident with a word, but since then the Rooks had never treated Evie anything but courteous and Jacob knew word of the story got around.
A smile tugged at the corner of his lip as he turned back to Charles and accepted the pint.
“Don’t thank me. ‘Arry’s the one payin’,” Charles said as they made their way to the table and sat down.
The men all greeted Jacob with cheers, albeit the youngest of them, sitting across the table was somewhat reserved. Harry was the newcomer of the pack, a boy of 17 who the lads had recently taken under their wing.
“So, you lost the game, Harry?” Jacob asked, seeing the boy’s glum expression.
The lads around the table broke out in chuckles of laughter.
“He didn’t just loose one,” John said. “He lost three.”
“Three, ay?” Jacob turned his gaze to another of the former Clinkers, sitting quietly amused at the end of the table. Rob was an austere middle-aged man who rarely laughed, but now his eyes twinkled in amusement as he dried a smile of his face. The short nod he sent, let Jacob in on the prank. Jacob took a deep swallow of the beer, covering up a grin of his own and the light of laughter he knew was in his eyes.
Playing a game of whist seemed a merry pastime, however, rules were, the looser payed for the drinks. Harry was a gullible lad who didn’t know the silent language between the rest. He did not understand they were all playing against him. He would never win a game, no matter what cards he was dealt.
The Clinkers had subjected Jacob to the same trick back when the Rooks were first formed, but Jacob had smelled the rat before the first round was finished and called their prank. Since then, the Cullen brothers had gone through the same routine, first the older and then the younger. It had evolved into an initiation to the group, letting the newcomer loose until he gave in and admitted defeat before the prank was revealed.
Harry was sullen and pondering.
“I want to see that deck of cards,” he demanded.
John handed it to him and the boy went over every card, searching for markings Jacob knew weren’t there. The less he discovered the more frustrated the boy was. Having found nothing, he handed back the deck of cards and continued pouting in silence.
“Do you want to play another round, Harry?” Liam’s question seemed to taunt the looser.
“I can’t afford to, can I” he replied bitterly
“I’ll give you your next wage in advance if you need it,” Jacob shot in. He wondered if the lad would take the bait or not. This taunt could go on for days if Harry didn’t throw in his hand.
“Double or nothing, Harry. What do you say?” The younger redhead brother, Liam, was leaning over the table, eager to spur things along.
Of course, he would be the one to encourage, Jacob thought to himself. Liam held the record of length in suffering under this prank, having relented for three nights of playing whist, getting deeper and deeper in debt until he was a nervous wreck without an income to look forward to for weeks.
Harry’s inner dialog was in debate as he sat quietly a few moments more. Then he shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I’m done.”
The men around the table cheered, all but Liam who let out an exasperated sigh.
“The record stays firmly stuck with you, brother,” Tom laughed
Harry looked around in wonder at his mates
“What’s going on?” he said
“You were hoodwinked, lad,” Rob explained. “They’re all playing together against you. Remember that the next time you decide to put your money in a game of cards.”
Wide grins greeted him all around the table as the information hit home.
Harry tugged his hair and leaned back on the chair, his face red as he exhaled forcefully through his mouth, both annoyed and relieved that they had had him.
“Pay him back and buy him a round, lads” Jacob said, and John and Liam rose to get the drinks.
The rain had ended when they made their way home through the streets a few hours later, the sheen of the gas lights reflecting off the wet surface of the cobblestone paving where they walked, some a little straighter than others. Liam and Harry would probably not be attending breakfast in the morning Jacob mused as they turned a corner an left the lighted street for the dark back alleys.
Their destination was a former workhouse in Lambeth where the Rook’s had set up a base. The indistinctive property lay aside from the main streets, and consisted of an austere three story brick building surrounding a yard on three sides. Jacob kept an office and a bedroom there on the first floor. It suited him well to have a base away from Evie, in company with the people who shared his view on how to take over London.
It was the only stronghold the Rooks had established themselves and not taken over from the Blighters. It was home to most of the lads, only Rob and Ed lived elsewhere in rented rooms with their families. Aside from the bedrooms on the upper floors, the central building contained kitchen, cellars and washhouse in the basement and a sizable dining-hall on the ground floor. The accommodations were basic and simple; they had no need for the luxury of carpets and fine wallpaper, only a sound structure and a solid roof over their heads.
The back street lay dark and silent under the moonlight as they covered the last leg home, however, the area was not deserted, even at this hour at night. Atop the building, the faint outline of a man became visible as he raised an arm in greeting, only the movement displaying him as a solid figure against the starry sky. Soon after, the gate to the property came into view, along with another couple of men. As every stronghold, the base was well guarded, day and night, Rooks covering the gate and yard outside as well as the roof.
The two guards by the gate greeted the party merrily, receiving an account of the night’s escapades from their drunken fellows. Listening to their laughter with a wide grin, Jacob bid them good night. They made for much better company than the stiff neck sister of his back at the train. Moreover, in the morning when he woke up to a headache, he would not have to endure her scolding.