Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Tuesday, April 16, 1805.
Verena wasn’t there.
It was cold. The sun was coming over the horizon but everything still looked grey. Fog.
“Thomas?” Mr. Wilkinson said blearily, his aged eyelids still half-shut from sleep. “What brings you to me so early? Did something happen?”
“Can I come in?” Thomas heard himself say.
The old man was smart, he always was. Thomas watched Mr. Wilkinson’s eyes slowly go down to the seax scabbarded at his waist.
“…Alright,” Mr. Wilkinson said, opening his door wider. “Come now, before the cold gets in.”
Thomas stepped through the doorway and the old man shut the door behind him, shuffling over to his dinner table, motioning for Thomas to join him.
“What is it, Thomas?” he asked.
She was coming. Thomas tried desperately to supress her but Verena jumped into life all the same, her small mouth opening slightly as she took in what he was about to do.
“Vincent,” Thomas said.
“What about him?”
Mr. Wilkinson blanched, put his hands on the table to get up – then saw Thomas’ face and stopped himself. “He ordered you to kill me, didn’t he?”
Thomas nodded. There was a dark shadow of fear in the old man’s eyes. Thomas had seen enough of those. He didn’t want the one person in the world who cared to be afraid of him.
“Thomas… you don’t have to listen to him.”
“I have to,” Thomas said dully.
“No, you don’t,” Mr. Wilkinson said, rising in his seat. “It’s been eleven years - you’ve done more than enough for him-”
“I don’t want to, sir. But if I don’t then Vincent will just send somebody else to.”
“Ah.” The old man slumped in his seat, and Thomas could see the realisation forming in his wizened eyes. “And if I try to run, he’ll get you killed?”
Thomas nodded again, staring at nothing. Verena was still sitting there, looking disgustedly at him.
How selfish are you? You should be doing as much as you can to help him. Get him out of London, even if that means dying.
Selfish. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Bad. Evil. Weak. Wrong.
“Well that’s it for me, right? I’m dead whatever happens?” Mr. Wilkinson said, making it sound for all the world like he was talking about the weather. Thomas’ silence confirmed his words. “Then the only choice you get here is if you want to live or not.”
That jarred him to the core. Thomas looked up and Mr. Wilkinson read his expression.
“Thomas, no. You do want to live. You have to live.”
“Why?” he said bitterly. All he’d ever done in this world was hurt people.
“To fight back against Vincent. To find a life for yourself. To make things right.” When Thomas didn’t answer, Mr. Wilkinson crossed the table and gripped his shoulders tightly. “Listen,” the old man said, forcing him to meet his eye. “Thomas. You are a good person. Do you hear me? You are a good person. You have done bad things, but you never wanted to do them. Vincent used you because you were just a boy, but now I want you to tell me you’ll stop.”
His throat was dry. What was Mr. Wilkinson doing? Everything was coming to a head and he was so unprepared for it all. “I will,” he said.
“I want you to do it, Thomas. Okay? You have to live.”
“It – won’t it hurt?” Thomas said stupidly, throwing out the first thing his blank mind thought of.
“Not if you do your job right, which you always do,” the old man replied calmly. “Now, I want you to promise me – promise me, alright? Promise that you will stay alive and leave Vincent.”
“I will,” Thomas said. Verena was gone. Where had she gone?
“And Evelyn – promise you’ll keep her safe. There’s a bad storm coming, Thomas, and I fear she’s going to be dragged into it. I know you don’t want to face her, or talk to her – just make sure she survives all of this. You owe her that much.”
“I-I will.” This was surreal. Mr. Wilkinson actually standing there, telling him to-
“Alright,” Mr. Wilkinson said. He straightened, opening his arms. “I’m ready.”
“Wh-what?” Thomas stammered. “Now?”
Thomas stood up, his face pale. His seax suddenly felt so, so heavy. “I-I don’t want-”
“You said it yourself, Thomas. If you don’t someone else will, and you’ll end up being hunted by Vincent and his men. Get this done with quickly, before he gets suspicious.”
“But-” his mouth moved silently, reaching for something, anything, to say. Mr. Wilkinson was right. He had to. But this was happening too fast. He owed Mr. Wilkinson so much. He’d dragged him into this sinkhole and now the old man was paying for it with his life. “I’m… I’m sorry,” Thomas said. “I should have never walked into your store.”
Mr. Wilkinson’s eyes were so impossibly gentle and kind and caring and everything that Thomas was not. “It’s fine, Thomas.”
Thomas stared at Mr. Wilkinson with no more words left to say. Was there some other option, some way that they both could live? There had to be.
“Evelyn – what if she finds you?” he said.
“Then you shouldn’t make a mess.”
Thomas stared at the floor. An idea was coming to him. A horrible, terrible idea. He went to the door, looked outside.
She was right there. Down the street. Evelyn. It was possible. He could do it. He could.
“Evelyn. She’s coming.” Thomas strode back to Mr. Wilkinson, and drew his seax. He forced himself to look into the old man’s eyes. “There’s a way,” he said, and in that moment he could see Mr. Wilkinson’s eyes widen, the realisation coming to him. There was no time. He’d have to do it somewhere believable, somewhere he could say was a mistake, say Mr. Wilkinson had survived on sheer luck. Chest. Centre. Between the lungs. No organs in the way besides the liver. It would work - if he did it right. What about infection? Would he just be robbing Mr. Wilkinson his chance for a quick death? There was no time. Evelyn was coming. He had to take the chance. No time. Why was he hesitating?
“I’m sorry,” Thomas said, and stabbed him.
It was early morning. The London skies were as grey as ever, and it was freezing cold, but Evelyn didn’t care – because for once in the longest time, she was excited about something. It felt good to worry about someone else for once, forget her own problems.
James was Mr. Wilkinson’s son. He had to be. It couldn’t be a coincidence. From the second James said it, Eva had wanted to scream it out – grab the man by the shoulders and shake him, tell him that his father was here, in London, yearning to see him. She wanted to do it so badly, see the look on his face and watch them be reunited. But one single damning thing stopped her from doing that.
James was a Hunter. Mr. Wilkinson was a Crow.
And Eva had no way of knowing whether or not James would react well or not without sounding suspicious. Mr. Wilkinson would never report his own son to Nathaniel – that she knew for sure, but… what if James hated his father? The thought of being the one to start that… Eva didn’t want to make the call. Which was the reason why the girl headed right for Mr. Wilkinson’s house as soon as she woke up.
What if James would be happy to see him?
She could already see it. Mr. Wilkinson’s expression when she told him. He’d looked so miserable when he’d been talking about James two days ago. She’d have a chance to give something back for all he’d done for her. And James – she would have saved his life and brought him back his father.
But that was only if James wanted to meet his father. And she’d only find out if Mr. Wilkinson was going to be alright with him being a Hunter.
Eva didn’t think about that. Whatever would happen was going to happen. She found some freedom in that little thought.
There. His house was up ahead. Evelyn felt her heart start beating faster against her chest and she walked faster, pushing through the Londoners ahead – then stopped in her tracks.
No. No, no, no, no. Not you. Not now. Please. Please.
As much as she prayed, there was no mistaking him. Thomas Desolus was walking out the doorway, down the street, heading towards her. Vincent had found out. Mr. Wilkinson was dead.
Her throat was dry, tears were already spilling down her face, and Evelyn was screaming.
Thomas was turning her way but Eva was beyond caring. He stood still as she tore down the street. She saw the stupid, impassive, cold expression on his face. He didn’t care about her. He just wanted to serve fucking Vincent.
Eva reached him and punched. He was a full head taller than her. He was a fucking murderer. She was just a girl. He had every advantage.
And her fist connected.
She felt bone against her knuckles, heard a hard smacking sound, saw Thomas’ head snap to the side, and a sudden jolt went up her arm.
She’d actually hit him. Thomas hadn’t stopped her. He stayed there, silent, and the full realisation of what she’d done came – rationality screamed at her to run, but adrenaline and rage told her to punch him again and again until he was nothing but pulp. Eva found herself unable to move, every bone in her body trembling.
Thomas slowly turned his head so it was facing forward again and went past her.
Eva whirled around, staring after the man. He was just… walking away. He kept going, down the street, until his black coat was swallowed up by the Londoners that were giving her baffled looks. She was still trembling.
What on Earth-
She didn’t have time to wonder about it. Eva came to her senses and sprinted to Mr. Wilkinson’s house, threw open the unlocked door and saw it.
“Get outta th’ fuckin’ way!”
“You’ll be fine, Mr. Wilkinson, y-you’ll be fine-”
Her words came in between wretched sobs and panicked breaths. On the stretcher, Mr. Wilkinson heard her voice and turned his head, trying to speak.
“No – don’t talk.” Evelyn kept her hand on the gaping wound in his chest, desperately trying to stop the blood spilling out. He’d already lost a massive amount in the time that it’d taken her to yell for help.
Blood. A week ago she would’ve recoiled at the sight of it. Now, Eva still felt like vomiting – but she didn’t have time to be sick, because the warm redness coating her hands belonged to Mr. Wilkinson, and Mr. Wilkinson could not die. Not after all that she’d been through. Evelyn refused to let the world take him away. She owed him too much.
“Look, we’re a-almost there, s-see – just stay here and don’t die-”
The Crows holding the stretcher avoided her eye as they half-walked, half-ran back the factory. She didn’t care.
“I-It’s right up ahead – you’ll be fine, I-”
“Thomas,” Mr. Wilkinson said feebly.
“I know he did it – I’ll tell Nathaniel – just – don’t-”
“Don’t talk, sir – you’ll lose more blood-”
Mr. Wilkinson’s face screwed up in pain as he tried to speak again, then relaxed as he gave up.
They passed through the factory doors.
“Give way!” one of the stretcher bearers shouted. Eva tore her gaze away from the old man to see Crows around her, looking curiously their way. All of their faces were a blur.
“We’re here now,” she said, looking down to Mr. Wilkinson’s pale face again. “J-just hold on, we’re gonna get you to the infirmary and everything gonna be okay…”
Mr. Wilkinson mumbled something in response and the girl bit her lip.
He’s alive. He’s going to stay alive.
And Thomas is going to pay.
“Girl-” Eva looked up at one of the Crows carrying the stretcher. “We’ll take him from here. Y’did a good job – jus’ get that blood washed off yer hands.”
She stared at him, uncomprehending, before realising that they’d already reached the infirmary. Numbly she lifted her hands from Mr. Wilkinson’s chest, and they were replaced by the Crow’s.
“I wanna go in-” she began, but they were already moving into the infirmary.
She whirled around to see Josephine coming, and behind her…
“Eva – are you alright? Who was that?”
With an almighty effort Eva turned and looked into James Wilkinson’s face. Talking was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Nobody,” she forced out, her voice quavering from everything that had happened. “Just someone I know.”
Eva recoiled as Josephine stepped forward – but Josephine didn’t talk. Instead, she knelt, and Eva felt warm arms envelop her, found her face pressed into Josephine’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” the woman was saying. “You are safe now.”
Evelyn stared blankly into empty space, her mind too scrambled to process what was happening. Then she slowly lifted her arms to see the blood still dripping from her still-shaking fingers.
“It’s fine,” Josephine said. “I don’t care about the blood.”
Eva felt her lip tremble, felt herself teetering at the precipice, and let herself fall. Her bloody hands gripped the back of Josephine’s shirt like it was her last lifeline and the girl bawled, pressing her face into her shoulder until all she could see was black.
Horse hooves clop on wet cobblestones. Carriage wheels rattle as they halt. Two pairs of feet plant themselves on the ground. One pair comes forward.
“Who might you be?”
“Vincent Gresham. From the Bank of England.”
“Oh, er…” Feet shuffling. “Good day t’ you, sir. Are... are y’here t’ visit somebody, mister Gresham?”
“Yes, ah… There was a boy that I read about in the newspaper yesterday. Thomas Edel?”
“Th’ kid that killed his own family?”
Grunting, the clinking of keys. “Pardon me askin’, sir, but what kind o’ business ‘ave you got with ‘im? Boy’s mad.”
“My business is my own, sir. What’s this about the boy being mad?”
“’Sides the fact that he glassed his mum, strangled his uncle, an’ somehow ran his own dad through with a fireplace poker?” the guardsman says, grinning. Vincent raises an eyebrow and the man gets to answering the question. “Kid keeps talkin’ to himself. All he ever does, when he’s not cryin’.”
“…What’s his punishment to be?”
“Hangin’, ‘f’course. He’s been here almost a week now, jus’ missed last week’s hangin’ when we found ‘im…”
Their footsteps echo off the floor. Hushed whispers and growls from the people in the cells. Eyes look curiously and hands reach from the bars.
“Here he is,” the guardsman says.
“Dear Lord, he’s been living in that for six days?”
“Well, I, uh…”
“Forget it. May we have some privacy?”
“Sorry, sir, but strictly speakin’ I’m not s’posed ter-”
“Oh, Lord – here.” A tinkling of coins as they exchange hands.
“…I’ll leave yer to it then, mister Gresham.”
Vincent Gresham waits for the guardsman to leave, then kneels down to see more closely into the darkness, his coattails brushing the filthy floor of the prison. Inside the cell is a bucket, some hay for sleeping on, and one wretched-looking child, thin and dirty. Two black eyes stare out at him.
“Are you Thomas Edel?” he says, fully aware that the prisoners nearby can hear him.
“Y-yes,” the boy responds.
“How old are you?”
“Is it true what I’ve read in the newspaper? That you killed your own family?”
“N-no. O-only my dad.”
There’s a moment where Thomas doesn’t talk. “He… He got drunk that night. And… he caught my mum talking to my uncle and he thought that they were doing something, and… and he killed them.”
“He was angry,” Thomas says, voice wavery, “and then he turned to me – I was sitting near the fireplace, with the poker, and then he ran at me, and –”
“And then the militia found you,” Vincent says, doing the boy the small mercy of cutting him off. Edel nodded. The man casts his eyes around the prison, sees each and every single prisoner in the jail listening intently, all dead silent to hear what they were saying. He doesn’t mind. “If I may pry a little… how did you do it? I ask because you’re eight, and your father, well – I don’t know how old he was, but…”
“I-I don’t know.” The boy hesitates. “I saw him coming and… it just happened.”
“Hm.” Vincent falls into silence for a moment, thinking. “I have proposition for you, Thomas – can you come closer? I want to see you.” The boy obeys and shuffles into the lamplight, making the shadows hang sharply off his protruding cheekbones and bony hands. “You’re due to be hanged tomorrow. Do you know that?” Thomas nods slowly. His eyes are haunted, hollow, resigned to their fate. “I can get you out,” Vincent says, and those eyes widen. Mutters break out from all around them. “On one condition.”
“What?” the boy asks eagerly, a light of hope coming onto his face.
“You work for me,” Vincent says. Nearly instantly, the man can see that hopeful light fade away. “No, no, no,” he smiles, “Not factory work or anything like that. Special work.”
“What… what kind of work?”
“You’ll find out in time. It’s not important right now, although I’m sure you’ll be very good at it. Do you want to live, Mr. Edel?” The boy nods quickly and Vincent smiles wider. “Wait here a second.”
Gresham strolls to the exit and is met by the worried guardsman. “Hell’s going on in here?” the guardsman demands. “What’re the prisoners on about? Th’ hell’d you do?”
“Don’t worry about them, Vincent says dismissively, waving the man down. He checks his pocket watch, lips thinning when he sees the time. “I want to pay for the boy’s release.”
The banker pulls out a whole purse full of coins and within the minute, Thomas Edel sees the light of day again.
“Follow me,” Vincent says briskly, leading the boy to his carriage. Next to it, a large man stands in waiting. Thomas is helped into the carriage, and Vincent gives him a signal to wait as he smiles kindly and closes the door, not letting the boy hear his next words:
“Silas. That guardsman there has the keys to the prison and some money I just gave him. Kill him, recover my money and take his keys. Use the keys to kill everyone inside the block. Prisoners included. There’s two more guards in there – watch out for them. Have their bodies dumped somewhere discreet. The Thames will do. After that, go to their administration office and burn the records of all prisoners of Jail Block C from 1780 to now. Leave no sign that we were here, and that Thomas Edel ever existed. Come back when you’re done.” Silas nods and moves off. Vincent hops into the carriage next to his newest recruit.
“Who was that?” Thomas asks.
“Oh, he’ll be your teacher,” Vincent says, closing the carriage door and shutting the curtains.
“Wh-what’s he going to teach me?”
“Where’re you going to take me?”
“My house. But first, I think we need to do something.”
“The job you’re about to do requires you to have a new name.”
“Just because. Don’t worry, you can still use your first name – it’s your surname that needs to stay a secret.”
Thomas didn’t want her to come back, but she was. Why? How? He couldn’t hold her in. This had never happened before.
Verena ripped her way into reality, those green eyes fixing him in place.
“No,” he said weakly. “No, go back.”
Something was wrong. She wasn’t saying what she was meant to be saying.
I didn’t come back by myself. You brought me here.
“No – I-I don’t want…”
Then send me away.
“I… I can’t,” Thomas said.
He wanted Verena to keep talking, tell him to keep trying to send her away, but she didn’t. He couldn’t make her. It was like he’d lost control. And with Verena’s presence came thinking.
Thomas feared Evelyn Whitehill. Not because of who she was or what she could do, but because of what she represented. Eleven years he’d spent killing, regretting every innocent family he threatened, every unfortunate man that ended up on Vincent’s list. But he’d managed it. Years and years of looking away and stopping the screams and telling himself they deserved it and pretending the people in the dirt weren’t still moving. He was able to do it because of Verena. Only Verena. And now, for the first time in his life, someone had survived him. Evelyn Whitehill. Every single time he saw that girl was like looking into the eyes of every single person he’d killed, tortured, ruined.
Verena’s image was shuddering, flickering. The cat’s mouth opened but Thomas couldn’t hear her words.
He was a bad person. Thomas couldn’t hide from the light any more. He was a bad person. He didn’t know what Mr. Wilkinson had seen in him to think otherwise. He had killed countless people and destroyed the lives of so many more. Their anguished cries and desolate wails and tortured screams were echoing through his head, growing louder and louder and louder, rising into an unbearable cacophony that pushed and struggled to crack his skull. Verena was staring at him, wide-eyed. She knew what was happening, and he did as well.
It’s time for me to go, she said.
Thomas reached his shaking hand out to the cat, wanting to touch her, wishing with all of his cold, heavy heart that he would feel warm life when his fingers reached her fur. But he didn’t. He could feel only air. The truth was there in that emptiness, hidden for so long under the one big lie he’d created to keep himself sane for the past eleven years.
Verena wasn’t real.
She was a part of him.
And as his fingers swiped through empty space they ripped the illusion into pieces, the cat’s black fur turning into grey mist, and her beautiful green eyes, the ones that had guided him for so long, faded into nothing. His only friend was gone. She’d never been there.
For the first time in his life, he’d had to face someone he’d wronged, and then he’d wronged them again, on the orders of the person who’d driven him into this hell. Now, for the first time in eleven years, Thomas Edel cried.