The Girl in the Steel Corset Page 37

Garibaldi saw Griffin coming and pulled a pistol from his coat, aiming it at Griff. “One more step and you’ll be with your parents for eternity—your father, I mean.”

Griffin hesitated, but only for a moment. It seemed as though his eyes were changing—like they were lit from within. He was beautiful.

Out of the corner of her eye, Finley saw an opportunity and took it. She ran and jumped, grabbing hold of a chain that hung from the ceiling, she swung herself at Garibaldi, managing to land a solid kick to his shoulder as she sailed by. Then, she whipped herself around and landed on the shoulders of a large metal man. As she had with the others, she seized the thing by the skull, twisted and pulled. The head came off like the lid of a jar. She tossed it to the floor and then somersaulted off the wide metal shoulders. She landed, both feet on the automaton head, feeling it crumple beneath her boots. Then she pivoted and shoved her hand into the panel on the chest, grasping and ripping at wires. The machine fell.

They were making short work of The Machinist’s army. Only a handful of automatons left. Finley was nigh-on victorious. And then a hail of bullets cut the air just above her head. She hit the floor with enough force the air rushed from her lungs. She looked up to see two plump arms, the hands of which had flipped back on macabre hinges to reveal smoking gun barrels within.

Queen Victoria had joined the fight.

Jasper rolled to his back not far from her. With one hand, he used his disruptor pistol to stun one of the last automatons long enough so Emily could shut it down. His other hand moved so fast Finley wasn’t sure if he switched pistols or not, but two shots rang out. Victoria’s arms jerked. When the smoke cleared, Jasper held a regular pistol in his hand—and Victoria’s arm-rifles were still, though scorched around the wrists. He’d destroyed both by shooting into the barrels.

Finley would have looked at him in sufficient awe if her attention was not stolen by Garibaldi. The Machinist cried out in rage at the damage to his precious machine. Victoria’s hands flipped back into place, now with black marks up the arms, and moved closer to her master. She even moved like an elderly but regal person; slowly, but with grace. And silent. Not a whir or click to be heard as she walked.

Finley launched herself then, coming up into a crouch and then jumping straight at the Victoria machine. She landed on its shoulders just in time to see Sam take down the last of the other machines. She seized the queen’s head as the useless gun arms came up and began beating at her. It hurt—every blow like being struck with a sack full of pennies—but she did not let go. She grunted, squeezing and turning with all her strength. Finally, she felt the neck give way, heard the metal inside grinding and snapping. She pulled and the head came off in her hands.

She dropped it to the floor with a cry. It looked too real—and Garibaldi had added veins to the flesh “suit” the automaton wore. Finley had blood on her hands. For a second, she thought she had actually killed a person.

She’d froze only for a second, but it was all the automaton needed. The headless Victoria whirled, striking her across the back and the ribs with enough force to send her into the wall hard and she crashed to the floor, but she was on her feet again as soon as she caught her breath.

When she managed to get to her feet, she saw Jasper fire the disruptor pistol at the headless queen as she ran toward him, spritzing blood from the stump of her neck. The blast jerked the automaton backward, but didn’t stop her. Jasper slapped his hand against the side of the gun.

The blast should have stopped the machine, if only for a moment. But the pistol’s malfunction had turned the metal’s attention to Jasper and now he was defenseless.

Emily ran in front of him, reaching the machine as Jasper tossed the useless weapon aside and pulled another. She slapped both of her palms against the headless queen’s chest, sweat running down her brow.

The automaton twitched and jerked. Suddenly, there was a flash—like an explosion—that sent Emily sailing backward. Finley moved quick and managed to catch her, both of them falling to the floor.

They were surrounded by broken automatons—smoking and steaming in ruin, scattering the floor like bizarre metal corpses. Blood from “Victoria” sprinkled them, casting a gruesome pall over the wreckage.

Beside her Emily lay as still as death.

Chapter 22

Garibaldi spat a mouthful of blood on the dirty floor near where Griffin lay. “Just admit defeat, boy.”

Slowly, painfully, Griffin rose to his knees. “No.” He glanced toward his friends and saw them in the midst of destroying the Victoria automaton. He saw Emily and Finley hit the floor and prayed they were both all right. “It’s over, Garibaldi.”

The Italian glanced where Griffin had and saw what had become of his invention. His face contorted into a mask of rage and he lashed out, landing a savage kick to Griffin’s chest. “You’ve ruined everything!”

The guard protected Griffin from the worst of the blow, but it still knocked the breath out of him. He fell to his side on the floor, gasping. He didn’t have time to recover before he was grasped by the lapels of his coat, pulled to his feet by the infuriated madman.

“I’m going to rip your heart out,” Garibaldi seethed, spit flying as he finally went completely mad. His obsession with proving the usefulness of Organites finally broke his mind as he saw all his work in ruins. “I’m going to send you to your mommy and daddy in pieces.”

It was the thought of his parents that cleared Griffin’s mind. He thought of them and how much he’d loved them, how much he wanted to make them proud. It was almost as though he could see them, standing there behind Garibaldi.

Wait. They were there. He really could see them.

Griffin glanced around. The Aether. He was accessing the Aether without consciously reaching for it. It was all around him, like beautiful shimmering light. And there, attached to his parents by an ugly, pulsing black cord of energy, was Leonardo Garibaldi. He couldn’t stand that taint touching his parents. The cord extended to him as well, thicker and blacker. There was no goodness in Garibaldi anymore—no lightness or purity of soul. He had been corrupted by his own righteousness and was something dark and nasty now—so much so he glowed with it.

“What are you staring at?” Garibaldi demanded, shaking him. He punched him again.

Griffin tasted blood in his mouth. He shook his head to clear it. “My parents,” he replied. “They’re here.”

Garibaldi sneered at him, his expression nothing but murderous hatred. “Give them my regards.” The air around them shimmered, and Griffin saw the runes on the villain’s metal hand begin to glow. It made sense for him to have the ancient symbols, having been a part of Griff’s parents’ team before he betrayed them. For a moment their forms dimmed—all but disappeared—and he felt his own defenses slip.

Something sharp and hot thrust into his side just as he reached out for more power and let the Aether fill him again. Garibaldi held him with one hand now and Griff looked down to see what was causing that awful fire in his gut.

The handle of a dagger protruded from just beneath the edge of his chest guard. A few inches higher and Garibaldi wouldn’t have that triumphant sneer on his face. If Griffin had only been better prepared, stronger, he would have sensed the danger before it happened. The villain had bested him. “See you in hell, Your Grace.” Garibaldi shoved him aside.

Griffin staggered, but he didn’t fall, despite the numbness spreading through his lower limbs. There was more blood in his mouth. The Aether closed around him, like an embrace and he thought he could feel the warm arms of his mother, welcoming him.

He was dying.

“No,” he said hoarsely. “You won’t see me there, you son of a bitch.” It would not end this way. Garibaldi would imprison his mother if Griff couldn’t defeat him.

Griffin closed his eyes and mentally opened a door in his mind, in his soul. With joyful abandon, he let the Aether in. He let it fill him until he could feel it seeping into his veins. He couldn’t take much more.

The entire warehouse shuddered, bits of debris falling from the ceiling.

“Griffin!” It was Finley’s voice through his earpiece that pulled him back. He heard her anguished cry and realized that he didn’t want to leave his friends. He didn’t want to leave her. And if he let go now, they would perish with him. With every last ounce of his strength, he pulled the Aether to him, coiling it, gathering it. He had never done this before—never felt like he had some control over the great rush of power. It had always felt as though it controlled him, but at this moment, he wasn’t afraid of it.

He looked down and saw the most beautiful glow surrounding his body. It was his aura, bright with power. He had taken so much of the energy into him he burned like a candle in the Aetheric plane.

He flung out his hand, sending a bolt of energy into Garibaldi’s chest. The villain flew back, hitting the floor. More Aether wanted to pour out, as well, but he stopped it.

Garibaldi must be wearing some sort of armor, too, for he recovered from the blast quickly. He pointed his metal hand toward Griff and it began to glow, light dancing along the fingers like lightning in the sky. He had put on that odd crownlike device from their previous encounter.

An Aether generator. Some of the more expensive Aether dens had the machines rather than using mediums and spiritualists. The machines could access the Aetheric plane and gather energy, but they were often unstable and could explode if they absorbed too much—the Aether was not constant.

Suddenly light flew from Garibaldi’s metal fingers straight at Griffin. It hit him just below the chest guard—his opponent knowing exactly where to strike. But instead of knocking him down, the energy joined his own and filled him, stretching his skin until he thought he might burst into a million pieces.

He had to let it out, but the Aether was the only thing keeping him on his feet. Griffin placed one hand on the wall to support himself, the other he pointed at Garibaldi to direct the dark energy that filled him like life itself.

Then he let it go.

The blast sent his nemesis skidding across the floor until he crashed into the remains of several of his own machines. Energy skipped over the automatons, making them jerk even though they had been powered down. Garibaldi’s limbs twitched and he cried out in torment.

At that moment, Griffin knew he could kill the man if he so desired. He could destroy him just as Garibaldi had destroyed his parents. But killing him would give him greater access to the Aether—and Griffin’s mother.

The decision was easier than he thought. He lowered his hand, breaking the flow between himself and The Machinist. Garibaldi continued to writhe on the floor, the Aether still swarming him despite Griffin’s release.

Griffin closed his eyes, and could feel heat behind his eyelids. He had never absorbed so much before. He placed both palms on the wall now, and mentally pushed. Aether drained from him into the wall and spread through the beams of the building.

Plaster began to rain from the ceiling and the entire warehouse began to tremble, then shudder.

Griffin sagged, but someone caught him. It was Sam. “Hold it together, my friend,” Sam said. “Just till I get you out of here.”

Griffin nodded, afraid that if he opened his mouth the Aether would pour out and kill them all.

Sam picked him up like a child, mindful of the dagger sticking out of him. Griffin’s vision was narrowing, become nothing more than light, but he saw Finley run over to Garibaldi and kick him—hard. Then she ran after the rest of them and took Emily’s limp frame from Jasper. They picked up speed then, Emily’s cat leading the way up the stairs and out of the trembling warehouse.

Once outside, Griffin struck his hand against Sam’s chest, gesturing to the ground. Thankfully, his surly friend didn’t argue. He set Griffin on his feet, keeping his big hands close in case Griff fell.

The numbness in his limbs was spreading. Soon, he’d lose consciousness. Griffin placed both palms on the rough outer wall of the warehouse and pushed once more with his mind—his soul—letting go of the Aether inside him.

The building shuddered once and then imploded with a loud cracking noise. The warehouse collapsed, wood splintering as if it was nothing more than substantial than toothpicks beneath a giant boot. The force of it was so strong it knocked Griffin to the ground, where the pain in his gut came rushing back and he gasped, writhing with the agony.

His parents hovered over him, their ghostly faces etched with worry. They reached for him, and he felt his soul lift as though to join them.

Then everything went black.

There wasn’t time to get Griffin home. Emily was also still unconscious and they had to get both her and Griffin somewhere safe, fast. Already they could hear the sirens of approaching Peelers. There was no hope that someone wouldn’t report a collapsing warehouse, even at this time of night. The noise it made, people probably thought London was being invaded.

“Whitechapel,” Finley said, making a decision she hoped was the right one. She got Sam to put Griffin on her cycle while Jasper took Emily on hers—along with the cat. Sam held Emily while a quick as lightning Jasper hitched his cycle to Emily’s and Griffin’s to Sam’s.

She led the way, tearing through the city streets at full speed as much as she could. When she arrived at the familiar Whitechapel address, she was relieved to see a light from one of the windows. Good thing, because she’d been prepared to kick the door in if no one was there.

As it was, she had to have Jasper knock on the door for her because she had Griffin in her arms. Sam now held Emily, the big mechanical cat at his side. It was like a real-life pet, determined not to leave its mistress’s side.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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