A/N: Hey! Just in case you've read this before - the first chapters are re-written (with some little changes) and the rest should be, too, someday. Sorry for the mistakes, I hope you'll like it XD
I. chapter: Discoveries
Rathbone estate. The jubilee ball for Queen Victoria's 50 years on the throne._
Lady Rayne turned away from her interlocutors. She'd been entertaining some other important – or not so important – ladies for a while now. Her eyes carefully moved across the hall. She couldn't tell what it was but there was definitely something wrong, she was certain about that, and it was making her somewhat tense. Although everything seemed to go smoothly she couldn't get rid of that bothersome feeling in her gut.
She politely apologised to her interlocutors with a slight bow and slowly started to approach the tables with food. There was a lot to choose from but she wasn't hungry. No. She was nervous. Despite that she reached for a glass when a footman announced two new guests. Lady Rayne pulled her hand back and turn towards the entrance.
Maharaja of Nevada? What was that supposed to mean? And major general Sherlock Holmes? What kind of name was that? She shook her head barely noticeably to show her disapproval and followed the newcomers with watchful caramel eyes as they made their way through the crowd. They were heading towards the food-tables, too. Lady Rayne cocked her head, considering whether to stay where she was and watch from a side or to approach them, for she found them interesting despite their odd exterior.
She watched them take some food and nearly pulled a face. What a lack of manners! Was that the way royalties acted in the east? Odd. She was just about to go and inform them about the English manners but stopped in the middle of motion. Lord Rathbone had approached the maharaja, probably greeting him though the man didn't seem friendly at all. She suddenly became all ears. She couldn't hear everything but from what she caught she could tell they were exchanging all those phrases which were too often used between people who had to pretend they liked each other, although there was a hint of threat hanging over them. It made her attention rise but not as much as Rathbone's line at the end.
"If you'll excuse me, I have a matter to attend to."
Shivers ran down her spine. If she only knew what he was planning. She'd found out he was up to something but she didn't know what. Yet. She was determined to find out. With a frown on her face she watched the dark-haired lord leave, major general Sherlock Holmes return to the maharaja and then leave together with him. She did not like the situation at all. There was something fishy about the whole thing. There was only a moment of hesitation from her side before she followed them, staying carefully hidden all the time for she didn't want to be noticed. The two men led her to Lord Rathbone's library. They had taken off their coats and headgears. She no longer believed they were really a maharaja and his general, quite the opposite, she was absolutely positive they were imposters. And they were up to something as surely as Rathbone was.
The men entered the latter's library and a though crossed her mind. It seemed they were spying on Rathbone. Probably they wanted to know the same thing she wanted to know. Or maybe they already knew his plans. Lady Rayne was just about to follow them when she heard a scream and guards appeared out of nowhere and ran past her without even noticing she was there. That could only mean one thing – there would be a fight.
She stopped herself from cursing but still clenched her fists. She hated the whole scene. Things going on here were probably of great importance yet there was nothing she could do, absolutely nothing. She was completely helpless. Was it because she was a woman? Because she was supposed to be fragile? Because she had never got a chance to make things any different...?
That Chinese woman – she could fight. It had brought her into the prison in the end. Not that she'd had any chances from the start anyway. But at least she could have tried, could she? Besides, she must have known something, otherwise she wouldn't have attacked Rathbone.
Lady Rayne sighed. Maybe she should find that woman.
Suddenly everything went quiet. She waited for another moment before slightly opening the door and peeking inside. Guards were lying on the floor, obviously beaten, in the middle of the general mess. Books were torn, scattered all around the room, a picture on the wall destroyed. She covered her mouth with her gloved hand.
"What happened here?" she gasped. "What are you doing?"
"Intruders, milady," one of them mumbled.
"Don't lie around here then," she stated as her mind began to work. "Go and inform everyone! We certainly cannot allow them to move around freely! Go!"
She just needed a little time, just a moment alone. She knew where the men had disappeared. She knew there was a secret passage behind the heart, it had taken her long enough to find that out. But no one could know. Luckily the guards also couldn't let her know. To avoid being suspicious they obediently left the room.
Lady Rayne didn't wait. There was no time to lose, not now. With quick steps she made her way through the mess and entered the hidden room. Without taking a look at any of the beautiful but useless thing the room was filled with, she nearly ran into the other passage.
When she came to the end she slightly pushed the trap door open and her eyes widened.
Three people were kneeling there, hidden behind a wooden wall. The false maharaja, his servant and a girl – loony Lin. No, just Lin. Lady Rayne didn't like her but she was certain the girl wasn't crazy.
However, these three people were not the only one in there. Lord Rathbone was standing further away, talking with a Chinese man Lady Rayne had never seen before. She saw a huge diamond in his hand and held her breath. Whatever was going on, it must have been bad. Very bad.
She bit her lower lip. If she only knew what to do. To hear anything was impossible, except the words of the three intruders.
"Wo Chow!" whispered two of them – the Chinese.
Lady Rayne had to fight laughter and covered her mouth with her hand. The blond guy seemed so... well, stupid. That was the only way she could describe him. Although she had to admit his immature comment had made her a little less nervous.
When she looked up again, Wo Chow (she supposed that was the name of the man Rathbone had talked to) was gone. And it was probably time for her to leave too. What she was doing was extremely inappropriate for a lady. Plus someone may have noticed her absence. She didn't even want to think about the mess she'd find herself in if that had happened.
She quietly closed the flap and returned to the destroyed library, which was luckily empty. Too bad for the books, it was a pity. But nothing could be done about that. She looked around once more and then returned to the dance hall. It seemed no one had noticed her absence, at least that was a good thing. She didn't feel any happiness, though, only sadness. Because the more she knew, the less she liked it.
Lady Rayne's plan was simple in theory but when it came to practice – well, that was another story. She planned to find Lin and the other two men and question them about everything they knew. She even had enough money with her to bribe them if necessary.
She started looking first thing in the morning. First she had wanted to take a servant to drive a carriage but decided not to do it after all. It was best if her actions remained a secret.
So she headed out alone, dressed in a not-too-outstanding but still elegant dress and a matching hat, which was throwing shadows on her face. She had no idea where to search but she figured those people certainly had to sleep somewhere, probably in a pub or a tavern. Surely not in a first-class hotel. So she only had to search the cheaper ones. Still there was a huge problem – she was a lady and had almost no clue where to find them. The only solution was to simply walk around and search even if her legs hurt like hell. She was willing to take the pain.
But then, when her legs were actually hurting like hell, she changed her mind. It was already dark and she had looked in most of the pubs. Still nothing. Knowing she should probably give up, lady Rayne walked around the corner and almost bumped into a cart. Her eyes widened. What a coincidence! The people sitting on it were just the ones she had been looking for. The blond guy's eyes stayed on her for a moment and she stared back stubbornly. Then the moment was gone and the carriage drove forward too fast for her to follow.
"Damn it," slipped from her lips, words a lady shouldn't use. But then again what she was doing wasn't a lady-thing either. With a sigh she looked around. There was no way she could catch up to the carriage on foot, there had to be another option. Her gaze stopped on a horse tied to a nearby house and then travelled to her dress. Another inappropriate word slipped out of her mouth as she made her way to the nearest house.
Lady Rayne jumped down from the horse's back. Luckily she had taught how to ride when she was little. Although she hadn't been riding for years she still remembered something. Enough to know she couldn't ride fast enough in a dress, not in a dress as long and especially as tight as hers was. So she had exchanged it for a pair of trousers, a shirt and a hat, which hid her face. The people had been really surprised about her desperate request but no average citizen would refuse such dress. After that she took the horse she had seen. She couldn't have paid for it because she had no idea to whom it belonged, not to talk about time, but she promised herself she'd repay those people once. And so she had followed the two Chinese and the third person to a pub called Puss 'n' boots, a place at the outskirts of the city, which seemed to be a pretty nice place for men. She pulled the hat lower on her face and entered. The place was not a pleasant one in her opinion but it still felt good to sit down after such a long day.
"Well, well, these are not appropriate clothes for a woman, don't you think?" she suddenly heard from behind her just a moment after having sat down at the bar.
"And these are not appropriate words to flatter a lady," she replied without turning around or anyhow trying to see the man behind her. She knew he wasn't one of the two men she needed – she would recognise their voices - so she had absolutely no interest.
"What words would a lady like to hear then? Just so I'll know if I meet one." The man laughed at his lame joke and lady Rayne finally decided to turn around. Her gaze pierced right through him, making him twitch. Then a wide smile spread across his face.
"Sorry sweetie, I didn't know you were such a beauty. Will you forgive me?"
Lady Rayne raised an eyebrow. She wasn't used to be treated in such a manner but she was certain she wouldn't have any problems here.
"I have no interest in you," she said directly.
"But I have interest in you," he replied.
"If you think I'll sleep with you, you are not completely sane."
"I'd pay you well."
"I don't need money. And like I said before, I have no intentions to sleep with anyone here."
"Oh, a married woman? What are you doing here then?"
"Firstly – I'm not married. Secondly – it is none of your concern. And thirdly – if you can't leave me alone then you could at least help me. I'm looking for a Chinese woman, have you seen her around here?" she asked. "And two men – one of them is Chinese, the other one is a Blondie."
"Looking for your guy, huh?" the man smiled a crooked smile.
"Not exactly. I don't know what is it about my love-life that you just can't let it be. Couldn't you just answer me?"
"And what do I get in return? Some information about your love life, perhaps ... Or even better – a role in it?"
"Oh forget it!" she swung her hand through the air. "I'll find them alone!"
"Wait, are you looking for them?" the man said abruptly.
Lady Rayne turned around as fast as possible, just in time to see two messy men run out.
"Yes," she snapped, jumped to her feet and pushed the man out of her way and hurried behind the ones she was looking for. She didn't come far, though. As soon as she ran around the corner she saw other men surrounding those two along with Lin. They were all Chinese except for one – Lord Rathbone. Boxers – so did Lin call the Chinese.
The fight was too short to be called a fight. Boxers won, having clearly outnumbered the trio, and tied them up. They were pushed into one of the two carriages waiting. The entire time lady Rayne had been holding her breath. Hiding in shadows, she had hoped they wouldn't notice her. The moment the carriages drove off she ran back to "her" horse. She cursed the stupid guy who had wasted her time in the pub and rode after the carriages. She followed them to a covered pier on the Thames, sneaked inside and hid behind some barrels close enough to hear what they were saying. And what she heard startled her. Suddenly her body felt heavy under the weight of the news and the lack of sleep didn't help her at all. She couldn't believe it. She didn't want to believe it. No. It couldn't be true. No...
There was nothing she could do. She could only stay hidden, quiet and completely still, even after Wu Chow and Rathbone had left with Lin, and only boxers, which should drawn the Chinese and that O'Bannon guy (she'd heard his name when Rathbone scorned him), remained. She watched the duo fight and escape, she watched the boxers leave and still sat there. A lot of time had passed before she finally moved. She had seen enough. With small steps she started to make her way back to the palace.