FINALLY FINISHED THIS. A gift for iguanablogger for drawing Clint and Clarissa from my previous fic, Blood Soaked Texas. No one's ever done something like that for me before and I don't think I'll ever be able to thank her enough. This'll be on DeviantART soon, don't you fear! Enjoy :)
It's night time.
But London is a city that never sleeps, inhaling the dark and coughing out muck and filth and the most dreadful of plots.
On Baker's Street, a dog howls into the night, baying at the moon as a man walks down the street. He turns to the sound, and smiles. His grin is all that can be seen under his top hat, pulled low over his face. It's a battered and chewed old thing, that top hat, but the hat is what makes the man that wears it. He touches the rim of it now, as if agreeing with the dog, before turning so that the moon sharpens all his edges – he's a skinny, odd looking man, all odd angles, and his waistcoat and shirt are scruffy, old looking things. But the silver bracer that glitters around his wrist is really quite something else, perhaps priceless. It's an odd thing for a gentleman like him to be wearing it. It makes one wonder where he stole it from.
Wordlessly, he turns to the buildings to his left. On the pavement sits a manhole cover, which he walks to and squats beside. It's an unexceptional, just another manhole cover in London town, but there's something on this one, engraved into the metal. It's so small that it could be easily missed, but the man knows what he's looking for. A small triangle. It's beautifully curved, but the lines that make up its base don't quite meet. Below it are more lines, flicking out to either side, and the whole thing is the most beautiful and deadly symbol in all the world.
The man raps on the manhole cover with his knuckle, and a moment later there is a clunking noise, muffled under the cobbles. With a groan of hinges, the manhole cover swings inside, and the top of a ladder is revealed. The man swings himself inside, climbing down the ladder. After a while, the manhole cover clunks back into place, and to the rest of London it's like nothing happened.
It's a short trip through the sewers; a pathway's been built so the man doesn't have to tread his way through sewage. It isn't long before he comes across a door, with the same symbol that was on the manhole cover carved into the wood. He knocks.
- Enter.He does as he's obliged. He twists the door knob and, when he enters the room, closes the door behind him. The little room is warm from the fire crackling in a fireplace, and it throws a flickering light of the many maps of London on the walls, showing its upper and underground. His eyes swivel and fall on the figure behind the desk; a woman of slight figure and pretty nose and serious eyes sits there, scratching at some paper with a pen. The man walks forward, but she holds up a hand. Behind her hand and on the wall is a wooden handle connected to a chain, which runs up the wall and into a hole in the ceiling. The mechanism for the man hole cover.
- Your hat.Grumbling, the man takes off his hat, revealing brown hair that he pushes back from his eyes as he hangs up the hat on the peg beside the door. He turns back, and scowls.
- Happy?She looks up. – Exceedingly. She puts her pen down on her desk and looks at him. She knows how to read people – she has spent her whole life doing so – but his face isn't quite the open book that others are. A closed book, unseen at the back of an old shelf. Oh, he is a funny gentleman – young eyes, laugh lines around his eyes and mouth, a real gift with all God's creatures and she has rarely seen him without his smile. But those times that she has, a shadow passes over his face as he sinks briefly into thoughts that threaten to overwhelm him, like he is drowning and the water is closing in around his head. And then it is gone, like nothing ever happened – like he's never had a reason not to smile.
He steps forward, and the light from the fire falls on the scar running down his lips. They smile.
- I'm going after 'im tonight. - Is it safe? -When's it ever? - 'E's got a thing for whores. I'll head there, to the local whore house. Beat a description out of some shady bastard who'd seen 'im do the last girl in. Decided not to tell the police 'cause 'e thought the killer might come after 'im. If a see guy lookin' how the bloke described, I'll tail. Find somewhere shady. And then –
She nods, and solemnly opens a draw in her desk. She pulls out a pack of cards, and toys with them in her hand, turning them, feeling the paper under her fingers. She fancies that she can hear the sin they whisper. Gamble, gamble, gamble.But, ah.
- Is it safe?
-When's it ever?She concedes his point with a reluctant nod. – Tell me what you know.
- 'E's got a thing for whores. I'll head there, to the local whore house. Beat a description out of some shady bastard who'd seen 'im do the last girl in. Decided not to tell the police 'cause 'e thought the killer might come after 'im. If a see guy lookin' how the bloke described, I'll tail. Find somewhere shady. And then –he raises his arm, holding his hand over his face. The light throws itself on the metal brace on his wrist, gloriously silver with exquisite detail surrounding that odd triangle again. His fist clenches, and a blade sings as it slides from his wrist. It glitters behind his fingers, almost looking as though it might pierce his eye. – Jack the Ripper'll be no more.
Life is a gamble.
-What'll it be? -Hmm.
Her fingers rest on the card a moment longer. –Please.He can't promise her that, and she knows he can't. But its that look in her eye that makes him reach out and lay his fingers over hers.
-Hmm.The man comes forward, and eyes the deck in her hand, placing both palms on her desk and leaning forward. – Pick me two.She shuffles, and then deals two, the cards hitting the wood softly. The Ace of Spades and the Queen of Hearts; the spade of the Ace is not a spade, but that strange and beautiful triangle again. He strokes at his chin and the fuzz growing there. Two days of investigation don't allow for shaving. He taps the Queen of Hearts. –Well, m'fightin' for the ladies... but he taps the Ace of Spades decisively. –But how could I say no to the good ol' Ace?She smiles grimly, and picks up the card, taking his palm and laying the card in it. – Promise me you'll be safe.She shouldn't be asking him that. As this area's warden, or rafiq as their brothers in the East would call her, she shouldn't even know his name. But there's the depth of a friendship borne from knowing that one time you see a man might be the last time you ever see him. And besides, she has seen more than a lady should when he's staggered into her bureau with wounds that should surely kill any other man. Their wordless bond is brother and sister, and she couldn't ever cope with seeing him hurt.
- I promise.He takes the Ace of Spades, walks back towards the door, and takes his hat from the peg. He puts it on his head, and most of his face is concealed from her, but she still manages to catch a glimpse of those scarred lips smile before he closes the door.
It isn't long, perhaps only minutes later, that he's back out in London, the cold air hitting him in the face. He raps on the rim of the manhole cover, and the gears groan as it clunks into place, the slotting of the circle of metal back over the hole sending tiny vibrations that go through his feet. He turns back to London, and squints as he plans his route. To take that roof there would bring him to that street, and then it's only a quick jump to there, and etc. As he thinks, he pulls from his pocket a red sash, rolled up into a tight little ball. He grabs the end that's sticking out and unfurls the rest of it with a snap – it rustles as a tiny breeze catches it and throws it out. He's still muttering as he ties the sash around his waist with practiced hands, and then he jams his hat firmly onto his head. He stretches out, and considers the wall next to him.
Climbing the buildings of London is not something easy. They have the most annoying habit of completely flat surfaces, and the muck of London makes the bricks greasy and climbing hard going. But the man runs his eyes over the wall before him, and notes the bricks just out of place, with their fronts sticking out, maybe just an inch.
But, an inch for a mile.
He spits on his palms, rubs them together, and then begins his climb. His fingers hook onto two bricks just about his head while he rams his feet onto the wall, forcing them to cooperate with the brickwork. As soon as he has purchase, he is off, hauling himself up the wall at impressive speed. His hands instinctively find holds and his feet fall into place. He focuses on nothing but the bricks, centring his very existence around them all, until he feels the wind that can only be found up high tug at his hat, threatening to pull it off. His fingers hit the edge of the roof he seizes it, hauling himself up. He stands for a moment, red sash billowing out, and he looks at the whole of London.
What a beauty.
It's better than any map and any drawing he can possibly think of. The roofs are grey and blue and they never end. They have chimneys that smoke like old men, and they curl as they puff upwards, turning the moon grey.
The dog howls again, and he takes his moment. Throwing his head back in mad glee, he howls too, a perfect imitation of any dog. Soon, more dogs join in, and the whole of London rings with the howl of beasts. He grins, and leaps forward, over the gap between his roof and the next. His feet hit the tiles heavily, and they break and skitter out from underneath him, but he's jumped up nimbly onto a chimney. He perches there much like an owl and throws his head back to join in with the cries of the beasts before scampering off over London. It is not long before he is gone from sight, but the dogs of London still howl. An exceptional sound. A warning of the dire sort. Because the man has a name. He keeps it a secret, but on nights like this one, it sounds from all corners of the city.
Mr Ripper, can you hear them howl?
The Assassin is coming for you.
The Howler's coming.
The howling's died by the time the Howler reaches the whore house, but it was enough. He drops down from a roof opposite, landing almost cat like in an alleyway. His eyes glint in the dark as he eyes the door. For a while, nothing emerges from there. It remains closed. The Howler scowls, and takes his moment when a carriage rattles past. One moment he is in the alley, the next he is behind the carriage, and the next he is at the door. It's an inexplicable movement, one the human eye can barely track, but it's done and he's knocking on the door.
He thumps it again with his fist.
- What's a gentleman with a need for a bit of company got do , eh? He calls out. And then he hears it behind the door – the soft sound of a woman sobbing. He tries the door, and find it swings open at his merest touch. He can smell the murder in the room before he sees it, the stench of blood curling in his nostrils. A man is sprawled over a table, a glass of wine knocked on its side and one neat little bullet hole smack bang in his forehead. There is a dead girl at the Howler's feet, her throat slit and her blood splattered across her pretty cheeks. At the back of the room is another man, face down on the floor, but one can't be laying in so much blood and still be presumed living.
And in the middle of it all, a girl, barely nineteen, sobbing. She starts when the Howler rushes forward, but when he kneels by her takes her arms and she has a chance to look into his dark, dark eyes, she knows he is a man to be trusted.
- What 'appened here?Her voice shakes, wracked with sobs. –A man, sir. Came in and just...just... She bursts into tears, and the Howler shakes her.
- Who was this man? Who was 'e?With a shaking hand, the girl points behind him. The Howler springs up onto his feet, expecting an attacker, but finds something worse.
A message, in blood upon the wall.
HEARD YOU COMING, HOWLER.
THE HUNT IS ON.
The Howler stares, speechless.
- He said something about a woman... - I – I can go to my cousin's... - Go there now. Quickly.
The Howler turns. The girl wraps her arms around her knees, hugging herself tightly. – Said he'd take her to the docks. He called her something funny... She frowns. It's almost as if she's become oblivious to the murder around her. The Howler's seen it before. – The rafiq. Weird soundin' thing. Somethin' like that.The Howler doesn't react for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face. And then: -'Ave you got somewhere safe you can go?
- I – I can go to my cousin's...
- Go there now. Quickly.The girl doesn't ask any questions – she scrambles to her feet and she is gone, running past him out of the whore house and into the night. The Howler stares blankly for a moment before something settles into his face – that shadow where his thoughts threaten to drown him.
He lets them, this time.
He turns. He leaves. He remains in the doorway for a moment while another carriage rattles up the road. The lord inside is blissfully unaware of the Howler's existence, so isn't sure what to make of the situation when a dreadful thump sounds on his roof. He yelps in fright, banging on the door as his carriage comes to an abrupt halt as the driver reacts. He leans out of the window.
- What the devil was that? He demands from the driver. But the driver's seen a figure, a shadow of a man, leap up from his carriage, flying over his head and landing on a roof. He's watching his fading figure with wide eyes.
- Exactly that, sir. A devil, for sure.
The Howler comes to the docks sometimes just to listen to the gulls and their soft cries that ring out as the ships come into port. They're neither birds of the sea or the land – they're just themselves, and that is what he admires about them.
But bird watching'll have to be done another time.
The Howler stands on a nearby roof, the toes of his boots poking just over the edge, watching. Waiting. The moonlight highlights him in a chalky white, and suddenly that scar on his lips is more potent than ever.
And then: sound. A harsh sob. The slap of skin. Silence. Jack the Ripper emerges, dragging his hostage with him. The Howler backs away from the edge, back into the shadows in case Jack looks up, but he's busy. She's giving him trouble, kicking and wrenching herself out of his grasp often. But her hands are bound behind her back, and it's easy for Jack to seize her by the arm again and drag her back. Here, in the shadows and while the moon is still bright, the Howler can get a good look at Jack. He's a huge man, twice the Howler and four times the lady, with lank and greasy hair falling over his broad shoulders. The Howler can't see his face, but he can imagine it must be a frightful thing to look at. He watches as he drags her down the path and down to the docks, down to the little courtyard where the ladies sit and watch the ships come in. The Howler knows that this is where he must go. Letting the shadows embrace him, he slips into darkness and is gone, jumping quietly from roof to roof until he's looking over the little courtyard. Jack has forced her to her knees, kicking her legs out from under her, and he grips her shoulder as though his hand is a vice as he looks up at the rooftops.
He cannot see him, but he knows the Howler is there. A nasty grin splitting his face, he cocks his gun and jams it against her temple.
- I know you're there, Howler!
The wind moves, making the ships in port creak as they rock. The Howler doesn't move. He watches. And Jack knows that he's doing it.
- You got my message then, Howler? Knew I wouldn't be able to get far, not with you sniffin' me out. But now you're here, whatta' you going to do about it? Know this Howler – if you make any move I don't like the look of – he presses the gun harder against her temple. –I'll shoot this beauty to the heavens.The rooftops say nothing.
- What do you think of that, Howler? Willing to risk it?Silence. But in the shadows, the fist of the Howler moves into a flat palm. He begins to growl, so very very softly. Jack can't hear him, but the dog of the port's guard dog can. The magnificent beast raises its head from its master's feet from outside their cabin, and its ears prick up.
The port guard jolts awake with a start as his dog throws its head back and begins to howl. The sound is picked up in the street beyond by a sickly little mongrel, and its yips and howls awake its neighbours. Soon the street is ringing with the cries of beasts, and it isn't long before the adjoining streets pick up the sound. Soon, London is a-howl with the sound of beasts, and Jack is afraid.
- Call 'em off, Howler! Call 'em off or I swear I'll kill her!For the Howler, enough is enough. As the howls reach a crescendo, he jumps down, landing in a crouch. Jack the Ripper gawps in terror as the Howler throws his hat aside and charges. Before he can carry out his threat, the Howler punches him in the face. The huge bulk of Jack reels back, and the Howler slaps the gun from his hand and lets it slip onto his own. He kicks Jack back, and his hand ghosts over his pocket as he swings back, watching Jack carefully. By now, Big Ben is crying out midnight, and halfway through its tolls.
Jack snarls at the Howler and lunges, but he's too quick – he dodges smartly, before turning gracefully and slamming his spare hand over Jack's ear. Dazed and deafened, Jack staggers, and the Howler presses his advantage. With one kick to the small of the big man's back, he sends Jack sprawling, and leaps. His hand is thrown out, and from under his wrist comes his blade, shining in the moonlight. In the other, his fingers curl around the gun and the Ace of Spades that he took from his pocket. Jack is too slow, he doesn't scramble away fast enough. The Howler leaps onto his chest and effortlessly slams the card just over his heart and presses the gun to his forehead.
When Big Ben cries its last, the Howler's blade pierces the Ace and Jack's heart, and he shoots a bullet through his brain.
The beasts of London stop their howls at once.
Jack the Ripper's no more.
It's a while before a team on patrol arrive, drawn by the Howler's howl. They are met with the body of Jack the Ripper, and the Howler, standing with their rafiq. He's left the card in the corpse's breast pocket. He nods respectfully to his brothers, and leads her away by the hand, leaving those behind them to clean up the mess. He takes her away from the docks, and helps her on their climb to one of his favourite rooftops. He finds it calming there, and he hopes it will help. Her climbing skills cannot match his own, but she is independent, following the route he takes and allowing him to help her up onto the roof when they reach it. They sit there on the slanted tiles and watch the sun rise up over the city. The Howler can't help but notice that she is incredibly calm for a woman who'd been staring down the barrel of the gun for most of the night. He says so, and she smiles a
- It is something I've gotten used to. My husband would often threaten me with his before I killed him.The Howler's heard tales of that night, when her husband the Templar accused his quiet and reserved wife of sinning with other men. The tales said that she'd had enough of his bullying, and while he pointed a gun at her face, she'd taken a knife and stabbed him straight through the heart. While he bled on the kitchen floor, she'd packed a few things and went straight to the Assassins with the blood of the enemy on her hands. She was too old to be trained properly, but she'd been given enough to get by and became Baker's Street's rafiq. - I suppose he was in the sewers for a good few hours, and happened upon the sounds of our voices through the walls. When you had gone, he smashed his way in. He was covered in blood, and it wasn't his own. I didn't react quickly enough. -'E'd visited a whore house before comin' to see you. Ain't seen a blood bath like that in a long time.
- How did Jack get in?
- I suppose he was in the sewers for a good few hours, and happened upon the sounds of our voices through the walls. When you had gone, he smashed his way in. He was covered in blood, and it wasn't his own. I didn't react quickly enough.
-'E'd visited a whore house before comin' to see you. Ain't seen a blood bath like that in a long time.They sit in a companionable silence for a while.
- Thank you. For saving me. She turns her head to smile.
The Howler shrugs. Looks to the rising light. – Sun'll be 'ere soon. Best get a move on. - Indeed.
- Indeed.The Howler stands, and offers her his hand. She takes it, and stands with him. She laughs when he throws his head back and howls again, stirring the beasts of London for one last time that night to join his song. He takes her hand and leads her across the rooftops, back to Baker's Street and back to home – back to the manhole cover where the secrets lurk and the plots sing in the veins of the wicked.
They are gone from sight. To the rest of London Town, it's like nothing ever happened.
I'm thinking of making a thing of this. Review and I won't kill 'ya.