The door swung shut behind them, prisoning them in the half-lit gloom. The entryway looked almost the same as it had the first time Will had been there—the same wooden staircase leading up, the same cracked but still elegant marble flooring, the same air thick with dust.
Jem raised his hand, and his witchlight flared into life, frightening a group of blackbeetles. They scurried across the floor, causing Will to grimace. “Nice place to live, isn’t it? Let’s hope they left something behind other than filth. Forwarding addresses, a few severed limbs, a prostitute or two …”
“Indeed. Perhaps, if we’re fortunate, we can still catch syphilis.”
“Or demon pox,” Will suggested cheerfully, trying the door under the stairs. It swung open, unlocked as the front door had been. “There’s always demon pox.”
“Demon pox does not exist.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” said Will, disappearing into the darkness under the stairs.
Together they searched the cellar and the ground-floor rooms meticulously, finding little but rubbish and dust. Everything had been stripped from the room where Tessa and Will had fought off the Dark Sisters; after a long search Will discovered something on the wall that looked like a smear of blood, but there seemed no source for it, and Jem pointed out it could just as well be paint.
Abandoning the cellar, they moved upstairs, and found a long corridor lined with doors that was familiar to Will. He had raced down it with Tessa behind him. He ducked into the first room on the right, which had been the room he’d found her in. No sign lingered of the wild-eyed girl who’d hit him with a flowered pitcher. The room was empty, the furniture having been taken away to be searched inside the Silent City. Four dark indentations on the floor indicated where a bed had once stood.
The other rooms were much the same. Will was trying the window in one when he heard Jem shout that he should come quickly; he was in the last room on the left. Will made haste and found Jem standing in the center of a large square room, his witchlight shining in his hand. He was not alone. There was one piece of furniture remaining here—an upholstered armchair, and seated in it was a woman.
She was young—probably no older than Jessamine—and wore a cheap-looking printed dress, her hair gathered up at the nape of her neck. It was dull-brown mousy hair, and her hands were bare and red. Her eyes were wide open and staring.
“Gah,” said Will, too surprised to say anything else. “Is she—”
“She’s dead,” said Jem.
“Are you certain?” Will could not take his eyes off the woman’s face. She was pale, but not with a corpse’s pallor, and her hands lay folded in her lap, the fingers softly curved, not stiff with the rigor of death. He moved closer to her and placed a hand on her arm. It was rigid and cold beneath his fingers. “Well, she’s not responding to my advances,” he observed more brightly than he felt, “so she must be dead.”
“Or she’s a woman of good taste and sense.” Jem knelt down and looked up into the woman’s face. Her eyes were pale blue and protuberant; they stared past him, as dead-looking as painted eyes. “Miss,” he said, and reached for her wrist, meaning to take a pulse.
She moved, jerking under his hand, and let out a low inhuman moan.
Jem stood up hastily. “What in—”
The woman raised her head. Her eyes were still blank, unfocused, but her lips moved with a grinding sound. “Beware!” she cried. Her voice echoed around the room, and Will, with a yell, jumped back.
The woman’s voice sounded like gears grating against one another. “Beware, Nephilim. As you slay others, so shall you be slain. Your angel cannot protect you against that which neither God nor the devil has made, an army born neither of Heaven nor Hell. Beware the hand of man. Beware.” Her voice rose to a high, grinding shriek, and she jerked back and forth in the chair like a puppet being yanked on invisible strings. “BEWARE BEWAREBEWAREBEWARE—”
“Good God,” muttered Jem.
“BEWARE!” the woman shrieked one last time, and toppled forward to sprawl on the ground, abruptly silenced. Will stared, openmouthed.
“Is she … ?” he began.
“Yes,” Jem said. “I think she’s quite dead this time.”
But Will was shaking his head. “Dead. You know, I don’t think so.”
“What do you think, then?”
Instead of answering, Will went and knelt down by the body. He put two fingers to the side of the woman’s cheek and turned her head gently until she faced them. Her mouth was wide, her right eye staring at the ceiling. The left dangled halfway down her cheek, attached to its socket by a coil of copper wire.
“She’s not alive,” said Will, “but not dead, either. She may be … like one of Henry’s gadgets, I think.” He touched her face. “Who could have done this?”
“I can hardly guess. But she called us Nephilim. She knew what we are.”
“Or someone did,” said Will. “I don’t imagine she knows anything. I think she’s a machine, like a clock. And she has run down.” He stood up. “Regardless, we had best get her back to the Institute. Henry will want to have a look at her.”
Jem did not reply; he was looking down at the woman on the floor. Her feet were bare beneath the hem of her dress, and dirty. Her mouth was open and he could see the gleam of metal inside her throat. Her eye dangled eerily on its bit of copper wire as somewhere outside the windows a church clock chimed the midday hour.
Once inside the park, Tessa found herself beginning to relax. She hadn’t been in a green, quiet place since she’d come to London, and she found herself almost reluctantly delighted by the sight of grass and trees, though she thought the park nowhere near as fine as Central Park in New York. The air was not as hazy here as it was over the rest of the city, and the sky overhead had achieved a color that was almost blue.
Thomas waited with the carriage while the girls made their promenade. As Tessa walked beside Jessamine, the other girl kept up a constant stream of chatter. They were making their way down a broad thoroughfare that, Jessamine informed her, was inexplicably called Rotten Row. Despite the inauspicious name, it was apparently the place to see and be seen. Down the center of it paraded men and women on horseback, exquisitely attired, the women with their veils flying, their laughter echoing in the summer air. Along the sides of the avenue walked other pedestrians. Chairs and benches were set up under the trees, and women sat twirling colorful parasols and sipping peppermint water; beside them bewhiskered gentlemen smoked, filling the air with the smell of tobacco mixed with cut grass and horses.