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Emmeline and the Ice-God, Chapter 15

I know, I know. NaNoWriMo is over, and so I shouldn’t really post any more extracts from my novel up here – but hey. That’s the beauty of being the Proprietor, isn’t it? You can sort of do what you like. By the way, I still haven’t come up with a better name for the book, so if anyone has any suggestions, you know where to fling ’em. Think ‘ice’, ‘creature’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘ancient’ – that sort of thing.

This week, we pick up shortly after Emmeline and Thing were spotted as they attempted to hide from the men who meant them harm…

Image: ebay.com

Image: ebay.com

Emmeline and the Ice-God

15

Whoop! It – whoop! – was so fast! I – whoop! – I couldn’t –‘

‘Yes, yes – that’s fine! Just calm down, please, won’t you?’

‘But we can’t – whoop! – just calm down! They’ve taken her! Or don’t you – whoop! – understand what kidnapping actually means?

‘Look, Thing – is Thing your name? – you’re not going to be able to help Emmeline if you suffocate to death. All right? Now, calm down. I mean it. Get your breath, and then tell us everything you remember.’ Thing nodded, trying to get his thoughts in order. He was still clutching Emmeline’s satchel to himself, and had refused to let go of it for any reason. The severed straps, hanging like broken arms at either side of the satchel itself, reminded him how important it was to get Emmeline back and return her most treasured possession, as soon as possible.

‘Right. Well – whoop – we were climbin’, right, up to the crow’s nest, like you said, when some fellas – whoop – lots of ‘em, just sort of appeared, yeah, and they turned this big light thing on, and they used it to – whoop – find us.’

‘A light? What sort of light?’ Edgar’s voice was calm, despite the fact that his left arm was a slab of agony. He’d been shot, and the White Flower didn’t have the time or expertise to patch him up properly. He’d been bandaged, and a wad of cotton placed tightly over his wound, and that would have to do for the time being. He glanced over at Sasha, whose face was white as a bone. Her every muscle was tensed, listening to Thing.

‘Dunno – a searchlight, I s’pose. Big round thing. Swivelled.’ Thing demonstrated swivelling with his free hand, just in case they hadn’t got the picture.

‘Okay, that’s fine. So, then what happened? In your own time.’ Sasha’s words were quiet and calm, but Edgar had known her too long to be fooled by that. Her eyes flashed, and her lips were drawn thin.

‘The blokes kept the light on Ems, yeah, and then they flung up some sort of – whoop – net, or somethin’, and they, like, dragged her off the ladder.’ Thing made a sucking sound with his mouth as he showed them, with a hand movement, exactly how Emmeline had fallen. ‘They caught her, and then they tied ‘er up, and they took this away from ‘er –‘ he gestured toward the satchel. ‘Then, they carried ‘er to the edge and just chucked ‘er off.’

‘Chuck – chucked her off?’ repeated Sasha. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure as I am that you’re all a bunch of – whoop – idiots who can’t understand plain English,’ muttered Thing.

‘Did she scream? Cry out? Anything?’

‘Nah. Tough as nails, is Ems.’ Thing blinked hard, trying to focus on the battered leather satchel. A few loose threads were fraying around one of its corners and he toyed with them until he was pretty sure his eyes weren’t going to leak, and he could look up again.

‘They must have had her in a harness, or something,’ said Sasha to Edgar, her voice low. ‘Surely? They wouldn’t risk – they couldn’t risk – actually losing her…’

‘I’m sure you’re right,’ murmured Edgar in reply. He placed his uninjured hand over Sasha’s and gently gripped her fingers, which were cold and stiff. He tried to rub some life into them.

‘So – what’s the story with all this?’ asked Thing. He looked first at Edgar, and then at Sasha. ‘I mean, why’s everyone after Emmeline? What’s she done? Only a kid, isn’t she?’

‘It’s not really something – well. It’s not something we can share, let’s put it like that,’ said Edgar, in a low dark voice. ‘She – or, rather, her parents – are involved in something big. The men who took Emmeline probably intend to hold her for ransom, or have been paid to bring her somewhere.’ Edgar was hit by a wave of agony and his words hissed to a halt. He clenched his teeth and grunted, his good hand flying up to the wound on his shoulder.

‘You all right?’ asked Thing, his eyes wide.

‘I’ll live. Now, can you tell us anything you remember about the men? What they looked like, sounded like, how many there were, anything like that?’ Edgar spoke quickly, his voice sharp with the pain he was doing his best to suppress.

‘Right – yes,’ said Thing, slowly. He closed his eyes and did his best to remember. A dim and indistinct picture started to form in his mind – men with bald heads, men with hats, stout and skinny men, all shouting. ‘There were a lot of ‘em. I can’t say how many. It was hard to see from where I was perched, you know? With the light, an’ all?’

‘Of course,’ soothed Sasha. ‘But please – you must try.’ Thing closed his eyes and screwed his brain into a knot.

‘There was one guy,’ he said, a memory coming to the surface like a rising bubble. ‘Tall, skinny fella with skin so pale it looked dead, you know the sort. He was either wearin’ dark glasses or he had the oddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Looked straight up at me at one stage, an’ I nearly lost my grip on the ladder.’

‘Why was that?’ Edgar was afraid to look down at his bandage, convinced he’d see blood seeping through. He focused on Thing, and tried to block out the pain. The cabin all around them was full of White Flower members, working to get their operation back on track, removing the dead and treating the wounded, and he let his suffering soak away into the hustle and bustle. Focus, he told himself. There’ll be time for self-pity later.

‘Dunno, really,’ Thing was saying. ‘It was like he was readin’ my mind, or somethin’, or gettin’ inside my head, more like. I felt, when he was lookin’ at me, that I was a lump of rock buried in the earth, cold and alone and forgotten, and that no matter what I did I’d never be able to change it.’ Thing stopped talking, his throat dry suddenly. He realised his heart was thudding inside his chest, like it used to do in the old days, before his family had… but he couldn’t let himself think about any of that. He shoved his thoughts away, putting them carefully in a box in the cellar of his mind, before locking the cellar door.

‘No,’ whispered Sasha. Thing was vaguely aware of her putting her hands to her face.

‘What is it?’ he asked, trying to clear his mind of memories.

‘It’s the worst we could’ve expected,’ said Edgar.

 **

                Emmeline had never been so cold, or so cramped, in her life. As well as that, she was dealing with the most severe seasickness she’d ever felt – which wasn’t saying much, really, as until the day before, she’d never set foot on a boat – and her stomach churned inside her, both with queasiness and a deep, bone-grinding hunger. If she’d eaten anything, she would have thrown it all back up again, but the men didn’t offer her any food. She thought, longingly, of the ice-cream that Thing had brought to her window. It seemed like ten million years since she’d seen him, but in reality it could only have been a few hours.

I hope you’re all right, she told him, inside her mind. I hope you found help, and that you’ve gone to the captain and explained everything, and that he immediately turned the ship around to follow me… Hot tears bubbled up under her closed lids as she realised that, whatever Thing had managed to do, it most certainly did not involve convincing the captain of the cruise ship to pursue her. For a start, how would he know where to go? The ocean was vast, and the ship Emmeline was now being held captive in was tiny by comparison. It was dark, and hard to see, and the weather was beginning to turn. It would be like looking for a teardrop in a lake.

‘Well, well!’ A voice burst into Emmeline’s mind, and a trapdoor into her tiny, frozen prison was lifted. Outside, she could see cold, sparkling stars and wind-blown spume, and the sound of raucous laughter trickled in through the gap. ‘Everythin’ all right in here with you, your ladyship?’

‘I – please! I need –‘ but the man was already gone. The trapdoor clacked back into place, muffling his laughter as he replaced the padlock. They had been doing this at regular intervals, Emmeline realised – looking in to check whether she was alive, and conscious, but not actually giving her anything or finding out if there was anything she needed. She was desperately thirsty and in terrible pain from being tied up. As well as that she really had to go to the loo again, but the thought of using it on a ship full of men like this made her shudder.

She tried to settle into a corner, doing her best to keep herself warm. Think of fires, and sunshine, and hot soup, she told herself. Think yourself warm! After a few minutes of this, however, she had to give up. Thinking about warm things was only making her feel colder – and she was starting to see her breath in the air like a tiny cloud, so she knew she wasn’t imagining it. Inside her prison, she was freezing.

Where are we going? she thought, fearfully, just before exhaustion took her under.

Emmeline and the Ice-God, Chapter 13

In this week’s thrilling instalment, we catch up with Emmeline and Thing after they’ve fought their way out of one sticky situation, only to end up in another, rather stickier, one. They’ve been rescued by some people who may – or may not – be friends, and they’ve been told to make themselves scarce while a battle is fought over who gets to kidnap them next. So, they flee the fighting, searching for a ‘high place,’ in which they are to rendezvous with their rescuers once the dust has settled… but, of course, because we’re talking about Thing and Emmeline here, nothing really goes to plan.

Image: savage-tide-campaign.obsidianportal.net

Image: savage-tide-campaign.obsidianportal.net

Emmeline and the Ice-God

13

‘What have I got myself into?’ Thing muttered as they hurried down the corridor. ‘Well done, you clever feller – see a young girl, all on her lonesome, figure she’d be good comp’ny on the way to Paree, bit of fun maybe.’ Emmeline felt the bones in her hand crunching as Thing tightened his grip on her fingers. He threw her a look, too, one that was full of ticking clocks and pots boiling over.

‘What are you looking at me like that for?’ said Emmeline, her breath catching and clacking in her throat. ‘It’s not like any of it is my fault!’

‘No? Oh, right. Sorry. Maybe it was another kid they were lookin’ for back there, then. My mistake.’

‘Oh, shut up.’ Emmeline’s feet hurt, and her head was still ringing from the explosion. Her dress was utterly filthy, and her stomach was threatening mutiny at any moment. ‘Where are you dragging me, anyway?’

‘Somewhere high, or didn’t you hear what Edgar said?’ They were approaching a corner, and Thing flattened himself and Emmeline up against the wall before peeking out, very carefully, and checking in both directions. Satisfied, he yanked her forward and on they went.

‘Yes, I heard,’ snapped Emmeline, trying to drag her fingers out of Thing’s sweaty grip. ‘That doesn’t mean I’m going to do it!’ Thing snapped his head around to face Emmeline, and they ducked into a wide doorway.

‘What? Why ever not, pray tell?’

‘Who says I have to explain myself to you? Let me go, will you!’

‘No chance. Now, tell me what your plan is, seein’ as it’s bound to be so much better than Edgar’s.’

‘You met him ten seconds ago!’ cried Emmeline. ‘How do you know you can even trust him?’

‘Well, let’s see. First, he saves my life by draggin’ me up out of a threatenin’ situation. Then, he saves my life by throwin’ me out of a threatenin’ situation. Then, he promises to come an’ help later, once the threatenin’ situation, the one he saved me from already if you remember, is over and done with. That enough savin’ for ya?’

‘But how did he even know I was on this boat?’ said Emmeline, her voice an almost-hiss.

‘Well, he – obviously, he –‘ Thing stuttered to a halt, looking confused.

‘Exactly. So, maybe he’s in on it?’ Emmeline watched as this thought settled in Thing’s mind like a stone settling onto the sea floor. After a few minutes he frowned at her, like she was a jigsaw piece he couldn’t find a place for.

‘You have some serious trust issues, y’know that?’

‘Yeah. Well.’ Emmeline sniffed, trying to straighten her dress and settle her satchel with her one free hand.

‘Explains a lot, actually,’ mused Thing.

‘What is that supposed to –‘

‘Never mind. Look. So what do we do, then?’

Emmeline bit her lip as she thought. ‘I suppose we could go to that high place, and wait for Edgar there. Be ready for him, if you know what I mean. Take him by surprise and then make him – I don’t know. Confess, or something.’

‘Right, yeah. And Plan B?’

‘We’re on a ship, Thing,’ said Emmeline. ‘It’s not like we’ve got a lot of choice about where to go.’

‘Fair point, fair point. Right.’ Thing’s eyes grew alert again as he stuck his head out of their hiding place. ‘Highest place I know of on a ship is the crow’s nest, right? ‘M sure that’s what Edgar was on about.’

‘This is going to involve climbing, isn’t it?’ asked Emmeline as they started jogging down the corridor. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone right behind her. The satchel would give her a bit of protection, of course, but not a lot. If someone shot at her, she wondered if she’d even know they’d done it before she’d be dead, and then she wondered about how strange her life had become – a couple of days ago, she’d thought it was only her parents who were trying to make attempts to disrupt her continued existence. Now, it seemed, everyone was at it.

‘Right. Here y’go,’ said Thing, as they pulled up beside a narrow metal staircase which led, as far as Emmeline could see, into pitch black darkness and not a lot else.

‘What’s this?’ He shoved her onto the rungs with bony fingers, his quick eyes keeping careful watch.

‘’S a stairs, stupid,’ he said, only half-listening.

‘Where does it go?’ snapped Emmeline, already three or four steps up. She realised her footsteps made a faint clang as she walked, so she tried to step quietly. The darkness was getting thick around her, like someone wrapping her up in strips of soft, suffocating cloth. She focused on breathing calmly, trying to ignore her heart, which was drumming out a fast rhythm on the inside of her chest.

‘Upper decks, I reckon,’ said Thing, out of the gloom. ‘Hurry up!’

Like stretching out your aching muscles first thing in the morning, or feeling an unexpected breeze on an unexpected place, Emmeline realised that she’d reached the top of the stairs. It was still dark, but not quite as bad. Up here, a giant deck spread for miles and miles. Lights were spaced out regularly on the waist-high barrier all around, and muffled shapes in the gloom were probably benches, or places for the well-heeled passengers to take a rest and some shelter from the wind while they were up here getting the sea air. It was sort of peaceful up here.

‘This way. Come on!’ Thing jerked her out of her thoughts by pulling on her hand like a dog straining at a lead. She took a few uncertain steps toward the centre of the deck, where – as Emmeline feared – a very tall, very spindly-looking structure was to be found, lashed to the deck by a multitude of wires. A light burned in the tiny-looking cabin at the top of the narrow ladder they’d have to climb. Emmeline tasted sick in her mouth as she stared up at it.

‘Ain’t got time to waste,’ muttered Thing, jumping onto the lower rungs. ‘You follow me, yeah? Or d’you wanna go first?’

Emmeline’s stomach rolled over. ‘You go first,’ she said. Thing stopped climbing, and leaned over the side of the ladder to peer down at her. Emmeline was glad of the darkness.

‘You’re not scared, are ya?’ he asked, coming down a rung or two. ‘Not with that box o’ tricks on your back, and a brain like yours in yer head, surely?’

‘I don’t – I don’t like heights, really,’ said Emmeline, coughing to cover up the wobble in her voice.

‘No problem,’ said Thing, cheerfully. ‘I mean, it’s so dark up ‘ere you can barely tell it’s up so high.’ She could hear the grin in his voice, even if the darkness hid it. Like an athlete, or a monkey, Thing scampered up the ladder without a second thought.

‘I don’t like darkness, either,’ muttered Emmeline, wrapping her fingers round the nearest rung and taking three deep breaths, in through her nose and out through her mouth. ‘Emmeline Mary Widget, you can do this,’ she told herself in a stern tone. ‘The secret to why you’re even here and where your parents are lies – more or less – at the top of this ladder. And if Thing can climb it, so can you! Right?’ She nodded decisively, and grabbed another, higher, rung. She found footholds, and started to climb, telling herself that her knees weren’t wobbling – it was merely the movement of the ship. Slowly, slowly, she ascended.

‘Will you get a move on!’ Thing’s voice fell on her like a handful of iron filings dropped from a height. Shivering, she felt his words trickle all over her, poking and prodding and nipping at her skin. She clung to the ladder like a baby clinging to its mother’s finger, and allowed a rattle of terror to skitter through her whole body before she trusted herself to answer.

‘I’m coming!’ she whispered back, her voice hoarse.

‘Yeah, well – come quicker!’ insisted Thing.

Just then – like his voice had summoned it – a huge, searing light switched on a few feet away. Emmeline got such a shock that she almost lost her grip on the ladder.

‘Ems!’ she heard, through the pounding of the blood in her ears. ‘Now, now, now! Get up here now!’ Fear had made her hands and feet numb, but Emmeline moved.

‘Hands then feet,’ she muttered, trying to keep calm. ‘Hands then feet.’ The light was nearly as wide across as she was tall, and as she watched it started to sweep over the deck in great arcs, like it was searching for something.

It was searching for something, she finally understood. Her.

                ‘Please, Ems! Hurry up!’ Thing’s voice seemed closer, and she looked up to see him, just barely, hanging off the top few rungs of the ladder like a flower on a long, narrow stem. She could see the terror in his face, and his outstretched fingers were just too far away for her to reach…

Then, the light finally found her. It flicked in her direction, making her freeze in terror and making her eyes sting and water as she struggled to focus. Thing was yelling at her, and she felt the ladder shudder as he started to descend. Her brain screamed as it tried to understand what was happening. Then, something slapped Emmeline’s face, and grabbed at her outstretched arm. Almost like she’d been picked up by a huge, rough-fingered hand, she felt herself being plucked off the ladder and then, sickeningly, she was falling, right toward the deck, what felt like miles and miles below…

Emmeline, Chapter 4

So.

This is Chapter 4 of my NaNoWriMo project. Emmeline has finished reading the note she received in Chapter 1, which was from her mother – ‘to be opened in the event of my death’ type stuff – instructing her to go to Paris and live with a mysterious lady named Madame Blancheflour. Watt was entrusted with the task of seeing her to the ship, and naturally he has done his duty admirably. As our current chapter opens, she is on board, and about to meet a strange new friend…

Image: cruiseweb.com

Image: cruiseweb.com

Emmeline and the Ice-God

4

                A dumbfounded Emmeline stood on the deck of the giant ship and watched the dark speck that was Watt, several hundred feet below. People all around her were yelling, shouting their farewells, pleading for telegrams and letters and visits and lots of other things, but Emmeline saved her breath. All she wanted from Watt was for him to come striding up the gangplank and bring her home, and she knew that was completely pointless. Shouting and shrieking about it would make less than no difference, and so Emmeline stayed quiet and still, like a small forlorn statue.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that she wanted to go home out of love, or affection, or loneliness, or anything like that. She wanted to go home because that’s where her books were, and she didn’t like being removed from them against her will. As she stood on the deck of that ship, she was an angry and humiliated girl, not a lonely and sorrowful one.

Or, at least, that’s what she’d have you believe.

Emmeline sighed and leaned further out over the railing. She decided to wave, on the off-chance that Watt was looking, and then she stepped back out of the crush, her satchel carefully clutched to her chest. As she walked across the boards toward the cabins, a sudden sickening vibration under her feet almost knocked her flat, and she heard a man nearby cry out with what sounded like joy.

‘She’s away!’ he said, slapping his friend between the shoulder blades, making the other man cough. ‘Those’ll be the engines firing up. We’ll be at sea soon enough.’

At sea, Emmeline thought as the guffawing moustache-wearing gentlemen passed her by. Meaning lost or confused, or both.

                ‘Apt,’ she said, to nobody in particular.

‘Did you say something?’ said a curiously metallic, hollow-sounding voice, out of midair. ‘Only, I thought I heard you say something, and I wouldn’t want to be rude and not reply in a suitably witty and interestin’ way.’

Emmeline looked around. There was nobody within ten feet of her, and absolutely nobody looking in her direction. The only things she could see were a few carefully welded benches, a flotation device or two bolted to the wooden wall in front of her and a curious seagull, looking at her sideways.

‘Where are you?’ she ventured, clutching her satchel close.

‘I’m sorry. Are you talking to me, now, or is there someone else with you?’ The metallic voice sounded no closer nor any further away, but every bit as strange as it had the first time Emmeline had heard it.

‘You,’ she said. ‘I mean – sorry. I mean, dear strange and slightly frightening voice, I am talking to you.’

‘’M not strange,’ said the voice, now becoming a little less hollow-sounding and a lot more clear. ‘I’m perfickly normal, thank you very much. And I’m over here.’ Something moved to Emmeline’s left, and her gaze was caught by a scruffy head emerging from a grating in the wall. This head – the colour of whose hair was impossible to determine – was swiftly followed by an equally grubby body dressed in dusty overalls. The fingernails of this creature were clotted with dirt and oil and his – its? – face was smeared with grease. As Emmeline watched, he slithered out of the hole he’d been hiding in until all of him – and there wasn’t much – was standing in front of Emmeline with a hand held out in greeting.

‘Mornin’,’ he said. ‘My name’s Thing. Who’re you?’

‘I’m sorry?’ said Emmeline, looking at his outstretched hand as if he’d offered her a used handkerchief.

‘Yeah, me too,’ said the boy, in a weary voice. Emmeline blinked, and wondered what was going on.

‘Sorry for what?’ she ventured, after a few silent moments.

‘About my name,’ he replied, taking back his hand and wiping it on his grimy overalls. ‘Wasn’t that what we were talking about?’

‘I’m quite sure we weren’t talking about anything,’ replied Emmeline, adjusting her grip on her satchel, and casting her eye around to see if there were any adults in the vicinity. Not that she had much use for adults, normally, but they could on occasion come in helpful. As she’d expected, however, most people were still hanging over the railings, and those that weren’t engaged in tearful goodbyes had already retired to their cabins. She and this strange dirty boy were like a little island in a sea of handkerchiefs and snot.

‘You need a hand with your bag?’ The boy snuffled, like he had a heavy cold. ‘Only I’m good at that. Giving hands with stuff.’

‘No,’ said Emmeline, aghast. ‘Thank you.’

‘Suit yourself,’ he replied. ‘So, are you goin’ to tell me your name, or have I to guess it?’

‘How on earth would you guess it?’ said Emmeline, taking a step back.

‘Bet I could,’ said Thing, grinning. His teeth were nearly as filthy as his face.

‘Look, I have to go to my cabin now,’ said Emmeline. ‘So, if you’ll excuse me?’

‘No,’ said Thing. ‘Is it Amy? Angela? Angelica? No – wait. Agnes. It’s Agnes, isn’t it?’

‘What do you mean, ‘no’?’ said Emmeline, wishing she had a heavy book to hand in order to throw it at the boy’s head.

‘Well, you asked me if I would excuse you. So, I said no. Agnes.’

‘My name is not Agnes.’ Emmeline felt her teeth start to grind, all by themselves.

‘Betty? Bettina? Bucephalus! Please say it’s Bucephalus. I’ve always wanted to meet one of those.’

‘No. It’s none of those names. You’re not even on the right letter.’ Emmeline’s arm was starting to hurt from holding her satchel so tightly, and she really wanted to find her cabin and go to sleep.

‘Ah! A clue. Right. Caroline. Carly. Christina. Chrysanthemum.’

‘Chrysanthemum is a flower. You really are an idiot, aren’t you?’

‘Lots of girls’re named after flowers. Rose. Lily. Petunia. Gardenia. Viola. Violet. Daisy. Poppy. Lily.’

‘You said Lily already,’ sighed Emmeline, shifting her satchel to the other arm.

‘I was just testing,’ grinned Thing.

‘My name is Emmeline, all right? Now, can I please go? I want to take some rest before we get to Paris.’

‘Emmmmmellllllinnnnnne,’ said the strange boy, rolling her name around in his mouth like he was tasting it. ‘I like it. That’ll do.’

‘Do for what?’ Emmeline’s patience was on its last legs.

‘I collect names,’ Thing replied. ‘Someday I’ll meet a name that I can’t resist and I’ll ask someone to give it to me, because it’ll be too good to keep.’

‘Right. And how many do you have in your collection?’

‘Oh, hundreds,’ said Thing, casually. ‘Thousands, maybe.’

‘When are you going to make your decision?’

‘Well, whenever I meet a name I can’t resist, of course,’ he said. ‘Hasn’t happened yet.’

‘Look, this is fascinating, and all, but I really need to lie down now. Please, can I go?’

‘Certainly, Emmeline. Mind out for that name, now. It’s a long ‘un, and they tend to get caught on things. Like newborn foals, they are. Awkward and leggy. Just watch out for it and see you don’t break it, or lose it.’

‘Thanks for the tip,’ said Emmeline as she squeezed past. Thing smelled like smoke and dirt and sweat, and as soon as she was past him he swung himself back into the hole in the wall. Despite herself, Emmeline couldn’t help but be curious about where it went.

‘Bye, now. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again,’ he said, as he waved and disappeared from view. The grating clanged shut and Emmeline was by herself again.

This time, she felt even more alone than before, and she wasn’t sure why.