Part 2: Madame Mercy
The brothel was disturbingly quiet this time of night, and she felt a hint of dread in the pit of her stomach. The man she'd seen out on the street was an assassin, and yet, so much more. She’d seen one of his kind once before, and it was enough to strike fear in her.
Before father had learned of her existence, she had been raised as one of the black ladies of the night, training under Madame Mercy.
While Claire had been sculpted under the Madame’s tutelage, she'd spent the last seven years under her father's wing. He was a kind man, and the time she spent learning the many skills and intricacies of his craft had softened her. Fighting, the arts and skills of combat had been, for the most part, in her past. While against any ordinary man she was confident, this was no ordinary man that pursued them now.
The flicker of a lamp caused the shadows to dance across the wall, and brought her out of her reverie. The brothel was well lit, being one of the finer houses of the district and outfitted with modern fixtures and piped in gas. She noted the doors, counting to the fifth one that was Madame Mercy's office. With a calculated tap at the door, she stood outside and waited. It had been a long while since she’d knocked on that door.
"Claire?" Called a voice from within. Claire smiled, the woman hadn’t forgotten her. Mother Mercy was how she'd known the woman most her life, and was a close to a mother as she'd ever known.
“Yes, Madame. I need your help.”
"Come on in, love." The aging Madame called back. Claire turned the knob and took the boy by the arm. Once inside, she shut the door firmly behind them.
"I'm so sorry, Madame, to disturb you at this late hour...”
The Madame, a tall, regal woman, laughed lightly. "Disturbing us this time of night?” She shook her head. “You haven’t been gone long enough to forget what it is we do here.”
Claire smiled. “Of course not, but father and his bloody lessons on how to act a proper lady.” She tapped her temple. “It’s a bit drilled in.”
“I should hope he’s proud. So, what is it that you need?"
"Actually, it’s father. He's been missing." She dug around in her pocket. "And he sent this." She held out the engraved box. “It is the culmination of his life’s work. He said I must get it to the new world where his associates will be waiting.”
"I had realized that your father had gone missing, we were also aware of the..." Mercy paused, choosing her words carefully. "I was also aware the Lieche,” she spat the last word, “had entered the city. I must say, I wasn't surprised to see you tonight. If you hadn’t come to me, I would have sent Leah to find you."
Claire smiled, holding back tears. Having lost her father for all these long months, the acknowledgement that she was still cared for, still mattered, struck a lonesome chord in her.
"I need to get out of the city," Claire explained once she'd composed herself. She didn't dare to meet the older woman's eye, knowing she might betray her over sentimental nature. "And this boy, Samuel, he was caught up in all of this against his will. I have promised to look after him. Can you get us passage on the next airship?"
Mercy's reply was delayed as she considered. "I will do as you ask, for your father, and for you, as a child I raised. Leah will assist you. Until the arrangements have been made, go and rest.”
"Thank you, Madame, I owe you."
The madame only shook her head sadly. "My dear, if you live through this, you we can talk about debts." With that somber note, she pulled the boy to the door.
Once out in the hall, Claire was nearly knocked off her feet by a gorgeous redhead. The curvaceous young woman was adorned in the latest fashion. Reds and golds, in plush fabrics accented with feathers, made up her cleavage and thigh bearing outfit. The embrace was both affectionate and aggressive, as was Leah herself. Claire returned the hug with the same fervor.
"Leah!" she exclaimed, laughing, and holding the younger woman at an arm’s length. "You look amazing. I see you're doing well for yourself."
Leah posed, hand on hip. "I do alright." She looked Claire up and down. "You, on the other hand, are looking rather hard, and your hands..." She tisked, catching Claire's hand in her own soft and well manicured hands. "Grease stained and rough. I swear, Claire. That father of yours is ruining you."
Claire snatched her hand away. "You're just jealous."
Leah only shook her head, noticing for the first time, the boy that cowered behind Claire's slight frame. "And who is this?"
Claire couldn’t help but feel protective, and put her hand out to steady the boy. "Samuel. He's... he's my charge.." Now where had that come from? She wondered. She'd met the boy perhaps an hour before, and now she was claiming him as her charge? She sighed. "We're tired, Leah. The Madame did say you had a room for us."
Leah nodded, pouting her pretty, plump lips. "That father of yours spoilt you." With a sashay of her hips, the redhead led them down the hall. "This one's clean. We don't use it for our normal guests, and there's two beds. Happy?"
Claire nodded, taking Leah by the shoulder. "Thank you," she said sincerely. "I have much on my mind." Leah embraced her then, tenderly.
"I know Claire." There was a hint of tears in Leah's bright blue eyes and Claire felt a pang of regret for the many times she'd passed up the opportunity to visit the girl she'd grown up with.
The night was long, though in reality it was only a few hours of sleep that Claire managed to get in. The boy, Sam, had it as rough as she had. She could hear him tossing and turning in the cot beside her.
Her dreams were filled with shadowy men, fights in which she was perpetually the victim. Every time she called upon her muscle memory, her well honed skills, her body failed to respond. The knives she knew so well failed to fly as she intended, her revolvers always seemed unbalanced and never met the mark. Several times, she awoke sweat drenched, a blade at her throat just moments before.