Chapter 21

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"Yes, I used to work for the Madam."

Resigned to the truth, Tawny stares into her drink, swirling the water around in it's glass. Luca still hasn't released the hilt of his weapon but Geoff appears perfectly at ease, slouching down low in his seat and practically dissolving into the cushions. Simon bounces his foot up and down nervously, his bespeckled gaze darting between Tawny and I.

"When was that?" I ask.

"When did I start working for her? Or when did I stop?" She tilts her head. "I started manufacturing at the Tower right out of school."

"And when did you stop?"

Tawny places her glass delicately on a side table. "I'm not exactly sure. It's hard to keep track when you live underground. How long would you say, Simon?"

"It was shortly after the Irrigator fell. Nine months." Simon states the fact as someone who has been counting the hours closely.

Nine months. I can hardly believe it's been that long. Nine months of waiting, plotting and preparing.

Nine months without him.

I shake the memories clear. "What happened?"

"It's hard to pinpoint exactly why I had a sudden change of heart over my employer. All I can say is that one day I was content sitting in my workshop, mucking about with some cables and the next I was questioning everything I knew." Her gaze slides to me. "My theory is that seeing thousands of slaves bursting out from under my home had something to do with it."

This causes me pause. "You didn't know that your Irrigator was run by slaves?"

"Are you kidding me? Of course not." The disgust is clear on her face. "If we had any idea that was going on, we would have revolted long ago."

"I find that hard to believe, since you were more than fine with your brethren being turned into her personal, mechanical army."

She reddens. "The Brutes had only begun turning up a couple months before the Runner invaded Babel."

"Perhaps, but people were disappearing for years before that, weren't they?" My voice rises a decibel. "Quite a lot to shrug off, when you're tucked away in your workshop."

"Whoa now, who does this girl think she is?" Geoff betrays the fact that he's been listening, now sitting upright and regarding me suspiciously. "Are you seriously fixing to come into our home and accuse us of something?"

"She is simply asking the questions any outsider would have." Luca materializes from the shadows near the fire. "And at a future date you would do well to answer them. For now, though what we want to know is how Tawny ended her relationship with the Madam."

He moves to sit near me as I lean back and cross my arms, taking the opportunity to rein in my emotions.

"So," Luca leans forward on his knees. His hands no longer linger near his blade, his sudden proximity being more than enough to convey the threat. "What happened?"

"I invented a new form of gunpowder." Tawny says, glancing at Simon. "The Madam was ecstatic about it."

"'Going to change the face of this war' is what I recall her saying." Simon nods, affirming Tawny's recollection. "The Madam immediately assigned the rest of us to developing weaponry that would accommodate Tawny's concoction."

"But I took off before they could get started, taking the schematics and a single keg of powder with me."

I swallow the urge to fire off another question, letting Luca's deadly dose of silence do the work of urging Tawny onwards, this time with a bit more haste.

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