Chapter 30

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I am seized as soon as the carriage comes to a stop, pulled from the cart and down onto the cobblestone path before the Tower. Enforcers and Brutes fill the yard and I am granted barely a glimpse of the colossal clock holding dominion from the Tower's spire before I am shoved into motion and pushed through the gate.

The Brutes follow behind as we funnel into the Tower. Garbled voices spew from the radio of one of the Enforcer's holding me, the barked instructions sounding just as frantic as my own beating heart. The largest set of doors to the Tower are already open, revealing a smaller inner chamber. We step over the threshold and I become sandwiched inside the lift with an uncomfortable number of soldiers. As we ascend I take the opportunity to study our surroundings; the Brutes' oversized statures make it difficult to see much of anything but I notice that the lift is grander and more ornate than any of the public lifts in the city centre.

Gliding to a stop, the doors open and the lift begins to empty. I am pulled forward once more, my feet landing upon the soft fibres of a rug. Glancing up, my eyes stretch wide to take in the enormity of the room.

Great, peaked windows line the walls on all sides, offering impressive views of Babel's skyscrapers and farmlands. The spaces in between the windows are polished stone, dark and glistening all at once. The ornate chandeliers dangling from the rafters barely manage to illuminate our barren surroundings, the casings of dead bulbs left to fester atop the cobweb-ridden crowns.

The room's most striking feature is the statue displayed prominently at it's centre. Marching towards it, I recognize the Madam's likeness immediately. The statue is twice my size and has been rendered to display the Madam in all of her glory, her false hand hidden in the folds of her robe and a haughty look etched onto her face. As we pass beneath the silent, disconcerting figure a shiver runs down my spine. Averting my eyes from her stoic glare I find the Madam's trademark phrase engraved at her feet.

Progress is Power.

Beyond the statue lies a wide, sweeping staircase. We follow the train of carpet up the shallow steps, ascending en masse until we reach the top. The room's largest window leers over us, it's glass peak joining at a sword's point. The crowd around me parts, revealing a strange collection of scientific equipment and instruments, some of which I recognize only from the pictures I've seen in books. Before it all is an unremarkable desk and red velvet chair. A half-eaten plate of food has been pushed to the corner of the desk and the chair is turned away from us, it's occupant scribbling away and apparently indifferent to the crowd gathered behind her.

My arms ache under the Enforcers' iron grip but I fight the urge to shake them off. As I draw shallow breaths I curse my heart for hammering so mightily and betraying my nerves. Either moments or days pass while we wait but nothing happens, the air filled with only a distant ticking and the maddening scratch of pen against parchment. An eternity of limbo and the parchment is finally shoved away, the pen placed neatly alongside it. We watch as the red chair slowly swivels in place, bringing the Madam around to face me.

Her eyes are dark and full of a startling malice. I don't so much as flinch, meeting her gaze head-on and leveling her hatred with my own.

"Well," The Madam's voice is soft, bordering on the edge of a weapon, "Look what we have here."

I remain silent, biting down on my tongue and curling my hands into fists behind my back.

"You're a long way from home, Runner." Leaning back in her chair, she brings her fingers together in a steeple with her metal hand. "Are you lost?"

"Far from it." I growl.

"Such fire." She shakes her head slowly. "I don't know why I expected anything less."

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