Henrietta didn't wait till morning. She was running through the city, the rain washing away all traces of face-paint. Her hair was plastered to her bodice, her skin covered in goosebumps. Rain smacked her in the face as she ran, holding her skirts.
She'd started out with the hope of making it to Great Aunt Cythna's, but now she just hoped for some sort of shelter, or an open shop.
Henrietta had never endured strenuous physical exercise, and she knew it. She could feel her legs growing weak. Her breathing was hard and shallow, like she was drowning in air.
Finally, she stopped running, but her numb legs gave way and she was sitting in the middle of the filthy street, abandoned black-market vendor carts and shabby brick buildings on either side.
I'm in the Crease, she thought. Soldering treacherous luck.
"Woah, lady. Some shiner ya got there." Said a male voice.
Too tired to do anything else, she turned her head. Standing in the doorway was a man of Benedict's age. He had a dark, day-old beard and short hair. Thick muscles and scars proved a hard life. The grimy store sign above him was impossible to make out.
The man walked over and Henrietta remained rigid, practically staring him down.
"Did yer man hit ya? With a glare like that, it wouldn't be a shocker."
Not in the way you're thinking. "No."
"Well, we can fix 'er up for ya." The man offered his hand.
To be honest, what other choice do I have? The only person I've seen for several streets, and heaven knows where in the Crease I am.
She took it gingerly. The man felt her fingers and his brow furrowed slightly.
He hauled her to her feet, taking in the dress. She could feel her cheeks growing warm. It was possibly the most expensive article of clothing this man had ever touched. He turned and held open the shop door. A bell tinkled and she went inside.
The shop was warm, crowded with mechanical curiosities and machinery. A forge was in the corner, and a cash register by the door. In the back there was a door leading to a room filled with paintings and other junk. Inhaling deeply, she smelled copper in the air.
"Hold up, I'll get Mina." The man flashed a grin and vanished.
Warm and drying, Henrietta realized how incompetent she'd been. Running off in the heat of the moment with nothing. And into the Crease, of all places! Treacherously dangerous.
The dark haired man could be dangerous.
Torn for a moment, Henrietta finally reached for the door handle. Cythna's can't be that far away.
"Oh, you poor dear! What a nasty bruise."
Henrietta turned to see a woman who's face was nothing but sunshine. Mina beamed at Henrietta, radiating sympathy.
"I'll be fixin' ya right up, sweet. What a solderin' shame." She clucked. Mina pulled a pot out of her skirt pocket. She twisted the handle and a series of gears clicked, unlocking the lid. Mina scooped out some paste then moved to swipe it on Henrietta's cheek.
"No!" She stepped back, bumping into a shelf of machinery. A delicate clock teetered on it's stand before settling.
"Ya know, that's the only thing she's said so far." The man said.
"Oh, hush, Hugo. What's the matter, dear?"
Poisen. Acid. All manner of things could be in that pretty little potion of yours.
"I- what is that?"
"It's a Tempered concoction. Powdered zinc with Tempered puck magic. It closes broken blood vessels, such as internal bleeding."
How did they get access to such... strong magic? Henrietta thought. I'm not sure that's even real Mechanics, powdered zinc...
"What's the name?" Hugo interrupted.
"Uh... Hettie." The last thing Benedict had called her.
"Hettie. If I wanted to kill you, I would not have Mina waste expensive Mechanics to poison your bruise. I have less messy, less costly ways." He smiled arrogantly.
Henrietta opened her mouth then pressed her lips together.
"Oh, you're scaring the lass. She obviously isn't Crease-born." Mina scolded.
The noble-born was honestly terrified. They could read so much of her before she so much as completed a sentence.
The Crease was horrifying. But Henrietta didn't play games.
She put on her Queen's Stare.
"No." She raised her chin.
"Shocker." Hugo muttered.
"Dear, I can clean it up for you in just an hour." Mina said, almost pleading.
Henrietta looked in a glass case filled with pocket watches. The girl in the glass had half a purple-grey face, marred with a massive bruise. This girl wasn't noble. This girl wasn't pretty.
And 'Hettie' liked it.
"No." She said again. "I worked hard for this."
Hugo and Mina both sighed.
"Show her to a bed, Hugo. Poor dear looks exhausted."
"Wait, now." Hettie said. "Where am I?"
Hugo picked up a copper dish. "Sweet/"
Hettie picked up a wrapped sweet delicately. It was a mint with a picture of a man shaking his fist angrily stamped on both sides.
"What a temper he's in." She commented. Hettie eyes went wide and she dropped the mint. "Temper. Mint. Temperments... you're illegal Temperers! That's how you have the concoction!"
"Not as dumb as you look, ugh?" Hugo grinned.
"Patrols! PATROLS!" Hettie screamed.
A hand clamped over her mouth.
"Now. None of that."
* * * * *
Hettie woke up, right side of her face throbbing. Her legs were stiff and pained with each move.
Wincing, she sat up, unintentionally holding her breath until she was upright. Hottie blinked and her vision cleared. She glanced around.
The room was made of dark wood and brick, with Crease-made carpets. Hottie swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood slowly, grimacing. She stumbled to the door and reached for the handle.
"-ike a stray puppy!" A deep voice said.
"Relax. We won't keep the thing."
"Girl, Hugo. She's not just another miniature dirigible." Mina scolded. "And we're going to take care of her until her face heals up and we know her home."
"You kiddin', Mina?" Hugo said. "The case is obviously highbrow and scared to high hookah! She's not gonna spill a thing. Just stare us down all haughty-like."
Hottie heard a soft smack and indignant 'ow!'.
"Shut it, Hugo." The deep voice said. "From how you're putting it, she won't last thirty minutes in the Crease. And not if she's as pretty under that bruise as you say. Wait till my sister comes back from mingling with the high brass and ask if she knows a Hettie."
Hugo sighed. "Probably best. She's no idiot, though. She knows we're Temps."
"You must be the idiot, giving her those mints."
"Hey, it's a thing for Crease-born! I never thought a noble'd get it."
Hettie had heard enough. She pushed the door open.
"You thought wrong." She said, vice a little raspy.
"Solderin' bolts!" Hugo jumped. "How long you been droppin' eaves?"
"Since I was compared to a puppy, miniature dirigible, and a 'case', whatever that may be." She said crisply.
She red-headed man with the deep voice chuckled. "Aye. No wonder Hugo doesn't like ya much. You've some sass to match his."
"I am not sassy!" I am witty, handsome, brilliant, a bit spit-fire-"
"And a lot arrogant." The man grinned. "Hello, Hettie. Drake." He held out a massive hand, muscles threatening to burst his shirt.
Hottie took it, trying not to appear as worried as she felt about crushed fingers.
"Who are you all? You're obviously not related." She said. Drake's grip was surprisingly gentle.
"Who are you?" Hugo poked her arm. She glared. "You're obviously not Crease-born. You spill, we spill."
"Hush it, Minty." Drake said.
"You're a Mint too. Only a Temp or High Brass can call a Mint a Mint! Otherwise you're basically insulting yourself."
Hettie was feeling bewildered. They shot out words and names she'd never heard before.
"Mint? High Brass?"
"Mint's an illegal Temperor, Sweetheart. I'll wait for you to puzzle out what a Temp means. High Brass are nobles. So are Cases... keepin' us real pieces of artwork locked up and hemmed in."
"Oh, you're a piece of work, all right." Hottie snarled.
"And a Chime is a patrol. That might be useful. So we can run instead of them runnin' to us when you get it into your head to scream for help."
Hettie was silent for a moment.
I need to leave. All I know is that these people are illegal Temperors.
"Solderin' crucibles!" Mina burst out. "Sister's here!"
Drake looked at a set of wind chimes hanging on the wall. Each had a pulpy-and-gear system. The first chime was gently tapping the second. Almost instantly, the gears on the second clicked and made it swing against the third.
"She's comin' quickly." Hugo commented. The third rang out against the fourth.
"I hope nothing's wrong." Mina said, face darkening slightly.
Just beside the wind chimes, or gear chimes, a panel of wainscoting and green wallpaper swung open, just as the fourth tapped the fifth.
Out of the hidden door ran a red-haired woman with steely eyes.
"Wickes's wife is missing!"
The two women spoke at the same time.
Hettie wasn't certain what fazed her most. The fact that Geneve, with whom she had lived for two and a half years and had almost no secrets to hide, had referred to her in such a removed manner, or that she was here in the first place. Or perhaps most shocking of all was that she no longer had a Nylisle accent.
Geneve gaped at Hettie.
"M'la- Hen- why'd ya come here of all places?!"
Hugo, Mina, and Drake looked equally stunned, and for several seconds they were silent.
"Well, we were idiots!" Mina said cheerfully.
"You're Lady Wickes?!" Hugo demanded. "Why the forge are you in the Crease?!"
Henrietta looked from one person to the other, fighting off hysteria. As if her world wasn't shattered enough.
"Because my husband is a monster." She whispered. So why don't I hate him?
* * * * *
Thoughts of leaving diminished, Hettie was sitting at a rickety card table with Drake, Hugo, Mina and Geneve.
"Order, order." Hugo smacked a wrench on the table, dinging it more than before. "Explanations are needed. Hettie slash Lady Wickes. You go."
She pursed her lips, willing away tears. "I found some secrets my husband has been concealing from me. I confronted him and then..." She trailed off.
"So you found out he'd been hangin' around other ladies and then he smacked ya?"
"No." Her eyes glittered angrily. "He wouldn't do that." Although I once thought he never would have ordered someone's death.
"Fair 'nough." He shrugged.
"Now explain everything to me." Hettie insisted, one hand on the table. "Who are you all? Why is m- Geneve here?"
A loud bang came from behind her, and she turned to see an older man, the door creaking into place behind him.
"Easy. She's our spy."
"Always the dramatic." Mina beamed, pushing grey-streaked hair behind her ear. "Hettie, this is Carl."
"Mechanic, Temperor, and leader of this solderin' group." He smiled from behind his white whiskers.
Mina laughed. "He's also the motivation."
"Nonsense. That's your job." He sat down beside Hettie. "Who is this young lady? She doesn't look Crease-bo-"
"She's not." Hugo said. "She's a-"
"Runaway." Geneve finished for him.
The patchwork conversation was difficult to keep up with for Hettie. In her life, you waited a good two seconds before replying to someone else. But it was strangely comforting. Like all of these people knew one another so well, were so comfortable with one another that they could read one another's minds.
"Interesting." Carl nodded. Well, pleasure to meet you, miss...?"
"Lady Henrietta Wickes." Geneve said.
"Hettie." Hugo said.
"Our new member." Mina beamed.
"What?!" Hugo and Hettie said at the same time.
"Lovely to meet you Lady-Henrietta-Wickes-Hettie-Our-New-Member." Carl said, smiling amusedly.
Drake just laughed.