Hettie's heart was back to normal.
The coldness could only last so long. The heart grew back, just as bruises heal and scars fade.
Hettie was glad.
She was working in the shop again, though with less enthusiasm than before. She didn't want to stay at Temper Mints. Hugo was arrogant, Mina was too nice, Carl and Becca were mad... only Geneve and Drake seemed worth staying for.
She missed her old life.
She missed lies. In an open house like this, there were no secrets. There was no way to hide. It was too exposed.
She missed the safety of noble life. Assassinations could be prevented, but the madness of the Crease? It was unpredictable, like the current of a raging river.
Hettie grew bitter.
Why am I here anyways? There's nothing for me here...
She touched her face and winced. The split-lip burned savagely.
A bell on the wall went off.
It wasn't the wind-chimes that let you know if someone was coming down the alleyway. It was a different bell.
"Chimes!" She heard the muffled exclamation from the machinery room. There was sudden scuffling and crashes as Drake, Carl, Hugo and Becca attempted to push anything illegal out of sight.
The door opened.
There she was, in Benedict's arms. He held her close, threading his fingers through her hair, kissing her forehead.
A knife pressed to her back.
Hettie jerked away, panting. There was no knife in his hands.
Is he here to hurt me? Pretend that he's sorry? Is he really sorry? Was he worried for me?
He frowned, stepping forward and cupping her chin in his hand. "What happened to your face, love?"
Hettie opened her mouth and finally found her voice. "Two men tried to sell me to a brothel." She tried to put accusation in the voice. 'If you hadn't been evil, this wouldn't have happened to me' sort of accusation.
Benedict's face hardened. "Where are they?"
"Hugo killed them." She said simply.
A few weeks ago those words would have shocked her. The death. The coldness of the voice. As though it were no more than smashing a fly.
Of course, a fly was worth more than those two.
"Hugo?" He asked. Hettie cursed inwardly. The rest here probably don't want someone like Benedict to know their real names. Wait... why would I defend Hugo? Confusion gripped her.
"Why are you here?" She asked. The accusational tone was clear as a bell this time.
"I've been looking for you everywhere! I checked all of your friend's houses and your Aunt Cythna, then all the hotels. I never thought you'd be in the Crease." He said softly.
Friends? I don't consider any of the nobles I know to be friends. Not like Geneve is a friend.
"You didn't answer me." She said. Strange. Once upon a time that answer would have satisfied me.
He frowned. "I'm here to bring you home. You don't have to stay here any longer."
"I know I don't have to." Hettie felt disgusted with herself. That I could have considered going home to this beast! "Why do you bother lying? I'm not giving you the necklace, and I'll be soldered before I give it to you."
"The necklace?" Benedict asked.
"Perhaps you know it better as 'the key'." She snapped.
His eyes sparked with recognition and he looked at her chest. "Oh... the necklace. That's unimportant. A copy can be made."
"And if it couldn't, then you would gladly take it?" She pressed.
"Not if it means you wouldn't come home." Benedict said. He put a hand on her waist.
Could he mean it? He's never struck me... never been truly mad with me.
"Everything I do, it's for you." He whispered.
"Then never order someone's assassination for my sake again."
"Done." He promised.
Was he lying? Or did he mean it? Either way he has no conscience.
"Why?" She whispered. "Why would you do it in the first place?"
"To make you queen." He said.
"Of Seolfor." He said, taking her hand.
Her heart thudded.
So that's why Temper Mints was spying on him.
Why he cheated and stole for money, weapons, and food.
Why he had Tarl kill Lord Tael.
Because you need money, weapons, and food to forge an army.
Lord Tael was the only Lord rich enough to compete.
Because Benedict was going to replace the Aristocracy with a Monarchy.
Or... featuring Hettie?
"No. No!" She yelled, pulling back so quickly her elbow smacked into the counter-top. "I'm not going back! I'm staying here! I'm not leaving my friends and I'm not going with you!"
Benedict's eyes were sad. He hesitated. "Hettie... I don't want you getting hurt. The Crease is dangerous."
"Your rust right it is! And too late." She turned so he wouldn't see the tears coursing down her face.
He was silent.
Then he said, "Can I at least have Tarl be here to watch over you?"
"I never want to be near someone as horrible as you or Tarl ever again." Her shoulders shook.
"The Crease is worse!"
"Nothing is worse than someone who pretends to be good, who pretends to love, but hides a monster." Hettie knew it wasn't true, but she wanted Benedict gone.
"I'll be back, love." He promised.
The door-bell rang out.
And Hettie flew into the machine shop.
"Did you hear that?" She demanded.
They all nodded.
"And why didn't you tell me?" She snapped.
"We didn't know." Hugo said. "We never knew what he was doing. We just knew it was something off plot."
Becca grimaced. "That man's mad."
"You're hardly the epitamy of sanity." Hettie said, forgetting that no one knew she'd eavesdropped. She went on quickly. "And don't insult him."
"You just insulted him." Hugo pointed out.
"He's my husband. I'm allowed." She said. Hugo's brow furrowed.
"Stop the bickering." Drake said calmly. "We know what he's up to. Now we can stop him."
Carl set down a large cog. "We can try, Drake. We can try."
A PLOT UNVEILED
Everyone but Geneve was gathered in the Mechanics room.
“He’s going to what?!” Mina said, aghast.
“Overthrow the aristocracy.” Hettie said grimly. “And make himself king.”
“And you queen.” Hugo glowered.
Becca twitched. “This is a waste of time. Let him.”
Everyone turned to Becca.
“Waste of time better spent doing what?” Hettie demanded.
Becca was quiet.
“I thought so.” Hettie nodded.
“That is an interesting point. Why do we care?” Hugo asked.
Hettie sighed. Was it so unobvious? “The man’s a thief. A liar. A murderer. We don’t want that kind of person running our country.”
“All nobles are that.” Hugo said. “Our lives won’t change drastically.”
“He’s amassing an army.” She said quietly. “An army of who?”
Becca’s head snapped up.
“Exactly.” She said. “I thought about what Becca is doing with Carl. Um…” Hettie flushed. “I was eavesdropping.”
“We noticed.” Becca said coldly.
Carl stood up. “That will not be allowed. We must stop him.”
“But what is he doing?” Mina persisted. Hugo’s eyes jumped from person to person.
Drake stood against the wall, arms folded.
“He’s going to automatize the people.” He said.
“How did you know?” Hettie asked, cocking her head.
Drake winked. “There are no secrets in Temper Mints.”
* * * * *
The chimes went off at record speed before Geneve burst through the door.
“Wickes is going to overthrow the aristocracy!” She cried.
Everyone in the house gave a little smirk before returning to their work.
Geneve looked at Hettie and Hugo, who were in the shop. “Well?”
“Well what?” Hugo asked.
Geneve’s eyes narrowed.
“Woah, Sister. Relax. Hettie figured it out… Wickes came to get her.”
Geneve turned to Hettie, who gave a foolish wave.
“What happened to your face?” She demanded.
“An incident with a legal company.” Hettie said regretfully.
Geneve shook her head. “I don’t know if things here have changed for the better or worse due to you.”
“Did you also know that he’s going to turn people into automatons so that they’ll fight for him if necessary?” Hugo asked.
“What?!” Geneve barked.
“Same process as what Carl and Becca are doing, but backwards. Removing the souls of people and putting them in harmless analytical machines or the like.”
“What the solderin’ rust?!” She yelled. “Carl and Becca are doing witchcraft?!”
“Relax.” Hettie scolded, snapping a washrag against the counter. “The soul was already taken from the body, best we can figure. Someone else did the black magic. We’re just trying to make things easier for the poor soul.”
Geneve glared. “Topsy-turvy, that’s what this house is.” She stalked off.
Hugo whistled. “Once upon a day she would have been deadly silent. Like talking to a block of granite.”
“So is this eruption better?” Hettie ventured.
“Far.” Hugo grinned. “Now, love,” He put an arm around her waist. “What’s your plan for stopping your dear hubby?”
She snapped the rag again, whipping his hand. He withdrew hastily. “Easy. I go home.”
“Oh, hush. You sound like Geneve.”
“That’s a phrase I never thought I’d hear.” Drake said from the doorway.
“Why are you going home?” Mina yelled from the kitchen.
How did she hear me in there? Hettie wondered.
“So she can keep an eye on Benny-boy.” Hugo yelled back.
“That’s the dumbest idea I ever heard!” Geneve yelled from upstairs.
“I think it’s rather smart.” Becca called. “Do us a favor and get chained in his cellar.”
Hettie grinned. A patchwork conversation from a patchwork family.
Oh how she hated to leave home.
Home… She mused. It is home, isn’t it?