Terrible news, Dear Reader! We are once again in great danger, and have fled for our lives with nothing more than what we can carry.
This morning, I found that a note had been slipped under my door, and thank goodness I found it before the maid came in to build up the fire! It was from the girl, whose name is Violet. (She provided no surname.) She told me she had found my note last night, and very much appreciated my offer of friendship. She went on to say that, if she might be so bold so early in our relationship (if it can even be called such, as we have not even properly met each other) I needed to trust her in something.
If, she wrote, I trusted her and wanted to remain safe and free, I should mention at lunch that I am not feeling well, then stay in my room during supper complaining of a sick headache. I was not to eat or drink anything sent up by Mr. Troxill, no matter who brought it to me, and I was to communicate all of this to Zebediah. He was to say he was catching the same illness I had, and so avoid seeing our host at supper as well. She did not tell me the reason for any of this, but swore she would come and see me very late at night.
Dear Reader, I did try to stay awake, but having eaten and drunk nothing since the little I had at lunch (playing the part, I only picked at my food), I was a bit weak, so when I lay down on my bed a little past the normal time for supper, I was soon asleep. I awoke to see Violet standing over me, though she put her finger to her lips to signal silence as soon as my eyes opened.
Obliging her, I sat up and reached over to shake the lamp on my bedside table, but she stopped my hand. "Go and retrieve your friend from down the hall," she whispered. I nodded, then slipped out of my room to tap lightly on Zebediah's. He must have been waiting for me--though I know not how he knew I would come--for he answered the door only a few seconds later. I, also, put my finger to my lips, then motioned for him to follow me back to my room. It felt a little odd, bringing him to my own room so late at night, but if things were as bad as Violet seemed to think, it was precedented.
Violet asked us to please be seated, so I took the little chair by the fire, but Zebediah remained standing after he brought the desk chair over for Violet to sit in. She refused it with a small shake of her head (and I thought I heard the whirring of tiny gears as she did so), but he stayed on his feet regardless, standing to the right of my chair and a little behind it. Violet seemed to gather her courage for a moment, then began speaking.
"I suppose I have worried you with my... cryp-cryptic note." I nodded and gave an encouraging smile to show I did not begrudge her it, wondering at her stutter. "Let me assure you it was not for nothing, my warning. My--Mr. Troxill intended to dru-drug you at supper with something put in your food. He sent you both something-something else, did he not?"
"Tea and toast," I said, nodding. "I picked the toast apart and poured the tea in the flower pot." I nodded at the half-shriveled little thing, though fear not, as it has looked like that since my arrival; it did not die just because of the drugged tea. "You didn't touch your tray, did you?" I asked Zebediah. He shook his head.
"Good," said Violet. "That, too, would have been drugged. When you wo-woke up tomorrow morning, it would have been on a dirig-dirigible already far from here. I believe you are familiar with C-captain Bellclaire."
Lightning shot down my spine and I looked up at Zebediah. He had gone suddenly pale, and his eyes were filled with worry as he met my gaze. "We... are familiar with the man, yes," I said slowly, not sure how much Violet knew and wondering if it would be wise to disclose the whole story to her.
"Mr. Troxill told me that you were ta-taken by Belleclaire several weeks ago in order to be brought to a powerful man who paid him-paid him for you. You have talents, Miss Greenwater, which may men in this c-country and others would kill for. Have killed for."
Another shiver went through me. "And he was going to turn us back over to the captain?" I asked, a bit of a tremble in my voice.
"For a share of the mon-money," Violet confirmed. "He told me this the day after you arrived. He somehow got in contact with the cap-captain and arranged the deal. It is not the first time he has d-done something like this, nor, I think, will it be the last."
At this point, I think I may have begun to panic a little. "What shall we do?" I asked. "They will come for us and take us aboard the ship even if we are not passed out from drugging!"
"I can get you out," Violet said earnestly, though there was something about her eyes that seemed cold. "I must admit, however, that I do this-this not only to help you, but out of selfish reasons. Your note last night de-decided it for me. This is my one op-opportunity to escape, and I must take it."
"Escape?" I echoed, bewildered. "What do you mean, escape? Are you not... Mr. Troxill's ward? Or...?"
She did not answer my question, only said, "If you leave, you must t-take me with you. That is my condition. Otherwise you will be handed over to Captain Belle-belleclaire within the hour."
Alarmed, I looked at the clock over the fireplace to see it was well past midnight! I had slept longer than I thought. "How do you know this?" I asked, again starting to panic.
"He was g-gloating to me earlier this evening. He spoke of all the money he-he would make by turning you in."
"I thought he was our friend!" I cried, (though quietly). "And a friend of Professor Eberhart's too! How could he do this?" The fine clothes, the wonderful food, the hospitality. All a ruse to get us to stay here and be content, to not ask questions.
"He cares more for mon-money than anything else," Violet said, and she sounded so unutterably tired when she said it that I did not press her for more information, especially since this was almost the most emotion I had yet heard in her slightly tinny voice. "Will you go, then? Or stay-stay and meet your downfall when the mercenaries arrive?"
I looked up at Zebediah again. I half expected him to be gloating over the fact that he had been right about Mr. Troxill all along, but all he looked was worried.
"What do you think?" I asked him in hand speech, since we could not have a private conversation with Violet so nearby. She watched us, her head tilted a little to one side, but said nothing.
"We must go," he replied, though he spelled the words out on my palm. "Spell words. She is sharp, could understand gestures."
That made sense, certainly. Though she had proven herself to be our friend (though for selfish reasons, but if she was truly that desperate, I suppose I cannot blame her) I still wanted to discuss this in private. "Where could we go?" I spelled back.
"Ask," he told me.
"To where will we flee?" I asked aloud, turning to face Violet.
"I have a plan. We can st-stay in the city a day or two, and then we must part. I think you-you should return to the academy. Gloating still, Mr. Troxill told me the 'old fool' had been dee-deemed harmless. It should be safe there, now."
My heart sank at the thought of more days and nights spent in the endless forest, for as "wanted fugitives," we could not take the main roads or sleep in inns, especially after escaping Belleclaire's grasp yet again. Then something else occurred to me. "They will know we have gone back to the academy," I said.
Violet only shook her head. "I cannot h-help you," she said. "I can only free you from this gilded prison."
I glanced at Zebediah once more for confirmation, which he gave with a look. "We will go with you," I said, "but first answer me one question."
"Are you a clockwork?" I asked bluntly. I know it may have been petty and silly, Dear Reader, but I felt I would die if I did not know for sure before we parted ways forever!
Hesitating only a second, Violet looked at me hard, then asked, "Do I look like a ch-child's wind-up toy?"
"That is not what I mean," I said impatiently, the need for haste finally clicking in my mind. "A clockwork. A human with machine parts, imbued with Illumination in order to retain life. Are you from that era centuries ago when such creatures were common, or--"
"I am not a creature," she said with heat in her voice. "I am..." She cast about as if searching for the right words, and seemed a little lost for a moment, but then she recovered. "I am... what you say. Mr. Troxill, if you did n-not know, is Gifted. He... made me what I am."
"How did you come to be like this?"
"If you want to make it out of here before your friend the captain arrives," she said as though she did not hear me, "I suggest you pack what you can, and quickly. Make no sound, and meet me in the little hallway that leads to the kitchen in ten minutes." She took a key from her pocket and waved it about so it spun from the blue ribbon threaded through the top, then without another word, she left us.
In truth, I had forgotten Mr. Miller was still behind my chair until he put a hand on my shoulder. I jumped, startled, but then let out a breath and apologised. "I suppose we should do as she says." I rose to begin gathering my things, but Zebediah stayed. "You must go and pack," I told him, but he hesitated still. "I am fine," I assured him, setting down the hairbrush I had been holding and crossing the room to stand near him. "We must do... what we must do. And if, in order to escape, we have to help Violet out of here as well... so be it."
He nodded with a little half-shrug to show his agreement, but stepped forward and took my hand. I thought he was going to spell something on it, but he merely held it between both his own for a while, looking down into my eyes. Then he let go and returned to his own room.
We are currently, all three, in a cramped and smelly room above a soup kitchen, where at least a hundred homeless vagabonds sprawl sleeping and snoring. I am scribbling this by the moonlight peeping in through a filthy window, and must now sleep myself. More details soon. Tomorrow we are on the run yet again, and I must be ready for it.