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Chapter Twenty

The revolution is not decided in the city. It never is; or rather, it is never settled where one might assume it would be. Revolutions, politics, wars, all are truly fought and won in small rooms far removed from the conflict, decided by a select and terrifyingly disparate group of people who might otherwise never interact with the issue at hand. Miss Blackburne iterates and reiterates this point through the duration of the entire walk over, ensuring that every member of their group understood their place in the events at hand.

As the evening arrives under a gloomy sky, smoke continues to trickle up from various places across Bellchester. The afternoon of fighting showed no signs of stopping, and as Annette feared, it only seems to escalate as night drops down to cover them all. An array of gunshots sound out through the streets and alleys, accompanied by police whistles, overturned barricades, and the cries of dozens upon dozens of people. Each step that carries Annette out of the city feels very nearly like betrayal. She knows she wouldn’t last very long out in the chaos of it all, and yet it leaves a bitter taste in her mouth to imagine just how many of her friends and comrades might be fighting for their lives and their futures in the streets.

Morrigan leads the march out of the city, accompanied by Annette, Cordelia,and a half dozen guards who provided no form of identification to their organization. The easiest guess is that they are simply mercenaries, hired by Pemberly for whatever purposes Miss Blackburne requires, but Annette suspects anything regarding the woman would resist simple explanation. Her self-disclosure of occupying an administrative role for Pemberly Exports falls more and more into question with each moment they interact, and it is difficult for Annette to overlook the curious terror with which Cordelia holds her in. And so, as Annette turns the loaded revolver in her hand over and over and over, gazing out on the glowing lights of Lamishton in the countryside, a half mile away, she does begin to believe the true battle lay before them.

“You don’t have to use it,” Cordelia says to Annette, her voice low and cautious as they stand apart from the rest of their party.

Annette is surprised by how heavy the pistol feels in her hands. She’d held them before and was always struck by their weight, so dense and so compact, yet this particular one is notably heavier. “You don’t load a weapon you won’t intend to use,” Annette utters back to her, voice hollow and weak.

“You didn’t load it,” Cordelia rebuts.

Annette purses her lips and raises her hand, aimlessly pointing the barrel out towards the countryside. “And yet it is ready to fire nonetheless.”

The sound of grass giving way underfoot pulls her attention away and she drops the weapon to her side once more. Morrigan strolls over to them, her guards tending to the captured courier behind her. The poor errand boy had been on his way to Lamishton when they caught him, and it had taken very little encouragement to pry information out from him.

“We’re ready to move,” Morrigan stops, tucking her hands behind her back.

Annette steals another glance at the grand estate before them, perhaps a half mile away. “Your men have finished scouting the area?”

“Annette,” Morrigan exhales, as though disappointed. “Everything before you has been planned and prepared for weeks. You are simply the last to know it.”

Her face turns sour and she looks away, fiddling with the pistol in her hand. “Apologies if this is my first coup.”

“More of a civil war,” Cordelia shrugs. “Benton where do you believe we ought to search first?”

Annette should be less surprised than she is that Morrigan was aware of her previous visit, but she finds the reminder of her reach annoying. “It’s evening,” she replies, “I would suggest Lord Winchester’s study.”

“Interesting,” Morrigan considers, only to add, “and incorrect. They will be at dinner. Quick as you can.” She turns and steals down the hallway, making her way towards the dining room like it was her own home and she required no level of thought to navigate it.

Cordelia arrives at Annette’s side and whispers, “While it is past dinnertime, events of the day will have distracted them and kept whatsapp escort them away from the table. Hence, a late dinner.”

And then they are outside of the dining room, stacking up alongside the double doors whilst the Pemberly forces use their weapons to discourage any of the servants passing by from interfering or making any noise. Annette briefly wonders what Miss Pennywise would think of the two of them now, stalking outside the dinner table of her new owners, prepared to take extreme measures to oppose them.

“Miss Baker, Jones, why don’t you lead our entrance?” Morrigan suggests, nodding to the two of them. “I’m sure they would be delighted to encounter familiar faces.” Annette and Cordelia share a look, weighing the possibility of betrayal. To Annette’s relief, the detective passes along an assured and resolute nod. Annette takes hold of one of the doorknobs, turning it as slowly as she can as Cordelia brandishes her pistol and prepares to charge in.

The moment the door opens the room is under their control. Cordelia marches in, hardly even needing to shout in order to assert order. “Hands on the table, no sudden movements,” she directs. Annette follows quickly behind her, joined thereafter by Morrigan’s group. It isn’t a full table as they had hoped, but each of them turn to the occupying force.

“He’s not here,” Annette calls out. There’s only three figures at the table: Lucien Winchester, Arthur Hayle, and his wife, Elizabeth Hayle.

Lucien makes to stand, growing, “I’ll not tolerate such-,”

Morrigan scowls and decides not to humor his aggravation, choosing to strike him with the butt end of her pistol to silence him. Lucian falls forward into his dinner plate, groaning and growling.

“Where’s your brother?” The woman demands.

Lucian frowns, gazing up at her like the question made no sense to him. “He’s been dead for over a year.”

“Incorrect,” Cordelia shrugs, spinning her revolver in her hand as she leans up against one of the cabinets adorning the walls around the room. “Your brother has been assisting you and Mr. Hayle in leading the Mallets.”

“Tell us where he is,” Annette adds.

“Christ,” Lucien glowers, pulling his eyes up to stare disdainfully at Annette, “you again.”

She turns to Morrigan and smirks. “Please hit him again.” She does.

“Arthur,” Morrigan shifts her focus, pulling out a chair for herself at the table and staring down the Baron, “perhaps your wife would like to answer some questions for us?” She tilts her revolver at the cowering woman beside him.

Elizabeth devolves before them, immediately crashing under the pressure of interrogation and threat. “I-I don’t know anything of what is happening here!”

“Not lying,” Cordelia mutters across the room.

“Then I turn my question to Arthur instead,” Morrigan shrugs, sliding the barrel of her gun towards the Baron’s chest. “Where is Darrius?”

To his credit, Arthur Hayle stares down the woman as though being held at gunpoint was a usual dinnertime activity of his. He removes the napkin from his lap and carefully folds it onto the table before him, gently informing them that he, “will not answer questions on terms as unfavorable as this.”

“Arthur, dear,” his wife stammers beside him, “whatever this is, I believe you ought to-,”

“Apologies, Mrs. Hayle,” Annette interrupts, feeling a twinge of pity in watching the woman defend such a wretched man. “I’m not sure your husband is likely to take your feelings much into consideration. He is, in fact, quite the prolific adulterer, if his conversations with Lord Winchester are to be believed.”

Elizabeth’s face grows sour, scorn replacing fear. “I’m aware,” she grumbles.

Cordelia lets out a quick bark of laughter across the room and sighs, “Ah, the enlightenment of noble aspirations.”

Arthur Hayle raises an eyebrow, but to his credit, or perhaps condemnation, he does not speak further. He sits his broad shoulders back into his chair and crosses one leg over another, hands tucked neatly into his lap. He tilts his chin away from his interrogator and gives her a stiff upper lip. Lucien frowns, glaring at Morrigan as if to say, You’re not going to hit him?

“Darrius Winchester is in this house,” Morrigan istanbul escort bayan relents, seemingly deciding the Baron wasn’t worth the trouble. She turns to Annette and Cordelia and says, “You two scout the rest of the home. We’ll hold these ones here and take charge of the ground floor.”

“And if we find him…?”

A spark of excitement flashes behind the woman’s eyes. “I’m fascinated to see what you’ll do.”

Cordelia leaves the room first, departing without much contestation of the plan, so Annette follows her. It takes great effort not to take the detective by the hand once they shut the doors behind themselves, comforting one another as they face off into the unknown. Though, as tempting as grabbing Cordelia’s palm and pulling her out into the night to escape this all is, Annette doesn’t even need to ask to know that neither of them would truly consider abandoning this moment. The end was at hand, ready to meet them both.

Annette leads the way through Lamishton, having explored it more than the detective, and she guides the two of them down the long corridors of the second floor, moving wing by wing to ensure they were empty. The study where she’d first found Winchester is empty, as is the one where she overheard him speaking with Arthur Hayle. The servant’s quarters are full of people, held at bay by Morrigan’s forces, though there is no sign of Miss Pennywise. For her sake, Annette hopes she is holed up in some dark corner of the house and waiting out the storm. She’d almost considered passing by the wing that had once housed the Deveroux’s on her prior visit to the estate when a noise alerts her. It’s a dull thump of something dense falling to the ground, difficult to assume is anything other than a body being dropped to the floor. She and Cordelia station themselves outside the door, and once more she allows the detective to charge into the room first as she swings the handle open.

A voice shouts from inside, high and panicked, only to be quickly silenced by whoever its aggressor was. In a decision Annette cannot fully remember making, she enters the room with her pistol tucked neatly into the pocket of her coat. She’d never had a holster for it, instead electing to keep it tucked away like spare change, and she possesses neither the skill to draw it nor the will to use it to make it more easily accessible. And so, as she and Cordelia race past the familiar living room and towards the bedroom, where the sound emanated, Annette charges weaponless.

She can see in Cordelia’s eyes that the detective considers firing once the scene forms before her, but a moment of indecision freezes her. Duels and gunfights are nearly always resolved in the first milliseconds of decisions that overcome a person; either through preparation or instinct one wins or loses a battle. Cordelia’s surprise upon seeing Samantha bound and tossed to the floor defeats her, as does Annette’s decision to place her own weapon so deep into her own coat. The Admiral plays the winning move before the battle even occurs; his weapon drawn and pointed directly at the cowering Lady Deveroux beside him.

“Drop your weapons,” he commands them. Cordelia pauses, then nods and slowly crouches. She places it a foot to her right. Revier’s steely gaze meets Annette and directs, “Yours, too.”

Annette’s eyes meet Samantha’s, frightenedly scanning her figure to assess the damage. Her words catch in her throat, leaving Cordelia to speak up in her defense, quickly replying, “She hasn’t the stomach for weapons.” She exhales and follows the barrel of the gun to its soon-to-be victim. “Lady Deveroux.”

Samantha is bound and gagged, sporting a deep purple bruise in the place just above her right eye. Her cheek presses into the rug, and the fact that she was wearing a lovely gown suggests she was not expecting such an assault from her husband. Her eyes race between Cordelia and Annette, pleading for their intervention.

“What have you done to her?” Annette croaks.

The pistol rises from Samantha and finds its way to Annette’s chest instead. “A close friend of mine informed me this evening that my wife has a terrible habit… one you would know all about.”

Cordelia takes a half step forward, prompting Revier to switch his target to her. “Annette, özbek escort I believe you ought to press on. Darrius is not here.”

“She isn’t going anywhere!”

“I’m not leaving you,” Annette says, glancing at both of the women in the room.

The detective takes another step forward, slowly removing her coat from her shoulders and letting it drop to the floor. “Revier, I’ve heard recently you’re an accomplished boxer. Best aboard your vessel, are you not?”

“Shut your mouth,” he brandishes the weapon once more.

“Do you believe you’ll retain your position once word gets out you were too frightened to box a woman?” Cordelia is now rolling up the sleeves to her button up.

The Admiral snorts disdainfully. “It’d be dishonorable to box one.”

“Consider this a formal challenge,” she grins, tossing her fear back and giving into scheming instead. “I’ve bested Conrad, Travers, even Johnson. Imagine word getting out that you were too frightened to face me? Humiliating.” She tilts her head back and tells Annette, “Take my coat, will you?” It is then that Annette realizes Cordelia’s greater ploy. She dropped her coat directly onto her pistol, covering it completely. It would take very little effort to pick them both up, giving them an easy advantage over him. The detective takes another half step forward. “Let’s settle this as gentlemen do.”

“You’re no gentleman,” Revier spits.

“Neither will you be when you lose,” she smirks. “Lady Deveroux, I apologize in advance for your husband’s future embarrassment. Or, should he choose not to fight me, I apologize for revealing he is a coward.”

There were many men who could resist such a taunt; who could look it in the eyes and decide not to stoop to its pitiful level. Men like this were immune to the haunted hills of status and reputation, easily able to shrug off personal assaults in favor of a greater sense of self. Revier, the playboy Admiral, the man who cared for little else than having another story to tell, another reputation to sell, was not one of these men. He discards his pistol and prepares to box, resolute in the promise he would defeat her nonetheless.

“Miss Baker, press on, will you?” She directs. Annette frowns at her, baffled by the reality that she did, indeed, wish to box this man. It would be far easier to have Annette simply turn the pistol upon him and take him down. But the detective seems assured in her decision, taunting the Admiral once more. “If it helps your fighting spirit, Admiral, I suspect I’ve laid with your dear wife on more occasions than either you or Annette, and I likely pleasured her far more.” She winks at him, to his great disgust. “Miss Baker?”

“At once,” Annette nods, escaping the room and leaving Cordelia to defend the woman she’d once discarded.

— — —

Darrius is in the final room that Annette searches, far back into the dark corners of the home. He’d apparently blown out most of the laps in the corridors, leaving them eerie and quiet. She marches down the hall with her own pistol still tucked deep into her pocket, wielding Cordelia’s between her palms. She knows she ought to simply shoot at him the moment she sees him, knows that it would do the most to guarantee her own safety, but there remains that part of her that is unsure of her capacity. Could she truly kill a man, especially one she’d so recently respected? So she enters the room with her gun only partially raised, there to establish potential threat without actually making one.

“Miss Baker?” A voice askes, its owner facing the window. “Close the door, if you’d be so kind.”

“How terrible it would be to be overheard,” she muses, but allows him this. The room is small, just a tiny library tucked away in the corner of the house. A desk separates her from the former revolutionary, who turns and deposits his pistol onto the hardwood before him.

“I presume you have questions,” Darrius invites, his voice dropping the timber of his former persona. He was no longer rough-voiced and principled, commanding and hardened. He sounds regal, elegant, his voice twinged with the shared accent of the gentry.

“As I am sure you do.”

He nods, setting himself down into the chair and gesturing for her to do the same. “Place your weapon on the table and sit.” He then waits for Annette to obey, which she does with some hesitation, and says, “Speak.”

Annette sifts through the collection of statements and complaints she’d formed ever since she’d learned of his treachery. She lands on the question: “Did you ever believe any of the things you’ve said?”

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