To Rosie, Nana, Dawn and Mum – I wish you could have been here for this.





‘None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.’

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818



Title Page




Paris, June 1794: Prairial Year II in the Revolutionary Calendar

PART ONE: Desperate Disease

1. The Sky Above the Conciergerie Prison, Paris

2. A Room on the Quai de la Mégisserie

3. A Courtyard in the Conciergerie

4. Olympe’s Cell

5. Underneath the Prison

6. The Prison Forge

7. The Arsenal

PART TWO: Who Shall Hang the Bell about the Cat’s Neck?

1. Headquarters of the Bataillon des Morts

2. The Restaurant Downstairs

3. Section Marat

4. The Parlour, Au Petit Suisse

5. The Restaurant Downstairs

6. The Roof, Au Petit Suisse

7. The Parlour, Au Petit Suisse

8. The Royalist Drop Point at the Madeleine Church

9. A Printer’s in Section de la Butte-des-Moulins, near the Jacobin Club

10. The Streets of the Right Bank

11. An Unknown House in the Forêt de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

12. On the Way to the Au Petit Suisse

PART THREE: And the Devils were Unchained

1. The Parlour, Au Petit Suisse

2. The Parlour, Au Petit Suisse

3. The Bedroom, Au Petit Suisse

4. The Théâtre Patriotique, Boulevard du Temple

5. Backstage at the Théâtre Patriotique

6. The Parlour, Au Petit Suisse

7. The Bedroom, Au Petit Suisse

8. An Abbey in the Faubourg Saint Martin

9. The Abbey Garden

10. The Chapel

11. The Chapel

12. Somewhere in the Abbey

13. The Théâtre Patriotique

14. The Théâtre Patriotique

15. Backstage at the Théâtre Patriotique

16. The Locked Doors of the Théâtre Patriotique

17. Backstage at the Théâtre Patriotique

PART FOUR: Quickening

1. The Crypt at the Saints-Innocents Safe House

2. The Charnel House at the Saints-Innocents Safe House

3. The Charnel House

4. The Charnel House

5. The Crypt

6. The Charnel House

7. The Charnel House

8. The Charnel House

9. A Chateau in the Forêt de Saint Germain

10. The Bal en Crystal

11. A House in the Forêt de Saint Germain

PART FIVE: Even Good Swimmers Drown in the End

1. Place de la Révolution

2. The Saints-Innocents Safe House

3. On the Pont National

4. In the Jardin des Tuileries

5. At the Top of the Mountain

6. In the Crowd on the Champs de Mars

7. At the Top of the Mountain

PART SIX: Dangerous Remedy

1. Île aux Cygnes

2. The Bedroom, Au Petit Suisse

3. A Town House on the Rue Barbette

4. Palais de Justice

5. Rue Barbette

6. Outside the Au Petit Suisse

7. Rue Barbette

8. Place de la Révolution

9. The Madeleine Church

10. The Crypt at the Saints-Innocents Safe House

11. The Foundations of the Madeleine

12. Above the Madeleine

13. Place de la Révolution

14. The Abandoned Cordeliers Convent


A Ship in Le Havre Port


About the Author

About Zephyr

Paris, June 1794

Prairial Year II in the Revolutionary Calendar

The Revolution is five years old. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette are dead. Robespierre’s faction controls the revolutionary government and has ushered in the Terror, along with war with England and a burgeoning police state. Over the last eight months the Tribunal has sentenced more than sixteen thousand people to death by guillotine. In May, provincial Revolutionary Tribunals are closed. All prisoners must now be sent to Paris for trial and execution. By June, the city’s prisons are bursting. The future of the Revolution – and a new, free future for the people of France – hangs in the balance.


Desperate Disease



The Sky Above the Conciergerie Prison, Paris

15 Prairial Year II

A bullet ripped through the fabric of the hot air balloon, and Ada knew their whole plan had been a terrible mistake. Dangling high above the most notorious prison in Robespierre’s Paris, her faith in the scientific forces holding them aloft seemed suddenly a lot more questionable. The job was simple: rescue Olympe Marie de l’Aubespine, who was being held prisoner before being taken to the guillotine. The plan was anything but. Breaking someone out of the Conciergerie had never been done before. So they’d needed to do something no one had ever tried.

‘If we die, I’m going to kill you.’ Al clung to the wicker basket beside Ada, blond hair whipping around his pale, pinched face as the hot air balloon lurched violently.

Stomach in anxious knots, Ada yanked on several ropes and pulleys at once, sending them bobbing slantways over the rooftops. ‘If you don’t start helping, Al, I’ll kill you first.’

She threw bag after bag of ballast over the side and watched them thunk onto the cobbles far below. Not far enough below for her liking. Streets and squares and parks unfurled beneath them, sprawling out from the prison like a spider’s web. A muddy swirl of slate roofs and green treetops washed up against the brown ribbon of the Seine as it flowed through the centre. The river split around the Île de la Cité, where the Notre Dame cathedral dominated at one end. At the other lay the prison, among the complex of law courts and Revolutionary headquarters. Above them, a broad sky yawned the cool eggshell blue of a half-hearted summer.

The tear in the balloon flapped jauntily in the wind, huffing out precious hot air. Ada had thought they’d been too high up for the prison guards’ musket fire to reach them.

She’d been wrong.

In the distance, she could just about see the Place de la Révolution, where the guillotine lay waiting. When the Revolution had started five years ago, it had been called Place Louis XV, named for the previous king. There had been hope of building a new France, of finding a better, fairer way to rule. But the new government had floundered, and King Louis XVI had been executed in the same square. It changed everything. It was as though France was a frustrated child, finally getting what it wanted, but finding the prize sour and disappointing. Without the king, people still starved, inequality continued. The country splintered and the different factions spat at each other like a serpent with many heads. In the middle of all of it, Ada, Al and the rest of the Battalion of the Dead were the last port of call for anyone with a loved one in trouble – whatever side they were on – with prison breaks their speciality.

Ada loved the thrill of the chase, the flare of pride when a plan came off. But sometimes she knew they pushed their luck too far. The hiss of escaping air gave her the creeping fear that this was going to be the last mistake she ever made.

‘What do we do?’ shrieked Al, peering over the edge at the crenellations of the prison that were rapidly rising to meet them.

Ada rammed a hairpin back in place to secure the tight, black curls that framed her brown face. She threw another couple of ballast bags overboard, giving a calculating glance at the ground to try to judge their rate of descent. Dread made her chest tight, but she was damned if she’d let Al see it.

‘I’m making us lighter,’ she explained. ‘It’s a basic scientific principle. Hot air rises – we have lots of hot air above us – but only if we’re lighter than the volume of air.’

‘Are you mad? Air doesn’t weigh anything!’ Al clutched at the ropes, face ashen. ‘I’m going to die because a madwoman thinks she can weigh air. Dead, disowned and not even eighteen.’

Ada rolled her eyes. She yanked at the burner, sending a jet of flame soaring, praying the other members of the battalion were in place, ready to carry out their part of the plan.

‘Just throw the ballast overboard.’

The flame licked the drooping fabric and it started to smoulder. Al watched it curiously.

‘Is that supposed to happen?’

‘No.’ She swallowed. ‘It really isn’t.’

A rush of fire whooshed over the fabric and the balloon began to disintegrate around them. Below, guards clustered on the prison roof, pointing and shouting. She wondered what they must look like to them: one pale face, one dark, hurtling down in a shower of flames like Lucifer falling from the heavens.

Al grabbed her hand, naked panic in his eyes.

The last of the balloon was swallowed up, and then they were free-falling into the most notorious prison in Paris.

Well, they were supposed to create a distraction.


A Room on the Quai de la Mégisserie

‘Ten livre.’ Camille lumped the stack of coins on the table.

The soldier scowled. ‘You said twenty.’

‘I also said turn up on time and don’t tell anyone you’re coming. But you failed on both those counts.’

‘I didn’t tell anyone.’

‘You told someone ten minutes after our deal. Or were you too drunk to remember telling Guil, here, that you could make good money selling your uniform to mad bitches in trousers?’

Guillaume smiled pleasantly from where he blocked the exit of the garret they’d rented opposite the Conciergerie.

The soldier cursed.

‘Ten livre.’ She pushed the coins across to him.

He snatched them up and Guil stepped aside to let him slope away.

Guil put on the uniform and took Camille’s pistol from her, tucking it into his belt. The uniform suited him; the blue and white tailored to his strong physique, the colours crisp against his dark skin. Suited the soldier he had once been. He was the oldest of her battalion but his months at the front in Germany made him seem far older, more authoritative. She was relying on it to get them into the prison.

Her disguise for the job was easier to come by: cheap canvas trousers, a worn-through shirt and a tattered jacket. She paused in front of the spotted mirror, scrubbing her hair into a rat’s nest and rumpling her clothes. Her pale face was already smudged with dirt, completing her look.

Frowning, Guil crossed to the window.

‘Camille – you ought to see this.’

She joined him at the window.

Above the prison, the last scrap of balloon disappeared from sight. Her stomach sank.

‘Did you tell Ada to do that?’ asked Guil.

‘Definitely not.’

‘I said Al should have stayed behind. He cannot be trusted with such a responsibility.’

Camille fell back from the window, fingers twisting in the cuffs of her shirt. She’d told Ada and Al to cause a distraction with the balloon, not crash the thing. Ada would be fine – she was clever, resourceful – Ada had to be fine.

The memory of Ada lighting the balloon’s burner in the Jardin du Luxembourg came unbidden to her, the warm rush of flame catching, lighting Ada’s brown skin, picking out the tawny flecks in her eyes. Ada’s fingers sliding against hers, comforting, intimate, gentle. They’d stood side by side watching the balloon slowly inflate and take shape. Before they’d cut the tether, Ada had leaned down and tucked a stray lock of Camille’s hair behind her ear, running her thumb along her jaw. When she got her hands on Ada again she didn’t know what she was going to do first, kiss her or yell at her for frightening her so badly.

She made a decision.

‘Get ready. We move now.’

Outside, the crashing balloon had gathered a crowd along the banks of the Seine, a mix of dockworkers and shop girls, university students and Paris Commune members all wearing tricolore cockades and leaning up against the stone embankments. After five years of revolution and an endless string of riots, coups and public executions, it took something special to bring Paris to a standstill. As Camille had hoped, a hot air balloon was just the thing – and the commotion meant no one was paying much attention to a soldier hauling a prisoner over the Pont au Change. Guil had his hand clamped firmly around her arm and, with a look of stern indifference, was jostling a path through the crowd.

The day had started auspiciously, dawning crisp and clear ready for the balloon. After launching Ada and Al into the skies, Camille and Guil had just had time to prepare their half of the plan. It was a variation on the battalion’s favourite theme: the sleight of hand, the performance, the distraction. Make everyone look in one direction, while you do something in the other. It had worked for them half a dozen times or more. From forging documents and stealing identities, to fabricating a plague outbreak, Camille knew curiosity and fear were the two easiest weapons to wield.

This time would be no different. The crash was an unforeseen risk, but it had happened and it was certainly a distraction. They’d pulled off enough prison breaks together to know how to adapt on the run. Between her own strategic thinking, Al’s contacts in old aristocratic circles, Guil’s military knowledge and Ada’s scientific problem-solving, Camille knew she could trust her battalion to get themselves out of whatever they’d got themselves into.

The Revolution had lost its way, the Terror ensnaring too many innocents. The battalion saved people because it was the right thing to do. And it didn’t hurt that they were damn good at it.

Camille and Guil crossed the ancient bridge over the broad, dark water. On the far side, the Conciergerie soared like a cliff from the edge of the Île de la Cité, all looming gothic arches and spindly towers. At the other end of the island was its echo in the Notre Dame cathedral and its countless gargoyles and spires.

The Conciergerie: the fortress prison, seat of the Revolutionary Tribunal itself and last staging post for those condemned to die. The last time Camille had been there was to rescue her father on her own, before she’d had the battalion to back her up. She’d failed. Now she had a second chance. An innocent girl needed her help. If she managed this, her demanding father might have even been proud.

The last scraps of balloon fabric were slipping over the roof when they reached the iron gate set into the stone wall. They mounted the steps and Guil rapped the handle of his pistol against the bars to get the attention of the single guard on duty. That was two less than had been there when she’d made a sweep that morning. The guard tore his eyes away from the commotion in the courtyard behind him. Camille’s muscles were so tense she felt as if her bones might snap. That must be where the balloon had crashed.

Guil knocked on the bars again and the guard finally gave them an assessing look.


‘Found a stray one hiding in a flop house down the Rue Avoye, dressed as a boy.’ He hefted Camille by the armpit, showing her to the guard.

The guard sniffed. ‘One what?’

‘A stray from the Vendée sympathisers. My god, man, do you not listen to a thing in morning docket? General Dumas would have your hide for such lax behaviour.’

The guard eyed Camille.

‘Rationalist scum!’ She spat at him through the bars. ‘Your so-called Revolution rejects God, so we reject you.’

Sneering, the guard opened the gate.

‘Throw her somewhere dank,’ he said to Guil.

Guil strode past, hauling Camille fast enough that she lost her footing on the cobbles. She was going to end up with bruises. Good. It had to look real.

‘My pleasure. Back to your post, soldier.’

Snapping a salute, he led her away and the guard shut the gate behind them.

They were in. Now for the hard part.

The smooth stone towers and walls of the prison rose before her. Home of the Revolutionary Court, the Palais de Justice, and if their information was correct, holding place of fifteen-year-old Olympe Marie de l’Aubespine on her way to the guillotine. Their mission.

Confidently, Guil walked Camille to a squat door in a tower as patrols of Revolutionary Army crossed their path in drilled ranks. He knew his way around better than she did; he’d spent enough time here as a soldier in the Legion St George. A spiral staircase wound down into the dungeons where the worst cells and the oubliettes were, depositing them into a featureless corridor. Camille paused, leaning on her thighs. Her weak lungs were playing up, feeling too tight to draw full breath. When she finally stood, Guil gave back her gun, and pointed down the corridor.

‘Left, then two rights, and you’ll come to an iron door. That’s the one.’

Camille hesitated.

Somewhere in the prison was Ada. She didn’t know if she was captured, let alone alive. Their plan relied on them getting in and out as quickly as possible. If she changed things to look for Ada, they might miss their chance to rescue Olympe. They could fail. A curl of pride flared in her belly.

Ada knew that. She knew the plan and she could look after herself.

But leaving Ada behind felt worse than failure.

Guil brushed his fingers against her arm.

‘Go get the girl,’ he said. ‘I’ll get Ada and Al.’

‘That’s not the plan.’

‘So change it.’

She reached for her father’s pistol, wanting the comfort of its handle against her palm. ‘All right. Don’t get into trouble.’

Guil squeezed her shoulder then set off back up the stairs.

Before she lost her nerve, Camille strode deeper into the dungeons on her own. Left, then two rights, and there was the iron door. Low and heavy with rust caking the rivets that held it together, and moss growing between the damp-slick stones around it. Steadying her shaking fingers, she hunkered next to Olympe’s cell and took out her lock picks.

This was the plan. There was no fate. No destiny. Everything was a choice.

Guil and Ada and Al could make their own choices, and she would make hers.

The lock snicked open, and she slipped inside.

It was show time.


A Courtyard in the Conciergerie

Ada and Al pelted hand in hand across the courtyard, sending a brood of hens flapping out of their way. The balloon crash had taken the guards by such surprise they’d had a clear minute after tumbling the last few metres from the basket to pick themselves out of the wreckage and make a dash for it. Beyond that, Ada didn’t have much of a plan. She could just about picture the map of the prison they’d studied, but breaking out was a hell of a lot harder than breaking in. They doubled back through a span of vaulted archways into a courtyard by the Tour de l’Horloge. The prison encircled them in stone and gothic spires. Behind them, a clutch of soldiers was gaining ground, brandishing muskets and yelling. The wreckage of their balloon was strewn across the cobbles, the smashed remnants of the basket hanging by its ropes from the rooftop. There should be a gate here somewhere, if Ada hadn’t mixed things up completely. Then in front of them, another troop emerged, blocking their way.

Without thinking, Ada flung herself right through a door into a cramped corridor, dragging Al with her. They raced down it, but there was only a spiral staircase at the end. They couldn’t go back – the soldiers would be following. They had to go down.

She took the steps two at a time and crashed straight into a soldier on his way up. They both lost their footing and fell, landing in a bruised and tangled heap.

Slowly, the soldier stirred. Ada swallowed against the ball of panic in her throat – then frowned.


Al joined them at the bottom of the stairs, staring at them in confusion.

‘You were supposed to cause a diversion, not crash the balloon,’ said Guil, extracting himself and standing up.

Al grinned. ‘And you were supposed to stick with Cam and get our damsel in distress out safely. Looks like we’re all bad at our jobs.’

Ada pulled herself to her feet. A sheen of sweat coated Guil’s face and his fingers were flexing by his side.

‘How are you here?’ she asked. ‘What’s going on? Where’s Cam?’

‘With Olympe. The plan is still the plan.’ He looked down his nose at Al. ‘I came to help you two idiots.’

‘Cam’s okay?’ Ada asked again.

Guil nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Al cut in.

‘Not to be that person, but we’ve got company.’ He jerked his head at the shadows curling round the stairs.

‘We have to lead them away,’ said Guil. ‘Camille’s down here breaking into Olympe’s cell. We need to go.’

Ada thought for a moment.

The corridor branched left and right. The cellars spread across most of the building, from the oubliettes where the poorest prisoners were dumped, to the old Merovingian palace and the catacombs of the Sainte-Chapelle. That was north from where they’d crashed. They could get out through the chapel. Probably.

‘This way!’

She pulled the boys left.

‘So what do we do now?’ asked Al as they dashed through passageways.

‘Cam knows what she’s doing,’ replied Ada. It made her feel sick to think of leaving without her, but she knew it would be what Camille wanted. ‘We need to get out. Not a bad thing if we cause a scene doing it.’

They turned down the last twist of corridor – into a dead end.

There was a locked door in front of them. Behind, the footsteps of the soldiers drew closer.

‘Somehow,’ said Al, ‘I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.’

Ada pulled a pin from her hair and kneeled to work on the lock.

‘Do you still remember how to do that?’ asked Al.

‘I’ve done it before when I’ve had to,’ replied Ada through gritted teeth. ‘I can do it again.’

‘What’s through there?’

‘I don’t know. Prisoners, probably.’

‘Well, that’s good. Let them all out and swamp the soldiers. That should be enough of a scene.’

A soldier came round the corner, musket in hand. But Guil was ready for him. He fired, hitting the soldier in the thigh. He crumpled with a yelp and fumbled with his musket. Guil lined up another shot, as another uniform appeared round the edge of the stone wall and hooked his hands under the fallen man’s armpits to haul him back to safety. Guil’s bullet snipped the wall above his head, sending a shower of fragments skittering down. Their bright white uniforms vanished and Guil fell back to reload. The white of his borrowed uniform trousers and waistcoat were smudged with dirt, and he’d loosened the red necktie.

‘Work faster, Ada.’

She ignored him, focusing on the minute movements of the pin against the tumblers in the lock. She had all but the last tumbler raised; the angle was difficult and her pin was too short to lift it fully. Her fingers were sweaty. She pressed up with the pin, forcing it against the tumbler. The pin slipped in her fingers and clinked onto the floor.

She swore.

‘Faster, but also accurately,’ hissed Al.

Ada wiped her hands on her dress and picked up the pin again. She could do this. She had the feel of the lock now. She just had to tune out Al’s twitching and the voices of the advancing soldiers and the smell of gunpowder burning her nose.

‘You’re not exactly doing anything to help.’

‘Cellar gun battles aren’t my forte. I’ll leave that to the petty criminals like you two.’

The crack of gunfire ricocheted around the corridor. Al flinched, but shifted to stand protectively in front of Ada as she worked. She heard the retort of Guil’s gun as he returned fire. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck but her hands were cold now, calves cramping from squatting.

The last tumbler was sticking again.

A bullet struck the door above her head. This time Guil’s gun didn’t answer.

‘Time’s up,’ he said. ‘I’m out of bullets.’

The soldiers edged round the corner, muskets lowered.

Al lifted his hands. ‘Well. We tried.’

Guil didn’t let go of the musket, bracing himself next to Al.

The final tumbler lifted against the pressure of her pin, and the door opened. Ada sagged in relief. They tumbled forwards, bracing for the chaos of prisoners breaking free.

But their relief was short-lived.

The room was empty.


Olympe’s Cell

The door to the cell closed behind Camille, sealing out the sounds of the prison. All she could hear was the pounding of her pulse. Her first thought was that it didn’t smell quite as badly as the rest of the prison. There was fresh straw underfoot and the sweet scent of lavender covered the tang of urine. But nothing could cover the dank, death-like cold, the mildewy moisture thick in the air. The walls ran with water, worse than outside, moss and lichen blooming in the cracks. Rat droppings littered the flags beneath the straw, alongside rust-coloured splashes that Camille realised were blood. The further in she stepped, the stronger the stench of sewage.

It took her a moment to adjust to the gloom. There was only one small, slanted window high up by the ceiling, casting a square of light into the middle of the cell. It looked like the room was empty, that she’d made a mistake. Then she spotted it – a twist of rags in the corner: someone curled in a ball on a sodden pallet of hay. Camille thought for a moment it must be Olympe, but that made no sense. The person was wearing a ragged black muslin dress, a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck and a long braid of black hair hanging down her back. But instead of a head, there was a metal block. Camille blinked. No, not a block, a head-shaped oval of metal.

The hay rustled under Camille’s foot as she shifted her weight.

The person turned, and Camille finally understood what she was seeing.

It was a mask.

The front was a dented curve of iron, with three holes punched out – two for eyes and one for the mouth. There was only the faintest hint of lips behind the mask. The eyes were voids.

Camille backed up a step. Her hand rested on the grip of her pistol.

She cleared her throat.

‘Olympe Marie de l’Aubespine? I’m here to take you to safety.’

The masked creature uncoiled itself like a cat oozing from its basket, stretching limbs, joints cracking. She crouched on the floor, blank stare fixed on Camille.

She tried again.

‘Olympe? Your father sent us.’

‘I don’t have a father.’ Her voice was disconcertingly light coming from inside the metal.

She wore black gloves and black boots. Every centimetre of her skin was covered by leather or cloth, or the hideous mask. It seemed to be in two parts, hinged on one side and welded on the other. It looked heavy; Camille could tell by the way the girl slumped under its weight.

‘Well, someone sent us. You are Olympe, aren’t you?’

‘That’s what my mother called me. Do you know my mother?’

A bubble of horror and pity rose in Camille’s throat. That a wretched, nightmarish creature like this had a mother.

Camille considered her words. ‘No. Is she in the prison too?’

‘I don’t know. We used to live with the grass and trees, but the docteur said I had to come away with him.’ Her voice sounded unused.

What the hell was this? Was there some mistake? Had she come into the wrong cell? No, she’d been careful to take down the directions exactly. And this girl said she was Olympe. She mostly matched the description – small, slender, dark hair. They’d never described her face when she’d taken the job.

Camille pursed her lips and opened the door a crack to glance into the corridor. No sign of the guard.

She crossed to the girl, crushing the unease shifting in her gut.

The girl skittered into her corner, holding her gloved hands in front of her, and snarled. Camille paused, crouching like her so they were face to mask. There was something on the wall behind her. A tally, scratched into the stone, and beside it a child-like stick figure drawing of a girl in a long dress with a woman beside her. Olympe and her mother.

‘I’m not going to hurt you.’

The girl growled again as Camille reached for the mask, but she didn’t make any move to attack. ‘Does this thing come off?’

No answer.

Camille inspected the hinges – solid – then the other side. The remains of what had once been a catch were melted into a blob. Even from a glance, she could sense how heavy it was, the rough edges of the metal that must bite into the skin of the girl’s neck. She couldn’t stop herself imagining what it would be like to be shut into this thing. How it must weigh on her head, crush into her skull if she tried to stay upright. How difficult each breath must be, how muffled every noise. Like being trapped underwater. Or slowly smothered.

The thought of it made her recoil. This was torture.

Gingerly, she tried tugging at the gap between the two parts of the mask, but the girl yowled in pain.

‘Who are you? Did Docteur Comtois send you? I won’t do any more tests.’

Camille moved well away from the mask. ‘My name is Camille Laroche. I was hired to rescue you by someone claiming to be your father. Looks like he was lying about that, but not that you need rescuing.’

She held out her hand. The girl hesitated, then clasped it in a cold press of leather.

Something really wasn’t right here. But it was more than that. She’d been lied to. The duc had told her a sob story as if she were some silly girl he could manipulate. As if she were one of his servants. He wasn’t a father desperate to save his child. This was something else completely. Something a whole lot darker.

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep her anger in check, and hauled the girl up, catching her as she swayed.

The job was still the job. Sick, strange, twisted, but the job. This girl sure as hell needed rescuing, and being the first person to break someone out of the Conciergerie was nearly within reach. Even the duc’s lies weren’t going to keep her from that.

‘Do you want to get out of here?’

Olympe nodded.

‘Then that’s what we’ll do.’

Olympe was still gripping her hands. Her gloves were thin and supple, and sewn to the cuff of her dress. Camille frowned, turning the girl’s hand over to inspect the join.

‘Who did this?’

‘The docteur.’

She thought about this docteur sitting on a chair as he carefully stitched the girl into a fabric cage with his curved surgical needles. Lip curling in a silent snarl, she pulled a knife from her boot and made short work of the seam holding the glove and sleeve together. The stitches were stiff and brown with dried blood and tugged through the girl’s skin like a wound. They pulled away to leave a bracelet of blood blooming around her wrist. Camille thought for a moment she might be sick.

As she snipped through the final threads, Olympe stilled and drew in a sudden breath. The hairs on the back of Camille’s neck stood up. She spun on her heel, grasping her pistol.

A soldier had appeared in the doorway.

‘Who the hell are you?’

He strode forwards, lifting his baton.

Everything happened in a heartbeat. The pistol snagged in her belt as she tried to pull it out. The guard closed the gap, ruddy face twisted in fury. Olympe’s glove drifted to the floor.

The guard’s eyes widened – not at the pistol, but at Olympe’s bare hand.

Camille started to raise the gun, but Olympe was there first. She reached out and touched the skin at the guard’s neck. Blue sparks covered her hand, jumping along her fingers, lighting up the cell and the guard’s startled face. He shook, vibrating like a tuning fork as Olympe pressed her palm flat against his skin. Her nails were long and ragged, like claws. The sparks crackled from Olympe’s mottled skin to the guard. A smell of meat burning filled the room.

Camille stilled in fascination and horror. She’d seen something like this before. Once, as a young girl, her parents had taken her to a scientific display. On the stage, a man had strung up a boy over the boards. He was swaddled in cloths and hung from pink silk cords. The scientist had applied a large sulphur globe to his feet, cranking it round so it spun against his bare soles. The boy had reached out his hand and she’d watched in amazement as first feathers, then pages of a book had risen to his fingertips. A volunteer from the audience had been called for, and her mother had nudged her up to the front. The scientist had her stand on a stool and then all the lights had been dimmed. Camille had stretched her hand towards the boy’s nose as instructed. A loud crack made the crowd gasp, and a spark flew towards her outstretched hand.

Just like the sparks now burning dark spots into the guard’s skin.

‘That’s enough.’ Camille’s voice was a whisper.

Olympe shuddered and snatched back her hand. The guard collapsed. Slowly, Camille hooked her gun into her belt. Then she picked up the glove and gave it back to Olympe.

She ran a hand through her hair to hide her shaking fingers. For the first time in a very long while, Camille felt out of her depth. The world that she knew was gone. Extinguished in a flash, just like the life had died in the guard’s eyes. This was so much more than the duc lying to her about the details. A yawning, unknown expanse opened beneath her, and she felt as though she was on a narrow beam attempting to cross the chasm.


Underneath the Prison

‘What? Where are all the people?’ yelped Al.

Ada pushed him into the room. ‘Quick!’

The soldiers were close behind them. The boys flung themselves against the door and Ada kneeled, sliding her pins into the lock again. It was easier this time, only a few seconds’ work to lock the door as the soldiers hammered into it.

She slumped to the floor, heart racing.

Al had walked further into the room, stopping next to a stack of barrels.

‘Where are we?’

Ada looked round in confusion. They should still be in the part of the cellars where the prisoners were kept. Had she taken a wrong turn? She ran over the prison plans in her head. They’d gone left at the bottom of the stairs, to go north. Only, the stairs had twisted as they’d gone down. Left had taken them south, away from the chapel and further under the prison.

‘It’s the arsenal.’ Guil was examining the array of barrels, running his thumb along the seals and sniffing it.

Suddenly, the strong smell of gunpowder made sense.

There had to be more than twenty barrels stacked around the cramped room. It was divided by the remains of a wall that had once split off an inner room, a break where the door had once been. The only light came from a series of wells bored into the ceiling. The soldiers had stopped hammering on the door – someone must have gone for a key. It was only a matter of time before they returned.

They were trapped.

She’d made another mistake. First the balloon, now this. Camille trusted her and she kept letting her down.

‘Well, this plan has gone arse-backwards.’ Al pushed his ash-blond hair behind his ear. ‘I don’t know why Camille lets us out of the house.’

‘Pity, in your case,’ replied Guil. He had set down the useless musket on top of a barrel and started picking through the contents of the room. ‘If I can find some bullets, we might be able to fight our way out.’

Ada shook her head. ‘In a room full of gunpowder? We can’t risk a bullet hitting one of the barrels. It would take out a whole wall.’

Al shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Blaze of glory, and all that. Worse ways to go, these days.’

But Ada wasn’t paying attention. Something had caught hold in her mind. Take out a whole wall – yes, it could. They would have to be extremely careful. Try and isolate one area as much as they could. Find some sort of shelter.

It would have to be perfect. She couldn’t afford to make another mistake – not when her friends’ lives were at stake.

‘I might have another plan. It’s a really, really bad plan.’

‘There are no bad plans,’ said Guil. ‘Only badly implemented ones.’

Al gave them both a dark look. ‘We’re living in a city that cut off its king’s head. I think anything goes at this point.’

Ada reached into her pocket and pulled out the flint and tinderbox she’d used to light the brazier in the balloon.

‘If we can’t go out of the door, we could always make another one.’

Guil and Al looked at her for a moment, silently.

‘I thought you were the one against going out in a blaze of glory?’ said Al.

‘It does seem … risky,’ offered Guil.

‘Don’t get me wrong.’ Al tapped the barrel he was leaning against. ‘It sounds like a suitably ridiculous way to die memorably, which I’m all for. But do you really think it can work?’

‘Possibly.’ She looked to Guil. ‘No bad plans, right?’

He hesitated, then nodded.

‘We should only risk lighting one barrel. We can move the rest as far away as possible.’ He gestured to the remains of the dividing wall. ‘That might give us some shelter.’

Ada glanced at the light wells that clustered on the far side of the room and pointed. ‘Put the barrel there. That looks like an outside wall.’

The three of them worked to reposition the barrels of powder, piling them in the corner until only one barrel was left. Ada ripped off a strip from the hem of her petticoat to serve as a fuse, draped one end over the edge of the open barrel and took out her tinderbox.

Guil and Al had already taken cover behind the wall. All she had to do was set the flame to the fabric and run like hell to join them. Her fingers were shaking as she struck the flint. This was it, success and freedom, or another mistake, and blood on her hands. She knew what Camille said – everything was a choice – but what good was that, when every choice she made seemed to end in disaster?

It took a couple of goes, and then a bright nest of embers caught in the tinder. She nurtured them, blowing gently until a flame licked up to greet her. The memory of the balloon being swallowed by fire passed through her mind, but she pushed it away. Carefully, she dipped the end of the rag in the flame. It caught, and she slammed the lid of the tinderbox, and leaped over the wall to huddle with the boys.

Nothing happened.

She peeped up over the edge of the wall. The strip of fabric had burned up one side and reached the cracked lid of the barrel in nothing more than a smoulder of ashes. Maybe she should try and light the fuse again. She started to stand, but Al’s hand snatched her back down as the glowing remnants of the cloth fell into the barrel.

A wall of noise hit her at the same moment that a blinding flash of light had her burying her head in her arms. It was so loud it was barely a sound she could process, more like a physical blow punching into her chest. Debris showered onto her hunched back, burning through her dress like red-hot fingertips.

Ears ringing, she fumbled for the wall, raising herself up to look at the damage.

And saw a flood of dark water rushing towards them.


The Prison Forge

Camille levelled the pistol at the blacksmith.

‘Can you get it off or not?’

The blacksmith regarded her, unimpressed, before turning his attention to the welded clasp.

‘Yes. I’ll have to go in at the hinges. It might hurt.’

Olympe turned her featureless face between Camille and the blacksmith.

‘Will you let him try?’ Camille asked. ‘We won’t make it out of here with you in the mask.’

Camille could only imagine what the girl’s expression might be under it. How hot and grimy her skin must feel. How she couldn’t scratch an itch or wipe away her tears.

Olympe nodded, heavy and slow.

The blacksmith motioned for her to place her head on his anvil. She kneeled, her head lying on the block like a convict waiting for the guillotine blade to drop. He set to work.

They’d slid furtively through the prison until they’d stumbled across the forge. Camille knew they’d have a better chance of escaping if Olympe wasn’t wearing the mask, so she had stepped inside the forge, pistol raised and heart in her mouth. But the blacksmith had agreed easily enough. He worked gently, heating a section at a time and chipping away carefully at the hinges. Olympe whimpered, fingers tightly gripping the sides of the anvil.

A nauseating mix of anxiety and humiliation was making Camille restless. She paced in front of the forge doors as the smith worked. This was another unforeseen risk, dragging out how long she had to be in the prison, increasing the number of people who knew she’d been there. The duc had been stupid. How was she supposed to do a good job without all the information? Anger brought heat to her cheeks. The duc had thought she would be a good hireling and follow orders without questioning them. That was the problem with men like him. They had no idea that anyone not of their rank and class was a human being at all.

She paused to peek into the courtyard. A troop of soldiers was passing through. More feet on the ground than she’d expected – a consequence of the balloon crash. The crash, Ada, Al. All the problems she’d not let herself think about. She hoped Guil had found them. That she hadn’t made a mistake letting him go. That Ada would forgive her for the choices she had made.

The mask dropped to the floor with a leaden clunk, landing in the sawdust. Olympe made a hoarse keening sound, her body shuddering. Then she rose stiffly, dark braid tangled where it had been confined, and her shoulders dropped, muscles uncoiling in release from the weight of the mask. She scraped the hair from her face, torn nails catching in the matted strands.

The blacksmith had gone pale, taking one stumbling step back, then another. Olympe was facing him, so all Camille saw was the knotted nest of her hair. He was muttering under his breath. The Lord’s Prayer, Camille realised. He crossed himself – then fled from the forge.

‘Olympe.’ Camille’s voice sounded strange to herself. Unsure, forced. ‘Are you okay?’

At her words, Olympe turned. Camille’s grip on the gun wavered. The breath had been snatched from her lungs, and she fought the impulse to flee.

The skin of Olympe’s face was a riot of swirling grey. Her black hair stuck to her dirt-crusted cheeks and forehead. Eddies like storm clouds washed across her skin, dark grey like the cobblestones, cobalt blue, eggshell and dove and flint and smoke all in constant motion. It was like watching the roiling waters that rushed through the storm drains outside the Au Petit Suisse. Her eyes, which had been invisible under the mask, were two dark pools, free from iris or pupil. Black from lid to lid but filled with crackling blue sparks like the ones that leaped off her skin. Like stars in the night sky.

A few stray sparks caught between her fingers. Camille followed their dancing path, feeling the low hum in the air between her teeth and in the curling ends of her hair. A spike of fear held her frozen. Some primordial hindbrain told her to run and run far.

The impossibility of it was almost too much to bear. There were so many questions skittering around her mind she couldn’t catch hold of them to pull together the strands of a coherent plan.

Olympe took a step forwards and Camille instinctively stepped back. The girl’s face fell. Despite her appearance, Camille realised she could still read her expressions. The downturn of her mouth and the wideness of her eyes was so painfully human that her own heart ached in response.

Camille forced herself to tuck her pistol back into her belt, fighting a scrabbly, panicked feeling, and crossed to Olympe to inspect the bruises and scabs around her throat and shoulders where her mask had rested.

Olympe rubbed tears from her eyes.

‘Thank you. I think I’m okay.’

Something in the gesture sent a spark of empathy through Camille. Whatever else was going on, it didn’t seem as though Olympe was part of it. She was being used, just like Camille.

‘Here.’ Camille plucked a cloak from the wall and wrapped it around Olympe, pulling the hood to hide her face.

‘Are you taking me to the duc?’ asked Olympe.

Camille hesitated. What was she going to do? The duc had lied to her. If she handed him Olympe, then he would have got away with it. And Olympe… What would happen to her? Who was she, and what did the duc even want with her?

Opening the forge door a crack, she checked the comings and goings in the courtyard. Then she turned back, the kernel of a plan forming.

‘Maybe. Maybe not. What do you want to do, Olympe?’

Olympe swallowed, tucking a curl of hair behind her ear. She did it deliberately, as if savouring the freedom to touch her own face, attend to her discomfort.

‘I don’t know who this duc is or why he wants me. So, no, I don’t want to go to him. I’m sick of people treating me as though I’m their possession. I want to choose my own fate. I want to find my mother. And I want to be free.’

Camille smiled.

‘Okay, then.’

She wasn’t going to let herself be used. She would rescue Olympe, not because the duc had hired her, but because Olympe needed help and that’s what the battalion did. If the duc wanted Olympe, then she was going to make it damn hard for him.

‘Come on.’ She took Olympe’s hand. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

The explosion shattered through the prison when they were only halfway to the exit. The stone wall burst open like a tear in rotten fabric, and chaos erupted. Smoke swirled from the cellars, and above, a wooden gantry sagged and snapped, sending soldiers and prisoners crashing to the ground.

Olympe’s hand squeezed Camille’s so tightly that she gasped in pain. The explosion must have spooked her – but Olympe was focused on the other side of the courtyard.

‘He’s here,’ hissed Olympe. ‘Docteur Comtois.’ She pointed to a thin white man wearing a drab black suit and a tricolore cockade marching swiftly along the remaining length of the gantry. If Olympe hadn’t panicked at the sight of him, Camille would have thought him completely unremarkable. ‘We have to go, he can’t see us.’

But it was too late. The docteur had stopped, frowning. Silently, he held out his arm and pointed at Olympe. A unit of soldiers poured towards them. Olympe shivered, and for a second Camille worried she was about to crackle with that electric charge. But she held herself in check.

Camille hauled Olympe through the chaos, changing direction. The only way left unblocked by rubble or soldiers was a staircase leading to the roof. From there they had a chance of escape across the rooftop of the neighbouring Tribunal building. Lungs burning, they tumbled onto the expanse of sloping tiles. Rain had started to spit from pale clouds, making the tiles slippery. Camille’s chest was tight, spasming with the need to cough. She forced herself on. She wouldn’t let her own weakness get in the way. Not when victory was this close.

They were almost across when a soldier poked his head through a skylight ahead. Camille swore. The soldier clambered out, followed by another, and another. She turned to go back the way they’d come, but more soldiers had followed them.

‘What’s your plan? What do we do?’

Olympe had backed up so close to her she could feel the girl trembling. As the rain washed the dirt from her face and slicked back her hair, she looked less and less like a caged animal, and more like a frightened teenager. She had that same expectant look the battalion had when they waited for Camille to unveil her next great plan to save the day.

Camille peered over the parapet at the Seine rushing far below. What was her plan?

‘I’m not going to let the docteur take you. I promise.’ Camille held out her hand. ‘Do you trust me?’

‘Trust you? I don’t even know you.’

‘You know I’m helping you get out of here, and they’re trying to lock you back up. Take your pick.’

Olympe twitched at her skirts, watching the soldiers clamber ever closer across the rooftops.

‘And my mother? Will you help me find her?’

The wind whipped a lock of hair across Camille’s face, concealing her eyes. She pushed it back.

‘If I can. But I do promise I’ll get you to safety.’

Olympe bit her lip, unsure.

‘Everything is a choice,’ Camille continued. ‘There is no fate. No destiny. This is your choice, Olympe.’

The soldiers were only metres away, struggling to keep hold of their muskets as well as their footing on the tiles.

Olympe reached and placed her cold, rain-wet hand in Camille’s.

‘Okay. I choose to trust you.’

Camille closed her fingers around Olympe’s, and jumped off the roof, pulling the girl with her.


The Arsenal