Chapter no 24 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

They went to the opera. Twenty minutes in, per the instructions they’d received, Jameson and Avery ducked out of their private box and made their way to the elevator.

“This is where we leave you,” Avery told Oren. The invitation had been

very clear.

“I don’t like this.” Avery’s bodyguard folded his arms over his chest and surveyed his charge. “But threats against you are at an all-time low, and if the two of you are going to do this, you need to go before anyone realizes you’ve left your box.”

Seconds later, Jameson and Avery were alone in the elevator. With his heart beating a little harder, a little faster, Jameson laid the gold key that had accompanied their invitation against the elevator’s control panel.

Every button lit up emerald green.

Beside him, Avery pressed in the code they’d been given. The elevator went pitch-black. With a whoosh, they descended, past the ground floor, farther than one would go for a parking garage or basement. Down, down, down.

When the elevator doors opened again, Jameson was overcome with a sense of overwhelming vastness as he stepped out into some kind of cavern, the sound of his footsteps echoing. Avery followed, and a torch burst to life to their left.

Not a natural cavern, Jameson realized. Man-made. A tunnel. And cutting through that tunnel was an underground river. Even with the torchlight, it looked black.

As Jameson stepped forward, muted light sparked to life at the water’s edge. A lantern. It took Jameson a moment to register the person holding the lantern. A child. Jameson put the boy’s age at eleven or twelve.

Silently, the child turned and stepped out onto the water—onto a boat. It looked a bit like a gondola, long and thin. The child attached the lantern to the top, picked up a pole, and turned to the two of them, waiting.

Jameson and Avery walked the stone path to the boat. They stepped on board. The child said nothing as he began to row, the pole digging into the bottom of the canal.

Jameson went to take it from him. “I can—”

“No.” The kid didn’t even look at him, just tightened his grip on the pole.

“Are you okay?” Avery asked, concerned. “Is someone forcing you to do this? If you need help…”

“No,” the kid said again with a tone that made Jameson wonder if he’d underestimated his age. “I’m fine. Better than fine.”

The underground river bent. The boat took the turn, and Jameson realized that this part of the tunnel wasn’t made of ordinary stone. The walls were black, but it seemed like light shined within them. Some kind of quartz? Silence descended until all Jameson could hear was the sound of the boat cutting through the water as the boy poled them onward.

“We’re the only ones out here,” Avery said quietly, her voice echoing on the water. “Down here.”

“There are many paths,” the boy said, something almost leonine in the set of his features. “Many entrances, many exits. All roads lead to the Mercy if you’re welcome there—and none do if you are not.”

Three more bends of the river, and then the boat ran up on some kind of beach. Torches burst into flame, encircling the boat, illuminating a door. Standing in front of the door was Rohan. He wore a red tuxedo with a black shirt underneath and stood like a soldier at attention, but torchlight showed the expression on his face to be utterly relaxed. Self-satisfied. The way someone is when they’ve won.

“You shouldn’t be working at your age, let alone this late at night,” Avery told the boy who’d brought them here. Her gaze darted toward Rohan. “If he made you think otherwise…”

“The Factotum didn’t make me think anything,” the boy said. His tone

was fierce, his chin held high. “And someday, when he’s the Proprietor, I’m going to be Factotum for him.”

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