“A map!” Sharon exclaimed, as if this were the silliest thing he’d ever heard. “There are more thief passageways, murder tunnels, and illegal dens in Devil’s Acre than anywhere in the world. The place is unmappable! Now stop being childish and hand me down my rope.”
“Not until you tell us something useful!” Emma said. “The name of someone we can ask for help—who won’t try to sell us to the wights!”
Sharon broke out laughing.
Emma struck a defiant pose. “There must be one.”
Sharon bowed—“You’re speaking to him!”—then climbed the ladder halfway and plucked his rope from Emma’s hands. “Enough of this. Goodbye, children. I’m quite sure I’ll never see you again.”
And with that he stepped into his boat—and right into a puddle of ankle-deep water. He let out a girlish squeal and bent down to look. It seemed the gunshots that missed our heads had drilled a few holes in his hull, and the boat had sprung leaks.
“Look what you’ve done! My boat’s shot all to pieces!”
Emma’s eyes flashed. “What we’ve done?”
Sharon made a quick inspection and concluded the wounds were grave. “I am marooned!” he announced dramatically, then cut the motor, collapsed his long staff to the size of a baton, and climbed the ladder again. “I’m going find a craftsman qualified to repair my dinghy,” he said, breezing past us, “and I won’t have you following me.”
We trailed him single file into the narrow passageway.
“And why not?” Emma shrilled.
“Because you’re cursed! Bad luck!” Sharon waved his arm behind him as if shooing flies. “Begone!”
“What do you mean, begone?” She jogged a few paces and grabbed Sharon by his cloaked elbow. He spun around fast and yanked it away, and I thought for a moment his raised hand was about to strike her. I tensed, ready to leap at him, but his hand just hung there, a warning.
“I’ve run this route more times than I can count, and not once have I been attacked by Ditch pirates. Never have I been forced to abandon cover and use my petrol engine. And never, ever has my boat been damaged. You’re more trouble than you’re worth, plain and simple, and I want nothing more to do with you.”
While he spoke, I glanced past him down the passage. My eyes were still adjusting to the dark, but what I could see was terrifying: winding and mazelike, it was lined with doorless doorways that gaped like missing teeth, and it was alive with sinister sounds—murmurs, scrapes, scurrying steps. Even now I could feel hungry eyes watching us, knives being drawn.
We couldn’t be left here alone. The only thing to do was beg.
“We’ll pay double what we promised,” I said.
“And fix your boat,” Addison chimed in.
“Never mind your bloody pocket change!” Sharon said. “Can’t you see I’m ruined? How can I return to Devil’s Acre? Do you think the vultures will ever let me be, now that my clients have killed two of them?”
“What did you want us to do?” Emma said. “We had to fight back!”
“Don’t be facile. They would never have forced the issue if it wasn’t for … for that …” Sharon looked at me, his voice falling to a whisper. “You might’ve mentioned earlier you were in league with creatures of the night!”
“Umm,” I said awkwardly, “I wouldn’t say ‘in league with,’ exactly …”
“There isn’t much in this world I fear, but as a rule I keep my distance from soul-sucking monsters—and apparently you’ve got one following you like a bloodhound! I suppose it’ll be along any minute?”
“Not likely,” Addison said. “Don’t you recall, some moments ago, when a bridge fell on its head?”
“Only a small one,” Sharon said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a man about a boat.” And with that he hurried away.
Before we could catch up to him he’d rounded a corner, and by the time we reached it he’d disappeared—vanished, perhaps, into one of those tunnels he’d mentioned. We stood turning circles, confounded and afraid.
“I can’t believe he’d just abandon us like this!” I said.
“Neither can I,” Addison replied coolly. “In fact, I don’t think he has—I think he’s negotiating.” The dog cleared his throat, sat up on his hind legs, and addressed the rooftops in a booming voice. “Good sir! We mean to rescue our friends and our ymbrynes, and mark me, we will—and when we do, and they learn how you’ve aided us, they’ll be most grateful.”
He let that ring out for a moment, then went on.
“Never mind compassion! Fie on loyalty! If you’re as intelligent and ambitious a fellow as I think you are, then you’ll recognize an extraordinary opportunity for advancement when you see one. We are indebted to you already, but scrounging coins from children and animals is an awfully modest living compared to what having several ymbrynes in your debt could mean. Perhaps you’d enjoy having a loop all to yourself, your own personal playground with no other peculiars to spoil it! Anytime and anyplace you like: a lush summer isle in an age of abiding peace; some lowly pit in a time of plague. As you prefer.”
“Could they really do that?” I whispered to Emma.
“Imagine the possibilities!” Addison gushed.