Home > Soulbound (Darkest London #6)(6)

Soulbound (Darkest London #6)(6)
Kristen Callihan

It was not a surprise to find that the door opened to a dark stairwell leading down. Eliza had read enough gothic novels to expect such a thing. Which of course meant that going down those stairs was likely to lead to trouble.

The sounds of Mab’s party drifted along the night. She ought to return there. A sane woman wouldn’t try to discover what lay beyond. Unfortunately, Eliza had never been very good at taking the safe course of action. A lantern hung upon a hook on the wall just inside the stairway. She plucked it free, lit it, and ventured into the unknown.

Counting each step she took, Eliza pressed her palm against the damp stones for balance. Within the small orb of lamplight, she felt safe, but beyond and behind, there was only darkness and the fear that something would soon leap out of it.

The whimpering grew in strength as she descended. Until she rounded a curve, and then it abruptly stopped. She did as well, hovering in the stairwell. Too silent. As if whatever it was that had cried out now held itself quiet. Cold air ripped through her lungs, and her pulse beat an insistent Flee, flee, flee against her throat. Yet she knew that what lay beyond needed help.

Eliza let out a small breath and continued down, her hands shaking so badly that the light wavered. The bottom of the stairs opened up into a long, low corridor. Following it, she soon turned right and found herself in a circular room carved from stone. The walls were composed of cells, barred with steel that shone bright and new against the surrounding rot. They all appeared dark and empty.

She stood in the center of the room, ears buzzing, heart racing. Nothing stirred. Not a sound. A faint scratching from a cell to her left had her nearly jumping out of her skin. Peering into the darkness, she crept forward.

The light of her lantern led the way, stretching forward, slowly illuminating the small cell and what lay inside, a glossy, black hind leg bent at an awkward, painful angle, ribs protruding from an emaciated canine torso. Eliza’s breath caught. The beast moved, a slight adjustment that had its head lifting. Yellow eyes glowed in the dark. A low, warning growl rumbled and then broke on a whimper. And the dog slumped back down, ignoring her, though it did not close its eyes.

Yes, it was a dog, or a wolf. Eliza could see that now. The largest dog she’d ever seen. Slowly she approached it, stopping just short of the cell door. Chains dug into its fur, cutting in some spots. From what she could see, the dog’s left hind leg and right foreleg were badly broken, a clever cruelty that prevented it from lying comfortably in any position. Gouges riddled its body, and they oozed with blood that matted its dark fur.

“You poor thing,” she whispered past her fear. It occurred to her that there might be a very good reason for the beast to be locked up. Perhaps it was mad, a killer. But nothing could excuse the treatment it had received. If the dog was a killer, it ought to have been put down. Not brutalized and left to suffer.

That thought alone prompted her to set her lantern down before kneeling near the bars. The dog’s yellow eyes tracked her movements without bothering to lift its head. If anything, it seemed to be resigned to its fate. But its body shivered, and she knew it was fighting the pain. She shivered in sympathy.

“I want to help you.”

A soft snort came from the dog’s snout, as if it understood her words and thought very little of her abilities to do so.

Eliza glanced around, searching for something to strike at the lock, when she noticed a ring with a key hanging from a hook on the wall. She hurried to it, only to stop. She needed supplies. Turning around, she spoke to the dog. “I’ll be back soon.”

Determination gave her speed. No longer afraid of what lurked in the cellar, she hurried to the kitchens, pilfered the cupboards for food, collected Cook’s medicinal kit that he kept on hand for household emergencies, and then grabbed a stack of freshly washed hand linens. By the time she returned to the cell, she was breathless.

“Now then,” she said in a low voice, as she opened the cell door, “we’ll get you sorted.”

The black dog, however, had other opinions on the matter and began to growl, a steady menacing snarl that curled its upper lip and revealed a set of wickedly long fangs.

“It’s all right,” Eliza said. “I am going to help you.”

The dog’s snarling intensified. He was chained against the floor but had enough reach to bite her if she came too near his wounds. Which wouldn’t do. Crooning softly, Eliza opened the green bottle she’d removed from the medicine bag. Mindful of the fumes, she soaked a rag. As if the dog knew precisely what she was about, it snapped and writhed, only to cut itself short with a yelp as the frantic movement jostled its leg.

Eliza took advantage and threw the chloroform-soaked rag over the dog’s massive head. Enraged, it struggled to free itself, but the drug did its job. Soon enough, the dog fell still, and its breathing turned slow and steady. Eliza waited, counting to one hundred, before moving close. She dared not move the rag just yet, but took the time to try out the sole key on the padlock that held the dog’s chains to the cell. But it did not work.

“Damn all,” she muttered, before setting the key ring aside. Frowning, she studied the dog’s leg. She knew nothing of resetting bones. Especially for a dog.

“No matter,” she muttered. “First things first.” She’d clean those weeping wounds. Eliza rested her hand upon the dog’s hind quarter where the fur was slick and damp. But no sooner did her palm make contact then a great puff of glittering dust rose up around the dog, obliterating it from her sight.

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