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LAST EMBRACE


As John May and Maggie Armitage reached the mouth of the tunnel, they threw away caution and began calling for their friend. Their voices returned unanswered from the curving walls.

He has to be inside, said May, his tracks lead to the entrance. Stay out here and look after the boy. Ill go in.

As he stepped into the blanket of the dark, he heard it, the distant ring of the approaching train. Arthur, are you hurt? he called. Listen to me carefully. Madeline Gilby is a very dangerous woman. The man she insists is hunting her is Johann Bellocq, and hes actually trying to stop her. There are no pictures of murder victims, no forged passports. Arthur, answer me!

He could feel the weight of the train on the tracks, the steady displacement of air in the far end of the long tunnel, the faint crackle of electricity. A dim light appeared on the wall of the first bend. As it slowly increased in brightness and moved down, he saw what appeared to be a bundle of rags lying across the tracks. As he watched, it flinched like an animal caught in the coils of a snake, and he realised that he was looking at his partner, trapped with Madeline Gilbys limbs twisted around him. Bryants boots kicked out in a burst of gravel, and he twisted his head to look plaintively around for help.

May dropped to his side and pulled at an arm, but Madelines clutch tightened, rolling Bryant further onto the centre of the track. Youll kill us all, May told her. We can get you help, Madeline. It doesnt have to end this way.

Ahead, the lights of the train grew brighter as it coasted the bend of the tunnel in a roar of sparking steel.

He tried to prise open her hands, but the muscles in her fingers and arms had locked with steely rigidity. Bryant kicked and wriggled, but was rapidly losing strength. Gilby was on top of him now, knotted around his body in a death grip that nothing could loosen. Braced against the track, May pulled at them in vain.

Let me, said Maggie, hopping across the tracks and grabbing Bryants attacker from the other side. Madeline Gilby let out a sudden piercing yell and threw out her limbs as wildly as if she had been electrocuted. Released and able to breathe once more, Bryant let out a gasp.

May pulled hard, dragging his partner across the rail and up against the wall. He reached out a hand to Madeline, shouting for her, but she crawled further away, turning to face the explosion of light and noise.

May caught sight of Madelines pale face one last time; her widening eyes were staring into the long white shaft of light that emanated from the front of the engine in the corridor of the tunnel. She looked quite calm, as if she was glad to be finally faced with the prospect of meeting her Maker.

A moment later, the duo watched as the flashing yellow panels raced past them, and the carriages started to slow with the braking of the train. When it had finally passed, there was no trace left behind of Madeline Gil by.

Maggie Armitage had flattened herself against the opposite wall of the tunnel. Her arms were splayed and her hair had been shocked into a vermilion sunburst around her head, like Struwwelpeter.

What did you do to make her let go? called May as he pulled Bryant to his feet. Stick her with an evil enchantment?

No, a hatpin, replied the white witch breathlessly. Every bit as effective. At least she didnt have to go towards the light. It came to her.

The final white corridor, said May, taking her hand. Come on, you two. Lets get out of the dark.


THE CONSPIRACY OF MEN | White Corridor | ROYALTY