The Dark Arts of Blood

Free The Dark Arts of Blood by Freda Warrington

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Authors: Freda Warrington
only has Geli and half a dozen attendants to comfort her. Do you know you talk in your sleep?”
    “Nothing. Do what you like. Neptune can rock me back to sleep.”
    Emil staggered into the passageway to find a commotion: crew members trying to shepherd alarmed passengers back into their cabins.
    “No danger,” they kept saying. “Only a squall, ladies and gentlemen. Stay calm. The ship is sound. You’re safe below decks.”
    Emil pushed his way to the nearest stairs, realising he had no idea how to find the stateroom where Violette was sleeping. Most of the dancers were in first-class cabins but these were spread over two decks, and of course the men were always berthed as far as possible from the women. Violette’s accommodation was kept secret to guard her privacy, so how could he find her without hammering on every door? Thrown from one wall to another, he grabbed a stair-rail and began to climb to the promenade deck. A steward tried to stop him but Emil pushed past.
    Even the crew – surely old hands at such weather – looked pale as they tried to pacify frightened passengers. Emil’s head spun but he ignored the feeling as if it were mere stage fright. The ship reared and fell through nothingness. There was no solid ground, nothing to cling to.
    The liner was huge and he was soon lost, the storm turning the vessel into a dark wild labyrinth.
    He found himself in a first-class lounge, a large salon full of evening-suited men swigging whisky and playing cards, pretending not to be terrified for their lives. Which way to the staterooms? Or was Violette on the deck below after all? Half out of his mind, he crossed the lounge and climbed a broad shallow flight of steps on the far side. The carpet squelched with brine beneath his shoes. He clung to a brass rail as the whole vessel dropped beneath him.
    Two more sets of doors, and he was out on deck.
    The storm hit him like a hurricane. The wind sucked out all his breath. Far ahead, he saw the prow rise like a mountain, only to drop again in a long, sickening plunge. The wind whipped spume from the waves. Within seconds he was soaked.
    He was on a broad walkway, with rails on his left, portholes on his right. Walls of water thrashed the ship: sheets of rain and huge, breaking waves. The gale was a solid force. Heading towards the prow was impossible, so Emil made his way aft, groping for another doorway back inside. This was hopeless. The vessel was like a small city and he had no idea where Violette was. Foreboding forced him on. He was certain that if he didn’t find her, something terrible would happen.
    In darkness, all he could see was veil upon veil of spray. He skidded as the deck became a near-vertical wall. Then the ship heaved over the crest and plunged into a canyon, sending him sliding the other way.
    Emil gripped the rail and clung on for his life, edging like a snail as he rode out each lurch and drop. He was drenched to the skin, shivering, gasping with the effort of keeping upright. Only his honed strength and balance aided him.
    Never had he dreamed his ballet training might save his life.
    He saw no one, not even crew members. He realised he must be the only soul on the entire vessel stupid enough to venture on deck in such a storm. If the ship were to capsize, could the crew even launch lifeboats in such conditions?
    Don’t think of that. Find Violette, make sure she’s safe…
    “Madame Lenoir!” His shout was a faint rasp. Brine sprayed into his mouth.
    Emil didn’t pause to think that his actions were irrational – that Violette was in no more danger than anyone else – and in any case he was powerless to stop several thousand tons of wood and steel keeling over into the abyss. But…
    If the worst happened, at least he would be with her.
    He came to an open stretch of deck: an area where, only the previous afternoon, he’d sat sipping cocktails and taking the sun with his fellow dancers. Now the deck seesawed as waves

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