Petunia looked sobered but showed no inclination to faint, scream, or cry. Sophronia felt oddly proud.

“Your sister has unexpected fortitude.” Agatha voiced Sophronia’s thoughts. “I suppose you must get it from somewhere.” She sounded quite adult in her assessment of the Temminnick family character.

The rustle of a crinkling dinner dress and a small sigh next to them drew their attention.

Dimity had noticed not only the blood on the human victims but that the backs of many of the supernaturals had been torn to shreds by shrapnel and were leaking slow black blood in large dollops. She fainted into the willing arms of one of the drones.

Sophronia and Agatha left her to it.

Sophronia dutifully went to check on her sister, all the while covertly searching the room for Bumbersnoot. Agatha began to circulate with a dampened handkerchief and sympathetic expression. The drones ran to their master, and by proxy, Monique, helping them to stand, cooing and brushing them down. Lord Akeldama began issuing orders for hot water, bandages, dust removers, cleaning supplies, smelling salts, clothing, tea, and the like. The drones, having ascertained that he was both unhurt and unruffled, ran to do his bidding. He held a heavily perfumed handkerchief to his nose and passed the same on to the werewolves, so they would not be tempted by all the human blood.

Sophronia thought the vampire seemed more offended by the destruction of clothing than anything else. There was a hint of hauteur to his orders that was not ordinarily part of his public persona.

The victims began to slowly sit and take stock. The newspaperman, looking equal parts pleased and terrified, made hasty farewells. He retrieved his coat from the hallway, and throwing it over his now wrinkled evening suit, dashed off into the night. He had his headline for tomorrow’s paper.

The supernaturals milled around, assessing the damage. The drones tended to the wounded.

“Petunia, are you unhurt?” Sophronia took her sister’s hand in both of hers in a clasp she had read about in one of Dimity’s horrible Gothic novels.

“It appears that way, sister. I am most grateful to the dewan for his protection. I believe I owe him my life. Too kind, too kind. Although I must say this was more excitement than I was anticipating from a dinner party. Even among such august company.”

“What was it that exploded?”

“Some odd mechanical. Lord Akeldama was saying how it had unexpectedly come into his possession and that he thought we might like to see such a unique specimen. Then there was this whistling teakettle noise, and it went poof.”

Sophronia nibbled her lip. Uh-oh. Whistling teakettle sounds like Bumbersnoot. I wonder if something in Vieve’s adaptations conflicted with this mechanical? Under the guise of helping her sister to her feet, she continued to check the room.

Still no Bumbersnoot.

Fortunately, none of the broken parts looked to belong to him. He was a particularly tiny mechanimal. All his bits were undersized, and the ones scattered around were too large for him. She noticed a large chunk of one of the new crystalline valves, distinctive in its bluish shade and multiple facets, which meant the Picklemen at one point had had their mitts on that exploding mechanical.

After helping Petunia to sit and serving her with a necessary cup of restorative tea—three sugars to cope with the drama—Sophronia joined Agatha in tending to the company. They helped where they could, all the while looking for important clues and evaluating the scattered parts.

There wasn’t much to do. By the time Dimity had recovered from her faint, all the supernatural creatures were fully healed, and the drones had seen them dressed in fresh shirts and jackets. They no longer matched quite so well, but even Dimity’s stylish sensibilities could not be ruffled so much by the new attire as to make her faint again. She joined the others in practicing the fine art of administrative small talk and ministrations after a crisis.

They were all obeying their training to the letter. I don’t mean to be crass, ladies, but keep your wits about you, for it is after a disaster that intelligence is most likely spilled, Lady Linette always said. Thus they milled, and cooed, and soothed, and acted like little angels of mercy, and listened, and learned. So did Monique.

Sophronia was checking on the Ghost Wrangler, a crone shrouded in the long white veil and gray robes of her trade. Her upper arm and shoulder were badly scraped, and Sophronia tried to be gentle with the elderly lady, but she would keep twisting to try to say something. Finally, Sophronia got the bandage wrapped and helped the lady to sit on a nearby stool.

With a frantic glance around, the crone swiveled her face away from the company and parted her veil slightly. Sophronia thought she might be about to expectorate, but instead she hissed in a shaky voice, “Closer! I risked much to get this to you, and you missed the show.”

Sophronia recognized the voice. Madame Spetuna! One of Geraldine’s field agents, and their best Pickleman infiltrator.

“The explosion was intentional?” Sophronia could only see the intelligencer’s mouth. It twisted in annoyance.

“No. But this gathering was at my request.”

“You work for Lord Akeldama?”

“Sometimes. That is not important. What’s important is that they are building war mechanicals. That’s what this was. They used our pilot technology and intend to create mechanicals that can commandeer military dirigibles.”

That’s why the Picklemen snuck on board! Not to steal something, but to draw schematics so they can copy the school’s pilot mechanical.

Madame Spetuna continued. “My communication threads to the school have been eliminated, so it’s up to you to relay the information.”

“Lady Linette won’t believe me.”

“You must make her believe.”


“My file, the record room, there’s a…” Madame Spetuna trailed off as Monique approached, looking quite interested in Sophronia’s conversation. Then a drone appeared and ushered Madame Spetuna away, muttering something about visiting a surgeon. Sophronia had faith in Madame Spetuna’s ability to extricate herself and return to the Picklemen. She was one of the best intelligencers Sophronia had ever met.

Things died down after that. Sophronia never did find Bumbersnoot anywhere. They delayed their departure as long as was seemly under the circumstances, in the guise of offering assistance. But Petunia would not be denied a graceful exit, and she certainly wasn’t going to help clean. The restrictions of propriety must be honored. So Sophronia, not wanting to disturb Lord Akeldama with trivialities, left a note with one of the drones saying she had misplaced her reticule. It was dog-shaped and had great sentimental value. If he found it, would he please see it returned? She worried that someone from the party had stolen Bumbersnoot. But there was nothing more she could do given the recent crisis. Any fuss from her would look suspiciously selfish by comparison to injuries, destroyed evening wear, and a cracked table.

The dewan gave her a significant look before they parted ways. He probably expected a full report from her. I don’t work for you yet. She glared at him.

They set off in Petunia’s luxurious coach and arrived back at the Hisselpennys’ town house feeling a little shattered. They were much earlier back than they had planned.

“Sister, may Agatha stay awhile longer? The night is still so young. For cards or something equally pedestrian? To calm us down?” Sophronia batted her eyes a little.