The Claws of Evil - By Andrew Beasley

“London will soon be ours, ladies and gentlemen.”

Mr. Sweet spoke and his audience listened. His voice was as deep and dark as tar, rising up from the barrel of his chest.

“We shall pluck out the beating heart of the British Empire and make it our plaything; a toy, to do with as we wish.”

There were seven of them in all, including Mr. Sweet himself. They sat in a circle and talked treason, deciding how they might carve up the capital city between them. They called themselves the Council of Seven. A very modest title, Sweet thought, considering that the councils before them had shaped the world to please their own ends.

“And what shall we do with it, when it is ours?” pondered a hugely obese man, his jowls wobbling with anticipation, a thin trail of drool escaping from the corner of his mouth. “Eat it all?”

“What a foolish waste,” said a woman dressed entirely in black, only her pale chin and bloodless lips visible beneath the shadows of her raven-feather hood. “Far better to suck it dry.”

“No,” said a second man, with parchment-dry skin stretched taut across his narrow skull, his long limbs hanging loosely over the edges of his chair. “We should enslave it, make it work for us.”

“Burn it,” purred a seductive woman in green, her fat pink tongue reaching out to caress her teeth. “It would be such a pretty sight.” She clapped her hands in girlish glee. “We’ve put cities to the flame before. I should so like to see it for myself.”

Mr. Sweet permitted the others to have their say, but soon shut out their prattling and focused instead on his own dream of the future; a dream which didn’t include his six fellow conspirators. His vision was of London, ruled by a Council of one. Nanny had always said that he wasn’t good at sharing.

Mr. Sweet was from a good family, in other words a wealthy one, and he had land and houses and more money than he could ever spend. He had power too; he was a Member of Parliament and a cabinet minister. But as any man with power would tell you, once you got a taste for it, there was never enough to go round.

It was Sweet who had called this meeting, and Sweet who had chosen the location. An elegant and yet foreboding building in Bloomsbury, The Sinistra Club was the most exclusive in all London and its members the most eccentric. If a man had been barred from every other establishment for his outrageous behaviour, or ungentlemanly conduct, then he might still be able to hang his hat at the Sinistra, providing he had deep enough pockets.

The club had one other unique feature which made it such a convenient place for the Council of Seven to meet. When you were discussing the overthrow of the government and the Queen herself, a certain level of discretion was required – even the Seven themselves knew that to repeat what was said would mean pain. Lots of pain. Probably death. But at the Sinistra Club, the staff could all be relied upon to keep absolutely mum. Because every servingmaid, footman, waiter and bottle-washer had two qualities that Sweet found desirable in a servant: they were both illiterate and mute. They could not record a single word that they overheard, and their tongues could not wag even if they wanted them to.

In every other respect, however, the Sinistra was the same as any of the basement clubs scattered across the city of London: oak-panelled, velvet lined, and reeking of money and cigars.

Sweet enjoyed the comfort of his chair and the elegance of his surroundings. The fire was burning brightly in the grate and keeping the bitter winter at bay; although these flames were obviously far too tame for the woman in green, he noted wryly.

She had been right: as the secret rulers of a society called the Legion, the Council of Seven had indeed turned cities to ash when it suited them. When the great city of Rome was consumed by fire in AD 64, it was the Legion, not Emperor Nero, who provided the spark. Mr. Sweet smiled, his teeth glistening in the gaslight. The footprints of the Legion stretched back for two thousand years if you knew where to look for them.

Blood was always a good clue.

Some members of the Legion had become quite famous in their own way, even if the army which they served remained a secret they took with

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