The Claws of Evil - By Andrew Beasley Page 0,1

them to their grave. Men whose names became a byword for brutality: Attila the Hun, who swept across Europe with unparalleled ferocity; Vlad the Impaler; Ivan the Terrible; Maximilien Robespierre. The history books held them responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, but Mr. Sweet knew that it was the Legion, led by the Council of Seven, to whom the credit truly belonged.

When the other voices in the room grew too grating for him to bear any longer, Mr. Sweet cleared his throat and rose to his feet. He was dressed like a gentleman, but his clothes strained to contain the heavyset body that lay beneath.

Very slowly, Sweet allowed his eyes to move around the circle, probing for signs of weakness, for the points of vulnerability where he would one day strike. It pleased him to see the Council of Seven flinch as his gaze touched them. They were the wickedest men and women in the land, and they were all afraid of him. Before he spoke, he paused to stroke his luxurious moustache. The movement did nothing to conceal his smile.

“Yes,” continued Sweet, “London is ripe for the taking. The greatest weapon of the Legion is almost complete. I have discovered today that the final missing component, the last of the Coins, has come to light at last.” There was a collective gasp at this revelation. “It will be ours,” Sweet continued, “and then the whole of London will know the power of the Seven.”

“But what about the Watchers?” said the youngest of their group, a vain, pampered man, with long, feminine fingers and foppish blond hair.

Mr. Sweet swung around and fixed him with the full force of his stare. The man shrank back, almost as if the blow were physical.

“The Watchers are a spent force.” Sweet spat their name. “The pathetic followers of a failed cause, waiting for a saviour who will never come.”

Yet even as he said those words, Mr. Sweet felt the tiny crack in his own armour, a chink that slowly filled with fear. There will be no last-minute rescue for the enemies of the Legion, he reassured himself. The Watchers had been abandoned, the Hand of Heaven was not coming to save them, Mr. Sweet was convinced of it.

And yet he couldn’t stop the thin trickle of dread that was worming its way towards his soul.

“Ben Kingdom!”

The policeman’s voice boomed out and every head in Old Gravel Lane turned.

Constable Wilde sounded cross and Ben couldn’t blame him. A mouthful of fresh horse manure was enough to do that to anyone.

“Stop right where you are, you ’orrible boy!” Wilde shouted again. Ben hesitated, but one look at the constable’s bespattered and beetroot-red face was enough to convince him that stopping was the last thing he wanted to do. Instead he pulled his billycock hat down nice and tight, took to his heels, and ran.

London’s docks were the busiest in the world and the streets that surrounded them were awash with humanity. Some might call the people that lived and worked there “the dregs”, but Ben was not the judgemental sort, and anyway, he was one of them. As nimble and lean as a whippet, Ben ducked and weaved his way through the crowd. Dodging elbows, squeezing between bodies, even getting down on his knees and crawling through the forest of legs, Ben knew that Wilde wouldn’t catch him this time.

Poor bloke, thought Ben with a grin as he remembered his missile catching the bobby full in the face. He’s gonna be picking that out of his moustache till Christmas.

All day, grey snow had been tumbling down out of the sky like ash and Ben’s feet skidded on the cobbles as he made good his escape. His trousers were soaked through too, and his hands were wet and raw, but he soon left poor old Constable Wilde far behind and so it was a small enough price to pay.

Nine times out of ten, Ben was the very model of honesty. But during those rare lapses, it always seemed to be Constable Gabriel Wilde who arrived on the scene. It was Constable Wilde who had thrashed him after he broke the window of Langdale’s tobacconists, and it was Wilde who caught him and thrashed him again after the unfortunate incident involving the butcher’s dog, the sausages and the club-footed grocer.

In Ben’s defence, he hadn’t actually meant to hit Constable Wilde in the face; he was trying to knock off his helmet. And when he first came

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