I wrote earlier in my Book Creation Process that just before I start writing my manuscript, I’ll take time to write down blocking notes.

For me, “blocking” is like blocking in a live play. It’s writing a step-by-step description of what happens in a scene to make it easier for me to write the rough draft. The concept is the same as the “beats” described in Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day, but I call it blocking because “beats” is sometimes used to refer to high-level outlining. Blocking is also mentioned (although she doesn’t call it “blocking”) in 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love).

In Write Better, Faster, the author explained her process in more detail. She calls them beats. She writes one paragraph about each scene in her outline. Then from the one paragraph, she asks a series of questions about each sentence in the paragraph, and in answering all those questions she elaborates on the events in the scene, which also reveals any flaws in plot or logic.

Writing my own blocking notes makes my writing prose go SO much faster and smoother. I think that for me, the blocking helps me overcome one of my weaknesses, which is my difficulty in making decisions.

In Write Better, Faster, the author points out that in writing a book, there are thousands of decisions the writer has to make, and making those decisions as you are writing the prose eats away at your willpower and mental energy. So her reasoning is that by making as many decisions as possible through writing the beats (which is also lower stress since it’s just beats and not the rough draft), then when you do start writing the draft armed with your list of beats, it is less mentally taxing and makes the writing easier.

When I do my blocking notes, I can take the time to make decisions about what the characters do and how I want the scene to go. It’s usually easier for me to make all these decisions at once while I’m writing the notes, because in general, decision-making is difficult for me. Then when I’m writing the scene, I don’t have to make these decisions, and so the prose flows more smoothly since I don’t have to stop and figure things out.

My blocking used to be more sparse—it would be just sketchy notes about what each character does in a scene—but as I wrote volume 4 in my Regency series, I realized that more detailed blocking notes makes the writing go a lot faster when I’m working on the rough draft. So lately my blocking notes have sometimes included play-by-play notes on how I want conversations to go. It also helps when I do a fight play-by-play—I do research about the fighting moves while doing the blocking, and then when writing the fight scene, the prose goes much faster and actually makes the fight scene turn out better, since I’m just focusing on writing it rather than trying to still figure out exactly what they’re doing.

I’m not sure if anyone would be interested in this, but I thought I might show you what my blocking notes look like, and then the finished scene. Unfortunately I didn’t take very good blocking notes for volume 1 in my Regency series, but I started taking much better blocking notes for volume 2.

These are the blocking notes for the first scene of chapter three of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker. If you haven’t read volume 1 yet what are you waiting for it won’t spoil the story too much, I don’t think. You can see that my blocking notes also often include some free-writing I do when trying to figure out a plot problem, so the notes are sometimes rather messy. It’s okay since I’m usually the only one who sees these notes.

First, here’s the description of the entire chapter from my synopsis:

Thorne finds Calvin and the coachman, and sends the twins to the apothecary shop. They search all night until dawn. Thorne returns with the coachman to Laura’s house and reports to Sol that he has narrowed down where Sep might be, since there are a lot of Jack’s men that seem to be wandering around. He needs to change clothes.

He tries to ignore how he was unusually lucky that night while searching for Sep. The coachman claims God was watching over them. He is unwilling to admit he feels comfort in that thought.

As you can see, the description in my synopsis is rather sparse. From that, I created blocking notes for the scenes in the chapter. The blocking notes are below. It took me 2 hours and 6 minutes to write up those blocking notes for this specific scene.

After the blocking notes, I’ll then post the chapter so you can compare the two. To compare with the blocking times, it took me 4 hours and 5 minutes to write the scene and then a total of 1 hour, 42 minutes to edit the scene (the editing was done in two separate passes).

Blocking notes for chapter three:

Calvin probably started where he last saw Sep. But Thorne only knows the general area where the Berserker was released, he’d have to find the exact house which only Calvin knew. He would have to just backtrack and hope he can find it.

He goes to find Calvin with Clara.

He finally finds him, but they haven’t found Sep, who must have wandered far from the Berserker site. Since there was only one person from the Citadel who tried to see Michael, Thorne/Sol suspects there was at least one other man, and Sep might have led him away so they wouldn’t see Sol’s group arrive.

Emphasize that he worries about the twins. He doesn’t want them near if he has to fight someone because he might forget they’re there when the rage takes over when he’s in a fight. When he’s fighting, the rage takes over and he loses control. He’s not reassured when they assure him they’re fast and can dodge or run away.

Thorne sends Clara and Calvin away, at the request of Lady Wynwood, who told Clara that they should rest up so they can resume the search in the morning. She has confidence in their ability to ferret out information.

The coachman stays with Thorne because he knows that his presence deters Thorne from being attacked from normal robbers. Also he wants to help search for Sep.

So Thorne finds the origin site, then assumes Sep had to fight someone. He’d run down the opposite direction of the street that Michael went, then run away from him. They start tracking where Sep might have gone.

Thorne has an excellent memory, and while he is not strictly methodical, and tends to decide on paths based on his own instincts, he is able to remember where to go back to try a different option if the first one doesn’t pan out. They try different paths Sep might have run, asking if anyone (at that time of night) had seen two men fighting or chasing each other.

From what Sol told him about Sep, he would not want innocents hurt, so he would avoid the orphanage. One street will circle back toward the area Michael would be in, so he doesn’t choose that one. Another one leads to the river, and he hears from some old drunks about two men fighting and running. Clara, Calvin and the coachman are valuable to help him ask people for information.

Thorne has a close call with one of Jack’s men. They go to a possible hiding place in the basement of the orphanage—Thorne doesn’t think Sep would be there because he wouldn’t want to potentially involve children in the search for him or lure the man chasing him into a place where he could injure children or more likely take one hostage to force Sep to turn himself in. But they have to check the spot anyway, and they run into Jack’s men, who are also searching the hiding place.

Thorne has to do some fast thinking to explain why they’re there. He says that they need to get an iron bedstead from the basement to replace a broken one upstairs. Bedstead for the headmistress of the orphanage, not a child. Heavy, so need two men to carry it.

They go to the bedstead and set about figuring out how to get it upstairs wild the two men from Jack’s group leave them to it. The coachman looks out to make sure the men actually leave, and then they also escape.

He loses the trail in an area near the edge of Jack’s territory, and when it gets light, they see men who also appear to be searching for someone. Thorne is about to ask about Sep but spots the men and instantly changes the subject, then moves away. He suspected that if any of Jack’s men see him asking about Michael, they might decide to detain him.

He finds a prostitute and talks to her, she has seen something. But suddenly Nick appears and overhears their conversation. Nick attacks and Thorne fights back, but he forgets the prostitute is there and his widely swinging fist clips her. Or maybe he grabs her arm to fling her out of the way of the fight and he breaks her arm, like he did with his son. It reminds him of another time he injured an innocent while in a heightened emotional state.

Once Nick is clear of Thorne, the coachman can use his whip to keep Nick away from them. Nick has to leap away to avoid the whip, and they run away.

But not only did they not find Sep, now Nick knows Thorne’s face. Nick calls out after them as they run away: Don’t come around here again! I’ll remember your face!

Chapter three of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker:

Thorne was not intimately familiar with the Long Glades, but he had traversed enough overcrowded cities across the continent that he could recognize the ebb and flow of people, the tales they told with their body language. He was also forced to admit that Clara was extremely valuable in navigating the streets, not only because she had apparently grown up on them, but also because she had a knack for knowing who to approach, what types of questions to ask in order to get the information she needed.

They started in the seedy area where Mr. Coulton-Jones had first begun wreaking havoc. Calvin had probably started his own search at the building where he last saw Mr. Ackett, but Thorne did not know where that was. He would have to search for clues along the trail that Mr. Coulton-Jones had left, backtracking and hoping that he would find the origin point.

Thorne had thought that after the destruction of earlier this evening, the streets would be more empty, but it seemed there were even more people wandering about where Mr. Coulton-Jones had destroyed the most property. A large number were completely foxed, sprinkled with a few street-walkers who were trying to take advantage of the men in their inebriated state. Alehouses and coffeehouses alike were brightly lit. Thorne had expected more shopkeepers to be bustling about to protect their stock, but there was a disheartening amount of looting with no one to object—officers of the watch were absent, not even bothering to enter the area and try to interfere.

Thorne had to remind himself not to grab at Clara when a man came too close, because she was dressed as a boy not a girl. But she proved very adept at avoiding people who might be tempted to deliver a drunken clout for coming too close. When necessary, she could give a scathing set down, peppered with extremely colorful language, to anyone who approached her.

Mr. Coulton-Jones’s path had been very erratic, so Thorne had a difficult time trying to determine from which direction he had come. At a crossroads, when he was about to turn right, Clara tugged at his sleeve.

“Sir, I think we should go left.”

The left side of the street was not much different from the right. “What makes you say that?”

“Calvin already knows where Mr. Ackett was, and so he’d be looking for where Mr. Ackett would think to run to. There are some places to hide down this way.”

Thorne wasn’t entirely certain that a grown man would choose the same hiding places of an eleven-year-old, but at the moment he was more interested in finding Calvin. He nodded and followed Clara to the left.

He was right to follow the advice of his guide. Within five minutes, Clara had suddenly burst into a run and skidded to a halt next to a young boy ahead of them. Thorne wasn’t even certain how she had been able to see him, since the sidewalks were dark in this section of the street, and Calvin had just slid out of an alley.

When Thorne approached, Clara was in the midst of explaining everything to her brother, and then she introduced Thorne. The young boy looked up at him with shrewd eyes that seemed to search his face for something. Then he pointed back down the alley. “Mr. Havner is still down there. You’ll have to explain it all over again to him.”

Clara groaned. “I’d forgotten about that.” She bopped him in the shoulder with her fist. “Why didn’t you stop me sooner?”

“I couldn’t get a word in, because you were gobbing like a chicken.”

Mr. Havner lumbered into view. Thorne was relieved that the man was wide and strong, looking more like a blacksmith than a coachman. He walked with a deceptively fluid looseness to his muscles, which indicated he was on the alert at the sight of Thorne, despite the relaxed demeanor of the twins standing next to him. “Who’s your friend, Calvin?”

Clara went into a repetition of what she told her brother.

“Did you find Mr. Ackett?” Thorne asked, although he suspected the answer was negative.

“We started searching in the opposite direction that Mr. Coulton-Jones went,” Calvin said. “We scared away a man from the warehouse. Mr. Havner said the man probably had a friend, and Mr. Ackett was fighting him.”

“Since Mr. Ackett had sent Calvin for help, he might have led his opponent away so he wouldn’t see our group arrive.”

Thorne nodded. It’s what he would’ve guessed, also, and Mr. Drydale had mentioned the same thing to him. “Show me where you last saw Mr. Ackett.”

It was an empty brothel that looked as if an entire carriage had crashed into the front of it. The door and part of the wall it had been attached to were in splinters on the ground, and three-quarters of the front room of the shop was open to the street. Candles broken until they looked like creamy gravel littered the floor because most of the wooden shelves along the walls had also been smashed, along with the furniture in the room.

There was also a door on the side of the front room leading to a narrow set of stairs to the floor above, but the door had been smashed into the stairwell. Thorne looked at the pieces, and they seemed smaller than what he would expect if a man had simply been thrown into the door … as if the wood had been trampled upon by two men engaged in a fistfight.

Thorne turned to Calvin. “You mentioned that Mr. Ackett approached the building from the roof?”


Several of the lower steps of the stairs had been broken, so Thorne had to back up a few steps in order to leap. He rested one foot briefly on the far right edge of the stairs, which boasted only a few inches of wood still attached to the wall, then pushed off so that his other foot could land solidly on the lowest unbroken step. Calvin looked like he was going to try to make the same jump, so Thorne ordered him, “Stay down there.”

Calvin’s face turned mulish. “What if you need help?”

Only after he had voiced the question did Thorne notice the anxiety the boy was trying to hide. This probably reminded him of when he had watched Mr. Ackett leave him behind. At the same time, Thorne did not want Calvin rushing into a dangerous situation. He might’ve been helpful to Mr. Drydale in the warehouse earlier tonight, but for Thorne, having him there would be a distraction. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

Calvin opened his mouth to protest again, but Thorne turned and headed up the stairway, and his footsteps sounded over whatever the boy said.

He heard the coachman behind him at the bottom of the stairs. “Listen to the man and stay here, Calvin.” Thorne was relieved that Mr. Havner reaffirmed his order, but the relief lasted only a few seconds. The sound of muffled footsteps made him turn around and see that the coachman had leaped up to follow him onto the stairwell.

One room on the second floor was empty except for a wooden chair toppled over in the middle of it. There were no lamps, no ropes that might have tied a man to the chair, but the window set high against one wall was open and large enough that a slim man could slip through. Thorne peered through the window and saw the distance to the closest rooftop. The danger of the jump made him blanch a little, but after Mr. Drydale had described Mr. Ackett’s rooftop running, Thorne didn’t dismiss the possibility.

He and the coachman returned downstairs, where Calvin was still at the base of the stairs, shuffling from foot to foot. He was relieved to see the two of them, although he tried to hide it with a casual expression as he turned to once more enter the front room of the building.

Outside the brothel, Thorne turned to the twins. “Lady Wynwood instructed me to send you both back to the apothecary shop.”

Calvin sent out a loud protest. Clara did not, but her face settled into disapproving lines, a more feminine version of the mulish expression that Calvin had showed to Thorne only a few minutes ago.

“Yes, yes, I realize that you want to help, but I am under orders from your employer.” He imagined Lady Wynwood’s face, calm and patient, but he had sensed the steel behind her polite words. He had instinctively known she was not someone to cross without severe consequences. “I received the impression she would happily slit my stomach if I did not do as she asked.”

The twins’ protest melted into caution, and they glanced at each other.

“Fine,” Calvin said in a voice as if someone asked him to eat a scorpion.

“I’ll be staying with you, sir,” Mr. Havner stated.

Thorne opened his mouth to protest, suddenly feeling like one of the twins, but Mr. Havner continued, “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, sir, but there are more pickpockets on the street than normal. Probably more robbers, also. Another man with you would deter the more aggressive ones from attacking you for your purse.”

He had been alone in cities far more dangerous than the streets now, and he knew he could handle himself if he was attacked. But there was a new dimension to the threat now, if he was attacked by one of the men in Apothecary Jack’s gang who possessed the strength given to them by the Root.

The coachman turned to the twins. “Get on with you, the pair of you. I’ll stay to watch out for Mr. Rosmont, so you go back to the apothecary shop to protect the two young misses.”

The man’s words seemed to lighten an invisible burden that Calvin was carrying. He straightened his shoulders, gave a firm nod to the two men, then he and his sister turned away. Thorne was impressed at the way they melted into the darkness edging the street.

For the next several hours, Thorne and Mr. Havner tediously wound through the maze of streets of the Long Glades. Thorne had worked diligently to develop a good memory, and so he was able to conduct the search without backtracking or becoming lost. However, he was not strictly methodical and sometimes decided on paths based on his instincts, or on his guess as to where Mr. Ackett’s instinct would take him.

The two men also managed to extract information from the people on the streets, although that number decreased as the hours went by. They asked about two men who may have been fighting, or one chasing the other. They heard that the larger man in pursuit had a ruined ear, which suggested he might be the man named Silas who had fought Michael and Mr. Ackett before.

Unfortunately, many people comfortable on the London streets at night also knew to keep their mouth shut about anything they might have seen, so as to avoid becoming entangled in anything troublesome. If his instincts told him they were hiding something, he would shake his purse, and sometimes that would loosen tongues.

They managed to get a slovenly-looking woman standing in the doorway of a boarding house to speak to them, and she mentioned a nearby orphanage with a large basement with three or four entrances. Thorne doubted Mr. Ackett would lead his pursuer anywhere near so many children, but they checked the large space anyway, which served as a storeroom for the orphanage. All they got for their trouble were spiders in their hair.

However, outside the building, a street urchin who may or may not have belonged to the orphanage told them about two drunks who liked to wile away the evening outside of a closed fishmonger’s shop. They kept their eyes open and would occasionally be induced to open their mouths in exchange for coin.

The coming dawn was turning the fog near the river to gray when Thorne and Mr. Havner lost the trail of the two men again. Their last clue had been from the pair of old drunks, but no one with whom they had spoken since then had seen either Mr. Ackett or Silas.

Thorne also began to get more narrowed looks from people along the street. In the darkness, the quality of his clothing hadn’t been as noticeable, but now he could tell that he was starting to stand out, even though he had donned his oldest jacket, shirt, and breeches. He hadn’t known much about what Isabella had wanted him to do, so he had simply opted for plain, nondescript clothing from his normal wardrobe. It was not unusual to see a nobleman in these sorts of areas at night, but this street hadn’t any gambling halls and only one dingy brothel.

He had some working men’s clothes in the back of the wardrobe at his townhouse, however, so perhaps now would be a good time for him to return and don a disguise.

There was another reason for him to postpone the search. Thorne had been trained to observe the people around him, so that he could blend in—whether a drunkard, a fisherman, or a working man, he could imitate their gait and speech if he had the right clothing.

So he was able to notice the ones on the street who did not blend in—men walking confidently, arrogantly sometimes, inciting fear from others who scuttled away when they drew near.

One thin man in particular was closest to them. Other men who were clearly heavier than he would give way for him on the sidewalk and turn away so as not to meet his eyes.

Thorne and Mr. Havner began sauntering away in the opposite direction of the thin man. They shivered in the fog, but Thorne began picking his way back the way they had come.

“It’s getting a bit crowded around here.” The coachman looked back over his shoulder quickly, then turned around with his head bent forward. “I don’t need to pretend to be scared of them. I’ve never seen men like that before.”

“Keep your voice down,” Thorne cautioned him. They were walking in the middle of the street and there didn’t seem to be anyone nearby, but he didn’t want to take any chances. Mr. Drydale had warned him about the dangers of being overheard by those men when he least expected.

“They’re still looking for him. There’s hope,” Thorne said.

“But how long can he remain hidden?”

“Then we had better find him soon. Just be careful who you speak to.”

They continued down the river until they reached a section that didn’t seem to have any of those swaggering men walking about.

Thorne almost didn’t see the too young, too painfully thin prostitute huddled in a darkened doorway. The coachman’s path veered toward her, and he said in a gentle voice, “Slow night for you, dearie?”

The girl was obviously exhausted, but she made an effort to shake the hair out of her eyes and rise shakily to her feet. She gave him a thin smile. “I’m available if you’re wanting some company, sir.”

“Don’t need that. You ought to be getting to bed.”

“I got none, unless I bring Ferbin enough money from tonight.”

The coachman’s face suddenly hardened, although he was not angry at the girl. “You’d be better off getting away from the likes of him.”

“That’s impossible.” Her voice was defeated and tired. It was as if her soul was simply an empty vessel by now.

“How much do you need?”

The eyes that looked up to him were pale blue, almost silver, and they were wary. “Sir?”

“I can pay you for something other than a tumble,” he said. “Were you here all night?”

“Mostly.” The girl’s dirty hand rubbed her nose as she looked down at her feet. “Can’t go to the more popular places, the other girls are protective of their territory.”

“We’re trying to find our friend. He’s slender, black hair, might be injured. He was being chased by another man, big, with a mangled ear.”

Fear flowed down the girl’s face like a bucket of ice water dumped over her head. She shook her head back and forth, and twisted her fingers together. “Never seen him, didn’t see nothing.”

“You won’t get in trouble,” Thorne said. “We’ll speak of this to no one.”

“It doesn’t matter. They’ll hear.”

“They won’t from us.”

“You won’t need to worry, if you get out of town,” the coachman said.

Thorne gave the man a sharp glance. He felt for the girl’s sorry state, but it was impossible to help every poor, beaten-down drab in London. What was the man doing?

But the girl kept shaking her head. “I told you, it’s impossible.”

“You’ve no reason to trust us,” the coachman said, “but what do you have to lose? Ferbin will beat you if you come back tonight with your purse too light, and from the looks of you, you won’t last many more of those.”

The girl stopped shaking her head, but she still wouldn’t look up at the two men. She said nothing.

“Tell us what you saw.” Thorne glanced up and down the street, but the fog was still thick, and the buildings here were tall enough that the first gray streaks of dawn hardly reached the ground. He strained his ears but could hear nothing. He turned back to the girl. “Our friend is slender, black hair, injured. We have to find him.”

“I didn’t see him.” The girl bit her lip so hard that blood stained her teeth, which were an unusual pearly white. Then she said in a soft voice that Thorne almost didn’t hear, “The man after him was Silas.”

At that moment, Thorne heard the strike of a boot heel against the ground, far away down the street.

He clapped his hand over the girl’s mouth, and motioned to the coachman, indicating the direction he’d heard the footsteps. Mr. Havner looked in that direction, taking a few steps back. Even just those few feet made the coachman’s figure become indistinct in the fog, which seemed to have suddenly grown thicker, darker.

Thorne spoke in a low voice, “Come with us.” If the man was close enough to hear them, it would sound like a simple proposition, common enough when spoken to a woman in this part of London.

“She won’t be going anywhere with you.” The voice was a man’s voice, but high-pitched. It was also still far away. It had been difficult for Thorne to hear him at all, but apparently the man had heard them clearly.

It was the same man as before. He was almost as painfully thin as the prostitute, with large ears that stuck out from the side of his head almost as far as his narrow shoulders, and he had a long, knobby neck, like a turkey. Or a vulture. His gray hat was shapeless, but there were tufts of straight, red-gold hair that peeked out over his ears.

His eyes were not quite as hard as some of the other men that Thorne had seen—there was frustration, doubt, and a touch of fear that lingered behind the confidence in his gaze. Thorne had known men like this, men who were on the outskirts of a group, wanting to fit in, not quite living up to expectations.

It surprised him, but he should have known better. Gangs were not made up of only one type of man. Even among the men Apothecary Jack had gathered around himself, there would be some who struggled to please their employer.

“What were you saying about Silas?” the man asked as he walked closer. His footsteps weren’t extraordinarily soft, and they weren’t loud, either. But the sound of his boots hitting the cobblestones was the same sound that Thorne had heard. He had been extraordinarily lucky to hear the man’s footstep.

And now it became obvious that the man had clearly heard their conversation, despite being so far away he should have barely been able to make out the words.

The prostitute had begun to shake violently at the sight of the man. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly, and her skin had turned as white as her eyes. “P-p-please … Please, Nick …”

Nick’s gaze on the girl was sharp like an ice pick. “You’re one of Ferbin’s girls, aren’t you? You should know better than that.”

“It’s not what you think …” The girl stuffed her fist into her mouth in fright.

Nick shifted his attention to Thorne, and his gaze became harder, but there was also a gleam of excitement. “He said someone would come looking for him. How lucky for me that I get to bring you in.”

Thorne’s entire body vibrated with tension, and he felt the familiar boiling sensation through his veins. Mr. Drydale’s logical injunctions to avoid engaging with these men receded to the back of his mind, muted against the roaring of his heartbeat in his ears. If the man wanted a fight, Thorne would give him a fight. Thorne weighed almost twice as much as he did, and was taller. He could snap that neck between his hands. How much strength could a potion really give to a man?

Nick smiled, and Thorne saw that the same excitement rising in him was mirrored in his opponent. It made him burn hotter, and his vision became crystal clear.

He attacked faster than Thorne could see.

The fist flying at him wasn’t even a blur, just a twitch at the edge of his vision. He didn’t have time to react before the impact slammed into his stomach. He felt the blow all the way to his spine, felt the pain of bones creaking, reluctantly curving, and then suddenly pain exploded all the way from the top of his head down to his tailbone. He belatedly heard the sound of his impact against the wooden door behind him, saw splinters flying around in the air.

There was movement on his right. In his pain, he grabbed at that movement out of self-defense. But his hand latched onto a thin arm.

The prostitute. He needed to get her to safety, he needed to make sure she was out of the range of this fight.

His head was still spinning, the edges of his vision filled with stars, but he stepped out from the doorway on wobbly legs, still holding onto the girl’s arm. Then he flung her away, toward where he thought the coachman had been. “Get out of here!” he roared at her.

But as he tried to shove her away, he suddenly felt the bones under his hand snap.

That tiny sensation, the evidence of his strength, made the memory of another tiny set of broken bones engulf his mind. The memory sobered him faster than a dunk in the Thames. Only when he blinked did he realize that there had been a reddish haze over his vision, and the pain in every part of him came screaming to life. He felt as if Nick had punched a hole straight through his gut, and the back of his head throbbed from where the blow had shoved him three or four feet back into the wooden door.

Nick was taking his time, which was the only reason Thorne was still alive. He was struck with amazement by the man’s strength. If he had not let his reason fade, he would’ve realized that Mr. Drydale would not exaggerate about something like that.

He wanted to see how the prostitute fared, but his opponent attacked again, this time with the other fist aimed at Thorne’s head. He managed to tilt his head to the side to avoid most of the blow, but it caught on his ear. It felt as if his entire ear had been torn off. After a strange moment of silence, there was a sudden ringing that seem to be sounding right next to his head.

Thorne tried to counter with a fist of his own, but compared to Nick’s movements, he looked like he was moving through water. The man almost negligently swatted his arm away as if Thorne’s fist was a willow branch, then countered with another jab to his stomach. It didn’t hit the exact spot as the last blow—instead, Nick’s fist buried itself on the opposite side of Thorne’s torso, but there was the same pain as his spine absorbed the impact.

Thorne was too close to him. With an opponent so impossibly fast, he had no chance in close quarters. But his back was to the doorway the prostitute had been hiding in. When he tried to shift to his right, he was lucky enough to stumble and avoid another fist that the man threw at him.

Thorne’s knees bent from his misstep, his arms thrown out on either side of his body, so he used his lower stance to his advantage. One hand was close enough to the wooden wall that he could flatten it firmly, then he planted his right leg like a tree trunk and kicked out as fast and hard as he could with his left leg.

He wasn’t entirely certain why Nick didn’t dodge. He was fast enough that he could have, but perhaps Thorne’s kick took him by surprise. His boot cut the man in the stomach and thrust him several feet away. Thorne unbent quickly, ignoring the screaming pain in his middle, to try to predict what his opponent would do next.

But the attack never came. Instead, a blur came out of the fog, a thin black wisp that was nearly invisible, and it cracked inches in front of Nick’s nose with a sound like a gunshot. A horsewhip. Thorne knew of only one man who would have that in this place, at this time.

He could see a shadowy figure in the fog, but not the coachman’s features. However, Thorne recognized his movements and the tall, solid build of Mr. Havner. He could barely see, and he wondered how Mr. Havner had managed to aim at Thorne’s attacker. Then again, perhaps he had been aiming for the body and had only hit the space in front of him because of his obscured vision.

Whatever his intentions, the whip startled Nick, who jerked his head and stumbled backward a few more steps. But he didn’t hesitate for a long. His eyes darted toward where the whip had come from, then back to Thorne. He took a step toward him, but the whip cracked again. This time a scarlet line appeared across the thin man’s thigh. He howled and grabbed at his thigh.

“Run, man!”

Only when he heard the coachman’s voice did Thorne realize he had frozen. He obeyed, sprinting down the street. Footsteps began to follow behind him, but when he glanced back, Nick was simply a ghostly smear in the fog. Matching that image, a voice roared at them with all the fury of a spirit haunting the mortal plane in search of revenge. “You can’t get away from me! I’ll find you! I remember your face!”

Not only had he failed to find Mr. Ackett—now one of Apothecary Jack’s men knew Thorne’s face.