Brass Carriages and Glass Heart - Nancy Campbell Allen

Emmeline Castle O’Shea stood at a podium on the balcony of the Municipal Hall for Citizen Affairs and looked out with satisfaction at the murmuring crowd, feeling the energy build in the large room as she finished speaking.

“We worked tirelessly for the repeal of the Predatory Shifter Extermination Act, which was not only unethical and cruel but grossly illegal, yet factions within the Predatory Shifter Regulations Committee are meeting tonight with plans to see it slyly reinstated!”

The crowd, which had begun as a midsize gathering of Shifter Rights advocates, had grown in numbers as curious passersby peeked in to see what sort of ruckus they were missing. And ruckus it would inevitably become. Such was the nature of the business.

Emme was not an advocate of rioting, not usually, but when social justice was slow to evolve, certain consequences naturally followed. As president of the London chapter of the Shifter Rights Organization, she was firm in her admonition that violence was permitted only in cases of self-defense and that destruction of property not belonging to members of the hated Committee was neither advocated nor condoned.

Those parameters left plenty of room for movement and interpretation, of course, and Emme was aware that each successive gathering and protest had the potential to turn ugly. Her people were professional and knew their rights and responsibilities, but she couldn’t be responsible for the unruly fringe elements that often joined whenever the SRO mounted a protest. Some people rioted for the sake of rioting.

People streamed in through the side doors and the back of the large hall, and a sense of foreboding snaked up her spine. The constabulary were already gathering, and she knew that a certain member of the Yard would not be far behind.

Tonight’s cause, however, could not be ignored.

Months ago, she’d demanded the repeal of the Extermi­nation Act—the sanctioned murder of law-abiding citizens who happened to shape-shift into predatory animals three days each month—which had drawn the attention of the International Shifter Rights Organization. With the international body’s support, and through a few influential members of Parliament, the London chapter had brought about legislation that should have seen a permanent end to the barbaric practice.

So when Emme had received word that the PSRC intended to resurrect the horrifying Act, her blood had boiled and she’d nearly cried with anger.

“We must not allow this travesty to again rear its hideous head!” Her voice carried over the crowd, and the familiar sensation of exuding energy flowed from her as her frustration built. “The Committee finishes their clandestine meeting in ten minutes across the square, and we will greet them with voices raised in unity! The rights of the marginalized among us will be upheld!”

A loud cheer swelled through the room, building in intensity as several of her fellow SRO members whistled and called for the crowd to follow them outside. Emme wiped a trickle of sweat from her temple and impatiently removed her stylish, brown top hat. It was a new Castles’ Boutique creation, and her mother had added it to Emme’s burgeoning accessory collection.

“Emme!” Veronica, the London SRO’s vice president, beckoned from the far end of the balcony. “There are hundreds already outside! Come quickly!”

Emme smiled grimly and tossed the hat on an empty chair. Bigger crowds meant better exposure. The Committee’s attempt at the underhanded maneuver would not be tolerated; it was simply unacceptable! The SRO and its supporters would be heard, make no mistake.

She slung the long strap of her bag over her shoulder and across her body as she ran down the stairs, navigating her way through the crowd. People moved aside or patted her on the back or shouted words of encouragement. She wore breeches, boots, and a matching blouse and outer corset that her mother had demanded she treat carefully as the material was the boutique’s newest addition from the Orient. Hester Castle O’Shea insisted that Emme be impeccably dressed, even when wearing trousers, but her fussing efforts were lost on her daughter. Emme was rarely still, and she ruined her clothing more often than not.

The evening air was cool, and night was quickly descending on the square where the Predatory Shifter Regulations Committee had concluded their “clandestine” meeting. People spilled out of the hall and crossed the short distance to a row of government buildings.

Veronica found her and grabbed her hand, pulling her forward at a run. “I worry we’ll not be able to control this one,” Veronica shouted. “I’ve spied at least two ne’er-do-well gangs spoiling for a