Castrato opened his hand, revealing a pair of scratched and dinged diopters. “Tiberia thinks this was lost down a drain,” he said. “She ain’t so good at knowing what’s lost and what a clever bloke with a piece of wire can get.”

“You mean…?” Claudia began.

“I’ve peeked through them enough to know that ain’t a single glow changed in all the fifteen years since I’ve worn the shackles,” Castrato continued. “Not a one has got brighter, not a one has got duller. Much as it kills me to have a look without their say-so–not that it bothers Tiberia none–I just had to know.”

“Miss Tiberia says that if they don’t dim, they’re kept here forever,” Miss Claudia whispered.

“Think about it, missy,” said Castrato. “I been here all of fifteen years in the shackles, and that oughta mean there’s some girls at least 20, maybe even 30. What’s the oldest girl you seen? 15?”

“No,” Claudia said. “That’s not-”

“You wanna know why no assistants last longer than two years here? You wanna know why no one ever leaves? It’s on account of Tiberia taking ’em below, to the catacombs, and ending ’em.” Castrato let out a strangled sob. “The shackles, they keeps me from doing anything about it. Half the time I can’t even get the assistants alone to tell ’em. The other half, they just up and leave.”

Castrato’s face was streaming with tears now, and the shackles were aglow at his wrists and ankles, the smell of searing flesh welling up in Claudia’s nostrils.

“Please, Miss Withers,” Castrato said. “Do something for ’em. Do right by these girls. Even the nastiest of ’em doesn’t deserve a screaming death in the catacombs at that hag’s claws.”

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