"She moves, at times, with the fluid grace particular to acrobats and dancers, and at others her motions are sudden and jerky, feral and darting. A birdlike tilt of the head, an abrupt twist of the spine; that's all the warning given before she changes, transforming from entertainer to killer, from elegant to lethal. My pet theory is that when she becomes the perfect assassin she gains a new awareness of time and kinetics, her movements so graceful and quick that the human mind can only process them in sudden still images, like the frames of a zoetrope. Mere words can barely suffice to convey the purity of her motion. I have to think of her in alchemical terms. She's quicksilver."
Bartleby strode the perimeter of my workshop as he spoke, quartz knob on the end of his walking stick clacking a steady metronome beat against brass fittings set into the walls. He did it to irritate me, of that I'm sure; both the tapping and the purple-prose drenched answer to the simple question I'd put to him.
"That's all well and good. But who is she?" I asked.
He turned away, cane rattling along the baluster of the staircase leading up to the rest of our townhouse. "I swear, James, if you'd spend less time down here and more at the club with me, you'd know what was going on in London. The social season doesn't last forever, you know, and people find you odd enough as it is."
"I've little regard for the opinions of toffs or the clubs they inhabit."
"But they're so useful, James!"
"Then save your patter for the swells. Just tell me who this 'Spider' woman is."
"Nobody knows, and that's the thrill of it. She comes out of nowhere, a flash of red and black fabric, powdered white face, the tinkling of bells, drawing near in that sinuous way she has, mesmerising and captivating even those with the presence of mind to recognise her as a threat. What else is one to do but watch when presented with a beautiful spectre of death? When I saw her, at first it was the sheer oddness of the sight that stayed my hand: a small girl, slender of frame and fine of feature, dressed as a jester. She entered the airship impossibly, through a port window a thousand feet up--"