Above Scarborough the daily smog thickened as factories and reconstruction pushed into their midday height. Despite the choking air and acrid smells those not working often enjoyed this time of day for it obscured the dull red glow of the moon outside. Balor’s eye never stopped watching over the earth unlike the satellite of the past. It was always there lurking like a blood thirsty voyeur. Each and every day somewhere on the globe it was satisfied.
Within Vicar Stuart Moss’ office his single window thankfully washed out every last trace of distant red glow. The only blood within that house was the Lord’s. Leaves brushed at the window and Ms. Rosemary was the only one still working on her tea. Neither the Vicar nor the Widow Scabious suggested ordering a second cup. Nobody had touched the crumpets.
Tongue brushed lips dry before the ginger knockout spoke up. “So do these old stories, the ones about seafaring Fomorians, speak about crystal castles or anything close to spires?”
Elsbeth nodded instead of piping up in approval.
“No. As I mentioned there are snippets that call them scarlet keeps and that color tends to show up often among the forces of our enemies.” Moss cracked his neck before closing the book in his hands. It was set aside as he slid to his feet and moved to search for another. “That is as close as I can get when I come to color. Now let’s move on to Balor and his eye.”
“His eye? Well I do suppose it makes sense that the reference is a person. I suppose I always known that it was a name but not exactly who’s.” The Widow twiddled her thumbs unthinkingly and her analytical mind chewed on this new information.
“One of the Irish monsters from what I understand.” Finally the Thistle Sister finished her tea. “Wait was he a fomorian too?”
There was a heavy thwump as Vicar Moss tossed aside the book he had dissatisfied and opened another box. “You are quite correct, Ms. Rosemary. You see-“
The interruption came from a rap at the door and after a pause the handle was rattled. There was another knock before the vicar’s assistant spoke up. Her voice was hesitant but insistent. “I am sorry to call on your private meeting, Vicar, however you have a rather important caller.”
“I see.” The man rubbed at the scar from brow to hairline before motioning politely for one moment from the ladies. He headed over to the door and opened it a crack to converse. The exchange was short and for Vicar Moss’ part filled with curious expressions. He nodded and waved her off. “If you two ladies would pardon I think that I should take this and you two might wish to come along.”
A skeptical look was shared between the two agents of the crown but they agreed and stood. A short walk later they headed out of a side entrance from the office wing and out into the first hints of twilight. Passing through a hedged gate not far off the three found themselves within the backyard garden that was once attached to an orchard. The land had years ago been converted to a refugee camp for those newly arrived to Scarborough or generated from a raid within. It was never in disuse and nuns rushed about along with volunteers to keep everyone comfortable and alive. Ms. Rosemary lingered at the gate, long fingers curling tight against its white washed iron. Her eyes remained riveted to the scene and one layered over it from the fog of her memory until the Widow Scabious heaved out deep dissatisfaction.
Ms. Rosemary’s robin blue gaze took a moment to follow the hidden one of the mourner who’s body had became rigid with disapproval. Underneath a trellis of honeysuckle Mr. Thistle and Ms. Sage were still close enough that the distance between them could be called inappropriate. There were no other hints that they were snogging or even as much holding hands save for a look of guilt the two shared. Ms. Sage recovered first from being caught in whatever act it was and adjusted her glasses. Her face pulled tight and she pulled from their designer’s personal space quickly. Embarrassed fingers that had been adjusting his tie folded tightly behind her back.
In turn Mr. Thistle lifted mechanical fist to lips and coughed in hopes of saving some face. His throat was flushed and real fingers curled up tight to hold the heat of the Spanish flower’s hip a bit longer. “Vicar Moss I did not realize that you were with others of the Order. Do pardon the interruption. Ms. Sage and I can speak to you later.”
“No I think it would be best if you sought spiritual advice, Mr. Thistle.” The veil didn’t hide the Widow Scabios’ disgust. She turned away sharply with a harsh swirl of skirts and stiffening of shoulders. Without a word from anyone the mourning glory swept out for the hedge’s edge and graveyard beyond. No one even breathed until she was out of sight. There was something about that woman when she was angry that stifled speech.
“I will have a word with her later.” Mr. Thistle’s voice was meek when it came. “My apologies Vicar, Ms. Sage.”
The umbrella wielder just shook her head and sighed. Eyes strayed to her sister and in turn Ms. Rosemary just shrugged and stuck out her tongue. If anything was going on between their boss and tactician it wasn’t any of her business. All of them mulled about in silence for a few moments more.
“Right then. No reason for us go about sulking like the window eh?” The brawler piped up and gave Vicar Moss’ fine shoulder a slug. Her grin was infectious enough to worm its way through the other.
The former soldier rubbed at his arm and shook his head quietly. Drawing in a long breath he nodded. “She I think has a deep scar that will take years to heal if ever and we should not bother her. Now I was speaking to Ms. Rosemary about the folklore that swirls about our enemies. That can be resumed easily enough. Now what is it I can help you two loverbirds with?”
Ms. Sage pressed her dark lips to a tight petal and gave the clockmaker a kick of pointed boot when he started to chuckle. “I assure you that there is nothing such as that going on. His tie was out of place we both wished to be our best on meeting you. I have to say it is a pleasure, what of your record we were given to look over is amazing.”
“You are too kind.” The vicar stepped forward and took gloved hand. He lifted it to his lips but didn’t kiss. “I have read quite a bit about your sisters and the Order of Thistle here. I dare say England may have already fallen without your bravery and skill.”
“Eh. We’d not be a think without all the lads here to fight too.” Ms. Rosemary snorted and folded arm under bosom. Why did all the men dote on her other sisters but not her? Why did she even care this time. After a step back she leaned on the trunk of a tree and struggled not to sulk.
“Of course. I do not mean to slight them.” After trying to reassure the redhead Vicar Moss slipped a step to the right and offered out a hand to take metal one. “Mr. Thistle, I served with your cousin Arthur on the French front. It is likewise an honor to be given the chance to do so here with you.”
“Arthur?” Roland Thistle’s brows furrowed. “I see. Well he does great work in the French theater but I assure you he and I have different approaches to matters. Did you get a chance to work with the Sisters under his command?”
“No.” Shaking his head the vicar stepped back.
“They are just as skilled as well.” Ms. Sage was as flattering as she could. It was plain that the half-moor didn’t fancy that quartet of siblings. Neither did Mr. Rosemary who remained quiet. Shade was set in the crook of elbow and Ms. Sage adjusted her glasses again. “Now as to why we are here… well I suppose I should let Mr. Thistle speak on that matter.”
Popping one brow Roland let his gaze drift down questioningly to his companion who nodded and smiled to him. They shared a grin before finally being able to break away. He cleared his throat and false hand whirred as he gestured deeper into the garden. “Shall we take a stroll then? I was wondering if we might press you to aid us in a dire matter, vicar?”
“However I might serve the crown and my fellow man.” The black haired gent followed.
So did the boxer. She mulled on her lip and drew up close to her sister as the men lead the way. Ms. Sage didn’t even let her get the gossipy question out before giving her a glare over the top of glasses. Whatever was going on in the garden was not going to be mentioned, ever. She didn’t even want it commented on.
“Delightful!’ After a cultured laugh Roland brushed at the side of his short haircut. Then it was on to business. “We need your assistance when it comes to the cults. They have become quite aggressive as saboteurs despite their madness. They were even so brazen to try and incinerate our war hospital to try and break moral. I have gotten hints that you are adept at rooting them out?”
“I am and I shall give what aid I can. I will need a contact within your Order however to do so effectively. Someone we know I can trust.” The holy man cast a sly look back to Ms. Rosemary. “The Catholic I think. I need a good argument now and again.”
“Done and done. Ms. Rosemary?” Mr. Thistle didn’t turn back or give the full order.
Ginger hair bounced as she nodded. “Of course, Mr. Thistle. I think it’s a brilliant idea. With any luck I may even show the protestant the error of his ways.”
“Now now.” Roland chuckled. “I am an Anglican too after all. Is there anything other sort of aid or materials you shall need from us, Vicar?”
“No. As I was telling the Widow Scabious I am already here to do similar work as well as work on folklore matters. I have everything I need already. I would just ask for discretion to what I need to do unaided, unless I ask for some?” A short not punctuated the quiet man’s words.
Roland dipped his head. “Fair enough then. I shall have Ms. Sage build a file one what we have already when it comes to information to see passed along. I am not sure if they will be of any real use to you but every bit may help.”
“I shall have it for you by the morrow. Is there any avenue you would be most interested in.” Always prim and proper until she got angry the tactician fell into timed steps to match the other three. Her somber clothes barely moved with each dainty step. Ms. Rosemary was always jealous of her grace and mind. Not too jealous though as that would be a sin.
“Let me see what you have access to and we shall proceed from there.” The vicar gave her a glance and nod in confirmation.
“Understood. Now what were you and the ladies speaking about? Folklore?” The Spaniard looked away to the Irishwoman.
Ms. Rosemary grinned and ducked under a stray apple tree branch. “He had just finished explaining that the mythological fomorians were giants, invaders of lethal magic who came from the sea.”
“Really now? Well I can see why the cultists chose to name them such then.” Ms. Sage nodded.
“Well what subject were you going to expound on next then?” Spreading his stance Mr. Thistle settled in to stand comfortably for some time. Real fingers curled around where metal wrist ended and fleshy forearm began as he folded hands before him. After a mote of hesitation Ms. Sage slipped over lightly and stood by his shoulder. As much as the two gravitated toward one another neither quite touched.
Vicar Moss gestured up into the sky. “Balor and his eye. That doom which hangs high above us all the more.”
With a dip of his chin Roland’s eyes glinted with unhidden interest. “Please do go on them. I am already rapt I dare say.”
“As you and the ladies fancy then.” Lowering his arm the folklorist brushed at the sides of his robe before eyes moved to where a few traced of read could be seen through the smoke clouds as they drifted by. “Balor was the king of the fomorians, a great and powerful creature that was likened to a god of death for the early Irish. He was taller than the rest of his comrades and most twisted in form. He bore one gigantic eye that had to be constantly kept closed. Whatever was struck by it when it was open died instantly.”
“Sounds like a pleasant chap now don’t he? I bet he was a lady killer at parties.” Ms. Rosemary smirked and didn’t cower under any of the looks of disapproval that was shot her way. Mostly it was Ms. Sage that sent one. Roland was plainly amused and the vicar just kept talking as if nothing funny had been said.
“As with most myths he was undone by first prophecy and then his own decedents. It was said that he would one day be killed by his grandson so he locked his daughter in a tall sea side tower without any door. Right nice fellow no?” Vicar Moss looked down to the trio. “Eventually one of the Tuatha de Danann managed to-“
“The who?” Even if he had better manners Roland could not help but interrupt.
“The Tuatha de Danann. It is getting a bit ahead of the tale but they, according to myth, the came from islands to the west. Think of the first real Gods of Ireland, a real pantheon. They eventually defeated the fomorians and settled most of Eire before being drive to fairy mounds and such places by mankind. They are a lot of our classical ideas when it comes to elves and good folk come from.”
“Tall and beautiful but still terrible and wild?” Parasol tapped on dark lips. Glasses were adjusted. “That in a way I think applies better to the Beautiful One that we encountered on the docks. He was distinctly different than the overseers. So much so as much as we have been assured by Fleet Street that they are the race, well… it is a bit hard to swallow.”
“I have never really thought of that. They are so often applied in heroic terms, though with all the folly one would expect for classic Greek figures. Then again after they fall from godhood to become spirits and sidhe they are terrible creatures: whimsical murderers, kidnappers, rapists.” The wheels within the vicar’s head were turning. “What if they are not the same race and the Beautiful Ones conquered the Fomorians?”
“Well that would assume.” Mr. Thistle pointed out with a whirr of one steel finger rising. “That the Selenites and these beings from old sagas are one in the same. To a rational man it seems unlikely.”
“Does it now?” Ms. Rosemary tilted her face forward and put forth that query before the vicar could. “A generation past would a rational man think that the moon was both inhabited and we would be under assault now after it turned red?”
Twilight relented to darkness’ advance as the Widow Scabious cleansed herself with a heave of air that was so great she felt as if a few of the stitches on her silk covered corset might tear. Unlike her creations the mourner didn’t need to wear an armored one. Besides the skin tight layer of leather the only protection Elsbeth bothered with was her English resolve. Fingers caressed along the iron of a gate behind her before finally letting go. Dread rose from the depths of her stomach like a Kraken with its tentacles threatening to come up her throat or pull her aching heart its watery demise. It wasn’t for the usual reason though, her rising fear. There was nothing in this graveyard that held a threat for her, she was not wary of ghosts or ghouls. No matter how many shadows stretched menacing in the crimson glow that wasn’t going to change.
Unwillingly her doe brown gaze caressed across the sea of headstones until resting on the ones that always drew her here and caused her trepidation every time she visited. Swallowing she looked left and right before removing hat and veil attached. No other living soul was present and that was all she needed now. Brown hair threatened to come loose from pinning but she paid it no mind. It was nice now and again not be hidden by gauze. Through the maze of marble the widow ghosted and was hardly aware of the eerie image she might leave with passing onlookers. As she moved along there were far too many fresh graves for her liking as well as hungry holes waiting for caskets certain to come. While the majority of doughboys who committed the ultimate sacrifice were shipped off by rail for home there were plenty of civilians who died to keep this graveyard busy.
The Widow Scabious was in no hurry to reach her destination and busied herself studying memorials as she passed. There were not as many angels as there should be and far too few images of Christ. As the world war drug on faith waned in most of the world, it was why Elsbeth put her face in science. No dues ex machina was going to occur.
“We make our own fates.” She muttered to the dead, one in particular. In any other time before this one, in any other society the gloomy lady would have been labeled a murderess instead of a heroine, of that she was certain. One hand curled against the fabric over her breastbone and the other held her hat. “No matter what you thought Henry. You made your own grave to lie in but why… why… “
The answer would not come no matter how often she visited the graves of the husband she murdered and the daughter he’d killed. Her dainty boots stopped and head cocked the side, stray hair tickling at the shell of ear. She’d thought she heard another footstep and then a glide of oiled metal parts. The hand over her heart formed a fist and senses strained. Shadows were everywhere that were so very deep and thick – more than enough to hide a man easily. She took another step as head swiveled. She wasn’t alone.
“Hello?” The Widow Scabious worried her armor might not be enough and she should travel about armed.
None of the four talking just yards away heard the sound nor knew of the danger their associate might be in. They were too busy tossing theories back and forth as Vicar Moss offered more information. Plainly the secretive man had more than a bit of food for thought to offer.
“So one of the Tuatha in classical fashion sneaks into the tower where Balor’s daughter is and impregnates her. She gives birth to two half-breeds of great power. While the son is smuggled out and given to his father’s people Balor founds his granddaughter and tosses her into the sea out of fear and rage.” Vicar Moss gestured slowly before him as he explained things. “When the son, Lugh, was a man he put out Balor’s single eye with a slingshot, felling the giant.”
“Like David and Goliath? Now that’s very interesting.” If Ms. Rosemary was sure any thing it was that God was in Heaven and that the man she’d just met was on the right track, at least when it came to myth relating to the current calamity. She’d work on saving his soul later. “So what happened to Balor after that?”
After closing his book the vicar made a so-so motion with one hand. “His people were swept aside and what remained integrated into the Tuatha’s society. As to what happened to their dark warlord’s corpse? That I haven’t been able to find. There are more than a few tails that follow Balor’s children and the other fomorians.”
“There is quite a bit on Tuatha de Danann, yes?” Ms. Sage moved away from Mr. Thistle’s side bit tapped his arm to urge him and the others inside. Night had come and despite the fine weather she would rather be indoors. “I think it would be best if we looked into those legends as well. They may be applicable. Did the Tuatha have some sort of great weakness?”
“Well once they fell to humanity and were pushed back to live under the earth and in the air like all the rest of the fairy folk they were said to be driven off by hallowed symbols and cold iron was their bane. However I can assure you that is more myth than anything else.” For a flash Stuart Moss was sly in his expression. “It has already been trained is as useless as most weapons against the Vain and does not have any extra effect on the brute Fomorians.”
“Damn.” True to form Roland trailed after the dusky android and then two strong sides to get to the door before her. He pulled it open and gallantly bowed gesturing for all to enter.
Ms. Sage patted his cheek with mild affection as she passed by. Umbrella was set back on her elbow. She didn’t focus on the vaulted arches and their fine carving as well as other pieces of art but rather was mulling on things internal. Knowing one’s enemy was one of the most important steps to facilitating their extermination. Nothing seemed helpful yet but she was sure something would be discovered. Like her impulsive sister the shield-maiden believed that the vicar was on to something. For now she was silent and led the way. Vicar Moss bowed and let Ms. Rosemary go first before stepping in after.
His words were for Mr. Thistle though as he looked over his shoulder at the man closing the door. “The widow assured me that other matters as to my duties here would not come to light as long as I helped your Order?”
“Or course.” Mr. Thistle’s smile was without guile as he crossed his heart with mechanical fingers. “We are all here to help our fellow man after all and to cause any sort of trouble… well as I pointed out I am not my cousin Arthur.”
“Good.” Vicar Moss nodded.
Ms. Rosemary furrowed her brows and again wondered at what the two men were talking over. She hadn’t a clue who this Society was and what their tasks were. Luckily she was in the position to find out and find out she would. Every fact about the scarred man just drew her in deeper. Being within the church soothed her mind.
Outside the Widow Scabious’ mind was anything but soothed. After standing still for several minutes while she didn’t detect any movement or sound she still wasn’t sure that she was alone. Eyes narrowed but the mourning glory continued along with careful steps. While she was hardly a silent stalker she felt that she was stepping quiet enough to be able to listen at the same time. Nothing leapt out of the shadows to assail her though and sooner than she fancied Elsbeth stood before the Scabious plot.
Her husband’s headstone was far grander than she ever wanted, in face she didn’t care if his memorial was nothing more than a vomit filled chamber pot. Hell there hadn’t even enough left of the cur to fill an ale pint for as often as the ‘great’ man was in his cups. The top of marble slab was covered with frolicking Victorian fairies around a crown with his name on a bronze plate at the top. There was a cross but she suspected just save face in death. In contrast sweet Constance’s grave was little more than a simple block of marble with the impression of a cherub behind the scrolling of her name and a plot equal to her young size. Very few knew the vile truth as to why she had a closed casket. Sorrow drew Elsbeth’s knees to the ground beside her wee daughter’s stone and one arm draped across it. No one ever saw the widow cry for she always did it in private. Cheek rested against forearm and she whimpered. The edge of her eyes started to sting while fingers brushed at the marble and for all the world the widow wish it was Connie’s sweet strawberry blonde hair. Tears never fell.
Instead her gaze caught more freshly disturbed dirt and was riveted to it. It was at the edge of her daughter’s plot. Confusion spread across her features but Elsbeth didn’t manage to move. Terror stilled her bones. Had some grave digger came for Connie or was a mangy dog digging for bones? It would take a better look to find out but she still couldn’t move. The widow was sure she didn’t want to know.
At the end of their travels the two Thistle Sisters and two men ended up in the vicar’s office once more. Ms. Rosemary leaned against the wall and allowed her half-moor sister and the clockmaker to have to the chairs. Mr. Thistle relaxed after shifting and folded his legs at the knee. Offers for tea were rejected so the lecture could continue.
“I would not mind.” Roland smiled in a refined manner. “If you could once you have time also write a short treatise on the various automatons of the fomorian’s armies and how they relate to their names, such as redcaps and trolls. I would think that their names have some power as well no? Some description to them?”
“Why?” Finally Ms. Sage replaced her glasses in proper pace. She blinked between the men. “They are all codenames that we gave them after all.”
“They are what the scarlet cults designate them, at the very least in the beginning. Human conscript soldiers called them that as well. We only use them because of that fact.” Despite his frown full of realization Mr. Thistle pointed that out.’
“Now the question is did they have the idea first or were they told what to call the robot shock troopers at their side?” The clockwork wildcat twitched and her strong hands tightened up. “I think we all hope for the first option but we have to consider the second. What if this is not the first time the moonmen have attacked Earth?”
“I have to say I rather do not like that implication one bit.” With a flutter of eyelashes Ms. Sage closed her eyes and calculated the possibility. Rationally it seemed unlikely but her intuition was disturbed. Fine boned features went severe and stuck that way.
The Vicar sighed and sat on a box full of books. As passionate as he was about this subject the conclusions he offered drained energy whenever he spoke of them. His strong eyes moved between the three as they worried and thumb brushed at his scar. “Why the long faces ladies and gentleman? If the fomorians of yesteryear are the same that we are facing this day then they were defeated once by men with primitive swords and spears. What do we need to worry after?”
“Magic. You can’t forget magic. After all it took the good Saint Patrick and the Lord to turn out them druids in the end no?” Ms. Rosemary puffed out what was a rattle of a chuckle at best. Shifting once more her face turned from the raven haired man before he looked over and to his window. Toes flexed within her boots. “Having faced off against one of the Beautiful Ones and suffering the least of all of my sisters I am not sure that all the technology we have at our disposal will be enough. If I could feel fear it would strike deep at the sight of even one squad of nothing bit the vain.”
“Indeed we are quite fortunate that they are an exceedingly rare breed, no?” Rolling where meat and metal joined Roland Thistle frowned before looking at mechanical fingers. They were wiggled slowly before his eyes and he started to sink into distant memory. Padded tips brushed against steel palm before he turned wrist left and right. Despite being of his own design and work the hand continued to fascinate the watchmaker, but only when he was pondering on the flesh and blood it had replaced. It was the first time he’d seen one of the Vain face to face. Lord willing it would be the last. Ms. Sage curled her own false hand over his and squeezed. Her smiled said it was alright and brought him back to the future.
Vicar Moss ticked up a brow but offered no neither comment nor rebuke.
Finally finding the metal fortitude to move the Widow Scabious pushed from her only child’s grave marker and stumbled the short feet to the plot’s bottom. Black skirts tore and rubber creaked. No one had dug up the entire grave but just at the corner earth had been turned over. In the darkness it was hard to make out everything at first but above a cloud shrunk away from Balor’s Eye out of fear. A shaft of sanguine moon light brought everything around her into clarity.
Her hand brushed through what weren’t quite claw marks in the dirt. They fit the shape of her own delicate fingers a bit too well but whatever hand had been digging it had more strength than a mere woman and where it had struck packed earth was clearly gouged in such an away to indicate claws. A rapid hiss of gears and scream of steam shuttering out pipes startled Elsbeth off of her feet. Her yelp was drowned out but the explosion of headstones and the branches of trees at the edge of the graveyard. She dropped her hat and out of reflex curled up with arms protecting her head as debris rained down in a wide pattern.
Metal whined for a tick before the air split with a low boom and the widow forced herself to look up. All she caught was a shimmer of green as it arched up between two airships leaving a stream of metallic flakes of light in its wake. The figure was lost in the night sky as the two hulking vessels continued to sail away from one another and only the hellish moon remained.
The Widow Scabious struggled to breath, the side of her forehead nicked and oozing from falling stone. All of her hairpins had been forcefully ripped and were lost in the still rolling cloud of dust that the flyer’s quick escape had churned up. Her brunette tresses whipped about relishing finally being free to their long length after so long. She blinked rapidly trying to get her gaze free of grime and tears. That was no harpy.
Nothing she knew of in Heaven or on Earth could fly that fast. “Henry, what have you done?”