2. Washes the Grave with Silvery Tears

Carried up the side of a smoldering building via umbrella, Ms. Sage’s exotic face narrowed to a singularly perturbed expression. When he was feeling flippant Mr. Thistle would often comment she was beautiful when she was angry. She was never sure if their director was flirting or just trying to get her goat. At the moment her hazel gaze behind thin glasses and mind under gray tea hat were focused on the last of those thrice damned harpies as it tried to soar away on creaking wings.

Breaking free of the rooftops like a cloud of somber smoke the clockwork woman turned the middle of her umbrella’s shaft until it clicked. Leaden cover slid back over the glass encased cavorite at the shade’s core. Without the unique radiation of the miracle mineral the weight of her body was pulled downward. Cavor’s discovery of anti-gravity had been the biggest story of the last century, especially when it carried the first men to the moon. Alas like most advances in science it soon became a curse onto man, perhaps the greatest it would ever suffer. For the men of the moon soon invaded Earth. Since that faithful year the artificial stone which bore his name had been employed mostly in airships to try and give mankind an edge.

Delicate elbow creaked as Ms. Sage turned and angled the parasol just right to catch curling wind. Within moments the soles of her pointy toe boots clacked along ceramic roof arch. Delicate wrist spun and with it the sober umbrella. As her dusky skirt settled she snapped the accessory closed, tucked it tight to her side. While she was not nearly as fast as Ms. Thyme the mechanical woman shot across rooftop in a direct line toward her quarry. No doubt that harpy born on iridium feathered wings was going to try and find some place the roost nearby, hide and cause more trouble once the sun had risen. That could not be allowed.

Up the side of a short stack chimney she sprung before she twisted in a violent swirl around its white stone top. Ms. Sage lost her hat even as she opened her umbrella with a loud crack. In mid-leap she turned so cavorite would be exposed again and at the angle of ascent zipped off for the mechanical fairy. Her course was not perfect but it was close enough. Into the one of those great gear and steam powered wings the full cap of her parasol slammed. Richly polished metal tore at soft gray fabric only to reveal the armored plates beneath. It was the intricate wing which relented and bent as the harpy banked away with one of their trademark screeches. While the sound which erupted from the fang stylized grate the feminine mockery had for a mouth crippled men with its hyper-sonic waves it did little more than make the exquisite framework of Ms. Sage’s chassis vibrate as she continued her ascent. The harpy barrel rolled and one of its talons tore through dark skirts, slicing at shin beneath before being kicked away. Assuredly the winged automaton would be grounded now but a wounded monster was at times the most dangerous. Waiting until she was ten feet above the plummeting harpy Ms. Sage closed off the antigravity rock and shut umbrella once more. She fell as well but in a far more controlled motion that the spiraling robot. With upmost grace she turned in the air and along with the creak of leather corset plunged shade first.

The pointed tip of reinforced metal lanced deep into the harpy’s burned steel ribcage but stopped short of piercing dripping scarlet heart. The automaton’s talons sliced at charcoal blouse and into the cultured flesh of Ms. Sage’s shoulders before frantically trying to force the steampunk gynoid off. The Spanish toned Ms. Sage grimaced in response but was otherwise undaunted, her dark painted lips pulled with graceful snarl while coiled copper and crystal heart burned all the brighter. Rushing wind whistled around the harpy’s metal frame before rustling along her clothes but the loud passing of air didn’t last for long.

Tile and dust sprayed upwards as false fairy collided with a wide building’s roof first. There was a keen of energy and high pitched cracking before the harpy’s heart detonated in a rain of sparkling motes. Stumbling away from the point of impact Ms Sage let her feet slide along gable’s slope and fell off the edge. Her umbrella popped back open and down she drifted to emptied street below. Shade closed once more she rested it across her stately shoulders and adjusted spectacles with two fingers. A quiet moment was allowed to look over her black leather clad hand before it brushed chocolate brown hair back into proper place.

“I really did adore that hat.” After a brief sigh the aerial expert turned to get her bearings. The night was still split by the occasional raid siren, when they could be heard over the ordinance exchange between Scarborough Castle and what had to be a fomorian ship in the harbor. Long columns of smoke whiffed from the seaside. Ms. Sage however was far more concerned with the smaller scale destruction throughout the residential districts. She had directed Ms. Parsley to rush ahead of the gathering troops and Ms. Rosemary to assist in clearing rubble so more of the castle’s forces could get through. Then off hunting fairy stragglers she’d went. The damn harpies had made a mess of things and Ms. Sage was utterly concerned with the fact they had come from an inland path. In these troubled times it was not uncommon for the eyes on the sky to miss things but this was disappointing. If she and two of her other sisters had not been taking in a recital in the park from that rather dashing violinist and thus been near where the harpies’ bombing rampage began who knows how many additional lives would have been lost.

The red sky drew her gaze back. Ms. Sage watched the clouds for a moment, scarce as they were, and malevolent moon. Balor’s Eye hung there, its tears twinkled; threatening really that more spires would fall and puncture mother earth. She and Mr. Thistle mused now and again atop the ramparts about how to take the fight to the enemy’s home but it was pure fancy. As was any ‘romantic’ time spent with their foreman. Her eyes focused on the stars beyond and Ms. Sage had to wonder what horrors lay among them that would make these twisted moonmen pale by comparison. Blinking she did her best to chase away such dystopian visions; there was a battle on after all. With no stray harpies in sight she started the trek back to main thoroughfare. From there, as long as everything went well for Ms. Rosemary, it should be a quick trip down to the beach and the main conflict.

Some people would be disjointed to find Scarborough’s streets empty especially well into the traditional tourist season but to Ms. Sage it was a matter of solace. Behind reinforced doors and steel shuttered windows the good men, women and children of her surrogate home were safe – or as safe as they could be in the middle of the war to end all wars. The last point was driven home into the cage of her faux heart when the mechanical woman turned the corner to find several corpses strewn around the ruined façade of a basement bar. The tenant building beside it was for the most part demolished and still burning. Her lips and mood turned downward. There was little she could do for the poor dead in those two buildings but the one damaged beside further down the street…

On swift steps she moved to the battered building, it was a squat structure with little flare to it. Its sign was hanging askew and smoldered along the side. Little wisps of flame created by a harpy dropped bomb curled around burning words while eddies of grey smoke lifted from two broken out windows. Apparently it had been some sort of ethnic eatery. She moved to one of the jagged glass laced gaps and cast her rich gaze within. The place was a mess. There was some sort of festive occasion going on from the fine flatware and china strewn about along with burnt presents still wrapped and… and… Ms. Sage’s breath caught realizing the one green balloon that had not floated up the ceiling was being held in place so because it was tied to a very small, very still, hand. Fortunately bomb blasted debris obscured the rest of the child’s corpse. Her throat flexed and eyes beat away tears. Why they had been reconstructed with the capacity to shed them was something Mr. Thistle refused to explain.

Ms. Sage turned from the window with a strangled sound and whipped off her glasses. The side of leather glove was pressed to each eye in turn as she tried to steady her emotions. The fabric of her cool grey half vest rustled in the early night breeze.

“This is hardly the time or place to devolve into hysteria, Sage.” Spoken aloud she nevertheless had to take a second sweep at her eyes. What it was about the image of a dead child that stabbed at the solemn warrior’s psyche? Whatever the answer was she definitely did not want to figure it out.

“Hello?” From deeper in the ruined restaurant a voice strained. “Is someone there? Is it safe to come out yet?”

“No.” Ms. Sage’s answer was simple. Over dignified shoulder she glanced. Her eyesight was actually fine without the glasses on but like the other Thistle Sisters she was a dim ghost of the woman she used to be down to ever last detail.
From the kitchen, reinforced as it was with stone and metal, a head was peeking out now. The young woman’s already dusky features were marred here and there with soot as she stared at the dreary woman from a serving window surrounded by alternating blocks of Spanish roses and bull silhouettes. “Damn, we can’t stay huddled back here forever. The roof isn’t sound.”
Ms. Sage leaned through the window to confirm that grim fact. She had little desire to go into the building with its dead child. However, she could hardly leave those still living to their doom. Once over slabs of rubble she pushed the largest chunk away from the front door by setting her shoulder to it. The gears in her legs squealed but in the end task was done after a few moments of exertion. Along the frame she looked for nearly a full minute before she determined it was in no danger of collapse. The door creaked with a groan of steel and whimper of wood when the modern marvel heaved it open.

The window to the kitchen was blank as she entered but was soon filled by the same woman’s face and then the form of what had to be the cook in brown smeared whites behind. Both of them were filled with a strong sense of relief. The woman waved frantically to assure that their savior would not go before she turned to the thick man and told him to gather everyone up. Then out the Spanish rose came with a swirl of skirts and breathless smile. She was plainly a waitress for the place.

“You are one of them, si?” As she neared and dark eyes filled with amazement the waitress continued in rapid fire Spanish. At the same time she pushed black hair back behind one ear with a nervous twitch to her lips and a creak of crude clockwork hand. “One of the Thistle Sisters?”
The enthusiasm that the living woman showed lifted Ms. Sage’s mood. She cast her eyes demure to the side and replied in the same tongue. “Si. Ms. Sage at your service, senorita. Is there anyone too injured to move?”
The waitress clapped lightly in pleasure despite the dire décor around them. “And you speak Spanish so well. Was one of your parents from Espana?”

“Si.” The mechanical woman adjusted her stance. It was not something that Ms. Sage in truth was certain about but it was often assumed by others due to the brush of color to her skin and the arrangement of exotic features. “Again, is there anyone too injured to move?”

“No. Ferdinand is doing his best to get everyone ready to go. Those that were the badly injured I regret have already died.” Light faded from the young woman’s elation. She spread her gown in curtsey before she folded prosthetic behind her back with its very real twin. “I’m Olivia.”

“Go back to them then, Olivia.” Leather creaked as Ms. Sage motioned her to the kitchen. “Instruct these brave survivors that I shall be escorting the lot of you to the nearest shelter before departing to engage our foes directly. Hurry now we have not much time.”

Olivia bobbed her head before rushing off. It was plain she was making an effort not to look at the crushed child’s arm as well as other bodied around the room. Really Ms. Sage was surprised that the young immigrant was not a sobbing wreck. Turning atop witchy-poo boot’s heel the feminine construct took slow steps back out onto the street. Attention lingered over the flaming wreckage next door then to the sky. All of the fighting should be focused on the piers right now. Ms. Sage slid her glasses back into place with an easy motion. This had to be Crown Avenue and that meant that up the hill and then two streets over was one of the larger underground shelters. The entire landscape of this once resort town had been altered to tailor fit the modern era of war. One of the spires had pierced the sea not too far off and thus over the last decade Scarborough was raided occasionally as it had been in the days of its founding by Norsemen

This strange eon’s shield maiden was roused from her planning as a small hand tugged at her skirts. Ms. Sage didn’t react by falling into combat stance but rather curved curious glance down at the young lad doing the tugging. He as dressed in a rumpled sailor’s uniform. “Yes?”

The boy only watched her for a long moment before he ran back to the restaurant’s doorway and hid his face in his likewise blonde mother’s skirts. In turn the mother tried to offer a smile of apology but found it hard to do so due to the crudely bandaged lacerations on her face. Ms. Sage lifted a hand ito gesture that it was alright before she cast a wave to the frightened boy. One by one those that had been eating out and survived filtered to the street. The worst was a off duty doughboy with a crushed leg. The large Spaniard, Ferdinand, supported the soldier with one arm.

“This is everyone.” Olivia came out last cradling a bull shaped cookie jar against her stomach. “No one else made it.”

Dark spiced tresses shifted against augmented neck as Ms. Sage looked over her responsibility. There was a lull in the exchange of cannon fire but it was only filled with the distant screams of good men dying. Olivia, her large brother, one other waitress, the injured soldier and his tense looking friend, the child, his mother and father, one older man who was giving a distant look back into the establishment – nothing she couldn’t handle.

The umbrella was snapped back open behind her shoulder and twirled. Its harsh sound gathered their combined attention completely. “Fine ladies and gentleman I am Ms. Sage. We are not more than three blocks away from one of the fortified safe zones within our fair city and I assure you that I shall see all of you there safely. My only order in this matter is that you stay close and follow whatever directions I give if you wish to live.”

The uninjured solider gave her a crooked grin. “So it wouldn’t be your only order then?”

She erased his jaunty look with a withering librarian like gaze. “Right then unless anyone has something to say? Let’s get moving then.”

For the most part the assembled living nodded in agreement along with mutterings. Olivia beamed at their cogwork deliverer before she urged Ferdy and the soldier he was aiding up the road. Everyone else, save the elderly man, follow suit with cautious steps. Ms. Sage motioned for them to wait and stepped up to him, curled leather fingers around his frail shoulder.

“Sir, respectfully we need to get moving.” She noted with a dip of hazel that the man’s light brown suit jacket was covered with fresh blood, his out of fashion white shirt very much the same. He turned wizened gaze to her, evening breeze tugged at what remained of white wisps for hair.

There was so much history in his wrinkles, such hollowness to his eyes. “You take them on with you, young miss. I am going to stay here.”

“Sir.” Ms. Sage applied pressure, but carefully so. “It is not safe here, we need to get going.”

“Yes you do.” It dawned on Ms. Sage that none of the blood was his. The old timer’s gaze was tinged at the sides with incredible pain. “I… I can’t leave her in there all alone.”

Finely sculpted and painted lips of soft brown formed a horrified frown. A moment later Ms. Sage recalled how to speak. “Sir. I am quite sorry for your loss. However, life… “ A sigh drifted from her. “I have no platitudes for this moment. Please come with us.”

“Life isn’t worth living without her.” The sudden widower shirked from her touch and ambled slowly back into the building. It was clear he was praying it would also be his tomb.

“Are we going after him?” The blonde mother asked while meshing her fingers into her precious son’s hair. Blood oozed through her bandages.

Ms. Sage was silent for a long stretch in which the cannons started screaming again with voices that never tired. She shook her head and skirts
swirled as she turned and stalked up the street motioning for all of them to follow.

“So what’s the mess down at the beach like?” The cocky soldier’s voice was quiet and rightly so. “Harry and I were just grabbing grub when the sirens went off and bombs started falling.”

Studiously Ms. Sage kept her eyes ahead and scanned over long shadows cast by burning buildings. Part of the cobbled street forward was pock marked by still smoking craters. She moved her gaze left and right. “The best I have been able to gather is the plain fact that we are in the middle of a fomorian raid.”

“With the art festival tonight and everything? How dreadful!” The father spoke up now and pause to lift a 2X4 knocked loose from one of the demolished houses. As if it would really do any good against one of the fairies. However once a man had a weapon in hand, even an ineffectual one, he felt safer.

“Quite.” After eyeing the fountain at the crest of the hill Ms. Sage sucked in a breath. Despite moving slowly they were already making good progress. The umbrella was slid closed and she gestured to the holes in the street. “Everyone stray away from those. I would like for all of you to remain unharmed. Once we reach the intersection with the fountain up there.” Swinging the shade for illustration she continued. “I am going to need everyone to – cover! Get to cover now!”

POP!

The umbrella was back open in an instant as Ms. Sage surged forward and ducked her body low behind it. From the recesses of one of the gables ahead a harpy pounced with the agility of a mountain lion. The automaton’s eyes flared a full and eerie blue before mouth grate erupted in horrid shriek. That wasn’t the worst of it though; even as the debilitating sound faded the arcane gear driven horror advanced on reverse jointed legs it opened fire with a pilfered rifle. If the parasol had been made of simple fabric it would have been easily punctured but instead bullets ricocheted this way and that. Ms Sage didn’t bother to see if those behind her were following directions, there wasn’t a second to. This harpy was grounded with two smoldering wings but the other one lifting off from the shadows at the top of the same gable was only missing a leg. The clockwork woman vaguely recalled Ms. Rosemary ripping off that very same missing appendage to beat another fairy to bolts with.

Ms. Sage drove the full circumference of her umbrella into the harpy’s rifle, battering it down and away so the fire bit cobble instead. She leaned hard into the motion and dipped shade in an extreme fashion until the lip of its hood skipped off of glowing chest plate. The robot screamed once more. Waves of vibration making the muscles of Ms. Sage’s face ripple obscenely to the point where thin cuts slit themselves open exposing metal cheeks beneath. This close it felt like one of her eyes was going to rupture. Ms. Sage made well-worked latches turn and plates folded away from captured cavorite. This time she let go of the umbrella. Bronzed spine ground furiously as she somersaulted away. Skirts flared then pooled around her when she landed in a low stance.

The umbrella went straight up like a kite suddenly snatched by wind. Metal lip caught the false fairy under chin and sheered bottom jaw away. The harpy flew back with a spray of ruined speaker coils, black steel and wires. The nearly spent rifle spiraled off in a different direction. Its screams ended but that did not mean its threat had. Ms. Sage’s left hand shot up and machinery shifted in her forearm so blatantly one could see parts moving just beneath the cloth of her blouse. There was a heavy thunk as everything locked into place; the sound was soon followed by low electrical humming. After all once the umbrella was let go with wondrous rock within it wasn’t going to stop going up. Mr. Thistle had shown quite a bit of forethought installing a unique frequency electromagnet that drew off the gear work in her left arm to grab hold of sensitive liquid metals in the parasol’s crook. One fantastic force fought the other but the magnet swiftly won.

As soon as the umbrella was in her grasp Ms. Sage disengaged the magnet then sprung forward snapping the shade closed. The second’s worth of cavorite exposure was enough to carry her above the flailing harpy. With wires and gears already rapidly leaving the automaton’s skull as a human would lose blood, sinus tissue and brains all that was needed was one firm clubbing of steel umbrella to make cave in complete. Ms. Sage rode the headless harpy to the ground, both knees against its chest. For good measure the small caliber pistol Ms. Parsley always called ‘that dainty thing’ was pulled from her skirts and pressed between ribs. Up close its tiny bullet was still enough to shatter the steel atrocity’s crimson core.
In a fair world she could take a breath and celebrate her victory but with the baleful moon staring down from above the world was anything but. Even as she ended the threat of one harpy the other still capable of flight buzzed by inches from her head and shrieked at the hapless humans she was trying to save. Ms. Sage sharply turned and cooked off two shots at its wing joints that bounced harmlessly. The petite defender could only watch in horror as the harpy’s single talon tore into the blonde mother’s back. The woman wailed and shoved the child she was covering away toward an overturned carriage. Cruel iron claw found purchase in her bones. Up off the ground the mother was torn, already spraying hot blood but the harpy didn’t keep hold of her for long. After a short burst up into the sky the artificial monster banked hard then spun once before it let go of its prey. The woman’s screaming ended as she crashed face first into a cupid weather vane and her corpse wrapped around it. Scrap iron bent under the weight of collision. The blonde mother did not stay up there long, her fluid cadaver slid away as gravity took hold and drew her tumbling down the side of the several story house. After a resounding slap she was little more than a heap of ruined meat on the street.

Her child screamed of course in deep seated panic. It was one of those sounds that only a human being could make for nothing else on Earth and beyond could ever feel such anguish. All that his soul stunned father could to do was pull his child back to protective cover instead of racing to what was left of the woman he held dearest in all the world. The harpy circled above, cackling with static hiss.

Something in Ms. Sage’s heart of coiled copper and crystal burst. Its unfeeling cogs tore against one another in a rampant pace of rage. She didn’t even feel herself rise to her feet The strongest segment of her umbrella smashed into the ankle of the harpy she still stood on, knocking its bloody talon into the middle of the street like an errant polo ball. As the one-legged harpy let out another sonic scream which broke apart loose parts of the lane Ms. Sage was already dashing across shaking stones. When the talon started its decent she leapt and with a vicious backswing every tennis star would envy sent it whistling through the air. The extremity made weapon hit one of the harpy’s wing joints tearing metal and fracturing struts. Down the robot went to earth while in the meantime Ms. Sage had abruptly changed direction and was carried up by marvelous umbrella.
Her course ended atop the very same roof where the blonde mother had died and she gave the weather vane two hard chops before it tore loose from its moorings. After Ms. Sage snatched it up as a second weapon she shifted her gaze back down to the street and maimed fairy trying to pathetically crawl away. Letting herself fall the enraged machine hit the avenue with flex of clockwork legs but was otherwise unharmed. As she stalked stiff after the desperate harpy it was simple to overtake the lame construct. With malicious intent Ms. Sage let the crook of her shade slide to hang at elbow and took hold of the vane with both hands. Boot was used to turn the harpy over and impromptu stake was held high. She plunged it into the counterfeit demon’s chest. The harpy didn’t die but rather the street beneath it cracked as cupid’s head crushed against broken clavicle. The automaton started to thrash and shriek, pinned there now. To stifle its screaming Ms. Sage stomped heel into throat. Then all the harpy could manage was radio crackling.

Full of poise Ms. Sage used foot to force down one of the harpy’s arms as it tried to grope at the vane. Small rivers of blood ran down her fine features from vertical slashes. “My sisters and I have oft debated,” Ms. Sage’s voice was as dead as the cogs that animated her. “If things such as yourself feel pain. I think it is high time to discover the truth, don’t you?”

Down the pinnacle of the metal umbrella was slammed first into the creature’s fingers and it flailed about all the more, called out in ruined voice. Stone faced Ms. Sage analyzed the sound but was not yet satisfied. Parasol was spun crook around feminine wrist before it was in her other hand and used to crush elbow joint, then after a beat dislocate metal shoulder. Ironically the harpy tried to scream in what seemed like terror and pain but it was difficult to tell if it was honest hurt or if it did not realize its greatest weapon had been undone. After she pressed down its other arm

Ms. Sage started with rupturing its wrist and sent hydraulic fluid spraying everywhere. Then she turned, grinding heel to crush claw attached, and broke elbow the wrong direction with all the care of striking a croquet ball. Olivia whimpered at the brutality and curled her face into Ferdinand’s chest as he wrapped his arms around her. Both of them were hid against a porch across the way. Even if the thing was the enemy and simply a machine it was too close to a human being for her to watch. The other waitress made a strangled noise of fear before she broke from her inadequate cover and unwisely ran away up over the hill and out of sight.

Ms. Sage didn’t stop. A long moment was taken to look down at the now armless harpy’s long featured mask which resembled both an angry woman and raptor bird. She watched the dull glow of the fairy’s blue eyes before continuing on to its wing. Again and again the umbrella hammered apart where smaller ‘bones’ connected to the central one before pulverizing it in turn. Metal feathers bounced everywhere, along with bolts and screws. The harpy kept trying to scream with shattered voice but to no avail. None of the humans hiding were going to stop the mechanical woman and Ms. Sage had forgotten what mercy was. Both of the soldiers cheered her on in fact. They wanted to see at least one of the fairies suffer. She went on to demolish its leg bottom to top: first breaking apart the talon, then splitting shin, rupturing knee with more spatters of hot fluid, before finally prying the ball of the harpy’s hip out of joint.

Bosom heaved when Ms. Sage finally glanced back at the harpy’s face. A long moment passed as hazel eyes met icy blue then away the shield-maiden stepped and left still ‘living’ torso and head behind. She knew a soldier would come along and finish the harpy off later but for now it could suffer. Throat cleared first she coaxed her charges out of hiding with the beckoning of leather clad fingers. “Time to go.”

It took a few minutes for the father to carry his frantic son out of hiding, for quiet solider to haul up his broken buddy, and for brother and sister to stand. Olivia couldn’t look at the Thistle Sister now but instead stayed curled against her sibling. Ms. Sage blood smeared expression fell noting her reaction and she turned her eyes away, hand drifted down against hip. Shame replaced fury as her faux heart cycled low.

“Everyone ready?” Ms. Sage waited until they all nodded before she moved off and motioned for them to hug the left row of buildings as they turned the corner. No one spoke over the next two blocks down the hill. They all just either stared at the ground in bitter silence or scanned the dark rooftops for further enemies. Due to the slow pace and dragged down hearts it took them almost three times longer than if they had been leisurely strolling, The quiet was crushing. They found the shelter still intact and after a brief exchange with the guard outside the door was pulled open.

“Good luck.” Ms. Sage adjusted her glasses and finally found the courage to speak as she let her charges go.

The father said nothing and didn’t even look back at her He was too busy cradling his boy and trying to come to terms with his wife’s death. Part of him understood why the old man had stayed in the restaurant and hoped the die; the rest realized he had to live on for their child’s sake.

“Wow I’m glad you’re on our side.” The whole solider handed off his compatriot to a medic before turning back to their sable haired savior. “Good job. Just wow. I heard you Thistle Sisters were something but…” He whistled low.

She dipped her chin in proper thanks and thus hidden gaze brushed over Olivia waiting for the woman’s reaction. “Thank you.”

“You’re totally welcome.” The solider sniffed and brushed his thumb against his not-quite-strong chin. He stepped back up close to her and took in a breath. “I don’t suppose you can get me a date with Ms. Parsley?”

“No, sorry.” Ms. Sage’s lips flickered up wry and she was glad when the solider shrugged and entered the shelter as well. Her eyes were locked behind bangs on Olivia.

The woman dared a look at her but now instead of giddy praise her dark eyes were ringed with the mistrust given to a loaded gun. While Ferdinand nodded in gruff thanks his younger sister only mumbled out something quiet in Spanish. “Gracias.”

“De nada.” Ms. Sage didn’t press the issue as humiliation grew. She should have kept a better check on her temper. Off Ferdy lead his sister past the heavy steel door and soon enough the exterior guard shut it. He and the mechanical woman exchanged nods but no words. They had a duty to do even if it meant committing acts some found appalling.After she turned to go Ms. Sage paused and looked back over dainty shoulder with a swish of dark hair. The crimson of shattered moon glinted off of her glasses. “Excuse me, private. Has there been any word as to what we are facing down at the docks?”

In spite of the fact she was still bleeding and her clothing was frayed the somber woman planted her shade down and leaned against it with upmost dignity. The glow of Tesla lamps highlighted her body’s curves. The soldier stepped away from his post and offered out a handkerchief which she accepted. “From what the sergeant inside has told me the fomorians landed a stolen Prussian dreadnaught in the harbor and have made quite a mess of things. Most of the lads are caught up with trying to repel them right now. I think one of your sisters was on Pier #6.”

As she listened Ms. Sage cleaned her face as best she could and made sure to dot away tears at the edge of eyes. Once she was finished and the spectacles were back in place the shield-maiden dipped her chin. “Thank you, Private. I will get you a new scrap of cloth as I have ruined this one. Good luck.”

“Good luck to you to, ma’am.” He gave her a salute which she sketched in return.

Then Ms. Sage was off to back up her sisters. She set on a dead run before giving the cavorite its freedom once more. Up she glided free of gravity to a rooftop before she slid shielding back into place. Taking the higher road, as it were, through town was going to be faster than navigating street – it gave her a straight shot. Off she bounded without fear of falling as she gave the umbrella a twist. As soon as her arc was complete it was shut off again and she continued across the next roof. This process was repeated with the sort of precision only something made could accomplish. She wove around chimneys, hurdled weather vanes, navigated gables, ducked under overhangs and was little more than a shadow moving in red-bathed night. This amazing feat of parkour served its purpose as she covered the distance in rapid fashion but it evidently was not fast enough.
As the long plumes of smoke loomed closer the stench of burning dead grew, along with its taste in the air. The sounds of battle amplified with each step and Ms. Sage realized this had to be one of the worst raids in years. She could make out the teeming mass of combat on Pier #7 first where man and machine fought tooth and nail. It was hard to tell which side was winning but each human slain was a hideous blow to England. The bow edge of the Prussian warship, so monolithic in size with its tattered scarlet banners flying, could be seen a breath later. Fabricated heart ached with the need to see her sisters and be assured they were alright.

Off of a seaside cliff she soared and meant to do just that. Instead Ms. Sage was greeted with an overwhelming explosion below that blossomed from the side of the stricken Hun ship before consuming the sea and Pier #6 beside it. Flames rolled after shockwave as everyone across the docks were knocked down to the ground. The sea churned violently and for a moment it was as if sound had been erased as well. By the time the force of the blast buffeted the cog-work paladin she’d slid protections from the cavorite and was carried up rapidly to avoid the worst of it.

Her mind was numbed by the sheer devastation which could be seen in the outskirts of a consuming cloud of thick dust and particulates. Steam carriages had been balled over, Peirs #4 and #8 had shifted and buckled in places. All across the beach the rear guard were pulling themselves to their feet. Out from shore the water continued to toss and turn for miles. She closed off the anti-gravity device down to half-lidded so she could hover there and watch the cloud dissipate Logically it was best to figure out what was going on instead of charging in and frantically searching for the others.

Two questions lingered behind her rich hazel eyes. What could have caused such a catastrophe? How could anyone, even her sisters, survive being close to so cataclysmic a blast?

The broken stern of the warship smoldered as it washed out into the bay and started to sink, water boiled against its red hot metal.

To be continued

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