3. Generals Order Their Soldiers to Kill

Ms. Rosemary swept curly ginger hair behind her ears and sighed, just a smidge, as she watched Ms. Parsley’s distinctive red coat disappear down the street along with squad after squad of valiant soldiers. They were good men, for Brits, ready to lay down their lives for the common folk of Scarborough. However, there was little that they could do without support. From runner reports, as well as the heavy sounds of shelling, the fomorians had come ashore with one of the Prussian’s warships. The amount of firepower that the Huns packed into their dreadnaughts was truly frightening; coupled with fairy hordes it would be nigh unstoppable.

“Right then.” Ms. Rosemary gave the bottom of her button nose a tweak with thumb. To the rest of the doughboys who were manning steam carriages and heavy weapon tripods she flashed a wisp of a smile across pale lips. Very dimly she could make out Ms. Sage in the night as her other sister headed off to track down the last few harpies. The enemy had done its home work because those damned mechanical bird-women had bombed not only places around the park to break morale but also key buildings along the main avenue down to the docks. While with some effort ground troops were able to get through it was going to take hours to clear enough of the debris for support crews to do the same. Without the robust firepower that the trapped units could bring to bear the battle would be lost before it even got a chance to start. Hand-to-hand humans just couldn’t stack up to the fey unless they had far superior numbers. The strongest of the clockwork women curled fingers on the inside of her powder red shirt’s left cuff and tugged until the wooden button came undone. The process was mirrored as her smile grew a bit crooked while looking to the heavies. “Bring those steam carriages over as close as possible to the rubble here and I’ll do the rest. Load up the insides with heavy weapons before doing so. We don’t want to miss the party, do we boyos?”

The men exchanged slow looks before some saluted, the rest nodded and all rushed off to follow her orders. For her part Ms. Rosemary watched them hurrying about with royal blue eyes and rolled up her sleeves making ready to do the heavy lifting. She’d not wanted to slide on her gauntlets tonight but there was little choice. In spite of the fact they made her feel unwomanly she had elected to pack them along, just in case. Black combat corset creaked and primrose skirts spread as she crouched and popped open the oversized doctor’s bag. Ms. Parsley had joked that it was just in the redhead’s nature to always expect a brawl to break out. The stereotypically Irish bionic gentlewoman would always say she was merely practical. After all she, Ms. Parsley and Ms. Sage had planned to take in the evening listening to the quartet in the park – mostly due to the rather dashing violin player. Look how that quiet night turned out, eh?

One heavy glove of Damascus steel was hefted without difficulty before she slid it on. Red moonlight played along its fine etching of Celtic knot work and silver filigree roses. Thick knuckled fingers wiggled before she was satisfied that everything as in place. After snapping the back part of the gauntlets down to protect her elbow Ms. Rosemary primped here and there to make sure that her blouse bunched up nice where the metal ended. The process was mirrored with calm breaths even as bombs burst not too far off against the sea wall and the castle’s cannons went silent. Anxiety was hidden behind her pale face and one could only tell she felt even a trickle of it from the way one rather thick boot tapped. Polished metal creaked as she made a testing fist and then pushed aside the bracer plates on one then the other to make sure that the chains and pulleys sat correctly. With a nod of satisfaction she locked and loaded along with the soldiers. Metal hatches were pressed back into place until they clicked. She screwed down the two inch wide main rose disks in the middle of each forearm guard until there was a loud series of snaps. Reflex triggers slithered into hidden slots leading to her wrist bones. The intricate gears of her elbows were augmented by those of the gloves. Hands flexed once more just as the first steam carriage rolled into place. She motioned for the gents to get off.

Ginger hair was adjusted again before she stepped up to the mobile gun platform’s front and took a firm hold of bumper. Without even a grunt and only a tremor of exertion across her forehead the red and black clad woman heaved up the front carefully. Hands moved to axel next to get just a bit more lift so her average sized frame could slip under as she crouched. Several of the rookies and even veterans who had seen her in action before cursed and gasped in astonishment. All of the Thistle Sisters were artificially strong but Ms. Rosemary was a titan by comparison. Finally she made deep rooted sound but only because the carriage was awkward as she balanced it on her back. Gears strained under cambric skirts, shirt and flawless white skin. She didn’t regret this idea or back out of it. Instead eyes narrowed with focus. Much like a mother with child on her back while shopping Ms. Rosemary firmly moved forward, undaunted by the obstacle course before her.

The lads behind cheered her on, whooped and shouted to try and be heard over the falling shells. That made the Irishwoman grin. The grin soon grew into a smirk because she knew MS. Parsley would be scowling if she saw the attention that was being lavished on the redhead right now. She could feel cogs churning hard against one another but nothing was close to its breaking point, her coiled copper and crystal heart merely emitted more waves of energy to keep all the pulleys and pistons moving.

The moonmen had their metal conscripts and arcane magic. Mankind had its ingenuity and a spirit that could never be dashed away for long. The redhead and her sisters were a testament to that truth and that was something in which she soundly believed. Ms. Thyme would always comment that it was the very nature of man to defy the odds for they were the pinnacle of evolution on earth. Ms. Rosemary on the other hand had faith that this trait had been instilled in them by the All-Mighty. She was still trying to work out where in her religion the fomorian’s fit in. They had to be some sort of demonic creature with their thirst for souls. It was to philosophical daydreaming her mind fell as she edged around sloughs of brick and mortar that where once walls. Ms. Rosemary had to step over small beams; break already shattered glass to finer powder under boot, even climb up and over several chunks of concrete. It was that the zenith of an impromptu hill that she wavered once, tipping forward before she stumbled back down to solid ground. The soldiers following her shouted in alarm and a few rushed closer as if they might be able to help but she warded them off with a look. After she took a moment to catch her legs Ms. Rosemary filled her bosom with a deep breath. On her back the overloaded steam carriage creaked but its parts didn’t falter, neither did hers. It took a full five minutes before she got to the other side and was able to set the battle wagon down.

Even as the strongest of Scarborough’s defenders arched her back and cracked external vertebrae she was swarmed by the good fighting men and hugged as they cheered. She joined in the short burst of celebration patting gents on shoulders and ruffling younger soldiers’ hair. It took her a few polite pushes to get free. “Right then, boyos, there’s still a fight to win! So get to it now.”

She lifted her chin to the carriage and discipline fell back into place even of their grins didn’t fade. Teams worked on getting out their armaments while the coachmen checked to make sure everything was ready to run. The beautiful brute didn’t stay and help but quickly picked her way back across the field of wreckage. Some of the civilian corps were already trying to remove what they could. Short nods and full smiles were exchanged the whole way but Ms. Rosemary didn’t stop to chat. There as a job to do and the sooner she got the remaining nine steam carriages over the better!

“Feck.” She mumbled softly so curse would not drift far. No matter how strong she was this was still going to take too long. The enemy had known exactly where to strike and struck well. She was going to have to have a serious chat with Mr. Thistle on this matter and how to prevent it in the future. There was little else that could be done other than huff up the next carriage and pack it over so that’s exactly what she did. Only this time the hill of broken slabs was studiously avoided. The civvies were doing their best to make her the best path and she walked it without hesitation. Even though this time she set down the second of the squadron down on the other side faster Ms. Rosemary was keenly aware that the clock was ticking away even if Ms. Thyme wasn’t there to remind her. Shoulders rolled and straightened in a dainty manner despite her strength and back across the ruined avenue she went while the second batch of support soldiers got ready and waited. Up the third carriage was lifted without hesitation and the crowd was once again stunned by the feat. The fact that no fatigue was consuming the ginger haired stunner was noted with awe. The woman herself in truth had forgotten what muscle strain was like. Instead it was all now an emotionless gauge of her machinery. At the moment it was holding up fine.

There were a few unexpected folks this time around when Ms. Rosemary reached the other side. She was able to contain her curiosity until the third battle wagon was set down and being emptied of extra contents. She watched the Colonel’s attaché come over.

“Ms. Rosemary.” Really Major Archie Vetch should never have grown a thin moustache. The Sisters assumed he’d done it to seem a bit more masculine but it only gave his already unkindly features a weasly edge. “The Colonel would like to have a word with you.” He gestured off to his boss and waited for the Irishwoman to comply. Once Ms. Rosemary nodded and headed that way the aristocrat behind stripes went to micro-managing the troops.

As usual Colonel Thorn’s face held the sort of stoic strength that a man could only earn via a lifetime of service to his country. His hair weathered down to steely gray was free, cap tucked under arm. Ms. Rosemary was no more surprised to find him out in the field than the sergeant he was talking to. The Colonel turned on the heel of scuffed boots and gave her a curt nod before dismissing the sergeant. “Ms. Rosemary, fine show if I do say so.”

She folded her hands before her ladylike in spite of the ponderous sound of them settling against one another. It was hard to really picture Ms. Rosemary as anything feminine even with her lovely pale face and generous curves due to those gloves and the great exhibitions of brawn. “Colonel Thorn. I only do what is asked of me. I pray that Rebecca made it home safe and sound?”

“No.” The man’s face twitched into something wry for a moment. “She is at shelter block three as the lieutenant there tells it. I am afraid as usual she follows her father’s example rather than her mother’s and is doing what she can, even in the face of danger. I think to spite me as well.”

“I’m sure she’s fine.” One striking blue wink came and went. “It’s better I’d say that than her being a bleeding white lily, sir.”

The Brit had common enough sense to only respond to that comment with a stiff clearing of his throat. “As the situation at the docks is blossoming into a bit of kerfuffle we are going to need you down there instead of assisting the support. I am ordering the three steam carriages and what gents you have already gotten across to go with you posthaste.”

“If you think that is wise, Colonel.” She nodded, hair cascading down to the sides of her face. “I just hate to leave the boyos in this nasty business.”

“You are going to be more of an asset down there driving the raiders back into the sea than here hurdling rubble, Ms. Rosemary.” He took a hinged step back and gestured to the first steam carriage while giving her a smile. “Let the civilian corps clean this up, please? My lads and your Sisters are going to need those fists of yours. Be a good lass now and get moving.”

After a quick grin she gave him a salute. Then it was off to catch one of the back posts of the front steam carriage. She turned to send the man in charge of the castle’s garrison a bright smile and wave. After that she rapped on the side of the armored vehicle. “Righto! Let’s get moving eh?”

The goggled driver peered out of armored hatch and gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up before pulling it shut. A moment later the beast of modern warfare rumbled awake. Its plate covered frame vibrated against her and twisted quartet of pipe belched black smoke. The gun emplacement twisted to the left then right, its twin water cooled gatlings were given a test spin. The checklist was shot through in record time and once it was clear that the other two carriages, sporting cannons instead of infantry shredders, were ready off her ride shot down the street. Ms. Rosemary closed her eyes and laughed soft at the rush of air and the way her red mane fluttered in it. There was something undeniably exhilarating about fast cars.

The street took a sharp curve down almost immediately but was wide enough to accommodate all three of the steam carriages, as long as one was willing to hop the curve. The lack of pedestrians made such possible. The tenants and shops that weren’t blown apart were instead shuddered up tight. This after all wasn’t Scarborough’s first raid even if it had been years since the last. One of the enemies’ spires was not far off in a geographical sense and from that tower of red crystal the fomorians had already taken a great deal of the Nordic lands on the other side of sea. Just as in the days of the Vikings assaults on Britain’ eastern coast were not uncommon.

Down the three armored wagons continued to speed on iron shod and covered wheels. Seaway Avenue had been specially re-built over the last five years to provide for rapid deployment from the castle. In addition all sorts of new buildings, towers and walls had been built to protect and hide the route. Until tonight the deception had been effective. Tires screeched and sparks flew into the torn night as the trio of steam carriages took one of the walled off back switches hard. A full blown laugh ripped away from Ms. Rosemary as she was swung from the vehicle’s back with only one hand and the ball of a boot still attached. Her skirts snapped and ruffled. Oh she’d definitely have to do this again when there wasn’t a pitched battle going on! Within moments the coaches zipped past this first wall and she pivoted her body to have both hands and feet inside the ride once more. She could see a bit of the coastline from above now. Piers #1 and #2 were abandoned save for smoke rolling across them. The sound of combat grew in volume but even that was cut short by the whistle of incoming shell.

Ms. Rosemary as she was bereft of Ms. Thyme’s acrobatic acumen was unable to react to the incoming fire and neither were the three steam carriages. Before her still organic brain even registered what was happening the entire world was spinning, full of white noise and eye searing light. At some point she realized that she was still holding onto the back railing of a wagon that wasn’t there anymore and in the very next second she was pretty sure she went straight through one of the steel shutters over the front door of a building. First the voluptuous ogress splintered wooden tables, sending papers and ink flying everywhere as she tumbled. Eventually she crushed the side of an old fireplace with a shower of brick flakes and long spent ash. It was there she stopped and just laid there for a few breaths. Her counterfeit heart pulsed and difference engine assessed the damaged done.

She tossed what rails she held to the side and pulled herself out of the fireplace; it and the wall it supported to collapse in a slow deluge of materials. Skirts brushed cleaned she stood and narrowed her eyes at the hole she’d made in the way in. Right hand went to left shoulder as she rotated it. Everything was in working order. Left hand went to right shoulder as it rolled and there was a low grind of metal along with a groan of springs before everything reluctantly moved. Something had been bent. “Feck me sideways.”

When she twisted one way and another her corset creaked and it was clear some of the exposed boning was loose. The redhead had been built, however, to be remarkably resilient even in comparison to her siblings. Mr. Thistle was a genius. Ms. Rosemary was their heavy hitter thus she was going to take the hardest hits back.

Thankfully her legs worked fine and back through the strewn remains of the office she stomped, shoving one half-erased desk through a wall just to get it out of her way. She blinked still waiting for her hearing to return properly. The other two battle wagons had steamed on ahead as per training rather than screeching to a halt to check on her or the lead carriage. She bore them no resentment for doing so. When she batted a loose bit of lumber aside the clockwork woman sent it smashing end over end down the street.

One of the Prussian cannons’ rouge shots must have come down into this district. The devastation where it hit had tore out most of the cobble and structures on one side of the street as if the Devil himself had reached out and scooped it up. Small fires licked at a dozen storefronts destroyed and smoke filtered up from impact crater. She flexed her fists twice. The shell hadn’t even hit the carriage she was on dead on but still rent it apart and sent its smoldering remains bouncing along with all the care of an angry child and his toy. It was wrapped, for the most part, around a crackling Tesla pole a quarter of a block away. She dashed over.

It was plain that the crew was lost if not from the shell’s impact, then it was from the rolling as the carriage fell apart save for central chassis. Or they might have died when striking the pole. Any that by some miracle survived surely would have been cooked to death by contact with exposed electrodes. Ms. Rosemary crossed herself as she neared, eyes roaming over the mess. “Bullocks.”

Her grounded gloves ate up most of the free flowing electricity as it danced across etched metal in pretty fashion. After tearing here and there her grim assessment was confirmed and pale lips sank. A light prayer was mouthed before she turned her full attention to the gunner’s emplacement.

The good soldier who had been inside was now spilled out of its cracked glass top like runny egg yolk and the mechanical marvel did her best not to be too distraught from the sight. The man was a credit to the army and would be remembered for that – in a closed casket.

“No rest for the wicked. “ She told herself very softly and continued on. Not that she got six or so steps the wreck before stopping. Her shoulders drew tight. Those fomorian bastards needed to pay and she was going to need a bit extra for that. Spinning around with the flare of torn skirts Ms. Rosemary didn’t much care if anyone saw her crimson knickers. If anyone was watching they got an even more tawdry show as she bent over and wiggled this way and that while wrenching one of the turrets gun’s free. Once she’d done that both gauntlets pierced the ammo hub and came out with the chain feed mechanism and bullet drum attached. Her smirk was dour when it returned. This was just one more thing to make Ms. Parsley jealous this evening. After shouldering the light artillery she then continued on her way at a flat out pace.

As she turned onto the main drag it was choked with fleeing and injured civilians as well as a few squads of footmen who were trying or organize the chaos and get everyone off to shelters before the mechanical fairies got through the front lines. Wisely both flowed away from the vicious faced redhead as she barreled along. Several of the doughboys and even some of the bystanders, no matter how broken, dirty and bloody, cheered and waved in her wake. The Thistle Sisters were heroes to the people that lived here. Balor’s Eye be damned! Ms. Rosemary was going to do her best to live up to that ideal! Into the haze of war she drove.

Pier #1 was still clear as she pushed on past it. Some of the heavy support squads were setting up defensive lines at Pier #2 and trying to use barrels and carts for cover. Pier #3 was where one of the steam carriages had pulled to a stop and was already lobbing mortars into the back end of the fomorian’s metal conscripts at Pier #5 to try and relieve the doughboys fighting the redcaps and trolls hand-to-hand. She caught a glimpse of the other battle wagon that was on the street near what had to be Pier #6 or #7 laying down fire into some point out of sight.

Pier #4 was for the most part empty as well, a good portion of its middle blown out and leaking both acrid smoke and scalding steam. At its root a squad of redcaps, their gore smeared heads gleaming in red moonlight, and one overseer were using the confusion on Pier #5 and all the smoke to try and sneak closer to the steam carriage on Pier #3 so they could take it out.

That would not do. As she sprinted down the thoroughfare Ms. Rosemary turned and opened fire on the advancing squad. Not that her aim was anything close to steady or accurate as she strafed but that wasn’t really the point of such a weapon. The sheer volume of bullets the circle of barrels could unleash more than made up for lack of precision. The beautiful brute screamed as she fired and continued chugging along, heading right for the group she was assaulting as she reached the entrance to Pier #4.

The center rank of redcaps moved together and each lifted one of their massive forearm plates to defend their fleshy commander. In the meantime those that weren’t being blown apart by all the flying lead readied their oversized swords to receive the mechanical woman’s charge. Behind them the fomorian cursed in blasphemous tongue and storm-lance flared angrily. It wasn’t the crazy woman that was lugging a Gatling gun the ebon clad deformity was first worried about but the fact she’d just lit them up for the other artillery to target.

In the split second it took the overseer to call for retreat Ms. Rosemary was already upon the front line of his defenders. She lead the charge by hurling the now glowing hot chain gun with both hands into the middle of the line bowling two redcaps right off their bulky feet. The first of the automatons that managed to swing had its thick block of metal for a weapon shatter in the middle as the dainty rough punched one fist through it. Her crushing blow didn’t stop until gauntlet had pulverized the redcap’s seeping core. As she pulled that arm out the other was busy warding off another fairy’s blow. Fingers latched onto the ruined machine’s ribcage and up of the ground she lifted the half-ton of metal. With an elegant turn she slammed the inert redcap into the one attacking her and parts from both showered everywhere.

It was about that time that the fomorian overseer realized the tattered woman was actually far more dangerous than distant guns. As he charged up his storm-lance, dual lightning globes crackling furiously, Ms. Rosemary wasn’t stopping to worry at the fomorian’s attention. She deflected another blow with one bracer she smashed off the tip of the offending sword with her other hand. Into the redcap she drove, sundering its skull with pilfered tip and killing it instantly. Swirling low as washed out crimson skirts pooled around her the strong-woman stood back up into a heavy handed upper cut into the advancing robots. The automaton on the receiving end of that wasn’t intact for long. The redcap’s black iron chassis tore apart, bits spiraling off in all directions. Unhinged from its moorings the sinister stone at the robot’s center rocketed straight up into the air.
When the overseer screamed it was plainly a panicked curse. He hadn’t expected to run into another one of the artificial ladies like the ones assaulting the ship directly. An arc of green electricity was let loose as he back peddled. Ms. Rosemary simply swung her left forearm up like a shield. The emerald energy danced across knots and roses before evaporating. Grounded metal not only absorbed the charge but siphoned it in to boost her internal mechanisms. The fomorian swore in unknown tongue once more.

Her blue gaze sliced into him. “I’m assuming ya bucket o snots that ya just said something like I’m fecked. Well just so ya know, yer spot on.”

Intent was communicated even where words failed and fear consumed the fomorian’s jaundice eyes behind snarling ebon helmet. What started as tactical retreat matured into a flat out rout. Off of the side of the pier the overseer jumped and sprinted across the sand. As she spun once more Ms. Rosemary severed the last redcap into two pieces with a brutal elbow but she kept her eyes on the prize. Her other arm extended fully. Wrist turned and fingers bunched in just the right way to trip reflex triggers.

Bore on the sudden expulsion of searing steam from the underside of gauntlets’ forearm plate a three inch spike shot out trialing tempered chain. Its barbed length plunged through the overseer’s armored back with a spray of hot if fetid blood. He cried out and twisted but it only lodged the spike deeper. Without mercy Ms. Rosemary wrapped chain around her leading hand before grasping it with the other. Effortlessly she pulled the tall humanoid clad in eldritch plate off his feet and up into the air. With a rather savage overhead swing she brought the overseer down into the far end of Pier #4 and ended him completely with a wet crush.

Her off-hand slid turned the central rose in the correct patter to release the chain.”That’s for making a fine hash o’ me city.”
One squad down and so many more to go Ms. Rosemary crossed herself again before giving the wagon and squads back on Pier #3 the sketch of a bow. She turned back to assess what exactly they were dealing with. Her gaze narrowed as she looked over the Prussian warship with its ragged scarlet banners. The side of the vessel had scars from many a battle and the freshest either from today or from where it was taken from the enemy. Its bow was firmly stuck into one of the further Piers but at the moment it didn’t seem to be disgorging any more automatons and their deformed masters. As her gaze swept over Pier #5 where valiant men tried to keep the redcaps contained it was clear that the fomorians had more than enough left to overwhelm the soldiers in minutes. Spent brace was pressed back into proper pace with a slow grind of metal fingers. The ginger haired woman scowled and even in that was pretty. There was no sign of her siblings but it was clear the fighting extended far past #5. Where to start?
Her gaze traced the mortar shells as they tore into the backline of the mechanized gentry and Ms. Rosemary knew that if there was a gap between the fairies front swell that the rest of the support crews could blast way with impunity. From the mishmash at her feet the gynoid picked up the biggest chunk of redcap she could and she leapt off to the side of #4.

She moved across the fine sand of the beach for nearly half-a-dozen yards in a flat out run. Ms. Rosemary’s boots slid deep into the surf softened ground when she put everything she had into a double-handed overhead throw. Her feminine form nearly tipped over in the follow through and she stumbled with a yelp. A brief slice of indignity was worth the results. A hole was opened redcaps’ flank and before the machines could rise back up like silent cinema skeletons the clockwork woman was pulling herself up over the pier and into that space.

After curling both of her fists together Ms. Rosemary brought them down into one of the sprawled redcaps, slaying it. She tore its lifeless torso free with one hand. It wasn’t the perfect boxing glove but it would do. She stomped the silver skull of the next flat with her boot; circuits, wires and cogs bounced across wooden planks. Again she fashioned a weapon from its chest even as she fended off blows with the other trunk. The forward she surged while punching hard. The lady-like brawler crushed one construct, then another and more after that. Perhaps it was just her Irish temper getting the best of her, or a childhood of fighting with older brothers she sometimes recalled, but Ms. Rosemary flailed her way almost mindlessly through the crowd of constructed fairies. Not that her blows were imprecise, more meted out haphazardly. Metal rang out against metal as she rained fists on the enemy. Slowly but surely the torso’s around her fists were worn away until she had to rely on her own gauntlets. By that point however she’d mauled her way to the other side of the Pier, sending the last three redcaps down into shallow water from which they’d never rise.

She sucked in deep if and let her skirt settle back about legs and hair around her face. Behind her the redcaps hesitated to fill the space and the soldiers took the chance to fall back and rally. That was when the support teams really opened up with everything they had. Ms. Rosemary grinned light. With that taken care of she didn’t worry about being struck by a rogue bullet or even glanced back to see how the bots were handling a fresh round of suppressive fire. There were other matters to attend to.

On the all but clear Pier #6 slowly the Irishwoman’s gaze lingered on a rather well built man mostly because he was out of place. The wreckage of redcaps, corpses of overseers and her two sisters facing off against the villains that remained were all expected. However the seaman stuck out like a sore thumb. Just who the hell was the wide shouldered gent? The elegant boxer didn’t have time to puzzle that out so instead she took in the condition of her two siblings.

By condition one would really mean the terrible damage they had suffered. Ms. Thyme’s spring green skirts were in even worse shape than her own but they were nothing compared to exposed adamantine ribs and the fact that the swordswoman was missing an arm. The gunslinger, Ms. Parsley, wasn’t very well off either. All along the poor dear’s body various shards of something stuck out and she was down to one pistol. Due to the distance Ms. Rosemary didn’t realize that the shrapnel that riddled the officer-imitating tomboy was all formally human parts. The redhead shifted and then ran along the edge of Pier #5 before leaping and hoping to miss the surf line.

“Bloody ‘ell.” Water soaked her dress and boots when she hit a bit short of the goal. Nevertheless Ms. Rosemary soldiered on. Heading up the beach she intended to make it to a shorter section of Pier #6 so she could hop and pull herself up. Instead her head snapped as Ms. Parsley shot by carried by a torrent of writhing and screaming shadows. At the base of #6 the redcoat clad trigger-woman collided with steam carriage. The heavily armored vehicle first caved in at the point of impact before falling back onto its side. Its exhaust pipes bent and spewed out acrid smoke randomly and the poor lads using it as cover and manning its weapon were thrown away. The churning mass of half-formed wraiths washed about the hole and over the surface of the murdered tank for a few seconds before evaporating.

Ms. Rosemary ran for the smashup without a hint of hesitation. Only one sort of creature could command such a force; something as malignly alluring as Balor’s Eye above

“Two broken dolls? My feast has been interrupted by two broken dolls. How… amusing.” The ethereal yet masculine voice confirmed Ms. Rosemary’s fear. The fomorian’s here under the direct command of one of their Beautiful Ones. She’d only read reports on the sheer destruction the empyrean masters of the moon could cause. It was going to take all four of them to put such a beast down – if they were lucky.

Up onto the main street Ms. Rosemary continued and to the crumpled wagon. One look was spared back to Ms. Thyme and she scowled seeing the woman stunned to inaction! Damnit! The last thing they could afford at this moment was for any of them to hesitate. Hopping atop the wreckage the ginger haired woman curled a hand at each side of the hole and heaved. The cogs and gears within her arms barely even whined as she peeled the heap apart. Her pale lips pulled away from straight white teeth as a hiss pressed between them. Ms. Parsley was in pretty bad shape. She was pretty sure that neither of the gunslinger’s legs were intact.

Ms. Parsley’s one good eye flickered open and after focusing she grinned languid at her sister hovering above even as Ms. Rosemary continued tearing metal away to free her. “Oh dear. I think I may have misstepped.”

“I’d say you chose the wrong dance partner this evening, yeah.” The pretty pugilist looped one arm around Ms. Parsley’s waist and hauled her out. One of the blonde’s legs tumbled deeper into the mess.

“Pish posh.” Undaunted Ms. Parsley even giggled a little. “I would say the man swept me off my feet.”

Sharing the giggle despite dire circumstance Ms. Rosemary cradled what remained of the tallest sister against one shoulder only to wince as the woman pulled at the side of her hair.

“Ms. Rosemary!” The tomboy tugged again to punctuate her acute raise of octave. “Get us behind something, now!”

It was at that point that the redhead realized everything else had gotten eerie silent just before the wave of intense sound hit. She spared a look over her shoulder as she leapt over to the other side of the overturned vehicle and Ms. Rosemary saw the apocalyptic explosion moments after it began. The shockwave of it tore up the dock like a bamboo pad being rapidly rolled up. For that split second Ms. Thyme was able to keep away of the frothing tide of destruction. She had Harper in tow tugging him with one hand. In the next breath both were swallowed by the earthshaking detonation as the sea turned over onto the beach and the rumble became a danger in and of itself.

Just after the ear-splitting sound boom everything went deadly quiet once more. Over the top of the overturned carriage a deluge of water, debris, bodies and all sorts of just random pieces washed. Ms. Rosemary shut her eyes tight and curled over Ms. Parsley as she pressed into the axel. The battle wagon shifted and the front half already weakened by her actions was shorn away. In contrary to physics the explosion just continued to grow with its searing heat. Then as quickly as it began everything cooled. Sound returned in that of floating fragments settling, water rushing back to the sea and the screams of the dying or those frantically trying to comprehend what had just happened.

Away from the blonde Ms. Rosemary peeled while blinking particles from her eyelashes. The thick cloud of refuse continued to fall slowly like dirty snow. She frowned and moved the gunslinger to rest across her shoulders.

“What on God’s green earth was that?” Resisting the urge to spit to the side the Irishwoman stood. Her back and fiery mane were coated with pulverized, well, everything. Cautiously and with ringing ears she moved around the still spinning back wheel.

“A rather large explosion.” Ms. Parsley was wry as she scanned the mess all around them for one of her guns, hell any gun.

Ahead of them amidst overturned cobble Harper’s large shoulders were covered in white dust but slowly staining an even brighter red from cuts and scratches. Damage notwithstanding they shook as he pushed himself to his feet having provided much the same function for Kitty as Ms. Rosemary had for Ms. Parsley. “I think I’ve broken something.”

Placid Ms. Thyme just stared up as him looming there as pangs of memory pricked at her mind anew. It was so like him to suffer to protect her. Where had he been that day, that day she had died? Verdant eyes blinked fragments of memory away before she pushed him aside and sat up. Her remaining hand rummaged around in the refuse around them before curling against something metal. Lips quirked down as she lifted it, it wasn’t even a jagged piece of the dock’s tresses but rather one of Ms. Parsley’s pistols.

Out in the bay the two sections of the once proud battleship tipped back as they sunk into a shore that was now significantly deeper. Within the still falling clouds of cinders and soot she could see sputtering light form the hellstone.

“Are you alright, Kitty?” As he sat on his rump Harper tried to clean his face and hair before grimacing as hands were warmed by his own blood. He turned to look at the sound of crunching boots. Another one of the famed Thistle Sisters, of which apparently not dead Kitty was a part, carried the flirtatious and now legless blonde toward them.

“I shall be adequate once I procure a blade, sir.” She eased first to her knees before Ms. Thyme creaked slowly to stand. “Next time if I might suggest let me be dashed to pieces instead of driving one of their storm-lances into an exposed transformer coil thusly? I think the sudden spike of energy and heat addled what was inside the ship to blow instead of whatever intended effect you had.”

“Eh, that was the intention, Kitty.” Harper stood as well and gave one shoulder a testing roll. Rich green eyes squinted as he tried to look through the dimmed air for any sign of their unearthly foes. “I figured it’d damage the ship and maybe stop that smarmy bastard from killing you.”

“My name I regret to inform you is not Kitty.” Emotionless the black-haired woman tossed Ms. Parsley the pistol. Away she stepped from the man that was clearly trying to rattle her cool. A section of led pipe was taken up and given a judging swing. “My name is Ms. Thyme.”

“I do not know, Kitty has a nice ring to it.” Gun caught Ms. Parsley broached no hesitation before reloading it. “So what is your name, handsome?”

The thick man blinked at the woman who by all rights should be dead from shock or bleeding out. He felt testing at his scalp to make sure the wound was just a seeper and nothing too serious. “Harper. Seaman Harper Carson. Civilian Navel Corps, ma’am.”

“Oh I love a man in uniform.” The blonde checked down her sight. No one had the sand to tell her what exactly was buried deep in her other eye. “Ms. Parsley.”

“Ms. Rosemary.” The Irishwoman dipped her chin and had a smile to match her lilt. Despite tattered clothing she was considerably better off than the other two. “I think it would be best if you take cover, Seaman, and let us handle the rest of this?”

“The rest of?” He swiveled back to look at the obscured twisted bits of Pier #6. “You’re not serious are you? I mean they were at ground zer… oh bloody ‘ell.”

As most of the debris haze calmed the hellstone could be seen flickering furiously now, hovering in front of the Beautiful One’s outstretched arm as a shield of restless dead dissolved. The graceful atrocity started to pull in souls from the freshly slain all around. Behind the cloak clad arcanist Stag’s Head helm shifted and gleamed. His runic spear sputtered. Harper backed away from what remained of the steam coach, picking up an uprooted and battered rifle along the way. The poor seaman wasn’t pleased that there were still two fingers attached to its stock.

Ms. Thyme’s head tilted slightly to one side with a shift of dark mane but she didn’t watch the human retreat. Stoic she looked back instead to the Vain and was no longer caught in his symmetry. Ms. Parsley was set gingerly atop a pile of rubble and she immediately drew a bead. Ms. Rosemary pulled at the bottom of one metal glove, then the other. With a shrink of her eyes on the hellstone and its pet she took a step forward.

Out of the sky Ms. Sage plummeted and landed in a crouch before all three of her sisters. Fresh plumes of fragmented refuse floated away across broken earth. As the somber woman stood her steel umbrella flicked back open and was spun along the crook in one hand as she rested it behind her right shoulder. Stray strands of brown hair brushed at the side of her spectacles while hazel spiced eyes were consumed with renewed wrath. “My sincerest apologies for the late arrival.” The tactician drank in visual facts before her. Darkly painted lips moved with ease even as her facial cuts began to ooze once more. Her glare made the Beautiful One grin. “I think it is high time we ensure our beloved beach is cleaned.”

Above the battle the shattered moon and its stream of bloody tears watched…

To be concluded

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