4. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

The Beautiful One spread his stunning half-smile to the point where it was more like the edge of a blade than any expression of pleasure. Ripples of detritus clogged air drifted away from the side of blasphemous mask. His beryl eye danced with vile amusement while the souls of the dead continued to wail as he drew them in. Sandals touched back against turned over wreckage moments after Ms. Sage landed.

“Four dolls now? I think I shall have more than my fill of fancy pulling off your wings.” The foreign fiend bowed with all mocking intended. When fomorian language rolled from his mouth to direct Stag’s Head it was something lilting and ethereal in spite of being the same barbaric sounds the overseers spoke. It took a moment for the lone taskmaster to nod before he adjusted his marred helmet and took up a position to the left. The fomorian’s wicked spear sparked up to full life, its silvery head lowered to receive a charge.

Ms. Sage set her frayed shade forward as a shield as she watched the two aliens move. She could hear the dead and never-living digging their way out of the rubble of either Pier beside them. Soon enough the fight would begin again albeit at a sluggish pace. From the way that the Stag’s Head shifted it was plain he was going to be the robed terror’s shield from behind which the Beautiful One could lob necromantic artillery. That would not do. Her cloudy gaze slid back along the broken pier between herself and the fomorians. She adjusted her umbrella and warded off the extraterrestrial aristocrat’s first pulse of arcane energy.

“Ms. Rosemary if you would be so very kind to set Ms. Parley behind my feet. We shall use our adversary’s tactics against him.” The Spanish tinged clockwork gave her parasol a swirl to put out crackling flames. Nearly all of the somber material over singed metal fell away as burnt flakes.

“Righto!” Following directions Ms. Rosemary scooped up the lithe and legless blonde and then held her steady so a suppressive shot could be fired.

Despite excellent aim Ms. Parsley’s shot entered the fathomless cloak of briar and sigil but did not exit with a satisfying burst of blood and bone. The trigger woman muttered a rather soldier like curse before she wiggled from Ms. Rosemary’s arms to be dead weight on the ground. Around the back of Ms. Sage’s fashionable boots she curled, already trying to take aim on the bastard’s foot.

Off to the left Ms. Thyme watched the event horizon of the Vain’s next shot for a mere moment, ducking even before it fully left the shard of hellstone. Her straight hair snapped and fluttered wildly as the stream of restless dead trying to find something to hold onto. They failed to do so. Pipe spun between her fingers the stoic sister remained low and ready for direction.

It was not long in coming. Ms. Sage continued to form plans based on their enemy’s reactions. “Obviously he has some worry for your skill, Ms. Thyme. I think it is high time you fill out his dance card, no? Ms. Rosemary, I realize it is hardly dignified but if you-“

“Oh sure, always ask the Irish to do stuff like this.” Already in motion the redhead shot a cheeky grin full of ruddy cheeks over her shoulder only to get a souring glare in return from their de facto leader. No apology was given to the swordswoman as the beautiful brute curled metal clad fingers into the back of ruined corset. In all honesty Ms. Rosemary thought that neither Ms. Parsley nor Ms. Thyme were in any condition to continue fighting but what choice did they have.

“Off to the fiend’s right, if you would, Ms. Rosemary. That is your left.” Deadpan with the tease Ms. Thyme flowed easily with the motion of being picked up before she was hurtled through the air. It was a maneuver that she and the Irishwoman had practiced many a time. She of course had never been so damaged before when doing so. More gears popped out of place but the one-armed lady stayed resolute. She twisted in the air more like a manipulated marionette rather than anything with free will. Ms. Thyme arched over Stag Head’s spear as it lashed out. She turned end over end and smashed down boots first into an already unhinged plank. The force of momentum drove the side she landed on down like a teeter-totter. As the other side rose up the Beautiful One was already back peddling away as not to be struck. She lashed out with her left leg, piston firing, the whip thin arcanist was sprayed with wood chucks. The shield of pilfered souls flared up again and the cloak absorbed the rest but still the fomorian floundered.

Steel pipe was shorn in two when Ms. Thyme tried to deflect Stag Head’s spear away as she rose. If not for a pirouette of mechanical grace the swordswoman would have suffered more than ruptured cheek Due to all the damage taken thus far however Ms. Thyme’s poise faltered and after the fancy move she stumbled. What remained of the pipe was zipped for Stag Head’s helm, not that it did much more than bounce off but she wanted to distract the overseer from Ms. Rosemary barreling in.

Another careful shot from Ms. Parsley kept the Vain off balance and she grinned despite her shattered form. Daring to roll away from the protective umbrella the gunslinger’s pink tongue poked from the side of lacerated lips. One of her bullets had to eventually get through the bulwark of the damned.

With a tremendous pulse of strength Ms. Rosemary threw herself armored forearms first into Stag’s Head. Out of her mouth came a rather unladylike battle cry and rich red skirts snapped about fully extended legs. The overseer was distracted and only just turning to look as the redhead slammed into him. It wasn’t because of the pipe that the taskmaster was surprised but rather because he’d swatted Ms. Thyme down with the haft of his spear. The killing blow Stag’s Head was reading never landed as he was taken off of his feet with the sound of crushing metal and popping bones. Across wreckage Stag’s Head tumbled. When he finally landed he didn’t stay still; nor did Ms. Rosemary as she gave chase.

Unable to rise quickly at all Ms. Thyme scrambled away with a hiss of breath. She needed to find a better weapon and quick. Her verdant graze traced back first to the Beautiful One hoping that the terror was not perusing. She found instead he was surging to meet Ms. Sage’s haphazard charge. The tactician had nothing besides broken ground to dash across but was doing so with her usual grace and style. Sometimes Ms. Thyme wondered if the exotic woman really needed that umbrella to float. Away she turned with a swish of ruined black hair and spotted a rifle with bayonet and lurched in that direction.

Just ahead of the collision between the Beautiful One and Ms. Sage one of Mrs. Parsley’s bullets whistled. As before it didn’t find a fleshy home to bore into but instead shattered against a flared wall of tortured ghosts. While no damage was done it gave Ms. Sage the split second she needed to change direction utterly – her shade snapped open and up she sailed into the air above the fomorian and his billowing cloak. Locking shielding back into place and steel umbrella closed she let gravity do the dirty work. In justified arrogance the Vain didn’t even look up when the restless barrier shimmered. Instead he was weaving another spell with fell words and slow motions of one hand against the hellstone shard as Ms. Sage bounced off and rolled away to a low stance.

He turned the eye of spiraled mask toward the gear-work paladin and licked over his lips with a slow drag of wanton tongue. As the handsome horror pulled his hand from the side of the shard a twisting mass of wailing souls with all too human faces extended in agony came with it. When he flicked wrist hard in her direction the strings of stolen lives solidified into an overly long yet elegant blade of black. Its tip tore through Ms. Sage’s dark skirt first, biting into shin before screaming away. She danced back undaunted and with two hands on the handle of her umbrella fended off the soul blade’s next hack. As she turned with the momentum Ms. Sage threw the umbrella so it skipped off of the ground before opening up. In the same motion she ducked lower to avoid another swipe. True to form the shade skipped up clocking the Beautiful One on the chin before it soared into the air. Was the shield down or was she able to find a way around it? Ms. Sage was not sure.

The Spanish sister spun away with a flare of skirts and creak of corset. Ms. Sage made a gesture of her chin to Ms. Parsley who let her last two loaded bullets fly. Out the tactician’s delicate hand stretched, electromagnets vibrating as she violently jerked the umbrella back to her. It struck the already reeling Vain off of the sword arm so no riposte could be made before Ms. Sage grasped it tight. The restless barrier still devoured the bullets and the lovely fomorian took the time needed to regain his stance.

Not more than ten yards away Ms. Thyme looked down at the rifle and fresh blood on it in a detached manner. There had been many lives lost already this day but they still had a chance to make sure there would not be more. Lifting her foot the green-clad maid slammed it down into the stock and broke bayonet free. While resolute in her duty the swordswoman let her gaze wander over to where Harper was taking cover among a jumble of ruptured conduits and planks. The thick sailor’s own eyes were not riveted to the conflict but her broken and inhuman form. They were not filled with fear but wide with worry. It was clear from every contorted muscle of the man’s face that he wished he could do more to help her. She dipped her sharp chin to him to silently tell him to stay put. It really was the best thing he could do right now. The last few splinters of wood fell away as she lifted the bayonet. Ms. Rosemary should be able to handle the overseer on her own so off Ms. Thyme flew for the Beautiful One.

However Ms. Rosemary was not having as easy of a time dispatching Stag’s Head as she should. The taskmaster used his spear to turn away devastating blows. The wicked weapon never ceased being poetry in motion and was handled with such skill that the bionic brawler found herself smiling lightly. She had to admit this inhuman had more talent than the average wretch of his kind. Her long lashed graze brushed over his jaundiced one hidden behind gilded skull before she playfully winked. Stag’s Head snorted in confusion and oily brows furrowed down far enough to actually be seen within eyeholes. Apparently the misshapen giant didn’t like being mocked for he finally struck out with a hard jerk that ended up taking off two of Ms. Rosemary’s armored fingers and sheered away the top plate of the attached gauntlet. Undaunted the Irishwoman’s face fell to a frown as she reached past the overseer’s side. After a loud whistle of released steam out shot her other spike and chain.. It didn’t puncture Stag’s Head’s side but rather its barbed head sunk into the largest chunk of metal she could see. It just happened to be the fragment of one plate from the Prussian ship’s armor. Swiveling into the hard slap of the spear’s haft Ms. Rosemary stood her ground so she could turn central dial as needed with her now disfigured hand. For a moment she could feel the cogs of the glove whine and lock up before kicking into gear as the plate came free and skidded, sparked and skipped their way to them. The resulting crash was loud and sent both of them sprawling.

Ms. Sage spared a look backwards to see how that part of the battle was faring. She was as always perennially disappointed at their strong-woman’s urge to be as loud and destructive as she could be. At the same time she splayed her steel parasol open to block a finesse filled flick of the soul blade. The metal was starting to succumb to repeated damage and the Beautiful One’s blade cut nearly three inches in. Ms. Sage glowered with a low snort and spun the umbrella hard to try and wrench the fomorian’s weapon away. Over the Spaniard’s shapely shoulder Ms. Thyme vaulted, her lithe body curved revealing enough leg to show a sliver of pale thigh atop very tall boots. The piston attached to the foot fired once it hit the ‘solid’ shield. She flipped back down to earth. The one-armed avenger lashed out with the bayonet and scrapped off of the force field once more. This time the souls were stretched thin, flickering and nearly faltering.

Ms. Sage drew back once it was clear that trying to disarm the Beautiful One was only going to destroy her umbrella then took the air once more. Her small wrist pointed the shade forward at an angle to send her soaring over the top of the masked monster.
“One might assume sisters that the hellstone only has so many souls with which to provide defense. Let us keep up the pressure until its ablative ghosts run out.” With that Ms. Sage pulled out her dainty pistol and unloaded it slowly into the still powered shield. While she hardly had an absolute time sense when compared to the placid sister Ms. Sage did her best to make sure that the barrier of souls died down before she made it power up again. Her arc carried her a few feet away where she emptied the last bullet in chamber before chucking the small firearm as well. The umbrella was snapped closed.

“I see now that you are clearly the worst threat.” The lithe formorian didn’t cast his single eye over to Ms. Sage but it was clear he was talking to the brunette as his head tilted toward one elegant shoulder. In a proactive fashion his soul blade was busy fending off as many of Ms. Thyme’s rapid swipes and kicks as it could to conserve his dark power. “One must always worry about those animals with cunning after all.”

While she pouted in a petulant manner Ms. Sage nevertheless kept her temper in check. The shade was braced back as she considered her options.
Another few balls of steaming lead came from Ms. Parsley to smash into the barrier. “Despite your fine features sir, you are no gentleman.”

“You are no lady.” The Beautiful One cackled with all the dignity of Sunday’s bells. By the arcane ripple of foul tongue the briar cloak came to life.

Its sudden lashing caught Ms. Sage unawares and before she had time to even gasp in alarm its non-Euclidian mass enfolded her. Her still fleshy brain tried to comprehend the feelings the bindings elicited. It was like being tangled in a thorny hedge, thick clot, and lukewarm water all at once. Ms. Sage was fairly sure as well that her limbs while still attached were jutting out at different spots and angles from the cloak’s eldritch folds than they should.

“Just a toy.” The Vain turned his full gaze back onto Ms. Thyme as he continued to fence with one hand. “Time to deal with one that does not know she is broken mm?”

Pulling her chin and neck away as the tip of the soul blade’s slash Ms. Thyme twirled to the right before she drove back in and lashed out with cracking bayonet. The shield was definitely weakening from sustained attacks but the gorgeous bastard was right, she could not keep this up. As the fiend’s sword sliced back down she did a high kick with a heave of piston into its flat hoping the reverberation would slow the Beautiful One’s attacks. It didn’t. Dropping down into a full split she barely avoided his riposte. With mechanical precision and perfect timing via crystal heart she rolled away from the follow up thrust. Once she was back to her feet the swordswoman attacked again only to have her bayonet easily locked up by the black weapon. The Beautiful One yawned before with a dance of the hellish blade sending the battered attachment sailing away into the ruined mess of a pier from whence it had come.

“You are starting to-“ Another bullet shattered off of his shield. “You are all starting to both bore me and vex my patience, little doll. Have some dignity and die.”

“Machines have no dignity.” Hand held out Ms. Thyme didn’t turn from the cyclopean gaze. Instead she had faith it seemed that palm would be filled. Ms. Sage strained as she tossed her sacred umbrella into those deft fingers. There was no fancy twirling once the black-haired mechanical caught the weapon. It was just lowered into position. “Nor do I have any attentions of dying again.”

Further along toward the still steaming water Ms. Rosemary leapt into the air and came down with her good hand trying to split open Stag Head’s skull. Both of them had recovered shortly after being shout about like marbles and had been trading blows in the meantime. The overseer stumbled back with little grace but avoided being done in. His spear came down in a heavy arc which the pugilist in turn deflected by catching its haft against one bracer. Her other hand gripped just beneath its sizzling head and with a jerk she pulled the black clad monster from his feet and sent him sliding across the ground. Like any other good brute she followed up with one of her feet in a heavy stomp as she twisted. Ms. Rosemary didn’t expect her foe to let go of the spear which he’d been clinging to the whole time. It continued along in its momentum, bouncing before finding rest several yards away.

Thus Stag’s Head had both hands free to snatch the powerhouse’s leg. The overseer grunted as jaundice muscles bunched and twitched. As he stood Stag’s Head heaved while Ms. Rosemary swore. Using all his might he tossed her far off of the shattered pier and into wreckage strewn water. With that the fomorian brushed off his hands in a confident matter and snorted wetlyt. That should keep the faux woman busy for a while. He stood back up to his full height Stag’s Head cracked his neck. Once he was sure that the ginger lass wasn’t going to surface he focused on his Master and the half of a woman fighting him. Where was the fourth? His gaze skipped back along toward land as he lumbered back into the brawl. That steady pace quickly tapered off as he watched Miss Parsley pull a gatling gun from assorted wreckage and proper herself against an upended bank of boilers.
It wasn’t the misshapen brute that the trigger-woman was aiming at. As her spry sister danced away the legless wonder opened fire with a loud spray that quickly ground down what remained of the Beautiful One’s shield. There was even a trail of vibrant red blood as the handsome horror was nicked. The barrier was clearly forming holes as the souls wailed and dissolved. Somewhere deep within Ms. Parsley formulated an analogy to it and running stockings but she was too focused on keeping the roaring weapon properly braced for it to mature.

“Give him hell!” Ms. Rosemary half-cheered, half-sputtered as what fingers she had remaining dug into a tangle of conduit. She’d not stayed down for long after all and was now pulling herself back to the edge of the fight. Stag’s Head started moving again, picking up his spear along the way.

The handsome horror had had enough of this. The cloak of briars snapped sending its captive sailing into Ms. Rosemary. A loud crunch of steel and flesh was quickly followed by a splash. It was hard to tell which of the sisters screamed out bollocks. Lifting his sword he gestured to Ms. Thyme. As the beastly taskmaster charged in the stoic sister just constricted her eyes at the Beautiful One before she relented and turned to deflecting Stag’s Head’s antlers. Ms. Thyme knew that there was no way she’d be able to topple the head fomorian on her own.

Freed of his constraints the Vain advanced gracefully, his hellstone held out before him as the shield of ghosts was focused in that direction. Ms. Parsley kept dumping rounds hoping to get more than a few shots through. In the end her flurry of fire ran out just before the sphere of protection did. With her good eye, now that the fomorian was up close, she noted how utterly exquisite the trickle of blood moving along his moon pale skin was. Still she had enough of her wits to toss the gatling aside and try to pull herself hand over hand away. Instead she was snatched up by the impossible cloak which immediately started digging into her already deep lacerations. The blonde screamed. Vat grown flesh was torn from tempered metal, tempered metal from its cogs.

“You made me bleed.” The Beautiful One shivered out the words against her ear before whirling back to the rest of the fray.

The rest of the fray, as it were, at the moment had cycled back to where it began, Ms. Thyme and Stag’s Head. As the black-clad ogre struck out with the spear in a jab she had already anticipated in the timing of his movements and turned the blow to the side with parasol. Her bracing foot lifted into the air for an augmented kick only to be blocked by thick armor. He shoved her to the side with the shaft of his weapon before he drew it in hoping to catch her with the back end of the sparking head. She kept moving with the momentum and deflected the crackling metal once more before striking at his wrist. Ms. Thyme had hoped to knock the hand numb but she hardly had neither the strength of Ms. Rosemary nor the precision with blunt instruments as Ms. Sage. Instead she merely got the fomorian to take a step back closer to his master.
She didn’t let up.

The clockwork woman’s next blow came within moments aimed for the upright animal’s legs but Stag’s Head was having none of that. He jabbed the spear’s back end down to smash the umbrella aside before punching the middle of the spear out to crush Ms. Thyme away. She leaned forward into the hit, letting it reverberate through her battered frame. The shade fumbled for a moment before Ms. Thyme just let go – after giving it a hard turn at the middle. The crook of the shade curled against the spear and tangled with a tube.

Slowly the taskmaster’s yellowed eyes turned down to look at the snare then back up to the metal umbrella as Ms. Thyme reached out and coaxed it back open. The fomorian groaned and didn’t bother trying to hold his spear to him as the cavorite suddenly repelled it from the earth’s surface. He just watched it soar off into the air for a moment before shaking his fists at the sky. This was just too much, even more so as the umbrella wavered before being drug down to Ms. Sage’s hand as Ms. Rosemary carried her back up onto the pier. Both were soaked but otherwise unharmed.

“Ms. Thyme if you would be so kind to stop being a sticky wicket.” The team leader took her time removing spear from umbrella after having both in hand. Beside her Ms. Rosemary ground her steel clad fists together before lifting the biggest and heaviest piece of rubble she could find. Even as the raven-haired clockwork was somersaulting away Stag’s Head ran for the nearest edge. It didn’t take a brilliant mind to know what was coming. The overseer looked away to streams of fresh human soldiers coming down from the castle. It was clearly time to flee and with any luck his master would perish.

Ahead of the chunk of crumpled metal the redhead tossed at him Stag’s Head jumped off into the water was soon deep under and out of view. He wasn’t going to resurface anywhere near the fight. That just left the four motorized gentlewomen and the Beautiful One.

As she came to a halt beside the Spanish Rose Ms. Thyme stooped low before she reached out and took the oversized spear when it was offered. She gave it a testing swing with a creak of elbow gears then rested it across her slim shoulders.

“It looks like the cavalry is here. About fecking time.” Ms. Rosemary jerked a thumb back toward the doughboys swarming over Pier #5. Several of them were taking up positions to draw a bead on the Beautiful One. “Still I think we four should stay and finish the job eh? I’d rather fancy a chance to push in that bastard’s gob until it looks like his-“

Ms. Sage cut off their Irishwoman with a tsk tsk. “Really, Ms. Rosemary, show some restraint. I do agree with the sentiment as base as it seems and I think that Ms. Thyme does as well. Speaking of which, sister dear, if you would be so kind to lead the charge?”

Not saying a word the stoic machine lowered her new weapon.

“I shall provide secondary support and once we have him engaged we shall need you to bring your full strength to bear.” Ms. Sage didn’t wait for the strongwoman to agree. Instead she lifted her fine boned chin in signal.

“Three… two… one.” And Ms. Thyme sprung to meet the fomorian’s advance. She had already gotten used to dancing within the framework of the Beautiful One’s timing, and knew well that her first thrust would be turned away, as would be the second made in quick succession. The lithe and loathsome thing was just too fast for her to take advantage of any holes that appeared in his technique. The spear was spun like a baton to force away his follow up blow before the back end jabbed for one of those fine sandaled feet. The Vain pranced back and right into Ms. Sage’s soaring drop kick. Metal groaned and the pale man hissed as he reeled before warding off both the Spaniard’s swipe and Ms. Thyme’s jab. He even found time to slip by the rune spear that had once been his underlings and between the two women. The soul blade sliced easily through Ms. Sage’s shoulder and across her back flaying away both meat and metal shavings.

It was the tactician’s turn to hiss but she didn’t slow or cave to the damage. After all none of the cogwork androids felt pain. Ms. Sage whirled away from the blade as it was swung at her again. Her umbrella flared only to be gouged once more and then tugged into Ms. Thyme’s jab. As eldritch sparks showered around the meeting of the two weapons the Beautiful One frolicked away.

Ms. Rosemary had her go next, having found a large segment of pipe and trying to smash it down into the fomorian with a deep and guttural cry. Her crushing blow didn’t land however, for she had to turn it away in the last moments when the briar cloak flared and put Ms. Parsley’s head directly in her path. Instead the brawler just managed to obliterate one of the few sets of planks left unmarked.

“Careful!” Ms Parsley huffed and tried to figure out how to reload despite the fact her arms were sticking out yards apart now. She let out a long woosh of air from her lips as the cloak spun and she found the tip of Ms. Thyme’s spear just under her nose suddenly. “You too!”

The Vain cackled. Fortunately none of the Thistle Sisters had any real heartstrings to tug at.

Ms. Thyme didn’t say anything nor meet Ms. Parsley’s doe brown eyes before adjusting the spear over half a foot and thrusting only to have it disappear between the shifting planes of the cloak. The head jutted out of the back of the fabric for a moment before she pulled it free. On the other side of the melee Ms. Sage gritted her teeth so tight that lovely pale jaw twitched as the fomorian continued to just play with her. His blocks lacked any real effort and each time he tore her flesh down to steel bones with ripostes the bastard teetered in amusement. It was like fighting a nancy schoolboy, save she was getting her posterior handed to her. She withdrew two steps to tend to the latest wound across her stomach giving time for the shard wielder to turn back to Ms. Thyme and accost her with a flurry of quick thrusts. Unlike Ms. Sage even down one limb Ms. Thyme held her own even if she couldn’t make any headway.

The blonde pistoleer yelped as she was shifted to be a ‘human’ shield against Ms. Rosemary. “I do not suppose you can get me out of this crazy thing, Rosie?”

“Sorry dear.” The crimson swathed woman stepped back and cocked the heavy pipe back like a bat. “I do not see a way.”

Someone else did. From across the way on Pier #5 there was a loud crack that Ms. Parsley immediately placed as being from one of the newer Stetson high powered infantry rifles. The Beautiful One cried out in pain and was knocked clean off of his feet as the bullet drove into the stone clasp of that damned cloak. It shattered peppering pale skin with a score of small wounds. The fabric billowed away on war driven winds from its elegant owner and with the clasp gone lost its magical life. Slowly it went flat and Ms. Parsley found herself whole and no worse than wrapped in a sheet. Save still being legless of course.

The tomboy rolled onto her side and looked over to the other pier to try and spot her benefactor, feeling an almost adoring brush of telescopic scope across her cheek. In a rare coy moment the blonde turned the ruined part of her face away. Across the short distance of flotsam packed water an athletically built man looked around the side of his sight and shot a boyish grin her way followed with a cheeky salute. Then he turned his rifle back on the battle raging around him.
Ms. Parsley’s cheeks flushed; her coiled copper and crystal heart fluttered. Oh she’d have to find out who the sniper was later. For now she was glad to have Ms. Sage bounce over and snatch her by the collar before both of them sailed into the air. The gunslinger used their ascent to quickly reload and try not to steal any more glances in the rifleman’s direction.

When he looked over the top of his cover Harper had turned away from the robot that looked like his little sister and watched the other Thistle Sisters regain their footing. Carefully the seaman looked over to Pier #5 to see where the bullet that saved the day come from. Captain Redgrave was easy to spot as the heroic gent squeezed off several rounds into the rising redcaps before ordering his men to fall back to a better position. Harper smirked lightly; it would have to be Basil wouldn’t it? He felt like calling out and waving to his friend but thought it best to huddle back down and wait this out.

True to training Ms. Thyme drew all the way back beside Ms. Rosemary as the other two mechanized ladies touched down close by. The four clockworks shifted until Ms. Sage was set forward with her compromised shield guarding. Against her Ms. Thyme pressed having forgotten about the strange man Harper for now and had her spear sitting out over the top if the shield. In turn Ms. Rosemary hunkered down low clinging to the oversized pipe with two hands waiting for her chance to pounce. Ms. Parsley sighed, wishing for all the world she hadn’t lost her legs. Against the smoldering remains of a cart she leaned and stretched over the top of one shattered wheel to take aim. The constructed quartet was silent and still as the Beautiful One, now bereft of his royal purple majesty, stood.

Every inch of his ethereal refinement was laid bare as was his building rage. Across slim lines anger visibly rippled and was reinforced by the hellstone now smothered tightly in one hand. He lifted the black blade from its place and gave it a good shake while pale muscles basked in the red light of Balor’s Eye above. There was something aching in the way his nude body was laid out, like a classic painting of adolescent beauty warped into something unwholesome. Perhaps the full scope of the atrocity the Beautiful Ones represented could not be seen until they did not have a stitch on. They had bodies that stirred the hearts and loins of humans and were sensually equipped in the same manner as the children of Adam and Eve. They were both familiar and alien at the same time, pristine in their beauty and unclean in their actions.

He gave an arrogant salute with the ebon sword in a distinct motion for the ladies to come and get some. Ms. Sage muttered orders quietly before they accepted the challenge with Ms. Rosemary throwing the pipe in a spin at the fomorian. When the Vain ducked out of the way he was met with Ms. Sage driving in to absorb his parry. Over the left side of umbrella Ms. Thyme’s pilfered spear stabbed but didn’t find purchase in the man’s throat as hoped. Instead it tore up the side of the creature’s mask with sparks and of all things sizzling blood. Ms. Thyme drew back, curled out of sight behind Ms. Sage’s obscuring umbrella. Down below she took a jab at the fomorian’s legs just to have the creature jump back. That mask took another blow as Ms. Parsley edged a bullet past her sisters.

This time part of the mask splintered and trails of viscous blood oozed its way to the surface. Ms. Sage gagged slightly. The covering wasn’t actually anything decorative but rather part of the Beautiful One’s body akin to a rhino’s horn. Unaffected by the revelation Ms. Thyme rolled counter-clockwise to pierce the dark arcanist’s side. Their adversary blocked the blow before lifting his shard. It shimmered back to infernal glory and released what few ghosts it still had stored in a torrent that sent both fighters recoiling. Without a fully charged hellstone or the mystical cloak the Beautiful One was fast, inhumanly agile, but hardly a match for all four women at once.

Ms. Parsley took another shot this time lancing the creature’s thigh while trying not to look anywhere near the apex of it. She was rewarded with a sputtering wave of specters that turned the cart over onto her. A deep rooted sigh puffed its way out of her. This just really wasn’t her evening.

In the melee Ms. Rosemary had gone back low, letting the Vain focus on those directly trying to cause him harm. She circled closer as Ms. Thyme scrambled to her feet and launched herself high into the air with those piston boots knowing full well the fomorian would sidestep the driving spear. The umbrella zipped forward only to be parried before Ms. Sage pulled it back magnetically. Not one to let up Ms. Thyme kept lashing out with the best timing that she could, and hoped to keep the Beautiful One distracted. In turn Ms. Sage fell into a pattern weaving in step with her sister to provide strictly defense. Every time the soul blade fell she blocked it so Ms. Thyme could press her attack. Eventually Ms. Parsley shifted along to the side of the cart once she was able push her way part way out. The blonde added to the tension by popping off a shot every time anything even remotely close to an opening in the dance surfaced.

It was all a ruse so Ms. Rosemary could sneak around. She took her time moving from one heap of shambles to the next. The last bit of energy from the shard was spent dashing the two mechanical women back before the formorian vaulted away.
His hand shot into the air and the hellstone vibrated as it began to draw in more lingering souls. “Bothersome pests! This has ceased to offer any enjoyment. I think it is time to put away my toys.”

The Irishwoman made her move. She sprinted the short distance from where she’d been hiding. Ms. Rosemary reached out and curled fist first over the hellstone and then graceful hand. Once she had both in her clutches Ms. Rosemary simply crushed. The Beautiful One screamed as bones and rock mixed, and his single eye turned on her brimming with blazing hatred. His forearm continued to tear as he turned and plunged the blade deep into her stomach then pulled it upwards. It sliced through the side of her ribs as she let go and he pushed away. Out of her body the blade slipped, moving up through the side of her fine chin.

However the lovely invader was finished. His right arm was a mangled mess, the chunks of moon rock had waxed clear save for where it was smeared vibrant red. Off kilter by pain spiked with rage the Beautiful One didn’t stand a chance.

The monster’s clock was winding down and Ms. Thyme caught up with him. She plunged the spear through his back, pumping heart, and out his breastbone. The cogs of her arm whined and flexed as she lifted him from his feet while his long arms went slack. Back the Vain’s head lulled with a swish of his lovely locks, soul blade evaporate as it fell from long fingers.

The edges of Ms. Thyme’s lips flicked up and her eyes filled with satisfaction. The moment quickly passed. Rivulets of gore slithered down the shaft of the spear, caressed over her fingers, seeped into her cuff.

Impaled the Beautiful One served as a standard in the next few moments, rallying the human troops that could see it. On the side piers the soldiers cheered and fought on. By the time Ms. Thyme’s smile faded Ms. Sage was motioning for her to put the grisly flag down.

“Well” Ms. Rosemary’s crimson skirts pooled around her as she knelt to clean off her bloodied glove in the water. “There’s still some redcaps to mop up and that overseer to find. I think that shouldn’t be too hard though, right Ms. Sage?”

“Correct.” The team leader dipped her chin quietly before setting her ruined umbrella behind her right shoulder. Ms. Sage shifted her gaze to Ms. Parsley. “Launch a flare and the recovery team should be here soon for both of you girls. Ms. Rosemary and myself shall tend to the mess.”

“I have no complaints there.” Ms. Parsley sagged and counted how many bullets she had left. There weren’t enough to do anything effective. She followed the order given then and affixed attachment pulled from her coat to the pistol. The flare was sent up. “If you would just find out who that dashing sniper was?”

Ms. Sage rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“I am afraid I must decline.” Away from the other three Ms. Thyme stalked and settled the spear across her shoulders. Her gaze scanned for Harper. “The night is still not yet won.”

All of her sisters knew better than arguing with her.

Above them Balor’s Eye continued to hang there against a canopy of stars like a bloodthirsty coliseum patron craving another violent display. One thing was certain; it would be satisfied for years to come.

heart

Verse Two

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