1. Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

The rain came down in sheets, driving what tourists remained in Scarborough inside and at the same time flushing all of its waste and filth into the streets. Becca skittered around the corner of a building, the pale flesh of her arm torn by its rough brick. She didn’t cry out in pain, nor did her flight slow for even one step. Soon enough the blood would be washed away from the wound by driving drops; it had already diluted the rich red coating her hands. However the spatters of it across the sleeves of her once white dress would never be anything but red, along with the spread of crimson from one hip all the way up to opposite ribs. The formerly pure attire would be forever stained, forever ruined, as would she.

The dress shoes father had gotten her for her birthday slipped on water slick steps as she tried to get away, to weave deeper into the parts of the city where tourists never went and soldiers loitered looking for a good time. Not that as a proper lady the Colonel’s daughter every spoke about such matters of military men but they were coming and going from her father’s home all the time so she had heard the tales. This place would be the last that those very same soldiers would look for her. Ducking into a doorway she pulled herself from the rain and tried not to fall into sobs. Rebecca Thorn was raised better than that, but it was hard not to collapse into hysterics with her expensive strawberry blonde haircut ruined and plastered to her face, her soiled dress clinging wet and cold to debutante frame. It was hard when she was covered with her father’s blood, when her last words to him this morning had been an explosion of anger and pain, when his last words tonight to her was simply “I love…” The light had faded so quickly from his eternally strong eyes and left glassy nothingness behind. She would never get that death gaze out of her head, nor the eyes of the thing that killed him.

Behind the thrashing maelstrom of maddening grief Becca knew that she should have stayed in the manor, should have found a place to hide there instead of running. The military police were already looking for her and not out of fear she might be harmed too. From overhearing chatter as she tried to approach two doughboys that were there it was clear they thought she had lost all her marbles and done their heroic commander in. She should have stayed in the house, made her case, screamed for help but…

It was still lurking there, moving in the long shadows of a rain swelled evening. She could feel its cold blue stare that at times would glow and at other times glint like the eyes of a cat lingering in a hall. Akin to a rat the killer moved in the space between walls, stalked her through the house and whispered in agonizing detail of what it had done to her father – what it was going to do to her if she didn’t give it what it wanted. The worst thing is when she caught its slick black profile where eyes resided deep in unyielding sockets like twin will o’ wisps it didn’t have a mouth with which to spill so many festering lies. It claimed it had done her favor, had come to grant her fondest wish and now only demanded fair payment in return.

Huddling up to the door, which was still covered by steel shutters from the raid weeks passed now, the Colonel’s daughter hugged herself tight. She was not going to break, she was not going to cry and rock while the torrent drowned out those sounds. She would not! There were still nicks in one arm and shoulder from where she had smashed through one of the foyer windows to get away from the thing in the shadows, the thing between the walls, as well as horror roused servants. So not all the blood was her fathers, her fallen hero’s… just most of it was. Suckling in a deep and shuddering breath she listened for soldiers’ boots. For now Becca had outran them, but for how long would that last?

“How long do you think this rain is going to last, Ms. Thyme?” Harper shifted the umbrella to try and shield the stoic woman from the rain.

Across her pale features so much like his own the lazy and drowned out lights of a pub stretched as if trying to stroke some life back into frigid face. She moved with her hands folded before her and with rather precise steps on the cobble. “Until it ends, Mr. Harper, until it ends.”

He rumbled in amusement. “Quite true, quite true. Well perhaps in this spirit of honesty you are going to tell me what we are doing in this district?”

This part of town made even a strong gent like Harper nervous. With the explosion of population that first tourism and then the construction of a military base in Scarborough the inevitable drawbacks of urban society followed. There were always spots within a city where squalor and crime were the norm. Here old buildings leaned against one another only to have their nearness undermined by thin and haphazard alleys. Steam pipes sometimes cut of sight of the sky. Toxins laced the air along with crushing noise of constant industry was not far off. Many of the more affluent in Scarborough called this district the Rookery but it had hardly devolved into a full switch backed riddled nest of criminals and madmen. A steam coach rattled past them, its headlights washed out to a dull glow by the rain.

“Before the mess at the Piers I was investigating a string of murders perpetrated against women if ill repute in this area. “ She tonelessly explained, the edge of her spring green skirt absorbing the sheen of wet atop broken cobble. “As my sisters and I have been preoccupied with guarding the docks while they are being repaired these past few weeks I have felt remiss in this task.”

“How are we going to bring it to a halt by strolling in mid-evening rain?” In Harper’s mind it was a rather legitimate question to ask. He had been pleasantly startled when Ms. Thyme had asked him to walk with her this evening. He still had not fully wrapped his mind around the facts, or at the very least accepted them. He wasn’t sure he ever would.

“Hardly, Mr. Carson, Hardly.” Even when the swordswoman clucked her tongue there was little inflection in it. She wound laced covered hands before stomach. “It shall be some time before I am able to take up this task. While you do not seem the sort of man to frequent such avenues I was wondering if you would be so kind to come to know some of my contacts here? Along with put feelers out among your military comrades?”

“I was in the civilian corps.” He gently corrected her.

Fertile green eyes cut to look up at a pair far too close in color. Ms. Thyme turned away from them and peered into the darkness of an alley. All of the usual prostitutes were plying their trade indoors on a night like this. It was not fit for man, nor beast, nor clockwork. “Yet I suspect that you have many associates in our valiant armed forces. Mr. Hawthorne informs me that you are often called on by a Captain Redgrave.”

“Basil?” Mirth rolled about in barrel chest anew. He kept his lumbering steps timed to hers. “I am still getting used to his new rank myself. He and have been good friends ever since… well for years. Truth be told I think he has just been stopping by to get a glimpse of Ms. Parsley whenever he is able.”

Her plum painted lips broken in a small ah. “Our tallest sister does enjoy a rather zealous wave of popularity among men in uniform. I cannot fathom why she relishes it so.”

“Some women adore being adored. It goes for a man or two as well.” He nodded and swept his eyes over darkened doorways and overhangs, aware of the danger they were in. Then again if some poor crook tried to mug them he might actually feel sorry for them. It wasn’t like the jet black haired beauty couldn’t take care of any thug as easy as a grown man would a fly. “I will do what I can.”

“That is all that I could ask. If you would pardon however it is time for a private appointment. Try not to wander too far now.” For a moment it seemed that Ms. Thyme’s face was going to become impishly familiar of Kitty but she fought to keep it down. Once Harper nodded she stepped out into the rain and adjusted her small lady’s top hat. Without explanation to others or even herself the artificial maid had decided to forgo small veils previously attached. Watching her slip off into a building whose sign had fallen into such a state of disrepair he couldn’t read it Harper arched a brow but decided it was best not to ask. Ms. Thyme could look after herself.

That left him with the question of what to do now? Just standing here in the rain wasn’t really an option, it was as if Heaven itself had split wide open and was dumping every last drop down on Scarborough. He swore he heard a gunshot muffled by storm as it echoed through the slums. Squinting Harper tried to figure out from what direction it came and could nearly see the dilapidation of every edifice through the rain. It had to be much worse if he could even make out a smidge of squalor amid such downpour.

“Pub?” Asked to himself quietly Harper considered tracing back a two buildings to the one they passed by. It seemed like good idea, after all Ms. Thyme wished for him to get to know this place. He had no clue that the Thistle Sisters had any interest in civilian law enforcement as well.

With senses strained as they were it was at that moment that Harper’s ear s caught a faint sobbing. The eerie sound caressed its way along water logged cobble, slithered across crime marred walls. Soft and broken it had the tones of a woman and held just enough volume to tug at the edge of his perception. Turning the thick man let his brow furrow and tried to track down where it was coming from. Somewhere close by a mangy dog growled and for a second the crying stopped. He could only hear the rain as he crossed narrow street and held his breath on the other side wondering if it would start up again.

A choked ‘No’ tumbled through the night followed by strangled tones of sorrow. It was clearly coming from an ascending alley ahead. Water poured down the cracked steps of its mouth and in the lamps of a passing carriage it had eddies of a dark color. Just what the hell was going on in there? Sliding the umbrella closed Harper realized that he should have asked to be issued a pistol or something. Instead he had the accessory to wield as a club and it wasn’t as if he was carrying Ms. Sage’s. Edging along to edge of the alley he paused, the crying had settled into a low murmur once more. His head snapped up to the hole riddled awning some three stories above as he clearly heard a harsh turning of gears. As still as a rabbit caught by electric torch’s beam Harper stared up into the falling rain for as long as he was able. Nothing moved and the weeping continued. Large hands gripped at the umbrella before he slowly turned his attention back.

Darting his head out Harper scanned over the darkened set of uneven stairs and crooked doors. On first glance there was nothing so he slipped around the edge, stepped as lightly into flowing water as he could. The wet skirt of a white dress came into focus as his eyes adjusted and soon the shape of the woman wearing it curled in a doorway followed.

“Excuse me, are you alright?” He asked even as he started for the fetal position cast woman.

Becca attention was jerked back into the now and her eyes rolled open, focusing on the towering man coming up the stairs for her. The whisper of the thing between walls teased at the edge of her hearing…

”Shall we kill him too?”

“Stay… stay back.” Lifting one ruddy hand the major’s daughter started to shudder. “Just stay away, please.”

Noting the woman’s arm was covered with small cuts and that as soon as she moved he could tell her dress was stained with blood Harper’s square jaw was affixed resolutely. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Ma’am.”

Shivering to her core Becca scrambled onto the stairs more like a frightened beast than woman. Her skirt tore and more than a few well-paid for nails splintered against stone. She wasn’t going to get caught, she wasn’t going to be put somewhere where the whispering thing could get to her. Her startled doe movement on all fours got her up three steps before Harper’s iron cord of an arm knocked the wind right out of her.

Not that the former seaman had struck the disheveled debutante, he was hardly that crude. Harper had surged forward and wrapped a powerful arm around her becoming waist. With a great groan he tried to lift her up. Rebecca however was having none of that. Feminine curves underneath blood and rain slicked clothing squeezed out of Harper’s grasp at the same time broken nails raked at the arm holding her. Startled at the ferocity of the distraught blonde Harper was just slow enough that she was able to dart up the stairs and back to her feet. Hanging a rather sharp right Becca ripped off down darkened street.

“Bullocks.” Rubbing at torn arm Harper debated going after her. Above him he heard timbers groan and stepped to the side just in time as a sharp chunk of stone tile tumbled down. It shattered against the concrete instead of biting deep into his skull. Looking up Harper was certain he heard cogs moving now, and the spring of something slithering up through a new hole in the awning – something with a human shape. The burned brother realized the decision had been made for him, growled, and after filling his lungs he gave chase. Harper just prayed that he caught up with this mysterious woman first before whatever else was in pursuit.

Simple business done, picking up some correspondence from the girls she had befriended and now kept her abreast of possible dark doings in the Rookery, Ms. Thyme flowed back into the rain. Tilting the brim of her hat she glanced to the heavy black sky and was rather glad it was pouring like the preamble to the Great Flood because Balor’s Eye was completely obscured. Not that any emotion positive or negative surfaced on her visage. There was a light pout of annoyance however once she realized that Harper wasn’t standing where she had left him.

“Men.” Ducking her head against the harsher drops Ms. Thyme paced to where he should have been. Ms. Parsley had been right on their lack of ability to do as told. Where would he have gotten off to? A pub was not too far off but she had no idea if her… company was the sort to forgo logic for drink.

“You there!” A man’s voice called out with rough authority. “Stop where you are!”

The order had been meant for the construct and it made her cant her head in query. Straight black hair was already soaked sealed to the small of her back so it didn’t move much. On instinct her hands splayed to the side to signify she had nothing in them. Otherwise she was a still as a wound down clock as the trio of military police approached and surrounded her with caution. Said caution quickly lowered to a state of embarrassment, and in such followed the downward arc of their pistols.

“Pardon, Ms. Thyme. We thought you might be someone else.” The one that bore the stripes of a sergeant spoke up.
Long lashes brushed down and then up to free themselves of water before her eyes blandly shifted to the man with a broad moustache. “Quite alright but I am not sure whom else you would assume I would be, sergeant. If I might inquire as to what the problem is to draw three well-armed men out into such a downpour.”

The two subordinates shifted and the leader’s face grew grim. “Colonel Thorn has been murdered, ma’am.”

“Oh.” Sorrow claimed her coiled copper and crystal heart before it blossomed into matured rage. The Colonel was like a father figure to all of Scarborough, he ran the military operations here with a firm and intelligent hand. “I see. Who killed him?”

“The current suspect is his daughter ma’am.” The sergeant ground his teeth instead of saying a few uncouth things about the brat in front of another woman. “She came running out of the room he and she were alone in covered in blood and smashed through a window to escape. Everyone knows how that ungrateful – pardon, how she felt about him.”

“I see.” The clockwork quietly set most of her weight on one piston boot. “I understand why you stopped me then. I take it she is in the area?”

“Yes ma’am. In fact we should return to looking for her.” The man gave her a salute and his subordinates followed as they agreed.

“I shall keep an eye out for the suspect as well, sergeant.” She dipped her chin, still unbothered by long rivulets of water pouring down her jaw to chin. “Godspeed.”

“And to you, ma’am, and to you.” With a strong gesture the sergeant with a wide moustache hurried off with his men down the street, their eyes sweeping.

Ms. Thyme closed her eyes and listened to the utterly unsteady drumming. Turning she took measured steps back to where Harper should be then pivoted to look left and right. There was a dark puddle that might be tainted with blood not far off. Sighing she marched in that direction, taking as close to the sort of lumbering large gait steps that Harper used as she could. Up the stair crammed alleyway she glanced before reaching out and snatching a floating scrap of white cloth from where it was languishing at the back of step. She rolled the fine material between fingertips. It definitely was the sort of textile that one would expect for a fine lady’s dress.

Her lips quirked up. “Bother.” The broad shouldered gent after all had a white knight streak now didn’t he? Slipping out her pocket watch Ms. Thyme’s mind swam for a moment with unpleasant tingles as she looked at the Victorian Athena on front of it. Her thumb brushed over the ivory before she flicked it open. The time that she had left her brother until the current second was calculated by the difference engine within. She recalled the exact timing of his steps. Gears turning and heart pulsing she sliced off how much time it would have taken him to walk over here, perhaps have a very brief struggle, and then follow. The watch was snapped closed and tucked away as Ms. Thyme ascended into the darkness. Given the speed at which Harper moved there was only so far he could have gotten. The catch was finding clues to point her in the right direction…
Ms. Thyme was right, she wouldn’t have very far to go. The pace Rebecca Thorn set was rapid but both the weather and her own disoriented nature were set against her. Once one was off of the main streets of the rookery the dimness of windows disappeared. Gloom consumed everything, every stone, every window, every doorway, every cobble, and soon the hearts and minds of both the Colonel’s daughter and the man perusing her. For his part Harper didn’t have the slightest clue why he was running after the woman other than he always tried to save damsels in distress. Every time he’d done so in the past it had ended up with him being burned but that wasn’t the point.

He caught a lucky break came when Becca skidded out, her elegant shoes snapping. The woman went down with a shriek that became a whimper and in the end she was just a heap against the wet street.

This was it, she thought, I’m done.

Harper slowed but drew no caution save a glance to the roofs for her shadowy hound before approaching.

“I did not do it.” Becca’s voice was a bare and pained whisper in between tears.

Big arms curled around her, pulling her from the cold pavement. The wide bulk of the man cradling her curled to protect her as well from the rain. Harper had abandoned his umbrella not long after he started running after her. One big hand gingerly touched at where the window had bitten her, the other spread at the small of her back. There was something about this fellow’s posture, warm and comforting. It would strike Becca later that it felt as if he could keep the whole world at bay for her sake.

“Shh. We need to get you out of the rain, miss.” Harper kept his voice as gentle as his touch. “Where else are you hurt? There is an awful amount of blood.”

“There will be more, every ounce of his to bath your pretty little frame”. The horrid whisper brushed at the back of Becca’s ear again. It was as if the thing in the walls was right behind her. “You would like that wouldn’t you, all that lovely hot red.”

“Please. Leave me alone.” Despite protests the Major’s daughter didn’t have the strength nor will to pull away. She wanted to protect this good man but didn’t have the fortitude. Tilting her blood and tear smeared face away from his shoulder red ringed eyes scanned the shadows above. She let out a cry seeing its glowing eyes peer around the side of a half-toppled chimney. “… will kill you.”

Harper’s brows pressed together as his senses focused foolishly on her rather than their surroundings. “Pardon?”

The eyes shifted and whatever bore them made no sound as it stalked closer down incline of a steep roof. Becca couldn’t even make out is shadow. If not for sinister luminescence and the building sense of dread she would not even realize it was getting closer.

“I believe she said she would kill you, Mr. Carson.” Ms. Thyme’s voice cut through the steady rain soon followed by the click of her boots. One hand pulled at the back of lacy glove. “I think it would be best of you set Ms. Thorn down and stepped away.”

“What?” Harper didn’t follow directions but did look over his shoulder at the green clad woman.

“She murdered her father, Colonel Thorn, this every evening.” Giving a curt nod the swordswoman drank in their posture and timing of movement. It was plain for now that Becca was little threat; she had about as much volition as a rag doll.

“No.” When the eyes went out Becca shuddered and turned back into Harper’s wide chest. “I didn’t do it. The thing in the walls… the thing on the roof.”

One of Ms. Thyme’s sculpted brows rose before she mechanically looked up. The lack of any real light made seeing even as much as shingles impossible. Perhaps the insane woman had mistaken the bent chimney as something? “There is nothing there. Come along now, Mr. Carson, we need to turn her over to the authorities.”

“What we need to do is get her out of the rain. She’s covered in blood.” Standing the stubborn gent started to move for the nearest doorway. Below his feet the sheen of water fogged up. A shiver tickled at his spine.

“Her father’s blood.” Harper’s obstinacy merely made Ms. Thyme sigh. She considered knocking some sense into him. “The military police are looking for her as we speak.”

“I didn’t…” Becca’s tiny hands tightened against Harpers sodden shirt. Sighs rippled with the rain, slithered across the cobble. A mist started to rise taking the form of grasping hands now and again before dissolving.

“Harper, do not move.” Ms. Thyme’s second hand shot up to gesture in according to her order. The first had dropped straight to the side and tossed Harper’s umbrella away. There had to be someone else here, no something else here. With a violent explosion of steam and then the sound of metal locking into place the faux girl had one sword at the ready.

“I.” It wasn’t that Harper was actually following orders. Instead the thick man’s feet were frozen while his muscles twitched in fear. Every time the grasping hands caressed it felt like he was standing on a grave, but that wasn’t the worst. The sighs they made were starting to form words. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Ms. Thyme didn’t look away from the rooftops. There was no feeling save a brush of something moist when the mist groped her.

“It’s here. It wants to kill you, Harper.” Becca tried to squirm away now. Horror flooded some strength back into her feminine frame. It wasn’t enough.

“It sounds like mom. She’s…” The burned hand twitched against Becca’s back. “She’s still on fire, oh Lord. I… I can hear her begging…. I….”

Turning slow with a swirl of green skirts Ms. Thyme didn’t lower her gaze. “I hear nothing.”

Slipping out of the stunned sailor’s grasp Becca landed in the mist and squeaked before scooting back rapidly for the doorway. Her wild gaze swept upwards and frantically searched for the thing between the walls. Where had it gone?

“I think I shall split the harlot first.” The murmur drifted down and death-dim eyes sparked to life on the roof across the way from where the thing had first appeared.

“Look out!” Shouting into a shrill scream the Colonel’s daughter pointed the creature out just as there was a quiet creak of metal joints. The shrouded monster pounced as a leopard would down onto Ms. Thyme.

Caught unaware Ms. Thyme didn’t panic, even when razor sharp claws bit into her flesh. One set reaped down her back while the other sliced across neck where jugular should be. While there was a fresh spray of some red it was quickly followed by black oil. The stoic woman didn’t even crumple under the lithe figure’s weight but spun away violent with the shower of accumulated water. Her sword hummed through raindrops as she swiped in a wide arc at her retreating attacker.

When the stalker landed with a large splash every wisp of fog surged across the ground like hounds to their master. Long articulated fingers of metal that ended in something between straight –razors and talons flicked once, then twice, to rid themselves of the false maid’s fluids. Around the automaton’s hidden feet and the edge of stolen shroud the mist writhed, faces half-forming before dissolving away in murmuring agony. Not one inch of the tall fairy’s funeral cloak was wet. The very drops of rain shied away from such an infernal device.

“Bloody ‘ell.” Instead of doing the sensible thing Harper lumbered toward Becca and held out one arm to the side to shield her crumpled form. “Sit tight, my sis – Ms. Thyme will handle this.”

Miss Thorn couldn’t turn away. Nor did she have any clue that she was the only one that could see the artificial atrocity’s baleful eyes. For Harper and Ms. Thyme there was just a trail of gray mist lilting from the thing’s gape of a mouth that jutted from under cowl.

“Sluagh.” Distaste added much needed color to Ms. Thyme’s proper voice. She raised the humming sword until its tip pointed at the robot’s mostly hidden face. Her blade’s edge vibrated quickly gathering water to a thin sheen of dancing droplets.

The shrouded fairy unfolded to its full height, gangly and looming before clicking its claws back at the mechanical woman. It said nothing that Ms. Thyme could hear anyway.”It seems you have run across some truly interesting prey, my pretty Rebecca.”

“Stop.” The strawberry blonde curled hands over her ears and mewled. “Stop!”

“It’s doing something to her, Ms. Thyme.” Harper made a second mental note to ask to be issued a side revolver. The sluagh lowered its hands, sliding them into time-tattered cloak before coming back out with two small pistols of alien design. Instead of being accented with wood or even mother of pearl it had grips and slides of polished bone. At the bottom of each handle where tiny drums that one might rightly assume held ammunition. Curls of ghostly fog cascaded up its arms and pulled the hammers of both weapons back for the sluagh before evaporating back into nothingness.

“They are weapons of terror.” Ms. Thyme wisely flexed her empty hand and her other blade slid out from within forearm. It telescoped into full length before she gripped it tight. “The sort that link to one target they drive mad while killing all those around them one by one.”

“Oh… that’s just grand.” With a snort Harper looked down the street as the glow of electric torches appeared. “Thank Heaven!”

“Bother.” Ms. Thyme read the mechanics of the sluagh’s motions just seconds too late. The automaton spun and pulled the triggers. The muzzles of its guns didn’t make the usual report but instead mournful sighs as bullets flew from them in rapid succession followed by curls of acrid smoke. No sidearm in humanity’s arsenal could fire that fast. The worst was yet to come as its mists undulated higher in horrific joy.

“You shall never take me alive, dogs!” Out of the fog a shout that clearly mimicked Rebecca’s voice flowed as the metal specter continued to shoot. Down the street good doughboy’s were maimed, some even killed as they dove for cover. When Ms. Thyme finally sprang into action the situation was already out of her control. The sluagh twisted away from her first strike while trying to align sizzling muzzle with her face. Its shot went wild while the swordwoman’s follow-up thrust did not. The blade bit deep into the sluagh’s black metal frame before the dry shroud snapped. The automaton withdrew back two steps then leapt soundlessly back into the weather aided gloom of rooftops. The damage had already been done.

Ms. Thyme back peddled as blind rifle fire poured into their position. While she had little fear of it herself Harper could easily fall prey to a stray shot, as could the woman he was valiantly shielding. The accursed mist evaporated as bullets tore swirling holes through it.

“We need to keep moving.” Even as Ms. Thyme spoke the left half of her body shook from the impact of a slug. Spinning with the force she went onto tippy toes to look Harper in her eye, and prove her point. Another bullet found a home against her reinforced spine instead of in his gut. “They are in a panic. Grab the woman, would you? Then run in 3…2….1… go!”

“Right.” Harper did as told, snatched up Becca and held tight. Once Ms. Thyme flicked out a direction with one vibrating weapon he pumped his legs as hard as he could. The dutiful android on the other hand looked over her shoulder. She didn’t need to see where the startled soldiers had taken up firing points; the direction of each bullet was tracked along with the sound from each barrel. It was all a matter of figuring out the timing. Dervish through the downpour she deflected three bullets and caught two more in her own body before Harper was safely out of range. In spite of being full of smoldering lead Ms. Thyme turned with a snap of long black hair and dashed after. The cogs in her boots slid into the meat of her legs, locked into place even as she moved. She made short work catching up.

“Where to?” Harper managed to ask even though he was breathless.

“I was hoping you might have some suggestion there in truth.” With a dip of her chin Ms. Thyme suggested they head deeper into the rookery. “I think at the moment bringing her back to the Workshop would be counterproductive until we know what the sluagh is after.”
“But we could protect her there.” When Harper turned to follow it was with considerably less grace. Becca clung to him for dear life, her sanity smothered silent.

“My word only will get us so far. I suspect the military police will take her into custody.” Ms. Thyme piston-kicked a crate out of their way in passing. It shattered loud off of a brick wall and splinters mixed with the rain. “They would claim their facilities would protect her adequately until an investigation is finished. It would not.”

“I think I know a place. Just get us to Deer Way. It can’t be too far off.” The strong gent didn’t even pause to see the destruction his companion had wrought. She’d just cleared the way. Nodding once more Ms. Thyme calculated a rout and kept running. All the while every one of her artificial senses was strained, waiting for the sluagh’s next strike. She was going to need to get word to the other girls.

Whereas Harper’s shade had been mildly inadequate in the face of such a storm, Ms. Sage’s umbrella kept her dry. Of course when drops stuck hers it had a distinctly deeper timbre. On any normal evening once gunfire echoed in the night she simply would have glided over using exposed cavorite. Given the downpour such action was unwise. Thus set to a hurried pace she turned the corner just as ambushed soldiers were given the order to hold their fire. Several lay wounded or dead in the middle of the street. One poor fellow had even been electrocuted when he fell on his own wet torch.
The lieutenant in charge lifted a gloved hand and motioned quietly for a trio of his men to advance using cover. It was that man the dusky woman zeroed in on. To his credit the lieutenant turned just before she arrived but didn’t raise his weapon, just his brows.

“Ms. Sage, I am sorry I did not hear you arrive. As you can see we are in the middle of something. I do believe we may have the suspect pinned down.” The doughboy didn’t smile but merely looked back at the leap-frog advance of his spearhead from one point of cover to the next. “She is armed and quite violent. I dare say a better shot considering the conditions than my own men.”

“It would seem that is so, lieutenant. One might say that is quite odd for a dilettante, no?” Taking a few steps past the fellow Ms. Sage removed her glasses. They kept steaming up and were rather useless anyway. Against pleasant bosom she folded spectacle closed before slipping it away. The black leather of her combat corset had a pleasant sheen in electric lights.

“Everything is odd about this if you do not mind me saying so ma’am. When Major Vetch ordered us to capture Miss Thorn I could hardly believe it.” Up ahead the all clear was given and he responded with ordering part of his men to pull the wounded to safety and the rest to investigate every nook and cranny. “We all know she loathed her father for her fiancé’s death but… mmm…. This is a startling amount of violence for one young woman.”

“One that is not comprised of gears and steel at the very least.” Ms. Sage quipped before tilting her umbrella forward to shield the squad leader from the rain and possible fire. The latter did not come as they moved forward.

“Too true, Ms. Sage, too true.” The man chuckled lightly. “Well then. The major also said he would see about setting you girls out here to aid us. I dare say that makes me feel safer already.”

With the good sense to cast a demure look Ms. Sage smiled. “You are too kind, lieutenant. Please have a look around and I shall do the same.”
“Of course, ma’am.” The solider nodded and went do doing just that.

Drawing in moist breath the Spaniard shifted her gaze over the scene. The tip of her boot rolled against a shell that felt a bit odd in shape. For a second she watched the military police get to work before crouching despite the fact it caused her somber skirts to soak up rain. The shell was picked up on the tips of two fingers and inspected with warm hazel eyes. It didn’t have the sort of design expected with any sort of weapon a lady, or even a human being would fire. Rolling the object between pads she stood and sucked in her lips. The simple explanation of how Colonel Thorn had been murdered was starting to fall apart. Just what were they dealing with here?

For that matter, where was Ms. Thyme? She and Harper would both be helpful in tracking down the variables in this case and were supposed to be in the Rookery. Ms. Sage’s chocolate brows creased together when one of the soldiers lifted up a discarded umbrella. It was distinctly the one Harper had taken with him when the two had taken a walk this evening.

“Curious.” The tactician looked back down to the spent shell in hand and then at the rest of them scattered in the half-inch deep water. It would see that perhaps Ms. Thyme was already on the case. Now where would they go?

The be continued

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