2. Because a Vision Softly Creeping

“Bloody ‘ell, Harp! You’re going to be the death of me, you know that eh?” Captain Basil Redgrave’s bright blue gaze shifted from his thick shouldered mate to the blood and rain soaked woman he was holding. Then eyes skipped past to Ms. Thyme standing just behind the two.

“No doubt he shall be, Captain.” The mechanical maid didn’t turn away from night shrouded streets when she spoke. Her blades were held down low, still humming and hungry for fairy oil. Long black hair was plastered down her back. “Tonight however we need to press ourselves onto your company. I would advise that you order your men to arm themselves as well.”

“That serious eh?” Basil’s crooked smile didn’t fade and he let cigarette fall from his fingers down to doorstep. It hissed with curls of smoke around his boot as he ground it out. His attention shifted back to the red smeared woman. “Let me guess, that’s Miss Thorn that the whole base is up in arms about?”

Becca turned tear and madness flushed eyes to the man with all the energy of a kitten found battered in the gutter. She didn’t say a word and after a moment curled back to Harper’s barrel chest, shivering and whimpering. Harper dipped his square jaw. “Yes it is. She didn’t do it but we don’t have time to sort things out with the authorities. We need a place to hold up, figure out what’s going on and what to do.”

Nodding slow the Captain slid to the side and waved them in. At the barrack house’s common table Norton was leaning forward with a pistol hidden in his lap and agitation on his face. Beside him Private Moore hand both hands atop the table and was observing with aristocratic detachment. The second fellow had every faith in their commander and his decisions.

Moore rose once the ladies had entered and smoothed down his white shirt. “I will fetch some tea and bourbon; it looks like everyone can use one or the other.”

“Grand idea.” The captain nodded in approval and pointed to the couch with his chin. “Set Miss Thorn over there. I’ll see about getting a blanket for her and some towels for you two. Norton? If you would fetch those please.”

Clearly unconvinced as he stood the wiry teen did have the good sense to tuck away his pistol. Still Ms. Thyme registered him as a threat as she closed the door with the edge of tall boot. She didn’t point a sword at him.

“We should contact the castle, sir.” Norton’s attention didn’t waver from the accused murder as Becca was carried across the room. It took Harper some effort to get her to let go and on to the couch. The robust gent bent down and stroked at her matted hair, murmuring what comfort he could to try and ease her tortured psyche, to assure he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Eh, let me worry about that, just get what we need.” Basil lifted his chin to the private and paced to the window. He moved curtain slightly and peered out into the downpour. There was something not right out there but he couldn’t put his finger on it. “Wake the rest of the lads too, tell them to get their guns. Just in case.”

“Yes sir.” While Norton’s response wasn’t immediate he didn’t argue either. Off the young soldier scuttled.

“You’re certain she didn’t kill him?” Basil didn’t ask until they were alone.

“Quite. How many upstairs windows does this building have? I assume as well it has back door? They will need to be covered and by more than one man each if that many can be spared.” Boot heels fell in steady repetition as Ms. Thyme paced to the middle of the front room. She ignored the various pin-ups on the wall even though one was of herself and likewise the dripping she was doing on the floor. Instead her gaze wandered around the roof, taking in the barrack house’s architecture and trying to formulate a plan.

“What are we dealing with here then, ma’am?” Basil moved away from the window and to the arms closet. His rifle was upstairs but right now he didn’t want to spare a moment to fetch it. As he worked on unlocking the door the sandy blonde looked over to his best mate. “And how is she holding up there, Harp?”

“I think she’s about ready to pass out to be honest, her eyes keep closing.” Sighing Harper stroked big fingers across Becca’s cheek, trying to get her to rest. “We’ll look after you don’t worry. Come on now. She’s got some pretty bad cuts on one arm and is scared out of her wits.”

“Driven to the edge of madness.” Ms. Thyme pivoted slowly in the center of the room, watching and listening as Basil’s men stirred. They were sluggishly moving of course just being roused; the clockwork sister prayed they were not too slow. “It is what sluagh do to their victims. They like to toy with them, break them down before moving in for the kill.”

“Sluagh? Here? Bullocks. I’m going to need my rifle.” Understandably the captain was dismayed by the news. Sniffing strong he headed from the opened closet to the stairs and called out with a stretch of well defined frame. “Hey! Norton grab my rifle too and don’t drop it. We’re in for some trouble lads, so arm up.”

A chorus of solider curses filtered down from above only to be drowned out by the rain as it kicked up another notch. Becca whimpered and turned away from any source of light, toward the couch. She didn’t shy from Harper’s fingers as he stroked her back. The swordswoman watched them both.

“Why her? Some sort of sadistic need?” The former sailor turned lightly to look down one wide shoulder to the android wearing his sister’s face. There were times that she seemed so very much like Kitty. Now, with her stoic and brooding expression wasn’t one of them.

“Perhaps or perhaps it is after something, something only she would know.” Drifting away from the two men Ms. Thyme looked into the kitchen at the back door. With a graceful kick her piston boot shoved table up against it. That would have to do for now until the men were ready. Her hair showered water everywhere as she turned and paced back within.

“I can’t fathom what she might know to be honest, Ms. Thyme.” Moving to the door side window Basil peered back out into the night. A whistle escaped between the gap in his two front teeth. Gone was the boyish smile he usually had, this was serious. “I’ve heard about Miss Thorn, she’s a debutante, no spy or master tactician.”

“Then something her father knew it would stand to reason. Something her father knew that he passed on.” Convinced that Becca was not going anywhere Harper stood up and ambled over to look outside the window as well. It registered somewhere in his mind that those meathook hands of his were covered in blood, it could be take care of later. “Something that he was too strong of will to break out of him maybe? Besides, I can imagine the whole town will be in a panic by tomorrow with its ranking commander done in.”

“Two birds with one stone. What do you think Ms. Thyme?” Turning back Basil found the shortest Thistle Sister staring at the front door and completely still as if her springs had all run down. When he started to say something else she gave a small wiggle of her blade for him to be quiet.

“Something is on the roof. I can barely hear it.” She didn’t let her voice rise above a whisper. “So if you gentlemen would kindly stop talking. The clamor upstairs is bad enough.” Her head canted tick by tick to the side as she concentrated. Even those swords of hers stopped humming.

“I can order the lads to-“ Basil started to murmur until she gave him a small one finger motion to shut up . After taking a checking glance on Becca Ms. Thyme slowly paced forward, trying to keep her steps hushed. She was so successful her green skirt didn’t even rustle much. It was hard to even hear the creak of her leather corset.

“Just get them their guns, and quickly now. It is walking down to the front door.” Ms. Thyme pursed her lips. “Back away from the window, slowly.”

The two men exchanged looks before following directions. Basil retreated all the way to the stairs and gave Norton the hand signal for silence before gesturing to pass it on. He motioned Harper over to take the blanket and towels as he took his rifle. Harper was more than happy to oblige but didn’t dry himself off first. Instead, like a true gentleman, the brute headed over to Becca and was delighted to find she’d finally passed out. The cover was spread over her small frame. Harper’s green eyes narrowed. How best to protect her when the fey came calling? Setting up at the base of the stairs Basil moved his babied long rifle through a few of the rails. It wasn’t the best cover but it would have to do. Likewise the men as they came down would know something was up.

Ms. Thyme waited for no man. Sliding up she set her shoulder in the slim space between window and door to make her profile small. She eased one sword backwards to sit flat on the sill before long gloved fingers wiggled in the air before her. “Once I open the door if things sour, Mr. Carson, I want you to take the girl and get out any way you are able. Try to get yourselves arrested as close to the castle as possible.”

“Okay…” That really didn’t sound like the best of plans to Harper but Ms. Thyme likely knew something he didn’t. This was her area of expertise after all. He wanted to ask a few other questions about the whole situation but this wasn’t the time or place.

The swordswoman quietly pulled on the front door’s handle until it clicked and pulled it open a centimeter at best. Back her hand eased away to pick back up blade. Basil swallowed and peered down his sight, focusing first on the door itself then the window beside. His finger flexed around trigger and he steadied his breath. Usually the captain didn’t like his targets being this close but the situation dictated what the situation dictated. On the stairs his men had gathered the floor above, brandishing personal pistols. Harper lamented once more that he’d not been requisitioned a firearm.

“3…2…1…” Ms. Thyme muttered her mantra as cogs slid into place and her crystal center started to keep time. With second blade in hand she toed the door open. As she whirled like a dust devil onto the porch the swords vibrated back to full power.

Ms. Sage looked less than impressed as did the two soldiers she’d brought with her. The dusky women merely lifted a brow as she raised her shade to get a better look at her rather violent sister. While the two soldiers had their rifles readed she was serene and dainty pistol was tucked carefully away. Her hand, thus free, rose and made a circular motion. “If you would lower the rifles, gentlemen. As you can plainly see it is one of my sisters and not Miss Thorn. Please if you would contact the lieutenant and bring his men here posthaste?”

One of the doughboys nodded before both headed off. Ms. Sage turned to lightly watch them go before walking up to the mechanical duelist. Her dark eyes roamed over Ms. Thyme’s state and out one finger poked into a bullet hole. “I suspect these are from the same rifles pointed at you not a moment past.”

Ms. Thyme had of course come to rest by then and was glad to have an umbrella over her head. She nodded to the somber woman. “Rather than have them strike Mr. Carson or Miss Thorn yes. She is inside.”

“I see.” Starting with an after you gesture Ms. Sage followed once the placid sister was on the move back up stairs. “I suspect there is a very good reason why you have not handed her over to the proper authorities?”

“Sluagh.” The one word was all that needed to be said to bring the Spanish darling up to speed. Both Thistle Sisters slipped within and closed the door behind.

Basil leaned around his scope and sent their newest ally a smile. “Well I’ve got to say that you are a heck of a lot more pleasant to look at then some metal fairy, Ms Sage, right?”

“You are correct, Mister?” The grey clad woman moved to check the back door as she folded her umbrella closed. The table would not hold but as she heard able bodied men come down the stairs they might be able to do something about that. “If I might ask two of you to help me move the ice box?”

“Crikey!” Hurst, every bit a thick farm boy, stared at the object of his male fantasies for a moment before clamoring over to help, dragging one of the other soldiers with him. “Sure thing, Ms. Sage. Where would you like it?”

“Where the dining table is, thank you Private.” Dipping her chin with every ounce of feminine poise Ms. Sage even gave the excitable man a smile before looking back to Basil. By then she’d taken in every detail about the first floor rooms including the position of the two unarmed civilians. Ms. Thyme just stood there waiting now for orders of where to go. Out in the field Ms. Sage was always the one in charge. After all her difference engine had been programmed with all of the tactical acumen that hundreds of years of the Empire’s army could offer.

“Captain Basil Redgrave, Ma’am.” The man who up until Ms. Thyme walked in was in command offered her a rather languid salute before resting back against the rifle, just in case. “Tis a pleasure, circumstances aside. I do not suppose you brought the other two with you? No. Alas I suppose the lads and I shall have to do. Do pardon their drooling if you would, you are celebrities after all.”

“So I have been informed.”She looked away from the Captain after giving him a kind smile and over to Harper. “Mr. Carson. I see that Miss Thorn is in no condition to talk or to travel?”

“I’ll carry her if we need to.” Nodding firmly Harper stood to his full robust height and set hands on his hips. “Though, if you don’t mind ladies since it turns out Ms. Sage was not the sluagh I’ve got a question or two.”

“Please, indulge us.” Ms. Sage continued to look around and made a subtle gesture for her shorter sister to move over to the stairs and wait there. It was the best point to launch an attack from for the melee fighter no matter what position the sluagh came in. “Captain Redgrave once the back door is blocked if you could set two men on the door facing the kitchen and then have the rest move what obstructions they can in here. I think the upper floors would be a death trap.”

“Of course Ma’am. You heard the lady, lads, get to work.” Basil gave a round it up sort of motion and was pleased as the soldiers followed directions to the letter. There was a lot of furniture moved and adjusted within the next few minutes. In addition there was quite a bit of ogling of Ms. Sage from all of the privates, but especially Hurst.

“Well.” Harper paced over toward the weapons locker and after getting a thumbs up from Basil grabbed himself one of the heavier rifles. It was giving of all things a testing swing, just in case it came down to clubbing. “First off I didn’t think that the constructs were that smart, you know? This sluagh thing almost acted like a person.”

“Ah.” Moving to lean against a wall and wait the shield maiden clearly understood why Harper would wonder such. She adjusted the brim of her derby day hat. “Some of the fairies, such as the sluagh, are constructed with a specific purpose in mind. In the case of those shrouded fiends it is to stalk and frighten prey. Thus they have more cunning and ability to plan than say a redcap or troll but I assure that they are nothing more than a machine. Take them out of the element of terrorism and they are as useless as a rifle hung on a wall.”

“I see.” Not that that made any real sense to Harper but he would be the first to admit he had a problem seeing the fine line between people and machines that looked like them some days. The gun was checked, and then loaded. He lumbered back to his post by Becca. Out of the corner of green eye he caught ones of the very same color keeping tabs on him. “Secondly then, why aren’t we going to make a move for the castle? Surely now with both you and Ms. Thyme to vouch for matters things would go smoothly.”

“Mm. I have only dealt with a sluagh once but let me assure you of something, Mr. Carson.” Ms. Sage set down her umbrella and quietly smoothed at her skirt. The waiting game had begun. “If we go out there in conditions such as they are it will pick us off one by one until only Miss Thorn remains. It is best of we wait for it to come to us or until daylight. Like any bogeyman they dissolve once the sun rises, or rather crawl into a hole and wait for the cover of night once more.”

“We have seven hours and twenty two minutes until dawn.” Helpfully but without any real tone Ms. Thyme drove that hard fact home. “As others might say I think we are in for a long dance. With two of us here however I think we shall stand a good chance of succeeding. With any luck Miss Thorn will rouse from her hysteria before the night is through and we shall figure out what the construct is after.”

“Right well I’ll have Moore make more than tea and spirits then. Some cof-“ Basil stopped short when there was a heavy thud against the door. It sounded like someone had smashed a croquet ball against it instead of knocking. The whole bottom floor held its breath and turned their eyes that direction. The handle didn’t turn; no further sound came save the wash of rain against wood and glass. Nevertheless Basil didn’t stop aiming now. About the time that the soldiers were about to start talking low to one another again there came another thud. This time it rang out from higher on the door.

“Oh this isn’t good.” Groaning Captain Redgrave moved his head lightly. “Double time it boys, I want crossfire points on the front and back doors. If that’s fine and dandy with you, Ms. Sage?”

“Quite in fact.” Ms. Sage had not moved though one of her dark brows was arched now and lips pursed in displeasure. This is how it always began the simple frights to try and thicken tension. “Let me know if Miss Thorn wakes, Mr. Carson.”

“Will do.” Licking at his lips and trying relax with a few long draughts of air Harper went down to a knee beside his charge. She was be sleeping for now, albeit fitfully.

Thwump! The door actually rattled this time and there was faint sound of something bouncing along the porch afterwards. Basil stroked the trigger and was glad the two Thistle sisters were here. “Hang in there lads, just a nuisance and nothing more. Get into position and stay there.”

The next thud came quicker and was followed by one immediately after. They all had slightly different tones and struck the door in dissimilar spots. It wasn’t anyone knocking in a traditional manner that was for sure. Ms. Thyme eased down the stairs one slid of a foot at a time.

“The other squad surely should have been here by now, Ms. Sage.” Now Ms. Thyme didn’t try to be eerie as she pointed out a simple detail, nor did she wish the men any harm even if their lead was still in her body. However given the circumstances, the lack of tone in her soft voice, and the sudden cutting to Tesla power to the lights causing everything to go dark? It really didn’t help matters. The situation went from bad to worse a moment later when something struck the window. It left a viscous wetness that was slow to wash away and a crack. The second strike to the window came three seconds later and broke right through.

In typical fashion it was a head that once belonged to the squad that should be coming for back up. Face twisted in absolute terror before it had been wrenched from shoulders the unattached noggin bounced across the floor and made more than just the rookies shout obscenities. Basil crossed himself.

“Messy bugger.” Harper commented and snorted. No one noticed sickly gray mist oozing through ceiling cracks. Artfully they had all been distracted by the racket to the front of the building. Later Ms. Sage would state in her report that it was a clever if vile method of misdirection. For now everyone as too busy being flustered even as Basil shouted orders to calm them down. The dusky clockwork moved to the door and flexed her umbrella open. Ms. Thyme was counting off the beats between thumps and when the next one didn’t follow the pattern she frowned softly.

“It is on the move.” Again her flat voice only deepened the creepy factor of the night. Her verdant gaze strayed upwards but a moment too late.

The ceiling exploded in a shower of sawdust, wood splinters, spackle and wraith faced mist. Within a blink the dark room was lit up as nearly every barrel was turned and unloaded. Rebecca Thorn’s blood curdling shriek could be heard through it all. By then the sluagh was already nigh-flat against the floor, its pilfered death wraps spread around it like the tattered dignity of a woman betrayed.

Ms. Sage spun just in time for her umbrella to blindly turn aside one of the fairy’s shots, the other pistol however fell a soldier easily in the other direction. With all the muzzle flashes and shouting it was hard for anyone to tell where the real danger lay and that was just how the automaton wanted it. Bounding from its stoop and away from the shade wielding woman the sluagh brought both guns to bear on the men who had been guarding the kitchen. They didn’t last long as gunsmoke mixed with murmuring mist. Every weapon discharge sent trickles of light cascading through groping ghostly hands and twisted faces. Thus the guns were all turned every which way as startled men turned desperate. Friendly fire was anything but.

The gaunt fey rolled into the kitchen to take a moment and change out clips while the humans made corpses out of one another.

“Christ! Hold your fire! Hold your bloody fire!” Basil shouted as he stumbled along, angling out of the way of a bullet. In the flashes of light he’d tracked the monster’s movement and was pretty sure the two men by the door were probably dead now. Still he took a moment to check on Hurst who was still breathing, just wet and shallow. Most of the time the captain would have said something encouraging but right now he didn’t want the damn robot to know he was this close. Around the corner the Scotsman leaned while taking a quick aim at the biggest shape in the room. His customized rifle kicked when he finally fired a shot and the bullet slammed into metal. Basil just prayed he hadn’t actually just bagged himself the ice box.

The sluagh was displeased when it found itself flattened against the floor and down one pistol. Without a sound of gears grinding or cables straining it sat up and peppered the doorway where Basil was with bullets until it was sure the man had either been struck down or pulled back. Rising into a panther like stance despite its human frame the automaton started forward, other pistol abandoned for claws alone. As Ms. Thyme leapt into the room with a high thrust it went flat across the floor and slid.

“They are all going to die because of you…” Its tainted voice reached into Becca’s mind once more.

“Leave them alone!” Screaming at the top of her lungs the Major’s daughter scrambled off the couch before Harper could stop her and over the edge. She tried to get away from the thing, and the people the thing was killing. It was the only way to save them.

“Hey!” The thick man gave chase through the chaos.

Basil grunted hard and tried to ignore winged arm as he took another shot at the sluagh. The gangly fiend of black metal coiled away from the bullet only to be buffeted back by a slam of Ms. Sage’s steel umbrella. As the fairy was tipped off-balance Ms. Thyme took her second shot, shoving blade through its back and out chest. She narrowly missed its heart with the humming weapon and turned its superior slicing edge to cut down into it.

The sluagh was not going to go down so easily. First sharp elbow slammed into the swordswoman’s cheek sending her flying away into jumbled furniture then a kick fended off Ms. Sage’s follow up strike. The construct sprinted forward into the confusion of battle it had created. In such close quarters with a lack of any real light and the terror benefited it greatly.

“Run, run, just as fast as you can.” Its spectral blue eyes that only Becca could see were there when she looked over her shoulder at it instead of the good man trying to save her.

“Leave me alone!” The ruined debutante ripped open the door intent on sprinting out. Instead she fell over the heads scattered there.

“Damnit all!” Slinging the rifle over broad shoulder Harper followed her out, kicking heads out of the way as he moved.

The sluagh got his claws into another one of Basil’s men as the captain drew a third bead and pulled the trigger. His poor man was used as a human shield first before being thrown into Ms. Sage and her umbrella. The tactician stumbled back with a start but as she left the dance floor Ms. Thyme skipped back in. Long claws glanced off of humming blade once, then again. The sluagh tired to riposte after the raven haired beauty’s swipes but had his talons blocked, one was even removed. It spat a stream of dire mist into Ms. Thyme’s face but had no effect either. She pressed forward with a low growl and the sluagh responded by sliding hands with oscillating sparks all the way down to snatch the hilt of her blades. Then it became a battle of strength, one that it seemed Ms. Thyme was going to lose as the tall mechanical monstrosity loomed over her.

Ms. Sage smashed her folded up umbrella into where the sluagh would have a kidney were it not built instead of bred. The result was much the same however as the robot recoiled away from the stroke and one vibrating blade was able to bite again into its chest. The long fingered talon was free though and the sluagh took a rather firm hold around the metal bone within Ms. Thyme’s right bicep. It whipped her around and into her sister, sending both steampunk androids flying. By the time the duo had untangled and pulled themselves upright the tooled horror was out the front door and into the night.

Rebecca Thorn and Harper Carson hadn’t gotten very far. Despite her best efforts the major’s daughter just didn’t have the athletic training or strength left in her. Becca stumbled and crashed to the ground. Her cry was haggard and strained.

“You want this all to stop?”

“Yes! For Heaven’s sake yes.” Shrill she screamed at the sluagh in hot pursuit as she pushed herself onto hands and knees. It was clear she didn’t even see Harper coming toward her. Instead Becca’s eyes were focused on the twin wicked globes bouncing closer. “Whatever it takes, please, just make it stop.”

“Eh?” Harper skidded to a stop and whirled around when he realized that they were being chased. All he really did was lean right into the sluagh’s body check. Although Mr. Carson was what most would describe a bull of a man he flew nearly two yards before landing on his backside and skinning across the drenched cobblestone. Once Harper came to a rest he growled and ignored his pain to stand. That was it! Mechanical monster or not he was going to make this up close and personal.

Becca wailed as she was hauled into the air by her face. Gingerly the sluagh had wrapped one set of long cold fingers over beautiful features and held her fast there. She could feel the weight of her entire body pulling against her neck, threatening to strangle.

“Tell me. Tell me and this is all over.”

“I swear I will tell you whatever you want.” Her lips barely scraped against the metal holding her. The sluagh asked its question and her fear soaked mind took a second to find an answer, a long agonizing second where her fingers and toes went numb. “Mas… mausoleum at the back of the estate where the two tall trees grow. It’s where he keeps everything like that.”

“Excellent.” The sluagh glanced over its sharp shoulder as the Thistle Sisters burst out of the barracks full of fiery revenge. ”Come my sweet flesh thing. I think I will need you a bit longer.”

“But you promised, you swore!” Throttled Becca wanted to put up more of a fight but couldn’t. So Harper did it for her. No matter the fact he heard half the conversation the bulky fellow had some idea of what was going on.

With the fairy focused on the two clockwork women Harper slammed the butt of his rifle into the side of its cowled head. “It’s not polite to lie to a lady.”

Becca cried as she hit the ground but was at the very least free. Emboldened Harper pursued the sluagh as it flailed. The rifle was shifted in his meaty hands to be held like a bat before he smashed it hard across the automaton’s face. Off balanced it lashed out as he danced away with some fancy footwork before sundering the rifle butt in an uppercut to the fairy’s chin. Falling back two steps the sluagh crouched and snapped its head up toward this annoying human. That was when Becca’s mind finally went quiet and Harper saw it hypnotic eyes behind the hood nebulously coil into being.

“I shall feast on her femur for your offense, human!”

The machine’s voice, comparable in feeling to dry paper being torn, cut deep into his psyche. Shuddering soul deep Harper tightened his square jaw and then narrowed his eyes. “Not once my sister gets a hold of you, you bucket of bolts.”

Revolving away from the angry man the sluagh realized the other two artificial beings were almost on him. Silently, save for a sibilance only Harper could hear, the automaton skittered backwards before jump up to a rooftop. As its feet hit shingles ghostly mist exploded about it once more. By the time Ms. Sage and Ms. Thyme made it to Becca and Harper the sluagh was already gone.

A significantly unlady like snort popped out of Ms. Sage and she stamped one foot. The umbrella snapped open and was spun over her shoulder to shield her from the storm. “Blast it all.”

“Sister dear, now now.” Ms. Thyme on the other hand let her gaze roam over Harper to make sure he was okay. The big lug was busy picking Becca off the ground like she was a discarded doll and assuring himself she was alive. “We are not undone yet.”

Glancing back to her Harper met eyes so much like his own… then nodded. Looking down at Becca he smoothed a hand over her hair. “It is okay, Miss Thorn. It is finally gone.”

“I… I know.” The debutante nodded weakly and parted her dry lips. “You drove it off finally, Harper. I.. . I cannot hear it any more, thank you. Bless you.”

Bashful he just smiled and cradled her to him in the downpour. “You’re welcome, Miss Thorn. Now though, our jobs not done. What did it want from you?”

She shook her head and pressed it to the strong crook of her arm, sobbing soft. This wasn’t something she wanted to relive so soon. Ms. Thyme frowned and started to step closer until Ms. Sage caught her shoulder. The tempered protector shook her head slowly.

“Shh.” Thick fingers stroked over mattered hair once more. “It’s okay. Just let us know so we can stop it from hurting anyone else, Rebecca. It is important. Okay?”

“Promise me you will not go.” Becca creased one eye open. “Promise me.”

“Cross my heart.” Puffing out his chest Harper grinned, water flowing over his chiseled features. “Tell us, please.”

“It is after special files that come to father now and again, ones wrapped in black cloth and
Sealed with the royal arms. I do not know what is in them but he always stores them in the crypt where he shall one day lay by mother. It is at the back of the estate we have outside the city, in the mausoleum.”

“Fitting place for a final show down with such a beast.” Nodding Ms. Sage smiled terse. “Shall we sister?”

“Yes, let’s.” Clicking blades back into their compact shape Ms. Thyme slid one, then the other, back into forearm berths. “It is time to end this. I suspect we shall not have time to fetch the other two.”

A displeased pout pushed its way to Ms. Sage’s full lips. “I believe you are correct. Mr. Carson-“

“Staying here with her, well back at the barracks, as promised.” He hoisted up Becca to cradle her properly. “I’ll have Basil send a runner to the castle with the news. Rebecca, do you have any idea what file it was after?”

“Something… something to do with the hellstones.” The girl stammered before groaning. “I need to sleep.”

“Right then. Good luck you too.” Not wanting to keep the distraught lady out in the storm any longer he treaded off for the barracks. Basil was at the door, easing his rifle down and putting on a ‘what in the hell have you gotten me into’ smile. What else could Harper do but shrug?

Ms. Thyme pivoted to watch him go, blank faced.

“Are you quite alright, sister dear?” Gingerly Ms. Sage gave her shoulder a squeeze.

With an about face the swordswoman started off at a run in the direction of the city limits without an answer for Ms. Sage or even one for herself. She had vowed to stay away from Mr. Carson as much as she could but found herself often breaking it. The question of why rang deep in her coiled copper and crystal heart. There was no time to fret over such; they had a job to do.

To be concluded

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