3. Silence like a Cancer Grows

By the time Ms. Thyme and her sister reached the Thorn estate on the outskirts of Scarborough the storm had abated slightly. It was just enough to let the Eye of Balor to gaze down from black void. Thus the night was tinged the same sickly red it was most evenings like a festering infection to remind Mankind that it was in its final days. There were the expected coaches and even an armored turtle transport out front but no soldiers meandering about in the rain, or even waiting in the driver’s seats. Ms. Sage lifted one hand motioning for the raven haired killer to slow down.

“They may be all inside to get out of the drizzle but something strikes me as off, sister dear.” The tactician let hand drifted back down to her side and was soon filled with small pistol. Dark eyes lifted over the top of glasses and scanned over the second level windows which were lit. The bottom floor however was dark. Lips turned down and she shifted her umbrella to change with the direction of rainfall. “The windows…”

“Indeed.” Not moving with the umbrella Ms. Thyme was stone-faced as cold drops covered her once more. She flexed her hands in consideration for drawing her blades now. Her legs clicked as cogs aligned and adjusted. “Shall I take a quick look to see if there are any bodies?”

One of Ms. Sage’s sculpted brows popped up when the crack of a gunshot echoed out from the fine manor house. She lifted her fine chin toward the upper gables. “I believe that is a fine idea. I shall gather a bird’s eye view then meet back here?”

Neither android waited for confirmation from one another. The cavorite was exposed and up went Ms. Sage. At the same time Ms. Thyme shot off and moved between the assembled vehicles without haste. She didn’t come across a single person, or corpse, around or within them. There were a few puddles that were undoubtedly diluted blood. She ran head long along the side of the estates wall to build up speed. Once she had enough the constructed woman leapt and with one smooth motion stood atop seven foot tall wall. Tall leather boots creaked. The yard had clearly taken a beating with more suspicious puddles dotting lawn and tree trunks torn to pieces from a firefight. Most of the darkened windows in the front were at least partially broken.

The gun battle was still sputtering on from the occasional flash she spotted within the house. A bullet bit into the mortar beside her and as such Ms. Thyme prudently dropped back down to the outer edge. With preternatural poise she wove a path back through empty vehicles to where she began.

Ms. Sage had an easier go of it up on the roof. Tiptoeing delicately along the zenith of one tall gable she peered at the front yard, same as Ms. Thyme, and drew similar conclusions. Shifting to glance at the slim side tracks of land around the large house she found bodies had been stacked up there in a crude fashion after the fight outside. They were not torn to pieces or otherwise mutilated as one would expect a sluagh to do. More gunshots and muffled orders drifted up from below her. At the risk of getting rather wet she shut her shade and moved for the back of the house. There were men shifting behind makeshift cover of statuary, benches and trees in the rolling garden behind. Occasionally one would take a potshot back into the house. She couldn’t quite make out their clothing in the dim red but she suspected they were doughboys. There was no sign of the metallic monster they had expected to find. “Curious.”

Turning on heel the tactician sprinted for the front edge and snapped umbrella wide as she jumped. The magnificent rock within allowed her to glide back down at the ground as gently as any falling feather. Within moments she and Ms. Thyme were reunited.

“One of them inside shot at me.” Ms. Thyme didn’t add any inflection of distaste. “I believe that this conflict between two human sides has been going on for quite some time.”

“Indeed. There are the bodies of good men piled like green wood along the sides of the house. I do believe our boys, those that remain, are waiting for us in the backyard.” Adjusting her spectacles with two fingers pressing at the center point the somber women slipped out a smile. “Shall we then? I am sure that whoever is in charge can bring us up to speed. I saw no sign of the sluagh.”

“It is here.” Ms. Thyme tilted her head down and flexed forearms. With a hiss of steam and slide of metal folding into place her vibrating swords were ready once more. “You I suspect are heading back up and over? I shall stick to the wall until I reach the back of the estate in case there are any clues that we have missed.”

“Of course, Ms Thyme, of course. Try not to tarry too long.” Born by a miracle of modern science once more Ms. Sage sailed to the roof as the swordswoman sprinted along the outer edge of the estate.

This time the exotic machine didn’t linger along the gables but quickly floated down to the other side, Very quickly in fact. Ms. Sage had to slide metal casing violently into place and turn her parasol forward to drive off an unexpected hail of bullets. As soon as she was spotted coming down orders were shouted from deep in the backyard to blow her out of the sky. She landed with a hard jolt through her steel frame but otherwise unharmed near wide marble back steps. Both the fine stone and cloth over her umbrella were shredded quickly by the stream of gunfire. Hunkering low Ms. Sage kept her entire body behind fashionable shield. Apparently these weren’t ‘their boys’ at all.

“Well this is bothersome.” She commented dryly to no one at all.

Return fire soon zipped around her from within the house but with far less intensity.

“Ms. Sage! Back this way if you please!” Someone shouted from the hole ridden backdoor after it was opened a notch. She nodded mostly for her own benefit and retreated backwards up the stairs. A whole house was better cover than her simple umbrella. Hopefully Ms. Thyme realized what was going on before it was too late. What was holding the most punctual of them up?

Pulling swords away from one another Ms. Thyme splattered what blood and organs remained in the ambusher’s torso along the outside of west facing wall even as gun smoke curled out of a hole that had been blown in her torso. Not that the mechanical maid stopped there. She swirled low and separated the footpad’s companion’s right knee from leg with a swipe of blade as he took a shot at where the back of her head had been. Even as green-clad woman rose she gave the man’s gun arm its walking papers to. Screaming the gent fell backwards and immediately into shock. Ms. Thyme dispassionately watched him succumb while inspecting the authentic uniforms both he and the first man she murdered wore. Undoubtedly rotten matters were afoot now weren’t they? Her brows furrowed together. The second assailant was allowed to just take his sweet time bleeding out as she went over the side wall. The shortest sister fell tall boots first into a pile of soldier corpses on the side. In spite of being knee deep in dead good men she didn’t stumble or blanch. Bronze reinforced neck was rolled from side to side with a crack of exposed metal bones. She heard Ms. Sage being called inside just barely over the gunfire. Lacking a proper door she used the closest window for entry.

Before she or the shattered glass hit the ground two rifles were brought to bear on her but neither fired. As the clockwork maid drew to a full standing position both doughboys lowered their guns. “Sarg! We’ve got another one here in the parlor! Another Sister I mean.”

“Oh thank the Lord for miracles big and small.” Sergeant Hathaway motioned for Ms. Sage to follow him from the kitchen, where tables and appliances had been stacked to cover the windows thus protecting them from pelting bullets on that front. “Cooper, you and Johansson move to help them on the stairs then. We’ve still got a few rats to clear out. Now you were saying, Ms. Sage?”

“There are over two dozen of them in the back and I suspect at any moment they shall be backed up by one of the gentry, Sergeant.” Stepping into the parlor Ms. Sage wrinkled her nose to see so many fine volumes along the shelves had been ruined from the fighting. A butler’s corpse lay in one corner. “Thusly the sooner my sister and I are brought up to speed on the situation the better. What have we missed?”

Ms. Thyme lowered her blades and made a cursory glance around the room, counting off the timing of footsteps she heard within the house along with creaking floorboards. Had she moments to waste she would have offered to help these soldiers clear the building. “Please, inform us.”

“A little bit over a half an hour ago or so the radio man got an odd keening noise over his speaker and directed it to the lieutenant in charge here, Lawson. It was then Lawson commanded the soldiers he brought with him to open fire on my men and we had a nasty spat from the front yard and all through the house. We managed to secure the building while they took the yard and gunned down all of the men outside with the coaches ma’am. I am sure they had a few moles in with that mix too.”

“Do we know if this Lawson survived and if he actually served the crown before betraying it?” Vibrating swords stilled as their wielder moved to peer out into the foyer and inspect the damage done there. “Likewise someone took a shot at me from one of the side rooms across that way. I would have some of your men cleanse it.”

“Of course ma’am.” Hathaway shifted injured shoulder but kept a stiff upper lip. “I have worked with Lawson and his team off and on for the last seven months. He is with military police but I guess in the end they were working for the enemy. A sorry state of affairs with humanity will turn against itself. I do believe he is outback giving the orders. Henry said he winged him before expiring.”

“We are sorry for your losses, sergeant but know for the good of the Crown you will carry on.” Ms. Sage patted his arm sympathetically. “I take it you have not been able to get word to the castle for backup?”

“We sent a runner, mmm, maybe ten minutes ago.” The short haired and rather stocky man snorted. “I was afraid help would come too late. Then you two angels came diving in.”

“One might say we have a tendency to do that if they have a flare for the dramatic.” Obviously Ms. Thyme did not from the flatness in her voice. She did however remained posed in an artful fashion by instinct alone, graceful and predatory. “Half an hour past would put us within minutes of the sluagh discovering the key to what it is here for. I suspect that is no coincidence, Ms. Sage.”

“I would think not.” Nodding in agreement the somber woman turned back to Hathaway. “How many men do you have here at the moment sergeant? I cannot fathom that we did arrived before the sluagh but in its pause we may find some recourse.”

“You want to storm the backyard don’t you?” Rubbing at his face the military man sighed deeply. “Ten, maybe eleven that are in good fighting shape, ma’am.”

“If there is any storming this evening it shall be done by my sister and myself, sergeant so please do bot fret.” Ms. Sage was reassuring by words and hand-pat. “We will just need everyone who can fire their sidearm to do so. Under such cover the two of us should be able to reach their lines and dispatch them with minimal effort.”

“Faster than it takes to stop a squad of redcaps.” Ms. Thyme added in and moved into the dining room, trailing for the kitchen now that gunfire had died down. Her weapons began to hum as they drew kinetic energy from the turning of internal gears. Apparently the mechanized revenant wanted to get down to business. There was something about turncoats that always propelled her toward the edge of showing emotion.

“As she said.” Not moving Ms. Sage waited for Hathaway’s answer. Even if they could pull rank the Thistle Sisters were clearly giving the man a choice.

It was not one he dwelled on for long. “Give me five minutes to get everyone rounded up and in position, Ms. Sage. We’ll give those traitors something to duck their heads over so you two can lop them off.”

“Splendid.” Flashing a pretty smile the brunette started to drift after Ms. Thyme but stopped short. “There is a mausoleum at the back of the estate, yes?”

“Yes. From what I understand this place has been in the Thorn family for quite a long time.” Hathaway scowled. “Is Miss Thorn alright, do you know? I guess with all the other backstabbing going on that she actually didn’t off the Colonel.”

“She did not and is in capable hands. I am sure once she has recovered from this ordeal she shall be pleased to know of your worry, sergeant. I shall not keep you any longer. Once your men start firing we shall be on the move. Do not wait for our signal.” Ms. Sage offered a quieter smile as she left him standing there. “We shall move on yours.”

She found Ms. Thyme leaned against one of the kitchen’s fine counters with swords splayed to the side and tapping one toe. Verdant greens met gold flex hazel before both women nodded to one another.

“How do you feel about leaving Mr. Carson with Miss Thorn?” With a light air of curiosity Ms. Sage positioned herself by the door and rapped armored accessory against the side of her leg. The door had enough bullet holes for hellish light to seep in. Her gaze however was tilted sideways to catch the expected lack of reaction on the blade-mistress’ part.

“He is capable of handling her I think even if he often risks his life too often and too easily for others. I am still at a loss as to why Mr. Thistle saw fit to offer him a position within the Circle.” Ms. Thyme turned her face away, wet hair sliding to obscure any expression, if there even was none. “It is not my place to question him though.”

“Mr. Thistle has his reasons. I am afraid I am not at liberty to speak onto them.” Whistling out a breath the black-clad woman moved to peer out of one of the bullet holes – after pushing her glasses down. “It should not be too tough of a time for the pair of us from the look I got coming in, sister dear. We shall just have to keep our tempers in check even dealing with such swine.”

“Your temper in check.” Ms. Thyme laid the point as gently as she could. Everyone knew that Ms. Sage had a bit of an anger problem as much as she had an issue with being unemotional. Then again as Ms. Thyme saw it she was merely a machine with a covering to make her more comfortable for human consumption. “I doubt I will ever fathom what drives men to abandon their own race so willingly to serve the fomorians. Especially those who have rank within the good King’s service.”

“I suspect if we are able to take any of them alive they shall either go on about humanity’s servitude is certain and they wanted a better deal or the more recent claptrap about the fomorians being returned Gods. I blame the Irish for that, just no telling Ms. Rosemary.” Cheeky Ms. Sage didn’t comment on the temperament issue. Above and around them the reports of friendly fire began in earnest. Ms. Thyme made an after you motion to which Ms. Sage merely opened the door and charged out with umbrella spread. The gunfire was intense on both sides as the shield maiden surged forward with the swordswoman keeping time with her movement two steps behind. Guns were eventually turned on them but by then the pair had already made it three fourths of the way to the first nest of traitors.

Ms. Thyme cart-wheeled away from the cover her sister provided her and slammed feet first into a once lovely statue of a woman who had already lost a great deal of her head and one arm. The pistons in her boots fired creating a roaring shower of large stones chunks which peppered the opposition. The mere men there ducked down with startled yells. She tumbled elegantly forward and after a swift step took a steam-enhanced skip. As the soaked woman soared through red-stained air she curved her body over itself once and came down boot first into the head and shoulders of the central turncoat. For the third time in seconds the pistons churned and the man’s upper half exploded on impact. Such brutal tactics had been designed to take down metal fairies and were perhaps too unclean to use on enemies of flesh and bone but it sent those nearby running for their lives instead of concentrating their fire on her. Never stopping Ms. Thyme kept ticking away and pounced forward to plunge her swords into one of the fleeing traitors.

In the mean time Ms. Sage had taken to the skies moments after Ms. Thyme began the assault. Drifting up on the umbrella she didn’t bother to take potshots at the fleeing gents knowing Sergeant Hathaway and his men would do their best to clean up that part of the mess. Instead she scanned over the emplacements the enemy had taken up from above. Many of the amoral soldiers were gathered at the front of the mausoleum, using the elder edifice and its statuary for cover. One figure was shouting orders and near him gleaming canvas was pulled away from a heavy Gatling gun. Within breaths Ms. Thyme would be within optimal range and the Spaniard didn’t want to risk with all that firepower a lucky shot cutting the black haired woman down for good. Ms. Sage tilted the umbrella to sail forward before closing off the cavorite core enough to slow fall down. While she was not nearly as prescience on the other end of a barrel as Ms. Parsley the somber woman did have considerable sharpshooting talents. Squinting behind glasses she put three small caliber bullets into the man lining up to operate the chain gun then two into the man still holding tarp before touching earth.

While it would not stop the heavy emplacement from being used it would buy them time. Instead of hunkering down behind the shade Ms. Sage snapped it closed and slung the heavy chunk of steel in a hard line for which she presumed was the treacherous commander. Even as the man tried to dive for cover it struck him firmly in the gut. Ms Sage splayed fingers as the powerful magnets in her forearms sucked power from coiled copper and crystal heart. With practiced ease she remotely opened the umbrella and then shields over its anti-gravity device. The man’s yelp was cut short as he smashed against and then was dragged up the crypt’s side. Via a hard jerking motion the dusky construct called her shade back to hand. By then bullets were slamming into her body and she needed it for protection.

That need had a rather limited life span. Bolting not for makeshift gun emplacement but to her sister’s aid Ms. Thyme sprinted headlong toward her back. At the tick when every action aligned properly in a temporal sense her boots shuddered and the blade mistress was catapulted up and over the shield-maiden. There was no bloody flourish when she landed this time before the gaggle of armed men but it was soon to follow, her armaments sang as she hacked and slashed. The backstabbing rabble didn’t have a chance.

Freed up from her concerns Ms. Sage moved for the Gatling gun before anyone else could get near. The shade was shut and swung gold swing style into the most delicate parts of the weapon. It only took one blow to ruin it she gave it a second whack just to make sure. Spinning on a heel she flared the parasol behind her shoulder in a classic cover model stance and peered down at the man wearing Lieutenant stripes and now a great deal of bruising.

“Lawson I presume? I am quite afraid I must inform you of your dishonorable discharge.” The somber woman’s smile was cutting. As Lawson fumbled for his sidearm with a busted barrel she lifted one foot and ground it down into the offending arm. “Now now, no last minute villainy I am afraid. As you can no doubt hear, since clearly you cannot move your neck much, those screams are Ms. Thyme dispatching the last of your men. Where is the sluagh?”

“Where do you think you daft cow?” The last word of Lawson’s trailed off into an intense sound of pain as Ms. Sage applied all the pressure she could with metal frame to back it up.

“No need to be rude, sir.” The edges of Ms. Sage’s lips lifted in cold satisfactions as bones crunched under heel. “I take it that the machine is already within.”

“Servant of the Divine!” The traitor wailed but had not any strength to resist. Ms. Sage merely sniffed at the exclamation. Clearly Lawson was of the second sort of betrayer.

Ms. Thyme had no questions to ask the man but did pause as she strode for the cracked mausoleum doors and shook her head slowly at her sister. “We have no time to waste, Ms. Sage.”

“Of course. My apologies.” After swatting Lawson into unconsciousness the black-clad construct followed. Following a spin along dainty shoulder the umbrella was closed once more and Ms. Sage used it to give Ms. Thyme an after you.

This time the expressionless killer was all too happy to oblige. Carefully she stepped over the threshold before pointing down to the crude tripwire with the tip of one blade so Ms. Sage would be wary of it. The sluagh or its zealots had clearly expected the firing line to be broken at some point. Deep green eyes narrowed as they failed to adjust to the darkness of the tomb. Plunging one sword down into the stone floor so it would keep Ms. Thyme felt about the side of her corset, running a finger along external boning to find the correct hidden pocket. Prying it open with a pop the treated glass and brass vial within was shook violently until internal casings cracked and chemicals mixed. Even as low blue glow spilled out of the modern device she tossed it away rather than giving any lurkers a fine place to shoot. No attack came.

The house of the dead’s interior was typical with the usual cubby holed coffins, name plates and Christian iconography. In the middle of the cramped room were three free laying marble and granite sarcophagi, one of which was currently topless. Pulling sword back into hand Ms. Thyme lifted her chin in that direction. “Down it seems.”

“I agree.” Ms. Sage gave the room another once over before moving to the coffin’s edge. There wasn’t a corpse inside but hidden stairs descending into shade. She fetched out her own glow-rod and once it was lit to life tossed it down the steps. The sluagh, if it was down there, would have already realized they were coming. Off to the side was the splintered top of stone and gears that betrayed there was a mechanical mean to get it off. Apparently the fairy had been in too much of a hurry to bother figuring out how. “Savages.”

‘Indeed. Am I going down first or you?” Even as Ms. Thyme put for her query the Spaniard pulled away from the lip of hidden stairwell as bullets dotted it. From the cadence between each bullet’s strike and the lack of sound there was no doubt they came from the sluagh. After a faint cracking of glass the light down there dimmed but was not extinguished. No doubt the robotic terrorist had thought it wise to stomp out the vial but now its lower body was glowing. The second obsessed sister didn’t wait for an answer but dove over the long side of the sarcophagus. Ms. Thyme’s shoulder struck hard against stone steps but she let gravity roll her as it wanted as hot lead sliced overhead. The reckless maneuver was sure to catch the sluagh off guard.

It did. The automata turned its guns down and was lit a spectral blue by splashed chemicals soaked into shroud. This time however the situation was on Ms. Thyme’s side. She curved into a finely executed upward thrust that sank deep into the metal beast’s chest. While the its hellstone center was missed the thing was forced to pull back, its last few shots spent trying to hit her but failing. Withdrawing deeper into the secret office below the sluagh called up necromantic mist. The doorway was doused with wailing spirits that had little more physical form than London’s Fog and were in truth half as deadly. Unable to be unnerved as others were Ms. Thyme took the plunge forward and was followed quickly by Ms. Sage.

If the swordswoman realized anything it was that she was going to have to keep the pressure on lest the sluagh was going to reload and pick them both off. While the ghostly mist obscured vision it actually made the blue glow of the creature’s lower half stick out clearer or at least what general area it was in. Pirouetting fully around once Ms Thyme wished of course that the damn fairy made noise but she threw one of her swords for the center of the light anyway. The sound of the blade digging into steel was rewarding and unmistakable.

“There!” She called to Ms. Sage.

The bespectacled android huffed. “I heard him, Ms Thyme.” Angling her body in that direction Ms. Sage charged umbrella first. She was only able to catch the side of their all but unseen foe but turned as much force of her motion into the sluagh as possible. Over one dropped gun she stepped even as steel talons raked ineffectively at the umbrella. Her brain could feel caresses of fell fomorian magic trying to get in but unlike Becca there was no place for the sluagh to invade.
T
he gear work fey swirled away off balance from the shade and right into Ms. Thyme’s blade. It sliced through one of the creature’s arms and in turn the thing’s claws bit into her wrist trying to tear the hand free. Ms. Thyme allowed her steel and sorcery dance partner to take the lead, curling her body in close while painstakingly crafted phalanges were shredded. Her grip on that sword did loosen but there was a reason to allow such blatant self-destruction to continue. Once she found already imbedded sword with the side of her leg Ms. Thyme gave in fully to the motion the sluagh demanded. Both went wildly off course. At the exact and opportune moment she put all the force she could into the physics of their whirl, lifting the sluagh almost off its feet and into Ms. Sage’s umbrella with a hard clang. Choking fog scattered away from the trio and took a moment to wail and seethe before rushing back in.

With the fairy braced and her timing always impeccable Ms. Thyme gracefully stood on one leg and drove hydraulic enhanced boot into the side of the sword in the sluagh’s leg. Both blade and the appendage that it was attached to came free. By the law of gravity the sluagh was pressed hard against Ms. Sage’s umbrella. Ms. Thyme sacrificed a finger and her other sword to circle away with a shower of cold rainwater from flaring skirt. Ms. Sage would complain about the spatter later if she recalled to. For now the tactician soldiered on and pushed the one-legged clockwork off its foot and into the wall.

The sluagh tried to squirm free, smashing its knee against the umbrella’s bottom while raking claws across its surface. It even drew in the fog as close and as dense as it could to try and scare or force Ms. Sage away with all the grasping hands tugging at her body and clothes with bare insubstantiality. Unswayed the devoted defender kept the fairy pressed to the wall.

“Ms. Thyme if you would perhaps show some quickness and finish this monstrosity off?” Ms. Sage felt metal bones under faux flesh twitching and gears grinding as their adversary fought tooth and nail for freedom.

Instead of going on about how patience was a virtue Ms. Thyme was counting down in her head now long she had until logistically the sluagh would break free. Thus she was moving with a rather calm and careful manner trying to find one of two swords. Why was she always losing track of them lately? Her toe made one weapon skitter and she crouched ladylike to scoop it up. “Ah.”

“Ms. Thyme!” Voice growing more insistent Ms. Sage twisted at her waist trying to keep the sluagh pinned and felt that at any moment she was going to fail.

“Please.” Strolling back over Ms. Thyme narrowed her eyes and tried to assess exactly where the automata’s head was. She took in a slow breath that made combat corset creak and raised her sword. “We have at the very least fifteen more seconds before it even has a chance to get free statistically. Hold it firmly there if you would.”

With one precise swing the sluagh’s head was cleaved in two from top of skull down to solid jaw hinge. Just to be sure Ms. Thyme tilted her wrist and drew the whining edge through the fairy’s throat. All semblance of life drained from the machine. Without chaos and fear the sluagh was as easily dispatched as any other fomorian robot. They lacked the human ability to adapt. The Thistle Sister’s did not.

One feminine growl latter Ms. Sage had pushed the inert sluagh aside and moved off to find a light switch. She eventually came across a chord and once it was tugged Tesla lights sparked. Sliding off her glasses she shut the umbrella and schooled irritation from her tone before speaking to Ms. Thyme. “Well done I suppose, Ms. Thyme. I would have prefer if you would not have dallied but in the end things ended up as they needed to be. Have a look under the shroud would you why I take stock of the situation.”

Nodding the black haired killer first fetched her other sword and stored both away before doing as told. In the meantime Ms. Sage took a slow turn to take in the room and found it was thoroughly ransacked. She tugged at the side of her sleeve and was frankly at a loss where to begin. There were files labeled for your eyes only scattered everywhere and the locked cabinets they were once in rent open. There was a desk in one corner next to a lovely china cabinet full of liquor bottles and photographs. This obviously was the dear departed Colonel’s home away from home, his place to think.

“I… I find it hard to believe he is gone.” The somber woman commented off-handedly.

In counterpoint first Ms. Thyme merely shrugged, running gloved fingers over the sluagh’s chassis, feeling where her blade sliced through metal and getting a good look of the still pulsing shard at its core. Motes of crimson light dripped from the alien rock. On the inside of the machines shroud there was a hidden pocket within which she found the papers it had apparently came for. She was sure to make a smidge of noise taking them out before holding them up while she remained crouched. “Humans are fragile and transitory creatures, Ms. Sage. It may sound callous but there is a reason why I do not make attachments to them.”

“It is callous.” There was little reason to deny it. Ms. Sage slid glasses back into place and picked carefully through the already trampled mess to her sister. The papers were taken and rolled open so she could glance over them. What the devil was so important to cause such an afair? “We were human once, Ms. Thyme. We serve and protect them so there is nothing wrong with having investment there in.”

“I am afraid that we shall disagree on that point, Ms. Sage.” Dipping her chin the hard hearted clockwork continued to inspect the felled prey. She’d never actually seen a sluagh up close like this. Their form was certainly more artistic than a simple redcap or brutish troll. It was a pity that such marvelous constructs were put to such diabolical tasks. Sometimes Ms. Thyme wondered exactly what would the world be like of the fomorians were not invaders but partners with mankind. Such musings were pipedreams. Every overture of peace had ended bloodily and by the moonmen’s hands. The only place where the two races mixed with only mild conflict was Cork. The neutral city was by all accounts a cesspool. “Well what is it?”

Ms. Sage flipped through the papers with amazing speed, gleaning what she could with a difference engine’s acumen. “Work on the hellstones. It seems to be quite a bit of research on the various shards that have been gathered from fairies over the years. Hrm, there are some interesting ideas for applications to human weaponry including a full scale cannon meant to-“

“That is quite enough, Ms. Sage.” Major Archie Vetch cut her off with a stern look and swipe of his hand. The bad moustache was still in place and his rat-like features were crushed together in agitation. Five able-bodied and heavily armed men came down the stairs after him and swept over the room with their guns despite the fact there was no threat. The Major slid off his hat and smoothed a hand through his carrot red hair. “These are Crown secrets after all and I hardly need you blurting them out to everyone.”

“Major.” The only reason Ms. Sage nodded in agreement was because the room was full of soldiers. Her lips did form a tight line and brows a displeased V when Vetch made a hand it over motion for the papers. Still she did so. “As you can see we have the situation well in-“

“Do you now, really?” The man lifted his chin before gesturing about with the pilfered file. “The Colonel’s office is a trash heap and there are sensitive documents out there. The backyard is a corpse strewn battlefield and his house is even worse. Likewise Miss Thorn is still at large.”

“She had nothing to do with this.” Turning as she stood Ms. Thyme focused passive features on the man, her long lashes didn’t blink even as eyes slid to watch the guards taking up defensive positions. At least the men had lowered their weapons.

“That remains to be determined, Ms. Thyme. This is a military matter.” Curt Major Vetch slid back and gestured to the stairs quietly. “If you ladies would excuse us we do have quite a bit of cleanup and damage control to do.”

Ms. Thyme’s face crinkled.

“After one question, Major.” Resolute Ms. Sage did not kowtow to the underling who was no doubt going to try and use this tragedy to gain position. Both hands curled over the crook of her umbrella as she pointed it down at the floor.

“I really do not have the time.” He tried to give her the brush off.

The edges of Ms. Sage’s dark lips lifted. “Then you shall just have to answer quickly. Who assigned Lieutenant Lawson to secure the manor here?”

“Myself.” Vetch answered after a pause and it was clear he wasn’t pleased with what might be implied by that. “He has an outstanding service record.”

“Had.” Drawing up behind her sister’s shoulder the shortest sister let her face relax.

“Indeed. Well as pleasant as your company always is. Please leave.” Bordering on rude the Major gestured hard once more.

Ms. Sage offered a curtsy and Ms. Thyme echoed the empty gesture before they both moved to the narrow stairs and up. Outside the tomb they found more of Vetch’s handpicked men standing guard and the back estate swarming with doughboys cleaning everything up.

“Quite suspicious do you not agree?” Ms. Thyme murmured.

“Quite. I think we shall fetch Mr. Carson and Miss Thorn straight away and abscond to the castle no? I am sure Mr. Thistle would like to speak to the young lady first and put her under his protection,” Ms. Sage wrinkled her nose. “Before that rat gets his grubby little hands on her.”

“That sounds like a fine idea. If you would please, the umbrella. I am sick of the rain.” Gesturing to the sky Ms. Thyme’s tone remained placid.

“Then you serve in the wrong country, sister.” Pop! The umbrella was open once more.

Above Balor’s Eye retreated back behind cloud cover.

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Verse Three

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