Out from the dark tunnels of the ghouls and the gugs, the group are blinded by the whitewashed walls and brass minarettes of Celephais, a human city on the other side of the sea. After days of rough travel, some of the party are looking forward to the comfort and familiarity of city living. For Peggy, Celephais was the last destination of the long lost Noel Hagan and confrontation with shadows from her past.
“I’m telling you I can’t be seen in public like this, look at me.” Rain complained as the group left the stone steps leading off the cliffside and entered the city of Celephais proper. Whitewashed wall of stunning beauty lined the narrow alleyway of cobblestone. The city had the look of a place newly renovated, the grime of city living covered by a new coat of paint.
In contrast, the party was a mess. After three days of hard travel, their clothes were sour and dusty, many had bloodstains from their numerous fights and none had bathed in days. Rain was most affected. Usually decently metrosexually presented, his white rainbow suit that he’d been so pleased within Halloween, had not weathered the days of travel and battle well. Crumpled, rumpled and dirty, with a large tear on the shoulder from the aurumuorax attack he was mortified at the thought of having to interact with people in this condition.
“They may be all Lang and bad, so it won’t matter.” Said Bruce glancing around at windows and doorways looking for the life of this city. The low mumble of voices was slowly increasing as they moved closer to the heart of this civilisation.
“That’s even worse, how can you face an enemy down looking like a bagman.”
Soon the alleyway opened up into the main thoroughfare and the group saw Celephais for the first time. The city was a bustling, happy enough community of humans. Everywhere people were going about their everyday lives, chatting, bartering, arguing, carousing. Their style of clothing marked this community as inspired by the middle east. Men wore long loose robes like thobe with loose pants beneath. Women’s dress was more decorative but equally loose gowns with long colourful shawls they used to protect themselves from the sun’s glare.
The city was busy, vibrant and beautiful. Bruce and Rain looked out at the colour and life with a renewed sense of adventure. Peggy was blind to everything except tall lanky men. With nervous excitement and not a little trepidation, she expected to see him at a stall or turning and corner and her stomach would do summersaults or make her feel sick in equal measure. Only Algernon looked out at the beauty of the city and scowled.
“It seems too…nice.” He grumbled behind the group as they spotted a bathhouse, decorated in colourful glazed tiles. Rain made straight for the entrance as the other more circumspectly picked their way through the crowd.
“I don’t want to go to the baths.” Algernon protested after Bruce and Peggy had completed their own self-assessment and felt a bath was in order. Peggy turned to Algernon who instantly flinched away covering his ears.
“No, I will refrain from pulling your ears if you will join us for a bath like a civilised person.” She said, stunning Algernon who quickly complied in case there was a hidden catch.
As with other recursions, the group found they have the local currency, a collection of red gems.
“Oh, and I’d love a set of your local garb, do you think that could be arranged?” Rain asked, stripping off his coat there in the foyer.
“Ah, we’d love new clothes.” Bruce altered and Rain negotiated a price. It was more than he wanted to pay, but the baths awaited and he didn’t try too hard to negotiate.
Surprisingly, the baths were open and men and women bathed together. Rain and Algernon did not waste time and were soon amongst a group of young chatty women. Bruce looked at the small bathing towels on offer.
“I think you should know that I’m bigger than this.” He then saw Peggy and pointed her out to the other two. She alone stood at the side of the baths fully dressed with a towel in front of her. With a moment’s thought and a theatrical wave of a wrist, Rain made a screen of opaque material around her so she could undress in privacy. Soon she was also out in the pool, a little distance from the others a towel firmly wrapped around her.
“So, have you sussed out the local customs in regards to seducing local women?” Bruce said by way of reproach to Rain who would have none of it. The was in his element, and with a sly smile, he replied.
“No, what me to ask for you?”
A large blonde headed man rippling with muscles joined the group and was soon chatting comfortably with the girls. From her quieter corner of the pool, Peggy could see a shimmer, something like a heat haze around the well-manicured Viking. As she watched him, her vision seemed to pierce an illusion and beyond the muscles, she could see another human, very similar in appearance, with less bulk to him. Her instincts told her he was not from around here, but a traveller like themselves. Carefully, she made her way over to the group and touched Rain’s arm.
“I’m done here, I’ll see you outside.” She said ignoring the cool stares from the girls in the group. In her head she pointed out their nordic friend, “He’s not what he seems?”
“Thanks, Peggy, see you outside then,” He replied and quietly meeped a message to Algernon sharing Peggy’s suspicions.
“Oh, so you speak the language of the ghouls.” The Nord commented conversationally and instantly Rain thought they were caught out.
“You speak ghoul?!” It had taken both Algernon’s knowledge and Rain’s knack for language to decipher the meep, clicks and chirps of the ghoul. Even then, it had taken Alfred’s friendship and a large meat meal to ingratiate to ghoul to them.
“Oh no, I can’t speak it. I’ve heard it in the catacombs under the blighted city. How is it you are fluent?”
“Algernon here has studied languages extensively and I tend to pick languages up like bad penny’s.” Rain relaxed back into the pool, pleased to be able to show off their abilities, even as Algernon scowled at the openly sharing of such information. “We’ve only just come from there.”
“Ah, “He also laid back in the warmth of the water and seemed to relax, “Yes, I ended that dream pretty quickly, there are more interesting places to visit than that ruin. The name’s Anders Ohlson.” The Nord reached out a hand in the standard western gesture and Rain reached across and took it.
“Pavel, so you are Herb user?”
“Are there other ways of travelling?”
“Several, we use a…group meditation.” Rain ad-libbed. It wasn’t far from the truth and avoided having to answer other questions about the spark, “Where are you from?”
“I live in New York,” Anders replied and Rain internally dithered. His old workplace was a known provider of the dreamwalkers herb, it was likely they knew the same people.
“Ha, all the way the other side of…wherever we are and we meet…neighbours. Well, across the country. We’re from Seattle.”
“New Orleans,” Bruce the proud southerner, intended to be properly identified no matter what Rain’s mischief.
Peggy was soon back in her sodden towel. Their clothes were not ready so she was confined to the bathhouse if she liked it or not. Having now been introduced to Anders she joined the others in the bath.
“What other places have you travelled to, Mr Ohlsen?” Bruce asked and Anders sat back and thought.
“The Vaults of Zin, Ulthar, that’s another lovely town, but my favourite so far has to be Celephais. Time seems to work a little differently here.”
Algernon, who had not been shy about his dislike for this new city, finally asked the group, “But, don’t you think this place is icky?”
Rain thought for a moment. He was usually good at seeing through lies and illusions, having made so many himself. Nothing seemed amissed except the fact that everything did seem very clean and well kept. I was like Anders had said, time seemed to work a little differently there. In the end he could only shake his head and shrug.
“We’re following two friends who arrived here a couple of weeks ago.” Giving no names, Peggy described Noel and his moustached companion.
“The shorter one, yes I’ve seen him around. He was out in the market place only an hour ago.”
Peggy instantly became agitated. She wanted out, but without clothing was stuck.
“Tell me, how often do you use the herb?”
“Whenever I can afford it.” He said, seemingly deflecting the question. Algernon scanned his surface thoughts and found a worry that there may be a problem with supply.
He wanted to know about the herb as well, He thought and an image of a moustache man in a pith helmet flashed in his mind.
Meanwhile, Rain was putting on the charm and Anders seemed to relax his position on telling these strangers his secrets, “In New York? Where do you get it from?”
“I get my Bywandine from a barman at a nightclub called The Last Shot.” Refraining from wincing, Rain could hear Peggy thinking about the herbs, her mind linked to something beyond.
Bywandine…bywandine…what is there to know?
In response, an answer in Peggy’s own mental voice replied,
A herbal concoction made of opium and plants from the Dreamlands. There was no spiral dust in the mix at all. It was now clear that there were two distinct drugs and one was much older than the other, at least in its use on Earth.
“I’m curious, “ Bruce asked as Rain shared Peggy’s information with Algernon, “Do you ever get hurt while dreaming?”
“No, I tend to leave the dream before it gets serious.” He looked at the group and their collection of scars and scrapes, “Are you telling me that you travelled through the catacombs knowing you could get hurt?”
Rain looked to the others before admitting, “We do not dream these worlds, we walk them for real. There’s no part of us back at home unconscious and safe. But I’d suggest that death here could be as serious for you as it would be for us.”
“Yes…” Anders looked at the group as if with new eyes. “You all are braver than you look.”
By this time the whole group were more relaxed with their new friend.
“You may want to know that we met a friend of mine among the ghoul. He, like you travelled using the Bywandine and one trip he got stuck, he thought he’d had a bad lot of herb.”
“Bad herbs?” Now Anders looked concerned, “I didn’t know that could happen, who was this friend?”
“A Seattle local, you wouldn’t know him.” Rain lied smoothly only to be berated by Peggy in his mind.
Why not tell him the guys name, what is it going to hurt?
Too close to home. They both bought the drugs from the Last Shot so it’s not unreasonable to imagine they could have met.
“His name was Brian,” Peggy told Anders and Rain mentally rolled his eyes.
He was Alfred, you met the man.
“Oh sorry, Alfred.” She apologised and Rain could only sink into the hot water of the bath.
“Yeah, I think that Rain…ah Pavel forgets who he is sometimes,” Bruce added. Rain considered drowning. “So how do you travel via the herbs?”
“Well, mostly I climb the seventy steps of Light Slumber and walk through the Cavern of Flame, but sometimes I come here directly.”
“You mean you get to choose where you go?”
“If I think about it.”
“Where would you recommend going here in Celephais?”
“There’s the Turquoise Temple, the bathhouses of course, the ocean view from the docks is quite lovely, but stay away from the Black Galleys from Sarkomand.”
“We saw those,” Peggy said remembering the line of people being ushered onto the ships, “They’re slavers, do they trade in slaves here too?”
“No…” Anders baulked when he heard this new information, “They mostly trade red gems for general goods, food, supplies of onyx.”
Algernon and Rain looked at each other at the mention of onyx remembering the gem that the dead Lang had coughed up. Rain shared that image with Peggy who shared some information of her own.
The red gems, they make them from the human slaves.
Rain went gray at the thought and even Bruce noticed that there was something wrong.
“They’re made of people.” He meeped to Algernon who doesn’t seem surprised.
“They probably do it through the burns.” He meeped back, and instantly Rain translated it to Peggy.
As Bruce was out of the link, he had been thinking about what Algernon had said about the city feeling wrong.
“Algernon, tell me more about the ‘icky’ feeling of yours?” He said off to one side, away from the rest.
“It’s too nice.” Algernon scowled distrustfully of the seeming beauty around him, “there’s always a trade off. It’s not right.”
“There are stories that they sail to the moon in those black ships.” Anders was telling the group, “ I met a guy who went there. He’d been kidnapped by the Lang, but he was eventually freed by a group of cats. What was his name…Randolph…Carter.”
“Cats?” Bruce said, thinking back to the cat that had spoken to Peggy, “Why, what was he doing on the moon?”
“He was obsessed with finding some place, a city of the gods called Kadarth. He was captured on his way there and taken to the moon.”
A bathhouse attendant walked over and informed the group that their clothing was ready for them whenever they had finished. Peggy couldn’t wait and left directly without a goodbye or thanks to the informative Anders Olhson. Bruce and Rain gave their goodbyes to Anders as well as the ladies that had made the hour or so such a delight. Algernon asked Anders for his email address, which he gladly gave the young man with a promise to keep in touch once they were back Earthside again.
When the men joined Peggy in the changing rooms she was already fully dressed in a long loose-fitting robe in a tan colour. Around the v-necked collar and tight cuffs, lavish embroidery in silk featured pastel flowers. Underneath she wore harem pants, but nothing would part her from her Doc Martens which looked a little idiosyncratic contrasted with the light flowing material. The men were all in simple long tunics and trousers in various pastel colours, again tight only at the cuffs and ankles. Bruce shifted and growled about wearing a dress and Rain preened in front of a polished bronze mirror.
“You know, I could get use to this, “Rain mused, “lots of room for pockets and I make it look good.”
“Hey, so do I.” Bruce stood beside his diminutive friend in the mirror, the usually loose fitting tunic stretching tight across his chest and biceps. He tried moving the tunic around to get it to sit on his heavy frame.
“You would if you stopped fidgeting.” Rain turned and straightened Bruce’s collar, pulled uneven.
Once back on the street the group were happy for the new lightweight clothing. As the day advanced, the heat and light of a sun directly above baked the open city streets. Following the directions given by Anders they soon found some relief in the marketplace, a semi-covered group of narrow alleyways and small streets full of stall owners and shopkeepers spruking their wares. As usual the groups response to the bustle of life around them varied. Peggy,determined to at least solve the question of Noel, went from shopkeeper to shopekeeper asking if they’d seen a tall lanky man or his moustached friend. Rain moved through the crowd as if born to them, alighting at a stall that caught his eye, chatting a while before moving on, delighted with everything he saw. Bruce, didn’t so much as move through the crowd, as the crowd moved around him. He walked like a predator, comfortable in this space but alway watchful. Algernon tried to keep to the centre of the party at all times. Everything around was assessed for possible threats before being dismissed or carefully circumnavigated. The only time he spoke was to nag Peggy about looking for cyphers.
“Anything strange remember, Peggy. Cyphers.” He’d whisper as she marched across the souq to another seller interested in her attention. At this stall of trinkets of various lineages, a leather-bound journal caught Peggy’s eye. Now better attuned to the Strange, the item shivered like a heat illusion. Peggy was just about to point it out when Bruce picked it up and started scanning through the pages.
“A gentleman weathering an odd hat and a large moustache was seen here in the marketplace today. He is a friend and we’re trying to catch up with him, have you seen him?”
“Hmm, I couldn’t say. So many people in the market. Maybe if the lady peruses my wares a moment I can gather my thoughts…yes, I believe a man like that was in the markets today…”
As Peggy dickered with the shopkeeper, Rain’s attention was drawn to Bruce. The journal he’d picked up had his total attention. Madly flicking through pages of the handwritten journal, Bruce put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of the red gems.
“How much?” He asked without raising his eyes from the book.
“Two gems, a unique item that one.” The shopkeeper smiled. Bruce did not question the price and just paid the two gems.“Two gems, for a pre-used book. Surely, now that you’ve overcharged us for a half useless item, maybe you can remember a little more about my friend?”
“Certainly, he was also looking for two friends. He was told that a tall lanky man with a hooked nose and another heavy set gentleman were at the docks.”
On hearing the description of the two individuals, moustache himself had been looking for all thoughts of Bruce and his journal fled Rain’s mind. Instead the looming character of Eldin Lightfeather and his goon in a bowler hat. That image, instantly sent to Peggy, made her start.
“We have to go, now!” She said aloud with no further explanation and started down the hill to the docks.
“What?” Algernon asked, “Will Robertson?”
“Yes,” Rain replied, starting to move after Peggy, “And hell, we’re running in the wrong direction!”
“Wait….what? Will Robertson?” Bruce, only half hearing the conversation and only catching a quarter, tucked away his latest acquisition and followed the others as they moved rapidly towards the docks.
The docks of Celephais were as bright and clean as the rest of the city. Half a dozen wharves stuck out into calm azure waters as their crews were busy loading or unloading, repairing or cleaning. On the landside, pubs full of shore-leave sailors caroused happily in the sun. It was a place of industry, and jovial companionship. All except the far docks where a black sailed ship was quiet. Peggy saw the black ship and made a beeline straight to it only stopping for the guard on the gangplank.
“Have you seen these men?”She described to the Lang as she had all morning.
“Here’s a gem, does that help loosen your tongue?”
The sailor thought for a moment.
Giving up she started walking along the docks in the hope of seeing any one of her quarries.
Meanwhile, the others were just arriving at the docks. Rain made a hat with a heavy brim out of the stuff of dreams to hide his face, he wasn’t interested in gaining the attention of Mr Lightfeather. Both Rain and Algernon spot an oddly eccentric fellow walking out of a bar. Wearing a legitimate turn of the 19th-century safari suit and pith hamlet and growing the most preposterous moustache, he had to be their man.
“What animals do you think he most looks like, a walrus…The Lorax?” Algernon asked as Rain pointed out the man to Peggy via the telepathic link. As soon as she orientated her view to match, she quickened her pace and started marching towards the man. Unfortunately, Algernon, Rain and Bruce were not the only ones paying attention to proceedings. Bruce spotted them first, dressed in the local style, though they were not locals. One even tried to hide his white skin with a badly wrapped turban. Looking at each other as soon as Peggy came into view, they started forward. They looked decidedly, unfriendly.
“Hey, watch out. Someone’s coming, seven o’clock.” Bruce murmured to the boys as he stepped up to intercept the first of the two men.
“What? It has to be well past twelve…” Rain started to say before spotting the two men Bruce had referred to. “ Oh, right you are.”
All the time, Peggy was moving ever closer to the moustached man. She passed under a tree planted for shade on the docks. From its bows a small cat fell onto her, obscuring her vision and alerted her quarry. He turned to see Peggy struggling with the cat and was off down the docks.
“Let me work here!” Peggy said, grabbing the cat and holding it to her shoulder. The cat wriggled free and she let it go, freeing her hand for a new purpose. Rolling her hand over each other she drew on the Strange to create a plasma ball which she hurled, hitting the ground in front of the moustached man. It worked, stopping him in his tracks.
Just behind the two men turned to look across the docks to a third big lad with a heavy hammer and muttonchop sideburns. He nodded and hefted his hammer onto his back.
“We need to get Dr Peggy some earcuffs.” Algernon said just as Rain started off to intercept hammerman.
“Where is he?” Peggy placed a heavy hand on the moustached man’s shoulder, a bolt from her hand crossbow in her other hand, “Any word other than direction will result in loss of blood.”
“What do you want with him?” Moustached man said in a heavy Victorian English Accent and not too little trepidation.
Peggy didn’t answer, just cut the man with the bolt.
“Excuse me, “ Rain stepped up in front of Hammerman and sending out a wave of Strange energy enthralled the man to stillness, “I was hoping you’d help me stop a bloodbath here today.”
Peggy’s eyes grew large with the thrill of power she had over the little man. She smiled a malicious grin moustached man who could do nothing but try and stumble away from her baleful presence. Her hands like claws, she lashed out to grab him and missed.
Bruce and Rain, however, did not miss the activity occurring on the rooftop just above the Peggy and moustached man scene. A gaunt individual with a large hooked nose shouted orders and pointed menacingly in Rain’s direction to a second man in a red woollen cap setting up a crossbow. Rain’s eyes narrowed as he realised that the thin man was not the dreaded Mr Lightfeather, but the backstabbing Caw eh Carve, last of Railsea and former henchmen of Don Wyclef Drood. With only a slight shuffle to one side, he placed the big hammer-guy between himself and the crossbowman and hoped he was a lousy shot. With his orders given, Caw eh Carve walked out of sight. The crossbowman shot was true and Rain had to dodge, breaking the enthral. Hammer-guy looked down at the little man in front of him, his hammer ready.
Bruce walked up to the turbaned man and took a defensive stance.
“Stop there friend.” He said, crowbar in his hands. In response, turbaned-man pulled out a falchion and swungs it round to strike Bruce. Bruce lazily batted the falchion away with his crowbar and waited for his chance to strike.
After the first bolt sizzled across the docks, Algernon stepped back quickly, not to pull his own lethal crossbow, but to get a better view of the shooter. As soon as he spotted the crossbowman on the roof, he flung the power of the Strange out like a huge hand, capturing the bowman and levitating him into the air with a yelp.
Peggy, on the other hand, was in full control. She knew she could burn him if she wanted, and lapped up the power she had over the man. Moustached man took one look at her wild face and bolted, gaining a burn to the back of neck as he made a break for it.
“I don’t usually like hurting people, but I need to know. Where is Noel?” She pounced, grappling him to the ground.
By this time hammer-guy was back in control of himself again and about to move when, Rain once more used enthral, “I’d rather you not get involved in what’s going on over there.” He said, as he felt her wild exuberance and wondered if he wasn’t in the wrong conversation.
For Bruce, things were going much better. Swinging his crowbar, he clobbered the turbaned-man across the head. The thug swayed on his feet dazed and unable to respond. With a shove, Bruce knocked him down and then sat on him and watched the others with their altercations.
Another crossbow bolt streaked now from above as the crossbowman hung above the docks in Algernon’s levitate. Dodging away, Rain once more lost the enthral on hammer-guy, and once more stared into the eye of the angry thug. He cringed as the hammer-guy lifted his huge sledged over his shoulder, and grinned maliciously. Then the body of the crossbowman fell out of the sky knocking him to the ground. Their heads connected in a sickening crack as both collapsed into a heap at Rain’s feet. Rain looked at the unconscious pile in front of him, the empty air above and then finally over to Algernon who was standing nearby pretending to be an innocent bystander.
“It’s raining men, hallelujah!” Rain sang joyously, to the increasingly disturbed and bemused crowds.
Peggy, her hand inflamed, loomed over the moustached man, the image of a vengeful fire goddess.
“Peggy?” Came a more curious voice from inside the bar to the left. The voice was unmistakable, without thought, the flame went out as Peggy turned to see a tall gangily man with a long pointed nose.
“Noel? Where have you been? You were gone, you were dead!”
“I…I thought I was going to die too. That one saved me, “ Noel pointed to the moustached man only now picking himself out of the dirt and out of Peggy’s reach, “Not that I think he meant to.”
“Gentlemen…” An exuberant Rain jogged up to join Peggy and the two men ready to introduce himself, saw the tension in Peggy and decided to stand quietly by her side instead.
Bruce was trussing up turbanded man when the crossbowman and hammer-guy woke up and start running.
“Catch and keep, Algernon.” He called across the docks. Algernon, who had been scanning the roofline for Caw eh Carve. When it was clear he’d disappeared, Algenon casually turned, spotted the crossbowman and lazily flicked a wrist up. Once more the sniper was pulled out of the grasp of gravity and thrown into the air, far away from any help or safety.
“I was swept up in the mudslide, was falling, battered by rocks and tree trunks when I slid straight into Maximillian Von Candlestick the Third.” Once more he gestured to the man who bowed awkwardly in acknowledgement. In Peggy’s mind, she could feel Rain roll his eyes and say, And you think my names are ridiculous.
Noel bent down closer so his and Peggy heads were almost touching, and whispered, “His real name is Max Brown.” Snapping back to upright, oblivious to how that close proximity had affected Peggy, Noel continued his story, “The world whirled around and suddenly I was in the well-appointed and comfortable library of the Implausible Geographic Society, half a world away.”
Now he looked at Peggy noticed her barely contained demeanour. With not a little trepidation, he asked, “So, how have you been?
The rant that came afterwards was spectacular and mind-numbing in its intensity. Rain, who was still connected telepathically received a double dose and later could not have told you exactly what was said, but knew it had to be at least along the same lines as what she’d already shared with them…possibly with more expletives.
To Noel’s credit, when it finally petered out he did not run or jibber it wasn’t his fault. His response was one of incredulity and shock, (which helped), and with a calmness that obviously won over the conservative holders of university seats of power.
“They think you killed me?
“I had no evidence, nothing. They couldn’t prove anything either of course but that didn’t stop the slurs, the loss of tenure, lab and name. I was reduced to living with Yaya, working out of her garage.” She looked him up and down, searching for any impediments, any injuries and finding none, “And here you are…alive and well! You couldn’t have dropped by? Shown your face? Given in your notice?”
“By that time I’d join the Society and we’re told to break ties, to leave our old lives behind.” He had the good grace to sound bad about it, but Peggy was now feeling more herself.
“Oh, we’ve all broken that one!”
“I knew people thought I was dead…I thought it was easier. The people Maximillian are seeking are dangerous…” His list of excuses used up, he looked down on one of the most dangerous people he was likely to meet.
“No kidding.” She said, finally turning away in something like disappointment, “So, you work with the Implausible…”
“…Geographic Society.” He added, now on firmer ground, “We’re explorers. We check up on dangers to society. We’ve been following the trail of Bywendine for some time.”
Off to one side, Maximilian stood watching the reunion with an inscrutable expression on his face. Rain made his way over to the dishevelled explorer and introduced the party.
“Very pleased to meet you Maximillian, I’m…” He paused, ready with one of his many false names, “…Rain, out there is Bruce and Algernon.” He offered his hand and Maximillian shook it unhesitantly.
“Pleasure, it seems you compatriots have a few friends, “ He carefully, making sure Noel was between him and Peggy, he interrupted the conversation between the two long lost collaborators, “Noel, maybe we should go somewhere and talk to your new friends.”
Noel and Maximillian lead the way to an empty warehouse not far from the docks that they used on occasion while in Celephais. Along came the two thugs, turbaned-guy and crossbowman. Once the captives were secure, Maximilian filled the group in with his own investigations.
“Of course, I’ve been tracking Bywendine for years. It was a clue in Noel’s initial translations of the South American artifact that led me down there myself to be in time for the mudslide. We’ve known there are two organisations involved in the trade of Bywendine, a nasty fellow called Lightfeather… and the group we were following today, lead by James Moriarty.”
Rain, who had gone quiet as Eldin Lightfeather’s name was mentioned, quickly came back to life as soon as James Moriarty was spoken.
“J.M. Peggy, you said the initials on Morris the goblin’s suitcase was J.M. And, Wargen told us that Morris was called ‘Professor’ by some of the townfolk of Halloween, but he didn’t like it!”
“We also saw someone else we knew, Caw eh Carve,” Algernon mentioned, ”He was with the Drood Family out of Crow’s Hollow before earning disfavour by losing two shipments.”
“Yes, and we know that Lightfeather is also in with the Droods… “ Rain stopped, “Ah, but we were told that by Morris the Goblin so that might be suspect information now.”
Noel and Maximillian looked at the group in a new light.
“It seems we’re in the same line of business.” Maximilian finally said, “You don’t happen to belong to The Estate, do you?”
It seemed childish to deny the fact so Peggy took the offensive.
“One moment I’m sitting in Yaya’s garage and next we’re in a fight with Amazon-Mad-Max-Wannabees.”
“Yes, that’s exactly how it happened all right, “ Rain teased, now that Peggy was behaving more like herself, “Just sitting around at Yaya’s, us four-”
“Quite.” Maximilian interrupted, “ I think we need to compare notes, but in the meantime, how do you want to question our two visitors?”
“Separate them and interview them individually, “ Having been thinking about it for a while, Bruce now voiced his own opinion. “Rain and I will take one, Peggy and Algernon can take the other.”
As a group, they went over to where the two thugs were stashed. Algernon had taken from the Crossbowman his very impressive weapon. A heavy crossbow in design, the arm was made from the single jawbone of a gug, the giants of the catacombs. He now cocked it expertly and held it on the two thugs.
“You know we don’t need both,” Algernon said and Rain picked up on the refrain.
“Yes, gentlemen be useful. Algernon says we don’t need both of you and he’s very clever, he does the levitation.” Rain looked pointedly at the sniper who looked a little ill. The two men looked at each other but said nothing.
“Maximillian? They were watching you, do you know them?”
“I’m afraid I’ve been asking questions, none very discreetly. It’s only natural I would collect an audience, but I’m afraid these mudlarks are unknown to me.”
Grabbing the once turbaned-guy, who was disappointingly normal-looking under his wrappings, Bruce dragged him aside for a little private chat.
“Now, I’d suggest you answer this one’s questions, “ Bruce menaced the ruffian, pointing to Rain, “ I don’t like killing people but, I really don’t like what your people are doing to my world and I wouldn’t mind breaking a few fingers.” He leaned in to grab a hand and Rain stifled a cry,
“Oh, I can’t look when you get started.” He said and a frisson of The Strange flowed into the threatened violence. “Please tell us who you work for before it gets…messy.”
“Why…why would I snitch on the boss?” Said de-turbaned guy in an accent that was born within sound of the bells, and music to Rain’s ears. He found it hard not to imitate him.
“Well, let’s see who would that be for starts? It wouldn’t happen to be Don Wyclef Drood would it?”
The thug said nothing, the name didn’t seem to raise a flicker for him.
“No, of course not. You work for the Professor, don’t you?” This time the man’s lips pressed together and his eyes narrowed. He looked more shifty as his pupil’s darted around for an escape.
“So, how do you keep in touch with the Professor? How does he give you orders?”
“Professor don’t give me orders, “ He replied truthfully enough, “I works for Old Fire Top or the toff, that Caw bloke.”
“Caw eh Carve? Yes, we’re old friends. But whose Old Fire Top? Wouldn’t be the big guy I was talking to with the muttonchop sideburns?”
“Toby!” He said, almost laughing, it seemed he didn’t think much of Hammer guy.
“So who then?”
“And what were you to do?”
“We was told there were two nosy parkers sticking their whatits in the bosses business. We was there to give them discouragement.”
“And discouragement, was it six foot under sort of discouragement?” Bruce asked and the thug sneered.
“If it came to it.”
Bruce turned to Rain with a malicious grin on his face, “Do you have anything for making tattoos?”
“No,” Rain looked at Bruce curious as to his friends train of thought, “why?”
“I jus thought we could tattoo “I spilled my guts” on his forehead. He wouldn’t be likely to go back to Old eh Carve in a hurry would he.”
Back in the previous room, now free of Rain in her mind, Peggy reached out a hand and touched the crossbowman. Instantly their mind’s linked.
Who do you work for?
Get out of my head!
Not until you answer my questions, who do you work for?
Who works for?
Good. What does Rodney do for Moriarty?
What the boss says.
What sort of goods?
Now come on, I’m sure a sharp-eyed crossbowman like yourself would see a lot of things.
Bunch of herbs.
Leaving here? Going where?
What’s he get for it?
What kind of money?
This stumped the sniper who, though sharper than the blunt tack in the other room, was no great mind.
We’re paid in pounds.
Red sapphires? She brought up an images of the gems used as currency in her mind.
Seen anything like that before?
He paused again. An image of a heavily wrapped Lang bringing a heavy case to see the boss.
Any changes after that?
New herbs. An image of a thick leafed herb, red in colour appeared. Down the centre, the leaf carried a pretty red and purple variegation.
You’re not local, where are you from?
London. His words didn’t match the pictures in his mind of a foggy, dirty town whose main transport seemed to be horse and carriage.
Not Modern London.
Nah, our London is better. In our London, it’s always the 1890s.
Peggy sat back on her heals and thought for a moment. Another recursion where London never moved out of the 19th century. A recursion that spawned a James Moriarty surely also created his greatest nemesis, Sherlock Holmes.
Heard of Sherlock Holmes?
The boss yells that name sometimes, some nosy nelly who doesn’t know their own business. This last thought was pointed aimed at her and the others. With true Peggy resilience, she ignored him.
How do you get there?
I just think about home, a little swirling feeling and there I am.
Which would mean they would need a key. She looked up at the crossbowman’s knitted cap.
How about that hat of yours, come from there does it?
If his hands hadn’t been tied behind him, he would have snatched it off his head and held the dirty rag to him.
Me mam made it for me.
Peggy thought again, deciding the cap had travelled too far from its home to be a good key, but maybe there was another way. She leaned back in over the sniper.
You wouldn’t want to leave your mam alone, would you? Like, she’d never know what happened to you. You’d just disappear.
What….what do you want?
I’m just saying, you want to go home. We want to go with you.
While Peggy silently questioned the sniper, Algernon turned to Maximillian.
“I have not introduced myself, I am Algernon Bathazar Theobald.”
“Ah, another fellow with a distinguished name.” Maximilian chortled, pleased by Algernon’s impressive name.
“I wanted to ask, do the cats work for you?”
“Ho, ho no, not at all. Anyone who has met a cat knows they have their own agendas. I do find though, it pays to be nice to cats.” Maximillian’s eyes drifted over the Peggy who seemed pleased about how her interview was going, “Er, that former companion of Noel’s…”
“I find it best to tell her what she wants.”