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24. To stalk the hunter

Celephais, the golden city of The Dreamlands.  The party are here following the drug trails left by several multi-recursional organised crime syndicates.  A lethal enemy was seen in the city and the party needs to decide if to move on or deal with a threat that lurked in the alleyways behind them.

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Yellow fluorescent lighting blinded Bruce for a moment as he lifted his head and to make sense of his surroundings.  No longer in the wooden slatted, stone-floored warehouse by the docks of Celephais where he’d gone to sleep. Here the floor was carpeted an industrial brown and the walls were clean modern style surfaces, shelving full of plastic covered books and lounges and tables with people quietly doing their own work.  People, the constant low hum of polite voices, murmuring questions, receiving answers, offering guidance.  

Bruce himself was sitting on a stackable plastic chair in a circle in one corner of the library facing a group of strangers and a cheery woman with a name tag that labelled her a librarian of somewhere in London.

“Welcome to all our old faces, welcome back to this month’s book club.  To our new face, Mr Johnson, so pleased you could join us, a very hearty welcome.” She said, speaking in a voice so cheery and pert that it sent a cold shiver down Bruce’s  spine, ”Good to see you’ve come prepared. Would you be interested in starting?”

Bruce looked down to see the leather-bound journal he’d picked up in Celephais sitting on his knee. Now he knew he’d have to be dreaming.  Either that or some horrible creature from the Strange was devouring his mind and providing him with this inane construct to lull him into a false sense of security.  He went to stand to fight the dream. To get out or go out fighting.

“There’s no need for any of that.” Said a voice he knew all too well, “This is a safe place, the safest in fact.  Sit down and relax for a second will you?”

Bruce glanced to his right and sitting beside him in the circle, a bemused look on his face, was Rain.  In one hand was a cup of takeaway coffee, the other his own book, Briar Rose by Jane Yolen.

“Are you in my dream?”  Bruce asked, slowly sitting down again.  Just because he could now see the horrible little creature didn’t mean it wasn’t about to eat his brains.

“Well technically, you’re in mine.  When you have no other place to go, a library is a warm and welcoming location, and sometimes there’s snacks.”

Bruce took in the quiet activity, the airconditioned comfort and the eager attentions of the librarian, “Funny, this is the last place I feel safe.”

“Really,” Rain looked around himself, at the small group talking amongst themselves and to the larger library, “Would you prefer somewhere more private?”

Before Bruce could reply, the scene changed and the two of them were seated on lounge chairs tucked into a quiet corner of the same library, the journal on a coffee table in front of them. 

“Okay, so this is your dream, so why am I here and can I please go back to sleeping?”

“I set this all up for you and that’s what I get?  I thought you may like to have a little privacy to share about your new acquisition.” Rain gestured to the journal and Bruce relaxed for the first time since the dream had begun.

“So you’re creating privacy, not invading it?”

“Exactly!”

“Really?  All for something you could have asked me about when we were awake?”

Rain shook his head sadly as if speaking to a naughty boy who was in need of confession, “We debriefed when you returned from your market expedition.  We told you about the jeweller and you told us about seeing Mr Lightfeather and his goon Theo buying herb, but at no time did you mention the journal.”

“What of it?  It’s not important.” 

“Bruce, I saw your face as soon as you laid eyes on it at the stall.  You were seriously surprised and shocked to the point you were oblivious to almost everything around you.  Now, I gave you time to come forward about it, but instead…”

“It’s my dad’s journal, “ Bruce blurted out just so he didn’t have to hear any more lectures, “It’s weird and freaky and I don’t understand it but here it is.  Sitting on a stall, in Celephais via Railsea of all places.  But it has nothing to do with our mission and it’s really not important at this time.”

“It’s important to you, so it’s important.”  Rain finally said as he let the information sink in.

“No really, I don’t even know if I can be bothered tracking him down, it was just such a shock to see his name on the cover.”

“And Railsea?”

Bruce let Rain know about the Railsea connection.  The man with the military bearing who had come to Celephais and taken a new job, sold the journal and a few other scraps of a Railsea life.

“Okay, “ Rain finally said when the whole story had been shared, “Sure, not right now, but eventually right…he’s your dad.  I don’ t have the privilege…”

“No, but I do.” Bruce shut down the self-centred sermon before it could get started, “Look, he was a good bloke, but he chased the easy buck.  He’d come and go and one day he never came back.  As a kid, I hated how he’d come in like a whirlwind of energy and excitement, stirring up everything and then just as suddenly leave  my mother to try to pick up the pieces and to get on with the day to day of living with whatever he’d left her, which was often nothing.”

Bruce lifted his eyes from the journal cover he had found himself staring at to where Rain said silently listening.  He’d always been good at seeing through the con man’s expressions and moods.  Maybe it had been his early life with a father who on the surface was very similar.  He wondered if the little man had seen something of himself in that story too. He decided to change the subject.

“Rain, you know you’re a great asset to the team right? Like when you do that encouragement thing you do, make things just that one step easier, the impossible almost seems achievable, and sometimes they are.  I often wished you did it more often.”

“It doesn’t seem like I’m much help. You and Peggy and even Algernon sometimes get really hurt and all I can do is cheer from the side-lines, Go Team!”  Red pom-poms appeared in Rain’s hands. He flailed them in a desultory way before they disappeared again.

“Well, it does.  And then you’re the best information gatherer in the group. With the jeweller, and Moriarty’s people you knew just what to say.”

Rain sat silently listening to Bruce’s words, shaking his head as if he didn’t understand what was being said,  “Bruce, you don’t need to say that.  I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m just saying it as I see it.”

“I know I’m nothing, no name, no place, no people.  If I died tomorrow there’d be nothing to show I even existed.  Un…like…you.”  He pointed at the journal.

“Ha!” Bruce laughed mirthlessly, “For someone who is good at conning people, you sure don’t know yourself.”

Rain thought for a moment then his slow smile appeared once more, “Ah, but maybe that’s the biggest con of all.”

Bruce yawned and realised that he really was very tired.  It seemed odd to him, wasn’t he already sleeping?

“Now, do you think I can go back to sleep?”

Suddenly, the brightly lit space they recognised as a public library, was plunged into darkness.  The small glow of blue emergency lighting gave a dim glow that made all the shelving silhouette.

“What is it now, Rain?”

“Ur…Bruce.  I didn’t do that.” Rain’s voice quavered out of the darkness as simultaneously they both spotted two shadows moving through the shelving.  Piering through the darkness, neither man could see what was creating the shadows, only that they were crawling across the library towards them. 

Rain instantly broke the daydream and hoped that with the dream, the shadows had disappeared as well. 

“Was that supposed to happen?” Bruce rolled out of his makeshift bed on the floor and paded out of the room to check the warehouse was secure.

“Wha…? Er…no.” Yawned Rain still trying to tear away the dregs of sleep.

The large open space of the warehouse was quiet and dark, the only sounds coming from the creaking and bumping of the ships at the harbour and the snores of the others.  Bruce stepped out into the warehouse and peered into the shadows.  A sudden chill touched Bruce’s back, like the clammy cold hand of a dead man.  Pushing back,  he flung himself to the ground, crashing onto shoulders.  Instead of pinning the cold to the ground, however, the chill seemed to pass right through his chest.

“Wake up, we’re under attack!” Rain yelled, waking the others before trying Dream Thief on the shadow.  Instead of getting back a clear image or message, there was only a feeling of deep hunger.

The shadow lunged at Bruce as he stood.  He sidestepped the razor-like claws that whipped past his side.  Rain, still wrestling to free himself of his bedding, saw the movement of the second shadow as it came through the wall beside him.  Rolling out the door of the office, he escaped the attack to stand back to back with Bruce.

Bruce felt the frisson of Rain’s encouragement as they both looked out into the shadowy warehouse.

“How do you fight a  shadow?” Bruce asked, as he once more spotted the movement of something in the dark.

“Er…light?” Rain replied without thought as he too spotted the second shadow.

“That’s your thing!” 

“Oh yeah!”  Rain realised as the shadows attacked simultaneously.  Bruce swung out and connected with his shadow, Rain grabbed Bruce’s waist and flipped around him to avoid his. As he landed back behind Bruce, a crossbow bolt spun through the shadow tearing through the near incorporeal form as it passed.  Algernon was up and reloading his gug-jawed crossbow from the doorway.

“Enough dancing the dark.” Rain muttered and used his Dreamcraft to throw a mini sun high into the air.  The sun filled the warehouse with light, blinding Peggy and Algernon, but also drastically affecting the shadows.  No longer able to keep their forms under the light of the mini sun, the shadows were dragged back into the darker recesses screeching, their long claws grasping and scratching.  Bruce swung his crowbar as the shadow was dragged out of his range. Peggy stepped out of the office and for the first time saw the shadows.  Around their forms, the shimmering halo effect of a creature from another recursion.

“They’re not from here.” She told the others before returning for her backpack.

Another bolt streaked across the warehouse, this time the shadow did not tear but folded around the bolt like fabric. Where the bolt stuck into the wall, a ball of black dripped off evaporating completely before it could hit the ground.

Bruce ran across the warehouse and smashed his crowbar once more into the second shadow.  It was like hitting a cold block of air , with almost no resistance his crowbar sailed through the shadow.  This time the shadow seemed to coalesce like the first, but as a ball of black on the ground.  Before Bruce had a chance to move, however, the ball expanded engulfing the entire space in darkness.  Inside, the cold was extreme.  Exposed skin burned, breathing in hurt Bruce’s chest and he was sure that his breaths out were white clouds, though in the darkness nothing could be seen.   Outside, the ball of darkness acted like a mini-black hole against the illusionary sun and dragged energy and light away.  Nothing could be seen of Bruce, but Peggy now strode towards the orb, pulling the rod of power out of her bag.  

Since collecting the artefact from the suburbian house of Gwendoline Wurtz, Peggy had studied the rod in detail.  She knew it could drain an individual of energy, storing it for later use.  She now applied this knowledge to the black sphere, hoping to drain it of power and release Bruce.  She plunged the rod completely into the orb, freezing her hand in the process. 

 For a moment, nothing happened.  Blue sparks of static electricity started building up along Peggy’s arm before…

Zzoppt!

In an instant the dark sphere disappeared in a shower of golden fireworks.  Peggy looked down to see the rod, not charged up as expected, but fully discharged.  She’d fed the creature too much power and it had overloaded. 

Bruce stood, a covering of frost and his arms above his head ready to smash with a now scintillating crowbar.  What there was of Bruce’s normally short  hair was standing on end, as were Peggy’s more bushy curls.

“What just happened?” Noel stepped out of another office space he’d been sharing with Maximillian.

“Nothing really, Noel,” Bruce lowered his arms and Algernon put away his crossbow, “Peggy saw something she didn’t like.”

Noel looked between Peggy now purposefully ignoring him, and Bruce who still seemed to glow with static sparks. 

“Right…put out the lights will you?” He asked, looked up at the mini sun, giving it a double look before stumbling back to bed.  

Miffed that his mini sun had not received the awe it should have, Rain snapped his fingers and the sun disappeared.  As Algernon retrieved his bolts, he wracked his memory for beings such as these shadows from mythology.  Though many such creatures had been described, mostly used as assassins for powerful beings, very few details were recorded and certainly no name.  

“Those things were cold like the thonics, “ Rain said  as the group came back together to discuss what had happened, “Did they come from the Strange?”

“I don’t know, but you know how sometimes you feel like the universe is out to get you…and then you find out it really is.” Bruce shivered with the cold and the remnants of static.

“Don’t say that, Algernon already thinks the big unknown is going to get us.” Rain replied, “I’m the one with the ego, and I don’t think the universe gives a shit.”

“You think the universe is a being that cares?” Peggy asked more thoughtfully of Algernon.

“He knows of a terrible creature that he can’t remember.” Rain went back to his things, returning with a notebook where the discussion between him and Algernon was still written.

“Is it like the slimy thing we experienced from touching the minds of the Spiral-eyed?” She asked Algernon.  She had been knocked out by the experience when she mind-linked with one of the Spiral Dust users that had attacked them at a festival.  At the time it was assumed that Algernon had done the same, but now he looked at Peggy as if he didn’t know what she was talking about.  

“Nothings been in my mind.” He finally said by way of explanation.

“I know.” Bruce quipped back and laughed at the young man’s embarrassment.

Rain was watching the whole conversation.  The being that had no name and left no memory was a puzzle that he wanted solved and it was becoming clearer that one of the puzzle pieces was Algernon himself.  Watching the young man’s body language, listening to his use of words, Rain could not decern any dissemblement by Algernon. At least Algernon didn’t think he was lying. But there were lies. Rain was still mulling the implications over when Peggy announced, “Well, I’ll off to bed.” and the group separated back to their bedrolls.

It is fair to say that Bruce did not wake refreshed the next morning.  After having his sleep invaded not once, but twice resulting in being electrocuted by close contact to a homicidal shadow, Bruce was not feeling himself.  Still he went through his usual routine of exercises and felt a little better when the smell of fresh bread, strong Turkish coffee and even bacon, wafted through the warehouse.

The group were around a trestle table eating, drinking, and talking when Bruce finally joined them.  Rain had out the small vial of Spiral Dust, showing it to Noel and Maximillian.  When he noticed Bruce’s arrival, Rain poured him a cup of the strong black coffee and the vial disappeared.

“Ah yes, we have known of your Spiral Dust for a little while, “ Maximillian was expounding as usual. ”No, it is not the additive the Lang are so keen on, but good thought nonetheless.”

 “De Boss,” one of the captives called from nearby through a mouthful of his own breakfast, “He tried to break into dat business but didn’t met with a lot of luck.”

Rain nodded to all the information, then pulled out his notebook and started trying to fit it all into his mindmap.

“So, what are we doing today?”  Peggy asked, having finished her meal of coffee and fresh flatbread.

“We were talking about going to the moon,”  Algernon replied, wrapping up a few pieces of bacon in a clean rag for later.

“It feels like walking right into the monster’s den.” Bruce mused over his breakfast.

“I want to know what Mr Lightfeather…Lightfeather is doing in Celephais.”  Rain pointed to the prominent name on his mind map. Many lines had been drawn, scribbled out and dotted into and from Eldin Lightfeather. “Why is he buying the herb that he could have got his henchman to do?  Why is he the only one we’ve seen active on both the Spiral dust and Bywandine smuggling rings and how does he fit in with all of this?”

They spent the rest of breakfast sharing information and discussing the implications. In the end it was decided that the only way to find out what Lightfeather was up to was to go and find out.  

“But I can’t,” Peggy whined, knowing full well that she sounded like a scared child, “I don’t want to be hurt like last time.”

Run dug into his pockets and pulled out a hat, which he now gave to Peggy.

“He can’t hit what he can’t see. If you feel threatened, put this on and you’ll go invisible.  Celia found this in my recursion.”

“You have a recursion?” Came a chorus from several quarters, forcing Rain to admit it wasn’t much of a recursion and that he kept the key above his bed back at the Estate.  In its place, Peggy gave him the headband she’d found in the marketplace the day before.

“It allows you to mind-link with another person. It could be useful today.”

So with Noel and Maximillian once more looking after the captives, the party set out for a day of reconnaissance in the alleyways of Celephais. The plan was simple, thanks to Peggy they knew what alleyway to watch.  Algernon levitated Bruce and Peggy up to roof level before flying up himself.  Rain stayed on the ground wrapped in a loose cloak and mingled with the locals.  

The alley in question had several buildings flanking it, but only three doors, two at street level and one that lead down steps to a basement.  At either end of the alley, streets made t-intersections bracketing the doors.  It was one of those three doors, they were almost certain, but there was no way of telling which.

On top of the roof Algernon investigated his surroundings.  Heading down from their rooftop perch, there was a short flight of steps that lead to a door.  The lock was old and relatively simple looking. Algernon had  seen Rain and Celia pick locks countless times before, how hard could it be?  He pulled from his backpack a bolt and tried picking the lock by jiggling it around a bit. It didn’t work.

“I thought we were going to hang around and wait for Lightfeather and his cronies to show up,”  Bruce said as Algernon stalked back from his less than ideal investigation. 

Down on the ground Rain was blending in with the locals and finding only a little better success than Algernon above.  No one at the local stores or houses knew of a man matching Lightfeather’s or his bruiser’s descriptions.  That was until he sat down for a well earned morning coffee at a streetside coffee vendor.  The man boasted he roasted all his own beans and delivered to anywhere in Celephais.

“Anywhere?  Say, you wouldn’t happen to deliver to two friends of mine?  They live in the area, but I must admit I have  lost the address.”  He described the two men and was pleased when the coffee vendor nodded, recognising them.

“They seem relatively new to the area and I must confess that the tall thin one I have only seen a few times.  They do live nearby, but they are not as yet my customers and I have made no deliveries to them.”

Maybe it was the coffee, or the fact that Mr Lightfeather was close, but Rain felt spurred onto action.  Thanking the vendor and paying for his coffee, he glanced up at the roofline where he could see a number of faces looking down.  Then, with a fortifying breath, he walked casually across the road and down into the alley.

Walking at a normal speed he leaned into each of  the doors and gave the handles a little jiggle.  The first opened, but he kept walking by.  The second was locked and he left it.  The third was down a flight steps so impossible to do casually.  He started down the steps anyway.  As he reach the door, something thumped heavily into him.  He could feel tiny daggers raking down his back and he screamed in surprise and pain.

“What was that!” Rain clearly heard Mr Lightfeather’s voice through the door.

From above the rest of the group were watching Rain check the three doors.  Algernon had been searching the alley for a suitable cat for some time. As the first door opened, one scrawny tabby slunk around the corner.  Levitating the cat only enough so he could direct its movements, he maneuvered the beast in the first door and pushed it open.  The cat, was surprised and disturbed by the way its feet no longer touched the ground, scrambled through the air wailing pitifully.  As soon as the levitate was released and its feet made purchase, it sprinted away, climbing over the first thing that just happened to be in its way. 

“Obviously there’s not enough room to levitate a cat in there.”  Bruce quipped.

The cat, no more liking the boney stranger than the weird flying, sprung off Rain and pelted down the street.  At the door, Rain could hear the sliding of deadbolts and jangle of chains. The scratches forgotten, Rain ran up the wall, grabbed a windowsill and swung himself around the corner before he too pelted down the street.  

From the basement doorway, Peggy, Bruce and Algernon could see Lightfeather poke his head out and look up and down the street.  Taking a chance, Algernon tried levitating him out of the doorway.  Unlike his name though, Lightfeather did not budge and instead, seemed to fell the tug and quickly retreated back inside the basement flat, the door locking once more.

Now out of sight of the basement, Rain climbed the outside of the houses, swinging from window sill to gutter to roof before finding the others.

“A cat attacked me!” He complained, trying to get a look at the damage to his clothes.

“That the cat was levitating is more remarkable.” Peggy got up and inspected the injuries.

“Didn’t have to attack me though.”

“Sorry about the cat,” Algernon confessed and Rain’s self-pity was forgotten in a  sweeping gesture of bravado.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve had my back scratched worse.”  He winked winning for himself a gaffor or two. “And we did find Lightfeather, what next?”

They discussed a few different ideas before Rain pulled out his spy grenade. 

“This could be useful, but as it explodes when detected…” He put the cypher, that in this recursion looked like a tiny sleeping gargoyle “I’ve never liked to use it.”  

“You can give it any instructions you like,” Algernon explained examining the cypher, “It can explode as soon as it sees Lightfeather, or it can just gather information and come back.”

“Yes, let’s do that!” 

The boys spent a few minutes tinkering with the cypher until they were sure it would work as expected.  Now it was only a matter of access to the basement where Lightfeather was hiding out.

The doorway to the locked house was brought up again and Algernon handed his now bent bolt to Rain to help pick the lock. 

“Thanks?” He said, and picked the locked with his tools anyway.  When he turned to garner the praise deserved, he receive nothing but quiet disappointment.

“Am I missing something?”

”You could have at least made it  look like you used the bolt.” Bruce replied, gesturing to Algernon.  

“Why…” The narrative of what happened laid out in his mind and he pulled out the lockpicks and handed them to Algernon, “Right tools for the job. I”m no great lockpicker, you have them.”

“That was not…I don’t think…” Bruce started, but Algernon had already taken and stowed the lockpicks in his pack.

Quietly, Rain crept down the stairs and investigated the house.  There was no door to the basement, but a grill in the wall opened in that direction.  Back up to the roof, the cypher was set off with instructions to go through the grate, map the rooms it found and report back. The gargoyle opened its wings, stretched and flew down the stairs and out of sight.

They waited.

Peggy came and sat beside Rain as he watched down the stairs for the gargoyle’s return.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” She asked, talking low so the other couldn’t hear, “I don’t think we can take Lightfeather.”

Rain’s eyes grew distant as he relived scenes from his life before the Strange and these friends, “He scares me.”  He agreed.

They stayed like that until the gargoyle flitted back up the stairs minutes later and projected an image of what it had discovered.

A room with a smattering of old furniture and a heavily secured door, probably the front door, inhabited by two burly guys neither of them Lightfeather or his henchman. 

Through an opening to another room filled with baskets of herbs.  Here Lightfeather was finishing an inventory on a trolley covered in a tarp.   When everything was in order,  he pushed the trolley through a large cupboard.

Following Lightfeather through the cupboard door to a third room had a metal checkerboard floor, plain metal panelling on the walls with electrical cables bolted to it.  Along one wall a window showed the rolling fractal clouds of The Strange.

Here Lightfeather was talking to a gentleman with a closely trimmed salt and pepper moustache and a great coat. A rigid face mask hung from a strap around his neck and a pair of goggles were pushed up onto his forehead.  Though there was no sound, the way the man held himself and the deference he gave Lightfeather showed him to be military trained.  He gave a small package to Lightfeather before taking the trolley himself and exiting out a third sliding door.

It was at this point that the cypher started making its return journey.  Nothing was shown past the third door, just the trip back through the cupboard into the second room.  A flash of sliver dominated the screen for a moment and then the cypher showed a throwing dagger fly past.  As the view enters the first room the two thugs were staring straight at the device. One tried to stomp out their view before it disappeared into the air vent and the return trip through the house.

“Did you see?  When the cypher moved into the metal room beyond the cupboard that the viewfinder changed?” Algernon commented, “That cupboard was an adipose gate.”  It explained the change to metal floor and walls as well as the view from the window, but not where it was going.

“Well, regardless, they know we’re still here so we better get ready for an attack.” Bruce pulled out his trusty crowbar and looked over the edge.  Sure enough, Lightfeather and the two thugs were slowly walking down the street.  Peggy noticed that the door to the basement was still open.

“You know what we should do, go down and lock that door behind them.”  She mused almost cheerfully, before she turned to see Rain’s amazed expression, “What?”

“Give me the Vanisher?” He replied with childish glee.  She handed it over, grabbing his hand as she did and connecting them via mind-link.

Keep in touch.

Rain put on the hat and disappeared.

Keeping to the street parallel to the one Lightfeather now travelled, Rain quickly made his way down the side of the building before running around the open basement door.  With a creak and an audible click the door closed over, seemingly locking itself.  Furniture piled themselves up against the door as larged bodies tried to smash the door open from outside.  The invisible Rain had the basement apartment to himself.

Outside, the others went of the offensive.  Having first moved across the alleyway to get clear of the door leading straight to their roof, Algernon was making good use of his experience.  Having been refused by Lightfeather the first time, he found he could easily lift Lightfeather’s goons into the air.  Up above the roof top, Lightfeather could do nothing but watch as his man thrashed and screamed for help.  Algernon lay with his back on the roof and pushed the goon even higher, 30 metres above the top of the building.  When he could push him no further, he let go.  There was a scream from the goon, a sickening thud and then silence once more.  Now there were two in the street and the second goon was looking nervous.

There’s no other doors besides the cupboard,  Rain informed Peggy as he stared through the double doors into another world, I’m going through the portal, I don’t know if the mind-link will continue on the other side.

Peggy acknowledged, a terrible glee apparent in her communication before Rain stepped through the gate and lost contact with her completely.

The metal room was like many on a man-made vessel.  Across the way an electronic sliding door with a control panel to its right.  As he walked across the room to examine the keypad, Rain’s eyes couldn’t help but be attracted to the broiling clouds outside the 10 centimetre thick glass.  The endless complexity of fractal spirals drawing his mind to follow their paths, to lose himself and his mind.  The awareness of a mind greater by far than his own looked down at him through those shifting patterns and it was all he could do to look away and focus on the control panel in front of him. 

The door was locked electronically and facing the keypad with his dreamland persona, Rain realised he had no idea how to bypass it.  He tried a few times, but without the code, the door remained firmly shut.  As he turned from the door to take in the room proper, he noticed through the window a structure jutting out into space.  Along an enclosed hallway he could see the military man pushing the trolley of herbs out towards a cylindrical vessel parked before the swirling fractals of The Strange.  A space ship.  As he watched, the umbilical line was disconnected and withdrawn and the ship glided out into space and was lost from view.    Without another thought, Rain ran across the room and through the portal.

Peggy!  Spaceships!  He messaged along with the images of the ship leaving.

The door’s clear, you can get out of there.  She replied with a feeling of triumph and malicious glee.

From their high ground, the party were relatively safe from the searching gaze of Lightfeather or his henchman as neither thought to look up.

“Do you think they would benefit from another distraction?” Algernon asked, looking over the roof to focus on the next goon.  

“I would condone this.” Bruce said seriously before turning to Peggy, “The door is clear, tell Rain to get out of there.”

As Algernon lifted the second goon off his feet, Peggy sent out a plasma arc between Lightfeather and the guard.  Both lit up like Christmas ornaments, but Lightfeather seemed to shrug off any damage. Having seen the movement, Lightfeather’s sharp birdlike eyes pinpointed Algernon and Peggy and he threw a dagger at them each.  Algernon’s hit the edge of the roof as he once more lay down preparing to push the second goon into the air.  The dagger on Peggy flew over her head, catching a few curls of hair as it passed.

“Nice to see you again, beaky.”  She goaded him over the edge, “It’s always hard to tell where you’ll turn up, first with the Droods, now with Moriarty.  Which side are you playing?”

As Lightfeather repositioned himself for a second attack, Bruce let fly one of his heavy crossbow bolts, hitting Lightfeather in the shoulder joint.  Now his right arm hung limply at his side, Lightfeather couldn’t throw his two daggers at the same time and had to content himself with throwing one.

“Moriarty?  Why do you think I’m working for him?” Lightfeather called back conversationally, as he drew a bead on Peggy. 

“You’re pushing herb.” She replied, giving Lightfeather her position.  The dagger struck her in the arm and she flattened herself against the roof, “Ah!  Still sharp I see.”

Algernon had the goon up to roof height when the henchman pulled something out of his pocket and a bubble of force similar to Algernon’s shield appeared all around him. 

“A ball, huh?” Algernon muttered as he pushed the ball up as far as his levitation would go and then let the ball go. “I wonder if Mr Lightfeather likes ball games?”

The ball, as expected began to fall, but this time Algernon had moved it to above Lightfeather, looking for his next target out in the street.  Bruce shot and again hit Lightfeather just as another plasma bolt skittered across his metal dagger, earthing in him.

“Why the sudden switch, Lightfeather?”  Peggy goaded from on high, “Was it a double pay or a double deal?”

Feeling the shift in the battle, Lightfeather did not respond but decided to run, taking shelter inside the second door.  The ball hit the ground where he had been just a moment before. The terrified face of Lightfeather’s henchman clearly seen through it’s walls before the ball sprung back into the air.  Following the natural slant of the ground, the ball started bouncing all the way to the harbour and was soon lost to sight.

“Are we going after him?”  Bruce asked standing up and slinging his crossbow, “He’s injured, we may not get another chance.”  With a nod Algernon levitated both himself and Bruce back across the alleyway.  Now with his crowbar in hand, Bruce sprinted across the roof and down the stairs to face Lightfeather for the first time since the defeat in Bollons.

Peggy was still across the alleyway when she heard Rain’s voice in her mind, 

I had to move all the furniture again.  Still clear?

Yes, but hurry, Bruce is on his way down to confront Lightfeather, She replied relaying an image of what was happening.  

Then Peggy saw the door open of its own accord.  She knew from what little information Rain let leak from his mind that he was down there, but not even a shadow gave away his presence.  

Inside the battle between Bruce and Lightfeather was joined. Bruce focused all his skill and strength down on Lightfeahter who use the walls to dodge out of the way of the blow, before pulling a small vial out of his pocket.  In it, a pill that he quickly swallowed before taking up a defensive stance with his one dagger.  Lightly he stepped back down the stairs, retreating into the living room under Bruce’s relentless attacks.  

On the roof, Peggy waved to get Algernon’s attention and was quickly levitated across the alley.  Below, Rain opened the door and stealthed along the alleyway to the door where Bruce had Lightfeather cornered.  To Rain’s dismay, Theo, Lightfeather’s right-hand man, walked casually back with a coffee in hand.  Knowing the action was inside the house, Rain moved to the open doorway hoping he’d be able to keep Lightfeather inside and out of sight of help.

Peggy, her hand crossbow ready, sparks of blue plasma playing around the other hand, ran down the stairs inside the house, 

“You’re on your own  and cornered featherbrain.  Give it up.”  She yelled, Bruce swung again, missing the now even more evasive, Lightfeather.  Once more Lightfeather backed up into the doorway, his lower legs connecting with something invisible.  Rain was thrown into the street where he conjured a group of the local militia all chain mail, halberd, recurve bows and scimitars clanging down from the opposite end of the alley towards Theo. 

Bruce was tiring fast as no matter how fast he swung the heavy crowbar, Lightfeather sidestepped the attack effortlessly. Even Peggy’s plasma took a shortcut through a metal fitting in the wall, flashing brightly and doing nothing.  Lightfeather stepped out into the alleyway and Theo saw his boss for the first time. Seeing an ally, Lightfeather retreated until Theo could step in front of his boss, his coffee cup dashed aside. It was Theo’s turn to pull something from his pocket, a small clockwork device that he quickly wound and placed on the ground in front of them. Rain didn’t know or care what it was and in one movement, dashed down the alleyway and kicked the cypher away.  It sailed out over the connecting street and was lost from view.  Unfortunately, this action put Rain very much in view and in the thick of the action as his invisibility disolved away. 

“Bruce?”

“Rain!”

“Bruce!  Little help?”

His crowbar held high, Bruce ran down the alleyway and managed to surprise the flagging Lightfeather. The heavy blow sent Lightfeather reeling. He was in poor shape, but he had backup and still looked very dangerous.  Peggy plasma arced over the alley lighting all face a ghastly blue as she stood in the doorway.  Flying down from the roof, Algernon stationed himself at the basement door for cover.

Looking at the two threats in front of him, Theo correctly assessed Bruce as the most dangerous and tried to land a blow.  Bruce caught the arm with the hook of his crowbar and pushed it forward, smacking Theo in the face with a crunch.  Now that Bruce was engaged, Lightfeather started retreating down the alley, away from the still marching militia. Algernon tried to lift Theo but he too resisted and Algernon resorted to throwing loose objects instead to create a  difficult escape route.

Theo bashed the already winded Bruce with his meaty fists. Sweat and blood flowed freely and Bruce’s breath caught in ragged gasps. Bruce was on his last legs and facing a fresh opponent.  Rain did the only thing he could think of and dragged Theo in a Daydream.  Initially, it worked, one moment Theo was making a bloody mess of Bruce, the next he was alone in the wilderness beyond Sarkomand.  Not as bright as his boss, he was confused unsure how he’d been teleported so far from his belieguered boss.

Now free of Theo, Bruce threw himself at Lightfeather putting everything he had into the swing. The crowbar connected knocking Lightfeather out cold. 

“Tie him up!” Bruce yelled to whoever was listening and swung around to notice that Rain seemed to have Theo under control.  Now unconscious, Algernon found he could lift the lifeless form of Lightfeather and started walking down the alley, pulling out a length of rope as he did. 

Bruce helped and was hefting the bundle that was Lightfeather onto his shoulder when there was a ‘smack‘ as Theo’s heavy fist made impact with Rain’s head.  Instantly the militia disappeared and Rain crumpled to the cobbled alleyway ground.  Dropping the limp Lightfeather, Bruce once more threw himself back into the fight.

Peggy ran out from the doorway to see Rain get up from the ground, groggy but still conscious.  While Theo turned to defend himself against the enraged, Bruce they both went through Theo’s pockets before getting up and running towards Algernon, Lightfeather once more levitating above his head.  Bruce gaves Theo one last swing before he too ran catching up with the others before they all start making haste for the busier cross street ahead.  

Theo gave chase, lumbering after his bosses unconscious form.  Seeing the pursuit, Rain did one last trick.  Yelling out in some unknown language, he gestured to the wall of the building that lining the alleyway. Using his Dreamcraft and a little stagecraft he made it look like he had pulled the wall down and into the alleyway with thought alone. It looked to anyone watching on he had cut off access from that end of the alley.  Adobe rubble and dust filled the air and covered their escape into the city.

“Are we a little obvious?” Algernon said to the party as they moved through the crowds, the unconscious Lightfeather floating above their heads.  Once they were clear, Rain dropped the wall illusion and built another around Lightfeather, that of a long crate that the party seemingly grabbed a hold of and “carried” back to the docks and the warehouse, via the long way.

In the cool shade and safety of the warehouse, Rain watched as Lightfeather was stripped of almost everything and retied.

“Have you ever seen those nature shows where they catch a giant 6-metre long crocodile.”  He mused almost to himself, “The thing will be tackled by twelve of fifteen people, have its jaws strapped shut and its legs tied back. No matter how much you tie it up and throw dirty t-shirts over their eyes, it’s still a crocodile.”

“Well, “  Bruce stood up with a pile of oddments taken from Lightfeather, “Make crocodile boots.” And he handed 2 arms sheaths with spaces for 6 daggers each.  In Rain’s free hand, a dagger very similar to those in the sheaths appeared and he slipped it into an empty slot.

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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