Category Archives: Bywandine
25. Moving On
After starting the day on a reconnaissance, by early afternoon the party were carrying a dangerous enemy back to their hideout at the docks. They’ve only had time to catch their breath before something has found them and was knocking on the back door.
“138…139…140…” Each number counted corresponded to the fall of a gold coin and the thunk as it joined its fellows in a small wooden chest, “ 141…142…” The golden claw motif on each coin caught the afternoon light filtering through the skylight above Rain as he collected the last handful of coins.
“I could count those crow coins faster if you want.” Algernon offered watching Rain monotonously drop each of a hoard of coins they found on Lightfeather.
“No…no… this is just my pace right now.” Rain replied, the image of misery. A bruise was blossoming redly over half his face, contrasting with dark rings under his eyes. Though the party had won a major victory, Rain looked like someone who’d lost the war.
Bloodied and worn out, Bruce was seemingly in a better mood. He walked out of the office rummaging through his backpack,
“Okay, who needs a little first aid?”
Any responses he may have expected were forgotten as all heads turned to a heavy wooden door to the back of the warehouse that had until that moment been ignored. Chained locked, it seemed as secure as the wall it was built into. Now, the scraping sound of metal against chain echoed faintly through the warehouse.
“Wha…oh…what was I up to?” Rain lost track of his count. He sadly dropped the last of the gold coins into the box as he turned to the others, “What is it?”
“A crowbar, “ Bruce replied, forgetting his first aid kit and pulling out his own well-worn weapon of choice, “They’re using it against the chain on the door.”
Peggy, already going for her hand crossbow, focused her thoughts on the door and asked the Strange who and how many were beyond the door. In response, she understood there were four beings, two of them were known to her. Her mind-link to Rain made him aware as well as he tucked away the box and started for the front door with the intent on getting eyes on the invaders.
I’ll let you know.
Noel and Maximillian were readying for battle. Noel was checking the weight of a falchion the party had collected, Maximilian disappearing into the office they shared, returning with a long-barrelled blunderbuss, complete with slowmatch which he now lit with a flint and steel.
Quickly leaving the warehouse via the front door, Rain snuck along the wall and peeked around the corner. At the far end of a small alley, he could see Toby Mutton-Chops of the giant sledgehammer, two other heavies breaking through the chain on the door and an aesthetic looking gentleman with a distinctive hooked nose. Caw Eh Carve was looking straight at Rain, black eyes glittering behind small round spectacles. Rain sighed heavily and stood, leaning tiredly on the corner of the warehouse as he let Peggy know who was breaking in.
“Ellis, Rowan pin that one down, Toby get through this door.” Caw Eh Carve ordered cooly and the two heavies left the door to Toby and started walking towards Rain.
Inside, the chain fell away from the door and clanged through the warehouse. Bruce moved quickly and wedged his crowbar against the door and the ground, firmly holding it closed for the time being.
“Shall we kill the prisoners?” Algernon asked, shrugging his crossbow off his shoulder and gesturing to Caw Eh Carve’s thugs in the other room, but the sentiment was extended to the unconscious Lightfeather as well.
“What? No, we need them to get to Londontown,” Bruce replied, leaning on the crowbar and holding the door firmly shut.
“But if Caw Eh Carve comes in now, they’d be better off dead.”
“They don’t deserve death just for following orders.”
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it.”
“I’m not worried because it’s not happening.”
“Maybe they’d go if we give them Lightfeather…” Peggy mused wondering if there was a way to bargain their way out, “…or maybe Noel?”
From outside they heard the roar of some beast then…THUD! The whole door shivered and cracked as something heavy hit it. Dust rained down on those nearest the wall, but the door held.
Outside, Toby swung his massive sledgehammer with a roar and smashed it square in the centre of the door as his boss turned to the wall directly opposite and pulled out a cypher. Tracing a rectangle onto the wall, the space inside shimmered creating a portal to another recursion. Rain didn’t get to see anymore before Ellis of the crowbar took up all his view. After a day of sneaking, dodging, fighting and being pummelled, Rain’s responses were all instinct. Moving aside and using Ellis’ own momentum, he pushed him into the warehouse wall. Rowan was one step behind his comrade, picking up the fallen chain and wrapping it around his fist. It was time to get out.
“Terra, Zeme, Aarde, Monde Jord!” Staring down the two thugs, Rain muttered a string of words from all over the world. Selling the idea of a powerful spell with his whole being, he crouched down, drawing his hands up as if pulling something heavy from deep down. With a yell, he completed the words and created an illusion of a huge monolith of stone rising out of the ground, showering the thugs with dust and broken pieces of earth. They never questioned the illusion stepping back, believing completely that the path out of the alley was now blocked. Rain didn’t waste any time and started running back to the front door.
“There’s a trapdoor to a sunken souq back in the office,” Noel supplied as a possible escape route from their current predicament, “Not exactly a secret but not out in the open either.”
“Sounds good, “ Peggy replied, “So, do we stay or go?”
“We stay,” Algernon loaded his crossbow and aimed at the door.
Outside the door, a blue flash of light caught everyone’s attention and it looked like the time for action had come. Bruce nodded and withdrew his crowbar from the door. From outside a roar forecast another attempt at the door. This time though, instead of the door holding, the door swung wide and Toby Muttonchops stumbled in behind his sledgehammer, surprised. The moment of surprise gave those ready inside the advantage. The blunderbuss went off, glancing against a metal plate sewn into Toby’s overalls and the shot ricochetted off. Bruce’s crowbar swung, in the dark of the warehouse, the metal created an arc of silver landing on Toby’s skulls. The impact was not meant to crush, but to shake and stun. Toby’s eyes crossed and he stumbled on the spot.
Peggy flung out a hand, and a plasma arc linked Toby to something through the portal, Toby taking the brunt of the damage. Now with the big man swaying on his feet, Noel reversed his hold on the falchion and brought the butt of the heavy sword down on Toby’s head. He crumpled into a mess of limbs in the doorway as Peggy scowled.
“Wrong end!” She complained to the nonplused Noel.
As attacks rained down on Toby behind him, Caw Eh Carve was running through a portal on the opposite wall. It led into another warehouse, similar to those in Celephais, though there seemed more boilers, more metal piping and working pistons. As the party watched a huge three-legged steam-powered machine stepped heavily out into the frame of the portal, driven by a red-haired man.
In the doorway, the two thugs Rowan and Ellis now were free to move in. Rowan with his chained hand swung out at Noel, clipping him in the head, making the explorer step back. Ellis put his crowbar to use against Bruce who blocked the attack with his own equally heavy bar.
Outside, Rain was almost back at the front door of the warehouse. He reached out his hand to grab the open door when wandering around the corner, the hulking shape of Theo flanked by four goons came full into view. Theo saw Rain at the same time, and Rain sighed, “I’m sorry we don’t have time for you at the moment. If you could come back in half an hour and we can compare schedules.” And taking firm hold of the door he slammed it shut and locking it,
Peggy, Theo and four goons at the front door, I think we need that escape plan.
“Theo’s out front, Rain’s ready to get out.” Peggy let the group at the back door know what was waiting at the other end of the warehouse.
“This is getting better, we just have to get out of their way,” Algernon said this time glancing at Lightfeather. Bruce followed his glance and for the first time since the ruins allowed himself to contemplate the cold-blooded dispatching of their dangerous enemy. A clang of heavy metal and the crunch of broken masonery refocused his thought back to the door where the walking machine was breaking down the wall between its recursion and Celephais. There was no time left.
“Okay, grab your stuff, time to go!” He said, positioning himself to protect the retreating group back to the trapdoor.
WHAMP! The front door slammed open as Theo kicked it aside and his goons rushed the front door. At the backdoor, Peggy launched another Plasma arc striking Rowan through his wrapped chain. Rain sprinted across the warehouse ready to leave and saw Bruce glance back at Lightfeather once more, a look of deep agitation clear on his face.
“Bruce!” Rain called across the warehouse, gaining his friends attention, “Let him go. We beat him once, we can do it again.” He watched as some unseen weight lifted off his friend’s shoulders and the expression cleared to one of determination. Bruce gave a nod and turned back to the thugs at the back door and Rain continued his scramble to the trapdoor, opening it ready to receive the party.
At the back door, Ellis and his crowbar and Rowan with his chain were also deflected by Bruce and Peggy respectively. Two goons from the front door made a beeline for Lightfeather, a third reached Maximillian and pulling out a wicked blade. It missed Maximillian, barely, as the blade struck the metal barrel of his blunderbuss. Noel moved in beside his companion, falchion against the heavy knife. The goon was no slouch and parried away the bigger blade adding to the clanging from the machine outside.
Algernon alone had plans of attack. As Theo’s goons reached Lighfeather’s side, he quickly levitated their leader and with a flick of a free hand sent him flying across the warehouse and through the back door landing just in front of the steam walking machine. The goons chased after their fallen leader but could not hope to cover the distance before he was crushed under the machine’s heavy foot. With a cool glee simmering to frustration, Algernon watched as the next foot rose, moved forward…and stopped. A clawed hand, more used to moving boilers than picking up people, descended and encased the fallen Lightfeather. With a look of triumph, the redheaded driver of the walking machine gently curled the claw around the unconscious Lightfeather and started turning his machine around, his prize secured.
Peggy and Bruce were both free, but Maximillian and Noel were still fighting enemies on both sides. Lightfeather’s surprise disappearance meant Theo and his goons ran through the battle at the back door. They eyed Algernon suspiciously as they went past and would not have stopped if Rowan and his chain had not lashed out at Theo trying to trip him up. Ellis, in support of his fellow English thug, clothelined another goon running behind with his crowbar and the fight between the two invaders was joined.
Maximilian and Noel broke free of the fighting and ran for the trapdoor, Bruce covering their flank.
“Bruce, go, “ Rain gestured to the hole in the floor as Bruce stopped to protest, “I’m going to make it look like an explosion went off, sealing the passage. Go!”
Without an argument, Bruce dropped down the hole with Rain following soon after. Seconds later, the sound of a huge explosion rocked the warehouse, for a moment all fighting was forgotten as it seemed the two offices, furniture, walls and floor rose into the air and collapsed over the trapdoor, sealing off the passage. The illusion lasted only a minute, but by that time, the fight had moved elsewhere and the party was long gone.
Sometime later, an out of breath Maximillian gestured for a break and everyone crouched in the tunnel. Ahead the quiet echoes of an underground market filtered through. Here was their last chance to plan in private before moving back out into public.
“I like what you did with the explosion, collapsing the roof on the tunnel like that.” Algernon effused to Rain.
“Go out with a bang, as they say.” Rain smiled weakly back, “but it won’t last, it just buys us a little time. Unlike that move with Lightfeather. I know it didn’t come off as you wanted, thankfully, but getting the two groups together was strategically very clever. I was impressed.”
Algernon straightened under the compliment, though noted the tone of disapproval for trying to make Lightfeather jam.
Bruce and Peggy were in discussions with Noel and Maximillain about where to go next. First stop was a safe place to translate from. Back to the bathhouse, the famous temple in town or somewhere else? Noel, it seemed, had another place in mind that was less public than the other two suggestions. Next was the problem of where to translate to next, and here there was a disagreement.
“You could come back with us to Seattle.” Bruce suggested, knowing the problems with just ‘inviting visitors’ into The Estate, but keeping them to himself for now.
“We really must report back, “Maximillian said adamantly, “Things are heating up and our superior need to know.”
“So do ours,” Bruce thought, “but…what if we came back with you to the Geographic Society first?” This suggestion was not received as well as the first.
Maximilian and Noel looked at each other, “Well…we think that may raise a few eyebrows amongst the more senior staff…” Noel confessed.
“Oh, it may raise a few eyebrows, oh we wouldn’t want that!” The comment only fired up Peggy’s thin skin when it came to Noel and his seeming indifference, “Well who needs you then?! Go on, fly back to your comfy libraries and just forget we ever existed, again!”
The commotion drew Algernon and Rain into the discussion. When it was clear that Maximillian and Noel wanted to break from the party, Rain interrupted.
“Gentleman, this is not an Estate issue or a Society issue but a global one. I think we’ve seen that both our respective issues are intertwined, we can’t work in isolation any longer. We have to work together. ”
Maximilian and Noel didn’t say a word, just looked at each other for a moment where an agreement was made.
“I have a small place we can take you.” Maximilian finally said to the group, “Not the IGS mind, but somewhere safe where you can rest and we can get in touch with our superiors on what to do next.”
Nods all round, except from Peggy.
They quickly moved through the souq to a room that looked like it was set aside for pray at other times, but right now was empty. Maximilian lead the translation away from the sun and dust of Celephais to the dank, fog filled air of London, but no London that Rain knew.
The room they found themselves in was a middle class 19th century apartment, complete with gas lamps, heavily sashed windows and leather, though worn and cracked, furniture. As soon as the vertigo of translation had subsided, Rain walked to the window and saw a cobbled alleyway leading to a busy London street filled with people, hansom cabs and delivery carts. The air was thick with coal soot and the smell of animals and people living in close proximity. The sky was a yellow-grey, the unique colour of industrial smog mixing with the natural fog off the Thames. A real pea-souper was rolling in. Recognising and feeling completely alien to all about him, Rain said nothing but stalked off to find a bathroom down the hall.
Peggy as silently as Rain, headed straight for a four poster bed set at one end of the apartment, only stopping to pull off her Doc Martens as she went.
Bruce shook of the last of the translation, “Right, we all sorely in need of rest. Us men will take the chairs and floor while Peggy can have the bed.” He looked around and discovered that no one had heard a word he’d said, “Right then…good.”
“Now as mentioned we need to get in touch with our superiors,” Maximilian informed Algernon and Bruce, “In the meantime, rest up here and we should be back in a few hours.”
The boys made themselves comfortable and were aware of how their clothes had morphed in the new recursion. Algernon had on a black suit with short waist-length coat, a black top hat and cane that marked him out as a public school boy, and someone of status, if not class. Bruce on the other hand was dressed in a straight thigh length leather coat, heavy cotton clothing, checkered cloth cap and tartan scarf. He ran his fingers through hair far longer than he’d normally allow, with muttonchop sideburns that he couldn’t help stratching. After an hour, Rain returned clean, well pressed in an appropriate morning suit, white flower in his buttonhole, and a moustache, neat tidy and thoroughly respectable. Having surveyed the room and his companions, he flopped down into a squeaky springed leather chair and fell asleep.
The party dozed as best they could after the day’s excitement and were soon awoken a little more refreshed by a knock at the door. Standing outside to be let in was an imposing middle aged gentleman bundled up against the dank chill air outside. Flanking him was Noel and Maximillian looking subdued and silent. The gentleman walked in stripping off his heavy coat, throwing it and his top hat and cane onto the bed. They woke Peggy with a start. Without a word she climbed out of bed and joined the others in the lounge, now dressed in a tartan walking suit, tailored, tasteful and very respectable. Her hair though, was its normal curly mess.
“My name is Sir Raymond Creswick, I am Quartermaster for the Implausible Geographic Society. I understand you are with The Estate.” The gentleman announced to the room as if he were speaking to a much larger group. His voice was deep with an authoritative rasp that spoke of a man who was not used to having to raise his voice to be heard. His tone was clipped and to the point, with a hint of distain at the phrase, “The Estate.”
“They pay.” Rain replied, not sure if he wanted to be known as anyone’s man. Bruce glowered at him, their disagreements of old showing. Sir Raymond didn’t seem to care either way and continued.
“I hear you have stumbled onto the same investigation as Maximillian and Mr Hagan.” It wasn’t said as a question and Rain didn’t see a need to reply to it as such.
“We find we are investigating the same thing…from the other direction.” He qualified confidently, making sure to catch and keep the eye of Sir Raymond.
“Indeed.” Sir Raymond returned the look with interest, “What can you tell me about The Estate?”
“The same as you can tell us about the Geographic Society, Sir Raymond,” Rain relaxed a little feeling comfortable with the polite banter so close to that he’d grown up with, “But that doesn’t mean we can work together on this issue.”
Sir Raymond’s mouth twitched into something that could have been a smile and barked a sound that in some other face could have been a laugh.
“Very well then, “ Sir Raymond rocked back once on his heals spoke, “As you know we have been following James Moriarty and his crime syndicate’s trade in Bywandine for sometime. We always knew there were other groups, but had no evidence to tell us who they were or where they worked from. From a string of clues uncovered by us led us fortunately to finding Mr Hagan here, “ He gestured to Noel who was standing uncomfortably to one side, “Unfortunately, the criminals destroyed all the evidence before we got a chance to investigate for ourselves.”
“What?” Peggy said standing at the news, breaking the silence that Sir Raymond had commanded, “you mean the dig site…the temple…?”
“It was deliberate.” Rain said quietly as Sir Raymond continued and as she sunk back into her chair, “We’re lucky you weren’t killed.”
“Bywandine, “ Sir Raymond said as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “ Of course a herb native to the Dreamland laced with opium creating very vivid dreams. Recently, the trade has extended to that of white slave trade as a new additive has the effect of capturing users for unknown purposes.”
“Excuse me sir, “Peggy took to the floor again and Sir Raymond had no alternative but to allow her to speak, “As mentioned we came to Bywandine through unusual means and have not had a chance to do any experimentation comparing Bywandine and Spiral Dust. We know they have similar effects, though from our human trials, “ She gestured to Rain who found himself working hard to keep a neutral expression, “Spiral dust users seem to have little or no control over where they go, in comparison to the Dreamwalkers of Bywandine.”
“If you can provide laboratory space I would like to see if the two have anything in common.”
Slowly Sir Raymond breathed in, assessing the young woman in front of him. He turned to Noel, not taking his eyes off Peggy who looked like she was presenting a thesis to a funding body, “This is the Doctor Martin you spoke of when you first came to us?”
Noel nodded, “Yes, Sir Raymond.”
“I think that could be arranged, “ Sir Raymond said now turning to Maximillian, “Could you accompany the young lady.” Again, it wasn’t a question but a command and Maximillian quickly complied.
Now Rain stood and held the floor. He filled in their side of the investigation into Spiral dust, how it had led them to a distribution network that was spread all over the world and seemed all to flow through Crows Hollow.
“We know of two groups out of Crows Hollow for certain, the Droods and the Cornaro families. There’s a possibly third depending where Elvin Lightfeather’s loyalies lie, what dubious information we have says he’s in the Drood camp.”
“I can confirm that information. We know about Crows Hollow and its mafia-style crime syndicates, but you are saying they are involved in both Bywandine and Spiral Dust trades?”
“Indeed. For certain the Droods are.” Rain, as was his habit, fell into the speaking style of the culture he found himself in, “As far as our information goes, the Cornaro are involved only in Spiral Dust, but their’s was the most extensive of networks we’ve seen so far.”
There was a pause as Sir Raymond digested the information. Algernon, stood and moved up beside him.
“Sir, I have to tell you I have been very impressed with your operatives in the field.” He said to the bemusement of Sir Raymond.
“Yes, especially Maximillian. He has been very helpful in understanding the Society and your investigation.”
“Yes sir, in fact I was wondering how one would go about joining the society?”
Sir Raymond turned to take in the young man in front of him, his voice low and cool, “You don’t think that’s a conflict of interest?”
“Not in my mind.” Algernon replied innocently and Rain had to agree.
Sir Raymond drew himself up to his full height, not as tall as Bruce but well above both Algernon and Rain, “Membership to the IGS is strictly by invitation only.”
Several hours later, Peggy returned alone and with the results of her experimentation.
“Bywandine is a plant derivative with active ingredients that affect users as they dream by connecting them to the Strange, but it seems only to Dreamland. Spiral dust is still…unknown origin with a completely different active ingredient. On the surface it seems to have a similar effect but does not connect them to Dreamland just The Strange. They are completely unrelated.” She informed the group with a look of defeat about her, “We still have two complete sources so I guess it makes sense that we continue to investigate Spiral Dust while the Geographic society follows Bywandine.”
“Well, thank you doctor, I think that was a worthy task, “Sir Raymond straightened seemingly pleased with Peggy’s conclusion, “I concur with your reasoning, the Society will continue to follow the Bywandine and The Estate can follow your Spiral Dust lines of investigation.” …and neither the two shall meet… his face said as Sir Raymond gave a short bow, placed his top hat on his head and made for the door, “Mr Hagan?”
Giving the party one last look, Noel walked past on his way to the door, Peggy grabbed his arm.
“Meet me at Berkley…at the University Cafe…a week from today.” She said fervently before quickly turning away.
Now alone and still exhausted from two running battles back to back, the party settled down for a full rest as the city bustles around them unheeded.
The next morning, Algernon and Rain were sufficiently rested to now desire the next two basic needs after shelter and security, coffee and bacon.
“Do they have bacon in London?” Algernon asked as he followed Rain down through the apartment building to the street where Rain was already hailing a hansom.
“Do they? My dear, Bacon is the staple of a standard English breakfast and for the young man on the go there is the sacred bacon-buttie, British cuisine at its finest.” Rain extolled catching the eye of a cab driver who turned his horse’s head to the curb.
“I think I like this place.” Algernon jumped into the cab and Rain asked to be driven to the best nearest coffee house.
“Yes, to a young man with a little ready cash, such as ourselves, there are few better places to be than Victorian London.”
“A second home.”
The two of them spent the morning at Verrey’s Coffee house on the corner of Hanover and Regent streets eating one of the greasiest most delicious fry-ups of egg, sausage, bacon, bubble and squeak with coffee. Rain sent a young runner to enquire about Thermos flasks so to take coffee back for Bruce and Peggy and was told by the same young boy that such a thing couldn’t be had.
Fuller and feeling more themselves, they returned to the apartment and for the planning of what to do next.
“Not much reason to go now,” Peggy said sitting on the bed, “Moriarty is not selling Spiral Dust. But, the taking of Lightfeather by his thugs was interesting, I wonder what he wants with him?”
“How about Crows Hollow? “ Rain retrieved the coin they found on Theo that had been identified by Peggy as a key.
“I’m scared stiff of going to Crow’s Hollow,” Algernon confessed clutching his bony elbows as he perched in one of the leather chairs.
“Yeah? I’m looking forward to seeing what I look like as a crow.” Rain replied, leaning on Algernon’s chair.
“Remember, they won’t be all Lightfeathers and Theos.” Bruce added when Algernon looked unconvinced by Rain’s spin, “ We’ve been unlucky in meeting some of their highly skilled fighters, most of the community will not be so skilled. Still, there’s a lot to be said for just going back to The Estate first, checking in, find out what news they have before making a decision.”
“Yes, I do want to do a little research at the archive.” Rain looked meaningfully at Algernon who didn’t know if it would be good or bad.
In the end, with no clear cut destination in mind, the group formed a circle and once more translated back to Earth and Peggy’s lab at The Estate. On first arriving , Rain tried making his mini sun to no avail, that ability was tied to Dreamland and not available in mundane Earth. Without a word he followed Bruce and the other to Katherine Manner’s office and waited for a moment to report. Though technically, Lawrence Keaton was Rain’s and Algernon’s direct supervisor, reporting to him always seemed at the least a waste of time at the worst a waste of breath. Instead they filled Katherine in on all their investigations and trips through recursions. She had nothing new to offer in the way of information, but she was interested in being a sounding board for their next plans.
“And how confident do you feel about going to Crow’s Hollow?” She asked when the location was brought up.
“We need to know. Everything at the moment is leading to Crow’s Hollow, the Droods and the Cornaros. They are the only ones dealing in Sprial Dust and have an extensive network already in place.” Rain said, adamant that now was the best direction.
“That’s a thought, what is the importance of that arrangement of dealers all over the world?” Peggy mused outloud as she put the question to The Strange itself. A one word reply run through her mind.
“Resonance?… Oh god…”
“The Earth is a giant becon?” Bruce articulated, “By who and for what purpose?”
Rain said nothing, just watched as Algernon expression grew grim and pale.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but young Algernon and I have an appointment with the Archives.” He said, springing from his seat and turning to Algernon. Without a word Algernon followed and the two made their way to the library. There Rain instructed Algernon to identify everything he studied on the creatures of The Strange. Then Rain asked the Archivist for a list of all the materials Algernon had requested on The Strange and compare the two lists.
Peggy also excused herself and went back to her lab to “blow stuff up”, her way of letting off steam. When she arrived Hertzfeld was excited to demonstrate his latest developments in the phasing glove. No longer just a glove, but half a suit (two arms and a lower body) that could phase through a solid surface and bring things back through.
“I’m thinking that the technology could be expanded to a vehicle that could be driven through solid objects, but that’s still a long way off as the energy requirements are far too high.” Hertzfeld explained happily.
This left Bruce alone with Katherine.
“You look like you have something to say, Bruce, “She said after Bruce ensured they were alone and closed the office door, “ Something you don’t want the others to hear?”
Bruce looked at his hands for a long moment, collecting his thoughts before finally speaking, “What are we when we go to those other places? What do we become when we’re there?”
“It’s all theoretical mind, “ She replied coolly, leaning back in her chair to remember the gist of many long lectures from the senior scientific staff, “But when we appear in a recursion it’s in new bodies made by the recursion, suitable and reflecting the nature of the place as well as your own nature.”
“My own nature…” Bruce seemed to take no comfort from that statement, in fact his expression darkened to that of deep concern.
“What is it that’s worrying you, Bruce?”
“In Halloween, one of the smaller recursions, it seemed….it felt like I was being…taken over.”
Katherine nodded and when it was clear Bruce wouldn’t articulate it further, she replied, “Yes, sometimes the recursions have a way of…amplifying parts of your…personality. Usually it’s for the best, we discover parts of ourselves that go beyond what we thought was possible…then sometimes…”
“Well, this one was a real self-righteous bastard.” Bruce added with a smirk, then grew serious again, “It didn’t feel like me.”
“That would have been disturbing, “ She acknowledged, coming around from her behind her desk and took one of the empty seats beside Bruce, “If you ever find yourself in that situation again I want you to remember two things. Firstly, it is only temporary, no matter how uncomfortable or disturbing. As soon as you leave that recursion, that identity will also be left behind. Secondly, here at The Estate we will always try to send you out to new recursions as part of a team. Though the recursion is completely alien, you will not be alone.”
Bruce sat still staring at his two strong hands and nodded silently. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, he was the strong one, the one that could be relied on, was relied on. To be the one in need of help disturbed him more than another change in personality. Eventually he couldn’t think about the problem anymore and just changed the subject.
“So, if we’re going to Crow’s Hollow, can I put in that request for heavy armour?”
Katherine nodded more annimatedly than was required and returned to her desk, “Yes, I believe that this time you are right.” And she pulled out a requisition form and filled it out.
Back at the library, discoveries were being made. Rain was scanning documents while fiddling idlely with his puzzlebox. He’d just come across a group of reports and stories on creatures of The Strange that were so massive that they literally ate recursions. Naturally, called plantvoires very little was known about them, but their presence in The Strange was without question. He turned the small wad of documents over to Algernon sitting beside him.
“Why didn’t you ever mention these before? When Peggy was talking about creatures of the Strange that coud be linked to the Spiral Dust? Or when I asked you if there were others in The Strange we could talk to?”
“What…?” Algernon said just as Rain’s puzzlebox, uncharacteristically tumbled from his fingers.
“What…?” Rain said at the same moment as Algernon. Snatching the box out of the air before it fell to the ground, but not before the last compartment opened revealing a card.
Rain stared in shocked silence as the seconds ticked by, first at the open compartment and then at the card and what it said.
“But, that’s….that’s…how??” He stammered, words all of a sudden becoming stumbling blocks.
“Maybe the old man that gave you the box put it there.” Algernon suggested remembering the story Rain had told them of his first Christmas in England.
Rain shook his head in disbelief, “I …don’t think so, he…had never made it past the first compartment…I’m also certain.” Though Rain was anything but certain. It had been a long time ago, could he be so sure of old Mr Joseph’s true intentions as a seven year old? He read through the card again three more times before he leapt to his feet as if electrcuted and scrambled for his phone.
“Bruce, where is Bruce?”
Bruce was just leaving Katherine’s office when his phone started buzzing with a call. Before he could unlock the phone the person hung up and a message came through, and another, and a third. Bruce read the first.
Where are you? From Rain’s phone. Before he could reply to the message, the phone rang again, this time he was ready.
“Rain, what? I’m just leaving…”
“Where are you… I have to show you…I have a…no wait, where are you??”
“As I said, I’m on my way to the dorms…”
“Okay, okay, okay… don’t go anywhere.” And Rain hung up.
Bruce was used to Rain’s excitable nature, but he was also used to the conman being able to put a sentence together. Bruce quickened his step, sure whatever it was, would be big.
They made it to the dorms at about the same time, which was no mean feat as the Administration block was only one building up from the dormitories, and the library was right across the otherside of campus.
Without a word, which was appropriate as both Rain and Algernon were breathing heavily, Rain thrust his puzzle box into Bruce’s hand. He’d only ever handled the box once before, out in the wastelands of that first recursion. Now he could see that its arrangement had changed, a new compartment was open and inside a small card.
“Tobias, “He read out loud, “The Found Gentlemen would like to meet you. Enquire Within. Oh!”
“Yes!” Rain said and seemed to be waiting for something more.
“This is new?”
Bruce handed back the box, “And this had been in your puzzlebox all along?”
“Yes….maybe….I don’t know….” Rain dithered
“Enquire within. Does that mean it’s a key?”
Rain’s thought visibly shifted from the course that had brought him to find Bruce to what had just been said, “Key? Algernon?” Rain turned on Algernon now handing him the box to examine.
“Ur…Peggy would be better at telling than me.”
“Peggy!” Rain said and ran back out the door, the puzzlebox clutched in two hands.
Keeping up with Rain’s frantic pace they made it to Peggy’s lab door. The red light was spinning in it’s casing signifying that potentially dangerous experiments were underway. Bruce knocked on the door, Rain walked straight in.
“What is it now, didn’t you see the light?” She asked as Rain ran straight up to her, his puzzlebox open.
“Is it a key?” He panted handing her the box. She examined the box, allowing her normal sight to go out of focus so she could more clearly see the aura coming from it.
“As I’ve noted before, there is something of the Strange about this box but nothing very extraordinary,” She looked at the card and nodded, “The card on the other hand is no doubt a key. Whose Tobias?”
This single question to stun Rain back to sense who stepped back. It allowing him a moment to gain control once more, “Me! At least I was known as Tobias when I received this box. I told you in the ghoul camp.”
Peggy had still been deeply disturbed by events in the ruins of Sarkomand when the party stayed the night with the ghoul. It was then that Rain had shared the story of his box and the name he had used for much of his life. Taking a deep breath to calm his thought, Rain gave Peggy a summary of that story.
“Well, then it seems to me that the old man must have put that card there for you.”
“Possibly…” He was coming around to the fact that possibly the kindly old man had been more than what he seemed.
“Well naturally, the box was only a test, a way of finding those worthy to join.” Algernon added his theory.
“When I was seven? How would he have known? It wasn’t just for anyone, it had my name on it.”
“Maybe it’s not always been there, maybe it’s only been there recently.”
“For…now?” Rain tried to make sense of the Algernon’s thought processes, “But it has a name on it I haven’t been able to use in more than ten years.”
“Who are the Lost Gentlemen?” Peggy asked pointing to the card. Suddenly Rain remembered why he’d wanted Bruce in the first place.
“Bruce, it links to Bruce?” He swung around to a confused Bruce,
“That’s why I showed you?!” Rain almost cried in frustration, “It was the group the military man was joining. The one who sold your father’s journal!”
Now Algernon and Peggy were confused. Though they vaguely remembered Bruce buying a book in Celephais, he’d never mentioned that it was his Father’s journal. It was now Bruce’s turn to give them a summary of what he knew about the journal, the man who sold it and where it had come from.
“But that’s a personal thing, I don’t think it or Railsea have much to do with where we’re heading next.”
“Are you so sure?”Algernon said thinking, “What are the odds of you finding that book in Dreamland? Actually, I could probably work that out, do you want to see the figures?”
“Exactly!” Rain interrupted, “Just what I’ve said from the beginning. We’ve been told from the beginning that the gifted are rare, and yet here we are, some of the most powerful beings I’ve ever seen right here in this room, thrown together on a rainy night off a highway outside New Orleans.”
“I know that something brought us together, “ Bruce stood pacing the floor, “I”m not a good church man, but there is a god and he’s in control.” Now he turned to Rain, “If something is guiding us, take one of those crow coins and flip it. Let it decide where we go next.”
A shadow flickered over Rain’s face for a moment, but quickly past as he made a heavy gold coin appear and danced it across his fingers.
“Sure,” Was all he said as he flipped it high into the air, the gold claw motif once more catching the light as it spun and flipped.
To be continued…
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.
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?”
“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.”
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…
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.
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! 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.
23. Old friends, new enemies
The party find themselves in Celephais under the roof of the Implausible Geographic Society. With two ways ahead, follow the Lang or heading to London 1890. Now they discuss what to do next with the old and new friends of Noel Hagan and Maximillian Von Candlestick III.
“What I don’t understand is why you spend so much time and effort chasing down this herb?” Algernon was still talking to Maximillian when the others, their interrogations now complete, joined them in a makeshift study and workspace. Maximilian had been a font of information for the young man who was willing to sit and listen to the bombastic but insightful lectures of the older man.
“You see, though for many, the herbal concoction are completely harmless, there is a small number of the population that, when taking the herb in sufficient quantities, will…well let’s say it’s not so harmless.”
“So, they disappear. But, I understand that adults get the right to choose on Earth.”
“Ah, well that is true, and if it were just the small numbers affected then we may let it go as a bit of harmless fun. Unfortunately, the Lang, for reasons of their own, are encouraging the addition of other drugs into the mix. We know for a fact that they are paying James Moriarty and his group to do just that. We don’t know why or for what purpose, and that’s what we’re here to find out.” Maximilian gesticulated, pointing out into thin air to accentuate his point.
This is seemed logical reasoning for tracking down the suppliers of the drugs to Algernon who nodded quietly before asking another question, “Why do they use the drug?”
“Escapism mostly, “ Bruce entered into the conversation followed by Rain. “Some find the realities of life hard to bear. They find comfort in these alternative lives. Forget their troubles for a while.”
“Yes, alcohol can be…”
“I wouldn’t know….”
Rain changed the subject.
“So there’s a native herb of the Dreamlands, is that Bywandine?”
“No, not strictly.” Maximilian continued, “Bywandine is a concoction of the variegated leaf of the Dreamlands and opium. Then, for reasons of their own, another additive is being incorporated by the Lang.”
“Is it addictive?” Algernon asked, now grasping the essence of the problem.
“Opium is, “ Bruce replied, “In itself and for the effect it has. And the problem with addiction is you cease to have a choice. These suppliers become…puppeteers, controlling their…customers. They are no longer free, but enslaved by the drug.”
“Okay, so why don’t we tell the authorities on Earth. Let them deal with it?”
“When it comes to the opium, we do.” Maximilian said, “They are usually better equipt to chasing down the drugs on Earth. When it comes to the more exotic ingredients, especially this new development, we find it more convenient to investigate ourselves.”
“I see, I think I understand.” Algernon finally said.
This led to a lull in the conversation as Peggy walked up, flushed with victory over her captive, “So, where are the stork and the Lorax?” She asked before spotting Maximillian. Behind her, Noel sauntered and looked around the group, a well-natured smile on his face. She took one look at him and turned away, her expression a confusion of anger and loss. Noel’s smile dropped and he took a place beside Maximilian, across the room from Peggy.
“You know Algernon, “Peggy turned her attention to Algernon so suddenly, Algernon nearly jumped and ran, “I’ve just realised I have no idea why you’re here. You didn’t understand the implication of the drugs on Earth, nor would you care. What is your motivation, Algernon?”
Algernon just stared back through his shaggy black hair, his eyes large and unknowing.
“What do you care about?” She asked again, not to be put off.
“There’s got to be more to life than survival.” Rain interjected before being hushed by Peggy.
“Is there anything you’d give up your survival for?”
“Not willingly,” Algenon admitted uncomfortably.
“Okay.” Peggy was now warming up to the subject. Algernon had remained inscrutable as the day the group first met. Usually, he found an excuse to leave or just ran away. With neither option open to him, he had to face the questioning.
“What if it wasn’t your life at risk, but the quality of your life? If Rain or Bruce were in danger, it would be a loss to you, wouldn’t it?”
Rain watched from the sidelines of the conversation, fascinated and uncomfortable forAlgernon at the same time. At the mention of either Rain or Bruce being in danger, Bruce’s eyebrows raised in interest as he turned to also pay attention to Algernon’s response. Algenon remained silent, seemingly unable to make sense of her question.
“Maybe something more general, “Bruce suggested, “How about the Trolley problem. There’s a trolley out of control on a set of tracks leading to a switch. If the trolley were to continue it would hit five people working, but on another connected line, there is only one person working. Do you let the tram roll through the five or do you use the switch and move the tram to the second track killing the one?”
“Ha, that’s easy you send it down the second line. Unless of course, Noel is part of the group of five then let hell rain down on them, I say.” Peggy replied her fury bubbling to the surface.
“You seem bitter,” Noel said unprepared for Peggy’s wrath.
“I seem bitter? I lost the last ten years of my life and not a peep from you. I thought I could trust you, I can’t believe how wrong I was.”
Noel and Maximillian made themselves scarce and watched over the captives.
“Yeah, I’m scary now,” Peggy said low after the retreating geographer.
“Now,” Algernon replied quietly so she didn’t hear.
Rain tried to forget Noel’s discomfort and steered the conversation back to the problem, “To the one. There’s no way I could move five people alone, but one I could…I think…sure, I’d do whatever I could to save the one from the trolley.”
“I of course, “ Bruce added his own opinion, “have worked too long in industrial safety and see too many die and get hurt. It is always what is safest for the majority that matters.”
The group turned to Algernon who looked completely unsure what to say next.
“Look, let me make it simple,” Peggy said when it was clear Algernon was not going to give an opinion, “Who would you save, me or Rain?”
At this Rain pulled Peggy aside a little and said, “ Are you so sure I’m higher in his estimations?”
“Of course, he seeks you out, you work on projects together. Not once has he willingly joined me in my lab.”
“As if you’d want him there…”
“What does that matter…”
“Stop it, both of you, “ Bruce said and Peggy and Rain fell silent, “It’s like watching parents fighting. He’s just a kid, he’s still working out this stuff.”
“Okay, forget it, Algernon, it’s not important.” Rain sighed himself, “What is important is what we’re doing next, go to London 1890 or find a way to the Moon?”
“I want to go to the market.” Algernon countered and Rain couldn’t help but smile.
“A good short term goal, I like it.”
All ethical discussion put on hold, the group informed Maximillian and Noel about shopping for cyphers and anything else of use. Noel instantly offered Maximillian and himself to stay and look after the captives.
“That’s very chivalrous of you, Noel, thank you.” Rain made a point of the gesture. Peggy scowled and started walking out of the warehouse.
“She seems…so bitter. She’s not how I remember. She use to be so full of vision and big ideas,” Noel said quietly when Peggy was out of earshot.
“I admit I find it hard imagining the Peggy you knew. When we found her she was dressed in ugg boots and a homemade hazmat suit, paranoid about creatures from underground coming to get her. You know, she set up a static blast mine beside her front door? Wouldn’t let me help her with her invention for fear of what I’d do to it.”
Again, to the soft-hearted academic’s credit, his expression showed the utter grief that Rain’s words had,
“I had no idea. I was told I couldn’t go back, that the world was better believing I was dead.”
“I don’t blame you.” Rain comforted him, “but your absence did not help. Besides, the old Peggy full of ideas is still there. In that garage, out of scrounged and stolen parts she made a machine that connects to The Strange. It’s how we came together, being pulled into a recursion by her machine.”
“I see she is a real asset to your group.”
“Truthfully, I think she’s the only reason I’m allowed into the Estate at all.” Rain grinned sheepishly, “Look, just be your best self. She can hold a grudge but not against common sense.”
“But she’s so angry…”
“She was this angry with us, not so long ago.” Rain laughed nervously, clearly remembering how close they’d come to losing her in the ruins of Sarkomand. “The magnitude of her anger is only an expression of how much you meant to her. Give her time and she’ll remember the good as well.”
Back into the dusty bustling market streets of Celephais, the group split up. Algernon and Rain (on Bruce’s insistence that the ‘…kid needed a chaperone…”) and Bruce and Peggy. As soon as it was convenient though, he split from her as well.
Algernon searched the stalls for things that spoke to him of The Strange. There were silks and bright coloured fabrics, exotic animals and unusual foods, but nothing that could be a useful cypher for Algernon’s collection.
“There’s nothing here.” Algernon finally admitted as Rain looked about at the buildings around them.
“Well, you know when I hit a dead-end, I look for a new perspective.” He said pointing up to the rooftops.
“Alright,” Algernon replied and followed Rain to one of the many alleys that lead from the markets. Here Rain started a quick sprint, running up the wall a couple of metres before grabbing a terracotta guttering and throwing himself up another metre. He was about to grab for another handhold when an invisible force pushed him up and he clattered onto the terracotta tiles, a child dumped by a parent’s strength.
“You know I’m already insanely jealous of your abilities.” He chided Algernon from above as Algernon dropped his arms from levitating Rain and pushed them both down to the ground.
“You’ve not seen anything yet,” Algernon replied as a shimmering ball of force encircled him and he started to rise from the ground. With a level of control he hadn’t shown before, he levitated up to the roofline and dropped down beside Rain, who applauded.
“Right! Flight and shield. You do know that’s like one and two on the superheroes most wanted superpowers list.”
Together they took in the breathtaking vista that is Celephais. Algernon noted where the gates and harbour connected to main streets. Where the cluster of large civic buildings stood and the shortcuts in between them all. Rain took in the beauty of the white walls, the bronze rooftops and the blue sea and sky.
“You know, you’re right about this place. It never ages or spoils.” Rain finally said, “Nothing lasts forever.”
Though only early afternoon, the moon was large in the sky and it attracted the currently philosophical Rain. It looked no different from the moon back on Earth, though its dominance of the sky, even in the day, was unusual.
“We might be going there soon.” He said, glancing over at Algernon who seemed to be memorising the city.
“Yeah,” Algernon replied.
“Just yeah, Not wow, amazing, exciting or scary?”
“It’s just another place.”
“Exactly, new place, new start, new everything.”
While the boys overlooked the city from on high, Bruce was working his way back to the stall where he’d found the journal. That there was an artifact at all was incredible, that he should find it seemed to be a type of miracle. Bruce believed in miracles and wasn’t about to waste this one with wondering.
When he found the stall, the stall owner was packing up for the day and had time to chat to a customer, especially one who had paid so well.
“Where did you get this book from?”
“Let’s see, a few months ago. A military man came by and sold me a few things, one of them being that journal.” The merchant turned to his packs and started rummaging.
“Can you remember if he looked like me?” Bruce asked, interrupting the searching, “Older obviously.”
“No, he was shorter than you and held himself very stiffly and correct, military.”
The trader pulled out three items, a set of rusty tools, a folded map and a military uniform. The tools were nondescript, but the folded map was of the trackways of Railsea and the uniform was also familiar from Railsea.
“Remember anything else about the guy?”
“Yes, we chatted for a while. He was selling all this because he’d found himself a new employer. Oh, which reminds me…” The merchants went back to his packs and pulled out a small worn book, “He was joining a group called The Found Gentlemen and said he wouldn’t need this stuff any more.” He handed Bruce the small book which was stamped in worn gold leaf, Manikiki Fero Navy Recruiters’ Handbook.
“I’ll take the lot.” Bruce pulled out his collection of gems without quibble and paid what was requested. Picking up the uniform he noticed a name stitched carefully into the collar of the jacket.
Rundat Tu Vin
It meant nothing, at the moment. Bruce carefully packed the motley collection of Railsea items and started back. Now he had secured all he could about the journal, Bruce scanned the stalls for interesting items, something to show for his time in the markets. At one stall a black featureless cube caught his attention. It was too plain, but also far too finely made to be local.
“What is this thing?” He asked the stall owner who was quick to spot his interest.
“Pretty isn’t it, such an unusual and rare item.” The guy obviously had no idea what it was.
“Not pretty, but Strange,” Bruce replied and paid full price and continued on his way.
Peggy had been doing much the same thing as Algernon, scanning the stalls. With her newfound ability, she was able to pick out items quickly and had found a headband and a hat that both shimmered with The Strange. She was able to knock down the price on the headband, but the hat was too generally useful for the seller to bargain it down. She was just stowing her purchases when Bruce truned up with the black cube. Peggy shared her cyphers with Bruce and together they started walking back to the warehouse.
“I’ve been thinking about the onyx that came out of the Lang, “Algernon said as he and Rain sat watching Celephais life roll on beneath them, “I think it would be worth a good amount in the local currency.”
“Do you want to find out what it’s worth?” Rain asked and shuddered, “It certainly bothers me that the local currency is made of people’s souls.”
“Yes,” Algernon responded grimly, perhaps finding something worth investigating. “So, what next?”
A childish smile lighted Rain’s face as he tagged Algernon and leapt away lightly, “Chase me!” He said and recklessly sprinted across the rooftop for the edge. Algernon flared his shield into existence and followed in pursuit.
On the relatively flat surface of the roof, Algernon’s longer legs had the advantage. As soon as Rain jumped a gap between buildings, rolling on impact and landing on his feet, Algernon faltered. Pushing against the roof with his levitation, Algernon propelled himself across the gap, missed the roof and smashed through the wall into a residential apartment.
A couple, relaxing from the heat of the day in their loungeroom, were showered in plaster, dust and bricks and Algernon. Turning back at the crashing noise, Rain leaned out over the eaves to the disaster created. Now weakened, the roof under Rain groaned and buckled and he too fell into the room with cascading tiles and roof beams.
“Wha….what are you doing here?” The owner said, gaining his feet in the midst of devastation.
“That’s exactly the question I’d like to know,” Rain jumped up equally as quickly and looked down at Algernon, “What are we doing here? Algernon, to the door, double time.” He barked before turning back to the homeowners a wave of The Strange penetrating his words, “ I suggest, as you were citizens, military maneuver in operation.” He said and quickly followed the retreating Algernon out the door.
In the crowded market, the boys found a feeling of safety and a jeweller. Algernon held out the gem and Rain, squeamish at its origins, took it up in a silk handkerchief that appeared from nowhere. With the cool gem now on his person, Rain stepped up to the stall as Algernon walked on a little, already scanning the surface thoughts of the shopkeeper.
“Ah, yes young sir, has something caught your eye?” The shopkeeper smooth patter washed over Rain who smiled politely and pulled out the silk.
“Good day to you sir, I have an unusual gem and I was hoping you could tell me its providence and value with the option to purchase?” He replied smoothly back as he lay out the silk revealing the black gem at its colourful centre.
What the….no….it is!…oh the gods…
Algernon couldn’t help turning around the watch the shopkeepers face go through a mixture of emotions, mostly fear and anxiety. Rain saw the same expressions and understood that knowledge of the origin of the gems was known to the public of Celephais.
The shopkeeper cleared his throat and attempted to control his expressions before speaking again, “And where did you find such a specimen?”
“I travel extensively. I believe that one came from ruins across the sea.”
This is not safe, I don’t want anything to do with it…
“Ah, no I’m not interested, sorry.” The shopkeeper pushed the stone back to Rain.
“What a shame. Could you advise me on who can speak to about this gem?”
The shopkeeper’s thoughts were a jumble of anxiety, he wanted the gem gone and quick. And then a solution came to him.
He’s dodgy. I don’t like him anyway. Algernon picked up before he said to Rain.
“Well yes, there is a gentleman jeweller down at the docks who specialises in the…more exotic gems. He may be interested in your bauble.”
Thanking the jeweller who physically relaxed as Rain stepped away from the stall and started down the hill to the docks. Algernon soon caught up and they exchanged notes.
“He didn’t like it, did he.” Rain said sensing his friend beside him.
“No. He knew what it was, but never even spoke it to himself.”
“How about the recommended jeweller?”
“Well, that’s fine. I’m not trustworthy.”
“So, we’re going?”
“We have to go that way anyway.”
“Do I have to ask, is it safe?”
Rain smiled and did not reply.
Bruce and Peggy were almost to the docks when both were stopped in their tracks by a sight they hadn’t expected to see in Dreamland. Eldin Lightfeather and his goon in a bowler hat talking to a vegetable seller. Peggy slipped on her latest cypher, a hat, and touched a local walking the other way. Instantly, she looked exactly like them, clothes and all. Bruce stepped back behind some stalls to watch the two known denizens of Crows Hollow, haggle with the farmer.
“Do you want to sneak by him?” Bruce asked as they watched a bag of gems being exchanged for a basket of leaves.
“What!? Are you crazy?” Peggy rounded on him using the face of another, “I can’t go near them, those are the ones that stabbed me!”
Peggy stared at the two supposed men in front of her and their forms wavered and dissolved. Past the form taken in Dreamland, their true natures were revealed, that of bird-headed men. Men just like the skeleton she had found with Noel ten years ago! Her mind boggled at the implications that the people of Crow’s Hollow had been interfering in humanity for millennia!
“Can’t we hide or go around through the side streets?” She asked.
“But you have the perfect disguise right now. We should sneak back and see what he’s up to.”
“But I’m not that good at stealth.” She whined, uncharacteristically.
Bruce tapped her on the arm, connecting them together telepathically.
You just have to follow them, trust in your disguise. I’ll be right behind you.
Fine, but you owe me. She replied, as she stepped back into the flow of the crowd and headed towards Lightfeather and his companion.
Hanging back, Bruce kept his bulk well hidden while still keeping in touch with what was going on.
Stiff and unnatural, Peggy as the local walked up to a stall nearby and pretended to sort through the wares on offer. She could see now that the leaves exchanged were purple with orange variegation to them, just like the ones described by Maximillian. So this is how Lightfeather picked up his supply of Bywandine. It seemed odd even to Peggy that someone so respected was doing such a simple low-level task. But, she was unable to bring herself to step closer to hear what they were talking about.
I wonder where his hideout is here? Bruce thought, startling Peggy.
So I have to follow Lightfeather?! Can’t I just follow the farmer instead?
He’s not going to tell us what we need to know. Do what you can, Peggy.
As soon as Lightfeather and companion looked to leave, Peggy steeled herself with a deep breath in and followed at a distance. She could see them chatting, but once more she was too far away to hear and couldn’t bring herself to move closer. Soon the duo turned down an alleyway that was relatively unpopulated compared to the markets and Peggy didn’t feel she could keep up the tail.
Okay, double back. I’ll meet you at the farmer. Came Bruce’s resigned reply.
The farmer was unloading produce to a market stall when Peggy and Bruce finally met up again. Bruce, leaned on the cart and waited to be noticed.
“Er…can I help you?” The farmer asked, a little concern in his voice.
“You had dealings with a friend of mine.” Bruce replied cheerily, “You gave him leaves and he gave you a big bag of gems.”
“I…I have a lot of herbs.” The farmer gestured to his handcart which was full of many varieties of herbs and fresh vegetables.
“This would be a specific herb. Where did you get them from?”
“My farm…out of town…”
“There didn’t seem to be a lot of herb for a lot of gems. Are they rare?”
“No…they grow wild…just no one else seems to want them.”
“What are they used for?”
“They’re said to be medicinal. They’re used by some who Dreamwalk.”
Though he knew the herb was for Dreamwalking on Earth, Bruce hadn’t considered it could be used from this side too.
“Can you use it to Dreamwalk?” He asked the farmer who shook his head.
“Do you have any more, I could pop by your farm to pick it up.” Bruce smiled and scared the farmer even more.
“Why would I want you at my farm, you scare me.” He said clearly putting his cart between himself and his brute of a man.
“Well, then I’ll scare you and still pop by. Why not make this easier and faster and just give me your address.”
The farmer gave directions to his farm.
Peggy and Bruce walked away now back to the warehouse with what they had discovered.
The jeweller worked out of a small shop front at the docks. Algernon and Rain had already walked by once and glanced in to see a figure wearing a turban sitting at a display case. Algernon stationed himself just outside the window to the store and scanned the individual’s thoughts.
Ah, the black ships. I wonder if they’ll bring me some of their lovely rubies, It thought covetously.
“Are you sure you’re okay going in alone?” He asked Rain.
Rain actually thought for a moment, straightened up a little and smiled, pleased to know that someone had his back.
“Don’t worry, this is what I do.” He replied, and entered the shop.
Behind the counter, the turbaned individual displayed a creepy smile as Rain entered. Rain thought nothing of it, the room was dark and the reputation of the individual did not lead him to think he was dealing with an honest gentleman. He put his best and most charming face on and stepped up to the counter.
“Good afternoon, you have been recommended to me by a fellow jeweller in the marketplace.” Rain started, buttering up his target who didn’t seem that interested in the praise.
“Indeed, and how can I be of assistance today?”
“I came across this interesting gem, and the last dealer refused to identify it for me.” Rain pulled out the silk hanky and lay out the black gem in front of the dealer.
But how! Algernon instantly picked up from the jeweller’s surface thoughts, I must save them!
Rain too noticed the pause and was ready for the fake smile and brush off when it came,
“I’m afraid this is just a rather pretty onyx, common in certain parts.”
Rain took a breath and drew on his link with The Strange to suggest a new course of action to the shopkeeper, “I suggest, you could buy this gem if you’re honest with me.” He said quietly without menace or threat. To his frustration, the shopkeeper seemed to brush off the Suggestion.
“But I am being honest, friend.” The jeweller replied simply, but Rain could see the avarice, he wanted the stone.
“What a shame, I guess I’ll just keep it then.” He said, Sleight of hand the gem and silk back where it had come from before turning to leave.
“Oh, don’t leave so soon. I am still interested in your…bauble. Please, sit and drink with me a moment while I consider an offer.” The jeweller said and Rain smiled quietly to himself before returning to sit down, return the gem to the counter and accept the offered drink.
Outside, Algernon picked the surface thought of the jeweller and grew concerned.
He’ll give them to me after a few of these, no one has tolerance for the drink like me.
Inside the cherry coloured liquor was poured from a small cut crystal bottle and handed across the counter to Rain who accepted it gladly.
“What an unusual cordial, “ He said, breathing in the drink and noting it’s potency. He took a good sip of the liquid before dabbing his lips with another silk handkerchief, allowing the liquid to absorb into the cloth.
“Yes, it is a personal favourite,” The jeweller grinned again and started a waffling tale of where the onyx is mined in mountains…
“…North of the Lost City of Zin…”
Rain listened patiently, sipping and palming the liquor as he thought through what he could do next. He’d finished the glass before he’d thought of a new plan.
Outside, Algernon heard the frustration of the jeweller and his concern rose.
He should be more affected by now.
“Would you like another?” The jeweller offered up the cut crystal bottle, and Rain held out the glass with a smile.
Inside, Rain’s mind was going through all the options.
What I want to happen, He thought, Is for this guy to get so drunk that he sees me as his best friend and tells me what I want to know. Amongst the thought, The energies of The Strange played and twisted working subtly on the scene.
Outside, Algernon listening to the thoughts of the jeweller, was dismayed when the signal became faint and distant. Looking in through the window he could see both Rain and the jeweller still sitting at the counter, perfectly still.
For Rain and the jeweller, it was a lovely afternoon chatting with a friend. The jeweller was significantly more drunk than he thought he should be, but the man across the way was harmless, charming and completely sober. The jeweller looked at his glass and tried focusing his thoughts.
“Don’t…don’t worry about the gem… I’ll keep them safe.” He said
Them? “They’re people?” Rain asked, pleased that somehow his wild imaginings had become real.
The jeweller nodded drunkenly, “A black onyx such as this, is the soul of one of my countrymen.”
Countrymen? Rain thought, knowing full well the gem had come from the Lang Algernon had killed. He looked again at the jeweller and physically blanched realising that under the turban, jeweller’s white gloves and the weirdly creepy grin, the jeweller was indeed a Lang.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! He thought to himself as he pulled out a few of the red sapphires from his purse.
“So Lang soul’s make onyx, while my countrymen make these.”
“Stupid monkies….yes, yes. But what do they matter?” The jeweller replied completely oblivious to what he was saying.
“They matter, “Rain gestured to the red gems in his hand, “Because this matters.” Pointing to the onyx, “And they are the same.”
“A monkey would think that.” The jeweller mumbled, “The black gem…he really matters. You…you’re just useful as gems and then meat and nothing more.”
“And why do you matter?” Rain asked now, all his attention fixed on the drunk Lang, “What is the purpose of Lang?”
“We are the true servants of the masters. You’d be barely a meal.” The Lang giggled at his joke at Rain’s expense. Disregarding the jibe, Rain continued,
“And their Master?”
“They serve the Dark god, Nyarlathotep.”
“Tell me about the Dark god.”
Outside, Algernon was now very worried. He could see that neither the jeweller nor Rain had moved for several minutes. Finally, he entered the store and walked up to Rain slumped unconscious in his seat, a rye smile on his lips. A across the counter the Lang was also unconscious seemingly talking quietly in his sleep. Shaking his head, at the crazy abilities of the little conman, he leapt across the counter and quickly searched. Tucked away for easy access were two daggers with serrated edges that he quickly pocketed. Stashed away under the counter he found a small box containing three red gems of the sort they had become accustomed to seeing, and a small black sphere. A tingling in his scalp made him aware of the presence of The Strange and he quickly snapped up all four with a free cloth and quickly leapt back over the counter and left Rain to whatever he was doing.
“So, is there any hope for your countrymen, for ones turned to gems?” Rain asked now realising that there may be more lives that could be saved than just the herb and spiral dust users.
“It is up to the Moonbeasts. If they are willing…” The Lang petered out, he was more than a little drunk now. Rain had heard enough anyway. This latest illusion had served its purpose. With a release of The Strange the shared dream dissipated and he and the Lang found themself sitting across from each other, the onyx between.
“Well, what a charming afternoon. I’m sorry we couldn’t do business today…” Rain said moving to take back the onyx and the silk it lay upon. With a violent suddenness, the Lang snatched at the onyx, too slow for Rain’s quick hands who made the gem disappear.
The jeweller, now reached for his trusty daggers kept for the purpose of thieves. Neither was where he’d left them and his mind turned to the precious item he kept hidden in a box under the counter. Sure enough, those too was missing.
I the meantime, Rain had got up and had the door open as the Lang climbed over his counter and lunged at the retreating back of the human. Dropping down and rolling forward, Rain dodged the Lang attack who was now on all fours and looking far more like the beast than the gentile shopkeeper. Again the Lang went to chase after Rain, but this time Algernon was ready and caught hold of it midstride. He pushed it out over the docks and as soon as he was over the water, let the levitation force go and the Lang dropped with a splash into the harbour.
Rain tipped his hat to Algernon and silently they left, making it back to the warehouse before dark.
That night, the group debriefed on their afternoon out in Celephais. Bruce and Peggy shared their information about Lightfeather that made Rain go so quiet he almost forgot to mention his adventure with the Lang jeweller until Algernon prompted him. Algernon showed the sphere he’d found in the store to Peggy.
“I know this, “ She said, surprised to find it here of all places, “It’s what was left of thonic. Hertzfeld has been experimenting with one for his phasing project.”
No mention was made of the book that had so taken Bruce’s interest, and Rain made a note to corner Bruce about it sometime very soon.
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.”