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There's a hole in the earth like a great black pit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it
And its morals aren't worth what a pig could spit
And it goes by the name of London.


Our story begins in North London, at the Airship Station of Canary Wharf. Well established as the aerial hub of the British Empire, the station has a proud view across the River Thames, the great waterway that divides North and South... Rich and Poor... Vampire and Mortal.

The station can receive up to twenty ships at a time, be they luxury ambassador liners of the Chinese Empire, smaller work-tugs from France and Spain, the flying fortresses of the German Front, or even the long-haul convoys from the Americas. Through its massive steam-powered docks come the raw materials that fuel the Vampire Supremacy - coal and iron, weapons and munitions, raw meats and textiles.


There is a bright sky this morning - as bright as it can be through the layers of Smog churned out by the factories. A certain spring is in the step of the station-goers; the aristocratic couples boarding cruises to the African wastes, the street-merchants selling pornography, the prostitutes promising a quick fix to passing nobles as they wave their blood-type bracelets. Paper boys yell the morning headlines above the hiss of steam: The Ripper has struck again! The Home Guard battle Migrants in Lewishman! An Invisible Man has been spotted on the city limits! Foot-falls, horse-hooves and machine-cogs sound the pulse of bustling London.

15 years since the Rising. 13 years since the Dead Deal. And all is well.

But as our adventure begins, two devilish men go about their business on the south side of the station, in the steamship Amelia, newly docked from America.


"Quickly, darling. Tardiness is most unattractive." The speaker's voice is eloquent and effeminate, a man who has drunken deep from the cup of unorthodox pleasures. His associate, dressed like him in coat and top hat, holds a blade to the Captain's throat as the question is asked.

"I... I can't bleedin' remember..." splutters the hostage, but his answer brings only disappointed tuts.

"Please, mon capitan. Your reputation preceeds you. Atlantic sailors always have the manifest memorized in their pretty little heads. Now be a good boy and spill your secrets, before my associate has to cut them out. He can be rather beastly when he gets going."

His friend pulls the blade against the Captain's throat, almost cutting the skin till he cries out. "Alright, guv! Alright! I'll talk! It's for a lady called Maxine Brewer. She owns a doss house on Camberwell Road!"

"Good! That's the spirit!" The man smiles and taps his cane against the next box in the cargo hold. "And this one?"

"Mister... Mister Q Richardson... Liverpool Grove."

"Oh, you are good. I'm getting all hot and bothered just seeing you in action."

"Why do you want...AAAGH!" The Captain yelps as the second man nicks him with the blade, an expert cut that narrowly misses his arteries and stops his question short.

"Please, mon capitan, behave yourself. I will pitch and you will catch. Now..." His cane taps the next cargo crate, lamplight catching on ts ivory head and the purple glove that grips it.

"That's... that's for someone in Lambert. Swinnen family. That's all I know..."

"Good. Now, just one more, gorgeous. I promise." The cane taps the last box in the aisle, this one smaller than the others, and the Captain falters, tears running down his cheeks and joining the trickle of blood from his neck.

"I... oh Christ, I can't remember... please!"

The speaker sighs and checks his pocket watch. "Oh do hurry up. My friend and I have tickets for the opera."

"Hoffman... Doctor Randolph Hoffman... lab equipment. He lives on Fleet Street."

"Bravo, mon capitan." The speaker tucks the cane under his arm and claps his delicate hands together as he approaches. "Now. My friend and I are going to... let us say 'embellish' this cargo somewhat. A few additions here and there. Nothing to concern yourself with. And once we are done you are to deliver them as normal. I assure you there will be no repercussions for your business. And likewise I assure you that, should you tell anyone of our little tete-a-tete this morning, not only will you be stripped of your possessions and reputation, but my friend here will see fit to pay you another visit and acquaint you with the delights of organ donation."

The blade pulls close again and the Captain weeps, his body shaking in the captor's grip. But the man with the cane hushes him and presses a slender finger to his lips. "Why so glum, my dear? We will pay you the extra costs. Say... two thousand a crate?"

Now the Captain's eyes open and grief turns to confusion. They are going to tamper with his cargo AND pay him for the trouble? His mouth opens and he says the only thing he can think of. "How... how do I know... you'll pay...?"

The stranger laughs, a rich and honey-sweet sound that echoes like swarming creatures around the cargo hold. Then he leans closer, tipping up his tophat, long hair falling from his face as he smiles. "Oh, my dear boy..." Blood-red lips part to reveal gleaming teeth and two long, pointed fangs. "You have my word as a gentleman."
It had been thirteen years since the Dead Deal was made and fifteen since the Rising. Not that London had changed that much. Sure, the Migrants had been pushed back beyond the outskirts of the 205, held at bay by the grim men of the Home Guard; but for the most part South London, or Soulon as the peasants called it, looked the same as it did before the Rising: a labyrinth of narrows with ruined corridors traced by fire and artillery.

Yet that was the nature of the Dead Deal, after all. It had frozen everything in place, keeping London from both a plunge into anarchy and a path to recovery. The wounds of the zombie outbreak were left exposed and human life continued in the backstreets beyond the ruins, in the underbelly of Old London. A 'corpse-city', Professor Pennyblood called it. He always warned his servants not to stray too far from a lamplight or the laughter of a tavern, lest the deadness should take them. There were parts of the city where you would be lost if you stopped to stare too long.

Walcastle was amongst the busiest districts of Soulon, a backstreet neighbourhood where life had blossomed in defiance of the Rising. The Professor always said that this part of London had too much history in it to be fazed by the Undead. Walcastle had weathered the Rising Years with the same spirit as it had the Old Wars. And at the corner of Burgess Park, where over two thousand Migrants had once been massacred by the airships of the vampires, masked men and women had gathered. The midday sun gave the brightest stage as London could provide, a misty grey like a dreamscape. They stood on boxes and clung to railings, the beaks of their plague masks turning to peer at passers-by. The largest of them stalked down the street after a teenage boy as he passed. In his hand a sepia poster bore the image of a Migrant, dressed in a skirt of flesh and rags, with nails of porcelain.

"Do you see them, brothers?" the preacher asked, his voice a muddled accent of Old Europe. "They clothes themselves in their sins. The Whores of Babylon, to tempting us as Mammon steals the sun."

"Piss off, beaky!" the boy snapped, quickening his pace as he clutched a small rollsack to his chest.

"For short time He give us over, into Devil hands and false angels, they beasts with seven heads. But soon will come Rapture. Are you ready, brother?"

"I dunno," the boy answered. He tried to move ahead but found his arm gripped by the preacher's wiry hand.

"Clean you must, be free of sinful ways and tempting of flesh."

"Get off!" He tried to pull free but the plague mask thrust towards his face.

"God will come to judge all. London will burn!"

A couple of fingers hooked the nose holes of the mask and pulled it backwards. The preacher yelped and twisted as he was dragged away from the boy and flung against the park railings. He flailed, about to rise and confront his attacker. But then he saw that he was not the only one wearing a mask today.


"I would recommend a trip to the council office, my good man. You will note, I am sure, the adequate provision of fire-breaks and steam hydrants provided in the South London boroughs, together with the recent overhaul of the sewage system to facilitate the Flood Barrier Redirection Array. I am quite certain you will appreciate that London will not be burning any time soon."

The statement was delivered in a rapid and stabbing eloquence, like a series of rapier strikes. The goggled man then put an arm around the boy and led him away from the glaring preacher.

* * * *

An hour later, the boy and the masked man sat in the Bardic Arms, surrounded by midday dockers and gin-drinking prostitutes, smoke and laughter washing around them. The pub was nestled in the backstreets, with a rear yard holding flapping lines of bed sheets. From here they had the northward view of Lambeth and what little could be seen of the river. The airships were out today and their sleek curves were passing behind the starker spikes of the Parliament Battery. The old buildings were still illuminated, gold etched with black shadows, the half-dome of St Paul's opera house and the unblinking eye of Big Ben. They seemed so far away.

The boy held his rollsack on the table, while the man read from the pages of a large newspaper. His hat, mask and goggles were heaped beside him. "Have you read this, my boy? Another murder on the bridges."

Ripley stared at where the Professor's head should have been, seeing only newspaper. "The Highwayman?"

"And thus, my point is proven. A man perishes whilst trying to cross the river and we are to believe that he was not simply mown down by the Judge's personal army but rather that he fell foul of a mythical beast that prowls the threshold betwixt our world and the Vampires'. And this fiction comes, of all people, from the lips of a child, confirming my despair that all of London is held in check by a fairytale that will soon consume us."

"But it's true." Ripley put his head on the table, trying to read the headline on the front page. "There was that one girl – she went on the bridge and got back alive and she said she saw him: the Highwayman. He rides a horse up and down the bridges."

"I highly doubt that said girl existed, let alone witnessed such an apparition. Just as I doubt, young Ripley, that you were at the Mostyn Factory today as you were meant to be."


Ripley jumped as the newspaper slapped down on the table just short of his head. He sat back, blinking at his mentor's hawk-like face. Professor Randolph Hoffman had mastered a look of academic severity, his nose prominent and straight, his hair streaked with grey and slicked back to draw more attention to his eyes which, half-open, might have fooled the unacquainted into thinking he was sleepy. But there was force in his gaze – a force of scrutiny that few escaped.

"Your clothes smell of Perseverance Tobacco," he began, "A brand little known to the smoking lounges of South London but found abundant in the barracks of our dear Home Guard. Add to this the aroma of cordite and the necrotic stain on you collar and I can surmise that you were touting your services shortly before the Migrant incursion at King's College Hospital."

Ripley wiped nervously at the blood on his collar and averted the Professor's gaze. "Sorry. The Migrants came out of nowhere and…"

"And as I try to tell you, Ripley, there are many illusions in this world but the Migrants are not one of them. They are very real, as is their intent to destroy every living thing in London."

"I know, Sir. Sorry," Ripley muttered and shifted his barber's bag across the table. "But you said you needed more hair and nail clippings."

The Professor picked up his glass of sherry and motioned at Ripley with it. "I said nothing of the sort. I did, however, write such words in my private laboratory notes, which were not intended for your eyes. You, Ripley, are a creature of the kitchens and the washrooms."

"I did the dishes last night, Sir, and the washing's drying in the yard. And I polished the silver in the drawing room and caught the cat and gave him his medicine. I ran out of chores so I went to the workshop… to dust… and…" He trailed off then changed tack. "I thought I'd help you with your collection. You said… I mean, you wrote that you needed pre-…" He paused on the word. "Pre-ripheral samples from outside the core demo-graffit. Anyway, Sergeant Gustave of the Home Guard is from a Hungarian family. They came here after Europe was…"

"My collection is my own affair, young man, and I would warn you to stay out of it." The Professor re-crossed his legs and arched his fingers. "Besides, I cannot see how my work should concern you, since I have never given you the slightest glimmer of a hope that you will ever be enlightened or involved in its regard."

Ripley scratched through his wild hair and shrugged. "Well, it must be something good."

Hoffman's eyes narrowed, almost to slits, taking in nothing else but Ripley. "Why do you say that?"

"Because you're the Professor – you look after people." He grimaced nervously then reached into his shoe, taking out a penny and pushing it across the table. It was what he had earned from his haircuts today. But when he looked up he found the Professor's face softened, a curious smile about his lips.

"I think that's one penny you can keep, Ripley."

The boy looked down uncertainly at the coin whilst Hoffman picked up the leather pack and peered inside. "Now, let's see what we have here." He sorted through the hair clippings that Ripley had bought. For seven months now he had used the boy's skills as a barber to collect samples - the hair and nail clippings vital to his research on the animation and behaviour of dead tissue. "Good. Good. Now, have my new distillation tubes arrived?"

Ripley shuffled in his seat again. "Erm... not yet, Sir. There seems to be some delay."

The Professor's eyes narrowed again. "My shipments from America are never late. Explain yourself, boy."

Ripley shrugged helplessly and the Professor sat back, lighting a pipe as he pondered the anomaly.

Quickly now. Quickly now. Cannot linger. Cannot stay. Food. Bread. Anything.

Adrenaline coursed through her veins, pumped through her body. Her muscles tensed. Her head moved only slightly. Her eyes shifted from side to side, detecting the slightest change in the environment. Movement! She quickly hunched forward. Her nose was practically buried in the filth now. Her clothes were caked in the stuff. She waited and held absolutely still as the someone shuffled by, feet coming less than an inch away. No one else.

Wait. Wait. Almost gone. Almost there ... No one coming. It is clear ... Clear ... Still clear.

The someone disappeared around the corner. The shuffling faded away. She pushed off the ground, tucked her feet under her. The boots were worn. She could feel ... something wet slipping between her toes. Maybe she'd happen across a pair left out in the open or help herself. More glancing around. Then she pushed off and crossed the alley, the long patchwork coat slipping behind her. She clung to the wall, kept her head down.

Silent. Fleeting. Life and breath. Death and strife. But what is death? Is it eternal? ... Food. This way.
It was the last day that Quincy would need to wear this replacement gun, and the last time he would have to cope with the break from his usual habits. He needed some form of defense with Good Business out of commission, and knew full well that this revolver was of high quality, but it still didn't feel right. It felt too light and insubstantial compared to his preferred firearm, and he hadn't realized just how accustomed he was the Good Business's larger eight-chamber cylinder.

He wrapped up Good Business and its holster in a small parcel tucked under his arm as he checked his watch for a final time. He wasn't going to wait to repair his gun, he would simply do it at the warehouse and return to normalcy then and there.

His boots clattered down the staircase of the building as he left the apartments, tipping his wide-brimmed hat to the front desk as he passed, before bursting out onto the foggy, misty streets of London.

There was even an excited spring in Quincy's step as he started to make the walk down to his small warehouse, passing through the bustle of pedestrians on the hazy streets. Ah, London. Not quite a city like it, on the edge of death but still alive. Where you didn't have to fear the Migrants, but you couldn't draw a full breath.

Whatever detractors may say about this city, it was great for business.
It was about that time when the personel at the hostel took a break to have some tea. An unusual happening for Lars. Where are the bannocks? And the bannocks they served here? Totally different from those at home, he wasn't sure if they could even qualify as lefse. That was the first thing he had recognized as the big difference when he arrived, the food. Though they had nothing compareable to a city like London back home. So really, why was he? Was he homesick? Did he miss waking up every day, concerned if it would be the day the migrants would finally break their defenses and destroy their existence? No, but he missed his homeland, his friends and being able to strike a normal conversation.

He was just a simple farmer, so learning to speak english was something he had never considered a reality before he came here. He had made sure to find time every day to work on his ability to understand it. He had also been able to establish meetings with some of the others so that they could work on their pronounciation. These meetings took place in the evenings on a regular basis, not out of interest, out of a need. They all wanted to move on, become a part of the already well-established society. Some of the men here were far more educated than Lars. You could be certain for the amount of education, the amount of dissapointment was visible for those who were in this hostel.

Now some of the men had placed their beds around a small table to play cards. They had been out looking for jobs all morning, a game of cards was a good distraction from the frustration that came with the job-hunting, it calmed the nerves.

Lars was standing in the doorway to the bed room looking out at the streets. Kids were out playing, the locals seemed to enjoying their tea and chatting. About what? He had no idea yet. He wasn't on a level where he could read the newspaper and understand what was going on without some help from the personel. Even if these were dark times, kids would still find time to play and the grown-ups would still find time to gossip, you had to, otherwise you might turn insane.

Lars were thinking along those lines and with that he turned around to walk to his bed. Time to have another look at the book he had been given to read and develop a better understanding of his new home.
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Maxine trotted down the streets of South London quickly, a rolled up piece of paper in hand. She was out and about on business, more specifically out to hire a helping hand. Her town house had seen better days and was finally hitting the piont where some work needed to be done. She also needed it done quickly, without her house she couldn't take care of the people who came to her for food, and in turn she wouldn't be able to get the information she needed. It was a tough choice, since she'd be paying a lot of money to have the work done, but as her mother once told her...

You have to spend money to make some.

Her first target of the day was the hostel, where there were plenty of unemployeed people desperate for a job. She had made the pay rather nice as well. Free room and board, warm meals, and 5 pounds a day as long as they were working. It seemed almost to good of her to be giving that much, but she needed the help quick and couldn't afford to wait for any picky people to try and decide if they wanted the job or not. Maxine wandered into the hostel quietly, not wanting to bring to much attention to herself. Some of the people who worked at the hostel said hello and talked to her lightly as she posted up her help wanted sigh on the wall where other papers and information hung for the people to see.

She didn't stay to long to chat and hurried back to her home, she had to at least get a head start on all the repair work or else nothing would ever get done. She only hoped that someone took interest in her job offer and hurried over, she wasn't much of a handyman and knew that if left to her own devices she'd probably cause her house to cave in.
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He had sent Ripley home to get started on dinner. The boy had to be kept occupied. Of all the orphans the Professor had taken in, Ripley was possessed of an innocence that was almost insolent. Always trying to help - sticking his nose in where it would likely get ripped from his face. The Professor spent a great deal of time concealing things from the boy for his own good. He had never had a son to lose to the Vampires, but Ripley was the closest thing, and they would both be thrown in Bedlam Prison if the North ever found out what he was doing.

Two things were needed in Soulon - discretion and solitude. The Judge of Norlon had a thousand agents on his payroll, and need only pay a few pennies to get a street urchin or dockhand to betray his fellow man. Professor Pennyblood chose his company wisely and his business carefully, mindful at all times that attention was easily drawn.

The newspapers called him the Invisible Man. It was a reputation he was keen to uphold.

Stepping from a side-alley, Pennyblood fell into step beside Quincy as he moved down Merrow Street. "Afternoon, Mr Richardson. A fine air today, don't you think? Spring is certainly upon us."

Quincy watched him in the corner of his eye, no doubt his hand kept close to some concealed weapon. It was a wary alliance between the two: Quincy had the expertise to build devices, and Pennyblood could source the oils and lubricants those devices needed. A strictly business relationship, but each was aware of the larger and more mysterious circles the other moved in.

"Spot of bother at the docks, I fancy." Pennyblood said as they crossed the road between rushing carriages, "My equipment from America has yet to arrive, and I'd wager your own shipment is likewise delayed. It seems we have a shared problem."

Beautiful voices sailed before Louchard as he sat in the private box, feeling as if he was poised on a ship's prow overlooking some siren ocean. The song echoed around the half-dome of St Paul's, where gold and cyan gleamed in lamplight, and what magic it held was echoed in the quiet elation of the crowd below. Thousands of vampires and humans were crammed together in the converted nave.

St Paul's Cathedral had been the worst hit landmark in North London during the Rising Years. The west doorway and nave had been all but destroyed by artillery fire, while the chapels of St Dunstan, All Souls, St Michael and St George had burned. The dome itself had been cleaved in two by a civilian airliner, about a third of it falling away while the rest remained in wounded cross-section. St Paul's had since become something of a symbol and once the Dead Deal was signed the talented Angel, John Donaghue, had begun work on the new St Paul's Opera House. Clearing out the old walls, Donaghue had constructed a broad auditorium that circled from the original doorway to meet the ends of the north and south transept. There were, eventually, four floors of seats rising to a vault that sloped to meet the edges of the ruined dome. Donaghue had deliberately made the joins visible, so that anyone could see the meeting of the new and the old. The effect was not only symbolic of the New World but practical too. It divided the actors from the audience, with the old half-dome, the pulpit and the Nelson Monument becoming part of the stage. The still intact choir and chapels on the seat side were curtained off to form a backstage and thus all attention was drawn to the stage on the crossing of the transepts. It was a sense of looking into a cave where fresh wonders had been excavated.

Louchard was in one of the boxes adjoining the original pillar of the north transept, leaning out to let the performance below absorb him. The opera was Seputus Era, the epic depiction of America's final weeks, told through the story of Leonard Baxter, a despairing mortal who finds his only love in the arms of Alchymia, an imprisoned goddess.

How silly it felt to Louchard, to be weeping now, and yet he knew the sense of it. He could not cry for all the suffering of the Norlon days – the oppression of Spouses, the heartache of whoring parents, the despair of the too old or too unshapely sent out to perish at the Thresholds. Yet here, in the opera house, as every note that Baxter and Alchymia sung opened up fresh reflections – pictures more vivid than any the Vampires could paint – the tears rolled down Louchard's face. For these were fleeting things. The magic of this opera house would pass; the flood of images would whittle away and tomorrow he would move on to new fixations and indulgences. That is why he wept in the presence of beauty, for he knew that it would never be truly captured, even if he willed the entire audience to reach out and seize it.

Perhaps, he thought, he was no different from the other vampires. They sought only to preserve, to freeze their own conception of beauty in crystallised moments. For them there was no tomorrow, no fading. They would chase every beauty that fled from them, hunt it across the years.

The great steam organ that encircled the stage struck up, the steel pipes throwing sound to the apex of the dome, and Louchard's moist eyes shifted to the other boxes where the parties of the Dynastic Vampires sat. At the opposite summit of the south pillar the prime seats were taken by the Karovas, dark beauties of Gypsy descent with eyes unnaturally blue for their complexions. Their garb was of blacks and browns, effective but far outshone by the pashminas of the Darjheens who were seated below them. The features of this second family were just as dark but decorated with jewellery and Hindu tattoos. The stronger contrast was offered by the Wrexhams, a family of long-haired blondes with pale and slender forms. Their dress was more conventional, as was that of the Montoyas, who brought to the Dynasty the old beauty of Africa.

Every pinnacle of Earthly beauty had been bred into the head families of the Vampires. In the box below Louchard's the freckled redheads of the Egan family were dressed in pagan colours and beneath them the waif-like Hoykintos were more like children than fully grown vampires.

As for Louchard, he was all that represented the Seventh Family tonight. The Vindicar line were, like him, exquisite freaks who shunned the gatherings and dwelled in solitude. They dyed their hair red and wore purple - a beauty more circus-like than angelic. It had been years since any Vindicar other than Louchard had been seen at the Norlon gatherings.

Sighing, he brought a handkerchief across his face and glanced at the stoic companion who shared the box with him. "Oh really, George. Must you be so cold? Not one tear?"
Lars was standing in the middle of a busy street. It had the charateristics of a working-class street; boys and girls alike running around without any regard to their surroundings, half naked, kicking balls, throwing balls and play-fighting. Parents chatting while watching their kids from the windows.

He had stopped to take an extra good look at the paper Ms. Hughes had handed to him. Ms. Hughes was the nice person at the hostel that got along with everyone. She was the one that had helped him understand what the latest note posted on the "Help Wanted" board said. Well, at least he understood the bigger picture, the details...not so much.

He had snuck the poster in his pocket. While the "Help Wanted"-work was mostly small and short-term jobs, this one he was doing everything he could to make sure would be his. Anything to make himself useful and hopefully establish some contacts with the locals that could be of use to him.

Again the language barrier was the biggest frustration. It's funny how an adult can feel like a helpless child if one doesn't understand the language. That was how Lars felt, but he was happy Ms. Hughes had found the time to write down a set of short lines he could use when talking to the employer. Though it would be harder to remember what they meant. As long as he did what this 'Maxine' expected of him and kept his manners intact, it should all go well. He wasn't concerned about being able to get the work done. He had experience with construction-work.

Anyhow, this seemed like the only way to get to somewhere else from his current position, better just jump into it. And with those thoughts in mind he knocked on the door to Maxine's house. At least this was the place he had been given directions to.
"Astrid, let's just go, we shouldn't be in here--"

"Shh! With your simpering, we'll certainly be caught," the redhead hissed over her shoulder to her fellow singer, "we're not needed for another two minutes." Astrid turned her attention from the frightened girl and back to the crystal vial upon the oak dressing table. Its glimmer reflected in her own shining eyes. "And I only need one second," she murmured, reaching for the fine perfume.

The blonde, Sophie, peeked from doorway, into the hall. The way her wide eyes would dart about, and the slight, graceful movements of her neck always reminded Astrid of some sort of delicate bird. There was a name on the door, just above Sophie's head: Penelope Cavendish. There was a gilded star around it.

With great care, as if holding a tiny star, Astrid pulled the ornate stopped from the vial, and in one smooth motion, dabbed the smallest of drops of the fine oil behind her right ear. Fields of lavender, tailed by the spice of sandalwood, faded to a soft peach, then a subtle rose. Each scent was full and real, changing with the heat of her body, the rhythm of her pulse. This was unlike any perfume. This was the distillation of a thousand beautiful moments.

"--we'll be thrashed for sure!"

Astrid placed the stopper back into the vial and whirled on her companion, her eyes alight with mischief. "If they thrashed you, Sophie, the world would end on the spot." Astrid rushed forward, too fast for Sophie to see, and snatched her by the wrist, pulling her along. The two singers hurried down the narrow hall, muting their laughter with their hands, leaving the dressing room of Penelope Cavendish seemingly untouched.

- -

The powdered faces of Sophie and Astrid now mirrored those of the other girls who gathered around the curtain's edge, awaiting their cue with intense anticipation. Astrid noted, on the edge of her thoughts, that some of the girls had covered fresh, twin punctures on their throats with concealer.

Astrid closed her eyes to the image and let the music overrun her senses. Alchymia's sopranic cries pierced through Leonard's reverberating sorrow, as they each went over, or through, the far off call of the organist's keys. These sensations swirled in her mind, blended, distilled in her heart, pumped through her veins, her pulse moving in time with the music. It became a call from somewhere deep in her core. It made her mindless, euphoric, a puppet played by some unseen hand. She had often wondered if this was what the Migrants might feel.

And all at once, the lights on the stage rose to a blinding pitch with Alchymia's ethereal woe, and all at once, seven white washed girls glided onto the stage, their savage eyes hungry.

- -

The ghostly waifs crouched in a circle around Alchymia, their clawing hands and gnashing teeth punctuated by melodious, otherworldly growls.

Leonard could not break through them, could only cry out to his love as they closed in around her. Her final cries cut short when, as one, they overwhelmed her, lifted her prone form in their blood smeared hands, high over their heads to the dying sun.

The Migrant Furies carried away the last beautiful thing in this world to their nest of madness and despair, and Leonard Baxter was powerless to stop them.

- - -

And just like that, it was over.

Her first role in the Royal Opera House, her first performance in St Paul's.

Astrid disengaged herself from the throng of performers as they gathered around the triumphant Penelope Cavendish. On the other side of the heavy curtain, the audience was in raptures.

As Astrid combed her fingers through her hair, she caught the scent of orchids.
Maxine made it home quickly and pulled off her jacket as she walked in the door, closing it behind her before tossing her coat on a peg by the door. She wandered into her home and looked around, giving a tired sigh. It was neat and tidy, but there was some obvious places that needed some work. The wallpaper was slowly tearing as needed to be replaced and more than on floor board waas coming up or needing to be removed and replaced. The number of jobs seemed to increase as one went deeper into the house, the roof was leading into the upstairs bedrooms, doors were starting to fall off of the hinges which were rusty. In truth the whole house could use a good dusting and washing, but she couldn't do much with so many things ready to just fall apart.

She made her way into the kitchen, the only room in the house that still seemed to be in working order, and readjusted the large bun on brown hair that sat on top of her head. She then pushed her glasses up her nose a bit and pulled on her apron. Even though the house was falling to piece people still came to her for food and rest, which meant she still had to cook. She pulled out a giant pot and filled it with water, lighting a fire under it before she grabbed a knife and started to chop some vegetables. She hummed to herself quietly as she worked, slowly filling the pot with more and more veggies until a knock came to the door.

She looked over her shoulder curiously in the direction of the front door before she clamped a lid on the pot and wipped her hands on her apron.

"Coming~" She called loudly as she opened the door, tilting her head up to look at the tall man in front of her. "Can I help you?" She asked, this man looking like he could use a place to sleep and something to eat.
"A fine afternoon to you too, Doctor," Quincy said with a small grin and a nod of his head as Pennyblood came up alongside him. The Doctor was trustworthy enough, and had never tried to cheat him, so he deserved a measure of respect and friendliness a step above some of Quincy's other associates.

"I'm afraid I'm not as fine a judge of London's weather as a native would be yet, despite the length of time I've been here. I'll admit on some days like this it can be difficult to tell just what the season is, thanks to the Smog."

He stepped briefly aside to give Pennyblood the right-of-way through a squeeze created by the crowds on one side and a parked carriage on the other. It was a habit born not only of politeness, but also the wariness one gained after dealing with gun trafficking. It was safer to gun someone down from behind. Though in the Doctor's case, it was more of politeness.

"Ah, I hope this isn't going to be a particularly long delay, some of what I'm expecting in that shipment needs to be delivered soon, else I don't get paid. And certain of those items are also personally important to me." He continued, mentally cursing his luck. He didn't want to think about the omen of continuing to work while Good Business was still out of commission.
Sneak. Sneak. Sneaksneaksneaksneak. Down the alley, across the street, take a left, continue down, keep to the side--Stop!

Arthuria shrunk into the shadows and waited as two men rounded the corner and walked past. They were deep in conversation and didn't notice her. Her eyes shifted left and right, then left again. She had to make sure--absolutely sure--that few eyes--if any!--saw her. It was important. It was of the utmost importance that she remained a mere shadow. Her stomach growled in protest but she paid it no mind.

Dangerous. The streets were so dangerous. There were dangers everywhere. Breathing was dangerous. Not breathing was dangerous. Moving was dangerous. Staying in one place was dangerous. So many dangers!

Arthuria believed the only truly safe place was the Westminster basement but as much as she wanted to return there, she needed food. She slipped deeper and deeper into South London until she made it to a rundown house and heard talking. Ah, there! It was the Old Maid's place and it looked like she was open ... But she was talking to someone, a stranger, so the girl stayed in the shadows and waited.
As the woman opened the door Lars bowed politely and stared down at the curly paper he held in his hands skimming through the lines, the first one he knew; "Hi, my name is Lars....." So far so go good, he continued after a brief pause "I have come for work you re-..rek-.." He took a deep breath, scratched the back of his head and tried again; "I have come for work you reques-ted to be done!"

Far from perfect, but not bad. The people at the hostel told him that she didn't mind it if he was a foreigner. Now came the part where he had to guess what she said in response to his broken english...
Maxine knew from his accent alone that he was certainly not english, he didn't seem to have much of an under standing of the english language as he depended on a piece of paper. That didn't matter though, he was here for the job. She smiled up at him and nodded her head.

"Alright, come on in." She said as she motioned for him to enter.

As soon as she was in she closed the door beind him and walked into the parlor, the floor creaking loudly as she pointed to an old looking chair.

"Take a seat." She said as she suffled to a nearby cupboard and pulled out a bottle of brandy along with two glasses. She filled them and held one out to him silently. She then took a seat across from him in another chair and smiled at him again. "Can you understand english?"
"You are preaching to the choir, Mr Richardson," Pennyblood answered as they turned onto Liverpool Grove, rubbing shoulders with factory workers and dockers. "We are both men dependent on our suppliers for the tools of our trade. I hope there has not been further trouble in the Americas. That would be most vexing indeed."

The Professor caught the hand of a young boy who was trying to pickpocket him, holding him away from his money pouch. The boy struggled but the Professor raised a finger and rolled his hand forward, producing from nowhere a single penny which he dropped into the thief's hand. The boy got free and rushed away, frightened and thankful.

"Anyway," Pennyblood continued as he caught up again with Quincy, "Since our shipments were no doubt on the same airship, the delivery wagon should be passing though Soulon as we speak. I would like to check whether it has arrived at your warehouse, if you would allow my intrusion?"

Quincy's warehouse was at the far end of Liverpool Grove, where wasteland was overgrown and ruined houses had yet to be rebuilt since the Rising. The old Church of St Peter was the focus of the restoration efforts and its old spire was now ringed with scaffolding. But beyond that nothing much had changed on this street. Quincy's warehouse was old, but secure. And discreet. Not many people asked questions in these parts.

Stepping through the side entrance, Quincy and Pennyblood found the warehouse in a busy state. Quincy's small staff of workers were moving around a supply wagon and unloading the crates from its back. The Professor gave a satisfied smile and Quincy moved forward as the driver called out to them.

"Begging yer pardon, Mistah Richardson. We's arrived at the docks in good time an' all, but th' bleedin' airship cap'n wouldn't give us the crates! Said they wuz doing 'final checks' or summat. Kept us waitin' for two hours, 'e did! I warned 'im - I said Mistah Richardson ain't gonna be likin' the delay and that he'd be wanting 'is compensation. But the cap'n was a stubborn git - more stubborn 'an usual. Acting right strange 'e was if yer ask me, Sir."

As Quincy and the driver spoke, Pennyblood moved to the rear of the wagon. Some of the workers, on recognising the gentleman, stepped aside and let him climb up amongst the crates. "Ah, there we go," he said as he found his own box amongst the cargo. It seemed his house was next on the delivery schedule, so it would be best to save time and take the laboratory equipment now.

The Professor reached down, preparing to lift the crate.... then stopped. Behind his goggles his eyes narrowed.

"Quincy..." his voice called out to his colleague, even as his gloved hand ran across the scuff marks around the box's lid. "These crates have already been opened..."
Lars followed the lady, taking time to have a look at the scenery. It might take a bit longer than he first had thought, all the better. This was a lot nicer than the hostel though, so no complaining. Not only was it in better condition than what he had become used to, he got payed to stay here! And fed! At least that was what he had been told about the wages.

At the same time he could see why she would want to do some construction, apparently she ran her business from home and it would only be reasonable that she kept the place in top shape to attract costumers.

After being offered to sit, he did so, "Thank you very much.", still broken, but he hoped he gave her a good first impression. He followed her movements with his eyes as she poured the drinks, making him all the more wonder what kind of business she was into. Just as he was about to ask, she offered him the drink, a moment awkward silence as she held out the glass. Lars didn't think of why, but he hesitated before accepting the brandy, followed up by another reply of gratitude, seemed like a good start to his new career!

"Can you understand english?"


Lars looked down into his glass and took a sip. Gathering his thoughts....then words....then the pronounciation.

"Not so much. Working...on it. Reading."

He quickly followed up asking her a question he had been constructing in his mind, on his own(!) ever since he stepped in to her house; "So...what kind of work do you do?"
Maxine was patient with the man in front of her, understanding it wasn't easy trying to speak in a language that was your first. In fact, she was impressed that he was at least trying to respond to her. Most people would just stare at her blankly if they didn't understand her. When he asked what she did for a living she just smiled at him a bit and took a sip of her own brandy, seeming to be thinking as looked into her own glass.

"I' assitant of sorts. I help people who don't have a place to stay or money for food. I also help people who need to know something to help them out." She said lightly to him. "So do you understand how the payment works?" She asked him, she wanted to make sure that everything was perfectly clear.
Quincy felt him stomach sink as the Doctor told him. He shot the driver a glare that must have unnerved the man terribly, as the driver responded with a look of panic and desperation. " 'At wuddn't us, Sir! All we did was load th' crates on th' cart! If they been opened then they must've done it at the dock 'fore we got there!"

Quincy simply stared at the driver, until he was sure that the man's look of panic was genuine, and then motioned to one of the workers as he started towards the back of the cart. He simply called out for a pry bar as he hopped onto the back of the cart, taking one from a loader and lifting the lid off the crate.

Inside, delicately set on top of the packing material, were two boxes of ammunition. A look of mild confusion played across his face as he reached down to open them, finding each to be simply a box of common-caliber pistol and rifle rounds, except for their glittering tips. Silver? Who would silver-tip a bullet and why would they go to all the trouble to put them into an arms shipment?

Quincy was not going to let the crate go without inspection, though. If they had opened the crate enough to put the ammunition in, they could have taken something out, or worse, sabotaged something. Working quickly, with a speed and familiarity somewhat greater than would be expected from just a simple merchant, he checked each and every pistol in the shipment, that no damage to the mechanism or barrel had occurred. And finally he got to the small box of parts at the bottom of the crate, restraining himself from simply tearing it open in excitement, and systematically making sure every component was there.

"Ah... Sir? Is... is everythin' there, Sir?" asked the driver from behind him, hat in his hands, an almost childlike nervousness in his voice.

"Yes, everything is present and accounted for. Damned odd though. They to all this trouble to get to my shipment just to add something to it?" Quincy said in response, his voice soon lowering so that he was almost talking to himself as he examined one of the silver tipped bullets. "Doctor, any alteration to your shipment?"
"Free room...Good." Lar said followed with a thumbs up "Warm meals...Good." Another thumbs up "...aaand five pounds a day, good!"

He had no idea what he could get for five pounds, but Ms. Hughes seemed to think he was lucky being the first to find this job. Besides, he'd save a lot of expenses living under her house and not having to buy food.

"We should start....look at things...need construction?" The drink was nice to quicken and loosening him up, but he was here to put down the work requiered of him. Maybe best to leave the drinks for after a hard day's work, when he felt like he deserved it.

"I hope you don't mind if I ask...I'm not a criminal, much for a gun?...One that works, streets....not very safe!" First he wanted to get to work, now he wanted to ask the nice lady about prices on guns? Certaintly the brandy was having it's effect on him.