Swaffham wasn’t small, but in the year of our Lord 1925, it was hardly what one would call cosmopolitan. Around him, the village settled in for the evening. Stores were locking up and the streets were emptying. The sky was dark and full of stars. He paused for a moment, to inspect stars and sky both, hunting for any sign of the phenomena that had brought him to Swaffham.
The phenomenon in question was a ghostly zeppelin, seen roaring through the skies over Norfolk, wreathed in infernal flames, crewed by dead men. Or so the witnesses claimed. How they knew that the crew was dead, or that the flames were infernal, he wasn’t certain, but if one couldn’t trust the observational skills of the Swaffham Astronomical Society, whose could one trust?
Local stargazers aside, the so-called ‘roaring ship’ had disturbed the nocturnal perambulations of half the county, and more besides, scaring travellers and livestock from King’s Lynn to Breckland. Such things got people talking, and not in a good way, as far as the tenets of his office were concerned.
Formed during the reign of Elizabeth the First, the responsibilities of the office of Royal Occultist included the investigation, organisation and occasional suppression of That Which Man Was Not Meant to Know—including vampires, ghosts, werewolves, ogres, fairies, boggarts and the occasional worm of unusual size—by order of the King, for the good of the British Empire.
That the Empire was fast on its way out the door, and the King, God bless him, wasn’t far behind, if the auguries were to be believed, was of no matter; there were phantoms to be fought, dragons to be slain, and, in this case, a fiery airship to be brought down. He pulled the collar of his greatcoat tight in a vain attempt to keep out the chill. Even this far from the coast, the wind had claws.
He ducked his head and made his way to the Greyhound Inn. Warm light shone through its windows, and it was crowded with thirsty punters. He ordered a pint of bitter and made his way to a table near a window, where his assistant sat, glaring balefully at anyone who tried to sit, speak or otherwise engage her attentions.
Ebe Gallowglass was dark and thin and slightly feral looking, with black hair cut in a razor-edged bob, and a battered man’s flat cap resting high on her head. She wore a man’s clothes as well, hemmed for a woman of her small stature, and Cairo street-charms and Celtic rune-stones hung from a twine bracelet on her wrist.
In contrast, St. Cyprian was tall and rangy, with an olive cast to his features and hair a touch too long to be properly fashionable, but he dressed fashionably—too fashionably, perhaps, for Swaffham. An empty pint glass was in front of Gallowglass and a semi-full one was in her hand, when he sat down. “And have you been sitting here the entire time, oh apprentice-mine?” he said.
“I’m your assistant,” she corrected. “And no, I just sat down.” He looked pointedly at her empty glass, and she shrugged. “I was thirsty. My throat was dry from all of the talking I did. Well, more listening really. Those astronomical society blokes like to beat their gums, I’ll give them that.”
“I trust you were your usual winsome self?”
“All bloody class, that’s me,” she said. She emptied her glass even as his arrived. “I convinced them to let us accompany them tonight. They’ve set up so as to catch it—one or two of ‘em think it’s a comet if you can believe that.”
“One of the wonderful things about the human mind is its ability to selectively edit what it takes in. It’s saved many a man from madness, that.” He leaned back in his chair. “What else?”
“What makes you think there’s anything else?”
“There’s always something else,” St. Cyprian said, reaching for his glass.
Gallowglass snaffled his glass before he could take it. “I don’t think it’s fair that I do all the legwork and you get all the glory.” She drank half of it in a gulp. She handed it back to him. He frowned at it, shrugged and emptied it.
“Who mentioned anything about glory, what?” he said. “Besides, I had to visit the local council. Maps, donchaknow,” he said.
“Maps,” she said.
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he said.
“An old man,” Gallowglass said. At St. Cyprian’s expression, she went on. “People notice strangers, in little towns like this, especially when they pop up around the same time as a bloody great ghost zeppelin. An elderly sort, what has been seen about the village common. Nobody knows who he is, or what his business is, or where he’s staying.” She smiled. “We’re staying here, if you were wondering. Two rooms, before you ask,” she added, quickly.
“I wasn’t planning to, no,” he said. She stuck her tongue out at him. He sniffed and sat forward. “So, mysterious codger, strange celestial occurrences and a rapid and ongoing progression,” he said, taking their glasses and arranging them in a rough line.
“What was that last bit?”
“Maps,” he said. “While you were playing with the local stargazers, I did my own brand of legwork. This so-called ‘roaring ship’ has been seen more than once, but never in the same place twice. Between the national papers, the local fish wrappers and the county surveyor maps at the local council, I determined that our phantom aeronauts are moving steadily this-away.” He traced his index finger along the line of glasses. Gallowglass reached towards the spot behind the last glass and tapped the table.
“So what’s here?”
“Houghton on the Hill,” St. Cyprian said, visualising a map of Norfolk in his mind. “It’s an abandoned village or close enough to, not to matter on the census. It’s not far away.” His eyes narrowed. “If I recall correctly, it was bombed during the war.”
“By a zeppelin,” Gallowglass asked.
“Mm,” St. Cyprian grunted. He stared at the glasses. He reached into his coat and produced a battered pocket watch. He popped it open. “When were we meeting your merry band of star-gazers?”
“Sooner, rather than later,” Gallowglass said. “And, by coincidence, we’re meeting them—guess where?”
He frowned. “That’s…convenient. What made them head up there, I wonder?”
Gallowglass shrugged. “Something about there being less visual interference. What are you thinking?”
“Nothing I care to share at the moment,” he said, “Armed, by chance?”
“Always,” she said, twitching aside the edge of her coat to reveal the butt of the heavy Webley-Fosbery revolver holstered beneath her arm. “What about you?”
He made a show of patting his coat. “Must have left it in the Crossley,” he said, referring to the black Crossley 20hp which had carried them to Swaffham from London. Gallowglass gave him a withering glare and he ducked his head, chastened. “Fine, fine, I’ll pop out and get it, shall I?” He didn’t like carrying the pistol. Guns rarely worked in their line, whether the bullets were silver or made from church bells, and he had Gallowglass for the times when they did.
They left the pub, and he retrieved his Bulldog revolver, dropping it into his coat pocket even as he climbed into the driver’s seat of the Crossley. In his other pocket was the odd shape of the Monas Glyph. Created by Dr. John Dee in the rein of Elizabeth the First, the esoteric sigil was a composite of various astrological and religious symbols, combining ankh, cruciform and crescent. It was a potent artefact, but one that St. Cyprian rarely employed. It took something out of him to use it, and left him feeling ill for days.
They left Swaffham behind them, the Crossley’s headlamps illuminating the narrow coils of the country lane that led towards North Pickenham. Houghton on the Hill sat, appropriately enough, on a hill on the outskirts of North Pickenham. “There’s an old Roman road, the Peddar’s Way, near here,” St. Cyprian said as he drove. “It stretches all the way to Suffolk.”
“And,” Gallowglass said.
“And it’s possibly not Roman at all, save in the sense that they were the ones to use it last, as it were,” he said. “The Romans were here, all right, but they weren’t the first. This part of the country is lousy with ley lines – mystic threads stretching from coast to coast, tangled at certain points into knots of power. The Britons built their temples on those knots, and the Romans – no flies on them – built their temples over those of the Britons. And when the Romans left, the Saxons and the Normans did the same in their turn.”
“So Houghton on the Hill is a big geyser of magic?”
“Possibly,” St. Cyprian said, guiding the Crossley through the twists and turns of the road. “Or possibly it’s merely a coincidence that a phantom airship, crewed by the dead, is making a beeline for it.” He glanced at her. “What did you make of these astronomical society chappies?”
“They’re not trying to unleash the lurkers on the threshold, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said. “Dead keen on heavenly bodies, though.” She frowned. “You think they have something to do with this?”
“I don’t know. It’s a bit funny that they’d head to Houghton, though, isn’t it?” He chewed his lip and took the Crossley through a tight turn. The car made the turn grudgingly and bumpily. “I remember Carnacki mentioning something about zeppelins during the War. We were on the Continent, putting paid to some of Kaiser Bill’s more esoteric stratagems, when we heard a bit of something rotten. Something about zeppelins and targeted bombing from a prisoner we took after the unpleasant business with that monstrous hound, near Mons.” He shook his head. “Dashed if I can bring it to mind, though,” he said, “Something—oh.”
He didn’t reply, but merely pointed. Gallowglass followed his gesture, and he saw her eyes widen. “Oh bloody Nora,” she breathed, “Is that—?”
“I’d say so.”
It did look like a comet, he had to admit. But no comet had ever made such a noise as the roaring ship made. True to its name, it bellowed and howled, infernal engines pumping and thumping as it drifted with inexorable determination through the night sky. It was somewhere over Swaffham, he judged, and likely scaring the piss out of everyone in the market town.
The roaring ship was a zeppelin, or had been, once upon a time. Now it was a hulk, a Flying Dutchman wreathed in silently crackling flames that trailed off into a glowing mist, rather than the oily smoke one would expect. “Is it a bloody ghost?” Gallowglass said. They’d faced ghosts before. Harmless things normally, though sometimes you got feral malignancies squatting in old manors that could strip you to the bone quicker than a leopard. But the thing above them was something else again, less a ghost than a wound in the flesh of the world.
“Whatever it is, it’s heading for Houghton,” he said, stepping hard on the accelerator. “Time is not on our side tonight, I fear!” The roaring ship cut a trail of leprous crimson across the sky, blotting out the stars and making the night shudder with the sheer wrongness of its presence. They left it behind soon enough, however and it wasn’t long before the Crossley was rolling through the streets of Houghton on the Hill. There weren’t many houses left, and those that still stood looked as if they wouldn’t for much longer.
“Seen cheerier back alleys,” Gallowglass muttered, glancing up at the nearing fireball that was the roaring ship. It seemed to be in no hurry, but its lackadaisical approach only heightened the tension of the moment. It was coming slowly because there was no need to do otherwise.
“Houghton had a population of ten or twenty some years before the War, but they’re all gone now,” St. Cyprian said, trying not to look at it. “The bombs falling on the churchyard probably helped with that.” He gestured. “There it is—St. Mary.”
The church stood tall and quaint on a bald hill like a crown of stone. There were several autos parked near the churchyard, but no sign of life, save a light flickering from the church tower and chancel. There was no sound, not a whisper of breeze through the thicket of trees brambles below the church, not a chirp from night-birds or the click of nocturnal insects, save for the distant, but ever increasing, rumble of the approaching demon-airship. The noise of it reverberated through the still air, pounding against them with an almost physical force. It hung in the air like a rancid sun and St. Cyprian fancied he could hear the screams of the burning crew beneath the steady roar of its coming.
“No sign of your astronomical society chums,” St. Cyprian said, raising his voice to be heard over the noise.
“A quid says they’re dead,” Gallowglass said, still watching the approaching airship. “How are we going to stop that thing?” She looked at him, eyes narrowed like those of a nervous cat. “Because we sure as hell don’t want it reaching here, do we?”
St. Cyprian didn’t reply. He could feel something, something other than the approaching manifestation. A chill caressed the nape of his neck. St. Cyprian possessed unusual sensitivities, mostly of a psychical nature. They were akin to the whiskers of a cat, and they trembled as he stepped out of the Crossley. There was something in the hill. Something as black and as vast as the night sky, but contained, buried in rock and soil. It itched at his soul like an ingrown hair, irritating him. “Do you feel that?” he said.
“All I feel is the headache that noise is giving me,” Gallowglass said, her thumb caressing the grips of her holstered revolver. She looked at him. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” he said softly. He pressed his hand to his head. “I don’t think I want to know, at that.” His mouth was dry, and his stomach was doing flip-flops. Whatever was interred in the dark below Houghton was stirring, like a beast in its slumber. Did it know something they didn’t? “Let’s go find your stargazers,” he said, marching towards the church. Gallowglass hurried after him, face grave.
Tumbled headstones marked the churchyard, and brambles held tight to them. The soil felt loose and warm beneath his feet, as if that long ago bomb that had struck the church yard had detonated only minutes ago. The sick feeling in his stomach grew stronger, and he began to regret that half-pint at the pub.
The door to the church was partially open. Weak light spilled out, illuminating a patch of bare earth. There was a familiar dull, coppery odour emanating from within. St. Cyprian waved Gallowglass to the side, drew his Webley and toed the door all the way open. “I owe you a quid,” he said harshly as he stepped inside.
“Bugger,” Gallowglass said. St. Cyprian couldn’t fault the sentiment. Four bodies lay scattered about the chancel, and the air was redolent with the tang of gunfire. The shots that had felled the Swaffham Astronomical Society had been precise, sudden and lethal. The stargazers had fallen forward, and St. Cyprian turned about, examining them.
There were two broken telescopes on the floor and record books and moleskins lay scattered about. The walls were covered in crumbling Victorian plaster and there were gaping holes in the roof. The light had been coming from several electric lanterns that had been set up on what was left of the altar. The light of the lanterns made weird patterns that danced to the vibrations of the approaching phantom airship.
“They were behind them,” he said. He turned and looked back at the door. “Whoever it was shot them as they entered,” he added. Gallowglass was already moving towards the stairs that led to the tower.
“There’re only four of them,” she said, not loudly. “There should be six.” She had her revolver out. She pointed up. St. Cyprian nodded. She took the stairs swiftly, and he followed her, groping for his own weapon. He wondered briefly whether or not he ought to grab the Monas Glyph instead, but given that whoever had killed the astronomers had done so with a pistol, rather than sorcery, he thought the Bulldog was the more practical choice. Nonetheless, he could feel the glyph trembling in his pocket, like a cat arching its back.
The church, despite being a bastion of medieval Christianity from its arches to its rafters, radiated something altogether nastier to his senses. He felt like a child at the zoo, nervously watching a tiger pace on the other side of the bars as it tried to calculate how far it would have to stretch a paw out to snag him. He’d been in such places before. It had never turned out well. The question was what did it have to do with the phantom ship fast approaching?
The church tower wasn’t tall, as such things were reckoned, but it felt as if there were an eternity of darkness between leaving the lights in the chancel behind and reaching those that illuminated the top of the tower. The first thing he noticed as he and Gallowglass climbed through the hatch was that it too was open to the sky in places, the roof and rafters of the uppermost reaches having collapsed. The second thing he noticed was the bodies – two of them, both shot, though not as neatly as the four downstairs.
These men had not been shot from behind, but rather surprised in the act of setting up their stargazing equipment, even as their killer was surprised by the sudden arrival of Gallowglass and St. Cyprian. The latter had been peering through a telescope aimed in the direction of Swaffham, hands clasped behind his back, a Mauser pistol clutched in one of them. He turned as Gallowglass cocked her revolver.
He was old; that was St. Cyprian’s first impression. But it was not age earned honestly. He had seen men prematurely aged by the War, and this was something similar—hair gone white, face twisted by grief and fatigue and pain, the latter of which was surely the result of the slightly crooked cant to his limbs and frame. His smile was as crooked as his limbs, and it had a manic, feral edge. “Hello,” he said, showing yellow teeth. There was a certain precision to his words that St. Cyprian recognized as the sign of non-native English speaker. “It is a beautiful night, and bound to grow more so.”
“Drop the mousey, chum,” Gallowglass said.
“What, this?” he said, holding up the Mauser, and letting it dangle by the trigger guard. “Pfaugh, it jammed on the last round. Being doused in the North Sea all those years ago finally caught up with it, I suppose. As it will catch up with me, eventually.” He let it fall with a clatter. “But I am being uncivil,” he said and inclined his head, straightening slightly, “Hauptmann Gottfried von Thurn, at your service.” The smile widened, like a gaping wound. “And who might you be?”
“St. Cyprian,” St. Cyprian said, “Charles St. Cyprian, late of His Majesty’s armed services as, I am guessing, you are late of the Kaiser’s.”
Von Thurn chuckled. “Not as such, as you English say.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Gallowglass said, menacingly.
“He means he’s still fighting the War, I should think,” St. Cyprian murmured. He examined Von Thurn, taking in the faded marks of old burns on his cheeks and neck, which were just visible beneath his scarf, and the width of his shoulders. Crooked as he was, Von Thurn radiated power. Not physical power, but something else, something that St. Cyprian instinctively bristled at. “I rather think we’ve found the old codger your snooping rustled up,” he said, “Though I dare say he’s neither old, nor a codger, so much as hard used, what?”
“Jumping from a burning zeppelin into the frigid waters off the coast of Norfolk will prematurely age a man, if anything will. Even so, I earned worse hurts than burns that night. Water is as hard as stone, from the wrong height, no matter how smooth your dive or strong your body.” Von Thurn bent his arms awkwardly and began to strip the gloves from his hands. “Alas, my strong body and smooth dive, while once the talk of Saxony, are now merely relics of a lost youth.” His hands, once revealed, were surprisingly strong looking for all their thinness, knotted with muscle. A ring occupied one finger, and there was a strange spidery rune inscribed on the stone which topped it. As the gloves fell to the floor of the tower, St. Cyprian felt a thrum of ache start at his soles and spread upwards. The distant, flickering sore patch that was the roaring ship seemed to pick up speed. They seemed to be calling to one another, though he couldn’t say how.
“Eight years, give or take a few months,” Von Thurn continued, smiling thinly. “That is how long I have buried myself in this green and pleasant land. How long I have waited for this...” He was speaking genially, but rapidly, like a man starved for conversation, or a penitent unburdening himself.
Gallowglass had moved around Von Thurn to the telescope. She darted a quick glance through it and cursed. “What is it—no, don’t tell me, there’s something moving this way very fast, and on fire at that,” St. Cyprian said, not taking his eyes off of Von Thurn. He could feel whatever it was approaching, even as he could feel whatever was buried below them stirring.
“It took me years to find them,” Von Thurn said. “To find where they had fallen, like the angels of battle they were, my brothers in the Germanenorden.” He held up the hand with the ring as if examining the rune scratched there. With a start, St. Cyprian realized that it was a swastika. The Monas Glyph seemed to hum in his coat pocket.
“What the hell is a Germanenorden?” Gallowglass said.
“Carnacki and I ran across them once or twice, during the War,” St. Cyprian said, glancing at her. “They were occultists—sorcerous savants and Theosophists like Erwin Torre, or creatures like the diabolical Doctor Hochmuller and his monstrous hound, or that charlatan, Professor ten Brinken.” He had never heard of Von Thurn, but that meant little. The Germanenorden had had close to a hundred members, during the War. “They worked for themselves, but the Kaiser used them as a special division.”
Von Thurn was still talking, as if they hadn’t spoken. “Years of blood and treasure to find them and to call them up out of the cold darkness, wreathed in flames and eager to complete the mission we swore to complete on the swords of the brethren of the Teutonic Order,” Von Thurn continued, “Our oaths bind like iron, even unto death. Even if the Order itself has given way to those upstarts in Pohl’s Thule Society...”
“What mission?” St. Cyprian said. His words seem to startle Von Thurn out of his reverie. The man blinked owlishly, his smile slipping. He looked from St. Cyprian to Gallowglass and back again, as if noticing them for the first time. His eyes focused on St. Cyprian and he licked his lips.
“You can feel it, can you not?” he said, softly. He touched his gut and then his head. “Here and here, like a sore tooth, but everywhere,” he continued. “It is beautiful, like a wolf in the forest; dangerous, but captivating. I have felt it every day for eight years, as I felt it the night we came to crack this shell of cursed earth and free it to raven and rage among you English.”
“What is it?” St. Cyprian demanded.
Von Thurn shook his head. “Who can say? It is a thing older than both our countries, entombed by wiser men than this age possesses. It was chained in sacred earth, which was itself buried by sacred stone, first by the Romans and then by your people. Pagan temple and Christian church, twin chains to bind the wolf that slumbers beneath Houghton.” He flexed his hand in a strange gesture. “I will strike its chains with fire from on high, as was meant to be done almost a decade ago, and this country will run red with the blood of its people, even as my own has, these past years. And you will not stop me!”
St. Cyprian began to reply when Gallowglass shouted a warning. Cold hands fastened around his wrist and throat and he was slung backwards to the floor, which bowed and groaned alarmingly. His Webley bounced from his grip. One of the dead men swayed over him, blank eyes rolling in their sockets. He cursed as he realized what Von Thurn’s gesture had meant. A man capable of reawakening a zeppelin full of fiery ghosts was also likely capable of bringing the more recently dead to their feet. There was a thump on the stairs as dead feet dragged themselves up to the top of the tower. The two corpses’ four friends from below were coming up to join the fun.
“I have been calling them here from their cold graves every night, tolling them to their target. Those fools interrupted me tonight. They thought I was a fellow stargazer; I served them, as I served many Englishmen in the War, as I will serve you,” Von Thurn snarled. He hunched forward, like a beast, eyes blazing. The second corpse staggered towards Gallowglass, whose revolver barked once, twice and a third time, spinning it around and sending it flopping to the floor. Boards buckled and whined. The tower was in as bad nick as the rest of the church.
St. Cyprian kicked out, trying to knock his assailant’s feet out from under it. The dead man reeled gracelessly, and fell back, stumbling against the edge of a long-busted window. Gallowglass shot it, and the dead man pitched over the edge. St. Cyprian lunged for his Webley, but Von Thurn beat him too it. The German snatched the revolver up. He backed away from them, swinging the revolver back and forth. His hand—the one with the ring—was raised, and seemed, in the eerie light of the electric lanterns, to be encased in a black corona. “I called,” he shrieked, “I called and they come! I learned my arts at the feet of the Hidden Masters and I will complete my mission!”
The four corpses from below burst up onto the tower, moving like twitching apes through the hatch, their vacant eyes bulging and their jaws champing. St. Cyprian staggered back as one catapulted onto him, driving him back against the window. The dead thing bit at his throat and he smashed his forearm into its head. Cold palms forced his head back. From upside down, he saw the roaring ship approaching. It did look like a comet, if comets pulsed in time to an erratic heartbeat and flickered in and out of existence like a flame caught in a wind. Gallowglass’ revolver roared, momentarily deafening him, and the corpse that held him jerked back, its skull pulped. “I’m out,” she shouted.
“Improvise,” he shouted back, lurching forward, digging for the Monas Glyph. “I have to stop that ship!” He had no idea how he was going to accomplish that, but he that had never stopped him before. Ghost or not, he had to send Von Thurn’s comrades back to where they’d come from.
“Bugger this for a game of soldiers,” Gallowglass growled, lunging for the closest dead man and tackling him into his fellows. It was a desperate move, but Gallowglass was good in a scrum. The whole knot of them, living and dead alike, tumbled through the hatch, but her parting words struck a chord in St. Cyprian.
“Soldiers,” he muttered. He pulled the Monas Glyph from his pocket and raised it. “You called, eh? Well, two can play at that game,” he said. He smiled mirthlessly. “I bet you didn’t know there was an old RFC base near here, in Marham. That’s likely where they came from, those men who shot your airship down that night. How many of them did you take with you, I wonder?” The glyph began to glow and he felt a twinge of pain, deep in him. Von Thurn looked at him in dawning realization. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
The roaring of the approaching airship was loud in his ears, and the tower shook with its approach, but another noise began to grow in opposition—the buzz of engines, and the crackle of guns. They were not ghosts. While necromancy was among his skills, it required grisly tools which he didn’t have to hand. But the world was like clay, and strong moments left their mark, if you knew where to look. Pieces of history, trapped and repeating, until you let them loose of their loop. That was what Von Thurn had done. He had ripped his fallen comrades from their final moment and drawn them across their dying trail to complete their mission, even as he had dragged the astronomers he’d gunned down to their feet.
But, as St. Cyprian had said, two could play that game. The planes seemed to materialize out of an indistinct mist, their shapes fading and hardening as they swept towards the roaring ship, ghostly guns blazing as they played out an act long finished. St. Cyprian felt a thrill of weakness curl through him as the planes dove and spun with graceful lethality. The airship shuddered and heaved as it had done, so many years before, turning slowly, like a wounded beast seeking to flee. But the ghostly De Havilland biplanes were as relentless as the roaring ship had been.
“No,” Von Thurn screamed, gaping in horror as old traumas replayed themselves. He swung the Webley towards St. Cyprian. “Stop it!”
Even as his finger tightened on the trigger, St. Cyprian was moving. He pounced on the other man, swatting the pistol aside as it fired, and brought the Monas Glyph down, hard, on Von Thurn’s skull. The man grunted and crashed against him. They fell back, in a tangle. As they hit the floor, long-abused and weather-weakened boards splintered and cracked and then came a sickening moment of vertigo as the boards gave way.
St. Cyprian grabbed hold of the rotten boards with one flailing gesture, nearly losing his grip on the Monas Glyph as he did so. He felt a weight on his leg, and looked down. Von Thurn clawed at his calf, cursing in German, his eyes wide with malice. The boards beneath his hand began to slough in his grip. Desperate, he kicked out. Von Thurn’s grip only tightened. The boards creaked. The German’s weight was pulling him down. “I called them,” Von Thurn hissed, “I called them and they came.”
“Good for you. Now go join them,” St. Cyprian said, driving his foot down hard onto the crown of the German’s skull. The boards came apart in his hand even as Von Thurn released him. The German fell screaming into the dark. Gallowglass’ hand smacked against his and his plunge was brought up short. Nonetheless, her feet skidded on the warped boards, and for a moment, he could gain no grip. He heard a wet thump below, and Von Thurn’s screams were suddenly silenced. With a hiss of effort, he managed to wedge the glyph between two boards and anchor himself long enough for her to haul him up. They lay side-by-side on their backs, panting.
Above them, the duelling phantoms were dissipating like a morning mist burnt away by the sunlight. Without Von Thurn to call it, the roaring ship was returning to its watery grave. And with their prey retreating, the spectral pilots St. Cyprian had roused were fading back into the dim reaches of time and tide. “What about the late, lamented members of the astronomical society?” he said.
“Bashed ‘em inna noggin, didn’t I,” Gallowglass said, raising her Webley by the barrel, to display the blood and brain matter encrusted on the grips. “I want a raise,” she added.
“Apprentices don’t get paid,” he wheezed, picking himself up. The night sky was clearing. Whatever was beneath them—god, demon, wolf or devil—was falling back into slumber. The Germanenorden had failed eight years ago, and they had failed again, tonight. All the same, he hoped he wasn’t going to have to do it all again in eight years.
“I’m your assistant,” she said, sitting up.
“I’ll give it some thought,” he said as overhead, the last phantom biplane returned to base, coming apart in streams of memory and mist.