The Crimson Mask – Part 62

SILAS

“Silas?”

I was woken by the Major-General whispering my name.

“Silas, are you awake?”

“Yes.”

“Good, good. Right so you obviously found the mask and as you are wearing the outfit. I presume you have your pendant?” he whispered urgently.

“Yes.”

“Do you have all eight?”

“Not yet, Harriet is working on it.”

My arm was aching from where the needle was embedded in my vein and my head felt sore. 

“What do they want with my blood?” I asked.

“Ah, well, it’s a long story, but as we don’t really have time I’ll give you the highlights. The Crimson Mask’s powers only work because it uses your blood. When you breathe in the chemicals from the Dark Water mixture in the mask, they get into your bloodstream and the powers are unleashed.”

“But why me, why my blood?”

“Because you’re not the first man to wear the Crimson Mask.”

“Who?”

“Your father.”

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The Crimson Mask – Part 61

Chapter 8

“The Powers Have A Price”

ALLIE

As the Pod rattled along on its rails I looked over at Russell examining his pendant, tracing the lines of the engraved lightning bolt with his finger. My hand rested gently on the mask and pendant recharging on the seat beside me. We had left Cecelia behind at the Library, she obviously wasn’t well enough to accompany us on our mission to find the others. Her cough seemed to be getting worse.

“What do you think it means?” Russell asked.

“I don’t know, something to do with electricity maybe?” I replied. “Or a thunderstorm?”

“Guess we’ll find out when we find my mask.”

I looked down at the Amber mask beside me and thought back to something Cecelia had said before we left. She told me to use the mask’s powers only when they were needed. The last words she had said to me were, “The powers have a price,” and now as I sat in the Pod I couldn’t help but think about what that price could be.

After a few more minutes the Pod slowed to a halt and as we waited for the cage to be unscrewed and the Pod’s roof to hinge open Russell placed his pendant back in his jacket pocket.

“Where are we?” he asked as he followed me out of the docking bay.

“Millbank”

“The prison?”

“Yes, we’re under the West Wing. This room is known as the Dungeon. It’s where the Brigade keep the wagons they use to transfer prisoners.”

I flicked a switch and a row of gas lamps on the wall lit up one by one. 

“My Velo is in that wagon,” I said, indicating the large black riot wagon that emerged from the shadows as the gas lamps illuminated the darkness. “You may want to wait here.”

Walking towards the wagon I became aware of a faint thudding sound. As I got closer the noise got louder and I noticed the wagon was rocking slightly from side to side. After failing to rescue Cecelia I had put the Velo in the back of the wagon along with the bodies of the men I’d killed. I’d asked Russell to wait behind because I didn’t want him the see the corpses inside.

I pulled my mask on over my head and placed my hand on the wagon’s rear door. I could feel something hitting against the other side as if someone was trying to get out. I took a deep breath, allowing the mask’s effects to take hold. As I felt myself getting stronger the pounding from inside the wagon ceased and it stopped rocking. 

I place my hand on the door handle and slowly pushed it up, releasing the bolts that held the door shut. Even though it was cold I could feel a bead of sweat running down my forehead.

Suddenly the wagon’s doors flew open. Thankfully the mask gave me lightning-fast reflexes and I was able to jump back out of the way of the opening doors. There was a loud growl from the wagon as one of the Shades jumped out, his arms outstretched, clawing for my face. I grabbed hold of his shirt and rolled backwards. As my back hit the floor I kicked up into his midriff and sent him tumbling away behind me. I flipped back to my feet just as two more Shades jumped down from the wagon. I heard Russell call out to me. 

“Stay back!” I shouted as the three Shades circled me.

The Shade that had jumped out of the wagon first stepped closer. His head was twisted awkwardly and I realised that he must have been the one whose neck I had broken. The second had a gaping wound in his stomach that was oozing thick, dark blood, and the final Shade still had the remnants of a quarterstaff embedded through his neck.

The first Shade lunged forward and I ducked down under his outstretched arm. I kicked out, sweeping his legs out from underneath him. The other two closed in as I flipped backwards. The next few minutes were a blur as I sprang back and forth, spinning round and round, but every time my kicks knocked the Shades to the ground they got back up and came at me again. As I flipped and kicked I remembered what Cecelia had said before she cured Edwin; the Shades could only be stopped by stopping their heart.

With a spinning high kick, I caught the Shade with the broken neck across the jaw with a sickening crack. I then kicked out behind me and felt my foot bury itself in the stomach of the third Shade. There was a horrible squelch as I pulled my foot free. I ducked down under another attack and then sprang up, spinning around with my leg outstretched. My foot made contact with the shard of wood buried in the Shade’s neck, forcing it loose. More of the thick, dark blood spurted from the wound as the wood fell to the floor.

I cartwheeled to my right, catching another Shade under the jaw with my foot and picking up the giant splinter as I went. As I got to my feet I span and buried the pole into the chest of the nearest Shade, I then kicked out, forcing the stake through his heart. He fell back and the force of the impact pushed the stake back through his chest. I flipped over his body, picking up the stake which was now slick with the Shade’s blood and plunged it through the heart of the next Shade.

The final Shade came at me from behind. I span round using one Shade as a shield against the other. With a roar I charged forward, driving both of the Shades against the wagon. As they slammed against the side of the wagon the stake was driven through the chest of the final Shade and they both fell to the floor in a slowly expanding puddle of blood.

I stood up, poised, waiting for them to strike again, but none of them moved. Slowly I removed my mask and wiped some of the Shade’s blood from the goggles.

“Holy smoke Allie,” gasped Russell as he cautiously approached. “That was… incredible. Are they dead?”

“I think so,” I replied as I jumped up into the back of the wagon. “I’ll need your help Russell.”

He climbed up after me as I stood the Velo up on its wheels. As we began to manoeuvre it towards the wagon’s open doors the handlebars knocked a case off of the seat that ran down the side of the wagon. As the case hit the floor it opened and several metallic spheres rolled out. Russell picked one up and held it out in one hand. It appeared to be divided in half and each hemisphere was a slightly different shade of grey. There were markings engraved into the darker half and arrows etched around the centre suggesting that the ball could be twisted.

Which is exactly what Russell did.

“I wonder what this…” before he could finish he vanished in a blinding ball of light that knocked me back against the side of the wagon.

I swore under my breath as I pulled my mask down, grabbed another one of the mysterious spheres and twisted it.

There was another flash of light and a rush of wind swirled around me.

The Crimson Mask – Part 60

SILAS

As the doctor stood in front of me the Shades approached and began to push my chair backwards. The wheels squeaked as the chair bumped over the cell’s floor. Out of the corner of my eye, on my left-hand side, I noticed the footrest of another chair come into view. As I continued to be pushed backwards more of the chair was revealed, along with its occupant, the Major-General.

The chair was battered and worn and so was the Major-General. His face was gaunt and his white beard and moustache were no longer neatly-trimmed. His skin seemed pale but his eyes still sparkled. He managed a smile as I came into view. Like me, he was strapped down in the chair and I noticed a thin tube ascending from a bandage on his right arm to a copper pipe in the ceiling. 

“Silas,” said the Doctor as he checked the straps that held my feet in place. “It is a pleasure to meet you again. Although you were probably too young to remember the first time.”

“Who are you?” I asked

“Forgive me, I thought you knew.” he pulled the straps around my right wrist tight, making me grimace. “Doctor Ogilvy-Watts, but most people just call me Doctor.”

He began to roll the sleeve of my shirt up above my elbow.

“Stop this Denison,” said the Major-General. “This is a betrayal.”

“No!” 

The Doctor spun to face the Major-General and I was stunned by the fury and venom that came out of his mouth.

“You betrayed us! With your pathetic masks. Men are dying over there, thousands of men. We could have saved them all but you chose a different path. What do you expect a few individuals to achieve? We could have created an army, an army that was invincible, immortal! But my gratitude goes to Silas, he has brought us something we need to bring that army closer to reality!”

What was the Doctor talking about? Thousands of men? 

“You have my mask, you can let me go.”

“Oh it’s not your mask that I’m interested in,” the Doctor said as he tapped my arm. “You have something far more important.”

The cell door opened and Mrs Crowe entered carrying a tray of medical equipment. I suddenly felt incredibly nervous as she stood beside me, took a large needle from the tray and, without warning pushed it into the large vein in my arm. I gasped at the pain as one of the Shades reached behind me and pulled down a clear tube. The woman attached it to the end of the needle and I watched as blood slowly began to climb the tube.

“Thanks to your help we will overcome the Major-General’s selfishness,” said the Doctor as he wrapped a bandage around my arm to hold the needle in place. “And soon we will have the others. I believe Harriet and Vincent are trying to find you as we speak.”

The Doctor turned to the Major-General.

“And I understand Vincent is the second person to benefit from Cecelia’s mask?” He then turned back to me. “One day Silas, I’ll tell you the story of the first person she resurrected.”

Suddenly a damp cloth was placed across my face and everything went black.

The Adventures of Pratchett & Banks – Part 2

Here’s a Bank Holiday Bonus….

Set in the same universe as the Crimson Mask and the continuation of https://chrisleach78.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/the-adventures-of-pratchett-and-banks/

 

The rest of the morning proceeded as normal; Bartholomew sold a few books and spent at least an hour listening to old Mr Douglas’ war stories as he stacked shelves in the shop’s History section. When the grandfather clock on the staircase chimed midday Bartholomew took the lunch his grandmother had prepared for him and stepped out into the hustle and bustle of Grove Street. 

A couple of the Brigade’s Steam Wagons rumbled past, smoke billowing from their exhaust pipes and steam hissing from the pistons that drove their large wheels. Bartholomew watched as the wagons turned into the yard beside the Brigade Station that stood on the corner opposite the bookshop. He had to step back as Mr Clarence, the fishmonger, trundled past on his velocipede, the smell of fresh fish wafting after him. 

On a bright sunny day like this, Bartholomew always liked to eat his lunch on the bench outside the Engine House at the North end of Grove Street. He liked to watch people as they went past, going about their business. In his mind he created stories, he liked to imagine where they were going, who they were going to see and what they would get up to when they got there. Behind him, in the former workhouse, he could hear the muffled thrum of the machinery contained behind the bricked-up walls of the Engine House.

“It will revolutionise our business,” his grandfather had said one morning as he read the Herald at the kitchen table.

Bartholomew climbed onto his grandfather’s lap.

“Oof, you’re getting heavy my boy,” he said as he placed the newspaper on the table and began to read aloud. “Yesterday, Mayor Cavendish, announced that the first Babbage Engine to be built on the South Coast would be installed here, in Burlington, in the old workhouse on Grove Street.”

Bartholomew had been fascinated by Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine ever since reading about it in a book by Countess Lovelace, and when the conversion of the old workhouse began, his grandfather would take him down every lunchtime to watch the machinery needed for the vast calculating machine being delivered.

Babbage visited Burlington for the grand opening of the Engine House and Bartholomew had even managed to get Countess Lovelace’s book signed by the man himself. 

After finishing his lunch of bread and cheese, Bartholomew headed back towards the bookshop. A group of anti-Darwin Creationists had gathered outside the Town Hall, waving banners and singing All Things Bright and Beautiful, watched by a few bored-looking Brigade officers on the other side of the road.

Father Christopher, upon hearing rumours that the renowned naturalist, Charles Darwin, was planning to visit the seaside town, had rallied the congregation of St George’s together in order to protest against Darwin’s absurd theories of evolution. Bartholomew mumbled apologies as he pushed his way through the crowd (…all creatures great and small…) He stumbled as a small boy in front of him stopped to point excitedly at the airship drifting overhead, (… all things bright and beautiful…) sidestepped the flailing arm of an over-enthusiastic protestor and tripped over another’s discarded banner before bumping into a gentleman in a long, brown overcoat.

“…The Lord God makes them all.” continued the gentleman as he smiled down at Bartholomew. “Mind your step dear boy.”

“Ever so sorry Sir.”

“Is everything all right Sir? It was one of the Brigade Officers from over the road.

“Everything is fine Officer,” replied the gentleman.

“You might want to check your pockets Sir,” continued the officer without taking his eyes off of Bartholomew, his moustache trembling with suspicion. “You can never be too careful. Pickpockets!”

He spat the last word out, showering Bartholomew in spittle.

The gentleman, with the busy sideburns and tall top hat, made an elaborate show of patting his pockets. He even unbuttoned his coat and opened it to reveal his red, velvet waistcoat and gold pocket watch. This appeared to be enough to convince the officer that Bartholomew was not a criminal.  The officer tipped his hat towards the other man, glowered at Bartholomew and the faded away into the crowd.

“I am sorry Sir,” mumbled Bartholomew. “I wasn’t trying to…”

“I know,” replied the gentleman, offering Bartholomew a handkerchief with which to wipe his face.

As Bartholomew handed the handkerchief back he noticed the letters CD embroidered into the corner. The mysterious man smile and tucked the handkerchief back into his coat pocket. He turned and lifted up a banner that read  “Jesus will soon return and sweep away all the lies”.

Bartholomew mumbled another apology and then snaked his way through the crowd. As he approached the bookshop he could see his grandmother through the shop window talking to a man in a long black coat with bushy black sideburns. They were clearly discussing the books on display in the window. 

“Ah, Bartholomew,” his grandmother said as he entered the shop. “You might be able to help this gentleman. He’s interested in sea-birds.”

“I’m visiting family in Devon later this Summer,” the man explained in a deep, gruff voice. “And I would very much like to do some bird-watching whilst there. I understand Lundy Island has a large colony of puffins.”

Puffins!

“Ah,” replied Bartholomew. “I have just the book.”

“I knew he would,” muttered his grandmother proudly.

“Follow me Mister?”

“Huxley.” 

Bartholomew led Mr Huxley around the piles of books towards the counter where the book that Penelope had returned that morning was still sat beside the till.

“Perfect,” said Huxley, “That is exactly the book I was after.” He dropped a coin onto the counter and without waiting for Bartholomew to sort out the change he turned and left the shop. 

“You keep that one,” said Bartholomew’s grandmother, picking up the coin and placing it in his hand. “You earned it.”

Bartholomew would often stare at his grandmother, mentally smoothing out the wrinkles and darkening her hair in order to build a picture of what his mother must have looked like. In moments like this, his grandmother became the most beautiful woman in the world. He hugged her.

“Now be a dear,” she said, patting him on the back. “and deal with that case by the door. Mr Huxley was kind enough to leave a donation.”

 

The battered brown case contained a wide variety of books. Usually when someone donated books the titles gave an insight into the personality of the person who had made the donation, however, Mr Huxley’s collection appeared to be completely random. There were novels and natural history, poetry and politics, biographies and geographies. Bartholomew sorted the books into piles depending on which section of the bookshop they belonged to. He’d had to move to the kitchen so that he could use the table as there was not enough space on the shop floor. 

As Bartholomew tried to find space for a new pile for botany he knocked two astronomical books onto the floor, damaging the spine of An Astronomer’s Experiment, dislodging the first few pages. As he gathered them up from the cold tiles he noticed a message scribbled on one of the pages. It appeared to be a poem, handwritten in a barely legible script.

“Bartholomew!” called his grandmother from somewhere in the shop.

“Yes grandma?”

“Can you help Mr Higgins? We need the big steps.”

Bartholomew sighed, placed the books on the table and the poem in his pocket and went to collect the tall step ladder from the cupboard under the stairs. He’d forbidden his grandmother from using the ladder ever since she’d fallen from the top shelf of the biographies section, knocking over a tall tower of books and trapping Mr Irvine, the greengrocer. It had taken them over two hours to dig him out and a member of the fire brigade had to rescue his grandmother from the bookcase.

The Crimson Mask – Part 59

SILAS

After I had finished explaining the abilities given to Allie by the Amber mask the Major-General sighed.

“Ah, so my theory was correct after all.” He then mumbled something to himself that I couldn’t quite catch. “Anyway, you have answered my questions, you must have plenty to ask me.”

He was, of course, correct but I couldn’t think of which one to ask first. So much had happened over the past couple of days, I hadn’t eaten and had hardly slept. Suddenly the cell’s door opened and two Shades stepped into the room followed by a tall, slim man carrying an oil lamp. He handed the lamp to one of the shades and stepped forward. As the shadows danced around the room I recognised the man as the Doctor from the Asylum. As he approached another memory flashed across my mind. I had seen him before. He had been at the stables when my father unveiled the horse with the mechanical leg.

 

ALLIE

“So where have Harriet and Vincent gone?” I asked Cecelia as Russell helped himself to some of the bread and cheese from the table.

“They have gone to find Silas,” she replied. “We were tracking him on the map as he travelled south, away from the Asylum. After only a few minutes his dot stopped moving. We waited for about ten minutes and then his dot vanished.”

Cecelia coughed and as she covered her mouth with her hand I noticed the pained expression on her face.

“Harriet and Vincent decided that they had to go and find him,” she continued. “But only a few minutes after they’d left Silas’s dot reappeared on the map, several miles further west from where it had vanished, but I have no way of letting Vincent and Harriet know.”

“What about Edwin?” I asked.

“Edwin?” said Russell as he approached with a plate full of food. “You found him?”

“Yes, Silas tracked him down,” I replied.

“He’s gone to Melville House,” said Cecelia. “To try and crack a coded message Harriet found earlier.”

Cecelia suddenly stood up.

“That reminds me,” she said as she headed towards the writing desk on the other side of the library. “That’s not all that Harriet found.”

When we joined Cecelia she indicated the row of boxes that sat on top of the desk. 

“Allie, you already have yours,” she said as she opened one of the boxes and picked up a dull orange pendant. “This is yours Russell.”

She handed it to him and told him to keep it with him at all times.

“Vincent and Harriet also have theirs,” she said as she began returning the boxes to their drawers.

“Vincent! But he’s dead.”

I put my hand on Russell’s arm.

“Come sit down, let me explain,” I said as I guided him back to the long table.

The Crimson Mask – Part 58

SILAS

“So the mask can transport you to anywhere you can remember?”

“Yes.”

“And allows you to freeze time?”

“Yes.”

“Fascinating. What about the others? Have they tried their masks?”

“Well, Cecelia’s…”

“Yes, yes, I know what Cecelia’s mask does. She’s used it before,” he interrupted. “What about Alexandria’s?”

 

ALLIE

Cecelia sat beside me on the couch as we listened to Russell explain what had happened at the Asylum with the girl and the baby in the water. At the mention of a baby being abandoned and left to die, I couldn’t help thinking about Ruby. I looked up at Cecelia, there was still so much I needed to ask her, I needed her to explain.

“So it turns out that the girl Silas rescued from the lake, the girl who had given her son to the orphanage was none other than Laura Georgiana Babbage, Charles Babbage’s granddaughter,” Russell explained.

“And the wife of Henry Brunel,” said Cecelia.

I remembered the wedding of Henry and Laura as it brought together two of the great British names – Babbage and Brunel, and had been the social event of the decade. In recent months the couple had disappeared from the public eye. They no longer attended any of the Saturday-night soirees hosted by Charles Babbage and it was widely believed that Laura Georgiana Babbage had become a recluse following the death of her father, Alexander, on his return voyage from Australia. 

“She claims that Henry gave her the money which she used to pay for her newborn son to be taken into care,” continued Russell. “She drove to the Asylum in Henry’s roadcar and of course, when she decided to take her own life in the lake, Henry’s car was left behind. The Brigade have taken the presence of Henry’s car as evidence that he was the man responsible for the fire, the man they followed across the rooftops, the man in the Crimson Mask.”

The Crimson Mask – Part 57

SILAS

“So I presume you found your mask,” said the Major-General. His voice was instantly recognisable even though it sounded different. He sounded weaker, older, frailer. 

“Yes, Cecelia took me to your study,” I replied.

“Ah, good, good. So you have all of the masks?”

I hesitated.

“Silas?”

“We have Allie’s and Cecelia’s. I was attempting to recover the others when I was captured.”

“Hmmm, that’s not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination.”

I wasn’t really sure what to say so I simply grunted in acknowledgement.

“Well, you must tell me, what powers did the mask bring you?”

ALLIE

“The Brigade have their entire fleet in the air looking for him,” he said. “That’s why it’s taken me so long to get back from the Common.”

“Looking for Silas?” I asked. “Why?”

“The fire at the Asylum,” he replied but I still had no idea what he was talking about. “Well not exactly looking for Silas, they think the man in the Crimson Mask is someone else.”

“Who?” asked Cecelia.

“Henry Brunel.”

“Brunel?”

“Yes, Isambard’s son” Russell nodded. “Unbelievable isn’t it?”

“Why on earth would they think Henry Brunel is the Crimson Mask?” asked Cecelia.

“Ah, well, let me explain…”