“The Strix Society” sees St. Cyprian and Gallowglass confront a deadly society of psychic predators in London in 1920. It appears in the Airship 27 anthology, The Occult Detectives, available via the publisher, as well as on Amazon.com and its international affiliates, and other online stores.
He and Gallowglass hurried in pursuit of their quarry. As they reached the boarded over storefront, St. Cyprian caught the strain of music coming from within. Gallowglass pried one of the boards away, and slithered inside before St. Cyprian could caution her. He squirmed after her, cursing under his breath as his overcoat caught on the boards.
Even almost three years after the fact, the inside of the store still stank of the fire that had erupted after it had been struck by enemy ordinance. It was in the midst of a long overdue refurbishment, and the display counters were empty and the walls still caked with ash. The music echoed out of the rear of the store, and they followed it behind a heavy curtain and into a large room, packed with party-goers. A display case had been pressed into service as a bar, and a stage had been improvised from scaffolding and tarpaulin. A band was hard at it, playing something boisterous and American, as the party-goers danced with less rhythm than enthusiasm.
St. Cyprian let his gaze roam across the crowded room. Men and women in red circulated like blood vessels through the crowd, mingling in ad hoc fashion. More display cases had made over into temporary tables, and everything was lit by a combination of candles and electric lanterns. Under other circumstances, he might have taken a table and settled in to enjoy himself. “What I want to know is why they wear red,” Gallowglass muttered as she looked around.
“Certain colors have certain significances,” he said. As he scanned the room, he saw a familiar face. “We’re in luck,” he said. “Mosley is here tonight. Over there, in the red waistcoat.” He gestured surreptitiously towards a tall, thin young man near the stage who was leaning over a makeshift table, speaking quietly to a giggling trio of young women.
Mosley looked like a well-fed fox; sleek and smooth. His hair was slicked back tight to his skull and his mustache quirked pompously at the ends. He wore evening wear, and the only dash of color was his waistcoat. As St. Cyprian watched, Mosley smoothed his mustache with the tip of a finger, in a gesture he probably thought was rather dashing, but which, from a distance, merely looked vulgar.
“Who–the git with the curly mustache?” Gallowglass said. “He’s not wearing all red.”
“Yes, quite,” St. Cyprian said. “And Curzon said he wasn’t a member yet.” He glanced around, noting others who bore similar splashes of crimson like the proverbial mark of Cain moving here and there through the crowd. “Maybe this is an initiation of some kind…” he trailed off and shook his head. “No matter. Our course is clear.”
“Right. We planning to snatch him?”
“No. Tonight is about the soft approach, I think. I get Mosley alone, and have a quiet chat. Who knows, he might be a reasonable sort. He is an ambitious little peacock. If I put the risk of his current associations to him plain enough, he may well cut ties voluntarily.”
Gallowglass snorted. “Be a bloody wonder,” she muttered.
“Cynicism does not become you, Ms. Gallowglass.”
“And what if he likes his new friends just fine?” she asked as they began to make their way through the crowd. “If this is an initiation, he might not be keen on cutting it short.”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we should come to it. If this can be resolved without causing an incident, so much the better. Now, go hobnob and try not to cause a scene. I need you to keep an eye on Mosley’s crimson-clad companions, what? Make sure no one takes an undue interest in our confab, what?”
“I’ll have you know I can hob with the best of nobs,” she said. She tossed off a two-fingered salute and eeled her way into the crowd. There was enough fancy dress on display that he wasn’t worried about her standing out too much, if anyone noticed her, which he doubted. Gallowglass was a master of the art of the unobtrusive sidle, and a champion creeper. She was practically an alley cat in a flat cap.
He looked around the room and his senses, both physical and otherwise, reached out, taking the pulse of the crowd and the building both as he moved in a roundabout way towards Mosley. There was a pall over everything and he was put in mind of what a hare must feel, as the fox closes in. Something was coming, something vast and terrible and he had no idea where it was coming from or what form it would take and that made him very nervous indeed…