• thescarletderby

SDMJ Classic: The Madness of Mother Mandrake

It was a typical morning at the home of Thaddeus Hedwater and his wife, Mary Jane. The newlywed couple had just finished a lovely meal, and Thaddeus had moved from the breakfast table to his chair, when he discovered something missing at his side.

“Have you seen the morning paper, dear?” He turned to ask Mary Jane, who was busy clearing the table.

“No, I had gone to the corner this morning to pick it up, but the paperboy wasn’t out yet,” Mary Jane said lifted the tray of used dishes and deposited them in the kitchen. Immediately, she walked through the foyer and out the front door.

“Well, if your hands are full I can go out and check myself-” Thaddeus twisted his head around, seeing the door had been left open a crack, and the wife he’d been speaking to was suddenly gone.

“She seems distracted,” he concluded, before slumping further back into his chair.

Once outside and at the street corner, Mary Jane spotted the paperboy. He wheezed as he leaned against the stack of newspapers he’d obviously lugged down the street in a hurry to start his work day.

“It’s not usually like you to be late,” Mary Jane mused.

“Yeah…Sorry about that, Mum,” The Paperboy said between breaths. “It’s just that downtown is a real mess right now. The streets got gummed up by some icky-black goo that erupted out of the sewer last night.”

“Is there any idea where it came from?” Mary Jane asked, flipping the newspaper over to its front page.

“Afraid not, and it’s not in today’s edition,” The paperboy replied.

Mary Jane scrutinized the front page, and came across something that gave her an audible gasp. Quickly, she produced a dime and handed it to the paperboy, stammering “I have to, I mean, I’m going to take this, here’s double for your effort, have a nice day!” Then she dashed off.

The paperboy looked down at the dime, back at the retreating Mary Jane and concluded, “She seems distracted.”

Returning to her home, Mary Jane found her husband standing by the doorway, clearly waiting for her to return.

Thaddeus opened his mouth for a half-second before she whipped the half-folded newspaper into his hands and stomped across the foyer.

Thaddeus opened his mouth again, “Is there something wrong?”

“It’s not your concern,” Mary Jane said flatly, opening the door to Thaddeus’ basement workshop, shutting it, and announcing “Don’t come down here, I need to change!”

Thaddeus, wearing a puzzled expression, went over to the door and pressed his ear to the surface of the door. He knew that Mary Jane only kept one outfit in the basement, and her changing into it was actually an immediate cause for concern, at least at this hour. “Don’t tell me: you had a disagreement with the paperboy.”

“Very droll, dear, but this isn’t a laughing matter,” The door swung open, turning Thaddeus’ head to one side as Mary Jane, or rather, Midnight Jay, emerged from the basement. She was straight as a board with a gaze in her eyes that could burn a hole through glass. “Is it in your nature to listen to doors?”

“I count this as natural curiosity,” Thaddeus replied. “You’re acting that certain way again. The same way you did when that ex-chauffer of yours wrecked our home in search of that precious gem.”

The Jay gave a half-grin “Your deduction is top notch as always.”

“Is it Royce Calvin? Has he come back?”

The Jay shook her head. “It’s worse. A supervillain has just struck, and I’m on my way to pay them a visit.”

“Is it Silas Monstrosity, or the Three-Headed Mob?” Thaddeus asked pointedly.

“You haven’t met this one, dear, and you should count yourself lucky.”

“Oh pshaw,” Thaddeus flicked his wrist, dismissing the very notion. “What little English criminal could be giving you such a worry?”

“It doesn’t matter a thing to you Thaddeus. I’m handling this one on my own,” The Jay replied, and made her way towards the front door. She had reached out for the door frame when Thaddeus bounded in between her and the door, resting his arm casually across the frame.

Though he looked as though he was moments from raising his voice, he instead, modestly lowered his head, and politely intoned “You know, you had said the same issue with Calvin as well, and ultimately I ended up intervening with that one. Didn’t I?”

“Yes, and for your troubles, Calvin threw you down a flight of stairs and you were bedridden for a week,” The Jay retorted “but still, the reason is far deeper. I can’t let you interfere this time.”

Thaddeus balked “Far deeper than over my own battered body?”

The Jay gave a single, curt, nod. “You made me a promise, Thaddeus Hedwater, that if we wed, you would not interfere with my reputation as Midnight Jay. This villain and I have a mutual understanding that you would get in the way of if you made yourself present.”

“I don’t think a mutual understanding with a villain is something that should be kept a secret,” Thaddeus mused.

“I mean it this time, dear,” The Jay’s tone was suddenly very fierce. “Since you moved here you’ve done an entirely poor job keeping up with your promise. Prove to me that this time you will stay out of it. If not…”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I’ve spent many years as a single woman, and my status won’t make the spectacle of divorce harm me for very long.”

Thaddeus was taken aback. His face dramatically altered by the shock of what his wife had just said to him. It took some strength, but he moved away from the door, going as far as pulling it open for her as she stepped outside. Immediately, she ducked behind the tall hedges of her rose bushes, taking the time to round the garden and slip out between the fence posts on the adjacent side.

Thaddeus watched her throughout the entire disappearing act with a face contorted by concern and frustration. Then he ducked back into the house, shutting the door behind him.

Midnight Jay continued her stealth act as she proceeded down the street, ducking behind walls, shimmying up storm drains and hiking up and down the tall pointed roofs of many London residents. As she practiced the craft of swift, hidden, martial arts movement, her mind wandered back to what she had just said. She frankly felt terrible about her cruel words to Thaddeus. While she knew that nothing short of chaining him to the kitchen sink would keep him from meddling (and she considered that doing that would have perhaps been kinder) she also knew that this was way too dire a situation for him to take part in.

Thaddeus, or rather, The Scarlet Derby, had only been in London for a little while and although the sampling of The Jay’s arch enemies he’d so-far faced was a healthy one, he was not yet prepared for the worst of them. If the Three-Headed Mob were running about demolishing tea houses to cripple the economy, they’d not get far. If Silas Monstrosity threatened to blow up Big Ben in exchange for the crown jewels, well, that was always an empty threat. If Hector Bellaco chose to stomp around London in

a giant petrol-powered war machine, that was still child’s play compared to…this villain.

There are villains, The Jay reasoned, and there were the truly evil. Those whose twisted, blackened, hearts saw nothing but woe, and designed to make the world as bleak as it lay before their stone-dead eyes.

The Jay perched atop the narrow middle of an old wall of chipped white paint and long wisps of ivy. She peered over the wall to find…her villain…sitting in the comfort of a decaying wicker chair before a chipped china tea set.

She was a distinctly old woman. Her bouffant of woolen hair had long gone from deep grey to phantom white. Her entire body was thin and bony. Her long fingers, the shafts thinner than the joints, curled into crooked branches as they clung to the elbows of her seat, as though the old wicker thing were her own personal throne. Her narrow grey eyes stared at a fixed point ahead of her, her mouth tensed in a thin, flat, grimace that showed off her perpetual disdain for whatever in the world would dare to cross their path.

Without turning those eyes, or moving her head, she opened her mouth and announced “I see a little bluebird has perched on my wall. Since the time of the ancient Orientals, such a thing was considered good fortune.”

The Jay narrowed her eyes, she instantly felt herself welling up with anger, but used her practiced mind to push the emotion in a small place within her. The Jay knew that if she were to operate based on her temper, she’d be in the old witch’s playground, and she wasn’t yet ready to give up that advantage.

“Tell me what you’ve done to the city, Mother Mandrake,” The Jay demanded.

“Such incredulity and accusation,” Mother Mandrake replied. “And I thought you might be the bluebird of

happiness. Come, I’ve set a place for you at my tea table.”

“I don’t have time for formalities Mother-”

“I’d consider it a great offense if you didn’t,” Mother Mandrake replied, finally turning her head to meet The Jay with a stare that completely contradicted her polite tone.

The Jay exhaled a sigh and hopped down from the wall. She casually walked up to the small wireframe chair, which matched the outdoor table, and sat, taking a cup in her hand. She noticed that her stature was now quite smaller than Mother Mandrake’s, who sat slightly taller, and cast a shadow over The Jay and the entire tea set due to the wide backrest of her wicker chair. She looked like a coiled cobra, The Jay considered, and felt that was exactly the image she intended for herself.

“So, what do I owe the pleasure of your little visit?” Mother Mandrake slid slightly back, as her whole being appeared to relax. She took the remaining tea cup.

“You know full well why I’m here. The streets of central London are covered in some pitch black substance, and I saw the morning paper…”

“Ah, the morning paper, I had nearly forgotten,” Mother Mandrake turned slightly to her side, raising both her arms over the brim of her chair, she clapped twice. “Rudolpho, bring the paper please!”

The Jay’s eyes widened when she saw a nearly seven foot tall man in a butler’s uniform approach the outdoor table, a silver platter in his outstretched right hand. While his uniform seemed normal, from his black shoes, to his black suit, white undershirt, and thin black tie, he added to that a pair of black leather gloves, and a black leather mask that covered his entire face save for his striking green eyes, and chin, which sported a mahogany colored goatee.

He lumbered over to Mother Mandrake’s side, where she lifted the lid on the silver platter, taking the newspaper

from the dish and waving him off. He dutifully walked back towards the manner and out of sight.

“New hire?” The Jay asked bluntly.

“Fresh off the boat from some obscure Spanish island,” Mother Mandrake affirmed “He came highly recommended, though I’ve made it a point to keep him away from the fine china.”

“Is the mask your idea?” The Jay smirked.

“Oh heavens no, he just prefers it. He mentioned something about a childhood accident once. Hasn’t spoken about it since…” Mother Mandrake unfurled the paper. “So what is it that distresses you about the news? Is it the rising pound, or perhaps the upcoming royal wedding?”

“It’s this,” the Jay stood and placed her finger over a tiny black mark on the bottom right corner of the page, it was a symbol in the shape of a cluster of thorny vines surrounding a human heart on four sides, like a hand. “That is your family’s seal, is it not?”

“That itty-bitty thing?” Mother Mandrake gave a thin, flat grin. “I’m pretty sure it’s just an ink blot.”

The Jay’s response was a glare. Mother Mandrake should have known it would take more than a bit of misdirection to soften that gaze. Unabashed, she suggested “perhaps the gent who printed the paper today is a fan.”

“Perhaps,” The Jay mused, sipping from her cup. “Or perhaps he’s one of your clandestine minions. You know, one of those average-looking pawns of yours who always seem to pop up whenever something disastrous about to happen. Or perhaps you saw to it that was printed yourself. Perhaps this is so, Mother Mandrake, since I know you are a complete and total sociopath who loves to orchestrate exactly this type of deadly mayhem.”

“Perhaps I poisoned your tea,” Mother Mandrake gave another leering grin.

The Jay slowly lowered the cup from her lips and shook her head. “No, that’s too simple. It’s not worth it for you just to see me fall. Not when there’s a whole city out there you consider worthy of destruction.”

“Well, dear, I hate to tell you how to do your job, but it seems to me that this conversation is getting you nowhere.” Mother Mandrake stood from her chair and slowly walked past The Jay, with her gaze vaguely gazing at on the ivy of her walls. “There is quite obviously some disaster going on in the middle of London, and by sitting here and lobbing accusations at me, you’re wasting valuable time putting an end to it. That being so, Midnight Jay, since you are a self-styled guardian, a protector of the citizenry of London, who takes it upon herself to singlehandedly bring justice to any tragedy short of an act of God.”

“Well,” The Jay replied, “that is at least one thing that we can agree on.” She leaped for the wall, scrambling over the ivy and over the other side.

Mother Mandrake gave a light chuckle “Ah, there she flits like a graceful fly into the spider web,” Turning around, she crooked a finger, again calling Rudolpho to her side.

“Follow her, and if she comes even an inch too close to discovering my plan, you have my permission to…clip her wings.”

Posted 8 months agoTagged: The Scarlet Derby, Midnight Jay, sdmjmandrake, superhero, steampunk, serial, pulp, fiction, comic, webcomic, fiction on tumblr, SDMJText.SDMJ Classic: The Madness of Mother Mandrake Pt. 2

Meanwhile, just a block from the home of Thaddeus and Mary Jane Hedwater, The Paperboy continued to work on selling his quota of newspapers. Little did he know, however, that creeping up just behind him, and casting a shadow over his diminutive frame was a crazed and desperate man, breathing heavily, he slowly advanced on the unsuspecting child, his eyes bloodshot and craven, his left hand clutched a sinister looking foreign object, his right, free but with fingers gnarled into a series of jagged hooks.

The Paperboy casually glanced over his shoulder, spotting the man, then adjusted his cap and casually replied, “Oh hello Mister Hedwater. I didn’t think I would see you today, since your wife had already picked up the paper.”

Sighing, Thaddeus dropped down to his knees next to the paper boy. “Well, yes, I know that, but I felt I needed to get out of the house. I’m working on a bit of a puzzle, see, and with my wife out of the house, I was hoping to find someone else to collaborate with upon it.”

“Well, Mister Hedwater, I didn’t know you actually cared,” The Paperboy mused. “Very well, Guv: What might this little puzzle of yours be?”

Thaddeus raised the object in his left hand, the rolled-up copy of his newspaper, and unfurled it to the front page. He pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket, and used it to highlight the bottom-right corner of the paper. “Have you seen this symbol before?”

“Are you sure it’s not just an ink blot?” The Paperboy replied.

“Well, perhaps it is, but it just so happens that I have this pocketbook of obscure, ancient, warning symbols in my library,” Thaddeus produced the book from his other back pocket. “It says that this symbol dates back to the 1300s, around the same period of time London first began to experience the Black Plague.”

“Ah yes, well perhaps it’s a gag, by one of the old blokes who believe the urban legend….”

“What urban legend?” Thaddeus asked in a prying tone.

“Oh yeah, you’re not from around here are you?” The Paperboy looked over his shoulder, then back at Thaddeus, and, using a slight bit more depth in his voice, he murmured “There’s a rumor that just around the corner of this very neighborhood, there lived a doctor named Ogilvy Graves. In the 14th century, it was his duty to care for those who were stricken by the black plague. Ogilvy Graves believed he could cure the disease with a potion off his own concoction, devised almost purely from an extract of mandrake root.”

Thaddeus flinched at the notion “Anyone who dared to treated in THAT way would have become the very opposite of cured.”

The Paperboy gave a nod. “He was run out of the city for this very criminal oversight. It is said that Ogilvy, during his exile, changed his own last name to Mandrake and swore upon the city of London a terrible vengeance, like the Black Plague, but fitting to the disgraced nature of his own undoing.”

“That’s quite a story!” Thaddeus said as he climbed back onto his feet.

“Indeed it is, Guv,” The Paperboy cleared his throat. “Or maybe that’s just an ink blot.”

“Right, well…thanks for the assist, I think I shall be on my way now.” Thaddeus returned to his feet, although they were a bit shaky, and began to move in the direction of his home.

“Hang on a tic, Guv,” The Paperboy interrupted as he saw Thaddeus start to creep away from the scene “What exactly is so important about this symbol to you anyway?”

“Nothing! Nothing at all!” Thaddeus cried out stiffly, looking like he’d just been shot in the back. “Wuh-why do you ask?”

“It just seems like a funny sort-of puzzle. Doesn’t quite suggest to me that you’re working on the daily crossword, you know.”

“Ah well, it’s nothing to worry too much about. It was just…A bit of anthropological research on local legends.” Thaddeus suggested.

“But you’re a chemist,” The Paperboy replied.

“Oh, gee, well…” Thaddeus stymied for a second, trying to get the inquisitive young child’s mind away from these constant questions. “Good grief, son! Have you been selling your quota for today? It seems you have an awful big stack left still.”

“Well, I had started a bit late today is all, I’m sure-”

“I’ll take another six. I could probably use the extras in an experiment. Here.” Thaddeus thrust a coin into The Paperboy’s hand.

“This is a whole pound, Guv…”

“Keep the change!” Thaddeus shouted, as he was already halfway back down the street, holding the six new papers. Once he walked back into his home, he shut the door behind them, dropping the large stack of newsprint in front of his workshop door before he flopped into his lounge chair. He gave a quivering sigh.

“Is that what Mary Jane is up against,” he asked out loud to himself “A mad doctor from the era of the Black Plague?”

It sounded impossible, and the more his logical mind chipped away at the fantasy, the less likely is seemed. Of course Mary Jane wouldn’t be battling a man several centuries old, but could there be an ancestor? Has this ‘Mandrake’ family returned and begun a whole new rampage on this city. Was Mary Jane standing on her own against this villain, with nothing less than the destruction of all of London in the balance, and could she be in danger?

Thaddeus shook in his chair like an old man with hypertension. He wanted nothing more than to throw on his costume, fling himself into the fray, and do…something to save the day and manage the whole situation. But he’d been warned. He was certainly convinced that Mary Jane would not tolerate his meddling in this one. But the stakes seemed so high…

“I just need to get my mind off of it, that’s all,” Thaddeus concluded, “Perhaps working the crossword doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.”

Thaddeus stood from his chair and moved to back to the papers, bending at his knees, he crouched down to grab the stack at its base and lift it up to carry it down the steps to the basement. Somehow in the middle of all that, though, the stack slid to one side and the papers tipped over, fluttering in all directions across the floor. With a raised brow and a sigh, Thaddeus stopped over a second time to begin to re-assemble the papers, page-by-page.

Thaddeus was halfway through putting the first paper back together, when just out of the corner of his eye, he noticed another spot in the lower-right of another page. Taking his magnifying glass out of his back pocket, he put it to the page and raised it in and out until he could focus on the image. It was the same logo as the first page, depicting the same clawed hand composed of thorny vines clutching a human heart, but it was slightly different: the edges of it seemed black and were drawn closer together.

Quickly, Thaddeus scooped up the remaining newsprint of the floor of his living room and dashed with

the armload into his workshop. He switched on a nearby desk lamp, and lowered to his workbench an even larger magnifying glass attached to the wall by a set of retracting levers.

Beginning with the first paper, Thaddeus began the process of checking each page for an iteration of the symbol. He concluded first that not every page even had a symbol, only pages that ended with fives, zeroes, and nines. “Five-oh-nine…What could that mean?” He clipped the symbols loose from the page with a pair of scissors, and stacked one on top of another in order. When he finished, he had about 12 sequential images. He flipped through them, and indeed, the symbol was beginning to grow deeper, blacker outlines the more progressively it appeared in print.

Thaddeus raised his head from the magnifying glass. “Is that it?” he asked himself, and then he turned his head to the pile of fallen newspapers. There was a chance that the pattern he was following continued on into further prints of the same edition. But since Thaddeus had foolishly dropped the papers on the floor earlier, the myriad of pages he had were now out of order.

“Well, it’s good, at least, that I have nothing better to do,” Thaddeus concluded, and he went to work on searching the remaining newsprint for a clue.

Back in the city, Midnight Jay was found standing on the furthermost corner of a crime scene which probably wrapped a mile around the city street. She was perplexed. The Paperboy had mentioned that some sort of goo had poured out of the sewers. The substance on the ground was pitch black and coated the entire street, but it laid flat on

the ground and seemed somehow rock solid. Stooping down into a crouch, she reached forward with one hand to touch it.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” a voice said from behind her back, “Not unless you are interested in keeping that glove.”

The Jay spun around with both hands raised in offense. That’s when she realized the voice belonged to Chief Constable Howard O'Gratin. She exhaled, and dropped her arms saying “Thank goodness it’s you, Constable. So what have you learned about this crisis?”

The Constable scratched where his head met his cap and lamented “Not a whole lot I’m afraid. Half of my police force is actually stuck somewhere in the middle of the street. The mess has fused on the tires of their squad karts, their bicycles, the hooves of their horses, and some of their boots. It’s only gotten worse later in the day, as it’s all since turned dry and solid, but the surface is still sticky enough to seize anyone who stands in it.”

“So, whoever or whatever was caught when the sewer flooded is just trapped out there now,” the Jay concluded.

“I’m afraid so,” The Constable reached into the inner pocket of his vest and handed the Jay a small clear test tube. “Here, one of the men from the lab managed to isolate a sample of the substance in its primary form. Since it hasn’t been exposed to the air yet, it hasn’t solidified.”

The Jay leered out into the distance, “That Mother Mandrake, she has the citizenry trapped like flies.”

“Oh, I was hoping you weren’t going to say it was her,” The Constable groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s not a good day for me to attempt arresting little old women who sit in their gardens all day.”

“She’s a menace, Constable,” the Jay sneered “out and out the very representative of the wills of her old clan.”

The Constable sighed “That may be true, but I’m an official of the law. I don’t have the luxury of accusing anyone I darn well feel like. That may just be the reason I keep you and The Scarlet Derby on retainer. Where is he, by the way?”

“Somewhere out there I’d assume, not feeling very well.” The Jay looked too her side distantly, lightly biting her lower lip. The Jay’s eyes moved about rapidly, darting from building to building. They stopped when she spotted a space between two buildings that looked narrow enough to climb. Once she found an alley that looked promising she spun back around and gave a bow to The Constable.

“Excuse me,” she said, and then took off. She darted towards the alley and rapidly clambered up the side of the wall, occasionally stopping to brace her foot against the opposite wall to help her ascent. Since she couldn’t walk in the streets, the rooftops would have to do.

Once she was able to reach to the top, she moved swiftly across the buildings with enough spring in her step to leap the wide gaps in between. “I have to make it to that newspaper dispensary,” she thought along the way “There is no way that symbol in the paper is any sort of coincidence.”

The Jay landed in a double-foot plant upon reaching the roof of the newspaper printer. She stopped dead in her tracks upon noticing the presence of another individual. He was a thin man with mahogany skin who wore thin gold looped earrings. He was dressed head-to-toe in a close-necked black suit, and wore a turban that made no effort to hide the mass of long brown hair that was tied behind his back in a braid. He kneeled over the edge of the roof, his back turned to The Jay, looking intently down at the street.

“You there,” The Jay demanded. “What are you doing this high up in such a crisis?”

The man spun around. Showing The Jay his gaunt features and long, pointed goatee. Without rising to his knees, he instead stooped forward, offering The Jay a bow. “Forgive me, oh dark-dwelling mistress of the just, I simply made my way up here to flee from the incoming black ooze that sprung from within the building.”

The Jay raised an eyebrow. The story he told certainly was plausible. “What is your name?”

“My name? It is Puhul, Sarbajit Puhul,” He rose as he said it, crouching onto his knees. “I am but a humble Indian immigrant who works as a janitor in the building below. I had discovered the flood of odd substance from within a manhole cover we keep on the building floor for drainage, and ran up here to safety. Fortunately, I was the only one occupying the building at the time.”

“Ah, so you’re an employee here,” The Jay straightened out. “I don’t suppose you’d know a way into the building from here.”

“I would indeed, oh merciful one,” Puhul straightened out only to his knees, and walked across the ceiling on his knees to a nearby hatch. “This leads down a ladder into the top floor, but do be careful: whatever sludge had come out from the sewer grew several feet thick before it seeped out the first floor windows and onto the street.”

The Jay climbed down the hatch, crossing the long ladder until her feet reached the surface of the first floor. It was pitch black besides the light coming from the hatch. Feeling around in the dark, The Jay felt around in the empty center of the room until she found a hanging lightbulb, and yanked the chain to turn it on. The light clicked, but the bulb didn’t illuminate. The black ooze must have taken out the electricity inside the building along with the machinery.

Still fumbling in the dark, The Jay found a nearby staircase. She placed her hand across the outward facing wall as she slowly and carefully began to descend. She stopped, halfway, when she felt a pair of drawn curtains cross her gloved fingers. Giving a merciful sigh, she quickly opened the curtains at their center. The interior windows were very dirty, but the sunlight made the stairs a great deal less perilous.

She continued down the stairs, opening more curtains as she went. The entire building was quiet, except for her steps, and she used a practiced technique of occasionally stopping dead in her tracks to hear if there were any other footsteps in the adjacent rooms and halls. So far, there was no luck.

Finally, the Jay opened the curtain of the second floor staircase and saw where the black ooze had filled the first floor. Just like Puhul had said, the substance in its liquid form had filled the building as far up as the first floor window, which was now shattered at the bottom, where it had spilled out into the open street. She stood still, auditory scanning the half-filled first room. Her body tensed when she heard the unmistakable sound of several people moaning out loud, as though struggling.

The Jay kneeled down and peered into the darkness of the room. Amidst the silhouettes of printing machines, she saw the shadowed outlines of several people buried waist deep in the ooze. Her temper flared. She knew that very moment that the so-called janitor on the roof had lied, and there were indeed employees still inside the building in need of rescue. She also knew at that very moment, she hear a pair of footsteps creep up behind, and she spun around just in time to see Puhul charge towards her with a knife in his raised hand.

With a jerk of her right arm, The Jay struck the inside of Puhul’s elbow, making his fingers spread apart and drop the knife at his feet.

“Heh,” he gave a smirk, “I suppose I didn’t really think it would be thay easy.”

The Jay slowly moved her hand backwards, assuming a fighting stance. “I suppose I should have noticed right away by how much you don’t seem to belong here.”

“Hey, I find that to be offensive,” Puhul countered, moving slowly into a stance of his own “You know, these days we immigrants make up thirty percent of the population in this country.”

The Jay gave an aggravated sigh. “I mean that before I came here I had already met a paperboy who’d walked away from the disaster. That contradicts your little lie about being the only one in the building.”

They closed in on one another, each attempting a series of cross body chops, each deflecting the other’s blows with speed before Puhul hopped back to a distance, resuming his stance.

“That’s an interesting stance you have there,” The Jay noted. “Kung-fu?”

“Yuddha-Kala,” Puhul clarified, “I spent a lifetime honing the craft while fighting for survival in the slums. Hand-to-hand combat is my specialty.”

“Makes me wonder why you came at me with a knife,” The Jay said wryly.

Puhul gave a shrug, “I like knives.”

Then he advanced again. The Jay responded to his attack by throwing a kick high enough to implant the imprint of her heel on Puhul’s forehead. “I know I did no damage. Usually Mother Mandrake’s little zealots are pretty thick-skulled.”

Puhul staggered back, a hand over the freshly made indentation. “That only shows what you don’t know, Midnight Jay. I’m no zealot, just a garden variety assassin. My only devotion is to the large bank sums I will be getting in exchange for rubbing you out.” Puhul rushed forward again, a fist reared back to clock The Jay in the face in passing. The Jay merely turned her whole body against the wall of the stairwell and raised a leg for Puhul to trip over. He fell, and bounced across three steps before landing with his head just a few inches from the pool of black ooze. The Jay swiftly loomed over Puhul’s fallen figure, grabbing his lengthy black hair braid, and sticking the tip of it into the sticky surface of the ooze. Puhul attempted to scramble onto his feet, but with his braided hair stuck inside the semi-solid substance, he wasn’t able to rise higher than his knees. “You should really consider adding some footwork to your repertoire,” The Jay advised, grabbing him by the collar and yanking his prone body upright. “Now, I might seriously consider cutting you free, that is, if you’re willing to tell me what the rest of Mother Mandrake’s plan is.” The Jay’s interrogation was cut short when she heard the sound of very heavy breathing. She twisted her head around to find all seven feet of Mother Mandrake’s servant Rudolpho looming over the both of them. He had an angry look in his eyes as the leather of the black gloves he wore creaked between his gnarled fingers. Rudolpho raised an arm, knocking the Jay sideways against the opposite wall. She slid backwards until she caught herself by her feet, using the wall to steady herself back to standing. To her surprise, the enormous brute didn’t raise another hand to her. Instead, he went straight

to the subdued Puhul, who was desperately trying to grasp a few steps above him to where he’d dropped the knife.

“Oh, Rudolpho, I’m so glad you’ve come, p-please, help me cut myself loose,” Puhul pleaded.

Rudolpho grabbed Puhul’s outreached arm, bending it behind the mercenary and dipping it wrist deep into the black ooze, doing the same with his opposite leg. Puhul found himself even more at the mercy of Morther Mandrake’s sinister slurry, and with a look of disbelief atop the already naked fear that lined his face, he turned to the manservant and asked “Wh-why?”

“You know the consequences for failing Mother Mandrake,” Rudolpho growled.

“I’m not just some mindless zealot like you,” Puhul stammered, as his body struggled to free himself from the mire. “I don’t owe Mother Mandrake my life for my failure!”

Rudolpho simply gave a twisted grin and replied “I don’t think you’re in any position to do anything about it.” He then turned in the direction of where he’d left Midnight Jay, only to recoil in surprise that she was no longer there. He glanced up the stairway to see the heroine’s silhouette as she dashed up the last few steps and out the hatch door. Giving another growl beneath his breath, he charged up the steps until he reached the hatch, and attempted to force it open.

On the other end of the hatch, the Jay perched over the shut door, putting all of her weight on the entrance and keeping Mother Mandrake’s gorilla-sized lackey locked inside of the building. “This is all well and good, but I can’t be expected to sit here all afternoon.” She took the vial of black ooze and dribbled it in the gap between the openings of the hatch, watching it harden into the same glue-like

consistency it was on the pavement. She stepped off neatly as Rudolpho continued to pound away at his only exit.

The Jay hopped away from the building and ran along the path of rooftops that led her there to begin with. While she had neatly dispatched with Mother Mandrake’s henchmen, she was still not anywhere close to discovering her plot, and she only had one lead left.

Climbing down a nearby alleyway, The Jay planted her feet on the pavement a few blocks from her own neighborhood. She took in hand the vial that the Constable handed her. She knew only one person who could analyze the substance quickly enough, and she decided it was about time she gave him an apology.

The Jay returned to her home, stealthily making her entrance through the hidden cellar doors at the side of her manor into the basement. “Thaddeus, are you in here?” She called out. There was no response.

Strolling down the rest of the basement steps she caught sight of her husband sitting under a dim light over his workbench. An immense amount of newspaper was scattered in shreds around his ankles. The Jay approached him slowly, walking on the balls of her feet so her heels would not click against the solid basement floor.

“Thaddeus,” she said gently as she put her hand on his shoulder, “I have to tell you that I’m sorry about what I said-”

Thaddeus’ head jerked around, startling The Jay. He had a downright craven look on his face. “There’s no time for that, dear,” he declared “I very nearly have this case figured out! Just take a look!” He held up a scrapbook, each with a corner of a different newspaper glued to the corner.

“I’ve taken apart the contents of seven newspapers, each one containing a symbol on the first, second, fifth, eleventh, thirteenth, and seventeenth pages. All prime numbers…”

“Thaddeus,” The Jay attempted to interrupt, but Thaddeus continued to rave.

“Now, once I put all of the symbols right beside one another in flipbook format,” he paused a moment to lower his magnifying lens over the scrapbook “there’s the tiniest movement between each symbol, creating an animation effect.” He flipped across the pages, showing Mother Mandrake’s crest slowly turning solid black, and then allowing thin pointed flames to border around it, seeming to be like fire catching around the symbol.

“Thaddeus,” The Jay interrupted again.

“So far I’ve determined that the individual is named Mandrake, and is the ancestor of an individual who has wanted to claim their revenge on an indifferent London during the age of the black plague. They have left this in the paper as a clue, and by my deduction, I’ve determined that revenge something to do with fire-”

“Thaddeus!” The Jay said more pointedly.

“Now, as for the prime numbers, I can only determine that this individual plans to strike at a certain peak hour ending in a prime number. A "prime time” if you will. We can assume that this disaster could occur-“

Thaddeus was interrupted for the last time when The Jay flung a glass of water water into Thaddeus’ face. For the first time since The Jay arrived, Thaddeus had stopped raving. He wiped the water from his forehead to his chin and replied. "You know, that’s not the safest way to calm a person in a chemical lab. Suppose that vial contained sulfuric acid.”

The Jay gave an exasperated sigh. “You see, dear, this is why I didn’t follow the path Mother Mandrake left me in the paper. If I had, I’d be swimming in roundabout contradictory clues until I became as soft in the head as you just did. That’s her whole motive, to confuse and undermine those minds she considers to be beneath her.”

“Mother Mandrake?” Thaddeus gave a blink. “She…Her…She is a woman, and you know her personally.”

“Personally enough to know all that business about the Black Plague is a complete sham,” The Jay replied.

“I don’t get it,” Thaddeus replied, “If it wasn’t for that legend, why would this Mandrake woman want to seek out revenge on the entirety of London.”

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘hell hath no fury,’ Dear?” The Jay said flatly.

“I’m familiar,” Thaddeus replied.

The Jay paused and took a deep breath, “Mother Mandrake was once a friend of my family’s. The wife of an equally wealthy philanthropist named Leonard Aldus. I was personally a very good friend of her son, Irving.”

Thaddeus simply gave a nod. “Leonard was a blood relative of Ogilvy Graves, who hoped to erase the Mandrake pledge to destroy London, and put his hand into many peace-seeking ventures. As such, both he and Irving were enlisted and decorated patrons of the Peace Corps. One day, their brigade was sent across the pacific to deliver care packages to fellow officers in Egypt. Not more than a few days later, a note came back to Mother Mandrake informing her that both her husband and son had been lost at sea. Their ship was sunk by mercenaries looking to steal their cargo.” “How absolutely terrible,” Thaddeus gasped, “So then Mother Mandrake does not want this revenge because of a family oath. She wants it in order to punish London for the loss of her husband and son!”

The Jay nodded, and then lowered her head, bringing her hand up to wipe a few tears forming beneath her mask, “I’m so sorry, Thaddeus, for the way I’d spoken to you this morning. In the guise of Midnight Jay, I’ve fought Mother Mandrake for years, always weary of the mind games she likes to play. All I wanted to do was protect you from her.”

Thaddeus walked over and put his hand on The Jay’s shoulder. “It’s perfectly okay, Mary Jane. I know you’ve held a heavy burden since you decided to become this city’s hero, and I know I tend to wind myself a little too tightly when it comes to you and these cases.”

“Only a little…” The Jay chuckled softly.

“Well, now that is all understood,” Thaddeus held out his open palm “Let me see the chemical sample.”

“How did you know there was one?” The Jay replied, taking the vial from the sleeve of the glove she hid it in.

“There is no other reason why you’d involve me in this case.” Swiftly, Thaddeus took the vial. Lightly shaking it as he examined what remained inside the glass. “Seems a little bit on the shallow side…”

“Sorry, I had to use it for a bit of pest control,” the Jay replied.

Sighing, Thaddeus poured a small amount of the black liquid onto a glass cell, which he slid under a microscope. The remainder of the ooze was poured into an open petri dish and set aside. Thaddeus placed his eye over the microscope, and responded with a stern “interesting.”

“What is it?” The Jay asked.

“It’s hard to say, dear,” Thaddeus spoke slowly. He carefully examined the behavior of the substance under the lens while speaking. “It has the properties of a lot of

different chemicals. Right now it’s rapidly oxidizing, mixing with the air in order to create a foam.”

“I know about that,” The Jay replied “Then after it overflowed in the center of London it solidified. Now it is like a tar.”

Thaddeus looked up from the microscope, and took a sideways glance at the petri dish. As he expected, the substance had overflowed around its container and onto his desk, sealing the glass onto the surface. “Oh bother, I was hoping to save a sample. At any rate if the base of this compound is in fact tar, we can assume that it is a petrochemical, and therefore…” Thaddeus lit a match and tossed it onto the overflowed petri dish, making a sudden blazing bonfire.

The Jay gave a gasp “That must be it! Mother Mandrake intends to set the middle of the city on fire!”

“Indeed,” Thaddeus exclaimed, “And if my previous deduction was at all accurate, she’d do so right at the stroke of seven, which is prime time.”

“That is only an hour from now,” The Jay said worriedly. “Please tell me you know what it will take to counteract the chemical.”

“I do, but I’m afraid it is no solution. Tar only dissolves in other petroleum-based chemicals, which are just as flammable, unless…”

“Unless what, dear?”

“Unless we freeze it. I have been working on a rapid-freezing chemical to aid in firefighting. I could carry enough of the substance in your garden’s pest-spraying tank to do the trick. However, we’d still need to distract Mother Mandrake long enough to prevent her from setting the initial blaze.”

“You’ll leave that to me,” The Jay said grimly.

And so, with Thaddeus in tow, wearing the guise of The Scarlet Derby, the two hit the center of the streets. Armed with a large metal tank, and the wand-shaped atomizer The Jay typically utilized in her garden, The Derby took immediately to spraying the pavement with the fast freezing compound. Once a section was done to his satisfaction, he cracked the frozen black goo with the heel of his shoe.

“I’ll work as quickly as I can,” the Derby advised, “you busy yourself with finding our little firebug.”

The Jay gave a nod, and dashed away, once again taking to the rooftops. She was frankly glad her husband had devised this plan. If she played her own role effectively enough, there would be a good chance The Derby would still remain out of Mother Mandrake’s vulture-like gaze.

From a nice tall building, she looked outward while holding her trusty opera glasses, scanning the surface of every roof, and every uncovered bit of pavement in search of the villain. Ultimately, her eyes fixed again on the newspaper building. There she was, on the roof, bashing at the wooden hatch door that held Rudolpho and Puhul captive with a single-blade hatchet. For a moment, she was impressed the old bird was able to climb up there on her own.

The Jay stowed away her opera glasses, and silently made her way across the buildings to one that stood adjacent to the newspaper building. She hid behind a water reservoir, poking her head out to one side just in time to see Mother Mandrake chop away the last of the door.

“I should know better than to free you,” Mother Mandrake sneered as she watched her behemoth butler

climb free of his makeshift prison. “You had Midnight Jay dead to rights, and still managed to somehow let her escape.”

Rudolpho gave a grunt, hefting a battered and ponytail-less Puhul out of the hatch, dropping him in a heap at Mother Mandrake’s feet. “It’s as you say, Madame: traitors before transgressors.”

“Quite…” Mother Mandrake looked distastefully down at Puhul. “I suppose you used his knife to cut his ponytail loose of the black ooze he was trapped in.”

Rudulpho gave a sadistic grin. “No, I ripped it out by the roots.”

The Jay gave a wince. So that’s why Puhul seemed to be in so much pain.

Unsurprisingly, Puhul immediately took to bowing at Mother Mandrake’s feet. “Please, oh despicable one,” he groveled “spare me, for I weakened. Let me away, and I promise I’ll remain loyal to you.”

“Loyalty isn’t born out of deceit,” Mother Mandrake sneered. “I consider the fact you’ll only be joining every Londoner in their fate to be merciful.”

Rudolpho again scooped Puhul up by the lapels, seeking to drag him off to a place where he’d surely meet his end. That is when Midnight Jay sprung back onto the scene, her umbrella raised horizontally over her head as the rest of her assumed a ready stance. “Unhand that cutthroat, Mother Mandrake!”

Mother Mandrake spun around, narrowing her eyes at The Jay. “Returned to the scene of the crime have you? And in the service of a man who attempted to murder you only a moment ago. It’s only proof that you are as corrupt as he is.”

“Even a common thug like him deserves more than the fate you’d give the rest of London,” The Jay said pointedly.

“You say you possess mercy, but you don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“If you two ladies like, I could give a quick definition…” Puhul stammered. When both The Jay and Mother Mandrake turned to him and gave a sharp hiss, he simply turned pale and fainted.

“Rudolpho, my sword!” Mother Mandrake demanded. Rudolpho reached behind his back and pulled out a scabbard, which he tossed to Mother Mandrake. She swiftly pulled out the hilt, revealing an ornately decorated silver foil, and brandished it at The Jay. “I assume we’ll be doing this according to our standard rules.”

“You actually have rules?” The Jay gave a short chuckle.

Mother Mandrake growled and lunged at The Jay, their weapons clashing. “Seems that you always find yourself in just this position,” she crooned, matching muscle with the hero as they stood face to face.

“Yes, well its done wonders for my fencing practice,” The Jay replied.

“I see. That gives you an unfair advantage…” Mother Mandrake lowered her weapon. For a moment, The Jay thought this meant she was going to surrender. That’s when she felt Rudolpho’s large hand clutch her at the shoulder. She tried desperately to jab his chest with her elbow, or kick back at his shins and feet, but the mountainous manservant would not release his grip.

Mother Mandrake approached The Jay with her own foil still drawn, the tip nearly reaching the tip of the Jay’s nose. “Suppose I took just a moment out of my ultimate victory to simply…fillet you from head to toe where you stand…”

The Jay simply raised a leg, delivering a sweeping upward kick that struck Mother Mandrake in the hand.

The sword she held spiraled up into the air before landing, blade first, into the ceiling she stood on. Mother Mandrake looked upward at The Jay, infuriated, but then grinned and sighed, shrugging her shoulders. “Ah, but silly me, I should know better than to play games with you. Rudolpho! Toss her over!”

“Yes ma'am,” Rudolpho said grimly. He reached down, grabbing one of The Jay’s ankles, and then hoisting the whole of her body over his head. The Jay struggled desperately, but the way she was being held, she could find no way to turn this deadly grip around. Her head twisted to the side, where she saw Mother Mandrake gleefully taking a match from a tiny wooden box.

“Wait!” The Jay shouted “Mother Mandrake, even if all of London were to burn to the ground, it would never bring Leonard and Irving back!”

Mother Mandrake raised an eyebrow and gave a chuckle. “My dear, is that what you think this is about? That I do this because of my lost husband and son?” She demurely stepped over to The Jay, meeting eye to eye with her, despite The Jay’s face being tilted sideways. “I have a sad bit of news for you: I’m afraid those marauders who sunk their ship didn’t do a single thing…that I didn’t tell them to.”

The Jay’s eyes widened in shock “You…You’re a complete monster!”

“Ah, sticks and stones,” Mother Mandrake dismissed, as she began to step away again. “Leonard was a good man, but a bit too simple. He honestly thought that the black mark left on his family’s name could be erased merely because he passed out boxes of soda crackers. No, only an act of blood could avenge such misery, and his family’s legacy would have continued to go unpaid. That is, until I came along.”

“But you’re not a blood relative of the Mandrakes,” The Jay stammered. “What on Earth would compel you to carry out his family’s revenge?”

“That, my pretty, is a very long story, but you won’t be around to hear it. Rudolpho!”

Rudolpho swung around, prepared to throw Midnight Jay several stories down. If the impact didn’t kill her, the flames that would soon spring from the petrol-infused London streets would. The Jay, shaken and distraught at Mother Mandrake’s revelation, merely closed her eyes tight, preparing to feel the impact of the fall.

“Chop me on the neck.”

The Jay’s eyes flew open in surprise. By now she’d learned the voice, now speaking only a few inches beneath her. Rudolpho still held her aloft, but did his best to try to communicate with her in secret, murmuring out of the corner of his mouth. “I can’t make this look convincing if you do nothing just, chop me on the neck.”

“I, uh…” The Jay began to speak, but then shut her mouth again. It was impossible for her to tell what the massive manservant was up to, but she decided it had to be loads better than falling off the side of the building. Twisting to one side, The Jay reached backwards and delivered a karate chop to the back of Rudolpho’s neck.

“Urk! Oog!” Rudolpho groaned, shaking backwards onto his knees, his enormous frame tilting two and fro, as though he was taken off balance. The Jay slid left and right along with him, knowing that a gentle tap like she’d just made wouldn’t have quite this effect on his enormous frame.

Rudolpho gave one more dramatic turn, spinning around, and then flopping back first down the shaft that led inside the building. Holding The Jay tight against his chest, he slid on his back across a few more downward steps

before he came to a stop, dropped his head backwards and gave a relieved sigh. The Jay, realizing the position they had landed in, quickly sat up and moved to crouch on the steps at the enormous butler’s side. Leaning to look him in his clutched and pained eyes, she flatly stated. “You saved me. Why?” “Why?” Rudolpho groaned, “Because I don’t want Mother Mandrake to succeed any more than you do.” Struggling to a seated position, he reached back undoing the ties on the back of his solid black mask. Once he was able to yank it off his face The Jay saw a man with reddish brown hair, a flat thin nose, and a square jaw. All strikingly handsome features that perfectly matched the green eyes and goatee she was already able to see. “I say, you don’t quite look much like a disfigured Spanish loner to me,” The Jay quipped. “You don’t recognize my face, Midnight Jay? I thought you’d know, since you knew my name on the rooftop.” The Jay’s usual shrewd expression turned blank as her eyes widened with the revelation. “You’re…” The man she’d known as Rudolpho gave a modest grin and a soft nod “I’m Irving Aldus, glad to make your acquaintance.” “But how is that even possible?” The Jay said in awe. “People don’t always die in shipwrecks,” Irving said flatly. “Also, bandits are often better looters than murderers. While they were busy attempting to grab whatever cargo they could get their grubby hands on, my father and I grabbed a hunk of the ship’s debris and floated the rest of the way to Egypt. We lived there for years, under an assumed name, but I knew I couldn’t hide forever while my mother was still in London, attempting to wreak havoc in our family’s name.”

“So you came back in order to put a stop to her criminal whims.” The Jay stated. “Not quite.” Irving gave pause, as he drew what he was about to say next from out of his stout chest. “You see, my mother…she’s unwell. Old age has made her senile. She acts out her role in our ancestors’ storied revenge plot because it is practically the only thing that still exists in her fractured memory. I wouldn’t want her to do as much harm as she intends, but I also wouldn’t want her to be arrested and thrown in jail, or even worse, a sanitarium.” “You’re willing to do that for her?” the Jay still sounded incredulous, but her tone was marked with sympathy. “Do you wish to go out of your way in order to protect her, even when she tried to murder you?” “Didn’t you ever have a family, Midnight Jay? Wouldn’t you go out of your way to protect them from a cruel world?” The Jay thought about this a moment. Her mind raced back to consider her parents, who were never really a part of her life. She thought of Master Crane, and, even for a fleeting moment, about Thaddeus. “I suppose that doesn’t sound so crazy after all,” she acquiesced. “You’re a woman of true heart,” Irving said gracefully. “No doubt it is why you take on the burden of heroism. Now I think its best we return to the rooftop. No doubt we’ve given Mother enough time to ignite the whole of London in our absence.” Unfortunately, Irving’s assumption was true, for while he and The Jay conspired in secret, Mother Mandrake had already lit the match she intended to use to bring all of London to a fiery end. “The day has finally come to punish this city for its sins!” she declared, and dropped the match towards the

ground below. She waited, leaning over the edge of the building in hopes she’d catch a glimpse of the bright glow of fire.

Nothing happened.

The contemptible sneer that was made of Mother Mandrake’s face became a contemptible frown upon the realization that London did not go ablaze. “Where’s the kaboom?” she asked “It would be just my luck that I happened to set the slowest wildfire in known history.”

Stooping back behind the edge of the building she threw over a rope ladder and began a slow climb to the street below. Her feet collided with solid pavement instead of the tacky viscous tar she’d drudged from the sewers below. She stamped her foot. “Drat it all! How could this even be? I know Midnight Jay to still be in the building above!”

Mother Mandrake ceased the sudden fury she was experiencing when she caught a glint of red out of the corner of her eye. As plain as day, there stood The Scarlet Derby, icing away the last square inch of the sinister black ooze with the dutifulness of a street sweeper. Acting quickly, she hunched forward and began slowly and shakily approaching the masked man with the gait of a vastly older woman.

“Excuse me, Sonny…” Mother Mandrake took on a voice as shrill and jittery as her bones pretended to be. “Are you the one responsible for getting this bad ol’ mess off the city streets?”

The Derby turned around, giving a cheerful grin and replied, “Ah yes, fear not citizen, for I, The Scarlet Derby, have helped to bring order to this day’s mayhem.”

“The Scarlet Derby, eh?” Mother Mandrake replied feebly, “Well aren’t you just…quaint…” Her tone

remained pleasant, and her motions still jittery, even as she slowly reached inside the sleeve of her dress, slowly unsheathing a dagger from a scabbard she had hidden there.

The Derby turned just in time to see Chief Constable Howard O'Gratin approach at the elderly woman’s side, placing a hand on her shoulder, while holding his other hand on the wooden pipe at his lip. “Ah, there you are, Mother Mandrake. I see that you’ve met our resident hero. He’s somewhat new in town, but nonetheless quite instrumental in dealing with disasters like the one we just had today.”

The Derby was stymied. “Mother Mandrake?” he croaked. “She’s-”

“Yes, Derby, she is a very well-known and respected old widow of a once philanthropic family…”

“Mother Mandrake…” The Derby said in awe.

Mother Mandrake gave a sneer. With The Constable so close by, there was no way she could get away with her little impulsive act. Quickly, she re-sheathed the dagger hidden in her lapel. “He certainly looks like a nice strapping young gent.” She raised her hand, and tugged lightly on The Scarlet Derby’s cheek.

“Mother Mandrake,” The Derby said again, holding the part of his cheek the villainess just pinched so effectively.

“Well, this has all been very quaint,” The Constable said dearly, “but I’m afraid I’ll need to escort the madam home, now. The center of a crime scene is no place for an old woman, even a…notorious one.”

Mother Mandrake gave a long, deflating sigh and said, “Oh, very well, I certainly feel in need of a rest at this point.” With The Constable at her side, she began a slow walk down the street, back to her mansion. As they walked

away, The Derby looked on in a daze.

“Mother Mandrake,” he said distantly.

A moment afterwards, Midnight Jay and Irving Mandrake, once again wearing the mask that disguised him as Rudolpho, came running up from the opposite end of the street.

“Mother Mandrake!” The masked servant demanded.

“She went that way, with The Constable,” The Derby said drolly while pointing.

Rudolpho turned to The Jay, gave a single nod, and took off in that direction.

The Jay slowly stepped to the side of The Derby, whose head was still turned towards the distance, and put her arms gently around his waist from behind. Her forehead rested on the back of his cape’s collar, and she exhaled exhaustedly.

“You were absolutely right,” The Derby said, shaking his head softly. “That…was intense.”

“You have no idea, dear…” The Jay whispered.

The very next morning, Midnight Jay once again perched on the stone wall of Mother Mandrake’s private garden. She looked down at the old buzzard, still sitting in that old wicker chair, thoughts of treacherousness oozing off her as easily as the flammable goop she’d spread across London. It would be absolutely lovely, The Jay thought, if this time they’d merely acknowledge one another in silence, and leave the whole thing be.

“Midnight Jay. Come. Sit.” Mother Mandrake demanded.

The Jay shook her head. She should have known better than to hope. She hopped off the wall and sat at the table

across from Mother Mandrake. She saw Rudolpho, standing at her right, holding an empty silver tray. She looked at him, thinking about the moment she saw Irving underneath that mask. With the mask still on, though, the man who was secretly Mother Mandrake’s son refused to even glance in her direction.

“So, I assume you must be thrilled,” Mother Mandrake said as she poured the tea. “You’ve won the day! Chalk one up for the forces of good and all that.”

“I’m never proud when it comes to facing you,” the Jay sneered. “But I am at least relieved that the whole of London isn’t on fire.”

“Yes, well…” Mother Mandrake gave a pause as she sipped from her cup. “We have that new hero to thank for that. The Scarlet Derby, was it?”

“I believe so,” The Jay said pensively, looking down at her cup which was still sitting on the table.

“Who is he?” Mother Mandrake asked idly. “A new hire? A friend? Perhaps a bit more?”

“I don’t know who he is,” The Jay said flatly. “We’re certainly comrades, though. You know? Birds of a feather.”

Mother Mandrake gave a single laugh, “So it seems.” She took another sip. “Well, then I hope that means you won’t be terribly put out when I stab him.”

The Jay’s eyes twisted into angry shapes beneath her mask, “Come again?”

“Or shoot him, or hang him…Maybe even blow him up. It all depends on the situation, really.” Mother Mandrake gave a shrug. “You and I have always had a special kind of antagonism. I don’t believe that courtesy extends to this new chap. So the next I see him, I’ll merely snuff him out right where he stands.”

“Suppose I don’t let you,” The Jay said, just barely

controlling the anger that threatened to contort her voice. “Suppose I could stop you as I stopped you today, and every day from then on?”

“Suppose I poisoned your tea.”

The Jay growled and flipped the tea table on its side, sending the whole silver set in pieces across the grassy lawn. As Rudolpho quickly bent downward and began to gather the scattered pieces, The Jay stood and turned her back to the both of them, slowly walking away.

Mother Mandrake, still seated neatly in her wicker chair, simply gave a sinister grin.

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It's finally here! The first full fledged episode of The Scarlet Derby and Midnight Jay On the Air! Thrills! Chills! Bank teller windows! And Spaghetti Sauce! It makes sense in context. Watch The Scar