Both Alike in Dignity

Interlude Two - Bridgeguard

It is a clear night later in the week after the market visit and the lack of clouds results in a faint chill, offsetting the otherwise warmer weather that has prevailed for the past week or so. DJ is on guard at Southwark Bridge along with Sara Slate, a duty that should see them standing resolute on the near side of the bridge itself but Sara, as senior member of the guard on duty tonight, has opted for a more sheltered spot on the riverside pathway not far from the Crown & Antler. Shae has joined the pair at the invitation of Syud to see a little more of how the Bridgeguard go about their business. So far their business seems to consist of drinking cans of Strongbow [DJ was supposed to bring lager but inexplicably did not] and playing cards while Sara [but not DJ] smokes.

“So, Shae, enjoying the thrilling excitement of Bridge duty?” DJ is pacing up and down the Thames Path and occasionally peeking up to the bridge to see if anything interesting is headed in the Changelings direction.

Shae looks at DJ with a puzzled look on his face. “Thrilling.” He takes another mouthful of cider. “So what exactly are we doing here again DJ?”

“Well, the bridge needs guardin’. From both sides really. Mostly we’re guarding against all the evil, nasty stuff that lives North of the river, and stoppin’ it headin south and fuckin’ up our shit. Of course, some Fae occasionally forget da rules bout goin’ North a the river and usin’ Magic. So we have to remind ‘em nice and gentle like that they shouldn’t go throwin’ their powers around willy nilly. ‘Course, fuck all happens most of the time and I just get the chance to spend a few hours starin’ at Sara’s fine arse and drink”

“I heard that!” Sara says in mock annoyance. “Just because the best piece of arse you’re ever likely to get your hands on is Jack’s rump steak doesn’t mean you get to stare at mine. Why don’t you take a wander top side and see if anyone is about.”

“C’mon, Shae, lets see if there is someone to go harass up there.” DJ hops off the river wall he was sitting on and lightly jogs up the stairs leading up onto Southwark bridge. Once at the top, he starts to trot along the bridge itself, whistling tunelessly whilst casting a glance about for anything interesting. Once about halfway across he peeks over the edge and starts dropping small stones into the river whilst waiting for Shae to catch up.

Shae follows DJ and easily catches up to him. He peers over the bridge watching the stones drop into the water. He then turns to DJ. “So… umm…” He asks a bit cautiously. “You and Sara?”

“Pff, I wish. Doesn’t hurt to keep trying though right?”

The atmosphere on the bridge itself is still and the chill in the air is more evident. Glancing towards the far end of the bridge, the north bank, DJ catches a faint scent of something old and damp.

“‘Ello, what’s going on here then?”, DJ starts wandering towards the smell, keeping a sharp lookout.

Shae leaves the question and follows DJ, nervously looking about for anything, but unsure as to what. A cold shudder runs down Shae’s spine, sending goose-bumps down his arms before disappearing as quickly as it came.

A few steps towards the centre of the bridge and the change in atmosphere is even more apparent. A thin mist seems to be drifting onto the bridge from the far bank, but staying clear of the water, almost as if the mist is relying on the bridge to cross the river. The smell of old things, forgotten and musty things, is increasingly strong and seems to come from the mist itself.

“DJ?” Sara calls out with an edge of tension in her voice.

“Stay back there luv, just a bit of dodgy weather”, lowering his voice, DJ motions to Shae to come closer, “Looks like things might get interesting after all…your spider sense jangling at all?”

Shae follows DJ’s instructions and allows himself a little chuckle at the last remark. “Just a little bit. What do you think it is?” He readjusts the hood of his top, further obscuring his face while staring off into the mist unsure of what to expect.

At the edge of his hearing DJ can make out the faint sound of men shouting and metal clanging on metal. A very slight hint of smoke seems to accompany the stronger stench of age and decay. Shae is unaware of the sounds, but his stomach lurches as the fog continues to thicken on the far side of the bridge.

Shae places his hand on his stomach in a feeble manner of comfort. He turns to DJ. “I don’t like this. It’s… It’s like back at the Market.”

DJ turns rapidly to face the source of the noise, with slight worry on his face. “Well, better get official about this.” He moves to the centre of the bridge and stands firmly, declaring with a loud voice, “You are crossing into the Freehold of the Southern Fields. Show yourself as friend or turn back.” Then, under his breath, “Yeah, coz asking people to go away always works well.”

Shae stares at DJ with awe and shock. “You sure about this DJ?” He stands up and moves over to join DJ. He whispers, “Really sure?”

“Not in the slightest, but you don’t get anywhere by running away from problems, face them head on and see what happens. Then punch them in the face”

A smile forms on Shae’s face and he balls his fists and adjusts his stance. “Well, I’ve had enough of running.” He stares out unblinking into the fog. He then whispers again, this time almost to himself, “Really sure about this?” He then pumps his fists, cracking his knuckles.

The pair hear footsteps approaching from behind them, the slightly heavy crunch of Sara moving along the bridge to stand alongside. “The Mist,” she says quietly. “It happens from time to time, although I’ve never seen it this heavy before. It should stay on the far side of the river, and it’s very rare for anything to come out.” Even so, she continues to stand tense and alert with DJ and Shae.

Shea turns to Sara. “I’m getting the same feeling now as I did when we were at the Market the other day. When the Lady showed up, I felt the exact same.” He looks back to DJ before looking back out to the fog again. “The closer I was to her, the more I felt… It got worse. Okay?”

DJ stands silent, listening to the wind for sounds of movement and is rewarded only by more distant noise beyond his ability to determine its exact location.

“It’s a strange thing,” Sara continues in a low voice without taking her eyes away from the far side of the bridge. “Syud swears he once saw a couple of kids dressed like extras from Oliver! step out of the Mist and make it half way over the river before they collapsed. He says he rushed over to help them, but by the time he got there their bodies were nothing but dried skin and brittle bone. Sebandus insists that he once saw a Roman Centurian step out of the Mist, salute him and then step back, but then Sebandus will say anything after a few drinks.” Her words suggest humour, but her tone remains strained.

Shae turns back to Sara. “Dried skin?” He looks at DJ to see if he reacts to the remark. “Shouldn’t we get word back to the rest? Just in case this is something big?”

”If the worst we have to worry about is the Artful Dodger and a bloke wearing a skirt I doubt we have too much to fear. Let’s take a closer look.” DJ starts to wander towards the mist, daring it to do something more interesting.

For all his South London gangland pretensions, DJ is apparently well acquainted with the cast of West End musicals.

As DJ approaches the far side of the bridge, the sounds and smells become clearer, although still seem to be coming from some distance away. The shouting of men remains indistinct, but the clanging of metal takes on a regularity that suggests crude alarm bells ringing. The smell of smoke – burning wood, burning flesh, burning filth – becomes far stronger.

Shae watches DJ move forward while he keeps his position. He looks to Sara with a questioning glace before redirecting his attention back towards the mist and DJ.

As DJ approaches the coiling strands of mist at the edge of what seems like a thick fog bank, he begins to feel heat on his face, as if from a blazing furnace. Through the mist he can see the indistinct forms of people running back and forth in front of a vague orange haze. Beneath the strong scent of smoke he can detect the acrid smell of human fear.

“Ello? Everyone alright over there?” , still unsure entirely what to make of the situation, DJ tries the friendly approach.

Not sure if he should move forward, Shae calls out after DJ. “Who are you talking to DJ? Do you see anyone?”

“Not sure, some people that might be on fire. Either that or we’ve found the local Pagan cult dancing around their maypole”

Shae tries not to laugh and cautiously moves forwards to join DJ. “On fire?”

As Shae moves forward he too can hear some of the sounds that DJ picked up, although none of them too clearly, and the faint tinge of smoke is the only scent that he notices. The smell is far too remote to come from as close as the figures in the mist and the orange blaze would otherwise suggest.

“DJ, be careful!” Sara calls from part way over the bridge.

“Don’t worry love!”, DJ shouts back, “Nothing too serious, you hang back there and watch our backs!” Steeling himself, he pushes forward to see what’s going on.

Shae sees DJ step into the edge of the mist and instantly the thin coils around his feet rear up as if eager to seize him and drag him in. Shae’s stomach rebels and he has to force down the urge to vomit in reaction. Within moments, DJ’s form grows indistinct behind a thick blanket of white.

Meanwhile DJ himself feels an instant of painful cold before a blast of heat from the scene before him leaves him uncomfortably warm. The city is being consumed by a vast conflagration, and crowds of people in archaic costume are running back and forth, some few trying to contain the fire, but many adding to the fear and confusion. Most seem completely unaware of his presence, but one man dressed in what looks like a military uniform – outdated but still more recent than the clothes warn by the majority – turns almost immediately, a look of shock and hope on his face.

“Good god man, how did you find yourself here? Is the way back still open? You must turn back now!” His accent is precise, even as he shouts over the noise, like a character from, well, an old war film.

DJ turns to look behind him briefly and strains his eyes to see through the thick bank of mist. Making out the indistinct pair of figures still briefly visible, he figures there is at least some connection still available that means he isn’t totally lost. Turning back to the man, he shouts over the roar of the fire, “What’s going on here, what caused the fire?”

The man doesn’t appear to hear DJ clearly over the noise, but shouts as he begins to run past him into the mist, “Not the Luftwaffe, this is THE fire.”

* * *

Shae quickly turns back to Sara, fighting back his gut feeling. “We need help! This is all very wrong!”

Sara rushes up beside Shae, peering intently through the mist, “I can still see him, he isn’t lost yet.” She hesitates, apparently unsure whether to follow DJ in, and a moment later a dark shape begins to move slowly through the mist towards them. “I think he’s coming back!”

* * *

“Hey, where are you going?”, DJ reaches out to grab the man and manages to get a firm grip on the shoulder of his uniform as the man rushes past.

“Let me go!” he cries in apparent terror, “We MUST get away from here.” He struggles briefly against DJ’s grip before pulling himself free, tearing the seam of his jacket in the process, and plunging headlong into the mist.

Beyond the man, his form already fading, DJ can see the mist thickening, and the shadowy forms of Shae and Sara growing even less distinct.

* * *

Shae and Sara watch as the stationary figure reaches out to restrain the moving shape and both begin to grow fainter as the mist thickens. Then one figure breaks free and starts to move, slowly it seems, though the haze towards them.

“DJ!” Shae shouts at the top of his lungs. “DJ! Where are you?” He turns back to Sara. “I’ll go in and see if he’s alright. Watch me.” And without waiting, he steps into the mist.

* * *

Within the mist confusion reigns. The figure who seemed so far away and moving so slowly only moments before is suddenly close to Shae and moving fast. Before Shae has had time to register the sudden cold chills that cover his body, a large man slams into and past him on his way out of the mist, spinning Shae and disorientating him further as he battles the strong sense of nausea that the mist invokes. Fighting for balance, Shae reaches out his arms and comes into contact with another body, this time DJ, who is likewise far closer than he had appeared.

DJ himself is surprised to see the figure of the man recede into the mist just as the figure of Shae, sweating and clearly suffering from some fever, begins to emerge, grasping at DJ for support.

“Welcome to old London Shae, now let’s get the fuck out of her before things go more wrong than they already have.” Pushing Shae ahead of him, DJ starts to charge after the man who ran past him.

Clutching his stomach, Shae stumbles ahead of DJ as directed, almost falling to the ground but managing to keep on his feet and moving in the direction DJ indicated.

* * *

A few confused steps through the mist and the pair find themselves back on the bridge in the crisp night air. Sara is kneeling a few yards ahead of them beside the body of an old man, his skin is wrinkled and his white hair thin atop his head. His right hand clutches his left arm tightly and a rictus grin of pain distorts his face. She looks up at them both with fear in her face.

“He just came through and fell,” Sara explains inadequately.

DJ kneels down to look at the man, tentatively reaching out to touch him. “Aint much more we can do for him now.” Remembering his ally, he turns to face Shae. “How are you man, alright?”

“I’m better now. Sorry.” He wipes the brow of his his head with his sleeve. “What exactly was all that?”

“Something bad,” Sara offers. “Is anyone going to come looking for this guy? Who the hell is he?”

Shae kneels down beside the man and places his hand on his shoulder. He looks up to Sara and then to DJ. “He’s dead.”

“It happens,” Sara agrees without any apparent discomfort. “DJ?” she looks for some sort of explanation.

“Not a clue luv.” He turns to face the mists. “Something is going on that’s for sure, what kind of sorcery could bridge 400 years in the blink of an eye?” He turns back to the others in a snap. “We should see if he has anything identifiable on him first and then we need to ditch this corpse before someone gets any funny ideas”. He peers over the side of the bridge. “I reckon the current would get rid of what little is left of him, C’mon, give me a hand” he briskly rifles through the man’s pockets seeking anything of interest that might give a clue as to this man’s identity.

Shae helps DJ in the searching of the man. “Shouldn’t we get someone to look him over rather than dump him DJ? Surely, the risk of his body not being swept away is too great.” He looks over to Sara for support.

“There’s nothing to link him to us even if they do find him,” Sara says as she pulls a large wallet from the man’s inside pocket. “Still, it might be safer to put him somewhere else. Would you both agree that we’re on the wrong side of the river here, boys?”

Shae looks around, not quite sure of where he is. “I’ll take your word on it.” He spots a storm drain with a broken grating not too far away. Pointing, he asks. “What about it we dump him in there?”

“Nothing so prosaic, boys. Bring the body.” She wanders over to the storm drain, kneels down and whispers, “Let me in.” The space in front of the storm drain seems to fold away somehow revealing a narrow muddy gap in what might be the raised banks of a river, perhaps four feet deep and a few feet high.. A few thin roots dangle down from the top of the space and DJ notices a soft, earthy aroma.

“Roll him in there – no one will find him and we can always pull him out if necessary” Sara looks about her to check that no one is watching. “Quickly!”

DJ, grabs the other side of the body from Shae and they carry the man down to stuff him in the hole. A few moments later the small hedge gate closes, concealing the body.

The job done, Sara, pulls out a mobile and begins searching for a number. “Syud is gonna flip when I tell him about this one, and he’ll want to hear all the details,” she declares as the trio head back south over the bridge to the relative security of the Southern Fields.