Moth Girl vs. The Bats, Part the First
Out of the moonlight they sped in their thousands, swift as death, razor wings glittering in the pale glow of the Wolf Moon. In the frost-shrouded city below, the final toll of the curfew bell faded. Latecomers hurried inside, the hems of their capes whisked through narrowing gaps as doors were slammed, shutters bolted and chimneys blocked.
Those without homes huddled in hidden crevices, or burrowed under piles of rubbish as the bats hurtled out of the night sky. A high keening filled the air – whether emitted by the mechanical creatures themselves, or created by their sharp wings slicing the air no one knew – and suddenly the streets were filled with vicious whirling things, shredding anything soft that they happened across: clothing, flags, living flesh.
Here, a tunic accidentally left out on the washing line was shredded in seconds. There, a rat poked its whiskers out of a hole to investigate the noise and was seized upon by three of the deadly automatons. A beggar, too drunk on leafchew to ensure that he was entirely covered by the bridge under which he cowered, had first the shoe and then the flesh stripped from his foot almost before he could react. His screams brought more of the maniacal machines to him and he died quickly, his blood splashing the mossy stones of the bridge and darkening the stream that passed beneath it. Ten minutes later his bones glistened in the moonlight.
An anguished howl echoed across the town square as the bats found an unfortunate stray dog somewhere, to whom the curfew bell had meant nothing. Thea leaned on her iron spade and peered through a crack in the door. Her breath fogged in the freezing air. She rotated her arms, the better to sit the weight of her ankle length cloak on her shoulders. It clanked as it settled around her. Tonight’s haul should be the last. The final collection that she needed.
She pulled the leather flying-helmet over her head, tucking her chestnut hair safely beneath the sturdy leather, and fastened the strap securely beneath her chin. She lowered the goggles over her eyes. The thick glass fogged for a moment and then cleared. Taking a deep breath of frozen air that shocked her lungs, she opened the door and stepped out into the maelstrom of wheeling metal.
Immediately the bats arrowed furiously at her, intent on slaughter. She heaved her weapon through the air in a scything arc, smashing several to the ground. Some struggled and rose again, while others sparked fitfully and lay spent on the ground. Numerous others flew past the spade, and threw themselves on her, tiny steel teeth and sharp claws tearing at the cloak. The air was filled with an almighty clattering as their tiny attacks bounced off the metal outer layer. A few attacked her head, but the old flying helmet, reinforced with chain-mail that Thea had sewn on herself, deflected the worst of the attack. She would have a hell of a headache later, mind.
She gasped as a bat slashed at her eye, but the goggles did their job, and she continued to gyrate strenuously, laying about her with the blade of the heavy spade, bringing more bats down around her feet. They flocked about her, trying their damnedest to get through to her skin, to rip her apart.
A sudden pain in her calf caused her to stumble. Damn. A bat had found one of the few remaining weak spots in the cloak. She felt its teeth, claws, whatever-the-hell sink into the soft flesh and tear through it. Quickly she switched the weight of the spade to her left hand, and groped down with her right to dislodge the attacker. She ripped it away painfully from her leg, and held it up in front of her. It squirmed in her gauntlet, pinpoint teeth, sharp claws and slashing wings flashing in the moonlight.
Thea tossed the metal horror up into the air and in one fluid movement swung the spade to bat it forcefully across the square. That’ll teach you, you evil little tin bastard.
She continued swinging, gasping now and giving little moans as she tired. Her arms throbbed, burning with the effort, and the wound in her leg pulsed wetly. One last effort, come on girl!
She gave up on her to-and-fro sweeping, and simply circled wildly now, bats clanging against her spade as it cleaved the frozen air. Her head, her back and her arse stung from the constant battering from frantic metal attackers. She was becoming dizzy from the spinning, and decided to call it a day before she fell and allowed metal destroyers to creep under her protective shroud.
Slowing to a standstill, she waited a brief moment until the world stopped spinning too, then banged rapidly three times with the spade handle on the cottage door.
It immediately opened and she leapt inside, followed by half a dozen whirring bats. The door slammed behind her, and she concentrated on despatching those enemies that had entered with her.
Her grip now was tired, but Thea managed to smash five of the intruders to the ground before the spade twisted out of her weakened grasp and clattered to the floor. With a high buzz the remaining bat launched itself at her face, and she scrabbled desperately at it with her gauntlets, trying but failing to beat it off as it frantically scratched at her goggles. She felt a claw rake across her nose and cried out in despair. She was losing this one. One last desperate effort enabled her to fling it a foot away, but she was spent. Next attack it would get through.
The bat flew across the room and smashed into the wall, propelled by a hard blow from a dark object. Small cogs and metal screws tinkled to the dusty floor.
“Ee, Moth Girl, they nearly got you there!” creaked an amused voice.
“I’ve told you not to call me that, Ratporchrico,” Thea panted, shaking her head at the wizened old man by her side. He grinned a toothless grin, and put down the cricket bat he was holding.
“That’s what you look like, though, out there in the moonlight with your cloak, your helmet and your goggley eyes. Like a giant glittery moth.”
“I’ll moth you, you old git, if you don’t stop calling me that.”
“You make no sense,” he rasped good-naturedly, “How on earth do you moth someone? If you’re going to indulge in badinage, at least try to make it coherent and quippy.”
“It’s badinage that I have to talk to you in the first place. How’s that for quippy?”
“More pun than quip, but I’ll allow it, given how well you did out there.”
“Thank you,” she nodded. “Now, shut your whiskery face and help me get this cloak off. And then light a fire, for fuck’s sake. I’m freezing my tits off here.”
“Language, girl! You did not learn such speech from me. You’re not too old for a slapped backside, you know.”
“I’d like to see you try, old man!” she smiled, removing the helmet and shaking her burgundy hair free. It glowed in the flickering candlelight.
“You spend too much time down The Murphy’s Heart,” Ratporchrico continued, reaching up to lower the heavy mantle from Thea’s tired shoulders. “Common lot down that tavern, they are.”
“They are good friends, too. Do not forget that. I’m going to whack some cayenne and honey on this wound. When you’ve got the fire going, pick up these bats here. I can start attaching these until them outside sod off. Then we’ll gather the rest. I think I downed enough out there to fill all the gaps.”
“So you reckon you’ll have enough now?”
“You know, I really do. I put in a lot of effort out there.”
“I saw,” Ratporchrico nodded, “Moth Girl in thrilling action.”
Thea shot him a glance, which he ignored.
“Tomorrow’s the big adventure, then?”
She nodded. Ratporchrico peered at her closely.
“You’re still sure? You’re still determined to do this? To plunge into the unknown?”
“Somebody has to. It’s been five full moons now, three nights each time, that those buggers have been coming. Tomorrow will make fifteen nights of terror for the people of this city. And what does Lord Liejacker do? Bugger all. Oh, except hide. He doesn’t even know why or whence they come.”
Thea widened the ragged hole in her thick tights and washed the calf wound, then sprinkled cayenne to sterilise and stop the bleeding. Wincing, she smeared honey on top to aid the healing, and wound a strip of clean linen over the sticky mess as a rudimentary bandage.
“Well,” Ratporchrico told her, lighting kindling in the fireplace with the candle, “My Lord Liejacker has decided that since his biplanes and his dirigibles are too slow to catch the bats, they simply cannot be caught. He’s a great believer in the principle of ignore it and it will go away.”
“I’m a great believer in the principle that he’s a useless pillock.”
“He is that.” The old man stood up. “There. Fire. Come and warm your tits while I gather these bats.”
“Language, man!” Thea laughed at him. She sat on a rickety stool by the growing flames and warmed her boots, rubbing her hands together and flexing her fingers.
Ratporchrico carried Thea’s cloak over to the large oak table by the back wall of the cottage and laid it out, metal side uppermost. He lit a second candle and stood it by the cloak. Finally he collected the fallen bats and put those on the table by the cloak.
“Ready when you are,” he said.
Thea sighed and stood, tugging her tunic straight. She reluctantly left the warmth of the fire, and limped over to the table. She picked up one of the broken bats and worked the wings loose. She spat on them, and polished the metal to an unbroken gleam with a soft cloth. She sang as she worked.
We’re gonna start by aiming higher,
We’re gonna start by naming names.
We’re gonna start some rumours, start some fires, and then start to fan the flames.
Ratporchrico looked up from his book, a battered copy of “So You Want to Pilot a Dirigible?”, and a smile brightened his crinkled old face as Thea’s voice soared above the continuing clatter and screeches from outside.
Thea took up needle and thread, and began to sew the bat wings onto the few remaining bare patches on her cloak.