This is a very rough first draft. Only really intended as a way of playing with characters and how they interact so it's only had a cursory readthrough. I thought I'd stick it here in case any Steampunkists found something to enjoy in it.
To the casual observer the two men: One squatting one stood in the miserable drizzle as they examined the muddy ground before the barn - may have appeared comical figures. The one kneeling had a stocky, short body. His face, though hidden as he knelt facing the barn, bloomed with thread veins from years of hard drinking and opiates. A small, almost sensuous, mouth hid beneath a bristling moustache and beneath the brim of his preposterous, and ever present, porkpie hat gimlet eyes twinkled as they examined the dirt.
One would never guess to look at him that he was one of the three most dangerous people currently alive on the planet.
The second figure was as different as could be and yet equally as dangerous in his own way. Where the former was stocky the latter was tall and slim. Where the smaller's skin had been worn by life the latter's remained porcelain smooth and his blue eyes sparkling and carefree. Exquisite clothes covered him and a tall, leather encased hat crusted with odd devices which whirred and ticked continuously crowned a head of thick dark hair that reached past his collar.
'Gilroy,' asked Sexton quietly, 'why on earth are you sniffing the mud?'
Gilroy took another great sniff of air into his bulbous nose and poked the footprint before him with a stubby finger before standing.
'Manure, Mr. Wylde, whoever stole your device had manure on their boots.'
Trying very hard to keep his voice level Sexton Wylde shook his mane of curls in mock wonderment.
'We are in the country, Gilroy, manure is de riguer around here,' he indicated the sheep dotted countryside around them; as bleak and lonely to his way of thinking as it was necessary. 'It is what everyone is wearing.'
'Yes,' Gilroy let out a heavy breath though his moustache and held up a finger in front of the taller man's face. A small oblong of hardened mud sat on the tip above the dirty crescent of his nail. 'But this manure's dried, see?' the oblong lifted nearer to Sexton's aristocratic and, somewhat disgusted, nose. 'It's raining, which suggests the thief works on a farm' he stared out into the drizzle as his voice tailed off, 'and one near.'
Gilroy's turned back to the younger man, locking eyes, bloodshot after a night in the local pub, with Sexton's who in turn wondered whether today would be the day he would be judged too dangerous to live. Maybe today Gilroy would act on the small piece of paper in the bottom of his steamer case. The one that had been carefully unfolded, read, and then carefully re-folded and put away again hundreds and hundreds of times. When Sexton Wylde spoke again his mouth was dry and his words less flippant.
'He could have come here in some vehicle, is all I mean. Dried manure is hardly specific to the area. In fact, it seems a mainstay of most of our more rural adventures'
'No, Mr Wylde,' a small smile crept in beneath the moustache and he flicked the mud from his finger, continuing in his thick Yorkshire accent, 'there's a right high percentage of buttercups and cowslip in the grass crop 'ere and it gives the sheep manure a very particular stench.'
'You've been going around sniffing manure?' Sexton lifted an eyebrow.
'First rule, Mr. Sexton Wylde, familiarise yourself with the area,' he rubbed his forehead, making his porkpie had bob up and down, 'I could right do with some hair of t'dog, by the way.'
Sexton retrieved a hipflask from the leather doctors bag he carried and passed it over.
'Here, I suppose you have earned a swig with your small deduction. One is all mind at this early hour.'
Gilroy took a swig, grimaced and then smiled, transforming his face and making the weary years drop away.
'Ta, Lad. Now, as it don't appear the Spaniard is on to us' Gilroy handed back the hipflask, though his yearning eyes never left it on its return journey to the younger man's bag, 'I reckon we should get your machine back afore we 'ave another tragedy, right?'
Gilroy picked up his heavy pack and slung it onto his back before striding off across the mud. Sexton watched him for a moment and reflected on their odd friendship. The two had met many years ago in India. At the time Sexton had been in the service of the Dread Spaniard, his eyes blinded to the dark ambition he served by the freedom he was given to experiment in. Gilroy had been part of a special force, together with a young RFC officer, sent to put a stop to the Spaniard's plans once and for all. They failed of course, all do. Gilroy took it badly. His fall from grace took him down into the opium dens of the same Hoogly pirates that transported Sexton's 'Yuga' Machines. The rest is, as they say, covered by the Official Secrets Act.
'Gilroy,' Sexton huffed a he watched the stocky man walk away, 'do you think we need anything?'
'I believe you need a haircut, Mr. Wylde,' for a supposed servant, Gilroy had adopted an intensely disrespectful style.
'I shall have you know that the romantic poets style themselves almost entirely on my pale skin and flowing locks.' Gilroy did not answer and Sexton was forced to run after him, spattering his tight black trousers with mud from the field and muttering under his breath. 'By Black Kali I hate the countryside.' A lonely sheep eyed him suspiciously as he made his way past. 'I don't like you either,' he told it.
The two men topped a hill overlooking the nearest farm, Calve Fort. The place had clearly seen better days. The thatching on the main building wore a sheen of moss and in places was holed and coming away. The walls, built mainly of sharp flint in that way peculiar to southern England,' sported deep floor to ceiling cracks and the barn to the side of the main building had developed a worrying heel to the left.
Gilroy came to a halt and dropped to his knees, his arm shooting up, palm open and level with the brim of his hat, to warn Sexton to do the same. The well dressed Gent had already stopped, his mouth formed into a perfect, surprised, 'O'.
In a huge circle around the farm, the grass writhed. It twisted sinuously and at the edges of the circle nearest had reached waist height.
Gilroy reached back into his pack and retrieved his binoculars.
'It's like Innsmouth at t'Infernal Equinox if this is more of them horrors out of America,' he scanned the clearing around the farm, 'I'll be needing t'elephant gun and a stiff brandy, not merely a swig o' gin, Mr Wylde.'
Sexton, however, was not listening.
'It works!,' he said delightedly and an unkind person may have said that at the moment all the grasses died, keeling over and drying to a comforting, familiar and above all still, gold, that he squealed like an excited young girl.
'Works?' repeated Gilroy in a voice that was decidedly less happy. 'What exactly works?'
'The machine, the Fosciliator.'
'It makes grass grow?' Giroy scratched under his hat again.
'No, the sun does that' he clapped his hands joyfully, 'did you not go to school? My foscilitor turns things to stone.'
Gilroy, who as it happens did not go to school but firmly believed learning never stopped and some people would do well to stop being quite as clever and start learning a little more, shook his head.
'That grass, sir, don't look very vitrified.'
Sexton stared hard at his companion.
'There's no need for that tone. Of course it doesn't, this is an early model. The Fosciliator works by making things become very old,' he grinned, 'it fossilizes them, or it is meant to,' he reached into his Dr's bag and retrieved two small medallions of dull metal. 'Now, you'd best put this on,' he said, throwing one to Gilroy, donning his own and starting off down the hill.
Gilroy looked at the small medallion and the sigil carved into it almost made him bring up his breakfast.
'Sexton,' he shook his head as he set off after the odd man, sniffing the air as he walked, 'does tha never learn?' he hissed into the odd smelling wind.
The nearer Gilroy got to the farm the more powerful the stench. It was a familiar smell, although one he always fervently hoped never to smell again; putrefaction.
Usually, Gilroy would have approached carefully, revolver outstretched as he ran from cover to cover but as an excited Sexton had loped ahead and was already in the barn it seemed pointless to take such precautions. He jogged , gun in hand, into the barn to find Sexton standing, stock still and quite aghast, in front of a small, humming, metal box.
In one corner, what had been a small flock of sheep slowly liquefied and near the entrance three skeletons lay where they had fallen as they tried to escape. Holed clothes and leathery skin hung from brown bones,
'I did not envisage this,' whispered Sexton regretfully as Gilroy approached. 'This was not my intention at all.'
Gilroy bent to examine one of the skeletons.
'Poor bugger,' he picked up a shoe and examined the tread, clogged with dung, then nodded to himself before dropping it. 'We'll 'ave a tough time explaining this, Mr Wylde. No terror weapons t' man from Diogenes said. I...Sexton are you listening?'
Sexton was not, he was moving towards the box as if drawn magnetically to his device all the time chattering to himself under his breadth in the rapid-fire manner of a repeating-rifle.
'I must turn it off, this was not what I wanted. I thought it would be a way to transport perishables, you see, that is all. A weapon! I never saw that. Never. Fool. Always thinking about the cause and never considering the effect...'
For a moment in Sexton's bent figure and wide blue eyes Gilroy saw once again the haunted man he had met on the banks of the Hoogly all those years ago and thought to be a figment of his own opium raddled imagination.
'Oafs!' whispered Sexton as he bent over the box. 'Damned meddling oafs.'
Gilroy approached the man and the lethal box.
'They have snapped the mechanism which turns the thing off, without that the field may well keep expending until, well, until...' he shrugged and straightened, smoothing down his jacket. 'It would be bad anyway.'
'Don't worry thaself unduly, Mr. Wylde, I have a solution,' said Gilroy and put a bullet through the centre of the strange mechanism, causing it to explode in a strange purple flame that fed upon itself for a moment before vanishing, leaving only an empty case.
'Oh,' said the surprised inventor. 'Of course, the direct method. I wish it was as easy to hide the rest of the evidence,' he raised his arms to encompass the farm buildings around them. 'My number may be up here, I fear.'
Gilroy grinned and held up the dynamite he had retrieved from his pack.
'Don't worry, Mr Wylde, I've got a plan.'
'Gilroy, I believe that is worth not just a swig of gin but the full hipflask.'
Gilroy smiled though he'd been hoping to get the entire bottle.