It is mid April and after sleet and snow three days ago we are now in the low 80s with a warm breeze and soft vapor clouds overhead during the day. Last night was beyond subtle, it soothed and hummed a tune all its own. The ground and grass were still warm from the long ago set sun and the breeze was just a gentle touch cooler than the air so that it was not as if the breeze was blowing but that the whole of the town and the night was moving against your skin. This was a night to put down some quilts on the grass and to lay naked with your lover under a thin blanket and the moon: A time to caress and drink in not only the touch of your beloved but the whole of the Night itself. The clouds formed a nimbus around the moon, like a smoke ring from a wooden pipe. The ring seemed only as wide as my palm but must have encircled the moon by miles up above, a frame for the three quarters of silver light glowing down. There were no cars or radios, only a few voices on porches, wrapped up in their own world beside their houses. Wind chimes keyed off in the darkness while the door to the empty house kept closing and opening as we walked by. Once again one of those breathtaking nights of Spring that begs for bare skin beside the breeze and a beloved face lit by moonlight.
So, May 5th rolls around and I can say that, thankfully, the rain stopped yesterday and today. I went to a book sale Saturday and enjoyed myself immensely. Here in my little tucked in corner of Illinois St Andrews’ Episcopal church does four book sales a year, “carrying on an Episcopalian tradition” as the Nice Lady proudly told me. This time they had even invited local authors to have tables upstairs and enticed the public up there with food and a free cookie. Grant you the free cookies had probably been on the plate since yesterday night when they first opened but I really liked talking to the local authors and getting info on their books; MORWA even had an author representing, as was a local historian, and a local biographer. This reminded me so strongly of two writers I know from back home in NC that I wished my friends could have been with me: For excellent history with a side of romance I can only recommend Kathy E. Bundy as a romance and soft adventure writer. Her stories are well told and tastefully LGBTQ friendly. It was a perfectly cool Spring day for a book sale and by the time my husband kindly dragged me out it had been 2 1/2 hours: only other time I can get lost like that is a rock quarry.
And speaking of quarries… I finally made it down to the Minerva #1!!! She was a fluorite/fluorspar (same thing) mine in her hey-day and the till pile is a ginormous over grown gravel lot by now. The vast amount of tailings involved reminds me of the old Crabtree Emerald mine in NC if you were to take away the huge boulders from the Crabtree. I only surface collect as I do not have permits for anything bigger, and quite frankly couldn’t lift anything too heavy out of the car and over a distance anyways. I did well enough for searching in already picked over parts. Nothing compares to the Ben E. Clement Museum in Kentucky but I did really well for just over an hour of collecting and never even getting into the stream bed. I found some nice examples of fluorite and calcite and the color in the pieces I found were dark purple, lemon rind yellow, and clear. I also found Sphalerite and had to educate myself on it just a little: The more iron that is in Sphalerite the more it tends toward looking like Galena or silver Pyrite. My Sphalerite looks more like the brown kind (think low grade garnets) but is a good example of Sphalerite from the Minerva. One piece is so loaded with miniature Spha. crystals that it looks like a sparkly brown stone! I also discovered Barytocalcite which looks like crystalized marl, and is mysteriously appealing when you suddenly see a thin vein of purple fluorite running through it and matrix rock. We may be moving (yes, you read this right. Once again my brilliant hubby has an even better job offer and we are seriously desperate to get into better barometric pressure) and I really want as much as I can get from a historic mine like the Minerva #1. A levee broke up river so the Chain of Rocks is back under several feet of water and I may not have a chance to get down to the River before we move. (These are the best barytocalcite pictures with grey-blue fluorite. The kitchen has fluorescent lighting.)
The rest of the rough is going to be stored and labelled. I want to try and have enough rough to give away at the MAGMA Rockhound RoundUp in July. One thing I have learned in my many years is to label and date your stuff!! Even if the box just says “The John Doe Estate” then I have started some sort of provenance for the rock. So, well, I have lots of plastic ice cream tubs (Blue Bunny No Sugar Added) labelled ‘Lake Michigan’, ‘Illinois Beach State Park’ and now ‘Mississippi River Chert, Edwardsville”. In a spot of dark but truthful humor I have begged my husband to contact my friend Rick if I die suddenly so that Rick can go through the collection. The complication is that Rick is used to going through estate collections worth thousands; he will have to bring along Rockshine who appreciates near-gravel as much as I do.
For those Gentle Readers that have asked, here is the next installment of Red Angel’s Rise: Not quite Steam Punk, Horror, or Fiction Fantasy, the city and denizens of Cinerarium are unique. Ian is still instrumental in the feel of the investigation for the story and Mariesha’s questions and instructions are my truly blind guesses as to where to go forward because I have no idea what his full plot/idea really is!
Sargent Juskoh crouched over the shredded body of the gnome they had found upon first entering the station. “Stubby little legs didn’t help you much did it?” Juskoh said under his breath.
Walking up, Juskoh’s partner, Sargent Sulmahn, shook his head. “There’s nothing. Not a damned thing to be found in the whole station but blood, a few poor bastards cornered and slaughtered back in the lavatories, and this one.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. All the survivors said there was a train full of the cursed things. They had to leave something behind. What say the necromancers?”
“Nothing of use.” Sulmahn growled, watching as one of the coroner’s butcher-boys carried off a sack full of half-orc. “She said there was a tide of undead spirits, then they all simply disappeared. They never left the station, but they sure as all Hells are not here anymore.”
Juskoh climbed to his feet and started for the platform. “So what are we looking at here, Sully? Three stations on the outskirts all attacked the same way. Who’d do this? Undead here?”
“It’s getting attention, I know that much.” Sulmahn said, his voice dropping a bit. “They’re sending an Inspector.”
Abruptly, Juskoh’s complexion turned a few shades lighter as he looked over Sulmahn’s shoulder. “This has indeed garnered some attention.” Both men turned to see the necromancer on site talking with a red-cloaked Royal Inspector.
Mareisha and Elsbeth had arrived in their special coach, a slight wreath of smoke still clinging to the roof like a self made fog. Elsbeth was once again in a fine dress of slate and royal blue with matching gloves and a jaunty hat decorated with satin ribbons. She carried her stylus and small boxed note pad. Mariesha was dressed in her usual fitted pants and plain shirtwaist with sturdy boots. When she didn’t wear the scarlet cloak some people stared at her mode of dress or openly snubbed her but the tiefling really could care less, that she would admit to, as long as she was off duty.
Decades earlier Cinerarium had been all but crippled by corruption within the city guard. Trade would grind to a halt unless a half dozen bribes were paid. The noble houses and trade syndicates were in all but complete control of the courts, and the criminals were free to roam as long as gold changed hands.
The Emperor, after a series of bloody purges, formed the Inspectors to be an independent investigative force. Recruited from all walks of life, and answerable only to the crown; the Inspectors were intended to root out enemies of the empire no matter where they hid. So far dukes, governors, and clergy had all found themselves in the chains of an Inspector as readily as a common man on the street.
“I suddenly have the distinct urge to be elsewhere.” Sulmahn mumbled to his partner as they walked the length of the platform. “She’s never on a normal case…”
Juskoh motioned Sulmahn to silence, both waiting until the Inspector turned to them. Juskoh broke the silence and plastered a plastic smile across his face, “Inspector Greywaves, what can we do for you, Ma’m?”
Sulmahn and Juskoh: Could be worse burks on a case came to Mariesha’s mind. They were Investigators, a small step above a Sergeant, and used to death and dismemberment but more suited to investigate cases where the murderer was still holding the knife shouting invectives.
Their first words to her ever had been a few chortles before Juskoh had started, “No… seriously, where’s the Inspector?”
Mariesha’s reply had began, “Pike it ya’ smegin’ sod…” and had gotten more foul by the end of the first sentence.
Now no one on the force for more than a month doubted she was an Inspector.
Mariesha saw Elsbeth pull out her stylus. “So gimme’ the chant, gentleman.”
While her Recorder wrote in shorthand everything that was said, Mareisha was listening and looking around them: So trivial but what set her teeth on edge was the utter emptiness of what should have been a bustling train station.
Sulmahn nudged a shredded hip of the gnome with his boot, “Stumpy guy didn’t get very far.”
“And you have a problem with the vertically challenged?” Elsbeth’s voice was icy. Mareisha studiously ignored them.
“No Ma’m.” Truth be told they were intimidated by Mariesha but scared of Elsbeth.
“Hmmm, he was definitely motivated,” started Mareisha. “The smear marks and torn fingertips show he was willing to lose a leg if his arms could pull him out. Apparently they were also serving some lite tucker on the train.”
“Pardon, Mam?” Sulmahn was listening and nodding to her, trying to make up for accidentally insulting the four foot ten Inspector.
“No teeth marks, same as the bathroom victims. These weren’t meat-hungry dead.”
“Investigator Juskoh, if you have not already, start asking the witnesses if they saw any of the undead particularly avoiding the light. Stations one, two, and three have the stained glass too, I warrant.”
“Yes they do,” started Juskoh. “I’ll ask the ticket boy first. He should know where the light falls in here.”
Mareisha nodded to Juscoh as she turned toward Elsbeth, “Do you know the two things this is making me think of Mistress Elsbeth?”
“This is rather peculiar Inspector Greywaves.”
“That it is, Mistress Elsbeth. First sheep or refugees: It’s the descriptions of the dead woman and children; packed into the shadowed trains then rushing off and then taking whatever was not alive and left behind. And this leads to the Second: Why in the Plains would ghosts or corporeal specters take the train? It’s not like they have non corporeal jink for a non corporeal ticket. Why not hail a cab or walk or float…”
“Or fly,” added Elsbeth with a witty smirk.
“Just so,” agreed Mariesha with a grin that turned serious. “Elsbeth, we need to see cartography maps of what came before the train tracks.”
“And the names of the Cities the trains just came from?” added the Recorder.
“Excellent. Plus the passenger and ticket lists. And someone needs to shake down the original blueprints of all eight depots, the history of the architects, and the names of the High Ups who ordered the buildings. Now let’s go question the poor sods who witnessed this.”
“Nay, Ma’m, I can’t say that my courage held out that long. I did not see what they did to the little man.” Purcell, the attendant out on the platform when the attack began was still visibly shaking. “I wish I could tell you more, Inspector, but by the time the screaming started I was almost out the front doors.”
Mariesha nodded. “It’s understood. Any sane fellow would run from something like that.”
Purcell took a deep breath then sipped the warm port in his hand. “It was just that… the way they come from the cars was like nothing I seen before.”
Inwardly Mariesha smiled; sometimes it just took a little coaxing to get witnesses to remember things. “What was it like?”
Another brief pause, then Purcell nodded more to himself than either Mariesha or Elsbeth. “They all seemed to rush out of the car, like they was all one thing… it was almost like they were a rushing river of blood and faces and teeth. They was like some kind of liquid thing that flooded into the station.”
“So it was like a river then? Was there truly that much liquid in the cars?” Elsbeth asked from just past Mariesha’s shoulder.
Purcell shook his head. “No ma’am, it weren’t like that, no. It flowed through the air, like it was all flying or something or crawlin’ through the air like.”
A thought started in the back of Mariesha’s mind. “Did it touch any of the walls? I mean that you saw, did the… the stuff touch anything other than the gnome?”
Perking up, Purcell shook his head. “No mam, not that I seen.”
“Right then, thanks berk. Drink up then head for home.” Purcell nodded as Mariesha turned and started off across the station. “That’s why there’s never anything left of the creatures, or creature, ’cause the damn things never touch anything but their victims.”
Falling in step, Elsbeth nodded. “That would be logical ma’am, but it just seems strange that such a creature exists. Creatures that float in such a manner are normally ethereal are they not? No wings were present to keep it aloft.”
Mariesha nodded. “True enough, but there are some ghosts that do indeed manifest for a short amount of time then disappear back into the ethereal world.” Pausing Mariesha looked around the station. “But such don’t just manifest nowhere and anywhere. They have to be bound to an area by something strong.”
“That is true in most cases ma’m, but there is an exception to that.” The man approaching them wore the robes of the necromancers, though not a senior arcanist. “I am Associate Benson Traim, it’s nice to make your acquaintance, Inspector Greywaves.”
“The same I’m sure.” Mariesha said, shaking the hand offered. “You talk like a cutter with an idea.”
“Indeed, I have a suspicion.” Traim said, turning to fall into step next to Mariesha. “While studying in the south reaches of Tetran I surveyed a tomb of unknown origins. It was all amazingly informative regarding the ancient burial rights of…”
“Good sir, if perhaps you could continue with the situation at hand?” Elsbeth said with a warm smile.
Mariesha started. “I was actually kind of interested in that.”
“Yes ma’am, but time is of the essence with the investigation at hand.” Elsbeth replied. “Hence my interruption.”
Mariesha smirked. “Fair enough, lets be back to this then.”
For a moment Traim also smirked, then continued. “Very well, the short of the matter then: I eventually made my way to the capitol and studied with the necromancers there. They had records from pre-collapse colleges and in one instance there was specific mention of creatures that traveled in such a fashion as has been described here.”
“Then we’re lucky you’re here.” Mariesha knew better than to think it luck: The College had sent him along because they suspected his knowledge related to the station attacks somehow.
“Indeed, it’s lucky for us all. I came here as soon as word reached the colleges that another attack had transpired and made it in time to sense something extra with my scrying. Specifically I’ve detected a planar instability throughout the building.” When Mariesha simply raised an eyebrow, Traim continued. “Something here used a type of magic long forgotten that involves weakening the barriers between worlds.”
Elsbeth made a little startled noise, then blushed. “Apologies, I thought since the collapse such things would be nigh apocalyptic.”
“It is. I think the creature that was here was demonic.”
Mariesha rubbed her temple briefly and looked steadily at Traim, “Then that makes you the cutter to go and scry the other stations.”
******** To be continued…
As I lay here in bed with mild insomnia I can hear low peals of thunder in the distance: Another Spring storm rolling across Kansas and Missouri and into Illinois. The breeze is ever so damp against my skin while the moon was a hazy sliver in the sky tonight, almost golden through the heavy air. I will pray for the stillness of the shadows through our house, the cementing of purpose and subtle power. I will also pray for the courage to continue growing, not for just the blossoms but thorns as well, defense from the fears and callousness of the world. Love is such a delicate thing, much like fine lace made from steel: Seemingly fragile but fierce when wrapped around you like possessive armor. And most of all, for now, Gentle Readers, let us pray for all the scientists and healers trying to find an end to cancer: I just found out about the passing of a dearest rockhound friend and it would be too much to bear another death to happen.
Until next time may the grace of the Sophia find you as well as the passion of storms.