Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlefolk.

This blog will be devoted to my literary and cosplay interests and stories set in my own alternative historical steampunk background. I hope people enjoy the stories, as much as I enjoy devising and writing them and that it stimulates their own artistic interests, entertains them or if nothing else fires their own imaginations.

A special note to new readers of this blog, the entries "Nation States" are gazetteers of the nations as they exist in the An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron background, each with a few remarks/observations about each nation as they exist within. Any post headed by the title containing the words "Story Snippet" or "Fragments" is a stand alone, snapshot of the background, they will be developed into fuller stories in future, but at present they serve to give the viewer/reader a measure of what this world is like, what is going on in it and who some of the players are. Full stories, will be headed by their title and a roman number, as they will generally be in several parts.

Comments, suggestions or remarks by readers are welcomed.

I would like to thank the following people:

Yaya Han, for getting me seriously interested in cosplay at a time when things were looking very glum for me back in 2006 with several extended stays in hospital due to illness, and motivating me to get actively involved.

Ashley Du aka UndeadDu, for her unfailing friendship and cheerful support since we first met in 2014 at the Hamilton Comic Con, and for being my Cosplay mentor and advisor.

Sara Marly, for her interest in and support for my writings, since we first met in 2016 at the Hamilton Comic Con and incidently helping me make up my mind to finally do this.

Stephen Thomson, my friend, for his advise and assistance with creating and setting up this blog.

Daniel Cote, my friend and co-worker for his advise and friendship over the years.

The People of the The Aegy's Gathering (particularly Jonathan Cresswell-Jones, Scott Washburn and Jenny Dolfen, all of whom I have kept in contact with over the years), who were brought together in friendship by a certain randomness of chance and a common interest in the Honor Harrington books and stayed together despite distance and the strains of life.

The People of the Wesworld Alternative History website, who gave me the opportunity to sharpen my writing and story telling skills while directing the affairs of Lithuania and briefly France during their 1930s timelines.

My parents Mary Ellen and Logan, my siblings Adam and Danika and various friends both online and at work and play for putting up with me, encouraging and supporting me both in the very good times and the very bad times.

I remain as always yours very sincerely, your obedient servant, Matthew Baird aka Sir Leopold Stanley Worthing-Topper

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Hidden Past (Part VI)

The examination was as tedious as Sir Nigel had warned her, it lasted for hours, although it was not uninteresting. Josephine answered the various questions to the best of her ability and as truthfully as she could were they touched on the personal. Sir Nigel and Millicent Carmichael handled much of the questioning, while Althorpe stayed in the background and monitored the apparatus that controlled the special monitoring chair she sat in.

At some point in the interview, Josephine lost consciousness and lapsed into a trance like state as the systems of the monitor chair worked softly away on her mind via various means. Sir Nigel, Carmichael and Althorpe were surprised that it had taken so long, most people went into the deep examination trance within an hour or two, she had stayed alert an awake for more then four hours, although the time prior had not been wasted. Josephine had answered a lot of the questions, and her reactions had been instructive and not a little confusing. They would have to examine the transcripts with care with the rest of the team and make some careful evaluations.

Sir Nigel thought carefully then asked the first of the real questions he wanted answers too.

"What is your first memory?"

The question slipped slowly into the tranced stillness of Josephine's mind, slowly her unconscious grasped it and began to answer it, not in words but in fragments of memory.

She stood stock still in a darkness shrouded, derelict cobble stoned street, choked with debris, soot and fog. The abandoned buildings and decrepit houses towered up around her blocking out the moon and stars. The sound and feel of falling rain engulfed her senses, which felt curiously dull and disconnected.

She felt terribly cold, lifeless, soulless and utterly alone. No breath filled her lungs, no blood circulated through her body, no spark of life animated her. She was a bedraggled and blood stained corpse dressed in dirty, torn and much patched clothes.

Other figures moved with disjoined motions around her in the shadows, fog and heavily falling rain. They were no more alive then she was, though they moved. A fierce, unnatural raving hunger drove them forward to seek the living. But today something else drove them, something that they could not comprehend, although when living themselves they might have been able to give name to it. The name was... Fear. They source of that fear was close by, she could sense it's steady, unhurried approach.

Oddly, she felt strangely comforted by that ominous presence and longed to move towards it even as the other dead around her moved instinctively away from it. A pair of white eyes glowed suddenly and sharply through the night and fog, the body they belonged to was a dark shadow enveloped in the night and rain. The eyes looked neither left nor to the right but straight ahead, seemingly untroubled by the walking dead around them. They stopped directly in front of her.

A darkly gloved hand reached out and touched her dead face, ever so gently. A voice echoed suddenly in her mind. Well, Well little seamstress, I have found you at last.

Josephine had not made any sound though it was obvious to her questioner that even unconscious her mind was dwelling on the first question, though it had not formed an answer that she could voice. Sir Nigel decided to try another tack, and so asked his second question.

"Who made you?"

"Schreck." Came the almost unearthly response from her barely parted lips. "He is my master. He called me back from Death's Abyss, from the mindless dead which I was before he came to me." Sir Nigel raised his white eyebrows in surprise, Althorpe flinched violently at the mere mention of the name. Well he should, Sir Nigel thought grimly.

Karl Magnus Schreck, to give the man his full name, was believed to be the oldest known practitioner of necromancy still drawing breath upon the face of the world. Revered and feared in equal measure by all practitioners of white and dark magic alike. They called him the Master of Fear, a play upon what his surname meant in German, meaning roughly fear or terror. Reliable and authenticated accounts of him went back as far as the days of ancient antiquity.

Sir Nigel forced himself to slowly sit back in his chair and think. Why had Schreck been in London? There had been absolutely no word of his coming. The Devil's Courtyard would of course be natural territory for him, the combination of death and vice there would have attracted both his professional interest and readily supplied him with test subjects for his necromantic researches. While at the same time the nature of the place would make hiding said necromantic experiments from the prying eyes of the local or national authorities that much more easy. The periodic plagues and epidemics that hit the area due to the ludicrous and dangerously stupid human overcrowding and the deplorably unsanitary conditions that reigned within the walled off area that was the Devil's Courtyard would also have come to his notice. Had Schreck caused the zombie plague that had decimated the place five years ago?

Probably not, on reflection, it did not fit his previously known modus operandi which was to generally remain quiet, reclusive and as much as possible totally unobserved. Josephine Rumbleton or whatever her name had been before, she had died and been reanimated, had been some sort of experiment for Schreck. Somehow he had found her and he had brought her back fully to life after she had died in the zombie outbreak. Schreck had done something hitherto regarded as absolutely impossible by all serious, respected and eminently established medical practitioners, scientists and magical practitioners alike! Then again, as Charles Babbage had once observed to him, anything can and will happen statistically at least once at any given time or place.

was the fire that had virtually destroyed the Devil's Courtyard, Schreck's design as well? It would have been extremely useful to cover his tracks if he had been prepared to shift his operations to somewhere else. I t would also have dealt with any last elements of the zombie plague still resident in the Devil's Courtyard. Schreck was not one to leave dangerous or inconvenient loose ends unattended too, especially if he had been moving to his own timetable. Too many questions, with no answers, Sir Nigel thought wryly.

Josephine without uttering another word, abruptly slumped forward in the restraints of the chair, like a puppet with it's strings cut. The mechanical monitoring devices built into the chair suddenly, spectacularly shorted out or went inexplicably dark and dead like the occupant of the chair seemed to. The temperature in the room began to drop several degrees each second,  frost began to form both upon the chair and Josephine, the lightening in the room began to bizarrely flicker on and off as if the power supply had suddenly become unstable.

"What on earth...?!" Sir Nigel began to say, puzzlement and a trace of rising suspicion written clearly on his face. He began to rise from his chair not altogether sure what was happening, his instincts and experience warned him whatever was occurring was both out of the ordinary and not at all good.

Suddenly with a bone and tendon snapping crack, Josephine's head came up with an unnatural jerk. Her eyes were wide and staring, her once brown irises had gone an eerie milkly white. A strange death like pallor had seized hold of her skin. The devices in the chair sparkled wildly to life, alarms screamed to life throwing off sudden lights and flashes that weirdly illuminated the darkened room.

With a manic strength not at all native to a human body, Josephine suddenly snapped free of the chair's heavily constructed restraints. Carmichael flung herself at the side table grabbing for her long barreled revolver with blinding speed, swinging the muzzle up, then jerking herself around and levelling the weapon towards the occupant of the chair.

Althorpe nearly froze in place with terrified alarm, that same bone chilling smile that so rattled him before reappeared on Josephine's face. Before either he or Sir Nigel could make a move, she stood up from the chair, scattering broken parts and restraints in crazy parabolic arcs and flew at Carmichael like a rocket, trailing disturbed particles of frost as if they were spider webs.

Carmichael found herself gasping in shock, as icy cold hands tightly clasped her throat and wrist of the hand that held the gun. She felt her airways constrict under the steady, savage pressure even as the bones in her immobilized wrist groaned in protest. Chilling grey white eyes locked gaze with her own sparkling blue eyes. Millicent felt her vision begin to blur and darken, a terrible gasping sound emerged from her throat as her feebly twitching fingers involuntarily loosened their grip on the revolver butt and trigger. All the while, those grey white eyes were inches from her own glittered with an increased cold, harsh brilliance. The terrible frozen smile seemed to widen by increments with an unholy amusement as the life was slowly and smoothly squeezed out of her.

Carmichael frantically felt her consciousness slipping away, the revolver dropped from her nerveless fingers striking the hard stone floor unnoticed disputed it's harsh metallic clang echoing throughout the room. A detached part of Carmichael's mind found time to be surprising that the cocked, hair trigger weapon had not gone off when it struck the floor. She struggled increasingly and desperately to draw a life sustaining breath. A heavy chair abruptly appeared to Millicent's left and came crashing down on Josephine Rumbleton's head and shoulder. The well furnished and reassuringly solid English Oak chair exploded into fragments as it struck, Sir Nigel staggered backwards cursing profusely still grasping the splintered remains in his hands, the shock of the impact had painfully jarred his hands, wrists and arms. Sir Nigel felt liked he had just clubbed a tombstone or a mausoleum wall!

The stunning and bone shattering blow, which by all rights would have felled a normal man or woman and likely left them in a semi-coma, left Josephine absolutely unmoved. Althorpe suddenly recovered himself and muttered an incantation, struck his walking stick to the ground once then twice. The ornate handled stick suddenly glowed with magical power and lengthened in the twinkling of an eye into an ornate staff, sigils and runes blazed along it's entire length. An ornate gemstone, framed by a spearhead shaped lattice work of writhing snakes, in the shape of an opened eye topped the staff. The gem smoked with an unnatural emerald fire like a piece of metal freshly emerged from a forge at white heat.

"Move. The woman dies. Painfully." The flat, harsh voice warning that emerged from Josephine's mouth belonged to no living thing, it seethed with a deadly and frighteningly ancient power and a sheer malevolence that went beyond any trifling concept of mere human malice. Neither man moved an inch but stood their ground in silent defiance.

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