The Black Elixir

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Asmodeus, Feb 14, 2013.

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    Village Map (open)
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    The light had died by 6:15. In five hours time the storm would finish its journey across the Atlantic, and bring chaos to England's west coast. The army was on standby, the fishing fleet recalled, the airforce grounded. Emergency broadcasts rained across the country and warned all to stay inside and avoid the roads and coastline. This was the big one. Tonight the ocean would tear at England and claim whatever lives it could.

    Yet still there were travellers. Strangers bound for the desolate village of Penryn, on the cliffs of rural Cornwall. To where horror lay in wait.

    As jagged rocks threw shadows over Smuggler's Cove, two men looked out to sea. Yet they were not watching for the storm. These sentinels awaited the arrival of a different killer, one of flesh and blood who rode ahead of the black clouds. Amongst the wreckage of old boats and fishing nets the pair were dark as flotsam, in trenchcoats and trillby hats, pockets deep for wicked blades. One smoked a cigarette, the ember their only signal to the approaching visitor, an infernal will-o-the-wisp to guide his way.

    And as lonesome as that cigarette in the shadows of the cove, was the lantern lit to the east in the upper window of Penryn Church. Stepping over discarded books, rat-gnawed food and broken furniture, Father Thomas Marrak returned to his desk. With gloved hand the old man took up his quill and wrote again, another letter penned in trembling ink. His study was a spider-web of words and paper, notes scrawled and symbols daubed on walls. The lamplight shuddered as rain hammered the church roof overhead. Yet still he wrote, with only a passing, shuddering glance towards the ocean.

    His gaze would no doubt find the glittering jewel of Cargwyn Manor. For though the village huddled in fearful gloom, all lamps were on in the great mansion on the headland. Where treacherous cliffs rose to overlook Penryn, the house perched, beacon-like, and cast in silhouette the abandoned mine and the gated wall that divided the estate from the village. Shadows were ever-moving, behind the windows and across the grounds, watchmen and party guests enjoying their private luxury. Perhaps at one window the Lord himself looked out, and felt no fear of the coming storm. The waves would never reach him. His haven would never be breached.

    And down the southern coastline, where cliffs gave way to cobbles, there was but one more light. As she had done on every night since becoming landlord, Vicky Oswald lit the lamps of the Eagle Arms and straightened the welcome mat by the door. The inn was warm and stocked with hot food and ale - an eternal invitation to the lost and weary. The young woman put on a smile and fixed her golden hair, hoping that tonight would be the night the villagers broke their boycott and came once more to drink beneath her roof. If she could know what crime she had committed - what terrible affront had caused Penryn to turn against her - she would gladly make amends. Yet since her sister Judith vanished not a single local had brought their custom through these doors.

    Four points of light in the swallowing darkness. Four sparks that would ignite the horror of Penryn and tell the twisted story... of the Black Elixir.


  2. Water. Freezing, stabbing water. He was drenched in it, clothes like heavy ice, shivering so hard that his bones ached.

    It must be what drowning felt like.

    Yet no life was flashing before his eyes - no thoughts at all. Only a primal dwelling on the pain and the violent bumping of the road.

    The farmer who had given Eugene a lift was only so kind. The passenger seat was occupied by his sheepdog, so the boy had been forced to sit in the trailer, amongst the canvas and old rope. He felt like a fish pulled up from the ocean and left to suffocate. Every bump and turn on the country road threw him hard against the metal sides. And he could have sworn the farmer was laughing, all snug and secure in the heated cab up front. The Cornish weren't known for their hospitality, nor for anything that Eugene could recall. They were the people at the edge of the world, inbred and reclusive in their little tip of England. No one out here had cause to care for a boy with holes in his shoes.

    His mother was the only one. The only thing in this dark and drowning world.

    Eugene had kept his eyes closed against the water. And even when the sparse lights of Penryn appeared through the hills he thought they were lightning flashes, or headlights of other farmers fleeing to their homes. He did not realise they had entered the village until the truck gave a sharp turn and rumbled across the gravel car park of the Eagle Arms. The final jolt of the vehicle stopping was bone-shattering, and he thought he was going to vomit. Not that he had eaten anything in the two days he had been hitchhiking south.

    "There y'are now m'ansom; bes' be on wi' ye, afore ah charge ya emmet rates." The old farmer didn't get out of the cab, which made his thick dialect all the more impenetrable. But the inference was clear. Scurrying from the sodden canvas, Eugene came down into a puddle of mud, staggering clear as the truck started up again. He raised a hand in tired thanks but got only the leering face of the sheepdog, barking at him from the passenger side. The farmer was gone in a spray and with a thunderclap the rain began a fresh assault, as if sensing the fragile boy now abandoned in the car park of the Eagle Arms.

    Eugene squinted up through the mist of his breath, seeing the inviting lights that Vicky Oswald had lit.

    In one trembling hand he held the sodden note his mother had left before departing home three nights ago. The ink that spelled the phone number of the Eagle Arms was all but gone. But his mother was in there... he could almost feel her. It was the only place where a stranger could get a room for the night.

    It was enough to keep Eugene alive as he stood there - the warmth of knowing that he would see his mother again.
  3. [size=+1]They warned me of the infamous weather of the South-West.

    But all the warnings in the world could not prepare me for this.

    As I step from the cab I could swear that the storm is already upon us, that the sea itself is being thrown from the sky down onto the Earth with a fury the likes of which I have not witnessed in many a year. I glance down ruefully at the small black umbrella I had naively thought most wise to pack for this trip and pull the collar of my overcoat further up round my neck.

    Best to get myself out of this rain as soon as I can.

    And better to try not to think about the memories such an onslaught of water dredges up from the depths of my memory. Memories of sodden mud, artillery fire and quaint little European fields transformed into nightmare.

    The streets of the quiet little village of Penryn are as deserted as they are gloomy, a testament both to the absence of light and the lack of any signs of life. Closed and shuttered windows, barred doors and silence amidst the encroaching storm; the people of this place have battened down the hatches, metaphorically and literally, in preparation of what is to come.

    Of the few lights that do shine, it is Cargwyn Manor that shines the brightest. Like some bizarre lighthouse perched atop its cliff, the illumination blazing out amidst the gloom. Yet still it makes me uneasy to look upon; the walls that separate the estate from the village are high and menacing, and I can see the torches of watchmen moving along it and through the grounds.

    The message is clear.

    The uninvited are not welcome. And yet that is where I must go.

    All in good time, however. I want to get out of this damned rain first and get my bearings. My eyes fall upon another source of light amidst the darkness of Penryn; a small inn, perched down on the southern coastline, warm and inviting amidst all this cold. Probably not quite what a Londoner such as myself is used to, but right now it is a godsend.

    Sighing as the cab pulls away, I square my shoulders to the rain and begin my trek down the hill towards the Eagle Arms.[/size]
  4. Jorell.jpg A flicker of flame in darkness brought relief to the old man as his cigarette dangling from his lips burned with life. Usually he could count on the rush of tobacco calming his senses, but not that this time. This time was different. The weak waver of the oil lamp illuminated the words on the paper clenched in his hand; the paper had been worn an off-white from the number of times the old man had read it. Ravin had always been the scientific one, the reasonable one, but the context of the letters was not the customary spiel his old friend usually preached. This old man may have been retired, but his intuition was not. At first he couldn’t pin point the nagging concern dwelling at the back of his mind. He first became a detective because of his strong perception and it had served him well. Now that keen sense was something he rarely used. Until now. Staring at those letters a twinge of anxiety crept up his spine like thousands of spiders. He grabbed for the glass of Bourbon, wooden chair squealing under his weight, and gulped it back. The drink lit up his throat and his eyes watered under those old spectacles. He ripped them off and pinched the bridge of his nose before squeezing his eyes. Memories, ancient memories, flooded back. They were still so clear. The sound of rain pulled him back to the present.

    He cursed, standing. It was time to check in one his old friend. Jorell through his jacket on, then his duster and shuffled the letters together, but flinched, cursing. The involuntary flinch pulled at the ripped ligament and he stomped, biting his lip, chewing out the pain. ‘Blast it all.’

    Red smeared across the top letter. Looking down at his aged hand, prominent veins and wrinkles, he spotted where the paper cut him. For just a second he thought about it. He really was going to go, wasn’t he? Ravin had to seek out his friend, had to make sure.

    He wiped his hand against the ragged duster and slipped the papers into his chest pocket. He just had two more things to grab. In the cabinet was his best friend, his old comrade, his revolver. The weight of it was somehow more comforting than the cigarette; for the old detective, that was saying a lot. Next was his flask—which was in need of a refill. Finally Ravin was on his way. That creeping inkling of doubt, of backing out crawled over him again and he shook his head. He twisted the door knob and was on his way to Penryn Church. How many years had it been since he last visited?
  5. View attachment 19248 I had never enjoyed travel- especially that of automobile. They made me a nervous wreck for whatever reason. The trip from London to whatever desolate place my work had taken me, as I struggled to recall the name of my location due to my nerves, was definitely not an exception.
    The sky was unnervingly dark, and rain poured down upon mother earth with a vengeance. I was sitting outside some small, desolate inn, in a town that I had never heard before, right before a storm just for the sake of trying to come up with the answer for where someone's loved one had disappeared to. It was a concept that people who hadn't lost a relative under bizarre circumstances couldn't understand- the empathy and pain that you felt for every person who was walking through the shadows of that type of loss. I was determined to attempt to get an answer for the Oswald family, so they wouldn't have to go through the struggles I did upon loosing my parents.
    It was now or never, I could either go into the inn and stay for the long haul, even if it meant riding out a bloody storm to help the family, or I could stay in the automobile and make my way back to London. With a sigh, I grabbed my belongings, cursing when I realized that I forgot to bring an umbrella. I opened the door and made my way into the rain.
    Mud seeped into my boots and crawled up the hem of my skirt as I made my way to the inn. I heard the automobile pull away and got ready to be faced with another heartbreaking case. I paused at the door of the inn for a second and too a deep breath.

  6. The door flew open as Marina took her breath, a gust of warmth and ale casket washing over her. There was a woman in her early thirties, beaming a smile. "Bugger me, it's freezing out there! Come in dear, quickly. Welcome, welcome!"

    She practically pulled the young investigator inside, a grip strong from tapping pints and shifting barrels. And as they passed one another the barmaid called over her shoulder, to someone else in the car park. "Heavens, boy! You'll catch your death! Get inside!"

    Mumbling his thanks, another stranger slipped through the door, dripping with water. He and Marina got clear as the barmaid barged the door shut with her shoulder, latching it against the rattling winds. "These bloody storms'll be the death of me!"

    With the thud of the latch, the sound of the storm was muffled. Instead there came the crackle of fire, the rapping of the single pane windows, the occasional clink of glass and the whistle of wind in the chimney. The Eagle Arms was cosiness incarnate - a little teak-paneled pub with comfortable chairs and shampooed carpets. Oddly, given its name, the inn was nautically themed, with all manner of nets, polished oars and mounted fish hanging on the walls. What paintings there were showed blue-green seascapes and old vessels of Her Majesty's Navy. Then there were sea maps and old tin mining tools in decorative cases. It truly was a slice of the west coast, right here.

    It seemed the only other customers were a group of six men huddled closely around a table in the corner. They wore fishing coats and docker caps that hid sullen, stubbled faces. They threw glances to Marina and the boy who had followed her in, then went back to muttering to one another. The group exuded tired disinterest.

    A wet appendage slapped Marina's back. As she turned Eugene caught her eye. He had been taking off his coat, which was dripping wet, and the arm had caught her. "Sorry," the boy said nervously.

    Then the barmaid was between them before any awkwardness could blossom. "Here now, luv, let me take that for you. I'll hang it over the fire." The barmaid took the coat from Eugene and, trailing a virtual river of rainwater, carried it over to set on a chair beside the roaring fireplace. "Well, this is a treat. My first customers in donkey's years. I don't reckon you're from round here, though. You picked a hell of a night to go travelling."

    She smoothed her golden locks then slipped behind the bar, resting her elbows there and beaming another smile. "Now then. What can I do you two for?"

    Marina would have to answer first, since Eugene seemed to be coughing half his lungs up. The boy was stooped over and clearing his throat. He seemed ill, and exhausted.
  7. I smiled at the woman who had hustled me inside and nodded my thanks. The place seemed rather deserted, even though it was of nice quality. I flipped my hair, sending water all over. I cleaned it off the bar counter with the sleeve of my sweater.
    "Ma'am? Could you give me a moment?", I asked in the most polite voice I could muster. I was aware that my voice had came off in a bit of a whiny, childish tone but tried not to think too much about it. I put my briefcase on the bar and rustled around in it. I pulled out the paper I was looking for and read over it hastily. I closed my briefcase and put it back on the floor, leaving the paper I had gotten out on the counter.
    "I take it you are Miss Vicky Oswald," I gave a brief smile, "I am Marina Payne, private investigator. I was sent to help find the fate or whereabouts of your sister,"I tried to sound as professional as possible. Deep inside, I was hoping that I could get back to London within the week, so I could go to a dear friend's wedding, even though I doubted it would happen.
    I once again, grabbed my briefcase and put the paper away. My stomach grumbled, but I didn't feel like asking for food. Then, I realized I hadn't set up a time to talk to Vicky about her sister's disappearance. "Miss Oswald, when would it be best for us to talk about the circumstances surrounding your sister's disappearance?" I was happy with how professional I was going about things, and gave a slight smile over the matter.

  8. For a moment there was blankness on the barmaid's face, as a deer caught in headlights. She stared at the paper, then the briefcase, then back at Marina's face. And when Marina asked her final question there were no words in the woman's open mouth.


    A cough rang out from the corner table. One of the fishermen raised an empty tankard.

    Suddenly the barmaid smiled again and picked up a jug from the far counter. "Just excuse me one moment, dear." She moved out from behind the bar and crossed to the table, leaning into the circle of dark-clad fishermen. Murmurs were exchanged as she refilled the tankards.

    Meanwhile, Eugene was still by the door behind Marina, looking decidedly restless. The boy was glancing at the walls, then the rattling windows, flinching whenever the storm-wind shook the roof tiles. He seemed to be getting paler by the second. His underclothes were as sodden as his coat, and the soles of his shoes were peeling away.

    "Sorry about that," the barmaid said as she returned to the bar. She went behind it and smiled again at Marina. "Why yes, love, I'm Vicky Oswald. But what do you mean someone sent you? Who would do a thing like that?"

    "Excuse me, Miss..." Eugene interrupted suddenly, as if finally getting up the courage to speak. He leaned against the bar next to Marina, his hands trembling. "Is my Mum here? I'm Eugene... Eugene Hughes... and..."

    "Oh, you're Martha's son are you? She's been talking about you ever since she arrived." Vicky ran her finger along the line of boxes containing room keys, stopping at the only empty one. "Room 4, dear. She's the only stayin - been here since Monday. You're welcome to go up and see her."

    Eugene nodded his thanks and shuffled up the stairs beyond the bar, dripping puddles of water.

    And as he left, Vicky turned back to Marina. "Now then, what's this all about? Are you with the police?"
  9. [size=+1]The heavens continue in their attempts to drown me as I stride down the hill towards the small inn on the edge of England.

    My umbrella dangles uselessly from my arm as I make my way through Penryn; in these winds I wouldn't be able to keep ahold of it, nevermind keep it over my head. Fortunately it is not too far to the doors of the Eagle Arms. Even from this distance I can see the doors opening, and figures darting into the welcoming light of the inn; it seems I am not the only one paying a visit to this place tonight.

    More than likely they are locals, however. The Masters of the Lodge gave me fair warning that I should not expect a warm welcome from such people. The people of this part of the world do not take kindly to outsiders. They are a simple, isolated folk, steeped in traditions and largely untouched by the new ideas of more civilised places.

    It was not too long ago they were burning witches still in these parts.

    I doubt they will take kindly to some young doctor from London poking his nose in their business.

    By the time I reach the doors of the inn I am soaked to the bone, and the weather shows no sign of relenting in its onslaught. This is but the warm-up act for the promised storm that is set to grip the entirety of the West Coast tonight, and I would do well to remove myself from the warpath. Shouldering open the door and stepping into the warmth, I quickly haul the door shut against the protests of the howling wind.

    Gazing around the interior of the Eagle Arms, the first thing to occur to me is that my father would have adored this place; a long-serving Naval Officer, the nautical theme and cosy aesthetic would no doubt have appealed to him greatly. The decorations, however, are of little importance to me right now; I am simply glad to be out of the rain.

    I am surprised at the person standing behind the bar of this establishment as well. In my mind's eye I had been picturing some sullen old innkeeper with an accent so thick he might as well be speaking Japanese, but instead there is a woman who cannot be much older than thirty standing discussing something with another woman. This second figure is also a surprise; young and dark-haired, dressed the the clothing of a lady from the city.

    Not what I was expecting, I have to admit.

    “Good evening, ladies,” I greet the pair of them, smiling politely as I wrench of my soaking overcoat, “is there anywhere I might hang my jacket?”[/size]

  10. Again they were interrupted, the storm re-assailing their world as the door unlatched. Rain lashed through with Doctor Kingsley's entrance and spattered nearby tables, and with him came the howl of waves crashing harder on the shore. Vicky Oswald gave a short hiss, her questions frustrated, and hurried out from the behind the bar once more.

    "Alright, my hanscome," she said, by way of traditional Cornish greeting to the man. "I ain't never had such well-spoken people in my pub. Here..." She took the doctor's jacket with a smile, shaking it as she crossed to the fireplace. And next to Eugene's torn-up coat the doctor's apparel was a paragon of culture.

    Left by the doorway, Doctor Kingsley met the glances of six pairs of eyes from the corner table. The stoic and stubbled fishermen gave him the once over, then, as before, went back to their huddle.

    Returning to the bar, Vicky called over to the newcomer. "Make yerself at home, Sir, and I'll bring you a pint of our finest, on the house." She beamed a smile, which dropped as quickly as it had formed when she turned and leaned towards Marina.

    "Quick now, before some other bugger interrupts us. Who sent ye here?"

    * * * * *​

    Meanwhile, a cold and trembling Eugene had just reached the top of the stairs, leaving a clear trail of wet footprints behind him. The upper part of the Eagle Arms was cramped, ceilings barely over five foot and walls bulging from poor thatching and plasterwork. It was claustrophobic, to say the least.

    He paused there to gather himself. It was the guilt of sneaking to the kitchen late at night, or reading books under the covers. A sense of shame and quiet panic. He had been feeling it for months now. His mother had, of late, grown stranger, drawn to long and heavy silences. She would sit for hours at a time in the conservatory, staring at the fields - even more so when it rained. Nothing he could say would rouse her. She had stopped cooking him meals; stopped listening to the radio; stopped watering the plants and opening the mail. The night before she vanished he had found her in her rocking chair, alone in the dark of the living room. He had gripped her arms, shaken them, called her name. But there was nothing.

    Wherever his mother's mind had wandered to... it was a darker place than he could ever rouse her from.

    And now this. Now a letter left in the dead of night, written in her hand, telling him that she was going away to Cornwall, to stay in a village on the edge of nowhere.

    It was too much. The one thing in Eugene's life - his only family, his only human reference - was slipping away.

    He had to do something.

    Creeping along the thick red carpets, he ducked past flickering light fittings and baking radiators, coming at last to the heavy oak door of Room 4. And with a final gulp to quell his pounding heart, he knocked on it lightly. "Mum.... it's me. It's Eugene."
  11. View attachment 19300 "The police?" I laughed, acting as if it was a joke. I would have never been caught dead working for the police, but Vicky didn't know that. An expression of seriousness washed over my face,"Miss Oswald, my dear woman, I wouldn't be caught dead working for the police. Plus, what would a London police investigator be doing all the way out here? Plus, last time I checked, London didn't use women for investigators...It is truly a shame." I rambled on.
    My rambling was the truth though, the police investigators were a joke. Due to the circumstances, they had automatically taken my parents for dead. The part that made me cringe the most was the fact that my dear parents could still be alive somewhere out ther[SIZE=3]e, but th[SIZE=3]at idea had quickly been dismissed.
    I struggled to recall the name of the man who had hired me, even though I had just seen it on my case file,"The man was an older gentleman, and I believe his last name was Oswald, like you. I am so sorry, my mind is jumbled."

  12. Again there was that blank look, as if for a moment Vicky Oswald had become unreadable. Then she looked down and mulled the information over, biting at her lip. "Oh... well... Well you best sit down and have a drink, dear - collect your thoughts." She poured from an amber decanter, filling a glass of whiskey for Marina. And as she set it down she rested elbows on the bar and leant beside the investigator.

    "Oswald, eh? Must be one of the family. They do so worry about me, out here on the coast by me self. Since Judith disappeared it's just been me, looking after Dad's old pub. My sister was dear to them, y'know? The whole village and all."

    She rummaged around for a moment, beneath the bar, then blew the dust from a little picture frame. She showed it to Marina, and in it was a black and white photo of Judith Oswald. Like her sister she was blonde haired and sharp-featured, a little softer around the eyes than the barmaid, but strong-boned nonetheless. They could have almost been twins.

    "You must understand, Miss, this ain't like London. We don't have coppers on every street corner. The day Judith disappeared a constable came all the way from Truro City and did what he could before he had to go back. Searched all the village and the surrounding moors, except for that bloody Cargwyn Manor of course, since they always have the gates locked. Most folk round here reckon that Lord Cargywn up there took my sister. The constable thought the same, though he could never prove it. And Judith ain't the first neither. Girls have been vanishing round here for as long as people remember."

    She put the photo away and sighed as the windows rattled louder in the storm wind. She was beginning to drift off subject, as if simply happy to have someone to talk to. "The locals don't come here no more. They think I'm cursed, I bet. Superstitious buggers. All I got for regular customers is them fellas over there." She nodded to the six fishermen who hunched around the corner table. "They ain't from round here, though. Portuguese sailors. Got shipwrecked here during the last big storm. It's gonna be another week till their government can pick em up. So for now they stay here and drink me out of house and home. Can't speak a word of English, none of them." She smiled and waved to one of the sailors as he glanced over.

    "It ain't a bad life, all in all," Vicky finished. "I do miss me little sister. But sometimes you just have to move on, don't you?"
  13. Jorell.jpg After arriving to the desolate village, the trek through Penryn had nearly torn the old man down. Fighting against the thundering rain was a battle, as every joint and old injury in the retired detective agonizingly ached. Those old eyes could barely see past the water droplets smeared across his glasses. He gripped his soaked hat, which felt more a washcloth than hat, and blinked against the darkness ahead. Ravin could make out where the church sat in the east; and that reality of knowing he had farther to go made those old joints ache all the more. Pain throbbed in his torn ligament like the steady beat of a drum. He cursed, caring little when the salty taste of rain hit his lips. Why did the blasted village have to boast such unforgiving weather? How could any old person live here with weather that fervently tormented old bones? And that gave him just one more reason to wish for the return of his youth, as pathetic as that was.

    However, there was something far worse than the achy old joints, and that was lack of tobacco; there was no chance of a cigarette surviving this weather—not that there was much chance of him surviving either.

    Finally, those rickety legs got him through the village and there he stood at the steps of the church. That old gut instinct squeezed in the pit of his stomach. He’d come this far, trudged through all that crap, he was going in. Although the steps weren’t tall, the ascent still tormented his old knees and when he reached the top, he all but collapsed against the door. One arm, his good arm, was bent against the door so he was resting on his forearm. He exhaled not from exhaustion but pain.

    His other arm lifted slow and wearily clutched the knocker, which squeaked with protest several times as it clanked upon the metal plate with a robust clang. It was a church and he didn’t have to wait, so it was time to go in. Jorell yanked those wooden doors open and walked in, loafers clomping as they dragged the wet in with them.
  14. [size=+1]The barmaid is over in a flash, helping me remove my jacket before hanging it next the fireplace. Her accent is not as strong as some of those I have heard around here, unmistakeably local yet still discernible to the outsider's ear. Thank the Lord for small mercies, I think as I wander over to the bar.

    Though I still find myself shivering from the rain outside, the warmth of the inn is already starting to have its welcome effect; I can feel my toes again, for one thing, and some feeling is starting to return to my face. I do, however, note the six pairs of eyes that have fallen upon me since my entrance. Fishermen by the look of them, huddled together in a corner of the inn.

    So some of my presuppositions about this place have come true, at least.

    Moving to the bar, the blonde woman who seems to run this place promises a pint “of our finest, on the house”, but before I can protest she has returned to her conversation with the well-dressed woman I cannot help but suspect is from the same part of the world as me. No matter; I would much rather warm up first before attempting to strike up conversation, it being rather difficult to speak well when one is shivering uncontrollably.

    Not wishing to interrupt further just yet, I pull up a seat at the bar and continue to gaze around the walls of the inn, taking in the paintings, maps and displays. I know a number of people back in London who would find this place highly appealing for a week away from the city, and it does seem that the woman is in sore need of the custom; I do not recall seeing any other pubs or inns on my walk through the village, but with the exception of myself, the lady talking to the barmaid and the sailors this place is empty.

    Even for as small a town as Penryn, this fact strikes me as unusual. There's something afoot here.

    Seated where I am, I cannot help but overhear smatterings of the conversation between the two woman. It is, after all, very quiet in here.

    “...wouldn't be caught dead working for the police... London didn't use women for investigators... his last name was Oswald...”

    “...since Judith disappeared... old pub... this ain't like London... except for that bloody Cargwyn Manor... Girls have been vanishing round here for as long as people remember...”

    I try my best not to be rude and eavesdrop, but words do filter through the sound of the crackling fire and the low murmuring coming from the table in the corner. With a sigh, I reach down to grab my bag and lay it out on the bar counter.

    Might as well check that I have everything before I continue further.[/size]
  15. The church was heavy with neglect. Neglect of furnishings. Neglect of faith. There were no lights on inside. Rain dripped through gaping breaches in the roof. And pews creaked with the passing of woodworm, vermin and spiderwebs. No one had prayed here in a long time - Jorell could tell that much as he crossed the threshold. And what abandonment had not stripped the storm was seeking to erode. The old detective could have sworn it was colder inside the church than out - a fact given testament by the aching in his bones.

    But this was small pain to the jolt that shook his heart as something turned from the altar up ahead. He thought perhaps a rat had disturbed the shadows. But then his eyes adjusted, and saw the outline in the darkness. And there followed terrible moments as he sought to register what was there. Imagination screamed - telling him it was a man with no face, a headless creature, a phantom of the holy ruin. But then reason kicked in. Jorell saw the beekeeper's hat, and the dark veil that hid the man's features.

    And he saw the blade gripped in the man's hand. A fisherman's knife, produced from the pocket of black robes.

    Another second passed. The storm wind seemed to swell, as if all the world was holding its breath.

    Then the knife clattered to the floor and the man leant back upon the altar, lowering his head. There was a sucking sound, like grief caught on trembling lips. "Jorell..." It was an old voice. Strained. Saddened. The voice of his friend. "Why... What are you doing here?"

    Father Marrak turned and hunched across the altar. He was wearing a beekeeper's outfit, like the Medieval monks that once harvested beeswax in these churches. The hat and veil were heavy, and shrouded his face in darkness. And, as he turned his back, frail arms came up to shield his head even further. "Go away, Jorell! I don't want you to see me like this."

    Papers fluttered between the ailses, rambling notes that charted Marrak's descent into madness. And other things too - bandages, old medicine bottles, morphine and herb jars. It truly was the wreckage of a life.

    "Go away!" the priest sobbed again, and fell to his knees by the altar.

    * * * * *​

    With a single, shivering note of horror, Eugene fell back against the hallway wall. Colour left his face. His eyes went catatonic. Like cut puppet-strings his every limb and muscle crumpled at the sight of what lay inside Room 4.

    In twilight the blood was black, like spattered ink, and the torn clothes like pages. The room exhaled a stench of seasalt, gutted fish and mildew. And in a lightning flash the scene was painted: his mother, Martha Hughes, splayed on the bed in her nightdress. The knife was beside her. The window was open. What parts of the mattress not soaked by blood were sodden from the rain. A dozen knife wounds, two dozen, maybe hundreds... a tally of desecration that would burn a permanent horror on the retinas.

    Eugene could not scream. He could not look away.

    And down below, in the pub, the thump was heard through the ceiling. Vicky Oswald glanced up, then went back to chatting with Marina. But the sailors in the corner were not so indifferent. Three of them rose with a scrape of chairs, and proceeded in quick stride past Doctor Kingsley. In seconds they were climbing the stairs, looking left and right as they investigated the noise.
  16. I listened intently to Vicky. When she handed me a picture of her sister, I studied it carefully. I took in every detail. I found that Judith looked a ton like Vicky. Then, I gave the picture back.

    I just then realized the glass of whiskey on the table. I took a sip of it and cringed. It wasn't what I'd call my cup of tea. I continued to force it down my throat, though, for the sake of the poor woman that had s[SIZE=3]erved it for me.

    I [SIZE=3]perked up when I heard [SIZE=3]about the constable. [SIZE=3]I rolled my eyes[SIZE=3], [SIZE=3]he sounded like the normal police officer indeed. [SIZE=3]As soon as Lord C[SIZE=3]argywn was br[SIZE=3]ought up, I knew I [SIZE=3]was going to have to go about triflin[SIZE=3]g in stuff that wasn't my business. I co[SIZE=3]ntinu[SIZE=3]ed listening on, though.

    Just then, I noticed the[SIZE=3] man next to me. I realized that [SIZE=3]it wasn't the [SIZE=3]proper time to continue on the conversation. [/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE]
    [SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3]"Well, now is not the time to delve an[SIZE=3]y deeper[SIZE=3], we can do that later. But[SIZE=3], say, [SIZE=3]do you have a room I could stay in?"[/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE] I tried to sound as casual as possible. I heard a thump above me. I turned to the man beside me, and gave an awkward smile. "Well, that didn't sound good," I muttered, and turned back to face Vicky.

  17. "Oh, probably a roof tile falling through," Vicky said with an upwards glance. "This storm'll wash the whole bloody village away if it keeps up like this. They get worse every season."

    She smiled and nodded at the trio of sailors who had decided to investigate. "Not to worry though. These fellas don't speak a word of English, but they're good for handiwork. ROOF TILE!" she enunciated loudly as they passed. "YOU FIX."

    The last sailor shot her a glare then hurried up the stairs, hands in pockets. And as they vanished Vicky selected another key from the row of cubby holes above the bar.

    "Here y'are, luv. Room 2 - it's the best we have. There's only one other guest, and she keeps herself to herself." She placed it in Marina's hand then patted it gently. "Tell you what, dear. You stay here till the storm blows over, free of charge, then get yourself back home. I'm sorry my family sent you on a wild goose chase, but there's really no need. Judith vanished months ago and I've come to terms with it. God has a plan, you know? Best you leave it alone, and don't get involved with those Cargwyn weirdos."

    She smiled again then moved along the bar, pulling a pint of Stoggs Ale for Doctor Kingsley. "Be right with you, Sir," she told him.
  18. I nodded at Vicky's explanation, and gave her a nod, "Thank you, Miss Oswald. I don't mean to pressure you, but if you change your mind, and want me to try and help, then let me know," I said in my most ladylike manner.

    I was unsure if I wanted to follow the sailors upstairs, so I sat where I was for a minute or two. Finally, I convinced myself that there was nothing to be afraid of. I slowly eased myself up, and grabbed my bags. I had already decided that the first thing I would do when I got upsta[SIZE=3]irs[SIZE=3] was change[SIZE=3] into[SIZE=3] some more comfortable[SIZE=3]. Possibly some trousers? I di[SIZE=3]smissed the idea, as Vicky could possibly [SIZE=3]come up and ask if I wanted to eat.

    I noticed a boy pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway. [SIZE=3]He seemed distressed and I questioned [SIZE=3]weather or not to ask him if he was fine[SIZE=3]. [SIZE=3]With a little more contemplation, I called out, [/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE]
    [SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3]"[SIZE=3]Is e'ry[SIZE=3]thing fine down there?"[/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][SIZE=3][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE][/SIZE]
  19. Jorell.jpg
    The very sight of the church’s poor condition tugged at the old man’s internal alarms, the alarms that warn you when it’s time to run. Wherever, whatever, he had entered could no longer be a church, much less one that his dear friend dwelled in. Whatever this place was more like a glimpse of despair. Jorell had witnessed homes once filled with love turn into a scene where no love could have breathed, a place where no sanctuary could be found; homes and families broken apart from corrupt, greed, murder—those heinous schemes of the wicked that kept him awake at night, in both his prime and old age. That hopeless fear swallowed him then, making him speechless. His jaw went slack and until the voice of his friend breathing beyond the veil broke through the darkness.

    He stepped back, involuntarily, when Father Marrak collapsed in a sob. His body, his intuition, was making his decisions for him. Ravin’s eyes caught sight of the papers drafting across the rickety wooden floor boards. What caught the has-been detective’s eye next was a bottle of morphine. Without thinking to go it slow, he bent down to the bottle, knees creaking under his weight. His lungs and heart may have been in good shape, but not those tired bones. He grunted, straightening his back and squinting at the bottle. ‘What the he—‘

    Rationality returned to Jorell as he turned; his friend was in dire need of help. The events that had taken place here, whatever they were, had torn this once righteous man down. Jorell had seen warning signs like this in his work before he retired. Reason guiding him forward, over powering his fear, led him down the aisle and near the altar.

    Years of smoking and chewing had left Jorell with a gravely, hoarse voice. It broke the beat of the rain, “I’m here to help you, old friend.” He approached with caution, as it was clear Father Marrak was not in his right mind whatsoever. Spooking someone mentally troubled was never a good idea; so slow it was. He pocketed the bottle and then lifted both hands passively calming.
    “Tell me, what’s gone on here?”
  20. Father Marrak moved suddenly, lunging from the altar as Jorell came closer. He kept one arm up to cover his face. There was no need though - the beekeeper mask was enough to drown his features in shadow. With shambling gait he crossed to the nearest pew, and slumped at its far edge where further darkness would hide him. Jorell could hear the breathing of his old friend, mangled, as if the airways were not as they should be.

    "You should not have come... you fool, you should not have come." It was a painful whisper. On the altar he had abandoned, an open Bible sat, its fluttering page overwritten with lunatic scribbles.

    "We are forsaken here, Jorell. All forsaken." The words were muttered quickly, and followed by a piteous cry that echoed in every corner of the freezing church. Jorell could have sworn the storm stuttered at its sound, and the rats went scurrying, the priest's despair too much to stand. By the time ended Marrak was huddled on the pew, trembling.

    And it was long moments before he spoke again. "Remember when I helped you, Jorell - on the case of the Marble Arch Killer... I told you there is nothing more evil than a man who thinks the Lord is on his side. But I was wrong, my friend... I was so very wrong..."

    A trembling hand, skin puckered and distorted, rose to touch the veil of the beekeeper mask. "The men who did this... they have no God..."

    He lifted his shadowed face slightly, to peer beyond Jorell's shoulder, across the ruin of pews and through the stained-glass window where a distant light marked the headland on which Cargwyn Manor stood. "Not long ago this village prospered. The seas were ripe with fish, the mines rich with minerals. Such fortune we had. And then... he came. The Lord's son... Randolph Cargwyn." The name was hissed, like a morsel dripping with bile. "He overthrew his father. He closed the mines... poisoned the waters. The girls of the village went missing, and he heaped despair upon this land."

    A fit of coughing came upon him, and he curled up once more. Liquid, perhaps blood, spattered his cleric robes. "I went to speak with him... to ask him to lift the curse he had wrought... and his men... his servants... they..." The words stalled into sobs and shivers. He seemed as if he would crumple into dust... but then another shriek filled the church.


    * * * * *​

    Marina could hear the sailors inside Room 4 exchanging horrified mutters. Then one came out, his face pale, eyes perplexed. He glanced at the girl then down at Eugene, who still sat slumped in shock before the doorway. Silently, the sailor stooped and lifted the boy to his feet. Eugene was like a china doll, his motions puppet-like and detached. The sailor guided him, slowly, back down the corridor and as they passed Marina the sailor shook his head.

    Then man and boy moved gently down the stairs.

    It was all Marina needed for curiosity to peak. And even if it hadn't, her room lay beyond that doorway. She had no choice but to proceed.

    She found the other two sailors in the room, either side of the bed on which horror made its sculpture. A lamp had been lit. It threw to relief the fresh-red blood and the contours of Martha Hughes's flesh. The colours of skin and gore were equal part, and in the rain spray her nightdress and the bedsheets clung together like a stone shroud. The window was open, flapping back and forth in the wind, and beyond it the rooftops of the village houses were jagged rocks in the night.

    A knife lay on the mattress beside the body. And on the nightstand, now flecked with blood, a map of the village.

    Had Eugene's mother been looking for something? And had something not wanted her to find it?

    * * * * *​

    [size=+1]As a man of the Masonic Orders, I am not unaccustomed to the wide variety of beers our Sceptered Isle has to offer. But I have found, in my travels, that the Celtic Nations are zealous in their pursuit of ales most foul. This 'Stoggs' concoction which the barmaid pours for me is the same colour as the rain puddles outside and headed with a froth not unlike the seething ocean. I wonder, as I hold the glass, if it is not merely tapwater taken from the soil of this accursed place.

    Still, it is a free drink, and I have had nothing but rain in my ears since I left London.

    I am just through my first mouthful when the girl with the London accent departs to her room. An investigator, if my eavesdropping is correct. One so young (and therefore cheap) would not have been hired by any serious benefactor. Perhaps a family member of one of those girls they say has gone missing in these parts. An intriguing development. But how it should concern the deposing of my fellow Mason, Jago Cargwyn, I know not.

    But a few minutes pass before footsteps sound once more on the stairway. I see one of those Portuguese chaps coming back down, both hands on the shoulders of a teenage boy, as if guiding his every step. The young lad seems worse for wear - pale, trembling and staring at the ground as if he can see the interminable abyss beyond it.

    “Oh, my poor boy!” exclaims the barmaid, who rushes quickly from behind the counter and over to the pair. “Whatever's the matter?” She looks to the sailor, getting nothing but a stare, then puts an arm around the boy. “Goodness, you're trembling. Come on, luv, sit down.” She leads him to a table by the window, while the sailor reports to his fellow mariners in that quiet murmur with which they conduct themselves.

    There is blood on the boy's shoes. And I can still hear shuffling footsteps from above and the clapping of an open window.

    There has been tragedy this night.