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To Bind a Steam Wraith

To Bind a Steam Wraith

Two days passed before a note arrived from Cass via urchin boy that I was to meet her at the gates to the steam tunnels where I had first inquired after her, and to bring the case.  I made haste to the rendezvous as soon as my work allowed.

She met me at the gates and led me once more into the tunnels, until we arrived at the spot where, she said, we would be meeting her friends.  She asked to see the case, and I offered it to her.  When she opened it and examined the inside, it still emitted an unnatural glow.  I made the above capture.

Two large brutes stalked out from behind machinery, each glowing with coldfire tattoos.  Other steam rats, but perhaps the term “rat” would not be appropriate to describe these men.  I think the term “steam gorilla” may be more accurate.

I calmed myself as best I could, attempting not to show my fear.

“You scientists are a bunch of bloody idiots,” grumbled one of the men in an accent that marked him as a Hildesman from the far north.  I thought of them as superstitious barbarians, in accordance with everything I had read of their people, but superstition ruled the day in this case.

“How you manage to break seal on vessel, I never understand, but it no longer useful.”  He took the vessel from Cass and casually tossed it over his shoulder to a rubbish heap–a pile of discarded lunch remains and newspapers, circled by buzzing garbage faeries that had been drawn to the fetid stench.  I winced when I heard the lid crack completely.  Now it was not even useful to me as a case for my implements.

“We make new vessel then.  Not cheap.”

I must confess I was tempted to haggle on the price, but I did feel responsible for the turn of events, so I offered the remainder of my funds left after recently restocking preservative fluids for my specimen collection.  The freighters have had strange troubles with attacks from beneath the waters, and the cost of my supplies has nearly doubled in the past months.

Despite my generosity, the Hildesman grumbled and he and his companion consulted privately once again.  I attempted to make conversation with Cass, but she only nodded, or made dismissive gestures to my comments.  I gave up and waited in silence, passing the time by watching the patterns the garbage faeries cut in the air.

The silence was broken by the HIldesman bringing his bear paws of hands together in a thundering clap.  “Right! So we identify way of capturing wraith again. First binding no longer work, see.  Keep safely trapped, requires new, stronger binding.  Yes?”

I nodded hesitantly.  I was completely out of my league, you might say.

“And you make pretty pictures I see sometimes, the plates, from light, yes?”

I nodded again, uncertain what my captures had to do with anything.

“Very Good!  Picture work for type of binding we try.  Keep eyes on it all times, spirit never escape.  Old Hildespeople trick.”

I looked to Cass for explanation.  She rolled her eyes and sighed.  She turned to the Hildesman and they spoke his lilting native tongue.  Cass was revealing herself to have hidden talents I would not have expected, but her mastery of the language made sense.  Many Hildesman turned to steam rat work in the City–nearly as many that turned to soldiering or bodyguarding work.  Despite their superstitions, they had an uncanny knack with machineries, especially the old stuff beneath the city.  Some think they are descended from the original Builders, but I find little evidence for that claim in my reading.

“He wants you to make a photonic capture of the wraith,” Cass explained.  “Dorfan  will etch a special plate with runes for you.  Once you put the picture on the plate, it will be locked inside.”

“Inside a photonic capture?” I asked incredulously.  “I hardly believe such a thing to be possible.”

Cass scowled, and I felt properly chastized when she explained that the other man, Dorfan’s older brother, was responsible for binding the spirit previously.  They were the experts on this subject, and due to the vagaries of communication what with shipping lanes disrupted, I could no longer rely on Dr. Welterschmidt to assist me in the matter.

“Something that confuses me,” I said, “is that you said once I put the picture on the plate, it will be locked inside.  Do you mean to say that the act of capturing the scene will not bind the spirit?”

Cass grinned in a very unkind manner.  “That’s exactly right, Doctor.  The wraith will not be bound until the picture is etched into the plate itself.”

I swallowed hard at that.  It takes me hours to properly release the photonic capture from the lens matrix onto a plate, and sometimes, I must repeat the process several times before I succeed.

“Give them a plate,” Cass said.  “The brothers will prepare it for binding.  When you’ve spotted the wraith, take your shot and develop it quickly.  He will sense your intention and he will not let you escape easily.”

The Hildesmen brothers laughed at that.

“You run fast, Doctor Roundbottom,” said Dorfan smiling.   With that ominous statement, we parted ways.

In the intervening days, I have received the plate back, it having been carved with runes of a delicate nature I would not have expected from the Hildesman hands.  I attempted to make a capture of the rune-etched plate, but in my captures, the runes do not appear.  I do not wish to think of why, and looking at them for any length of time greater than a few seconds causes my head to throb most painfully.

I have begun sorting through the clippings I have made from the papers seeking a pattern in the appearances of the wraith.  It’s the only way I can think to locate the spirit and make my photonic capture.  Perhaps you might have some suggestion as to how I could find the wraith about its dark business?  I value your advice as always, dear readers.

Sincerely, Julius T. Roundbottom

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