Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 4

Word filtered down that a body had been discovered in Port Babbage, floating face-down in the water, and I hastened to the site. All too quickly it became clear that this was the body of Mr. Blindside, the missing archaeologist. Battered and bruised, the body had fallen - or been dropped - from a great height. Clutched in his hand was a hand-lettered scrap of paper, torn from a larger piece, reading "The last ingredient that would bring the homunculi to life was a tear from a virgin. This is where I had gone wrong, and if I had more time, perhaps I could correct this mistake..."

I pondered this for a moment, but could make no sense of the note. Instead, I turned to considering where Mr. Blindside could have been shortly before his death. The port, of course, had no tall buildings nearby; only docks surrounded the Vernian Sea. Nearby were some tall buildings, but none seemed tall enough - or near enough - to the location of the body to have been involved in the gruesome business. Out of thoroughness, I checked each one, but could find no trace that Blindside had been there. High above the port was a moored fuel ship. Again, I scoured the airship but could find no evidence of recent human activity, much less a struggle.

I gazed into the distance. Past the port, past Doctor Obolensky's observatory, past even Tinny Tim stood the great wall that protected New Babbage from the ravages of the sea. The section of the wall visible from where I stood was in Clockhaven. The tides seemed to flow toward me and, more importantly, toward where the body still bobbed gently. I filed that idea away.

I was disturbed from my reverie by two burly men who had arrived to carry Mr. Blindside into a carriage and from there take the body to the morgue where presumably a doctor would examine the corpse carefully. I made my way to the morgue as well. Though I did not learn anything new about the body, there was a curious incident. Shortly after I arrived at the morgue, I was met by a Mr. Slooth Mosswood. [editrix's note: this is absolutely true, and shows what a gullible sap I really am. - RJ] Believing Mr. Mosswood to be on the trail of the killer just as I was, we had an amiable chat for several moments. I thought to lay out my theory regarding where the archaeologist had been killed and asked Mosswood whether he thought the prevailing tides could carry a body from the Clockhaven wall back to the port. He replied that he thought it might, then excused himself. "I must return to my researches on the human brain," he said. A cold feeling passed through me. Before I could react, he was gone.

Visiting the morgue turned out to have one very important consequence for me. Here I need to back up a little. Earlier in my explorations I had sought shelter from the cold and wind by stepping into the absinthe shop across the canal from the coffins of the Malkuth guardians. As I sipped a deliciously intoxicating glass of absinthe, I wandered about the shop, peering at the pictures on the wall, when I noticed a familiar mark on one of the paintings. The picture depicted two young lovers, Helen and Sebastian, and a tiny plaque attached to the painting said the picture was based on the ancient Babbage legend about the pair, as written on the Clockhaven fountain. When I was in Clockhaven, I visited the fountain and found that it was indeed inscribed with words about Helen and Sebastian - the two were (as young lovers often are) separated and Helen still waits for her Sebastian "under two stones between two trees." I was still puzzling over the meaning of this, as New Babbage was woefully short of trees, when I heard an old woman crying out something having to do with "the lovers Helen and Sebastian." Rushing toward the voice, I saw an elderly homeless woman in a tattered dress, stumbling about with a huge pack on her back, no doubt containing all her possessions. This was none other than Margo Steamweaver, Sir Willard's widow, whom I had met during the previous year's adventure! [Or so I inferred. Sometimes it's hard to keep the players straight without a scorecard. - RJ] Knowing that the woman's mental state was fragile, I spoke to her calmly and gently asked what she knew about Helen's grave. Though Margo's response was somewhat cryptic, I understood her to say that the grave site was located in the Palisades, outside the wall, in a meadow where sheep grazed. I thanked her and pressed some cash into her hands, urging her to find a room for the night, even as I knew she would not. I left her chasing a squirrel in the park adjacent to the Town Hall.

Armed with that clue, I found Helen's grave with little difficulty - and with it, an ancient scroll in the same language as I discovered earlier. As I clutched my prize to my chest, I looked up, only to see the robed figure I had observed earlier, again watching me. "Who are you?" I yelled, but he disappeared.

The Translatograph was once again helpful, and revealed much of the history of this foul business. Sebastian Verwood was a young knight of the Malkuth order. He fell in love with a girl named Helen Salador, whose father was a powerful alchemist (and clearly the Salador of the riddle I had solved earlier). Salador pere believed he had discovered the secret of immortality: that within each of us was an essence, our homunculus, and that this, along with a virgin's tears, could be used to create an immortal being. Salador used his daughter's tears to create a creature, only to find that his creation was a raging beast; naturally, as young people in love have not changed across the centuries, Helen had succumbed to her swain's importunations. The creature - clearly our present-day Beast - went on a rampage, killing a number of children before it was cornered, captured, and imprisoned in a sarcophagus for eternity. Helen was killed, but Sebastian was spared to become one of the three guardians of the creature, though one might consider his to be the worse fate.

I now understood the historical context, but was still at a loss as to who was trying to replicate Salador's methods...or why he would have released the Beast from the trap in which it was imprisoned. That would have to wait for another day.

Little did I know that my time was running out...

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