411 - Curse of the Draugr

Charlotte stands in the presence of crown prince Gunnhvatr Azurblárson, formerly the mystery hero Resister. The two have been granted privacy, although guards are only a shout away.

“To think the Hidden Family was beneath us all the time,” Gunnhvatr says in contemplation. “We should have realized they would be close to home. But your uprooting them has saved my land, and my people.”

“You can aid me in return,” Charlotte says.

“I will try if I can. But it pains me to say I may have something further still to ask you.”

Charlotte inclines her head politely. “However presumptuous it is, crown prince, I would like to think of us as friends. If I go too far, perhaps colleagues or coworkers? However you wish to define our relationship, I assure you that I will aid you however I can.”

“I as well, my friend,” Gunnhvatr agrees with a smile. “Speak, then.”

Charlotte begins recounting her adventures across the multiverse, and the attacks of the Eigendrakes. Servants bring refreshments around the time she reaches the story of the necropolis at the center of a broken Earth, and Charlotte is grateful for a reason to pause her recital of that dark chapter in the story.

She concludes by pitching her idea.

“The Eigendrakes are animated memories. They cannot bear to be forgotten. They’ll destroy anything in their way to find a place to live again. But what could avoid the notice of memory? Resister - the hero nobody knew existed. I wish to use your technology to infiltrate the Eigendrakes’ current nest, to learn more.”

“How strange,” muses the prince. “To grant your request would take you to the very place I wish to ask you about. You see, there’s a remote weapons research station - a trio of islands, high pillars rising out of treacherous waves - called Thridrangaviti. The original technology and research notes are maintained there.”

“Unfortunately it is now under assault. The Hidden Family accumulated great magical might in their time. The lingering levels of arcane power now spill over and awaken pockets of darkness. One such is assaulting the personnel at the research station.”

He gestures about him. “We know something of magic. But it is not our area of expertise. You - and hopefully any allies you’ve accumulated - should be much better equipped. Will you help us?”

Charlotte inclines her head. “It would be an honor and a pleasure to help you, Prince.”

Charlotte and Prince Gunnhvatr find themselves in a common area, outside the royal compound in the capital city.

“I must tell my friends I’ll be away for a time,” Charlotte is explaining. “I feel perhaps a subtle…”

She stops, and turns to look at something that caught her notice. First in her peripheral vision, and now directly in front of her, she sees–

“That’s my coffee shop!”

Sure enough, the exterior of Half and Half has nestled itself among other buildings, just as it did in its home city.

“You have a coffee shop here?” Gunnhvatr asks in surprise. “I would have thought you’d tell me about such a thing. I’d have certainly patronized it.”

“No, no…” Charlotte says uncertainly. She takes a step forward, and another half-step. “It’s… not supposed to be here. I thought it would stay within city limits…”

She approaches, opens the door, and is greeted cordially by Vermillion. Behind her, Gunnhvatr enters and takes in the place’s ambiance in a long look-around.

“This is Iceland,” Charlotte says carefully to the vampire at the counter.

“Perhaps I’ll give you a discount on iced coffee?” he replies with a smirk. “Or should that be espresso heated with the steam of the volcanoes?”

Charlotte is pleased to see a few familiar faces seated at the tables, reading or drinking coffee as customers. She returns her attention to Vermillion. “Business draws me away from the cafe for a time. Pardon me, introductions.”

She gestures between the individuals. “May I present Crown Prince Gunnhvatr Azurblárson. Prince Gunnhvatr, Stanislav Kosygin, though he names himself Vermillion.”

'You are undead," Gunnhvatr says immediately.

“Perceptive, sir,” Vermillion says with a smile. “You could call me a vampire if you wished.”

The prince nods, and turns to Charlotte. “How strange. We suspect that the Thridrangaviti incident involves the undead. I’ve been given a detection device to confirm the presence of such beings.”

He indicates a ring on his finger. Charlotte’s mystic senses discern its power immediately.

“Coincidence?” Charlotte wonders aloud. “Or is the cafe now in Iceland because…?”

She explains the mission to Vermillion. Midway through, one of the familiar faces at the tables - Maury Jones - wheels her way over to listen, and speaks up when Charlotte finishes.

“I don’t think it’s coincidence at all,” Maury says. “I think the cafe is telling you something.”

Charlotte winces at the violation of protocol. “May I present Crown Prince Gunnhvatr Azurblárson,” she repeats. “Princess Gunnhvatr, Miss Maury Jones, independent journalist.”

Gunnhvatr bows politely. Maury grins. “Sorry, I’m too American to wait for introductions.”

She looks between Charlotte and the prince. “Charlotte, it sounded like you wanted to go without us. But this Eigendrakes thing affects all of us. Plus you got three supernatural beings on tap for what sounds like a supernatural problem, not counting yourself. Plus, I’d love to have a chance to-- pardon me–”

She turns her attention fully to the prince. “Listen. Uh, your highness? Your nation attacked ours not too long ago. Well, you’re working on rectifying that, making peace, and I think that’s all commendable. But what would it mean to viewers in America and around the world if someone like me got a real inside look into your tech and your people? Something beyond the New University program, something anyone could tune into for themselves? Up close and personal, you know?”

“I suppose something could be arranged,” Gunnhvatr concedes uncertainly. “You have a point…”

He turns to Charlotte with a mirthful smile. “I suspect your cafe came here to let this young lady make her impassioned pitch to me.”

The three of them laugh. But Charlotte reminds herself of the mission, and grows serious again.

“The matter the prince spoke of is important, and what we will gain is important too.”

Maury nods. “Well, think about this then. Maybe the cafe came here because it knew you’d try going off alone to fix this, and it didn’t want that to happen.”

Charlotte frowns. “You may have a point,” she admits. “Very well. Any comrades who wish to accompany me are welcome.”

The vehicle they ride in is not a helicopter, but serves the same purpose. The bladeless lift system is familiar to Charlotte and the others from the invasion of their city a few years back. The soldiers, likewise, are armed and dressed in a familiar fashion. What’s new is that they are now allies.

That’s part of what worries her.

They were so potent. What could be beyond their ability to cope with?

The flight allows them time for more questions, this time directed at Gunnhvatr’s deputized assistant, Kjárr Nóelsson. Even with the bladeless system and the quietly humming electrical engine, questions and answers must be shouted to be heard over the tumultuous rainstorm outside.

“There are people who cannot leave the research station,” Kjárr shouts, as an opening. “They will be greeting us when we land, and they will take care of you during your stay.”

“Why haven’t they evacuated?” Maury asks.

“There are certain long-lasting experiments being performed. They cannot easily be shut down without causing a calamity,” Kjárr explains. “Experiments in high energy, radioactivity, biosystems, things of that nature.”

“Suppose there is fighting,” Vermillion asks. “What is the risk?”

Kjárr shrugs helplessly. “Perhaps less than the risk of leaving things as they are? I cannot say. Use your best discretion, of course.”

“Is it just the research station under attack?” Charlotte asks.

Kjárr hands over a printed map of the area, laminated to protect it from the elements. “There is a village on the coast. The researchers will fly over for recreation from time to time. We have heard nothing amiss from them. But that may change.”

The craft approaches Thridrangaviti.

The research station is built at the center of three rocky pillars reaching out of the sea. Powerful cables wrap around the rock, and the station hangs between them. Gyroscopic governors at the top of the pillars control tension on the cables, maintaining the stability of the arrangement in the face of pounding waves and gale-force winds. Super-alloyed beams in turn brace the rocks.

The station itself is elevated quite high over the water. The visitors can see a tube leading down into the ocean - an elevator or lift system leading to an underwater complex.

“Why was it built out here?” Maury asks. “Safety?”

Kjárr nods. “Safety and security. Its remote location and inhospitable approach. In extremis, the cables can be cut and the station dropped into the ocean to contain an explosion or radiation spill.”

The craft sets down on a helipad atop one of the three rock pillars. People begin moving about in their seats to get out, but Kjárr holds up a hand to signal patience. “The safety cables first.”

Charlotte and the others watch through the window as safety cables are robotically drawn off their spindles at the edge of the helipad, and pulled toward the flying craft. They anchor to attachment points on the outside. Only after they’re hooked on does Kjárr hand over thick worker’s gloves, and make sure everyone is wearing them.

“The cables will take you to the top of the research station,” the factotum advises over the roar of the wind outside. “Do not let go. Once you are there, the elevator will take you inside automatically.”

The hatch opens. The sound of the wind rises dramatically.

Bodark is the first out. The stocky Russian grips the cables with an iron grip, and hauls himself out. Hand over hand, he begins the clearly laborious process of following the cable across the top of rock, and then across the narrowest of bridges connecting it to the research station.

“A system designed to weed out the cowardly,” Vermillion concludes with a smirk. He turns his attention to Maury. “Madam, do you wish for assistance in crossing?”

Maury grins. Her mecha-chair was too cumbersome to make it here, but she’s been promised a wheelchair inside the research station. “Nah, I’m good. Probably got more arm strength than you do.”

To demonstrate her point, she hauls herself out onto the cables. Sure enough, hand over hand, she’s easily the equal of Bodark’s rate of speed.

Daph follows. She’s carrying the bulk of the team’s stuff in a heavy backpack, and she too negotiates the cables with her super-strength.

Vermillion gestures to Charlotte, indicating he’ll take up the rear.

Charlotte checks her gloves, grasps the cables, and hauls herself out.

The wind is deafening. It tosses her hair every which way, giving the rain ample opportunity to dampen it - and the rest of her. Fortunately she and the others are dressed for the occasion, but it’s still disorienting.

She moves hand over hand, one foot at a time, never letting go of where she was until she’s firmly made forward progress. She can see the outlines of the others ahead of her, lit up by the station’s exterior lights.

Once, the cables twist and buckle as a brief but powerful surge of wind comes through. Everyone grabs hold, hunches down, and rides it out.

She can hear Manny’s voice from the cat carrier slung over her shoulder. “Ahh, a proper squall! 'Tis been a minute, as they say, since I experienced such a glory!”

“I’m relieved that you’re enjoying yourself!” Charlotte calls to the skull.

Charlotte reaches the other side with a short sigh of relief. She turns to see Vermillion not far behind. The group has stopped on a disc whose outer ring is glowing. Once everyone steps inside the glow, it begins descending - this is the elevator.

Only when it’s halfway down does the aircraft lift off the helipad, and disappear into the darkness of the storm.

Below them, the mystery of Thridrangaviti awaits.

1 Like

The lift carries the team down, out of the wind and rain, and into darkness.

“Fáðu henni hjólastól,” says a voice. Another voice grunts.

Out of the darkness, two people emerge. Both are wearing white lab coats. One is pushing a wheelchair.

Maury smiles in appreciation, but waves off the extended arms offering aid. She hauls herself into the chair, orients and adjusts it, then wheels forward off the lift. The others follow.

The lift rises behind them, to close off the portal leading to the outside.

As everyone’s eyes adjust to the darkness, they can see a third figure, standing a distance away.

“Evan Ellason,” says this man, and gestures to his colleagues.

“Kristjana Hreimsdóttir.” This woman is frowning, seemingly annoyed at getting sprayed by the rain outside.

“And Franklin Unnarsson.” This man is also scowling, though not at the team. When he looks at them seems to be the only time he’s willing to smile.

“I’m Charlotte Palmer, also known as Ghost Girl. With me are a team of experts in the supernatural. We’re here to assist with the problems that were reported.”

“‘Supernatural’. Hah,” Kristjana mutters.

“You must forgive her,” Evan says indulgently. “We are scientists here. We look for solutions within a naturalistic framework. This ehh, this recent incursion is simply outside our experience.”

“Does everyone here speak English?” Maury asks curiously.

“Yes. Although we are all busy with our respective tasks.” Even gestures down a hallway, leading away from the lift and toward the center of the station. “If we do not speak to you on something, remember that we have urgent business to attend to.”

“Such as now,” Kristjana mutters, and walks away on her own.

“There are two guest rooms,” Evan explains. “We will situate you there. You can dry out. We will call for a meeting at which time we’ll brief you on what we know. Please refrain from exploring the station until then.”

Charlotte nods. “We will comport ourselves as guests and respect our hosts’ wishes.”

Bodark and Vermillion are shown to one of the two “guest rooms”, and bring Manny’s cat carrier with them.

Daph, Maury, and Charlotte find themselves in the other guest room. Charlotte has seen hotel bathrooms larger than these rooms. At least they have two bunks, a shallow closet for storing clothing, and attached lavatories. The three of them quickly work out a rotation where one can dry herself off while the other two are out of the way.

“There’s some bad vibes here already,” Daph says out of the blue. “That’s even before any ghosts get involved.”

“We must tread carefully,” Charlotte says in a quiet voice. “I’m here for the prince’s help, to be sure, but there is a possibility I helped cause this situation. It would not do to make a snap decision that worsened matters later on.”

Maury starts taking notes. “If you don’t mind, what did you do?”

Charlotte explains her battle with the Hidden Family, beneath the main island.

“I felt overwhelmed. An entire society of hostile occultists. A powerful demon. Friends that needed me. Hostages that I needed to save. A whole civilization on the line. I made a choice, and in the short term, it worked.”

Charlotte looks up at Maury, eyes focused and intense. “Twice in my unlife, the weight of an entire people was on my shoulders. I acted with whatever wisdom and dignity I could muster. But I am not a queen, and don’t wish to be.”

She looks away, and sighs. “Perhaps giving up the mantle of Magus was a selfish act. But even without it, these grand responsibilities still seek me out. I don’t flee from them, but I don’t particularly appreciate them either.”

She forces a smile, and looks at her friends. “We must unravel the mystery here. We must defend these people, but we must understand what we are defending them from, and why it is here.”

There are six researchers in the conference room when Charlotte and her team are called for. There’s a seventh member, on an internal video conference system.

The lead researcher resumes his introductions. “Doctor Evan Ellason. I am the pre-eminent researcher into high-energy physics on the island. Comparing myself to the outside world, you could think of me as a Nobel laureate. That is why I have been chosen to lead this team.”

“Doctor Franklin Unnarsson. He is a fine scholar in the field of quantum physics.”

Franklin nods curtly.

“Next, Kristjana Hreimsdóttir, whom you met. Her field is organic chemistry.”

If anything, the woman’s greeting to the team is even more perfunctory - the merest inclination of the head, and a blink.

Evan gestures to the video screen. “Rakel Rósbergsdóttir. She is our robotics expert, and has automated much of the work we do at Thridrangaviti. She ah, prefers to stay at her station. If you need her, you can call her on the video intercom, or meet her where she works.”

Rakel’s smile seems genuine over the video link, and her half-lidded eyes don’t betray the strong emotions being expressed by the other researchers here. “Góðan daginn,” she drawls. Charlotte understands the phrase to simply be “good day”.

“Aldar Sillason, our geneticist.”

The small, balding man bows his head and smiles broadly. “Welcome, welcome to all of you.”

“Miriam Alvinsdóttir. She studies microbiology and is also responsible for some of the life-support systems in the underwater part of the station.”

“Good day to you,” the lady scientist says. “Evan does not say that I am also a gardener. If you want to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, I grow those too.”

“And finally Steinmann Jarlsson, studying acoustics.”

This man doesn’t meet anyone’s gaze, preferring instead to look at his feet or at the table. “Pleasuretomeetyouall,” he says in a rush.

Charlotte introduces herself and the others by name, one by one. When it comes time for Manny, she hefts the cat carrier onto the table, opens it, and lets the flaming skull reveal himself.

The reaction of the scientists is understated, to say the least. Some peer curiously at the floating figure. Others withdraw from it in either fear or disgust. And Charlotte gauges the reactions, one by one, to learn what she can about each of the scientists.

“A pleasure to meet ye, to be sure,” Manny says loudly. “Ye must forgive me appearance, I am not what you could call a fashionable fellow.”

“Er, quite,” Evan says, regaining his equilibrium. “I should say you have established your bona fides as scholars of the supernatural quite thoroughly with this, er, display. We all understand that expertise in a field must be respected, and therefore should defer to you as to what should be done next.”

Charlotte smiles appreciatively. It’s nice to be treated with respect.

“I should like to understand the reasons we’ve been summoned here. What has happened, how often, when it was last noted, when it might next be expected - anything you can tell us.”

“You’ll want to watch the security footage,” Rakel ventures over the video. “I’ve got tapes. I’ll put them on now.”

Charlotte, her friends, and the scientists watch as grainy, static-filled surveillance footage comes on.

First, a long shot from an external camera. Fog rolls in from over the ocean. As the timestamp swings over to local midnight, the fog intensifies.

Second, what looks like an airlock. Charlotte began her unlife being unfamiliar with the modern world, but she’s learned quickly, and she has seen such things in her travels. Part of the base is underwater - perhaps this airlock is there?

The video stream breaks up several times. First, klaxons briefly light up, then silence themselves. After a brief video glitch, a dark figure is suddenly seen in the airlock chamber. After another glitch, it’s gone.

Next, footage of darkened hallways. Video glitches precede and follow brief sightings of similar figures, always stock-still despite being surrounded by indications of activity such as blinking lights.

“Did you cut this video, or was it always like this?” Maury asks.

Rakel answers. “Something damaged the security system. Much degradation to the tapes. You’re seeing what I was able to splice together from what’s left.”

“A byproduct of the manifestation?” Daph asks curiously to Charlotte. “You’re one of our two resident ghosts. Shit sure looks ghostly to me. How about it?”

Charlotte extracts her cell phone and holds it up for inspection. “I certainly do not interfere with electronics. I will not rule it out, however.”

Evan fills in. “The footage you’re seeing is all from the underwater section. When it first began, we shut down the elevator connecting this part of the base, just in case they were intruders. But some of our experiments - like the nuclear ones - are located in that part of the base. We can’t simply cut it off. The systems require tending to.”

“Ghosts could go through walls,” muses Maury. “They wouldn’t need the lift, right?”

“Unless there’s wards,” Daph counters.

“There are no wards here that I can detect,” Charlotte says firmly.

“Much fear,” Bodark says. He begins to light a cigarette, only for Evan to gesture imperiously at him, then point to a sign on the wall. Although it doesn’t say “no smoking” in English, the icon on the sign is clear enough. The werewolf reluctantly puts away his lighter and pockets the remaining cigarettes.

Charlotte nods. She returns her attention to Evan, the lead scientist. “Our next course of action is clear. Go to where the manifestation occurred. The underwater part of the base. We ask that you re-activate the lift.”

Evan has been listening to the team’s exchanges. He looks to his colleagues, then back to Charlotte. “You clearly know your business. Very well.”

The lift to the underwater section is only big enough for four people. Charlotte, Daph, and Vermillion take the first ride down. They’re joined by Evan.

“Your friend’s wheelchair will find the entire station accessible,” the scientist boasts. “Our Rakel has made strides in automating the facility. Her own robots are wheeled as well.”

“You can’t use those robots to stabilize the experiments here?” Daph asks curiously. “Go back to the mainland and safety?”

“Not according to my colleagues,” Evan admits. “I’ve suggested it a few times. In addition, if the presence of these… things… can affect the security system, it stands to reason they could interfere with the robots as well.”

“Logical,” Daph concedes.

The connecting tube from the surface part of the station to the underwater part is semi-transparent. Charlotte notes the transition from tempest-tossed seas to the relative calm of the ocean depths. She comes more and more to rely on the artificial lights mounted on the lift itself.

The lift comes to a bumpy stop. Once everyone is off, Evan sends it back upwards for the rest of the team. He gestures toward one narrow corridor. “This way.”

The team walks slowly, examining everything around them.

“Something pretty bad came through here,” Daph confirms.

Vermillion speaks up as well. “I smell blood and hunger, and other things.”

They reach the inner door of the airlock they saw in the security footage. Evan explains how to cycle the lock from this side, and the inner door opens. He steps inside.

“The outer door can only be operated from within the airlock or from outside,” he explains. “The red Call button will summon someone on the intercom. Do not operate the other controls. If you are inside the airlock, you may close the inner door using this.” He indicates the controls, but doesn’t operate them. Finally, he steps back out into the hallway.

“For safety, I encourage you to leave one person outside the airlock if another person goes in. That way, you can operate the mechanism manually should something go wrong.”

Charlotte nods. “Quite so.”

Evan smiles in return. “Now, since we are here, I should like to inspect the status of my experiments’ wind-down. As I’m sure was explained, we are shutting systems down, but it takes time.”

As he speaks, the lights flicker.

“That ain’t good,” Daph mutters.

Charlotte smiles. “Doctor Ellason and I can go inspect the experiment. Daph, can you and Vermillion stay here and perhaps inspect the airlock? The others should be down in a moment.”

“Sure,” shrugs Daph.

Maury, Bodark, and Manny are on the lift, just past the waterline, when the lights flicker. The lift lurches to a stop.

After a moment, Rakel’s voice comes over the intercom. “A glitch. Try the system again.”

Maury reaches out for the lift control Evan had showed them. After a moment, the system shudders and resumes its descent.

“Good to go,” she calls over the intercom.

The lift settles at the base of the station. In the dim light of the corridor ahead of them, the trio see a pair of humanoid shadows. They brace, just for a moment, until they recognize the silhouettes as Vermillion and Daph.

“I can’t see one of you on camera,” Rakel says via radio. “The one near the airlock. Only the tall girl.”

“He is vampire,” Bodark says. “Is normal.”

“Innnteresting,” the scientist says. But there’s nothing more over the intercom.

Maury wheels the way, with Manny and his cat carrier in her lap. Bodark follows behind. He pats the pocket with his cigarettes inside, then remembers the injunction about smoking and sighs.

When they reach the airlock, Daph is already inside. “Definite spooky shit went on in here,” she reports.

“Aye,” concurs Manny. “There be a hauntin’ afoot.”

“Can we just camp out down here, and wait for it to re-manifest, and kick some ass?” Maury asks.

“That’s a possibility,” Daph says reluctantly. “It sounded like Charlotte wanted to proceed with more caution.”

Maury looks around “Where is she?”

“Off with that physicist. Evan.”

Evan cycles through an interior airlock of sorts, along with Charlotte.

He pins a radiation detection badge on himself, and extends one to Charlotte as well. “I’m unclear on your metaphysical status,” he says with a light laugh. “But just in case radiation exposure affects you. Should this badge turn dark, you’ve been exposed.”

Inside the nuclear laboratory itself, the air is thick. It has the same distinctive smell Charlotte has learned to recognize from Leo Newman’s work areas. She tries to remember the term–

“Highly ionized oxygen? Ozone?” she guesses aloud.

Evan’s smile lights up. “Yes. A side effect of the research.”

He begins checking readouts and displays on the various panels in the lab. But what he says next surprises Charlotte.

“The video tapes were damaged before the first manifestation.”

She looks at him curiously, wondering if he’ll elaborate. And once he’s done inspecting the systems, he does.

“This room is electromagnetically shielded. A Faraday cage, I think is the English term? We call it something else. But there will be no eavesdropping here.”

“I was privately inspecting the security tapes recently. Much of the footage was damaged.”

“What were you looking for?” Charlotte asks in surprise.

Evan grows serious. “I began to suspect–”

A shudder runs through the entire underwater base.

The two look at each other, and go for the airlock.

Charlotte and Evan emerge into the corridor and rush toward the rest of the group, visible down the corridor. Everyone looks ready for action.

“What happened?” Charlotte demands. Behind her, she can hear Evan breathing heavily.

“The complex - it’s shaking,” Maury reports crisply. “It didn’t feel directional, so it doesn’t seem like anything struck us. More like, hmm, a sea-quake, except the structure isn’t rooted to the sea bed.”

Charlotte suddenly feels the presence of darkness, and looking from face to face can see that everyone except Maury has caught it too.

The lights flicker, and sparks shower down on the group as electrical systems embedded in the walls overload. Everyone ducks and covers their heads reflexively.

Charlotte hears a thud and turns. Evan has fallen to the floor. He’s gasping for air.

Around them, Charlotte can feel a more defined presence. Something spiritual - but alien - is among them. She glances back at Evan.

“They come for him, perhaps,” Vermillion announces immediately. “There is great hunger.”

“Daph–” Charlotte calls, but Daphne Palin is already on it. She scoops up the stricken scientist and races back to the lift, then literally jumps up the length of the tube.

“Maury, with her,” Charlotte commands. “The rest of us will hold them off.”

“Got it.” Maury wheels herself back along the corridor, pausing for the barest of moments to leave behind a remote camera setup.

Shadowy, vaguely humanoid figures begin to appear in the hallway, timed with the flicker of the lights - wherever and whenever there is darkness, they can be glimpsed.

“пиздец,” Vermillion swears. “Strong. Do not let it touch you.”

“These be not ghosts, lass,” Manny reports in a whisper. “This be something else.”

Charlotte hears a guttural, inhuman growl from Bodark. The man is hunched over, and she can feel the power radiating from him. There is something–

She looks away from him, afraid to see more.

Instead, she concentrates on forming a barrier of protection. The spectral sphere of the spell begins to expand - and lurches to a stop, as it comes up against some powerful opposition.

There is a feeling of death here. Charlotte hones in on it - and to her great surprise, it feels concentrated on the radiation badge she wears. She tears it off and stomps on it, grinding the thing to powder. Immediately the omen of death ceases to radiate from it - but the greater power that surrounds them does not abate.

Was it perhaps homing in on the badges for some reason?

Charlotte turns to the camera Maury left behind, staring into it and hoping both girls up above will be watching. “Daph, take the radiation badge off Dr. Evan and throw it down the shaft.”

In a few seconds, she spots a brief reflection of light, and hears a faint, distant clatter. The ghostly presence all around them doesn’t seem to react to it. Instead, it seems more interested in the quartet, now sheltered inside Charlotte’s tiny barrier.

“Not ghosts,” Manny mutters to himself. “Not ghosts. But what be ye…?”

“Whatever it is, it’s fighting me,” Charlotte mutters. There are mysteries here that she lacks time and knowledge to unravel, and for now she’s only able to muster a holding action against the station’s mysterious attackers.

The group are now surrounded by the flickering shades. Charlotte sees some of them break away and head for the lift.

To her surprise, she sees Daph drop from the top of the shaft and land on the lift, sending a brief shudder through the floor. As the specters approach her, she thrusts out a hand, palm forward, and shouts. “No! You are not allowed. Turn back.”

The gesture and the power behind it, Charlotte discerns, are much like her spell of protection - effective within limits, enough to hold back the dark powers here, but only just.

Manny is cogitating. Vermillion seems to understand the things as a hunger. Charlotte needs answers.

“Daph,” she calls urgently. “Can your patron discern their motives?”

Daph smiles wanly. “We discussed boundaries. He won’t give me more without a commitment I ain’t willing to make right now.”

Charlotte lets out a frustrated sigh. “Alright.”

She and the others hear Maury’s voice through the camera rig. “Bad news, gang. Evan - pretty sure he’s dying.”

In a few moments, Charlotte can feel the passage of life above. The moment it happens, the shades disappear, as though they never existed, and the lights snap back to life.

The surviving scientists of Thridrangaviti take charge of the body of Evan Ellason.

The team consult Dr. Miriam Alvinsdóttir about next steps. “I am not qualified to perform an autopsy,” she says. “We will store his body in the samples unit until the next resupply flight visits us. I will inform the central government.”

“He just… ran out of air,” Maury says, still on edge and marked by the experience of watching a man die in front of her. “I’m CPR trained. He could breathe, it just… the oxygen just wasn’t reaching his system somehow. Like, the life was just being… stolen from him.”

“There was something about the radiation badges,” Charlotte says to the microbiologist. “Some aura of death surrounded them during the attack. Perhaps you could investigate…?”

“I’ll see to it,” Miriam says with a nod. “In the meantime, please avoid contact with any of them. Just in case.”

Charlotte nods.

In her pocket sits the badge that Daph threw down the shaft.

Away from the scientists, the team compares notes.

“It fears, but not enough to stop,” Bodark says. “Another need, it dominated.”

“It was a ravenous hunger,” Vermillion repeats, but does not elaborate.

“Something that… that looked like a ghost, but not one,” Manny says, still chewing on whatever he perceived.

Charlotte nods. “The presence was ghostly in nature, enough so that it responded to the proper wards. And yet…”

She thinks.

She wants to talk to Maury about the video surveillance tapes that Evan had mentioned. She wants to talk about the badge. But if Evan was so worried to talk about it that he took Charlotte into a specially enclosed area of the base itself–

–If someone were messing with the surveillance system, they could be using it–

–then it was not safe for her to talk here.

“Kjárr mentioned a village,” she says. “When the storm settles, we should go visit it.”

The team retire to their sleeping areas. The night passes. By morning, so has the storm.

The station has a small selection of inflatable boats, comparable to a Zodiac commonly used in the rest of the world. Franklin, the quantum physicist now in charge of the station, gives the team leave to use it. “We will call if there is another attack,” he says sternly. “We hope you will be prompt in returning in such an event.”

“You have my word,” Charlotte assures him. Just in case, she erects what wards she can before the team departs.

Bodark seems most at home guiding the Zodiac, and Charlotte and the others spend the 11-mile trip across the ocean bundled up against the bitterly cold sea spray and high winds. Even after the storm of yesterday subsided, the weather is miserable. Charlotte can only guess how long it will be before the next storm appears, and is grateful when she sees the outlines of the island ahead of the boat.

Heimaey is the largest island of the Vestmannaeyjabær archipelago, also translatable as the Westman Islands. It plays host to a town called also called Vestmannaeyjabær. Algerian pirates took hundreds of captives in the 17th century. Fifty years ago, the volcano Eldfell destroyed almost half the town in an eruption that lasted half a year. Life is hard for the 3,000 or so people who now live here.

The team pull their inflatable boat up to a dock, and are greeted by a weather-beaten, stooped-over old man shouting in Icelandic at them. Charlotte presents the credentials the crown prince supplied to her team, and the old man bobs his head and tips his cap in sudden politeness. Charlotte gets her paperwork back, and the man departs.

As Daph pulls Maury’s chair out of the boat and begins setting it up, the reporter speaks up. “He wanted to know who was paying.”

“You speak Icelandic?” Charlotte asks in surprise.

“Well I’m not gonna announce it to them,” Maury grins. “Let them talk when they think the loud-mouthed rude American girl can’t understand them. But yeah. Whole island appears with amazing technology outta nowhere? You bet your ass I’m gonna learn everything I can about 'em. I have a YouTube channel to run.”

Daph hefts Maury up into the chair - the journalist will make that much concession, as a rocking boat is a rough thing to get out of - and Charlotte explains her plans. “Bodark and Vermillion, I’d like you both to scout around town. Sniff out any hint of what we fought last night, if it’s there to find. Manny, can you go with them?”

“Aye, lass,” the skull exults - any chance to explore is a blessing.

Charlotte smiles. As the men leave, she produces the badge from her pocket. “Maury, there’s something about this. Can you examine it? Daph, if there is anything evil about it, you and I will stand guard.”

She gestures to the radio in the boat. “If the research station calls us, we may need to fly back.”

“Understood,” Daph says.

The port servicing Vestmannaeyjabær is on the north side of the island, inside a long and narrow bay. Charlotte and Maury find a parking lot, complete with a charging station for the ubiquitous electric vehicles the Icelanders use. It’s got plenty of protection from the weather, and here under a sheltering car port, Maury carefully dissects the badge.

She holds up its contents - bits of electronics, compact and interconnected. “Radio receiver,” she says. “Let’s see… yeah. Set to receive a signal. When it does, this bit here… god dammit, I wish Applehack was here, she’d know this stuff immediately. I’m trying to remember… alright, alright, so when this signal comes through, we trip this gate…”

She looks up at Charlotte. “It’s like a radio dead man’s switch.”

Charlotte smiles gently. “I know only one kind of dead man, my dear.”

Maury winces. “Right. Sorry. Okay, so the idea is, a dead man’s switch, you hold onto it. If you let go, whatever it was gonna activate, activates. The usual thing is like a bomb. The point is that if the cops shoot you, you let go of the switch, bomb goes off, kills the hostages, whatever.”

She gestures at the pile of electronic bits in her palm. “This thing is getting a radio signal. As long as it gets that signal, it’s happy. Soon as it does not get that signal, it arms itself, then goes off.”

Charlotte thinks back to what Evan told her. “The nuclear lab… he said it was… electromagnetically shielded. A Faraday cage.”

“That would block radio, yeah.” Maury frowns. “The rest of the mechanism here looks like it released some kinda gas. There’s a hollow storage chamber here. I’m no chemist. But it seems to me if you wanted to kill a nuclear physicist, you’d build a trap into his safety badges, such that going into the one place that only he would go would release a poison.”

She glances at Charlotte and smiles weakly. “Lucky you’re half ghost or whatever you are, or it’d have killed you too.”

“Oh. The lab contained… Ozone. Would that have any significance?”

Maury shrugs. “Again, not a chemist. But if this stuff had a smell, ozone might mask it. And ozone’s a great disinfectant. If you wanted to hide signs of a poison, you sure could do worse.”

“An autopsy might discover it, yes?” Charlotte presses.

“Yeah, it should.” Maury frowns. “But I think you see it just like I do. Dr. Evan Ellason was killed, and it wasn’t by a ghost. I doubt whoever killed him will let his body get autopsied.”

In life, Emmanuel remembers being many things. He was a street urchin, then a thief when the public’s disgust overcame its charity for children like him. He was a sailor in the Royal Navy during the early days of impressment, then a pirate when his warship was overcome and the pirates preferred breaking the lock on his chains to cutting his throat. He sailed under Captain Quill, and traveled the world, and saw many, many things. While some recorded their experiences in diaries and the like, he could neither read nor write and so committed his most glorious recollections to his own skin, as tattoos.

Now all of that is gone. His ship, his captain, his mates, even his skin. Now he is just Manny the Skull.

Now, he is being lugged around a remote Icelandic island in a cat carrier, listening to a vampire and a werewolf jabber at each other in Russian.

Bodark - the shorter, stocky werewolf - sets the cat carrier down, and Manny stares through the gaps to try and see what’s going on.

He’s unable to make it out, so he settles for asking. “What’s goin’ on, lads?”

“Is almost sunup,” Bodark answers in his typically broken English. “Am burying the vampire so he does not die.”

“Oh ho,” Manny gloats. “So them tales be real. The holy light of the sun destroys ye abominations against God.”

He hears Vermillion - the vampire - mutter something in Russian. It sounds lengthy and unkind.

“He says you are wrong,” Bodark observes. Manny can hear wood splintering, then the furious sound of digging in sand - he’s heard this sound too many times to mistake it for anything else.

Manny still can’t see out of the cat carrier very well. He knows the point of this is so others can’t see in and spot a skinless human skull wreathed in green flame. Such a sight is apparently too much for the delicate sensibilities of folk today. Manny doesn’t understand such squeamishness - he’s seen what they show on this “TikTok” thing. But his confinement leaves him quarrelsome.

“The lass is always at her wit’s end with ye lads. Ye cannot say ye be good folk. Nay, I think ye both are creatures of the night, and the Lord’s judgement be upon ye.”

One of them - Manny isn’t sure just who - kicks the cat carrier from outside.

There’s more Russian. Bodark translates. “He say, big talk for little skull.”

“His English is better than yours,” Manny taunts. “Why isn’t he speaking?”

“Sun already rising, but covered by clouds. He is in pain. He tries to control it. His English, not so good like this.”

Manny leaves off further taunting.

In due course, Bodark lets Manny out of the cat carrier. The skull levitates upward to take in the scene.

There’s a shallow grave dug in the sand and covered over with sand and stones, with the crudest of headstones made of driftwood set up to mark its place.

Manny eyes the sky and the sea. “Tide will come in for him,” the sailing skull estimates after a moment.

“Is okay,” Bodark shrugs. “He cannot drown. Rocks will weigh his body down. And ocean water is not pure enough to hurt him. Human pollution, he says.”

The werewolf rummages in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter, then briefly fights the ocean wind for the right to light up. After a victory, he takes a few long drags and looks at Manny. “Now. What is plan?”

“Plan? Me?” Manny stares through empty eye-sockets and considers the question. “Ye mistake me for a thinkin’ man, lad. I be a humble sailor, not the captain. I explore the world, not run it.”

Bodark just shrugs that off. He draws more on the cigarette, and exhales. The stream of gray smoke is carried away by the salty sea air. “So? Explore. You are on island. You are surrounded by sea. You are in right element, yes?”

Manny had to admit the guy had him ‘over a barrel’, as the newer centuries of sailors would have it. “But the lass commanded that we scout around town. I can hardly go as meself. I’m not presentable!”

His green aura flares up, visually emphasizing the point.

Bodark glances back at the grave of Vermillion. “I see point. For skull, pretty ugly.”

Manny growled, but the werewolf cut him off before it could all come out.

“Neither of us very presentable here. I don’t speak good English. Maybe folk here not speak it at all, eh? So. We go to town. I look for signs in English.”

Manny thinks about his position. He doesn’t want to be cooped up in a cat carrier any longer than necessary. And Bodark’s mention of the island sparks an idea. “Ye do that, lad. As for me… pirates know of many secret places to come ashore, or moor their ships. Maybe there be secrets this island be holdin’. I’ll go aloft and see which o’ them I can shake free with me sharp eyes.”

Bodark thinks about this, and nods. “Okay. We meet back at grave site later.”

Manny takes to the sky.

Flying as he is, he has an excellent view of everything. The dawn is clawing its way through the remaining storm clouds and morning mist that clings persistently to the southern tip of Heimaey Island. The big island seems to be the only one with any kind of population, but there are smaller islands around it. Manny recognizes these by their distinctive stone. He has seen similar stone in his travels, always around active volcanoes.

Curious, he dips down to examine a few of them - not up close, but just enough to see them from all sides.

To his delight, more than a few of them present adequate harborage - nothing really excellent, but enough shelter for a pirate vessel to moor out of sight of the lookout hill on the southern end of Heimaey. Small boats could then haul cargo to and from the big island under cover of darkness, Manny reckons.

Here, too, he sees the piles of rock he’s been told about by Charlotte - the “cairns”. Their purpose was obvious to him the moment he saw them, even without her having to tell him. They were a monument to the presence of mankind in a place of isolation and danger. “Here is safe to travel,” they might say. Or “here, some of our fellows were lost”.

One of the more remote islands has a cairn, perched atop its admittedly modest peak.

Manny descends further. He isn’t sure of this culture or its customs regarding the cairns. But as one explorer to another - or perhaps many others - he feels he owes the monument some respect.

Up close, he studies the arrangement of rocks. There’s nothing special to it that he can discern, except that it is clearly an arrangement. If there are rules for assembling the rocks in a certain way, they don’t suggest themselves to him.

But there are two things that make him depart the island with urgency.

The first is the deep and abiding conviction that something dark sleeps here, the way Vermillion the vampire currently lays interred upon the sand of a beach on Heimaey.

The second is that he can see fresh indentations in the sand near the waterline, each in a perfectly rectangular shape.

Manny knows the sign of cargo being unloaded when he sees it.

He waits impatiently at the grave.

He watches the tide come in, just as predicted.

He watches in shocked surprise as the approaching waters reach for the cat carrier, which has been left here on the beach. Unlike Vermillion’s grave, nothing has been done to weigh it down against the wind or water.

Hurriedly he ducks into it, then exerts psychokinetic power to levitate the thing higher up, and away from the water. And there, feeling for all the world like a crab in its shell, Manny waits out the morning.

He sees Bodark strolling down the beach in the direction of the grave, and leaves the cat carrier to hail him.

The werewolf has obtained a new brand of cigarettes - a different color and smell than before. He seems content to smoke them, responding only with a brief nod in response to Manny’s greeting.

At length the skull tires of the silence.

“Ye breathe in the weed of the New World.”


“'Tis a filthy habit, according to Miss Palmer.”

“She is not here,” Bodark observes dryly.

“Perhaps ye would spare me one, then,” Manny says at last.

Bodark’s face registers what can only be surprised as transcendent surprise, like that of a man who has just caught his wife cheating with their neighbor, except the neighbor is also a shark.

But he pulls out a fresh pack of cigarettes, and presents one.

Manny bites down. At least he still has teeth.

Bodark watches expectantly. At long last, when the cigarette does not ignite from the green flame surrounding Manny, he also obtains his lighter and wordlessly presents it.

Manny lights up, and tries to inhale. Nothing happens. Sure enough, the experience may be lacking while he lacks lungs, But the smell of the thing itself - that he can experience, somehow.

He realizes the werewolf’s confusion, and clarifies. “'Tis not fire as ye know it. 'Tis a spectral flame, the green pharos of the grave, what lured sailors to their doom in times past and in diverse manner.”


In due course, even the cigarette loses its charm and Manny spits it out. “Well did ye find anything in town or did ye not, man?” he practically yells.

“There is fear there,” Bodark says between puffs of smoke.

“Good god, man!” Manny shouts. “We be tryin’ to help the lass with a most significant problem here! Lives be at stake! Worlds be in peril! Can ye not grasp the magnitude of it? Have ye found naught else to speak of?”

Bodark glances back at the grave, then looks down. He plucks the cigarette from his mouth and holds it, letting the smoke curl away into the windy air, but says nothing at first.

What can Manny say or do?

The vampire is the more learned, the more aristocratic of the pair. He’s teased the werewolf plenty. Manny remembers what it felt like, having to bow your head to the officers of the Royal Navy.

Is that what this is?

He lowers his voice and softens his tone. “Lad, I care not how ye speak. I only care that ye speak. Tell me however ye must tell me. I was the lowest of the low until me brethren of ye coast welcomed me. I knew not my letters, even. Cap’n Quill never said aught about me lowly origins. And I’ll say no such thing to ye. Now please.”

Bodark doesn’t look up. He returns his cigarette to his lips and draws in more smoke, then thoughtfully inhales. Only after the wind has drawn away the exhalation does he speak.

“I have some American money. I have some of the króna. The shop - Half & Half - the till has filled itself with this money when it comes to Iceland. I do not understand this magic, but I know the use of it.”

“I think, I do not know the language. I think, their English bad, my English bad, will not end well. I am… embarrassed.”

“I hold up cigarette pack, I hold up money. Woman in shop, she understand. I think, this is good. Money make people more charitable.”

“I ask, Thridrangaviti. I say, boat trip. Tourist. She is afraid. She shakes her head. ‘No boats here for tourist,’ she say. It is lie.”

He glances at Vermillion’s grave site. “I am used to lie. I know it now. Is old friend.”

Another drag of the cigarette, and he continues. “I travel village. I greet people. They are polite. I do not say Thridrangaviti. I want to know, are they afraid. No - well. Yes. Little fear. Same fear as peasant. How will I live next year. Will I lose family. Common fear.”

The werewolf points off in the distance. “I ask about island. People live here 1200 year. They are proud of their life here. Many century ago, slave, Dufþakur, throw himself off southern hill. Lose life, keep freedom. I know this feeling, da.”

“They tell me many lives lost, fifty years ago. Volcano. Eruption, terrible thing. People flee to mainland for awhile. Come back, resume lives.”

He gestures in another direction. “Ancient church since lost. They build replacement.”

Manny takes all of this in. “These people have lived here many a year. Their lives be anchored well upon this island, yes? That is the fear ye speak of? That of long lived but ordinary life?”

Bodark finally turns to look at him, with furrowed brow and narrowed eyes through the haze of cigarette smoke.

“Yes. Ordinary people. Ordinary fear. They do not like the weapons station. But there is one thing other. Very simple.”

“People live here one thousand years. People raise family. People live. People die.”

Bodark gestures around him. “I have walked all over island. Seen much ancient building. There is one thing I do not find.”

“What is that?” Manny asks curiously.

“A cemetery.”

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Charlotte finds Manny and Bodark on the beach, watching the surf roll in.

“Where is Vermillion?” she asks.

Bodark points with a half-smoked cigarette at the distant sand.

“I don’t see him,” she says.

“We buried the lad,” Manny explains.

Charlotte is shocked. “What? Did something happen to him?”

“No, is fine.” Bodark stands up. “He think, weather stay bad, he can be out during the day. He is wrong. So we bury him. Tide take out the headstone I made.”

Charlotte can hear the worry in the man’s voice. His English, while never truly fluent, is suffering, and she’s learned to associate that with times of stress relating to the vampire.

“Anything else we should know?” she asks.

“Find nearest cemetery,” Bodark advises. “May be important.”

Charlotte, Maury, and Daph take the inflatable boat to the mainland. There’s a ferry service, but they don’t want to wait for it.

They ask at Bakki Airport, little more than a pair of runways and hangars for charter aircraft. Most people here don’t speak any English - logically enough, Charlotte thinks, given the island’s reclusive nature until very recently. Maury is able to communicate the group’s interest, and one man with a well-maintained mustache and droopy eyes is able to point to a spot on the local map, hanging on one wall.

Reynisfjara Beach is further down the coast, at least 20 miles. It’s most convenient to resume travel in the boat, and Daph volunteers to fly ahead and scout the route. Charlotte, unfamiliar with the handling of such craft, defers to Maury. The trip ends up taking almost an hour.

The beach itself is just a sand bar. The sand itself is black, rather than the light and creamy color Charlotte is accustomed to from North Carolina. There’s a gap in the sand that lets ocean water in, creating a cove.

Beyond the beach and past the cove are what Charlotte and her friends are looking for, and yet it’s not anything like what they expected.

The cemetery itself looks perfectly ordinary. There are headstones and graves, though curiously they are arranged in an outwardly spiraling shape rather than in the rows and plots Charlotte is accustomed to. What’s significant is the stone circle enclosing the entire cemetery.

There are stone circles around the world, from Australia to Brazil to Syria. England is famous for Stonehenge and many others. But typically those circles have fallen to decay, as their original builders moved on, died out, went underground, or lost interest. Modern occult practice tends to happen out of the public eye. Yet these stones show clear signs of recent maintenance.

Charlotte is in luck. A local ghost haunts this particular cemetery.

As she approaches the boundary formed by the ring of stones, she can see the entity holding up its hands. “Stop - stop,” it commands, in the common tongue of the dead.

“I obey, but wish to understand,” she replies carefully.

“Come through the door, alone,” the spirit commands. “The living may not enter.”

Charlotte explains the situation to Maury and Daph. Maury, just in case, pulls out a camera.

Thus advised, Charlotte enters the circle by walking through one of the arches formed by the standing stones.

“What is this about?” she asks.

“The draugr,” the spirit replies, in a hushed tone that suggests it does not wish to be overheard.

Charlotte has encountered the term in her reading of Resister’s occult tomes. “Vampire-like spirits of evil intent,” she says aloud.

“They haunt this coast,” the spirit explains. “There is a thing which creates them. Something that slumbers in the deep. Something has awakened it. Now it swells its ranks with fresh corpses.”

The reading Charlotte did is coming back to her. “The arches here… they’re doorways. The draugr get… disoriented by passing through doorways?”

“They follow the cairns,” the spirit intones. “If they are disoriented, do not give them a path to follow.”

Charlotte thinks back to the attack on the research station. The presence retreated when Dr. Evan Ellason finally died. It intensified before that… It was trying to reach him, infect him perhaps… and it gave up when he passed beyond its reach…

She thinks. There’s at least one murderer on the station. What if Evan isn’t their only target? What if the team isn’t around to keep the presence away, should another death occur?

If the presence comes in anticipation of death, rather than to cause it, it will have to challenge the wards Charlotte erected before the team left. Those wards are intact - she can feel it. She has time for more investigation. But into what?

The mysterious entity, certainly. Vermillion had said “hunger”. He may know more, but he’s indisposed at present. Charlotte can wait.

How about the murder?

Someone had to have tampered with the radiation badges. But those were kept in the underwater part of the station, where nobody was going because of the ghosts. The mechanism was technological in nature.

What if it wasn’t a person who went down there?

Rakel’s robots, Charlotte thinks to herself.

The team wait out the day on the island, exploring other alternatives. People don’t like the research station, for example. Why not?

Daph spends her time feeling out the town, and reports no particular animus or need for retribution. It is an isolated town that simply remembers its lore well enough not to bury people too near the entity that slumbers here. Perhaps they have experienced something occult and blame the research station’s presence for waking what should not have been awakened?

When prompted by Manny to examine the cairn on the lonely island to the south, Daph shakes her head. “I don’t even need to go there. I can feel the darkness from here.”

“Take a camera with you then,” Maury suggests. “Manny mentioned some kinda cargo markings out there. Let’s get a closer look at that.”

Daph accepts the camera kit, snaps off a jaunty salute, and rises into the air.

Maury watches on her mini-screen, and the others huddle around behind her.

Daph finds the island and its cairn without much difficulty.

“It be on the southwest side, lass,” Manny says aloud.

“She can’t hear us,” Maury explains. “We’ll just have to trust her–”

Daph is already flying in the appropriate direction, and now lands on the soft sand of the beach. After a few minutes, she directs the camera at the spot Manny saw earlier. She walks around the indentations, letting everyone clearly see from all angles.

Maury is the first to notice the increasing static on the connection. She begins trying to compensate for the noise on the signal, and asks a casual question.

“Remember when those things came, and the electrical got all screwed up?”

The implication sinks in. Charlotte frowns, but tries to stay positive. “Daph will sense it and come back.”

Sure enough, the camera shows Daph lifting off from the island only a few seconds later.

Dusk comes. The team exhumes a very drenched Vermillion from the sand. He starts to mutter something unhappy in Russian, and Bodark produces a suitcase of dry clothes he obtained in town before he gets too far into it. The vampire, seemingly unable to say a proper thank-you to his companion’s thoughtful anticipation, instead asks for some privacy in which to change, and this is granted.

Charlotte sparks a fire. Protected from the cold of dusk while it burns, the team reviews what it knows.

“There is some kind of entity that sleeps out by that lone cairn,” Charlotte says. “A spirit in a cemetery on the mainland says that it creates draugr - a sort of vampire-like revenant, malevolent and magically potent.”

“You should be pleased to find family here,” Bodark says mockingly to Vermillion.

“Perhaps I would simply find them less boorish than my current company,” the other man sniffs.

Charlotte musters her patience and presses on. “It is possible the research station did something to get this entity’s attention. It’s also possible that someone else did, by landing on the island.”

“Who was there, anyway?” Daph asks.

Charlotte thinks aloud. “Perhaps visitors from the mainland? People not familiar with local legends?”

“They be pirates,” Manny says with conviction.

“You have pirates on the non-existent brain, little skull,” laughs Bodark.

“No, he’s got a point,” says Maury. She’s looking closely at magnified stills from the video. “The research stations use standard size crates for storing stuff. These marks in the sand are those exact dimensions, same grooves, same everything.”

The others look at her.

She finally shrugs and grins. “Listen. Once you grow up, move out, and get your own place, you suddenly start paying attention to storage options. And I’ve got an eye for details anyway.”

“So, someone is stealing from the research station?” Charlotte asks.

“Or smuggling things out of it,” Maury suggests. “High-tech weapons ‘fall off the truck’ in Halcyon all the time. Some of my best rated videos are exposés on black market weapon pipelines.”

“They’d have to either climb the rocks or dock underwater,” Daph points out. “That station isn’t easy to just sneak onto. My money’s on there being someone on the inside.”

Maury nods. “The same person who messed with the surveillance footage.”

“And the same person who killed Evan Ellason, before he could confide his suspicions,” Charlotte concludes. “It’s time for us to go back to Thridrangaviti.”

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The team has returned to the station.

The upper half of the station, the one suspended between the rocks, has an elevator leading up to the roof, and then to the helipad. The team took the other way in or out, which is a crane system used to lower the inflatable boats to the ocean’s surface.

As they re-enter, they study the system with new eyes. If there are smugglers, how would they get in or out? There seem to be three ways: the helipad, the crane system, and the underwater airlock. Of the three, underwater feels like it would have been easiest to keep secret. Charlotte does not have the extensive knowledge of her more worldly and/or technical teammates from the Menagerie, but this seems like a logical enough conclusion.

Maury is already inspecting some of the crates laying around, taking measurements, and comparing the real things against her video record of the lonely island. Even over her shoulder, Charlotte can see that they match up.

She relays her thoughts to the journalist. “Oh for sure,” Maury grins. “It makes perfect sense.”

“So the smugglers would have a submarine, or a, er, a ‘mini-sub’, I think…?” Charlotte asks, but Maury cuts her off.

“No need. These containers are water-tight and are probably buoyant, depending on what you pack in 'em. Remember, these guys aren’t mass-producing weapons or anything, so it’s probably gonna be rare samples, little vials, light and portable stuff. Just put the crates in the airlock. Nobody will notice. Later, someone buzzes up in one of those dinghies. A diver goes over the side, cycles the airlock from outside, the crates float to the surface, they lash 'em to the boat and go unload 'em at the island. These islanders love their electrical stuff. Remember the airport where we asked directions? No regular airplanes, it was all that bladeless fan hover-shit. Even the boat we took had an electric engine. The noisiest part of the process would be the airlock cycling, and you’d have to be like five feet away to hear that. And on that note, you’d go charter a hover-thingie from that airport, fly around during the weekend, then drop down and pick up the crates while nobody was watching.”

Charlotte smiles. “You are a very creative thinker.”

Maury laughs at this. “I’m a journalist, I know who to interview and how to ask questions. Thank Manny for most of this speculation, I just put it together in a coherent package.”

Charlotte’s smile deepens. “He has always been a voice of wisdom, in his own particular way.”

Franklin Unnarsson has consolidated his position as replacement leader in the team’s absence, and he is the one to make contact with them as they clean up, dry off, and feed themselves.

His voice is full of worry and fear. “What have you found out?”

If there is a murderer here, let us have no more secrets, Charlotte tells herself. Unless they are all murderers, in which case…

“This is for the entire staff to hear,” she says. “Please call a meeting.”

Back in the conference room, everyone is physically present except the roboticist, Rakel Rósbergsdóttir. Charlotte lays out some of the team’s findings. She omits all mention of the smugglers. Instead, the story she suggests is that the entity of the lonely island has been awakened by something - perhaps the station’s presence, perhaps by adventurous travelers, it’s impossible to know - and is now lashing out.

She also knows what killed Dr. Evan Ellason, but says nothing about that. Instead: “We think that there are creatures called draugr who are serving this entity.”

“Rural superstition,” Kristjana mutters in annoyance. Good manners demand that Charlotte ignore the outburst, and she does.

More importantly, this is the moment where she springs her trap. Foul play means that someone will want to dispose of the body before a proper inspection. If she can take care of it, have it turned over to the authorities, she can ensure that doesn’t happen.

“It is possible the entity reanimates corpses. For that reason, the body of Dr. Evan Ellason–”

“Ahh,” Franklin says. “We already arranged for transportation. Bakki Airport was good enough to send over a craft. His remains have already been airlifted off the station.”

Charlotte frowns. She isn’t sure that he’s quite out of the draugr’s clutches, and more mundanely she isn’t sure she trusts where the body is really being sent.

She sets her face in as stoic a fashion as she can manage, and continues in a noncommittal tone. “Very well. I have only two other questions.”

“First, we must somehow either exorcise the entity, or at least lull it back to sleep and seal it away again. Even if this station is being shut down, we must ensure the safety of the village nearby. For that reason, we should like to study your surveillance system in more detail, perhaps to learn more about the entity. Who is in charge of the system?”

Her eyes are halfway turned toward Rakel, staring out from the video screen, when Franklin’s answer again catches her off guard. “Like many things, that is a communal task. Similarly, we are all cross-trained to a certain extent on each other’s specialties. None of us are nuclear physicists, but we can at least see to the safe shut-down of Evan’s nuclear experiments.”

His expression grows more smug. “Documenting safe procedures was my suggestion. This will allow us to proceed as expected, even with his loss.”

For a moment, Charlotte had hope that she could spot the killer. Whoever goes to the nuclear lab and wears a badge will die of the same poison - unless they know to disable the trap. But she remembers Maury’s explanation, and grasped enough of it to realize that the real killer could also have changed the badges out in the day or so the team was absent, then shut off the radio signal that armed the trap.

There’s one other avenue she can pursue. “My compliments on your foresight, Doctor. That answers my other question. Perhaps we can ask Dr. Rakel Rósbergsdóttir to help us with the surveillance system?”

The scientist’s half-lidded eyes turn away from her camera and her face scrunches the slightest little bit, the clear sign of someone who’s been asked to do something distasteful. Nevertheless: “Sure. Come to my lab any time.”

Charlotte gives orders privately. “Manny and Vermillion, please stay in the lower half of the base. Bodark, please stay in the upper half. Daph, can you patrol outside? Maury and I will interview Rakel.”

A chorus of affirmations rises, and the team splits up to perform its duties.

Charlotte finds Rakel’s lab at the end of one corridor.

The physical lab is a mess. The woman at the center of it is dressed sloppily. She sits reclining in her chair, sipping tea from an ornate mug while small wheeled robots move about and conduct their business. Charlotte must move around some, and in a couple cases step over others. Maury, in her chair, seems content to simply plow through the ones that don’t make room for her. If Rakel takes offense at this, she doesn’t show it.

“Surveillance, eh?” the woman asks at last. She looks toward Maury. “Guessing you are the technologist here.”

Maury grins. “Closest thing this team has, anyway. So what can you tell me?”

Rakel looks baffled and bothered, and spreads her hands wide in a shrug. “What do you wish to know?”

Maury’s smile grows predatory, if Charlotte has to put a name to it. The journalist senses a reluctant target, and is now on the hunt. “You’ve got a surveillance system for security, I take it. In case anyone breaks in here - or anyone goes rogue - or an accident happens - you’ve got a record.”


“Which has clearly been tampered with. We all saw it.”


“These systems are made here at home, by Icelandic people, Icelandic science, all that?”


Maury blinks, and gestures for elaboration.

Rakel seems unwilling or unable to make the effort to volunteer information, but when invited to speak she does. “We are definitely ahead of you in mechanics and power systems. You don’t have anything like our laufblað system - the propulsion system for our flying vehicles. But you are ahead of us in computers and optics. Since formalizing relations, we’ve been buying and learning about your computer and video technology.”

Maury grins and gives a brief patriotic thumbs-up. Then her questions resume. “Do you have off-site backups? You know, periodically, someone makes copies of the tapes, takes them to some other storage facility, just in case something happened here?”


Maury leans forward. “So if someone damaged those tapes before the draugr started coming around, those off-site backups would show it.”

Charlotte watches Rakel’s face. She isn’t sure she would have tipped her hand as quickly as Maury, but the woman’s reaction should make the gamble worthwhile.

The half-lidded eyes open only slightly, and a slow smile creeps across the woman’s face. “You think someone here is guilty of crimes,” she says finally.

“Could be,” shrugs Maury. “I like considering all angles.”

Rakel hums to herself. “Well. You came by permission of the crown. You can ask them to follow up on the backups, yes? Confirm your suspicions?”

Maury glances at Charlotte, who nods in understanding, and returns her attention to Rakel. “Yeah, we can do that. Meanwhile, how about your robots? Is that another ‘community responsibility’, or do you run all those? I mean I’d feel possessive of my creations in your place.”

Rakel smiles indulgently. “They’re just tools to me. My field jumped ahead twenty years when we got access to some of your modern computers. It is very interesting now. Of course what we do officially here is work on weapons. But there is so much potential for labor-saving devices. Mobility aids, like you sit in now. What ought we do with all this if we weren’t at war, eh? Take care of our own people, that’s what. But everyone here finds the robots useful, so everyone should use them as they wish. Which is the point of my work.”

The pair have left Rakel’s office and now loiter near the lift to the roof.

“What do you think?” Charlotte whispers.

“I think if she did it, they’re gonna try to off us fast,” Maury concludes, just as quietly. “She’s got the means. She might have a motive - smuggle stuff out to the rest of the country, get it out of military hands. But she just doesn’t feel like she’s hiding anything, you know?”

“I concur,” Charlotte says at last. “I can’t say I won’t consider her a suspect. But I do feel it prudent to continue the search.”

Maury grins suddenly. “Don’t you have some kind of awesome guilt-detecting spell or something? Or truth compulsion? Come on, magic up a solution.”

Charlotte sighs. “The truth is, I’m worried that any overt uses of power will just draw the attention of the entity still further. I encountered an entity in Albania, called a Maw, and I wonder if the thing here might be similar - if not in nature, perhaps in strength.”

Maury chuckles. “Well that’s fair. That’s why I’m not saying to hand this off to mundane authorities as a murder case either. We’d still be here, doing cleanup on this whatever it is.”

Charlotte nods, and looks Maury in the eye. “Beyond that, imagine what it will do to matters if a foreigner comes here and uses strange magic to force peoples’ minds. There are perhaps ways, to be sure, and magic is a versatile tool, but not always the right one.”

She sighs. “I won’t say that I don’t feel pride in myself, and in this team’s abilities. We may call upon the Grail Knights if the entity becomes an evident threat. We may call upon the crown prince and his authority if the murder investigation demands it. And right now, I admit that I’m a bit short of ideas, barring another attack from the entity.”

Maury snaps rigidly to attention, and pounds a fist into her palm. “Of course! The surveillance!”

She wheels her way urgently back to the main conference area and calls up Rakel on the video system.

“Yah?” asks the scientist.

“I want to review all the surveillance footage. All of it,” Maury says urgently.


“Where can I do that?”

Rakel directs her through the process of using the conference room’s video setup to call up the footage. And once the call ends, Maury turns and grins gleefully at Charlotte.

“The thing about cleaning up the evidence is that you have to clean up all of it. So our working theory is that someone is helping smuggle stuff out, and they doctored the tapes to cover that up, right?”

Charlotte is following along, and nods to show it.

“So anyone who was operating robots to carry stuff to the airlock below, or to the lift above, they’d erase themselves from the tape.”


Maury points at the screen. “But would they erase what everyone else is doing? There was only like seven people here. If we look at the tapes and six of them are accounted for during such a time, we know we’re looking for.”

Charlotte frowns. “Won’t that take a long time to establish? Keeping track of everyone’s movements?”

Maury shakes her head. “The footage of the lift, the crane, and the airlock are super boring. Nothing happens. I’ll fast-forward through those moments until I find a discrepancy and note the time stamp, lather rinse repeat. Then I’ll look through the tapes around those times.”

Charlotte’s frown becomes a smile as she grasps the answer. “Wonderful. I’ll leave you to it.”

“Still gonna take hours,” Maury admits. “What are you gonna do in the meantime?”

Charlotte thinks about that, and realizes something.

“I need to talk to Vermillion, and ask him about vampires.”

1 Like

Charlotte finds Manny and Vermillion loitering about in the lower part of the base, seemingly on watch, evidently both bored.

“Manny,” she says. “Pretend Vermillion isn’t here please. I’ll do the same. No offense intended, sir.”

“None taken,” the vampire smirks.

“What be your game, lass?” Manny asks.

Charlotte inclines her head the slightest bit in the direction of a nearby surveillance camera. “Our friend is invisible to cameras,” she explains, facing Manny. “I watched Maury review the tapes earlier. There is sight, but no sound. We can speak freely. If there are any further dark deeds to be done in the station, especially with remotely-operated robots, perhaps it is best that the perpetrators do not know where he is.”

Vermillion chuckles. “Clever, clever.”

“But there’s something else.” Charlotte straightens herself up. Unfortunately she must continue to address Manny for the sake of the masquerade, but her questions are not for him.

“Vermillion, you mentioned a hunger. Several times. I wish to understand more about you - and about what you sensed.”

The man frowns. This seemingly isn’t a question he was prepared for, or wants to grapple with. But he speaks. Charlotte is mindful that he lies - he must lie, if she understands him aright - and prepares herself to try and sift through what he says for truth.

“What is blood, if not proof of life? What are the passions, the virtues, the vices, if not the same? What is life, if not the right to exist? Does not a life when lived, diminish us, particle by particle? Do we feed on the necessities of our nature, or do we sustain ourselves on that which is foreign?”

Charlotte considers this. “The entity, then - it hungers for something it can get from the people here at the station,” she concludes. “Something it already possesses, but is losing through the act of existing, the way mortals need nutrients to replace their tissue.”

Vermillion smiles approvingly.

She goes on. “Something it can only get when they are near death, but not after they die…”

She considers further. She has friends on both sides of the veil. She has experiences with the process. “Regret. Fear. Lost hope, lost potential.”

She resumes talking to Vermillion, but still avoids looking at him. “If we’re attacked again, don’t worry about the attackers. Concentrate on the personnel here at the lab.”

Vermillion nods. “Very well.”

Charlotte is studying, hours later, when the attack comes.

She’s in the conference room. Maury is nearby, intently studying the tapes. Manny is hovering close, watching over her shoulder. Bodark is on the roof, smoking a cigarette in defiance of the stormy weather. Daph is also outside, to escape the monotony and oppressive closeness of the station’s narrow corridors and cramped quarters.

The wards she erected crumble like glass against the hammer blow of the entity’s assault, and she sits bolt upright.

The others around her pick up on her sudden reaction, and immediately grasp what happened.

Daph must have also sensed it, for she’s already descending on the lift and shouting. “Nobody up here! They downstairs maybe?”

“Manny, with me,” Charlotte commands, and heads for the central lift to the underwater portions of the base.

By the time the pair reach the bottom, they can see through the portholes and glimpse shadowy figures, lurking in the ocean water. Some are already cycling their way through the airlock. Unlike before, these figures are distinctly solid.

“I can’t wield a cutlass in me current state,” Manny laments. “But I will hold off these piratical swabs before they be boardin’ us, mark my words.”

“They’re coming in from below!” Charlotte shouts up the lift.

Bodark falls through the lift’s open shaft and lands on the platform, a drop of at least fifty feet. He does little more than grunt at the exertion. “Ms. Palin says she will join shortly.”

The first two of the intruders are through the airlock. Charlotte can see them clearly now. They’re human corpses in wetsuits. Their fingers and fingernails are unnaturally elongated, and the nails honed into razor-sharp talons. Their teeth and jaw, likewise, have been extended. Their eye sockets glow a sickly red-black. Some of them still have holstered pistols or other equipment belted on.

“I dare say we’ve met the smugglers,” Charlotte murmurs.

Outside, Daph has spotted a few furtive figures, clawing their way up the sheer rock walls of the pillars that support the base. She can sense the wrongness of them, and dives to engage.

Her outstretched fists plow into the wetsuit-wearing figure, and she feels the slimy, salty buildup. But more than that, she feels the corruption. It is a contagious wrongness, and as she makes physical contact, it threatens to spread to her. She pushes the figure away instinctively, and it falls into the sea. But what it tainted her with remains, and she concentrates on resisting it.

She looks around for an alternative, and remembers the boat launch. Flying under the upper half of the base and into the launch’s entryway, she takes stock. There’s storage crates aplenty, and – there, a long wooden pole with a metal hook on the end, a simple tool to extend one’s reach when working with cargo and boats. She grabs hold of it and flies back outside.

Where there’s one intruder, there’ll be more. She flies in a quick, tight orbit around the station and the rock pillars. Sure enough, one more of them is crawling up the rock. She levers the animated corpse off the rock face with the pole, and there’s a distant splash as it hits the ocean.

The sensation of corruption in her arms remains, and is growing. Daph frowns. This isn’t good.

“Don’t let them touch you!”

Charlotte hears Daph’s voice come from up above.

That’s concerning, she thinks. What could affect Daphne Palin?

The possibilities of a curse or other supernatural attack come to mind.

Charlotte understands a soul to be, basically, the preserved memories of a living being afloat on the sunless seas of the afterlife. But anchored in a magically animated corpse, it can become a revenant.

Popular fiction depicts vampires and werewolves as being able to infect others with a bite, or through blood transfusion - yet she is working with a vampire and a werewolf now. The topic hasn’t really come up, but she remembers what little they’ve revealed about their origin. Bodark spoke of “the call of the devil”.

Perhaps whatever sleeps under the cairn on the lonely island has selected champions and minions for itself - these revenant draugr - the same way Bodark’s mysterious “Devil” anointed him and Vermillion?

Perhaps they can’t produce more of their kind, because they aren’t in proximity to this “Devil”. But perhaps the entity can, using its existing creations as a conduit?

What should happen if the champion of one entity should meet with another?

“Bodark may be safe to fight them!” Charlotte shouts back.

The moment she says this, she remembers that Daph, too, is patronized by a deity.

Perhaps - she hopes - she fears - that the entities which have animated the dead and empowered the desperate are greater than the gods.

Bodark throws his cigarette off the edge of the research station’s roof. The draugr are coming, and he can see them through the gray drizzle that is the weather of the moment.

He can see their talons and their glowing eyes.

He watches as the foremost revenant rushes him, loping on all fours like a wild animal. He is ready when it leaps.

The Wolf comes, and his body changes. With his own clawed and furred hands, he grasps the creature as it springs, and makes to hurl it off the side of the station. But it is wily, and digs its talons into his flesh to hold on.

But the Wolf is cunning.

Others come, and he turns the lead draugr into an extension of his own body, swinging it like a weapon and smashing into the others.

Through the creature’s talons, he can feel the toxic blood of the revenants’ unknown master trying to seep into his flesh. He gives himself over to the Wolf even more, to hold back the poison.

He smashes the draugr who grips him against the deck, and in the moment where colliding forces make everything uncertain, grabs hold of its forearm and rips away the creature’s grip on him. He holds the arm, and kicks, and pulls, and the arm comes free in his grasp.

The other draugr have regained their footing in the time this took, and now leap at him again.

He howls into the stormy sea air of the Icelandic coast, and bares his fangs.

Charlotte is ready to fight. But the draugr who have come through the airlock seem disoriented, and do not press an attack immediately.

“Doors - doors!” she realizes aloud.

The speech seems to draw the attention of the beings, and they lunge. But she realizes there’s another airlock - the entrance to the nuclear lab.

She runs along the narrow corridor, and the reanimated smugglers’ corpses trail after her.

Daph stumbles into the conference area. Maury glances up, sees her distress, and spins her wheelchair to come to her aid. Daph holds up a hand, indicating for her to stop - and sees that the hand itself is already visibly discolored.

“Choose now,” she hears Palamedes, her patron god, say in her mind. “My power can rescue you. But you must commit yourself, as the werewolf has done.”

“How about you just fix it?” Daph asks aloud. Maury looks confused for a moment, but realizes it’s not her the girl is addressing.

The god’s inner voice is silky smooth. “Let us consider this a bonding experience.”

“You bastard,” she mutters. “You’d put my life on the line just for your fucking vengeance schtick? I thought we were getting along.”

“I am a slave to my nature, as you are to yours,” the god declares coolly.

“Then what makes you any different from that fuckin’ entity out there?” Daph demands. “You just gonna gobble people up forever?”

“Vengeance is my divine right.” Palamedes’ voice is now steel.

“You’re such a hypocritical piece of shit. You know, the people who really deserve vengeance? That thing you’re championing? They need to not deserve what happened to them. People who get what they deserve? That’s called justice. But when either of those - justice or vengeance - is enacted, it ends. I don’t think you’re ever gonna stop. Because you got a taste for feeling superior while hurting people, and now you’re gonna ride it to eternity.”

The god’s voice becomes quiet. “There is vengeance to be had here. Worthy of your high-minded speech.”

Daph feels for what the god wants her to sense, for a moment. “The smugglers,” she says.

“Embrace my power. I will restore things to the status quo once you have seen this matter through.”

She’s suspicious. “I’ll make you regret it if you fuck with me.”

Palamedes’ voice is still calm. But she can feel the conviction of what he says. “Daphne Palin, were I to wrong you in this matter, your vengeance against me would be righteous indeed.”

She hesitates. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

She feels the power surge through her, feels it fight back against the corruption spreading through her. A god of centuries, a god of retribution, has her back. It’s time for her to step up as well.

She clenches her fists, and smiles over at a very confused Maury, who’s picked up at most one side of this conversation. “‘Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.’”

She heads up to the roof.

Doctor Rakel Rósbergsdóttir is in her lab, watching her beloved robots scurry everywhere, when Doctor Aldar Sillason, the geneticist, enters.

“The base is under attack,” Aldar reports tensely. “We should barricade ourselves in our labs.”

Rakel sighs, and turns away to focus on her console. Heaven forbid she actually do any work - that’s what the robots are for.

As she does, Aldar draws a pistol and sights it at her.

The scientist in turn is quite surprised when a pair of fangs bite deep into his neck, and a cold hand with a grip of iron seizes the wrist of his gun arm. The arm jerks up, the pistol fires, and Rakel turns back, startled.

Vermillion is standing behind the scientist, holding him rigid and drinking his blood through the nasty wound in his neck. Not unto death - but Aldar is noticeably paler as he slumps to the floor.

The vampire wipes the blood from his mouth and makes his way over to Rakel. She, in turn, panics and flails around her for a weapon, a means of escape, anything - for she has just seen a glimpse of death.

“Calm yourself,” Vermillion urges her with a smile. “I’m on a diet.”

“I didn’t see you,” the scientist manages, after stumbling with her words.

“I suspect you looked at your cameras, instead of with your eyes.” The vampire shrugs, then kneels to examine his most recent victim. “Interesting. Did you do anything to offend this man?”

“I’m - I’m nobody here,” Rakel says, stumbling to speak even now.

Vermillion tosses her the gun. “Then be somebody.”

He rises, and moves for the door, speaking over his shoulder as he departs. “Oh. His advice was good. Barricade yourself in.”

The draugr are spreading out through the base. They’re still disoriented, but they’re recovering.

Charlotte has cycled her way through the nuclear lab’s airlock. To her gratification, some of the creatures are following her. Unfortunately, others are not.

“Manny – raise the lift,” she orders. “Don’t let them climb to the upper section.”

“Aye aye!” The skull’s green flame brightens, and he darts through the corridors, toward the center where the lift awaits.

Draugr are following her into the lab via its airlock.

Her plan was to lead them on a chase through doors, buying time until the others could be dealt with. But now, Charlotte is realizing that leaving malicious undead in a nuclear research laboratory may not be a good idea.

She blinks through the eternal darkness and emerges on the other side of the lab’s partitions. She hits the controls on the airlock, reversing its cycle and opening the door back to the corridor. Fortunately, the creature inside seems freshly disoriented.

There are others, still in the corridor. Charlotte flees from them.

There are other doors. Will they suffice? She has to try.

As some follow her into the other side rooms of the base, she teleports back to the corridor. Those who followed her lurch about, dazed, while the others resume the chase.

Charlotte knows two things now. One, she can keep them distracted until the others can defeat the draugr elsewhere. Two, that she cannot do this forever.

Daph reaches the roof and immediately quails.

Something out there - something horrifying - something she cannot confront is out there.

“Your ally. The Wolf has him,” Palamedes tells her. “The fear comes from your mortal nature. Come, transcend it with me, for a time.”

She feels more of the god’s divine power, like a painful quicksilver infection, fill her veins. She feels the fire of Heaven wanting to burn itself out through her skin.

Equity emerges out of the lift. There - the Wolf. But it is an ally. It is covered in bloodied fur. Its mouth is open, revealing fangs like the teeth of night. It fills the world, a shadow somehow cast by the full moon. The arms of the kraken - the revenants, the draugr - assault it.

Equity realizes what she must do. There is a need for vengeance here.

She reaches into the fallen corpses, and pulls. The souls of the afflicted come loose, although the entity struggles to hold its grasp on them. It must cling to so many, while Equity seeks only one or two.

She dispatches the stolen souls to Palamedes’ domain with a wave of her hand, and turns her attention to the others.

These creatures are not merely zombies. They have magic, and cunning, and they surround and assault the Wolf like a pack of hyenas. Were they ordinary undead, it would have simply torn them apart. They are able to heal their injuries, restore their lost limbs, and yet–

“Do you need aid, brother?” Equity asks the Wolf, as equals.

“My hunger for blood is not yet sated,” the Wolf growls. “Aid ye the ghost below.”

Equity leaps off the research station, and into the roiling ocean below.

Charlotte cannot be boxed in - but she can be surrounded. Now she is running out of places to safely teleport.

Someone else is coming through the outer airlock - she can see it, down the corridor.

“Daph…?” she asks, as she sees who it is.

It is Equity, and Charlotte can immediately tell that something has changed in her.

The goddess approaches the draugr crowding Charlotte in. She grabs one, slams it against the wall, and then lifts it and breaks its spine over her knee. To the next one she comes, snapping its neck with a single violent twist.

The corpses cannot be disposed of so easily, but the injuries serve to slow them down.

They seek vengeance,” Equity says calmly.

“Against…” Charlotte realizes. “Someone at the station. Dr. Ellason’s killer.”

They are twisted by the entity’s hunger.

Charlotte grasps her comrade’s plan. “Then we must free their spirits from these corpses.”

She knows she can help Equity. The question is how.

The draugr are disoriented by doors. But why doors?

What she has observed in the Icelandic character is that people will be - she isn’t sure of the word - calm, sedate, restrained in casual interactions. But when the door of their soul opens, one can feel the welcoming warmth of the hearth inside.

To these undead, the spiritual and material are indistinguishable. Symbols have as much power as a fence or wall to a mortal. Here in the research station, the public corridors lead to private labs. Now, the boundaries they upheld in life have become barriers to passage in death.

And what is the essence of magic? From the psychopomps of old, who guided spirits to their destinations, to the Hermetic traditions that brought the celestial and terrestrial into alignment, it is to blur the boundaries on human terms.

She conjures, and claims authority over, spaces in in the corridors, in the rooms. It is similar to a ritual meant to consecrate home and hearth, or to officiate at a wedding - which she did, for Leo and Aria Newman. This is shorter, faster, and need not last a human lifetime. It is the illusion of a human social boundary, which need hold only for a moment.

It feels cheap, and disrespectful, and it is. But she must do it, for the sake of the living here in the station, and the dead now in thrall of the entity under the lonely island.

And as the draugr react in confusion to her shifting claims of authority - a kaleidoscope of phantom doors - Equity violently redeems the souls of the smugglers, one corpse at a time.

The battle is won.

Palamedes has returned Daph to her prior state. Now she sleeps off the effect of having god’s blood coursing through her. The souls she has claimed are inaccessible until she wakes - they reside now in Palamedes’ domain.

Charlotte finds Bodark in the conference room, covered in blood and smoking a cigarette.

Maury responds to a questioning glance. “I got something. Manny’s got something. And Vermillion. Things have been busy.”

Charlotte turns to Manny.

“Ye not be likin’ this one, lass,” the skull admits.

The flying skull leads Charlotte to Kristjana Hreimsdóttir’s quarters. The doors are barred, but not to Charlotte.

The scientist is gone. Her animated anger is now nothing but a grinning rictus on a lifeless face.

This time there is no ozone to mask the scent. Charlotte supposes it is the same poison gas that killed Dr. Ellason.

Daph is awake again. The team - including her, Bodark, Vermillion, Manny, Maury, and Charlotte herself - are ready for what must come next.

The five surviving scientists have been invited to the conference room - in person, with no exceptions. Franklin Unnarson, Miriam Alvinsdóttir, and Steinmann Jarlsson join of their own free will. Rakel Rósbergsdóttir protests leaving her lab, but comes anyway. Aldar Sillason, who attempted to shoot Rakel, now sits sullenly under the watchful eye of Vermillion.

“You bit me, you fiend,” the scientist mutters.

The vampire smiles down at his charge. “I may do it again. Your blood was delicious. If you speak again without being spoken to, it becomes certain that I will.”

“Kristjana… she was so beautiful…” Steinmann is muttering to herself. “She didn’t deserve this… now it’s too late… I’ll never be able to…”

“You are overstepping your authority,” Franklin protests. “You are supposed to keep us safe. Now more of these - these - manifestations attack us, and Kristjana has been taken by them–”

“Dr. Kristjana Hreimsdóttir was killed by mortal hands,” Charlotte says firmly. “By the same poison gas that eliminated Dr. Evan Ellason.”

She looks around the room. “Perhaps I am overstepping. Perhaps the crown prince will admonish me. But it is not the supernatural that has killed members of your organization. You have been killing - or attempting to kill - each other. Now I am all that stands between you and vengeful spirits. Your survival rests on your confession of your crimes.”

“You have no proof for these allegations,” Miriam growls.

Charlotte nods at Maury, who produces the disassembled radiation badge for inspection. As the scientists peer at it, she continues. “Dr. Ellason was killed, not by a ghost, but by someone proficient in the science of biology. That includes Dr. Hreimsdóttir, who studied organic chemistry, but it could also include you, Dr. Alvinsdóttir. Your specialty is microbiology. As was pointed out, each of you cross-trained to an extent, but I am also reminded that a murderer will tend to favor the devices he or she is most personally familiar with.”

“As to motive - Dr. Ellason confessed to me that he had suspicions. He mentioned the surveillance system was tampered with before the supernatural manifestations began. Then he was silenced.”

Charlotte walks slowly around the conference room. The eyes of the scientists follow her.

“What was the tampering meant to hide? Your interactions with a group of smugglers, recently turned into the draugr by an unknown entity, who lurks beneath a cairn on an island not far from here. Even in death, they came back to you - not to the island of Heimaey, so much closer to the cairn, with so many more people. They came here because they seek revenge. But for what? And upon whom?”

Maury takes over with an approving nod from the ghost. “I found the footage I was looking for. Not the footage that incriminates anyone specifically, no. What I found is footage that shows almost everyone accounted for, during a time cargo went missing, during a time footage of the airlock wasn’t in the tape because it got erased.”

She turns in her chair to confront Franklin Unnarsson. “You erased footage of the robots moving cargo, and of you operating the robots. You didn’t erase the footage of other people reading, or doing chemistry, or working on stuff where they couldn’t be at a computer. By being the only one whose movements can’t be observed, you stand out the most.”

Franklin stands bolt upright, only to be casually body-checked back into his seat by Bodark. “I do not make such blunders so easily…!” he begins to say, but realizes that anything further will be an admission of some kind.

Charlotte resumes. “Vermillion caught Aldar Sillason with a gun in Rakel Rósbergsdóttir’s room. Aldar, did you think Rakel was onto something you didn’t want her to know? Or were you using the chaos of the attack to pursue a vendetta of your own?”

“I refuse to answer,” Aldar says nervously.

Charlotte smiles, and nods her head in acknowledgement. “Then, ladies and gentlemen, I give you a choice.”

“The first is that you will all come under investigation by the government. We will turn over our evidence and make our testimony. They will in turn examine your financial records. I expect taking a risk this significant was likewise substantially rewarding. One of you can be charged with attempted murder. He may try to lighten his sentence by confessing to conspiracy - which must almost certainly exist.”

She gestures toward Daph.

“The other option is that the souls of the smugglers will be released, to seek their own vengeance. The god Palamedes will give his blessing for their action, of course. They will find who they seek, and they will act.”

“Therefore I leave it to you, the residents of Thridrangaviti, to decide by whom you will be judged.”

“The living… or the dead.”

There is a long silence.

Charlotte already knows who the conspirators are. Franklin is implicated through the security footage tampering. Aldar revealed himself when he tried to kill Rakel, and Charlotte privately praises Vermillion for being subtle enough to be there to forestall it. And by watching who these two look toward, and who they ignore, she can tell that Miriam Alvinsdóttir is the third.

“We will confess,” says Franklin Unnarsson at long last. As predicted, Aldar and Miriam attempt to rise, to protest, but they are restrained by Charlotte’s friends.

Charlotte can also see the reaction on the faces of Rakel and Steinmann.,Although they must have suspected something for much longer, only now do both of them fully appreciate the sins committed by their colleagues.

Franklin speaks, and Maury’s recorder is ready to receive his confession.

“Even before the shutdown order, we know the weapons lab would be decommissioned sooner or later. Aldar - he wanted to enrich himself. He wanted to sell our weapons to foreign powers. Miriam didn’t care - she simply wished to live well, and saw Aldar as a vehicle to achieve her ends. They – they approached me. They knew I hated Evan.”

The man hangs his head in shame.

“I went along with their proposal. I knew that Evan would ignore the signs at first. His pride wouldn’t let him admit that he was missing something so important on his station. But yes - after enough time, even he began to investigate us. Far too late. And I wanted him gone. I tampered with the footage in a way that would force him to uncover our plot - and force Miriam to kill him for me. In the end, I was the more clever man, eh?”

Charlotte turns to Miriam. “And Kristjana? What was her sin against you?”

The woman spits, but her withering glare is nothing against Charlotte’s steel-hard gaze. She too relents, and speaks. “She was always a militant. She wanted to build more weapons. I thought I could implicate her, before it was too late. Kill her, then falsify records - but I ran out of time. And the attack happened.”

She looks at Steinmann, who has gone from wringing his hands to trying to bolt out of his chair in fury, and is likewise put in his place by a strong hand from Charlotte’s team. “I’d have blamed the killing on that lust-filled fool. He couldn’t have her. It was plausible he’d snap, sooner or later.”

“And it was I who killed the smugglers. Our last shipment to them released a poison gas when they opened the cargo crate. Loose ends, you see. They had served their purpose. The tide would have taken their corpses, and we would return to the mainland.”

Charlotte sighs. “You didn’t count on an entity whose hunger eclipsed yours, being awakened by the death you brought to its doorstep. Nor did you account for our presence. Now you will have to live with your choices.”

She address the group as a whole. “We will remain here. We will oversee the survivors - our six to the five scientists - until the crown prince can decide what is to be done.”

She turns next to Daph. “Do you think the entity will act again?”

“We’ve defanged it for the moment, I think,” Daph says. “Death woke it, revenge gave it reason to hunger again, and now the kraken’s tentacles have been severed. The ghosts of the smugglers will find their way to their afterlives, since they’re now free of the entity’s influence. It seemed like the islanders were doing okay all along - or at least they didn’t ask the government for help - and they know the rituals and safety procedures from long experience.”

The girl looks around her, taking in the station and its occupants. “But god damn, this place was a fuckin’ buffet for it. The sooner everything gets wrapped up, the safer I think everyone will be.”

The rest of the experiment shutdown proceeds without incident. The crown prince receives Charlotte’s report and sends a mixed detachment of soldiers and scientists to oversee the matter, leaving a flying craft at the team’s disposal in a hangar at Bakki Airport on the mainland.

Finally, Gunnhvatr himself makes an appearance on the station. He swipes a key card through the lock to a door nobody remembers seeing, and guides Charlotte inside.

“My memory-shielding technology is yours, as promised,” he says with a smile. “In the end, it was a human evil that cursed this station, not the draugr. Greed and envy. It will do my heart well to know that one weapon found here will be used for more benevolent objectives.”

“I will return it to your custody once we are finished,” Charlotte promises.

“You have already earned my trust, Ms. Palmer, and by your discretion you have renewed that trust. Use it in whatever way you see fit.”

Charlotte finds that Half & Half has moved itself to Heimaey, in the small village there. She will not need to make a return trip to the capital.

With a mug of coffee before her, and a sly look on her face, Maury asks Charlotte a question. “Say, what’s up with you and that crown prince? Gunnhvatr?”

“What do you mean, Ms. Jones?” Charlotte asks, rather more sharply than intended.

The journalist shrugs. “Just seemed, y’know, like there’s something there.”

Charlotte lets out another, longer sigh. “I think of him as a friend. We have been colleagues on other matters, and we have an excellent rapport and working relationship.”

There is something, but it’s not what Maury thinks. Charlotte hesitates, but decides that giving it voice is perhaps for the best. She has no reason to hide this.

“He is… something I need in this new century. My upbringing taught me the value of manners, decorum, and protocol. He was raised with these values as well. He is someone with whom I can be, well, the girl I was raised to be. His mere existence does not pressure me to assimilate. In that regard, he is… a comfort.”

Maury smiles, and through her expression Charlotte reads that she does understand. She asks a more serious question. “So with what he hooked you up with - this memory stuff - what’s our next move?”

Charlotte sighs. What came before suddenly seems like such an easy thing, compared to the task ahead.

“We return to Leah’s home world. Although Leah herself has been taken away, there will be other technologists in our multiversal expedition capable of using Resister’s tech. Hopefully it will shield us from the sight of the Eigendrakes. We must free the cities they have taken over - then find ways to fight back against them.”

Charlotte smiles at her friends, but there’s a sadness she must grapple with. “Gods, curses, schemes - at the heart of it all is this simple human drive to assert oneself, isn’t there. Memories that will destroy worlds rather than be forgotten. Greed and hunger that lead to murder and worse. It falls to people like us to stand at the threshold, and safeguard both human lives and the human spirit when they come into conflict.”

Daph and Maury raise their mugs in salute. Manny, Bodark, and Vermillion are not drinking, but they also nod - or levitate - to show their approval.

The gestures give Charlotte some comfort. If she is to stand against such cosmic forces, she does not do so alone.

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That wraps up our murder mystery! Hopefully it went well.

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