Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Category: The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 6

After breakfast, I set about my task. The morning routine here at the manor was busy. The Doctor had a tight schedule and would spend the day returning missives in his office, with possible medical case studies taking up other portions of his time. The massive estate didn’t suit such a pragmatic man, but it employed many people from the nearby town.

The rest of the house was set about their jobs, cleaning, cooking, and preparing things for possible guests. While I may not consider myself someone of honor, the entire household treats me as such. Luckily, Mr. Patrik, the butler, has spread word that I’m allowed to investigate and question whomever I determine necessary.

However, I’ve not needed to ask anything. Not yet. Instead, I’m far more focused on the strange energy and boy from last night. I haven’t told the doctor about the incident, seeing as I should find more information before worrying him.

Though I can’t be certain with my memory alone, but that face from last night was the same as the boy I saw in the distance when I first arrived. At least, I believe it is.

Which doesn’t make sense. The face I saw was clearly a young boy, less masculine than a grown man, but not easily mistaken for a grown women.

As much as the events in the household might disorient and scare the inhabitants of the manor, I doubt they’d mistake him for the former lady of the manor. Is he a part of this? Something else? Perhaps the true face of the demon? I still haven’t verified for sure it’s a demon, but despite the contradictions, it is the most likely, and deadly possibility.

To begin, a demon summoning requires an intricate altar. The rooms in the manor are inspected and cleaned nearly every day, and likely would have led to someone discovering the altar. So, my search takes me outside, looking over the outer grounds.

After a quick chat, I acquire a tour of the estate. The grounds keeper foreman was a man named James Abbott. A rather calm and somber sounding man, yet there is an alert and focused aspect to him.

“I’m not sure what you’re expecting to find, Mr. Branner-

“Just call me Branner. I’m trying to find an area where people don’t normally frequent. Somewhere secluded.”

“Well, …Branner, there aren’t any places like that out here. The fields are rolling but visible. The trees are visited by nearly everyone and tended by my men. This place isn’t really ripe for secrecy.”

“So it appears. Thank you for your help.” I turn to leave, but remember something. “Oh, one more thing: I saw a young boy earlier. His hair was a mess, and clothes too ragged to be someone who works here. What can you tell me about him?”

Mr. Abbott sighs, obviously familiar with the lad.

“You must be talking about Con. I don’t know his full name, or even if that’s his real name. He’s some drifter kid, got it in his mind he can do whatever he wants. Been sneaking around the house, stealing what goods he can. We try to catch him, but he always gets away. You ask me, he’s nothing but trouble.”

“So you’re saying he doesn’t live here?” Well, that eliminates one suspect.

“No, he makes his home in some gutter in town. Thanks for telling me you saw him. I’ll have my people on alert.”

“Of course.” I nod my head reassuringly. There was something odd about that boy. I don’t believe Mr. Abbott’s men will catch him. I’ll have to find him myself and sit him down for a nice chat.

I take my leave and continue searching the outer grounds. It is much as the groundskeeper said. Very open and nowhere to hide an altar. But the boy, Con, he is intriguing.

I’d not told the Doctor, for fear of what it would do to him, but if it is a demonic summoning, it can’t be some drifter. For the demon to be brought forth like this, it has to be someone given a degree of authority in the residence. Someone who lives there.

This means he was betrayed. It doesn’t take much, even one of the lowest servants who calls the manor home could be a suspect. With how often people inspect the rooms, it could be a conspiracy. Multiple people hiding the altar. Which would take my search back inside.

As I approach the entrance once again, I feel the talisman shake in my pocket again. After the events of last night, I’ve decided to carry it with me more often. I’d not known of its secondary effect, but it seems to react to a specific kind of demonic energy. It must be very specific, as I’ve not seen this in the years I’ve owned the talisman.

I quickly search my jacket pocket for my lens, and focus my energy. The lens sifts through its filters, settling on a shifting sea of green and purple. It isn’t until I’m inside that I find my trail.

I follow the mist of color leading me through the entry foyer, into the dining room, and through several other parts of the house. I finally reach the kitchen, which is completely awash in the energy, much like when I nearly caught the boy last night.

The lens is useless now, seeing as there isn’t a trail to follow. I replace it in my jacket pocket and try to look for whatever I can. The workers are trying to ignore me and go about their business. A few stop and give me a stink eye before returning to their work.

As I pass a closet I hear a small clink. Could have been a bit of silver settling, but I knew better. I slowly move closer to the closet door, keeping my own movements as quiet as possible. I press my ear to the door and listen. Repressed breathing. I pull back and reach in my pocket, pulling a green gem.

I quietly gesture for the workers to stand back, which gets most near to stop what they’re doing and watch. As my energy flows out and into the stone, it begins to glow.

“Restringo!” I cry out.

The gem glows ceases, as the energy releases from my hand and pierces the door in front of me. It has found the target and ensnared what lies behind the door in a magical seal.

*Thud*

…Well, it didn’t keep it upright, apparently.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 5

I lie wide awake in bed, thinking over everything the doctor told me.

Events began a year after the death of the Lady Maladar, though at the time, the doctor was too distracted to realize it was exactly one year. That feels purposeful. Like it is meant to be linked.

There is no reason it should. An infestation of a spirit like this occurs as soon as the ghost has gained enough energy to manifest. Even in extreme cases, it’s not more than a few months after their funeral.

Again, this doesn’t discount the theory entirely. The rage at being forgotten or at their unfinished work is what tethers the spirit to this world. Perhaps this household did a better job of keeping her in their memory.

But the doctor also told me that one of his workers was killed, fairly early after the start of events. That is beyond odd, it is nigh impossible. The psychic energy required for a spirit to take a life would be tremendous. Months of time from when the books started moving would be needed for the ghost to become that strong.

I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. Still, to set his mind at ease, I placed protections charms in occupied rooms, as well as the servants’ quarters, and then told the doctor we’d need a good night’s sleep to begin in earnest.

And yet, here I am, the inconsistency scratching some corner of my mind. I chose not to tell the doctor I believe it to be a demonic summoning gone awry, as that would have invited more questions to which I have no answers.

As my thoughts fly back and forth, I hear a strange buzzing noise. I quickly sit up, ready for an attack, but still enough to listen.

The buzzing continues. What in the devil is that?

I hop from my bed and search the room, listening closely. On the table across from me, I see it. The talisman. It shakes, vibrating on the hard wood.

I pick up the smooth stone.

“What are you trying to tell me?”

A thought crosses my mind, and I quickly move to my bag, digging for my lens.

The ‘Auk Loori’ is a monocle-esque lens, flanked by feathers. It was enchanted to allow one to temporarily pierce the veil and see through to where the spirit realm crossed with the physical world.

However, it’s a new procurement from eastern Europe, and I’ve yet to determine its full abilities and limitations. At the moment, it presents powerful spirits as wisps of colored light.

I’m rather grateful for this lens, as I’ve yet to learn to see through to the spirit realm without it. While I’ll have to practice at some point, a repeat of that lesson is not one I look forward to.

I hold the lens over my eye and focus my power through it. The room filters through a shifting color palette of greens, pinks, and deep purples. However, no trace of light.

The hallway proves much more fruitful. As I open my door, I see a trail of energy trailing down the hall. The sense I get from the colors and movement are one of joy, like the spirit was happily skipping as it moved.

This doesn’t seem like a dark entity but does feel sentient. Between the talisman’s reaction and the energy I’m seeing, I’ve no idea what to think beyond that though.

I grab a provided robe and slippers and quietly skulk down the hall. Every so often, the trail of energy stops and waits at different places, in front of pictures, by tables, outside certain doors, only for a few moments, before seemingly moving on.

I lower the lens and turn down a hall to continue following my lead when I’m startled. The face of a young boy fades into nothingness, just as I can see down the new corridor. I quickly hold my lens up to my face and find the energy ends where he appeared to be standing.

While running down the hall might awaken some of the manor’s residents, I’ve no time to wait. I find the spot where the boy disappeared and resume my search with the lens. The whole area is awash in the energy, pooling all around me.

A slight click catches my ear, leading me to turn as fast as I can in the direction of the noise. A window that most certainly was not open before was certainly now.

Before I could even think to question it, the energy surrounding me pours out of the opening, disappearing into the night.

I quickly try to close the window, but it’s all gone by the time I’m successful.

There is a moment as I try to guess my own next move. I could rush down stairs, and try to catch up to the spirit? It’d be long gone by the time I touched the bottom of the staircase though.

Perhaps there’s more clues in the places it stopped along the way? I saw nothing of interest on my first pass through, but the cleaners might have more insight as to what’s been moved or missing.

All told, I this did wonders for my insomnia. I quietly walk back to my room, falling asleep as quickly as my body falls into my bed.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 4

The tea was delicious. I would expect no less from such a prestigious family. Across from me, Robert Maladar’s gaze drops the temperature in the room, the fireplace roaring not even enough to warm me. While I’d like some more nice hot tea, I feel it best I not push the hospitality of my host. How much longer until-

“Mr. Branner, I’m sure you’re aware of the general ills plaguing this house; furniture moving without a seen hand, voices that come from nowhere, blood emerging from the walls. This phenomena has been afflicting my home for some time.”

He stands, and walks around the room as he speaks. A servant moves quickly, taking his cup. The precision is truly spectacular.

“I called in various specialists to deal with it, but I was told the same thing each time. A spirit had taken hold and was too powerful to remove. Those… parlour magicians, false psychics and swindlers treated the symptoms without curing the disease. And my estate has been devastated.”

I remain seated but follow him with my eyes around the room. As he picks up a small statue from the mantle, I feel my pocket move. My hand immediately moves to hold whatever is in there.

“In light of some of the more recent and gruesome events, I asked my staff to leave. Return to their homes. I would have even paid them. Some took the offer. Many didn’t, and for that I’ve been appreciative. Unfortunately, that’s many more lives put in danger because of me and I won’t have it!”

His voice raises in anger, shaking the statue in trembling hands. In turn the vibration in my pocket increases and I finally feel what has been causing it. I forgot about the talisman. But why would it react now?

“If it costs me everything, I will protect those in my home from this monster! I refuse to let it win!”

The doctor cuts himself off, taking a deep breath. I didn’t think he had such anger. Had he not regained control just now, it’s likely he’d have destroyed that statue. As he calmed himself, the vibration in my pocket ceased. Could it have been reacting to him?

He takes a deep, but smaller breath before continuing.

“It wasn’t until two things happened that I found hope. First, I started investigating these supernatural occurrences myself. By luck, I stumbled upon a paper written on ‘ecto-based infestations.’”

“How strange,” I respond. “I had submitted that paper to the college years ago. I never expected it to be republished elsewhere.”

The doctor nods.

“My man Mr. Patrik had brought me dozens of books, anything that might have information. It was pure luck that we found your research on a deceased spirit, unable to move on.”

“However, it was not luck that identified the spirit, was it?”

My words, spoken out of turn earn me a glare. I must do better to silence my thoughts.

“No. It was not luck,” the look in his eyes softened. “It is that of Lady Lafayette Maladar.”

I expected a powerful emotion from him when I brought up his dead wife. However, I assumed it would be anger at me.

He loved her so much, the mere mention of her presence is enough to drive him to such sorrow.

Or is it perhaps due to my solution for such a haunting?

Eradication.

“Dr. Maladar, despite what you’ve seen and read, this does not appear to be a normal haunting.”

There’s a glimmer of emotion in his face. It was only there for an instant, but it was there. This is why outsiders shouldn’t gain an interest in this part of the world. I wish that paper could be retracted from every book. This man read but a portion of my research, early research at that, and came to his own conclusions. He prepared himself for the second and final death of his wife, only for the possibility of hope. Hope that may still be false.

“While the events perpetrating this place have shown similarities to a haunting, many other clues point to something else.”

I stand, attempting to assert my authority on the matter.

“Yes, ghosts can move furniture, and inadvertently taunt the living. However, they do not summon demon spirits. Most importantly, they do not cause damage to the foundation of the residence they occupy. The earth’s energy is what allows them to remain here.”

“I-I didn’t know what… I don’t think… I assumed.” The doctor flabbergasts.

He takes an uneasy step back, a servant pulling a chair around behind him. He plops right down on the seat, never considering it wasn’t there.

The people he hires are unbelievably loyal. For one who puts up the façade of intimidation, it’s amazing how much they love and respect him. I’ve seen glimpses of it, but he must be a truly different man behind closed doors.

Though that begs the question. If this is what I suspect it to be… who would wish something so horrible upon this man?

“You’re a physician, so you must understand how I feel. Please just describe the symptoms, and I will diagnose the cause.” I give a weak smile, one that is not returned.

He is still coming to terms with the idea that this might not be the spirit of his wife. Whether that is a completely reassuring thought to him, I can’t say.

“I need you to tell me everything that has happened,” I plead. “Even the smallest detail that seems out of place. And I will request unlimited access to the grounds and personnel. There are many things this might be, but there is a chance this is…”

I reconsider.

“…something strong. Something taking a deep hold.”

He looked up, eyes not even trying to hide his true feelings. He is distraught. He is scared. And he is hopeful.

“Of course.”

He gestures and the servant leaves the room, presumably to notify whomever is in charge of my permissions.

“Thank you, doctor,” I graciously say. As I cross back to my chair, I detour to the statue on the mantle. Even this close, the talisman doesn’t move. Was it truly him then?

I take my seat, relax my arms on the rests and give the doctor my undivided attention.

“Now please tell me, where did this all begin?”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 3

The living quarters provided to me are rather generous. A very spacious room, modestly decorated in contrast to the design of the public areas of the manor. I suppose I arrived before the servants could bring my bags. The light show I performed downstairs likely slowed them down, and based on the words of Doctor Maladar, they might not have thought I would be staying long.

I set my bag on the table and lay my cane across it. I take off my coat and hang it on a chair. While I didn’t use much energy destroying the spirits downstairs, it’s best I’m completely prepared for whatever comes my way. A quick meditation and I should be ready to continue. I sit cross-legged on the ground, focusing one restoring my energy. As I do, I try to piece together the situation here.

It’s odd. I’m not aware of a haunting that involved the summoning of demonic spirits. The destruction of the foundation by carving words into the ground is also unlike a ghost. It would be more in line with a full demon, and based on the depth and groove, a high caliber one at that. However the telegraph didn’t mention anyone being injured. Had a demon been summoned, there would have been a massacre.

The report did mention a spectral figure, which lines right up with a ghost. Perhaps this one is different. Stronger. Perhaps this is something new entirely.

“There we go!” I hop up to my feet and stretch. I should be back to full strength.

I turn and notice figures by my door.

“Oh! We’re so sorry, Master Branner! We should have knocked!” Two young maids stood just outside my room, bowing as they apologized. They’re nearly tripping over each other.

“We didn’t realize you were in here already.”

“No worries, young ladies. It is all right. You may come in.”

“Thank you, Master Branner.” After the event downstairs, I’m sure they’re just curious about my abilities.

“Now, what can I do for you?” I ask politely.

“Well, since you’re here sir, we were wondering-“

“About my abilities? Why it’s very simple.” I lean against a nearby table as I speak.

“Through academic research and anthropological journeys, I ascertain the methods people have used over the years to defend themselves against supernatural creatures. In many cases, I find relics used for such purpose.”

I pull the talisman from my bag on the table next to me, holding it up for the young ladies to see.

“Specifically, the talisman I used downstairs was created by the shenwu, Chinese wizards, and used to ward off demons. By focusing spirit energy through it, they found the stone produced a ray of light that heavily damaged demonic creatures. I personally studied it and found the beam could be adjusted for various offenses or even defensive action.”

The young ladies are silent after my explanation. My prowess surely stunned them into silence.

“Um, sir? We were just wondering where you wanted your luggage?”

She motions for two burly servants to bring in my bags.

I straighten up and clear my throat.

“Right. Uh, just put them anywhere. Possibly by the bed. I-uh, I must be going.”

I grab my coat and cane, putting the talisman in my pocket and quickly leave the room.

The second story hall twisted turned like a labyrinth. So many rooms in this manor, how would one keep it straight in their head? I try to remember the directions the doctor gave me to his personal study, but near get lost.

Once I’m close to where I would think he tried to guide me, I just start opening doors and peering inside. I couldn’t imagine what a man could even use all these rooms for.

“Mister Branner. Please do come in.” The doctor beckons from behind his desk. I suppose this is the right room.

“Oh of course. Took me a little to find you. And please, just call me Branner.”

He is in the middle of writing some missive or perhaps his own notes? I wouldn’t take him for the journaling type, but to be fair he is difficult to predict. Another servant, a rather stocky looking fellow, stands at the ready by his desk, patient for any commands.

“Take a seat.” I’m sure he didn’t mean it as an order, but his presence doesn’t leave much room for argument. I sit.

“Would you like some tea?” he offers.

“That would be lovely, thank you,” I reply.

The doctor waves at his servant who quickly exits the room, presumably to fetch the tea. 

I may have presented myself as an expert in supernatural phenomena, which I most assuredly am, but this is the first time I’ve taken a case with so much time to prepare. My normal affairs are much more sudden. In the moment, it is easy to take charge and have people explain what is going on, but here? It requires discussion. It requires tact. And I’ve never been quite good at either.

Across from me, the doctor has stopped writing and stares with his piercing gaze. It feels as if he sees right through me, deep into my person. Could he?

“Mister Branner, how many incidents involving ghosts have you… settled?”

Oh lord. I don’t think I’ve ever had to count before.

“Several, at least. Though very rarely are two the same.”

His stare seems to intensify, though his face doesn’t change.

“Quite.”

He takes the papers he was working on and stacks them up, placing them in a drawer.

“What do you make of the ghost that is here?”

That is a tricky question to answer, if I can.

“I’m unsure. I need more information before I can draw any conclusions.”

I completely expect to feel that cool anger from him I’ve come to expect, but instead, there is a knock at the door. The servant has returned.

Never in my life have I been so excited for tea.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 2

“I apologize for the mess, Mr. Branner,” the doctor said.

I can’t respond. This is insane! I need to calm down. Somehow, Doctor Maladar is completely unresponsive to this madness, as if… as if this has been happening for a long time.

“Is there something wrong? You do know how to handle something like this don’t you?”

His voice is cool, as unemotive as when he greeted me outside. He slowly paces around the hall as he speaks.

“I would hate to think I wasted the funds to bring you here. You declared yourself the expert. So please, enlighten me.”

I take a deep breath. I’ve dealt with worse.

He’s testing you, I realize.

He purposefully put on the fancy display outside, had us walk in without any explanation, and has been suffering from this haunting for an extended period of time. He wants to see if I really can help him.

“Of course. Excuse me but a moment, I need to verify what is happening here.”

I step aside, walking up to one of the walls. The servants were cleaning what they could, but there seemed to be an unending flow of blood. I take a handkerchief from my pocket and wipe some away. Underneath is another layer, only darker, drier, and crusted.

“Doctor,” I call, “This blood has been here for some time, hasn’t it? I’d estimate a few days at least.”

Robert seemed taken aback, for only a moment. He quickly regains his composure and replies.

“About three days, to be a little more specific. No matter how much the maids clean, more and more comes back. It is as if the walls themselves bleed.”

“Yes…” I say to no one in particular. I’m too busy calculating how much strength I’ll need. They should be fairly weak.

“This won’t take long,” my mind back in the moment.

Back in the center of the hall, I set my bag down, rifling through it for a small octagonal talisman and a piece of chalk. There aren’t many places clear enough, so I can only hope not being in the precise center of the beasts doesn’t leave any alive.

I find a bit of floor space the size I need with no blood and set to work. I use the chalk to draw an octagon on the floor, comparing to the disc in my hand to ensure a congruent shape. My work complete, I stand in the center of the drawing, hold the talisman in my hand and focus.

Energy pours from my being into the talisman. From there it pushes out, stopping where I drew the chalk shape. At this moment, something material happens. A brightness illuminates the room, as the white octagon on the ground becomes engulfed in light. The crew around me stop scrubbing and quickly move to one side of the hall.

The power increases my senses and I can feel them. I feel their squirming on the walls, their mindless intent just creating more and more of this blood. But I could also feel their strength, and knew not even the one furthest away would survive.

“The darkness prevails.

But exposed to the light

Falls before the veil

And bends to its might!”

My chant rings out with the pulsating energy flowing from the talisman. The octagonal ring flashes brighter than the daylight, blinding us all.

As the maids and the doctor rub their eyes to regain their sight, you hear it. The splash and splosh of the creatures as they fall to the floor. Nasty buggers.

My own vision comes into focus and they are as I expected. They appear like giant red maggots, and just looking at them makes you feel wrong. The surprised look on the everyone’s eyes tell me it’s time to explain.

“They’re the servants of Dämon des Blutes.”

I cross over to one and hold it up to better illustrate. The maids all recoil in horror at the closer look.

“They produce blood in almost unlimited quantities. They’re very low spirits, unable to be seen or touched by mortals while alive. It was understandable you would think the blood came from the walls themselves.”

“Astounding…” Dr. Maladar was looking intently at the newly visible creatures. “And what was that light?”

“This small stone talisman I have here has been blessed to attack demons.” I pull it from my pocket, holding it up for all to see.

“I’ve found that by adjusting its focus with the chalk, I can destroy weaker beasts all at once.”

I toss the maggot onto the ground, hitting with a gross thud.

“Their bodies should fade back into the spirit realm soon enough, but in the meantime, you may want to remove them from the premises.”

The doctor looks around the hall, realizing the kind of work this will take. He straightens up and turns to one of the maids. She must have been in charge. He gives her a very pointed look, and the young lady immediately begins organizing the rest of the staff there to get these creatures out of the house. One of them is sent off to get the groundskeeper and his tools to make the work easier. His people are very impressive.

“You’ve inspired some hope in me, Mr. Branner,” the doctor says as he strides past me. He exits through the door on the other end of the hall.

I rush back to my bag, replacing the talisman and chalk inside, then hurry to follow Maladar. As I finally enter the house proper, the scale of this estate finally hits me. The grandiose architecture and massive size has me wondering if the doctor inherited this place, or had it designed himself. It felt very off for the reserved quiet man employing me.

“One of my servants will take you to your room. When you are prepared, we can discuss the incidents affecting my home.” He gestures to another young woman to take me up the stairs.

Oh, Branner. What have you gotten yourself into?

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 1

“Ticket?”

I stare blankly at the man, my mind slowly processing his request.

“Right! I’m so sorry of course!” I rustle through my bag searching for the long slip of paper. That was foolish. It wasn’t like he was speaking a foreign language.

I find the ticket and present it to the ticket taker. The tall, rather rotund man is smiling politely as he waits. However, there’s something off-putting about his demeanor. He takes my ticket and punches it, handing it back to me. As he walks to the next compartment, a shiver crawls up my spine, nagging the back of my mind.

That smile if the essence of nightmares…

With the distraction gone, I return to my papers. I am on a train to my next case. Well, my first real case, I suppose. It looks to be interesting, if simple.

I was engrossed in my research before the train employee had disrupted my reading. We had received word of an ecto-based infestation. A ghost threatened the estate of one Doctor Robert Maladar. I’m unsure of the extent of the hold the spirit has on the manor, as the telegraphed messages were kept short, but I can guess based on the history of the family.

The lady of the house, Madam Maladar passed away from illness a few years ago. However, if she were the cause, it would mean that household has been dealing with this ghost for a very long time. Far longer than they should. While ghosts are among the most benign creatures to plague mankind, having it there for so long would mean it has gained much strength.

I remove my glasses and rub my forehead. Am I overthinking this? Am I not thinking hard enough? Doctor Maladar is unbelievably wealthy. His medical practice aside, he was the heir to a vast family fortune. More recently, he invested early in the very railroad upon which I travel. This took him from being merely incredibly rich to… well… something past incredbily rich. If I can solve this case for him, it would mean my business might finally see something resembling a profit.

The stack of disorganized papers poking every which way from my bag seems to be taunting me. I do wish Ms. Francis had taken the time to at least align the research before shoving me out the door. That cursed woman.

Nothing to do about it now. Focus, Branner.

Robert Maladar will not be an easy person to deal with. The powerful rarely are. Yet, if he’s willing to pay my fare to come examine this phenomenon, perhaps there is a sense of desperation. Indeed, that is my angle. Desperate men are still a chore to work with but do provide some leverage.

I sigh, and return to my papers.


The coach ride to the manor was pleasant enough. The sky is all but clear, with only a few clouds to add character. This countryside might make one think of something from a light novel, starkly contrasted with the dark and busy cities to which I’m accustomed.

The path to the manor was long and winding. Precisely the sort of ostentatious thing a rich person might have. The carriage was already nearly there, so it is time for my final preparations. I gather the papers and trinkets I’d been using into my bag. As each item was placed in its proper storage location, I reminded myself of what was at stake.

I finished straightening out my coat and hair as much as possible as the coach pulled around the front of the manor. Proper presentation is keen in dealing with the wealthy and the supernatural. In front, the servants were lined up, bowing. Dr. Maladar stood in the center, arms behind his back. It was odd though. Normally for such a presentation the entire family would be here yet, his daughter is nowhere to be seen. Such a curiosity.

The coach came to a stop in the middle of the arrangement. The driver came around and opened the door to announce my arrival.

“May I present Archibald Branner, paranormal investigator.”

I step out the door, my tall, thin figure extending fully as I exit the transport. My hair is parted, a little frayed at the edges, yet I had tried my best to make it presentable. My dark vest contrasts with the light, glimmering pendant swinging from my neck as I take each step. My brown coat is old and considered unfashionable, but I will only go so far to appease my clients.

In my right hand I held my cane, a rather unassuming piece of polished black wood. The top was fit with a brilliant cut gem, though any jeweler worth his weight would laugh at the quality. My left hand held my bag, containing more of the tools of my trade.

In all, my appearance might have been off-putting to one of Robert Maladar’s stature, but I am hoping not so much that he sends me away.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Doctor,” I say, as cordial as I can muster.

The gentleman in the center of the display steps forward. His cool stare seems to pierce the air around us. The master of the house was not quite as tall as I, but his stance and presence more than made up for that. He lacked a coat, yet even without it, he was the far more fashionable one. The materials of his clothing were of the highest quality, easily seen at a glance.

I try to match his stare, but find myself lacking. He was not dressed menacingly, nor any action one of malice, but he projected intimidation all the same.

He extends his hand in a welcoming handshake. I tuck my cane under my arm and return the gesture.

When he speaks, his deep voice sounds almost emotionless, like all this pomp and circumstance meant absolutely nothing to him.

“Greetings, Mr. Branner. I certainly hope you can help. Come, let us step inside.”

He turns and heads into the house. The servants break off from their formation and set back to work, a few walking past me to grab my bags from the carriage. Others head into the house to finish preparing for my arrival, or around the side to wherever else they’re needed. I notice some go around the back and follow them with my gaze. The sun is setting, as my train arrived a little later than we had planned. Far off to the side, a young boy stands by a tree. It’s difficult to tell, as he appears as a silhouette against the setting sun, but he doesn’t look like he belongs here.

I’m about to inquire about him, when I step into the entrance hall.

It should have been lovely. I should have thought it absolutely gorgeous. And had I seen it at any other time in my life, I might have. Instead, the grotesque image imprinted itself onto my mind. The oozing red liquid seemed fresh on the walls, the stench of copper all too telling. Almost a dozen servants were washing away what they could. Tables, flowers and other decorations were strewn about, likely bystanders to some rage filled spree. And in the center of the hall, letters carved into the stone floor, a message carved in carnage. The blood flows down the walls, filling the miniature pools.

It merely said:

GIVE THE GIRL TO ME

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