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A'Walkin' Amongst the Lilies IC


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Date: May 30th, 2010

(Continued from here)

By the time Robin got to the cemetery, the moon had already risen and was making a bright spot behind high, thin clouds. She had changed into a pair of dark slacks, a man's green button-down shirt, running shoes, and dark gloves. She had a paper bag in one hand, folded closed.

The cemetery grounds were closed at night and surrounded by a brick wall that came up roughly to Robin's eye-level. She was forced to toss the bag over and hope the contents didn't break, then take a running leap herself. She still barely made it over and resolved, for the umpteenth time, to make a break for proper exercise.

She landed awkwardly on the other side, cursing the darkness and scrambling for the bag. Once she had it in hand she pulled a mag light out and clicked it on, keeping the beam pointing towards the ground rather than be visible to anyone who happened to glance in her direction.

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The sorceress wasn’t much put off by her surroundings, despite the dark and the moon and the late hour, but the cemetery encompassed a fair chunk of land and it wasn’t laid out so things could be found easily. It took close to an hour of wandering for her to find the right spot.

It was a narrow paved path between two mausoleums. Robin pulled out a black taper from the bag and set it before on the of the crypts, lighting it with a lick of spellfire. She retreated to the tomb opposite and set herself in the shadows, drawing her power about herself in an invisible shield. This Dead Head seemed to be on the side of the angels, but she wasn’t about to let her defenses down around the undead.

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In another section of the cemetery, Dead Head was experiencing one of the downsides of his ability to see & hear the dead: they knew he could see & hear them, and sometimes would not shut up. Such was the case with William MacDonald "Mac" Paulson, a barfly from the days of the Revolutionary War.

[bg=#000000]... and then, after making such a disgraceful scene in my shoppe, he had the audacity to say my paint had ruined his fenceposts! Can you imagine![/bg]

"Unh hunh...."

[bg=#000000]It was his poor quality wood, it was! My paints were the finest in town! Of course, when I told him of this, he scoffed, and demanded a refund, which I was loathe to give. But, seeing as it was the Reverend's son, I did make some exception for him.[/bg]

"Unh hunh...."

[bg=#000000]But I knew that word would get out about my largesse, and everyone would blame their shoddy brushwork on my paints. Christian generosity is one thing, but to be poor is no sin, but it is no honor, either![/bg]

"Unh hunh...." Dead Head still had yet to figure out why Paulson lingered, even after weeks of hearing him go on and on and on and on and on and....

[bg=#000000]Which brings me to my next point: you are in dire need of better clothing, my friend! Just look at you! Your shoes are nice, I grant, but the cuffs on those pants are far too wide... and what is 'STAR WARS'?[/bg]

Dead Head was not exactly thrilled with his current outfit, but when you're as tough on your clothes as he is, your wardrobe comes from the Goodwill reject pile, you don't get a lot of choice. The shirt was okay, but it was three sizes too big; conversely, the bell bottoms were so tight they'd cut off his circulation, if he had any. The shoes were simple brown hush puppies.

Suddenly, some movement caught the revenant's eye. Several spirits were going down the hill. He studied them for a moment; they appeared to be drawn, compelled to go down by some subtle call.

"Unh hunh.... uh, look, Mister Peterson, I have t'interrupt you, but I gotta go check somethin' out. Ya un'erstand, don'tcha?"

[bg=#000000]Oh, well, I-[/bg]

"Thanks!," he called back, already several dozen feet away.

It was not long before Robin saw her target, though his outfit threw her for a moment. He did not appear to see her.

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Robin couldn't sense the spirits, except as a growing unease and the occasional sharp shiver as one drifted through her. It wasn't long, though, before she spotted a figure picking his way through the headstone. She held back, unsure if this was the person she wanted, but magic clung to him like a shroud; it smelled of funeral herbs, and tasted like salt and sweet wine.

The sorceress stepped into the dim, diffuse light spread by the occluded moon and her thin candle. Her hands were held down by her sides and a little away from her body, palms turned towards Dead Head. The gesture might not mean much, especially if he recognized her as a practitioner, but it seemed important to start out on the right foot. Her mouth apparently didn't get the memo, though. "I hope you're Dead Head," it began without preamble. "Otherwise there's a seriously fashion-deprived necromancer out there."

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Hunh, tiny lil' thing. But big trouble can come in small packages.

"Yeah, I'm him," the zombie replied warily, hands on his hips. "An' this... this ain't the worse things I've worn."

"So, lil' miss, whatcha come lookin' fer ol' Dead Head fer, hrm?" He began slowly walking in a wide circle around her, "I gotta sense ya know a thing'r two about magic, but I hope y'ain't here lookin' t'raise up some spirits just fer some thrills & giggles. I tend t'take issue with that. If yer here for answers from Beyond th' Grave, though..."

The Revoltin' Revenant placed both hands on the side of his head, and pulled upward, separating it from his neck. It brought its head to chest level (so now eye-to-eye with Robin), holding it with one hand and leaning it slightly against its chest, and with the other hand popped off the top of its skull, as easily as a rabbinical student removing his yarmulke.

[bg=#000000]"... yer free t'pick my brain!"[/bg]

Robin may have noticed that its voice had an odd echo-y reverb after it had separated its head from its shoulders. If she had, she would know it was due to the fact its voice was now being supplied by mystical energies, not air from its lungs passing over its mouth, lips and teeth.

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Robin wasn't taken aback by the revenant's impromptu Yorick impersonation; if anything she was intrigued. She'd never seen an undead who purposefully dismembered itself (save that zombie who mailed his parts separately and had a cohort reassemble them afterwards). Was the head ambulatory on its own? Could it bite as hard -- a lot of leverage came from the head being attached to a great big lever, a.k.a the spine. Would the joint be as strong as before after being reattached? Just how many vertebrae went with the skull, anyway?

Robin pushed the desire to do a dissection -- autopsy? -- on Dead Head away, and took a step back to retrieve the brown paper bag from under the eaves of the crypt she'd been sheltering against. The sorceress pulled the mag light out and hung it through a loop on her jeans, then pushed the bag into Dead Head's cranium. "Let that rattle around in there," she said, folding her arms under her breasts. "If it bumps into anything interesting, let me know."

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[bg=#000000]"Whoa, hey, you can't be puttin' stuff in there!,"[/bg] the head shouted as she moved to transfer the bag, [bg=#000000]"I got stuff in there already!"[/bg] It popped its skullcap back on, then popped its head back on its shoulders, "Private stuff! Took me forever t'get it arranged jes' so."

It turned its head this way and that for a moment, as if checking to be sure it was re-attached properly. "Okay, okay, lemme see whatcha got." The odd reverb in its voice was no longer present.

He took out a bottle of whiskey and box of cigars from the bag, and nodded approvingly. "Ya done yer homework girl; I am impressed. Though, if'n ya need me again, I ain't opposed to a lil' rum. Oh, now what have we got here?!"

The zombie pulled out the wrapped hand, and peeled off the clinging transparent film. It was a human hand, the flesh dessicated and gray-brown, nearly mummified, and missing a thumb. The remaining four fingers had each been dipped in wax and a wick stuck at the tip, turning the entire thing into a macabre candelabra. He turned it this way and that, then let out a low whistle. "Nasty bit'a work, this is. A Hand'a Glory. Usually made from the hand of a hanged murderer; some say it's gotta be the left one, some say the right'll do jes' fine, some say it's gotta be the hand what did the deed. Light the candles here, everyone what sees its light or smells its smoke is put to a deep sleep, an' they can't be woke 'till the light's put out. Which is easier said'n done, since they's no ordinary candles -- they's made from human fat, an' the wicks is human hair -- an' no ordinary flame. Blowin' on 'em won't work, puttin' it in water won't work; ya gotta put it in milk. Pow'rful stuff, an' hard t'make."

The zombie looked up at her, a quizzical look on its face. "Where'd you come by it, miss?"

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Robin nodded along with Dead Head's assessment. "I've seen them used to open doors, too. According to some stories, they can even be used for a kind of teleportation. Powerful juju, and it starts with a dead man's hand. May people said you know what's happening among the dead men."

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"I heard about the door thing," the Zombie replied as it continued examining the Hand, "but teleportin's a new one. I'd wager that was somethin' the users had they selves, not in th' Hand."

He placed the Hand carefully atop a nearby headstone, then turned back to Robin. "Yeah, ya come to the right guy -- ol' Deady knows all about what's going 'mongst the dead. So, what, you wanna see if you can call up the spirit'a this Hand's owner? Or the spirit'a someone else, someone the Hand's user might've knocked off?"

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Robin made a face like Dead Head had just suggested an unnatural sex act involving a sheep. "If you put a gun to my head, I wouldn't do a ritual with a hand of glory," she said. "Necromancy's necromancy, and messing with the boundary between life and death is something I avoid. No offense," she added, "but I was more hoping you knew of some graves that had been desecrated. Hanging victims aren't exactly common anymore."

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"They still do hangin's in New Hampshire an' Washington State, fer official executions, but most jes' go fer the lethal injection. 'Course, that don't cover anythin' done by cultists fer their rituals an' whatnot, or suicides or accidents. An' no offense taken, Miss... sorry," the zombie cocked its head slightly, "I didn't catch yer name."

Seems on the up-an'-up, I ain't gettin' any necro-vibes off'a her.

"As fer disturbances... well, lemme ask." The zombie stood straight up, place two fingers in its mouth, and let out a loud, shrill whistle. "Hey! Anyone seen anythin'?!" it called out.

Though it would appear to a muggle that the zombie was just calling out into the night, Robin's senses picked up a definite surge in mystical power.

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For a moment none of the ghosts gathered around Robin's witchlight responded. Just as Dead Head was about to call out again, one of the spirits cried out, "That's my hand!" and started floating closer. At first the revenant thought he's grabbed an old one, because the spirit was shapeless and indistinct. As it drifted closer, though, Dead Head saw that the shade was dressed in the memory of a tattered, dirty coat and a shapeless hat. Wheat colors still remained were dirty grays and browns, and the man's face was unwashed and unshaven.

The bum's ghost pointed at the Hand of Glory -- pointed with his left hand, the one that was on top of the grave marker, mummified and missing the thumb. "That's my hand," he repeated, the words slow and thick. He lifted his gaze from the macabre relic and addressed Dead Head directly. "They killed me. They grabbed me and threw a rope around my neck and hung me under the bridge. Why'd they take my hand?"

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"Think I found 'im," the zombie stage-whispered to the as-yet-unnamed sorceress.

He turned back to the spirit, and nodded towards it, "I don't know who did it, sir, or why, but I will find out, an' I will make sure it gets de-magic-ified an' returned to yer body. An' this lil' lady here," the zombie jerked its head towards Robin, "is gonna help me."

Dead Head brushed off the top of one headstone, "Now, sir, why don'tcha jes' set yersef down here, he patted the headstone, "an' tell us all about what happened, 'kay? We's gonna do all we can ta help ya, but we need to know all we can about what happened. Where was it you was killed? Didja get a good look at 'em? Didja hear anythin' peculiar?"

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The bum's ghost looked between the hand, Dead Head, and Robin, its expression confused. "We wus under the bridge," he said. "I wus with Harry and Carl and Gina. I went back to muh shack, 'cause I had this real good coat and... and..." The shade's eyes crossed as it tried to remember. "And it was getting cold? And these things were waitin' for me! They grabbed me and dragged me away! And this old lady threw a rope over my head, and she hung me up from the bridge!" The specter raised its gaze to Dead Head, seeming more confused than angry. "Why'd they do that? Why'd they take my hand?"

Oblivious to this exchange, Robin pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil, flipped to a new page, and waited for the revenant to start talking.

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"What things was waitin' for ya, sir?" Dead Head asked, growing agitated. "People? Critters? An' didja get a good look at th'old lady?"

The zombie looked back to Robin, then back to the spirit, then to the sorceress again. "Sez he was under a bridge, with Harry an' Carl an' Gina, an' went to 'ih shack ta get a coat, an'... an'... hold on a sec."

The zombie closed its eyes, but that did not diminish the emerald glow from his eyes; if anything, the glow was getting brighter. A moment later, wisps of green-flecked light gray smoke -- some form of ectoplasm -- billowed forth from its mouth, and spread around the area, giving temporary substance to any and all spirits nearby.

"Been wonderin' if I can do that," the zombie mused, then turned back to the spirit. "Sir, can ya pleas tell us yer name? We wanna make sure ya get a proper burial... an' that the ones what did this know full well what they did."

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Robin tensed as the smoke-vomit covered her and slowly faded away, though she could still the smell the sickly, acrid stench, and the weight of the revenant's magic pressed on her mind. She didn't comment, though, and as the transient's spirit began to speak again she started making notes. "I'm Lewis. I was walkin' back to get... to get something, from my shack. And then these things came out and grabbed me. They were all bald and pale, and their arms were real long, like when I used to go see monkeys in the zoo." The ghost hunched over in a bandy-legged posture, letting his hands fall low to the ground. He shook his entire body for a minute, his arms flailing wildly, before he looked up at Dead Head again. "Like that. Like monkeys. And they had these claws instead of fingers, and they were real mean."

Robin kept jotting down notes as the ghost continued his narration. Once he started describing the creatures, the sorceress bit her lip and furrowed her brow, but her pen never slowed down.

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"That's good, Lewis, that's very good, sir." Dead Head nodded to the spirit, "An' the woman? Anythin' on her? Didja get a good look at her? Or hear her say anythin'? Anythin' at all?"

The zombie's fists were beginning to clench, and he tried to keep them open so as not to spook the spook. Murder for profit, for magical rituals, was exactly the sort of thing that made him lose it, but he couldn't do anything until he had more info.

"We're gonna get 'em, Lewis, sir," the zombie assured, "an' make sure you get a proper restin'."

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Lewis shook his head. "Nah, she was wearing some kinda big cloak. I only heard her voice. Real pretty voice. Sounded like my mom." He looked down at his hand, trying to pick it up and failing. After a few more times doing this, he looked back up at Dead Head. "There was a kid with her. Real tall, and thin. Looked like he was gonna be sick. Did he take my hand?"

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"I don't know, sir, but we's gonna find out," Dead Head again assured the spirit. He stepped forward and patted the spirit on the shoulder, hoping that contact would make him feel a bit more at ease.

Sickly kid, and the mother made a Hand of Glory to break into somewhere to steal money for a cure? Or was the kid really some sort of demonic familiar?

The zombie his head turned slightly, enough to face Robin. "Whadda ya make'a all this?"

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Robin looked over her notes and scrubbed at her face with one hand. "Master and apprentice," she said. "Older woman must be the master. Needed the man's hand for their spell. Stars and stones, I hope this isn't the kid I'm looking for." She sighed and started gathering up her candle and the Hand of Glory. "Body hanging underneath a bridge. Can't be too many of those in Freedom every day. Hopefully the cops will remember it." She paused, then held her hand out to Dead Head. "Thank you for this. It was a real help."

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"Happy ta be'a help, ma'am," Dead Head replied, shaking Robin's hand. It was exactly as cool and rubbery as she'd expected.

The zombie turned back to Spirit!Lewis, and gave a slight bow, "we's gonna stop 'em, sir, an' get yer hand back to tha rest'a ya. Don't you worry none."

The zombie closed its eyes and inhaled, sucking back in all the ectoplasm and returning the spirits to their normally invisible and inaudible selves. He made another slight bow to Spirit!Lewis, then turned back to the sorceress. "So, where we goin' next?"

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Robin started walking towards the wall, tracing her steps as best she was able. She chose her words carefully, not wanting to insult Dead Head. "My next step is to talk to the police. Someone has to have found Lewis's remains, and that'll be where I go next." She stopped, facing the revenant. "To be honest, I hadn't expected that you'd want to come along."

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"'Course I wanna help!" Dead Head actually sounded offended that anyone would think otherwise.

"I mean, seems t'me that two sets'a peepers is better'n one," the revenant continued, wiping a stray wisp of ectoplasm form its mouth. "An' while you chat with the po-po, I can be sniffin' 'round tha bridge, see if any'a Lewis' friends're still around. An' it could be th'old ladie's killed more'n just one innocent drifter -- I can question their spirits better'n you could, I'd wager."

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Robin sighed and rubbed at a spot between her eyes. "But we don't know which bridge Lewis lived under. There's, what, three or four in the city? Anchored to the land on each side, that's six or eight places to search, and none of the names he used sounded too usual." She shook her head sharply. "The police and the coroner's are still our best bet for figuring out where Lewis died."

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"An' of tha two of us," the Revoltin' Revenant replied rather matter-of-factly, "who d'ya think already has an 'in' with all tha city's coroners an' morticians an' crematoriums? An' I mention crematoriums 'cuz, more likely'n not, Lewis' remains was cremated an' put in a potter's field."

"Look, I wanna catch the folks behind this as bad as you do. Mebe moreso. An- oh, hold on!"

Dead Head twisted (moreso than any living person should) to face where Spirit!Lewis had last been, and let out a sharp whistle. "Hey, Lewis! Ya got any next'a kin you want us ta contact? Any messages ta' pass on?"

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