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In Anticipation of Meaning

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Saturday, September 9, 2017
3:06 AM

The Witching Hour


Lantern Hill at the best of times was rarely a lively place, yet in the darkness of the night even the dead slumber silent and still. The moon casts a cold light upon the landscape, dispelling the mists and shadows, though not all. There are places its light does not touch, and here the night creatures flit from their hidden crevices into the open world beyond, free from the beings who walk the streets by day. Dogs roam the alleyways in packs, snouts turned to the ground in search for food. Cats tiptoe high above on fences and roofs, glowing eyes watching in a predatory light. And rats scurry in the sewer and secret passageways, peeling back layers of wood and board with gnawing teeth.


Once stately things, the old Victoria-era manors lay empty along one road in Lantern Hill, overlooking Freedom City in their lots overgrown with weeds and the dead husks of trees. The roofs are patchworks of missing shingles and dead leaves, brickwork turned to rubble and paint hanging in tatters from the foyer, brown from age, swaying sleepily in the breeze, and in the quiet of the night a lone feline perches on a chimney top. It pauses midway from licking its paw and twists in place to look up.


Another figure streaks a silhouette against the purple sky. High above the stillness of the ground, the icy winds buffet her armor but she heeds that no mind, snugly ensconced in steel. Instead, her mind flows in equations and derivatives, codes and images and meanings and symbols, all blurring into one and another to form a mess of thoughts. But she lets the cold air in, and the chill drags her awake, forcing her focus better than a mug of espresso. Absentmindedly, she scans her surrounding area, aware of both physical and magic happenings yet all is silent and still.


Even magic needs to sleep.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Alton tossed yet another book onto the pile called "things I can't read". Family histories, in languages he couldn't read, some occult books in Latin, and while he could puzzle out some of what was in them, thank you science degree, most of it was gibberish, and if it wasn't for the fact that there were aliens, he'd been stuck in a world conquered by Hellenic gods, and had a freaking ghost bound to his soul, he wouldn't give them any time. As it stands, he was going through the oldest library in Lantern Hill, subsisting almost entirely on books donated to them, or were collected by what few employees it still held. The place was cramped, dusty, and old, thankfully though, Alton had chosen to start in what must have once been a sitting room, he guessed this library used to be a house, that had a large window with a relatively clear view of the sky on one wall. Mary meanwhile, was bored out of her mind. Even though Mirror was trying to piece together the puzzle that was Mary, she didn't seem to care, there was no fun, no games, no action or excitement. There was only endless dusty tomes in a house that while built in a familiar style, was nonetheless nothing of interest to her. She walked through wall after wall, pacing around the entire library, and would, on occasion, go out and pace the grounds, though she was ever conscious of her distance from Alton, she didn't want to accidentally sever her lifeline.


Alton had his outfit with him, as he always did, mask in his jacket, and cane off to one side. Mary was, for once, appearing in her Victorian wear, though once again, it was black and red, colors one rarely sees outside of certain circles. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Alton sighed and set aside a book onto the much smaller pile of "might be helpful". This one was rather plain, but it detailed missing persons and bizarre deaths from 1840-1850 in and around London. Small area, small time frame, but it could yield results all the same. Mary's accent placed her as being from that area, but that doesn't mean she was there when she died...or whatever happened to her. 


Mary had, by now, managed to find a ladder propped up on the back of the library. Climbing up it to get on the roof, at least from up here she could watch the city, and the nearby areas for anything interesting. Anything at all to break the doldrums of research, of a dark night in a old library, or the constant wandering of who she really was. She wanted to know, she just didn't have the patience to wait for Alton to figure it out, as such, she had been trying to get him to do something else, or speed it up all night, to no avail. She'd finally given up, and now here she was, sitting on a dirty, old rooftop. Thankfully she couldn't get dirty anymore, so despite it being dirty, it affected nothing but her eyes themselves.

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Nicole had been flying for some time now and was far too preoccupied with her own thoughts, retreating into the blank whiteness of her interface. Her hands cupped her chin, ignoring the intermittent pings that came from the sensor modules. They were intermittent at first, softly pinging, but which began to intensify as she continued her flight, growing in alarm and anger until her head was blaring red from sound and emotion. Almost painful, her thoughts drowned out and barely able to think, she knitted her brows and acknowledged the sensors.


She opened her eyes and saw a ghostly figure just over a hundred feet forward, sitting on the rooftop of the old Davis Library. Her train of thoughts broken and curious, Nicole slowed as she approached the figure and descended, confirming with narrowed eyes that the figure really was a ghost. Ethereal. Composition matching the proper profile. Trace elements of soul stuff left in its trail. Slight spiritual shadow.


Most ghosts were harmless, mulling on what she knew of incorporeal presences. Barely able to influence the material world on their own, they could be merely wisps of the consciousnesses that have passed. Some not actually cognizant of their own condition. Yet there were exceptions, people who had died but could needed to fulfill some purpose; who had to avenge some wrongdoing, enact personal justice, or just could not let go of the living. There were malevolent spirits, like many beings of course, but rarely any strong enough that could hurt a person seriously, more so Nicole in her armor.


A dull thump accompanied Nicole's landing a dozen feet away. She stayed where she was, crossing her arms as scrutinized the spirit.


"What do you want?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"I'm just watching the d.....wait...wait, you can see me? Finally someone else who can see me!"


Mary practically squealed with excitement as she scrambled up from her perch to investigate the newcomer. She patted down her dress, as if straightening it despite there being nothing wrong with it. 


"How is it you can see me? So far in all the time I've spent here, there's only ever been the one person."


No one could say Mary wasn't a curious girl, her eyes sparkled with the intensity of someone seeking an answer. She was smart, just not....interested in most things that required her intelligence. She spent most of her spare time, which was most of her time, watching TV where she could, or wandering around wherever Alton was working at the time. Now though, now she had someone else she could talk to, even if it was just for tonight.


She peered at the newcomer waiting for an answer. 


Meanwhile, back in the library below, Mirror could feel some of Mary's excitement, but he passed it off, she got excited anytime she saw a shooting star. This was nothing to worry about for the time being. The cord connecting them, though he nor she could precisely see it, felt nearly as stretched as it would go though, so he guessed she was outside. He settled down with another new book, intent on getting through at least one more before he had to retire for the night, one had to take breaks eventually.

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"I... yes?" Nicole offered helpfully. She closed the space between them, nonplussed yet put at ease by the spirit's excitable demeanor. Up close, it was easy to see that the girl was around Nicole's age, which said little or much depending on the beliefs in contention. The spirit in front of her could have just been a sliver of a deceased's soul, or maybe an amalgam for some symbolic collective, but that she died at such a young age was the simplest explanation and one that sent a shiver down Nicole's spine.


It was a thought she pushed back as she waved a nervous hand at the spirit.


"This might come as a shock, but you aren't... alive. Only people sensitive to the paranormal can see you and there aren't so many of those anymore." She rubbed the back of her head awkwardly, thinking through the implications before blurting out. "And I haven't heard of any activity here. You're new aren't you?"


She caught herself and paused, shaking her head.


"That was too forward. Sorry."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"I've been dead for at least a century, don't remember most of it, just a few idiots with a thirst for power. And yes I'm new here, I don't like stuffy old libraries all that much, usually I'm over in Kingston or somewhere in the city proper enjoying this life I have. Watching TV, or listening to music, or watching these super people fighting crime. And it's fine, it's not ever day you meet someone like mwah. Where are my manners?"


Those last words were spoken with a bit of disgust and a roll of Mary's eyes, as if this was a dog and pony show she'd been through dozens or more times before.


"You can call me Mary, and you are?"


Mary was having a hard time telling the age of the girl in front of her, especially with all that armor on. Even with what she'd seen with Alton, she hadn't seen armor like that yet, it was a bizarre design, not even in what few memories she still held had she ever seen anything like it before. She tugged mentally at Alton, he needed to come see this girl. Alton, meanwhile ignored the tug, he assumed it was just Mary going to bug him about leaving again, he just had to finish one last book and then they could go home.

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"Nicole," she replied.


She had a codename of course, but her 'Salvo' was reserved for the mundane world at large, for the media tabloids and the general public had all the self-control of a toddler yet was all the more dangerous for that. But when among the supernatural, a superhero alias was silly, doubly so for a ghost who had no intention or ability to spread a name. They were all special and hiding it, and so there was  a solidarity to be found among the witches and wizards, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and changelings. You helped who you could, kept it lowkey, and traded promises in the ritual rooms and the backalleys. It went unspoken but it was an important social assumption that bound people to a responsibility conditioned because of their abilities.


"You can call me a witch or a mage or a wizard. The title isn't so important, just that I've got the know-how to help and you're a spirit, so we're both strange." Her visor slid open, letting Mary see her face scrunched up in thought, as if Mary was a problem to be solved.


"Why the library then?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"Ahh...that. I'm just trying to find something interesting to do while the guy I'm with is reading downstairs, something about family histories and trying to find out who I was when I was alive. I tried to be patient, but patience has never been my virtue, and it won't start anytime soon. So, I came up here to watch the city, it all seems so calm from over here, you wouldn't even guess this city is full of powered people that were thought of as flights of fancy when I was still alive....I think."


Mary cleared her throat and looked back out over the city, trying not to think about how awkward she was being, and how she had just blurted out sensitive information, after all as nice as this Nicole may seem, she could just be another person seeking to harm Alton or take her power, possibly both...probably. She tried to pretend the silence she had created wasn't awkward, but not even a goddess of beauty could touch that tension, at least, with how Mary saw it.


"I have a better question; What are you doing out here so late at night?"

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"Someone else is here?" Nicole had to admit, her interest was piqued. A magician or a just dabbler of magic maybe, or at least someone familiar with the paranormal, enough to be able to converse with a spirit. It was a start at least and Nicole strode forward, heading for the hatch that led into the library as her visor shut close to activate her radar. She felt the tension descend on the rooftop, cold as the grave, and she turned to allay Mary's doubts. "I just haven't met another practitioner in a while so I'll ."


True enough, her radar picked up a figure on the lower levels, surrounded by piles of books. She could have read a thousand times faster online using her interface, but there were tidbits of information unwritten in any database, obscure enough that no one thought to transcribe such things into a cloud, leaving them to be forgotten by the newest era.


"Because I think best staying up late. And I'm looking for something."


And with that, she stepped forward and dropped down the open hatch.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"No wa....Oh Mary what have you done this time?"


Mary jumped down after Nicole, being a ghost she had no worry of being hurt by any kind of fall. She could just walk straight through the walls at least, though she didn't have any ability to float or fly, or at least, none that she knew of. She rushed to Alton, coming through the wall looking a little frazzled.


"Alton, there's a girl in armor on her way. She's not hostile as far as I know, but I thought it best you know before a armored mage lady thing, I think, comes bursting into the room."


"Wh...did.....what happened?"


"No time for that right now."


Alton pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Guess it was time to go, he'd rather not risk a fight if he could help it, and he knew nothing of this woman. Mary didn't think she'd start anything, but Alton was tired anyway, so he started reshelving the books he had gotten out of this room.


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Nicole plodded along when the ghost rush ahead, the hem of her dress trailing behind her as she disappeared through a wall. It was slow going for the teenager in armor though, fumbling with the knob to the stairwell, and when she finally pulled open the door there was no trace of Mary in her visual receptors. Her armor wasn't bulky - in fact, it contoured itself to her form - but it handled like it was thrice its size and heavier than it really was. Not great walking inside delicate old buildings.


Gingerly stepping down the stairs, Nicole idly noted she needed to recalibrate the reflex heuristic models next time she got.


She opened the next door with less difficulty than the first but tripped over her legs, bursting inside a room where a guy wearing his hair long, though it only made his thin frame seem even more drawn out. There was no accounting for taste. 


"Good evening," she said blandly.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"Ummmm.....are you okay?"


Alton paused book still in hand mid-shelving, looking at the armored girl who had tripped into the room. She certainly didn't seem dangerous, but one could never be to sure. Mary lurked quietly in the corner of the room, head tilted slightly, waiting to see what was going to happen. Mary also failed to stifle a giggle as Nicole tripped, it certainly didn't help maintain an intimidating image, the way sh had seemed on the roof.


"Though the better question is what is someone wearing something like that doing here this late...or early as the case may be, around a place like this?"


He couldn't really say much about this, but he was going to play it cool as long as possible. He finished re-shelving the book in his hand before turning to the stranger completely.


"Always so cautious when not out and about...."

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"I was patrolling," Nicole said with a sniff that somehow translated to her external speakers. She said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and as if by asking her reasons he was stating how he lived under a rock. Yet, her answer wasn't the complete truth.


Libraries were filled with dusty old books that took ages to go through but as much as she wanted it to, not everything was transposed into a digital format. There was still a lot of things that was only written down in paper - old histories, names of pets, tidbits unimportant enough to be forgotten by today. Like the particular cloth worn by a man on a particular summer's eve.


That could be a start. For one thread.

"It's like you've never seen a hero before," she said sarcastically. Then she pointed to Mary at the corner of the room.

"But I know why you're here. She's a spirit, and one you're trying to help her by finding her identity."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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  • 2 weeks later...

"And you claim I'm the one with the talking prob....wait, you can see her? You're the first person I've ever met besides myself that could see her, at least, that I know of. And no Mary, it's not breaking any rules, she already knows you exist."


Alton gives Mary a pointed look as she opened her mouth to object to him talking about her and promptly shuts her mouth, pursing her lips ever so slightly and slumps into a chair.


"More I'm trying to find out who her family was, which has the added benefit of me finding out who she is. And of course I've seen a hero before, every square block seems to have it's own, I'm asking what you're doing around an old, dusty library that probably sees less people in a month than your average store does in a day."

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"Built in electro-plasmic refractors," Nicole said, tapping her visor. "Captures a wide broadband of energy and translates the data into coherent images. Mary stands out like a lightbulb."


She pointed an armored finger at the ghost. "And I'm not surprised you'd think that. There's some slight fluctuations in your friend's signature even now. Looks like she's undergoing a metanoia of sorts. Could be ontological or a retro-time snap of something but I wouldn't know unless I examine her closely."


Nicole looked around and true to the guy's words the library needed some Spring cleaning. Cobwebs stained the dark corners of the ceiling and the furniture was stained at places where liquids had spilled over the years. A sorry state of affairs but one that couldn't be helped and so Nicole pushed it out of her mind. What was disconcerting were the books and all that their paper insides held.


What would happen if this library were to be sold off?


Lost. All that could be, more precious than gold.


"Hmm," she hummed tunelessly, thinking, then shook her head and stepped to the bookshelves away from the duo. "Just looking for a book. Last I heard, libraries were public, though we're both up late tonight."


"The pot calls the kettle black. You know how it goes."


Picking her way through the aisles, her in-armor speakers and receptors allowed her to converse with Anton as if they were standing next to each other.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I don't rightly know how to respond to that, other than that Mary hasn't changed pretty much at all since I met her other than knowing more about the modern world. Has a penchant for wanting to get into trouble though."


"That's not true, I don't like trouble, I like interesting situations!"


"Which are without a doubt going to be troublesome for someone, usually me."


Alton said as he shelved the last book from his pile and brushed the dust off of his clothes. He didn't like this situation one bit, but there was no avoiding it now, and he'd best not do anything to turn it from a feel bad, to an actually bad situation.

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Nicole came back a few seconds later holding two books in her arms. One book was an old thing, thick but small and leather bound, pages frayed and yellow, and the other was a thinner volume, newer with bold words printed on the cover. She pushed the thinner one to Mirror. 'MYSTICISM AND AGRICULTURE: The Beginnings of Industry' the title read.


"If you plan to properly look for something you need to understand the context," Nicole said as if lecturing to a class. "Magic wouldn't be anything without the background to situate its constituent elements, would it? Neither would much of human culture either."


She nodded to the books Mirror had shelved, rolling her eyes behind her helmet. Those were a start but there was always more.


"As for what I'm doing, I'm doing research." She held out the old book, a journal actually. "The Life of Doctor Jan Vanderwall: 1918 - 1989"


"He was a medical doctor with an interest in transplants," Nicole explained, her voice darkening with disgust. "But also a practitioner of rituals and the transference of life forces between humans and... other things."


She shook her head and noticed Mirror had cleaned up. "But nevermind that. You're leaving then?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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