This is the first chapter of my novel. I hope all enjoy.
Chapter 1: The Porcelain Girl
"The clothes are always in the way," Aeson said to himself. It makes it that much harder if I have to do everything myself. Aeson thought to himself as he finished removing the buttons on the shirt of a woman. Late thirties. Probably deceased for no more than six hours. The cold had just recently embraced her and rigor mortis filled her veins all the way out to the dermis. She was frozen in time. On the bright side, she was easily the freshest specimen at The Sepulcher. Neat piles of corpses lay about in groups of eight to ten. Aeson put a fresh pair of latex gloves on. The last had been covered by dirt and leaves. You really can't expect much of a body left in a pile on the ground to be the cleanest, but unlike the others, she was unscathed. A perfect opportunity to maybe get some answers.
"Who dropped her?" Aeson shouted sternly to the undertaker. It was not Aeson trying to be rude. He simply knew the undertaker was hard of hearing after suffering from a Blast. A blast was a somewhat of a rare illness. Only maybe a dozen or so had suffered from one in town that Aeson had ever dealt with. It is characterized by the onset of a piercing ring in the ear or ears of a patient. Like a siren whistling for sailors in the night. While the ringing starts as a nuisance, if not taken care of it can and will turn into a deafening scream. This scream causes bleeding of the ears and, in even more extraordinary cases, the eyes as well. Patients who go totally untreated are finally relieved of the disease once it peaks. The climax happens when the screaming actually ruptures the eardrums in such an intense way that blood ejects straight out and leaves the patient totally deaf. They can also be left blind if bleeding in and around the eyes damages the optic nerves as well. While a simple virus brings this on, Aeson had no alchemic remedies for it, nor had he ever heard of one. He had tested a plethora, but nothing seemed to work fast enough. A few patients under his care had lost their hearing before Aeson could help them. Fortunately, Aeson did eventually figure out that the elixir was even simpler. It was noise. Simply noise. Droning sounds would distract the victim's eardrums while the illness ran its course. He found that people who lived and worked in silence, much like the undertaker, would be the ones who suffered the most from a Blast. The undertaker was fortuitous enough that Aeson started coming to the Sepulcher shortly after the contracting the illness.
You see, the doctor is seen as an angel when shows up to your door. Bringing with him all the answers that your family has been looking and praying for. He is seen as a god if you are cured. They will worship the ground you walk on for ridding the house of an otherworldly plague. Aeson was not a fan of this part. But the other outcome was even more disheartening to him. If you can't cure the patient and the patient dies or has to continue to suffer, the doctor is seen as the devil. All blame is placed on him. "What did you do?" All the families would ask. What they really mean is "what didn't you do that you could have sooner?" Aeson always asked himself the same thing. And just as the diseases were much a part of the natural world, so was the blame needing to be placed on something tangible. It was just the way of things. Although Aeson wasn't able to bring back his hearing entirely, he did save him from a life without it.
"Jean, who dropped this one." Aeson shouted again.
"The wagon!" Jean replied in a reptilian hiss. Fitting for the man's sunken eyes and hunched over stature. Much more fitting for his occupation. But it did not fit his demeanor. Not taking into account the air about him, he is a very kind man.
"And you don't have to yell." Jean continued.
"I wasn't yelling. That didn't answer my question either. Who was working the horses?"
"Vanna is out today doing the pickups."
"What time did she bring them in?"
"Say anything about the bunch?"
"No. Standard pickup."
"Anyone waiting with the bodies?"
"Just wondering. Thanks, Jean."
Jean slithered back to the morgue not to far from where Aeson was working. Jean was a strange man, but Aeson had a fondness for him. Every time he showed up to The Sepulcher, the bodies were well taken care of. They were laid properly and with respect before being ashed. There was never a hint of trash in sight and it was probably the cleanest a mass grave could possibly be. Jean took his job seriously and you could see the pride he had in his work.
The bodies come from all over. Since southwest Telemure is an open field not used for farming and void of thick forest, it is an open field for where the dead are laid to rest.
Aeson began brushing the snow off of the woman. Uneasiness washed over him as he did. This woman was no more than a decade older than him. He was sure he could find something this time. Her body was too well preserved. There was no chunks of flesh missing. No cuts. No bruises. She wasn't disheveled like the rest of the bodies he had been studying recently. She looked untouched. As if she just dropped where should stood. A heart attack maybe? No. She looked unperturbed in the slightest. Aeson would have noticed quickly if it were a stroke or a heart attack by the expression locked on her face. During a natural death - which wasn't all that natural these days - the body looks, well, different. Heart attacks, old age, choking on your sweet cake all give a certain tinge emptiness to the body. She looked different. A peace all too unknown to corpses. Rigor Mortis still coursing her veins locking her body in a deep slumber, but her eyes were open. If she had had a heart attack she would blankly in the distance as she had seen death riding in to greet her. Unless you checked for a heartbeat you couldn't even tell she had passed on. Not frightened by what took her in the least. The usual answer is the most simple, but there was no real reason to assume that it was her heart failing. And if he did not have to crack open her chest to examine he wasn't going to.
He started removing the rest of her clothes. As long as he had been doing this it still made him feel uneasy to remove a patients garments. Especially a woman's. He felt gross. She was unwilling and he fancied himself as a gentleman. He had to do what had to be done so he quickly apologized and removed the woman's tattered pants. She wasn't poor, but she was quite far from being amongst the wealthy. She was dressed warmly, which not many from the lower parts of town had the luxury of doing. She wore a very well padded coat with a button up shirt underneath of it, denim pants that were a little too big on her with thermal underwear that covered most of her legs. Her arms were laid at her sides and her hands fell directly below her waistline. The callouses on her hands said that she was a working girl and not one to push paper work. Down her legs, again showed no signs of struggle or harm. She laid undressed, stiff, in the cold as a porcelain statue knocked down in the snow that covered the dirt. Aeson turned her over just to check her backside. He assumed that he would still find nothing and unfortunately he was correct. Her back was a blank canvas.
Aeson felt a little ashamed that he was disappointed in finding the woman unharmed. It was hard to think that if she had even just one mark on her that he could tie something together. He could feel some sense of accomplishment if she had been visibly harmed. He could maybe find her family and tell them what had happened to her. Or maybe he could find something more significant to give the town some answers. It wasn't that he wanted to be a hero. He just wanted to be able to give somebody - anybody - answers. Even if no one was looking for them.
Without being able to find a single clue, Aeson took it upon himself to dress her again. Jean usually took care of this, but he was busy at the moment and Aeson didn't mind helping the woman. After all, he hadn't helped much up until then. So, he put her thermals back and her pants back on. This is much harder than it looks when someone's legs are stiff. The pant legs tend to fold over and get caught as you are trying to pull them up. The tighter he pulled on them, the bigger the lump in his throat grew. His embarrassment grew exponentially. After, he got her pants back on, he sat the woman up and slid the button up shirt on arm by arm. He then pulled the woman's long dark hair back to push the collar of her shirt back under. It was a difficult to tell the actual color of her hair due to the dirt that was filling her locks.
There, peering out behind the curtains of the woman's hair, was something on the nape of her neck. There was something! Aeson felt a rise in his chest. A racing. He felt guilty that not only had he been this excited, but that he would have missed something so noticeable and so simple. He gave himself a pass and attributed it to being burnt out from all the work the past few months, but there was finally something. Directly beneath the woman's hairline he noticed that the skin was bruised. It was not any typical bruise, however. Where there would have been purplish hue to the skin, there was instead a dark brown almost black, which reflected the dirt in the woman's hair. More so, there were black lines that trailed down the veins in the area. There were also a few grey hairs right above that area. Aeson began to search the woman's scalp for more, but was unable to find any. He began to really focus. He double-checked the surrounding area and her face. He opened her eyes. There was emptiness to them that he had not noticed before. Is it just the look of death? It didn't feel so. Unsure whether or not it was a biased opinion due to his enthusiasm he marked it down anyway in his notebook and left an asterisk next to it. He marked the rest down in his notebook, shut it, and tucked it back deep into the inside pocket of his dark leather coat that lay on the ground beside his feet. He did not like to wear it while he worked with a patient. He thought it to be informal and also it weighed him down. It was very thick and heavy.
Aeson had finally finished dressing her. He began to hypothesize what might have caused the discoloration. Maybe she was injected with a poison? It was unlikely, because there was no 'spider bite' in the center or around the wound at all. The tissue it self was not damaged and felt no different at all. It was simply discolored. What could have caused the hair to turn grey as well? She was clearly well nourished and took care of herself. She had to be for the line of work she appeared to be in. Metal shavings under her nails suggested a mill worker. Long hours and a very hot furnace on at all times. Need to be pretty fit for a career such as that, but it pays well. At least he knew where to ask questions next. Aeson finished by laying the woman flat on her back and closing her eyes. He apologized to her one last time and began to make his way to the morgue.
The morgue was no more than a dingy shack in the middle of a dead field. The land was no good for farming and was far away from the waterways around town, which made it the perfect spot to leave the dead behind and Jean with them. Aeson opened the large wooden door, which ran its course all the way up to meet the bonnet roof. The door was designed this way to have accessibility for the large carts to be backed in to make drop offs that were ready to be ashed. This was also where the cart was locked up at night just in case any hooligans decided to steal it and crash it into Mrs. Turner's shop again. Once inside, Aeson noticed the two bodies on the table. Two men, who were both very old, with skin ready to sag over the bedside. Aeson removed his mask and felt the heat of the furnace cloak his face. His face was always quite sensitive once the mask came off.
"Find everything you were looking for?" Hissed Jean.
"And more." Replied Aeson.
"There was some discoloration on her neck, but it didn't resemble trauma."
"Poison or venom maybe?" Inquired Jean as he turned up the heat on the furnace.
Aeson felt a bead of sweat drip down his forehead and began removing his gloves. He hooked his mask to the inside of his coat and stuff the gloves in the pocket with his notebook.
"I thought that, too, but there was no bite. Man or beast."
"Agreed. Even more strange was that the hair was turning grey above the mark. Seen anything like that before?"
"Can't say that I have. I'll keep an eye out."
"Send for me if
you see anything will you? And take care of that one will you? She
deserves it. They all do. "
"Ditch the mask will you? Freaks even the likes of me out. Reminds me of the crows."
"I'll be sure to forget it the next time I come around, Jean. Take care."
Aeson exited through the giant door and began to make his way towards the wooden gate that marked the way out of The Sepulcher. With the days work done, he wanted to get home and tell Lilith what he had found. He was curious to see what she had thought of what he found. Though he was the lead scholar of the two and Lilith's mentor, it was always nice to have a new set of eyes and a fresh mind to look at anything Aeson was researching. More importantly, it was also a good opportunity for her to put what she had been studying into an actual analytical setting. What's the use of knowledge if all you do is stick to the basics?
Aeson closed the gate behind him and began his march back into town. Vanna passed by him on an empty cart being dragged by a chocolate colored horse. She waved politely and offered him a ride back to town. It was only about a mile down the road to town, so Aeson thanked her but decided to walk it back. It gave him time to wind down after todays work. The time alone on the road also gave him time just to clear his mind and think. Work hasn't been particularly slow for a few months and has gradually been getting there. This walk home signified his schedule finally clearing up and he wanted to savor the taste of an ounce of freedom.
The road home was outlined by a very thin forest. The needles on the trees covered in snow and ice. It was quiet and serene. The sun shimmered off the trees and the ground as it began to set. Simply perfect for a short walk home. Aeson's thick, long coat kept him from having to think much about the temperature. Besides, it was a warmer day than most for the winter they had been having.
It wasn't long before the Aeson could see the silhouette of the town with the sun settling down slightly to the side behind the trees. He had lived in Astrid on the eastern border of Telemure for most of his life. The only time he had ever left was to follow a job or to do research, but he always came back and he never went far. Sometimes north to Buckius or west to Asteira. It was for the most part one of the smaller towns in all of Eloria, teetering on the border of being called an actual city. This allowed Aeson to walk right into town without having to be welcomed by armed guards at the gates. The only guards were at the docks and they were often armed to the teeth with various blades and the occasional firearm. This was mostly for show and you could see that in the demeanor in which most of them carried not only their weapons, but themselves as well. It isn't that they weren't well trained, because some of the wannabe thieves found out the hard way how good of a shot one of them could be. It was how lax they could be while on duty.
Most of the roads still were not paved, but the stones were smooth and the sidewalks weren't too cracked and eroded. It had a bustling market and a lot of the town helped to keep the streets clean.
Trade was done by way of the river. It was the main port town other than the one across the Northern Isles in Croyden. The only guards were at the docks and they were often armed to the teeth with various blades and the occasional firearm. This was mostly for show and you could see that in the demeanor in which most of them carried not only their weapons, but themselves as well. It isn't that they weren't well trained, because some of the wannabe thieves found out the hard way how good of a shot one of them could be. It was how lax they could be while on duty.
Aeson's living space wasn't too far into town when he entered through the eastern side. He and Lilith lived right above an antique shop that was ran by an antique couple. Aeson noted that they were nice, but they tended to keep their distance from Lilith and himself. Lilith always reminded him how creepy they were. She was bugged by how they mirrored each other in almost everything they do. The way the talked, the way the dressed, and the eeriest of all was how they would start and finish each other's sentences. Aeson tried to tell her that it was because of how long they had shared their lives together. Lilith doesn't buy it. "We have been living together for a long time now and we don't do creepy shit like that," was a common thing to hear whenever the Gladstone's were ever brought up. Aeson generally just nodded and let it go. There was no changing Lilith's mind about someone.
Aeson marched up the dark stairwell and unlocked the door to their home hoping to find some lights on so he could see. Even though the town was a bustling trade town, electricity was scarce. Most homes and shops were lit by candle and lanterns. One good thing about being so busy recently is they were able to pay to keep the lights on recently. And that is exactly what Lilith had done. Aeson walked around the small one bedroom living space only to find it recently abandoned. The wall to the left of the door was made entirely of filled bookcases ranging from anatomy to endocrinology, from poetry to science fiction. As usual there were many books scattered about on the table in front the couch where Aeson sleeps. To the right was a small kitchen stocked with a tiny stove and a freezing unit. There was not much that Aeson actually hated, but that unit was one of them. The steam powered pump that powered the cooling unit always clicked and knocked at the most inopportune times. Most of those times were when he was sleeping. Not even the entire power plant on the northern side of the river was that loud and it was filled with the same, but much larger pumps.
In the back of the home was one bedroom, which Aeson left entirely to Lilith. He figured as a growing young woman that she needed it more than he did. It also gave her a silent place to study. Aeson didn't spend too much time at home to begin with. The couch suited him just fine. The door to her room was shut, but Aeson noticed the light peering from underneath of the door. He cordially knocked only to get no response. She wasn't in there, but she left the light on in there, too. And she locked the door. Aeson noticed that the stove was still warm. She couldn't have left too long ago.
Aeson walked back to the front door and hung up his coat on the rack and his mask separately. Lilith's coat was missing. A single tan peacoat He made his way to the restroom through a door beside the door to Lilith's room. "I swear, if she locked this door, too..." Aeson muttered to himself. He knocked and with no response he let himself into the bathroom. The porcelain of the sink, toilet, and tub were always shimmering and spotless. Neither Aeson nor Lilith minded the smell of bleach. The exposed pipes were well worn and slightly rusted, but simple upkeep kept them from ever leaking. Aeson washed his face in the sink and looked at the bags under his eyes. He always appeared a bit older than he actually was. A man not even three decades old, but his hair had already began to mix white into it He didn't mind. It thought it gave him a 'wise' look.
Aeson moseyed on over to his couch laid down. The freezer was stocked. The stove was still warm, so she must have ate. Aeson did not leave her with any assignments other than to study. Night had just fell and it the temperature began to go with it. So where could Lilith run off to?