The Curious Case of the Frozen Revenant
By Gerry Huntman
“The princess followed tenuous paths of inquiry in her first year,” Sir Thomas continued, “which finally took her to Prussia’s capital, Berlin. I had…well, let me say I had an irreconcilable disagreement with Her Majesty’s Government, and took solace with the science fraternity patronized by the House of Hohenzollern. While they are as stuffy as England, I was not caught up in…aah, another story.
“While demonstrating a new form of electric storage device that I invented to several Polish scientists in Berlin, there was a commotion down the Royal Palace’s corridor. To my surprise, I found Princess Hui-yin in mortal combat with a visiting Chinese dignitary who I had previously only the briefest of acquaintance. It was truly an amazing battle, defying my understanding of physics and human biology, and at its conclusion the princess won the day. The Palace Guard arrested her, but not before I gazed upon her countenance and knew that there was a greater tale to tell, and that she was, indubitably, in the right. At that moment, I did not see her palm a priceless citrine, cut in the shape of a pear.
“That night I stole into her cell and discovered why she was in Prussia. The dignitary was a member of The Society of Heaven and Earth, and was custodian of the Earth Element Stone. I don’t know how—although I can guess—the princess was able to retain the gem while being incarcerated. I helped her escape and I found myself again in need of a new safe haven. It did not take me long to join her in her quest, and to come to the realization that instead of finding a new place of refuge, I should bring my home along with me.” He waved his hand at the iron carriage. “I call her the Iron Queen.”
Hui-ying continued the story, “Through Sir Thomas’ eminent scientific skills, we harnessed the gem’s property to locate the next stone in the Great Harmonious Cycle—Earth generates Metal through Water through Wood through Fire, and which generates Earth. And so the cycle continues. Sir Thomas had already invented a device that allows people, and objects, to instantaneously transport from one place in the world to another, but it was fraught with danger without a sure indication of direction—a property which the Sacred Stones had, but they were restricted to just locating the next gem in the cycle.”
“Excellently summarized,” Sir Thomas said. “The device actually ‘folds’ space. I installed it in the Iron Queen, fitted with a navigation chamber that can hold one of the Sacred Stones. We appeared on this hill, having located the sapphire that was in Jake’s frozen hands.”
“What about Jake?” Nick asked. “How did he join your group?”
“Ah. Jake. The citrine allowed the princess and I to virtually instantly transport to where the second stone, the diamond, was located. The Society of Heaven and Earth have a strong following among some of the Chinese in Australia, and the Iron Queen appeared near a goldfield in a town called Ballarat in the Victorian Colony.” The Englishman theatrically bowed to Hui-ying to complete the story.
“Once near a Sacred Stone it is not difficult for me to locate it. I get a sense of where it is; a part of my training as Guardian. A terrible battle took place, as I underestimated how many followers of the Society were there. When I thought I was about to fail, Jake appeared, to my rescue. He shot several of the Society followers down, which allowed me to win the day. We recovered the diamond.” She hesitated, blushing slightly with a downward glance. “Jake and I have since become…good friends. He was on a personal journey himself, and left America’s shores to find solace. Instead, we have found each other.”
Tea was finished and Sir Thomas packed away the tables and chairs. He asked Nick to stand clear, as he entered the driver’s compartment of the Iron Queen. A rumbling emanated from the giant carriage, and it’s sides unfolded in complicated patterns, expanding into glistening metal-roofed, canvas-walled tents on both sides, allowing ample room for beds and a table for repast.
Sir Thomas noticed Nick’s look of incredulity. “An adjustment I made when we grew to three.”
Jake recovered quickly, as Sir Thomas predicted. Nick saw him walk slowly, carefully into the left annex, where everyone were enjoying fine Chinese cuisine.
“And you didn’t invite me?” Jake asked. “Princess, your vegetables and noodles is my second favorite meal!”
“What’s his first?” Nick asked.
“T-Bone,” Sir Thomas and Hui-ying said in unison.
Hui-ying flew into Jake’s arms, who struggled to remain upright. “Woah, girl, I was frozen, remember?”
She whispered something in his ear, where Nick only picked up the words ‘warming up’. He was no fool, he knew everything and anything about the world at fourteen, and it also made him feel a little ‘warmed up’.
Sir Thomas introduced Nick to Jake, and quickly gave an account of the events since Nick had found the block of ice.
“I’ll be darned,” Jake said bitterly. “Of all the places in the world where I could have appeared, I’m back in the Gilas. Of all the God-forsaken corners on this globe why would the Emerald Stone be here?”
“More importantly,” Sir Thomas added, “why does your past cross paths with the location of the Stone?”
Hui-ying served her noodle and vegetable dish to the gunslinger. “Quan Yin’s Stones are powerful. I was taught this from the moment I entered the Shaolin Monastery for my education and training. I believe there are no coincidences where the Sacred Stones are concerned. There must be a reason why you appeared here.”
Jake ate ravenously, like a man who had been starved a week. When he nearly finished his second helping, Nick asked, “How did you get frozen?”
Jake pulled a face like he had been bitten; he rubbed his stubbled chin and sat back in his chair, leaning precariously on two of its legs. “I ‘spose you know about our callin’. How much of the story ’bout the Stones have yer heard?”
“Australia,” Nick said, excitedly.
“The Victorian Goldfields. Yeah. Seeking escape from my past and gettin’ instant wealth—and instead found a different treasure.” He gave Hui-yin a wink. “With the diamond placed in Sir Thomas’ iron contraption, we winked into a bleak, cold land, which turned out to be Mongolia. And I reckoned the Gila Mountains was cold in winter! Hoowee! Compared to the first two stones, this leg of the adventure—my first, really—was tough. Real tough.” He briefly touched his right arm. “I got hurt and it took a long time to heal. Thanks to Sir Thomas’ smarts and some neighborly Mongolian tribesmen, we weathered the winter and found the varmints who had the sapphire. There was a big fight and it wasn’t easy. The sapphire was kept in a cave network as big as a palace, on a pedestal, and while Hui-ying was fighting the leader, I grabbed the Stone and…well, next thing I remember is waking in the gully.”
“I will finish the story,” Sir Thomas said. “The pedestal was set with a clever trap that instantly froze Jake. I observed, in that instant, our companion enveloped in water which froze, as opposed to his body being frozen in itself. Then, in the bat of an eye, the sapphire glinted through the translucency of the ice, and the block disappeared.
“We were so worried,” Hui-ying said. “We couldn’t be absolutely sure where he went.”
“That is true,” the inventor said, “however the balance of probabilities was that the Sacred Stone somehow, in some way, transported Jake to where the emerald was located. Fortunately, since the sapphire was in Jake’s possession, we hastily retreated to the Iron Queen and transported with the aid of the Diamond Stone, to where it was located, including Jake.”
“Quick thinkin’,” Jake said, shaking his head in disbelief with his good fortune. “If you didn’t act quickly I would’ve been a goner.”
Jake was clearly eager to continue the conversation, but over time he was showing signs of weariness, and had to retire to bed. Nick saw him walk with Hui-ying to the other tent attached to the Iron Queen, finding himself sharing the remaining tent extension with Sir Thomas. A comfortable cot was set for him, and he fell asleep dreaming about murderous Chinese warriors in icy Mongolia.
Nick woke just before sun-up, finding Sir Thomas already packing things away.
“I better go now,” the young teenager said, “’cause I gotta rustle up some cattle and get them back to the stockyards.”
Sir Thomas stopped packing and sat on the second iron step leading into the carriage. “Nicholas, we would be grateful if you would come with us to Clifton. You know the place nearly as well as Jake, and you are familiar with what has been going on over recent years. You might enjoy it as well.”
Nick grew excited by the offer but on reflection, his enthusiasm quickly deflated. “I wish I could, but I can’t stay away from home for that long. It’s two days ride to Clifton, and another two back, not to mention the time there, and back here rustling the cattle again.”
“Ah, your decision is based on a false premise, Nicholas. You are assuming we are riding horses or driving the Iron Queen over rough terrain.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will see, soon enough.”
After quickly, and efficiently packing the portable furniture into the iron carriage, and folding the extensions back into the walls of the vehicle, Sir Thomas allowed Nick to sit with him in the driver’s cabin. He started the engine by winding a small wheel and then pressing a large button next to it. The Iron Queen vibrated with the running of its powerful steam engine.
“Nicholas, I will explain briefly how this invention of mine works. Are you interested in science?”
“I…I guess so.”
“Be so, my boy. It is the way of the future. It will be only a matter of a handful of years when horses will no longer be used for transport, except in the less fortunate nations and kingdoms of this planet. Become a scientist.
“The Iron Queen is unique, a one-off. There is no vehicle like it in this world. There is a large water tank at its rear which, when converted to steam, provides the power to cause it to move, and also run a number of other devices that generates electricity—which in turn operates devices that operate on this form of power. There is sufficient electricity generated to charge a number of batteries as well. However, there is another invention that is of particular interest. It extracts hydrogen gas from some of the water, which is the fuel to run the engines. Do you see what I have? I have a steam engine that virtually runs itself except for the need for water. I have a small furnace near the engine, which primes the engine if we find ourselves without hydrogen, but to this day, I have only had to use it once.”
Nicholas was again left largely in the dark, but understood enough to know that the Iron Queen was a marvel. “Does that mean that we can travel very fast to Clifton?”
Sir Thomas laughed. “Oh, very fast indeed, but not in the way you think.” Once he was certain that Jake and Hui-ying were secured in the main compartment of the carriage, he pulled a lever on his control board.
“Nicholas, hydrogen is the lightest element known to mankind. It is, aside from its dangerous flammable properties, an astonishingly efficient material for balloon flight. If I change the configuration of my machine to producing more hydrogen, and less mechanical power, I can create a large volume of hydrogen.”
The roof of the carriage unfolded, releasing a bright yellow Chinese silk membrane that rapidly expanded into the shape of a balloon of immense proportions, two hundred feet in diameter.
“You probably didn’t see it, but there is a long hose that is drawing extra water from the stream where you set camp,” he explained, “as it takes a great deal to fill this balloon. The Iron Queen is not light—although you would be surprised how much of her structure is constructed of aluminum, a very expensive and lightweight material indeed.”
Nick stuck his head out of the cabin to see the colossal balloon expanding and rising above him. When it was half full the carriage lurched, but stayed put.
Sir Thomas patted his control panel. “She wants to rise, but I haven’t released the anchors beneath the carriage. We don’t want to careen into a mountainside, or tree.”
When the balloon was completely full and the water tank was at capacity, Sir Thomas retracted the anchors and hose, and the Iron Queen swiftly rose.
“When we get to the right altitude, I will release enough gas to set us level. We can dump some water to rise again, if need be. The wind is mild, which is good, as I will now steer and power this air-ship with the aid of small windmill sails that are set to the rear of the carriage.”
When the height of the air-ship was stabilized, and the sail-propellers were in operation, the converted carriage made short work of travelling above the Gila Ranges, and with Nick’s assistance, toward the mining town of Clifton. After a few hours in the cabin, Nick passed through a door into the cramped main carriage area, where Jake and Hui-ying were seated. The gunslinger was cleaning his Smith and Wesson six-shooter.
“Glad you’re comin’ with us,” Jake said.
“Me too, sir. Do you think the Emerald Stone is in town?”
“Pretty sure, son. Can’t see it being anywhere else. I remember there were a couple Chinese families there, running a few local businesses.”
The young boy paused, appearing torn.
“Out with it, Nick. You want to ask me somethin’. I’ve had a dark past, and a lot of it happened in Clifton. Is that it?”
Nick’s face turned red. “Yeah, I guess so. My pa called you a gunslinger. Does that make you a—”
“Bad man?” He laughed, although there was no humor in it. “Gunslingers come in all kinds of colors, although none of ‘em hold much to the sanctity of human life. I ‘spose I didn’t, but I only went after bounties. Goin’ overseas, and meeting Hui-ying, has changed everything for me. I’ll never go back to being a bounty hunter.”
“Why haven’t you come back to Clifton before?”
“Long story, Nick. Let’s just say the family of someone I killed in a gunfight, ambushed me and wounded my arm—badly. My drawing arm wasn’t good—permanently damaged, so I left, to think about my future, what I wanted to do. That’s why I took a steamer from San Francisco to the Victorian Goldfields.”
By midafternoon the Iron Queen arrived at Clifton, with a small buzzing crowd quickly gathering at the field chosen for landing. Sir Thomas expertly steered the craft to the landing target, allowing the carriage to gently descend with the release of hydrogen gas from the balloon. Before the occupants could ready themselves to disembark the craft, internal winches and other clever machinery were already gathering the balloon skin into the roof compartment.
Nick noticed from one of the carriage windows the crowd hush when the Iron Queen’s cabin door opened. Sir Thomas was the first to alight, bowing to the cowboys, miners, prostitutes, craftsmen—forty in number.
Princess Hui-ying followed, triggering murmurs from the crowd.
Nick was next, causing more comments and an old-timer shouting, “What’re yer doin’ with these here strangers, Nick-boy?”
Before he could respond, Jake descended the steps.
The crowd became dead quiet. A dog was heard barking in the distance. A slight breeze picked up small dust eddies from the field and nearby street.
Sir Thomas Page broke the uncomfortable silence. “Citizens of Clifton! We might seem an odd group, but we are merely visitors to your fine town! Can anyone help direct us to a hotel where we can stay?”
A matronly figure was about to answer when she was cut off by the crowd parting for a lone figure slowly approaching. He was an imposing figure, well over six feet tall, with long dark hair beneath a black leather hat. His unshaven face exuded arrogance, disdain. Twin Army Colts were loosely holstered at his hips.
“Jake Chalmers. We thought we saw the last of you, you murderin’ snake. Don’t understand why you’re here, since your draw’s slow. Does it still have my slug in your arm?”
Jake didn’t flinch. “A lot’s happened since then, Zeb. I’m here for other business, nothin’ to do with you, or the Dudes. Leave it be.” He moved away from his companions, making sure they weren’t in the line of fire, and hovered his hand over his Smith and Wesson Model 3.
Zeb spat tobacco onto the dusty field. “You still owe us. My brother’s rotting in the grave ‘cause of you. You skedaddled last time, but it aint goin’ to happen again. It finishes here.”
Nick looked around in panic, but Sir Thomas placed his chubby hand on the boy’s shoulder. “If Jake can’t back out, he can look after himself,” the scientist whispered.
Hui-ying stood still, her muscles tensed. Her eyes darted about, looking for any other antagonists.
“I don’t want to kill you,” Jake said to Zeb, who was now only twenty yards away. “If you back out, you’ll live. Simple.”
“Draw,” Zeb snarled.
“Nope. If you move for your guns, I’ll draw. Nothin’ else.”
A young tradesman shouted from the crowd, “I’d draw, Jake. No-one’s ever beat Zeb. He’s the fastest in this here corner of Arizona Territory!”
Jake stood statue-still. Waiting.
Zeb snarled again and went for his revolvers with fluid speed.
TO BE CONCLUDED TOMORROW!
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Gerry lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and young daughter. He is a father, husband, writer, publisher, and IT consultant, pretty much in that order. He writes speculative fiction, with attention to the three main genres in equal portions, as well as many cross and sub-genres. Most of his work, however, slides towards the dark. He publishes more than one story per month on average, the latest with Ticon4, Stupefying Stories, and Lovecraft eZine. In 2010 he published a young teen fantasy novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms. He is Chief Editor of IFWG Publishing, publisher and contributing editor to SQ Mag, and one of the long fiction judges for the 2012 Australian Shadows Awards.
Gerry's blog site: http://gerryhuntman.livejournal.com/
Full publishing bibliography: http://gerryhuntman.livejournal.com/82579.html
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/gerry.huntman