Night Train to Hardwick Chapter Twelve – Towering Inferno

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The landing wasn’t as easy as Roy had hoped. For most of the harrowing journey over the top of the train the ghost army had been more help than hindrance. Apparently only held in existence by the Colberts, living and dead, the specters lacked any kind of group cohesion. They were confused, uncoordinated and clumsy, easily avoided even as he used their actions to bait the conductor further and further down the train. Now they were almost to a point where they could avoid catching anyone in the battle to come. That was why he’d dropped off the roof when he had.

He bashed his shoulder hard against the side of the caboose when he landed, numbing his left arm for a moment, but it was the last thing on his mind. A quick glance inside the car showed only two porters sitting at a dining table. Their half eaten food sat in front of them as they stared out the window at him in confusion. Roy held his detective’s medallion up to the window and frantically waved them out of the caboose. “Go forward! Now! Move, move, move!”

Whether they heard him, inferred his meaning or just saw the ghosts coming and fled in terror, the porters were on their feet in seconds. One yanked the door open and pulled him in, the other looked out in bewilderment. “What’s going on?”

“The Fairchilds have a plan.” Jenkins’ ghost pushed through the table with the announcement, startling both porters, who stared at it for a moment before belatedly taking Roy up on his advice and sprinting out the door. Jenkins continued as if he hadn’t even seen them. “Miss Cassandra has some way to disperse the army but you may need to distract it for them.”

Roy nodded. “They’re welcome to try their approach, although I’ve settled on one of my own.” He watched as the fringes of the ghostly horde began seeping through the ceiling and walls of the caboose. “I owe you another apology, Jenkins.”

“I told you not to worry about it, didn’t I?”

“Well, it turns out this did all come back to me after all. Never meant to get you caught up in a personal vendetta, you clearly had enough to deal with in life.”

The ghost gave an unsettling, hollow laugh. “The opposite, if I’m truthful. And whatever the reason, I’m still glad to have the chance to be useful again. Now do what you must. I’ll try and drag that nasty Captain away from the horde while you’re at it.”

The ghost dove back through the floor and out of sight. The first rank of the ghost army was through the walls and, as Jenkins said, it was time to do what he must.

Under normal circumstances Roy found working on a sky train pretty distracting. Each car was essentially a box with an aluminum frame resting on eight thinker aluminum slabs, all pumped full of magic piped in from the locomotive’s furnace in a massive network of bronze pipes. It was very difficult to get away from the constant buzz of the fires keeping the train aloft. For once that was an advantage and not a hindrance. Before the the ghosts reached him Roy got a firm grip on the fire coursing through the pipes in the walls and coaxed it into the walls themselves. With a push it burned through the wood in a breath, turning the material to ash and sweeping the ghosts passing through it away like cobwebs. That left him basically in the open air. Standing in the middle of creaking mass of bronze pipes and aluminum bars, looking up at the conductor through the mass of wailing ghosts.

The flames coiled around his feet, waiting for him to direct them, slowly eating away at the floor of the cabin. “This is your opportunity to surrender,” Roy said. “You’ve scared a lot of people but no one’s gotten hurt yet. And there’s no coalstoking way you’re killing me with those floppy little ghosts to work with.”

“You didn’t say he could do that,” Colbert screamed. Roy thought he could pick out his brother’s ghost, whispering in his ear. Or perhaps screaming in it.

Jenkins reappeared, looking upset. “No good. The army’s figured out I’m not on their side and won’t let me pass.”

Roy pulled his gloves on tighter and gripped his knife, trying to ignore the way the iron tugged greedily on the magic swirling around him. Under normal circumstances iron wasn’t enough to distract him if it didn’t touch him directly. But he’d never held this much power in his mind while also holding the dagger. It was a considerable distraction. “What happens if I just kill the living one?”

“You satisfied wiping out all the men in a family?” Jenkins asked.

“Satisfaction has nothing to do with it. Besides, by this point in my life I’m sure I’ve killed an only son at least once so it’s the wrong time to start worrying about it.”

“Have care with that logic,” Jenkins murmured. “But yes, I think if you kill the conductor the Captain will have to depart this world.”

“Give it up, Colbert,” Roy yelled, drawing the conductor’s attention back to him. “Last warning.”

Colbert’s eyes locked with Roy’s, deep and unsettling wells of black that didn’t seem to register anything before them. “Give up what?” He demanded. “This is my chance to finally be rid of both of you!”

“Be quiet,” ghost Colbert screamed. “Just finish him!”

That certainly explained the conductor’s motivation. And seeing that there really wasn’t much chance he would give up Roy gathered the power around him and pushed it down into the aluminum slab under his feet. The entire car bucked beneath his feet, twisting back and forth as the power lifting it went wildly out of balance. Under normal circumstances the engineers in the locomotive would even things out. But with Roy monopolizing all the power in the car there was little they could do but feed more flame through the bronze pipes that connected the train. And that just gave Roy more power to work with.

It only took a few seconds for him to tear the flight panel free of the car and send it shooting up towards Colbert. In his mind, Roy imagined a relatively straight ascent. But the panel came free from one end, then swung around the other before breaking free of the pipes, nearly throwing Roy off in the process. He lost his dagger as he flailed for balance. With his weight shifting all over the place the panel rose in an awkward spiral, clipped one side of the caboose frame and knocked Roy clean off. His only turn of good luck was landing on an undamaged part of the cabin floor rather than falling a section that couldn’t take his weight or missing the floor entirely. The flight panel continued to rise precipitously under the influence of the magic within, taking the bulk of Roy’s available fire power with it.

Above, Colbert cackled and the ghost army surged down again. The horde moved with enough force that the caboose shook under the force of their passage. Roy grabbed for fire, gathering what scraps were left in the frame and what was coming in from the front of the train. It wasn’t much and the car dropped slightly as even more power drained out of it. The ghosts came at him with chilling fingers, howling. Roy had seen this a dozen times on the trip down the train and it wasn’t any different than all the previous times the Colberts had tried it. Creativity had never been the captain’s strong point and the conductor seemed no different.

Roy simply wrapped himself in a layer of warmth that kept the worst of the ghostly chill at bay. The horde still battered him with the force of a heavy wind but it was no different than standing on top of a train moving at thirty miles an hour. But he had no counterattack.

The force of the army was enough to keep him low to the ground and would quickly drown out the force of any fire blast he launched with the tatters of power left available to him. And Colbert wasn’t getting any closer. For a moment Roy regretted the loss of his falcatta, an excellent weapon for compressed, long range flame strikes with the potential to break through the wind. It was definitely better suited to the situation than an iron dagger.

Colbert was slow to the uptake but not stupid. He did notice that his army wasn’t gaining purchase on Roy and its attention shifted from him to the structure of the car. The specters crashed into the copper piping, the aluminum frame and the floorboards. The car groaned and bucked wildly under the onslaught, forcing Roy to grab the aluminum frame with both hands to avoid a lethal fall.

He skittered back and forth along the remnants of the floor, seeking one of the remaining flight panels for firmer footing. It was easier to stand up on it but still less than ideal. “I’ve been in the air every bit as long as you, Colbert,” he called. “It’s going to take more than that to knock me down.”

The engineers up front noticed that the caboose was off balance again and sent a fresh wave of magic towards the rear of the train to balance out the lift. There wasn’t much chance of that happening but it refilled some of Roy’s reserves. He devoted part of his attention to flashburning the last of the floorboards, gathering a bit more fire power into his orbit, and sent a trial fireblast in Colbert’s direction. The ghosts dispersed it with ease. The last vestiges of flame disappeared in the wind before covering half the distance between them.

But some of the ghosts vanished in the process and they didn’t start reforming as the others did. That was when Roy noticed the clear, clarion call ringing faintly over the roar of the wind, the screams of the army and the crackling flame.

A long, unbroken note rose on the moonlight, calling mortal thoughts upwards on starlight arpeggios. And as the sound echoed past the train, crossed the hundreds of feet between and struck the earth beneath a deep, rumbling harmony joined in. Stonesong. The voice of permanence, of endurance, of foundations. A reminder to the fragile and transient things of the world that there was a time for their glittering ambitions and a time to lay them aside for the unknown.

And one by one, the army of ghosts lost their furious expressions. Rage, hope, disappointment, love and fear all vanished, replaced with a glimpse of peace before they faded from view. Colbert’s army was slowly slipping away, defecting to eternity one soul at a time.

With the same speed as before Colbert’s attention snapped away from Roy and to the top of the next car forward, where Roy could barely make out the Fairchilds. Cassandra’s song seemed to carve an area of supernatural calm around them. But Colbert wasn’t having it and, riding high on his army of spirits, he didn’t even have to move to strike them, just gesture with a hand. The ghosts turned away from Roy and charged towards the stone singer. Getting closer to the source of the sound didn’t increase its power at all, the ghosts continued to disappear at the same rate as before.

But they were vanishing even as they closed on the Fairchilds. While Roy watched at least a dozen of them winked away in the few seconds it took to close with them. But he guessed the army was still hundreds strong. Colbert would kill them before the song could wipe all the ghosts away.

The copper heating pipes weren’t meant to hold a man’s weight. But they could serve as stabilizing hand and footholds as Roy scrambled up the aluminum flight frame. With Colbert’s attention elsewhere the tortured remnants of the caboose were stable again but the climb was still a challenge. Roy nearly lost his grip on the flight frame twice. Once he reached the top Roy wedged himself into a corner of the frame, finding it a much better position to launch an attack from. There was a heating pipe within arm’s reach he could draw magic from. With both feet wedged into the corner he opened his mind to the power in the copper pipe and channeled as much of it as he could into a single continuous blast at the conductor. The car dipped and bucked as the loss of magic to the flight frame took its toll. Roy cut off his attack and focused on keeping his balance.

When he looked up to resume the attack he found the spectral horde screaming back towards him. The car wrenched badly as they slammed into it. Then, whether due to the sudden changes in temperature, the jarring movement or just some imperfection in frame itself, the bar Roy was holding on to broke. He swayed at the end of the aluminum strut for a moment. Then the caboose frame swung back the other way and the aluminum snapped entirely and and plummeted towards the ground with Roy still on it.

Night Train to Hardwick Chapter Eleven – Front to Back

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They were halfway up the length of the train when Cassie grabbed Brandon’s arm and hissed, “Did you hear that?”

“No,” he replied, eyes scanning the walls and corners of the public car but unable to pinpoint a source for her mysterious sound. Not even the ghosts were present at the moment. “What did it sound like?”

“Some kind of pipe or flute,” she said. “It’s playing a marching tune.”

“That’s probably a bad sign,” Brandon muttered, moving faster towards the forward door. The whole car bucked under their feet and two dozen voices screamed, gasped or sobbed in unison. “That’s even worse.”

“Something hit the train’s roof,” Cassie said.

“Where?”

“Two cars ahead? Maybe three?” Her eyes tracked something along the ceiling of the car. A loud bang and the ceiling cracked as a heavy weight rolled along the roof. Cassie’s expression turned to horror. “That’s Mr. Harper!”

Brandon immediately turned about, following the clunking sounds along the roof. “Is he saying anything you can make out?”

“Not over the sound of the army.”

“Dust and ashes,” Brandon muttered, feeling the yew dig deeper into his bones as it woke to danger, filaments weaving through his muscles and hardening his skin like bark. When he hit the breezeway at the end of the car he looked up. Harper was not in sight. So Brandon unhooked the mesh around the passage, reached one hand up and hauled himself onto the roof of the train.

The wind grabbed him as soon as his head broke over the top of the train car and tears filled his eyes as the force of the air assulted them. With the wind came a steady stream of horrific wails and screams. In the distance, empty grassland and high bluffs moved past at a pace made deceptively slow by the miles between the train and the horizon. Brandon put a hand up to block some of the wind and his vision cleared more. There, on the roof of the next car down, was Roy Harper, wielding his iron knife in a vain attempt to hold back a raging horde of ghosts.

It was hard to pick out details through the overlapping layers of spectral shapes. Harper’s body was clear for only split seconds at a time and, by straining a bit, Brandon could tell that there was some kind of solid form at the center of the horde, held aloft by dozens or hundreds of ghosts clustering around it. Waves of ghosts were buffeting against Harper in spite of his best efforts to keep them away. By the time Brandon got up on the roof himself Harper had taken another spill, tumbling halfway down the length of the car. The ghosts were trying to knock him clean off the train but he was staying low enough that he could turn a slip from a lethal mistake into a painful fall along the roof.

“Harper!” Brandon called, trying to find his own balance as the wind from the train’s passage buffeted him. “Push this way!”

Whether because the wind took the words away or because the sound of the ghost army drowned out his voice Harper didn’t hear. Instead he took another step back and hopped over the gap to the next car back. Brandon marveled at how certain his footing was, how easily Harper kept his feet in spite of the rushing air and raging ghosts.

Unexpected hands clamped on to his shoulders and Cassie’s voice came over the wind. “Get me closer.”

“What are you doing here?” Brandon demanded. “You can barely make yourself heard.”

“They don’t have to hear me for the power to take hold.” The tone of her voice was so startling that he turned to look and saw the most focused, ferocious expression he’d ever seen on her face.

“Don’t let go,” Brandon said, digging his heels in and shifting his focus from the yew within to that without, digging the short yew rod he carried out of his belt. It sprouted roots that looped up and around his shoulders and Cassie’s hands. With his sister mostly secured he quickly pushed towards the other end of the train car, muscles and yew roots working in tandem to move down the train.

In some ways having the wind at his back made traversing the car harder, not easier. Each step required deliberation, caution and precision or the wind could blow them right off the roof. Even with the weight of two people together it was difficult. At first he and Cassie couldn’t move in coordination. In fact they nearly tripped each other the first time they tried to take a step and, to make matters worse, Cassie’s hair came free of its bun and whipped into his face adding another complication.

Harper didn’t seem to have any better time of it. No matter how he tried Brandon couldn’t get any closer to him. The other man kept giving ground before the army of ghosts to the point where there was almost no train left! By dint of practice and a careful squint Brandon closed the distance between them to half a train car and the ghosts were starting to take note of him and his sister. The sound of spectral wailing seemed to change in tone and tenor as the spotted Cassie. “Poor things,” she said. “Most of them have no idea why they’re here. They’ve been shackled by one of their own.”

“So they have.” Brandon was so startled by Sam Jenkins’ unexpected arrival that he nearly took a fatal slip.

“Dust and ashes, warn a man next time,” he grumbled.

“You can see him there near the top.” Jenkins pointed vaguely towards a glowing mass near the top of the ghost army.

If he squinted, Brandon thought he could make out a slightly brighter figure in the overlapping mass Jenkins was pointing to. “Must be the ghost that was haunting Harper,” Brandon said. “He said it was a Captain. How do I put it down?”

“You can’t,” Cassie replied. “Ghosts are magic rooted in a vessel of water vapor. There’s nothing solid for you to cut or break. I’ll have to siphon off the power giving them shape.”

“Cassandra-”

“I can hear the harmonies, Brandon! This was the call that brought us here! Just keep the ghosts at bay as best you can.”

There were some things people had to chose for themselves. Once Affirmed an adult at the age of fifteen there was little family or friends could do to change someone’s mind once they made it up and, for better or worse, the Fairchild gift had fallen to Cassandra. If she chose to use it there was nothing he could do. Just keep her safe. “Very well, then, if they turn nasty I’ll keep the ghosts back as best I can.”

“Use the thing that you used to call me,” Jenkins said. “It’s got a darkness to it, to be sure, but that’ll encourage most of them to to move on rather than stay near it. But Roy said not to do anything until he reaches the caboose.”

“What?” Brandon demanded. “Why?”

“Best of luck, Fairchilds! Go in peace, for we’ll not meet in this world again.” The ghost vanished into the wind.

“Our Lady guide you to warm hearthfires,” Cassie called.

“Our Lord call you to walk with the storm,” Brandon said. Then, as an afterthought, “If they even have either of those in the Great Beyond.”

“Let them get a few steps further ahead,” Cassie said. “Best not to draw their attention to us before we begin.”

“It might be too late for that,” Brandon said, eyeing the fringes of the army. Ghosts there still eyed them with suspicion.

He was wondering how they might go about distracting them when Harper tumbled off the edge of the baggage car, disappearing into the gap between it and the caboose.

Night Train to Hardwick Chapter Ten – Boiling Over

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Long exposure had taught Roy to ignore the whispers of fire that pervaded the typical sky train. And the voice of fire was everywhere. In the excited babble of flames rushing through the copper pipes that channeled and enhanced its magical force. In the liberated shouts of that heat bursting out and up through the aluminum flight panels built into the frames of each car. And even in the buzzing ambient heat of the passenger’s body temperature. It was all background noise to him at this point. But sometimes even background noise got too loud to ignore.

Roy have never visited a locomotive when it was in flight.

The noises of exertion that accompanied shoveling coal, the murmurs of the train’s vulcanists as they made adjustments, the whistling sound of air rushing through the chamber to keep the crew cool, were all inaudible to his ears. They heard only roaring fury, desperate purpose and the promise of power. The voice of the locomotive’s engine. He couldn’t stay.

With sudden resolve he turned away from the arcane crystals and lenses of the monitoring station and pushed past the conductor. The giant copper furnace that powered the train and forest of copper pipes that distributed its blessings weren’t exactly in the way but he still shrank back from them, the furious power within a distraction he didn’t need. Finally he broke out into the breezeway, cool night air rushing past and sweeping away the heat and noise. The corridor in the compartment car beyond was quiet and empty, save for the occasional flicker of ghostly motion, and Roy took a moment to enjoy the solitude.

Then the conductor burst through the door and joined him. “Is everything all right, sir?” He asked, hands clasped anxiously in front of him. “You didn’t look well, back there.”

“Just distracted by the heat,” Roy said. “You said you haven’t seen any spirits at this end of the train, even now?”

“That’s right.” He nodded. “The engineers think the power in the furnace is keeping them away.”

“Or it’s the back line,” Roy mused.

“I’m sorry?”

“The ghosts are on the move.” Roy gestured back to the door behind them. “You saw them just now, as we passed through the breezeway. It’s possible that they just haven’t reached the locomotive yet, or maybe it has some other arcane significance to them.”

The conductor looked aghast. “You mean they could be drawing power from the furnace?”

Roy shook his head as he started towards the other end of the car, hoping to find the Fairchilds at the rear of the train and compare notes. “I’m not well versed in ghosts and their magical natures, but I vaguely recall the average specimen being tied to the air more than fire for power, though they tend to use both water and earth as mediums. Either way I could see a sky train attracting them or serving as a locus for their power very easily. But I doubt the furnace itself would be an attractive power source for them or whoever is gathering them.”

As they crossed into the next breezeway the conductor stared out at the gathering ranks of ghosts, new lines of fear or something similar sketching over his face. As they stepped into the dining car he grabbed Roy’s arm and pulled them into a booth, sitting opposite him at the table. “What are you trying to say?” The conductor asked, his voice low, unnecissarily so given the car was empty of all but two passengers and the staff. “Has someone onboard summoned all these spirits? Is that even possible?”

“I don’t know the answer to either of those questions,” Roy admitted. “But I have made preparations to consult the literature.”

The conductor watched as Roy pulled a small, black leatherbound book from his jacket’s inside pocket. “What’s that?”

“The notes of some very skilled and experienced monster hunters and arcanists,” Roy said. It was, in fact, the original copy of Sir Pellinore’s Records of the Hunting Wylds, a record dating back to Arthur’s Stone Circle and, based on what Roy had seen of the early pages, one of the most comprehensive accounts of monstrous creatures in the history of Avalon. But Roy left that and his difficulties reading the thing out. Mostly so he wouldn’t have to explain how he got it or what he had to do to access the later parts of it.

To say nothing of who gave it to him.

“That thing has a section on ghosts?” The conductor looked skeptical.

“Hopefully more than one.” Roy thumbed through the pages but reached the end far faster than its width would suggest. “It’s also got a mind of its own. But according to the table of contents it should only take a few hours to reach one of them.”

“But you don’t know for sure it will tell you what kind of phenomenon this is?”

“No. But the authors tend to review what is known in general about a supernatural thing before discussing the particulars of their hunt.” Roy drummed his fingers on the cover. “Hopefully this can tell me something more than the Fairchilds could.”

“Oh?” The conductor’s eyebrows shot up like startled caterpillars. “Is that why you went back to your compartment to talk to them?”

“No, actually, they came-” Roy froze, mid sentence, when the incongruity hit him. “They came to me.”

Roy got to his feet, shoving Pellinore’s Journal back into his pocket.

“What’s the matter?” The conductor asked, scrambling to keep up.

But Roy didn’t answer, dashing back through the first compartment car and up to the tender car. There, by the doorway, was the clipboard with the train’s crew roster on it.

“What’s the matter?” The conductor asked, gasping as he pushed the door closed behind them. “Do you think the Fairchilds have something to do with this?”

“We weren’t in our compartment,” Roy murmured. “We were actually in the next compartment over.”

The other man’s brow furrowed. “And? Packards are allowed to enter any part of the train if they have cause.”

Roy turned the clipboard around to show him the name written at the top of the crew roster. “But you didn’t know that. And yet you came straight to that compartment, not our compartment. How did you know where to find me, Mr. Colbert?”

Colbert backpedaled half a step. “I don’t know what-”

The clipboard clattered to the ground as Roy grabbed him by the lapels and shook him. “Maybe you’re brother’s ghost told you? Hm?”

All pretense of ignorance vanished and the conductor’s face turned hard. “You really are a violent, stubborn man, aren’t you, Mr. Harper?”

“Never mind me. What’s this all about, Colbert?”

“You killed my brother and cursed me with his coalstoking ghost. Now it’s high time that score was settled.”

Roy snorted. “Funny. There’s a lot about me the Captain never knew and plenty more that’s changed in the last decade. But even if you had a plan for me, you don’t even have a knife on you.”

The conductor snorted back. “I’ve got better than that, although I’d hoped for a little more time to gather them.”

A warning tickled at the back of Roy’s mind but he did his best to ignore it. That possibility could be dealt with when the other man was secure. “Come on, Colbert. It’s time we found a hole to keep you in until we get to Hardwick.”

With a single sharp move he spun the conductor around and slammed him face first into the wall, intending to get ahold of his hands. But instead Colbert sank into a wave of ghosts pushing through the wall and grabbing at Roy with cold, clammy hands. A blast of flame from his cufflinks kept them at bay for a brief moment, long enough for Roy to backpedal towards the door. To his surprise he saw Jenkins ghost step out of the horde, looking panicked. “I found the leader, Roy,” it shouted. “But I can’t reason with him or break his power!”

“Never mind that, then!” Roy ripped the door open and vaulted up to grab the roof of the train. “Get the Fairchilds and have them meet me at the caboose. Make sure they don’t try anything until I get that far, understand? Not until then!”

If Jenkins answered Roy didn’t hear it. He was too busy scrambling over the roof of the train, trying to stay ahead of the raging ghosts that boiled out of the tender car screaming his name.

Night Train to Hardwick Chapter Nine – Chorus of the Lost

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The ghosts were everywhere. Even in the orphan’s public car, previously swept clear, specters were flitting through the walls briefly. However echoes of Cassie’s magic remained there, driving the ghosts away quickly. It left a strange impression, as if the edges of the car had turned blurry with the faces of ghosts flicking in and out. The other cars were worse, with ghost flailing, yelling and swooping at people at random intervals.

“Strange that we haven’t attracted any ghosts,” Brandon muttered.

“We’re probably too far away from any remnants of people we know,” Cassie said. “Small blessings from the Lady there.”

“Are you sure none of this is dangerous?” Brandon asked, watching as a living woman struggled against tears, clutching at the intangible form of a boy on the seat beside her.

“So long as they remain in the normal classes of ghost they don’t have any physical power,” Cassie said, looking away from the scene uneasily. “But that doesn’t mean specters can’t manipulate people verbally, in fact they’re uniquely suited to it because they know those they’re bound to. They’re just as dangerous to the mind as any living creature. Haunts – ghosts that are bound to places or objects – are less likely to do it but all I’m seeing and hearing are specters.”

Brandon stepped out into the airway between the last public car and the luggage car, eyeing the growing swarms of ghosts that billowed through the night sky, voices merging with the wind in a constant surussus of half heard, unsettling words. “What happens when they stop being normal ghosts?”

“Then you have a revenant,” Cassie called over the wind. “Or a poltergeist if you ask the Teutonic wizards. Either word means the same – a ghost that can fling objects, freeze people and is no longer bound to a single person, place or thing.”

The luggage car door slammed shut behind them but to Brandon’s surprise the piles of luggage were swarming with just as many specters as the rest of the train. “Interesting. Are we changing our mind about there being no haunts on this train?”

“This may be the locus of power Mr. Harper was looking for. That, or every piece of clothing and luggage is bound to a haunt,” Cassie murmured.

Brandon frowned and started looking through the luggage carefully. Most of it was in trunks, locked closed, difficult if not impossible for a regular person to open. Smaller items were kept in wooden cubbyholes with locked doors, which Brandon knew could only be opened by a conductor with a master key or the passenger who rented it, who was given the relevant key.

“If an object was the focus of all this, how big would it be?” He asked.

Cassie shrugged, resting her ear against one of the trunks while working the fistful of Harper’s magical scrap in one hand. “It could be as small as a jewel or curio portrait.”

Brandon grunted and closed his eyes. Cassie might be able to hear and speak to things beyond but his initiation into the stone circle had given him the strength and heart of the yew. He ran his fingers along the doors of the cubbies and the lids of trunks, looking for the telltale signs of recent human touch. Behind him, Cassie began humming quietly. Brandon frowned, annoyed that she kept pushing her gift when she was in no danger. No matter how Harper’s gizmo interacted with her talents it wouldn’t help her forever. Either its magic would give out or Harper would take it back but the habit of relying on it would remain.

And at the rate she was going she’d be blind by thirty.

Then again all stone singers had to face that reality sooner or later, even if they never consciously used their magic. He thought he’d accepted that, watching his father slowly lose his vision as he grew up. But it turned out dreading his sister’s eventual decline had its own kind of horror to it. He realized he’d stopped searching and pushed himself forward again. A few minutes later he reached the far end of the baggage car and sighed, shifting his shoulders as the yew roots relaxed and his magic went dormant. “Nothing here. I’d guess no one needed their luggage in the last twelve hours. Any chance someone set their ghost attracting talisman earlier in the day and we just saw the effects now?”

“Most magic dealing with spirits only functions at night,” Cassie said between bars of her tune. Another half minute of humming and she opened her eyes again. “None of these ghosts seems more powerful than the others. If there’s a ghost general behind this its not at this end of the train.”

“Could the magic be set up one night and activated the next?”

“Not if sunlight touches it.” She gestured to the high windows of the train car. “So the windows make it unlikely the spell was cast out in the open. If none of this luggage has been tampered with then there’s no place for the spell to survive the dawn.”

Brandon glanced at the back of the train car. “That just leaves the caboose.”

“That’s the crew’s territory,” Cassie said, doubtful. “Why would one of them sabotage their own train?”

“Maybe they’re not,” Brandon countered. “Maybe one of them is just haunted by the ghost general, as you put it.”

“Well either way they aren’t going to let us in. The crew cars are always locked,” Cassie mused. “Though I’m sure Mr. Harper could gain entry. Perhaps we should go and find him.”

She turned and headed past him towards the door but Brandon stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Cassie. When you heard the call, what was it?”

“I told you, Brandon, there weren’t words. Just stonesong. And I could tell it was coming from this direction.”

“Cassie. Just because I can’t hear stonesong myself doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about it. My father is a stonesinger, same as yours.” He gave her a knowing smile. “And he knew us well enough to warn me of the kinds of things you might learn but not share. So. Out with it. What did you hear when the call came?”

She sighed. “A sound like an ocean of trees, all folding in on themselves until nothing was left but the whisper of wind through the leaves.”

A frown pressed down on Brandon’s face. “And that was enough for you to rush us out onto this sky train with less than half an hour to spare?”

His sister nodded glumly. “I’ve heard it before.”

“Really?”

“Not exactly the same, you understand,” she hastened to add. “But something very similar when I was nine and we went to Stonehenge for your initiation into the First Circle.”

“You believe there’s a druid out here somewhere,” Brandon said, realization dawning. “Perhaps even Harper himself. He knew enough to recognize me, although he didn’t identify himself as such.”

“Morainhenge is gone,” Cassie replied. “There can’t be any proper druids here anymore, can there? Besides, Harper talks like a Regular, not a Lakeshire man.”

Brandon snorted, she was wrong on the first count and they were hardly the best judges on the second. The again, there were many things she could hear that he couldn’t. “Then we keep looking for the druid that’s the source. Do you think he’s connected to the ghosts here, somehow?”

She shook her head. “No druid I’ve met sounds remotely like that. But I have heard the sound before, from the Book of Linds.”

“Is that a fact.” Which changed all the implications entirely, didn’t it. “You were called by a relic, not a druid.”

Cassie nodded. “Either the Manual of Sulfur or Pelinor’s Journal is somewhere nearby. I can’t say where, just that it’s in this direction.”

“Well,” Brandon said, “that’s useful if we survive these ghosts. I doubt either one is close enough to help us right this moment.”