Excerpt for Tales of the Gearblade: Episode 1 The Relic by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Tales of the Gearblade

Episode 1

The Relic


Brad R. Cook


Copyright Brad R. Cook 2018

Published by Broadsword Books LLC

Through Smashwords










1

The Relic






Flame licked the bottom of a beaker, forcing the crimson fluid through the glass coil. Setting a drip, I covered specific zones of a petri dish. Removing a vial from the wooden rack of test tubes, I used a dropper to place a solitary drop of the accused’s blood on a slide. Adjusting the mirror to best catch the candle light, I twisted the brass knobs to focus the microscope on the particles of blood.

“Creature or human?” Through the lens, I watched the cells shifting about.

Captain La Strange, an imposing man in a silver-trimmed jacket, paced on the other side of the table. “Georgia… Ms. Bennett, reports have demons in the area.”

“I was right.” Sitting up, I tucked a lock of auburn hair behind my ear. “Tuberculosis, not a vampire.”

The captain unfolded his arms. “That’s a relief.”

A young crewman with a thin moustache and a striped shirt, stepped into my lab and handed the captain a note. La Strange glanced down at the words, and then passed the folded parchment to me. Family spotted. Heading to ceremony. They intend to perform the ritual.

I set the note down, “Appears like I’ll be taking a stroll tonight.”

The captain dismissed the crewman, “Allow me to send some men with you.”

“What makes you think I need men?” Through narrow eyes I awaited his answer.

He raised his hands. “You’re not even French. They will fear you. Let me send some extra blades, just in case.”

“I work alone. Besides, Vampire would be a challenge, villagers… I’ll be fine, trust me.”

“Why don’t we collect what we came here for, and forget about your science…”

“Soon.” I blew out the candle heating the beaker and shut down my experiment. “I want to stop this vampire hysteria before anyone else dies.”

“Of course, Ms. Bennett.” Captain La Strange bowed, but paused as he reached the hatch. “Le Tonnerre will be waiting.”

I stepped off the airship’s gangplank into the mud and muck of the village street. The smell of rich earth mixed with horse manure in the cool autumn air. I looked around the sleepy cottages and found them oddly devoid of life. At this late hour there should be men falling out of the taverns and gendarmes helping them home.

The cemetery sat at the edge of the village. The consecrated ground had been encased in a stone wall about waist high. A crowd gathered around a grave underneath the yew tree. They held torches whose flickering flames danced on the rough stone headstones. A voice from within the crowd whipped the others into a chorus of mindless agreement with chants of, “Burn her.”

The faithful. I took a deep breath as the cool wind whipped around me and scanned the rest of the cemetery for anything out of place. Nothing odd like the creepy angel statue with a shattered wing, more like the small group of young men hanging out at the edge. Beyond the wall.

The iron gate creaked as I pushed it open, and several people turned toward the sound. The crowd parted. Fear, shock, and surprise flashed across their faces. I continued at a slow pace, trying to appear non-threatening. Like that would work.

In the center of the crowd, a mound of dirt rose up the base of a yew tree. I could see the coffin next to the headstone. They hadn’t opened the pine box.

“Stop,” I announced, raising my hand. “You cannot perform this ceremony.”

A tall man with dirty hands stepped up. “You cannot stop us, stranger! We hunt the Vam-pir.”

“What is your relation to the…” I gauged the size of the coffin, “girl?”

“She was my niece. Now she rises from the grave to spread sickness among her brother and sisters.”

I couldn’t help but smile, which made the tension filling the air around me even greater. Steeling my expression, I turned to the uncle. “You cannot perform this ritual. No one related to this woman may. If you do, her spirit will follow you home and attack your family. Is that what you want? Save your nieces and nephews at your own children’s expense. I think not. I am a stranger, she cannot follow me.”

I walked over to a man and woman clutched in each other’s arms. As the only other woman here, I assumed her to be the girl’s mother. Tears streaked both their cheeks, and they couldn’t stop staring at the grave. Bowing my head slightly, I leaned in to the girl’s parents. “Your daughter had consumption. She was no vampire. Here, follow these directions and your children’s health will improve.” I handed the mother a folded piece of paper.

The uncle eyed me, with unhinged rage barely contained within his pupils. “Vam-pir!”

Several people joined in the chant.

I raised my hand to silence them. The chant trailed off. I touched the hand of the mother, still clutching the paper. “You should go. You don’t want to watch this.”

“I’ll not leave my daughter.”

We locked eyes and I held her in my gaze for a moment letting relief ease into her heart. “That’s only her body. Honor her spirit.”

The mother took a deep breath and nodded. With tears streaming down her face, she pulled away. She walked off and one of the men put his arm around her and escorted her off.

“Kill the Vampir!” the crowd cried out.

I exhaled. These people wouldn’t listen to reason. They had no interest in the truth. In the core of their being they believed a vampire had come to their village. Killed this girl, and now she rose out of the grave to attack her family. These villagers needed blood. Even dead blood would do.

They weren’t entirely wrong. Vampire did populate this part of France, had for centuries. Livestock had been dying, and the headstone was crooked. Both signs of vampirism.

The coffin was still nailed shut and hadn’t been broken. I took a deep breath. This poor girl didn’t deserve what was about to happen. Luckily, she was dead. My actions were for the people standing around me. They might be simple folk, but doing this would put them all at ease. With any luck, only this body would be desecrated, and hopefully, they won’t attribute the next incident to this madness.

Before jumping into the grave, a whisper in the back of my mind said, look around. I glanced over the headstones. Three men watched from the edge of the cemetery, and now I noticed the tattered clothes of aristocrats from ages ago. They didn’t move, only watched. I stepped down into the hole.

“Let’s get this over with.” I motioned to two men in the crowd with crowbars. They pried open the lid and it fell off to the side. A foul stench filled the air, and I held my breath as much as I could. Breathing through my mouth when I had to.

The crowd gasped and several pointed. “Vampir!”

One shouted, “Look. The nails have grown.”

Another voice rose out of the crowd. “Blood on the lips.”

“The bloat of her belly.” The uncle said. “She has been gorging on us!”

I thought they all were about to attack the corpse. Then the dirt underneath the coffin settled. The coffin shifted, and the corpse moved. Everyone screamed and rushed away from the grave. Now, I was the only one beside the body.

The corpse’s symptoms were real, but the reasons for its condition were completely wrong. Skin retracted as the body decayed making the nails appear to grow. Gases and bodily fluid explained the rest. I’d heard bodies moan before, something that truly sent nails up my spine. This young woman looked at peace and retained some of the sweetness she probably showed in life. The brave vampire hunters had dropped their tools and now stood no less than three headstones away. I reached down and picked up a wooden stake fashioned from the leg of a rather nice table. Pity.

Adjusting the coffin in the grave, I took a large rock and hammered the stake through the corpse’s heart and the bottom of the pine box. I didn’t stop until I was certain the body had been permanently pinned to the Earth. With one of the axes laying on the ground, I severed her head with a single blow. With the uncle and some others gathering around, I used the ax to open her chest. The organs had decayed a bit, and lungs looked diseased and pocked by marks, but the heart was still identifiable. I sprinkled holy water, and the droplets ran into the organ’s grooved lines. No reaction.

“Her heart.” The uncle said, “We need her heart. To burn.”

I nodded and gently cut out the heart with the ax. Using the side of the blade, I lifted the heart into a bowl they’d brought. “Here, allow me.” I pulled a small silver vial from my pocket and poured it over the heart. “Light this and set it at the village crossroads.” The uncle handed the bowl to another man who rushed out of the cemetery. Replacing the coffin lid, I climbed out of the grave and pointed at two young men “Nail the lid back down and fill in the dirt.”

Not a single face held a frown, only smiles. Shoulders drooped as tension slipped away. Their ordeal was over. At least they thought so.

“Thank you, stranger.” The uncle said. “You will forever be a part of this family.”

The blade against the small of my back hummed.

“Don’t thank me just yet.” I shook the dirt from my tail coat and brushed off my trousers. “Tonight’s gathering has attracted the wrong kind of attention.”

Leaving the uncle confused, I stepped toward the men at the edge of the cemetery as the last one climbed over the short wall. “There are vampires here, but not your niece.” I reached under my jacket and pulled out half of a circular brass gear with a handle down the center, like the D-guard of a saber. “Get everyone out of here. Go home, lock the doors and windows.”

“What?” The uncle’s head swiveled back and forth.

“Away from here.”

The uncle ran off with the rest of the crowd, screaming a prayer in frantic French. The three gangly vampires rushed to catch them. One even ran on all fours like a beast. I whipped out the half-gear handle and pressed the button under my thumb. Steel, it’s spine trimmed with brass, slid out from the handle. The blade unfolded and extended, locking into place to form a sword. The Gearblade.

I charged the vampires, cutting off their path to the family. Black pupils locked on me as the blood brothers bared their fangs. Slicing into the ribs of the first creature, the sword continued on and I stabbed the second as he leapt at me. Wrenching the sword free the vampire tumbled over me. I missed the third, a man in a blue suit as he contorted in mid-air. Spinning around to face them again, I whipped the blood from the blade with a flick of my wrist. The two poked at their wounds, while the third pushed his hand through unkept black hair.

Long nails ending in sharp tips lashed out. All three moved with lightning speed and I spun the blade around me to keep them away. As the first vampire crept up behind me, I struck, removing his head in a single swipe.

The other two charged from separate directions. Grinding my heel into the dirt, I paused, building up my power like a spring. Snap. I stepped toward the injured vampire, ducking under his outstretched claws and driving the Gearblade up through his skull. Reaching into the inner pocket of my jacket, I pulled a glass vial out and ripped the cork out with my teeth.

Spinning around, I splashed holy water into the face of the blue-suited vampire. He screamed as the water burned. Ripping the Gearblade free, I cut in a wide arc taking the heads off both.

I paused. The Gearblade remained outstretched, and I scanned the rest of the cemetery. Nothing.

The three bodies still writhed on the ground around me. Twisting as their muscle memory continued to fire, until the resembled sculptures of agony. Without heads to control them, they were no longer a threat, but I had to finish the ritual so their remains would not be used for dark magic.

I held out the Gearblade, and hit the button with my thumb, causing the gears in the handle and guard to fold the blade closed and retract it inside. Hooking the half-gear handle to my belt, I grabbed two table legs and a broken broom handle from the dropped supplies the family had brought. I walked over and impaled the bodies, pinning them to the Earth. Reaching into the pouch on my belt, I removed a small gold and silver box. With my gloved thumb, I slid the lid to the side, and sprinkled the first body with martyrs’ ashes. The body burst into a raging flame and the heat pushed me back.

I attended to the next two creatures in the same way. The second was a minor flame, but the man in the blue suit, burst up like a bonfire. I tumbled backward.

“Astonishing. Such an old bloodline.” I hadn’t seen a vampire that old in years, especially this far west. They tended to stick to their mountain strongholds. “A new world, a new way. Perhaps.” I glanced around the cemetery, nothing moved but the wind through the trees.

Before leaving, I paused at the girl’s grave. Kneeling, I scooped up a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave. “Tragedy befalls us all. Allow the wings to carry you where sickness no longer touches the flesh.” I paused. “Apologies for the desecration. However, your family would have been more brutal, and I’m certain you’ll rest better knowing they were spared that horror. Their minds are at ease now.”

Sprinting from the cemetery, I ran through the village stopping at a stone building with a crooked sign hanging from only one end. I pressed my gloved hand against the rough oaken door. Knocking twice, I opened it. Inside an old man swept the shop floor.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Durand.”

The deep wrinkles of his face pulled back as he lit up. “Ah, Mademoiselle Georgia. How lovely it is too see you.”

“I am so glad you are still here.”

He waved his hand, “I help with evening mass and then close my shop.”

“I know I am late, but I encountered vampire in the cemetery.”

“Ah, that poor girl. I heard.” He stroked a bushy white mustache.

“She only had tuberculosis. The symptoms often mimic vampirism, but the family attracted a line of real blood suckers. Glad I was there.”

“By God’s plan you were there. I will be certain to thank him”

I smiled. “My mentor sent word about a relic?”

“She did.” He leaned closer to me, and I smelled the wine that kept him late. “Though, it was not easy to find, nor cheap to procure.”

“They never are.” I pulled out a silver coin and set it down on his counter. “My mentor offers this.”

Monsieur Durand picked up the coin and lifted it up to his right eye. Tightly closing the other one, he examined the piece. The old man set it gently down on the counter and stepped away. He made the sign of the cross over his heart, and pulled a rosary from his pocket. “A piece d’argent.

“One of thirty.”

His eyes snapped up and locked with mine. “It cannot be.”

I nodded.

He walked over and removed a small stone from the wall behind his counter. Reaching inside, he pulled out a silver and bronze disk. “Here you are. Tell her…”

“I will. Thank you, monsieur.” I took the disk. It filled my palm, and weighed more than I expected. Slipping it into the pouch on my belt, I rushed out.

My airship wasn’t far, and the captain stood on the gangplank as I ran up. “We can depart as soon as you are ready, Felix.”

“Too much creeps around on this foggy night. I’ll feel better in the air.”

“Good, I have a train to catch in London and I don’t want to be late.” I walked up the gangplank and entered Le Tonnerre. Captain La Strange closed the hatch behind me.




To be continued…



Tales of the Gearblade

Brad R. Cook


A New Episode Each Month!

Episode 2 ~ The Mentor

Coming February 2018


BradRCook.com


Tales of the Gearblade

Carried for Centuries, the Sword Remembers



The Gearblade, a mechanical folding sword, forged from a fallen star in the flames of old traditions, but engineered for the coming century.


As the world transitions from myth and magic into the mechanized industries, Georgia Bennett stands on the line between the two, protecting a world trying to brick over what lies in the shadows.


With airships cutting through the clouds and submarines slipping beneath the waves, a secret society of sword masters continue the ever-lasting duel against the mythical creatures of darkness. In the Order, swords retain memories, and she must find one to learn the truth about her mentor’s killer and complete a quest Georgia knows nothing about.


Time is against her as she travels from the Highlands of Scotland, to the aircities of France, and the depths of the ocean as she tracks down a hellgate before it can be opened.










Tales of the Gearblade

The Relic


Brad R. Cook




Copyright 2018 © Brad R. Cook


All Rights Reserved


Published by Broadsword Books L.L.C.



This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or locales persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental, and names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


www.bradrcook.com

@bradrcook



Cover Design by Brad R. Cook

Photos from Pixabay.com






For

For all the Sword Masters I’ve known.

Thanks for teaching me, Chuck




About the Author

Brad R. Cook

I see things that never were and say, “Why not?”


He began as a playwright, then dipped into the corporate writing world before moving into the publishing world. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. A founding contributor to The Writers’ Lens, a resource blog for writers, he can be heard weekly, as a panelist on Write Pack Radio. He learned to fence at thirteen, and never set down his sword, but prefers to curl up with his cat and a centuries’ old classic.


Bradrcook.com

@bradrcook

on Twitter, Instagram, and tumblr.





Acknowledgements


Amber and SamSam


Thank you always to my Critique Group Partners.

Cole Gibsen, T.W. Fendley, Jennifer Lynn

Check out their books!


All hail the ancient blacksmith who forged the first sword.


A quick shout out to Write Pack Radio.

A great group of writers producing a weekly podcast.

Check it out on BlogTalkRadio.com, iTunes, and YouTube.


I wouldn’t be where I am without St. Louis Writers Guild.

www.stlwritersguild.org


A big thank you to Jay and Kristy of Steampunk St. Louis!

A great group of truly creative people


Lastly, thank you to you, the reader.

I appreciate you coming on this journey with me.

I’ve been trying to write this story for a longtime and now that it is finally coming to fruition, I am excited to have you read it. I started fencing when I was thirteen, and have revered swords longer than that. Enjoy the sword fights, duels, and steampunk fun… I did.






Read more from Brad R. Cook


The Airdrainium Adventures

Aircities are Slipping, Dragons have Returned, and Trees need Climbing


Steamtree



The Iron Chronicles

High Adventure in the Age of Steam and Steel


Iron Horsemen

Iron Zulu

Iron Lotus



Short Stories


A Clockwork Heart: A Steampunk Short Story

The Dragon Slayer

Doomed Flight of the Majestic




bradrcook.com



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