The Case of the Resurrection Men in The Natural Philosophy of Crime by Anton Smelchak
Upon our arrival at the Royal Grebnach Salt Mines, I had left the gendarmes, Krular, Bogacz, and Vidric to remain by the police wagon as a reserve. This was not so much a tactical decision as merely the recognition that, given the three’s reticence at hazarding anything more a hot cup of coffee, I felt it better to keep them out of the way. The decision also provided at least some protection to our line of retreat in the likely event of things going wrong. Thus they did not share in the observation of the deserted state of the mines previously described.
After Bobo Drko’s remarkable observation, we decided that we should investigate the mine’s offices first entering the foreboding mine itself. Mercurio sent his three students, Milna, Topicz and Suffly, to keep watch on the mine entrance, while Mercurio, Lady Dalhousie, her gypsy servant, Fisztic, Bobo Drko, and I entered the offices to see if any clues to the abandonment of the mine might be found there.
It was a simple two story hut, with the ground floor consisting of a single room. Desks, chairs and cabinets were overturned and papers were strewn all over floor. There were what I recognized as blood stains on the floor near the door, enough to suggest that some unfortunate was likely dead.
We set to work examining the papers by the light of our lanterns. From our first observations, the most recent of the documents we found appeared to relate to Dr. Dippel and special arrangements he had made with the mine for the purchase and storage of ever increasing amounts of rare earth salts. Included in these was the rather odd requirement that the mine was to permit Dippel’s men to load the salts into crates provided by Dippel and that these crates were to be stored within the mine until delivery could be accomplished. Dippel would also make the arrangements for the shipment of the boxes from the mine.
Not all of us were involved in the search of the records. Bobo Drko who had stood for some minutes contemplating his surroundings, suddenly dragged one massive desk easily across the floor and leapt on top of it. It was then that we noticed a trapdoor leading to the second story but no stairs or ladder could be seen. The Bobo pushed open the trap door and put his head through it.
A short rang out and struck the trapdoor just to the side of the Bobo’s head.
At this, knowing that it is better to take a moment to make a good appraisal of a situation rather than blindly rushing in, I drew my pistol and ducked underneath the large desk to observe and determine what further actions might be needed.
At the same time, Lady Dalhousie brought her large hunting rifle to her shoulder and aimed towards the second story. Mercurio lept forward in an attempt to push the Bobo off the desk and out of the way. However, the great bulk of the priest denied him success in this.
The Bobo looked gratefully at Mercurio and said, “Ah Professor, you want to help? Here you go.” The priest then threw the Professor bodily up through the trap door. We could hear a loud thud when he landed on the second floor.
As no other shot was fired, I assumed there was but one person above. I decided to act to prevent any further violence and preserve the life of what may be our only witness. I called out in my most threatening, officious manner, “We are from the Royal National Police, surrender now and you will not be harmed.”
With relief, I heard what I took for a gun clatter onto the floor above. In a moment, Mercurio escorted down a small man, obviously very shaken. However, before any words could be exchanged, the student Sufflay rushed in, shouting that Milna led them all into the mine and they could hear the sounds of some type of creature coming forward to the entrance.
“Who went in?” asked Mercurio.
“Milna, Topicz and the girl Nikolina.”
Fisztic ran out of the building, swearing the whole time. The Bobo ran after him. Mercurio, Lady Dalhousie and the gypsy followed the priest immediately.
I had wished to interrogate the man who shot at the Bobo but decided that the rest of our party would surely need assistance. I sent the man back to the gendarmes at the wagon and told him we would protect him.
Having only my pistol with me, I took Sufflay and went to the nearby stores hut I had observed on our way in. It too had been disordered but I was able to find a pair of coach guns and some ammunition for them. Likely they had been intended to intimidate the workers but now would serve a more judicious purpose. There were also several casks of black powder that I directed Sufflay to bring two along with us.
Now we were prepared to face what was in the mine.
Diary of Jan Milna, unpublished
30th of August, 1832
The events of this night are beyond imagining.
Upon our arrival, the professor had left us idling at the entrance to the mine. As before any battle, I was filled with a certain anxious energy. There was something foreboding about that dark tunnel and I had the urge to plunge straight in and have done with whatever was to come. My mood was only made worse by presence of Fisztic’s daughter. She had somehow managed to secret herself on the wagon to accompany us and now she stood there, saying nothing but looking at me with expectant eyes.
After a few minutes, I decided to put a stop to the interminable waiting. Having heard the earlier debate between the Inspector and the Professor at the police barracks, I could only imagine that we would spend half the night waiting for them to finish impressing each other with their respective intellectual prowess.
I told the others of my determination to enter the mine. Of course, Nikolina begged to accompany me, saying something about how she had to do something wonderful in my presence. Utterly mad! Realizing that it would be futile to say no, I permitted and suggested she lead the way. No I intended no ungallantry with this. She had previously demonstrated a remarkable ability to travel unseen as well as a faculty for seeming to see well in the darkest of circumstances. I took up my pistol and a lantern and followed immediately behind her. I noticed that Topicz and Sufflay followed but at a bit of a distance.
As we went forward, a great growling came from the passage just ahead. Although it sounded very like a bear’s growl, there was something unnatural and terrible about it.
Topicz called to stop and wait for the professor. Sufflay who was never the hardiest of souls immediately call out that he would go and fetch the professor. I could hear that Sufflay was running back down the passage to get him.
Nikolina and I pressed on. The shaft grew narrower until there was only space for two of us to pass shoulder to shoulder.
Suddenly, before us was a huge black bear, its eyes gleaming wildly in the lantern light and frothy spittle coming from its mouth. I was chilled to the bones and began edging back toward the mine entrance.
Nikolina sprang forward, shooing at the bear as one would a misbehaving cat. She might have been thoroughly mad but I could not abandon her. I moved forward and fired my pistol. It struck the bear squarely in the chest. I saw the bullet blast through but no blood came from the wound only a sickly trickle of black ichor.
Grabbing Nikolina by the hand, I pulled her back towards the entrance. There stood Fisztic, a harsh look on his face and an old two-handed sword in his fists.
“Stop running, boy. You brought my dau - Nikolina here, it’s your duty to protect her. Lets go see what frightened you so."
Of course I could not show myself backward now and so proceeded with him back towards the bear.
Once in site of the creature, Fisztic immediately charged forward and struck at the bear with his sword but the blade slide off its preternaturally wiry fur. The beast then lunged at him and its great claws raked his chest from shoulder to waist. This knocked him onto his back and he landed at my feet.
It was then I noticed that the sword he wielded against the bear was an ancient one of a type carried by crusaders of old. It bore markings on the pommel that I immediately recognized from the many portraits of my ancestors in the hall of our estate back in Poland. It was my father’s sword that had been lost in Russia twenty years ago.
I reached for the sword, dropping my own saber for Fisztic’s use. Fisztic shouted that the sword was his. I retorted, “I know the truth. My family has owned that sword since Grunwald, four hundred years! You looted it from my father. I will have it back!"
The bear lunged forward and Fisztic cried, “Are we really going to argue about that now?”
“I’m not arguing,” I said as I snatched my sword from his hands.
I strode forward, the sword providing me with a feeling of confidence since it was said to be a blessed weapon brought back from the Holy Land. But there was no miracle here. As with Fisztic, the blade struck the beast but the thick matted fur acted as an armor.
A shot rang out behind me and I felt the ball hit the muscle in my calf just below my knee. As I fell, a scream escaped my lips. The girl cried, “Papa, no!” I looked back and there lay Fisztic who fired the pistol, a wicked, satisfied grin on his face. I could scarce fathom the vindictiveness of the man.
As I lay there, the pain in my leg rendering me immobile, the beast came towards me, snarling so that his great blood-stained teeth were exposed. I braced myself for its bite when something bright flashed by me and a dagger struck the creature full on in the chest driving it backward a few steps.
It had been Nikolina.
She then threw herself over me to shield me from the beast, weeping and saying, “See, my beloved. I have done the wonderful thing, I shall protect you and you shall love me!”
The bear reared up again and readied itself to charge us. I had given up all hope when suddenly I heard the approach of footsteps and there was a dark figure who leapt astride us both as we lay there.
It was the Bobo. He was aiming a strangely crafted cross-bow that rapidly sent three stout bolts into the bear’s body. It collapsed to the mine floor.
“Good thing I treated the arrows with holy water before we came,” he said laconically.
The body of the bear began to bulge and finally split. An outlandish, palpitating mass struggled out of the bear’s corpse. Its purplish mass seemed to increase continually in size until it filled the tunnel.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was unmanned by the sight, so nauseous, so nightmarish. Nikolina, no doubt her madness sparing her from rational fear, clutched me closer and whispered that she would protect me.
A loud gun blast echoed through the cavern. Lady Dalhousie had fired her huge hunting rifle from some way back down the passage and had sent the bullet expertly between all of us. It struck the thing but disappeared into its gelatinous bulk.
The priest pulled a short sword from his belt. It glowed with a bluish light. He sprang at the quivering abomination. He thrust the blade home with a cry. The seething abomination exploded and it sickly flesh fell thickly about us.
The Bobo wiped the putrid mess off of his face and said, "Well, I'm glad I didn't have my cassock cleaned before we came."
The Case of the Resurrection Men in The Natural Philosophy of Crime by Anton Smelchak
When I arrived, I thought I was entering a charnel house. Foul smelling flesh and gore was strewn about the tunnel walls and floor. Most of my companions were covered in it. It took me a moment or two to realize that there was no longer a threat at which to direct my coach guns. I felt mildly disappointed, perhaps needing an outlet for the frustration of the last few days.
As we assisted Fisztic and Milna, both of whom were sorely wounded, Mercurio explained to me that they had been attacked by a bear that had somehow become possessed by some type of demonic creature. When I demurred at the mention of such a fantastical scene, the rest all chimed in to assure me it had been the case. The fact that this included Lady Dalhousie, who could never be considered whimsical, convinced me.
“Aye, Inspector, Ay hit the manky thing square and my shot got swallowed like it twas hitting a jelly. Now with Fiona…” here she referred to the name she had given her massive rifle, “kisses a body like that, ‘tis usually time to call in the taxidermist but this beastie suffered nae a scratch.”
Once outside, we tended to our wounded. Now here is the remarkable thing, for Bobo Drko laid his hands upon the gaping wounds in Fisztic’s shoulder and healed them in a few moments without the aid of bandage or medicine.
“Remarkable, Bobo!” I exclaimed.
“This? This is nothing, you should see when I have to cure the chirykoots.”
When the Bobo turned to Milna whose wound was a more serious gunshot, I took the opportunity to question the man we had rescued from the upper floor of the mine office. He was a clerk named Petrovic. He had worked there for some seventeen years. He related that as they were getting ready to close the office for the day, there was a terrible commotion. Some of the miners had run out screaming about a bear.
This was not all that unusual, the woods near the mine were full of bears and wolves and sometimes the animals were attracted as if to a salt lick. They sometimes found their way into the mine shafts.
“This was different. They were screaming that several men had been killed. Ban Koroman, the manager, went and got a gun from the store. I watched from the office as he approached the mine. A huge bear came out and Ban Koroman shot it but that did no good. Then the bear began to bite pieces out of him.” At this point, Petrovic was on the verge of panic as he remembered what he saw.
“He managed to get away and ran to the office. He died as soon as he entered. I thought the bear would come after him so I grabbed his pistol and went to the second floor.”
“Had there been many animal attacks before?” I asked.
“No, never, too afraid of all the people. I could hear the miners running away, a few fighting, getting killed.
“I heard their bodies being dragged away, back toward the mine. We should never have started digging the rare salts.”
This surprised me, “Was that not part of your regular work here?”
“No, there had been mining for those salts before, back in Sandorius' day - they were called Sorcerers’’ Salts back then. When the ban on sorcery came, we stopped. We never did mine much of that anyway. Too deep, too hard to get to. Some said the shafts for the rare earth salts were half way to Hell.”
“So why were you digging it now for Dippel?”
“Order of the Regency Council, signed by Prince Leobald himself.”
“Why would the King’s brother get involved in compelling the filling of salt orders?”
“I don’t know but we were ordered to put every available man on it, produced nothing else for the whole summer. Dangerous too, we lost a man a day, sometimes two or three, down in those depths.”
“What did you do with the bodies?” I asked, suspecting what the answer would be.
He grew hesitant here, “I told Koroman it was wrong, no good would come of it and look what happened…One of those fancy doctors was here, a von Elphberg by name, he ordered us to keep the bodies, put them in big boxes with the salts and put down in the mine, along with the ones they delivered. Those had bodies in them already but we filled them with the salts and stuck them down there.”
“How many boxes did you receive?”
“A few every day, sometimes a dozen or more. Hundreds all told. We got one today, just before sunset.” Here he pointed to a wagon near the mine entrance that contained a large wooden box meeting the dimensions we had seen on some of the billing.
Mercurio, the Bobo, and I went immediately to the wagon. When we opened the lid to the crate, there was the body of a large man lying inside. A strange device was attached into his bare chest, various clockworks on it spinning and pumping oddly coloured liquids into the dead man’s veins. The muscles seemed to be bulging asymmetrically.
Topicz, who was something of a mechanicist, was called over and in a few minutes he removed the device for the corpse’ chest.
“What is that for? Are they trying to revive these corpses?” I asked with horror.
“Ultimately,” said Mercurio as he examined the device. “Definitely alchemical in nature, but I have never seen the like, especially this fluid….Right now,I believe they are trying to make these things bigger, stronger. I suspect there is another process they are performing elsewhere to bring them back to life.”
“I think we need to speak with Herr Doktor Dippel,” I said, “It looks like I shall be attending the Royal Ball tomorrow after all.”
“There is something I must do first,” said Mercurio. “Inspector, this is not something of which you should take official notice.”
I agreed that I would say nothing of what I would see. The Professor turned and went to the mine entrance. He began speaking a formula in a language I did not understand and making broad gestures with his hands. Suddenly a great flame sprang up next to him. It was vaguely human in shape but made entirely of fire. Mercurio gestured and the fire moved as if walking into the mine.
Without being asked, Mercurio said, “It is a ‘True Salamandar,’ an elemental creature of fire. It will not eliminate any …spirits down there but it will certainly destroy any of the coffins still stored as well as any other beasts that might have suffered possession.”
In a few minutes we heard the sounds of a disturbance coming from the mine and then the smell of burned flesh assailed my nose. In amazement, we returned to police wagon
The Bobo was finishing the binding Milna’s wound. The young man had been shot, likely in the confusion of the battle, so that the Bobo’s miracles could only relieve some of the harm but not cure him complete.
When the priest had finished, he said matter-of-factly, “Oh, by the way, you and the girl are married now.”
“Yes, it is the law of the Church that says, ‘When a maiden throws herself onto the breast of a fallen warrior, the shadow of a priest has but to fall upon them for them to be joined in the sacrament of matrimony.”
The Bobo was quite correct in this. This law had supposedly come down through the ages from time of our endless wars with Turks and Tartars and other eastern foes. Then, it was the custom for the young women of a village to give themselves to a warrior who was to go battle, as something of a last fling before they went to what was in those days almost certain death. To avoid any future embarrassment to the family honor, when the warrior did not return, the maiden was taken to the scene of battle to say farewell to her fallen love. Now sometimes these gentlemen were still alive but mortally wounded and sometimes dead. Now due to the problem of vampires, the Church had strict laws against wedding the dead so a fiction was created that the fallen warrior had saved his last breath to see his maid. So as to not get too close to spoil this charade, the whole thing about the shadow of the priest falling upon the couple was developed.
Unfortunately for Milna, he fit all the criteria and Bobo Drko was very punctilious.
Nikolina naturally was ecstatic, jabbered on about how she knew if she only did the wonderful thing, they would be together, they now could live happily ever after, and so forth.
Milna managed to break away from her and pleaded with the Bobo, “But Father, -“
“Uncle. Surely I cannot be married. I have never touched the girl.”
“Ah, then there is grounds for an annulment.”
“Excellent, how do I obtain one?”
“Above all, you must hire a canon lawyer but they are very expensive. If you find a good one, it should only take five to ten years to get the marriage annulled. But you must make sure you don’t touch her. “
“That won’t be a problem.”
“And touch no one else, not even a kiss. If you don't approach the ecclesiastical court with a pure soul, you can't expect them to look on you favorably."
Milna had a look of desolation about him. Fisztic on the other hand was smiling sardonically. Then, for the first time since I met him, I saw that Mercurio had the broadest of smiles on his face.
The girl came over to him and embraced him warmly. “Oh, now Jan won’t it be wonderful to be together as man and wife and I won’t have to sleep under the bed… I know, we can announce it to everyone at the Ball tomorrow night!
“But I already have a date!” the surprised Milna burbled.