Nocturnes – 01

“For I knew that the King in Yellow had opened his tattered mantle and there was only God to cry to now.”

― Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow

The frozen tundra extended to the horizon in all directions and further beyond. Its sweeping landscape of white dunes smothered by a snowstorm that endured relentlessly, without end, and with such ferocity that life did not dare grow and the sun refused to ever rise.

One’s assumption would be that this sterile hellscape would offer no reason for any man to venture into its frozen abyss; yet the Concilium of the Golden Dawn, unable to leave any matter up for assumption, sent a group of prospectors out into the tundra in search for their most coveted of minerals, Azoth—the lifeblood of Roanoke City.

“We’re nearing a gas vein!” The foreman yelled, shouting over the deafening cascade of pistons slamming and steam-pipes whistling, “And I want to leave on my terms—not blasted off this frozen hell-hole because of a bunch of halfwits who can’t ease up on the torque converters!”

He scurried through the bowels of the drilling rig, barking orders at men covered in grime who slid greasily from valve to valve, turning winches and pulling levers within the metallic vascular system of sinewy pipes, all the while navigating the jets of steam that blasted their surroundings.

The foreman made his way to a wooden staircase that was nestled out-of-sight within an alcove amongst the heavy metal walls looming overhead; he anxiously skipped every other step before coming to a stop a few steps short of a large port-hole door directly ahead.

He turned to face the men. “I want that drill bit out of that hole before nights end! I don’t care if you have to sleep standing or piss yourselves to get it done…and if all goes well, by this time next Spring, you’ll be home to your wives quicker than their lovers when you first left!”

He was met with a chorus of cheers and a cacophony of clangs as men struck their tools against the metal pipes with glee.

“Alrigh’, alrigh’—get back to work, you wasters!” He said, giving a parting chuckle before opening the door and stepping into the room.

“The men seem happy,” Ignatius Del’Mar said from behind his desk, holding his focus on the sheets of parchment sprawled over its surface; each one riddled with complex equations and abstruse diagrams.

“Ah—yes, sir,” the foreman stuttered, closing the door behind him but never stepping further into the room. “They can see that the end is near and are excited to leave.”

“Do they not enjoy working here?” Ignatius dabbed his quill in a bottle of ink and continued to scribble notes and amendments on one of the many diagrams.

“Absolutely, sir, they do. But you must understand, we have been stationed at Anchorhead for five years now—and the men grow anxious to see their families.”

Ignatius settled his quill and leaned back into his seat, locking eyes with the foreman—who, in return, began to fidget uncomfortably.

“Five years…is that so?” Ignatius rose to his feet and sauntered to a small port-hole window behind him. He put his back to the foreman and rested his arm against the wall, watching as the fuselage of snow shot sideways outside, and muttered, “It feels like no time has passed at all…”

“Busy hands turn the wheels of time, eh,” The foreman laughed awkwardly.

“Yes, of course,” Ignatius stood proper, resting his hands behind his back while turning to face the foreman once again. “Do you bring news?” He asked.

“Ah—yes. Indeed. Good news, in-fact! We have successfully reached the gas vein and I have ordered the men to begin prepping the system for a higher-pressure environment. I expect that we will be operational again within forty-eight hours.”

“Cancel that,” Ignatius stated bluntly, sitting down at his desk to begin scribbling notes again.

“Excuse me?” The foreman replied, visibly confused.

“Cancel the order,” Ignatius reaffirmed, “I do not wish to waste time unnecessarily. Simply lower the rotations per pressure cycle and continue drilling. This way, within forty-eight hours, we will have cleared the gas vein.”

“But sir—that will bring unnecessary risk to our men. And forgive me for saying, but protocol states—”

“—Do not quote me protocols, foreman. I was the one who wrote them. Now, I have given you a command and I expect it to be carried out to its fullest…” Ignatius tilted his quill horizontally and glanced up at the foreman who, for a moment, thought he could see a hint of madness simmering beneath the surface of Ignatius’s shrewd, hawk-like eyes. He continued to speak, “Or am I to interpret this disclination to follow orders as an attempt on your behalf to sabotage my work here?”

“No. Not at all, sir. Never would I dare…” Beads of sweat began to trickle down the back of the foreman’s neck.

Ignatius Del’Mar continued to hold the foreman’s gaze with a scrutinising stare and, after what seemed like an eternity for the foreman, he eventually lowered his head to resume working.

“When can I expect the preliminary samples of the gas vein?” Ignatius asked, speaking as if nothing had happened.

“Any moment now,” the foreman replied, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Good. Feel free to help yourself to a glass of Tokay while we wait,” he flicked his hand in the general direction of the wines.

The foreman was hesitant at first but quickly overcame his decorum’s at the thought of wetting his tongue with something other than backroom hooch. So, he thanked Ignatius and eagerly made his way to a mahogany brushed cellarette in the corner of the room.

He opened its dusty top and found that was stuffed to the brim with very old—and very expensive—wines, which he navigated through with extra care, ensuring that he did not disturb even the labels as to not risk the ire of Ignatius. Yet, after scrutinising each and every bottle, he came to the realisation that there was only one bottle of Tokay—a perfectly sealed bottle, marked with the Del’Mar crest—and it was clearly the oldest, and most expensive of the lot.

The foreman, either in good conscious or out of fear, felt it was best to ask before opening any bottles—especially one that would bankrupt him and his many generations of children to come.

“Excuse me sir, but this bottle appears to be unopened—shall I take a different drink?”

“I know, foreman,” Ignatius replied with an irritated sigh, as if bothered by the obviousness of the question, “I have been saving it for a special occasion and, since we have found ourselves in such an occasion, we are celebrating.”

“We are?” The foreman raised the bottle to his eyes and, simultaneously, raised a bewildered eyebrow. “I guess we are,” he quickly convinced himself, “Shall I pour you a glass?”

“You shall not.”

“I see…very well then.” The foreman shrugged his shoulders, deciding not to think too hard on it, and took a seat next to an old-fashioned writing bureau.

A satisfying pop echoed through the room as the foreman unceremoniously pulled the cork with his teeth, and he watched in earnest as the amber coloured Tokay slid like silk out from the bottle and into his glass; basking in its sweet scents while filling it to the brim. Then, with a nod to no one and a smile for himself, he raised his glass and said out loud, “Cheers,” before downing his drink in one gulp.

Ignatius Del’Mar reacted to none of this. Nor did he react to the second pouring of Tokay that the foreman helped himself to. But even the gentle buzz of the sweet wine could not distract the foreman from the dull and drab room with little to do, so he occupied himself with watching Ignatius, who continued to scribble furiously on parchment, to parchment—only stopping to re-ink his quill.

“Foreman?” Ignatius eventually uttered; with his head still hung low over his desk.

“Yes, sir?”

“Please do not stare. I find it most distracting.”

“Sorry, sir.”