I’d been in bad spots before, so this was nothing new. You could argue that I’d put myself in this situation, but to that I say I have plenty of experience there as well. No, this one I put the blame on me and me alone. Well, the city-dwellers might put some blame on Standard Mana, and normally I’d disagree with them, bunch of anarchists that don’t believe you should have to work for a coin. In this case they may have a bit of a point. The company did build this encampment in the frigid north, too far from civilization for us to escape without their leave, but they give us more food and medicine than we rightfully deserve. I mean, what do we do all day? Drill mana out of the ground? Hardly a job worth much more than bare necessities. It’d be nice if they supplied us with blankets, though… or fresh vegetables, fruit… but no. Luxuries should be paid for with money you earn, not begged off those who had the tenacity to earn their way themselves. Bunch of city-dwelling anarchists putting socialist fantasies in my head just when I get a little hungry and cold. Long live Standard Mana, that’s what I say. My choices are my own, and I’m thankful they’d offer someone like me a job in the first place.
~The final page of the journal of a Standard Mana contractor at the Primeria Bay Company Town, written the day before the plant’s demise.
“A bit of him will remain within us always.”
I didn’t expect to be greeted with such dead stares at the remark. The man was a corpse, after all. Don’t be offended on his behalf. For context, the ash lining the cabinets, the walls, the desk, the very ash that I’d held in my hand and blown into the air, the ash we breathed and coughed before finding the shadow, well… that ash was the corpse.
“That’s cold, Inspector.”
“It is cold, but that’s got nothing to do with him.”
We were at the Standard Mana Company Town located on the northernmost curve of Primeria Bay, that body of water which prevents idle Saloondrians from walking into the clutches of our neutral neighbor, the island nation of Primeria. Though, to correct myself, at this time of year it may well be possible to cross the water in certain areas because of the ice.
The corpse, as I’ve called it, was little more than a shadow painted on the wall behind the desk. The foreman had been blasted with such an extreme spell that his skin, flesh, all but blackened bones had been vaporized and now caked the walls in eerie gray. I lifted one of the charred fingers and it came off in my hand, not so much snapped as melted off of the hand and wrist it had formerly belonged. I squeezed it and the finger shed like charcoal, which it well might have been closer to than bone.
“This Connor’s doing?” one of the deputies asked.
“No,” I asserted. “Not unless he got a very serious upgrade.”
Connor was the one we’d been tracking. A renegade, fueled by revenge. We hadn’t known why this Standard Mana outpost was his next destination, but history had told us it couldn’t be anything good. One of these days we would bring him to justice. But now, witnessing this… perhaps his intentions here were not so far aligned with ours after all. Connor Copperhead was an angry, vengeful spirit, but so far as I have been able to tell, not evil. This prey he tracks may well be of greater interest to us.
“And quite the upgrade it would be,” a gruff voice echoed from the hallway behind us.