One of the most vital industries that never shuts down, no matter the weather, was the mana crystal mining industry. This was the main fuel source for most vehicles, especially steam engines. Instead of coal in the firebox, the fireman would heat up a mana crystal and toss it into the firebox, thus boiling the water. When this discovery was made, railways all across the Realms chose to use it as it takes an extremely long time for a mine to be exhausted, even when the mines employ Dwarves and Goblins as miners. Although, for such a vital industry, sadly, one of the mining operations on the northern edge of Wysper City, the Yaldem and Son Mine, was VERY inefficient. The reason for this was that the founder and manager, Mr. Yaldem, was something of a money hoarder. For some odd reason, he never looked at the long-term benefits of having a dedicated shunter to arrange the mine’s inbound and outbound trains. Thus, he calculated it was cheaper to pay a shunting fee rather than have an onsite engine.
This was an extremely poor arrangement as it left the two major rail companies, Imperial Rail and Northern Regional, to argue over who got to use the chutes first with the wagons being left everywhere. It got so bad that, when he took over a day before Lardeth’s Tour’s End Ceremony, Yaldem’s son purchased an engine, much to the indignation of his father. This engine was a rail-type Mechanica, where an upper torso took the place of the smokebox and funnel. She looked and dressed sternly. The day she arrived, she found two more rail-type Mechanicas and their crews arguing at the chutes. Both of the engines were tank engines and they wore the liveries of their respective companies, Imperial Rail and Northern Regional. “For the last time, Golu, NO!” shouted the Imperial Rail tank engine.
“You’ve been holding up the wagons since I arrived, Jenmar!” snapped the Norther Regional tank engine, Golu.
“That’s because I need to fill a big order of mana crystals!” argued the Imperial Rail tank engine, Jenmar. “You can check with Yaldem Jr.!”
“Well, get your pistons moving!” barked Golu. “I’ve got a shipment of my own to take back to Endel Town or the others won’t move come tomorrow!”
“I fail to see the issue!” laughed Jenmar.
“Now, just what’s going on here?!” barked the new engine as she steamed into the mine yard.
“Who are you?!” demanded Golu.
“I’m Henthal, the new shunter,” introduced the engine.
“An old lady like you?!” protested Golu. “You’re pulling my side rods!”
“Looking at you,” remarked the new engine, Henthal, as she peered through her lorgnette, “it’s no wonder I’m needed!”
“Where do you get off making THAT comment?!” demanded Golu.
“If you’ve been the mine’s shunter,” Henthal continued severely, “I’m amazed it hasn’t closed! Just look at the state of the wagons! All over the place!”
“First off, I’m not the shunter!” snapped Golu. “Second, is that anyway for a lady to talk?”
“You tell me!” declared Henthal. Jenmar laughed at that.
“Button it, Pipsqueak!” growled Golu.
“All right, I’ve wasted enough time with you!” hissed Henthal. “Clear off and let a REAL shunter do her work!” Golu growled before he chuffed away. “Now, to something more pleasant,” mused Henthal as she peered less severely through her lorgnette at Jenmar. “Is that you, Young Jenmar?”
“That it is!” replied Jenmar. “So the board finally purchased an engine?”
“…’Finally’?” asked Henthal.
“Yeah, the mine never had its own shunter,” explained Jenmar. “That changed when the mine’s owner took over the business.”
“Now I’m REALLY amazed it hasn’t closed!” breathed Henthal as she folded her lorgnette.
“We all are,” called a man’s voice. A Zephyr man then glided up to the two engines. “Welcome to the Yaldem and Son Mine, Henthal. I’m Yaldem Jr. the current owner.”
“So you’re the one in charge,” realized Henthal. “I have a feeling you’ll make for an excellent manager.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” replied Yaldem Jr. “This mine needs to be put in order on the double. According to the schedule, Jenmar needs to get his colleagues at their base of operations, the Financial North Sector.”
“Then I may as well get started,” declared Henthal. “How many wagons?”
“13 and a brake-van,” answered Yaldem Jr. “If you could arrange it on track 2, that would be excellent. After that, Golu needs a 12 wagon train for his people. Set that on track 1.” He handed her a map of the mines and she looked it over before setting to work. In the few days she worked, exportation soon increased as she implemented an efficient system that appeased both rail companies, getting all trains out in a timely manner. During the week, Queen Olmarfa, King Endram, Princess Vumfaf, Rellmeer, and Felfar visited the mines. Olmarfa had seen a report about the sudden spike in exportations from the mines and wanted to see the results. When the tour wound down, she asked that her party take a ride back to the Royal Sector. Jenmar returned as he needed to take another train to the Royal Sector and so his conductor offered to give them a ride in the brake-van. It was late in the afternoon when they finally set out and by the time they were passing by the old mountain path of the Great Northern Wysper Railway, night had fallen. Jenmar liked a good nighttime run. However, this particular run would take a turn for the odd. As he puffed down the line, he heard a far off whistle.
“Hey, can anyone recognize that?” he asked his crew.
“Nope,” replied his driver as she checked the speed.
“Not me,” confirmed his fireman. They then saw a pillar of something cloudy coming around the pass. “…That line’s closed, ain’t it?” asked the fireman.
“It should be,” remarked the driver. Then, it happened! The source of the clouds, a steam engine, came flying off the path and plunged into the ravine! Everyone saw it fall and Jenmar applied his brakes.
“Good grief!” he yelped. The brake-van’s occupants saw the engine fall too.
“That’s never a good sign!” yelped Vumfaf.
“That was a passenger train too!” gulped Rellmeer. “Get the emergency services! I’ll fly over there to see what I can do!” She flew out of the brake-van at top speed and dove into the ravine. What she saw, or rather, DIDN’T see, defied her sense of logic. Her communicator rang, signaling that Felfar was calling. She picked up.
“How bad is it, Mistress?” asked Felfar.
“Er, Felfar, could you go on speaker?” asked Rellmeer.
“…Sure,” replied Felfar. After a few seconds, Felfar confirmed everyone was on speaker.
“Guys, I don’t know how else to say this, but there’s no train-wreck here,” reported Rellmeer.
“…Tea rasamna roosmad, Faleemna,” remarked Felfar in Ancient Fae. “We all saw it!”
“Come over here and then see if I need my eyes checked!” challenged Rellmeer. The conductor traced the signal and teleported everyone to Rellmeer’s location.
“What the?!” spluttered Felfar. Rellmeer was right, there was nothing to indicate the remains of a train. “Wh…where is it?!”
“I’m…not sure!” gulped Olmarfa.
“You…did SEE the train fall, didn’t you?” asked Vumfaf to everyone.
“I sure did,” confirmed Endram.
“There’s…nothing here,” muttered the conductor as he scratched his head. “No rubble at all.”
“Maybe we saw wrong, or heard wrong,” suggested Rellmeer.
“We all saw or heard wrong a passenger train falling down a two and a half por ravine?” asked Felfar. “That sounds unlikely.”
“What other explanation is there?” asked Olmarfa.
“Wait, that path was part of the old Great Northern Wysper Railway’s mainline, right?” asked Vumfaf.
“Yeah, but it was ripped up after…the railway…closed…” Olmarfa trailed off as she remembered the aftermath. “…How was a train going on that path with no rails?!”
“…It has to be!” guessed Vumfaf.
“Has to be what?” asked Felfar.
“No, it isn’t!” snapped Olmarfa as she shook her head and crossed her arms.
“But this is around the time that it’s supposed to appear!” insisted Vumfaf.
“Vumfaf, your father’s ghost can’t manifest!” argued Olmarfa. “There’s another explanation and we’ll find it!” If only everyone else agreed with that statement, but the nearby townsfolk also heard the crash and came out in droves to see it. Much like Olmarfa’s group, they were just as confused when they didn’t see anything that indicated a crash. This event attracted the attention of a reporter who, after conducting interviews and research, published an article about the former King’s death and the ghost story that followed. After the article made the papers, there was a spike in alleged sightings. Throughout this time, Lardeth remained a skeptic, fully under the impression that the sightings were nothing more than the power of suggestion. He held on to that view until he and his lovers had their own encounter.
Lardeth had taken his fiancés to the theater in the northern suburbs of Wysper City. Because of weather conditions, the journey took two and a half hours. They still made it in time to see the Three Maidens, a comedy trio of Elf women that were…on the low end of the intelligence spectrum. Their names were Moru, Larima, and Curlandii. Moru was the one in charge with the short fuse, Larima was the straight-person of the group, and Curlandii was the childish one who usually starts the antics the three get into. The plot of the skit the six saw was that the Three Maidens tried to sell a flycatcher, but get caught up in a mob racket that results in them thinking that the window dummy they shot was a real person and so they tried to bury the dummy in the local pet cemetery. The six were still laughing at the whole thing as they waited at the station for the train back. “Man, those three are still a riot, even after 50,000 years!” giggled Arsha.
“I’m surprised Curlandii came back,” mused Gorfanth. “I thought she had retired.”
“I guess actors don’t take retirement all too well,” guessed Malnar. Just then, they heard a train whistle in the distance. “That’s quick,” muttered Malnar.
“It shouldn’t have arrived this early,” remarked Arsha. Just then, the Zephyr stationmaster came out of her office. “Excuse me,” called Arsha, “I thought the last train’s not due for another 10 minutes.”
“It isn’t,” replied the stationmaster. “That wasn’t any whistle I recognize.” That was when the mystery train steamed in. It carried coaches behind it and the engine’s crew consisted of a male human and a female Frostik. The stationmaster approached the engine’s cab and spoke to the crew. “Excuse me, you’re not on the schedule,” she called. “Who gave you clearance to stop here?” The crew didn’t say a word. “I’m talking to you two!” snapped the stationmaster. She tried to get them to talk for a good 10 minutes as a crowd gathered around her. She finally made her decision. “All right, I’m ordering you two to get out of your engine!” They didn’t move. “I warn you,” growled the stationmaster as she prepared to cast a lightning spell, “failure to comply with a railway official will result in…” That was when a chilling scream of terror tore through everyone’s ears. The reason for such a scream was because an elderly Zephyr woman dared to press her face against the window of the coach. The scream made everyone on the platform to jump back. Whatever she saw inside, she became hysterical. Unfortunately, some cruel trick of fate made the situation worse as another whistle announced another train’s approach. “Oh no!” yelped the stationmaster. “That’s the last train!” She pulled out a whistle and blew hard, causing a few passengers to hold their ears. The noise of brakes trying to stop the train then followed, but, thanks to icy rails, the train skidded closer and closer to the mystery train. Everyone cleared the area in case of a crash, which didn’t happen. The mystery train just vanished out of existence, allowing the last passenger train to skid just a little further before finally stopping. A few doctors that were among the passengers checked everyone over. Once they were cleared, Arsha, her fiancés, and the stationmaster dashed towards the engine with a doctor in tow. The crew, a pair of middle-aged Zephyr women, stood in the engine’s cab in fear.
“Ms. Yanfar?” asked Lardeth. The firewoman then turned her head slowly, her face plastered with fear. “Ms. Yanfar, are you all right?” quizzed Lardeth.
“There was…a train…at the platform…wasn’t there?” asked Ms. Yanfar.
“There was,” replied Lardeth.
“And then…there wasn’t?” stammered Ms. Yanfar.
“Right again, Ma’am,” confirmed Malnar.
“We don’t know,” replied the stationmaster.
“I do,” interjected Malnar. “When you’ve lived as long as I have in the Belsnath citadel, you tend to pick up on some things, SPECTRAL things.”
“…Are you saying…?” gulped Ms. Yanfar as the doctor checked her over.
“That train was a ghost train,” confirmed Malnar.
“Then it IS true!” yelped Falnii. “Lardeth’s dad haunts the old line on a ghost train!”
“Bu…but…!” protested Lardeth.
“Lardeth, I’m sorry, but your dad’s ghost HAS manifested here,” insisted Malnar. Lardeth sighed.
“I owe my sisters an apology,” he muttered.