23rd of Tenth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate
Doctor Trenum grows ever more restless, endlessly pacing in front of the thick iron door. She’s expressed several times a desire to open the ageless vault it protects, much to the chagrin of Doctors Rothery and Babin.
Rothery is most adamant that the door should remain closed, citing the fact that most the kit they brought with them to preserve any artifacts inside was lost when the river boat exploded. Trenum snaps back at him, pointing out that getting another kit would mean a second expedition, and she knows that none here want that. During one of their debates she pointed to me and said, “The story teller is here NOW. The story needs to happen NOW.And what’s inside that vault is the story. Not some rusty pillars in the middle of the swamp.”
I’m not too sure how I feel about being used as a pawn in a scientific debate between the two, but Doctor Trenum is sort of right. Finding out what lies beneath the swamp is a huge component of this tale, but I have no intentions of return to this place once I am quit of it.
Perhaps that is an affront to my profession, and many of my readers may be disappointed to hear it, but it is the truth. This place unsettles me greatly.
I have come to hate it.
Doctor Trenum continues her crusade to convince the others, but her arguments have become so venomous that she stands no chance of winning the support of Doctors Rothery and Babin. Babin, in fact, has completely quit himself of the situation after Doctor Trenum’s last push turned violent.
In her frustration, she kicked over the pot in which we were preparing our supper, a stew of mushrooms and snake meat. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it; anger about going hungry, or relief that I would be spared eating such a concoction. In any case, the outburst led McKay to get involved. He tried reason at first and earned a slap. Things turned ugly after that. McKay struck Veronica back, knocking her to the ground, then ordered his men to tie her up. Gustavo and one other named Alan, another new hire for this expedition, balked. The other two, Ruvio and Samuel, men who have been with McKay for quite some time, carried out the order.
All the while, Meriam and Nico sat huddled under their tree, both of them visibly upset by the turn of events. Babin looked sickened as well, but said nothing. Rothery uttered his agreement. The only show of defiance came from myself, and I am ashamed to say that it was little more than an icy stare. That was enough, however, for McKay to turn his ire toward me.
“Go ahead,” he said. “If you want some of this, just say something.”
So I said nothing. I wasn’t sure what to say anyhow. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is. Perhaps I’m just making excuses.
The days seem to stretch. The members of our party barely speak. The air is heavy with humidity and an even heavier silence.
Veronica remains restrained, though calm. McKay and his men keep to themselves more and more. Whenever he moves, Meriam jumps. I heard her speaking with Veronica last night, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Ruvio had been on watch, and when he saw them he chased Meriam back to her tree. I’m starting to fear the weapons McKay and his men carry more than feel comforted by them.
Veronica escaped sometime in the night. We awoke this morning to find her ropes laying empty on the ground and no other sign of her to be found. McKay left Gustavo to watch the camp and took the rest of his men, along with Doctor Rothery, to search for her. I can’t be sure, but I thought I heard McKay utter a wish to kill her. It’s an alarming turn. Tying her up was bad enough, and threatening anyone who got near her with violence was even worse. She did nothing more than lash out in her frustration at not being able to do what she came here for.
I can’t tell if it’s this place that’s set McKay on edge or, even more frightening, if that’s just the kind of man he is. I’m terribly afraid what might happen if McKay and his men catch up to her.
Veronica has returned to camp in a flurry of adrenaline and, dare I say it, mania. She tore out of the underbrush with a rock, her hair disheveled and filled with leaves, and knocked poor Gustavo out with it. She then turned to me and for a second I thought I might be next.
“Adella,” she said, her face calming. “You, Nico and Meriam keep watch. Doctor Babin?”
“Help me with the vault door.”
Doctor Babin seemed reluctant, but ultimately agreed to help her tie up Gustavo before turning toward the door. Probably out of fear. I’m not sure who I’m more afraid of now at this point…the Doctor or the Hunter.
They’ve been at the door for nearly two hours now, drilling holes in the door and dripping acid on the mechanisms within (it appears that at least that much of the kit has survived.)
We’ve seen no sign of McKay and his other men as of yet, and I have no idea what will happen should they appear. They have all the weapons.
Everything has gone to hell. Not much time to write, and writing is difficult in the damp and the cold. Already wrote this once, but papers got wet. Still trying to sort everything out in my mind.
We are scattered and on the run. I’m with Meriam and Rothery…don’t know where the others are, though I know that Nico and Gustavo are dead, possibly Ruvio as well. Veronica and McKay escaped, but I don’t know their ultimate fate.
It happened after Veronica and Babin managed to open the vault. I’d wondered how they’d lift it once they were done with the locks, but the door opened on its own, letting out a rush of pressurized air that I felt on my back, even sitting by the fire as I was.
Babin went in, and Veronica was about to follow. A gunshot stopped her. I looked up from my notes and saw McKay and his men running into the campsite, firing into the darkness behind them. From out of that darkness came a mechanical scream that chilled the blood.
They rallied around the fire, scanning the trees. I could hear the thumping of massive footsteps beyond, accompanied by the screeching of metal on metal. Mist rolled from the underbrush. I peered into the trees against my better judgment. The moon was full, and the sky clear. In the tiny pools of moonlight that made it through the overhead canopy of the swamp’s trees I made out the movement of some massive thing. I couldn’t see it in detail, just shadows. A slumping thing, not unlike and ape. A hint of a horned head, like antlers.
McKay ordered us to run into the vault, but the door was closed. Babin had likely seen what was going on and in his fear shut the door. Veronica was beating against it, screaming to be let in.
In front of us, the trees parted, cracking and splintering. The roots sucked in the mud, holding on dearly before being ripped up, and the hulking frame of the beast that had been dogging us for what I feel must have been days, looking back, stepped into the light of the fire.
The Mistwalker was vaguely as Rothery had described, a hulking, skeletal thing with the skull of a deer. But the skull was the only thing made of bone. The rest of it was mechanical, a metal skeleton grown over by moss and rusted by time. The mist that cloaked it was steam pumping through a thumping boiler that served as its heart. The water at its feet churned, sucked up through metal tubes that ran up its legs and into the boiler.
What sort of people had the means and knowledge to produce such a machine, I do not know. That it was so old and still operated was a wonder unto itself, but the most nightmarish thing is the thought that it appeared to work autonomously. I had seen it stalking us in the swamps days before. It had not attacked; it had been hiding, watching. Planning.
In the end we ran. I heard cries amongst the trees, the crack of bone. On occasion I think I hear it screaming in the swamp. Is it still following us? I don’t know.
Rothery believes we are headed in the direction of the town but we’ve been walking for days. Rothery is an academic, not the best guide to have in this wilderness. I fear we may be lost. I don’t know the fates of the others. I only know that I am still alive. Should I ever escape, I will tell people not to come to Lelina.
I…hear voices in the woods. Should we approach? I’m not sure anymore. I’m too tired to be afraid.