7th of Eighth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate
Halfway through the long western leg of our airship journey to the Imperial Colonies, Doctor Veronica Trenum asks me if I have ever heard the theory of how the Newlands came into being. I tell her that I haven’t, and she smiles a little half smile. I expect the world renowned archaeologist to regale me with a bit of history, or a creation myth of some sort. What I get instead is more a taste of folk whimsy.
“They say it’s a shit the Man took when he laid down in the ocean to die.”
The answer takes me aback for a few seconds; most every story Doctor Trenum tells me does at first. She’s a fount of obscure references, tales, and cultural anecdotes. As usual, after the initial shock wears off, I laugh. Usually, this is where Doctor Trenum herself would join me, but she does not. She instead gives me an impatient, sideways glare. I stop laughing. She’s deadly serious.
As it turns out, that really is the grand mythic explanation that the colonists have for the place. That when the Man laid down, died, and formed the Old Continent, he defecated, forming the Newlands. I find it a bit crass, personally, but after having spent a week here, I can see the disillusion that might bear such cynicism.
We land in New Crowndon, and it is very much like what I’d imagine the ports of Old Crowndon must have looked like two hundred years ago, at the beginning of our own industrialization. Ramshackle buildings dot the harbor, thrown up in haste to serve necessity. A few sit in a perpetual state of half renovation, the abandoned properties of shipping companies that tried to expand too quickly and ran out of money in the process.
Beyond the harbor are the city’s old quarters, the town that sprung up around the first settlers’ landing. The buildings were sturdy once, but fifty years of life along the coast without proper maintenance have taken their toll.
Most of the streets here are still mud. Gnats, mosquitos, and a dozen other unholy winged annoyances buzz around putrid green puddles of stagnate water. The imprints of horse shoes litter the edges of the main thoroughfare, indicative of the fact that most people here still ride horse back. Rare is the occasion that one sees the unbroken track of a wheel, and when one does, it’s typically evidence of a carriage rather than an auto.
Rustic inhabitants, with hard eyes peering out of bagged, purple sockets spend their days toiling at work or haunting the local taverns. The men are almost uniformly unshaven, their hands thick fingered and calloused from hard days spent in lumber mills or building yards. Most everyone smokes incessantly, a sweet smelling herb that grows in the forests nearby, I’m told.
The women are hardly different from the men. Many perform the same tasks of lumbering and building, but with the added burdens of child rearing and housekeeping (the first woman I saw stood on a roof, ripping up old thatching with mud stained fingers and replacing it with fresh straw). Not that child rearing lasts very long in a place like this; most of the children I saw worked alongside their parents.
My first impression, walking through the streets to our hotel, was that these men and women were without humor, but such isn’t the case. At night, when the sounds of falling hammers and saws cutting through timber die down, laughter and song fills the air, along with the smell of deer meat and pork smoked to perfection and spiced with local flavor. The disillusionment lifts, and I once again struggle with the idea of this place being an ancient deity’s dying feculence. Most laugh when I ask about it. A few just stare blankly at the dregs in their cups.
The revelry is short, and the people begin to retire at midnight. There is hard work in the morning, and the days are hot this time of year.
Sleep doesn’t come easy to me that first night. My brain is still buzzing from the excitement of coming to this new place, meeting these new people. I just lay in bed with my eyes closed, writing internally.
I get up early and go downstairs. It’s deserted, but coffee has already been made. I pour a cup and throw a couple of coins into a jar set next to the pot. It’s a bit strong, the kind of strong meant more to sober people up and set them off to work than for enjoyment.
I spend an hour composing my thoughts while the sun comes up and the streets outside come to life. Just after dawn, Dr. Trenum comes down, along with two men and two other women. They joke and laugh, and Dr. Trenum sees them out.
“Are you going to write about that?” she asks me. I tell her only if she wants me to. She shakes her head.
“That disappoints me. I would expect you to tell the truth. I want you to tell the truth. Anyone who cannot deal with it…they are not worth our time.”
So, I write about it, only describing what I see. I’ll let the readers make their assumptions.
We eat a breakfast of eggs and sausage, very bare bones. Utilitarian, like the coffee. Doctor Trenum and I trade stories we heard the night before.
Settlements in the northwest are dealing with an outbreak of plague. In the south west, Doctor Argyle Von Grimm and his gang have taken over a new town. Refugees from their last conquest have started flooding east, towards Lelina, our destination.
I doubt they will receive a warm welcome. Many people displaced by Von Grimm’s reign of terror have made their way to New Crowndon. They are relegated to a hastily constructed camp constructed on the city’s outskirts and not permitted to enter without official chaperones.
After breakfast, we leave the inn and hire a carriage to take us to the main city. A pack of laughing, red faced children trail our wagon, waving as we leave toward the University of New Crowndon to meet with Doctor Trenum’s peers. It is from here that we will set off to the southern territories, taking a steam boat along the Miskaton river.
Groups of Colonial Marshals stand guard on street corners and balconies along the way. They’ve been called in to help with the refugees, but word is they are also on the lookout for the Waystation Bravo fugitives, Klaudhopper and Villanova. Last night we heard rumors that they have slipped the net, however, and already made it farther inland.
We reach the outskirts of the old quarter. The lumber mills, wood buildings and mud streets give way to brick and cobbles. The people change, as well. They are prettier, softer, but colder. I see no children playing. No scents hang on the air. This is a place for business and learning, but not living. Returning to a more developed part of the city should be a return to the familiar, but the whole thing is off putting. Something feels off here. I suppose I’ve just become accustomed to traveling.
We pull onto the main thoroughfare, and directly ahead of us I can see the University. It is here that we will begin to tease out the answers to one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of our time.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hello! Today marks the first installment in an ongoing story that will detail the mystery of what happened to the Gazette reporter, Adella Chatelaine. It’s my attempt at a horror story, just in time for Halloween. I wanted to do this last year, but time got away from me.
Some readers might have a feeling of deja vu…this first week of installments first appeared as Gazette entries last year. I felt they were pertinent to the story, and its been awhile so I figured it wouldn’t hurt for a recap. Also, it will buy me some time to work on the remainder of the story.
The entries aren’t unchanged, however. They’ve been revised and updated where necessary. This is still very much a work in progress (they always are!) so feel free to let me know where I can improve.