ADELLA: PART (III)
First of Nine Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate
It’s been two days since we left New Crowndon on a riverboat, south on the Miskaton river toward the southern townships. I am told we will be making a couple of stops along the way, to take on supply and drop off and pick up new passengers. We will be disembarking in New Dennan, a port town about a day’s north from Lelina. We should be arriving on site on the 13th of Ten Month, if all goes well. From what I’ve heard, ‘all goes well’ is a tall order.
Passengers on the boat at present are rather scant…not many people are leaving New Crowndon for the southern frontier. A couple of years ago, this boat would have been full of prospectors, sales men, bar men, trappers, and purveyors of various amusements.
However, word has gotten out that the gold pickings are slim. What gold was found had washed down from the mountains to the south, in a region colloquially known as the Deadlands. Supposedly, everyone who has gone into the mountains to search for the mother lode are never to be seen again. The region maintains interest with trappers and lumber men, however the gold seekers and those who follow have all but stopped, choosing to head northwest.
Despite a sparsity of passengers, the boat does have its amusements. It is well stocked with cheap booze, a fact that Mister Mackay and Doctor Trenum are both exceedingly happy about. It is the only interest they seem to share, but it is more than enough. According to Doctor Trenum, she’d only corresponded with Mister Mackay once before, through a proxy. Watching them now, that one correspondence appears to have been enough for them to know they’d get along swimmingly. They sit at a roulette table, sharing a drink, either congratulating or ribbing each other over victories and losses, in equal amounts.
I spend the first evening of our journey in the presence of Doctor Rothery. He is pleasant enough since clearly expressing my intention to have nothing more than a professional relationship with him. Well, at least to me. He often burbles things about Doctor Trenum into his cups at the end of the night. I get the feeling he is mostly harmless. Should he prove otherwise, I am sure Doctor Trenum is more than capable of dealing with him herself.
When he is not burbling, he is actually a rather rich source of information about the indigenous cultures. He is well regarded in his field for the time he spent with several southern tribes years before. An honor, he claims, that has never been granted to an outsider before or since.
He regales me with tales of his time living amongst them and participating in their traditions of oral storytelling. He tells me several. They are harmless amusements for the most part, until the sun goes down and he has a drink or two in him. Then he leans forward and tells me that there was one tale, from the very region into which we are heading, that made his blood run cold.
And what tale was that? I ask. Why, Miss Chatelaine, he says, that would be the tale of the Mist Walker.
Doctor Rothery pauses, offering no further insight into the tale. I can tell he’s waiting for some prodding from me, so I indulge him. He goes into the typical hemming and hawing until finally deciding to spill the proverbial beans.
The story goes that in the mist choked swamps around Lelina, there lives a powerful elemental force the indigenous peoples know as the Mist Walker. It patrols the swamps on nights when the moon is full, a hulking figure with the head of a deer concealed by a rolling cloak of mist. Some people who have seen it claim it walks on two legs, though others claim otherwise (typical for this sort of regional legend). Some say that, in the rare moments when the mist rolls away, you can see the glint of moonlight off of silver armor.
Many of the tribes of the Southern Nation revere it in equal parts as both god and devil, a being that both protects and destroys. It cannot be appeased: to wander into its territory is to be considered, without question, a threat.
One tribe, however, far to the east and along the shore, paints the creature in an entirely malevolent light. They say that in times long forgotten, on a night when the fog from the ocean mingled with the mists from the swamps, and a mighty storm came over the land, the Deer-Men (as it is called in this regional variant, and note the plurality, also a fact exclusive to this version of the tale) came from far inland, killed all of the men in the village, and all but one of the women. The children were left unharmed, according to the tale, which plays a large role in that particular tribe’s matriarchal culture.
I ask Doctor Rothery why the Mist Walker would nearly wipe out an entire village. He waggles his fingers, leans over the table candle to under-light his face and says, “Nooobody knoooows. Woooooh…”
Does Doctor Rothery have any theories on the origin of the tale?
“Several. One is that there is actually something out there, some species we haven’t observed yet, or at the very least there was, at one time, and it is now extinct. Another possibility is that long ago someone got drunk, saw a deer on a misty morning, freaked out, and started telling tales that became more exaggerated over the centuries. Speaking of drunk, I’m just a little over that line myself. Excuse me.”
I stop him as he starts to stand and ask him if any of the settlers in the region have stories to tell about the Mist Walker. His eyes darken, but he says, “Nothing that can be substantiated with any observable proof. Good night.”