Our journey into the southern frontier has been rather eventful this past week (and as a result, unduly stressful.) After a series of unfortunate turns of events, we have found ourselves stranded on the shores of the Miskaton river. As I write this, I sit on the river bank, watching the inferno that was our river boat floating down the river while sitting on a waterlogged trunk (not mine, unfortunately).
Not ten feet away, Mister Mackay and Doctor Trenum are interrogating one of the surviving passengers, one Mister Klaus Klaudhopper; yes, the very same Klaus Klaudhopper being hunted for the Waystation Bravo disaster. There is no sign of the other suspect, one Miss Arufina Villanova, with whom Mister Klaudhopper was believed to be traveling.
Whatever his involvement in that, it appears he has a part to play in our current predicament as well. A predicament that begun thusly:
On Sunday before last, we pulled into port of a small city called Docryville, a township that sprung up around river trade and entertainment. Since this was to be an overnight affair, the members of our expedition quickly scattered to the winds to seek amusements elsewhere, with Meriam asking me to join Professor Babin, Nico and herself on an exploration of the town’s rather misplaced yet well regarded library.
I agreed, and am sorry to say I quickly came to regret it. While Meriam and the Professor took to the shelves with great enthusiasm, I found myself sitting at a table with Nico, bored out of my mind. That Nico isn’t that great of a conversationalist didn’t make matters any easier. I whittled away at the time by perusing a book of maps of the area: dry material, to be sure, but it could prove helpful down the line.
Nico had long begun to nap and my eyes started to feel heavy as well when a loud thump echoed through the library. An injured man stumbled into the main floor, clutching his side and grunting angrily in a heavy Rommsbachian accent. I stood up and began to hesitantly approach him, stopping when he lifted a silver revolver.
I could see in his eyes that he would have no problem using the firearm if he deemed me a proper threat, but since I wasn’t, I knew he wouldn’t use it on me.
“Are you alone?” he asked me. I told him I was not, and gestured to Nico, who still slept on the table. It was then that the Professor and Meriam stumbled out from behind the stacks. The man swung the gun around at them, looked them over, deemed them a non-threat as well, and relaxed a bit.
“All of you need to get out of here,” he said. I asked him why.
“Are you in some trouble, my boy?” Professor Babin said. Klaudhopper sneered at him, I imagine at being called ‘my boy’, but he answered.
“Ja,” said the injured man, nodding, so I took it to be an affirmation. “Big trouble. Very close behind and following quickly. Believe me when I say, you do not want to be here when it arrives.”
I looked to my compatriots. Professor Babin frowned skeptically, while Meriam stood silently behind him, wringing her hands. Nico, who just stirred from his nap, sat up and asked what was going on.
“We’re leaving,” I told them, trying to sound resolute despite the blood pumping through my ears. Seeing no reason for the Rommsbachian to lie to us I’d decided to take him at his word. I approached the front desk and told the librarian that we needed to leave, and asked if there was a back door. She told us that there was, and proceeded to detail the long bureaucratic process we would have to follow in order to get the door open. Halfway through her monologue, a drawling voice interrupted from the halls outside.
“BOOOOY!” said the voice. “Why are you running? We just want to discuss the terms of your contract. You were, after all, the one who suggested we open negotiations. So come on out, boy. Let’s negotiate and try to reconcile your failure with my profit, shall we?”
The Rommsbachian cursed under his breath and hefted the revolver, his hand shaking slightly, and reiterated to us the necessity of vacating the premises five minutes prior. I asked him who was coming.
“Von Grimm,” was all he said. Professor Babin and Meriam both gasped. I felt every muscle in my body tighten. Doctor Argyle Von Grimm? What was he doing so far east?
I turned back to the librarian to insist that she open the back door, but she was gone. A door at the back of her office hung open, letting in the last of the day’s light. I told the others to follow me as I went around the desk. The Professor, Meriam, and Nico followed, but the Rommsbachian planted his feet, squaring for a fight.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“Making a stand,” he said, and drew a second revolver. “Von Grimm will not stop until my debt is paid, or he is dead, or I am dead. Better to end it now. If I run, he will burn town looking for me. Don’t want to think what he might do if he finds me with you.”
“So get out of town, if you’re so worried about it,” I said.
“How? He has men everywhere.”
“You seem resourceful,” I told him. “I feel like you could probably figure that out for yourself.”
“Fair enough. How will Von Grimm know I have left?”
I took a deep breath and made a choice, a choice that was probably incredibly foolish, looking back on it now.
I told him that I would give Von Grimm a witness. The Rommsbachian nodded and turned to leave. Before he did, I asked him to fire two shots at a window at the back of the library. Without hesitation, he lifted the revolver. It coughed thunder through the stacks and the bullets hit the window, cracking it but not breaking it. I told him that would suffice and he ran, leaving me alone in the library with a mad man.
In the hall outside, I heard voices and the sound of rapid footsteps. I had to act fast. I ran to one of the tables, picked up a chair without stopping, and slammed it into the cracked window. The glass shattered and fell, most of it outside. A piece hit my right arm and scratched my wrist. All better to sell the illusion, really.
I fell to the floor and held my wrist, trying to staunch the flow. A couple seconds later, several armed brigands ran into the library, flintlocks drawn and charged. They saw the open window and ran over, cursing. Then they saw me.
One of them picked me up by the arm, shoved his weapon in my face and demanded to know where the Rommsbachian had gone. My eyes cut toward the window. It should have been obvious. I told him the man had smashed the window and escaped into the alley beyond. That was not a satisfactory answer apparently, and the man made to strike me with the grip of his gun. Another stopped him, a tall man with a curling mustache and a monocle, leaning on a cane in the center of the room. I recognized him immediately as Doctor Argyle Von Grimm.
“Now, now, Budd. No need for that, just yet,” Von Grimm said. “I must apologize for my man, ma’am. He takes his moniker a little too seriously at times.”
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“Big Bad Bud. I coined it my self. He took to it like a fish to water. Started writing it in blood on the walls of places we robbed. I personally find it all a bit garish but I can’t argue with results.”
I scanned the faces of the others while Von Grimm spoke. They were stern and scarred men, all of them missing arms and legs and hands, all replaced with mechanical facsimiles.
“Speaking of monikers, ma’am, what should I call you?”
A look of recognition came over his face.
“You’re that reporter for the Blackwood Gazette,” he said, and I nodded. “Fine publication, that. That article about my exploits a few months back did wonders for my reputation. I never really had problems fighting with townspeople before, but now they just roll over and let us right in. Haha! As good an advertisement as a man could ask for. I feel I should pay the Gazette for their service.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out three gold coins, which he placed in my hand. He then excused himself and told his men to follow ‘Mister Klaudhopper’. The men climbed through the window. Von Grimm left the way he came.
When they were gone, I let go a deep sigh of relief. It’s not every day you find you have a fan in a complete psychopath. I looked at the gold coins in my hand. I did not keep them, but placed them in the empty donations jar the librarian had set up on the front desk. I waited a moment before heading outside. There was a trough for watering horses by the front door, along with a water pump. I felt the need to wash my hands, and the wound. I did so, and headed toward the water front, back to the steam boat.
I’d had my fill of Docryville.