The Lelina Horror, Part 10

ADELLA (VI)

13th of Tenth Month, 180th Year of the Triumvirate

We’ve finally arrived in Lelina. The final stretch was most arduous, as coach drivers and ferry men have taken to refusing transport to anyone heading into the region. We were forced to travel on foot, through muck and mire. On the second night we were beset upon by hounds. Mister Mackay tells us they weren’t wolves, but neither was he able to recognize the breed. Nevertheless they were putrescent things, covered in sores and hairless, their skin thickened by some strange condition.

They were also cowardly. It only took one shot from Mister Mackay’s long rifle and the death of one of the hounds to send the rest of the pack running. Still, throughout that night I kept one ear open and pointed toward the trees and underbrush. I don’t know what’s worse when you listen to the cacophony of the wilderness at night; the things you hear, or the things you THINK you hear.

At some point, just before dawn, as the morning mist began to rise, I could have sworn I heard the sound of machinery in the distance. I told myself that perhaps the denizens of Lelina had a mill or some such thing out here, but I couldn’t convince myself of this possibility. There was something off about the sound, a certain cadence that didn’t seem entirely natural. Something that reminded me of footsteps.

One should think that finally arriving at our destination would be a moment for respite, and it is, but only just. The town is more part of the swamp than a place within it. The buildings suffer from wood rot, their walls covered in slimy moss and lichen. Many buildings along the outskirts have collapsed, leaving only dead spires of ripe smelling decay. I reached out and touched one on the way in. The wood was moist and soft, like a sponge-cake. Water, green and oily, seeped out at my touch. In the darkest reaches of my imagination I picture something taking root beneath the skin, tiny green tendrils wrapping themselves around the bones of my fingers and squeezing.

Such thoughts are nonsense, of course.

The members of my company are all on edge, as well. Meriam has expressed several times a desire to turn around and leave. However, she tells me that thoughts of what we may find at the ancient site in the swamp helps to keep her mind occupied.

Doctor Trenum has taken to humming under her breath. It is a tune I do not recognize, though it feels familiar. I asked her what it was as we approached the town’s one hotel. She claimed to have no earthly idea what I was on about.

The population of the town is…sparse, to say the least. Many left after the site was discovered. More left after the first people disappeared. The proprietor of the hotel tells us that three families left day before last, heading in the direction from whence we came. We did not encounter them, nor did we see any sign of their passing.

When I asked him what might be causing the disappearances, the proprietor did his best to dodge the subject, providing only vague answers about superstitious nonsense and youths who refuse to settle. Other people I’ve talked to clam up entirely.

The people that remain in town seem friendly enough, so there is that. Small, isolated places such as this have a reputation for being unwelcoming. Perhaps they’re all just happy to see someone coming to Lelina, rather than leaving.

Tomorrow, we are set to head out to the ruins, where we will meet with Professor Croshaw, the leader of a team sent from New Toring University. I look forward to speaking with someone other than those who live here and hopefully gain a truer sense of what has happened.

The Lelina Horror, Part 10

The Lelina Horror, Part 9

PIXIE (IV)

When I came to, I found myself tied to a chair underneath a dock along the Miskaton River. A precarious position to be sure, but it was a rickety thing and at least they hadn’t tied me to one of the supports holding up the pier. Their mistake.

They stood about ten yards away, whispering harshly at one another. The sun hung low over the trees on the other side of the river, casting a reddish yellow hue over everything. A boat was moored nearby, creaking as it rocked on the gentle waves of the river. It had a small Blackwood motor strapped to its aft. Might make a good escape.

“She’s awake,” the Monteddorian said, in Monteddorian. Bianca brushed past him and stalked toward me, brandishing her six shooter. She seemed much less jittery and much healthier since the last time I’d seen her. Judging from the new meat on her bones, I’d say she’d kicked her habit.

“Agent Sinclaire,” she said, crouching in front of me. “That’s right, we know who you are. You leave quite a trail, for a spy.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“You aren’t very good at it, are you?”

I shrugged. “Well, I’m still alive. And I get results.”

“Yeah, I suppose there’s some truth to that. Could also be luck. Too bad that’s about to run out, too.”

“I’ve been told that before, too.”

Bianca had been pretty calm up to this point, but I saw that old rage flare up in her eyes when I said that.

“So, tell me,” I said. “What is it the Cartographers want?”

Bianca looked back at her compatriot. He shrugged.

“Yeah. That’s right. I know who you are, as well. Now that we all know each other, let’s hash this out.”

I didn’t see any reason not to tell them. Hell, they probably already knew. And a little conversation might just have bought me some time to get loose.

“There’s nothing to hash out,” Bianca said. “You’re going to Lelina. We can’t have that. And since you’re the kind of person who, once they’ve made their mind up about something, can’t be dissuaded, well, we’re just going to have to kill you.”

She thumbed the hammer back on her revolver and put it to my forehead.

“So why even bother with this?” I asked, fighting against my restraints. I think I did a fairly decent job keeping cool, even though I was sort of freaking out on the inside.

“That? That was Hector’s idea.” She threw her head back to indicate the Monteddorian. “He’s a big softy. Doesn’t think killing you is necessary. And he’s right. It isn’t. I just want to.”

The entire time Bianca was talking, I’d been worming around in my restraints. One of the legs on the chair seemed fairly loose, but when I strained against it to kick out, it didn’t break. Bianca noticed, and started laughing. It really was quite embarrassing.

While she was laughing, a gun shot rang out, but it wasn’t from Bianca’s weapon. Behind her, I heard Hector cry out and fall, clutching his arm.

“Bianca!” He yelled. “Take cover!”

Another shot took the pistol out of Bianca’s hand. I kicked again. This time, the right leg of the chair broke. I drove my foot forward, right into Bianca’s knee. I heard a pop and she went down, howling in pain.

A third shot hit the rear right leg of my chair. So, this wasn’t some valiant rescue. Whoever was shooting was trying to wipe us all out.

The chair fell to the right, and I landed on my side in the wet sand. I looked up, trying to find the source of the shots. I saw only a blur as the shooter moved between posts, the shadow of a person almost tall enough to have to duck under the pier. The figure was wearing a duster.

More gunshots rang out, much more closely. Hector was back up and firing, moving toward Bianca. He picked her up and put her on his shoulders.

“Time to go, girl,” he said, holstering one gun and pulling another. The mystery shooter peeked out and Hector fired. His shot splintered the post by the shooter’s head, driving the shooter back.

“Wait!” Bianca said. “Kill the ginger!”

“No, Bianca,” Hector said. I was grateful for that.

“Please?”

Hector ignored her and carried her out from under the pier and up over the river bank, firing, as he went. While he kept the mystery shooter engaged, I fought against the chair. Not exactly my most glorious battle, but a fierce one nonetheless. I proved victorious just as Hector made it to safety. That left the mysterious stranger to focus on me.

Bullets began throwing up wet sand around me. I rolled away, grabbing Bianca’s revolver as I did. Judging by the mystery shooter’s rate of fire, he or she was using a revolver as well, or maybe a repeating rifle. Was it another Cartographer? Or an extremely wealthy bounty hunter?

Whoever it was, they weren’t going after Hector and Bianca, which meant I was the ultimate target. That wasn’t good.

I took cover behind a post and blind fired a couple of shots. That left me with four, assuming Bianca had kept her weapon loaded. I looked over at the motor boat. Now that I was closer to it I could see that it wasn’t in the best of shape, but it was still my best bet.

I peeked around my post. The mysterious shooter was moving forward and looked to be reloading. I could also tell from the way the shooter was walking that it was a woman, at least six feet tall with long, black hair. She looked familiar.

I took the time her reloading afforded me to move to the next post. She finished her reload, aimed, and fired. Her speed was frightening, almost inhuman. I felt a bullet wiz past my ear, and the only reason it didn’t take my head off was because I slipped at the last second.

I was in some serious trouble.

I made it behind cover and looked once again at the boat. I didn’t think it was going to do me any good. The woman was close enough and fast enough that I’d be dead before I got the motor started, assuming the motor even worked. I had to stand and fight.

I raised the gun and thumbed the hammer back, then turned to face the post I was hiding behind. I didn’t know where she was and I was afraid to sneak a peek.

“Um, pardon me?” I said, maybe thinking I could get her to talk. Villains loved to talk, as Bianca had just displayed. “But would you mind telling me just who the hell you are?”

She answered me with a bullet that went straight through a rotting spot in the post above my head.

“Alright then,” said, more to myself than to her. “Someone who wants me dead and…that’s about it.”

I faked right, poking out just far enough to draw her fire. Two bullets struck the post. One of them grazed my shoulder as I pulled back, but I barely felt it as I came around the left side. I had to search to find her…she already had me.

Her bullet hit me in the left thigh. I cried out and fired wildly as I fell. One of my three bullets hit her in the upper left arm.

Each of us had one bullet left. Seeing that she was already recovering, and knowing that she was faster, I didn’t try to aim and fire. I just started moving, rolling to the right to try and get behind the nearest post. Sand and salt water burned like fire in the wounds in my leg and shoulder. I heard the cough of her revolver and felt pain bite deep in my side, right between my lower ribs.

I stopped rolling and raised the gun. She wasn’t reloading.
Why wasn’t she reloading?

She lifted her off hand and a small pistol shot out of her sleeve into her palm. That so wasn’t fair.

I aimed for her chest and fired. The bullet struck, knocking her back. The tiny pistol went off with a ridiculous little pop. The bullet hit the water right next to my head with a ridiculous little plop. That ridiculous little pop and plop was nearly the last thing I heard.

I sat up, my ribs and my leg screaming at me as I did. They weren’t fatal wounds, and what scared me most was the thought that they had been intentionally non-fatal. The woman had been playing with me, like a cat with a mouse.

I didn’t bother checking whether she was alive or dead; I didn’t go anywhere near her, for fear that she had some other trick up her sleeve. Instead, I just popped one of my little sleeping pills and threw it next to her. As it went off and the brown smoke engulfed the body, she didn’t move or thrash. Perhaps she was dead; perhaps she was just really committed to the idea of baiting me toward her. I can’t say I cared. I needed to get the hell away from her as soon as possible.

I backed slowly away and got in the boat. The motor started on the first try, but there was no doubt in my mind that had I tried it while under fire it would have coughed and sputtered and put up a fight.

I guided the boat out onto the water and headed south, not once looking back. I’d had my share of Docryville.

The Lelina Horror, Part 9

The Lelina Horror, Part 8

PIXIE (III)
24th of Seven Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

After leaving the relatively civilized environs of New Crowndon, I traveled south on an errand for the Governor. Normally I wouldn’t associate with such political nonsense, especially for a person and place that I have no allegiance to, but I was paid a lot of money and the details had me curious. Also, a Society operative in the area heard that I had been approached, relayed the information back to my Society handler and orders came down to help out. Orders are orders.

It didn’t take very long to infiltrate the movement planning the governor’s demise and dismantle them from within; these backwoods colonial types were easy to fool, and even worse, desperate. So desperate that they didn’t even blink at the Nor Eastern twinge in my voice when I spoke as long as I maintained enthusiastic support for their bloodlust.

With my job completed, the assassination conspiracy completely dismantled and fresh coin in my pocket, I set off for the southern frontier to pick up the Lelina expedition’s trail.

My hopes were low; it had been nearly a year since Adella and her cohorts had come through, and my destination, Docryville, was a place in a constant state of transience. People never stayed there for long, and memories tended to be short in such a place.

The journey to Docryville was long, humid, and all around miserable. I’ve stayed in my share of mud-holes over the course of my short life: my father never set down roots, and would constantly drag me from place to place, looting ruins. The papers labelled him a grave-robber after he was caught, and while there was certainly a bit of truth to that it stemmed mainly from a need to take care of me, and he wasn’t completely without academic curiosity.

After his arrest I became a ward of the state. That didn’t sit well with me, so I ran. Spent much of my young teens running the streets, sleeping in abandoned buildings or on top of the occasional roof. As soon as I could, I joined the Nor Eastern military. Women in combat roles in Nor Easter are not so unusual, but I was given the role of courier. During a run I proved useful in sabotaging the equipment of a Crowndon war party that was sent to intercept us, and that earned me a new title as an agent provocateur. This meant more mud on my clothes, and more blood on my hands. Some of it– much of it– was innocent blood, I’m sorry to say.

The point is, I’m not entirely unaccustomed to harsh conditions. So believe me when I say the journey through the southern frontier was distinctly unpleasant. They have mosquitoes here that are half the size of my fist when engorged on blood, and about fifty different diseases we have no name for in the Triumvirate. Lucky me, the worst thing I came down with was dysentery (and believe me when I say I’m fully aware of how ridiculous that statement might seem.)

Mostly recovered but still a bit dehydrated, I arrived in Docryville. My first order of business was a hotel, bath, and clean water. Perhaps some whiskey. While I went about my errands I kept an ear open. Most of the colonial citizens were concerned with the recent trouble with the indigenous territories. Most of the indigenous citizens were concerned with keeping their heads down, likely afraid the merest hint of unrest could lead to a mob.

None of this was my concern, however, so I eventually filtered it out, as well as talk of autumn festivals, upcoming marriages, hog breeding and other inanities. Note to self: frontier general stores are not a good source of intelligence, in any sense of the word.
I didn’t want to go poking around the local sheriff’s office. Doing so tends to rile up the locals and make them curious about me, but it was beginning to look like I didn’t have a choice. I decided to bite the bullet and head that way, but not before I got that whiskey. I think I deserved that much.

I headed into one of the port towns many saloons. It was a fairly roaring place, even at three in the afternoon. A man plinked at a piano while a couple danced and a nice crowd had gathered around a dice table. I started to make my way to the bar when I noticed a picture hanging on the wall next to the dice dealer.

“Excuse me, sir?” I said, approaching him. He stopped what he was saying and gave me a perturbed look.

“I’m sorry, Miss. You’ll have to wait your turn.”

“I just have a quick question about that picture.” I pointed to it. It was a hastily taken photograph of what appeared to be Veronica Trenum and Mathias McKay, or so I assumed, seeing as he looked vaguely familiar and just as shady as the man I once met. They each had huge smiles on their faces and two armloads of chips.

“Who, them?”

“Yeah.”

“Troublemakers, the both of them.”

“How so?”

“See all them chips?”

“Yeah.”

“Every single one of them came out of my pay. I’m still paying that shit off.”

“Anything else you can tell me about them?”

“Not really. Heard they were involved in a spot of trouble down the river, after they left here.”

He turned his head and spit. The wad of milky brown spit landed on the shoe of a man standing next to him, but the man didn’t seem to notice.

“What sort of trouble?”

“Don’t you read the papers, lady?”

“Not really. Never have the time.”

The dealer shook his head. The other players were starting to look at me now with the same annoyance.

“It was about a year ago, I reckon,” said the dealer with a less than subtle grumble. “A couple days after Von Grimm came through. They all got back on their boat, headed south. The boat exploded. A problem with the boiler.”

“That weren’t it, Yancy,” said the man with the loogie on his shoe. He looked up at me. “They was attacked, I heard.”

“Attacked? By whom?”

“Don’t know. Just know they were carrying six shooters and wearing Blue uniforms. My cousin’s best friends veterinarian’s dog walker was on the boat, you see. Saw the whole thing.”

Men in blue uniforms with six shooters…just like the couple that attacked Professor Oates.

“These blues, has anyone seen anyone like them around since?”

“Oh, sure,” said Yancy. “Been a lot of them around the last six months or so. Hell, two of them are standing right behind you.”

Well, damn.

I turned around and managed a glimpse of the Monteddorian and Bianca, as well as the glint of a gun butt coming at my face. My vision flashed white, then faded to black.

The Lelina Horror, Part 8

The Lelina Horror, Part 7

ADELLA (V)

I found getting back to the boat a bit slow going. My head was still reeling from the events, mainly from coming face to face with the man behind so much horror here in the colonies, and from finding out I had helped a wanted fugitive.

The fact that Von Grimm had called the Rommsbachian ‘Mister Klaudhopper’ didn’t fully dawn on me until I was half way back to the docks, and it was only after seeing a poster for Klaus Klaudhopper that I fully put the picture together. I told myself that it was better that the only person who may be able to answer questions about what happened on Waystation Bravo should get away from Dr. Argyle Von Grimm, even if it meant he was still at large.

However, I deigned to alert the proper authorities that Klaudhopper was in the area.
Once returning to the docks, I located a Marshall’s office and told them what had happened. Only one man manned the desk, and he informed me that they were well aware of Von Grimm’s presence. They had not heard of Klaudhopper, however, nor did they seem particularly interested. Understandable, I suppose, given the more immediate threat of a bunch of mechanized hoodlums tearing the town apart. Since Von Grimm and Klaudhopper were both involved, I felt it likely that dealing with one may mean dealing with the other, so I did not push the matter.

It was only after returning to the boat that I realized that would not happen, for who did I find, standing on the deck, looking out over the river? Klaus Klaudhopper.

I must have gasped in surprise, or made some sort of noise, because he turned to me. Recognition came over his face and he smiled. He thanked me for helping him escape. It took me off guard.

While he struck me as a dangerous man, I did not think him necessarily an evil one, certainly not someone who would maliciously cause the destruction of a Waystation. I told him I knew who he was, and let him know who I was.

“Ah,” he said. “That’s very good. We can strike deal then, ja? You keep mouth shut, I give you exclusive on what happened at the station, once I feel safe.”

I agreed to his terms. Little did I know that we would not get the opportunity.

I came to find out that it was Meriam who suggested that Mr. Klaudhopper come with us after they escaped the library, and that Mr. Klaudhopper had given them an alias (understandable, given the circumstances). Still, I suggested that he stay away from Mr. Mackay, who no doubt would have recognized him on the spot.

Word around the boat that night was that the Von Grimm gang had left the town around sun down, without causing too much damage. They had apparently shot a man’s horse and burned down a hotel…unsubstantiated claims, but I’m loath to believe it. At any rate, the night passed without incident.

We left port at noon the next day, with Doctor Trenum and Mister Mackay finding their way back just minutes before departure and sporting several bags of winnings from some casino or another, not to mention severe hangovers. Klaudhopper vanished shortly before, probably hiding away in his cabin.

Our troubles did not start until well after dark. Most of us were on the boat’s amusement deck when we received word of a fire below decks. Shortly after that, the boat’s paddle wheel stopped turning, and gun fire from the riverbanks began. The gun fire from the banks was a distraction, as several armed assailants, both men and women, scaled the side of the boat from canoes. My first thought was that Von Grimm had caught on to Klaus’ ruse and pursued the boat, but I could tell immediately upon seeing our attackers that this was not the case.

They were a well-trained offensive force, not interested in wanton destruction. Though they were well armed (most of them sported revolvers, which would indicate that they were also well funded), they mainly used their arms for intimidation and crowd control. It was only until Mister Mackay and his security force broke out their own weapons that things threatened to turn truly violent.

But even then, our mysterious attackers practiced restraint. They had Mackay and his team surrounded on the main deck, locked in a standoff. It was then that they informed us of what exactly they were looking for, and of course, that something was Mister Klaudhopper.

Mackay told them that Klaudhopper was not on board to the best of his knowledge. That was when the boat’s upper most port-side cabin at the aft of the boat erupted into a cloud of flame and splinters. Both sides of the skirmish looked up at the wreckage in disbelief before hurling accusations at one another.

A voice interrupted the proceedings, from the roof of the bridge. It was Klaudhopper. All guns pointed toward him, but he did not duck or scurry away. Instead he issued an ultimatum…everyone drop their weapons, or he would blow the entire ship.

That’s when he held up a stick of dynamite.

That tiny stick of dynamite changed everyone’s mood, real quick. I’ve never seen so many loud, A-Type personalities struck so completely dumb that fast before, and I’d be lying if I said I did not enjoy it just a little bit.

Klaudhopper informed us all that he’d lined the interior of the ship’s cargo hold with dynamite he’d found in a shipment heading out from the port of Docryville. It was a claim we were all willing to believe, since the town and many of its sisters in the area had heavy mining interests.

He warned our attackers, whom he called “Cartographer Scum-suckles” (whatever that means), to vacate the vessel or else be blown to hell and gone. And since he wasn’t too keen on Mister Mackay and his men pointing their rifles at him, Klaudhopper ordered them off as well. Which of course would have been very bad for our expedition.

The saving grace of all of this (partially, in any case), was Doctor Trenum. With everyone preoccupied with Klaudhopper, and Klaudhopper preoccupied with the small army below him, no one noticed her make her way up to the roof of the bridge and behind the mad Rommsbachian.

She bonked him over the head with a coal shovel, knocking him down but not unconscious. The situation would have been ended there, except that something completely out of any of our hands occurred, as the dynamite he’d held rolled off of the roof and lodged itself in a wall sconce holding a gas light.

The last thing I remember before Mister Mackay grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me over board was watching Doctor Trenum pull Klaudhopper up by his left arm and jumping from the boat.

Mister Mackay and I plunged into the water, along with several others. Even beneath the surface I heard the deep THUMP of the explosion as the bridge disintegrated into flaming splinters. I broke the surface, saw Mackay swimming for the shore, and followed him.

Upon making land I saw Doctor Trenum hauling Klaudhopper out of the water, alternately laughing and cursing in Rommsbachian. That laughter ended quickly when Mister Mackay set upon the man, demanding to know who he was and who the attackers were.

Klaudhopper clammed up and has not spoken since. I saw no further sign of our attackers.

And that is where I find myself now, dear readers, sitting on the river bank, soaking wet and writing these events down while they are fresh on a sheaf of paper that somehow survived my fate deep within a sealed trunk. I can hear the rapid clopping of horses’ hooves galloping in the distance. With any hope they can get us squared away and back on the road to Lelina.

The men who found us were a posse of Colonial Marshals who’d been traveling south and heard the explosions. Mister Mackay threw Klaudhopper at their feet and informed them who he was. They arrested him and sent him, along with three of their number, to the nearest outpost ten miles to the west.

The Marshals agreed to escort the rest of us to the next town. The trip was without incident, although in my exhaustion I could have sworn I saw movement in the brush, trailing us. I suppose it may have been our attackers, but surely they would have trailed Mister Klaudhopper. We arrived without incident after noon and were treated to lunch by the Marshals’ Chief after he found out who Doctor Trenum and I were. Apparently he’d been told to expect us.

After eating and getting patched up, the Chief informed us that he would be sending several Marshals with us (a revelation that elicited much grumbling from Mister Mackay). He could not cite a specific reason for this, except that the situation in Lelina had changed. Townsfolk have started going missing.

Just one or two at first, the Chief told us. But this past weekend, ten people vanished in one night. I remembered Doctor Rothery’s tale of the Mist Walker. It is foolish, but it caused me to shiver.

We are set to leave in the morning. I am unsure what resources will be available to me in terms of sending out missives, as the area is said to be remote, so I will be sending copies of most of my gathered notes to my editor at the Blackwood Gazette. I know not what we will find in the swamps surrounding the town of Lelina; only know that the horizon ahead is gray, and the air increasingly muffled and humid.

Wish us luck.

The Lelina Horror, Part 7

The Lelina Horror, Part 6

ADELLA (IV)

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?”

“Adella. Chatelaine.”

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.

The Lelina Horror, Part 6

The Lelina Horror, Part 5

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.”

The Lelina Horror, Part 5

The Lelina Horror, Part 4

PIXIE (II)
24th of 5th Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

“Sorry about the headache,” I said, when Professor Oates started to come to. “I had to act fast, and my little sleeping pills don’t differentiate between friend and foe.”

“W-who are you?” He looked around, and tried to move. “And why am I tied up?”

“Oh, yes. I feel I must apologize for that as well. I wasn’t sure how you’d react, seeing as how I just gassed you, so to keep you from running I restrained you.”

Listening to myself speak just then I realized how wrongheaded that was.

“What do you want?”

“Well, to be honest it isn’t very different from what these two wanted.” I opened the door on a nearby broom closet to reveal Bianca and the Monteddorian stashed inside, all trussed up and still sleeping. “Information on Lelina, to be precise. Information on Adella Chatelaine and Veronica Trenum’s whereabouts, to be even more precise.”

The professor squinted at me, and recognition sparked in his eyes.

“You’re that Nor Eastern agent. Pixie Sinclaire.”

“That is I. How did you know that?”

“I saw you in the paper. You caused quite a ruckus at Miss Chatelaine’s memorial.”

“That made the papers, huh?”

“Don’t be coy, Miss Sinclaire. Everything you do makes the papers. Seems rather unbecoming, for a spy to be as high profile as you are.”

“Former spy,” I corrected, somewhat incorrectly. Truth of the matter was my status as an agent for the Nor Eastern Subterfuge Society was on-again, off-again, not unlike an unhealthy relationship. An area I had much experience in those days.

“You seemed to be adamant that Miss Chatelaine was alive,” the professor said. “Do you really think that?”

“I hope so. Especially if Veronica is with her. I figure you can attest to that, yourself.”

The Professor smiled. It was a sad smile, nostalgic. He wanted to believe it. I’m just not sure he did, and that worried me.

“What is your stake in all of this?” he asked.

“Adella is a dear friend, and Veronica a dear rival. Both are important, I feel. And, if I’m being completely honest, the tug of mystery and promise of renown should I find them appeals to me as well. Those are a distant third and far more distant fourth, I assure you. It isn’t lost on me that lives are at stake.”

“Alright, then. I’ll tell you what I know. Untie me.”

I pulled the dagger I keep in a sheath at my back and stepped forward to cut his ropes. I made it through the first one when I heard a thump from within the closet.

“Do you think you can untie your other hand?” I asked. The professor said that he could, and I excused myself.

I walked over to the closet, priming another of my sleeping bombs as I went. I stepped up to the closet door, and cracked it open. Bianca’s wild eyes peered at me from within. Even half lidded from the sleeping compound, those eyes made me feel like mouse that’s just realized it’s looking at a snake.

“Yyyooouu bi—“ I didn’t let her finish as I chucked the bomb inside and shut the door. I heard coughing and then silence. I turned back to the doctor. His mouth was agape.

“Those aren’t dangerous, are they?”

“I’d imagine they could be. Haven’t had the opportunity to test long term effects, nor do I really want to. Now, professor, let us start.”

He told me about the expedition, and who went with them. I was familiar with Mister Mackay, and his presence was a cause for concern. The Professor also told me where Adella and Veronica had gone next: a southern river port called Docryville, where they are said to have caused a bit of a scene.

“Thank you, Professor.” I turned to leave, then remembered the two hooligans stashed in the closet. They’d been interested in Lelina, as well. I figured it might be important to ask about. “One other thing…who were those two?”

“Them? They’re no one. Just a couple of leg breakers sent to collect a debt.”

“Leg breakers, you say? Dressed in matching uniforms and bearing six-shooters? My Man, you must have pissed off someone very wealthy indeed.”

“You might say that.”

“Come now, professor. I thought we were in agreement? I heard your conversation with them while I was creeping around in the hall. Who are they, really?”

The Professor, if he wasn’t frightened before, seemed to be so now. His eyes darted around the room, and his mouth worked silently, as though unable to find words.

“They…they’re Cartrographers. I think.”

“Cartographers? Map makers?”

“Not really. Ephemeral Cartographers, they’re called.”

I drew back, unsure whether to laugh or be irritated.

“The Ephemeral Cartographers? The super-secret society that supposedly pulls the strings of world events from the shadows, charting and controlling the flow of resources and guiding the development of civilization? They’re a myth.”

“If only that were so. In case you hadn’t noticed, you just gassed two of them and stuck them in a closet—“

“Where, if they’re as secretive as you say, they should be quite comfortable.”

“Except they’re working out in the open, now. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a run in with them, nor am I the only one. They’re not hiding, anymore. Something has chased them from the shadows. And that frightens me beyond belief.”

The Lelina Horror, Part 4