The Lelina Horror, Part 17


I’m not even sure how to begin describing the scene that lay before us as the Cartographer opened the door to the room where Adella, Rothery, and several others were being kept. I can say that the smell is what hit me first. The worst thing I’d ever smelled up to that point had been bodies burning in a derailed train car during the war. This was far worse, a lingering smell of decay and filth.

I spotted Adella sitting on the far wall. While she was obviously malnourished, she wasn’t horrifically so. It was more the look in her eyes that frightened me. Gone was the enlightened, inquisitive spark I’d seen in the young journalism student I’d traveled with all those years ago. In its place was a vacant stare, bordering on feral. I scanned the room and saw the same look in the eyes of the others. And judging from the fact that several bodies lay on the floor, I’d say that they were one provocation away from ripping each other apart.

“There she is, Miss Sinclaire,” the Cartrographer said, pointing to Adella. “The woman you came looking for. Or is it? Take a look around. See those bodies laying on the ground? That one there, he was a captive, just like them. And he was killed by them, based on the suspicion that he’d taken a single bite out of someone else’s food ration. This is what happens when people are pushed enough. In the end, we are just base animals.

“Well, almost. Your friend Adella…she never broke. Never lifted a finger. I know because I watched. She won’t admit that, though. She’s taken on the responsibility along with the others, but her hands are rather clean. Metaphorically speaking. Physically, they’re quite filthy.”

I whirled around on him and grabbed him by the neck, forcing him back against the wall. His men hefted their weapons but he stopped them.

“Now, Miss Sinclaire, let us try to remain civil. I’ve brought you here for a reason. I’m planning to let you, and Doctor Trenum, leave along with your companion.”

“And what’s the catch?”

“A choice. You can take a look around, take in what you see, and decide whether anyone in this room is worth saving. If not, just walk away, along with Miss Villanova here. Or, you can let us have Miss Villanova, and take Miss Chatelaine.”

I looked over at Villanova. She was staring at me fit to kill. It was any easy choice. This woman had been dogging me since Docryville, trying to put a bullet through my skull. It was an opportunity to both get rid of her, and save Adella.

“No,” I said.

“No? No what?”

“I don’t accept either set of terms. They’re stacked, you see. Meant to re-enforce whatever twisted world view you’re trying to illustrate here. You don’t think I know what you’re doing, with this little experiment? It’s all very misanthropic, but I’m not biting. I leave them to rot, it shows how quickly our faith in people can crumble. If I trade one person who’s a problem for me for another I’m trying to save, then I’m just an opportunist.”

“And if you resist, then you’re a fool. What will it be?”

I looked at Veronica, then at Arufina. Anything I chose, I was choosing for everyone. There was no debate about that. But then, the three of us had chosen to come here on our own.

Time to face the consequences.

“Foolishness suits me just fine.”

I brought my knee up, driving it into his stomach and knocking the breath out of him. He folded over and I threw his limp body toward his men, who had all idiotically bunched together in the entry way. They fell back, giving me enough time to pop one of the sleeping pills and toss it into the entryway.

“Veronica, back up from there,” I said as the smoke filled the entryway. I pulled my dagger and turned to Arufina. “Easy big girl. I’m just going to cut you free.”

“You are a fool, if you think this changes anything. I still plan to kill you.”

“Then do it after we get out of here. For now, grab a couple of those guns and get ready to fight. Or are you willing to just leave these people behind?”

She looked at the room. “Poor wretches. Why should I give a damn what happens to them?”

“Because you’re the kind of person who would track a world famous spy half way across the world to make her answer for the death of your friend. You want justice for Osyn? Help me get these people out of here.”

My saying the name of the girl I killed struck a chord with her. I could see it in her face, a temporary moment of surprise. I think that letting her know that I hadn’t forgotten Osyn’s name helped temper whatever rage was inside of her.

“Alright then. I’ll help.”

“Pixie, are you sure about this?” Veronica asked. She’d picked up a gun and was holding it on the entrance. From up the stairs I could hear voices.

“I’m trained for subterfuge, and no offense, Ronnie, but I’ve seen you shoot. Arufina is a trained gun-fighter, and we’re about to fight an army of the same. Yeah. We need her.”

“Do you have any more of those annoying things?” Arufina asked as she found the keys to her shackles and unlocked herself. I supposed she meant my sleep bombs.

“Just one.”

“Use it wisely, then,” she said, then proceeded to undo the gun belts of the five unconscious Cartographers. She handed one to Veronica and another to me, then slid the others over her shoulders like bandoliers, and checked each of the four guns. I reloaded my gun, holstered it, and turned to the captives.

They had long since stood up and gathered in the center of the room. In front of them stood Adella.

“Alright, people, listen up,” I said. “We’re going to get you all out of here…”

“But where are we going to go?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know. Back to your homes.”

The man who asked the question started sobbing. I thought about going on with trying to rally them, took one look at the others, and knew it wouldn’t do any good. The only thing to do know was to focus on fighting our way out of there and worry about these people then. I turned my attention to Adella.

“Adella,” I said, and she flinched at the name, then looked up at me. “Adella, do you remember me?”

The Lelina Horror, Part 17

The Lelina Horror, Part 16

6th of 11 Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

In recent days, I have found myself going around in circles about where to begin in recalling the events surrounding my capture in the swamps around Lelina. My memory is all too muddled by the stress of our situation and the horrors my compatriots and I were forced to endure. They tell me I was gone only for one year, but that one year seemed like an eternity.

Time is hard to measure when you’re in captivity. When every moment could potentially be your last, time becomes simultaneously priceless and worthless. I’m not sure how to describe it, exactly. Your mind fades between hopefulness and despair. Your worst enemy is your own mind. Eventually you learn to shut it down, and everything becomes a blur.

I had no idea where I was when I came to in what, I’ve been told, was an abandoned hospital in the wilds outside of Point Hammond. All I remember is that Rothery and Meriam were there. In the beginning, that was some sort of, I suppose selfish, comfort. There were others as well, in the beginning. About twenty five or thirty. They’d all been there longer than us, and the realities of their situation had long since set in. From time to time one would be taken away, seemingly at random. Others would be brought. From the whispers of our fellow captives, no one was ever brought back after they’d left. Everyone who entered the room did so for the first time. Everyone who left did so for the last.

For the longest time we were left alone together. Our captors, whoever they were, bothered us not. They did not taunt nor torture us, nor did they provide anything other than food or water. We were kept alive, but in squalor. The stench was unbearable. I never got used to it and even now I can taste the air of that place in the back of my throat.

From time to time I could see shadows behind the frosted glass panes overlooking the room. The shadows would stand there, still as statues until turning away and disappearing. It was almost always just an individual. Every now and again it would be a group. At first I thought I might discern a pattern, and be able to count the passage of time based on when it was a single shadow, or multiple. I soon learned that it was completely random.

I slept 40 times before the ‘scenarios’ began. The ‘scenarios’ were what turned our imprisonment from an atrocious situation to a living hell.

They began secretly giving messages to us. At first the messages would be some innocuous thing, like what day of the week it was. These we shared when they started coming. And it was through this sharing that the various groups within the room started to finally intermingle. I suppose that was the point.

I slept fifteen more times when I began to notice a change, however. People seemed to be keeping secrets, and the number of messages we shared began to dwindle. The messages had changed, but to what, I wondered?

One day I bit into a piece of bread to find a piece of paper stashed inside, along with a nail file.

It read: ‘Someone plans to kill you. They believe you plan to kill someone close to them.’
I stood up and went to the center of the room and I told everyone what I found, placing the nail file on the floor. I said that I had no intentions of hurting anyone, and if anyone had received a similar message, it was likely a manipulation.

I left the file and turned to head back to Rothery and Meriam. I only made it a few steps when I heard rushed footsteps behind me. I turned to see one of the other captives, a woman whose name I cannot remember, rushing toward the file. She picked it up and dashed to the other side of the room, straight toward a man standing against the wall.

There was no hesitation, no warning. She just drove the nail file into the man’s neck and killed him. When the others stood up in outrage, she tried to explain.

‘I have a sick son!’ she said. ‘They said they’d get him medicine if I did it! I’m sorry!’

No one listened. They all turned their back on her. I turned my back on her.

A few sleeps later and one of the men, whose name I do remember, Shelby, began to suggest we organize. If we were going to keep our sanity, he said, we should instill order. Our own order. None of us were a threat to each other, he said. It was us versus the bastards who put us in here.

We listened to him. That was a mistake.

Shelby did instill order, but it was an unfair one. He elected himself as the leader. No, that’s a lie. We all looked to him. He seemed the most capable. But he wasn’t what he seemed.

As we eventually learned, he was one of Them. And two of the four others he appointed as his lieutenants were Them, as well. Eventually they just became a new form of messengers. Only now the messages were coming from people we thought were trustworthy.

It didn’t take long before we were at each others throats, accusing each other of stealing food or plotting against each other. We all began to fight. Shelby would swoop in and break it up sometimes. Other times he seemed resigned to watch. To observe. That was my first clue.

Then they started offering people respite. For those who did what They wanted, they were promised extra meals, or a bath. They promised tiny things, things most of us would take for granted. But they seemed like such huge prizes in the dark.

Then, the Worst Day happened. I’m not sure on the details. It started with an errant accusation, or an insult. It doesn’t matter. Five of us died that day. Meriam was one of them. She’d just gotten caught in the middle.

New people were brought in. This was after Shelby and his two cohorts were revealed to be Them. So these new people, they never stood a chance. Their every move was watched. The slightest misstep either got them beaten or killed. Not by Them. But by Us. They weren’t even sending us messages any more at that point. They didn’t need to. When we started treating the new captives as our own captives, I realized, there was no Them anymore.

I started to think none of this would end. But then it did. Agent Pixie Sinclaire and Professor Veronica Trenum. One day they just entered the room on their own volition, unbound, with several men in blue at their backs and a third, giant woman in shackles with them. They took one look around, and the horror on their faces really drove home what we had done.

How dare they, I thought, looking at the judgement in their eyes. How dare they judge?

And then one of the men in Blue pointed at me, and made Pixie Sinclaire an offer.

The Lelina Horror, Part 16

The Lelina Horror, Part 15


“Let’s get moving,” I said, mainly to call Ronnie’s attention away from her surroundings. In all the years I’ve known her, I’d never seen her as shaken up as she was then. This was someone who once ran through four miles of a forest full of cannibals with an injured porter on her shoulder. Another time, she’d been trapped alone in a cave for a month after a shell from a nearby battle caused a cave in, surviving off ground water and grubs before the rest of her expedition dug her out.

“Ronnie,” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s go.”

“Right,” she said. “Yes. If Adella is here, she won’t spend another second here due to my own inaction. Let’s find her.”

We exited the room and entered a long corridor that ran the length of the building. The paint peeled from the walls in long strips, and discarded medical debris and other detritus littered the floors. The dense odor of mildew filled the space, forcing me to breathe through my mouth. We pushed forward.

I kept one ear open as we walked, but the only sound to be heard was dead silence and our tiny footsteps crunching against a layer of dirt that covered the floor. I kept my eyes on the ground, looking for other signs of passage. Surely any occupants would have left a trail.

It wasn’t footsteps I found, but an adjacent corridor that had been swept clean, coupled with wall sconces that emitted a small gaslight. Not enough light to draw attention from outside, but just enough to see. We walked the length of the corridor. A second hallway similar to the one we’d started in ran the length of the building’s far side. It showed no signs of passage.

“Hmm,” I said, turning back. “I wonder, is this the hallway we’re looking for? Or is it lit precisely to draw our attention?”

I made the choice to walk back down the lit hallway. There were spaces where doors might have been, but they were bricked over. On a hunch I reached up and pulled one of the sconces as we passed it. Nothing happened, so I tried to turn it. Nothing. I repeated the process with the other sconces, hoping one of them might open a secret passage or some such. Nothing happened. I was stumped.

“Pixie, look.” Ronnie pointed at the ground ten feet in front of us. There was a threadbare rug, completely unremarkable, laying askew on the floor. I walked over to it and pulled it back. There was nothing underneath.

“Well, I’m out of ideas,” Ronnie said.

“There has to be something. A lever, or a trapdoor. Something.”

“Kill your light.”

I stuffed the glow-tube in a pocket while Ronnie went down the hall, cutting off the gaslights. Once they were all off, we were in complete darkness. After a minute of trying to fight off my imagination, my eyes adjusted. There, in the middle of the hall, from underneath one of the bricked over doors, was a thin strip of light.

“Do you think that’s it?” I asked.

“Wouldn’t hurt to check,” Ronnie said. I pulled the glow tube out of my pocket. Ronnie stood in front of the door, smiling warily. It was a short lived smile as her eyes shifted to something behind me.

“Pixie, look out!” she shouted, but I was already throwing myself forward. I felt a rush of air over the top of my head as I rolled forward and turned, my hand reaching for my dagger. There stood the mad woman. She still had her rifle, but was using it as a club.

“Out of bullets?” I asked.

“I don’t need bullets. You sure as hell didn’t.”

“So, you can talk. Mind telling me what this is about?”

My not knowing pissed her off to no end. Normally, someone her size barreling at me like a charging elephant would be cause for alarm, and it certainly was, but rage makes people stupid, and stupid people are predictable. She brought the rifle butt up and down in a wide arc. I sidestepped the blow, dropped low, and put all of my weight behind throwing myself into her broadside. If she’d been standing ready, I’ve no doubt I would have just bounced off of her, but she was off balance and off guard.

The mad woman fell to the right, striking the bricked over door. The bricks didn’t fall away, but I did hear them shift. I waited for her to begin to stand.

“Ronnie, with me!” I said, and pushed forward again. Together, Ronnie and I crashed into the woman and pushed her back through the loosened bricks into a stairwell beyond. The three of us tumbled down the steps, the edge of every one a threat to life and limb. We made it to the bottom in a nice little pile, with me landing on top of the mad woman and Ronnie landing on top of me.

The landing knocked the breath out of me, but Ronnie seemed alright, if a little dazed. She stood first and helped me up. As I stood catching my breath, the mad woman started to stir. I was trying to decide what we should do with her when Ronnie tapped me on the shoulder.

“What is it now—oh.”

Five cartographers stood behind us, guns raised.

“Ah, hell,” I said, raising my hands. I was too damned tired after that fall. And besides, if they took us alive, maybe they’d just take us to wherever Adella and the others were being held.

“Agent Sinclaire?”

The voice didn’t come from the five men in front of us, but from a sixth man farther down the hall.

“That’s me.”

He stepped out from around a corner, holding his hands behind his back, his hair slicked back and a know-it-all smirk on his face. I disliked him immediately.

“Lower your weapons,” he told his people, and they did. “Let Miss Sinclaire and her companion through. As for the Circle assassin, restrain her and bring her with us.”

Circle assassin? I turned to look at the mad woman, still laying on the ground but otherwise fully recovered. She was watching me with a keen eye. And I remembered who she was.

Arufina Villanova, a member of the Scarlet Circle. I’d had a run in with them a few years before. She’d led a group of her compatriots in an attack on an arms dealer I’d been sent to negotiate with. The whole affair had led to the discovery of a Pre-Rift vault, just like the one at Lelina. And just like Lelina, the vault had contained automatons like the Mistwalker described by Veronica.

Over the course of events, I was directly responsible for the death of one of Villanova’s team, a young woman named Osyn, if I correctly recall. I supposed that’s why Villanova had been hunting me, to exact some sort of vengeance.

The Cartographers picked her up off the ground and placed her in shackles, then wrapped her upper body with a heavy rope.

“Isn’t that a bit excessive?” Ronnie asked.

“No,” said the man. “Wouldn’t you agree, Agent Sinclaire?”

Five minutes ago I would have agreed vehemently, but now that I knew the woman’s identity and an idea of why she wanted me dead, I found it hard to feel much animosity toward her. Don’t get me wrong…I didn’t appreciate her trying to kill me, but I could sympathize with her position. I’m not a monster.

“Come this way, then,” the man said. “I have someone who’s been waiting to see you for a very long time.”

The Lelina Horror, Part 15

The Lelina Horror, Part 14

23rd of 9th Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

I spent the next few days in the wilds south of Point Hammond. They provided me with enough of what I needed to treat my wound, and the thick underbrush and gnarled trees offered plenty of places to hide from Cartographer hunting parties.

It wasn’t the hunting parties I was worried about, however. It was the mad woman with the rifle. At that point I still had a notion in the back of my mind that I recognized her, but it still hadn’t dawned on me from where.

In between bouts of hiding and picking berries, I went over what I knew about the circumstances surrounding Professor Martine Babin’s recovery. I knew he’d been found south of the town, in the woods I now found myself hiding and searching in, near a dried out river bed. That had been in the early springs months…from what I knew of the area what I was actually looking for now was a creek.

Over the course of the next few days, I found no trace of either a dry bed or a creek. I did find the over grown remains of an abandoned motor carriage. Inside were the remains of the carriage’s driver, little more than a skeleton wearing the tattered scraps of what looked like a hospital orderly uniform. I examined the vehicle itself, but found no markings. The driver’s side door was off, and the passenger’s side was wedged against a tree and over grown. I had a poke around the area and found the missing door at the foot of another tree fifteen feet away. I flipped it over, leaves and dirt rolling off as I did.

On the other side, in painted letters barely visible beneath a coat of dirt and rust, were the words “Point Hammond Behavioral Studies and Corrections Facilities”. What an ominous sounding name, it was. Was there some sort of asylum out here in the woods around Point Hammond? And if so, what had happened to this fellow?

A chill came over me, as I realized that the woods had gone silent. I looked up from the door and scanned the area around me. It might sound unoriginal, but I truly did have the sense that I was being watched.

A group of birds took flight from behind a thicket nearby, and I heard a harsh whisper.

“Goddamit!” a man’s voice said. Then a woman replied.

“Nice going, Brick. How the hell did you ever make it as a hunter?”

I recognized the woman’s voice.

“Ronnie?” I said. I relaxed my hand, which I now realized was hovering over the gun I’d taken from the Cartographer in the alley.

“Y-yeah…who are you?”

“It’s Pixie Sinclaire.”

Veronica Trenum stood up from behind the thicket. She looked like she hadn’t had a meal in days, but otherwise looked in good health.

“Pixie? Oh, thank the Man. Is there anyone else with you?”

“No. Just me. I’ve been looking for you guys for months. Is Adella with you?”

Silence, and then, “No. None of the others are, except for Brick, here. You know him, as I understand it.”

I frowned. Yeah, I knew him alright. He stood up with his rifle.

“Miss Sinclaire.”

“Mister Mackay. Been a while. I think the last time I saw you was…at the battle of Fargeon LeDois, high tailing it away over a hill.”

“That’s…it more complicated than that.”

“Whatever, it doesn’t matter. What happened to you all? Where have you been the last year?”

Veronica explained to me about what happened in the swamp, about the automaton that attacked them and scattered their group. Ronnie and Mckay had found their way back to Lelina, where they found the town abandoned. They spent the next several weeks searching for Adella and the others.

Eventually they packed up and left, deciding that the search had gone cold. They’d intended to return to civilization and report what had happened to authorities, but a few run-ins with the Cartographers convinced them instead to stay low.

“But we weren’t hiding,” Ronnie said. “We started investigating them. It took us awhile to get any information…these guys have a tendency to off themselves whenever they’re captured. Eventually we found one too craven to do his duty to the order or whatever nonsense and he spilled the beans.

“He told us the Cartographers are interested in Pre-Rift technology that’s supposedly stashed in old bunkers around the area.

“Like that automaton you told me about.”

“Precisely. Remember our expedition with Rigel to the Blackwood Grove?”

“How could I forget?”

“It was just like that, only…this one showed signs of self-repair, Pixie. It had used the skull of a deer to replace its head, and heartwood to repair an arm. That’s not just following programming. It’s problem solving.”

“What about the bunkers?”

“The site in Lelina was one. There’s another somewhere around here, in Point Hammond. They’re working out of an abandoned hospital not far from here.”

“That must be where this fellow was headed to,” I said, nudging the corpse with my foot.

“What do you know about it?”

“Not much,” Ronnie said. “But enough to know that the place was bad news, even before the Cartographers took it over. We also believe it may be where Adella and the others were taken. We’re headed that way. Join us?”

“Lead the way.”

As we walked, Ronnie filled me in on how they came to believe the hospital in Point Hammond was the ultimate destination for Adella and the others in the expedition. She told me that after the camp had been scattered, Mister Mckay and herself had done a quick search. McKay had followed their trail, and they very nearly caught up. Ronnie claimed that she even saw Adella through the underbrush, but before she could call out several people dressed in blue uniforms popped out of hiding and took Adella prisoner.

McKay had held her back, citing the fact that they were outgunned. After a brief exchange of words, Adella, Rothery, and Meriam surrendered and were led away, heading north.

“The only other settlement nearby was Point Hammond,” Ronnie said. “Seemed as good a place as any to start.”

“So, you’ve known for a whole year where they were being held?”

“Look, Pixie, I see where you’re going with this. Just stop. I already told you we’ve been dogged by these Cartographer people the whole time, and we have no idea how far their influence reaches. I mean, come on. You’ve heard the stories. If they’re true, that influence is pretty far.”

“It just seems unlike you to leave someone in jeopardy for so long,” I said, my eyes focusing on McKay. “And it doesn’t explain why you’re making a move now.”

“There are other elements in play now,” Ronnie said. “Some other group. We’ve seen them in Point Hammond, and a few other settlements we’ve taken to ground in. Women, wearing leather jackets, and heavily armed. At first we saw them by themselves, individually. But then we started noticing them in groups of two or three. Then we started recognizing them. One of them stands out like a sore thumb. Tall, like over six feet, with long black hair. We saw her meeting with two others. Seemed to be giving orders.”

“I’ve seen her, too.”

“In any case, I don’t think they’re working with the Cartographers. In fact I’d say there’s some deep seated animosity between them. That meeting I told you about? It was on a thoroughfare in a town nearby. A couple of Cartographers rode through. They weren’t doing anything, I don’t even think they meant to stop in town. The big one and her cohorts just pulled guns and blew them away.”


“That’s what I said. That’s not all. The Cartographers seem restless, distracted. We’ve heard them fighting amongst themselves, debating in harsh whispers in dark corners of saloons and hotels. Some sort of internal rift in their code, or philosophy or whatever. The group is starting to show it cracks, to splinter. I don’t know the details, but it seems to me that now might be our chance.”

I quietly mulled over this information as we approached the hospital. It wasn’t much longer before we arrived. McKay called a halt near the edge of a clearing. At its center was a single, four story building with barred windows, its formerly white walls gone green and black with moss and mildew.

“What now?” I asked.

“We wait,” McKay said. “For cover of night. We’ve been watching the place. It doesn’t have any power that we can see, and a group leaves at dusk, with no replacements. They must rely on a skeleton crew.”

“Sounds like they’re pretty confident,” I said.

“Isolation and long stretches of nothing happening can do that,” McKay said. “I’d think you’d know that, of all people.”

I ignored his jab. What had happened at the battle of Fargeon LeDois had been the result of a number of people proving craven, not of complacency.

The day stretched on, and we took turns napping. I was in the middle of mine when Ronnie shook me awake to find the world much darker than when I drifted off.

“It’s time.”

I wiped the sleep from my eyes and sat up, joining them at the tree line. McKay was studying the front of the hospital intently.

“Come on, come on!” he was muttering.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“They’ve usually left by now,” Ronnie said.

“Your hijinks the other day probably put them on alert,” McKay said. “Damn it.”

“This doesn’t change anything,” Ronnie said. “We still go in tonight. We’ll just have to deal with five more people.”

I looked back at them. “Five people? That’s it?”

McKay shot me a look that could melt a glacier. “Five people that we know of, who leave every night. I don’t know how many stay. Could be five is all they have guarding the joint. Could be there’s a hundred more. Either way, I was hoping for any advantage.”

“Well, if it’s only five, we can take them,” I said. “If it’s one hundred, we’re screwed either way. Let’s go.”

“Right,” Ronnie said, and we stepped forward out of the trees. McKay balked.

“Hold on a sec,” He said. “Let’s think this thro-“

A gunshot drowned out his voice. Ronnie and I both threw ourselves to the ground. I drew my pistol and aimed it at the hospital. Another shot rang out, but I saw no muzzle flash from anywhere in the building.

“Behind us!” McKay said, turning with his rifle. Another shot, and the bark of the tree next to him exploded. McKay cursed and threw himself down into the underbrush.

“Go on, then!” he shouted. “I’ll try to keep whoever this is occupied.”

Ronnie and I stood up and started running. We didn’t head toward the front door, however. We saw no sign of life from the hospital, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Luckily, there was a window on the west side of the building where the bars were hanging by a single rusty fastener.

Behind us, the woods erupted with the pops of rifle fire. Our attacker would fire, and McKay would answer.

The ground directly in front of me sent up a spray of dirt and grass. The shooter in the woods wasn’t even bothering to engage with McKay. The shooter was taking aim at me.

“Shit!” I yelled, realizing who the shooter must be. “We need to get to cover now!”

I started weaving wildly from side to side. We were almost at the building. Blood rushed through my ears and my lungs burned. Almost there…

I didn’t slow down as we reached the side of the hospital and ran at full speed into the wall. The loose window bars hung one foot above my head. I jumped up and grabbed them, wrenching them from the wall.

The gun fire had stopped, for the moment. Either our attacker was reloading or taking up a new position. Either way, we needed to take advantage.

“Ronnie, up on my shoulders,” I said, kneeling. She stepped up and I stood.

“Um, I don’t have anything to break the window!”

I handed the revolver up to her. “Use this. The butt, not a bullet.”

“Thanks, but I know how not to waste resources,” she said.

“Just break the damn window!”

I heard glass break. Then a gunshot from the tree behind us. The bullet hit the wall two feet from my head.


As I said her name, her weight lifted from my shoulders.

“Give me your hand,” she said. I looked up to see her hanging from the window, holding her hand out. I jumped up and grabbed it, scrambling up the wall as she pulled. A bullet struck the wall where my leg had just been as I went up and over, into the relative safety of the hospital.

“Well, that was thrilling,” Ronnie said.

“Eh, just a typical Tuesday.”

“Still humble as ever, I see.”

I stood up, keeping a wide berth of the window, and brushed myself off while looking around. The room was pitch black.

“I can’t see a damn thing, and I don’t have a torch,” Ronnie said. I reached into a pouch on my belt and pulled out two glass tubes. They contained liquids that when mixed cast out a sickly green light. I mixed them and shook the solution, and it slowly got brighter.

“Fancy,” Ronnie said.

“Thanks. I’m thinking of filing a patent…”

I trailed off as I took in the room. Rust eaten, over-turned beds littered the space. The walls and floors were covered in blood and other things. In some cases, the blood had been used as ink to write rambling diatribes. In the far corners were large metal cages hooked up to what looked like electrical generators.

“Adella,” I heard Ronnie whisper. “If you’re here, I’m so, so sorry.”

The Lelina Horror, Part 14

The Lelina Horror, Part 12


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.

26th (Later)

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.

The Lelina Horror, Part 12

The Lelina Horror, Part 11


16th of Tenth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate

Sleep has been difficult the last couple of days. In addition to the heavy blanket of humidity that hangs over this place, the state of Lelina and its denizens unnerve me. Two years ago this place was considered a boom town. Now, half of the town itself is gone, swallowed by a sinkhole six months back I am told. I can’t help but lay awake at night wondering when the ground beneath us will open up and swallow us whole.

Other things have gone wrong. We were supposed to leave two days ago, but procuring the supplies we need, as well as a guide to take us out to Professor Croshaw, has proven difficult. Mister Mackay’s ability to scrounge up resources has supplied us with what we need, but in at least two cases we ended up supplying the funds needed for people to quit themselves of this place.

We are still without a guide, however. None here are willing to take us. When asked face to face, they express a fear of more sink holes, venomous snakes, and other mundane horrors. But when I turn around I hear whispers of something else stalking the swamps, something elemental and very, very old.

It seems we will have to make due without a guide, as Doctor Trenum has begun to grow anxious and wants to get to the site. We’ve talked to the man who discovered the ruins, Daniel Tomlinson. He pointed us in the right direction. He seemed very distraught, and disconnected.

“It’s like this place just saps the life out of you, yes it does,” he said when I asked if he was okay. I then asked if he had plans to leave. “No. No, I can’t leave. It’s my son, Jack, you see. He’s here, and he don’t have a mom. Just me. I have to wait for him. I have to stay with him, yes I do.”

I hadn’t seen or heard any sign of children around the house, but I didn’t say anything. The man was obviously grieving.

Mister Mackay corroborated Tomlinson’s account of where the ruins were with several other townsfolk who had seen the site. We will set off on our own in the morning.

18th of Tenth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate

We arrived at the site early this afternoon, only to discover that it has been abandoned. We’ve found no sign that Croshaw and his team was ever here, except for a single scrap of torn canvas, likely from one of their tents.

Doctor Trenum is livid at this development. She’s been cursing under her breath all day, decrying Croshaw’s short comings as an archaeologist. Underneath her frustration, however, is a hint of concern for the well-being of her colleagues. I’ve seen her glancing toward Meriam and Nico, who have taken up a spot on the root of a nearby tree while Mackay and his men work to set up our own campsite; not the easiest process, considering that we’re in a swamp.

Rothery and Babin have taken to examining the five stones, which they say aren’t stones at all, but some sort of metal alloy. They also say that the pillars appear to be just the upper most part of a much larger structure, underground.

With the camp finally set up, Mackay began handing out rations. Gator jerky, he told us. He promised to take his men out on a hunt in the morning. I’ve asked to go with them, and though Mackay seemed hesitant, he agreed.

21st of Tenth Month

It’s been an arduous few days, but we are mostly in good spirits. Meriam has come out of whatever fright she’d succumbed to upon our discovery that Croshaw was missing and begun assisting Doctors Rothery and Babin. She tried assisting Doctor Trenum, but Doctor Trenum would have none of it.

Her mood has grown extremely dark the past few days, and she hasn’t been sleeping. None of us have. On the odd occasion when she isn’t studying the heavy door and whispering under her breath about what may be contained within, she and Mister Mackay wander off and don’t come back for several hours. They don’t come back smiling, however, as they did in the ports and aboard the steam boat over the course of our journey here. They come back looking more exhausted than before. At least their moods are better, for the most part.

The hunt I accompanied mister Mackay on the day after our arrival turned up naught but a single rabbit, which we gave to Nico and Meriam. I was offered a portion as well, but turned it down so that it could be given to one of the younger men on Mackay’s team. He’s a nice fellow, named Gustavo. He tells me this is his first expedition with Mackay.

“An opportunity, I thought,” Gustavo told me over that portion of rabbit. “I’ll get to work with one of the greatest hunters west of the Miskaton River, learn some of the greatest secrets of the colonial frontier. And it has been, and I have. But Brick isn’t entirely what I expected.”

He didn’t elaborate, and when I pushed he withdrew, thanking me for giving him the rabbit. I’ve tried speaking with him since, not for information or interview, but for companionship. I suppose he just sees me as a reporter, though, and is guarded.

Enough on that, though. Something else occurred during the hunt, something I haven’t discussed with anyone else. I’m not even sure I saw it myself, and I fear what the others might think should I tell them.

We were on our way back, with that single rabbit dangling from a stick, when I once again heard that same rhythmic sound of machinery in the distance. It had the same cadence as before, that of footsteps. When I stopped to listen, it ceased. Almost as though it were the audio equivalent of a shadow that appears in your peripheral vision only to vanish when you look straight at it.

It began again as I started to walk, and to my unease it sounded much louder. One of the others even expressed that they heard something odd. Mackay ceased our procession and we listened.

“I don’t hear anything,” Mackay said, and he was right, but to a much more frightening degree. The swamp around us was dead silent; I could hear no sound of frogs croaking or birds chirping. The waters around us were still. Where before I had seen the constant flickering of schools of tiny fish, I saw nothing but green murk. I scanned the trees around us. The swamp spread out in every direction, a tangle of vines and moss. Nothing seemed overly peculiar, except for one tree, far in the distance.

The branches didn’t seem quite right, their geometry too symmetrical and their surface too smooth. And they were moving slightly, despite a lack of wind. I stared more intently, squinting my eyes, following those strange symmetrical branches down to their source, a small white clump protruding from the backside of the tree. Its shape was lean and narrow and riddled with deep hollows that looked almost like the eyes sockets of a skull…

“Let’s get moving,” Mckay said, calling my attention away. When I looked back, I could not locate those branches again. I searched for a moment longer before following the others. Once again I heard the sound of steady machinery, like footsteps. It was further away now.

Eventually, it just faded away.

The Lelina Horror, Part 11

The Lelina Horror, Part 10


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


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.


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 3


24th of 5th Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate

My search for the missing reporter Adella Chatelaine has thus far proven to be…less than smooth.

I won’t go into detail about having to make my way through Crowndon. They view me as some sort of bogeyman there, so it goes without saying that most of that particular leg of this journey was spent sleeping in out of the way flea-bag hotels and ducking into alleys at the first sign of, well, anyone.

However, by the time I arrived on Waystation Echo I thought I might be in the clear. A large oversight on my part, I must admit, given the majority of people on Echo hail from and are loyal to Crowndon. Within half an hour I was set upon not only by Crowndon soldiers, but bounty hunters looking for a quick pay day. I’d hoped to get passage on a nice passenger ship, spend the week long journey to New Crowndon sleeping on a velvet pillow and stuffing my face with strawberries for a long overdue change of pace. Instead I found myself stowed away in the hold of a cattle barge, stuffed into a tiny nook to avoid the hooves of my new bovine companions.

So it was that I arrived in the colonies smelling like hay and manure, with a crick in my neck that felt as though someone had stuffed a metal rod down along my spine. It all led to me having a nasty disposition, a disposition exacerbated by the fact that I’d now arrived in yet another territory controlled by Crowndon. Luckily for me, the people of the colonies think of themselves as something unique, if not entirely separate, from their Empire of origin.

Still, I didn’t know that when I stepped off the ship to find a group of New Crowndon officials waiting for me. They offered me a job of utmost importance. I’ve taken it, seeing as how I need the money after leaving most of my things on Waystation Echo…but that is an entirely different story.

This story is about finding Adella.

Once I’d taken on his job offer, Governor Ancroft was most amenable to help me with my task, pointing me in the direction of certain inns and other places where Adella and her expedition had been spotted. The first place I went to? New Crowndon University, to speak with the imminent Professor Barnaby Joplin Oates.

The University was rather sparsely populated when I arrived, with most of its students enjoying a week off for a local holiday celebrating the anniversary of some founding of a thing or some battle or other. These colonials are always finding ways to shirk work.

Understandable I suppose, since they never seem to stop working otherwise.

Thus it was that I had some difficulty locating the University’s Archaeological Department, having no one to guide me. And with no one to guide me, I had no one to announce me. Which probably played a large role in how I came to stumble into my next precarious position.

It started, as always, with the echoes of voices made murky and looming by distance and the marble floors of a long corridor. I followed the sound, thinking I might ask for direction.

However, as always, proximity offered clarity, and I came to realize that the voices were rather threatening.

It’s never easy, is it?

I softened my steps and approached the only door in the corridor with a lamp on. The door had a name stenciled on it: Professor Oates. It seemed I had found my man, and my man was currently engaged with some rather unsavory sounding callers.

“Look, old man,” a gruff voice said. His accent betrayed him as hailing from Salasan, in Monteddor. “This is what we want, in plain and simple terms: testimony saying that the site in Lelina is of no great importance, at least in comparison to the dangers of the region.”

“B-but, that just isn’t true!” Another voice said, I’m assuming the professor. “My academic integrity denies…”

“Your ‘academic integrity’?” A third voice, female, with hints of Nor Easter weaved with the local accent. A traveler, then. “Your ‘academic integrity’ has already led two teams to their deaths, professor, and I’m sure more than a few members of those teams were people you claimed to care about. Do you really want to send more people, more of your students, to die?”

“You seem awfully sure of their fate,” the Professor said. “I’m thinking these dangers you people speak of are yourselves.”

“That’s partially true,” said the Monteddorian. “We are a danger. But hardly the worst thing in that swamp. Look, old man, we’re trying to help you, whether you believe it or not. But we can’t do that with a bunch of eggheads running around the swamps getting snatched. So, call off your expedition, release a statement saying that the University of New Crowndon has discovered insufficient evidence to warrant continued interest in light of the danger. Simple.”

“If only that were so,” the Professor said. “The expedition has already left. They have a week’s head start.”

This was followed by a pause, and then things started to get ugly.

“You decrepit old FOOL!” the Nor Easterner shouted, and I heard something that sounded an awful lot like a fist hitting someone in the face, followed by pained moaning.

“Bianca, stand down,” said the Monteddorian.

“I will not! Don’t you get it? Every person this idiot sends is more blood on our hands. It makes our mission harder, and it increases the threat of exposure. We’re already going to have to kill the old codger. Why don’t you let me get a few good whacks in first, to work out my frustration?”

Well, I’d heard enough of that. It was high time to make my grand entrance. I reached into a pouch on my belt and pulled out a small device of my own making (though, I must admit that I had some help with the timing mechanism from a certain somebody whose name rhymes with Rigel Rinkenbach, as much as it pains me to say it) and opened the door.

“Professor Oates?” I said in my best naïve student voice and peeked my head in the door. All three of them craned their heads to look at me. I took in the scene as quickly as I could. The professor, sitting behind a desk with a ribbon of crimson red running down the side of his face; the Nor Eastern woman, ‘Bianca’, standing beside him; and the Monteddorian sitting on the front of the professor’s desk. Both of the Professor’s guests wore dark blue, high necked uniforms and gun belts.

“Oh! Excuse me,” I said. “I didn’t know you had guests.”

The guests looked at each other. I used the split second of confusion to trigger the device and rolled it along the floor toward the desk. This curious action bought me another second of confusion.

“What hell…?” Bianca said, and the device opened and released a compound of Tinnigan’s Weave and Fiorgorite…guaranteed to cure insomnia in an elephant. I pulled back out of the door and held it closed. Fits of coughing came from inside, then panicked gunshots. Two bullets ripped through the wall to my left.

One of them made it to the door and started trying to pull it open. I braced against the threshold, holding it shut with my weight. Judging from the cursing coming from the other side of the door, it was Bianca. Lucky for me, because the Monteddorian had been twice my size. Still, she put up quite the fight. It surprised me a bit that she was even still awake.

She got smart in the end and shot through the door’s window. Luckily, I had already lowered my center of gravity to keep the door shut and the bullets went over my head. With the window broken, I no longer had need to hold the door closed, so I let go and rolled away.

Bianca lunged out through the broken window, coughing. She hit the floor, looked at me, and raised her weapon, a silver revolver. She fixed me with eyes like a mad dog’s. I thought I was done for.

Finally, she passed out. I crept forward slowly, anticipating a trap. She was out cold. I kicked the revolver away and turned her over on her back. How had she been able to withstand the sleeping formula?

Her eyes were sunken and purple. I examined them closely and found evidence of injection. An addict, then. Probably hopped up on some sort of stimulant. I tied her up first, as securely as I could, with double knots.

I moved into the office, holding my breath, and retrieved the Professor. He’d have a headache when he woke up but he’d live, assuming I got him somewhere safe and we didn’t run into anymore of his friends. I set him down outside in the hall and then took care of the Monteddorian. Once that was taken care of I took a moment to catch my breath, looking at the three unconscious bodies at my feet.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

Well, Pixie, you really are off to a good start this time, aren’t you?

The Lelina Horror, Part 3

The Lelina Horror, Part Two


The Ninth of Eighth Month, 280th Year of the Triumvirate

“Veronica!” Doctor Barnaby Joplin Oates says, greeting us at the door of the university. A wide smile comes over Doctor Trenum’s face. I’ve seen her smile on several occasions (she’s a very smiley person), but this one stands out to me.

“Doctor Oates, it’s been too long,” she says, and the two of them hug. I get the feeling that Doctor Oates and Doctor Trenum know each other. The hug goes on for a few beats longer than a hug between two old acquaintances normally would. When it ends, Veronica turns to me.

“Adella, this is Doctor Barnaby Oates. He’s an old teacher, friend, and mentor…really, more like a father. If it wasn’t for him, I doubt I ever would have finished my doctorate.”

“Oh, hush now, Veronica. I have every faith that you could have overcome any obstacle in your path. I just helped you do it faster.”

Doctor Trenum smiles again and Doctor Oates turns to me.

“You must be Adella Chatelaine.”

“Yes, Doctor. Pleased to meet you.”

We shake and he says, “I must say I am very pleased to have the interest of such a fine publication as the Gazette. Interest in historical pursuits has sadly fallen out of favor among the public in recent times, I’m afraid.”

“I assure you Doctor, that it hasn’t fallen out of favor with me.”

“Very good! Right. This way, please.” Doctor Oates gestures to the door. “I have some very exciting things to show the both of you.”

We follow Doctor Oates to the Archaeology Department, where several artifacts from Lelina are being kept. He goes over them one by one. Most are unremarkable; stone and clay works that are common to the area. There is one piece, however, that catches both Doctor Trenum’s and my attention.

A damaged device composed of a series of gears encased in a metal shell sits on a nearby table, contained in a metal case with a thick observation window on top. Doctor Oates informs us that it was taken from the actual Lelina site.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Oates says. “A piece of machinery not so very different from our own, only much older. About 5,000 years, based on our observations, which makes it contemporary with the site.”

“What’s with the case?” Doctor Trenum says, studying it. “Two inches of solid lead? Some sort of containment?”

“That’s something better experienced than explained,” Doctor Oates says. “Here, put your hand over the observation window.”

Doctor Trenum does so, but not for very long before she grimaces and pulls her hand away. I ask her what she felt.

“I can’t say,” she said. “It was fleeting…I’m already forgetting what it felt like, exactly. It was most unpleasant. Something less physical, more like an emotion, in the pit of my stomach and the back of my mind; a deep sorrow. Melancholy. Were I not a scientist, I would recommend staying away from it. But we have never found any answers by avoiding discomfort. Go ahead, Adella, if you wish.”

I stick my hand over the window. I don’t feel anything. I look at the Doctors, who observe me keenly, like some sort of experiment. I close my eyes, focusing on the cool metal box against my hand.

“Feel anything yet?” Doctor Trenum asks.

“No,” I say.

“You don’t feel something like the distant brush of cold fingers from across ageless aeons against the back of your neck?”

“What? No…”

That’s when I hear a snort. I open my eyes to see Doctor Trenum’s face glowing a bright red. My confusion sets her off into reels of laughter. Doctor Oates only smiles. I fear I have just been the victim of a prank.

“Ah, the old ‘Mysterious Doodad’ trick,” Doctor Trenum says in between fits of laughter. “Gets them every time, right Barnaby?”

I pull my hand away from the metal case, not sure how to react. The joke isn’t very funny, and quite frankly I am disappointed that Doctor Trenum would do something so adolescent in nature. I ask if there truly is a reason for the case, or if that is just part of the prank, as well.

“Oh, no,” says Doctor Oates. “The case is necessary. That thing in there was throwing off some sort of magnetic wave that completely screwed with our instrumentation. After it arrived, we had to re-wind all of the clocks in the university. A real chore, that was, and no mistake.”

I ask if there is anything else we should know about the artifact. He tells me that it is part of a larger item, still located at the Lelina site. A large device full of gears and pipes, that gives off the same magnetic waves, strong enough to throw off a compass from miles away. He theorizes this has something to do with tales of travelers getting lost in the area.

But that, he tells me, is not the biggest discovery at the site.

Doctor Oates walks over to a projector and asks Doctor Trenum to dim the lights. On the wall appears a photograph overlooking what I assume are the Lelina ruins. Doctor Oates pulls out a telescoping baton and points to a shadowy region on the map.

“This,” he says, “Is an entry way, sealed by an iron door. Five feet thick, and rusted shut.”

The only thing I see in the area he is pointing to are sepia toned shadows amongst more sepia toned shadows that vaguely form the shape of a structure. I just nod, expecting him to make his point in time.

“This door is water and air tight,” Oates continues. “So while the outside surface of the door is heavily rusted, it is likely anything located within the underground structure is largely intact.”

Doctor Trenum steps forward, and says, “Making this potentially the most complete example of Pre-Rift culture we have on record.”

“Precisely,” Doctor Oates says, collapsing his baton and sticking it in his pocket. “If we ever expect to have a complete understanding of civilization in the Newlands prior to the Alchemical Rift, or find the answers to the apparent connection to sites around the world, this is our best opportunity to date.”

“Too bad we cannot open it,” Doctor Trenum says. I ask for clarification on that point. While the door is quite thick, I do not see why it cannot be cut through with a torch.

“As Doctor Oates says, it is air tight,” Doctor Trenum says. “The second we open it up, we risk damaging any artifacts inside. If we keep it closed, we are in the dark. We open it up, we are still in the dark.”

“We are working on ways around that, of course,” Oates says, “But all of those ways are theoretical at the moment; we having nothing working. In the meantime, there are still plenty items of note at the site. Most important of which is the device this thing came off of.”

Oates indicates the box.

“I have prepared a kit for you and your team, Doctor Trenum,” he says. “Said team will meet you tomorrow, on the boat. They are a bright bunch, starving for the opportunity.”

One look at Doctor Trenum’s face is enough to show she is not thrilled, but she does not protest. She’s turned back to the picture, and is running her finger over the faint, grainy outline of some sort of symbol.

“What does the inscription say?” She asks.

Doctor Oates shakes his head. “I’ve no idea. The picture isn’t very good, and the locals who took the photograph made no note of it. They probably thought it was a graffiti.”

“I can just make out one symbol,” Doctor Trenum says. “It’s similar to symbols I’ve seen at sites in Pharassus.”

“Any idea what it means?” I ask.

“Not a clue,” Adella said. “It’s a dead language, with no sort of codex available to help us translate. It just looks familiar, is all.”

I crane my head and squint my eyes. “Sort of looks like a couple of snakes, one white, one black, and the white one is eating the black one’s tail.”

The two doctors look at each other, then up at the picture. They shoulder me out of the way.

“Hmmm,” Doctor Oates says. “Yes, two snakes, one eating the other?”

“Possibly,” Doctor Trenum replies. “Or maybe, one snake shedding its skin? A symbol for change?”


“Yes…rebirth after a sort of death, the sloughing of dead skin.”

They continue on in this manner for quite some time, mumbling back and forth and exchanging theories. I’m starting to feel abandoned when Doctor Trenum backs away from the picture.

“I suppose we’ll find out more once I’m on site,” she says, and turns to me.

“Come on, Adella.” She puts a friendly arm around my neck. “Let us go have some fun, before we meet up with the dead weight. Farewell, Barnaby!”

“You too, dear girl. Be safe. I look forward to hearing about what you find.”

After leaving the University, Doctor Trenum and I go out for drinks. I remember feeling a little hesitant after the cruel joke the doctors had pulled, but I convinced myself I was being maybe just a little uptight about the whole thing. Still, I would be wary in the future, now that Doctor Trenum had revealed a penchant for mischief.

Her idea was to have some fun before meeting the rest of her team, a notion that was quickly forgotten when we found that said team already occupied the restaurant we chose. Only one of their number was absent, apparently preferring the company of the citizens in the lower quarter. I can’t say I blamed him.

Coming along for the ride with us are Doctor Archibald Rothery, an expert in New Crowndon anthropology, as far as one can be an expert in such; Professor Martine Babin, curator of the museum in Val Coursais and leader in the field of archaeological conservation; and Professor Babin’s two interns, Nico Pate and Meriam Caillot. Watching the two interns, I have the distinct feeling that Meriam is truly there for the science, while Nico is there mainly for Meriam.

The final, and absent, member of our team is Matthias Bricklebrand Mackay, who the others often refer to as “Brick”. Whether the nickname is out of love or derision, I am not completely sure. It appears to be interchangeable, and Mr. Mackay shows no sign of preference in any case. He is our guide, tracker, and general provider of security on this journey. He has a team of four other men with him; I am told that all of them are men of the utmost integrity. They are also men of utmost discretion, as I have not been able to get a single one to speak with me.

After entering the restaurant and seeing them there, Doctor Trenum is quick to suggest that we slowly back away and leave, but it is too late. Doctor Rothery sees us and invites us over. By the way he greets Doctor Trenum, it is apparent that their fondness for each other is heavily weighted on Rothery’s part; Doctor Trenum is visibly uncomfortable when he hugs her. He seems completely oblivious to this fact, which only makes it more painful to watch.

The others seem entirely pleasant; Professor Babin is preoccupied with a book, but warm enough to my inquiries. Nico and Meriam are likewise preoccupied with each other, piping in at times when discussing certain matters of interest. Nico is charming, but I sense a bit of envy on his part towards Meriam’s interest in archaeology. At least he never goes so far as to put her down for it—at least not that I’ve seen thus far.

Our conversation never much sways toward the subject of our assignment, I’m afraid. I figure that has to do with the fact that we will all be neck deep in ruins and artifacts before long. For the most part, I am enjoying the company of my new companions. Doctor Rothery comes on a bit strong at times, both professionally and personally. He is a hugger, that one, something I have never been nor do I think I will ever be, particularly with strangers. I have expressed my boundaries with him and so far he has respected them without withdrawing completely. Otherwise, I find him entirely pleasant to be around.

It is not until the next morning that I meet Mister Mackay, and our conversation is brief once he learns that I am a member of the press. Hopefully his demeanor is short lived. Based on some of the tales I’ve heard from the others, I’m sure he would be a fascinating interview.

He has chartered the steam boat we are to use to travel to Lelina, and we are currently making final preparations to leave.

The Lelina Horror, Part Two