Blackwood Miscellany: Creation Myths of the Empire

Within the context of the Blackwood Empire series, the following tale originates in the region known as the Divide, and is widely told in the NorEastern Empire and the northern regions of the Monteddorian Empire.

At the time of the Blackwood Empire, the story holds little spiritual or religious meaning in the largely libertine NorEastern Empire. It is mainly told with a smirk, as an amusement at tea parties and meetings of Alchemists. It does, however, reflect the nation’s fascination with the human drive to create and understand the world around them.

For the people of Monteddor, however, the story still holds much cultural significance. Ultimately, however, its purpose is a dark one, and much emphasis is placed on the dangers of human curiosity. It is used by the powers that be as a means of control, to keep the citizenry in line and maintain the status quo.

In Crowndon, the story takes on a highly antagonistic tone with the idea of a higher Creator, to be told at a later date.

As Told in the northern reaches of Monteddor:

The Man awoke, surrounded by a bone dry desert under a sun baked sky. There was no sound, but for the soft whisper of a warming wind. He named them as he perceived them, but they were not new names. They were names that existed in some deep, locked away part of himself.

The Man sat up. His head ached for the span of a heart beat, and then the ache disappeared. His eyes grew accustomed to the light, and opened, focusing upon the world around him. The desert stretched far to the horizon in all directions, completely flat except for the rows of pillars to both sides of him, 12 a piece, that reached high into the air above him and curved inward.

The sun hung in the air directly overhead, and the pillars cast no shadow but for a tiny pool of darkness on the underside of each pillar’s curve. The Man stood and stared into these shadows, and knew darkness, which gave meaning to the light.

The Man began walking along the rows. He was strong, and full of energy. He felt no desire, except for the want of knowing what lay beyond the horizon. He turned to the left, and walked through the pillars.

As they fell behind him, the Man felt a deep hollow form in his chest, as though he were leaving behind something that was a crucial part of him. He knew emptiness. He fought the urge to go back, the compulsion to see and know greater than the pull of what was already known.

The world seemed to end. The Man found himself staring into the vast blue nothingness of the sky. Until he looked down, and saw that the world continued, rolling gently downward to another flat plane of desert below. And at the base of the rise, five more pillars reached up from the sand.

Four stood together, seemingly against the fifth, who stood alone. The Man felt something else. It was similar to the hollow he felt after leaving the first stand of pillars behind, but that hollow had filled. This came from somewhere else, somewhere deeper.

That fifth pillar, standing alone against the four. A chill went through the Man. He lifted his shaking left hand. Four fingers stood together. His thumb stood alone. The Man thought on this as he walked on, unsure how to feel about what he’d found. His curiosity had begun to wane. Once again, the hollow returned. The unknown stretched before him, and doubt had shadowed his mind.

Still, the Man persisted.

As he walked, his legs became heavy, and he knew gravity. His lungs burned, and he knew air. Sensation after sensation sprung up within him, like empty spaces he had not known were there until he became aware of them.

His mouth became dry, and the ache in his head returned. Soon, he could walk no more. First, he named what he felt.

Thirst.

The Man fell to his knees, then forward onto his face. He heard something new, and felt something new. He lifted his aching head, and found that where it had laid came forth a bubbling spring of water.

The Man dug deep with his hands, and the water flowed more freely. He scooped it into his palms and he drank. He dug deeper, and the spring became a torrent. It rose around him, touching his knees, his feet. It came up to his waist. And the water rolled away to his left, along the shape of the land and out of sight.

The Man continued his journey, following the flow of the water and drinking from it when needed. Soon it flowed into another stream, this one much larger, and along its banks the land changed. The endless white sand became green grass, and then bushes and trees.

The Tree bore strange orange orbs that smelled sweetly. His mouth watered and his stomach called out. Even as his thirst was quenched, he became aware of his hunger. He plucked an orange from a tree and bit into it, but the skin of the fruit was tough, and bitter. Disappointed, he nearly threw the fruit away, but for a single drop of sweetness on his tongue. Juice flowed from the point where he had bitten into the fruit. He dug into the mark with his thumbs and pulled the orange open, exposing the soft flesh inside.

He ate, hollowing out the skin of the fruit. Finished, he looked once again at his hands, and at the thumb he’d used to pry the orange open. He remembered the pillars, the four standing against the one. He now knew the importance of the one. The importance of his thumb.

He shared the forest with other living things. He tried hunting monkeys. They were quick, and they had thumbs. They could climb. So he hunted deer. They had no thumbs.

Wolves hunted him, but he, like the monkeys, could climb trees. And he could build. He constructed shelters in the trees. He used them to sleep in, and to hunt deer from. He built long, sharp weapons to kill with.

The Man was crafty, and he survived, and built a life in the forest. Water and food were plenty, and his stomach was full. But still, that strange hollow he felt as he left the pillars behind remained. This hollow was not physical. It came from someplace else.

One day, he discovered a new plant with red berries unlike anything he’d seen before. He ate the berries while he hunted. But soon he felt weak, and he was unable to hunt. He weakened more, and was unable to climb. Instead he crawled into the roots of a tree, and shivered, hoping that wolves would not come.

He awoke to a strange sound. His vision was blurred, and his hearing muffled. The notion came upon him that the sound was directed at him. But it was not the growl of a wolf, or the protest of a dying deer, or the chattering of a monkey.

The Woman crouched before him. She held out her hand. Inside were naught but leaves. He had chewed them before, but they made him sick. Not as sick as he was now, but they made the food he ate come back up. The Woman insisted. The sounds she made were pitiful, worrisome…compassionate. Their tone compelled him to eat the leaves.

Sure enough, they brought his stomach up, and along with it the berries he had eaten. He felt better, afterward, but still weak. She brought him water in a deer skin. Lots of water, and she made him drink every last drop, even when he was no longer thirsty.

The Man slept a long time and when he awoke, the Woman remained. He saw her more clearly. She wore the skins of the deer, as he did. She had tools of wood, as he did. No…not like he did. She had tied rocks to them. Some of the rocks had been sharpened to points. He gestured to them and she held them out. He looked at them, admiringly. And he looked at her, the same way.

They stayed together. She showed him how to sharpen the rocks, and how to tie them to the sticks, and they hunted. When they discovered something new, they assigned a sound to it, so they could understand each other. Over time, the Man became aware that the hollow was gone.

They explored the forest by day, naming the world around them, and by night, they explored each other. They were much the same, but very different. Soon, they brought forth a little one like them, and more after that. The little ones grew, and they learned to hunt. Some of them left and never returned. Some went to sleep and never awakened.

They built a home on the ground, protected by felled trees. They grew smaller trees inside. The day came when more like them appeared. They showed them what they knew, and these people built a home beside them. More people came, and before long, they had conquered the forest and built homes made of stone.

Still others came after that, but these did not need to learn. In fact, they knew more. Some were willing to teach. Others…others only wanted to take. Over time, the spear and the arrow gave way to the sword and the gun. Over and over again the people fought. At first they fought over food and land. They fought over people. And then, they began to fight over words, and ideas. The fight over ideas were the most brutal; the ideas were stronger than any physical need. The ideas came from the same place as the Man’s strange emptiness that he could not fill. The ideas were nearly the end of them.

Until one day, a Man had an idea meant to save them. He built a colossus of iron and gears in his own image, which would hold their very being within and preserve it for eternity. He built the colossus, and in their desperation the people submitted to it. The Man was the last one inside.

And the Colossus walked across the surface of the empty world until the mountains fell and the forests turned to dust. When all life was gone, the Colossus remained. However, even it could not stand up to time. Eventually, the Colossus fell, too. It crumbled to pieces, exposing its skeletal frame, its ribs jutting up from the earth like two rows of pillars. And all was still.

Until one day, a Man awoke in a bone dry desert, under a sun baked sky…

Blackwood Miscellany: Creation Myths of the Empire

Blackwood Gazette #201: Adella Chatelaine Resigns from the Blackwood Gazette; Plans to Pursue Career as Independent Journalist (Lelina Horror, Conclusion)

By Adella Chatelaine, Investigative Reporter

10/11- It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that I will not be returning to the Blackwood Gazette as a full time correspondent. My time here has, mostly, been a great chapter of my life. However, there are things that I must turn my attention to now, that I would not be able to do under the auspices of such a well-regarded publication.

During my time in the colonies and subsequent captivity, I learned of forces at work in this world that most believe do not exist. These forces are protected by an almost institutionalized sense of denial, one that I can no longer be privy to. And because of that, I believe I am a target. I cannot in good conscience drag my fellow reporters and friends into such a mess.

So I will go on alone, as an independent journalist. I will search the dark corners of this earth to ferret out the secrets of this hidden cabal that I believe is pulling the strings of world industry and development. I know not what their plans are, these Cartographers. I have my doubts that many of them even know, and I cannot even begin to fathom the place in which the diabolical experiment that so many others and I were forced to endure fits into those machinations, but I vow to find out.

A lie, after all, is a construct. And like any construct it needs to be maintained. Given time, or the proper application of force, any lie will eventually crumble. And the truth therein revealed.

I would like to thank my fellow reporters at the Gazette for their support and guidance over the years, in particular Mister Maurice Merchant, who took a chance when he hired me on after the whole Bulloch award fiasco and never gave up hope that I would return home. I don’t know where I would be without you all and the Gazette.

Fare well.

 

 

Blackwood Gazette #201: Adella Chatelaine Resigns from the Blackwood Gazette; Plans to Pursue Career as Independent Journalist (Lelina Horror, Conclusion)

The Lelina Horror, Part 19

PIXIE (IX)

Vengeance is a pesky thing. It isn’t exactly justice, but the need for it can eat at a person. And unlike other emotions or whatever vengeance is, it doesn’t dampen with time. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say.

It’s also very rarely justified, but that doesn’t matter to the person searching for it. They just want closure. There’s a lot of things I could say about the feelings in the air that night as we escaped from the hospital, but I don’t think closure was one of them. At least not for Arufina Villanova.

I felt the cold steel of her gun barrel against my head, and then I heard the click of the hammer as it fell on a dud, of all things. With how many rounds were fired over that ten minutes or so, I guess at least one was bound to misfire. I don’t consider it fate, or even luck. Just…statistics, I guess.

I turned around and gave her an evil glare. There was no surprise on her face, just resignation as she lowered the gun and said, “Go.”

We made it back to Point Hammond by dawn, and luckily for us, not a Cartographer could be seen. The large group of malnourished people in ragged clothes did catch the attention of the local law, however, and we were all taken in for disturbing the peace. It took some explaining but once I was able to impart to the sheriff who we were and where we had come from, he contacted the nearby Marshal garrison and handed us off to them.

The Marshal’s fed us, treated Veronica’s wounds and had a doctor examine the people we’d rescued. None of them were in trouble physically. Psychologically, however, was a different story. After a few days we were cleared to leave. As I understand, several of the captives stayed. I don’t know their reasons.

As for Mister Bricklebrand McKay: I had assumed Arufina had killed him. Such was not the case, as he was already at the garrison when we arrive. He ran away, you see. I wish I could say that surprised me, but it doesn’t.

Veronica, Adella, Doctor Rothery and I chartered a ferry up the coast to the city of Bly, where they will board a train to New Crowndon in the morning. We traveled in relative silence. I considered asking Adella and Doctor Rothery for details, but decided against it. If Adella ever wishes to tell the story of what happened, I imagine she will do so in her own time.

By the time we arrived in Bly, the news had already hit the papers. A number of reporters and well-wishers greeted us. Adella and Rothery were in no mood to answer questions, so I stepped in as spokesperson, stressing the need to let them provide answers in their own time.

Veronica, Adella and I just had a goodbye dinner, where we spoke of things other than Point Hammond and Lelina. I told them of some of my lighter exploits since the end of the war, and Veronica told of her dig in Pharassus. Adella didn’t share much, but she seemed in high spirits. I have hopes that she will carry on.

I will not be joining them on the train to New Crowndon. No sooner than I returned to my room at the hotel did my handler with the Society send me details on my next job. The Triumvirate Authority is worried about whatever Alejandro Julianos is looking for down south, and since I’m in the area, the task falls to me.

And so, as one task ends, another begins.

The Lelina Horror, Part 19

The Lelina Horror, Part 18

ADELLA (X)

She asked me if I remembered her, and despite the trauma of my captivity and the long years since I’d last seen her, I did.

Pixie Sinclaire. Spy. Saboteur. A decorated hero of the Nor Easter-Crowndon war. And, once upon a time, a fellow student and friend.

We’d studied together at the University of Oeil de Fleur. She only spent a semester there before joining the military and going on to a career of death-defying derring-do. Even in that short time, however, I knew that Pixie Sinclaire was someone I wanted to be.

She was the one who pushed me towards investigative journalism when everyone, from my parents to my professors, pushed me towards straight on reporting. Where they told me to find a nice paper to work for in a nice, comfortable city, Pixie was the one who told me that finding the truth of a story was nearly more important than merely stating the facts.

After she left, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her for years. And yet here she was, in this hellish place, trying to save me. To save us, even though I doubt we deserved it. Not only that, but she had refused to turn over a person who wanted her dead for a quick and easy out. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at that.

I told her that I did, indeed, remember her, and she asked me if I was ready to leave. When she asked me that I felt like myself for the first time in a long time. She smiled and said,

“Let’s go, then.”

A few moments later, the people who’d brought us to this place and put us through hell came through the only door in the room, and the guns that Doctor Trenum, Pixie, and the assassin Arufina Villanova thundered in the small space. The bodies fell and tumbled down the stairs. I didn’t feel anything as I watched it happen. Not horror, nor relief as Pixie led us up the stairwell and into the decrepit hospital.

More people, all wearing blue, like the others, waited for us in the corridors above. I think I recognized one of them as Shelby as I passed his body. It was kind of hard to tell, with half his face off.

Pixie led us first into a dark room off of one of the corridors, a room filled with broken beds and horrific machines. She said that they had entered through there, but the window had been boarded up. Metal bars covered the others. With their original point of ingress now closed, we had no choice but to storm the front.

A small group of men waited for us there. Not very many, eight, but just enough to stop us. Pixie was out of bullets, and Veronica had taken a hit. Arufina had four shots left. Even if she managed one bullet per man, that left four with six shots a piece. Going back to scrounge for more from one of the bodies was an option, but Pixie offered another solution.

“I still have one of my little pills left,” she said. “I can take out that cluster of five or so by the door. The others will be your problem.”

Arufina nodded. Pixie tossed her bomb, and the assassin swept the room, fanning the hammer on her revolver and taking out the other three with one bullet to spare. It was easy. Looking back, it was sort of scary just how easy it was.

We walked out of the hospital. I half expected more of the men in blue uniforms to be outside, waiting for us, but there weren’t any. Just a cool, clear autumn night. We were safe. We’d made it out.

And then Arufina raised her gun, put it against the back of Pixie’s head, and pulled the trigger.

The Lelina Horror, Part 18

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 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 3

PIXIE (I)

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

ADELLA (II)

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?”

“Rebirth?”

“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

Blackwood Gazette #193- Pierre Fordeau Seeks Protective Custody After Finding Disturbing Package on His Doorstep

Alex Grosset, Arts and Entertainment

23/9– Author Pierre Fordeau, who recently published the memoir “Impossible Hearts in Forgotten Lands”, recently approached law enforcement in Sau Anoit to apply for protective custody. The petition is said to have stemmed from the arrival of a mysterious package found on his doorstep.

“The package was very disturbing, indeed,” said Inspector Jean Donponte. “It contained a variety of what can best be described as fetishes, small dolls and artifacts made out of bone, animal sinew, and hair. Fordeau claims the hair is his, but our men in forensics say the hair is likely from a Djidanni red ape.”

In the report, Fordeau claims the package is meant to be a threat from the Pirate Queen Seylene Plamondon, but Inspector Donponte isn’t convinced.

“The more likely scenario I think is the package came from one of his fans,” the inspector said. “You know how those sorts can be…they read something like Plamondon’s reaction to his book and they use it as an in-roads of sorts, to place themselves into the lives of the people they, for lack of a better word, ‘love’.

“This is probably just someone screwing with Fordeau; I highly doubt Seylene Plamondon made her way up to Sau Anoit from the Pyros Ocean just to leave a shoebox on someone’s doorstep. No, she likely would have burned his apartment to the ground, and the surrounding block as well, just to be sure. Still, we’ve granted Fordeau his application, both for his ease of mind and because whoever did leave the package is clearly a nutter.”

No word on where Fordeau will be moved to (as is expected), or for how long. However, it is said that along with his application was a list of demands, including a new typewriter and ‘adequately luxurious furnishings’, as well as a constantly supplied bowl of Sweety Beets®, with the red ones removed.

Blackwood Gazette #193- Pierre Fordeau Seeks Protective Custody After Finding Disturbing Package on His Doorstep

Blackwood Gazette #186- Pixie Sinclaire Exposes Trafficking of Native Artifacts in Colonial Town

By Chester Seaton, News

7/9-The Triumvirate colonies in the Newlands once again find themselves hanging on the edge of open conflict with the outer Territories this week, after it was revealed that a network of groups along the Miskaton river have been trafficking ancient native artifacts of profound spiritual importance to various third parties.

The network of smugglers was uncovered by none other than Nor Eastern intelligence agent Pixie Sinclaire.

“She’s been poking around for a week and a half, asking about that…reporter and sticking her freckled nose into everyone’s business,” said Dundry’s sheriff. “Eventually she sniffed out a pocket of these smugglers operating out of a warehouse by the river. The smugglers were smart enough to know how to appraise the value of the artifacts and categorize them, but they weren’t smart enough to lock up their documentation. Sinclaire found evidence of over a dozen other smuggling dens.”

According to the documents Sinclaire discovered, many of the artifacts had been sold to private collectors, including high ranking officials in the colonial government. But the biggest buyer seems to be a mysterious broker known only as “The Jaguar”.

“I really wish she’d brought the information to us, but instead she leaked the information to the press. Now we have citizens of native descent marching through the streets, demanding the heads of the smugglers and an explanation from the colonial governors.”

Upon breaking the news, the Council of Territorial Representatives issued a warning to the colonial government, demanding that all artifacts be recovered and returned to the sites from which they were taken. It seems, however, that in this area the smugglers were less diligent in their record keeping. Even more, the debacle has revealed that several of the sites in question were irreparably damaged or, in one case, completely destroyed.

“The whole thing is a mess,” said Governor Berclay Ancroft. “I’ve personally been in contact with the Councilmen, and they are deadly serious. When word of this crosses the Plasty Meridian, if it hasn’t already, I fear that when compounded with recent tensions it will lead to a full out conflict.”

The government of the colonies is currently scrambling for a way to avoid the fallout of this scandal. Pixie Sinclaire was unavailable for comment, and her method of releasing the information is said to have colonial officers incensed, with many calling for her immediate arrest. The Governor of the Province of Bly has even suggested the whole thing is a Nor Eastern plot to sew unrest in the colonies and demanded statement from Empress Marcellete Bastian.

The Council of Territorial Representatives refused our requests for interview.

Blackwood Gazette #186- Pixie Sinclaire Exposes Trafficking of Native Artifacts in Colonial Town