top of page

Episode Fifty-Seven: RUINOUS

Hello everyone. Just a quick note before this episode starts: the season will be 15 episodes long now because pacing is hard ok bye

Hello and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity and Mortality. This audio tour guide will be your constant companion in your journey through the unknown and surreal.

As you approach our exhibits, the audio tour guide will provide you with information and insights into their nature and history.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the exhibits.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the audio tour guide. If you believe that the audio tour guide may be deviating from the intended tour program, please consider adjusting your preconceived notions of what the intended tour program may be!

While the staff here at Mistholme Museum of Mystery Morbidity and Mortality do their absolute best to ensure the safety of all visitors, accidents can happen. The museum is not liable for any injury, death, or  awkward public encounters with your therapist that may occur during your visit.

Glasses

On the display before you is a pair of glasses. A classic sort of design: thick oval lenses with a half rim over the top, a goldish-bronze metal frame with a little bit of flair added by a sort of thorny design built into the temples, you might very well see someone wearing a pair just like these out in the world today. But these glasses are much older than one might suspect: for all that their pristine condition might make you think they’re brand new, these glasses were manufactured centuries ago. Once, they were a treasured possession of a man named Johann Derlich, an explorer in the Age of Sail who led numerous expeditions into the so-called “New World'' in the name of… well, Imperialist Expansionism and the exploitation of native populations. Or, at least, that was the motivation behind his financiers. For Johann, however, there was a very different motive behind his explorations- if not necessarily a much more pure one. He was a man of singular vision and purpose, and that purpose was simple: he wanted to find the Fountain of Youth.

Now, before we continue, an aside on the matter of Immortality- this being the alleged benefit bestowed by the Fountain of Youth. This is a rather thorny issue, in ways that one might not consider at first glance. While most people- most creatures, beings- are afraid of death to some degree, dedicating one’s life to avoiding its end indicates a… less than healthy attitude towards it. Even putting aside the detrimental effects such an obsession might have on oneself, the implications for everyone else should this effort result in success should not be discounted. An immortal being existing among mortals tends to throw things out of balance; much as some prefer to treat them as something of great significance and uniqueness, societies are really just ecosystems, and someone who can never die is a relatively certain way of throwing any ecosystem out of balance. Just look at how much a single capitalist can ruin things in a single lifetime, then imagine that lifetime never ending. If this hypothetical draws to mind the image of an enormous dragon sitting atop a pile of gold and jewels, well, it should. All that being said, we aren’t entirely certain how Johann Derlich intended to use the Fountain of Youth. A spring of water so pure it can cure any illness, rejuvenate any wounded soul, reverse the effects of ageing, and prolong life indefinitely- that its legend has existed and persisted throughout the centuries is a testament to how desirable such a thing is to most people. His journals and logs, which the Museum’s Research Department have studied in great detail, speak to his obsession with the Fountain, but give surprisingly little insight into his reasons for being so. Some have argued that this speaks to the sort of man he was: he wanted to find it because he was an Explorer, and what better a destination than this? Why search for the Fountain of Youth? Because it’s out there. A similar, more cynical, interpretation of his motives still holds that he wanted to find it for its own sake, but also so that his nation- and, therefore, his employers- would be the ones to gain access to the benefits it might bring. And then, of course, there is the possibility he wanted the Fountain for himself.

Whatever his motives, none can doubt Johann’s conviction. He made three journeys into the quote New World unquote, the first two of great length and difficulty. His journals tell of how, from the moment he first heard rumours that the Fountain of Youth could be found there, he became consumed with determination. He was a man of some means and respect among the aristocracy, and so he was able to arrange an expedition in short order- primarily one focused on mapping the region, with finding the Fountain more a personal project. A charismatic and persuasive man, he finagled his contacts to ensure it was well-funded enough for a lengthy search. And lengthy it was: three years later, Derlich returned from his expedition with half his crew and a tale to make up for each of their losses. They had made their way deep into the heart of the continent, sailing up a great river in search of tributaries that might lead to the Fountain, or any locals who might be able to point them in the right direction. Instead, they found stinging insects, snakes of a size greater than should have been possible, fish that could strip flesh from bone, and a climate which seemed determined to kill them alternately by heat and by storm. With every hazard more men died, and the crew’s mood grew quickly sour- but not Derlich’s. With every glimpse he caught of the locals his excitement grew: in a place such as this, where everything around was so hostile to their existence, there were people! How else could they survive but through the powers of the Fountain! Here, Derlich was falling into the same fallacy as many others of his time: he was assuming that his own incompatibility with this environment was universal, and that therefore this place was equally inhospitable to those who lived here. Therefore, the fact they could survive it must have meant that they had some extra edge that he did not- access to the waters of the Fountain of Youth. Of course, a more… enlightened perspective on this matter would easily see that the people who lived in that jungle… simply knew better than him how to live in that jungle. No matter how far up that river Derlich and his expedition travelled they were never going to find the Fountain, because it wasn’t there. Determined and tenacious as he was, by all rights this journey should have been a dead end for Derlich’s quest- after all, he was just as likely as any other man in his party to have died along the way. And yet, it was not an ending. Merely a beginning. When the expedition’s supplies dwindled and sickness rendered so many of the group incapable that they couldn’t even pilot their boat any further up the river, they encountered a group of locals who took pity on the pathetic, bedraggled would-be explorers. And as he was nursed back to health, half-delirious with fever, Derlich asked his saviours if they knew anything about the Fountain of Youth, much as he had of every other group of natives he had come across. But this time, for the first time, they said yes.

Derlich’s mistake, or one of many, had been in asking after the Fountain in stationary communities. The group that had happened upon the stricken expedition, on the other hand, were nomadic. They had ranged far, though not quite so far as Derlich and for less frivolous reasons, and they had heard of the Fountain before. Derlich’s excitement was tempered quickly when they told him that the Fountain was not remotely nearby- not least because it would have been of great help in that exact moment. They weren’t even on the right continent: the Fountain of Youth was on an island to the north, part of an archipelago some distance from the coast. This group hadn’t seen the Fountain themselves, but they had met some who claimed they had- or perhaps claimed to have met others who had. In all honesty it was as tenuous a lead as the ones which had brought Derlich and his group here in the first place, but the man’s journals show no hint of any doubt. This whole misguided ordeal had just been the first step on a grand journey with a prize greater than any other. At first, Derlich intended to redirect the expedition to this archipelago and continue the search without delay, but what remained of his party quickly made it clear that he would do so alone, and so instead they returned home- eventually, limpingly. Once there, Derlich wasted no time at all on arranging a second expedition based on this new lead. There was still some enthusiasm toward the matter from the aristocracy, as- again- mapping the region and making contact with the locals would likely pay off in the long run. But reports from the time indicate an increasing concern among Derlich’s financiers that he was obsessed with some mystical boondoggle, and that his judgement may well have been impaired. Nevertheless, a second voyage set off mere months after the first came to a close- with very few of the same crew involved.

This second voyage was shorter than the first- chronologically speaking. Geographically, it sprawled over a far greater region than the first expedition had, as Derlich and his crew sailed from island to island, to the coast and back again, seeking out every community they could find that might know of the Fountain. Contact was made, maps were filled in, wonders were discovered. In all, this voyage ought to have been a great boon to the project of colonialism. But that was not Derlich’s project. His focus was as singular, as precise, as a ray of light through a magnifying glass. The longer the journey went on, the more desperately he hunted for any shred of information about the Fountain. Testimonies from his crew alledge that, by the mid-point in this expedition, Derlich had all but ceased any pretence of doing what his investors had paid him to do. He would have long meetings with village leaders and history men, asking question after question; but none of his questions were about potential trade routes, or the local resources. He asked only after the Fountain, and when the people he talked to gave him no answers he would move on: this place had nothing for him. But some among his crew disagreed. These were mostly new men who had never worked with Derlich before, but they knew him by reputation: the man who had gotten half his previous expedition killed in the jungle on some boondoggle. And now they saw him leading them back and forth, from island to island, ignoring the task that would actually put money in their pockets in aid of that same boondoggle. Often their time ashore would last only as long as it took for Derlich to determine that there was nothing there for him, and then they would be away again before the crew could enjoy their shore leave. As their vessel grew steadily further south, searching and searching for a hint as to their destination, so too did the mood aboard the vessel grow more and more sour.

All of this came to a head when they finally found a clue to their destination. Most of the crew had, by this point, long since given up on the notion that they would ever find anything, and were quietly hopeful that Derlich would soon give up and allow them to return home. But then, at the southernmost island of the archipelago, as far from home as many had ever been, Derlich found a man who claimed to be three hundred and eighty-five years old. He was tiny and wizened enough for it to be plausible, and all others in his village corroborated his claims: long ago, he had found a wellspring of the coolest, purest water. When he bathed in it, his scars disappeared. When he drank it, he felt the vigour of youth return to him. When he washed his clothes in it, even the tears in the fabric were mended. He had spent centuries living in a village nearby, periodically returning to the Fountain to reapply its benefits as he felt the years catching up with him once again. But eventually he came to the same realisation as the others in that nearby village had, long ago: this was no way to live. Without the changes, even the frailties, that come with age, he was not truly living a life, but merely prolonging one moment of it. And so he had stopped partaking of the water and left the Fountain far behind, travelling to the far side of the continent in an effort to subvert temptation. To Derlich, this was everything he had hoped to hear- except for the part about learning that using the Fountain is wrong, which his mind seemingly skated over without internalising it. At last, a solid lead, a witness who claimed to have used the Fountain! To his crew, this was less encouraging. Putting aside any doubts they might have had regarding the old man’s story, they had apparently been searching all this time on the wrong side of the continent, and now Derlich would have them continue the search in a new location! They had felt so close to the journey’s end, and now it was beginning all over again. The men were exhausted, supplies were running low, and tempers were running short. And then, in his eagerness to reach this new destination, Derlich had them sail directly into a storm, which tore the rigging, flooded the lower decks, and killed several of the crew. Derlich himself was largely unscathed, though one of the lenses of his prized glasses was shattered when a piece of debris struck it in the chaos. In his journals, Derlich remarks that it was as if the winds themselves had conspired to send a message to them: turn back, return home, do not seek the Fountain. Nevertheless, it was a message he was happy to ignore, as the crew beached their vessel on the continent’s shore and began the process of repairing the damage done by the storm. Repairs would take time, but soon he would have all the time in the world after all. Just a few weeks to repair the ship, a few months to reach their destination, and then-

And then Derlich saw, for the first time, the look in his crew’s eyes. The way their hands drifted towards whatever weapons might be on their belts when he drew near. And, in an uncharacteristic moment of self-awareness, he realised that should he command his crew to continue on toward the Fountain, he was unlikely ever to reach it.

Once the ship was repaired, Derlich and his expedition made their way directly back to their home port. For the crew, it was a welcome relief from months at sea- and from what they believed to be Derlich’s madness. For Derlich himself, it was a humiliation, and one that only grew as he attempted to finance a third expedition. The word among the aristocracy was that he had gone mad, and the fact that neither of his first two expeditions had produced the contacts and wares his sponsors had expected- let alone the healing waters that had been his true goal- didn’t help matters. He wasted no time in attempting to find new sponsors, and everyone he spoke to wasted no time in showing him the door. But he would not give up. He was close, he was so close. He had met a man four times older than any other he had ever met before, he had a location, he just had to get there. His pleas fell on deaf ears. His social cachet was spent, most of his monetary wealth was the same. He was finished.

But he was not finished. Despite the pleas of those few who still cared what happened to him, Johann Derlich would not let this be the end of his search. And so he sold his home, his possessions, called in every last favour he could, and bought a boat of his own. It was a small yacht, with only one sail, not fit for a crew of any great size- but then again, he could no longer afford a crew. It was not fit for a journey of this length- but then again, he no longer cared what happened to him along the way, so long as he reached his destination. It was, to his doubters, a sad but not unexpected end to the tale of the mad explorer, as he sailed his little yacht out of harbour, alone, away over the horizon to a destination none believed he would ever reach. All had done all they could to stop him, to reason with him, but he was a man obsessed. He had made his own decisions all the way, and now the sea would claim his body as madness had claimed his mind.

Johann Derlich was never seen again by those who had known him. He never returned from that voyage, and though as the years went by many others visited the archipelago that had been his destination and heard tales of a strange man who had come there seeking the Fountain of Youth, none could ever confirm if the subject of those tales was Derlich, or if the tales were of his prior expeditions, or if they were just confused versions of the tales they themselves told of the mad explorer. No sign was ever found of the Fountain of Youth.

And yet, here we have a pair of glasses which perfectly resemble those worn by Derlich. They were found in an island community in that same region many decades after Derlich’s disappearance, an artefact of an explorer that had come that way long ago. The man himself had stopped there only briefly, on his way elsewhere, but had whether on purpose or by accident had left the spectacles behind. They cannot be Derlich’s, however, as- according to the diary left in his home after its sale- he had neglected to have the damage done in the storm repaired upon hearing the cost to do so, as he needed every penny for his final expedition. And, in a small island community such as this, there was no way that the technology to craft glass could have existed at that time.

So, how could they have been repaired?

The Stars

[Door closing]

Research:
Okay, well I’ve got some answers for you.

Restoration:
Do they raise more questions?

Research:
Naturally. What, what’s with the look?

Retrieval:
Nothing, just amazed you actually took the time out of your busy schedule.

Research:

Har har. Do you want answers or not?

Guide:
Please, ma’am. We appreciate your insight.

Research:
Okay, well, don’t lay it on too thick now. So, you were right about recognising the stars. Judging by the images I’ve been sent, we can say pretty conclusively that the place on the other side of the Glassway is Earth. There’s no other point in the universe where you’d get the same view of the cosmos.

Retrieval:
It almost didn’t even occur to me when I saw it that it was wrong, you know? Seen that starfield so many times that seeing it again almost didn’t stand out.

Research:

But.

Retrieval:
Oh shit.

Research:
Yeah, I know, there’s always something. So, it is the same view of the cosmos, same constellations, same patterns of light scattering in the atmosphere and so on. But.

Guide:
There was no moon.

Research:
Ugh.

Guide:

Sorry, I didn’t mean to- it just occurred to me.

Retrieval:
Yeah I didn’t see it, now that you mention. Maybe it’s a new moon or it just wasn’t on the right side of the planet, but if there’s no moon that would mean it’s not our Earth, right?

Restoration:
Just another weird alternate world, like the one with the Mistholme Ship? That would make sense.

Research:
If I could please. Thank you. So, yes, as far as we’ve seen there’s no moon. That could mean that it’s an alternate Earth, but that’s not the most pressing thing. The Starfield on the other side of the Security Glassway isn’t exactly the same as ours. It’s recognisable, but not quite the same.

Retrieval:
In what way?

Research:
It’s drifted. I’ve got in touch with NASA and some other folks to see if we can get some help with modelling it, but from a preliminary understanding of things I don’t think it’s because it’s an alternate Earth. I think the differences are due to Stellar Drift.

Guide:

Oh.

Restoration:
But that would mean…

Research:
Yeah.

Retrieval:
Okay I like to look at the stars but I’m not exactly an astronomer, can you-

Guide:
It’s the future.

Retrieval:
Are you fucking kidding me.

Research:
It’s just a hypothesis for now. Hell, not even a hypothesis, just a… piece of evidence, really.

Retrieval:
So you’re just guessing.

Research:

Oh I’m sorry is this your first time encountering the scientific method?

Guide:
Oh calm down, both of you.

Restoration:
Seriously, it’s every time with you two these days.

Research:

Fine.

Retrieval:
Okay, sorry, yeah. It’s just… a little far-fetched, right?

Research:
What are you, a sceptic now? You work in a magical museum.

Retrieval:

No, I mean, we just had a time travel thing to get this Glassway, and now the Glassway leads to the future? Kind of a weird coincidence.

Research:

I dunno, maybe temporal anomalies lead to more temporal anomalies. I’ll have to read up, see if there’s been much study into the matter.

Restoration:
It would be the first time that a Glassway had any… temporal shenanigans going on, yes?

Research:
I don’t know how we’d know. They’ve all been different worlds so far, it’s not like there’s any way to measure the relation between our time and theirs.

Retrieval:
Okay, but, this is our world, or a version of it. What are the odds that every other Glassway has led to a different one, and this one is our world but the future.

Guide:
About the same as anything else.

Restoration:
What?

Guide:
The Glassways open up to all sorts of different places. Why couldn’t they lead to our own future? Makes just as much sense as them leading to a concrete palace or a fairy kingdom.

[Beat]

Retrieval:
Well, shit. I actually don’t have any counter to that.

Research:
Yeah, well, I’m gonna keep looking into it, and all. Working theory for now, though, is that’s our future.

Guide:
It would, maybe, explain why the Intelligence I met with Walt didn’t know what was on the other side? Because it hadn’t happened yet, I mean.

Research:
Perhaps. I couldn’t really say.

Restoration:
Right. And so, the next question is, what do we do about that?

Guide:

What do you mean?

Retrieval:
Well, it kinda looks like a shithole.

Restoration:
Well, yes, that’s one way to put it. I guess we’ll… Talk to Astrid about it, see if… whatever she is now, she can talk, and she seems calm, so maybe she can shed some light on it. What we can do to prevent it.

Retrieval:
Yeah well she seemed calm last time, until she wasn’t. I’ll handle the interrogation, if you don’t mind.

Research:
Oh, so we are calling them interrogations this time.

Retrieval:
Yeah well due process only applies to humans and as far as I can tell she’s seafoam that just looks like a human. Don’t worry I won’t torture her or anything.

Guide:
Sorry, what are we trying to do here?

Restoration:
What do you mean?

Retrieval:
You’re the one who wanted to go to the Beach in the first place.

Guide:
Well, that was just about closure, figuring things out. But the way you’re all talking, it sounds more like you want to… change the future?

Retrieval:
Well, like I said, it doesn’t seem like a place I wanna live.

Guide:
But you won’t have to live there. It’s hundreds of years away, or thousands. You’ll already be dead.

Retrieval:
Well, thanks for that.

Guide:
Sorry, I mean- we don’t even really understand the situation and you’re all jumping to “we have to stop this”. It just seems like… a knee-jerk reaction. And even if that was the right course of action, isn’t that impossible? It would cause a paradox.

Research:
Probably? Again, I’ll look into it.

Restoration:
Yes, and, that’s not an unfair observation Guide but it’s… well, it’s shocking to see a world that desolate and think “that’s our future”.

Guide:
But… Okay, sorry. Let’s see where this goes.

Retrieval:
Right. I’ll prep for an interrogation. Man, almost makes me nostalgic.

bottom of page