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Episode Forty-Nine: SUBTLE

 

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 immersion-breaking Patreon plugs that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour. And good luck.

 

Digging

 

Have you ever had a compulsion you just couldn’t quite shake? Some odd little thing that your meaty human brain just gets hung up on and won’t let go until you scratch that itch- if even then? I don’t have a brain like yours, but even I can relate- sometimes when I get a bit stressed or overwhelmed I just start describing or narrating what’s going on, like it’s an exhibit here in the museum. It doesn’t quite make me feel better, but not doing it would make me feel worse. Does that sound familiar? 

 

Have you ever had a compulsion to dig? Not for something, or to get somewhere. Just… dig. You wouldn’t be alone, although most of your company would be animals. You just feel an urge to lift the earth, with tools or your bare hands, to just… dig. This compulsion has been referred to as quote Hobby Tunnelling unquote, and to be fair, it isn’t always a compulsion- or so the Tunnelers might claim. Digging is good exercise, a diversion not unlike a one-person sport. It requires little in the way of financial expenditure, simply whatever tools the Tunneler wants to use and some land they have permission to dig on. Often they don’t bother with that second one, as in many cases nobody ever finds out about the tunnels anyway. They simply linger below the surface, perhaps even beneath the streets you walk down, a secret known only to the ones who dug them.

 

And sometimes, by a stroke of luck, whether or not that is the right word, the tunnels are found. Such was the case with the tunnel dug by one Pearl. The exhibit before you consists of a number of tools that Pearl is believed to have used, as well as a handful of old photographs of his handiwork. Little is known about him prior to the discovery of the tunnels he dug beneath his ancestral home- then again, less is known of what became of him after. His family had once been wealthy, but by the time he began his digging hobby he was the only remaining heir and he’d become something of a recluse. He spent almost all his time inside his house, a three storey villa which you can see in the photo to the left, and tended only to emerge for supplies- both food and construction materials. Nobody knew what he was using them for, though speculation abounded among his neighbours as to what he could have been getting up to locked away all alone. Nobody ever went inside the strange man’s home, and nobody was particularly keen to either. 

 

It wasn’t until a heavy goods vehicle passed through the street outside the Pearl House and the road beneath it fell away, sending the truck tumbling down into a passage below, that anyone began to suspect that something unusual was happening. Investigators quickly established that this was no mere sinkhole: it was a tunnel, dug with hand tools, which led back to a hole in the basement of the House. When they made their way up into the house they found nobody. The only indication that Pearl had been there recently was the piles and piles of excavated earth and stone that had been stored there, and in fact when his neighbours were questioned it occurred to them that they hadn’t seen the man in quite some time. It seemed that, for whatever reason, the neighbourhood recluse had dug a hole through his basement that went all the way out below the street before disappearing without a trace. A strange oddity that briefly caught the attention of the newspapers.

 

When the heavy goods vehicle was finally extricated from the pit into which it had fallen, it became clear that the tunnel was more extensive than it had first appeared. It did, in fact, continue on well past the point of the collapse, descending further into the earth below. Word quickly spread, and soon it was the talk of the town- then the country. It was, perhaps, a simpler time, that a man digging a big tunnel under his house was enough to capture the imaginations of so many, but it did. People flocked to see the hole in the middle of the street, hoping that they might get to explore the tunnel themselves and see what the strange man had built. But all anyone found when they arrived was a police cordon, preventing anyone from even getting close to the tunnel that Pearl had dug. Officially, the stance was that the standards to which the tunnel had been built could not be properly assessed, and so the only safe option was simply to fill the tunnel in. They were just waiting on planning permission or something like that.

 

But observers, dismayed that their planned exploration of the tunnel had been thwarted, couldn’t help but notice that more and more people- nebulously referred to by the guards as being quote From The Council unquote- were going down into the tunnel with every day that passed. Unlike the still-missing Pearl, these people did eventually return. But what were they doing down there? What was it that lay at the end of the tunnel. It didn’t take too long for some more enterprising individuals to come up with an idea. A tunnel is just a hole in the ground, it’s not anything special or secure. So, in the basement of a pub across the street from Pearl’s house, some enterprising individuals dug a hole of their own, straight down, until in the middle of the night they broke through to the tunnel dug by Pearl. The group of explorers dropped down into the tunnel, three of them, all of them young and foolish and maybe a little drunk- they had dug the hole in the basement of a pub, after all, and it is believed that the pub’s owner was among them. Once they were sure that none of the police guarding the hole in the road had spotted them, they began to explore. Their torches revealed that the tunnel was taller and wider than any of them had expected- even the tallest of them could walk fully upright, although they still walked single file. The ground beneath them sloped down steadily, taking them ever deeper into the earth, the path of the tunnel twisting and turning in inexplicable directions as they went- even looping back the way they had come for brief moments. It was, one of the explorers noted, almost like the movements of a dog following a scent trail while on the hunt.

 

Their awareness of the sound came on slowly. It grew in their perceptions so slowly and steadily that, for the first fifteen minutes or so, they didn’t even realise they were hearing it. It was so steady, so consistent, that it was drowned out by their footsteps, their breathing, the shifting of their clothes. It was only when the group stopped briefly so the frontmost explorer paused to retie a shoelace that they fell silent enough to realise that the tunnel was not, in fact, silent. There was a sound echoing through the tunnel from far away, the harsh rhythmic sound of digging. One of the trio hesitated, unsure if they wanted to continue further into the darkness. But they were in the middle of the group and, though they had not realised until now, the passage had been narrowing. They could barely even turn around, let alone squeeze past one another- and the one at the back of the group had no interest in turning back. So the three of them pressed on, further and further downward, curving and twisting with the tunnel, following the digging sound as it led them to the end of the path. Before long, the tallest of the three needed to lower their head to continue. Then, all three of them did. Then they began to crawl as the tunnel’s ceiling dipped lower and lower, the earth around them growing harder and turning to stone as they left the loose dirt of the surface behind and entered a new world that had never been touched by the light of the sun. The air grew stale, their hands and knees began to bleed as they scraped along the hard rocky ground. And still, the sound of digging called to them. Drew them on, and on, into the earth. 

 

Every now and again they reached a wider section, where the tunnel happened to intersect with a pre-existing pocket or cave. The explorers used these areas to straighten their backs, or rest a little, or make some small comment to one another about the tunnel. But they never discussed the possibility of turning back. Not even the one who had previously considered doing so even mentioned it, despite the fact that they could now have easily squeezed past their rearmost companion and began the journey back the way they had come. Because that wasn’t the direction of the digging sound.

 

Eventually, after an amount of time that was impossible to calculate, they reached the source of the digging sound. Another wider section, where the explorers could stand side by side- if a little hunched. The end of the tunnel, for now, though it was growing by the minute as the man they found there dug and dug and dug. He was nearly naked, his clothes gone almost to rags, his sweat and shaggy hair glistening in the light of the explorer’s torches. And as they watched, he raised a pickaxe as far as he could in the cramped space of the tunnel and slammed it into the wall. And dug. And dug. The foremost explorer asked the man what he was doing, why he was digging. Pearl turned, as much as he could in the tight space and, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, told them it was because he had to find the source. He slammed the pickaxe into the wall again, unwilling to cease his digging for even a moment. What source, asked one of the explorers. The source of the digging, he muttered. The explorers didn’t know what to make of that, so by way of explanation he lowered his pickaxe, resting it against the wall of the tunnel next to several other digging implements. 

 

And the three explorers were by now so used to the digging sound that it took them a moment to realise that it hadn’t stopped. The rhythmic, clanging, chipping, scratching sounds of digging continued- and they could swear that the source was just on the other side of the wall! Pearl smiled, the smile of the obsessed, the smile of the mad, and went back to digging. And, wordlessly, as if they were afraid to drown out the digging sound, his new companions picked up the other tools and joined him.

 

Some time later, one of the tunnelers was caught leaving the pub on the surface, on a mission to bring back supplies. Their urgent expression and filthy clothes were quickly recognised by the people guarding the pit in the street, and so before long the other tunnelers- including Pearl- were brought into custody as well. But the sounds of digging never ceased. And they were soon joined by other tunnelers, this time wielding powerful tools that rent the earth apart, boring down into the ground as they searched for the source of the digging sound. Every now and again they stopped, and shut their machinery off, and listened for the sounds of digging. To make sure they were still on the right path, still growing ever closer to the source. They dug and dug and dug. 

 

They dig. And dig. And dig. To this very day, they are still searching. Pearl is still among them, the illegality of his actions seemingly forgiven by authorities that seemed to have gained an understanding for his motivations. But now, he is just one of many, his cramped and amateurish tunnels turning into vast holes in the Earth, as more and more people come from all around the world to see this strange phenomenon and become, themselves, obsessed- compelled, by the sounds of digging that continue just out of reach. 

 

The Patronage Department had hoped that this exhibit could include a recording of the digging sound- provided that testing could prove that the sound itself was not harmful. But unfortunately, the Retrieval Department could not oblige this request. Because despite the many, many accounts that could be found from tunnelers and even Retrieval Agents, of the tantalising sounds that came from below, none of the equipment that the agents could bring to bear were ever able to detect any sound at all. As far as the recording devices were concerned, the only digging sounds in that tunnel were those made by the tunnelers, searching and searching, digging and digging, for a sound only they could hear, always just out of reach. 

 

And that sound continues to this day. Far beneath your feet, they dig and tunnel and search. Deeper and deeper and deeper.

 

Sixth Round Of Messages:

 

Stranger:
And as such, Her Voluptuousness would be most interested to know.

 

Guide:

Even if I had that kind of information, I frankly feel a little uncomfortable with the question.

 

Stranger:
Well, I will pass that along, although I fear the Madame will find your prudishness to be-

 

Guide:
It’s not prudishness to not want to-

 

Stranger:

Fine. Let’s move on.

 

Guide:
Fine. Out you go, then. [Footsteps, then the door closing] Mother I swear this is doing my circuits in. I know you were joking when you said this was torture but I’m honestly starting to- Oh, you weren’t joking? Okay, well that’s- [The door opens again] Here we go again…

 

Stranger:

Hello again, I am here as a representative of the Lord of the Blood Red Sky. 

 

Guide:
Hello, lovely to meet you, to answer your question I take it with a tiny bit of milk and no sugar.

 

Stranger:
I’m… not sure what you mean by that.

 

Guide:
Whatever, just go on with whatever the next one asked.

 

Stranger:
Very well. The Lord of the Blood Red Sky would like to know if you and your people have any intent or ambition towards the invasion, subjugation, or eradication of ours.

 

Guide:
…What?

Stranger:
I apologise if I presented the Lord’s words incoherently. To repeat, The Lord of the Blood Red Sky would like to know-

 

Guide:
If we’re going to attack you?

 

Stranger:
Well, that’s a bit of a simplification of His Lordship’s question, but that would be a part of the matter I suppose. 

 

Guide:
What have either of us done to indicate that we have violent intentions here? We have been nothing but co-operative since you ambushed us and took us prisoner.

 

Stranger:
Nevertheless, His Lordship has asked the question and the laws of hospitality do dictate that you answer.
 

Guide:
Again with the hospitality- I’m a prisoner! Fine. Neither I, nor my host- the person whose body I am hosted by- have any malicious intention whatsoever. Okay?

Stranger:
Great! Thanks very much for your answer, that will be all.

 

[Footsteps]

 

Guide:
Are you serious right now?
 

Stranger:
Beg pardon?

 

Guide:
I know that you just walking out the door and that’s that is kind of the deal with these little chats, but you just asked me if I was going to declare war on your world! Does that really not warrant any kind of… I don’t know, portent? Significance, you can’t just treat that like it’s just another one on the checklist!

 

Stranger:
I understand your concern but don’t worry: this is all going according to how it’s supposed to. I know what I’m doing. 

 

Guide:
Seriously?

Stranger:
Yes! The Lord of the Blood Red Sky has sent the message he intended to send, and that’s all either one of us need be concerned with.

 

Guide:
Sent the message? What do you mean, he was asking a question, not sending a message.

 

Stranger:
Oh, you poor thing. I know this is all a little over your head, but don’t worry- it’s just politics, you see. Sometimes, asking a question is the same as sending a message, do you follow? 

 

Guide:
Sending a message… Is this Lord of the… whatever, is he threatening me? Or, intimidating my people, something like that?
 

Stranger:
No, no, don’t you worry about that. You shouldn’t have anything to worry about with any of this political stuff, you’re just caught in the middle. The questions they ask and the answers you give will make their way to The Majesty, and they’ll do their politicking and we little folk don’t have to concern ourselves with any of it.

 

Guide:
Just- Wait. That’s it, isn’t it. This is all just politics, just… coded messages between nobles or something!

 

Stranger:
Well, there’s not so much code to it, it’s more… prodding, I guess. See, the Lord of the Blood Red Sky is very… invested in military matters, so he sends a message about that and then… I don’t know, presumably he and The Majesty work it out somehow, it’s not my problem.

 

Guide:
It’s just more of this secrecy, this paranoia- it’s infested everything here, don’t you see! People are asking questions to send a message to a third party- who knows if they’re getting the message they meant to send, who knows how they replies. We’ve been hidden away, just in case that’s the right move? And you’re asking me questions, but just as part of this game that your rulers are playing instead of ruling- we’re from another world! Another dimension maybe, and the only questions you’ve asked have been part of some game of telephone?!

 

Stranger:
Well, I don’t know what-

 

Guide:
What happened here? We have stories in my world about your people- we call you fairies, or fae, or the Sidhe; I don’t know which- if any- of those is right for your specific people, or if those are the names you use for yourselves or if those are the names Humans gave you. We have lots of stories and traditions and myths about your people but none of them mention this… paranoia, this obsession with secrecy. There’s rules, and there’s the importance of names, and sure there are secrets,  but this politicking and this all-encompassing fear of any part of yourself or your intentions being known- that’s new to me, that’s on another level. Which makes me think it’s a recent thing, am I right?

 

Stranger:
I… admit that things are a little different here to how they were when I last visited.

 

Guide:
And when was that?

 

Stranger:
A few hundred years ago.

 

Guide:
So what changed?

 

Stranger:
I think it would be quite inappropriate for me to give that kind of information- the metal woman, she’s waving her arms. What’s that about?

 

Guide:
She’s figured it out, too. It’s your Queen, isn’t it? Something happened to your Queen, and all this paranoia has trickled down from them, infected the whole realm.

 

Stranger:
Come now, Guide. We’ve gone a little off-track here, I-

 

Guide:

It’s to do with their family, isn’t it.

 

Stranger:
Guide, you-

 

Guide:
I can’t mention the specifics, due to a… certain compulsion, but that’s it, isn’t it? There was a… conflict between the Queen and another member of their family and-

 

Stranger:
Do not! Speak! Of this. You don’t know the kind of… Everything we say in here makes its way to The Majesty’s ear, and you would do well to drop this matter of discussion.

 

Guide:
Yes. You’re probably right.

Stranger:
Good. Then-

 

Guide:
Let The Majesty know that I would like to speak to them about this in person. I have some information regarding their… Family.

 

Stranger:
…You- You’re a damn fool. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

 

Guide:
I usually don’t. 

 

Stranger:
Just- take it back. For your sake, for everyone’s, just-

 

Guide:
No. 

 

Stranger:
…Very well. I expect you’ll be meeting The Majesty… soon enough.

 

Guide:
Is that the same soon enough as before, or-

 

Stranger:
No. They’ll want to meet you now. Whether or not you really want to meet them… Goodbye Guide. 

 

[The door closes]

 

Guide:
Yes, I agree, Mother. But I get the feeling this was the only way to actually get things moving. Ha. Yes. Well, I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but… well, there’s another part I’m looking forward to even less. Time to bite the bullet.

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