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Episode Forty-Three: ELABORATE

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 deposit your audio device in the nearest incinerator.

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 gradual reductions in comedic content that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.

 

The Consultant Part Two

CONTENT WARNINGS: References to Loss of self

 

Retrieval:

Just in here. You can take your coat off if you like.

Walt:

No, thank you. It’s been my closest companion these last few hard years.

Retrieval:

Right. Okay. The Head of Restoration will be along shortly, along with the Head of Research if she feels like it.

Walt:

Thank you.

Guide:

If you’d like, I can have someone bring you something to drink!

Walt:

I- I’m sorry, who said that?

Retrieval:

That’s the Museum’s… Artificial Intelligence. Call it the Guide.

Guide:

Hello!

Walt:

I see. Forgive me, I’m somewhat old-fashioned. I hadn’t realised that technology had advanced quite so far.

Retrieval:

The Guide’s a special case. Don’t worry about it.

Guide:

I’m just here to help!

Walt:

I see. I’m fine, thank you.

Guide:

My pleasure!

The door opens.

Restoration:

Hello, apologies for the delay. I’m the Head of Restoration for the Museum. My colleague tells me you have information for us?

Walt:

Yes, hello. Call me Walt. I… where to start…

Restoration:

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Walt:

Yes. Of course. Ah, did we want to wait for your other colleague?

Retrieval/Restoration:

No.

Walt:

I… see. Then I’ll begin. I was once, some years ago now, a professor. My field was in Anthropology and Archaeology; I’d become something of an expert in the study of artefacts whose original purpose is difficult to ascertain. For the most part it isn’t a field with a great deal of excitement, but… well. I was heading up an archaeological dig in Europe, I… I suppose it was France, I just thought of it as Gaul, heh. Some menhirs had been discovered there; initial estimates put them as being thousands of years old, but-

Retrieval:

Menhirs?

Walt:

Ah, standing stones, such as the Carnac Stones? Or, Stonehenge?

Retrieval:

Right.

Walt:

Yes, so, these Menhirs were unusual in a number of ways. There were a few dozen of them- I hesitate to put a precise number on it, as it’s possible there were more that we didn’t uncover- arranged in precise formation. Usually, Gallic standing stones would have been arranged into linear rows, but the layout of these was curvaceous, intricate. Like a connect the dots puzzle, almost. Also unusual was the writing. Gallic stones typically didn’t have any writing on them, they were just bare rocks only noteworthy for their positioning. We don’t understand much of the purpose behind them… Once, I had hoped that uncovering that purpose would be my life’s work. These stones were covered in runes, which would be more typical of Manx or Scandinavian stones, but to an even greater degree than those. There was hardly an inch of space on any of them left uncovered, but it was in an obscure script. Translating the parts that were still legible was time-consuming work- although, having been buried, they were in better condition than they might have been.

Restoration:

Sorry, they were buried?

Walt:

Yes. I’m sorry, I… The stones were buried over five hundred metres below the surface.

Restoration:

Oh. That’s… quite a ways down.

Walt:

Yes. Far deeper than could have been reached by the people who lived in that time. No indication that it was the result of any tectonic activity. It was one of several elements that drew attention to the menhirs in the first place. I don’t recall quite how they were rediscovered… you understand, my interest was mainly in the stones themselves.

Retrieval:

I’m sorry, Professor-

Walt:

Walt.

Retrieval:

Walt. Politely, you understand our interest is mainly in the… behaviour of your colleagues?

Walt:

Yes of course, I’m sorry. A little caught up in the context.

Guide:

I’m finding it fascinating.

Walt:

I- thank you. So, yes. I was responsible for a team of excavators and some research assistants. The stones were deep in some caves that had recently been uncovered, which appeared to be at least partly natural. A series of tunnels led to a larger cavern, where the first of the stones was found partly buried. The rest were uncovered over a period of months. I was there in person only a handful of times, as the conditions in the tunnels didn’t suit me and I was more of a top-down organiser anyway. I spent a week down in the tunnels with the rest of the team, then I and a couple of my assistants returned to the university to examine the dig’s findings.

The changes were slow, though I confess in hindsight I could have noticed them sooner were I more observant of the people around me. I was too focused on my work supervising the translations, the meanings behind it all, the progress of the dig. I didn’t pay attention to the details. Didn’t notice that the others were… too focused. I would go home late, arrive early, but never noticed that the others with whom I worked had never left at all. I brought one of my more promising students in to take a look at some of the markings and writings on the stones. She was fascinated, as she ought to be. The next day she came back, asked to look at more. I obliged. The subsequent days she didn’t ask at all, she was just there working alongside the other members of the team. I guess I just thought she was after extra credit.

Retrieval:

At what point did you notice that something was up?

Walt:

Ha. It was such a small thing, actually. I, uh, I asked one of my assistants to fetch some coffee…

Retrieval:

And a different one brought it.

Walt:

Yes. That was it, it all kind of clicked into place. All the times they’d mentioned something off-hand about how the dig was progressing, before that information had made its way into any reports, the strange behaviour, it was all so obvious in hindsight. It was as if they’d all become… of one mind.

Restoration:

Why weren’t you affected?

Walt:

I’ve had my theories, though I wouldn’t want to do what’s necessary to test them. I wondered if perhaps it was because I was taking such a birds-eye view of the whole thing? Each of them focused on a different aspect of the artefact, while I had a broader perspective, perhaps that insulated me somehow?

Restoration:

What did the text on the stones say?

Walt:

I left the project before the full artefact could be translated. It seemed to be some kind of mythological text, describing a lifeless and empty world.

Retrieval:

Did it mention anything about an ocean?

Walt:

…no, it was a flat and level plain that stretched on to eternity. I confess, I was rather disturbed by the imagery described on the stones. A place without life, but without death too. Stagnant and unchanging; there were hints at a greater power that suffuses that place. That it is both a place and a being unto itself.

Retrieval:

Dunno about that. Could be a different region in the same world Security went to?

Restoration:

We had some people transported to another place a few months ago, and when they came back they, too, were linked somehow. We tried to figure out what had happened to them, but before we could they escaped.

Walt:

Yes, I suppose it could be the same place, the same phenomena.

Retrieval:

What happened to your people? You said you left the project, you don’t work at the Museum anymore. What happened to them?

Walt:

I… I don’t know. I got spooked. Just didn’t go back to work the next day. Suppose they fired me. I don’t know what happened to my assistants and such, I do feel guilty, but… I was scared that whatever happened to them could happen to me. I went into hiding for a while, I was convinced every knock at the door was one of them. Eventually, I realised nobody was coming. I decided I had to know the truth of what had happened, but I didn’t dare go back to my old life. Didn’t dare even go back to the University. So I set out to find answers on my own. It’s been over twenty years now, I’ve become something of an investigator of the paranormal.

Guide:

Alternatural.

Walt:

I- what?

Restoration:

Don’t worry about it.

Walt:

…Yes, so I’ve investigated a number of other strange phenomena over the years, but I always hoped that I might eventually find out what happened on that dig. I confess, the lack of leads has been discouraging, I’d almost given up hope. But then my cards told me that I might find some folks here who have gone through a similar thing to myself.

Restoration:

Cards?

Walt:

Just one of the tools I have acquired over the years. Never used to be the sort to care for such things, but a lot has changed.

Retrieval:

Yeah, I bet.

Restoration:

Thank you for this information, Walt. We appreciate it. If there’s anything else we-

The door opens again.

Research:

Hello! I had some important work I needed to do, or I’d have been here sooner. I’m the Head of Research for the museum, a pleasure to meet you Professor Montgomery.

Walt:

It’s just Wa-

Research:

I know I’ve missed a couple of meetings, I didn’t even know this was on the cards. I’m not usually one to collaborate on research projects, particularly one at such an early stage, but I will admit that this artefact has been difficult to get to grips with and frankly if getting outside help is the compromise on offer I’m more than happy to-

Retrieval:

It’s not about that.

Research:

…Oh. I see. So.. why is he here?

Restoration:

Walt just finished telling us about an experience he had with something quite similar to what happened with Security.

Research:

Oh. That.

Walt:

Was there something-

Restoration:

Don’t worry about that. A different matter.

Guide:

We’ve got a lot on our plates, here! Never a dull moment.

Walt:

I see.

Restoration:

Look, now that you’re here, why don’t you and Walt discuss the matter between yourselves. He can give you the whole story… again, we can reconvene if anything comes from it.

Walt:

Very well, I’m more than happy to spend as much time on this as is necessary. This is the first lead I’ve had in a long time.

Retrieval:

Yeah, well, good luck with your talking. I’ve got work to do.

Research:

Sure, okay. [Distant] So, what’s going on?

The door closes.

Retrieval:

She is-

Restoration:

I know. Let’s just… one thing at a time. At least she’s got something to distract her now. What do you think of him?

Retrieval:

Well, I think his story’s at least partially true. Seen plenty of people who’ve wound up shellshocked by alternatural encounters, he fits the bill. Wrong sort of mind comes into contact with this stuff, they crack.

Restoration:

Yes, I had the same thought. What about you, Guide?

Guide:

No contradictions in his story that I could see. I’m not the best judge of character, though.

Retrieval:

Ah come on, you do alright.

Guide:

…Thank you.

Restoration:

Well, let’s see what their discussion leads to. We’re his first lead, and he’s ours, so hopefully we can work together. Oh, Guide? Could you please keep an eye on their discussion, make sure the Head of Research doesn’t get off-topic again?

Guide:

Already on it.

 

The Wanderer

Before we begin, I would like to thank you on behalf of the Mistholme Museum for taking part in this unconventional outdoor variation on our typical exhibit style. We don’t have outdoor areas at the Mistholme Museum, for a variety of reasons including security and that being a bit of a weird thing to do. But when The Wanderer arrived, we knew we had to make an exception.

As you can see, The Wanderer is a vehicle- although that is such an understatement it might actually be a misstatement. A colossal, cylindrical metal hull constructed from a variety of different alloys and covered in uncountable inscrutable devices and details, all of which presumably contribute to The Wanderer’s operation. The wheels are quite large, almost the same height as The Wanderer itself, and decidedly not modern in design- appearing quite similar to the wheels on an old wagon, lacking in any kind of rubberized tire. One would think this would make The Wanderer an impractical vehicle for any kind of off-road terrain, but to the contrary: The Wanderer has spent almost its entire existence off-road as its name would imply, wandering the earth.

It is believed that The Wanderer was created originally for the purpose of transporting goods over long distances. This is based chiefly in its ruggedness, its ability to travel across a variety of terrains, in its ample cargo space, and the fact that when it reaches what one might consider a destination it stops for a time. Sometimes hours, sometimes weeks: if there is a reasoning behind its schedule, it has yet to be found. Feel free to climb aboard, by the way. The rear hatch is open, and as you’ll see it’s quite spacious- if a little sparse. The Wanderer is centuries old at the very least, with unconfirmed sightings potentially indicating it may be even older- although how ancient exactly is difficult to determine, on account of its ramshackle nature and the Research Department’s reluctance to quote mess with it unquote. Nobody is sure how it has managed to run all this time, despite the apparent lack of a fuel source… or anyone driving. It trundles along, pistons pumping and wheels turning, seemingly because that is what it does. What it has always done. A kind of quote Ontological Momentum unquote, the Head of Research calls it. Don’t worry, nobody really knows what she means by that. Put simply, the wheels turn and the Wanderer wanders because that is what happens. There is no artificial intelligence behind its actions, at least not one with any similarity to other known AI. Some have postulated that it is attempting to continue the trade route for which it was originally built, but that the people that built it and the people it was intended to supply no longer exist. While this is as good a guess as any, it is based on the predicate assumption that it was created as a trade vessel, which is itself impossible to verify. So, as far as we know and as far as we may ever know, The Wanderer simply is, and it simply Wanders.

There is no doubt that it has been repaired and refitted a great many times by a great many different people since it was built, and it is difficult to determine whether or not any part of it is original. It wanders, stopping here and there, and people come to see the strange vehicle, see what’s inside, who is driving. Sometimes, regrettably, The Wanderer does suffer vandalism: while its rugged nature thankfully makes inflicting meaningful damage prohibitively difficult, graffiti and other petty sabotage have been known to take place. But just as many people see The Wanderer trundling over the horizon and are struck by quite the opposite instinct. They clean it off, repair whatever damage its wanderings have led to and replace parts that are beyond repair, because… it seems like a nice thing to do. It feels… nice, that something like The Wanderer exists, a relic of an era so bygone that nobody remembers it at all, continuing to carry out a purpose that long ago lost its purpose.

The Wanderer roams the earth, perhaps following an unknown purpose, perhaps searching for one, or perhaps just wandering. It has done so for a very long time, and- if I may briefly editorialise- I hope that it continues to do so, for a long time to come. Most people do, really. It’s nice that it exists. It’s not hurting anyone. Although, there are occasional stories about people climbing aboard The Wanderer, and remaining aboard when- for reasons we don’t know- The Wanderer’s hatch closes, and the pistons begin to pump and the wheels begin to turn, and the Wanderer disappears over the horizon once more. If these incidents are based in fact, it has never been confirmed- much like everything else about The Wanderer. It seems plausible, and the witnesses are insistent, but no evidence beyond their testimonies has ever been found. What we can confirm, however, is that when The Wanderer arrives in a new location and opens its hatch, there is never anything- or anyone- inside.

 

 

Arrival at the Summer Keep

Stranger:

So to cut a long story short, it takes them days to find a lad skinny enough to fit through the gap but they do, and they’ve tied a rope around his waist and I’m still down there crying “Oh won’t you please save me, I’m so cold and afraid”. And they’re calling down to me saying “It’s okay child, you’ll be out of there in a jiffy!” And the lad’s being lowered down toward me. And, you know, I’m having a bit of fun with it already so I start making the hole a little deeper. So my voice is coming from further away, and the lad’s still coming down the rope. And I make the hole a little deeper! And he’s still coming, and he’s calling out to me in this pathetic little voice saying “Don’t worry, I’m coming for you! Don’t worry!”, but his voice is all wavery and if he was walking his knees would be knocking together! I’m thinking to myself, “Oh come on now, this lad’s telling me not to worry but he’s worried half to death!” So I make the tunnel a little deeper, but this time I stay where I am and he climbs down past me in the dark. And he’s still calling down, toward where he thinks I am, and the folks up top are still shouting encouragement. And then I say “Oh, I think I see you, you’re almost here!”, but of course I’m above him now! And he’s startled and he looks up at me just as I cut the rope and he goes falling away into the darkness! Ohohohhhhh, the look on his face, it’s the little things that make it worthwhile, I tell you!

Guide:

Wow. That’s… quite a story. So, is that where the old… “Little kid fallen down a well” trope comes from?

Stranger:

Oh no, I shouldn’t think so.

Guide:

Oh okay.

Stranger:

Far from the first time I pulled that one, and I’m pretty sure I got the idea from a mate, one of the oldest tricks in the book you see.

Guide:

Right. Great. You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually starting to regret asking if you had any stories.

Stranger:

Oh that’s a shame, I have plenty more where that came from-

Guide:

Yes, you’ve already told plenty.

Stranger:

Course, not so many interesting ones of late, doing my duty as a Ranger. Needed a change of scenery, and I do have a knack for it even if the work is a mite repetitive. It’s something you have to do from time to time if you want to remain in good favour with the Court, you see. Not necessarily Ranging, that is, but whatever you can do that will be of use. Trying to be too… ah, independent is a bit frowned upon, might have folks thinking you think you’re better than your betters. Wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, so I come back and do my duty when it feels appropriate.

Guide:

You have such an amazing knack for talking constantly, without saying anything of note, do you know that?

Stranger:

Of course, Guide. When one loves to talk, but doesn’t want to give too much away, one tends to talk about nothing.

Guide:

…I see.

Stranger:

I wouldn’t worry though, if I were you. This part of your ordeal is all but over.

Guide:

What do you mean. Are you saying…

Stranger:

Indeed I am, invisible one. We’ve just about arrived, and in relatively good time too.

Guide:

Good time, it’s been days! Are you… oh. Oh my, this is…

The Guide had caught a glimpse of what lay ahead, and if it had breath it would have been well and truly taken away. They had reached the edge of the wood, and spread out below the party of strange machines and stranger people, was an enormous circular field. It was surrounded on all sides by an expanse of grassland, and beyond that the forests from which the group had emerged. It was as though a great circular stamp had descended from the sky and printed a grassland into the middle of the wood, depressing the ground down by a dozen or so feet in the process. Not far from where Stranger now stood, there was a sharp drop where the forest ended and grassland began, a sheer face of dirt held together by the roots of the trees and the bizarre nature of this place. But the strangeness of this place was nothing compared to the place at its centre, at which Stranger now pointed with a gleam in his eye.

It was a series of rings within circles within rings, concentric and perfect in a way that few circles have ever been. At the outermost edge, the entirety of the place was hemmed in by colossal mushrooms of the same scale and type that Raptor Team had encountered so long ago. The inner rings were all of different make, no two the same: some were hilly, and some were gardens, one was a wide and surging river that went around and around with no care for tidal mechanics. The Guide wondered if there was anywhere in these rings where people lived and slept, or if they were merely decorative- or even natural if such a word had any place in a place like this. But despite the incongruity, the clashes between different rings that had no relation to one another, somehow there was a sense of oneness to the whole thing. It was chaotic, certainly, but somehow the chaos came together as something more: it possessed a symmetry that was impossible within nature, and yet it bore no sign that it had been crafted by hand. It seemed organic, and yet designed, a contradiction that was only outdone by the rings themselves- as despite the fact that they were concentric, contained within one another, the Guide was quite certain that each and every one of the rings was the exact same diameter. The impossibility of this place would likely have driven a mere human mind insane- it was fortunate, then, that there were no humans in this group.

The impossible dichotomy between order and chaos peaked, fittingly, at its centre. For there was within the middlemost ring, a peak: a mountain that was also a castle, perfectly shaped to be both with no contradiction in its design and no indication that this was anything but a natural formation except for the presence of windows and doors- tiny pinpricks in the rock, just barely discernible at this distance. Even then, these amenities seemed natural: the cliffs and slopes, which showed no sign of being worked by tools, seemed to organically gesture towards these windows and walls. One could almost imagine how over the course of millennia the wind and rain could create such a thing naturally, except for the fact that it made no sense for a mountain to be here in the first place. It stood alone, on flat soil, part of no range or tectonic pattern, just another impossibility in a perfectly circular field of impossibilities.

Stranger:

I think I prefer it when you’re all detached and poetic about things, Guide. Much more pleasing to the ears than your usual snippy poor mood.

Guide:

I think I have licence to be in a bit of a poor mood.

Stranger:

Fair enough! Come on now, people! It’s another day’s journey, yet!

Guide:

A day, what are you- it doesn’t look that far, though!

Stranger:

That’s just because you haven’t quite grasped the scale of Her Majesty’s Summer Keep, invisible friend. It’s a bit hard to see the perspective of it all from here- er, do you see, Guide?

Guide:

It’s complicated, don’t worry about it.

Stranger:

Well no matter, we’ve got plenty of time for you to explain while we walk.

Guide:

Mother, I think I might hate him more than the Beast.

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