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Episode Forty-Five: TAKEN

 

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 ZANE REMIND ME TO PUT COUCH GAG HERE that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.

 

Deliberation

Guide:

So… what do we think?

Retrieval:

I don’t like it.

Restoration:

Yes, well, I think we’ve long since put aside whether we like this situation.

Guide:

Yes.

Retrieval:

You heard of this “Library” before?

Restoration:

I think so. I seem to recall the Head of Research mentioning it before- yes, actually, now that I think of it, we do have a copy of this “Catalogue” in our archives. As I recall it’s one of the only items that never needs any restoration, so conversely it stands out to me.

Guide:

If it really contains so much information, I’m surprised that the Head of Research hasn’t pushed for an expedition there before.

Retrieval:

Thinking maybe that speaks to the danger involved. We really gonna take a risk like this on the say-so of a stranger?

Guide:

The Head of Research actually confirmed to me that she supports the idea.

Retrieval:

[Sarcastically] Oh okay, that’s very reassuring then.

Restoration:

I think we all know we’re past the point where we like the decisions we have to make. What I want to know is, is this the best bad option we have?

Retrieval:

Oh, were there other options I wasn’t aware of?

Restoration:

Exactly. Guide? What’s your take?

Guide:

Like you both said, it’s our only lead right now. And if this Library really does have all the information there is, I don’t suppose we’ll need another. But we should keep an eye on Montgomery, just in case. I don’t trust him.

Retrieval:

Ha. That’s a surprise.

Guide:

What do you mean?

Retrieval:

Ah, just that you’re usually so trusting. What about Montgomery’s set you off?

Guide:

I… Uhh, well, you don’t seem like you trust him either.

Retrieval:

I know why I don’t trust him, Guide, I’m curious why you don’t.

Guide:

Well. I… just a hunch.

Retrieval:

Huh. Righto.

Restoration:

Why don’t you trust him?

Retrieval:

Ahh, it’s not his fault. I’ve just seen his type before, y’know? Some folks, they get one brush with the Alternatural and it becomes their whole personality, they start seeing patterns in clouds, that sort of thing. They seek it out, stick their noses into everyone’s business, make out like they’re some kind of investigators of the unknown. Best case, usually, they help some housewives deal with a mild Event and then get themselves- killed trying to engage with things they don’t understand. Worse case, they take a lot of people with them along the way.

Restoration:

Yes, well, if we’re quite done speculating, let’s get back to work.

Retrieval:

Yep, I’ll start prepping a team for this… “Library” place. I’ll co-ordinate with the Head of Research to see what we’re in for. I- ugh. Guide, could you let her know to be in her office?

Guide:

Yes, will do.

Restoration:

Also, Guide, we’ll need to let Mister Montgomery know that we’ll be going ahead with his plan. Did he leave a number we can use to get in touch?

Guide:

I- well, no, but also that won’t be necessary. He’s actually still here.

Restoration:

Is he on a tour?

Guide:

No… He’s actually having a nap in one of the exhibits right now.

Restoration:

Right. Perhaps nudge him toward heading home and we can meet with him tomorrow.

Retrieval:

By the look of him, I’d be very surprised if he has a home.

Restoration:

…Yes, there was an… Odour.

Retrieval:

I just mean, people on his path usually can’t hold down a lease. And he’s pretty far down the path.

Restoration:

Encouraging.

Guide:

I’ll let him know.

Restoration:

Good. That’s all for now.

 

A Noticeboard

 

Here, we have a large noticeboard made of a combination of wood and corkboard, of the sort that might be seen in town halls or schools or public parks. It has a glass panel in front of it, which is not original to this artefact but was deemed necessary by the Patronage Department to prevent visitors from attempting to take any of the notices currently pinned to the corkboard. These notices are the standard sort you might well find on any number of noticeboards- although, these days you’re less and less likely to find noticeboards in the first place. And you’re unlikely to find one quite like this, with notices quite like these. You may have already noticed that- oh, that was unintentional I’m very sorry. Uh, you may have already observed that the text on these notices is a little off. At first glance they look fairly mundane: council notices about roadwork, advertisements for a community theatre production, requests for services or offers of the same. But take a closer look at them, and irregularities will begin to emerge. Did a particular notice catch your eye when you first reached this exhibit? Look for it again. You can’t find it, can you? Nothing about the noticeboard or the notices has noticeably changed, but the thing you’re looking for just… isn’t there. Don’t worry, that’s quite a typical experience. The notices attached to the Noticeboard appear to shift and change when not directly observed- although it is perhaps more accurate to say that they do not display anything at all, their contents being supplied by the viewer’s preconceptions of the sort of thing one might see on a noticeboard. If you are aware of the Museum’s policies on The Written Word, you may have already suspected that something was off, and you were right: in a strictly literal sense, the pages on this Noticeboard are blank, if they can be said to exist at all. The text exists only within- and seems to be provided by- your mind. This has been borne out by testing, which has shown that two people may inspect the Noticeboard at the same time and see entirely different notices- not just their contents, but the notices themselves. The notices seem perfectly normal at first, but upon closer inspection the details are just a little bit off. They might refer to an address that sounds plausible, until you realise that the street mentioned doesn’t exist, or is in a different city. The numbers you should allegedly call use outdated area codes, or have too many digits. And, if you were to find this noticeboard out in your day to day life, you might realise that it wasn’t there the day before, and isn’t there the next day. It has been likened to a sort of dream-logic, where the broad strokes seem about right, but the details never hold up to scrutiny- but you rarely notice without the benefit of hindsight. The location of the Noticeboard isn’t the only thing that seems to shift, incidentally: some of the time, the Noticeboard is crammed full with sheets and sheets of paper. At other times, it is almost bare. Almost, but not quite. Because there is always one sheet of paper that remains. The one in the centre, a simple A4 sheet with little perforated tags at the bottom that can be torn off. What does it say for you? Ah, yes, that’s a common one. It usually claims to offer classes in one thing or another, or simple jobs such as babysitting or junk mail delivery. There’s only ever one or two tags left when it is observed, likely to make the remaining tags seem more enticing. The glass panel is in place precisely to curb that temptation. Because while the result of taking the notice up on whatever offer it is making may not be wholly negative, it would certainly be more than you bargained for.

 

Take, for example, Spidelle Webber. A talented multi-instrumentalist studying classical music composition at university, Spidelle learned new instruments more frequently than most people read books. One day, as she was preparing to go home after class, she passed a noticeboard and saw something that caught her eye: an A4 sheet with little perforated tabs at the bottom, advertising lessons in how to play the Shamisen. The Shamisen is a traditional Japanese stringed instrument that you’ve almost certainly heard before even if you’re not familiar with it in specific. Spidelle was familiar, and she had actually long wished that she could learn to play it- although she had never before come across anyone who could play it, let alone teach it. Excitedly, she tore off the little tab at the bottom with a phone number she could call- and collapsed to one knee as a sudden wave of nausea came over her. She blinked away the stars that appeared in her vision, wondering if she should go to the university’s medical centre. Then a cry of shock caught her attention, and she looked up into the eyes of an elderly woman in traditional garb, clutching a shamisen to her chest as the bachi she had been using to pluck its strings fell to the floor. Spidelle apologised to the woman, disoriented but polite- but then her eye was drawn to the bachi on the floor. Or rather, to the floor itself. Rather than the functional concrete floor of her university, the surface she now looked at- that her hands and knees were pressing into- was a traditional Japanese Tatami mat. And as she looked around her, Spidelle slowly began to realise that the rest of her surroundings were the same: paper walls with calligraphy scrolls on them, a tea set on a small table nearby, and as she turned fully around and looked out the door to the room she saw an unfamiliar skyline. Looking back at the startled lady- clad, Spidelle now registered, in a beautiful kimono- she had already begun to grasp the reality of her situation: she was in Japan.

 

Spidelle was promptly taken into custody by immigration officials and charged with several offences regarding her apparent illegal entry to the country- not to mention, seemingly breaking into the home of an old woman. It was a very lengthy and protracted process, not least because Spidelle refused to change her quote obviously false unquote story about being magically transported there from the other side of the world. It was a very unpleasant and scary time for young Spidelle, of course, who had- as far as she was concerned- never asked for any of this. There was a bright spot, however. Throughout the process of her incarceration and the investigation, she had a regular visitor in detention: the old woman whose home she had somehow invaded. As it turned out, she was a master of the Shamisen, and while she had been given quite a shock herself she could tell that Spidelle was just as upset and confused as her. And so, she came to visit Spidelle whenever possible, and gave her lessons in the instrument. And when the wheels of justice finished turning and Spidelle was deported back to her home country, she made sure to take a Shamisen back with her. She even played it sometimes, when she wasn’t working several jobs to pay her legal fees.

 

Another incident occurred to a man named Hassan- he refused to supply his last name, and we are unsure if this was even his real first name. Hassan worked as a gardener, mostly working freelance jobs for his local council maintaining the park or for residents who wanted to spruce up their lawns a little. Hassan was a man of some ambition, and he’d always wanted to work on a larger project, a thing of horticultural beauty… but he’d never found such an opportunity, and he doubted he would be anyone’s first choice even if the opportunity presented itself. But then, one day as he was tending to a flowerbed in the local park, he spotted a Noticeboard. He was quite sure it hadn’t been there last time he’d visited, but he supposed it wasn’t part of his purview to deal with such things. He’d almost turned away, his secateurs ready to continue pruning, when an A4 sheet with some perforated tabs at the bottom caught his eye. He stepped closer and read it, excitement growing in his chest. The notice offered a position as a gardener- but not just a gardener. It seemed to describe a sizable project, in which both gardening and landscaping skills would be required. What’s more, it claimed that the applicant would have a great deal of control and influence over the project- although it did not specify who was financing it, nor where the construction would take place. Hassan reached out and plucked away one of the paper tabs- and fell to his knees, a wave of nausea coming over him. When he recovered, he found that the modern buildings around him were gone. In their place were older stone buildings- or, perhaps, stone buildings built in an older style which somehow looked quite new. They were surrounded by a great many trees and plants, along with work tents and other curiously old-fashioned construction equipment and workers all sweltering under the baking hot sun. Before Hassan could even begin to comprehend what had happened, one of the workers hurried over and asked if he was here for the job. Hassan could only say yes.

Over the next few months, Hassan helped to build the greatest garden he had ever seen- that the world had ever seen, he boasted to the other workers. A vast variety of local trees and fruit plants and vines cascaded over tiers of buildings and structures, almost the whole city acting as part of the garden. Hassan’s input was vital, and not just creatively as his understanding of certain principles of engineering far outstripped that of most of his fellows. The king of this strange place visited personally as the finishing touches were put on the great garden, personally thanking Hassan for his labour and giving him a sizable bonus payment in the form of a bag of golden coins. But even as the bag landed in Hassan’s hand, a familiar sense of nausea came over him. He fell to the ground, clutching the bag tightly as the world swam around him and suddenly vanished, replaced by the council garden where he had first found the Noticeboard. The Noticeboard was now gone, but the coins remained. To Hassan’s consternation, when he took the coins to get them valued, he was told that they were fake: while the design seemed to indicate that they were over two millennia old, carbon dating showed that they were far more new than that. Of course, they were made of real gold, so he probably wasn’t too upset all things considered.

 

Finally, we come to the most recent… encounter with the Noticeboard. An individual named Finn- again, no last name- saw this Noticeboard while waiting in the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get their Driver Licence- they later admitted that they weren’t very confident that they would pass. In the middle of the board, there was an A4 sheet with perforated tabs at the bottom, advertising flying lessons. Finn thought it would be rather funny to come home having failed their driver test but planning to take flying lessons. So they reached out and took one of the paper tabs. Instantly, a wave of nausea hit them, and their knees buckled. But, unlike our previous stories, the world did not suddenly change around them. And, despite their sudden weakness, their knees did not hit the ground. Instead, Finn began to float, about a foot in the air. They were understandably quite startled by this, as were the other people in line, and they were so shocked that they flew all the way up to the ceiling purely on instinct. Then, once up there, they realised they couldn’t get down.

Eventually, the fire department were able to rescue them, and as time went on Finn learned to control their flight fairly well- although they have yet to figure out landing. Apparently, the greatest downside of their… condition, is that they are unable to land at all, even when asleep, and instead they hover a few inches from the mattress. But otherwise, they don’t mind too much.

Well, they can’t all be narratively satisfying.

 

The Cell

Stranger:

Okay! And we’re through the final Ring, welcome to The Majesty’s Summer Keep!

Guide:

That was… Baffling.

Stranger:

Yes it’s a bit much, you get used to it after the first thousand or so times.

Guide:

I see. So, are we going to see the Queen now?

Stranger:

My we’re mighty keen, aren’t we? We’re not even inside the keep yet!

Guide:

I’m keen for this to be over.

Stranger:

Ah. Well, you may be disappointed on that front. [The huge wooden door to the keep opens] We’ll be taking you to a little room where you can relax until such a time as The Majesty chooses to see you. [The door slams shut behind] Hmm, you’re not describing The Majesty’s grand hall, Guide. Does it not impress you- oh, no, you just describe things when you’re nervous, is that it?

Guide:

It is quite impressive, but… where is everyone?

Stranger:

I- I suppose they’re busy elsewhere. Not to worry. Here, this way. The rest of you are dismissed, go get some rest.

Guide:

Mother am I wrong, or does it feel like we’re being watched? Oh- don’t answer that. This place is… it seems like it should be nice, all the carvings and the natural light… that actually definitely can’t be natural, but let’s not get into that. But there’s this sense of… I don’t know. It’s almost like a coldness, but not the temperature kind, more like this whole place is just waiting for us to screw up somehow. Which I suppose we have, by being captured, but… yeah.

Stranger:

Now just because you’re prisoners that doesn’t mean we’ll be treating you roughly or anything like that. You’ll be staying in one of the rooms that’s usually reserved for distinguished visitors, it’s not like we’re using them anyway.

Guide:

Why not?

Stranger:

…Because we don’t have any visitors at the moment, yourselves excepted.

Guide:

No, but… The way you said it, you made it sound like you don’t get visitors.

Stranger:

Ha. That’s… no, I don’t know what’s given you that impression. This isn’t my usual role, so I don’t have the best manner for this sort of thing, I’m sure.

Guide:

Sure. So how long do you think it will be before… The Majesty deigns to see us?

Stranger:

Oh The Majesty is often very busy so I’m afraid I couldn’t guess. Your time will come when it comes.

Guide:

Right. How big is this kingdom, by the way?

Stranger:

What do you mean?

Guide:

Uh. The scale of the lands they rule?

Stranger:

Well, I suppose they’re as expansive as… I’m sorry I don’t really understand.

Guide:

The rule over a region, yes?

Stranger:

Oh! I see, you’re a little confused. The Majesty is the Queen of any land that the Summer Sun deigns to shine down upon.

Guide:

The Summer Sun.

Stranger:

Yes, The Majesty is the Queen of Summer, you see.

Guide:

Not really but… okay. What’s their name, by the way?

Stranger:

You’ll do very poorly around here asking that question, Guide. Worse than tactless, to say the least.

Guide:

Fine. I see.

Stranger:

Here, you’ll be in this room. [Door opens]

Guide:

The room was, as Stranger had promised, quite nice. The stony surfaces of the mountain interior were smooth and polished to a dull sheen, with elegantly shaped wooden furniture nestled into specially-carved nooks and alcoves in the walls. “Shaped” was the word, too, for none of the wood gave any indication that they had ever been touched by a blade, but had instead been coaxed into their current shape: a bed, tables, chairs, even a desk that had been somehow persuaded to contain a mirror. It was comfortable and precise in a most appealing way, and yet The Guide did not feel comforted.

Stranger:

There we go, back on your descriptions. You have an eye for such things, yes the wood is… Hm. Actually, I thought you said you tended to do that when you’re nervous, are you nervous all of a sudden now Guide?

Guide:

I might be.

Stranger:

And why in the world would that be?

Guide:

Well, we passed a lot of doors on the way here. And I suppose it just occurred to me that maybe you didn’t send the rest of your Rangers away out of compassion, but so that they wouldn’t know where we’d been put.

Stranger:

…In you go now. The metal woman will be able to move the rest of her body in a moment. Try and make yourself comfortable. [The door closes]

Guide:

Are you alright, Mother? Good. Something’s not right about this place.

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