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Episode Thirty-Two: ENIGMATIC


 

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 Toxoplasmosis that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.


 

Repairs

 

Head Of Restoration:

Well, I suppose we’re finished, if you’re really quite certain. (Pause) Well, you can always reconsider, the option’s always there. It’s just… I’m concerned that you’re not behaving logically here-

 

Mistholme Chime

 

Guide:
Excuse me! Sorry, I just wanted to talk about the- oh. Oh! Mother! You’re back online! I didn’t realise- uhh, how are you?! Oh, I’m ok- it’s been a bit busy here while you’ve been in for repairs but I think we’re doing alright. So are you all fixed up?

Restoration
Yes, well, apparently we’re finished here.

 

Guide:

Uh- apparently?

 

Restoration
Well. I’ve been able to repair the vast majority of the damage that was inflicted upon the Clockwork Mother- I handled it personally as a sort of… Well, it was the least I could do. However, the damage to her vocal array was catastrophic- it was effectively torn out during an encounter with… what was it Mother? The Manticore? Yes, well, unfortunately as she was designed and built to… frankly unique specifications, there’s nothing I can do but completely replace the entire subsystem, but the Clockwork Mother has been quite opposed to the idea.

 

Guide:
Oh. Why’s that, mother?
 

Restoration
Well, she doesn’t like the idea that her voice would-

 

Guide:
Ma’am.. Sorry, but I was talking to Mother.

 

Restoration
Hmmpf.

 

Guide:
So, Mother, why don’t you want the repairs? Don’t you want to be able to talk again? Ah, of course, that’s- you wouldn’t want a different voice.

 

Restoration

Yes, of course the new vocal array would sound different to the old one, but it would work just as well! If we had more recordings of her prior to the Lockdown we’d have been able to use a Neural Net to create a simulacrum of the old voice but she’s always been a bit quiet- sorry, what was that, Mother?

 

Guide:
She said she’s standing right there. 

 

Restoration
Oh. Well, I-

 

Guide:
Mother, am I right in thinking that this is about your daughter? You don’t want her to wake up and find that you sound completely different? Ah, I thought so.

 

Restoration
What’s the matter? Are you concerned that she won’t understand you, or- (several seconds of silence as the Mother signs) Ah. 

 

Guide:
Well said, Mother.

 

Restoration
Well, that actually does make some sense… Emotionally…

 

Guide:
Sort of a… Ship of Theseus situation, I suppose. 

 

Restoration
Oh don’t get me started, that bloody ship is a never ending pain in my- Excuse me. Well, Mother, it is your choice. You can do your job well enough without a voice. And… yes. That’s it. Well, I have other work to be getting on with- uhh, the Guide will catch you up on what’s been happening while you were offline. 

 

Guide:
Ah. Yes. Mother… we need to talk about Security.


 

The Spiral Of The Small Church

CONTENT WARNINGS: Religion, Poverty, Mob Violence, Death

The wrought-iron symbol hanging from the wall before you has been described by many as possessing a sense of portent and, well, significance. Its shape is that of a rough counter-clockwise spiral; it should be a simple shape, and yet there is something about it that implies a greater complexity. Many art scholars have been driven mad trying to comprehend this spiral, how it can simultaneously be objectively simple and yet somehow also ornate- and perhaps most confounding of all is the fact that each and everyone of them became obsessed with a different aspect of the design, almost as if it was a different spiral to each of them. The only thing that every single person who lays eyes on it can agree on is that the spiral is contracting- not expanding. There is no possible way for this to be the case, as an inert spiral could be stated to be either expanding or contracting depending on the perspective of the viewer. I’m told it’s a quote glass half full thing unquote, but I don’t really understand that- surely that depends on whether the glass is being filled or emptied. And yet, every single person who has ever seen this particular spiral agrees that it is contracting. A curious artifact.

 

However, the strange nature of the spiral is not the main focus of this exhibit: it is merely a curious detail to a story far grander, and far stranger. The spiral does not exist for its own sake, but rather as a symbol- a religious one. Or, something like that. Museum Researchers have been unable to find any trace of this religion’s name, nor even any of the religion itself, apart from a single church. A small church, in a small town, that hung this spiral over its altar and promised great prosperity to its congregation. And, unlike many other religions, it delivered on that promise, in a very definitive way. For a time. 

 

The town in question no longer exists, and may never have even had a name. It was one of those small collections of buildings that used to spring up on the frontier to meet a need, then slowly declined as their reason for existence faded away- usually after making the people of the town a good sum of money. This particular town, however, was not quite so lucky. It was founded, if such a word is appropriate, quite early on in whatever expansionist rush it existed to support- possibly a gold rush, or land grab- and, according to what the Research Department could find, it was located in an inopportune position to take full advantage of the situation. Shopkeepers and farriers and builders, along with an old preacher, hoping to preserve the souls of those in this dangerous land, coalesced in this location and built up a modest settlement, expecting to make their fortune by supporting travelers and prospectors and all manner of passers-by. But the passers-by were far from as plentiful as they had hoped: apparently, a new, better pass had been discovered, and all the traffic they had expected to see had been diverted that way, where a different group of opportunists were making the fortune that should have been theirs. 

 

Some of the townsfolk abandoned the settlement, cutting their losses and hoping that maybe next time things would work out in their favour. But for others, this was not an option. They had spent all their money moving out there, risking it all on what had- at the time- seemed like a sensible bet. And now they were stuck, in a town with no purpose, and no future. For many years, the settlement lingered halfway between life and death, just enough people passing through to keep the remaining residents alive but not enough for anything more than that. The only thing that kept hope alive among the few dozen people who remained was their church, and their faith that God would one day bring them prosperity and joy and everything would be alright. And then one day the old preacher who had given sermons every week since the founding of the settlement died, and along with him the last embers of hope in the hearts of the townsfolk. God himself, it seemed, had turned his back on them.

 

And then a new preacher arrived. A younger man than the old preacher, who rode into town on a large covered wagon in the night and took up residence in the now-abandoned church. The very next day he could be seen all over the single-street that made up the town, going from building to building making the acquaintance of the residents and inviting them to service that evening. The people were apprehensive, at first: once one has given in to despair, it can become almost a point of pride, and it’s difficult to hope when one has been burned before. But nonetheless, that evening the rickety old church was packed with worshippers ready to be told that everything would be alright. And, the young preacher did just that. He was far more energetic than the old preacher had been, striding back and forth before the crowd and proclaiming that God loved them, that God would deliver them the success and hope that they craved. It was more than just his youth, the townsfolk thought, that energised his speech so greatly. It was a genuinely held conviction. More than any other holy man they had ever seen, this preacher believed what he was saying. Over the course of a single evening the people went from the absolute depths of despair to standing upright, shouting their faith to the rafters, proclaiming that they loved their God and believed that he would do right by them. 


And then, as the service came to a close, the new preacher drew his flock’s attention to the symbol, wrought in iron, hanging above the altar from which he had proselytized to them. This, he claimed, was a symbol for the people there that night. Together, with some sacrifice and a lot of faith, they could cease to be disparate struggling individuals and come together as one strong unit. He then passed around a small bowl, and requested a tithe from each worshipper that had attended- a tithe that, he gently suggested, might be a little greater than those they had previously given. After all, the situation in town was dire, so a little might not be enough. There was some trepidation from some residents about a slick out-of-towner talking a big game and asking for their money, but as they left the small church the bowl was more full than it had ever been in all the years that the old preacher had lived in the town. The town and its people were most likely doomed, after all. They had so little money that having a little less almost didn’t make a difference. And it had been a really good service. Maybe they didn’t actually believe that God was on their side and that things were going to get better. But, for a little while, it was nice to pretend that they did.

 

The next day, one of the few local vagabonds who hadn’t moved on to greener pastures found a gold nugget the size of his fist, just a few miles east of the town. Word quickly spread, and a few days later the town’s hotel- previously empty but for the rats- was fully booked by out-of-towners hoping to find their fortune at the newly discovered goldstrike. At week’s end, the church was filled even more than it had been for the previous service. Some were merely grateful that their prayers had, seemingly, been answered at long last, but others were curious- if not outright suspicious. How could it be that, after years of misery and strife and stagnation, that things had turned around so suddenly immediately after the new preacher’s arrival? Some members of the congregation went so far as to insinuate that the preacher was a confidence trickster, that he had planted the gold so that it would be found and make all his big talk seem legitimate. But the preacher took this scrutiny in his stride with a good-natured smile, and reassured his new flock that no: he was not a confidence trickster. This was merely the result of their renewed faith- and appropriate repayment for their generosity. Who could tell, he mused, what kind of recompense they might receive if they increased their generosity. Despite themselves, the people of the town gave even more than they had the week before, some going so far as to bankrupt themselves, into the preacher’s bowl. 

 

Week on week, things in the town improved. More people arrived, and they brought with them more money- and, as a rule, people attract people and money attracts money. The original townsfolk told the newcomers about the preacher and brought them along to his services, where they too donated to the coffers of the church, a feedback loop which led to greater and greater rewards. Steadily the town began to grow, then thrive, as it grew beyond its humble origins to become a place where people could live- rather than just survive. Rumours spread across the land about this beacon of prosperity, a town where you could make your fortune- not an uncommon rumour in such times, but there was more than a grain of truth to this one. Then, a year to the day since the preacher had first arrived, a prospector struck oil to the west of the town, a vast deposit that would make the town even richer than it had been before. There was no stopping them now.

 

Even as the people of the town grew richer and richer, the Preacher remained humble. He wandered throughout the growing streets every day, talking with the people and counseling them on their problems- though the problems were usually far less significant than they had been in years past. He wore simple hessian robes and walked barefoot, and looked for all the world like the archetypical penniless holy man. You would never know from looking at him that, every week, he was given greater and greater riches by the townspeople, in exchange for prayers and good fortune. Because as the wealth of the town grew, so too did their tithes to the church. Every week he insisted, gently but firmly, that the tithe must be commensurate to the fortune given, and as the worshippers had been given great fortune they were obligated to give richly in return. And for a time, they did: every week they gave money, and fine clothes, and  jewelry, whatever they could give in return for their God’s love. At first they gave out of desperation, then out of gratitude, then out of greed. But over the months as their fortunes grew, the people’s pride grew too. And eventually, they realised that they did not want to give away their riches anymore. The richer they got the more they were obliged to give away, and that chafed at them: they had earned their wealth. Why should they give it away? They had never had to give away so much to any other church in their lives- why should the preacher profit so greatly from their hard work? Their love for him turned to resentment, as he preached every week in his ever-so-humble robe: he put on an air of humility and poverty, but everyone knew that he was hiding incredible wealth away in the church, just beyond the door to his ever so quaint private chambers. 

 

Eventually, the people decided that this would not continue. They confronted the Preacher and told him that they would continue to attend his services, but they would not allow him to become more wealthy than them simply due to their generosity. Their tithes would be more reasonable from now on, a coin or two from each worshipper every week, enough to support him but not to make him rich- after all, it was unseemly for a holy man to be rich. The Preacher was appalled, insisting that he did not see a penny of the wealth they donated: each and every tithe was for God, not him. If they wanted to continue seeing God’s favour, the townsfolk needed to continue to give a commensurate amount to the love that they had been shown. Researchers are unclear precisely what happened next. Certainly, there was an altercation between the townsfolk and the Preacher, but beyond that… Well, people don’t tend to keep accurate records of their own altercations with holy men. What is known is that around this time, the town brought in a new holy man. And the Preacher was never heard from again. The most likely scenario is that the Preacher was simply driven from the town, as pious folk such as these would be reticent about killing a man of God. But we will never know for certain. What is known, however, is that the town’s fortunes changed significantly in the months that followed. The oil wells, so filled with promise, went dry unexpectedly. The gold fields gave up only the barest hint of flake, with no more nuggets to be found. Pestilence struck the town not long after, and the travelers who had been flocking there began to avoid the area entirely. Through it all, the townsfolk worshipped weekly and prayed harder than ever, but if their God had ever been listening he was no longer. After a few months of this, the people increased their tithes to their previous exorbitant levels, then even further than they had before. But apparently it wasn’t enough. Within the year, everything that they had built fell to ruin. 

 

Some speculated that the Preacher had, indeed, been playing a confidence trick on them: he must have, somehow, engineered their good fortune- then stripped it away when they ceased giving him their money. Others, though, disagreed. The Preacher had been honest, all along. He had warned them all that refusing to pay the tithes would lead to ruin, and ruin had come to them. They had turned their back on God, and they had nobody to blame but themselves. 

 

The true answer may lie somewhere in between. Because, some time after the Preacher left-or was killed- and around the time that the town’s fortunes began to turn, some less scrupulous residents broke into the private area of the church where the Preacher had once lived, in search of the valuables that had been donated. And found nothing but the humble possessions of a holy man: clothes and supplies and nothing more. For a long time it was assumed that he must have been hiding it all along, or sending it away in secret. But then, years later, when the town had fallen into ruin and all the people were long gone, some vagabonds stumbled upon the remains of the town. And in that town, decayed and partially collapsed, they found the church. And in the church, they found the remains of the altar, beneath the wrought-iron spiral that still hung from the rafters. And below the altar, they found a passage. It appeared to have been dug by hand, and went deep into the earth, leading to an enormous underground cavern, previously unknown to the long-gone people of the long-dead town. The cavern was hundreds of feet long and wide, and empty but for a few scattered coins on the ground and some scraps of cloth. All along the ground and walls there were strange markings, as though something truly colossal had once lived in the cavern, nearly the size of the cavern itself. But whatever it was, it was gone now, though there was no way that something of that size could have escaped. Or so the explorers thought, at first. Until they found it. At the far end of the cavern, sprawled out on the dirt, its twisted fingers clutching at a golden trinket just out of its reach, disheveled and pathetic and dead. We do not know what the thing they found looked like. The men who found it ranted and raved for the rest of their lives about what they saw, and yet never came close to making sense. They had never seen anything like it, and so did not have the words to describe it, and had been driven somewhat mad by the experience.

 

After all. How could one possibly begin to describe the dead starved body of a God?


 

Encounter With The Beast

 

Eagle:

We’ll stop here for a moment. Hawk, Vulture, you make a perimeter, swap out in ten. Guide?

 

Guide: 

Yes sir!

 

Eagle:
Make sure the Museum knows that we’re being followed. Observe everything that happens- if we don’t make it, every piece of information you can pass on to the Department could help out in future expeditions. 

 

Guide: Oh, I- how do you know we’re being followed.

 

Eagle:
I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m doing. The others know what’s going on. We just need to hold position for now and see if we can get a visual. 

 

Guide:

Uhh, roger that. I’ve let the Head of Retrieval know. 

 

Eagle:

Good.

 

[A few seconds of tense silence. The leaves rustle in the breeze.]

 

Guide:
How long has it been following us? 

 

Eagle:

Unclear. Sighted movement throughout the day, it’s always back behind the trees before we can get a clear visual. It may have found us during the night.

 

Guide:

Why hasn’t it attacked?

 

Eagle:

It’s likely waiting for an ideal ambush position. It knows the terrain and we don’t, which means we’re at a big disadvantage. Best thing we can do is try to bunker down and turn the advantage in our favour. 

 

Guide:

Oh. Okay, that sounds good.

 

Eagle:

I was hoping we’d be able to break the treeline or find a bigger clearing but this will have to do. We’ve got a slight elevation advantage and decent sightlines between the trees. Whatever it is, we should be able to see it coming. 

 

Guide:

Oh, good! You know what you’re doing, don’t you.

 

Eagle:

It’s pretty basic stuff. Find a defensible position, establish a perimeter and make sure nothing gets inside it.

 

THE BEAST:
AND WHAT IF SOMETHING IS ALREADY INSIDE THAT PERIMETER?

 

[A few seconds of shouting and chaos. Members of the expedition shout “Above us!” and “In the trees- in the trees!”. Footsteps and panic, interrupted by Eagle’s authoritative voice.]

 

Eagle:
Hold fire HOLD FIRE. Do not engage unless we are engaged. 

 

Guide:
It’s above us! In the trees-

 

Eagle:

I can see that, quiet down. Does anyone have a clear visual?

 

Guide:

Above the squad, high up in the canopy above, a shape. A shadow that shifted with the elegance of a panther, the menace of a great white shark. Its mouth was far from small, and yet there still was not enough room for all its teeth, for its long and squirming tongue that was designed for a very different purpose than mere speech. The squad gripped their weapons tighter as-

 

Eagle:
I said shut up! Hello up there! We mean you no harm.

 

Guide:
We… do?
 

Eagle:

Not another word out of you. We mean you no harm!

 

THE BEAST:

You come into my forest bearing instruments of death, treading where you are not welcome, and yet you mean no harm? Is that right?

 

Eagle:

We have specific orders that we will only defend ourselves. We are not here to attack, provoke, or destroy. In particular, we do not intend to kill intelligent beings such as yourself.

 

THE BEAST:

Oh… Intelligent, am I? So complimentary, and we’ve only just met! You flatter me.

 

Eagle:
I simply mean that you can talk. You’re not an animal.

 

THE BEAST:

Is that truly the distinction? If I can speak, I am not an animal? If I could not speak, would that make me one?

 

Eagle:

I meant no offence, simply-

 

THE BEAST:

And if I am one, I cannot be the other?

 

Eagle:

I didn’t mean to-

 

[A rushing sound. Cracking of wood, then an impact close by.]

 

THE BEAST:

And you- now that you see me, am I not both to your eyes? When you behold my form, do I not strike you as... Beastly?

 

Guide:

The creature stood taller than any member of the team, and yet it was not bulky. Its body was sinew and gristle, a shaggy pelt clinging to its bones, but the the skin beneath the fur had a shimmering, scale-like texture to it that-

 

Eagle:
Guide I swear to GOD. Sir, please back away, I do not want-

 

THE BEAST:

Sir? Sir! Aha! I am a Sir, now. Never been a Sir before, like some fairy tale knight or a gentleman in a posh suit. 

 

Eagle:

We do not mean you trouble. 

 

THE BEAST:

Then what do you mean? What is it that you seek in my woods? Are you looking for someone, perchance?

 

Eagle:
We- yes, actually. Why do you ask?

 

THE BEAST

It may be that I’ve seen someone come through these woods looked somewhat like yourselves- strange clothes, same number of limbs, that sort of thing. That sound about right?

 

Eagle:

Yes. We have come here for any sign that they might have come through here, and to explore and learn more about this place.

 

THE BEAST

Oh I see, I see. And tell me, have you found your friend? Seen any sign?

 

Eagle:
No. We only arrived yesterday. We’re still getting our bearings, learning to understand your forest.

 

THE BEAST

Oh and what is your opinion of my forest? Is it verdant and lovely? Does it make your hearts soar to see a place of such beauty?

 

Eagle:

...Yes. Yes, it’s certainly one of the more beautiful places we’ve seen. 

 

THE BEAST:

Ahahahah! Ah, you’re quite the joker aren’t you? Just saying whatever you think I want to hear so I don’t rip you limb from limb, am I right?

 

Eagle:
Yep. Pretty much.

 

[The Beast bursts into uproarious laughter. Eagle joins in. After a moment, The Guide chuckles nervously as well]

 

THE BEAST:

Ahh… You’re alright. What’s your name there?

 

Eagle:
You can call me Eagle. 

 

THE BEAST:

Eagle! Funny name that, isn’t it.

 

Eagle:
Yes. And that’s Hawk, Falcon, Buzzard, and Vulture.

 

THE BEAST:

Ahh, I see. Be a terrible shame if somebody was to learn your real names now wouldn’t it. Imagine what they could do…

 

Eagle:
Yes. And what should we call you?

 

THE BEAST:

[chuckles] You can call me… Beast.

 

Eagle:

Beast. Ok then. 

 

THE BEAST:

And who else do you have with you?

 

Eagle:

Excuse me?
 

THE BEAST:

You were talking to someone just now before I so rudely interrupted. You got an imaginary friend there you’d like me to meet?

 

Eagle:

Oh. Uhh, we have something called a Guide with us. 

 

Guide:
Uhh… Hello!

 

THE BEAST:

I don’t see it. Is it invisible? A ghost?

 

Eagle:
That’s a little complicated. Let’s just say, it lives inside this little box here. It’s connected to the Museum we work for. 

 

THE BEAST:

I see… Well, not really! Ha!

 

Guide:
Haha...ha.


THE BEAST:
What should I call you, then? Ghost Bird?

 

Guide:
I don’t have a name, I’m just a Guide.

 

THE BEAST:

You’re a guide, did you say. Are you leading these folks through my forest? 

 

Guide:

Um. Well, I’m not really that kind of guide. I’m a tour guide for the museum- it’s kind of a long story. I tell stories about exhibits-

 

THE BEAST:

You tell stories! I love a good story. Could you tell me a story, invisible friend?

 

Guide:

I-

 

Eagle:
I’m afraid we are here on important business. 

 

THE BEAST:

Oh yes! Yes, you said you were looking for someone. 

 

Eagle:
Yes. And you said you might have seen them? 

 

THE BEAST:

Oh yes! I do remember some folks who appeared a little while back. I kept my distance, they seemed to be in a bit of distress. There was one though… they wandered off on their own toward the end. Then suddenly all the other folks were gone. Dunno what that was about. But I still catch a bit of that other one’s scent from time to time.

 

Guide:
Oh! That could be the Curator!

Eagle:

Ahem. Would you mind showing us which way they went?

 

THE BEAST:
I’ll do you one better there my friend: why don’t I help you track your lost comrade down? I’ve got a pretty powerful sense of smell, I should be able to get a whiff of them without too much trouble and take you right to them!

Guide:
Oh, well I’m not sure-

 

Eagle:
What do you want in return?

THE BEAST:

Oh I’m a simple creature, I don’t want for much. Except…

 

Eagle:
Yes?
 

THE BEAST:

I would love to hear a story or two from your invisible chum here along the way. As a sort of, favour in return for a favour, you see?
 

Guide:
I’m not sure I feel

 

Eagle:
A favour for a favour. Nothing more. Yes?

 

THE BEAST:
Nothing more.

 

Eagle:

Are you ready to head off right away?

 

THE BEAST:
Oh, well I do have a cake in the oven I ought to see to before we leave- Ahhh, I’m just joking around. Nothing to do here but waste time! Let’s go find your friend!

 

Eagle:
Ok then. Let’s move out, people!

Guide:
Okay… Here we go, then…


 

Thank you for visiting the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope that you have enjoyed your visit, and that you will return one day, in this life or the next. Please, tell your friends about what a great time you had here- but don’t tell them too much! If they’re worthy, we’ll find them. Stay safe out there. 

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