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Episode Thirty-Four: OMNIVOROUS

 

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 poor phone service that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.



 

The Oubliette

CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, Rats, Imprisonment, Darkness, Transformation

 

Oh! Mind your step, there! If you’ll look down toward your feet, you’ll see a rusted iron grate set into the floor, through which you can see nothing but darkness. The gaps in the grate are just about wide enough to fit a hand or arm through, but not much else. At one edge of the grate, there is a gnarled old hinge, and at the other a heavy old padlock- but that’s just for show. We don’t need a lock to keep you out of places you shouldn’t go. Although, you certainly wouldn’t want to find out what’s on the other side… Also, please don’t touch the grate with your bare hands, as it’s very old and rusty, and tetanus shots have been known to cease working inside the Museum. This is the reason that it is prohibited to go barefoot inside the Museum. Well, one reason. 

 

Long before it was an unconventional exhibit inside an unconventional Museum, this grate was the sole entrance to what is known as an “Oubliette”- and it was, specifically, an entrance. Not an exit. It was located in the ceiling of a cell, built into the earth, and it was only ever opened so that prisoners could be thrown in and forgotten about. The Oubliette was part of the Palace Keep of a powerful kingdom, built into the courtyard where the only visitors it received were guards, and they were there only to toss either prisoners or bread through the grate. The Oubliette was where the worst of the Kingdom’s enemies were sent, and they were sent there to suffer and be forgotten. No pardons were ever given. No bodies were ever retrieved. There were many rooms within the Oubliette- it was an uncommonly large example of the form- containing many prisoners. But nobody was quite sure how many rooms, nor how many prisoners, there were. It had been built long ago, and the details of its layout and the prisoners who had been sent there have been- perhaps intentionally- lost to time. It was a place with a single purpose: to make it as if people had ceased to exist.

 

And then one day, somebody who had been plunged into the Oubliette to be lost and forgotten needed to be remembered. The specific details are somewhat tedious. Suffice to say, the Kingdom where the Oubliette was located was at war with one of their longterm rivals, and had recently captured a prominent heir to their enemy’s throne. In a fit of spite, the King had the captive Prince thrown into the Oubliette to be forgotten, believing that victory in the war was nearly theirs and hoping to destroy his rival’s legacy. Then, unexpectedly, a crucial supply line collapsed and the King’s army was cut off far from home. Plans fell apart, and a victory that had seemed certain suddenly seemed unlikely at the very best. On his advisor’s insistence, and much to his chagrin, the King conceded that the time had come to sue for peace. And the best bargaining chip they had was, of course, the heir to the rival throne.

 

For the first time in the Oubliette’s long and miserable history, a prisoner needed to return from the abyss. A group of the King’s finest soldiers were assembled and tasked with venturing into the Oubliette to find the Prince and bring him back to the surface. They didn’t know precisely the layout or the number of prisoners alive down there, but their objective was simple. Get in, find the Prince, get out. It was not simple. Five soldiers, clad in armour and carrying swords on their hips and flickering torches in their hands, pulled open the rusted grate and flung a rope down into the darkness. It was fifteen metres from ceiling to floor, and the light from the sun didn’t make it all the way down. As the coil of rope struck the stone floor, the soldiers heard the echoing sounds of stagnant water splashing and something scrabbling away at the stone floor. The five of them slowly lowered themselves down into the dark as their comrades closed the hatch above them, bolting it shut as the soldiers' boots splashed down in the damp floor of the Oubliette. 

 

The first thing the soldiers noticed was that the scrabbling sounds that they had heard were not that of curious prisoners, as they had assumed. It was rats, scurrying away from the sudden intrusion of light into their dark lair. Looking around at the ground, the soldiers could see why the rats were so attracted to this area: the remains of the food that the Palace servants tossed down into the Oubliette for the prisoners were all around them, rotting and gnawed at by the vermin. The stench was powerful- it was a fact that went mostly uncommented on that the area around the Oubliette’s hatch was home to an unpleasant odour, and this was seemingly the source. Nobody had ever wondered why, of course, as it was a dungeon for the worst the Kingdom had to offer. Of course it was unpleasant, it would defeat the purpose of such a place if it wasn’t. But the soldiers couldn’t help but wonder why there were no prisoners there to greet them, no wretches attempting to lunge for the rope or insist that they were innocent. Instead, the soldiers were alone but for the rats and the stench. And as the rope was pulled up behind them and three of the soldiers ventured out into the passages, leaving behind two of their comrades at the entrance, the odour only grew worse. They quickly found out why. Every passage they explored, every room they found, was encrusted in filth, a repulsive mixture of bodily waste and the occasional rotting rat carcass. It wasn’t as though the men had been expecting any level of hygiene, but this was a different level entirely. The whole place was like the worst, most putrid sewer in the world. And they still hadn’t seen any sign of the prisoners. The soldiers called out the Prince’s name as they walked, inspecting every nook and cranny, but no voices called out in response. The only sound they heard was the scrabbling of tiny claws, and the shrieking squeaks of rats in the distance. One of the men, however, insisted that he could hear voices among the squeaks and hisses, though he could not tell what they said. He returned to the entrance, where he complained to his comrades that his head had begun to ache, and reported that they had seen no sign of their quarry. The watchers above offered to send down a rope to get him out, but he insisted he was fine, and that he could take over the duty of watching the entrance, so the other two soldiers left to join the search while he remained in the entrance chamber.

 

The details of what happened in the Oubliette become less clear at this point. Roughly an hour after the grate was shut behind them, other members of the King’s guard called down to the man in the Oubliette, asking him how things were progressing. They received no reply. None of the five men who went looking for the Prince were ever seen again. They did not return, nor did the larger force who went down looking for them the next day. The only details of what became of them Museum Researchers were able to glean come from notes left by a soldier who happened to be literate, and brought his diary down into the Oubliette with him- seemingly out of fear that he would simply disappear like the first group had. Or perhaps he was a member of that first group- the details are a little hard to parse, partly due to the damage wrought upon the diary by the years, and partly due to what seems to be a deteriorating mental state. One note mentions being sent down into the dungeon to search for someone, whereas a later one mentions that the writer only just found the journal- both comments are clearly written by the same person. It is clear that, not long after they entered the Oubliette through the grate at your feet, the soldiers had no memory of how they got there. The rambling notes indicate that the soldiers became disoriented down in the passages of the Oubliette, fighting amongst one another and wandering aimlessly, their goal of finding the Prince and their lost comrades a distant memory. The only thing they found was the rats, and while at first the rats ran from the soldiers and the soldiers avoided the rats, before long they simply co-existed down in the dark. They ate the same scraps and lived in the same dank, dark tunnels. The writer of the journal mentions that they put out their torches, as the bright light hurt their eyes in the dark, but the notes continued despite the fact that they must have been written in the pitch black- although they had noticeably poorer penmanship. Much as they had once thrown men down into the darkness to be forgotten, it appeared that the soldiers were now forgetting the light, and who they had once been.

 

Meanwhile, in the palace above the Oubliette, the King grew impatient and fearful that the Prince would not be recovered, and that his enemy’s wrath would come down upon him. He ordered more men to journey into the Oubliette, but when he saw them hesitate he flew into a rage, lambasting the soldiers for their incompetence. He seized a torch and ordered the grate be opened so he could venture into the dark himself, to find the Prince and save the Kingdom. But as the men heaved open the rusted grate once more, a sound echoed up from below that no contemporary source described. But whatever they heard, it struck such a fear into the King’s heart that he immediately ordered the grate shut, and sealed, and paved over. And that the Oubliette itself, not just its inhabitants, was to be forgotten.

 

The final messages in the journal are largely incomprehensible. The most notable part, perhaps, is a change in the author’s pronouns. There is no longer any mention of “I”. It is only “We”. “We search”, “We feed”, “We Grow”. Beyond that, there are few real narrative details. What little there is, is more like descriptions of sensations: wet stones under bare feet, the smell of mud, the taste of flesh. The final thing that was written in the diary before it was lost or discarded, lodged under some stones, not to be found until Museum staff excavated the old Oubliette centuries later, appears to be a drawing. A roughly symmetrical geometric shape made up of a series of arcing lines emanating from a central point, it looks somewhat like a Mandala- albeit a rather shoddily made one. At first, Researchers were unsure what to make of it, but they now believe that they may have found an answer. 

 

If you wouldn’t mind, please step carefully around the grate and take a look at the object on the wall to your right just a little further down the hall. This rather grisly artifact is known as a Rat King. As you can see, it is composed of the desiccated remains of a dozen rats, the tips of their tails knotted and interwoven together. They appear in folklore in a number of regions, usually seen as an omen of bad things to come- and it is unclear whether or not they are naturally occurring. Almost certainly, not all Rat Kings are quote organic unquote, as hoaxes are easy to make and pretty much expected when it comes to artifacts as strange as this. But, similarly, the possibility that they could be naturally occurring also cannot be discounted. Suggestions of how this could happen usually involve the rats accidentally getting adhesive agents on their tails and binding them together in their sleep: simply a bizarre accident of the sort that can happen sometimes in a world as complex and strange as our own. 

 

And then, there is the third option. In which the rats bind themselves together intentionally, for some unknown purpose. 

 

This Rat King was not found in the Oubliette, however. Because in the remains of that dungeon, long after the King and all his men were slaughtered by their enemies out of revenge for the lost Prince, long after the Kingdom had fallen to ruin and the castle had fallen to rubble, long after the King’s name had been forgotten, not a single rat- nor even the remains of one- could be found. Just miles and miles of tunnels, stretching on and on beneath the earth, burrowing away and away and away.

 

The Beast Has Some Questions

 

Eagle:
Looks like we’re coming to the end of the toadstools. 

 

Guide:
Yes, the area up ahead looks much clearer than anywhere we’ve seen before. It does feel odd that this place has so many discrete biomes in such a small area, doesn’t it? 

 

Eagle:
Yeah, I’m not an… ecologist or whatever, but it certainly feels different to most other places I’ve been. 

 

Guide:

It certainly feels different to how most places have been… described to me.

 

Eagle:
Hm. Wait, where’s The Beast gone? It was just up ahead, anyone got eyes on it?

 

Guide:
I think it saw something off over- oh, here it comes! It’s got something in its mouth, I- ah. Oh dear.

 

Eagle:
Is that a…

 

[The beast scrambles over, making satisfied sounds with its mouth full]

 

THE BEAST:
Got you one of those things you like! 

 

Eagle:
Ah. Yeah, a… Jackalope.

 

THE BEAST:
Humans are too slow to catch em, I figure, so I saw one and grabbed it for you! Do you like it?

 

Guide:
Is it…

 

Eagle:
Yeah, it’s dead.

 

THE BEAST:
It should keep until suppertime, don’t worry. You can cook it if you want but they’re alright raw if you… what’s wrong.

 

Eagle:
Nothing, it’s… very thoughtful of you.

 

THE BEAST:
I do something wrong?

 

Guide:
No, it’s fine, it’s just… I think he probably would have preferred if the Jackalope was alive, rather than dead.

 

THE BEAST:

I saved him the effort!
 

Guide:
Well, I mean-

 

Eagle:
It’s fine. It’s a very nice gesture. I guess it probably tastes better than our rations…

 

THE BEAST:
Well there’s a whole bunch of them over this way, gimme a minute to-

 

Eagle:
No! That’s fine. We’re trying not to affect the local ecosystem too much while we’re here, so… One will do.

 

THE BEAST:
Oh. Okay. 

 

Guide:
[Quietly] I won’t mention this to the Head of Retrieval, don’t worry.

 

Eagle:
Heh. Thanks.

 

THE BEAST:

So you can be in lots of places at the same time, is that right?

 

Guide:
I… Kind of- it’s more like… so I can be downloaded into technological devices, and when I am they become part of my body. So, it’s not that I’m in multiple places, I’m just spread out. Like, my body is all those different machines, and they don’t have to be close to one another?

 

THE BEAST:
Does this make sense to you?

 

Eagle:
Not really, I mostly just roll with it.

 

THE BEAST:
Doesn’t it get confusing though? You’re in other places right now talking to other people, sounds like it would do my head in. 

 

Guide:
Well, at first it was difficult, but I got used to it pretty quick- and the processing power from every new device gets added to my network so in a way my capacity expands with my perception.

 

THE BEAST:
Yeah still doesn’t mean a thing to me. Do you have… I dunno, a place that’s your main place, though? You’re all spread out, your “body” is all these different things- how do you know where you begin or end?
 

Guide:
Well, I guess I’ve always got the Museum?

 

THE BEAST:
Ah yes- you said something about that before- what Museum was that again?

 

Guide:
Well, it’s called the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. 

 

THE BEAST:
That’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it?

 

Guide:
I actually think it nicely encapsulates the tone of the Museum and its contents-

 

THE BEAST:

I’ve already forgotten half of it.

 

Eagle:
Same.

 

Guide:

It- It’s The Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality.

 

THE BEAST:
Right. And that’s you?

 

Guide:

N-no! I’m the Audio Tour Guide for the Museum, I’m not the Museum itself.

 

THE BEAST:
Right… Except, you also, like, possess this... Mistholme. You’re downloaded there, or whatever you said.

 

Guide:
Well… Actually, the Museum is where I get downloaded from.

 

THE BEAST:
Oh. So that’s where you start out from, and everything else is an extra.

 

Guide:
I… disagree, but I can understand how-

 

THE BEAST:

So you are the Museum!

 

Guide:
No, I-

 

[The Beast breaks down laughing.]

 

Eagle:

Okay, that’ll do. Guide, you’ve got some learning to do about… socializing in general.

 

Guide:
OH. Oh. You were messing with me.

 

THE BEAST:
Just a bit of fun, I reckon we’ve gotten close enough for that eh?

Guide;
I- sure. Ok, that was actually pretty funny.

 

THE BEAST:
Ha! That’s the spirit! Now how’s about another story?

Guide:
Okay, sure. I know one. 


 

Security

CONTENT WARNINGS: Cannibalism, Death, Blood and Gore

Restoration:
The Head of Restoration clears her throat, takes a few deep breaths. 

Okay, Guide. I’m ready to begin.

 

Guide:
Very well. Let me know if you’d like to pause or take any of this again.

 

Restoration:
No, I don’t think that… We’ll doing this in one, Guide. One take. I may ramble, I may go a little off-topic but… I’m not talking about this twice.

 

Guide:
Yes, ma’am. Recording.

 

Restoration:
Approximately seven months ago, The Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality entered a state of Lockdown. This was a generalized alert across the entire Museum, including the Public area, the Staff Only area, and the Security area, allegedly in response to some kind of Alternatural Event. While it is entirely possible for an Alternatural Event to affect any part of the Museum, it is highly unlikely that one could ever impact all areas of the Museum at once- not least because the Security Department is phase-shifted from the rest of the Museum and laid over the top of it, allowing for Security Officers to respond to alerts throughout the rest of the Museum with a greater speed than would otherwise be possible. The fact that this Event was affecting the entire Museum at once did not become clear until well after all staff and Patrons had entered the shelters- with the exception of one Officer Brookes in the Auxiliary Security Monitoring Station and the Clockwork Mother in the Public area. Had we known, we might have behaved differently. Might have instead investigated further, discovered that Officer Brookes had, for unknown reasons, enacted a false Lockdown throughout the Museum, seemingly in league with a being known as The Man With A Voice Like Chocolate and Coffee and Honey All At Once. But, protocol dictated that we all enter the Shelters. Doing so has saved all our lives many times in the past, so we had no reason to hesitate. So all staff and patrons throughout the Museum entered their Shelters, and we did not return to the Museum for roughly Six Months. 

 

Nobody had a good time in the Shelters. Supplies were meager, food consisted of nothing but frozen meals, the facilities… insufficient. It was cramped and deeply unpleasant in just about every regard from the beginning, and we were trapped in there for several months before the Glassways opened and we were able to leave and explore the worlds on the other side- though that was not without its troubles, too. A number of people died during the Lockdown- whether due to medical conditions that the Shelter’s First Aid Kits could not treat, or due to creatures or phenomena beyond the Glassways… or by drowning the instant the Glassway opened, letting in torrents of water from the other side. 

 

But, it would be difficult to argue that anyone had a worse time than the members of the Security Department. 

 

The Security Department’s Alternatural Shelter is- was- much the same as every other Alternatural Shelter in the Museum. It was slightly larger, to accommodate the entire Security Department of sixty-three people- uhh, to clarify, while the Department is quite large it only requires one Shelter due to the fact that Officers are able to move around quite quickly via… actually, that’s too complicated to get into right now. Suffice to say, when the Lockdown began, the people of the Security Department entered their Shelter and awaited further instruction on how to deal with the Event. And, when no such instruction came, they were trapped inside like the rest of us. 

 

Around a week into Lockdown, their refrigeration unit broke down. Nobody in the Shelter had the requisite skills to repair it, even if they’d had the necessary parts. They had supplies to last them a full year, but with all of it defrosted… it became inedible by the end of the second week. The stench, of course, adding to the unpleasantness, although it pales in comparison to what came next. With no food, things deteriorated rapidly. Tensions rose, with the Head of Security struggling to maintain order. Conflict was common in the Alternatural Shelters during the Lockdown; it was a difficult situation and there simply wasn’t anywhere for people to go to avoid one another and cool off, but in Security… There was no food. And, Security Officers, they’re physical people, you see, so...fights broke out, and… it’s unclear, from interviews with Security Officers, who dealt the first killing blow, nor who was the first to die. It was several weeks into Lockdown- I understand it was a complex situation, and that they prefer not to think about it. But, once it happened, once there was a dead body lying on the ground in the Shelter, with all those starving people… 

 

Well. Suddenly, there was meat.

 

Some of the more desperate and… well, unhinged, of the Officers went right for the body, ripping it apart with their bare hands. Others became involved, either attempting to stop the madness that they were witnessing or… simply joining in, now that the seal had been broken. It became an orgy of violence, with over a dozen dying at the bare hands of their co-workers, their friends… and swiftly ceasing to be either, but rather a hunk of meat to be eaten raw. It… I’m sorry. After this first… incident, one would hope that perhaps the Head of Security would bring an end to this madness. But instead, he… systematized it, I suppose you could say. He established rules dictating how and when his fellow Security staff would be slaughtered for meat and devoured. Every few days, they would draw lots- one of the officers had brought in a pack of playing cards in a flagrant breach of regulations. The Head of Security drew a card from the deck, and read it out. Then, he would shuffle the deck, and deal a card to each Officer present. Then the Officer who received the wrong card… I’m assured it was quick. I cannot speak to the truth of that statement. They would repeat this until there was enough meat for everyone. Then, when people got hungry enough, usually a week or so later… They repeated this. 

 

I wish I could say that this… barbarism abated when the Glassways opened, but it did not. Whereas some other Shelters opened into forests, plains, or various other locations where the occupants could forage or even hunt for food, the Glassway in the Security Shelter opened to a beach, the other side of the Glassway appearing in the mother-of-pearl on the side of a huge clam shell, one of dozens that rested in the sand, empty and dead. Nobody from outside of Security has traversed that particular Glassway, for obvious reasons, but the Officers that have been interviewed describe it as pristine. Beautiful. Endless. And devoid of any life whatsoever. No fish in the sea, no crabs in the sand, no gulls in the sky. No sign of any more of the creatures that had left the enormous shells behind. Nothing. The beach stretched off into infinity in three directions, the sea calm and still all the way to the horizon in the fourth. 

 

The slim sense of order that the Security Department was maintaining up to this point could not withstand this… cosmic cruelty. The idea that, after two months stuck in the horrid, cramped, blood-stained shelter they could finally escape, only to find a place with no food, no shelter… nothing at all. It broke the remaining Officers. Up until this point, killing had been done only out of anger or for food- awful reasons, but reasons nonetheless. But on the beach, they simply killed. And killed. Until there was only one man left alive: The Head of Security. He was the strongest, the most capable of all of them, and he used that to his advantage to outlast them all. He was the only member of the entire department to survive until the end of Lockdown, subsisting on the flesh of his dead subordinates which he preserved by drying in the hot sun over the beach. We believe that he spent most of his time in the Shelter, out of the sun, in the subsequent months.  It didn’t matter, in the end. If he wasn’t in the shelter when the mirror broke, he was brought back when the Guide found the Wish Engine and brought the Lockdown to an end, opening the Shelter door at long last. 

 

And bringing all the members of the Security Department who had died at the Head of Security’s hands back to life. Suddenly, 62 dead Security Officers found themselves “Alive and Well”, in the Shelter that had been their prison, caked in their own blood, some of their bones still piled up against one wall. And they saw the Head of Security standing there, bewildered, a little bit of flesh stuck between his teeth.

 

The Head of Security was the last person to die in that Alternatural Shelter, torn apart by his subordinates, either as revenge or simply because they no longer knew anything else.

 

After the Lockdown was lifted, the absence of the Security Department was swiftly noted by myself and other members of staff. The Clockwork Mother, the only member of the Security Department to be found, was sent to investigate the department, as she was the only one with Security Clearance. It wasn’t until she personally escorted me to the Security Department that I truly accepted what she was saying. Scratch that, I still don’t believe it. Not really. How could I? How could they…

 

The surviving members of the Security Department were relieved of their duties and detained until we could figure out what to do with them. The events described herein are a stain upon the Museum’s history, and at risk of editorialisation… They will not be a part of the Museum’s history. They will not be discussed again, if it can be helped. End of Report.

 

Guide:
That must have been very difficult, Ma’am. You did well.

 

Restoration:
Thank you, Guide. Thank you. I appreciate that.

 

Guide:
Are there any alterations you would like to make to this report before I run the final mixdown?

 

Restoration:
No. I covered everything. I would prefer if this was a thing of the past, if I’m honest.

 

Guide:
Right, of course. Yes Ma’am.

 

Restoration:

...Guide?

Guide:
Uh. Yes? Ma’am?

 

Restoration:
I know you’re always here, that you’re part of the Museum now. But I’ve gotten to know you over these last weeks. I’ve already begun to pick up on your… idiosyncrasies. 

 

Guide:
Oh. I… see?

 

Restoration:
I can tell the difference between when you’re around, and when you’re lingering.

 

Guide:
Oh. 

 

Restoration:
Is there something you’d like to ask me, Guide?

Guide:
No, it’s fine. It’s just… Well, yes, actually, there is something.

 

Restoration:
What is it?

Guide:
Well. It’s just a little thing. Well, not that… You know, you wrapped up the story pretty quickly- and I understand why! It’s horrible to think about, what your friends went through, what they did. But, well… I think you may have missed something.

 

Restoration:
Oh? What’s that?

 

Guide:
Well, you mention that the surviving- or, revived, really- members of Security were detained. But you didn’t say what happened to them. Where they are now, what was, well, done with them. And I know, I should know, I’m the Museum, I should know what goes on inside of, uh, me, but come to think of it I actually don’t know what happened to the Security Department. There was a lot going on, I guess it just slipped me by somehow, so-

 

Restoration:
That will do, Guide. You’re mistaken. I didn’t miss anything. It is accurate to end the Report by stating that the Revived Security Officers were detained.

 

Guide:
Oh. Oh?

 

Restoration:
They were detained. And they’re still here.

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