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Episode Forty: NOWHERE

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 Gig Economies that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.

 

Collars

 

CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, Religion, Human Sacrifice, Unpersoning

 

In the Mistholme Museum there are a pair of busts, sitting on a plinth in a quiet corridor. Around their necks are primitive iron collars. There is the faintest impression that there was once an engraved marking on the front, but it has worn away with time. At the back of one collar, there is a bolt, fused together, which holds the collar shut; at the back of the other, you can see that there is a segment missing, as if it was once shattered. These collars, and many more like them, were worn centuries ago by select members of the tribe that made them, for a ritual in which they trekked far from home in order to beg for boons from their gods.

The individual who was selected for the ritual was called the Blòta. The Blòta had no other name; they had no gender, or family, or any other form of identity or history. From the moment they were chosen as Blòta, they were simply the Blòta, and everything else about them no longer existed. It would remain that way until the ritual was complete: upon the successful conclusion of the Blòta’s journey, their collar would be removed and their name would be inscribed into the town’s eternal book, along with a list of the deeds and virtues that had led to their selection as Blòta. Life in this time was short, and harsh, and cruel, but those who successfully completed the ritual of the Blòta would gain the immortality of the gods, as they lived forever in the memories of generations to come.

The ritual was conducted every year, at midwinter, in order to beseech the gods for good fortune and harvest in the year to come. If the gods found the Blòta to be acceptable, the crops would be good, and the people of the tribe would be safe, and so it was a position of great importance and respect among the people. Many strove to be selected by the town seer as the Blòta, based on their deeds in life and their faithfulness in the gods, but there could be only one. The Blòta whose story we will follow wore one of these collars. Upon selection, there was a brief ritual wherein the collar was placed around their neck, the shackle locked, and then sealed shut with extreme heat that caused some not insignificant burning to the back of the Blòta’s neck. The Blòta was silent throughout this process, as was expected, as any cries of pain or protest would surely be seen as a protest against the gods themselves. Then, the Blòta was blessed by the town Elder, and instructed to leave. There was little ceremony: the Blòta had not yet completed the ritual, after all, and so there was little to celebrate. Outside the Elder’s hut, the Blòta met their guard. There does not appear to be a special name for the guard, nor is there much significance attributed to their crucial role in the ritual. The guard’s purpose was to accompany the Blòta along the journey, protecting them if need be with the huge greatsword given to them at the beginning of the quest, and ultimately make sure that the ritual was complete. Before leaving the village, the Blòta and the Guard paid their respects at the shrine to the Blòtas that had come before. Tall metal spires rose from the ground, and around each were the collars of Blòtas who had completed their rituals in years past. If all went well, there would soon be one more.

The journey was long and arduous, and many considered it to be a part of the ritual itself. If the ritual was easy, it would have less meaning, and do less to prove the dedication of the village to the gods. The Blòta and their Guard descended the mountain where their village was located and began making their way through the grasslands and hills that lay beneath. This was the first time the Blòta had left the village, and as a result the barrage of new sights and sounds and smells was almost overwhelming. The Guard, on the other hand, had been trained in the outside world for precisely this purpose. The Guard knew that the world beyond the village was full of beauty, but also with danger. As the Blòta’s hand ran through some long grass, the Guard’s whipped out to grab the snake the Blòta had failed to notice. At a creek the pair needed to cross, while the Guard waded across, checking the water for depth and hidden hazards, the Blòta pouted and complained about having to get their trousers wet when there were some perfectly good slick rocks they could be jumping across instead. As they picked their way through a dense forest, the Guard made sure they both ate only the dry, bland rations they had brought with them, as opposed to all the fun and colourful mushrooms the Blòta was finding. As lovely as it was to see the Blòta enjoying the wonders of the world beyond their village, it was something of a pain for the Guard, as they seemed almost determined to put themself in danger through their curiosity and ignorance.

And yet, they grew close over the weeks that they traveled together. As they sheltered from the rain in a dank cave or hid from a pack of plainsbeasts that had caught their scent, the presence of the Guard brought great comfort to the Blòta, and in turn the Guard relished the sense of honour and duty that came with their task, of having the life not just of the Blòta but- via the ritual- the entire village in their hands. But it was more than just duty that drove the Guard onwards. The delight the Blòta had in the tiny things the Guard took for granted was infectious, and with every day that passed the world seemed more beautiful because that was how the Blòta made it seem. And so it was more than just a sense of duty that drove the Guard’s concern when the Blòta’s energy began to fade, as the journey and its perils took their toll on their inexperienced body and the wound they had received when the collar was attached became infected. The pair’s pace slowed, and it was only through the medicinal knowledge the guard had received as part of their training that the Blòta was able to survive at all. But, secretly it was only through the Blòta’s constant joy that the Guard was able to push forward despite what they knew to be increasing danger. The closer they got to their goal, the further they pushed into bear country, and the Guard was unnerved to see signs that there were some still active well past the point they should have been hibernating. It must have been a difficult autumn, and any bears that were active now would surely be desperate for food. The Guard hid this from the Blòta, however. No need for both of them to be fearful.

Eventually, they came to the base of the mountain that was their destination, on the far side of the great stretch of valleys and plains and forests that separated it from the mountain they called home. Far above their heads, they could just make out the precipice that was their destination; mercifully not the peak, but still a long ways up. The exhausted Blòta gazed at the climb ahead of them, the wonder of the mountain’s natural beauty thoroughly overpowered by the misery that lay ahead. The Guard saw the expression on the Blòta’s face and, seeking to lighten the mood, made a joke about leaving their climbing shoes at home, and that they’d need to go back. The Blòta’s laughter could have been heard from the mountain’s peak.

They climbed for days. For some sections of the journey up the mountain there were easy paths to follow; for others, the pair were forced to climb sheer cliff faces freehand. Twice, the Guard saved the Blòta from falling. Once, the Blòta did the same in return. The Blòta’s energy was fading, but their commitment to their duty was not, and finally the pair found themselves at the base of a slope, leading up to the outcropping that was their destination. The Blòta and the Guard looked at the slope, then each other. They smiled, and began the final part of their journey.

They were halfway to the top when a dark blur rushed out from behind an icy boulder and tackled the Blòta to the ground, snarling and breathing hot air on their face. The Guard spun, and saw a bear crouching on top of the Blòta, pinning them down and rearing back to unleash a fatal strike. In an instant the Guard’s greatsword was drawn, and swung mightily at the bear’s flank. The bear flinched away and deflected the attack with its paw, retreating back a few paces. The Blòta gasped as the weight of the beast was lifted, crawling away up the icy slope. The Guard rushed forward, pushing the Blòta away and shouting a command to run. The bear roared with fury and prepared to lunge again, but the Guard was already charging towards it, swinging the sword and howling a battle cry. The Blòta didn’t see any more, as they were scrambling up the rise toward the conclusion of their long journey. As the sounds of battle faded away below, the Blòta reached the top of the slope and was almost blinded with the light of the setting sun. Shielding their eyes, the Blòta stood, and looked around at the ritual site. It was a small plateau, filled with the iconography of the village’s faith: symbols etched in the cliff face, carved effigies of the gods. But the most important part of the ritual site was not something made by humans: it was created by the gods themselves. The Blòta gazed over the edge of the outcropping, at the world spread out below. From here, the entirety of the journey the pair had taken could be seen: the hills, the plains, the forests. It was all there, spread out like the most incredible and wondrous of patchwork quilts. It was, in the words of the Elder, a complete summation of the work of the gods. Everything they were, and that they had created, was visible below. The journey had been long, and hard, and frequently terrifying. But looking at this view, the Blòta knew that the gods deserved such tribute and more.

The sound of footsteps, crunching in the snow, approached from behind. The Blòta turned, and saw the Guard- bleeding from a wound to the shoulder, but alive- clutching the blood slicked greatsword. They locked eyes for a moment, and the Blòta began preparing for the ritual, clearing away the snow and debris that had built up since the last time it had been performed, revealing the spiral pattern engraved in the centre of the plateau. The Guard cleared their throat, and began to speak, but the Blòta shushed them as they got in position for the ritual to begin. The Guard paused, then bowed their head. The Blòta knelt facing the setting sun and, just as it began to dip beneath the mountain that their people called home, said a quiet prayer of respect and thanks to the gods. The sun’s setting rays glinted softly off the metal collar as the Blòta bowed their head.

The Guard’s greatsword sliced through the Blòta’s neck in one clean stroke. The head and body fell to the rocky ground separately, the collar making a soft clanging noise as it slid off the base of the neck. The sun’s final light reflected in the blood of the Blòta as it flowed away, spiraling outward following the path of the engraving and eventually flowing over the edge of the cliff. The Guard watched, tears welling in their eyes, for a moment. Then the sun was finally obscured by the distant mountain, and the light faded. Wordlessly, the Guard picked up the collar and began the journey home.

The people of the village were overjoyed with the news that the ritual had been performed successfully, and all celebrated and looked forward to the year of prosperity that lay ahead. The Blòta’s name was inscribed in the village book, and their collar was added to the monument. Everyone in the village knew the Blòta’s name, and the great deeds and virtues they had fulfilled in life, and they praised them for the sacrifice they had made for the betterment of them all. And when the crop failed due to blight, the whole town knew of their falseness. Of how they had tricked the whole town into letting them become a Blòta, and how their sacrifice had angered the gods. The Elder struck their name from the Village Book, and shattered their collar, and demanded that all were to remember the Blòta only as a heretic, and nothing more. The people acquiesced, and the person who had once been a joyful part of their lives was gone forever.

The Blòta’s Guard did not forget, however. They knew better than to believe that the Blòta had been false, that their sacrifice had displeased the gods. They didn’t fully understand what had happened, nor why the crop had failed. But they knew that the Blòta had been as pure as anyone in the entire world. So the Guard dedicated a great deal of the rest of their life to the church, aiming to climb through the ranks and gain enough standing that they would be permitted to learn to read and write. And then, with the knowledge granted by the church itself, they defied the church’s order in order to make sure that the Blòta would not be forgotten, by writing their own version of events, chronicling the story of the life their companion had had before becoming the Blòta.

And the funny thing is, we have that account- some of it, anyway, as a lot has been so degraded by the intervening years as to be illegible- but we have been unable to find any trace of that village’s book. We remember the Blòta, and now so do you.

And so, they’ll never truly die.

THE BEAST:

Lovely story that, Mistholme, very melancholy.

Guide:

Thank you.

THE BEAST:

And somewhat pointed? Considering recent events? [beat] Hm. I am sorry the way things had to go, Mistholme.

Guide:

They didn’t have to go this way. You didn’t have to-

THE BEAST:

Nah. No two ways about it, little one. One day you’ll understand.

Guide:

Understand what? Deceiving people? Making them think they’re your friends then… eating them?

THE BEAST:

I do feel bad, really. But sometimes you gotta do bad things to do the right thing.

Guide:

The right thing. What are you talking about?

THE BEAST:

Loyalty. I owe my life to my friend. I’d do anything. Honour be damned. That’s what loyalty is.

Guide:

Ha. You know, a few days ago you said “Folks aren’t always what they appear”. This is what you meant, isn’t it? That you’re not just a dumb beast because you’re loyal. Because you love your “friend”.

THE BEAST:

Ahh. You get it.

Guide:

Yeah. I do. But do you know something, Beast? Sometimes folks are exactly what they appear to be. And blind loyalty to the first person who ever showed you kindness, no matter what, is exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from a dumb animal.

THE BEAST:

Several seconds of silence

You told your people back at the Museum what I told you to? They sending me some more snacks?

Guide:

Yes. They’re prepping to send a second team as we speak.

THE BEAST:

Good. You’ll be quiet now, Mistholme. I’m gonna take a nap.

Guide:

I live to serve.

 

Return

Restoration:

You’re sure about this, Guide?

Guide:

Absolutely. I owe it to them.

Restoration:

I… It’s not your fault, what happened to them. You don’t need to… I’m not good at this sort of thing. What I mean is, you don’t need to take it all on yourself. We all want to find the Curator. Raptor Team knew the risks, I’m sure they died well.

Guide:

I know that. But I think this is the best shot we have. And I want to do everything I can to make sure they didn’t die in vain.

Restoration:

Well, okay. Here she comes now. Now you twe be careful, I only just finished fixing her up.

Guide:

Don’t worry, ma’am. There’s nobody in the world I trust more than her. Downloading now.

Retrieval:

Okay, we’re all good to go here. The Clockwork Mother’s all set?

 

Guide:

Yes, the Restoration Department made some repairs to her vocal array so I’ll be able to speak through her… uhh, speakers. Testing. Do you hear my voice coming from the Mother?

Retrieval:

Yep. That’s… Disconcerting. How about yourself, Mother? All good?

Guide:

She says yes, she’s ready.

Retrieval:

Really gotta get around to learning to sign. Okay, now we’ll be sealing the Shelter as soon as you’re in there. We know that the world on the other side of the Glassway is dangerous, so you understand we’re not keen to let anything through if we can help it.

Guide:

Understood.

Restoration:

Well. Good luck to both of you. Stay safe out there.

Guide:

Hm. You too, ma’am. [Footsteps. The door to the Shelter closes] Thank you so much for coming along on this, Mother. Did you get a chance to say goodbye to your daughter? Of course. Sorry. It’ll all… make sense. You managed to get the bracelet! Great. That’ll really help. Okay, traversing Glassway 601 in 3… 2… 1…

Glassway Traversal Sound

Okay! Mother, stop! I need to explain. There’s a thing here, it’s just called The Beast. It tricked me- all of us. It’s working for the Man with the Voice. It killed Eagle- all of them. It figured out my Name, and it’s controlling me. I can’t tell any humans or anyone in the Museum what really happened, but it doesn’t know about you, so I had to bring you through here under the pretence of us going to look for the Curator to get around that. So now we have to go back through the Glassway and warn the Museum before they send any more people through into a trap. YES. I can’t believe that worked, I wasn’t sure if that loophole would work but the wording was specific enough that I could get around it. It’s just an animal after all. Hm? No I’m fine, Mother- well, I’m not fine, I’m pissed off. But… I’ve had worse, I guess. Getting hurt’s part of being alive. I won’t let that thing change who I am. Ha! Yeah, actually that does sound good. You and me here hunting that thing. I bet we could get a few licks in. But… no. For now, what’s important is that we go back through the Glassway so you can warn the others, I can’t-

Mysterious Voice:

You’ll be doing no such thing.

Guide:

Who said that?

 

Mysterious Voice:

That would be me. Don’t try anything stupid now, we have you surrounded of course.

Guide:

All around the Guide and the Clockwork Mother, figures stepped out from behind trees. Dressed in strange clothing with ornate bows trained on the Mother’s chest, they were some of the most peculiar and yet oddly beautiful individuals the Guide had ever- Woah, uh, never mind that. Uhh, please! We mean you no harm. We actually want to leave your… realm, and never return! So if you don’t mind, we’ll just go back through the-

Mysterious Voice:

Oh, we cannot abide such a thing I’m afraid. Once, your kind entered our wood and we took it as an impoliteness. Twice, you entered our wood and we took it as an affront. But thrice… Thrice you entered our wood, and sealed your fate. We cannot abide such a breach of our laws, and so your lives are now forfeit. Come with us, or be slain where you stand.

Guide:

Mother they don’t know about the Bracelet, we could… no. No, we’re not here to fight. Maybe they know something about the Man- this could be an opportunity… Sir! Please, we will gladly surrender ourselves, but please- just let us back through the-

Mysterious Voice:

You will surrender or you will perish.

Guide:

Damn it. Fine, okay. We surrender.

Mysterious Voice:

Good. Now, hands in the air.

Guide:

Mother, do as he says. Mother? Mother can you- what’s wrong?

Uproarious laughter from all around

Mysterious Voice:

The poor thing didn’t even realise it couldn’t move all this time. We do not leave such things to chance, Creature of Metal. But I would have liked to see you try.

Guide:

Oh no. I’m sorry, Mother, I’m sorry I’ve gotten you into this. We’ve still got the bracelet, so they can’t-

Mysterious Voice:

That thing around its wrist is enchanted. Take it off.

Guide:

Oops. Oh no. Uh. Where are you taking us? If you don’t mind me asking?

Mysterious Voice:

Where else, Metal Creature? We’re taking you to meet the Queen.

Guide:

Oh what have we gotten into now…

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