Episode Twenty-Four: ELEMENTAL
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 Rapid-Onset Entropy that may occur during your visit.
Enjoy your tour.
And Good Luck.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death (Historical, Accidental)
There is a place in the middle of rocky forest called The Strid. From afar- or even up close- it looks for all the world like a perfectly normal stream, bubbling its way down a rocky slope as it makes its way inexorably toward the sea as all streams inevitably do. It is a short section of a much longer river, and unless you knew its history you’d likely think that it looks like a fine enough place to swim in, or to easily wade through and continue on your way if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere on the other side. This would be the last mistake you ever make. The water in the tank before you was collected from that fateful place. It roils and bubbles and swirls, all of its own accord. You might think that there is some hidden device or mechanism to produce such an effect, but I swear that isn’t the case- Guide’s Honour.
Many people have lost their lives in the tumultuous waters of The Strid over the centuries, and it has well-earned its reputation as the deadliest stretch of water in the world. It’s calm and inviting appearance is a trick, luring the unsuspecting and curious to their deaths in its surprisingly deep waters, whether by drowning or by being dashed against the many rocks hidden below the surface. It is said that nobody who has ever fallen into The Strid has ever survived, although this is impossible to verify. The commonly accepted explanation for this is simple: a short distance upriver, the banks are much farther apart, revealing this small stream to actually be part of a large, fast-flowing river. At a point, the river narrows and deepens, hidden beneath the eroded edges of the bank, effectively turning on its side. Without forewarning, it is all but impossible to know the true nature of The Strid until it is too late.
The True Nature of The Strid, however, is unknown to even those who know of its dangers. Even to us here at the Museum. Certainly, we have a better idea than those who think it is merely a particularly unfortunately formed river, but still… We do not understand why its waters roil as they do even without the current of the river itself. Not all the water taken from The Strid behaves like this in isolation, so you can’t just go down to the water’s edge with a jar to test this for yourself- in fact, we would like to reinforce that going anywhere near the edge of The Strid is incredibly dangerous and absolutely not something you should do. But some of that water has a… presence to it. An anger. It swirls and crashes about without any physical impetus for doing so. Some have observed that the water in this tank seems almost angry that it is being contained in this way, and looking at it now it’s hard to disagree. There is something in the waters of The Strid that wants you to fall in, so it can wreak its terrible vengeance on you and send your remains floating away downstream, lost in the underwater currents. It has been this way for as long as human beings have lived in the area, and will likely continue after they are gone.
Testing has found no explanation for the behaviour of the Stridwater. Some have hypothesised that the area is cursed, or possessed by a vengeful spirit. Others, that the Stridwater is an Alternatural Being that is simply beyond our current understanding- heh, current, sorry. And others still, that the Strid was not always this way. That it started out, many centuries ago, as an unfortunately formed stretch of river that claimed the lives of those who tread in it. And that, over time, as more and more souls were lost and more and more blood mingled with the waters of The Strid… that of course all that suffering would lead to something more. How could it not?
The question that nobody likes to ask, of course, is why the Stridwater is so localised? Most water on Earth is part of a single colossal, unfathomably interconnected ecosystem. The water that flows through the section of river we call The Strid will travel all over the world an infinite number of times until the earth is no more, reaching the sea and evaporating and raining down and being drunk and so on and so forth, forever. When you drink the water that comes from your tap at home, was that once part of The Strid? Is it still, in some way?
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death (Supernatural), Body Horror
Is it just me, or is there something… off about the air in this corridor? It’s almost thick somehow. Maybe it’s just humid? Indoors. The Air filters must have failed or something. I think it’s probably for the best that neither one of us needs to breathe, though, because- Ah. Is that… grass growing out of the floor up ahead? Maybe we should take another route- oh ok I guess we’re going this way. Look I know that it’s kind of your job to keep the Museum safe but maybe we could look at the bigger picture here-
Oh! Oh my… This is quite the sight isn’t it. Certainly not how it’s supposed to be here, butbutbut-
The corridor stretched before them, with branching pathways on either side leading to other corridors and other places throughout the Museum. It should have been an utterly unremarkable place, with grey tiled floors and off-white walls, and stark bright lighting. But the trees made sure it was anything but unremarkable. They grew from the tiles, and though the tiles could barely be seen through the thick layer of grass and moss and assorted undergrowth it was plain to see that they were not being forced aside or broken by the intrusion of the trees: it was as if the tiles were soil, and that growing from them was a perfectly natural thing for trees to do. The tops of the trees brushed against the ceiling, blocking out the majority of the light and reducing it to a dull haze. From somewhere far off, the sounds of insects chirping and larger creatures rustling through the scrub could be heard, and the air- thick with humidity and the smells of nature- hung heavily around them. In all, it was all but indistinguishable from the sensation of being lost, somewhere in the middle of a dense tropical forestforestforest-
Sorry. Ugh. It happened again, that “looking at myself from outside” feeling. I think that… Hmm. Give me a moment to check my databanks, I have a feeling… Yes! Oh. I see, that could be an issue. Mother, I think that dealing with this might be a bit beyond either one of us. Trust me. Let’s just do our best to pick our way through the trees and get to where we’re going, better to leave this to the professionals. Oh dear, I wonder how much of this floor they’ve overtaken… Just, let’s keep going. I’ll explain what’s going on here along the way.
This is part of an exhibit based around a forest- well obviously. It seems like it’s gotten a bit out of control without upkeep from the Patronage Department. Add it to the list. You see, this isn’t just a collection of trees and plants and maybe some animals you can occasionally hear but never see. This is a forest. It’s an ecosystem. It is very much alive.
Around a thousand years ago, the people of an ancient and proud land discovered a new island far to the west, filled with resources and potential for a new beginning. Among the many people who joined the great rush to colonise the new land were those who believed that this new land was that of the gods, or perhaps that it was a gift from the gods, or that it was simply a place where their pasts would not follow them. Dozens of settlers made the long and dangerous journey across the sea, braving storms and colossal waves that threatened to cast them all to the ocean floor, all because they believed in this new land. Eventually, after weeks at sea, their new home was sighted, and it was every bit as verdant and wondrous as they had been promised. The trees towered higher than mountains, and the fields overflowed with wild grass and flowers. The people of this new colony departed their boats and broke them down for wood, and trekked across the island until they found a suitable spot for their settlement to begin- though they were somewhat spoiled for choice. Eventually, they found a spot near a river, on the edge of a wild and ancient forest, and in the shadow of the trees they fashioned the remains of their boats into lean-tos for shelter and pens for the animals they had brought. For the time being, comfort could wait. Their first priority had to be honouring the gods.
On the second day in their new settlement, some men went out into the forest, axes in hand, and picked out some of the best, sturdiest, oldest trees they could find. They felled them, and dragged them back to the settlement, and the people of this new world set about building a temple, to honour and thank the gods for their bounty. The pious folk worked tirelessly, for many long hours, and when the work was finally done they performed their rituals and fed the ground with blood, and reveled around a huge bonfire fed with wood from their new home. They awoke the next morning and began the process of building up the rest of their village. They would need a longhouse, and homes, and other buildings if they were to survive the coming winter and beyond. They were not worried, however. The gods would provide. As the sun rose, more men ventured into the old forest and found some more tall, proud trees, which would provide the wood that would soon be their home. One of the men, who had been in the logging party the day before, noted with confusion that he could not find the stumps of the trees they had taken yesterday, even though he was quite certain they were in the same spot. His fellows simply laughed, and teased him for still being drunk from the previous night’s celebrations.
By the end of the first week the settlers had no option but to admit that he was right. Every tree they felled regrew overnight. Sometimes there were even two, where there had been only one the day before. There was initially some unease about this from the villagers, that there were powers at work that they didn’t understand. But the Elder of the village calmed their fears: clearly this was another gift from the gods! They had risked their lives, sacrificed everything they had ever known, to come here to honour the gods, and now they were rewarded with an endless supply of timber for building and heat. The villagers should be grateful that they were so beloved by the gods! And they were. The people redoubled their rituals and went about the business of building up their village with renewed fervour. But in the minds of a handful of the most devout settlers, the seeds of doubt were beginning to form. What if this was the land of the gods- and they were trespassing. What if the reason the trees were replaced faster than they could be cut down was that the gods had a plan, or even just a preference, for how the forest should be, and the settlers were interfering with it?
The village Elder dismissed these questions as foolish, and insisted that the trees were a gift from the gods, but the thought had already taken root, and much like the trees of the forest it would not go away, no matter how hard the Elder tried. As the building efforts ramped up and more trees were felled, a movement began to grow among the other villagers, calling for the logging to cease, lest they anger the gods further. Eventually, the Elder had no choice but to find a compromise. He declared that, for one day a week, they were to cease all logging as a way of showing deference to the gods, and thank them for the bounty they had brought. It was not a perfect solution, as the logging would continue, but there were still many people in the settlement who were without homes, and with winter approaching there was a need for more wood. They could not stop logging. But they could show their respect. The people were satisfied, at least, that progress was being made, and so the next day- for the first time since they had begun building their settlement weeks ago- no trees were felled, and rituals of gratitude were given to the gods.
The next morning, as the woodsmen approached the forest to continue their work, they found that it was several metres closer to the village than it had been before. A whole new line of trees had sprung up along what had previously been the forest’s edge, and despite being only hours old the woodsmen would have sworn they had been there for decades.
Both sides of the rapidly growing divide in the village believed that this was proof that they were right. Those who wanted to cease logging claimed that the gods were offering them even more trees to fell- clearly they wanted the logging to continue! Why else would they respond to their logging by supplying them with more trees to log? Because, the dissenters responded, they were trying to make up for the damage the settlers had already done. They were in the land of the gods, and they were doing everything they could to despoil it. Of course the gods would try to tip the balance back in the right direction. Though debate raged on for days, nothing close to an agreement was ever reached. And one week later, when the people once again refrained from cutting down any trees, they woke to find that the forest had grown even more. As the settlers stood at the edge of their village, eyeing the forest warily, a child knelt down and picked up a stone, hurling it at the encroaching woods. It vanished into the treeline, and the child’s mother scolded him, bundling him back into their house, casting fearful looks back at the monolithic trees as she went.
The Elder held a meeting that day, and implored his people to see reason. If things went on like this the village would be overrun by trees in only a few months. Surely the gods did not want them to abandon their homes to the trees, after they had been shown such favour up til now? The trees were there for them to take- how could the people fail to see that? Though his words swayed some who still believed in his wisdom, fear of the gods wrath had taken hold of many hearts in the village. They did not want to lose their homes to the forest, but surely nothing good could come from angering the gods? No progress was made that day, and at the dawn of the seventh day the people ceased their logging activities and prepared for a day of gratitude at the temple. The people looked to the Elder, and waited for him to begin the ceremony. From his place at the head of the crowd, the Elder looked out at his people. Then, he walked through the crowd, out the door, into the morning light. After a moment’s confusion, the villagers followed him, out through the middle of town and toward the forest. It didn’t take long for people to realise what his intentions were, once he picked up an axe that had been lying near the edge of the settlement. Cries of outrage and fear went up among the crowd, but nobody dared to interfere with the work of the Elder- for all their disagreements, they respected him too much for that. It didn’t take him long to reach the forest, and despite his age it didn’t take him long to chop through the trunk of a sturdy tree, stepping nimbly out of the way as it came crashing to the ground. The Elder stared out at the horrified villagers, and with a final swing embedded the axe into the fallen tree. Then, he strode back through the crowd to his home, and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving his people to spend the rest of their holy day in unease and fear.
It was only a few hours into the following day that his absence was noticed. An attendant knocked on his door to rouse him for a meal, but heard no response. She entered, and a few moments later drew the attention of the entire village with her screams. The brave souls who entered the Elder’s home found that he was still in bed. And, growing up from the floorboards, piercing through the bed and the Elder’s chest, was a tree. Its leaves brushed gently against the roof of the house as the people marveled at the sight with a mixture of horror and awe. And it was decided, without words, that the tree that the Elder had felled would be the last. As one, the people of the village apologised for their transgressions, and swore to live in harmony with the land of the gods, as they were clearly intended.
A few weeks later, the treeline breached the edge of the town. One villager awoke to find their house had a tree growing right out of the floorboards, though she was simply grateful that the gods had not grown it under her bed. Eventually, every building in the village had at least one tree growing from the floorboards. And not a complaint was made. As the weeks went by, the village was slowly consumed by the forest, until eventually the edge of the treeline had passed the village and the forest was all that could be seen in any direction. Every day the villagers gave thanks at the temple, now encased in a grove of trees, for the bounty the gods had given them, though they had forsworn ever partaking in it. Nobody worried about what would happen when the winter came. The gods would provide.
It is unclear when the people of the village began disappearing into the forest, nor why they did so. The person who gave the account this exhibit is based on claims to have only noticed when the village reached around half of its initial population. It is unclear if they willingly walked into the forest, or if they simply disappeared from their beds in the night. But at the end of every week, when the time came to give thanks at the temple, there were fewer and fewer people there. Until finally, only one man remained. He stood in the centre of the temple and looked around at the trees that grew from the wooden floor. He wondered to himself what the gods had truly intended. Whether the fate of the village had been a reward or a punishment, if the gods were pleased or angry. He wondered if he would ever know.
Something drew his attention to the floor beneath his feet. He looked down, and saw a tiny green shoot sprouting from the wood. As he stood still, it grew before his eyes, rapidly changing from a sprout to a sapling to a small tree. He cried out in some combination of pain and joy as the tree began to pierce into his body, its growth accelerating as it spread through his body until it burst through the crown of his head, branches punching out through his chest, his arms sprouting leaves, his hair turning to moss. And he lived through it all, experiencing every excruciating, euphoric moment of it as he ceased to be a human and became something more. A monument to the gods.
It was in this form that Retrieval Agents eventually located him, and learned of the fate of the village, roughly one thousand years later. The forest had grown even larger, and there was no trace of the village left. But the tree with the face of a man remained. He was still alive, technically. And still full of rapturous love for the gods who had made him this way. He told the agents the story of the village, and of the glory of the gods. And when the agents asked if the gods would mind if they took some samples back to the museum with them, he smiled, and half a dozen saplings sprouted from the ground around his trunk. And he said that the gods would like that very much.
So, as you can see, the quote gods unquote may have had a plan in mind when they allowed those agents to take the saplings home. They were planted in a special sealed room and tended to by a special detachment from the Patronage Department, tasked with both caring for the trees and with getting rid of any new ones that appeared overnight. Unfortunately, that’s obviously not been possible during Lockdown so… I’m not really sure what they’ll do about it once things get back to normal. Glad it’s not my responsibility, I’ll tell you what.
Ah, we’ve reached the end of the trees. Well done, Mother. Hopefully that’s the strangest obstacle we’ll face down here. Oh dear, I hope I haven’t just jinxed us…
Head Of Restoration Message Four
[The Static returns]
Oh, here we go again.
Hello. This is the Head of Restoration for the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. Can you hear me, Guide?
Yes. Hello again. I hope everything’s going well wherever you are?
Creatures attacked us in the night. We have three dead, several more wounded.
Oh. Oh my goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t-
It’s fine. They’ve come before, this was just a particularly bad attack. If we had medical supplies we might have been able to save everyone, but apparently those didn’t make it onto the supply manifest for the Alternatural Event Shelters. I’ve added that to the list of things that will need to change once this is all over.
Yes. That sounds like a good idea.
Have you found anyone in the Museum?
No. I’m afraid not.
Blast. Keep looking, you just need to find one Staff Member and we’ll be able to turn all of this around.
If you don’t mind my asking, why is it so important to me that you find a human?
snort It’s not important to me, it’s a necessity. You told me that the Officer in the Monitoring Station is dead. Said Officer is the only person outside of the Security Department itself with the authority to enact and rescind Lockdowns. Protocol dictates that, with his death, said authority was granted to another Staff Member somewhere inside the Museum. There’s a chain of succession I suppose you’d call it. It makes sure that there’s always someone, somewhere in the Museum with the authority to take control.
Oh. And… What happens if there isn’t a Staff Member in the Museum to receive that authority?
sigh I think that’s supposed to be unthinkable. And yet here we are. And so I have a horrible feeling that there isn’t a contingency.
This is… beyond a worst-case scenario. This is a perfect storm. It’s hard to believe it could have happened by coincidence, two separate Alternatural Events occurring in both the Museum and the Security Department, the Officer in the Monitoring Station dying. It beggars belief. So that’s why I need you to find someone. Neither you nor the Clockwork Mother are technically Museum Staff- you’re more of a tool, and the Mother… she’s some sort of grey area between tool and exhibit. Neither of you is in the chain of succession. So if you don’t find someone, we’re going to be stuck here. The same goes for the people from the other shelters, wherever they are.
I understand. But, I’m telling you… there isn’t anyone here. Everyone is gone!
You can’t possibly be sure of that! You just need to keep looking,
No, listen to me. I can see through every camera in the whole Museum. There’s nobody here. I promise. We’re going to have to find some other way to-
Wait. What was that. What do you mean, “I can see through every camera”?
Oh. That. Well, uhh, you see. Mother and I had some trouble responding to your calls, so we had to take some drastic measures.
I’ve… I’m in the Museum’s Mainframe now. I have control of the systems. I… I am the Museum.
I know, it was a real last ditch sort of thing, you know how bad the situation is. We had to do something, and- [The Static fades] Hello? Hello, are you there?
Mother, I think we’re in trouble.