Transcript – Dire Fright

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Nineteen: Dire Fright

[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]

This is the memory of Thomak Athran. Orklin, aged seventy two, identified as ma-

[A door opens while Paxton speaks, and Edubarrus interrupts.]

Sorry to disturb, Ferox, not interrupting anything I hope?

Oh, no, of course not sir, I hadn’t really started yet. Can I help with something?

Yes, I was wondering if you would take the donation of a young fellow who’s just come in?

I mean, isn’t that a job for an under-librarian?

Normally yes, but I’d like this memory inscribed straight to mnimigraph. And I trust you to see it done properly.

Oh! Well, thank you sir.

So, you don’t mind?

No, not at all.

Excellent. He’s waiting just down the hall. Bring that mnimigraph with you, may as well put it to good use.

[The venoscribe clicks off, then back on.]

Right, that’s now running.

[nervous] What is that thing?

Oh, it’s a venoscribe. Its a fairly recent invention. You see the mnimigraph turning in there?

Uhh, yes?

Well as we speak, the venoscribe is recording our words and ingraining them into that mnimigraph. Then your memory can be played back whenever you or anyone you approve of wish to hear it.

[distracted] I… I see. Very interesting.

Quite. Are you well?

Yes! Yes, I’m fine. I’d like to just get this done.

[Yolaran takes a seat.]

Alright, no problem. This is the memory of Ser Yolaran SinGate, human, aged twenty-one, identified as…?


Male. Memory regards…?

Uh… A statue I purchased earlier this year, and the murder of my parents.

Inscribed directly from donor on the twelfth of Highmoon, 730.
We begin.

So, how does this work exactly?

Well, start at the beginning and tell me what happened.

Right. Well, like I said, this all started earlier this year. When I bought a statue. It’s… it’s crazy, it all seemed so normal, it was just another auction; I’ve been to dozens of them before, all of them more or less exactly like this, there was nothing odd about it, nothing that gave any indication that… that anything was amiss.

Art has always been my passion and, in recent years, I’ve begun building up my own collection in my family home up in the north district of the city. Good quality art, obviously, I’m not talking about the crude works by common street artists. I’m talking about the true masterpieces, works from before the Dark Age, and of course those of the current masters; Banarman Hross, Symon Coin, Penalla duBank.

Because of this, I’ve been going to quite a few art shows, exhibits and auctions. I have a few friends with similar interests, Rudi duLane and Kairan Tuurank, who I’ve known since I was a kid, and also Juann duJanna and Nydahn Ta’gorren who I met during my time at auctions.

Together, we formed kind of a club. We’d go to galleries and art shows together and, at auctions, we started to support each other, you know, working together to outbid any opposition.

Anyway, this all started when I got the call from duJanna about a month ago. Her father runs the shipping canals along the River El so she’s always well informed of when something important was being brought into the city so I knew when I heard her voice on the apovox that it was going to be big. And I was absolutely right.

The final works of Lord Symon Coin, the greatest sculptor of the century, were being shown at a private auction, only open to the select few who could get their hands on, and then afford, the tickets.

Now, obviously, this is a big deal.

Even a person who has no idea about art knows about Lord Coin’s work. I’m sure you’ve seen his Tribute to Unification in the city museum? It’s been called one of the most sublime pieces in art history, and quite rightly so. I think it was valued at more than most of the rest of the collection combined, and that’s only gone up since his death earlier this year.

That’s why his last works were only being revealed now, they were stuck in his house as it was officially a crime scene. Not that they ever found anything so it was ultimately pointless to keep them hidden from the world that long. Honestly it makes me a little angry to think that lawkeepers, who would probably have no idea what they were even looking at, were the first ones to see the last works of Lord Coin but…

[slight sigh] Now they had finally been released so that those of us who could actually appreciate what we were looking at, would have a chance to see them and even add them to our collections.

I won’t deny that the idea of owning my very own Coin sculpture made me very excited.

The exhibit was held at the K’terian Centre in Calhurst, a small suburb of Elalton where the house prices are a little higher to keep out the riff raff.

There were about eighty people there, quite a big turnout for something like this. I knew most of the faces there but there were also a few that I could tell had travelled in from elsewhere to be there for the exhibit. I saw one gentleman in late middle-age talking with Squire Telenari. The old man had a beautiful woman I presumed to be his wife hanging on his arm, and another slightly younger woman standing a little way behind them.

Telenari saw us enter and politely excused himself from the trio to make his way over to us.

“Well, if it isn’t my favourite band of young enthusiasts,” he greeted us, warmly. He’s always been a friendly man, honest and good natured. I don’t think he could tell a Mardon from a crayon drawing on the pavement, but he is a supporter of the arts and is always happy to organise events such as the one we were attending that night.

His brother actually owns the K’terian Centre and we’d been there a few times by that point so we knew him fairly well. We greeted him politely, asked after his health and that of his family. He answered that all was quite well, thank you, and he was very excited for the evening’s event.

duJanna asked who the chap he’d been speaking to had been and the squire answered that his name was Rayarin DulinMahlan. Said he was a very well-connected gentleman from Brana, up in the north, and he had come all the way here just to see the exhibit and procure a couple of new pieces for his collection.

I started to get a bit worried at that, nervous we might have some stiff competition when the bidding began. The squire, seeing my expression, laughed and said I shouldn’t concern myself, that men like DulinMahlan were far more concerned with being seen at events like this. He might bid on a couple of pieces, just for the sake of appearances, but it was unlikely he’d be too determined if the bidding got intense.

I didn’t really understand this. Brana’s a good day’s journey by locomotive and he’d come all that way just to be seen here?

We talked a bit more with the squire. Rudi, ever thinking with the wrong brain, if you take my meaning, asked after the ladies who had accompanied Mr. DulinMahlan. The squire answered that they were his wife and mistress and that he apparently only brought both to truly important events.

Nydahn nearly choked on his drink at that. Didn’t surprise any of us, drakarian’s tend to be rather prim in their views of relationships. But, uh, fortunately he was smart enough not to make any comment.

A few minutes later, the door to the exhibition hall was opened and we were all let in.

The pieces were magnificent. Walking into that hall was like walking into the Halls of Serenity. There were elegant yet powerful statues, landscapes of vivid and entrancing colour, abstracts that drew the eye in and then almost refused to let go.

My eye, however, went to the back of the room.

It was one of the sculptures. And it was quite different to the others in the room. Coin’s talents lay in life sculpting, capturing the essence of people and nature in clay and marble but usually representing things as they were. He’d never done abstracts, he’d preferred to do that in his paintings.

This creation was nothing if not abstract. It was made of black marble, a twisting, writhing shape, a mass of snake-like tendrils and sharp shapes.

It was horrifying to look at but also, in a way, beautiful. It was striking, bold, different. It was like staring into the jaws of fear itself.

I wanted to go and look closer at it but Kairan had seen a display of Coin’s expressionist works that he wanted us to take a closer look at.

While we were examining the paintings, I happened to glance over at the corner of the room. There were several frames containing what looked like plain paper covered in scribbles. One man I didn’t recognise was stood before staring at them, apparently entranced. He was tall and quite thin, he had the well-dressed but shabby appearance of someone who works in academia, maybe a librarian or a professor at the university.

I left my friends and went to join him. He barely noticed as I came up beside him and jumped when I asked what he was looking at.

He gave me a funny look, as if he was trying to figure out whether or not I was joking. He must have decided I was honestly curious because he explained that these were Lord Coin’s original sketches, the last he had made before his unexpected death.

I peered closer and could now make out shapes in amongst the scribbles. I thought, at first, that these were drafts for some new painting that would now never see the light of day. But as I studied them, I realised I was seeing a familiar shape.

Writhing shapes, jagged lines, exactly like the sculpture that had so captivated me earlier.

I assumed then, that these were the preliminary sketches for that sculpture and I began looking at them with more interest.

Now that I knew what I was looking for, I could now see the shapes that went into the sculpture, alongside written notes and annotations that had been written so small that I had taken them, at first, to be just random scribbles.

They didn’t make much sense, which didn’t strike me as odd at the time. Surely Coin would have known what he was talking about. Out of context, someone else, maybe even yourself, you might have considered lines like “more than yesterday,” “now inside,” and “eyes,” rather odd. But, given the context, I assumed these were just notes Lord Coin was leaving himself for use in the future.

The one thing that I did find a little unsettling, at least at that point, was the same two words repeated, over and over again across the pages. “Dire Fright.” As I say, unsettling, but I didn’t dwell too much on it.

The sketches and notes were interesting but I knew I wasn’t going to be bidding on them. My collection is reserved for striking or impressive pieces and, while the sketches will likely end up being priceless to a collector or an art historian, they weren’t something I personally prized and so, I decided that I would leave them to my new acquaintance.

We were given an hour more or less to roam freely and see the exhibits. I was able to return back to the statue itself and give it a closer look. It was just as horrible the second time, but just as with the first time I’d seen it, I couldn’t take my eyes from it. Every moment seemed to reveal a new detail that I hadn’t seen before. I made up my mind then that I had to possess it.

One of the attendants rang a bell to inform us that the auction was about to begin.

We all filed into the room and took our seats.

Before the first lot was brought out, the auctioneer, who I recognised as Squire Telenari’s brother, came out to inform us that four of the last works of Lord Coin, as a gesture of goodwill by his estate, would be donated to the museum.

Everyone applauded politely, as was expected, though I knew everyone else was thinking, as was I, what a waste that was.

They brought out the pieces that were being donated. I… I sat up. Would my sculpture be among them?

Fortunately not. They took a couple of the landscapes, one of the smaller sculptures, a bust of Ser Pentim Costa, and a painting entitled “Saviour.” Not one of his best, in my opinion. Certainly, the geometric circle patterns were striking and the ornate arrow head pattern drew the eye but, it didn’t really go deeper than that.

The sketches were also taken. I saw my friend from earlier looking pleased with that. So, I’d been right in my guess. No doubt he’d been sent from the museum to select the donations.

Once all that was done and out of the way, the auction began.

It was much the same as a dozen other auctions I’d been to. We’d picked the items we would focus on. Unfortunately, ‘Saviour’ had been one of the paintings Kairan had had his eye on, but there was no helping that now.

I did my part to help the others acquire their chosen pieces. We did well. Didn’t get everything we’d hoped for but a lot more than we might have if we’d been operating alone.

But all the time while the bidding was going on, I was fidgeting in my seat, impatient for my sculpture to make its appearance.

Finally, it was brought up, its twisted and horrifying shape brought into sharp relief by the lights on stage.

Mr. Telenari, standing at his podium, stated that, according to the notes of Lord Coin, this piece was called “Dire Fright.”

So that’s what all that scribbling was about, I thought to myself, Lord Coin had been trying to name the piece.

The bidding began.

I had been hoping that others in the room would be put off by the statue’s grotesqueness. No such luck. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to find the piece fascinating. It turned out to be some of the fiercest bidding of the night. More than once, my friends looked at me questioningly, clearly asking if I was certain that I really wanted it.

I nodded, insistently, and we kept going.

We won in the end. That’s the great thing about working as a team in auctions. Individually, we can outbid, but no one can match all of us together.

There were plenty of disappointed faces around the room.

Rayarin DulinMahlan had been particularly tenacious in his bidding but, ultimately, hadn’t been able to keep up and was now glancing nervously at the younger of the two women there with him. She looked absolutely livid and was glaring at me as if I had given her and her entire family some hideous insult.

But I didn’t care. I… I had won my prize.

I gave my address to the K’terian Centre’s officials and then I and my friends left in high spirits.

The statue was delivered two days letter, along with a note. This note stated that the statue was desperately desired by a man by the name of Rehmand duCosst for his personal collection in Brana and if I relinquished the statue, then I would be paid what I had bid for the statue, plus half again. The note was signed Zara SinFrost.

I took this to be DulinMahlan’s mistress, the woman who’d been giving me such an evil glare after the auction.

I crumpled the note and threw it on the fire. I had no intention of giving up my prize for any amount. It wasn’t a matter of money, it was a matter of having such a unique piece as my own.

I had already selected just the right spot for the piece in the south wing, the area of the house that had become our personal gallery. A nice, shaded spot, out of direct sunlight and around the corner from the entrance. I knew I found the piece fascinating, but I was aware that others in the family might feel differently and might not wish it to be the first thing they saw upon entering the room.

Once it was installed and the workmen had left, I spent a good twenty minutes giving it the closer inspection I had not been able to give it at the K’terian Centre.

I ran my hand, carefully, down the edge of the long, scythe-like talons that stretched out from the imperceivable centre of the thing and then continued along the looping and snarling tendrils. I quickly took my hand away, wincing, small lines of blood now running down my palm. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the tendrils were lined with a row of tiny but razor sharp spines.

I drew back and, once again, looked at the sculpture in wonder. What had driven Lord Coin to create something like this? He’d apparently been drawing near to the end of his life, was this sculpture a representation of the fear he felt? Fear of his own mortality? Were the reaching tendrils meant to represent the grasping hands of the Faceless One? Of Death? That comes for us all eventually? Its sharp edges, both hidden and obvious, were they meant to be the many ways that we might meet our ends?

One thing I was certain of, was that this piece was one of the most extraordinary that Lord Coin had ever produced.

It was getting late, so I turned and left the gallery, closing the door behind me.

The strange things began happening not long after, though it did take a while to notice them. Looking back, it’s all clear what was going on but at the time, I didn’t think much of them.

When small scratches appeared on the walls, I just assumed one of the gardeners had been careless with their tools. When the servants started talking about hearing strange noises and seeing things moving in the corridors at night, I thought the superstitious fools were jumping at shadows. I didn’t even think much of it when Pala the kitchen boy went missing. Everyone knew he was involved with a girl in the village so I just assumed they’d run off together.

I remember when I first started thinking something might be off, though. It was the day I was walking through the house, on my way to the garden, and I saw the sculpture out in the hallway.

It was so unexpected that it took me a moment to process what I had seen. I doubled back and looked again and there it was, stood in the middle of the hall.

I was confused. The gallery wasn’t being cleaned and I certainly hadn’t sold the sculpture. There was no reason for it to have been moved from its place.

I went to find Clowen, the butler, see if he could answer for what had happened.

He had no idea. He said that no one was even supposed to have gone into the gallery that day. I took him back to the hall, to show him and see about getting the sculpture back to where it had belonged.

It was gone. We went to the gallery and found it back in its place. But, something about it was different. I dismissed Clowen and went to get a closer look. It took me a few moments to realise what it was, probably due to how impossible it was.

The sculpture’s shape had changed. I mean, the same elements were all still there, all the tendrils and talons, but they were positioned differently to- to how they had been the last time I had seen it. And there was something else too. Deep within the writhing mass, it had been hidden or I would have noticed it sooner. It was no longer solid black stone. There, in the centre of the sculpture, was a circle of milky white about as wide as my hand. Looking at it, I was put in mind of an eye staring back at me.

That night, as well as locking the gallery door, I had Clowen chain the doors shut. I could tell the servants were looking at me oddly but I didn’t care.

I knew it was lunacy, I knew it made no sense. But I knew I would sleep sounder if that door that separated me from that sculpture was chained shut.

I slept fitfully that night, my dreams filled with images of writhing, snaking tendrils, and milky white eyes watching me from the shadows.

I awoke next morning to learn that Clowen had disappeared. That there were signs of a struggle in his chambers… and blood on the floor. My parents had called the lawkeepers.

I ran to the gallery. The chain was still there, wrapped around the handles, but as I touched them, the chains fell away. They had been cut to pieces. Solid steel, and they had been cut apart. I opened the door and ran to where the sculpture stood. It had shifted again. More obviously this time.

The shape of the thing was no longer so aggressive. It looked more… peaceful. Against my wishes, it put me in the mind of an animal that has just enjoyed a filling meal. I knew what had happened to Clowen. As insane as it sounds, I knew the statue had taken him.

More of those milky white circles had opened on the thing, more eyes looking out, watching me.

I knew that a predator might be docile after eating its fill, but sooner or later, it would want to eat again.

I knew I had to think quickly. I’m not sure when I decided that the sculpture was alive, but I knew I was right. This thing, this creature, whatever it was, was no creation of Lord Coin. Maybe it was even responsible for his death. I couldn’t tell anyone this though, they’d think I was mad. At least, up until the point… when it was too late. No… No, I’d need to handle this myself.

I’ve never been a fighter. Neither am I particularly brave. My friends and I might like to talk a big game about what we’d do if we went east to face those no-goods from Coopia, I know it’s all talk. I am, I think, actually quite a meek man who just wants to be left to enjoy art.

But I had… I had brought a monster into my home, and I knew I had to deal with it. It might not be a sculpture, but I knew it was made of stone. And I knew there was a sledgehammer in the gardener’s shed.

I ran out into the gardens. Things were… oddly quiet. I reached the shed and pulled open the door and… the smell hit me and I doubled over, retching.

It turned out Clowen wasn’t the only one taken in the night. And, unlike with the butler, bits of the gardener had been left behind.

The sledgehammer was still in there, thank the Three. Its handle was… stickier than I might have liked but I knew this had to be done, now more than ever.

I pulled out the hammer, hefting the weight in my hands.

The sun went behind the clouds.

I heard screams from the house. My mother’s screams. I heard the sound of a gunshot. And then my father…

I ran back to the house, the reassuring weight of the hammer in my hands kept me focussed.

I burst back into the house, ran into the kitchen, and I nearly dropped the hammer.

It- it was… I don’t know how to describe it. It was in the corner of the room, in the shadows… but it was also the shadows… it was like the shadows had come alive and… they- they were lashing all around… and those livid white eyes, looking all over, and my parents… my- my father still had his musket in his hand… they were dead… I froze up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It all happened in minutes… and it was over.

The thing saw me. Those eyes didn’t have pupils but I could feel them on me. One of those tendrils lashed out at me. I didn’t move. I had frozen.

What I nor the thing had not noticed was that the sun was starting to come out from behind the cloud. The second that tendril fell into sunlight – it froze solid. And I mean that literally, it turned back to stone.

The shock of seeing that transformation jerked me back to life. Without thinking, I swung the sledgehammer and the tendril shattered.

I was expecting a scream or some sound of pain. But, to my horror, the fallen fragments began moving on their own, sliding back to the shadowy thing, re-joining its mass.

There was nothing I could do. The only reason it hadn’t grabbed me was that I was still protected by the thin barrier of sunlight. I turned and I ran.

Out into the garden, across the fence and to the road.

I don’t know what my plan was. Maybe to find some lawkeepers but I had no idea what they might do. My brain was a storm of fear and confusion. So- so it was, I didn’t see the man in the grey coat until I’d run into him.

He was tall, poker thin with pale skin and a mop of fair hair. He was wearing a strange medallion, a golden sun with a cross at its centre.

Standing beside him, as docile as a pet dog, was an enormous wolf with storm grey fur and golden eyes that looked at me as if the beast were measuring me up. There was an intelligence in those eyes, I swear, beyond any normal wolf. It wore the same symbol as the man in the grey coat.

He looked into my eyes, and at the hammer I held in my hand.

He didn’t tell me who he was. Or what he was doing there.

“Is it still in there?” he said, gesturing towards my house.

“Yes,” I replied. I don’t think I had it in me to be surprised anymore, or demand answers of my own.

“Is anyone else still alive?” he said.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

He nodded, gravely, then told me to go and find any friends that I had in the city. He said I would not be able to return.

And with that, followed by the huge wolf, he ran in the direction I had come from, towards my home. The wolf loped after him.

I didn’t stay. I followed his advice and began walking, like I was in a trance. Rudi’s house was closest. I went there. I don’t know how many days it was before I started registering the world around me again.

Nydahn told me a while ago about this place. I thought, if I could find answers anywhere… about any of this, then maybe it would be here. So, here I am.

… I see. Well, that’s-

[heavy sigh] Yeah.

Are you alright, Ser?

No, of course I’m not alright.

Have the, um… have the lawkeepers-

Oh, they were called. Rudi got them involved as soon as I turned up. They came to his house, apparently asked me some questions but I barely remember any of it. They said… they said my family’s house was destroyed. Completely burned down.

Well, that makes sense.

What do you mean? Do you know something?

That man you mentioned at the end, the symbol he was wearing, that’s the emblem of the Delean Brotherhood, have you ever heard of them?


Well, they have a history with arson. If they were involved, I’m not surprised it ended in fire.

If that thing was in there, I’m glad they did it.

Did they find it?

No. Just charred stone and… the bodies.

I see. Well I, um-

[Edubbarus opens a door and enters]

How are things going?

Oh, erm, fine, High Librarian. We’re just finishing up.

Ah good.

So, we can look into things and we’ll-

[Yolaran stands, the chair squeaking.]

No, don’t bother. The lawkeepers have already done their investigation. Couldn’t find anything. They’re calling it an “accident”. A servant accidentally caught something alight and the fire got out of control. That’s the official story.

You didn’t tell them yours?

What? That a shadow monster disguised as a statue killed everyone and then some weirdo with a giant wolf burned the house down? No, for some reason, I didn’t think they’d take that too seriously. Thank you for your time.

[Yolaran begins to leave.]

Allow me to walk you out.

No, no, that’s quite-


It’s no bother. Actually, I was wondering if you’d be interested in meeting some friends of mine…

[Edubbarus and Yolaran leave together, his voice fading away until it’s out of hearing.]

[sigh] Well, I suppose there’s not much follow up to do in this case, if the lawkeepers have already ruled this an accident and no other witnesses survived… I doubt there’s any more we can add to this. I think I might look into this Zara SinFrost. I’m sure I recognise that name from somewhere.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]