Transcript – Nighttime Hunt

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Twenty Four: Nighttime Hunt

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

This is the memory of Lewthyn MaBiorth. Human, aged fifty-two, identified as male. Memory regards a claimed encounter with the fabled Monster of Silusia and was donated on the third of the month of Thresherstine in the year 728. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the second of Chillintine, 730.

We Begin.

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing very clear. I know. Alright? I know how this sounds, I know what you’re going to say, I know how this makes me look. I know how crazy this story is. I also know, if things had gone the other way, if I’d been the one hearing the story, I’d have been the first one saying how ridiculous it all sounded.

But I was there and I saw it. And I know it was real. I’ve got the scars to prove it.

So, where to begin?

I come from a town called Geiviton. It’s not a big or important place, it’s much like any other town you might find in Welaudan. Like most places in that neck of the woods, our main export is coal and most working folks of the town make their living spending their days down in the mines.

It’s not glamorous or anything but it pays the bills, keeps the landlord off your back, and that’s all you can really ask for I suppose.

So, I’m assuming that you’ll have heard of the Silusian Beast? Maybe you haven’t. It’s a well-known story in Welaudan but you Senterians have never been as respectful of old stories as decent folks should be.

Oh, you pay the proper lip service to the Three and no one can say those trinlians you have aren’t impressive, but there’s more to a culture than impressive buildings. It’s our stories that make us who we are as much as the buildings. And this one has been heard by many a fireside in the dead of night.

So, the story goes that some ancient king of Silusia, back when we had kings in Welaudan, he had this hound by the name of Gellant. And this dog was strong and loyal and loving of his master.

Now, one day, this king goes out hunting, leaving behind his infant son in the care of a nurse, with Gellant to protect him. This would all be fine, except the king had a brother, who wanted the throne for himself, and knew that if he got rid of the son then he’d be the heir to the throne and king after his brother.

He’d waited for his brother to be out the way and then put his plan into action. His plan was to savage the child and the nurse and to blame Gellant for the attack, him being a fearsome animal. And he’d timed it well, for the nurse had put the baby to sleep and then had poured herself some wine which had lulled her into a doze.

So, the wicked brother creeps into the baby’s chamber, dagger in hand. Gellant, who had been sleeping by the fire, awoke to see the brother enter. The brother wasn’t afraid of the dog, not at first, for he knew Gellant and had made sure to ingratiate himself to the hound so that he would trust him.

But the faithful hound saw the brother with the knife and immediately knew his intent and let out a fearsome bark and went at the brother, teeth bared.

The nurse, startled awake by the barking hound, saw the drawn dagger and, in a panic, fled. Gellant went at the brother, who ran from the angry dog but not before being brought to the ground where his leg was mauled. He was able to shake Gellant off and then he escaped the castle.

The king, at this time, returned. And he found the nurse sobbing in a corner and, running up to his son’s room, found the loyal Gellant with blood on his mouth. His mind jumped to the worst conclusion and, in a passionate grief, the king drew his sword and killed the hound.

And the sound of the dog’s death finally woke the baby, who began crying. The king saw his son alive and was confused. And this was when the nurse arrived, having only just realised her lord was in the house, and she explained the truth of the matter.

And the king was overcome by grief for what he had done, in striking down the loyal hound that had protected his son. Tears in his eyes, he fell to his knees and begged for forgiveness, that the Three would undo what he had done.

And the Three, it seems, heard his prayers. For, at the king’s sobbing, brave Gellant stood and rested his head upon the hand of the king.

And he was overjoyed to see that his crime had been undone. And yet, the king hesitated. For Gellant was changed. He was not dead, but not quite living either. But, even this much, the king named miraculous. But he knew that there was a price for this blessing. That a life must be paid for with a life. And, fortunately, he knew just the one to offer.

So, the king and his newly returned hound, set out to hunt down the treacherous brother. Gellant had always been a good dog for hunting but now he was relentless, tireless, and fearsome to behold.

They tracked the brother to his estate where he hid behind a locked and barred door. But not the door, nor the walls, were a match for Gellant the hound who all but flew into the castle ahead of his master, the king.

It is said the screams of the brother echoed through the night and, by morning, there was not a trace of him left. And so, the king and his faithful hound returned to his home where they both lived until the king passed away. And, in time, his son also passed. And then his son. And his son after him.

But Gellant did not die. He continued on. Long after the king’s line had ended, vanishing into the mists of time. And, to this day, whenever a person breaks their word, or betrays those they claim to love, they can be sure of hearing the howl of Gellant on the wind.

And that, if you believe the legend, was the origin of what came to be called the Monster of Silusia, the giant, unearthly dog that would come in the night to drag away the wicked, the treacherous and, according to mothers across Welaudan, naughty children who refused to go to bed on time.

There’ve been a few folks over the years who’ve claimed to have seen it. My mother’s cousin swore blind that he’d been stalked by the beast when he came home late one night from the pub and a neighbour, where I used to live, she said her ex-husband had been carried off on his way back from his mistress’s house. Funnily enough, she didn’t seem too sorry about it.

But, most of my life, I didn’t think much of it. Like most folks, once you’ve grown up, you stop really believing in tales like that. More likely my mother’s cousin just saw a big dog on his way back from the pub and, drunk as he was, his brain made it more than it was. And the neighbour and her ex-husband… well, you can draw your own conclusion there. I was still quite young when he went missing but, from what I remember, he wasn’t much liked around town so no-one looked too carefully.

Old Lawkeeper Boyce did spend a lot of time at her house, but he never arrested her or anything.

But anyway, this all began last year.

We had a new arrival in Geiviton. He said he was a researcher from some university. The Etterean University, I think he said it was. And he was one of those turshens, you know, with the long ears and the teeth. Never had one of those folks in town.

I first met him in the Soldier’s Arms, that’s the local pub, he seemed a decent fellow. Said his name was Jonah Kastil and, when I asked him what brought him to town, he told me he was doing research on local legends and stories from across the Federation. And he’d heard of the Silusian Monster and was interested in finding out more.

Now, I enjoy telling a story, especially when I’m a couple of drinks in, so I told him same as I’ve told you. And this fellow, Jonah, he gets out this little brown notebook and starts jotting down things as I’m talking.

Now, I notice a few times that he goes back over things he’s just written and he’s drawing circles around specific words or lines and making quick little additions in the margins.

When I’ve finished the story, I ask him what they’re about and he tells me that they’re points where the story differs from other versions he’s heard.

He says that as stories spread from place to place, little changes start happening which then get bigger and bigger until there are huge differences in the story depending on who you ask. He said that’s what he finds so fascinating about local legends like this and his theory is by going around and compiling all the different accounts and seeing where the stories are similar, you can put together the original event that gave rise to the story.

I had a little chuckle at this.

“So, you’re saying you think there really is a huge undead monster dog out there somewhere?” is what I said.

Jonah laughed and said probably not, but there was likely something that happened that led to the story we all knew. Maybe the king just regretted the killing of his hound so much that he invented the story, telling what he wished had happened.

“Or,” he said, flicking through his notebook before stopping on one of the earlier pages, “maybe this is what happened.”

And he told me another version of the story, one where the king’s blow did not immediately kill Gellant, but rather mortally wounded the dog. But before he could deliver the finishing blow, that was when the nurse had arrived.

Horrified by what he had done, the king ordered Gellant, who was still alive but would soon die, carried to a man he knew who was learned in the kismotic arts. And this man, through his great knowledge, fused Gellant with kismotic devices that kept him alive.

Interestingly, Jonah said, there were a few versions where this happened. In a couple he’d heard, the alkismotist was unnamed, it was just said he was very good at his craft. But in most versions where this happened, the alkismotist was Kikritis himself. Do you believe that? Our little corner of the world having ties to someone as famous as that.

So that was the end of that for a while. Over the next few days I’d see Jonah walking in the town, talking to folks in the street and then doing the same thing later in the pub.

I’d ask him how the work was going and he’d say well and that was pretty much the whole conversation.

That all ended with Gwynick.

Now, Gwynick MaNil was, well he was similar to the fellow I mentioned earlier. He wasn’t highly thought of in the town. I mean, he was a hard worker and kept himself to himself. But, well, he was married to this lass Meria. And… well there’s no easy way to say this; the man beat her something fierce.

My own wife, my Rhianwen, well she’d tell me at least once a week that she’d seen poor Meria with some bruise somewhere while they were shopping or visiting the bath house. Meria always said she’d fallen or bumped something but everyone knew that was a lie.

Lawkeeper Boyce had been to their house many a time but, unfortunately, unless Meria actually said what was happening, there wasn’t a lot he could do to stop it unless he actually caught him at it.

I should have done something. We all should have. We knew what was going on. We could have stopped it. If we’d all stepped in, given him a taste of his own medicine, that might have learned him a lesson.

But I know why we didn’t. We might tell ourselves that we didn’t want to get involved, that it was none of our business, that what went on behind closed doors was between a married couple. But that’s not it. Truth is we were cowards. Gwynick was big and he was strong, stronger than anyone else in town. And none of us wanted to get a beating of our own.

So, we left poor Meria to suffer alone while we sat in our shame.

I tell you all this so you can understand why, when Gwynick was found all but torn apart one morning, down a side alley near the pub, it didn’t raise much of an alarm.

I’ll be honest, most of us thought Meria had finally snapped and we all thought good on her. Though, she did seem distraught when she heard the news.

Others thought it had been one of us, finally fortifying ourselves to what needed to be done. Lawkeeper Boyce ruled it as an animal attack, nothing to be done about it. Didn’t even propose tracking the animal down.

Some folks came later that day from Tengar, chirurgeons I think they said they were. Lawkeeper Boyce had called them, told them what had happened. They said they wanted to perform an autopsy so they took Gwynick, or rather what was left of him, away in a wagon.

As they were leaving, I saw Jonah watching them. He had a thoughtful look on his face.

I met him in the pub later on, asked how his research was going. He said he thought he might have had a break through that very day and he was heading into the countryside that night.

I asked him what he needed to go to the countryside for? He was researching stories, there weren’t many folks out there to ask.

Jonah gave me a funny look, like he wasn’t sure if he’d said too much.

I was a little worried about him. The countryside around the town isn’t strictly speaking dangerous but it gets very dark away from the night-lamps and the terrain can be treacherous if you don’t know where you’re going.

I asked him if anyone was going with him. He said no, it would just be him. I guess being clever doesn’t necessarily make you smart.

That decided it as far as I was concerned. On his own, Jonah might get lost or die of cold, or trip over something and break his neck. And, this was less likely, but there are still wolves in Welaudan, as well as other big predators. Not many, and they tend to keep to themselves, but a lone turshen wandering around in the dark is just the sort of thing that would attract an animal that was hungry enough.

I told Jonah that I’d go with him, to make sure he was safe. He protested a little at first but I think he realised it wouldn’t hurt to have a bit of help.

So, that night, after work, I said goodbye to Rhianwen, packed a few emergency supplies into a bag and left, taking with me a lantern, a good length of rope, my pistol and a dirk.

I met Jonah just outside the Soldier’s Arms. I was glad to see the man wasn’t totally without sense, he had brought a lantern of his own. And, at his waist, was hanging a sword of all things.

I would have dearly liked to ask where a man like him had gotten a sword but I reasoned it was none of my business and so instead I asked him where we were going.

Jonah said he had found a trail that we were going to follow.

“A trail of what?” I asked him.

He didn’t answer, instead he began heading out of the village. I followed.

It wasn’t long until we were out of range of the night lamps. The stars shone like pinpricks in the night sky above us but not nearly bright enough to illuminate the impenetrable darkness that surrounded us. The moon was a bare sliver of light in the sky. We both lit our lanterns and continued on up into the hills.

It was very quiet. I’d only done this sort of thing a few times in my life and not since I’d been a young man. The dark and quiet pressed in on us, broken only by the sounds of our footsteps.

I tried again to find out just what it was we were out there to find, what it was we were tracking. But Jonah waved me to silence.

By the light of our lanterns, I could just about make out his face. He was looking this way and that, seeming to almost be scenting the air. His long ears stood tall and erect and they twitched repeatedly.

He was listening for something. And he must have heard it because he suddenly took off at a run. In the dark. I was starting to have serious doubts about how smart the man really was.

I followed at a more sensible pace, expecting any minute to hear a yelp of surprise or a shout of pain as he ran into a tree or tripped over a root or an animal hole or one of about a million other things that that can catch you out in the dark.

But, I was surprised, and not a little impressed, when I heard nothing but the sound of his running footsteps, which were growing steadily quieter as the distance between the two of us widened.

Maybe I’d been underestimating him, maybe there was more to him than I thought.

I noticed then that the running footsteps had stopped. I immediately assumed that he’d fallen down a hole or something.

But, when I caught up, I found him rummaging through his bag, pulling out bits and pieces of metal; what they were, I couldn’t begin to guess at.

Looking around, he saw me approach. I think he’d forgotten I had come with him, but he beckoned me closer and asked me to hold my lantern out so he could see what he was doing.

I did so, glancing around to try and take in our surroundings. We were deep in the woods now. Jonah had led us to a small clearing.

A heavy clicking and whirring brought my attention back to Jonah. He had finished pulling the things out of his bag and was now fitting them together.

I asked him what he was doing, what it was he assembling, just what in the Depths was going on here?

He ignored everything I said. I’m not sure he even heard me.

He finally stood up, holding this… device.

At first glance, I’d have said it was some kind of musket. It certainly looked like a musket. But it was built strangely, with shards of crystal embedded in the barrel, something silvery glittering at the end. There was no flint or wheel lock, no kind of lock or pan whatsoever. I’m no expert with guns but it didn’t look to me like it worked using black powder.

He turned to look at me, said thank you for my help but I could head back now. And, without waiting for an answer, he turned back and ran off into the darkness.

I was left standing there in a pool of light. He had left his lantern behind.

I was uncertain what to do. On one hand, I didn’t want him to be hurt, obviously, but after a certain point, if the idiot was that determined to hurt himself, it didn’t seem like there was much I could do.

In the end, I picked up the other lantern and hung it on a tree branch. In case something happened to me, I could use the light from that lantern to find my way back to that spot at least.

Then, I set off after Jonah.

The night pressed in on me, even more oppressive than it had been before. I strained my ears, trying desperately to hear something that might point me towards where Jonah had gone. I heard nothing but the scratches and whispers of a wood at night time.

Then, I finally heard something. Unmistakable, a crack of a twig being trodden on. I shone my lantern in the direction it had come from, preparing to give Jonah a piece of my mind about running off in the dark.

My words died on my tongue.

The first thing I saw were the eyes. They shone in the darkness, and I don’t mean that figuratively. They shone like twin lamps, each giving out a beam of yellow light. In fact, that’s what I thought they were at first, lanterns made to look like eyes hung up to give someone a fright. But then the eyes blinked.

They came closer and I heard the crunch of undergrowth under something large and heavy. I couldn’t move. I’d completely frozen. A voice in my head was screaming at me to do something; to run or draw my pistol but I could do nothing.

In a few seconds, it was close enough to see by the light of my lantern, and I knew then exactly what had happened to Gwynick.

It looked like a huge dog. Big as a bear. Or, more accurately I suppose, it looked like something made to look like a huge dog. It was all metal and wheels. Its paws were solid steel plates with claws like knives. Lightning crackled at its joints and steam hissed from its nostrils.

I might have called it a machine, except… as I looked into its eyes, I could tell somehow that it was looking back at me and it understood what I was. This thing was alive. I can’t explain how I know but I just knew. And I know that’s ridiculous. It was made of metal for the Witness’s sake, but I’d be willing to bet anything that it was alive.

And, for some reason, with that knowledge, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I moved closer, my hand outstretched, to show I meant no harm. I got close enough to read a narrow plate bolted to its right shoulder. The paint on the letters had faded but it was still possible to see what the letters were. The name written there was Gellant.

Then a crack split the night. I threw myself to the ground, thinking a bomb had gone off. The, uh… the dog howled, its voice reverberating unnaturally. A crack had formed in its side from something that had managed to split the metal like a sheet of ice. But, it didn’t fall. It turned its head towards where the shot had come from and sprinted away at a speed that a thing of that size, and presumably weight, should not have been capable of.

A few seconds later, I heard a scream. A scream of fear that quickly became a scream of pain and was then, abruptly, cut short.

I knew it had been Jonah.

I didn’t waste time looking for a body or for Gellant. I was lucky enough to get away from one encounter with the Monster of Silusia, I didn’t want to risk a second.

Final notes; The Monster of Silusia is a story I have heard of before but, until now, I’ve never had the opportunity to read the actual story in its entirety.

I can confirm that it is a well-known story in the Welaudan principality, the kind of story every child grows up knowing.

I’m not about to confirm or deny here whether the creature actually exists, though I see no reason why Mr. MaBiorth would lie about what he saw. All I can confirm from this donation are the deaths mentioned. I have here the report of the death of Mr. Gwynick MaNil, whose death was put down to an animal attack, and that of the turshen gentleman, Mr. Jonah Kastil, who is listed as missing, presumed dead.

I can also confirm that Mr. Kastil was indeed affiliated with the Etterean University. Though, according to my contact, he was associated with the Alkismos department, and they had no idea why he was claiming to be researching old folk tales.

I myself have something of a theory on the matter. Mr. MaBiorth mentioned several different versions of the Monster of Silusia story, including one that involved the fabled Kikritis, who was supposedly the greatest alkismotist of all time, able to create items without the usual restrictions of the alkismotic process.

Supposing such a person did indeed once exist, and they had been able to make the sort of thing that Mr. MaBiorth described here, I can certainly understand why someone might try to track it down, no matter the cost.

Inscription Complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

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