Transcript – Skin Deep

[The Pensive Tower theme plays]

Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Thirty: Skin Deep

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

This is the memory of Daschind Hundl. Canrian, aged-

[Szelia slams the door open]

Paxton, they’ve finally found the memory!

You know, one of these days, someone is going to knock on that door before they burst in here.

Stop your bellyaching and listen. The librarians have tracked down the memory.

What memory-? Oh! The one that… woman wanted to you to get?

Yes, exactly! Honestly, considering how long it took them to find it, I would have been amazed if her plan had worked.

Well, we have it now. Let’s have a look at it.

[The venoscribe clicks off, then back on a second later.]

This is the memory Mallen Gorwyn. Human, aged twenty, identified as male. Memory regards… his training as a monster hunter. It was donated on the ninth of Kalla, in the year 728. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the fourteenth of Bloomingtine, 730.

We Begin.

Thank you for seeing me. I still can’t believe I’m here. I’ve heard so many stories of this place, and the memories it holds. My mother came and donated a memory once, I know. And I also know quite a few people who’ve come here to tell their tales.

So, I decided I would come write down a bit about my life and how I began hunting. Hunting monsters. And I’m not just talking about khirrocs here, I’m talking about the other stuff, the darker stuff. The things that most people don’t believe exist. The things I didn’t believe existed, until two years ago. Like Shades, Bludrigan or vampires.

I’ve never gone up against a vampire. I didn’t think they still existed but apparently there are still a few. But Hyrla says they’re virtually unkillable so him and the others tend to avoid them when they can’t be captured. But I have faced other things. You ever heard of a Fellgrim? I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t. They don’t pop up much in the old stories. They’re rare and good at hiding themselves. And, from what I’ve learned, people who do encounter them don’t live to tell the tale.

Most people, that is. There are some who do walk away. And I’m lucky enough to be one of them. I’ve actually done it twice. The second one I killed myself. The first time though, that was down purely to luck.

That happened back when I was fourteen.

My parents had recently died and I was pretty much alone in the world. Being honest, I don’t remember much from back then, I think I’d kind of withdrawn into myself and wasn’t really processing anything that was going on around me.

I was travelling a lot, going from place to place, living in hostels or shelters or sometimes under bridges, working any lousy job I could get, not really staying anywhere for too long.

It was around early spring of 725 when I found myself in Niffport, on the Northwind Coast. And that was when I met Katyana sinKel.

I was working in this café, The Cosy Corner, small place but it was one of the nicer ones I’ve worked in. I first became aware of her in the late afternoon. It was after the lunchtime rush and I was clearing away plates.

I remember I was pushing my hair out of my face, this was back before I transitioned so I wore it a lot longer then, and I looked up and saw this woman sitting alone at one of the tables. She was tall and quite thin with platinum blonde hair that was cut very short.

She was holding a steaming mug between her hands but didn’t seem interested in drinking from it. She looked like she was just enjoying the heat of the mug. She looked over to me then and smiled. I smiled back and then just carried on with my job, not really thinking much of it.

That was until about an hour or so later. The woman was still sitting there, still with the mug in her hands. I went over to her table and saw that she hadn’t taken even a sip of her drink. I asked if there was something wrong with it but she said no, it had been perfect and could she have another.

I didn’t know what else to do so I said certainly, picked up her mug now full of cold tea and went to get a fresh cup. But even then, I didn’t think too much about it. I mean, it was certainly odd behaviour but I figured it was her money and if she just wanted to warm her hands with the mug, then who was I to judge?

I saw her a few times over the following days. Every time she came in, she would order a mug of tea and then just sit there alone with the mug between her hands. She never met anyone there or did anything, she just sat in silence for a couple of hours, occasionally requesting a refill.

I got talking to her once or twice, and it was during one of those conversations that I found out her name was Katyana. Or, at least, that was what it called itself.

I didn’t find out the truth about Katyana until about a month after I’d first met it. I don’t know why it took so long. From what I’ve learned since, fellgrima don’t usually take so long to stalk their prey.

I guess I’ll never know. I didn’t exactly get the chance to ask it. All I can tell you is what happened.

It was the end of the day and the cafe was empty. I hadn’t seen Katyana that day, although there had been a very strange looking short, bald raekn man who had come in around lunch time. I might not have even remembered him, except for the fact he spent a good few minutes pacing around the cafe. He then asked me if anyone came in and ordered hot drinks without drinking them. I told him yes but before I could say anything or ask him anything, he turned and left.

I was clearing the tables, taking the plates and cups to the kitchen, when in comes Katyana looking really panicked about something. She said that a friend of hers had been in an accident and she needed help bringing them inside.

I didn’t hesitate. If someone needed help, I was happy to assist. I followed Katyana outside. It was well into the evening by then and the only light came from a few street lamps that burned dimly in the gloom.

She led me around the side to the alley where we kept the bins.

It’s just a simple straight, blind alley, no hidden nooks or crannies or corners where anyone can hide. So the second I reached the top of the alleyway, I could see that there was nobody there.

I turned to Katyana, to ask where her friend was. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt and threw me with an unnatural strength. I flew through the air for a good few feet before finally hitting the cobblestones.

I pushed myself up but Katyana was already standing over me. She hadn’t made a sound.

I tried calling out for help but Katyana swooped down on me, clamping her hand over my mouth. She made a gentle shushing sound.

I realised that her mouth had not moved a second before her face split.

A red line appeared down the centre of her face, then continued down her neck and out of sight beneath her clothes. Then, with a hideous wet sound, the skin peeled away from her. And I don’t just mean her face. There was a ripping of fabric and the clothes Katyana had been wearing fell to the ground in tatters.

I was staring up at a nightmare.

Great fleshy wings, still glistening with the remnants of viscera, rose up behind a skeletal figure that could only technically be described as humanoid. Its face, if you could call it a face, spread open like the petals of a flower, a long, turgid tongue extending from its centre.

I couldn’t move. Every part of my brain was telling me to run, to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just frozen there, watching as this thing began lowering its face to mine, its emaciated neck making a horrible cracking sound as it bent.

Its tongue, already disturbingly long, began extending from its mouth towards me. It must have been about a foot long and nearly touching my face before my mind finally snapped out of its stupor and I began trying to fight it off. But it was too late and it was too strong for that.

I honestly thought in that moment that I was going to die.

And then, suddenly, the thing was pulled off me, as if it had been yanked back on a rope.

I was so taken aback by this, it took me a few moments to process what I was now seeing.

It was a wolf. A giant wolf, bigger than any I’d ever seen before, with golden yellow fur. It had a hold of the thing that I’d called Katyana by the neck and was shaking it like a terrier with a rat. The thing was screeching, its withered limbs scrabbling against the ground.

Then, finally, I heard something snap and the thing went limp, its long tongue lolling on the cobbles.

The wolf opened its jaws and there was a horrible crunching sound as the monster fell to the ground. The wolf turned its yellow eyes on me. The relief I’d felt at the first sight of it was quickly replaced by a fresh shot of fear.

It might not have been as horrible to look at, but I was pretty sure this huge beast was just as dangerous.

Then that bald raekn I’d seen earlier came into view. He was carrying a bundle of black cloth with something gold glittering on top.

I wouldn’t have thought anything could have surprised me at that point. But, before my eyes, the wolf began to morph, shrinking in size, shedding its thick golden coat until, in its place, I saw a middle aged woman crouching on all fours. She was completely naked.

She pushed herself to her feet as the raekn man crossed to her and then handed her the bundle of clothes.

“Is that all our business done?” the woman asked, so matter-of-factly, it was as if she was unaware she had not a stitch of clothing on.

The man nodded, absentmindedly tying his tail tighter about his waist.

“It is,” he said, “please carry my thanks to Brother Thadean.”

The woman gave a curt nod, spared me one final, dismissive glance, and then walked away and out of sight.

The man pulled a red glass candle from his coat, lit it and promptly incinerated the remains. He then turned to look at me and asked me if I was alright. I was only then that I realised I had been crying. My face was covered in tears and snot, I must have looked horrendous. I think I was able to gasp out some kind of answer that at least let him know that the thing hadn’t hurt me.

He gave me a strange look then. I’m pretty sure he was trying to decide whether or not to leave me there.

He came over to me and gave me his hand and helped me to my feet. He introduced himself as Hyrla Kinnin and asked if I wanted to better understand what had just happened to me.

I looked down at the still burning remains. I thought about how helpless I had felt. I didn’t want to feel that way again. I told Hyrla I wanted to know everything he could teach me. And that was how I began my education. My new life. And I never looked back at my old one.

I learned fast. And thank the Three that I did, because it was only a few months later that Niffport was attacked. The Dusday Raid. I’m sure you’ll already have at least one account of that horrible day. Hyrla was able to get me passage out of there with Jare, a friend of his, and I was taken west to Xealica where I spent the next couple of years.

It was there that I encountered my next fellgrim.

It was about a year and a half after I left Niffport. I hadn’t seen Hyrla since then and I’d been continuing my training with Jare. But then, one day, he just appeared at the house I was staying in and announced that there was a fellgrim hunting in Irrtisburg.

It had already killed three people, he said. It needed dealing with. And the time had come for me to put my training to use.

The mere memory of that thing in the alley sent shudders through me.

Hyrla said I shouldn’t worry, that I was ready. I certainly didn’t feel ready and I listened in a sort of numb horror as he went through the plan.

The fellgrim would be attending a party, Hyrla said, a ball being thrown by one of the city’s merchant barons. All of the most prominent guild members would be there and I would have to pass off as one of them.

Jare, who’d been listening in, chimed in at that point, said he had a couple of friends who were going and I could go as one of their dates.

“Or both of them, if you’re feeling lucky,” he said, dropping me a sly wink.

I laughed.

Hyrla asked me what I would like to wear. I’d had some realisations about myself by then so I decided on a suit, to present as more masculine.

Hyrla nodded. Then, glancing at my hair that I’d cut short myself, also suggested a trip to the barbers.

We didn’t have long, he said, the party was in two days; it was our best chance of catching the monster.

We didn’t have one of the moon-blooded with us so we were going to need to do things the harder way.

There are some things that will work on most of the creatures I hunt. None of them like the light very much, but I believe that’s just because their eyes are so accustomed to darkness that light is blinding to them. The one thing I know works on all of them is iron, preferably wrought iron. It burns the skin of a night creature, not enough to kill them but enough to fend them off.

To kill a fellgrim though, we needed something more. It would need to be bound, pierced through the heart with iron and then burned before it could heal itself.

So, with a red glass candle, an iron spike and a coil of rope hidden beneath my jacket, I made my way to the home of Algirin Helrennis the Third, accompanied by Jare’s friends, the Lady Caroletta Eyrian and her sister Emilia.

I remember when they revealed their dresses being rather stunned. I knew pencori liked bright coloured clothes but the clash of Caroletta’s bright pink dress and Emilia’s lurid green one hit the eye like a punch. I was even more stunned when Jare revealed the periwinkle blue suit that had been picked out for me.

I was supposed to be hunting, I protested, how was I supposed to remain unseen wearing that? Jare assured me I’d be fine so, unconvinced, I changed and got ready to go.

We rode to the party in the sisters’ private carriage. When we got out, they both linked their arms with mine and we walked up the gravel path to the front door.

The Helrennis family home was a magnificent affair. It was a great manor estate just outside of the city with gardens and grounds that must have spread over about 100 acres.

It was in these gardens, the ones closest to the house obviously, that the party was to take place. This was both a blessing and a curse since it meant that if the fellgrim saw me coming, it would be able to get away easily; but it also meant I would not be confined inside with the thing so there was less at risk of succumbing to its effects.

I should perhaps take a minute to talk about the power a fellgrim has over those around it. They are subtle, when I was under the effect of the one in Niffport, I didn’t even realise what was happening. It’s only after someone points it out to you and you look back that you realise what actually happened.

The fellgrima do something to peoples’ minds. Hyrla calls it the Glamour. It’s part of what helps it pass off as an actual person, blurring the mind of the people who look at it so that they’ll see what the fellgrim wants them to see.

But this has an effect on people that can be used to tell when a fellgrim has been nearby. Glazed expressions, vague memories of recent events. Now that I could look back on that time I knew Katyana, I realised there was so much time that I couldn’t remember what I’d been doing, whole days that were just absent from my memory. I think I’d just told myself that they were standard, boring work days, nothing worth remembering but now… now I know it was the effect of one of them being close by.

But this time I knew what to be on my guard for, knew that if I got anything close to that sensation, it meant the thing was nearby. And this time I would be ready.

I made my way through the party with Caroletta on one arm and Emilia on the other. I have never attended such a party in the Federation so I don’t know how one in Irrtisburg would compare to one held in this city. My first impression was of a maelstrom of bright colours.

The garden had been decorated with paper lanterns of all different colours which bathed the party and the guests in every shade of the rainbow. This matched well with the clothes of the party guests.

Any thought of being noticeable in this crowd vanished immediately. Here I was just one bright star in a very bright sky. Had I worn something more neutral and sombre, then I really would have stuck out.

Caroletta and Emilia parted with me then. They were not hunters themselves and would take no part in what I would do next. They had done their job of getting me in. Emilia did give me a quick kiss for good luck then retreated, giggling, into the crowd.

I shook off the momentary distraction and instead focussed on the matter at hand.

I began making a round of the guests, looking for the tell tale signs. Slightly glazed eyes, people looking confused or shocked. I also looked out for anyone holding, but not drinking, cups of hot drink, remembering Katyana and her tea. Hyrla told me that fellgrim are very cold blooded so they tend to like hot things. But there was nothing, not a sign.

After an hour of looking, I was starting to think maybe Hyrla had been given bad information, maybe there was no fellgrim.

I went to find the sisters, let them know I hadn’t found anything. I found Emilia standing at the bar. I began telling her my findings, or lack thereof, but then stopped.

She turned to look at me as if she was only half aware I was even there, her eyes glazed and her face blank. I knew immediately what that meant.

I turned around, renewing my efforts, scouring the room for anyone showing similar signs to Emilia. I couldn’t see anyone. Frustration was growing stronger and stronger, filling my ears with a kind of ringing, blotting out the thought I should have had right away.

Finally, though, that thought did break through the noise. I hadn’t seen Caroletta for a while.

I turned back to Emilia in a panic, asked her where her sister had gone, when had she last seen her. But she was still spaced out. I turned and ran.

They weren’t with the main party. The thing must have taken her somewhere more secluded. I ran outside the field of multicoloured light cast by the lanterns, not even bothering to pay attention to where I was going.

Then I saw them. They were in an orchard. Caroletta’s back was against one of the trees, a man, or at least something that looked like a man, was pressed against her, his face buried in her neck.

I ran towards them, my hand going to the iron spike. Then I got closer and heard Caroletta moan in pleasure.

Realising what was actually happening, I swerved and ran back the way I had come, praying to the Three that they hadn’t noticed me.

I ran a good distance before stopping. So, Caroletta was fine. Maybe I had been right before. Maybe there was nothing to worry about.

Then I heard the scream. A man, some way off. It was faint but close enough to hear. I again took off at a run.

It didn’t take me long to find them. They were in what looked like a private prayer garden, a small circular patch of grass lit by the light of a lamppost, enclosed by tall hedges with a small fountain at its centre beside which was… Well…

I think it had once been a man. There wasn’t enough left to be sure. The skin was withered and grey, empty sockets staring at the sky in silent horror. I’m sure he would have been screaming if not for the fact that the tongue of the fellgrim was still lodged in his mouth.

The creature had its back to me. I don’t think it heard me come into the garden, it was too focussed on its meal. A hideous gulping noise echoed in the still night air as everything of the man was drained away.

It looked just like the one I had encountered in Niffport and in that moment I remembered the fear and helplessness I had felt then.

I did not hesitate. I carefully pulled the rope from my coat, took aim, then threw the lasso over the thing’s head. I’d been sceptical of this part, that simple hemp rope would do anything but Hyrla had been sure. The rope didn’t really matter, he explained to me, it was the symbolism that was important.

The lasso tightened around the fellgrim and it reared up, its tongue unlatching from its victim to flop around obscenely.

I ran forward, iron spike now in my hand. With practiced aim I pierced it in the back, right where the heart should have been. The monster’s wings went rigid, the veins that ran through the skin showing up a vivid crimson. It let out a shriek more horrible than anything I’d ever heard before.

Before it could turn on me, the red glass candle was in my hand. A torrent of flame engulfed the monster. Its skin immediately began to sizzle and crack, blisters forming and popping. It screeched again, its skeletal fingers swatting at the flames in a futile effort to put them out.

The monster eventually went limp, collapsing to the floor where it curled up as the flames gradually engulfed it.

I waited until I was quite sure there was nothing left of the fellgrim, then used the candle to put the flames out, not wanting to set the garden on fire.

I didn’t go back to the party, but left the grounds as quickly and quietly as I could.

I did feel a little bad about leaving the sisters behind but, from what I heard later, they had a very good night, so I don’t feel too guilty.

Anyway, there it is. Those are the stories of the two fellgrima I’ve encountered so far. I hope I won’t have to see another one, but I doubt I’ll get my wish. The night is a scary place, and there aren’t many of us who can hunt down what lurks out there.


Final Notes; so this is the memory Szelia was asked to acquire a few weeks ago by the strange woman she encountered in the book shop. On the face of it, I don’t really see why anyone would want to steal it. It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but that’s all I can really say for it. I might once have been tempted to disregard it entirely as either made up or delusional. However, I still remember Szelia’s description of the woman… the thing that called itself Alayne sinDreda, of the way it moved, the way she described it. Perhaps there really are things out there that we can’t explain.

In any case, there’s nothing else I can add to this. There are no notes attached to it, no supplementals. None of the places or people mentioned can be followed up with since Niffport was attacked and the only person given a surname was this Hyrla. And Hyrla Kinnen is a character from Welaudan folktales so I highly doubt that’s his real name.

We did try contacting Mr. Gorwyn, but we were unable to reach him.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

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