Crimson Court 0 – The Letter

I received a letter three days prior, summoning me to my family’s estate.  It was a surprise, to be sure, seeing a letter addressed to me by the ancestral surname.  I have not heard it in many years, and have never been addressed by it, for growing up it was treated like a curse in this household.  My mother would spit and my father would rage if the name was uttered in their presence, and I quickly learned to not ask questions about my heritage, sating my curiosity with fragments of memories from when I was a babe.  I remember a wealthy and lavish estate, playing in sunny and warm meadows, attending lavish parties attended by adults strutting like peacocks.  These memories are paired with a memory of terror in the night, of shrieking and fire, and my mother and father shoving meager possessions into saddlebags before fleeing on horse.  They then ended up here, my father earning his coin as a hunter and my mother as a seamstress, adopting a false name to accompany their drab existence, only speaking of our heritage when cursing their lousy luck.

It has been several years since they passed, leaving me little more than this shack and tavern debts.  Though, while alive, they gave me what is possibly the greatest of gifts:  a knowledge of letters and numbers.  These skills have allowed me to live a life of some small comfort, causing me to appear as a minor noble to the poor souls indigenous to this region.  This has also afforded me the opportunity to speak with those more worldly than my neighbors, those passing through to sell on their wares or disappear from civilization for a while.  It is from these folk that I have heard tales of a faraway hamlet shrouded in darkness and mystery.  Sometimes they speak of darkness of a more ordinary manner, such as brigands murdering travelers on the road, or children who go missing in the forest.  More often, though, those who know of the estate speak of more otherworldly features.  Some speak of necromancy, some speak of fish-men abductors who prowl by the light of the moon, others tell of bearded man whose energy and vitality is unnatural for his age.  Regardless of the story, one detail always emerges that remains constant in every tale:  The Brugniaux Estate is to be avoided, if you desire to live a life untainted by unknowable darkness.

The letter makes no mention of these details.  My ancestor, in so many words, has written that his hubris has led to something beneath the hamlet being uncovered, which should never have been gazed upon.  It is this that is the source of our family’s poor luck, he claims, and if I were to return to the ancestral estate to retake it from whatever it is that he uncovered, I would inherit what is rightfully mine.  This is a martial task,  and retaking the estate can only be done through violence and those willing to undertake it.  I will be transported by the caretaker, who is to arrive tonight by stagecoach.

The letter was delivered to me by a dour knight who goes by the name of Reynauld, who has been in the employ of my ancestor for several years.  While I believe he earns plenty in that capacity, it has not yet stopped him from attempting to liberate me of my possessions when he thinks I am not looking.  He wears the threadbare tabard of one of the holy orders that fought in the crusades, yet does not conduct himself as a holy man.  Perhaps he hopes accompanying me on my quest will allow for some redemption, or perhaps he is one of those lost soldiers whose only purpose is to wage holy war.  Regardless, he seems talented with a blade, and I will gladly accept his assistance.  He speaks little of the current status of the estate or my ancestor, only insisting that I will need the gold to raise an army if I have any hope of purging it of the darkness tainting it.

I was instructed in the letter to assemble an escort, including the knight Reynauld, for the journey to the estate and the subsequent reclamation, though my choices are few in this regard.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that my neighbors struggle to wield a plow against the dirt.  However, I have recruited one man into my company- a vagabond and a drunk named Dismas who practically inhabits the tavern.  While undoubtedly a creature of the gutters, he is handy with dirk and pistol, and will perform any task for the proper pay. When no jobs have come his way, he prefers to pay his debts by cheating at cards. This is a known fact, and yet there is no shortage of men who believe they can still best him.  I have little I can pay him now, but the promise of riches at the estate was enough to entice him to join me.

These are my companions who will protect me as I journey to the estate, a thieving crusader and a cheating pistoleer.  It saddens me to think that these two men may be the best of those I can recruit to assist me in this task.

While the task before seems enormous in its entirety, I cannot help but feel that I am on the cusp of a great adventure.  I have always known that I was destined for more than this life, this life of squalor and destitution in the far corner of the world.  While I remember the darkness of that estate, I also remember the wealth, the lavishness, the power.  That is my birthright.  That is what I was meant to have.  I do not why I was chosen for this task- perhaps I am the last of the line, or the first to be found.  I have no notion of what has happened to the rest of this family, but it is of no consequence.  This task has fallen to me, and I will see it through to its end and reclaim my birthright with all that entails.

I hear the thundering of hooves.  The stagecoach approaches.  I have asked Reynauld to say a small prayer of safety for the journey to my estate.

It is with no small excitement that I sign this with the ancestral surname, what is surely the first step in claiming my inheritance.

  • M Brugniaux

Darkest Dungeon 27

The sisters in battle have returned
From terrors hid beneath the earth
And from the maze of slime and stone
Bring tales of evil birthed

The vestal maiden, scarred twice
Once by undead, once by swine
A fading lantern in our midst
What shadows cloud her mind?

The pagan, in her primal rage
Has paid her pound of heathen flesh,
A hero’s madness drives her still,
She longs to brush with death

Here comes a puzzle yet unsolved:
What man has no more use for gold?

The leper and the warrior
Still linger in the fetid caves
Do fallen men regret their deaths
Or long for proper graves?

They join the ever-swelling ranks
Of those who no more hear my song
And I, Jacques, remember them
But who can guess how long?

A riddle now, to you from me:
What man has eyes that do not see?

Three more take up their shields at dawn
With fear and courage in each breast
And armed with laughter and with song
I too shall join the quest

And so I’ll tell the heroes’ tale
Of doom and valour by the sea
But if Jacques should not return
Then who shall sing of me?

A final clue, a last mystique:
What man has lips that cannot speak?

We came for wonder and for gold
For tales of glory, gore and dread
But treasure, terror, fame and awe
Are wasted on the dead.

Forbidden Histories 0

“Good morning listeners! It’s 2 AM and I am pleased to welcome you back to Forbidden Histories, America’s only honest radio show. I’m your host, Dr. Zachary Burns, bringing you stories of the extraordinary, the spectacular, the paranormal and the peculiar. We’ve got a hell of a show for you tonight, folks, hell of a show. Our first patriot is calling all the way from Colorado, the Rockies, to alert this fine nation of the secret cabal that has infiltrated our government. And our second guest, well, our second guest has a fiery tale about his encounter with a demonic being in the hills of the American Southwest. You know the drill, America- we’ll open the lines after each interview so you can call in with your questions and your appreciation. Let’s get a quick word from our sponsor, Goldman’s Gold Exchange, and then we’ll jump straight into the interview.”

Zachary transferred the line to the commercial while he looked over his notes for the night. He ran his hand through this thinning hair, feeling the small halo of exposed scalp, and made a mental note to check up on whether any of their sponsors specialised in hair loss treatment. Looking through his notes on the first caller, he saw her hypothetical form revolving in his minds’ eye. Woman in her mid-40s, emaciated, straw-like hair, perpetually clad in a nightdress and slippers, single, probably spent more on feeding her cats than on feeding herself. He took a sip of coffee and one more glance at the notes as his producer signaled him from his booth, counting down until he was back on the air. Sitting up straight and clearing his throat, Zachary powered up his microphone.

“That was Goldman’s Gold Exchange, the fairest gold exchange business this side of the Pacific. Remember, folks, that paper in your wallet will one day be useless, but gold never loses its value. Now, I’m very excited to bring on our first guest tonight, a patriot named Mary who has learned of a secret cabal of genetically modified subversives who are attempting to control every aspect of our government and, by extension, our lives. Not that we would allow them to, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Now, live from Colorado, here’s Mary!”

Signaling to his producer, white noise filtered into his headphones. He waited a moment, hearing the faint sound of a cat’s meow. “Welcome to Forbidden Histories, Mary, you’re on the air.”

A few more moments passed, and when he got no response from the end he tried to prompt her with, “Mary? Mary, hon, are you there? You’re on the air.”

Suddenly, her voice exploded onto his headphones, amplified by her radio playing in the background. “Oh my- oh my goodness! Dr. Burns, is that really you?”

Zachary winced, pulling the headphones away from his ears while saying, “The one and only, my dear. Quickly, though, before we continue, would you mind turning your radio down?”

“Oh, um, of course! Let me- Mittens, get down from there!”

Zachary heard the sound of smashing crockery followed by the indignant screech of a cat, and a few moments later Mary said, “Is that better, Dr. Burns? Can you hear me better?”

“Absolutely, Mary, I can hear you just fine.”

“Oh thank goodness, thank goodness. I must say, Dr. Burns, I absolutely love your show and listen to it every chance I get. It is just so comforting knowing that there is someone in this country that doesn’t believe the lies being fed to the general public.”

“Well Mary, I take pride in the courage our program and its producers show in daring to speak out against what is considered common knowledge, and of course the fact that patriots like you are willing to call in and share the truth. Now, as I understand it, you have recently come across knowledge that a secret cabal has infiltrated the government, correct?”

Zachary glanced down at his notes, reviewing what she had told the producers, as she stammered out a reply. After a few agonizing moments of listening to her try to force the words out, she finally blurted out, “Bird people!”

Zachary cocked an eyebrow, waiting for her to say something else, and then gently prompted her with, “Mary, are you saying that bird people have infiltrated our government?”

Waiting on her, he re-lit his cigar with his gold-plated lighter.  Puffing on it with his eyes closed, he quietly hoped that she wouldn’t prattle on for too long.  “Yes! Bird people. Bird people and their agenda have taken over the highest levels of our government, trying to control the United States of America!”

“That is fascinating, Mary, and it sounds quite concerning. What is it that the bird people are trying to do?”

“They’re trying to turn us into bird people! That’s why the government has started putting fluoride in the water the water, you know. People, you know, scientists have found research that shows that fluoride make your bones hollow! Like birds! Can you believe that, Dr. Burns?”

Taking a quick sip of coffee, Zachary replied, “Mary, dear, I could believe anything you told me. How is it you found this out?”

Mary continued to speak, breathless in her excitement. “Well, you see, my cat Mittens, he hates birds. And I noticed that ever since this new president and this democratic congress have come into power, every time they’re on the news Mittens just starts acting crazy, like there’s a bird around. But there’s not any birds in my house, not anymore, and it was only when they were on the TV that he acted like that, so I started watching real careful, real careful, and I could see feathers on the Secret Service agents! Feathers, Dr. Burns! They tried to hide them but couldn’t, not from me. If you watch real careful, you’ll see them under their shirts, though maybe now that I’m on the radio they’ll start to hide them better.”

Absentmindedly nodding as he exhaled smoke, Zachary asked, “That’s very concerning, Mary. Do you know how long the bird people have been infiltrating our government like this?”

“Yes, yes, I do, I do. It’s been going on since the 1950s. Operation Paperclip, you know, that’s where it all started-“

Cutting her off, Zachary leaned forward into the microphone and said, “For the younger listeners in the audience, Operation Paperclip was a United States operation after World War II that brought Nazi scientists over to our great nation to harness their scientific abilities for the space program and the like.  A necessary evil to keep the Communists from our door.”

“Yes, yes, that’s it,” continued Mary, “Operation Paperclip. The scientists, you know, some of them were getenic, uh, tecengic, uh, DNA specialists. And, um, well, one of the things they tried doing was splicing person DNA with eagle DNA. The Nazis loved eagles, I’m sure you know, they had eagles on everything. And they wanted to make eagle people, you know, what they called adler menschen. That’s German for bird people. That was what Hitler really wanted, that was his idea of a pure race, a race of warrior eagle people! But they ran out of time when we landed at Normandy, God bless our troops. But some of those scientists got brought over during Operation Paperclip and continued their experiments in secret! They kidnapped hard working American citizens and turned them into Hitler’s warrior eagle people, and since eagles have small brains they were able to more easily brainwash them with Nazi beliefs. And since the scientists were so high up in our government, it was easy to plant the bird people there! And that’s what they’ve been doing ever since, slowly taking over our government with Nazi bird people.“

Leaning forward with his cigar in his mouth, he bent to scratch his nose and accidentally dropped ash in his coffee mug.  Trying to keep himself from swearing on air while simultaneously scrambling to keep the conversation going, he asked, “Mary, have you shared this with anyone else?” as he signaled to his producer, Rick, for another cup of coffee.  Rick rolled his eyes and waved down an employee of the studio, and Zachary was pleased to see him head towards the break room.

“Uh-huh, uh-huh, I’ve told all the girls at church about it,” she said, scarcely able to get one syllable out before stumbling to the next, “Doris is my best friend but she thinks I’m crazy for not believing that Reptilians are controlling us.  Isn’t that the craziest thing, thinking reptiles could do a thing like that?  She is kind of slow, though, God bless her.  My daddy was in the war, you know, and told me all about the Nazis, and kept telling me about them even when everyone said he had gone a bit of funny, God rest his soul.  That’s how I know it’s the Nazis, only the Nazis could do something like this.”

The man returned with a cup of coffee and handed it to Zachary, who gave his silent thanks.  He carefully placed it away from him and asked, “Mary, do you suspect that the President is one of the bird people?”

“I don’t think so, Dr. Burns.  I know his closest Secret Service agents are, and I know most members of Congress are along with the Vice President, but I don’t think the President is yet, though it’s only a matter of time.  It’s only a matter of time before they get him.  They’re already putting policies into place for their bird people agenda, and soon they’ll start killing off anyone who refuses to go along with it or can’t survive the operation. That’s why so many Jews died in the Holocaust, you know, they tried to change them but Jewish DNA is weak and they’re barely fit-”

Zachary’s eyes went wide when he realized which direction this was going and he signaled to his producer to cut the call.  He felt a huge wave of relief when the other end of the line went silent, knowing he dodged an earful from his sponsors.  With the practiced smoothness of a man well-versed in lurching from one potential PR catastrophe to the next, he said, “It looks like we’ve lost the call with the Mary, though all of that was very eye opening, very scary stuff.  It’s very brave of her to come forward with this information and alert us to the danger, so we can all stay vigilant against it.  If anyone else hears anything of a similar nature, I encourage you to come forward with your info.

“Unfortunately, since we lost the call, we will not be able to do any sort of Q&A with Mary, so I guess we’ll go ahead and move to our next guest.  His name is Jack, he’s a former firefighter from the Southwest and he has a very interesting tale about his encounter with a demonic entity that is only known as the ‘Ash Man’. So while we get him on the line, we’ll hear another word from one of our sponsors, Sullivan’s Survival Crackers.  You’re listening to Forbidden Histories, folks, stay tuned for what comes after the break.”

Darkest Dungeon 26

Matron Thessia,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I apologize for the delay in writing to you. We spent nearly 3 weeks in the hellish darkness of the warrens, but I have spent the time since our return purging myself of the taint of those tunnels. I have flogged my back raw and performed my Mending thrice a day, and still I can smell the stink and see the horrors of it when I close my eyes. My hand trembles as I put quill to parchment, and I hope that in writing to you of it I may finally shed myself of its weight.

Raziq has still not recovered after the suffering inflicted by his own infernal skills, occult magic cut from the same cloth as that of the cultists, and he has been prone to fits and fatigue ever since. When we were finally tasked with delving into the warrens once more, he was in no state to travel, and Clarke leaped at the opportunity to place his man Cole with the group. I was not pleased that we were to explore the depths with that drunk, though he quickly displayed his martial prowess when we found ourselves set upon immediately upon entering the tunnels. The abominable swine-men fell on us with a newfound strength and ferocity, striking with their crude axes, and it was only through Cole’s mastery of mace and shield we were able to repel the assault. We were fresh from the hamlet yet the attack had left us winded, they had launched themselves at us with such force. This filled me with a deep sense of foreboding of what was yet to come, but there was little else we could do but press onwards into the darkness.

Our previous explorations were well marked upon the tunnel walls, where we had etched our passage into the grime. It was then that Cole revealed Clarke had tasked him with outright destroying the cult, removing their influence from the warrens entirely- a haughty goal, something I knew even then. But Cole was a soldier who had received a command, and thought of nothing else except carrying it out. Morgan had told me of how he had driven the party to near exhaustion within the weald, and he repeated a similar feat within that infernal maze. He pushed us to the end of our strength so as to reach the cult’s territory as quickly as possible. We did, for we approached the first of those repulsive wards in half the time we would have otherwise, though at the cost of leaving so exhausted we could scarcely stand. It was only then that Cole allowed us to take our first rest.

We were grateful for the opportunity and quickly made camp, though our peace did not last for long. We could not have slept for more than one turn of the hourglass when we found ourselves under attack once more by the swine-men. In the confusion we were scattered and disorganized, unable to repel the attack, and Cole ordered us to retreat. The monsters had come from the same direction that we had, and the only escape was through tunnels we had not yet explored. I cannot believe that such a turn of events arose purely out of coincidence; I am certain the cultists engineered the event. Regardless, we fled from those horrors into the unknown tunnels. In the darkness and confusion, it was impossible to know where we may have been amongst those constant twists and turns. I know not how long we ran, but it was some time before we realized that we could no longer hear the sounds of our pursuers and paused to orient ourselves. When our torch was properly lit, we surveyed our surroundings and were confronted with the cult’s depravity.

That effluvial grime that had been encrusted upon the stones of the warrens was absent entirely. In its place grew a large swath of what can only be described as skinless flesh, raw meat dripping with crimson ichor. It had greedily snaked tendrils into the crevices of the stone, seeking to grow outward, and where it was not the stone lay bare. It grew in uneven patches upon the walls, though at first we did not recognize what we beheld. As realization swept through the group, we became frantic to escape, but all for naught. We were entirely lost within that labyrinth of tunnels with no way to mark our passage, and as we moved through them those vile tumors grew larger and larger upon the walls. We wandered endlessly, aimlessly, desperately trying to find our way back, when Cole finally realized the futility of it. He ordered us to set up camp once more with our diminished supplies. In the safety of the hamlet, I shiver at the memory of sleeping under the watch of those fetid growths, but I was unspeakably exhausted and glad for any chance to rest.

We slept unmolested, and continued our trek through the tunnels once we awoke. It was then I detected the undercurrent of that acrid scent beneath the stink of the place. I foolishly decided to bring it to the group’s attention, and Cole realized that Wolfswift’s senses were the sharpest among us. She was able to pick it out like a thread and follow it, leading us through the tunnels like a bloodhound. I suspect that Cole saw this as an opportunity to carry out Clarke’s command, though it seemed to me like insanity. As we traveled, the tumors grew steadily larger upon the walls, until I began to see other aberrations growing inside them. In the flickering torchlight, I glimpsed the faint shapes of swine snouts and pig ears emerging from the growths, and I averted my gaze from the grotesque creations. We moved along the tunnel in silence until we turned a corner were confronted with a sow’s half-formed face pressing out from a tumor, with one mad eye swiveling wildly in its socket as its skeletal jaw struggled against the flesh wrapped around it.

This unnatural sight proved to be too much for the leper. Before we could react, York charged forward with a ghastly scream and began to hack away at the facsimile of a sow. That crimson ichor sprayed over his armor as he shouted crazed commands for his watchers to allow him rest and we rushed forward to calm him. It was too late, however. We heard the sound of approaching enemies and braced ourselves for an attack. The monstrous swine-men showed themselves and Cole rallied us to repel the attack, but York leapt forward like a mad berserker. He attacked the three of them, swinging his sword over his head again and again while driving the monsters back, taking no notice as their cruel axes bit at his skin. He slew one, and then another, but it was as he was bringing his sword back for another strike that the remaining swine-man’s axe found its mark on York’s shoulder and sliced its way through his body.

We stared on in horror as the two halves of York fell to the ground, spilling his innards upon the floor of the tunnels. We were mesmerized by the gory spectacle, but as the remaining swine-man stepped over the bloody pile of York’s remains Cole leapt forward with his shield. He deftly dispatched the creature with his mace and we quickly rushed to what was left of York, though there was nothing we could do. The man had surely died instantly, and I can only pray it was painless for his sake, and mine. With no means with which to bury our fallen companion, Cole ordered him stripped of his supplies and we carried on, following the trail of the scent. As we set out, I asked Cole to consider searching for the exit, but he refused and continued to press onward. York had bloodied and slashed that tumor with the half-face, leaving it unrecognizable – except for the eye. The thing that had driven him mad still remained, and swiveled to stare at us as we marched past.

I apologize for my illegible writing, Matron. I cannot control the shaking of my hands.

We pressed on into the dark of the tunnels, leaving our slain companion behind. The pulsing flesh pressed in on us from all sides as we traveled, still tracing that acrid scent. As we followed it, it became so distinctive that even Cole and I could discern it clearly under the smothering stink of the tunnels. We began to hear a sound from deeper in the sewers, echoing off the stones to reach our ears, though then it was impossible to know what may have made it. As we moved inexorably forward, the tunnels became indescribably humid, only adding to our exhaustion. We took our rest and comfort when we could – Cole in his drink, Wolfswift in her pagan rituals, and myelf in prayer. I tried to pray for York’s soul, Matron, but in truth I could only muster the strength to beg the Goddess for protection from whatever hell we pursued.

As we pushed onward in the tunnels, under the oppressive heat and pulsating tumors, I began to feel the Light of the Goddess fade from my spirit. It is a blasphemous thing to write, Matron, but it is the truth. Deep within the warrens, under those gaping tumors and close to where the cultists conducted their demonic schemes, the Light of the Goddess cannot shine. I realized this began to beg and plead with Cole to flee, to return to the surface, but he would not hear of it. Half-drunk, he merely instructed me to steel myself for the battle ahead. I attempted to seek counsel with Wolfswift, but she was as unnerved as I was, wide eyed and quietly chanting something in her guttural tongue.

We began to identify the sound as a swine-like scream, one that sounded at random intervals. The flesh began to grow so thick that portions of it hung down from the stone like some repulsive fruit, and we had no choice but to hack it away as it impeded our progress. The smell was overpowering then, and we knew we were close. I was afraid, Matron, nearly paralyzed with fear, but Cole never allowed a thought of retreat. He intently pushed us forward, making our way as fast as we could afford, until suddenly and unexpectedly we came upon a door.

The image of that door is still burned into my thoughts. The growths had not touched it- rather, it seemed as if it had been avoided all together. The cult’s sigil had been carved into it, and in the center of the sigil rested another one of those repulsive wards, much larger than any we had seen, and a pile of entrails had been gathered below it. It was too much for me and I was overcome with nausea, vomiting my last meager meal. Cole and Wolfswift both gagged and stumbled from the ward’s effect, but Cole found his strength and swung his massive mace, destroying it and releasing us from its effect. From behind the door, the scream sounded again, and with another mighty swing of the mace, Cole destroyed the door. With the door broken, that scent spilled out, and it was only then that I recognized the stench of singed flesh and hair. Cole stepped through the ruined door with our torch, illuminating the foul prize we had uncovered.

It was a large chamber, and every inch had been infested with those horrific growths and the swine parts cultivated within. The flesh felt spongy under our boots, and there were pools of that crimson fluid that had collected within the pits of the flesh upon the floor. There were three of the robed cultists in the back of the chamber, surely working toward some nefarious goal, but their bodies and the flickering light of the torch made it impossible to see what they may have been doing. Cole shouted and charged towards them, his going slowed by the softness of the floor, when that screaming began again. He paused in his assault while the cultists remained still, their faces and intentions hidden from us.

We surveyed the chamber, attempting to discover where the howling may have come from, when I saw that the growth upon one wall had begun to ooze profusely. One of the half-formed swine faces, much like the one that had driven York mad, was working its jaw and struggling free of its tumorous prison. There was a horrific sound as the flesh tore, freeing the swine’s jaw and allowing the deafening scream to fill the chamber. We paused in place, transfixed with terror at this strange new creature, when there was another sound of ripping flesh as it freed one of its malformed appendages. It was only then we realized what we faced, that the cultists had somehow created this monstrosity of flesh, pig, and blood as it continued to lurch free of its prison. It clawed towards, using its sickening limb to clutch the flesh upon the ground and pull itself closer, tearing more of the tendrils that bound it. There was another scream and we saw another foul, half-formed beast attempting to do the same, and then with a final disgusting rip the first creature tore its bounds and began moving towards us.

Cole called for us to rally and leaped at our first attacker, swinging his mace with all his strength, though to no effect. He hit the creature’s body with a sickening thud, clearly shattering the bones in the appendage, but it seemed not to notice. Cole attempted to remove his mace, but found it was stuck in the soft flesh. He growled and shouted, giving the mace up for lost as he retreated with naught but his shield. He fought valiantly as the two horrors converged on him, using his shield as best he could, but I watched as the man was ripped apart by the beasts and the cultists stood in their place.

I am ashamed to admit that I was paralyzed with fear, Matron, but I was powerless in the face of such blasphemous abnormalities. The Light of the Goddess did not shine in such a place, and there was not I could do. The monstrosities had begun to advance on us, and Wolfswift slashed at one with her glaive. She removed one of its limbs, but that did little to slow the creature’s advance. Seeing no other options, Wolfswift shouted for us to flee. And we did.

We ran from the room and through the tunnels blindly, not knowing where we were but desperate to find our way out of those demonic tunnels. We did not hear the sound of pursuers, but that did not curb our desperation. We ran as fast as our legs could take us, and Wolfswift’s prosthetic limb did not slow her. We ran and wandered for an unknown amount of time, wanting nothing more than to feel fresh air upon our faces. We had been unable to mark our way through the passages; our only method of navigation was following where the growths looked thinner. We did not rest until, by luck or design, we found ourselves finally clear of those repulsive growths. I believed then that surely I would fall dead from exhaustion, but Wolfswift insisted we continue traveling. We were finally treading upon familiar territory, and could follow our markers to the surface. We took a little rest then, but we did not stop for long, both out of fear being caught by the swine-men and wanting nothing more than to finally be free of the tunnels.

Following the markers, we reached the entrance to the warrens. We sprinted through, finally emerging to the surface, but I found myself nearly overwhelmed by the fresh air and sunlight; I had become so accustomed to the stink and darkness of the sewers it was almost painful to be outside. The relief I had expected to feel did not come. I thought would have been joyful at finally escaping. Rather, I found myself immediately reflecting upon the horrors I had just escaped, unable to put them behind me, and it has been as such since my return.

I cannot go back into the warrens. I will gladly face the undead horrors of the ruined manor a hundred times before I return to the hellish and humid darkness of those tunnels. It is too much to ask of me. I still shake and tremble uncontrollably now, reflecting on the things I have witnessed. My courage would surely fail me if I were to stand upon its precipice again, being tasked with facing down those creatures of nightmare. I cannot, and will not. If the cult of blood magic practitioners are only a symptom of what the elder Clarke half pulled into this world, and not the cause, then this estate is beyond saving! The world would be served only if the Goddess’s righteous fire was visited upon it, razing it from existence.

I will remain here if you command it, Matron, but there is little I can do in the face of such evil. I cannot go back into those tunnels.

Sister Catherine

Darkest Dungeon 25

Matron Thessia,

It has been a week since our return from the warrens, and we have not yet been tasked with another exploration. I do not hold hope that Clarke has taken his satisfaction and will spare us from further explorations; rather, it seems that he intends for us to spend the most time yet within those infernal tunnels soon. A self-styled curator of curios has recently joined us in the hamlet, and while he is a rather unpleasant person his skill with a ledger has found him in charge of our stores. I have heard from York that he has set aside triple the usual rations at Cole’s behest, and I can only assume it is meant for us. Raziq has still not recovered from being subject to his own occult magicks, and has been suffering from fits ever since our return. He has been in Morgan’s care who has tried some elixirs of her own creation to heal his ailment, though none have yet worked.

Clarke himself is a rare sight these days. He has been seen less and less by the travelers, choosing to use Cole as his mouthpiece when a need to communicate with the us arises. I have seen him once in the past week, and it was strange to see that he diminished in some way over these past months. When he first arrived upon the estate, he had an emaciated appearance but he spoke with the authority of a man who had returned to claim what was rightfully his. Now though, he looks withdrawn and withered, speaking quietly when he speaks at all. No one save Cole knows where he spends his time when he is not within the hamlet, but there are insidious rumors that he has begun to walk the path that led his father to opening that portal beneath the estate. They are said softly, and never within hearing of Cole, but they are said all the same. For my part, I do not believe it, but I do wonder if perhaps his link to the rotting estate is a burden upon his spirit. If we are to banish whatever his father half-pulled into the world it is important that he maintains his fortitude, for without him the travelers’ sacrifices will be for naught.

York is suffering from spiritual disquiet of a different nature, though he has refused my attempts to help him. He has remained perturbed by the idea that the monster we last slew within the warrens was Benedict, or some perversion of him. York’s time within the leprosarium has rendered him resolute to the most horrific scenes of the warrens, but this lingering thought has proved to be too much for him. I do not believe that York counted Benedict among his friends- I do not believe any of the travelers have friends within the hamlet- but it is grotesque to imagine a fellow compatriot falling foul of the cultist’s horrific experiments. I have repeated that Benedict’s life was ended when the murderous cultist drove his dirk into his throat, but York has a myopic view of the Order and refuses to see the truth. He has demanded that I leave him be and I have acquiesced for now, though I hope he will be free of distraction before we are tasked to venture into the warrens once more.

I believe Wolfswift’s desire for vengeance has been suitably sated by our previous exploration, for she has calmed significantly. I have been looking after her injured leg which still bears open sores, and it is a testament to her fortitude that she is able to stand and fight while enduring such discomfort. It has taken much coaxing, but Wolfswift has relinquished her false limb for a time to Morgan who is working to make it more comfortable for the pagan. Wolfswift has added to the intricate design of the the leg, carving a blooded pig cowering before the wolf’s jaws. While it is a pagan image, I take the meaning clear enough. Of the travelers who have ventured into the warrens, I believe that she has been the least affected by the things we have seen despite bearing the most grievous of wounds.

I have been spending much of my time within the church, fortifying myself for the challenges ahead. I have performed the Mending twice a day, purifying my spirit of any taint the warrens may have left upon me. It has helped me maintain my focus, though I find my thoughts wander towards the bloody scenes we have witnessed within the warrens when I am not preoccupied. I still shudder when I think of my ill-fated venture into the ruins of the manor, as the undead fell upon me with their cruel swords. It is in these moments that I feel weakest, though I know that the Goddess is with me always. I have discovered a veritable library within the cellar of the church, a stack of forgotten and moldy scrolls. I have been perusing them to pass the time when I am not at my duties, and I hope to learn a thing or two about the history of this hamlet. Much of them have been ruined and what is legible is not very revealing, but I hold hope that I may learn more about the Clarke lineage. Perhaps it will reveal the activities of the elder Clarke before he passed, and explain the thing he half-pulled into our world.

I do not know when we will be expected to depart again. I will write to you if I am able, but I cannot promise it. If several weeks pass without a letter, please do not fret. I anticipate that our next exploration will be our longest yet, but I trust that my faith and the Goddess will see me through whatever trials lie ahead. Please send my regards to Acolyte Abigail.

May the light cast away the shadows of our fears.

Sister Catherine

Darkest Dungeon 24

Matron Thessia,

Wolfswift has joined us once more, replacing Benedict after his death during the last exploration. She has recovered quickly from her wound, even more quickly than Morgan had anticipated, and she has fashioned herself a wooden leg to replace her lost appendage. It is an intimidating thing, carved from cedar in the visage of a wolf. Morgan balked at the idea of letting her back into the warrens so quickly after sustaining such a dreadful injury, but Wolfswift’s vengeance would not be denied. As Raziq, York, and I were being given our task by Cole, she angrily burst into the tavern and insisted that she travel with us. Cole was apathetic to her passion and merely reminded her that if she died, we were not privy to her share, which mattered not to her.

Our entrance into the warrens repeated the same familiar pattern as our previous explorations, and we found ourselves quickly set upon by those terrible swine-men and their ragged axes. Wolfswift proved herself in battle once more, her artificial appendage proving to not be a liability. As blood began to be spilled, she lost herself in that primal bloodlust we were familiar with, carving a swath through the monsters in our way. Her thirst for blood seemed insatiable as she cut open the swine-men that stood before us, splashing their foul blood and innards upon the stones of the warrens. It would not be a lie to say that we grew to fear her more than the abominations as she covered herself in their entrails, gleefully cackling at every one slain. It was solely her doing that we delved as deep as we did, deeper than we ever have, and we began to uncover evidence of the cult’s treacherous magicks.

We first came upon the skin of a pig, freshly killed, strung tightly against the rotting stone of the wall. Its entrails were piled beneath it in a strangely organized fashion, almost ritualistically, and our entire party experienced an overwhelming sense of revulsion at the sight. I am no stranger to the work of butchers, but something about the scene caused me great spiritual distress. We did our best to push forward and we moved on from the swine’s corpse, deeper into the tunnel while marking our way all the while. It was not long before we came across another pig, its skin stretched and entrails gathered in a similar manner as the first. We were overcome with that same sense of disgust when Raziq identified that the entrails formed the cultists’ strange sigil, as if it were a ward against trespassers. He pulled a strange yellow powder from a pouch and muttered a few words, coating the bloody entrails in it, and we were suddenly released from its nauseating hold. We discovered two more of these terrible wards as we moved forward, and Raziq was able to neutralize them in the same fashion.

Wolfswift maintained a grueling pace, scarcely allowing us to rest her thirst for vengeance was so great. As we pushed deeper into the tunnel we came across even more revolting scenes, each testing our party’s resolve. We encountered the carcass of one of the cult’s experiments, another swine-man abomination, though this was different than the others we had seen. This creature had the body and legs of a massive boar, much larger than any I have ever seen, but the torso of a man was attached where the head should have been. In the dim light of the tunnels it was impossible to tell what may have killed it, for those strange maggots had taken to feasting upon the body. We did our best to skirt around it, avoiding the attention of the maggots, and push on further into the tunnels.

It was not long after we had come across the carcass that another horror confronted us, the likes of which we had yet to see. It was a strange, gruesome thing that hobbled out of the darkness, its silhouette both familiar and unknown. It was shrouded in the shredded remains of a cloak, though most of its flesh was exposed to the acrid air of the tunnels. Bulbous formations had erupted under its skin, swollen and discolored with blood, deforming any semblance to the man it may have once been. We saw that the monstrosity was unarmed as it approached and we held our ground in confusion, unsure of what to make of the new abomination. Even Wolfswift was stayed by the creature’s approach, cautiously keeping it at the tip of her halberd, when the creature belched and vomited sticky, black blood all over our party.

With a vicious scream, Wolfswift lunged at the creature, though we were all slowed by the fluid. She swiped at the creature, slicing it across its front, but the fleshy monster merely vomited blood all over once more. York struggled against the blood as he rushed to join Talana in the assault, and Raziq began his strange incantations. I muttered a prayer that purified my person of the black blood, freeing myself to join the assault upon the regurgitating monstrosity. Wolfswift and York were struggling against the blood that covered them, weighed down and reeling from the shock of the grotesque assault, and I did what I could to cleanse them of the foul-smelling ichor. They hacked at the creature, spilling its blood and shearing its flesh when I heard Raziq cry out in horror. From the ceiling above him, the shadowy and incorporeal hand he foolishly called forth held his head in its grasp, leaving him wide eyed and whimpering in pain, until the shadow dissipated. He remained standing, shaking in fear, and there was little else I could do except continue to assist York and Wolfswift as they gouged the monster with their weapons.

The creature finally fell to the assault, hacked to pieces and left upon the grimy stone floor. Its vile attack had left us all shaken and disgusted, and it was even more hours before Raziq’s paralysis left him and he was able to move of his own accord. It was with disappointment that we realized the fluids had seeped into our stores and spoiled our rations, forcing our retreat from the tunnels. Even Wolfswift agreed that there was little else we could do but return to the hamlet, her lust for blood sated temporarily.

It seems that the blood cultists’ blasphemous experiments are far more dangerous than previously thought. With the knowledge gained, our goals have become clear, for we must find a way to stop the cultists from continuing their foul art. I know not how we can do this, though perhaps Raziq can discover something within his library of tomes. He has not yet recovered from that strange hand passing through him, however, and has constantly complained of being cold since our return. I suspect the nature of it is derived from his occult art and I have been charged with caring for him in the hopes that my prayers will do what Morgan cannot.

I have spoken at length with York about our experience in the warrens, and he has suggested a dangerous thing. He has suggested that creature we fought may have been Benedict, for the shredded cloak it wore was the same as his. I have insisted that he is in error, for it is not possible that Benedict would have survived his wound. It is too awful a fate to befall one who is working to reverse the wrongs infesting the estate, and She would not allow it.

May the Goddess show us the light when things look darkest.

Sister Catherine

Darkest Dungeon 23

Matron Thessia,

Benedict has been murdered.  I do not know how else to describe it, for it does not suffice to say that he merely fell in battle. We were set upon once more by those awful swine-men, deep within the tunnels. We were better able to steel our nerve against those hulking monsters, having already encountered them. York and Benedict held the line well against the monstrous assault, repelling and skewering the abominations, while Raziq eschewed martial prowess in favour of his occult art. As we fought against them, three strange robed figures emerged from the darkness behind the creatures. In the flurry of battle and flickering torch light it was difficult to see these eerie figures, though I for one struggled to believe that men were under the cloth. Grotesque, bulbous formations strained against the fabric of their robes from within, and patches of it were heavy with dampness. The hoods obscured the faces, which only served to make their presence more intimidating.

The battle was nightmarish. The swine-men bled prodigiously, and with every slash against them more blood was spilled upon the ground. Raziq continuously chanted in some alien tongue, using his dark art upon the enemy. I recall a swarm of scarabs exploding from the flesh of one of the swine-men, ravenously feasting on its skin until the creature collapsed and the insects vanished into dust. I watched as Benedict bravely lunged at one of the swine-men with his dirk, thrusting it deep into its bowels. The creature collapsed in a heap and we all took heart, when suddenly one of the hooded cultists effortlessly stepped over the carcass and reached for Benedict. I saw a bloodied, fleshy hand clutching a dagger emerge from the tattered sleeve of the robe and had no time to react as the cultist drove the blade into Benedict’s throat and then roughly tore it free, severing the soft flesh. Blood sprayed from Benedict’s neck and poured down his shirt as his scream came out as little more than a gurgle, and he weakly swiped at his assailant before falling forward. The cultist embraced him and began to drag him backwards into the darkness, and though I attempted to give chase I was stopped by the swine-men still battling York. Raziq made a motion as if he had intended to stop them, but a cultist spat a guttural sound at him as if it were a weapon, and suddenly Raziq screamed in pain as his arm swelled in size. Helplessly, I watched the cultists drag Benedict into the darkness they had emerged from. All our attempts to follow them were thwarted by the swine-men still assaulting York; our only choice was to stand shoulder to shoulder, and together York and I battled the two remaining beasts. Being so close to such abominations was horrible, and I still shudder to recall the splash of their blood on my own face as we fought them. But for all our horror and exhaustion we managed to avoid their powerful blows for the most part, and after what seemed an endless struggle we were finally able to slay those last beasts of nightmare.

After the battle, I insisted we give chase to retrieve Benedict, though York refused, demanding that instead we should rest and regain our strength. I was barely able to stand, the fight had exhausted me so, but I feared for Benedict’s soul- I worried that if one were to die in such an unholy place, their spirit would be forever trapped and out of the reach of the Goddess. I see now that such thoughts are folly, and have paid my penance for it, but the effect the darkness and those noxious fumes have on the mind is difficult to describe. I know that I am always within the reach of the Goddess, for I was able to use a healing prayer on Raziq’s arm to ease his pain. It did little for the swelling and the discoloration, though the arm slowly returned to its normal state during the rest of our exploration.

We were not able to travel for much longer, due to the queer air spoiling our food. Heavily salting our rations improves their longevity, if not their taste, but we were forced to return to the surface shortly after our battle. Benedict’s fate weighed heavily on my mind during our retreat, as it does now. With his death three of our number have now met cruel fates upon this estate, but it does not seem as if their deaths were worth much. Least of all the meagre coin Clarke pays. We have continued to wander the tunnels at Clarke’s behest, who insists that our task of exploring is not yet done, though I do not know what more he hopes to discover. Raziq has suggested that perhaps there is something we can do that would at least diminish the dark power in the sewers, if not eradicate it, though what it might be is unknown to him.

Raziq’s occult art is a disquieting thing to witness. I have always been warned that the draw of the occult is a terribly powerful thing and rightfully so, for you cannot throw a stone upon the estate without it striking some symptom of the elder Clarke’s corruption. Raziq conjures things, creating something where once there was nothing, and I believe his magicks to be cut from the cloth of the cultists’. He does practice with restraint and discipline, though such things still must be guarded against. I trust the Goddess will protect us in this regard, lest we all be consumed by it.

I have said a prayer for Benedict’s soul tonight, trapped as it may be within the sewers alongside the blood cult and those awful swine-men. It is becoming difficult to think on what trials further await us in those infernal warrens. My sleep has become fitful, for flashes of the violence and the blood spilled with it infest my dreams and wake me every other hour. I have been performing the Mending daily clear my mind, but such methods seem not to bring me the peace they brought before. Perhaps I must explore alternate solutions, so I may take proper rest once more.

May the Goddess grant me the strength to bear the unbearable.

Sister Catherine