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HFTH - Episode 156 - Clarities



Content warnings for this episode include: Beating a child, Abuse, Ableism, Animal death (Shank as usual), Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Memory loss, Gun Mention, Static (including sfx)

Emotional Manipulation, Body horror


The Interrogation - Method

Auditor

Describe how you did it. What was the method?


Nikignik

I was already there to destroy the heart.


Auditor

Why?


Nikignik

The fire was beginning to spread. It would have doomed not only earth, but worlds beyond. I could not let it corrupt the fire of souls across this universe and doom the Industry of Souls.


Auditor

Your method.


Nikignik

I had led a being there—a small life form named Diggory Graves. They were designed as a siphon, of sorts. And there was a physical weapon available also, to damage the shell.


Auditor

Your method.


Nikignik

Waking.


Story 1 - Vicious Columns

“Instrumentalist Killer Case Could Be Clementine’s Last,” Russell McGowan read, and frowned. “Eyewitnesses at the Upper Trunk Infirmary report that Clementine Maidstone was brought in to intensive care just hours before the Instrumentalist Killer’s body was transported to the Scout City Morgue. She was spirited away from the site hours later, accompanied by Mayor Valerie Maidstone and a regiment of combat scouts in two rootcrawlers.


Although we can only guess as to the intensity of her injuries, witnesses suggest that Clementine Maidstone is in critical condition following a confrontation with the killer behind the latest string of Scout killings, dubbed ‘Shank’ by Scout City deputies. If Clementine’s controversial career is truly careening to an end, we must ask ourselves whether it will be for the best to have Scout City’s self-appointed detective hanging up her hat.”


“Victoria wrote that?” said Arnold, crossing his mismatched hands on the table that sat in the center of their groundskeeping station. “That’s not very nice.”


“When has Victoria ever been nice,” said Russell, glancing over the rest of the page. Fancier words than he usually constructed, ones about the ethics of investigating and Clementine’s many and public mishaps. “She is right about one thing though—Clementine’s hurt. Mom didn’t tell me the specifics, but it’s bad. I worry we set her off on this, with Big Mikey.”


“Victoria… she’s complicated,” said Arnold, blinking with his wide eyes. “We were in a summer camp together, once. Well. You know the one. I don’t remember a hundred percent of what happened before I was… uh. Deer lunch. But while I’ve been growing back together, she’s never been far, you know? Always keeping an eye on me. Especially after Harrow. She’s not always as ferocious as she is when she writes.”


“Right,” Russell said, and rested his head in his hands. “If you say so.”


“Do you think it’s really over?” said Arnold, sipping his coffee with both hands. “I can’t believe they got him. Usually that’s our job.”


“Something about it doesn’t strike me as quite right,” said Russell, looking up to the skylights and the rusted combination car hanging above them. “I don’t understand the connection. What a guy dressed as a pig has to do with the Instrumentalist. Why he would have killed Abe.”


“And the others,” gulped Arnold.


“And the others,” said Russell, and shook his head. “I should check in with Heather. Maybe they found something about him, something in the northern logfall, that would explain it. But if anyone knows, it’s not Victoria or the rest of the Scout City Almanac.”


“That’s the thing about our work,” said Arnold, and having finished his coffee, ran his thumbs beneath his coverall straps to straighten them. “It feels like they did the surface level thing, you know? The root of it has still got to be somewhere, buried.”


“I propose,” said Russell, and for the first time wondered if his assistant would shape up yet. “That we do a little digging of our own. Grab the shovels.”


Story 2 - Someone Else's Hand

“Hold up now,” said Buck. “You lost me at vampires.”


“How did I lose you at vampires?” said Hope, who was sitting on Marco’s shoulders. “In Scout City there’s zombies and Froglins and all sorts of things.”


“And none of them are safe for you to be around,” said Brooklyn. “How did you possibly think this was okay?”


“I assure you, vampires are extremely real,” said the Humble Boot, and Buck looked up to find that the grizzled traveler was still perched in their front door. “And oh, their boots are mighty. If you’ve never had the misfortune of meeting one then count yourself lucky. Those who dabble with such darknesses do not stay unchanged long, and their laces entangled. I got into a bit of a scrap with the King of America. You should see the size of his empire, dark motorbikes and caravans passing in the night. Oh yes, he is full of stolen soles, and his followers are as cracked and bent as he is. One of them, undoubtedly is here to kill me. As if forcing me into exile, across an ocean where boots cannot walk, is not enough of a humiliation. And shaving my glorious beard.”


“He shaved your beard?” said Marco.


“Well, I did that on my own later, actually, I think,” said the Humble Boot.


“I’m not sure whether to thank you for bringing our daughter back safely or tell you to stay far away from her,” said Brooklyn, arms crossed. “Probably both. And Hope?”


Here Hope slid off of Marco’s back to hide behind him where he sat, and poked out from behind his shoulder.


“You’re very glad I’m safe and glad I got useful informations?” ventured Hope.


“Nice try. You’re grounded beyond belief,” said Brooklyn. “At least until there are no more vampires on board this boat.”


“Mr. Boot, I am obliged to you for bringing our daughter back safely,” said Buck, looking up from where he leaned in the corner of their shipping crate. “I’m afraid the hospitality I can offer you is limited by the nature of our cabin, as small as your own, I wager. Nevertheless, if you truly believe your life is in danger, I will consult with Captain Branston and see if we cannot get nightwatches assigned to your door.”


“Rest assured, my scrupulous friend,” said the Humble Boot, with a glint in his eye and a wave of his fingerless gloves, “I am more than capable of besting foes such as these. The doctrine of the Boot does not come without its enemies, who hold it in their hearts with fear and denial. Certain things offend them. Silver, as offends all undead. Very loud sounds affect their supernaturally keen senses. And the flowers of garlic blooms, though I am not sure why.”


“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Marco. “If you need help, you know who to call.”


“Yes,” said Buck, and he could hear now a clamor of footsteps and voices on the deck below. “Mister Boot, do excuse me, but I believe that is the sound of duty calling.”


“Mr. Silver, would you like me to…” Marco began.


“Stay here with Hope, make sure there aren’t any follow-ups,” said Buck, finding his hat. “I’ll be back soon.”


It was still dark outside. Buck made his way carefully down the scaffold stairs, which were not quite designed with his impediments in mind, and the end of his cane was frequently stuck in the grating. On the deck below, crewmen and passengers had gathered over a lumpy, contorted object, grim red streaks and torn fabric that had once been one of the nightwatches. The body had been draped backwards over the side of the ship as if in a swoon. Buck pushed his way respectfully through the onlookers, found up close that the corpse bore similar marks to the first, although for this one the lacerations were applied rather than to the shoulder and neck directly to the face; giving the appearance of a person whose head had been pressed into the fan of an outboard motor.


He looked, for no particular reason except intuition, behind him, and caught sight of a burly figure leaving the scene around the corner towards the back expanse of the ship. He tapped his cane on the deck and made off in that direction at a hasty clip, eventually finding at the rear of the deck a single person standing on the back, overlooking a large crane and winch, and the lights of the security ship the Little David tailing a half-mile behind them on the water.


The person was Notoriety Shaw, the first mate, and she looked back to him. Her hair was a bushel of coarse ginger hair pushed back, and each inch of her skin tattooed with letters. Some passages from the Bible, he recognized, of course he would.


“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”


But there were other passages too, less familiar. Inscribed over her ear, along the length of her forearm, over her eyebrow.


“He must have imitated someone else’s hand,” said the King.


“There had been in the development of the Roman constitution a variety of forms of the popular assembly, the plebeian assembly, the assembly by tribes, the assembly by centuries, and the like, into which variety we cannot enter here with any fullness; but the idea was established that with the popular assembly lay the power of initiating laws.”


“Who could reach you in the heart of a volcano?”


Notoriety Shaw appeared to be currently occupied with setting a small boat on the winch into motion towards the water, and watched Buck with suspicion as she did.


“Bound out to the Little David by chance?” said Buck.


“Maybe,” said Notoriety, face full of characters. “There’s a body, ain’t there, Mr. Detective? Seems like you should be busy at the moment.”


“My investigation takes me all over. Would it be alright if I went with you across? I’m keen to talk to your father about the ongoings,” said Buck, smiling as warmly as he could. His hands might have shook from fear once. They did not now.


Notoriety grimaced, and looked to the boat across the water, and the sky of roiling green and purple clouds that obscured the moon, and then back to him, and grinned wide.


“Alright,” she said. “Nice night for a sail.”


The Tapes - Pure Brains

Even thinking, it’s not about pure brains. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. It’s just looking for patterns. Things that happen again and again. The little details have to line up. Take things apart. Rearrange them. Switch the order until it begins to make sense. You’ll struggle with it for hours, and get frustrated, and wish you’d picked a different job. But there’s nothing like that moment when it all lines up and suddenly everything makes sense.


Story 2, Continued - Someone Else's Hand

The East Wind was a city-sized expanse of rusty sheet metal and shipping containers stacked high, a slow and weighty ark that dragged the sea behind it and broke the low mists of the sky. In contrast, the Little David was a single siege tower, a low boat that bristled with the barrels of large harpoon guns, radar dishes, and other bulky contraptions that Buck could not so well identify. Its black sails were pointed and gave it something of the appearance of a bat in flight as it drifted behind the East Wind, flashing red lights aglow.


Notoriety did not say anything as she severed the line that connected one of the small shore boats to the East Wind, and then powered on a haphazard motor, and skirted across the dark waves towards the Little David. Buck grabbed the rail at times as the boat skipped over the choppier tides, but within minutes they had not capsized and had pulled up alongside the Little David’s dark hull. A rope was thrown down, and Notoriety tied off the boat, and leapt up the ship’s side a moment later. Buck picked up his cane and made his way across the shore boat, looked up for sign of a ladder or step and could find none.


“Well?” said Notoriety, and a word-encrusted hand jutted down from the deck above. “Need a hand?”


Buck found himself hauled up to his feet in one mighty tug, and he did not immediately enjoy his surroundings. The red glow of the Little David’s lights cast everything in a murky crimson, and the crewmates on both sides did not give him much ease—surly and gruff types, some with blackwater effects that Buck had not seen yet: a man with jutting facial spines and fins that stretched his skin like a deep-sea anglerfish, a woman with an eel’s pharyngeal jaws lurking within the transparent folds of her expanding throat. Buck gulped; a crewmate with eyes set beneath his pale white forehead did not blink.


“Pa, you got a visitor,” Notoriety called, and she did not wait to introduce them, but continued on her way across the deck and down a stair into the hull below. Buck stood there, a pleasant grin fixed on his face; the crew neither moved to go about their duties or struck up conversation, just regarded him as antibodies might regard an invading disease.


“Nice night for a sail, isn’t it?” Buck said to no one. His words went unacknowledged for a few moments until there was a clunking, and a small man emerged from a doorway in the central cabin. He wore a sloped captain’s hat, and a heavy coat over a bulletproof jacket. He was swaddled in bandoliers, with a harpoon gun in a leather strap at his back, an assortment of heavy metal hooks hanging from straps.


“Better be a good reason that brings a strange man to the deck of my sanctum this time of night,” said Captain Eli Shaw. “These be dangerous waters, and the night favors what swims in the deep sea. We might see some terrors yet before the sunlight drives them back down.”


“My name is Buck Silver,” said Buck, and reached out for a handshake. “Detective currently working with Captain Branston on the East Wind. We’ve had some unusual and macabre activity in the last day, I’m sure you’ve heard the gory details. I wanted to ask you some questions, is all.”


Captain Shaw eyed his hand suspiciously for a moment, wizened eyes darting from Buck’s hand to his eyes before he shook it, and as he did pulled Buck in close in a friendly and frightening fashion.


“Best ye be careful where you go snooping, Mr. Silver,” said the Captain, and released him. “Come inside, why don’t you. It’s a brisk night out, and damp. The ocean man is used to the damp, it sits comfortable in his bones, but you, city-dweller, you might catch a chill.”


They made their way inside; the central cabin was home to a raised deck that sat on a railing, and a lower room below hung with maps and charts. Captain Shaw pulled up a chair to a table near the center, and gestured for Buck to take a seat.


“So, detective,” said Captain Shaw. “What have you deduced?”


“Nothing yet,” said Buck, a half-smiling, a squint. “Still talking to the right people. Have you noticed anything unusual on this voyage so far, captain?”


“Aye,” said Captain Shaw, breathing out tremulously. “Too quiet, is what. Usually by now two, maybe three titans woulda hauled themselves up from the deep ocean, jaws a-snapping and tentacles a-writhing, like cancerous tumors dropped off of Neptune’s gristle. But we haven’t had a one. Haven’t caught so much as a snapper. You can feel it, if you know the ocean’s voice. We’re swimming in darker waters than I’ve ever journeyed. A spirit of deadly silence follows the East Wind. The water is still. Whatever is on board that ship, even the deep knows to keep its fathoms from.”


“How about the sky,” said Buck. “Anything sailing to and fro, flying over the ship?”


“Nothing more than the seagulls,” Captain Shaw said, and shrugged. “Just the same as I told the other detective.”


“Other detective?” said Buck, eyes darting up. “Are you talking about Mr. Spade?”


“The very one,” said Captain Shaw, and leaned back, crossed his arms, and his smile wrinkled in a sort of bemusement. “He was here earlier today, asking much the same sort of thing.”


“I see,” Buck said, glancing through the dark window back to the East Wind; its lanterns swept across the water, searching for a threat long returned to its hiding spot. May the best man win. “What else was he after?”


“He was curious what Ben’s stake was in this journey,” said Captain Shaw.


“Yes,” said Buck. “Mr. Spade once warned me about Mr. Branston’s, quote, ah. ‘Bloody record’.”


“Forever unlucky, he is,” said Captain Shaw. “Not the first time he’s tried this journey, but certainly this is the biggest vessel yet, his own family’s precious heirloom, the East Wind. Packed full of passengers. That’s a lot of bodies on board, Mr. Silver.”


“What exactly are you implying, Captain Shaw?” said Buck. “That Captain Branston knew something foul would happen aboard his vessel?”


“A man oft struck by lightning comes to favor tall friends,” said Captain Shaw. “And if Captain Branston wasn’t expecting monsters, well. He wouldn’t have invited me.”


“Do you know anything about the deaths?” said Buck, suddenly intent. Captain Shaw met his gaze without looking away.


“Deaths?” said Captain Shaw. “Deaths be damned. We’re bound for more carnage than a bloody nightwatch or two, detective. The sea and the sky are cursed. Doom comes for us all, Mr. Silver. Best ye get your sea legs soon. We’ve got a storm to weather.”


Story 3 - He Sat Up

He sat up.


She had been expecting that, eventually, although she had wondered if perhaps his fingers would twitch, his toes would tap, his hulking body would spasm with movements before he came around. But it was really a sudden lurch, so quick that she could have blinked and missed that he moved at all.


“Don’t move, or I really will put your lights out,” said Shelby, bundled inside her heavy coat. Vincent’s body room was cold, and she could see her breath in the dim light that shone through the frosted window. She suspected it was powered by a Downing Hill artifact rather than by the limited electrical capabilities of Scout City. She suspected it was a bad time to wonder about that. She kept Bern’s crossbow locked, loaded, and aimed directly at the head of the charred pig-man strapped to his gurney ten feet from her.


His clownlike coveralls had burned in the fire, and revealed patches of filthy flesh beneath. The pig head that he wore showed no expression, only dark cavities where no eyes glinted and an eternal half-smile, half-scream. His voice filled the cold little chamber.


“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,” he said. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”


“What’s so funny?” she said.


“Never thought I’d see you again,” he said. “You grew up nice and strong.”


“So you do remember me,” she said. Her hand was deathly still on the trigger. “You stopped my family on the road in southern Ontario. You butchered my parents in front of my brother and I. Why did you do it?”


“I was walking in the woods,” said Shank. “I looked out and what did I see but a momma and a papa beatin’ their kids within an inch of their lives in the road. I don’t got the patience for that.”


“That’s not true,” Shelby said. “That wasn’t what happened. You killed them in cold blood.”


“Do you remember it or don’t you?” said Shank. “When I stepped down to wave hello, you and your brother went to hide in a little closet on the side of your cart. You didn’t come out till the screaming stopped.”


Shelby’s heart was racing, sweat forming and nearly freezing on her skin. She wanted to deny it, but the truth was, she couldn’t really remember. There was a haze of blood, of frenzy, of screaming, and flashes were coming to her of her father standing over her, a whip in his hand, and she was not sure then if he had been looking out to see a strange pig-headed man waving from the bushes or down at her, whether the cuts that blanketed her skin had all been from her knives and rough tumbles, whether…


“If you don’t remember, ask your brother. That’s why I gave you this,” said Shank, and searched himself for an object within his jumpsuit.


“This?” Shelby said, and produced the cleaver, blackened and bloodstained.


“Yeah,” said Shank, sitting back. The gurney creaked under his immense weight. “To give you something to fight back with. You gotta fight back. You do that, or they take everything from you.”


Shelby tossed it across the ground, and it skittered over the cold stone tile into a corner.


“I don’t need it anymore,” she said.


“You never know,” said Shank.


“You butchered them,” said Shelby. “You cut them into pieces. You took them with you. Why.”


“The witch needed pieces,” Shank hissed. “She’s gotta have her parts to work with. Fixing bodies all the time. Ain’t quite fixed mine.”


“The witch,” Shelby said, tears cold down her cheeks, trailing down her chin. “I need to know where to find her.”


The Conversation - Pain Beyond Speaking

Nikignik

There was pain beyond speaking, yes, for the longest time after your death. But then, gradually, I have found new things to fill the emptiness you left in me. I do not look back so often on our time together. I look forward. To a world that I am guiding and a future I must prevent. I take pride in the stories I present to the dreaming universe. I had wondered for so long what I was for, to guard the gates of the Council of Heavens or to be your lackey. I was unable to chase anything of mine. I was too fixated on sitting at your heel. You are correct. I am not the same Nikignik that you left. I have become something of my own. So no. It will not be the way it was before.


Marolmar

You are going to let me die, then.


Nikignik


Marolmar

Is the new Nikignik a murderer?


Nikignik

We might find out.


The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 15: Russell McGowan', and is available on Patreon.com/hallowoods. Because Hello From The Hallowoods is created without advertising or sponsors, we rely on patronage to make this show possible!




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