HFTH - Episode 43 - Relics


Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal Death, Kidnapping and Abduction, Death + Injury, Transphobia & Homophobia, Birds, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Being Buried Alive, and Religious Violence.


Intro - The Library Burns

You look up to the sky and smile; it is hard to see the stars amidst the smoke. The city is ablaze, and it is a righteous fire. It has one more treasure to consume, and you take a last look through the great library doors, their knowledge too dangerous for anyone to hold... anyone but yourself, that is, and the others like you. The volumes of true import, those without heresies, are heavy in your satchel.


As for the rest?


You heft the torch in your god-touched hand; your silver bones shine in the firelight. So many names will disappear from human tongues today, so many weapons lost to the armies of evil. You throw the torch, and the library ignites like a leaf, one more bonfire to join the flaming buildings and ships. It spreads like eternity itself, unstoppable and glorious. You whisper ‘Until the Hallowed Name is spoken on all tongues’, and disappear into the night. On a scroll you left behind, blackening letters say ‘Hello From The Hallowoods’.


Theme.


Right now, I’m in an icebox. It is almost empty, outside of a jar of oatmeal and a few grisly specimens that might be saved for future projects. The house beyond it is equally cold, and equally full of grisly specimens. There are bones and belongings, instruments and a cabinet that opens into oblivion, dead things and things beyond death. The theme of tonight’s episode is Relics.




Story 1 - To Be A Bell

It is a dull thing to be a bell, and it does not get any more exciting with age. Any sense of the passage of time had begun with the crooked woman, the soul binder. How carefully she took their threads and tied them to the little silver hammer. Was it seven or six? Seven? Regardless, they all heard the chime, and were called to obey. It was an authority that the bell enjoyed.


Ring, take out the washing. Ring, I think I’d like squash soup for dinner. Ring, please can you take a look at the roof again, it’s dripping on my work table.


This was all the excitement that the bell had available, and so it relished each order.


The new hands were more calloused than the last, and the orders less pleasant. Ring, cook my meal and get out. Ring, go stand on the lawn like scarecrows. Ring, go bring me the head of a dragon.


The bell had imagined the last one. You had to imagine things if you wanted to while away the hours, and the bell had a delightful imagination. Otherwise it was just sitting in pockets, endless pockets, with only lint for comfort. Rarely were there true upsets, breaks in the continuum, moments out of order.


This was one of those moments. A large thing was eating the coat pocket! Did it know the bell was inside? Would it stop if it did? Come on, one of you idiots, the bell thought. I wish I could ring for you myself.


Presently, the master’s voice echoed from the hall. “Hunter, get in here, there is a great insect! Kill it immediately!”


Eventually number three arrived. The Hunter. They all had preposterous names, the bell couldn’t keep track of them.


“How did this happen? These things are your responsibility, are they not?”


“I am sorry, Master Reed. I will…”


“Dispose of it.”


“Yes.”


There was a rending tear—too close, too close!—and the pocket was reduced to ribbons. All those sharp fingers were a way to ruin polish on a good bell. The insect beat its wings and struggled, but gave up the ghost after a moment.


“The moth has eaten several holes in your coat, sir.”


“Well? Have it repaired,” the master said, approaching. He rifled through several pockets, and came to the bell last. It joined the key on its little chain and clip, the baton, and the bone fife in his hands. I should have a little chain, the bell thought, I’m prettier. But then again, a chain would scuff the polish. I’m best as I am.


It was shoved into the pocket of a smoking jacket. The bell regarded it with disdain, but down the stairs they went.


“What is the meaning of this?”


“Yes, Master Reed?”


Number two this time, the cook.


“Where is my breakfast?”


“It is in the icebox, sir.”


“This? What is this slop? I have seen more appetizing meals for dogs.”


“Cold oatmeal, sir. It was one of Miss Mend’s favorites.”


“I told you never to mention that accursed woman. Have you all conspired to inconvenience me today? Or are you simply made of a half-dozen idiots apiece? Eh?”


“I do not know.”


“Make me a real breakfast. Eggs. Meat. Toast.”


“We are out of those things.”


“Well get them!”


“I am not the hunter. You will have to ask Waites.”


“Enough! This… no, this is frigid. And I am already cold. It will not do at all. I will go without. When I am done with my organ I may see fit to fix you all. Irene clearly did not have an eye for order. And for the love of all that is holy, why are the windows open?”


I am order, thought the bell. I do quite well. Another voice interrupted from outside! The fourth, the cleaner. Something is not right, thought the bell.


“The floors have just been mopped, master. They must have fresh air if they are to dry.”


“Could this not have waited until I left for my work?”


“You do not tell us when you intend to come or go, master. Perhaps if you told Rhodes your schedule, we might…”


He picked up the bell, and the bell filled the air with such beautiful notes. Listen to me, thought the bell! You have no choice but to listen to me.


“Enough out of all of you. The only reason I keep you alive is to tend to these things. If you cannot I will find another solution. Do I make myself clear?”


None of this is part of their routines, thought the bell. They were supposed to stick to their routes, and listen only to the bell’s call. What are they doing?


“Sir,” the sixth was saying. “I will do the mending while you are out. May I provide you with a spare coat in the meantime?”


“Yes, certainly. I feel a chill like hell.”


New pockets, some shabby old coat. The bell enjoyed familiarity; it was comforting to know your place in the world, and this was not it. He chose to ride in the van today; the fifth had been fixing it up, and they drove in near silence.


“I like your new coat, sir,” they said.


“Your abominable siblings ruined my good one. This one is too warm.”


“My apologies, sir.”



There were bigger bells in the church tower as they approached, but they were not nearly as elegant, the bell decided. They were too much.


“Hold this.”


The coat, bell and all was shoved into the arms of number five. This is wrong, the bell thought. I am the bell, and you are the servant. How dare you hold me. You are no master.


The master worked for the day, and returned without putting on his coat again. The bell pined silently. The sixth, the seamster was waiting outside with a blood-red coat in their hands, low sun gleaming on golden buttons.


“Your old coat was worn out, sir,” the seamster said. “I have taken the liberty of sewing you a new one.”


“This is good work. Yes. This will do. Finally a little competence. Put the old coat in the wardrobe, move my things to the new. I am going to rest.”


What is that, the bell thought. In the pocket of the new coat. There was another bell. A dead one.


Fife and baton and key were quietly passed into the new coat—those beautiful velvet pockets!—but the bell? The bell fell to the dirt beside the porch.


Pick me up, the bell cried. I am important. But the old man was already inside, and there was just the chauffeur, staring down. It knew. They all knew.


If I could, the bell thought, I would ring and command you all to run against sharp sticks, or off rocky cliffs. I would feed you to my dragon, if I had one.


This is alright, thought the bell. They will find me eventually. The master will notice. I will not be lost for long.


Wait.


No.


Number one, the gardener, was scooping them up with a trowel, carrying them… oh god, carrying them where?


Into the garden, through the sunflowers. Unhand me, the bell thought. How dare…


Dirt. Dirt on the bell’s beautiful polish. Its silver tongue would not ring like this, no one would admire its sheen. It’s not the way of things!


Leyland Blooms smiled, and heaped the last of the dirt over the bell’s silver face.



Interlude 1 - Artifacts in the Hallowoods

There are a surprising number of artifacts stored in the Hallowoods, dreamers, though it is not an optimal environment in which to keep them. The bog threatens to consume most of Irene Mend’s collection, as well as her entire mansion. Many have helped themselves to the best from her wares.


There are items for sale at the Dry Market that would raise an eyebrow, but the Wet Market more so, when the tide rolls in and the moon is full. And of course, Downing Hill is a hoard far greater than a municipal building could ever expect to contain. Their archives include far more than books—binding stone and sarcophagus, cursed paintings and broomsticks, fallen stars and eyes of old gods.


But even they do not have what lies in the house of Solomon Reed: items loaned by the Church of the Hallowed Name, his own ancient tomes and reliquaries, and historical artifacts pilfered from their rightful places and peoples. Books that were buried for centuries, whose contents could upset the balance of life itself.


We go now to one who is familiar with these.



Story 2 - A Change In The Winds

Percy peeked from the shelves full of leather-bound books and old scrolls. Another day had passed, and his father worked on a new instrument; another night had fallen, and Percy worried what would happen to the Scoutpost and to Diggory.


His dad had killed Walt, that much was certain. Percy hadn’t seen it happen, but he’d heard enough. Diggory, though, had been close, and that meant they would come back again. Percy wasn’t entirely sure if that was true, but he had to believe it if he wanted to stay sane. He needed something to draw him upwards, keep him from the gravity of the harp in the basement and the whispering spirits in the walls.


His dad had a good eye for ghosts, so he had to hide if he wanted to be upstairs—just beneath the floor, or in the shelves. Something else was up, too. Percy swore Leyland and the others had been messing with Solomon that morning, although he wasn’t sure to what end. Huntington had deposited a moth the size of a housecat on Solomon’s coat in the early hours of the morning, but Percy hadn’t found a chance to ask them why yet. Even so, they were up to something, and Percy had to be as well. There had to be a way to fix things. There had to be a way out.


There was a knock on the door, then, and Percy shrunk back a little, making himself as invisible as he could. The doorbell rang. Percy shook his head; he recognized the melody in the chimes.


Solomon stalked down the stairs cautiously, and cast a wary eye at the door. He opened it a crack, and there was a young face on the other side, with a shock of blue hair. Percy recognized the person; he had hit them in the face the first time they met. It was the one who had summoned the blizzard, helped his father kidnap him again. Percy tried not to let his anger give away his hiding spot.


“What do you want?” Solomon said.


“You said to come back today?”


“Oh, well. This is a bad time, Oliver. I am busy.”


“It’s Olivier. And I just want to talk,” they said, “about what’s next.”


“I suppose,” Solomon grimaced, and rubbed at his temples. “I am in the midst of my evening reading. Wait inside. We will speak shortly.”


“Thank you,” Olivier said, and walked in. Their cloak was embroidered with wisps of cloud, and a bow tie held their collar in place. Where did you find this weirdo, Percy wondered? And who wears a quilt while kidnapping people in the forest? And yet, as Solomon trudged back upstairs, and the guest sat down in one of the red armchairs by the fire, Percy was curious. There was no harm in a question.


“Hi there,” Percy said, floating to the other armchair. It was about the limit of the harpstrings. “I said hi there.”


This time he got a reaction, and Olivier looked around, eyes shining an odd blue in the low light.


“Who’s there?”


“I’m Percy,” he said, and lit up as brightly as he could. To Olivier, it might have been a faint outline, Percy was never entirely sure. “Can I talk to you?”


Olivier narrowed their eyes. “I’ll call your dad if you try to do anything.”


Percy blinked. “Not like it can get much worse for me, you know.”


Olivier was quiet for a moment, and spoke. “This might be a weird question, but, what are your pronouns?”


Percy frowned. “‘Him’, not that you’d hear it from my dad. Uh. Yours?”

Olivier looked away to the fire. “Today is a ‘she’ sort of day.”


“Alright,” Percy said. “You do realize you’re working for, like, bigotry central here.”


“I’ve noticed,” Olivier said, pulling her cape around her.


“You’re okay with that?”


“It’s not about being ‘okay with that’,” Olivier said. “I don’t have a lot of options right now. I have to help him. And when he’s happy, then the library will take me back, and everything will be fine.”


“The library?” Percy prodded, although it was hardly the most surprising part of the statement.


“None of your business,” Olivier said.


“He’s going to kill them all,” Percy whispered after a moment. “The Scoutpost. Everyone there. For his new organ.”


“His what?” Olivier said.


“An organ. You know. Like a church organ. He’s building it at the old chapel,” Percy said.


“That’s, uh.” Olivier looked around the parlor, but couldn’t seem to find something to focus on. “I knew he hated the Scoutpost. Not that he had a plan to do something about it.”


“And you’re going to help him kill hundreds of people?” Percy said.


“I... I don’t…” Olivier started, and seemed to gather her composure. The clouds on her cape seemed almost to move in the firelight, drifting along and turning the sky grey. “I don’t have a choice.”


“I’m the one who doesn’t have a choice,” Percy said, and pulled at his strings, let them pulse with light. “Thanks to you I’m tied to a harp in the basement. You can fly.”


“You’re the one who ruined my life in the first place,” Olivier said, glaring at them and sitting forward. A flicker of electricity buzzed at the ends of her fingers. “All I had to do was get the punk girl and I would already be home by now. Instead you and your ugly franken-friend broke my ribs and ruined my record.”


“Don’t talk about Diggory like that,” Percy said, with a little lightning of his own.


“Whatever. I just have to do… whatever it is Mister Reed needs. Then it’ll be okay. Then I can go home. And hopefully I’ll never see another ghost again.”


“‘Whatever it is’? It’s wiping out a whole community of the most lovely, accepting people out here,” Percy said. “They took me and Diggory in, and we’re literally dead. I bet there could be a place for you too.”


Olivier looked at them for a moment blankly, as if mustering a response. Then there was the sound of footsteps from upstairs, and Olivier flinched, and Percy dropped down into the floor out of sight.


“Alright, Oliver,” Solomon said. “It is time to talk of your future.”



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Story 2, Continued - A Change In The Winds

The real things crumble into dust as you sleep, dreamer, or serve as shelter for the growth of a new age. The pyramids house more dead things now than they have in centuries; the Colosseum belongs to far worse than lions. Fitting, isn’t it, that the new grows out of the bones of the old?


We return now to Percy Reed.


Percy watched silently as Solomon took a seat at the head of the dinner table, and gestured to a chair for Olivier.


“Thank you for talking with me, sir. I understand you’re busy,” Olivier said, sitting as well, and glanced at the silver hand in its glass box on the table.


“Yes,” Solomon said. “Well. I was approached weeks or months ago, I disremember, by one of your librarians. They offered me terms. Some books from my shelves, particular volumes, in exchange for their power and cunning. Their star pupil, they said. I had need of such help at the time, and so I accepted.”


“And I am sure that I can…”


“You may speak when I am finished. I was promised a student of the sacred arts. The instruments of creation. My requirements were simple, I think. Get the key. Get my daughter. And get that girl with the bat so I can teach her respect. It was my hand that took key and Persephone, my orchestra that dealt with those from the Scoutpost.


What have you done for me? Conjured a little fog? You have learned a few tricks, but there is no love of knowledge in your heart. You are like a little dog, a proud dog in a cape. You whimper and roll over, but you cannot do what needs to be done. That library has ruined your usefulness.”


“I’ve done so much for you,” Olivier said. “I made it snow so you could catch up with them. I took their car off the road. I kept your prisoner alive while you were losing your marbles and I have fought giants and dead monster things and I spent a week in the woods looking for your ‘girl with the bat’. All I have done is work for you… I warned you about the invaders, right? When they came?”


“I was not even home,” Solomon said, taking off his cracked glasses and polishing them. “You have struggled much, I do not contest that. But what has come of it? You have not found the girl, I assume.”


“Not yet, no. But…”


“But nothing. You have wasted my time, and time is what I need most. If she is alive, I conjecture she has died in the woods or found her way back to her precious Scoutpost. And the Scoutpost I am about to deal with permanently.”


“Why?” Olivier said.


Percy was a little surprised, and crept closer, watching from beneath a set of heavy gilded volumes.


“Why what?”


“Why the Scoutpost?”


Solomon shook his head. “You are a bad listener as well. I value listening most highly. The Scoutpost is a haven for degenerates. A tower of babel, defiant to the lord. It is an insult to him and to the church that they have chosen to share these woods with us. Even so, I have the power to save them. To take their souls and redeem them, break down the will of the sinner and humble them to god. There will be new work for them in the army of the lord.”


“I doubt they’d see it that way,” Olivier said.


“Doesn’t matter,” Solomon said, sitting back and admiring the sleeve of his new coat. “It is the truth. These are the last days. A soul cleansed is a soul saved. There are many in the world that would rather die than turn to the Lord for forgiveness. This way, they are not lost.”


There was another rap on the door.


“Is this day determined to vex me?” Solomon said, standing up.


“Master Reed,” Leyland called from outside. “We have another visitor.”


“Another?” Solomon said, and hurried to the door. He seemed to feel for a moment, patting his pockets, and nodded to himself before opening it. Percy crept to the edge of the house, straining against the limits of the harp, and he could just see through the kitchen window. He might have laughed, if he wasn’t worried his father would hear.


The wall of black trees and thick roots that surrounded the house left only a ring of grey sky above, and from it a person was descending shakily on a broomstick. Her hair was fluffy, and rippled in the breeze as she lowered into the yard, and a compound bow was strapped to her back.


Percy was not sure that anyone else could see it, but there was a large dog of phosphorous light hovering beside her, and it regarded Percy with a pointed face and eyes like inkwells. A black cape billowed behind her, and she put on a pair of glasses as her feet touched the ground.


Olivier stood back in the doorway, eyes wide with shock.


“You are the replacement?” Solomon said, stepping out onto the porch. The girl nodded cautiously, and her brows furrowed as she noticed Olivier in the shadow.


“I am. My name is Clara,” she said.


Olivier burst out of the door onto the porch, standing beside Solomon, and put her hands on the rail. “You. There is no way you learned anything that quickly.”


“I’m a fast reader,” Clara said, and held her broom with both hands. “I didn’t know you were the failed student.”


“Failed? I didn’t fail,” Olivier said, and Percy noticed that the sky began to darken. “They’re waiting for me. The Director is waiting for me.”


Clara winced, and pushed a curl of hair out of her face. “I’m… not sure she is. Friday misses you.”


“Friday?” Olivier said. “Friday is my friend. This is my job. I should have left you to drown.”


Solomon’s hand moved for his inner vest pocket, and he glanced between them both cautiously.


“Now that we are all assembled,” Solomon said, “there is business to be done. Oliver… Olivier, you have failed me several times, but I am merciful. I am willing to give you a last chance to redeem yourself.”


“Really?” Olivier froze. A breeze had begun to stir the wall of trees.


“Clara, Olivier. The time for petty hunts, for scavenging amidst the ruined survivors of this place is over. Within a day or two, my masterpiece will be complete, and we go to war. The Scoutpost and all who dwell in it will be razed to the ground, and there will be peace in these woods again.”



Interlude 2 - Bad At Organization

The Indescribable Ones are utterly ancient, alien to your primitive sensibilities, incalculably large and full of malice… and very bad at organization. Syrensyr does all right with keeping all the books in order, but half of us are masters of chaos or dark science or nightmare. As such, a lot of time goes into passion projects that end up half-finished, or scattered to the stars after a few million years.


If you think a lot of our artifacts have ended up on Earth, you should see the moons of Saturn. It’s not for me to say what we are here for, but I think it is in our nature to be agents of change; to contribute to the upheavals of the universe, to ward off the heat death a little longer. Enjoy, then, your void-knives and libraries out of space. It is a little taste of the lives that exist above you.


We go now to one who has stolen a gift of Syrensyr.



Story 3 - Eggs And Elevators

Polly stuck a hard-boiled egg in his mouth, and it tasted like freedom. Almost immediately, the rush of elation was followed by the feeling of terrifying freefall, as if he was trapped in an elevator with no counterweight, or tripping at an important meeting. He washed this feeling down with coffee.


Yaretzi lapped up strips of bacon without blinking, and Mort seemed to push around a little scrambled egg with the point of his claw, and there was that happy feeling again—a gentle ding as the elevator stopped calmly at the right floor, catching himself before he hit the ground. The lounge and restaurant of the Resting Place was a gentler establishment by daylight, and not many denizens had yet emerged from their rooms.


“Everything all right over here?” the waiter said; their head seemed to be made of living crystal, and it reflected the light in a scintillating rainbow across the table, glowing with colors no human could see.


“Everything’s lovely,” Polly said.


“More bacon,” Yaretzi added, sliding the empty plate to the side. The diamond person nodded and took it away.


“You are different, Apollyon,” Yaretzi said, gold jewelry jangling in the sun.


“Oh? How so?”


“You’re showing your fear instead of hiding it. This is good.”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Polly said. There was no reason to talk about his conversation with Tiff just yet, was there? He’d soared in the moment, full of wild sentiments… a little embarrassing, in retrospect.


Perhaps best to let them think he was back in an official capacity, until he figured out how he wanted to feel about the whole affair. Was this permanent? Tiff could have his horns for this… but perhaps the consequences would be lessened if…


Well. He’d make sure Yaretzi and Mort were alright, at the very least.


“You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?” a voice said, and Polly looked up to find the Countess sitting next to Yaretzi. Yaretzi’s nose flared, and a shimmer of fur grew as she gave a low growl.


“That’s the plan,” Polly said. “There’s some unfinished business we need to attend to.”


“This wouldn’t happen to be business with the Instrumentalist, would it?”


“I’ve no idea what that means.”


The Countess leaned back, and there were daggers in her eyes, a little cruelty Polly had not yet seen. She breathed out, and shadow escaped from her mouth, twisting into a small figure that hovered over the breakfast table. A bent human, glasses, a long beard, with a fiddle at his side.


“That’s the very fellow,” Polly crossed his arms.


“He killed an acquaintance of mine. The forest is in uproar about it. Tomorrow morning, there's a group gathering to deal with him for good.”


“I can handle him, I’m sure,” Polly said.


“Like last time,” Mort offered.


“Better than last time,” Polly said, and eyed his new cane. “Much, much better than last time. I’ve got some extra fire to burn.”


“Will you be there?” Yaretzi asked, fiddling with one of the gold bands in her hair.


“I and many others,” the Countess said, glaring at the sun through the window. “That old buzzard has overstepped his place. I’ll enjoy making him suffer.”


“Your bacon,” the diamond person said, placing a new plate in front of Yaretzi. They stopped.


“I couldn’t help but overhear. I’m Dimes... I and my hound have journeyed into worlds of light and shadow beyond imagination, whole universes trapped in soap-bubbles or refractions of the moon. I have crossed into ancient valleys untouched by starlight, raced through dimensions of indescribable color, and stared into the face of the black eternity. Rarely in all these travels have I seen cruelty like that which dwells in these woods. The Instrumentalist is a wound in this place, and it is time for healing to begin.”


“Dimes, you have to let other people talk first,” the Countess said.


“You’re awfully well-travelled for a bartender,” Polly noted, sipping his coffee.


“A little mundanity helps keep me tethered to the real world,” said Dimes.


“I’ll admit, I don’t particularly care about the forest, or wounds, or any of that. But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to go with… allies. We’ll be there that morning, then.”


“And then we can all watch fish together,” said Mort. Yaretzi and Polly turned to look at him, and Polly raised an eyebrow.


“I think that’s what families do,” Mort said, skull bouncing in his glass dome. “I don’t really know.”


“We’ll have some things to think about after that,” Polly said.


“Right,” Yaretzi agreed, giving him a look which he tried to avoid.


“Well. I’ll see you there then,” the Countess smiled, and was gone in the sunbeams.


“Stupid bird!” a voice yelled from the lobby, and a ball of haggard feathers came sailing into the room. Polly gripped his cane and felt it pulse with fire, a storehouse at his fingertips. The bird tumbled through the air and landed on Mort’s plate gracelessly. It was most of a seagull, and hopped to its feet with a glare, and croaked.


Barb ran in with a flaming broom in his hands. “Hey all, awfully sorry about that, let me just…”


“Bert’s back!” Mort said, putting his hand and claw in the air.


Barb looked about in confusion at the group, his bellboy cap askew.


“All good, Barb. It’s a friend of sorts.” Polly sighed. “Compliments to the chef, by the way.”


The seagull cried out several times, and hopped up onto Mort’s shoulder.


“I suppose that’s a good sign,” Yaretzi said.


“Oh yes,” Polly nodded, and looked at the wolf, the tin can and the bird for whom he’d left everything. It was good, he decided. It was going to be alright. “A very good sign.”



Outro - Relics

Relics. How gingerly we treasure the remains of ages past, clutch the trinkets of bygone eras. I think they give us hope—that if we are here today to study skull fragments and ancient books and rusted swords, that someone will one day regard us with as much reverence.


This will be the case for you, dreamers, it may comfort you to know. When the last of you are gone, and the frogs have had another half-million years to get a real society together, maybe they will hold your little umbrellas and silver boxes and wonder what you thought of the world. What you hoped the future would hold. They will feel a note of sadness, too, because the future did not hold you.


Collecting your dreams like stamps, saving all your tossed-away drawings, and documenting the bittersweet story of your life, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting archaically for your return to the Hallowoods.




The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'The Junk Collector's Daughter', and is available on the Hello From The Hallowoods Patreon. Consider joining for access to all the show's bonus stories, behind-the-scenes and more!