Witchkaskitmistwa: the Night Unicorn

by  Christian A. Brown  |  April 5, 2015  |     No Comments

 

From the journal of Talwyn Blackmore

 Threesday, 15th, 1798 AE

I’m not sure what I was thinking in coming to Riverton. I suppose a stark change from the grim Isles of Terrotak and their cannibalistic maidens was due. Riverton seemed the nearest, most prosaic escape from that madness. Surf, sun and sand…I would rather not remember what came before. The expedition went wrong in every possible way. The nightmares have mostly ended. Though at times as I am awake and staring over the glittering waves of the Feordhan, the waters will flash red and the wind will sour with screams. Each day, I continue to pray for the men and women lost. I am not a religious man. In this age, we have no religions to which a man of reason would dedicate himself. Mankind and Immortal kind worship themselves. Therefore I pray to the old powers, the spirits whom mankind no longer heeds in the age of Iron and ego.

Most regrettably, the sacrifice of sailors and learned folk was a senseless expense. I learned very little of what we set out to research: changes in the strata brought on by a catastrophic impact of an unknown object with our planet that occurred in a primeval era. Such devastation would explain the vast gulfs of water that exist between all the known continents and islands of our world, as Geadhain was literally fractured by the collision. I believe the pursuit of this information to be of critical importance in the fields of archaeology, geology, and the evolution of our species. Few explorers, sages and financiers have united long enough for the undertakings necessary to prove the theory. We were so close. Nearly to the heart of Terrotak, where there are rent stable clefts in the land that descend to Geadhain’s deepest depths: the Crags of Woe. A grisly name, and called so on account of the wailing that erupts from the ground there. As if Geadhain is in agony—I believe that, given how we treat Her. We intended to repel down the black maw and study every layer. We could have read Geadhain’s secrets like the rings of a tree, and known…Well, so much. Though we never made it to the Crags. We were beset in the jungle by those bald, horrific murderesses. They poured out of the dark like ants. I cannot say if there were two or two hundred. Everyone died so fast. A few of us made it back to the boats. Then we took the long echoing ride home, on a voyage that should have been resounding with cheers of our success. The ocean can be the quietest place when you’re grieving. We parted in Taroch’s Arm with the saddest frowns and without goodbyes. News of our expedition’s failure has since reached the circles of the wise in Eod and Menos. I doubt we shall see another effort to explore the Crags in my lifetime. Thus, here I hide in Riverton. Birdwatching.

The study of the salt water birds is my newest digression. I’m not certain who commissioned the work. I imagine a doddery lord from afar with nothing better on which to spend his crowns. Never mind famine, starvation and slavery! I’d like a treatise on graymane warblers! What do they eat? How often? What shade is their guano? Dig through it and see. Granularity and viscosity, please. It must be a Menosian to have commissioned such inanity. Though, the rich of Eod are not any better with their sensibilities and pursuits. They just wear brighter colors to conceal the sin. Nonetheless, this work on behalf of my nameless, avian-obsessed benefactor does keep me occupied and at peace. The graymanes possess the most unusual steely plumage—hence their classification. It is easy to lose oneself to the shimmer as they fly from their rocks like fluttering swords and pierce—snatch—a fish from the river. Death is assured and sudden for their prey. The graymanes are as beautiful as they are dangerous. In the mornings I record their behavior. There isn’t much to record, since they are highly sedentary when not on the hunt. I do find their preening and strutting admirable. How they perch on the tiny ranges risen along the shores of the Feordhan as if they are kings. They squawk and flap their wings at other birds, even ships and skycarriages that come near their roosts. Proud creatures, I would say.

Summer still has many weeks left to its glow. Once the cold winds blow down from the Northlands, the birds will fly off and my work will end. I should be thinking about what next I shall do, since a road-scholar’s life isn’t a lucrative one, and a bed and meals aren’t free in this world. But for now, I dedicate myself to the observation of flight-patterns, psycho-zoology, dietary and stool monitoring, and counting the birds of my flock. I’ve named a few of them. Shrewetta, who is always harping—I believe there’s something not quite right in her pea-sized brain. Tomtory, after the stage-farce of the same name. And Silverbeard, who’s the largest, proudest and has the loudest squawk. In the afternoons and evenings—through which the graymanes are stricken with their aforementioned lethargy—I take constitutionals up and down the beaches and bluffs. Later, I usually find myself in the city.

Riverton has a ramshackle charm to it. I find it impressive how determined mankind is—when at his or her best—to create order from scraps and nothingness. Such resourcefulness is how the Rivertonians first built their city from Taroch’s ancient shipyard. More aptly, from the remains of a hundred and some vessels the mad warlord never lived to see sail the Feordhan. Taroch’s defeat left his fleet unfinished, though that mattered little to Riverton’s founders. The Rivertonian pioneers broke down piers and sawed up sheet metal. Then they took that collective junk and patched themselves a city out of partial hulls, tilted mizzenmast byways, and chimneys made from bilge-pumps. Some of the grandeur of Taroch’s armada survived their ruralisation, and what impressive designs did the warlord conceive. Hints of the frightening glory he envisioned I see in the girded archways—ships’ bones—with furls and gargoyles twisted seamlessly into metal. I walk under these hideous bridges at night, deeply wet in the shadows of hulls as tall as valleys and feel the metal guardians watching me. I feel the awe Taroch wanted me to feel. True beauty and art are timeless. Elsewhere mankind’s industry and crassness has concealed most of Taroch’s vision. There are ramshackle taverns built on slanted decks. Inharmonious bands play at each and every establishment. There are grand gangplanks turned into brothels where fancy lads and ladies wave appeals and sometimes their wares—the fleshy and literal ones you’d expect. Drinking and whoring seem to be local pastimes. Sailors and tradesmen coming and going and all that. I’ll leave such behaviors to my brother and other louts of his ilk though. I’ve never had a stomach for drink or companionship without meaning. I may very well die sober, lonely and chaste. I can think of worse fates.

When not with my family of birds then, I walk, I observe, I search. Some evenings I sit in cafes and study the behaviors of the two-legged species. People are endlessly fascinating, even if they are highly predictable. Today, for example, I watched a woman during my tea-time. She continuously checked her chronex while a man who I presumed to be her husband prattled in her ear. Her twitching body language said that she had an appointment to keep. She often looked toward the livelier parts of the city, from where all the noise and rowdiness blared like a concerto performed by oafs. I noticed her earrings, which she played with in an absent, fondling way. One was pearl, the other was a black bead or gem. The contrast struck and intrigued me. I had seen one of this odd pair before on the lobe of a strapping, blonde fellow swaying on one of the concubines’ balconies I routinely pass. He had brushed into me before, this fellow, and he’d smelled of sandalwood. He seemed to think he could proposition me, and he was almost right. Though again I value companionship over a sexual exchange. As I watched the woman touch her ear, and these variable sights and remembrances filled me, I was certain she had an association with the blonde gentleman of the night. I leaned in to smell the sandalwood wafting from her neck to confirm my suspicions. I could smell it, even from strides away over the powders, smokes, body odors, wafting tea-oils from my cup, and the sweetness of digestive cookies on my plate.

I can smell too much, when I stop and pay attention to the world. I can see too much. I cannot stop the gears of my mind from making connection after connection once the logic-engine has started. I’ve solved a murder or two while being here, though presented none of my findings to the authorities. The men—and it’s all men, the roughest, burliest kind—in charge of Riverton don’t seem partial to investigative outsiders. Understandably then, I prefer silence of study and the focus that comes with absorption in a task. At times, I wish I could shut off my senses. It is painful knowing as much as I do. The noise, smells and thoughts can roll together into a stabbing headache, an orgy of sensations, for which there is no remedy short of total seclusion or lobotomizing myself. However on wishes, and the subject of granting them, I have come across one interesting tale while living in the doldrums. It came in the form of lyricism, from an old drunkard singing a tune I’d never heard before while he pissed off one of Riverton’s infinite wharves. I paid him a few crowns to sing it again for me. While a deft translation and multiple renditions were required despite his use of standard Geadhic, here is what I construed:

The darkest night
A star so bright
As Beira’s frozen keep
Bleed your hand
O’er olden land
Weep the song forlorn
Whatever ye seek
Be it noble, or weak
Squeeze your tears
Release your fears
The beast of night and horn
Shall come
And eat

Fascinating. Particularly since the prose references some of the old powers and legends, such as Beira, Queen of the North—a spirit and entity of ice whom the Northmen worship. Most of our tribal tales stem from the south, in the Swannish Highlands, where a great deal of traditional belief-sets and folklore persist among isolated communities. These places are separated—preserved, I should say—from our modern cities by old roads and nature’s entanglements. The Swannish people, or their relatives, were once indigenous to Central Geadhain. Chronicling their treatment and expulsion from polite society could fill many journals, though the Swannish have remade themselves and their culture admirably. That aside, the Swannish are the curators of the tales of our country before it was cultivated by kings, Iron rulers and technomagik. The Swannish history has been kept through the ages in the form of song-stories, parables and legends. I was both lucky and saddened to return to the drunkard and discover that he is one of the Swannish who did not fare so well outside of his enclosed community. I plied him with more coin and liquor—the latter act for which I feel darker and damned—and he loosened his tongue and told me some of the tallest tales I may ever hear. Tales, legends, possible truths of a beast known as Witchkaskitmistwa. Breaking apart the word, we have elements of night or blackness, a steed and a horn. The Night Unicorn. I’ve seen one of the many variations of Fates and Crowns cards, the obvious parallels are not lost on me.

I spent many nights with the Swannish man, who called himself Peyamat (an amalgamation of Swannish words that implies ‘lone’ and ‘wolf’). He made for pleasant company when only moderately inebriated. We sat on crates in a rat-squealing alley and he told me legends of the Witchkaskitmistwa. These were dark and bittersweet stories of Swannish men and women losing their children or lovers or both, then heading out into the wilds at night to seek the oldest stones they can find. Once such a place was found, they bled themselves and prayed to the Witchkaskitmistwa. “The creature comes only if the seekers’ hearts are sad enough,” he said. “And then it comes from the sky in a streak of darkness and starlight. It feasts on the memories of which the seeker wishes to purge themselves.” A grief eating spirit. Should the seeker survive the agony of their minds being dined upon—understandably unpleasant—they return to their homesteads lighter in their hearts. Forgetful, though free of the pain of remembering what the Witchkaskitmistwa ate. However, along with the hazard of death comes a second caveat. Whereby a seeker has more taken from their minds than they’d thought to give. They can be stripped of their name, their intelligence, the entirety of their lives and be left as babbling, idiotic children. Peyamat insisted that these stories were real, and he spoke with palpitations and an exasperation that my sensitivities knew to be sincere. He certainly believed what he said, as if speaking from personal experience. When pressed him on this—I cannot help myself when I sense a truth—he became belligerent, and would no longer speak to me. He now avoids me, and I no longer seek him out. I know, however, from the filthy cameo—a woman’s cameo necklace—that I’ve seen him caress and quickly hide before our meetings that perhaps this tale is truer than I would like to believe. How sad would that be, to be forgotten by the one you love? Twice ruined, even. Once by the loss of a child or whatever the Witchkaskitmistwa was sought for, and then by the loss of a wife who sought the grief-eating spirit. I am only postulating though. I shall not train my deductions upon Peyamat to find out his truth.

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I believe that when the graymanes fly south, I shall follow their migration. However, I shall not trail their flight of silver swords all the way to the Summer Isles—as beautiful a journey as that would be. Instead, I shall take my constitutionals over the rocky vales and through the thorny wilds of the Swannish Highlands to see what stones painted in dried red sorrow, and what hoof prints can be found.

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