The Fomenthal House
Nita was a short, sweet woman who tended her garden in the day, and cooked for her and her husband Rendel in the evenings. Rendel was a tall, skinny and equally kind man who repaired farming implements and other machinery for the village. One night, Nita fell ill of a rare fever, which even the village doctor, Humdal, had not the remedy for. Rendel pleaded for some sort of guidance on how to save his wife. With some reservation, Humdal described an uncommon plant called Witch’s Tear that grew by streams in the Fox Glade, a region of forest some days’ travel from the village. Humdal explained that he had none of the plant on hand due to the inaccessibility of Fox Glade, as well as the dangers lurking there - including wolves and venomous spiders said to be the size of rabbits. Rendel could not bare the thought of watching Nita die, and so left her in the Humdal’s care while he set out to Fox Glade, with only a small sack of food, a coil of rope, and his rifle.
Six days passed. Nita awoke in worse health each day than the last, and in a slightly more delirious state due to her rising temperature. Humdal had answered her murmurs and cries out for Rendel each evening, his attempts to comfort her feeling increasingly helpless each evening. On the sixth evening, Humdal slept upright in a chair, and did not awake when Nita called for Rendel one last time.
Rendel never returned to the village, most guessing he had become lost or fallen prey to the wolves and spiders of Fox Glade. And so the Fomenthal house fell into disrepair, the garden grew wild, and Rendel’s tool shop fell silent.
The Emmens Cabin
Doc Emmens was born in the village and died there. His longest departure was when his father, Ule Emmens, sent him to medical school in Elderzwich at the age of fifteen. An exceedingly bright and patient individual, Humdal also held great compassion and empathy for the suffering of others. He watched many people die of infection and disease, and the effect on his psyche was numbing in the way one loses feeling in the cold winters of the mountains surrounding the village.
His ultimate defeat came when his own daughter, Helga, died of pneumonia after the ice broke through when she and her friend Feona were ice-skating on the Lure Pond. It was her time in his care that caused Humdal to view all patients afterwards with a fatalistic, and often callous perspective.
In his efforts to cure the outbreak of the gungnir plague, Humdal contracted the disease. Towards the final stages of his own ability to walk, he left his tools and medical notes in the care of his apprentice, Pelinal. He went to Lure Pond, and tied a stone to his feet, and jumped off the dock.
The Wessex Farm
Ivan Wessex was an impetuous and often solitary individual. When he was seventeen, his father died in a fight in the alleyway of the Oakfithe tavern, leaving the farm to Ivan and his mother, Liera. At that age, Ivan had already become quite used to seeing after many of the animals, but had always taken a more keen interest to breeding and riding horses. So he decided to sell off the majority of the family livestock to pursue the breeding of race-horses.
Eighteen years passed, and Ivan had found success in his horse breeding. He decided to enter his prize colt into the annual derby in Elderzwich, the next town over the valley ridge. When it came time to make the journey, Ivan saddled his colt with the necessary supplies, and said farewell to his mother one last time before riding out of town. That same afternoon, he came across several other breeders on the county road, also on their way to the fair. Ivan caught ear of one of them jesting about the weak stature of his prize colt – “This one’s sure for a shameful ride home,” the breeder mocked.
Ivan wheeled his colt about to face the mocking breeder. “You will likely have no reason to refute a challenge if you are so sure of my coming loss, eh sir?”
The breeders halted in their tracks, as though unsure of what Ivan was implying.
“Consider it a trial run, or practice, for the derby. First to the stables in Elderzwich wins?”
Ivan recognized the contemptuous spark of acceptance in the mocking breeder’s eyes, and immediately dug his stirrup into the colt. He sprinted up the county road, toward the ridge of the valley, all the while hearing the gallop of his rivals not far behind.
When Ivan’s colt crested the ridge first at dusk, he took an offshoot-trail that crept in the direction of the lights of Elderzwich below. Ivan thought to take this as a shortcut before the others crested behind him and had an opportunity to follow suit with his route.
Switches and bramble slowed Ivan some, but he pressed deeper into the failing light of the steep woods. The trees thickened, and the trail all but vanished in front of him. Desperation and pride took precedence over common sense, and Ivan dug his stirrups deeper into the sides of the exhausted colt. Then Ivan saw the light of dusk breaking through the trees, and charged forward with renewed vigor – eager to get his bearings and leave the cramped forest behind.
The colt broke through the thinning tree-cover, downhill at breakneck speed, and immediately bridled and reared. A cliff’s edge, and vast hundred-foot drop to several tiers of rock below, had waited just beyond the tree-line, hidden from sight until then. In that instant: Ivan was thrown up and back with the colt’s rearing – his head hit a low, thick tree limb, and was pushed further back still by the frightened animal, until his neck snapped, and he fell lifeless from the saddle.
The next evening, the colt had roamed all the way back into Oakfithe, with no one aware of what had happened to its owner. Liera Wessex did not know what to do with the horse, as no one would buy it for fear of it as a poor omen and gateway to a similar fate to whatever had befell Ivan – robbed and killed on the road, most thought. She too looked upon the colt with disdain, and blamed Ivan’s passion for the animal as his undoing. So, a few weeks later, she raised her husband’s rifle to the animal’s skull, and shot it dead in the Wessex stable.
Lord Hustal Errins was the last male heir of House Errins, and the-would-be inheritor of Oakfithe’s greatest fortune. Hustal was generally viewed with envy by the villagers of his generation, and lackluster disappointment by elders who had known his father and grandfather before – both were considered heroes for their roles in establishing the town, and had been generous contributors to numerous infrastructures and civil services.
Hustal did not share the same sort of generosity in his short lifespan, and was an arrogant man. He would brag of his family’s wealth as though he had created it himself. He only had three friends – Wendel Norris, Vindir Shellis, and Algus Hondim - a generally weak-hearted bunch that seemed to siphon off Hustal’s arrogance. They would often back him in fights he started at the tavern.
Hustal’s arrogance did not cease when it came to the women of Oakfithe either. For years he courted Pina Dustill, who rejected him outright. Hustal essentially resorted to bribery by striking a deal with her bankrupt father for her hand in marriage – knowing all along that little remained of his debt-ridden fortune.
The day the cursed union was to be consummated, Hustal was shot on the stoop of Sunk Star church by Pina’s true love, Garrath Nels.
Dosa Nels, the only engineer to ever reside in Oakfithe, was the inventor and maintainer of the two fountains in town – one in the Hummingbird Square, and the other in the orchard of the Errins Manor. He also created many tools and implements of agriculture, communication, and transportation. One of his crowning achievements was the flare system he set and operated at the behest of the village council, as a means of communicating with the neighboring town of Elderzwich and outlying farms. He and Rendel Fomenthal were close friends, and they often collaborated on inventions born from the heap of scrap material in the Nels’ yard.
His only son was Garreth Nels, who served as an understudy that he might take over his father’s trade some day. Garreth was bright and good-natured, like his father. He grew up alongside Pina Dustill, and the two of them were inseparable as friends growing up, and as sweethearts in adolescence. He tried all the more to master his father’s trade that he might one day ask for her hand in marriage with her father’s approval.
This otherwise blessed union was not to be, as Lord Errins bought her hand against her will. Heart-broken and angry, Garreth created one final device – a flintlock pistol, which he drew on Errins on the day of his and Pina’s wedding. Having murdered Errins in cold blood, he was sentenced to hang by the council, and attempted to flee town. He was shot down in the street by Simon Shellis, the acting marshal of Oakfithe at the time.
To cap the most dramatic tragedy of Oakfithe’s history, Dosa hung himself in the rafters of the Nels’ tower where the flare launcher was stored.
Cal Dustill was an uneducated man who had charmed a good woman, Julette Opals, into an unhappy marriage. While Julette looked after and raised their only daughter, Pina, Cal would gamble with the town’s ner’do-wells, squandering much of the money inherited from the Opals’ Mill. In time, he tarnished the Dustill reputation and drove the family into utter bankruptcy.
Pina flourished despite this, and tended to the garden with her mother, who helped her with her lessons in the evening. She wanted to be a writer of fiction, and told many of her stories to her best friend, Garreth Nels. The two were in love, and they often spent evenings by Lure Pond, fishing and sharing their hopes with one another.
Pina was a beautiful girl, and this was noticed well by many others. One who recognized this was the vain and uncaring Lord Errins. Eventually bribing her bankrupt father into selling her off, Pina still refused and threatened to flee the village. Errins made several vicious threats by virtue of his family’s wealth and influence in the village, and told her he would sieze her mother instead and put the Nels family out of house and home. Ultimately, she acquiesced to save her mother and true love from what she believed Errins was capable of inflicting upon them.
When Garreth slew Lord Errins and was later killed himself, Pina slowly died of a broken heart, simply losing the will to rise and eat each day. Almost a year later, she succumbed to malnourishment and malady, and was buried by Garreth in the Oakfithe Cemetery.
Perhaps the most bizarre establishment in Oakfithe was the failed Miltrix Museum. Leeds Miltrix, an elderly fellow whose family originated in Elderzwich, had amassed and inherited a large collection of military artifacts from ages past.
Leeds' construction and opening of the the marble museum was met with initial enthusiasm from the populations of both Oakfithe and Elderzwich. However, many were soon perplexed by his decision. Each week, parts of the collection were declared off-limits to viewing. Leeds' initial showing was only a small number of crude, rusted weapons and armor. He eventually insisted that even these were too delicate to be "exposed to the eyes" of his dwindling following.
Miltrix spent increasingly longer periods of time alone in the lowers vaults of his museum, gazing on his collection and leaving only to acquire additions from sellers, and harvest from his modest vegetable garden.
His end came as many had expected, locked inside his inner-chambers of steel-enforced marble. When he ceased to emerge, none knew how or if to enter, and so the strange complex became a tomb.
Teljay's General Store
Jacob Teljay ran the only general store in Oakfithe, and was very much the heart of commerce within the town. He sold wares ranging from munitions and arms to sewing supplies.
Teljay was among the many who died in the gungnir outbreak, which originated at Sunk Star Church.
Sunk Star Church
The church was one of the first buildings erected in Oakfithe, and thus saw the entire history of the town play out to the present. Though it was generally a place of calm sanctuary, it was also the recovery center for the afflicted in the gungnir plague, as well as the scene of the bloody Errins wedding.
In the final months of its service, it was also the residence of Yurith, the cemetery and church groundskeeper. Yurith was a strange and eccentric person to the townsfolk, and mostly kept to himself. It was rumored that he was a missionary from the Stone Marshlands far to the South, a resting ground for nomadic pagans who worshipped their ancestors as demi-gods. They thought him a convert seeking salvation in service to the church and town.
The truth would have disturbed the townsfolk more than this. Yurith was indeed from the marshes, but had been born into a tribe that was dark and foreboding even to the often-shunned nomads that shared the region. Yurith’s tribe saw the entire human race as an energy source to be fed upon by their God, and believed themselves to be the harvesters of this energy. Their method of “harvesting” was to spread as much death as possible, though they could not be the one to actually take the life – they had to be responsible for death indirectly without laying a hand upon those they killed.
Yurith brought something terrible with him from deep within the marshlands – a vile insect known as gungnir. Gungnir were rare, needle-nosed wasps which would alight upon a victim to drain them of a small amount of energy. The true problem the victim faced after being bitten was that the miniscule wound continued to drain them of their energy, just as air is released from a life preserver. Victims would slowly die of exhaustion without the proper salve, created from an equally-rare flower that grew in the marshes so far south.
Upon his arrival and “volunteering” at Sunk Star Church, Yurith meticulously prepared a grave for himself – this was what his harmful religion viewed as a gateway to their God. Then, one morning, he went into the market in Hummingbird Square, and dropped the glass container he had sealed the gungnir in before hastily sprinting from the square, screaming in his native tongue.
When enough people realized what had happened, they mobbed the Church in search of the maniac who had imperiled their lives – only to find him buried alive in his own, ornate burial mound in the basement.
“This is Selenium?” Charlotte asked her husband Thomas as he wheeled a stainless steel cart into the mineral lab covered in a loose array of black, metallic gravel. “No way. This is something completely different than what early satellite photos suggested,” Thomas said. Charlotte, Thomas, and their partner Mark were the crew of the UNSS Piora, a relatively small vessel used for interplanetary geology research. Thomas had just returned from the surface of a planet the size of Earth’s moon, simply labeled T-217. The T signified the Turel star system, their current frontier of research. This was the 217th lifeless orb of rock and mineral deposits that had been discovered. Mark’s voice sprang to life over the intercom. “You guys should take a break and come down to the mess hall with me. We’ve got the sample, right?” “Yeah, but it’s not what we thought. Just let me get it classified, and we can all go home,” Charlotte answered. She wheeled the cart over to a mineral analyzer, which hung from the ceiling like a dentist’s light hangs over a chair.
A few minutes afterwards, the friendly female voice of the computer piped up as usual. “Contents unrecognized. New mineral characteristics logged into preset. Name this discovery?” Thomas looked at the dark, metallic stone as though it would bite. “I don’t know. I’ll let you name it honey.” With this, Thomas walked out of the lab, an auto airlock sealing behind him as he removed his surface suit and cleaned up. While rinsing his boots in the chemical bath, he was interrupted by Charlotte’s voice over the intercom. “I’m going to try applying slight heat via the mineral laser. I have a feeling this will closely resemble HSe3 if it has a chemical reaction.” Thomas resumed his boot rinsing. HSe3 was one of the ten rarest mineral compounds in the known universe. He knew how Charlotte was always longing for some new discovery on these routine surveys. “Be careful honey. Selenium compounds can be unstable.” These were the last words Thomas had said to his wife over the intercom, as he turned to look through the observation window to where Charlotte was adjusting the straps of her safety goggles. He would not remember the brilliant blue vein of light usually accompanied by the mineral laser coming on. He would always recall the electrical snap of the intercom system going offline forever, followed by a silent explosion that tore a hole the size of an elephant into the far wall of the lab, revealing the vacuous drain of space. He’d remember specifically Charlotte’s severed arm being thrown in the opposite direction of the breach, bouncing bloodily against the observation window before being sucked through the hole with everything else in the lab, all with the speed of a pinball expertly flipped into a neon “1,000,000 Points” slot.
Sorrow was overcome with disbelief, and disbelief overwhelmed by adrenaline as Thomas sprinted down the alloy hallway of the Piora’s 2nd floor. He flew around the corner into the evac bay before asking the computer to do a damage analysis. His fears were confirmed by its reply. “Damage Analysis Complete. Hull breached in Level 2 Mineral Concentration Lab, Level 1 Dining Room. 7 Critical Functions offline including: O2 Generators offline. Carbon-Filtration offline. Intercom System offl…” Before it could finish, Thomas had already punched in the emergency lockdown code for the evac bay. The airlock sealed behind him. As he heard the familiar whir of machinery and hiss of depressurization, Thomas became rigid. What about Mark? He wished to God he could contact him to see if he was still breathing. But the intercom was out, and Mark had definitely gone to the mess hall. That was directly below where the explosion had occurred. He was floating out in space like so much debris and geology equipment now. Suffocated, if not torn to shreds like Charlotte. Thomas decided Mark, the only other person on board, was dead. The ship would be an airless, floating coffin inside the hour. He turned and ran into the EES 1-A, the ship’s lone method of escape. It was an eight-man pod that would automatically relay a distress signal to every ship in the Turel system the moment it broke away from the Piora. “Emergency launch sequence activated. Please allow 90 seconds for calibration and detachment.” The computer’s voice now reminded Thomas of Charlotte, who was blown in two, swishing somewhere out in space. He sat on the floor and held his forehead, safe enough for the moment to let the wave of grief from the past fifteen minutes catch him in its crushing scope. “Calibration complete. Beginning detachment sequence. Please remain in your seat with seatbelt attached as shuttle runs AUTO mode.”
Just before launching into the darkness off the Turel system, the closest planet of known life some .2 light years away, Thomas looked up from his drooling fit of tears to see Mark, slamming his arms against the airlock door, his screams inaudible and face terrified.
(Copyright© Jeff Turner, 06/18/2009)