To say that anything about Malverarey or his environs was a surprise would be a lie. This was your typical more-money-than-sense Bastiard who held both an enduring single-minded obsession and a massive wealth driving that obsession to absurd heights. In short: the perfect customer.

Malverarey’s study was richly appointed where it wasn’t sparse. Velvet-covered walls, deep mahogony furniture, tortoise shell lamps, and a massive empty stone pedestal occupied a small fraction of the voluminous space of his study. This pedestal was encircled by velvet ropes on brass poles and illuminated by electric spotlights aimed at the void.

Malverarey himself was a mountain of a man. He looked to have last been cleaned and dressed about a decade prior. He appeared to be a human turned pig-like mockery turned back into a human. His large jowls, upturned nose, crooked teeth, and pronounced under-bite all but swallowing the tiny monocle in his eye.

It was at this point that we noticed Noggin’s disappearance. Apparently he zigged when we zagged on the way up to the study. Hopefully good Flaker, Malverarey’s houseman, can locate him and return him to us.

Malverarey proceeded to reveal the reason for our summoning. While he has a penchant for all strange beasts, there is one in particular that he would like to acquire.

He served in Her Majesty’s Mortal Constabulary, 415th Regiment outside of Dark Postule in the Deep country. He heard tales of a creature known as “The Haunting Beast.” This beast was described as having all manner of ambulatory means: legs, fins, wings, possibly even cilia? It could be found in all habitats, from rivers to mountainsides to deep forest to thick muck.

Understanding that any person—especially persons such as Babs and I with our anatomical knowledge—would find this unbelievable, Malverarey then opened a sizable drawer of his desk and retrieved a large bundle wrapped in waxed canvas. Though it was inexpertly preserved, if at all, it appeared to be a foreleg of some sort with a sizable hoof about the size of a dinner plate. The keratin of the hoof still shined despite its age. Most remarkably, however, was that extending along the leg from knuckle to knuckle was a large fish-like fin.

Overcome with wonder, I snatched Malverarey’s monocle from his eye, and dragging him toward me by the long chain, proceeded to examine this wonder. I could discern no trace of stitching or other artifice in this specimen. Could it be from a real creature?

Malverarey said that the leg was given to him by the Rectress of the local chapel, Our Lady of the Resigned Boil. She or others of her faith may know something of the local folklore related to the beast. They may even know how to find it.

In any case, should we successfully locate and return such a beast, he would gladly pay us up to 25,000 POUNDS with 1,000 in advance for expedition expenses. We took our leave.

On the street, we briefly entertained the notion that instead of pursuing a likely very dangerous creature on a likely very dangerous expedition, we could in fact fabricate a reasonable facsimile, given that Malverarey had not in fact ever laid eyes on the creature. However, that was quickly dismissed, as an adventure to raise our spirits and perhaps take us away from this infernal city for a time is certainly in order.

Speaking of this infernal city: as we assumed to enter a local provisioner’s shop, that dastardly Wapney and his gang of Poodle Boys intercepted us. He used his smarmy ways and threats to try to learn of our new employer. A mere “good day” sent him on his way. I fear that he will be a constant thorn in our side if we remain here much longer.

drawing of Elastico's Lavender Petrichor gum

Our provisioner was obviously a man who had seen an expedition or two named Bill Tan. His shop specialized in a selection of camping, mountaineering, and wilderness gear all carrying the distinct soil-like smell of authenticity.

While Babs set about collecting our supplies (I am hopelessly lost when it comes to preparing for anything beyond a light stroll), I wandered the shop. I came across a striking life-size wooden statue of another explorer holding a fish-like fin. When lightly pressed, Tan said that it was his late partner Morgan Black holding part of a prize ice-fishing catch: the “coolest” catch, as it were. Before opening the shop, they explored all through the Deep Country together.

Sensing an opportunity to learn more about what we might encounter, I asked Mr. Tan if he had ever ventured through Dark Postule. He brought a worn tintype from the wall. It showed a man who he referred to as “Madman” Lord Benktomb standing in a wetlands on the border of a small forest while construction on some sort of massive transparent structure progressed behind him. Tan told the tale of Benktomb, who wanted a glass bridge on which he could stand and see all around him. He built it over this swamp next to a forest. Black and Tan passed through the area a few years ago. Benktomb later suffered a messy death.

Babs got all of our supplies picked out. We had to make some tough decisions, but I believe we’re well outfitted for our journey. We did make another stop back at Mr. Hexapedes’ shop to find some inexpensive traveling clothes. It would not be sensible to slog through a swamp in a crushed velvet suit, after all.

Note: Tan’s shop stocked both quinine-elderberry and lavender-petrichor flavors of gum. My search for baby pinecone-flavor continues.

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