Polyantha 23rd, 179
I was a little dubious about Samuel’s solution to the meeting space problem, but I guess if anyone knows how to hide in plain sight it would be him. By forming a private history club, we can reserve spaces around the campus, and also check out books and make inquiries that would otherwise arouse suspicion. It’s really as simple as that. I’d expected there to be more paperwork, but as long as we’re not asking for funds or using the university’s name or crest we don’t even need a sponsor.
Julia knew that bit, since she already belongs to groups that don’t qualify for official recognition. They had to specifically ban suffragist groups from using school facilities, which means that just lacking recognition isn’t enough on its own.
So, the Midlands Provinces Lore and History Club is a bit of a clunker when it comes to the name, but it might save us the trouble of having to turn anybody down for membership. We don’t advertise for members, but we do have to put our name on the conference room sign-up sheets. The whole thing doesn’t often fit, though, and it’s not likely anybody will care enough to find out what “MPLHC” is or what we do.
His new friend from the newspaper Eugene takes the minutes of the meetings, though they’re mostly fabricated. It’s just in case anybody from the history department notices and takes an interest. I don’t think we’d have to reveal what we’re up to, but it would be suspicious not to.
Samuel did caution us against putting anything pertaining to our true purpose into writing, which gave me a bad moment when I thought of you, dear diary. But my reluctance to tell him about you reminded me of a difference between research notes and a diary. A history club will be expected to be producing some knowledge related to history, but there’s no reason for anyone to even know I’m keeping a diary, much less what I confide to you. So I think we’re safe for now.
Our first two meetings have mainly been to get things organized and then to pool what we know, which isn’t much more than I told you last time.
Polyantha 28th, 179
As much as I loathe the idea of being relegated to the “ladies’ reading room”, Samuel made a compelling argument in favor of it. A freshman girl in the co-ed library is going to be subjected to more scrutiny than a couple of sophomores. Not that anybody checks our ID cards or anything, but there seems to be something about my face. I think I’ll probably be taken for a first year student until well into my junior year, if not until the day I die. Melanie, as naive as she can be, still looks more mature and worldly than I do. And of course Julia can look like she belongs anywhere. We’ve both snuck into the men’s library together, but she could probably waltz in through the front door and check out a book before anyone thought to question her. Not that she looks mannish! She is not particularly feminine but she definitely lives her philosophy when it comes to the whole not having to give up womanhood to be the equal of a man.
Melanie is more comfortable with sex segregation than I’ll ever be, so she splits her time between the two libraries. Her love of reading is proving even more valuable than expected. There are so many storybooks in the ladies’ library, but they’re all great big collections. If they’re organized around a theme, it isn’t one that relates to our search. Flipping through a large book to see if anything jumps out is possible, but the more tedious the person doing it finds it, the more likely they are to miss something. Melanie picks up books that I have discarded as useless and gives them a closer look.
She’s already collating stories together and piecing them together into some kind of theory. I’m a little ashamed to admit, Diary, that she’s the last one I expected to have a real breakthrough. I’m still very fond of Melanie and I’m sure I always will be, but the wider my world gets the more I understand how much my early schoolgirl crush benefited from a lack of competition.
Narcissa 9th, 179
Melanie’s research has been revealed to me. She has begun piecing together her own collection of stories of The Man in the Woods, a figure who is sometimes identified as such. She also relates him to other, unnamed men who appear in some stories. He is not identified as a demon in any stories but otherwise fits our man’s profile. He approaches young women or sometimes men to offer bargains or wagers. Often the terms involve the woman’s first born or the person’s life or, tellingly, their literal heart.
One story refers to him simply as a devil from the woods. When we share this with Samuel I mean to ask him if it’s possible to confuse a devil and a demon, since he seems to have been learning about demon lore before this all started. Which only makes sense. Not only would he need to know about demons, but in a way, it’s his heritage.
Narcissa 11th, 179
As Samuel explains it, there isn’t a difference between devils and demons. They are simply different terms for the same thing. In olden times before much was known about demons, the ones who used cunning and guile to move among humans and prey on us were called devils and the ones who lived and hunted more like beasts, using their great strength and speed, were called demons, and no one considered they might be the same thing. Few even believed that demons would look like humans if anyone got a good look at one, or that a devil’s “natural form” was the one they wore to interact with humans.
He said the term “devil” has also been applied to other races that prey on humans, such as harpies being “sky devils” or “devil birds”. Apparently it meant adversary or enemy originally.
While diabolists have known the truth about devils/demons for ages but it takes time for the facts to overtake the myth. At the time the MITW stories were being collected, very few people would have been aware of the truth, especially among the backwoods people who were circulating the stories.
The Man In The Woods of the stories certainly fits the devil mold. He does seem to live in the wilderness, but when he does approach people he’s presenting himself as a helpful or curious traveler. The rest of the “club” agrees that our demon was probably the inspiration for the stories.
Julia pointed out that we don’t know that he doesn’t have a life as a human somewhere that he vanishes from in order to hunt or be The Man In The Woods. It is doubtlessly getting harder for a “devil” to live among humans undetected, but it’s not impossible, and would have been easier in the past.
Narcissa 21st, 179
I hope you don’t think I’m neglecting my schoolwork. I know I don’t talk about it much, but I haven’t forgotten the reason for going to school in the first place is schooling. I give it what time is necessary, but all of my extra time and spare thoughts are for the business of our history club.
I also haven’t been neglecting my swordplay. Julia says I am coming along very well. She says I am too impulsive when it comes to combat and too restrained when it comes to anything else. I don’t know what she means by that, especially since nobody has ever accused me of having too much restraint before.
Lathyrus 5th, 179
Today, Eugene pointed out one thing today that casts a little doubt as to the identity of the MITW. While he does gamble for people’s hearts in some stories, the reports of bodies missing hearts mostly seem to be more modern than the tales. Did he not need to eat as often for some reason in the past, or were the bodies not found as often? Eugene has advanced the theory that our “Man” is not “the” Man In The Woods, but has modeled himself after him.
I don’t buy it, though. If he wanted to escape detection, it would be easier to remain below the horizon completely then to reinvent himself after a local legend. I think the stories are about him, and represent his failure to keep his existence a secret.
Or I should say his incomplete success. Because it’s not like all of the central woodlands and wetlands know that a demon is lurking in the shadows. We just have these scattered stories, obscure within the region and unknown elsewhere, that hint at him. I don’t believe anyone before has put them all together the way Melanie and Eugene are. As skeptical as he is, Eugene is also hungry for the truth, and has been helping Melanie organize her findings.
Even though Samuel doesn’t want the club to produce anything that relates to demons in general or our “Man” in particular, I can’t see Eugene sitting on this. I think if he can find a way to tie Sir Cyrus’s killer to this body of myth Melanie is assembling, he’s going to want to put it out there. I don’t know if that would be something the school paper would take or not but I think he’d want people to know.
Lathyrus 9th, 179
I was right. Eugene and Samuel had an argument about publishing what Eugene calls our “findings”. Eugene can’t see a downside to what he calls “shining the light of truth” on the Man. To be honest, neither can I. It would put a whole region on guard against him, and give those who are hunting for Sir Cyrus’s killer something to go on.
Samuel’s concerns seem to be twofold. He feels this would put all of us in danger of retaliation, and it would also draw attention to our little club. With a membership of five there’s no way that Samuel could hide among the ranks. He takes it as a given that his demon blood would be found out, and as soon as it became known then that would be all anyone would care about. Even if the stories had a positive slant—like a demonblood taking on a demon—people would still find his motivations suspicious or try to make more of the connection than there is. Or so Samuel fears.
Lathyrus 19th, 1789
I came up with an interesting theory about the sudden increase in heartless corpses in relatively recent time. It started when Eugene pointed out that they started popping up more often after Blackwater Province officially became Blackwater Province, and he thought it might just be better record keeping and detection techniques. But it’s not like it went overnight from being a completely unsettled territory with no laws or bureaucracy to a full province, so I started looking into what else changed at that time. It’s impossible to research the history of Blackwater Province’s admission into the Imperial Republic without turning up references to their famous dragon of the same name and the compact that was forged with her at the same time.
Before that, there was nothing that prevented her from eating the odd corpse that made its way to her layer, or even being fed them directly by a demon who wanted to cover its tracks. After that, she wasn’t supposed to be snacking on humans unless she’s slain them in self-defense.
It’s just a little pet theory, probably impossible to prove unless someone goes and asks the dragon directly. I really can’t see that happening. She’s not exactly the social type, and I think the law is generous in its assumptions of self-defense against intruders into her layer, in the interest of maintaining peaceful relations.
Eugene didn’t bring up the matter of publication, but I can see it’s still eating away at him.
Lathyrus 25th, 179
Eugene said that we should put the publication question to a vote of the full membership of the club, and he looked at Julia when he said that. I think he was counting on her to be flattered enough by the gesture to support him. But she is of the opinion that Samuel has the most to lose and Eugene has the most to gain by going public, which she says is reason enough to respect Samuel’s wishes.
As much as I tend to agree with Eugene, I can’t fault her logic. How can we put it to a vote when the stakes are so much higher for one of us?
I think Eugene was appealing to Julia because I’d already agreed with him and he thought she would be needed to break a tie when Melanie inevitably sided with Samuel, but she agreed with him, too. She’s put so much work into compiling the stories and ferreting out connections between them that I think she feels very proprietary about it, which only makes sense. But I think she wants to see it published.
If Eugene was surprised that she supported him over Samuel, I think Samuel had the floor dropped out from underneath him. He left the room without a word.
Julia reminded Eugene that we hadn’t actually put anything to a vote or decided anything officially and went after him, but he was gone. His focus on stealth and shadow magic makes it hard for her to track, even with her family ranger training. And I don’t think she tried too hard, after seeing that he’d vanished.
I have a very bad feeling about this. Even Melanie has told Eugene that she doesn’t want to see him do anything before this is settled. I don’t think he will, but he’s almost convinced himself he’d be doing Samuel a huge favor by giving the Man something else to think about.
Convallaria 6th, 179
Remember that bad feeling I had?
Our last two meetings have been a lot of arguing and even some shouting with nothing resolved. Most of the shouting was from Eugene. When Samuel gets angry, he doesn’t get louder. He mostly gets quieter, more tightly controlled. I think he’s afraid of lashing out.
He did lash out, though, at least verbally. Not at Eugene, though. Samuel was angry that Eugene had started to write up a draft just to show him what he had in mind, and Samuel repeated the no records rule. I pointed out that he hadn’t been angry that Melanie had written notes on the interconnected stories, and to add weight I added that I was keeping a personal diary. The point I was trying to make was that we’ve probably all bent or broken that rule, but from the looks the others gave me I guess they saw my skirting of it as worse or more complete a betrayal of the spirit of the rule than anything they’ve done. Samuel even said I should burn you.
As far as I’m concerned, Diary, you’re my business and no one else’s. That means I probably shouldn’t have mentioned you, I guess, but I’m not about to give you up.