But wild beasts shall rest there, and their houses shall be filled with serpents, and ostriches shall dwell there, and the hairy ones shall dance there: And owls shall answer one another there, in the houses thereof, and sirens in the temples of pleasure.
Isaias xii. 21-22
Since the dawn of time, mankind has always sought what lies over the horizon. In the 19th century, this process of exploration intensifies as the European powers lay claim to vast regions of the globe and map huge areas of uncharted territory (of course, to the natives, 'uncharted territory' is often no such thing). Many of the places they discover are uncanny, sometimes frighteningly so. And, of course, older places, long known but still mysterious, sit in the heart of Europe. The Red Sisters have been to many of these places, seeking to understand their mysteries, or contain them.
This legendary realm is, in many Asian religions and new esoteric sects, the city at the heart of the Earth. The ancient sages who dwell in Agartha (also known as Shambhala or Shangri-La) possess, it is said, great wisdom and power that can be attained by the rare few seekers who manage to find it.
Said task is not an easy one. There are said to be gates that lead down to Agartha scattered across the globe (beneath the Potala Palace in distant and mysterious Lhasa, underneath the Pyramids of Giza and at the North and South Poles), but no one has ever discovered them; or, at least, no one has ever discovered them and brought back definitive, public proof. The French occultist Alexandre St. Yves d'Alveydre claims to have established telepathic contact with the masters of Agartha, and that its wisdom will be unlocked for all the world when Christianity lives up to its holy commandments. A few Red Sisters have tied this into their own eschatological theories, especially the Last Catholic Monarch.
The search for Agartha is mainly a task for Asians and Europeans who embrace either Asian religions or create their own creeds. One such adept was Costantino Trucchi, an Italian occultist and self-proclaimed alchemist who left the northern Indian town of Dharamsala in August 1878 after spending ten years studying certain exotic Hindu teachings. Trucchi and his handful of native guides disappeared after slipping across the border into Tibet near Namgya, and eight years later, Trucchi wandered into the Italian legation in Peking, half-starved and half-mad. When he recovered from his malnourishment, Trucchi told the legation staff an incredible story of his years in Agartha and hinted at the disturbing wisdom he had learned. Two weeks later, he disappeared, leaving behind a blood-soaked and ransacked room stripped of all his meager possessions.
Perhaps the single greatest military leader in all history, Alexander the Great blazed a trail of conquest from the Aegean all the way to the Punjab. Many strange tales surrounded his wars and travels in the East, and this so-called son of a god continued to gain fame even after his death. His remains were preserved in an ornate clay vessel full of preserving honey and this placed inside a glass coffin. This was deposited in Alexandria in Egypt, and remained there until the 1st century BC when it was disturbed by Ptolemy IX and lost to history.
But not to folklore. The Chaldean Christians of Iraq have long handed down a strange tradition that a handful of Egyptians saved the casket of Alexander and snuck it out of Egypt and up the Euphrates. A grand tomb was built in a fusion of Egyptian, Greek and Persian style somewhere north of Babylon (and not far from the great city of Baghdad), and Alexander's remains re-interred there. There they rested for several centuries, only to be lost again when the hordes of Mohammed swept out of Arabia and conquered Mesopotamia. The Chaldean legend continues, though, that the last custodians of that second tomb smuggled Alexander's coffin away and hid it in the northern mountains. There it remains even to this day, watched over by a long line of hereditary guardians. It is said that some of the mystic scrolls that once rested in the Great Library of Alexandria are buried with Alexander, as well as the sword with which he cut the Gordian Knot and seeds from the Garden of Philosophers in the East. The location of this final tomb is, of course, unknown, and nobody who has sought it has ever found it - and few have returned alive.
This ruined city, one of a handful founded by Alexander the Great in the Caucasus Indicus (mod. Hindu Kush), was settled mainly by Aeolian veterans circa 326 BC. It was abandoned ten years thereafter and never resettled. Historians generally agree that a combination of local hostility and a plague forced the abandonment of Argyropolis; legends tell a different story entirely. According to folklore, the town was overrun by Lamia (referring either to the Greek monster with the head and torso of a woman and the lower body of a snake, or the Latin word for vampire; the few surviving texts, none earlier than the 1st century AD in origin, are unclear).
The exact location of Argyropolis is unclear, although it is believed to lie somewhere north of modern Jalalabad. The Pashtun tribesmen of the area claim strange creatures still lurk in the hills. Indian Army Major Thaddeus Knightley, who in 1882 passed briefly through the area as part of an inspection tour on behalf of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, reported to his superiors in Delhi that the Pashtun tales were correct. His letters to Field Marshal Sir Donald Martin Stewart, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in India, are classified, but some elements of them were reprinted in Mysteries of the Hindu Kush, Major Knightley's controversial 1885 book.
Bahía de Fantasmas
Located on the northern coast of Colombia, midway between Santa Marta and the border with Venezuela, this small bay was often used by pirates in the golden age of Caribbean piracy. Several bloody battles were fought here, including one British attempt to capture Blackbeard, during the early 18th century. In 1727, the infamous French pirate ship Coeur Noir, under Pierre-Louis Dieudonné, was cornered in the bay by two Spanish frigates. Dieudonné's attempt to surrender was turned down (he had used false surrenders to outwit and destroy his hunters before) and the Coeur Noir was sunk with all hands.
Since then, the Bahia has been reputed to be haunted by Dieudonné and his crew. There have been numerous sightings, all well-attested, over the years. Padre Hernan Galvez' 1843 tale is only the most well-known, not least because it mentions the hitherto unknown detail that Dieudonné's last plundered cargo included a few ancient and enigmatic relics from an obscure pre-Columbian tribe. Padre Hernan's conclusion was that these relics are the reason Dieudonné and his crew persistently haunt the Bahia.
The Abyssinian village of Bete Paulos is a minor Coptic Orthodox pilgrimage site in the north of the country. It was founded in the 12th century, according to local tradition, and is home to a 13th century monolithic church, also called Bete Paulos. While medieval and later Europeans claimed the church was built by Templars, more educated travelers admit the Abyssinian origins.
What is peculiar and unsettled, however, is the claim that the church houses the skeleton of an Ethiopian death bird, a sort of gigantic vampire bat that straddles the line between animal and monster. Only the guardian monk of the church has ever seen the skeleton, but upon taking his holy office, he never leaves the confines of the church; moreover, the current guardian monk, Ayalew, dismisses the inevitable questions with a sly smile or a frustrated grunt, depending on the manners of the questioner.
Beyond the boundaries of the village, the countryside is rather bleak. Even goats and birds are scarce, and the locals stay close to the one road out of Bete Paulos. Unwary travelers who stray often disappear, and not all of them because of bandits. The people of Bete Paulos never go out at night, and hang peculiar talismans above their doors whenever the moon is new.
The mountains of the Caucasus are home to many ghosts, the sad result of centuries of bitter fighting between Turks, Russians and the local peoples. One of the most notable spectral locales is Castle Davitaia. Built in the late 14th century, this castle is a powerful fortress that resisted seven sieges over the years. It is on the upper reaches of the Rioni River of the former kingdom of Imereti (now the western part of the Russian province of Georgia), and sits atop a high, stony bluff offering a commanding view of the district. The castle was formerly home to the ancient Davitaia clan, notable Georgian patriots who lead a local revolt in 1812. They were defeated by the Russians after a bitter campaign, and the Russian commander, General Kisilev, had the castle put to the torch - with Svimeon Davitaia and his wife Ketevan, as well as many of their relatives and servants, trapped inside.
Since then, Castle Davitaia has been seen nightly apparitions of both Svimeon and Ketevan, and less frequent but still common appearances by other victims of the Russian massacre. Russian soldiers still garrison the castle - although they remain outside the walls after dark - to keep the local peasants in line. The Davitaias were a Catholic clan, and many of the locals still hold to the True Faith, and constantly plead for their distant bishop to send a priest to put the lonely ghosts to rest.
The Clock House
This bizarre dwelling is in the Swiss city of Lucerne. 18th century clockmaker and astrologer Bruno Beyersdorf spent the last twelve years of his life creating what locals call the Uhrhaus, forcing the builders to adapt to his intricate and often changing plans for the structure. Finally, at great expense, the Uhrhaus was finished - mere days before Beyersdorf died. The house is in the western outskirts of the city, near the right bank of the Reuss river.
Inside the Uhrhaus, which is a strange Gothic structure, one finds a rambling set of rooms linked by narrow, curved hallways. The most prominent feature of the Uhrhaus is the collection of clocks. Beyersdorf built and bought over a thousand clocks of all different designs and set them apparently at random throughout the house. One bathroom has no less than four clocks, for instance, and the master bedroom over fifty (including an enormous grandfather clock with two smaller ones built into it). Local legend says that when the last clock stops, the world will end.
As of January 1, 1889, only thirty-eight clocks are still running.
The Cursed Tomb of Peng
This wretched structure, a black granite imitation of the Buddhist temples common all across Southeast Asia, lurks somewhere deep in the jungles of French Indochina. It is believed, but not known for certain, that the Tomb of Peng rests east of the Mekong River somewhere beyond Kracheh. Peng, the occupant of the tomb, was a 17th century warlord and black magician who ruled a large part of Cambodia (then under the overlordship of Vietnamese kings) as his own nightmare realm. He and his followers terrorized the countryside for many years, murdering those who opposed them and kidnapping those unfortunate enough to catch the amorous attention of Peng himself. Eventually, a small army of Vietnamese soldiers led by Buddhist priests captured the infamous magician. He was beheaded, and his remains burnt and scattered to the four winds.
Ten years later, though, the Tomb of Peng appeared overnight, and strange stories began to spread of angry ghosts and hungry devils. Soon enough, the entire district was abandoned, and even now few live there. Those who do whisper fearfully of the Tomb and its unholy occupants. It is probably not a coincidence that famous French explorer Colonel Henri Jouannet disappeared here in 1872. According to a surviving account by an earlier explorer, David Savin, the exterior of the tomb resembles a large and fairly ornate Buddhist temple, save for the dark color, but the inside is a place of oddly curving walls, sudden breezes and strange sighs.
This remote Indian Ocean island is a French colony that lies some five hundred miles south-east of Réunion Island and two hundred miles south of the British island Rodrigues in the Mascrarenes. Darette (or Dahret in the native language) is inhabited by about two thousand people, a mix of European settlers (largely French, but with a few hundred Portuguese) and natives known as the Shari. The Shari are in many respects an unusual people; they are apparently racially akin to the indigenous people of the Maldives far to the north, but they speak a peculiar language which is unrelated to Dhivehi (the language of the Maldives) and seemingly connected to Hebrew, Aramaic and other ancient Semitic languages.
The Shari, while nominally Hindu or (more rarely) Catholic, have many unique and ancient myths. Primarily, they claim that the island is a living thing, the earth-bound servant of the creator god of their former religion, and that it stirs itself from time to time unless appeased by sacrifices (every year, Shari priests ritually pour large amounts of sea water and coconut milk into a fissure atop Mt. Darette to honor the island's spirit). It is true that Darette and the surrounding waters have seen a number of oddities.
The first French settlement on the island, Fort-Sainte-Apollonie, disappeared entirely in 1652, and the colony is often called France's Roanoke (after the mysteriously abandoned English colony in Virginia). No trace of the settlers has ever been found. The main theory is that the natives killed them, but no trace of violence was found in the abandoned fort. Much later, the Portuguese merchant ship Pedra Negra was found drifting on the west side of the island, abandoned by its crew - the lifeboats were still aboard, the last entry in ship's log (from that very morning) reported nothing strange, and the weather at the time was calm. Most famously, the island was utterly unaffected by the tsunamis which resulted from the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. The Shari claim each incident was a sign of the island-god's anger.
This remote Black Forest hamlet is in the general neighborhood of Wolfach in the Grand Duchy of Baden. The town, believed to have been founded around the time of the Battle of the Teutoburg Wald, was abandoned twice in the early Middle Ages owing to plague, and then refounded in 1099 by Dietrich of Quedlinburg, an exile from the monastery there. Curious stories surround Dietrich and the reason he was forced to leave Quedlinburg. His family had a strange reputation, as did those who followed him in rebuilding Graubrücke. From the 13th century onward, werewolf stories became common, mainly centering on the infamous ex-Teutonic Knight Hans Oster, who fought against the pagans of the Baltic and was then expelled from the Order on accusations of sorcery. In 1277 and 1278, the Inquisition was active in the area, and several leading citizens of Graubrücke, then much larger than it currently is, were executed by local authorities.
Despite this purge, werewolves and witches were and are well-established in the region. The hamlet (its population at the founding of the German Empire was 127) is generally shunned by its neighbors, and there have been several strange disappearances (mainly of young girls) in the area in recent years. There is a small Catholic church in the village, although it is currently vacant; curiously, it is named after an otherwise unknown St. Thaddäus of Duisburg.
This tiny hamlet lies in a secluded district in the rural heartland of the Bavarian province of Upper Franconia. First mentioned in 1084, Großbäckerfeld was an important commercial center in the high Middle Ages, but declined in importance during the Renaissance. Today, it is a small farming village home to perhaps twenty families, an 18th century church, and an inn that survives by the grace of God more than any revenue from visitors (who are very, very rare).
It is also home to a convent school, the Darstellungschulen (Presentation School). This extremely exclusive and secretive academy caters to the daughters of south German and Austrian nobles, and numbers several countesses- and baronesses-to-be among its students. The Schulen is run by Prioress Elisabeth, a stern, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted Bavarian Red Sister and also a leading member of the Whites. It is an open secret that the White is grooming the students of the Schulen to be the powers behind their thrones (literal thrones in some cases), and rumored that the young girls are also part of the White's eschatological planning.
Not far from the Darstellungschulen is its sister institution, Heiligekreuzwaisenhaus (Holy Cross Orphanage). Just as exclusive and secretive as the Schulen, the Waisenhaus is staffed by a trio of nuns (not Red Sisters) and a Jesuit priest, Father Jakob. There are many rumors about the Waisenhaus, especially about the qualities of the orphans that are admitted to it. Some of the orphans have preternatural gifts, or so it is rumored, and more than a few cynical Red Sisters believe the Whites intend to pair up the orphans with the noble daughters just down the road.
This lonely Carpathian peak, part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Ruthenia, is home to the strange and reclusive Brother Leopold. This monk, allegedly a Byzantine Rite Catholic, has lived near the summit of Heiglberg for some fifty years, although no one can clearly remember when he took up residence. The mountain is haunted, and few tread upon its slopes, but Brother Leopold is somehow unchallenged by the local spirits. He is also said, by those who know things, to have great visions, and sometimes to share them with those who brave the dark forests and hills to reach his small hut. Six years ago, a Red Sister named Karolina and her companions disappeared in the area.
The closest town to Heiglberg is the Ruthenian hamlet of Subtelnyan (also known as Stoschburg by its German inhabitants), itself a curious and insular settlement that was once nearly destroyed by a vampire outbreak (or at least that's what the Ruthenians claim). Subtelnyan is four miles from the base of Heiglberg, and the nearest town with a rail link to Lemberg is a good half day's walk away from it.
Île de Pentecôte
This South Sea island has a long and tangled history. It features in the ocean folklore of at least four great civilizations (Chinese, Hindu, Arabic and Greek). As far back as the 3rd century BC, Greek mariners who ventured beyond India brought back legends of a distant island (Lygonesos) haunted by giant, cannibalistic cynocephali (dog-headed people). Both the Chinese and Indians had similar legends, placing the island beyond the East Indies. Later, Arab seafarers elaborated on the mythology, describing the island as perpetually twilit (tying it to the Greek name, which means "Shadow Island"). Yusuf ibn-Khalid, a Yemenite sailor of some repute, was said to have spent a month stranded on the nightmarish island before being rescued. In his account, the entire island sank beneath the waves just as he made his escape.
Centuries later, the lost island was rediscovered. French explorer Jean Serrault, sailing from Pondichery to Polynesia in 1745, was caught in a fierce storm and laid anchor off a previously uncharted island to repair his ship. In a sealed letter delivered to King Louis XV the next year, Serrault wrote of the bêtes affreuses (hideous beasts) that inhabited the island. Since then, the island (named Île de Pentecôte after the day of its discovery) has a reputation for vanishing and appearing apparently at random, leading most reputable geographers to leave it off their maps and dismiss its very existence. Experienced sailors know better, of course.
The vast country of Brazil is still hardly explored in many places, even after several centuries of European colonization. The river country of the Amazon jungles, in particular, is terra incognita in many respects. The Madeira River's middle reaches are not as remote as some areas, but they still hold a few mysteries. Roughly halfway between the river's origin and its confluence with the Amazon, there is a rough patch of jungle that is shunned even by the legendarily brave Munduruku hunters. They say, when they speak of it at all, that that country was once home to an evil tribe who dwelt in a hidden city named Kuruku.
Kuruku was abandoned centuries ago, after its demon-worshipping king went mad and turned on his subjects. In one night of fire, the city was destroyed and the people scattered (and killed by the Munduruku, who had long suffered from their cruelty). According to the Munduruku, the sorcerer king still dwells in underground chambers beneath the rubble. It may well be true. Several Portuguese explorers are known to have disappeared in the area. More famously, the Hoffman Expedition of 1873 vanished without a trace after venturing near the fabled location of Kuruku.
Somewhere in the forbidding Zagros Mountains of Persia, there is a narrow valley, little more than a cleft, between two treacherous peaks. It is shunned by the Kurds who dwell in that district, and travelers who venture nearby tend to disappear. Medieval legends of the Arabs and Persians claim the area is home to a thousand and one demons, and that Mohammed himself placed a terrible curse upon it. Older Jewish tales say the valley has a cave within it, a cave housing a terrible darkness - Lilith, the demoness who was once the first wife of Adam.
The tales are true. Lilith does dwell in the black depths of that remote cave, and has since she abandoned Adam and the Garden of Eden. Here she consorted with devils, and gave birth to multitudes of twisted offspring who now haunt all the corners of the world. They are linked to their mother's lair by mirrors, and can return at will through the nearest one. It is said that Lilith can reach out through mirrors as well, should she will it, although her physical form rarely leaves the cave.
Loch Eyre is a small lake in the northeastern part of Scotland's Highlands. It is loosely ringed by a large number of ancient megaliths, the products of the Picts. Each megalith bears a different, distinct symbol of unknown meaning. Local legend has it that the lake is home to some slumbering beast, akin to the more famous Loch Ness Monster to the northwest, and that the stones keep the creature asleep. If they are ever removed, the story says, the beast will awaken and claim a price in blood. There is a nearby town, Ronanskirk, the people of which make a meager living off the land. The inhabitants tend to discourage visitors to the lake, and the entire region has an unsavory reputation among the other inhabitants of the county of Aberdeenshire. It is said a statue of the Loch Eyre Dragon is in a forgotten box in the British Museum, or buried underneath the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Aberdeen.
Recently, a team from the Royal Geographic Society spent four weeks on Loch Eyre, and their well-publicized account (featured in The Times, as well as several other notable papers in Britain and further abroad) contains several puzzling incidents; curiously few of them actually concern any lake monster, though, and most suggest the presence of something entirely supernatural and downright malevolent. Many other groups are now set to descend upon the remote lake, much to the dismay of the people of Ronanskirk. Equally dismaying is the plan to build a road along the northern shore of the Loch, a road that will dislocate several of the standing stones.
The rural village of Mylesford in Suffolk, England, has a long and storied connection to the occult. During the Middle Ages, the Bourne family (founded by Herald Bourne, a Knight Templar who fought in the Second Crusade) had a reputation throughout Suffolk for either divine gifts or diabolic powers, depending on who told the tale (as chronicled in Thomas of Kent's Curiousities of East Anglia, among other medieval texts). Mylesford was also the center of one of the earliest English werewolf cases, the 12th century episode of Richard Fletcher.
Like more than a few families of the English gentry, the Bournes remained Catholic during the tempests of the Reformation. The town was a haven for recusants, and Lilycrown, the 15th century country house of the Bournes, contains three priest holes (hiding places for the outlawed Catholic clergy in Elizabethan times) designed by the master Catholic builder Nicholas Owens. Not far from Lilycrown House lies Morton Abbey, a medieval establishment stripped of its treasures during the reign of Henry VIII. Morton Abbey was given to the Earl of Powellbury as a reward for his service to Henry, but it burned down shortly after the Earl took up residence. Not a single wall was left standing after the great fire, and even today little more than grass grows on the spot. Today, the remains of the Abbey are haunted by the White Lady, a pitiful specter who is said to be a novice sister who sought refuge at the ruined abbey, but was discovered, arrested and martyred during the Tudor persecutions of the late 16th century.
Farther afield, north of Mylesford along the shore of Holly Broad (a small, shallow lake famous for its reeds), one finds the Holly Circle, an ancient stone circle of Celtic construction. Local folklore says Holly Circle was raised by Asmodeus (an odd detail; the Devil himself is the usual culprit in that sort of explanation for stone circles). The Circle was built over a short, narrow cave that leads, via tunnel, to a pre-Roman barrow that holds no bodies and a few undecipherable symbols that do not resemble any Celtic or Pictish writing or motifs. Locals say that anybody who sleeps in the barrow will be dead by morning, a theory that has yet to be put to a scientific test.
The rural village of Old Orchard is in the neighborhood of the prosperous city of Buffalo, New York. It was first settled early in the century and has quietly passed the years with little outside notice, except in certain esoteric and spiritualist circles.
For a tiny settlement (the population in 1880 was only 207), Old Orchard has an outstanding number of oddities. Every autumn from 1807 to 1868, strange lights (similar to the spooklights and will-o'-the-wisps of popular American and European folklore) could be seen twinkling in the valley south of the village. Whisper Creek, which has a sinister reputation, runs through the valley, which was also home to a Seneca Indian settlement centuries ago. Today, Whisper Creek is avoided by most farmers, who consider it cursed and haunted; the only resident is the aging widow Oprah Greery, a New Englander who arrived in the summer of 1868. Greery is aloof and rarely appears in town, but she does entertain odd guests now and again for séances.
Old Orchard also lore insists President-elect Abraham Lincoln passed by the village (then just a few scattered farms) on his way from Buffalo to Albany and ultimately Washington DC. Four years later, his funeral train passed through Old Orchard on its way to Illinois. Some say the whistle of the train can be heard in the early morning every April 27, the anniversary of the train passing through Old Orchard bearing the president's body back home. Every child born on April 27, and there have been quite a few over the years, is inexplicably born with a broken left ankle.
The Pillars of the Sons of Lamech
Jewish folklore (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Chapter II) holds that before the deluge, Noah and his brothers built two pillars, one of brick and one of stone, and recorded all their wisdom, especially concerning astronomy, on them in anticipation of the imminent Deluge. Afterwards, both pillars were lost.. or so it is believed. There are many groups who seek the Pillars, hoping to learn from the deep Antediluvian wisdom inscribed upon them. Where the Pillars are found is an enduring mystery. While tradition names Mt. Ararat as the location the Ark came to rest upon, there is precious little certainty about where it set sail from, let alone where the Pillars were erected. Any number of places from Turkey as far as the Sinai have been named, and explored, with nothing to show for it. More outlandish theories hold that the Pillars have already been discovered, and removed to farther lands (Britain, Russia, and America are only three possibilities).
As for the contents of the Pillars, that too is hardly agreed upon. St. Sofia, writing in a letter to her friend Father Alexandre, revealed that it was her belief that Noah and his two brothers had achieved great mastery of theurgy (mastery second only to Adam and Eve in their unfallen glory), and left their knowledge upon the Pillars. Others think the Pillars hold more worldly knowledge. Who can say? Whoever did find the Pillars would make a discovery unmatched since St. Helena was guided to the True Cross.
This infamous Bavarian landmark dates back to the 18th century, when the small river ports of the kingdom prospered from Danube traffic before steamships and railroads took away their livelihood.
As the story goes, the Rotegaststätte was built in the small Danubian town of Hertdorf by Rupprecht Krafft and his wife Theresa in 1764. Both Kraffts died in 1785, and the inn was abandoned. The already-crumbling remains burnt to the ground in 1787 and the site eventually became used as a storehouse.
In 1793, the first anomalous sighting of the Rotegaststätte was recorded. A patrol of Bavarian cavalry reported seeing the Rotegaststätte, intact and unburnt, on the side of the road between Hertdorf and Augsburg. That night, a pair of travelers from Berlin, Gerhard Koch and his son Jürgen, disappeared. Their mutilated bodies were later discovered in the same spot the soldiers had seen the Rotegaststätte. Since then, the inn has been seen every ten years or so, always in different locations, and always claiming victims who are traveling through the area. Among them are Sofia Schiller, Pierre Doumer, Otto Seidel and, most recently, Monika Ehrenfeld.
This village is in rural Quebec, not far from the young town of Rapide-de-l'Orignal. It is pinched between Lac Rédemption to the east and the Du Lièvre River to the west, making it rather crowded for a farm community. The village is almost always shrouded in mist that blows in off both the river and the lake. This mist, along with the hills, trees and bogs, give Saint-Hippolyte an eerie atmosphere; the single road that winds south and then west towards civilization only adds to the atmosphere.
Since it was founded a half century or so ago (no exact records remain to indicate who and when), Saint-Hippolyte has become infamous in North American archaeological circles. It has been the site of frequent discoveries of remnants of an unknown native people who preceded the Montagnais tribe (who themselves preceded the first French settlers centuries ago). Many of the discoveries are of an unsettling character, and very few archaeologists devote themselves to studying the Saint-Hippolyte culture. Those who do often tend to become... strange.
Saint-Hippolyte is also home to the Red Sisters' North American 'rest priory' - a home for sisters psychically scarred by what they have encountered. The priory is situated well away from the town - the screams carry far, after all. The octogenarian Mother Catherine, a Swiss sister, runs the rest priory like her own personal fief, and has for almost forty years.
Saint Philip Island
This lonely South Atlantic island, located some two hundred miles south of the South Orkney Islands, is an enigma. It was first sighted in 1852 by British whalers (although there are older Spanish stories of a similar island), and seldom visited until the 1870s when a merchant ship out of Cape Town landed there to make repairs after a fierce winter storm. Three of the crew went ashore to explore the hitherto unmapped island, and what they found there is still the cause for much spilled ink in many learned journals.
The first thing the crewmen found was an old stone cross, so worn that it was barely recognizable as a man-made object. That was remarkable enough for an article or two, but what was next discovered was truly astonishing. In a shallow valley a quarter mile from shore, the crewmen stumbled across a ring of enormous stone statues, six in all, arrayed around a deep rent in the earth. The statues bore an eerie resemblance to those of Easter Island, thousands of miles away. The ship was soon repaired and on its way again, but within the week, the island was a worldwide curiosity. Sir Walter Losman, of Royal Geographic Society fame, sailed to the cold southern seas and spent more than a month on Saint Philip in study of the statues. He concluded that they were most certainly the work of the same culture that had made the Easter Island statues, an idea that throws accepted theories out the window. Moreover, he noted a number of unusual phenomenon all over the island - strange lights twinkling on the horizon and flocks of birds taking on odd, confused formations as they passed over the valley of statues, among many other oddities.
The Saint-Remy Altar
The Belgian town of Rochefort is generally known for its red marble quarries and the network of limestone caves all over the area (most famously in the nearby village of Han-sur-Lesse). Seekers of truth and mystery, though, know Rochefort for the Autel des Serpents (Snake Altar), a curious prehistoric site.
The Snake Altar was discovered in the village of Saint-Remy in 1827, hidden behind a cleverly constructed wall made to appear as the natural back of a cave. Beyond the wall was another, smaller cave, within which lay the Snake Altar. The Snake Altar itself is a single large square of red marble, decorated with strange symbols that have largely faded over the years (scholars disagree, but the most common theory says the writing and the altar are at least 3000 years old). The clearest symbol is also the largest, and unmistakeably a serpent (somewhat similar to those found on a caduceus, but alone).
Aside from its historical significance as one of the oldest prehistoric sites in Belgium, the Saint-Remy Altar has become the fixture of many Belgian and French occultists and outright cultists. Despite the best efforts of local authorities, strange groups continue to flock to Saint-Remy and hold furtive services in honor of whatever god they think the altar was erected to worship. The S.I.F., not far off in the city of Namur, worries about some of these mystery cults and what sinister spirits they might conjure up or awaken.
San Marco is an Adriatic island in the neighborhood of Spalato. It has a long history of settlement, and there were crumbling ruins far predating the first recorded Greek village (a short-lived colony established by Phocaea). The Romans established a fortress here, but it was abandoned during the late imperial period and the island lay barren for nearly five centuries before it was colonized by Slavs. In 1209, it was seized by the Republic of Venice and granted to the Enzignerio family as a personal fief. The Enzignerios had a reputation for debauchery which culminated in the career of Franceso Enzignerio, the eleventh duke of San Marco. He was the epitome of the Renaissance scoundrel, indulging in perversions, cults, and eventually murder. No less than sixteen island maidens were killed at his hands, and, it is said, their blood offered up to strange gods, before the Enzignerio castle was destroyed by a mysterious fire on All Soul's Night of 1552. It burnt to the ground and the local villages cast its stones into the sea. Franceso himself disappeared, his body never being found despite a very thorough search.
Thereafter the island was abandoned. Soon enough it became the center of wild rumors and legends. It was said that Satanic cults operated in the burnt cellars of the castle, and these same cults were blamed for a string of kidnappings that plagued mainland villages and nearby islands. Ottoman authorities twice raided the island, but found nothing. The legends persist, however, and the local Croats blame the island and its sinister inhabitants for the recent disappearance of the famous Venetian actress Margherita Bevegnati.
Located on the grounds of the S.I.F.'s priory just outside of Goa, the Labirinto is said to have been built according to St. Sofia's very last vision, the one passed down from one Prioress of Goa to the next. Stories say it will somehow play a part in the Eschaton. One version says that one of the two holy witnesses of Revelation 11:3 shall be born there, another that it is there that the weapon which will slay the Antichrist will be given from on high, delivered from the hands of St. Michael to its worthy wielder. Only the Prioress knows the truth and she would not dare violate St. Sofia's order of silence.
The Labirinto has a typical medieval layout, although of course the flora is quite different owing to the tropical clime of southern India. It is a local custom that every sister walk the Labirinto before taking her vows; this often results in minor visions or other preternatural manifestations that have given the labyrinth and the priory some local fame, or infamy.
The Whispering Well
In the north of Portugal, on the border with the Spanish region of Galicia, there is a small village named Santiago. An old stone well is outside the village, resting atop a hill. Some say that if you sit and listen long enough, you can make out words. While preaching the Gospel in Iberia, St. James the Great is said to have spent one night and one day at the Whispering Well and left shaken, denouncing, indeed damning, the location on the next step of his journey. Soon thereafter, at St. James' behest, a church was built over and around the well. When the Moors invaded Iberia, they burned the church to the ground. The well survived, and after Christianity reclaimed Portugal, a new church, and later a monastery, was build upon the site. This last, staffed by Franciscans, lasted until Napoleon invaded Spain. French troops imitated the Moors and burnt down the monastery, a puzzling act since the occupants were only a few and unconnected to Portuguese resistance.
Ever since, the land has been fallow and one can still see the ruins of the old monastery as weathered lumps in the grass. The ownership of the hill upon which the Whispering Well sits is in dispute, and the area has a sinister local reputation. In the 1840s, it was rumored to be the site of Satanic animal sacrifices, although no local farmers reported any missing livestock or pets.