The Wyrmwood Pallasite

The most dangerous circumstances can occur when something we do not understand is assumed to fit into the framework of existing superstitions and approached dogmatically.

In the autumn of 1817, the hamlets and villages around Watchley Crag in South Yorkshire were beset by a series of particularly violent storms and otherwise inclement, even unseasonable weather. With skies so darkened, and shrouded in thick, low clouds, it is unsurprising that none bore witness to the meteor shower that heralded the arrival of an otherworldly curse that would come to be called the Wyrmwood Pallasite. A viciously jagged meteorite of iron and nickel - classified as a pallasite as a result of the regular distribution of crystals suspended within its metallic matrix - it would have been a rare enough find even without its more terrible properties. Nonetheless, it was these abnormalities that ensured that the Wyrmwood Pallasite was discovered shortly after it fell; its noxious influence causing a ragged ring of rot, death and disease to circle the impact site.

Starkly contrasted against the greying decay of the nearby flora and a litter of small corpses of the surrounding wildlife, the meteorite’s metal gleamed slickly in the sun as is pale and yellow-tinted crystals glowed insistently, casting a cool and sickly light that prickled at the skin of anyone who came too close. Attempting caution - but with the possible protections limited by the bounds of contemporary science and available supplies - the man who discovered the Wyrmwood Pallasite wrapped a scented cloth around his face before bringing it home. By that evening he had come down with an uncontrollable fever and, by the morning, the entire household was sick too (although the nature of their illnesses appeared to differ). By the following sunrise, having been rendered too weak to remove the obvious and assumed source of their sickness, everyone already exposed to it had died.

The nearby houses were evacuated until the meteorite was secured and removed by the authorities and, despite efforts to limit the amount of time people spent handling or even near it, many became violently ill: More than a few perished during the efforts. With the discovery of radioactivity still some time hence, it was believed that the Wyrmwood Pallasite was the source of a particularly foul (but atypically odourless) miasma. An invisible fog of infectious agents, sometimes called ‘bad air’ or ‘night air’, this most violent example manifested in aggressive, treatment resistant forms of any number of common sicknesses and ailments. This would soon be supplanted by a broader knowledge and acceptance of the existence of germs - infections and illnesses rooted in the spread of viruses and bacteria - eventually bringing us to the current understanding of the mechanism and machinations behind the Wyrmwood Pallasite’s curse.

Broadly speaking, it is now believed that while the meteor itself did not carry any pathogens, either terrestrial or unknown, it emitted a form of radiation that acted upon and upset the balance of germs, causing their accelerated growth and mutation into more voracious and deadly forms. The Wyrmwood Pallasite did not create the ailments for which it was blamed; it only weaponised the available microbial life it found in order to attack and break down any more complex organisms. We are perhaps fortunate that its arrival did not coincide with an outbreak of some more serious malady: If it had landed in a more densely-populated area - or been able to affect the drinking water drawn from a well or a river - the not-inconsiderable death toll it accumulated might have been increased by some orders of magnitude before its threat was contained.

Given its celestial origins and the sicknesses attributed to it, the Anglican Church associated the meteor’s appearance with the descriptions of the poison star Wormwood from the apocalyptic biblical predictions detailed within The Book of Revelation. Prophesised to turn the waters of the Earth bitter and toxic as a portent of the end of days, it was misremembered - or misspelled - as ‘Wyrmwood’ in the only surviving record of its discovery, causing the legend and the meteorite to become intertwined. Due to the dangers the Wyrmwood Pallasite presented - both because of its direct effects and to the Church (as a potential harbinger of the apocalypse for those inclined to believe in such things) - a decision was made to make it safe and render it existentially and theologically inert by covering up the fact and the proof of its existence.

The crisis coincided quite neatly with the opportunity for an ideal solution: The Anglican Church - which had been slow to meet the demographic shift towards an increasingly urban-based population - needed to build enough new churches to serve these more populous parishes, and each of the potential sites offered the chance to create a repository in which to quietly secrete the Wyrmwood Pallasite. Believing that consecrated ground might lessen the meteorite’s potency somewhat, or perhaps even deaden it entirely, and convinced of the urgency of their mission, they petitioned the Government for financial aid and logistical support. Glad to be rid of responsibility for the perilous discovery (and, separately, in agreement that a strong Anglican Church helped preserve the social status quo) Parliament passed the first Church Building Act in 1818; thereafter forming a commission to award the grants that would finance this endeavour.

Believing that secrecy around the Wyrmwood Pallasite was of the utmost importance, it was determined that it would need - in addition to being locked in a cast iron box - to be sealed within a specially-constructed crypt that could be built over, buried and forgotten. In order to further obscure its location, to keep it away from the curious and the nefarious alike, more than a dozen identical iron caskets were fabricated. Their clasps and hinges melted and fused to deter casual investigation, they were stowed and stored by various different crews of workmen before being sent out to the numerous sites where new churches were being built. Over the course of many months this stock was slowly depleted until, eventually, the exhaustive, multi-tiered shell game was finally played out (to the deliberate disorientation of both the players and those orchestrating the various and separate parts of the plan).

With the final destination of the Wyrmwood Pallasite effectively randomised - and any inculpatory records assiduously destroyed - it is not known in which of these so-called Commissioners’ Churches it finally came to reside. Rumours persist, but attempts to sifting through hearsay and speculation alone have not produced any definitive answer as to where exactly it is buried. There are even those who believe that the entire enterprise was a feint; that the poison star was removed quietly amidst the cultivated confusion and privately hidden somewhere where it would be accessible for future study and exploitation. Whichever story is true, if either, even the most ardent collectors and curators of esoteric artefacts seldom put out tenders (which are often closed without being bid upon) to recover the Wyrmwood Pallasite; the general consensus being that its potential value is outweighed by the inevitable danger.

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