Trail of Cthulhu: Boundless Deceptions

Ethiopia: The Empty Inferno

(From the desk of Vivianne Wraith, Occult Investigator)

We arrived in Ethiopia in Mid May of 1935, following the lead we obtained from the notes and effects of George Ayers, archaeologist (see Los Angeles notes). WE came to try and locate Bartolo Acuna, who was part of the original 1924 dig in Dallol, and who, according to his university in Madrid, was currently in Ethiopia again, searching for something called the “Obelisk Of Axum.” Our secondary goal was to find the digsite of the 1924 expedition to Dallol, which both Ayers and Bartolo Acuna had participated in. We felt certain that here, we might find the fabled “Maw of the Mouth” we had learned so much about.

We were wrong.

We arrived first in Massua after two weeks of travel. Italy has been mobilizing troops here as part of what is being referred to as the “Abyssinian Crisis,” which Ethiopia is making such a noise to the League of Nations about, to no apparent effect. Evidence of Italian Military activity was everywhere, and we put Murphy’s knowledge of Italian to good use. He has the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the manners of an ape, but I’ll say this for Murphy-he has a gift for languages that helped us immeasurably on this trip.

We found our contact, Carlos Salvatore, easily. He turned out to be a minor customs official. He facilitated our quick entry to the country, and, with some monetary encouragement, also provided us with military paperwork that allowed us to rent housing and other necessities.

Our first order of business was to ask after Acuna. Local contacts told us that he had been contracted by the Italian government to transport archaeological artifacts out of the country several weeks ago. We were told that he had travelled to Adua with a column of soldiers. Using our magical paperwork, we managed to secure transport on another supply column headed in that direction the next day. We used the time we had to equip ourselves with native garb, local weaponry, and supplies. How I do love these colorful, flowing robes! So bright, and so practical in this atrocious heat!

The next day we joined a column of about ten soldiers headed to Adua. We were told it was a two-day journey, and that there was some danger: Adua is near the demilitarized zone between the native Ethiopians and the Italian army. There have been skirmishes and raiding is not uncommon.

Lord, this heat! It became even more intense as we moved away from the cool ocean breeze. It was like walking into an oven.

Murphy pumped the guards for information and learned that a large part of what they carried was empty crates and packing for archaeological artifacts. He also learned that native raids are not uncommon, although the soldiers say they are usually easily frightened off. Later that evening we invited the commander of the column to join us in our tents, and learned from him that the Italian government plans to strip the countryside bare of it’s archaeological treasures and keep pushing into Axum. There may be a major offensive soon. He’s also heard of strange tribes to the south…something about strange noises and customs, he wouldn’t be more specific. He also doesn’t think much of Acuna, who he describes as loud, drunk, and useless.

Upon arrival we asked and were directed to Acuna’s tent. We found him easily (and could have done so easily without directions by following the stench of alcohol and poor hygiene he gives off). Acuna told us that a strange volcanic eruption destroyed the digsite in Dallol. He and Ayers alone survived, so far as he knows. Ayers disappeared shortly after the disaster, and Acuna has no idea where he went. Acuna believed that the site contained evidence of an ancient orgiastic cult. It took them several months to find the site under the earth, there were apparently many setbacks. Just as they were about to breach the central chamber, work had to stop for months due to logistical problems. It was 1926 before they breached the chamber, and found a stone mouth made of material they could not identify. Their logistical problems became dire, and Ayers and Acuna were forced to return to Mercifatma in order to see to supplies. It was apparently while they were away that the eruption took place, because when they returned, the entire site had been destroyed. Ayers was distraught-they quarreled, and Acuna returned to Spain, leaving Ayers in Ethiopia.

Acuna supplied us with a map of the digsite. Talk then turned to his current work. Acuna is searching for the “Obelisk of Axum,” which he says was shattered into five parts. He feels there is a connection between the dig in Axum and the one in Dallol. The Obelisk is a pillar for a “prisoner of Glocki,” it is a “room of silence,” or a “room in which the mouth is shut.”

We have a choice-try the Dallol dig, or remain with Acuna and wait for the army to break through to Axum. We decide to wait one day, and then return to Mercifatma and set out for Dallol.

The next day, we bid Acuna goodbye (my nose was grateful) and join a column of soldiers returning to Massua. From there, we chartered a boat to Mercifatma, from which we hoped to find guides and transport to Dallol. There were no guides to be had in Mercifatma, but fortunately travel to the Compagnia Mineraria Coloniale (CMC) camp is fairly straightforward. Hopefully once there, we can get help to get closer to Dallol.

The CMC camp is mostly abandoned. We tried talking to the man who seesm to be in charge here, Renzo Signi, about getting to Dallol. Unfortunately Murphy tried his sledgehammer approach to diplomacy and Renzo closed up tighter than an oil Magnates wallet. As we were leaving the office, we noticed one of the locals listening. A short conversation led us to Gerome, a native who told us he was a member of a secret order dedicated to watching over the ruins. He taught us a ritual to stop the small mouths, but it requires strict abstinence from basically anything fun-I have given up on being able to work that particular spell. But he did offer to serve as guide if we could get to Kolluli, which is closer to Dallol villiage.

The next day we went t back to Renzo and this time, I tried a lighter touch. I’ve dealt with enough men in positions of power to know how to get what I need out of them, and Renzo was as susceptible to flattery as any executive I’ve met in a boardroom. We shortly had permission to look at the train and orders to get the key for us.

The train was in nowhere near as poor condition as we feared, although it hadn’t run in years and needed repairs. The professor turned out to be especially handy at this. He’s not much to look at, but sometimes he surprises us. After much exhausting work, the trainw as fueled, loaded, and ready to take us to Kolluli.

The heat was even worse inside the train, because of the coal fire that powered it. Shortly we were all suffering mild heatstroke. Worse, the engine began to break down. The professor managed to jury-rig it, but to really repair it would take hours. We decided not to risk getting permanently stranded and took most of the day to fix the engine.

The next day at about mid-day we encountered a rusted hulk of a truck on the rails. An obvious trap. Sure enough, several men sprang out of hiding and demanded all our valuables. This was a poor move on their part. Sadly, we were forced to kill or seriously injure several of them. Our own injuries were superficial. We were shortly on our way.

Upon arrival in the village of Kolluli, we obtained birds in vase we needed to use some of the rituals we had learned, and hired camels. Murphy surprised us all with an exhibition of fairly good Afar, which he’s been picking us since we got here. That made arrangements much easier.

The villagers told us that strange tribes have settled in and around Dallol, and their numbers have been growing. Nomadic tribes that used to roam are now stationary, and the trade in salt has stopped. Most of the people came from the tribe that supplied workers for the 1925 dig.

We decided to go directly to the digsite-the Dallol tribesmen sounded both numerous and dangerous. The heat is worse here than it has ben anywhere else, and there is something else…a feeling of wrongness, a kind of fell voice on the wind. Once during the trek, we caught Murphy gnawing on his own hand, seemingly without being aware of what he was doing. We were finally forced to start travelling at night.

Finally we arrived at our goal. The land here is more eerie than anything we had every seen-salt flats full of mineral deposits form iridescent pools of sulphurous yellow or cobalt blue. It was like walking on the surface of an alien planet. Emma noticed a lone figure in the distance watching us, but it did not approach and vanished after some little time. We easily found the crater of the original 1925 dig. After a careful investigation we found…practically nothing. A mass grave of the deceased had been made after the eruption, but whatever structure was here had been completely destroyed. The professor did find some strange stone teeth, one of which we brought back with us, but otherwise…nothing. We considered searching the mountain, but our guide assures us this is certain death, as the heat would be even more intense.

Frustrated and exhausted, we tried to pitch camp and make some shade. After falling asleep, we were wakened by voices speaking afar. The Dallol tribesmes, it seemed, had come to make our acquaintance. We emerged from our tent and spoke with them. They were not hostile, but insisted that we come with them to meet someone called “T’shamba.” They were very strange, all of them scarred and some missing limbs. Emma whispered to us that most of the wounds were bites, possibly self-inflicted.

With nothing else to find at the digsite, we agreed to go with them. They dismissed our guide and led us to their village. A stranger place I have never seen, and hop never to again. These people mutilate themselves endlessly. We observed a small child stabbing herself with glass over and over. When a tribeswoman we assumed to be her mother stopped her, we were shocked when she then began stabbing herself with the same piece of glass. All of these people are scarred and maimed, some very extensively. They did not, however, seem especially hostile.

We were given food and shelter in a tent and directed to the dwelling of T’shamba, which turned out to be a huge hut made of salt blocks. As we approached, the guards motioned us to follow. As they entered, they raked their hands over a block studded with shards of glass and stained with old blood. As this seemed to be their custom, I did the same. As I did so, I heard an odd wind…it almost seemed to sing. And yet there was no wind. Emma did the same and she, too, heard some kind of rushing wind.

Within the central chamber we found T’shamba, and old woman wearing a wrap. There was also a mad old man, missing most of his limbs and covered in scars, who spoke French. They told us of the “wind that is everywhere” that apparently tells them to harm themselves. We asked after the Maw of the Mouth, but of this, they had never heard. T’shamba illustrated their rituals by thrusting the man’s hand under her wrap, and we heard a terrible rending noise as if something is her chest bit him. She, evidently, is manifesting a minor mouth. We refused to take part in this ritual, and they withdrew.

Concluding that there was nothing more to be learned here, we decided to leave. Imagine out surprise when we encountered an European man with a mouth in his chest when we retuned to Iron Point. We had found the missing George Ayers. He has been here, wandering the desert, performing rituals to keep the horror on his body silent, since 1926. Sadly, he was another dead end. He could tell us nothing about the maw of the mouth or where it might be.

Reluctantly, we decided to return to Arkham and review our notes.

View
Malta: Disaster and Aftermath
From the Notes of J. Murphy

Emma wakes me up early, after less than 6 hours—not only did Armitage see a vehicle outside for most of the night which vanished at some point, but also Emma heard noise outside our hotel door.

 

Footsteps in hallway for about 30 seconds, then left. No peephole outside the door. Maybe use a makeup mirror to scout out when we’re ready to leave.

 

4 AM. On watch. Nothing out of ordinary as the night continues. Dawn brings more activity on street.

 

Eventually others wake up.  With a bit of string, Vivian’s cigarette stick, and a makeup mirror, we can get a glimpse outside…nothing.  Open the door, step outside, nothing.

 

Talk about going out after breakfast, staying out all day until the 7 pm boat back to Italy. Vivian still doesn’t know who she is, doesn’t understand where she is, acting very differently.  The Professor thinks she may have…split personalities? Like there’s another person inside of her, who comes out in moments of stress?

 

That makes an unpleasant amount of sense. But Jesus Mary and Joseph why did it have to happen this way?  Can’t we have the quiet one while we’re traveling and

 

The Professor and Emma sit down with Vivian, spend the morning talking to…whoever she thinks she is.  And eventually she comes back. But is entirely confused. Thinks we’re the ones talking nonsense. Immediately insists she needs to change into another expensive and conspicuous outfit.

 

We discuss about whether we have any chance to do more to help the people/harm the operation here.  No element of surprise. So many guards and lost souls. No chance to get to the car, the dynamite unseen.

 

We do compose a threatening note with scraps of newspaper, cut-out letters—implying that Trammel sent us to kill Donovan for failing to find some mystical book he was told to deliver.  Hopefully that will sow confusion. Perhaps make this cult paranoid. To be delivered by courier.

 

Elevator is out of order. Stairs are a trap. V needs to run with the satchel of books if we get ambushed.

 

Stairs definitely a trap. Shadows waiting on upper landing. We summon a bellhop, to at least prove that the stairs down are safe; carry our bags.  He grabs our bags, heads down the stairs.

 

As bellhop, me, Emma enter the stairwell—-“Stop zhem you fools!” from above; footsteps from below. I stay on the landing watching their backs, fire a warning shot into the wall where the stairs turn again. The others hurry down, faced by two large men carrying daggers, who rush at them.

 

Goons lunge at Vivian, bloody, vicious stab.  But Vivian brought a gun to a knife fight, hits him in the chest. Other goon jumps forward, stabs Emma. Who also shoots back, but misses.

 

Upstairs: woman in platinum blonde hair, turns corner, gun pointed at me, she shouts at us to stop, calls us murderers, and then shoots at me.  Good shot, I feel it punch into my arm, which throws my aim off on return shot. 

 

Last goon rushes the Professor, who manages to knock the goon off balance a bit.

 

Another ugly blow to Vivian, deep gut wound, she goes into shock, but barely stays focused, shoots the goon again in the face, killing him. Dead man’s pal turns, starts to run. 

 

Emma grabs the big pistol Vivian is offering, turns, plugs the goon who the professor roughed up. He drops.

 

Woman up the stairs curses in foreign; she’s sobbing, incoherent; she throws herself at me, hits me in the jaw with her pistol. I smash my revolver into her face.

 

Professor rushes to help Vivian, who yells out in pain.  Quickly, he pulls off his tweed jacket, uses it as bandage to stop the flow of blood.  Emma joins, and she and the Professor help Vivian get down the stairs. 

 

The crazy blonde growls at me in foreign, fails to hit me.  “Give up, bitch, you’ve lost!” And I hit her in the face again.  Still crazy.

 

Emma, Professor, Vivian continue fleeing, make it to the lobby. Front desk man completely unfamiliar, but he has enough sense to hide in the office. 

 

Woman screams in frustration, tries to run up the stairs.  I give her one last punch for good measure; it connects, but she keeps running. 

 

The others get out into the street; it is deserted. Break into a car, Vivian is hotwiring it.  I dive in, Vivian drives madly off, racing towards the docks.

 

Get to the docks; locate the boarding office for the steamer.  I go in (as the least bloody), get the tickets.  Vivian needs medical attention immediately.

 

Turns out Emma was carrying Well’s awful sack-shirt, which we use to disguise the worst of the blood.  We get her over to the boarding agent, who is bored & ignoring us.

 

We get aboard, find a steward, we convince him to get Vivian to the shipboard infirmary; there’s a doctor on board, who is startled, amazed, panicked.  They rush into action, to get Vivian into surgery.  We’re ushered out of the room.  Emma stays with her, as a nurse.  Steward gets Professor and I to the cabin we share. Small, cramped.

 

Professor asks if I was shot…which reminds me that I was. The pain kicks in immediately as he says it. Peel off my shirt, he tends to the wound. Not as graceful as Emma, but it works. 

 

Too tired to do anything else. Not even energy to complain. 

 

Emma helps the doc with Vivian. Hard work, but they patch her up just fine.  Emma, exhausted, retires to her cabin.

 

 

(Convalescence)

 

We don’t have the Ayers papers. Should have brought that. Dammit.  So we have to go back to the States.  Weeks and weeks!  Too dangerous to have someone bring the papers and books from Vivian’s house.

 

By the time our last boat gets us back to Boston…

 

I meet with Rudy. Warn him about the drug ring; tell him about our warehouse trouble; the gunfight.  He’s horrified by the news of Nectar.  But also horrified that I’m going about this vigilante style. Tries to talk me out of it.  But a man finishes what he starts.  And we haven’t found anything we could take to the authorities. Not that’d make a difference. If I bleed out on a warehouse floor or wind up in some foreign prison, at least I’ll die doing something stupid and stubborn and worth doing. As opposed to just stupid and stubborn. 

 

(I also do spend some time with Mary and . . . [husband?])

 

Emma spends time with her father.  While she’s talking to him, a woman comes in, bustles around—had to hire some help, someone around to look after him—he’s getting older, forgetful.  The woman corners Emma, says she’s worried about Emma’s father. Says her father has been drinking, thinks he’s been on drugs…woman shows her the medicine cabinet, which has a vial of…Nectar!

 

Emma confronts her father.  He blathers about where he got it; “feller down the street”.  He acts confused, tries to evade her aggressive questioning.  Emma plays the nurse card; says she’s going to take him to the doctor for proper attention. She manages to persuade him that it’s a poison; hospital doctor prescribes some really powerful drugs, leave him dazed, dull; sedative—for advanced anxiety.

 

Emma also looks into the caretaker, who seems on the level, sincerely cares for Emma’s father.

 

Vivian:  by the time she gets to Arkham, mostly recovered from her severe stab wounds.  Meets with Janet, talks about the Valletta problem (leaving out the gross mouth); our failure to stop production of the drug; final gunfight and escape.  Janet deeply disturbed—having sent one of her closest friends right into harm’s way.  Encourages Vivian to stop, stop going into danger.  But Vivian talks about the danger, the need to stop this group, the victims.  Plus her own reckless lifestyle.

 

 The Professor meets up with one of his colleagues, an instructor at Miskatonic, respected peer & old friend.  Talks about the substance he observed—the Nectar—and starts to raise the idea of mystical, supernatural qualities.  But they’re both mutually convinced that, with study, science will reveal the secrets.  (“To science!” <clink of glasses>) 

View
Malta: From Bad to Worse
From the Notes of J. Murphy

(1 April 2016)

 

Emma and I go to the hospital. She in her stolen uniform, me with a pistol concealed in a cheap cast.

 

Head nurse scolds Emma for missing her shift.  She apologizes, we make our way to Silazzio’s office.  He’s resistant to our attempts to speak with him, until we name drop the Chosen, and Mexico City. He tries to hold our message hostage in exchange for his notes, but we persuade him that we could go to Bangkok, share his notes with others. Simultaneously, E and I both state that IF Donovan shows up, maybe we’ll share his notes. He resignedly agrees to talk to Donovan.

 

What are we going to use to prove our value to Donovan?

 

Meanwhile, the Professor and Vivian go scout out the St Christopher garden, looking for dangerous or good spots to meet and speak with Donovan.  Trees, windowless buildings block most sightlines.

 

As we leave the hospital, an orderly seems to be trailing us. I make eye contact, he drops away, stops following us.

 

During the afternoon, we take some trolley trips, looking for the chalk mark that will indicate Donovan has agreed. Emma and I see nothing, mid-afternoon. Dinnertime, Vivian and the Professor get o the trolley, are glared at by striking woman with platinum hair, cold green eyes.  No sign, but they pick a stop at random to get off and walk around. Woman is rummaging in her handbag, not watching them.

 

 

We spend the night preparing. Sketching out some diagrams from a couple of the books we have. Retrieve the half-vial of nectar we have, to offer that as proof of our “chosen”-ness. The Professor spends the evening making a smoke grenade, and a small bomb.

 

Morning.

Emma and I return to the trolley. A large chalk X is marked on a sign. It is happening.

 

Preparation: next ship to the mainland leaving at 7 pm.  Passage booked. Vivian drops her car, and its dynamite, near the warehouse. (No point leaving it near Donovan’s mansion).

 

At park, Emma and I seated together, the other two are elsewhere.

Right at noon, 6 men show up. The same we saw back at Silazzio’s house. Mr. Nice Suit beelines to us, with Donovan. Others disperse.

 

Donovan

 

He seems to have been on better terms with Trammel. Dismissive of Brooks and his music. We persuade him that we’re interested not only in participating/getting back into the cult, but also starting our own operation.

 

He invites us back to his townhouse, along with his goons.

 

First floor is servant’s area. Staircase up the stairs. Very ugly goon comes with us directly, the others spread themselves out in the building.  As we walk in, see gargoyles perched on top of house, which wrong for this architecture. Eastern European grotesques on an italo-british townhouse? That’s suspicious.

 

V notices glyphs, protections.  Vivian and the Professor see that the front door has been reinforced against explosives.

 

Up to the second floor. Living room. Plenty of furniture. Donovan tries to find out what our story is; I relate some incomplete truths about Job leading us to Brooks. (Trammel? “I don’t want to talk about that asshole.”)   Donovan offers us an indulgence of Nectar.

 

I pass, relating a story about bootleggers who made their fortune by not indulging in their own merchandise.  Emma engages him in conversation—apparently Donovan’s “font” produces a purer Nectar, which produces a religious fervor and passion.

 

They’ve been looking for the Maw of the Mouth for quite some time. Can’t find it. Believe they’re trying to harness the full power of a being, and need to find the Maw to do so.  Donovan claims the Maw is reachable…will open when the moon is dark, the stars shine down on its home…somewhere deep within the earth. Or some strange and remote location?  Trammell and company have been searching for quite some time.

 

How did Donovan get started?  He began through Trammel. Knew Ecchevaria. Was “forever changed” when Ecchevaria and company summoned a creature. Then Trammell and Donovan spent years summoning the fount in Los Angeles.  Will take years without a source to get started on a Mouth.  Around 1930, Trammell sent Brooks and Donovan out into the world. 

 

Donovan is obsessed with fervor. Likes to talk. Tells us that his fount all but dried up, spoke to him and told him to make a great sacrifice. Nearly offered his child…but pushed his wife into the mouth instead. He breaks down in authentic tears. Sacrifice worked, even more Nectar than ever before.  Later his son fell ill. Nothing seems to cure him. Fount again spoke to him, in his dead wife’s voice, gave him Salazzio’s ritual. 

 

We tell him that we want proof…won’t drink with him until we have seen a fount. Until he’s “show me a miracle”.  He glows with fanaticism.  Leads us upstairs to the Master Bedroom.  Two gargoyles in the bedroom. Motion in the room…motion on the gargoyles. A smaller mouth, writhing, flailing.

 

(The Professor reacts…poorly. Vivian also startled.  Emma and I grimly unphased.)

 

The smaller mouths can cause some acidic burning, smaller bite marks, no real nectar.

 

Donovan is insisting on us drinking. But only one guard here.  Emma tries to negotiate down to one of us drinking. She succeeds…he hands a vial of Nectar to Emma. Then grabs another one himself.
 

“Bottoms up!”  He tosses his down, Emma tosses hers down too.

 

Emma:  heart rate rises, she starts feeling a wonderful euphoria, certain that this is right, this is how she’s supposed to feel.  Feeling a spiritual awakening.  Outwardly…she’s flushed, breathing heavily, slightly dazed.  Nothing wanton.

 

Donovan demonstrates no ill effects.  Happy to see Emma partaking. 

 

Says every font is different, has different effects.

 

He is now willing to take us to the Font.

 

Separate cars.  I maneuver Emma to a different vehicle, not with Donovan.  Emma excited, eager to worship.

 

Donovan unaffected because he’s always high. 

 

We are allowed into the parking lot of warehouse.

 

Vivian is warned to be careful, stick to the gravel path. 

 

We arrange a moment, a final discussion, in which I persuade Emma that the vial which the Knight gave us is special, was saved for this moment, special, will make her experience at the mouth unbelievable.  She buys it, agrees to drink the “catalyst” when she reaches the mouth.

 

We walk along the path, which is thronged by mouths all making an unearthly noise, like what we heard from the goons that chased us in Savanna. Humming the nawatul folk song helps. Emma is rejoicing. The professor seems bothered. 

 

Donovan reveals that the grounds are covered by these mouths.

 

Donovan leads us in, says they’re expecting the arrival of a ship bound for the continent.  Huge room, crates and crates of Nectar.  Plus other glass vials.

 

Through the crates, a raised portion of the warehouse; atop the stairs, a woman in black, platinum blonde hair, looking down and shaking her head.  Another 20-odd people…”supplicants”… in the warehouse, moving crates around.  Stairs leading further down.  We follow him down below. 

 

Three guards, plus Donovan.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, he’s got an assembly line down here.  Keep passing stations where someone is hard at work filling bottles.  Long dark shadows among the tunnels, the piled crates.  Vivian increasingly on edge, though composes herself at the end.

 

Finally, a shrine, or a sanctuary.  Painted with Knights of Malta murals.  Floor is flooded knee-deep with Nectar.

 

The Mouth is growing out of the ceiling of this chamber, Nectar pouring out of its mouth.  Emma, Vivian deeply affected, the Professor is shaken. I taste blood, from my bitten tongue as I barely hold it together.

 

The Professor swears, but manages to pull off a lie about being surprised by the power. 

 

With the distraction, Emma downs the “catalyst”.  The Nectar effects are gone instantly, but she’s still drawn to it, wants more…feeling conflicted—wants more, but also horrified by the appalling mouth in its terrible language.

 

I turn to a guard, while Donovan revels. I try to insinuate a bribe.  He doesn’t get it.

 

I sucker punch him, draw my gun. Other guards draw their guns. Vivian draws hers.  I shout at them to take a bribe and leave, or we’ll all end up unhappy.

 

The Mouth spews Nectar at me, but I dodge. Call to the Professor, try to get him to throw a smoke grenade. He throws his bomb, instead.  His little bomb hits the mouth, deals 8 points of damage.

 

The tongue recoils, the mouth shrieks, Donovan shoots at Vivian. He barely misses.  Emma rushed Donovan, tries to shove him into the Nectar. Tackles him to the ground.  Another guard shoots at the Professor, hits him hard in the shoulder. Guy who I hit punches me back, which hurts.  Last guard shoots at Emma, hits, again a solid wound.  Vivian shoots at a guard, takes him out with a good shot.

 

The idiot punched me. I punch him back. In the face. With a fucking bullet, because this is a gun fight, not a fist fight. You idiot.  But the blood, the spattering….I hadn’t seen it that close before. Not so…bloody.  It shakes me.

 

Vivian suddenly screams, drops her gun, freaking out wildly, incoherently.

 

Emma wrestling with Donovan. 

 

The Professor grabs for Vivian’s gun, actually hits the last guard with a pinpoint shot.  Guard topples, while Vivian is on her knees, frantically reciting her rosary.

 

The Mouth spits Nectar at Emma, but she dodges out of the way, and the Nectar hits Donovan in the face. He’s delighted, but also tries to hit Emma again, flopping around. 

 

I take aim, and shoot Donovan dead. It doesn’t get easier.

 

Pursuit coming down the tunnels. There’s a flimsy door to the side of the room.  I tell the professor to toss his smokebomb down the tunnel, where the shouting is coming from. Emma manages to calm Vivian down, somehow.  Another tunnel, with a gross pool of water in front of us, and beyond that, an incline into darkness. 

 

We rush down the tunnel; Emma is delayed in the water. A guard comes out, shouts, shoots, but misses.  We tumble painfully down the rockslide.  We’re in a low, crowded, propped up chamber.  Narrow pathway through the pillars. Vivian is convinced that she is someone named Pal.

 

We have a hard time trying to crawl around the catacombs, but after a number of missteps we manage to get back to the Hospitaler tunnels. We make our way back to Godfrey’s shrine. 

 

We get there, but no Godfrey.  Pal is comforted, lots of Christian iconography hereabouts.  Emma starts to patch up the Professor.  I’m shaken.  Pal is still wholly confused.  And apparently a naïve churchgirl.  She’s charmed when Godfrey comes in, but he’s confused. 

 

We sum up what happened:   Murphy:  “We talked our way into Donovan’s warehouse.” Emma: “And shot our way out.” 

 

What next?  We could make our way to the 7pm boat…

 

Decide to wait at the shrine, talk things out.

View
Malta: the Despicable Doctor
From the Notes of J. Murphy

(next day)

Morning:  2 days left til Donovan’s next shipment.

 

Viv, Emma, the Prof go to the hospital to see if they can slip Emma in, to snoop around. The other two to look around, see if they can get medical records.  Meanwhile, I go loiter at dingy bar near Donovan’s warehouse, to keep an eye open for trucks, other traffic.

 

Hospital Superbissima:  Emma slips in through side entrance: warren of halls inside. Main entry is not too busy. Waiting room for family members in each wing. Emma follows a gaggle of nurses into locker room, then filches a uniform, changes. Makes her way to pediatrics ward. Walks up and starts looking through the desk records authoritatively. Desk nurse (“simmler”) notices her, can tell that Emma’s in the wrong place, orders her to leave. Emma uses bureaucracy to cover her gaffe—playing up the confusion, but is still redirected to “nurse Watson” in long term care.

 

Armitage leaves car where he/Viv were waiting, goes into lobby, looking around, wanders to records office on first floor. A clerk stops him, asks if he’s lost. He blithely wanders past, playing the entitled academic.  Miss Petrie, the clerk, tries to stop him, but he blows her off, “too little time for this project today, thank you I don’t need any assistance”.  “Weren’t you expecting me?” Claims affiliation with the local university. Successfully uses bureaucratic procedure, intentionally misremembering her name (4 times within the single conversation), etc, to blow her off.

 

Armitage searches pediatric records for Donovan:  Ralph, Montgomery, Daniel.  Stuffs them in his pants, hiding them poorly under his shirt, and wanders right out towards the car…but a guard intercedes.

Guard: “Sir, Stop!”   Armitage: “Can I help you?”

 

 

Murphy:  loitering on a stoop, smoking, in the warehouse district. Not many cars, but a few come along the street. 2 guards at Donovan’s warehouse.  One occasionally leaves to walk the fenceline. Watch for about an hour, after morning traffic comes in. Nothing to Donovan’s warehouse, but some delivery trucks.

 

 

Emma:  long-term care unit.  The desk nurse is glad to put Emma to work, delivering a vial to room 303. Dr. Silazzio will meet her there. Vial is unlabeled, viscous appearance, cloudy fluid.  At room, name on chart is Alexi, attending doctor is Silazzio. In room: Dr. Silazzio is standing over small boy, maybe 6-8 years old. The child is pale, thin, big eyes, bandages on hands and arms.  Chart says boy is being treated for bite marks on arms, legs. Being treated with complicated mess of drugs, but treatments are failing, kid’s wounds are failing. 

 

Calls Emma in, asks for the vial of “medicine”. Uncorks vial, sniffs it, pours onto spoon, feeds a spoonful of it to the boy. (Almost certainly Nectar.)  Alexi immediately reacts, breathing rapidly, dazed then sleeps.  Dr Silazzio says they should leave, let him rest.  Describes the drug to Emma, as “newly discovered” and “not by the books”.

 

Emma starts to unwind some of the bandages; bites look larger than human mouth, but same shape, but toothmarks look jagged, wounds inflamed and oozing with pus.  She redoes the bandages (about time for it anyway), then checks on other charts on that floor.  Room 304 is occupied by Montgomery Donovan, also being treated by Silazzio!  Emma goes in to check on him—boy in this room seems about 10 years old, similarly befuddled and pale, though more conscious.  Monty Jr here has a chart listing symptoms that don’t match any disease, has been ill for a long time. Same overlapping but failing treatments. But periodic doses of “N” that keep showing up.  He notices Emma but calms down, and sleeps when it turns out she’s not his mummy.

 

After his adventure, Armitage returns to the car. Viv asks where he was, and Armitage blandly replies “restroom.” And settles down to wait.

 

Murphy:  has shifted positions, but notices that the guard walking the perimeter is sticking to a set path. Maybe gravel?

 

 

Back at the hospital:  Emma reports what she’s learned, then returns to try and figure out who else is being treated with Nectar. Is detailed to go pick up a delivery for Silazzio—sealed brown paper parcel.  In a side room, she unwraps it…lots of unmarked glass vials that obviously contain Nectar. Maybe 2 dozen vials.  Emma carefully siphons about half a vial’s worth out of these, filches it without making it obvious that the other vials have been drained. Then re-wraps, takes it to Silazzio’s office. He takes it, but is gullible enough to ask her to take several vials on her rounds and dose his patients.  6 patients total, besides the 2 boys, and they each get a half-vial poured into the mouth.  Emma tries to tease out more conversation from Silazzio, trying to appear bright and interested.  He talks about the substance’s fascinating properties unlike anything he’s ever seen. Emma asks to see his research notes, but then hurries off on his rounds. Emma glances through his desk, copies his address from his datebook, then heads off. 

 

Stops by patients rooms, check their charts:  been there for several days to weeks; standard treatments plus “N”.

 

Returns to Viv and Armitage. Must have discarded the Nectar vials. Unless she kept them? [that’s the one].

 

All 3 return to the hotel where I’m waiting. We catch each other up.  Discussing what to do:  breaking into the Doctor’s house to steal his research notes?

 

Viv and Emma both lobby hard for breaking into the Doctor’s house. I disagree, arguing that we should wreck the warehouse/the mouth within.  Armitage sides with them.

 

We’re going to be breaking in to Silazzio’s house, to try and take his research notes, to find out why he is experimenting with Nectar on patients and children, and to find out where he’s getting the drugs.

 

 

Session, 23 March 2016

 

Silazzio’s hospital schedule placed him there all day. Good time to break in?  V and E convinced.

Goals: research notes; his source; why he is inflicting Nectar on children.

 

Drive-by: modest town-house; nothing fancy. No lights. Townhouse in a row of them. Pedestrians. Narrow city street. Alley running in back. We park within sight of the alley.

 

The professor volunteers to stand watch. Apparently scruples about theft. Goes and waits at trolley stop down the street.

 

Emma, Vivian, and I head down the alley. Back door to Silazzio’s is easy to find. Nobody observing. Lock isn’t hard to pick. We enter.

 

Cramped hallway, leading to main hall and other rooms. Quietly move through the 2-story townhouse, not touching yet. If we can hide our tracks, we should. Dining room, kitchen, hall, living room, & stair on this floor.  Nothing out of ordinary.

 

Second floor: 2 rooms: small office. Shelves filled with medical journals, notebooks, novels. Bedroom and bathroom also.  Four vials of nectar in the medicine cabinet. Maybe their hold on him? Or why he got involved?

 

Emma looking through his notes. Some recent ones; sheet of paper falls out, another weird code.  V sifts through desk papers; find some noting regular deliveries of several dozen N units per week. 

 

Not much of note in the bedroom, but orange smears on bedside tabletop. Ugh. Salazzio is a pervert, using it for himself, too.

 

Meanwhile:  after 25 minutes the professor notices about 8 well-dressed men, turn onto street, walking in his direction. Man in middle gestures to Salazzio’s house, says something. Group passes by the house.  

 

Suddenly, knock at the door. We panic; start ransacking to make it look like we were robbing the place.  Look out, see that the professor is standing there. Moron.  He did a terrible job of lookout. Can’t even tell us if the men walked out of sight or are still standing and watching.

 

The numbskull tries to stand on the stoop and chat, but we pull him in.  Emma checks, someone watching the alley. We do a cursory ransacking of main floor—V finds a loaded gun in one drawer; other assorted odds and ends. Silverware; pen set.  Then out the front, the professor first? “I’ve never done something like this before…it’s exciting!”  He notices that the group stopped up the street, milling around.

 

Men in suits, man in alley, are both down near the car. Abandon the car? Yes.

 

Out the back. Man in alley follows; we move briskly along. He starts jogging after, yells at us to stop. I shout a random Italian phrase at him, “can you show me where to find the restroom?”. He pauses, confused, then sprints after us.  We run.

 

He loses some ground, but still following. We try to shake him, dodging down an alleyway, but the professor has fallen behind…and the goon grabs him. Professor shouts in alarm, “yowling like a cat in a bathtub” and flails ineffectively as the goon strongarms him up against a wall.

 

I tell V and E to run ahead, I’ll find my way back to the hotel.  I sneak up while the goon’s busy beating up the professor. Tell him to stop beating my…companion.  Sirens in the distance.  I tell  Armitage to head down the alley, & the goon to beat it, he agrees there’s no need for trouble, we can each go our own way.  He departs.  Police presence arrives shortly, but we move away without drawing attention.  Stop at a butcher’s shop, to get a streak for the prof’s shiner. There’s a man with a light coat watching, pssts at us. Opens his coat, pulls out a book, sopping wet…says it’s for us. After some words exchanged (he knows nothing, but somehow knows the name Winston, knew to find me. I give him the $10 he demands; book is totally sodden, too fragile to look at now.  We return to the streetcar, & thus hotel; as I grumble about people copying too many of these damn radio dramas. The mysterious old man. The stranger on a street corner. Pulp nonsense. The bootleggers never messed around with that nonsense.

 

At hotel, V and E learn that Wells stopped by, will return later.  Emma pores over the ciphered scrap of paper that she found…gradually deciphers it. A mystic spell, used with reference to the Mouth, to make a person docile, ill. Vivian looks into renting a boat large enough to carry all of us, and our dynamite. Works with the concierge to do so.

 

We return.  Some discussion of what happened; lay out towels and peel back pages of the book. It doesn’t seem to lose any water at any point.

 

Book is page after page of etchings: torture, perversions, necrophilia, mouths doing all kinds of terrible things—biting, chewing, oozing.  Images from middle ages to the present.  Explicit passages, hopefully imaginative because they’re awful.  Pus and bile seems to ooze from the pages.  Somewhat intriguing, however. More study might reveal important information.

 

Phone: concierge—has arranged new car to be delivered. Boat rental arranged. Will have keys, all else by end of the business day. Soon.

 

V and E found dangerous information in the research notes: what happens when administering nectar in different ways to different people. Gain more addicts. Something they are doing with the spell they found is helping “increase their yield.” Donovan appears to have instructed them to dose his child.

 

How are we going to proceed?  If we are going to skip dealing with this mouth, go forward, we need to get into Donovan’s house. If we are going to deal with this here, we still need to get at Donovan’s records.  But how? House is guarded heavily.  In LA, we got in by distracting the owner.

 

Phone: concierge. Wells is here. Vivian and I go down to meet with him.

 

The professor returns to look at the dripping book. It seems to be even wetter, even more pus, moister. Revolting and maddening. In shock, horrified, but still compelled to look more; there seems to be some truth hidden inside its pages.

 

Wells: when his brothers left Valletta, back to Europe, they left behind a scroll—confusing document. We take Wells up to our rooms. Make introductions.  He hands over the scroll.

 

Eventually, Vivian comes to understand that the scroll is a spell to banish “egolinok”. Jesus Mary and Joseph how many of these abominations are there?

 

 

Discussing plans. No good options. If we leave, the Nectar keeps flowing. If we destroy warehouse, will bring the authorities down, give Donovan a chance to flee or burn his papers. 

 

Can we use hostage to force Donovan to bring us into the warehouse? Can we hold the mouth hostage, to demand he transfer information?  Can we use the child somehow? Or bring in the police?  Nothing seems likely. 

 

Can we use our tomes to lure Donovan out from his guards? Or talk our way into his house? 

 

What is our priority?

Do we destroy the warehouse to protect the town? Or do we go after Donovan’s house to find information and leave the warehouse alone?

 

I, Emma, the professor argue Vivian out of protecting the down. The greater good.

 

Could we pose as fellow cultists, another arm; remnant of a Mexico City group, looking for secrets of increasing production?  Sneak in.

 

From another branch of the cult; we were working with Brooks, we assume that Trammell took out Brooks’ operation. So trying to start our own.  Brooks’ operation collapsed before he could tell us how to make the mouths. We’re looking for that; we kept trying to get information out of Salazzio; ransacked his house; trying to find out which side the Malta cult is on.  Maybe heard of the Maw of the Mouth and we’re convinced that it is an essential part of the process?

 

If we set up a meeting…how are we going to neutralize Donovan’s muscle?  Explosives? Gas?  If we’re meeting in his mansion, we could leave via Donovan’s own vehicle?

 

The plan:  Emma gets in touch with the Doctor, gives him message for Donovan. Donovan is given a dead drop to leave his indication that he’s willing to deal.  We set a time and place, he indicates yes or no. We use meeting to negotiate our way into the mansion.

 

V and I move the dynamite into the new car Vivian has arranged. 

 

Meanwhile, the [NERRRRRRRRRDS] two scientists…the professor goes poking around the room we share; finds the locked suitcase under my bed, but can’t unlock it. Sounds like books, other solid objects.  Emma looks at, hides the nectar vials she obtained.

 

We return, we all head to bed.

The professor is troubled by a very strange dream. His own voice, wheezing words in a language he doesn’t understand. His shirt dampens, moves at his belly. Tears away the shirt to reveal a wide mouth, jagged teeth, tongue protruding. Tries to escape, can’t! Suffocating!  He awakes with a start. All is quiet, Murphy quietly snoring. He drinks water, splashes water on his face, returns to an uneasy sleep.

View
Malta: Catacombs and a Companion
From the Notes of J. Murphy

Evening, at dinner. Table in restaurant by window.

 

Old crone on street stops, glares through the window, makes weird gesture—ward against evil eye?—then scurries away.

 

After dinner, feel like we’re being watched. Trailed. No sign of anyone, but I have a bad feeling about it. Stop for V to pretend to gawk at trinkets, but nobody suspicious. Some heads turn for V. Of course.

 

Duck down side street, see nobody. Probably tipped off our tail that we were twitchy.

 

Careen back to hotel (it’s an island. We didn’t need to buy a car.).  All seems normal. Except for the hairs on the back of my neck.

 

 

Pre-dawn. Heading to St George Fountain, arguing with V about her “incognito” approach. Hundreds of dollars for the hat, coat alone. And she wanted to roar along in the car, too!

 

We get to the garden which has the fountain. Dawn arrives as we wait; old man strolls along, whistling. Stops at corner, feeds pigeons, walks to fountain, sits near, but not next to us.

 

Old man is Sir Godfrey Wells. A knight, mostly ceremonial. Last of the secret order. Protected city…from a “variety of things.” How helpful.

 

May know something about the “interesting things” we have seen and are looking to find and stop.

 

Leads us through twisting streets to a bakery, leads us straight through the bakery and its kitchen, to a winding passage and tunnel beyond.  We seem to wind through a labyrinth, crossing intersections and passing side tunnels. We lose all sense of direction. Which is probably the point. About 20 minutes walk, enter small shrine chamber. 16th century, if I guess right.

 

Alcoves with books, another nook with cots.  Fresco with knights on a long rocky ridge, fighting a shapeless beast with many limbs. V recognizes the symbolism—knights on site of Valleta, fighting the idea of evil.

 

 

He knows some details of what is in the warehouse.  Inside the fence, a field of mouths, writhing in the ground. Smallish ones, not like the big one Brooks had. Must be a big one inside, spreading Nectar.

 

Had heard of Donovan shipping Nectar out to Europe.  Very wealthy, private, quiet. His wife Portia was more social. They have a young son. Portia was killed recently. Wells thinks it was a show of force by the cult, to keep Donovan in line.

 

Donovan leaves his house regularly, visits his ill son at the hospital. Cult maybe using Nectar on the son. Looks unhappy, unwell. But not the look of a prisoner.  Son is maybe 10 years old.

 

Regularly half a dozen men at his house. Guarding house. Keeping him there.

 

Warehouse: Wells didn’t notice its activities until recently, until his continental contacts traced the Nectar back to Malta.

 

Wells says the catacombs run all over the city! Secret tunnels everywhere!

 

But the other knights left traps in the catacombs. We need to be cautious, wary of tripwires, triggers. 

 

He can give us directions to a couple of tunnels, that can connect from the warehouse where V stashed her dynamite, to the warehouse that

 

 

 

He knows the “mouth” as Nyarlothotep.  Heard of it from an illustrated text, which contains a spell to unravel its manifestation.  He gives us the leaf with the spell.  Account from knights who tried to find, eradicate a cult that came from Alexandria, until seeking aid from some other power. Silver-skinned shape shifter?  How many of these . . . old gods. . . are there?

 

V suggests investigating the son. Putting him out of his misery if he’s like that poor woman in Mexico city.  But draws the line at kidnapping him to use as leverage against Donovan. Apparently that’s too far? I seem to have trouble telling, these days, what is justifiable and what is not.

 

Trip to hotel to pick up supplies.  Back to bakery; Wells leads us to tunnel to our warehouse.  Sketches a map from there to shrine; but won’t map shrineà Donovan. Smart. In case we got caught.

 

He leads us to the exit near Donovan’s warehouse. Many winding catacombs, filled with centuries of dead and rotted knights. Maltese cross carved into the wall.  Crossing passages less carved, less decorations.  Maltese crosses at significant intersections.

 

First trap: sprung.  Rotten body, scattered bones. Blade juts out from the wall on decayed beam. After this, veering off into a side corridor.  Some distance on, another Maltese cross, made of very tarnished metal. That one’s a trap.  Small hole in ceiling above cross, maybe for a dart or spear.  Not our path.

 

Another intersection, with a silver cross.  Another trap, but Wells can’t pass it. V spots a trigger stone on the floor, and disarms it with little trouble.

 

Beyond, tunnels Wells hasn’t ever walked. Says he knows the way. Counting passages.  Stops short after ducking into a tunnel—my light catches a tripwire. Ceiling will drop a blade. With rope and wrench, manage to spring the tripwire. Big axe blade sweeps down through corridor, swings back and forth. We move along.

 

Corridor ends at circular chamber, with narrow stone well in the floor.  More maltese crosses in stone.  Old well shaft up above, but surface is at least 30 feet up.  “From here, we descend.” Even deeper? We tie off a rope, climb down 10 feet into below chamber.  Even older ruins here.  V thinks it is thousands of years old!

 

Room very dark, cramped. Maybe only 5’ high in most places. Scratchings on walls, religious or mystical purpose to them.  Strangely cold and clammy, down here in the darkness. 

 

Flashlights struggle to shine through the murk, but we can see cramped tunnels leading off in various directions. Strange—couldn’t tell my way in the catacombs, but here, I know we’re going north. Maybe the brickwork confused me?

 

Tunnels hacked out of raw stone, deep beneath the city. Wells is uneasy.  Wider chamber, slightly larger, almost enough room to stand up in.  Columns of stone; supported by wooden posts wedged in at crazy angles, barely supporting the walls, ceiling. Can’t move through the space without moving a bunch of the posts.  Moving the dynamite through is not going to be fun.

 

After much discussion (dang woman can’t identify a loadbearing post when she’s looking right at it), we shift enough posts to make our way out. 

 

The room beyond has caved in, with catacombs falling in from above.

 

We need to climb up, then Wells says we’ll be at the inner catacombs, which may be full of seawater, or may be open, directly beneath the warehouse. I stay behind, V and her young knees go up and scout.

 

Tunnel is partly flooded with brackish seawater, harbor filth, oily film.  Have to wade in, and the pathway dips deep; water level at chest height.  Vivienne, disgusted, wades in.  40 feet of revolting wading through slime, to reach a false wall which will lead into Donovan’s warehouse.  (Wells couldn’t have explained that BEFORE the disgusting water?)  Apparently the door is plywood, painted. 

 

Vivienne missteps, comes tumbling back down the rubble.

 

Not many good options.  Will be too hard to haul enough dynamite up the rockfall, then past the water, with only three of us. There’s a dock next to the warehouse building, so we could take a boat, but that would be obvious.  Could park the car nearby, loaded with dynamite, then use the tunnel to get in?  Too hard to move dynamite AND sneak. 

 

 

In catacombs with Sir Godfrey Wells.  General agreement that the catacombs probably aren’t the right way to proceed.  Return to shrine in center of catacombs.

 

Borrow a dusty yet serviceable overcoat for V to cover up her fouled outfit. She gripes, of course. At least it covers the smell a little bit.

Immediately starts stripping off clothes underneath the overcoat, says she feels strange, there was something in the water.  We take a fouled stocking back for E to analyze. Have to keep her from peering too closely at it, though.

 

Wells rummages, finds a vial of fluid. Says it’s one of a kind? Holy water—not any holy water, blessed by a priest, Father Rodriguez, who recently died. No other holy water they’ve tried has worked. But this has worked to counteract Nectar.  This is the remaining sample.

 

Return to bakery, the street.  Car.  Hotel.

 

 

Storm rolling in. Starting to rain. Maybe good cover, albeit dangerous by water.

 

Hotel. Phone message from JWR – a “Doctor Armitage”? Who the hell is Doctor Armitage?

 

Man speaks up in lobby, “That’s me.”

 

Armitage knew JWR’s father as a pharmacist/pharmacological magnate.  Knew the father fell out of the public sphere in ’24.  JWR told him she was investigating Nectar, solicited his help, sent him to Malta to meet with us. 

 

V accepting. He presents his passport (in exchange for mine. At least he’s a little bit suspicious, which is healthy.).

 

He’s a chemist. Professor of chemistry. (So he’s like a chemist, but doesn’t work for a living.)  Has been briefed on Nectar, the global spread of the drug organization.

 

The Prof starts to wring out the stocking, while we discuss the last sample we had, its effects on the UCLA chemist. E comments that we did have a small amount of the sample left, which I took and kept from her. I remember I had it with me in my luggage, in a small locked case.  Bring it out, give it to him with another warning.

 

Armitage gets to work analyzing it, discovers what the other chemist did: viscous, musky/mossy odor, some part of the fluid seems to be alive, not just biological but actually still alive.  This rattles him a bit. (Poor kid. This might be his last chance to run.)

 

While V, E and I discuss what to tell him about the substance, the cult, the truths we have had to face…he continues to fiddle with his equipment. We emerge, and see he is getting enthralled just like E. Shit.

 

I confiscate the sample. Armitage protests, as does Emma.  We discuss the warehouse, this storm which would be perfect cover. Boats probably out. Viv could crash her car in, but that leaves the guards and the mouths in the grounds.  Could try to sneak through the fence, but guards and grounds again.

 

Could stake out the warehouse, see if vehicles come and go?

 

We return to discussing Donovan’s son. V still opposed to a kidnapping to draw Donovan and his guards away.  (We briefly tell Emma and Armitage about Donovan’s wife, having “died” in suspicious and un-observed circumstances, Donovan’s withdrawal from society, his son secluded in the hospital. And our theory that Donovan’s wife and son may be suffering from Leticia’s fate. 

 

Everyone else horrified by idea of using Donovan’s son as bait or a decoy. Maybe I’m losing more of my way than I thought? But it seems hardly any worse than what we did in Los Angeles. And if the kid is suffering like Leticia was, as Henry and Vivian had described…death would be  a mercy.

 

View
Malta: Beginning
From the Notes of J. Murphy

Reuniting with E, H, V after a month of rest. Too long. Getting restless. We have a job to do. I have a bargain to fulfill, to keep Mary safe. To maybe do something with what remains of my miserable life.

[note: various mental illnesses revealed: Emma is afflicted by homicidal mania; Vivian not only has a phobia of long shadows, but she also has a split personality—her old friend “Pal”, who died in the car crash described last time.]

Listen, old man. Stop pretending this is some memoir that people are going to read later. You don’t get to be remembered fondly. This isn’t a final case to polish your reputation or redeem your lost rank. Your life’s work was wasted and nothing will change that. All you can do, the best you can do, is this one job. And if you do it well, no one will know.

So stand up and do it.

I spend six weeks in Boston. Poring over some of the books left over.
• Seven Masks:
• Cults of the Aksumite Empire – stories of axumite beliefs that spread out to Europe. Myths of the Maw of the Mouth. References Revelations of Glaaki.
o Instructions for

JWR gets in touch. V wants to go to Malta. Apparently that’s in Italy. Which is on the way to Ethiopia, and Axum. We need to end up there, I think. Michael at the Globe says the architecture will be in amazing.

H has decided he cannot stay with us. Lucky bastard. But he didn’t need to make a bargain, did he?

Janet books us travel. On a zeppelin, of all things. Couldn’t just get us a boat, of course.

It’s enormous. Reporters all around, crowds watching. It’s like a train, hung under a balloon the size of…I don’t even know. A battleship.

It’s not terrible. But I’d rather take the train. Fewer Germans on the train, probably. All…German. Polite, but that sneering look. That machine-like phony courtesy. The long list of rules.

The travel is not pleasant. Over the water for far too long. And we feel the wind even more than when Frank was flying us.

Land in Leipzig after 4 days. Apparently we were lucky that we weren’t blown off our course.

Train through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy. Down to the south of Italy. German trains are orderly, regimented, unsettling. Italian trains…anything but orderly. But at least they were on time.

Odd: Emma now keeping a diary. Very diligent, though she wasn’t before. Well. Everyone needs to cope in their own way. Maybe it’s what her headshrinker told her to do.

Boat to Malta. Finally, a place where people speak English again. Even the British accent seems almost familiar.

As Michael said, it is beautiful. Tiny little island, beautiful old buildings. A castle hundreds of years old, once used by Crusaders to fight the Turks. Could spend days wandering, sightseeing…if we didn’t have work to do.

Take a suite of rooms in a nice hotel overlooking the harbor. View of the harbor. V insisted we needed comfort, not discretion. Even though she’s the one who arranged to have dynamite, our guns delivered and waiting in a warehouse.

We’re here because of a clue about Montgomery Donovan, who has “bitter wisdom”.

City records office: Donovan’s property: harborview town house. Warehouse by the harbor. Yacht in the harbor. Of course he’s a rich man.

I chat up some cops. “Bobbies”, what nonsense. No trouble with drugs, really. Quiet, petty crime. No rumors of Nectar.

Valleta city library. Very little in records. So what, I learned this foreign jabber for nothing? Just a newspaper clipping that says he likes to donate to opera, and is married. Wife’s name Portia.
Librarian thinks photo taken by a Jerome Humphrey.

Go talk to the photographer. JH often working with local newspaper. Limey. Barely remembers Donovan. Says Donovan didn’t want his name in the paper, though wife wanted him to relax. Donovan seemed wound up.

We hire Humphrey to go take pictures of Donovan’s townhouse, warehouse, and yacht. He says we’ll have results in a week.

Trammel’s diary said that Donovan knew how to get more Nectar from a mouth, but that it had cost him, somehow.

Plans: V and E to go to the opera, swan about there, try to meet Portia Donovan and strike up a friendship. I plan to dig into the archives. Or library. Museum? This is an old city. Maybe there’s something else here.

Playing tourists. Stories of Atlantis, ancient magics. Hundreds of years of history. Stone carvings, ruins. Guides claim one chapter of the Knights of Malta are in hiding, waiting until the island needs them. But can’t find many details.

Arrange a tour to some stone age temples. Names even worse than normal Italian names. Sound like somebody gargling. Really old. Stones, rocks. Nothing promising. V finds some symbols, but nothing special. Just pagan scratchings.

Nothing in the old bookshops. Or city archives. Or museums.

No Nectar. No weirdness in the history or the old books.

Opera: matinee before new show officially opens. Opera House is beautiful. Magnficent. Almost understand why these people always gesturing so wildly when they speak. I’d wave my arms around if these buildings were what I lived around all the time.

Strike up conversation with an usher, first about the architecture, then Donovan.
He’s around town, or was. But hasn’t been at the opera for a long time. Same with Portia, who also hasn’t been to the opera.

The opera is…I don’t have words. I didn’t know foreign could sound so magical.

Leaving, V goes white as a sheet, panics, keeps talking about a shadow moving towards us? Seems surprised we didn’t see it.

Next day: Humphrey calls, done early. Meet him to pick up the photographs. Same café as before.
He says he couldn’t get close to the buildings. A lot of people at the townhouse. Brawny men. Standing guard? Saw a group of men leave the townhouse one day, but they saw him. Harborthe Elegance is anchored in the middle of the harbor. Doesn’t seem like anyone has been using it. Warehouse: pretty quiet. Couple of guards in the yard.

Pay him, he leaves. Couple dozen photos of townhouse, warehouse in its fenced yard, yacht. Townhouse photo: all curtains on lower three floors stay closed. Only 4th floor curtains open. A figure in windows in a couple of shots. Garage on lowest level, off of back street.

Yacht is…right in the middle of the shipping lanes. Just anchored there, right in the way. Waiting for a shipment?

Harbormaster: ask him about the yacht—he seems uncomfortable, he knows more than he’s letting on, and knows that something is wrong. He’s been bribed.

Donovan spends a lot of money to get no questions asked. Shipping things out of the harbor. How often? 1/week, freighters bound for Italy, sometimes Africa. The Thriceis is due to arrive in 3 days, then depart to France.

Planning: going to look at the warehouse. Then maybe sneaking out to the yacht—very suspicious that it’s there; freighters don’t stop, but have to detour around. What is Donovan doing with it?

Warehouse: boring. Modern and ugly L-shape. Large fenced gravel yard, parking. Loading dock out over the water. Quiet. One guard at gatehouse by fence. Wait and watch for an hour, from concealment. Another guard patrols the yard.

Sneak in now, with only two guards around? Not much nearby traffic.

V wanders up to the gate, looks distressed, starts flirting …but her charms have no effect. Sensible guy. Strange he’s stuck on guard duty.

As she walks back, old man with long beard approaches us all. Warns us about the den of evil. Gives us an address to meet him at dawn. Fountain of St George.

View
Yucatan: Departure
From the Notes of J. Murphy

[Emma and Vivian lose 10 points of stability, then 2 points of sanity because massive stability loss, then 2 more points because Golgoroth!

Murphy is scaring me now. Willingly made a deal with Golgoroth, signed up for this ungoldly and terrible power, and is now on an even keel about all of this. Still convinced that the world is rational. And I just made a rational, sensible deal. Sober and sincere handshake with this Elder God, and then walked away knowing exactly what I’ve done, precisely why, and I don’t regret a moment of it. Time to start.]

So. I am damned. The only way this can have any meaning is if we succeed.

We need to find the Maw of the Mouth within the Devouring Mountain.

We need to find this liar, this deceiver that has stolen Golgoroth’s power, and bring forth Golgoroth to destroy it.

Vivian starts gibbering, babbling madly. A moment later Emma joins them. Trying to leave. The only way we can calm Emma down enough to stay here until we’re ready to leave is by handing her a blanket, telling her that if she holds it tightly we’ll be able to get out faster.

Rick Luke and the porters are slowly waking up from their faint. The kid can get us back to Merida; we pack up food, water, bare supplies to get back. We squeeze out the window slits, move back down the pyramid towards the plaza.

Twilight now, very quiet. Not many birds. At least I know that we don’t have to fear the Daughter anymore. [editor’s note: from this point on, Murphy appears to refer to the beast—the strange hunting creatures—as “Daughters”, possibly the “Daughters of Golgoroth”. This must have been an effect of the vision or hallucination that broke his mind/set him on his future path.]

Henry leads us out into the jungle; we find a clear area to set up camp. Notice some shell casings, which may have been from bandits before.

Everyone seems more relaxed once we get out into the jungle; we set a watch, for bandits, to keep the women from running off.

Over the next 4 days, we return to Merrida. Turns out that the kid isn’t half bad as a guide. We make good time—porters and Rick Luke are VERY eager to return. None of them mention anything out of the ordinary; porters talk about the bodies we found, and bandits. Mundane horrors.

When we’re almost there, I ask our 2 porters about Castillo. They hadn’t worked with him before, didn’t know he was planning to turn on us. Didn’t think police would be able to do anything, since it happened on De La Vega’s land. And stuff like this happens. It’s clear Vega is working with the bandits.

Can’t do anything about it, though. He works with murderers, and deserves to die, and it’s not like I am a cop any more.

But I can’t do anything about it. If we don’t get the women to help… Doctors? Shrinks? Then we can’t fight Golgoroth’s enemy. I can’t do it on my own. We need to leave. Get them cured. Then find the Maw.

We drive into town in the abandoned truck (good thing I found the key in the pocket of one of the bodies. Porters leave. Rick follows for me to buy his book from him.

Return to our room…Frank is asleep on the sofa. He wakes up; goes to arrange help for the ladies— hotel maids to help them get clean, get dressed. Food for us. Headshrinkers in town?

We get clean. Start to relax.
Henry suggests we call JWR, and that name seems to perk Vivian up. We call, I start to explain that we’re okay, that she shouldn’t say anything to alarm Vivian. JWR interrupts rudely, but then spends an hour talking to V. Seems to calm her down a little bit.
H and JWR also talk briefly for the first time.
JWR wants us back as soon as possible.

Full night’s rest. In a bed! After what, 10 days? More? Did we lose time in that pyramid? A long time in the jungle.

Doctor comes, good health all around. V and E suffered trauma, need extended rest. Clearly his fee was worthwhile, with THIS kind of diagnosis and treatment.

E’s comfort blanket could have done better.

. . .

Days of flying, and we make it back to Arkham.

We find E’s address book, a “Dr. Spencer Winston”. Call him—Psychiatrist. He picks her up; takes care of her over several weeks, coaxing her back to herself.

Frank Kearns drives V back to Janet’s. V spends weeks recovering, probably focused just on fashion and cars and famous people and 50-room mansions.

Henry gets to NYC (JWR wires money for a bus ticket; I loan him some warm clothes.) – his sister, nephew have moved out of Harlem, to a Brooklyn apartment—-with a spare room!

I get to Boston. Mary and [insert husband’s name] sent letters, postcards. I go to their apartment, am amazed by their pictures. Venice is…beautiful. Most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. Somebody needs to build one of those Palatzo’s off of Back Bay!

View
Yucatan: Worse than Hell
From the Notes of J. Murphy, Who Can Now See That None Of It Ever Made A Difference

In a room atop the ancient pyramid. Pyramid looks out over a plaza, with the world’s worst ball court across the plaza (and something that terrified Vivienne); on the other cardinal sides of the plaza are: a tall stone platform with over 100 stone pillars; a path leading out into the jungle, maybe towards another clearing.

As we look at this room we’ve taken shelter in, can see faded bloodstains all around the altar.
V says the altar is an upside-down Chock Mool, a traditional kind of statue from Mayan temples. (So it’s worse that the altar is of a man, in pain, unwillingly carrying a bowl of blood? It’d be BETTER if the bowl-holder was happy about the blood? Foreigners believe some terrible shit.

Channels for blood lead to small holes in perimeter of the floor carving. Seam around the ditch looks like a trap door. Probably to the chamber below where the guy who shot at me is. Trapdoor is locked, sealed from inside. Trapdoor opens…probably swings or slides downward. That’d be about typical for this jungle place.

On some study, it’s obvious that some kind of liquid needs to pour into the holes, probably a counterweight of some kind.
We ransack the packs, and find a few more containers of kerosene to flow into the blood-bucket. Once most of the liquid has flowed in, there’s a click, and the circle glyph slides apart. Unbelievable stonework—couldn’t even see the seams, no grinding, nothing! Reveals hole, down into darkness; 7 foot drop.

Rustling from inside the hole. Viviene shines her flashlight down; 2 shots ring out. Then shouts.

Guy down there is panicked, says his name is Alvar. Was here with the Dominguez expedition, exploring the pyramid. He was here, in the pyramid, studying symbols. Heard shouts, screams, terrible growling. Said the beast was like a jaguar, or a lizard, or a beast.

“We have to get out”…”I can’t leave!”. Make up your mind, idiot, or we can close the door again.

H and E drop down to check out Alvar, this space. Square chamber, unnatural red stone covered in carved symbols, windows. Alvar Vasquez: scraggly, goofy-looking egghead.

From above, hear a gunshot! In sudden panic, muttering about need to “find a way out” he blows his brains out.

Trapdoor has a lever to open from the other side. We all head down into the chamber as slightly safer, but leave trapdoor open—V is uneasy about the stone on the walls.

E finds Alvar’s notes, I look through them. V and the kid peer at the walls trying to decipher the symbols.

Notebook: some pages ripped out. Scrawls show he was increasingly obsessed with the symbols on the walls. Talks about the stone walls being a shell to protect a “traveler” against “that place outside”. More pages missing: it moves when you’re not looking – it knows when you’re not looking – must take great care or they will slip through the slits

And notebook ends with what Alvar claimed was a magic spell. Probably just like E’s claim of magic travel? Very detailed instructions.

Henry spots the beast, peering out into the courtyard. We all go to look. And apparently each see different things, all of them horse-sized and horrible. Lots of confusion. I calm them down, have them give eyewitness description.

Talking about Alvar’s notes. V remembers book about all pyramids being somehow the same, E’s claim of having a spell that she can cast; stories about fishers from another world pulling people through the mouth of Zozul. Alvar’s notes claiming that this chamber can move along some predetermined path, to view or travel to other places. Can you move a room between buildings, between…worlds? Just by thinking at it? That’s crazy, right?

But how much crazier than giant mouths erupting from walls, dripping perversion juice? Or than so many people around the world fixated on…

V announces that she knows how to operate this room. To travel to other places. To see other times. She’s insistent on trying, frantic. We barely talk her down to just—just!—trying to see through time, back to the building of the pyramid.

Horrible sounds from her mouth, insane chanting; first try seems to fail, V looks shaky, then tries again. Trapdoor slams shut. Room lurches horribly. V weak, shaky. Now dark in here—no light through windows.

What has she done?

H looks out; it’s nighttime. Torchlight fills the plaza which is packed with of mostly-naked savages hard-packed dirt. Shouting from the ball court. Scream from the altar room above. Coming up the stairs of pyramid, priests and warriors carrying a conquistador.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph what has Vivienne done??

Scream again, and wailing. I grab my gun, sticks of dynamite, get set to open door to save the poor bastard above. E tackles me, smashes me into the wall. Screaming stops, murmuring.

V opens door—savage priests staring at her, shouting. Dead Spaniard. They drop a ladder down.

Henry shoots out into courtyard, everyone notices…I try to grab a stick of dynamite, throw it up at the crazy savages who are trying to get in…but V repeats her crazy jabbering again, and the lurch flings us to the floor.

Now…a strange green light pouring in through the windows, flickering. Cracks in the wall.

E looks out the windows. Everything in Chichen Zozul is ruined. Enormous green flames on the horizon. Unearthly, devilish red foliage, ash, craters. Giant purple planet looming in the sky above, in the center of it there’s an enormous eye. Or eyes. Looking down at us. In the plaza, froglike monster giving off steam, great black wings. A dozen beasts stalking around…they all swivel around to look at us.

I stagger to the window…
We are damned and gone to Hell. The devil and his beasts are waiting for us.

V keeps repeating her mad chant, trying with no success to do…something. Beasts start to climb the pyramid, the Devil starts to rise from where he sits.

The kid tries with the equations, but something is holding the room here. The space is shaking.
E starts scrawling lines on the floor.

We’re going to be devoured her. We used satanic magic and we have been cast to hell as we deserve. But even if we cannot kill the Devil, I’m going to try.

A demon starts sniffing at a window, so I shoot it in the neck. It starts pawing at the window, roaring in pain. Henry comes over and joins me in firing at the monster.

Behind the snuffling beast, the Devil flies up onto the pyramid above us and the door opens…a huge blinking eye, the entirety of evil staring down at us, crackling with lightning, unblinking, we are caught in place by the Devil’s stare.

But it’s not the Devil…

It’s not even…

It’s older…viler…it was what was here before God. Before the Devil.

It looks at…the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Me: finding out that my son-in-law, just days after my granddaughter was born, was the serial killer I’d been tracking for weeks. Then choking the life out of him; a man finishes what he starts, and I had to. It was that, or he’d get away. Or I’d catch him, and break my family’s spirits forever. I looked in the eyes…

Emma: euthanized a patient…her own mother, who was awful, abusive, harsh.

Henry: Under heavy fire, during the war. His sergeant was wounded, couldn’t get out. Henry panicked, left him behind. Someone else brought him in; Henry doesn’t know whether his

Vivian: while at college, she and an easily-persuaded friend got drunk, stole a car, went joyriding. V walked away without a scratch; the friend died instantly, was found in the wreck and got all the blame and shame from the act. V untouched.

Golgaroth…seemed pleased with us.

Visions of greatest desire:

Henry: his sister and family in a good home, safe and happy

Murphy: his granddaughter and her husband living out safe lives, never knowing this

Vivian: father never died, brother never died, she’s a creature of pleasure; parties, carefree,

Emma: her father, safe and happy.

Vision of mouths, moving through the world, eating their way out through the rocks to the surface.

When was a time something precious was taken from you?

Henry: parade through Harlem after the war; his dignity is stolen from him—colored man in the US, having been a war hero fighting alongside the French, treated well…but now…
Emma: her mother stole her childhood from her
Vivian:

Murphy: age of 55: picking up his box from his desk as precinct captain, leaving his rank insignia behind being kicked out onto

The Liar has usurped my place, stolen my name, worn my power

What have we hidden from:
H: from the truth of the cowardice
M: hiding from the truth that none of it mattered. Nothing I did ever made areal difference. There are still crooked cops
V: from responsibility, adulthood, ties
E: hiding from the shame of what she did, knowing that if her father found out…he’d never talk to her again.

Vision of a terrible mouth: we all say “the maw of the mouth lies within the devouring mountain”

Vision: we lie on our backs, mouths gaping open, the great bulk of golgoroth flowing down into our bodies.

Golgoroth is offering each of us what we most want.

To gain the power to summon his aspect…to give Golgoroth a path to come into the world to destroy the mouths, the source of the mouths, this cult that has been perverting people and apparently stealing golgoroth’s power…and in exchange, we each get what we most want.

I would get the knowledge that my family is safe, and will never be touched by this…everything…and in return we help destroy the nectar, the mouths, the cult?

Nothing else has mattered…if I have to damn myself to actually accomplish something GOOD in the world? Then yes. I have known I’d be damned to hell since I killed my son-in-law and covered it up.

Murphy, Emma, and Vivian damn our souls and take the deal.
Henry steps back…horrified at what we’ve done.
I’m rationalizing it away.

V, to Golgoroth: “Where is the enemy?” “The maw of the mouth lies within the devouring mountain”

Asking “How do we get home?” : Vision of legions of Zozul stomping feet, spears, threatening us. If we return, we will die.

The eye drifts up, away…V’s spell starts up again. She tries to return us to our original location in space and time.

The lurch lasts longer, is stronger this time. We snap back into place. Shifting feeling stops. Dimming light appears through the windows. We’re back…in Mexico. The beast is no longer in the plaza.

We return to ourselves, shaken by the events…H and I shake it off. Emma and Vivianne seem to go catatonic, staring madly, wildly, incoherent, delusional.

View
Yucatan: The Jungle is Terrible
From the Notes of J. Murphy, Lt. (Ret.), BPD

Turns out we need two more porters to carry the dynamite we might need. This is getting expensive.

Departure day:

Meet Castillo on edge of town; couple of trucks take us through Vega’s land to his trailhead, about 2 hours in. Rick doesn’t recognize any of these porters, but still chipper, happy to be coming along.

Road stops. Narrow path into jungle; dense wall. Another pickup abandoned, doors open. Castillo thinks it was looted, belonged to the other group. Evidence Collection: looks like another vehicle was here, left.

Castillo not so concerned about bandits… but clearly somebody came here. Did Dominguez come back?

Marching order: Castillo, V, E, the kid, Henry, the porters, me.

Marching through the jungle. It is miserable. Hot. Humid. Goddamn bugs. V and the kid are cheerful.
They oughta clear cut all of this. Pave it. Pave it all.

Half a day on, stop briefly on seeing a big Mayan rock. Castillo says it’s a landmark. The kid takes a rubbing of the marker. Says the Zozul would post it on their borders. Warriors, corpses with snakes come from their bodies, gross foreign stuff.

Continuing. H listens to porters, who are pretty quiet. Talking just about animal noises. Of which there are too damn many.

Make camp. V is all nostalgic about childhood camping trips, because of course, if something is awful then V enjoys it. E has been useful again, tells me about some plants that can help keep the bugs off. Wonderful young lady.

At supper, ask the kid about the Zozul. He relates what Cartwright said about ‘em—says the Chichen was a minor religious site, captured by the Zozul or mimicking the Mayans around. Zozul came from a place called Golxumal—says it was a nearby land controlled by the Zozul. But Mayans in area have never called anything Golxumal. Images in ruins show sea voyages. Ruins claim the Zozul “ransacked the isle of the gods”. Spanish conquered, but nobody knows what happened to the Zozul. Weird, because there’s still Mayans around.

Overnight, watch system, paired with porters.
Jungle sounds are awful. Hooting and shrieking and whistling in the night. And bugs everywhere, buzzing, crawling.
The porters sometimes stand up, clap, make noise. Tell H, E that there are a lot of animals around, important to make yourself look big, noisy, scary.

Awake too early. 17 days left. More marching. Three more days of this, and then four back.. And it would be hard to find our way out if we get lost. Henry has been leaving trail marks in hobo sign. Wonder what the hobo scratches are for “nobody here” and “desolate miserable jungle why are you even here you poor bastard?”

Long day. Deep into jungle. No idea which way we’re facing. All the trees look the same. All the tiny little streams look the same. All the vines and oozing mud pits look the same.

Oh, and now it’s raining. Wonderful.

V and H seem surprised, confused by the storm. Oh golly gosh, the jungle found a new way to be terrible? Who would have guessed!?

Have to make camp, can’t see. Everything wet and awful.
V slips and falls down a sharp drop, vanishes from sight with a yelp. Slams into another Zozul rock at the bottom. The kid tosses her a rope.

When we get her back up to camp she’s muddy, bruised, miserable. V says the rock had its top half, unlike the other one. Above the severed head held high is a creepy froglike creature with sharp-toothed mouth with long tongue.

Rain continues all night. Very wet camp. Cold and miserable. Henry seems awfully quiet.

Even Castillo is upset; we’ve lost half a day so far. V doesn’t think the weather is natural. Shouldn’t be changing this fast.

Morning comes, and it is still raining, just as heavy. 16 days left.

Henry asks the kid if he’s heard stories about this kind of rain. Says hard to predict weather here, but nothing helpful. Castillo says this is bad, but not unusual yet.

Rain lasts into the night.
Morning. Continuing rain. 15 days left.

Castillo getting frustrated. I go talk to him; he’d grudging go forward if we insist, but doesn’t recommend it. I talk to the rest of us: might as well be miserable and moving forward, but Viv concerned about losing footing, getting injured. Henry sees my point of view. Emma thinks moving on would be dangerous, but if Castillo thinks we can, she’s in favor of pressing on.

V argues us into waiting one more day, because we still have some time.

Still raining the next day. 14 days left after today. Everyone is miserable. Manage to piss V off which is about the only good thing in the last three days of rain.
We agree to leave, all holding a rope.

Going is hard. Very hard slog. Keep falling all the time. I slip, fall down a slope over rocks. Very painful; think I sprained my shoulder..

Rain finally clears up mid-afternoon! Only came about 2 miles in the whole morning. Everything still wet, but not actually raining. Though if that kid doesn’t shut his face with his good spirits I’m going to tie him to a tree and leave him here.

Castillo pushes us on later into the evening. Find a decent spot that’s a bit drier. We have a fire: I brought [preparedness!] a can of kerosene, so we have a hot meal and start to feel almost human again.

I’m on watch with Castillo late at night; he’s not talking. Wanders off into jungle to take a leak. After a while I get a bad feeling about his absence, but he comes back right after. Suspiciously fast.
Then tries to talk me into going to bed (don’t patronize me, kid!)
Then heads off to his tent. Says I should shout if I’m being eaten by a jaguar. Cocky shit.

I wake Vivienne up. She’s sarcastic and cheerful. Tell her about Castillo acting funny.

(short session, 20 Jan 16)

Vivian’s on watch. Keeping an eye on Castillo’s tent.
Hour or two in, sees movement in Castillo’s tent, peering out very cautiously. Then flap closes, no further movement.

Emma’s watch: V relates the shifty behavior to E, recommends keeping an eye on Castillo.

Late, E sees one of porters opening tent flap, peering out. When he notices E watching & hears her say “good morning!” cheerfully, ducks back inside.

Henry’s watch uneventful.

Castillo up before dawn, gets porters moving.
We pack up tents, get ready to go…V trying to share news with all of us. Starts by picking a fight with Murphy, uses that as cover. We’re going to try and compare notes w/the kid—are we going the right direction? Also will keep close watch every night.

On a game trail, was cleared by machete at some point, say Henry & Vivian. Because apparently there’s some difference between all of these vines that means something. I hate this. January is supposed to be cold, dammit!

Vivian checks in with the kid. By his “calculations” we’re on the right path, only a day’s march away. Clues him in that we mistrust Castillo and want him to keep an eye on him.

Half a day’s march, late morning lunch break. Castillo says he’s scouting ahead. V talks her way into following him, but he tries to ditch her. Hard to follow stealthily but quickly…but manages. Almost like grudging respect from Castillo.

The dame can slink about, I’ll grant her that. Even if you can smell her perfume coming from a mile away.

More sneaking, as Castillo spots signs of bandits. Sneaking around a clearing. Vivian follows as close as she can. Suddenly, Castillo looks at V, claps loudly twice, and vanishes into the jungle. V shouts for him to stop, takes a pot shot at him, he drops. V sneaks back to group, returns alone.

As we’re trying to recover, we hear rifle bolts. The kid is sure he knows where the ruins are. Porters bolting; E & I each persuade 2 to follow us into the jungle, after the kid. 3 shots ring out. Two porters go down, dead. I grab a pack with dynamite. V and I shoot off in the direction of the shots, one reply wings me. V and I run after the others, down the trail after the kid.

More shots ring out. Reminds me of Prohibition. But with a jungle instead of normal streets. So it’s worse.

Maybe 8 guns firing at us? But don’t seem to chase us.

Rushing forward, Luke and porters at edge of a clearing. Beyond clearing, a 5-story stone pyramid, half covered in jungle, but not on the front. Tumbled stone ruins all around—pillars, wall, old buildings.

Guess we’re here.

Were the guns driving us into a trap? Probably. Can we do anything about this? Nope.

Trying for cover: either through jungle, or through the grass. V tries to make her way into plaza sneakily. We notice this place was clearly a ceremonial place. Nobody ever lived here—not enough space. Not the right kind of buildings, not enough.

People have come through recently—broken grasses, trampled ground.

Me, E, porters, kid run quickly across plaza, towards ruins. Actual buildings, at last. Even if they are all tumbledown. Wall is maybe 15’ tall. Good stonework. Vines and plants everywhere. Nothing connected

V keeping eyes open, trying to stay in cover, poking about in grasses quietly. V finds human remains in long grass – lower torso, female. rotting in the weeds. Gets shaken by the sight.

I duck around the wall, into a courtyard. Filled with bodies. Headless. Arrows, broken spear. Tattered tent flaps. Blood, flies. Recent dead—couple of days.

Great, mexico. The jungle wasn’t bad enough. Now you’ve made cities terrible too.

Porters on the far side of the wall, nervous. The kid is obsessing over details in the stonework outside. V sees the bodies in the courtyard, is unshaken.

Looking more closely at the bodies, E & I identify: everyone’s from some recent expedition. Whites and Mexicans. Maybe 2 dozen bodies. Heads have all been torn off, or cut off, or bitten. V says this was a ball court (so even foreign sports are awful. Why does anyone ever travel?), Mayans and Aztecs were crazy about heads being magical, would play games with heads.

Walls full of carvings. More than this city should have, per V. Art shows heads being sacrificed to giant sphere in the sky. Bodies seem to have been attacked. Tribal weapons—arrows, spears. Not a sacrifice, V says.

The kid points out a bunch of spots where Mayan carvings were torn away, replaced by Zozul art. Cartwright book says the Zozul kicked out the Mayans.

I (& Henry?) go looking through bodies, find some guns, ammo that wasn’t used. Also a letter to Brooks, partial and unfinished about being ambushed on 4th day out from Merida, running to site, making camp. Letter cuts off, spattered with blood.

Then we hear a noise. Animal? Out on the jungle side of this courtyard. V pokes her head around the corner, then freezes. Turns back, white with terror. Very quietly says we need to move away.

Quietly, quickly, grab our stuff, porters, the kid. Across the courtyard and up the steps of the pyramid! Know there’s going to be a room at the top for the weirdo foreign cults. If we’re going to be trapped and ambushed, then at least we’ll be behind some walls.

The kid whispering about the glyphs. Back and forth Mayans and Zozul. Pyramid of a sorcerer. Something about mystic eternity. Door to Golxumal? Of course it is.

Up the stairs. At base of stairs, statues of gross lizard-cat head with teeth, mouths, eyes.
Stairs are terrible. Steep, narrow. Don’t look down. Tiring. Hard on the knees. At least it’ll be hard for people to follow us.

At the top, fifth level: two narrow slits on face of pyramid, alongside the stairs. Dark. I stop, shine flashlight in. Inside: shadows shifting, like someone inside? Somebody shoots at me! Bastard. Misses. I shout at them, rushing noise, but no response. We keep going.

V gets to top first, there’s a little room here, no windows, entrance not top of the stairs. We all join her. Walk around to far side of pyramid, where the jungle is. No windows. One large room. Dark inside. Single door, man-sized. V steps inside, just breathing, worried, in shock. E rushes to help, but reassurance doesn’t seem to take.

Room is dark; flashlight shows murals on walls. More sacrifices, Mayan kooks, blood and guts. Figures fighting underneath strange skies. Altar in center of room, carved to look like a man, on hands and knees. Warrior of some sort. Shallow bowl on his back, grooves for blood to flow. Floor has purple and blue stone disk at base of the altar. Strange design.

View
Yucatan: Arrival
From the Notes of J. Murphy, Lt. (Ret.), BPD

Fly to Merida, Yucatan. Rent a hangar at airport. Nice hotel.
Much smaller city. Even V willing to walk places. Or at least, doesn’t want to rush out and buy another fancy car. She just leases one.

On the edge of town, a ruined Mayan city. Very old. Oldest cathedral in the Americas! Beautiful old buildings.

H & I go walk the streets, to supply shops and bars, asking about people preparing for an expedition about 6 months back. Ask if any guides are available.
• 10 guys from mexico city were planning an expedition, shifty about what they were doing. Looking for ruins.
• Henry learns a locally-renowned guide was hired by Dominguez group, Yansito Exposito. Hasn’t been seen for about a month. Was bragging about getting paid for a 40-mile hike to some jungles, past the de la Vega guy.
• Dominguez gang was here about 5 months before leaving. Doing research?
• This is going to be terrible. 40 miles on foot into a miserable jungle to find crazy cultists
• Bandits and worse in the jungle, Henry hears. City folk have a bad time. Dominguez and his crew didn’t contact local crooks, tomb robbers and shit.
• De la Vega lands are well known. Go there without permission, you’ll get shot.

De la Vega is patriarch, land baron, henequen farmers (some kind of rope plant). Easy to find at a nice restaurant.

I go talk to some local cops. H translates. Anything about Vega? These bandits?
• Vega is wealthy, powerful
• They’re proud of their city. Occasional archaeological visits. Cityfolk is unusual, though.
• Cops didn’t like idea of troublemaking city folks going into the ruins, pilfering
• Legends about it being better to leave the ruins alone

At the City Library, asking about legends, stories about the ruins. Run into a professor at a local college.
• Says Chichen Xoxul, supposedly discovered 1846 right before a caste war broke out, and died without revealing location. 3 local guides know that part of the jungle
o Yansito (went in, hasn’t come back)
o Guillermo
o Pablo
• Another guide, “Rick Luke”, shows a lot of enthusiasm but hasn’t made it to that area at all
• Librarian says no information about Chichen Xoxul or books by Arthur cartwright
• I also hear that the people around Xoxul think it’s curse, that it’s the mouth of the well of zozul, place where horrible things pour into the world.

Get to talking with an old man about Xoxul stories, he starts talking about Golxumal, where fishers from outside cast their nets, pulling mortals in through the mouth. People use the story of Golxumal to threaten children, threaten to send them there. Nobody has ever come back from there.

Poking around in city archives: De la Vega has filed many reports about bandits, shootings on his property. Nothing ever comes of it, nobody agrees on jurisdiction. Vega polices his own land, reports that “somebody came on my land and I shot them” and nobody investigates.

[Jan 13, 2016]

We’ll need to hire a guide who knows the jungle. Local shopkeeper helps us set up interviews.

V has booked us rooms in most expensive place in town, of course. But this “casa azul” sure is a nice shade of blue.

Interviewing Guillermo, Pablo, Rick.

Pablo Garza: 30s. No English. Knows where Zozul is, but hasn’t been there. Avoids it. Would not enter ruins himself. Recommended porters who’ll go with him. Claims he can read mayan pictures.
Seems honest. Cheap.

Guillermo Castillo. 40s. Arm scar. Speaks English. Says he’s been to Zozul. Has taken other expeditions there. Crew works with him.
Says: Zozul is: old pyramid, other ruins. Overgrown.
Says he’s fought a jaguar, and so on. Maybe telling some tales, but honestly seems unconcerned by superstitions. Says it’ll be 4 days to get to site. Also wants permission to cross Vega’s land. HaSeems savvy had no problems with Vega.

Rick Luke. Young kid. Eager puppy. Heard through grapevine we’re going to Zozul. Has a copy of Cartwright. Excited by idea of going…but not quite sure where it is. Has not led an expedition into the jungle here. “Confident”. Completely fascinated by Mayan Culture. “Could find” porters. Naïve little puppy wouldn’t last a day in Back Bay let alone a jungle.

He has the Cartwright volume here. Says there might be way markers in the jungle. Cartwright describes Zozul as a smaller Chichen Eetza. Picked his copy of Cartwright up in Mexico City.

He’s from Kansas City. Wouldn’t recommend visiting it.

Discussing hiring Castillo, bringing the kid along. Want to access his book, but could get us into trouble. Wonder if Castillo would agree to us bringing the kid as a consultant. Can’t honestly feel his buHsiness would be threatened by the kid. But would the kid be reckless, get us into trouble?

Interrupted by invitation to meet with De La Vega at his town house for dinner.
V spends hours picking out an outfit, of course.

Vega’s townhouse a modest mansion. (to think I’ve learned to tell the two apart! But at least it’s tame compared to V’s sprawl)

Vega is charming. “I don’t really recommend” going into the jungle. Bandits. Asks about our business in jungle. Recommends Castillo as a guide-experienced with area. Tries to discourage us again, but if we insist, he would give us permission to cross.
V inquires if we could help dealing with the bandits. Vega reports pockets of bandits all over the jungle, still around from the revolution.

Have a feeling he’s holding something back. He shows us some of his artifacts. Mayan stone shards from different sites. V and Vega have a chat about archaeology. Has visited a number of sites around; claims Spanish and Mayan ancestors. Shows off some relics from a conquistador who disappeared in the jungle centuries ago. V ogles the 16th-century ceremonial sword. Also has a rusty metal conquistador hat.

Has he gone to Zozul? “Prefers to leave the site intactHas traveled to Zozul; says it is quite ruined; a pyramid and several other structures. But he’s kind of shy about talking about Zozul.

Doesn’t know many legends of Zozul; his understanding is that “they” – the Zozul – stole the Chicen from the Mayans.

V has a bad feeling about Vega. Brooks’ group had a hard time getting permission, but we didn’t. Questions about Castillo—is he working for Vega? Danger of betrayal or misdirection.

Call Castillo back to hotel; arrange to hire him/his porters, and persuade him to accept the kid, too, as a “special academic consultant.” Castillo skeptical but unconcerned. The kid is happy to agree. Not surprisingly, he’s glad to have someone more experienced handling porters, trailblazing. Still insists on a fee.

V calls Janet, updates her on our plans. I fetch Frank to have him stay in our rooms while he’s gone. We leave letters with him; in case we don’t return in 18 days he is to fly back to Arkham.

Next day. Coolin g our heels while we wait and prepare. I find a bar that will give me lots of ice in a glass with a shot of something strong. Spend the day enjoying the last ice I’ll know for a while.

This city has some nice old buildings, but by the look of it the jungle keeps trying to creep in.
V walks the streets, admiring scenery, watching people.
E spends time helping out at local hospital, asks about local botany, first aid.
H helps me convince the barman that I want ice. Lots of ice.

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