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.


Nooooo! Did we not try the ritual to create the proper alignment of the heavens and sky? (I mean, sure, that would probably also have failed, but Murphy didn’t lose those sanity points poring over tomes for nothing! . . . or did he?)

Ethiopia: The Empty Inferno

Keeper called “scene” on the Dallol dig site and mountain. Everything that was there to find had been found. Any further lingering in the “hottest place in the world” was ill-advised considering the presence of bandits, lost guide, potential contact with “Agony on the Wind” in village.

Ethiopia: The Empty Inferno
ambenefiel felkerk

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