Trail of Nyarlathotep

Springtime on the Western Front
Or, how we all came to meet and mostly trust each other

We came to the table with just a brief character bio sketch and instructions to be in France, somewhere between Paris and The Trenches, in March 1918.

Then we played a little lightweight Fiasco to concoct a couple capers that would get our characters (myself included—I played an NPC).

Dramatis Personae:

1. John Yang, scion of a wealthy family of Chinese merchants, plucked out of China by wealthy colonial patrons and now a man of the cloth. During the war he served as a chaplain, comforting the wounded; he soon became disenchanted with the warlike aims of the imperialist powers. Elizabeth Pierce (intrepid journalist, below) is trying to advance her own ambitions by getting a solid character piece about the foreign-born priest. He is old school chums with Helen Fairchild (aristocrat-turned-nurse, below). They fell in with the pacifist worker movements and have a need to prove themselves by fomenting socialist revolution.

2. Helen Fairchild, daughter to the Fairchilds of Norlane Park, she wanted to pitch in and help the war effort like all patriotic Brits, but soon the horror of war, and her liaisons with unsavory socialsts, led her down a different path. Her relationship with John Yang is documented above, and she also has a rivalry with Natasha Levin (handmaiden to the Romanovs, now a refugee). They’ve stolen the Baroness’ necklace, you see, and Helen wants to use it to somehow bolster her and John’s socialist ambitions. Natasha has other plans, though.

3. Natasha Petrovna (?) Levin, handmaiden to a minor branch of the Russian Imperial family. They fled—wisely—before the October Revolution, and made it as far as Paris before the connections and the money began to run out. Natasha has developed something of a reputation as a fixer, so she’s angling to sell her mistress’ jewels for a quick score. She and Helen stole the jewels, but they don’t trust each other (Rivals), so they arranged a complicated scheme to hide them—Helen has the key to a lockbox; Natasha hid the lockbox in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery—while they look for a fence. What could possibly go wrong?

4. Richard Morgan, a petty criminal who felt like the Infantry was a better deal than Sing-Sing. Army life hasn’t reformed his character, and he’s a notorious scavenger, always looking to make a quick buck. He’s heard rumors about the impending Kraut offensive and desperately wants out. He’s done jobs with Natasha before (they’re both scavengers), and he just might be able to move that necklace for her. He’s a fellow squaddie with Thomas Murphy. He and Thomas know the quiet ways into and back out of some bombed-out chateaus.

5. Thomas Murphy, GI. Thomas is a run-of-the-mill Infantryman with one aspiration: to get out of this war alive. He’s teamed up with Richard Morgan to avoid all of this trouble by getting the #$&% out of the damn Infantry before the Krauts come over the top. He’s connected to Elizabeth Pierce in an as-yet undetermined lifesaving relationship. Maybe she’ll be his ticket home? Her access to HQ might just get her access to some blank discharge papers, which could serve and Thomas and Richard’s ticket home.

6. Elizabeth Pierce (GM/NPC). Elizabeth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. She goes where the action is, and in 1918 the action is on the Western Front. She’s one of the few female war correspondents, and even though she doesn’t like it, she files her stories with the pseudonym “Jackson”. She thinks there’s an angle to John Yang’s story that will connect with readers, and she’s got an extensive network of contacts and sources that includes Thomas. One of them is going to save the other’s life. She’s got a face-to-face meeting with The General this afternoon, and she intends to make the most of it.

Here’s a rough outline of what happened next:

We quickly coalesced around two plotlines: the necklace plotline, and the discharge papers plotline. Helen and Natasha arranged a moonlight meeting in the cemetary to retrieve the valuable artifact. Acting separately, Helen and Father John discussed plans for using either the symbolism of the lost necklace or the proceeds from it to spread their pacifist cause; meanwhile Natasha approached Richard about fencing the artifact. Father John had his interview with Elizabeth.

Thomas approached Elizabeth about somehow using her access to HQ to get her hands on some blank discharge papers. He offered to bargain details of the allied plans for repulsing the impeding German spring offensive, details that neither he nor Richard presently had. He pulled Richard aside after he returned to base from his meeting with Natasha to arrange to scout, spy, and/or steal newsworthy information. Richard agreed to take a shift cleaning toilets in HQ.

We rolled up a Tilt, with Father John in the lead for positives and Natasha in the lead for negatives. The mid-game twist was settled on: deception—a literal or figurative backstabbing, and a quote: “I swear to God we can fix this”. Everyone had fun working the quote into their scenes for Act Two.

Although Helen got her way and convinced Natasha that she could be trusted with the necklace, it was rapidly discovered that the necklace was spurious, a fake, costume paste! Helen and John discussed the matter and decided to return the necklace to Natasha along with the bad news.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth headed into HQ for her face-to-face with The General. Richard pulled her aside to pull together a final plan: she would distract the staff while he filched the papers. Surprisingly, this went off without a hitch! Oh, except for one small detail: the only discharge papers he could grab in time were medical discharge papers, so they’d need either convincing injuries or an accomplice in the medical corps…

Natasha flagged Richard down to see if there was any way he could “gussy the fake necklace up” or find a gullible mark to pass it too. He knew of a bombed-out chateau that he might be able to find some genuine jewelry to accompany it with—maybe they could pass it as part of a lot? He wondered whether Natasha knew of any medics who would be willing to “gussy some discharge papers up”. “Why, let me introduce you to my associate Helen…”

[ed: more to come…]

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Prolog: Spare the Rod - 1919 - Part 1
Or, a brief introduction to the art of investigation

The party found themselves on a train to Arkham with Elizabeth Pierce on August 3rd, 1919. Elizabeth was researching her book about witch cults in New England, and was quickly running up against her publisher’s deadline. She asked the party to assist her in investigating a series of reported hauntings in and around Arkham while she pursued leads in another town further up the line. She has five leads for us to follow up on:

  1. A haunted graveyard
  2. The Arkham witch trials and a haunted witch house
  3. A haunted mill
  4. A haunted waterside inn
  5. The ghost of a school teacher, still haunting students around his former home

Upon disembarking onto the platform in Arkham, we learned of a a kidnapping the night before, as a young boy had been taken off the streets near twilight. This appeared to have been the second kidnapping in a month. So, we added “attend police press conference” to our list of initial leads to pursue. The party soon split, with Helen and Thomas heading to the graveyard to investigate Elizabeth’s lead about strange lights and sounds at night, and Natasha, Richard, and the Major heading to the Arkham Historical society to dig up information about the Arkham witch trials in 1704.

At the graveyard, Helen and Thomas learned that the caretaker had been seeing moving lights and hearing sounds coming from underground, but only on nights with a new moon. They found the Fowler family tomb strangely well kept, despite the caretaker’s obvious neglect. He invited them to return in the new moon to see the “haunting” for themselves.

Natasha found the head of the Historical Society, Mr Peabody, minding the counter when they arrived. She questioned him about the witch trials, and dug into the Society’s records of the time. The witch Goodie Fowler had been hung following the trial in 1704, due in large part to the efforts of Christopher Seaton, local school teacher at the time. The records spoke of lifting a hex placed on the town by Fowler, though the accounts varied, in some cases suggesting that Seaton had been the bad guy, or perhaps under the influence of Fowler. Peabody suggested they consult with Janet Larkin, the town clerk, for birth and death records of the time.

While Natasha finished up at the Historical Society, Richard and the Major headed outside to the press conference. There, Detective Stuckey announced the latest kidnapping, saying the police had evidence that the two were connected. He called upon the public to contact the police with any information that might aid their investigation. He was soon set upon by Henrik J. Smythe, a reporter whose byline appeared on several of the newspaper articles about the kidnappings. The reporter accused him of incompetence, trying to get Stuckey to admit that he didn’t actually have any leads at all.

Once Smythe had sufficiently provoked him, Stuckey stormed off back into the police station. The Major followed him to ask further questions. Although he was able to reassure the Detective, he was only able to learn that the reporter was right, and the police really didn’t have any leads at all. Even the connection between the two kidnappings was little more than an observation that the two children had been roughly the same age, and had been kidnapped exactly a month apart.

Helen and Thomas, meanwhile, had moved on from the graveyard to pursue to the lead about the Turn-Coat’s Inn, where stories held that the ghost of a Tory spy who had hung himself on the spot was still seen at night. As they reached the Inn, they soon bumped into Richard, who had lost track of the suspicious-looking character he’d trailed from the crowd at the police press conference. A few minutes later the Major arrived after his conversation with Stuckey. Helen struck up a conversation with the barkeep, buying a “special” drink from him, while Thomas and Richard checked the place out. They soon determined that the man who had been speaking to the barkeep before they came in was in fact the same fellow Richard had followed. Taking a look at the layout of the building, and considering Helen’s drink, they determined that the Inn was part of a smuggling operation bringing banned booze into Arkham. The “ghost” sightings were most likely lights and sounds from the smugglers moving their contraband under cover of night.

Thomas headed to the graveyard near where the two children had gone missing to see if he could find anything of interest. There he encountered Smythe taking photographs of the scene. He struck up a conversation with the reporter which just seemed to rub the PI the wrong way. When Smythe left, Thomas headed into the church and spoke with the priest. The priest’s story didn’t jive with the reporter’s. The priest said that Smythe had in fact been the one who reported running into the two other children who fled when “shadowy figures” approached the missing boy. The reporter had claimed he was headed to the church for a service, though he’d told Thomas he was an atheist.

In the meantime, the Major headed back to the Historical Society and City Hall, while Helen and Richard hailed a cab and headed out of town to the Fowler house, still standing after more than 200 years. Telling the cabbie to wait for them, they entered the house, and found it clean and well-kept. There was evidence that someone had slept in the bed the night before. Behind a heavy, locked door they found a strange room with four cages in it. As they made to leave the cottage, they heard a cry, and when they returned to the cab they found three people clustered around the unconscious form of the driver.

The one dressed like a banker headed up the path to the cottage, while the other two began to tie up the driver and move him into the cab. Once the banker had passed, Helen and Richard snuck up and attacked the two manhandling the driver. Richard duked it out with the big guy, while Helen swung a branch at the woman. Helen managed to knock her opponent out with two quick blows to the head, while Richard managed to knock out his opponent before they both jumped into the cab and sped away. As they left, they saw a car begin to follow them.

In the meantime, Natasha, Thomas, and the Major had tried to track down the reporter without any luck. They’d then followed up at City Hall and gained some additional information about some of the names surrounding the Fowler witch trial. They also learned that a map with the name Seaton on it had been transferred to the City Engineer’s office some time before. Just across the hall, a little bit of bureaucratic wrangling earned them a copy of the map, which seemed to show the locations of five families scattered around old Arkham in a rough pentagonal shape. One of them was Seaton, marked at the location of the old Seaton home. The Engineer explained that a recent expansion at the school had uncovered the old well on the Seaton property, and it seemed to connect to a series of caves. They’d capped it off but were still trying to figure out if it was safe to build a foundation at the spot.

The three headed over to the old Seaton place and snuck in past the construction fence. When they pried up the cover on the well, they found a deep hole leading into a series of caves, but they lacked sufficient supplies of rope or ladders to get safely down into the opening. They resolved to obtain the proper materials and return later.

As they left the building site, Natasha, Thomas and the Major met up with Helen and Richard returning to town, and exchanged stories. The group went on a supply run, hitting various shops around town. They stocked up on weapons, rope, flashlights, and other essentials. When they returned to their hotel, they found the man who looked like a banker they had seen outside the Fowler cottage sitting in a car across the street in the alley, watching the place.

Helen, Natasha, and Richard took up a position holding a conversation in front of the hotel in order to distract the man while Thomas and the Major snuck around the other side of the alley and came up on him from behind. They jumped into the car with him, trapping him between them in the front seat, and began to question him. He told them he was a member of a cult that followed Fowler, and had come to make sure the party hadn’t stolen “The Book”. They were able to get a description of the book and a list of the pseudonyms used by the cult members, but not their real names.

As Thomas and the Major worked on the man in the car, the rest of the party saw a man emerge from their hotel with a suitcase. When he saw two other men with the banker in the car across the street, he dropped the suitcase and ran. Helen and Natasha recovered the suitcase while Richard chased the man down. In the suitcase, they found a number of their own belongings, apparently purloined from their rooms. The fleeing man told a story much like his banker companion, saying he was a member of the cult and that they had been tasked with ensuring that the party did not posses the book.

Richard ran the thief off, while Thomas knocked out the banker. The Major dumped the unconscious man into a dumpster, “accidentally” breaking several of his ribs in the process. The party then took the man’s car and returned to the Fowler cottage. Once there, they were able to discover a hiding place in the fireplace which contained an impressive-looking Tome. On the drive back to town, Natasha was able to translate parts of it, learning that it had belonged to Goodie Fowler. In it, she described a plot to “dominate the souls” of Arkham, and her fury when five members of Arkham society had thwarted her by “draining” her power. She named them as the same five families identified on the old map of Arkham:

  1. Janesworth
  2. Seaton
  3. Potter
  4. Baker
  5. RIchards

Fowler wrote of cursing these five families, and binding her own fate to them. She wrote she needed the “flesh” of the five families, the “penumbra of the moon”, and the “heated iron of vengance” to complete her work and regain her power. Given that two of the family names match the names of the children kidnapped, it appears that her cult has begun the work of putting her vengeance into action in preparation for a penumbral eclipse due to occur in a few days time.

…to be continued next session…

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Prolog: Spare the Rod - 1919 - Part 2
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

With the evidence fresh at hand that the cult of deluded idiots idolizing the 200-years-dead witch Goodie Fowler had not only set a date for themselves to perform their ritual, but identified at least four children they intended to kidnap to provide the necessary inputs, it was clear we needed to act before the upcoming eclipse. That gave us two days to find the cult and free the children they’d already taken, not to mention prevent them from taking any others. The reporter, Smythe seemed neck deep in the whole thing, so we’d start with him.

Natasha and Father Yang were still poring over the fevered nonsense scribbled in the book Murphy had found hidden in the witch’s fireplace. They seemed to be prepared to credit it with being something more than the ramblings of the criminally insane, but at least it might give us some additional insight into the plans of the kidnappers. Helen, Murphy, Morgan, and I left them to it and headed over to the newspaper offices to find Smythe. The secretary hadn’t seen him, but she said he normally worked late and wouldn’t be in to the office until later. I managed to talk her into giving me his address, though, so we figured we’d drop in on him at home.

We found his apartment in a building nearby. Murphy took the alley in back, covering the fire escape, while Morgan played the lookout in front. Helen and I headed upstairs to Smythe’s door. I knocked, but then Helen decided to play the damsel in distress, so I stepped out view to the side of the door and waited. It took him a moment to make it to the door, and even with Helen’s best attempt at asking him to open the door and help her, he only cracked it open with the chain still set. I gave the door a solid kick. The chain didn’t give, but it was enough to crack Smythe in the nose, and when Helen and I hit the door again together, the chain let go and the door came flying open.

Smythe made a run for it, toppling furniture behind him to slow us down as we plowed into the apartment after him. He made it as far as the back window before I got my hands on him and dumped him onto the settee. I showed him my gun while Helen went and shut the door before the neighbors got too interested. Murphy come up the fire escape and joined us, and we began to ask him a few questions.

He started out defiant when we questioned him. They always do. In the end, though, he cracked. Didn’t even have to threaten him much, and Murphy only slapped him a little bit. Didn’t even properly hit him. He spilled, telling us that the cult had indeed kidnapped the two children, and stolen at least some part of the corpse of Seaton from the University. He claimed that he was the leader of the cult, just as his ancestors had been before him. He had the same crazy story about the witch Fowler still having some power, but it hadn’t kept us from kicking his door in and making him a prisoner in his own living room any better than it had helped any of his cronies.

In the end, we stood him up, and I got my arm around his neck and squeezed until he stopped struggling, then turned him over to Helen to “pacify” while I found some curtain sashes to tie him up with. When we had him trussed up and drugged to his eyeballs, I took a walk downtown and found Detective Stuckey in his office. Stuckey already hated Smythe. He didn’t take a lot of convincing that Smythe was up to no good, and I walked back with him to the apartment. By the time I got back, the others had cleared out, and we waited outside while Stuckey went up, then watched as he dragged Smythe, still bound and unconscious, from the building and dumped him in the back of a paddy wagon.

We returned to the hotel in time to find Miss Pierce had returned to Arkham and joined Natasha and Father Yang. They were filling her in on the details of our investigation so far. We did our best to fill in the gaps. With that little piece of business taken care of, it was time to head into the cave.

When we arrived back at the construction site, the work crew was just returning from their lunch break. We convinced the foreman that the cave beneath the well was in danger of collapse, and that he and his crew should clear back out while we checked the ground beneath the foundation. They took the opportunity to call it an early day, and we soon had the place to ourselves.

We pried the cover back off the well and secured a rope. I headed down first, and finding nobody at the bottom, set up an overwatch while Murphy helped those who couldn’t make the climb themselves down into the cave. Once everybody was safely at the bottom and I had a few more people to cover the angles, I put the handgun away and got the Villar-Perosa ready for business. It’s an awkward beast, but at the time, it was the best available, and I for one was glad to have it, even if it did weigh more than a rifle firing such a small bullet had any business weighing.

With everyone assembled and the flashlights distributed, we headed off into the northern of the two tunnels. It eventually led to a blocked door, which once forced open lead, in turn, into a warehouse basement. There was another blocked door on the far side, but it just lead to a small underground inlet off the river. We turned back around and retraced our steps to the well, then took the southern passage.

This one led to another patch of underground river, but we could see some daylight leaking down into the cave. The water wasn’t very deep, so Helen, Morgan, and I waded in and down the tunnel. We’d made it quietly around the corner and I’d just caught sight of two men sitting on the bank eating lunch when Helen must have tripped on a rock under the water, because she made a loud splash and the two looked up, shouting to know who was there.

I leveled the Villar-Perosa at them and told them if they shouted again, or moved, I’d shoot them. They looked at me wading out of the water, glanced at each other, and ran for it. I shot the one farther ahead, and his companion just jumped over his body as it fell. Morgan’s bullet caught up with him just before he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs. It must have hit something vital, because he dropped like a stone.

Helen set to work patching up the one I’d plugged, and it looked like she managed to stop the bleeding. I’d moved up to cover the doorway as the others waded through the tunnel and joined us on shore. The commotion had attracted some attention at the top of the spiral staircase beyond the doorway, with someone shouting down to ask what the noise was. Father Yang and I did our best to convince them that everything was OK, and when it seemed clear that it wasn’t working, that they should come down. Eventually he did, and I caught him by surprise at point-blank range as he stepped out of the doorway. More voices from the top of the stairs started shouting about being under attack, which I suppose was fair enough, from their point of view.

I took a moment to reload, then headed up the stairs. When I got to the top, I found a strange, cubic room with a skeleton wired together and sat upright in a chair in the corner. A score of other skeletons were arranged around it, posed like they were supplicating themselves to the one in the chair. There weren’t any more cultists visible, though. I don’t know what they were doing arranging the skeletons like that, but I figured they must have been important to them, so I pulled the pin on one of my Mills Bombs and lobbed it into the corner. I made it about half way back down the stairs before it went off.

As the rumble died down, I headed back up the stairs. The skeletons arranged in their ranks around the one in the chair were blown to chalky dust, but the one in the corner looked untouched by the blast. I’m still not sure what the cultists had done to it, but that one was definitely important to them, and it looks like they even believed it was Fowler’s remains, so they must have used some kind of preservative process on it. Whatever it is, I need to find some of it. I bet it would do wonders to prevent the yellowing of some of the ivory pieces in Albert’s collection. It’d make a nice gift for him this Christmas.

Stepping into the room, I could see tunnels leading off from the center of each of the four walls. I could hear voices coming from the tunnel directly ahead, so I moved up until I reached a door. There was light leaking in through the cracks in it, and I was pretty sure I could see people moving on the other side. I got a good grip on the gun and nodded to Helen to open the door. She pulled it open as she stepped behind it, shielding herself from whatever was on the other side. That turned out to be a good plan, because the cultists in the room beyond opened fire as I stepped through, cutting hard to my right in order to spend as little time as possible silhouetted in the doorway. One of them clipped my arm, but the muzzle flash of his shot let me get a good look at where he was taking cover, and I fired a long burst at him as I dodged across his line of sight. He went limp and hit the deck without even making a sound.

With me moving right and drawing their fire, Helen and Murphy had a much easier time entering to the left. Murphy took off for the huge altar past the bonfire in the middle of the room, while Helen headed to the closer of the two cages set on the floor. There was clearly a child in each of them. Whatever sympathy I might have had for the poor idiots running this freak-show, it was quickly washed away by the sight of terrified children in cages. The other cultist on the far side of the room took a couple of shots at me, but he was a terrible shot, both of his rounds flying far wide of the mark. I fired a short burst at him, and he screamed and dropped his gun as a round took him through the collar bone.

Helen had gotten the first child free, carrying the largely catatonic form of Lucy Potter. Murphy, meanwhile, had discovered another cultist hiding by the altar when the deluded moron jumped out and tried to bash his head in with a rock. Murphy shattered his nose with his brass knuckles, forcing him to nearly miss with the rock, instead just grazing Murphy as it flew by. Murphy’s second swing caught him under the chin, and the man went down.

Helen had by now freed Charlie Baker from his cage. Having only been taken a few days before, the boy seemed in a much better state than the girl, and equipped to follow Helen under his own power as she ushered them away from the fight. Another cultist, thinking it was time to find a new place to stand, threw his rock at Murphy in haste, then ran for a tunnel on the far side of the room.

Was he running for a better weapon, to bring reinforcements, or simply to get away? It hardly mattered. He’d made his choice when he’d thrown in his lot with kidnappers and blood ritualists. I tracked him as he cut across in front of me. Sight picture: flat and level. Sight alignment: center mass. Squeeze. The Villar-Pirosa shuddered, chattering like a satanic chipmunk, and he pitched forward onto the cave floor. He lay bleeding as I scanned the room for others. I have killed conscripts unlucky enough to be caught in the trenches as we came over the top, and felt sadness for a man in a position not much different from my own, fighting far from home, just trying to make it out alive. This man, though, deserved no such sympathy. I would shoot a hundred more like him to earn Lucy and Charlie their freedom a minute sooner.

I reloaded and continued up the stairs the cultist had been headed towards. I found myself in a crypt. I figured it must have been one of the ones the cult had been sneaking out of to raid the graveyard for bones. I couldn’t find anything in it, and no obvious exit, but when Murphy joined me at the top of the stairs, he was able to ferret out the hidden lever that opened the crypt to the outside. When I returned down into the cave, I found that Natasha, Father Yang, and Morgan had apparently dealt with another cultist who had snuck in from one of the side passages. They were gathered around the skeleton on the chair.

The two side passages lead to other crypts, also just as empty as the one we’d already checked. The surviving cultist that Murphy had merely knocked cold came too with a little persuasion and eventually told us that the cult had two kidnap teams still out to grab the two remaining children that night. I packed up the gun and took the children from Helen as she joined the others in examining the skeleton. I left them to it as I led the kids up the stairs and out into the full daylight of the graveyard. We had a pleasant walk through town, and I shared my packed lunch with them as we made our way across the river to the police station. The desk sergeant nearly had a fit when I walked in with the two children, but he went and fetched Detective Stuckey when I asked him to.

Stuckey quickly launched into a frantic plan to contact the children’s families and hold a press conference. I did my best to encourage him to get his case in order before he called the press, but getting the children’s families down to the police station seemed like good sense. I told Stuckey about the two teams out to grab the Janesworth and Richards kids, then excused myself to wash my hands. Once the desk sergeant had left the door to the wash room, I slipped out by the back door. Stuckey seemed hell-bent on a press conference, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Father Yang seemed to be leading the group that had stayed behind on a project of consecrating and reburying the Fowler bones, and I left them to it. Didn’t seem like I’d be much help for that sort of thing, and I thought I’d be more use keeping an eye on the Janesworth place. The police seemed to have it in hand, however, and they were already leading the banker we’d seen earlier outside the hotel and a second man away in handcuffs by the time I got there.

I made my way back to the train station and booked myself a ticket back to New York before Stuckey got around to asking too many questions about the gunshot wounds on most of his cult suspects. I don’t regret shooting them, and I suspect that Stuckey would have understood, but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just give the police something they can claim as a victory and then make yourself scarce before they get around to asking too many awkward questions.

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Prolog: Spare the Rod
Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama,

I know I promised to tell you the rest of the story about the Frenchman, but that will have to wait. I’ve just had the strangest adventure in a little town called Arkham, and I need to tell you about it while the details are fresh.

It all started when Elizabeth contacted all of us that got involved with that mess with the paste jewels back in the war. Do you remember that? Such a great fuss for nothing, but it did earn me my staunch defender. Thomas is a dear, but a bit overprotective. I think he may have been the reason that Maurice got scared off. But no, I said I wasn’t going to talk about that in this letter.

It was good to see John again—I never can get used to calling him Father Yang. I think Natasha, the Russian lady, may have nearly decided to let bygone be bygones with regard to the whole business of the jewels. For awhile she seemed to think I was trying to steal the jewels from her—can you imagine? Elizabeth also introduced us all to a new gentleman, Major Edwin Radcliffe. He’s Canadian and sounds like he was quite a hero in the war. Well, I can imagine that he must have been, having now seen him in action, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Mr. Morgan rounded out our little party. I’m still not sure what to make of him—I think he is a good deal cleverer than he lets on.

Elizabeth is working on a new book and running short on time for research so she asked us to check out some reports of hauntings in this little town. Most of it was nonsense, as I’m sure you can imagine, although I did get to pretend at being a criminal in order to chase down one of the leads. Things finally got interesting when Mr. Morgan and I went to check out the house that once belonged to a convicted witch.

The house was out on the edge of town and supposedly abandoned, but it was in excellent condition, and we found a locked room with cages inside. But that’s not all—while we were investigating, a group of miscreants came along and knocked out our cab driver! We had to fend them off with fist and branch to save the poor man, and then we made a hasty escape with another car hot on our heels.

In the end, we managed to foil a would-be thief and interrogate our pursuer which led to the discovery of an ancient book. It was quite a day. I had two glasses of wine that evening. I might have had a third, but I wanted a clear head for the adventures we had planned for the following day.

Our second day in Arkham found us in pursuit of kidnappers. Two local children had gone missing in as many months and the more reserved members of our little group thought they had linked the disappearance of the children to a cult—the very cult that Mr. Morgan and I had scuffled with the day before! So off we went to interrogate a reporter whose story didn’t measure up. The Major and I broke down the door to his place—no time for decorum when children’s lives are on the line!—and forced him to tell us all about his cult.

You won’t believe this! He truly believed he was trying to resurrect a witch from the 18th century, and he needed the blood of the kidnapped children to do it. How delightfully macabre! And deranged, of course.

We left the reporter to the police and proceeded straight to a well that we had discovered connected to a series of underground tunnels and caves. I know it sounds straight out of a ghost story, but it’s true—you know I wouldn’t lie to you! We had to climb down into the well on ropes—I was glad for my days of childhood tree climbing—and then squeeze through narrow passages and wade through rivers. There were bats and mice and dripping water and only the light from our flashlights. It was all perfectly creepy!

In the end we found several cultists who were quickly dispatched by Major Radcliffe. I know the wretches were delusional kidnappers, but I feel a bit sorry for them nonetheless. I should not like to ever get on Major Radcliffe’s bad side. They were keeping the children in cages around a bonfire. I freed the children and sent them along with Major Radcliffe with instructions to make sure he alerted the police to the potential for further kidnappings, patched up Major Radcliffe’s work as best I could, and then listened for awhile as Natasha and John went on and on about a strange skeleton that we had found along the way.

The skeleton wasn’t as interesting to me as the cave, but there were some odd things about it. For example, Major Radcliffe tried to blow it up with a grenade (I think the war may have affected him), but it was not damaged in any way. However, when we removed it from its chair, the chair did crumble away. According to the cultists, the skeleton belonged to the witch that they were trying to resurrect. Hm, perhaps.

So here’s the tally: masqueraded as a criminal, knocked someone senseless with a tree branch, escaped in a car chase, broke down a door, interrogated a cult leader, explored underground caves and tunnels, survived a gun battle, rescued kidnapped children, and patched up various and sundered body parts as per usual. I think I deserve three glasses of wine tonight!

From here it’s back to New York and then I shall see where the wind takes me!

Love always,
Helen

August 1919

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Natasha's letter to Father John. December 13, 1920
The "Book," its whereabouts and sundry strange happenings

Natalia P. Levin
New York, New York
December 13, 1920

Father John Yang
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Father John:

I was so pleased to receive your Christmas card. I’m happy to hear that you’re safely settled in Boston and that your studies are progressing. I will come right out and say that I’m terribly jealous of your being close to all those wonderful libraries. I would imagine myself living in Boston if I knew more people in the area. I’m also somewhat too fond of the New York bustle. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not turning into a “flapper.” I just enjoy the anonymity of living in a large city. I can enjoy the liveliness around me and quietly go about my own studies.

Speaking of which: I’ve been meaning to write to you about The Book. I do not begrudge leaving it in your keeping — far from it! I know you will keep it safe. However, I would like to spend more time on my own translation. I feel my notes are somewhat fragmentary (but my Latin has improved; thank you for the book recommendations).

It has been weighing heavily on me, and I have been having odd dreams. I wont’ go into them in detail here. Suffice it to say that G.F. has been visting me. Not every night, no, but enough to have it prey upon my mind. I feel like I’m missing a piece of a puzzle, or something. It’s hard to describe.

Will you been in Boston over the holidays? I would really like to arrange a visit and spend more time with you working on further translation, and seeing what you’ve done yourself in the past year. Please let me know. I’m not traveling this year – except between my home and the bookstore!

Best regards,
Natasha

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Father John's Letter to Natasha December 20, 1920
Curious utterances and even more curious logic

Father John Yang
Boston, Massachusetts
December 20, 1920

Natasha P. Levin
New York, New York

Ms. Levin,

It is wonderful to hear from you. I think often and fondly—despite or because of—our adventures with our friends. The front gave us many memories, and merry New England many more. It is good to hear that you aren’t spending your time in the dance halls, as alluring as they might be. I am, after all, still a priest and the Church has called for modesty.

I am glad that you mentioned the book and the dreams. I hope you don’t think me childish, but I feel I must confess that I have also been having odd experiences. Yesterday in prayer, I uttered the word “Goody” instead of “Good” in reference to the Holy Mother. And it seems as if every bird I see reminds me of “Fowler”.

On their own, parapraxis like these would account for nothing. However, I mention them because they are not isolated. There is also a whispering woman’s voice I’ve heard emanating from the darker corners of the library. The voice never utters anything distinct, but the pleading tone behind its words claws at me late at night. Prayer seems to only make it worse as if communing with God gives it a path to my ears. Just now there seems to be a presence alighting just outside my periphery reading these words no matter which way I turn. Sleeping has become a chore, although I appreciate the added hours to the day, even if they are spent weary.

I feel as if I am on the cusp of cracking the diary myself. There seems to be an nefarious logic to the very structure of the page that is far removed from the words themselves. I fear I will never realize everything the diary holds, however, by this point much of the book has set itself upon my mind. Recalling a passage will often bring the entire page floating in front of me. It is curious.

If you can make it to Boston I would gladly set aside as much time as you’d like to discuss the book. I will have Mass to attend to upon the Holy Days, however, there is always time to translate and study now that sleep is so fitful.

Deo gratias,
Father John Yang

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The God of Mitnal - 1924 - Part 1
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

I admit that Pierce’s telegram caught me by surprise when it arrived that summer. Then again, Pierce was never one for easing a man into something. She tended to throw one into the thick of it, and expect him to come to grips with it himself. It would be some time before I learned any of the details, but while it lacked anything that might be called context, the telegram itself was simple enough in its demands.

intro-telegram.png

I arranged my affairs in New York and finished up my present engagement with Arnold Rothstein. I could, of course, leave my quarters in the capable care of Ms Hagel while I was out of town. She knew I was paid through the end of the year, and had always treated even my most volatile possessions with admirable care. What remained, then, was the acquire the necessary items and arrange my travel. In this last regard the people at Prospero Press were immensely helpful.

I arrived by train in San Antonio to consult with the Rangers. They had quite a file on Kimble, and a ranger who called himself “Big Bob” Henderson who seemed quite keen to discover where he might be found. In exchange for my promise to do what I could to nudge Kimble into the custody of the Rangers, he agreed to share the file with me, and tell me what he knew of the man.

I learned that Kimble had joined the US Army in 1915, then deserted a few months later. The following year, he hijacked a US Army munitions train, and had apparently been making a living for himself selling the contents to the rebels in Mexico. In early 1924 he’d hijacked an entire freighter of weapons, bound for the Turkish army. So bold, then, if not entirely original. His audacity had earned him the ire of the Texas Rangers, the Delaware State Police, the United States Army, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and even the RCMP. He had managed to cross the unfortunate line of having so many bounties offered for him that he was likely worth more dead than alive. The largest single amount available for his capture was $500. While that was a handsome sum, the total of the bounties outstanding for him dead was closer to $700. Unlucky for Kimble, I suppose.

After further consultation with Henderson and a brief check-in at the US Army post nearby, I knew that Kimble was about six feet tall, blonde, and fluent in Spanish. He commanded the loyalty of the men around him, and often used the alias Estaban Santos when traveling in Mexico. A large following and a fluency with the local language would allow him a great deal of flexibility in the Yucatan, but it at least seemed that finding a tall blonde man in those parts would simplify things considerably, given that Pierce seemed to be on his trail.

With that portion of my task complete, I bought a camera and three cartons of Lucky Strikes before continuing to Galveston to board a steamer. It would have been faster to sail straight for the Yucatan, but Pierce’s missive had requested certain items that I couldn’t obtain in the US. A swing through the Caribbean, however, soon put this to rights. Several weeks later, I sailed into Campeche with everything I needed.

  1. One large steamer trunk of clothing, toiletries, and other essentials
  2. One large, well-locked, steamer trunk of arms and ammunition
  3. One case London dry gin
  4. One case London old tom gin
  5. One demi case London sloe gin
  6. Three cases tonic water
  7. One demi case dry vermouth
  8. One set cocktail glasses
  9. One martini shaker
  10. One case limes
  11. Five pounds green olives
  12. One wooden crate, 5′×3′×3′, labeled “Grand Rapids Ref Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Leonard Cleanable, Model 6”
  13. One wooden crate, 4′×8′×3′, labeled “Kholer & Co, 4cy 2stk Inline with Dyn”
  14. One 20-gal steel drum, diesel fuel
  15. Three cartons, Lucky Strike cigarettes

I soon found the others and we checked into the hotel. Natasha seemed determined to spend a day or two recuperating from her voyage, but the others and I made our way to the rail station to find Guillermo. He spoke to us briefly, and gave us a letter from Pierce explaining where to find her camp. The train wouldn’t leave until the following morning, so we sent Murphy to purchase a half a dozen burros to haul the luggage. He seemed oddly reluctant about it, but he came through in the end.

That evening we gathered in the hotel bar. Richard told us that he’d followed a gentleman who Helen had apparently alarmed in at the hotel earlier in the day, and discovered that he was a member of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He had perked up when he heard her mention Kimble’s name, and had sent a telegram back to his agency about it. Murphy, perhaps still in a foul mood about the burros, or maybe just feeling surly in the heat, confronted him in the dining room. Helen managed to pull Murphy away and the man retired to his room.

In the morning, the burros arrived and we packed the luggage down to the train station for the morning’s departure. We had a boxcar to ourselves, and spent the day riding the rails at a painfully slow pace, stopping every few miles to let some new group off the train. There seemed to be a large group of locals returning home from their time spent in Campeche for the busy season. Many of them had brand new rifles, and they practiced their marksmanship out the side of the train as we rode along. Murphy was able to speak to some of them, and learned that they had bought their new guns from a man matching Kimble’s description.

We finally reached our mile marker not too long before sundown, just short of a small bridge over a slow-moving river. By the time we had unloaded the animals and the gear, then re-packed it onto the burros, the sun was nearing the horizon. We set off along a rough trail into the jungle, traveling South parallel to the river. I lead the way, as I seemed to be the only member of our little group who had spent any real time in the out of doors. It was slow going, and got even slower once the light began to fade.

Shortly before full dark, we found a small standing stone, covered in carvings. Helen assured us that they were Mayan, and indicated that there was clean water nearby. The menhir also seemed to indicate that there was a temple, or perhaps temples, nearby. At least some of the symbols matched those that Natasha had found representing Ah Puch. Given that this is what Pierce had apparently come here to find, it seemed like we were on the right track.

We pushed further into the jungle, but within a few hundred yards the path opened back up again into a campsite. There were clear signs of recent habitation, but nobody to be found. There were also signs of recent struggle, and Murphy found traces of blood near the river. It seemed we had found Pierce’s camp, but had arrived too late to assist with whatever had befallen her party. Frustrating as it was, there was little good we could do her rushing out into the jungle in pitch darkness, so we set camp and resolved to continue our search at dawn. We made a small fire and set a watch for the night.

I took the first watch with Helen. It proved entirely uneventful, with nothing more than the sounds of a living forest around us. I returned to my tent when Murphy and Natasha took over from us. I stretched myself out on my bedroll, did a last check that my equipment was ready in case of some emergency, and soon fell asleep.

I was awakened by Murphy bursting into my tent an indeterminate time later. He reached down to shake me awake, but by then I was already sitting up and reaching for the Thompson. Murphy wasn’t making sense about what was going on, but I slipped into my shoes and stepped outside into some kind of surreal nightmare.

A thick fog had covered the clearing, leaving a strange taste in my mouth when I inhaled. The forest was lit from within by an eerie red glow. I stood in the center of the clearing, trying to figure out what I was seeing when a figure stepped out of the trees at the edge of the clearing. Silhouetted by the red light behind him, he was big, with a head like an owl. He raised his arms, and began to shout at us. I didn’t understand what he was saying because it was all in Spanish, but it sounded angry and ominous. I caught the name “Ah Puch” in the middle of the diatribe.

Several of the others had started to back away from him, and I could hear more movement stirring in the jungle around us. It seemed we would soon be surrounded. Faced with such a visage, and feeling unseen enemies encircling our position, leaving the path back to the railroad tracks as our only exit, I did the only sensible thing. I raised my gun and shot the idiot who was still shouting. Honestly, what kind of self-respecting Mayan god of the dead menaces a Canadian in Spanish?

The shouting stopped, and was replaced with a terrible wail. It was not the sound of a god of the dead cursing us from beyond the mortal realm. Rather, it was simply the sound of a grown man reacting to the sudden shock of a bullet wound in a sensitive area. A few panicked shouts emerged from the forest around us, and suddenly several more figures burst into motion, running for cover. Murphy, Morgan, and I each took off after one as they scattered.

The one I was chasing wasn’t making terribly good time, running frantic in the near dark. I soon caught a clear look at him as he reached a path in the trees. My shot took him in the back of the head as he straightened up down the path. He went limp mid-stride, falling in a tangle as his momentum carried him into the underbrush.

As I turned around to see where I could be the most help, I heard Morgan shouting that he’d caught one. I rushed towards his voice, hearing the sounds of struggle as I got nearer. When I arrived, I found him on the ground, grappling with another man much larger than himself. The other fellow finally gave up trying to free himself from Morgan’s grasp as Murphy and I arrived.

While Murphy began to question the man Morgan had caught and Helen tended to the wounded man in the owl mask, the others conducted a brief search of the jungle around us. They soon found a series of red flares that were causing the glow, and a curious device that was producing dense clouds of white smoke, apparently the source of the fog. A pack of charlatans, the lot of them! Worse, a pack of charlatans with no plan beyond screaming and running for their lives in the event that anyone was sensible enough to stand up to them rather than running in terror into the night. A group of ruffians chosen at random from any back alley in New York would have done better.

We learned that the man Morgan had caught was named Dávid, and that Arturo was the man in the mask. They worked for Kimble, scaring away any archaeologists who ventured into this part of the jungle. They wanted to make sure that no one discovered their operation based out of the nearby ruins. They were using them as a staging area for their gun running. They’d taken some captives from several groups, then ransomed them back to their various universities. We also learned that Pierce’s group had also fought back, and while there had been several killed, Pierce herself had escaped.

Helen had stabilized the wounded man, but he was not yet conscious. At dawn, we left him with Dávid and headed down the path towards the ruins. Dávid had promised to get himself and Arturo away from us and not to interfere, and we had in turn promised to shoot them both dead if they returned. My sense was that we had seen the last of them.

We found a spot along the top of a ridge overlooking the ruins. From there, we could see the building that Dávid had told us Kimble’s gang was using as their headquarters. As we watched, we saw Kimble himself and a group of other men ride out on horseback and meet an incoming column of natives on foot. They spoke briefly, then Kimble and the others rode off to the East and the natives continued to the temple just North of the palace that Kimble’s men had occupied. Some time later, a severed head was thrown out of the top of the temple and rolled down to its base. It appeared that the natives had sacrificed one of their own!

I left a grenade with Natasha so that she could cause a distraction if any shooting started, then lead the others down the aqueduct to the palace. We reached the base of the palace unseen, but there was a sentry in the tower rising from the center of the building who would need to be dealt with if we were to move any further without risking being detected. I left the others to watch the courtyard in front of us. A quick glance had shown four guards, but I hoped that they would remain on the far side of the courtyard until I had dealt with the sentry.

I had made it to the base of the tower when I heard a sudden commotion. Apparently the others had tried to sneak past the guards in the courtyard, and at least one of them had been spotted. I soon heard the sound of Father Yang. I’m not sure what he said to them, but a few minutes later I saw the four of them march out of the courtyard towards the temple, rifles in hand. With their backs to me, I rushed up the steps of the tower with the suppressed pistol in my hand. When I cleared the top of the stairs, I fired three rounds into the sentry as I charged him. I managed to catch him as he fell, setting him down out of site before he could pitch over the edge.

As I took his place, I looked out over the low wall around the top of the tower to see the four men from the courtyard shooting the natives who remained outside the temple. They seemed to have decided that they were not going to stand idly by and countenance human sacrifice. Good on them, I suppose. They seemed to be losing their resolve as they shot the last of the natives still outside and began to contemplate climbing up and inside the temple. As they slowed, I heard the sound of an explosion from the ridge. Natasha had taken the gunfire from the guards as a sign that it was time for the distraction. Not the timing I would have chosen, but beggars can’t be choosers.

As I watched from my perch, trying to decide if they were going to turn back around and force me to decide if I should shoot them before they returned and bottled up the others inside the palace, I saw a group of men on horseback ride out of the jungle to the East. Kimble was at the head of the column, and they were riding hard. A moment later, a second group of riders emerged behind them, seemingly in pursuit. I didn’t recognize the man who seemed to be leading them, but I certainly recognized the woman riding next to him. Pierce seemed to handle herself quite well on horseback.

Continued…

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A Curious Auction in Providence: 1923
Father Yang, Natalia, and The Fowler Book

Keeper’s note: Father Yang and Natalia, I’d like to invite you to participate in a little flashback with me. It’s 1923 and you’ve heard that a copy of the Liber Ivonis—one of six known copies in the entire world—may be included in an estate auction in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ll be explicit up front: you won’t be able to keep the book, but you might meet some interesting people and learn some interesting things. Game? If so, respond with your preparations in the comments.

The auction is at the Marble House, recently shuttered mansion of one of the Vanderbilt/Belmonts. Alva’s moved to France, and she’s raising funds for renovating her estate over there by selling some of her late husband’s collection.

The auction is widely announced, and it’s no secret that there are several one-of-a-kind books included. You’ve heard through your sources that the Liber Ivonis may well be amongst them.

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The God of Mitnal
Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama -

I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last letter. You’ll be happy to know that Thomas is all recovered from that nasty stomach bug he picked up in Buenos Aires. I never did convince him to try tango dancing though. Mostly he sat at the edge of the room scowling at anyone who came near him. My quest to teach that man how to enjoy life continues…

Let us skip ahead a bit—I now find myself in Mexico. I joined doctor Sylvanus Morley on an archaeological expedition to the Yucatan. Jungle life hasn’t done wonders for my complexion, but I did see some amazing sights. Let us say that the Mayans were not understated when it came to architecture. I imagine they must have had brilliant parties.

You’ll never believe it—I got a telegram from Elizabeth Pierce on a visit to town, and suddenly the whole Paste Jewels Gang was back together again. They really are starting to feel like family. Well, perhaps not really family—I do feel very comfortable with them. As yet, none of them have exhibited the stuffiness or orders to marry an appropriate young man that I expect of true family (present company excluded, of course).

So our latest adventure started with a request from Elizabeth to meet her in the jungle with gin, lucky strikes, guns, and any information we could find about a man, Walter Kimble, who turned out to be an arms dealer. The Major came through with the guns, just as anyone would expect, but he also came well prepared with a full bar worth of supplies. I have to admit, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to throw a party in the middle of the jungle, but with the Major’s supplies, we could have. Perhaps I misjudged him.

We briefly picked up a Pinkerton tail on our way to Campeche, but Thomas scared him off so there was no fun to be had in cat and mouse. We hopped a train and got off in the middle of nowhere—just the six of us plus six burros, a diesel powered cooler, and enough booze to run a speak for days. Plus Natasha’s seemingly bottomless bag of supplies, of course.

It was evening when we got off the train, but we found a trail and decided to try to find Elizabeth before making camp. We did find her camp—or what we assumed had been her camp, but she wasn’t there and there was some blood on the ground as though there had been a struggle. Since it was full dark at that point, we decided we’d have to wait till morning to go looking for her. We did find a Mayan marker along the way with some markings about a temple to Ah Puch, the god of the dead, but I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

In the middle of the night we had quite a scare when we were awakened to lights and fog and a figure shouting at us in Spanish about Ah Puch. There was some punching and some firing of guns, and in the end we discovered that the apparitions were actually just men sent to scare us away. They told us about a gun running operation and some archaeologists from UCLA who were being held hostage at the temple complex. We decided to go investigate the next day.

Well, speaking of parties and gun running and gods of the dead…there was quite a scene at the temple complex involving about 20 Mayans, a huge temple, a human sacrifice, and a bunch of men with guns. John and I tried to sneak into the palace ruins to look for the hostages, but he made a sound, and we almost got caught. Fortunately, he happened to be standing in a pool of sunlight and the backlighting combined with his robes must have made him look like some sort of heavenly apparition. He spoke in Latin to the Mexican men with guns, gestured at the temple where the Mayans were apparently sacrificing people, and the armed men took off running. It made me laugh to think we had use their own trick against them!

After that a lot of things happened at once—a bunch of people came racing up on horseback, the Major started shooting at some of them from a position he had found in a tower, Mayans started pouring out of the temple, and I decided there was better adventure (and possibly greater longevity) to be had in looking for the hostages in the lower levels of the palace complex. Thomas and Natasha joined me, and we left John examining some unusual bas relief amid the chaos. His ability to stay calm in even the most dangerous situation is actually a bit unnerving.

Finding the hostages required some running around but was otherwise fairly uneventful. I did get to save Thomas’s life with a shot in the dark (and subsequent bandage). I don’t remember hearing any thanks for that service, but I’m trying not to take that personally. We rushed back upstairs to make sure our other friends were OK, leaving Thomas to finish checking out the lower level.

In our absence, most of the Mayans and men with guns had turned into dead bodies, but we did see that the Major and Richard were still OK and heading to the temple. John tried to point out a particularly fine example of carving as we armed the UCLA archaeologists from a crate we’d found earlier.

When Thomas didn’t re-appear promptly, Natasha and I went after him. We found some underground tunnels, and managed to pull up just in time to avoid running into a dark figure hiding in an alcove in the wall. The man hiding definitely wasn’t Thomas, and I told Natasha to kill the light. It was pitch black, and I felt a bullet go whizzing just past my head. I’ve never been so scared. It was wonderful! I had a rifle from earlier and I fired in his direction. I think I hit him, but we could still hear him coming at us. I told Natasha to turn the light back on and shine it in his eyes. Another bullet grazed my hair, and I fired again as my eyes adjusted. Again, I only grazed him. Natasha killed the light and lunged in the direction of his ankles but slid off. I struck at his head with the butt of the rifle but overbalanced, and he slipped past us both. I heard him stumble and begin to run. Natasha turned the light back on, and I took off after him, grabbing my Derringer and aiming it as I did. I fired and he finally fell down. I rushed over to triage his wounds while Natasha held the light.

Then the men showed up. Typical.

The mystery man turned out to be Walter Kimble himself—a criminal and gun runner wanted by just about every authority. So you can tell anyone you want that your grand-daughter is out fighting crime and bringing down wanted men in the Yucatan.

The rest of the story is fairly mundane—stitches, morphine, exhaustion, some reward money. I’ll spare you the details. I think I’m ready for a bit of civilization after all this time away from a bath. Natasha has invited me to New York, and I think I will take her up on it. Look for my next letter to be posted from the Big Apple.

Love and kisses,

Helen

July 1924

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The God of Mitnal - 1924 - Part 2
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

Kimble and his men slowed their mad gallop as they reached the base of the temple, and soon wheeled around to face Pierce and the men accompanying her. The two groups arrayed themselves in opposing lines, pointing their guns at one another. It was clear to me that there would soon be violence, and that Kimble’s men had decided numerical advantage. There was nothing I could do at such a distance to prevent a fight, but with a rifle in my hands and a good vantage point from an elevated position, I could certainly help even the odds. I lined up my sights and calmed my breathing as I waited for Kimble’s horse to settle.

The sound of the shot shattered the sounds of the surrounding jungle. Kimble fell from the saddle, his hat and a bright streak of blood arcing away from his head through the bright afternoon sunlight. A flock of birds burst from the trees overhead, their wings beating furiously as they fled the sound. Kimble’s men turned as one to watch his descent to Earth. They stared, dumbfounded, as I worked the bolt on the Lee Enfield. The men with Pierce seemed equally surprised, as both groups stared at each other for a moment. The moment stretched out, the only sound the beating of wings. Then, pandemonium.

The men with Pierce and Kimble’s men opened fire on one another. As they did, the surface of the temple fairly roiled as a score of natives poured forth into the fray. They attacked both groups alike, dragging men from the saddle and savaging them with clubs. Neither side seemed quite certain what to make of the natives, and the resulting hesitation and confusion cost several men their lives.

It seemed that the natives would emerge victorious without some type of intervention. I took aim at one of the natives advancing on the man next to Pierce. The shot took him in the armpit as he raised his hand to grab his target’s reins, and he fell to the ground, only to be trampled by the terrified horse he’d attempted to restrain. No sooner had he gone limp, however, than he was replaced with two more of his fellows.

I cycled the bolt as quickly as I could, bringing down several more of the natives. I did my utmost to shoot those in a position to surround Pierce. I also found a group of three natives, dressed in more finery than the others, surveying the combat from the steps of the temple. Their apparent leader stood in the center, his overwrought headdress giving away his status. Standing still as he was, he made an easy target, but the two standing next to him barely flinched when I shot him, and the other natives didn’t waver even as his body tumbled down onto the grass below. It soon became clear that the natives would overwhelm their outnumbered foes. Both groups began to disengage.

Pierce and her companions remained on horseback, and began to quickly outpace the natives pursuing them as they broke free of the melee and rode away. Of Kimble’s men, only one remained, and he fled on foot with a half dozen natives hot on his heels. I was certain he had been on the wrong side of the confrontation with Pierce, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him bludgeoned to death by a pack of bloodthirsty cultists, so I quickly turned my attention to the natives gaining on him as he ran. I shot two of them, with two more falling to the ground as they became entangled in the falling body of the man at the head of their group.

As I cycled the bolt to engage another, I saw Morgan creeping up on the bodies scattered around the base of the temple. He was moving furtively, hunched over as he scurried from one to the next. This would not have been nearly so preposterous if he had not been in perfectly flat, open ground in full daylight. Incredibly, the two remaining native chiefs had not seemed to notice him, despite his antics a stone’s throw in front of them.

Of course, it couldn’t last. When Morgan had approached to within a dozen paces, one of the two chiefs suddenly turned his head and pointed at him, gesturing to the other. I shot him for his trouble, the bullet catching him just below the heart, but it was too late to prevent his companion from turning his gaze to follow the gesture of his pointing to discover Morgan crouched in front of him. Morgan raised his pistol and fired, inflicting a grazing wound. The chief staggered, but did not fall. He raised his hand to point at Morgan, apparently in an effort to direct some of the other natives to attack him. Morgan, for his own part, raised his hand to cover his chest and staggered backwards. My next shot finished the work that Morgan had begun, but even with the last remaining native in his vicinity accounted for and no apparent threat, he still seemed quite shaken.

I returned my attention to the natives who had by now caught up to the last of Kimble’s men. He had managed to take one of them with him, but the other three had overwhelmed him. As I turned my sights on them, they were clustered around the body, their clubs continuing to rise and fall despite the obvious fact that their victim was well beyond the need of any further violence. I shot the first of them, and the other two turned to flee. They were quick on their feet, but even so they had too much open ground between them and the cover of the jungle. Their bodies tumbled to the ground even as their spirits tumbled off to hell.

When I looked back up, I found Morgan gesturing at me, pointing into the temple. I decamped from the tower and joined him as Pierce and her companion rode back to join us. She and I exchanged a brief greeting, but had to cut short our reunion when Morgan called from inside the temple that Kimble had fled into the building. A quick scan of the bodies scattered on the ground confirmed that Kimble’s hat was laying where I had seen it fall, but his body was not.

I entered the temple and found Morgan a short way inside, having stopped when the light became too dim for him to proceed. I took out my flashlight and plunged ahead, following a trail of blood on the stones. We followed a winding path down and beneath the temple, stopping when we heard someone approaching ahead of us.

I turned off the light and waited. After a moment, I head footsteps emerge in front of us, and turned the light back on, directing it into the face of the approaching figure. He raised his hands to shield his eyes against the sudden brightness, but he did not appear to be armed. When he lowered his hands I recognized Murphy, who explained that he’d come from a path leading from the lower level of the palace. He hadn’t seen Kimble on his way to us.

I had returned my attention to the trail on the ground when we heard gunshots. I pushed past Murphy and rushed towards the sound. We arrived to find Kimble on the ground, with Helen and Natasha standing over him. Helen was already beginning the work of patching him back up. So much for collecting the greater reward, but at least we captured him.

With Kimble sewn up and drugged into unconsciousness, we made our way back outside and had a proper reunion with Pierce. She introduced us to Ruiz, the man who’d come riding in next to her. He was apparently some type of local revolutionary who had agreed to purchase weapons from Kimble, then been double-crossed. He seemed keen to get his hands on the guns in the basement of the palace, at least a goodly fraction of which he’d already paid for. He also was insistent that he wanted to demolish the “sacred” chamber atop the temple. I had to particular concern for either the guns or the temple, so I left him to argue about the details with the others.

We left the icebox and the generator installed in a side room of the palace as a surprise for the next archaeological team to come along, packed Kimble and our gear back onto the burros, and returned to the railroad tracks to wait for the train. By the next morning, we were pulling into Campeche. We bundled Kimble off to the hotel, and made our preparations to turn him over to the Texas Rangers.

I sent a telegram to Bob Henderson, and bought tickets for the next ship to Veracruz. The telegram asked the Rangers to meet us there, in order to prevent any kind of interference from either the Pinkertons or the Mexican Federales. We got ourselves and Kimble onto the boat the next morning, and I saw the local Pinkerton man wave us off from the hotel veranda. We were already underway before I realized that Pierce was no longer with us. I found a letter from her in my jacket pocket, explaining that she was off chasing some other lead Kimble let slip in his conversations with Ruiz. I seem to recall hearing that it was bound for Morocco, but her letter didn’t say.

In any event, we arrived without incident in Veracruz and handed Kimble over less than an hour later to Henderson and a small group of Rangers. I heard a few months later that he’d be sentenced to ten years, and was being handed over to the Army, who wanted to add their own charges for desertion. I imagine he’ll spend the rest of his life being passed from hand to hand. If he lives long enough, I might even see him before the Crown Prosecutor, though I suspect that the RCMP is fairly far down the list of interested parties for the foreseeable future.

I learned later that he’d actually tried to arrange some kind of bargain with Murphy while the two of them were left alone in the hotel in Campeche. Kimble’s luck must have truly run out when he met us. Morgan might well have cut a deal with a man like Kimble, but Murphy just isn’t the type.

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