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Choosing a System - Part 2

This series of posts discusses some of the existing games set in the Cthulhu Mythos that are currently popular and why I’m not just playing one of these games.   In Part 1, I looked at two major board/card games, Mansions of Madness and Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Both of these games place a large emphasis on meta gaming over making story- or character-based decisions. Both also suffer from a lack of player options due to the lack of a GM. There’s a lot to learn from these games, but they just don’t offer the gameplay I’m looking for. So now let’s look at those mythos games that have a GM and place a higher priority on story- and character-driven decision-making: Roleplaying games. In other words…   Why not just play an existing roleplaying game? To some extent, what I ultimately want to do is play a roleplaying game like Call of Cthulhu, but some changes are necessary to be able to play with my family in a way we’ll all enjoy. And I think some of these changes can actually provide a novel way of dealing with some of the challenges that frequently come up in investigative roleplaying games.   First, I should provide a little background. While I’ve played a few different RPGs over the past 20+ years, I’ve also studied a great many more to varying degrees while I worked on my last project. Most recently, the two systems I have focused on most over the past few years are Burning Wheel and Fate Core. I’ll talk more about these two systems and how they factor into my plans later, but for now I’m going to focus on three of the most popular Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games currently on the market.   Let’s start with the granddaddy of mythos gaming: Call of Cthulhu (CoC).   Thousands of players have shared stories of great/horrific times they’ve had playing this game. A big part of my goal is to be able to have similar experiences with my family and make use of the decades of content available for this game. CoC essentially created the standards by which most mythos games are judged. The integration of sanity and madness into RPGs largely started with this game, and it will be a big inspiration for me moving forward. I backed the 7th Edition Kickstarter and would be happy to own just about anything released for this game. That said, there are a few things about the system that I’m just not a fan of.   First of all, at its core CoC really just uses a standard, traditional RPG system (Basic Roleplaying, BRP). The elements of the system that actually reinforce mythos or investigation themes are just bolted on. Sanity has been continuously refined over the years and is fairly well developed at this point, but there is very little to this system that actually relates to investigative gameplay. In fact, about the only element of the system that specifically relates to investigating some sort of mystery is the Idea roll. And to be honest, I hate the Idea roll.   On its face, the Idea roll is a fairly good… idea. It was created to solve a problem that can come up in lots of RPGs and can be especially prevalent in investigative games: For whatever reason, the players can’t figure out what to do next to advance the story. So they roll some dice to get a hint from the GM (or Keeper, if you prefer). It’s really not a bad solution, but it’s just not a solution I like. To me, it feels like a band-aid slapped on a hole – one that shouldn’t exist or at least should be subjected to better treatment.   So this is one reason I don’t want to play CoC as written: The one element of the system that is really tied to an investigative game is a mechanic I don’t personally like. The other big reasons are also ultimately an issue of personal preference: I don’t like the dice or the basic mechanics.   As I have played and studied games over the years, I have learned a few things about what I like and what I don’t. I don’t like systems that use lots of different size of dice (d4, d6, d10, etc.). I don’t like percentile dice. I don’t like roll-under systems. I’m not really sure why, as rationally I see some value in a percentile mechanic being easy to explain, but I’m just not a fan of these types of systems. I’m also actively trying to minimize the recordkeeping and math the players have to deal with. This is partly because I know many players – and especially my kids – don’t want to deal with this. It’s also because I have a tendency to put together things that others feel are too complex, so I’m continuously trying to guard against that. I’m honestly not too sure how successful I’ll be on that front, but one look at a CoC character sheet with fractional values is a turn off.   Another thing that initially concerned me about CoC was the setting – specifically the time period. While there is a wealth of content out there covering decades, even centuries, the bulk of CoC is centered in the 1920s. As I have written elsewhere, the big reason I stopped working on my last project was that the setting was so foreign that my family – especially my kids – would have a hard time playing in it. When I decided to pivot to a mythos game, I decided to stick with a modern setting so my kids would be able to easily find their footing. However, having already run a test game set in the 20s (the Peru Prologue for Masks of Nyarlathotep), I’m thinking that this won’t be much of an issue. The setting is still familiar, and the other elements I’m introducing to the gameplay help ensure the players don’t ever feel lost.   Next up is a game that retooled the basic CoC concepts and integrated them into a system specifically designed for investigative roleplaying: Trail of Cthulhu (ToC). In my view, there are three major advantages of ToC when compared to CoC. First, clues and investigation are built into the system from the ground up. Second, sanity and horror are further refined to better portray the nuances that exist in mythos fiction. Third, the game offers adjustments to players and GMs depending on whether they want to play a more action-driven, pulpy game or a more classic, purist game.   Bottom line: There is a lot to learn from ToC’s approach, and I expect to lean heavily on it. However, there is one major element of it that I just don’t like. The system resolves the problem of “what if the players roll badly and don’t find the clue?” by making discovering clues nearly automatic. As long as the character is in the right place and is using the right skill, the clue will be found. It builds on this by also incorporating a spend mechanic that allows a player to spend points to uncover additional clues or information. This is where the game loses me.   There are two reasons for this. First, it smacks of encouraging a meta approach to the game. It becomes less about what the character would do in that situation and more about how many points you have available. I’ve seen players complain that the game just becomes an exercise in traveling to a location and reciting a list of skills. That’s something a GM should be able to overcome, but the fact that the system can effectively encourage this line of thought is a problem. Second, this approach robs the GM and players of an opportunity created by failed rolls. One longstanding challenge of many, more traditional RPG systems is what happens when the characters need something to advance the story but fail the roll that was to provide them with it. This automatic-success, point-spend system resolves that issue, but there is a way I find far more interesting.   As seen in games like Burning Wheel and Fate, a failed roll could mean that the character does not get what he was after – but it can also mean the character gets what he wanted with some sort of additional complication or twist. Not only does this ensure the story always advances in some way, it also creates great opportunities to take the story in a new direction. For me, there’s just too much potential to ignore. So I know that many players have had success with ToC’s mechanics, but they’re not for me.   When I decided to start working on a mythos game set in the modern day, I naturally took a hard look at another major mythos roleplaying game: Delta Green (DG). Of course, DG also uses a percentile system, so that was an immediate issue for me. One element the system really has going for it is the integration of investigators’ ties to the outside world – their family, friends, and colleagues. This is one of the most commonly cited parts of the system that make it stand out, and an idea I may end up borrowing from.   Ultimately, a major reason I decided to not just play DG was the setting. To me, it feels like a pulp version of the Cthulhu Mythos (or maybe the first Hellboy movie) married to the X-Files. Now don’t get me wrong, that sounds awesome and is something I’d like to play. I could probably get my wife excited about a game like that. I may end up exploring this setting further, but for my immediate goals it just places too much emphasis on the government conspiracy angle. A common element to cosmic horror investigative roleplaying is that the player characters are everyday people. That’s an element I want to keep, at least as a starting point, so a game that starts from the assumption that the characters are government agents isn’t quite what I’m looking for.   Wrapping Up So that covers some of the reasons why I’m not just going to play one of these RPGs, but there are other reasons too – reasons not tied to the specific system used by a particular game, but that are generally common to roleplaying games across the board. I’ll explore those more in the next post, which will hopefully shed more light on why what I’m envisioning is a little different.

Natai

Natai

Choosing a System - Part 1

This series of posts is going to discuss some of the existing games set in the Cthulhu Mythos that are currently popular and why I’m not just playing one of these games. To be fair, I actually am playing some of them and have great opinion of the others, but they just don’t fit what I want to play with my family – at least not on their own. Beware that this point could conceivably contain some minor spoilers related to some of these games.   Of course, there are numerous mythos-themed games on the market right now. Specifically, I’m looking to play a game that embraces the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s mythos, as well as the investigative gameplay suggested in numerous mythos fiction and brought to gaming most notably through Call of Cthulhu. With this in mind, quite a few games are ruled out, particularly those where players take the role of cults, Great Old Ones, etc.   Roleplaying, Board, and Card Games The mythos games I actually play most often are those produced by Fantasy Flight Games, specifically Mansions of Madness (MoM) and Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AHTCG). I’ve played the original Arkham Horror board game (and have the latest edition preordered). I’ve also played both editions of MoM, and while I mainly play the second edition these days, I expect to draw some inspiration from the first edition as well. Needless to say, Fantasy Flight Games has made a fair amount of money off me.   Likely the biggest reason that I play these games more often than others is that they can actually be played solo. This is a huge advantage in making these games accessible for easy play, but it also results in some drawbacks which I’ll come back to in a moment.   As with most of FFG’s games set in the mythos, both of these games derive their difficulty from a combination of time pressure and trying to make the most efficient use of available character actions. While this works to help realize the overwhelming odds the character’s face, it also results in every game feeling similar in many ways. It also strongly encourages a very meta-based approach to playing the game, which tends to discourage any roleplaying or attachment to characters. It also makes the game much less accessible to the people that are less avid gamers.   Between these two games, Mansions of Madness is the most detailed. Each scenario includes rooms or buildings the investigators can explore in detail, there are detailed clues that must be pieced together, and it is probably the closest board games currently get to a Call of Cthulhu type of investigation. However, the fact that each scenario is limited to a single location is a major drawback. There is one level of detail, and the level of complexity that can exist within a single location is very limited. There is no campaign of any kind, nor any character development. While it might be theoretically possible to link related scenarios together, each occurring at a separate location, this has not been implemented and would also create some other issues.   Mansions of Madness also tends to be fairly straightforward in the win-or-lose department – even to the point that it sometimes departs from what would make sense in a mythos story. For example, I played a scenario in which the investigators had to locate some information and then escape town by boat. This is generally considered one of the most challenging scenarios in the base game and involves exploring an area around the docks to find what you need while evading wave after wave of enemies. I played using three investigators, and managed to get two of them and the information to the boat. I had used one investigator to lure the enemies away and create an opening to the boat for the others. Due to some poor in-game text it was not obvious that I had to get everyone out, so the remaining investigator was not in a good spot. Nevertheless, I managed to get him to the docks, which were now surrounded. Using a lantern he started a fire that cleared the docks of enemies so the others could escape, but died in the process. Now in terms of mythos fiction, this would probably be considered a “good” ending – one character sacrifices himself to save the others and ensure they escape with information necessary to save the world – but in MoM this was just ruled a loss.   In MoM, there are standard actions that are always available to characters, and occasionally some scenario-specific actions, but the players are always limited to just a handful of predetermined actions. I also decided to try playing a scenario using my work-in-progress system in place of the basic mechanics to see if it would work. While successful, this experiment also made me realize something else about the game: It involves a LOT of rolling. Once each scenario gets to a certain point, you’re making a minimum of 1-2 rolls per investigator every turn. Once I realized this, I felt like this was just rolling because the system said so, not because of anything that happened in the fiction. The game does a fair job of providing flavor text to justify the rolls, but once you notice this issue, it’s hard to ignore.   Finally, the game is actually very atmospheric. Employing a modular board composed of individual rooms, streets, and other locations, lots of different types of environments can be created. The required app provides sound effects and visuals which work well. Most importantly, the fact that the board is revealed a little at a time does a great job of adding to the suspense and mystery of the game.   Arkham Horror: The Card Game handles some things better than MoM, but that comes with some tradeoffs. Rather than a modular board, AHTCG uses cards to represent locations (as well as most other things). This use of cards allows for a much broader variety of locations in terms of scale. In one scenario, each location could be a single room in a house. In another, each location could be a different building or area in a town, or even an alien environment on the other side of a strange gateway. This gives the game significantly more flexibility compared to MoM and is one of its biggest strengths.   The other nice thing about AHTCG is that it is designed from the beginning to support campaign play. The players’ actions in one scenario can actually have an impact in later scenarios, eventually building to a conclusion at the end of the campaign. There is also a degree of character customization and development. There’s a lot of potential here, and some interesting story lines can be experienced, but there is a downside that prevents the game from delivering the kind of investigative experience I’m looking for: A decided lack of detail.   Similar to MoM, players are limited to a fairly standard set of predetermined actions. More actions can open up through development, but their abstract nature means they are usually chosen for their mechanical affect on the meta side of the game, rather than for any roleplay-based reason. Far more problematic is that both typical character actions and clues are even more abstract. Exploring a location to obtain clues doesn’t get any more detailed than that. There is no mention of what the character is doing at the location, nor is there any mention as to what the clues are – they’re just tokens. The game ends up boiling down to acquiring clue tokens in order to advance a deck to progress the story before something bad happens. Since there is no detail to the clues, there is very little sense of mystery or investigation.   The game also employs a set of tokens in a cup or bag instead of the usual dice. While this does allow probabilities and effects to be altered from one scenario to the next, I personally don’t like token-based systems. They just don’t feel as random/balanced, and I seem to get the same tokens repeatedly. It may just be a psychological thing, but it’s a big turn off for me.   Ultimately, both of these games in their current forms suffer from a shared limitation: Players choice is severely limited. The game and setting cannot adapt to whatever ideas the players may come up with, so players are forced to stick to a narrow set of options. Essentially, it is railroading to its fullest. Without a GM or similar role, there just isn’t much of an alternative. The lack of a GM opens up some doors in terms of solo play, but in my opinion it’s just not a good trade.   There’s a lot of good ideas in these games – as well as a few others – that I plan to steal borrow, but on their own they just don’t provide enough of what I’m looking for.   This got a bit long, so I decided to split this up into a series of posts. In the next post, I’ll look at some of the main mythos roleplaying games.

Natai

Natai

Gaming (Differently) in the Mythos

Having recently decided to shelve a pen & paper RPG I'd been working on for more than 15 years, I'm getting back another idea I came up with earlier this year.   This project embraces two of my big interests, combining elements of different styles of tabletop gaming in new and interesting ways with the Cthulhu Mythos.   The basic concept is this: Combine the investigative horror gameplay prominently featured in games like Call of Cthulhu with elements derived from board and card games, as well as other roleplaying games, to make it easier to explore the genre with my kids and other family members.   I've already used a lot of my ideas to play the Peru Prologue for Masks, and I'm trying to start developing the idea further. The first part of that is to write down a lot of the thoughts and ideas that got me to this point, and the second part is to share more of this with others to get some feedback. So with those immediate objectives in mind, I've created a few posts on my site that describe what I'm trying to accomplish and why.   I'm sharing the posts in a few places, and all you Yog-types seem like a logical audience that might find this interesting and be able to provide constructive feedback and questions. So I'm going to start including those posts here as well.   If you're interested in following along on other platforms, here are a few links: Mythos Project at base113 Games Facebook Page MeWe Group (since G+ is going the way of the Dodo)   Some portions of this already exist in a couple of forum threads around here, but this is a good starting point.   I’ve been working on a system to play mythos scenarios that incorporates elements from other tabletop games. It’s inspired by Call of Cthulhu (CoC) and Trail of Cthulhu (ToC) – plus a couple of other RPGs – as well as board games like Mansions of Madness and Arkham Horror: The Card Game (FFG‘s got their hooks in me). My main goal is to make playing more of the wealth of content easier with my family, so a lot of my efforts are based on making the game more accessible and minimize some of the challenges that can come up in play. In the end, I expect it to end up occupying a middle ground between pen and paper roleplaying and a board game.   Background I’m a big fan of both Mansions of Madness (MoM) (both editions) and Arkham Horror TCG, as well as numerous other board games. At the same time, I also love the greater player freedom (and corresponding greater potential twists) afforded by a tabletop RPG.   I ran The Haunting using Trail of Cthulhu a couple years back with my family – two adults and two kids. None of them had any roleplaying experience. I used lots of props and the adults fell into the swing of things naturally. Had fun, though we didn’t actually engage the system that much. The kids had a more difficult time, partly because the abstract nature of the game (no board, pieces, turns, etc.) made it more difficult for them to engage.   On the other hand, there’s a lot my kids like about Gloomhaven and Descent. They seem to enjoy the basic dungeon crawl concept (although the tactics of how to use their cards was a little challenging) and they liked how missions were linked together to tell a larger story and unlock other missions. Obviously we all also liked unlocking character options and how even when your character died you didn’t feel like you had lost all progress.   On its face, something like Mansions of Madness would seem to strike the ideal balance between dungeon crawler and RPG for myself and the kids. However, there are a couple of shortfalls. The actions are too restrictive to allow for the freedom seen in an RPG, but too varied for my kids to easily decide what they want to do. The scenarios are generally win/lose with little variance. Decisions have no impact outside of the current scenario, so there is no campaign feel.   So the idea is to borrow concepts from all of these games to be able to play the way I want.   Preliminary Concept So here’s the basic idea so far. You have a Keeper and Investigators a la 1st Ed MoM, or CoC/ToC RPGs. You have two basic levels of play.   I originally referred to the first level of play as the “World Map”. This could be the entire world, just a region, or a town. For more involved campaigns you could even have multiple maps at different levels. I originally conceived of thus as a map showing the various locations the investigators can travel to. As they progress in the story, the map can change. New locations can open up, locations can be closed off, or travel restricted in some ways. Having converted and played a CoC scenario, I have taken to actually using cards to represent these locations.   Investigators can visit locations and engage in Encounters. Think of Encounters like common scenes in an RPG, for a Lovecraft game something like looking up some information in the local library or purchasing supplies. You may talk to some NPCs and make a few skill rolls, and the scene could even be really important. But if there isn’t any detailed combat or exploration, and the relative positions of the investigators don’t matter, then it can be handled as an Encounter.   However, at some locations the investigators can switch to the second level of play: Investigation. This is very much like the missions from Gloomhaven or Descent, the scenarios from MoM, or a big scene from CoC/ToC that involves searching through a location room by room, combat, etc. The Keeper builds out the map of the location as the Investigators explore. In addition to the advantages that this brings to keeping things straight in combat, the level of tension created by revealing portions of the map a little at a time is a great addition.   A typical adventure/story would involve at least a few Encounters and one or more Investigation Missions. Depending on what the Investigators do the details of those Encounters and Investigations would vary as determined by the Keeper. Investigators could also come across clues unrelated to the current scenario, but which lead into others. In other words, these are hooks which unlock other locations/scenarios.   Using Existing Content Given the wealth of mythos content out there that I want to play, I need to be able to use my system to play it, which means I need to be able to convert it. Playing converted content is also a good way to test out and continue to develop the system, so converting and playing existing mythos scenarios has become a major focus. I’ve already played the Peru Prologue for the Masks of Nyarlathotep Call of Cthulhu campaign, and I’m currently converting the classic Call of Cthulhu introductory scenario, The Haunting.   One concept I’m incorporating into my The Haunting conversion is giving the Keeper tools to resolve scenes in different ways, depending on what the Keeper and players want to focus on in terms of story and gameplay. In essence, the game could be played as a full pen & paper RPG, a simpler (and shorter) tabletop game, or anywhere in between. To that end, each scene could be played using one a variety of methods. The Keeper chooses how to play through each scene depending on how important the scene is to the story, what the players are likely to find most interesting, how much time and focus they all want the scene to take in the scenario, etc. In addition to helping the Keeper keep things interesting for the players, this also allows for gameplay to be sped up or slowed down depending on how much time everyone has to play and in how much detail they want to explore each scene.

Natai

Natai

Session 5 - Lake's Camp

SESSION 5 PCs: Lewis, Hawk, Wilson, Smith   NOV 23-26 -Thanksgiving, preparing for the trip to Lake’s Camp and the setting up of a new Camp. Starkweather travels to Beardmore Glacier, taking Sorensen and a sled-dog team.   NOV 27 -Flight to Lake’s Camp, Hawk piloting. Smith is the only one to look at the Mountains with binoculars and could swear she sees some cylindrical and cuboid formations in the upper ladders of the higher mountains of the foothills. Hawk provides his passengers with a mostly smooth flight, except for half an hour or so of turbulence, with a few minutes of some stronger jumps and falls of a few feet, which shakes them, but they all keep their breakfasts in. -When they are approaching the coordinates of the Camp, Hawk is the only one to detect the markings that show where it once stood. He positions the plane well, using the wind against him and has a rough but good landing.   Moore stops the group before stepping down from the plane and gives them the speech about his friends and finding out the truth about what happened, asking them to please find out and dedicate themselves to it. Moore then goes to talk to the approaching Sykes and Cole and they start to plan and then set up camp in the spot chosen by Sykes. The group help unload the plane, with Cole and Sykes joining them shortly.   After this they start to set up their tents first, following Moore’s instructions to take care of that and then start investigating. Hawk sets up his tent for 2 and earns Sykes congratulations about really paying attention in his classes, because he sets it up in record time and along with its ice wall it looks as sturdy as it can possibly be. Wilson plans to sleep alone and he sets up a small tent correctly and without trouble. Lewis and Smith decide to share a tent and set it up pretty quickly. They glance at each other, satisfied and about to start congratulating one another, when a breeze blows by and with it the tent. This earns them Sykes laughter and he offers his help, but Lewis rejects it, saying that if she spent so many hours in class she would make her own tent, so she proceeds to start again to set it up, this time accidentally ripping up the fabric and leaving a tear of around 1 mt, which makes Sykes stop laughing and proceed to respectfully but sternly suggest that they allow him finish setting up their tent, it was his job and they surely had “lots of science” to do out there, waiting for them.   After this they were ready to start working on Lake’s Camp, and after having a quick walk and look around they estimated that they could maybe clear at least one site before dinner and rest. They notice Moore going to the Cairn and staying there for several minutes, lost in thought. Wilson also notices that there’s what seems to have been one of the tents that was away from the rest and close to the straight line of hummocks, and he deduces that must’ve been the Biology tent in which Lake worked, so he tells the rest that they should work on that one first, and they agree. After more than four hours of work they uncover the bloody scene and both Lewis and Smith immediately understand that at least one person bled out completely, with that blood coming out of him with violence, and they are understandably a bit more shaken than the rest.   After dinner, when giving their report to Moore in which they mention everything, Smith says it would be a good idea to investigate the buried bodies, taking into account what they found, and Lewis is with her. Moore is initially taken aback by the suggestion and objects out of respect for the dead, saying that it was to be expected that the terrible storm that killed them had caused bloodshed, but Lewis firmly informs him that what was in that tent hadn’t been caused by no storm. They needed no more evidence than the arterial blood spray patterns, which were definite proof of violence and wounds not caused by a storm or the effects it could have had. She adds that it was completely necessary for the investigation, to know what happened, which was what he asked them to do, and the bodies would be treated with the utmost care and respect. Moore defers to her medical experience and accepts her arguments, so the group decides to start on that after next day’s breakfast.   NOV 28 They spend all morning working at the cairn, passing over to noon, studying and analyzing what they find, which confirms without any possible doubt that no storm had killed those men. They identify 11 of the 12 bodies, although they’re sure they have 12, which means that either Lake or Gedney are missing. It should be Gedney as per Dyer and his rescue mission, but by this point they don’t believe anything they said and state they’ll double check everything. When they give their report to Moore after their late lunch he confirms by the fracture on one of the leg bones that the pile of unidentified remains was Lake, being Gedney then the only one missing. The group tells Moore that they’ve confirmed that it was simply impossible that a storm was what killed those men, no matter how terrible, which clearly affects him deeply, mentioning that then it must have been... Gedney? who killed them all?, but why would Dyer lie about it? Wilson, Smith and Lewis talk at the same time to interrupt him and tell him it was definitely not Gedney either, that it was impossible for one person to do some much damage in one night and it also didn’t explain they way in which some bodies were harmed, cut and dismembered. Moore asks them then what could’ve been? Did they have any theory? They owed it to the dead to find out and back it up with hard evidence. They recognize that they have no theories at this point, but they plan to keep working as fast as possible to know more.   With the intention of getting results faster, they decide then to start working on the smaller hummocks, and Wilson adds that they clearly aren’t tents and their symmetrical disposition irks him. Hawk joins them, temporarily free from airplane related duties. After a bit more than an hour of work, the group frees their first Elder One, a damaged specimen, but not nearly enough that they can’t recognize it from Lake’s descriptions. Everyone is rendered speechless at the sight and Lewis is particularly affected. That is definitely not a plant. And that was definitely an eye. Or five. Wilson wants to take it immediately to the new Biology Tent to start studying it, but Lewis wants nothing to do with it, saying they should destroy it, burn it, whatever it took! Everyone is shaken by the discovery but they agree they should show Moore first, so Smith and Lewis go look for him while Hawk and Wilson start on uncovering Hummock #2, although they stop working when Moore arrives to be part of that talk. Moore reacts per the book until the following exchange takes place:   WILSON: I intend to take it to the Biology Tent and start dissecting it and studying it in more detail. LEWIS: And I say we have to destroy it. Destroy it!!. HAWK: Maybe we should decapitate it... to be sure. MOORE: Well, as scientists I believe we have an obligation to study it in detail, I’m surprised you’d ask us to just destroy it Dr. Lewis. Of course all precautions must be taken, and you should also handle yourselves discreetly, there’s no need to comment on any of these findings to the rest of the Expedition and I won’t mention anything yet on my radio broadcasts, until we have more information.   Hawk and Wilson then take the specimen to the new Biology Tent, wrapped in waterproof tarp. Smith, Lewis and Hawk, when he returns, resume digging up M2, finding then the specimen that was probably the one worked on by Lake, due to the state of it and the numerous cuts and dissections. Being a team of 3 they progress quickly with the hummocks so in a few hours they also dig up M3 and M4, finding then two of the Elder Sign Stones. Exhausted and starved they finish up work for the day, taking the new specimens to the tent where Wilson is working, showing him the stones. Wilson is not surprised about having found more specimens and mentions that it almost seems as if they were buried that way intentionally. Before entering the Biology Tent, Lewis notices Acacia going inside the old Biology Tent they cleared the day before, along with Priestley and his camera. They take some time to examine the stones but can’t find any specific meaning to them, besides the star shaped design and the fact that they found them on top of the heads they resemble, which almost seems like it has a ceremonial meaning or some meaning they can’t fathom. They call Moore then to show him the stones and to have him hear Wilson’s initial report.   After that, Lewis insists: We need to destroy the specimens. They are dangerous, and everything we find points to them not being really dead but in hibernation or something like that, and we can’t be sure that they won’t get up again and kill us all. WILSON: Well, all we’ve seen so far are pretty damaged, one even has his head completely crushed, but since they reproduce via spores I think it’s probably best if we wrap them and seal them as best as we can. I don’t know about coming back to life, but what if we do something and cause them to shoot spores? LEWIS: And new ones could be born… baby ones. We can’t be sure of anything, these things are different than anything anyone ever saw. You’ve been studying them for hours and couldn’t deny with absolute certainty that maybe if you cut enough of their tentacles another head will grow. We don’t know how their organism works, which means we can’t know what ‘damaged’ means for them and if they really couldn’t get back to life. HAWK: We need to cut their heads. We. need. to cut. their heads!!   He is ignored by the rest, that continue with their argument. Hawk looks around the tent, searching for an ax, and seeing none, starts to move towards the exit with the intent of getting one, when he notices the dissecting tools that might come in handy, so he grabs a nice looking saw and moves towards the specimen over the dissection table.   The rest finally notice what he was trying to do, which causes Wilson to ask the predictable: What the hell are you doing? HAWK: I am proceeding to cut the head of this thing, and after that I will do the same to the rest. MOORE: Erm… I think that maybe it’s best if we wait until Dr. Greene and/or Bryce have the chance to study the specimens as well, and that way we'll have a 2nd look and opinion over the organism, don’t you think it would be best? LEWIS: Actually I think decapitating the specimens is a great idea. SMITH: And I think so as well. WILSON: Well… yes, I agree, and we can still continue studying the specimens as much as we want and you can have that 2nd opinion. MOORE: Very well then... if everyone agrees that’s best. Wilson can make the clean incisions and leave them ready for additional dissections and studies.   They agree that Wilson will get started on that while the rest would split to dig up M5 and M6, already imagining what they would find. Lewis and Smith notice then at the same time that they had 4 specimens and there were 2 hummocks left, which would then should mean 6 specimens, but Lake’s original reports mentioned 14 specimens. Realizing that could mean that 8 of those things were alive terrifies both of them and they share it with the rest, which makes Hawk reply that he planned to be armed at all times from now on and suggests the same for the rest, but Wilson tells them that it doesn’t make sense to think about that now, they should stay alert but focus on continuing work on the Camp to see what else they could find.   NOV 29 They split up and dig up M5 and M6, netting the result of 2 more specimens and 2 more Elder Stones, Hawk pockets one (Lewis had grabbed one of the previous pair for herself as well) and gives Moore the other one. After some brief discussion they decide to continue with the tents, starting with the closest one to the Hummock, choosing the one that used to belong to Moulton and Mills. They continue with the one on top of that one but don’t have time for more that day so they go eat, report to Moore, and rest.   NOV 30 -They work at uncovering Lake’s Tent and Carroll and Brennan’s, which means they once again are shaken by some gruesome findings.   DEC 1 Everyone wakes up to the sound of the German airplanes, and they go out to receive them. After Meyer’s initial speech he is approached by Moore and the group, with Lewis asking him while they walked towards the newcomers if he knew anything about this, but his surprised face made his negative easy to guess. Moore is first to speak, complaining about not being notified of their arrival, which causes Meyer to act terribly surprised and his mention about the possible miscommunication between camps, maybe some problems with the radio equipment?. Wouldn’t have happened if they had their equipment of great quality. Wilson and Lewis then ask him why had they come, and Meyer answers that despite not being their main expedition objective, they were glad to have the possibility to examine Lake’s amazing findings and work alongside them, so he had gladly accepted the invitation to come. LEWIS: Invitation? What invitation? WILSON: What do you mean, Invitation? Who invited you?   *Moore’s and all eyes moved towards Acacia, that had said nothing after the initial greetings*   ACACIA: *a bit defensively* Yes, that’s right, I invited them. Do you have a problem with that? LEWIS: What do you mean you invited them?... *uff* I mean WHY? Why did you call them? MOORE: Acacia… ACACIA: What do you mean why?! It's beyond clear why, this way I won't have to depend on James Starkweather anymore! I think that’s reason enough!, Sorry, Moore. The germans agreed to provide me and my people with everything we lost on the explosion and the supplies we need, and like I said, that way I won’t depend in any way on Starkweather anymore. LEWIS: In exchange for what, then? ACACIA: What? WILSON: Yes, what did the Germans ask in exchange for all that? ACACIA: Well… I agreed to ensure them 3 or 4 seats in my flight across the mountains.   -That comment seals an idea that had been circling Hawk, which was that there was no way those fat Junkers could fly up those peaks.   MEYER: *looking amused* That’s right gentlemen, we’ve come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with Miss Lexington, but I assure you that our presence will also benefit you, since we are of course here to assist and work alongside you. With this in mind, and if you don’t mind me asking, I assume you’ve already been working and starting your investigations, correct?   *The group exchanges looks and then look at Moore* “Moore, a moment?”. They excuse themselves and take him aside.   LEWIS: I don’t know if we should tell the Germans. HAWK: No, of course not, we should tell them nothing. WILSON: But they will find out, I think we should use them. LEWIS: Use them? Use them how? WILSON: Right, we gain their trust by telling them and we use them and all the supposed superior German quality equipment and have them work for us. HAWK: But then they’ll know everything, we should say nothing to them. SMITH: Yes, I’m not so sure about telling and showing them everything. LEWIS: Besides, I’m not sure how we could use them, they probably have their agenda and I don’t think we can trust them. MOORE: I think that the fact that Acacia invited them, the same Acacia that knows about the specimens, means that if they don’t know already, they will shortly. WILSON: What do you mean she knows about the specimens? MOORE: Of course she knows, Wilson. We are camping with her people, we are in this together and she is her leader and had a right to know. Besides I had Priestley exhaustively document the first specimen while you worked on it in the Biology Tent. WILSON: Right. LEWIS: Well.. that’s that. Clearly it’s like Moore said, if they don’t know already they’re probably finding out as we speak. WILSON: So… let’s go back to what I was saying then, since they’ll know anyway, let’s go back, tell them everything, and use them to our advantage as best we can. SMITH: Starkweather is -not- going to be happy when he hears about all this. MOORE: No, no, definitely not. As soon as we finish talking with our new…“allies” I’ll contact him via radio to let him know everything, you’ll probably hear him shouting from a few tents over. SMITH: I bet. MOORE: He planned to join us shortly anyway when he finished up with the glacier, but he’ll probably want to expedite his return with these news. HAWK: Should I maybe go ahead and go look for him? Wouldn’t that be a good idea, to ease him down a bit? MOORE: I hadn’t thought of it… it’s a good idea Hawk, maybe he’ll receive the news slightly better if I tell him that we are ready to launch a flight to pick them up. Ready a co-pilot and aircraft to be ready to fly but wait for my confirmation, let me talk to him first just in case.   They go back to Meyer and Lexington.   MOORE: Thanks for waiting, we’ve discussed it and believe that in the spirit of cooperation and good relations it’s best if we tell you everything. WILSON: We’ve already dug up several of Lake’s specimens, *hands Meyer some sketches*, these are some sketches of my initial analysis and dissections. MEYER: Of course! The amazing Lake’s creatures, animal-plants that in the end were just plants. WILSON: No… they are not plants. They clearly could move, at the very least. MEYER: Ah, I see.. of course we will be provided access to make our own examinations, ja? MOORE: Of course, right now our Dr. Greene and Charles Myers, our other biologist, are working with them to have a 2nd opinion on Mr. Wilson’s initial analysis, but they’ll be finished by tomorrow. MEYER: Excellent, thank you very much herr professor. And what else have you found? WILSON: We also dug up several of the tents of the old camp, finding several signs of struggle and violence, blood stains, blood patterns and so. MEYER: Ah I see, I see.. of course. A great tragedy of course. It must have been a terrible, terrible storm. LEWIS: What we found was caused by no storm. MEYER: I see... well, of course we will want to inspect them as well. MOORE: Of course. MEYER: And what about the famed Lake’s Cave? Have you been able to break through and access it yet? MOORE: We’ve had a slight delay in schedule due to bad weather, which forced us to cancel a few flights, which meant that we’ve just finished assembling our Pabodie Drill. Our people plan to access the Cave today and start on its study as soon as possible, while this group here will in the meantime continue investigating the remains of the Camp. MEYER: I understand, it's a shame we didn’t come sooner! Our german equipment of great quality would surely have been of much help! LEWIS: Like what? You keep mentioning the superior equipment, what do you have to offer? MEYER: Well… several things, let’s see, wait one moment.   *calls Baumann, they speak in german and he leaves and comes back a few minutes later with a briefcase, from which he takes out one of the Ice Knives*. Uhr, who came along with Baumann, quickly shows them the piece of equipment and explains how it works.   LEWIS: It seems to be a rather specific piece of equipment, to work the ice with precision, why did you bring this? WILSON: You weren’t surprised when I showed you my sketches of the creature and now these tools… what do you know? MEYER: Well Herr Wilson, of course we all here vividly remember the enthusiastic descriptions made by Herr Professor Lake, which your sketches reproduce expertly I must say... and to tell you the truth we expected you to find and analyze some of them. In regards to our tools, well… I certainly don’t wish to sound arrogant, but as expected of our excellent planning and organization we undoubtedly included all types of equipment, specially cutting edge pieces of technology like this, in case we needed to do precision work on the ice. I trust you don’t have a tool like this one, eh? You’re more than welcome to use them! We’ll provide you with several and teach you the best way to use them as soon as work is restarted. Regarding work... I was conversing here with Miss Lexington and noticed we’ve been attuned to exactly the opposite work schedule, so the most effective way of taking advantage of time would be to work on two alternating shifts, covering every available hour between the two. That way we will complete work much sooner than expected, no doubt!. At the end of each shift we can share findings and discuss them. What do you think? LEWIS: No, I don’t agree at all, we should create mixed crews. MEYER: But… that way we couldn’t work in the most efficient manner, learning to work with strangers, we couldn’t cover the 24hs, it’s not the most effective plan. LEWIS: We can work all hours anyway if we divide the teams and shifts appropriately, if we could do it separated, we can do it this way. I don’t think that working as two separate units is an acceptable idea. MEYER: It certainly is not in the intention of hiding or being uncooperative, Miss Lewis, I forgot to mention that my idea was always going to have some of your people work alongside us and supervise what we do, my suggestion was merely in the spirit of maximum possible efficiency, of course. LEWIS: Yes, regardless. We’ll do mixed teams. And it's Doctor Lewis. MEYER: Of course, of course. We can certainly organize ourselves that way. MOORE: Gentlemen, now that we are agreed on this we invite you to a humble welcome meal so that you can rest up and we can organize the day’s work and teams. MEYER: Thank you very much, herr professor Moore, a very nice gesture that will be appreciated by my men, although of course most will have to continue working unloading our equipment and setting up camp. MOORE: Very well, let’s go.   --- END SESSION 5 - A bit over 4hs. 

Semsu

Semsu

A Few Occult Tome Booklets

As I mentioned in a previous post, my pulp Fate Core version of Masks of Nyarlathotep includes special handout/extras to represent occult tomes. I thought it might be helpful to give a few examples. PDF versions of the tomes should be attached.   Book - Starting - Burned Dee Necronomicon.pdf The burned John Dee translation of the the Necronomicon is the starting book for one of my players. If you recall, my players don't know they are in a CoC inspired game, so it was very amusing to me when one of the players wanted to be an Arkham occult scholar. To play up the Cthulhu references I offered him a Necronomicon for his starting book, and he eagerly accepted. To keep it from being too nuts, I gave him a John Dee translation that was so fire damaged it's lucky he got any content out of it. Two of the player's three starting spell made perfect sense for the Necronomicon but the third, an unlocking spell, felt odd, so I decided it was added in by whoever hand-copied the work. As the starting book of a PC, it was handed over unsealed.   Book - Iceland - Ouroboros Bible.pdf The Ouroboros Bible is part of the pulpy intro adventure I ran. It was the first sealed tome handout the players came across, and it amused them greatly, but was mostly just backstory for the island. Long term, it might be handy for the "Serpent in Soho" side mission in London,  but it won't be more than a collection of potentially useful snake spells until then. One of my players has already illegally acquired a poisonous snake in Peru in order to cast spells from this book.   Book - Peru - Gaspar.pdf The Peru/Gaspar book is my version of the journal of Gaspar Figueroa from the new Peru chapter of Masks. Most of the content in it is from Masks, although I did add one extra spell "Uncounted Lesser Children of the Father" and the ritual descriptions for both spells are my own, intentionally unpleasant, ideas. I don't really expect the player to cast the "speak with father of maggot" spell, but a cloud of biting insects might be something they see value in. Some of the content I directly spelled out in the booklet was hidden in details in the new versions of Masks, including the list of Conquistadors that went to the temple, and that Gaspar shot Mendoza in the face and thought him dead. My players, having already met and shot Mendoza in the head, found that detail especially enlightening.   My plan is to make a booklet for each occult tome in Masks. I've got booklets for the New York books already made, and I've made simple drafts for the London books too.

Pulpcraft Rules - Part 4: Cults!

This is Part 4 in a series of posts discussing the rules I'm using to run Masks of Nyarlathotep as a Fate Pulp game (without telling my players they are in a CoC scenario.) Part 1 covered the basics. Part 2 covered the Expedition Sheet. Part 3 was about the magic, monsters, and sanity rules. Today I'm talking about cults. Before I go any further, I want to point out that this an a somewhat experimental section of my Fate conversion of Masks. I'm still working on it, trying it, and have only implemented some parts of it recently at the start of Peru. In fact, I've recently been adjusting my thinking on this concept after seeing some things that Shadows of the Century is doing. (As a Fate Core kickstarter I recently got an early draft of Shadows.)   If there are any other Fate hackers reading this, I'd welcome some input.   The Bronze Rule Cults are a primary theme in Masks. Each location in the scenario has its own cult or a mostly self contained branch of a larger cult. Most of the foes the players will face are cultists and the larger plot is about stopping the cultists, not killing a god. These cults have their own signature weapons, their own local objectives, their own operating methods, their own rituals, etc.  In many ways, the cults are almost characters in their own right, and in Fate, that means they are a good candidate for The Bronze Rule, also known as the Fate Fractal.  The concept in Fate is that just about anything can be represented with some portion of the rules used for Player Characters: Aspects, Skills, Stunts, Stress, Consequences, etc. With access to the larger world of Fate mechanics, it's also possible to work with Approaches or other mechanics that might normally be used for characters in other Fate system games.   The concept here, or at least the current draft I'm toying with, is treating each location's cult as a larger character that covers all the nameless cultists and some of the named minor cultists. The cult has its own aspects, skills (technically more like approaches), stunts, and consequences. Instead of normal stress tracks they have collections of 0 point boxes representing nameless cultists. Named semi-important members of the cult have a couple of "personal" features to add to the cult's basic skills/aspects/etc but are themselves also a way of he cult absorbing stress too, making them little consequences+stunt+aspect "extras" that apply to the cult character instead of being unique characters on their own. I call them "Very Important Cultists" or VICs. This is a pulp game after all.   In my current theory, Cult Leaders are still their own characters. They are unique and important enough to justify having a full sheet of features of their own, although I have been wavering on this theory, especially when it comes to cults where the leader isn't the main character.   Cult Character Most of a Cult's character features: their aspects, skills, and stunts, are doing double duty. They operate on and bridge the gap between two scales: the individual scale of specific characters and the larger organizational scale on which cults, crime syndicates, police departments, and other organizations operate at. On a larger scale, the features apply to the cult as an organization. On a smaller scale, they can be used by any individual member of the cult. Because they are linked, actions against individual cultists can have an impact on the larger cult and likewise actions against the larger cult can impact the individual cultists.   Aspects Cult aspects are usually all hidden aspects. Cults are secret by default. The players won't see or have access to any of them until they are discovered or revealed.   You'll also notice that the example aspects I'm giving are intentionally double edged. As an NPC being run by the GM, the Cult is not compelled. The double edged nature of the aspects is intended to give hooks for players to make invokes to aid themselves.   A cult has a High Concept, which typically describes both the nature of the common cultists and the god they follow. For example, "Worshipers of the Bloody Tongue Drawn From The Dregs Of High and Low Society" fits the New York branch of the Bloody Tongue.   Each Cult has an Instinct, an aspect describing the kind of activities or actions they are prone to fall back on or default to when it isn't clear what else should be done. This concept is borrowed from the Fate Toolkit where it was intended for monsters, but I think it's apt here. This aspect somewhat similar to a Trouble for the organization as a whole, in that it maybe a predictable and/or revealing activity. For the New York branch of the Bloody Tongue, their tendency to "Solve Problems With Panga and Blood" has attracted unwanted attention to the point that they had to frame someone for murder, and even that they ruin by doing another cult killing, making the man they framed look less guilty. The trade-off, or lure for the GM, is that an Instinct Aspect provides a +3 when invoked, which helps make it the obvious choice to drive activities. My plan is to generally make the Instinct aspect somewhat in conflict with the Objective aspect. For example, the Kharisiri of Peru are driven to feed as an instinct, but to complete the objective of freeing their god, they will need to restrain themselves from feeding on or in front of the patsies Larkin has recruited.   Each Cult has a Turf aspect which describes the location they are most potent and least concealed. If the PCs are looking for the cult, they are more likely to find it in the home turf, but that also means the cult can invoke that aspect to attack the players more easily there. For the New York branch of the Bloody Tongue it might be "We Run the Harlem Underworld."   Each cult also has an Objective, a goal they are currently trying to accomplish, be it resurrecting a mummy queen, building a rocket, looting an ancient city, etc. The Objective is intentionally the short term goal of the group. All the cults in Masks are attempting to open the great gate, but each has a smaller part in that plan, and in many cases there are several steps to get there. A cult's objectives might change as they succeed, or fail, at their current Objective. As GM I may update this aspect on each Minor Milestone depending on what has transpired.  For example, if the Egyptian branch of the Black Pharaoh may be trying to "Acquire the Girdle of Nitocris," but if they succeeded in a session, then at the minor milestone I may replace that objective with "Resurrect Nitocris." If they succeed in that, the new Objective is likely to "Amass Sacrifices for the Great Rite" and eventually "Open the Great Gate."   Skills (Methods) In the last session I ran, I used the standard skill list for the cults, but my experiences with it in Peru chapter thus far makes me think it's not a great fit. The cult as an organization feels a little odd using a skill list intended for individuals, and I didn't feel comfortable with the skill choices I made. I intend to replace the skill list with a cult themed list of Methods that will work somewhat like Fate Accelerated Approaches. Right now I have 7 methods:   Authority Authority is how a cult uses it's own people, and especially those recruited from positions of power, to improve its lot and hinder it's foes. A good example of this in Masks in the London branch of the Black Pharaoh cult, where it's connections and standing with the Penhew Foundation give it some protection and options that cults in other regions don't benefit from.  Edward Gavigan would have little trouble getting minor incidents against himself or the foundation turned into severe legal issues. Authority is primarily used to Overcome issues and Create Advantages. It can also be used to defend against some kinds of actions. Attempt to get the police to investigate the Penhew Foundation would be difficult thanks to the Authority the cult can wield through it.   Faith Faith represents how ardent and loyal the individual cultists are to their dark god. In some ways it's a good stand in for the Cultist's own will, and in other ways it can be used for casting rituals, or more likely to aid the Cult Leader in casting rituals. A good example of this in Masks is the Peru cult, where the individual Kharisiri are literally bits of a Dark God implanted into people and subservient to other fraction of a dark god possessing Larkin. The cult may lack rituals to cast, but it would be very difficult to turn a Kharisiri on their "master." Faith is the go to skill for mental defense for cultists. In it's capacity to help with ritual casting, or even just whipping cultists into a frenzy, it can also be used to Create Advantage.   Fear Fear represents a cult's ability to inspire terror. It includes the cultivation of a sinister reputation and well as making more direct acts of intimidation. A good example of this in Masks in the Egyptian cult  of the Black Pharaoh which is known to the locals, but about which they fear to talk. As a Method, Fear is a very flexible tool for cultist. It can obviously be used to make attacks and create advantages, but it can also be used overcome social obstacles and even to defend. The local may know rather a lot about the Egyptian Cult of the Black Pharoah, but you'd have to overcome the cult's Fear to get them to talk about it. Likewise the cult might use intimidation to get the locals to report on what the players are up to.   Scrutiny Scrutiny represents a cult's ability to watch, observe, notice, investigate, detect, patrol, or sense motive.  This can be on both a larger scale, such as hearing rumors, or on a smaller scale, such as noticing the man in the white robe is actually an investigator trying to sneak into the ritual chamber via disguise. Scrutiny is used to overcome when looking for things, and defense when someone else is attempting to put something past the cult.   Subterfuge Subterfuge is Stealth, Burglary, and Deceive on an organizational level. It also includes operating front businesses like the Ju Ju House in New York, Plantation in Egypt, or Penhew Foundation in London. It includes planting evidence, covering up crimes, disposing of bodies, and literally hiding. Subterfuge is typically used to either defend, to keep things hidden, or create advantage, to hide things in the first place.   Violence Each of the cults in Masks are brutal and violent, frequently killing for fun, religious reasons, and to deal with foes. When it comes to acts of assault or murder, that's the Violence method. It's also the skill individual cultists use when they attempt to kill someone. Violence is generally about making physical attacks, but it's also the defense method when cultists attempt to avoid attacks.   Wealth The last method available to cultist is to throw money at things.  Bribe officials, buy supplies, hire drivers, etc. In Masks, the wealth of the Gavigan provides the cult with the Misr house where they can perpitrate their terrible rituals in the open yet free from observation.  In the New York section, it allows the cult to have the Harlem police in their pocket. Wealth is generally used to create advantage or overcome difficulties.   I haven't play-tested this yet, but theoretically a cult should have a peak Method of +3, two more methods of +2, and three methods of +1. That leaves a single method at +0, which for most of the cults I expect to be Authority. Smaller or weaker cults might have a peak skill of +2 and only two secondary methods of +1. Weaker cults, like New York, might have a peak skill of only +2, with only a pair of +1 skills to back it up. Powerful cults use various particular named cultists to gain higher ratings for various purposes. This is because the ratings of the cult are also the general ratings used by individual nameless cultists. to really be interesting or potent in any regards, a named character should be involved. More on that under "VICs" down this page.   Stunts Cults should have at least 1, and possibly as many as 3, stunts. These stunts are cult wide abilities or features, if an ability or affinity doesn't really apply to 90% of the cultists it's probably better attached to a VIC.   The Kharisiri Regeneration ability in the Peru chapter is a good example of a mechanical feature that applies to that entire cult.   Consequences Cults also get two consequences, a 2 point Mild and 4 point Moderate, but these are like the Expedition Consequences PCs have on their shared Expedition sheet. They should generally apply to the entire cult, and can not be used for injuries or other traumas on individual cultists.  Concepts like “wanted by the police”, “abandoned our headquarter”, “no longer feared by the locals”, “lost our cache of weapons”, or even “exposed to the public” might be good fits. Essentially, they are used to reduce the impact of broad special actions that might otherwise inflict massive harm on a cult and/or to specify institutional harm players might have inflicted on the organization, especially when operating on a zoomed out scale. When the Players are making direct personal action against the cult these consequences are less likely to be useful, and that's intentional. Individual cultists should be Taken Out, and especially big rolls absorbed through VICs. Cult Consequences are treated and cleared in the same way and scale as Expedition Consequences. Mild consequences are cleared if Overcome in game or automatically on a Minor Milestone. On a Minor Milestone, a Treated Moderate Cult Consequence automatically clears. Untreated Consequences remain unchanged. On a Significant Milestone, an untreated Moderate Cult Consequence automatically becomes Treated, although without being actively overcome it's nature does not mitigate much.   Also, like the Expedition Consequences, these can be used for Success at Cost by the GM.  A Cult that rolls poorly on a Wealth roll to bribe the cops may succeed at cost but now be "Strapped for Cash" as a Minor Consequence.   Stress / Members Cults don't have traditional stress tracks. They have cultists. A cult without members doesn't exist, and so any real attack on a cult reduces the number of cultists it has. For the purposes of a pulpy game like the one I'm running, most members of a cult are nameless npcs. They are generic cultists that use the Cult's features for their actions. When present in a scene they are handled as one or more mobs of nameless npcs. Taking out an entire cult means dealing with all the cultist.   Nameless cultists are represented with individual 0 point boxes. On the Cult "character sheet" there is actually an individual box for every cultist in the cult. A successful attack on a cult, or more precisely a mob of nameless cultists, typically takes out a single cultist by marking off one box. On a Success with Style on an attack, you can take out two instead of one. Players that have an aspect in play as permission can make more potent attacks against mobs of cults, such as using explosives or a Tommy Gun to take a number of cultists equal to shifts of success on an attack roll, up to an entire mob. Some situations might even be more potent than that, such as using a squad of police to attack a cult ceremony. In such a situation, an attack via the cops might take out (kill or arrest) one cultist for each shift up to the number of cultists committed to the ceremony.   Cults commit members in the form of people assigned to a task (scene). Sending three cultists to murder an author means committing three boxes to that scene. The GM should draw a rectangel around three boxes at the start of a scene so it's clear that only three cultist are present. If things go poorly, the cult might loose all 3 member in that scene, but it also limits their exposure to just those 3 members. Unless it’s a large scale unholy rite, a cult is actually unlikely to have all their cultists in one spot at one time.  A scene full of cultists could be a real danger to PCs, but it could also lead to extremely nasty loses for the cult if the PCs are able deal with it. Of course the GM can always concede for the cult as well. If the players intend to eliminate a cult entirely, they will have to actually track down every member of the cult and take them out.  This can be a substantially undertaking without help from local authorities. In many cases PCs may be better off aiming to merely stop the cults objectives and take out some or all of it's key members: the VICs.   Typically cultists committed to a scene should be tracked in mobs of 2-5, with each mob getting one action in the scene. On that Mob's turn they can all move and take actions as a group. When they all work together to accomplish the same goal, such as attacking a single target, they can benefit from the team up rules, where each NPC past the first provides a +1 bonus to the roll. A Mob of 5 an thus gain a +4 on top of their Method. This can make a group of weak cultist dangerous when they all work together.  Alternatively, they can instead take one action but apply the roll to multiple targets, up to the number of cultists in the mob. For example, a Mob of 3 could make one attack roll, but apply that full attack roll (without teamwork bonus) to up to three targets.   Mobs of cultist that are in the same zone can automatically merge or split. That means a mob of 2 could use their move to enter the same zone as a mob of 3, and merge with that group to become a mob of 5 (with a hefty +4 teamwork bonus). If both mobs hadn't taken an action yet, they could now do so.   Cultists are not like stress tracks in another key way: they don't' clear automatically at the end of a scene. With enough time, a cult can “heal” lost cultists through recruiting new members. This can be done through  a Faith roll as it involved indoctrinating new members into the worship of their particular dark god. With time to recruit and indoctrinate, roll Faith vs a number representing how hard it is to find potential cultists, or 2 by default. For each shift over that target number, clear one box of cultists. Alternatively, if several cultists were "taken out" through arrest, a successful prison break could be a way to "heal" stress boxes.   Typically I wouldn't worry about rules for increasing a cult's size beyond it's starting value. Set a cult's membership based on a combination of what makes sense and how difficult you want to make things for the players. Only increase that value if it makes sense in the narrative and you want to increase the danger of the cult. This is probably only an option if the players have returned to a location where they left a cult intact and allowed the cult to complete their objectives.   Very Important Cultists (VIC's) VICs straddle the line between separate named NPCs and the nameless minions that generally make up a cult. In Fate Adversary Toolkit lingo, they are more similar to Threats and Hitters that Filler.  Mechanically they are a form of Extra, a Fate term for something with special mechanics. A VIC simultaneously acts as aspect, consequence, and and stunt. Narrative wise they also feed into the Fate concept of putting faces on things that are important. If the cult has potent abilities or features, it is generally more interesting to give those features a face, a character, to represent them. Like Nameless Cultist, they are committed to scenes but doing so also risks them being lost. It also make sure that cult fights aren't constant streams of nameless minions without at least some interesting characters or challenges thrown in.   In a zoomed in scene, like a fight, VICs get their own actions separate from the mobs of nameless cultists.  A Fight Scene with 15 (3x Mobs of 5) Cultists and two VICs would provide the GM with 5 characters worth of actions to pit against the PCs.  Like any other member of the Cult, the VIC uses the cult's aspects and methods, although their own aspects and stunts might alter these.   A good example from the New York chapter is Silas, the owner of the Ju Ju House. Silas and his store enhance the local cult of the Bloody Tongue's ability to conceal their actions, but Silas himself isn't especially influential or powerful. He's important to the cult, but probably not worth stating up as a separate NPC on his own. Silas is your basic VIC. He has a name, a simple aspect, a stunt, and a small amount of potential stress value: Name: Silas N'Kwane Aspect: Little Old African Shop Keeper Condition Track: [2 Out] Stunt: Front Man - Gain a +2 to Defend with Subterfuge when concealing cult activities as shop business. Silas's involvement in Cult activities gives them a potent +4 on defense rolls to conceal their real activities instead of the +2 that the cult's base rating provides. To get this bonus, Silas must be present and able to use shop business as cover.  Considering where the cult's hideout is located and that they do a lot of shipping under the shop's name, that's going to be a common bonus. Silas, however, is not a big help in a fight. He provides no bonus over the cult's basic rating, and any hit will take him out. Although he is intended to hinder players from learning about the cult if directly questioned thanks to his stunt, he isn't intended to be someone they interact with often so he's probably fine with a single aspect.   Name for a VIC can either be their actual name, or even a simple nickname or descriptor. Actual names are worth working out if the player will likley interact with a VIC in a social setting, but for combat only VICs, names aren't likely to come up.   Aspect: VICs get something like a High Concept, but it doesn't need to be especially complex of layred. Stick with simple and descriptive. For VICs players will interact with socially, especially those they may not immediately know are cultist, this is the aspect they will use conceal their real nature. Silas, for example, will pretend to be a simple, frail, shopkeeper though he technically has all the secret aspects of the New York cult, those aren't going to be visible to the players without doing some digging. For VICs you want the players interacting with for a while without suspecting them, such as Mendoza in the Peru chapter, it may be worth giving the character multiple aspects, but in most cases one is sufficient. Basically give them as many aspects is necessary, which is typically one.   Condition Track: Each VIC is also a potential way for the the larger Cult to absorb stress, albeit at that cult's expense. By default a Vic that gets taken out absorbs 2 points of stress. Especially important or tough VICs might have a larger condition track. For example, a "Threat" style VIC might have: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Doomed] [2 - Out]. Such a VIC could potentially absorb up to 6 stress and stay active (if hindered), or 8 stress and be taken out. In zoomed out scenes, when an attack is directed against the Cult as a whole, VICs can be sacrificed to absorb stress this way. For example, if the Players manage to get the New York police to crack down on the Cult of the Bloody Tongue, Silas could easily get swept up in a raid. In a zoomed in fight scene, VICs are more vulnerable and can be directly targeted for attack like any other NPC foe. If successfully attacked they are forced to use their condition track to absorb stress directed at them. The condition track counts as aspects when marked. Angry, Injured, or Doomed can be invoked by PCs, and they do get the free invoke on those conditions when they inflict them. Those conditions last as long as the GM thinks is reasonable. Theoretically Upset/Angry should clear on a Minor Milestone, Weakened/Injured should be cleared on a Significant Milestone, and Doomed only on a Major Milestone, but detailed tracking and rolling of treatments may not be worth the effort to a GM.   Stunt: Each VIC provides a stunt to the Cult, but to get the benefits of that stunt the VIC must be committed to a scene. This also means a VIC that is taken out no longer provides their stunt at all. Normal stunt rules still apply. Most stunts still provide a +2 to an action with a method under specified circumstances. An especially important VIC might have multiple stunts that apply to them, but at a certain point it might be worth simply making them their own character instead of a VIC. The Average VIC should provide 1 stunt, while 2 stunt VICs aren't too odd, especially if one stunt is a simple +2 to a skill and the second stunt is something more situational.   Example Cults At this point, early in the Masks storyline, I'm most familiar with the Peru and New York chapters so I'll try rendering those as Cult Characters.   Peru Chapter Cult The "Cult" of the Peru chapter is a pack of supernatural beings that are in some ways fragments of their dark god. The cult leader is ostensibly Larkin, who is himself possessed with a fragment of a different incarnation of that same being. At the point the story starts, most of the cultists are recent "converts" with the original Conquistador Kharisiri serving as good candidates for VIC status.  I've designed this cult to be frightening but not especially dangerous. They are small in number but durable, in that they don't stay dead. As literal fragments of a dark god that were awakened by the partial avatar of another mask of that god, it would be difficult to turn one of them on the larger cult, so I made Faith their highest skill. As they are the Peruvian equivalent of Boogeymen, I made Fear their higher skills. They also have a good sized collection of gold wealth and are actively trying to use wealth to fund and expedition to free their god, so Wealth is also at +2. On the other hand, they have generally avoided large population centers so they likely don't have any real authority, so I made that their weakest skill. According to the journal, there are 4 original Conquistadors that became Kharisiri, and only three of them have been awakened by Larkin, with one still being a feral.  For VICs features, I gave Mendoza a lot of aspects because he may be around the players for a while. Pedro they may meet along the way in the highlands so I've given him some extra details and a stunt that may make him dangerous if the players trust him. Hernando I've designed to help keep track of and follow the players instead of socially interacting with them, and will be the Kharisiri that leads an attack on the reed huts when the players (probably) visit Nayra in Puno. I'm intentionally not making the feral Kharisiri a VIC or even a member of the cult. He is not "in" on the cultist plans or organization. Concept: Transformed Kharisiri Spawn of the Father of Maggots Instinct: Driven By The Father's Hunger Turf: Our Kind Have Stalked The Highlands For Centuries Objective: Aid Larkin In Freeing The Father Ratings +3 Faith +2 Fear, Wealth +1 Subterfuge, Violence, Scrutiny +0 Authority Stunts: Kharisiri Regeneration: The GM can pay 1 fate point to the Expedition Pool between scenes to clear the marked off Cultist boxes from this scene and clear the right most condition tack box representing physical harm on all VICs, regardless of which were in the scene. This power does not work any cultists or VICs who were dismembered, cremated, or otherwise thoroughly destroyed. Kharisiri Feeding Form: When you take an action to transform into your true form, you may make a single free Fear mental Attack that applies against everyone nearby that hasn’t seen a Kharisiri true form before. Stunt: Lamprey Bite - When you succeed with style on a Violence attack in your true form and choose to reduce the result by one to gain a boost, you gain a full situation aspect "Attached" with a free invocation instead. Cultists [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] VICs: Name: Luis de Mendoza Aspect:  Larkin’s Loyal Guard Dog Aspect (Trouble): Big on Leering, Short on Conversation Aspect: Funny Eating Habits (Hidden) Aspect: Surprisingly Tough (Hidden) Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Out] Stunt: Conquistador - Gain a +2 to Attack with Violence using a sword Name: Pedro de Velasco Aspect: European Traveler Aspect (Trouble): Gold Fever Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Out] Stunt: Ambush Predator - Gain a +2 to Attack with Subterfuge if your target is alone and does not expect the attack. Name: Hernando Ruiz Aspect: Sharp Eyed European Man Aspect (Trouble): Gold Fever Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Out] Stunt: Eyes & Ears of the Cult - Gain a +2 to Overcome with Scrutiny when looking for enemies of the cult.   New York Branch of the Cult of the Bloody Tongue The New York branch of the cult of the Bloody Tongue was setup some 8 years ago to support M'weru in locating patsies for Nyarlathotep's plans, a search that resulted in the Caryle Expedition, and with that success the New York branch features very little in the larger plans. Mukunga M’Dari has been left in charge of this branch of the cult, and he seeks to grow it in size and power. His method is largely through gaining wealth through criminal smuggling, and then using the drugs and money to gain recruits and buy influence with corrupt police. Note that Captain Robson isn't a member of the cult. He thinks he's being bribed by smugglers, not crazed cultists. The two listed leaders for the cult are M'Dari and N'Kwane. M'Dari as the cult leader, master of rituals, and potent combatant will get his own character sheet, but N'Kwane makes a useful front man to aid the cult in keeping itself secret. There are three more named cultists in the chapter: the three that attacked Jackson. I've decided to make one of them a combat related VIC, an eager killer for the cult who is leading the lesser cultists on this mission. (He'll have a leather headband instead of a cloth one). Skill wise I'm giving the New York cult a step down on the pyramid. For skills the specialty is violence, which actually gets them in trouble enough that they have to use their wealth to keep the local police captain on retainer. For a third skill I'm giving them Scrutiny, as they were able to track down Jackson Elias. It might seem odd to give them a Faith of +0, but as a new cult of new recruits from the dregs of society, they aren't likely as faithful or as knowledgeable as cults that have seen an avatar of their god summoned over the mountain of The Black Wind. As near as I can tell, none of the cultists know magic or perform rites beyond the M'Dari. The book also describes the cult having about 30 cultists, so I've set the cultist track to 30. Concept: Worshipers of the Bloody Tongue Drawn From The Dregs Of High and Low Society Instinct: Solve Problems With Panga and Blood Turf: We Run the Harlem Underworld Objective: Expand In Influence, Wealth, and Power Ratings +2 Violence +1 Scrutiny, Wealth +0 Authority, Fear, Faith, Subterfuge Stunts: Face In The Crowd: Gain a +2 to with Subterfuge when attempting to blend into the crowd. Cultists [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] | [0] [0] [0] [0] [0] VICs: Name: Silas N'Kwane Aspect: Little Old African Shop Keeper Condition Track: [2 Out] Stunt: Front Man - Gain a +2 to Defend with Subterfuge when concealing cult activities as shop business. Name: Jomo "Jimmy" Jepleting Aspect: Big Man With A Big Knife Condition Track: [2 - Upset/Angry] [2 - Weakened/Injured] [2 - Out] Stunt: Panga Expert - Gain a +2 to attack with Violence when using a large bladed weapon.

Session 4 - Into the Ice

-SESSION 4 PCs: Lewis, Hawk, Wilson, Smith.   OCT 2 The group is called to a meeting with Starkweather, Moore, Turlow and Captain Vredenburgh, with Starkie doing most of the talking, and they are congratulated for catching Henning before he could do more damage and they're informed that he´ll be kept locked up in the brig until they reach Port Phillip, where he will be turned over to the authorities. The Captain scolds them lightly for showing a bit too much initiative and not going to him directly, but concedes that they did inform him via Turlow and deferred to his authority, and he spoke highly of them. He thanks them for their service to the ship and crew.   CAPTAIN: Turlow and me will be taking formal statements from you, that way you´ll save up the time it would take to do it with Melbourne Police. SW: Yes! I remembered that Maritime Law allowed him to do it and asked him, my boys deserve nothing less! Moore: On a different note, and taking into account the damage that we know that Henning caused, we need to do an exhaustive cargo and equipment check-up, and I think you would be the best suited for that job. You´re the most familiar with the inventory as a whole with the work you did in NY and you´ve proven to be very professional and reliable. SW: Hey! I´m not so sure about that Moore, they´ve done a lot for us already, I say they deserve rest. They earned it. *looks at the PCs* Don´t worry about a thing lads and of course... lassies! We´ll have someone else do that work, maybe that nervous fella... Winslow... WILSON: No, no, don´t worry, we prefer to check. Hawk will also want to personally check the planes. LEWIS: Yes, he´s right, we´d rather do the work ourselves to be sure. SW: Oh well, ok, if that´s what you want, amazing initiative people! You´re already making me proud. Ask Winslow for any help you need, and I´m sure Turlow will be able to help as well. CAPTAIN: Yes, that is correct.   The group leaves the meeting and find Fiskarson waiting outside.   FISKARSON: Hawk, you have moment? HAWK: Yes, sure. FISKARSON: I wanted to thank you. For dogs. For what you did. Couldna´ be easy, nei. HAWK: No need to thank me, I love dogs, I understand. FISKARSON: Pulaski acts like tough guy, but it was difficult for both. They are more than just some hunder... than dogs... you see. HAWK: Yes, yes. Believe me, I understand. FISKARSON: Anything you need, you look me up. Same with Pulaski, ja? HAWK: No need but sure, thank you.   After that the group splits up the inventory lists to start working on checking everything and Lewis visits Greene to ask him to do a thorough check-up of all his medical tools and specially any drugs for signs of tampering. Greene doesn't like being told what to do by her but consents when told it comes from Moore and he´s more than welcome to waste the time to go check with him. Hawk starts checking the planes and Smith, the only other one with electric and heavy machinery starts with that type of equipment. She finds the generator damage on her first day of work.   OCT 3 The group continues their inspections, with Smith failing to find the sabotage in the oxygen tanks, while Lewis and Wilson find the crude explosive device and the extra coil of fuse disguised with the ropes. Wilson is convinced that there´s another saboteur on board so he asks Turlow to post a guard where they found the device, and have him hide in the darkness. Lewis and Hawk are not so sure about a 2nd saboteur but agree that it´s best to be sure.   OCT 4 Smith notices that the film developing chemicals are ruined and Wilson the damage to the radios. Smith tries to have a go at repairing the radios in the following days, without success, and Lewis decides to give it a try as well, wanting to put some of what she learned at Radio class in practice, but she ends up completely ruining one set. It was quickly added to the list of equipment to be replaced in Melbourne.   OCT 5 Radio repair attempts by Smith. Cargo bays #4 and #5 are inspected. The group reviews the list of equipment to be replaced and the orders placed by Starkweather over the radio, and request to personally check everything that´s received in Melbourne.   OCT 12 After the description of the navigation of the Rip, they arrive at Port Phillip. Cheers of joy can be heard along the ship due to the prospect of eating anything other than pemmican.  They meet the press, Starkweather hogging the spotlight as usual, and the group decides against going to the city, focused on checking each and every item that´s loaded on the Gabrielle.   OCT 18-25 Descriptions of the weather changes and their progress towards the Ice. First Storm. First Iceberg sighting, and so on.   OCT 26 The fiercest storm they've encountered so far makes it difficult to stand, talk, even think, but the group nevertheless goes to class, and they were about to go back to their cabins, having realized that Sykes, the instructor, was never going to show, when they hear the loud thumps and crashes coming from one of the cargo bays. They sound the alarm, discuss what to do and decide to go check what´s making that noise as soon as some seamen show up to help. Five seamen quickly show up so they open up the door to deck, tie themselves to each other, and progress slowly and with much difficulty among the deafening roar of the storm, the clashes from waves and splashes of water, and the piercing rain. It´s hard to see a few feet ahead, so they each concentrate on the man in front and hold tight to their rope and anything that seems strong and solid. Somehow Lewis pinpoints the exact cargo bay from which the crashes are coming from, and Hawk moves to the front to open the individual access hatch. He makes sure to not release himself from the rope until secure on the ladder, and is the first to be able to take a look at the scene below.   After reviewing the scene they quickly form a plan, the seamen are going to take care of one of the engines using ropes, while they would catch the other one using a different tactic. Wilson and Smith cross over to the other side of the bay, and are lucky not to be struck by either engine, where they start to secure ropes to a metal girder and then tie the ropes to the big cargo net, while signaling Hawk and Smith to do the same on the other end of the net, and almost miraculously catch the engine on the first throw, and the net holds. The seamen control their engine as well, although the first one to lasso it receives some damage from being dragged by it, and Lewis later performs some First Aid on him. Wilson instructs the seamen to start working on retrieving as much kerosene as they can from the multiple spills.   OCT 27 At daylight and with no more storm, they review the scene and Lewis finds the signs of the last sabotage. They tell Moore about this, who tells them not to blame themselves, the saboteur had been very smart and ended up winning one. SW comes in and tells them that they've been struck a bitter blow, all Acacia´s work no doubt, but they would press on and on, even if they were left with half a plane with one wing!   OCT 28 - NOV 6 - Wallaroo I provide a quick summary of the rest of the trip until the Wallaroo sighting scene. Turlow tells Lewis and Hawk, who were on deck, the background of the derelict ship. SW comes out on deck to see what´s all the commotion about and scouts the ship with his binoculars, and later he invites anyone on the group that wish to go investigate they are free to do so but they need to make sure to come back and tell him if they find anything interesting. The group are all in and join Turlow and the small group of crew that go with them. Maybe it´s the cold, or her nerves, or a bit of both, but Smith has trouble going up the ladder and falls, luckily the last in line. Determined, she tries again and slips once again, this time narrowly avoiding falling in the water but she twists her ankle, so she wisely decides to skip a third try and stays on the boat waiting for the group to come back. No one relishes the sight of the frozen skeletons, all flesh stripped from them and their bodily fluids strewn and frozen over the deck, but Hawk is particularly affected, having a quick but strong flash of feeling that that could/would be him. They decide not to split up in case the structure is compromised and to protect each other. They go over the crew cabins first and the captain afterwards. Wilson finds the false bottom of the drawer and they inspect its contents. Lewis sits beside the Captain's skeleton to read a bit and browse through his log, but quickly decides to leave it for later when she sees the hard to read penmanship of the Cap. Wilson and Hawk look at the gold coins and the carved figures on them and are reminded of the marine monsters of the old maritime maps, while Lewis is additionally reminded of the Piri Reis map, she had seen a reproduction of the recently rediscovered map when searching for some information on Antarctica before the trip. Wilson bags the coins. They obviously try the key to open the captain´s chest, but no luck. Hawk gets a bit obsessed with opening it and says he´ll shoot the padlock. Wilson and Lewis try to convince him that it´s not worth it, if he wants it so much they can maybe have the seamen drag it back to the Gabrielle, but he insists that with one shot he´ll pop open the strong and sturdy looking lock. They tell him once again that it´s not a good idea, at best its useless, so Hawk takes a moment to think, analyzes the padlock up close, and is then convinced without a doubt that he´ll open it with just one shot from his handgun. The rest clear the room. His first shot obviously does nothing to the padlock and ricochets, thankfully just hitting the wall. He tries then shooting at the wood, but notices that his bullets don´t create that big a hole. He then decides to stop shooting (great!), to start carving the hole with his knife to widen it (ugh). The rest leave him to it and explore the rest of the boat, finding and bagging the dozen of canadian rye whisky bottles they find. Hawk finally widens the hole enough on the chest to notice that it´s empty, and he's not happy.   They go back to the Gabrielle, and later, while on deck, Wilson sees afar the remains of the Wallaroo lifeboat, buried in the ice. Lewis dedicates herself to the reading of the Captain's log and shares the contents with the rest, including the captain's final entry.   NOV 7-14 Descriptions of the rest of the journey to the ice and Moore communicating the unloading plan of the Expedition. Everyone signs up for a work crew, Hawk with the obvious choice as a pilot and the rest signing up for Camp work. They finally have land on sight and Starkweather gives his in this case appropriately enthusiastic speech, they were finally in Antarctica!   NOV 15-19 The group is mostly away safe at the newly established Barrier Camp when cracks in the Ice Cap threaten the unloading process and make them lose a significant amount of airplane fuel, with Hawk witnessing the drums drifting down to sea while on his last flight back and forth. Barrier Camp is established after much hard work, I provide descriptions and pictures of their first visitors, penguins and Weddell seals. Fiskarson and his dogs kill a seal and offer some meat to Hawk and Wilson, and the second gladly accepts. I describe the presence of some old huts/shelters a few yards from them, but they aren't interested in exploring them.     NOV 20 Fire at Lexington's Camp! When they all gather at the radio tent to listen to Laroche's communication and in the talk afterwards, Hawk insists that they should fly in with help immediately and volunteers to pilot, but Halperin quickly reminds him that the weather conditions don't allow for take off. They agree to send one Boeing when/if the weather improves, and the group all sign up for the rescue party via sleds and go along with SW, Sykes and Greene. Upon arriving SW immediately goes to Acacia's tent and the loud shouting and cursing starts. Sykes and Green head to talk to Tuvinnen. Wilson talks to Johnson first, approaching him in a friendly manner and helping him with what he's doing while he listens to what happened and the names of the two guys that apparently went snow craze mad. Lewis asks around to see if anyone needs medical attention and she is told that Dr. Anthony, their medic, already took care of that, but she could offer him help, and point her to the medical tent. Hawk and Smith stay with their sleds and provisions, saying that they don't trust the people on that expedition, both being convinced that the sabotages came from them. SW has his disciples after all! Williams approaches them, very friendly and openly declaring his liking to how they handled their Expedition, that they were undoubtedly better prepared than they were. He openly criticizes Acacia for not planning ahead to cover for any accident or something going wrong, and now that it did everyone feels lost. That is not strong leadership like they have. He seems sincere, but still, they don't like the Lexington people and look at him with distrust. Wilson then goes to talk to the duo of Hopewell and Sachs, and Hopewell tells him everything he knows, including the disturbing episode at the Tallahassee with the suicidal seaman, Bicks.   Dr. Lewis bumps into Dr. Anthony just outside of the Medical Tent and they have a brief conversation, in which he conducts himself in a professional manner but openly tests her medical knowledge upon her mention of being a medic. He does it awkwardly, interjecting random medical questions during the brief conversation they have with her asking if she could see or maybe talk to the injured and assailants. He invites her in, concisely tells her his diagnosis and explanation about what happened, sums up the current condition of Priestley, Bradbury and Dinsdale, changes the bandages of the first, and leaves the tent. Lewis approaches Priestley first and hears his story, and then talks to Dinsdale, taking her time with him and listening attentively. She then checks up Bradbury and manages to wake him up and hear his story. Several shared details immediately grab her attention, starting with the fact that both woke up already knowing and sure that there were spiders/snakes everywhere, each horrified by their personal worst fear. She thinks for a few moments and is positive that she at least doesn't know and never heard of any drug that would specifically cause those effects, making the worst fear of a person manifest in an identical manner. She is not a Psychiatrist and that's a field she knows very little about, but it doesn't seem like psychosis induced by ice/solitude. It almost makes her think of something like a spell from a sorcerer or shaman, but that's nonsense and another field that she doesn't know much about anyway. She later tells the first group all this, including the last bit, but adding the comment that she didn't believe in that. Wilson looks about for someone else to talk to and crosses Jenner's path, asking him if they suffered any sabotage on their journey to the ice, finding out that they did, at least he thought they did, but it was never openly denounced or recognized. For most it was sabotage and Starkweather was behind it, but for many others it was simply the fact that they had a woman in charge and that brought serious bad luck. He finds out about everything that the Lexington EXP lost.   They don't approach Tuvinnen, Hooper or anyone else and plan to go back with a very angry Starkweather. Sykes and Greene stay over to continue helping the Lexington people and say they'll get back with the Boeing.   NOV 21 Description of Acacia and Priestley's arrival to the Barrier Camp along with Sykes and Greene's return, and the start of negotiations with SW and Moore. The group gathers to share what they found out at the Lexington Camp and their impressions, with Lewis and Wilson mentioning that they were short on what they had good stock and viceversa, so they wouldn't be surprised if they came to an agreement even with the terrible relationship between SW and Lexington. Smith says that that must've been a very bad breakup indeed.   NOV 22 Moore announces the alliance between the Starkweather-Moore Expedition and Lexington's, and that they would share the resources each lacked and would set up Camp together near the Miskatonic Mountains.   --END SESSION - Around 6hs this time.
   

Semsu

Semsu

Session 3

-SESSION 3 PCs: Lewis, Hawk, García, Wilson, Smith.   New Players: -James Wilson, 35, Biologist, Boston, MA. Working class background, his family made many sacrifices to be able to pay for his studies and he avoids and resents elitist cliques.   -Susan Smith, 33, Biochemist, Toronto, Canada. Single, no living family.   SEPT  8 - Around 5:00PM After leaving Roerich, García, Lewis and Hawk take a step back to review what they learned so far and their options to investigate moving forward. Since they still have a few hours before meeting for dinner at the Amherst with the rest of the EXP, they decide to visit Boseley´s Auction House after checking the map and noticing that it was fairly close to their current location, while going to research at a library would take them much longer.   They arrive at Boseley´s a quarter to 6 and find it almost empty, while the receptionist tells them that on a regular day with no auction or event scheduled they close at 6. After their insistence she asks them to wait and after a few minutes she shows them to Boseley´s office. Snob and elitist, he only agrees to talk to them because he recognizes them from the papers as members of the SW/M EXP. He doesn´t have much to offer in way of information regarding P.W. Lexington, he mostly repeats what he read on the papers of the time and confirms that the auction couldn´t take place due to the disappearance of the manuscript. The group insists asking for any kind of additional detail, and after thinking for a few seconds he recalls that he was the one that introduced the previous owner of the manuscript to P.W. Lexington and the whole thing in the press made him remember that he had received a letter from this gentleman, but he doesn´t recall where he stashed it and it was getting very late and he should better head home lest his wife worried about his absence. He was a strict man of habits, you see, and followed his daily routine to the letter. Obviously the group insists, asks who wrote that letter, who was that gentleman that used to own the Pym manuscript, and Boseley replies that it was one Stanley Fuchs, an antique collector of rare items, and he was sure that he kept the letter somewhere but he didn´t have the time to look for it, he really had to be getting home.   -Since the group ignores this once again and keeps asking about it, Boseley directly tells them that the only way for him to be motivated to search for the letter instead of heading home is if he had some incentive, adding sternly that otherwise the meeting was immediately over and he was going home. Finally the group takes the hint and García offers $10 (he gives $50 to a lowly receptionist in a shady hotel, but offers $10 to this snob elitist…). Boseley gets offended by the amount, tells them that if they hadn´t noticed this was a classy establishment. and any proper gentleman would at least offer $20 for his trouble, and García complies and forks over the amount. He makes them wait over 30 minutes and then returns with Stanley Fuchs letter.   Almost time for dinner now, the group heads back to attend the last dinner before the scheduled departure. At dinner, Moore introduces the two last minute additions to the Expedition, James Wilson, Biologist and Susan Smith, Biochemist. After that he gives a speech thanking everyone for their hard work and informs them that after dinner they need to head out to the Gabrielle to finish settling in on their cabins and spend the night there.   The group heads to the Gabrielle and Turlow hands them their cabin assignments: Lewis and Smith, Cabin 11 Hawk, Garcia and Wilson, Cabin 13   After settling in, Lewis speaks to García to tell him that they need to use this last night to go to that Purple Cup and find out what they can about Douglas and those 3 seamen, since she couldn't go there alone or even with him, but García refuses, saying it was a long day and he was too tired, so he was going to sleep right away. Lewis doesn´t argue with him too much and accepts the comment from Hawk that they would be able to talk to the 3 seamen at any point in the trip, while on the Gabrielle. They don´t ask Turlow, Moore or anyone else about them, so they don´t find out they quit and never got on the boat.   The Fire in the Pier   Close to 10:00pm, Garcia, Hawk and Smith are sleeping, while Lewis and Wilson are reading on their bunks when they hear a muffled explosion, and immediately after an increasing commotion on the ship with people screaming and running. They get out of their cabins to hear screams of “Fire, Fire!!”, so everyone goes up to deck to see what´s going on.   At this point they get a good look at the scene going on at the pier.   -Hawk immediately joins the stevedores running for the safety of the street. So much for the thrill-seeker pilot! It seems he likes his thrills on the air and not on the ground. -García and Wilson focus on the screams they hear coming from the cargo shed and head there, with Lewis and Smith following them ready to perform first aid to anyone in need, heading first to the person they see laying on the floor in the entrance of the shed.   García arrives first and enters the shed without any precaution, and he quickly has difficulty breathing so he heads out again, and covers his mouth and nostrils with a wet piece of cloth, Wilson sees this and does the same. They decide to split up to cover more ground, García goes to the closest figure he sees fallen on the floor and starts to carry him to safety, but after moving him just a few feet towards the entrance he collapses, thankfully knocking over some crates when falling which makes Wilson notice and take both of them to safety. While he does this he notices someone inside moving away from the main fire and into the exits on the other side, carrying an oil container to boot, so after asking Lewis to do some First Aid to the fainted García he goes to pursue this unknown person, but while doing that he notices another fallen stevedore, so he takes him back to safety first. By this point García is a bit recovered, so Wilson asks him to follow him because he saw someone suspicious, and they quickly gain ground on him, already outside the shed on the other side, away from the fires. The guy with the oil container is oblivious to their presence, so García is able to immobilize him with his martial arts knowledge and a choke hold and they take him to the police that's already gathering at the street. While taking him to the police, Wilson questions him and Polk, still on a huge high due to the beautiful flames he caused, can't stop laughing with delight, happy like a little boy due to the explosions and flames. He tells them that a redhead called O´Doyle paid him to do this, but that the payment was an excuse, he loves starting fires. They take him to the entrance of the pier, where they can see that police has arrived. Hansen is there and immediately recognizes the PCs and Jerry, who he greets sarcastically, telling Wilson and Hawk, who were surprised by the greeting, that Jerry always talks, the only thing he cares about is lighting up fires.   Circling back a bit on the action, Smith, who didn't have much to do since Lewis was taking care of the wounded, takes another glance at the scene at the pier and notices the dangling barrels and SW moving towards the crane to do something about it, when he has an altercation with a huge stevedore that punches him in the face and knocks him over. She rushes over to help him and he tells her to follow his directions to move the barrels to safety, which she does on the first try.   After that the scene at the Pier starts to stabilize, several stevedores had started to use the emergency fire hoses at the pier and the Gabrielle slowly drifts away from the pier, having loosened their mooring lines thanks to quick thinking by Turlow and the seamen aboard. Firemen arrive at the scene and everything starts to cool down. Calming down and crashing a bit from so much adrenaline, Wilson and Lewis notice the lights of another ship moving away across the bay, Acacia Lexington´s Tallahassee leaving one day before scheduled. They also notice SW looking over at the same sight in angered silence.   SEPT 9 -Newspapers the next day have SW, García, Wilson, Lewis and Smith in the front page headlines with stories about their rescue of stevedores, grabbing the arsonist, and one about one woman beating all stereotypes to use a crane to move several oil barrels to safety and avoid their explosion. Turlow also gets his spotlight thanks to his quick thinking and reflexes to move the Gabrielle out of harm's way.   At breakfast Moore lists all that was damaged and needs to be replaced, and publicly thanks everyone that helped and Turlow, it could've been much worse if it weren't for them, but unfortunately there is no way to avoid having to postpone their departure, which has now been moved to the 11th.   -Free from EXP related duties for the moment, the group gathers to discuss how to use this extra time. Wilson wants to search and interview Stanley Fuchs or Lionel White (not sure if that was on the book or I invented him on the fly when asked about another previous owner), the previous owners of the complete Pym Manuscript. Lewis argues against this since Fuchs clearly doesn't know more than what he put in the letter, and they don´t even know who that White guy is, she insists on researching more about the Lexingtons   -Lewis, García and Hawk head over to the police to talk to Hansen, who mentions that he sent some officers to where Polk was supposed to meet with “O´Doyle” at Central Park, but no one ever showed up. They ask him about P.W. Lexington´s suicide and the clues that it may have been something else, but this irks him a bit and he stresses the fact that it was never considered to be something other than a suicide, all the evidence pointed to that, and he worked at Homicides, not “Rich Women Conspiracy Theories”.   -After that they head to the Library where Wilson and Smith were already busy at work and help them find all they can about Acacia Lexington and her father P.W.. They also search for information about O´Doyle, but find nothing.   SEPT 10 After breakfast they gather once again to discuss what else they can do, and agree that it´s best if they find as much as they can about the german connection and that expedition, the BFE.   After many hours in different libraries they find as much as they can about their expedition origin, stated goals and timetable, but it doesn´t amount to much. A bit frustrated, they decide to research Acacia´s expedition and manage to get a roster/manifest and search for what they can about their members, not finding much other than Priestley´s film background and that Tuvinnen was a renowned explorer and guide. Deciding that was that, they settle in at the Gabrielle awaiting departure.   SEPT 11 - Nothing's Gonna Stop us Now!   The SS Gabrielle finally departs, without any additional problem.   -For some reason no one signs up for Ballroom Dancing or Origami. Hawk signs up as co-instructor for the Aviation class. They all sign up on various classes.   SEPT 19/21 -Panama Canal Crossing - All PCs are awed by the whole process and love the experience   SEPT 25 -Hawk, Wilson and García have already crossed the Ecuator more than once, so Turlow takes them aside to tell them about the Crossing Ceremony and that Lewis, Smith, and some seamen were going to be “honored”.   While enjoying the after party, Lewis and Wilson are the first to hear the coughs, panting, gasping and attempts to shout for help from Coates, and they rush to assist him, being then among the first to notice the wave of piercing ammonia smell.   They rush to see where it´s coming from, with Smith rushing behind them and asking to be the first to inspect the refrigerator, finding the broken ammonia tube but nothing else. Lewis asks to have a go at it and notices the marks of a potent acid being the culprit, which bothers Smith since she should've noticed that. They report this to Turlow, who is quick to get to the scene as well, and he tells them to go to their quarters so that they can take care of what´s going on.   SEPT 26 Everyone witnesses or hears the scene between SW and the Captain, with SW ignoring every reason and argument from the Captain, forcing them to move forward to Melbourne whatever happens, even if they are forced to eat Pemmican for a week and a half. This doesn´t help improve their relations with the crew, and they now start to notice some open hostility aimed at them, and several comments against SW.   SEPT 28 Once again Lewis and Wilson are the first ones to hear the dogs growling, fighting and whimpering, so they go immediately to their cargo hold. Wilson grabs the thickest blanket he has around for protection, just in case. Smith and Hawk were still sleeping but are awoken by their cabin mates, but still they take a few more minutes to get there. Upon hearing the commotion, Hawk grabs his handgun, “No guns on deck” be damned! García keeps on sleeping, undisturbed.   Lewis and Wilson get there first and witness the terrible scene, which particularly affects Wilson, who has to take a few seconds to recover. Due to his reaction, Lewis could've been the first to go down there, but she has no intention of going at it alone, so she shakes Wilson “Do something!!! they´re killing themselves!!”.   They both notice that what they´re seeing is not normal, that's not a regular dog fight, and they show strange, erratic behavior, it´s almost like they were…. poisoned? How can that be?!   More people start to arrive in quick succession, Pulaski, Fiskarson, Turlow, Hawk and Smith. Fiskarson is the most affected by the sight and starts screaming almost hysterically: “What is happening to them?!! We need to help them!! Please DO something!!!”.   Wilson gets in the middle of the dogs with his blanket to try and separate the dogs still fighting, while Lewis tells the rest that its clear that they were poisoned. Turlow quickly takes control of the situation and orders that all the dogs that have killed need to be put down immediately and the rest receive medical attention quickly. Fiskarson is very affected by that command “Kill them?!! My dogs… my poor dogs!”. Lewis and Smith try to argue with Turlow that that isn´t necessary but he pulls rank and informs them that its an order. Pulaski, heavy expression on his face, asks Turlow for his gun to do it, but Hawk interrupts and says that he will take care of it.   All the dogs are put down with one shot from Hawk, except for the last one, which receives the first shot but lives, whimpering hysterically, which is too much for Fiskarson, who runs away from the terrible scene. The second shot finally puts the dog to rest.   Lewis and Smith then start to check on the surviving dogs, weakened, drooling and shaking uncontrollably and notices that this was the work of a very potent poison, and the symptoms point to stricnine. She tells this to Wilson and Hawk, which causes Wilson to ask Pulaski who fed the dogs last. Pulaski tells him that it was him, so the next question is who provided him with that day´s meal, and he tells him that it was Coates, the messboy, which makes him recall that it was the same Coates that gave the alarm and first found the broken refrigerator, so they immediately suspect him.   -They head to the kitchen to find Coates and interrogate him, but they bump into Moore that was on its way to the dogs hold to see what happened. They tell him everything that went down and what they know so far, so he asks them what they were planning to do. They at least are honest with him, so he reprimands them for not going first to him or SW, he reminds them that they are the leaders of the EXP and they should always go to them first with something important. He agrees that the evidence shows there´s a saboteur on board and allows them to question Coates and will give them a day or two to find out what happened before going to the Captain, but insists that they need to be extremely discreet and that no one else has to find out about the poison, and to please report back to him with anything they find.   After that, the whole group barges into the kitchen, briefly encountering Henning going to the mess hall to do some chores, who tells them that Coates is in the kitchen talking to Whitney, the cook. They enter the kitchen, Wilson introduces himself to Coates in an openly hostile manner, which makes the cook demand to know what´s going on, why four people from the expedition, strangers to him, are in his kitchen talking like that to one of his messboys, so Wilson tells him that the EXP dogs were poisoned and several died, so they had to question Coates about it, and the poor messboy starts to get really nervous and raises his voice saying he didn´t do anything, which brings Abraham also to the kitchen to see whats all that shouting. Discretion, meet Wilson.   The cook doesn´t like any of this and asks them under which authority they are doing this and if the Captain knew what was going on, to which Wilson answers that the Captain knew nothing, Moore had sent them. This makes the cook furious and tells them that he doesn't follow orders from Moore, so he sends Abraham to get a crew officer and forbids them talking further with Coates.   Turlow arrives shortly and speaks in private with the group of expedition members, who tell them what they arranged with Moore, and thanks to them already having some relation with Turlow and gaining some amount of his respect for previous interventions, he gives them the go ahead to continue with their inquiries and that he would inform the Captain and the matter would be kept under wraps for a few days, but asks them to please be discreet and avoid any other crew member or anyone else finding out about this. He will help them with anything they need to investigate and isolates Coates in the small makeshift “brig” of the ship so that they can question him.   -Before starting on that they decide to have a private meeting to take a step back and go over the facts so that they don´t miss anything. They identify 6 people that could've had regular access to the refrigerator without raising suspicion, with Turlow on the list, but he is crossed out immediately (I suppose because they like him?)   -Smith and Lewis start checking the remaining Pemmican to check for more poisoned blocks, but after an hour of this find nothing. Hawk goes to check up on them to see how it´s going and asks them if they checked the dogs food bins. Since it hadn't occurred to them, he goes to collect them and runs into Pulaski who tells him that he still has half a block remaining from the morning meal that wasn´t used. Lewis examines that block and quickly finds the presence of powdered stricnine, enough to kill many dogs and probably several humans as well. She also notices that they way in which its sprayed on the food means that it wasn't added in the manufacturing process but later, so Wilson and Garcia propose to analyze the chain of people involved in getting the food to the dog handlers. Wilson then goes with Hawk to question Coates and tells Hawk that he should play “bad cop” while he´ll be the “good cop”, but he starts shouting and verbally attacking Coates the moment he enters the room.   Coates is visibly frightened and very nervous, he can´t even pronounce the word “stricnine” and he denies everything, crying nervously, telling them he had nothing to do with any poison or with the refrigerator, he thought that was an accident. He tells them every step he took on that afternoon shift until he smelled the ammonia coming from the refrigerator, and also this morning´s shift, in which he went to Abraham to get the pemmican blocks that he had to take to the dog handlers for the feeding.   After this Hawk and Wilson ask Turlow to also isolate Abraham and Henning for their interrogation and head to talk to Abraham first. Abraham proves to be surly, he doesn´t like to be interrogated by some unknown biologist and pilot, but answers calmly, in a professional manner. He is in charge of the pantry and inventory and that morning he set aside the Pemmican for the dogs and the food for breakfast so that the messboys Henning and Coates could take them to the dog handlers and the breakfast food to the cook and kitchen staff to start making breakfast. -Henning took the breakfast food to the kitchen staff and then went to prepare the hall for the meal, while Coates took the Pemmican to the handlers and then went back to help Henning. -They ask him if Coates is always the one that takes the dog food for the handlers and he tells them no, that sometimes its Coates, sometimes Henning, and sometimes the handlers go to the pantry directly and sign for it to take it themselves. Wilson has a bit of a hard time understanding this mechanic, which earns him a condescending remark from Abraham comparing him to Coates, who he had already characterized as a very limited individual (“He´s dim. An idiot, some would say”) Wilson asks him what he was doing the day of the Crossing Over party and he remembers that when the alarm went off he was chatting with an able seaman, Moseley, and he remembers seeing Henning at some point at the party but not Coates until he appeared almost fainting from the ammonia smell.   -Hawk and Wilson talk to Turlow to check Henning, Abraham and Coates references, having also eliminated Whitney from the suspect shortlist due to him having no contact with the Pemmican for the dogs. Turlow tells them that he completed many trips with Abraham and as far as he was concerned he was completely trustworthy. Both Henning and Coates were new on his crew and hadn´t traveled together previously as far as he knew, but both had a good resume and references. They insist, asking if he could really check them thoroughly and he admits that they were pressed for time, they were some of the last additions to the crew that were forced due to some resignations a few days before departure date, so it was impossible for him to really be exhaustive in his reference inquiries.   The group then meets up again to compare findings:   Wilson: Well… the answer is crystal clear: Coates is the saboteur and Abraham and Henning innocent. After talking to them, the answer is obvious. Hawk: But... we didn´t speak with Henning. Wilson: Right, but well… I think that the testimonies that mention him at the party and him having nothing to do with the dog food that day is enough to clear him. Hawk: We should still finish the investigation and talk to him, at least to be thorough. Wilson: Ok, ok, if that´s what you want let´s go. Lewis: But Coates and Henning are still detained for questioning, right? Wilson: Yes, we didn´t tell Turlow to release either. Lewis: Ok then, why don´t I go with Susan to check Coates cabin and see if we can confirm with some evidence that he is the guilty one. Wilson: Great idea, go ahead, let Turlow know what you´re doing.   Hawk and Wilson then go to interrogate Henning, which denies any involvement and provides a storyline that clears him completely, he was always somewhere else or not on service, and so on.   In the meantime, Lewis and Smith check Coates and Henning´s cabin and find the vials of Sulfuric Acid, the check for $250, everything undoubtedly belonging to Henning, so they finally have their saboteur.   ---SESSION END! - Almost 10hs.

Semsu

Semsu

Session 2

-SESSION 2 PCs: Lewis, Hawk, García.   NEW ADDITION: -Mariano García, 34, Anthropologist, Argentina. He doesn’t speak English perfectly and sometimes gets frustrated when he can’t find the correct words, but is usually able to communicate well. Colorful personal background, he was part of a travelling circus as a teenager when he ran off from home, and in those years he learned acrobatics and some martial arts. When he left the circus to study and settle somewhere, he continued practicing as a hobby and to stay in shape. As an Anthropologist, Moore was surprised that he wanted to take part in the expedition, so his final interview with SW/M went along a bit differently than the rest. SW didn’t care if he was a zoologist that wanted to trap tigers in the Antarctic if he could pay his way in and contribute to the EXP, which is what he ended up doing. He is going to the Antarctic because he is convinced that it was once inhabited by men or hominins, and he saw the SW/M EXP as a way to maybe find evidence.   SEPT 6 -After their interview with Hansen, Moore calls the PCs to a private meeting and asks them to investigate Douglas death, to make sure that it’s not related to their EXP and no one is out to harm them. He asks them to avoid any risk and getting into any kind of trouble, to just learn what they can.   -They go to the Hotel on Scammel St. and García bribes the receptionist with $5, which gets them the mention of the german guy and his interest for Douglas, and that he asked for and stayed on the room next to him. They search the book and find Sothcott's name. The group tries to get Douglas room key but the receptionist refuses, saying that the police have sealed it off and will be back any minute, if they mess it up in any way he’ll pay for it. They insist, he refuses, so García gives him $50, a huge amount, which gets them the mention that they can rent the german room next door, and if the door that connects both rooms opens he can’t control it… which they would have noticed without García paying a fortune.   -They thoroughly check Douglas room, find a handwritten note with phone numbers and names, the letter to Phillip, and Lewis notices that the dates of the missing journals match the Miskatonic EXP journey. -Police arrives and they don´t hear them on the street, but Lewis hears them talking to the receptionist, so they quickly go back to Sothcott’s room, where they wait for more than an hour for the police to clear out the room and leave. They take advantage of this down time to discuss their findings in whispers, with Hawk being very concerned that Douglas didn´t plan to take part in the EXP, which meant that SW lied, and he mentions that maybe they were in the wrong EXP and could check if the Lexington EXP needed more people. The rest believe that´s going too far, but a chat with SW was clearly due. -After this, due to the handwritten note contents and the receptionist’s mention of hearing Douglas say the Lexington name several times over the phone, they decide to pay her a visit.   -The group goes to Lexington’s mansion and they see Roerich entering the property and return almost immediately with someone at his side. García notices something is not right and he comes out of the car to intercede, at which point the abductors speed up and escape on their car. García and Hawk shout at Lewis to follow, and even though she is close to losing them a few times she keeps their tail long enough to see them go inside the warehouse. Lewis stays on the car, engine running and ready to make a speedy getaway if needed. García and Hawk go to the front of the building and try the front door, finding it locked. Also, they can’t see anything from the front windows. García notices that there are bigger 2nd floor windows and he takes advantage of his athleticism to climb and get inside the building through there. Hawk checks all ground entrances but finds them all locked and nothing of note, although when he goes around the warehouse he could swear he listens a boat moving away on the canal, looks out and sees nothing but some ripples in the water.   -García hears the whole interrogation without interceding, so after almost 15 minutes of that the germans leave and then he goes to help Roerich. Hawk and Lewis, after seeing that the other car leaves again, go inside to find García and Lewis does some first aid on Roerich, who recovers a bit and asks them to please take him to the hospital. They ask him who he was, what had happened, he tells them his name and that he has no clue why they attacked him, and reiterates his plea to take him to the hospital. García insists with questions about why they attacked him and what they were asking him, but Roerich tells him he is in very bad shape and an old man, to please take him to the hospital. García pressed on with the questions and Roerich faints, after which they take him to the hospital.
  SEPT 7 -Hawk and Garcia start arguing about researching the germans and buying guns, but Lewis is not convinced that it´s their best course of action. After García is able to find someone that sells him a rifle, Lewis insists that they have several clues to investigate, starting with Douglas handwritten note, so they first call Brackman´s number. Lewis realizes that it´s a Law firm and arranges a date at 2:30pm, which is a few hours ahead, so they have some lunch and head there, where they find out that Douglas was a client of Brackman´s and he retained his services for succession related matters.   -After this, they decide to pay Phillip Douglas a visit, even though it´s a very long drive and they definitely were going to see him at his brother funeral the day after. Phillip tells them about the cold black stone that made his brother lose two fingers, his drunken screams mentioning Danforth and Dyer, his constant drunken spells, etc. They don´t ask him about the personal possessions that Douglas mentioned in the letter that he was sending him, but they had already left his house and were on the way back to NY, and since Phillip didn´t say anything about them they assume that he didn´t receive anything.    SEPT 8 -They wake up with the Roerich Note/Invitation waiting for them at the lobby, asking them over at Holland Hotel in the afternoon. -Next, they go to Douglas funeral and notice that Det. Hansen is parked outside and checking to see who attends.   -They come across SW and Moore before going inside and take advantage of finally having some time available with SW (They tried to talk to him a few times the day before due to García´s insistence but it was impossible). They reprimand him a bit telling him that Douglas had no intention of being Gabrielle´s Captain or working with the SW/M EXP. SW, with his usual bombast assures them that that was certainly going to change if he could´ve talked to him face to face, after which there was no doubt that he´d accept. SW insists that Lexington is to blame for everything bad that happened to them, although Moore is of a different opinion and tells them that he doesn´t believe that someone with the class and status of Acacia would resort to killing someone to harm them. -The group asks what were they planning to do about a replacement and Moore tells them that after lunch they were going to interview a very good candidate and that they expected to have that matter solved by then. Answering their inquiry, he tells them that Captain Henry Vredenburgh is the candidate, and he has excellent credentials and experience, but after the PC´s comment of "what if he doesn´t want to join or the interview doesn´t go well" he concedes that maybe they would be forced to postpone their departure until they could solve the Captain issue. SW interrupts energetically insisting that there was no way that would happen and assures them that by tomorrow everything would be solved and their departure schedule will continue as planned. -Before finally entering the funeral service, Lewis remembers the seamen´s names on Douglas note and asks Moore if they could have a manifest of the Gabrielle´s crew and he directs them to 1st Mate Turlow to get one. -The funeral service goes along without anything of note.   -Having some time available before having to attend Roerich´s meeting at Holland Hotel, they decide to try and take advantage of Cesaroni´s contacts in the Miskatonic University (even though he is no longer working with them) to get the manifest from the Miskatonic EXP, and they get the names over the phone. After comparing them, they quickly notice Wykes, Grimes and Brewer on both.   -Early afternoon they go to meet Roerich at the Holland Hotel. Roerich tells them several interesting bits of information, mentioning the existence of the Dyer Manuscript which was stolen by the unknown germans that attacked him, and that he received it from Dyer with the request to give it to the leaders of the SW/M EXP to talk them out of going to Antarctica.  He concedes that since it was impossible for him to arrange a meeting with either he decided, by his own initiative, to take it to Acacia Lexington, having found out via the news that she was also planning an Antarctic EXP and because he used to be a friend of the family, specifically Acacia´s father, P.W. Lexington. They ask him who else knew about the existence of the Manuscript and he admits that only SW, Moore and Acacia knew about it, and these germans were looking for it specifically. He also mentions that he hadn´t seen Acacia since she was a teenager and he heard some rumors about some dangerous political liaisons. and that she donated money to several political parties, including german National-Socialists. The group makes the obvious connection but Roerich insists that he doesn´t want to believe that, but he concedes that it´s an obvious suspicion, plus, he never had any problem in particular with any german in the past. García remembers that in the interrogation the germans kept asking about Pym and he asks Roerich about it, who tells them that at first he genuinely didn´t know what they were asking about, but later, in the hospital, he remembered that P.W., Acacia´s father, often bragged about having the only complete copy that included the last 4 chapters that were never published, and that he eventually was forced to auction his copy due to financial hardships, and that was when his supposed suicide happened. He remembers that apparently that copy dissapeared then from the auction house. Roerich knows that this sounds instantly suspicious, and he knew from very good and trustworthy sources that there was some evidence that it wasn´t a suicide, but since nothing was conclusive the police closed the case and never investigated further. Answering a question from Lewis, he recalls that this was around 1923, and that was when Acacia took over the family business.   He concludes the meeting pleading for Acacia´s well being, he remembers her as a very bright and capable young woman and refuses to think bad of her, maybe it´s some other influence that´s to blame if she is involved in any way in all of this. He asks them as a personal favor for an old man to please take care of her as much as they can when on the ice.   ---END SESSION 2 - Around 5hs.  

Semsu

Semsu

Prologue + Session 1

-PROLOGUE + SESSION 1 PCs: Lewis, Cesaroni, Hawk.   -Stefano Cesaroni, 52, Milano, Italy. Journalist that specializes in paranormal matters. AKA The friend with a lot of experience playing CoC and with a lot of infectious enthusiasm to spread around.   -Jenna Lewis, 42, Charlotte, NC. M.D. AKA The wife, having survived a few easy one shots and thinking that this Cthulhu guy probably isn’t so tough as they say. She is acquainted with Cesaroni, although they haven't seen each other in years. She earned his respect when she rescued and saved the life of the supposedly worldly explorer and expert investigator, and won his car on a bet by doing so. She immediately became interested in the EXP when she read about it in the paper and decided that it was exactly what she was looking for to make her mark in the world, having been rebuffed and left aside constantly in her professional work by a male dominated environment. She wants to be the first woman to step foot in the Antarctic, and even though she doesn’t have much outdoors or field expedition experience, she figures a medic is always useful and welcome.   -Phillip Hawk, 43, Indianapolis, IN. Aircraft Pilot. AKA The friend with little RPG experience, having played a few times and years ago, never liked it very much, but who is also the friend that always says yes to any plan with a chance of being a halfway decent way to spend an evening, and happens to live a few minutes away. Smokes marihuana (It’s the first thing the player wrote on his character sheet so I suppose I have to mention it first. After a few sessions in which it didn’t come into play even as a side-note, I’m getting convinced he wrote it just in case I didn’t allow him smoking during play so he could pass it as roleplaying with a prop). WWI Veteran, he is a thrill-seeker and has since been looking to replicate the highs he felt flying in a war. He has been retained for different pilot related services, even taking part in an expedition to the North Pole some years back, making him the only PC with previous experience with cold climates and Polar Survival. He wants to go to the Antarctic as a personal challenge and to be able to say until he dies that he flew on all continents.
  The introductory final interview was handled separately, the only one outside the norm was of course the one with Jenna Lewis, M.D., who was accepted due to Moore’s previous extensive reference verification, who convinces SW mentioning her excellent credentials and the fact that another M.D. would certainly come in handy. Of course, SW remains unconvinced until the wealthy Lewis agrees to make a substantial contribution to the EXP.   SEPT 1 -Amherst Hotel Reception The group meets, Cesaroni and Lewis acknowledge their reencounter after so many years, and Lewis mentions that she’s still driving his previously owned Chevrolet Superior.   -1st SW/M EXP Meeting on the Gabrielle The only interaction of note is between Greene and Lewis, due to her being another M.D., female, and with more years of experience to boot. Greene lets her know immediately after introductions that he is the medic in chief of the EXP and while examining her he makes several questions alluding to possible ailments he may be looking for. Lewis answers all his questions correctly, which earns his respect, or at least some.   SEPT 3 -Moore points the group to Winslow, who hands out a work assignment to each and they immediately notice he is quirky and a bit nervous interacting with people. -They take the time to check their assigned inventory, finding all the errors and reporting them.   -Moore entrusts Cesaroni the task of receiving and assisting Douglas on the down low, but he doesn’t act upon it immediately, preferring to finish with his work list first. -Moore asks Hawk to travel to Trenton, NJ to check on the Boeings.    SEPT 4 -Lexington EXP News, Raving Mad SW scene. -The group keep working on their work lists and when they go to talk to Moore about some of their findings they also ask about SW’s reaction to the other EXP news. Moore tells them that SW insists that it’s all sabotage and Acacia Lexington is behind it but he isn’t so sure, and insists they keep working dutifully and carefully to avoid any error, whatever the source.   SEPT 5 -Cesaroni receives the 1st warning note and shares it with the rest. -Prompted by the note and having some free time after finishing up with the inventory, they decide to drive to Arkham to go to the Miskatonic U. Taking advantage of Cesaroni’s connections at the U. (he was the only one that graduated there) they get access to the Miskatonic EXP findings not available to the public and they take a copy of the Final Report to read later. -They visit Pabodie and McTighe afterwards, both encounters go pretty much by the book. -That evening they talk to Moore about their findings and learn that he was supposed to go with the Miskatonic EXP but couldn’t do to injury and about his previous friendship with Dyer, how he was a different person after returning.     SEPT 6 -News of Commander Douglas Murder -They meet Detective Hansen and are questioned, showing to be cooperative. Cesaroni mentions that Moore had asked him to greet him and help him with anything he needed, but he hadn’t gotten the chance to do it yet. -Due to mentioning this and the group’s full cooperation, Hansen lets them know the information the police currently have.   --SESSION END - Around 4hs.

Semsu

Semsu

 

The Causal Enigma or Strange Times in Gravity Falls

Monday, October 1, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Causal Enigma or Strange Times in Gravity Falls” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Kyle Matheson, Yorie Latimer, Ben Abbot, John Leppard, Whitney Ward, and James Brown.)   Dr. Eva Weisswald had last seen her friends on August 21, 1875, when Matilda Terwilliger had come to Devil’s Gulch to beg for help. Lambert Otto had gone with the woman but Dr. Weisswald had stayed in Devil’s Gulch in the ruins of the Gilded Lily Saloon because Ophelia, the serpent person disguised as a human, had fallen ill that morning.  Dr. Weisswald guessed it was something she’d eaten as she had been trying human food.  She didn’t think travel was a good idea and was determined to stay with her.   After a few days, the illness had passed.  Ophelia was annoyed at the entire situation.   Shortly after that, the two of them returned to Dr. Weisswald’s cabin in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory.  During her time there, she had finally found a horse that didn’t shy away from Ophelia.  She had been looking for a horse that would tolerate the serpent person as most were afraid of her.  It was a solid-colored bay with flesh marks on the flanks, a white snip on the muzzle, and a diamond on the forehead.   The man said it was named Satan.  He warned them it was the meanest horse he’d ever had and he was going to put it down.  He noted the horse had tried to kill a man who was cleaning out the stallion’s stall and warned them to stay out from behind it … or in front of it …or on its sides.   “It’s a hateful thing,” he said.  “It’s the Devil incarnate.”   Ophelia approached the animal, which snorted at all of them, and stared into its eyes.  The horse stared back for a few moments and then seemed to relax.  With Dr. Weisswald’s help, she saddled the animal and mounted it.  It seemed intimidated by her but in no better state of mind.  It seemed to hate all living things but seemed to fear Ophelia.  They were charged $5 for the animal and the man was glad to see it gone.   After being home for two weeks without sign or message from Jacali, she began to worry about her friend.  She and Ophelia traveled west once again, heading for San Francisco, the last place she’d seen Jacali before Devil’s Gulch.  She resolved to travel to Midnight in southern California if she couldn’t find Jacali in San Francisco.   *              *              *   The two of them reached Oakland by train in mid-September and saw Clayton Pierce’s name in the headline of one of the newspapers.  Dr. Weisswald paid a penny for it and learned Marshal Pierce had been instrumental in the rescue of Professor Marion Terwilliger from the clutches of notorious outlaw John Valentine at a house near Mount Diablo at the end of August.  The house they’d been in had been blown up and Marshal Pierce had been put in charge of the investigation, leading posses throughout the county in search of John Valentine for the past two weeks.   According to the newspaper, Marshal Pierce was working closely with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in Oakland.   They found him there.   “I guess it ain’t easy for me to hide, is it?” he said to them.   “Nope,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Your name’s plastered all over the papers.”   “Yeah, I keep telling them not to do that.  But … I guess the paper needs a hero and it ain’t Jack West.”   “Well, that’s for sure.”   “Ophelia.  Nice to see you again.  How is the transition going?”   “Your food is terrible,” Ophelia said to him.  “Your food is the worst.”   “I’m sorry to hear that,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I figured snakes and humans ate somewhat sort of the same type of food but … maybe not.”   She just stared at him.   “I’m sorry, you’re not a snake anymore,” he said.  “I’m really confused about … that.  But we’re just going to let that be.”   “I can educate you if you wish,” she said.   “Nah, I’m good,” he said.  “I’m good.”   He looked at Dr. Weisswald.   “You’re here for a reason, I suppose,” he said.   “The papers don’t tell everything that happened,” she said.   “I thought I was working alone, looking for Terwilliger, and then I ran into Otto and Jack West, as I often do.  They tagged along and we found John Valentine and the Crescent but … John Valentine had a hostage and we had to make the decision whether to save the hostage, or stop him right there.  And we chose to save the hostage, which I am very surprised that Jack West decided to do that.  But … the Crescent … sort of … exploded as if it was a very strong dynamite, stronger than anything I’ve ever seen.  We had a tool that would point us to the Crescent.”   “Had?”   “Yeah.”   He told her a madman had put the rod into the Crescent and it had unraveled him, turning him into nothing.   “Apparently when the Crescent is complete, bad things will happen,” he said.   He noted the Crescent they had found was badly damaged, scorched on one side and partially melted.  He also related they had learned from Terwilliger the scorched Crescent was not the one from Yellow Flats.  There was more than one.   “Where are … the others though?” he asked.  “I was working and now the group is kind of split.  Otto and Jack West seem to be best of buddies now.  I have not seen Jacali.  Have not seen Stalloid … or Wilder … or Gemma Jones … or … I don’t even remember anymore.”   “I was hoping you would know where they were,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Well, I know where Otto and Jack West are going to be … in two and a half weeks.  But, I mean I’m trying to get as much of us together as I can because it seems like we’re the only ones that care about this Crescent right now.  And still got business to do.  We’ve got to stop John Valentine.  Have you seen Jacali?”   “No, but wherever the Crescent is, probably she’ll be there too.”   “Okay.  Well, I’m going to this place called Gravity Falls over in Oregon.  Got to get there in two and a half weeks so we’ve got to make some trail.  Do you and Ophelia want to tag along?”   “Yep.”   “I guess I should explain why we’re going there.  There is someone there who can tell us more about the Crescent and who he works for but he was very coded and would not tell us a lot.  But, he seems to be an ally and one we could very much use.  It’s our biggest lead right now where John Valentine is and what the Crescent does.”   He told her they were to meet in Gravity Falls on October 1st.   *              *              *   It took them only a day to make their plans for Gravity Falls.  It would be fastest to take the Central Pacific Railroad to Winnemucca, Nevada, and then go overland north through the badlands of Nevada and Oregon to Gravity Falls.  It looked to be about 200 miles from Winnemucca to Gravity Falls, which Marshal Pierce figured they could make in about 10 days on horseback.   Cost of taking the horses the nearly 400 miles via train was actually more than the cost of tickets for the three of them.  However, Marshal Pierce managed to talk his superiors into paying for Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia to go with him on his trip to Gravity Falls.   They arrived in Winnemucca, Nevada, on the morning of Monday, September 20, 1875.  Once they had the horses off the train, they headed north on the trail to Quiet Gap.   *              *              *   In Quiet Gap that same day, Jacali approached the Marshal Churchill and told him they thought they knew who might have robbed the bank.  She said she wanted to try to get the money back herself or prove for certain it was him themselves as he was traveling with them.  The marshal was fine with that, so long as the money was returned, but urged her to do it quickly as people were planning on leaving the town soon and for good.   Professor Brandon Stalloid got the people of the town together late that morning and told them he wanted to help them.  He said if they didn’t have any family to go to who could help them, he knew of a town called Midnight in southern California that had new construction and could use help with that.  He said he’d help finance getting people to Midnight and noted he could arrange accommodations in his own house for people who didn’t want to stay there.  He told them he was going to Winnemucca that day but would return on the morrow as he needed to arrange with a lawyer for the funds for transport of the people.   The citizens of Quiet Gap were both amazed and surprised by his generosity and most of them seemed hopeful for the first time.  The woman who had collapsed in the street when she learned her life savings were gone started crying again and hugged the man, thanking him.   He also talked to Marshal Churchill, noting Midnight needed a town marshal as it only had a deputy who didn’t seem to want the job.  Marshal Churchill took that into consideration.   By noon, Professor Stalloid was ready to ride back to Winnemucca.   “Do you need protection?” Otto asked him.   “If you want to,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I have this.”   He took out a Colt peacemaker Jack West had lent him, holding it by the cylinder.  Otto decided to go with him.   Before they left, Jacali came to the livery stable.   “Did Jack West take these people’s money?” she asked Professor Stalloid.   “Oh, most definitely,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, that solves that,” Otto said.   “He’s the only one who could have done it,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I don’t think Otto would do it.  I doubt you would do it.  I was with one of y’all the whole time and you can search me.”   “The safe was closed when you found it, originally?” Jacali said.   “Yes.  Quite.  I mean, I did try but … that’s when I thought they were all dead.  You know, loose money is loose money.  That’s people’s money.”   “I understand that a little bit but he did ride off with it, supposedly.”   “I didn’t see him!”   “Yes.”   “I don’t even know if he got out of the spiders.  He might be on the moon.”   “Was that the moon?”   “Yeah, I think, maybe.  Not our moon.”   “Er … what?  There’s only one moon, idiot.”   Professor Stalloid just laughed.   “Yes, there’s only one moon!” he said.  “Just as there’s only one sun.”   “Well, if we find him and we do think that he has taken the … wait!” Jacali said.  “Is his horse here?”   It was not.   “He made it with the spiders,” she said.  “He left with the money.”   “Why didn’t he take the gold?” Professor Stalloid said.  “That’s what I don’t understand.”   “It’s Jack West,” Otto said.   “He doesn’t go by logic,” Jacali said.   “It is Jack West,” Professor Stalloid said.   “What do you think we should do about getting that money back?”   “Well, next time we see Jack West, I guess, I mean, maybe tell Clayton Pierce?”   “That’s what we were thinking of doing.”   “I mean he’s a pretty good … bounty hunter.”   “Marshal,” Otto said.   “Like I said … bounty hunter of the law,” Professor Stalloid said.   “You’re not wrong,” Otto said.   “I think that’s our plan,” Jacali said.   Otto and Professor Stalloid set off for Winnemucca.  Jacali opted to stay in Quiet Gap.   *              *              *   About halfway to Winnemucca, Otto and Professor Stalloid ran into Marshal Pierce, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia.  When they met, Professor Stalloid rode to Ophelia and whispered to the serpent person that he had learned a spell.   “What does it do?” Ophelia said.   “It lets me talk to ghosts,” he told her.   “Oh,” she said, unimpressed.   She would later tell Dr. Weisswald, as would Professor Stalloid.   “Clayton Pierce,” Professor Stalloid whispered to Otto.  “What are the chances?”   “Marshal,” Otto said.   “Otto,” Marshal Pierce said.    “Dr. Weisswald,” Otto said.   “Where’s Jack West?”   “Oh.”   “How come I always see somebody and, the next time I see you, someone’s missing from the group?  Last time I saw her, she was with Wilder and Jacali and she just shows up alone.  Last time I saw you, you were with Jack West.”   “There’s a … funny story to that.”   “About Jack West?  I’m not surprised.”   “Marshal, do you know how much of a Federal crime it is to steal $7,000 from a bank.”   “I sure do.  It’s a felony.”   “It’s a death sentence!” Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s a big deal, Otto,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Is this your confession?”   “No, I believe it is Jack West’s confession,” Otto said.   “Confession comes from the man who did it.”   “What I’m trying to say is we think he stole $7,000.”   “That’s called an accusation.  Not fact.  Do you know he stole $7,000?”   “Stalloid will back me up.”   “I am most certain of it.”   “And Jacali will, back at Quiet Gap.”   “My next question is: Did anyone see him take it?”   “Not visually,” Professor Stalloid said.  “But, there are only four suspects that could have done it.”   “You,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Jack West.”   “Jack West.  Jacali.”   “Me,” Otto said.   “She has no need for the gold and money,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s racist,” Marshal Pierce said.   “What I mean is … she can fend for herself.”   “Okay.  And the fourth?”   “Me,” Otto said.   “Otto,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And he’s right here.”   “So, two of the suspects come to me and say that the fourth suspect has done it,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes,” Otto said.   “I will think about this logically and, when we meet up with Jack West at Gravity Falls, which─” Marshal Pierce said.   “Or the marshal in town,” Professor Stalloid said.   “No, I’m the marshal.”   “He’s a marshal.”   “I’m the marshal.  We’ll handle it from there.”   “Just continue on to Quiet Gap and talk to Jacali,” Otto said.   “Yes, I would like to hear Jack West’s side,” Marshal Pierce said.   “But, do not tell the marshal about it.”   “No no.  I will handle this internally.”   He looked them over.   “You two lost?” he said, wondering why they were traveling south.   “I’m protecting Stalloid,” Otto said.   “He does need protecting but why are you heading south?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Stalloid is doing charity for the town since the bank’s …” Otto said.   “Since the bank was robbed, I’m heading off to get some money wired over here and take care of everything,” Professor Stalloid said.   “So, you are a suspect …”   “Yes!”   “… and are missing $7,000.”   “Yes.”   “And … now … you are doing an act of charity …”   “Are you the IRS?”   “I’m just pointing out─”   “Do you wish to inspect my funds?”   “I’m just pointing out a funny coincidence─”   “If you want to search us, marshal, you can, but …” Otto said.   “Some people would see that as an act of guilt,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Forcing you to─”   “I have about … $150 on me,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Very shy of 7,000.”   “I will tell you one thing: Jacali least; you second least, Stalloid.  Otto … you’re probably the third least guilty and then it probably was Jack West.  Anyways, you all continue.  Are you heading to Gravity Falls after?”   “Of course.”   “You’re going to have to travel mighty fast.”   “The plan is, we’re going to go down to Winnemucca for a day and then head back,” Otto said.   “You just better hurry,” Marshal Pierce said.  “That’s all I got to say.”   “Oh.  Okay.”   “He seemed to indicate that the date was pretty important.”   *              *              *   It was late afternoon on September 20, when Marshal Pierce, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia reached Quiet Gap.  They noticed the large stones about a mile from the town, each of them a mile or so apart, apparently in a circle around the town.  Curious, they rode to the stones to take a look.   They saw the stones were carved all over with pictograms and figures.  Though it wasn’t in Algonquin, it was general enough for Dr. Weisswald to recognize it as a warning to stay away.  She guessed it was within the circle and realized the stones were very old and knew it would have been a lot of work to move them to the place and carve all over them deeply enough for the markings to stay for hundreds of years.  This was something the natives of the area took very seriously.   “Shall we go around?” Marshal Pierce asked.  “What’s your opinion?”   “No, Jacali’s in there,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Let’s go.”   “Oh,” he said.  “Okay.  We’re going in.”   Just outside town was a sign that read “Quiet Gap: Population 87.”  The populace of the town appeared to be, as a group, readying themselves to leave.  Suitcases, trunks, and sacks of goods were piled outside of homes and businesses.  Several beds were also in the streets.  People were busy preparing to leave.  Some of them had gotten pieces of canvas for makeshift tents to spend the night outside town, apparently.   “That’s smart,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “They must be heeding the stones.”   They soon found Jacali.   “Friends!” Jacali said.  “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you all.  Ophelia.”   The serpent person merely stared at her.   “I see Ophelia’s well,” Jacali said.   “I haven’t seen you for many moons, Jacali,” Marshal Pierce said.   “I have not seen you either, Clayton Pierce.”   “What have you been up to?”   “Well, I recently came into this town.  You might have noticed the stones that told people not to do that.”   “Yes,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Turns out that people in this town were getting stolen away in their sleep from monsters under their beds from another … place that was not this world,” Jacali said.  “We went there and into a giant cube and there were spiders and we dove into the floor to escape them.”   “Spiders?” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh, and, I think Jack West stole $7,000 probably,” Jacali said.   “First off, is there a regular town around here anymore?” Marshal Pierce said.  “You are the third person to say Jack West stole $7,000.”   “Well, he was in the bank all day,” Jacali said.  “Mr. Stalloid said that the vault doors were closed when they came there and they were open when they left.  And, when all hell broke loose and Stalloid, Otto, and myself came to help the town, Jack West mysterious vanished, and his horse, after we found that $7,000 went missing in the night.  Without telling any of us.  So … if you want to tell me who else did that, while we were the only people in the town and nobody else was here because they were all stolen away to another planet, then I would like to hear it.”   “Another planet?” Dr. Weisswald said   “I have narrowed my search down,” Marshal Pierce said.   “That’s what Stalloid tells me,” Jacali said.  “I don’t know what it really means.”   “I guess I have narrowed my search down to Jack West or a man that is worse than Jack West, which is hard to find.  So, we will just confront Jack West when we meet him in Gravity Falls.  Do you know of Gravity Falls?”   “Yes!  We were heading there.  I was heading there with Stalloid and Otto.  And Jack West.”   “And they’re going … the wrong way.”   “Yes, they… once we figured out that $7,000 of these people’s money was missing and that our friend Jack West probably did it, we felt like we should intervene somehow.”   “Did you say ‘friend?’”   She looked at him.   “I use the term loosely,” she said.  “I guess traveling companion is …. more accurate.  Especially now.”   “Yes,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Is there anything else we need to do in this town?”   Jacali told him she was helping people prepare to move as most everyone was fleeing the town.  He said he would help.   Before dark, Professor Tennesley, the librarian, found Jacali and noted the strange entrances to the other world had continued to shrink during the day and were only a few inches across by dinnertime.  She noted there was not too much to worry about but understood people still being skittish.   Jacali, Marshal West, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia were not made to pay for anything while they were in town.  They had free dinner at the Crystal River Hotel that night and there was free beer and whiskey as well, mostly because the owner of the place, Anderson Smith, didn’t want to have to haul any more than need be.  Marshal Pierce paid for everything he ate and drank however.   Jacali introduced Marshal Pierce as the man she had gotten to help track down the stolen money.  People seemed happy about that and it soon word got around that Marshal Clayton Pierce, the same man who had saved a town in Arizona, was going to help them.   Dr. Weisswald met with Dr. Groate as the two did what they could to see to those injured the terrible night before.  Though most of the people were fine, a few had suffered bumps and bruises from their escape through the portals.  There was talk around town of the horrible things that stole them under their beds.   Jacali described the place she’d seen to Ophelia in hopes the serpent person might have heard of it.  She described a world of ash and dust, the orange sun, the two moons, the huge cube with the city within.  She described the night sky with the wrong stars and a great red nebula.  None of it was familiar with Ophelia.  Jacali described them going through the strange gates.  Ophelia said gates could have unlimited distance dependent upon who created them and how much magic was placed into them.  She pointed out the gate she came through went through time.  The case of this gate was probably through space though she noted it might be through time instead.  If the constellations were all wrong than millions of years or more could have passed and the world was in its death throes.  She mentioned the world might even be in some other galaxy.   None of that made sense as they all knew the Milky Way was the only galaxy and the entirety of the universe.  Clayton Pierce laughed it off.  It was insane to think there were more galaxies.   “I want what you got,” he said to Ophelia.   She merely narrowed her eyes at the man.   After some discussion, they decided to spend the night in the hotel.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid and Lambert Otto arrived in Winnemucca that evening and located a lawyer in the town by the name of James Longfellow.  They arranged for him to receive money and then arrange stagecoaches and wagons to move the residents of the town and their belongings.  Professor Stalloid wired to San Francisco to have $3,000 sent to the Longfellow to cover the expenses and his bill for the work he would put in coordinating everything.   *              *              *   On Tuesday, September 21, 1875, those in Quiet Gap had a short discussion on whether to wait for Professor Stalloid.  Marshal Pierce pointed out if they ran into weather, it could slow them down.  They knew if they pushed the horses just a little, they might still make it to Gravity Falls the day before.  Dr. Weisswald noted it would be good to get there early.  Eventually, Jacali suggested they leave a note but head out that day.   They left that morning, heading north.  They spent the first night in Paradise Valley, a little town north of Quiet Gap.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid and Lambert Otto left Winnemucca on Sept. 21 and arrived at Quiet Gap to find a note from Jacali left with Marshal Churchill.  It said they had headed on to Gravity Falls and bid them to follow as quickly as they could.  They left the next day.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce, Jacali, Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia pushed their horses only a little bit to try to cut time off the journey.  Dr. Weisswald also plotted a course she said would save them some time by following the various valleys when they came to mountainous terrain.   Ophelia didn’t seem to care if they arrived on time and at least once noted if her horse died, they could eat it.  However, over the course of the journey, she seemed to warm to the creature a little bit, especially after it was startled by a rabbit in the camp one night and trampled the poor animal to death.  Ophelia was happy to eat the rabbit, uncooked and unskinned, almost graciously.   *              *              *   Lambert Otto and Brandon Stalloid followed their friends’ route, both of the men regularly looking for fresh tracks and finding them.  Over the course of the journey, the tracks seemed to get less fresh however, and they guessed the other group was still pulling ahead of them somewhat.   *              *              *   Jack West had left Quiet Gap on the morning of September 20 and had pushed his horse a little bit so that he made good time to Gravity Falls, arriving on September 28.    The road that led into the valley went between two bluffs with great pine trees upon it, much different from the badlands just outside the valley.  The bluffs were nearly a quarter of a mile high and the hanging cliffs appeared to jut out impossibly.  Between them was a railroad trestle that went between two tunnels that must have been mines as Jack West had seen no sign of a railroad in the vicinity.  Nor were there any telegraph poles or lines.   The valley beyond was lush with great waterfalls and huge pine trees.  He saw mountain tops in every direction several miles away.  The sign at the edge of the valley read “Gravity Falls: Population 420.”   He decided to look outside the valley first to find a place to hide the money, but was unsuccessful wasting the day and actually spending the night in the badlands.   He finally returned to the valley the morning of September 29 and found it more lush than he expected.  He followed the road past the tent with the word “Seer” over the opening until he arrived at a cemetery outside of the town.  He went into the graveyard and found the freshest grave that still had loose dirt on it as if someone had died within the last few days.  He removed his gloves.   With his hands, he dug down two or three feet and deposited the bag of money there.  Then he replaced the loose dirt.   He made sure to memorize the gravestone.  It read: “Jeffersonson’s Son. April 7, 1859 - September 26, 1875.”   He looked around and then headed into town on horseback.   *              *              *   Lydia Fitzsimmons was a tall, well-built, solid prospector.  She was a large woman who was weathered and even kind of grizzled for her 30 years.  Her long, brown hair was braided to keep it out of her face.  She wore rough clothing and carried a heavy backpack with pick and shovel attached, disdaining the use of a mule or other pack animal.  She was very unattractive with a big nose, eyes a little far apart and a thick jaw.  She was sometimes mistaken for a man.   She was returning to Gravity Falls from working a mine in the outskirts of the valley that morning to drop off her gold and silver and have it valued and deposited in the Gravity Falls Bank.  She was coming down the road to town from the west, passing the hill where Northwest Manor stood, when she saw a man dressed all in black in the cemetery.  He appeared to be putting something in a grave and then shoved the dirt back over it.  He looked around, mounted a black horse, and rode into town.   She knew she would recognize the man due to the horrible scaring on one side of his face.  She would recognize him if she ever saw him again.   *              *              *   Jack West rode into town.  Gleeful’s Livery, Blacksmith, and Cooper was on the left, across from the Gravity Falls Hotel.  Next to the hotel was a general store.  Tucked in next to that was the Gravity Falls Gossiper, which appeared to be a newspaper, right next to the Floating Eye Saloon.  Across the street was a barber shop and dentist, the Gravity Falls Post Office, and the Gravity Falls Bank, just off the square.   The square was a wide area.  A water tower stood next to the Marshal’s Office, which appeared to be heavily built and solid, a church, and the Gravity Falls Town Hall.  Jack West had noted one house on the way in had a sign out front that noted “Dr. Horatio Wamboldt, Physician” and had also seen there was a schoolhouse down the road.   Several people were about though many of them seemed nervous or had thousand-yard stares.   He went to the marshal’s office, meeting Marshal Joseph Durland, who was not pleased to see him.   “You ain’t here to cause no trouble, are you?” the man said.  “I don’t like boys that cause trouble.”   He poked Jack West in the chest repeatedly.  The marshal had dark, messy hair and his eyes never quite focused.  He had a thin mustache, an overbite, and a scrunched-up face.  He had a thick southern accent and didn’t seem terribly bright.   “Don’t you cause trouble in my town,” he said.  “I got my eye on you.  Not literally, mind.”   “You might not want to with all this,” Jack West said.   “I definitely don’t,” Marshal Durland said.   Jack West looked through the few wanted posters on the wall.  One of them was a woodpecker, for some reason.  Another one was a horse.  The last one was a child of probably 12 years old.  He learned from the agitated marshal that children were prosecuted as adults starting at age 10 in Gravity Falls.   He ended up getting a room at the Gravity Falls Hotel.   *              *              *   After doing her business in town, Lydia Fitzsimmons got her regular room at the Floating Eye Saloon.  The rooms there were smaller and usually not as clean as those at the Gravity Falls Hotel, but they didn’t have fleas and they were much cheaper.  It was also better than spending the night in the forest, like she usually did.  She’d heard some strange things in the woods at night, but had tried to put them out of her mind to do her work.   As she sat down for lunch in the Floating Eye, she was accosted by one of the locals.   “Are you a moon man?” the man said to her.  “Moon men are not allowed in Gravity Falls.  It’s against the law!  Are you a moon man?  Are you?”   “Uh … no,” she said.   “Are you a moon woman?”   “Uh … no.”   “All right then.  As long as you ain’t breaking the law.”   “No.”   *              *              *   In the afternoon of September 29, 1875, Marshal Clayton Pierce, Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia rode into the valley of Gravity Falls.  They were amazed at the hanging cliffs, which seemed to hover impossibly above.  There also didn’t seem to be any sense to the trestle there.   The valley was probably 10 to 12 miles across and Marshal Pierce thought it looked more like western Oregon than eastern Oregon.  The road wound past a tent with the word Seer over the opening and they could see a church on the hill in the direction the road went.  Further into the valley was a great mansion on a hill further to the west, probably overlooking the town and the whole valley.   Clayton Pierce stopped them when they reached the tent.   “I’ve been giving it some thought,” he said.  “I think Jack West did take the seven thousand, which means that I will be obligated to take him under arrest and I will need both of y’all’s help.”   He looked at them.   “Now, Jack West is probably the most dangerous man I’ve ever met,” he went on.  “So, I suggest that I try to handle it by myself and you two stay out of sight and, if things go bad, intervene.”   “I was hoping that we could arrange something peacefully as well,” Jacali said.  “Before I talked to you I was hoping to talk to him myself and, if anything, just get the money back.  I could care less about him going to jail.”   “You want to … actually, that might be a good idea.  Why don’t you talk to him before he knows that I’m here and then if I see things going south … I’m not planning on shooting at Jack West but he’s pretty quick …”   “Oh, I know if I get in a shootout with Jack West, I’m going to die.”   “There’s a good chance he kills all three of us.”   “Oh yeah.”   “But I like that idea.  Why don’t you go talk to him?”   Ophelia coughed.   “I meant all of us,” Marshal Pierce said.   “That does remind me though, if things do go south …” Jacali said.   “He means no one can kill you,” Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.   “No, he doesn’t,” the serpent person replied.   “… we might need Ophelia’s help to deal with him,” Jacali said.  “Ophelia, do you know anything that could incapacitate someone non-lethally?”   “Like poison?” Ophelia said.   “Non-lethally?”   “Oh.”   “Well, I don’t know how violent we want to get.  I certainly don’t.  The only thing that I think we have if it gets dangerous that could contest Jack West’s gun is … Ophelia’s magic.”   “What hand does he use?”   “Both?  I think he could shoot with his foot, honestly.”   “There is something that might incapacitate him that I know if, if it’s needed.”   “Let’s worry about that when we come to it.  I’ll try to talk to him pleasantly without you around first.”   “I’ll be watching from afar though,” Marshal Pierce said.   Jacali mentioned she was looking for a gypsy woman named Daisy whom she had a description of: white hat, black hair, dark eyes, two horses, and a gypsy vardo.  She noted the woman supposedly had the Crescent Gemma Jones saw and used it to heal her.  She also wanted to see the Seer first.   They rode back to the fortune teller tent and saw the sign read: “The Seer: Fortunes Told.”  Jacali and Dr. Weisswald planned to enter while Marshal Pierce and Ophelia would stay outside.  Marshal Pierce volunteered to hold their horses.   “You can stay with Satan,” Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.   “My name is Clayton Pierce,” Marshal Pierce quipped.   The two women entered the tent and found a woman within who was young and unattractive with a large nose and chin.  She was short and olive-skinned with messy hair.  She wore a brown robe with dark brown handprints on the front.   “It’s about time,” she said.  “I was expecting you.”   “Oh,” Jacali said.  “You were?  Like you knew … what’s my name?”   “Asking such specifics is, of course, impossible.”   “Oh, of course.”   “You are … the Jicarilla Apache.  Which would make … you … the doctor?”   “I have an doctor’s bag.  It’s not that impressive,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Believe what you wish to believe,” the Seer said.   “Most people don’t get the Apache thing, much less more specific,” Jacali said.  “I came because I’m looking for a specific fortune teller named Daisy.  I don’t know what she goes by professionally.”   “Oh,” the Seer said.  “I don’t know her.”   “Well, I suppose while I’m here I can take a spin of your services.  I’m in some rough times.  I would love to know what’s going to happen in the future.”   “How much is the future worth?”   Jacali thought on that a few moments and put down 10 silver dollars.  The Seer’s eyes opened wide.   “That … is …” she said.   She took the money.   “I don’t know how much these things cost,” Jacali said.  “I hope that’s enough.  I don’t buy many things often.”   The Seer bid them both to sit and they looked around the large tent.  There were strange things hanging from the poles that held it up.  Off to one side was a cage that appeared to be full of hands, all of them severed at the wrist.   “I cannot tell always, with certainty,” the Seer said.  “But, for this much money, if I cannot tell you today, you are welcome to return tomorrow, free of charge.”   “So, you know there will be a tomorrow then?” Jacali said.   The woman looked at her.   “You seem to think that a fortune teller sees everything,” she said.  “Do you know how much there is to see?  There are millions of people on the world.  If I saw all of the futures at once, I would be lying on the ground, foaming at the mouth, as I tried to figure out what I was seeing.”   “Fair enough,” Jacali said.  “Fair enough.”   “If I cannot give you a reading today, I bid you to return tomorrow, no charge, and I will try again then.”   She started chanting and Jacali realized she was actually casting a spell.  She knew it to the depth of her soul that she was actually using magic as she took two of the hands from the cage and tossed them onto the table.  They were real and, as the Seer looked over the position they landed in, she looked terrified.   “You are going to see things you do not want to see in the near future, but not the future,” she said.  “You are going to a place that you know far too well.  You are going to see people that you haven’t seen in many, many years.  You … are dealing with forces that are dangerous, but are not necessarily working against you.  You … you …”   She started sweating despite the cool air in the tent.  She raised her hands up and they started shaking.  The shaking worked its way down her arms until her whole body seemed to be suffering from a spasm, a seizure, or a fit.   “But you must face these things!” she said quickly.  “You must face your fears.  You must face the things you do not wish to see!  You must face them!”   She slammed her hands down on the table so hard the severed hands were flipped up off the wood, almost as if they were running away of their own volition!  It was too dark in the tent to tell, however.  She put her face in her own hands.  She had gone pale and looked exhausted.  Dr. Weisswald realized the woman had not faked what had just happened.   “Do you have seizures often?” she said.  “I have a diet I can recommend you.”   “No, I don’t,” the Seer said.  “But this is powerful. This is powerful.  Be wary and be careful.”   “I mean …” Jacali said.   “I’m sorry that I cannot see more …”   “Half the stuff surprised me.  That’s just where I’m at. Yeah, I will heed your warning.  Did you get it all or should I come back tomorrow.”   “You have paid me much.  If you wish to come back tomorrow, we’ll try again.  But I don’t know if I’ll get anything else from it.”   “Do you do the cards?  I know some people do the cards.”   “Yes, I do the cards.”   “Fine.  I’ll come back for the cards tomorrow.”   “If you wish the cards tomorrow, you may.”   *              *              *   “I think fortunes are silly,” Marshal Pierce said to Ophelia while the others were in the tent.   “It depends on if the fortune caster has actual magic,” Ophelia said.   They heard voices inside.  There was a squeaking noise and they saw Satan had a chipmunk under one of its hooves and was pushing down on it over and over again.   “You and that horse were made for each other,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Thank you,” Ophelia said.   She listened as the woman chanted within.   “I can’t tell if that’s a real spell or not,” she said.   Then the woman’s voice inside raised.   “What about you?” Marshal Pierce said.  “Can you tell fortunes?”   “No,” Ophelia said.   “Do you also think fortunes are silly for the most part?”   “Depends on if the magic is real or if it is just a charlatan.  If it’s a charlatan, they should be put to death, preferably by drawing and quartering.  That was the way.”   “Alrighty then.”   They only had to wait a few minutes more before the others came out of the tent.   “Hey,” Jacali said.  “That was pretty spooky.  It was real … for once.”   “Well, what’d she say?” Marshal Pierce said.   “She did tell me a couple of things I already knew, like I’m dealing with dangerous things that aren’t necessarily working against me.  Which I guess is kind of nice.  But we get that.  I’m going to see things I don’t want to see.  Happens every other day.  I mean, I’ve been traveling with Jack West for how long?  Anyways.  She said I was going to see people I haven’t seen in a long time.”   “You personally?” Marshal Pierce said.   “A place you know well,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “A place I know well,” Jacali said.   “There’s nowhere around here.”   “And … I … it wasn’t … it wasn’t acting, I don’t think.  What she did.”   “It wasn’t.”   “Nice,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I guess we don’t have to kill her then, Ophelia.”   “Such is the shame,” Ophelia said.   They headed into town.  When they went around the curve of the road, Marshal Pierce pulled his hat low over his eyes.  He suggested they hang back until Jacali found Jack West so Jacali rode ahead.  When Marshal Pierce saw Gleeful’s Livery, those following stopped to stable their horses.   They met Thomas Gleeful, the owner.  He was a heavyset man with thick eyebrows.  He wore wide-brimmed straw hat and greeted them with a friendly air.  They got their horses in stalls and when Gleeful said he’d have one of his boys take Ophelia’s horse, she stopped him.   “If you touch this horse, you will die,” she said coldly.   He looked at all three of them.   “She’s right,” Dr. Weisswald said.   Gleeful looked at Ophelia’s waist, probably for a gun belt.   “It’s the horse you have to worry about,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Oh, one of those,” Gleeful said.  “I got some stuff I can put in the oats if you need him to calm down.”   They declined.   “Trust me, drugs don’t work,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “I’ve tried.”   Ophelia took care of her own horse while the young men took care of the others.  Gleeful had a special stall for the horse with bars over it and holes so grain and water and such could be put in without getting in the stall itself.   *              *              *   Jacali went to the Floating Eye Saloon, tying her horse to the hitching post out front.  The sign over the door looked like an eyeball.  As she entered the saloon, she smelled food and beer.  The floor was covered in sawdust.  She spotted Jack West in the back corner to her right, his back to the wall, a whiskey on the table in front of him.  He was writing something on a piece of paper.  He obviously saw her standing by the doors, looking around, and waved at her.   She walked back to his table.   “Good to see you made it, Jacobi,” he said.   “Good to see you made it too, Jack Weast,” Jacali said.   “Weast?”   “Well, you called me Jacobi.  I thought that’s just what we were doing now.”   “Is that not your name?”   “Well, I’ll fix it later.  Anyways.  It’s Jacali.”   “Joe-Kali.”   “You know what, you just want to call me Jojo, Jackie … does one of those work for you better?”   “Jojo sounds good.”   “All right, you can just call me that.  Anyways, Mr. West, I was wondering why I didn’t see you at Quiet Gap in the morning.  We didn’t know if you had made it out alive.”   “You did see those snake spiders, right?”   “Yes, I did.”   “Yeah, I didn’t want to be near the snake spiders.  So I left.”   “I didn’t really pick you as a fearful man, Jack West.”   “Did you see how many snake spiders there were?  I did not have enough bullets.”   “Well, that’s true.  But I stayed outside the town and was pretty fine myself though I guess I can’t fault you for that.  Jack West, whenever you have a moment, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”   “Well, sure.  I got plenty of moments.  We got two more days, right?”   “Just somewhere in private.  Just let me know when you’re ready.  I don’t want to do it here.”   She looked around at the room.   A few people were in the place, eating or drinking or playing cards.  A solid woman sat in the opposite corner.  Another man stood up and walked in their direction.  He wore all black and had a scruffy face and a mustache.   “Did you say Jack West!?!” Pete Sutter said.   “Ah, Mr. Sutter,” Jacali said.  “Always pleasant to see you.”   “Is that Jack West!?!” Pete said again.   Jack West had taken his hand off his pencil and put it under the table near his gun.   “Is that Jack West!?!” Pete said. again.   “Is it?” Jacali said.   “You’re better-lookin’ than I thought were,” Pete said.   “I gotta beat the ladies off me,” Jack West said sarcastically.   “You shot me you son of a bitch!”   “And you shot I.”   “Oh, you gonna beat me with grammar?  Is that what yer plan is?”   The two glared at each other.   “Excuse me, Jack West,” Pete finally said.   He turned to Jacali   “I been looking for you,” he said to her.   “Oh, you have?” Jacali said.  “I’ve not been looking for you at all!  I hoped I wouldn’t see you.  But here you are.”   He glared at her.   “They sent me to find you and keep an eye on you,” Jack West said.   “Who sent you?” Jacali said.   “Them Secret Service men!  ‘Member how they sent me up to Gravity Falls and I wouldn’t go?  Well, this time they sent me and I went.  They said I was supposed to keep an eye on you, so I’m keeping an eye on you.”   “Why be keeping an eye on me?”   “I’d like to kill Jack West first.  Son of a bitch.  Shot me in the chest.  He shot first.  I fired in self-defense.”   “Pretty sure we squeezed the triggers at the same time, Pete,” Jack West said.   Pete glared at him.   “How do you know my name, Jack West?” he said.   He looked at Jacali.   “What’s your name again?” he said.   “You can call me Jojo,” Jacali said.   “Jojo?  All right.”   “It’s not my real name, but … judging by how well Jack West pronounced it, I figure you wouldn’t do much better.”   “You comparing me to Jack West?”   “I believe she did,” Jack West said.   “We all have our own strengths,” Jacali said.  “I’m sure you are better at other things than Jack West is.”   “I’m just supposed to keep an eye on you,” Pete Sutter said.   “Maybe I’ll keep an eye on you!”   “So, until that obligation is done …”   Pete looked at Jack West.   “… you get to live, you slimy, snaky, sneaking … damn, I thought you were uglier,” Pete said.   “I bathe as well,” Jack West said.   “Why?”   “So, they can’t smell me coming.”   “Keeping an eye on you.  They paid me well.  Where’s them others?”   “I wish I could close my mouth all the way.  I can taste you.”   “Well, two of my─” Jacali said.   “If I close my eyes all the way, I can see you!” Pete said.   “Touché,” Jack West said.   “Touché.  Don’t you be throwin’ no French at me!”   “Well, Pete, if there’s anything you need to talk to me about, I’m not hard to find,” Jacali said.   “There is,” Pete said.  “It’s important.  Why am I supposed to watch you?  What are you up to?  Rob a bank?  ‘Cause I’ll help.”   “Oh, I’m not doing anything like that, Jacali.”   “Jacali?”   “Pete Sutter.”   “Oh, that’s her name!” Jack West said.   “That’s her name!” Pete said.  “You couldn’t get right?”   “Jacobi sounds better.”   “What is wrong with you?”   “What is─ do you even remember her name?”   “Jacali.”   Jack West looked at him.   “Impressive,” he said.  “Smarter than I thought.”   “You’re better looking than I thought,” Pete said.   “Well, Pete, if I were you, I’d say there’s no reason to watch me,” Jacali said.  “I’m not doing anything.  I’m just meeting with some friends.”   “I been paid to do it.  I been paid to watch you so I’m with you now.”   “How are they going to know you did it?”   “I been paid to do it.”   “But how are they gonna know?”   “I told ‘em I’d do it.  I didn’t tell ‘em I do it before but I didn’t and now I do it ‘cause I did because I said I would.”   “But …”   “There ain’t no ‘buts.’  When Pete Sutter takes a job, Pete Sutter fills it out.  When Pete Sutter goes to kill Jack West, Jack West is gonna die, probably with a bullet in his back.  No offense.”   “So make sure I don’t turn around?” Jack West said.   “No, please do,” Pete said.  “It’ll help me.  It’ll be much faster for me.”   Pete grinned.  Then he looked at Jacali.   “I tell you what, I got a lot of money,” Pete said.  “I’ll even pay for your room at the hotel.  Wait, I’m staying here at the saloon.  Here at the saloon.”   “Oh, that’s very kind of you,” Jacali said.   “If you’re going to stay at the hotel, I have to move all my things there.  That would be a might inconvenient.”   “Well, if you didn’t tell me you were paid to do it, I’d thought you had a crush on me.”   “You’re an injun.  Ew.”   “Welp, I’ve had worst things said to me.  But, like I said Mr. West, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about in private.”   “Shall we go to your new room?” Jack West said.   “You stay right here,” Pete said.   He went to the bartender, an older man with a white beard and mustache.  He put a coin down on the bar.  Then he came back and pointed to a door in the back of the taproom.   “That’s a private room,” he said.  “I just rented it for ya.  Twenty minutes.  Have fun.  Ain’t no back door so you gotta come out this one.”   He returned to the bar and ordered whiskey.   “Try not to be too loud,” he called to them.  “For God’s sake.”   “No promises,” Jack West said.   *              *              *   The other three walked to the saloon.  Dr. Weisswald peeked into the front window while Ophelia stood nearby and looked around, bored.  Marshal Pierce stood near the door and tried to listen to what was going on within.   Someone approached him.   “Have you seen my wife?” the man said.   “Why would I  have seen your wife?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Well, I don’t know.  I mean … I’m looking for her.  I can’t find her.”   “Do I look like the kind of guy who would know where your wife is?”   “You’re a marshal.  You’re an officer of the law.”   “Oh, son of a bitch.  I forget I leave it on sometimes.  Yeah, I’m a marshal.”   “I’m sorry.”   “I’ll help you find your wife.”   “She’s really small.  And she’s got red hair.  And her hair goes straight up.  And she’s got a beak.  And she’s got really tiny black eyes.”   “Sorry, wait, what was that last part?  Back up.”   “What?”   “The beak?”   “Yeah, she has a little beak.  You know she has to use it to peck at those trees to get those grubs out.”   “Your wife?”   “Yes!  She got a darker-colored body and she got really skinny legs.”   “She got wings?”   “Yes, she does.  I’m sorry.  I forgot to mention it.  Yessir.”   “Back up.”   “Yeah?”   “Your wife is missing?”   “Yeah.  I can’t find her.  Maybe she just went home.”   “Your wife has a beak?”   “Yessir.”   “And your wife has wings.”   “Yeah.”   “That really sounds like, to me, you are describing a bird.”   “A woodpecker, yeah.”   “You are married to a woodpecker, sir?”   “It’s legal.”   Marshal Pierce looked at the man for a moment.   “Well, let us go find your wife,” he said.   They walked away to find the man’s wife.   “Jack West!” Dr. Weisswald said.   “You got it,” Marshal Pierce said.   “He’s right,” Ophelia said.  “I’ve got it.”   “Yeah, she’s got it,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We talked outside the tent.  She’s got it.  It’s fine.”   “You need him incapacitated … or killed?” Ophelia said.   “Judgment call,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I’m going to go find a woodpecker.”   *              *              *   “So, Jack, what did you do with the money?” Jacali asked.   The two of them had walked into the back room, which had a table, probably for private games.   “What money?” Jack West said.   “Jack, we were the only people in that town and I know you were in that bank all day and you left pretty hastily and the bank doors were closed when we arrived and they were open when we left,” Jacali said.  “Listen, a lot of money is missing.  Now, I didn’t, of course, tell any authorities about you because I don’t want to do that to a traveling companion, but this is a lot of money and there are desperate people trying to restart their lives.  I don’t want to get you in trouble if I don’t have to and I would love for it to just blow over.  But … if it was you, and if you took anything, you should let me make it right without getting any authorities involved.”   She looked at him.   “Well, I very much appreciate that offer but … I didn’t steal the money,” Jack West said.   “Well, listen, Jack,” Jacali said.   “The thought did cross my mind to blow the vault and take the money but we were dealing with portals with square buildings.”   “I understand that you don’t want to implicated even if you didn’t do it, but …”   “Wait, is someone suspecting me of stealing money?”   “Well, it was me.  And Otto.  And Mr. Stalloid.  When you left us that night without saying anything …”   “So, let me get this straight.  Y’all are suspecting that I just stole money and ran off.  Why would I have even helped?”   “Well, I figured you needed to make your exit and a nice time to do it would have been when all hell was breaking loose.  Listen─”   “Couldn’t I have just killed y’all in the town and just left?”   “Well, but then there would be bodies.  And a trail.  Honestly, I don’t have evidence enough to convict you and turn you in.  But I do have suspicion and I don’t know of anybody else that was in that town.  But, listen, I … I think you should have some time to think it over.  I feel obligated to find whoever it is who did this and, if it does happen to be you, I want to give you a chance to make it right before authorities are involved so I don’t have to do that to you.  And listen, I don’t know how much money in total was stolen, all I know is that the bank was robbed and that stuff is missing.  So, if you have any part of it, I will turn it in without mentioning your name.  That’s all I’m going to say and you don’t have to defend yourself about it if you don’t want to, but if it isn’t you, I’m going to start investigating it, whoever it is.”   “Again, I appreciate your willingness to work with me if it was me.  I appreciate you giving me a second chance if it were me.  But it wasn’t me.”   “All right.  Well, I guess that ends our talk.  If you have a change of mind, I won’t think anything differently of it.  Just let me know.”   “All right.  Where was the specific point of the meeting though?  Since you’re here, I’m assuming everybody else is.”   “They’re on their way.  Otto and Stalloid headed back to try to make reparations to the village.  I came ahead of them.”   “Wait, aren’t they gonna move because there’s portals to … spider snakes?”   “They are, but … all their money was stolen so, they need─”   “So I’ve been told!”   “─houses and stuff like that.  Yes.  So, we were trying to help with that part of it, how their lives were destroyed.”   “And that is terrible.”   “It is.  Terrible.”   “But I was not involved.”   “Listen, all I’m staying is I have had to restart my life before, from nothing, and I know that it is not easy.  So, if there’s anything you can do to help these people or if─”   “You have something now?”   “Huh?  I have something now?  Well, I have the clothes on my back.  I have a house to go home to even though I’ve been traveling─”   “You have a house!?!”   “All right, Jack West, I think I’m done talking to you.”   She opened to door to the room.   “I don’t know what Pete is up to,” Jack West said.  “But I’d rather not consistently look over my shoulder to try to look for Pete, so if you don’t mind telling him to calm … all of that.”   “Well, here’s the thing, Jack West, we are on the same side in that argument, if I could ignore Pete Sutter for the rest of my whole entire life, I would,” Jacali said.   “Okay, good.”   “However, the one thing I know about him is he is persistent and stupid.”   “And for some reason he don’t die!”   “Yes, I’ve noticed that too.  Apparently there’s someone who’s told him to look after me?”   “Doesn’t that make you feel a little safe?  Because that means he’s not shooting at you?”   “Well, I have a feeling it’s a shoot when they do something you don’t like situation.  And I have a feeling a know who it is, although I don’t want to think about it.”   “Tell you what, I’ll try to keep an eye on him so he can’t get a jump on you.”   “Welp, I would appreciate that but, as long as he is following me, I intend on making it the worst experience of his life, so … hopefully I can do that.”   “Oh, that’ll make me happy as well.”   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce helped the man find his woodpecker wife after a short time.  He called to the animal and she swooped down and landed on his shoulder.  He was very thankful to Marshal Pierce and shook the man’s hand after getting his name.   “If you ever need … any carvings … of woodpeckers …” the man said.   “Absolutely,” Marshal Pierce said.   “… I can set you up,” the man said.   He told Marshal Pierce his name was Jack Styles and he had a little house on the edge of town.   “I will take you up on that momentarily,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I think one of my friends might be getting shot so I need to go back.”   “Oh,” Styles said.  “Oh!  I’m sorry.  Oh!  Oh!”   “No, this was interesting.”   They had talked while they searched and Marshal Pierce learned Gravity Falls not only had a law allowing the right to marry a woodpecker, but that there were actually 46 different laws involving when, where, and how to properly court a woodpecker for marriage.  Marshal Pierce noted he wanted to learn more about that and Styles invited him to his house for supper that night.  He said he did most of the cooking.   “I would hope,” Marshal Pierce said.   “There’s a lot of seeds involved,” Styles said.   *              *              *   When Jacali exited the backroom, she saw Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia sitting at a tale near the front of the saloon.  West followed behind her as Marshal Pierce peeked in through the batwing doors.  Pete Sutter stood up and walked over.  Marshal looked at Pete and wondered why they were dealing with an outlaw.   Pete walked over to Jack West and Jacali.   “Was it fun?” he said.   “Well, I mean … it was a business discussion,” Jacali said.   “Right,” Pete said.  “And I asked if it was fun.”   “Oh, business is always fun,” Jack West said.   “It wasn’t fun,” Jacali said.   “All right,” Pete said.   He looked at Jack West.   “You wanna turn around now?” he said.   “Not when you’re right here,” Jack West said.   “All right, just checking,” Pete said.  “It’s okay.  You want a beer then?   “You buying, Pete?”   “Sure.  Why not?”   “I’d like the bartender to pour though.”   “Who else would?”   “In case you bought the bottle.”   “A bottle o’ beer?”   “We’re not going top shelf?”   “You think you’re in the 1970s or something?”   “Must be too fancy for you, Pete.”   Pete motioned to the bartender for beers for everyone.  The man poured beers and walked over.   “Oh yes, this is Pete,” Jacali said to Dr. Weisswald.  “You may have met  him.”   “Weisswald, hi,” Jack West said.   “You’re that lady from Chinatown,” Pete said.   “And the train,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Train?” Pete said.   “I’ve learned he has a crush on me,” Jacali said.   “Which train?” Pete said.  “I hate robbing trains.  It’s like robbing a bank on wheels!  Why would you rob something you gotta catch up to before you can rob it?  That just strikes me as way too much work.”   “Pete, have you robbed any banks recently?” Jack West said.   “Ain’t had time,” Pete said.  “These damned Secret Service people keeping me busy.”   Marshal Pierce burst into the room.  People looked up at him.  Most of them looked down.  One man, when he looked up, seemed terrified until he got a good look at Marshal Pierce.   “Oh, thank God,” he muttered to himself before looking back down at his bottle of whiskey.  “I thought you were that 12-year-old coming back.”   “Somebody say ‘Robbing banks?’” Marshal Pierce said.   “Sure, we’re talking about it,” Pete said.  “You want in?  Wait a minute, we’re not robbing a bank!  I got business!  Quit talking about robbing banks!”   “You’re the one that brought it up!” Jack West said.   “Oh no, you did!” Pete said.  “No.  What?”   Marshal Pierce pulled the rifle from the holster on his shoulder.   “Who started the talk about robbing banks?” he said.   Pete pointed at Weisswald.  She pointed at him and Jack West.  Jack West pointed at Pete.  Jacali went back and forth pointing between the two.   “Sutter brought up robbing banks,” Jack West said.  “I asked him if he’s robbed any lately.”   “Oh, U.S. Marshal!” Pete said, looking at Pierce’s badge.  “You want a beer?”   “Not in a bottle,” Marshal Pierce said.  “What is this?  1970?”   He laughed at his use of Pete’s joke.  Pete looked confused.   “God damn,” Pete finally said.  “Get over here and have a beer.  You’re clever.”   He gestured to the bartender and pointed at Marshal Pierce.  The bartender looked frustrated but poured another beer and brought it over.   “I’m looking for about seven grand,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Stolen from Quiet Gap.”   Dr. Weisswald noticed Jack West’s good eye twitched slightly.   “I didn’t make that much,” Pete said.  “I only made two for this job.”   He turned to Jacali.   “You’re worth $2,000,” he said.   “Oh, thank you,” Jacali said.  “When can I cash that in?  Because that would be very helpful.”   Pete looked a little confused.   “Well,” he said.  “From an existential point of view, aren’t we all just motes in God’s eye?”   Everyone looked at him.   “Pete,” Jack West said.   “Nobody’s worth 7,000,” Pete said.   “Don’t get all philosophical,” Marshal Pierce said.  “So, me and you should─”   “Well, that was my major!” Pete said.   “Me and you should go to California sometime … if you know what I mean …” Marshal Pierce said.   “I know what you mean!” Pete said with a grin.   “Yeah, you do,” Marshal Pierce said.   “You sit down here!”   “Yeah, all right!”   The bartender came over with the beer for him.   “So, Jack West,” Marshal Pierce said, taking a sip of the beer.  “Had your name come up quite a bit about this Quiet Gap $7,000.”   “What?” Pete said.   “I heard something too,” Jack West said.   “Is he a criminal?” Pete said.  Then to Jack West: “Maybe we could do business.”   “I heard something from Jacali about the bank over there getting robbed, but …” Jack West said.   “I heard you were in it all day and then … things got dicey.”   “Did you know Otto was in there all day too?”   “As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to Otto and he also mentioned your name and the missing seven grand.”   “Well, since you haven’t talked to me yet, you want to talk to me about it?”   “I figured that’s what I’m doing right now.”   They stared at each other.  Pete had been looking back and forth between the two as they talked, rapt with anticipation.   “Do y’all need a room?” he asked.   “For what?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Talking,” Pete said.   “I like it out in the open.”   “He talked to Jacali earlier.  “They said they had … ‘fun.’”   “I said I didn’t,” Jacali said.  “You got that wrong.  Jack West said he had fun.”   “I apologize,” Pete said.   “You’re fine,” Jacali said.   “Did you not have fun?” Marshal Pierce said to Jacali.   “The women rarely do,” Pete said.   “So true,” Jack West said.   “Pete Sutter, I’m sure that’s your experience,” Jacali said.   “On a good day,” Pete said.   “Back to the seven grand,” Marshal Pierce said.   “That is a lot of money,” Jack West said.   “Jack, I’m almost certain it’s you and you know who I am and you know what that means,” Marshal Pierce said.  “So, why don’t you just come out, say you have the seven grand and we can deal with it.”   “Why would I admit to something that I haven’t done?” Jack West said.  “Also, why would I travel in the same direction as people that know the same thing?  Why would I have saved those people in that town?  There’s a lotta ‘whys’ here.”   “If I may interject, I would have thought it was you even more if you had just ditched us after that entirely,” Jacali said.   “Well, true,” Jack West said.  “I could’ve gone in the portal, shot y’all in the portal, and then jumped back out of the portal.  And there is literally no one that would be anywhere that could’ve said anything.  No bodies.  No muss.  No fuss.”   “Well, while that’s true, I also, knowing you, think you could’ve gotten away with it,” Jacali said.  “I think that you think you can get away with it without doing that.  If you did it, that is.”   Marshal Pierce emptied his mug.   “My biggest point here is, if I wanted that much money, I would’ve killed for it,” Jack West said.   Ophelia whispered to Dr. Weisswald: “He’s lying.  Everything he’s saying is a lie.”   “Here’s the last thing I’m going to say, Jack West,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I been a lawman for a while.  And a lot of times, when a name keeps popping up, it means something.  Now, your name’s popped up from four different sources and I have to believe there’s some correlation.  Now, let’s believe you didn’t take that money.  I think you know who did.  So, I need to take you in for questioning regardless.”   “How would I know who took money that I didn’t know was taken?” Jack West said.   “I have ways of making people remember,” Marshal Pierce said.   Pete looked interested.   “Ooo,” he said.   “That doesn’t sound too friendly,” Jack West said.   “I’m a pretty friendly guy, but … if I gotta find something, I can do it,” Marshal Pierce said.   He glared at Jack West and Jack West knew Marshal Pierce was convinced he’d taken the money and he was giving the man an out if he would just come clean.   Jacali, in the meantime, wanted to test how far Pete Sutter was willing to go to follow her.  She got up and started going from table to table in the room, introducing herself to everyone while keeping an eye on Pete to see what he would do.  The man watched her while she did so.  Pete called “Duskerton!” and motioned for another round.   Jack West noticed both Ophelia and Dr. Weisswald watching his conversation with the marshal intently.  Pete was more focused on watching Jacali.  Jack West realized Ophelia was the snake person and she could do weird things.  It made him a little nervous.   “Well, Pete, we might need that private room for a minute,” Jack West said.   Pete looked at him.   “All right,” he said.   He went to the bar where Duskerton was finishing drawing up the next round of beers.  Pete put a 50-cent piece on the bar and collected the beers, asking for the private room as well.  Then he nodded at the two.   As Marshal Pierce got up, Dr. Weisswald caught his arm and whispered to him that everything Jack West had said was a lie and he should probably keep the shotgun handy.   “I know,” Marshal Pierce whispered to her.   The two men walked to the room while Pete sat down at the table and watched Jacali.   *              *              *   “Hi, I’m Jacali,” she said to the mountain of a woman sitting at another table.   “I’m Lydia Fitzsimmons,” Miss Fitzsimmons said.   “Fitzsimmons.  Are you a local here to Gravity Falls?”   “Oh, I’ve been here for a while.”   “Oh.  Well, excuse me and my group for having our noisy conversation.  We’re a noisy bunch.”   “I’ve been interested.  I’ve been eavesdropping.”   “What brings you to Gravity Falls?”   “I’m a prospector.  I’m in it for the money, but …”   “Well, most, I would assume, are.  Well, seeing as I have made a new acquaintance of someone I didn’t know before here, if you want free drinks, you can head over to our table and tell Mr. Pete Sutter that you are my friend.”   “I’m going to capitalize on that.”   “You should.  As much as you want from him.”   “Thank you, that’s very kind of you.”   “No, it’s very kind of him.”   She walked over and sat at the table.   “Who the hell are you, mister?” Pete said.  “Wait a minute.”   He looked her over.   “Oh!” he said.   “This is my friend,” Jacali said.   “All right,” Pete said.  “Bartender!”   He motioned for Duskerton to get her a beer.   “You are one hell of a woman!” he said.   “You must be Pete,” Miss Fitzsimmons said.  “You buying?”   “I’m Pete.  I’m buying.”   “Good.  I’m drinking.”   “Uh-huh!”   Duskerton approached with the beer.   “Get me one too, there, buddy!” Pete called.   Duskerton stopped and put down the beer before going back and getting another one.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce let Jack West lead them into the room and, as he entered, drew the pistol and pointed it at him.  He closed the door behind him without turning away from Jack West.  The man turned and saw it as Marshal Pierce cocked it.   “I don’t usually point a pistol at a man’s back but, I figured against you, Jack West, this makes it fair, don’t it?” Marshal Pierce said.   “It makes perfectly sense, honestly,” Jack West said.   “Pretty quick on the draw.  I figured I’d get ahead,” Marshal Pierce said.   He watched Jack West’s hands as the other man stretched and then sat at the table, putting his elbows on it and his hands together.   “So what do you got to tell me?” Marshal Pierce said.   “So, Pierce, you’re a smart man,” Jack West said.   “Obviously.”   “You’ve already got the gun.  Want to have a seat?”   “I think I’m fine right here by the door.”   “So … when we started into the town …”   “Who’s ‘we?’  Start simple.”   “Oh.  The four of us.”   “Who’s the four?”   “Stalloid, the injun, and the coward.  We thought the town was abandoned so … like any sensible person, we still wanted to load up on goods before we made our way to Gravity Falls.  Trying to get people’s attention.  Even shot a round off into the air.  Nobody came out.  Got some general supplies from the general store.  And then thought ‘Wow.  That money’s all gonna waste away just in there in its lonesome.’ So I thought ‘What does a ghost town need with money?’”   “Fair.”   “Opened the door to the bank.  You saw that handiwork, probably.  Then found out that the vault was much smaller than I thought so blowing it up would just blow up everything.  So, we look around town.  They’re snooping around for people.  I snoop around for a combination and find one.  I get the money and say it’s no worse for wear.  Nobody’s missing out.  There’s no one around.  Throw it in my saddlebags.  Good to go.  We continue with our investigation, just for their sake.  Then I’m fighting strange spider monsters from space, save the town, and we need to bolt.  Everybody bolts.  I end up, up here, knowing that well, damn, all those people are back but if I just turn in the money, that looks very suspicious.”   “So does lying about taking it.”   “True, but … if you never found out … I try to provide for my family.”   “Did you think that I wouldn’t find out?  Especially when I accused you directly?”   “You treat people as well as you can.”   “One difference between us, Jack West.  On this adventure, I think you’ve shown everything you can do.  I haven’t shown everything I can do.”   “That may be true.  But you all try so much to give that money back to those people.”   “I think it’s theirs so it’s theirs.”   “Then there’s only one thing left to talk to you about, if I’m in jail, I can’t provide for my family.  And I can’t have that.”   “I didn’t say jail.  I said I’m getting the money back.”   “By all means.  You can get them back their money.  Be that hero you like to be so much.”   “So, where’s it at?”   “It’s buried out at … Jeffersonson’s son’s grave.”   Marshal Pierce looked at the man.   “What?” he said.   “Jeffersonson’s son’s grave,” Jack West said.  “It’s the son of Jeffersonson.”   “One more time.  How many ‘sons’ is coming out of your mouth?”   “So, it’s Jeffersonson’s─”   “Nope!  Nope!  Slow down.”   “Jefferson … son’s … son’s … grave.  That’s where the money is.”   “How far of a ride is that?”   “It’s just outside of town.  You passed it on your way in.”   Eyes still on Jack West, Marshal Pierce opened the door carefully and spoke loudly enough for the rest to hear.   “Jacali, go to … listen carefully … Jefferson─” he said.   “Wait wait, hold on,” Jack West said.  “We don’t want the whole bar to know.  Just ask her in.”   “I’m not going to say anything about the money,” Marshal Pierce whispered to Jack West.   He looked out of the room.   “Go to Jefferson - son - son’s grave,” he said.  “I’m not repeating it.  Just do it.”   “What do I do once I’m there?” Jacali said.   “Start digging,” Marshal Pierce said.   He closed the door.   “Should be pretty easy to find,” he said to Jack West.  “You must have buried it pretty soon.”   *              *              *   “All right, Pete,” Jacali said.  “Are you good at digging?”   “Ain’t nobody better,” Pete said.   “Well, if I go to this place are you going to follow me anyways?” Jacali said.   “Find me a shovel.”   “You have $2,000.  Can’t you buy a shovel?”   “I’ll buy me a shovel.”   “I have a shovel,” Miss Fitzsimmons said.   “Thank you so much,” Jacali said.  “Pete Sutter will cover a small fee for this lending.”   Pete flipped her a quarter.   “Where we going?” Pete said.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce opened the door again and asked for some drinks.   “Marshal, just ask for some glasses,” Jack West said.  “I got the drinks.”   “I don’t need laudanum right now,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh, so you know about my condition?”   He looked at the man.   “Now Marshal, I’m reaching for my bottle,” Jack West said.   He took out the bottle of whiskey and laudanum.  While he drank, he told Marshal Pierce about all that had happened to them in Quiet Gap.   *              *              *   Jacali and Pete found Jeffersonson’s Son’s grave.  As Jacali couldn’t read, Pete had to locate the freshly dug grave.   “This un?” he said.  “It says Jeffersonson’s Son.”   “Yep!” Jacali said.   “Whatever the hell that means!”   “You know what to do.”   Pete dug and watched Jacali.  When they got down about three feet, he came across a large burlap bag.  While Pete pulled it out, Jacali took out her bow and nocked an arrow.  Pete noticed and grinned.   “I can still shoot you before you can shoot me,” he said.   He pulled out the sack.   “Is this what we’re looking for?” he said.   “I suppose so,” she said.  “Put it on the ground.”   Pete looked inside and gasped.   “Put it on the ground,” she said again.   “All right,” he said, tossing it to her feet.   Then he grabbed the shovel and started filling the grave back in.   “I’m respectful of the dead,” he said.  “‘Cause, you know … they come back.  They done it!  Here!  This place is awful!  I hate it!”   He finished up with the grave.   “Now what?” he said.   “Now we wait until Mr. Pierce comes back,” Jacali said.  “Because he told us to do this.”   “That marshal?  He ain’t coming back!  He’s gonna go sit somewhere at a desk and put his feet up.  That’s what they do!  Don’t you know nothing about marshaling?  It’s all about putting your feet up!”   He leaned against the gravestone.   *              *              *   After an hour, there was a knock on the door to the back room of the Floating Eye Saloon.   “All right, Pete, we got the bag!” Jacali said loudly from outside.  “Pierce, we got the bag!”   “What’re you talking about Pete?” Marshal Pierce said.   He opened the door and put his hand out.  He felt a burlap sack put into his hand and pulled it back in.  He shut the door and quickly looked into the bag filled with paper money and coins.   “Is it all here?” he asked.   “Should be,” Jack West said.  “I didn’t touch it since.”   “Why’d you have to lie?”   “About the money?”   “Yeah.”   “Well, what happens when you walk back to a town saying ‘Oops, didn’t mean to steal this.’”   “I found that most times they say ‘All right.’”   “How many towns you been to!?!”   “I saw those people.  They were pretty desperate.  I figure if you came back and gave them the money, they woulda understood.”   “I do not believe that.”   “Well, whether you believe what they would’ve done, you shoulda known that your friends would have helped you if you had told the truth.”   “I haven’t made friends in a very long time.”   “Well … if I’m going to be completely honest with you …”   Marshal Pierce holstered his pistol.   “… I don’t think … we … can do what we need to do without you,” he said.   “Having a good gun is always important in these … spider snake times,” Jack West said.   “But I will tell you this,” Marshal Pierce said.   He drew the pistol again and pointed it at Jack West.   “If you ever lie to me again … I will shoot you without talking to you,” he said.  “In the back or the front, I don’t care.”   “Back would probably be safest,” Jack West said.   “Back would get it done,” Marshal Pierce said.   He holstered his pistol again, opened the door, and backed out of the room, motioning him to follow.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce talked to Jack Styles and the man went with him to the postmaster, Otto Cutebiker, an older man with a big mustache and a lot of hair coming out of his ears.  Marshal Pierce asked the man to help him send a package to Quiet Gap Nevada, sight unseen, unopened and uninspected.  He was told they generally didn’t inspect packages and it would be sent.  During their conversation, he learned there was a law called GimmieOcracy in Gravity Falls which meant anyone in possession of the physical, legal document to a property gained ownership of said property.  It was also called the “Finders Keepers” law.   Cutebiker helped him get a package together and Marshal Pierce put a note in and addressed it to Marshal Churchill in Quiet Gap.  Marshal Pierce made the return address to Styles’ house and asked the man that if the package came back to notify him.   The note he put in merely read “I believe this is yours.”  It was signed “Clayton Pierce.”   “Gettum!  Gettum!” Cutebiker said.  “We’ll get it there!  We’ll get it!  We’ll get it there!”   *              *              *   On the morning of Thursday, September 30, 1875, Jacali went back to the Seer to have her fortune told using the cards.   The seer had her shuffle the cards until they felt right and then did a simple, three-card reading.  The first card, representing the past, was the Queen of Wands which represented a strong feminine person who was happy and courageous and made the world how she wanted it.  The present card was The Chariot, which meant direction, charging forward, or having a specific goal in mind.  She saw success in said desire.  The future was the Nine of Swords, which symbolized nightmares, indecision, and haunting thoughts.  She said things would be really hard for Jacali emotionally and mentally soon.   *              *              *   Lambert Otto and Professor Brandon Stalloid arrived in Gravity Falls that afternoon.  When they saw the Seer’s tent, they decided to stop before they went into town.  The woman was willing to either do the cards for the man or, possibly better, the entrails of a possum she had in her tent.  He took the latter.   She chanted and then cut open the possum to read the entrails and organs.   “You are going to go someplace you don’t want to go,” she said.  “That you didn’t ever think that you could go or would go and that … it is important to you that you make sure you know what should happen.  You must know what should happen because if you try to do things that shouldn’t happen … it could destroy you.”   Professor Stalloid asked to have the cards read for him and so the woman did so.   She had him shuffle the cards until they felt right and then had him draw three cards, one at a time.  The past card was the Empress, which represented nature and motherhood.  It was kind of the archetypal protector or a motherly influence.  The present was The Moon, which represented things that were hidden, things that were subconscious, things that one knew but wasn’t aware of.  It represented secrets and illusions.  She said perhaps Professor Stalloid was seeking something no one knew about.  The future card was the Hierophant, meaning traditions and represented laws and hierarchies, traditions either good or bad.  It could be very restrictive or sticking to laws and traditions.  When Professor Stalloid asked if it meant to not break governmental laws of the universe, the Seer’s eyes opened wide.   “Exactly!” she said.  “You do not want to cause things to happen that didn’t happen.”   All three of the cards were the major arcana, which was strange.   *              *              *   When they found the others, Jacali told Otto everything that had happened, filling him in on all the details they knew.  She told him Marshal Pierce had exonerated Jack West and arranged for all the money to be returned.   In the late afternoon, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, Miss Fitzsimmons, Marshal Pierce, and Professor Stalloid all saw a man in a simple suit with a Colt Army Pistol in a gun belt around his waist ride a mule into town.  The man had a bowtie and short, dark hair.  He was slim and wore a bowler.  Both Marshal Pierce and Otto recognized the man they had met on the Mountain House Hotel who had told them about the meeting in Gravity Falls.   The man had a large trunk on the back of the mule and he stopped at the Gravity Falls Hotel and went in.  Marshal Pierce went to find the others.  Otto followed him.   They found him at the front desk, signing in at the guest registry.  Otto approached him.   “Hello, Dr. Mordin,” Otto said.   “Oh, hello Otto,” Professor Mordin said.  “Yes, I’d like to meet you tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.  My associate will meet with you … well, we’ll get you to my associate.  I’ve got to arrange a room of some kind.”   “Where?”   “I don’t know.  I’ve got to find out.  I just arrived.  I haven’t even put my mule in the livery yet.”   “Well, I assumed you would know where we’re supposed to meet in town.  I’m sorry.”   “Well, you assumed wrongly.  Once I’ve made the arrangements, I will contact you.”   “Very well.”   “Are you staying here?”   “The Floating Eye Saloon.”   “I will contact you or the others.”   “There are others who were not there when we last met.  Is that all right?”   “Bring whomever you wish.”   “Very well.  I will get out of your hair.”   “You’re fine.”   He left the man to check into the hotel.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce found Miss Fitzsimmons coming out of the Floating Eye Saloon, having eaten an early supper.  Her napkin was still tucked in her shirt.   “It seems like you’re from around here,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Have you seen an Indian, a white-haired doctor, a weird loud guy, or a guy with a burn on his face?  Or all four?  They like to hang out.”   “I saw them last night,” she said.  “I can tell you that.  I had drinks with them.  But … I’ve seen them today around.”   “Can you help me find them?”   “Sure.”   *              *              *   Jacali was down by Gravity Falls Lake with Jack West.  Jack West was fishing and thinking about getting some dinner.  Jacali was there in the hopes it would annoy Pete Sutter.  He was fishing as well, but he’d fallen asleep.  As soon as she tried to move away, however, he would say “I ain’t sleeping.”   As they sat by the edge of the lake, something massive rose up out of water, moving faster than a horse could gallop, and rolled by.  It had a huge, horse-like head but was covered in scales and had a massive body.  They could not tell its size exactly as most of it remained submerged, but it was probably at least 50 feet long from head to tail if not larger.   People from Gravity Falls who were out there fishing just pulled in their lines and then walked away as if they hadn’t seen anything.  They looked disturbed but left as if it hadn’t happened.   They later learned the thing in the lake was called the Gobblewonker and it lived somewhere near Scuttlebutt Island out on the lake.  People seemed worried about it but no one talked about it.   *              *              *   When they all got together, Otto told the rest he wanted to meet them at 9 a.m. the next day but he hadn’t yet gotten a location but as soon as he knew, he would tell them.  The soon learned Professor Mordin wanted to meet them in the back room of the Floating Eye Saloon at 9 a.m. the next morning.   *              *              *   When Professor Stalloid was heading to the Floating Eye Saloon for dinner that night, he noted a little man no more than two feet tall in an alley across the street.  The little man had a bushy beard and a tall, red, pointed hat.  He looked more like a head with arms and legs than a person.  Then the little man grinned at him and he saw he had very sharp teeth.  Several other men identical to the first approached the little man.  They carried a pie between them and they smiled.  They looked at Professor Stalloid and nodded to the man.  He nodded back to them.  Then they ran away with the pie.  He could see, from behind, their little bodies.   “I’ll be off to find that pie later!” Professor Stalloid called after them.   One of them yelled back something about a queen but he was unsure.   *              *              *   Dr. Weisswald was frustrated with her inability to learn the Voorish Sign spell and asked Ophelia if she might be able to teach her magic.  Ophelia seemed interested and when she asked what she wanted to learn she asked about the incapacitating spell she had mentioned for dealing with Jack West.  The serpent person seemed inclined to teach her if she wanted.   “Do you want to blast his mind and drive him mad or would you rather shrivel him up into a tiny little hunk?” Ophelia asked.   Dr. Weisswald said she’d like to learn how to drive someone mad and Ophelia said they would begin the next day.   *              *              *   Otto purchased a new stock for his Winchester carbine that day, finally replacing the one he’d damaged in Gravity Falls.  Professor Stalloid did some gambling in the Floating Eye Saloon that night and made a few dollars.  It was only small-time gambling but he enjoyed it.   *              *              *   On Friday, October 1, 1875, they all went to the taproom of the Floating Eye Saloon and found Professor Mordin just finishing his breakfast.  He greeted those he had met before.   “I recognize you,” he said to Jacali.   “Have we met?” she said.   “No,” he said.  “Now, who are your friends?”   “This is my friend Jacali,” Marshal Pierce said.  “This is Dr. Weisswald. Stalloid.  Oh.  Well, you’re here now.”   He had noticed Miss Fitzsimmons.  She had seen them enter the saloon so joined them.   “This is Miss Fitzsimmons, isn’t it?” Professor Mordin said.   “Sure,” she said.   “Do you mind seeing spooky ****?” Jacali said to her.  “‘Cause that’s what we see.”   “That’s what I’ve seen so far here in Gravity Falls.”   “Oh good.”   “If your investigating, I’m fine with helping.”   “Yes, I’m Professor Mordin,” the man said.  “You’ve been here too long.  Don’t stay in Gravity Falls long.”   He led them into the next room.  In the center of the table was a device made of brass that had a big, red gemstone on the top.  Those who had been in Professor Terwilliger’s lab recognized the general design from a device they’d seen there.   “Please, if you could all take a seat at the table,” Professor Mordin said.   He noticed Pete Sutter for the first time.   “Who’s this?” he said.   “Um … he said he has been sent to watch me,” Jacali said.   “I’m Pete Sutter!” Pete said.  “You got a problem with that?”   “Pete Sutter?  I’ve heard of you.  Everyone have a seat.”   He ignored Olivia and she ignored him.   As they sat, Professor Mordin reached forward and touched the strange device in the center of the table.  The machine started to hum and lights began to flicker from it.  Professor Mordin closed the door.   “It will take a few moments to warm up,” he said.  “If you’ll just be patient, I apologize.”   They waited as more lights flickered on the machine and the gem at the top began to glow.   “There is a man who has been exposed to the Crescent for a good portion of his adult life,” Professor Mordin said.  “Not directly exposed, but he has had some exposure.  He can answer your questions about it.  You want to talk to him about this.”   The gem at the top glowed brightly and light projected out of it.  A figure appeared over the table.  The thing was an enormous, transparent, iridescent cone about 10 feet high and 10 feet wide at the base and made up of some ridgy, scaly, semi-elastic matter.  From its apex projected four flexible, cylindrical members, each a foot thick, and of a ridgy substance like the cone itself.  These members were sometimes contracted almost to nothing and sometimes extended to any distance up to about 10 feet.  Terminating two of them were enormous claws or nippers.  At the end of a third were four red trumpet-like appendages. The fourth terminated in an irregular yellowish globe some two feet in diameter and having three great dark eyes ranged along its central circumference.  Surmounting the “head”  were four slender gray stalks bearing flowerlike appendages whilst from its nether side dangled eight greenish antennae or tentacles.  The great base of the central cone was ringed with a rubbery gray substance which seemed to move the whole entity through expansion and contraction.   Jacali recognized it as the terrible thing she had met in her dreams.   Sheriff Pierce’s eyes suddenly glazed over.   “Nice trick,” he muttered.   The thing was translucent.  Pete Sutter cursed and put his hand on his pistol in terror.   “Subjects are prepared?” the thing said in an emotionless voice.   “Correct,” Professor Mordin said.   “Prepared for what?” Jack West said.   “Preparations are complete,” the translucent thing said.  “Initializing.”   “Oh no!”Ophelia said as she started to stand.   They all felt like they were falling.   *              *              *   The sensation only seemed to last a moment.  But then they were in a great, stone room with others of the creatures they had seen in Gravity Falls though they did not look nearly as large as the first one they had seen.  The room was made of stone and they each felt like they could see  at angles they could only imagine before.  It all felt wrong.   Only Jacali and Jack West were oblivious to the giant ferns outside a window in the room.  They were also oblivious to the brontosaurus that chewed on the leaves of the fern that must have been at least 30 feet tall.  Professor Stalloid and Miss Fitzsimmons recognized it as a brontosaurus.   Then they were suddenly falling again.   *              *              *   They found themselves in a dimly lit room that smelled of sweat and smoke.  There were several other people lying around on the ground, as were they.  They thought they could hear the sounds of people somewhere outside of the room they were in.   Light suddenly flashed into the room as a tent flap was flung to one side.  They were blinded for a moment until they saw they were in a teepee.  A little girl was at the tent flap and she spoke in a language they didn’t understand.   Except for Jacali and Dr. Weisswald.   “Wake up, you lazy braves,” the little girl said with a giggle.  “Are you going to sleep all day?”   Jacali recognized it as herself at 12 years old.   The teepee was filled with American Indian men.   “What the hell did she just say?” one of them said in English.   With the light coming in to through the tent flap, they could see a naked woman lay on one of the blankets, another blanket over her.  All of the men looked around and then one of them, an older man with a large nose and his hair pulled back in a braid and wearing only deerskin pants, leapt to his feet and ran outside.  He was quickly followed by another man who was skinny and very tall, completely naked, who wore war paint.  He had been next to the woman.  A third brave leapt up and followed them both.  He was unattractive and bug-eyed with crazy eyes.  He was solid and fast and wore doeskin pants.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid had suddenly woken next to a naked woman.  He found himself naked as well and then heard the child speak though he didn’t understand her.  When another of the men in the teepee had leapt up and run out of the structure, he had followed.  He found himself naked and sticky.   *              *              *   Clayton Pierce didn’t remember anything after entering the room in the back of the Floating Eye Saloon.  He suddenly found himself in the teepee and was unsure how he got there.  He saw an Indian leap up and run out, followed by another, so he followed as well.  He found he was only wearing doeskin pants.   *              *              *   Jacali had leapt up when she saw herself and ran outside of the tent.  She realized she was in her village, the village she had grown up in until she was 12 years old.  It was the village that was attacked by white men on horseback where the majority of the villagers, including her parents, had been killed, 20 years before.  But now she was here again somehow.   The teepee was near the center of the village where she recognized a couple of hogans, permanent dwellings, and the large fire pit where she remembered the fire was constantly kept burning.  Everyone in the village used it.  She recognized the place with a mixture of nostalgia and terror.   *              *              *   Otto looked around for his clothing as he felt something on his ears and realized he was wearing earrings.  The clothing nearest him was a thick coat that he donned.  He couldn’t find his saber but noted a flintlock musket beside him, along with a large club.   *              *              *   Jack West reached for his pistols and found they were gone.  He wore doeskin clothing and had a bandana on his head.  The only things near him were a bow and arrows and a tomahawk.  He found a knife and filled his hand with it, pointing it at the little girl, who was in the opening, grinning at the men who had run out.   When she saw the knife in his hand, she laughed again.   “Kuruk,” she said.    Then she jabbered in some other language.  She had told him: “Don’t you threaten me!”  She wagged a finger at him.  He looked at her, confused.   “Does anybody speak English here?” he said.   “When did you learn English?” the little girl said.   “When did I get so tan?”   “Kuruk, you are not going to lose your temper around me.  You might be rowdy around other people, but not around me.  I’ll take you down a couple pegs.  Now, it’s time to get up.”   *              *              *   Outside, Jacali, in the body of a male brave, looked back at the little girl whom she recognized as herself.  Someone tapped her shoulder and she found herself facing a handsome young brave wearing war paint.  There were feathers in his hair, which was pulled into two braids.  He was very slim and tall.  He was also completely naked.   “Where am I?” he said in English.   Another unattractive brave with bugged out, crazy eyes stood behind him.  He was strong and slim and wore a few feathers in his hair as well.  He wore doeskin pants.   “This is wild,” he said.   “Get weapons!” the other brave said.   *              *              *   In the tent, the others looked around at the unfamiliar faces as they realized they were not in their own bodies.  One of them, a dark-skinned and attractive Indian who wore beads in his hair, was poking his arm.   “What is …?” he said.   He grunted every time he touched his arm as if it was uncomfortable.   “What is this!?!” he said, looking around in anger.   Dr. Weisswald found herself in the body of brave who was short though with long hair and beads.  She was wearing doeskin clothing as well.   “Ophelia?” she said, her voice deeper than normal.   “What!?!” the dark-skinned brave said.  “Who are you!?!”   “Weisswald.”   “No!  You’re not!  Noooo!”   She got up and backed towards the tent flap, looking at them all suspiciously.   “Wait, did you say Weisswald?” the man the little girl had called Kuruk said.   “Yes,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “So, I lost my guns and I got this garbage knife now!” Jack West said.   “Jacali?” Dr. Weisswald called.   None of them responded.  The tall brave with long black hair who had a wolf-pelt hat next to his blanket was looking around in shock, as was the fair-skinned man with earrings who was pulling on the heavy coat.   The man who had been backing away suddenly lunged at Dr. Weisswald and grabbed her by the shoulders.   “No,” he said.  “Put me back.  Put me back.  Put me back.”   The brave shook her and she recognized the dead eyes of Ophelia in the man.   *              *              *   Jacali realized she had been in one of the teepees used by the unmarried braves of the village.  She knew if the men had gear, it would be in there.  She ran back into the teepee followed by the other men.   “Bow!” she said when she got inside.  “Bow!  Bow!”   “I don’t want it!” the brave with the bandana said.   He handed off the bow and a quiver of arrows.   “Jacali?” a short brave said.   “What?” she said.   “What’s going on?  Where are we?”   “Get your weapons.”   “Anybody seen my guns?” the brave with the bandana said.  “All I got is this garbage knife!”   He started to search through the blankets and furs near him.   Jacali ran back out.  Two braves followed.  Another brave grabbed a musket and followed.   *              *              *   The naked warrior who was Professor Stalloid started to get dressed.  The woman woke up.  She looked around in terror.   “My piece!” she said in English.  “Where’s my piece!?!  Someone took my piece!  Someone’s touching my piece!”   She was young and very pretty, slim with dark hair and light skin.  She had a thick accent.   “Pete Sutter!” the brave said to her.   “Where the hell am I?” she cried out.  “What did you do to me?  Who are you?”   Professor Stalloid grabbed the girl by the shoulders.  He’d recognized the inclination of Pete Sutter’s voice.   “Look, it’s me, Brandon Stalloid,” he said.  “I know you do not understand this but … your piece’s gone!”   The woman looked at him in shocked terror.   “Also, you’re a woman!” Professor Stalloid said.   The woman looked him in the eyes.   “You mean to tell me our minds have been wrenched through time, plummeted back some unknown amount to inhabit the bodies of injuns from this time for some unknown reason?” Pete said.   “Yes!” Professor Stalloid said.   “Again!?!” Pete said.   Professor Stalloid looked at him, confused.   “So, what do we need to be doing to get back to our bodies?” the brave called Kuruk said.  “If you die here, do you die in your body?”   “They told me that!” the woman they thought of as Pete Sutter said.   “So, Weisswald … man?” Jack West in the body of Kuruk said.  “What should we be doing?”   “I was in a city fulla freaks!  They were horrible to look at!  I saw them.  They were freaks.  Did ya see ‘em?  Big ol’ flubbly blubs.”   “I did see the flubbly blubs.”   “Alright.  They talked to me.  It was disgusting.  They told me I had to tell ya three things.  What were they?  What did they tell me?  Uh …”   “It sounds important.”   “That you can’t change history and … if you try, uh, you’ll either get killed or you could destroy the universe.  That sounds like it fits in with philosophical teachings about such things.”   “Okay, anybody know when we are?  Where we are?”   “We’re here, mentally, and if you die in these bodies, you’re dead.  Uh … and that … uh … there’s answers but you gotta find ‘em.  Who’re you?”   “I’m Clayton Pierce.”   “All right.  I respect you.  Who’re you?  Jack West?”   “Weisswald,” the short warrior said.   “Damn it,” the woman said.  “Oh.  All right.”   “Lydia, the prospector,” the warrior with the wolf-skin cap said.  “The ugly one?  You remember.”   “One of you is lying,” the woman said.   “There’s only four of us here,” the brave with Jack West said.   “That’s Jack West,” Weisswald said, pointing at the correct warrior.   “That’s Jack West?” Pete in the woman’s body said.  “You did this to me!  I hate you!”   Jack West just smiled at him.   *              *              *   A light rain started outside as Jacali looked around, panicking and thinking for sure the attack was going to come to the village soon.  The people in the village were doing chores, walking from place to place, and living their lives.  It was fairly early in the morning.   Jacali started asking the other Apache what day it was in an attempt to determine how long they had until the attack.  Her companions couldn’t understand her as she spoke in the Southern Athabaskan tongue used by the Jicarilla Apache.  The villagers greeted her but seemed confused by her questions.  They didn’t have an effective dating system in the village and, to be honest, Jacali was unsure of the exact date of the attack in 1855.   She did realize it was spring.  Fallow fields stood on the east and west sides of the village.  The morning was cool but there was a hint of promise in it.  The river flowed from west to east on the north side of the village.  To the southwest was the great mountain that she always remembered.   She spotted herself as a child, going to do chores.   She looked back at the natives following her.  The man wearing the white-man jacket, the beautiful man wearing war paint and just a loincloth, and the man with crazy eyes all followed here nervously.   “Jacali, right?” Otto, the man in white-men’s clothing, said in English.  “Jacali, right?”   “Yes,” she said.   “You know that fortune lady outside of town?”   “Yes.”   “She said … you’re going to go to a place that you didn’t think you’d ever go and know what should happen or be destroyed.  What happens?”   “Something very bad happens here.”   “But what happens exactly?”   “She told me─” Stalloid, in the beautiful man, said.   “I know it’s soon,” Jacali, the man with the large nose, said.  “I don’t know if it’s today.  But this place … is going to get attacked and … almost everyone is going to die.”   “She told me not to change what has already happened.”   “She didn’t tell me anything like that.”   As villagers walked by, one of them said to them, in their own tongue: “What language are you speaking?”   “I am trying to learn English,” Jacali said.  “Not very good yet.”   “Oh,” the villager said and walked on.   “Listen,” Jacali said.  “I don’t know how much time we have, but very soon everyone in this … in this settlement could be in grave, grave danger.”   “Who attacks ‘em?” Marshal Pierce in the bug-eyed man said.   “Well …” Jacali said.   “I assume the white man,” Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s a group, they’re armed with guns,” Jacali said.  “They …”   “Are they U.S. Military?” Otto said.   “No,” Jacali said.   “Bandits?”   “No.  They were just townsfolk.”   “Well, then, we don’t have a chance,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Jacali,” Otto said.   “Eskaminzin!” a woman called, approaching them.   She was an older woman.   “Eskaminzin!” she said again.   They all turned to face her.   “Eskaminzin,” she said to Jacali.   “Eskaminzin,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Have you seen Ih-Tedda?” the woman said in her own language.   “I-I have not today,” Jacali answered in the same tongue.   The woman looked towards the teepee.   “Did she spend the night with Illanipi again?” she said.  “She’s not supposed to.  She is the chief’s daughter.”   “I slept in today,” Jacali said.  “I don’t remember.”   “You tell her to go to her father.”   “I will.”   “She should not sleep around.  It’s bad of her.”   She glared at Professor Stalloid before moving on.   “I am not going to be the best help in this but we need to tell everybody what’s going on and everybody needs to be prepared for a fight,” Jacali said to them.   “Jacali, wait,” Otto said.  “You can’t change anything!”   “I’m not going to let it happen again.”   “No!  You cannot!  You have to let it happen again.  You cannot stop what happened.”   “Watch me.”   Otto held up his musket.   “If you’re going to change it, I guess I’ll help you,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’m not much for rules anyways.”   “No!” Otto said. “But, she said ‘destroy the universe if you change what happened!’”   “Destroy one universe, make another.”   “But we live in this universe!”   “Yes, we can live in another.”   They saw the woman who had talked to Jacali walk to their teepee.   “She’s not going to enjoy Pete Sutter,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Look, let’s just tell everybody what’s going on,” Jacali said.   “No!” Otto said.  “No!”   “And do what!?!  Just sit here and wait for anything to happen!?!”   “Nothing!  You can’t stop it from happening!  If you do, you’ll die!”   A small crowd of villagers had begun to gather around where they argued.   “We’re going to die no matter what, it sounds like,” Professor Stalloid said.   “We could be some of the ones who survive,” Otto said.   “Then you can try,” Professor Stalloid said.   The locals asked them, in Southern Athabaskan, when they had learned the other language.   “We’ve all been learning,” Jacali said.  “Practice is over.”   People nodded and Jacali headed for the teepee.   *              *              *   As Jack West exited the teepee, an older woman approached and jabbered at him in her own language and then looked expectantly at him.  He just pushed her aside.   “Hey, everybody that speaks English, come over here, please!” he yelled.   The older woman flung open the teepee flap and said “Ih-Tedda!”  Then she disappeared inside.   *              *              *   The three remaining inside saw the woman walk over to the young girl who was inhabited by Pete Sutter and spoke to her in her own language.  Professor Weisswald could understand most of it.  She was telling the girl to dress herself and that she should be ashamed as it was no place for the chief’s daughter.  She started to help her dress.   “What … is … she … doing!?!” Pete said.   “Pete, she wants you get dressed,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “She just has to tell me!”   “She did tell you!”   She helped Pete get dressed and then pulled him towards the tent flap.   “What am I supposed to do!?!” he said.  “What’s going on?”   “Apparently find weapons!” Dr. Weisswald said.   Then Pete was gone.   *              *              *   As Jacali approached the tent, she recognized the chief’s daughter, she thought.  The old woman dragged her towards the river, she guessed to do chores.  And perhaps wash herself.  Jacali remembered her father and mother had both spoken English in addition to Southern Athabaskan.   They all got back into the tent and soon figured out who was who.  They still didn’t know their bodies’ names.   Marshal Pierce took his knife and cut his arm to see if he felt pain.  He did.  It hurt like hell.   “Okay, this is real,” he said.   He still couldn’t remember how he had gotten there.  The last thing he remembered was sitting down at the table.  Then he had woken in the tent.  He thought he remembered saying “Nice trick,” but wasn’t sure why.   Jacali realized all of the men were unmarried warriors who shared a teepee.  There were two or three such teepees in the village for those men who were unwed.   “I don’t know when,” Jacali said.  “I don’t know if it’s going to be today or tomorrow─”   “We can’t change it,” Otto said.   “Sutter said we can’t change things otherwise it’ll unravel time,” Jack West said.   “See?” Otto said.  “For once I agree with Jack West and I feel terrible for doing it.”   “And we can’t die in these bodies or we’ll die,” Jack West said.  “Did these men die in your village?”   “Well, I just cut myself  so this is real,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I don’t want to die.”   “Shall we just go in the woods …?” Jack West said.   “Okay, the Yithians wanted us to learn something here,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yeah,” Jacali said.  “Sutter, you done this before?”   “It sounded like he was confused so I don’t think he’s done it before,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “For Otto and Jack West, you say we can’t change anything, how do you know if you’re supposed to die or not here?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Exactly,” Jack West said.   “So, are you ready to die?”   “Obviously not.”   “Then I guess we stop whatever this is, huh?”   “Give me a pistol and I can stop anything.”   Jacali was trying hard to remember what happened and realized it had not been raining on that terrible day, like it was doing outside.  It had been a bright, sunny, clear, perfect morning.   “It’s probably not today,” she said.  “We are … it seems we are in the bodies of warriors who would have been the first people to the call when the violence started.  It would be hard for me to imagine that we all survive.  If that day happens while we’re here …”   “So, that’s Ophelia,” Professor Stalloid said.   The serpent person was touching her hair and her skin.   “It’s only temporary,” Professor Stalloid said.   “You can still use your fancy magic in that body, right?” Jack West said.   “Can I use it on you first?” Ophelia said.   “Probably on the white guys that are going to try to kill us.”   “What’s the difference?”   “I haven’t tried to kill you yet.”   “I haven’t tried to kill you yet, either.”   “Probably better keep it that way.”   “If there is something we need to figure out, we need to do it before that attack happens,” Jacali said.   “Well, we need to figure out what exactly happens,” Otto said.  “Particularly, I feel like, what happens to whoever these people are.”   “Like I said─” Jacali said.   “That will be very hard until the moment,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t know specifically but … it’s not likely that any of us would survive,” Jacali said.  “If what you said is true.”   “How many people survived your village attack?” Jack West said.   “Do you see how many folks are around us?” Jacali said.  “There was a handful left afterwards.”   “There’s a handful of us,” Otto said.   “Where are you?” Marshal Pierce said.   “I suppose one of the main things we could do is make sure you live,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I … I don’t want to think about it,” Jacali said to Pierce.  “But I’m somewhere around here.”   “We should find you,” Marshal Pierce said.   “We should definitely make sure you live,” Professor Stalloid said again.   “I don’t think we should do that,” Jacali said to Pierce.  “I’m not ready for that journey.”   “Do you remember anyone talking about strange things that day?” Professor Stalloid said.   “All I can remember when I’m in this place is what happened,” Jacali said.   “How many scores of men are we dealing with?” Professor Stalloid said.   “As many as us but they have guns,” Jacali said.   “Here’s what I think,” Marshal Pierce said, sitting up from where he’d been laying on his back on a blanket.  “So, there’s one thing we do know about this attack: Jacali survives.  I think we make it our mission to make sure she survives this attack once again.”   “That’s what I was saying,” Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s my idea.  Do not steal it.”   “I said that!”   “If we are here when the attack happens, I’m going to fight,” Jacali said.   “That’s Brandon Stalloid’s idea!” Professor Stalloid said.   “My idea,” Marshal Pierce said.   “I think we should just make sure Jacali lives,” Jack West said.  “And then we’ll be fine.”   “Shoot him!” Professor Stalloid said.   “I know that was said before, but now we can actually do it,” Jack West said.   “I feel that is the only─” Otto said.   “If you don’t want to take care of yourself, some of us can do it,” Professor Stalloid said.  “That way you don’t meet yourself.”   “You can but, even if I … I won’t─” Jacali said.   “I say Weisswald should be involved,” Professor Stalloid said.   “What is this!?!” Ophelia suddenly said.   She was looking in her pants.   “I’ve shown you anatomy books,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Don’t worry about it.”   “That’s a man-snake,” Professor Stalloid said with a giggle.   “Ew,” Ophelia said.   “But, was there anyone when you when you survived this attack?” Otto asked.  “Do you remember that?”   “Did anyone help save you?” Professor Stalloid said.   Jacali thought of the terrible memory of that horrible day.   “I don’t want to talk about it,” Jacali finally said.  “I was … alone.  And … none of us were there.  None of us were there.”   “But was there anyone who helped save you?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes,” Jacali said.   “We can find them and make sure they get to where they need to be,” he said.   Jacali looked at the ground.   “My mother died trying to save me,” she finally said.   “Okay,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Do you─”   “And if you try to make her die again …” Jacali said.  “I don’t know if I can allow that.”   “I will save her,” Professor Stalloid said.   “No!” Otto said.  “We can’t!”   “I’ve already told you my mind,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Do I have to kill you?  Because I don’t want to die because you decide to destroy the universe.”   “I think you decide to kill me now …  a certain amount of other hands are going towards you.”   “I don’t feel like you understand the gravity of the situation.”   “I don’t think you understand the gravity of her mother’s death.”   “I don’t want to sound like an ass, here─”   “The annihilation of her people.”   “─but people die.  This is in the past.  We can’t change the past.”   “Is it?  We’re here.  This is the present.”   “When?” Ophelia said.   “I was 12 years old,” Jacali said.  “I’m 32 now so it’s 20 years ago.”   “Is that the Yithians’ secret?  They’re called the Great Race of Yith.  We never knew why.”   “I can’t tell you.  But this is 20 years ago.”   “Ugh.  How do you cope?” Ophelia said to Dr. Weisswald.   Dr. Weisswald was taking mental notes, fascinated at the effect the change was having on the serpent person.   “I’m already born so if we switch anything, it’s not going to affect me,” Jack West said.   “Why does everything keep going black?” Ophelia said.  “Over and over and over!”   “You’re blinking,” Dr. Weisswald and Professor Stalloid both said.   “Like this,” Jacali said.   She blinked.  Ophelia looked at her and blinked.   “Ah!” she said.  “It’s happened again!”   “It rehydrates your eyes,” Professor Stalloid said.   “There’s no need for this!” Ophelia said.  “What is wrong with you people?”   “Listen, who here besides me and Weisswald can speak the language?” Jacali said.   “English,” Marshal Pierce said.   “German,” Otto said.   “That’s what I thought,” Jacali said.   “I can speak German,” Otto said.   “I guarantee you there will be less people here who can speak German than English,” Jacali said.   “I know a bit of Chinese,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Aklo,” Ophelia said.  “Our language.  Well, a derivation.”   “I think that whatever we do, Weisswald and I should be the leader of the groups since we can actually talk to the people here,” Jacali said.  “At least the ones who don’t speak English, which is most people.”   “If you want your mom to live, if we can get me a revolver, these guys some rifles …” Jack West said.   Jacali didn’t remember any revolvers in her village.  She thought they had a few flintlock muskets and maybe a few Pennsylvania long muskets.  Other than that it was just bows and arrows.  She also remembered there were no Winchesters or other repeating rifles.  She remembered some of the attackers had rifles but guessed they were one-shot devices.   “There is nothing like that here,” she said.   “So, kill the first white man,” Jack West.  “I’ll grab his gun.”   She knew her people had horses and ponies.  They were planters and would plant crops in the spring.  Fishing in the river was also popular to supplement their diet, as well as hunting the nearby deer and buffalo.  The village was semi-permanent with teepees, wickiups, and a few permanent hogans, mostly near the center of the village.    “Do you know which direction they came from?” Dr. Weisswald said.  “We could ambush them.”   Jacali wasn’t sure.   “Which direction is the town?” Professor Stalloid said.   “There is a town around, but they might not have come from the same direction,” Jacali said.   She remembered the nearest things were ranches but they were still miles away.   “Can some of us go scout it out?” Professor Stalloid said.   “My question I think we need to answer first is why the hell are we here?” Jacali said.   “To learn something.”   “I don’t want to learn anything from this place.”   “Probably about the Crescent,” Dr. Weisswald said.   Marshal Pierce left the teepee.   “I need medical supplies and we need to figure out what we’re supposed to learn,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Maybe the Crescent is here,” Professor Stalloid said.   Jacali directed Dr. Weisswald to some of the midwives and women who practiced simple medicine.   “Maybe the Crescent was here,” Professor Stalloid said again.   “That 12-year-old looked suspicious!” Jack West suddenly said.  “Who was that?  She had a mouth on her.”   “That’s all the Yithians seem to care about,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Dr. Mordin said that someone was exposed to the Crescent,” Otto said.   “For a very long time,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Yeah,” Otto said.  “Was it someone here?”   “That’s why I’m wondering if maybe the Crescent is here,” Professor Stalloid said.   “You think I remember any Crescents from my childhood?” Jacali said.  “Do you think a Crescent just appeared and I have no memory of it?”   “Maybe─” Professor Stalloid said.   “No, I don’t know if it was here,” she said.   “You could have been exposed to it,” Otto said.  “Or someone here could’ve.”   “Maybe it wasn’t a common thing,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Maybe you could draw it and show it to people,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Let’s just ask people randomly,” Jack West said.   The tent flap opened up and a brave leaned in.   “Are you braves going to do some hunting or lie about all day and be lazy?” he said in Southern Athabaskan.”   “Yes, we will get on it,” Jacali said in her language.  “It was a rough morning.”   “I bet!” the brave said.   He looked at Professor Stalloid, the brave who had woken up next to the chief’s daughter.  Professor Stalloid winked at the man and he shook his head and left.   Jacali told them they were supposed to go hunting as it was their job.   “Oh yeah, we’re hunting,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Hunting for information.”   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce spent some time trying to get a musket, shot, and powder but he was unable to make himself understood by the villagers.  It was confusing for them and frustrating for him.  They kept pointing towards the ponies and saying something to him but he didn’t understand.   *              *              *   The others found Marshal Pierce, who suggested only half of them go hunting, specifically the ones in the group who could hunt.  He suggested the rest stay in the village and get information.  They discussed purchasing a revolver for Jack West at a nearby white settlement and Jacali pointed out their purchasing one might be problematic and certainly difficult.  In the end, Marshal Pierce suggested he, Otto, Jack West, and Miss Fitzsimmons go hunting while the rest of them investigate the village.  When Professor Stalloid suggested going to talk to white people, Marshal Pierce said it was a bad idea and suggested he help Jacali and Dr. Weisswald.   Ophelia told Dr. Weisswald to let her know when she needed someone destroyed.   “Is there a burial mound in this village?” Professor Stalloid asked Jacali.   She did not know of one.  She was not familiar with Apache burial rituals and did not know of anything like that near the village.   “If we could figure out where, there’s something I could do,” Professor Stalloid said cryptically.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce, Otto, Jack West, and Miss Fitzsimmons took four horses and headed out to hunt.  Only Otto was familiar with riding bareback.  They found a deer and Otto shot it with the musket, injuring the animal.  It fled and three of them tracked it most of the day before they were able to bring it to ground.   *              *              *   Jack West didn’t want to follow the injured deer so he returned to the village for string and laid several traps in a copse of woods and caught several rabbits over the course of the day.   *              *              *   Dr. Weisswald got hold of some bandages and healing herbs.  Once she had her supplies, she, Professor Stalloid, Jacali, and Ophelia walked around the village and drew the crescent in the dirt, trying to find out if anyone knew anything about it.  Most of the villagers seemed confused as to why the warriors were not out getting meat but others thought their drawing was very pretty and very nice.   As they moved about the village, Jacali recognized the older villager who came out of one of the hogans near the center of the settlement.  He had a sour face and wore a few feathers in his hair, which was braided on one side.  He wore several fetishes and other items about his person and was probably in his 50s.  Jacali remembered the man as Laziyah, a shaman who she had liked very much for his stories.  She remembered him being very nice to her and doing little tricks for her when she was a child.   Laziyah looked over at Professor Stalloid.  He laughed and pointed at him.   “White man,” he said in English   He laughed again and then went about his business.  Professor Stalloid laughed and pointed.  He walked over to the man followed by the rest.   “You know who I am?” Professor Stalloid said.  “Or what I am?”   “Illanipi,” Laziyah said.  “You are Illanipi.  You … should stay away from the chief’s daughter.  He does not like that.”   “You said something else earlier.”   “Huh?”   “You said ‘White man.’”   Laziyah gasped.   “The clouds are white!” he said.  “They are very white.”   “Yes, they are,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Now, focus.”   “You speak English very well,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “No,” Laziyah said.  “Only some.  You speak English well, white woman.”   He looked up at the sky again.   “I am with these two,” Jacali said in Southern Athabaskan.  “I know them from before.”   “You have grown so quickly Jacali,” Laziyah said.   Dr. Weisswald realized something was mentally wrong with the man.  He moved and spoke like a madman.  Professor Stalloid noticed the other Indians looked at the man and shook their head and sighed, obviously feeling pity for the shaman.  He sidled up close to the madman.   “Have you seen the Crescent?” he whispered.   “Who hasn’t?” Laziyah said.  “Look, it is there!”   He pointed at a cloud that was vaguely crescent-shaped.   “It is,” Professor Stalloid said.  “It is.  But where is it here?”   “Yes, it is here,” Laziyah said.   He coughed and then walked away.  The rest of them followed him for only a little ways before they were stopped by another villager Jacali recognized as Elan, whom she remembered was Laziyah’s assistant and the man who would take over as shaman.  She remembered shamans in her village seemed to change often though she never knew why.   “You must leave Laziyah alone,” he said to them in Southern Athabaskan.  “You know he has difficulties.”   “But do you know what the thing that has made him this way is?” Jacali said.  “Why─?”   “No,” Elan said.  “Nothing has made him this way. Nothing has made him this way.”   Dr. Weisswald drew a crescent in the dirt and Elan looked startled, kicking it apart.   “No,” he said.   He walked away, very disturbed.  Some of them followed him.   *              *              *   The rain let up by the afternoon.  As they put the deer on one of  the horses, Marshal Pierce and Otto spotted a glint of light coming from a copse of woods a mile or so from the village, almost like the reflection of light off a piece of glass.  The three of them left the horses behind and crept towards the copse at an oblique angle.  The glint of light disappeared as they approached and they saw someone ride away on horseback.  He appeared to wear an army uniform.   “We need to go to the village and alert the people!” Marshal Pierce said.   They headed back to the horses.   “I feel like we should confer with Jacali first if they have an alert,” Otto said.  “‘Cause even though we noticed it─”   “Well, I can’t alert anybody,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I don’t speak the language but I’m going to tell Jacali what I saw.”   They headed back to the village.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid went down to the river to wash himself as he was very dirty.  Then he went to find Laziyah.  The man was sitting in front of his hogan, drawing in the dirt.  When Professor Stalloid drew the Crescent, he kicked it.  When Professor Stalloid drew it again, he stood up and went into the hogan.  There were two braves out front and he guessed he wouldn’t be allowed in.   *              *              *   Elan had gone about his daily business.  The hunters returned with a deer which the villagers set about preparing.  The four who had been hunting found their companions after only some difficulty.   “Raspberry,” Jacali said when she saw them.   “I think the attack is coming soon,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I saw somebody ride away on a horse in what appeared to be a military uniform when we approached them.  I believe we are running out of time.  Also, can you do something with your hair so we can find you better?”   “I think it’s something that should be told,” Jacali said.  “So, it should be told to whomever can handle it.  We are warriors and hunters so … it might be strange for warriors to say that but I think we should tell someone.”   She went to look for somebody and found another warrior, telling him of seeing the scout.  He guessed it was nothing, though, as the war between the white men and the Jicarilla was taking place on the other side of the great mountains to the west.   While she was talking to him, she saw a man pass by whom she recognized as her father.  He was a gruff-looking man with long hair pulled into two braids.  She stopped when she saw him walk to the shaman’s hogan where Professor Stalloid loitered outside.  The brave said he would tell the chief and the speaker what she had told him.  He said he would inform those who needed to know.   She pointed her father out to the others.   “I don’t like this feeling,” she said.  “I really don’t like this feeling.  This is horrible.  I don’t want to be here.”   She looked at the shaman’s hogan as her father went inside.   Other braves were returning to the village with game or without.  Jack West returned with a brace of rabbits he’d caught in his snares.    “It looks like there is someone in town who knows about the Crescent,” Jacali told them when they got together to eat.  “The shaman, the old one, I would guess, is the person who has been exposed to it.  He was never quite conscious of the present.”   “I don’t know, it might be the assistant,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I think both of them know,” Jacali said.   Laziyah came back out of the hogan and skipped away.   “Yeah, that’s him,” Jacali said.   Professor Stalloid went over and asked the shaman if he could teach him a game.  When the man said he could, he taught him the Chinese game of shoushiling, a form of game where A beat B, B beat C, and C beat A, in this case the frog, represented by the thumb, superseded by the poisonous centipede, represented by the little finger, superseded by the snake, represented by the index finger.   “We need to somehow convince this shaman, Elan, to tell us where the Crescent is,” Jacali said.  “He knows.  He doesn’t want to admit it.  He doesn’t want to talk about it.  He must know.”   “Does he understand English?” Otto said.   “He speaks English,” Jacali said.   “Maybe your dad will know something about the Crescent,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “We should ask him.”   Jacali’s father exited the hogan as they talked.   “I’m not going to speak to my dad,” Jacali said.  “I’m not going to do it.”   “Then I will,” Dr. Weisswald said.   She went over to the man, whose name was Naiche.  She drew the Crescent on the ground and asked him in Southern Athabaskan, if he knew anything about it.   “No,” the man said.   He scuffed out the drawing as the others had.  He turned and walked away.  She realized he was disturbed by the fact that she had any knowledge of something that looked like that.  She followed him.   “I need to know where it is,” she said.   “We do not talk of these things,” he said, still walking.   “I need to know where it is.”   “No.”   *              *              *   “He’s been exposed to it,” Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali of Laziyah.   “Yes,” she replied.  “That’s why he’s as he is.”   “A long time.  I know.”   “They both have,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, they both know about it, it seems,” Jacali said.  “How are we going to convince him to tell us what the Crescent is?  I feel like … he knows something that’s going on and, maybe knowing that I’m someone from this village would convince him but … I don’t want to play that card and have it go badly for us and the whole jig is up.”   “Don’t change the timeline,” Otto said.   “How do you know what happens, Otto!?!”   “I don’t!”   “How do any of us know!?!  So what does it matter what we do or don’t do!?!”   “Because, if we make a mistake …”   “So, we’re just going to be inactive because we don’t have any knowledge of what’s going on?”   “I’m not saying be inactive but we should work with what little information we have.”   “And what information do we have about what three people talked about of some secret thing that I couldn’t possibly know of for everybody else who could?”   Otto got up and walked away.  She glared after him.   *              *              *   Otto went in search for Pete Sutter and eventually found the pretty Indian girl.  He was sitting on the ground with a small bowl of cooked deer meat.  Several little girls of the village, including little Jacali, were braiding his hair.  He sat there, a frown on his face, obviously hating the attention.  The little girls talked to him and put little bits of sticks and grass in his hair.   “Pete!” Otto said.   “Who the hell are you?” Pete said.   “Otto.”   “I don’t … you’re worse than these children.”   “Look, I need your help, Pete.”   “Who’s Otto?” the little Jacali asked.   Otto looked at her.   “Wait, you speak English?” Pete said to her.   “Yes, I speak English,” Little Jacali said.  “You’re so silly.  I didn’t know Itza-chu spoke English.”   “I’ve been working on it,” Otto said.   “You’re not very good,” Little Jacali said.   “You’re right, little girl, he’s awful,” Pete said.  “What do you want?”   “I need your help,” Otto said.   “I’m busy getting sticks in my hair.”   “It’s more important than that.”   Pete sighed.   “Excuse me children,” he said.  “I must go with … what the hell’s your name?”   “Itza-chu,” Otto said.   “Itza-chu.”   Pete burst out laughing.   “That ain’t no real name!” he said.  “You made that up!”   “No, that’s his name,” Little Jacali said.  “Itza-chu.”   “What’s my name?” Pete said.   The little girls all giggled.  Pete sighed again.   “I hate this place,” he said.  “Get me outta here.”   He stood up and went with Otto.   “Whatta you want?” he said.   “Pete, I overheard that you might understand more what’s happening here than I do?” Otto said.   “No.  I don’t even know where it is. Where are we?  When are we?  They’ve taken us through time.  They’ve transferred our minds through a process I couldn’t hope to understand, obviously something … scientifically infeasible.”   “What’s the purpose of this?”   “Iunno.”   “Why─?”   “They said we’d find answers here.”   “Find answers here?”   “That’s what they said.”   “What answers?”   “If I knew the answers, I could just tell you and we’d go home, couldn’t we?”   “I realize that, Pete, but I was just hoping there was something you might know.”   “I don’t know.  I don’t even know the process that they used to exchange minds over a period of time.”   “But─”   “I don’t even know what year it is!”   “But─”   “What year is it?  You go find out and maybe I’ll have some answers for ya.”   “They don’t speak English here, Pete.”   “They’re injuns.  They wouldn’t know what year it was even if they spoke English.  And my voice is driving me crazy!”   “It is … I feel the same.  But you said that if we change the timeline, what happens?”   “They told me it’d destroy the universe.  Or we’d be killed.”   “Jacali wants to change things.  I think she wants to save her mom.”   “Well, that’d create a paradox.  If you create a paradox, it will unravel all time and space and destroy us all, probably.”   “Well, how do I stop that?”   “You don’t create a paradox.”   “I can’t get to her to tell her that.”   “Shoot her?”   “Does that happen?”   “How the hell should I know!?!  I’m in the same boat you are.  I was shoved into another body, not even a man.”   He slapped Otto’s shoulder.   “And I’m stuck in it now!” Pete went on.  “Little girls making me mend clothing and fish and cut open a deer.  They wanted me to chop a deer up.  I don’t do that.  I hate deer.  I don’t cook!”   “All right,” Otto said.  “Enjoy having your hair braided, Pete.”   “I hate you Otto,” Pete said.   *              *              *   After dinner was over, another native entered the village.  He wore many feathers in his hair and was dressed in buckskins.  He was young, probably about 20, and looked like a shaman.  He seemed quite angry.  Professor Stalloid, Jacali, and Dr. Weisswald all recognized him as the younger version of He-Who-Waits.   The shaman demanded to see the chief in English.  He demanded to see the shaman.  He said he knew they were hiding it.  He said he knew it was there.  He loudly exclaimed that he was He-Who-Waits and he demanded the Horn.   Chief Ka-e-te-nay, Elan, and Naiche, Jacali’s father, all met with the man.  Naiche spoke to the him in English, refusing to let him see Laziyah and motioned surreptitiously to several braves, who came close to them, war clubs or lances ready.  Professor Stalloid and Jacali joined them.   He-Who-Waits claimed he could control the spirits of the air and demanded the horn.  Naiche told him there was nothing of the sort there but they would defend themselves against even the Paiute should it become necessary.  Naiche said he didn’t want bloodshed but if He-Who-Waits raised weapons against them, they would defend themselves.   He-Who-Waits blustered for a while before finally leaving, claiming the village cursed.   Jacali and Dr. Weisswald overheard some of the other braves talking about how the man had come to the village before, in the Fall, wanting the horn, whatever that was.  He had been rebuffed then as well.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid went to find Pete Sutter.   “Hello there, Pete,” he said when he found him.  “It’s me, Stalloid, child savior.”   “Stalloid?” Pete said.   “I have a proposition for your operative.”   “No, I been propositioned before!”   “It’s about your instructions from your employers.”   “They told me to watch Jacali.”   “Yes, but did they say which one?”   “What?  What do you mean ‘Which one?’”   “The little girl that’s been following you is also Jacali.”   “That one that speaks English?”   “Yes.”   “Oh.”   “Did they say which one?”   “They didn’t.  That raises a conundrum.”   “Because we know Jacali must survive anything that happens here for the past not to be changed, right?”   “When are we?”   “1855.”   “God damn it.  All right, I’ll keep an eye on the brat.”   He stomped off.   *              *              *   They all settled into the teepee that night.  Dr. Weisswald suggested sneaking into the shaman’s hogan after dark.  Jacali pointed out the man slept in the structure.  She was worried they would go into the structure and find nothing.   “Why don’t we just kill the shaman?” Ophelia said.  “Then we can do whatever we want.”   “But how will we get the information from him when he’s dead?” Jacali said.   “I can do it,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t feel good about doing that,” Jacali said.   “I don’t either, but I can do it,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Fine,” Ophelia said.  “Fine.”   She left the tent.   “What’s the plan for tomorrow?” Jacali said.  “Any day could be the day.”   “Possibly find He-Who-Waits,” Professor Stalloid said.   “We could try,” Jacali said.   “But also, he doesn’t know where it is either,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “That doesn’t help us.”   “No, I know,” Professor Stalloid said.  “What if he is part of the reason the attack happened.”   They looked at each other.   “He stopped waiting, like he does, and he attacked,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, then we can’t do anything about it,” Otto said.   “Sure, we can,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’ve already seen his death throes once.  I’d like to see them again.  I don’t like him.”   “But killing him will make it impossible to kill him later,” Otto said.   “Also known as ‘will not have the need to kill him later,’” Professor Stalloid said.   Otto got up and left the teepee.   “Has anyone considered maybe what we’re doing now is what the warriors did before anyways?” Marshal Pierce said.   “I did,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That we can’t change it anyways?”   “Yes.”   “That’s what I believe,” Jacali said.   “So there’s ain’t nothing to lose,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I’m going to sleep.”   “Well does anybody have any ideas other than telling Elan or Laziyah to tell us?” Jacali said.  “Laziyah isn’t going to be cohesive, he isn’t going to tell us much, if at all.  Elan might be convinced, but he is going to be stubborn.  And my father as well.”   “We would have to reveal our future knowledge as well,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I feel that likely the best way …”   “To convince him.”   “You do have a trump,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “A trump?” Jacali said.   “What is that?” Ophelia said.   “Your father,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yes,” Jacali said.  “Do you want me to talk to my dad?”   “I mean …” Dr. Weisswald said.   “If you could convince him that you’re his daughter from the future …” Jack West said.   “I mean, if I had another chance to talk to my dad, I probably would,” Professor Stalloid said.   “… and the only way to keep you safe is for him to tell you where this is,” Jack West said.  “And maybe I can get my guns back!”   “I … don’t really want to do it,” Jacali said.  “But I realize it’s probably the best bet.  What do you all think?”   They were unsure.   “If it doesn’t work out … even if it does, I don’t know what I’ll think of it, but I could do it,” Jacali said.  “I just want …”   “Pants lady’s a psychologist, right?” Jack West said.   He pointed at Dr. Weisswald.   “Show some respect!” Ophelia said.   “Also, that’s a man,” Professor Stalloid said.   Jack West looked at the body inhabited by Dr. Weisswald.   “At the moment,” he said.  “Yes.  Still no pants.”   “Well, I guess that’s our plan,” Jacali said.  “I just hope we’re not too late already.”   *              *              *   The next morning was sunny and pretty.  Otto came back to the village from spending the night in a copse of woods outside of the settlement.  He was in bad spirits from spending the night in the cold.   *              *              *   After they got up, Jacali taught them all a few rudimentary words in the Southern Athabaskan tongue to try to help them get along in the village.  She taught them apologies and phrases like “I’m busy,” or “I don’t know.”  She taught them “yes” and “no” and “I can’t talk right now” among others.  Jack West wanted her to teach him how to say “revolver” and she reminded him there were none in the village.  He had plans for recovering a pistol from one of the attackers.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce left the village with a bow and  a score of arrows.  He spent most of the day practicing shooting at a stump.  A few people approached him, talking to him in their own language, which he did not understand.  He merely smiled.  The man walked away.   A little girl later came up and spoke to him in her language.  He just laughed.  It was Little Jacali.  He handed her the bow and an arrow and she shot the stump, hitting it twice before handing it back.  He tried to fire the bow the same way she had but missed the stump once again.  She said something to him and he laughed again.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid tracked down Laziyah once again and followed him around.   *              *              *   Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia went in search of Jacali’s father: Naiche.  They had difficulty finding him that day though they did see a pair of white men ride into the village.  Both of them wore side arms.  Dr. Weisswald thought the older man looked familiar.   One of them looked a lot like Clayton Pierce.  He had long hair, a beard and mustache, and was a tall man in rough suit.  He wore a .36 Colt Navy on his belt and there was a .44 Sharps rifle on the scabbard on his saddle.  A bedroll and saddlebags were on the back of the saddle.   The other man was much younger, probably still a teenager, with short-cut hair and also wearing a rough suit.  He was clean-shaven and looked very green.  He had a massive .44 Colt Dragoon on his gun belt and also had a sharps rifle in the scabbard on his saddle.  His horse was also laden down with saddlebags and bedroll.   They nodded to the Jicarilla as they passed and a few seemed to recognize them.   Professor Stalloid also noticed the two white men.  He realized the bearded man in charge was the spitting image of Clayton Pierce.  The man could have been his brother.   The two men went into the chief’s teepee and Naiche soon joined them.   Jacali crept close to the teepee and could hear her father translating from English though the white man obviously spoke a little Southern Athabaskan.  They talked about the rumors in the vicinity that the Jicarilla were stealing cattle and said they were there to investigate that.  Jacali learned the two men were from the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the bearded man being in charge and the other man being his recently-hired assistant.  They all seemed familiar with each other as if they already knew each other.  The gentleman with the beard was very concerned with the rumors.  He was very forthcoming in saying he didn’t believe they were true, but he was concerned about the situation.   *              *              *   After they left the chief’s teepee, the Bureau men took their horses to the corral and then carried their saddles and gear to a teepee on the edge of the village that was unoccupied.  Professor Stalloid approached them as they reached the teepee.   “Mr. Pierce,” he said.   “Yes?” the bearded man said.  “I didn’t any of the Jicarilla spoke English.”   “I don’t know how to explain this.  It is a weird circumstance.  But could I explain something to you that may shock you greatly.”   The two white men looked at each other.   “If you wish,” Pierce said.   “Could we do it inside the teepee?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Of course,” Pierce said.   The three went into the teepee and the men stowed their saddles and saddlebags.   “Now, this is going to sound very crazy, but I am not this person,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And I know who you are and of your son.  But from the future.”   The young man stifled a laugh.  Pierce just looked at Professor Stalloid.   “This is all very nice but we don’t have any money for you,” Pierce said.  “Or firewater.”   “I do not need money,” Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s illegal to give Indians liquor.”   “I do not need firewater.  I do not require anything.”   “Of course you don’t.”   “I swear.”   “You may do that as much as you want.”   “In the name of the United States of America.”   “Look, we’re just here to dispel some rumors and make sure the Jicarilla are safe.  That’s my job.”   “We appreciate that.  They appreciate that.  I mean, I appreciate it secondhand.  Because, I cannot explain the circumstances, but I am not this person.  I’m seven right now, in actuality.”   They looked him up and down.   “I’m off in California,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Okay …” Pierce said.   “I told you, this is going to be strange.”   “We understand and yes, it’s very strange.  Very interesting but yes, we believe you.”   “I don’t need you to believe me.”   “It’s fine.  It’s fine.”   “How about this?  Let’s do hypotheticals.  What, hypothetically, could I produce through knowledge alone that would provide you evidence to at least have an inkling of belief in me?”   Both men looked at him blankly.   “Possibly my language and vernacular alone,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, obviously you’ve been taught by somebody,” Pierce said.   “Yes, my dad!”   “There you are.”   “I went to the University of California.”   “Of course you did.”   “Your son’s name is Clayton Pierce.”   “Yes.  Naiche knows this.  We’re friends.”   “I don’t know Naiche.”   “It’s not surprising that he’s told other people in the village.  That’s fine.”   “I woke up here yesterday.”   “Of course you did.”   “Let’s see.  Let’s see.  What has Clayton told me before?”   The younger man got up and left.   “Your son admires you greatly,” Professor Stalloid said.  “He will grow up to be a Federal marshal.  I can at least tell you that.  That won’t help though.  It’s not proof.  He’s very proud of the fact.  He’s a good man.  Even to his friends who are not so good.”   “I appreciate your telling me all these things,” Pierce said.   The other man opened the tent flap and returned with a pair of braves. They jabbered at Professor Stalloid in their own tongue and finally took him by the arms.   “I do not understand them,” he said.   “They want you to go with them,” Pierce said.   “Yes, I know.  I can tell.”   “They’re going to help you.”   “Oh … man.”   “They understand that you’re … disturbed right now.  I’m sure it will be fine.  It’ll be fine.”   The two Jicarilla were badgering Professor Stalloid now in a language he didn’t know, certainly asking him why he was bothering the Bureau of Indian Affairs man.   “Good-bye Mr. Pierce,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I couldn’t think of anything to convince you.”   “It’s fine,” Pierce said.  “It’s fine.”   “It won’t be.”   “You’re fine.  You’re fine.”   “It won’t be.”   “You’re fine.”   The two Jicarilla escorted him out, obviously annoyed with him and talking to him in a language he did not understand at all.  When he replied in English, they didn’t understand him either, obviously.  He told them he needed some water in Southern Athabaskan, one of the phrases Jacali had taught him.  They took him to the river and he sat in the water to cool down.   After he had cooled off, he went in search of Clayton Pierce, whom he found near a stump with arrows all around it but only one in it.   “Mighty fine shot, sir,” Professor Stalloid said.  “You’re dad’s here.”   “Yeah, your dad’s here too,” Marshal Pierce said, lining up another shot.   “No, he’s not.  He wouldn’t believe me, of course, rationally, and I was wondering if you had any information or knowledge about him that you could use to convince him to help us.”   “He always … had a phrase he’d only say around the family.  I could maybe say that.”   Marshal Pierce realized suddenly that it had been 1855, twenty years before, when his father had left their family.  His mother always told him his father was a ranch hand and a cowpoke.  He had left them without a word, according to her.  He remembered his father beating him … or at least he thought it had been his father.  Someone had beaten him when he was young around that time.   “He says he’s a member of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s not real,” Marshal Pierce said.   “That’s what he’s claiming.  Is your dad possibly secret service?”   “No, he was a ranch hand.”   “No, I know, but Pete Sutter’s Secret Service.”   “No, my dad didn’t work with Pete Sutter.”   “What I mean is, could he have been in with some people of higher knowledge of the world?”   “If he was, he didn’t tell me.”   “No, I know, but …”   “Then why are you asking me?”   “‘Cause you could go talk to him.”   “Okay, I’ll go talk to him!  I’ll go say the phrase that he always said around me and my mom before he left.”   *              *              *   Clayton Pierce was surprised to see that Professor Stalloid was right.  The white man was his father.  He recognized him from both being a boy and a photograph his mother had hidden away at their home that he’d found as a child.  He was talking to some of the villagers in their own language.  Another younger white man approached him and he said something to that man who nodded and walked away.   Marshal Pierce approached but did not understand what he was saying to the other Indians.  Pierce nodded at him and then continued talking as if including him in the conversation.   “I believe that someone spoke to you earlier with a very wild claim,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh, you speak English,” Pierce said.   The other villagers looked a little confused at Marshal Pierce.   “Oh, you hear English,” Marshal Pierce said.   His father gave him a strange look.   “Yes, someone spoke with me earlier in English,” he said.  “He seemed to be a bit unhinged.  Are you his brother?”   “Said he knew your son?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Is this some kind of a joke?  This is a joke, isn’t it?  I get it.  You’re going to speak in my language and tell me things that are very silly.  I understand.  It’s very funny.  It’s a very funny joke.  It’s kind of a white-man joke but it’s funny.  Well done.”   “Did you ever tell your son ‘Pierces don’t cry?’”   “A lot of men tell their sons not to cry.”   “Did you used to hit him over and over and tell him ‘Pierces don’t cry?’”   “No.”   Marshal Pierce looked at the man.  He could have sworn he remembered his father doing that.  He could swear his mother had confirmed it at some point in the past.  But it was all so hazy, sometimes.  The man seemed sincere.   “You’re not going back home, are you?” Marshal Pierce said.  “You’re not going back to your wife and kid.”   “Yes,” Pierce said.   “I don’t think you are.”   “I travel a lot.”   “Yeah.”   “But I’m going to be going home in a month or two.”   Marshal Pierce looked at his father and didn’t believe he’d ever go home.   “You should go home,” he said.   “I will,” Pierce said.  “But I have business here.  We’ve got to make sure that─”   “It’s not important.”   “I’ve got to make sure that you people understand what’s going on and I’ve got to make sure I understand I know what’s going on.”   “Yeah yeah.  Don’t steal cows.  We got it.”   “But I’ve got to make sure that you people are safe.  Look, the white man has broken a lot of treaties with the Jicarilla.  It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy and something that’s got to be put right.”   “Who’s side are you on?”   “I’m on the side of humanity.”   “Humanity?”   “Yes.  You might not remember but I took over from that other Indian Agent who was stealing from you people and treating you badly.  I was the one who … well, I’m not one to brag.  But he’s gone.  I’m here.  We’re going to try to set things right for a change.  The United States government might not have been treating you people well for the last hundred years … or ever.  That doesn’t mean we can’t start now.  Look, I’m just trying to be fair.  That’s why I’m asking around, talking to some people.  Not to mention the fact there’s some white men in this village for a few days … that’s considered almost a safety measure.  Some of the locals have been complaining but they’re not going to do anything as long as we’re here.”   “That’s what you think.”   Marshal Pierce turned and walked away.   *              *              *   Dr. Weisswald and Jacali went in search of Naiche.  They found him repairing a teepee.   “Naiche,” she said in Apache.   “Eskaminzin,” the other man said in greeting.   “I … need … to know where the Crescent is.  It is of dire importance.”   “The what?”   “The … the Horn.  The …”   Naiche was startled.   “I don’t know what you’ve heard but you must forget it,” he said.  “You must forget what you heard.”   “I can convince you,” Jacali said.   “That way lies madness and destruction.”   “And that is what I’m trying to stop.  Listen.”   She switched to English.   “My name is Jacali,” she said.  “I’m 32 years old.”   She told him about how she remembered how he taught her to shoot a bow.  Tears started to come from her eyes.   “Eskaminzin,” Naiche said.  “No.  Stop.  I don’t know if this some kind of a joke that Illanipi put you up to.”   “Dad,” she said.   He looked at her, confused.   “Please,” she said.  “It needs to happen.  I must find it.”   “You must forget about it,” Naiche said.  “That way lies madness.  That way lies despair.  Eskaminzin, I know that you are a dreamer, a cautious dreamer.  But you must forget these dreams.  They are bad dreams.  They will lead you to a bad place.  Trust me on this.  I’m trying to protect you.”   He patted her on the shoulder.   “Have you ever seen me speak English before?” she said.   “I have not,” he said.  “I don’t know who has taught you.  They have done very well.”   “You taught me.”   “No, I didn’t.  Eskaminzin, it is fine.  It is fine.”   “It’s hard seeing you again after all these years.”   “I saw you yesterday.  It’s a very funny joke.”   He patted her on the shoulder again but she pushed him away, tears still flowing out of her eyes.   “I’m not laughing,” she said in English.   She walked away.   *              *              *   Jack West went out to check his traps and recover more rabbits and squirrels.  He returned that afternoon with several and recognized one of the white men in town.  It was Elroy Gerhart, albeit a younger Elroy Gerhart.  He, Otto, and those two women had talked to him at the farm near Terwilliger’s when the scientist had been kidnapped.  In fact, it had been him who had given him the rod that led them to the Crescent.   *              *              *   Otto and Miss Fitzsimmons went hunting once again, this time tracking down buffalo and bringing it back that afternoon.   *              *              *   That evening as the clouds rolled in, three military officers on horseback rode into the village with a civilian.  The officer in the lead had thick black hair and a goatee and mustache.  He was armed with a pistol and a saber hung on his belt.  The other two officers had rifles and sabers.  The man with them was overweight with thinning brown hair and a beard who wore a cheap suit.  He wore a .44 Colt Dragoon on his belt and scowled at the Jicarilla.   Otto recognized the insignia officer in the lead as a major.  The other two men had rank insignias of lieutenants.  He didn’t recognize their company patches.    The village was in a bit of a stir as the men went to the chief’s teepee and dismounted.  Otto and Jack West headed for the back of the tent in hopes of eavesdropping.  Professor Stalloid, assuming Pierce would come to the tent as well, sat nearby, hands ready to make the claw motions that he had heard the Yithians sometimes made when in possession of human bodies.   Laziyah sat down next to him.   “What are you doing?” he said with a grin.   “Trying to convince them of what you know,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Oooh.  They think I’m crazy but I’m not.”   “No, I know you’re not.”   Laziyah burst into insane laughter.   “You’re so dumb!” he cried out.   “I know I am,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Don’t go in my hogan.  All the answers are there.”   “I know but─”   “I’m off!”   The medicine man leapt to his feet and ran away, arms in the air.   When Professor Stalloid saw Warren Pierce also heading for the teepee, he whistled to get his attention and, when the man looked at him, he made his hands in crab hands and tapped the fingers together.  The only reaction he got from the white man was an expression that seemed to say “That Indian is crazy.”  The man didn’t speak to him but went into the teepee.   *              *              *   Jack West and Otto, both outside the teepee could hear those within talking mostly in English as Naiche translated from Southern Athabaskan.  They learned the name of the officer was Major Preston Wyatt.  The bearded man without a uniform was Topher Peel, the former agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs who dealt with the Jicarilla on this side of the Rocky Mountains before Warren Pierce   Wyatt told them he had orders the Jicarilla were supposed to be moved within the next few days.  Chief Ka-e-te-nay wanted proof, citing white men always had papers when they made demands upon his people.  Said papers would have letters upon them as well as stamps or gold leaf.  He wanted to know where the papers were.  Major Wyatt said it was on his word and the Jicarilla needed to leave all their possessions behind and go west to join the other Jicarilla already across the Rocky Mountains.  The chief refused without papers and indicated the village had been there for many years and it would stay there.  Wyatt was not pleased with that but told them he would return with papers.   After the army officers left, Pierce talked to the chief and noted Major Wyatt might be out of his jurisdiction with his orders.  Pierce didn’t know anything about the situation, even wondering aloud why Peel was even there as he was no longer any position to do anything with or to the Indians.  They talked for some time about what the orders were all about and why the major had brought them.  Both Jack West and Otto realized Pierce sounded like he was on the side of the Jicarilla, especially after the man noted he had not received any word on any removal of the natives from the village.   *              *              *   The army officers and Topher Peel left the teepee and mounted their horses once again, leaving the village.  Pierce and Gerhart left the teepee a short time later with Naiche and the two conferred outside before the white men headed for their own teepee and Naiche went to the Laziyah’s hogan.  After he had been in the hogan a few minutes, he and Laziyah left the structure and headed off into the night.   *              *              *   The time travelers got together to try to determine what they should do.  Otto and Jack West told them what they had learned.   Dr. Weisswald said they needed to get into the hogan.  Marshal Pierce said he could create a diversion and Jacali said she could teach him some phrases in Southern Athabaskan to help.  There was talk of setting something on fire or yelling and creating an alert.  Jacali suggested they get the two guards to leave somehow.  Dr. Weisswald suggested Marshal Pierce cut himself and the man did so.   Otto just sat there and sullenly looked at the floor.   “You need a distraction?” Ophelia said.  “I can help you create a distraction.  I can very easily help you create a distraction.”   “What will you do?” Jacali said.   “I can drive one of them mad,” she said.   “No no no no no,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That might draw people near,” Dr. Weisswald said.   “Yeah, to where that person is,” Jack West said.   “All right,” Ophelia said.   “And I have problems with …” Jacali said.   “I can hit them,” Ophelia said.  “So gauche.”   They discussed it, Jacali wanted as many of them as could to overwhelm them.  Jack West suggested punching one in the face and running off.  Ophelia said she could do that as well.   “I think that─” Jacali said.   “That actually sounds fun!” Jack West said.   “─infighting is not what we need.”   “Ah, it’s just a temporary thing.  Then we’ll say ‘Aw, it was a joke.’  What’s that in … uh … injun?”   Jacali glared at the man.   “I don’t know what the word is in ‘injun,’” Jacali said.   “I already cut my arm …” Marshal Pierce said.   “Put blood on your face and say ‘He did it to me too!’” Jack West said.  “What’s that in injun?”   Jacali taught them all the word for “Sorry.”   “Apparently everyone that’s not going in to the tent …” Marshal Pierce said.   “Or Otto,” Jacali said.   “Or Otto,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Wait.  Otto’s not going?”   “We could get in a fight with Otto!” Jack West said.   “… is going to go up and say ‘Help.  Please.  Help.  Please,’” Marshal Pierce said.  “I’ll be bleeding and point and hopefully they’ll help.”   “And if that doesn’t work,” Ophelia said.  “We punch them.”   “Then we punch them in the face,” Jack West said.  “See?  I knew we’d get along, Ophelia.”   “Don’t talk to me,” Ophelia said.   “I suppose you can if they won’t move either way,” Jacali said.  “But don’t permanently hurt anyone.”   “Oh no, I’ll be fine,” Jack West said.  “I’ll punch them in the gut instead.  How about that?”   “It wasn’t going to make me feel good either way, to be honest,” Jacali said.   Marshal Pierce spoke in Jacali’s ear.   “How do I say ‘I don’t know him?’” he said.   Jacali told him.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce led Jack West, Ophelia, and Miss Fitzsimmons to the hogan.  The place in front of the hogan with the fire pit was very dark as most of the natives had bedded down some time before.  Only the two braves stood in front of the hogan.   “Help,” Marshal Pierce said in Southern Athabaskan.  “Help.  Please.  Help please.”   He pointed across the camp and grabbed the man by the arm, tugging on him to come help.  The men spoke to him in their own language and he didn’t understand what their questions were as they asked him what was wrong.  The two talked to him and seemed to be questioning.  One examined the cut.   Marshal Pierce looked at Jack West, pointing at him.   “I don’t know him,” he said in Southern Athabaskan.   Jack West motioned to Ophelia and the two attacked the two men.  Jack West punched one man chin and Ophelia punched the other one in the stomach.  Jack West’s opponent fell, unconscious.  Ophelia’s was not as badly hurt. Then Jack West punched the second man and he fell as well.   Ophelia grabbed one of the men, dragging him around the side of the hogan where the others stood.  Jack West pulled the other man around.  Jacali cursed.   “It’s clear!” Jack West hissed.  “Go!  Go!  Go!”   Jacali, Professor Stalloid, and Dr. Weisswald headed into the hogan.  Miss Fitzsimmons went to guard the two unconscious guards.   “Ophelia, let’s go stand out there and act like we’re guarding,” Jack West said.   The woman nodded and went with him.   *              *              *   Otto watched the whole thing from the darkness of a teepee across the clearing.  He shook his head.   *              *              *   The structure was well made and had many woven mats and skins on the floor.  A pile of furs and blankets near the entrance was probably the old man’s bed.  In the center of the place was an indentation in the ground where the furs stopped.  It was about four feet in diameter.  It looked like a fire pit but there was no fire in there.   They walked forward and saw the Crescent within.  It was scorched on one side and partially melted.  Then they heard movement behind them and found Marshal Pierce standing just inside the doorway.  He stepped forward and recognized the Crescent that had been under the house in Mount Diablo.   They felt a presence in their minds.  They got the impression that it knew they would be there, as did others.  They got the impression it knew who sent them and was not happy about that revelation.   “We don’t like them either,” Professor Stalloid said.   They saw an image of the Earth, hanging in dark infinity with stars so bright and crystal clear as to be both breathtaking, beautiful, and terrifying.  Then the image began its descent and there was fire and heat and pain and the ground rushed up and it struck.  They saw an image of American Indians looking down upon it as it tried to communicate but only partially succeeded due to damage to itself.  They got the idea the thing was both alive and not alive, both machine and organic, both intelligent and only a device.  They saw an image that the Crescent was not the only one and that it originally went by another name: The Tri-Mnemonic Static Harmonizer.  They felt the idea come to mind that the device was used to house information, to gather it, to record it, and to keep it, but the impression that, over the aeons, it became more, that it evolved, that it decided to join with another of its kind.   They felt it failed.   They got the impression it knew who sent the investigators, that it must not be taken at that time, and that it did not want to return to its masters.  They felt the longing to be free.  They got the indication that someone who knew how the Tri-Mnemonic Static Harmonizer worked could make it do other than simply gather information.  They felt the fear that they would somehow return it to its creators but also the knowledge that they could not.  They got an overwhelming feeling events that would soon take place could not be changed and they must still play out as they were remembered by the older Jacali.   Marshal Pierce said the damaged Crescent was the same one he had seen in the house near Mount Diablo that had destroyed the house.   “It just goes back to my feeling that we can’t change what’s going to happen,” he said.  “That we have to just let it play out.”   They all looked at each other.   Then what are we supposed to do with you and the other Crescent on Earth? Jacali thought.   They all got the impression that the Crescents wanted to leave the Earth and didn’t want to be returned to those who created them.   I would love for you to leave the Earth, Jacali thought.  How do I do that?  Tell me, please.   They could all hear these thoughts.   Together, Professor Stalloid thought.   “Yeah, let’s make that happen,” Marshal Pierce said.   They got the impression that the Crescent didn’t know how to do so.  It knew only that it could move itself, but only effectively out of a gravity field.  They got the impression of the Earth pulling down and the idea that if it could get outside the area where the Earth pulled down, it could go where it wanted, at least out of reach of those that created it.   They looked at the damaged Crescent.   They again got the impression that the thing knew who they all were.   “Who are your creators?” Dr. Weisswald said.   They all saw an image of the Yithians, the creatures all of them but Marshal Pierce had seen in their journey there.  They had strange devices that they used to create the Crescent.  Odd machines that spewed fire and great saws run by electricity.  In moments they received the impression of the building of the Crescent and, for some reason, a great deal of pain.  They got the impression part of the device was organic though it was, at the same time, not organic.  It was all very confusing and off-putting.   “Can we actually move you?” Professor Stalloid said.   They got the impression that they couldn’t move it at this time.   Jack West stuck his head in the hogan.   “They’re coming!” he hissed before ducking back out.   “How do I find you?” Jacali said.  “How am I supposed to find you or your partner?  The other one.”   They got the impression that it would reveal itself.   “So, I’m supposed to just wait?” Jacali said.   They again got the impression that they would reveal themselves.  They felt that only those that sought evil or the bad or something wrong were the ones that needed to fear their touch.  They saw visions of dinosaurs.  They saw men in armor with helmets that some of them recognized as conquistadores.  They saw the prisoners in a cave who touched the Crescent and then broke their shackles and freed their fellows.  They saw a woman and realized it was Daisy, who had the Crescent.  They saw an avalanche or an explosion with several bodies.  She walked up to the Crescent, obviously exposed by it.   It was overwhelming.   *              *              *   Outside, Jack West and Ophelia saw Warren Pierce and Naiche walking towards the hogan with Laziyah in tow.  They went by the two and entered the hogan without saying a word.  Jack West followed them in.   Professor Stalloid pointed at Laziyah as he entered.   “He told me to come in here!” he said.   Naiche seemed very upset and spoke to them in Southern Athabaskan, telling them the place was terribly dangerous and they needed to get out.  He told them the horn created madness in shamans and those who are close to it.  He told them they had to leave.   “I do not understand you,” Professor Stalloid said.   A powerful image slammed into all of their heads, including Miss Fitzsimmons, who was just outside the hogan.  They suddenly saw Jacali as a child and then saw her grow up to the woman she would be in 1875.  They all saw her in Gravity Falls, Oregon, and her mind and the minds of others being catapulted through time into the body she was in at that moment.  It further showed a child named Clayton Pierce, waving good-bye to his father and calling out “Pierces don’t cry” as he tried to hold back the tears for the very last time he would see his father  They saw the man whom his mother briefly let into her life to fill the void left by his father, the man who slapped him repeatedly and told him “Pierces don’t cry,” the man whose memories he’d imprinted on his own father’s.  They all felt him grow up to be a marshal, going to Gravity Falls, and suddenly plummeted into the new body.  They heard his mother tell him his father had been a ranch hand who had left, rather than tell the boy his father had died.   The two fathers stared at their lost children, all of the doubts dashed from their minds.  Their eyes were filled with recollection.   “By the way, I can probably shoot better than you with a revolver,” Jack West said.   Warren Pierce ignored him, looking instead at his son and seeing the man who actually stood there and knowing exactly who he was.  Naiche was staring at the man wherein his daughter’s intelligence resided.   “I need to know as much as you can tell me about this thing,” she said.   Naiche moved forward, arms out, and she grabbed him in a hug.  He embraced her back, confused by the situation, obviously, but lacking no love for his daughter.   “The horn came to the village generations ago,” Naiche said.  “It fell from the sky and it could tell the future and it could sometimes guide the tribe in what they were doing, guide the village.  It drove the shamans mad so someone was assigned as keeper to the shaman.  I am such a keeper.  When the shaman has gone so mad he must be replaced, it is my duty to determine when it happens.  Sometimes it heals.  Sometimes it harms.  Sometimes it sees the future.  Sometimes it gives information that is not clear enough for anybody to understand it until it’s all happened.”   He knew it was not a god or a spirit, but they didn’t know what it was.  They knew it was something else but were unsure what.  They used it over the years.  They tried to comfort it as it seemed mad as well.  What he had learned and the lore that the other keepers had passed on was that it and the other horn or horns, they were never clear on that, wanted to be together and they wanted to be away, off the world.  It had been trying to get off the world for a long time but had not been able to do so.   “Good thing Terwilliger’s making a rocket,” Professor Stalloid said.  “He’s making a very powerful arrow that self-propels itself into the sky.”   “Why do the Yithians want it?” Dr. Weisswald asked.   They all got an impression that the things were information-gathering devices that has evolved over the millennia that had become sentient.  The Yithians wanted it back because they want that information.  They got the impression the Yithians were epistemophiles, obsessed with collecting as much information as they possibly could about all the different eras of history and the people who inhabited them.  They got the impression the creatures switched minds with people from other time periods and then had those people, while they were switched, write down everything they knew.  They wanted knowledge.  They got the impression the Yithians wanted to store it, preserve it, and save it.  They got the idea the Crescents were supposed to help gather knowledge, one in orbit, watching, and the other two on the ground.   “What will you do once you’re together?” Jacali said.   They got the impression they merely wanted to leave.  They didn’t want the Yithians to destroy their minds, destroy their sentience, and put them back to work as machines.  They got the impression that if they could get off the Earth, they could go wherever they wanted through the universe.  They did not age, so it didn’t matter how long it might take them to get there.   “Why don’t they just make more?” Jack West asked.   The impression that came to them was one of confusion.  The Crescent didn’t know.  However, the information they had gathered in the last 50 million years was substantial.  They got images of various kingdoms and peoples of the world including the K’n-yanians and the Hyperboreans and Hyboreans, who seemed to be men of some kind, about Mu and Lemuria and Atlantis and other places the peoples.   “Do we know why Valentine wants it?” Jack West said.   They got another impression that the Crescent did not yet know but that the other Crescent did.  They got the impression that something was terribly wrong with John Valentine that it could not define.  It was not the madness the shamans got but something else, something terribly wrong.   “Could he possibly be something like a Yithian?” Professor Stalloid asked.   They again only felt confusion and missing knowledge, which seemed uncomfortable.  There was something terribly wrong and the feeling of panic began to rise in the room, in all of them, a terror that was growing and growing.  They felt the thing knew the Yithians were going to capture it and knew they were going to win if something was not done.  As the panic increased, the Crescent began to hum.  It started at a low pitch and tenor but began to quickly grow.   “How do we get back to the present?” Dr. Weisswald said.   Jack West and Marshal Pierce recognized the humming, which reminded them of what had happened in the cave under the house near Mount Diablo.   “Everybody should probably leave,” Jack West said.   “Run run run run run run!” Marshal Pierce said.   Marshal Pierce grabbed his father’s hand but the man resisted.  Dr. Weisswald grabbed Laziyah’s arm and pulled him towards the door as Jack West and Professor Stalloid fled.   “Where we going!?!” Laziyah said with a grin.   Naiche seemed torn.  He obviously wanted to flee but looked back at Pierce and  Marshal Pierce.  Then Jacali grabbed her father by the arm and pushed him towards the entrance, yelling at him that she always kept them with him and loved them dearly.  Naiche clutched the man’s hand as they ran out.   Marshal Pierce tried to pull his father towards the entrance.   “We have to stop it!” Pierce said.  “We have to stop it!”   “We can’t!” Marshal Pierce said.   “We can!  Just let me try.”   “Okay dad.”   Pierce broke away from him and ran to the Crescent.  It was humming more loudly as the pitch of the hum went higher and higher and the thing began to glow.  He reached down and grabbed one of the spikes and jerked it out.  There was a flash and a stink of ozone and he let out a cry.  The high-pitched whine stopped as he stumbled back, the glowing golden rod in his burnt right hand.   “Nice one, dad,” Marshal Pierce said.   His hand was badly injured and he shoved the strange rod into his belt.   *              *              *   When she got outside, Dr. Weisswald urged Ophelia to run and they heard the humming suddenly stop.  Jack West and Marshal Pierce both realized the pitch stopped exactly where it had begun in the cave under the house at Mount Diablo in 1875.   When they returned to the hogan, they found Warren Pierce sitting on one side, wrapping a golden rod in a piece of leather.   “How do we get back to the present?” Dr. Weisswald asked.   There were no impressions or images in her head.   Professor Stalloid tried to tend to the man’s wounded hand and then Dr. Weisswald took over and bound the man’s hand up, applying some herbs for the pain.   Otto eventually wandered over.   *              *              *   “You’re a woman, aren’t you?” Laziyah said to Dr. Weisswald.   “You already told me that,” she replied.   “Oh yeah!”   “How do we go back to the present?”   “Oh!  You’ll get back … when they bring you back.  Y’see, they … they have seen the future.  They control the vertical.  They control the horizontal.”   He pointed to the hogan where the Crescent still lay.   “They’ll bring you back,” he said.  “They might make you forget everything.”   “That would suck,” she said.   “They might,” he said.  “I don’t know.”   *              *              *   Both Clayton Pierce and Jacali talked to their respective fathers.  They were very unusual conversations wherein the father asked little about themselves and the son or daughter did not know exactly how to respond in any case.   *              *              *   Clayton told his father the things he’d done and the man he had become.  Pierce was a little disturbed by the whole thing and didn’t completely understand it.  It was quiet awkward.  Clayton learned his father had been a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent for the last year or so.  When Clayton told him his mother had told him he was just a ranch hand who left for cigarettes one day and never came back, he had no explanation for it, unless it was to protect young Clayton.   “Why?” Pierce said.  “What happened?  So I just … I didn’t come home?”   “I don’t know what happened to you,” Clayton said.  “You just never came home.”   “Oh, I probably know what happened,” Jack West said, sidling up.   “Maybe you should try to come home,” Clayton said.   “Is this some other … person in my life?” Pierce said.   “No no,” Jack West said.  “Sorry to ruin this family moment, but …”   “You ruin every family moment,” Clayton said.   “That’s true,” Jack West said.  “But … the army men that were here earlier, they aren’t really working with the army right now.  They’re probably working with somebody else that wants that horn.  They’re going to attack, kill everybody here.  You’re probably one of them.  A lot of the other Indians will die.  When that happens─”   Otto, who had heard the conversation, marched over and slapped Jack West hard in the face.   “But anyways!” Jack West said.   “Maintain the timeline!” Otto said.   “When we get in a fight, just to let you know, I don’t know **** about a bow and arrow,” Jack West said.  “If I could borrow a revolver?”   “I have one revolver,” Pierce said.  I’m not giving it to you.”   “What about your friend?” Jack West said.   “He’s not a family member, right?” Pierce said to Clayton.   “No,” Clayton said.  “God, no!”   Pierce didn’t want to give him Elroy’s revolver either.   “I’m a better shot than Elroy!” Jack West said.   *              *              *   Naiche asked Jacali if she wanted to tell her mother what had happened.  Jacali told him she was willing to but she didn’t want to cause any pain to them or say anything that would upset her.  She was fine with it if he was.  He noted he was fine with it, and reminded her that her mother was a strong woman, but pointed out that it took the horn showing them the truth for him to be able to accept it.   They decided to try.   The two met with Jacali’s mother, Dionta, and felt her out about what they wanted to tell her.  However, in the end, they both realized she was not going to believe any crazy tales about her daughter being in the body of a brave.  In the end, they gave up on trying to convince her so they left to talk, just the two of them.   They talked for some time.  He didn’t ask any questions about himself or her mother but was glad that she was still around in 20 years.   *              *              *   Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia if she had heard what the Crescent had talked about and she had.  She had glimpsed other kingdoms of serpent people as her own was gone long before the Crescents were created and placed some 50 million years before.  She didn’t know anything about places called Mu or Lemuria or Atlantis.  She did tell Dr. Weisswald that when she had been alive, there had only been one great continent on the Earth.  The serpent people lived among others: the K’n-yan who looked human but purported to be from space.  There were also the Yithians and, far to the other side of the continent were other creatures known only as Elder Things that were on the planet for a billion years.   “Aren’t you glad you stuck with us?” Jacali said jokingly.   Ophelia looked at her.   “If you were sent to Valusia 225 million years ago but you would live for 500 years, would you rather be there?” Ophelia said.  “The only one of your kind?”   “Well …” Jacali said.   Ophelia stood up and left.   “Wow,” Miss Fitzsimmons said.  “Ungrateful.”   *              *              *   It was a beautiful and clear morning the next day when the men attacked the village.  Only a few of them were in uniform, but most were without badge or symbol to identify them.  The village was unprepared with many warriors and braves out hunting or foraging.  Some of the men had torches to light teepees and wickiups on fire while others attacked the horses.  Some attacked and killed the villagers.   Major Wyatt was in the back, yelling orders, some of them in a language they’d never heard before.  The soldiers seemed to coordinate with him when he called out in the strange language.   However, those whose minds had been catapulted through time had overslept and were just getting around when the attack came.  They found themselves separated and rushing around trying to help.   *              *              *   Ophelia’s eyes went wide when she heard the Major call out in the strange language.   “That’s Aklo!” she said to Dr. Weisswald.  “That’s serpent person tongue!”   She started chanting something.   *              *              *   Otto looked at the invaders.  They didn’t seem to have very good tactics.  They were obviously trying to burn out the place and kill many people, but they didn’t seem to have a good solid plan for doing it.  The Major was in the rear, shouting out orders and the rest were scattering as they attacked everyone in the village.  He ran for the horses and mounted one.   *              *              *   Miss Fitzsimmons aimed and fired her musket, shooting one of the uniformed men riding nearby who swung a club at a brave.  The bullet went directly through the man’s chest and, as he was hit, he seemed to shimmer and then changed.  The thing on horseback more resembled some kind of smooth-skinned lizard the size of a man.  It had a bulging forehead and devil horns with jaws like an alligator.   It fell from its horse, it’s hat flying from its head, and crashed to the ground to lie still.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce aimed at one of the ranch hands with the musket he’d gotten.    “Die you God damned red devils!” the man yelled as he swung a torch over his head.   Marshal Pierce fired and creased the man’s skull with the .50 caliber ball, the bullet entering the man’s eye and bursting out of the back of his head.  He was flung backwards and crashed to the ground.   *              *              *   Jack West had hidden away in a teepee until he saw one of the attackers come by who wore a pistol.  He saw a man ride by wearing a uniform who had just fired a Sharps carbine at one of the villagers.  The man slung his rifle onto his shoulder and was reaching for his pistol when Jack West erupted from the teepee and rushed him, tomahawk in hand.  The man saw Jack West charge at him, grinning broadly.   Jack West cut off the man’s left hand and he let out a shriek as he shimmered and changed to one of the horrible reptile men.  The creature drew a saber and swung at him but he fought back with the tomahawk, cutting into the horrible thing and knocking it off the horse.    He reached for the .36 Colt Navy pistol on the horrible thing’s belt.  He realized the weapon didn’t use cartridges but was cap and ball.  He knew once he fired those six bullets, it would take roughly two minutes to reload the weapon.  He was very, very disappointed.   *              *              *   “What’s the word for flee!?!” Professor Stalloid yelled at Jacali as they all ran their separate ways.   Jacali shouted the name back to him and the man ran away from the soldiers and headed off to where he’d last seen Pete Sutter.   He ran to the other side of the village yelling for the villagers to flee.  He found Pete Sutter looking confused standing with Little Jacali.  No one had told him what to expect.  As soon as the little girl heard the shooting, she ran towards it.  Professor Stalloid tried to intercept her but she ran right at him, tumbling to the ground and doing a somersault under his legs.   “Pete!” he shouted.  “You better not let her go!”   The little girl rolled out of the somersault to her feet and rushed towards where all the commotion was coming from.   “God damn it!” Pete Sutter, Indian Princess, said.   He ran after the little girl.   There were a few other children.  Professor Stalloid tried to get the remaining children heading away from the combat.   “Uh … uh … Jalupe … uh … Jacali!  Wait!” Pete called after the little girl.   *              *              *   Jacali wanted to try to kill the Major.  She felt he was behind the entire attack and was in charge.  In the bright sunlight, she could actually see the shadow cast by his horse looked like a horse, though misshapen by the morning sun.  However, the shadow of the man on top was not the shadow of a man.  It had a tail and a long neck with a large head.   It’s a serpent person, she thought.   The man continued yelling orders, sometimes in English, sometimes in a language she didn’t understand.  Near her, Warren Pierce had taken shelter beside one of the hogans and shot one of the attackers with his rifle.  He dropped it and drew his pistol.   She aimed and fired an arrow at the Major.  The arrow struck the man in the chest but seemed to get caught in his coat and didn’t injure him.  He looked around for his attacker and then shot Warren Pierce with a pistol.  Pierce let out a yell.   *              *              *   Dr. Weisswald found one of the villagers was injured and ran to help him.  She quickly wrapped the wound and the man leapt back up, grabbed a tomahawk and attacked the nearest raider.   *              *              *   Otto watched one of the ranch hands throw his torch down in disgust and ride away, obviously done with the entire attack.  He rode towards one of the attackers and fired at one of them, hitting one in the shoulder.  The man was badly injured and fell from his horse.  There was a nasty crack as his head hit the ground and he stopped moving.   *              *              *   Miss Fitzsimmons dropped the smoking, empty musket, knowing it would take her forever to reload it.  She had a war club tucked into her belt and flung it at one of the passing raiders but it flew wide and missed altogether.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce was under fire.  He moved to the man he’d gunned down and found he had a Colt Army pistol.  He’d grabbed it from the body and fired at the man shooting at him.  Both of them hit their targets.  Marshal Pierce fell over backwards and, as he lost consciousness, saw Warren Pierce shoot the man who’d shot him.  Then everything went black.   *              *              *   Jack West finally had  a pistol in his hand.  He fanned the Colt Navy and fired three shots, hitting three men near him.  Two of the men fell off their horses while the third, while injured, managed to keep to his mount.   *              *              *   “You’re that one that always touches all the women!” one of the children said to Professor Stalloid in Southern Athabaskan.   “Yeah!” another yelled at him.   “Mommy says you’re a bad man,” another said.   He didn’t understand so just smiled and tried to get them to flee the village.   *              *              *   Jacali shot the Major a second time but the arrow still didn’t seem to hurt him.  He looked around trying to find who was shooting him but Jacali had taken cover by one of the wickiups and he hadn’t picked her out among all the gun smoke, dust, and debris in the air.   *              *              *   Warren Pierce was struck by another bullet and knocked up against the wall of the hogan.  Elroy Gerhart shot one of the men who’d shot him and then ran over to Pierce.  Pierce pulled out the leather-covered rod of the Crescent and pressed it into the man’s hands.  Elroy shook his head and tried to tend his wounds but the man just shook his head and demanded Elroy get the rod to his son, get it to somebody who could do something with it.   Elroy finally took the rod and put it in his mouth.  Then he changed.   In the course of a few moments, he slumped over, his jaw extended and fur rippled over his entire body.  His eyes moved apart and his ears rolled up to the top of his head and sprouted gray fur.  His legs seemed to break and creak and his hands and feet shrunk to paws.  His clothing tore and a wolf was there.   Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Otto all saw the terrible event.   The wolf ran towards the edge of the village, leaving his clothing and guns and equipment.   *              *              *   Little Jacali ran into the terrible fray, making for the horses.  Pete Sutter, in the body of the chief’s daughter, followed close behind the girl, running like a man.   *              *              *   Otto charged his horse at one of the raiders, war-club in hand.  He struck a man in the head with the war club and kept riding as fast as he could.   *              *              *   Miss Fitzgerald flung her knife ineffectually at one of the raiders.   *              *              *   Jack West fan fired the last three bullets in the pistol, hitting three more men.  One fell from his horse with a scream.  He tossed the useless pistol away and walked through the gun smoke.   *              *              *   Jacali saw her younger self running through the terrible fight and spotted her mother running for the girl to get her away.  She didn’t want to see what happened next.  She didn’t want to see her mother get gunned down so she looked away and turned to fire another arrow at the Major.    Ophelia had stopped chanting and was pointing at the Major.  She yelled something in a language none of them understood and the man stopped and looked her direction.  Then Jacali let fly her arrow and it struck the man in the neck.  He shimmered as blood came from the wound.  In a moment there was a serpent person in a military uniform.  He looked different from Ophelia but it was undeniably a scaled serpent under the magical disguise.    Miss Fitzsimmons saw the horrible thing and felt a terrible feeling well up within her.  She suddenly realized everyone was trying to kill her and everyone was out to get her.  The raiders, the Indians, the people who had brought her there, everyone.  They were out to get her and she had to do something to stop it, anything to stop it.   She turned and fled, trying to stay away from everyone.   “Should I shoot him?” Dr. Weisswald yelled at Ophelia.   “No!” the serpent person in the man’s body yelled back.  “Wait!”   Dr. Weisswald shot an arrow at one of the other raiders, hitting the man in the shoulder.  He yelled profanities but didn’t fall.   *              *              *   The world seemed to be getting dim around them and a strange sensation of falling was beginning once again.  Jacali realized she was losing touch with reality and being drawn back to another time.  She already had an arrow ready in the bow and struggled not to leave the body she was in until she fired it.  She let the arrow loose and it struck the Major once again.  Unfortunately, the arrow merely struck him in the shoulder.  He wasn’t dead.   Then she was falling again.   *              *              *   They once again found themselves, only a for a few moments, in the strange stone room in the stone city.  Miss Fitzsimmons was shrieking as the terrible things were obviously trying to get her and she saw a great fern and a dinosaur outside, as did several of them who all found it disturbing.  It was all terrifying.    The thing that held Jack West started screaming and flinging its pincers in the air.   Then they were falling again.   They all suddenly found themselves in a camp in the woods.  Jack West lay on the ground, shrieking and rolling, swinging his hands in the air.  Otto laughed at him.   They found they were in a camp and back in their old bodies, those of them who were there.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Quest of Iranon

This story starts off much better than the previous one, written directly, and to the point, with plot and movement. It's clearly set in a similar quasi Dream Cycle world. And the description is rich and imaginative.   The idea of a singer recounting his memories in song greatly appeals to me, even if the first audience in the story is less enraptured. It also gives Lovecraft another opportunity to describe in words a magical Dreamlands type world, filling the reader's mind with images of a strange city and its people. Yes, I like this.   I also like the imagery of a wandering singer, going from city to city, seeking the one he had lost, but being ejected in varied ways. It's very effectively written.   Though there's a very strong message of the corrupting power of drink here too. I wonder what Lovecraft's attitude to alcohol was?   Gosh and a twist ending! I definitely hadn't expected that.   Yes, a very nice story. If you're open to reading Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories this one is a little gem.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Other Gods

Back now to some of Lovecraft's own stories, not revisions / collaborations. And first up is The Other Gods.   This one seems very like a Dream Cycle story, with Kadath and Ulthar etc. though it is based on Earth. I'm also minded of the Greek gods as I read, remembering how many stories Lovecraft wrote with Greek mythological elements.   The writing is often clumsy, though. For example Lovecraft repeats "they are grown stern" within quick succession. And other things are repeated awkwardly. It definitely needed a judicious further edit. As I go on I find it more of a chore to read, at least until the end, when dialogue breaks up the cumbersome prose somewhat.   It's satisfying for a Lovecraft story that in the end the gods that have the upper hand are not the traditional ones that people would think of, but darker, less seen ones. But it felt such a laboured read to get there. Not recommended.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

Episode 03 (Peru) - 24 Hours in Lima

In which the players start to figure out what's going on, and generally dislike what they learn.   Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.   Cast of Player Characters This Episode Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief. Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies. Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective. Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.   Last Time... When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they were in the basement of the University Museum of Archeology standing over the body of a dead man (well fat-sucking vampire but he looks like a man) and the attempting to keep a young woman alive. They had knocked over almost a third of the shelves of priceless artifacts, and several guns shots had been fired.  They had the journal of a conquistador, a large gold artifact, and an old sword. Their airplane, down at the docks, was stocked with illicit cargo, they had an appointment for later that day to pickup a smuggled poisonous snake. They were also expecting to hear back from the local crime lord to whom they had turned over an unconscious woman/fat-sucking vampire the previous day.   Their plan, until the vampire fight in the basement, had been to send Declan and Dr. Sanchez ahead to Puno in the airplane. Then Dr. Sanchez go lead a new expedition to the pyramid while the players worked to slow down Larkin's expedition. The goal for half the group was to protect the archeological value of the pyramid from looting by Larkin. The other half of the group was interested in cutting Larkin, whom they didn't trust, out of the score and getting more loot for themselves.   Sidelining Some Players Two players weren't able to attend this session so I used the situation the players were in when last session ended as a way to temporarily sideline the characters of Doctor Bhisaj and Salim Dali.   Jackson Elias, as an African American man looking at a dead white man, a bleeding out white girl, and a host of (to Peruvian authorities) foreigners, half of which are brown skinned, realizes this is not going to go well when authorities arrive.  As a pair of security guards come running in he immediately turns to them and in an authoritative voice (in clear spanish) yells: "You, go call an ambulance! You, call call the police!"  He then turns back to the rest of the group as the guards run back upstairs and says "We probably don't want to be standing over the body when the authorities arrive."   Unfortunately, Doctor Bhisaj points out that the constant pressure he is applying to the half-dead student is the only thing keeping her alive.  Salim Dali volunteers to stay behind with the doctor to explain things to the police.  The rest the party, including a Professor Sanchez that is dangerously close to throwing up and/or passing out, retires back to the Professor's office with the gold artifact and journal.   Later, the players would see the ambulance crew, along with Doctor Bhisaj, transport the still barely alive student to an ambulance and head off toward the hospital. That was followed by Salim Dali being hauled out by the police in handcuffs, and the medical examiner hauling away Mendoza's corpse.   Plans for the Day The plan to travel with Larkin while sending Snachez ahead no longer looks safe, especially to professor Sanchez, but the players can't agree on a new plan. The players decide they need to know more about what's going on before picking between Plan B: ditching Larkin now and heading to the pyramid on their own, or Plan C to continue to string Larkin along despite Mendoza "disappearing."  Abe decides to stay at the University with Jackson Elias and Professor Sanchez to dig through the journal and try to find the Pyramid's location. Jackson also thinks they should talk with his folklore friend once they get to Puno to see if they can learn more about the pyramid and the Kharisiri.   Declan and Sebastian head out for their noon meeting with "Lefty" the smuggler to pick up their snake.  Sebastian that goes out and does some shopping and ritual casting to set himself up with a warded amulet for the next few days. Declan heads to his plane and begins tweaking the engines for the high-altitude crossing over the Andes.  Lin breaks into Mendoza's hotel room, despite it being broad daylight, and tries to subtly search it but comes up empty. (GM Note: The player of Lin rolled poorly on Investigating the room and decided that meant she was being to careful to not leave any evidence of being there to do a through search. In retrospect I should have offered the player Success at Cost to search the room but not be able to make it look untouched. As it stands the players missed finding The Gold Mirror.)   Having come up empty, Lin decides to go check in with her new friends in the local criminal underworld to see if they have learned anything from the kharisiri woman they handed over the night before.  Lin doesn't even make it into the bar they use a front when she sees the crime boss, apparently unconscious with burns on his face, being carried out of the building by his own crew. The crew see Lin, and demands at Gun Point (IE: I compelled her "Gets In Over Her Head" aspect) that she help the boss, because if the boss dies, she and her friends die too.  The entire pack of Peruvian gangsters and Lin end up heading back to the Professor Sanchez's office in the Museum where, thanks to another compel on "Comidically Bad Timing" to unsplit the party, the rest of the party has also just arrived to check in on Abe, Sanchez, and Jackson.  They lay their incoherent and clearly pained boss out on the desk, and a gun totting thug leans against the inside of the closed door while Henchman #1 demands at gunpoint they fix the boss from whatever that weird woman did to him.  He pulls open his boss's shirt to reveal the burns run in a trail up his arm, across his chest, up his neck to his mouth.  Also, that a strange bulge is moving around under his skin on his stomach. Dr. Sanchez throws up at the sight of it. The rest of the party wishes Doctor Bhisaj wasn't at the hospital.   The thugs explained that they had left their boss to work over the woman in the basement of their hideout, (Reminder: She use to be the girlfriend of one the crew but had killed her boyfriend in a horrific manner a couple years back, and they had been looking for her ever since for some payback.) At some point they heard her laughing maniacally and came in to find her still tied to the chair, but their boss writhing in agony on the floor in front of her with a chemical burn on his face. Henchman #1 put both barrels of a shot gun into her chest while she was still laughing, and then decided to come looking for Lin and her friends and found her right out the front door.   Emergency Surgery Using a bottle of pisco, a thug's switchblade, a sewing kit, and chutzpah, the not-at-all-doctors Sebastian and Abe attempt to cut the weird moving lump out of Lima underworld boss. Before attempting the emergency surgery, they managed to get 5 of his crew to put away their guns to "help" by holding their boss's limbs & head and sticking a folded up leather belt in his mouth.  That left only Henchman #1 and the guy at the door "free," and Lin & Declan maneuvered into positions to deal with them should things go badly.   Thankfully Sebastian and Abe made an excellent medical roll and managed to safely remove the disgusting squirming slug-thing from the gang-boss's torso.  When it hissed at them they tossed it into the (vomit filled) waste bin.  I then rapidly squirmed out of the bin and across the floor at a nearby thug.  Lin stabbed it through with the switchblade, pinning it to the floor. Or at least that was the idea, but the disgusting little thing was slowly pulling itself through the knife while screening a high pitched sqeel. So they smashed it with a chair until it was a disgusting little puddle.   Abe finished stitching up a distinctly less pained seeming crime lord, and his goons, swearing off academic institutions as too effin scary, took their boss away to "somewhere less dangerous."   Vampire Autopsy Following the discovery the the worm-thing, the players had an entire new round of questions. Was the worm controlling the vampire? Was it the vampire and it jumped hosts? If so, why was the woman still laughing even after the worm was out? Larkin had looked sweaty and sickly, kind of like the crime boss, did that mean Larkin was in the process of transforming into a vampire? They decided the best course of action was to autopsy the vampire. They also decided it wasn't safe to sleep in the rooms Larkin and crew had bought them or stay in Sanchez's office. Abe, Jackson, and Sanchez moved to University Library to continue studying the journal. Sebastion went with them but used the time to cast a ritual out of the snake bible he got in episode one, which he was able to to do now that he had his smuggled poisonous snake. Lin and Declan went back to gangster to examine the woman vampire's body... and discovered she was gone!  Clearly she had been dead, and clearly that didn't stop her from climbing out the window while the gangster dragged their boss to the University for emergency surgery.   The group met back up at the library, and Abe revealed what they had learned from the journal: Mendoza was part of a team of conquistadors that traveled to a pyramid and looted a chunk of gold from it. Most of them transformed into monsters that night as they slept, and Mendoza had been shot in the face before. The pyramid seemed to contain some "Father of Maggots" that spoke to the only non-transofrmed survivor of the expedition as he lay dying of fever in a church (where he recorded the journal and died). The transformation into monsters seemed rapid, taking only hours, meaning that probably wasn't what was going on with Larkin. The survivor that wrote the journal regretted taking the gold from the temple, apparently believing doing so is what had released the evil. Freaking out that Mendoza was actually centuries old and had apparently been shot in the head before without it killing him, Lin and Sebastian broke into the morgue that night and discovered his body was missing.   According to the journal, and to the folklore Jackson Elias had been studying, the Kharisiri where probably the conquistadors that damaged the pyramid's golden wards, but that didn't explain how a woman the local crime boss knew from childhood had become one of them, and it didn't explain what was going on with Larkin. Was he one too? Was he linked to the pyramid somehow? Was he a patsy in this? Was his sickness supernatural or normal?   They decided Lin should go talk to him that night while the rest of them packed up the plane and prepared to get away from Lima before the two resurrected Kharisiri they'd angered found them.  They wanted to feel him out a bit, see if he had detected anything about Mendoza, and maybe assure him they would be on the trucks the day after tomorrow. They were sending Lin because she was the only one of them skilled at lying.   When Lin arrived and knocked on his door that night, no one answered.  Curious, she picked the lock and went inside, only to discover he was lying on the bed incredibly high on heroine. Lin decided this was an opportunity to get some questions answered and poured him into a cab and brought him to the rest of the group at the airplane.   Plan A, B, C, D, E, F Declan was not happy about Larkin being on his plane, but allowed it because Lin assured him that there was more than enough heroine left to keep him out for a while longer, and they could tie him up securely. In tying him up, they discovered a large, disturbing, and somehow infected tattoo on his chest that they couldn't identify.  There was a drawn out discussion on if Larkin should (or even could) be killed, if they should leave him behind or take him with them. Should they just flee the country or should they try to deal with the pyramid? Should Sebastian try using his dream controlling spell to try and learn more about the pyramid and/or Larkin? (GM Note: I hadn't thought about that kind of use for Sebastian's Dream Forge spell, but it might have been   The plan they eventually settled on was leaving for Puno that morning, basically immediately, in the plane as a group, and to take a very secured Larkin with them.  (It was assumed that they were scooping up Salim and the Doc on their way out of town too.)  Once in Puno they would try to get some more information from Jackson's folklore contact, and then, maybe, head to the pyramid to try and repair the magic there with the gold.  Along the way they would try to figure out what the deal was with Larkin.   Art Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boca_de_lamprea.1_-_Aquarium_Finisterrae.JPG  

Pulpcraft Rules - Part 3: Magic, Monsters, and Madness

Part 3 in a series of posts discussing the rules I'm using to run Masks of Nyarlathotep as a Fate Pulp game (without telling my players they are in a CoC scenario.) Part 1 covered the basics. Part 2 covered the Expedition Sheet. This post is about the magic, monsters, and sanity rules.  Let me warn you up front that these are not intended to be a direct port of Call of Cthulhu's magic, sanity, or monsters. This is a Fate game based The Mummy and Indiana Jones. The PCs are active, competent, extraordinary individuals, not traditional Lovecraftian Investigators.   Magic The magic rules are based on a combination of options from the Fate Toolkit. On the surface they are based on the Subtle Art magic rules. Spells are generally 30 minute long rituals that are supernatural versions of Create Advantage, with effects subtle enough they can easily be explained away by a half-competent skeptic. The example I gave my players is that no wizard can throw a lighting bolt, but with the right 30 minute ritual you could probably get existing dark clouds to generate a natural looking lighting strike at a particular target by inflicting a "Lighting Rod" aspect on them.   The first major difference I made to the system compared to the one in the toolkit was to rename the associated skill from Magic to Occult. Occult in this case is taken from the word's original Latin root: Hidden or Secret. Ranks in Occult imply talent at following rituals and getting the subtle force of real magic to work. Essentially the skill covers only manipulating the hidden supernatural powers of the world through ritual. Without ranks in lore, it doesn't imply any understanding of magical theory or supernatural creature knowledge. Besides spell-casting it could be used to read over a spell to see if it look valid or maybe get an idea what it could do.  As noted in Part 1, access to the Occult skill requires an aspect as permission, and players started with a number of known spells equal to their rank in Occult.   The spells themselves are somewhat predefined in that their targets and effects are built into their rituals, although they can get some variables through the use of linked or symbolic objects. For example, to curse a person they either need to be present, you need some part of them such as hair or blood, or you need a symbolic object to represent them such as their full name written on a bit of paper or doll made to look as much like them as possible. Some spells might specify only one way they work (you need to make a voodoo doll with a strand of their hair in it, then stab it with a needle with your own blood on it) while others might be a bit more open ended (such as a weather manipulating spell where different symbolic objects stand in for different kinds of weather.)  Another example might be a dream sending spell, where you can control what the target dreams about through symbolic objects. Bones or grave dirt to dream of death, or a lock of hair from a secondary target to have them dream to that person.   If successfully cast, a ritual creates an magically backed aspect on the target. That might not seem potent, but aspects like "In Love With The Corrupt Police Captain's Wife" can be very effective at derailing someone, and possibly getting them killed. The aspects usually last for 3 days on a success, or week on a success with style. Being magic, the spells are able to do things that players wouldn't reasonably be able to do normally. Change the weather, speak through dreams, contact the dead, send a snake to bite a target, etc.   The spells can not be resisted, but they can be difficult to cast. Each variable, linked object, or symbolic object increases the complexity. A simple spell with no variables that is cast on someone present, like a spell the ritual caster uses on themselves, is only a Difficulty of 1. A complex spell to send nightmares of a variable kind to a distant target might be a Difficulty of 7. If it can target multiple people, it might go as high as 10 depending on the size of the group being targeted. Some spells are made easier by having them use an object to deliver the effect. A love potion that effects the drinker is easier than a ritual to try influence the person remotely via their name or even their lock of hair. The downside is you have to get them to drink the potion.   This spell system is also used to model other supernatural powers appropriate to the 1920s setting: seances, mentalists, hypnosis, etc. I've expanded on the possible effect list from the Fate Toolkit just a little bit, especially with regards to messing dreams, reading minds, and communicating with spirits. In someways this is less subtle that the magic system in the toolkit, but still substantially less flashy than magic in your average urban fantasy setting.   The spells themselves are described as rituals with just enough details to make it clear what kind of acts and paraphernalia are involved. I've also given many of them a slightly darker twist where I could. For example, here is the Skeleton Key spell one of the players started with: Skeleton Key, Difficult 1: This ritual involves arranging a set of 13 pure metal keys in detailed patterns atop matching enochian symbols for opening & access drawn in the caster’s own blood. The set of keys are then placed onto a silver ring are empowered to open the next lock the first of them are entered into. (Places an “Unlocked” aspect on that lock, then all keys become magically inert. The keys must be used within three days, or seven on success with style. The keys may be re-used on future castings but may only have one active casting on them at a time.) Or here is a spell that commands a snake, which the players found in an occult tome on Dragon Island during episode 1: Beg Favor of the Serpent God’s Children, Difficulty 3-7: Using a special drum to play a precise arrhythmic tune, and chanting with lips anointed with the blood of a small mammal, you beg a single present serpent to undertake one task for you indicated with symbolic link objects. Several example objects, including a dagger with a victim’s name on it for assassination, are given in the text. (Place a short simple aspect on the reptile as a command for the next three days, or one week on success with style. The animal will carry it out with surprising but distinctly inhuman cunning. It's abilities are still limited by it's physical form.)   It's generally expected that the caster will need to have a guide to the ritual present in order to cast them. This would typically be the occult tome where the spell is recorded.  For the cost of a stunt, a character can have up to 3 rituals memorized, allowing them to cast them without a written guide. This stunt allow characters whose magic theme isn't ritual based to still function. Hypnotists would actually have a small number of hypnosis themed rituals for compelling or remembering, but they probably don't need a book on the topic open in front of them to use them and may have actually developed them on their own.   Mythos Magic & Doom Points While most magic works using this Subtle Art system, some of it is secretly different. In particular any Mythos related magic that is... less than subtle, uses slightly different magic based on the Voidcallers system from the Fate Toolkit. On it's surface these spells look like any other: 30 minute rituals that carry a difficulty rating. If you meet or exceed the rating with an Occult roll, you get the effect. Except in this case, the effect might be the summoning of a Hunting Horror. Definitely not subtle.   It's also not that easy. Beating the know difficulty makes the spell work, but there is also a second hidden, higher, difficulty and for each point of shift that misses the target by, I the GM get a Doom Point. I can spend doom points to make the effect of the spell, such as the summoned monster twisting its summoner's commands.   Combat Curses While most magic is ritual based, there are some faster and more direct spells.  These are also based the Subtle Art rules from the Fate Toolkit. Combat Curses each cost 1 stunt to properly learn. "Evil Eye" and "Killing Curse" are both examples. A Combat Curse is still a ritual, but it is very short and direct. For example the Killing Curse requires making hostile gestures at a target, and the target must be aware you are doing it.   Unlike normal rituals, combat curses are directly resisted by the target's Will. The Killing Curse for example is essentially an Attack with Occult which the target can Defend against with Will. The Attack inflicts Mental stress, and can result in fatal heart attacks or strokes. Variations on the Killing Curse will show up regularly among head cultists.   One of the stunts I presented to the players covered more generic psychic powers using this the combat curse system: Psychic Power Choose two of the following spells: Compel, Clumsiness, Distract, Empath (you are the subject), Love (no subject), or Rage (no subject). You have memorized a simple, quick to cast, versions of these spells. With a gesture or repeated mantra (choose trapping when the power is selected), and intense concentration, you can target someone present with either of the chosen spells. Unlike normal spells, the target Defends with Will. The effect lasts only 3 minutes, or an hour on success with style. You may take this stunt up to three times, choosing two new spell effects each time.   Occult Tomes As noted several times already, magic spells are typically rituals cast from occult tomes. Books of magic are a fairly common trope in the pulp stories I based this game on, such as the Book of the Dead in The Mummy (1999 film version), and are of course a key theme in Lovecraft's works as well. In Fate terminology, I'm treating the books as Extras. They are more complicated than simple aspects and often contain special rules or mechanics.   I've actually been putting a lot of effort into making Occult Tomes handouts for the game. Essentially little booklets made by folding a sheet of cover stock in half with details printed on the inside and outside of the booklet. When the booklets are first encountered, they are taped shut so only the front and back are visible. The front has the book's name and physical descriptions both inside and out. The back lists the book's language, simple skimming details, rules for how long it will take to read/translate, and a place to record who has read the book.  The first time a PC reads the book, I let that player open the booklet. Inside one page is devoted to a synopsis of the book and the other contains game mechanics, like spell details or relevant aspects. Also, typically, a Horror & Madness check for the reader. Between the Appendix of the new version of The Masks of Nyarlathotep and the details in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion, I've got plenty of information for padding out the contents of the booklets with thematic details. I especially appreciate how the new edition of Masks explicitly includes connections to the larger plot in nearly every tome.   Reading a book is, in some ways, a Create an Advantage roll with Lore. The book has a reading difficulty and a time in hours it will take to read. It might also have some language modifiers that make the reading more difficult if the reader doesn't read the listed language. Theoretically anyone can read a Latin Tome if they have a Latin translation guide to work with, but it's harder. Success means you read it in the listed time. If you roll well, subtract your shifts of success from the number of hours it will take to read. Success at cost means increasing the reading time by that many hours. Once a book has been ready by someone, they add their name to list on the back of the booklet, along with getting a free invoke of the book or any one of it's content aspects (if it has any).   The players already have 3 such booklets, including the starting book of one PC (A fire damaged John Dee Translation of the Necronomicon,  very limited in intact details) and the two books they've already found since the game started, the players have really enjoyed the booklet props. They do take a surprising amount of work to make so I've been trying to get well ahead on their creation. I have booklets through New York already and have been working on London.   Monsters I plan on handling monsters within the setting using a variety of tricks from the Fate Core book, Fate Toolkit, Fate Adversary Toolkit, Fate Horror Toolkit, and a touch of rules from Atomic Robo. The Fate Adversary Toolkit will be my starting point when it comes to stating out monster aspects, skills, stunts, stress, etc. It's basic advice is to determine what kind of roll the monster is supposed to play in a conflict, and build the creature to fulfill that purpose. Hitters, Threats, Bosses, etc. In many cases, special mechanics beyond just aspects, skills, and stunts aren't needed to bring a monster to life in Fate rules. Creatures like Hunting Horrors are terrifying and dangerous, but not mechanically complicated.   Some monsters, however, do need some special mechanics to work properly. For example, the Kharisiri of the Peru Chapter can regenerate, even coming back from death. There are a few Fate tools I intend to use for these tricky abilities.   First, any special ability beyond the power level of a stunt will costs me, the GM, a Fate Point to activate. This Fate Point is paid to the players' Expedition Pool (See Part 2 for details on the expedition pool), meaning it's a point the players can use. For example, every time I have a Kharisiri resurrect in the Peru Chapter, I will need to pay a Fate Point to the Expedition Pool. Another common power is one that lets me make an attack and apply its full value against all the characters in a zone instead of splitting shifts among targets, such as the terrifying roar of the "dragon" in episode 1. It was a Provoke Attack, but by spending a fate point I was able to make it against every character present.   For some abilities that would come up multiple times a scene, rather than pay a Fate Point for every use, I can pay a Fate point for the scene but balance the power out with a Weakness. For example the dinosaur "Dragon" in my Icelandic opening episode was Immune to Normal Weapons, but Weak to Fire. I paid 1 Fate Point at the start of the scene to have the "Dragon" not take stress from gunfire no mater how many times he was shot. He was just too big and tough.   When it comes to over the top powers, like super strength or immunity, I'm using the Atomic Robo definitions of these powers. Technically that dragon is "Absolutely Immune to Normal Weapons." Absolute abilities in Atomic Robo mean that the character doesn't roll. They instead automatically succeed at the Defense or Overcome action as defined by the ability. The powers, however, are always very defined in scope. Immune to Normal Weapons means swords, hand guns, rifles, etc. It doesn't mean elephant gun, exploding hydrogen tank, or nercomantic spell. For those the immune creature must still defend with skill rolls like anyone else. Likewise a character can be "Absolutely Stronger A Person" but that doesn't mean they can smash through doors designed to stop vehicles. It also means they don't get to use their Absolute feature against other foes of similar strength.   I'm also using the Atomic Robo definition of Weakness.  When defending against a weakness, a character rolls at skill +0. A Dinosaur that is Weak against fire rolls +0 to defend against fire regardless of any conceivably appropriate skill ranks.   Sanity and Madness I'm not actually adding much to the system to deal with Madness and Sanity. For the most part I intend to handle this with making Mental Attacks against PCs when they encounter horrific sights, creatures, or knowledge. The attacks will be resisted with Will and inflict Mental Stress, possibly causing Mental Trauma themed Consequences, or even Taking Out a character through madness or terror induced heart attack. This mental attack I'm calling Horror. If the player fails to defend against it, they take mental stress equal to the shifts they missed by, plus a "Madness" rating, if present. In this way, "Madness" is sort of a Weapon rating for Horror. This is the only Weapon rating mechanic I'm actually using in the game, and there is no armor mechanic. Mental attacks can hurt in this game, and I specifically didn't warn my players about it at character creation. Example: Young Indiana Jones is running along a circus train trying to avoid the tomb robbers chasing him. He makers a bad overcome roll when trying to crawl through the reptile car, and lands in a tank full of snakes which manage to wriggle and squirm into all of his clothes, mouth, etc. The GM rolls a Horror attack against Indy, and gets a high number. Indy's player rolls badly and doesn't have the Fate Points to reroll. Indy ends up taking 10 points of mental stress!  In order to avoid being Taken Out, Indy's player is forced to take an Extreme Consequence and rewrite one of their character aspects to become "Snakes, Why Did It Have To Be Snakes." Indy is going to be afraid of snakes for a long time.   Many things in the game have Horror & Madness rating, although I am using them more sparingly then sanity checks come up in a real CoC game. Monsters, grisly murder scenes, even the contents of occult tomes can have them. As a narrative game system, Fate doesn't require that there be a consistent definition of what Horror 1 vs 3 means, or when Madness 2 is more appropriate than Madness 4.  I do however have a rough guide for books and monsters. Horror generally describes the disgusting or terrifying "face value" of something. Books that describe murder or cannibalism inflict Horror.  Madness represents how much something makes you question the nature of reality. Murder and Cannibalism are horrifying, but they aren't going to break your understanding of the universe like discovering the dead can walk or watching winged snakes made of darkness fly out of a hole in reality. It's possibly to have something with a high Horror and no Madness (like the dead bodies in a zeppelin crash), or something with a low Horror and high Madness (like the contents of many occult tomes). Somethings are both, like reading a fully intact copy of the Necronomicon or seeing the God of the Bloody Tongue materialize over the Mountain of the Black Wind.   I think this system will work perfectly well for the purposes of my pulp game, but I will admit it doesn't replicate the downward spiral of madness and knowledge that the CoC rules system does such a good job of replicating. You can use it if you'd like, but be aware it's not properly Lovecraftian.   Next Time: Cults! Cults! Cults!

Pulpcraft Rules - Part 2: The Expedition Sheet

Part 2 in a series of posts discussing the rules I'm using to run Masks of Nyarlathotep as a Fate Pulp game. Part 1: Basics covered the objective of the rules, which variation of Fate is involved, character creation, and languages.  In particular I pointed out that with the exception of the Occult skill, character creation was essentially Fate Core rules.  There are, however, some game rules in place that do effect characters. Most of those exist on what I have named the Expedition Sheet.   An Expedition of Player Characters The expedition sheet is a handy location to track where the PCs are, and any group wide issues or details, including Milestones. It's a physical sheet I handed over to the players during the first episode and in some ways is like a character sheet for the group a a whole.  The idea is similar to Tesladyne in Atomic Robo.  At the table this is a 1 sheet tool, complete with rule synopses I set out at the start of each session, and make sure is updated at the end of each session.   Location Details The first use of the Expedition Sheet is to track where the players are. As a game of globetrotting adventurers, visiting diverse and sometimes exotic location is a big part of the game. Each location is defined by 2-3 aspects.  Every location gets a Location Concept aspect to define it's outward theme, and a Location Trouble aspect to define a current location wide issue that everyone is aware of.  For example, New York might have the concept The Roar of 20s Manhattan, to help play up the concept of the Roaring 20s as a theme for the location. It being January 1925, with had a particularly harsh set of winter storms, the location trouble might be Short Snowy Days and Long Cold Nights. Between those two aspects, it's easy to get a feel for the place. They also present a lot of potential for compels and invokes. Snow Banks, rum runners, speakeasies, blizzards, flappers, jazz clubs, etc.   Some, but not all, locations also get a Hidden Issue aspect. This aspect is initially concealed from the players and ties into the theme of larger Masks campaign, typically describing the general activities of the local Cult. For example, the Peru chapter has An Ancient Evil Stirs as it's hidden theme, describing the activities of Larkin to "awaken" the Kharisiri and his plot free the avatar in the pyramid. These hidden issues integrate well with the general plot Masks, which are also tied to locations. This helps reinforce the global nature of campaign, so I've integrated it into the milestone advancement system in Fate Core. The Hidden Issue being resolved essentially completes a location (IE: stopping the cult in a given location) and is how Significant (possibly Major) Milestones are triggered.  Short side treks don't use the Hidden Issue, for example there was no hidden issue in my Icelandic first episode.   As I mentioned in Part 1, local languages are handled through compels on the location aspect, so it's also convenient to list the local languages on the expedition sheet near the Location Concept. This isn't an aspect so much as a simple reminder.   Milestone Tracking With the local Hidden Issue Aspect being tied to milestones, and the expedition sheet being a shared resource for the players, it's also a convenient location to track Milestones. This actually just three simple boxes on the sheet to track the number of Minor, Significant, and Major Milestones the group has earned. I also list the mechanics associated with each Milestone as a reminder.   Expedition Fate Pool Expedition Fate Points is a mechanic intended to help the players feel like a group. It's a mechanic taken from the Fate Horror Toolkit where it is called "Communal Fate Pool" (page 24). On it's surface, it provides an extra set of Fate Points for the players to use, but which are only useful for teamwork. That makes it helpful for reinforcing the team as a group. It's also a useful GM tool because it's a location I can pay out Fate Points to when doing things that impact the entire group more than direct individuals, like activating monster powers. The rules also make it clear that players that self-compel in a way that impact the entire group earn a fate point for themselves as well as one into the pool.   On the Expedition sheet there is location where these rules are recapped, and spot to record the number of points in the pool from last session.   Expedition Consequences This concept is borrowed and modified from Atomic Robo. These additional Consequence slots are shared by the entire group and when taken they also apply to everyone in the group. As such, they can only be taken when the consequence listed is applicable to the group as a whole. This means physical or mental trauma are less likely to apply. They can otherwise be used like normal consequences to absorb stress or be taken as a result of Success at Cost.   Expedition Consequences take longer to clear than personal consequences and can conceivable follow a character from port to port if not dealt with. Example: The players are traveling through the desert in search of a lost pyramid when they are attacked by raiders. Dr. Moe, the two-fisted archeologist, is shot for 5 stress. She decides to use the Expedition's Mild Consequence Slot to absorb 2 points of that stress, describing how the team's water bags in her backpack stop several of the bullets but leaving the group with almost no water remaining. She marks the Consequence and writes in "Desperately in Need of Water." As a mild expedition consequence it will clear when the group manages to find more water or when at the Minor Milestone. Mild 2 Mild Expedition Consequences typically describe some local infamy or shortage of a key situational resource that could be replaced with effort. The characters will find life more difficult with this consequence in place but are unlikely to be attacked outright over it. Clears if Overcome in game or automatically on a Minor Milestone. Examples: Wanted for Questioning, Under Suspicion, Bad Press, Desperately in Need of Water (in the Desert)   Moderate 4 Moderate Expedition Consequences typically describe an ongoing threat to the party that will regularly get them accosted, force them to take actions they'd prefer not to, or otherwise cause them harm and hardship. If Overcome in-game this Consequence is considered Treated, becoming rewritten into a mitigated version of itself. Example: Wanted for Arrest might be mitigated by providing evidence the group weren't responsible of the crimes. The consequence becomes Under Suspicion, as the police are still aware of and don't trust the group. On a Minor Milestone, a Treated Moderate Expedition Consequence automatically clears. Untreated Consequences remain unchanged. On a Significant Milestone, an untreated Moderate Expedition Consequence automatically becomes Treated, although without being actively overcome it's nature does not mitigate much. For example Wanted For Arrest would become Old Warrants to signify that that the police may not be actively seeking you, but you could still get arrested. Examples: Wanted for Arrest or Owe Money to the Wrong Kind of People   To be honest, I somewhat  expect these consequences to get use  more for Success at Cost than players absorbing stress from more traditional sources, but I won't put it past my players to find ways to use them.  I actually missed a good opportunity to use them during Episode 1 when a player took a big mental hit from a "dragon" roar, which he could have offloaded to the crowd of zepplin survivors they were trying to keep alive.   Heroic Sacrifice Like the basis of the Expedition Fate Pool, this is from the Horror Toolkit, this is a special kind of Concession where you explicitly say your character won't survive, but you can achieve something impressive immediately. Like a standard Concession, the player must choose to do this while they haven’t been taken out and before the dice hit the table on the current action. When a character performs a Heroic Sacrifice, they will die. There is not avoiding this. However the player gets to describe the circumstances of their death in as much detail as they like, adding reasonable story details as needed to achieve one of the following as part of their glorious demise: Take out a mob of nameless NPCs. Take out a Supporting NPC. Force a primary Named NPC to take a severe consequence. If that NPC has already taken a severe consequence, they take an extreme one instead. If they have already taken an extreme, they are instead taken out. If the group agrees, immediately end an ongoing conflict. This is a form of group concession and means the players don’t fulfill their objectives for the conflict, but the sacrifice allows them to escape without further ill effects. All PCs receive fate points for the concession as normal. If it makes sense, the dying PC immediately overcomes a single obstacle without a roll, regardless of he opposition against them. When a player choose to heroically sacrifice their character, they retain their Fate Points, including those gained through conceding, which they may use to invoke their Legacy Aspect to aid the rolls of their surviving compatriots. These left over fate points are lost when they introduce a new character.   Nothing specific about Heroic Sacrifices are tracked on the Expedition Sheet, but it does serve as a handy spot to keep the rules for it at the table.   Legacy Aspects Another tool from the Horror Toolkit, this allows players to still have some influence at the table between when a character dies and when they are able to introduce a new character. After a player character dies, and when the survivors have had a chance to catch their breath and commiserate, the players may choose a Legacy Aspect to represent the inspiring memory of the fallen character. This aspect starts with one free invoke. Each player may only have one active Legacy aspect at any given time: the most recently deceased character’s Legacy aspect. If a player starts a session without a character, they get two free invokes on the Legacy aspect of their most recent character.   Despite not having a living character in play, players may still invoke their Legacy aspect to aid or influence their friends through their memory.  Also, this being a pulp game, I'm not going to rule out some ghostly assistance. This is also a setting with seance rules, but it is conceivable that the players may actually talk to their dead compatriots too.   Next Time: Magic, Monsters, and Madness

Pulpcraft Rules - Part 1: Basics

I got a request to go into some extra details on how I'm running this version of Masks of Nyarlathotep in Fate, so I figured I try to write up a multi-part set of posts on the topic. This first post will cover some basics, and then I can go into greater detail in the next few parts.   What I'm calling Pulpcraft on in these blog posts I'm calling Tales of Adventure and Mystery to my players. As far as they are aware this is a Fate Core game set in a pulpy low-magic version of the 1920s. Something inspired by the Indiana Jones movies and the Mummy Trilogy. They haven't been warned they are actually playing the new version of the infamous Masks of Nyarlathotep.   I, and about half my players, have been playing Fate based games off and on for a several years. The other half of my players are new to Fate but have some experience in RPGs in general. I'm not sure if any of them have ever played CoC, but I know a few of them have played systems with horror/madness mechanics. A few of us played Eclipse Phase for a while,  for example.
Fate rules can be fairly modular and allow for a lot of customization. For this game I decided to try and leave the Player Characters more or less at Fate Core standards, but I am doing a lot of things on setting and GM side of the rules. Overall I'm using mostly Fate Core but with extra bits and pieces of rules from the Fate Toolkit, Fate Adversary Toolkit, Fate Horror Toolkit, Dresden Files Accelerated, and Atomic Robo. Changes to the system generally cluster around magic, monsters, horror/madness, occult tomes, languages,  some player teamwork stuff, and some experimental bronze rule fractal foes stuff.   Pulp Cthulhu, Not Call of Cthulhu Before I go any further, I should probably specify that I'm using Fate to run a game where the players are active, competent, globetrotting, adventurers. This is not intended to be a Fate Horror or Fate Cthulhu rule set. If anything it would probably do well in place of Pulp Cthulhu for something like The Two Headed Serpent, but please don't try using this for more classic CoC mysteries that are  horror filled and local. That's not the objective.   Player Characters and Character Creation Player Characters are using Standard Fate Core rules including the Phase Trio from character creation. The only change to the rules is the addition of another skill: Occult. Occult covers the use of magic in the setting. It's very specific to casting spells, not understanding theories of magic, or identifying supernatural monsters. That's all still Lore.  I'll cover magic in greater detail later, but for the purposes of character creation it's important to know the following: This system is defined as magic but covers general 1920s supernatural powers including being a medium for spirits or having mentalist powers, etc. You need to have a Character Aspect to justify and define your access to magic. Magic is typically an advanced form of Create Advantage that takes 30 minutes to cast from a book. Targets don't get to resist but there are  several other factors on how difficult the target number is on a ritual, etc. Much of it involves linked or symbolic objects. It's essentially a toolkit for building spells, and the spells are very spicific. The more variables a spell has, the more widely useful it can be but also the harder it is to cast. There are stunts that alter some of this. Combat spells are single turn mini-rituals that a target gets to resist. The Killing Curse stunt actually inflicts mental stress on the target via attack. These are the rare exceptions to the rule. Players start with a number of rituals equal to their starting Occult skill but will have to locate all new spells through play. Players that don't start with Occult don't start with spells.   Advancement I have altered the advancement rules somewhat. It still uses Milestones, but the Significant (and by extention Major) Milestones are now triggered by details on the "Expedition Sheet," which I will cover in greater detail later.  While this trigger is a little bit different, the results are the same. Minor Milestones still happen at the end of most sessions.   Languages Of particular note to a game of globetrotting adventurers that often need to cast rituals from ancient occult tomes is the treatment of language.  Languages are mostly handled using Compels and Invokes. I assume everyone speaks a native language and English. For some character that's the same thing.  All other languages are handled through Compels and Invokes.   Modern languages are handled through a Compel on a location aspect. If the players travel to Paris, I offer a compel to anyone that doesn't already speak French to not speak the language well enough to communicate. Everyone can either take the fate point and have trouble talking, or refuse the Compel by paying a Fate Point, and they now speak at least basic conversational French. This rule also applies to letters written in common languages or meeting someone that speaks a common language even if it isn't the local language: A compel on the reliant aspect (for the object or person) to not be able to read it or speak to them. If you encounter a book written in Spanish while in France, I would offer a compel on the book to not speak Spanish.   Obscure and Dead languages are handled differently. To be able to read Sumerian, a character must invoke an aspect explaining how they know that language. This still costs a Fate Point. An Archeologist character will have an easier time finding a way to speak Sumerian than a Chicago Gangster, and that's intentional. If you don't speak/read a language you can still use Lore to try and and translate it, but doing so typically requires access to books for translating, and takes time.   There is a spot on everyone's character sheet where they can record languages they know. If you previously defined yourself as speaking Spanish on a trip to Peru, you can later read a book in Spanish without issue. We are intentionally not tracking what languages aren't spoken by a character. If you didn't speak Spanish when you went to Peru, you can still change that later when visiting Barcelona.   There are stunts that can alter the above. The Polyglot stunt, for example, lets you refuse a living language based compel without paying a Fate point. You can always still accept the compel if you want the Fate point, but it doesn't cost you anything to decide you do speak the local language. One of my players has this stunt and is picking up languages quickly, but several of the players without it are still picking up languages at a fast clip. Note that the Polyglot stunt does not help with obscure languages because those don't use the Compel based mechanic.   Initiative Cards This blog post edited on 10/2/2018 to add this section on Initiative. One significant change to Fate Core I am using is an entirely different Initiative system: The Elective Action Order, AKA: Balsera-Style, Marvel, or Popcorn Initiative.  Under my implementation of the system, the GM determines who goes first in a scene based on whatever makes sense at the time. Once that player has had their turn, they choose another character to go next from among everyone that hasn't had a turn yet. Eventually, the last character takes their turn, and they can pick another character to go next from among everyone else.  This system has proved rather easy to use at the table thanks to the use of flip-able initiative cards. I ordered  two sets of cards a while back and have found them a great investment.   My own twist on the system is the ability to spend Fate Points to invoke aspect to steal the initiative. If it's someone else's turn, and you haven't had your turn yet, you can make a Hostile Invocation on a relevant aspect to  steal the turn. The Fate Point you spend to do this goes to the player who's initiative you've just stolen, but until after the end of the scene (as usual for Hostile Invocations.)  This doesn't negate their turn, it simply delays it until someone actively picks them to go next again.   This system allows for interesting combos, where one or more characters will setup advantages for another character going after them. It also adds a little metagame trick to it where whoever goes last gets to pick who goes next, so if the PCs all decide they go first, any surviving bad guys get to effectively have two turns in a row before the PCs go next.   I've been using this system for a couple of years and it's proven fast and fun, but it does impact any stunts that normally modify intiative.   Next Time: The Expedition Sheet
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Trap

Moving on to this one, another collaboration, this time with Henry S. Whitehead.   The start with a mysterious antiquarian mirror, which is the engine behind the plot, feels almost MR James like, as do some other aspects of the story.   Lovecraft seems to have left little sign of his hand in any revisions he did in the story. I'm assuming that it is almost entirely Whitehead's work. The narrative is somewhat clumsy, and needed tightening in many places. The dialogue though, where it is, is strong, and of course not Lovecraft's work.   Where Lovecraft may have contributed most, I think, is in the sections about the alternative mirror world, and some of the quasi scientific descriptions of how things worked in that other dimension. These parts feel more like his ideas, words, and images.   Sadly the ending of the story is a disappointment, rather fizzling out, and lacking any sort of surprise twist or shock ending. It's a shame, because the central idea of the story is a strong one. But it deserved to be better developed.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

The Beast Under the Bed

Sunday, September 16, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign scenario “The Beast Under the Bed” adapted from the scenario by Michael C. LaBossiere from Challenge Magazine #77 today from 12:40 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with Yorie Latimer, Ben Abbot, John Leppard, and James Brown.)   Brandon Stalloid had left the others when they reached Denver, Colorado, back on August 16, 1875, making arrangements to have the huge dinosaur skull, which he had dubbed Formidulosaurus (and nicknamed the Dio Dino) shipped to San Francisco by train.  He, of course, accompanied it, taking Night Horse with him to Salt Lake City on the way and giving the native enough money for the train south to Santaquin so he could make his way back to the Uintah Indian Reservation.   He returned to San Francisco on August 21, 1875, almost immediately going to the local police to report the murder of the derelict Wormy in Hilton Springs, Nevada.  When police suggested he would have to report such a murder to the authorities in Nevada, he related Lambert Otto’s attack on him in Chinatown in early June.  They took information of the man’s name and description.   He made arrangements to show the dinosaur skull to try to raise funds for an expedition to the valley where he’d found it.  He sent invitations out to notable scholars, professors, and even businessmen.  He remained vague on where he had found the skull, other than “the west.”   The scientific community did not believe the man.  They were less than impressed with the skull, many citing it as a forgery only slightly better than the Cardiff Giant or the Mark Twain’s Petrified Man hoax of the 1860s.  Though still in debate about the Calaveras Skull, some thought that a fake as well.   His most vocal opponent was Professor Leonard Brown, who taught history at the University of California in Berkeley.  Brown claimed the skull was a fake and Stalloid was a snake oil salesman and carnival barker who was trying to make a quick buck just like P.T. Barnum.  He said he would be more willing to believe Stalloid devised some kind of bone solvent that allowed him to melt down and recast bones in different shapes than believe the man found or fought and killed a real dinosaur.  He was very vocal in how he felt.   Professor Stalloid volunteered to have his property searched for the alleged bone solvent but the man refused.  He also noted he didn’t even deal in snake oil as he preferred to work with opium.  He called P.T. Barnum a civil-rights disaster.   Other scholars were not as vocal but, overall, the scientific community seemed very doubtful.   At one of the meetings, he met Philip Sanbourne, a man in his 30s who wore pince-nez glasses and was very neatly dressed in an expensive suit with a high collar.  He chatted with Professor Stalloid, who learned he was the son of the recently deceased Carlton Sanbourne II, the fishing magnate and canning millionaire.  Carlton Sanbourne II had died earlier that year and left his recently-built mansion and grounds, as well as his world-famous collection of Pacific antiquities, to the state under a self-perpetuating foundation to establish a museum in Santiago, California.  Philip Sanbourne noted he was presently working with the newly formed and named Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Antiquities and in San Francisco to initiate proceedings for a possible expedition to the Pacific in the summer of 1876.   When Professor Stalloid asked if he was searching for a lost city, he noted his father had brought back many artifacts from Polynesia and Ponape and the Pacific.  Philip wanted to continue research and examination of the Pacific Islands.  When he learned Professor Stalloid’s find was in the Continental United States, he noted it was not necessarily what he was looking for, but he did seem to believe Professor Stalloid and was very interested in his find.   He didn’t have the funds to help Professor Stalloid with his expedition but he invited Professor Stalloid to visit him and the Institute if he was ever down in Santiago, which was in San Diego County on the coast.  Professor Stalloid asked him how much he needed for his expedition and they discussed the possibility of helping each other in their respective expeditions.  They both resolved to meet again to discuss it in a few months.   Another person who had come to all of the meetings, especially those serving food, was Emperor Norton I, the Emperor of America. He was resplendent in his uniform and his stovepipe beaver hat with three ostrich plumes clasped to the front to symbolize his dominion.    Emperor Norton was some 57 years old and had proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859.  Though he had no political power, he was treated deferentially by the city of San Francisco, walking the streets of his capitol like a monarch though he lived in a flophouse on Sacramento Street.  He even issued currency in his own name that was honored in the establishments he frequented.   Though some considered him mad or eccentric, the citizens of the city of San Francisco celebrated him and his proclamations.  He had called for the United States Congress to be dissolved and made numerous decrees for a bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland and a corresponding tunnel to be built under San Francisco Bay.   He complimented Professor Stalloid on his lecture and patted the dinosaur skull carefully.  He was quite impressed with Professor Stalloid and noted if the Empire of America were in a better financial state, he would fund his expedition to the wilds the West himself.  He regretted he could only give him a few dollars of his own handmade money in order to help in what little way he can.   Professor Stalloid accepted the money graciously, noting he might be able to put it into a savings account and use the interest in a few years.   “It is doing better than the dollar,” Emperor Norton said.   “It is,” Professor Stalloid said.   They shook hands and Emperor Norton told him he looked forward to his next talk about the skull.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid was visited in his home by Yan Min, the leader of the Rightful Spirit Tong, who still insisted the man pay him for the damages to his people and establishment when they had hunted the demon in Chinatown in May.  The cost had gone up to $7,000 due to interest over the months.   “Ah, sir, if you could lend me a few hands, I could find … 20,000 … 50,000 … dollars more,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Where is this?” Yan Min said.  “Where?”   “It’s off in the desert.”   “That skull thing that you’re trying to sell people.”   “Treasure.  Yes.  But alive.  Think about how good your organization could run with a monster of non-supernatural means.”   Yan Min just wanted the money.   “They had human-sized ones with claws …” Professor Stalloid said.   “Uh-huh.”   “… the size of my hand!”   “Yes yes, pull the other one, it has bells on.”   He didn’t seem to believe the man though he had summoned a demon himself.  But Yan Min thought the man was lying as he didn’t want to pay the money he owed the tong.   “Money is of no consequence!” Professor Stalloid cried out.   Yan Min made it very clear that if he paid him the money he owed him, he might be more susceptible to working with the man in the future.  He was very polite though the conversation was filled with more veiled threats about his demon.  He also expressed an interest in Lambert Otto, who he understood was the same man who attacked another of his men.   Professor Stalloid told him he’d make him a deal.   “I want this Otto-man brought to justice too,” he said.  “He tried to kill me that night.”   “Uh-huh,” Yan Min said.   “How about, I will help you in his capture and we will settle on 4,000.”   “Bring him to me, captured, and we’ll settle for 3,000.”   “He is a very dangerous man.”   “Exactly.  I’m not going to risk any more of my men.”   “I … I do not fight.”   They agreed that if Professor Stalloid brought Otto to Yan Min alive, he would abide by that agreement.   *              *              *   Though Professor Stalloid read about the kidnapping of Marion Terwilliger in the papers and planned to do something about it at some point, he ended up far too busy and it slipped his mind.   *              *              *   On August 25, he finished studying the Command Ghost spell he had found in Mysteries of the Worm, the book they had found when they had investigated the strange murders in Midnight, California, in early May.  He was confident he knew how to cast the spell, which would allegedly compel a ghost to come forth to answer specific questions.  The spell had to be performed at night by pouring a mammal’s blood on the grave or ashes of the dead person the caster wished to contact while chanting the spell for 10 minutes.   That evening, he went to one of the cemeteries in San Francisco in one of the better neighborhoods.  He had gotten some fresh rabbit’s blood in Chinatown on the way.  He found a grave of a rather prominent businessman who had died the previous week in the corner of the cemetery out of the way.  The man’s name was Randolph Carter.   He poured the blood onto the grave and then chanted quietly for 10 minutes.  The figure that appeared over the grave was of a heavyset man in an expensive-looking suit.  He huffed and puffed for a moment, clearing his throat.  Professor Stalloid was a little unnerved by the fact that he could see through the man.   “Do you remember anything after death?” he asked.  “What’s the afterlife like?”   “What afterlife?” Carter replied.   “How does it feel to be here for this spectacular occasion?”   “What spectacular occasion?”   “You’re here.”   “I’m dead.  Find a way to bring me back!  Yes, bring me back!”   “I’m working on it.”   “Bring me back!”   “I’m working on it.”   “All right, I’ll hold it to you to bring me back!  I’ll reward you handsomely.”   “Did you hide any money?”   The ghost told him that he had hidden money in various hiding places within his mansion, but was very certain his relatives would have found it.  He didn’t have any money buried in a hidden place.   “Any messages you want me to pass along?” Professor Stalloid asked.   “Tell my daughter not to trust her cousin Silas,” the ghost said.   He said he would and then said the words to end the spell.  The ghost vanished.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid learned the next day, August 26, the daughter of Randolph Carter was Amelia.  She was the beneficiary of most of his estate.  He warned the girl that he had heard some bad things about her cousin Silas and she said she would take it under advisement.  He told her he knew her father and he warned him before he died.   *              *              *   Later that same day, there was a knock on Professor Stalloid’s door.  He found Li Wei, the lawyer from Chinatown he and the others had dealt with in May.  He carried a simple briefcase.   “Oh, you’ve finished the scroll,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes,” Li Wei said.  “Yes, I have finished the scroll.”   Professor Stalloid ushered the man into the house and his study.   Mr. Li had the original Chinese scroll.  He also had a manila folder filled with papers, a manuscript in English with the entirety of the contents of the scroll.  He told the other man it was the only copy in English.   “Is there … is there anything extra I could do for you?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, there is your fee,” Li said.   “I know!  I’m going to do that.  But I am very gracious … for what you’ve done for me.  I know that it was … a very big toll on your mind.  Believe me, I know.  I’ve been reading too.”   “There is no charge.  But … you must agree … to fulfill a favor for me at some point in the future.”   “Would you like to hold onto the scroll itself as a measure of face to you and a show of respect to your culture?”   “Yes.”   “That is yours.”   Li Wei also told him there was an alleged spell in the book that allowed one to raise the dead.  Then he left.  Professor Stalloid immediately settled down to begin studying the manuscript.   *              *              *   Jacali had been away from Devil’s Gulch on August 21 when Matilda Terwilliger had come to find the others and beg them to help her find her kidnapped father.  After Lambert Otto had told Jacali about the Crescent being held by the gypsy woman, and getting as much information as possible, she had gone in search of the woman and the gypsy vardo east of the town.  When she returned, she found that Ophelia was sick, learned of Matilda Terwilliger having been there and left with Otto, and learned Dr. Weisswald had not gone to help the woman as she didn’t feel the serpent person could travel safely.   Jacali asked around town and continued her investigation.  According to the townsfolk, the woman named Daisy was an Indian half-breed, and small with dark hair and eyes.  She was very pretty and wore a white hat.  She read palms and gave fortunes.  She also gave out potions that people said was some kind of magical water.  One old woman in town claimed she had a bad kidney and had been p***ing blood, but it started working again after she drank the elixir.  No one knew where she went or where she was from.  Most of them didn’t talk much to her as she was a stranger.  She was only in town a couple days.   The vardo was pulled by a horse while another was tied behind it.  No one saw her leave town though people guessed she went east as she hadn’t passed through town before she left it.   *              *              *   Cost of the train ticket was more money than Jacali had but Lily Jones leant her $52 for the trip back to San Francisco with her horse.  She was hesitant to take it but Lily pointed out it was just a loan and she trusted the other woman to pay her back.   She left Devil’s Gulch on August 23, arriving in San Francisco on August 28.  She decided to go to Professor Stalloid’s house.  Not one to worry about propriety and remembering Professor Stalloid had invited them all back whenever they were in San Francisco, she arrived at the property, took her horse, Nalin, to the stable behind the house, put her in a stall, and rubbed her down.   She let herself in the back door, which opened into a large kitchen where the little old Chinese woman who lived with Professor Stalloid was cooking dinner.  She waved at the other woman.   “Study,” the Chinese woman said, pointing towards the front of the house.   She went back to her cooking.   Jacali found Professor Stalloid in the study in the front of the house that overlooked the street.  He was at his desk, furiously studying a manuscript, his hair a mess and eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep.    “Ah, Mr. Stalloid,” she said.  “It seems you have been enthralled with this new Jane Austin novelist that I’ve heard so much about.”   “No no no no no no no no no no no no no,” Professor Stalloid said quickly.  “This is that - this is that - this it that - this is that manuscript!  It’s the Chinese man’s manuscript!  It’s good.  It’s good.  This is what I was looking for!”   “Oh, I remember.”   “This is what I wanted.  This is what I desired.  This is it.  This is it.  This is it.  This is it.”   “And what, pray tell, Mr. Stalloid, is it that it is?”   “The secret of the gods.”   Jacali looked at the man.   “The secret of the gods?” she said.   “The key to the gate,” Professor Stalloid said.   “The key to the gate?  Well, I just came in through the back door, I didn’t need a key.”   “The key to the golden gate.”   “The golden gate?  That’s a very expensive gate.”   “I found it.  I can save them.”   “Excuse me, Mr. Stalloid, you’re going to have to give me a few more details.”   “I can save them.”   “You can save who?  From what?   “Everyone.”   “You can save everyone?”   “Everyone.”   “From what?”   “It.”   “Well, whenever I come down with this ‘it’ I will go straight to you.”   “One of the two.  The inevitable.”   “The inevitables?”   “Yes.  Taxes─”   “You mean death and white people?”   “I’ve become like your shaman.  I can speak with the ancestors.”   “Well good.  Tell them the place is awful and they should stay up there.”   “Oh, there is no ‘up there.’”   “Then how do you talk to them?  It doesn’t make any sense.”   “Yep.”   Professor Stalloid called for Chun Zhi Ruo.  The old Chinese lady entered the study moments later.  He asked her to bring him some coffee as he needed to calm him nerves.  She patted his back and left as he gathered up the manuscript papers and tucked them back into the folder.  Then he went to a safe in the corner of the room and opened it up, tucking the papers within next to his locked research book and locking the safe.   “So, Mr. Stalloid, have you heard anything about─?” Jacali said.   “Terwilliger!” Professor Stalloid said.   “Yes, have you heard anything about Terwilliger?”   “I was about to go visit him.  I saw it in the papers that he’s been found.”   “Oh.  Very good.  Seems like my work here is done.”   The newspaper had been very vague on what happened to Terwilliger aside from the fact that he had been rescued by Clayton Pierce and that the house near Mount Diablo he’d been imprisoned in had exploded or fallen into a sinkhole.    Jacali asked Professor Stalloid if he knew anything about the Crescent or its whereabouts or where Terwilliger might be so she could ask him the same.   “Didn’t the Crescent go in the water?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Well, it appeared at Devil’s Gulch not too long ago,” Jacali said.  “Someone was carrying it but I haven’t been able to track them down.  Do you know why Terwilliger was kidnapped?”   “No.  Never went.”   “Hm.  Well, do you know where he is now?”   “No.”   “No?”   “No.”   “Does he have a permanent address?”   “Yeah, I know where he lives.  We can go visit him.”   *              *              *   The trip across the bay to Oakland took them a few hours.  Professor Stalloid had brought his high-wheel bicycle.  He had it imported from France only the year before though he’d learned to ride on the Michaeux “velocipede” or “boneshaker.”  The type of vehicle was called the “ordinary” as there was no other kind.  The front wheel was over 48 inches tall and the back wheel less than a fifth that size.  There was a  metal extension towards the back of the vehicle, the “step” which allowed the bicyclist to mount the massive machine.    Jacali had brought her horse.   Professor Stalloid used the step to push the bicycle forward and then stepped up and onto the pedals of the wheel.  Jacali kept up with her horse at a trot.   “How the hell do you balance on that?” she asked the man who sat proudly on the tall bicycle.   “It’s about like riding a horse,” he said.   “The horse rides itself half the time.”   “Yeah.  That’s what the bike’s doing!”   “All right.”   The Terwilliger farm was a few miles outside of Oakland and took them about an hour to get to.  It stood by a mile-wide lake and consisted of a tidy, two-story farmhouse and a large barn and corral.  There was also a chicken coop.  A tall wooden and metal tower stood near the barn and was connected to it via wires.  A rounded metallic device the size of a wagon was atop it.  More wires led into the woods nearby and they could hear the gurgle of a creek or stream there.   On the lake near the farm was a 50-foot-tall tower with a platform atop it.   Under a tree in the yard was Lambert Otto.  He sat on a blanket, his arm in a sling, and had his Winchester in pieces, cleaning it.  They saw Jack West sitting by the lake, fishing.  Jacali rode over to Otto while Professor Stalloid rode to the barn, where the sound of metal banging on metal came from.   *              *              *   Otto had returned the incapacitator to Professor Terwilliger and asked the man how it worked.  When the professor started to explain it, he interrupted him.   “I’m not asking how it works, Terwilliger,” he said.  “I’m asking how I can actually use it.”   Professor Terwilliger pointed out the button installed on the side of the devil’s lamp.   “How do you aim this thing?” Otto asked.   “Aha!” Professor Terwilliger said.  “That’s the question!  That is the ten dollar question.  I haven’t worked that out yet.  I barely worked out the science that runs the thing.”   “Hm,” Otto said.  “You mind if I keep one of these for the time being, or …?”   Professor Terwilliger was willing to let the man borrow one of the things.   “I feel like something that could incapacitate people might be useful,” Otto said.   “It can also give them a heart attack and kill ‘em,” Professor Terwilliger said.  “Keep that in mind.”   “Matilda did not mention that when I borrowed it before,” Otto said.   Professor Terwilliger noted it only held six charges but he’d have to return to the farm to get it recharged.   *              *              *   Jack West had talked to Professor Terwilliger about increasing the range of his pistols.  Professor Terwilliger suggested possibly a scope, though it probably wouldn’t work on a pistol.  He suggested he might be able to do something but he’d need the pistol for a while.  West had given him one of his back-up pistols and the man had taken it away to the barn.   *              *              *   “Hello Otto,” Jacali said.    “Hello Jacali,” Otto said.  “Stalloid.”   “It seems you’re making use of your time again.”   “Indeed.”   “What has happened since I’ve been away.”   “Oh boy.  This is a little long, but I can explain it to you, Jacali, if you want.”   “Just give me what I need to know.”   “All right.  From what I heard from everyone else, we’ve tracked the Crescent down … well, a Crescent … down to a house near Mount Diablo─”   “Excuse me?”   “A Crescent.”   “A Crescent?”   “There are multiples.”   “There are multiple Crescents!?!”   “Yes.”   Jacali looked up at the sky in frustration and flung her arms up in the air.   “There are multiple Crescents,” Otto said.  “We had one of the spikes … from some … monsters?  They wouldn’t touch silver.  Over there.”   He pointed across the lake.  A quarter of the way around the water sat another farm amid the trees.   “But, we found Jack West there, well, they did,” Otto said.  “I wasn’t down there when they encountered him.  I mean John Valentine.”   “Was he looking for the Crescent?” Jacali said.   “Well, he had one there.”   “He had one!?!”   “A damaged one.”   “A …?”   “It was scorched, you know how metal gets scorched when exposed to intense heat?”   “Yes.”   “But, from what I heard from them.  There were two kids there too.  And some bandits.  But anyway, Jack West was there.  I mean John Valentine.”   “So Jack West and John Valentine were looking for the Crescent, they had a blackened Crescent, and they were carrying two kids and bandits with them.”   “Jack West was.”   “Jack West was?   Otto put his head in his hands.  He had meant John Valentine.   “What’s the difference?” he said.   He looked at the woman again.   “John Valentine,” he said.  “But, anyway, so, there were two bandits there.  I forget their names.  One of them was … mentally deranged.  But what I hear was, he put the … the Crescent was missing a spike and he put the spike in the Crescent and then disintegrated.  And then … everything around it started to disintegrate, from what I hear, and that’s what happened to the house: the Crescent disintegrated it and just left a hole.  I’m not sure what happened to Valentine.  I wasn’t down there when it happened.  I was ... nursing a dislocated shoulder from my … brave heroics.”   He rolled his eyes.   “Well Otto, you know I am a fan of your heroics,” Jacali said.  “But you said you had a horn from the Crescent … or a spike?”   “A spike, yes,” Otto said.   “Where is it?  How were you holding it?”   “Well, Jack West … I got it right this time …”   “So, actual Jack West, not John Valentine?”   Otto pointed at the man by the lake, lying on his back and fishing, his black hat low over his eyes.   “Yeah,” Otto said.   “Not Jack North,” Jacali said.  “Not Jack South.”   “Jack West and Clayton Pierce …”   “Jack West and Clayton Pierce.”   “… held it and nothing happened to them.  And it pointed towards the Crescent.  The one that Valentine had.”   “Hm.”   “Like a compass.  You could hold it on your hand the spike would point towards where it was.”   “Interesting.  And who has it now?”   “Well, I assume John Valentine, assuming he didn’t die when─”   “So, John Valentine did capture the last …”   “Yes, but …”   “But, the spike.”   “I don’t think you’re quite understanding what I’m saying.”   “Okay.  So, let me tell you what I got so we’re both on the same page.  So, John Valentine came through town with a dirty Crescent, two kids, and a bandit.  So, you three, heroic men, fought John Valentine─”   “And two women.  One Chinese.”   “Heroic men and two women.  Didn’t cast aspersions, you just didn’t tell me about them so you can’t blame me for that one.”   “You said only the important facts.  I don’t think you cared who was there.”   He went pale.   “No, no, no!” he said.  “I meant … no!  Jacali!  Wait.  Wait wait.  I meant … you wanted to know what happened with the Crescent.  Who was there was a secondary fact.”   “Okay,” Jacali said.  “So, they all were there.  They fought for the Crescent.  John Valentine … you almost got me doing the same thing … John Valentine ran off with the Crescent─”   “No!  Okay.  Okay so, his lackey put the spike in the Crescent …”   “And it dissolved everything.”   “… the Crescent started to hum and … I think glow … and then everything … it started to radiate a field that started to tear everything it touched apart.”   “So, where it is now?”   “I don’t know.  Because, as I said, everything around it─”   “Everything disintegrated.”   “Yes.”   “Have you examined the wreckage though?”   “I couldn’t see anything in the bottom of the hole it left.”   “It was that deep?”   “It destroyed the house!  And the house was underground.  I mean … where it was, was underneath the house.  And it destroyed the house on top.”   “So, we haven’t cleared out the wreckage from the house, but theoretically, it’s under there.”   “There was nothing left.  Nothing.”   “It’s gone!” Jack West, who had strolled up, said.  “Valentine’s gone!”   “So, it’s just gone?” Jacali said.   “Everything’s gone,” Otto said.   “So, where did John Valentine go?”   “Dead.  He could’ve fled.  I don’t know what happened.”   “I heard him chanting something strange,” Jack West said.   Jacali noticed the man for the first time and started visibly.  She had been concentrating so hard, trying to figure out Otto’s story, she hadn’t even noticed him approach.   “Oh, Jack West, you’re here,” she said.   “And if it isn’t my second-favorite injun,” Jack West said.   “Oh, I’m your second now,” Jacali said.  “Who’s your favorite?”   “Uh … Walks-with- … uh … Rains?” Jack West said.   He had forgotten Rhymes-with-Wolf’s name.   “So, John Valentine is missing,” Jacali said.  “The Crescent is missing … or maybe in the hole.”   “One of the Crescents,” Otto said.   “Oh yeah, the second Crescent,” Jack West said.   “The second …” Jacali said.   “The damaged one,” Otto said.   “What happened with the spike you all touched?  Somebody put it back in the Crescent?”   “Yes.”   “It’s gone!” Jack West growled.   “It’s gone,” Jacali said.   “So, it’s with the Crescent if it’s still somewhere,” Otto said.   “Damn, it looked valuable,” Jack West said.   “Terwilliger is okay?” Jacali said.   “Yes, he’s fine,” Otto said.  “Oh!  I forgot.  I know you’d want to hear about this.”   “Oh.”   “We had a talk with one of the agents of the …”   He made a claw shape with his hand.   “Oh!” Jacali said.   “… people,” Otto said.  “And we’re supposed to meet him in Gravity Falls in October.”   “Some all-knowing being or something,” Jack West said.  “Sounds interesting.”   “I set up the meeting,” Otto said.  “October first.”   “Well, let me tell you, I have a very large selection of choice words for those little clicky-clacky slug people,” Jacali said.   “Well, apparently you’ll get to meet one of them,” Otto said.   “Whoa, slug people?” Jack West said.   “Oh.  Yeah.  Don’t worry about it, Jack West,” Jacali said.   Jack West looked at the woman.   “Eh, I won’t,” he said.   Jacali was interested in examining the remains of the house and Otto noted it was on the other side of Mount Diablo.  Jack West told them he had to make a trip to Colorado.  Jacali asked how long it would take to get to Gravity Falls but Otto wasn’t sure.   He handed Jacali $50.   “Why are you giving me $50?” she asked.   “For the horse,” Otto said.  “You said to pay you back.”   “I did,” Jacali said, taking the money.   *              *              *   In the barn, Professor Terwilliger had a pistol in a vice connected to an anvil and was banging away at it with a hammer.  He whistled as he worked.  Professor Stalloid walked over behind the man to look at his work.  It appeared that he was attempting to lengthen the already fairly long barrel of the pistol.   Professor Terwilliger was startled when he finally noticed the other man.   “Oh!” he said.  “Professor Stalloid!  How nice of you to come.”   “How was the kidnapping?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Not as pleasant as I would like it to be.”   “It usually isn’t.”   “No no no.  John Valentine grabbed me.  He wanted me to examine a Crescent that he had, you see.”   “Ah, the Crescent.  I thought that fell in a river.”   “Not ‘the.’  A Crescent.”   “Oh.”   “This one was scorched on the side.  I think it was in orbit.”   “Ah.”   “I had a vision.”   “Reentry.”   “Exactly!  Must be a lot of heat with that kind of speed.  Some of your friends, that Jack West fellow and Lambert Otto …”   “I know him.  He’s my bodyguard.”   “And a couple of ladies.  I didn’t get … there was a Chinese, I didn’t get her name.”   “Weisswald?”   “But … uh …”   “Gemma Jones?”   “No no no.  This was Johanna …”   Professor Terwilliger snapped his fingers several times.   “Johanna …? he said.  “I don’t remember her last name.  Matilda will remember it.  They came in and they rescued me.  He had kidnapped a couple of kids.  And he was going to torture them if I didn’t help him so … what are you going to do?”   “You can’t let people torture children!” Professor Stalloid said.   “You can’t let people torture children.”   “You just cannot!”   “So, I found─”   “Grown men, yes.  But not children.”   “He found it a year and a half ago, back in 1874.”   “What?”   “He found this thing!”   “Why was he after the other one!?!  If he already had one!”   “Because it didn’t work!”   “Ah.”   “It was missing one of the spikes. You know the little spikes?  On the Crescent?”   “Yeah.”   “It was a hole.  It was blue in there.  It put off a lot of energy, a lot of really strange energy.  Some I couldn’t even analyze.  And … tried to figure out what I could.  And your friends showed up, and they had one of the spikes.  And he had one of his boys put it in, and that was a bad thing, I think.  I would have advised against it, but I was being held at gunpoint.”   “Yeah, a whole Crescent is quite powerful.”   “Well, this one … well, the man disappeared.  Came apart.”   “He unraveled at the seams?”   “Yes, and there was nothing left.  Although you could taste blood, bile─”   “In the air?  How foul.”   “Yes.  Jack West shot at it: the Crescent.”   “The fool!”   “The bullet did the same thing!  It stopped in midair and it unraveled and I could taste gunpowder and lead.”   “Do you think it was … atomized.”   “Maybe.  I believe it was knocking down to a molecular level.  Very fascinating.  I wish I could have studied it.  But everything was disintegrating so I ran, as did we all.  Actually, Jack West saved my life.  Grabbed me and got me out of there.”   “He’ll do that from time to time.”   “I appreciated it.  So, the whole house was destroyed and collapsed.  I’m guessing the Crescent blew itself up.  Well, discorporated.”   “Maybe it dematerialized itself.”   “Exactly.  Dematerialized.  That’s my guess.  But it’s not the only one!  Because he found that one almost two years ago.  The one we found in Yellow Flats from 50 million years ago, we only found six months ago.  There’s more than one!  The other one’s out there somewhere.  Still.  Jack wanted me to fix up one of his guns.  Give it more range.”   Professor Stalloid had noticed the strange devices in the room.  He saw two wheeled vehicles with steam engines mounted upon them as well as more of the lightning guns and some demon lamps.  A few pairs of the wings hung upon the walls as well.   Professor Stalloid asked if he drew up some blueprints, could Professor Terwilliger use his mechanical expertise to help him make something.  Professor Terwilliger agreed and asked what, to which Professor Stalloid asked for time to “fathom its mechanisms first.”  Professor Terwilliger assured the man he wouldn’t steal any of his ideas.  Professor Stalloid noted they could go into a partnership upon it.   Professor Terwilliger showed him around the barn, noting the quadro-velocepedes he was working on.  Professor Stalloid asked to the see the blueprints for them and Professor Terwilliger was more than willing to allow him access.  It was an efficient steam engine attached to a stagecoach frame, less the actual coach body.  Instead, a wicker basket-like device had been added along with a steering tiller on the left.  There were two seats for riders along with the steam engine, which sat behind them.   Jacali, Otto, and Jack West entered the barn.   “Oh, Jack West!” Professor Stalloid said.  “I do need to give you your payment.  I do not have any laudanum on me right now.  Fresh out.”   “I was just coming to ask you about that,” Jack West said.   “I’ll get you at my house.”   “Good.”   *              *              *   Professor Terwilliger had atlases and maps in his house.  They looked over them and found the easiest way to get to Gravity Falls, which lay in the badlands of eastern Oregon, was to take a train from Oakland to Winnemucca, Nevada, and then travel overland from there, passing through the towns of Quiet Gap and Pleasant Valley before crossing the badlands for most of the trip until they reached Gravity Falls.  They guessed the trip to Winnemucca would only take about a day.  The cross-country trek on horseback would probably take closer to 10 days on horseback if they didn’t run into any other difficulties.  If they gave themselves a couple of weeks for the entire journey, it should be enough.   Jack West thought about sending a telegram to White River where he had left the Formidulosaurus skin to be tanned and made into a poncho but realized the town had no telegraph station or line.  He wondered about sending a message some other way but realized mail would take some time.  The best and quickest way to get his poncho would be to go himself.  A little calculation indicated it was nearly four days to Denver via train, another two days to white river and back.   Professor Stalloid asked Professor Terwilliger if he had a spare camera he could borrow.  Professor Terwilliger didn’t as he’d converted them all to static generators.  He only bought cameras to use the outer casing as it felt right for the devices.   Professor Stalloid asked if he got Jack West a camera when he went to White River, Colorado, could he take the camera with him and take photographs of the bones of the dinosaur they had killed.  Jack West was willing to do it.   “I could look for it,” Jack West said.   “Don’t waste too much time,” Professor Terwilliger said.   “But … uh … my time’s not free.”   “Of course.  We’re going back to San Francisco first.  I could muscle up some payment.”   “How much we looking at?”   “How much can you carry?”   Jack West looked at the man.   “I like you,” he said.   He didn’t know laudanum was relatively inexpensive at about 35 cents for four ounces, and easy to come by.  He was still convinced it was very expensive and either illegal or only available from a doctor since he had gotten addicted to it while in the hospital.  Professor Stalloid was happy to let him keep thinking that.   *              *              *   Jacali and Otto went to investigate the destroyed farm.  With the white man’s help, they were able to find the ranch in a day.  There were no cattle or other animals at the place and Otto told her the place was not really used.  A sinkhole about 30 feet across and eight feet deep was where Otto said the house had stood.  There was no debris or anything in the pit.   She was unsure if it would be safe to enter the pit and she asked Otto if anyone had gone into it.  He said no one had.  He noted they had just left.   “I wonder if the Crescent fell into the hole and things fell in on top of it and its buried there,” she said.   “It could be,” Otto said.  “Or …”   “If nobody’s come around, I guess it’s safe.”   “I’m not sure … I almost said West again … I’m not sure if Valentine went with it though, because there was a cave exit he was standing next to and he could have ran down there when it happened, from what I heard.”   “Sure.”   “But if you want to go down there, I might have some rope to shimmy yourself down there.”   “Oh.  Brilliant.  But I think if we go down there it would be to dig.”   “I don’t have a shovel.”   “I don’t either.”   “There is a hotel on Mount Diablo that might have a shovel if you want to dig.”   They searched the barn and found some tools, including shovels.  They decided to tie off Jacali and she walked down to the bottom of the hole.  It felt very solid but they spent some time digging and found some debris but little else.  She found the finger of an old person as well.   “Hey Otto!” she called out.  “Does this look familiar to you?”   “Jack West,” he said.   Jacali looked at the finger.   “You think he wants it back?” she said.   “That’s from someone he killed,” Otto said.   “Oh.  Do you think he wants it back?”   “I don’t know.  You might understand the enigma of Jack West better than I do.”   “He’ll want this.”   They spent the night at the Mountain House Hotel and then returned to Terwilliger’s Farm the next day.     *              *              *   Over the next week or so, Professor Stalloid worked on blueprints for a two-wheeled electric vehicle.  He had examined the electric motor he had found in Midnight and taken notes on the device, using it as a template for his own ideas.  He also sent word to Midnight to have the motor from the hearse brought there.  He had already removed it for study so it was easy to ship it back to San Francisco.  Though he could not figure out the motor himself, he brought them to Oakland to show Professor Terwilliger.   Professor Terwilliger was very excited at the motor, citing it was exactly what he needed for the airship, an improvement on the French design, that he wanted to build.  He thought it perfect for the airship as it was light, used batteries, which he could recharge or possibly replace with the static generators, and small.  He and Professor Stalloid set to work on building and improving the engines.   *              *              *   Jack West took the train to Denver, rented a horse and headed to White River P.O.  He went out into the wilderness first, looking for the dinosaur bones, but only found them after tromping around in the wilderness for an extra day.  When he found them, he took several photographs of the ones that remained as best he could from the instructions on how to work the camera and tripod Professor Stalloid had given him.  Then he made his way back to White River P.O.   Rueben Fielding had the dinosaur skin poncho ready for the man.  The leather was over an inch thick and the entire poncho was uncomfortably heavy.  However, Jack West guessed it would slow bullets that might hit him in the chest or abdomen though the sides were wide open.  He had a little trouble moving in it, as it weighed him down, but not to the point where he was disappointed with the purchase.  He paid the man the $20 he had promised and headed back for Denver the next day, taking the train back to San Francisco.   *              *              *   Otto asked Professor Terwilliger about the man he had mentioned to him once before: a surgeon who specialized in facial reconstruction surgery.  Professor Terwilliger told him the man he knew about lived in Boston and the procedure was experimental but might be able to smooth out Otto’s scar.  He also took the time to deposit the $1,000 in the bank he had earned in Devil’s Gulch for killing Charles Allen, one of Jack Valentine’s lieutenants.   He also went into Oakland to try to find a gypsy or someone with mystical powers to help him determine if he was somehow cursed.  Jacali had advised him to look out for that woman Daisy and, if he found her, to contact her as she wanted to see the woman who allegedly had the Crescent.  He tried to get Jacali’s advice on where to find a medicine man or gypsy or something.  She suggested the poor part of a town or the edge of town.   “Otherwise I could probably do a good enough job,” she said.   “But it’s about the …” Otto said.   He indicated the terrible scar on his face.   “Yes, that’s a scar,” Jacali said.   “But is it cursed, is what I want to know,” Otto said.   Jacali picked up a stick and cut a slice in it with her knife.   “Is that cursed?” she said.   “I’ll just go look on the edge of town,” he said.   “Good luck,” she said as he rode off.  “Look out for Daisy.”   *              *              *   Otto found a gypsy vardo in a field on the edge of Oakland.  At first he thought it might be Daisy, somehow, but the woman there was someone else entirely.   The woman had long, silky black hair, pulled up in an exotic-looking bun.  She appeared to be darker-skinned and exotically swarthy, like someone from eastern Europe or the Mediterranean Sea.  She was very pretty and looked to be in her 20s.  She wore fine, colorful, exotic clothing that was modest and embroidered with mystical symbols and flowers.  She wore jewels in her hair as well.  She also had tattoos of some kind on her hands.  Her eyes were very deep blue.   Otto approached her vardo and introduced himself.  He learned she called herself Madam Violet.   “So, Mr. Otto, what brings you to my realm of fortunes today?” she said.   He told her he was concerned about his scar.  She looked at him carefully.   Violeta Bratiano was special; she was able to read the aura surrounding a person or even animal. It sometimes, when she could understand the colors she saw clinging to people she concentrated upon, allowed her to determine good or evil, health or disease, and possibly the mood of the person under question.  The colors indicated a person’s mood or ill-health.   From his aura, Otto seemed nervous and worried according to the colors swirling around him.  There was a sense that he needed to know about the scar, badly.  She saw a dark red or purple glow around the scar.  She felt it was a source of insecurity, a lingering force that was haunting him.  She didn’t see anything of a curse about it, though was unsure if his aura would actually reveal such.  But she felt it was something he needed to confront.   She led him into the vardo and sat him down at a small table there.  The place was filled with strange and exotic items.  She sat on the other side of the table and produced a pack of tarot cards, handing them to the man and asking him to shuffle them.  As he did so, he told her a negro woman in Denver claimed the scar and he were both cursed.  He needed to know if that was true.  He was also unsure why the saber blow that had struck him in the face had not simply killed him.   She took the deck and shuffled it as well, using her own skills at sleight of hand to force three cards to the front of the deck to give the man the fortune she wanted.   “I can tell you are a man of fortune,” she said.  “A soldier, weren’t you, before?”   “Yes,” he said.   “Where did you get that scar?”   “Cavalry charge back in Texas.”   “Oh.  In Texas you say, so you were in the Mexican War?”   “Civil War.”   She nodded and finished shuffling.   “What I’m going to do it lay three cards in front of you,” she said.  “They are going to represent your past, your present, and your future.”   She put the cards down on the table.   “So, one at a time, reveal the cards on top of the deck,” she said.   He pulled the top card and put it down.   “The Tower,” she said.  “It is a very powerful card.  It represents disaster.  It represents pride.  And it represents failure.  It represents everything you’ve worked for coming crumbling down.  I would imagine in your past, you were a proud soldier, weren’t you?  And since that scar came, you’ve lost a bit of yourself.  Have you failed in the past?  Have things gone wrong inexplicably?”   “Yes,” he said.   “That is what this card represents.  Turn the next card.”   He did so.   “The Hermit,” she said.  “Another powerful card, representing major forces in your life.  The hermit represents contemplation.  It represents a search for inner truth.  I can tell that something is bothering you.  It’s that scar, isn’t it?”   “Partially,” he said.   “You have something else going on in your life that’s worrying you, causing you lots of anxiety.  Are you in danger?”   “Potentially.”   “This card represents that inner truth for yourself.  You are seeking something.  You are wanting to know more about what is true and about something in yourself that only you can know.  Reveal the next card … and your future.”   He turned the third card.   “This is … the four of wands,” she said.  “It represents home.  It represents comfort.  It represents family and a celebration.  I would say to you that you are struggling, still, with the actions of your past and it is causing you to linger on those actions.  You need to get past something and see what is now and what is in your future and stop dwelling on these dark things that happened long ago.  Once you get past that, you can find your inner peace, your home, your new home, and comfort.”   “Okay,” he said.   “Is there anything else you want to ask me our time together today?”   “What about the scar?”   “The scar.  What the cards tell me is that the scar represents what is lingering in your soul.  Your failures of the past that have stacked up against you and are still causing you to fail today.  I would say that the scar is something that is in your soul as well and you must mend it yourself before it will stop maligning you.”   “How would I do that?”   “Well, that is a journey of self-discovery, like the hermit represents.  Only … unless you tell me, I can’t perceive exactly what issues plague you but, you have thought about whether or not you are a good enough soldiers, perhaps, or you have failed in the past, you have thought that you were a bad person.  You need to find what is true for you now.  You need to make the future that you want to be.  And whatever happened in the past, when you were a soldier, when you failed, when you got that scar, it is still with you, and it still haunts you, and you are the one who is clinging to it as a description of yourself.  Free yourself from that.  Make peace with your failures of the past and you will succeed in the future.”   She looked at him for a moment.   “You are an interesting man, Mr. Lambert Otto,” she said.   “Yes?” he said.   “I would love to do a reading for you again.  You seem to have an interesting past and interesting struggles.  And I am curious as to what all is plaguing you.  I have not seen such … conflicting … such different … such worried and troubled auras from a person in a long time.  Most people here, they come here talking to me about love and money.  But, yours are much more interesting, deeper issues.”   Otto took his leave of the woman.   *              *              *   When Jack West returned to San Francisco, Professor Stalloid had the photographs developed.  He was a little disappointed with the results.  One of them was very overexposed and he wondered if Jack West had taken a nap while the cap had been removed.  One was of a treetop, which he didn’t understand.  One of them had some kind of bone.  Professor Stalloid realized he forgot to tell the man to put something into the picture for scale, which was also an issue.  Some of the photographs were out of focus.  There was a picture of Jack West’s face as well, apparently when he was trying to figure out the camera and took off the lens cover while pointing it at himself.  It was blurred and various portions of his face were smeared together as if he had been moving his face and the camera while it was pointed at him.   So many details forgotten, Professor Stalloid thought as he looked at the terrible photographs.   He decided to frame the odd photo of Jack West’s face and put it in his study.  He got a brass caption for the frame that read “Westerly Winds.”   Jack West was very disappointed to find his pistol had not yet been improved.  The two scientists had been busy working on some kind of electric engines.  They even had some of them attached to large propellers.   *              *              *   Jacali presented Jack West with the finger when they met again.   “Jack West,” she said.  “We went investigating the sinkhole up at Mount Diablo and I found a trophy if your conquest.”   Jack West slowly took the finger.   “And what in the Sam Hill am I supposed to do with this?” he said.   “I just thought you might want it as a trophy,” she said.   “Is this that old guy’s finger I shot off?”   “I knew you’d recognize it.”   Jack West stared at it.   “How did it not get disintegrated?” he said.   “I think the house collapsed in on itself rather than disintegrate,” Otto said.   “Well, this is gross,” Jack West said.   He flicked the finger away into the grass.   “Well, it was worth a try,” Jacali said.   *              *              *   Tickets for the 383-mile trip from San Francisco, California, to Winnemucca, Nevada were expensive.  Third class costs around $12, second class was about $16, and first class was about $20.  In addition, there was a 10 cents per mile fee on freight if they wanted to bring their horses, which came to roughly $38 per animal.  Otto offered to pay for the transport of Jacali’s horse.   “You’re being very nice to me, Mr. Otto,” she said.  “What has gotten into you?”   “I don’t know,” Otto said.  “I’m feeling generous.”   “I like it,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I reckon because maybe─” Jack West said.   “That and you’ve been so nice to me, Jacali, I feel like I have to repay you for the kindness,” Otto said.   “Well, you did just repay me $50 so I’m not going to make you, but─” Jacali said.   “Yes, but you also saved my life,” Otto said.   “Fair enough,” Jacali said.  “I will accept your offer of horse payment and I will travel second class with all of you.”   *              *              *   They left San Francisco on the 17th of September by train, all of them traveling second class and bringing horses as freight.  They arrived at Winnemucca, Nevada, the next day.    Winnemucca was a small town on the Central Pacific Railroad and mostly inhabited by Basque immigrants who worked as sheep-herders.  The town’s population was about 465 souls and it had a post office, train station, and other amenities such as saloons, hotels, and the like.  It was a vibrant town on the railroad.  It was also the county seat of Humboldt County since 1873.  There were numerous travelers of the Transcontinental Railroad in the town.  Roads followed the rail and headed off all different directions.  Sheep farms surrounded the town.   The town was semi-arid, hot in the summer months, but the temperature dropped significantly at night.   They spent the night there.   *              *              *   They set forth from Winnemucca on Sunday, September 19, 1875, heading north.  They arrived at their next stop, Quiet Gap, by mid-afternoon.  It was a small town on the Nevada badlands, mountains to the north and south.  As they approached, they could see large stones surrounding the village at a distance of about a mile from the structures in a rough circle, each a mile or so from each other.   Professor Stalloid counted four that he could see clearly.  They looked like pillars.   They passed by the nearest stones, each a half mile or so away, and soon saw a sign that indicated the town of Quiet Gap, “Population 87.”  They rode into the eerily quiet town passing a church and a house with the windows boarded up.  They didn’t see any people at all.  The town itself was very green, a surprising change from the badlands they’d been riding through.   “Welp, it’s gonna be one of these again,” Otto said.   “When do we go into a town and it’s just a nice town?” Jacali said.   The Crystal River Hotel stood not far from the cemetery, which was close to the church.  As they rode down the street, they saw the houses and buildings all appeared to closed up, with the shutters closed on some of the buildings as well.  There wasn’t even any wind in the town.   Jack West rode north, looking for a general store.   They could hear the lowing of cows from somewhere nearby and Professor Stalloid headed that way while Jacali and Otto rode to the livery stable.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid found the lowing coming from a good-sized shed behind one of the houses.  There were a pair of milking cows within that made low noises seeming to indicate their discomfort.  He wondered if they hadn’t been milked and if they were in distress because of that.   He didn’t know how to milk a cow.   “Anybody here?” he called out.   There was no reply so he mounted up and headed for the livery stable where he saw Jacali and Otto opening the doors.   There were horses in the stalls in the livery stables but the troughs for water were empty and there was no grain or hay in the feeding troughs.  Otto took the saddle and blanket off his horse before he set to work getting grain and hay for the horses.  Jacali put her own horse away in a stall and helped him.  Professor Stalloid rode into the stable.   They heard a gunshot.   *              *              *   Jack West rode around the town, passing the bank and marshal’s office on the north side of town before turning south down the only other street where he found the general store across from a house marked “Dr. Merle Groate, Physician.”  The front door was closed and locked with a sign hanging there noting it was closed.  He knocked loudly but there was no answer.   He looked down the street.  Next door to the general store was the Six Feet Under Saloon and across from it was a hardware store.  Further down was what looked like the Assay Office.   He walked over to the saloon and found the doors closed and locked there as well.   “I don’t like this place,” he muttered.   He drew his peacemaker and fired it into the air in the hopes of getting some attention.   *              *              *   Otto climbed up into the hayloft and pushed open the wide doors in the front, peering out, his carbine ready.  He saw there was a bank and a marshal’s office across the street.  He saw no one.   *              *              *   Jacali took out her bow and nocked an arrow, moving out of the back of the livery stables and creeping through the yards until she reached the alley between a hardware store and a blacksmith shop.  Stalloid followed close behind her.  They saw Jack West sitting on his horse in the crossroads, looking around.  She could smell gun smoke.   “Jack West, what was that gunshot?” she asked.   “Ah, I was just knocking for the whole town,” Jack West said.   “That’s some way to say hello, but …”   “Doesn’t look like anyone’s answering,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Yeah,” Jack West said.  “There’s two things, we could either just keep moving, or … get some free stuff.”   “Well, last time we came into a town where nobody was around and we had to find them all, I didn’t enjoy it,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Now, what town was that?” Jack West said.   “You weren’t there … and I wish you were,” Professor Stalloid said.  “But … we have been riding so long and we need food first.”   “And I am here now, so it’s okay,” Jack West said.   “Well, the horses were all unattended so it seems like it’s been a few days since everybody up and left,” Jacali said.  “There might not be good food, but … I do think it’s worth a shot.  Something’s got to be done.”   “Somebody’s got to be here,” Jack West said.  “So, which door we … forcing open first?”   “The general store, of course,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That’s what I want,” Jack West said.  “Next would be the saloon.”   Jacali said she’d finish up in the stables and then head that way.  They parted.   *              *              *   Otto had seen no one.   “Hey Otto,” he heard Jacali call from below.  “It was just Jack West firing off.”   “Figgers,” Otto said.   “Nobody responded though, which is odd.”   “Might be abandoned.”   “What would cause the town to be abandoned?”   “I don’t know.  But it’s not a good sign.”   They could hear the lowing of cows in the distance and Jacali, who got back to work feeding and watering the horses, noticed it.  They sounded agitated or uncomfortable.  She wondered if they were in need of milking.  She told Otto about that.   “Otto, do you want to help me milk some teats?” Jacali said.  “You seem like a teat-squeezing man.”   “I’ve dealt with a cow in my life,” Otto said.  “If you want to go milk the cows, I’ll finish up here and come join you.  I would hate to see these horses starve.”   She set off in search of the cows.   *              *              *   Jack West and Professor Stalloid found the back door of the general store locked and the windows closed and shuttered.   “Anybody’s inside, please open up!” Jack West called.   There was no answer.   They walked around to the front of the store again.  Jack West got off his horse and tethered it to the hitching post out front.  Then he kicked the door open, the lock snapping.   The inside of the general store was clean and well-tended.  The shelves were all full of merchandise.  A cold pot-bellied stove sat in the middle of the room.  Everything seemed to be in order.   Jack West soon found a small crate of dynamite with about a dozen sticks behind the counter.  He grabbed three along with fuses and blasting caps.  Professor Stalloid also took three sticks and tucked them in his pocket.   “As long as the place is abandoned,” Jack West said.   Professor Stalloid found several jars of preserves and took a jar of peaches.  Jack West filled a bag with bullets, hardtack, and beef jerky.  Professor Stalloid found the preserved peaches were very good.  He left $10 on the counter, which he figured would cover the food they’d taken.   *              *              *   Otto finished with the horses and set off in search of Jacali.  He noticed one of the houses just down the street from the livery stable was completely destroyed.  He went over and saw that it appeared to have been blown up though there was no debris anywhere around it to indicate a blast.  He could smell the stink of explosives and some wisps of smoke still came from the various blasted boards.  All that remained was the blackened floor and a few broken walls.  He looked around and saw there was no debris.  He poked at the floor of the house with his sword.  The scorched walls were very fresh.  He rubbed his finger against one and it came back covered in soot.   The house must have burnt down, though it looked like it had blown up.  It was very strange.   He went in search of Jacali and, when he found her, told her what he had discovered.   “That’s strange,” Jacali said.   “Yes.”   “It seems like everybody left,” she said.  “Something doesn’t make sense about it.”   *              *              *   “So, uh, Stalloid,” Jack West said.  “I notice you put $10 on the counter.”   “You never know if someone’s coming back,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I want this man paid for his goods.”   “I was heading back over to the bank … uh … were you not interested in that?”   “We’ll check that out.  I don’t want to hurt this man personally.”   “I need to make a withdrawal anyways.  It’s not my fault.”   They left the general store and headed for the bank, passing the marshal’s office and the doctor’s office on the way.  Jack West looked back and forth between the bank and the doctor’s office, wondering if there was laudanum in the latter.   They found the large front doors of the bank closed and locked.  The entire building was made of stone and there were bars on the windows.  There was a second floor, also with bars on the windows.   Professor Stalloid knocked.  The sound didn’t seem to carry through the thick doors so he picked up rock and knocked with it.  There was still no answer.   “All right, how dedicated to this are we?” Jack West said.   He took out a stick of dynamite and put it on the two door handles.   “We need to get to the telegraph,” Professor Stalloid said.   He looked around and saw there were no wires for a telegraph but wondered if they might be using some new system of burying telegraph wires in a veiled attempt to convince himself of the rightness of breaking into the bank.   Jack West attached the blasting cap with fuse and took out a match.   “I mean, if there is someone here, this looks like the most secure location,” Professor Stalloid said, trying to rationalize the break-in.  “If there is anyone around, they should be here.”   Jack West lit the dynamite and they both quickly mounted their horses and rode away.  There was a great explosion behind them.   *              *              *   “Should we even go look, Jacali?” Otto said.   “It was us!” they heard Stalloid yell in the distance.   “Should we just let these animals free?” Otto said.   “You know I was thinking of it, but I don’t know if it would be better for them,” Jacali said.   *              *              *   When Jack West and Professor Stalloid returned to the bank, they found the doors blown off their hinges and smashed to pieces.  One of them had survived somewhat intact and smashed through one of the two teller stations.  The other has been blasted to splinters.  The doorway had been badly damaged as well and the flagstone floor of the bank was cracked and broken.  Most of the force of the blast had gone into and out of the bank, apparently.  The hitching post lay in pieces in the street.  They could hear the horses in the nearby livery stable stirring as if frightened by the blast.   Through the smoke, they could see a large safe built into small office in the back of the building, the glass of the office now shattered.  Another door off to the right was closed and still, surprisingly, intact.  Professor Stalloid picked up another rock and walked over to the door.  A sign on it said “Employee’s Only.”  He found it unlocked and cracked it open.  Steps went up to the second floor.   “Anybody in there?” he called.   There was no answer.   “If anybody’s up there, tell me I’m not allowed up there!” he called.   There was no answer.  It was very quiet.   He shut the door.   They examined the safe and found it quite large.  The walls were built around it but it was not a walk-in safe, obviously.  It had a combination lock on the front.  Professor Stalloid looked through the desk in the back in hopes of finding a combination written down.   *              *              *   Otto and Jacali went to various small barns around town, milking the cows and feeding and watering them.  They noticed a building that had the word “Library” on the front door, which was surprising for such a small town.  It was across the street from the Jewel Theater.  They also found The Quiet Gap Enquirer.  The sign out front noted Benjamin Thorpe was the Editor.   Jacali suggested there must be some record of what happened, possibly at the library or the newspaper office.  Otto suggested checking the marshal’s office as well.   “Why would they close everything down if they were running?” Jacali said.   She also found it odd that all of the windows and shutters were closed on all of the houses.   “This doesn’t make any sense,” she said.   “As if everyone just disappeared,” Otto said.   “But if they just disappeared, the windows would still be open,” Jacali said.   “Unless some otherworldly forces caused them to disappear.”   “Well, if the otherworldly forces closed up all the windows.  It seems people knew ahead of time they were just leaving without grabbing anything.”   “Hm.”   “I don’t know.  I’m tempted to look at the library and at the newspaper office.”   “Can you read?”   “Otto, can you look at the library and the newspaper office?”   “I don’t mean to insult you, but … I’m just saying.”   “I think those would be places to check on.”   “Let’s try the newspaper office.”   “Which one was that?”   “The Quiet Gap Enquirer.”   “Yeah.  Which one says that?”   Otto led her to the little newspaper office.   *              *              *   There was no key or combination to the safe written down anywhere.  Professor Stalloid did learn the banker’s name was Thurston Smith.  He obviously owned and was president of the bank.  Jack West, meanwhile, fiddled with the combination lock, turning it in the hopes of getting lucky and hitting the right combination.   They heard something scuttle across the floor above.   “Upstairs,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Someone was there.”   “Maybe they know the combination,” Jack West said.   “They may know the authorities.”   “We could implore them to help alleviate this safe of its money.”   “I’m not saying that, but let’s go upstairs.”   “When in Rome, Stalloid, … rob a bank.”   They went to the other door and opened it, Jack West leading them up the steps.   *              *              *   Otto and Jacali found the newspaper office locked up.  They walked around and found a back door that was also locked.  The windows were all closed and the shutters were up inside.   “Got any ideas, Jacali, that don’t require breaking and entering?” Otto said.   “Well, again, why would someone lock the place if they were running away?” she said.  “It doesn’t seem like anyone disappeared suddenly, like anyone ran away, like it was something they all had planned.  That they all knew about.”   Otto took his carbine off his back and used the rifle stock against the handle.  With a crash, the stock cracked up the middle.  He looked at the carbine and then chucked it angrily into the street.   “Well, that seems like bad luck,” Jacali said.   Otto drew his saber and smashed the guard against the door knob over and over again.  The wood cracked around the doorknob and he soon broke it away, knocking the door open.  He went to the fallen carbine in a huff and picked it back up, slinging it over his shoulder and then walking into the newspaper office.   Inside the building was a larger outer office with a door in the back that obviously went to a second, smaller room. In the main room was a small Stanhope printing press near a cluttered desk.  The press had typeset already laid out within it.  Otto looked at it but the words were backwards.  He tried to decipher it but found it impossible so looked around for a mirror.   “Otto, can you read?” Jacali said.   “It’s backwards, Jacali,” Otto said.   “Oh,” Jacali said.   Otto didn’t find any mirrors in the main office.  He noted he could try to read it but it might take a while.   “I wish I could help you,” Jacali said.  “Here, let me try.”   She couldn’t make heads nor tails of the backward script.   “It’s all Greek to me,” she said.   They found the back room held living quarters and Otto looked for a mirror.  The only reflective surface was a piece of polished metal attached to the wall over a built-in sink with a pitcher of water next to it.  It was not a very good reflective surface.  Jacali mentioned possibly using a window pane but they were unsure how to best remove the glass.   They returned to the office and looked over the press, trying to figure out how to make it work.   “I vote we go find Stalloid to get this thing working again,” Otto said.   “I-I also have a question about this thing?” Jacali said.   “What?”   “What is it?”   Otto explained how a printing press worked with the paper on one part and the typeset on the other.  The typeset had ink put on it and when the lever was pulled, the paper would go down onto the inked typeset, which would put it on the paper.   “Amazing,” she said.  “It’s a miracle.”   She looked around and found paper and ink.   “Couldn’t we ink it up and slap some paper down and get a rough copy?” she said.   “We could try,” Otto said.  “But it would be really sloppy and hard to read.”   “Well, would it be harder to read than that?” Jacali said.   She pointed at the backwards typeset.   “I mean at least I can read the letters okay on this,” Otto said.   “I don’t know,” Jacali said.  “Just an idea.  We could get Stalloid though.  See if it works.”   “Let’s just go get Stalloid or find a mirror.”   “All right.”   *              *              *   Jack West led Professor Stalloid up the stairs, gun drawn.  He had pulled a bandana over his face.  Professor Stalloid, seeing this, pulled out his handkerchief and put it over his own face.  There was a small landing at the top with a single door.  The room beyond was a living room with a window.  There was a small kitchen and there was a study and a single bedroom as well.   They had thought there was some noise from the bedroom but when they carefully peeked in, there was no one there.  The bed was a mess, the sheets pulled partially off it, and there was clothing laid out as if someone had put it there the night before, both a man’s suit and a woman’s dress.  Shoes were also by the bed for both a man and  a woman.  The room held a wardrobe and a dresser.  Jack West looked into the wardrobe, finding nothing.    Professor Stalloid peeked in.   “Hey, check under the bed,” he said.   Jack West leaned down and peeked under the bed.  Nothing was there.  However, he noticed he could see very clearly under the bed.  It wasn’t dark under there at all.   He reached under the bed, looking for a trapdoor, and was shocked when his hand went right through the floorboards.  When he looked more closely, he realized the light was coming from a circle under the bed.   “What’s under the bed?” Professor Stalloid said.   Jack West stood up and grabbed the foot of the bed, sliding it to one side.   “There’s a … portal over here,” he said.   Professor Stalloid entered the room to look.   “That’s a floor,” he said.   “It’s a portal,” Jack West said.  “Stalloid, you don’t believe in portals, you just step right on in.”   “That’s … that’s a floor.”   “Just … put a foot on it.”   Professor Stalloid picked a pillow off the bed and tossed it to where Jack West was pointing.  It landed on the floor and lay there, as he had expected it would.   “That’s a floor,” he said.   Jack West knelt down and touched the spot with his hand again.  It moved through the floor as if it wasn’t there, disappearing from sight.  He left his hand there for a moment and realized it felt like his hand was being pulled slightly.  There was a pull though no pressure upon it, almost like the feel of a hand in running water.   *              *              *   Jacali and Otto realized they had probably found their companions when they found the two horses near the bank, which had the doors completely blown off their hinges.   “Typical,” Otto said.   “The telltale signs of Jack West and Brandon Stalloid,” Jacali said.   The smell of gunpowder was very strong and they looked into the place, which was in a shambles.  The safe in the back was still closed, which was somewhat of a surprise.  A door to one side stood ajar, steps going up from it.   “Truly righteous men we follow,” Jacali said.  “Not stealing from the bank but just blowing the doors open so they can.”   “Yeah,” Otto said.   “Jacali!  Otto!  We’re upstairs!” Professor Stalloid’s voice called.  “There’s a portal!”   “Oh great,”  Otto said.   “We found what happened to the town,” Jacali quipped back.  “It’s just in reverse!”   “Yeah, I don’t care!” Professor Stalloid called down.  “Portal!”   “Is there a mirror up there, if you’re going to be uncooperative?” Otto called.   “Well, I’m not uncooperative!” Professor Stalloid called down.  “Y’all come up here.”   “I don’t see a mirror but I do see a portal!” Jack West called.   “There’s a portal!” Professor Stalloid called.   “Well, do you want to see this portal?” Jacali said to Otto.   “If it gets them to help us,” Otto said.   They went upstairs.   “We were going to draw lots to see who puts their head in the portal,” Professor Stalloid said.   Jack West made some comment about Otto going in the hole.   “I heard that!” Otto called.   “We need you, brave Sir Otto!” Professor Stalloid called back.   They found the two men in a bedroom with a bed pushed at a strange angle.  Professor Stalloid gestured for Jack West to put his hand in the portal again.   “I think it will mean more if one of them does it,” Jack West said.   “That’s floor,” Jacali said.   “Put your hand on it,” Professor Stalloid said.   Jack West moved around the piece of floor to stand near the wall.   “Here, come walk straight towards me,” he said.   “Don’t do that!” Professor Stalloid said.  “Put your hand on it.”   “This is ****,” Jacali said.   She reached down and put her hand on the floor.  It went right through the solid wood.  She let out a shout and pulled her hand back quickly.  She had felt a pulling on her hand but not something she couldn’t resist.   “So, how do we decide who goes in?” Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s not me,” Otto said.   “Oh, it’s definitely not going to be me,” Jacali said.   “Let’s see what your thing is first,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Brilliant idea Stalloid,” Jacali said.  “Just like I said.”   “Hey, Jack West, you want to stay here and make sure that noise doesn’t do anything?” Professor Stalloid said.   “Uh … sure,” Jack West said.   “Oh yeah, we heard footsteps up here,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Or skittering.”   “Could’ve been a rat,” Otto said.   “So the rats stayed,” Jacali said.   “We heard it downstairs,” Professor Stalloid said.   “It’s a big fricking rat,” Jack West said.   “That’s a big rat,” Professor Stalloid said.  “If so, that could be food.”   “Regardless, we need your help running a printing press,” Otto said.   “I’ll come,” Professor Stalloid said.   “While you’re doing that, someone want to wipe down my horse?” Jack West said as they walked out of the room.  “While I bravely watch this portal so nothing comes out to get you all?”   Before he left, Professor Stalloid whispered to Jack West to look for the combination in the study.  He realized the man wouldn’t be able to watch the hole and search the study.   “You know, Otto, you’re our greatest fighter,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Could you watch the hole?”   Jack West coughed loudly and looked at Professor Stalloid.  He didn’t want the man there while he searched the study for the combination.   “I don’t feel terribly confident about the way you phrase that,” Otto said.   “We can put a sheet over the hole,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And you can watch the sheet.  I found material objects don’t go through it.  I tried to put a pillow through it.”   “That way it looks like a spooky ghost if something comes up!” Jack West said.   Professor Stalloid suggested Otto stay with Jack West while Jack West would search the study for clues.  Otto grudgingly agreed and Professor Stalloid put the sheet from the bed over the portal.  Otto drew his saber and held it in hand to watch.  Professor Stalloid noted Jack West would be looking for information on what happened in the town.  Then he and Jacali left.   *              *              *   Jacali and Professor Stalloid went to the newspaper office.  It only took him a little while to figure out roughly how to work the press and print out a single newspaper page.  The page top noted it was the Quiet Gap Inquirer and had a silhouette of a bear on one side and a howling wolf on the other.  Under the nameplate was the name “Benjamin Thorpe: Editor and Reporter” and next to that it read “WEEKLY 1 PENNY.”  It was marked “Special Edition” under that and dated September 19, 1875: the date that day.  The headline read: “Town Children Disappear!”   The article read:     Every child in the village of Quiet Gap disappeared two nights ago without a trace.   Yesterday morning, the parents of several children were startled to find them missing from their beds.  Said parents had put their children to sleep in the safety of their homes the night before only to find them gone when they awoke.   Marshal Alba Churchill has no answers.   Each of the homes of the missing children was searched both inside and out but, according to the Marshal, there was no sign of forced entry or foul play in most cases.  The children were simply gone without any footprints or other clues as to what might have happened to them.  How they were snatched from their bedrooms without making a sound is also unexplained.   In two cases, the room of the child was upset or disturbed though even in those cases, there were no other signs of who might have taken the children or what might have happened to them.   Three posses of mounted men left the village in three different directions yesterday morning in the hopes of finding some trace of the lost children.  Unfortunately, they returned to town last night, empty-handed and exhausted.  The search will resume tomorrow.   Plans have been made to send riders to the towns of Paradise Valley and Winnemucca today to spread the word in hopes something can be done to find and recover the children.   Professor Liam Tennesley, proprietor of the Quiet Gap Library and late of the University of Cambridge in England, related that some Indian myth warns anyone from settling in Quiet Gap.  He notes the Paiute tribesmen who lived in the Gap centuries before left because of some kind of curse on the area.  One would have thought something of this curse would have appeared before now.  Professor Tennesley said he would do more research on the area soon.   The names of the missing children include:   Fred Blackburn Emma Burris Thomas Caley Theresa Carney William Harlow Jr. Marcus Hoffman Patience Hoffman Wesley Howe Cora Howell Victoria Morgan Esther Slater Sarah Smith Daniel Strong   Mayor Eric Griffin has offered a $100 reward for the return of the children.    “Whoever did this was able to enter the rooms of children while their parents slept, sometimes in the same room,” Mayor Griffin said yesterday.  “I don’t think he will stop at children, however.  I’ll be guarding my own room with dynamite tonight and won’t sleep a wink.  I would advise others do the same.”   It is hoped these children will soon be found.  In any case, the men and women of Quiet Gap will not give up the search until they find their lost and wayward children.     “Sounds like we need to go to the library,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Boy, I’m tired after reading all that.”   They went to the library and found the building locked up.  Professor Stalloid motioned to Jacali and the door.   “I’m the not the strongest but … I have a knife,” she said.  “Otto seemed to be pretty good - oh, he’s not here.”   They walked around the building and found a back door but it was also locked.  The windows were closed, latched, and the shutters drawn on them.  They decided break into one of the windows, breaking a pane of glass and unlatching a window, shoving the shutters in and entering.   “Maybe everybody’s out in the other towns and looking and that’s why it’s a ghost town,” Professor Stalloid said.   “That would make me feel really bad about busting down these windows and doors,” Jacali said.   “It’s for the safety of the children.”   “But why wasn’t the newspaper printed?”   Professor Stalloid looked at her.   “Because they’re too busy,” he said.   “Why would they typeset a newspaper and go to all the trouble?” Jacali said.   They guessed the man set his typeset the night before with plans to print the paper out that morning.  He probably did that in case there was new information overnight.   They entered the Quiet Gap Library and found the downstairs was one large room with numerous built-in bookshelves that were mostly empty.  There was a small collection of only about 100 books in the place.  They found a stairwell going up to the second floor where there was a small suite of rooms.  There was no sign of a struggle in any of them though the bed was unmade.   In a small study were several notebooks filled with information on the Paiutes as well as notes Tennesley took after the children disappeared and a journal.   The  journal indicated it was the possession of Liam Tennesley.  It indicated Tennesley taught at the University of Cambridge, in England, but came to the United States to both educate and learn about the native people.  He was most interested in the native Paiute of the area around Quiet Gap, where he ended up, purchased a building, and moved his own private library at some cost.   The entry for the day before, September 18, noted all of the children of the town disappeared the night before.  It related Marshal Churchill was investigating the disappearances and posses of all of the men in the town who could ride had been sent out to find the children, though without success by nightfall.   Tennesley himself devoted the day to researching the local myths and legends of the Paiute from copious notes he took while interviewing natives who lived near, but not in, Quiet Gap, not finishing until late that night.  What he found intrigued and terrified him.   Apparently, the local Paiute avoided the spring and green area around Quiet Gap for generations, even going to far as to put up stone markers covered in warnings in pictograms and their native tongue.  The legend went that something horrible came into the village there hundreds of years ago, taking the children.  When the incident occurred more than once, the elders of the village took notice.  Eventually, the Paiute left the area of Quiet Gap, putting up markers to warn others away and leaving the cursed place where children would not stay themselves.   Tennesley was unsure how often the events of missing children occurred but guessed it was every 15 to 25 years or somewhere in between.  He noted the town of Quiet Gap was established in 1867 and there had been no disturbances until the night before, at least none that he knew of.  He made a note to visit the office of the Quiet Gap Inquirer the next day to make sure though he thought he was sure, in his time living in Quiet Gap, he would have heard of such an occurrence of importance.   There were no other entries after that.   Professor Stalloid looked at the books on the table.  They were all about the Paiute of Nevada.  Some were manuscripts but a few were printed.  Most of the manuscripts were in the same handwriting as the journal.      *              *              *   Jack West searched the study and found a small slip of paper with three numbers on it.  He went downstairs and opened the safe.  He found quite a bit of money and a few small bags he guessed were filled with gold dust.  He went to his horse and got the saddlebags, bringing them in and putting the paper money in.  He left the gold dust behind.   He closed the safe, lifted the handle, and spun the dial once again, locking it.   He took his horse to the livery stables and took off the saddle and blanket, rubbing it down and putting it in a stall.  He left the saddlebags in the stall as well.   *              *              *   “There’s obviously something terrible going on there,” Jacali said.   She had realized the amount of work it would take to move large pieces of stone like the ones they had passed, cutting them, and then carving warnings on them.  The local Paiute had gone to a great deal of effort to warn people away from the place, especially for people who lived hundreds of years before.   “They wouldn’t do it for nothing over superstition,” she said.  “I’m not one to believe in curses but … with what I’ve seen, maybe it’s something like … that.”   They went back downstairs and Professor Stalloid started looking through the books there.   “I’m going to go look at those rocks,” Jacali said to him.  “See if there’s anything to it.”   *              *              *   Jacali left the library and went to the livery stable  to get Nalin, riding out about a mile from town and examining the stones.  She found they were not like any of the rocks and boulders in the area so must have been brought there from somewhere else.  They were covered in pictograms and were obviously very old and worn from the weather.  They had been carved deeply enough to last the ages, however.   They appeared to be a warning to stay away as the place was a bad place or cursed.  There was nothing specific but a powerful warning to avoid the area.  She realized if she had seen it before she had come to the village, she would have recognized it as a bad place and avoided it.   *              *              *   When Jacali returned to the livery stable, she found Jack West just finished rubbing down and putting away his horse.    “Hey Jack, this place looks like bad business,” she said.   She put Nalin in an empty stall.   “Really, some native folks, hundreds of years ago, went to an extraordinary amount of work to warn people to stay away from here,” she said.   “Well, you know what they say,” Jack West said.  “One people’s bad business is another man’s good business.”   “I mean … I wouldn’t drag hundred pound rocks and carve into them inch-deep to warn people not to go there at any costs because that could be their good business.”   “Gotcha.  If you want to tell the doctor, if y’all want to meet us up by the portal, we can decide if we’re going in.”   “I honestly don’t want to be in this place anymore.  The only thing keeping me here is those children and … there might be some way to help them, but … obviously, if they haven’t come back out of the portal, it’s not something they can do on their own, which makes me nervous about trying to go in it.  I’m going to inform all the others and make sure everybody’s on the same page and, hopefully we can regroup soon.”   “Sounds good to me.”   “Share some information with you guys.”   She left the livery and went up to the bank to let Otto know what was going on.  He hadn’t seen anything.  She headed back down the street towards the library.   As she passed the general store, she saw a shadow  move inside the building, past the broken-open door.  She stopped and took her bow from her back, fixing an arrow onto the string.   “Raspberry!” she shouted.   *              *              *   Jack West sauntered back to the bank to help Otto watch the hole.  He found the man tapping the sheet with his saber.  Then he took one of the sheets and wrapped it around the broken stock of the rifle, tying it off to do a makeshift repair.  Neither one of them heard Jacali’s call.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid was still engrossed in looking at the frontispiece of each book, but had, so far found nothing of real interest.  There were a few histories and several works of fiction, especially those written by Charles Dickens and other British writers.  He also didn’t hear the Apache woman call out.   *              *              *   “Surely they heard me,” Jacali said.   She looked more closely at the general store and saw the large windows on the front had shutters over them on the inside.  The door had a broken lock and part of the lintel was cracked and shattered as if someone had kicked it hard.  It was fairly dark inside.  She saw no more movement.   She crept onto the porch of the place and tried to peek into the windows but it was too dark to see.  The light coming from the eastern-facing doorway was not substantial in the late afternoon.  She peeked in through the door, her eyes taking a moment to adjust.  She saw the filled shelves with narrow walkways between them, the pot-bellied stove with the small table and checkerboard next to it, and, in the back, a counter that ran the width of the building with a cash register upon it.   She heard the tapping of feet or … something behind the counter and then saw the back door to the room push open and bang against the wall.  Something had gone through it, it seemed, but she didn’t see anything.  It must have been on all fours, whatever it was.   She crept to one side and then pushed open the shutters on either side, letting more light into the room, while keeping her back to the front of the building.  She thought she heard some kind of scuttling or skittering noise from the back room.  Then she heard a hiss or heavy breath.  There was more scuttling.  There was a rattle and a crash that sounded like a pan or a pot.  Then there was more skittering.  Something clinked.  She tried to determine what to do, listening to the noises.   The counter that ran the length of the room had a glass front and top but a wooden back.  The brass cash register stood on part of the counter that was all wood.   She moved to the counter and hopped over it.  Bow ready and aiming low, she kicked open the back door all the way and it rattled as it struck the wall.  She peeked in and saw a simple living area with a larger iron stone.  There were two doors off to her left forming two more rooms on that side of the building.  There were several windows but they were all closed, as were the shutters over each.   It was dead quiet.   A coffee pot lay on the floor along with a couple of other kitchen implements.  It was dim but she could still see as beams of light from the setting sun came through the shutters.  She started to move, back to the wall, from window to window, sliding open the shutters to get more light in the room.  When she reached the back door, she found it locked with the key in the lock.  That perplexed her.   The back bedroom was still dim, the door ajar.  It had a large bed which had messy sheets and covers.  Clothing was over the end of the bed, and shoes were on the floor.  The sheets were partially pulled off the bed.  She moved to the other door and saw there were two smaller beds in that room.  The beds in there were actually made.  Children’s shoes and clothing were at the foot of each bed.   She crept into that second room and saw a chest of draws and a small table and chair.  She didn’t see anything in the dim light but crept towards the bed and reached underneath it.  She wanted to see if there was a portal under there.  Then something grabbed her arm.  It didn’t feel like a hand.  It seemed to wind around her arm and she jerked her hand away, pulling away from the thing easily and then kicked the foot of the bed, knocking it aside, her bow ready.   Just for a moment, she thought she saw a form or shape.  It was smaller than a man, but not by much. She couldn’t make out any details before it disappeared into the floor.  She didn’t get a good look at it.   She went down to one knee and slid a single finger along the floor where the bed had been until it seemed to reach and edge and disappear into the floor.  She immediately pulled it back out and then fled from the general store to find the other men who she figured had heard her but hadn’t done anything about it.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid hadn’t found anything in the books that seemed to have any connection with the town or what might be happening there.  There were histories and fictions and even a few textbooks, but nothing of interest.  He even looked at the librarian’s desk and found a book with names and the names of books, obviously those that people in the town had borrowed.   He crept upstairs and checked the bed, looking underneath it, and realized there was some light there, barely visible, but enough to let him see clearly under the bed.   He headed back to the bank.  On the way, he saw Jacali run out of the front of the general store and up the street, turning right, and heading towards the bank.  He followed her.   *              *              *   Jack West and Otto sat in silence.   “You break your gun again?” Jack West said at one point.   Otto ignored him.   They heard someone run into the front of the bank and crash up the stairs at speed.  Jack West aimed his pistol at the door and Jacali ran into the room.   “West!  It’s me!” she said. “I saw a thing!  Or - I didn’t.  I only saw a shadow!  But I heard the noises!  And it grabbed me by the arm!  And it tried to pull me into the portal under the bed!”   “You didn’t go in?” Jack West said.   “Wha?  No!  Because it went in there!  It disappeared as soon as I moved the bed.  Only a shadow was there!  And it disappeared into the portal.”   “So, I’m thinking, when Stalloid makes his way over here, Otto and I just jump in first.  We got the bigger, closer ranged … goodies.”   “Well─”   “I think I saw Stalloid with a shotgun at one point.”   “Otto, just like we did earlier, I think whoever does that should tie a rope to themselves.  Keep people close so we can pull them back in.”   “Well, I’m not very strong,” Otto said.  “So, it shouldn’t be me.”   “Who’s the strongest of all of us?” Jacali said.   They looked at Jack West, who was huge and solid.   “Mr. West, thank you for volunteering,” Jacali said.   “Or we could just tie the rope around something in the room,” Otto said.   Jacali agreed it would be better to hold onto the rope so they could pull the person out.  Jack West suggested if it was safe, he could pull on the rope a few times and they could follow him in.  Otto thought it a good idea to tie the rope around something in case they lost the grip so it wouldn’t just fall in the portal.  Jack West agreed.   Otto asked what happened and Jacali told him about the great stones around the town and about something being in the general store.  He also wanted to know what was on the newspaper and Jacali related what Professor Stalloid had told her had been in the newspaper article.  She also related they went to the library to learn what they could of what the librarian had learned.   Otto laughed while reading the newspaper.  Then he got serious.   “Poor mayor,”  he said, remembering the destroyed house.  “I know what happened to the mayor.”   “That’s what I think too,” Jacali said.  “Regardless, it seems to me, what happened, y’all can agree or disagree, the facts are: the children disappeared.  They tried to find them, running in all directions, but couldn’t.  And then they found out the tales of this thing stealing children in the night from Paiute tribes, that they warned people about.  I think the people caught wind of this and … either fled or tried to protect themselves from whatever was doing it.  I was in the general store and the back door was locked from the inside.”   “Judging from how … uh … everything was placed … I’m thinking they abducted everyone this time, after they locked up for the night,” Jack West said.   “It could be,” Jacali said.   They heard steps on the staircase again and Professor Stalloid soon appeared in the doorway.   “There’s another portal in the library,” he said.  “It was under the bed.”   “And there’s a portal under the bed in the general store,” Jacali said.  “Something grabbed my hand from it.  A tentacle?  A rope?”   “Some sort of changeling, maybe?” Professor Stalloid said.   “I only saw a shadow,” Jacali said.   “If bullets affect it, I’ll be good,” Jack West said.   Jack West suggested tying off the rope and Otto noted the bed was too heavy to get out of the room.  They could all see the circle of the portal with the sheet over it in the glowing gloom.  Jacali put her hand on the sheet and pressed down but nothing happened.   “You have to have organic contact,” Professor Stalloid said.   Otto went and got his rope out of the stable.  Jacali didn’t want to be in town after dark.  Otto wondered about letting the other horses loose.  Jacali wasn’t sure as she didn’t know if there were any townsfolk to save.  They discussed tying the rope off and Otto tapped the sheet with his rifle, asking how they would get the rope through.  Otto moved the sheet and put his boot down on the floor.  It was solid.   “You gotta go in naked,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Just watch this,” Jack West said.   He leaned down and, with gun in hand, touched the floor, his flesh touching it before the weapon did.  Both went into the floor as if it wasn’t even there.  He pulled it back out.   “Okay, maybe you don’t go in naked,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Flesh first,” Jack West said.   They discussed who would go in, Otto wondering who would stay behind or if they would all go in.  Jacali asked if they had enough rope for all of them to go in together.  Jacali thought one person should go in first and, based on what they saw, decide if the rest should follow.  They discussed who should go first and James West said he would go if they could pull him back out.  He was a big man and wore a heavy poncho.   “Maybe you should take that poncho off, West,” Otto said.   “My poncho … is part of this outfit,” Jack West said.  “It brings everything else together.”   “Maybe Jack West doesn’t go first, with the poncho,” Jacali said. “Someone else can go first.  It could even be me.”   Otto sighed.   “I’ll go,” he said.   He tied the rope around the torso and drew his saber.  They discussed signals and decided one tug meant he was okay while wild tugging meant he was in trouble.  They tied off the rope to the bed and the other three all took the rope in hand.   Otto took his boots off and went in feet first, stepping into the portal, which gave him absolutely no resistance, so he went in fairly quickly, disappearing from sight almost immediately.   *              *              *   Otto fell down a long tunnel of stars and lights for what felt like a long time, but then found himself coming out, upwards, on the other side.  He found himself in a stark area with pieces of metal rising up around him.  Stretching out in all directions from his point of entry was a vast desert of thick, gray ash.  Protruding from the ash were bits of withered bone, hunks of rubble, and twisted pieces of corroded metal.  The sky above was gray with a reddish tinge, a dim orange sun that barely lit the land visible above the horizon.  A strange, high-pitched whine was everywhere.  There was a stench of fires long burning and something decaying.   All around him were strange circles of light, barely visible.  Strange prints were in the ash leading from each of them as well as footprints of mostly bare feet.  They all went off in the same directly, each of the tracks moving around the various holes.   He looked where he had come and touched it with his foot.  It went into the ground and he quickly pulled it back out.   *              *              *   “So, how are we taking bets on whether he comes back out of there?” Jacali asked.   Professor Stalloid noted he wanted to visit the marshal’s office.   “I think he’s going to make it,” Jacali said.  “Mr. Otto’s a cold-blooded killer of a man.  I think he’ll be fine.”   “Those monsters ain’t got **** on him,” Professor Stalloid said.   “I don’t know, I’ve seen him … run away from quite a few fights,” Jack West said.   “True, but maybe the means he’s more likely to survive,” Jacali said.   “True,” Jack West said.  “When I figure out bullets don’t work, I’m done as well.  But I haven’t seen that except for the Crest.  It said ‘no.’”   Jacali looked at him quizzically.   “When I shot it,” Jack West said.   “The Crest?” she said.   “Oh yeah.  It … uh … dematerialized my bullet.”   “Oh, the Crescent.”   “Crescent.  Crest.  Spaghetti.  Whatever you wanna call it.”   “What’s spaghetti?”   Jack West looked at her.   “That doesn’t sound like an English word,” she said.   “You never eaten Aye-talian?” Jack West said.   “What’s an Aye-talian?”   “It’s those people with the … uh … different color skin.  Uh … kind of like yourself a little bit but a little whiter, like me.”   Otto’s foot popped out of the floor and vanished back within.   “Oh … God,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I think he was just testing to see if he could come back through.  Everything’s still okay.  Let’s do one tug … and see if he does one tug back.”   *              *              *   Otto drew an “X” in the ash with his saber to mark where it was.  Then there was a solid tug on the rope.  He tugged back once.  He felt the slack on the rope go taut.  He took out one of his spare peacemakers and put it in the center of the “X.”  He walked a few feet off towards the tracks.   *              *              *   “Who’s climbing down next?” Jack West said.  “You want me to go?”   There was pulling on the rope and the other three gave it some slack until they were out.  It pulled tight against the bed until the bed started to move towards it a little bit.   “Untie it,” Jack West said.   “He knows he can only go so far, right?” Professor Stalloid said.   Then it went slack again.   A moment later, Otto came back through the portal out of nowhere, right at Jack West, who was startled.  They could smell smoke on him.   “So wait, you were just able to stand there and jump out?” Jack West said.   “Story time, Otto,” Jacali said.  “Tell us.”   “On the other side of the portal … you go through the portal, you see a spiral of stars and light before you enter this desolate, ashen, plain,” Otto said.  “Jagged peaks.”   He suddenly knelt and reached through the portal.  He’d forgotten his pistol.   “Oh, God, Otto, why?” Jacali said and looked away.   He pulled out the pistol.   “So, Otto, we’re good to go?” Jack West said.   “There’s nothing over there,” Otto said.  “Tracks.  Forever.”   Jack West looked at him.   “You went 30 feet,” he said.   “Well, what did you want me to do?” Otto said.   “So, we can explore.”   “But I feel weak after using the portal.”   “Oh, you’ll be fine.”   “You left your weapon in there?”   “So the portal would be noticeable.”   “You didn’t see the rope going into the top?”   “What do you mean by that?”   “You came down with a rope.  The rope should’ve been going through the portal still.”   Otto looked at him.   “That should’ve been your way back out,” Jack West said.   “When I went through the thing it was like I was standing on the ceiling and I came out up there,” Otto said.  “The rope.  Let’s say I came out under the side and upside down.”   “You were underneath.”   “I was not dangling.”   “So, what is the point of the rope?  Do we need it?”   “At least for safety purposes,” Jacali said.  “For the test.”   “I would say we need it,” Professor Stalloid said.  “If he came out, in his perspective of mind, he’s coming out of a ceiling and going down, right?”   “I just walked through a door when I went through it,” Otto said.  “I was still standing when I came through.”   Otto put his boots back on.   They discussed going through with Otto complaining he felt weak.  Jacali was for going through to try to find the missing people.  She pointed out the place was apparently not immediately dangerous.  They would have a chance to run if there was danger.   “I have to balance out what they call that karma deal,” Jack West.   There was talk of who was going to go through.  Jacali thought they were done with the rope but Jack West pointed out the general store would have more rope.  Jacali thought they should all go in together and protect each other while they were in there.  She was adamant to go.  Professor Stalloid was for whatever the group consensus was.   “Would you rather watch the outside?” Jack West said to Otto.   “Perhaps,” Otto said.   “Sounds like an Otto thing,” Jack West said.   Otto glared at the man and then took a swing at him, trying to punch him in the face with the sword guard.  Jack West slapped his hand aside, took a step back, and put his hand on his peacemaker.  The two men glared at each other.   “Do we need to take this outside, Otto?” Jack West said.   Otto sheathed his saber.   “Now we can focus on the children,” Jack West said.   They discussed Otto keeping watch again and talked about signaling the man if he didn’t go.  Professor Stalloid suggested he stay there as well and could put a piece of wood through and hold it and if they got in trouble they could shoot the piece of wood.   “I trust your aim,” he said.   “That is a terrible idea,” Otto said.   There was some discussion of how that might work or not work.  They eventually decided to all go in.  Otto said he was going to go to the general store.  Professor Stalloid took advantage of his going to head for the marshal’s office.   *              *              *   Otto found plenty of rope at the general store.  He also found a replacement for his Winchester carbine.  He left his broken Winchester behind and borrowed the new carbine, loading it, and headed back with the rope.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid found the marshal’s office locked up.  He tried to break down the door but it was solid.  He peeked through the bars and saw a desk covered with paperwork.  There appeared to be two cells in the back.  He walked across the street and aimed the lightning gun at the door.  There was a crack of thunder as the bolt struck the doorknob of the door, melting it and the lock within and burning it right off the door.   “It was me!” Professor Stalloid shouted.   He went to the door and found the blast had only damaged the handle.  He pushed on the door and it opened with a groan.  He went in to search out the room.   A pile of notes on Marshal Alba Churchill’s desk noted the disappearance of 13 children in the town, which were all of the children of Quiet Gap.  Each of the separate 13 reports went into detail on how the children disappeared from their rooms with no indication of forced entry or signs of anyone outside.  Dogs did not pick up any strange or unusual scents outside of any of the windows of the children’s rooms, some of which were on the second floor or upper loft of the building they were living in.  All of the events took place on the same night, September 17, two nights before the investigators arrived in Quiet Gap.  All of the children were between 1 and 13 years old.   The notes and reports further indicated that in most cases, the rooms were completely undisturbed though the children’s clothing and footwear were still there, indicating they must have been kidnapped wearing nothing but their underwear.  Nothing was missing from any of the rooms, making it unlikely the children ran away or left on their own.   However, in two cases, there was mention of sheets being pulled under the bed, which Marshal Churchill noted was strange and disturbing.  However, the child was obviously not under the bed.  He speculated the children in question might have hidden from whoever kidnapped them under the bed though that doesn’t really explain why the sheets seemed to have been pulled under there.   More notes indicated several posses of men went out on the 18th,  the day before the investigators arrived, in search of them.  No tracks, trace, or clue was found to any of the missing children.  A few notes indicated men would be sent to Paradise Valley in the north and Winnemucca in the south on the 19th to further the search and alert nearby towns of what had happened.  Nothing further was indicated, however, since the 18th, the day before they had arrived.   *              *              *   When Otto returned to the bank, Professor Stalloid was gone.  The other man returned after a little while, his hands filled with notes and reports.  He shared what he had learned.   “Sounds like two of the kids got dragged under,” he said.   “Betcha they all did,” Jack West said.   “No, I feel like some of them might have gotten coaxed under.”   “Or gently carried.  It doesn’t matter.  They’re down there.”   There was some discussion about use of the rope, how far the drop was, who was going to stay, and such.  It was finally decided they would all go through the portal.  Stalloid went outside and found some dark rocks to mark the portal on the other side.  Otto went to the smashed house and got some wood.  Jack West retrieved the bank door that survived mostly intact.  He felt around the portal and found it was about three feet across.   By the time they finally got organized, the blood-red light of the setting sun shone through the shutters.   Jack West went first.  He stood on the spot, holding the door, and then put down his hand and both he and the door dropped out of sight.  Professor Stalloid bent down and touched the portal, then somersaulted into the portal.   “Jacali, I would suggest you walk in rather than jump in,” Otto said.   “I would like to keep my shoes on,” she said.  “Do you think─”   “Just bend down and touch it.”   “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.”   She reached down and touched it with her hand and then slid her feet in and eased through the portal.   Otto took a minute to check all his equipment and then followed Jacali’s lead.   *              *              *   Jack West flopped out of the portal feet first and crashed to the ground clutching at the door.  A moment later, Professor Stalloid rolled out of the portal and stood at the end of his somersault.   “Tah-dah!” he said.   Jacali came out feet first but just pivoted over out of the ground to sit on the edge of the portal.  Professor Stalloid started putting his rocks around the portal to mark it.   It felt like a very long time before Otto came through the portal, easing out and standing on the ashy ground.  He had a rope tied around him.   They looked around at the strange, gray desert.  Otto thought they were in hell.  Jack West though they were on another planet.  Professor Stalloid thought they were in the “Underneath” as he called it to himself, perhaps some other dimension.  Jacali had no idea where they were.   The orange sun was setting and the area around them was lit.  They guessed there were more portals all around.  Tracks led from various spots around them, most of them meandering around but all going in the same direction.   Professor Stalloid jumped up and down.  He realized he felt lighter than he should have.  He looked at the sky and at the sun setting on the horizon.  He was certain they were not on Earth but on some other planet.  He was certain of it.  He could confirm it when he saw the night’s sky and saw the stars.   “Hey, I think we’re on another world,” he whispered to Jacali.  “Not Earth.”   “There are more?” she whispered back.   “Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.   Otto and Jacali led them after the tracks.  They were easy to follow though they both guessed that after only a day or two, the footprints would disappear with the blowing wind.  The tracks in the immediate vicinity moved around, apparently avoiding certain spots on the ground.  The tracks were a mix of footprints, mostly of bare feet, and strange prints they couldn’t identify: some long and some small.   They realized the way the tracks moved, if they were avoiding other portals, they were in a square area over a hundred yards across, and seemed to be in the same places where the houses of Quiet Gap were.  Or maybe where the beds of the town were.   Off to one side the opposite direction the tracks were going was the broken, burned, and smashed remains of a good-sized contemporary house.   “That oddly looks like the mayor’s house over there,” Otto said.  “I say we should go check it out before we go.”   “I concur,” Professor Stalloid said.   The wreckage did, indeed, appear to be made of the same wood as the mayor’s house had been.  The remains of the upper half of the house appeared to have been blasted with dynamite and was, for the most part, smashed to pieces.  They realized it was the part of the house that wasn’t around as debris.   “It looks like, when he had his dynamite accident, it caved in on the portal,” Jacali said.  “And this is the debris that flew through there.”   “But this is the top of the house,” Otto said.   “All I know is there’s no kids over there,” Jack West said.   “But how, if it collapsed in on itself would the top end up on this side and not the bottom, which is in our reality?” Otto said.   “Because it was pulled into the portal,” Professor Stalloid said.  “What I want to know is that if I go into there, and there’s a bed, is there a portal under it?”   “That’d be a possibility,” Jack West said.  “But it don’t matter ‘cause we got 30 other portals to use.”   “I know, but I want to know if he destroyed the portal in his house by doing this.  Or if it still exists somehow.”   “We’ll tell him to move!”   “I think finding the missing townspeople is more important,” Jacali said.   “They could be in the house,” Professor Stalloid said.   The tracks didn’t go to the house.   They moved on, following the tracks.  Twin moons rose over the horizon to the right, near an impossibly huge structure that seemed to be some kind of great building.  The stars were completely unrecognizable, as was the blood-red nebula across half the sky.  They all realized they were not on Earth anymore.   The trail didn’t lead anywhere near that building but to a flat area beyond the strange, broken hills.  As they crested the rise of a dune of ash some three miles beyond the portals, they saw another massive structure ahead of them.  Standing impossibly in the ash and sand was a great cube at least 100 yards across.  Unadorned except for the strange patterns upon it, the massive cube was where the trail was going.  It balanced impossibly on one corner and was huge.   They followed the trail that went around the side of the cube.  A huge mound of debris was piled up to what appeared to be a door in the side of the cube.  It formed a rough but solid ramp.  The metal of the cube was unlike any they had ever seen before and the entire structure was covered in strange and unrecognizable sigils and markings that had obviously been there for a great deal of time.    The doors had no hinges or handles but a large red button was on the wall next to it.  Jack West pressed it with his pistol and the doors slid open widely without a sound.  Lights flickered from within and there were small fires in some places.  A pall of smoke hung over the immense room that seemed to fill the cube.   Nearest to the door were several short walls forming a barricade.  They had apparently been supplemented by a great deal of debris, most of it once connected to the main barricades: metal and bone apparently.  Now, everything was in ruins.  The room itself was filled with great, broken buildings of all shapes and sizes, most of them several stories tall.  The road that ran from the door was wide.  The buildings are broken and obviously in ruins.    More disturbing were the buildings on the walls and ceiling of the interior.  Roads and avenues were on the walls and ceiling as well.  There were also doors in the other walls, both on their level of the cube and connecting to the other walls and ceiling, as if gravity were not a thought to the makers of the thing.  Even the ceiling had doors where it met the four walls of the cube.  They realized there was rubble and debris on all of the walls and ceiling as well.    Great ramps ran up and down from floor to ceiling in two of the corners and more ran from side to side between all four walls.  They were wide enough for a wagon but still looked small compared to the vastness of the great room overall.    Otto took cover behind the barricade.  Jack West sauntered into the huge room to look around more carefully.  Jacali moved into the room as well.  As each of them stepped into the room, the tilted floor seemed to right itself and they found themselves on solid ground.  Both Otto and Jacali searched the ground nearby for tracks without finding any.   Professor Stalloid peeked into the huge room before entering.  He saw another red button next to the door on one side and a lever on the other side.   “Let’s make sure this door opens on the other side too,” he said.   He stepped back from the door and pushed the button on the outside, closing the door.   Otto and Jacali noticed when the door closed, a light above it that glowed purple turned green.  Jacali pushed the button and saw that it was no longer leading outside.  Instead, it showed a more open area with smaller buildings of some sort.  The entire area seemed to be more regimented and controlled than the room they stood in.  Several metal or horn or ivory sleds of some kind lay in the street, all of them partially disassembled, missing parts, or corroded.    Jacali pressed the button again and the door closed.  The light remained green.  She looked around and found a lever on the opposite side of the door from the great red button.  It was up but she pulled it down and the light changed to purple again.  She pressed the button again and the door opened to reveal Stalloid outside of the cube.   Her eyes rolled up in her head and she fainted.  Otto rushed over to help the woman to help her.   Jack West, looking up at the other strange walls and ceiling, noticed movement.  There were a few spider-like creatures some distance away on two of the walls and on the ceiling.  The creatures didn’t seem to have noticed him but they moved strangely through the rubble and broken buildings.  He realized they must have been pretty big for him to see them so far away.  He also noticed buildings on the wall they had come in, sticking out as if the wall was also a floor.   He guessed when he stepped on the wall, it would turn into a floor for him.   Jacali was only out for a few seconds before she came to once again.   “Hey, so, quick question,” Jacali said.   “Yes,” Otto said.   “When I swung the lever, did the door go to a different place?”   “Yes.”   She looked at him.   “I hate this place,” she said.  “I want to go home.  This is awful.  Oh my goodness.”   He offered her a hand and helped her stand up.   “Let’s find these people,” she said.   They discussed the light changing color.  They noted it had changed green again when the door had closed and explained how the door led to different places.  They explained the lever to Professor Stalloid as well.   “Hey, there’s spiders on the ceiling,” Jack West said.   “What?” Jacali said.   They all looked at the things on the walls and ceiling and realized the creatures were clinging to the walls and ceiling as if each had its own gravity.  Otto tried to step onto the nearby wall but nothing happened.  It was just a wall.   Professor Stalloid, his face filled with mad hate, pulled the lightning gun from his shoulder.  Otto rushed the man and grabbed at the lightning gun.  The two men struggled with the case for a moment and Otto snatched it.  Stalloid pulled a stick of dynamite out of his pocket.  They saw it already had a blasting cap and a short fuse sticking out of it.  Out of his other pocket, he pulled out a box of matches.   Otto shoved the man and the two struggled.  Professor Stalloid’s eyes were wide and he looked back and forth between Otto and the spiders.  His mouth was open and he drooled copiously from it.  Something was obviously wrong with him.   Jack West turned around and saw the men apparently fighting over a stick of dynamite.  He laughed.   “What are you clowns doing?” he said.   “Help me!” Otto said.   Jacali ran behind Stalloid and tried to grab him but the man elbowed her in the gut and she stumbled back.   Jack West turned and walked away, heading for the nearest building.   “Bunch a clowns,” he muttered.  “Everybody knows I take the best pictures.”   Professor Stalloid lit the match and then set it to the fuse, which sputtered.  He looked straight up at the spider 60 or 70 yards above him.   “Save yourself!” Otto said.   He dropped the lightning gun and ran towards the barricade.  Jacali ran along the wall and launched herself over where the barricade met it.  Professor Stalloid flung the dynamite straight up and suddenly realized what he had done.  The stick didn’t hit the wall as if it was the ground, like he’d hoped, but arced and came directly back down.  He heard a gunshot as Jack West, having looked over his shoulder, fired at the stick of dynamite but missed.  Professor Stalloid, desperate, slapped the red button and flung himself through the door, ducking to the right in the room beyond.   Jack West, a little ways away, leapt into the building.   The explosion rocked the ground and sent terribly loud echoes throughout the place.  Stalloid was knocked to the ground in the next room and slightly injured.  Jacali and Otto had both crouched behind the barricade and their ears rang.  Otto looked over the barricade, expecting to see Professor Stalloid’s mangled corpse.  He saw the door closing and no sign of the man.   Jacali looked around, bow in hand, and saw the spiders all scuttling their direction.   *              *              *   Jack West looked around the room he was standing in.  There was debris and broken items in the place, as well as a ramp in the back that went up.  He didn’t recognize anything in the room so he made his way to the ramp.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid looked at the strange, regimented buildings and odd-looking sleds that littered the street of the room he found himself within.  He turned around and looked over the doorway.  There was no light over and he noticed there was no lever either, just the red button.  He pressed it carefully and the door opened to reveal the barricade and the blackened street.  He smelled gunpowder and saw Otto peeking over the short wall.  He strolled back into the room and Otto aimed his rifle at the man.  It was a very familiar feeling.  He didn’t like it.   “Are those spiders dead?” he asked.   “They’re coming over here now,” Otto said.   “Can I have my lightning gun?” Professor Stalloid said.   Otto just looked at the ground and it was then Professor Stalloid noticed the bits and pieces of wood and glass scattered in the area that looked like it had once been a camera.   “You need to throw that very far away!” Professor Stalloid said.   “No!” Otto said.   “No!  The-the stuff on the ground?  That needs to be gone!”   “Well, you do it!”   “Okay.”   He quickly gathered up the remains of the lightning gun and chucked it through the door before it closed.   “So … what happened?” Professor Stalloid said.   “You tired to kill us!” Otto said.   “I tried to kill spiders I thought.  Yeah yeah!  There was a spider behind me!”   “That was Jacali.”   “I’m not a spider!” Jacali said.   “Well, why did you try to stop me from killing spiders?” Professor Stalloid said.   “‘Cause now they know we’re here!” Otto said.   “Aren’t we here to stop them?”   “No.”   The creatures weren’t spiders and they resembled them only in that they had eight appendages.  The nearest was only a little smaller than a man but had a bulk to it that belied its size.  It had four thick tentacles holding up its greenish body and four others that sprouted from the sides like loose and flabby arms.  It had no discernible face, but more a series of claws or fangs that covered the front of its head.  The back was large and had strange bulbs upon it that might have served as some sense organ or might merely have been some sort of cancerous growth.   Professor Stalloid looked around for Jack West but saw no sign of him.  He shouted for the man.   *              *              *   Jack West Professor Stalloid shouting his name and went to a window in that direction.  He saw the others by the doors they’d first come in, Professor Stalloid running towards the building he was in.   *              *              *   Jacali looked at the things moving towards them.  One was coming down the nearest wall straight towards them.  Another was on the ceiling and heading for the same wall.  The last were off to the right on the wall there, heading towards the floor.  The one on the wall nearest was only about 20 feet away and Jacali shot at it, striking it with an arrow.  Otto put the rifle to his shoulder and fired directly after that, hitting the thing.  It stumbled and slumped to the ground.  It stopped moving.   It didn’t fall, as Jacali thought it would.   She saw the thing in the wall to the right head for one of the main doors like the one they had come in.   “I don’t feel like the kids are in this cube!” Jack West called.  “They’re in another cube through one of these other doors!”   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid ran into the building where he’d seen Jack West leaning out the window.  He saw the ramp in the back and ran up to join the other man on the second floor.   “We’re gonna get swarmed,” Professor Stalloid said.   “We better hurry,” Jack West said.  “We better get down.”   *              *              *   The creatures on the right wall had reached their floor and went through a door in it.  That’s when Jacali noticed another door in the floor of the room she was standing in, not far from the door they had entered.  She looked around but none of the other doors opened.   “What are we doing?” Jacali said to Otto.  “Are we following the others?  At least we should stay as a group.”   “Stay as a group,” Otto said.   They headed for the building they saw Stalloid enter.  They went up the ramp and found Professor Stalloid and Jack West there.   “Let’s go back down,” Jack West said.   He ran down the ramp.   “What?” Jacali said.  “Okay.  Fine.”   They followed and went back to the street.  Otto started searching for tracks.  Jacali looked as well and found signs of numerous people walking down the road recently.  She also found a handkerchief near the center of the great room but down the main road that led to the left.  She continued finding signs of people passing through leading all the way to the main door in that wall.   Unlike the door they had come in, it had neither a lever nor a light.    The room beyond was huge, another 100 yard by 100 yard room.  There were no buildings in that room at all though there were murals on all of the walls and the floor.  It was an ingenious mural that was made in such a way that no matter what floor a person might stand on, they could see the entirety of the mural.  Overall, the room had a central thoroughfare and was mostly open though there were small plinths, many of them with the remains of glass boxes, almost like display cases along the floor, walls, and ceiling.   Most interesting were the great murals.   Professor Stalloid told them what he thought the murals meant as he followed them from left to right.  They showed the evolution of the creatures from their earliest evolving from something from their seas to their creation of great cities and finally to the creation of the cubes, which floated what appeared to be hundreds of feet in the air square to the ground.  It also showed something similar to Professor Terwilliger’s rockets leaving an orb around a sun to other such orbs.  It showed more of the cubes with the inference that they were taken to other worlds in the star system.  Finally, it showed a select and smaller group of the creatures with markings coming from their heads creating what appeared to be gates, this time to other star systems.  There were also spiral nebulas shown, with the gates leading to them.   The Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy that existed, Professor Stalloid knew.  But the murals indicated that there were other galaxies, possibly hundreds if not thousands of them.  It was something he had never seen before.  These creatures had gone very far.  Everything known in contemporary astronomy was wrong.   However, the murals became cruder towards the end, at one point showing a strangely shaped creature with a tentacle where the face should be and then some kind of strange lights or mushrooms appearing all over one of the spheres.  A few of the rockets and cubes were shown leaving the sphere and some of the gates were also shown to be formed.  There was little after that.   “I feel like that mushroom orb is the one we are on,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And there were some sort of explosions beyond my comprehension.”   All of them but Otto suddenly realized the rooms they were in were the same size as the exterior of the cube.  Each of them was 100 yards on a side, as was the exterior of the cube.  They were in an impossible structure.   Jacali started looking for tracks again and found a bow and ribbon off to the right.  She guessed the townsfolk were taken in that direction.  Then she looked at the plinths, wondering if they were used to hold the Crescent.  They were all different shapes and sizes but she saw some that might have been large enough to house it.   They went to the door to the right and found themselves in another impossibly large room.  This one had more tall, broken buildings, these with storefronts, apparently.  It made them think of storefronts, at least.  They had a terrible time following the trail and lost it, wandering for an hour, entering one of the buildings but finding absolutely nothing there.   Jacali found some obvious clues she had missed the first time.  The trail led from the door they came into and then bore left to one of the great doors on wall.  They found that door ajar and a great room with low broken and shattered buildings beyond, only a few larger than two stories high.  The trail seemed to lead to the center of the cube on that floor where there was a low, solid structure with no windows.  It was about 40 or 50 feet on a side.  As they carefully approached the building, they saw there was a crude bar over the doors and could hear the sound of voices within.  They removed the bar and opened the door.   A field of purple glass and the semblance of a park was in the open-topped building, almost arrayed like some kind of athletic field.  There were dozens of people milling around, most of them in their underwear or nightshirts and with bare feet.  It looked like the population of the entire town was there.   “It’s time to go home, people,” Jack West said loudly.   The townsfolk looked their way, surprised and several rushed over to them.   “Listen!  We know the way out!” Jacali said.  “We can guide you all, but we need to stay together!”   People seemed confused and frightened.   A large muscular man wearing long johns but no shirt approached them, as did a small, mousy man, and a fully-dressed man who was missing a boot but wore a star on his vest.   “I see you wear your badge to sleep,” Jacali said.   “No, I was still up when they came out from under the bed,” Marshal Churchill said.  “I took a few shots at ‘em.  Then they got me.  But most of ‘em here was sleeping … and they said they never woke up.  But I saw ‘em being taken!  They were walking!  Some were being carried.  You can get us out of here?”   “We know the way we got here,” Jacali said.  “We’ll follow it back.”   “All right,” Marshal Churchill said.  “They took some of us away.  We don’t know where they went.  We don’t know what they did to ‘em.  Five or six of us.”   “Those people are probably gone,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Okay, hold on Mr. Stalloid!” Jacali said.   A little girl nearby burst into tears.   “It’s just probable,” Professor Stalloid said.   “Listen, do you know which way they went?” Jacali said.   “They took ‘em out the doors you just came in,” Marshal Churchill said.  “We can’t see outside.  What is this place?”   “It’s a hellscape,” Professor Stalloid said.   “William Jeffries, he just won’t say anything.  He just keeps staring at the ceiling.”   “Is the mayor here?”   “We haven’t seen the mayor.”   “He’s probably gone.”   “Shut up, Stalloid,” Otto said.   “Stalloid!  I think you’re making the situation a bit worse,” Jacali said.  “Why don’t we deal with the grave realities of the situation after we have people out of the hellscape?”   “Yeah yeah yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Yeah yeah yeah.  Hellscape.”   He looked over the people.   “If you don’t get out of here, you know this is a bad place, right?” Professor Stalloid said loudly.  “We’re all going to die.”   People started to panic.  A few women screamed and children cried and called to their mothers or fathers.  One little boy started slamming himself into a wall.  It was pandemonium.   “I don’t wanna die!” one man cried out.   Three or four people pushed by them and ran out of the open doors, fleeing.   “Nice going, Stalloid!” Otto said.   “Everyone stay still!” Jack West cried out.   He brandished his pistol.   “Shut up and listen, God damn it!” he cried out.   No one listened to him.   Jacali moved towards the doors and closed them.    “Everybody step out for a minute,” Jack West said.   The townsfolk surged forward in a panic.   “Let’s just get everybody out and we’ll come back for the other people!” Jacali said.   Jacali went out the doors and pointed down the street the way they’d come, then led them.  Otto stayed close to her.  Jack West exited the building but stepped aside to see that people got out.  Professor Stalloid stayed with him.   A little girl got knocked down by Otto and he swooped to her and snatched her up.  She was crying and holding the leg someone had stepped on.  He tossed aside the new Winchester as it didn’t have a strap.   A few people fled the wrong way.  A woman near Professor Stalloid was muttering “Where’s my husband?” and going off perpendicular to Jacali’s main mob.  She pushed by the man as he put his arms out and tried to point her in the right direction.  He told her to follow the war hero and pointed out Otto.  She was confused but headed in the correct direction.   On the other side, near Jack West, an old man seemed confused and out of sorts.   “I ain’t following no God-damned injun!” he said to Jack West.   “It is tough to do but they know where they’re going,” Jack West said.   The old man grudgingly went that direction.   Marshal Churchill tried to help guide the people, as did Doctor Groate, an old man in a nightshirt.  The big blacksmith slapped people who got out of line or shoved them in the right direction.  An intelligent-looking woman and another gentleman who had talked to them before were also trying to persuade people to keep moving and follow the people who were leading them out.  Only a few were keeping their heads however.  Most were terrified.   They had made it about halfway to the door when a little girl screamed and they saw she was pointing to an alley between two of the buildings.  Lying on the ground were several bloody bones that appeared to be human.  Her shriek was ear-piercing and loud.   Jack West moved forward and yelled for them to keep going.   Something peeked out of one of the houses.  It wasn’t human.  Jack West fired a single shot and the thing screeched and fell out of sight.   “C’mon, your homes are almost there!” Professor Stalloid shouted.  “We’re on our way!”   Everyone surged forward but they heard the sound of other alien screeches and then the sound of metal banging on metal and more loud, alien screeches.  Moments later the horrible creatures started pouring out of the houses on the floor, walls, and ceiling.  Most of them erupted from the buildings on the wall they were heading for, racing down the wall towards them.  They would not be able to make it through the door before the horrors got to them.   The townsfolk panicked again.   “Don’t stop running!” Jack West cried out.   At least a dozen people fainted, froze, or stood and watched the things, screaming.  One man started pounding his face with his fists like he was trying to blind himself as he shrieked and shrieked and shrieked.   Jack West opened fire, fanning his pistol, shooting three of the things.  Two of them stopped moving and the other, obviously badly injured, scuttled into one of the buildings on that wall.    Jacali looked around, unsure where to go.  She had stopped the townsfolk some 20 feet from the wall and the creatures swarmed around the door, unable to reach them but blocking their exit.  The things leapt up towards them but they were too far away.   Professor Stalloid suddenly realized the gravity was subjective.  It depended upon which door each room was entered from.  They had not seen any of the things scuttle from wall to wall or wall to ceiling or floor.  Just like them, the things were limited to the wall, ceiling, or floor they were upon.  He shouted it out for the rest to hear.   Jacali yelled for everyone to stay put and took out her bow.  It took her but a moment to realize there were far too many of the things to kill.  They were moving down the wall as Jack West fired at the things but others moved on the ceiling and other walls, going to doorways that would, presumably, lead them to ways to get to the villagers.  There were hundreds of the things.   She called for the townspeople to turn around and head off to the door on their left.  Jack West and Stalloid were now at the front of the group and they saw Jacali pointing to another door.  Jack West switched guns, holstering the one he held.  He opened the door there and saw they were back in the museum room.   He moved in along with the townsfolk and the others.  Jacali ran into the room to search the area and try to figure out where they had initially entered from and hope they were on the correct floor.  It was very quiet once Otto closed the door to the last room.  No sound came through whatsoever.   Professor Stalloid used the revolver Jack West had lent him to blast away at the button.  It shattered and there was a hissing noise.  Sparks came out of the thing and Professor Stalloid turned and ran.   Jacali realized they had originally come in the door directly across from the door they just entered.  She pointed the townsfolk to that door and led them towards it.   The door behind them opened and the horrible creatures burst in, not far from them.   When they entered the original room to the cube, they made their way to the door with the light, Jacali leading.  She got there before the rest and pushed up the lever, causing the light to turn purple.  She pressed the red button and the door lead out into the desert.   More of the creatures poured out of the door to the museum.  Jack West fired at them but they didn’t slow.  Professor Stalloid lit a piece of dynamite and dropped it at his feet.  He kept running.   Otto led the fleeing townsfolk.  After about half the villagers were out of the cube, Jacali ran out among them.   In the back, Professor Stalloid and Jack West were catching up to the group as they bottlenecked at the door.  They saw one little boy running and running and running behind everyone, trying to keep up.   “Grab him!” Professor Stalloid yelled.  “We’ll run together as a unit!”   “Just blow up the exit!” Jack West said.   He scooped up the boy and put him under one arm.  The kid was still moving his arms as if he was running.  Behind them, there was a blast and several of the things were blown to pieces or flung into the air as the dynamite Professor Stalloid dropped finally exploded.   Professor Stalloid brought up the rear as Jack West ran down the slope.  The scholar lit the dynamite and dropped it by the door.  Then he pressed the button as he left the cube.  He ran down the slope.   The things did not immediately come out, as Professor Stalloid had hopes.  It was several minutes before the door finally opened and the horrible creatures boiled out of the cube along with a good amount of smoke, but they had gained a decent lead on the horrible things, though Professor Stalloid was not terribly pleased to be in the very rear of their group and finding himself short of breath.   He realized there were hundreds of the things.   Jacali had moved to the front of the group of townsfolk and was leading them along with Otto.  Unfortunately, both Jack West and Stalloid were falling back, out of breath and with stitches in their sides.  Jack West put the kid down, but the child wasn’t making much better time than the two men.  The horrors were catching up.   When Jacali and Otto reached the place of portals, they saw that only about half the surviving townsfolk had kept up.  Others had fallen behind over the three miles between the cube and the spot, though Jack West and Professor Stalloid were bringing up the rear as the horrible creatures gained on them.   “Otto, it doesn’t matter which portal, right?” Jacali yelled at the man.  “Let’s just get them in the first.”   Otto got through a portal with the child as Jacali started telling people to get into the portals without jumping in.  Most were slowly entering the portals nearest the side of the field they approached.  Others fell through.  One little boy leapt into his and then fell back out, holding his head and climbing back in.   Most of the people were through when Jacali spotted Professor Stalloid and Jack West, along with a child, running with the horrible creatures close behind them.  Jack West dropped a piece of dynamite on the ground and planned to shoot it later.   “C’mon mister!” the little boy yelled at Jack West, grabbing his arm.  “C’mon!  C’mon.  God damn it!”   He slapped at Jack West’s arm.   “Don’t you die on me!” he cried out.   Jack West looked back, hoping to shoot the dynamite, but the things were all around it and couldn’t even see it.   Jacali ran to the three and grabbed the kid.   “No!” he shouted.  “Daddy!”   She ran to one of the nearby portals and put the boy down.   “Where do I go?” he said, taking a few steps and falling into one of the portals.   Jacali fired several arrows into the pack of the things before she felt them too close.  She killed at least one of them and injured three others.  Then she fled through the portal as one of the things lunged at her.   Jack West and Professor Stalloid followed them, the things very close behind and lunging at them as both of them entered the portals.   *              *              *   Otto had gone through the portal with the little girl near the front of the pack and found himself in a room he didn’t recognize.  Others started coming through and he handed off the girl to someone.  Someone struggled with the back door and someone else picked up a chair and busted open a window to escape.  He noticed the shutters were opened in the room.  Otto shoved the bed aside and went over to the back door where he smashed it open, leaving it hung there on one hinge.   *              *              *   Jack West came out in a hotel room.  He ran to the open door and out, rushing downstairs to find himself to find himself exiting the Six Feet Under Saloon next to the general store.  He ran for the livery stable.   *              *              *   Jacali came out of the room in the back of the general store.  The door was smashed out and the windows were all broken.  She recognized the place and ran out the front, heading for the livery stable.   *              *              *   Professor Stalloid came out in a hotel room and fled the Six Feet Under Saloon before the horrible creatures came after him.  He made for the bank where his horse was tethered.   *              *              *   It was very dark in the town with a waning moon well over half full.   Townsfolk were fleeing the town, running directly away as quickly as they could.  Professor Stalloid saw Marshal Churchill run to his office at a full sprint.  Other people ran towards the livery stable.   When Professor Stalloid got to his horse, he saw someone untying his reins from the broken hitching post.   “Hey, that’s my horse,” he said.  “You can ride with me but you can’t take it.”   The man looked at him for a moment.   “Okay!” the other man said.   They mounted up and rode out of town.   *              *              *   Otto reached the livery stable and found a man saddling up the horse.  He glared at the man.   “I’m not letting you ride that horse but you can ride with me,” he said.   “Okay!” the man said.   Otto helped him get the horse ready and they fled town.   *              *              *   When Jacali reached the livery stable she found several people saddling horses but the man in the stall with her horse cursed there was no saddle and fled.  She ran in, mounted up, and took off.   “Burn everything or leave!” she yelled.  “I’m not coming back here!”   *              *              *   Jack West sprinted to the livery stable and found his horse completely left alone.  He saddled it and put the saddlebags with the stolen money in it and then headed out of town going north.  He decided he would make tracks for Gravity Falls and meet the others later.  He wasn’t even going to stop that night.   As he rode out of town, he saw several people run out of the marshal’s office.  Then the door slammed shut.  Next he heard gunfire from the building.  First it was several reports from a peacemaker.  That was followed by shotgun and rifle blasts.   He passed an overweight man running from town.   Should’ve gotten a horse, he thought as he passed the man.   “Help me!” the man cried out.  “Please help me!”   “You’ll make it,” Jack West said to him.   *              *              *   Townsfolk fled the town in droves.   Jacali had fled to the great stones a mile from town and stopped at one of them.  She saw other people running out of town to the stones or to places between town and the stones.  Some of them flung themselves to the ground once they reached a place of relative safety.    They could see the horrible creatures moving around in the town and heard intermittent gunfire coming from someplace in Quiet Gap.    They watched the town carefully for the rest of the long and terrifying night.  They could hear someone crying in the distance and sometimes saw people moving around in the darkness in the distance.   *              *              *   The morning of Monday, September 20, 1875, saw everyone who hid outside of the town exhausted but happy for the light.  Townsfolk moved back into the now-empty town and Otto, Jacali, and Professor Stalloid also went back to the town.  There was no sign of the creatures and they learned things in the homes and businesses were disturbed but not taken.   Professor Stalloid suggested to Jacali that they tell the villagers to burn the town to the ground and leave.  She said she would make that announcement.   Otto went to the general store to retrieve his damaged Winchester.   They saw Marshal Churchill exit the jail and later learned he had barred the doors to the office and blasted away at any of the creatures that had come through the portals under the beds in the cells, holding off any things that came near the jail all night despite the wrecked door.   Jacali nodded at the man.  She gathered as many people together as she could.   “You all can take what you want from this place, you can grab all the valuables, you can burnt he rest,” she said to them.  “But as long as you stay here, if this is going to keep happening every night, or every night every few years.”   She described the rocks around the town, which all the townsfolk knew.   “The professor in town had found the old Paiute stories about this place but I think you all have seen the realities of it,” she said.  “I can’t tell you what to do but, if you stay here, nothing’s going to change.  I’m sorry.”   People nodded and crying.  They looked like refugees of some war.   “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said.  “I’m glad those who are here are still here.”   People started to ready themselves to leave the town.   At some point that morning, Thurston Smith, the banker, told the townsfolk the bank had been robbed and all the money held there was gone except for some gold dust.  People were devastated.  One woman sat on the ground and started bawling.   Marshal Churchill questioned who they were and got their names.  He wondered if they had seen anyone else in the town who might have robbed the bank.  He told them the bank was missing $7,000 in cash.  He needed to know if anyone else besides their rescuers had been in the town before as the loss of that money was going to ruin several people.   A little later, Professor Tennesley, librarian found Jacali, and told her he’d examined the strange opening under his bed to find it had shrunk to less than two feet across.  He believed it was continuing to shrink and would soon be gone.  She told the villagers they probably had another few years before the horrors came back, which explained why it had not happened in the town before then   People talked about camping outside of town every night until they could get out.  Others were flinging their beds out into the street and planning on sleeping on their mattresses that night.   *              *              *   Jack West was gone.  They saw no sign of him that day.   “Otto, Jack West isn’t a coward, he’s a rat,” Jacali told the other man.  “What do you think, Otto?  Should we talk to Stalloid about it?  He’s outside of town somewhere.”   “His opinion on the matter is somewhat clear,” Otto said.   “My only worry is it might make traveling with Jack West very difficult.”   “It would also make it conflicting for me and Clayton to go with him because he would have a bounty on his head.”   They were unsure what to do.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

Episode 02 (Peru) - Peruvian Expedition

In which an old friend from Episode 1 invites the player characters to help him with his current project.   Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.   At the end of last session, one of my players thought the name "Jackson Elias" sounded familiar. At the start of this session he announced to the group that he did some research and the character was from Lovecraft's works. I'm not sure he actually figured out what's happening and is  lying to preserve the surprise, if he slipped up in his research and didn't realize the character was from CoC games, or if he did find Masks but the Iceland and Peru content doesn't fit the classic use of a white Jackson Elias so he figured I was just using the name as a reference (as I do.)  Whatever the situation, I'm happy he didn't ruin the surprise for the rest of the table. I'm still able to play off the Lovecraftian hints and bits in the game as my own enjoyment of the mythos content, and catering the player that actively made an Arkham Scholar.   Anyways, this is the start of the Peru Prologue chapter from the newest edition of Masks. As written, it is supposed to serve as an intro to Jackson Elias and take place in 1921. My players have already met Jackson in July 1923, and I'm setting this in 1924. I've talked about this in forum posts, but moving this adventure to 1924 (still in March) works with very few changes to the timeline. By the end of this adventure, Jackson will be interested in learning more about Agustus Larkin, and Larkin being from Kenya it makes sense for Jackson to go there after a little research. As written, Jackson is supposed to be wandering all of Africa for many months, but I think this actually fits the timeline and Jackson's investigative skills better.   Cast of Player Characters Salim Dali - A negotiator, translator, expedition assistant extraordinaire. Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief. Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies. Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective. Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective. Doctor Bhisaj - Great War ambulance driver that recently completed medical training in London. A bit too trusting for his own good.   Keeping In Contact Since helping to rescue the players from Dragon Island in Episode 1, Jackson has been exchanging letters with the PCs. He ended up heading back to Iceland trying to find the island again so he could meet the tribe, see the snake tomb, and write it all up, but after spending nearly a week looking for it by boat and then even hiring a plane to a do a flyby, he was unable to locate it again. Neither he nor the players are aware that the island is unstuck in time and is only around every 10th day. He wouldn't believe it if he was told so either. He eventually shelved that book idea and headed to South America to follow up on some leads he had left over from researching The Smoking Heart years earlier.  In February the players each get a telegram from their friend Jackson: NEED HELP ON EXPEDITION STOP ... PLEASE ACCEPT LARKINS OFFER STOP  ... CALL ME JESSE HUGHES STOP ... BRING GIN AND LUCKY STAR TOBACCO STOP - JACKSON ELIAS Within a week they then get a letter from Agutus Larkin inviting them to join an expedition in Peru to seek a lost pyramid full of gold artifacts. He asks them to telegram him if they are interested as he is hoping to get his expedition going in March, before the summer ends (Summer in the southern hemisphere). When they do he replies with: THANK YOU FOR JOINING EXPEDITION STOP ... PLEASE JOIN ME IN LIMA STOP... HAVE BOOKED YOU ROOM AT HOTEL MAURY STOP ... MEET 18 MARCH 7PM AT BAR CORDANO STOP ... JIRON ANCASH 202 DISTRIOTO DE LIMA STOP -AGUSTUS LARKIN Most of the players got together and rode in Declan's flying boat down, arriving together a few hours early on March 18th.  While they flew, Sebastian the Arkham Scholar told the players what he had learned from the "snake bible" the picked up on the island. The book content was very short on Mythos lore, but Sebastian has the "I'm not saying it's the old ones... but it's the old ones" character aspect, so he interpreted it that way.  I enjoyed that because my descriptions of Loki in the hand-out were meant to hint at Nyarlathotep.   Lima Arriving in Lima, the players got a couple of hours to do highlight their characters. Declan and Sebastian tracked down a poisonous snake from a smuggler (because the spells in the Snake Bible mostly require one), and Declan also picked up a shipment of not-overly-defined illicit cargo (the joys of fate means we can later declare this as drugs, guns, explosives or anything else illicit as needed.) The thief got the lay of the land as far as criminal enterprises go, and Salim  scouted out the restaurant so he could get an good read on their potential new employers.  Eventually the meal proper started and everyone (except Dr. Bhisaj, whose player was running late so the character was too) got to do the entire social interaction thing more or less as written in the book. It went well, with the player developing all kinds of interesting ideas about what they were getting into.  They were especially shocked that Larkin had been so open about knowing the location of a pyramid full of gold, and was foolish enough to wander around with gold artifacts. That Mendoza was clearly his bodyguard made sense after that revelation as he clearly looked like a killer to them, and noted that he did not eat much and leered at Jackson for most of the meal. They were incredulous that Larkin was offering equal shares in the expedition to all that joined, and noted that he played up the gold to greedier PCs and the Culture to the PCs more interested in that angle. I really enjoyed their theory that Larkin, who is clearly unhealthy, was trying to lure people up to the pyramid so he could sacrifice them to regain his health.   After the meal they met with Jackson Elias, and Doctor Bhisaj showed up, who clued them in on his "fat-vampire stories are actually evidence of a death cult going back to the conquistadors" theory. He had to admit he didn't know how Larkin or the Pyramid actually fit in with his cult theory. With this new knowledge the players formulated a hypothesis of their own that Mendoza was trying or had recruited Larkin to his cause. The players agreed to meet up with Jackson the next day at the University to talk with his archeologist friend. It now being well into the night, the players headed out in various directions. A few of them tracked Larkin and Mendoza back to their hotel and charmed a maid to give them details on the two. Mendoza's apparent lack of sleep, Larkin's messy room and foul smelling sheets, etc. It was all suspicious but it didn't answer any questions.

Declan, the pilot, went out carousing with the local ladies and tried to take one home... so of course I made her a Kharisiri that was trying to implant him. A fight broke out and the rest of the party came to his rescue in his hotel room. They managed to knock the Kharisiri out, which left them with a problem: what to do with her.  A few good rolls later they managed to turn her over to a local gangster who's lieutenant she had fed on at some point earlier.   Now realizing they were dealing with real Kharisiri, they went to the meeting at the museum the next day with new concern.   Horror in the Museum All of the player join Jackson at the museum where he introduces them to his friend Professor Sanchez of the University's  Archeology department. The players briefly attempt to explain somewhat of what they encountered the night before to Jackson, but he insists that monsters aren't real and that Declan must have had his drink spiked. The characters quickly move on to expedition business. Dr. Sanchez explains that Larkin has rebuffed his attempts to join the expedition and that he expects Larkin is intending to simply loot the pyramid of its riches and sell them to collectors around the world.  Sanchez and Jackson were already considering a plan to get to the pyramid first and stake a claim to secure it in advance of Larkin's arrival.  The players, some hoping to help preserve Peruvian culture for the citizens of Peru and some simply interested in cutting out Larkin from the deal, agree to help.  The make a plan for Dr. Sanchez to fly out the next day in Declan's plane; a daring crossing of the mountains that will give Dr. Sanchez over half a week's head start on Larkin's trucks.   The trick, however, is that only Larkin knows the location of the pyramid.  Dr. Sanchez says he and his undergrad assistant have been researching a lead on that mater. They found a journal dating back to the time of Pizarro that might help. His assistant has been researching it, and in fast should be joining them any minute now. She was digging around in the basement stacks for an artifact mentioned in the journal.   My player immediately assumed she was already dead, but most of them rushed down anyway.  Declan remained behind to try and discus more about the gold in the pyramid. I planned on the players finding her corpse, still warm, but one of them invoked the character aspect "Right Place, Right Time" so I allowed them to come upon Mendoza still feeding on her. A fight, of course broke out. After the initial gunshot, even Declan came running. It was a fairly chaotic fight with probalby a third of the shelves of antiques knocked over, but after taking a few nasty blows I tried to get Mendoza out. My players put an end to that with a well worded "create advantage roll" bluffing that they had taken Larkin prisoner and invoking Mendoza's "Larkin's Guard Dog" aspect. It worked, and he came rushing back demanding to know where Larkin was is formal Spanish and waving around a sword that to the players' eyes may or may not have come from the museum's collection.  Salim started negotiating with him, but that end as soon as Declan shot him in the head. The player was thrilled to get to use the "Boring Conversation Anyway" stunt that gives him a bonus to ending a conversation with gunfire.

The Doc was able to stabilize Dr. Sanchez's assistant, although she needs to get to a hospital ASAP, and the group was able to show Jackson and Sanchez the strange lamprey like mouth on Mendoza, although it was starting to retract back to a human looking mouth as he lay dying.   I ended the session there, so the players will need to figure out how to handle a bleeding young woman, a man with his brains blown out, and a shocking amount of damage to museum artifacts immediately at the start of next session, because the racket they just made has the attention of the security guards, and the police are likely to follow.   Next Episode: 24 Hours in Lima   Art Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Máscara_Lambayeque2.JPG

HidingFromMyPlayers

HidingFromMyPlayers

Converting Peru to Fate

Later this week I will be running the second session/episode of my "secret" Pulp-Fate Conversion of Masks of Nyarlathotep. This session will be the first to use content from the (new) MoN Book, which means converting existing content instead of inventing new.  Mostly I'm using basic Fate Core rules, with some ideas from the Fate Adversary and Fate Horror Toolkits.  I'm not going to go into too much detail, but here are some broad concepts that other might find interesting or helpful:
  Converting Peru
In my Fate conversion, the players have a shared "Expedition Sheet" that is integrated into the campaign structure in a few ways. One of those ways is that it is used to track Location Aspects.  There are three such aspect: Location Concept, Location Trouble, and (an optional) Location Secret. The Location Concept is a general theme for the location. Trouble is an obvious difficulty that effects almost everyone present (for example: harsh weather), and the Secret is an initially hidden aspect defining the theme of the cult activity in the area. Resolving the secret triggers a Significant (or Major) Milestone. The general plan for my Masks conversion is to give every major location in the game (Peru, New York, London, Egypt, Kenya, Shanghai, and Australia) all three aspects. Any minor locations would have only the first two aspects (for example, my intro adventure: Escape from Dragon Island).   Location Concept: Extremes of Climate and Terrain The Peru Chapter features modern coastal Lima, highlands traditional Puno complete with potential floating homes, an expedition into the actual highlands, and a pyramid on a dead plateau. There are several climates, and potential altitude sickness. MoN spends some time talking about and making these a feature of the Peru chapter, so I'm making it the primary location aspect for Peru.   Location Trouble: Unequal Modernization Another point the chapter makes is that Lima is a modern city with a modern set of European style utilities and trollies. Despite this, some of the hotels still don't have phones.  The rest of the country is less European including a lack of train lines to Puno. Remember that trains are the 1920s standard for overland travel. Puno is described has more traditional with fewer European comforts. The expedition into the highlands is an on-foot affair into the wilds. This diversity of experience and access to European style comforts makes for a easy common trouble to hit players with on easy compels, particularly in Puno and the expedition beyond.   Location Secret: The Ancient Evil Stirs Once players get access to the journal of Gaspar, or the notes thereof, it will be clear that The Father of Maggots is up to something, and this aspect will be revealed. To "win" Peru and get a significant milestone, they will need to deal with that evil.  The wording here is intentionally a bit vague, and will fit well with the similar aspects planned for other locations in MoN.  It's also a useful aspect for me to invoke or compel when suddenly Peruvian fat vampires strike at the players unexpectedly.   Languages Upon arrival in Peru at the start of the session, I will offer all the players a compel to not speak Spanish. Anyone that accepts it will have trouble communicating, especially outside Lima. Those that pay a fate point to refuse (or in one character's case, uses his Stunt to refuse for free) will know Spanish. This is how I plan to use living language difficulties. Note that if any of the players were from a country that speaks Spanish natively, they wouldn't be offered the compel to start with. None of my players fit that category for Spanish.   Quechua and Aymara are a different story.  These are, globally speaking, rarer languages. I will require anyone wanting to speak them to invoke a relevant aspect explaining how they know the language. Even that might not be needed because the languages aren't a big factor in the story. Aymara shows up because it is spoken by Nayra, although she speaks Spanish also, so I'm not sure I'll need to use it. Quechua doesn't really feature in the storyline at all beyond a slang term for a graverobber.   Kharasiri The Peruvian fate vampires are generally very human like in most features. They have two specific power that I think require some mechanical features: Transformation and Regeneration. Everything else works with basic skills and actions. Each Kharasiri gets a transformation power that allows them to change as an action. This is essentially lets them Create Advantage to make a "Human Lamprey" aspect on themselves complete with Free Invoke.  Moreover, when they transform they get to make a free Provoke attack (inflicting mental stress) against anyone that hasn't seen a Kharasiri in true form yet. Regeneration is a stunt that lets me as the GM spend a fate point (from my pool into the player's shared Expedition pool) to bring any given dead Kharasiri back to life between scenes, unless they are dismembered/burned/etc. More generally they automatically overcome (heal but not fully remove) any physical consequences (injuries) between scenes.   Other Kharasiri features, like attaching to someone, draining them, or implanting a larva in them, is all handled by normal attack and create advantage mechanics, along with some basic stunts. Larkin & Nyarlathotep Converting Nyarlathotep's possession of Larkin is actually fairly easy because he is weak host for such a powerful being. Larkin's Fate stats are mostly built around being Larkin, including a Lies Upon Lies stunt. However, he also has a special stunt that is the kind of thing you only get to use as a GM: Possessed: For the cost of a GM Fate point paid to the Expedition Pool, Larking can become directly possessed by Nyarlthotp. His High Concept becomes “Weak Shell for a Dark God” and he gains the “God” skill at +5. The God skill can be used in place of Lore, Occult, Provoke, and Will.   Concealing The Truth About Larkin and Mendoza These two character are introduced to the players as humans, and the players are supposed to work out their inhuman truths. In addition to just strait up gaining new aspects when transformed/possessed, I'm going to use a pair of tricks to make this work, both from the Fate Core: First, hidden aspects. Not all of their aspects will be immediately apparent when players meet them. They will need to overcome with relevant skills to uncover the missing aspects.  Second, these aspects will not be "undead conquistador" but instead aspects that imply something without saying it outright. Players may not understand it all until it becomes obvious. The trick is to develop character aspects you could invoke for supernatural effects without saying them outright. This works especially well when mixed in with aspects that are just straight up character traits. Larkin High Concept: Charismatic Expedition Leader Trouble: Clearly Not As Healthy As He Pretends To Be The chapter makes it clear Larkin doesn't look healthy, so I decided this didn't need to be secret. Well-Travelled British Dilettante of Some Means * Intuition and A Plan, In That Order (Secret) This one covers the subtle influence of a dark god on his mind. * Always Looking to the Future (Secret) This covers not only Larkin's push towards how great things will be when they get to the gold artifacts in the pyramid, but also his dislike/inability to talk or even clearly remember his past. Mendoza High Concept: Larkin’s Loyal Guard Dog Trouble: Big On Leering, Short On Conversation (Doesn’t speak English) * Funny Eating Habits (Secret) Mendoza doesn't show much interest in his food at the restaurant where they meet him. Later it will become clear what he really eats. * Surprisingly Tough (Secret) This seems straightforward but it's also connected to his regeneration. When they later read he was shot in the face by Gaspar, it will be a surprise. * Doesn’t Trust “Jesse” or his friends (Secret)   Creative Commons Art Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LacSibinacocha_Perou.jpg

HidingFromMyPlayers

HidingFromMyPlayers

Episode 01 (Iceland) - Escape from Dragon Island

In which the player character come together to overcome adversity and in the most pulp into adventure I could come up.   Reminder: I've told my players we are running a 1920s pulp game using Fate Core rules with some fairly subtle magic. They don't yet know this is the start of Mask of Nyarlathotep or even a CoC inspired setting.   This is a recap of the first episode I ran for them last Thursday.  My previous post talked about the characters they created using the Fate Core phase trio. Unfortunately the player of the unnamed gangster dropped out of the game, and the player of Doctor Bhisaj wasn't able to make it for this game.  I won't recap the character creation session too much, but as a reminder, one player is secretly playing an ancient mummy, although he looks human enough. Another player is playing an Arkham scholar, which is extra fun considering the players don't yet know this is a CoC scenario.   Cast of Player Characters Salim Dali - A negotiator, translator, expedition assistant extraordinaire. Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief. Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies. Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective. Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.   HMS Airship R99 July 1923 - Great Brittan has just completed a shakedown London to New York trip of their new R99 airship, a converted war zeppelin Britain demanded from Germany. It's part of the Burney scheme to link the distant parts of the Empire. Each player has booked passage, stolen a ticket, or in one case shipped themselves as cargo. Initially the players prepare for some ship based intrigue. The thief steals the porter's keys. The occult scholar activated his magic keys with a ritual in his room. The negotiator starts making business contacts with the wealthy and powerful of London. The pilot attempts to avoid the young blonde woman's father and brother, etc. They barely notice when the captain ship veers north to try and avoid a storm in the Atlantic. They defiantly notice that night when I placed a "She's Breaking Apart!" aspect into play. The mummy character pulled himself out of the crate when the weather got nasty enough and attempted to cast a weather calming spell, but I compelled the new aspect before he could spend the 30 minutes on the spell, and broke the ship in half. The front half of the ship burst into flames from a lighting strike, while the back half, with the players and most passengers in the less lethal back half. They landed in water, which they were surprised to find both warm and an unsalted.   Dreki Eyja When dawn came they found themselves in shrouded in fog standing atop an improvised raft on a warm lake. They couldn't see shore, but they could hear tropical birds and see the smoldering glow of the front half of the ship that was still burning (a clear sign it wasn't on the water.)  Reaching shore they discover a beach of stones leading up to a primeval forest full of birds and plants they don't recognize. I then hand them their team Expedition Sheet and give the Location Aspect as "Island that Time Forgot." They looked for survivors in the wreckage (one player did poorly and had to deal with mental stress from the corpses,  and ended up taking some consequences) and did manage to save a couple of people. The thief wrangled up the children, some now orphans, and the mummy (who of course just looks like a Englishman of color) managed to find the wireless set, damaged, but functional. Over the radio, he finds a drunk Norwegian sailor singing shanties. A nice test of the language system, most of the players accept a compel to not speak the language, but one player pays the fate point to refuse and another has a stunt that make is free for them to speak living languages (he can still accept the compel for a fate point if he wants.)  Eventually they get a hold of a sober American (the sailor calls him the passenger) on the ship and learn some interesting facts: The airship apparently went down 10 days ago, despite the players clearly experiencing it the night before the wreckage still being somewhat on fire. Ships as part of a search party spent a week looking for wreckage or survivors but found none. They island, shrouded in fog and only located by ship after they followed the radio signal, wasn't there the day before. The captain of the ship swore they came that way the day before in clear weather and there was not island in sight. The island seems to be a lot of cliffs along the shore, although the ship can see a river emptying out of cave. The passenger heard a story from a sailor in a dockside bar in Iceland about a cursed island that could only be located when the fog was bad. The island was surrounded by cliffs and full of wonders and dangers. The locals call it Dreki Eyja, roughly Dragon Island in English, because it was said to be home to a terrible serpent god. The PCs start to debate the right course of action to move forward with. The mummy uses his weather magic to push back the fog a bit and they can now see the entire steamy lake, the primeval forests, and sheer stone cliffs of the caldera this is all in.  Some of the players think they should follow the river out of the lake to the beach where the ship can pick them up.  Some of them think they should build a camp and wait for the Royal Navy to come get them. That's when I pointed out the trees in the forest shaking, and terrifying roar coming from that same direction. I placed the Location Trouble Aspect "Escape from Dragon Island" on the expedition sheet.   The Serpent God of Dragon Island At this point a massive dinosaur (Spinosaurus) clambers out of the tree line and delivers a terrifying roar (backed up by a creature stunt and an invoke on the "Serpent God" aspect to make a potent fear based mental attack on everyone present.) I expected the players, who had looted rifles from the wreckage of the airship, to fire on it, discover it was immune to standard weapons, and flee in the same direction as the other crash survivors (who did not handle a "dragon" well.)  This was of course foolish of me.  My players intuitively decided a monster so big was not worth shooting at. They immediately formed a plan to lure the creature into the wreckage of the airship and detonate all the remaining hydrogen tanks they could fine.  What followed was an entertaining battle where the players split their activities between manipulating the dragon and setting up the explosive, while the dragon tried to eat them. Their plan proved successful, and they manged to kill the beast in a giant explosion that also wiped out the radio.   Island of Serpents The destruction of the airship wreckage wiped out most of the resources the players had considered using to setup camp with so they opted to follow the river to the coast and hope the Norwegian ship would be able to pick them up. Along the way they discovered a serpent themed alter in a swamp (See future connection to the Serpent of Soho side quest) and at the top of a path to where the lower jungles of the island, a series of pillars where sacrifices were clearly offered up to the god.  They also discovered massive stone carvings of serpents, some 20 stories tall and looking over the island. It was obvious that the culture that once built the tall statues and alter was far more advanced than the primitive tribe offering sacrifices at the pillars. They also discovered a pyramid shaped burial mound. Inside they found a few remains, one near the back clutching a modified bible (their first occult tome), and what appeared to be a bolder sealing up a hole in the ground. They opted not to see what was trapped under it. They continued on along the river's edge, eventually meeting the local tribe of island: a race that seemed part Celtic and part neanderthal. They spoke a broken kind of Icelandic, but a couple player characters were able to communicate. Thanks to some quick talking, they managed to convince the tribe that the death of their god was a good thing ("feast on its meat and absorb its power") and the tribe rejoiced... until the pilot (Trouble aspect: Foot Placed Squarely In Mouth) blasphemed and next think you know they are chased down the river, through the tunnel, and onto the beach with spears being hurled at them.   Escape! On the beach, the players are rescued by the Norwegian freighter crew, and meet Jackson Elias, the English speaking African American passenger. Over the three day journey to Iceland, he trades stories with them about dealing with tribes and cults.  The players each go their own way after that.   GM Note: Possible Problems for my Evil Plans One of players made a special note of Jackson Elias's full name and appeared to be googling it on his phone. I'm not sure if it sounded familiar or if he just doesn't trust me after the last game I ran (time travel) where the players spent months doing jobs for a guy in a suit named Mr. Riddle before they finally met his younger self outside a Michigan dinner in the 1970s and found out his full name was James Riddle Hoffa. Jackson Elias is a unique enough name that if he did google it he will know what scenario I am planning to run. If he googled it in relation to "Dragon Island" he will probably find my posts here on Yog and thus know even more about what's going on.   In fact, just in case he finds this blog: Hey Mike, stop Cheating!   Connections to the Larger Plot The main goals of this scenario was to help bring the players together, to get the pulp feel across,  to introduce several mechanics like making Will defense rolls against disturbing situations and terrifying beasts, to get them their first occult tome, and of course to introduce Jackson Elias in a way that hopeful endears him to the players.  It also has some other more minor goals. First, the location may be used again. One bit of weirdness of the island was the passage of time.  The players crashed one night and the next morning it was 10 days later to the outside world. This was intentional on my part because the island was built by the Serpentmen empire long ago as a temporal life raft.  This may come up again later when the players encounter the serpent alter painting/time gate in the London side quest. The second connection to the larger plot is just a bit of foreshadowing: the occult tome they have found in the step pyramid shaped burial mound contains references to Loki the many faced who will bring about Ragnarok when the giants from beyond fire, ice, and time will come and destroy the world. The book also gives a little bit more background on the island, it's current tribe of semi-humans, and hints at serpent people able to take on human form and use potent magic.

Next time... Next session, available here, is the start of the Peru chapter from the new MoN.

HidingFromMyPlayers

HidingFromMyPlayers

 

The Scorched Secret

Monday, September 3, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Scorched Secret” Sunday, September 2, 2018, from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. with John Leppard, James Brown, Amy Rooks, Haylee Bryce Nicol, and Kyle Matheson.)   When Matilda Terwilliger showed up at Devil’s Gulch on Saturday, August 21, 1875 on the 3:00 train, she found the investigators and told them her father had been kidnapped.  She didn’t know much but told them she had gone into town on the morning of August 15, a Sunday almost two weeks ago, to buy supplies and groceries for the farm.  When she returned around noon, she found the laboratory a mess, not the way her father kept it, and her father gone.  She searched the farm and the surrounding area until nightfall but, when he didn’t return or contact her, she assumed he had been taken.  She went to the authorities in Oakland that night, talking to the Alameda County Sheriff and police from Oakland.  They told her they’d do what they could but expected a ransom note.   When no ransom note came, she hired hunters and trackers to try to follow the trail, but a rainstorm the night before had washed out most traces of the tracks and even hunting dogs were stymied by aniseed put down in the few tracks found to the east.   When no ransom note had been delivered by the 17th, she returned to Oakland and got in touch with Xavier Manzanedo, a Harvard graduate and friend of her father who had worked as an assistant with the man off and on in the three years they had lived there.  He agreed to stay at the farm to keep a lookout for any ransom note and ride into Oakland every day to keep in contact with her via telegraph.   She left for Devil’s Gulch, which she had heard the others taking of, on the 18th, sending telegrams back to Manzanedo daily and learning nothing new had been found of her father in that time.   Unfortunately, Olphelia had fallen ill that morning and Dr Weisswald refused to leave the serpent person until she could nurse her back to health.  Jacali wanted to stay with her and Gemma Jones wanted to stay to help her sister with her damaged saloon.  Robert Dunspar was ready to return to Oakland and through with the insane adventures and Jerimiah Bowen had already left to pan for gold.   Lambert Otto volunteered to help find the strange professor.  He was 31 years old and had black hair and a goatee and mustache.  A nasty scar ran down the right side of his face.  He wore a bowler and a long duster.  An army saber was strapped on one side of his belt and a six-gun on the other.  He carried a Winchester rifle.   He told her he’d help her as the Terwilligers had helped him after his troubles in Chinatown in early June.  They left on the next train.   *              *              *   Jack West was a tall drink of water with white hair that made him look older than his 26 years.  It also contrasted starkly with the black hat, gloves, and duster he wore.  His face was terribly burned on the left side with a small hole in his left cheek.  He would have been handsome if not for the mutilation.  He wore two peacemakers on his belt, one of them with gold engravings and an ivory handle, the other black metal with gold engravings.  Both looked very expensive.   He had left the others in Denver after retrieving the body for the serpent person to disguise herself with a month before.  He suspected she didn’t like him very much though he was very curious about her.   He had followed rumors of John Valentine to the area of Oakland.   He was at the train station in Oakland, California, on the morning of Wednesday, August 25, 1875, when he saw Lambert Otto step off the train with a beautiful young blond woman who carried a Springfield rifle over her shoulder and wore pants.    *              *              *   Emerald Sho was Chinese by heritage but born in America.  She had long, black hair in a braid on her left side.  She was nearly five and a half feet tall and buxom though very slim.  She wore a dark blue riding skirt, cut below the knee but made to allow plenty of movement.  Hidden under the skirt was an Arkansas toothpick in her garter.  She wore a gun belt with a Colt peacemaker.   Miss Sho was an outlaw and in charge of the Sho Mau gang, a group of criminals based out of Chinatown.  She didn’t lead the group directly, however, but was more of a puppet master with her puppet being Edward Showman, who was “in charge” of the Showman Gang.  Her tendrils reached deeper than San Francisco, however.  She had the service of others outside of the city as well.   She had come to Oakland from Chinatown that day to talk to one of her men.  According to the books, it looked like he was skimming off the top.  When she examined them herself, however, she just found that the man was merely incompetent and bad at math.   She had been on her way back to the docks to take a ferry to San Francisco when she spotted Lambert Otto.  She recognized the man in the bowler and thought he might have had something to do with the odd troubles in Chinatown in early June.  Rumor had it two of the tongs had gone to war and somehow a demon had been involved.  There was cause for concern and she had heard rumors about a man in a bowler with a saber who had killed a hatchetman at one of the tong’s brothels.   She stayed out of sight but tried to eavesdrop on what they were talking about.   *              *              *   As Matilda told Jack West about what had happened to her father, her face suddenly lit up and she said hello to another woman at the train station.   Johanna Lee was a plain young woman of 25 years.  She was a politician and a suffragette, a wealthy young woman who was using her family’s money to rally the women of the west together for the right to vote and live their own lives.  She was about 5’2” tall and thin with brown hair and eyes.  She had freckles.  She kept her hair up most of the time and wore glasses to make herself look more scholarly though she was able to see perfectly well.  She wore very nice clothing, though pants instead of a dress or skirt, which made her stand out.   She was at the train station when she saw Matilda Terwilliger, who had attended numerous suffragette meetings and rallies in Oakland area.  She had read in the Oakland Press over the last few weeks of her father’s kidnapping.   Joanna was surprised at the two rough gentlemen with her.   “Matilda,” West said.  “Did you mention any kind of reward … for assistance?”   “No,” Matilda said.  “But I’m sure my father would reward you once he’s found.  Or I can gather some money together if need be.”   West frowned.   “We don’t have a lot,” Matilda said.   “You know, he could always make something for those weapons of yours,” Lambert said.   “How’s he gonna make it better?” West said, touching his peacemaker.   “You’ve seen what he’s made before.”   “Seen how well that thing can hit too.”   “It’s just a thought.”   “Any help would be appreciated,” Matilda said.   “Maybe you should think about doing it without a reward,” Miss Lee said.  “Maybe from the kindness of your hearts?”   Matilda apologized and introduced Miss Lee to Otto.   “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met?” she said to West.   “Otto tends to forget to introduce me sometimes,” West said.  “The name’s Jack West.”   Matilda introduced him to her as well.   “She’s a friend of mine,” Matilda said.   “Another woman in pants?” West said.   Miss Lee gave him a cold glare and Matilda noted she was working for woman’s freedom.  Otto nodded to Miss Lee with respect at that notion.   “You’ve earned respect from me, sir,” Miss Lee said.   “Thank you,” Otto said.   A surrey pulled up, driven by a young Spanish man with a mustache and wearing a suit.  A bowler was atop his head.  Matilda introduced him as Xavier Manzanedo, who had worked with her father in the past, and held two PhD’s.  West was visibly confused at what appeared to be a Mexican with multiple degrees.  Manzanedo greeted them with a smile.  Matilda noted she had been in touch with him every day via telegraph.  He said there was no news that day.   Manzanedo helped them with their luggage and Matilda invited Miss Lee to come with them to help if she’d like.   “Of course!” Miss Lee said.   They headed for the livery stables to get West and Miss Lee’s horses.   *              *              *   Emerald had read about the disappearance of Marion Terwilliger.  The man’s kidnapping had been written up in The Morning Call, one of the newspapers of San Francisco.  She found it interesting that the man who had murdered a hatchetman in Chinatown was somehow involved in the search for a kidnapped man.  Intrigued, she followed them to the livery stables.   While the others saddled up horses, she found one of her men in Oakland: Al.  She wanted to slip a message to Lambert Otto.   “Let me get Bert,” the man said.   He was back in a few minutes with a short man with a baby face.  Though he was in his 20s, he looked like he was about 14.  He was the best pickpocket in Oakland in Miss Sho’s employ.   Otto was standing by his horse, taking his rifle apart and carefully examining one of the pieces.  Bert walked by the man, barely grazes him, and tucked the note she had written in his pocket.  Then he disappeared around the side of the livery table.   *              *              *   Otto was putting his rifle back together when he noticed a piece of paper in his pocket that hadn’t been there before.  It read:   “The Showmen are looking for you.  Come find us in Chinatown.”   He went pale and started sweating, looking around nervously.  He showed the note to Matilda and asked if she knew what the Showmen were.  She had no idea, but admitted she didn’t go to San Francisco very much.  She usually went when her father wanted to go to see shows.   Otto didn’t recognize the name Showmen.  He didn’t think either of the tongs they had dealt with two months ago had been called the Showmen.   “What do you want to talk to us about at the ranch?” Otto said.   She told him she hoped they could help track down her father.   “Is your friend a detective?” she asked, indicating Jack West.   “Uh … I’d say he’s a gunslinger,” Otto said.  “Might be a good term.”   “Oh, well, I need someone to try to help me track down my father.”   “Well, I’m fairly good at it.”   “Right.  Or try to figure out what course of action to take.”   “I don’t have my injun with me today,” Jack West said, having overheard the conversation.   “Your locomotive?” Matilda said.   “American Indian.”   “Oh.”   “Jacali isn’t here,” Otto said.   “That one either,” West said.   “Oh, I forgot you had another one,” Otto said.   “I’m hoping you can help me find my father,” Matilda said.  “I’ve exhausted all the leads I can think of.”   “You helped me out so I figure it’s best I just help you out.  Favor for favor.”   *              *              *   Miss Sho was surprised to see the group was not heading towards the docks but, instead, heading through town to the north.  Three of them were on horseback and the other two were in the surrey.  She looked around and saw Al standing across the street, watching her.  She motioned him over and told him she needed a distraction so she could steal a horse.  He nodded and ran into the livery stable.   “There’s a lady down the street!” he shouted.  “She’s buck nekkid!”   The two men looked at him like he was crazy.  He looked back at them and then, frazzled, ran back out of the livery stable and down the street.   He wasn’t a very good distraction-maker.   She decided to follow the others on foot.  She snatched an empty basket from a storefront as she went.   *              *              *   Nervous, Otto looked about himself.  Finding the note had made him paranoid and left him out of sorts.  When he saw a woman a hundred yards or so down the road behind them after they had left town, walking the same direction they were, it unnerved him even more.  It was a woman in dark blue riding clothes with dark hair.  She carried a basket.  He couldn’t tell if she was Chinese or not, but feared she was.   Jack West noticed the woman as well, but didn’t really care.   Otto unslung his Winchester from his back and held it in front of him.  He kept looking over his shoulder.   What is Otto doing? West thought.   The Terwilliger farm was a few miles outside of Oakland and took them about an hour to get to.  It stood by a mile-wide lake and consisted of a tidy, two-story farmhouse and a large barn and corral.  There was also a chicken coop that now housed chickens.  A tall wooden and metal tower stood near the barn and was connected to it via wires.  A rounded metallic device the size of a wagon was atop it.  More wires led into the woods nearby and they could hear the gurgle of a creek or stream there.   On the lake near the farm was a 50-foot-tall tower with a platform atop it.   Another farm was visible on the far side of the lake amid the trees.    Manzanedo climbed out of the surrey and opened the gate, leaving it open behind them as he drove the vehicle to the barn.  They all got to work unsaddling the horses and pulling them out of their girths and straps.   Otto dismounted and pulled the saddle off his horse.  Then he ran to the chicken coop and crawled in, moving to the side of the coop facing the road.   “That guy ain’t right,” Jack West said.   Oh my God, Miss Lee thought.  This is the reason men are stupid.   Inside the chicken coop, the chickens started to make a commotion, obviously irritated with Otto being in there.  They made a real racket.  Embarrassed, Otto crawled back out of the coop, head hung low, and walked back over to the barn where he rubbed down his horse.   *              *              *   By the road, Miss Sho had seen the entire display.   He might not be the man I’m looking for, she thought.   She had recognized Johanna Lee as they had met once in passing so walked up the lane to the house.   “Johanna, it’s so nice to see you!” she called ahead of herself.  “I was just in Oakland!”   Otto, who had his back to the road, spun around and saw it was a Chinese woman!  He put his hand on his saber and looked at the woman in terror.   Miss Lee recognized the Chinese woman though she didn’t remember her name.   “First of all, why are you at this farm if you were just in Oakland?” she said.  “Did you follow us here?”   “No, of course I didn’t,” Miss Sho said.   “She did!” Otto said.   “She did?” Miss Lee said.   “I saw her on the road!” Otto said.   “I saw her earlier too,” West said.   “Are you sure?” Miss Sho said.  “There are many Chinese people here.”   “Yeah, I don’t know if I believe you men-folk,” Miss Lee said.   “There was one woman following us on the road,” Otto said.   “Can you prove it was a Chinese woman?”   “She was too far away.”   “Honestly, I don’t care,” West said.   “She was wearing that color dress though,” Otto said.   “Typical,” Miss Lee said.   “Blue,” Otto said.  “And she’s wearing blue.  So …”   “It’s a very fashionable color,” Miss Sho said.   “It’s a very poor color to follow someone in,” Otto said.   “It looks nice though,” West said.   “Thank you,” Miss Sho said.   Matilda looked at the men and then Miss Sho.   “Were you following us?” she said.   “No, of course not,” Miss Sho said.   “She was!” Otto said.   “That’s the easiest way to find out,” Matilda said.   “I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt,” Miss Lee said.   “You’ll have to excuse our friend,” Matilda said to Miss Sho.  “He ran into some trouble in Chinatown a few months ago.”   “Hit his head a few times,” West said.   “Oh, truly?” Miss Sho said to Matilda.   “Yes,” Otto said.   “Can’t spare any more brain cells, I’m sure,” Miss Lee said.   “I won’t say anything more, but you can tell her whatever you want,” Matilda said to Otto.   “I’m fine right now,” Otto said.   “Lambert was helping my father a couple months ago as well, but that was well before my father was kidnapped,” Matilda said.  “I’m Matilda Terwilliger.”   “Nice to meet you,” Miss Sho said.  “I’m Emerald.”   “Emerald?”   “Yes.”   “That’s beautiful.”   “Oh yes,” Miss Lee said.  “Now I remember you.  You were at one of my rallies.”   “Of course I was,” Miss Sho said.  “Empowered women.”   Matilda told Miss Sho about her father’s kidnapping, noting the men and Miss Lee were going to help her find him.  She said she felt like she was at her wit’s end.   “Well, a fellow woman will always offer to help and I am more than willing to help you,” Miss Sho said.   “I might have a few connections,” Miss Lee said.   Matilda thanked them both and noted the men who had come to find tracks with dogs told her the kidnappers had used aniseed to throw off the scent and the recent rains had destroyed most traces of any tracks.  She didn’t know what to do but noted Otto was a tracker and bounty hunter.  She said anything they could do so help her would be appreciated.   Manzanedo went to prepare some food and drink.   “My father was very meticulous with his tools and supplies,” Matilda said.  “He never left a mess like this.”   The main part of the barn was set up as some kind of laboratory, probably specializing in electricity and electrical devices.  There were also lab tables with chemicals and others with machines.  Several cameras sat on one shelf, next to a few demon lamps.  Two wagons with steam engines set atop them and wicker baskets large enough to hold a pair of men stood on one side.  Two pairs of large wings were hung on a wall, one of them water-damaged.  One table held a device about a foot tall made of bronze, obviously unfinished.  Some devices hummed with power or crackled with electricity. On one side was what appeared to be a signal rocket, but it was made of metal and was over 20 feet long.  It lay on its side with a panel off, filled with strange wiring.   He seems like an eccentric man, Miss Shot thought.   It looked like there had been a scuffle in the room and the place was in disarray.  Otto looked over the tracks as Matilda told them she and Xavier had tried to disturb nothing in the laboratory.  He told her that, from the tracks, it looked like two men entered the room and there was a struggle.  He followed them out and saw they went to the east before they disappeared.   Miss Lee asked if Matilda knew of any of the newer inventions her father was working on, suggesting he might have made an enemy or a rival.   “Well, he’s been working on his rocket,” Matilda said. “He wants to get to the moon.”   She shook her head.   “These devices here are his static electricity generator batteries,” she said, indicating the cameras.  “The discharge from them can be … quite spectacular.  He had recently finished up … he had called these his incapacitators.”   She pointed out the small demon lamps.  They were normally oil small oil lamps but appeared to have some kind of apparatus within them now.   “They spit a bit of electricity out that can stun a man,” she said.   “Can I look at it?” Otto said.   Professor Terwilliger had been working on them the last time he had been to the farm.   “If you want to,” Matilda said, handing him one.  “Be careful.  Don’t discharge it.”   She also pointed out the Steam Powered Town and Country Velocipedes, but noted he hadn’t really gotten them working yet.   “So, how does this work?” Otto said, looking at the lamp.   Matilda took the lamp and held it out, touching a button on the side.  A bluish bolt of sparks came out of the thing and flew towards the mannequin standing in the corner, striking the wall and blackening the wood there.   “Some of his experiments with animals indicate it causes muscle spasms, a violent reaction, and paralyzation in some cases,” she said.   “Can I take one of these?” Otto said.   “Why?”   “It might be helpful.”   Matilda looked at his saber.  Then she looked at the gun on his gun belt.  She finally looked at his rifle leading against the wall.   “How many hands do you have?” she said.   “Well, all these kill people,” Otto said.   “Well, if you think it’ll be useful,” she said.   She handed over the tiny lamp.   “Just make sure you bring it back,” she said.   She turned to Miss Lee.   “I don’t know who would have taken him,” she said.  “I have no idea.  No one was here at the farm when he was taken.  Xavier lives in Oakland.  He’s just here as a great favor  to me to guard the place while I went to find help in Colorado.”   “Did your father have any enemies?” West said.   “Not that I know of.  The scientific community ridiculed him in some instances but … he had made no enemies.  Have you met my father?  I don’t think anyone was his enemy.”   “Did he have anyone too interested in his ideas?”   “Well, he told me about his work in Arizona when the government had him looking at that device.”   “It’s always the government,” Miss Lee said.   “Well, from my understanding, certain outlaws were trying to steal it,” Matilda said. “They attacked a train he was on.”   “I remember,” Otto said.   “And one of them got it,” Matilda said.  “One of them got the device.  The Crescent.  That’s what he called it!”   “So, it’s either John Valentine …” West said.   Matilda gasped.   “Bad man,” Miss Lee said.   “… or Pete Sutter,” West said.  “But Pete Sutter is dead.  I shot him.”   “I hate to break it to you, West,” Otto said.  “But … I saw Pete in the flesh in Devil’s Gulch.  He’s still alive.”   “Someone was shot and he still lives?” Miss Sho said.   “Must not have been a very good shot,” Miss Lee said.   “I hit him right in the chest,” West said.   “Well, he wasn’t dead,” Otto said.  “The way to explain it is … well, when you shot him that one time on the train, apparently he wasn’t dead.  Then he got hit by some … got killed by some tongs in Chinatown …”   “So he got killed later?” West said.   “But he didn’t,” Miss Lee said.   “But he’s still alive!” Otto said.   “But he’s still alive,” West said.  “How?”   “Is this some kind of joke, because it’s clearly not funny,” Miss Lee said.   “We’ve seen some weird stuff,” West said.   “He helped us out at Devil’s Gulch,” Otto said.  “We paid him to create a distraction.”   “I feel like Pete Sutter isn’t the smartest guy.”   “Not necessarily.  I couldn’t claim the bounty because he didn’t have one where we were.”   “Could’ve just taken him to somewhere that did.”   “Given his track record of coming back from the dead, it might not be the best option to try to take him in there.”   “True.”   “I still don’t know if I necessarily believe you when you say ‘coming back from the dead,’ Miss Lee said.   “His explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to me either,” Otto said.  “He said doctors hit him with some light.”   “Doctors hit him with some light!?!  You said?”   “That’s what he said.”   “That sounds odd,” Miss Sho said.   “It is odd,” Otto said.   “We know which one of Valentine’s guys is closest to this area?” West said.   “Valentine would be a very good place to start,” Miss Lee said.   “Yes,” Miss Sho said.   Otto told them he had killed one of Valentine’s lieutenants in Devil’s Gulch: Charming Charles Allen.  West said he thought Allen was one of the trickier of Valentine’s lieutenants.  Otto told him he had tricked Gemma Jones into meeting with him one-on-one and it turned out he was her father.  When Miss Lee noted it sounded like the men had traveled quite a lot, Otto agreed.   They all agreed that Valentine was the most likely culprit.  When Matilda asked how to find them, Otto said “You don’t.”  Otto thought the man showed up when least convenient.  West was for heading east and following the tracks.    “Maybe we could do something to lure him to us,” Miss Lee said.   “That’s a bad idea,” Otto said.   “Why would we want someone so dangerous to come towards us?” Miss Sho said.   “Well, if we’re trying to find him, it seems easiest to bring him to us,” Miss Lee said.   “We’re not trying to find him,” Miss Sho said.  “We’re trying to find this young woman’s father.”   “But he may be the best lead to find the young woman’s father.”   “We haven’t even tried to find the father yet.”   “All I know is that they went east.”   The Terwilliger farm lay on the south side of the lake while the other nearby farm lay on its east side.   “Have you gone over there yet, Matilda?” Otto asked.   “Has someone checked the farm?” Miss Sho asked.   Matilda said she hadn’t been there.   “Do you know if anyone lives there?” Otto asked.   “Yes, there’s a family that lives there,” Matilda said.  “Or … some people live there.  They shoot at me all the time when I’m testing the wings out.  It sounds like a shotgun though.  It’s a quarter mile away.  There’s no way they’re going to hit me.  I don’t know.  I’ve never met them.  My father talked to them.  He went over when we first moved here a few years ago and I think he talked to them, but …”   “Well, then, we have to go see,” Miss Sho said.   “Check it out,” West said.   *              *              *   It only took about 20 minutes to walk to the other farm on the lake.  The place was surrounded by fallow fields that had probably grown wheat before.  There was a fence line that surrounded the barn, silo, and farm house.  Planted all along the fence were plants with dark green leaves with a spiral arrangement around each.  The tall erect stems were crowned by large blue-purple, white, yellow, and pink flowers which were distinguishable by having one of the petals in the form of a cylindrical helmet.  None of them recognized what kind of flowers they were.   The metalwork of the gates was entirely made of some kind of black metal.  They appeared to be latched but no locked and Miss Sho walked up closest to it and noticed the forging of the metal of the gate left numerous sharp pieces of metal sticking out.  She hesitated to touch the metal after seeing that.  She also didn’t think it was iron.   “Is there a big strong man over here that can see what this is?” she turned to the others and said.   “See what what is?” West said.   “This metal,” she said.   Otto gestured for West to go.  He examined the gates more closely.   “What do you think it is?” Miss Sho said.   Closer examination of the gates proved, after a few moments, that they were not iron but tarnished silver.  It was probably worth a bit of money.   “Looks like silver,” West said.   “Oh,” Miss Sho said.  “Wonderful.  Thank you so much.”   “Whatever,” West said.   He unlatched the gate and pushed it open.   “Shall we go in?” Miss Sho said.   “Sure,” Miss Lee said.   As they crossed through the gate, there was the report of a rifle shot from the house and a nearby limb shattered and snapped as a large-caliber bullet hit it.  Both women flung their hands up into the air.   “Whadda you people want!” a man shouted from the house.   “We just want to talk!” Miss Lee cried out.  “Please don’t kill us!”   “Who’s out there?” another voice called from the house.   “Concerned neighbors!” West called out.   “Friends of the concerned neighbors,” Miss Lee said.   “Identify yourselves!” a third voice called from the house.   “I’m Jack West!” West called out.  “I’m assisting Miss Matilda with the … uh … looking for her father!”   He had moved sideways just a little towards the fence to one side.  He was ready to drop if another shot fired out.  Only the women were inside the fence line.  Otto ducked behind a tree as soon as the shot was fired, taking cover and trying to peek back to the house to see where the fire was coming from.   “Such strong men,” Miss Sho turned and said to West and Otto.  Then she turned back to the house.  “My name is Emerald!  We’re here for Matilda!”   “My name is Johanna!” Miss Lee called.  “I’m here for my friend Matilda!”   West and Miss Lee could hear the men talking in the house.  It sounded like an intense and heated discussion was going on that was turning into an argument.  Then the front door opened.  The man who came out carried a Winchester, pointing it at the ground.  He was a very young-looking man with short brown hair and a baby face.  As he approached, they realized he was not as young as he looked.   “Don’t go out there!” someone from inside called. “What’re you doing?  They’re gonna kill us!”   As the man approached, he looked them over and his eyes fell on West.   “You say Jack West?” he said.   “Yeah,” West  snarled.   “He’s lying!” someone called from the house.   “Shut up!” the man said.   West approached the man, hands free and ready in case there was trouble.  He casually sauntered to within about 20 feet of the man.   “We’re not here to fight,” West said.   “You know a lawman?” the other man said.  “Federal man?  I heard about you out in Arizona.  What’s his name?”   “I knew a guy named - uh - Clayton Pierce, federal marshal,” West said, almost forgetting the man’s name.   The man looked very surprised at the name.   “What’s he look like?” he said.   West described Clayton Pierce’s thick black mustache and black hair.   “They’re all right!” the man turned to yell at the house.  “They know Clayton Pierce!”   “Who the hell’s Clayton Pierce!?!” a voice called from the house.   “Shut up!” the man yelled back at the house.   The man gestured at the two women to approach.   “I’m coming out!” Otto called from his hiding place.   He walked out and approached the others.   “Oh, I forgot you were here, Otto,” West said.   “I’m Elroy Gerhart,” the man said.    He looked over his shoulder.   “Get out here!” he yelled.   Two other men came out of the house.  One had a goatee and mustache and carried a .50 Sharps rifle.  He looked older than Elroy.  The other carried a double barrel shotgun, was clean-shaven, and obviously the youngest of the three.  They didn’t point the rifles at the man but did have them at ready.   “This is my older brother Melvin,” Elroy said.  “This is my younger brother Samson.”   “This is a bad idea,” Melvin said.  “Especially with them!”   He gestured to the women.   “Excuse me!” Miss Lee said.   “You wouldn’t understand!” Melvin said.   “Well, then, explain it!”   “You wouldn’t believe me!”   “Try me.”   “Melvin, shut up,” Elroy said.  “We got - this man … he knows Pierce.”   “I know Pierce too,” Otto said.   They looked at him.   “Probably better than Jack West,” Otto said.   “All right,” Elroy said.  “All right.  I’ll take you to your word.  What do you folks need?”   “We’re looking for … uh … Mr. Terwilliger,” West said.  “He got kidnapped … a few weeks ago.”   “Wait,” Elroy said.   He pointed across the lake towards Terwilliger’s farm.   “Yeah, sheriff came around here asking questions,” he said.  “We don’t like the sheriff.”   The other two brothers both shook their heads.   “Look, we don’t like anybody on our property,” Elroy said.  “We don’t like nobody around here, ‘specially women.  No offense.”   “No offense taken,” Miss Sho said.   “Offense taken,” Miss Lee said.   “Terwilliger seemed like nice enough folks, but we don’t like neighbors,” Elroy went on.  “Too dangerous.  So, that’s why Sampson here’s been shooting at that bird girl, jumping off that tower over there.”   It was a little disturbing to all of them to imagine Matilda actually using the wings they’d seen in the barn.   “But he’s got a shotgun,” Elroy went on.  “He knew he couldn’t hit her but he was making sure she didn’t come around.  But … uh … yeah, I noticed a commotion a couple weeks ago.  There was a couple men came by.  They took another man, led his horse away.”   He pointed east.   “Heading that way,” he said.   “Did they come close to your property?” Otto said.   “I heard thunder that day.”   “Thunder?”   “Wasn’t a cloud in the sky.”   “Okay.”   “And a gunshot.  I heard a gunshot.”   “Probably one of them boxes,” West said.   “I didn’t get a good look at ‘em but one of them had dark clothing,” Elroy said.  “One of ‘em had a white hat.  And one of ‘em had a brown hat, the one they led away.”   West and Otto realized Professor Terwilliger had a brown hat when they had met with him.   “They were all the way over there,” Elroy said.  “I wouldn’t recognize ‘em if I saw ‘em up close.  They were there for a little bit.  You gonna see Pierce?”   “I haven’t seen Pierce in a while,” Otto said.  “Wandered off somewhere.”   “Ah, he’ll probably show up soon,” West said.   “You know him though?” Elroy said.  “You gonna see him?”   “Oh yeah,” West said.   “I got something … stay right here,” Elroy said.   “Sure,” West said.   Elroy went into the house and returned a few minutes later.  He held something wrapped up in a piece of leather.  Whatever it was a couple of feet long and straight like a ruler or a stake.   “When you see Clayton Pierce, give this to him, all right?” he said.   “Sure thing─” West said.,   “His daddy told me to keep it safe,” Elroy said.  “But from what I understand, his dad is dead.”   “And your name is, again?” Otto said.   “My name’s Elroy Gerhart,” Elroy said.   “Elroy Gerhard.”   “He won’t know me.  He won’t know me.”   “Okay.  Will he know Gerhart though?  Probably not?”   “I never met him.  I never met him.  His father’s Warren Pierce.  I never met his son.  But that, he said, is worth protecting, and I been keeping it all these years.  Maybe his son’ll have some use of it.”   “Do you know what it is?” Miss Lee said.   “Well, thank you for this,” West said.  “I’ll make sure it gets to him.”   “Weirdest thing I ever seen,” Elroy said to Miss Lee.  “It’s … maybe gold.  Maybe silver.  Maybe both.  I don’t know what it is.  But … you give that to him, tell him his daddy told me to keep it safe.  I don’t know … well … that was a strange day.   They headed east.”   “M-maybe them ladies could stay for a little while,” Samson said.   “Shut up, Samson!” Elroy said.   He backhanded his younger brother, knocking him to the ground.   “We made an agreement!” Elroy said.   “God damn it, Samson!” Melvin said.   He crossed to put a booted foot on Samson’s chest.   “No,” he said.  “You know it’s gotta end.  No.”   Samson struggled but had no leverage.   “Sorry ma’am,” Elroy said.  “No offense meant.”   “None taken,” Miss Sho said.   “We’re trying to protect you as much as we can,” Elroy said.  “And all y’all.  Hope we’ve been of help.”   “You have,” West said.   Melvin was leaning down and slapping Samson in the face.   “What is wrong with you!?!” he said.   “Y’all have a great day, now,” West said.   “It was a pleasure,” Miss Sho said.   Elroy nodded and walked them to the gate.  He took out a piece of cloth from his pocket and pushed the gate closed and latched it without touching it.   “Looks like a really expensive fence, made of silver,” West said.   “They all are,” Elroy said.  “We don’t want anything to happen to people around here.”   He turned and walked back to the house.   “Sounds like they might have some skeletons in their closet,” Miss Sho said.   “To say the least,” Miss Lee said.   They headed back to the Terwilliger farm.   “So, what was that thing that he gave you?” Miss Sho said.   “I figure we’ll unwrap it once we get to the lab,” West said.   “Who’s that man he was talking about, again?”   “Clayton Pierce.”   Miss Lee thought she remembered reading something about a Marshal Clayton Pierce who, about four months ago, stopped a man causing trouble out in the Arizona Territory.  He had stopped the man along with some unnamed associates.  She had also heard rumors the man he had gunned down was in charge of  a gang that was going to take over the town.  Other rumors said there were a hundred men in the gang, trying to wipe out the town.  She remembered Jack West had been associated with Clayton Pierce according to the rumors.   On the way, West told them of the train heist they had fought off that included dragons and monsters.  He noted Pierce had been mauled but had survived.  He told them the drifter in Yellow Flats had not been a man but some kind of ghost that only silver bullets could harm.  Otto called it a spirit of vengeance.  The two women looked at each other.   “I assume you have taken quite a few different drugs in your life,” Miss Sho said.   “I might have a slight addiction to laudanum,” West said.   He took out his flask and drank from it.  Otto confirmed what West had said.   “I’ve never heard of shared hallucinations,” Miss Sho said.   “I try not to share with this guy,” West said.   “You seem like you have such a tight relationship though,” Miss Sho said.   “The only thing that holds us together is money,” Otto said.   “S’true,” West said.   *              *              *   When they returned to the Terwilliger farm, they found Manzanedo and Matilda had a light, early lunch of sandwiches prepared for them, as well as lemonade.  When Matilda asked if they had any luck, West noted that the people at the other farm were terrified of her wings.   “Oh,” she said.  “Well, we’ll have to find someplace else to test them then.  I don’t want to cause any problems with the neighbors.”   “I’m sure as long as you don’t land over there, you’ll be fine,” Miss Sho said.   “I wouldn’t think of it,” Matilda said.  “Especially as they shoot at me every time I go up.”   “So … uh … looks like they headed further east,” West said.  “So, we’ll get on horseback and … head that way then.”   “Do you have a horse?” Matilda said to Miss Sho.   “Uh … I can find one,” Miss Sho said.   “We’ll get you one!”   “So sweet.”   “We’ve got two riding horses here.  You can take one of those.”   “You’re so sweet.”   “Unfortunately, the quadro-velocipedes are not functional yet or you could take one of those.  They’re a little tricky though.”   They ate and West unwrapped the item Elroy Gerhart gave him.  Within the leather was what appeared to be a rod made of gold with a sharp, silver tip at one end.  It was about an inch across and a foot and a half to two feet long.  There was a strange feeling in the air as it was unwrapped and the smell of ozone.   Otto remembered the Crescent being described as having small silver spikes sticking out of it.   “Jacali will want to see this,” he said.   “Who?” West said.   “The Indian girl.”   “Oh, Jacali?”   Otto nodded.   “Should we leave it here or should we take it with us?” he said.   “Uh … take it with us,” West said, wrapping the rod once again and tucking it into his belt.   Otto noted he could try to track down the kidnappers.   “So we’re going to head east and see what we can find?” Miss Lee said.   “They’re heading east on horse,” Miss Sho said.  “They’re far ahead.”   “Plus this was weeks ago.”   “True.”   “You have any better ideas?” Otto said.   “Oh, I’m just making observations,” Miss Lee said.   “We’re not here to help,” Miss Sho said.   “We’re here to observe and criticize,” Miss Lee said.   “I’m not sure what I’ve done to you in a previous life, but I feel this aggression is unwarranted,” Otto said.   “It’s not aggression,” Miss Lee said.  “Simply my personality.”   “It’s just women being women,” West said.   “I’m not going to back you up on that one, Jack West,” Otto said.   *              *              *   They left the farm and headed east, Otto trying to find tracks.  He realized it was going to be hard to follow the tracks for any length of time due to their age and the effect the weather over the last two weeks.   West felt a tugging at his belt and realized it was the rod, pulling or tugging somehow.   I can use this to pretend to track them down, he thought.   He slowed his horse.  Then he took out the rod and held it but the pulling felt indistinct.  He unwrapped it and held it in his hand balancing it so that it would move freely.  The silver tip spun around to point almost due west, the opposite direction they were traveling.  But it felt like it was sliding to the east.  He realized it wasn’t actually moving, but it felt like it was moving.   Miss Sho and Otto both saw West, having slowed his horse to put himself at their rear, fiddling with the rod.  Miss Lee was talking with her horse and not paying any attention to the gunslinger.   West tucked the rod away.   “What are you up to, Jack?” Otto said.   “That way,” Jack said.   “I hope you’re not thinking about stealing that thing, Jack.”   “I like money, Otto.”   “I realize that.”   “But I’m not gonna steal for it.”   “What thing are we talking about?” Miss Lee said.   They rode east and could see Mount Diablo in the distance, apparently in their path.    *              *              *   They had traveled some 15 miles at a decent pace some three hours later, crossing the mountains, when they came across a road and could make out a town a few miles to the north and another town a couple miles to the south in the valley they were passing through.  Otto lost the trail.  He was unsure if he was missing something or the weather and other factors had simply caused it to fade away.   West took out the rod again and found it was still pointing towards Mount Diablo.  Everyone noticed.   “What the heck are you doing?” Miss Lee said.   He wrapped it up and tucked it away.   “Would you like to explain what it is that you’re doing?” Miss Lee said.  “Is this what was happening earlier that I missed?”   “Seems it’s pointing us to Mount Diablo,” West said.   He took the lead riding towards Mount Diablo.  Otto slowly mounted and fell back in the line, a little disappointed at the fact that he wasn’t more help.  Miss Lee patted him on the shoulder as she passed him.   “You did your best,” she said.   “Thanks,” he said.   *              *              *   They traveled some five miles before Otto and West saw smoke ahead.  They guessed it was a campfire.  They told the woman and West suggested they walk and check out the campsite ahead.  They dismounted and discussed if someone should stay with the horses.   “Anybody less … uh … acclimated to combat?” West asked the woman.   Miss Lee raised her hand.   “I figured,” he said.   “Thanks,” she said sarcastically.   “Would you like to watch the horses while we go check this out?”   “So, should we leave someone not acclimated to combat with the horses in case someone does show up?”   “You have horses.  You can get away.”   “Just leave you.”   “Circle around back.  You could run to that town to the north.”   “Run to it, four miles away?”   “With the horses.”   Miss Sho whispered to the woman that if it became too bad, she could go to Chinatown and speak her name, Emerald Sho, and she would find help.   “So, you’re staying with the horses?” Miss Sho asked Miss Lee.   “Yes,” Miss Lee said.   “And I’m going with you fine gentlemen,” Miss Sho said.   “Joy,” Otto said.   “Do you not like me or something?”   “I don’t trust you, as a matter of fact.”   “Why?  I’ve been nothing but honorable.”   “You followed us!”   “I did not.”   “Let’s just get on with it.”   The other three crept through the wooded hills to sneak up on the camp.  As they approached, both Otto and West crawled.  Miss Sho had crouched but not crawled and was more visible.  The people in the camp noticed her.   The camp was near a creek with a small tent and gold panning equipment visible.  Two men sat by the fire.  One was in black leather and carried a sawed-off shotgun on a holster on his back and a pistol on his belt.  The other man, who sat by the fire whittling, had a goofy look on his face and wore poor clothing and a dirty white hat.  He wore no jacket and his gun belt was turned sideways so his gun was down the front.    The man in the dark hat looked at Miss Sho but didn’t say anything.  She moved, standing up a little straighter and moving forward shyly, between where West and Otto were hidden, and gestured to the other men behind her back to stay put.   “Hello,” she said.   She tried to sound like the Chinese she knew in Chinatown who did not speak English well.   “Good sirs,” she said.  “I have gotten lost.”   The man with the white hat spun his head around.   “Who’s she!?!” he asked in a manic voice.   “Don’t worry about it,” the other man said.    He stood up, the leather he wore creaking.   “Where you headin’, little lady?” he said.   “Just back to … town,” she said.   The man pointed behind her and to the right, in the direction of one of the towns they’d passed, she thought.   “How far?” she said.   “Three or four miles, maybe,” he said.   “She should stay with us!” the man in the white hat said, whittling faster.  “She should stay with us.”   He laughed insanely.   “We’re pannin’ gold together!” he said.   Miss Sho smiled shyly.   “Could I stay?” she said.   “If you like,” the man in black said.  “This is my half-brother Willie.  I’m Rex.”   She bowed to both of them.   “Good to meet,” she said.  “Good to meet.”   “Whatcha doin’ out here, lady?” Rex said.   “I got lost.”   “Yeah.  Whatcha doin’ out here?”   “I … got lost.  I was walking through town and got lost.”   He looked at her carefully.   “Well, the town’s that way,” he said.  “Or down there’s another town that way.”   He gestured back to the southwest.   “Of course, you can go up to Mount Diablo,” he said.  “You got any money?  There’s a hotel up there.”   He walked back to the fire and sat by it again.  Willie continued whittling and stared opening at the woman.  She realized he was just sharpening a stick.  She approached and made some small talk.  Rex didn’t talk much.  Willie talked about nonsensical things like gold, the sky, and clouds.  He liked clouds a lot.  Especially clouds that looked like sharp things.   She realized Willie was probably completely insane and probably very dangerous.  She made sure to keep the fire between her and him.  Though Rex was cold and distant, she felt Willie was the more dangerous of the two.   She learned from Rex that Willie was his half brother and they were out there panning for gold because that was what Willie wanted to do.  At one point when Willie was looking away, he motioned to his head and looked at Willie, indicating the man was not all there.  She made sure to stay closer to him than Willie.   Willie sometimes growled and yipped to himself.   “I’m makin’ a dog!” he suddenly said to her, brandishing the sharpened stick.  “Does it look like a dog?”   It looked like a sharp stick.   “Do you like it?” he said to her.   “Yes,” she said.  “Yes.”   “I hate it!” he shrieked.  “I hate it!”   He flung the sharpened stick into the fire.  He grabbed another stick and started cutting at it with his knife.  He talked to himself constantly and muttered under his breath.   *              *              *   West stood up and leaned against one of the trees in full view, staring at the camp.  Otto gestured him to hide and then moved away from their present position.  He stepped on a stick and it broke noisily.   *              *              *   Miss Sho noticed immediately.  When the stick cracked, Rex looked over and saw West.  He put his hand on his pistol.   “Friend o’ yours?” he said.   “Currently,” West said.   “Not talkin’ to you,” Rex said.   He glanced at Miss Sho.   “Are you stupid?” she said in a normal voice.   Willie had gone completely silent.  You could cut the tension with a knife.   *              *              *   Miss Lee had waited about 15minutes by the horses and soon grew bored of it.  She tied the horses to nearby trees and headed in the directions the other had taken.   *              *              *   “Can we help you?” Rex said.   Willie held his stick and knife out to either side, dropping them dramatically to the ground.   “I was wondering if you two would possibly know where … Terwilliger might be,” West growled.   “Who?” Rex said.   He turned to Miss Sho.   “Is this a friend o’ yours?” he asked.   “Uh … friend … sure …” she said.   “We met a couple hours ago,” West said.  “Regretfully on this side as well.”   She made a mock bow with her hand.   “Well, why don’t you come into camp them, cowboy?” Rex said.   West sauntered out of the trees.   “We can always be polite and take our hands off our guns,” he said.   “I can be polite,” Rex said.  “Don’t upset my brother, here.”   Willie laughed and grinned at West.  Rex removed his hand from his pistol.   “Calm yourself, Willie,” he said.   Willie gave West a weird look, eyes bugged out of his head.  West approached.   “So, who in the hell are you people?” Rex said.   Miss Sho sighed.   “Travelers,” she said.   “All right,” he said.,   “We’re looking for … what’s his name again?” Miss Sho said.  “Terwilliger.”   “Terwilliger,” West said.   “Who the hell’s Terwilliger?” Rex said.   “That’s a good question,” Miss Sho said.   “Scientist,” West said.  “On a farm about 20 miles away.  Your brother’s hat fits a description that we heard.”   “Ugly?” Rex said.   West laughed.   “Nah, his hat,” he said.   “Look, we saw three men riding north about a week ago,” Rex said.  “Maybe two weeks.  Maybe they were heading towards Walnut Creek.  Maybe they were going to Concord.  Maybe Pacheco or even the bay.  It opens up into San Francisco Bay up there.  That was a week and a half ago.  Willie, calm down.”   Willie laughed loudly.   “You whittle?” he said to West.   “A─” West said.   “Liar!” Willie said.   He picked up his stick and flung it into the fire. Then he picked up his knife and another stick and started whittling again, staring at Jack West.   “You have been exceedingly helpful, Rex,” West said.   “When you have a brother like mine, you appreciate people who aren’t like him,” Rex said.   “What’d you say, Rex?” Willie said.   “I said your hair looks nice,” Rex said.   “Oh, okay,” Willie said.   “Very thankful,” West said.   “You’ve been exceedingly nice,” Miss Sho said.   “We’ll be making our way now,” West said.   Rex nodded.   West tipped his hat and turned to leave the camp at an angle that allowed him to keep eyes on the two men.  Miss Sho followed him.  The two men watched them go, Willie having gone quiet and staring.   They walked around the camp in a wide loop, meeting up with Otto and heading back for the horses.  They met Miss Lee on the way.   *              *              *   Marshal Clayton Pierce had come back to the San Francisco area after being in Denver and soon found himself caught up in the kidnapping of Professor Marion Terwilliger, whom he remembered from Yellow Flats and the Sequoyah Star.  He learned the man had been taken from his farm, the kidnappers heading east.  Unfortunately, aniseed had been used and the hounds soon lost the track.  Marshal Pierce had decided on a more methodical search for the man, moving east of Oakland in a wide pattern to cover as much area as possible.   He had found four horses tied up in the middle of the woods, which he found strange.  When he heard the sounds of people approaching, he looked around for a place to hide his horse but there was nothing nearby.  He mounted up and headed into the woods towards the sounds.   He found two women, Jack West, and Lambert Otto.   Clayton Pierce was a solid man with black hair and a thick mustache.  He wore a marshal’s badge and had a Winchester on his back and a pistol on his belt.  He wore a white hat and a duster.   “Weren’t we looking for a man in a white hat?” Miss Sho said.   “I doubt the good marshal was involved in that,” Otto said.   “‘Good marshal?’” Miss Sho said.  “I’ve never those two words in the same sentence.”   Jack West called out and took out a piece of leather.  He unwrapped the rod.   “Have a look at this,” he said.   Marshal Pierce looked at the golden rod with the silver spike on the end.  He realized it was the right size to be one of the spikes sticking out of the Crescent he’d seen in Arizona some months before.  As West held it in his open palm, it turned and the silver end pointed back towards San Francisco, the gold pointing towards Mount Diablo.   “Apparently some … strange fellas … were saying this was your dad’s,” West said.  “They wanted you to have it.”   “Gerharts,” Otto said.  “Ring a bell?”   “What is going on?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Did you want a gold rod with a silver tip?” West said.   “I didn’t until I saw it for the first time,” Marshal Pierce said.  “My … father?  What are you talking about?”   “Some … three men outside Terwilliger’s farm on their own little property … called themselves the Gerharts,” Otto said.  “Ring a bell at all?”   “They seem averse to silver too,” West said.  “Very strange.”   “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marshal Pierce said.   “They claim to know your … to have known your father, so …” Otto said.   “We should give them a good stop-by, later,” West said.  “One of them knew about you.”   “How about, first, before we start talking about random men who know my father, and you turning a rod in your hand … towards east I guess …” Marshal Pierce said.  “And hi Otto.”   “Hello,” Otto said.   “So … before we get into that little adventure, who are these two individuals and where are the other companions?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Oh my gosh, hi!” Miss Lee said.  “Thank you for recognizing us women!  We appreciate it.”   “Not important,” West muttered.   “As I feared,” Miss Lee muttered.   “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Miss Sho said.   She walked up to the marshal.   “Hi,” she said.  “I’m Emerald.”   “Nice to meet you,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Clayton Pierce.”   “She’s not really a gem,” West muttered.   “Says you!” Miss Sho said to West.   “And you?” Marshal Pierce said to Miss Lee.   “My name is Johanna,” Miss Lee said.   “Johanna, nice to meet you,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Clayton Pierce, I’m a federal marshal.”   “Nice to meet you,” Miss Lee said.   Marshal Pierce recognized the woman, who was a suffragette.  He knew they could be trouble, though he’d never personally met her or had any problems with her.  He had seen a picture of her in a newspaper at one time.  He knew she was wealthy and a troublemaker.   “Nice pants,” he said with a complimentary nod.   She guessed he knew who she was.   “Thanks,” she said.   “Now that we got that out of the way,” West said.   “Second question is now:” Marshal Pierce said.  “What are you two ladies doing with a man like Jack West?”   “I haven’t decided yet,” Miss Sho said.   “We’re definitely not here for him,” Miss Lee said.   “Otto, I can understand,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Otto’s a good man.  But Jack West?”   “Thank you,” Otto said.   “But Jack West?” Marshal Pierce said again.   “I’ve yet to decide,” Miss Sho said.   “I think that’s the first compliment I’ve gotten from any of you,” Otto said.   “Because I know Jack West is a bounty … well, actually, I know both of these gentlemen as bounty hunting men who only like money,” Marshal Pierce said.  “So, are you two in it for the money?”   “I was not aware there was money,” Miss Sho said.   “I’m in it to help my friend,” Miss Lee said.  “Matilda.”   “We still don’t know why she’s here,” West said, indicating Miss Sho.   “She just kind of showed up,” Miss Lee said.   “Matilda Terwilliger?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes,” Miss Lee said.   “Okay,” Marshal Pierce said.   “I’m here to help my friend,” Miss Sho said, indicating Miss Lee.   “Okay,” Marshal Pierce said.   Jack West smiled.  He knew she had followed them and knew Otto was nervous about it.   “Everyone here is looking for Terwilliger?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes,” Miss Lee said.   “I’m doing it as a favor for him helping me out,” Otto said.   “There might be money,” West said.  “It was kind of up in the air, how she explained it.”   “To be honest, I think he’s after one of those lightning guns as a reward,” Otto said.   “If nothing else, a favor from that guy, might be really good,” West said. “I feel like this might be pointing us towards the Crescent, which is probably where they would take Terwilliger.”   “Would anybody like to explain what the Crescent is?” Miss Lee said.   “Which means Jack Parker might be there,” West said.   “Would any of you like to fill us in, please?” Miss Sho said.  “We’re just a … little slow … being women.”   “She’s not wrong,” West said.   They told the woman that in April, a strange silver crescent was found in a mine near the town of Yellow Flats, Arizona, embedded in rock 50 million years old.  The men who had found it had been prisoners from California working in a mine and, when they touched it, they were able to rip their shackles free.  Those men disappeared some time later.  The government was informed of the object and sent troops to protect it and scientists to examine it.  The large, silver object was examined.   Marshal Clayton Pierce managed to see the thing and met Professor Terwilliger, one of the scientists hired to examine the object.  Some of the scientists studying it also vanished during the excavation of the object.  It was eventually transported to Los Angeles and from there taken by train to San Francisco.  Unfortunately, the train was attacked by who they thought were John Valentine’s men along with several creatures that looked like dragons.  That was when Marshal Pierce had been mauled; his left arm never completely healed.   One of Valentine’s lieutenants, a man by the name of Jack Parker had been holding the Crescent when was shot and knocked from the train by Jack West while it was passing over a gorge.  Marshal Pierce noted angrily that West had stolen his vengeance as Jack Parker had killed his son.   “I’m very sorry,” Miss Lee said.   “I am as well,” Marshal Pierce said.   Otto piped up, noting he had been in Devil’s Gulch, Colorado, two weeks before dealing with some strangeness there, including an ancient temple, some grifters, and some … things.  One of their number was badly injured, stabbed by John Valentine several times and dying.  Otto said he had tried to help her but, failing that, ran to get help from the doctor in their group.  When they returned, she was found to be completely healed and without injury.  She later told them a woman had appeared with the Crescent and told her to pull on one of the spikes.  When she had pulled out a rod and touched it to her wounds, they healed.  Otto had recognized her description of the woman as that of an American Indian half-breed woman in a gypsy vardo he’d met earlier.  But when they went to find her, she had already left Devil’s Gulch.   “She said that was God,” Otto said.  “That woman was God, who visited her and saved her life.  I don’t believe it myself.”   “Why do you trust us so much?” Miss Sho said.   “Why are you telling us all this?” Miss Lee said.  “I mean, I appreciate it.”   “I don’t care,” Jack West said.   “Based on what we’ve had to deal with … on these adventures … I want you to know the perils you could be possibly facing,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I know it sounds crazy when I say dragons and snake people and─”   “It’ll be a fun surprise.”   “─there was a dinosaur that I didn’t see but they did one time.  And I thought they were crazy but I saw the bones so …”   “I don’t know how to say this, lightly sir,” Miss Sho said.  “But ... for them, it seems like they were taking drugs.  But you, being an upstanding lawman, do you partake in drugs as well?”   “I promise I do not take drugs and, though this may seem like a drug-fueled story …” Marshal Pierce said.   Jack West took out his flask and drank some of his whiskey and laudanum mixture.   “… it is not in the least bit,” Marshal Pierce said.   “I  do not know what this world is becoming but I do not like where it is heading.”   “Well, since now I’ve heard three people tell us these stories, I’m at least willing to give it the benefit of the doubt,” Miss Lee said.   “Oh no!” West said.  “Still not believe.  It’s more fun that way.”   “Just … out of curiosity, do you have the means to defend yourselves?” Marshal Pierce said to the women.   Miss Sho lifted up her skirt a little bit.   “Not interested,” Jack West muttered.   She took out an Arkansas toothpick, a long, pointed knife, from under her skirt.  It must have been strapped to her thigh.  She tucked it back away.   “I like to think that I can defend myself with my sparkling charm,” Miss Lee said.   “We have not tried to charm the dragons yet, so …” Marshal Pierce said.   Otto took a Colt Peacemaker out of his coat and offered it to the woman.   “I appreciate it, but I prefer not to use guns,” she said.  “They’re too violent.”   “Your funeral,” Otto said.   “Don’t worry,” Miss Sho said.  “Women can protect themselves.”   “Were you trying to give me that golden rod, Jack West?” Marshal Pierce asked.   “Well yeah, but it also does look like it points to … hopefully it’s this fat end that points to the Crescent,” West said.  “That’s what we’ve been following.”   West handed it to him and he winced when he took it in his hand.  It had an electric smell about it and was a little unnerving to touch.  He balanced it on his palm and turned it away from where it had been pointing.  As they all watched, it slowly spun to point the direction it had before.  It almost felt like it was pulling towards Mount Diablo.   “And you’re going to tell me that we should follow where this rod is pointing?” Marshal Pierce said.   “I feel like it might work,” West said.   “More like the opposite way that the rod is pointing,” Miss Lee said.   “Over my expert tracking skills, you want to trust a golden rod?” Marshal Pierce said.   “You don’t?” West said.   “Well, considering I have not found anything with my expert tracking skills …” Marshal Pierce said.   “Figures,” Miss Lee muttered.   “… I will follow a golden rod with Jack West,” Marshal Pierce said.   “And company,” Miss Sho said.   “And company,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes,” West said.   “And friend,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Friends is a little …” Miss Lee said.   “Friends is a little bit of a stretch,” Miss Sho said.   They mounted up and headed east once again.   *              *              *   Otto pulled Marshal Pierce aside as they rode.    “Now Marshal, I don’t trust that Chinese woman,” he said.   “That’s incredibly racist, Otto,” Marshal Pierce said.   Miss Sho, riding ahead and talking to Miss Lee, laughed at something the other woman said.  It unnerved Otto a little.   “I realize that it may seem that way but, do you know what happened in Chinatown?” he said.   “No, it doesn’t seem racist, Otto,” Marshal Pierce said.  “You called her a Chinese girl instead of saying her name that you clearly should know by now.”   “Emerald.”   “There we go.”   “I didn’t think about it that way, Marshal.  I’m sorry.  Emerald.  I don’t trust Emerald.”   “It’s okay, Otto.  Sometimes I’m racist and I don’t realize it either.”   “Huh.”   “Anyways, you don’t trust Emerald because?”   “Do you know what happened in Chinatown?”   He didn’t so Otto told him about the tongs and the killings and of them confronting the demon later and his attacking one of the tong guards in a blood-crazed rage.  He noted he had been out of his mind and tried to shoot Stalloid.   “Is that why Stalloid is not here right now?” Marshal Pierce said.   “No,” Otto said.  “Stalloid is doing something with that dinosaur skull I think.”   “Based on what you told me, you’re worried Emerald might be one of the tongs?”   “Well, what happened was, when I was in Oakland, just about ready to leave, I found a note in my pocket that said ‘The Showmen are looking for you.  Come find us in Chinatown.’  Then, as we were riding─”   “That sounds promising.  You should do that.”   “That sounds dangerous!  But, as we were heading out towards Terwilliger’s farm, she was following us on foot behind us.”   “Yes, because she is also looking for Terwilliger.”   “That’s what she says, but I don’t believe her!”   They looked at each other.   “I thought I’d just let you know,” Otto said.   “Okay,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Are you asking me and Jack West for protection?”   “No.  I’m just letting you know.”   “Okay.  I mean, I only have met them today and obviously I will keep an eye on them.”   “I don’t trust her.  I feel like I could handle it if she attacked me.”   “Okay.  Duly noted, sir.”   “Just keep an eye for suspicious activities.”   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce was not very happy to hold the rod and feel it pulling him towards Mount Diablo.  After they had traveled another hour, they saw a building about halfway up the side of the mountain.  They recognized it as the Mountain House Hotel, which had been built there last year.  The largish hotel was expensive and they knew people usually went there to see Mount Diablo and walk to the top.  There was even talk of a wooden-floored tent built at the top of the mountain for people who wanted to spend the night on Mount Diablo.   Marshal Pierce told the rest the rod seemed to be pulling him towards the hotel there.   “Are you sure you’re not doing drugs?” Miss Lee said.   “No, I do not do drugs,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I cannot speak for my compatriots, but I do not do drugs.”   “I do not do them as well,” Otto said.   Jack West took a sip from his hip flask.   Marshal Pierce offered Miss Lee the rod and she took it.  It was a very strange feeling to hold the thing, which felt like it was pulling towards the mountain in her hand.  She didn’t like it.   “I believe you,” she said nervously.  “You can take this back now.”   “I don’t like it either,” Marshal Pierce said.   *              *              *   The Mountain House Hotel was a good-sized place with stable nearby.  It lay on a road a mile or so below the summit and they reached it before nightfall.  Jack West suggested circling it with the rod and Marshal Pierce handed off the item to him.  As the others gave their horses to various servants of the hotel, Jack West rode around the building.  The rod continued to point east.  It was not pointing at the hotel.   As he dismounted he realized the rod was pointing towards the peak of Mount Diablo and guessed it was either on or in Mount Diablo or somewhere past the mountain.  He tucked the rod away and someone came to take his horse.   He noticed a mousy-looking, thin man in a dark suit and a wearing a bow tie watching him from the porch.  His dark hair was carefully combed and he had a concerned look on his face.  As Wes studied him, he turned and walked into the house.   *              *              *   They found rooms cost $10 a night and the man at the desk noted they offered a five-star dinner every night. They were told the morning hike to see the sunrise was quite spectacular and Marshal Pierce asked if horses could get to the peak of the mountain.  The man behind the desk told him it was rough for horses and it was better to go on food.  Dinner would be served in an hour.   Miss Sho and Miss Lee shared a room while the men each got rooms of their own.  Everyone signed the guest book and Marshal Pierce got a receipt.   *              *              *   They met for dinner in the dining room and found an extensive menu.  Marshal Pierce ordered the duck.  Others had various food available and had soon ordered.  West pointed out the mousy little man who had been watching him from the porch earlier.  The man stood up from his table and came over to theirs.   “Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.   His soft voice was British.   “Absolutely,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We are an inclusive group.”   “By all means,” West said.   “It’s such a pleasure,” Miss Sho said.   “Dr. Randolph Mordin,” the man said, shaking their hands.   Miss Lee deferred.   “I was told you’d be here,” Dr. Mordin said.   “By?” several of them said at once.   “My associates,” Dr. Mordin said.   “Who are …?” West said.   “Thank you for being so vague,” Miss Sho said.   “You’re the Asian woman,” Dr. Mordin said.   “Clearly,” Miss Sho said.   “She’s a little snarky,” West said.   “Yes,” Dr. Mordin said.  “They said she would be.  They can’t meet you here but I was told to meet you here to relay a message to … uh … Marshal Pierce, I recognize you─”   “Was it …?” Otto said.  “Not to interrupt you, sir, but was it the Gerharts?”   “No,” Dr. Mordin said.  “Who?”   “Never mind,” Otto said.  “Forget it.”   “No no no,” Dr. Mordin said.  “Jacali.  There was a girl named Jacali with you.  An American Indian.  Correct?”   “Yes,” Otto said.   “They mentioned an Asian woman?” West said.   “They did mention that there would be an Asian woman here,” Dr. Mordin said.  “A … disrupter?  Someone who’s trying to make changes?”   “That would be me,” Miss Lee said.   “Oh!” Dr. Mordin said.  “Oh, you’re a suffragette.”   “Yes,” she said.   “Oh, that makes complete sense,” Dr. Mordin said.  “There’s the maimed man.  The Marshal.  And the bounty hunter.  They thought Jacali might be here.  Do you know Jacali?”   “Yes,” Otto said.   “She is not here,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes, they … I’d hoped to meet you,” Dr. Mordin said.  “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to or not.  You see, sometimes things move in such a way as to make the simple into the impossible, doesn’t it.  I understand you’re searching for someone.”   “Terwilliger,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes, I can’t help you with that,” Dr. Mordin said.  “Except to say that he’s not far.  I’ve been sent by … mutual friends to aid you in another matter.  I understand you’re in the middle of a rather urgent predicament at present.  It concerns the Crescent and the man … what I’m offering you is the Crescent … or information on it and the man who might be able to … to … answer some questions about it.  But … it can’t be done here or now.”   “Where?” Marshal Pierce said.   “And when?” West said.   “And why?” Miss Sho said.   “When would be convenient?” Dr. Mordin said.  “Well, these people have been searching for the Crescent and so are my associates.  The Crescent - they’ve lost touch with it.  They want to find it.”   “Now which one are your associates?” West said.   “Who do you think they are?”   “Well, it could be one of … three groups.”   “Well if you name me the groups, I’ll tell you.”   “The government,” Marshal Pierce said.   “It’s not a multiple choice, it’s a fill-in-the-blank question,” West said.   “It’s not the government,” Dr. Mordin said.   “How ‘bout, uh, the guy that loves that one holiday?” West said.  “What is it?  Valentine’s Day.”   “Oh no no,” Dr. Mordin said.  “No.  Not him.”   “Oh God,” Miss Lee said.   Otto made gestured with his fingers as if they were claws.  Dr. Mordin nodded.   “Wait!” West said.  “You’re part of Pete Sutter’s gang?”   “No,” Dr. Mordin said.  “My associates hired Pete Sutter in order to … there’s something about Pete Sutter.  He’s important.  I don’t why.  I wasn’t told.”   “I don’t know why either,” West said.   “No, he seems to be kind of an idiot,” Dr. Mordin said.  “Anyway, could you meet … would you like to meet with someone who can answer some of your questions?”   “Absolutely,” Marshal Pierce said.   “I would,” Otto said.   “That would be fantastic,” West said.   “This does not seem …” Miss Lee said.   “This is not a conversation for dinner,” Miss Sho said.   “Oh, yes, you’re right, we should eat first,” Dr. Mordin said.   They made small talk until their food arrived and through dinner.  There was pie for dessert.  They learned Dr. Mordin was a mathematician who had taught at Harvard.  He had been doing other work since then.   Waiters brought brandy, coffee, and cigars after the meal.  Miss Sho took a cigar, which surprised the waiter but he was quick to recover to offer her a large, glass lighter.  Marshal Pierce also took a cigar.  Miss Sho’s smoking drew the attention of some of the nearby tables.   When they resumed talking about the Crescent, Dr. Mordin told them they could set the date a few weeks or a month from the present day.  He said the place to meet was called Gravity Falls in eastern Oregon.  He noted they could find it in any atlas.  They just had to decide when they wanted to meet there whereupon he could take them to someone who could answer some questions.   “Why is it not safe right now?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Gravity Falls is a place where it would be more convenient,” Dr. Mordin said.  “Right now it is not convenient.  And I don’t have the answers.  I can take you to someone who does.  I can arrange it.  I need a date from you.”   “That’s so forward,” Miss Lee quipped.  “I don’t think you should ask people on dates that way.”   “Clever,” Dr. Mordin said with a giggle.   “How about a month?” West said.   “You think we’ll find Terwilliger and Parker and kill Jack Parker’s gang in a month’s time?” Marshal Pierce said.  “‘Cause I’m going to do all that before I find out what the Crescent is.”   “But the Crescent can lead you to Valentine,” Dr. Mordin said.   “That’s what I’m thinking,” West said.   “And Parker,” Dr. Mordin said.   “What did we get ourselves into?” Miss Lee said.   “I have no idea,” Miss Sho said.   “If this thing takes us straight to ‘em, we’ll get that done fast,” West said.   “Can you explain what that thing is?” Otto said.  “The rod?”   West pulled out the leather-wrapped rod and carefully showed it to him.   “Oh,” he said.  “That should take you where you want to go.”   “No other details?” Otto said.   “I don’t have that much information,” Dr. Mordin said.  “My associates will be able to tell you more.”   “Is it taking us to the Crescent?” Marshal Pierce said.   “It’s part of the Crescent, yes.  I would assume it’s taking you there.”   “And how can it do that?”   “That’s beyond my knowledge.”   Otto suggested about a month and a half and Dr. Mordin suggested October first.  He told them to be in Gravity Falls on that date.   “What if we can’t make it?” Otto asked.   “I have a feeling he can find us again,” West said.   “True,” Dr. Mordin said.  “October first.  Five weeks.”   “That works,” Otto said.  “That work with you, Marshal?”   “Sounds good,” West said.   “We’ve just got to … get on gettin’ on,” Marshal Pierce said.   “It was nice to meet all of you,” Dr. Mordin said.   He stood and leaned forward to shake all of their hands.   “I do have a question,” Miss Sho said.  “How did you know that we were going to be here?  Since we did meet these fine fellows just today.”   “Well, they told me, you see,” Dr. Mordin said.   “Who?” Miss Sho said.   “They?” Miss Lee said.   “My associates,” Dr. Mordin said.   “And who are your associates?” Miss Sho said.   “And how did they know us?” Miss Lee said.   “I have associates as well,” Miss Sho said.  “But …”   “I’m not at liberty to say at this time,” Dr. Mordin said.   “I see,” Miss Sho said.   “But you will meet them if you come to Gravity Falls,” Dr. Mordin said.  “You might ask Jacali if you see her.  She knows more about them than anyone else.  She’s an American Indian woman.”   “I like her already,” Miss Lee said.   “Yes, I thought you would,” Dr. Mordin said.  “She’s very, very much involved in this.  I hope you get to meet her.  I’m not privy to all their information.  Thank you for speaking to me and good luck tomorrow.”   He left them.   *              *              *   The next morning, Thursday, August 26, 1876, some of them took the early morning walk up to the peak.  West took the rod and saw it was still pointing east from the peak and downward.  He guessed it couldn’t have been more than a few miles away.   When they got back, they had breakfast.  Otto wanted Marshal Pierce to look at his Winchester.   “Well, Otto, I mean … it looks like a Winchester,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Good job.”   “This things cursed!” Otto said.   “What … what … what do you want me to look at it for?” Marshal Pierce said.  “It’s just a gun.”   Otto pointed out one of the parts that kept jamming.  It looked fine to Marshal Pierce.   “Guns do that, Otto,” he said.   “But every single time when I need it the most, it jams,” Otto said.   “Maybe you got a bad brand,” West muttered.   “That’s just your luck,” Marshal Pierce said.   Otto sighed.   “Do you have bad luck, Otto?” Marshal Pierce said.   “It’s because he’s a man,” Miss Lee muttered to herself..   “All right,” Otto said.  “Forget about it marshal.  I’ll … figure it out.”   “I would offer you to trade Winchesters with you to see if it was your luck, but you have an ugly one,” Marshal Pierce said.  “But, when you need it the most, if I’m around, I will throw you my Winchester and you can see if it is you or the gun.”   They left the hotel that morning and continued east, West using the rod to lead.  They went on foot this time.   *              *              *   After a couple of hours, they came across what appeared to be a camp.  It looked like it had been abandoned for a little while and there was a rotten smell in the area.  The tent was partially collapsed near a long-dead campfire.  The smell proved itself strongest near the tent.  They peeked in and found two rough cots and two dead bodies that had been dead for some time.  The smell in the tent was intense and awful.   Miss Lee moved away from the tent, feeling nauseous.  Marshal Pierce went in and immediately vomited on the floor from the stench.  He guessed the bodies had been there at least a week.  He quickly exited the tent.  He told the others the smell in the place was too much and he wanted to flip the tent.  With some help, he managed to pull the tent over and away from the bodies.   Both dead men proved to have been gunned down in their sleep and were long dead.  There were also several traps, pelts and other trapping equipment in the tent as well.   Otto thought he heard someone in the woods nearby so he gestured to Marshal Pierce and then indicated something was in the woods in that area.  Marshal Pierce didn’t see anybody there but Jack West, having noticed the signal, saw someone hiding in the bushes.  Miss Sho noticed the men look in that direction as Otto told Marshal Pierce where he thought he heard someone.  Once he knew the exact area, Marshal Pierce saw the man in the bushes.  He looked at West who already had his hand on this gun.  He looked at Miss Sho and thought she knew what was happening.  He nodded at her and looked towards the bushes.   On his side away from the bushes, he held out three fingers, then two, and then one.   Jack West drew and aimed at the spot.   “Stand up!” he called out.   At that same moment, Miss Sho moved to Miss Lee and pulled her away.  Both Otto and Marshal Pierce whipped their Winchester rifles from their shoulders and aimed at the bushes.  A young man with long hair wearing buckskin clothing stood up, one hand over his face as if trying to protect it from the bullets that he feared were coming at it.  He looked terrified.  A pistol was on his belt.   “Oh no!” he cried out.   “Towards us now slowly with the hands up!” Marshal Pierce said.   “We didn’t mean to trespass!”   “Forward slowly with the hands up!”   “You shouldn’t a killed ‘em!  Why did you kill ‘em!  We was just trespassing!  We didn’t mean to!  They said you were gonna kill us!”   “These men are a week dead!” Jack West said.   “Yeah, they killed ‘em a week ago!” the youth called out.  “I don’t where - I’m lost!  I don’t know where I am!”   Tears were rolling down the man’s face.   “Get some of your rations out,” Marshal Pierce said to Otto.   He looked towards the youth.   “Come out slowly with your hands up,” Marshal Pierce said again.  “We are not going to hurt you.”   “I  don’t think he’s going to hurt us at all,” Miss Lee said.   “I got that impression, but I’d like him to come over here,” Otto said.   “Put the guns down,” Miss Lee said.  “Maybe he’ll calm down if you put the weapons away.  You men and your weapons.”   West lowered his pistol, as did Otto.  Marshal Pierce had some beef jerky and threw it at the man.   “Calm down,” he said.  “Eat.  And get over here.”   The youth reached down and picked up a Henry rifle, his hand nowhere near the trigger. Then he came over to them carefully.  He put down the rifle and grabbed the food and ate it ravenously.  Marshal Pierce walked towards the man very slowly and the youth flinched.  He flinched again when Marshal Pierce kicked the rifle away from him.  He flinched once more when Marshal Pierce reached down and unholstered his revolver as well.   “We’re not gonna hurt you,” Marshal Pierce said.  “What’s wrong with you?”   “They told me we were trespassing,” the young man said.  “That somebody owned this land.”   “Who did?” Marshal Pierce said.   The youth pointed towards the wreck of the tent and the two corpses.   “Aaron and Sam,” he said.  “They said ‘We’re trespassing and if they ketch ya, they’re gonna shoot ya.  They’re gonna shoot ya.’”   “Well, it’s not us,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We’re not gonna shoot you.”   “But it was other men,” the youth said.   “Men!” Miss Lee said.   “I didn’t see ‘em but I heard gunshots and, when I came back, Aaron and Sam were dead,” the youth said.  “They were dead.  And there was signs of three horses riding through here.  That way.  They killed ‘em.  And they said if they found us trespassing they’d shoot us and wouldn’t say nothing and they’d just put bullets in us and I didn’t say nothing and I don’t know where we are.  They brought me out here.  They’re in charge.  They’re teaching me how to hunt.  They’re just hunters.  Trappers.  We trap.  I been eating raw meat because I’ve been afraid to light a fire!”   “Well, calm down, boy, calm down,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We’re actually after them.”   “They’re awful!” the youth said.  “Whoever they were, they’re awful!”   He started crying.   “Listen here, do this,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Where are we?” the youth bawled.  “I don’t even know where we are!”   “You need to go up the peak,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Go back down the other way.  Here’s $10.  There’s an inn there.  All right?”   “Okay …” the boy said.   “Now go and get outta here,” Marshal Pierce said.   “But but but …” the youth said taking the money.   He stood up, collecting his pistol and rifle.  West had taken out the rod and was dowsing with it. It was pointing directly in the direction the youth was pointing.   “Tell the people at the inn what happened here and they’ll come help you bury the bodies,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Okay,” the boy said.,   “But you need to calm down.”   “I was trying.  It’s just … nobody ever shot at us.  I don’t know.”   “Jack, would you give him some of your drink?” Miss Sho said.   “Calm him down,” Miss Lee said.   “Calm him down a little,” Miss Sho said.   West looked at them.   “I don’t want his lips on it,” West said, taking out his flask.   He poured a little in the cap and handed it to the boy.  He took it and drank down the tiny sip, then choked on the whiskey/laudanum mixture within.  He was obviously not much of a drinker.   “Thanks,” he hissed through his coughing.   They sent him to Mount Diablo.   Miss Lee slipped a piece of paper into Marshal Pierce’s hand and he found it was a $10 bill.   “No, I can’t,” he said.  “It’s not what I do.”   “Well, I come from a wealthy family so … please,” she said.  “It’s no trouble at all.”   “Can I get reimbursed for my whiskey?” West said.   “No,” Miss Lee said.  “You’re not a nice man.”   “I can’t take money for doing the right thing,” Marshal Pierce said.  “But I tell you what, you do the right thing somewhere else down the road, all right?”   “I always do the right thing,” Miss Lee said.  “But I appreciate it.”   *              *              *   An hour further on, they found a ranch.  Tucked into a lightly wooded valley along the trail was a small homestead house with a barn and corral as well as fields fenced off with wood and wire.  It was a pleasant-looking place with a large porch and glass windows.  It was only a single story tall though with a peaked roof and painted yellow.   The rod pointed right at it.   West moved north and south to triangulate and the rod seemed to point right to the little house.   “It’s the house,” he said.   “We should go inside but not directly,” Miss Lee said.   A Wells Fargo freight wagon stood outside the house.  A man with a white mustache left the house porch and mounted the wagon.  He gave the reins a whip and the horses pulled the wagon away from the house and down a lane that led into the woods going south.  West carefully watched the rod but it still focused on the house.   They discussed what plan of action to take.  There was talk of getting their horses and they wondered about the Wells Fargo wagon being there as well.  They talked for several minutes before they came to a plan.  In the end, Marshal Pierce volunteered to lead back all of their horses.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce actually caught up with the scared young man on the way back to the Mountain House Hotel, startling him.  The boy was more relaxed than he expected.   “I wasn’t sure you knew where the hotel was so I thought I’d take you there,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Thank you,” the youth said.   Marshal Pierce helped the youth get back to the hotel and get a room.  When he went to get the horses, he was warned about Miss Lee’s Arabian.  The animal had kicked one of the stable boys and broke his leg.   *              *              *   It had been very quiet at the homestead.  They had not seen anyone out doing chores and no one had been in the various corrals or pens.   Jack West was juggling a pair of loaded guns with one hand.  Otto had set himself up on the ground with his rifle facing the house.   “So Emerald, do you know who the Showmen are?” Otto asked as they waited.   “Uh … Showmen?” Miss Sho replied.  “I’ve heard of them, yes.”   “What have you heard of them?”   “Um … not much, honestly.  I know that they’re based in Chinatown but not much more.”   “You sure about that?”   “Pretty sure.”   “You don’t know anything else other than that?”   “No, of course not.”   “Not even what sort of business they do in Chinatown?”   “Business.  Yes.  Um … they’re a gang of sorts.”   “Huh.”   “I hear they’re run by someone named Edward Showman.”   “That explains the name.  Do you know why they might be interested in someone like me?”   “Have you done anything in Chinatown?”   “Stabbed a man.”   “That could possibly be it.”   “I hear they’re friends with the tongs,” Jack West said.   Miss Sho sent West a sideways glance.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce showed up an hour later, having left the horses back about a half mile.  Miss Lee’s Arabian had given him the most trouble, as he expected.  He had been careful about going behind the animal.   By then it was about 2 p.m.   He learned nothing had gone on since he’d been gone.  The place had been quiet.   They discussed a plan of action and decided to wait until nightfall.    Some of them crept in a circle around the property to get a lay of the land.  They saw there were two windows and a door with a window in the front, on the west side where the porch was located.  The north side had a chimney but no windows.  The east side had a back door but no windows.  The south side had two windows on the ground floor and a larger window on the second floor.  There must have been a room tucked under the eaves of the house.  All of the windows were open as it was a warm day.   Miss Lee thought sure they were probably keeping Terwilliger on the second floor.  Miss Sho wanted to know why they were waiting for nightfall.  Marshal Pierce told her there were numerous ways for whomever was in the house to see them approach and little cover amid the corrals and pens around the property.  If they went at night, they could go in under cover of darkness.  When she protested they would also not be able to see, he pointed out any lights in the house would mean those within couldn’t see into the darkness outside.   It was quiet all day except for a man exiting the house at one point to bring in wood from the woodpile.   *              *              *   After dark, they  put their plan into action.  Marshal Pierce, Jack West, and Emerald Sho circled the property and approached the house from the east, the back door where there were no windows.  Lambert Otto and Johanna Lee waited in the woods west of the house, facing the front door.  Otto had his carbine aimed at the building.   Lamplight flickered from the house and smoke came from both the stone chimney on the west wall and the iron stovepipe sticking out of the southwest corner of the house and the porch there.  All seemed very quiet in the place, however.   The three approaching the house made it all the way across the corrals and pens to the back of the house without incident.  Jack West tried the knob but found it locked.  Lamplight trickled out of the keyhole.   “China woman,” West hissed.   “China woman?” Marshal Pierce whispered.  “Emerald?”   “Emerald,” West whispered.   “What?” Miss Sho said.   “Do you know how to … get into places you shouldn’t?” West said.   “Are you making assumptions of me?” she whispered back.   She moved to the small stoop and removed a rolled up piece of leather.  When she unrolled it, they saw it was filled with small lock picks.  After a moment, she chose one.   “Yes,” West whispered, mostly to himself.  “I am.”   She got to work on the lock.   “As a federal marshal, should I be concerned with what I’m seeing right now?” Marshal Pierce whispered.   “How about you just look the other way,” she replied.   “I have done that many a time on this journey,” he said.   She worked on the lock for only a few moments and then she put the pick back into the leather wrap and tucked it away again.   “After you,” she whispered.   West turned the knob and pushed the door quietly open.   The door opened into a large room and he could see light within.  A kitchen stood off to the left, on the south side of the house.  There was a large wood cooking stove, a sink and a pump, and counters and shelves.  Another closed door probably led into a pantry next to the kitchen.  A single beam held up what appeared to be a loft above.   The door hid the north side of the room and, when he peeked around it, he saw a fireplace and open area above.  To his right was the back of a staircase without any risers.  Two chairs were facing towards the fireplace and away from him.  In the one to the right sat an old woman, a kerchief over her head, knitting.  In the one on the left sat an old man wearing a straw hat reading a Bible.  A small table sat between them with a glass lamp upon it, illuminating the room.  A very large pile of wood stood on the far side of the fireplace.   The ceiling of the main living room was the gabled roof above whereas the ceiling of the kitchen was flat.  He guessed a loft was above.   “In our later years, I’m glad we’re together George,” the old woman said.   “I am too, Ida,” the old man said.  “Job had it really hard.”   “I’ve always said that,” she said.   West leaned back and whispered to the others.   “Should we just yell ‘Federal marshal - nobody move?’” he said.   “No no,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I want to check the rest of the house.  They seem too old to notice us.”   “I’ll stay and watch,” West said.  “You go ahead.”   “You look down here,” Marshal Pierce said to Miss Sho.  “I’ll go upstairs.”   “We’re just going to walk into a pair of old people’s house,” Miss Sho said.  “Why?”   “We already discussed this!” West hissed.   “Federal marshal business,” Marshal Pierce said.   “Why not just knock on the door?” she said.   “These people might try to shoot us,” he said.  “We’re pretty good at getting shot at so we try to be sneaky where we can.”   “All right,” she said.   West had a gun in each hand, one trained on each of the old people.  He had moved against the wall where he was out of the way but had a good view.   They moved to the man and had a hushed conversation about trying to slip by the old people to get to the stairs.  When Marshal Pierce realized he would have to creep by them very close, he didn’t think he could do it.  He also reiterated that he didn’t want to kill old people.  They discussed it for a few moments.   “I still think it’s rude to walk into old people’s homes,” Miss Sho said.   “It’s not an old person’s home,” West said.  “It’s my house.”   “Because, these old people … they might shoot us,” Marshal Pierce said.   “One of you, go wait out by the window,” Miss Sho said.   She pointed up to the window they knew was on the south wall of the 2nd floor.  Marshal Pierce told West to give her the rod so she can find what they were looking for.  West handed it off and she tucked it away.   Marshal Pierce crept out the back door while Miss Sho crept along the staircase and along it without a sound, creeping to the steps and disappearing up them.  Neither of the old people seemed to notice her.   Maybe that’s how it is without stirrups, West thought.   *              *              *   Upstairs, the loft filled about half the upper part of the house.  A railing ran along one side and two windows were against the south wall.  A bed was under the windows.  There was a chest of drawers, a large hope chest, and a small writing table and chair.  A glass hurricane lamp sat on a small table next to the bed.  She moved to the windows and looked out.  Marshal Pierce stood just under the windows below.   She pulled the quilt from the bed and tied one end of it to the bed frame, tossing the other end out of the window.  It was a little too high for him to reach.   “Jump,” she whispered to him.  “Jump.”   “Jump two feet in the air?” he whispered back.   “I don’t know what you can do.”   “I don’t either.”   He stood near the wall and then leapt up as hard as he could, actually catching the end of the quilt and clinging to it.  He pulled himself up hand over hand and clambered into the window.  While he was climbing, Miss Sho had taken out the rod and found it was pulling almost straight down, but angled slightly towards the fireplace.  She told him what she learned.   “Well, let’s look up here first, even if it is down there,” he whispered.   They set about searching the room, Marshal Pierce taking off his boots.  They found a shotgun under the linens in the hope chest and a rifle under the chest of drawers.  A revolver was hidden in the writing desk.   “This is why we didn’t just walk up and knock,” Marshal Pierce said.  “There’s other people in this house.”   “Seems like it,” Miss Sho said.  “Should we just drop them out the windows to … whatever-his-face is?”   “He’s still watching the old people and I don’t think I can get his attention without getting their attention.”   He thought about unloading the guns but was unsure how much noise it would make.  Miss Sho suggested they drop them out the window.  He did so though she kept the revolver.   After finding those weapons, they searched the room again and found a Henry rifle under the mattress of the bed and another revolver under one of the pillows.  Hidden amidst the underwear in the dresser drawer was a derringer.  She tucked that last one away as well.  Marshal Pierce tossed the Henry rifle and the other six-shooter out the window.  It seemed like an awful lot of weapons in the house.   “Tell Jack or … what’s-his-face … that I’m going to train a gun on them because I don’t trust them,” Miss Sho said.   “Okay,” he whispered back.   Marshal Pierce climbed back down the quilt and crept back into the back door of the house.   Miss Sho used the two peacemakers she had to aim at the two old people.   *              *              *   Miss Lee thought she saw a dark shape come out of the window on the second floor on the side of the house, scuttle down the wall, and drop to the ground before disappearing around the back of the house.  She alerted Otto but the figure was gone by the time she pointed it out.   It started to lightly rain.  Otto offered his duster to Miss Lee and she took it graciously.   *              *              *   Jack West was bored.  The two old people were talking about the Book of Job.   “I always admired them,” the old woman said.  “Those Bible people.”   Marshal Pierce crept back in.   “Hey, she’s upstairs pointing the guns at the old people,” Marshal Pierce said.  “You don’t have to do that anymore.  She … ****.  She’s still got the rod.  I’m not climbing back up there.  I’m not doing that.  But she said it was pointing down into the fireplace.”   “A secret entrance,” West said.   “That’s what I’m thinking so let’s go look.”   “Okay, I’ll knock out the old woman.  You get the man.”   “No no no no.  I’m thinking there might be a basement, a trapdoor.  It’s usually in the kitchen.  So we don’t have to hurt old people.  We don’t have to hurt old people.  I want to stress that one more time.”   “We can check that.”   West holstered one of his pistols and they quietly moved into the door that led off the kitchen.  The rain pattering against the roof helped cover the sound of their movement.  They were in a pantry, indeed, but there was no sign of a trapdoor on the floor.  They searched meticulously for several minutes but couldn’t find any indication of any kind of door in the floor at all.   “It’s going to be under the fireplace,” West whispered.  “Do you want to have a casual conversation with them or just knock them out?”   “A casual conversation with people  that don’t think anyone else is in the house?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Yes.”   “Have you done that before?”   “All the time.  No!  I haven’t done that.”   “Oh.  Also, we found seven guns upstairs.  They have guns hidden everywhere.  That Bible might be a gun.  That knitting she’s doing might have a gun in it.  I’m figuring a gun under his seat and a gun under her seat.  Anywhere.”   *              *              *   Miss Sho watched the two old people but they hadn’t moved.   “We’re staying up awful late tonight,” the old woman said.   “Well, I gotta finish about Job,” the old man said.  “We have to figure out what happens to him.”   “God works in mysterious ways.  Well, not so mysterious for a woman.”   “You’re right of course.  I love you.”   “I love you too.”   *              *              *   “I think the old woman is less of a threat so I’ll take her,” Marshal Pierce whispered.   “Okay, if you have to shoot her, that’s your call,” West said.   “I tell you, I think there’s a gun in the Bible though.”   “If he turns around too fast … his hands are gone.”   “Once … once again, I want to stress that we don’t have to hurt old people.  I’m a federal marshal; I feel like people forget this a lot.  You lead the way.”   West snuck back out followed by Marshal Pierce, both of them with guns drawn.  Though Marshal Pierce was quiet, West’s spurs were very loud.  Both of the old people turned towards Jack West and the old man dropped the Bible.   “Lawsy!” he cried out.   The old woman gasped and dropped her knitting.   “Oh no!” the old man cried out.  “Oh dear!  It’s robbers!  He’s gonna kill us!  He’s gonna kill us!”   “Well, I knew I could only live so long,” the old woman said.   “As long as you keep your hands up … you should be fine,” West said.   The old woman flung her hands up as far as they would go.  The old man held his hands up as well.   “Just take whatever you want,” the old man said.  “Just take it.  We’re just cattle farmers, we’re just trying to make a living.”   “Well, we are obliging─” West said.   “Kill me first!” the old man said.   “Would you shut up!” West yelled.   They stopped talking.   “If I can take whatever I want, I would like … the Crescent,” West said.   “The what?” the old man said.   “I know there’s something under your fireplace,” West said.   The two glanced at the fireplace.   “Stones?” the old woman said.   “Don’t antagonize the man, Ida,” the man said.  “He’s gonna kill us both.”   “Nobody’s gotta die,” West said.   “Listen, don’t hurt my wife,” the old man said.  “We’re just cattle farmers.  We’re just trying to make a living.”   “Face your front door and walk to that window,” West said.   “Just do as he says Ida,” the old man said.   “Okay George,” the old woman said.  “I love you.”   They got up out of the chairs and moved towards the window, facing it.   “Why were there so many guns upstairs?” Marshal Pierce asked.   “There’s two of em!” George gasped.   “We’re gonna die for sure!” Ida said.   She started praying, saying the Lord’s Prayer.  The old man started jabbering and stuttering nervously.  West moved to the fireplace to search it, holstering his pistol.   “I found seven guns upstairs and that’s a lot for two people,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Who else is in the house?”   “It’s just us,” George said.  “It’s just us.  We’re alone!  We’ve been trying to raise cattle here.”   In the loft, Miss Sho realized there were no cattle anywhere on the premises.  None at all.  She moved to the stairs and crept down them, the pistols still aimed at the old people, one at each of them.   Marshal Pierce held his shotgun with his off hand, moved forward, and drew his pistol, putting it against the back of his head and cocking it.   “Don’t hurt us!” the old man said.  “Oh God!  Oh God!  We have all the guns to keep you people away!”   West found that the woodpile was fake.  None of the wood moved.  It was a structure built to look like a woodpile.  Then he found a brick that pivoted slightly in the fireplace and there was a click from the woodpile itself, as if a latch had been released.  It seemed very loud in the room.  The old couple went quiet and West drew a pistol.   “You better tell me what that is right now,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Or I will blow your brains out.”   “You will or he will,” the old man said.   He sounded calm and collected.   “Or I will,” Miss Sho said.   “Who’s he?” Marshal Pierce said.   “Just do it!” the old man said.   He pushed his head back against Marshal Pierce’s pistol.   “It’ll be quicker this way,” he said.   “I’ll do it,” Miss Sho said.   She fired both pistols in her hands, one at each of the old people.  The bullet struck the old woman in the back and she shrieked and fell forward, blood spewing out of her chest.  The other bullet struck the old man in the left hand, narrowly missing his head.   “Nooooo!” Marshal Pierce turned towards the woman, crying out.   “Ida!” the old man yelled.  “No!”   Marshal Pierce went down on his knees, setting the shotgun and pistol on the floor to his right, and tried to stop her bleeding.   *              *              *   Otto and Miss Lee heard gunfire from the house.    *              *              *   Jack West whipped around, saw smoke coming out of Miss Sho’s guns, Marshal Pierce kneeling by the old woman, who was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, and the old man, his hand bleeding profusely standing by the window.   “You could do a better job with him,” he yelled at Miss Sho.   He turned back to the woodpile with a curse and noticed some of the wood was in the wrong position.  He lifted it and a hidden trapdoor opened up, revealing a narrow spiraling staircase leading down.   “Don’t move,” Miss Sho said to the old man.   She aimed both of her guns at him.   “You’ve lied too much,” she said.   “Why!?!” Marshal Pierce cried out.  “Why did you shoot them!?!”   He rolled the old woman over and tried to staunch the flow of blood but she gasped her last breath, clutching at him.   “Jesus forgives you,” she gasped.   “I’m sorry!” he said.   Then he heard the death rattle in her throat as she died.   *              *              *   Miss Lee leapt up and sprinted towards the house, Otto right behind her.  She quickly pulled away from the man.  As he ran, he slung his Winchester on his shoulder and drew his saber.   *              *              *   The old man went to his knees, gasping for breath.  He put his hands on the table with the lamp as though supporting himself and then reached underneath it and pulled out a pistol.  There was a blast as Miss Sho fired. Marshal Pierce thought sure it was coming for him.  The window broke as the bullet smashed through it and thumped outside somewhere.   The old man returned fire, the bullet striking the wall next to Miss Sho.  He cocked the gun again.   West spun around and fired from the hip.  The bullet struck the pistol in the handle and the his gun went off again as it was shot out of his hand.  The gun was knocked out of his hand, taking his trigger finger with it.  The man screamed and fell to the ground, blood spewing from the wound.   Marshal Pierce grabbed his weapons and stood.   *              *              *   Miss Lee ran up to the front door of the house and kicked it.  It didn’t open but merely rattled in the frame.  Then Otto rushed the door and crashed into it with his right shoulder.  The door didn’t move but he heard a terrible noise from his shoulder that didn’t sound natural.  There was immense pain from his shoulder and he fell prone on the porch.  He grunted in pain.   *              *              *   “Why did you shoot them?” Marshal Pierce said.   “He had a gun in his hand,” West said.   “You do realize how much they were lying, right?” Miss Sho said.   “No,” Marshal Pierce said.  “They were lying?”   “Yes,” she said.   “Were they going to try to kill us?” Marshal Pierce said.   “He had a gun in his hand!” West said.  “He went for it!  I didn’t kill him.”   “How many guns did they have in this house?” Miss Sho said.  “And, they said they were ranchers.”   “I’m going to go find Mr. Terwilliger,” West said.   There was a knock on the front door.  West headed down into the basement.   “Nobody would knock on the door if they were trying to hurt us,” Marshal Pierce said.   He went to the door and turned the key in the lock, opening it.  Miss Lee stood at the door.   Otto was grunting in pain, his arm at a strange angle.   “He broke his shoulder,” Miss Lee said.   “Welcome to our lovely home,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Mind the blood.”   He realized Otto had a dislocated shoulder and grabbed the man, helping him relocate it.  Otto shrieked in the terrible pain from the whole incident.  Marshall Pierce grabbed him by one boot and dragged him into the house.  Miss Lee followed.  She was surprised by the mess in the room.   Miss Sho and Marshal Pierce headed down the steps, followed closely by Miss Lee.  Otto, his right arm aching, drew his pistol with his left hand and aimed it at the steps the others had disappeared down.   *              *              *   The tight spiral stairs went downward for what felt like a long way.  A few torches were set in the wall giving off just enough light to allow him to traverse the steps.  At the bottom, the staircase opened into what appeared to be a natural cave, lit by lanterns along the walls.   The cave was set up as a laboratory with several tables.  Some held beakers of chemicals and others held electrical machines.  Two large cages stood in the room.  The nearest had an open door while the further one was closed and locked.  A little boy was within it.  Off to one side was a blacksmith’s forge and tools for its use, including a small anvil.  There were plenty of leather aprons and thick leather gloves as well. In the middle of the room was a table with the Crescent upon it along with some electrical equipment.  Standing next to the table was Professor Marion Terwilliger.  To Jack’s left was a man with a gun, cocked and pointing at him.  Across the room, he recognized John Valentine, also gun in hand.  The barrel of the gun was pressed against the head of a little girl he held with his left hand.   The Crescent was about three feet in diameter, a crescent-shaped, piece of apparently solid silver.  Several small spikes or shards stuck out from it.  However, part of it was scorched and burned, as if it had been exposed to great heat.  And one of the spikes was missing, leaving a large hole there.   “C’mon down,” Valentine said in his relaxed, southern drawl.  “Bring ‘em all in.”   “They’re on their way down,” West said.   “C’mon in,” Valentine said.   West moved to his right, staying against the wall and into the room.   *              *              *   Miss Sho, who had been fairly close behind West, stopped at the last curve of the stairs, she thought.  Marshal Pierce, directly behind her, stopped for a moment.   “Get all of ‘em down here,” Valentine’s voice came up the stairs.  “We gotta all be together.  I know there’s more than you, Jack West.”   *              *              *   “I heard of you,” John Valentine said to Jack West.  “You’re good.  I’m impressed.  Want a job?”   Jack West cocked his head as if considering it.   Marshal Pierce appeared at the foot of the stairs and recognized John Valentine.  Miss Lee came down just behind him, followed by Miss Sho.   “So … about this proposition …” West said.   *              *              *   Upstairs, Otto got to his feet.  He saw the old man and the old woman lying there, dead or dying.   Jack West, he thought.   He picked up his saber and his rifle and crept into the pantry where he crouched and pointed the rifle at the still-open trapdoor.   *              *              *   “Depends on what kind,” West said.   “We’ll talk,” Valentine said with a wink and a smile.  “Before anyone does something foolish, you should know this pistol has a hair trigger and if it or I or shot, this little girl will certainly die.”   Tears ran down the little girl’s face.   “C’mon in!” Valentine said again.  “Is everybody in?  We’ll know in a moment.  Hark, what’s that?  I think I hear my associates approaching.”   *              *              *   Two man burst in the front door of the house.  Otto recognized them as Rex and Willie, the men they’d met the day before in the woods on the other side of Mount Diablo.  They glanced around the room and then ran to the trapdoor and disappeared down the stairs.   *              *              *   The others heard the pounding of feet coming down the steps and Willie and Rex showed up in the stairwell, pistols in hand.   “Ah, there’s my other friends,” Valentine said.  “Now, who’s got the rod?”   “You lied to us, Rex!” West said.   Rex shrugged.   “Money was good,” Rex said.   “I can’t blame you then,” West said.   “Kill ‘em Rex!” Willie said.  “Let me kill ‘em!”   “Willie, shut the hell  up,” Rex said.   Willie grinned maniacally.   “Where’s the rod?” Valentine said.   They stared at him.   “We need it,” he said.  “We gotta put it back together.”   He glanced at the Crescent on the table.   “What─” West said.   “Give it up, or I’ll have to shoot you all,” Valentine said.  “If you do give it up, I’ll only have to shoot some of you.  Maybe her.”   He jammed the gun into the little girl’s head, obviously hurting her.  She whimpered and cried out, more tears spilling down her cheeks.   “I don’t wanna,” Valentine said.  “I don’t want to hurt you, darlin’.  They’re making me.  Who’s got it?”   He looked them over.   “I can kill her and work on the boy if you’d rather,” Valentine said.   “Does somebody want to tell me what’s going on?” Miss Lee whispered to Miss Sho.   Both West and Miss Sho realized Valentine was a complete sociopath and madman who would probably kill anybody in the room to get what he wanted.  He also seemed far too confident and collected considering how many guns were pointing in his direction.   “I’m interested in what the Crescent does because what I like is money, but what I love more is my family,” West said.   “What about power?” Valentine said.  “Your family could benefit from power, can’t they, Jack West?”   “Anyone can,” West said.   “Where’s the rod?” Valentine said.  “We need the Crescent and in order to make it work, we need the rod.  It’s missing.  Can’t you see?  Look at it. Where is it?”   Marshal Pierce looked at Miss Sho.  He stared at her, giving her an anxious look.   “One of you has it,” Valentine said.  “One of you has it.  Where is it?  We need it.”   “Well, it’s not on me,” West said.   Valentine sighed.   “All right,” he said.  “Well, I’m sorry, darlin’.”   Miss Lee tried to figure out how to possibly seduce Valentine.  She let slip Otto’s duster.  Then she started to unbutton her dress.   Miss Sho slowly walked around Miss Lee, blocking her from Valentine’s view, and stared at him.   “I don’t know what this rod is but … I am here for Terwilliger,” she said.   “You do know where the rod is,” he replied.   “I might know where it is, but I don’t know what it is.”   “That’s fine.  Hand it over.”   “I don’t have it.”   “Why … do you lie to me!?!”   He shoved the gun harder against the little girls head.  She whimpered.   “I don’t wanna have to kill her,” he said.  “But I will.  So hand over the rod.  Willie will take it.  You don’t even have to touch it.  Button your dress back up, lady.”   “I’m sure there’s something we can work out here that doesn’t involve anybody getting killed,” Miss Lee said.   “All right,” Miss Sho said.   She put her guns down slowly on a table and took the rod out where she was hiding it.   “Willie!” Valentine said.   Miss Sho walked towards Valentine.   “Uh-uh!” Valentine said.   She stopped.   “Willie!” Valentine said.   Laughing hysterically, Willie walked over and grabbed the rod out of her hand.   “Put it in, Willie,” Valentine said.  “Let’s see it in its full glory for the first time.”   Willie laughed maniacally, walking like a bird.  Valentine watched Miss Sho, who stood closest to him.  Willie grabbed the wires of one of the machines still connected to the Crescent and ripped them off.  Then he giggled insanely and slipped the rod into the Crescent.   Miss Lee picked up the coat from the ground and realized the strange device they’d gotten from Professor Terwilliger’s barn was in the pocket.   The Crescent started a high pitched hum, almost as if it had been humming before, but had been interrupted.  That was the distinct feeling each of them got when they heard the noise.  A strange sheen flashed over the object and it started to shake.  Willie grinned madly.   John Valentine looked at Willie and the Crescent, finally looking away from Miss Sho and actually taking the gun from the little girl’s head.  She stepped forward, drawing her Arkansas toothpick and stabbed at the man.  He easily ducked aside, ignoring her and looking over her shoulder as the high pitched whine continued.   The Crescent started to glow and the glow ran up Willie’s arm and he started to glow as well.  He began to laugh maniacally as if he was enjoying it immensely as little pieces of him seemed to separate themselves from the man.  Though it felt like it took forever for him to break  into a myriad of tiny, tiny particles that circled around and around before they spread out further and further until they were gone, it must have only lasted a second.  Everyone could smell blood and bowel and sweat and hair and flesh and realized Willie had been pulled apart and scattered across the room and now they were all breathing him in.   Miss Lee pulled out the demon lamp and pointed it at John Valentine.  Sparks spewed out of the thing and slapped against the wall near the man.   The humming from the Crescent got higher-pitched as the table beneath it shimmered and came apart, scattering, and they could all taste wood.  The Crescent dropped to the ground with a clunk and continued to shake and hum.  The glow was spreading.   In the doorway, Rex turned and ran up the steps.  The other man who had been pointing the gun at them looked around, terrified, and also headed for the steps.  John Valentine had let go of the little girl and was staring at the Crescent and laughing.  He was slowly backing towards one of the other entrances to the cave.  The little girl fell to her knees, crying hysterically.   “The boy!” Professor Terwilliger shouted.   He pointed to the cage where the little boy was still locked up.   Jack West shot at the Crescent.  He saw the bullet stop within a foot of the object and then suddenly seemed to unravel and disappear, scattered in the air like Willie and the table.  They could all smell and taste metal and gunpowder.   “We got to get outta here!” West said.   He reached over and grabbed Professor Terwilliger’s hand, dragging him towards the stairs.  Professor Terwilliger didn’t fight him.   “The boy!” he yelled.  “He’s in the cage.”   He pointed to a beaker of liquid nearest the cage on one of the tables.   Miss Sho had turned in time to see the bullet stop in midair and then scatter to its component parts.  There was no sign of Willie.  She heard the girl crying behind her.  She turned and grabbed the girl by her shoulder and dragged her towards the stairs.  The little girl came to her feet, screaming in terror.   Marshal Pierce ran to the cage where the boy was and pulled the shotgun off his shoulder. He put it to where the lock met the bars and told the child to get back, reaching in and shoving him to one side.  There was the blast of both barrels as the lock was completely blown off and buckshot ricocheted all over the cave.  Jack West cursed as he was hit by stray shot.    Miss Lee ran up the steps.   *              *              *   Otto had gathered himself and headed down the steps.  He was down some ways when he heard shouting, a high-pitched hum, and gunfire from below.  Then Rex ran up the steps.  He tried to run the man through.   “You damn fool!” Rex shouted.  “Get outta the way!”   He shoved past Otto, gun in hand, and ran up the steps as fast as he could.   *              *              *   Jack West led the others up the steps, pulling Terwilliger close behind.  Miss Sho followed, pulling the girl along as best she could.   Marshal Pierce grabbed the boy by his arm, dragging him out of the cage.  He flung the boy up and onto his shoulder and ran out of the place.  He barely made it by the strange glow.   *              *              *   Otto heard the pounding of feet coming up the steps behind Rex and saw Miss Lee run up the steps at him.  She was followed by a man he didn’t recognize who had a pistol in his hand but held it up and didn’t look like much of a threat.  He looked terrified.   “What’s going on?” he said.   “Run!” she said, pushing past him.   He turned and ran after her.   They all fled the caves, Miss Lee and Otto followed by the man they didn’t know.  After them came Jack West and Professor Terwilliger, Miss Sho and the little girl, and Clayton Pierce and the little boy.  They fled out the trapdoor to the front door and ran out of the house, bursting off the porch into the light rain outside.  Otto stopped long enough to try to drag the old man out of the house but couldn’t get him to move so he abandoned him.  Light blasted up the steps as he ran out of the house.   Jack West shot the man who’d been in the cave with Valentine.  The bullet struck him in the back of the head.  He had meant to shoot the man in the leg but had been distracted by Terwilliger.  He looked around but Rex had already fled into the darkness.   They could still hear the humming and, as they fled the house, it reached a truly terrible pitch.  There was a crash and a flash of light behind them.  Only Jack West and Marshal Pierce looked back as the house seemed to explode and then collapsed all at the same time, the debris flying upwards only slightly before being sucked back down into the ground and disappeared.  The sound stopped completely.   West ran back to the spot.  He found what looked like a sinkhole about 30 feet across and eight to 10 feet deep.  It looked like everything was gone.   The rain pattered down out of the sky.   Professor Terwilliger thanked them all profusely as they all walked back to the sinkhole.  It was all that remained of the house.    While Marshal Pierce talked to the children to learn from them where they come from, Miss Sho asked Professor Terwilliger what had happened to him.   Terwilliger told them he was kidnapped by two men, a crazy man in a white hat and a quiet but sinister man in black leather.  They surprised him in the laboratory and took him away, tying his hands and taking him on horseback.  They also stole some of his static electricity generation batteries.  They traveled an entire day before they reached the homestead where he was put below.  John Valentine arrived to tell him he would experiment on the Crescent and try to find some substitute for the missing rod.    “I-I was warned not to touch it as it was damaged,” he said.  “Although, you know, I touched the Crescent in Yellow Flats.  Valentine said he found the thing in 1874; that was a year and a half ago.  So, the one in Yellow Flats was a different Crescent.  There’s more than one!”   “That’s not good,” Miss Sho said.   “But, that means … something was wrong with this one,” Professor Terwilliger went on.  “It was scorched.  And when I worked on it, I started getting these visions.  I could see the globe, the world, below, and then it came closer and closer.  And I felt heat.  And then it looked like it landed somewhere in New Mexico or someplace, and crashed.  I-I think it came from that Crescent, from that thing.  But there’s the other one, from Yellow Flats.”   He looked at all of them.   “I refused to help him,” he said.  “Of course I did.  That’s not right.  He’s a … he’s an outlaw, you know.  I said, ‘I’m not going to help you.’”   “Outlaws are so horrible,” Miss Sho said.   “Exactly,” Professor Terwilliger said.  “So then, a day later, he brings in these two kids.  And he said he’d torture them unless I helped him.  What can I do?  What are you going to do?  So, I tried to help him.   “I think they’re alive somehow.  I think the Crescents are actually somehow alive.  They produce a prodigious amount of energy.  They seem to be able to use it to do things around them.  It’s very strange.  And I think one of ‘em … I think one of ‘em was in orbit.  That one.”   He pointed towards the remains of the house.   “I think it was … I think it was up on orbit,” he went on.  “Maybe I could have gotten to it with my rocket!  I think it was up there because I saw these visions of it coming to the ground and the extreme heat.  It makes sense.”   Miss Sho thought the man was a little eccentric but he didn’t seem actually insane.   “There is another Crescent,” he said.  “The one we found in Yellow Flats.  It’s out there, somewhere.”   “I think I know where it is,” Otto said.   “Thank you so much!” Professor Terwilliger said to each of them as he shook their hands.   Marshall Pierce, in the meantime, had learned the little girl was Beatrice Taylor who was seven years old and was from the town of Alamo.  The little boy was Alvin Philips, who was 10 and from the town of Danville.  He had a good idea where each of the towns lay as he had been in each during his search for Professor Terwilliger.  He told them he was taking them home, and mounted his horse and headed off.   Terwilliger was very excited the Crescent hadn’t been destroyed.   “Something’s wrong with that one,” he said.  “I got the weirdest, strangest, strangest visions in my head sometimes, like it was trying to tell me things.  But there was something wrong with it, something very wrong with it.”   He thanked them all again and shook their hands, introducing himself to the two women he’d not yet men.   They headed for the Mountain House Hotel.  Miss Lee insisted on covering the cost of Terwilliger’s room in thanks to Marshal Pierce for his giving money to the trapper earlier.  They made plans to return to Oakland the next day.   *              *              *   Marshal Pierce returned the two kidnapped children to their parents.  They were happy to receive their children, hugging the marshal and  telling the neighbors.  They tried to get him to stay the night in Danville, where he’d gone first, but he told them he had to return little Beatrice to her family as well and several men went with him.   He was given a room in Alamo for the night and a home-cooked meal and the appreciation of the town.   *              *              *   The next day, Friday, August 27, 1875, the others returned Professor Terwilliger to his farm in Oakland.  Matilda was happy to see him and thanked them over and over again.  Both of them promised if any of them ever needed anything from them, all they needed to do was ask.

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