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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

 

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

 

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.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Iron-Banded Box Part 1 - Night of the Oni

Sunday, June 24, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “The Iron-Banded Box” by Michael Dziensinski from Strange Aeons II today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, John Leppard, and Ben Abbott.)   It was a time of civil war in Japan known as the Sengoku or “warring states” Period.  Since the Onin War (1467-1478), the razing of Kyoto, and the subsequent weak rule of the Azuchi military rulers, all social order in the county had fallen into complete anarchy.  Political alliances changed constantly and feudal daimyo lords faced threats from without and within as their samurai subordinates tried to seize power for themselves.   Common folk and priests, disgusted with the lawlessness ravaging the countryside, formed egalitarian communities free of daimyo rule.  To take life’s daily hardships in stride, a commonsense wisdom of enduring misfortune had developed, as most could do little else.  Many felt the age of Mappo had arrived, the darkest of times where Buddhist law and morality disappeared from the land.   It was the golden age of the samurai, where bravery and a strong sword arm could determine one’s fortune or doom.   A group of six rônin, masterless samurai, were on the road seeking better fortunes since their daimyo was killed and his lands taken by a young upstart warlord some months before.  Hōjō Sōun was the first lord of the Hōjō clan.  Born Ise Moritoki, he was originally known as Ise Shinkurō, a samurai of Taira lineage from a reputable family.  He had worked his way up from a rônin until he gained control of Izu Province in 1493 when he avenged a wrong committed by a member of the Ashikaga family which held the shogunate.  It was then he adopted the surname Hōjō and the given name Sōun or Sozui.  He built a stronghold at Nirayama and then secured Odawara Castle, which became the center of his domain.   He died in the winter of 1519 when his stronghold fell and his samurai were scattered, becoming rônin.  Masterless.   For the last few months, the group had wandered the countryside brooding, the sting still fresh from the indignity of their new rônin status.  How could they establish a name in the new order when even the lowliest could overturn the elites?  With sharp swords and solid determination, they needed an edge to establish a new domain in the time of anarchy … if they didn’t slide into common banditry out of desperation.   The six had a falling out when two of them, brothers, had an argument.  The group had parted ways at that point, half of them heading south while the other half went north.  This is the tale of those who had traveled south.   Wada Soburô was 25 years old and was a large, muscular man standing a head taller than most.  His skin was deeply tanned and he wore his hair in a simple topknot.  He carried a katana and three yari, spears strapped to his back. He wore a rough cloth kimono and hakama.   The third oldest of the Wada family, Soburô had worked enough years as a farmer and suffered trampled fields by samurai enough to be very cynical about the lot.  He was amused when he and his brother, Gorô, were conscripted as soldiers and eventually promoted to samurai.  Practical as ever, he merely saw it as another way to protect his village.  However, now that he had gotten a taste for the warrior’s life, he liked it.  He was very cynical of the samurai and their ways however.   He and Gorô were the brothers who had argued and caused the rift in the party.  Soburô had argued that, as their master was dead, they had to move on with their lives and make something of themselves.  However, his brother Gorô had disagreed, thinking they needed to find a way to avenge their former master.  The group had split, for the most part, along those lines.  Gorô had left with Endô Soun and Doi Ihara.   Abe Masao was thin but sturdy with graying hair that was thinning on top.  He wore a green kimono and a hakama, a katana and wakizashi in his belt.  He was older than all the rest of the rônin at 48 years.  He no longer scraped his forehead for the chonmage hairstyle as he had gone bald long ago.  He had gray hair on his temples and had seen many battles.   Abe had served Lord Hōjō most of his life before his untimely death.  Though not sure what he was doing out with the young rônin, he couldn’t go home until he made a new name for himself.  A former Tiashô, a field leader, he had the wisdom the others did not.  He only hoped they would defer to him at times.   Oda Ino was 29 years old and had the shaved head of a Buddhist monk.  He had a light beard and mustache.    Though he started life as a Buddhist priest, at age 17, destiny had other plans for him when his monastery was burned to the ground by samurai.  Taking pity on him, a rônin who protected the nearby village took Oda under his wing and trained him in the warrior arts.  He had always been a rônin though his companions didn’t know it.  He sought to punish those who trampled the common folk.  He wasn’t above physical work and sought out the company of the common folk.   It was the summer of 1520 A.D. when the three men came upon the village of Kôhai-Mura in Izu Province.  The town consisted of three dozen or so sun-bleached buildings clustered around two central but narrow intersecting dirt streets that divided the buildings into a simple grid, an inn in the center.  The west side of town abruptly ended in a thick mountainside forest.  The arid air was absolutely still and the heat suffocating.   As the three entered town, it seemed they were not welcome.  The streets were empty, the only sounds being doors and windows creaking shut upon their arrival.  They could hear people off in the town to the east as they passed the inn.  Then they smelled food coming from a tavern nearby.  Their stomachs growled as they were all very hungry, having only a little of their dried fish left from the road.   Wada lifted his head and sniffed at the air.  He looked at the other two and then sprinting towards the tavern.  The other two looked at each other and then followed behind more slowly.   *              *              *   Wada burst into the tavern.  The omiya had a cluster of four low tables and stools which filled the room.  A dozen people were in the poorly-lit establishment, eating or drinking sake.  A middle-aged man in a simple black kimono stood behind a counter with space for about four stools.  Behind the counter and near the ceiling was a shelf with a small Buddhist altar with two fresh wooden planks.   The smell of rice, fish soup, cooked mountain yams, buns, and tea filled the room.  A few of the men were drinking warmed sake.  Wada’s stomach growled loudly.   Wada kicked off his sandals and crossed to the bar and the man in the black kimono.   “I humbly offer my services for any food or drink that you may spare,” Wada said to the man, putting his face humbly down on the bar.  “Please, I am a rônin.  I have no money.  May I please work for my food tonight?  Please sir.”   The man looked down upon him and considered it.   *              *              *   When Oda and Abe entered the tavern, they saw Wada at the bar, apparently begging the man behind it for something.   Oda saw the small Buddhist altar.  In Japan, Shinto ceremonies were performed for births and weddings while Buddhist ceremonies focused on funerals.  Buddhist mourning consisted of cremating the dead and storing the remains in an urn under the house for a period of time.  A Buddhist priest would give the dead a new posthumous Buddhist name which was inscribed on a plank of wood and prayed upon, both at the family or clan grave and in the home on a small, Buddhist altar.    The butsudan altar was a cabinet with a central image of the Buddha surrounded by candles, sandalwood incense, and wooden planks bearing the names of deceased relatives.  Daily offering of rice, sake, or fruit were placed at the base o the altar.  Living relatives wore black during the mourning period.   Oda removed his sandals, crossed to the Buddhist altar, and knelt down, saying a short prayer.  Abe removed his sandals and crossed to the bar.   “Oji-san!” the man behind the bar barked.   On old man came out of the back.  “Oji-san” meant “old man.”  He hobbled painfully over to the bar.   “Find him some work!” the man said, gesturing at Wada.  “And get him food.”   He left the bar to see to his other work.  Oji-san went into the back and returned with two plates of rice, cooked fish, and buns.  There was a very small carafe of sake as well, though it was little more than a swallow for each of them.  He gave them each tiny cups.   Wada groveled on the floor in thanks before he sat at the bar and dug in.  He poured himself some sake and poured a little less to Abe.  He drank and quickly poured out the rest of sake into his own cup.  Abe bowed slightly and then set to eating as well.   Oda, meanwhile, read the wooden planks on the altar.  They bore the posthumous names for “Ichirô” and “Mika.”  He saw the offerings of incense and rice there, indicating recent deaths.  The names were poorly scrawled and he guessed they had not been done by a Buddhist priest.   He walked over to the barkeep.   “I am very sorry for this town’s loss,” he said.   The barkeep grunted.   “You’ve already met my traveling companions,” Oda said.   The barkeep looked over at the men at the bar who ate.  He grunted again.   The tavern started shaking.  The walls and tables rattled.  A bottle of soy sauce tipped towards the edge of a shelf but Oji-san deftly caught it, righting it.  No one in the tavern seemed to give it any mind as if it was a common occurrence.   “I … I am looking for work as well, if you or anyone you know in the town …” Oda said.  “Are you … is this normal?”   “It has been happening,” the barkeep said.  “What can you do to pay for your meals?  Who are you?  Are you a monk?”   “I am a rônin,” Oda said.  “I was raised as a Buddhist monk.  I am trained in combat but I have two good hands─”   The barkeep pointed at the altar.   “Can you write?” he said.   “Yes,” Oda said.  “Calligraphy.  Very good at it.”   The barkeep took him to the altar as the earthquake subsided.  He showed Oda the planks and asked if he could do better.  If he could do that, he would give the monk meals for a day.  When the monk agreed, he fetched a half dozen planks for him to write on.  It took Oda a few tries before he wrote out two that he thought would be acceptable.  He also learned the man was Udai and Ichirô had been his son.  Mika had been his wife.   “Oji-san!” Udai shouted when he was done.  “Food!”   The old man brought the monk some rice, cooked fish, and sake as he took his seat with his fellows.   Three men stood up and approached the bar as the rônin finished their meal.  They were rough-looking fellows, one with a goatee and mustache, as well as a topknot.  Another had a mustache and a strange bump on his forehead.  The last was clean-shaven though he had a full head of hair, also pulled back in a knot.  Each of them had a wakizashi in their kimono sashes.   They leered at Abe’s katana.   “Greetings,” the first said.  “Welcome to Kôhai-Mura.  Allow us to buy you a drink.”   The rônin could smell sake and food on the men’s breaths but they did not seem drunk in the least.   “Yes!” Wada said.   “Come,” the man said.  “Join us.”   “Yes!” Wada said.   The three rônin joined the three men, who yelled for sake from Oji-san.  The old man hobbled over and brought a clay jug and six cups.  The first man poured for everyone at the table and they talked to the rônin.   “Where are you from?” the first man asked.   “I am Wada Soburô from the Izu Province,” Wada said, taking up his cup.  “I am a rônin.  My master is dead.  And now I am here to drink sake and enjoy life.”   All of the toughs laughed   “Sake!” one of them called out.   They all drank.  One of the toughs refilled the cups.  Then they looked towards Abe.    “Who are you, old man?” one asked.   “I’m Abe Masao,” he said.  “I am also a rônin.”   The men laughed at him, pointing at his katana and his wakizashi.   “Of course,” one said.   “He is the captain,” Wada said.   “The captain of the fallen samurai?” one of the toughs grunted.   Abe glared at Wada.   “Our fearless leader,” Wada said.  “You are the oldest one at the table.  They know you are the captain.”   “I could just be an old man,” Abe said.   “He’s just an old man!” one of the toughs cried out.   “Old!” another said.   “Who are you, monk?” the third said.   “My name is Oda,” the man said.  “I was raised as a Buddhist monk but my temple was destroyed by samurai.  I was raised as a warrior by a rônin who took pity on me and I have been a warrior every since.”   “But not a samurai,” one of the toughs said.  “Just a rônin.  A fallen samurai.”   “I am a rônin, yes.”   “Without family.  That’s a shame.”   “That’s a shame,” another said, obviously not meaning it.   “Sake!” the third called out.   Everyone drank and one of the toughs refilled their drinks.   “And have you found work in this town as samurai?” Oda asked.   The toughs all burst out laughing.  It was loud and obnoxious, like the braying of mules.  Wada laughed with them.   “We are not samurai,” one of them said.  “We are much better than samurai.”   “Then what do you do in this town that is better than samurai?” Oda asked.   The three men looked at each other.   “We work for Hebei,” one of them said.   “Hebei?” Wada said.   “At the gambling house,” the tough said.   “We will soon all be rich,” another of them said.   “We already are!” the third said.   He tossed some coins on the table to pay for the sake.  Wada started to reach for the coins, thinking they were for him, but then realized they were not.  The tough leered at him.   “You can become rich too,” he said.  “Come and work for Hebei.  At the gambling house.”   “Where?” Wada said.   “On the east side of town,” the man said.   “But you are just samurai,” another said.  “You might not be good enough.”   “Sorry … rônin,” another said, sneering.   “I hate my life,” Wada said.   Then, though he was not the smartest among them by any measure, Wada realized something: the three men were trying to goad them into a fight.  He had the impression the three men wanted to cut them down, cross steel with the three rônin.  They had been mildly insulting them since they had crossed their paths, laughing at everything about them.  For whatever reason, they were trying to provoke him.  He didn’t know if it was a test or they wanted to kill the rônin or just wanted an excuse to send them from the village.  It might have been because they were outsiders but he was not sure, exactly.   Both Abe and Oda were starting to feel inebriated from the sake.   Wada stood up suddenly.  Oda and Abe did so as well.   “It has been a pleasure drinking with you, but─” Oda said.   “It’s a shame we can’t say the same!” one of the toughs said.   They all burst into laughter.   “… but I must attend to my prayers,” Oda said. “While I am not a monk, I am still a Buddhist and it is my time to go and be with my prayers.   “Go!” another tough grunted.  “Be with Buddha.”   “I will go seek out Hebei,” Wada said.   “Yes, go seek out Hebei,” one of the toughs said.   They all laughed.   “You said the east side?” Wada said.   “East side,” another tough said.  “You can’t miss it.  Just follow your ears.”   “Follow my ears,” Wada said.   The three toughs giggled as the rônin retrieved their sandals and left the tavern, Oda thanking Udai for the work.  The man merely nodded at him.   Oji-san stopped Oda before he left.   “You need guide?” he said to the monk.  “What do you need me for?  He doesn’t need me.  What do you need?  Do you need something?”   “No …” Oda said.   “I can get something for you.  The town.  The earthquakes.  Ugh!”   “Yes.”   “If you need anything, you ask for Oji-san.  Oji-san will help you.”   “May I ask where the source of these earthquakes is from?  Are they recent?”   “Bad magic.  Be careful.  Be careful at night.”   “What happens at night?”   “If any of you need me, I will be near.”   They left the place and stopped in the street.  They heard a cheer from the east side of town.   “Maybe they weren’t lying about Hebei,” Wada said.   “Who this Hebei is sounds like something that is not good for this town,” Oda said.  “He’s the head of a gambling house.”   “Those men were quite rude but, seeing as how I have no food or coin on my person, I … believe making some coin with Hebei is in my best interests,” Wada said.   He walked down the street towards the east side of the village.   “Well, you’ll not find me working for Hebei,” Oda said, following him.  “These gambling houses take advantage of people who spend all their coin on fleeting glimpses of grandeur.  I think, if anything, that we must protect this town from Hebei.”   “Well, then, should we not see and meet Hebei to learn more about him?” Abe said.  “If we are either going to work with him … or deal with him … we need to know more about him.”   “I guess,” Oda said.   They caught up with Wada as he reached the gambling out.  The bakuchiya, or gambling hall, had a large entrance in the front.  When they entered, they found it was a smoky room within with two entrances and no windows.  A group of haggard and obsessed people sat in a row of low stools in front of a long, flat table.  One man cried out and covered his eyes from the sunlight that shined into the dim room when the rônin opened the door.   A thin yet muscular man, naked form the waist up and covered in dragon motif tattoos, was using a bamboo pole to stack in front of the customers wooden lozenges carved with numbers that indicated their bets.  A dog was tied to a post in one corner, barking furiously and pointlessly.   The man ran a dice game of betting on evens or odds, shaking the dice in a cup and then bringing it down on the table.  Bets were made and the man revealed the dice.  Behind him were four tough-looking men with swords.  Behind them were a set of four sliding rice-paper doors that led to the back of the gambling hall.  At each entrance was a pair of men with studded clubs.   A man on one side was selling cups of sake to the gamblers.   Oda stood by the wall and watched the proceedings.  Wada went to the man selling sake.   “Sake?” the man said.  “Sake?”   “Free?” Wada said.   “No!”   “I have nothing.”   “Why are you here?”   “Because I have nothing.  Do you know Hebei?  Where’s Hebei?”   “Hebei’s the boss!”   “Yes, he is.”   The sake seller pointed at the four men standing in front of the rice-paper doors.   “May I see Hebei?” Wada asked.   “Hebei sees no one,” the sake seller said.  “What’s wrong with you?”   He slapped the man on the shoulder.   “I need money,” Wada said.   “Get a job,” the rice seller said.   “I’m trying!” Wada said.   The sake seller looked the man up and down carefully.   “What are you?” he said.  “Samurai?”   “Was,” Wada said.   “Hm.  Come back tomorrow. Hebei will maybe give you a job as a bodyguard.”   “Bodyguard?”   “See them?”   The sake seller pointed at the men near the door with the clubs.   “If you don’t pay when you gamble: smash!” the sake seller said.   He gestured at his hand as if smashing it with a club.   “You good at smashing?” he asked.   “Better than most,” Wada said.   “You talk to Hebei tomorrow.”   “I talk to Hebei today!”   “Tomorrow.  He’s busy today.  I’ll tell him you came here.  What’s your name?”   “Wada.”   “I tell him Wada wants to see him.  All right?”   “May we watch?”   The sake seller looked uncomfortable.   “Eh,” he finally said.  “I don’t care.”   “I will watch,” Wada said.  “Thank you.”   Abe was petting the dog.   After a short while, they noticed one of the men was losing a lot of money.  The man was thin and spindly but with a fat face and a long mustache and beard that came to a point.  He was balding on top and seemed cowardly in his mannerisms.  He wore a little black hat and a faded black kimono that seemed too big for him.  He seemed almost supernaturally bad at gambling and got every dice call wrong.   One of the guards approached Oda.   “Are you going to play?” he said.   “I am here with my company,” Oda said.  “One of my traveling companions wanted to ask about a job working for─”   “Who?  Who?” the guard said.  “The other ones that aren’t playing?”   He snapped his fingers and the guards approached all three of the rônin.   “Play or get out,” each of them was told.   Abe sat at the table with his pittance of coins.  The men sitting near him looked at his coins and then, surprised, looked a second time, as if they could not believe someone would play with so little.  He grinned at them confidently.   “He plays for me,” Wada said to the guard.   “Play or get out,” the guard said to him.   “Then I will get out,” Wada said.   He and Oda left, escorted to the door by the guards.   *              *              *   Abe played only a few rounds of dice for his pittance.   In that time, he managed to quadruple his money, meaning he had enough to purchase a meal.  When he got up and left, the other gamblers staring at the man while the guards rolled their eyes.   *              *              *   The others waited outside in case Abe got into trouble as he didn’t have much money.  They were pleasantly surprised when the last rônin exited the building unharmed.  Abe looked pleased with himself.   “Look how much money I got,” he said to the others.  “I could buy a meal now.”   The ground shook again for about a minute.   “Great Buddha, what is going on?” Oda said.  “I am worried about a man I saw in there who was losing all his money.  He was wearing a black kimono.  Someone in mourning.  It must have been those other two … a relative of theirs.”   “Is this the work of a god, or the gods, or a spirit, Oda?” Wada asked.  “You are more religious than I.”   “Not anything I am familiar with.”   “Perhaps those in the afterlife are upset that you won that much money and you should give some of it to someone else.”   He held out his hand to Abe, who looked at him in disbelief for a moment before he slapped the man’s hand away with a frown.   “You will pay for that in the afterlife!” Wada said.   “Oji-san said there was black magic at foot causing the earthquakes,” Oda said.   Several townsfolk approached the three rônin, Udai in the lead.  They stopped some ways from the gambling house and Abe went to them.   “I never worked for my food,” Wada said to Oda.  “That must be what this is about.”   They followed Abe.   “We need your help protecting this town,” Udai said.   “How?” Abe said.   “There’s a terrible thing happening,” Udai said.  “Will you help?  We are willing to give you free room and board.  We cannot give you much more.  Will you help?”   “Are we enough?” Wada said.   “You are samurai!” Udai said.   The townsfolk looked at their weapons.   “Was,” Wada said.   “You know how to use a sword?” Udai said.   “Yes,” Wada said.   Udai turned to one of the other townsfolk.   “Do you know how to use a sword?” he asked.   “Wha?” the man said, surprised.  “No!”   Udai clapped his hands in front of the other man’s face.   “Room and board … and food?” Wada said.   “Room and board and food,” Udai said.   “Yes.”   “That’s what board is.”   “Yes.”   “Your friend is not smart.  No offense.”   “I know.”   “Apologies.  Will you help us?”   “I am not offended.”   “A terrible thing is happening to this village that must be stopped.”   Oda pointed back to the gambling house.   “Will you help?” Udai said.   “Yes, I will help,” Oda said.   “Will you help?” Udai said to Abe.   Abe nodded.  Udai turned to Oda.   “No no,” he said.  “Not them.”   “R-really?” Oda said.   “Yes.”   “All right.”   “They are Ryû-Ryôshû,” Udai said.  “The Ryû-Ryôshû are not the problem.”   Ryû-Ryôshû meant “Dragon Lords.”   The ground started shaking again.   “Is it this?” Oda said.   Udai nodded as they waited for the tremor to pass.  It lasted for about a minute.   “Some unspeakable monster arrives in the dead of night from the mountainside to abduct townsfolk,” he said.  “It is a dreaded event that everyone recognizes by the rhythmic earthquakes that shake the buildings for several long minutes, followed by a bloodcurdling scream of the victim.  We cannot go outside to help.  We are not armed.  We have no weapons.  We need someone to help us.  To stop this.  You have sealed a pact.  You have agreed to protect us from this thing.  Please stop it.  I will take you to the inn where you can have your rooms.”   The townsfolk muttered in agreement, all of them obviously fearful.   “Is the monster the thing that took your wife and son?” Oda asked.   “Yes,” Udai said.  “It takes many.  Every night, it takes someone.”   “I am terribly sorry,” Oda said.   Udai wiped a tear from his eye.   “Is there a pattern?” Abe asked.   “No,” Udai said.  “It comes into town.  It takes someone.  Screaming.  We hide and hope it doesn’t take us.”   The villagers muttered in agreement.   “Where from the mountains does it come down?” Oda said.   “We don’t know,” Udai said.  “Nobody will look.  We are locked in our homes in the hopes it will not smash through the wall and take one of us.”   “Hmm,” Oda said.   “Come, I’ll take you to the inn,” Udai said.   “Can you take us to the house of the person who was taken last night?” Wada said.   The tavern keeper looked at him.   “Yes,” he finally said.  “If you have nothing to take to the inn then come.”   They were taken to a small house with a large hole smashed into the side.  The hole was larger than a man.  Inside the room, blood was splattered around the floor and walls as if someone had been hurt.  Scratches on the floor had been left by someone trying not to be pulled out of the house.  Broken fingernails were also scattered amongst the scratches.  Whatever had pulled the person out of the sleeping chamber had been immensely strong.   They spent some time examining everything in and around the room.   “No one has seen this?” Wada said.  “Ever?”   “It’s been going on for more than a week,” Udai said.   They learned it had rained that morning so any tracks would have been obliterated.   “This thing is big,” Wada said.   Wada took the other two rônin aside in the room and spoke to them in a low voice.   “What are the consequences of breaking a pact?” he said, unsure.   “Oh, the townsfolk are clearly suffering from this,” Oda said.  “It is our solemn duty, not only as rônin, but as fellow members of this Earth.”   “You’re starting to sound like my brother.”   “If it was happening to rich folks, I’d be … uh.”   “Maybe we should leave and hope it takes Hebei then.”   Abe reached over to slap Wada in the face.  Wada tried to block the blow, realizing it was coming, but the man easily slapped him regardless.   “Stop hitting me, old man,” Wada said.   “You have terrible ideas,” Abe said.   “That thing is big!  We only fight other men!  This is something else!  Am I the only one that sees blood and the big hole in the wall and says ‘Not for me?’”   “But, as Oda said, it is our duty.”   “You are samurai,” Oda said.   “Was a samurai!” Wada said.  “We are rônin now!  We beg for food!”   “Is there a problem?” Udai said, peeking in the huge hole.   “No problem,” Wada said to him.   The innkeeper stepped back out of the house.   “If you wish to break your vow, I will not blame you,” Oda said.  “But this is something I must do.”   “And I will do it with you,” Abe said.   “Not for my honor as much as for the people of this town.  I have seen people in mourning, losing the rest of their savings to gambling, and it is clear that this town is helpless with the only other warriors being bodyguards of … gambling rings.  You all can decide on your own, but I have made my decision.”   “I will stand with you for it is my duty as a samurai.  Well, as a rônin.  It is my duty to protect these people and I will do it for my honor as well.  We have made an agreement.  We will deal with the issue or die trying.”   “Is this the second time today you’ve agreed to something for food before you knew what it was?”   Abe noticed Udai was obviously trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.  He shooed the man away and he went outside.   Wada looked at his feet in shame and fear.   “This is not for me,” he said.  “I am sorry.”   He left immediately.  Oda watched the man go, heading south in the direction they had been walking when they had come to the town.  Udai peeked into the hole again.   “Is-is there a problem?” he said.   “You have my blade,” Oda said.   Udai looked terribly relieved and looked towards Abe, who nodded.   “Come come,” Udai said.  “I will take you to the inn so that you may sup and rest.”   Oda looked for Wada but the man was out of sight, having left town.  He thought he couldn’t blame him too much but was still disappointed.   It late afternoon when Udai took them to the inn.  The rest of the villagers went their separate ways.   The nondescript yado was old and neglected with ancient tatami mats on the floors.  The smell of sandalwood incense permeated the building.  In the front room was a beautiful young woman, her hair bound in a bun.  She was in her 20s and wore a black kimono.  She was chanting in prayer in front of a small Buddhist shrine with freshly painted funeral tablets.  It looked all too familiar.  She abruptly stopped when the door opened and greeted the rônin, taking their sandals as they stepped into the yado’s entrance.   A man Oda recognized as the loser from the gambling hall also entered the room.   “Hikyô, they are going to help us with the horrors at night,” Udai told him.   Udai introduced him as the innkeeper: Hikyô, who introduced them to his daughter, Chiyo.   “Take them to their rooms,” Hikyô said.   “I am terribly sorry for your loss,” Oda said to them.   Both of them bowed deeply.   “I was trained as a Buddhist monk,” Oda said.  “If you would like me to work on the calligraphy on those …”   Both of them seemed delighted at that.   “My brothers are dead,” Chiyo said.   She broke into tears.  There was a noise from the back hall and an old man came out, merely a silhouette in the darkness.   “Chiyo!” he screamed.  “Shut up!”   Then he went back wherever he’d come from.  Oda glared down the hallway.   “Come come!” Chiyo said.  “I apologize.  Come.  I will take you.”   She took them to their rooms and bid them wait there.  She soon returned with food, tea, and sake for each of them.  While they ate, another tremor shook the inn.  Dust sprinkled from the walls.   It was after dark when Chiyo returned for the bowls and cups.  She told each of the rônin the town had a hot spring and hot or cold baths were available.  She noted as they were helping the village, they could use the baths for free.   It had been a while since either of them had a hot bath.  Japanese bathing involved scrubbing down with soap, rinsing, and then soaking in a large tub full of hot water, the furo.  The pastime was considered very relaxing and had developed into an industry as people sought out natural hot water springs set in beautiful vistas or bearing waters infused with minerals said to have medicinal properties.   Both of them decided to take their wakizashi with them.   Chiyo led them to a building connected to the yado by a breezeway to the back entrance of the bathhouse.  They realized there was a back and a front entrance.  The girl gave each of them a wooden token carved in the shape of an oni, a demon.  She told them the place was called Jigoku No Onsen or Hell’s Spring because the minerals in the natural hot spring turned the water rust-red.  The minerals bubbled up like magma in the spring and were believed to have healing powers.  She told them the town was developed when the hot springs was found and the bathhouse was built around it.   The two both took a hot bath and both of them took their wakizashi in with them.  It was heavenly.  They had not bathed in that way for a long time.  They scrubbed themselves down and then got into the hot spring.  The water was hot and rusty red and felt divine.   As they relaxed, the door burst open and Oji-san came in.   “Hey, can I help?” he said.  “What do you need?  Do you need something from me?  I can get you something.”   “I’m fine,” Abe said.   “Can I take your weapons?”   “No.”   “You don’t need anything?”   “No.”   “Oh.  Okay.  Good.  Good.  Good.”   “Wait.”   “Yes?  You need something?”   “Why do you keep … why are you here?”   “What?”   “Why are you in the bathhouse?”   “To help you.  I understand the great rônin are going to help our village.  So I wanted to help you.”   “But─”   “Do you need any help?”   He turned to Oda.   “Do you need any help?” he said.  “Do you need food?  Do you need beverage?  I could bring you sake.”   “I will be fine,” Oda said.  “Thank you.”   “Oh,” Oji-san said.  “Okay.”   He left and they went back to relaxing in the tub.   It was a short time later when the door opened again and five men entered the room.  They were dressed and all of them were armed with wakizashi.  They walked around the tub, surrounding it.  Oda put one hand on Abe’s arm and put his other hand on his wakizashi.  He stood up, weapon in hand, water dripping from his naked body.    “What is the meaning of this?” he said.   The men looked the two of them over as Abe stood as well, weapon at hand.   “The meaning is … you are not wanted here!” one of the men said.   They all drew their wakizashi.   Oda took a single step and stabbed the man who’s spoken in the belly.  The man cried out and stumbled back, crashing against the wall and falling to the ground, dropping his weapon.   Abe swung at one of the other men and sliced his clothing, barely blooding the man.   Two of the thugs attacked each rônin.  One of them stabbed Oda in the back though he parried the other with a backhand thrust.  Abe parried both of the blows coming from the men who attacked him.  Oda turned and swung at the man who had stabbed him but the man parried the blow with a nasty grin.  Abe stabbed one of his opponents and the man stumbled back and fell to the ground, crying out in pain and slumping to the floor.   They suddenly felt the ground shudder underneath them and large ripples sloshed the water in the tub.  It was not constant as the quakes before had been, but a rhythmic yet thunderous pounding like a drum.  It was as if something huge was walking through the night.   The thugs looked at each other in terror.  Abe took advantage of their confusion to stab one of  them while Oda slammed the pommel of his wakizashi to another.  Instead of fighting back, the three fled, leaving their unconscious companion.  The man whom Oda had stabbed tried to crawl away, trailing blood, but Abe grabbed his foot and dragged him back into the bathhouse.   *              *              *   Wada had left the town out of fear of whatever horror had taken away the villagers.  He had not traveled more than a hundred yards before he realized he could not bring himself to leave the village to its fate or his brothers in arms to theirs.  He crept back to the village after it got dark to watch it from afar.   The thing that walked into Kôhai-Mura was so tall as to stand well over any of the buildings.  It was horrible to look upon, standing 20 feet tall and having huge, terrible horns and great ears.  The oni had huge tusks coming from the lower part of its jaw and wore only a loincloth.  It dragged a massive tetsubo, an iron club, in one hand.   It came into the village on the east side, going to the gambling hall where it smashed in a wall and reached in.  He heard someone screaming.  The oni pulled out what appeared to be a man, who grabbed onto the broken wall.  The oni pulled on him once, twice, and, the third time, there was a crunch and a pop and something flopped to the ground as the man let out a shriek and the horror stood back up again.  It walked to the west as the man struggled in its grip.   Once he lost sight of the horror, Wada ran down to the village.   *              *              *   Oda and Abe heard a scream from somewhere in the village.  They heard the men outside scream and then flee.  Abe moved to quiet their prisoner but the man had already gone completely silent.  He was very pale and shook in terror as he stared at the door that led to the hallway and then to the street.  Oda crossed the narrow hallway to peek out the door.   The thing that walked down the street was awful to behold.  It held a man in one hand and as the figure struggled, something splattered against the wall, a warm liquid also hitting Oda.  He could smell blood.  Abe saw dark liquid splatter on the floor near Oda.   Suddenly, something flew out of the air from Oda’s left.   *              *              *   Wada had made his way into the village, ducking between the houses to try to keep them between him and the oni.  When he entered the main street where it walked, he found himself next to the bathhouse.  He flung his spear at the horror, striking it in the center of the back.  The oni let out a shriek and turned and looked around.   *              *              *   Oda recognized the spear that struck the terrible beast as one of Wada’s.  He turned and ran back into the room with the hot spring bath.   “Wada is fighting this thing!” he said to Abe.  “We must retrieve our weapons!”   He ran out of the other door to the bath, heading for the inn.   *              *              *   Outside, Wada had seen Oda peek out of the bathhouse door before disappearing inside once again.  He also recognized the thing as an oni, a demon.  Without thinking, he drew another spear and flung it at the thing, missing it completely, the weapon flying past its head.  As the oni turned to watch the spear fly by, he fled, running into the alley by the bathhouse and towards the back, ducking out of sight of the horrible demon.   *              *              *   Abe crept to the door to the building to peek out.  He saw the oni, the terrible thing looming over the bathhouse and every building in the village.  It looked around in confusion and he ducked back into the bathhouse and fled after Oda.   *              *              *   As Wada came around the side of the bathhouse to the breezeway between it and the inn, Oda burst out of the bathhouse naked, wakizashi in his hand, and ran towards the inn.  Oda looked his way.   “I-I’m getting my pole arm!” he said.   “Oda!” Wada said.  “Oh!”   Oda ran towards the inn.  Wada could see the figure of the oni moving west but it was quickly out of sight and he realized the creature was probably faster than he was.  He was glad he had not tried to run down the street.  He didn’t think he would have been able to outrun it.   A moment later, Abe ran out of the bathhouse, naked as well, and stopped when he saw him.   “What’s going on?” Abe said.   Wada tried to climb up the side of the bathhouse without luck.  He turned to Abe.   “Can you help me?” he asked.   “Sure,” Abe said.   Abe gave him a leg up and he climbed to the tiled roof of the bathhouse.  He looked around and could hear the oni still walking away to the west, but could not see it.  He ran along the roof of the breezeway towards the inn and found a window at the top of the breezeway.  He let himself into the second floor, finding himself on a dimly-lit landing.   Oda ran by where he stood, rushing into his room.  Wada ran to the opposite side of the landing and looked out the window there, trying to see where the oni went.  He saw it enter the forest on the west side of the village and disappear into the foliage.   *              *              *

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Iron-Banded Box Part 2 - The Blood Garden

*              *              *   Abe went back into the bathhouse and found the man who had been injured was gone, having crawled away.  The unconscious man still lay there.  He dragged the unconscious man out of the room and towards the inn.   *              *              *   Oda ran out into the passage with his pole arm and saw Wada looking out of the window.   “All right, Wada,” he said, naginata in hand.  “I am prepared.  Where is the monster?”   “It is gone,” Wada said.   Oda looked at him for a moment.   “Next time, then,” he said.   “I injured it,” Wada said.  “There might be a blood trail.  It seemed very agitated.”   “Oh.”   Wada told Oda he had gone into the forest to watch the village from afar, that being his plan all along.   “We could have just done that … if you’d told us,” Oda said.   “Yes,” Wada said.  “Perhaps we could have.”   He turned to leave but then looked at Oda more carefully.  He pointed at the blood seeping through his clothing.   “Did the oni do that to you?” he asked.   “Oh, you mean this,” Oda said.  “There were a group of armed men, not samurai or rônin like us, but … not warriors, but men with swords came and ambushed us in the bathhouse, which is why I was running around with my … swords out.”   They heard a bumping on the stairs and Abe came up, dragging one of their attackers by his feet.  The man’s head bumped on the steps.   “Here’s one now,” Oda said.   “Why did they attack you?” Wada said.   “The reason that they gave us is that we are not welcome here.  Which was not a very good reason.”   “Why is it the oni wears more clothes than you two?”   They took the unconscious man into one of the rooms and bound his wounds.  They also saw to Oda’s wounds as well.  Oda hurt himself further in his attempts at binding the wound when he wrapped it too tightly.  Abe wrapped the wound up again.   Oda realized there might be some clue as to what was going on at the site the oni attacked.  When he told the others, Wada mentioned the oni had attacked the gambling house.  That surprised Oda.  Wada told him the thing had smashed its way through the wall and took someone.   “I believe half of the man is still at the gambling house,” he said.   “Oh,” Oda said.  “Who would still be at the gambling house this late at night.  If there were a large group, perhaps there would be witnesses.”   “There was screaming.  I believe they were still gambling.”   “Maybe we should─”   “We should go there now, I believe.”   They took two of the paper lanterns from the walls.   “What do we do with him?” Abe asked, nudging the unconscious thug.   “Ah,” Oda said.  “Do you think that our hospitality was … ill-offered or that this happened─?”   “They tried to kill us!”   “Well, I mean, but were they with the people who were housing us or did they just know we’re here is what I’m asking.”   Abe shrugged.   “Do you think it safe to stay here any longer?” Oda said.   “But he could have information about why he attacked us,” Abe said.   “True.  We could … have one person watch him.”   “I could stay here and watch him.”   “Be armed and be aware of other people coming.”   “Or you could stay here and watch him because you’re injured.”   “Well … yeah.  Either way.”   “I … I’m not trying to fool you old man, but I might need your coins in case they make us gamble to get in,” Wada said.   “Despite the giant hole in the wall?” Oda said.   “I do not know how Hebei works.  They were pretty insistent that you must have coin to get in.”   “Fair enough.  If you must have coin to get in the hole that he opened …”   Wada and Abe left Oda with the unconscious thug.   *              *              *   It was quiet and dark at the gambling house.  The front doors were closed and there was a great hole in the wall.  Splatters of blood were sprinkled all over the scene and a severed hand with tattoos lay on the ground near the hole.  The wrist of the hand was roughly ripped as if the man had not let go until the hand had been ripped free.   Examination of the hole proved it entered into a small room in the back of the gambling house.  The room had a pile of personal gear and goods of various kinds, probably things lost gambling, including some weaponry and cheap jewelry.  Atop the pile of goods was an odd box the size of a coffin.  It was iron-banded and looked very valuable.   Wada looked around.  No one was on the streets and there was no sound at all.   He went to the iron-banded box and examined it, finding it was made of sacred hinoki wood (Japanese cypress) and reinforced with by iron bands and rivets.  Along both edges of the lip where the box opened was a strange script of glyphs.  The box was latched shut but some scrapes upon it indicated it might have been recently opened.   “Abe?” he said.   “Yes,” Abe said.   “Do you want to open this?”   “That would be stealing.”   “From a dead man?”   Wada looked down at the hand on the ground.   “I’m not sure why opening the box would be helpful in the situation,” Abe said.   Wada suddenly remembered something horrifying.  He remembered an old story about an iron-banded box and told Abe.   Long, long before, the infamous oni king of Rashomon Gate in Kyoto had his armed severed by the brave samurai hunter Watanabe, one of the five retainers in service to the great ogre killer Raiko, who was said to have wiped out all the oni in Japan.  Watanabe was said to have chopped off the oni’s arm and sealed it in the iron-banded box after a fierce battle with the ogre, in order to deny the cowardly demon the chance to retrieve its arm.  It was magically sealed so the other oni could not find it and take it away as, if they returned it, he would retrieve his powers.  However, if the box was ever opened, the oni could detect the arm.   “We must take this box now,” Wada said.  “And this.”   He picked up a spear to replace the one he had lost.   “Come captain,” he said.   They lifted the iron-banded box and headed back to the inn.   They had noticed a gully going down the middle of the street and Wada guessed it had been caused by the giant club the oni dragged behind him.   On their way back to the inn, Abe saw the spear Wada had thrown that missed.  He pointed it out.  Without a word, Wada dropped his half of the iron-banded box and went to retrieve the spear, much to the annoyance of Abe.   “Thank you,” Wada said, picking up his end of the iron-banded box again.   They continued on to the inn and returned to the room where Oda and the unconscious thug waited.   “Oda, poor me some sake,” Wada said.   “This will ruin the tatami!” Oda quipped.  “What are you doing?”   “I will tell you what we are doing if you poor me some sake.”   “This room is very crowded.”   Unfortunately, there was no sake in their room.   Wada told Oda what he knew about the iron-banded box and the oni.   “So … someone opened this,” Oda said.   “Hebei,” Wada said.  “I believe Hebei opened it.”   “I didn’t like Hebei before and I still don’t like it now.”   “But I still have the question of who had this box and brought it here.”   “I feel like the question more so should be what do we do with it?” Abe said.   “We don’t open it,” Wada said.  “I tell you that.”   “But we just can’t keep it here.”   “We must dispose of it.”   “How?”   “I do not know.”   “You two are the more … spiritual …”   “They didn’t train me in demons,” Oda said.   “Perhaps someone like … Oji-san knows more about the folklore of the oni and the kind oni than I do,” Wada said.  “All I have heard is about the iron-banded box but perhaps Oji-san knows how to get rid of it.  If nothing else, we could take it to the coast and drop it in the ocean.”   “I was thinking about putting it in a big body of water like a river or lake or ocean.  Those are all good.”   “Anything bigger than a bathhouse.”   “Now, I have a question,” Abe said.  “Would opening it again, as it’s been opened, do anything?”   “I believe we should not do that,” Wada said.   “But what if the arm’s gone?”   “I don’t think the arm is gone.”   “I think if the arm was gone, the demon king would have his power,” Oda said.   “I am also … it was very dark, but I did not see the oni dragging an arm,” Wada said.  “Or maybe it was the club that he had.  Was the club the arm?  It was too dark.  No.  It was a club.”   “Well, you all carried the box,” Oda said. “Is it just the box or is there something inside?”   “I think that the arm is still in this box.  But if we were to open this box, we run the risk of attracting more oni to this location.  I think we should speak to Oji-san in the morning.”   Upon further thought, Oda realized they should probably take the box to Kyoto to one of the Buddhist monasteries on Mount Hiei.   “The monks in Kyoto might be able to do something about it,” he said.  “We could make it their problem instead of ours.”   “I like this plan,” Wada said.  “Should we still tell the villagers in the morning what has happened?  Why this was caused and that it will stop once we take this iron box out of here?”   Oda wasn’t sure it would stop.   “You said, in the legend, that once the box was opened, the oni could detect the arm,” he said.   “Yes,” Wada said.   “Why haven’t they come for the box?”   “I would assume they don’t know where the box is.”   “But, didn’t you pull this out of the hole where the man was taken?”   “Yes.  But …”   “So, why was he that close but he still didn’t get the box?”   “Maybe the box was open once.  That attracted the oni to the location, or this oni to the location, but it has not been open again, so it’s looking for the box, but it doesn’t even know that it was that close tonight.”   “So, that suggests that if we move the box to Kyoto─”   “And open the box.  Or that if you’re in another location and you open the box, they know it’s over there now.”   “True.  But if we move the box to Kyoto and they don’t open it, does that mean that the oni still come here, looking for the box that’s never there?”   “Probably.  That’s my guess.”   “Unless the monks could do something to send out a signal to the other oni that it’s just gone and they shouldn’t look for it.  I don’t know how we will …”   “What if we got the box out of the village and opened it, safely far away?  The oni only comes at night.  Or … they have.  But either way, you think it best to take it to Kyoto, correct?”   “I-I see what you’re saying.  If we open the box on the road to Kyoto in the middle of some field─”   “Daylight.”   “In daylight.”   “Please.”   “We could attract the oni somewhere else.  And then, we would deliver the box to Kyoto.”   “Do we have to go all the way to Kyoto?” Abe said.   “If we want to deal with the box, I think it’s the best idea,” Oda said.  “If we address the village with this concern and they realize this is a good too or realize it’s a good idea, we could ask them for a cart to try and haul it along so we aren’t carrying this giant box all the way.”   “I would like to talk to Oji-san as he is older and he might have heard of these things as well,” Wada said.  “It couldn’t hurt.  They already know this monster is destroying their village.  Letting them know it’s an oni and he’s trying to retrieve the arm for the oni king changes nothing for them.”   “And on top of that, some of us weren’t welcome, apparently, and needed a bathhouse murder.”   “We should probably address that.  The distance we would have to travel is another reason to talk to Oji-san.  In case there’s an easier route.”   “True.”   “So, sleep on it?”   “It garners more investigation in the morning.”   They tied up the prisoner.  Wada took Abe’s room while the iron-banded box and the unconscious prisoner remained in Oda’s room with him and Abe.   *              *              *   They were awoken the next morning by the sound of a hammer outside.  Oda and Wada went to investigate and found, in the street, several Ryû-Ryôshû nailing up a sign declaring the new ownership of the inn by Hebei.  Hikyô was wailing and trying to stop them but two of the Ryû-Ryôshû restrained him.   “We might want to get this box out secretly,” Wada said to Oda.  “Why don’t you get the townspeople to meet you at the tavern, draw their attention there, telling them we have information on what has been attacking the village.  Me and the captain get this box out into the woods, at least, so that the Dragon Lords don’t find out that we robbed them last night, and we will tell them about the oni king story once we’ve hidden the box.”   Oda looked at him.   “I don’t know what they’ll do if they find out we took the box,” Wada said.  “It’s technically Hebei’s but I don’t know if he’ll reason with us when we tell him we need to take the box.”   “I also feel like he might have seen the connection,” Oda said.  “I feel like─”   “He might know as well.  Can you do that, Oda?”   “Sounds okay, although I am still worried, especially with Hebei owning this establishment and with the attack last night.  It makes me think that this might not be a safe place to stay for us any longer.”   “Yes.”   “We will need to find new lodging shortly.”   “Should we even mention the box at the meeting?  We could tell them of the folklore, about the box and the arm and how the oni want to retrieve it.  But I don’t think we should say that we know that it’s definitely here or anything like that.”   “I think that’s a smart idea.  Feigning innocence is always good in the face of death.”   “Then we can ask: ‘Has anyone seen this box?’”   “Yes.  I will say it at the meeting.”   Oda went to call the meeting.  He gathered everyone he could in town in an hour’s time, after they had all quickly broken their fast.   The villagers gathered at the tavern and Oda noticed several of the Ryû-Ryôshû were there, watching him carefully.  He told them all of the story Wada had told them, leaving out the fact that the rônin had found the iron-banded box out of the story.   “What will you do?” someone asked.  “What will you do about this?”   “How will you stop it?” another villager asked.   Oda asked if anyone knew anything about what was happening with the oni upon when it started or what might have caused it.  The villagers only knew it started a week or so before.  None were certain of an exact date or how long it had been.  They persisted in asking him how the rônin would stop the terrible thing.  Oda said the rônin were willing to try to kill the thing, which raised a cheer amongst the villagers.  He noted that while they would do that, the thing looked horrible.   An older woman fainted dead away.   Oda confessed that even if they were successful, it didn’t mean there were more of the creatures out there.  He said the whole village needed to group together to deal with the thing.   *              *              *   While the village met, Wada and Abe carried the iron-banded box quickly out the front door of the inn.  Unfortunately, as they left the building, around the corner came several of the Ryû-Ryôshû.  They recognized the three men who harassed them when they first arrived at the village among them.  The four Ryû-Ryôshû stopped and watched the two.   “‘Just walk out the front door,’ you said,” Abe muttered.  “‘No one will see us.’”   “Ah, the great samurai are now carrying coffins!” one of them said.  “Are you coffin-makers now, samurai?”   The Ryû-Ryôshû all laughed loudly and obnoxiously.   “Yes, yes,” Wada muttered.  “Yes, we are.”   “Buddhists!” another of the men said with disgust.   They carried the iron-banded box down the street and to the woods, where they hid it in the undergrowth.  Abe marked a tree nearby to help them find it later.   “Why … didn’t they stop us?” Wada asked.   “Maybe─” Abe said.   “Does only Hebei know of the box?”   “Probably.  That’s what I would assume.  They called it a coffin.”   “Then we shall say it is a coffin.”   *              *              *   The meeting at the tavern broke up and, as Oda headed back to the inn, several of the Ryû-Ryôshû approached him.   “Hebei wants to talk to you and your friends,” one of them said to him.  “Come to the gambling house in one hour.”   “One hour,” Oda said.   The thugs walked away.   Oda went in search for Oji-san, finding him at the tavern.   “How can I help you, master?” the old man said.   “I was just wondering if you knew what was going on with the oni,” Oda said.  “What might have caused it.  Have you heard of the story that I told?”   “I heard of the story,” Oji-san said.  “It’s a terrible thing.  An iron-banded box, you say?   If it’s true, someone has it and they’ve opened it and let the oni know where it is now.  It’s a terrible thing!  It’s a terrible thing!”   He shook his finger at Oda.   “Have you ever heard of what might stop the oni if we … dispose of the box somehow?” Oda said.   “It will have to be killed!” Oji-san said.  “It will have to be destroyed!”   “The box would?”   “No!  The oni!   “The oni?”   “The oni will have to be killed.  Destroyed.”   “But there’s only one?  You’re sure?”   “I don’t know if there’s only one.”   “But you just said it had to be destroyed.”   “You just said ‘How do we deal with the oni?’”   “I said the box!  The box, Oji-san.”   “I misheard!  I misheard, master!  I misheard, master!  I’m unworthy!  I’m unworthy.”   “I’m sorry I said anything with my mouth, ever.”   “No, the oni will have to be destroyed.  I do not know what to do about the iron-banded box.”   “Well, I apparently have a meeting with the local gang lord I have to go to in exactly one hour and I don’t know where my friends are exactly.”   “No!  Not the local gang lord!  He is a terrible and formidable foe!  Beware of him!  Beware!  Beware!  Do not mention my name!”   Oji-san ran away.   *              *              *   The three rônin soon got together again.  Hikyô found them as well, telling them they could stay one more night but that they would have to leave the next day.  A single tear rolled down the old man’s cheek.   “My only possession was this inn,” he said.  “What will my daughter do now?”   “Hikyô─” Oda said.   “Hikyô, I would advise you not to sell your daughter into slavery,” Abe said.   Hikyô looked sad, nodded, and walked away.   “Don’t gamble anymore!” Oda called after him.   He turned to Abe.   “Why would you tell him that!?!” he said to the older man.  “I didn’t even think he thought of that.  Buddha!”   Wada also looked at Abe.   Oda told them of Hebei wanting to see them and they described where they had hidden the iron-banded box.  Wada told him some of the Ryû-Ryôshû had seen them with the artifact.  They discussed taking their weapons and eventually decided to do so.   *              *              *   At the appointed hour, they arrived at the gambling house.  There was no gambling going on and, as they entered the hall peacefully, they saw six Ryû-Ryôshû armed with wakizashi flanking the open shoji doors leading to the room beyond.  It was pitch back in the back room.  Hebei was only a shadow.   “I compliment you on your martial prowess after your battle with my Ryû-Ryôshû,” the voice from the darkness said.   “That was my first question,” Oba said.   “But your welcome in my town is wearing thin,” Hebei said.  “However, there is a bigger problem of … the thing … that has taken one of my men and has attacked my gambling hall.  I have lost men to these midnight abductions and I can see profit with working with you to take it down.  I also need peace in my town to conduct business.  Are you willing to agree to a truce?”   “We assumed we had a truce when we entered the village,” Wada said.   “You assumed wrong,” Hebei said.   They stared at each other for a while.   “What are the …” Wada said.   “Conditions,” Abe said.   “Yeah, what are the conditions?” Wada said.   “How are you willing to help us?” Oda said.   “I am willing to help you if, afterwards, you leave this town and never look back,” Hebei said.   “Fine with me,” Wada said.   “I mean we basically got a meal and a nice rest and I even got a bath out of it, so …” Oda said.  “All in all, better than expected.”   “Can I ask you a question, Hebei?” Wada said.  “Why are you threatened by us?  We are just traveling rônin.”   “Exactly,” Hebei said.  “You are honorable men.  Some of the men in my employ are not so honorable.  They are realists.  But you value a code.  You protect certain people who deserve to lose everything because they are fools!”   “I actually agree with you on that one,” Wada said.   “We might do business later,” Hebei said.   Abe realized they might be able to get some other concessions out of Hebei.  He seemed desperate to get rid of the demon.   “You’re wealthy, are you not, Hebei?” Abe said.   “Wealthy enough,” Hebei said.  “For now.”   “Could we earn some monetary compensation?” Abe said.   “For the road, of course,” Oda said.  “When we leave.”   “Or some equipment to make our travels easier,” Abe said.   “You could,” Hebei said.  “What do you need?”   “What do you have?”   “No no no, fool.  It will not go that way.  If you tell me what you need, I possibly could acquire it for you.  The way I acquired an inn yesterday.”   “One thousand coins,” Wada said.  “This is an oni we’re talking about.”   “I would enjoy some traveling expenses for when we leave town,” Oda said.  “At least enough for meals to go on the road and enough money to get us to the next town.”   “I would also like─” Abe said.   “Discuss it amongst yourselves!” Hebei said.  “And bring me a tally of what you think you want in one hour and then we will discuss again.”   He clapped his hands and a man on either side of the door slid them shut.   They left the gambling house and went to the inn.  They found Chiyo crying in the room downstairs.  Abe suggested one of their conditions might be that Hikyô could not gamble any more.  They spoke of adding a cart to the tally as well.  Wada thought Hebei feared the oni and knew they were the only ones who could get rid of it.  Oda agreed.  He also thought they should ask for weapons and armor to fight the oni as well.   They returned at the appointed time to talk to Hebei once again.  The half-dozen men were there and Hebei was again hidden in the shadows of the other room.   “What do you want?” he asked.   “Well, this is a task that we don’t think anybody has ever dealt with before and it’s one that we very well think could cost us our lives,” Oda said.  “We think it is reasonable to ask for 1,000 coins.  While we do this, we would also request any of your armor or weapons or anything you can outfit us with to get rid of this thing.  It will be better for our lives and better for getting rid of it.  We need your help fighting it and─”   “You will have several of my archers.”   “That would be most appreciated.”   “At present we have no armor in our treasury.  It was sold to make up for debts of other rônin who gambled in my gambling hall.  Anything else?”   “Cart and donkey,” Wada whispered to Oda.   “If it is available, to ease our travels, we were wondering if you had a cart or some kind of donkey to … help us,” Oda said.  “We’ve been traveling on foot with empty stomachs.   Hebei sighed.   “Done,” he said.   “That is all we ask.”   “Good.”   Abe bowed his head in appreciation.   “Nightfall,” Hebei said.  “Meet at nightfall in the town square.”   He clapped his hands again and the doors were closed.  They left the gambling hall.   *              *              *   Wada wanted to see if he could track the trail of the oni.  He wanted to find his spear.  All three of the rônin headed off into the woods trying to track the beast.  Though Oda found a trail, Abe also thought he had found one that led off in another direction.  He walked away.   Wada and Oda followed the trail through the woods and to the north until they reach a pathway that led, along with the oni’s trail, to a Shinto shrine.  It was a building surrounded by a low, wooden fence, easily straddled, with a post-and-lintel archway, a torii, demarking the entrance to the shrine grounds.  The fence formed a square perimeter around the grounds.   The shrine appeared to have been scorched from fire and the roof was ripped off.  There were skulls stacked atop the torii.  A tree grew up in the temple but it had black and twisted branches without leaves.   “Is this how you do things?” Wada asked.   Oda shook his head.  He thought the shrine, which appeared to be desecrated, might have been the lair of the oni.   “I think the oni might be in there,” he said.   “What do you want to do?” Wada said.   “Now it makes me think it might be good to ambush this thing, but I don’t know how we’re going to communicate that to the archers or get them all out here in time before this thing just starts coming through the woods.  But …”   “Why don’t we … carefully … confirm that it’s in there?”   “It seems … unlikely I would be successful at that.  If you want to do it …”   “I will see if he’s in there.”   “And if … and if he wakes up …”   “We run.”   “All right.”   “He’s fast, I think.”   “Then we will die running.”   “Then one of us is the faster runner.”   While Oda waited some 30 yards away where the trail connected to the path, Wada crept up, using the trees as cover as much as he could.  When he reached the fence that ran around the overgrown property, he crept along the south side of it, trying to peek into the shrine.    The smell got worse the closer he got to the shrine.  He followed the line of the fence where it passed close to the shrine on the west side and the smell of rotting meat got stronger and stronger.  A noise from within was some kind of strange grumble that didn’t sound healthy.  He thought he heard the shifting of something large as well.  The branches of the trees that thrust up out of the top of the shrine were of a dark wood and bereft of leaves.  He realized it was the height of summer and the tree should have been filled.   He crept around the north side of the fence and then crossed the fence line and went, as carefully as he could, to the open front door of the shrine.  He crept to the front and was terrified by what he saw within the shrine, almost choking on the stench that came from the place.   Hanging from the ancient tree like rotten fruit were the missing townspeople.  Steel pikes and other iron torture implements were impaled in the ground beneath.  Body parts littered the ground and the entire area reeked of the stench of rotten flesh.  Blood, torn flesh, and viscera seemed to cover the ground in the shrine.  What looked like blood bubbled up from the spring under the tree which was not free of the taint either.  Parts of it appeared to be composed of living human flesh and bone.   The oni was in the shrine, tending to the tree as a gardener would tend to a bonsai.  He chopped off little bits of the villagers and arranged them in some insane artistic formula of his own on the ground and the spikes.   Wada thought it was the same oni.   He also saw his spear.  It had been thrust into the ground and a hand was stuck onto the sharp head.   Wada crept back to the fence and then followed the north side of the tree line back down the pathway to Oda.  He was pale and wide-eyed, sweating, and vomited when he reached Oda.   “No oni?” Oda said.  “Everything’s clear?”   “There is one oni inside,” Wada said.  “The one that I put my spear in.  He has a blood garden.  He … we must burn that place at some point.”   “Burning is … you say a blood garden?”   “That’s the best I can tell you.  If we burn it, you will see it and then you will know exactly what I’m talking about.”   “Well, maybe I can excuse burning a sacred temple if there is a blood garden in it.”   “There’s nothing sacred about that place anymore.”   Oda knew bodies were to be cremated in Buddhism and so burning the place might be for the best.   “One thing that I can describe to you is: he’s not eating the bodies,” Wada said.  “He’s … using them as decorations.”   “Somehow, that is more sinister,” Oda said.   “I really thought he was eating them.”   “He was asleep, right?  During the day?”   “No, he was not asleep.”   “He was not asleep.”   “I don’t think they sleep.”   Oda had never read about oni sleeping though he had always assumed they slept at some point and time.   “That is unsettling,” he said.  “So he is just waiting until the night.”   “Gardening,” Wada said.   “Can we go away?” Oda said.   “We should find the old man.”   “What are we going to do with the old man?”   “We need to just get him out of the woods.  He’s still looking for the oni.”   “Oh, our old man.”   “Yeah, our old man.”   They headed back into the woods and quickly found Abe following his own tracks.   “Now Abe, quit following your own footprints and let’s get back to town,” Oda said.  “I’ll tell you all about the blood garden and the mutilated bodies.”   “Uh … sure,” Abe said.   They told him what they had seen at the shrine and what the oni was doing as they walked back to the village.   They spent the rest of the day resting and eating in preparation for that evening.  Oda drew the calligraphy planks for Hikyô and Chiyo.  Abe asked if the tracks had gone near the iron-banded box and Wada said they hadn’t.   They also discussed their plan for that evening.  There was talk of setting up a trap for the oni or ambushing  it before it left the shrine.    Abe went to the gambling hall to talk to Hebei but he was rebuffed from the hall if he wasn’t gambling.  He ended up gambling and won a little more money before he left once again.  He returned to tell them he had won a little money but had not been able to talk to Hebei.    They discussed again the possibility of taking the fight to the oni or fighting it in the village.  Abe suggested some kind of punji sticks but they were unsure where to place them to catch the thing.  It was pointed out that convincing the archers to ambushing the oni at the shrine might be possible.   They rested the rest of the day.   *              *              *   They met 10 archers in the town square in the center of town.  They were all armed with bows and spears.  They told the rônin they planned to climb onto the buildings around the town square to shoot at the oni while they were on the ground.   Abe asked the archers when the oni usually attacked.  He was told it varied every night.  The night before, it had been just after nightfall.  Other nights it was at different times.  It was not consistent.   Abe thought the best strategy was setting up the ambush in the town square.  He didn’t think going to the thing would be as effective.  He told the archers where he thought they should set up on the roofs around, setting up a crossfire that would allow all of the archers to fire without hitting one another.  He also ordered the archers to lay on the roofs and stay hidden until they attacked.  He noted the three rônin would make noises to draw the thing.  He realized if they used the iron-banded box as bait, it would surely draw the oni to wherever they wanted.   The three discussed using the iron-banded box as bait and Wada and Abe went back into the woods and retrieved it.  All was still quiet in the village when they returned so they put it in the center of the town square.  They also discussed how to get the box away from the town square if anything went wrong.   Then they waited.   *              *              *   It was after midnight when Abe heard the sound of light tremors as the oni approached.  He called up to the archers to get ready while the rônin waited in the square.  The tremors grew in strength and then they heard a strangled scream a few rooftops away.  Even in the dark, they knew the oni was close as the horrible stench of rotten flesh assaulted them.  The horror immediately began chanting in an arcane tongue and came in swinging his tetsubo.   Arrows flew from the rooftops as half the archers, those who were still awake, opened fire.  There was the snap of a bowstring as well, though two arrows struck the terrible creature.  Some of the archers that awoke screamed and fled or fainted dead away.   With a shout, the oni headed for the iron-banded box.  It continued chanting.   Oda took the initiative and rushed the horrible thing, sprinting at it and running his naginata, a great pole arm with long blade on the end, into its right thigh.  Wada flung one of his spears at the horror, striking the oni in the left arm.  There was a noise as if the spear had struck bone.  It let out a shriek but continued chanting.  Abe also charged the horror, attacking its left leg with his katana and cutting it to the bone.  The oni screamed again as it continued its chant.   The oni, badly injured and bleeding from several wounds, turned and fled from the village, still chanting.  The horror swung at one of the archers as he passed but missed, smashing the front of the building.  Bamboo and wood went flying.   “We should follow him!” Wada yelled.   The archers let fly once again, one of them screaming insanely at the top of his lungs.  Two arrows struck and there was a snap and a scream as one of the archer’s bowstrings broke and the arrow struck him.  The oni stumbled and fell as the arrows struck it in the back.  It collapsed and death rattled in its throat.   Though it was dead, the chanting continued to echo, becoming increasingly louder.  The ground began to shake continuously, the shaking increasing in magnitude.   Oda looked back towards the box and saw it still there.  Wada and Abe ran to it as Abe tried to yell at the archers.  One of them fell off a shaking building with a scream.  Abe gave up on that and ran to help Wada lift the box.  Oda ran to the oni and found it was definitely dead.  Then he ran out of the north side of the village towards the shrine.   Wada dropped his end of the iron-banded box and ran after Oda.   Abe dragged the iron-banded box to the inn.  He had just safely secured the box inside when he heard the crash of a building collapsing nearby.  He peeked out of the door and then fell to the ground due to the terrible shaking as  he looked out upon a new horror.   In the middle of the town square, a large area turned molten hot, quickly collapsing into smoking void.  The body of the oni, at the edge of the hole, fell into the darkness and disappeared.  Ropy tentacles emerged from the terrible hole, followed by a great and horrible body as the earthquake subsided.  One of the tentacles snatched an archer from a nearby roof, the man’s screams quickly cut short.   The thing was as big as a house with flowing tentacles and pulpy gray-black sack of a body.  There were no distinguishing features other than the reaching, groping tentacles though there was a lump in the upper body of the thing.  It thing stretched its undulating tentacles to the starry night in a strange repose.   All was silent.   Abe fled the inn through the back and left the town.   *              *              *   Oda and Wada sprinted to the shrine, slowing only as they approached the terrible place.  Oda realized they didn’t have any light source though Wada carried flint and steel.   “We need to burn this place, right?” Oda said.   “That’s what I believe,” Wada said.   “Let’s get to it,” Oda said.   They went to the edge of the low fence around the place and ripped up much of it from one corner for kindling.  Bowing to tradition, they walked back to the torii to pass through it to the shrine, Wada in the lead.  As he passed through the torii, there was a flash of light and he found himself falling down a hill, crashing onto the side of it on ground that was preternaturally sharp, cutting him horribly.   When he looked around, he saw there were men and women in the horrible place, prodded by oni to climb up razor sharp and alien-looking trees that horribly disfigured them as the climbed.  Otherwise, the place was an endless, burning vista that seemed to go forever.  He realized he was in Shugo-Jigoku, one of the Buddhist hells.  He saw the torii at the top of the hill he had fallen down.  Oda looked through it but stayed on the other side, a terrified look on his face.   Wada climbed back towards the torii, tearing himself as he went, his sandals and clothing being torn and shredded by the ground itself.   “It’s a gate to Shogu-Jigoku!” Oda cried out.   One of the oni turned and looked at the gate.  Then it left its place by its terrible tree and walked towards them.  Oda reached through the gate, holding out his hand towards Wada.   Wada crawled up the side of the hill, the ground ripping at him as blood dripped from his many wounds.  He got close enough to Oda for the man to grab his hand and pull him back through.  They collapsed to the ground in front of the shrine.   “Break the gate!” Wada said.  “Break the gate!  Break the gate!”   They leapt to their feet and both of then tore into the torii with their weapons.  Wada screamed as he attacked the horrible gate and the oni got closer and closer.  It was only then they noticed the arcane wards and sigils carved in rings on both posts of the device.   With a crack of wood the torii broke as the oni almost reached them.  There was a strange fizzing noise and the opening to Shogu-Jigoku vanished as the post of the torii Wada attacked with his katana snapped.  They were once again plunged into darkness.  The creak of rending of wood came from Oda’s side of the torii as it broke as well, splinters flying as the entire structure collapsed.  The skulls upon it rattled away on the ground.   Wada continued to attack the wood of the torii, smashing it with his katana and screaming as he did so.  Oda approached the man but could not get close to him due to his wild swings.   Oda approached the shrine and saw the terrible sight within.  It was horrible to behold and the stench turned his stomach.  It was just as terrible as Wada had described it before.  He piled the wood they had already gathered against one corner of the shrine and looked back at Wada, who was making kindling out of the torii.   *              *              *   Abe had heard Wada’s screams from the village and had headed into the woods.  He found Wada destroying the torii of the shrine while Oda piled wood against the corner of the shrine.   “The town,” Abe said.   “The town?” Oda said. “There was a gate.”   “Come back there!  Now!”   “All right.  All right.  Lead the way.  I’ll come.  He might not though.  I don’t know about - just leave him.”   Abe tried to persuade Wada to come with them but the man just ignored him.   *              *              *   When they got back to the village, Oda and Abe saw the terrible thing in the center of the village.  It was unmoving though upright.   “That’s the thing!” Abe said.  “We have to get the box out now!”   “Is that here because of the box?” Oda said.   “I don’t know.  I don’t want to die.  You headed off to the temple.”   “All right.”   “Like cowards.”   “I was trying to burn the evil demon and, you know what Abe?  We destroyed a portal to hell!”   Oda saw the tentacles of the horror twitch.   “I saw it move!” he said.  “I don’t understand how the box is going to help get rid of that.”   “We just have to get it out of there!” Abe said.  “We can go in through the back.  I left it in the inn.”   “I guess but … I don’t know what to do about that!”   “I don’t either.  But we have to get the box.”   “Where are you going to put the box?”   “I don’t know but we have to get it.”   “Okay.  Sure.  Fine.  Okay.”   They crept into the inn and got the iron-banded box, creeping out with it and leaving the town.   The ground shook again and more houses collapsed.  It lasted several minutes and then stopped except for a strange hissing noise coming from the town.  They hid the iron-banded box in the forest and, when Abe headed for the shrine, Oda stopped him.   “There’s something going on in the town though!” Oda said.  “I need to be in the town.  I don’t know if you want to check on Wada or not but I need to be in the town.”   “What were you trying to do at the shrine?” Abe said.   “I was trying to start a fire to burn it because there was a blood garden.”   “Do you want me to burn it down?”   “Yeah.  Sure.  If you’re going there, burn it down.”   Oda gave flint and steel to him and they parted ways.   *              *              *   When Oda got back to the village, he saw most of the buildings had collapsed.  In the center of town was a great sinkhole, right where the town square had been.  Within it was a great pit.  The hissing noise came from the pit and he thought it sounded like falling water or steam.  He crept to the edge of the pit and saw it seemed to disappear into the darkness.   His first thought was that the world was bleeding and it was pouring into the pit.  Then he recognized the hot reddish water was that of the hot spring they had languished in two nights before.  A great deal of heat came from the hole as well, more so than the hot springs could have generated.   With a creak, the inn, already badly damaged, collapsed.  He saw the people picking through the rubble of their former lives, packing up their belongings as if they were going to leave the town.  Some people were leaving with nothing but the clothes on their back.   *              *              *   Abe found  a fire already burning at the Shinto shrine and soon heard the sound of insane laughter.  A silhouette of a man sat by the fire and, as he carefully approached, he saw it was Wada.  A fire burned near where the torii stood and Wada threw chunks of the torii into the bonfire he had started.  He laughed hysterically.   Abe ignored the madman and went to the shrine, peeking inside.  He was terrified by what he saw.  A pile of kindling lay against one corner of the shrine.  He went to the fire.   “Abe!” Wada said, laughing hysterically.  “Help me throw this in!”   He laughed again.   “I ruined my katana!” he said, laughing still.   He flung it into the woods.  He had dulled it cutting up the torii.   “We’re rich, Abe!” he said.  “We’re rich!  Rich!”   Abe collected more kindling from the pile and piled it up against the shrine.  He ignited the fire and then saw to the burning of the entire shrine.   “That’s the spirit!” Wada called when he saw.   *              *              *   Oda, fearful of danger from the terrible pit in the center of the village, watched it for several hours.  Eventually, the water from the hot springs filled up the sinkhole and formed a strange, blood-red, lukewarm pond in the center of the remains of the village.   As dawn broke, more people packed up their meager belongings and fled to the north.  The tavern and bathhouse still stood though both the inn, the gambling house, and most of the houses in the town had collapsed.   He helped people pack their belongings as they left the town, heading north in a shambling procession.   He was approached by a man who gave him an unfriendly shove to get his attention.  He recognized him as one of the Ryû-Ryôshû.  The man flung a sack down on the ground before him.   “Hebei expects you to fulfill your part of the promise,” he said before turning and walking away.   “I mean, it’s dead,” Oda said.   When he picked up the sack, it clinked of coins.   He left the town, noting the column of smoke coming from the nearby forest.   *              *              *   When Oda returned to the shrine, he found it burned to the ground.  Wada and Abe continued to move about the place, making sure everything was burned.  It was around noon when they had finished.  Oda suspected that, with the burning of the shrine and the bodies within, it would keep any ghosts from returning for revenge on what was left of the village.   “What’s that in your hand?” Wada said with a smile.  “Is that the coin?”   “Yeah, gather around everybody,” Oda said.  “It looks like we have a fire tonight and a job well done.”   “And you brought sake?”   “Well … bad news about that.  The town is mostly a pile of wood.”   “But no oni.”   “No oni.  Well done, boys.”   They decided to head for Kyoto with the iron-banded box.  They took the path back to the road that led north, recovering the iron-banded box, and found Hikyô and Chiyo as they fled the village with their meager possessions.   “You want to travel with some oni-killers?” Wada said to the girl.  “Make the road safer for you.”   The two agreed to travel with the rônin.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Dragon and the Wolf Part 1 - The Black Wolf of Wroxeter

Monday, May 21, 2018   (After playing the Cthulhu Dark Ages scenario "The Dragon and the Wolf" by John W. Thompson from The Bride of Halloween Horror monograph Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with John Leppard and Nick Novacek.)   In the year 1000 A.D., the church predicted the Millennium of Christ would bring about the beginning of Armageddon. As if this was not enough to inspire fear in the common people, the land was wracked by the raids of the fierce Viking Northmen.   In the village of Wroxeter, tales of disappearances and a phantom Black Wolf had reached the Count of Shropshire. The Viking threat and an influx of people seeking safety kept the Earl from sending his own men to see to Wroxeter, so he had, instead, issued a reward of 500 deniers for the pelt of the Black Wolf.   Two men had answered the call and rode into the town on Saturday, October 27.   Bossard was from France and was a Norman. He was a black-haired, weathered looking man with a small beard. He wore clean boiled leather armor and had a long sword on his belt. He carried a large shied in his left arm. He rode one of the Count of Shropshire's horses as he was a sergeant in the man's house, the only person the Count could spare to see to the end of the Black Wolf.   John was Welsh and had short brown hair and a face that was not clean shaven, though not with enough stubble, even, to call it a beard. He was scruffy. A hunter and woodsman, he had known Brossard for some time and had agreed to come with the man to hunt the Black Wolf. He wore boiled leather armor his friend had lent him and carried a strange device Brossard had brought from France but never used: a crossbow. He had given it to his friend some years before and John had become proficient in its use. He rode a horse Brossard had lent him.   A cool autumn wind shook the leaves from the trees as they entered the tiny village of Wroxeter. It was said it was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain. Now, fragments of a great wall and some crumbling foundations, as well as a broken tower were all that remained. Interspersed within and around those shadows of yesterday's greatness was a humble village of a dozen or so families. A solid church stood in the middle of the village near a village green.   The people of the village watched the two riders cautiously as they approached. Men, women, and even children had bow or knife at hand, ready to fight. The villagers were hard, strong folk of Saxon heritage. They were the ones who stayed after the more fearful had fled to Shewsbury. Yet, even in their eyes, the two men could see a hint of fear. The Black Wolf must have been a fierce beast, indeed, to trouble those folks.   Despite their unease, the men could see the villagers were preparing for a festival: All Hallows Eve. Once called Samhain, it was the time of blood and death, when the livestock were culled of those too weak to live through the winter. Such animals were slaughtered and the villagers preserved as much meat as possible by salting and drying. The rest would be eaten in a feast. Naturally, people's minds turned to death in that season and it was common to honor the memories of loved ones now gone. The church held its veneration of the Saints the next morning on the first day of November.   A bleat sounded suddenly as an old goat had its throat cut, a quick and merciful kill. Another gust of wind carried the coppery tang of blood, an ominous omen to begin the two men's hunt for the demon wolf.   Some of the houses had smoke seeping out of the thatch of the roofs but others seemed to have been abandoned. The fields and gardens around the village were fallow, for the most part, as the planting season was over.   They approached a man mending rope by a house. He was a thick man with a great jaw and a shapeless hat atop his head. He was clean-shaven and looked surly.   "Hello sir," Bossard said.   The man pulled on the front of his hat, looking them up and down suspiciously. He had a knife in his belt.   "We're looking for the Headman of this village," Bossard said.   "That'd be Aelfred," the farmer said.   "Where's Aelfred?" Bossard said.   "That's his house," the man said, pointing.   Bossard nodded and thanked the man.   "Give him a coin," John said.   The other man flipped the farmer a denier. He bit into it and tucked it away before going back to his work.   They went to the indicated house and met Aelfred. The Headman proved to be very young, only about 23 years old. He greeted them and they knew, as Headman, he was responsible for collecting taxes and generally serving as the intermediary between the villagers and the Earl's men. The villagers also looked to him to make important decisions and lead them in times of trouble.   "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said. "Can I help you?"   "We've been sent by the Earl to deal with your "¦ black wolf," Bossard said.   "Oh!" Aelfred said. "Good. I've seen it. I've seen the black wolf."   "Have you, now?"   "Aye. Aptly named and bigger than any wolf I've ever seen before. Fifteen to 20 stone at least. Wulfstan, my predecessor, saw the beast up close and was so terrified that he took his family and fled in the night."   "Do you know where he fled off to?"   "I assume to Shrewsbury. That's where many of the people are going."   "Hm. Do you have any more information about the beast besides how much it weighs?"   "It's been here a few months."   "Are any of the buildings abandoned?" John asked.   "Aye," Aelfred said.   "Do you mind if we take residence in one of the abandoned ones?"   "Well, what are you doing here?"   "We're here to kill it!" Bossard said. "Order of the Earl."   Aelfred took them to one of the abandoned houses. They found the single-room building had no furniture and a small fire pit. When John asked about a smith, he learned the nearest one was in Shrewsbury. Aelfred noted there was a miller in the village and a mill on the river outside of town. They were told the miller was Ingeld. He also told them Father Thomas was the village priest.   "He's not too happy with our festivities," Aelfred said. "But Aehtelgythe is. She's the old wise woman that lives here."   "Would she know more?" Bossard said.   "About what?" Aelfred said.   "The wolf," John said.   "The situation," Bossard said.   "The wolf?" Aelfred said. "Maybe. I don't know if she's seen it. I've seen it. It's huge. Big as a horse. If you need me, you know where to find me."   He left.   "And here I was thinking it was just some crazy Viking running around with a black pelt on his back," Bossard said.   "Couldn't we win by just killing a wolf and dying it black?" John said.   Bossard frowned at him.   "What?" John said. "We should visit the old lady. It sounds like a local myth."   "Good idea," Bossard said. "The priest might know something too."   "The priest? No. He wouldn't tell us anything."   "We're not from the area."   "Yeah, but he doesn't believe in it. To him, it's just a ─"   "Well, he said he didn't believe in the festivities."   "Yeah, but the wolf is most likely "¦ not natural if it's that big. We can go ahead and assume that Catholicism doesn't approve of its existence."   "I don't know, it could just be some big wolf that's pretty old."   "If it's old, it wouldn't be abducting people."   "Do we know that it's been taking people from their homes or just killing them?"   "Wise woman."   They asked around and learned Aehtelgythe lived in a house connected to and partially made of stone from the old Roman tower that stood crumbling just outside of town. The door there was answered by the oldest person either of them had ever seen.   Aehtelgythe was probably 70 years old but still spry and healthy. She wore plain, dark clothing and a hood covered the top of her head. Her skin was wrinkled but her eyes bright as she looked over the two men at her doorstep.   "What do you want?" she growled.   "We seek information," Bossard said.   "Well, you've come to the right place," the old woman said.   She turned and walked into the dark hut. The two men followed and found she was boiling water which she mixed with certain herbs and honey in a cup. She sat down on a bench and drank it, not offering them any.   "What are you looking for?" she said.   "We're looking into the wolf problem," Bossard said.   "Oh!" she said. "I seen the yellow eyes of the monster, staring from the woods. These were not the eyes of a normal animal; they held intelligence and evil within them. I have cast my auguries and know what the Black Wolf is an unnatural beast and it is motivated by malice! It means harm to this village and must be stopped! Are you here to stop it, man with a sword?"   "Yes. The Earl is paying us very well to take care of this."   "Oh. Then you need to find it and stop it. Track it down and kill it. Especially before the 31st. Before our festivities."   "What kind of animals has it abducted in the past?" John asked.   "Sheep," Aehtelgythe said. "Cows. Goats. Killing everything."   "Bait," he whispered to Bossard.   "These are not my horses," Bossard said.   "Bait," John said again.   "What are you whispering about?" Aehtelgythe growled.   "Nothing, ma'am," Bossard said.   "Bait," John said. "Bait for the animal. We can draw it out and track it."   "Which one of you are you going to use for bait?" Aehtelgythe said.   "The armored one."   "You're both wearing armor!"   Aehtelgythe poked John in the side, slapping his armor.   "The shielded one," John said.   "Oh," Aehtelgythe said. "There's something evil about it. It's in the woods. Waiting."   She sloppily sipped whatever brew she was drinking.   "Is there some sort of pattern to these attacks?" Bossard said.   "No," Aehtelgythe said. "Not that I know of. But I'm not everybody."   "Does it attack at night?"   "Mostly. Nobody sees it in the day. It stays in the shadows of the woods. It's an evil creature. It's a horrible thing."   She glared at both men.   "Do you know why this creature "¦?" Bossard said. "Or when it started appearing?"   "Month, maybe more," Aehtelgythe said. "Not longer than a month. Not too much longer than a month."   "Are there any special holidays or traditions that took place in September?" John said. "Last month? A few months ago?"   "No," she said. "Nothing that coincides with when the wolf was first spotted or when it first attacked.   "Do you have any theories as to why it's appeared?" Bossard asked.   "No," she said. "I cast an augury to try to determine what was happening. I've told you all I learned."   They did learn, after talking to the woman some more that she was a follower of the old ways. She didn't come across as very Catholic or Christian. She was proud the festivities would have some of the old ways included in it.   "Do you know anyone in town who might know more?" Bossard said.   Aehtelgythe gestured vaguely towards the town.   "Just ask around, then?" Bossard said.   She again gestured.   "Is there anything else we should need to ask her, my friend?" Bossard said.   "I don't think so," John said.   "Thank you for your time, ma'am," Bossard said.   "Good luck!" Aehtelgythe said. "Kill it! Kill it!"   "We'll come back later if we need your assistance," Bossard said.   She nodded at them and they took their leave.   They went to the church and found Father Thomas, the village priest. Though they had heard him called "Young Thomas" around the village, he was actually quite old, being in his 40s. Balding, he had thick hair on the sides of his head and a beard and mustache. He wore simple, brown robes. He seemed happy the Earl sent someone to deal with the wolf and a little exasperated the locals clung to their superstitions despite his frequent sermons. He seemed a little in conflict with Aehtelgythe and a little upset none of the villagers were willing to learn Latin. He was a little crotchety and mentioned aches and pains he always felt, noting he would not be taking place in the festivities in a few days due to the "pagan foolishness," as he put it.   "As the Millennium of Christ draws to a close and the return of Our Lord, not as the Lamb but as the Lion of God, draws nigh, the Devil is loosing his demons, such as this Black Wolf, upon the world. The Dark One prepares for the great battle of Armageddon! We must prepare ourselves and put on the Full Armor of God! We must repent and pray and be ready for the End is at hand!"   "Is there anything about the wolf that makes it seem as if it's anything but a normal wolf?" John said.   "It is the Devil! It's huge! Bigger than a man! Why, Aelfred himself has said it's 10 to 14 stone. That's bigger than any man!"   "Do you believe Aelfred's word?"   "I have no reason to doubt him. I've taught him Latin. He's the village Headman now. He was a ready student. Not many want to learn. Aelfred took over as Headman of the village, appointed by the earl after Wulfstan disappeared. They left one night. Aelfred said Wulfstan had seen it up close and left due to the terror he had felt after seeing the horrible beast."   Father Thomas didn't see any reason why Aelfred would lie. Lying was a sin, especially at that time, when the whole world was coming to an end. He was willing to listen to the two men's confessions if they wanted to unburden their souls. He was also upset about the festivities planned because Aehtelgythe was adding pagan elements to them. He felt she was too supportive of the old ways.   "Thomas, do you know of anyone who─" Bossard said.   "Father "¦ Thomas," Father Thomas said.   "Father Thomas, do you know of anyone who does not believe Aelfred in town?"   "Cuthbert is very upset."   "Cuthbert?"   "Cuthbert is Wulfstan's cousin."   "Hm."   "He and Aelfred do not get along. Aelfred claimed Wulfstan left the village out of terror and fear. That he's a coward."   "What does he believe?"   "I don't know but he doesn't like Aelfred."   "Where does he live?"   Father Thomas gave the man directions to Cuthbert's house across the village. They learned he was one of the local farmers. They found Father Thomas lived in the tiny rectory behind the house, a building no larger than any of the others in the village.   "Does anyone live in Wulfstan's house?" Bossard asked.   "No," Father Thomas said. "They left a month or so ago. No one has come into the village."   "Thank you Father, I think we're going go to ask "¦ Cuthbert "¦?"   "Cuthbert."   When they left the church, Bossard spoke to John quietly.   "I say we look in Wulfstan's house first," he said.   "I concur," John said.   They stopped at the abandoned house of Wulfstan and let themselves in. The hut was typical of those in the village. It was solidly built with a thatch roof and only a single door to let in light. With only a single room, there was a cold fire pit in one corner. A little debris and straw remained but nothing else was in the place except for a few mice which scurried to the corners and disappeared.   They searched the house, looking for clues but found nothing remained in the house whatsoever.   "I guess we should go talk to Cuthbert," Bossard said.   It didn't take them long to find the man. He was skinny with a sunken face and thick muttonchops. He had dark eyes and wore a straw hat and a tunic. When they questioned him about Wulfstan, he said he didn't believe the man took his family to Shrewsbury as Aelfred claimed.   "Wulfstan was a strong, dedicated leader, a man you could trust," he said. "He would never have just packed up and vanished in the night. Aelfred says that Wulfstan told him that he had a run-in with the Black Wolf and it frightened him so badly that he was taking his family and leaving. If that were true, why did he say nothing to me? We were closer than brothers! Besides, Wulfstan was no coward and as skilled a hunter as I've ever know. In fact, we were planning to hunt the beast down ourselves! The whole story doesn't sit well with me."   "When did, supposedly, Wulfstan leave?" Bossard said. "Last month?"   "It was a month. A little more than a month ago. Not long after the wolf appeared."   "Do you know what happened to his house?"   "What?"   "Wulfstan's house."   "No. What do you mean?"   "We looked inside and there was nothing in there."   "Aelfred says they took what they had. In the night. Left in the middle of the night."   "That's odd."   "Did he own a cart?" John said.   "No," Cuthbert said.   "Any horses."   "No. Would've had to pack it all on his back."   "Didn't leave anything behind?"   "I don't know. I haven't been in his house. You said you were in his house? Was there anything there?"   "Looked like it had been abandoned for a month," Bossard said.   Cuthbert shrugged.   "Is there anywhere the villagers congregate outside of the church?"   "Not really," Cuthbert said. "Sometimes on the village green in the center of town. That's where the festivities will take place in a few nights for All Hallows Eve."   He looked at Bossard.   "Why would he have left without telling me?" he said.   "I don't know who he was so I'm not sure," Bossard said.   "He was a good man," Cuthbert said. "In charge of this village. Did a good job. Then he was gone in the middle of the night."   "Doesn't make sense to me, personally. He would probably wait until morning to leave at the earliest."   "Uh-huh."   "And he would probably have gotten a cart from someone in town first."   "But he's gone!"   "Hm."   "Mm-hm."   "So, why is Aelfred in charge of the town now?"   "He was assigned it by the Earl."   "Really, now?"   "Uh-huh. The Earl put him in charge."   "Has he been a local in the town for a long time?"   "All his life just like the rest of us."   "Hm."   Bossard thought on that.   "Well, we're hunting down that beast," he finally said.   "Good!" Cuthbert said. "Kill it. Find out what happened to Wulfstan."   "That seems to be something of interest."   "Hm."   "Related to this. Because if we could find what happened to Wulfstan, we might find out more about the beast."   "Aye."   "Or the beast if we find him. Either or either. But I do not feel heading back to town would be helpful. You don't think heading back to Shrewsbury and looking for a man in that town would be helpful, do you?"   He had directed his last question to John.   "It'd waste an entire day, at least, looking for him," Bossard went on. "And, if the fears are right about All Hallows Eve, I don't feel we have enough time to bother. Plus, I feel like the Earl would have told me if the old Headman was in town. Probably would have sent him with us. Help us out with our investigation."   "We should probably leave the building," John said.   Cuthbert looked at both of them.   Bossard told him they'd look into his cousin's disappearance. He told them "Good." He bid them to kill the Black Wolf if they found it. They saw their way out of the house.   They talked about figuring out where the attacks were occurring and also about keeping an eye on Aelfred. John found him suspicious. They decided to talk to the villagers to see what else they could learn. They learned the people had refused to leave the village despite bandits, Vikings, and the Black Wolf. All of them respected Wulfstan until he abandoned them. Most of them very much liked Aelfred and were very happy the man stood up to lead the village. Aelfred was a bit less hearty than the average man but he was very intelligent. He could even read and write Latin, having been taught by Father Thomas.   They learned the Black Wolf was a monster the size of a pony with a pitch black pelt and glowing yellow eyes. Multiple villagers reported the loss of livestock to the beast but no one had been closer than several dozen yards. All of the sightings had been at a distance. Many worried that the slaughter of excess livestock in preparation for the winter would bring the wolf into the village as the demon beast followed the scent of fresh blood.   There were no specific spots where the wolf struck.   The two men discussed what to do. John suggested they watch Aelfred and Aehtelgythe's homes. Bossard wanted to stay together. He feared facing the beast alone and, when John suggested climbing a tree, Bossard wondered aloud if the beast could climb.   "It's a wolf!" John said.   "It's an abnormal wolf, according to these people," Bossard said.   "Fair enough. All right, you take the old woman. I'll take Aelfred."   "Okay."     * * *       Bossard went to Aehtelgythe's hut and asked the old woman if he could spend the night there. He told her he needed a place to stay but she refused to let him in, claiming he was too young for her before she slammed the door in his face. He found a place nearby to watch her house that night. He ended up climbing a tree.     * * *       John had hidden himself near Aelfred's house behind one of the rough stone walls nearby where he could watch the house but didn't think he would be noticed.   It was the wee hours of the night when he saw the silhouette of a huge animal creep up to the house. It looked like a huge wolf or dog. It was far too big and had yellow, glowing eyes. It crept around Aelfred's house as if it was looking for something. Though chilled by the sight, John watched. The animal seemed to be looking for a way into the house. It finally left, heading south and passing closer to John than the man was comfortable with. He thought it might have looked right at him before he crept out of the village. He lost sight of it when it disappeared into the woods.   He waited a while longer before he slipped back to the abandoned house he and Bossard had been shown by Aelfred. There was some firewood there that had been gathered by the villagers for them. He built a small fire before wrapping his cloak about him and going to sleep.     * * *       The day of Sunday, October 28, 1000, dawned with rain. Nothing had happened at Aehtelgythe's house that night. Bossard returned to the house he and John had been given to stay in and found it smelled of fresh smoke. A few ashes were in the pit in the corner and John slept on the floor. He nudged the man with the boot.   John explained the wolf was very real and wanted something inside of Aelfred's house. It was definitely looking for a way in and was around the house for a while. When Bossard asked if the man had seen Aelfred leave, he said he hadn't, but the wolf definitely wanted in. John suggested they talk to Aelfred and ask if he had taken anything from the ruins or done anything to anger the wolf.   They set off for Aelfred's house that morning and found the man there. He seemed happy to see him. John noticed very large wolf-prints all around the house and could see they headed south.   "Did anything strange happen last night?" John asked.   "No," Aelfred said. "I slept well."   "Slept well?"   "Why?"   "Have you traveled around anywhere in the last month? We have reason to believe the wolf may have wanted to get inside your house."   "No."   "Found anything interesting?"   "No."   "Done anything out of the ordinary?"   "No."   Bossard realized the man was not telling them everything. He was keeping something back and was not being completely honest. He tried to convince the man they were all trying to stop the wolf and he could tell them anything. It was almost an impassioned plea that was very convincing.   Aelfred seemed unconvinced. He claimed nothing out of the ordinary had happened. However, each of the men noticed him glance towards a chest tucked into the corner of the room. It didn't have a lock or even a hasp, but was large and weathered, as if it had been in his family for some time. Bossard exchanged a knowing glance with John before he thanked Aelfred for his time. Aelfred wished them luck finding the wolf and they took their leave.   They returned to the house they'd been lent.   "We need to see what's in the chest," John said.   "I have an idea," Bossard said.   "I have one too."   "What's your idea?"   "If you can fast talk him, if you find him out in a field, we have to be careful that villagers don't see us rummaging through his stuff. So, we need you to convince him to go get him something from the house. And we can go fetch it. And that way none of the villagers are concerned and we can go take a look in the chest."   "My plan was to convince Cuthbert to distract Aelfred for us. Convince him, maybe, that we found some information about Wulfstan that he needs to distract Aelfred for us. We don't need to be truthful about it. It might be true. But we just need to get in that house and get into that chest."   They discussed it, John noting the problem was that the village was small and the villagers might see them. Bossard suggested they try John's idea first.   They soon found Aelfred was going about town and talking to the other villagers about the festivities in a few days. They learned it was a dance with a certain song that would be sung that night.   John told Bossard they would ask to borrow a shovel to dig something around the village that needed dug in thanks for the loan of the abandoned house they were staying in. However, when they approached Aelfred and asked him about it, he told them all he needed from them was to get the wolf. He wanted them to find and kill it. When Bossard told them there was not anything they could do during the day, Aelfred was taken aback.   "You can't track it down?" he said. "Find out where it lairs? That's what I would think you could do. Find where it lairs and be ready for it when it comes out or set a trap or burn it out if it's in a cave. Kill it or block it up or collapse the cave on top of it!"   He seemed very anxious to kill the wolf.   Bossard asked the man if he had taken any spiritual attempts at self-protection, like salt in front of the door. The man said he had not. Aelfred was curious why the man asked and told him he prayed fervently every night as Father Thomas taught him.   They left the man, heading towards the woods as if they were planning on following the tracks. They followed the tracks south and found they went all around the animal pens and the barn, though not nearly as much as were around Aelfred's house.   "Well, I think, one thing we should, could, consider, is setting fire to one of the abandoned houses," Bossard said.   "You know, I was already thinking about that," John said. "I was actually thinking we could set fire to an outhouse."   They both figured it would draw all the villagers to it and they could use the confusion to look into the chest in Aelfred's house. John wanted to burn a latrine. He thought it a good idea to burn the one behind Aelfred's house. They argued over it briefly.   They followed the tracks into the woods but John soon lost the trail when it went on rocky ground. He was not able to find tracks leaving the area. It was almost as if the wolf was trying to lose any pursuit.   As they walked around the rocky ground, John suggested they set loose the animals in the barn as a distraction. Bossard was unsure how they could do so inconspicuously. John was unsure how to set a fire inconspicuously. Bossard suggested leaving something burning in the house. He was also of the opinion the Earl wouldn't mind as much them setting some animals loose as he would them burning down a peasant's house. However, he realized the Earl probably valued the livestock at least as much as the peasants, if not more so. He was unsure which the Earl would hate more.   They continued looking for the wolf's prints around the rocky area that day without any luck. Bossard found some boot prints and followed them, soon following them back to the rocky area. John realized the man was following his own boot prints in a circle. John found no tracks leaving the rocky area in the woods, which didn't seem right to him at all.   They returned to the village long before dark as the rain started.   They split up, Bossard going to talk to Aehtelgythe and John going to see what Aelfred was doing.         * * *       Bossard found Aehtelgythe kneading dough for bread.   "Hello Aehtelgythe," he said.   "What is your name?" she said.   "Bossard."   "Bossard? That sounds French!"   "I am French! Originally."   "What are you doing here?"   "I told you!"   "Are you spy? For the French?"   "I've been sent by the Earl to kill the wolf. Remember?"   She looked at him suspiciously.   "I remember," she finally said.   "I'm not a spy," he said.   "But you're French!"   "Yes."   "Hm."   "Regardless, Aehtelgythe, I was hoping you would provide us more information about the wolf from what I've learned."   "What have you learned?"   He told her about the tracks disappearing on the rocky spot and about the boot prints. When she asked if he was sure he wasn't following his own tracks, he came to a sudden realization. Then she walked over to him and poked him hard in the chest.   "That sounds like a werewolf," she said.   "Werewolf?" Bossard said.   "A werewolf."   "I thought it was just a Viking, some crazy man with a wolf pelt on."   "No, it is a man that can turn into a wolf."   "So, like my original theory."   "I don't know."   She told him the werewolf was a man who could turn into a wolf to do horrible things. They could infect others with their curse if they harmed said others. They were the Devil's agents, or at least that was what the church claimed. She said they were very dangerous. She noted if they hunted a werewolf, they might want to have their weapons blessed by Father Thomas. She said he knew some things.   "For though he is just a priest of a new god," she said blasphemously, "he does have some power and does know some things. But it will be a wolf with the cunning of a man. Cunning of a man!"   She got in his face and pointed at his forehead.   "So, are you saying one of the villagers here is a werewolf?" Bossard asked.   She shrugged.   "It could be," she said.   He told her there had been a lot of tracks around Aelfred's house and he had looked at a chest when they had talked to him about it. She didn't know anything about that but she trusted Aelfred and pointed out Aelfred was ready to incorporate aspects the church might not approve of for the festivities. She approved of that use of "the old wisdom." She asked if he was suspicious of Aelfred.   "Not necessarily," Bossard said. "I just don't know what he's worried about in his house. He won't tell us about it."   She thought on that.   "It could be what the werewolf wants," Bossard said.   "Why don't you just ask Aelfred?" Aehtelgythe asked.   "He refuses to divulge it," Bossard said.   He related their question of something happening or him finding anything when he had looked at the chest. Aehtelgythe was unsure but guessed the Romans had nothing to do with anything as even they didn't know the old ways. She again noted the inclusion of the old ways into the festivities was a good thing.   She asked him what kind of Catholic he was. He shrugged and alluded to the fact that he merely paid the church lip service. The old woman nodded.   "The old ways have power," she said.   "Do they?" Bossard said.   "The new ways do not have as much power. Some of them do. But not much. We need to get back to the old ways. The ways from before. From before."   He thanked her and took his leave.     * * *       John found Aelfred under a small, roughly made pavilion on the village green with some of the children of the village, helping them learn the song that seemed to be in Latin. He walked back to Aelfred's house but saw one of the townsfolk, a pretty young woman with long, dark hair named Aelfwynn, mending clothing in the doorway of the nearby house. Unfortunately, she could see the door to Aelfred's house from where she worked.   He went to the hut where Aelfwynn worked. She was very pretty and only about 16 years old. When she saw him, she blushed at the handsome man, lowering her eyes.   "Hello, good sir," she said.   Village gossip had it she was the most beautiful girl in the village. She lived with her father and mother and was unwed and unbetrothed.   "Would your parents mind if you lent out farm tools?" he asked her.   She said she didn't think they would.   "Can I borrow a shovel?" he said.   She brought him a shovel and he left with it, returning after a short while to give it back. He had hoped she wouldn't have the tool so he could use that as an excuse to enter Aelfred's house.   He wandered back to the village green to watch the man teach the children the song in Latin. He told them what to say and when to sing it. John was unsure if it was Latin but guessed it must be. He stayed until he saw Bossard returning to the village and went to meet with him.   "Did you learn anything interesting?" he said.   "It's a werewolf," Bossard said.   John was unsure what he was talking about and Bossard told him. He also noted they needed blessed weapons, according to Aehtelgythe. John wondered if they could just place the weapons on the altar and they would get blessed. Bossard felt they should just go ask Father Thomas.   They went to the church and found the priest. When they told him they wanted blessed weapons, he wanted to know exactly what they wanted. Bossard told him it was the Devil and Father Thomas was certain he was right. When Bossard told him he needed a blessed weapon to drive it off, the man looked more trepidatious. He told the man it was very costly for him to bless a weapon. When John tried to minimize the fact, he noted it was costly to him and would cost him part of his soul.   "But God would want you to do this," Bossard said.   "Are you sure it's the Devil," Father Thomas said. "Have you seen it? Have you seen arrows bounce of it?"   "My friend has."   "Have you seen your weapons bounce off it?"   "I haven't seen my weapons bounce off it," John said.   "Do you want us to try?" Bossard said.   "It's far too large to be a normal wolf," John said.   Bossard told the man he had deduced the creature was a werewolf. Father Thomas listened to him and frowned.   "How dare you lie to me!" he said. "Your eternal soul is more important than lies! You must tell me the truth, young man!"   "Aehtelgythe told me," Bossard said.   "As I thought! She's a pagan! You can't trust her!"   "But I still..."   "If you come to me with the truth, that this wolf cannot be harmed by mortal bow and arrow, then, yes, I am willing to give part of my soul to protect you. But until that time "¦ no. Especially to a liar."   "He's not a liar."   Bossard pointed to John.   "You lied to me when you said that was what you thought," Father Thomas said. "Don't lie to me. I can see the truth. I know a liar when I see one!"   "But God would want you to help me kill this creature!" Bossard said.   "You lied to me already! Don't sully the name of God with the same mouth that just told me lies!"   "Fine, we'll go try and kill it tonight. But if I die "¦"   "It's God's will. For your lies."   "And if the werewolf kills you, it's God's will."   Bossard left the church without another word. John followed.     * * *       That night, the two men entered Wulfstan's house. Bossard, exhausted from saying up the night before, curled up in a corner and went to sleep. John climbed up onto the thatch roof and set himself up on one of the braces that held up the thatch with plans to watch Aelfred's house but he also nodded off to sleep.     * * *

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Dragon and the Wolf Part 2 - The Dragon

* * *   The morning of Monday, October 29, 1000, was overcast and gray but the rain had stopped. When the light woke John, he realized he had fallen asleep soon after he had taken up his watch the night before. When he climbed down to the room, Bossard was already awake. The Frenchman slapped him in the face.   "I deserve that," John admitted.   They went to Aelfred's house and found fresh tracks all around. Some of them headed south once again. They followed them to a stream and started to search up and down the rill to see where the tracks came out. They had lost the tracks however despite spending several hours carefully looking. They finally found some tracks that left the stream and headed back towards the rocks they had lost the tracks upon before.   Canvassing the area between the two, however, brought them to a sparse campsite on a rocky patch along the River Severn. A man had a small fire burning in the clearing. He was wearing once-nice clothing now ragged and threadbare. He looked like a merchant or a minor noble who had fallen on hard times. He had a thick black beard and thick black hair. He cooked a fish over a small fire.   John signaled Bossard and they crept back into the woods to talk, getting a mile or so away before they stopped.   "What do you think?" John said. "Do we jump him? Do we question him?"   "We should question him," Bossard said. "We don't know that he's the werewolf."   "It would save a lot of trouble if he wasn't."   "You want to try to murder an innocent man?"   "Well, it's obvious from his clothes nobody will miss him."   "No. I know the Earl doesn't care but you're not going to weigh the conscious of murdering a man?"   "I don't want to get eaten."   "You don't know if he's a werewolf! What if you murder him and then the werewolf attacks again?"   "Then he wasn't a werewolf."   "And then you go insane!"   "We should go back and ask the old woman if you can kill a werewolf in its man form."   They returned to the village to find Aehtelgythe. She was unsure if the creature would be immune to normal weaponry or not. When John asked if they could turn during the day, she told them she thought the creatures changed on the full moon. John realized the festivities fell on the dark of the moon and the moon had been waning for several days. The next full moon was not for two weeks.   Bossard asked her who the man in the camp south of town was and she didn't know. They left.   John pointed out they could shoot the man to see if he was immune to their weapons. They didn't even have to kill him. Bossard still wanted to know if the man was the werewolf first. John pointed out the man would have to answer their questions and couldn't get away if his foot was pinned to the ground. They could also claim it was a hunting accident. Bossard preferred to watch the man's camp and wait for him to come back. John pointed out the wolf would probably be able to smell them, even hidden up in the trees. Bossard said it hadn't smelled him that night he'd watched Aelfred's house.   It was noon by then and they talked about getting into Aelfred's house to get into the chest.   They found Aelfred at his house. Several people were there, adults from the village, who he was teaching the dance and the song for the festivities.   Bossard suggested letting the animals out to draw them away. John wanted to burn something, pointing out it was no raining any longer. When Bossard noted it was still damp, John pointed out things could still burn.   They discussed lying to Father Thomas once again about the man they'd found in the woods, faking evidence to prove they needed their weapons blessed. Bossard decided he didn't want to risk further alienating the priest, however. When John suggested they form a lynch mob to deal with the man in the woods, Bossard was not happy about that, not wanting to possibly murder an innocent man.   They decided to go back to the man's camp.     * * *       When they arrived at the edge of the man's camp, they saw he had finished eating the fish he'd been cooking before. As Bossard entered the clearing, John climbed a nearby tree to watch the meeting, making a lot of noise. The man stood and greeted him.   "Hello, fine sir," Bossard said. "What brings you out here?"   "I am Gerhard," the man said   "Gerhard."   "Who are you?"   "Bossard."   "Norman?"   "No."   "Welcome. I have little to give. I have been living a hermit's life. I seek to purify myself before the end time. I've been living alone, subsiding upon the Lord's bounty of fish and wild berries."   He held out some berries. Bossard shook his head and the man put them away.   "What are you doing to prepare for the end of days?" Gerhard asked. "It comes at the thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ."   "Hunting," Bossard said.   "You're hunting to prepare yourself for the end of days?"   "I'm trying to enjoy..."   "Enjoy!?!"   "...the Lord's bounty."   "The Lord's bounty is important. Enjoying it doesn't come into play much anymore with the end of the world coming and all."   "Yes."   "But you're welcome to come share my fire and what little I have. I'm afraid I've already eaten the fish but I still have the berries."   Bossard made small talk but eventually steered the conversation towards the local village of Wroxeter. Gerhard knew the village was there but had never been to it, he claimed.   "Have you?" Gerhard asked.   "I passed through it to get here."   "Ah."   "Have you heard stories of the wolf?"   "Aye. I've seen the beast. Black as night and with the devil's own eyes, it was. It came stalking about my camp not two nights hence. At first I was afraid but then I stood to face the beast with only faith to guard me and, like Daniel in the lion's den, the Lord God did keep me safe and the beast fled to the east."   He pointed downstream.   "Do you know why?" Bossard asked.   "Because I had the protection of God," Gerhard said. "That's the only reason that can explain it."   Bossard wished the man to be safe and Gerhard wished the same for him. He left the clearing heading west.     * * *       Bossard circled around the clearing and found John crashing down noisily out of the tree he had been hiding in. He saw him slip the last few feet and crash to the ground on his back, knocking the breath out of himself. It took a few minutes before he could talk. Bossard swore at him in French under his breath.   "I still want to shoot him," John finally said.   "I cannot condone you shooting that man," Bossard said.   "What did you learn?"   "That he is apparently waiting for the end of times."   "Will anybody miss him?"   "If you want to shoot him, you're welcome to try."   He told John everything Gerhard had told him. He said he didn't believe the man, though. John looked around for wolf tracks in the vicinity but found none.   "Can we shoot him now?" he said. "He knows we're here. He's not going to come back to the same spot."   "What are you going to do if you don't kill him?" Bossard said.   "Run. What are you going to do?" John said.   "I'm going to go confront him," Bossard said.   The two entered the camp, John stopping at the edge of the clearing with his loaded crossbow ready. Bossard approached the man who had been deep in prayer or thought. Gerhard stood as the man approached.   "Ah, you have returned," Gerhard said. "Have you reconsidered my berries?"   "Sir, I do not believe that you scared the wolf away last night," Bossard said.   "Of course I didn't. God did."   "There are no tracks."   "There are no tracks? I don't understand."   "I fear this is not a typical wolf, sir. I would ask you that you be honest with me with what happened."   "I have been honest with you."   "Hm."   Bossard looked back at John. He sighed.   "I think you're a werewolf, sir," Bossard said.   "What?" Gerhard said.   "A werewolf. You heard me."   Gerhard looked him up and down. Then he sat back down by the embers of his fire.   "I used to make my living as a trader of goods and a tinker, traveling between villages, trading my wares and repairing the kettles, pots, and suchlike of the villages I visited," he said. "About one month ago, I came to Wroxeter and plied my trade there for a few days. With the villagers being more sparse than when I was last there, I soon finished and made plans to move on. Aelfred suggested that I follow a shortcut that he knew of to the next town. This route, he said, would also lead me past a village I had never visited before. As I had found less business than I expected in Wroxeter, I took his advice and followed the route.   "However, I couldn't find the promised village, and so I had to camp outside that night. Fortunately, the moon was waxing three-quarters full and bright and I had space in my wagon to be off the ground. As I was preparing to bed down, I spied a great shadow crossing the moon and barely dove aside as a dragon, a great wyrm, swooped upon me and tried to envelope me in its coils. The only thing that saved me that night is my heritage. Not only am I of a strong Saxon lineage, but my family also bears the blood of the wolf warriors of old: werewolves.   "Because I was born wolf-blooded, I can control my changes and take wolf form whenever I choose rather than being tied to the cycles of the moon. I was so frightened at the sight of this horrible monster that I froze in fear. I would have died there, but the Wolf was not ready to die. It took over and I changed. My Wolf recognized the dragon as the stronger beast and so ran for all we were worth! My Wolf was faster than the wyrm and we evaded the beast until near sunrise when it took flight back to wherever it lairs, but not before slaughtering my horses and destroying my cart, wares, and tools. Left with nothing, I began to investigate.   "I watch Wroxeter and its new Headman. I spied Aelfred skulk out of the village one night to meet with the wyrm itself! It was he who fed me to the beast. Since then I have been seeking the wyrm's lair and planning revenge upon Aelfred. They took everything from me except my life. I intend to see justice done."   "So, you say you're interested in Aelfred?" Bossard said.   "He's the one who betrayed me," Gerhard said. "He is the one who is working with the wyrm."   "Ask him what's in his house!" John called.   "What's in his house?" Bossard said.   "He is," Gerhard said.   "What? The wyrm?"   "Aelfred."   "There's something in his house that he's interested in."   "I know nothing about that."   "He was looking at it when we were questioning him. It's in a chest. I don't know what it is."   "I don't either."   "Have you been attacking the village folk?"   "Occasionally. Not the folk. Livestock. When I can get to Aelfred, I will. I cannot defeat his dragon. The Wolf does not feel that we are strong enough. I don't know where it lairs. He is up to something devilish and awful. If you are here to stop whatever evil is infesting Wroxeter, that's where you should start."   "If we shoot him we don't get a pelt," John called.   "He's not a werewolf right now," Bossard said. "He could change."   "Anytime I want," Gerhard said.   He frowned at the two.   "I could kill both of you easily," he said. "Or "¦ I can help you. The choice is yours."   "I'm inclined to believe you that Aelfred is up to something," Bossard said. "I feel like he's acting suspiciously. Do you know anything about Wulfstan?"   "No." Gerhard said.   "Well, if you'll keep your attacks just to the livestock, I'll leave you alone for the moment," Bossard said.   "No!" John said. "Come on!"   "What would you propose, Welshman from your accent?" Gerhard called to the man.   "I do not trust my ability to defeat this man," Bossard said to John. "And he hasn't harmed the villagers."   "Yeah, but we can't kill a wyrm and we can't go back without a pelt," John said. "So, I suppose we kill a wolf and dye it black."   Gerhard looked at the man quizzically.   "The earl has a bounty on you," Bossard said.   "Of course he does," Gerhard said.   "And we were sent here to collect it."   "I would suggest to you that something worse than what I am doing is going on here. If he is working with a wyrm, the gods only know what he is up to."   "I'm not getting paid for a wyrm carcass," John said.   "You might," Bossard said.   The other man looked doubtful.   "Do you have any proof?" John said.   "No," Gerhard said. "I don't have any proof. My own word is the only proof that I have."   John lowered his crossbow and walked over to the two. He unloaded the weapon and put it away. Bossard slung his shield onto his back. He asked Gerhard to tell him more about his transformation and the wyrm.   "The wolf took over," Gerhard said. "Saved my life. It knew it would die when I died. If I die, it dies. If it dies, I die."   "But you don't control the wolf?" John said.   "Not entirely, no," Gerhard said. "I control the wolf, but not completely. But if there is a battle, I can try to help you. The Wolf will help you. I am not much use."   He gestured at the dagger on his belt.   "Do you have any theories on why Aelfred benefits on feeding the wyrm?" Bossard said.   "I have no idea," Gerhard said. "I've been trying to learn what his connection is with the wyrm and I've learned very little so far."   "He is in charge of the festivities on the 31st," Bossard said.   "I've not been Wroxeter during the day," Gerhard said. "I don't know anything about that."   "If we gave you Aelfred, would you leave?" John said. "If we could get you Aelfred?"   Gerhard thought on that a moment.   "I want Aelfred," he finally said. "The Wolf wants the wyrm. But yes. If you kill Aelfred or give him to me to give him to the Wolf, that might appease it. It will appease me."   "Will you stay here?" Bossard said. "So we can find you later?"   "Yes, I'm willing to stay here," Gerhard said. "I will be going to the village every night."   "Does the Wolf know not to attack us at night?"   "I cannot guarantee your safety."   The two men took their leave of the man, who gave them both a hard, distrustful look. As they walked back, they spoke on strange story.   "It seems like the easiest solution here is give up Aelfred," John said.   "I'm not looking for the easiest solution," Bossard said.   "So, should we confront him?"   "Aelfred?"   "Yeah."   "If he's alone. How about we wait until nightfall when he goes home and confront him?"   "Okay."   "Then no one knows we entered except Aelfred."     * * *       They returned to the village and returned to Aehtelgythe to ask her about wyrms. She told them dragons were fierce beasts and hard to kill. When he asked if they were weak to anything, she guessed blessed weapons would be helpful against such a beast. He asked if she knew anyone else who could bless their weapons besides Father Thomas but she didn't.   "Why are you asking about wyrms?" the old woman asked.   "Can you keep it secret?" Bossard said.   "It's something I'm interested in," John said. "I'm Welsh. We like dragons."   "Oh, you're Welsh," the old woman said. "That explains so much."   The old woman said she had cast the bones, performing an augury, and found there was a looming threat hanging over Wroxeter. Something bad was coming very soon. Something that could end the world. Bossard, feeling he could trust the old woman, wanted to tell her everything. When he started to do so, John interrupted.   "She's old," he whispered to the Frenchman. "Don't trust the old people."   "What's that you said, Welshman?" Aehtelgythe said.   "Hm? Me?"   "Something terrible is coming. I don't know what, exactly. The augury was not that clear."   "I had too much cheese for lunch."   "Just like a Welshman!"   Bossard thanked her and they left her hut.   They crossed the village to Aelfred's house once again. They found the man teaching villagers the song that day. Torold also came to the man's house to discuss taxes.     * * *       It was not until after dinnertime when Aelfred was alone as most of the villagers had gone to their homes to eat their evening meal. The two men approached his house and asked to have dinner with him. He invited them in and shared his meager repast. It was mostly bread and cheese, as well as a little bit of boiled mutton and ale. They sat and ate in silence, for the most part.   Bossard eventually talked of how the village was doing. Aelfred said it was doing fine except for the Black Wolf, that terrible agent of the Devil, according to Father Thomas. If it was gone, things would be better for Wroxeter. He noted otherwise the village was doing well and he was looking forward to the upcoming festivities as were all the villagers. It would make a nice celebration and break from the drudgery of life.   "Have you ever heard of a dragon?" John asked.   "I've heard of lots of dragons," Aelfred said. "There are many stories."   "Have you ever seen one?"   "No."   "Do you know any local stories?" Bossard asked.   "Any local stories?" Aelfred said.   "Yeah, about dragons."   He told them some stories they had heard before. John thanked him and told him he enjoyed hearing about dragons.   "He's Welsh," Bossard said.   "Oh," Aelfred said as if understanding.   They left after the meal and discussed what to do about Aelfred. John was for accosting the man but Bossard didn't want to do that.   "Just a little bit," John said.   "The earl will hear about me accosting this man," Bossard said.   "Why you gonna accost the Headman?" a voice asked.   A little nine-year-old boy stepped out from behind the wall where they talked.   "Is it because of the things in the woods?" the boy asked.   "Thing in the woods?" Bossard said. "What thing?"   "The thing I saw. I saw. I saw. I was up late one night. I had to use the latrine. And I saw Aelfred slip out of the village. And I followed him. And I saw a shadow descend from the sky. I did. I was so scared, all I could do was hide. And Aelfred entered the trees. And he was there for a long time and then snuck back into the village. And I went back and I had been terrified of the dark ever since. I've wet my bedclothes at night. I don't want to go out to the latrine. My father's very, very disappointed in me. He says he won't raise a coward. I think he's going to put me in a bag and throw me in the river."   He nodded at the two men.   "What's your name?" Bossard said.   "I'm Leofric," the boy said.   "Leofric?"   "Leofric. My father's Godwine."   "Godwine?"   "Yes. Tell him not to throw me in the river. I don't want to be thrown in the river."   "I'll tell him that if I see him."   "Thank you. Because you have a sword and you can stop him from throwing me in the river."   "I can swim," John said.   "That "¦ won't stop him from throwing me in the river, though," Leofric said.   "I can get you out."   "Oh. And then I can come away with you? Once he throws me in the river? And learn that wicked mechanism that you carry?"   The crossbow was probably a mystery Leofric.   "I don't know what it is," the boy said. "I've never seen it's like before."   He looked the men over.   "Was it the Devil?" he said. "Was that what it was? The Devil?"   "What?" John said.   "What?" Bossard said.   "The dark shape that made me scared," Leofric said.   "Maybe," John said. "But we're going to look into it."   "I've been praying and it hasn't helped at all," Leofric said.   "Do you know where he met it?" Bossard said.   "It was in the woods," Leofric said. "To the east."   "Could you lead us there?"   "No. I'm not going back there."   "Tomorrow morning?"   "No. I'm not going back there. It might still be there."   "I'll take you with me if you help."   "I don't "¦ I don't "¦ no. No."   "Can you at least lead us to the edge of the woods where it is?"   "No. I'm not going back. That's a terrible place. It's a terrible place."   "We can go look," John said.   "Yes," Bossard said.   "We have a dog," John said.   "Where was it?" Bossard said to Leofric.   The boy pointed down the road to the east. Bossard gave him a denier. That surprised the boy.   "If he throws me in the river, save me," he said to the men.   He scurried off home.     * * *       Bossard and John returned Gerhard's campsite and found the man cooking another fish over the fire. He stood when they entered the clearing and looked at them warily.   "We have information about a wyrm," Bossard said.   "All right," Gerhard said.   "A child apparently saw Aelfred meet with it," Bossard said.   He described, as best he could, where Leofric had told them he had seen Aelfred meet the wyrm.   "I thought you were going to bring me Aelfred," Gerhard said.   "Well, he's in his house," Bossard said.   "I still vote for that," John said. "To be fair."   "I cannot defeat the wyrm," Gerhard said.   "But what do you want to do about the wyrm though?" Bossard said.   "I "¦ I don't know."   "We were hoping you can track it for us."   "It flies. You can't track something that flies."   "Well "¦ I mean "¦"   "I thought wyrms didn't have wings," Johns said.   "It had wings," Gerhard said. "Long and sinuous, it curled around my wagon and crushed it like kindling. Shattered it to pieces. Unfortunately no, I cannot track it."   He said he could track anything that walked on the ground but not something that flew. He also didn't think he was a match for it alone and his wolf knew it. When Bossard asked if they might be able to kill it together, he didn't know. He just knew it was awful. Bossard asked about using the peasants and Gerhard scoffed at that idea. When Bossard noted some of them might have training, the man doubted it.   "At best, they would be a distraction," he said.   "I have a question for you," John said. "If I were to shoot a crossbow at the wolf, would it bounce off?"   Gerhard looked at the man suspiciously.   "The crone in village said the wyvern could be hurt with blessed weapons," Bossard said. "The father won't bless our weapons unless we have proof that we've tried to kill one of these creatures."   "So, hold this and snap it in half," John said. "Then we can say the wolf snapped an arrow and it won't be a lie."   Gerhard broke the bolt in half and handed it back to him. Then he said he would do them one better. He took the sharp end of the shaft and stabbed John in the arm with it, handing it back. It hurt very much.   "Thank you, though," Bossard said.   They left the camp.     * * *       They went back to the village, Bossard trying to bind up the wound. He managed to stop the bleeding and they returned by nightfall. They went to Father Thomas' house and knocked on the door, showing him the arrow as proof of the werewolf.   "But there's blood on it," Father Thomas said. "You must have wounded it."   "Yes, but it didn't kill it," Bossard said.   "Not only that, it broke the shaft," John said. "It's hide is too thick to pierce with normal weapons."   "But there's blood!" Father Thomas said. "You obviously pierced its hide!"   The two men looked at each other.   "Obviously it's my blood," John said.   Father Thomas looked him, completely baffled.   "You shot yourself?" he said.,   "You know, I'm not very bright," John said. "It's sharp. I tried to load it. It came off my shoulder."   "Why do you lie to me!?!" Father Thomas said. "You're both a couple of liars!"   "Well, the wolf did break the arrow," John said.   Father Thomas was very angry at them.   "It's my blood on the arrow," John said.   "The wolf did break the arrow," Bossard said.   "What happened exactly?" Father Thomas said.   "We attempted to confront the wolf."   "Yes."   "And "¦ have you heard the tales of werewolves?"   "Satan's minions!"   "It's a werewolf that's terrorizing this town."   "Stabbed me with my own arrow!" John said. "I lied because it's embarrassing."   Father Thomas looked over the two men with a frown. He finally said he was willing to either bless Bossard's blade or a single arrow of John's. When he told them about the spell, he noted he had to sacrifice part of his soul to do it, something he can never replace. Bossard told him they'd need to think about what to bless.   They left, talking about what they should have blessed. In the end, they decided on the sword. Bossard questioned whether or not they should confront Aelfred that night but John was of the opinion they should wait until they had it blessed before they did so.     * * *       Tuesday, October 30, 1000, was a bright if chilly day.   The two men went to the church and asked Father Thomas to bless the sword. He said he would need the morning to do so. He told Bossard to fetch one of the goats because he would need that as well. The man did so and he took it into the church.   The two men took the time to look in at Aelfred's house but they found villagers there, decorating the structure. Aelfred didn't appear to be home. John suggested they light something on fire.   "John, you should demonstrate your superior archery skills to the village," Bossard said. "I could help you set up and then disappear."   They set up some apples on the wall some distance from Aelfred's house. Bossard tried to convince some of the villagers to come watch but they didn't seem interested as they were too busy that morning. One of them noted they might be able to come watch that afternoon.   Bossard went to the community barn and found a few animals within but no one else was there. He thought about letting the animals out. He didn't think he would be able to let the animals out without being recognized.   When he returned to John, that man mentioned using a flaming arrow to light something on fire. He went into the woods and did a little hunting but didn't get any game by late morning. He went back into the woods so they could implement their plan.     * * *       Bossard noticed Ingold in the vicinity of the house they had planned to burn. He engaged the man in conversation, making sure he had the man facing away from the woods where John was to fire the arrow from. He talked about the next day's festivities, telling the man he thought Aelfred could use Ingold's help. The man was happy to help Aelfred and really seemed to like the young man. He followed the man towards Aelfred's house.     * * *       In the trees, John saw Ingold and Bossard leave the vicinity. He wrapped some oil-soaked cloth on the end of the bolt, lit it, and fired it into the air. It flew high and went into the thatch of one of the abandoned houses, lodging there. He didn't hear any cries of alarm so he slipped back into the woods, circling around the village, giving it a wide berth, and planned to return after everything was all over.   He soon heard shouts from the village and saw smoke rising into the sky.     * * *       Bossard had followed Ingold to Aelfred's house and the old man looked around for the young Headman. Bossard glanced back at the house and saw the first, faint hints of smoke. Ingold asked where Aelfred was and Bossard asked some of the other villagers where they thought Aelfred had wandered off to. Bossard didn't say anything about the fire and no one else in the village noticed the fire before flames were licking at the dry roof.   "Fire!" Bossard yelled. "Fire!"   The villagers ran in the direction of the fire, crying out in terror and alarm. Some grabbed buckets of water, or got some water from the well.   Bossard ran into Aelfred's house and found it empty. He flung open the chest and found, hidden under some clothing was a leather-bound book. He picked it up and peeked out the door. All of the villagers were running towards the burning building. He quickly opened the book but found the handwriting was in Latin. He tucked the book under his armor and ran to help fight the fire.   The fire raged out of control but the villagers managed to isolate it to only the one house, which burned to the ground. There was little left but ashes and a little of one wall. It took them two hours to fight the blaze and, about the time it was little more than a smoldering wreck, John returned to town from the south with a pair of rabbits he'd caught.   Bossard asked everyone in the village what had happened and no one knew. None of the villagers knew how the fire had started in the abandoned house. A few people guessed the town was cursed while others blamed the Devil. Some mentioned the Black Wolf, which might have started the fire by being some kind of Devil Wolf. Father Thomas agreed the Black Wolf was obviously an agent sent from the Devil to wreak havoc at the end of the world.   They returned to the small house they were living in and got a fire going in the pit. John gutted and butchered the rabbits and got the meat cooking. Bossard showed him the book he'd found. Unfortunately John didn't read Latin either. John suggested taking the book to Gerhard to see if he understood Latin.   They ate lunch.     * * *       Returning to Gerhard's camp, the man told them he did not read or write any languages. He could speak English and German.   They returned to town.     * * *       They talked to Aehtelgythe but she didn't know how to read or write either. She could understand Low German if it was spoken but had not head for letters. They went to the church and recovered Bossard's now-enchanted sword.   They talked about getting Father Thomas to translate the journal but didn't trust the man. John wanted to simply give the man to the Wolf. Bossard wanted to know what was in the journal but John was convinced taking it to the priest would be a mistake. John suggested someone in Shrewsbury might be able to read Latin so the two took their leave of Wroxeter.     * * *       Shrewsbury was a larger town and they were able to find a priest, that night, who could read Latin. Bossard told the priest reading the book was on the Earl's business. The man took the book and looked through it, telling them to return in an hour.   They went to have a meal and, when they returned, the priest threw the book at them.   "What blasphemy is this!?!" the priest said. "Why did you write this!?!"   "It's not my book," Bossard said.   "It's confiscated from a fugitive," John said.   "It describes spells!" the priest said. "They've been learned from a creature that is apparently a wyrm . It claims it can cloud a man's memory and enthrall people and create fear and drain power and shrivel a man! Where did you find this? Who's is it?"   "Now a wanted fugitive," John said.   "A wanted fugitive," Bossard echoed.   "It also describes some rite that will turn a man into a god!" the priest said.   "Kill him," John muttered.   "Blasphemy!" the priest said. "Blasphemy!"   He wanted to burn the book and demanded it back. Bossard told him the Earl wanted proof the man's blasphemy. It was evidence.   "Whoever wrote this is a witch!" the priest said. "They must die!"   "We'll kill him," Bossard assured the man.   ""˜You shall not permit a sorceress to live!'" the priest quoted.   They took the book and left the church, heading back to Wroxeter. They rode through the night, John's horse going lame on the way when it took a bad step in the dark. It took much longer to get back leading the struggling animal.     * * *     When they finally reached Wroxeter in the wee hours of the morning, they heard a wolf howl somewhere in the distance. The village was dark and quiet. They put their horses in the barn and headed to Aelfred's house. It was dark as well, the door closed. They found it latched from within.   Bossard slammed himself against the door. Aelfred cried out "Murder!" from within. Then John helped the man smash the door open. It was pitch black within.   Chanting came from inside the house. Remembering Aelfred's bed was in the back left side of the room, John fired blindly into the room. He heard the bolt strike something wooden and someone within let out a shout. He pivoted around the doorframe to start reloading his crossbow while under cover. Bossard rushed into the room, swinging wildly with his sword, stomping to the far wall until his sword struck it. He bumped into the side of the bed and brought his sword down onto it. He heard the sword strike the straw tick.   More chanting came from somewhere nearby. Then it went very, very quiet. Bossard swung around in the direction he thought he had heard the chanting from. Then he tripped over the prone form lying on the ground, landing atop Aelfred. The man underneath him said a horrible word that make Bossard's skin crawl. For a moment, an awful feeling of terrible power was upon him but it didn't seem to grasp him. Maybe it was his faith in God. Maybe it was his blessed weapon. He didn't know why, but whatever the terrible thing was, it was gone as quickly as it came. He felt the man slip out from underneath him like a snake.   Outside, John ripped his shirt off and pulled out flint and steel to start a fire. The dirty shirt began smoldering almost immediately.   Inside, Bossard swung wildly, the sword smashing into the ground. Aelfred cried out in terror.   Outside, John was trying to get the shirt to burn more quickly when a figure ran out of the house right past him at a sprint, turning to the right and running towards the corner of the building. He had no idea who it was but snatched up his crossbow and shot the man, hitting him in the side of the chest just before he disappeared around the corner. The man shrieked.   Bossard ran out of the door, looked around, and ran towards the corner of the house as well. He noticed a small flame on the ground, John crouched over it, crossbow in hand. Bossard didn't understand why there was a fire there except that the man was obsessed with fire. He ran after Aelfred.   John went around the other side of the house, reloading as he walked.   Bossard ran around the side of the house and chased after Aelfred. He was catching the man quickly, who struggled to run with a crossbow bolt in the side of his chest.   As John came around the side of the lean-to on the other side of the house, he saw a single silhouette running down the road. He noticed there was a stick coming out of the side of the man's chest and knew it was Aelfred. He shot the man in the abdomen. The man stumbled and fell to the ground.   Bossard saw the man jerk to one side, stumble, and fall when the bolt hit him. He ran up to him and found him quite dead.   He heard a growling nearby and backed away. Out of the fallow vegetable garden came a huge black wolf. Nearby, John reloaded his crossbow as the wolf picked up Aelfred by the midsection and turned to head south out of the village. It passed near John, who put the crossbow on the ground and saluted the terrible beast. The animal went out of its way to move towards him and then took a swipe at the man as it passed, tearing into his midsection. He was knocked back but it didn't stop or slow its pace, simply continuing on its way.   He thought the blow would be much more painful but then found his boiled leather armor had deflected the entirety of the blow though was partially torn. He was pleasantly surprised he was not dead or badly injured.   Lights started to shine in the village as villagers came out of their huts with candles and torches. John and Bossard got together and planned to tell them of the wolf attacking him and their wounding it. They told the villagers their story and headed off to the southwest.   They eventually arrived at the River Severn. Bossard examined the bruise John had sustained but found he was not really injured. They decided to make a little camp near the river so climbed a tree and tied themselves in the branches to sleep uncomfortably through the night.     * * *     The morning of Wednesday, October 31, 1000, was bright and brisk. The two men untied themselves and climbed out of the tree, going to Gerhard's camp. They found him there and asked if he was going to stop attacking the village. He said he would as Aelfred was dead. He knew it as he had found the body that morning, partially consumed. They noticed he looked a little bloated.   Bossard told him what was in the book, according to the priest in Shrewsbury.   "Are they going to do the ritual tonight?" Gerhard said.   "They might," Bossard said.   "Maybe you should tell them not to."   "Well, I could convince the priest."   "I don't know what will happen."   "I could tell the priest that it's blasphemous and they need to stop it since Aelfred wanted to do it."   "Will the priest recognize Aelfred's handwriting?"   "He knows how to read Latin and he taught him how to, I believe."   "So, yeah," John said.   "He would know," Bossard said.   "Show him the book!" Gerhard said. "Show him this book and tell them not to do it tonight."   Bossard told him they were going to tell the priest they were about to arrest Aelfred as a witch when the wolf attacked and killed him. Gerhard didn't really care. John suggested they also note they mortally wounded the wolf and it wandered off to die. Bossard suggested they say they had knocked it into the river and it had washed away.   Gerhard told them if they wanted to fight the wyrm, he would help them as they had helped him.   "Do we even stand a chance against this wyrm?" Bossard said.   "No," John said.   "I don't know," Gerhard said.   "We came for the wolf," John said. "We got the wolf."   "Did it cut you?" Gerhard said, noting the damage to John's armor.   "No," John said.   "His armor saved him," Bossard said.   Gerhard nodded.   "That is probably good," he said. "That is very good. Lycanthropy is contagious."   "We might consider taking down the wyrm too," Bossard said. "But we need to stop the ritual first."     * * *     Bossard and John went back to the village and found Father Thomas. On the way, John suggested they gather the entire village. He feared the priest might turn out to be working for the wyrm as well. That surprised Bossard and John pointed out the man had taught Aelfred Latin, noting they were clearly friends. Bossard didn't think the priest knew what Aelfred was doing. John insisted on a few people witness it in case the man tried to cast a spell.   They gathered villagers as they entered town and had a half dozen people with them when they got to the church.   "Let's say we found the book on Aelfred's body," Bossard said. "And we knew he spoke Latin."   "That's a terrible idea," John said.   "How are we going to explain this book we have?"   "We saw him drop it and we couldn't read it."   "Are you sure we want to confront him in front of a big group of people?"   "Just go with the full truth. Just don't tell him we burned a house down."   They arrived at the church and found Father Thomas. Bossard told him when they were searching Aelfred's house, they found the book which they got translated by a priest in Shrewsbury. He said it was witchcraft and handed it over to Father Thomas.   Father Thomas looked doubtful but he looked through the book, reading the Latin within. The further he read, the more horrified he looked. He was terrified by the whole situation. When Bossard told them not to go forth with the ritual that night, Father Thomas agreed wholeheartedly. Aehtelgythe was there and was not pleased at the end of the festivities, but had read doom for the village and so was willing to forgo the ritual as well.   Father Thomas wanted to burn the book and they were agreeable to that. John made sure never to let the book out of his sight. The villagers made a bonfire and Father Thomas flung the book into the flames.   That night, Father Thomas performed a mass instead of the regular All Hallows Eve festivities. They slaughtered the animals and there was a feast. Everyone ate well.

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure Part 1 - The Doolittle Raid

Friday, May 4, 2018   (After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario "Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure" Saturday, April 28, 2018 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Appalachian State University NerdCon 2018 with Gina Towey, Dante Valentine, Carl Cordini, Tilak Lipscomb, and Christopher Weiler.)   World War II started on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, beginning the war in Europe. Within two days, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union, a German ally, entered Poland from the east. The Soviet Union would go on to invade Finland in November while Germany invaded Denmark and Norway the following April.   Germany continued to roll over other European states in 1940, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In June, France signed an armistice, allowing Germans to occupy the northern half of the country. Italy invaded British controlled Egypt in September and Greece in October. In June of 1941, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union; by Dec. 6, a Soviet counteroffensive drove them from the Moscow suburbs. On December 7, 1941, America entered the war when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. An ally of Nazi Germany, this meant that the Axis soon declared war on the U.S.   The 17th Bomber Group was flying antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton, Oregon, and immediately moved cross-country to Lexington County Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, supposedly to fly similar patrols off the East Coast but in actuality to prepare for a mission against Japan. The group officially transferred to Columbia on Feb. 9, 1942, where its crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an "extremely hazardous" but unspecified mission. On February 17 the group was detached from the Eighth Army Air Force.   Initially, 20 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were to fly the mission, and 24 of the group's B-25B Mitchell bombers were diverted to the Mid-Continent Airlines modification center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 710th Military Police Battalion from nearby Fort Snelling provided tight security around the hangar. Each of the B-25's had the lower gun turret removed, de-icers and anti-icers installed, steel blast plates mounted on the fuselage around the upper turret, the liaison radio set removed, installation of a 160-gallon collapsible neoprene auxiliary fuel tank fixed to the top of the bomb bay, as well as a support mounts for additional fuel cells, mock gun barrels installed in the tail cone, and replacement of the Norden bombsight with a makeshift one.   The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engine medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. She had a length of 52 feet, 11 inches; a wingspan of 67 feet 7 inches; and a gross weight of 19,480 pounds. Her cruising speed was 230 miles per hour and her top speed was 272 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 24,200 feet. She had a range of 1,350 miles (with the modifications to the aircraft, that was increased to 2,400 nautical miles). The aircraft on the Doolittle Raid were armed with a .30 caliber machinegun in the bow and twin .50 caliber machineguns in the dorsal turret on the rear fuselage. Ammunition was 750 rounds for each in three belts of a proportion of one tracer, two armor-piercing, and three explosive bullets.   The 24 crews picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, on March 1. The crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing, and over-water navigation mostly out of Wagner Field, Auxiliary Field 1. Navigators had to learn the work of bombardiers. Pilots and co-pilots had to practice every job on the plane. Lieutenant Henry Miller, USN, from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola supervised their takeoff training. The testing was extensive. Dropping a 100 pound bomb from 500 feet proved dangerous and shook up the crew and the ship. Plus, the 500-pound bombs they would be dropping would have a 50% charge instead of the usual 35% charge.   Each B-25 bomber would carry four specially constructed 500-pound bombs. Three were high-explosive munitions and one was a bundle of incendiaries. The incendiaries were long tubes, wrapped together in order to be carried in the bomb bay, but designed to separate and scatter over a wide area after release.   On March 25, the 24 B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. They arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot for final modifications on March 27. Sixteen of the B-25s were chosen to fly to NAS Alameda, California, on March 31. Fifteen were for the main mission force and a 16th aircraft was squeezed onto the deck to be flown off shortly after departure from San Francisco to provide feedback to the Army pilots about takeoff characteristics. However, 16th bomber was made part of the mission force instead.   On April 1 the 16 modified bombers, their five-man crews, and Army maintenance personnel totaling 71 officers and 130 enlisted men were loaded onto the USS Hornet (CV- under Captain Marc Mitscher at Naval Air Station Alameda. It was decided at the last minute that the eight remaining aircraft would also join Task Force 18, along with the Lexington-Class Aircraft Carrier USS Brandywine (CV-0) commanded by Captain Horton D. Frost.   Originally designed as a battlecruiser, the U.S.S. Brandywine was converted into one of the Navy's first aircraft carriers during construction to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which essentially terminated all new battleship and battlecruiser construction. The ship entered service in 1928 and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Brandywine and her sister ships, Lexington and Saratoga, were used to develop and refine carrier tactics in a series of annual exercises before World War II. On more than one occasion these included successful surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Due to various red tape and other paperwork snafus, she was issued the number CV-0 instead of CV-4. The numbers stuck and Brandywine continued under that call number. Her motto was Sit cælum, quod pertinet ad magnanimitatem (The sky belongs to the bold). Her patch included a picture of a three masted frigate - the original U.S.S. Brandywine, a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate commissioned in 1825.   Hornet, Brandywine, and Task Force 18 left the port of Alameda at 10:00 on April 2 and a few days later rendezvoused with Task Force 16, commanded by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., which included the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), commanded by Captain George D. Murray, and her escort of cruisers and destroyers in the mid-Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. Enterprise'"‹s fighters and scout planes provided protection for the entire task force in the event of a Japanese air attack, since Hornet"Š'"‹s and Brandywine's fighters were stowed below decks to allow the B-25s to use the flight deck.   The combined force was three carriers, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, eight destroyers, and two fleet oilers. The escort ships included the heavy cruisers Salt Lake City (CA-25), Northampton (CA-26), Vincennes (CA-44); the light cruiser Nashville (CL-43); destroyers Balch (DD-363) which was the flagship of Captain Richard L. Conolly's Destroy Squadron Six, Fanning (DD-385), Benham (DD-397), Ellet (DD-398), Gwin (DD-433), Meredith (DD-434), Grayson (DD-435), Monssen (DD-436); and the oilers Cimarron (AO-22) and Sabine (AO-25). The ships proceeded in radio silence.   On the afternoon of April 17, the slow oilers refueled the task force and then withdrew with the destroyers while the carriers and cruisers headed west at 20 knots toward the intended launch point in enemy-controlled waters east of Japan.   It was only after the ships were at sea that Doolittle told the pilots they would be bombing Japan with targets of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. The aircraft would fly in low, increase their altitude to 1,500 feet to drop the bombs, and then drop low again to fly under anti-aircraft fire. Doolittle ordered there was to be no bombing of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo - only military and industrial targets would be targeted. Once they had bombed targets in the cities, they would fly on to one of several airfields in Zhejiang Province in eastern China, refuel, and continue on to Chongqin in China.   The attack was scheduled for the evening of April 18 when the fleet was 350 nautical miles (400 miles) from Japan. The planes would come over the city in the dark and fly through the night to China, landing in that country around dawn.   "Surprise is our main safety factor," Doolittle constantly said.   Until the launch date, the days were filled with battle stations drills, lectures, tinkering with the birds, and gunnery practice (using kites flown behind the aircraft carrier). The ships were completely blacked out at night. It was drilled into the pilots' heads not to take anything that could be traced back to the aircraft carriers and they were told when they dropped their extra five gallon gas cans to drop them all together so as not to give the Japs a trail back to the fleet.   Each pilot was given his choice of target cities, though the planes on the Hornet were given priority as they would be heading in first. There were plenty of targets in each city between plane and tank factories, steel smelters, military sites, armories, army arsenals, steel factories, gas factories, chemical works, oil tanks, refineries, dockyards, ships, etc.   Pilots were bunked with seamen wherever there was room. The weather was pretty bad for most of the trip.     * * *       The fourth B-25 bomber in the group of eight on the U.S.S. Brandywine was commanded by 1st Lt. Brad Anderson. Lt. Anderson was tall and thin, a clean shaven man with light-colored hair, he was rugged and had a thick, rural accent. He was friendly and patient, an all-around good officer. He was 22 years old.   Born in the Logan County seat of Guthrie, Oklahoma, he was unsure what he wanted to do when he graduated high school. He got some time in and learned how to fly an airplane but, by the time he was 21, he was still unsure what he wanted to do. In August of 1941, he joined the Army Air Corps to put his piloting skills to use. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, he got the chance to volunteer for a dangerous secret mission.   His co-pilot was 1st Lt. Harold Duff, called "Harry" or "Duffy" by his fellows. A dark-haired man who never got enough cut off the top so it tended to amass there, he was also clean-shaven. He was a small man, barely five and a half feet tall, and slim with a goofy smile and a strong southern accent. Duff was 21 years old.   Lt. Duff was born in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, a town called Augusta Springs. He was able to graduate high school with only a little difficulty and get an apprenticeship with a carpenter in Richmond. He was working there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he immediately enlisted. Who would know they would need pilots? He'd learned on an old crop duster of his uncle's and the Army Air Corps had him in a bomber pretty damned quick.   He was ready to get some revenge on the Japanese as he hated all of them for what they'd done. He even had his father send him the old sawed-off shotgun when he learned he was on a secret mission. He was ready to kill some Japs.   The navigator on the bird was 2nd Lt. Thomas Locklear, a tall lanky, preternaturally graying man. He had a ready smile and a clean-shaven face. He was smart, well-educated, well-spoken, and friendly. He looked older than his 23 years.   Lt. Locklear was born in Juneau in the Territory of Alaska. He worked his way through high school and even went to college for a year before he found a job as a librarian in the territory. He took the job very seriously, however, and lived to deliver books to other places and people in need. Enough was eventually enough, though, and he joined the Army Air Corps in January of 1941. Though he wasn't terribly educated, he still had great skill as a navigator and was soon working on bombers. When he learned of the upcoming secret mission, he'd had a friend mail him his trusty Winchester '94 carbine.   Lt. Orrin Cook was the bombardier of the bird. He'd had lots of nicknames since he joined up, including "Cowboy," "Nebraska," and even "Doc." He was skinny with thick black hair and had a rural accent and a large nose. He tended to be angry, impulsive, and persistent.   Born in the little town of Hemingford, Nebraska, he worked his whole live to take over his folks' cattle ranch once he turned 18. Unfortunately, the bank foreclosed on the ranch just before his birthday and he parents moved to nearby Alliance. He decided to call it quits and enlisted in the summer of 1941. He was surprised when war broke out less than six months later. He was 19 years old.   The Flight Engineer for the aircraft was Technical Sergeant Aaron Shivo. Sgt. Shivo was a handsome man though he was fairly short, only a little taller than Lt. Duff. He had black hair and was 19 years old.   Sgt. Shivo had wanted to be in the military all his life. From San Francisco, California, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps the summer of 1941 as soon as he graduated high school. It didn't take him long to make sergeant and working on the B-25 Mitchell was a dream! Now he was part of a mission to strike back at the Japs for Pearl Harbor and he was ready. He was a ladies' man who had a girl in every port and was beholding to none of them.   En route, they were told to decide what target they wanted. They had the choice of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. Lt. Locklear wanted to bomb the Imperial Palace but that was off the table. Sgt. Shivo wanted to drop bombs on the Forbidden City, not realizing it was in China. They discussed what would be a good target and eventually decided on hitting a raw material plants, a fuel tank, and an industrial plant in Kobe.     * * *       At 7:38 a.m. on April 18, 1942, after the morning battle stations drill at dawn and before mess, battle stations was sounded again. This time it was not a drill.   The roar of guns could be heard from above decks. One of the big cruisers to the port of the Hornet, itself ahead and to the port of the Brandywine, fired away. It was the USS Nashville. Down near the horizon, a low-slung ship began to give off an ugly plume of black smoke. American dive bombers wheeled overhead.   "Army pilots, man your planes!" came over the loudspeakers. "Army pilots, man your planes!"   Lt. Duff, Lt. Cook, and Sgt. Shivo were all up on deck. Lt. Locklear was in the commissary. Lt. Anderson was in his cabin, shaving. They all made their way towards their aircraft, Lt. Duff finishing his cigarette before he headed over.   The flight deck was a hive of activity while the voice over the loudspeakers barked commands. Signal lamps flashed on the nearby Hornet and a reply was made from Brandywine. The Morse code read "Sighted by Japanese patrol boat. Bombers to lift immediately." The Navy men on the deck started taking care of the bombers. Blocks were whipped out from under the wheels and a small service vehicle moved the bombers into position. Within a half hour, the B-25's were crisscrossed along the back end of the flight deck, two abreast, the big, double-rudders of their tails sticking over the edge.   The weather was good though the sea was rough. The Brandywine increased speed until she was fairly flying through the water. The bombs were brought from below and rolled across the deck on their low-slung lorries to the planes. Sgt. Shivo helped to get them aboard the plane. Navy men topped the tanks of the bombers and, once full, rocked the planes in the hopes of breaking whatever air bubbles might have formed in the big wing tanks. Brandywine's control tower started to display large square cards giving compass readings and wind, which was gale force.   The take-off instructor went to each plane to wish them luck. Not long after, a Navy man brought five additional five-gallon fuel tins to the plane. Other Navy men and officers whom the Army pilots met came to wish them luck.   While they waited, some of them argued about naming the plane.   At 08:20, Hornet was plainly visible from the Brandywine. Lt. Col. Doolittle's plane was the first one in line to attempt a takeoff from half a carrier at sea. It worked well enough on the ground during training. It was time to see if it would work in the field. If he couldn't get his aircraft off the carrier, the entire mission would be scrubbed.   Doolittle's bomber lurched forward with the change of signals from the Navy man on the bow of the ship. With his left wing far out over the port side of the Hornet, Doolittle's plane waddled and then lunged slowly into the teeth of the gale. He picked up more speed and then, just as the Hornet lifted herself up on the top of a wave and cut through it at full speed, his plane took off with yards to spare. He turned the ship almost straight up on its tail, then leveled off, came around in a tight circle over Hornet, and shot low over the heads of the other bombers.   The Hornet had given him his bearing. Admiral Halsey had headed her right for the heart of Tokyo.   One by one, the other 15 bombers on the Hornet launched successfully from the ship, the second nearly crashing. It was only once they had all launched by 09:19 that the Navy man on the flight deck signaled for the bombers on the Brandywine to ready themselves for takeoff. The first aircraft off the ship, commanded by Lt. Ralph Conner, has a little difficulty on takeoff, getting off the deck but then crashing back down before actually getting into the air and off. It circled around the Brandywine and then headed for Japan.   "I knew he was never going to do it," Lt. Duff said.   Sgt. Shivo knew the flight engineer on the bird was Sgt. Preston Quackenbush.   "That poor mother," he said, shaking his head as he thought of the man.   The second aircraft off the flattop, that one piloted by Captain James Elloitt, lifted off effortlessly with yards to spare. Then it was off towards Japan. The third aircraft, piloted by Lt. Isaiah Bean, also took off effortlessly and headed on its way.   Now it was their turn.   A Navy man stood at the bow of the ship to the left with a checkered flag. He gave the signal to begin racing the engine, swinging the flag in a circle and making it go faster and faster. He waited, timing the dipping of the ship so the plane would get the benefit of the rising deck for take-off. He finally gave a new signal and the Navy boys pulled the blocks out from under the wheels. Another signal and Lt. Anderson released the brakes. The bomber moved forward.   "If you can't handle the pressure, just let me know," Lt. Duff said to Lt. Anderson.   "You know, I like you a lot, but honestly, now is not the time for this!" Lt. Anderson said.   With the left wing over the port side of the Brandywine, the plane slowly tore through the gale force winds. The left wheel was on the white line painted there just for that purpose. The right wing looked like it barely missed the island and smokestack of the Brandywine. Lt. Anderson pulled back on the control stick and the aircraft lifted and fell, lifted and fell, bouncing off the deck twice before it finally lifted up off the deck with very few yards to spare.   "I did say if you couldn't take the pressure "¦" Lt. Duff said.   Others were cursing over the intercom phone.   The aircraft banked, gained altitude, and circled over the Brandywine, getting her bearing, then flew on towards Tokyo. The original mission was supposed to be a night mission, but they'd be reaching their targets during daylight. The fleet was also 650 nautical miles from Japan instead of the 350 nautical miles that it was supposed to be. They'd launched 10 hours before schedule. It was unsure if the aircraft would have enough fuel to reach Zhejiang Province, let alone Chongqin. They hadn't eaten since the night before.   As soon as they are en route, Sgt. Shivo topped off the tank with the reserve fuel cans, beginning with the big emergency tank. Warm-up and take off burned the equivalent of eight of the five-gallon cans of gas and it was still 2,700 miles to China. They realized they might not have the fuel to reach the landing fields at all.   Lt. Duff suggested they land somewhere and wait until they could attack Japan at night but it was pointed out they didn't have the fuel to land and take off again and still reach China. He jokingly suggested they land in Japan and refuel there.   "They'll welcome us with open arms," he said.   Lt. Anderson flew as low as possible, about 20 feet above the waves at a slow speed to conserve fuel. The controls felt sloppy at such speed. The weather was disgustingly good - beautiful clear blue skies. About an hour and a half into the flight, a Japanese merchantman was spotted some three miles to the left. By then the emergency tins were used up. Sgt. Shivo had already tossed them out.   About five hours from launch, they spotted the coast of Japan. The island nation lay very low in the water with a slight haze that made it blend eerily into the horizon. There were several small boats anchored off the beach, including fishing boats and motor launches. As they flew over, there were surprisingly no shots fired from the boats. They saw men and women waving at the plane as it passed.   "What?" Lt. Cook said.   "That's what I told you guys," Lt. Locklear called over the ship's phone.   "Told you we'd be welcomed!" Lt. Duff said.   "You know why?" Lt. Locklear said. "Because the meatball in the center of the star! It's a psychological thing, guys. They see the meatball."   "That doesn't seem right," Lt. Anderson said.   "Why are they waving at us?" Lt. Cook called.   "The meatball in the middle of the star," Lt. Locklear said again.   They guessed the people thought they were a Japanese aircraft due to the red disc in the middle of the American star.   The white beaches quickly turned into soft, rolling green fields. Everything looked well-kept with little farms fitted in an almost mathematical precision. The fresh spring grass was brilliantly green and fruit trees were in bloom. Farmers in their fields waved at the passing aircraft.   "What is happening?" Lt. Anderson said.   There were many hills and valleys and the safest route was by following a valley going in the right direction until the aircraft needed to cross over a hill into another low valley. The plane flew over the rooftops of a few villages. More people looked up and waved at them.   "You know, I don't think we've been told everything that's happening," Lt. Duff said over the phone. "Maybe we're actually Japanese."   "I "¦ I think I would know!" Lt. Anderson said.   "What the hell you talking about, Duffy?" Lt. Cook said.   "Look at them!" Lt. Duff said. "They're waving at us as though we were friends. Maybe we are friends."   "These people probably don't know anything that's happened with the war," Lt. Cook said.   "Relations with Japan have been steadily declining," Lt. Anderson said.   "I wouldn't expect any of these people to know anything," Lt. Duff said.   They realized the people probably had no idea what a Japanese aircraft looked like, let alone an American one.   "All they know is ching and chong and that's it," Lt. Duff said.   "Oh my God," Lt. Anderson said.   "Duffy!" Lt. Cook said. "Duffy, keep off the radio if you're going to be spouting that ****!"   "Just keep chatter to a minimum please," Lt. Anderson said.   "Captain, just fly nonchalantly, will ya?" Lt. Locklear said.   "I'm doing my best," Lt. Anderson said.   "Now Duffy, I'm going to be straight here," Lt. Cook said. "We can't be talking about other people like that just because they're different colors."   "Let me put it this way," Lt. Duff said. "We have the gas "¦ and we also have the rodents below us."   "Duffy!" Lt. Cook said.   Lt. Locklear checked the fuel supply and then did some calculations. He thought they had enough fuel to get to China, just. While Lt. Anderson spoke to him, Lt. Duff tried to sneak a cigarette. Lt. Anderson smelled it immediately.   "Put that out!" he said without even looking at the co-pilot. "Don't smoke during the mission."   "We might make it to China," Lt. Locklear said.   "Locklear, Locklear, don't worry about it," Lt. Cook said. "Once we drop these bombs weight, we'll be okay."   About six hours after launch, the aircraft rose over a hill with a temple atop it and they spotted Tokyo Bay ahead. Lt. Anderson dropped down to just over the water and Lt. Locklear gave a course change as the ship continued at the same slow speed to conserve fuel. A large aircraft carrier was in the bay to the right as they approached the city, anchored a couple miles away. There were no enemy planes in sight. However, black smoke rose from Tokyo and Yokohama, the results of the earlier raiders. Lt. Duff made a crack about smoke signals and why the Japanese were so friendly. It took five minutes to cross the bay. Some barrage balloons were visible between Tokyo and Yokohama, across the river from Tokyo. The bay was filled with yachts and larger ships.   They continued southwest passing Yokohama and then west to Nagoya, both cities belching smoke from various earlier attacks, where they made another course correction to before they spotted Kobe. They saw there was a sameness to most of the city, making it difficult to spot their targets. Smoke was rising from it, however.   Once they reached their objective, Lt. Cook alerted Lt. Anderson by ship interphone and he turned over the aircraft control to the bombardier and increased speed to maximum. Lt. Anderson was still in control of altitude and climbed quickly to 1,500 feet. Black bursts of smoke began to appear in the air as anti-aircraft fire come into play. It was not as heavy as anyone expected. They just had time to get to the correct altitude, level off, attend to the routine of opening the bomb bay, make a short run, and let fly with the first bomb.   As each bomb was dropped, a red light blinked in the cockpit and the plane seemed to pick up speed as a big 500-pound bomb fell. After the third bomb drop, there was the shortest of delays before the aircraft flew over the part of the city that would burn the best. Then the incendiary was away. The last bomb separated as soon as it hit the wind and dozens of small fire bombs molted from it, spreading small fires all over the city.   The first two bombs struck their targets though the third missed. The incendiary struck an area that was not already in flames, a perfect hit.   "Does anyone smell burning dog?" Lt. Duff said.   As soon as the fourth red light blinked in the cockpit, Lt. Cook turned control of the plane back over to Lt. Anderson with a "Back to you, Captain." and they ducked back down to treetop level and reduced speed. A new course was set heading due south towards the coast to confuse any pursuers. Evasive action was also taken and all hands kept eyes to the air for the possibility of enemy aircraft. Behind them, more smoke rose from the city.   Lt. Duff lit a cigarette.   "Put that out!" Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Duff snuffed his cigarette and tucked it into his pocket.   In the back, Sgt. Shivo had lit up a cigarette as soon as the bombs started to drop. After the successful bomb run, he started to sing over the interphone. It was awful.   "Shivo, are you all right?" Lt. Anderson called back to him.   They eventually got him to shut up.   The aircraft proceeded southwest along the southern coast of Japan. All of the auxiliary gas was gone by then and the plane was dependent upon the wing tanks. At one point, three Japanese cruisers were spotted. They opened fire with their big guns, as well as machinegun fire, but the range was too great, the target too small and fast, and the plane got by them without damage.   The Islands of Honshu and Yakashima, Honshu a lumpy tail of an island and Yakashima an active volcano, were their next marker. They flew between them and then turned west to head for the coast of China, following the 29th parallel. At this point, Lt. Anderson allowed the men to smoke.   As they headed west, across the China Sea, they spotted a couple of submarines and a tanker about the time the weather started to go bad. Around 6 p.m., it started with a few drops on the windshield but quickly escalated into a full-blown storm.   "Captain, are you meaning to fly us into that big storm over there?" Lt. Cook called up.   "This is the way we're supposed to go," Lt. Anderson said. "We're supposed to go to China. We don't have enough fuel to go around."   There was talk of going around or through the storm and but they realized they didn't have the fuel to divert. Lt. Locklear told him as much and Lt. Anderson continued into the poor weather. They talked of typhoons and other terrible weather. At the mention of "typhoon," Lt. Duff asked why they were talking about food.   Most of them remembered the Navy men warning them storms gathered to roll off the shelf of China without much warning. It meant finding Choo Chow Lishui or one of the other airfields without radio guidance. The silver lining of the bad weather was it would mean the Japanese would have a much harder time finding them.   It continued to get worse as they crossed the China Sea, making it harder and harder to see out of the cockpit. Lt. Locklear recalculated their position and thought they were still on course and should have just enough fuel to reach China. Lt. Anderson had to stick his head out of the cockpit side window on more than one occasion to try to see ahead.   Sgt. Shivo examined the aircraft and found her holding together despite the storm.   Around 9:30 p.m., land was spotted. An eerie, peaked island rose out of the mist ahead of the aircraft. More islands followed, sometimes looming up out of the storm directly ahead of the ship.   "What the hell?" Lt. Locklear said. "Can anybody tell me what the fuel situation is, please?"   "Low," Lt. Anderson said. "Very low."   "How many gallons we talking about?" Lt. Locklear said.   "Not enough!" Lt. Duff said. "As in, we need to find someplace within two hours."   Lt. Anderson and Lt. Duff were of the opinion that they would push through the storm, looking for a place to land as best they could.   A couple of hours later, Lt. Duff and Lt. Cook spotted what looked like a runway of some kind below. There were no signs of lights or other markers to indicate the place was still used.   "Looks like a landing field below!" Lt. Cook said.   Lt. Anderson brought the aircraft around, heading down. Lt. Locklear thought they were over the mainland. Lt. Anderson said they'd land.   They came down in the pouring rain, Lt. Anderson lowering the landing gear. Lt. Cook climbed up into the cockpit and took a position behind the pilot and co-pilot's seats. In the back, Lt. Locklear and Sgt. Shivo took their positions with their backs against the forward wall of the cabin they were in.   Lt. Duff tried to get Lt. Anderson to let him smoke but his commanding officer refused.   "If I'm going to die, I'd like to die with a cigarette," Lt. Duff said.   "Look, we're not going to die and you can smoke when we land," Lt. Anderson said. "All right? It'll be fine!"   As they made their approach, they saw it did look like a runway. Lt. Anderson put the B-25 down perfectly.   "I must say, I didn't expect you to─" Lt. Duff started to say.   Then the starboard landing gear hit a huge hole in the runway and the aircraft spun to the right. Lt. Anderson tried to correct it but that only made it worse as the aircraft hit more holes in the concrete. The forward landing gear went into one, snapped, and flew upward past the starboard side of the cockpit as the front of the aircraft hit the ground and then the entire bird flipped over, flopping several times before coming to rest on her belly, the landing gear destroyed, the props wrecked, and the craft completely demolished.   Lt. Anderson was smashed against the controls and got a chest contusion, tearing his uniform and giving him abrasions. Behind him, Lt. Cook had been flung around the cabin and fractured his right wrist when he tried to brace himself. In the back Lt. Locklear had abdominal contusions, tearing up his uniform and getting cuts and abrasions to his belly. Sgt. Shivo had a thigh contusion with cuts and abrasions to his right thigh.   Lt. Duff got the worst of it. He had not been strapped in securely enough and was flung around in his seat as the plane crashed. He had a shoulder contusion, his right shoulder torn up pretty badly. His left leg was strained when he tried to brace himself. The pain was immense. Worst of all, however, was the back fracture. He was in intense pain any time he moved even a little bit. After the plane finally came to a stop, he didn't move at all.   Painfully, he pulled out three cigarettes from the pouch in his pocket and put them all in his mouth.   "Are you all right, Duffy?" Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Anderson lit them for the man, who puffed on them.   "My plane!" Sgt. Shivo cried out loudly enough for all of them to hear, even over the pounding of rain on the aircraft. "My God damned plane!"   The aircraft was smashed up, most of the glass broken out of it.   "Captain!" Lt. Locklear yelled from the back of the aircraft. "Captain! How you feeling right now?"   "I'm all right, but I think Duffy's hurt!" Lt. Anderson called.   Lt. Locklear suggested helping Lt. Duff but also suggested posting some guards as the Japanese might be coming.   "Locklear, maybe we should focus on getting out of the plane before anything else," Lt. Anderson called back. "Cook, you okay?"   Lt. Cook used the gauze of his medical kit to bind up his broken wrist as best he could.   "Captain, I'm in absolutely horrific pain "¦ but at least I still have everything attached below the waist," Lt. Duff muttered.   "This is not the time to joke," Lt. Anderson said.   "Harry, get over here," Lt. Cook said.   "I can't move!" Lt. Duff said.   "He can't move!" Lt. Anderson said.   "Fine, don't move!" Lt. Cook said.   He pulled himself to the front of the cockpit and started to see to Lt. Duff.     * * *     "God damn it, Locklear, did you damage your hearing in the crash?" Sgt. Shivo said.   "I think maybe I did," Lt. Locklear said.   "You reckon this airfield has any buildings we could bunk up in?"   "Right now we're doing first aid. You and I might be able to─"   "I want to go look."   "Check with the captain first though."     * * *     Lt. Anderson kicked out the remaining windshield and climbed out of the cockpit. The rain was pouring down, much of it leaking into the cockpit. Then he heard a howl in the distance unlike anything he'd ever heard before.   "Doc, I need you to help me get out of the plane," Lt. Duff said.   "I think there's something out here!" Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook helped Lt. Duff out of the cockpit. The latter leaned against the wreckage and noted aloud he could hardly walk. He also asked for cigarettes.   Lt. Cook climbed back into the aircraft and into the bombardier's compartment. He found the .30-caliber machinegun there intact and started to work removing it from the bird.     * * *     In the back, Sgt. Shivo kicked out the damaged glass from the .50-caliber turret on top of the aircraft. Then he removed one of the belts of.50-caliber ammunition from the gun. He climbed out of the wrecked aircraft.     * * *     "We can probably make use of the remaining fuel in the wing tanks," Lt. Duff grunted.   Sgt. Shivo came out of the pouring rain, a belt of .50-caliber ammunition draped over one shoulder.   "Captain, I have one recommendation," he said.   "What's that?" Lt. Anderson said.   "They're not gonna want this plane falling into Jap hands."   "The plane is busted to hell."   "Yeah, they can still grab intel and stuff from here."   "That's true."   "If there's anything in here, we could be giving the enemy valuable information. I recommend we take the remaining gas and burn this thing to the ground."   Lt. Duff drew his pistol and looked around when they heard some strange howl in the distance. He was pretty certain it was just a coyote even though it was terrifying. Lt. Locklear came out of the rain as well.   "It's those damned Japs, I swear," Lt. Duff said, certain the coyote had rabies. "They did it on purpose."   There was also the sounds of some great animal moving in the distance. It sounded huge, like an elephant or something equally massive. Lt. Duff pointed his pistol in the direction of the sound.   "Did you hear that?" he said. "I think it's one of those legendary Jap fat women. Sumo."   "Harry, I swear to God, you need to get serious," Lt. Anderson said.   Sgt. Shivo entered the aircraft again and helped Lt. Cook remove the .30-caliber machinegun. They got it loose and dragged it out of the aircraft along with the tripod for the weapon and three 250-round ammo belts.   They were all clustered around the front of the wreck. Lt. Locklear had his carbine out and Sgt. Shivo asked if he was any good with a machinegun. When he said he wasn't, Sgt. Shivo decided he would keep hold of the larger weapon.   They could hear something large moving around in the rain, hidden in by the darkness and stomping on large feet that thudded when they came down on the ground. Many large feet.   "Captain, I would advise we leave," Lt. Cook said. "I'll set off the scuttling charges. We don't want to be anywhere near here when it goes up."   "If y'all are gonna run, you're going to have to lift me up and carry me," Lt. Duff said, gesturing to his bloody leg. "I ain't running nowhere."   "Alright, well "¦" Lt. Anderson said.   "Doc, you're going to have to carry me," Lt. Duff said.   "He can't," Lt. Anderson said. "His wrist is busted."   "I'll carry you," Lt. Locklear said.   He shouldered the carbine and helped Lt. Duff limp painfully away. Lt. Cook went back into the wrecked aircraft and Lt. Anderson told him they'd meet him in a direction to the port of the aircraft. Lt. Duff took out his flashlight, was relieved to find it intact after the terrible crash, and lit it, shining it around them.   As they moved away from the aircraft, they realized the airstrip was filled with holes. It looked like it had been shelled.   "I don't want to get eaten by the Japs," Lt. Duff said.   "I suggest we move away from the noise if we can," Lt. Locklear said.   Lt. Anderson had taken the .50-caliber belt and Sgt. Shivo had the three belts of .30-caliber ammunition. Lt. Anderson looked around and then led them off to the port of the crashed aircraft. Lt. Cook scuttled out of the aircraft after setting the scuttling charges and ran after them.   They soon stumbled across another airstrip that ran at about a 30-degree angle from the airstrip they'd landed on. They examined some of the holes in that runway. Lt. Duff examined the holes carefully and thought they were caused by shells from a five-inch gun, very typical of destroyers.   "Why would they be firing at an island in their own ocean right on the border of China?" he said.   "I think we may be on the island they use to test their ships' guns," Sgt. Shivo said.   "Well, that's kind of awful," Lt. Anderson said.   "Because these are ship guns and this is their island," Sgt. Shivo said. "They have no reason to fire on a friendly island."   "Could we get out of the rain?" Lt. Duff said.   They were all soaked to the skin.   "Can we get out of the rain?" Lt. Duff said again.   Lt. Anderson led them down the airstrip. At the end of it, they came across a rusted and sagging chain-link fence. It was in terrible shape. Part of it had taken hits by the shells and portions of it were rusty, as if it had been left for a while. Barbed wire ran along the top of it. They thought they heard surf over the rain and, when they explored beyond the fence, they found a beach. They saw some docks nearby.   The docks lay outside the chain link. All that was there were the bare remains of concrete, metal, and wooden docks. Closer examination revealed a couple of military boats were probably there but they were now at the bottom of the water, rusted and filled with holes. Machinegun damage was evident on the deck and there were more holes from shelling.   "Oh!" Lt. Duff said. "They're killing each other! The animals!"   Lt. Locklear and Lt. Duff saw what looked like a structure nearby just inland of the blasted docks. They pointed it out and Lt. Anderson drew his pistol and took point. As he got closer, he found it appeared to be not one but two large storage buildings of some kind. Both were intact. They were simple buildings of sheet metal with metal roofs. There were a pair of doors in the front but no windows save for slits near the roof.   Lt. Anderson pushed open one of the doors and shined his flashlight around. It was mostly dry within the large building and he guessed it was used for storage. There were markings on the wall for tools and signs there had been things there, but it was mostly empty otherwise. It looked like everything of value had been taken from the place.   He went back to the others and found Lt. Duff had taken his morphine for the terrible pain. They all went to the building while Lt. Anderson went to the next. The second building was very similar to the first though it looked like it had doubled as a mess hall. A few tables and benches still stood in there and some open cupboards were built against the wall. A large cook stove was also present.   "Maybe come over to this one!" Lt. Anderson called.   "All right, fine, just drag my broken body everywhere," Lt. Duff said as Lt. Locklear helped him to the second storage building.   Sgt. Shivo stayed behind in the first building alone, looking for sacks. He hoped to fill them with sand for a makeshift foxhole. As he shined the flashlight around in the dark, he thought he saw something in the corner. At first he thought it was a rat. When he shined the light on it and looked more closely, he thought it looked like a dead baby. It was in the far corner of the room and he felt a shiver go down his spine.   He backed out of the shed and ran to the other one to find Lt. Cook.     * * *     The others found the second building had a few more leaks in the roof but was otherwise dry. They helped Lt. Duff to lay down on one of the tables there. He was still in great pain despite the morphine. Not moving certainly helped.   "Someone give me a cigarette," Lt. Duff said.   "Sure, why not?" Lt. Locklear said, lighting a cigarette for the man and putting it in his mouth.   Sgt. Shivo burst in the door.   "Uh "¦" he said. "I think I found a dead baby."   "What?" Lt. Anderson said.   "I don't know how to put this "¦ other than that," Sgt. Shivo said. "I'm pretty sure it's a dead baby."   "Listen, we don't need your promiscuous past following us, all right?" Lt. Duff said. "It's none of our business."   "You have quite a sense of humor for a man who's in terrible pain," Lt. Anderson said.   "No, I'm not joking," Sgt. Shivo said.   "Shivo, just show me," Lt. Cook said.   "I was looking for some sacks," Sgt. Shivo said. "I wanted to make some sandbags so we could mount the gun outside."   "That's a good idea," Lt. Anderson said.   "Just show me then," Lt. Cook said.   "Follow me," Sgt. Shivo said.   Lt. Cook awkwardly drew his Colt .45 with his left hand but Lt. Duff stopped him.   "If you're going to check out some freaky ****, take my boom stick," he said.   He offered his sawed-off shotgun. The man took it and he and Sgt. Shivo left.     * * *     Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Cook carefully entered the other storage room, shining their flashlights around. There was nothing there. A small gap was in the corner of the building there, but that was all.   "Nice "¦ uh "¦ dead baby, there, Shivo," Lt. Cook said.   "I don't know "¦ maybe it was a possum or something," Sgt. Shivo said. "I don't know. It's dark. I thought it looked skin-colored. It could have gotten out of the hole."   They searched the storage house again but didn't find any bags that Sgt. Shivo wanted.     * * *     The others in the second shed, quiet now except for the falling rain, could still hear something very large moving around outside somewhere. It didn't sound close but, whatever it was, it sounded big.   "Listen, all right?" Lt. Duff said. "I'm broken. I'm literally broken. Both of you need to do something about that so I can get some rest. It's really irritating, actually."   The other two men returned, closing the exterior door behind them.   "So, did you find it?" Lt. Anderson said. "Was there anything?"   "Was there a dead baby?" Lt. Duff said.   "Whatever it was, was gone," Sgt. Shivo said.   "Okay," Lt. Locklear said.   "Maybe it was an animal," Sgt. Shivo said.   "Are you seeing things, Shivo?" Lt. Anderson said. "Are you sure you didn't hit your head?"   "Look, it was an animal," Sgt. Shivo said. "I don't know anything about Japanese animals."   Lt. Cook thanked Lt. Duff for the sawed-off shotgun and handed it back to him. Lt. Duff asked him to help him and Lt. Cook put together a makeshift splint for both his leg and his back. The man remained in terrible pain.   They moved a table to the doors and tipped it over as a makeshift foxhole for the machinegun.   They set watches and tried to get some sleep.     * * *

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

Terror Over Tokyo 4: The Demon Procedure Part 2 - Island of Demons

* * *       The rain let up the next morning, April 19, 1942. Light shined through the cracks in the door and through the vents set high in the building. Water dripped outside.   "Give me drugs!"Lt. Duff said.   "Harry, we can't use up all the morphine right now,"Lt. Anderson said. "We don't know how long we're gonna be here."   "Here's the problem. I would be nothing but a deficit as I am. Give me drugs!"   "Just lie still!"   "There'll be a drugs deficit if you take all the drugs,"Sgt. Shivo said.   "I'll be less of an irritant,"Lt. Duff said.   "Look, I will rip off a chunk of my shirt to gag you,"Lt. Shivo said.   "Oh God!"Lt. Anderson said.   They argued about it while Lt. Locklear opened the door and looked outside. In the daylight, he could see the place looked like a military base or installation. Off to the left were some smaller buildings, up off the ground, most of them intact, that might have been barracks. A burnt-out building was near them. There was also a generator building. There were a pair of hangers near the runway where their bird had crashed. Further away was what appeared to be an inner compound with several solid buildings within, possibly bunkers.   "Captain, give us our orders,"Lt. Locklear said. "We got hangers, we got barracks, we got the baby. Guys, let's listen to the captain─"   "As soon as you stop talking, I will absolutely give orders,"Lt. Anderson said.   "I gotta good question,"Lt. Duff said.   "Harry, not right now."   "Why are we listening to you? We're no longer a team."   "What are you talking about? We're in the military! Do you understand how militaries work?"   "Whoever can move, see if you can find a trace of whatever was here last night."   "Locklear, why don't you go check out the barracks?"Lt. Anderson said. "Doc, if you want to look through the officers' quarters. And you and I can go check out the hangers and see if there's a plane."   The last comment had been directed at Sgt. Shivo.   "I want to go look in that generator building and see if there's a generator,"Sgt. Shivo said.   "We'll stop by there on the way to the hangers,"Lt. Anderson said.   He looked at Lt. Duff, helpless on the table.   "And you stay here with your shotgun,"he said.   Sgt. Shivo moved the .30-caliber machinegun over to Lt. Duff.     * * *       They all left and, a moment later, they heard machinegun fire from the storage room.   "Don't waste ammo, Harry!"Lt. Anderson yelled back at him.   Lt. Locklear ran back to the storage room.   "Hey, Locklear, how ya doing?"Lt. Duff said.   "What the hell?"Lt. Locklear said. "What the hell do you think you're doing!?!"   Lt. Duff shrugged painfully. He had merely been testing the gun.     * * *       "You doing all right Shivo?"Lt. Anderson said. "You seemed pretty shook up."   "You crashed my God-damned plane!"Sgt. Shivo said.   "I did not crash the plane!"Lt. Anderson said. "The plane crashed. It's not my fault."   They reached the generator shed.   Wires ran from the building to the other buildings in the compound except for the two large storage houses and the inner compound. The generator building is intact with a single empty barrel outside. A large generator of Japanese manufacture was there, off, and it's fuel tank dry as a bone. An exhaust pipe ran through the roof.   There was a single empty 55-gallon drum marked in Japanese something-fuel outside of the shed. A second barrel had been ripped to pieces and there was evidence of claw marks upon it.   A small manual pump for transferring the fuel from barrels to generator was there, as well as a toolbox filled with typical tools for repair. The room could be lit by a small light hanging from the ceiling with a string attached to it to turn it on and off if there was power.   The hand pump weighed about 25 pounds and consisted of the hand crank, a long pipe that went into a barrel, and a six foot hose.     * * *       Lt. Cook reached the remains of the officer's quarters. It looked like it had taken a direct hit during the shelling and there was nothing left but a single wall and debris from where it had burned to the ground. Nothing else remained but ashes and burnt and broken debris. Something seemed to move in the pile of debris.   Doc drew his Colt Peacemaker in his off hand and cautiously approached. As he did so, there was a rattling and someone stood up out of the debris.   The thing was barely a skeleton covered in a bit of burnt and rotten flesh. It had no eyes and wore the burnt and tattered remnants of a Japanese uniform. It was definitely not alive but still walked and moved as if it was. It shouldn't have been alive. It had a bayonet in its hand.   He aimed and shot the thing with his Colt.     * * *       Locklear had reached the nearest barracks building. Of the five of them, two nearest the storage building appeared to have survived while the rest had been damaged or destroyed by the shelling. Atop each of the two surviving barracks buildings was a large, open-topped water tank.   The buildings were set up off the ground by about a foot. A single step led up into each. There was no glass in the windows and the shutters were open, closed, or blown off. Inside, a dozen cots were set up, each with a footlocker. Two bare electric light bulbs hung from the ceiling. The room was very Spartan. Most of the footlockers were ripped open and personal effects scattered about.   He had also noticed a well nearby.   He saw tent pieces, knapsacks, loose boots, entrenching spades, gas masks, mess tins, and the like across the floor. As he started to look around the place, he heard a gunshot from nearby.     * * *       Lt. Cook's bullet didn't seem to hurt the skeleton in the least. It looked like it went between the ribs. The skeleton lunged at him with the bayonet and he beat on the horrible thing with his pistol, fighting it off. He dropped his Colt and drew his hunting knife, bashing at the thing's head with it. Some of the horror's teeth flew out.   Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Anderson burst out of the generator shed and saw the fight. He headed that way. Locklear came out of one of the barracks building and saw it as well. The man he was fighting looked like he was dead!   Lt. Cook continued to bash the skeletal Japanese officer but the horrible thing wouldn't fall! It brought the bayonet down on his broken wrist and he was almost incapacitated and almost fainted from the pain.   "I told you I saw God-damned dead babies!"Sgt. Shivo shouted as he ran towards the man.   He realized he could see through the man fighting Lt. Cook. It was like he was just a skeleton.   "What is happening!?!"Lt. Anderson yelled as he ran after the sergeant.   Lt. Locklear raised up his rifle like a club, screamed, and rushed the thing fighting Lt. Cook. The blow was merely a glance. The dead Japanese soldier focused on Lt. Cook, who fought it off. Lt. Anderson saw the horrible thing as he rushed to approach but managed to keep it together.   Lt. Cook stabbed the skeleton again but it would not go down! Sgt. Shivo ran up and tackled the thing and grabbed its upper leg. Bracing his foot against the thing's hip, he pulled, ripping the entire leg free of the rest of the skeleton. It crashed to the ground. He noticed the foot was skill kicking. Lt. Locklear brought the rifle stock down on the thing but slipped and fell in the mud. The skeleton swung wildly around with the bayonet and it was flung free of its hand, just missing Lt. Locklear and flying through the air to land some yards away.   The skeleton set itself on the fallen Locklear and the two struggled against each other.     * * *       Lt. Duff heard the gunshots and then the sounds of his fellows shouting as if they were fighting someone. Then he heard some kind of scrabbling noise over by the door. He looked that way, drew his pistol, and worked the action on it. He fired where he thought he sound was coming from, right through the wall. There was a squeak or something from behind the wall. He wondered if he had hit a rat. Or a dead baby "¦     * * *       Lt. Anderson heard a gunshot towards the storage room. He turned and ran back as he figured the other three had the situation with the skeleton or whatever it was well in hand. As he raced towards the storage house, he thought he saw something by the door. It looked like several overly large fetuses, all of them connected by some kind of terrible umbilical cord! One of them was covered with blood.   He let out a shout and drew his pistol.     * * *       Lt. Cook attacked the horrible thing again, smashing at it with his hunting knife and finally smashing the skill to pieces. As the rest of the skeleton stopped moving and the bones fell to the ground, he continued to smash the skull with his knife over and over and over again. Sgt. Shivo, holding the leg by the femur, felt the lower bones fall away, leaving him only the femur in his hand.   "Doc! Doc! Doc! Doc!"Sgt. Shivo said. "Doc, it's okay! Doc!"   Locklear tried to help the man calm down their bombardier. Sgt. Shivo offered him the femur.     * * *       Lt. Duff dropped his pistol and it fell off the table and to the ground. He grabbed the .30-calibur machinegun handle and aimed it at the noise, then let fly with a relatively long burst from the machinegun, screaming loudly. Unfortunately, he was not skilled with the weapon and unused to the recoil. He fired a short burst of about 15 shells but the recoil sent the barrel upward and he basically fired a line of bullets right up the side of the building.   Then something appeared in the doorway. It was three or four human fetuses, each about three or four feet tall. They were all connected together by umbilical cords. They appeared to be undeveloped fetuses with sharp teeth and claws and dragged a fifth of them along the ground. It bled from a bullet hole in its torso. The things started making their way towards him.   Lt. Anderson appeared at the doorway right after the horrible fetus-things. He yelled and shot at one of the things from the doorway. It fell to the ground, bleeding. The other ones screamed something in Chinese.     * * *       Lt. Cook picked up his Colt Peacemaker and ran back towards the storage shed where he heard gunfire. Sgt. Shivo and Lt. Locklear ran after him.     * * *       One of the horrible fetus things ran towards Lt. Anderson while the other two ran towards Lt. Duff. The cords pulled taut and they stopped.   Lt. Duff grabbed his sawed-off shotgun and fired both barrels at the horrible things, blasting two of them away and injuring one last one, which fell to the ground and tried to crawl away, mewing like a kitten in pain.   "Didn't you hear that language!?!"Lt. Duff said. "It's a ching chong monstrosity! Shoot it!"   The horror looked up at Lt. Anderson with pleading eyes and he shot it dead.   The other men rushed in moments later.   "I told you I saw a dead baby!"Sgt. Shivo said.   "What are these things!?!"Lt. Duff said.   "I don't know!"Lt. Anderson said.   "Please take this gun away from me, "Lt. Duff said of the .30-caliber.   "With pleasure,"Sgt. Shivo said.   He asked someone to get his pistol and Locklear picked it up and gave it back to him.   "I told you I saw a dead baby,"Sgt. Shivo said again.   "What the hell is going on on this island?"Lt. Cook said.   "I don't know, maybe we're on some sort of Japanese island?"Lt. Anderson said. "Maybe they're weapons?"   Lt. Duff shot the thing again with his pistol.   "Don't waste ammo!"Lt. Anderson said.   The horrible conjoined fetuses seemed to be shrinking as they watched.   "Get me a trophy from one of these things!"Lt. Duff said.   "No no no no no no no!"Lt. Anderson said.   "You are twisted!"Lt. Cook said.   "No!"Lt. Anderson said. "No!"   "Get me a trophy!"Lt. Duff said.   "No!"Lt. Anderson said.   "Here, take this,"Sgt. Shivo said.   He handed the man the burnt femur from the skeleton that he still held. Lt. Duff sniffed at it. It smelled of ash and burnt meat.   "Is this "¦ uh "¦ is this Jap flesh?"Lt. Duff said.   Lt. Locklear went to the open door to keep watch. He saw a man over by the hangers, peeking in their direction. He looked to be Asian and wore ragged pants. He had a beard and long hair and was very sunburned.   "Captain over here on the double please!"Lt. Locklear said.   "What?"Lt. Anderson said.   "I see a guy that looks like he's alive,"he said.   He pointed towards the hanger across the compound.   "I think this guy's alive,"Lt. Locklear said. "****! I'm going to try to capture this guy or something."   "Let's go try and talk to him or something,"Lt. Anderson said.   "You cover me while I go over there."   "No, I'm going with you. I'm the only one that speaks their language."   "Okay, let's go."   Lt. Anderson and Lt. Locklear crossed to the hanger. Lt. Anderson told the other man to put his weapon away and he held the Winchester carbine by the barrel. The Asian man looked at them very nervously as they approached. Lt. Anderson held out his empty hands. The man looked terrified. Lt. Anderson talked calmly to the man, trying to get him to trust them. He noticed the man looked at their uniforms terrified.   When Lt. Anderson said something in Japanese, the man seemed even more terrified.   "Oh no!"he said.   "Oh, I'm so sorry!"Lt. Anderson said. "You speak English?"   "You are Japanese! Japanese!"   "No no no no! Obviously not. Obviously American. I'm sorry."   The man babbled and wailed. Lt. Anderson continued to try to calm him and gain his trust.     * * *       Lt. Cook redressed his wrist and Lt. Duff examined the damage he'd done to the structure while Sgt. Shivo told them what he had found in the generator and that it could work but they didn't have any fuel for it.     * * *       It took what felt like a long time for them to get the man to trust them.   "Where are we?"Lt. Anderson finally asked. "What is happening?"   "Èmó DÇŽo,"the man said. "We're on Èmó DÇŽo: The Island of Demons."   "Oh, great,"Lt. Anderson said.   "Great,"Lt. Locklear said.   "What is "¦ demons?"Lt. Anderson said.   "They're everywhere!"the Asian man said.   "Yeah, we noticed,"Lt. Anderson said.   "The Japanese, they brought us here,"the man said. "They experimented on us."   That's when they noticed scars on the man. He also had pockmarks on his face like he'd had measles or chicken pox recently.   "They captured me,"the man went on. "They take the captured men here."   They convinced the man to come back to the storage house with them.   "Hey, everybody be calm,"Lt. Anderson said as they approached. "He's not Japanese, Harry."   They entered the storage house. Lt. Duff was unsure if the man were Japanese or not. He certainly looked Japanese to him. The terrified man had no shirt or shoes.   "Somebody make sure Harry doesn't do anything stupid,"Lt. Anderson said.   "What the hell are you doing with that Jap?"Lt. Duff said.   "Is that permission to put him down because it sounds like it,"Lt. Cook said.   The man looked at Lt. Duff in terror. Lt. Cook took a wad of bandages and shoved them in Lt. Duff's mouth.   "Shut up!"he said.   Lt. Duff spit it out.   "I'm still in pain, all right?"Lt. Duff said. "I have every right not to shut up. The morphine. Give it to me."   "I'm not going to give you my morphine!"Lt. Cook said.   The man told them again they were on Èmó DÇŽo, the Island of Demons. At least that was what the Japanese who brought him there had called it. He told them the place was used to experiment on other races besides the Japanese, including Russians and Chinese prisoners of war. He said they did terrible things to people there, including exposing them to disease, starving them to see how long it took them to die, injecting them with various substances, cutting off limbs to see how long before they died, and other terrible things. The Japanese found that the isle, called Demon Island by the Chinese, was just that. Certain people, subjected to certain horrors, would change into demons. He was not sure if the demons were ghosts of those who came before inhabited their bodies, changing them, or if something on the island caused the change. He once heard the Japanese talking about it, wondering if there was something in the water.   He thought the Japanese, once they learned of it, were trying to create more demons, perhaps for their use. One guard who delighted in his use as a rapist of the women changed, his member growing large and his body shriveling but becoming very strong. He was locked up like the rest and didn't seem to respond like a guard anymore. One terrible night long ago, he was unsure when as the scientists never told them the date, the demons all escaped. They killed the Japanese. They killed the remaining prisoners. Only he escaped and hid from the horrors and he thought he was the only actual person on the island.   The demons tried to escape the island. One of them thought he could fly an aircraft there, but a Japanese ship and troops and more aircraft arrived. They bombed the air strip and shelled the base, destroying the boats at the docks and as much of the place as they could. Then they went away. He was unsure how long he'd been there. It felt like a long time, he said. The demons mostly lived in the jungle. They mostly came out at night. Mostly. Some of them wandered about the outer compound though few went to the inner compound. He thought they feared the place they were born in.   He told them he'd been living in the generator building in the inner compound. He noted there was a secondary generator building there. He said he barricaded the door at night and he'd been living off of fish and whatever he could find on the fringes of the jungle.   He begged them to take him with them if they were leaving.   "No,"Lt. Duff said.   "Yes,"Lt. Anderson said.   "We will certainly try,"Lt. Cook said. "Don't listen to the man on the table."   "He's a scary man,"the Chinese man said. "He's a scary man."   "Yes, he's also insane,"Lt. Cook said.   They learned his name was Liao Lin.   "Captain, should we check out the hangers?"Lt. Locklear said. "Maybe, just maybe, they have a plane there."   "I mean "¦"Lt. Anderson said.   "They've taken everything,"Liao said. "They've taken everything from all of these buildings."   "We're going to take everything from you,"Lt. Duff muttered.   "We'll worry about that later,"Lt. Locklear said.   "Harry!"Lt. Anderson said.   "I heard the gunfire so I came to see what it was,"Liao said. "I was afraid it was the Japanese."   "How about this Liao Lin, have you been around the island?"Lt. Locklear said.   "I don't go into the jungle,"Liao said. "I don't go into the jungle."   "How long have you been here?"Sgt. Shivo said.   "I don't know,"Liao said. "It feels like a long time. It was 1939 when I was captured. But I haven't seen a calendar since."   "And you say you haven't seen anyone else?"   "Demons."   "And "¦ what─"   "None of them looked like people."   "And "¦"   "You don't look like a person,"Lt. Duff said.   "What different kinds of demons,"Sgt. Shivo said. "How many different kinds of demons have you seen."   "Give it a rest, Harry,"Lt. Anderson said.   "I don't know,"Liao said. "There are 20 or 30 "¦ maybe more. I never counted them. The night of the escape was chaos. There's a giant one that looks like a caterpillar."   "Can you tell us more about them?"Sgt. Shivo said.   Liao Lin could not. All he knew was Chinese folklore which said when men did terrible things or had terrible thoughts, they could change into demons. They had powers and were bloodthirsty and wallowed in the terrible things that made them demons in the first place.   "So, there's no way off the island?"Sgt. Shivo asked.   He asked if there were any maps of the island on the island. Liao Lin said there were not. He was able to tell them the general layout of the island. He told them of the two mountains and the thick jungle. He thought the demons stayed in the mountain caves. He had gone along the beaches some little way but usually had to flee into the ocean or run back the way he came when he heard something stir in the jungle. He was terrified of the demons.   "What did you do before you were captured?"Sgt. Shivo said. "What was your job?"   Liao Lin said he was a welder, mechanic, and plumber and often worked as a handyman. When Sgt. Shivo asked if he could still do that, he said he could.   "That's good, because we may need you,"Sgt. Shivo said. "Can you take us to the inner compound?"   Liao Lin pointed to the inner compound and nodded, noting he would show it to them.   When Lt. Duff asked about getting the generators working, Sgt. Shivo pointed out he had told him they had no fuel to do so. He said he couldn't even try to start them without gasoline. Liao Lin told them there was no gasoline in the generator room he was living in either.   Lt. Locklear wanted orders, suggesting he go to the hanger or the barracks.   "Why don't you leave the Jap in my care?"Lt. Duff said. "I'll take good care of him."   "Please don't leave me in his care,"Liao Lin said.   "Absolutely not,"Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook went over to Lt. Duff and injected him with morphine. Then he took the man's pistol from his holster. Sgt. Shivo, noting Liao Lin's nervousness, offered him his sidearm. Liao Lin took it but didn't seem to know, exactly, what to do with it. He showed him briefly how to load it and the like. The man thanked him and tucked it into his belt.   They all went to the generator building in the inner compound. Lt. Anderson helped Lt. Duff walk though the man didn't really need the help any more. The door looked recently repaired and it looked like Liao Lin piled up stuff inside the door to barricade it at night. The interior had been lived in and there was a bucket of water and some food, including some raw fish he had been eating.   The generator proved to be almost identical to the one in the other generator house and as empty of gasoline as that one had been. Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo both looked over the generator and it seemed to be in good, working order but was simply had no fuel. They discussed getting a plane going if there was one in the hanger.   Liao Lin also pointed at the building two down from the generator building and told them it was haunted. He noted that was where they used to vivisect people, cutting them open alive.   Lt. Anderson sent Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo to examine the hangers, noting no one was to go anywhere alone.   "Can I take someone else?"Sgt. Shivo said.   "No,"Lt. Anderson said. "Take him with you."   "Hello friend,"Lt. Duff, feeling good from the morphine, said.   They left as Lt. Cook looked over Laio Lin medically. He found the man was skinny as if he didn't have a good diet. He was obviously malnourished and not getting enough calories but was eating enough to survive. When he asked about the bucket of water, Liao Lin told the man there were some springs on the island. He told him that he could use the pump on the well by the barracks but warned him not to open the top.   "Something is in there,"he said.   "But you feel the water is okay, though?"Lt. Cook said.   Liao Lin was unsure. He had not been using it as he didn't want to venture too far from the generator house.     * * *       Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo found the hangers had been stripped of tools and goods. A burnt and blackened aircraft sat on the landing field only 20 yards or so from their own cracked up bird. It looked like it had taken a direct hit from a shell, as if it had been fully fueled when it had been hit and the whole thing had burned up. Their own aircraft was more intact than they had expected it. The scuttling charges didn't destroy it completely.   They found a radio that had been completely destroyed. Sgt. Shivo scavenged everything he could find from their destroyed aircraft. He found that one of the engines was actually still mostly intact. There was also a little fuel in the fuel lines.   They headed up to check on the sunken boats at the docks.     * * *       Lt. Locklear noted he wanted to look in the barracks once again so see what they could find. He, Lt. Cook, and Lt. Anderson ended up looking over the buildings of the inner compound.   The northernmost building appeared to be quarters. The solidly built building had high windows, the glass long broken. The interior consisted of a cross-shaped hallway with numerous doors, most of them open or broken off their hinges. Each room once held a pair of beds, dressers, chairs, and other furnishings. Each of the rooms was also connected to a small bathroom.   In the center of the building was a small communal area and kitchen.   The place had been ransacked and wrecked. Tables, chairs, and other furnishings had been thrown about and there was little there of use or interest. They did find some paperwork that survived, which mentioned something called Unit 731, which seemed to be some kind of organization for medical experimentation. They also found a calendar for 1940 marked until September.   The next building appeared to be a surgery. The building had a T-intersection hallway that ran from front to back. Eight laboratories were set towards the front while the same number of cells were built towards the back, their doors open. The laboratories were mostly set up like surgeries. The place was a mess with labs and surgeries thrown into ruin and equipment damaged or destroyed beyond repair. The bars on the fronts of cells were bent outwards, cell doors ripped from their hinges, or strange slime crusted to the bars of certain cells that were undamaged.   The third building was similar to the second. The notes they found seemed to indicate the prisoners were injected with various diseases.   The fourth building was similar to the others. Liao Lin refused to enter the building, claiming it was haunted. Lt. Anderson had Lt. Locklear stay with Liao Lin while he and Lt. Cook entered. They found the man was not lying. The place had a strange feel about it and sometimes they saw rooms that were suddenly completely intact with scientists doing terrible things to the prisoners, cutting them open when they were conscious. In one case, the vision showed them cut open an woman to pull out and examine her fetus. In each case, a woman with long hair covering face seemed to watch each terrible vivisection from a shadowy corner.   It was disturbing and they quickly left.   The fifth building had high, barred windows and seemed to be a holding building for prisoners. There were 16 large cells in the building was a mess of broken and bent bars, smashed and broken doors, and debris.     * * *       Lt. Duff and Sgt. Shivo found the boats were blasted and broken. They didn't think there would be any useable fuel remaining within them.   Lt. Duff suggested burning down the island but Sgt. Shivo noted the smoke, if the fire spread to the entire island, might be enough to kill them all.     * * *       They finally got back together that afternoon to discuss what they had found. They had searched the entire compound.   "The first thing I think we need to do is clear the well,"Lt. Duff said.   Liao Lin said there was a demon there.   "Some of us are injured,"Lt. Duff said. "We need to recover before we make any kind of expedition to the forest. So, what we need to do is clear cut and reinforce."   They had no saw to cut trees.   Sgt. Shivo had an idea for cutting down trees. He suggested making a hole in the tree with a knife and then filling it with the shell of the .50-caliber ammunition he'd kept from the aircraft. All they needed was a way to trigger it to blast trees so they could use them.   Lt. Locklear asked when the last time Liao Lin had gone into the jungle but he wasn't sure. He also suggested making a raft to escape the island. Sgt. Shivo mentioned aircraft had various gear boxes in the engine that they could possibly use to make a hand-cranked propeller to propel the raft.   They got to work on their plans, using the ammunition to fell trees and gathering vines in the jungle. They found some flint and cut it into crude axes to shape the logs somewhat once they were down. At night, they barricaded themselves in the generator room with Liao Lin. They soon ran out of water and so used the spring Liao Lin told them about.   After the first night, they noticed the bones of the living skeleton they had fought had disappeared. Around that same time, Lt. Duff realized his holster was empty. He didn't know where his pistol was.     * * *       On April 21, Lt. Locklear noticed Lt. Duff's features seemed to be changing slightly. They were more severe and he looked angry all the time.   "Captain, I want you to look at Duff,"he told the other men. "What is he changing into? Remember what Liao Lin was talking about? I don't know what we're gonna do with you but we're going to have to tie you up. I am afraid that you're going to go bonkers like these other creatures we've fought off."   Sgt. Shivo noticed he looked a little different.   "What do we do?"Lt. Locklear said. "Captain, what do we do?"   "What are you talking about?"Lt. Cook said, not noticing a difference.   "Look, we've all been under a lot of stress lately,"Lt. Duff said. "We've been having to deal with this horrible island and these creatures and these monsters. The last thing we need to do is turn against each other. We need to turn against the Jap."   Lt. Cook had been on board with what the man said until that last sentence. Sgt. Shivo decided he would give Lt. Duff the benefit of the doubt for the time but would be ready in case the man turned into some kind of demon.   Lt. Duff found a puddle and looked at himself in it. He realized he was looking a little different. Were his eyebrows coming down more sharply? Were his ears looking pointed? He was certain he looked different than he did when he had arrived at the island. Lt. Locklear was right. He also remembered Liao Lin said something on the island caused people to turn into demons.   "You're right,"he said. "I have changed physically "¦ but I haven't changed on the inside. Can anyone help me to try to figure out what's going with this."   "As I told you earlier, the Japanese thought there might be something in the water,"Liao Lin said.   Lt. Duff had not trusted Liao Lin to fetch the spring water they had been drinking since their second day on the island, so he had fetched his own. But they had all been drinking it.   "So, it's the water on the island,"Sgt. Shivo said. "We may not be able to drink it or continue drinking it."   "How come you haven't changed?"Lt. Anderson said to Liao Lin.   "Good question,"Lt. Locklear said. "Good question."   Liao Lin didn't answer and Lt. Anderson stared at the man intently.   "What I was going to suggest was that we have wood, we have all sorts of containers and stuff,"Sgt. Shivo said. "We have wood. We have all this stuff we have around that we can use. Can we boil seawater and distill it?"   They discussed it somewhat and Sgt. Shivo said he wanted to have water to go with them on the raft. Then Locklear remembered there were tanks on the top of two of the remaining intact barracks used for collecting rainwater. It had rained several times since they crashed. They could use the water from the tanks for fresh water.   Lt. Duff talked about clearing the well again, as he had every day. No one else wanted to deal with it. Then Lt. Locklear brought up the question of why Liao Lin hadn't changed again.   They talked to Liao Lin.   "You're not changing,"Lt. Locklear said. "After all this time. I assume it's been months or I assume it's been since 1939."   "1940,"Lt. Anderson said.   "I've got a question,"Sgt. Shivo said. "He's the same mentally and everything but changing on the outside."   He pointed at Lt. Duff.   "What if "¦ what if Liao Lin is the same on the outside but not on the inside?"Sgt. Shivo said.   "Let's find out!"Lt. Duff said.   "No no no no no,"Lt. Anderson said.   "No!"Sgt. Shivo said.   Liao Lin's eyes opened wide and he looked terrified.   "I don't know,"Liao Lin said. "Not everyone changed."   Lt. Duff moved closer to Liao Lin and stared at him but was unsure if he was telling him the truth. It made Liao Lin nervous and he backed away from the Americans. They were scaring him.   "Liao Lin, let me check your pulse,"Lt. Locklear said.   He gestured for Lt. Cook to examine the man. Lt. Cook did so and didn't find anything out of the ordinary with the man, just has he hadn't when he had examined in a few days before.   "Didn't you say something about how, if you were a bad person, it changed you?"Lt. Anderson said.   "That's what I thought,"Liao Lin said.   He wouldn't look at Lt. Duff.   "I never claimed to be good,"Lt. Duff said. "I'm just funny."   "Maybe you're changing because you're a racist! Sgt. Shivo said. "Or what if he's changing because he kept a piece of one of those creatures."   Lt. Duff still had the femur from the skeleton tucked in his belt.   "Yeah, you should get rid of that,"Lt. Anderson said.   "It's a trophy,"Lt. Duff said.   "No, I─"Lt. Anderson said.   "Your trophy's making you sick,"Sgt. Shivo said.   "I mean, I feel fine,"Lt. Duff said. "I just look different."   "Look, we don't want anything to happen to you,"Lt. Anderson said.   "Well, my cousin felt fine and then he caught the pox and "¦ he didn't look so fine and then he died,"Sgt. Shivo said.   "Would it make you feel better if I wrapped it up in something and stopped touching it with my bare hands?"Lt. Duff said.   "It would make me feel better if you threw it away,"Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook thought it a good idea to at least wrap it up. Lt. Duff did so.   "Did anyone see where my gun went, by the way?"Lt. Duff said. "My pistol?"   "No,"Lt. Anderson said.   Lt. Cook shook his head. But he knew. He'd been the one that took it from him.     * * *       After their meager lunch of raw fish and c-rations, as they headed back to the docks to finish up work on the raft, Lt. Duff diverted to the well. Lt. Duff pumped the pump next to the well and clear water came out. It didn't seem to be off or strange in any way.   "Hey!"he yelled. "This!"   He pulled the lid off and tossed it aside. He leveled his shotgun straight down into the well and fired both barrels at the water about eight feet down. Sgt. Shivo ran to the man. Lt. Locklear sprinted over as well.   A tentacle came out of the well and lashed at Lt. Duff. Lt. Duff tried to beat the thing off. He switched his shotgun to his off hand and then drew his hunting knife to stab at the tentacle, which wrapped around him.   "No!"Liao Lin screamed. "No!"   Lt. Cook and Lt. Anderson suddenly looked at each other suspiciously. Both of them were filled with terrible paranoia.   Sgt. Shivo ran to the tentacle and stabbed it with his syringe of morphine. He shoved the needle in and pushed the plunger home.   "No!"Lt. Duff cried out. "My drugs!"   Lt. Locklear had stopped, put his Winchester carbine to his shoulder, and fired at the tentacle, hitting it and blasting a huge hole in it. The blood struck Lt. Duff in the face and he licked his lips. He didn't think it tasted that bad. Then the tentacle went limp. He grabbed it.   "Give me back my drugs!"he yelled. "Give me back my drugs! Help!"   Whatever was on the other side of the tentacle was very heavy and sinking into the well. It was slowly pulling Lt. Duff with it.   "Try letting go!"Lt. Locklear yelled.   "Can anyone else help?"Lt. Duff said.   Sgt. Shivo grabbed the tentacle as well and, between the two of them, stopped it from sliding into the well.   "Everyone help!"Lt. Duff yelled. "Help us yank it out of the well!"   "What the hell do you want to yank that damned thing out for!?!"Lt. Locklear yelled.   "Out of the water!"Lt. Duff said.   "I know but what are you going to do with it!?!"Lt. Locklear yelled.   "You don't have an option!"Lt. Duff said. "Do it! Now!"   Nearby, Lt. Anderson and Lt. Cook looked at each other suspiciously until Lt. Anderson drew his sidearm. Lt. Cook was ready though, and drew his own sidearm. Lt. Anderson hesitated and Lt. Cook shot the other man in the left arm. Lt. Anderson fell to the ground, the vein struck, gushing blood.   The others heard the shot behind them and looked back. Liao Lin turned and ran away. Lt. Cook looked around with wide eyes. Then he turned towards Liao Lin.   "Stop where you are!"he screamed. "Or I'll shoot you!"   "It's okay, man,"Sgt. Shivo called to the man. "Put the gun down and help us grab the tentacle. We want to help each other, not hurt each other."   Lt. Cook ignored him.   Locklear ran back towards Lt. Anderson and Lt. Cook. Lt. Cook still had his back to them and was pointing his pistol at Liao Lin.   "Do you realize what you've just done!?!"Lt. Duff called. "You shot your commanding officer. If you were to stop right now, we might have a chance of forgetting this."   Lt. Cook turned back their way, pointing the gun at Lt. Locklear, who was rushing towards him. But then he hesitated, as if something Lt. Duff had said had gotten through to him.   Sgt. Shivo used his hunting knife to stab the tentacle into one of the posts holding up the enclosure over the well. Then he eased his grip off the tentacle. It got very taut.   Lt. Locklear dropped to his knees by Lt. Anderson and tried to staunch the terrible bleeding, ignoring Lt. Cook. He was unable to stop it.   "Liao! If you don't come and help us yank this out of the well right now, I'm going to hunt you down and skin you alive!"Lt. Duff screamed.   Liao Lin stopped running away. Then Lt. Duff tried to stab his own knife into the tentacle to hold it in place. It was close to the edge though and he figured it would just tear away from the knife once the weight of the thing was placed upon it.   "You're a doctor, God damn it!"Sgt. Shivo said. "Do something!"   Lt. Cook blinked and looked down at Lt. Anderson.   "Duffy, can you try to take care of the captain?"Lt. Locklear called.   Lt. Duff continued to tell Lt. Cook to help Lt. Anderson. It finally seemed to get through.   "Get off him!"Lt. Cook yelled, shoving Lt. Locklear aside and attempting to staunch the terrible bleeding of their commanding officer.   Unfortunately, he couldn't stop it either.   "This is bad!"he cried out. "This is bad!"   Liao Lin was moving towards Lt. Duff but was not very quickly, obviously very much afraid of the man.   "Move faster!"Lt. Duff yelled.   Sgt. Shivo ran for Lt. Anderson and tried his best to patch up Lt. Anderson. He stopped the bleeding but the man had lost a lot of blood.   The other men managed to pull the horrible thing out of the well. It was humanoid, for the most part, but had tentacles coming off its chin and an elongated skull. There were several tentacles coming off the thing's body as well, distorted and distended as it was. It was horrible to behold. When Liao Lin saw the horrible thing, he beat on it with his fists for about 20 seconds.   "I like you more,"Lt. Duff said to him after that.     * * *       On April 22, 1942, they felt ready to leave the island. They had a raft they thought could get them to shore. Sgt. Shivo had devised and built a propeller with a hand crank using the modified gearbox to allow them to propel the raft and they also had a few boards from the tables in the mess hall to row with if need be.   They carried Lt. Anderson and the raft down to the boat docks and, there, found several of the horrible demons coming out of the brush. The largest among them seemed to be a great snake made of bile. Liao Lin let out a cry when he saw it.   "I am Dùjì, the demon that came out of Liao Lin,"the horrible thing intoned in a voice like thick phlegm. "I helped all of the demons escape. We will come with you. Liao Lin vomited me up. I know what he thinks."   Lt. Duff blew Liao Lin's head off with his sawed-off shotgun.   "I don't need him anymore,"Dùjì said. "I've got all of you."   The demons advanced and the soldiers opened fire. Sgt. Shivo blasted away with the .30-caliber machinegun, cutting down two of the terrible things. The others shot at Dùjì or the other demon there, a horrible thing that looked like a woman who had been cut apart and put back together. All of the soldiers were injured in the terrible fight but the gunfire drove back the last two demons and the soldiers pushed the raft off, Sgt. Shivo leaping aboard and operating his hand-cranked engine while the others rowed with boards.   They escaped from the island and rowed some 10 miles to the shore of China. There, they managed to connect with the free Chinese Army after some confusion and distress. They managed to get the Americans across Japanese-held China and to freedom.   Lt. Anderson got gangrene in his injured arm and it had to be removed at the elbow during the trip.     * * *       Lt. Brad Anderson made it home alive but did not return to the service due to his missing arm. He eventually married. He was never the same, however. He had constant nightmares of the horrors he had seen.     * * *       Lt. Harold Duff also made it home alive. Since he had to work closely with the Chinese in their escape, he learned to be more tolerant of other races. The fractured back took him out of the rest of the war but, years later, when he was in a nursing home, he constantly talked about what he had seen off the coast of China.     * * *       After the war, Lt. Thomas Cook returned to Alaska and was soon ordained as a minister, preaching to the Inuit in Alaska for the rest of his life.     * * *       Lt. Orrin Cook went to medical school after the war and eventually became an M.D.     * * *       Sgt. Aaron Shivo actually took strength from what had happened to them on the terrible island. Considering all of the improvising he did there, he began to write survival manuals for the military after he served out his term in the War.

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The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 1 - Arrival in Devil's Gulch

Monday, April 23, 2018   (After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario "The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch" Sunday, April 22, 2018, from 1:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. with Ambralyn Tucker, Yorie Latimer, Ashton LeBlanc, Ben Abbott, John Leppard, and Austin Davie.)   Gemma Jones awoke with a start as the train braked at Devil's Gulch, Colorado. She had dozed off in the passenger coach and had a dream about her father, a terrible man who had abused her mother, herself, and her younger sister Lily. She had been only 13 when the man had finally left them to fend for themselves in San Francisco, but it had been a blessing for all three of them. Charles Allen had been physically and verbally abusive to all three of them and seemed to relish hurting them.   Gemma had been called Jennie then. Her mother had taken the name Jones after he had left, anxious to be rid of anything that would remind her of him. They must have been happy once, Gemma always thought, but something soured her father and turned him to the path of crime, corruption, and evil by the time she had reached the delicate age of 13. She had learned, some years later, that "Charming" Charles Allen had been connected to the John Valentine gang and was wanted for numerous counts of forgery, fraud, theft, assault, and rape. So many counts of rape.   She couldn't remember the dream exactly and was glad of that. Anything connected with her father was awful.   She disembarked from the train, finally at her destination after what felt like so long.   She had left her friends on July 20, 1875, in Santaquin, Utah, taking the train north to Salt Lake City and east through Utah and Wyoming, though there were numerous delays, before heading into Colorado through Denver and finally arriving at Devil's Gulch, Colorado, on Saturday, August 7, 1875, on the 3:00 train. Steam flowed around the locomotive as the trainmen refilled the steam engine with water from the tower. A few other passengers got off when she did, including four Chinese dressed in suits. Others boarded the train.   The station stood on a rise above the town and she looked down to see the quaint buildings of Devil's Gulch. A clock struck three from a tall tower atop a building in the center of town and she saw a church on the near side of the village on a rise near a graveyard. A larger graveyard stood on a high place further back on the opposite side of town.   People in town seemed to be very busy and excited.   She walked down Main Street and soon found her sister's business, the Gilded Lily. It was a two-story saloon and hotel with a covered balcony on the top floor and a porch on the bottom in the front. The large building had a great sign with a golden lily painted on it and the words "Gilded Lily" advertising it.   Gemma found her sister and learned there were three other dance hall girls working there along with a bartender by the name of Frank Simms. Lily was happy and surprised to see her sister and hugged her and showed her all around the saloon and hotel. The main saloon was large with numerous tables and a large stage directly beside the bar. A balcony ran around the top where the rooms were and looked down over the bar and the stage. Lily had a large room in the back that she used as quarters and an office. There was also a good-sized storage room. She even had two rooms upstairs with pumps running right into bath rooms, one of them connected to the grand suite. Her own room below likewise had a room with a bath. The saloon didn't have food yet as there was no kitchen in the building, but she was saving her money to have a separate kitchen house built behind the saloon so they could serve food.   She told Gemma the building had been a general store but was abandoned when she had arrived in Devil's Gulch earlier in the year. It had cost a bit of money to refurbish it and she was in some debt but business was booming. The Gilded Lily was on Main Street and the first hotel and saloon travelers disembarking from the train saw. The stage often stopped on Main Street as well. The other two saloons in town were further down and she was certain it was helping her business.   She also told Gemma there was a man named La Forge in town representing the R.H. Macy and Co. store. Apparently, the company was talking about bringing a store in the town as well as a distribution center for mail order. They were buying land in the town and Lily was thinking of buying up a little land and then selling it later when the town boomed. There was also talk of building the county courthouse in Devil's Gulch. The Elbert County seat was presently in Middle Kiowa, which didn't even have a train station.   She told Gemma she had met a beau, a cowboy who was staying in town after a big cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. He was talking about settling down there and had been courting her for more than a week. Gemma met the handsome cowboy, Dallas Avery, and was charmed by him if a little nervous about her dating a cowboy. He seemed really nice and was quite charming, noting he was hoping to settle down so Lily could make an honest man of him. Gemma learned he was staying in one of the boarding houses in town as he didn't think it would be appropriate to stay at the saloon Lily owned. He was about 20 years old and very nice, friendly, and very supportive of Lily owning her own establishment, which was a little unusual. He seemed perfect.   Gemma settled into the Gilded Lily, her sister sharing her room with her. Gemma not only sang on certain nights of the week, always drawing a good crowd, but also helped the dance hall girls, Lily, and Simms keep the saloon up while she was there. She also had time to have long conversations with Lily and catch up for the months they had been apart. She told her of some of the strange things that had happened to her and Lily seemed to mostly believe her.   While she was in town, she heard a rumor that some people said they had heard the morning train whistle blowing in the middle of the night down at the depot. Nobody was sure what it meant. It was just strange.   She also heard about a place called the Whiskey Mine, abandoned back in '64 after the digging turned up nothing. The men who were cutting it didn't like it at all. They said they sometimes heard strange noises unlike anything they'd ever heard underground before. They said they had to take at least one drink of whiskey before entering the mine because it was so strange. Then, one day, they came to town with what little gold dust they'd dug up, cashed it in, and left without another word. It was a few miles south of town.   On Saturday, August 14, 1875, the first shipment of supplies to build the new county courthouse arrived. It consisted of lumber, bricks, and concrete powder. Construction hadn't yet begun upon the building.     * * *       Jerimiah Bowen arrived in Devil's Gulch on Monday, August 16, 1875. He was a crusty old prospector of 61 years who was very friendly. He was also squat and boney with wild white hair and a grin on his face most of the time. He carried a large pack with a pick and a Spencer rifle. From Texas, he had most recently lived in Nevada before striking east in the hopes of finding gold or silver in Colorado.   He immediately went to the general store in town and purchased a tent to live in, pitching it on the east side of town. As he pitched his tent, he saw a gypsy vardo driven by a woman who looked half-Indian arrive. She had two horses, one pulling the wagon and one pulled behind it. She set up camp a hundred yards or so from town.   Then he went to look for silver.     * * *       In the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 17, there was the tinkling of glass from the Gilded Lily Saloon. When Lily and Gemma investigated, they found several rocks in the saloon itself and three of the window panes had been broken.   "Damn it," Lily said the next morning as they cleaned up. "Not again."   She went to see a man about replacing the panes.     * * *       On Tuesday, August 17, 1875, Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, Lambert Otto, Robert Dunspar, and Ophelia Ethess arrived in Devil's Gulch on the 3:00 train.   Brandon Stalloid had left their company in Denver, wanting to take the dinosaur skull back to San Francisco to present it to scientists as the find of the century. He had taken Night Horse with him, telling them he was going to arrange for his transport back to the Uintah Reservation in Salt Lake City before he went on to San Francisco himself. Jack West and Clayton Pierce had gotten separated from them in Denver as well and they were unsure of their whereabouts.   Before he had left, Night Horse had asked Jacali to look for him if she was ever on the reservation. She was unsure if he was sweet on her or not but they had hit it off and were friends.   On the train, Otto had talked to Jacali.   "Do-do your people know anything about curses?" he asked.   She frowned.   "Well, I mean, I'd say about as much as you know about how much we know about curses," she said. "I mean, there are stories "¦ um "¦ they are tales."   "Any of them have to do with scars?" Otto said.   "Probably not," she said. "Well, I mean, you know the whole Hansel and Gretel story? It's like that. The kind of curses that I know about. "˜Oh kids, don't go to the candy house or the old witch will eat you.' It's not like adults talking to each other about curses."   Otto looked embarrassed and thanked her.   "If you want to know more about that, I am not the person to ask," she said. "In case that wasn't clear."   Devil's Gulch was a bustling little town and they watched several men unloading lumber, bricks, and bags marked "concrete" from the baggage car. A few people boarded the train and others disembarked and headed into town. They saw a man with a mustache coordinating the unloading and aiding people. An old man with thick glasses manned the ticket booth and a red-headed man wearing a green eyeshade was at the telegraph.   They headed down to the town and saw the Gilded Lily Saloon and Hotel on Main Street. A man was replacing window panes in the front of the building. There was a livery and blacksmith across from it and they had brought their horses in the cattle car so Jacali took them there. The building was wide and tall with great open doors in the front and back. There was a corral behind the place and several stalls, a few of them with horses already within. Above the stalls was a hay loft with large bales of hay. She could hear the bang of the blacksmith's hammer in the nearby smithy. She had seen another large negro man working in the smithy when she passed.   She met Jeremiah Kerns, the negro livery owner with graying hair, who cooed and talked quietly to the horses as he put them into the stalls and started to rub them down. He was very friendly and helpful. She asked if he sold horses but he said he only boarded them. She also asked if he had heard any rumors about new things in town.   "Well, I've heard lots of rumors," he said. "Some people have heard the train whistle in the middle of the night but it's the morning whistle. People have heard it twice so far. Nobody knows what it means."   She asked about any weird silver things in the area and Jeremiah had not heard about anything like that. He did know there were some silver mines in the hills that were played out.   "Bill Graves and Matt Brady have a mine to the "¦ it's southeast of here," he said. "There's all kinds of old mines scattered around. Back in the "˜60s there was a lot of mining in this area but nobody really turned up much."'   "All right," she said. "Thank you."     * * *       Otto had stopped off at the marshal's office, a small two-story wooden and brick building with a tin roof and a covered boardwalk out front. The door and windows were all barred. A couple of wooden chairs were on the boardwalk and a few wanted posters and proclamations were nailed haphazardly next to the door.   When he walked in, he saw the ground floor was mostly one large room with a small table and chairs next to a pot bellied stove in the center. A coffee pot bubbled on top of the stove. A roll-top desk was set in the back of the room as well as a cot and a filing cabinet. Another board filled with wanted posters and proclamations was on the wall to the right. To the left were three jail sets set in a brick addition to the building. The cells were mostly simple bars running from floor to ceiling and each held a simple rope cot with straw-stuffed mattress. There was a small, barred window at the back of each cell, looking out into the alley.   The man behind the table had a thick mustache and a stern face. He was writing something on a piece of paper as Otto approached.   "Hello, marshal," he said.   "Howdy," the man said, looking up.   "Do you have any bounties for the town?"   "Well, there's a wanted board out front and there's a wanted board right here on the wall."   Otto went over to the board and looked over the posters. The one that seemed fresh and local was for "Black" Jack McKinney who was wanted for murder, arson, theft, banditry, and the like. The rough drawing on the poster showed a man with a thin beard and mustache holding two pistols and wearing a black hat with a feather sticking out of it.   Otto nodded at the posters.   "Have you heard anything about McKinney in the area lately?" He asked.   "He's around here somewhere," Marshal Bishop said. "Him and his coyotes."   "So he has a gang?"   "Yep, he has a gang all right."   "He been attacking the town lately?"   "Attacking the town?"   "I don't know. Some bandits attacked a town a few weeks ago."   "What? Where is this?"   "Hilton Springs, Nevada."   "That's terrible. Well, nope, he ain't that dumb but they've been robbing people and such. We're keeping any eye out for "˜em. They haven't hit anything really heavy yet, which is good."   "Well, I think I might go look for him, then."   "You do as you please. You're a bounty hunter, then, huh?"   "Yeah."   "All right. I don't want you to cause any trouble."   "I won't."   "You bring anybody in here that's not supposed to be arrested and you'll be causing trouble."   As Otto headed for the front door, the back door open and a chubby man who laughed nervously came in. He wore a deputy's badge and carried a sawed-off double barrel shotgun as well as the revolver on his hip.   "I didn't find those kids, Marshal," he said.   "Yeah yeah yeah," Marshal Bishop said. "All right, Chubby."   "Marshal, have you heard anything some mystical folks in town or something?" Otto stopped and asked.   "Some what?"   "Gypsies and those sort of people."   "I don't know. I haven't. There's some lady who just came in a wagon on the east side of town, camping, the other day."   "Really?"   "No, I'm lying. Yes, really!"   "Well, thank you."   "You're welcome."   He heard Chubby laughing nervously as he left.     * * *       Dunspar, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia walked down main street to get a feel for the town. They spotted the jail, a town hall with a clock atop it, and noted a library tucked behind that building. They headed that direction.   The library was a small building attached to the back of the town hall. Though there were plenty of shelves, there were not a lot of books. A pretty blonde woman wearing glasses and with her hair pulled up in a severe bun on top of her head sat at a table nearby and coached a boy with his reading. When she saw them enter, she told him to continue to the next page and then stood up, straightened her dress, and approached them.   "Hello," she said.   "Uh, hello madam," Dunspar said. "Would you happen to have any - uh - books on mystical things?"   She gave him a look.   "We have Treasure Island," she said.   "Could you point me in the direction of it?" he said.   "Mystical things?" she said.   She showed him the small fiction section. It was composed mainly of dime novels and a few classics as well as some Shakespeare.   Dr. Weisswald turned to Ophelia and asked if she was interested in anything. The serpent person said "Technology. Your weapons." They went in search of books on weaponry and found some history books with information on cannons and the like. Ophelia looked over the book while Dr. Weisswald looked for medical books. Dunspar sat down with Mysteries of the Worm and continued his painstaking reading of the obscure tome.   Dr. Weisswald found a few school primers and learners as well. The librarian allowed them each to get a library card with a one dollar deposit.     * * *       Jacali had wandered further into town, finding the Bull's Head Saloon further down the street. Though the building it sat within was three stories tall, the saloon itself, with its front door off to the side, was simply a darkened box. Batwing doors led into a dim room with only two windows to the front, leaving it dark and shadowed. It smelled of smoke and sweat, beer and whiskey. A rough-cut pine bar sat on one side and tables filled the room. An older gentleman with a gray beard and mustache and wearing a fine suit sat in the corner. A Colt army pistol was in the holster at his side. A blonde man sat in another corner playing cards with several other gentlemen.   She recognized somebody. Sitting in the back corner was Pete Sutter, apparently playing poker with himself. He kept checking the other hand before declaring "Beat ya' again!" A bottle of whiskey was on the table next to an empty glass.   Jacali walked up to him.   "Pete God-damned Sutter," she said. "I thought you were dead twice now and yet here you are again."   "Well, if it ain't injun girl," Pete said. "What're you doing here?"   "You know what, Pete, that's good enough from you. I won't harsh you on that one."   "What're you doing here? Did they send you? They sent ya, didn't they? I knew that they knew that I would come if they didn't want me to know that they was knowin' I was comin'!"   Jacali looked at him for a moment.   "I'm still looking at stuff that fell off that train we were both on," she said. "Heard it would end up here."   "What?" Pete said. "Train? Oh, I get ya. I know what yer talkin' about. It "˜fell off the train.' I getcha."   "You were on that train! You got shot on that train!"   "Is Jack West here!?!"   "Uh "¦ no "¦"   "Good! I hate him! I hate him so much!"   "I didn't think to see him either, but all right."   "Why don't you sit down and have a drink with me?"   "Uh, sure, I can play a hand."   She played a hand of poker with Pete Sutter. They both had terrible hands and Jacali didn't know how to play poker, never having learned. She had the worse hand, which seemed to put him in a good mood. Then a crusty old man with gray hair carrying a backpack with camping supplies and a Sharp's rifle walked up to the table.   "What're we playing?" the old man said.   "This a friend o' yours?" Pete asked Jacali.   "No one I've ever seen."   "Is it your dad?"   "I thought he was yours."   "My dad's dead."   "Oh. My dad is too."   "We do have something in common then."   "My dad's dead too!" Bowen, the prospector, said.   "Of course he is!" Pete said. "You're old as the hills! Why aren't you dead yet, too?"   "I'm lucky I guess."   "That's a shame."   "What brings you to our card table, sir?" Jacali said.   "I saw you were playing some poker," Bowen said. "Thought I'd come over. Try my luck."   "You're a card shark, ain't ya?" Pete said. "I know it when I seen ya! You're a card shark! I know a card shark when I see one."   Bowen wailed.   "C'mon!" he said.   "Deny it!" Pete said. "He's not even denying it!"   Though they played penny ante, Pete kept flashing money as if showing off. Jacali asked him vaguely about any silver artifacts but Pete hadn't heard of any. Pete also told her why he was there.   "Them Secret Service agents are the ones that sent me here," he said. "But they didn't send me here. If you get my drift."   Pete smiled.   "I don't get his drift," Bowen said. "I thought we were playing poker."   "I was hired to go up to Oregon, wasn't I?" Pete said. "Paid me $500. Didn't give me a pardon last time so I didn't trust "˜em!"   "They paid you to go to Oregon?" Jacali said.   "They paid me to go to Oregon," Pete said. "This ain't Oregon, is it? See how clever I am?"   He smiled.   "They told me "˜Go to Oregon,'" he said. "Some town, I don't even remember the name. But then I heard "˜em whispering to each other: "˜We don't want him going to Devil's Gulch, Colorado.' Overheard it. So I said "˜I'm going to Devil's Gulch, Colorado!' That's right! Here I am.   "I like your thinking, Pete Sutter," Jacali said. "You truly are a man among men."   "I hate "˜em!" Pete said. "I'll go wherever they tell me not to! I got $500 spending money. I'm gonna enjoy myself in this pissant little town."   Jacali looked around and saw that the other poker players were looking in his direction.   "And I saw somebody else I knew too," Pete went on.   He laughed.   "I saw somebody else first day I was here," he said.   "Oh, who was it?" Jacali said.   "Oh, that's gonna cost you some money."   "Hmm."   "It's somebody important. Ha! You double my money and I'll say."   "Double your money? You want $500?"   "Yes. Yes, that would be double my money. I didn't know injuns could do math."   "You think I own five hundred whole dollars?"   "Well, you got rich friends, aincha?"   "Well "¦ not around here."   "Oh well, that's a shame!"   Jacali took out the dinosaur tooth.   "This is one genuine tooth of a giant lizard," she said. "I can offer you that. There's not another one like it in the whole world."   "Why the hell would I want that?" Pete said. "I can't do nothing with that."   "I'll take that," Bowen said.   "Yeah, give it to him," Pete said.   Jacali tucked it back away.   "What are you doing here in town," she asked Bowen.   "I'm drinking whiskey right now," he said.   "No, but what brings you here?"   "I came for the silver!"   "The silver?"   "Yeah, I was told there was silver something. I just heard the word silver and I got going."   He cackled.   "You didn't hear the words "˜silver horn' did you?" Jacali asked.   "No," Bowen said. "I just heard silver."   "Where are the best spots to find silver in this town?"   "Usually in caves."   "Well "¦"   "Mines. Other people's mines usually. I like them. They're already dug up."   "I was wondering if you had in more specific mines in mind."   "I haven't explored yet."   "All right. Well, if you're going out─"   "Probably tonight. You don't want to go during the day. That's when they spot you."   "Who is "˜they?'" Pete said. "Is that Secret Service? Is that who you're talking about? God damned Secret Service?"   "I think he was talking about the owner of the mine, Pete Sutter," Jacali said.   "Oh, you're a mine poacher, huh?" Pete said. "Maybe you and I can do some business."   "I was about to ask if you need a partner for these mines. I do have─"   "Oh! She wants to get into the crime gang too!"   "Well, I do have knowledge of some weaponry."   She gestured towards the quiver on her belt.   "Yeah," Bowen said. "You can come with me."     * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia walked the streets of town, getting the lay of the land. They saw Devil's Gulch had a bank, a doctor's office and home, an undertaker, a Chinese laundry, restaurants, a drugstore and barber, and even a photographer right next to the Gilded Lily. It noted he was also a chemist. When they peeked in through the big front window, they saw he had a camera set up to show off.   Dr. Weisswald went looking for Jacali and found her almost immediately coming up Main Street. A crusty old prospector with a rattling pack was walking with her.   "So, Weisswald, here's an update," Jacali told her. "I found this old man─"   "Hi!" Bowen said.   "─who's going to explore old caves and silver mines with me and see if the "¦ Crescent "¦ is anywhere nearby in any of those."   "Did you say croissant?"   "Yes, we're looking for breakfast in the mines."   "Nice."   They all looked at him.   "Also, you'll never guess who I found at the bar," Jacali said. "Pete God-damned Sutter."   "Why am I not surprised," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Well, I mean, I knew you were good but I didn't think you were that good," Jacali said.   They noticed a poster for Gemma Jones in front of the Gilded Lily.   "Looks like fate has brought us all together," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Looks like it has a tendency to do that," Jacali said.   They went into the photographer with Bowen following. They arranged for a photo of Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia, Jacali sitting in front of the other two, who stood behind her. The photographer took them outside to take the photo. He had a backdrop painted on the back of the building and the sun was in a good position. He removed the lens cover and watched his pocket watch for a minute before covering it again. Then they all went inside again. Dr. Weisswald ordered four copies of the photograph and would have it by the next day for $1 each.   Ophelia didn't see the point of the entire exercise. Dr. Weisswald pointed out it was technology.   They went to the Gilded Lily where they found Gemma Jones.   "Oh hello there!" Gemma said when she saw them. "Oh, it's so good to see you made it in one piece."   "Yes, good to see you as well, Miss Jones," Jacali said. "This is our friend Ophelia we have met along the way."   "Oh, hello," Gemma said.   Ophelia stared at her oddly.   "This is Ophelia," Dr. Weisswald also said.   "She doesn't talk much," Jacali said.   Ophelia rolled her eyes.   "Hello," Gemma said. "I'm Gemma. It's nice to meet you."   "What brings you to Devil's Gulch?" Jacali said.   "Oh, my sister lives here. This is her saloon actually."   "Oh!"   "I'm here to help her out and perform for her in the evenings so "¦ plus we just wanted to make sure. I've heard about Devil's Gulch and I wanted to make sure she's "¦ she's doing all right."   Lily came out of the back where she had been doing some bookwork. Gemma introduced her.   "This is my sister, Lily," she said.   "Oh, hello!" Lily said.   She shook each of their hands and got their names. She was pretty and little younger and slimmer than Gemma though Gemma was prettier. She seemed very glad to meet them and Gemma told her they had shared some of her strange adventures.   "Oh my goodness!" Lily said. "Oh! Oh."   She was very pleased to meet Dr. Weisswald and pleasantly surprised to see a woman doctor. She was impressed with Jacali as well, noting Gemma had told her she had shot a dragon in the eye and killed it.   "And you're both women!" she said. "I am so proud."   She shook their hands once again.   "And who's this?" she asked.   Ophelia just stared at the girl.   "Oh, I just met her as well," Gemma said. "This is a friend of my friends."   "Yes," Jacali said.   "Ophelia," Gemma said.   "Who we met along the way," Jacali said. "She is "¦ uh "¦"   "I haven't heard anything about her," Lily said.   "She is wise beyond her years but "¦ not a conversationalist," Jacali said.   Ophelia looked at Jacali and then walked away from them, looking around the room at different things by the bar.   "So, Miss Jones, have you heard anything "¦ different "¦ showing up in town recently," Jacali said. "We have still been looking for the thing on the train. It escaped us and "¦ we're still looking for it."   "Yes," Gemma said.   She noticed Bowen. She had thought the crusty old prospector had just come in at the same time as her friends. But he stood near them like he knew them.   "Hello sir," she said to him.   "Hi!" Bowen said.   "Oh, I've seen him," Lily said. "He's been in here."   "Oh, you have?" Gemma said.   "He was in here the other night," Lily said. "He was drinking whiskey."   "Yeah!" Bowen said.   "Last night he was in here," Lily said. "He was just drinking in the corner. It was so full, I'm not surprised you missed him."   "Oh yes, I do remember your attire," Gemma said. "That hat."   "He was carrying everything he's carrying right now," Lily said.   "Yeah!" Bowen said. "This is my everything."   "Do you need a room?" Lily asked.   "I got a tent."   "All right. All right. That's fine."   "Okay," Gemma said.   "I can't afford your rooms," Bowen said.   "But as far as any mysterious "¦" Gemma said.   "The spooky stuff," Jacali said.   ""¦ I have not," Gemma said. "Praise be. I've not, thankfully, seen anything of that sort. Why "¦ why do you mention?"   "Well, I had a dream one night and "¦ uh "¦ some slug "¦ insects "¦ that I saw there told me to go to Devil's Gulch and that everyone was in trouble," Jacali said. "So, I'm here."   "Peyote, right?" Lily said.   "Sure."   "I've heard of that."   "Sure."   "Oh, goodness," Gemma said. "That sounds like a nightmare."   "I've only heard of it too!" Bowen muttered.   "Why would you ever listen to slug-insects that tell you to go somewhere?" Gemma said.   "Well, there was nowhere else to go on this spooky trace so "¦ you know "¦" Jacali said. "When a lead comes from weird creatures in your head when you sleep, that's where the lead goes."   "I respect your beliefs," Gemma said.   Lily said nothing, apparently unsure.   "Are you looking for rooms?" Gemma said.   "I guess we'll take rooms," Jacali said. "If you want to go on our spooky **** chase, you're more than welcome to."   "There's plenty going on around here!" Lily said. "Have you heard about the new store that's coming in? And the courthouse they're gonna build? This is gonna be the county seat. At least that's what Mr. La Forge says."   "Well, if it's anything to be there to my close sister to protect her "¦" Gemma said.   Lily went over to Gemma and stood close to her, putting her arm around her and smiling.   "I think this man and I were going to check out some of the─" Jacali said.   "Sh!" Bowen shushed her.   Jacali looked at him.   "We were going to have a talk about it," she said. "About our next plans sometime tonight."   Dr. Weisswald and Lily looked at each other in confusion.   "Sure," Gemma said.   They arranged rooms at the Gilded Lily. Dr. Weisswald and Jacali decided to share a room with Ophelia and Lily suggested one of the front rooms.   Ophelia was examining the stage. She knocked on it and tested its strength.   Lily told them there was no food served at the Gilded Lily yet. She had plans for a kitchen house out back at some point, once she could afford it, which would probably be soon.   "But I did invest," she told them. "So, that money's going to be coming back once that store comes in. Mr. La Forge says there's going to be all kinds of business. I even bought a little bit of extra property I'm going to sell for a huge mark up."   Gemma was obviously so proud of her sister.     * * *       Otto went to the east side of town about a hundred feet from the last building just off the road. The vardo was a small caravan wagon with windows in the side and an open door in the back. Two horses were hobbled nearby and tied to a stake in the ground. A small fire had been built not far from the vardo and a cooking pot was hanging from a metal tripod over it. The woman who was tending to the pot had reddish skin and he guessed she was a half-breed. She had dark hair, wore rugged clothing, and had a white hat. She was young and pretty.   He approached the camp and dismounted.   "Hello," the woman said. "Is there anything that you need?"   "Hello there," Otto said. "My name's Lambert and "¦"   "I'm Daisy."   "Nice to meet you Daisy. Uh "¦ the strangest thing happened back in Denver. I had a strange encounter with someone. She said that the scar I had was cursed. Would you happen to know anything about that?"   "I don't really know much about curses or anything like that. I'm sorry. But how can a scar be cursed?"   "That's what I was trying to figure out."   "It doesn't seem to make any sense to me."   "It doesn't make any sense to me either. Maybe she was trying to pull my leg or scam me."   "I "¦ I don't know. Is there anything I can help you with? Are you injured?"   "I think I'm fine."   "All right."   "That was mainly why I "¦"   "No, I don't know anything about curses. I'm sorry."   "Thank you."   "You're welcome."   "I'll keep it in mind."   He mounted back up.   "You have a nice day," she said.   He tipped his hat and waved to her and rode back into town.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, Ophelia, and Bowen went to the general store, a simple wooden building with glass windows in the front displaying many of the newest goods. There were all kinds of things in the store and she met the owner, Ulysses Mabry, who had a New England accent. He had brown hair and mutton chops and was slim. He wore an apron instead of a jacket and wore a bow tie. He was quite friendly.   When she inquired about purchasing a horse, he noted he didn't sell horseflesh. He had plenty of other things though. He didn't know of any facilities in town that sold horses but suggested she try out at one of the cattle ranches in the area. When she asked about the closest one, he suggested the one to the east along the road that ran by the railroad. They were a cattle ranch but might have some horses they would be willing to sell her.   Ophelia looked over some of the things on the shelves, mystified. She was surprised by the ladies underwear, unsure what to make of it. She didn't pay much attention to a barrel marked "used" that was full of long johns.   They went back to the livery and got their horses, heading out to the ranch that lay a mile or so east of town. They left Bowen, who didn't have a horse, behind, waiting at the edge of town like a lost puppy.   One of the hands there warned them to watch out for the Bar-T ranch boys.   "They think they own the whole county," he said.   He told them the ranch was a day's ride southwest of town and was big enough that it had its own stagecoach stop. He noted they didn't want to go down there as the owner was rich and let his son do whatever he pleased. He thought he owned the county due to his money.   Dr. Weisswald found the man at the ranch wasn't selling their best horses. However, he was willing to sell one of the horses for $50. The man warned her the horse sometimes chewed fences so she had to watch out for that. She knew it was not healthy for the horse to chew on fences.   She presented Ophelia with the horse, which seemed nervous of the disguised serpent person. Ophelia looked it in the eyes, staring at it for a few moments before mounting it to ride it bareback. She also bought a chicken for Ophelia and she ate it on the ride back, feathers and all.   They visited a restaurant for dinner before going to the Gilded Lily.     * * *       Gemma saw Dunspar eventually arrive at the Gilded Lily. He talked to one of the dance hall girls and then he got up and left.     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 2 - Ophelia Unimpressed

* * *       Otto got there a little while later and got a room. He sat in the saloon and ate some hardtack and beef jerky while he drank his beer. Shortly after that, the others arrived at the Gilded Lily. They had hurried through dinner in order to get back in time to watch Gemma sing. There was a magician before her. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat and had colored balls that he made disappear. A pigeon appeared at one point. He also did card tricks. Bowen watched him intently.   Ophelia was not impressed at the act, glaring at the man. She had been docile since she'd eaten.   "Do you want to see some real magic?" she asked Dr. Weisswald.   "I have the pages of that one spell I'm learning," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Do you want to see some real magic?"   "Yes."   Ophelia started to mumble under her breath.   "Not right now!" Dr. Weisswald said. "Not right now!"   "I thought you wanted to see something," Ophelia said.   "We'll do it later."   "It might be entertaining to you."   "Tonight will be better."   "I need someone to cast it upon. I was going to pick him and his little sad tricks."   The magician pulled flowers out of nowhere.   "Now, who wants to come and help me with this next trick?" he said. "It involves cards! Cards!"   Bowen volunteered and the magician picked him to help. The man made fun of his age for an easy laugh, calling him grandpa, and then had Bowen pick a card. Bowen realized the man was forcing a card on him. He asked Bowen to show it to the audience but not him and memorize it. Then he told him to tear up the card. While Bowen did so, the man put a little kerosene in a bowl. Bowen ripped the card up and the magician lit the kerosene and bid him to burn the card as it was no use to them. He fiddled with the deck and made banter and then pulled the card out of nowhere in the deck. It was somewhat impressive.   "Is it harmful?" Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia.   "Not physically," the serpent person said.   "We'll do it later," Dr. Weisswald said.   Gemma sang her song with the dance hall girls singing in the background. Lily joined her at one point as well and they performed a delightful duet. They used a player piano for all the music as Lily didn't have a piano player yet. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.   Ophelia seemed nonplussed by the performance.   "The words she's singing don't make any sense," she said.   A handsome cowboy showed up towards closing time. He snuggled up to Lily and she brought him over to meet all of the, introducing him as Dallas Avery. He was likeable and seemed very friendly, getting along with everybody. He told them about the big cattle run he had a month ago and the big bonus he'd gotten from it. He was thinking of settling down in Devil's Gulch in the hopes Lily would make an honest man of him. He was very impressed when he found Dr. Weisswald was a doctor and was even friendly with Bowen. He was simply nice to everyone and seemed to be everyone's best friend after only a short time. He was impressed with Otto's being a bounty hunter and Dunspar's being a scientist. He wanted to know more about being a scientist and Dunspar told him he'd teach him anything he wanted to learn.   Dunspar asked about why there was no food and Lily told him about her plans to build a kitchen house in the future once she could afford it. When he asked how much it would cost, she noted it would be several hundred dollars and most of her money was invested in the county courthouse and the promise of town growth in the future. She noted Mr. Finch and Mr. La Forge had said the boom was coming.   When he offered her a loan, she noted she was already up to debt to her eyeballs what with the mortgage on the property and her investments. She told them about the money she'd gotten for investing in the courthouse and the land she'd bought and she didn't want to borrow any more. He said that was fine.   "We'll pay it off in a few years "¦ or a few months if things go well," Lily said.   "They're gonna, honey," Dallas said.   Gemma thought the two were very cute together. He hung on her every word when she spoke, listening to her intently and they seemed very happy together.   Jacali asked if Dunspar knew how guns worked. Ophelia perked up when she said it.   "Work, yes," Dunspar said.   Jacali looked at Weisswald.   "To an extent," Dunspar said. "Why do you ask?"   "Well, I was wondering if you might be able to get some insight into your knowledge of it," Jacali said. "We have a friend who's interested in the science."   "Well, I know the mechanics behind it, yes," Dunspar said. "However, using them "¦ not as good."   "I don't think that's what we need," Jacali said.   "Okay," Dunspar said.   "You know, Jacali, I know more about guns than this scientist probably knows," Otto said.   "You know about how they work?"Jacali said.   "I take them apart regularly. You've seen how I shoot."   "All right. Well, I might ask─"   "One second," Dunspar said. "Would you mind if I see your gun?"   "Which one?" Otto said.   "The one you take apart most often."   Otto handed him the Winchester carbine. Dunspar stripped the rifle as quickly as he could, laying the parts of the weapon all over the table. Then he put it back together.   "Is this some kind of ritual?" Ophelia asked.   "I'm sorry," Gemma said.   "No, this is how all the mechanisms work together so it will fire," Dunspar said.   "I think they like to show off their expertise," Jacali said.   Otto did the same, stripping the gun down and then putting it back together.   "I know how to shoot it though," Otto said.   While they all watched the gun-stripping, Bowen slipped a whiskey glass into his pocket.   "Sometimes it's easier to clean things when they're in pieces," Dr. Weisswald said.   "I understand that," Ophelia said. "I don't understand why they are taking this weapon apart and putting it back together now."   "They're showing off for you."   "For me?"   "Yeah."   Ophelia turned to the men.   "I'm not impressed," she said.   "I was just showing you how to put it back together and take it apart," Dunspar said. "That's all."   "And I was just trying to show Dunspar "¦" Otto said.   Ophelia looked at Dr. Weisswald questioningly.   "She said she was interested in─" Dunspar said.   "Well, one of you two are lying," Ophelia said.   "They're men," Gemma said.   "She said you were interested in how this works," Dunspar said.   "Men," Gemma said.   "Did you learn anything?" Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.   "Isn't that what you said, Jacali?" Dunspar said.   "Yes, I was "¦ a friend was interested," Jacali said.   "Something about primates, I think I did learn," Ophelia said to Dr. Weisswald.   "I'm always happy to teach," Dunspar said. "That's "¦"   "Well, maybe sometime tomorrow or after it's dark out, we could arrange something where we can figure it out if Ophelia is still interested," Jacali said.   "Okay," Dunspar said.   "I could teach her how to use them," Otto said.   "Will they fight for our pleasure now?" Ophelia asked the other woman.   "Mr. Dallas, you said you were interested in learning some things about the sciences?" Dunspar said, desperately changing the subject.   "Oh yeah!" Dallas said. "I want to learn everything about everything. I mean I gotta, I gotta life to lead. I mean, I'm not gonna be that kind of man that makes my wife not work. That's wrong! But we're gonna be "¦ we're gonna be one hundred percent partners. But I gotta pull my weight. And if I can't afford to get a ranch, I'm going to have to be able to do something."   "All right," Dunspar said.   He was more than willing to learn from him and seemed eager to know whatever he could about whatever he could.   "I'd be more than happy to teach you," Dunspar said. "What would you like to know about?"   They discussed it and Dunspar pulled out his briefcase and showed him the beakers and chemicals he carried with him. Dallas was willing to learn anything the man was willing to teach him. They arranged to meet the next morning to start his lessons. Dallas admitted he wasn't that smart sometimes and so Dunspar would have to help him. Dunspar said he'd be patient.   "That's great!" Dallas said. "I bet you're a great teacher."   He seemed very enthusiastic about it.   Later that evening, Dallas and Lily went to sit on the front porch for a while as he was courting her.   "The reason we came to Devil's Gulch is we're still looking for the horn, the Crescent," Jacali said.   "Silver!" Bowen said.   "Yes," Jacali said. "And he's looking for silver."   "Yes," Gemma said.   "This man, I think, would know the mines," Jacali went on. "He would know the best mining spots and I think it likely if the horn is in Devil's Gulch, as my "¦ intuition "¦"   "Yes. Quite."   ""¦ has said that those would be the best places to hide it."   "That seems to make good enough sense."   "We are planning on going out at night and obviously it's not something that we would like to be found doing. I don't know what's going to happen and we are going to be in dark caves at night with nobody knowing we're there, so "¦"   She looked them over.   "But, if you're interested, you're welcome to come along?" Jacali said.   "How much of a threat is this horn?" Gemma said.   "What is it?" Ophelia said.   "I have also never heard of this horn before," Dunspar said.   "We're going to steal silver," Bowen said.   "Otto, you've seen it, right?" Jacali said.   "No," Otto said.   "Mr. Stalloid has trusted you with his book of strange things," Jacali said.   "Yes," Dunspar said.   "And you "¦ well, you're on the job anyway so who cares?" Jacali said to Bowen.   "He is old and will die soon anyway," Ophelia said.   "Thanks for the in-depth analysis," Jacali said.   "I'm 61 years young," Bowen said.   Jacali told them about He-Who-Waits in northern Nevada and his search for the "Horn" as well as the drawing on buffalo hide of the device. She talked of stumbling across it in Yellow Flats, Arizona, and its connection with Professor Terwilliger. She pulled out the large buffalo hide and opened it on the table. The drawing or rough painting showed a crescent shape with spikes sticking out of it at various angles. She said the Horn was about three feet across. She told them about chasing it through the train but of the outlaw Jack Parker falling from the train with it.   "When we found it, originally, there were piles of dust where people had touched it," she said. "And basically evaporated."   "Why would you want that?" Dunspar said. "Instantaneous combustion?"   "Well, whatever it was, it appears "¦ Terwilliger also said there was an electric current running through it or something like that," Jacali said. "That it might be able to conduct things like that. From my "¦ admittedly "¦ strangely sourced information "¦ it might be some kind of device of magical or advanced technological origins, but "¦ I don't know. All I know is that it's not good to touch and it does strange things that are out of my realm or my perception of reality."   "Interesting," Ophelia said.   "So, that's why we're looking for it," Jacali said.   "Do you think this "¦ what do you think this thing is capable of?" Gemma said.   "So, it's made of silver?" Bowen said.   "Yes," Jacali said.   "It looks to be," Dr. Weisswald said.   "What do you think this thing is capable of?" Gemma asked again. "How much of a threat is it?"   "Well, and again, I really, really wish I had a better word for what I saw in that dream, but "¦ the slugs had "¦ uh "¦ they told me that it gives people "¦ it changes people permanently "¦ based on what they want and need," Jacali said. "Is what my dream told me. My dream slugs. My friends in the dreams."   "Oh."   "That were tentacle-y."   "Well, wouldn't that be a good thing, if you were changed into something you want or need?"   "Not if you turn into a pile of dust afterwards, I wouldn't imagine, which is what some people did when we first found it."   "I don't understand how that could happen."   "Spontaneous," Dunspar said.   They looked at him.   "The combustion," he said.   "Uh "¦ well, we have heard of some people who touched it and then became supermen," Jacali said. "There was also an equal number of small piles of ash that were "¦ people."   "What did they look like?" Ophelia said. "The slugs?"   "Surely you have a chance either way," Gemma said.   Jacali described the slugs, noting they were cones some 10 feet wide and high. They had four tentacles. Two ended in nippers or pincers. Another tentacle had three eyes and the last had horn-like appendages. There were small tentacles on the bottom of the eye tentacle and others that came out of the top of it.   "Hm," Ophelia said.   "So, does anybody have a better word than slugs for these things "¦" Jacali said.   "Monstrosity?" Dunspar said.   "I would concur," Gemma said.   "I call it a lobster," Bowen said.   "Monstrosity might be accurate to the feeling I had when I saw them but it's not very descriptive," Jacali said.   Many of them noticed Ophelia put her hand to her jaw as if she was thinking. Jacali and Otto noticed the light of recognition in her eye when Jacali described the things from her dreams.   "Oh, Ophelia, did you have something to add?" Jacali said.   Ophelia looked at her.   "No," she said.   "You looked like you were thinking about something," Jacali said   Ophelia looked at her blankly.   "Did my description "¦ meet anything in your mind?" Jacali said. "In your memory?"   She stared at the Indian woman again.   "These things sound like the Great Race," she finally said. "Yithians is what they called themselves. Or did "¦ 225 million years ago."   "You talked about them," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Hm?"   "You mentioned them. By the ring."   "My goodness!" Gemma said. "You're quite abreast of your history."   Ophelia gave Dr. Weisswald a blank look. She told the woman she did not remember that but believed her. Dr. Weisswald guessed the serpent person had been delirious at the time.   "Oh," Ophelia said. "I must keep my mouth shut."   "Do you have any information about them?" Jacali said. "And why were they appearing in my dreams and talking to me."   "That I don't know. They have been on "¦ Earth "¦ for millions of years and were still a "¦ force "¦ on the world during our reign of Valusia 225 million years ago."   "I'm sorry?" Gemma said.   "Then you might think that my dream was more than instinct then?" Jacali said.   "I might think what?" Ophelia said. "My mind is much more clearly focused than you primates. I probably don't think anything that you do."   "But why would these appear in my dreams if it didn't mean something, is what I'm saying," Jacali said.   "I don't know," Ophelia said. "I've heard mere rumors about them. They were from my time."   "What is your time?" Dunspar said.   "Two hundred twenty five million years ago," she said.   "How "¦ how old are you?" he said.   She looked at him.   "That's a very rude question to ask a woman!" Jacali said.   "Whatever do you mean?" Gemma said to Ophelia. "You talk from experience."   Ophelia looked at her.   "You haven't told her about the gate?" she said.   "What is this?" Gemma said.   "Wait!" Otto said. "Is this that snake person?"   "Yeah, I thought that was pretty clear, Otto!" Jacali said.   "You never told me!"   "We introduced our friend, Ophelia!"   "Yes, but you never told me!"   "I "¦ ah what?" Gemma said.   "But "¦ that's not "¦ that's not a snake!" Dunspar said.   "Sh!" Jacali said. "Don't think about it too hard."   "That just makes me think about it more!"Dunspar said.   Gemma looked at Ophelia carefully but she just looked like a woman. She didn't see anything out of the ordinary about her.   "Yes," Ophelia said. "Two hundred twenty five million years ago."   "But "¦ but "¦ what do you mean?" Gemma said.   "She was a snake and now she's a woman," Otto said.   "Yes, like I told the professor over here, don't think about it too hard," Jacali said.   "But "¦"   "We've solved that riddle and it's done."   "Is she "¦?" Gemma said. She lowered her voice. "Is she safe?"   She realized she was sitting right next to the woman. There was no way she hadn't heard.   "I'm sorry, I "¦" she said.   "Ophelia, do you feel safe?" Jacali said.   "I've not felt safe since I got here," Ophelia said.   "She's as safe as she's ever been."   "I'm surrounded by primitives."   "I didn't quite mean it like that but "¦" Gemma said.   "I thought we were primates," Bowen said.   "Primates, evolutionarily, are our ancestors," Dunspar said.   "No," Bowen said. "Naw."   "Yes," Ophelia said. "they didn't evolve until well after us. You are still only somewhat evolved."   Dunspar knew from his studies that, if she was being truthful about 225 million years before, there weren't even any primates around yet at that time. The first primates didn't appear until roughly 50 to 55 million years ago. How she knew there were even primates was a mystery.   "Once again, how old are you?" Dunspar said.   She stared at him.   "I think we've been over this!" Jacali said. "This is a very rude question."   Ophelia just gestured at Jacali. Bowen patted Dunspar on the shoulder.   "Please don't touch me," Dunspar said.   The all looked at him.   "He has dirt," Dunspar said. "This is a nice suit."   "His age is not contagious," Ophelia said.   "No, but his dirt is," Dunspar said.   She shook her head and rolled her eyes.   "But do you know something about what they are saying about this Crescent?" Gemma asked.   "I've never heard of the Crescent," Ophelia said.   Bowen left the table, getting water from one of the dancehall girls to wash his hands with before returning.   "The Yithians have many secrets," Ophelia said.   "And, also, what they did tell me in this dream was that the Crescent was something of their creation," Jacali said. "They called it the harmonizer."   "Harmonizer," Dunspar echoed.   "So, we have three names for it now: the Horn, the Crescent, and the Harmonizer," Jacali said.   "And the Silver Thing," Dr. Weisswald said.   "And the Silver Thing," Jacali said. "So whatever you want to call it is basically fine."   They planned for Bowen, Weisswald, Otto, Jacali, and Gemma to go explore caves that night.   Lily returned just before closing time. She was very red in the face, flushed, and very happy. Then she looked a little upset.   "Dallas is so sweet," she said. "He wanted to stay and guard the saloon so we don't get rocks thrown through out windows tonight."   "Rocks?" Otto said. "Has someone been doing this?"   "I think it's some of the other hotel owners," Lily said. "That's what Dallas thinks too. They don't want a woman to compete with them and we've been very successful. I'm on the main street here, right by the train station and they're down the street and around the corner so, of course, people see the Gilded Lily first and this is where they want to stay."   "You need a guard?" Otto said.   "I know how that is," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Right?" Lily said. "Yeah! Men! They're so infuriating. But I'm just worried that it's going to happen again tonight."   "I am often infuriated by white men as well," Jacali said.   "Especially arrogant old "¦" Lily growled.   "Lily, do you need a guard tonight?" Otto said.   "If you would like to guard, yes," Lily said. "Maybe nothing will happen but if something happens "¦"   "The only thing I ask is that I don't have to pay for room and board tonight," Otto said.   "All right," Lily said. "I'll trade you for that."   Otto determined to sit on the top porch to keep guard.   Lily and her dance hall girls cleaned up early and then Lily told them they could stay up as long as they wanted, asking them to pay for whatever they took from the bar if they kept drinking. Dunspar asked the price of some bottle of whiskey and she told it to him. She gave Gemma the keys to lock up.   Jacali asked Ophelia if she was still interested in technology and weapons and willing to learn from Otto and Dunspar about it. She wanted to learn how to use them more than anything. She had not yet seen guns fired and told them she assumed the two men were some kind of alchemists.   "I wouldn't give them that much credit," Jacali said.   Just a little before midnight, when they planned to close the place up, a man peeked in through the batwing doors of the establishment from the street. He was a young man with short, black hair and a boyish face. He wore plain clothing and took off his hat to hold it in his hands. He looked them all over the room and the bar.   "Saloon's closed," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Oh, all right," the man said. "Is that "¦ is that Gemma Jones?"   "Yes," Gemma said.   "You're supposed to say "˜Depends on who's asking,'" Jacali quipped.   "Is that Lily's sister?" the man said.   "Yes," Gemma said.   He came into the room, holding his hat in his hands. He walked up to the table.   "You need to warn your sister about Dallas Avery," the man said quickly.   "About Dallas?" she said.   "I don't trust him."   "I'm sorry, who are you?"   "Oh "¦ uh "¦ sorry. My name's Patrick Mills. I work at the hardware store. Uh "¦ I-I-I-I think that Dallas is up to something."   "Whatever would make you think that?"   "I just feel it. It's just "¦ an instinct, you know? So "¦"   "Well, that "¦ frankly that is not a good enough reason to walk into my establishment and question my sister's life choices."   His eyes opened wide.   "All-all right," he said. "All right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just don't feel like he's - like he's being completely honest. I'll just leave you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."   He turned and walked out of the establishment.   "Strange man," Dunspar said.   He went up to his room to read along with his bottle.     * * *       Otto stationed himself in the shadows of the balcony above the front porch.     * * *       The others went out into the badlands night with Bowen in the lead taking them southeast. They found a few abandoned mines that didn't go very deep. Then they found a mine with a cabin outside that appeared to be inhabited, a little smoke trailing up out of the building. Bowen wanted to sneak into the mine.   "That's the good one," he said. "That's the one."   They went into the mine, Bowen and Dr. Weisswald lighting lanterns once they were in. The shaft was narrow and only five feet tall. A wooden mine car on makeshift wooden tracks led into the mine and they began exploring. It looked like the mine was actively being worked. They headed deeper in, the rail ending at the t-intersection ahead. They continued exploring through numerous branches and intersections for about an hour, Dr. Weisswald marking the way out with a scratch on the floor.   They eventually found a huge natural cavern. Stalagmites and stalactites decorated the place and a large crevasse in the center of the chamber fell away into the darkness below. Bowen cackled. It echoed through the place.   "What do you think they're mining here?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Silver!" Bowen said.   He cackled insanely and then ripped the sleeve of his shirt off and lit it on fire, tossing it in the cavern in the middle to see how far down it went. It went down and down and down and down before it finally went out.   "So, I don't think we ought to go down this one," Jacali said.   They thought they heard some kind of hissing from down there. They asked if Ophelia knew what it was and she didn't. Dr. Weisswald tossed a rock in there and it didn't hit for about 15 seconds.   "Well, the hissing could be gas escaping "¦" Jacali said.   "Let's go back," Bowen said.   They finished exploring the mine and found nothing else of real interest.   "Let's come back with climbing gear," Bowen suggested.   "What's the point?" Gemma said.   Bowen scuffed out Dr. Weisswald's markings and then snuck up to the cabin but it had no windows.   They returned to town where they saw Otto on guard on the balcony above.     * * *       They found more damage done to the Gilded Lily the next morning, Wednesday, August 18, 1875. Some window panes were broken in the front and some horrible, greenish brown paint had been splashed on the front porch and the front doors of the place.   "I thought you were guarding the place," Dr. Weisswald said when she saw Otto.   "Wha-uh-I-uh-wha?" Otto said.   Lily was very upset, especially at Otto.   "I'll slit their throats," Gemma muttered when she saw the damage.   Lily went to the glassmaker again to get more panes of glass. Otto paid her for his room.     * * *       Gemma left, angry, going to the Bull's Head Saloon. She found the place open that morning but there was no one there but the bartender and a bearded man in the corner near the bar. She went to the bartender and asked who was in charge. The man pointed to the bearded man in the corner who had thinning hair in the front and a pistol in his holster.   "Buck's over there, ma'am," the bartender said.   She walked over to the man who sat at the table, a ledger open in front of him and a bottle of whiskey on the table. He looked up as she approached.   "Well, what can I help you with?" he said as she approached.   "I need to have a talk with you," she said.   "Well sit down. You wanna drink?"   "No, I do not."   "Fair enough."   "There's only three saloons in this town. One of them is my sister's, the Gilded Lily."   Buck laughed.   "I know it," he said.   "Oh, I'm sure you know it," she said. "That's why I'm here."   "Why are you here?"   "Because you've been throwing rocks and paint all over my sister's─"   "Whoa! Whoa!"   "─saloon."   "I've not been doing any of that."   "Oh, tell me you haven't."   "I just did."   "I don't believe you."   "You don't have to."   "It's either one of two saloons here and I suspect you."   "Listen, little filly! I don't need to throw rocks through windows in order to make my business or my way in the world. Understand? Your sister is outta line. She's a woman, shouldn't be running these kind of things."   "I beg your pardon!"   "It's just the truth."   "It most certainly is not and you have no right".   "She certainly is not going to cause me to break the law to put her out of business. I'm sure she'll do that on her own pretty soon."   "Well, just so you know "¦ I'm keeping an eye on your business. And I can take you down whenever I please."   "Well, you're welcome to try."   She turned and walked out.   She crossed the street to the Empire Hotel and Saloon. It was one of the larger and fancier buildings in town. It was freshly painted white and blue and had a large sign hanging over the boardwalk in front. The windows in the front of the building all featured colored and lead glass and they really gave the place a taste of high society.   The interior was just as fancy. The oak French doors in the front featured leaded and etched glass. They were wide open to allow for a breeze. To the right of the foyer was a lobby with a front desk where a well-dressed man with a prodigious mustache and well-groomed hair stood. A carved oak staircase led upstairs. To the left was the saloon with a long, intricately carved bar, a large mirror behind it.   Gemma walked up to the lobby desk where the registry book sat. On the wall behind the desk were a rack of room keys and a number of pigeonholes. A heavy iron safe was set into the wall under the stairs. Gemma could smell breakfast food.   "Yes ma'am," he said in an upper-class British accent. "May I help you?"   "Yes, are you the owner?" she said.   "I'm Mr. Farnsworth, yes."   "Mr. Farnsworth, I have a matter I'd like to speak to you about."   "Very well. Do you need a room?"   "No, I don't. I've come on behalf of my sister's saloon: the Gilded Lily."   "Oh."   "She has been vandalized and─"   "Again?"   "Yes. There's only two other saloons in this town and it must be one of you two. And/or both!"   "My dear, the Empire is doing quite well. I don't need to resort to vandalism in order to continue doing well."   "Oh, I know you're doing well, but it's not about that, is it?"   "I don't follow."   "It's about principal! She's a woman, right? That's what you all think."   "Well, she is a woman. But I don't believe that I need to resort to anything illegal in order to drive her out of town. She'll do quite well on her own."   Gemma glared at the man.   "The figures and things "¦ it's quite beyond the female mind," he went on.   She glared at him.   "You know, you see a pretty dress and you just have to buy it," he said.   "Well just know, I will get to the bottom of whoever did this "¦ and they will pay," she said.   "I admire your spunk."   "Oh, don't bother."   She turned and left the place.     * * *       Otto headed out of town for the day, looking for "Black" Jack McKinney.     * * *       Bowen went out to find out where Dallas Avery lived and soon learned he had a room in one of the boarding houses on the east side of town. It took him a little longer to narrow it down to the Widow Barrington's Boarding House. It had four rooms that were all filled at the time, he learned.   He hung around the boarding house to try to figure out which room was Dallas'.     * * *       Dunspar went to the general store and asked if anyone had bought paint recently.   "Quite a few people," Mabry told him. "Right now people are touching up their houses and businesses in hopes of construction starting on the courthouse soon."   "Any of the saloon owners?" Dunspar said.   "Oh, no, I don't think so," Mabry said. "Neither Mr. Farnsworth nor Buck Hatch have purchased any lately."   "Okay. Well, there's just been some vandalism last night and I was just checking."   "Oh yeah?"   "That's all."     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 3 - In Pursuit of Vandals

* * *       Jacali and Dr. Weisswald went to the jail to talk to the Marshal and asked him if he knew anything about the Bar-T Ranch. Marshal Bishop seemed a little leery about Jacali. Though she asked him the question, he talked to Dr. Weisswald when he answered. He told her the Bar-T was owned by Melville Watts whose son sometimes came into town and caused trouble. He never stayed in jail for long because his father paid off any problems he had caused so the owner wouldn't press charges. He noted they didn't come in often, every couple weeks or a month, and he didn't like seeing them come into town but there was little he could do about it.   "Do you know anything about the windows being broken at the Gilded Lily?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Miss Jones has reported it," he said. "She came in this morning and reported some broken windows and some paint. She reported it yesterday as well. I looked into it as much as I can. I haven't found anything out, anyone specifically doing it. Maybe it's some kids. But "¦ there's not been anybody "¦ I don't have any suspects yet. At least not amongst adults."   "Thank you."   "You're welcome."   They left and went to the general store next, asking Mabry there about people buying lately.   "Everybody's buying paint," he said. "People are painting up the town because, when we get the new courthouse, we're expecting an influx of visitors. Not to mention we won't have to use the circuit judge anymore because we'll have a judge right here that comes and sees cases every day."   He thought a moment.   "Some other fella was in here asking about that too," he said.   "Who asked about it?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Some stranger," Mabry said. "Had a long beard, long hair, was dressed real nice."   They looked at each other.   "Oh," Jacali said. "Do you mind telling us who has purchased paint lately."   "Everybody," he said.   "Literally everyone," Jacali said.   He told them people were painting their houses and businesses and getting the town spruced up.   "Here's the thing," Mabry said to them confidentially. "They're trying to impress Mr. Macy because if we can get the store and distribution center in this town, that'll put us on the map. Not to mention the courthouse. Now, just between you and me? That Mr. La Forge, he's been allowing people to buy shares of stock! He told me, he said he didn't tell anybody else in town. So shush. Don't tell anybody "˜cause I don't want people upset that I bought $500 worth of stock from him because I expect it to skyrocket."   Jacali and Dr. Weisswald looked at each other.   "How well do you know these people who are selling you these things?" Jacali said.   "Well," Mabry said slowly. "Silas Finch, he's the barber, he was the one who started the whole story because he found out from Shamus O'Gara, the telegraph operator, about some of the telegraphs that were being sent. Now, that's not strictly legal but, when they found out they weren't really that upset. Turns out they're going to put a store here and he was willing to sell me some stock when I asked how to get in on the ground floor. So he told me not to tell anybody. And Finch was the one who brought up the whole courthouse thing, because if they made this the county seat - because Middle Kiowa doesn't even have - it doesn't even have a train station - there's no train that runs there. There's nothing. This would be a much better place. We're the center of the county! Anyway, so that's who's doing it. Mr. La Forge, he's staying at the hotel, he's been here for a few weeks."   "Are you aware he also sold stock to Miss Jones?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "No, I didn't know that," Mabry said. "Well, she's "¦ she's "¦ she's "¦"   He thought on that.   "Well, maybe he just doesn't want word to get out," he finally said. "Maybe he's just selling to a few of us, a few particular ones. Miss Jones seems really nice. I really like her place. I don't get over there very much but I like it."   "But this county seat business, the only word you've heard about it from people saying that the telegrams have been intercepted?" Jacali said.   "Well, they sent telegrams to New York City."   "But how did you find out about the telegrams?"   "From Shamus. The telegraph operator. Our telegraph operator. Up at the train station."   "Hm."   "Like I said, he was a little upset. You're not supposed to give that information out but "¦ once the news was out, he seemed okay with it. He said it couldn't do any harm."   "Do you know anybody who's unhappy with this county seat business?"   "Nobody in town. We're looking forward to getting the county seat here. Once we get the courthouse built, how can they say "˜no?' Middle Kiowa doesn't have a courthouse."   "So, they're building the courthouse currently?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Not yet," Mabry said.   He told them they were building it on the south side of town and they remembered seeing a great deal of lumber, brick, and concrete among the other construction supplies there.   "Mr. La Forge has been arranging for all the supplies," Mabry said. "And you can go to town hall. They got the blueprints at the town hall, up on the wall. It's going to be beautiful!"   "We should find out if anyone else has this "¦ stock," Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali.   "Uh-huh," Jacali said.   "Who would also buy stock?"   "The heads of the saloons?"   "The bankers?"     * * *       Bowen saw Dallas leave the boarding house later that morning. He had eliminated the two left side rooms of the house by then as being Dallas'. He guessed the bedroom he suspected downstairs probably belonged to the Widow Barrington.   He went into the boarding house and saw a woman downstairs in the parlor, reading a book. She looked up as he came in, looked back down at her book, and then looked up again with a frown as he mounted the stairs. He knocked on one of the rooms on the right, where he thought Dallas might live. There was no answer so he went to the other one and knocked. There was no answer there either.   He knocked on one of the left hand rooms but guessed they might have left for the day.   He went to the blacksmith shop to have Levi Kerns make metal stakes and also bought 700 yards of rope.     * * *       Dunspar went to the bank and arranged to have money wired to him. Then he went back to the hotel to wait for Dallas for the teaching lesson. He taught him about the atmosphere first, and how it was made of chemicals. The two men actually had a lot of fun together and Dallas even treated the man to lunch. He asked if Dunspar wanted any money for the teaching he was giving him.   Dunspar read The Mysteries of the Worm the rest of the day.     * * *       Dr. Weisswald and Jacali stopped at the Doctor's Office in town. The sign out front read "Doctor Miles Gibbs, M.D." The building was obviously a house converted into a doctor's office. They let themselves into the office where the front parlor would normally be. A small, potbelly stove sat in one corner. There was a bed and a roll-top desk in the room. A bookshelf next to the desk held many volumes of books, probably medical journals. A skeleton hung in one corner.   "What's the trouble?" Doctor Gibbs asked.   He had a strong Midwestern accent.   "Oh, no trouble," Dr. Weisswald said. "Exploring the town a bit."   "All righty," he said.   "Is there "¦ the town seems bustling lately though," Dr. Weisswald said.   He told them the same thing they'd heard before: a new courthouse might be coming in, there was a store and distribution center for R.H. Macy and Company possibly coming in, and people were very excited about it. She asked if there was anything he was doing to expand his practice and he said he wasn't, though he was putting a fresh coat of paint on the house and tidying it up. He figured people would start moving there once the courthouse was built so he wanted his place to be a little more presentable.   When Jacali asked about the Bar-T Ranch, Dr. Gibbs told her pretty much the same the Marshal had. They asked him about Dallas and he didn't know much about him except that he hadn't been in town very long.   They went to the Bull's Head Saloon and found Pete Sutter there. He saw them and glared at them.   "Have you ever heard of a man named Dallas Avery?" Jacali asked him.   "No," Pete said. "What a stupid name! That's the dumbest damned name I ever heard in my life!"   "What about Jack West?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "That's pretty stupid too," Pete said. "It's obviously a fake!"   "Have you heard anything about the Bar-T Ranch?" Jacali asked.   "I hear they've got a pretty sweet operation," Pete said. "Pretty much run the whole county. They can come in, do whatever they want, and their daddy just pays "˜em off."   They talked to other people around the saloon about Dallas, La Forge, and the Bart-T Ranch. No one knew Dallas at all and La Forge wasn't seen a lot as he spent all his time in his room at the Empire Hotel. They learned he went to the telegraph office once or twice a day though, sending telegrams to New York City. They were scheduled to start construction of the county courthouse in a few days.   They asked about Patrick Mills but no one knew about him. When they asked around town, they learned he was a clerk who worked for Bob Smith at the hardware store. He was a nice enough fellow though kind of dull. He was courting Lily Jones before Dallas Avery came to town. Then Dallas swept her off her feet.   "And he's so handsome and so sweet and comes in here and gives candy to the children," one woman they talked to said of Dallas. "He's perfect."   They went to the Empire Hotel and asked the same questions, learning mostly the same thing. They learned La Forge was staying there. They learned the same thing about the expansion of the town but there, Farnsworth told them he heard they were going to put stores all along the railroad and were putting stores in everywhere. Thus, anyone who wanted goods from R.H. Macy and Co. would be able to get them easily. It was a genius idea that would pay off in spades for the company.   "Don't you think it's a little dangerous to expand so quickly?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   He didn't know but he understood Macy was rich and could afford it. The man already reputedly had four stores in New York City alone. Farnsworth said he checked on that and found that to be true.   They went to the hardware store and saw Patrick Mills when they entered. When he saw them, he blushed, looked embarrassed, and went into the back. They talked to Bob Smith a little bit. He said they were doing record business with sales of everything needed to make repairs and fix up people's homes and businesses. He was very excited to see the courthouse go up in a few days.   They asked him about La Forge and he told them he didn't know the man. He told them Silas Finch, the barber, had told him everything about the county seat and the courthouse. He had heard of La Forge but only knew he was an investor or something from New York City.   "We would like to speak to your employee, Patrick," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Oh," Smith said. "Okay. Patrick, there's some people want to see you!"   Patrick Mills came out of the back room looking like a dog who'd been caught and was obviously embarrassed.   "Can I help you folks?" he said quietly.   "We want to hear more about what you said last night," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Uh "¦ well "¦ I-I-I "¦ I don't know," he said. "Obviously I must be mistaken. I just "¦ I feel like "¦ something ain't right."   "Do you have any solid information that we could investigate?" Jacali said.   "No," Mills admitted. "No. I don't have any solid information. I'll be honest, I was courting Lily before Dallas came and "¦ uh "¦ and he swept her off her feet and then she kind of forgot about me. And "¦ maybe I'm just being jealous. But just something doesn't seem quite right. He seems too perfect. How can anybody be everything to everybody?"   "You wouldn't happen to know about any of the trouble Miss Lily's been lately with people throwing rocks and such?"   "I've been hearing about it. I've been hearing about them breaking glass. I went out there a couple nights ago, as late as I could stay up to kind of keep an eye out and nothing happened. There was nothing by the next day either. I was hoping it was just a one-time thing. Something threw some paint or something, I heard? Word around town is. I feel real bad for her. Some of the saloon owners are probably behind it. Well, maybe not Mr. Farnsworth. I don't know. I don't know. I shouldn't be spreading rumors."   "Do you know where Dallas is staying?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "No," Mills said. "I understand "¦ I heard he's in one of the boarding houses over on the east side of town."   "Well, what you were saying about the saloon owners, any information that would help Lily "¦" Jacali said.   "It's just a guess," Mills said. "Buck at the Bull's Head, he's not a friendly fellow. I could see him being behind it."   "You think he could be the kind of person who wants to do dirty business like that?"   "Yeah. I would think so. I don't know if he would. He's the kind of person who could. So "¦"   Mills was obviously very embarrassed about the entire situation.   "I'm sorry I bothered you folks last night," he said. "Lily won't listen to me so I was hoping her sister "¦"   Dr. Weisswald put her hand on his shoulder.   "We'll look into it," she said.   He thanked her quietly and they left.     * * *       At the Gilded Lily, a few tarps had been thrown down over the floor where the paint had been splashed. They wouldn't be able to paint over it until it dried so that was being left for the next day. They had a nice evening there once again. There was a great show with Gemma singing again.   They all exchanged information after that as they sat at a table in the saloon. Dr. Weisswald suggested a plan for that night and the next day. Jacali was all for all of them watching the Gilded Lily that night. Dunspar noted he had insomnia so it was easy for him to stay up. Otto quipped he could slap him if he fell asleep again.   Jacali asked Otto if, the next day, he could give basic gun lessons to Ophelia. Otto agreed though he took Jacali aside to talk to her for a moment, pointing at his scar. Once he was out of earshot, he told her his real concern.   "You sure you want me to teach that snake person how to shoot a gun?" he said.   "Well, I mean, she's got to know how to defend herself somehow," Jacali said. "And she doesn't really express an interest in learning how to use my bow and arrow."   "But she could kill us. Or you."   "Well, Otto, any one of us with a gun could kill us."   "Yes, but she's probably more likely to kill us. She does not seem to like any of us."   "Well, I don't think she likes us any less than she likes anyone else in this town, or in this world basically."   "I just feel like it's a bad idea but if you want me, I'll do it for you. I do owe you."   "Well, I mean, keep in mind, Otto, that whatever feelings she has for us, we did save her life and we did get her "¦ a way to blend in to normal society."   "She thinks we're primates. And just because you save someone doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to help you."   "Not necessarily but, for any other person."   "I'll take her out to shoot my rifle tomorrow."   "You don't have to give her a gun, but I think it would be good for her to know how to use one and I have a feeling that this may get us more information about her time and about the things that she knows if we are able to help her in this way."   "Okay."   "So I think it "¦ I know you have your worries about it and, if something does go wrong─"   "I'd like someone to be with me."   "─it can be on me. Yes, I can be with you."     * * *       "So, what did you make of this last night?" Ophelia asked Gemma. "Taking apart a gun at the table?"   "What do you mean?" Gemma asked.   "When these two men took guns apart," Ophelia said. "That one and the one over there."   She pointed at Dunspar and Otto.   "Just "¦ being men," Gemma said.   Ophelia gave her a cool look.   "You will soon "¦ understand "¦ men do things for "¦ no reason at all," Gemma said.   "So, they're stupid," Ophelia said.   "I "¦ I did not say that," Gemma said. "Men do things for strange reasons. I don't. I'm not married."   "Hm."   "I'm not in a relationship."     * * *       Jacali brought up Dallas and making sure his story was okay at some point.   "Seems like a good guy to me," Dunspar said.   "I haven't heard anything bad about him, only that he's too perfect," Jacali said.   "True," Gemma said.   "I would say it couldn't hurt but "¦ it could hurt "¦ if he finds out," Jacali said. "I don't know if he's the prime suspect but "¦ I mean "¦ it is interesting."   "A suspect for what?" Gemma said.   "I'll keep watch on Dallas," Bowen said.   "What is he suspected of?" Dunspar said.   "It is possible he might be the one throwing the rocks," Dr. Weisswald said.   "I mean, if what Patrick said was true and that he was "¦ doing something bad and, admittedly, I don't think it's very likely, I think it would be good to cover our bases on it," Jacali said. "And make sure that's not what it is because, I think allowing it to slip under our gaze would be worse than him knowing we were worried about him and having to make it up to him."   Jacali also talked about their distress call of yelling out one's favorite berry. The berry was also a code word if someone needed help while talking to someone.     * * *       They set up a watch on the saloon that night. Jacali watched from near the photographer's shop nearby. Dunspar and Otto watched from the balcony over the front porch. Bowen planned to watch from the back of the building. Dr. Weisswald, Ophelia, and Gemma all stayed in the saloon proper, waiting in the dark.   "Do you want these people alive?" Ophelia asked Dr. Weisswald as they watched.   "The people throwing rocks?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yes."   "For now."   "I'd say that's optional," Gemma said.   "So, how old are you?" Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia.   "Optional," Ophelia said.   Dr. Weisswald talked about how the year worked and how long humans lived. Ophelia understood the passing of a year but they didn't keep careful track of their births. Dr. Weisswald guessed the snake person was in her 30s perhaps.   "How long had you been studying humans?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "Six months before we were going to punch through and take over the world," Ophelia said.     * * *       It was in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 19, 1875, when Ophelia perked up. Gemma thought she heard something but moved to the front door and cracked it open to hear better.   "Get back," Dr. Weisswald whispered to the girl.   Gemma peeked out of the crack between the doors and saw four people out there with bandanas over their faces. They had stopped near the photographer. Then they all heard someone walking up on the balcony.     * * *       Outside, Jacali and Dunspar saw four people moving towards the front of the Gilded Lily from one of the nearby alleys. They suddenly stopped and stared at the front of the establishment for some time.   On the balcony, Dunspar moved over to Otto, and tapped him on the shoulder, waking him.   The four people started to creep back to the alley between the photographer and the hardware store. They moved very slowly and quietly. They stopped at the alley not far from Jacali and had a hushed discussion. She could overhear them.   "Are you sure the door's open?" one of them said.   "Maybe it was open the whole time," another said.   "I thought I saw it open," another said.   Jacali looked towards the front and thought she could make out the front doors open just a crack behind the batwing doors.   "Should we go back or should we get outta here?" one said.   "I think we should get outta here," another said.   "No, you're crazy."   "Hold on, just wait."   "Nobody came out."   "No, nobody's come out."   "Okay."   They watched the front of the saloon for a few moments.   "Okay "¦ go!" one of them said.   They ran towards the front of the saloon and then stopped just short of the building and started chucking rocks at the windows. Gemma Jones burst out of the front doors as Otto fired a warning shot into the air.   "****!" someone yelled.   They all turned and ran away but slowed when they saw Jacali come out of the shadows by the hardware store. Then they ran right at the girl, turning just short of her and running back into the alley where they'd talked before. Jacali shot one of them in the right hand. The person screamed but they kept running.   They all ducked into the alley, Gemma on their heels. Dunspar leapt down from the balcony and also gave chase.   "Fresh meat!" Ophelia said just before she and Weisswald ran out after the culprits.   The vandals ran down the alley and headed for a fence between the Empire Hotel and another building. They were gaining ground on Gemma, Ophelia, and Dr. Weisswald. They reached the fence and the one with the arrow in his hand scrabbled over. The other three struggled to climb the fence. Dunspar rushed them. Jacali pulled back on the bow and shot at one of the ones struggling to get over the fence, hitting him in the upper thigh of the left leg and he shrieked, dropped off the fence, and crashed to the ground.   Gemma Jones and Dr. Weisswald came around the corner of the photographer.   "They got injuns!" one of vandals yelled.   "They're gonna kill us!" the other cried out.   They scuttled up and over the fence. Dunspar knelt at the edge of the fence and held his hands together, offering a leg up to anyone who wanted it. Jacali ran to the next alley up to avoid the fence, going around the side of the building.   Gemma ran to Dunspar and he helped her up and over the fence. She dropped over the other side and saw the vandals ahead.     * * *       Weisswald stopped at the injured person and performed first aid on his injured leg. She broke the arrow and pulled it out, then bandaged up his leg. Ophelia looked down at the person.   "I'll take care of him," she said calmly.   "Chase after the rest!" Dr. Weisswald said.   Ophelia sighed and then leapt at Dunspar, taking his leg up but not really needing it.   "Do you need me here?" Dunspar said.   "Not really," Dr. Weisswald said.   He struggled to get over the fence.     * * *       The person with the arrow in his hand had run to the t-intersection at the end of the alley and was trying to crash by the garbage there. Jacali moved past the next building and saw them struggling to get around the junk that had been abandoned in the alley. The person with the arrow in his hand got by and ran towards her but hadn't she'd seen her yet.   She stepped out from behind the building and readied an arrow to shoot him.   "Don't do it!" she said.   The person ran at her, his left arm in front of his face. He leapt at the end of rush, going low, and hit the ground too soon, sliding towards her but stopping just short of her. He had apparently been trying to leapt between her legs to make his escape. He screamed as the hand that had the arrow in it rubbed along the ground.   "Ow!" he cried out. "Ow! It hurts so bad!"   "I told you to stop," Jacali said. "Sorry."   It sounded like the vandal was crying as he lay there, splayed out on his face.   She looked up in time to see the other two running the other direction down the alley towards the Empire Hotel. She moved to the vandal's side and put a foot on his back to keep him down.   "No!" the man cried out. "We didn't mean nothing by it. We didn't mean nothing by it."     * * *       Dr. Weisswald offered Dunspar a leg up and he was up and over the top of the fence. He ran down the alley and caught up with Gemma. Ophelia had passed the woman already and was almost up where all the trash was clogging the alley. Ophelia and Gemma reached the junk and couldn't get by it, there was so much.   "To your left!" Jacali shouted.   Ophelia tried to get by the junk but the more she moved out of the way, the more that fell into the way. Dunspar made it through and headed down the alley to the left after the vandals.     * * *       Bowen ran to where Dr. Weisswald was tending to the injured man. He sat down, tired.     * * *       Dunspar turned a corner in the alley and saw there was a very muddy spot at the end of it before it opened out into the street again. The other two vandals had made it past the mud and headed out into the street. He followed, leaping over the muddy spot. He ran after the two, who ran into the darkness of the badlands.   He followed, yelling "Blackberry!"   The two split up just before Dunspar lost sight of them. He turned and headed back.     * * *       "What is this stuff!?!" Ophelia yelled as she started smashing the various junk in the alley, trying to get by.   Lights started to come on in the buildings around them as Gemma tried to get past the junk. Eventually Ophelia made it past the junk and ran down the alley. Gemma got her foot caught in some of the debris.     * * *       Otto, who had gotten down from the balcony by the inside stairs, reached the porch of the Gilded Lily and thought he heard someone yell "Blackberry!" It sounded very far away.     * * *       Gemma gave up and headed back, disgusted by the amount of junk in the alley. Jacali flagged her down and asked for help. She made her way through the junk to the other woman and her prisoner.     * * *       They took the two people back to the Gilded Lily where two window panes were broken. One was still unconscious and the other cried and held out the hand with the arrow in it. Dr. Weisswald saw to the injured hand, breaking the arrow in half and then bandaging the hand up.   When they removed the bandanas from the two, they found they were both 12-year-old boys. One was crying from the wounded hand and his scraped up face and chest. The other eventually came to with Dr. Weisswald's camphor. The boy refused to cry. The crying boy refused to look at Jacali. Both looked terrified.   "We didn't mean nothing," one said.   "What are you names?" Dr. Weisswald said.   They gave their names as Jack Thompson and Eric Hutton.   "And-and who are the other two boys?" Dunspar said.   The two just looked him.   "Why would you do this!?!" Gemma said.   "The old man told us to," Brad said.   "What old man?"   "He gave us 50 cents. He said it was a joke."   "This isn't a joke!"   "The old man, he had a beard and he had a cane and he paid us 50 cents earlier this week and then "¦ and then he paid us 50 cents and we broke "¦ and the paint "¦ and then "¦ he paid us 50 cents tonight. He was going into the Empire Saloon."   "Hey, this isn't a joke, okay?"   "He said it was."   "Breaking people's windows isn't a joke," Jacali said.   "He said he was gonna pay for it," Jack said. "And he was just "¦ joking."   "No, he lied to you," Gemma said. "This is an offense, okay? This is my sister's saloon."   Jack wailed.   "You can't do this!" Gemma said.   "You could've gotten yourself killed," Otto said.   The boys looked scared.   "What are the names of the other two?" Dr. Weisswald said.   The two boys refused to answer that. They wouldn't snitch on their friends. Both of them were willing to take their punishment but they wouldn't tell on their friends.   "What was his name?" Gemma said.   "He didn't tell us," Jack said. "He was just some old codger. He was at the Empire."   "Is that where he stays?"   "I guess? I never seen him before in town. I don't know who he is. He's some "¦ and he "¦ and he "¦"   "Can you point him out to us?" Dr. Weisswald asked.   "If I saw him, yeah, I'd point him out to you," Jack said.   "How old is he?" Gemma said.   "Would the marshal be in?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "He looked old," Jack said. "He had a gray beard and "¦ no, not the marshal! Don't tell the marshal! Oh God! Not the marshal!"   Both of the boys were terrified of the marshal. They had all heard, over the course of the last couple days, Marshal Bishop was a stickler for the law. If you broke the law, you would be punished to the full extent of the law. He gave no breaks to anybody.   "We'll fix the stuff and we'll paint the door and-and-and-and we'll give you the money!" Jack said. "We'll give you the dollar fifty."   "You give "˜em the money," Eric said.   "Shut up!" Jack said. "We'll give "˜em the money!"   "You won't get in trouble," Gemma said.   "But if you tell the marshal, we'll get in trouble," Jack said.   "We won't tell the marshal," Dr. Weisswald said.   Both of the boys were visibly relieved when they heard that.   "But you can't do this," Gemma said. "Any more."   "We won't!" Jack said.   "And your friends as well," Dunspar said.   "Okay, we'll tell our friends," Jack said.   "And we might "¦ do we want them to point out the old man?" Jacali said.   "Yeah," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Here!" Jack said. "Here!"   He nudged Eric and they both held out 50 cents. They all realized the boys wore worn clothing and were probably pretty poor. Fifty cents was probably a fortune to each of them.   "No, you can keep it," Dr. Weisswald said.   "We'd also like if you help fix the saloon tomorrow," Otto said.   "Yeah," Gemma said.   "We'll paint," Jack said. "We'll paint and "¦ I don't know how to work glass "¦"   "Well, round up the rest of your boys, come back here tomorrow, and fix this," Gemma said.   They looked t her suspiciously for a moment but then nodded.   "And if they won't come," Jack said.   He nodded at Eric with a frown and Eric pounded his fist into his open hand. The boys told them they would make sure the other two boys came. They were also willing to identify the old codger, as they called their employer. They apparently wanted revenge on the old man.     * * *       They got a few hours sleep before the Gilded Lily opened that day. All four of the boys showed up soon after the establishment opened. One of them had a bloody nose and another had a black eye and another kid had a bruise. Gemma gave the boys cold rags for their wounds. The two new boys both apologized and seemed sincere. They asked where the paint and the brushes were.   "We've got to repay our debt to society," one of them said.   They got to work on painting the front porch, batwing doors, and interior doors.   They asked Lily to watch the boys and they apologized to her.   "You're really pretty," one of them said to Lily.   Gemma gave the boy a light smack on the forehead.   "Ow!" he said.   "That's not how you speak to a lady," she said.   "Okay," he said.   He walked over to Lily and pulled her hair.   "Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" the boy said.   Gemma glared at him.   "That's what I did with Mary Elizabeth Jones and I liked her!" the boy said. "But that was four years ago."   Gemma pulled him away from Lily.   They gave the boys paint brushes and paint and set them to work under Lily's guidance. She said she'd find some other chores for them as well, to help pay for the damages. She thought the floor could use polishing in the saloon. Dr. Weisswald asked Lily if La Forge was the one she got the stocks from and she confirmed it. She told the doctor she had bought quite a bit of stock. Dr. Weisswald also got a description of La Forge and learned he had a thick, black beard, wore shaded glasses, and had a thick head of hair that was held down with pomade.   "So, he's not old?" Dr. Weisswald said.   "No, he's in this 30s or 40s," Lily said.   She asked Lily about an old man with a beard who used a cane. She noted Buck at the Bull's Head had gray hair and a beard, but the boys would know him on sight.   Jacali suggested looking at the Empire Saloon and seeing if the codger might be there. Dunspar thought they should have the kids meet the codger again and intercept them. They asked the kids where and when they met the codger usually and they told them it was usually in the late afternoon or early evening. They said the old codger found them, usually outside where they played kick the can or some other game.   Dallas arrived as they discussed it. By then the boys had finished painting the front of the building and Lily had them polishing and cleaning the floor of the saloon.   "New workers?" he said when he saw the boys.   "Yes," Dunspar said.   "Kids gotta have something to do!"   "We're going to have a short lesson today, Dallas."   "All right. Yeah. Teach me, Teach."   The two did their lesson at the bar. Bowen kept an eye on them.     * * *       Otto and Jacali took Ophelia a mile or so out of town to show her how to shoot a rifle. They had a few cans and he showed her how to shoot and load the weapon. She was startled by the noise of the rifle at first but otherwise did fairly well for a novice.     * * *       After his lesson, Bowen followed Dallas at a discreet distance. He saw the man talking to numerous people throughout town, everyone charmed by him. It sounded like he was making inquiries about land for sale in the town, especially ranches in the area and what quality various ranches were in.   Dallas didn't return to the Widow Barrington's boarding house until suppertime and, by carefully watching the house, Bowen eventually saw Dallas in the window of the room in the back of the house to the right.   "Room Number Four," he mused to himself.   None of the rooms had numbers on them, he remembered. But that would be room number four to him.     * * *       Otto was walking down the street when he saw a familiar face: Pete Sutter. He frowned and walked over to the man, who was walking towards the Bull's Head Saloon.   "Pete Sutter," Otto said.   "You!" Pete said.   "Yeah."   "Whoever the hell you are! What the hell do you want?"   "What are you doing here?"   "Whatever I want!"   The two looked each other up and down.   "I like the sunsets in Colorado," Pete finally said. "They make me feel like a little girl. What're you doing here?"   "Well, I'm just tracking the Crescent."   "You got five hundred dollars?"   "No."   "Then you ain't got nothing I want!"   "So, you have information?"   "What the hell's the crescent?"   "You still have a bounty on you, Pete?"   "I got lots of bounties on me, boy. But none in Colorado."   "Well, I'm not collecting right now."   "So, why don't you just blow."   "I saw you on the street!"   "What!?! You saw me right here on the street!"   "You were dead. Like a corpse."   "That's the thing about your Chinese death stars. An hour after you get killed, you're alive again!"   The two men stared at each other again.   "They used them machines on me," Pete finally said. "It's fine."   "What machines?" Otto said.   "The glowy things. You know. Them new-fangled medicine machines."   "Who?"   "I dunno. You know, them "˜boop' and there it is. And you're all healed up."   "I need one of those."   "You sure do! Right there in face! "˜Cause it's so ugly."   He laughed loudly at his own unfunny joke.     * * *       The others had the kids play as they usually did and told them they would be keeping an eye on them from a distance in hopes of catching the old codger. The boys were all on board with the plan and even talked about beating up the old man if they caught him.   "We'll throw rocks at "˜em!" Billy Hutchins said. "We're good at that. Billy's the best!"   As they watched, close to 5 p.m., they saw a man with a thick black beard, shaded glasses, and a thick head of pomaded hair walk up main street to the train station. They recognized him as La Forge from the description Lily had given them.   Nobody had approached the kids by dark and one of the boys approached one of them, telling them they had to go home. He said they could try again the next day.     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 4 - Horror at Whiskey Mine

* * *       They returned to the Gilded Lily after having a light dinner at one of the restaurants. Bowen noted he had supplies to explore the cave. Jacali said she wanted to get the codger in trouble but didn't think they had a good route to do that yet as all they had were the kids' word against his. She didn't know how to get the codger in trouble without getting the children in trouble as well. She did remember there was a deputy who was not as a hard-ass as Marshal Bishop was. She had seen the man around and could always hear him coming because he had a nervous laugh that preceded him wherever he went, it seemed.   Jacali asked Lily if the deputy was a good person who could help them.   "He's a weirdo,"Lily said.   "He's a weirdo,"Jacali said.   "He laughs all the time!"   "Well "¦"   "If you're standing on the street, you know he's coming five minutes before he gets there because he's chuckling the whole time. It's so strange."   "Is that something he's always done?"   "As far as I know. I've only been living here a few months. He's a chuckler and when you talk to him, he doesn't. Otherwise, he's always got a weird, nervous laugh. But he's an alright fellow."   "But do you think he would be trustworthy to go get the codger with the kids more than the marshal."   "Oh yeah, the marshal will throw them in jail and then fine them. And they're all from poor families."   "I don't want to do that."   "I don't think Chubby will. Chubby is always trying to get the marshal to ease off on people."   Jacali thought it was a good idea to keep a watch on the Gilded Lily and to talk to the deputy. They talked about going to the cave and Dunspar, Ophelia, and Gemma said they'd stay and watch the saloon.   Dr. Weisswald asked Ophelia if she was not interested in the Crescent. The serpent person said she didn't know what it was. When Dr. Weisswald said it might be in the cave, she told the woman to bring it to her. When Weisswald said they didn't know if they could bring it back, Ophelia dismissed her abruptly.   Otto told them about his encounter with Pete Sutter.   "He talked about glowing machines that brought him back from the dead,"Otto said. "I think. That healed him."   "Pete Sutter's an interesting character, isn't he?"Jacali said.   "I played poker with him,"Bowen said.   "I have an idea but I don't really want it to be true,"Jacali said. "When the dream slugs - God, I need a better name for those - next time I talk to them I'll ask."   "Yithians,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yithians,"Otto said.   "We have a name!"Jacali said. "Next time I talk to the Yithians, I will ask them. The thing is, they told me there is another group that wanted the Crescent. I think of their kind. It "¦ makes me wonder if Pete Sutter is their connection to getting the Crescent. I mean, obviously, they've really chosen a "¦ a bad peach on that one."   She suddenly remembered the Secret Service men on the Sequoyah Star holding their hands almost like claws. Just like the claws on the Yithians in her strange dream.   "I don't think we should trust Pete Sutter,"Jacali said. "And I mean, I thought that before but now, it's justified. I don't think we should trust Pete Sutter."   "Well, no,"Otto said. "I don't think any of us did before this."   "And again, I didn't either. But I think he has some connection to Yithians about the horn."   "And I think they might be manipulating him."   "Yes. That sounds like─"   "Because he does not seem terribly bright and pretty easy to fool."     * * *       Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Bowen returned to the mine they had trespassed in before and found their way to the crevice. It looked like some work had been done in the area to facilitate getting down into the hole, but not much. They set Bowen's 700 yards of rope and flung it over the side. Then they climbed down carefully but found the pit was deeper than the rope could reach. They noticed wind seemed to come out of the hole for about 30 seconds and then stopped for some time before it blew into the hole for 30 seconds. It was almost as if something impossibly huge was breathing down there.   They noticed, just below the end of the rope on the opposite side of the hole was a large vein of gold. Bowen's eyes lit up. He thought about trying to get to it but it was just too far away.   They climbed back up, took their rope and stakes, and headed back to Devil's Gulch.   As they got close to town, they saw a figure coming from town heading south. They were not far from town when they saw it and Jacali suggested intercepting the man. They recognized the figure. He had a thick, black beard, shaded glasses, and pomaded hair. He wore a nice suit. They thought it was La Forge. He stopped when he saw them, a little startled.   "Hello stranger,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Good "¦ evening,"La Forge said uneasily.   "Heading out of Devil's Gulch, I see,"Jacali said.   "Just taking a walk,"La Forge said. "A constitutional. To settle my stomach. I had a very late dinner."   "Oh, I probably have some medicine for that,"Dr. Weisswald said.   She rifled through her doctor's bag for some mint.   "Yes, it's best to be home at this hour,"Jacali said.   "It best is!"La Forge said.   "Why are you wearing those glasses?"Otto said.   "Are you bandits then?"La Forge said.   "No, we're not robbers,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "No, I don't fancy myself a bandit,"Jacali said.   "Most don't,"La Forge said.   "I'm not a thug,"Bowen said.   La Forge backed away from them nervously.   "Where are you from?"he said carefully.   "We are just passing through Devil's Gulch, staying for a bit,"Jacali said.   "Ah,"La Forge said. "I see. Very well."   He continued to back away from them. Dr. Weisswald had pulled out some mint. She handed it to the man and he tucked it into his pocket.   "Are you the man selling stocks?"Bowen said.   La Forge stopped backing up.   "Where did you hear that?"he said.   "All around town,"Bowen said. "Everybody's investin.'"   "Everybody?"   "Lots of people. Uh "¦"   "I'll be honest with you, there is some stock that is for sale. I've been trying to limit the sales to a very few."   He looked at them.   "Why is that?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Because I don't want people to claim that I'm ripping them off,"La Forge said.   "Are you?"Otto said.   "Why would they claim that?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Because I'm an out-of-towner,"La Forge said. "And I don't want to seem like a criminal. Now, I'm going to walk back to town. If you want to shoot me on the way, there's little I can do about it."   He backed away from them again.   They escorted him back to town, following him and making him various nervous. He went back to the Empire Hotel and he used his room key to open the front door and then lock it behind him.   Jacali suggested posting someone to see if he tried to leave again. Otto volunteered but asked for someone to watch with him so he didn't fall asleep again. Dr. Weisswald suggested he keep pacing to stay awake, noting that was what they did in the war.   Otto stayed behind the watch. The others returned to the Gilded Lily.     * * *       About a half hour later, the front door of the Empire Hotel opened and La Forge slipped out again, heading south. Otto followed him at a discreet distance. La Forge walked about five miles out of town and met with a fellow with a mustache and bushy eyebrows wearing a plaid suit. They conferred for a short time and then they headed to a mine entrance nearby. They went inside and, a moment later, he saw light coming from within. The light dimmed as they walked deeper into the mine.   Otto found a safe spot in some broken rocks about 20 yards away and watched. About a half hour later the men ran out of the mine shaft, throwing their lamps down behind them as they sprinted away, looks of horrors on their faces. Something was in the mine that stopped at the entrance. It appeared to be some kind of amorphous lump made of viscous black slime that changed its shape as it writhed in the mine entrance.   The two men kept running towards town and he soon lost sight of them. The strange shape disappeared back into the mine entrance and he saw the flames gradually subside.   He went back to town and found everyone at the Gilded Lily had gone to bed and the structure looked fine. He went to bed.     * * *       The early morning hours of Friday, August 20, 1875, were broken by a screams and a great cry and hue from the east side of town. The initial cries were painful screams soon followed by cries for help.   Bowen was woken up fast as he had pitched his tent over on that side of town, not far from where the screams originated. He grabbed his pickaxe and ran out to find the cries were coming from Dallas Avery's boarding house. He ran to the back of the house and found a woman on the stoop there retching on the ground in terror.   "It's horrible!"she cried when she saw the old prospector. "Don't go in there! Don't go in there! It's horrible! Help! Help! Murder! Murder!"   He ran in and found the door to the ground floor bedroom near the kitchen was wide open. In the light from a lantern in the kitchen he could see what looked like a skeleton on the bed. The sheets and mattress were wet with fresh blood. He thought he saw a little hole in the ceiling above.   He went by the room and headed up the stairs, passing a couple of men coming down. He went to Dallas' room and found it locked. He tried the other door on that side of the house but found it also locked.     * * *       Dunspar and Gemma Jones reached the house along with a few other townsfolk from nearby homes and businesses. Gemma consoled the woman by the back porch.   "It's the Widow Barrington!"she said. "She's dead! She's dead! Oh my God! I heard the noise! I heard her scream and then I looked. Oh, it was awful! It was awful!"   Dunspar went to the room and saw the bloody skeleton, all that was left of the Widow Barrington.   Marshal Bishop and Dr. Gibbs had arrived along with Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Otto. Everyone was terrified by the horrible sight.   "My God,"Marshal Bishop said.   Everyone looked up as they heard the sound of wood being smashed upstairs.   "What the hell?"Marshal Bishop said.   He headed up the steps.     * * *       Bowen struck the door a second time with his pickaxe and smashed the lock, knocking the door open. He peered in and could see, from the light from the hallway, that it looked like a typical room. The bed was unmade and a few clothes were scattered around the room. He moved to the other door when Marshal Bishop came up the stairs.   "What the hell are you doing?"Marshal Bishop said.   "There was a thing on the ceiling,"Bowen said.   "You stop what you're doing,"Marshal Bishop said, putting his hand on his pistol.   Bowen put down the pickaxe.   "Get downstairs!"Marshal Bishop said. "What's wrong with you? Pick that up!"   Once they were downstairs, he wanted to know what the hell Bowen was doing. Bowen told him about the hole in the ceiling, pointing it out. He said he was trying to see where it went to see if they could catch what did it. Marshal Bishop got a stepstool and got up near where the hole was.   "I wouldn't do that!"Bowen said.   Marshal Bishop held up a lantern and noted there was something, some space, between the ceiling and the floor. He climbed back down and found the Widow Barrington's keys. Then they went up to the other room upstairs and unlocked it. It didn't look like anyone was living there and someone mentioned Miles Nelson left the day before. Dr. Weisswald asked what he looked like but it wasn't the old codger. Bowen suggested prying up some of the floorboards and they retrieved crowbars and got to work on it. They found a loose floorboard that led to a spot under the floor. When Bowen went into Dallas' room, he found another loose floorboard that led to the same space. Within was a little bit of gunnysack or burlap that looked like it had been burnt. Bowen pocketed it.   "What the hell's that!?!"they heard a familiar voice. "Whoa! What happened to her!?!"   "Oh, hey Pete Sutter,"Bowen said. "Hey Marshal, this is Pete Sutter."   "That's right, I'm Pete Sutter!"Pete said.   Marshal Bishop didn't seem to care.   Otto took everyone aside and told them what he had seen at the mine south of town.   "Oh!"Jacali said. "That sounds where the Crescent might be at."   "Or something worse,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "You think the Crescent can spawn tentacles?"Otto said.   "Or something worse,"Jacali said. "Like Weisswald said."   Dallas Avery wandered back and seemed quite surprised at the crowd near the boarding house.   "Where were you, Dallas?"Dunspar asked.   "I was taking a walk,"Dallas said. "I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep."   "Where to?"   "I just took a walk outside of town. It's so hot. What is going on?"   Marshal Bishop took the man down to the jail to talk to him. When they asked about Miles Nelson, the other boarders said he left the day before with a suitcase. They were not sure how he left town or when, exactly. Dr. Weisswald examined Widow Barrington's mattress and realized, though there was not enough blood for a person, there was a lot. There were also chemical burns on the mattress unlike anything she had ever seen before.     * * *       They returned to the Gilded Lily and quietly discussed the horror in the boarding house. Jacali was of the opinion they should investigate the cave Otto had told them about. She thought there might be a connection between what Otto had seen and what had happened that night. They decided to question La Forge that day and then possibly explore the mine.     * * *       All of them except Bowen went to the Empire Hotel after they ate breakfast that next morning. Bowen waited on the porch. They learned from Farnsworth La Forge was eating breakfast in the dining room and they were welcome to wait for him. They went to the saloon and hung out at the bar until they saw him come out of the dining room. When La Forge saw Bowen, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Jacali, he was a little taken aback, obviously recognizing them from the night before.   "Yes?"he said as they approached him. "Can I help you people?"   "We need to talk in private,"Otto said.   "I don't know if I want to,"La Forge said.   He again looked over the four he had met late the night before.   "Well, sir, it's about "¦ it's about "¦"Jacali said. "It's about last night. Otto, here, knows the details probably better "¦"   "I saw you meet a man with a mustache,"Otto said. "You went to that cave south of town. I saw you run out. Something came out of the cave after you."   "What was that?"La Forge said.   "Well, I don't know."   "Was it a bear?"   "I don't know."   A few other people who came out of the dining room stopped, curious, to listen to the conversation. La Forge noticed them.   "Well,"he said. "What was it?"   "If you "¦ don't know what it is "¦ I'm not going to say,"Otto said. "I feel like that kind of defeats the purpose."   "What?"   Otto just stared at him.   "Very well,"La Forge said. "I met with a geologist. I had one come to this area a week ago. And the man has told me this is a prime spot for gold and silver, possibly other precious metals. I and my associate, his name is Maxwell Barrow, he's staying outside of town to be discreet, but now that's over, we were examining some of the old abandoned mines when there was some kind of collapse. It frightened both of us quite badly. However, if I'm right, the gold that was not found here before still resides in the ground around Devil's Gulch, which could lead to a possible gold rush! I didn't want to loose any information until the facts were sure, but you forced my hand."   He looked over all of them.   "Is that all?"he said.   Otto looked at the others.   "I'm satisfied,"Otto said.   Jacali left.   Some of the people in the place were murmuring and they realized the rumors were going to spread like wildfire.   They all returned to the Gilded Lily and prepared to investigate the mine Otto had told them about.     * * *       Dunspar went to the bank where he withdrew the money he'd had wired to him. He returned to the Gilded Lily and gave $400 to Lily.   "I expect a kitchen next time I come,"he said.   She looked at him with fire in her eyes and shook her head.   "Not a loan,"he said. "Gift."   "No!"she said. "How dare you!?! You think I'm just a woman, I can't earn this money?"   "I know you can!"   "No!"   "I just want food next time."   "I will not take charity. Take your money. Take your money."   "Fine."     * * *       Otto led them all to the abandoned mine some five miles south of town and they could see the mouth was blackened as well as some of the massive supports. They didn't think the damage was enough to weaken them, however. The cave went back and headed downward at a steep angle. Gemma told them the rumors she had heard about the Whiskey Mine, in which men had heard strange noises and had to take a drink before they entered to work up their courage.   Bowen took a swig of whiskey and offered it around.   They entered the place and found it well-built. There was no sign of a collapse near the entrance. The roof was held by solid supports. The main shaft ran back at least a half mile and they explored for 20 minutes or so, the feel of the entire world above their heads weighing heavily upon them. The few side passages didn't go very far.   Finally, it came into the upper side of another tunnel that went nearly perpendicular to it where they met. This tunnel was of worked stone of strange manufacture. Hexagonal-shaped stones fitted perfectly into each other formed the floor, walls and ceiling. To the right, the worked tunnel went only a little ways before it had collapsed. To the left, it went into the darkness.   They followed the tunnel only a hundred feet or so before they came to a large room at the end. The room was about 50 feet across and, in their lantern light, they could see a huge basalt statue of a horrific, toad-like creature. It felt like infinite slothfulness and had eyes that appeared to be two slits of oozing blackness in the black, browless face. It had a fat, furry body and bat-like ears. The mouth was wide and the eyes half-closed as if sleepy. They seemed very deep. It also had a ruby mounted in the center of its chest.   On either side of the statue was a deep, bronze brazier. Strange-shaped, long cuts in the floor were very black, almost as if they were filled with darkness. The odd troughs seemed to be oddly and randomly shaped.   Ophelia gasped and looked around nervously.   "We should leave now,"she said.   "Why?"Otto said.   "We "¦ should "¦ leave "¦ now "¦"she said quietly as she backed up the tunnel.   "I'm with her!"Dunspar said.   "I'll need some more exposition on that,"Jacali said.   The serpent person had gone pale despite the fact that her human form was just some kind of magical disguise. Both Dunspar and Bowen were moving back down the tunnel.   Otto, Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Gemma stood in the entrance to the terrible chamber.   "What is this?"Gemma said. "What is this?"   Even those who were in the entrance began to back out when some kind of horrible, oozing blackness came out of one of the troughs.   "Run!"Ophelia said.   Gemma turned to run and then she went white and her eyes rolled back up into her head as she collapsed in a faint. Bowen, a little further up the corridor, had the misfortune of looking back and then screamed and ran down the corridor at a sprint, laughing insanely. Jacali, also stunned by the sight of the horrors suddenly dropped her bow and arrow as her arms went limp and she couldn't feel them. She looked at Gemma.   "Uh!"she said, unable to reach down to grab the woman or her bow.   Ophelia turned and ran away. Otto picked up Gemma and flung her over his shoulder, turning and running away as well. Dunspar ran forward and grabbed Jacali's bow before he turned and ran away.   "I'd be very mad at you if I could move my arms!"she shouted at the man. "Weisswald, I have polio! Help me! Help me!"   She ran away as well.   Whatever the thing was, it came out of the trough. It seemed to be a black, horrific ooze, a viscous black slime. Thos who had not yet fled saw it form a hand, and a blade, and a corkscrew-looking appendage from its bulk. Dr. Weisswald saw something come out of the other three troughs and then huge versions of the things come out of the great braziers before she turned to run. They moved unnaturally quickly, much faster than any of them.   Otto felt Gemma stir on his shoulder as the woman regained consciousness.   "Hey!"she muttered. "What's happening?"   "Not enough time!"Otto said. "We're moving!"   Gemma looked up and saw the others following them and something moving in the room behind them.   In the rear, Weisswald looked back and saw the horrors were quickly catching up to her. She knew she could not outrun them. She flung her lantern down onto the stone floor behind her and the lantern shattered and broke as kerosene came out and sprayed over the floor, quickly catching fire. She didn't look back.   They fled, following the dim light of the madly-laughing Jerimiah Bowen who led their escape. They ran as hard as they could and didn't stop until they reached the entrance to the Whiskey Mine. Otto had to put Gemma down as they were falling behind. They ran together after that until they reached the entrance. By the time they got there, Jacali had the use of her arms once again and Bowen had stopped laughing insanely.   Both Jacali and Gemma got sick.   "The good news is, I don't have Polio anymore,"Jacali said.   "Keep going!"Otto said.   Ophelia didn't stop at the mine entrance but jogged at least another mile away. She finally stopped and looked back as if expecting pursuit.   "That was a statue of Tsathoggua and those were formless spawn,"she said. "They don't seem to like fire."   She looked at Otto's rifle.   "That's useless,"she said.   "I figured,"he said.   "I think we should collapse that mine,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "Yeah,"Dunspar said.   "It won't matter,"Ophelia said. "They can get through a hole the size of a pin. They are literally living liquid. Not as bad as shoggoths, but they are awful."   "What's a shoggoth?"Jacali said.   "Yeah,"Gemma said.   "What should we do then?"Dr. Weisswald said.   "There is the locomotive,"Ophelia said.   "Well "¦"Jacali said.   "I've only heard tales of these things,"Ophelia said. "I've never seen them before."   "Do we think that thing is what killed "¦?"Jacali said.   "People think there's a gold rush in this town,"Dr. Weisswald said. "We have to stop it."   "Yeah,"Jacali said.   "What killed what?"Ophelia said.   They told her about the death of Widow Barrington.   "Yes, that's the way that they kill their prey,"she said. "They strip the body of its flesh."   "Did they cause the fire?"Bowen said.   "How do we stop them, then?"Jacali said.   "They are acidic, somewhat,"Ophelia said. "I do not know."   Dr. Weisswald suggested the burlap sack might have held one. Ophelia didn't think so, noting the things were intelligent and malicious. The burns might have been related but it wouldn't have been kept in a burlap sack.   "They are horrific,"she said. "They protect the temples. They've worshipped Tsathoggua. They've been around for as long as I know. My people avoid the formless spawn and Tsathoggua, an elder god."   "Maybe something stole something from the temple and they had put it in that sack because they were trying to escape with it and hid it under the floorboards,"Bowen muttered.   "You think the window had it?"Jacali said.   "No."   "Oh, you said the floorboards."   "And the thing came and killed her and reached up through the ceiling and that's why the hole's there and went and grabbed it back."   "But then nobody else saw anything coming in, that we know of."   "And then it retreated back into the ground."   "It doesn't go through the ground,"Ophelia said. "It usually travels on the surface."   "Oh,"Bowen said.   They realized the statue had a ruby and the eyes had been really deep, as if they had something in them too.   "We need to find the other ones,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "So we need to go through the whole town and figure out─"Jacali said.   "Well, I have an idea,"Otto said.   "Yeah?"Jacali said.   "What about La Forge?"Otto said. "He and that other man were there. There were two of them. There were two eye sockets."   "Maybe the bit of money Dallas has came into was from selling them two gems,"Bowen said.   "It could be as well,"Otto said. "Maybe he sold them to La Forge."   "Well, La Forge and his partner were the only people who knew about this place,"Jacali said.   "And they were being chased by them last night,"Otto said.   "Let's go talk to La Forge,"Dr. Weisswald said.   "I think it was Dallas!"Bowen said.   They returned to town and found the people there nervous. They were obviously excited about the rumor of gold but were very nervous about the weird death of Widow Barrington. Rumors were flying through town and they heard some people wonder aloud if the half-Sioux in the gypsy wagon outside of town had anything to do with it. There as a rumor of some kind of insane murderer in town or perhaps some kind of disease that killed Widow Barrington. Dr. Weisswald tried to nip that one in the bud but the rumors were moving faster than the truth could keep up. Everyone had a theory.   "Maybe instead of confronting La Forge, we could convince the telegraph man to let us look at what telegraphs he's been sending,"Otto said.   "I mean, I don't know if we have the authority to do that,"Jacali said. "It's very illegal."   "I know,"Otto said.   They stood on the porch of the Gilded Lily and discussed how to proceed. Otto suggested they confront La Forge on his nightly walk but it was quickly pointed out they didn't know if he went every night and no one thought he would return to the Whiskey Mine. As they talked, one of the boys who had vandalized the saloon walked up.   "We ain't seen the old codger,"he told them. "We've been looking for him."   Then he was off.   Bowen wanted to distract the telegraph man and noted it was just a two person job and should be easy. Jacali thought if they contacted La Forge, Gemma might be the best person to do so.   "Are you up for that, Gemma?"Jacali said.   "Yeah,"Gemma said.   "What about the telegrams?"Bowen said.   Neither Jacali nor Dunspar liked the idea of that. Bowen pointed out they might get something that could be used as leverage in the conversation. Jacali didn't think it could be helpful in that regard either. Bowen noted he needed two people to go for the telegraph so that one could make a distraction while the other one stole the paperwork. He pointed out he just needed someone to make a distraction.   "I'll get Pete Sutter to make a distraction!"he said.   He left.   Gemma wanted to know the exact plan for dealing with La Forge. Jacali pointed out they could wait until Bowen got the information from the telegraph office to see if they could use any of it for leverage. However, she also noted if too much time passed, she felt they should go ahead and go anyway and talk to La Forge. She said they might not need to go up in a huge group and she thought it should just be her.   "What would you like to know?"Gemma asked.   "We need to know if they took a ruby,"Jacali said. "And where it is. I guess. This is open to everybody."   "Simply threaten him,"Ophelia said. "With death. Until he tells you the truth. I don't understand the problem."   "Typically that's not how humans work most of the time,"Gemma said.   "It's been the way I've seen you work so far,"Ophelia said.   "I don't know,"Jacali said. "We need to know if he has the ruby and where it is and if he'll give it to us."     * * *       Bowen found Pete Sutter and offered him $20 to make a distraction.   "Fifty!"Pete said.   "Twenty,"Bowen said.   Pete wanted to know what kind of distraction the old coot wanted. He didn't want to go to jail.   "A good one,"Bowen said. "A Pete Sutter original."   "Hm,"Pete said. "I like the sound of that. You pay me in advance."   They walked to the station and cased the place. The telegraph office was in the back of the building, facing away from Devil's Gulch. It was somewhat isolated but it was also connected via an archway to the teller's booth, meaning they had to distract both Shamus O'Gara, the telegraph operator, and Old Zeke Pratt, the ticket seller.   "It's gonna cost you double "˜cause I gotta distract two people,"Pete said.   "You're distracting both?"Bowen said.   "I'll distract both. You want me to rob "˜em too?"   "I mean, I might be."   Bowen agreed to pay the man an extra $10. Pete thought for a few minutes about what kind of distraction would be best. Then he went to talk to Old Zeke.   "I overheard there's some bandits,"he told the old man. "They're gonna crash the train by putting a boulder on the track. You should go tell the marshal! Yeah. You should go!"   Old Zeke didn't seem to believe him at all. Pete grabbed him by the lapels of his vest.   "You're gonna lose a train!"he shouted at the man.   Then he tried to pick the man's pocket and get the keys but Old Zeke saw him and, though Pete got the keys, it was not without its own problem.   "You!"Old Zeke cried out. "There's a thief! Thief! You're a thief!"   Pete gave the old man a shove and then ran away. The old man leapt over the ticket booth and gave chase but he was quite slow.   "Shamus, help me!"he screamed. "He's gonna get away!"   Shamus O'Gara ran out of the door to the ticket booth in pursuit of Pete while Old Zeke followed, more slowly, shaking his fist at the man.   Once they left the building, Bowen slipped into the telegraph office and started looking quickly for the telegraphs sent and received. He soon found a file labeled "La Forge."It seemed to have all of his correspondences. He went to the teller window and opened the register, taking a handful of cash, before he fled.     * * *       Bowen arrived at the Gilded Lily with a folder with La Forge's name on it. They took an hour to look over the papers together as there was no one else in the saloon that late morning. Most all of it seemed to be harmless correspondence though some seemed to indicate some kind of competition between the managers at R.H. Macy and Co. There was nothing about gold. A few telegrams asked for more stock certificates to be sent as many people wanted to invest. A couple of telegrams didn't make any real sense to them. One read "Do not forget to inform J about the situation referred to earlier."Another was just a list of 20 words sent August 11. The reply to that was "Proceed I am in route"which was received on Aug. 12.   "All right, well "¦ I guess it's time for the plan to contact La Forge, right?"Jacali said.   Gemma nodded.   Dallas had shown up at the Gilded Lily for his lesson from Dunspar while they looked over the papers. He took the cowboy aside.   "They're studying too?"Dallas said.   "Uh "¦"Dunspar said.   "What're they studying?"   "They're trying to gather some information on a new topic?"   "What?"   "Code breaking!"Bowen called.   "Yeah, code breaking,"Dunspar said.   "Oh,"Dallas said. "That sounds interesting. How do you do that?"   "Well, it's a bunch of secret words that─"   "Well, I know what a code is."   "Right."   "How do you learn how to break a code?"   "Um "¦ you basically learn what certain words mean for other words. That type of thing."   "Oh. Can you teach me that?"   "Unfortunately, I am not skilled in that."   "Oh, okay. I understand teacher."   Dunspar took the young man to the other side of the room.   "Do we ask him about the hole in his room?"Bowen said.   "I don't know,"Jacali said.   They discussed whether or not to question Dallas. They also planned who would go with Gemma. She thought Otto should come with her as he was the one who saw the men in the desert initially. He noted he could be somewhere nearby in case she needed him. She decided she would go alone with Otto somewhere nearby. They left the building.   The others talked about whether or not to talk to Dallas about the hiding spot under his room.     * * *  

Max_Writer

Max_Writer

 

The Doom That Came to Devil's Gulch Part 5 - Death at the Empire Hotel

* * *       Gemma went to Farnsworth and asked if he had seen James La Forge.   "I believe he's in his room," Farnsworth said.   "And what room would that be?" Gemma said.   "And why should I tell you, Miss Gemma Jones? After you threatened me."   "My dear man, I am very sorry. We did find the culprits of such a horrific vandalization."   "Who was it?"   "I'm not at liberty to say. But me and La Forge have a special arrangement and "¦ uh "¦"   "Oh."   ""¦ it would behoove you to let me in if you would not mind."   "Of course. Of course. I did not know Mr. La Forge was that kind of man."   He gave her the room number and she went up the steps, finding it at the front of the building, not far from the stairs on the second floor. She knocked on the door and thought she heard someone inside say "Who could that be?" A few moments later the door opened and La Forge stood there. He started, obviously surprised to see her.   "Yes?" he said.   "Mr. La Forge."   "Yes?"   "I've heard of your "¦ going's on around town and "¦ uh "¦ I feel we need to talk."   She pushed by him and entered the room. There was a bed, a dresser, and a wardrobe which was slightly open. There was also a desk in the room with a lot of paperwork on it as well as a small, somewhat portable safe that was in the corner. It was open and he walked quickly to it and closed it. She noticed a good deal of cash and paperwork in the safe before it closed. He spun the dial on it. She noticed several blank stock certificates on the desk as well, folded as if they came in the mail.   "Oh, I wonder what small fortune that could be," she said.   "Well," he said. "Miss Gemma Jones. Your name proceeds you."   "I've heard from reliable sources that you may be up to some shady business in this town."   "Shady? How ridiculous. I'm merely trying to make the people of this town as rich as I can."   "Oh really?"   "Yes."   "Well, you should know that I am looking out for several peoples' best interests."   "Hm. Who would that be?"   "I am not at liberty to say. You do not need to know that."   "Very well. How can I help you, Miss Jones? I would hate to be thought inhospitable to my "¦ guest."   "I've heard rumors that you've been involved with mysterious beings in the caves."   "Oh. Have you?"   "Yes."   "I haven't."   She laughed.   "Really?" she said.   "Yes, really," he replied.   "I don't think that's very true now, is it?"   "I didn't hear any rumors. None whatsoever. But "¦ what would I have to do with mysterious beings in a cave? You've been talking to that fellow with the rifle, haven't you?"   "Excuse me?"   "That fellow who said "˜something,' a bear or something, followed us out of the cave. Me and my geologist."   "Hm. What did the bear look like?"   "There was no bear. It was an avalanche."   "An avalanche where?"   "A collapse. In the mine we were looking in, hoping to find some more gold."   "You find any gold?"   "We found what we were looking for. Well, not really what we were looking for. But it was close enough."   "You must be alluding to a gem of another sort, I take it?"   "Something."   She looked at the safe.   "Oh, of course," he said.   He walked over to the safe, turning the dial while being careful to shield it from her. Then he opened it up.   "If you think I've stolen something, just say so," he said. "And you are free to look. Don't take anything for yourself though or I'll have to pull the full weight of the law down upon you. You are just a dancehall girl, albeit one who sings well."   "Oh just," she said.   "Yes. Just."   "You're funny."   "My daughters always thought so."   She looked at the safe and he gestured towards it again.   "That could very well be a red herring," she said.   "Where else do you wish to look?" he said. "Under the mattress, perhaps? In the dressers?"   "I want to know what you know and I think it would behoove you to tell me."   "What could I possibly have to gain from that?"   "We've intercepted some telegrams of yours."   "Oh. It seems like everyone in this town does."   "There are things in this town that "¦ we have seen and I know that you have seen. And unless you want those things to continue happening to this town, I'd suggest you tell me what you know."   "What things have you found?"   "The bear "¦ if you want to call it that."   "No no no. There's something else, isn't there? You've found something else in this town, haven't you?"   "You tell me."   "I want you to tell me."   "It seems like we're at an impasse here."   She laughed.   "It seems like we are," he said.   "Knowledge," she said. "Okay. Information for information. What do you want to know?"   "What have you found? Where is it?"   "What are you referring to?"   "You know what I'm talking about. Where is it?"   "Where is what?"   "Where is it?"   La Forge slowly approached her, his arms crossed.   "It," she said. "Describe it."   "She's not gonna tell," A smooth voice dripping with malice covered by a thick Georgia accent said.   The wardrobe door opened the rest of the way and a man slipped out. He moved with the grace of a snake though Gemma was sure every step was carefully planned. He had long, blonde hair and wore black. Two reverse holsters were on his belt, each holding a Colt Peacemaker and he wore black gloves that were smooth and clean. He had ice blue eyes and didn't seem to blink, merely stare. There was something terribly menacing about him.   "And who might you be?" she said haughtily. "An accomplice?"   He walked over to her, laughing quietly to himself.   "No, m' dear, I'm not an accomplice," he said with a sinister smile. "I'm his boss. I'm in charge of "¦"   "Of what exactly are you doing?" she asked.   "Mr. La Forge "¦ are we still going with that?" he said.   He grabbed her by the arm.   "Where is it?" he said.   He was still smiling slightly.   "I know it's here," he said. "They told me it's here and I need it and I want it and I'm not above a little rough play if need be."   "What "˜it' are you talking about?" she said angrily.   "I don't have time for this!" he said slowly. He looked at La Forge. "Do you have time for this? I don't have time for this."   He drew a pistol and pointed it at her.   "I really don't have time for this and I'll shoot this whole town if I have to," he said.   He looked at La Forge.   "She's yours," he said. "You tell her what to do!"   Gemma took advantage of his distraction to slip her knives into her hands. When he looked at her and saw her with him, his smiled broadened. He still didn't seem to have blinked.   "She has bite," he said. "You didn't tell me she has bite. Oh! You have bite! I like that. I like that. But this is faster than that."   He nodded towards his pistol. Then he glanced over his shoulder at La Forge.   "Why don't you "¦ just show her," he said.   La Forge looked suddenly nervous.   "Go ahead and kill me," she said. "They'll all be dead soon anyway."   The man in black looked back at La Forge.   "I like her," he said. "Why didn't you tell me about her sooner?"   Gemma grabbed the barrel of the gun, twisting it out of the man's hand and reversing it to point it at him. He turned back to her with a grin and a laugh.   "I like - I like her," he said. "Why don't you show her? Why don't you show her?"   He turned to La Forge again.   "Show her," he growled.   It was an order.   La Forge didn't seem pleased with it.   "All right," he said.   He took off the glasses. Then he pulled off the beard and the wig.   "Hello Jennie," he said.   To Gemma's horror, she recognized her father, Charles Allen. Her jaw dropped and she just stared at the man. While she was stunned, the man in black reached forward and gently took the pistol from her hand and pointed it at her, positioning himself between her and the door.   "Now, I will ask you one more time little girl," the man in black said, his voice almost soothing. "And this time "¦"   He reached down into his boot and pulled out a Bowie knife. He held it to her throat.   "Where "¦ is "¦ the Crescent?" he said.   "Oh," she said   "I know it's here."   "I see. You don't know where it is either."   "You don't know?"   "That's what I've been saying."   "She's worthless to us."   He tried to stab her but the whalebone in her corset turned the knife aside like armor. Charles Allen stepped forward and clamped a hand over her mouth. Gemma stabbed her father in the inside of his left elbow and he grunted in pain. Valentine tried to stab her again but, again, the whalebone in her corset saved her. She reached down and picked up the knife on the floor, brandishing them both at the men.   "Where are the rubies!?!" she said.   Both men stepped back, Allen bleeding profusely. Valentine moved his hands in a strange way that they almost seemed to go through each other. He pointed at her and an intense wracking pain went through her as her face and hands blistered and dripped fluid. As her father came towards her to try to clamp his hand on her mouth, her vision clouded with something red as blood dripped from her eyes. The pain was intense and terrible.   The next thing she knew, she was laying on her back on the ground gripped in pain and unable to say or do anything.   "I don't think she knows," the man in black said. "I don't think there's any point of keeping her around."   "We can't just leave her in my room!" Allen said.   "She doesn't know. None of "˜em probably know. It doesn't matter. We'll find it sooner or later."   "Just, hold on a second."   "Little girl, you shouldn't mess with me."   He stabbed her twice in the gut and she felt herself starting to bleed.   "You better get your money, Allen," the man in black said. "And get outta here. I don't care if he's got them rubies."   She felt the man in black wipe his blade off on her clothing. Then the door opened.   "Blackberry," she whispered.     * * *       Otto had arrived at the Empire Hotel and Saloon about five minutes after Gemma. He sat himself down at the bar and listened for her to call for help, just in case she needed. He had been there for a little while when he saw a man come down the stairs. He was blonde and wore all black, including black gloves. He recognized the man as John Valentine and he stood and drew his sword.   "Blackberry!" he heard a woman scream from upstairs.   Otto rushed to the stairs, brushing past Valentine.   "Excuse me," Valentine said.   He got a good look at Otto's face.   Otto ignored him and ran up the steps. He saw a single door open in the hallway and ran to it. In the room, a man was kneeling by a little safe, filling up a satchel with money. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a widening pool of her blood. Otto rushed across the room, stepping over Gemma, and stabbed the man in the chest as he looked up at the last second.   Gemma, in a haze, turned her head towards her father and saw him run through. Money flew into the air. The man fall back with a high-pitched gasp and then lay still. Otto sheathed his bloody saber and went to Gemma but found her dying. She clutched at her belly.   "Gemma "¦" he said.   He tried to deal with the wounds but had no way to stop her from bleeding.   "Gemma, what happened?" he said.   She looked up at the ceiling.   He ran out of the room to go get Dr. Weisswald.     * * *       After Dunspar and Dallas had finished with his lesson, the cowboy was going to have a beer and relax before lunch. He always said he was "all dried out." The others came over to him and he bought them each a beer.   "Terrible thing to happen to that widow," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Oh my God!" Dallas said.   He went pale.   "I saw it!" he said. "I saw her body! There was nothing left of it. They say there was a disease that did that?"   "It wasn't a disease," Dunspar said.   "I've been traveling with the doctor for a while now and "¦ that's not a disease," Jacali said.   "That's just what I heard," Dallas said. "I'm just an ol' cowpoke. I don't know these things."   "Dallas, you said you recently got a big pay raise?" Dunspar said.   "I got a bonus. We took cattle up from Texas to Kansas and we did it in record time. The owner was willing to give us a nice, nice bundle of "¦ I got $200. That's over and above regular pay. There were four of us that got that "˜cause we did such a great job. That's amazing! I can't believe it! More money than I know what to do with. I'm looking. I'm thinking I'm going to be able to find a place."   "That's nice."   "It is."   "You ever meet your neighbor at the boarding house?" Bowen said.   "Oh," Dallas said. "Miles Nelson? Yeah. Funny about that man. They told me he left yesterday afternoon "¦ but I coulda sworn I heard him in his room last night. He was bumping or something. I don't know what he was doing because he woke me up. That's why I went for the walk, because he woke me up. I tried to get back to sleep and then I couldn't get back to sleep. So "¦ I'm glad I wasn't in the house. Poor Widow Barrington. What was it? What'd it do?"   "Well, there was a loose floorboard in your room," Dr. Weisswald said. "I'm not sure if you knew about that. And we found something under it. And I think it might be related to her death."   "In my room?" Dallas said.   "Uh-huh."   "I didn't know about any loose floorboards. What did you find? Was it gold? I hear about people hiding gold under loose floorboards."   "It wasn't gold."   "Oh. I don't need gold anyway."   Bowen held up the burnt piece of burlap. Dallas looked confused.   "Here's what I found," Bowen said.   "Oh!" Dallas said. "It's just some burlap. That's not treasure."   "It coulda held treasure."   "I thought you were talking about treasure. I thought you were talking about treasure."   "Also, the floorboards connected from your room to your neighbors," Dunspar said.   "So maybe he had some treasure," Dallas said.   He snapped his fingers.   "He took it with him," he said. "But I couldn't have taken it anyways, because it wasn't mine, and if I'd found it, and I found out it was connected to his room too, I would've had to ask."   "Well, we were just wondering if you knew anything about it," Dr. Weisswald said.   "Huh-uh," Dallas said.   "What was Miles'─"   "Wait, which board? I wanna go look."   "What was Miles' occupation?"   "I dunno but he was always looking at rocks. He was only here a few weeks."   Lily came out of her room where she was doing paperwork. She was delighted to see Dallas there and he gave her a big smile. The two of them went behind the bar to chat.   Otto burst in the front door.   "Weisswald!" he yelled. "Come with me! Now! No questions!"   Dr. Weisswald ran out the door with him, followed by Jacali, Dunspar, and Bowen.     * * *       Gemma knew she was dying. She could feel her life running out of her on the floor. She looked at the carpet to one side of her and then dipped her finger in to the pool of blood under her and wrote a message. She was certain she was not going to survive. She blinked and someone was leaning over her left side. The woman had dark hair, reddish skin, and was pretty. She wore a white Stetson and looked concerned, frowning at the girl.   The woman gestured towards her left side and Gemma saw, lying there on the floor next to her, was a large silver crescent with small spikes sticking out of it. She recognized what it was from the description the others had given her. It was the Crescent.   "You need to trust in it and touch it," the woman said. "Pull one of the golden rods forth. The Lunula determines if you're worthy. But it's a matter of faith to believe it will not harm someone."   She gestured to one of the spikes.   Gemma only thought about it for a moment before reaching for the Crescent and grasping one of the spikes. She pulled and it slid out easily. Connected to it was a long, golden rod. It glowed and seemed to sparkle, practically crackling with power.   "Touch your wounds," the other woman said.   She touched the wounds on her belly with the rod and everything got hazy. She closed her eyes and felt very strange but not wrong.   "You have to trust and you have to have faith," she heard the woman say.   When she opened her eyes, someone else was leaning over her.     * * *       Otto burst into the front door of the Empire Hotel, followed by the other three.   "What is going on?" Farnsworth cried out.   "Medical emergency!" Bowen yelled as he ran past.   Otto led them up the stairs and down the hall to the room with the still-open door. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a wide pool of blood. Nearby, another man lay next to a safe, bank notes and money all around him, in a similarly large pool. Dr. Weisswald ran to Gemma and found cuts on her clothing in her belly. Gemma opened her eyes.   "I think I saw God," she said.   Weisswald quickly pulled up her dress and examined her belly but found not cuts, marks or scars. She was covered in blood. Her dress, belly, face, and hands all seemed slick with it.   Next to her, written in blood on the carpet, were what she had expected to be her last words. It read:     Couldn't find out about rubies Searching for crescent James is John Send my love to Lily Jennie Allen     Weisswald continued to look for a wound. There was so much blood and she couldn't figure out how Gemma could be alive after all of the blood. Gemma appeared unwounded.   "Damn, I do good work even when I'm not here!" she finally said.   Otto just stared at Gemma Jones. He couldn't believe she was unwounded. He had tried to stop the bleeding himself and the blood had just been gushing out of the woman. It was simply impossible. He fainted.   Gemma got up and tried to help him.   Bowen had walked over to the other man who lay in a heap by the little safe. He had been run through the chest with a sword and blood oozed from a wound on the inside of his elbow. Bowen didn't recognize him as La Forge but saw the beard, glasses, and wig on the ground nearby. He looked around and then pocketed a handful of the bank notes.   Gemma slapped Otto lightly on the face and he came around.   "You were dying!" he muttered.   "You killed my father," she said.   "I thought he killed you!"   "I thought so too!"   "But "¦ you're alive "¦"   "Good Lord!" Farnsworth cried out as he looked into the room. "What is going on here!?!"   "I'm sorry," Gemma said. "There's been an accident."   "My God!" Farnsworth said. "My God!"   He ran to get help.   Gemma kissed Otto's forehead.   "So, what's going on?" Jacali said. "Who attacked you? Was it hi