Rodrigo was still planning to catch a tramp steamer to Darwin in a couple of days, as he was heading out there to look at some herds for his stud. In the meantime he decided to keep company with the rest of the group.
George headed to the consular offices where he was informed that due to a bureaucratic mix-up his services were no longer required, and he was being posted to Cairo instead! Needless to say, the diplomat was not amused.
After finding a hotel near the harbour, Hubert and Sebastian decided to head to the State Library at Shakespeare Place. On arrival in the impressive marble-fronted building they were informed that they could only access the special historical section if they had some kind of academic reference. Hubert showed them the book he had written, "The Modern Monster - Lycanthropy in the City", and with the aid of a successful Fast Talk he managed to get the staff to let him in.
All he could discover whilst researching the earliest legends of Australia was reference to Koori songs about a city lying hidden beneath the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, a city built by gods who were vanquished by the wind.
The group met up back at the Harbour Hotel, an old colonial establishment. After discussing what to do next they decided to find Professor Cowles house as he should be back from Arkham by now. Sebastian reviewed his notes to find the Professor's address, and a taxi was duly organised.
Professor Cowles' house was a small, well-appointed cottage in one of Sydney's western suburbs. The door was opened by a tall, blond man with a bushy moustache and freckled forearms. He introduced himself as Professor David Dodge of the University of Sydney. In answer to the investigators' questions he revealed that Professor Cowles was still in the United States, and that his return home had been delayed due to him helping the New York City police with an investigation.
He invited the group in for a beer. I found it highly amusing at this point that the players suddenly became very cautious and paranoid. In every country they have visited so far almost the first thing they have done is to unwittingly go to the local cult leader and reveal their plans. They seemed convinced that Professor Dodge was really some evil mastermind.
Eventually they accepted Professor Dodge's offer and over a few beers explained why they were there and showed him their notes on Professor Cowles' lecture. Dodge read the notes with growing excitement. He muttered about the name "Arthur MacWhirr" that appeared several times in the notes. "I know that name!" he exclaimed jumping up and leaving the room suddenly.
|Arthur MacWhirr and his discovery|
As the group read through MacWhirr's diary Dodge became even more excited. The promise of fame and glory seemed to beckon. "10,000 years old! A find like that could establish my name and get me tenure at any one of a hundred universities!" he laughed. "I must organise an expedition!".
A few more beers were consumed. It was agreed that they would all head out to the Great Sandy Desert to investigate MacWhirr's findings. The investigators wanted to follow up on leads from New York, London, and Shanghai, and Dodge wanted the glory of discovering the remnants of an ancient civilisation. They agreed to meet in a couple of days. Dodge would organise passage to Darwin, then on to Port Hedland, where MacWhirr's agent, a Mr Robert Mackenzie lived. Rodrigo would accompany them at least as far as Darwin, as he was heading there anyway.
The next couple of days allowed the investigators to do a little shopping and stock up on things they felt they would need. Hubert in particular seemed to have delusions of being the precursor to Bear Grylls and stocked up on every piece of outdoors kit he could find. When they all met up with David Dodge on the morning that the steamer left for Darwin they found him lightly packed and smiling sardonically. "We can buy our equipment when we get out there," he said.
The voyage took three days and was uneventful, though it was a very different trip to the one they had made aboard the SS Osterley. The Brilliantine was a working ship, with only steerage to sleep in and meals taken in the galley with the crew. Still, the time passed quickly as Dodge filled their heads with tall tales of the Outback, and studied MacWhirr's diary in the hope of finding out the exact location of the mysterious stones.
On the 2nd of September 1925 the Brilliantine docked in Darwin. As they strode down the gangplank Dodge warned them to watch their backs. Darwin was not a provincial modern city like Sydney was in 1925. It was a town of only a few thousand, though still by fr the largest settlement for over a thousand miles in every direction. A sweltering shanty town, full of brawls, shady adventurers and fast money, Darwin had grown quickly since the gold rush of the late Victorian era.
The group had a few things to do here before sailing on to Port Hedland in a couple of days. Rodrigo had to arrange transport to the horse ranches to the south, and Sebastian wanted to investigate the links to the town they had found in both London and Shanghai - details of shipments to a Randolph Shipping Company in Darwin.
Apparently the master of a regular camel caravan is said to have actually seen the bat god worshipped by a few remote Kooris. He proclaimed it to be the worst thing he had ever seen. Unfortunately the camel master was making his swing around and wouldn't be back for months. They also learnt a rumour that a white madman was the leader of this bat cult, though a few scoffers said that "white man" just meant "half breed".
After settling in, the investigators decided to head on over to Randolph Shipping, which they learnt was a large warehouse on the docks. It wasn't hard to find, though the large double doors to the warehouse were closed when they arrived in the late afternoon. Knocking on the gates eventually solicited a response, and they were opened by a fat, surly, sweating man with a red nose. "Whadya want?" he barked.
Hubert tried his luck at bluffing the man. "We're here from London, from the Penhew Foundation, and we need to talk about our shipments," he stated imperiously. It didn't wash (thanks to some failed rolls), and the man slammed the gate shut in their face. They decided to knock again, this time most insistently, but all they got was a foul response shouted back from inside the warehouse.
So, they decided to wait and case the warehouse until later, then try to break in. The investigators took up positions along the dockside and didn't have to wait long. As the heat of the day started to cool the doors opened and a Koori fellow wandered out of the warehouse. George called to him and asked him who else was inside. He discovered that Toddy Randolph, the owner, was the only person left.
Shortly afterwards the doors opened again and Toddy Randolph, the man they had seen earlier, left, heading north along the docks. Hubert and George decided to tail Randolph, whilst Rodrigo and Sebastian explored the warehouse. Randolph didn't go far, and went into Bertram's Outback Inn, leaving Hubert and George outside to watch for his return.
Sebastian and Rodrigo found the gates to the warehouse to be chained and locked with a heavy padlock, so they decided to explore round the back of the building. There they found another locked door, and after a failed attempt to pick it they realised brute strength would be called for. Luckily the door had been badly maintained, and between the two of them they forced it open and entered the warehouse, using their pocket lighters to see by.
A quick search located a crate that was marked with the rune of the bat cult addressed for the Penhew Foundation. Inside, packed in straw, was a grotesque wooden idol, about three feet high. It was obviously of Koori origin, covered with geometric painted white lines, and depicted a hairless humanoid with strange round, thick, whiskers, almost like tentacles.
The only other thing of interest they found in all the packed crates was a rolltop desk in one corner. Going through the paperwork therein they found a ledger. It detailed shipments to the Penhew Foundation, Fong Imports, and to a Mortimer Wycroft in Cuncudgerie. Rodrigo also noticed that there was a second crate that was part of the same shipment to the Penhew Foundation as the one they had already found. Some 20 minutes searching located it, hidden beneath a stack of other crates.
Breaking the crate open they found a most unusual item packed inside. An odd device composed of machined rods, wheels, mirrors and an eye-piece. They had never seen it's like before. They had already spent close to an hour in the warehouse, and decided to leave and meet back up with the others. Before they did so they tried to make the break in look like a robbery of some kind (which it effectively was anyway!).
|A different strange device of rods and wheels, yesterday|
No-one was tempted to look into the device however. They were obviously learning, or at least I thought so, until George piped up. "Give it here, I'll have go," he said. He bent down to the device and peered into the eye-piece. And then promptly fell to the ground unconscious! Cue much guffawing!
They carried George into the Inn and up to their rooms, but he was completely unresponsive. Strange grimaces and contortions passed over his face, but he would not awaken, despite the best efforts of the others ("I hit him"... "there is no effect"... "I hit him again!"). David Dodge tried to help, but was not able to revive George either.
They returned to their rooms and rested for the night. There was a brief discussion on how best to proceed. Perhaps a local Koori witch doctor might be able to help their friend? Questioning of some locals in the Inn suggested a man called Johnny Bigbush might be able to help, but enquiries at his employer revealed that he had gone back to join his clan somewhere near the Daly River, a hundred miles south.
Later that morning they were all relieved to find that George had awakened. Their relief was short lived however, as George started to talk in a strange manner with a most unusual accent! He was obviously not himself. They questioned him for a while, but George seemed to have lost some of his memory, and was greatly interested in learning as much as he could about where he was.
George's strange behaviour certainly aroused the suspicions of the other characters, and despite quite a bit of persuading from David Dodge they would not release him from the manacles they had placed him in (for his own safety of course!). George didn't seem to understand their questions, but seemed interested in what they had to say anyway.
Dodge reminded the investigators that they had a tramp steamer bound for Port Hedland to catch. There was a brief attempt to make George peer into the strange machine again, in the vague hope that it might reverse whatever strange process it had instigated. It made no difference to George's state of mind however.
The group headed down to the docks. Rodrigo so engrossed by the strange events that he seemed to have completely forgotten that he was supposed to be heading down to Alice Springs to look at horses!
The trip to Port Hedland took a couple of days, and each new day saw George returning to health and seeming more like his old self. There was still something strange about his behaviour however, and he seemed to have odd gaps in his memory.
There was another attempt to force George to look into the strange device. This time they ambushed him in the middle of the night, forced his eyelids open, and pressed the device to his face. If this is how they treat their friends, I feel sorry for their enemies! Again however there was no discernible effect.
Dodge, surprised and worried by this turn of events, managed to persuade the investigators to release George from his manacles at least. They would keep a close eye on him however, with Rodrigo threatening to shoot George in the head if he tried to do anything untoward!
So, the characters arrived at Port Hedland, arguing and threatening each other with violence. Just another normal trip aboard the Cthulhu Express!
A quick P.S.
I managed to stream this session on my new Twitch.tv channel, though there were a few hiccups along the way (I managed to somehow record no sound for the first 80 minutes!). You can find an embedded video below of the rest of the stream (i.e. the bit with sound!). Apologies in advance for the dodgy accents (I'm looking at you Rodrigo!) and the crazy talk ("chicken head?")!
I plan to stream future sessions as well, and will post up notifications via my Twitter account if anyone is interested in watching live.