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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 26 - Into the bush

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Other than George being assaulted in his sleep by his fellow investigators at the end of the last session, the journey between Darwin and Port Hedland proceeded without incident. This was to be a session of preparation and, for once, avoidance of conflict. There has been a definite change of approach since Harry went missing - the body count has almost been at zero!

It didn't take long to find the home of Robert Mackenzie, who had been Arthur MacWhirr's agent. Port Hedland was a much smaller town than Darwin, with only a handful of large houses clustered around a single main street. David Dodge had telegraphed ahead, so the party was expected.

Into the Great Sandy Desert
Mackenzie, a large bearded fellow, invited them in and shared what he knew about MacWhirr's original expedition back in 1921. He told them that MacWhirr was a respectable and upright man, and he had no doubt that his findings were real. Mackenzie had memorised the exact co-ordinates of the ancient stone blocks from MacWhirr's diary: 22°3'14'' South by 125°0'39'' East, deep in the Great Sandy Desert.

He then told the investigators that they were not the first people to be asking about MacWhirr's findings. A few years ago an American gentleman, one Mr Howiston, came and borrowed all of MacWhirr's notes, then rather inconsiderately disappeared with them! The photographic plates and diary that the investigators had were all that was left of the expeditions records.

The name rang a bell with the investigators, and Sebastian showed Mackenzie a photograph of the lost Carlyle expedition members. Sure enough Mackenzie pointed to the photo of Dr Robert Huston. "That's the fella," he said.

They spent the rest of the day drinking beer and relaxing in Mackenzie's house. They planned to catch the single freight train to Cuncudgerie the next day, and Professor Dodge telegraphed ahead to organise their gear with the local outfitting store. Hubert decided that he wanted to question some local Koori's about aboriginal legends about the area they were heading to. Unfortunately he had no luck finding anyone at the docks who could speak decent English thanks to a badly failed Luck roll.

The next morning found the investigators boarding the only train to Cuncudgerie. It was a freight train which meant that they were forced to use a flatbed carriage for the journey. The early morning chill soon gave way to blistering heat, and it was an uncomfortable journey that ensured, the train taking them through flat, featureless countryside. Halfway through the journey George spotted three huge birds lazily winging in the distance, but the rocking of the carriage foiled Hubert's attempts to look at them through his binoculars.

Eventually the low, sandy hills gave way to a large township surround by corrals of horses and camels. Lines of trucks and compounds of engineering equipment showed it to be a mining community on the fringes of the desert - Cuncudgerie. The small town was bustling and busy, with only one inn, the ironically named Cuncudgerie Grand, where the investigators rented a small room.

Cuncudgerie - frontier mining town
They spent a few hours in the bar, trying to gather information and rumour, and managed to discover a few things. They learnt that there were gold-bearing reefs that ran for hundreds of miles out in the desert to the east, and that one prospector had seen three huge birds flying that way a couple of weeks ago. He told them they must have been 20 feet at the wing, but that his attempts to shoot one failed.

They also learnt that a while back an American man took a crew of two dozen out into the bush, had them dig a shaft 30 feet deep, then told them to stop, gave them a big bonus, and sent every man jack to Darwin to collect his pay.

Finally George got talking to a drunk prospector named "Ginger" Muldoon who told a troubling tale about an encounter he had a few nights previously. He'd been camped at a place called Dingo Falls, a days hike to the north, a lonely place to build a fire but preferable to the company of the only locals, a mad drunkard and his two good-for-nothing sons.

No sooner had "Ginger" dropped off to sleep than a light awoke him. He thought it was the Slatterys, come to drive him off, rob him, or worse. But the thing that confronted him was immeasurably more horrible, and not remotely human. An effigy of a man, glowing white and red, its flesh running off its bones, its staring eyes cooking in its skull, its mouth wide open for a scream that was all the more terrible for being silent. It advanced on "Ginger" Muldoon, who bravely fought it off with a stick. Muldoon's story was met with scepticism, and the prospector turned back to his drink.

Before they retired for the night, the investigators decided to scout out Wycroft Outfitters. They were due there the next morning to collect the equipment that David Dodge had organised, but they were also aware that the place had been listed in the ledgers of Randolph Shipping alongside the symbol of the bat cult, and decided it might be worth seeing what might lie in wait.

The Wycroft Outfitter's warehouse was closed by the time they arrived in the late evening. Two Koori women were lounging outside by a gas pump, but didn't respond to questions. Hubert noticed that one of them had a tattoo in the shape of a spiral and a bat on their arm. Deciding to wait before taking rash action, the group headed back to the Grand and rested for the night.

The next morning Rodrigo, George and Dodge headed back to the Outfitters to arrange their equipment. The warehouse doors were open, and in the cool interior they spotted a group of three Koori women at work amongst the various goods. The walls of the warehouse were piled high with shelves and crates holding coveralls, cookware, boots, rope, chain, heavy rope, miners’ lamps and hats, underwear, arc lights, flashlights, batteries, truck parts, blocks and tackles, engines, engine parts, tinned food, picks, assay kits, and much more.

At mention of the name Mortimer Wycroft one of the women nodded and muttered "Ay, the Deadfella Man," and went into a small office at the back of the building. The man who emerged soon after had been well described. Thin, emaciated and pale, he resembled a dried out lizard. Mortimer Wycroft smiled and after exchanging a few pleasantries passed over a list of goods that had been ordered. As well as two excellent Daimler light trucks there was enough food for six weeks and enough water for four days - they would have to refill the canteens at the wells along their route.

Camping and mining gear were also included, and at the request of the investigators some dynamite, fuses and blasting caps were added to the inventory.

Once the trucks had been loaded the investigators decided to question Wycroft about the bat cult and also the earlier expedition by the American that they had heard gossipped about in the Grand the night before. The old man quickly clammed up however.

Hubert and Sebastian had been busy whilst the others had been at the outfitters. They had managed to secure the services of a bush guide, one Baradyne Baringa. They only told him that they were heading out into the desert to prospect for some new gold mines, but his experience in the bush would certainly come in useful.

Over dinner the group reconvened and decided what to do next. Professor Dodge was all for heading straight out and getting started, but the others wanted to further investigate Wycroft first. They decided that Hubert and Sebastian should approach him, as they were not at the earlier meeting and so would not be recognised.

The two of them headed over to Wycroft's and found him working in the warehouse. They decided to use the old "we're from the Penhew Foundation" trick again as they had had so much success with that approach in the past *ahem*. Once again Wycroft clammed up and told them nothing.

On hearing that they had not managed to get anywhere Rodrigo decided he wanted to head back there in the evening and break in, to see what he could find. Dodge protested this course of action, but was over-ruled by the others. Rodrigo waited until it was dark, then headed back to the warehouse once more.

He found it locked up, and there was no sign of the Koori women that had been there the previous night. Rodrigo successfully managed to break in via a window round the back, and found the place deserted with no sign of Wycroft or his workers. A quick search revealed little of interest. Wycroft appeared to live in a small room above the warehouse, but it was sparsely furnished, with only a bed,  a stove, a dresser, a wardrobe, an icebox, and a hat rack.

Rodrigo decided to search under the bed, and there at last found some items of small interest. He discovered a small jar of greasepaint, along with an old book wrapped in linen. It was an old English tome called Wondrous Intelligences by a 17th century Englishman called James Woodville. Rodrigo took the book and the greasepaint and headed back to the others.

A woodcut from Wondrous Intelligences
The next morning Professor Dodge finally got his way and the expedition at last headed out of Cuncudgerie. The plan was to head north then cut east across the desert until they hit the old Canning Stock Route. They could then use the wells along the route to refill their water cans and head to the co-ordinates that Mackenzie had given them.

Dodge drove one of the trucks, and Hubert drove the other as they headed out of the mining town. The bustle of Cuncudgerie soon gave way to desert terrain, the landscape slowly increasing in desolation. The heat and dust were constant, and there was little to see but scrub, dust, and rock. No running streams could be seen.

After a long and dusty day, as the sun was starting to sink beyond the horizon, the trucks pulled up at an odd formation of rocks. Great red rocks jetted up from a rocky, scalloped ridge. The rock formation in part resembled a wave of surf about to crash down, frozen forever in stone. The formation made a catchment pool shielded from quick evaporation by the sun, and above the pool were three deep caves.

The group decided to camp at the watering hole for the night. Rodrigo began to make a fire, with help from Baringa, and the others began to set up their tents. They soon settled down, Baringa going to sit a little way apart from the rest of the group. Soon after the sun went down, when Sebastian was taking watch, he noticed a strange glowing light on the other side of the pool. It floated towards the group and took on a hideous shape.

It appeared to be a burning man, though he could quite clearly see through the man to the rocks beyond the pool. It capered with blistering flesh, eyeballs simmering in their sockets and hair streaming alight from the glittering phosphorescent fire that tortured its soul. Rather incongruously it appeared to be dressed in a swagman's clothes, but was wearing no boots.

The spirit advanced menacingly on Sebastian who was closest to the fire, it's mouth opening in a silent scream. It suddenly leaped forwards and threw itself at Sebastian who started to shout, "put the fire out, for God's sake!". The others jumped up from their slumber and quickly doused the fire, and the spirit sank down into the stone. They all stared at one another, shocked.

Moments later the light appeared again. This time however the figure was not aflame. It stood silently on the other side of the pool, pointing one finger up at one of the caves in the rocks above. The investigators immediately understood and decided to explore the caves, starting with the one that the spirit was pointing to.

The ghost
Hubert slipped on the sheer rock face and fell, twisting his ankle. The others, minus Dodge who stayed with Baringa and Hubert, managed to climb up successfully however. The cave sloped down into the rock and round a corner, and so the investigators' flashlights could not see to the bottom. Cautiously they entered the dark, dank cavern.

At the back of the cave it was dry and arid, explaining why some clothes fragments still clung to the obviously human pile of bones that sat on the dusty floor. The spirit rose through the solid rock floor of the cavern and stared forlornly at the bones, before making a throat-cutting gesture with one hand then dissipating as if in a breeze.

The group discussed what to do next. They decided to take the bones and give them a proper burial, but as they bent to collect them the spirit rose angrily from the floor, causing them to jump back. It was obvious that the ghost did not want the bones moved, but something else instead. As it sank back into the rock the spirit once again made the throat-cutting gesture.

Having decided to return to their camp, George wanted to explore the other two caves first. The left-most cave proved to be empty, but as he explored the middle cave he felt a sharp pain in his foot and a white light flashed before his eyes. Shining his torch down he saw that the floor of the cave was covered in a writhing carpet of snakes! Already feeling faint and breaking into a sweat he managed to stumble out and get help.

Rodrigo helped George down and quickly treated his foot where the snake had bitten him. His foot was already blackened and swollen, and Rodrigo cut it open to remove the poison, his experience on the South American ranches helping him.

Nice to eat you
The rest of the night passed peacefully, except for George who got little sleep but looked decidedly better the next morning, if a little pale. The group packed up and headed off in the trucks, still discussing how best to handle their discovery of the night before.

They had only been driving for a mile or two when their route took them past a large tin shack, with an associated shed and outhouse nearby. Two men were working outside on a small generator, and when they saw the investigators' trucks they stopped and picked up two rifles. Hubert and Professor Dodge brought the trucks to a halt a little distance away and spoke to the two men, asking them about the road ahead.

The elder of the two men, a thin, hard, leathery fellow with sparse hair and a dog's growl for a voice lifted his rifle in their direction. "Get lost, we don't want you round here," he snarled. The other man, tall, blond and athletic, also raised his rifle. Suddenly there was an unearthly wailing sound from the tin shack, a long and mournful note.

A young man ambled out of the shack, tall and blond, but with a vacant, clear-eyed stare. He lifted an old harmonica to his mouth and blew a single long, eerie note on it once more.

"Jacko, get back in the house son," the older man shouted at him. "We're handling this". He turned his attention back on the investigators and threatened them again, waving his rifle menacingly.

And it was here that I truly realised how much things had changed since Harry Crum had gone. If Harry had been present I have no doubt that a bloodbath would have ensued. For the second session in a row however there was to be no serious violence. Instead the investigators simply decided that discretion was the wiser path, and drove off, leaving the tin shack and its aggressive inhabitants behind!

How long would they be able to continue before trouble came looking for them? Next session should hold the answer!

P.S.

Unfortunately I don't have a video of the session this time round. Rather stupidly I didn't appreciate that Twitch.tv deletes past broadcasts after a few days, and I hadn't found the time to upload the video to YouTube. Next time I will do better!

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