My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me. — Isaiah 21:4
That night, while the rest of the posse slept, Hunahau, the manitou residing in Nick Nashville’s decomposing body, grew restless. It had been a while since he’d had had any fun. Tonight would be the night.
Hunahau wrestled, only for a moment, to take dominion over Nashville’s own sprit, as Nashville drifted into slumber, then stood their shared body up and crept over to where Timberlake was sleeping. He took Cheval’s book from Timberlake’s pack, and went out looking for someplace to spread fear.
The Sunrise House, where the posse had taken a room, stood next door to one of the many orphanages in Shan Fan. Tonight the kiddies would get a bed time story they wouldn’t forget.
Standing in the orphanage’s small chapel, Hunahau channeled the summoning energy left behind by Ahpuch, the manitou that inhabited the “Reverend” Cheval. Moments later, a demon in the classic barbed-tail, two-horned, biblical style appeared before him. Hunahau bade the fiend farewell knowing precisely what a demon roaming free in an orphanage was likely to do.
Growing sleepy himself, he carefully tied himself to the altar and drifted off, leaving it to the gambler to come up with a convincing alibi.
Ennil Angus, awoke to screaming and gunshots coming from outside. He noticed Nashville was gone, so he woke the rest of the posse and rushed outside. Thurgood was passed out hard, and smelled as strongly of alcohol as Nashville does when he’s sober, so they left him behind.
When the posse got to the orphanage, two men lay dead in the front hall, apparently mauled by a large beast. Further in, they heard what probably did the two in. Gerard Timberlake and Angus charged in first, encountering the demon in a side hallway. Both took shots at it, but with little success. While the fiend was occupied, Holcolm attempted to reach the source of the cries he could hear through one of the walls—the orphans were holed up in a small room in the hallway where the demon was fighting off Timberlake and Angus. Holcolm blasted a hole in the wall with his hell-burst gun, and climbed his way into where the orphan’s and their headmistress were hiding.
Having no success with lead, Timberlake decided to try powder. He lit a couple of sticks of dynamite and dropped them next the demon and backed off. The demon ignored the explosion and moved forward. The Colonel met it with sabre drawn and delivered a haunting version of the Rebel Yell, but you can’t haunt the haunted, and it had no effect.
Meanwhile, Nashville awoke in the chapel, tied to the altar. He quickly untied himself and rushed down the hallway to where Timberlake and the Colonel were fighting off the demon. Nashville pulled out his deck and furiously started flinging hexed cards at the demon. Eventually, the demon succumbed to its ostensible summoner and returned to the underworld.
Although Nashville’s alibi worked on the local authorities on the night shift, it left Ellis Island suspicious. Island, of course, was not at the church in Coffin Rock when the parishioners killed Nashville, and hadn’t experienced the linger effects of Nashville’s first death. All he knew was that the mysterious gambler disappeared in the dark of night, and reappeared with Timberlake’s book in an orphanage with a demon. Island was going to have to keep an eye on this fella.
The posse had a simple plan. They would put on a dragon costume, parade into the fortified compound of Big Ears Tam during the dragon festival the next day, and find out what happened to Captain Pennington-Smythe. The only thing different about this plan from all of the posse’s other plans was that this one would actually work.
The morning of the dragon festival came soon enough. Timberlake met with Rutherford Dillenger the next morning to see if the veteran explorer could tell him anything about Cheval’s book or the demon they had encountered in the night. Although Dillenger knew a good bit about the occult, this bit of voodoo magic was beyond his expertise.
His next stop was a Catholic church for some divine intervention. The Colonel, no devotee of the Pope himself, joined Timberlake. They left their meeting with the priest feeling slightly blessed, with a pint of holy water in hand, but a few dollars lighter for the exchange.
Meanwhile, Island found a used dragon costume suitable for hiding five gunslingers and some fireworks and returned to the Sunrise House to get ready.
Every so often in the Weird West, things go as planned. The posse donned the costume and paraded in front of Tam’s estate. After some banter with the guards out front, and an impressive display of Chinese dragon dancing, they were allowed inside. They danced their way around the side of the compound, and by sheer luck, wandered into the pagoda-roofed house where Tam was.
As always, Angus did the talking. He made a celebratory offering to Tam of $50 gold, and asked where he might find the good Captain Pennington-Smythe. Angus could tell that Big Ears Tam was a man of complex motives, but whatever motivated him that night, caused him to say that Pennington-Smythe was being held by Thin Noodles Ma in the Skids. Without further ceremony, the ten-legged dragon with cowboy boots danced its way out of Tam’s well-guarded estate.
With a little asking around, the posse found the small stone house where Ma was holding Pennington-Smythe. There were four tongs outside, and it was apparent they held some sway in the neighborhood because none of the people on the street would look their way. As soon as the posse approached, the tongs went on the offensive. Three of them flew onto the room, channeling Chi magic in their defensive position, while the fourth threw a punch at Timberlake. Angus, Holcolm, and Timberlake joined the melee, while Island stepped back a few paces to line up a shot with his rifle. Nashville charged into the building, but was met by four more tongs, and the fight was on.
By the end, Holcolm had dropped about half of them himself, but everyone held their own. With the threat neutralized, they entered the building and, sure enough, discovered Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe tied to a chair in the main room.
Once untied, the former hostage spoke right up: "Hello, friends. Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe. I assume you know that already, and that my good friend Rutherford sent you to find me. Doubtless he also told you that I am not the target of these ruffian’s efforts. An artifact I recently had in my possession holds that distinction. I say recently because I was able to hide the device before I was captured while out scouting the hills here. It would take a lot more than these bastards can dish out to make me talk, but unfortunately I didn’t have to hold out. They had one of their bloody mystics pry the secret out of my head without so much as a by-your-leave.
“They are likely on their way to our treasure’s respite right now. Of course I’ll be mounting an expedition to stop them without delay. As it is such short notice, and Dillenger being of limited use in these situations, I could quite use your help, chaps.”
The posse agreed to join and without any delay, the posse plus one, headed out to the hills outside of Shan Fan to where Pennington-Smythe had last seen the Amulet of Rahashimir.
The hole to the cave where Pennington-Smythe hid the amulet had been excavated to about four feet in diameter. As they approached, the cave gave off a haunting wailing sound, probably from the air rushing out of the hole. The posse went right in and found the main room of the cave.
The scene in the cave was horrifying. Torn bodies were strewn around the room and the wailing sound seemed to amplify as one looked upon the dead. Holcolm turned about to leave, sickened by the sight. Timberlake was affected more profoundly, to the extent that his skin appeared to age decades as he faced the horror of what he saw.
As they entered the room, part of the earth emerged from one of the walls. It was in the form of a giant man-shaped conglomeration of rock and soil. The beast fought fiercely, at first resisting all attempts to bring it down. After a bit, Pennington-Smythe exclaimed, “by Jove, I think I’ve figured out this beasts weakness. Can you see that red garnet on its forehead? That’s it’s weak spot! All hands fire on the garnet!”
Angus landed the killing shot, causing the garnet in the earthen monster’s head to explode.
As the posse looked about, Nashville noticed a sigil inscribed on the cave wall. It was in the shape of a lightning bolt, and seemed to glow just a bit.
As Pennington-Smythe was looking around, he was surprised by a large man fleeing the cave. As the man, who appeared to be part ogre ran out, he hurled the amulet behind him, to throw off the posse. Island pursued the man for a bit but the man got away.
“That sizeable fellow, with the ogrish features, is Ox. I believe he is one of Ma’s men. Probably feels lucky just to have gotten out of this cave alive. Well, I’m a bit glad we did as well!”
After the posse tended their wounds, they headed back to the Sunrise House.
Pennington-Smythe greeted his old friend Dillenger and related what had happened to him. Then, he polished his monocle a bit, popped it back in, and carefully opened a very nice wooden case containing a dozen or so silver signet rings.
He looked at the posse, then spoke. "The rules for joining our society are a bit rigorous in normal times, but these are, as the Chinese say, interesting times. You have more than proven yourselves, and whether you like it or not, your destiny and that of the Explorer’s Society are intertwined.
“Mr. Island, that ring you hold is your mother’s ring. Emerald Island was a great colleague of mine, and worked with me in Europe and Arabia. It was a tragedy when she died. I’m glad, however, that she sent you to me. Now, that ring is yours.”
Pennington-Smythe handed four rings to Dillenger, who then handed one to Angus, Holcolm, Timberlake, and Nashville.
“This ring is a symbol of your membership in our little club. But there is an inner circle as well, and after our last adventure you deserve to know of it. The creature you saw tonight was most certainly unique, but there are others of its ilk in the world. I’ve seen them. From the blood-soaked trenches of the Crimea to the hills of China, by God, I’ve seen monsters.
“After the first few encounters I began to do research. I learned that horrors rise wherever there is fear and violence. I sought out and tracked down some of these fiends, and slew them. Eventually I attracted the attention of others of like spirit—my fellow members of the Explorer’s Society.
“I also discovered that the society is only the most recent face of our little fellowship. Men—and women, I might add—have been banding together to fight evil since as far back as King Solomon himself. Maybe even further. Our particular branch can trace its roots to ancient Rome and a brotherhood called the Twilight Legion.
“Were I to tell you what our long-dead brethren found in the Teutoberger Wald your hair would turn white.
So now I bestow upon you an honor, a privilege, and most importantly, a responsibility. Right wrongs. Defend the oppressed. Save the innocent. And slay the beasts. Welcome to the Explorer’s Society. Here there be monsters. And those who hunt them!
“One more thing, there is a way to tell a fellow member, even if they don’t have their ring. On the wall of the Explorer’s Society in London hangs a particular head, the head of a beast I personally tracked and shot here in the West with great difficultly—the jackalope. Only members know that the jackalope hangs above our hearth.
One of the posse asked, “You mentioned a conspiracy of evil?”
Pennington-Smythe answered, “Some we have encountered call it the ‘Reckoning,’ and those behind it the ‘Reckoners.’ I have scarce information on that subject, but have noticed something in my years of battling evil. For the last decade or so, the number of creatures discovered—some only by the telltale signs of their handiwork—have increased a thousand-fold. Such things are still rare, mind you, but my experience and the records kept by our order show a dramatic and sustained increase in the number of incidents.”
The posse also wanted to know about the Agents and Texas Rangers, so Pennington-Smythe continued, “They are at once our best allies and our most dire enemies. They are our allies in the sense that they very much believe in the Reckoning and are doing everything in their power to fight it. They are our worst enemies in the sense that they are utterly ruthless. I once believed that the average man should know monsters walk among us, but what happened in a little town in Kansas cured me of that notion. A fellow revealed the presence of a sort of shape-changer and the paranoia tore that little village to pieces. Literally. The Agency and the Texas Rangers are firmly committed to suppressing the truth, and on this we agree these days. But there are limits, and both parties are far too eager to incarcerate, brainwash, slander, and in extreme cases, even murder those who would tell the world the truth.
The efficiency of the Twilight Legion, and I daresay the individual efforts of fellows like myself and Mr. Dillenger, has convinced these authorities to look the other way when we are involved. Do not take this as writ, however, for what happens in a particular situation depends on how far you’ve had to go and the particular Agents or Rangers on the scene.”
Finally, Nashville asked about the symbol on the wall of the cave. “It was obviously a place of power, and that sigil on the wall—the lightning bolt—was a rune of some sort. I suspect that a sacrifice was performed there and somehow released its energy, but what it did I’ve no idea.”
With the sun having set, and their initiation complete, the posse turned in for what they hoped would be a restful night sleep.