“Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.” —Deuteronomy 21:7.
In the dark of night, a small steamer wound is way down the California coast from Shan Fan to Quarrytown. Slumped over the back rail was Abram Thurgood feeding the fish with the half-digested trail rations he fed himself only an hour before.
At about the same time, Nick Nashville’s manitou, Hunahau awoke. Nashville, mentally exhausted from the climb through the ruins the day before, put up little resistance to Hunahau’s assertion of dominion over him. With Hunahau in control, Nashville climbed back up into the ruins, slipping once as he ascended to the upper levels. The manitou intended to bring fear to the miners camped below. The natural way to start a rock slide would be to smear more blood on the glyph in the cave below the ruins, but Nashville’s body had no living blood. So, instead, he put his shoulder behind a crumbling wall overlooking a steep drop, and pushed. The wall started a rock slide that sent a growing field of tumbling rocks and debris hurling toward the mining camp below. The slide leveled a small wooded cabin and crushed everyone inside.
“Wonder what time the saloon opens?” thought Hunahau in Nashville’s brain. “I feel like playing cards.”
The next morining, the posse, loaded up with several day’s rations and joined by Thurgood, continued on to Lost Angels to collect the bounty on Rance Hitchcock and his men. They heard about the rock slide the night before and it didn’t surprise them as remarkable given the delicate state of the ruined mission on the hill. Sad to see innocent people killed in a natural disaster.
A day out from Quarrytown, the posse’s boat was attacked by a giant crocodile. Colonel Angus put the scaled beast on the evening’s menu with some fancy two-handed pistol work, but only after the croc had sunk its chompers through the hull. They spent the rest of the day ashore repairing the boat.
The trip only took a few days more, and with the croc for dinner, they’d expected their rations to hold out longer. Nonetheless, hunger on the Maze never seemed to never go away completely, and notably some of their food spoiled well before its time.
At Lost Angels, it was a simple matter to pick up the bounty on Rabid Rance at the Rockies claim office. The posse had been to Lost Angels before, of course, helping Lacey O’Malley looking for Lacey’s friend, Sam Hellman. The last time, they had seen the viciousness of Reverend Grimme’s Guardian Angels as the hid watching from an alley. Grimme’s men, under the command of a cruel nun, clubbed to death two of their own men who were returning wounded from the Great Rail Wars. The Guardian Angels piled the bludgeoned bodies on the back of a nearly-full cart and took them away.
The tension in Lost Angels was not as high as it had been during the last great battle of the Rail Wars, but the Edict of ’77 was clearly still in effect. When the posse rented a room at a boarding house, the first thing the desk man asked about was their allegiance to Reverend Grimme. The Colonel, with all the Southern charm he could muster under such circumstances, replied in the affirmative.
The next day, the posse was surprised to br approached by a young man asking them to meet Lacy O’Malley at the Fallen Angel Saloon in Perdition, just outside of Lost Angels. O’Malley must have a man working at the Rockies.
They met Lacy at the Fallen Angel in the town of Perdition. After appropriate small talk, the intrepid muckraker jumped right into the reason he contacted our heroes.
Lacy began: "I’m sure you remember our little mission during the Battle of Lost Angels, and our failure to locate a certain friend of mine. Samuel Hellman wrote the book on Reverend Grimme. Literally. He filed a lengthy report to the Agency a few years back that was less than flattering for Grimme and his cult. How’d I see it? Well, I have my ways. Anyway, Hellman suspected Grimme and his minions were sacrificing folks for some nefarious reason, but before he could prove anything he disappeared.
“I have a friend who’s a stonemason. He recently went out to Grimme’s prison in the bay—the Rock—and was unfortunate enough to see where they keep their prisoners. He knew Sam, and swears he saw him being hustled down a hallway just before he got to work. I can’t imagine he and Grimme are having tea. I have no right to ask what I’m about to, so I won’t sugar-coat it. I need you to break into the Rock and get Hellman out of there.”
Just as Lacy was about to say “Before you say no . . .,” the posse agreed to the mission.
Encouraged by the newest members of the Explorer’s Society, Lacy continued, "I have a plan that might help. I’ve persuaded a certain Maze Rat who owes me a favor to make a raid on the Rock. While he’s doing that, you guys slip in through a drain my stonemason friend was hired to seal up. He left it less than sturdy, let’s say, for just such an emergency.
“So, here’s the plan: Captain Hong Fat has a small fleet of ships. He owes me a favor because I rescued someone special to him a while back. We can trust him.
“On my signal, he will attack the Rock by sea. Like I said, he owes me, but even so, he has his limits. He will attack for 30 minutes or until one of his boats sinks. Then, he will call off the attack. While he’s attacking, the Rock’s protectors will be distracted.
“So, you have 30 minutes. While that’s going on, you will row quietly up to the side of the rock and enter through a sewage tunnel. There’s a grate in the tunnel that looks solid as a fortress, but there is a pull cord up in a cavity above it. Pull the cord and the grate will drop like a house of cards.
“You will have a distraction, but move quietly, and for heaven’s sake, try not to shoot any guns or use any explosives. The prison security will be distracted, but that will bring them on you in a hurry.
“When you get inside, you’ll have to find Sam and get him out. I can’t help you too much with how you’re going to do that except that I have this map that my stonemason friend sketched out. It only shows the basement of the prison, but hopefully that will be all you need.
“The Maze Rats will only attack at night when they have cover of darkness. You tell me what time you want them to start, and I’ll make it happen.
“The sewer tunnel is on the Northwest side of the Rock. I’ll have a rowboat ready. If you move, you’ll get there in about 10 minutes. That will leave you 20. The tunnel is easy to find because it smells like Satan’s butt.”
The posse agreed to take on the mission. They were Explorers now, after all, and it was the right thing to do. So they left to prepare. As midnight approached, however, Nashville was fast asleep—the result of having a manitou with firm sleep schedule. He woke in time, however, and the posse headed down to the water to board the row boat that would take them to the Rock.
The posse reached the sewer entrance in about the time Lacy predicted, so they had another 20 minutes to complete their mission. Nashville led the way into the sewer by becoming incorporeal but still stepping gingerly through the noxious smelling seweage. The others followed, except for Holcolm who stayed behind to guard the boat.
Entering the sewer was not easy. There was only a narrow ledge on either side of the channel, and the channel was filled with a disgusting sludge. The posse noticed early the presence of tentacles and other appendages and body parts suggesting the muck might be infested.
The sewer tunnel led to the grate Lacy had described. As predicted, when Nashville pulled the cord left there by the stonemason, the grate fell over allowing them to pass through.
The tunnel led into a large round cistern filled with the same sewage in the tunnel. Like the tunnel, there was a narrow ledge around the edge that the posse used to get across. When Nashville first entered the cistern, he could hear the wail of a ghost-rock powered machine emitting the same unholy sound they had heard from some of Darius Hellstromme’s machines in the rail tunnel that brough them under the Sierra Nevada mountains weeks ago.
The sound came from a hole in the roof of the cistern accessible by a wooden ladder. As the rest of the posse caught up to him, Nashville ascended into a small machine room with a door on the far side.
As indicated on the map that Lacy had obtained from the stonemason, the door led into the hallway connecting a number of jail cells. When they entered the hallway, one of the prisoners called out to them, claiming to be political prisoner of Reverend Grimme. The man, named Eddie Griff, urged the posse to free him and make a quick escape.
It could probably be said that Griff was a political prisoner, if you viewed Grimme’s politics to be the practice of jailing those who he could not control. Griff was dangerous. Before reaching Lost Angels about a year ago, Griff had been attacked by a lycanthrope in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The beast bit into him, passing along the disease that Griff carried with him. Griff was a werewolf.
The shouting attracted the attention of one of Grimme’s guardian angels assigned to guard the prisoners. The hallway leading to the guardroom was narrow, so only Thurgood and Angus could get in close to attack. The others, except Holcolm who was still guarding the boat, proceeded to break the prisoners out. Breaking the cells open would normally be a simple matter for the dynamite-wielding Gerard Timberlake, but he could not risk an explosion that might undermine the distraction created by Captain Hong Fat and attract the attention of the other prison guards.
In addition to Griff, the posse found that Hellstromme’s work crew leader, Charlie Bill Bruckner had also ended up in the basement prison. Charlie Bill was surprised and delighted to see his old blacksmith, Thurgood, show up with the posse to free him.
In another cell, posse found a black woman, whose name they would later learn was Mbali Jones. She was in bad shape, fatigued, and barely able to walk.
Finally, in the far cell, there was a man, barely alive and unable to speak. Nashville, still incorporeal, entered the cell to revive the man and determine whether he was the missing Sam Hellman. Having never seen Hellman, there was no way to tell for sure, but he had to be their man. The posse forced the final cell open, freed the prisoners and headed back the way they came in. By that time, the Colonel had finished off the guard and had also turned to leave.
The exit was as challenging as the entrance given the narrow ledges around the cistern and the sewer channel, but they made it out. Griff, eager to be free of the prison, rushed out first. Mbali slipped into the cistern and, for a short moment, believed she would be lost to whatever horror lurked beneath the surface, but the Colonel lifted her up and carried her the rest of the way to the boat.
The prison break had gone quickly, so there seemed to be plenty of time to return to the shore. The posse had only expected to be rescuing a single prisoner, however, so the boat was filled to capacity.
Before the posse reached the shore the boat was attack by a school of devil rays. The rays would lurk in the darkness and gather speed until they could fly out of the water, above the boat and attack with their stingers. It took a few moments for the posse to work out the timing but they were soon able to fight back.
Nashville took control of the situation, however, by enveloping the boat in darkness through the use of Huckster magic, unaware that the darkness also had the important effect of shielding Griff from the moon above.
The posse killed most of the devil rays, and the rest left when the supernatural darkness made it impossible for them to find their prey. When Nashville lifted the darkness, however, Griff was left exposed out there on the water to the full moon above. His transformation began causing him to hunch over into a canine position as thick hair and claws started to grow.
Being a werewolf tearing apart innocents in a sleepy California town in one thing. Transforming while in a small boat with a crew of hardened gunslingers, hucksters, and mad scientists is another. Griff lasted about twenty seconds and his dog-like corpse was left to float away and the posse continued their rush toward the shore.
After the posse got back to Perdition, Hellman began to revive a bit. Then he began to tell the tale of how he found himself in the basement of Reverend Grimme’s prison: "Bastards got me right after I mailed off the second copy of my report to Allan Pinkerton. They intercepted the first draft. Probably ate the kid I hired to carry it as well. That’s right, I said ‘ate.’ Grimme and his inner circle are cannibals, in case you hadn’t figured it out. The meat they serve at those Sunday feasts is what we like to call “long pork.” I wouldn’t recommend partaking, no matter how hungry you get. It gets to you after a while…
“Anyway. You’ll probably think I’m loco, and I don’t blame you, but you may have heard of this thing called the ‘Reckoning.’ It was one of the pet theories of the Pinkertons a few years back—that something had happened to the world. Magic came back somehow. Black magic. And all the horrible things it gives life to. I think Grimme is in league with it somehow.
“A year ago the cult locked up an Indian shaman in the cell next to mine. Said his name was Sees Far Ahead. We’d talk when we were able and he’d tell me tall tales about this Reckoning and how it all started. I don’t remember most of it, to tell the truth. I’ve been playing a few cards short of a full deck for the better part of two years now, best I can tell. But he said Grimme was a ‘servitor’ of this Reckoning, and that he couldn’t be stopped or killed by ordinary means. I can personally tell you that a sharpened bone fragment drove clean through his heart barely made him wince, so I believe it.
“But he’s got to be stopped. If he ain’t, people are gonna suffer for years. Maybe forever if he’s truly immortal. And it gets worse, too. Sees Far Ahead told me the Reckoning wasn’t the apocalypse—it was the beginning of it. Grimme and others like him are after something big. Something that could create a literal Hell on Earth.
“Sees Far Ahead knew how to kill Grimme, but I’m afraid we didn’t get that far before they took him away. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know another shaman who will. She goes by the name Born in a Bowl. Evidently these two were the founders of the Necessity Alliance, a collection of Indian survivors who have gathered up above Lion’s Roar in the Maze. She’ll know what happened to Sees Far Ahead. Hell, she may even know how to kill Grimme herself. Find that out and we’ll report it to the Agency so they can handle it from there.”
Holcolm knew a bit about what Hellman was talking about from his previous time wandering the Weird West. Servitor. That made Grimme one step short of the Devil himself. Hell on Earth suddenly didn’t seem like much of an exaggeration of what might be happening if, in fact, the cannibal priest was a Servitor.
Timberlake seemed more interested in the mysterious black woman they rescued. It didn’t take long to figure out she was a voodooist, but a voodooist in California? Well, they’re as rare as hens teeth out here.
Then Mbali Jones saw the book Timberlake carried with him and saw something in Timberlake. The book was Cheval’s book. She knew that. Maybe Timberlake had been taken in by the mysteries of the book. A book she knew to be bad mojo. She knew these men were somehow part of the quest that had brought her far from he home in Louisiana.
She asked Timberlake for the book, but he was hesitant to turn it over when she said she must destroy it. So, she told her tale:
“It was a long time ago. More than ten years ago when I went on a vision quest.
“I saw the West, California, break into pieces and fall into the ocean. An then, but three days later, there was an earthquake and the newspapers reported exactly what I had seen. California broken in pieces.
“In my vision there was a man, a bad man. Reverend Grimme had gone was and brough with thim a great famine. A famine that killed many good men and women. And their children too.
“I didn’t know who Grimme was when I saw him in my vision, but his picture was in he papers months later, so now I know.
“And I had also seen another bad man, named Cheval. He was from Louisiana, too. He had that book, the one you have now. He used it to pretend to be a minister. But Cheval was no man of the cloth. He had a manitou telling him what to do.
“I saw that Cheval, like Grimme, had come West. He had that book. But Cheval was also looking for a Chinaman that knew something Grimme needed to know. That something was the shape of a rock.”
Den I see Cheval, in dee vision, come to de West wit de book. He be lookin’ for a Chinaman dat be knowin’ sumtin’ dat Cheval be needin’. Dat sumtin be da shape of a rock."
The posse was taken by Mbali’s description of the Chinese man she had seen in her vision quest. It had to be their late friend Mr. Pau.
Mbali continued talking, "You see, Cheval came looking for a devil that was trapped deep underneath the rock, but Cheval didn’t know which rock to look under. But the Chinaman knows. And then, in my vision, I was the Chinaman telling a manitou how to identify the rock that held the devil.
I don’t know what Cheval wanted with the devil, but it had something to do with the famine and Grimme. So I came West to find Cheval and the China man and, well, I guess I came to kill them both before they could get to the devil.
Timberlake replied, “Cheval’s dead. So, is the Chinaman.”
Mbali was a bit disoriented by the news. She had not expected this, so the book became her focus, “Then I guess there is only the book, and Grimme left. I must burn the book, and get to Grimme too.”
Nashville was pretty sure fire wasn’t going to damage the book, but he said nothing. His experience with the supernatural told him there was more than one kind of fire, and maybe that was what Mbali was referring to.
They resolved nothing about the book that night. Timberlake would not give up the book, but he was intrigued by the voodooist, particularly since he had opened the book and taken an interest in the power behind it. There was also the issue of the manitou in their party, that spurred his interest in learning more about things beyond the world he could see.
So the posse headed off to follow Sam Hellman’s lead and find the Necessity Alliance. They didn’t know for sure where to look, but the starting point would be somewhere in the Maze for sure. So, they headed on foot back to the coast.
On the way there, they heard what was beginning to become a familiar wailing sound—the half-moan, half-cry of wind rushing from caves of ghost rock. They left the trail to see where it was coming from.
Not far off the trail, they came upon a man guarding a hole in the ground. They were able to pursuade the man to let them pass and in the hole, they found a scientist working in a cave not unlike the one they found beneath the ruins of the mission above Quarrytown, and the cave where Pennington-Smythe recovered the Amulet of Rahashimir. In fact, the first thing they noticed was a glyph, more-or-less in the shape of a lightning bolt, scribed on the wall. They also saw that the scientist had set up some equipment with a small ghost rock generator.
The scientist saw the rings on the fingers of he posse, but confirmed that they were members of the Explorer’s Club by asking what hung above the mantle at the club in London. The Colonel recalled Pennington-Smythe relate that the trophy was the head of the elusive jackalope.
After Professor Vandergrift got caught up on the news of his old friend, Roderick, the posse exchanged what they had learned about the glyphs with the Professor.
Vandergrift told them what he had learned: "I’ve discovered several caves just like this all up and down the coast. Each one has the same symbol. My Indian friends tell me the symbol marks the home of an earth spirit. I believe the more-educated among us would call these “faults,” however.
“Still, there’s something to the Indians’ myth, because I have found an application of certain…fluids…on the wall triggers a slight tremor. I can’t really explain the scientific process behind this, but that fluid is blood.”
The posse knew exactly what Professor Vandergrift was referring to. The Colonel had smeared the blood of his own hand on the glyph under the ruined mission near Quarrytown, and that sparked a small tremor.
The professor continued: “Human blood at that. Animal blood does nothing. These poor chickens can attest to that. But there is something in the blood of man that causes the earth here to react. Watch.”
Professor Vandegrift took the bandages off his left hand, drew a knife from his belt, and sliced a cut across his palm. There were half a dozen cuts there already, so it was obviously something he had done many times. He smeared red onto the symbol and, sure enough, just as the posse had seen at Quarrytown, there was a distant rumble in the Earth.
“Hmm. That’s bigger than last time…” observed Vandergrift.
He continued: "My research indicates that a very large amount of blood might trigger an actual quake. It is my hypothesis this wonder caused the Great Quake back in ’68.
“This is the ninth such site I’ve found. There are three right around Lost Angels, and the rest are strung out up and down the coast from Mexico to the Oregon border.”
Before he could say more, the walls of the cave began to open up and stout, sturdy creatures made of earth and rock emerged. These were different than the earthen beast they found in the cave near Shan Fan. These beasts were made mostly of rock and began bashing at the humans with their fists.
The posse fought the hoodoos off at first, but could not overtake them so they quickly began to retreat. Professor Vandergrift fought at the front of the line and when his guard fell, he was alone in the cave with the hoodoos. Before he could retreat with the posse, the hoodoos fell upon him en masse and crushed him with their stony fists. The hoodoos then moved over to where Professor Vandergrift had been performing his experiments and smashed his equipment, causing the ghost rock engine underneath the equipment to burst into flames.
By then, the posse had retreated. They had had their brush with near death, but also a brush with the genius scientist and Explorer Society legend, Professor Vandergrift. Whatever Professor Vandergrift had learned from his experiments about the glyphs and where they could be found, however, was lost forever.