From the Annals of the Paragon Society

The Templar Treasure Incident, Part VI

Further down into the bowels of the castle we descend. The light from Doc Kate’s lantern throws shadows into the corner of a vast, stone room with a vaulted ceiling. To either side lay many stone sarcophagi. Atop each bier rests a stone effigy of a knight. Most are fairly typical, clasping a stone sword to their chests. Eventually though, three of the effigies stand out as somewhat different.

One knight’s head rests atop a small chest, with seraphim in all of their glory adorning the chest, wings swept forward. It matches certain descriptions we’ve seen of the Ark of the Covenant. Yet another knight has had his sword replaced with a scroll emblazoned with an Egyptian Ibis. Finally, a third knight grasps not a blade, but a cup to his bosom. Could this depict the Holy Grail?

Doc Totem scrambles up to the ceiling, like a creepy man spider who’s begging to get shot, and declares “Be careful.” I can hear his heavy sigh of resignation as I shrug and amble into the center of the room. If anything’s going to get us, it’s going to get us regardless of preparations. I don’t think today’s the day my ticket get punched, but if it is, I’m not going out like a cringing wallflower. I’m walking headlong towards my fate like a man.

I finish reloading Nora as Totem scrambles back down. We’re going to need to get in these stone sarcophagi we decide, so Alpha, Doc and I roll up our sleeves and put some shoulder into it. With a slow, grinding noise, and a sucking gasp of musty air as the seal breaks on the coffer, the grail coffin opens, revealing a skeletal knight in rusted chain. Alas, there is little else there and we move on to the Ibis scroll.

Inside we beheld a skeleton bearing a silver medallion, untarnished with the ages. The familiar Templar symbol of two poor knights on horseback emblazoned on one side. Doc Totem lifted it from the coffer, watching it glimmer in the lantern light.

“You know,” he began, “the history of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon is an interesting one. The knights officially were dedicated to protecting the pilgrims making holy voyages to Jerusalem. One of their symbols was of two knights on horseback. It was meant to symbolize their brotherly devotion to one another and their commitment to poverty. Their detractors would later make other…less savory accusations about the position of the two knights. It didn’t hurt that their Order prohibited contact with women. Still…”

“What’s it say on the back?” Ms. Barnes interrupted.

“Pardon?”

“There are letters on the back…what. Does. It. Say?”

“Oh! Yes…there they are, very well. Right then.”

The inscription read –
TRANSIERUNT GRANDO ET IGNIS ET IN TERRAM FRATRES, EGO HOC VERO OCCULTUM OCCUBUIT. FRATRES VERO NAVIGAMUS, MAGNI SECRETI CLAVEM PRAESIDIO RELICTUS SUM. FECI OFFICIUMQUE MEUM. DEUS SUSCIPIET ME IN GRATIA. AMEN.

Given the preponderance of classical scholars in our midst, it didn’t take long before we translated that to –
My Brethren have gone to the land of fire and ice, but this secret I take to the grave. While my brethren sailed away, I was left to guard the key to the great secret. I have done my duty. May God accept me into His Grace. Amen

“Arrêter!” A shout came from the doorway behind us. “Stop! Nazi thieves!” the heavily accented voice called out.

A tumult of Frenchmen poured into the room, brandishing MAT pistols and shouting. About here everything got confusing. Everyone was shouting at once. Both Docs, Miss Barnes, Alpha. I heard shouts in French and English. Eventually things settled down and gun barrels were pointed back towards the floor.

A man in an immaculate white suit stepped forward, identifying himself as Pierre de Molay and extending a hand in friendship.

“It seems we have both mutual friends and mutual enemies. It is my sad duty to report to you that your friend and mine, Professor Dickenson, is as we speak being taken by the foul Huns to their masters in Berlin by train. We, my compatriots and I, we would like to extend our aid in helping you to reach your friend and free him from his German captors.”

After a brief spate of back slapping and handshaking, we were all headed back topside, although upon entering the exterior courtyard of the castle, we were in for an unpleasant surprise.
Hovering above the castle, a looming presence, was a massive zeppelin, with the crooked cross swastika emblazoned upon its tail rudder. Atop the walk surrounding the courtyard, amongst the crenellations, swarmed jack booted thugs brandishing Schmeisser MP-38 submachine guns.

“Hallo Americans!” shouted a voice in clipped, German tones, “The Third Reich thanks you for recovering whatever clue you have salvaged from this castle. Do not bother yourself with handing it over, we shall take it from your lifeless fingers. OPEN FIRE!”

Behind me I can hear Agent Alpha, incongruously with a heavy French accent he declares “You will die German scum! Just as your fathers fell at Verdun and watered the French soil with their blood!”

From the corner of my eye I can see a flash of movement as Doc Totem scrambles up the wall to get at the Nazis. If I live a thousand years, I will never get used to seeing that spider crawl. I cannot focus on that now, as the French and Germans have reignited their old wars and the night comes alive with gunfire.

Submachine gun fire rakes the courtyard, and a couple Frenchmen fall. I can feel them buzzing like angry hornets around us which is disorienting enough, until a grenade goes off somewhere behind me and the whole world feels like Hell has opened up. Doc Kate, Alpha and I all scramble for cover in the courtyard. I see the golden gun and Doc’s revolver booming and a couple of Nazis drop up on the parapets. One falls screaming into the courtyard as another shouts “Ach! Nein Wilhelm!”

All around us I see Ms. Barnes, the Doc and Alpha firing at the Germans, along with our newfound French allies.

“Hold together!” I shout from the center of the group, “They can’t take us if we stand strong together!” Nora helps me punctuate that statement with a round through the forehead of a sub gun toting Kraut.

De Molay wounds the officer commanding the Germans with a crack shot from his MAT pistol.
Nora is singing in my hands at this point as I fan off a half dozen rounds and drop two more Nazis, but the returning gunfire from the Krauts is withering and we all scramble for cover. I’m momentarily dazed by the ferocity of the gunfire, and so I’m a little off my reflexes when a potato masher lands in our midst. Ms. Barnes and Alpha are quick to get out of the way, but I see it shred one of the Frenchmen and a white hot shard of shrapnel burns a line of fire across my chest and knocks me to my knees.

As I stagger and reel I see another Frenchman ended under the withering hail of fire. By this time, crazy Doc Totem has surmounted the ramparts and is calling down the mumbo jumbo of the Hawaiian god Pele again. The battlements shake and shiver under the wrath of the mini earthquake, and two more Nazis plunge headlong to their death in the fall from the walls.
Alpha and Doc Kate both drill more goons with their pistols, and Ms. Barnes narrowly misses one, but he plunges off the walls anyway trying to avoid the shot, and the effect is the same.
Alpha and de Molay now are personally focused on the German officer. “You’re mine!” Alpha shouts in his faux French accent as he wings the Oberkapitan, and another shot from our French compatriot wings creases the scalp, causing blood to mingle with his white blonde hair.

I can see Doc Totem grappling with another Nazi up on the battlements, a flashing Hitler Jungend dagger gripping in his Hunnish paws as he slashes at Doc’s sleeve but doesn’t manage to find flesh. As grenades burst in the courtyard and the Germans and French exchange gunfire I finally manage to pull together and squeeze off a final shot at Herr Officer, he doubles over and disappears below the battlements. By that point Totem has finished off his knife wielding madman, and the rest is just mopping up.

Above our heads, the Nazis in the zeppelin wave the white flag and we form an impromptu boarding party with our French allies. De Molay orders his men to take the Germans prisoner as we secure the vessel and it occurs to us that a zeppelin under full steam just might have the juice to overtake the train to Berlin.

As Ms. Barnes steps in with needle and thread to sew up the flap of skin gaping open on the left side of my chest I take a healthy swig of the Old Overholt in my flask and start refilling Nora’s chambers. We have a Professor to save…

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The Templar Treasure Incident, Part V

We managed to scrounge up passage on a DC-3 out of Cairo to Rome, and from there to Paris. It was a charter flight, just us in the back with a pilot up front who knew not to ask too many questions. Still, Templeman proved a tough nut to crack, even with the persuasive means of an open door 750 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. Fanatics, they don’t crack for anyone. We couldn’t get much more out of Fritzie than name, rank and serial number. Seeing as he was pretty much a dry well, Alpha dropped him off with some friends in the State department in Paris while we secured a roomy touring car to ferry us out to the countryside and the Castle of Notre Dame de Miséricorde.

Turns out the castle was not so hard to storm, open to the public as it was. Still, when you’re walking around in public it’s a little harder to go in armed for bear…or ibis headed monstrosity as the case may be. Still, with Nora under my left arm and a couple of nice derringers up my sleeves, I was still in pretty good spirits, and felt more than capable for anything the French fortress could throw at us.

We found a musty back staircase, and as my experience has been, musty back staircases lead to adventure…or wine cellars, the latter is also acceptable, especially with a fine scullery maid to help occupy your time down there. But I digress. This one led sadly not to lusty French lasses, but to dark, dank corridors mildewed with time and covered in cobwebs. An indentation in a dead end wall behind a mass of cobwebs proved to be a perfect fit to the stone fingers Ms. Barnes produced from her amazing Gladstone. I swear that bag is somehow bigger inside than out, I have no idea how she manages to produce such wonders from such a seemingly innocent piece of luggage.

With a grinding of stone, the wall slid to the side, and I led the way into the dark chamber, the light of Doc Kate’s lantern lighting our way. At the far end of the wall a statue of some saint or another stood hand raised in front in a gesture of benediction. I was just noting the lack of fingers on the blessing hand, amazingly like the stone fingers now clutched in Ms. Barnes’ grasp, when more grinding stone alerted me to four statues lurching to some approximation of life. The stony automatons raised their swords in a threatening salute and moved to intercept our group.

I deftly sidestepped two of the stone blades as they whistled by, with a quick hop back as a sword sliced through the front of my shirt (though missed skin) I brandished Nora and the shotgun barrel boomed, taking a chunk out of the knight statue in front of me, and seeming to slow it as the joints grind against each other less smoothly.

Ms. Barnes is darting between the statues swift as a fawn, the stone fingers clutched in her grasp like a relay runner’s baton. She’s like the wind between the rushes, avoiding the stone swords as golden bullets from Alpha’s gun ping off the statues to little effect. You can see a grin the size of the Amazon basin split across her face as she nears the outstretched arm of the saint statue. The fingers fit perfectly into the broken hand of the statue. Her beaming smile melts away however, as surely, and triumphantly…_nothing_ happens.

Doc Kate rushes to her aid, narrowly avoiding decapitation in the process. As she nears the statue her mien scrunches up as she fixates on some text on the statue.

“Benedictionem meam viam monstrabit.”
__
“Blessing…um…point…uh…MY BLESSING WILL POINT THE WAY!” I blurt out.

Chalk one up for the Latin profs at St. Ignatius.

Nora is booming out a staccato song in my hands but the bullets are pinging rather harmlessly off the statues. I’m dancing like the stage show at the Cotton Club to avoid swords from what’s probably three directions at this point.

I see Doc Totem attempt to whip past the knights like the ladies did, and get rewarded with a pommel to the gut that doubles him over. I can see Agent Alpha steady his hands and pull off a head shot that shatters the stony helm of one of the statues and renders it inert. The best takeaway from this is that they CAN be stopped. Now it’s just a matter of finding the will.
I can see the ladies wrestling with the saint statue, pushing and pulling every part this way and that. Doc Kate manages to wrench something with one of the hands of the statue and a door behind it slides ominously open. With our luck lately, that’s where the reinforcements for the stone knights will start entering from.

With my focus momentarily on the ladies, one of the swords gets through my defensive dance and flashbulbs go off in my head as a pommel crashes into my temple. Reeling from the blow, I bring up Nora and unleash a desperation burst of fire, miraculously staggering the statue. I watch it stumble, teeter, then ultimately come apart as Doc Totem finishes him off with a blast from his big Webley.

Alpha is plinking away to little avail on the last remaining knight as I bring up Nora, one last time, trying to make the three knights in my vision align as the one knight I know is standing a dozen feet away. Giving up on fighting the triple vision I go ahead and shoot the middle one. Nora shouts one last, glorious time, God bless her, and shatters what remained of a granite pot helm. The statue falls to bits and we collectively stoop to hands on knees, breathing raggedly.
The staircase downward beckons, and from the top we can see another darkened room, lined with stone effigies of knights…

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The Templar Treasure Incident, Part IV

With the adventure of dueling a massive, cyclopean mechanical serpent behind us, Doc Kate took the initiative and moseyed on over towards the towering Thoth statue. I think most of us were interested in, if not the statue, the gilded box at the foot of the bird headed god. As we congregated around the plinth, Doc Totem glanced around at our inaction, scratched his head and adjusted his fez and shrugged. “Well then. Let’s poke it with a stick shall we?” he announced, crouching down and prizing open the cigar box sized coffer with some implement he produced from the multitude of pockets lining his jacket.

Within the box was a dry scroll, curled in upon itself with the weight of the ages. In fancy, illuminated script it bore the following legend:

Let it be known that in this, the 1214th year of our Lord, I, Raymond de Savoir, Knight Templar in good standing, oversaw the removal of the last treasure from this sacred place. In keeping with the instructions of my forbearers, it was deemed this treasure was too great for mankind and thus has been taken for safekeeping to the Castle of Our Lady of Mercy in the land of France. This testament I do swear in the name of our Lord.

The knight had signed the document with an elaborate scrawl accompanied by a wax signet, crumbling and flaking with age. While our assembled company started debating back and forth which location in France the knight might be referring to, some noise in the rear of the chamber, near the staircase, alerted us to a swarm of Ahnenerbe goons pouring into the room, Lugers and Schmeisser MP-38s at the ready. Nora almost leapt into my hand of her own accord.

Agent Alpha was the swiftest of the group though, as is often the case his Golden Gun was barking at the Krauts, and I saw one tumble to the ground as the rest of us joined in. Doc Kate fired wild and I think it was Ms. Barnes whose shot ricocheted off one of the stone bookcases and winged poor Agent Alpha. He’s a tough guy, made of sterner stuff though, so he soldiered on.
I drew down with Nora on Herr Templeman, that rat faced weasel of a Jerry we’d seen calling the shots for them before. The shot struck home just left of center mass in his chest, and I hoped for a moment I’d struck a telling blow but he crumpled only momentarily before straightening, plucking a dented flask from his breast pocket and smirking at me as he barked orders to his lackeys in harsh German. He returned the favor with a couple of shots from his Luger, but I snaked away at the last moment and the rounds tore through empty shirt and narrowly missed my ribcage.

Doc Totem made for quite an impressive presence, twin hand cannons from Webley and Mauser booming away in the best display of Anglo-German cooperation since the Hessians signed on to crush the fledging American independence movement. One of the Krauts dropped before a cacophony of Nazi fire erupted in the chamber, pinging off every available surface and filling the air with a dusty miasma of plaster and sandstone detritus. I swear some of the rounds may have pinged off Doc Totem himself, it’s always hard to tell when he’s spouting his mumbo jumbo about the stone headed Moai on Easter Island. I half expect his head to grow to massive proportions, and not in the usual sense like when he lectures me on my lack of knowledge of obscure Phoenician burial rituals.

Whether it’s the Doc’s mumbo jumbo or the steady hail of gunfire, something in the temple’s structural integrity decides to go pear shaped on us, and there is a deafening roar as half the southern wall caves in unleashing a torrent of dark river water into the room. The onrushing wave topples a couple of columns to add to the debris filling the air.

The room collapsing around us would have a tendency to really stop most folks in their tracks. Mind you, I’m not exactly most folks. This ain’t my first collapsing temple sunshine. I’ve seen disasters that would turn the most hardened Chicago fireman whiter than a polar bear in a snowstorm. So you have to believe me when I note that there is almost nothing in the world as terrifying as seeing a dozen sarcophagi burst open as a pack of ibis headed mummies decide to join the fray. Let me say that again. Bird headed. Walking. Dead. Mummies. Spiders dripping off half of them as they emerge from their dark, forsaken tombs to lurch after every living, breathing human in the room.

I momentarily lose all sense of gunfire in the room as everything lurches into slow motion. I can hear a terrible noise, but it takes me a moment to realize it’s the sound of my own throat screaming. Everything lurches back into real time, or maybe it’s faster than real time. I feel amplified, jazzed. My hands, my legs, my whole body is trembling with every action. I know I have to find some way to send those horrors back to whatever night lands are found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Nora booms like thunder in my hand at I unload her shotgun barrel into one mummy, then unleash a rain of fire as fast as I can fan the hammer into two more. I watch in horror as the holes explode through the first one, shooting mummy dust and fibers out the back but doing nothing to halt its lurching gait forward. One of the second pair does burst apart under the fusillade though, giving a momentary, faint glimmer of encouragement.

The Germans ignore the mummies for the moment, or haven’t spotted them shambling up behind them. They rain heavy fire down on Alpha, Doc Kate and Ms. Barnes, and I see the Doc wince as a round creases her gut. I can hear Doc Totem rallying us back with some noise that’s tremendously rousing. I can’t be sure in all the cacophony around me, but later I’ll swear I heard the Yale “Boola Boola” fight song amidst the chaos.

By this point, the mummies on the opposite side of the now raging river are tearing into the Nazis, which is a mixed blessing. I can’t think of anything nice to say about the Ahnernabe, but they’re still human beings, and a part of you dies when you hear their screams as the living dead rip them limb from limb. Frantically seeking something to focus on to drown out the screams I chance upon Ms. Barnes clambering to the top of a pile of rubble, fishing about in that carpet Gladstone bag she always carries with her. She grins wickedly as she draws forth a bottle of some kind of perfume, and wraps a rag around it, lighting the end with a Zippo before hurling the makeshift grenade into the midst of our German aggressors.

The results are explosive as glass shards and flaming liquid engulf four of the flunkies, narrowly missing our old buddy Templeman. The flaming goons run screaming into the now raging river, and are carried off by the increasingly strong current.

As I catch Alpha downing another mummy with his Golden Gun I am horrified as the shrieking beak of one of the mummies bears down on me, plunging into my shoulder as I feel the pain explode down my arm like white hot fire.

Ms. Barnes slams her Gladstone into the mummy, momentarily staggering and driving it back long enough for me to swing Vera up to bear and empty the last rounds into the beast. Still, they are to no avail as the bits of plaster and wrappings exploding out the back of the mummy do little to slow it’s relentless approach. I hear Doc Totem’s shrill incantation to the Hawai’ian goddess of earthquakes and the ground splits asunder, trapping the remaining mummies on this side of the river while the few remaining Germans do battle with those left on their side.
Alpha continues his relentless assault on the ibis headed freaks of nature, downing one of the trapped monstrosities. Inspired by Ms. Barnes’ resourcefulness I take a large swig of the Old Overholt rye in my flask. I’ll admit, as the sweet burn of whiskey rolls across my tongue, this plan is not entirely about a makeshift flamethrower, but I relent and spit out a cloud of alcohol which ignites from the flame of my Zippo, engulfing our last Ibis beast in flames and ending its unnatural unlife.

I hear Doc Totem crow with glee as a booming handgun claims another Ahnernabe lackey, though whether he’s been paid in English Webley or the home coin of the Mauser is hard to distinguish in the echoing din. I see Doc Kate and Alpha scrambling over a makeshift rubble bridge towards the remaining Nazis and the exit as white water spumes form around them where raging river meets blocks of sandstone.

I holster Vera and scoop up the Mauser rifle at my feet, snapping off an iron sights shot at Templeman that narrowly misses, lifting the fedora off his head as the color drains from his face and he turns his ashen visage to regard me as a proper threat. All around our shocked but unshaken group is mounting an impressive offensive. I see goons fall to gunfire from Alpha and Ms. Barnes as withering gunfire takes the fez from the top of Totem’s head, eliciting his undying enmity towards the Germanic peoples for their aggressions against the millinery arts.
Despite heavy German losses, these troops are hardened, and aren’t giving up. Templeman grazes Doc Kate’s cheek with a 9mm parabellum round from his Luger. I cycle the bolt action of my Mauser Karabiner 98K, chambering a round of 7.92 × 57mm that heads downrange as soon as I acquire the dangling grenade from one of the Jerry’s belt with my front sight post. The potato masher goes up in a blooming fireball that enshrouds two more in a fiery conflagration.

I hardly have time to appreciate the fine shot (Damn, you can say what you want about the Germans, but the accuracy and output from Herrs Wilhelm and Paul Mauser’s little arms factory in Oberndorf am Neckar is hard to outdo) when I see Doc Totem yammering on something about Nancy Fancy or somesuch and he’s scrambling across the goddamn CEILING like a gecko or – far worse – a damned SPIDER. Obviously, the Germans, being humans beings who live in the world like any sensible folk, are not expecting their foe to cavort about on the ceiling like some kind of horrible spider, so they’re quite shocked when Doc empties his Webley into them, scratching the ranks of the Ahnernabe down even further.

I’m watching the ongoing shootout between Alpha, and the Doctor Duo of Kate and Totem as I scramble across our makeshift rope bridge, but the river’s gotten much worse since we made it the first time, and the ripstrong current tears me away to deposit me against the rubble from one of the columns further downstream, soaked to the bone and bruised to the marrow for my efforts.

Alpha charges to my position, screaming offers of aid above the raging torrents of white water as he guns down a final Nazi. Templeman, rapidly running out of allies manages to crack a shot off at Doc Kate that would have taken her head off had it not ricocheted off her fancy goggles. Doc Totem, perched halfway up the goddamn WALL is shouting at Templeman to surrender but gets only screams of “Nicht! Nein! NEVER!” for all his entreaties.

Doc Kate returns fire at Templeman, plucking a button off the epaulettes of his overcoat as he valiantly tries to make a last stand. Ms. Barnes hits the mark, taking a chunk out of his right shoulder and causing his gun arm to drop leadenly to his side. By this point Alpha has helped me to his feet and we both close the circle around Templeman, weapons leveled, closing out any last hope of escape. The Luger drops from fingers slippery with bright red blood thinned by the wet spray of water from the river and Templeman slumps to his knees, attempting to raise his wounded arms in surrender.

Given the continued rumbling, and the chunks of ceiling plunging noisily into the raging river water, we police up the few remaining survivors nursing their wounds on the sandy floor and shepherd everyone out of the temple as the rushing waters and roiling earth combine to collapse the remaining structural integrity of the place and recommit the ruins to their place of mystery, lost to the mists of time forevermore.

A few of us are nursing wounds as well as numerous scrapes and bruises, but there’s a German truck stocked with supplies and Ms. Barnes makes like Florence Nightingale, tending to our wounds and the Germans as we load up for the arduous trip out of the desert.

Doc Kate warily takes stock of the Jerry cans of petrol on the back of the truck and questions “Do we have enough gas to get us back to civilization?”

“What?” Totem muses, angrily fingering twin bullet holes marring the otherwise lovely surface of his beloved fez, “All the way to Europe?”

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The Templar Treasure Incident, Part III
Treasure of the Templars - Act 2, Cont'd.

From the Private Journal of Ric Havoc:

Sunrise over the vast, trackless wastes of the Egyptian desert was a time for goodbyes. Our new friend Caliph Ismail bid a fond and enthusiastic farewell to us, though I could not help but notice the lack of his charming, sloe-eyed daughter Fatima. Ah, sweet Fatima, the cruel desert gods did not gift us with enough time. Perhaps given a few more nights I could storm that citadel, but I guess it’s not meant to be. We two are not fated to sail Homer’s wine dark seas of the Mediterranean like that Howard fella’s swordsman and his warrior woman Bêlit. Ah well, not to be. With a new dawn comes a new day, and maybe new dames if luck is to be good to us.Trekking with moroccos berbers

Sadly, in terms of luck, it’s hard to make the argument it’s rolling in our favor. Instead of a dusky, smoldering princess of the desert we have brother Jusef to keep us company. He’s a damn sight uglier and his breath is about as bad as the back end of these godforsaken camels we’re forced to ride now. Come to think of it, their front end ain’t much better than the back. Still, we’re traveling in force now, with a good half dozen or more of Jusef’s best mates to help protect us against the dangers of the desert and the Germans. Which should be more reassuring that it is.

Two days of travel prove less than productive in the congeniality department. Jusef and his lads are largely keeping to themselves, despite my attempts to banter with them in their home tongue. Still, we are delivered safely to a small outcropping of ruins as night falls. It’s not exactly what we saw projected from the unusual marble currently under the protection of Miss Barnes, but Jusef assures us this is the place. At least there is some shelter from the sand and wind, and a place to make a fire before nightfall. Tracking can be tricky in the desert, as the wind and shifting sands conceal spoor and sign quite swiftly, but even so it is apparent we are the first men to tread in this area for many moons.

FIRE!

Never the best wake up call, when the camp scrambles to in the middle of the night, we discover one of our Bedouin friends has gone and set their tent aflame. Putting out a fire is a challenge even in the best of circumstances, but in the midst of a desert, with water at a premium, it is particularly beastly. We wind up losing a good share of the supplies, which is depressing. The fire also cooks up a fair bit of the lamb and goat we had set aside, which is less depressing, on account of being quite tasty when it comes down to it. I try to make small talk and buck up spirits with the tribesmen over some remnants of lamb shiskabob, but they are not much for banter and we start to settle down into a sullen sulk until morning.

The fire seems to have done more than just gut our supplies and planning. Like the beacon at Alexandria, it has alerted the desert to our presence, and another group of natives, looking rather unfriendly, bear down upon us in the night. As we note the approach of flashing blades and muskets held at the ready, Agent Alpha scrambles over to our Bedouin allies to enlist their aid in calming the new locals. The hail of musket fire drowns out the end of his words, and it appears attempts at a peaceful parlay will not be successful this morning.

I can feel the tug of a musket ball at the button on the epaulette of my right shoulder as I rise to my feet, filling my hand with the smooth, ivory handle of Nora. I can see Jusef and the Bedouins rising from their beds and clambering atop their camels to lead a charge in our defense.Morocco berber people

Or at least, that’s what they would be doing if they were in fact staunch allies. Instead they flee faster than Babe Didrickson in the LA Coliseum. I catch bits of Jusef’s words as he rides out of sight, driving his camel furiously away from the fight, and it’s something to the effect of “Let us go! Our friends will be here soon enough!” Now, I can’t tell you what that means, but I don’t rightly have time to worry, because a swarm of angry, musket shooting, saber waving tribesmen are filling the courtyard and chaos is my top priority right now. It’s one of those moments when your blood is up and you’re about to find out if you have what it takes to be a legend. Bully! From behind me I hear the bark of a Smith and Wesson Model 10 and I realize Miss Barnes has joined the fight as I see one of the raiders jerk back at the shoulder.

Nora comes alive in my hands, my left hand fanning as fast as the eye can see three more raiders go down in clouds of smoke and thunder. Barnes misses a shot at another as many of them ditch their one shot muskets and bring the fight to us, sabers and scimitars waving and glinting in the firelight.

Two cruel, curved blades shred half of my shirt, but I can barely feel the scratches on my chest, so the cuts can’t be too deep. From the corner of my eye I see the familiar golden .45 sparking in Agent Alpha’s hand as I fan off the final three rounds in Nora’s cylinder. The desert savages are swift though, and two dive out of the incoming fire although one round takes the head clean off a third.

I can hear Dr. Durant’s gun chiming in, wounding another as they swarm into the courtyard and around the fires, their camels’ hooves thundering and churning up the blood and smoke-choked sand. Doc Totem now has twin Webley’s blazing away in his hands, adding to the chaos swirling around me. I can see Alpha chasing down a fleeing straggler and finishing him off silhouetted in the gateway.

The remainder of the raiders are wheeling their camels to flee, shouting curses upon us in their native tongue, swearing the vengeance of the desert will destroy us come sunrise. I realize none of us want them to betray anything about our position to the Germans, most likely still tracking the same ruins as we are.

Miss Barnes steps forward and snaps off a shot I swear would have gelded a hummingbird at a hundred paces. In this case though, it just happened to catch an unfortunate Bedouin, glancing back over his shoulder as he fled, square between his beady eyes. Well I can’t let a little lady outshoot me like that, so given that Nora is down to her last shotgun shell and buckshot ain’t worth spit at a rapidly retreating camel rider, I let the Le Mat drop and snap my Mauser up to my shoulder, rapidly acquiring the head of a fleeing tribesman with my front sight post as a squeeze the trigger. The familiar recoil tugs at my shoulder as he drops from the saddle like a marionette with the strings cut. Agent Alpha, framed in the firelight in the gaping wide gateway to the courtyard, lines up a last shot with his golden gun, and no stragglers will run to tell the tale of what transpired in the shadows of this ruined gatehouse.

The I can feel the rushing sound in my ears as the adrenaline washes away, and the sensation of a few scattered nicks and cuts make their presence known as stinging sweat trickles its way into the bloodstream. Another battle is over. Another time I’m still standing.

When the killing temper is up, you hold your breath. You don’t even realize you’re doing it half the time. I can feel the breath leaving. I can feel myself exhaling for the first time. That’s when I see Dr. Durant running around, goggles pushed back on her head keeping the hair out of her eyes, trying to wrangle up whatever camels we can still manage to keep together. Remembering that there’s probably a fair bit of water in canteens on the back of those beasts, I figger it’s a pretty good idea to set to and start rounding ‘em up with her.

Camel 77244299Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a mule. A mule will take you to Hell and back. A mule will never miss a step, never complain, and get you home safe every single time they step out of the corral. Hell, even a good quarter horse’ll have your back, keep you on the trail and get you where you need to get. Camels? Camels come from the deepest, darkest bowels of Satan’s worst Hell. If the Jesuits at St. Ignatius taught me anything about the suffering in Hell, you get your start off in the First Circle of Limbo with your unbaptized babies and pagans; you got everything on the way down from Lust in the Second Circle to the Gluttons in the Third Circle and so forth down to the Judas and the treacherous in the Ninth Circle. If there’s a Tenth Circle, that’s where they make camels. I hate the fornicatin’ things. More ornery than a Texas ranch hand with a burr under the saddle, more contrary than a dame who got herself some learning and filled her head with ideas. Camels are a bad business. But right now, given our supply situation, they’re the only business in town. I help Doc Kate out with getting them to heel and getting the hobbles on them to keep ‘em from rambling.

I hate camels.

Just another tally in the accounts book for the payback I’m going to owe Jusef when I see the sonofabitch.

By the time I get back to the others, Miss Barnes is rattling on about how “Fatima’s friends have run out on us.” Now, I can’t let a slight like that stand on a fine, upstanding…well, I can’t let that slight stand on a lovely desert jewel like the Caliph’s daughter, so I start heaping more blame at the feet of ol’ Jusef. Alpha comes out of sifting through the burning wreckage of the tents with Doc Totem and adds another piece to the puzzle. Seems our buddy Jusef has a German instruction manual for a portable radio. Now the pieces are falling into place. Looks like Jusef’s making a play against big brother with the Krauts for backing. I can’t see anybody educated at Oxford in England getting cozy with the German’s when they’re flexing like they want to start flying their flag over half of Europe and I say as much. Well Doc Kate and Agent Alpha seem to bowl over laughing at my grasp of politics and I swear I see a smirk out of Miss Barnes. There’s a reason I guess that I spend most of my time out in the wilds. I’m not so swift with reading the tell tales with the trade winds on dry land.

Leaving debates on the state of European politics to others, I head over to the open gates and I’m rewarded with a glorious sunrise, rosy Turner skies emerging in the east over the dusty, desert plains. Through the shimmering light I see the damnedest thing.

Rising up in the shimmering light, like a humpback cresting off the coast of Newfoundland, spires start to form, emerging from the desert. First towers, then crumbling walls arise, like a giant awaking and shaking the sleep detritus of hibernation from tired bones we see the ruins from Miss Barnes’ marble forming up in the first light of desert dawn. I turn back to the gang, starting slack-jawed in awe, except for Doc Kate, who is feverishly drawing in her Moleskine. This is why we all do what we do. There is nothing in the world like raw wonderment.

RuinsOnce we get everyone on camelback, it’s still a good hour or so until we’re reaching the emerging ruins. This tends to underscore the cyclopean massiveness of the thing. It goes without saying tracking is useless here. How do you look for tracks among ruins that only an hour ago were rising out of the desert sands?

Clearly, the Docs are in their element here. Totem and Kate are like kids in front of the Woolworth’s window at Christmas. It’s too faint to see much of anything with the hieroglyphs, but Doc Kate starts shouting when she spies a large engraving of the twin knights or horseback. Doc Totem storms over there with a gleam in his eye like a sailor coming down the gangway to the red light district in Manila. He hollers that the stone is loose and I whip out my kukri and head over and set to start prying at the rock. A bit of work from the team and the stone gives way, opening onto a dark stairway leading down a twisting spiral into the darkness below. We gather up the gang, I chamber a round in the old Mauser, and it’s down into the darkness for us.

After what seems like an eternity, spiraling downward further and further into the darkness below, the stairs open onto a massive chamber like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Even the slightest bit of light from the torches is magnified a hundredfold by polished silver niches on the wall and a great golden dome of a ceiling. Elaborate carved columns, thicker than a man, stretch floor to ceiling to hold up the enormous vaulted expanse. A river of dark, fast rushing water gurgles noisily through the room, weaving among towering stone shelves like bookcases, but devoid of texts or any other impediment. Graven stone sarcophagi line the walls, and across the room, lording over a small golden box, stands an ibis headed statue. ThothIt’s Thoth, if I remember my Book of the Dead, Egyptian god of knowledge. (The anthropology mumbo jumbo was great for fascinating coeds back in the day… have I ever told you that you have the eyes of Astarte, The Akkadian warrior goddess? More wine?)

Sand and dust across the floor partly covers a mosaic bearing a Latin inscription, but I can make out enough of it to vocalize “Let the Returned Eye be your passage to safety…” as I translate in my head, and say a silent prayer of thanks to Father Martin for cracking my knuckles so often in 9th grade Latin. It’s nice to be rewarded with appreciative looks from the eggheads when they forget for a moment that I’m pretty much just here to tame the wilderness and crack skulls.

Miss Barnes digs the marble out of her pocket as I watch her lips mouth the words “Returned Eye” and start searching the room for something. I figure we’re going to need to get across the rushing waters and leap across a narrow spot with a running leap. With a rope tossed to me, I lash it to a pillar with one of the biggest clove hitches I can recall tying and folks start to work on fording the stream. That’s when the water starts churning. I’ve been to every corner of the globe, from Alaska to Zagreb, and never in that time has water that starts churning of its own volition been a good thing.

As if in answer to a question I never wanted to ask, out of the roiling mess rises a massive serpent, with wicked spines sprouting from its flanks, skeletons pinioned to its body in aged and rusted mail, each scale gleaming in the reflected light with an oily sheen of articulated metal. It makes a horrible hissings noise as it rears back, and that’s when I see the gleam from a single eye, the other socket looking dark and hollow. Dark, hollow, and suspiciously similar in size to the orb Miss Barnes clutches in her right palm.

Tossing the Mauser aside I spring onto the back of the best, leaving both hands free to find purchase on the spiny, scaly carapace. “Throw me the marble!” I shout at the top of my lungs as the metal mass starts to shift under my feet. I hear the horrible, hypnotic clacking and mechanical clicking inside the beast as it shifts and shimmies through the dark water stream.

Brave Doc Totem strides out into the middle of the stream like Wyatt Earp on the western plains and snaps off a shot from the booming Webley .455 hand cannon that pings uselessly off the metal hide of the serpent. The huge head lunges forward, snapping at Doc, and I figure him for a goner, but there’s an odd spring sound and an oily black liquid shoots out the side of a fang rather than into the Doc and he seems okay for now.

I see Miss Barnes, in her tweed trousers and vest, clambering up one of the bookcase structures and wonder what she’s on about, until she leaps from the top of the stone case onto the head of the snake. I let out a low whistle. I’ll say one thing for the dame, she’s got some guts that’s for sure.

The snake bites Agent Alpha, but he’s got some kind of armoring under his coat, and the fangs won’t penetrate. He scrambles up with me on the back of the thing. It shudders and shakes like a Voodoo queen in a Louisiana swamp show but we all manage to hang on for now. I see Doc Totem in the middle of the stream hollering his mumbo jumbo and calling down the strength of Gilgamesh. Damned if he don’t start vibrating in the water and I’m pretty sure he puffed up like one of them tropical fish with the spines.

I find what hand and foot holds I can to get up on the head with Miss Barnes, but it’s the nick of time when the snake goes into shake mode again and we’re whipping around like a ride on the carnival midway. I see Alpha spilling off into the drink and Barnes looks like she’s doing the same, but I clamp one hand on a flap of scale behind the horns of the snake and shoot the other hand out to grab her. Between me and the recently buffed up Doc Totem below, we manage to steady her back on the snake’s head.

Miss Barnes jams that glass orb in the eye socket and the whole thing starts grinding and clacking but slowly and surely, shutting down. We clamber for sure as it slips beneath the slowly calming waters and finally remember to breathe.

Still, one can’t help but wonder what surprises the Treasure of the Templars still has in store for us.

To Be Continued…

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The Templar Treasure Incident, Part II
Treasure of the Templars - Act 1 & 2

From the Private Journal of Ric Havoc:

With a room full of Nazi goons, the best thing under the circumstances seemed like going down. The basement. Dark as the basement steps were, I saw no sign bearing the legend, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (the Jesuits back home at St. Ignatius Prep in Chicago would be proud of me for remembering that) so it had to be better than a room full of Aryan muscle.

StoreroomPlunging down the stairs gave way to a cramped hall of shelves, reaching towards the ceiling and packed with the detritus o’ civilizations as far as the eye could see. I let the others out pace me up ahead and looked back to see Herr Templemann leading a horde of black trenchcoated heavies down the narrow stairs after us. Miss Barnes and I realized at the same time those goons were packing heat, and a pack of Lugers opened fire, pinging off vases left and right of us and ripping a button off the epaulettes of my Tweed driving coat. Yet another item to add to the long list of tailoring alterations for poor Mr. Yee.

Miss Barnes’ Derringer barked, winging one of the goons in the arm and I opened up with a full fusillade from ol’ Nora, watching the front three fellas crumple under a withering hail of .40 cal from my best gal.

About that time, Herr Templemann seemed to think discretion was the better part of valor, and started to bolt for it, but quick as Jack Flash one of the black coats flies off and under that dark fedora who do we see but Agent Alpha! Never worked with him myself, but his rep around the Society is sterling silver. Good to know Doc Pendragon is pulling out all the stops to back our play in this game. Thank God I seen him around the Chrysler building before, elsewise he would’ve got a belly full of lead with the rest of these Aryan jokers.

At this point, everything is chaos. Alpha and Templemann are struggling halfway up the staircase, Doc Totem is screaming some kind of mumbo jumbo that has the Jerries looking around like they don’t know what to think and I swear out of the corner of my eye I saw Doc Durant climbing one of the bookcases and grabbing a bronze funereal urn from the Middle Kingdom Period getting ready to brain anyone who got in tossing range.Storeroom 2

One of the mooks kept coming, Luger at the ready so Nora barked in her angry voice with the underbarrel 16 gauge. That opened a hole in his ribs the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and I hollered at the rest to drop it. Templemann had an earful of Alpha’s gleaming .45 at this point, and Doc Totem pulled some kind of crazy invocation of Pele in Hawai’ian and the floor ripped apart, cracking the staircase. You ever been on the slopes of Kilauea when Pele is angry, you gain a healthy respect for that lady I can assure you.

Point to whatever you want, or even a little from column A, little from column B, at this point the fight was all out of the Krauts. Doc Totem wants ‘em dead, ’cause apparently he and the Jerries have beef going way back, but Alpha’s hearing none of that and frankly I’m with him on this one. Fella drops his gun and surrenders, you treat him right. If the world ever stops acting that way, we’ve gone the wrong way as far as I’m concerned. I volunteered to help him sort out the diplomatic business and keep watch on the clowns until they could be ‘persona non grata-ed’ with their embassy and shipped back to the Fatherland…of course, now that I think of it, maybe Totem’s way would at least have been swift for them. If any of the rot you hear coming out of Europe holds any water.

Anyway, at this point back at the hotel, Bets… excuse me… Miss Barnes has figured out something pretty amazing. Apparently the fight knocked loose some kind of crystal from the statue, and when you shine a light through it, you can see this crazy temple scene. The whole nine yards: sphinxes, ibises, Ibi, whatever you call the crane headed fellas, some kind of fort in the background. Doc Totem’s all excited because he thinks he knows where that is, some Ptolemaic fort somewhere in the west of the Egyptian desert. Pack your bags Ric, we’re off for Egypt. I remind myself to pack extra canteens.

Phoenix5Well somebody forgot to appease the appropriate animal-headed Egyptian gods, because pretty much like you’d expect, we’re sailing high above the desert when a nasty sandstorm kicks in and both engines stall out on the plane. I swear if it weren’t for bad luck traveling we’d have no luck at all. This is why I love my job. Tell me another job that gives your stomach that same punch when the bottom drops out as your plane heads for the dunes and another hard landing?

Yeah, that seldom works out well. Almost worked out horribly for poor Amir, our native pilot, who was working so hard with Agent Alpha to land the crate in the storm. If it hadn’t been for Miss Barnes yanking him sidewise out of his seat at the last minute before we hit, he would have been wearing his steering yoke as a cape on his back, and that ain’t pretty.Egypt sand dunes 300632 sw

The plane is a lost cause, but we’re in the middle of nowhere and we have to get moving. Two brutal days of merciless heat later, we do finally come across an oasis. Sweet salvation. Except, nice resource like an oasis, that’s worth something in these parts. Can’t expect to find those places unguarded. There’s a host of locals on their camels, Berbers by the look of ‘em. Nomadic berber in moroccoThey don’t take kindly to strangers and want us to surrender our weapons and go meet their chieftain. Now, if I didn’t surrender Nora to Capone’s gang, or Zulus, or half a dozen tribes in the Amazon down the River of Doubt I ain’t giving her up here and I tell him as much. If he’s surprised I talk a little Berber, he’s not letting on.

Doc Totem is singing some song about needing our weapons due to angry Djinn. Whether that works, or my platitudes and flattery, they shimmy off and we have some peace and quiet at the oasis. I make the suggestion we hold up until nightfall. You always travel better in the desert at night. Less water loss to heat. Easier to navigate with the stars. Everyone buys in to my logic and we shelter amongst the date trees until nightfall. Turns out maybe we shouldn’t have listened to me, because angry and company show up again and this time, we have to go with them.

Turns out their leader is holed up in a tent village around a larger oasis. Biggest honcho gets the biggest tent and so we’re sent there. Just as we’re entering, we see a dusky, sloe-eyed young lass leaving. Maybe there could be some decent ways to pass the time around here, come to think of it. I swear she was winking at me. I make a mental note to leave all my gear packed in case I need to bolt out of here quickly.320 berber people 0006

Caliph Ismail ibn Gazi actually turned out to be a pretty interesting chap. First off, he apologized for his brother Jousef, the grumpy fella from the oasis. Seems he doesn’t like outsiders much. Also, he probably didn’t get the all expenses paid education at Oxford that accounts for his elder brother’s impeccable English. Families are full of these little squabbles.

Agent Alpha laid out the whole tale for him, minus some embellishments I’m sure, but he got the gist. Apparently, according to our new buddy the Caliph, the area we’re talking about is cursed. Some folks may not hold much water with curses, but I’ve been enough places to know that some folks call places “cursed” for a reason. There are more things in Heaven and Earth Horatio and all that noise (again with a hat tip to the brothers at St. Ignatius). Napoleon, various pharaohs and potentates, they all sent thousands into the desert, and nobody comes back.

Berber woman eyesWell, given that the lovely and delightful Fatima (apparently the Caliph’s daughter…yeah, I’ve read THAT book before and it never ends well for me) is back and I’m walking into certain death in the morning, I’m think it’s time to gather my rosebuds as ye may. That and making sure the kukri is sharp and the guns are clean, because curses have a way of wrecking your day.

To Be Continued…

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The Templar Treasure Incident, Part 1
Treasure of the Templars - Act 1

From the Private Journal of Ric Havoc:

There are better ways to get reacquainted than a six hour trek down the coast in a boat of a Duesenberg, but there are probably worse ways too. I hadn’t seen this gang since a year ago, Paris. The strange affair of the Jade Monkey and the cult that tried to turn the Eiffel Tower into a Tesla antenna to channel Orgone energy to conquer Europe. I think we all needed some space apart after that one. I got mine with a lengthy jaunt through the Congo River basin looking for the Mokele-Mbembe. Never found it, but found a healthy chunk of change that ought to keep me in dry boots for a few months.36due j rollston landaulette bhc

Still, anytime Professor Dickinson calls up, the work is usually pretty interesting. Oddly enough, I think the last time we worked with the good Professor was Paris. Funny how these things go in circles. Maybe that explains all those Ouroboros drawings in the prof’s notebooks.

The wind in the back under the convertible was pretty strong, like the trades off the North Shore of Oahu, but the new lighter I picked up from those Zippo folks worked just fine and kept me in a steady stream of Chesterfields to take the edge off last night’s Rye.

Willard postcard grande‘Course traffic on US 1 was a bear, but we couldn’t have been too late pulling up to the Willard Hotel, least wise not late enough to explain the state of agitation we found the good Professor in standing in front of the hotel, waving his arms at us like Robinson Crusoe to a schooner in the shipping lanes. I was just wondering what that odd little brown paper package in his hand was when some miscreant on a motorbike snatched the thing and tore off down the street.

You didn’t have to tell Mick Totem twice, he stomped the gas and we were off in pursuit as Professor Dickinson screamed for us to follow that thief and grab the package. Never a dull day around that Professor.

Totem careened onto Pennsylvania Avenue in hot pursuit. Busy street cornerI popped the top in the back of the Duesey and stood up, grabbing hold of ol’ Nora and feeling those sweet Mother of Pearl grips in my hand as I snapped off a shot at the bike’s rear tire that sailed wide left. Totem and the biker swerved among a couple of delivery trucks as Betsy and Dr. Durant reached for their guns. I heard the Derringer bark about the same time as Dr. Durant’s wheelgun but both shots pinged off the bike’s chassis to no avail. I think it was about then I heard the other bikes coming up on our six and I realized this was getting pretty dicey.

Totem gunned the engine and the straight-8 roared, closing the gap with the fleeing bike. Things got a little dodgy for a spell as we careened past a bank robbery in progress, the local coppers gunning it out with a couple of mooks with Tommy Guns, but we came through clean and gaining ground. Hitting a moving target like a bike ain’t the easiest of things even in the best of circumstances, so I did my best to stay calm and tried to remember that centering stuff that lama in Bhutan wad gone on about, just trying to see the perfect union of me, my target and Nora’s long, cool steel barrel.

As we pulled up alongside the biker, Betsy Barnes pulled the damndest trick I think I’ve ever seen. Grabbing her black, London brollie from the seat next to her she clambered out on the running board and damned if she didn’t jam that umbrella through the bike’s spokes. Well bike and rider took to the skies like the long, lost Wallenda cousins and I figured he oughta be down for the count.

Professor Totem slammed on the brakes and spun us into a skid, whipping the boat of a car around just in time to see the two bikes bearing down on us from behind. Dr. Durant’s shot went wide but I think it spooked one of the fellas because he swerved into a clothesline and disappeared down an alleyway with a crash. Figuring we were running short on time I dropped Nora to the waist and cut loose on the other fella, fanning out half a dozen shots before you could say Jack Robinson. At least four of them found home on the mook, turning him into a slab of Swiss cheese as the others scrambled from the car to check out the biker who stole the Prof’s package.

He had a weird little square cross around his neck and a short sword tucked into his belt. Cults right? Nothing’s ever easy when it comes to cults.

Betsy snatched up the package and we high tailed it out of there before the police came around asking pesky questions about shooting up the peace on the fine streets of the Nation’s capitol. As I reloaded Nora I heard a sharp squeak next to me as Betsy dropped the box in her lap. You have to hand it to the Prof, he does weird better than anyone I know. Two stone fingers in the box because…well, there has to be some kind of reason for that. In Betsy’s defense they did look kind of real when you look at them quickly.

Needing answers we worked our way back to the Willard, but the Prof was nowhere to be found. I may be much more at home on the African Savannah than the Avenue of the Americas but even I know if you want to know the goings on at a hotel you talk to the doorman. While Dr. Durant sat in the front of the car admiring some kind of odd blood portrait she made of the biker’s face the rest of us grilled the kid with the gold fringe epaulettes.

Tumblr lpp29p6 g rr1qigxoko1 400Seems the Prof had gotten into a car with some dark suited gents while we were gone, but said something about telling us to check out his place and remember our time in Paris. Our time in Paris. Who’s going to forget the affair of the Jade Monkey, right?

Figuring the ball was in play on this game and time was a wasting, we actually spun out of there without even stopping in for a drink, which is a shame because the bartender at the Willard makes about the finest Joe Rickey I ever had and that would have gone down sweet on a warm day like today.

Just across the Chain Bridge about fifteen minutes later we were pulling up to the Prof’s place. It didn’t look like there were signs of a struggle, but all the same once Betsy picked the lock I pulled out Ol’ Nora and led the way. I don’t take chances with Cults.

A quick sweep of the place proved the coast was clear and we set down to searching for whatever the Prof must have wanted us to find. Finding the odd item out in that sea of trinkets from the far flung corners of the world would’ve kind’ve been like the thirteenth labor for that muscle bound Greek fella. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when the Doc called out “Hey, didn’t he say something about our time in Paris?” as she held up a framed picture of the gang standing under the Eiffel Tower (shortly after we’d saved it from mortal peril)

She pried open the back and found a note:

Dear Friends,
After years of research I am close to uncovering the fabled treasure of the Templars. Some have called me mad or crazy, but I know I am close to the Truth! Unfortunately, I feel my research has not gone unnoticed. I believe I am being followed, and my life is in danger. In the event that anything untoward happens to me before I can speak with you, go to Weschler’s auction house on Tuesday and bid on Lot #1307. I believe it holds a vital clue!
Your Friend,

Professor Hamilton Dickinson

Well seeing it was Tuesday already, we headed for Weschler’s to make a bid for that item. It turned out to be a statue of two knights riding a horse. Mick Totem, who knows a thing or two about old things, told us that was a famous symbol of the Templars, so that placed us at least on the right track. Weschler’s was over on E Street in the Penn Quarter, and we luckily managed to arrive before they opened bidding on the statue.

it wound up we were bidding mostly against a German fellow in a black leather trenchcoat. I’ve spent enough time in Europe over the past three years to realize Germans in black leather trench-coats seldom mean anything good is about to happen. This Kraut (the auctioneer called him, “Herr Templemann”) wanted that statue and wanted it bad. It took every resource we could pool together but we finally outbid the no good Jerry at $1,500 cash American. Had to be something pretty important to drop the cost of two Studebakers on the sucker.

By the time I went to to front to claim our prize, it seemed like Black Trenchcoat had called for back-up. With mooks muscling in on nearly every door, it seemed like it might be a wise idea to check out the basement and where that might lead…
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h4. To Be Continued…

View
Web of the Spider Cult: Chapter Three
Creepy Crawlies...

The captain and crew take one launch and head back to Merida, while the team heads further up the river. They come to a stone dock, and leave the boat. They travel in a bit, and come to vine covered stone buildings. Buck says that this is a good place to camp for the night, so they set up camp and Helen tries to read the images on the buildings. They all can see captives with a huge spider hanging over them. The next morning they start off and sees three paths, each covered in a large spider web. Buck sets the middle web on fire, and a spider the size of a small dog drops from the trees. Pandora shoots it, exploding it in a shower of ichor. They turn back to the trail, and see they all rejoin. Helen hears the sounds of many spiders running towards them. The swarm attacks Pandora, climbing all over her. She grabs the torch from Buck and lights some of the nearby trees to spread the smoke around. Buck twirls his guns and shoots both of the large spiders. Helen grabs her shotgun but it jams. Pandora keeps stomping the swarm on her, while Helen shoots one of the swarms. Buck holsters his guns, grabs his flask and takes a swig, blowing the whiskey towards the swarm, setting it on fire from the torch. Helen yells, “Run!” and takes off down the path, with the other two following close behind. Pandora speeds ahead, and reaches the cliff first. She sees a rope bridge, then realizes it is made of spider silk. Buck pauses to shoot the two giant spiders following the team, exploding them, as the ladies begin to cross the swaying bridge. Three giant spiders begin to climb on to the bridge, and Buck shoots to two closest to him, and starts running on the bridge.

Suddenly a flock of birds swoops down and eats one of the swarms. Pandora shoots a spider that pops up in front of her, as Helen makes it to the other side. She turns and shoots the swarm, killing it off. Buck shoots the last giant spiders, killing it. The team looks around, and realizes they have to climb up the cliff. As they start up, a giant spider starts down from the top. Buck pauses to shoot it, and the team continues upward. Another comes over the top, and the team each takes a shot and misses as they continue climbing. The reach the top, and see the trail continues across the plateau.

They eventually come to the end of the valley, with low, three-tiered step pyramid with several warriors guarding each path up. On the top tier are two warriors, a high priest, the chieftain, and a woman struggling. The High Priest – Quenunga – waves his arms, and phantasmal spider arms appear around him. The chieftain – Achelotl – has a firm grip on the woman.Aztec warrior at nku

Helen yells in Aztec, “Release her!” and runs forward, shooting one of the guards. Buck follows, killing two of them. Quenunga waves and shoots a spectral wave of spiders at Helen. She shoots back, hitting him twice. The warriors all begin to converge on the team. Buck runs up with Pandora, and she shoots Achelotl, killing him and causing his cape to turn into a swarm of spiders. Helen and Buck continue shooting while Pandora appeals to the warriors, causing them to pause. One group tips a brazier over, sending flaming oil over Buck and Helen. Helen knocks Buck in to the waterway. Pandora runs up and shoots Quenunga, who shoots a missile of spiders back at her. The warriors converge on Pandora and Helen, as Buck shoots into the crowd. The spider swarm envelopes Pandora and Helen…

To Be Concluded…

View
Web of the Spider Cult: Chapter Two
Web of the Spider Cult: Act III

While still at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Buck calls a friend in the New Orleans police department for information on the Riverside Warehouse Company. It’s outside New Orleans, owned by Manuel Ortega, a Mexican businessman, and in fact, all the employees are Mexican.

The group waits for the police to arrive, and answers their questions. Buck also calls Inspector Galloway to let him know we’re headed to New Orleans. The team flies down, and heads to the warehouse.

LouisianaIt is grimy and hard to see in the windows. The doors are locked and one side of the building backs up against the bayou. Buck spots an open window and Pandora hears chanting coming from within, and when Helen peers in a window, she sees a group of men around a large reed mat, decorated with the image of a spider. One has a headdress & is the leader (Ortega). While Buck polishes his badge, Helen runs to the end of the catwalk and slides down the support poles, while Pandora runs to the other end and slides into the control box of the crane, which is currently holding a crate suspended from the ceiling.

Buck twirls his guns and shoots a light fixture on the far side of the warehouse, causing a shower of sparks. All the Aztecs stop chanting and look up at him, while Buck drawls an introduction. Ortega yells in Aztec, “Kill the man in the hat!”

Two men grab their blow guns and shoot at Buck, and Buck returns fire. One flips onto the mat, and one collapses, both dead.

Curtiss airboatOrtega reaches behind a crate and pulls out a sub-machine gun, and shoots Buck. Helen shoots Ortega, then shoots one of the men starting up the ladder towards Buck. Pandora uses the crane to swing a crate to hit two of the Aztecs in the head. One dodges the crate and races up the ladder towards Buck, while another sneaks around some crates and shoots at Helen. Buck shoots the Aztec that has made it to the catwalk, as Helen shoots the one that shot at her. Buck slides down the ladder and punches the final Aztec. The team realizes Ortega has fled, and see an air boat taking off. They jump into another air boat and follow.

They catch up and Pandora and Buck start shooting, killing Ortega. They return to the warehouse, and start looking around. Pandora starts taking pictures, while Buck walks into the office, where he sees a map with white string marking many points all radiating from a spot in the Mexican jungle (on the Yucatan peninsula). Helen finds a notebook, with sites and names. They take the map and head back to the plane. Buck takes the notebook and sends it with a note to Inspector Galloway.

The team heads to Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula. They cannot land at the cultist compound, but land in Merida and charter a riverboat. Captain Juan Santiago agrees to take them close, then rent them a motorized launch. The trip is uneventful for the first several days. Then, on the third night, Buck is on watch and a group of Aztecs sneak on board the boat and attack him, knocking over a storm lantern and starting a fire in the process. Capt. Santiago and the crew try to contain the blaze. Meanwhile, Buck yells “Howdy!” and cracks his knuckles, waking the ladies up. They get to the deck, and start shooting. Pandora realizes Buck is shaken by the attack and yells at him to pull himself together. Buck then punches one man and flings one man overboard. Several run over to attack the ladies, but only cut their clothes. Helen shoots one, killing him. Buck punches another, grabbing his neck and tossing him overboard as well. Pandora flashes her camera, startling the remaining Aztec who staggers back into the fire.

The captain yells that the boat is about to blow and everyone jumps into the launches, which the crew has readied for escape.

To Be Continued…




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Web of the Spider Cult: Chapter One
Museum Mayhem

1936, Centropolis.

The team from the Paragon Society consisting of Helen White, Buck Boaz, and Pandora Chase has been out of town and just returned to Centropolis. Helen invites the team back to her townhouse, but when they arrive they see her front door is busted open. Upon a quick investigation, they find the body of Dr. Ernest Breakspeare dead in her study, presumably from the blowdart in his neck. His other hand is clutching a golden disk. Examining it, Helen identifies it as Aztec in origin, and reads the glyphs on the disk as a name – Tzitzimime – which relates to a minor celestial goddess. They also find his diary, a ticket stub from Mexico to Centropolis, and a bus ticket from Centropolis to Boston. A window (leading to the garden) is open. Nothing seems missing, though Buck finds some plants disturbed outside in the garden, like someone ran from the house.

Buck calls the police, while Pandora calls some friends at the paper to find out about Breakspeare – he has a good reputation.

The police arrive, lead by Inspector Victor Galloway. They ask the usual questions of everyone separately. Helen leaves out mentioning the golden disk or the diary, Buck is not so close-mouthed. The police depart (without comparing notes) and thus leave to two bits of evidence in the group’s possession.

Museum of fine artsIn the morning Helen calls the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and tells them of Breakspear’s death. The woman is shocked and offers to have Dr Hibbert – his boss – call when he gets in. Later his secretary calls and ask that we meet him tomorrow. They group flies to Boston.

They go to meet Dr. Oswald Hibbert, and find out the museum – specifically the Aztec collection – was robbed two weeks ago, around the time some crates arrived (they are currently in the basement). The group asks questions, and finally show him the golden disk. As Hibbert takes it, the door bursts open and a group of Aztec Warriors enter, shooting blow-dart guns. Helen grabs for the disk, but misses as Hibbert ducks under his desk. Pandora draws her gun and shoots one of the Warriors. Buck cracks his knuckles and punches one of the Warriors. Pandora shoots the third. As they take a breath, they hear breaking glass outside. Buck and Helen rush outside, and see another Aztec running down the hall into the museum. Aztec warrior Pandora helps Dr Hibbert from under his desk, and asks him if he knows what happened. A frantic chase through the museum ensues! Helen and Buck dodge passers-by, workmen, museum guests, and Buck catches a priceless vase before it could smash to the floor. Eventually, Buck tackles the Aztec, knocking him out. Buck carries him back to Dr. Hibbert’s office and ties him up.

The group (dragging Hibbert along) follows a map found on the Aztec down to the basement. The basement is full of old exhibits, parts of new exhibits, conservators’ workbenches, and several large crates. All of the crates were shipped from the Riverside Warehouse Company, New Orleans. Pandora notices a lot of knots in the wood of the crates, and Buck pops one into a crate. There is a yell, and Aztecs leap out of all of the crates. The Aztecs again attack with blowguns. One of them shoots at Pandora who ducks at the last moment and he shoots his compatriot instead! Pandora and Helen both shoot at them, as Buck wades into the middle of them, takes a drink and attacks all the Aztecs. After some more shooting, the Aztecs are all taken down. The group then examines the crates, finding food, water gourds, and the stolen artifacts. Spider hand The group notes all the Aztecs have a spider tattoo on the backs of their right hands.

The group returns to Dr. Hibbert’s office and Helen tries to question the remaining Aztec. He curses the team, and suddenly contorts in pain, dead! A small spider climbs out of his clothes and runs away. Buck recognizes it as a Mexican Black Widow, but it gets away.

To be Continued…




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The Starkweather Incident: Chapter Three
To End All Wars: Acts III & IV

Charlie drives the group to Starkweather’s mansion. After a brief reconnaissance, they knock and the door is answered by Miss Claudia Knight. The Red Fedora says, “Miss Knight, we need to speak to Dr. Starkweather immediately.” She leads the group to the dinning room and sits at the right of the head of the table (which has no chair). After a moment, a man in a wheelchair rolls in and is introduced as Dr. Henry Starkweather. He apologizes for not standing, citing an industrial accident that some years ago left him without use of his legs.

Miss Knight sprays herself with perfume and winks at Dr. Meriwether. Red Fedora notices there is a complete lack of scent. Dr. Meriwether does a “cold read” to get a handle on Starkweather, but something is off. Dr. Starkweather starts ranting about how the government ignored his efforts to share his weapon to end all wars. But they will all see what his is doing when he releases the gas over the capitol.

The team realizes they are feeling woozy and can no longer move. The servants strip them of their gear, drag them to the basement and tie them to chairs. Miss Knight walks up to Dr. Meriwether and strokes his face with her leather gloved hand, saying she wished she could say that the Society had proved worthy opponents, but she could not. Jerome, one of the servants carries a covered dish in. Miss Knight dramatically opens the dish, showing a large bomb, with a timer ticking down to zero! Then after the revelation that Dr. Starkweather can, in fact, walk, the fiends depart, locking the door behind them.

The Red Fedora, Verity, and Sabrina quickly free themselves. Sabrina frees Charlie, The Red Fedora frees Meriweather, while Verity studies the bomb and realizes outer casing of the bomb is rigged with a booby-trap. While Sabrina picks the lock on the door, the rest of the group works to disable the bomb. After several very tense seconds, they stop it with 12 seconds left!

They rush outside and see the tires are deflated. While Sabrina inflates them, The Red Fedora goes back in to the house, and calls the FBI to warn them, and tell them to evacuate the president. Charlie radios to tell the airstrip at Lakehurst to have a plane waiting for us. Lz 127 graf zeppelin1 540x370 Verity flies ahead and questions the ground crew to discover the airship took off over an hour ago. She waits until the car arrives with the rest of the group and they take off.

Unfortunately the group does not catch up until the airship is flying low over Washington. Charlie flies the plane low over the airship and the group leaps out The Red Fedora and Sabrina slide off, but Verity flies down and pushes both into ropes on the outside the the blimp. They both pull themselves up, as Charlie leaps out, leaving Jake to fly the plane. The team regroups and goes down the inside of the zeppelin through an access hatch on the roof.

In the gondola are three thugs with guns, Adler, Starkweather with a gas mask on, and Valerie Bloom with her hands tied behind her back! They all have their guns pointed at the stairs (having been alerted by an alarm on the access hatch…)

Starkweather sneers “Well, well, it seems your rescuers have returned, Miss Bloom. Let’s see how heroic they are.” He then shoves her out the open door! Her scream momentarily drowning out the engine noise. 805977

Meriwether pauses on the stairs and notices Starkweather has a small aerosol can in his hand, and standing next to the control to release the bomb bay doors. Charlie shoots a thug, and runs up to Adler. The Red Fedora shoots Adler. Sabrina wraps Starkweather’s arms in a band of mystic force. Verity flies out the door after Bloom. A thug shoots at The Red Fedora, but he dodges out of the way.

The pilot misjudges the altitude and scrapes across the top of the Lincoln Monument. Everyone staggers and the pilot falls out the open door! Charlie runs forward to steer the ship. As she grabs the controls she realizes the ship is leaking gas, and the steering controls are damaged. She quickly tries to land in the Potomac River, but Starkweather breaks free of his bonds and sprays her with stun gas.

Meanwhile, Verity catches Bloom and flies her to the ground. Verity tells her to call the police and stay safe, then turns and flies back to the airship.

The Red Fedora shoots Adler, who is stunned. Meriwether shoots the control panel, causing sparks to fly. Sabrina shoots a bolt at Starkweather, throwing him out the door. As he flies he shouts “You fools, you will never stop me!” He pulls something from his coat as he goes flying, and squeezes the trigger, shooting the flare gun into the hydrogen leaking from the balloon. A wave of heat hits everyone in the gondola and they all hear a series of explosions. As Charlie struggles to avoid the Washington Monument, Adler draws a knife and attacks her. The Red Fedora runs up and stabs Adler, catching the knife in the canvas of his flight-suit.

Hydrogen vehicle danger 3 Sabrina calls a waterspout from the Potomac, intending to flood the fire. Meriweather talks to the last goon, convincing him to surrender.

The Red Fedora stabs Adler twice, wounding him. Sabrina yells out “Charlie get a hold of yourself!” as Charlie struggles with the controls. Verity flies in the door and shoots Adler, throwing him into the wall. She then flies in, grabs Meriweather and The Red Fedora, flying back out trying for a controlled crash.

Charlie aims for the Potomac, and she and Sabrina leap out.

The airship bursts in to a white hot ball, hopefully vaporizing all the nerve gas.




The Paragon Society will return in Web of the Spider Cult

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