Cave, Sweet Cave
The group searches the cavern. An ancient rockfall blocks a tunnel leading deeper into the mountains, and there are two ledges to the east and west that are accessible by ladder.
Mikhail takes two of the riding blankets from the eight, very bored, camels and tries to have Pushok get a scent off of them. Unfortunately, the stench of camel musk is too strong for Pushok to get anything else.
Kane and Dr. Black climb the ladder to the western ledge. They find a small hollow with the remnants of an ancient fire, as well as crude cave paintings. The rest of the group slowly files up the ladder to the eastern ledge, which is similar in size, but which has a passageway that goes further on to the east.
Ron takes the lead down the passageway, which ends in an L-bend that goes to the north. Placed at the bed is a low, sandstone altar covered with bits of pottery and offerings. There are also additional cave paintings here, depicting several large figures offering small figures to a goat-like monster. To the north, Ron notes the flickering light of a distant campfire. He also hears the sounds of someone talking from that direction, and so he sneaks back and informs the rest of the group.
Vivian and Johnny take a moment to examine the altar stone. They learn that it is definitely of Tahijuh make, thanks to Johnny remembering the one art class he took in high school. Vivian also finds and translates a Valusian inscription on the altar, which reads, “we raise this stone in thanks to MACBRIDE, in honor of Father Serpent and Mother Goat.”
Terror at the Cave Mouth
Some of the group go back to the entry cavern to warn Dr. Black and Kane that they may have found other people in the cave. Dr. Black takes up overwatch on the eastern ledge, while Kane remains at his post on the western ledge. The rest of the group go back down the passageway, douse their flashlights, and start to carefully approach the distant firelight.
While all this is happening, Turki Nazar—who has remained at the mouth of the cave with James Raven and Brother Theodore—runs in and reports to Kane that he has heard howling and seen “something that looks like a dust storm,” just outside of the cave. He tells Kane that it might be the invisible monsters, but that they seem unable to pass the Elder Sign that Dr. Black and Brother Theodore placed at the cave mouth.
Kane tells Turki to go back and keep watch. Then he descends into the entry cavern, grabs the six camel blankets unclaimed by Mikahil, and brings them back to his roost on the western ledge. He plans to drop them on the invisible monsters should they breach the Elder Sign and enter the cave. This will, Kane hopes, give him something to shoot at.
A Mostly Silent Approach
The others wait a few moments for their eyes to adjust and then begin advancing toward the flickering firelight. They soon arrive in another large cavern littered with boulders. The campfire stands at the center of the cave, ringed by a pair of sleeping bags and two large, modern-looking tents.
Ron also notes that someone has set up a large, tallow candle a short distance away from the firepit, and that the candle is smoking, as if it had been freshly extinguished.
Ron creeps up to the nearest tent and peeks inside. He sees two Turks, clad in olive drab and holding rifles, waiting in ambush. He returns to the group and informs them of this.
The group moves to surround both tents. Ron looks into the second tent and sees that it is also occupied by two Turks with rifles. He also realizes, just at this moment, that the rhythmic pinging of metal on stone that the group has been hearing since their arrival has stopped. Ron is concerned that he doesn’t know when the pinging sound ended.
The group quickly moves in to dispose of the Turks. Their plan is to either pull up the tent stakes or cut the tent ropes and have the tents fall in to trap the Turks. This works, and the Turks are surprised. Ron slashes at one of the trapped figures with his blessed knife, slicing through canvas and meat and ending the life of one of the Turks immediately.
The other three Turks fight their way out of the tents and into the cavern.
One of them is the Turk that Ron headbutted in the police wagon way back in Boston. He points his rifle at Ron and screams, “Like a fish! LIKE A FISH!” Before he can raise his rifle to shoot Ron, Judge Putnam presses the muzzle of his shotgun cane to the Turk’s side and pulls the trigger, killing him instantly.
The remaining two Turks swiftly fall beneath the group’s concentrated attack, leaving them alone in the cavern.
The Second Wave
It is at this point that Johnny notices three men approaching from the mouth of a tunnel on the opposite side of the encampment cavern. Two of the men are dressed in cultist robes and masks and are carrying rifles. The third, to the group’s shock, is Duncan MacBain.
While the judge reloads his shotgun cane, Johnny hefts his own shotgun and fires, shattering one of the cultist’s masks—and the face beneath it—with a well-placed slug. The second cultist, seeking vengeance for his friend, gut shoots Johnny with his rifle. Johnny collapses, unconscious, onto the folds of a tent beside the dead Turks.
Duncan MacBain shouts an invocation and a wave of crushing force smashes into the group, knocking them sprawling. Mikhail notices a strange glow coming from his jacket pocket as the wave strikes him—and suddenly recedes. Mikhail, unharmed, watches as the wave of force rebounds from him to smash MacBain against the cavern wall. Mikhail realizes that this is as a result of the protective effects of his corn mother doll, which is rapidly turning to ashes in his pocket.
Most of the group swarms MacBain and the surviving cultist, killing them, while Vivian runs back to the entrance cavern to fetch Dr. Black. Dr. Black arrives just as the battle ends and, with deft medical skill, manages to staunch Johnny’s wounds and bring him around. Johnny, feeling exhausted and woozy, returns to the entry cavern to rest and keep vigil with Kane.
The Inner Sanctum
The group proceeds to enter the passageway that MacBain and the cultists arrived from. This leads into another large cavern whose floor is covered by a shallow pool of water. At the far end of the cave, a rockfall blocks a passageway north into another area. The group notes that some work has already been done to clear away a portion of the rockfall, and that several picks and shovels are scattered throughout the area.
The group takes about forty-five minutes to clear away enough debris to make an opening between the shallow lake cave and the cavern beyond. Ron squeezes through this opening into a large, partially carved, rectangular cave with a thick, sandy floor. Ron’s flashlight throws deep, angular shadows onto the walls, and reveals numerous horrible cave paintings similar to those the group has found recently.
Ron notices one of the shadows moving very strangely. He draws his knife, just as a 20-foot black serpent (a truly gigantic specimen of walterinnesia aegyptia) slithers forward to attack. Ron goes toe to toe with the snake, badly wounding it with his knife, but getting bitten in the shoulder for his trouble.
|Like This, But Bigger...|
The rest of the group pours into the cave to help Ron. The giant serpent easily evades Judge Putnam’s shotgun blast, but Mikhail is able to wound it with his blessed Masonic blade.
Vivian, desperate to save her godfather, raises her hand and screams, “STOP!” in Valusian.
To everyone’s surprise, the snake pauses, staring at Vivian with its golden eyes.
This gives Ron an opportunity to jam his blessed blade into the bottom of the snake’s lower jaw and out the top of its head. This kills the snake instantly.
As the snake falls lifeless to the sandy earth, those in the group who know Valusian hear the voice of Yig, Father of Serpents, speaking into their minds. Yig is wroth with them for killing one of his children, and is especially angry at Vivian for presuming to use the words of its people to command one of its spawn.
Yig’s presence fades from the group’s mind, leaving them horrified, but relieved.
In the meantime, Ron begins to notice a slight, but painful, tingling in his extremities.