Friday, May 8th 1925 continued:
Ernst seconds the plan to check out the Randolph Shipping manifests. Spalding also wants to steal the crates marked for the Penhew Foundation.
VIljoen-Ballard and Spalding leave to arrange for outfitting and a guide for the outback. Viljoen-Ballard doesn’t know much about the desert, but his competant enough in survival skills to find appropriate people who do. They arrange for camels, provisions, water, etc, and hire an Abo guide who goes by Buckley.
Meanwhile, Ernst wanders Darwin looking to stir up rumors. Amongst the travellers, laborers, and locales he hears strange tales of Australia; bunyips,giant bats, a cult that worships them, and the great Buddai, who sleeps with his head on his arm below the Earth and will one day rise to devour it. .
Eastwick researches Ernst’s condition, trying to reference anything in their resources. Nickels shops around for tools, and keeps an eye out for strange metals. None are to be found here.
Ernst, Spalding, Nickels, and Viljoen Ballard travel the dark streets to Randolph shipping.. Eastwick hangs tight at the Inn. Approaching the warehouse, Ernst spies a watchman on the dock guarding the crates. He does not have a regular patrol, but rather wanders the dock as he will.. Viljoen-Ballard and Nickels keep watch at a machine shop across the street while Ernst and Spalding plan to gain entry via the front door. Ernst tells them that if there’s a commotion to grab the Penhew crate on the dock and run.
The large loading doors have a man sized door set into them. Ernst briefly entertains notions of forcing it, but instead calls over Nickels to try and pick it. Nickels fails. But instead he partially disassembles it, opens the door, then reassembles the lock. For all intentst and purposes it will look just like someone forgot to lock it in the first place. Ernst and Spalding sneak in, and find the interior quiet. Shielding their flashlights, they search for the Penhew crate and find it in the stacks. Then, they pop open the roll-top desk and rifle through the papers. There are a variety of mundane records and correspondence, and they finally find the ledger. They pocket it, along with the petty cash, and spread the other contents around like it was tossed by a common thief.
Meanwhile outside, Viljoen Ballard and Nickels are overtaken by some drunks, but they play it cool. The men harmlessly stumble by. Back in the warehouse, Ernst grabs the Penhew box, and he and Spalding sneak back to the door. Spalding trips, grabbing onto the chain which pulls the loading doors open along the rail they are set in, making a cacohpany of sound as the still secured doors rattle their chains and screech in the rail. The guard has been alerted, and rushes in.
Running outside, Ernst passes off the box to Nickels, then doubles back to the dock and grabs the other crate, proceeding to head up the shoreline and doubling back.
Spalding tries to hide outside the loading door, but is seen immediately when the guard comes through. The man advances on her, she runs, and he gives chase.
As he passes by the machine shop, Viljoen-Ballard steps out and clotheslines him, dropping him to the ground like a sack of mail. The good doctor pulls out his Webley and covers him as he stands back up. Viljoen-Ballard says he’s a doctor and doesn’t want to hurt him but if he needs to, he will. Spalding, meanwhile, having seen the results from across the way, returns to tie him up with his own belt, but cannot manage to get a firm knot. In frustration she tries to pistol whip him, but only succeeds in giving him a fine bruise on his head. Ernst, witnessing the debacle and becoming cognizant of the alarming sounds, charges across the street and knocks the guard out with a mightly blow to the jaw, and pours whisky all around him. Hopefully anyone coming upon him will take him for a drunk and not believe his story.
They scatter, eventually meeting back up at boarding house.
Safely back in their rooms, they go through their findings. Spalding reviews the ledger and determines it contains many regular shipments, but also certain items that have double or triple fees being paid being passed to the Penhew Foundation, as well as Ho Fongs operation in Shanghai. These shipments all originate from a Mortimer Wycroft in a place called Cuncudgerie. The crates are simple wooden boxes with addressing stencilled into the sides, but they also possess a strange bat-like symbol. Opening the large crate, they find it contains a machine of many rods and gears, with control levers along one side and a central rod with an optical fixture much like a telescope. Nickels makes a study of it, and determines the mechanics of its operations. Eastwick has read about such devices before, and determines it’s some kind of scrying device.
Meanwhile, Ernst opens the smaller crate. Inside is a hideous statue of a bulbous human-like creature with protrusions from its face and body. Eastwick identifies the idol as a pacific island legend, a great beast that reaches from the depths. .
Ernst burns the crates and the paper money, but not before Spalding copies the symbols from them.
Nickels stays up late tinkering with the device, but does not turn it on.
Saturday May 9th:
1am: Eastwick, and Viljoen-Ballard have gone to bed. Spalding is reading, and Ernst is typing (his exploits in travelogue form, leaving out the larcenous and otherwise incriminating or supernatural elements, as is his habit). Nickels has grown bored with the device, having figured out the operations, but still not turning it on. Nickels puts up a ‘Do not touch’ sign on the machine, then goes to bed.
Nickels wakes up before anyone else, and continues his experiments. He turns on the machine, and writes down the operations of the levers. The air around the machine seems to ionize, and a light can be seen inside the central tube. He looks in, and passes out.
Ernst wakes up and finds Nickels slumped on the table with the machine. He tries to wake him up, but cannot do so, even by trying to slap him awake. Ernst quickly wakes Viljoen-Ballard, who checks him for injuries, but finds none. His medicine skills yields no clues. Spalding comes in, and gets an eyeful of Viljoen-Ballard in his underwear. Viljoen-Ballard, focused on the task at hand, injects Nickels with cocaine, and his eyes spastically open and he gurgles, but cannot respond to requests or make himself intelligible. Nickels is put to bed and the machine is moved to Spaldings room.
Everyone is on edge, and agree that they must leave. The path through the desert ehy had considered is not practical to reach Cuncudgerie, and so Viljoen-Ballard goes to make other travel arrangements. Engaging Buckley’s help, he hears about his options: a ship down the coast, or waiting for a plane to fly in and chartering it. It’s definitely not a good idea to walk. Viljoen-Ballard decides on a ship to Port Hedland, then taking the train in-land. The soonest a ship will be available is within a week.
The party agrees to leave town for a few days with Buckley, and return when the ship comes in. They swap their camel arrangements for a truck.
Packing up everything they tell their hosts that they are going out on expedition and take their leave of Hoyster House for now. They load the truck and depart town.
Sunday, May 10th 1925
Buckley leads them out into the scrub, showing them some of Australias natural wonders as well as the flora and fauna. Spalding and Eastwick collect fossils.
They set up a hunt, successfully bagging a few wild dogs and a tiger snake. Buckley prepares the tiger snake in a traditional fashion, and all agree it is delicious.
Monday, May 11th 1925:
Tuesday, May 12th 1925:
Nickels wakes up. He is groggy, and can’t seem to remember anything. He asks after the device, and says that all he remembers is the light. Viljoen-Ballard checks him out, and determines that, physically anyway, he’s fine.
The party relocates to within half a day of Darwin, spending some time on cliffs that overlook the sea.
Wednesday May 13th 1925:
The party returns to Darwin, taking the truck straight to the docks. As planned, they take room and passage to Port Hedland.
The coastal Steamer departs.
Ernst plays word association games with Nickels to test him while Viljoen-Ballard scouts the crew for Randolph associates, and looks out for other ships. Eastwick determines that Nickels is amnesiac.
Ernst and Viljoen-Ballard drink. Ernst attempts to write his travelogue of the trip so far. Not mentioning larcenous activity or the supernatural. It is shaping into quite an alternate story of what he’s been doing.
Thursday May 14th 1925:
Viljoen continues his vigilance. Eastwick continues to work with Nickels. He’s finding his case to be fascinating.
Spalding invites Ernst out to walk on the deck with a drink and a smoke. Viljoen-Ballard joins them. They talk of home, and discuss Nickels. Ernst suspects he is not himself. Viljoen-Ballard suggests a test of mechanical skills. They test his knowledge and he seems competent. Eastwick tests his knowledge of French and the war.
Friday May 15th 1925:
Nickels and Ernst talk, and Nickels observes that writing tends to help. He asks why they are going to wherever they are going, but Ernst will not tell him. Ernst asks that if he remembers to tell him right away.
The steamer makes landfall at Port Hedland, and Viljoen-Ballard and Buckley head to the train station. Viljoen-Ballard arranges freight and seats for the train that will depart in about 2 hours.
Renting a cart, they take the luggage to the train station. They also resupply their alcohol stock and wait for departure. Once on the train they sit tight. The long wooden benches in the car are not terribly comfortable, but they are better than riding on a flatcar. Ernst talks to Nickels some more trying to determine his capabilities and motivations.
The train pulls into Cuncudgerie, a rough mining town at the current railhead. It has simple building catering to the miners, with no shortage of gear, alcohol or women. The party scouts out common rooms for rent, but decide to camp out instead. In the dark they set up tents on the outskirts of town. Setting watches, little is heard but drunks and animals in the dark.
Saturday the 16th:
It is decided that someone should seek out Wycroft. Ernst, Viljoen-Ballard, and Buckley inquire in town. It’s not hard to get directions… Wycroft has an outfitter on the edge of town. The building is simple, with a wide wooden front and a gas pump. A few outbuildings stand around it. A few Abo attendants are hanging around outside, but the group pays them no mind as they enter. Inside, there are shelves of miners gear. Clothing, canvas, tools, engine parts, lamps, tins, a great assortment of dusty wares. Wycroft himself is a middle aged pale, wiry man with sunken eyes and a gaunt face. He stands behind a wide counter, and greets the party as they enter. Ernst directly confronts him about the shipments, says that they’ve dealt with his kind, and that they are investigating some troubling matters. They insinuate legal trouble, if not a physical altercation. Wycroft pulls a shotgun, and tells them to get the fuck out. If they ever show their faces in his store again, he’ll have them.
Ernst leaves directly, but Viljoen-Ballard pauses to try and apologize. Wycroft’s raising of his shotgun convinces him that it’s a lost cause. They briefly debate setting the place on fire, but discretion wins the day and they instead head back to town to talk with the locals. With the passing of a little money, they hear of gold bearing reefs occurring eastward for hundreds of miles, but that it can get dangerous. There was a drover that swore that things the size of bears made off with some of his cattle east of Percival Lakes. Others tell of sinister, tall, emaciated koori tribesmen, and standing stones not of Abo make found sometimes in the shifting dunes. A fellow named MacWhirr propagated most of those tales some years ago. Evil things live in a city below the sands, but the entrances are hard to find.