They woke up in the village of Kolluli, being tended by the Elders. It turned out that they had no memory of the last several days—nothing since they had wounded the Great Mouth.
When they had recovered from the severe dehydration and exposure they had suffered, Maryam came to talk to them. “Perhaps you should go talk to Dr. Ayers,” she said.
“Hasn’t he vanished?” said Millicent.
“We did not tell you the entire truth. He came to us after the destruction of the temple site, and we helped him. Ruby, you share a common affliction with him.”
Ruby looked at the bandage on her arm. Something under it moved. She bit her lip as the smell of Nectar filled the air.
[And here I finally revealed what I was using to figure out how Millicent’s power worked—I took the Dreamscaping table from Dreamhounds of Paris and basically used it to let Millicent…Realityscape. This table is basically broken down into 2, 4, 6 and 8 for Target Numbers…and that’s the Mythos Shock Stability loss for those effects. So with great power comes great madness. Also, Millicent was not immune to it.]
“He was afflicted as you,” said Maryam. “That was ten years ago.”
“Let’s go,” said Ruby.
Simeon led them into the desert…up to a point. “Beyond here I cannot go,” he said. “This is a place…well, not of evil, but a place where I have no power.”
“If it is a place of good, should I not be here?” said Millicent.
“I think you are beyond questions of good and evil. Certainly beyond my understanding.”
“I mean will I reveal it or something?”
“I trust your ability to control yourself.”
They said their goodbyes and hiked forward, the sun setting behind them. After a time, they came to a rise made of slate. Beyond it was a small grotto. They saw a man sitting cross-legged, with his back to them.
He looked like he was made of leather and sticks—they had never seen someone so emaciated. Long gray hair flowed down his back in twisted locks. He turned to look at them.
He had a huge Mouth over his stomach. But even from that distance they could see that it was calcified, stony, and not moving a bit.
“Dr. Ayers, I presume?” said Ruby.
The man stared for a long moment, then gave a single nod.
“You and I share a common problem. How…how did you do this?”
Ayers pointed at the east, where twilight had already gathered. “Laa…laaa…later,” he croaked.
They waited. At sunset, he drank a surprisingly small amount of water from the rusty trickle that flowed through the grotto, then meditated for several hours. He ate a small amount of a very plain porridge, then rolled over and fell asleep almost immediately.
He hadn’t talked once since that one word. In fact, he barely even made a sound, no matter what he was doing.
The next morning Ayers awoke with first light and moved slowly to the grotto. He drank a great deal more water than he had the night before, then sat cross-legged in front of the rest of them. For a long moment, he had a look of intense struggle on his face. Finally, he said…
“Yes?” said Ruby.
“How do I calcify it like you did?”
Everyone looked at Ayers.
“Tell?” he said. Ruby nodded. Ayers rubbed the frozen Mouth on his midriff. “Danger,” he said.
“Show?” suggested Millicent.
Ayers shook his head. “It…has been a very long time since I talked. I guess you are here because of Ramón? I figured it would eventually come to something like this. How bad is it out there?”
“The Mouths have been spreading,” said Ruby. “We’ve been fighting them, but one just opened up in Dallol.”
“They said it was the last one,” said Millicent.
Ayers nodded. “I felt that.”
“It is a disgusting thing,” said Ruby.
Ayers looked at her with a trace of amusement. Ruby flushed, staring at his stomach.
“I am afflicted as well,” she said. “What should I do?”
“Mouth…talks. Mouth…eats. Mouth wants, desires, controls. You have seen the ones that make you angry? The ones that make you…well, all those lusts feed the Mouth. To starve it, you must resist them.”
“So you must become a Buddhist?” said Geronimo.
“Buddhism would be easier. I can teach you some of what I know. It takes a long time. Or you can amputate. Or you can try to live with it…although it will eventually consume you.”
“How long would it take?”
“I could teach you something in a week…but you won’t learn anything very useful until a month has passed. It took me a year to overcome my affliction.”
“Be quiet for a month?” pondered Ruby. She stood up with sudden decision.
“Geronimo, we need to find a surgeon,” she said.
In the end, they agreed to stay a week, to learn what they could from Ayers. He still talked very little, and almost never about his former life. Once, he asked about Job.
“How is Edgar?”
“He’s fine,” said Dr. Orange.
“Yes, he’s still doing his work in Georgia…at his institution…”
“Ah. I don’t know what Ramón wanted for him, but it wasn’t that.”
“He writes equations all over the walls,” said Millicent. “About…conic sections?”
“That makes no sense,” said Ayers.
“No kidding,” said Dr. Orange.
“No, I mean he was a physicist more than a mathematician.”
“Ja,” said Dr. Orange. He wondered again about his encounter with Job…about light cones and…hyperspace, which was a thing he now knew existed…could it be that Job was actually on to something? But what?
[1 point Physics spend by the doc.]
“Tshombe, the woman who opened the Mouth…said that Ramón sent you here because you would try and stop him from doing what he was doing.”
“The Elder was probably right. Ramón was trying to do many strange things.”
“She said he was going to end the world.”
“That is a distinct possibility. Ramón became convinced of the illusory nature of existence…and he wanted the illusions to end. He hated the lie, and that is why he was so dedicated against the Liar, which was a secret he held from all of us. I only suspected it at the time.”
“Is that why she said destroying the Mouths would end the world? I’m confused.”
“As am I. Ramón was a strange man with deep sorrows.”
“Because his sister died? Drowned on that ship?”
“Merida? Merida did not die. But she left him. He never told me the full story. But I know he told her on the ship what he had done to Salvador. I guess before the collision…strange that there was a collision…”
Deciding that not getting her amputation done by an Italian military surgeon was advisable, they flew up to Athens to meet Jimmy. Millicent wired Freddie Blakely and he sent a Harley street surgeon he had gone to Oxford with to do the surgery.
The surgery was done quite successfully. Even before it, Ruby had already been planning out how to accessorize her prosthetic.
Geronimo did some research. He discovered that the first Ethiopian converted to Christianity was a man named…Simeon.
But that happened in the first century. It was perhaps anti-climactic when he discovered that Mahabet was one translation into Coptic for “Eve”.
Dr. Orange was working on his own project. It had to do with evaporation rates, and wind patterns…he had already realized that the climate of Ethiopia would cause the Nectar the Dallol Mouth would produce to evaporate…but it would be a long time before it would precipitate out of the air into a body of water.
Like the Nile. He figured they had a few months.
Right after her surgery, Ruby was groggily reliving in her dreams the moment Tshombe attacked her, over and over again.
Suddenly she sat up. “She said the Mouth had already been born! Already been born! That means it wasn’t the Last Mouth! That means…”
Moments later she dashed out into the hallway. Several nurses tried to grab her. “Where’s my arm!” she screamed. “Where is it! Where is it!”