Eternal Lies: The Masks of the Liar

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 11)

Millicent sat in her house. Outside a villager stood guard, and inside were three very obsequious and attentive women who waited on her every whim. Except for her main whim, which was to sneak out of building.

In her purse was a vial of some pentothal, in case she needed to help with surgery. Millicent was always well prepared.

Smiling at her attendants, she managed to fiddle in the bag and load up a syringe full of the anesthetic. Then she stood up, tried to strike a pose of divine inspiration, and fainted to the floor.

The women ran up to her. “She is having a vision!” one of the said. Millicent jabbed her with the syringe.

“Sister has fainted!” said another of the servants after Millicent’s victim tumbled to the ground. “She is communicating with the goddess!” She and the other woman fell to her knees, making them easy targets for Millicent’s needle.

Shortly after that she had pushed out a few of the large bricks of salt and crawled out into the night. She skulked through the shadows and slipped into the large tent she had seen Tshombe enter earlier.

[Preparedness for the drugs, then an interpersonal spend—Intimidate, I think, to convince the women she was in the throes of a vision—and finally Stealth.]

“Explain it to me again,” she said to Tshombe.

The older woman looked up from the large codex she had spread out on a lectern. “Ah, yes. Tomorrow we will sacrifice you. I am not surprised to see you. I know you are very resourceful.”

“But explain to me why you have to do this. I mean, if I wanted to be out of here I’d be out of here, and if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead.”

“It’s nice that you think so.”

“I know so.”

“Why? Because you are going to cast your magic on me? Do you not think that I am protected by my god too?”

“This has nothing to do with magic. Anyway, the point is, I like the world too, and I have friends too, and we both want the same thing, which is the world to continue. So I think it will work a lot better if I understand why this has to be done, and if I believe it—because if I don’t, I don’t think this will work as well as you want, because we’re dealing with a Liar!”

“You don’t need to believe it, you just need to fall into the Mouth tomorrow.”

“Explain it to me anyway.”

“You cannot destroy the Liar without destroying the world. The Liar and the world are one. You think of them as separate; I do not.”

“Why are the Liar and the world one? Why not the Messenger and the world? Why not anyone else?”

“I do not know. I just know what is.”

“But how do you know? And don’t say the Liar told you, we’ve established that’s not trustworthy.”

“I have researched this in these books.”

“I’ve got all night. Show me.”

Geronimo was having a sleepless night. He patrolled the perimeter of their makeshift camp ceaselessly, determined not to let anyone surprise them. He had just reached for a cigarette when he thought he heard something behind them. He turned around for a moment, but saw nothing.

When he turned back he saw Simeon standing in front of him.

“Simeon,” he said.

“How strong is your faith, Warrior of God?”

“It’s very strong. It is the most important thing.”

From the shadows stepped Maryam and Mahabet, leaning on a stick that was shaped almost like a serpent.

“You know we have powers to combat the Mouths,” said Simeon.

“Please aid me.”

“For us to unleash the volcano, and for the Elders a thousand years ago to calcify the Mouth, required the sacrifice of our most purified and sanctified warriors, people who had studied in the ways of the Guardians for all their life. They had to sacrifice their life in the effort. You understand that this is the largest Mouth, the ultimate Mouth…the Last Mouth. The Mouth that will eat the world. We do not have enough Guardians left. There is only the three of us. But you must understand that the reason it is possible to sacrifice a Guardian is that a Guardian spends his life not only gaining knowledge, but regaining his innocence. How strong is your faith, Warrior of God?”

“It is strong enough to sacrifice myself if I am called upon.”

“That is not the sacrifice that is being asked. To complete the ritual we need the sacrifice of innocents.”

Simeon paused and stared out at the village of Dallol. Some children were running around the fire, and the faint sounds of their singing came to them on the wind. “There are innocents in that village,” he said.

“I cannot stand for that. My faith dictates that I am to protect those innocents and never allow them to be harmed.”

Maryam stepped forward. “You argue this? You believe in Yeshua? You believe in the Son of God, who was the most innocent of all, and he sacrificed to save people.”

“It was a choice that he made. I cannot allow what you ask for.”

“Do you think the mother of Yeshua wanted to allow his sacrifice?”

“She was not happy about it, but it was his decision…”

“Was it? Was it? Have you not read your Bible? Do you not remember the Garden? He begged for it not to happen.”

“I don’t think that is right. I don’t believe that it is correct in my faith, to sacrifice the innocent.”

Mahabet stepped forward. She spoke, in beautiful, elegant Spanish. “And who are you to know what innocence is? You have been born in sin. You have never seen God. You have never known God. And you say this to me, that you will decide who is to live and who is to die, who is innocent and who is not?”

“I’m not deciding who will live and die, I am saying I will not participate in the death of innocents.”

“And so the great evil will happen, and you will allow this?”

“There should be a way to prevent the evil without the death of children!”

“Such choices are not always given to us, as I had to learn, much to my detriment.”

Simeon held up a hand. “I understand, Warrior of God. I hope you are right. I fear you are not. We have watched and prevented this for a very long time. Every year that has passed, I have grown wearier and wearier of this burden. Perhaps it is best that we fail finally, and this endless life of drudgery with it.”

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 10)

“This is extremely bad,” said Dr. Fauche in French to Dr. Orange. “That woman is insane!”

“Clearly,” said Julius in the same language. “But what do you know about any of this?”

“I know that the Mouths exist.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

Dr. Fauche paused. “My mission is very complicated. I was working for the old woman. She is not someone you want to cross! But…I was actually working for someone else. I was hoping to find her trail, and to protect Millicent as well. But now I don’t know what to do! I wasn’t even sure Millicent was the right one, but it seems everyone has decided she is the one we are looking for.”

“So who are you working for?”

“Her name is not important. They call her M. I don’t know much more than that.”

“So explain these organizations.”

“Epsilon Sigma was founded or perhaps revived by some crazy woman in England. They were looking for a girl, the same age as Millicent. The leader was determined that this must be done, out of some obligation or debt of honor. She was working inside M’s organization. I came to work for the old woman, who was put in charge of Epsilon Sigma, but M recruited me to spy on them from the inside. Now, though, M is missing…and they gave me this Bethany woman, terrible person. She’s insane! I’m surrounded by crazy women!”

“What are they doing about these Mouths?”

“There’s some strange connection between Epsilon Sigma and the Mouths. I think they’re making money off of them. I mean, it’s a drug, right? But what they really want is her, the girl, Mirabelle.”

“So you know the Mouths exist, but only about the drugs, not anything about what Tshombe said.”

“Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“Have you seen these Mouths?”

“I’ve seen the small ones. They say they get much bigger.”

“I’ve seen both, and it’s not a pretty sight. There’s all this worshiping, and killing, and eating, and gnashing of teeth…it’s horrible. But we have been destroying them. There are many things that I honestly cannot put into words. I believe that this ritual will do something, because I’ve seen things like this work. I don’t want to be around to see it, though. I want to stop this. In our travels I’ve found that it requires a certain mental fortitude not often found in the world.”

“I think I understand.”

Millicent was brought into one of the buildings made of salt. She was bathed, despite her protests that it was an incredible waste of water. They rubbed her in rose-scented oils and then wrapped her in silk robes.

“You really shouldn’t—” she often began.

“Nephilim!” was their only response.

She began to look for an opportunity to sneak away to Tshombe’s tent.

Geronimo and Ruby hiked up into the higher ground where they were met by a crowd of Dr. Fauche’s porters.

“I know some of you must have fought against the Italians,” Ruby said. “We need some men who are good with weapons. We can pay.”

One of the porters stepped forward. “My cousin told me you are a very sharp woman,” he said. “Perhaps we can make a bargain…”

[2 point Bargain spend bought her one mercenary.]

“We have a sacred duty to protect people!” said Geronimo. “In the name of God, will no one else help anyone? Surely if we fight together we will triumph.”

Finally another man stepped forward. Geronimo noticed he was wearing a small gold cross around his neck. “I will help you, my brother,” the man said.

[2 point Reassurance spend.]

Ruby set herself to watch the village through a pair of field glasses. In the gloaming, she could see white stones had been laid in a circle around the village. Men and women from the village kept following the circle, stooping to rub their hands on the stones, as if they were marking a boundary or circle.

“It’s going to swallow the whole village,” she said in a terrified whisper.

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 9)

After a long, hot walk, they arrived at Dallol. It wasn’t particularly impressive; a cluster of several small houses, some with tin roofs. There was a large circular meeting place in the center of the village; a big pavilion-style tent was pitched there.

“The houses are…they’re…” said Ruby.

“They seem to be made of bricks of salt,” said Geronimo.

As they entered the village, the villagers who had not made the trip to the dig site came out to meet them. As Millicent passed through them, she could hear the occasional whisper of “Nephilim!”

“What does that mean in Afari?” she asked one of the children.

“Nephilim? It means, child of God.”

“Aren’t we all children of God?” she said.

“I have a funny feeling they have a different definition in mind,” said Ruby.

In the center of town, in front of what must be the elders of the village based on their age and dress, stood an elegant woman who matched the description they had been given of Tshombe.

“Welcome, my friends,” she said. “Welcome, Millicent, Ruby, Geronimo, Dr. Orange.”

The hairs on the back of Ruby’s neck stood up.

“Excuse me, I think there’s been some mistake,” squeaked Millicent.

“No mistake, no mistake at all. You are exactly where you should be. I am very, very happy to meet you all. I have heard so much about you.”

“Only nice things, I’m sure,” said Dr. Orange.

“My source was some mixed in his opinion of you, but no matter.”

“Who was your source?” said Millicent.

“Why, the Liar of course. So one must take everything with…what is your expression? A grain of salt.”

Millicent giggled somewhat hysterically.

“You have many questions,” said Tshombe. “But first sit, we will bring you water.”

“How do they know your name?” Dr. Fauche whispered to Millicent.

“I don’t know!”

“Millicent, I think I know why they know your name. I think this is a dangerous place.”

“I’m sure it is…but why do they know my name? Did they plant a spy or something?”

“Don’t you think we should stop pretending? This…this is all madness.”

“No. No! Thinking that there’s a bigger pattern to this is crazy. I’m just a normal girl. There’s no way that a village in the middle of nowhere can know my name?”

Annette glance around. “Doc, you need me to vanish? Because if you want me to get out of here, I have to go now.”

Millicent looked around at her friends. Ruby shook her head slightly.

“Fine, I’ll stay,” said Annette. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

They were brought water. “Perhaps we should go someplace more intimate to talk,” said Tshombe.

“Why not here? We’re fine where we are,” said Dr. Orange.

“Very well.” She nodded slightly, and the crowd backed up about twenty feet, leaving them in the middle of a large circle.

“You have been to Kolluli and talked to the old women, the crone and the mourner? They have surely told you that I am the embodiment of evil, bound to destroy you—”

“No,” said MIllicent. “They said you broke with them over philosophical differences.”

“That is true, I broke with them because I do not believe in the thing they want to do anymore. When Ramón came here in 1921 he had a different view than he held later on. Here we do the great work, to save things.”

“Can you back up to 1921? I think we are a bit behind.”

“Ramón came here and got to the inner circle of the temple. I don’t know how. Most probably the Liar helped him. He saw the Mouth and was very impressed…but I think even then he was beginning to change his views. He came to find the truths of the origin of the Mouths, since it was here that the first one appeared.”

“But what did his views change to?”

“Ramón thought that he could become a god. At least he may have thought his son could do it…until he decided to sacrifice him, because the Liar told him the sacrifice of someone important would give him power. So he threw him into the Mouth in that place in Mexico…”

“Chichen Xoxul.”

“Yes. This was before the Revolution, before he came here. Before his wife left him. The Nephilim.”
“But aren’t we all children of God? By that definition aren’t we all nephilim?”

“No, dear Millicent. We are not. But you are very special.”

“How was Merida special?”

“She was the child of a god.”

“How can she be the child of a god?”

“Is this a serious question? Do you not believe this is possible? You Europeans are so strange. When I was younger my mother was in the service of the queen of Egypt, and we went with her to the greatest city in the world—or so they told us. Rainy, brick buildings…Rome was dull in the winter. The people were primitive and wore outlandish clothes, and the queen’s lover, the general, rarely came to us.”

[You may have guessed which queen of Egypt this was. And that means, in my continuity…that it was Hypatia Masters.]

“So some god had sex—”

“Sex? Ah, yes, the god shoved it’s, what…is that how you think this happened? What are we but an utterance of God? What does biology have to do with it? In any case, Ramón lost Merida, fought in the Revolution, and came here. He told me he no longer believed what the Liar had told him. The sacrifice did not work. His heart had changed. And that is why we are here to say, in the language of the general, ultimatum oraficio. The Final Mouth.”

“What was Ramón trying to do?”

“In 1921? I do not know. In 1926 he sent his man Ayers here I think to get him out of Los Angeles. I think Ramón feared Ayers would try to stop what he was doing.”

“What was that?”

“I am not sure. But we, by making the Final Mouth, are saving the world.”

“What? What are you trying to do?”

“Saving the world. I think Ramón was trying to destroy it.”

“But how will this prevent the end of the world?”

“If the Liar can no longer be destroyed, then the world is safe.”

“Are you getting anything by doing this?” said Ruby.

“I think saving the world is its own reward!” retorted Tshombe.

“What makes you think the world is in danger? Ramón is dead!” said Millicent.

“But you are here. And you have been following in his footsteps, place to place, step by step.”

“We’re following the Liar,” said Ruby.

“Have you been destroying the Mouths?”


“Then you are trying to destroy the world.”

“Are you saying the world is a Mouth?” said Millicent.

“Does it look like one? No? Then it is not.”

“Then what are we doing? Is removing them like removing a cancer?”

“Are you sure it is an infection?”

“In our experience, we have only ever seen it cause harm to those who have encountered it,” said Ruby. “Including ourselves. We have yet to see it help anyone.”

“Who said it would help?” said Tshombe. “Are there not wild animals in your country? A wolf? Like the lion, it hunts animals. The Mouth is part of us. You cannot cut your heart out. You cannot cut your own mouth out.”

“But we can cure smallpox…” said Millicent.

“You think of the Mouth as a disease, but it is part of the world.”

“So is smallpox!”

“So is the wolf. So is the hawk. These prey on other animals. You say they care for their young? But the Liar gives some of us power.”

“She has already made up her mind,” said Geronimo. “This is useless. Whether she knows it or not, her motives are sinister.”

“You look great,” said Dr. Orange. “But I notice your followers are a bit worse for wear.”

“You are Catholic,” she said to Geronimo. “You, a Protestant, yes? You each worship God in your own way. My people worship God in their way. I am simply better able to understand Him.”

“Oh, of course,” muttered Dr. Orange.

“Our work is almost finished now,” said Tshombe. “Tomorrow we will throw Millicent into the Final Mouth and ensure the protection of the world—”

“Wait? No!” said Ruby, starting forward. Several men in the surrounding crowd pulled out rifles. Their trigger fingers were conspicuously not missing.

“Remember that part where we laughed at other people for walking into a trap?” said Ruby.

“You should just leave me,” said Millicent. “I can catch up later.”

“We can’t just leave you,” said Geronimo.

“I can,” said Dr. Orange.

“Why do we even keep you around?” said Geronimo angrily.

“I have the guns and explosives.”

“Surely, Ruby,” said Tshombe, “you are here to see the greatest adventure of all time.”

“I’m all for adventure,” said Ruby. “But not the death of a young lady in the prime of her life. She has many adventures to come.”

“Would you prefer to take her place?”

“I thought you needed a nephilim?”

“Ah, so you wouldn’t take her place. And yet you believe what I have said, otherwise you would not have mentioned the nephilim.”

“I do believe you on some level. Fine. I agree to stay, on one condition: my friends are allowed to leave unharmed and unmolested.”

“Very well. The doctor and Mr. Cuevas can go.”

“What about Millicent?”

“No, she is a sacrifice. Oh, you were trying to take her place? No. We do need a nephilim. But you can stay, if you like.”

“Then I will, for support.”

[RP: Look, I’m staying with Hermione! The magic teleporting girl who can bend physics!]

“I cannot allow this,” said Geronimo. “I cannot…leave you here…”

“Geronimo, darling. Have faith.”

“I do. But it is my responsibility to care for you and to watch over you. And Millicent.”

“Don’t worry. We will be absolutely fine.”

“I do not believe so.”

“Are you performing the ritual?” said Dr. Orange to Tshombe.

“I am the priestess. Why, do you plan to kill me? My followers will never let you live, surely you can see that.”

“How will this work?” said Millicent.

“We will summon the Mouth, and I will sacrifice great power into it.”

“But Ramón tried that!”

“Ah, but he didn’t use the right sacrifice. You are very special, Millicent. Do not think all my knowledge comes from the Liar.”

“Who is telling you things?”

Tshombe sighed. “I grow weary of this conversation. Those who wish to depart may go. Those who wish to stay, we will provide accommodations.”

“I’ll stay,” said Dr. Orange.

“Ruby, we must go,” said Geronimo. “The doctor will do whatever needs to be done to protect Millicent.”

Dr. Fauche agreed to stay as well. Annette left with Ruby and Geronimo.

[GP pointed out that this was partially to absolve Geronimo of the guilt of killing people he thought were innocent.

I gave Ruby Stability for offering to take Millicent’s place, and Dr. Orange Stability for furthering human knowledge.]

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 8)

Towards dawn, during that grey hour long before sunrise, Geronimo realized that people had been gathering below the dig site. As the sun rose, they began a wordless chant, standing and swaying slightly. By this point the entire camp had gathered and stared down at the crowd.

[Sense Trouble by Geronimo.]

“This one is new,” said Dr. Fauche"

“They’re chanting, that’s always bad,” muttered Marian.

“Is that Afari?” said Millicent.

“No,” said Ruby in a strained voice. “It’s the Tongue of Lies…and I think the wind is singing back to them.”

[1 point Stability loss to Ruby.]

“So we should kill them now,” said Dr. Orange.

“They’re holding up their arms!” said Geronimo. “They don’t have any weapons! Stop talking nonsense!”

[I gave Geronimo back a point of Stability.]

Millicent started to walk down the slope toward the crowd, with Geronimo scrambling after her, rifle at the ready. Ruby and Dr. Orange slid down after them.

As she reached the bottom of the hill, the chanters nearest to Millicent prostrated themselves in front of her.

“What did you do?” demanded Ruby.

“I didn’t do anything!” squeaked Millicent.

“Get them to stop chanting,” said Dr. Orange.

Millicent tried to communicate that in Afari.

The chanting stopped. Up close, they could see that many of the people had mutilated hands, feet, or faces. Some children came out of the crowd and began tugging on Millicent’s clothes.

“Come, come,” they said. “Come home.”

“Home is in America,” said Millicent.

“No, no, Dallol. Come, come.”

“I don’t like this,” said Ruby

“We were going to Dallol anyway,” said Geronimo. “Eventually.”

Millicent let the children pull her into the crowd. Everyone stood up again and began to move in the direction of Dallol.

“Come, come,” they all said. Reluctantly, Ruby, Geronimo, and Dr. Orange followed them. Dr. Fauche and Annette hurried up after them.

“I sent Evelyn and Marian back to Mersa Fatma,” said Fauche.
“Good, they can tell everyone how we died,” muttered Dr. Orange.

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 7)

Millicent sat down next to Annette, who was reading by the fire. “So do you ever wonder what it’s all for?” she said without preamble.

Annette put down her book. “I’m not sure what the referent is.”

“All the work, all the looking, all the career path stuff…what’s at the end of it?”

“You have to remember that you can start out thinking your life is going to be one way but it turns out to be something else entirely. Take me. I grew up in a small town. I have to tell you—there’s no way to say this without sounding stuck up—but I was probably the smartest person in my home town, even though I never went to college. I was so smart I used to help my father with his cases—he was a lawyer. Sometimes I even helped the police out. And I came to realize after a while that criminals are stupid people. They always get caught. If you think about it the right way. And then I began to realize that since the police didn’t always catch them—and I’m talking about the regular kind of case, not some random murder or something—but since they didn’t catch them all the time, the police are stupid too! And I could help the cops…or…I could start stealing things. Since I was definitely smarter than the criminals, and definitely smarter than the cops. So that’s what I started to do.”

“So you steal things now?”

“No, I gave that up, at least not for myself. See, I tried to steal from someone who was much smarter than me.”


“No, she’s a good kid, not her.”


“Bethany is very good at what she does. Excellent tradecraft. But she doesn’t carry a candle to the old lady. She’s the best of all of us…but I’ve said too much. If I talk to the old lady and it gets back to her…”

“No, let’s talk about Lady Chatterly’s Lover instead.”

[If you haven’t figured out who Annette Drew is, remember that she doesn’t like to go by Nancy…anymore.]

The next day they finally reached the site of Acuna’s dig. It was nestled in a large volcanic crater, quite ancient, and cupped inside of that was the crater and lava flows of the 1926 eruption. They found a cairn erected over the remains of a few of the workers, the only ones not buried by the explosion.

They spent the day combing over the site. Dr. Fauche helped them find the places where the ancient structure must have been. Here and there they found some fragments of the stone walls.

They looked a great deal like the rock they had found in Doug Henslowe’s box. The rock that was now set in Janet’s armband.

Ruby managed to sneak a few fragments away from Dr. Fauche’s diggers, who were being quite meticulous in their cataloging of the finds.

[Filch test by RP, and Ruby kept one fragment per point spent after the test.]

Dr. Orange was the one who found the teeth. They were ugly, sharp, and evil-looking. To his unfortunately experienced eyes, they were obviously from some enormous Mouth.

That evening they saw a single rider approach over the sands. He sat his camel at the edge of rifle range, watching their camp. He stayed for a long time, until the sun had completely set. Then he raise one arm—in greeting? warning? as an invitation? before turning his camel around and riding away.

He rode in the direction of Dallol, of course.

Ruby found Dr. Fauche helping to secure the camp for the night. “There was a rider watching us,” she said.

“Probably some Afari nomad,” said Fauche.

“Maybe…but he rode off in the direction of Dallol.”

“I’ve heard strange things about that place.”

“Do you think there is any cause for concern?”

“In this region of the world? Yes, Miss Fitzgibbons, there is always reason for concern.”

“But the bodyguards should be able to handle it, yes?”

“Bodyguards? My porters?”

“Oh my.”

“We have a few people who know how to handle a weapon. Miss Ravenwood, my driver…well, I wouldn’t want to mess with her in a dark alley.”

“We’ve heard her fighting with your automobile. A fierce battle.”

“Yes…there are times I am glad my grasp of English is not perfect. From what I understand, Mr. Cuevas is a soldier, ne c’est pas?”

“He’s a fine bodyguard. Just keeping you abreast of the situation.”

“Perhaps we should go there. Normally you can negotiate with the local tribes, give them money or tools…but I can have some men watch the camp.”

“That will definitely put my mind at rest,” Ruby said sweetly.

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 6)

“Oh, Geronimo,” said Ruby.


“I’m actually a ruby now…aren’t I beautiful…”

Geronimo continued to rub aloe vera into her skin. “I would have thought you were used to traveling in places like this.”

“They usually have trees…or shade…or a god…”

“There is a God. He created this place.”

“Are we in Hell?”

“No, we are not.”

“It would probably be cooler there.”

“This is a test of our strength and will.”

“Am I passing? I was always a bad test taker.”

“Yes. Now rest.”

“I’ve always been interested in Ethiopia,” said Dr. Fauche to Dr. Orange. They were sitting in the early evening dusk, near a fire in the center of the village. Lamb was roasting on spits over the flames, filling the air with a wholesome, homey smell.


“Yes, many people don’t realize how strong the Axum Empire was, but it was truly one of the great early Christian empires. Around 1000 AD.”

“The time of the Vikings.”

“Quite right! I never thought of the contrast before—the Axumites were building great monuments at the same time as the Vikings were…”

“Killing people?”

“Yes. Of course, some of us in France have Viking blood.”

“The Normans, right?”

“Yes. Excellent butter, the other qualities perhaps somewhat lacking…but what do I know, I’m from Picardy.”

“Why is this specific site interesting to you?”

“To be frank…it is a bit of a mystery. The volcano, Dr. Acuna’s work…that poor devil Ayers, vanishing, probably died in the desert.”

“That seems more of a modern mystery. It doesn’t have much to do with the Axum Empire.”

“But if it was Axumite, this would be a very remote location for them. So why was it here? What were they so interested in? If anything remains of this site, it is unexplored. And if Dr. Acuna’s discovery of the…statue…in the temple would be very interesting indeed. And of course, my patroness is keen on the place. We are both academics, we must follow our funding. And she is not a woman one says no to.”

Geronimo and Simeon went back into the House of the Elders. Simeon translated for Geronimo, even though he had the suspicion the Elders could understand everything he said.

“I would like to know about your experience seeing the Face of God,” said Geronimo to Mahabet.

“The price I paid was steep,” the ancient woman said. “It was very, very, very, very long ago. And how can one describe the indescribable? How can one come to terms with the Eternal? There is not a day that I do not look back and regret the choices we made. But over time I have come to understand that to be human is to choose these things. That it is not possible for humans to resist the call of knowledge…”

“So you regret seeing God?”

“I regret that I no longer see him, but I understand that it was the choice we had to make. Humans are not made for Paradise. We must look further on. The Messenger said something like that to me once. Do you know of the Messenger? He was once very powerful in Egypt. They gave him a name. It means ‘No peace at the gate.’ In the language of the ancients…Nyarlat-hotep.”

“I know of him. You spoke to him?”

“It is interesting. The Liar lies—this we all know. The Messenger lies as well, but his lies always have the taste of truth upon them. The Messenger told me that the nature of man is to search and become more. In fact, were it not so, he said, I could not even speak to him. So we must give up on unchangingness. It is not our fate. Still…to know the true nature of God was a rare, rare gift. No one has had it since.”

“We all search for it. Those of us with faith.”

“Faith is a strange thing. Maryam would know. She lost people too…her husband. She has never quite lost the mourning of him.”

“I understand loss and morning,” said Geronimo.

“Yes, your brother.”

Geronimo was taken aback. “I guess you have seen God.”

“I have seen much that was hidden.”

“What do you advise a man of faith do in this situation?”

“There may come a difficult choice to make. Perhaps you should not ask me; I have nothing but regrets over my choices, necessary though they may have been. There are always consequences. There is no time without a choice. Even if you refuse the choice, that is a choice. And once having chosen, you create a new world that you must live in.”

“I will think on what you have said.”

“You should also seek the sword of righteousness. It is not here…but you will find it when you are ready for it. Do not doubt that you are able to wield it.”

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 5)

They spent an entire day recuperating. At the end of the second day, Simeon approached Ruby, Millicent, and Dr. Orange.

“I have invited Geronimo to meet some of the elders of my village,” he said. “He recommended that I bring you. Please come with me.”

He walked them to one of the larger buildings. Inside it was cool and dark. A low fire of fragrant wood burned in the center of the room. As their eyes adjusted to the gloom, they saw two women sitting next to the fire.

One was the oldest woman any of them had ever seen. Her dark skin was heavily wrinkled, but her eyes glittered in the firelight. She clutched a staff as gnarled as she was. Next to her was a younger woman with sad eyes and a certain maternal grace.

“This is Maryam, the widow,” said Simeon, introducing the younger woman. “And this is Mahabat who saw the face of God.”

Ruby made an elaborate gesture of respect she had seen other Afari make.

[2 point Flattery spend here—Ruby has no Anthropology, and without the language skill everything is harder.]

“You are here to look at the 1926 dig,” said Simeon. The two women watched in silence. “Why are you interested in that site?”

“There is something there we want to stop,” said Ruby.

“What is it that you want to stop?”

“The one who lies eternally. Who only speaks falsehoods and destroys lives.”

“And how does this Liar manifest?”

“As a disgusting mouth with a long tongue that drips…liquid.” Ruby tried to avoid smacking her lips.

“That Mouth was taken care of many years ago. When we saw in 1926 that they were going to break into the chamber…we destroyed the place.”

Ruby exchanged glances with her companions. The village was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, she thought. Are they saying…?

“It was a grievous loss to us,” said Simeon. “That is why there are only four of us elders—”

Mahabat seized his arm in a claw-like hand. “Three elders,” Simeon said, scowling.

“We will see that they do not disturb what should not be disturbed,” said Ruby.

“There are things that you do not know. Dallol was not a place of ours—it was built by the Italians. Still, it was in our territory. Most Afari are nomads, with the exception of places like this. I have been here since before I was a Christian…and Mahabat for a very long time. But now Afari have returned to Dallol. They are mutilating themselves, cutting off fingers…hands…they say there is a voice on the wind that drives them to do these things. Perhaps it is Shaitan. Or perhaps…the voice of the Liar. In of itself, this would not be dangerous; Afari are friendly and would not harm strangers…”

He paused. Maryam touched his arm. “Tell them,” she said in a low voice.

“I said there are only three elders,” said Simeon. “But there is one who was an elder, until the white man came and there was almost war among us. Later, the white man sent his friend, Ayers, to come to us. Her name is Tshombe. Once she was one of us. Now, she serves the Mexican. I have heard he is dead. But his friend, Ayers, he still draws breath, and has never left this land. I tell you this all even though it is difficult to trust you. You are not Afari…I do not think you are even very good Christians, except for Mr. Geronimo.”

Ruby shrugged.

“But you have brought the nephilim among us,” said Simeon. “So we are willing to believe in you.”

“The what?” said Geronimo.

“The nephilim. Since you have brought her here, I think it was perhaps your destiny to come here. We will take you to the site and watch over you when the Frenchman searches there. But I think you will need to go to Dallol. Beware of Tshombe. She was an elder for a long time, and is very powerful, and knows many things.”

[So RP and OP both knew what that word meant, but none of the PCs had Theology anymore! So this was great!]

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 4)

The next day, right before she left to meet the expedition party, Ruby was accosted by an angry Eritrean man. “You!” he spat. “You are the one with the German! Find him for me! He hired our men, and now they are dead!”

“I’m a bit confused,” said Ruby, taken aback.

“You find him. Tell him we are looking for him.”

Ruby sidled up to Dr. Orange as they saw to saddling their horses. “Some men are dead,” she said.

“Don’t worry, we won’t be coming back here. We’ll be magically transformed, or transported somewhere.”

Unnerved by the results of her plans and the doc’s callousness, Ruby couldn’t help but feel eyes on her back the whole time they rode out of Mersa Fatma.

[1-point Stability loss for all involved in the plot. This is a bit of a close call here—I didn’t want to slap down the players for having a bit of fun—but on the other hand it was a golden opportunity to foreshadow some of the deadliness I had planned.

That said, 1 point isn’t a lot, there were folks with Psychoanalysis in the party, and most people were hitting their drives/statements.]

The expedition was mostly mounted, on horses and camels. There was a touring car driven by a foul-mouthed American woman named Marian, but only Dr. Fauche and Evelyn O’Connor rode in it. Millicent was on a camel, trotting next to Annette.

[If Jimmy had been around, he might have recognized Marian Ravenwood…but he was in Greece.]

“Should I call you Annie, or—”

“Annette, or Ann, or whatever, just not Nancy. I hate that name!”

If they had thought the trip to Adua had been horrible, nothing prepared them for the heat of the journey into the highlands. They crawled across the anvil of the forge of an angry God, and he brought the hammer down on them.

Geronimo looked natty in long cotton pants, a button-up shirt open to third button, and hair that somehow still looked sexy even when drenched in sweat. Ruby rode behind him, a parasol fixed to her camel’s saddle, gradually making her name less a designation and more a description of her skin tone. Dr. Orange merely pondered why he had thought being killed by the SA was a worse fate than this.

“This is awful,” Charlie said to Ruby. “But I have been in deserts before. The Captain and I spent some time lost in the Australian Outback.”

Ruby nodded deliriously. She told him about the dream that had starred Millicent.

“Ah yes,” he said. “I dreamed I had a dream. Congratulations. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.”

[There’s a mechanic in the EL book to cover the gradual accumulation of Heat. It mostly hit Ruby the hardest, but really didn’t come much into play.]

They followed the old rail line for the most part, across the rocky desert. “We could have ridden in the shade, if we had fixed the train!” said Dr. Orange. “And then we could have shot buffalo from it!”

“How’s that?” said Ruby.

“I’m a cowboy!”

“Ooookay, doc, I think you’re hallucinating…”

“Bang, bang, Wyatt Earp!”

“Oh, you knew him too? Nice man.”

[Died 1929, so possible.]

After a few days Simeon rode up to Geronimo. “We are approaching my home village,” he said. “I have watched you for a while. I think you are a warrior of God. Would you like to meet some other warriors of God? I think your cause and theirs align.”

“It would be an honor.”

[Geronimo’s Drive statement is: I stand between the wolves and the flock, so a point of Stability winged his way.]

As they rode into the village of Kolluli, several children ran out to greet them. Millicent greeted them in halting Afar—she had been trying to pick up some from the drovers, and the children of the other villages they had ridden through.

The rest spurred on to the village, where there was shade and fresh water. Ruby managed to stagger into the hut Simeon led her to before collapsing.

By the evening they were mostly feeling better enough to walk around the edge of the village, looking at the fabulously colored rocks and pools. Dr. Orange scribbled furiously in his notebooks, sketching them and taking some crystal samples.

“Look at this geode!” he said. “It’s probably cancerous.”

“The professor is feeling better,” said Millicent to Annette with a giggle.

“This is better for him?”

“Yes. Very much.”

“You poor kid.”

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 3)

Millicent was staying in the same room as Annette Drew, the young American woman working with Dr. Fauche. She eyed her nervously for a long time before blurting out, “Are you in the Epsilon Sigma sorority?”

“Well, I never went to college,” said Annette. “So I’m not in a sorority. I’m in the parent organization, the SSS.”

“You’re from England?”

“Oh, they have chapters everywhere,” said Annette. She went back to reading Women and Men. “This isn’t as good as Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” she said. “Have you read that? You look like the type that might enjoy it.”

“I have,” said Millicent.

“That’s good. I was hoping you would.”

There was a rather florid knocking on the door. “I didn’t know Ruby was here!” said Millicent.

“Ruby?” said Annette.

“She’s a friend of mine.” Millicent pulled open the door. Ruby was standing there in an elegant summer dress, cigarette holder clutched in one hand.

“You look marvelous!” said Millicent. “This is Annette.”

“Charmed,” said Ruby. “Are you coming on the expedition?”

“Oh yes,” said Annette.

“We were wondering what to read after Lady Chatterly,” said Millicent. “What do you recommend?”

“I’m not sure. I tried reading Ulysses, but if that’s pornography, I don’t know what pornography is.”

“Millicent, why don’t you join us for dinner,” said Ruby. “A wonderful place someone’s cousin recommended.”

“We should be back early, to get an early start before the heat gets up.”

“We have a day. It’s not like it’s our first romp in the jungle.”

“I don’t think they have jungles here.”

“They don’t have shade here,” muttered Annette.

“How did you get here, Millicent?” demanded Ruby. “Please tell me it was a plane or boat. These are the words I want to hear from your mouth: plane or boat.”

“I suppose it could have been,” said Millicent.

“Oh, my.”

“The point is she is safe,” said Geronimo.

“Is she here?”

“Unless I’m still dreaming,” said Millicent.

“Let’s test,” said Dr. Orange. “What’s your favorite color?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Aha! Wait, what was Millicent’s favorite color?”

“You’re a fine scientist,” said Ruby.

“I thought I was in a hospital in Switzerland but it turned out I wasn’t,” said Millicent. “Then you were in my dream—”

“Let me guess, big expanse of nothing and you saw a man and woman?”

“Yes. And Gwendolyn said I needed to wake up—”

“Who?” said Dr. Orange.

“The woman in my dream.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Like that’s the strangest thing you’ve heard this week,” said Ruby.

“Perhaps she should go to an institution,” said Geronimo.

“I think us watching her is safer than her being on her own,” said Ruby.

“And then someone was looking for me and I didn’t want them to find me…in my dream, I mean, if it was a dream,” said Millicent.

“Who was looking for you?” said Dr. Orange.

“I don’t know, but if they were looking for me specifically it didn’t seem like a good idea for them to find me.”

“We’ll find out how that happened later on,” said Ruby.

“And I’m staying with one of the women who has been searching our rooms!” blurted Millicent.

“How do you know that?” said Dr. Orange.

“Call it a hunch.”

“Is it a…magical hunch?”

“No, no…she has some of the books they left me.”

“Let’s toss her rooms,” said Ruby. “I don’t even want to look for anything, I just want it to stick in her craw.”

“Wait,” said Millicent. “Does she know where your room is?”

“Probably,” said Geronimo.

“Which one? The decoy room or the real one?” said Ruby.

“I don’t know! How many are we keeping these days?” said Millicent.

“I think three.”

“We should just let them toss our rooms if they want. It would save us money.”

“I don’t want my room tossed! I’m sick of this! Let’s toss their room!”

“And the woman who distracted me in the Yucatan is here too. So I don’t know how many people here are involved, and that includes Professor Dreamy Eyes…I mean Professor Fauche.”

Ruby thought back to her meeting with Fauche. “He didn’t seem to be…obviously evil.”

[Retroactive Assess Honesty use by RP.]

“We should go on the expedition,” said Geronimo. “We will keep our eyes open.”

“And toss her room,” said Ruby.

“Why should we even do it?”

“Petty revenge! We should send hired goons!”

“I will find us hired goons!” said Dr. Orange. “I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who are used to working for Germans around here!”

When Millicent returned to her room, it had been tossed thoroughly. Annette was standing in the middle of the room. “I went out for a drink with Evelyn and when I came back it was like this,” she said.

“This always happens when I rent a room,” said Millicent sadly. “I shouldn’t have stayed here.”

They spent the rest of the evening cleaning the place up.

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 2)

Ruby slept. That alone had been an accomplishment; the sticky, dusty heat of Mersa Fatma was not improved by sleeping under mosquito netting.

In her dream, Charlie appeared. “Miss Ruby. It is time.”

“Let us do this then,” she said, rising—in the dream—from her sleep.

“You are aware that your friend has been with us all this time, right?”

“Yes. Only in the dream, of course. That’s why I don’t remember it in waking life.”

They came walking across a featureless plain and approached Millicent and Gwendolyn. Millicent saw their dreamforms: Charlie dressed as a Polynesian bridegroom, holding the spear of a chieftain; Ruby’s appearance kept changing from glamorous style to glamorous style, looking like she had stepped out of a movie poster each time.

Charlie lowered his spear and pointed it at Gwendolyn. “Get away from her,” he snarled.

“Who is she?” said Ruby.

“I don’t know, but she is hunted.”

“She helped me leave what I thought was Switzerland,” said Millicent miserably. “But this isn’t Switzerland either, is it?”

“No, Millicent, it isn’t. But now we’re going to be the ones who help you,” said Ruby.

“I had better leave anyway,” said Gwendolyn. “Before the imp finds me.”

“I can try to find you after I get out of this,” said Millicent.

“My name’s Gwendolyn Darling,” she said, and vanished.

…and much to her surprise, Millicent found herself standing on a wharf. The air was hot and dry. Dockworkers bustled around her, speaking Arabic or Italian or languages she couldn’t place.

At the end of the dock she saw Dr. Dreamy Eyes…er, Fauche. He was wearing a natty white gabardine summer suit. With him was Jeanne-Marie Forgeron, his research assistant, a young redheaded woman in her 20s that Millicent didn’t recognize (although there was something familiar about her), and Evelyn O’Connell.

“Ah, Millicent. We got your telegram saying you would arrive today,” said Dr. Fauche, coming up to kiss her hand.

“I sent a telegram?” said Millicent, taken aback.

“Of course,” said Jeanne-Marie in a bored tone of voice, handing the flimsy to Millicent. ARRIVE TODAY MERSA FATMA.

“I sent a telegram,” said Millicent, stunned.

“And this is Miss Annette Drew, she is here as a supporter of our work,” continued Dr. Fauche.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Annette, sticking her hand out in a very American manner.

“And this is Mrs. O’Connell—” said Dr. Fauche.

“We’ve met, I think,” said Millicent.

“Yes,” said Evelyn. “When you mentioned Dr. Fauche, I was so intrigued that I just had to look him up again.”

“Glad you did,” said Millicent, head spinning.

“Do you have a hotel? If not, come with us, we have a lovely little French place.”

“Sounds wonderful,” said Millicent.

Later that afternoon, Ruby was hanging out at the Archaeologist’s Club when a man in an immaculate ice-cream suit came in. She heard him speaking French and so drifted over to talk to him.

One of the Italians hailed her. “Miss Fitzgibbons, this is my good friend Luc! Ruby, meet Dr. Fo-Kay!”

Fauche,” muttered Luc. “I keep telling you…”

“Ruby Fitzgibbons,” said Ruby, holding out her hand. Dr. Fauche kissed it. “Quelle charmante Americaine,” he said.

“Yes, yes. I’m heading out towards Dallol on an expedition…”

“Really? I am headed there too. I believe there are some Axum ruins there, which would be unusually far from their normal regions. That hack Acuna is already working on one of their stelae. Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Acuna?”

“Yes, we’ve met.”

“I’m so very sorry to hear that. Please, let me buy you a glass of wine to help you forget…if there’s any left in the country after Dr. Acuna has been here. The wine here is Italian, but it’s probably drinkable anyway.”

After some wine and small talk, Ruby raised the possibility of joining Dr. Fauche’s expedition.

“I am already taking some of my backers with me,” he mused. “If you were perhaps to defray the extra expense…”

“Of course, we would be happy to.”

“Where in America did you say you were from?”

“Los Angeles.”

“I had the pleasure of going to Los Angeles recently. How interesting our paths should cross…especially since you are the second American I have had the pleasure of talking to today, although you are definitely the more beautiful of the two.”

“Oh? Who is the other?”

“A young lady from a school that I teach at. A little bookish and serious, good student.”

A young woman arrives in country dripping with strangeness—it has to be Millicent, thought Ruby. Aloud, she said, “I know a young woman like that. Very precocious, named Millicent.”

“Not Millicent Lowell?”

“Yes, that’s her.”

Quelle coincidence, that is the girl herself. She is staying with us at the Hotel Palais Royal.”

“Wonderful. When do you plan on starting off in country?”

“Now that we are all here, we plan to leave tomorrow. Do you have a guide?”

“Yes, a man named Simeon.”

“He is a very interesting man. I have never been able to hire him myself.”

“I have certain charms.”

Beaucoup des charmes,” said Fauche graciously.


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