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Old 12-26-2011, 11:33 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default The First Interbellum (1918-1939)

This is a continuation of the thread:

The Unity Awakens

For more about the Orichalcum Universe, see here: Orichalcum Universe: The Basics


Now we turn to that phase of history that unfolded in 'The First Interbellum', the
period from the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II (defined
as September 1, 1939). Before we can fully engage in this, however, we must
set the stage with a momentary look back across time to set the stage. So, with
no further ado, let us travel back to 19th Century Australia, and the recovery of
the Golden Egg.

The Golden Egg...

Wednesday 18 January 1871...

"Damn, but it's hot," George Garley commented, half to himself
and half to his partner Sam Chase. As he wiped his face dry with
an increasingly soaked cloth, he added, "It's damned unnatural to
be this hot in January!"

"Not down here," Chase laughed. "You're not back in England
anymore, George, this is Australia. We celebrate Christmas with
picnics and stock up on firewood when June and July roll around!"

"Tell me about it," the Englishman replied to his Australian friend.
"Positively backwards. It's what comes up being on the bottom
of the world, everything's upside down."

Garley was not really in a bad mood
per se, and his various
disparaging comments about Australia's climate were made mostly
in jest, he had certainly been in the southern land long enough
that its reversed seasons, compared to his native England, were
something he was quite used to. What was bothering him...well,
to be truthful he could not quite put his finger on just what it was
that was bothering him. All he knew was that he felt quite
uncharacteristically jumpy and nervous, he kept catching his
hand going to the handle of his revolver, as if he felt some danger
nearby...but there was no sign of anything wrong and no
discernable reason to think anything was likely to happen.

In fact, there was no sign that they weren't the only human beings
alive for many an empty mile of desert in all directions.

Maybe that's what's wrong, Garley thought to himself, it's
too empty out here. I mean I'm not someone who gets spooked
easily, but this part of the country's just too deserted to suit me.
It gets a man to thinkin' he might be the only man left in the world...

Garley and Chase had been hired to take a load of supplies out
to a remote site in the Australian outback, and paid very well to
transport the supplies without asking untoward questions. While
nobody had said or done anything that indicated illegality, the
desire for discretion had been fairly clear, and they were being
paid three times what the job would normally be worth, on the
condition that they asked no questions and answered no questions
afterward. That was quite all right with Garley and Chase.

Normally all that would have made Garley
very suspicious
about the whole job, but he had asked around and everyone who
had dealt with their current employers reported that they had been
paid as promised and on time, with no funny business, apparently
they were reputable, if secretive. Garley was certainly curious,
but for the money he and his partner were being paid, he was
quite prepared to develop a sudden case of 'blind and deaf' while
on the job, and a matching case of amnesia afterward.

Thus Garley and Chase had found themselves heading out into
the outback, and into some rather remote parts of the barely
explored desert, moving several large wagonloads of supplies
and accompanied by a handful of men they trusted to do good
work and keep their mouths shut. The supplies themselves were
fairly mundane: various digging and work tools, nails, quite a
bit of preserved food, salt, ammunition, a few bottles of whiskey,
all perfectly legal and none of it particularly unreasonable for a
remote site of some kind of activity. The first part of the trip
had been routine and boring, but now, as they neared the site
where they were to make their delivery, something was bothering
Garley. It was nothing he could quite define, but it was there.

It had started shortly after they had broken camp that morning
and hitched up the mules, they had barely been moving for more
than half an hour before Garley became conscious of
nagging at him, like a little quiet voice as the back of his mind,
or some whisper in the wind that spoke of something wrong.
At first he'd barely been aware of it, but as the morning advanced
it had grown stronger. They were planning on reaching their
destination by the end of the day, even allowing for a pause to
spare the animals and men during the height of the day's heat.

Now that the time for the midday pause had come, Garley was
jumpy, nervous, and
strongly wishing he were back in
Adelaide. Even as he watered the mules, he kept fighting the
urge to look back over his shoulder, he could clearly hear the
voice of Sam and the others as they went about their work, and
he was grateful for it, he knew he had help at hand only a few
feet away if need be...but he still kept feeling as if he wanted to
look over his shoulder.

Yet when he did, when he gave in to the impulse as he repeatedly
did, there was nothing untoward to see.

They were resting in the limited shade of some rocky hills, and
all around them was the hot, dry, mostly empty outback,
stretching out across a desolate expanse toward the horizon,
where it was not blocked by the local small eroded rocky hills.
It was quiet, but with the calm quiet of empty land, not the
ominous stillness of hidden danger. The Sun was high overhead,
pouring blistering heat down out of a cloudless blue sky, the air
was still and calm, heavy with heat, but there was no sign of any
danger or threat whatever.

Yet Garley could not put a sense of something being basically
away from himself, and his hand kept drifting toward his gun.

Damn, but I'll be glad when we get this load delivered and start
heading back, Garley thought. It's not fittin' for a man of
fifty to be this jumpy over nothing...but I'll be glad to be on our
way even so!'

Nothing answered his thoughts save the silence of the desert.

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Old 12-27-2011, 08:28 PM   #2
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Wednesday 18 January 1871 (late evening)...

The trail was fairly clear now, they had picked it up a couple of
days before, after they left the original road out of Adelaide, but
it had been faint, mostly only an occasional intentional trail
marker of some sort, and not a very obvious one. Garley and
Chase had been told what to look for, but it was clear to Garley
that whoever had left the little markers had not wanted them to
be obvious to anyone who was not intentionally looking for them.
There were small marked rocks, the occasional bit of cloth tied
to the scrub brush, and as they got closer to their destination
they found the occasional track of a wagon wheel.

That morning, the trail had at last become fairly clear, there was
a wagon rut, and there were places where the occasional patches
of scrub brush were cut or flattened. They were a good way
from the nearest town or outpost, apparently their customers
were not as worried about secrecy that close to their site.

For his part, Garley was still trying to convince himself that his
nervousness was foolish. For a while he had almost succeeded,
they had started in motion again after the height of the day,
letting the mules pull the wagons forward and taking their time
to spare them the worst of the heat. As the hot, calm summer
desert weather had worked its somnolent magic, Garley had
found himself relaxing somewhat, things were so still and calm
that he
almost succeeded in convincing himself that he was
imagining the sense of threat that kept creeping over him.

Almost...but almost is only almost.

One problem was Clive, who was now showing signs of sharing
Garley's nervousness. Not that he could be absolutely sure,
Clive was not particularly talkative, though that was not to say
he was uncommunicative. He was actually fairly eager to
communicate with Garley and Chase, but he was rather limited
in his success at this, since Clive did not speak English and
Garley and Chase had a very limited ability to understand Clive's
barks and whines and growls.

Still, for a 3 year old mixed-breed mutt, Clive could sometimes
be quite expressive. Garley and Chase had adopted Clive as a
street-abandoned puppy, and now he was their watchdog, mascot,
and general useful companion. He had proven his practical value
on many occasions, more than once he had warned the partners
that someone was approaching or present when someone should
not be, not many people or animals had ever succeeded in
sneaking up upon or sneaking past Clive.

Unfortunately for Garley's peace of mind, ever since they'd started
in motion again after the midday break, Clive had been acting
nervous and high strung. Usually he rode behind either Garley
or Chase in the lead wagon, and he was used to riding in the
wagon and usually a calm passenger. But now he was nervous,
he kept getting up and pacing back and forth along the length of
the lead wagon, and sometimes he paused to whine or bark, and
his barking lacked its usual aggressive confidence. At a couple
of points, when they had paused to make sure they were still on
the trail, Clive had jumped from the wagon, ran in a circle around
the wagons, and looked in the direction of their destination with
a noise in his throat that was half a growl, half a whimper.

"I don't get what's the matter with that stupid animal," Chase said
at one point, his frustrated words belied by his worried tone, Garley
knew Chase loved the mutt as much as he did.

"You got me," Garley had said, though in truth there was a part
of him that was having a similar sort of sensation as they neared
their goal, he just wished he did not have to work to hide it. Like
the dog, Garley was getting more nervous with each passing mile,
unlike the dog, he had a human mind that could find no reason
for the nervousness.

Finally, as the Sun sank toward the western horizon, the long
shadows spreading across the rocky, barren landscape, the little
train of wagons rounded a roll in the land and came upon their
destination, with perhaps half an hour of daylight remaining.

Garley looked around, it was roughly what he'd expected, there
was a single long, low wooden building, probably assembled out
of planks hauled in at the start of whatever project was under way.
Opposite the building were several large tents, fixed in place with
ropes and poles that looked as if they were firmly placed. Cut into
the ridge that had cut off the site from view along the trail was a
trench that penetrated into the hillside, becoming a tunnel. The
area was clear of brush and there was plentiful evidence of activity,
there were footprints everywhere, tables and chairs and other
traces of human activity all about. The place was neat and orderly,
and looked as Garley would expect, with one singular exception.

"Where the Hell is everybody?" Chase asked rhetorically, a few
minutes after the wagons arrived in the encampment.


Last edited by Johnny1A.2; 12-28-2011 at 11:03 PM.
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Old 12-28-2011, 10:22 PM   #3
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Wednesday 18 January 1871 (late evening)...

The most noticeable thing about the encampment was in fact not
immediately noticeable, because it was an absence. Nobody was
moving about, nobody came out to greet the arriving supply party,
there was no
sound of human activity to be heard, other than
the sounds of the men with the wagons and the sound of the mules.
There was not even any wind blowing, other than the sounds of
the new arrivals, there was an eerie silence hanging over the site.

"This doesn't make sense," Garley said to Chase, "there should be
somebody here to meet us, we made enough noise arriving
that they
have to know we're here!"

"Maybe they're all in the mine, assuming that's what that is?"
Chase suggested, gesturing at the open trench.

"I doubt it," Garley replied, "that wouldn't make much sense, but
we can look."

Over the next few minutes, Garley, Chase, and two of the other
men that had come with them began a search of the encampment,
looking for some sign of continuing human presence. Clive the
dog seemed uncharacteristically reluctant to join them, which
bothered Garley because he had seen that dog take on animals
twice his size without hesitation in the past. Now, Clive did not
want to leave the lead wagon, and only did so with it became
clear his masters were going without him, and even lacking the
ability to speak the dog was making it clear that he thought this
was a bad idea and that he wanted to depart.

Garley understood the dog perfectly, and sympathized.

As the last rays of sunlight lit the encampment, the four men did
a search that revealed plentiful signs of human activity, but no
actual humans. The tents were the sleeping areas, and in them
they found sleeping gear, some books and papers and whiskey
bottles, some lanterns and other detritus of human activity. In
the long wooden building they found a kitchen with cooking
utensils, including some sitting in a tub of water, clearly soaking
for later cleaning. On the other end of the building they found a
table with a piece of paper sitting on it, an inkwell and a pen, and
a chair beside the paper.

"It's a letter," Chase said, after picking up the sheet of paper and
examining it. "Dated
today, and it's half done. See, whoever
was writing this left off right in the middle of a sentence, he must
have been called away suddenly."

Chase rubbed at the ink, and looked at his thumb. "It's dry, but
whoever was writing it was writing it earlier today. See, the ink
well is sitting uncapped and it's not dried out."

They found a storeroom further down the long wooden structure,
but still no sign of any people. That left only the diggings, and
Garley and Chase had no wish to stumble around in the tunnels
in the dark.

"Do we leave?" Chase asked Garley. "I'm not crazy about the
idea of trying to hold to the trail in the dark."

"I know," Garley said, very reluctantly, "we can't go until dawn...
and we probably ought to make sure there's not somebody stuck
here. There might be someone trapped down in that damned
tunnel, we can't just roll out and leave without checking."

Though they didn't want to go into the tunnel in the dark, Garley
and Chase did go down the sloped trench to the entrance to the
tunnel, and called out, just in case there was somebody near the
entrance who could hear. Nobody answered, and Clive whined
in misery until his masters came back up the slope to the ground
level, it was clear that the dog did
not like that tunnel.

Garley did not like it either. The nervousness that had haunted
him all day, and intensified when they found the abandoned
encampment, climbed up to an inner scream when he was near
the entrance to that tunnel. He said nothing, but he was quite
sure, in his own mind, that whatever it was that had happened to
the people here involved that hole somehow.

"It's a sure bet they didn't leave cross-country," Tyler commented
as the men sat around the small fire they'd built using some
firewood from the encampment's supply. "There isn't a whole
lot of food left in that kitchen, but it's still there, and so are all
the canteens and other things you could use to carry water.
The guns are still sitting in the storehouse too, and nobody sane
would try to cross this region without at least one weapon."

"They'd never make it on foot," Chase noted. "It's too far to the
nearest settlement, and there are no decent sources of good water
between here and there anyway.

Garley poked the fire with a stick, he suspected the discussion
of where the locals had gone was moot.

"What were they doing out here anyway?" Tyler asked. "I mean,
obviously they were digging for
something, but what? This
isn't the kind of country you'd find gold or silver, heck, these
ridges are mostly just rock and dirt. What were they digging for,
and by hand at that? That trench and that hole, somebody put in
lot of hard sweat to dig all that with the tools we've seen."

"Damned if I know," Chase replied. "We were paid not to ask
questions, and we didn't ask questions."

Garley looked up at the clear night sky, the stars shining sharp
and clear through the desert air, and shivered.

I hate this place, he thought to himself, and one hand fell on
the head of his equally unhappy dog, stroking his ears gently.

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Old 12-28-2011, 10:41 PM   #4
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Thursday 19 January 1871 (pre-dawn)...

"Hurry up and get everything ready," Chase ordered Tyler.
"We're going to take a look in that damned tunnel, but we're not
going to spend much time at it, it can't be
that deep, if they
dug it by hand. Hell, if they dug too far they'd have come out
the other side, that ridge isn't all that wide!"

"As soon as we're back, we're rolling out," Garley added. "I don't
want to burn more daylight than we have to, so have the wagons
ready to go as soon as we get back."

"You got it," Tyler responded.

The men had all been awake for over two hours, getting ready
for the return trip. Garley, for his part, had been awake all night
long, he had tried to sleep and had been totally unable to manage
it. The strange nervousness had not lifted, it had only been made
worse by the discovery of the abandoned encampment. That had
made the rest of the party nervous, but Garley's anxious mood
ran deeper, and it had been nagging at him since dawn the day
before. He somehow
knew that something was wrong, far
more wrong than any ordinary mishap.

The party had moved five wagons of supplies to the encampment,
they were planning to return with two wagons, leaving most of
the supplies they'd brought on-site. It was what they'd been paid
to do anyway, of course, but their primary motive now was simply
that they wanted to make some time. They retained some of the
supplies, the ammunition, the extra pair of rifles, and they
refilled their water supply from the barrels of water in the camp.
Garley remembered one of his employers mentioning that the
camp had a water source, but they wasted no time looking for it.

While Tyler finished these preparations for departure, Garley,
Chase, and another of their party, a tall, quiet man named Baker,
picked up lanterns, some rope, Garley checked to make sure his
pistol was loaded, and then they proceeded down the trench to
the mine tunnel (if that was what it was). Garley had no wish to
go down there, but he also knew he would never be able to look
himself in the mirror afterward if they did not at least check to
make sure nobody was trapped down there. It seemed unlikely,
but they had to at least take a look.

When Clive saw his masters going down the trench again, as the
sun edged up over the eastern horizon, the dog whined loudly,
ran up to them and tugged at Garley's pant leg, ran back toward
the wagons, then slowly returned as he realized Garley and Chase
were still descending. The dog whined pitifully at the top of the
trench, as the men descended Garley looked back up the slope
to see that the mutt was still standing there at the top, obviously
wanting to follow and wanting to run away and frozen by these
conflicting impulses, caught in pathetic terror at the edge.
It did Garley's confidence little good to see that the dog was so
scared, remembering as he did past incidents in which the dog
had shown almost a reckless disregard for danger.

"Let's get this over with," Garley said, and at the foot of the trench
the three men lit their lanterns and proceeded into the darkness of
the tunnel, tying a rope to one of the support posts as a guide. It
seemed unlikely the tunnel had many branches, but better safe than
sorry, was Garley's view.

The tunnel was utterly dark, save for the dim circle of light from
their lanterns, but there was plenty of air, and the tunnel was
adequately tall for all three, though they occasionally had to duck
under a supporting beam. They had gone about 200 feet when
they came to a turn in the tunnel, but it there were no branches
and the tunnel seemed structurally sound. Baker continued to
unroll the rope as they went, though, just in case.

Another fifty feet beyond the bend in the tunnel brought them to
a wooden wall, made of the same sort of planks as the long house
on the surface, with a shut door set into it on new brass hinges.
The doorknob also appeared, in the dim light of the lanterns to
be made of brass. As far as they could tell in the dim light, the
wooden wall and its incongruous underground door looked to be
fairly new, there was even a scent of sawdust in the air.

"What the Hell were they doing here?" Garley muttered. "This
isn't any kind of a mine, they were digging to get to something
specific, and they went to the trouble to put up this wall! They
had to drag the planks in to do it, too!"

"Not to mention digging all this tunnel by hand through this stuff,
and shoring it up," Chase added. "This makes no sense."

"Is the door locked?" Baker, ever-practical, asked.

"Might as well find out," Chase said. He reached for the door,
and Garley put his hand on his pistol...just in case.

The door was not locked, the handle turned smoothly and the
door opened smoothly on its hinges. A strange scent wafted out
of the darkness beyond the door, not unpleasant, just unfamiliar.
Garley held up his lantern and saw that the wooden wall did
indeed seal off an area at the end of the tunnel, which was about
thirty feet from the wall. The first thing that caught his eye was
a glittering sparkle of something or other, catching the dim light
and reflecting it, his dark-adjusted eyes made out a vague round
shape, like some huge gemstone half-buried at the far end of the
tunnel. There was a hint of something yellow-colored about it.

In the area behind the wooden wall there were also plentiful signs
of activity, digging tools lay on the dirt floor, there were some
chairs and a table to one side, and for a moment Garley thought
they had found the people who were missing from the encampment,
because there were figures sitting in the chairs around the table,
and what looked like some more lying on the floor. Then his
eyes made out the details, and he fought down a scream.

There were a dozen or so figures in the back of the tunnel, yes...
or rather a dozen suits of clothes, and in those clothes were bones.
Human bones, skulls, femurs, the bones of hands and feet.
From the look of the clothing lying draped over the contents,
Garley was sure that all the bones of the human skeleton could
be found covered by the cloth.

Garley, Chase, and Baker wasted no more time, and violated the
rules of movement in a tunnel by running, as fast as they could
manage, wanting only to see the outside again.

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Old 12-28-2011, 10:57 PM   #5
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Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Thursday 19 January 1871 (late morning)...

"How're you doing, George?" Chase asked, as the wagon bounced
along the trail.

"I'll be all right, it's just a spra-AHHH!"

Garley hissed in pain in spite of himself as the wagon struck a
rough spot in the faint trail, bouncing him and his game leg.

"I could have Tyler slow down a bit," Chase offered, but Garley
shook his head.

"No, Sam, the further we get away from that hole to Hell the
better I like it, if it hurts my leg so be it!"

Earlier that morning, as he, Chase, and Baker had made their half-
blind run out of the tunnel, Garley had tripped and fallen, and Chase
and Baker had been forced to support him the rest of the way out.
There was a reason why people were warned against undue haste
in underground places, but Garley still could not bring himself to
regret it much.

What is 'undue haste' anyway? Garley mused. After what
we saw, I'd say haste was quite due!

The three of them had made it out of the tunnel and Tyler, as
promised, had the wagons ready to go, though even he had been
surprised by the enthusiasm with which the three men had urged
him to start moving, they hadn't even paused to look at Garley's
leg until after he was on the lead wagon and it was in motion.
All in all he was lucky, it could have been a break, instead it was
merely a sprain, but Garley did not
feel lucky, not under
the circumstances.

Even now, when they were miles from the encampment, and
hours later, Garley saw that horrible scene every time he closed
his eyes, he suspected it was burned into his brain. The sight of
those human remains in the dim light of the lantern, lying there
as if the men had just suddenly been turned from living men to
skeletons. There had been two human skulls, with detached
jawbones, lying
on the table, as if they'd fallen there from
men leaning over the table whenever whatever had happened
had happened!

Those men were alive this time yesterday, Garley thought to
himself in horror and fear and dismay.
That letter we found, it
had been half-done and I'd bet my life whoever was writing it was
one of those skeletons we saw. What in Heaven's name could
kill a dozen men, and leave nothing behind but bones, in a matter
of less than a day?!!

Garley was not a man who was unnerved by death, not in itself.
He had been in combat, he had killed men himself in the course
of his life, both in Victoria's service, and in self-defense since.
No, death in and of itself he was familiar with. This, though,
was something quite other.

From what they had been able to see before their panic-stricken
retreat, in the dim light of a flickering kerosene lantern, those
bones were bleached, or at least totally without any flesh on them,
which seemed
impossible, there was nothing down in that
tunnel to pick that many dead bodies clean that fast, and their
clothes...their clothes looked relatively fresh and unstained. There
was no way bodies could rot so fast, and leave the clothes in place
and unstained, nor would they turn into pure, fleshless bone by
any natural process so swiftly, to say nothing of whatever killed
them to begin with!

"Mr. Chase, Mr. Garley," Tyler called back, "it's almost midday.
Do you want to stop to rest the mules?"

"No!" Garley yelled forward. "Keep going for a while, we'll give
them a rest in a bit but I want some more distance!"

"As you say, sir!"

"George," Chase said, quietly, apparently his thoughts running
parallel to Garley's, "those bodies...the way they were lying, I
think they just
fell that way, don't you?"

"Yes," Garley nodded soberly. "They were lying just where you'd
expect to find them, if those men all died instantly and on the spot,
and fell where they were."

Garley shuddered again at the memory of those eyeless skulls
lying on the table-top, along with some bones he thought had
been part of fingers at one time, and a cloth-covered object he
suspected had been the bones of an arm.

"Something...Devil only knows what...something killed those
men, and whatever it was took the flesh right off their bones, all
at once," Chase muttered. "It's the only thing that makes any
sense, given what we saw...but it doesn't make any sense! There's
nothing that could do that, not all in the blink of an eye!"

"I don't know, Sam," Garley said. "I do know I don't want to
linger in the area! The further away we can get before the mules
have to rest, the better!"

"I'm with you on that," Chase nodded. "Another hour, I think,
anyway. We're already a good distance away, but a little more
won't hurt!"

A sound on his other side heralded Clive, moving up to nuzzle
Garley's hand. Garley scratched the dog's head, noting that the
dog seemed much calmer as they put distance between themselves
and that horrible place.

"Have you given any thought," Chase asked, "as to what we're
going to say and who we're going to say it to, when we get back
to Adelaide?"

"Not much," Garley admitted. "I'll be glad enough just to get
back to Adelaide, then I'll worry about the rest!"


Last edited by Johnny1A.2; 12-28-2011 at 11:02 PM.
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Old 12-28-2011, 11:24 PM   #6
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Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Tuesday 14 February 1871 (late morning)...

'I can't believe I'm going back there,' Garley thought to himself,
as they rode through the desert. 'I must be insane, even if they
are paying me this well.'

Garley and Chase and their party had made it back to Adelaide
safely, and when they had met with their employer and informed
them of what had happened, they'd discovered that their employers
were even better connected than they had realized, because they
had been able to arrange to have the authorities agree that the
whole matter was best left to private hands. Garley and Chase
and their men had informed the authorities of what they had found
(with some details left out because they were not sure they would
be believed and because they wanted to avoid being taken as
madmen), and somebody with some serious 'pull' had agreed to
let the private investigators employed by the same men who had
hired Garley and Chase to begin with handle it.

A truly handsome sum had been offered to lead the new party
out to the encampment site, and Garley had accepted, surprised
at his own decision. Chase was not with them, he was remaining
behind in Adelaide, in part as 'insurance'. If Garley and the party
did not come back on time, Garley did not fully trust their
employers to do something about it, but he did trust Chase. So
Chase was waiting back home for word, which gave Garley a bit
more confidence, though he wished he had his partner with him
at the same time.

This time, instead of a mule-pulled group of wagons, they were
riding horses, with a single wagon for supplies and water, and
they made better time. As they approached the site, Garley
expected to feel the same sense of impending uncertainty and
fear that had assaulted him before...but he had not. Everything
seemed much the same now as it had before, that morning before
their horrible discovery. The sun was at bright as before, the sky
was clear and the air as oppressively hot, the quiet of the desert
was the same...but the nervous fear was gone. Garley was nervous,
yes, but because of what he knew lay ahead, the strange, formless
anxiety was gone now.

They reached the encampment not too long before the middle of
the day, and found it looking much as Garley remembered. The
long wooden building looked the same, but for a slightly more
rundown look, which was to be expected with nobody tending it.
Several of the tents were down, blown over by winds, and the
whole place had a layer of dust over it...but nothing that would
not be expected from a site abandoned to the desert for weeks.

Garley showed the team of six men his employer had sent out
through the place. They were quiet men, not impolite but reserved,
Garley had had interesting discussions with them on the trip out,
but he still did not know anything about them
They were clearly experienced and competent people, though,
Garley knew professionalism when he saw it.

Eventually, Garley led them men into the tunnel. They were
equipped with personal gear appropriate for tunnel work, and
they reached the wooden wall at the end of the tunnel readily.
Garley was still wondering why the sense of fear and dread was
gone, he was dreading the site he knew waited beyond the wall,
the site he had seen before, but the formless, intangible anxiety
from before was simply absent now. He should have been
relieved, but if anything, the
absence of the former strange
nervousness made him nervous in a different way.

"This is it," Garley said, as the men reached the wooden wall.
"Brace yourselves, it's a bit of a ghastly site on the other side."

Garley put his hand on the incongruously shiny doorknob, and
turned it, and just as had happened a few weeks before, the door
opened, and they stepped inside. The scene had not changed, to
Garley's horror and relief, the skeletons were still there, sitting
and lying precisely as they had been before. The scene was just
as it had burned itself into his mind before, now more brightly
lit and clearly revealed.

After a moment, Garley suddenly wondered why he actually felt
relieved, and it struck him that he had half-
expected the skeletons to be gone by the time they got back,
leaving him with no evidence that he was not simply a madman
or a liar.

What a Hell of a thing to be relieved to find something like
this is still here, Garley thought to himself with a shake of
his head.

The skulls still lay on the wooden table, other skulls on the floor.
Bones of various sorts lay in and around piles of clothing, mute
testimony to whatever mysterious horror had befallen here a few
weeks before. There was still no doubt in Garley's mind that
these men had been very much alive on the morning of the day
they had previously arrived. He recalled that letter sitting in the
long house, it had been from that same day they'd arrived before,
whatever had happened here had happened only some few
before his previous visit.

The better lights lit the scene far more clearly, in all its macabre
weirdness, than the lanterns Garley and his men had used weeks
earlier. The lights also revealed something else. Garley recalled
a glimpse of something yellow in the glow of their lanterns from
the previous time, something barely seen before the horror of the
whole tableau had driven away in frightened panic. Now he saw
clearly what he had merely half-glimpsed before.

About a quarter-buried in the back of the tunnel, it looked like
an oblong glass...
something. There were marks in the soil
around it that showed where the men here had been digging it
out, and it widened in the middle and narrowed toward the free
end. If it did the same toward the buried end, Garley mused, it
would shaped like an egg, a perfectly symmetrical egg with the
widest part equidistant from the rounded ends.

The lights they now had were better, but it was still dim in the
chamber. The object glittered and sparkled though, it was covered
over most of its surface with flat triangular facets, except that at
the visible end it was grooved instead. It was translucent, indeed
it seemed to be made of some kind of glass or crystal, and if it
was symmetrical, Garley guessed it would be about seven feet
from end to end, and maybe four feet across the wide part, give
or a take bit on either. The glass had a definite yellow tint, a
yellow about the shade of a lemon, or so Garley thought as best
he could tell in the dim light.

"What the Hell is that?" one of the others asked as they stared at
it. "It looks like a golden egg!"

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