Arcanum 1780: A New World

From the Journal of Oliver Thackery - And the Lost City

In which our noble protagonist, posing as an archaeologist, goes to the Caribbean to seek a mage who has vanished into a mythical lost city.

August 20th 1780, Taunton, Mass.

Our endeavor has begun with an ill omen – Espinosa grows concern over the reach of the Spanish Inquisition. It is likely their presence will be felt, and that brings me slight pause, as it is just one more enemy to be facing in the unknown of the tropics. It would seem that they had infiltrated the College, which is as unwelcome as surprises go, as the war never truly ended, in my estimation, just moved from the candlelight into the shadow.

August 30th 1780, H.M.S. Dryad, above NY.

We are now bound for Florida, much like I was when I first took the Shilling, but now the company is older, I am certainly wiser, but the nerves are the same. Death could be there, for me, much as it almost was back then. The night air is still just as sweet this high over this strange and magnificent landscape. I will miss this cold when we are in the depths of the jungle. I already grow nervous – my usual protections will harm more than help in the climate, so I will feel less protection than normal, and I will need to rely on my wits where I can. I am disturbed by the spirits bound to our Spaniard, but not as much as this spectre of the past that has visited upon the Dryad – the spirit of the bear that Cy and I struck down has risen again, and this time it is aloft, striking down unsuspecting sailors.

August 30th 1780, H.M.S. Dryad, above New Yorkshire.

Seeing the horrific creature barreling down on us from above, I think something in me broke. I could only see Cy’s face again, and I fired off into the night, hoping to wound the beast, but my shot went wide. In time I’ll be able to forgive myself, but Espinosa and Miriam set the creature to rights, though the smell is something that won’t soothe my nightmares. I must needs drill more, so as not to be caught off-guard again – I felt the luck course through me through the charm, but it just wasn’t enough to make a difference. Miriam, though, brought low the beast with a shot even I was envious of.

September 9th 1780, H.M.S. Dryad, above the Gulf of Mexico.

Every time we come near New Orleans, ill fortune awaits. I’m not sure if it is the Vodoun in the area, but the area seems cursed with bad luck. Not the first hurricane I’ve had to fly through, but each one surely I wish was the last. I thought I had been done with them in New England, but fate twists in strange and malevolent ways. We made it through, but it was a near thing, and we almost lost Espinosa to some debris. I stayed out in the storm far longer than I should have, but I can’t hardly sit by and do nothing when there is a hand to be lent.

September 13th 1780, H.M.S. Dryad, Belizeshire.

Strange to me, to set foot in the Caribbean again. It will be hard to escape the memories of this place, but hopefully the new ones will be more palatable. We must needs track down Sir Hayward Moon, and picking up his trace from the porters, guides, and supplymasters of this place should be fairly simple – while seekers of fortune are commonplace, I expect that Sir Moon may have made a lasting impression here.

September 13th 1780, Belize City, Belizeshire.

Mama Guigon, practitioner of Vodoun, seer of the unknowable, and crafter of the finest gumbo I’ve ever set my tongue to. So much of this trip has brought back memories – some of them painful, but many warming. It is curious, and fearful, the names she has for us. Espinosa, the Devil, a portent of ominous deals and treachery. William-Miriam, the Hermaphrodite, one body possessed of two souls, dispossessed of both for reasons known only to her, though to hear Maman speak to her as though she is the servant of the Eater of Souls has me filled with some concern. Cole, Frigga’s Chosen – an epithet that escapes me in meaning, but I expect will be revealed in time. That she named me the Hanged Man, though, bodes not well – the loa are strange and wonderful, and though I am not confident in their ways, that she can see what I have been dreaming bodes ill for me on this journey. The gumbo was as I remember, rich, earthy, full of the salts of the earth and sea, but the aftertaste scarred me. As I ate, I began to see yourself myself looking on from the outside, hanging from a mast, ropes wrapped around my body. All that I could feel was this immense intensity, like I packed full of exploding gunpowder. Everything was cold blue light, and a crew of dead men swarm the rigging and decks of a skyship around me, keeping it on the course I demanded of them. I know nothing of which this means, but it chills me to the core of my soul, as scarred as it is.

Meeting with Henry McTavish was nothing short of what I expected – a man so loud and brash can’t help but be good, and that he was Hayward’s guide is all the more luck. That he knows the location of the fabled Lost City of the Monkey God – icing on an already fascinating cake.

September 14th 1780, Belize City, Belizeshire.

It’s a bit of a first for me, embarking on a canoeing expedition in the light – it seems more pleasant, save for the weather. The company is nice as well. Henry’s in-laws, such as they are, seem capable enough guides for our journey, though they are hardly talkative. The first day of the journey was a kind one, and we even had a roof over our heads for the evening. It was a nice stopover, and there was fresh game and food aplenty – I even went to forage some wood for the fire, but what I found was… unexpected. Cole… seems different, in the jungle. Larger. Fiercer. I thought I was in for a rough fight, when all I had to do was to fetch the crocodilian Cole had hunted back to camp.

September 17th 1780, Belize, Jungle.

I grow to hate this jungle. I have been sick with fever for the past two days, after a leech bite incurred when I was bathing in the river. I am wracked with pains and movement is impossible, but still I must press on for the sake of my comrades. Providence has seen us to a small village on the river, and the shrewd negotiations of the natives have cost one of Henry’s cousins a musket – hardly a fair trade for a night indoors, but at this point I would consider any price. Through the efforts of Cole and Espinosa, I have beaten back the fever, but my hatred for this jungle has hardly subsided. To think this is only the beginning of our journey here. The night was peaceful, but to take Henry at his word would have us believe that this may be the last peaceful night we get for a while.

September 20th 1780, Belize, Jungle.

A storm in the depths of the jungle, days from anything that we would recognize to be human – this is what I was fearing would happen. It was bad enough being on patrol in the tropics back when I was with a team of fighting fit soldiers, but now I am older, and softer, though now surrounded with capable men, women, and cats that I am glad to be travelling with. We were forced to turn off-river to find some ancient ruins, trespassing on sacred land to save our own hide. There were so many dead here, unhappy, died through violent means – despite Espinosa’s reservations, I felt like I had to do something to calm them. What happened here was horrific, detestable. These people were flayed alive, in a manner that was both malicious and inept, before being tossed into the sacrificial pool, from which an anaconda rose to crush the life from them. And then, to hear a young babe being sacrificed to this creature is almost too much to bear – worse still with the fear that these people would be sacrificing their children with or without the creature present. I was at least able to grant peace to three of those who died here, but then the beast-snake who resides at the foot of the temple was enraged by their final scream.

September 20th 1780, Belize, Jungle.

I expected what would follow to be a tense and bloody battle, but it seems that there was another, shimmering snake in the area that led the snake off – I suspect more of Cole’s innate magic at play here. It seems our guide, however, is much weaker willed than our cat, and has abandoned us in the middle of the jungle. Espinosa has gifted me with an idea of how this river flows for now, and hopefully we can make good progress today, once we are out in the river.

September 29th 1780, Belizeshire, Deep Jungle.

The pages from this part of the journal are smudged from near-saturation with rain, and legibility is difficult.]
The easy part of the journey is over. We left the canoes behind and struck overland – just one week more until our journey’s end. I begin to forget the comfort of my own bed, the joy of walking my estate, and the promise of a warm meal that is cooked by hands more suited to the effort than those of mine or my companions. Espinosa, though, his magick continues to be unerringly useful – this map he has provided fills me with a certainty of direction I have never felt before. It was a restful sleep after hacking through the edges of the jungle to the foot of an immense waterfall – the camp was comfortable enough, as these things go, though sleep was plagued by fears of having to climb those decrepit stairs in the morning.

The climb was harrowing – I fear we almost lost Miriam when she went up unassisted, but she made it – I suppose all that time aboard ships really paid off for her. Fortunately for Espinosa, I was able to lash a rope to myself and went ahead to ease his ascent, and we both made it atop relatively unscathed. At the peak, there is a strange monkey-carved glyph in an arch, with eighteen separate indents where pearls along a string might be, though their meaning is lost to me, it seems as though Cole and Espinosa have theories as to what we are looking at.

September 29th 1780, Belizeshire, Deep Jungle.

While my companions turned their attentions to the arch, I set mine outwards. Far off, a day’s climb and a half-day further hike, I caught the glint of metal, which intrigues me, as it tells the tale of civilization here, and bears investigation, should this endeavor with the arch not pay off. It shows great promise, perhaps as something to revolutionize our understanding of magick, allowing for some sort of long-distance travel that is beyond my understanding.

What I do understand, however, is that wearing heavy leather in this climate is absolute murder, but I cannot be sure what is on the other side of this gate. Still, the weight of it is comforting when we heard the sound of distant gunshots – though their precise origin eludes me. Espinosa was able to open the gateway, and it was like looking through a frosted window into another place – a high-sloped valley with mountains in the background. An avenue of colossal carved statues leads to a great stone temple, and above the temple looms the huge statue of an ape-like being. I’ve never set eyes on anything like it – few from Boston have, I expect, and there is a strange honor in being in that small group. It is our hope that Sir Hayward lies beyond, someplace safe, at least until we can recover him.

Stepping through the portal was entirely unpleasant experience the likes of which I never want to go through again. Being pulled and stretched in directions I knew not existed, I lost my stomach to the trip, though I strangely seem to be the only one affected by this strange magick – I wonder if that means something?

September 29th 1780, Belizeshire, The Temple of The Monkey God.

We’ve finally done it. Followed in the steps of Sir Hayward Moon, and arrived at the Temple of the Monkey God. A truly impossible place that I would hardly believe if I were not here to see it myself. Signs of current human habitation – dead civilizations tend not to keep up appearances and sun-shades. It’s too quiet all around, and that has me filled with a great concern. It seems as though this portal has moved us a few days travel – we can still see the same waterfall we just left. I think that our Sir Hayward Moon suffered a minor misfortune – Miriam found his pocketwatch, smashed, in the gear at the camp. That explains the lack of communication from our man.

After we approached the temple, I felt a great fear wash over me – it was as though I was back there, on that cold, frigid night, and I could do nothing else but run. It seems as though this Monkey God was messing with me, which is not something I appreciate overmuch.

September 29th 1780, Belizeshire, The Temple of The Monkey God.

To be offered a banana by some sort of giant primate is not how I imagined today would develop. I also hadn’t thought that we would be pursued by the Spanish either, when I awoke, but that’s how days go. Some days it is best to just roll over and return to sleep.

Hahue, as the creature is known, a great hulking ape that towers over the tallest of men – appears to take umbrage at being identified as a monkey, though that is the only creature I have ever seen that is close to its like. That we are so close such that we have laid eyes on Sir Hayward Moon is a blessing I did not expect to feel – anticipated it, certainly, but it makes my heart glad that we have made it so far and succeeded in our journey. It would seem that Hayward’s guides are still alive, one Lieutenant Godfrey of the Royal Navy, and his Ensign Thomas. Hayward has completed his study of the gates, which will be a great boon to the great nation of New Britain – we must get him and his research home at any cost.

September 29th 1780, Belizeshire, The Temple of The Monkey God.

To see the Spaniards step through the portal just as Sir Hayward was setting up his own runic ritual was a shock – it brought back the memories of stumbling on their compatriots in blue back when I was in the Rangers. Hearing Espinosa call out a Wait command was like hearing an incomprehensible language from another time – Sir Hayward had called out to me to keep them off of his work, so I felt I must oblige. There was a half-second to react, and I managed to steady Karenna and let a shot out straight through the neck of one of their Jesuit-mage priests, dropping him to the ground. While I stood, ready to engage them in hand-to-hand combat, my colleagues set about them as they approached, with Cole rendering a number of them unconscious with some sort of magick, while Miriam, inspired by my own marksmanship, took it upon herself to absolutely destroy one of the other soldiers – it was a wound I had only ever seen when a man was set upon by cannonfire aboard a skyship – a truly gruesome affair, for which I do feel a slight bit of pride.

The combat was over as soon as it began, we had to put the sleeping Spaniards to rest, and I’m sure for all the world that one of their ghosts was stolen by that infernal book Espinosa keeps in his pocket – I put haste to my blade so that no others might suffer a similar fate. Already I can feel my sleeping mind calling to me, and dread shutting my eyes tonight. Through the portal, we found ourselves in the Foothills surrounding the Royal College, and it is almost as though we had never left, save for our clothing, and the horrible memories of the swamp.