A Gruesome Discovery

Following Lucia’s intense pace, the group finds itself rapidly descending a poorly lit staircase into a dimly lit, long stone corridor. Dim electric bulbs buzz overhead, and as they approach the end of the hallway it’s clear the door at the end of the hall appears slightly ajar. Pausing for a moment, they hear nothing through the crack in the door. Peering into the room, the visibility remains limited due to low-light and packed shelves. 

Tip leans carefully in, takes a deep breath, and begins to tiptoe forward, gesticulating for his compatriots to follow him and sneak down the side aisles as he approaches the middle. Suddenly, a low, gross squelching sound can be heard, and Tip nervously misplaces a step, knocking over a ceramic vase resting on the floor. The ancient pottery shatters sending shards into the darkness. Suddenly, a loud crash sounds from the rear right corner of the room, and all the Investigators rush bravely toward it avoiding the far left aisle for a direct approach. 

Arriving in the corner of the room, they are horrified to discover the emaciated body of what appears to be a young woman dressed in stylish clothing, now stained with blood and globs of moist yellow material.  Dr. Dibden immediately reaches down to tend to her, shocked by what he discovers… 

“My God, how can that be the young girl from last night? She looks damn near skeletal!” exclaims Tip as he nips a drink from his hip flask. 

Suddenly, the entrance to the storage room slams shut and they realize the attacker has fled the scene. John, Lucia, and Irina spring immediately into action racing back down the aisles and up the stairs in pursuit. Irina emerges into the light loudly alerting anyone in earshot that a villain has escaped before immediately turning back down the arcade to check on Professor Sanchez. Before she reaches the door to his office, she hears a scream from the front of the building where John and Lucia emerge to find a student stabbed through the belly with a rusty old blade abandoned conspicuously in the middle of the street. 

Back in the basement, Dr. Dibden gathers his wits as he inspects Trinidad Rizo’s wound after confirming the absence of her pulse. He remarks more to himself than Tip, who is cautiously rummaging through the young girl’s pockets, that her wound has a most unusual circular configuration with a strange vacuum effect as if it were both torn and sucked away. Dibden struggles to look into here Rizo’s wide, terror-filled eyes exaggerated by her emaciated features and frame. 

“I have no reasonable medical explanation for what happened to this woman. I do believe this is fat that has been removed from her body, Mr. Palmer,” he says pointing with his pen to lobules spattered on the floor. 

“Hmm. Well, I’ve got some notes here from her satchel. And, oh looky here, check out this hunk of gold.”

Art by Even Skaranger

Tip wields a two-foot length of solid, worked gold, which appears to have irregular ends and strange square and spiral projections. 

“Any idea what these markings may mean, Doc? Yea, me neither, better bring this along,” Tip concludes as he manages to slide the golden artifact into his belt, hidden from view. 

“Did you hear that scream from above, Tip? Maybe there’s someone up there that I can actually help.”

Meanwhile, John and Lucia have hastily followed a trail of blood around the side of the museum to find a bearded man moving threateningly towards an open window on the ground level.

“Stop there, sir! Stop now!” shouts Sloane, as Lucia readies her trusty Beretta. The man turns to look at the two of them and they immediately recognize the individual as de Mendoza. A tense moment hangs in the air, as Lucia decides whether or not to pull the trigger. Before she relaxes her finger, her target begins sprinting away headed for a nearby building. A brief chase ensues, but his war wound flares from all the stairs, and John concedes defeat while Lucia fumes. 

“That scoundrel! I should have shot him when I had the chance. The poor girl!”

Catching his breath and rubbing his knee, John suggests they hurry to find the others. They discover Irina emerging from Sanchez’s office with Jackson and the Professor. Meanwhile, Dr. Dibden administers aid to the student’s stab wound as police arrive on the scene in front of the museum. The officers accompany Professor Sanchez to the basement to identify his deceased assistant while the Investigators and Jackson speak amongst themselves.

They unanimously conclude they must return to the hotel as soon as possible, and arrange for their own transport to Puno to get a head start on de Mendoza and his pawn Augustus Larkin. John hastily provides the local police with a description of de Mendoza, which Sanchez quickly confirms. Irina also raises concern for Larkin, who may be an accomplice or prisoner himself.

Following the brief police interview, Jackson offers up his local contacts to the Investigators and assures them he can arrange adequate transport by mid-afternoon, but they will have a challenging drive ahead. He offers the reliable alternative of voyage via steamer and train. 

Lucia shushes him, “Trust me, Mr. Elias, it’s no problem. We will get there no problem. Presto!”

After putting on a conscientious show as good samaritans and bidding goodbye to the deeply distraught Professor Sanchez, the Investigators returned to their hotel to review what Tip surreptitiously recovered in the basement. While Jackson and Dr. Dibden make phone calls around Lima hastily arranging supplies and a truck, the group passes around Trinidad’s blood-stained notes, which translate a confession dated 1543 by a man named Gaspar Figueroa. In the transcribed note they discover the following: 

This man, Figueroa, was accompanied by four other explorers, including one named Luis de Mendoza, on an expedition to the southern highlands of the Andes where they discovered an ancient temple. Beneath the temple, in a confusing maze of tunnels, they found a boon of gold inlaid within the base of the structure, and, with much effort succeeded in prying out a portion before collapsing in exhaustion. By the morning, Figueroa’s companions appeared deathly ill and complained of intense hunger. Fearing they had fallen victim to a terrible illness, Figueroa fled only to be chased by the man named de Mendoza, who attempted to “devour him as a leech.” He killed de Mendoza with a pistol shot to the head and fled for his life only to spend the remainder of his years tormented by guilt, nightmarish visions of his companions, and a strange seductive voice urging him to return for the gold. 

 “More fat-sucking vampires, again! Exciting, indeed,” exclaims John upon finishing the letter.

With a flourish, Tip withdraws the length of gold from under his jacket and brandishes for the group to behold. 

“And, I do believe this may be that portion of the treasure. Looks like our boy Gaspar got away with a little something after all. Perhaps, we should go grab the rest!”

“Hang on there, Tip. Did you not read that man’s confession? It seems to me like there was potentially a horrible effect on those explorers when they removed that gold. And do you think that’s the same de Mendoza?” Irina reasoned.

“Well, he certainly looks like shit, but that’s just preposterous. No way that man could be, what, over 400 years old,” countered John.

Hanging up the phone Jackson walks over and offers, “Well, either way, we have transport available to get us to Puno. We can pick up the trucks by 3 o’clock. It’s going to be a three-day drive, at least.”

Lucia scoffs, “We do it in two and a half, at the most. I shall drive. Pack your bags, amici, we’re going to find out about these ruins. And get a head start on those cattivi, those villains.”

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