Clockwork 1888: Thursday, April 11, 1889
Bar was leading the way through the trail from his place to Cedar Creek, chatting as they went about the plant and animal life of the area. He was apparently so absorbed in the information that he didn’t notice an observer. It was Evgenia, Fredryck and Dracona that noticed the black bear. And then it charged at them to attack.
Dracona took a swig of her fire oil and struck a match that she cupped in her hand to shield it from wind. Evgenia had the presence of mind to be hiking through the trail with her Winchester at rest in her arms. As the bear charged, she fired and hit it squarely. Fredryck charged, drawing his sword and struck the bear hard.
Dracona advanced and let loose her fire upon the bear. Bar grunted a battle cry, drew his bowie knife as he charged, and drove it deep into the bear. The bear toppled and Bar went down with it. Getting up, Bar commented, “most folk’d run from a bear.” “I’ll mark this area so we can come get it on our way back. You ain’t typical tourists, are ya,” he commented with a respectful smile of admiration.
Bartley heard something. It was the mewling of young bears. Bartley checked the unconscious bear and it was female. “Can we track the bear back to its den?” he inquired. “I can track it,” Bar answered.
Following the tracks back they came to the den. A pair of newborn cubs was there. “If their mother dies, they won’t survive,” Bartley informed. “Could their mother be revived,” Dracona inquired. “She was out cold when we left her,” Bar informed. “We might be able to make sure she survives, then,” Evgenia suggested.
So, back to the downed bear they went. Indeed, the bear had stabilized while they were checking on her cubs but it was not yet conscious. Evgenia administered first aid to its wounds and wondered if they should revive it completely. “That’d put us right back into fighting it,” Bartley surmised. “She’ll wake up in an hour or two and get back to her cubs,” Evgenia guessed. “And we don’t want to be anywhere near her when she wakes up,” Dracona agreed.
Continuing on, Bar suggested a side trip. They were there to see things, after all. A bit off the main trail, he took them to a heavily wooded area. There was a very large tree. “Rumor is this tree’s hundreds of years old,” Bar mentioned. Evgenia placed her hands upon the tree and focused her mental energies on it.
“When it was young, there were no men,” she said of the images she got. “It was 800 years old before it met its first human. It has watched the birth and death of everything in this valley, save the rocks and the water. The creek and the Bridge were both here before it was.”
“The first humans it knew called themselves the Monacans. They claimed that their god gave them the Bridge as a gift. But, it knows it had been here before them. Other humans calling themselves French, English, and American have since visited the valley. None of them have stayed.”
Then she winced. “Three nights ago there was a corruption in the valley. It started north of here, but did not reach close enough for the tree to determine what it was.” “That Mexican,” Bar said as it coincided with his confrontation with the snake man. Evgenia removed her hands from the tree. “I think so,” she confirmed.
Returning to Cedar Creek, they followed it until they came to the Bridge. At the bridge were the three people that were in the tavern last night. They greeted them and seemed to be interested in the rock of the bridge on the other side of the creek. The woman walked over to Bartley. “It is so serene here,” she said with a warm smile as she looked at the rock across the creek. “Like being in Church, it makes me feel closer to God.”
“Bartley Vautrain, miss,” Bartley properly introduced. “Sophia Kristoff,” she responded. “Where you folks from,” he inquired gently. “We’re visiting from Greece,” she informed. “My first time visiting this place, too,” Bartley answered to give them common grounds for conversation.
“We’re tourists from Greece. Chris Dimitriadis,” she said pointing to the bald man, “is a politician, in America to meet with people in Washington DC. He’s the Chief Administrative Officer of Lavipharm Corporation, a company in Peania, Greece. He’s on a business trip to New York and I’m his personal secretary.
Stephen Michadorakis,” she said pointing to the man in thick glasses, “is an Executive Purchaser with Lavipharm. We came to America to meet with different American shipping companies so that we can export to America. Mr. Dimitriadis hopes to make Lavipharm international within the next several years.”
“While in America, Mr. Dimitriadis scheduled two weeks to tour the country. He planned to see the Natural Bridge last weekend and to take a train to see the Grand Canyon next weekend. When he discovered that the trains in America weren’t capable of taking them to the Grand Canyon and back in a weekend, he decided to spend the additional time here.”
“The stories and legends of this place reach all through Europe. Seeing it in person does not disappoint,” she offered. “Have you heard the tale of the Amulet of Jefferson? Supposedly it was buried somewhere on the property. I wonder if the inscription on the southeast wall is a clue.”
Bartley wanted to get a rubbing of the inscription so he climbed up the wall with a little help from Evgenia and Dracona. Returning with the rubbing, it clearly spelled out “GW” but there wasn’t any real clue about an amulet other than that. “There was a rumor that this was carved in the rock by the first president of the country,” Sophia mentioned. “Do you think that’s the clue?” “I’d heard that rumor,” Bartley answered. “He’s been dead for 90 years so it’d be difficult to verify it for sure.”
“You ready to move on?” Bar inquired. “The saltpeter cave is about 500 yards north of here, if you want to see that. It’s on the east side of Cedar Creek.” Moving to the saltpeter cave they could see a man sitting hunched by the cave wall in the darkness. The man’s clothing seemed to move about of its own accord.
As they started to enter the cave he shouted, “Ausentarse!” Pausing, Evgenia whispered, “that’ Spanish for ‘stay away’.” Still they continued to move in with Fredryck drawing his sword. “Stay away,” he shouted in English.
Moving closer, their light revealed snakes of many species crawling across the man’s skin. Black snakes twisted between his fingers and a rattlesnake curled around his bicep, hiding its face in his armpit while its tail shook at them. “What do you want?” he demanded.
“The Mexican,” Bar informed as he recognized the man. It was the Servant of the Serpent, Hugo Martinez, the man that Bar Tolley had shot a few days ago. Hugo turned his head to look directly at them. He was covered in snakes and the upper left quarter of his head, just above his eye and ear, was missing. Writhing snakes filled in the open space in his head where his skull had been fragmented.
Fredryck lunged at the snake man and struck. The battle was short and soon the snake man lay dying. “I felt a great need here in Virginia. I was compelled to come here,” he said in broken English. “The Great Serpent revealed itself to me and commanded me to stand beneath the Bridge and perform its ritual."
“The ritual was to merge both me and my guide with the native snakes to allow the Great Serpent to use us to its divine design. But it was interrupted, incomplete. The Great Serpent was unable to reveal to me my divine mission.”
The Great Eagle is the good side of a duality myth in several southwestern Native American tribes, most notably The Cherokee. “I never expected to see him alive, again,” Bar mentioned. “If ya’ll are ready to move on,” he suggested.
Bar led them toward the Lost River. As they approached, they heard voices. Bartley snuck up into the wooded areas and observed from there while he sent his armadillo ahead. Dracona sent Athro invisibly forward, too. There were five people near the lost river preparing to enter the cave mouth from which it flowed. They had caving gear and seemed well prepared for the task.
Evgenia and the others decided to approach while Bartley stayed hidden amongst the trees. Bar led the way, purposefully looking like he was guiding tourists. “This is the beginning of the Lost River he announced as they got within eyesight of the strangers. His voice got the attention of the strangers. “Well, hello,” he said as he feigned noticing them for the first time.
The strangers seemed friendly enough. They explained that they were geologists and cartographers who were working for Yale. “We are working for Professor Varga,” the apparent leader informed. “He’s a history teacher at Yale. The Professor has a theory that the reason Thomas Jefferson bought this property exactly two years before the Declaration of Independence was drafted was so that he would have a place to hide certain treasures. We’re looking for any sign of these treasures.”
“I’m the team leader, Julian Varga,” he said as he reached out to shake hands. Fredryck noticed that he wore a ring that was carved to look like a dragon wrapped around the finger with its tail in its mouth. He pointed it out and inquired if they were associated with the Order of the Dragon.
“How do you know the Order,” Julian inquired. “We’ve worked with the Order before. Perhaps you know of our prior associate, Alexander Matl?” “Matl,” Julian said with an arched eyebrow. “He failed to retrieve an amulet in England for the Order. Our superior is not so pleased with him.”
“Well, we’ve worked with the Order before so we thought you might prefer to work together, again,” Archibald took over the negotiations. “Well, the amulet that Matl was looking for was kept out of the wrong hands even though the Servants of the Serpent, the Six-fingered-hand, and even Jack Griffin tried to get it. I presume you’re looking for an amulet, here, too.”
“One of the treasures we believe to be hidden along the Lost River is the legendary Amulet of Jefferson. The amulet is a black and silver hematite disk, passed down for three generations before disappearing completely during the American Revolutionary War. We studied the area for months before determining that this was the most likely hiding place for Jefferson’s treasure. If you get the proper spelunking gear, we’d be happy to cooperate with you. Our experts can tell you what you need,” he said referring to a man and woman of theirs.
“If you already have the gear, then we don’t need to get it, do we?” Archibald countered. “The delay could let the amulet fall into the wrong hands. There’s various factions here looking for it right now. If we just cooperate, now, we’d be better off.”
“Our master, Snisky, has determined that a set of Amulets is being sought by the Dark Riders,” Julian confided. “According to our texts, these amulets can be used to either summon a great hero or a great destroyer. Snisky says that this means that if the Riders get the amulets, it could mean the destruction of the world. But, if we get them, we can summon a great hero to tip the balance of power in our favor against the Riders.”
“We’ve worked together to keep these amulets out of their hands, before,” Archibald explained. “I’d say we can just start now and repeat our past success here.” Julian questioned to his spelunkers. “We could probably accommodate them,” the man said. “Very well, then,” Julian finally agreed.