18th March 1924

It is late in the evening as I write this account but it is the first time that I have had a chance to maker of an account of the terrible and tragic events of the raid.We waited in the dark and the cold for hours. There was constant noise, the ceaseless swaying of the pine trees and howling of the wind punctuated every so often by the rumble of thunder off to the north. As the sun had begun to set an unseen occupant in the cottage had lit a fire within. It was close to 1 am when we spotted lights moving through to forest off to our right. I strained my eyes to try and make out more detail. There seemed to be five to six lights, from their yellowy colour I judged them to be candles or, more likely given the wind, lanterns. We could just about make out figures walking along carrying the lights. It looked like nine to ten people but the thickness of the forest made it impossible to tell for sure. Soon enough the figures broke out of the forest and crossed the open ground to the cottage. Now we could make them out more clearly. There were nine, maybe ten dark figures carrying a total of five lights. They made their way up to the cottage and entered. Our raiding party held a quick and hushed discussion. We decided that, whatever dark business The Coven were up to tonight it was more likely to take place in the stone circle at the very top of the mountain then in the cottage. We would give them ten minutes. If they hadn’t come out of the cottage by then we would force our way in. First seconds and then minutes ticked by and no one emerged from the cottage. I began to have doubts; what if The Coven were performing their dark rituals that very second? The life of the MacRae girl might be at risk even as we waited. Just as I was about to call for us to advance all light in the cottage was suddenly extinguished. We didn’t know what this signified but we knew it meant something. By unspoken agreement all of us but Mr. McLaren began to edge forwards. I turned on my torch but kept the beam pointed down low so it wouldn’t be seen by those inside the cottage. It didn’t take long for us to reach the cottage. Dr. Ewers signalled that he was going for the door, a fairly flimsy looking thing from what I could make out. Quietly he reached out and tested the simple lock. When it refused to open he threw his strength against it. The door yielded and we piled in, illuminating the cottage with the beams of our torches. To our confusion the building was empty. MacBain’s cottage was a fairly basic affair. Curtains divided it into three sections; a sitting room, a bed room and a small kitchen. The bed room had one proper bed and a second one improvised from blankets. Other then the windows and door we had already seen there seemed to be no other way out and, as Prof. Davies pointed out, the front door was padlocked from the inside. There had to be another, concealed, exit. We began to search the cottage. We found a couple of interesting objects, in a box of junk under the bed there was a gold watch bearing Mr. Hancock’s initials. Amongst a number of what he described as rather mundane books on the occult Prof. Deveraux found a large tome entitled “True Magikâ€� which he took possession of. It was Dr. Ewers who finally found the secret door by which The Coven had left. Having noted that it was build right up against the cliff we concentrated our searched on the cliff-side wall of the cottage. Moving aside the wardrobe in the bedroom Dr. Ewers found a dark curtain covering the entrance to a narrow passageway. The passage looked mostly natural. It was a little over four feet wide and tapered to a point. Originally the passage would probably have come down to a point too but someone had filled it in with packed earth to make a floor.Cautiously we entered. Mr. Snydder-Scott went first, his elephant gun at the ready. I was close behind , shining my torch ahead of him. There was a serous danger of the beam alerting anyone ahead of us in the tunnel but without it we would have been walking through the pitched darkness. As it was traversing the tunnel was an eerie, claustrophobic affair. After about twenty feet the tunnel divided. There seemed nothing to indicate which way the members of The Coven had gone so we took the left fork. We travelled on for a minute or two longer and then the walls open out. We turned on more torches to illuminate a vast cave some hundred feet in length . At the far end of the cave was a table-sized block. It was too regular to be a natural feature and the sight of it made me instantly think of an alter. There was the suggestion of two tunnels leading out of the cave. There were also a set of stone stairs leading downwards and a second set, about half way along the cave, going up.

A shadowy movement on the stairs leading upwards drew our attention. We illuminated them with our torches. Speaking for myself I expected to see a couple of the members of The Coven up there, the McQuary brothers perhaps. Instead what out torches picked out was a sight to chill the blood; two serpent-men! The skeletons at the dig-site and in Mr. Hancock’s house, not to mention the account of the Roman expedition, had warned us that we might be facing something inhuman but to see them in the living flesh was something else entirely. They were tall and lithe with flowing robes that hung around their skinny bodies. Their limbs were long as were their arching necks that ended in serpentine heads. The serpent-men moved rapidly down the stairs, their movements disturbingly fluid. In their hands each held a strange lump of crystal that sparkled in our torch-light, with a suggestion of something metallic protruding from the front. While the crystal lumps looked like no weapon that I had ever seen before some survival instinct warned me that they were dangerous. As they reached the bottom of the stairs the two serpent-men raised their weapons, there was a flash of strange light from each and the cracking sound like the snap of a whip. The raiding party was quick to return fire and for a few, ear-splitting seconds the cave reverberated to sounds of gun fire and the whip-crack of the serpent-men’s crystal weapons. At one point I heard Constable McNeil calling out to the serpent-men to surrender in the name of the law. Under other circumstances I would have laughed. The serpent-men were cut down by our gun-fire but Snydder-Scott fell too! He had been hit but whatever projectile the crystal weapons fired and was lying motionless on the cavern floor. Dr. Ewers moved over to him but, despite there being no wounds on his body or even a mark on his clothing, there was nothing the doctor could do; Mr. Snyder-Scott was dead!

Numbly I wandered over to the corpses of the two serpent-men. One had a fist sized-hole punched through his narrow rib-cage, a hit from Mr. Snydder-Scott’s elephant gun. The head of the second was almost completely missing thanks to a shotgun blast although I couldn’t say who fired the shot. I had a closer look at one of the crystal weapons. I had been right when I thought I had seen metal, there were six short rods sticking out of what I took to be the front of the device. They were arranged in a circle like the barrels of a gattling-gun. On the opposite side of the crystal there seemed to be what I can only describe as a blister or boil. Some kind of trigger perhaps?

Mr. MacRae reminded us that we should be pushing on. He was right of course, the sudden death of Mr. Snydder-Scott, even though I had only known him a few weeks, and the appearance of the serpent-men had completely de-railed my train of thought. Now that we had had a better look at the cave it appeared that one of the tunnels out came to a dead end after only ten feet or so. That left the second tunnel, the stairs down and the stairs up. Since the serpent-men seemed to have been guarding the way up this seemed the logical way to go. Concerned about leaving such a deadly weapon behind for our enemies to use I gingerly picked up one of the crystal devices. Prof. Deveraux passed the second crystal weapon to Dr. Ewers and Constable McNeil took the elephant gun and remaining ammunition from Mr. Snyder-Scott’s body. As quietly as we could we ascended the stone stairs. They rose for some hundred feet before reaching a short landing. A sheet of slate blocked off the passage. Carefully Dr. Ewers pushed it aside. As he did so we were blasted by a cold, damp wind. The stairs had brought us to the top of the cliff and out on to the summit.

Directly ahead of us we could see the flickering flames of multiple burning torches set in a crude circle. Beyond them could see a ring of rough stones, sticking up out of the ground like the broken teeth of a giant.

Within the circle danced perhaps a dozen figures, naked except for brown cloaks. In the madly dancing torchlight I took in the members of The Coven. There were faces that I recognised; Fergus, Margaret, Mr. Hayes and, to my surprises, Alistair. I recognised the McQuarry brothers from my colleague’s description of them. There was a dark-haired man who, apart from a black beard, matched the picture of Belphegor so closely that it could be no one else. There was a man in his seventies who I took to be MacBain. His frame was emaciated and he had a wild shock of white hair. There was another man of about the same age as MacBain. His body was ingrained with dirt and his eyes rolled madly in his head; this I took to be Will Wassel. At the very centre of the circle, seeming to lead the chant was the form of a young woman. Lithe and beautiful it could only be Chantraine. She danced with a wild, shocking abandon while at the same time calling out in some dark language and holding aloft the squirming shape of a small child. Despite the noise of this raucous black-mass I could still make out the infant’s horse cries as it called out, with ever-weakening breath, for help.

Within moments of our arrival the scene broke down into chaos. All was sound and furry illuminated by wildly swinging torch beams, flickering torchlight and the blaze of gun muzzle flash. The sound of gunfire from the ground mingles th the roll of thunder from above almost drowning out the cries of men and women fighting for their lives.

I saw Dr. Ewers dashing forward, attempting to break through into the circle and reach Chantraine and the child. Prof. Davies hobbled after him as best he could. Wully, looking even more bestial and sub-human without his clothing, scooped up a rock and lunged forward to intercept the doctor.

The McQuarrys, Alistair and Belphagor all produced knives from within the folds of their cloaks. Belphagor didn’t get a chance to use his however as Detective Hayes pulled out a concealed revolver and shot him in the leg.

Margaret, Willy, MacBain and Chantraine kept on chanting. The latter two did so with sinister purpose, as if they were building towards some clear objective, while the former just seemed to caught up in some perverse religious fever as if they were unaware of our presence.

Prof. Deveraux ran into the crowd and blasted Willy at point blank range, killing him instantly.

With no regard for their own lives the McQuarrys and Alistair charged towards us. Both Angus and Mr. MacRae fired into the crowd but still on they came. One of the McQuarry brothers, Jamie I think, and Alistair closed on Angus. Brandishing my walking stick I fell upon Alistair striking once, twice. Before I could deliver a third blow he turned and drove at me with his knife. I felt an impact and suddenly found it impossible to breath. The world span around me and it all went black.

I came too with a burning pain in my side and Dr. Ewers leaning over me. I felt as weak as a kitten and I doubted that I could have stood up with out the aid of the good doctor. It appeared that I had been saved from death at the hands of Alistair by the intervention of Constable McNeil who had brained the man with the barrel of the elephant gun.

The fight had been won but the victory was, at best, a bitter one. Of the Coven only Fergus and Margaret had had the sense to run. The rest had fought to the end. Belphagor and Jamie McQuarry were alive, although both were unconscious, the rest were dead.

My heart became heavy when I learnt that Angus had been killed, fatally stabbed by Jamie McQuarry. Dr. Ewers had received a vicious head wound while he tussled with Wully. The worse news, however, was that the MacRae child was dead. Despite a heroic effort neither Dr. Ewers or Prof. Davies had been able to get to Chantraine in time to stop her ritual. They had been close enough to witness what had happened when her chant reached it’s climax. From afar Chantraine may have looked the picture of youthful beauty but both Dr. Ewers and Prof. Davies claimed there had been a strange suggestion of a much older woman about her face. As if the ravages of time, long held at bay, were starting to take their toll. Once the spell had been completed all that changed. The life seemed to have been leached out the child, leaving it a withered husk, and Chantraine seemed to glow with renewed youth and beauty. The witch only had a second to savour her victory however as Dr. Ewers landed a solid punch on her face, shattering her nose, and then Detective Hayes shot her dead.

Prof. Davies had wrapped the child’s body in a discarded cloak. Steeling myself I had a peak, the poor creature looked like something that had been dead for a thousand years. As you could imagine the effect of his daughter’s death had had a devastating effect of Mr. MacRae. He looked a broken man, like a shell- shocked soldier from The Great War.

While we were all battered in body and soul I pointed out to my colleagues that, for us at least, there was still work to do, we had to find the third fragment of the R’yleh Disk. Detective Hayes mentioned that he had seen it, it had been in the cave where The Coven had changed into their cloaks.

Cautiously we re-entered the caves. Dr. Ewers had managed to revive Belphagor and Jamie McQuarry but we had taken the precaution of thoroughly trussing them up. Prof. Deveraux gently guided Mr. MacRae who stumbled along like a sleepwalker. Between them Constable McNeil and Dr. Ewers carried the body of Angus.

Alert for any sign of danger we re-entered the cave where we had fought the serpent-men. Mysteriously the three bodies we had left behind, the two serpent- men and that of Mr. Snydder-Scott, were gone. Mr. Hayes lead us into the small side cave we had noted before but never explored. Now we took the time to look it over there were several sets of cloths lying discarded upon the floor. At the back of the cave lay the third, golden fragment as well as a crudely constructed crib.

Once we had secured the Fragment we beak a hasty retreat to the cottage. My instinct was not to linger on Creag Dhubh. After all we had slain two serpent-men and I feared some kind of retaliation. However we were too exhausted to go walking across the mountainside at night so it was decided that we would remain where we were until morning.

Constable McNeil went to fetch Mr. McLaren and once he was inside we did what we could to secure the cottage. We wedged a chair under the door and pushed the single bed up against the wardrobe. I don’t think for one second that any of us thought this would count for anything if the serpent-men attacked.

We lit the fires for warmth and took it in turns to get what sleep we could. Not that sleep was easy given our injuries, the howling of the wind, the regular crash of thunder and the lurking threat of attack.

Despite this we managed to make it through the night and finally, after many long hours, the darkness of the night was replaced by the pale light of day. Outside the cabin a white mist hung over the mountain and the grass and brush was covered in a fine sprinkling of frost.

The hike down the mountain was long and difficult. We had to carry the dead body of Angus and Mr. MacRae had to be guided along the track like a sleep walker. Belphegor and Jamie McQuarry were both still bound and hobbled. Loss of blood had left me weak and I had to be careful with every step that I didn’t re- open my wound. Prof. Davies’s foot was black and swollen. All of these factors meant it took half the day to get back into Canich.

Once back in the village Constable McNeil took the prisoner’s to his office and began the process of notifying Inverness of what had happened.

There was no sign of either Fergus or Margaret. However there were indications that Fergus had made it back to the village before us; there were noticeable gaps in his wardrobe and dresser suggesting hurried packing.

With Detective Hayes my colleagues and I went to the home of Ian McLenen to see if we could seize the possessions of Chantraine. Detectibe Hayes suspected that Mr, McLenen was a member of The Coven although he had no proof. Unfortunately Mr. McLenen stood his ground when we asked to enter the room Chantraine had been using, demanding that we returned with a warrant or not at all. I am certain that by the time Detective Hayes manages to arrange the matter with the local magistrate any useful documentation we might have been able to find will have been concealed or destroyed.

Tomorrow Constable McNeil will lead a party of locals back up to the stone circle to retrieve the dead bodies. I have raised the possibility of destroying the two entrances to the serpent-men’s caves. Constable McNeil believes that he might be able to acquire a quantity of dynamite.


Margo

Topics: Case of the Coven, Case of the Order of Silver Twilight |

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