My Dearest Sebastian,
My profound apologies for the last two missing letters, though it wasn't really my fault that they were destroyed. I had accidentally left them in the common WC; shortly afterwards, Baldrick had gone in there with that stupid pet monkey of his on his quest to toilet-train the poor animal. To make a long story short, he ran out of toilette paper, and...you can guess the rest. So I will give you a quick update, which will be somewhat sparse and garbled, since so much has happened and my mind is half gone anyway...
I believe I had left off with our visit to the gypsy village. Later that night, we received a message in town that the grandaughter of the old gypsy matriarch had been taken in the night, most likely to the supposedly haunted old manse on the hill some distance away from the village. We rushed there in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, ending up on the top floor of this old house confronting the kidnapper. Did I mention that he was a vampire? A rather handsome, well-spoken one, too, if I might add. Really, I don't know what all the fuss was about...the promise of immortality with such a companion...sigh...quite romantic when you think about it. Anyway, we were forced to kill him in our rescue of the fair young gypsy maiden...who, I might add, had a bit of a crush on our friend Reginald. The gypsy clan was quite grateful, and we ended up with the last leg, leaving us only the head to find. Following some leads and other information, several days later we ended up in a network of caverns looking for this head. A rather gruesome place, full of skulls and alters and bloody mangled bits and pieces of bodies. My memory of it is rather foggy, as I lost my mental faculties for a bit, not recovering them until we were back in the boat headed back for the train...
And now, dearest friend, I must go for a while, as we have boarded the train and must freshen up for dinner. I will write you again later.
My Dearest Sebastian,
I'm sorry I have not written sooner; I am just sick with grief. My beloved Betty has been brutally murdered, along with my friend Tommy Gun. The Inspector and Higgins were severely injured as they and William put up a most admirable defense. I don't remember much; we were eating dinner on the train when Betty excused herself to the powder room, accompanied by the most unpleasant smell. I thought she was ill, and so I followed. All I heard was her voice and one others, then a scream that was abruptly cut off. Upon entry to the room, I saw my poor Betty with her head nearly ripped off her body. Everything went quite fuzzy, after that...
Later on, after somewhat of a recovery and grieving period, we were invited to a rather strange seance where we met a seer of some kind named Elihu who later joined our group. I recieved a "message" from Betty telling me to please tell Higgins "it would have been wonderful"...poor Higgins, he is, as you can imagine, quite distraught over the loss of our girl...
After dealing with the aftermath of that and arrangement for the remains of our friends, we continued on to Constantinople to a professor at the museum. Evidently the last person to handle the scrolls we are searching for was Salim Makryat. By the way, we have picked up two more additions to our party...a "Seer" of some sort, named Allihoo or something like that and one of Tommy's old contacts who is Arabian and has a name I can not properly pronounce, let alone spell. So we call him by the shortened version, Ari. Anyway, he had a stall set up in the bazaar here that sells things of a er..."defensive nature"...which would be difficult to get anywhere else. We went in that general direction to fetch his belongings as we had all decided to have him join our group as a sort of bodyguard.
On the way there, walking through the bazaar, a strange little man walking a bear of all things! whispered in english as he passed us 'take care, my friends' and then just melted away into the crowds. Did you ever?! Makes me dread the inevitable discoveries that lay ahead of us...
Once Ari's belongings were collected, we headed back to the hotel we were staying at. Dear me, taking care of all the little details like hotels are so difficult without Higgins and Betty...I know I need to find another lady's maid, but I am too grieved yet to think about it. We also made an appointment the following day to meet with a man known as Beylableb the Perspirer, and information broker, to see what he could tell us about the scrolls or other relative information. The appointment is at the bath house he frequents. As much as I would love to see them, it would not be appropriate. Perhaps I shall shop while they talk...
As we were crossing the hotel's lobby, the desk man called us over with a message from a Sir Rutherford of the British embassy. Evidently he wanted to meet with us over some urgent matter, and was sending a car. So off we went, with the strange and flirtatious Allihoo giving what seemed like love advice to William in the back of the limo. The ride itself was uneventful, though when we arrived there, we were told that due to nationality problems with Allihoo and Ari they would not be allowed in. What bigots! Later on Ari was allowed in because he is Arabian, not Turkish.
The embassy itself was quite beautiful. We were ushered into the library where we were introduced to an older British gentleman, Sir Rutherford. He spoke of the recent string of child kidnappings and said he desperately needed our help as his own son, James, age 9, had just disappeared. He suspected one of his aides/staff, of which there were four. After some discussion, it was decided that we would question each of the 4, one by one, without Sir Rutherford there. The first girl was a young maid named Suleb who appeared quite frightened. We did not get the impression she knew anything of the missing boy, though she had heard rumors that the recent missing children had been taken by the "brothers of the skin" around whom rumors of torture, cannabalism and other dark rituals abounded. Evidently they are supposedly based at a place called The Red Mosque in Istanbul. She talked of the secretary, Ellen, who evidently does all the hiring and firing of the staff. She also spoke of a relatively new member of the staff, called Kurdef, the gardener. Evidently a "quiet and strange man, accompanied by a foul smell wherever he goes"...
The second, an elderly man in his 60's or so, also seemed to know nothing about the specific disappearance of Sir Rutherford's son. His name was Oren and he had an assistant named Cooli. He also talked of the rumors of the "brothers of the skin" about whom he has heard rumors all of his life here. He has heard that they are based at the same place which is also know as the Shunned Mosque. He also spoke of the gardener, who seemed to be the only one of questionable repute thus far.
The next staff member called into the library to be questioned was the gardener, Kurdef. He appeared to be in his 30's or so, a scruffy, unkempt man with strange scars around his eyes, ears and hands. He did indeed smell quite foul. He was surly and uncooperative, saying he had lived in the town all his life but had never heard any rumours about the "brothers of the skin" or any missing children, laying all the blame on the Turks...as we attempted to question him further, the situation turned most hideous! He leapt up from his chair and ran toward the window, saying that 'the brothers have the boy James and the others' laughing maniacally. He was tackled by our men. The tattoos on his arm began to writhe and the skin on his face began to melt into his mouth...things became rather fuzzy for me after that.
When it was over, Kurdef lay on the floor, dead and faceless. Sir Rutherford was summoned and although he was shocked, horrified and angry, his message to us was clear: to find his son no matter what the cost. We went back to the hotel to recover from the horrors of that meeting and passed an uneventful evening. Dearest friend, the worst was yet to come...
The next morning we set out for the meeting with Beylablab, through the bazaar and across the Glaata Bridge. We stopped at a coffeehouse right down the street from the bathhouse and let me off there, Allihoo paying the head waiter to ensure I was not bothered there, which was much more effective than Ari's encouragement to him to watch out for me by sticking a gun in his neck. Very much like our old Tommy, that Ari is...
The following is as repeated to me as I was not there to witness it:
Alli, Ari, William, BlackAdder and Reggie went into the bathhouse at the appointed time; doffed clothes and weaponry as required and went into the bathhouse which was as expected - steamy and full of naked and partially clothed men. (And Sebastian, please tell Auntie Martha that no, I could not sneak in and get any pictures!) They were shown to a short fat man lounging on a great stone...Beylablab the Perspirer and information broker. He told our friends that the 'Brothers of the Skin at the Red Mosque worship the lost statue, now found and assembled, and that it can be destroyed only by a magic ritual. The instructions for that ritual reside inside the grave of the Kurdish scholar Garaznet in the Uskadar cemetary on the Asian side. The ritual for the statue is two-faced, and can be used for good or evil. You must go at night to pry open the grave; if you destroy the statue, you destroy the cult. Beware city officials, as some of them are cultists in disguise'...
At this point, a hand reached around Beylab's head with a knife and slit his throat, spraying blood all over everyone nearby and the great stone, from which a sudden great gout of flame came up to consume the body. It engulfed Beylab briefly; the flesh began to melt off his substantial body and onto the floor, where it began to congeal and come together, forming a mass that moved and slithered toward our friends...the monster grabbed Ari by the ankles which began to eat at the flesh that it touched. BlackAdder, along with Edward and William threw Ari into the pool of water, which forced the creature to let go. They grabbed him along with their clothes and ran out. Alli, who had left moments before, came out first. All I saw was that he came running down the street stark naked, into a stall and emerged moments later with a robe on. I quickly fetched a carriage. We loaded everyone into the carriage and made off for the hotel and a doctor, as Ari had lost flesh off his legs.
Here is where I stop, dear friend. I am overcome with the horrors and grief of the past few days. I need some time to recover and ponder...I will write again very soon. Keep us in your prayers, Sebastian, as we will definitely need them in the days to come...
My Dear Sebastian,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits; as you may well imagine, I and my fellow cohorts are not doing so well. Let me continue with our story...
We dropped Ari off at a local hospital, where he remains, recovering and regrowing the muscle and skin that was melted off his legs by that horrendous creature! We planned to go to the embassy with Blackadder to see about transportation to the much-talked-about mosque, first stopping off at the hotel to retrieve the similacrum. Our two carriage drivers were too nervous and would not stay and wait for us, instead unloading our trunks and baggage and leaving in a hurry. I wonder if we are getting a reputation for finding death and destruction...anyway, Eli and William stayed outside with our luggage as we went into the library to talk to Sir Rutherford. After some debate, we decided to go directly to the mosque to see if we could rescue the boy James before we went to the cemetary in search of the scrolls to destroy the statue. Sir Rutherford lent us a carriage and a guarded room to keep the statue and some of our belongings in. I hope it remains safe there.
The weather was quite bad, raining and thundering as we headed to the Red Mosque, the crowds growing thicker and thicker the closer we got. Eventually we had to stop the carriage and continue the rest of the way on foot as we could no longer force the carriage through the mass of people. We paid someone to stay with the carriage until our return.
It appeared as if a rally of some sort was going on at the mosque, with thousands of people gathered in front of the entrance where a man was speaking on some platform...going on and on about reclaiming their land and driving the "christian devils" out, to the obvious agreement of the cheering crowd. There were some British guards there, though looking quite nervous as they were obviously tremendously outnumbered. The man speaking called for people to "show their allegience" and at that, some of the members in the crowd began to flog themselves quite severely.
After trying to force our way through the crowd and around the mosque itself - there did not seem to be any way in or out besides the main entrance - we made the decision to continue on to the cemetary to find the scrolls to destroy the statue. I remember that the information we had stated that if we destroyed the statue we destroy the cult, and perhaps we could save the boy that way. So we went back through the bazaar, stopping to buy picks and shovels in anticipation for our gravedigging, and headed to the docks. We arrived there in time to catch the last ferry out. We loaded all our gear on the boat and off we went, hampered by the storm as our visibility was almost nonexistent. We sailed for an hour and a half before reaching the dock of the island and unloading for the forty minute walk to the cemetary.
The cemetary itself was obviously very old, with Islamic and Christian burial plots side by side. In spite of the circumstances, I could not help but appreciate the wonderful antiquity of the tombstones and statues. After three hours we finally located the tomb of the Kurdish scholar and began digging...a gruesome task under the best of circumstances, made quite horrible by the rain, thunder and general creepiness of digging in a cemetary in the middle of the night.
After an hour of digging, we reached the lid of the coffin. Just when we were clearing it off, we heard the sound of someone approaching. By the light of our lamps, we see an old, wizened man gabbling to himself, perching on top of a large tombstone like some kind of macabre old crow...he spoke, saying, "they're coming in great numbers". Well, you can imagine we were in something of a hurry after that, breaking the lid of the coffin. At that, the strange old man clapped his hands and said "that's what he needs, keep him company"...we asked him what his name was and he giggled, saying he had no name, no name at all. As we broke the lid on the coffin, he suddenly said "don't let him out" as he ran and hid behind a monument nearby, peering out at us. We pushed the lid of the coffin aside to discover that the coffin had become a rectangular vat of boiling, bubbling flesh!
The substance inside the coffin reached out for the nearest person, which was Blackadder, though fortunately he dodged. We all turn to run. Right as this was happening, Eli had noticed a couple of forms walking towards us through the rain, so he began walking towards them. We all then noticed that we had been surrounded by a group of about forty people, who all smelled bad, and had the same strange scars that the others had...my heart was pounding so fast!
The circle parted to let in six people who were carrying a large oilskin-wrapped bundle that squirmed and made little cries and whimpering noises. Right behind them came four more people carrying a sort of platform on their shoulders supported by poles. Sitting on top of this platform dressed in ornate robes was a very old, shriveled-looking man. One of them asked where the statue was; Blackadder began to lie, telling them we didn't know. The old man made some strange hand gestures and Blackadder began to writhe and scream and tear at himself, as if his skin was on fire though we could see no injuries whatsoever! He fell to the ground and began to hold his stomach as if he thought his very intestines were coming out! He began to babble and scream and drool...
At this point, William tells the cultists that we sent the statue to the duke, with myself playing along, begging them not to kill us. The six men holding the squirming bundle untie it and set it on the ground. Sebastian, what I saw next will haunt me for the rest of my life! The bundle contained twelve children, presumably some of those poor children who had recently gone missing, although we could not see the boy James among them. They had been sewn together by their very flesh, rather indiscriminately, an arm here to a leg there, to a head to an arm and so on. I had never seen anything so gruesome in all my life! Some of the children were crying, some were in shock and all appeared to be in great pain. William attempted to run towards them, but we restrained him, not knowing what was going to happen next and we were obviously outnumbered. What happened next was even more horrifying! Three large tubs were brought out as the storm increased in force...a smell as of the grave itself rose up from the tubs as the contents were poured out over the mass of crying children...the contents of which appeared to be more of the boiling, bubbling flesh!
I could not take any more, dear friend. I think I must have gone mad for a time. I charge towards them, firing my gun. My fire was returned and I was hit twice and fell unconscious to the ground. William later told me what had happened after that. The flesh poured over the children had coalesced and melded the children into one gruesome body with multiple appendages...it crawled up on these horrendous appendages and began to make it's way towards us as the old man signalled for the cultists to leave, leaving us to deal with this unholy monster they had created...
Enough for now, dearest Sebastian, I am still recovering my health. I fear my sanity has been irreparably damaged. I cannot imagine having a peaceful night's sleep even if I live to be a hundred years old...I will write again later.
My Dearest Faithful Friend,
It is so difficult for me to relate some of these things to you...please forgive my tardiness with them sometimes. It is very important to me, however, that someone bear witness to them in case I do not make it back...a record of what really happened. With that in mind, I shall continue...keep in mind that the next few hours I write about is as was described to me later, when I recovered consciousness.
When last I wrote you, the cultists were leaving the cemetary as the monstrous entity was advancing on us...one of our members had gone temporarily mad and I was unconscious on the ground bleeding from two gunshot wounds and fading fast. As the monster was closing in, suddenly, a bear crashed through the underbrush and began attacking the creature! No, Sebastian, I'm not having you on - there really WAS a bear! At the appearance of the bear, a vaguely familiar voice called out, "Quickly, my friends, come with me!" Upon seeing the owner of the voice, we realized that it was that little man with the trained bear from the bazaar! Do you remember? The one who told us to 'take care' as we were being followed...
William - bless his heart, we shall have to find some way to repay him - picked me up off the ground and we all followed the little man, whose name turned out to be Aktar. The bear remained behind, at least for a while, fighting that unholy abomination...as we ran, we could hear the screaming and roaring...I shall never forget the terrible sounds of children screaming...
We could still hear the voices of the cultists, who had likely heard the commotion and were apparently heading back our way, so we ran for the docks. When we got there, the boatman who was supposed to be waiting to take us back to the mainland was nowhere to be found, and the boat we had come in was full of water and partially submerged. Looking into it, we discovered the bodies of the boatman and his assistant, horribly maimed and dismembered! We were in a state of panic, not knowing how we were going to get back or if we even were, as the voices of the cultists got closer and closer!
Aktar, who had disappeared for a few moments, returned with another boat which we got into and began rowing away as fast as our exhausted limbs would let us. About a hundred feet out from the dock, we saw the cultists run out onto the shore, stare out at us, and then turn back. Just when it seemed as if there would be no pursuers, we noticed that there were three boats following us. We managed to maintain a short lead on them back to the mainland, where we disembarked and followed Aktar as he ran off into the darkness. We went down a dark alley, into a battered doorway and up a short flight of stairs into what appeared to be a small apartment. We seemed, at least for the moment, to have lost our pursuers. My friends had performed what little first aid they could, though I was still unconscious as William laid me down on the bed in the small room. Aktar passed out brandy to the rest and quickly related his story of how he had rescued us and why. Aktar is evidently a "good" Turk, who often spies on the cultists, relaying this information to those who oppose the Brotherhood. Aktar once had a child, a little girl, whom the cultists had taken when they found out that he was spying on them. By the time that Aktar had found her, she has been horribly mutilated and...changed...out of mercy and great love, Aktar somehow found the strength to kill his daughter himself, rather than condemn her to a damned existence. Can you imagine how horrible? It just breaks my heart. As you can imagine, he had quite a vendetta against the Brotherhood after that! He wants our help in fighting them and perhaps saving some more children. He told us that he "had a secret that would help us". The secret turned out to be that he knew of a secret way of getting into the Red Mosque. At this, he left, saying he would return shortly with a doctor friend of his to attend to me.
A little while later he returned, with a very old man and a small bundle of clothes for me to change into. The doctor is successful in reviving me and dressing my wounds. I had to walk with the help of a cane, but I felt grateful to be moving at all! After resting for a time, we got ready to go with Aktar to the mosque. We went up and down various different streets and alleyways. At the end of the last alley, we went down a tiny staircase to a small landing, then down a bigger staircase. About halfway down, the air began to get dank and musty-smelling, which did not seem to bode well, considering our past experiences. The stairs actually ended in the water, where a boat was tethered to a post. We got in and began rowing, with Aktar directing us, under huge arches and massive carved columns, like the remains of some kind of hellish civilization. We stopped at one of the huge columns and Aktar took out some kind of small knife, inserting it into a small crack on the side as a door appeared. We tied up the boat and continued on foot, down a small staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs was a stone shaft about five feet high and horizontal; a tunnel of sorts, which we began to walk through. It was a nightmare of a tunnel, the walls glistening with some kind of black ooze and over all, the pervading smell of rotting flesh! We stopped in front of an iron door. Aktar said that we were "in the realm of the Skinless One". We pushed the door open into what appeared to be a tomb, a huge room with many slots in the floor and up the sides of the walls, niches which held what appeared to be the bodies of dead cult members. The room was quite dim, with the only light coming from a small aperture in the ceiling.
William goes to the only other door across the room and listened, telling us he could hear the sound of shuffling feet. He quietly opened the door and we saw a cult member standing with his back towards us, apparently unaware that we were right behind him. Reggie sneaked up on the cultist from behind and put him in a chokehold, while Clousseau and William knocked him out. The cultist's right hand and both of his eyes appeared to have been sewn on!
This room appeared to be an antechamber used for the storage of scrolls, with another door on the other side. As we listened, we could hear nothing from the other side. We opened it to discover another very small room, again used as storage for boxes of candles, jars, vials and some surgical instruments. The instruments appeared to be the kind used for cutting and sewing, with some of them appearing old, much-used and rusty, while others appeared to be shiny and new. Across the room is a doorway, shielded by a curtain from which we could hear voices and what sounded like someone giving a speech.
We went through the curtain into a huge hall that was filled with about three hundred cultists, all listening raptly to a man standing in front of an enormous column rising up to the high, vaulted ceiling, culminating in a dome at the top. The speaker was the old man from the cemetary, the one carried on the platform. We slowly and quietly entered the hall, mingling with the listening cult members and trying to look as if we belonged there. The big pillar that the old man was standing if front of had six niches that resembled a five-pointed star with one in the middle. As we watched, four cultists walked towards the center, dragging a small group of children, one of whom was Sir Rutherford's son James! The children did not yet appear to be harmed or changed in any way, but as they reached the center, one of the cultists took out what appeared to be large sewing instruments! I tell you Sebastian, I was terrified and knew that we could not attempt much as we were so outnumbered, but I knew that it would not be possible to stand there and watch those poor children go through what the others had...we began to move closer, whispering that Aktar has volunteered to create a diversion to take the attention off the children so that we can move in and rescue them somehow.
The old priest approaches the group of children and opens the scroll he is holding; presumably the ones we were hoping to find in the cemetary. He begans to speak the words of the spell. As he does so, another group of cultists come out, bringing all the pieces of the statue and began to assemble them at the huge column, fitting each piece into the niches carved into it. So much for it being safe back at the embassy! As the final piece was put into place, the old priest raised the scroll and began to speak the final words of the spell.
Suddenly, the skin around the priest's mouth began to liquify and melt, sealing the lower part of his face and rendering speech impossible, preventing him from reciting the last few words of the spell! All the cultists - us included - were completely taken aback when Aktar screamed and pointed to the priest. We supposed he was doing this as the diversion we needed to rescue the children. But what happened next destroyed what faith I had in this person we thought was helping us!
Aktar leapt forward and grabbed the scroll from the priest, recited the final words of the spell, and put himself with his back up against the assembled statue, as it surrounded him and he began to melt into it! As he became one with the statue, it - and him - began to grow to gargantuous proportions with an evil laugh that I swear froze the blood in my veins! The huge creature began to speak, saying that he was "the master's son" and he then told the cultists to sieze the old priest, which they do, and then proceeded to rip the old man into pieces...the creature then instructed the cultists to sieze us, which they do...
We were tied up and brought before the hideous creature, who rants on and on about "controlling the Skinless One" and "driving their own destinies"...we're taken to the other end of the mosque and up a small spiral staircase. As we travel up, we notice what appears to be cells of some sort on the sides of the landings we pass. The lower ones are filled with bones and bits of skin, sometimes entire sets of skins! Further up, we see that more people in the cells are alive the higher up we go, though all have suffered amputations. As we continued up, we passed by too close to one of the cells and one of the prisoners, obviously deranged, tried to rip out the Inspector's tongue! We then noticed that the unfortunate prisoner was missing his own...
We reached an empty cell where we were handcuffed and chained to the wall and left there...
I must stop now, my dear friend, to gather my strength and rest. The relaying of these events is exhausting on my mental and emotional state of mind. I will, of course, write you more soon. Please give my family my love and, whatever you do, do not let them know the truth. There is nothing they or anyone else can do at the present time.