The ship pulled into a small port in a dusty town with crumbling buildings and leaning towers. A few tattered stalls lined the harbor and with disheveled looking merchants. The palm trees looked withered and devoid of color, much like the people she saw walking around. All the buildings were the same, grayish-tan color, devoid of life and cheer.
This city had either seen better days a very long time ago or had never had good days.
It reminded her of her home in Innsmouth. It had the same decrepit, run down, dark feel to it. Despite the dry air, the atmosphere felt oily. The ship was just pulling up to the docks and already she wanted to leave this city.
“This isn’t a good place,” she said.
“What gave you the idea?” David asked as he pointed to the docks.
The ship next to them was unloading a cargo of naked people with chains around their necks.
“If those pirates had captured us, we’d be in chains,” Gretchen said. “Only the pirates would take us to…they’d take us to their god for sacrifice.”
She almost said “Nylarthotep.” She’d have to tell David about him before they arrived, but she wanted to make sure that they would arrive first.
Once the ship docked they walked out onto the wooden pier that barely looked as if it could hold their weight.
“They don’t spend a lot for upkeep,” Beth said.
“Where to now?” Gretchen asked.
“I thought you were our guide,” Beth said.
“I don’t know this place. I don’t know where to begin.”
She didn’t know this place. She didn’t even know the name of the city.
“I think I do,” David said.
“You do?” Beth asked.
He pointed to a three story building that was crawling with drunken sailors. It was within sight of the docks. It had square windows with crumbling wooden shutters and the roof had a small wooden shack looking structure.
“We go there and ask if anyone seen Dr. Nelson and Hecate,” David said.
“Oh. That does make sense,” Gretchen said.
“Make sure that thing’s off safe,” David said to Beth.
After the fight with the pirates he had given her his holster with the Beretta. Gretchen didn’t need a gun: she had her magic which was much stronger here than in the real world.
Even with that, she didn’t like the idea of going into that filthy place. There would be brigands and cutthroats in there. She wanted nothing to do with their kind.
But David led the way. They walked up to the building as a very fat man with a woman in each arm stumbled out of the doorway. He stunk of body odor and worse things that she didn’t recognize and didn’t want to.
David went in first followed by Beth. Gretchen gladly brought up the rear.
Inside was dark and crowded. The thick, square tables were too close for comfort so they had to push and squeeze their way to an empty one. It seemed everyone was looking at them. Broken clay cups lay scattered about the floor and rows of animal skulls hung from rope along the edges of the ceiling. Posters with laws hung on the wall near the door. She had the impression that the laws were largely ignored.
The most noticeable aspect of this unsavory tavern was a large pit taking up the far end of the room. It had wooden sides and was too deep to see how far it went down.
A waitress that was past her prime but dressed as if she wasn’t came up to them. She was showing a bare midriff and had almost every part of her face pierced.
“What do you want? Order, eat, then get out,” she said.
This place definitely reminded her of Innsmouth.
“We’ll have whatever they’re having,” David said, pointing to a table where a plate full of unrecognizable meat was. “Also, we’re looking for friends of ours. One’s a middle age, pale man with a beard and the other is a tall woman with black hair and eyes blacker than night.”
“Haven’t seen them,” the woman said with a sneer and walked off.
“That didn’t work out,” Beth said. Her black, shadowy eyes looked around the tavern and then she slumped her shoulders.
“We just have to find someone that can answer us,” David said. “We need to take our time and find the right person. Look around for someone we could beat up but looks greedy enough to take a bribe.”
A few minutes later everyone in the tavern began to wander over to the pit in the rear of the room. The people crowded around the pit and began cheering.
“What’s going on there?” Beth asked.
“Dog fighting?” David said.
They got up and walked over to see down into the pit. They had to climb on a table like others were doing.
Inside the pit were four creatures that resembled human corpses with skinned canine heads and a fifth one that looked like a human corpse with impossibly long black hair. It was wearing a ragged dress that may have been white at one time.
“What the hell are those?” Beth asked.
“Ghouls. Well, four of them are. I don’t know what the fifth one is,” Gretchen said.
The creatures looked to be fighting over a pig leg. The ghouls were tearing away at each other with their claws and the dead creature with long black hair was pulling others away with her hands.
“They’re watching the ghouls to see which ones they should place bets on,” David said.
Gretchen didn't want to know how he knew such a horrid thing.
One by one the crowd drifted away until they were the only ones still at the pit. She had never seen a ghoul before and found them more revolting in person than in a book’s description. They smelled horrible, like meatloaf and fish left outside in the sun.
Then the undead creature with long hair looked up at them. It had a human face and was female. Her skin was white with gray and green patches of what could be mold or some other kind of corruption. The female’s eyes were gray and lifeless and her teeth were yellow. She looked Japanese.
The undead female pointed up at them with a stretched out hand.
“You travelers, yes?” The woman said with a thick Japanese accent.
“We are,” David said.
“You can see me. You see I no ghoul.”
“Yeah, we see you’re not a ghoul,” David said.
“They see you as a ghoul?” Gretchen asked.
“They do. They no see that I traveler like you. Not like you, but like you.”
“You’re a dreamer?” Gretchen asked.
Gretchen leaned in and put her hand to David’s ear.
“We have to help her,” Gretchen whispered.
David leaned over the pit.
“We’re looking for other travelers. One is a pale man with a beard,” David said.
“And the other is woman with long black hair, like mine,” the undead woman said.
One of the ghouls looked up from its pig leg feast and snarled at them.
“Leave us alone to eat in peace,” the ghoul said.
“Eloquent for a monster,” Beth mumbled.
“Fight is tonight. Cage is behind tavern. Help me and I help you find woman,” the undead woman said.
“You have a deal,” David said.
They walked back to their table and ate the meat, which after tasting, she still couldn’t identify and wasn’t sure anymore if she wanted to know.
After they ate they waited for the ghouls to be prodded back through the doors in the pit. Presumably there were tunnels that led to their cages.
They walked outside and walked two blocks and turned a corner out of sight of the smelly tavern. David then turned around to face her and Beth.
“Beth, can you go around back and tell us what you see?” David asked.
“Sure, no prob.”
Beth then turned nearly invisible, more like a faint shadow, even the gun on her thigh.
“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” Beth said.
“Be careful,” Gretchen said.
Beth nodded and ran off. They peeked around the corner to watch her. She was hard to track and only appeared as a faint blur and soon they couldn’t see her at all.
“She’s useful to have around,” David said.
They waited only for a few minutes before Beth came running back up to them. She turned visible again once she reached them and rested her hands on her knees as she caught her breath.
“The pens are behind the tavern in a courtyard. No rear doors,” Beth said.
“How high is the wall?” David asked.
“Maybe nine feet.”
“We can’t wait until dark. The match is after dark,” Gretchen said.
“Any guards?” David asked.
There was a man in a little shack. He had a bunch of keys,” Beth said.
David turned to Gretchen.
“Gretch, can you put him to sleep quietly?”
“Yes, but I have to see him.”
“I’ll make noise on one side of the wall and you climb over the other side and do your thing,” David said.
They walked down the narrow, dusty road to the wall behind the tavern. There were no doors or footholds to help climb up so David had to hoist her up and have Beth go and make the distraction.
Beth went to the far side and phased through the wall. Then Gretchen heard what sounded like wood being banged together. That was her cue. David lifted her foot up and she climbed up onto the wall. Her claws dug into the soft brick and she scanned the area for the jailer.
She saw a filthy man with a hairy back and leather apron walking toward the sound the semi-invisible Beth was making.
Gretchen reached out with her hand and said the words of the spell.
The man instantly crumpled to the ground. She had never seen the spell work that fast before. She looked like a fish monster, but her magic was amazing.
“He’s asleep,” Gretchen said.
She reached down and helped him up. It was surprisingly easier than she would have thought. Perhaps she was stronger here as well.
“Stay up here and I’ll go get the zombie chick.”
She watched from the wall as David ran over to the cage that housed the Japanese Travler girl. The cage was metal and had a simple lock. David grabbed the keys from the sleeping man and opened the cage.
The other ghouls began growling and snapping their canine teeth.
“Arigato,” the girl said.
David grabbed the girl’s gray arm and pulled her to the wall.
“I’ll help you up,” David said.
The girl leapt up and grabbed the wall like a spider and climbed up without any problem.
“Am I the only one without super powers?” David asked.
“Your super power is a machinegun,” Beth said as she walked up behind him.
Gretchen helped David up and Beth just walked through the wall.
Once on the other side they began running. They ran all the way to the edge of town. A small alleyway provided a hiding spot and they ducked into it.
“Now what?” Beth asked.
“Where’s the black haired woman?” David asked.
“She went west, into desert. Go find temple of Anar-Tanar,” the undead girl said.
“Where is this temple?”
“I been there, many years ago. I can take you there.”
David looked over to her and Beth. Gretchen nodded.
“Can you take us there?” David asked.
“Okay!” The girl said.
“What’s your name?”
She gave a small, polite bow.
Up close there was no way to confuse this girl as something that was alive. Only there was something different about her. Gretchen couldn’t tell what it was, but something felt different.
She used a truth spell that showed things how they really were. When she waved her hand over Sayako, the girl didn’t change at all.
“You’re dead,” Gretchen said.
Sayako made a slight smile.
“Yes, I died in 1978,” Sayako said.
“I thought you said you were a Traveler like us,” David said.
“I am traveler, but I said I not traveler like you. Back in real world, I dead. At night I wake up and go do things. During day I sleep and I come here.”
“We’re asleep in the real world. I guess it’s daytime in Japan,” Beth said.
“You’re a ghost,” Beth said.
Sayako nodded and smiled, showing her yellow teeth.
“How far is this temple?” David asked.
“Two days, unless dream change. Then maybe more or less.”
“We better start before they come looking for us,” David said.
They agreed and headed out into the desert. They trudged through the sand and continued on in silence. Soon the city was out of sight.
Already Gretchen didn’t like the sun beating down on her. It was entirely too hot.
They marched all day until the sun began to go down. She kept drinking from her canteen and wished they cold find a pool or a stream.
Before it got too dark they laid out their blankets and sat in a circle.
“Think they’re following us?” Beth asked.
“Maybe,” Sayako said.
“Reassuring,” Beth said.
“What’s it like being a ghost?” David asked.
“Right now it is like being you. When night, I walk around. I watch people. I sometimes get people attention.”
“How’d you die?” Beth asked.
“Beth! Mind your manners,” Gretchen said.
“It okay,” Sayako said. “I was kill.”
“Killed? How horrible,” Gretchen said.
“Father murdered me.”
“Was he punished?” Beth asked.
“He kill himself after he kill me.”
“I’m sorry,” David said.
“I have many years to be okay with it. But now I have new friends!” Sayako said.
At night Gretchen had trouble sleeping. She stayed away watching for slavers and also watching their new guide. The strange undead girl’s chest didn’t move when she slept. She lay there like a corpse. Trafficking with ghosts could not be a good thing.