Cliffhangers

Diamonds of the Dark Congo

London,
June 1927
Following a social function at the London Tribune Susan, Elizabeth and Tex strolled home. Upon leaving the well lit great streets for a murky, winding lane they passed a pub at the lower middle rung of society. An older man stumbled out, muttering and obviously not well. A trained nurse’s eye saw he was not simply drunk (but how!), he also suffered from progressed tuberculosis.

The man was Mr. Adrian Crook was taken home with the help of a Bobby called to the scene. His simple apartment had been broken into and trashed but this he did not notice. He collapsed in bed and died within the hour. Searching his belongings and dwelling he turned out to be a former enlisted soldier down on his luck recently. Only he had just the same day received a package and pawned an undisclosed gem at a pawnshop in Soho. Receipts in his pockets told a story of old debt being paid off. His passport showed signs of travels to Belgian Congo every other year and only a few months home in London. It was wrapped in a think piece of leather with some sort of map drawn inside, along with small shards of what was assumed to be diamond dust.

Florian was brought in to help investigate this the next day. At the pawnbrokers A ploy was tried where Florian posed as a friend of Mr Crook’s. The broker was asked to show the diamond but he refused unless Mr Crook himself came, which Florian said he would have to then! The broker was obviously surprised.

At the post office Susan flashed her Tribune credentials and got a name and a description of the gentleman who had sent the package, Noel Jamison. The party split up to visit all hotels and boarding houses in Soho, betting the gent was not local. A local pub was arranged as rally point for lunch. Florian quickly hit pay dirt, but the man had already left in a hurry to catch the express train to Edinburgh. With no time to leave a message he bolted for the station and leapt aboard the train just as it pulled away. Strapped for cash he had only enough on him for a ticket to Birmingham.

Walking the length of the train led him to many possible suspects, but once he asked for the name he got the right man. He told he had served with Crook and that they had worked together in Congo since. The diamond sent was paying off old debt. Florian got booted off the train at this point and had to call to get picked up by car later that day. The rest of the party were sufficiently intrigued to drive on with him to Edinburgh.

Arriving in Edinburgh the next day the great headline was. “Murder on the express train”. Yes, it was Jamieson who had been shot. Unidentified men simply walked up to him, whipped out pistols, and shot him. They pulled the emergency brake and hopped off, the police are still hunting for them. Witnesses tell the men were foreigners – most likely Belgians. Tact and diplomacy was taken with speaking with the sister of the deceased man, Florian at first was called out as the murderer, but as he was American things were all right.

The sister told her brother had worked in Congo for a company called Vermeern Handel apparently doing horrible things they would never tell, but he was plagued by nightmares. He was finally coming home, it seemed he had earned enough money to pay off old debts and return to his old life in Edinburgh.

Back in London the pawnbroker was the last lead, and there was no more mystery here than an opportunistic man. He bought the diamond for a pittance – perhaps taking advantage of a dying and desperate man – and now it was his, and he had every right to sell it! The party gave him fair warning that unidentified gunmen had killed and were willing to do it again to get to the diamonds. The pawnbroker should probably cool off with selling the stone.

The next step was the Congo! The party coked up a bogus story and had Lord Winterbottom lead an expedition to the Congo to recreate the journeys of Stanley in preparation for the 40th anniversary (not for some years). Using the name of the Lord, the guise of an expedition from the Royal Adventurer’s Society of London, and a mind-numbingly boring scientific cover the party believed they would get permission to enter Belgian Congo. A letter was written to the Colonial Administration in Belgium, the steamer trunks packed with jungle gear, and the train was boarded. On the ferry to the continent the party were enjoying a cup of tea on the ship’s restaurant when suddenly a duo of sinister looking Belgians spotted Florian and bolted, while Elizabeth recognized them from the description of the killers on the train….

CLIFFHANGER!

A chase ensured on the ferry, eventually taking the cast to the cabins in which one of them was the hiding place of the Belgian gunmen. After a few attempts to pick the lock Florian resorted to the good old boot to the door. Tex was first man in and guessed one would be hiding in the bathroom immediately to the left, while Florian continued to the bedroom. Two fights ensued: Tex and one ruffian had a shoving match with the bathroom door, until Elizabeth slipped in and kicked the Belgian in the crown jewels. Florian had his troubles with the other one, in a wrestling match on the floor. When Tex finally joined the dog pile Florian had been struck and bitten but none had the upper hand in pinning the other. In the end he was subdued, but the noise had alerted an already annoyed a British ex-officer in a nearby cabin so the purser was called, and later the captain. The cast managed to convince him they had made a citizen’s arrest of the culprits of the recent train murder, and the captain had heard of this. It was also the truth – which often makes for the best plans – but it meant the Belgians were to be turned over to Belgian police and possibly extradited to England. The two were taken into custody, but the cast managed to have one member distract the ship’s officers while another took a crack at interrogation. Nothing worked though. Later on Susan got the attention of the sailor guarding the Belgians’ cabin while the rest searched it. This yielded nothing but a large sum of English money.
In port the two were turned over to the local police, identified as known goons for hire. The cast was questioned and cleared of any wrongdoing. The next day they took the train to Bruxelles and sent work to the Colonial Administration that Lord Winterbottom was in town and ready to clear the paperwork. But this turned out to be a kafkaesque nightmare of red tape and bureaucracy. Once the deputy secretary was greased with a night on the town it became apparent that by being not-Belgian meant the expedition would get nowhere. However he was acquainted with Lady Eda Baunholz, a Belgian noblewoman widow of a German count. Her son George was in Congo leading a botanical expedition and missing! This was quite the opportunity.
Promptly the expedition changed name to “The George Baunholz Rescue Mission” and was granted permission to travel. Professor Simon Mignole of the university told of the medicinal properties of the flowers George was looking for, something about suspending biological processes. Based in Leopoldville he searched for clues to finding the flowers, helped by the local experience of jack-of-all-trades Igor Vossen. George was known to have sailed up the river two monthe prior to this time and had not been heard from since.
Any clues the company Vermeern Handel might have yielded was categorically ignored. The cast had an uneventful journey by steamboat to Congo, and finally arrived at Leopoldville up past the rapids of the mighty River Congo.
The local magistrate Christian Hazaard had searched for George with help of the military patrol boats but to no avail. Lady Baunholz did not think he had done all he could. The night before the meeting with the magistrate the cast spoke with the local innkeeper. According to him and several other witnesses George had spoken with a man who had seen a large clearing in the jungle with the flowers in question. George and Igor had a disagreement as Igor refused to sail to this place, and Igor disappeared without a trace the same night. Two days later George sailed with a few black helpers to this location and had not been seen since. At the boat houses the cast spotted a man running away from the shack, which smelled oddly chemical… and then suddenly the shack burst in flames…

CLIFFHANGER!

Susan immediately gave chase, as did Elizabeth and Tex. Florian and Khamill stayed back to try and save the gear from the fire. it was a local, black man who ran and several tries to tackle or topple him were unsucessful, as were threats to shoot and even warning shots. Eventually only Tex followed, valiantly swinging on a vine down a slope to end in the river. Elizabeth and Susan headed back towards the town and eventually caught the man at gunpoint as he doubled back towards the docks. Khamill and Florian saved a lot of the expedition gear, sadly most of the provisions as well as mosquito nets were lost. Volunteers forming a fire chain were warned that there was dynamite inside and so the shack was left to burn down. Florian went in one last time – with no help from Khamill – ans was hit by falling, burning debris and had to leap into the river to put himself out.
Once the fire had died out and there was no longer any risk from munitions cooking off, the magistrate Christian Hazaard came to the scene. The culprit spoke no language comprehensible to the present company and the soldiers took him into custody. Khamill wanted to beat some answers out of the man, but Elizabeth would not let him. Hazaard enhanced the patrols along the docks, so the cast chose to sneak up to Vermeer Handel’s offices instead. What was known in advance was that missionary Drier Merzen made a business of buying timber and local arts and crafts from the natives. Te main building was the only one in town with a stone foundation, and apparently also a cellar. Two lengths of wooden outbuildings held storage and residence for local worker respectively. There was a fenced in yard at the back with a shack with two guards.
Khamill seemed to have some sort of plan, but only Florian (possibly) was let in on it. But there was some sort of payback for the lack of help in the burning shack so Florian did not instigate a diversion as Khamill wanted, so Khamill could not grab the guard unnoticed in order to perform a choke hold. Instead he was spotted in poor hiding round a corner, holding his belt in his hands. Luckily he permanently reeks of booze, and by only speaking Russian he in fact made the diversion. While the other guard ran to help and afterwards went to fetch a Belgian soldier the rest of the cast snuck into the yard.
The cellar was protected by an iron door, with small ventilation holes with bars and mesh netting. Before Florian managed to jimmy a window open Khamill was taken to the lock-up and the guards returned. The cast had a narrow escape while Khamill has politely taken to jail to sleep of his bender. His gun was unloaded and his door left open, and the next morning he was let go and met up with the rest on their way to speak with the magistrate. Only then did he remember that he had spent the night in an unlocked cell, unguarded and right next to the black man. This annoyed him to no end for the rest of the day. Hazaard had identified the man as from the M’bele tribe up river at had an interpreter and a few strong soldiers to interrogate him with.
During the day the ruined equipment was repaired or replaced, Florian and Khamill went to search Igor Vossen’s boathouse. This showed evidence of someone – not likely a white man – had been bunking there. They also scrounged two crates of tinned food. Arrangements were made with a river boat captain – Peter Konrad – to take the cast upstream. By coincidence he had been the captain to see the flowers Baunholz was looking for, while sailing a Vermeern employee downstream. This was odd as they usually sail by their own boats. This employee had been none other than Noel Jameson, and it had been he who told Baunholz about the flowers. After supper Hazaard had some answers about the native saboteur: he had been sent from his village at a tributary upstream by Vossen to wait at his boathouse and try and stop newcomers from following Baunholz’ trail. The M’bele tribe and their village was something universally avoided by white men!
A lot of theories now arose. Noel Jameson had obviously found diamonds far up the Congo, on a personal venture because he sailed with Peter Konrad rather than Vermeer’s boats. He had seen the flowers, and once he spoke with Baunholz at the bar in Leopoldville Baunholz immediately wanted to go there. He and Vossen had an argument, and Vossen sailed upstream the same night, not to be heard from again. Until some time later when he sent the M’bele tribesman doen to Leopoldville to prevent people from following. Two days after Vossen’s disappearance Baunholz left. He sailed up across the Stanley Pools but did not go further up the Congo, according to the trading post at the river mouth. The flowers he sought were at the edge of the pools, at the tributary leading to the M’bele village. It seems likely that Vossen knew something or had some projects up at the village and did not want Baunholz to go poking around. Once he realized he could not prevent it he left, and captured or even killed Baunholz as he came. But whether Vermeern has anything to do with Vossen is unknown.
Later that evening the cast decided to go pay Vermeern a visit, and were actually shown down into the cellar. it was nothing more than a fortified basement with provisions and guns in case the native went crazy…except for one small room which remained unseen. During the night a raid was planned, but before the alarm clock went off Elizabeth woke up and spotted something creeping on Susan’s bedcovers, under her mosquito net…

CLIFFHANGER!

For some reason it was Florian who went to wake up Susan. Equally afraid of the snake as of being caught acting odd in the room of a sleeping female, Florian tried to grab the snake quietly. Using all his strength of will he suceeded, and tossed it away. But Susan woke up to see Florian perched over her bed and consequently slapped him. The snake hid in the darkness. With the help of the rest of the cast the snake was found and dispatched with Tex’s cavalry sword. There was no windows accidentally open and no visible holes so this was obviously an assassination attempt. Khamill went out to spot a possible culprit but was unsuccesful. THe raid was postponed a few hours. During this time Wilfred Harker caught up with the rest of the cast. He had a flying gig to Congo by chance, but his plane nedded serious overhaul. he carted his three steamer trunks with wilderness gear to the hotel.
At Vermeers there was still the two guards at the shack out back by the gate to the yard. Susan, Elizabeth, and Wilfred kept watch as one guard went on his round, while Khamill, Florian, and Tex went in. At the outside door to the cellar Florian found that the deadbolt on the inside, which he had slid open during the visit previously that day while Elizabeth created a distraction, was still open. Inside the second locked door to the small room provided a challenge impossible to master. In the end the hinges were hacked and pulled quietly out of the wall, allowing Vermeern to know for sure there had been intruders. Inside the room there was tools for carpentry, armoury, and finally for weighing diamonds. It was now obvious that Vermeern smuggled illegal diamonds to Europe using local artwork as mules. Tex also discovered a fair deal of crates labelled “machine parts” now empty. So Vermeern har´d equipped a lot of employees with rifles. The three burglers made it out again without incident. Even though the cast had preferred leaving right away the boat was not ready until the morning’s coal delivery.
At the docks the two Vermeern boats were gone, so the cast expected to sail straight into an ambush. The first day of sailing was uneventful, as was the night – except the sounds were unnerving for those unacustomed to the jungle. At the end of the second day a small, local village was suspiciously quiet, and turned out to be wholly empty. All inhabitants were gone, tools along with them, but there was still pots with food left. No signs of violence except a small trace of blood. Florian found a young local boy who fled but was caught. Elizabeth made a connection with hin by offering chocolate and his bromen bits of French told that armed black men had taken the villagers. M’bele warriors presumably, all working for Vereern Handel, taking slaves for the diamond mines. The odd thing was that many leads point to the tributary from the lake where the M’bele tribes lives, and where Baunholz’s flowers grow to be the secret spot. But Jameson’s map showed the diamonds to be up the main river, past the trading post, and then inland.
The cast camped on the boat by the small dock at the empty village. During the night while Tex was on watch he saw a person keeping watch from the edge of the jungle past the village. As he was already made he woke Wilfred up and went to investigate the opposite side of the village, and snuck round through the jungle. The spotter was gone when he arrived but it had been booted feet, so not locals but Vermeers mercenaries.
The following day the boat steamed further up stream and came to a narrow passage through higher ground, just before the lake. The steamboat had to use every last bit of power to fight the current, this was the obvious ambush point. Tex and Susan each took watch at the front of the boat, covering the high ground on the flanks. Elizabeth stood by Peter Konrad to give orders or relay information, Khamill was slightly drunk, and Florian looked straight ahead. He saw a person poke his head op from beind a rock, and seconds later something was pushed in the water and raced towards toe oncoming boat. Something fairly small and low in the water – was it a barrel? Florian did not call out but instead took aim with his revolver, an almost impossible shot. Which he failed! Alerted by shots but still not knowing what was happening the rest of the started scanning the surroundings. Tex did not help by erroneously believing wholeheartedly he saw something in the water which was not there at all. As he emptied his Winchester into the area Susan managed to tear her attention away from this and to where Florian was shooting. The barrel came closer and closer, and they saw another one launched into the current…

CLIFFHANGER!

Obviously there were explosives in the barrels – everyone knew this in advance. As the first one inevitably hit the front of the boat and slid down one side Florian cut his losses and dove for cover. At the same time Tex grabbed a boat hook and went to push the bomb away but needed to cross to the other side. Wilfred stopped the paddle wheel. After the earsplitting kaboom only Florian was close enough to the blast and found himself hit. Luckily it was not shrapnel but merely rocks which the exploding barrels were loaded with. Elizabeth took aim with her Springfield at the rock where the unknown ambusher was throwing barrels from. The second barrel closed in, Tex pushed it away and it went off with little effect. As the ambusher stuck out his head Elizabeth rattled his nerve with a near miss just past his nose. The next barrel was tossed blindly over the cover, and unfortunately (for him) it failed to reach the current and got stuck just on the other side. Tex started the time consuming task of reloading his lever action Winchester, Wilfred set full steam ahead again, and Florian noticed a shooter up in the ridge to the port side. Both sides exchanged fire but no hits, Florian was merely drawing attention away from Tex who aimed. As the shooter – a white man – was nailed in a thigh his three local hirelings opened up with rifles but barely even hit the water. As the white shooter howled out in pain his hirelings dropped their rifles and bolted. The third barrel went off, this time just on the far side of the ambusher’s cover. As the boat passed the rock the ambusher was seen bleeding from the ears, holding his face with both hands, and rocking back and forth. The cast went ashore and as Wilfred held up the shell shocked mercenary the rest went for the one shot in the leg. The remining bombs were defused and the dymanite added to Wilfred’s stash.
Tied up and drugged the two mercenaries were searched and interrogated as far as it was possible. They were Danish marines just arrived in Congo to work for Vermeern. Their lieutenant had dropped them off at the choke point for the ambush, and afterwards their local help were supposed to lead them to a village on the lake shore for subsequent pickup. Good luck with that. The shot up thigh was bad news, even even with an expert medic like Elizabeth to try and amputate it to save his life he did not make it. His odds were poor anyway, if not now he would most likely have suffered a long and painful death from infection.
As the village indicated was on the opposite shore of where Konrad had seen the flowers this palce was ignored. Anyway, it was likely to only lead to further ambush, shootings, and captives unable to shed more light on the matter. At the first village the Danish marine was put ashore, still drugged up and deaf from the explosion, with the cheap rifle one of his hirelings had wielded and a single shot. The cast are heroes, remember? They gave him a fighting chance to survive.
A few days of uneventful sailing led to the clearing where the flowers had been seen, except that Florian might be contracting malaria, although this was meta-knowledge. However there was only grass here! Without any botanical expertise – at all – the acst guessed the flowers had been picked about a month ago and grass grown since. Further search of the area revealed a trail starting some distance fro the clearing and leading along the tributary, up which noone ever sailed because of the M’bele tribe. Packing provisions for a handful of days the caast marched on, after a day there was a small trail leading off to one side away from the river. This was followed to yet another grass covered clearing, and after some digging a lot of seed bulbs were found in the ground, almost laid out in an equidistant pattern. This had to be the flowers, and they were obviusly planted deliberately and cultivated. There were also a lot of other seeds, and samples were taken of it all as well as the earth.
A cunning plan was executed that night as light disciplin was broken and a campfire lit to attract anybody watching the flowers clearings. As Florian sat in the circle of light to attract attention the rest lay waiting with rifles. On Elizabeth’s watch a black man was heard and spotted sneaking closer. She woke up Wilfred and Tex and took the shot, nicking him in one buttock. Florian awoke with a shock at the shot, and started to untie the string with empty tin cans he had tied to his leg – so the rest would have heard it if he had been carried off in the night. Tex rushed the clearing and ended in melee with the second native who was quite expectedly there, but a few good striked wit the rifle butt ended his will to fight. The two of them had been on their way home from a hunt, a skinned tapir and three pears were found in the jungle close by, so the third native had run home. They could not be interrogated due to lack of a language in common, but they reacted to the word M’bele – so it was gathered they were from this tribe. The tapir meat had been treated with a blueish paste, and this was linked to the flowers sought and the natives knew to use it as a preservative. The following morning they were sent off home. Florian gave them a few coins to see if they recognized money, but this was not the case. They were miffed the cast kept the tapir but did not argue the point. The cast trekked back to the lake and the boat, loaded with fresh meat.
It was obvious that the M’bele tributary was the way to go, but Captain Konrad was not too thrilled – no one ever sailed up there! Elizabeth diplomatically managed to convince him, but there were many rocks and logs clogging the outlet. The group’s civil engineer Wilfred asses the phenomenon as ‘completely and utterly natural’ and noone possessed any other knowledge to contradict him. Wilfred’s expertly laid plans to blow a passage using dynamite were put to the test as Tex volunteered to do the actual placing of it from an improvised raft. There was no sense having the limping enginer risk this kind of work when a hands-on Texan was willing. Further challenges arose when Tex fell off the raft from pushing off a treacherous rock. As he stood wait deep in muddy water a humongeous crocodile smelled a meal. While Florian was still laughing Elizabeth and Wilfred grabbed their Springfields. Tex whipped forth the trusty M1911 – a gun working perfectly fine covered in mud, thank you very much – and popped off a few rounds. While he did hit it and also hurt it noticably it only served to enrage it further at this time. Just as it rammed into Tex in order to pull him under and rend him to shreds the rifle shots rang and Elizabeth hit true. The croc was now seriously hurt and gave up. While Tex scrambled to his feet and for his dropped pistol Elizabeth followed up with a kill shot. New meat for the menu, this certainly tasked Florian’s cooking skills. Against all odds Tex recoverd his gun and finished setting up the explosives. But as Wilfred later pushed the plunger nothing happened! Checking up on things personally he found a loose connection and fixed it. Kaboom! The boat steamed up the M’bele tributary as the first steamboat ever. The river cleared up from debris almost immediately after the outlet to the lake. Wilfred maintained that the blockage had been natural.
At the end of the afternoon the boat arrived an a very old stone landing dock, covered in vines and weed. A paved road was found under more low underbrush and it was followed to a low lying clearing with a pyramid shaped temple (presumably) on a low hill in the center. Evening was closing in but the cast just needed to stick their noses inside to satisfy their curiosity. As Wilfred went back the the boat to get his pack and more importantly his helmet lamp the rest went poking inside, just part this corner…no past this one..and so on. When Wilfred returned they were already inside the central and only chamber. Tex examined a small raised platform with wooden remains of some kind of furniture. The walls were unadorned but the remains of woven tapestries were seen. Florian found a stone disc in the center of the floor, and Elizabeth tried to prevent him from fiddling with it. it was a cover of some kind, it had a hole through once the dirt was removed. By scientifically applying a falling rock Wilfred guessed the bottom of the shaft or hole was about 10 meters down. Above the disc was an iron hoop ideal for using to lift the cover with a rope. As Wilfred and Tex rigged this up Florian raced back to the boat after his pack. While they were waiting with opening the cover for his return a scream was heard from outside…

CLIFFHANGER!
Due to an act of chronological impairment by a player is was the suddenly re-appearing Khamill who faced the Cliffhanger alone in the jungle. While strolling leisurely down the path to the boat he thought he saw something in the jungle and went to investigate. Carefully he brushed away the vines entwining the tree which caught his attention…until he saw the horrific sight! While he screamed the rest of the cast ran directly to him. Behind the plants were two dead men nailed to the tree with wooden stakes. Their attire was something last seen in the 1870s but the bodies looked no more than 24 hours dead. Elizabeth investigated and the cause of death seemed to be by stabbing the abdomen with possibly a spear. their organs were crudely removed and the cavity stuffed with the blue paste made from the elusive flowers. Their gun belts were empty but the remaining rounds were stamped in 1870. They had passports naming them Baart de Weewer born in 1826 and Wouter Breeke born in 1830, both had permission to enter Congo in 1870. The blue paste had preserved them beyond imagining, including clothes and leather gear. They had presumably been covered on the outside as well but had been washed off in the meantime. Oddly enough no animals had as much as pecked at the corpses, but then again there was no abundance of animals in the area save for a few birds. The ground had few but adequate amounts of worms and bugs to process the fallen foliage.
Back in the temple the stone disc posed some trouble lifting, but the combination of Russian brawn and British engineering did the job. Down the hole was a conical chamber with human bones and no discernible exit. The air was foul but not toxic, and Tex was lowered down. More than 30 human skeletons were here, some where the bones fitted together and some widely dispersed. Some were intact and some broken, but none showed signs of cannibalism (thanks again for that idea, Susan!). The bottom of the chamber was 2-3 meters below the bottom of the hill and at the foundation Tex found some holes looking oddly deliberately made. As he peered inside something shout out at him! In a heroic act he avoided it by sheer luck, and at the end of his tumble his flashlight pointed at a huge, black cobra-like snake. “Bull’s eye” Elizabeth shot the angry serpent in half with a crack rifle shot and the chamber held no more secrets to investigate.
Back at the boat Florian started cooking the tapir recovered from the M’bele hunters a few days earlier, it was still well preserved due to the blue paste no doubt. Kamill refused to eat but instead set up the scientific gear to analyze. He knew the flower extract was supposed to suspend biological processes, but which? Apparently it could preserve flesh and even cloth, but if smeared on a wound would natural healing stop? He dared not try, nor even taste it (even though any chemist worth his salt usually did this). He set up a test of the tapir flesh with and without the paste. Also he discovered that the blue pigment was from flower pollen, which was the active ingredient, while oil from a local nut acted as binding agent.
During the night Florian heard the jungle drums and watches were doubled, he heard several other locations answering the signals. The next morning the brave cast decided to continue upstream to look for the mysterious M’bele. An empty village was found, and a path led through the river valley and up on a hill. Here a stone altar was found, and again it was Tex who found a huge snake by having it shot out of an artificial hole. On the far side of the hill was another valley along the river, and smoke was spotted as if from a village, fitting nicely with where Florian believed he had heard drums from the night before. Susan had stayed back at the boat and thought she saw several black people spying on the boat from various locations. This continued during the day while sailing.
In the afternoon banks of fog started appearing on the river and the captain slowed down. Eventually another stone pier was seen, this time with M’bele tribesmen standing on it. They were armed but did not seem threatening, and simply waved the boat on. The cast stopped the boat at a stone precipice leading to stairs up a steep hill. The tribesmen were still armed but posed no apparent threat. The stairs led nearly to the top of the hill where an opening lined with pillars was found. Deep inside they found a chamber with a throne where none other than Igor Vossen sat! He was stroking a huge black snake and was quite willing to speak with the curious cast. Years before he had met the M’bele tribe who had taken residence in the ruins of an unknown civilization which had fallen centuries before. He protected them and kept them hidden because their culture would not survive meeting the white man. He had tried to persuade Georg Baunholz to give up his research, because the discovery of the flowers’ secrets would only lead to grief for the tribe as white scientists poured in, smelling money. George was safe and sound downstairs he said. He had nothing to do with Vermeern Handel, in fact he was against them! As expected their trading post up the other tributary was nothing more than cover for their slave driven diamond mine and smuggling operation (quite as expected, and proven from the finding in the secret cellar back in town). Igor feared the Vermeern mercenaries were about to attack the M’bele and take them as slaves. He told his high status among the M’bele was due to the snakes having chosen him. So much for any ambitions Tex might have had.
He led the cast down a spiral staircase to meet George and someone named Alexander. Elizabeth called it correctly at this early stage: This was the third Belgian explorer from the 1870s expedition. Alexander told his expedition had been attacked by the M’bele and him and his two white colleagues were taken before the snake. It has hissed at the other two but reacted amiably to him. He guessed his friends had been taken off and killed. He said he ‘unfortunately’ had remained largely unchanged since 1870, but did not yet elaborate. Apparently there were significant flies in the ointment regarding this blue preservation paste. Just as he was starting to tell about the properties of the flowers, the paste, and the lost civilization gunshots rang out outside. The cast grabbed their arms and ran for the exit…

CLIFFHANGER!

Oh, by the way – suddenly Max von Beiderbecke was found to be along with the cast. No questions asked, this is CLiffhangers!
It turned out the opposition was not one to be trifled with! The Vermeern mercenaries had captured the M’Bele, black soldiers and white officers and NOCs with superior firepower. Florian went out to negotiate, but the deal was one sided. The prisoners were gathered in a circle, surrounded by soldiers with rifles. Two machine guns had been set up with overlapping arcs of fire, and the officers were in hiding behind the throne. In consequence the mercenaries left with their hostages and promised to shoot them if interfered with.
Naturally the cast decided to follow, because shooting all the slaves you need for your secret diamond mine is a bad idea. plus they’d lead the cast right to the mine. The plan was…well, there was no plan! The cast gathered their jungle gear and set to hike after the prisoner column. It would take too long to sail back down the tributary, across the lake, and up the main river, only to hike over land for an indetermined distance to find a mine they had no map óf. And how difficult could it be to follow the tracks of a dozen soldiers, two machineguns, and two dozen prisoners? Quite hard it would later seem…
The remaining M’bele said the mine was only 4 days overland hika away, and when Khamill ordered some tribesmen along as packmules they refused. They were warriors! Somehow the rest of the cast thought this meant they would not help at all. But in retrospect a few brought along as trackers would have been not only possible but also highly advisable. The cast unfortunately moved at the pace of the slowest, and this was Wilfred with his bum leg, however well trained he might be in the wilderness. The bulk of his gear was divided up among the rest to at least make sure this wasn’t slowing him down. Khamill tracked the column and this proved extremnly hard, they must have been removing their tracks behind them. Come nightfall they had not – to the confusion of them all – caught up with the comumn. The dangers of night travel were too great and camp was made. The next day did not result in cathcing up either, and the threat of an ambush became a plausible event. During the night the sentries perhaps heard someone, so the cast may very well have been under surveillance.
Many days later it became apparent that the four days hike was for fit M’bele warriors, not english mining engineers with bum legs! Eventually Khamill became observant of some tell tale traces which seemed deliberately left behind. Eother it was a ruse by the enemy, to lead the cast astray. However as the direction was still towards where the M’bele said the mine was, it was most likely M’bele prisoners signaling any trailing helpers. The guess was that the mercenaries were well aware of their incompetent tail, and had left ambusher behind only to have the cast fail to reach those points in time. And that some prisoners observed this and added what help they could.
Finally the cast reached the obvious ambush point! A stream crossed the path, not too wide but with broad expanses of swamp on the sides. A small group had trampled a path across the swampy ground over what looked like firm ground. The long ramge shooters set up along the flanks, Tex and Elizabeth to the right with Max and Wilfred to the left. The plan was to have Florian and Khamill walk the path and draw out the ambush, and have the riflemen take them out. Tex and Elizabeth walked further than their designated spot to check if part of the ambush was on their side, but found nothing. Keen observers spotted a white shooter across the stream, behind a tree close to the path. Later a small group of black soldiers was seen hiding behind a dirt mound, on the other side of the path on the far side as well. Khamill disappeared without telling any plan he had, and Florian becase increasingly torn between doing something and avoiding taking the suicidal path. It later turns out Khamill want far to the right, upstream, and crossed unobserved. Unfortunately his shotgun and revolver were not believed to be functional. He snuck closer, with only cursory knowledge of the enemy’s positions.
Florian was about to do something stupid, but as the ambushers were hiding and not (they all hoped) drawing beads on them, Tex made a pre-emptive action. He stuffed his hanky in the rifle barrel, had Elizabeth cover him, and leap-frogged across the firm patches in the swamp some 20 meters to the right of the path. Close enough for the rest to know what he was doing. He succesfully crossed the mud, leapt and waded the stream and crawled rapidly through the mud on the far side. Florian ran the path and crossed the stream witout incident.
Still nothing happened, and Tex snuck towards the mound. Luckily Khamill was closing in on the four black riflemen, because they spotted or heard the ineptly sneaking Tex. He tried to bluff and hold them up them with a revolver not likely to shoot. Florian went into melee with the white soldier, and a vicious knife versus blackjack battle ensued. Sadly for him his assailant stayed expertly in cover of a tree, denying Wilfred and Max a clear shot.
Of the four black soldiers one got too close to Khamill and they started fighting. The other three shot unsuccesfully at the rushing Tex, who dropped his rifle in favor of his M1911 – which jammed on the first shot due to the mud! Elizabeth pulverized the skull of the left hand soldier. Tex instead drew his cavalry sabre to meet the two soldiers charging with rifles wielded for beating. This melee was almsot as poor as Forian’s!
Florian was stabbed multiple times but valiantly gave the enemy a fair beating. Eventually Max had a clear shot – if only of the enemy’s hand – and let loose with the full teeth-rattling rate of fire of his BAR and shot the hadn to ribbons. Tex cut one combatant acorss the arm, and as he retreated from the fight he was shot. The other guy really managed to work poor Tex’s torso over with the rifle butt until he was vicously distaptched by a Tex barely hanging on to consciousness. Khamill all but killed his opponent with only a few punches.
Eventually the fight died down, Tex had severely bruised and broken ribs, Florian multiple stabs luckily missing his vital organs, and the single white soldier was alive but missing a hand. The prisoner readily accepted the expert medical attention of Elizabeth and willingly gave information. The cast rested until the next morning, where more of them now moved no faster than Wilfred. After another few days, led by their prisoner, they reached the valley where the mine was. A stream running down the hillside had been diverted to wash over a large area to create the open mine. There were barracks as well as an enclosure for the prisoners.

and…what the deuce else? more to come once my memory works again [Edit: It never started working again. There may or may not have been a Cliffhanger this week?!?!]

So, this session was run without me, and the summary from the other players left a lot to be desired. Tex went into the cupboard – you know, the big thing always following the party around, housing characters where their players are absent. And the prisoner mercenary who led the party to the camp somehow disappeared from the story. A focus group for the Tv network must have labeled him uninteresting.This brought no tears to the cast once they realized this.

Anyway, from what I hear the two sneaky gits Khamil and Florian snuck down to take out some guards, so pave the way for a rescue mission by the rest of the party. Whatever was upposed to happened did not go as planned and the entire cast was captured. There is said to have been some chance of turning the affair around, where Florian is a hairy situation urged Khamil to take a shot, accepting the risk of being hit by it. Khamil apparently was too chicken.
The cast were set to work in the mud and filth of the mine, unless thay had some special skills. As the camp suffered from a bout of dysentry Elizabeth was obviosly set to treating this. Khamil and Maxi fell ill. Wilfred was tasked with dynamiting a new layer off the slope in order to mine here. When asked whether they had no dynamite guy to begin with, the answer was: “Oh, he’s around…here, here, and also over there!”
Florian refused to try anything regarding escape, as he was miffed his plans were always dismissed, criticized, or failed to be excecuted succesfully. As he was locked up behind barbed wire and under constant gunpoint he reckoned it was the outside group who had the responsibility of an escape plan. Wilfred was setting dymanite charges when a sudden landslide threatened the workforce at the mining area, including many guards and also Florian.

CLIFFHANGER

At the next session Susan’s and Tex’ players entered the stage again, and Max, Khamil, and Wilfred entered the cupboard. As a woman Susan could not be forces to do hard labour in the mud, and with Italian roots she was naturally sent to the kitchen. Tex took over from Wilfred’s dynamiting project, so it was he who yelled a warning to the workcrew. Florian siezed initiative and ran for the jungle, a single guard gave chase while the rest got hammered by tons of mud. As the survivors were dug out Florian jumped and beat up his pursuer. Disguised a a guard and armed with only a revolver he observed the camp to wait for an opportunity. It might be that he did not in fact wait for the outside group’s plan, or he might have interpreted the landslide as a deliberate opening. In any case this event started a chain of events leading to…mayhem!
Once the survivors were taken back to camp the camp’s two officers – Jaan and Emil, subsequently refered to as Laurel & Hardy, due to obvious physical resemblances – sent out a patrol with one white and five black to hunt the escaped Florian down. The sick Maxi was taken to a room in the one cabin, along with Elizabeth, Susan, and Tex. They were told. “No funny business!”. This request was naturally not granted, and the three of them cooked up a ruse. Yes, a ruse! This is the roaring 20s – the heyday for ruses.
Elizabeth called out to a guard saying she needed medical supplies as Maxi had taken a turn for the worse. The guard told them to get away from the door and then opened it but stayed in the hallway with his revolver drawn. He was focused on Tex who crouched at maxi’s side erroneously believing him to be the most dangerous element. So Susan opened the ball andused her relatively newfound martial arts to beat him silly. Tex dove out into the hallway and grabbed the guard’s dropped gun. As he drew the hammer he spotted the second guard aiming, and risked a snap shot. Bang! The bullet hit the hip for maximum damage, ripping the poor man’s femural artery.
Tossing the second gun to Susan Tex kept the momentum op and peeped out toward the other cabin. A shot hit the wall and he consequently stormed the new opponent, with Susan at his heels and the unarmed Elizabeth bringing up the rear. The guard withdrew from the doorway, Tex dove inside the large common room while Susan sliced the pie. As Tex ended his roll prone on his back he faced the goard across the room, hiding by the door. Both sent shots flying but none hit true. Susan had the perfect angle to brain with a contact shot him but calmly pacified him with a barrel touched to his temple. And thus saving Tex’ bacon. His gun was droppd and kicked towards Tex, Elizabeth moved inside towards the gun. Tex got up to go down the hallway.
And this was when the second guard chose to enter from the hallway and blast away, narrowly missing Tex. Tex on the other hand saw fit to jam his revolver! The guard withdrew to the hallway before Susan or Elizabeth could draw a bead on him. Texes rushed in pursuit and as the guard had stopped just out of sight Tex slammed his wiry Texan frame into him and knocked him onto his back. Inside the furthest two rooms Laurel and Hardy were apprehended with little drama.
Armed with a rifle Elizabeth went to cover Tex as he tried reasoning with the remaining white soldier, perched in his guard tower with a machinegun trained on the cabin. Hans as he was called was not fully responsive to demands of surrender and shot a warning salvo across the threshold. Elizabeth stepped to a window and aimed, and as Hans trained the gun on her she confidently blasted his heart ond a foot of his spine out his back. Tex shouted in French to the remeining black soldiers – two in each tower – to take to the hills and be spared. They cleverly obliged.
As Tex hoisted a white flag of parley he went down hill to attact the attention of the remaining jungle patrol. Florian had been watching the machinegun event and joined Tex for the negotiations. The white soldier agreed to calmly take his survging comrades and never return again, his only demand was that the did not ahve to ever face Laurel and Hardy again. thi was easily accomodated and the surviving soldiers were given provisions and told to law low for five days in order for the cast to get to Leopoldville and deal with Vermeern handel before they came through.
The mine was sabotaged by forcing another landslide, the guard towers were leveled, and the encampment’s guns were gathered and had firing pins removed to a small bag. Susan found the camp’s swag of diamonds while Elizabeth made sure the sick and injured could be taken care of by the fitter slaves now freed. Maxi was doused with the blue paste and his condition did not worsen on the ensuing jungle trek. A few M’bele acted as guides to take the cast along with Laurel and Hardy to the M’bele temple and Igor Vossen to face the music.
Igor accepted the cast’s promise of secrecy, Georg Baunholz gathered specimens and was brought home with them. Alexander – the unaging Belgian – chose to stay. The rest of they journey to Leopoldville was by boat with the anxiously waiting Captain Konrad. As they reached the great lake the effects of the blue paste wore off, same was true for Khamil’s controlled experiments. Maybe the blue paste did not work outside the local area? That would be Georg Baunholz’s problem though! Maxi recovered nicely from his illness on the relaxing boat ride, and Tex and Florian’s wounds also managed to heal.
In Leopoldville the cast booked tickets for the train the next mid-morning to go to the ocean, and debated whether to blow up Vermeern Handel’s building. However it was dismissed as too risky since no train would leave after such a disaster, plus the cast were the obvious suspects. Also, however crooked Drier Merzen might be, gunning down an elderly missionary could seem socially unacceptable.
Luckily things were decided for the cast during the night. Expecting trouble they has set a watch, and Susan on third watch noticed a lurker. She gave chase, and soon after Elizabeth, Texand Florian followed. It was only a local boy paid by Merzen to see how many they were. The cast were told Merzen har five armed men, and they went back to the hotel to load up. Inside the bar room in the dark they were alerted halfway across by the cock of a hammer and a voice ordering them to stop. Tex shone his light at the gunman, only to hear four more guns cocked. Tex took first shot and hit his illuminated target squarely. The remining four gunmen opened up and barely missed. Susan went prone with her gun out, Elizabeth flipped a table for cover, and Florian rushed the bar counter. Tex tossed his light towards the gunmen and went for the wall, where his target had fallen. In an instant the cone of light showed Florian an opponent at the bar and gave Susan a target. Susan missed her shot, rolled away in instant before her tagret dove for her. Elizabeth returned fire but her gun jammed. Florian shone his light at the face of his opponent and grappling ensued. Elizabeth risked tossing her defunct gun into this melee but failed to hurt Florian’s opponent. Tex and the gunman he expected in front of him, near the wall, bumped double-blindly into each other. Fists went flying, at first Tex pistol whipped the guy right in the kisser but not hard enough. He was consequently punched in the gut end sent reeling. Susan tried repeatedly to pistol whip her gunman, and eventually took him out with a close range shot. While the tide shifted back and forth between Florian and his opponent Elizabeth jumped the bar to kick the goon but again failed to hit hard enough. Just before her infamous knee-to-the-groin was initiated a gun was cocked close to her head from her blind side…

CLIFFHANGER!

And next week: The conclusion!

And now: The Exciting conclusion!

So, things were looking pear shaped. Elizabeth with a gun to her head wisely chose to put her hands up. Florian let to of his opponent, and the two goons made for the exit using Elizabeth as a shield. Tex came to his senses but had lost his gun. Susan was ready to shoot, but had to target. As the goons made it to the door they pushed Elizabeth away and bolted. Quickly scooping up flashlights and guns the entire cast gave chase. Florian was first man out and took a shot to the arm as the goons covered their retreat. They disappeared behind a corner. Tex rounded the same corner and took aim as soon as he saw a target, while Susan took the wide circle. Bang! Another lucky shot from Tex shot the goon dead. Rounding the next corner Susan expected retaliatory fire and took defensive precautions. Her dive gracefullytook her out of the line of fire. Tex on the other hand crudely shoulder-slammed the man before he had time for a good shot. On his back and shaken he obliged the guns pointed to his head and gave up.
Regrouping the cast learned that Drier Merzen had sent first the local boy as distraction and then the grouo of goons to shoot then and recover the diamonds. He still has four armed men at the house. Time was of the essence, as the heavy gunplay begun drawing in vigilantes with rifles of their own so the cast skipped getting their own heavy guns and simply sprinted for Vermeern Handel’s compound. As they charges across the open space the upepr story windows were shattered from the inside and riflemen took positions. But before they got a shot off the cast took cover at the walls outide a good line of fire before going inside. Tex shattered the lock with a few rounds. Again Florian was first man in, he kicked the door open and leapt inside and dodged bullets like there was no tomorrow. One shooter to the left was engaged by Susan, the other at the top of the stairs by Elizabeth while Florian got to his feet again. Keeping the pace going Tex cleared the right hand side of the house backed up by Elizabeth while Susan kept the left side covered and Florian had the stairs. As two riflemen appeared at the top of the landing Florian wisely took shelter under the stairs. Tex and Elizabeth were drawn to the sound of rifle shots. Heavy return fire pacified the riflemen.
Simultaneously the slghtly recovered Maxi snuck in and held up the guards in the yard and met up with Susan at the back door. With Susan and Maxi holding the downstairs Elizabeth, Florian, and Tex cleared the upstairs rooms. Tex dived into Drier Merzen’s study and his line of fire but avoided the bullet. Elizabeth returned fire but luckily (or sadly?) Drier managed to take cover under the desk. He was quickly held up and the rest of the house declared safe.
The negotiations now begun. As before, the wanton excecution of an old missionary was out of the question for various reasons. The more practical one was that leaving Congo would be impossible, especially with the diamonds. Merzen admittet defeat and said his business was closed down now. Before the constabulary arrived on scene a cock-and-bull story was cooked up, to the (relative) satisfaction of all:
Drier Merzen’s mercenaries had gotten their hands on contraband diamonds and a fight erupted over them, starting down at the hotel where the cast coincidentally were staying. One side wanted to kill Merzen and smuggle the stones out, while the minority remained loyal. A gunfight erupted and the cast intervened. They quickly made for Merzen’s compound to avoid further bloodshed and helped him and his few loyal men survive. The side of righteousness prevailed, and concidentally all the dead men were the villain and the few surviving, wounded ones were loyal men. These few readily backed this story up, as they were supplied with a severance package by Merzen. The constable “confiscated” the diamons the fight had been over, and a supplemental wad of cash later he concluded his investigation and accepted the given statements. Provided Merzen, the cast, and all surviving mercenaries were on the morning train to the coast and never returned again.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, it was a quiet train ride to the coast as the cast no longer had any rivals or enemies. Merzen made sure the luggage was not searched in earnest so the cast made it out with a bag full of diamonds. Sadly they are contraband all over the world, and if they are ever to make use of them some srious black market trading is needed. Back is Bruxelles the Lady Baunholz was thrilled to have her son back in one piece, and the cast recieved a handsome reward easily covering their expenses fopr the trip plus granting them a fair incoem to live off. Georg Baunholz was subsequently disappointed that his plant sampled could not grow at all, a thing the cast suspected all along.

And thus concludes THE DIAMONDS OF THE DARK CONGO!
What exotic locations and exciting adventures will the cast experience next?
Follow us next week on CLIFFHANGERS!

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