It’s been a couple of days since my last report, I’m told, and considering that I haven’t heard from you in the meantime, I can only assume that the Manhattan Protocols have been enacted. I hope that you and Denise are well, and look forward to hearing from you soon. And if the worst has happened… God rest your souls, wherever they may have been flung.
Much has happened since I last reported in from Melmoth Memorial. I’m writing to you from there once again, however, this time from my own hospital bed. They tell me, in fact, that I never left, though the evidence of my senses suggests otherwise. I’m not sure how much I can trust those at this moment, however; I’m afraid that events are a bit of a jumble in my head, and I’m not yet entirely clear on what’s been happening outside it in the meantime. The Sheriff tells me “not much,” but I’ll want to speak with John Cheveyo to ensure the same is true on the Mountain.
But now I’m speaking in riddles. Let me back up to before the hospital experience, and bring you up-to-date. I believe I left the story off with John Cheveyo and myself in the kitchen of the Opa Lodge, where he determined that I had faced and shot a Nukpana in my dreams. From there, we continued up the Mountain to investigate a second murder, this one a double homicide. We went as far as we could in the jeep, and continued on foot. The new murder victims were very near where Chris Phillips’ body had been found, up pretty high, but not so high that we needed climbing gear. The paths were steep, but they were there. I looked down and saw Lake Mammedaty shimmering below us, just like in my dream. I looked up, however, and saw no door in the mountain.
I chose not to mention it, and our talk turned to the victims. They were Alo, Cheveyo told me, a couple of teenagers who hadn’t yet been identified. Normally, anyone on the Mountain would know them on sight, but apparently that wasn’t an option with the shape the bodies were in. The best his men had been able to do was tell him that, once again, one of the bodies was male, the other female. And that the female had taken the brunt of the violence.
When we arrived at the scene, we were met by the two Rangers who’d discovered the victims. One was a very serious new recruit named Luke Pallaton, and the other was Mark Hototo, a cheerful round-faced man who serves as Cheveyo’s second-in-command. He was singing when we arrived, a jaunty tune with something of a martial beat. Pallaton solemnly beat out accompaniment on a metal bucket.
Cheveyo called up the hill to him. “Hototo! You singing them off before our dowser gets a crack at them?”
Hototo stopped and looked down at our approach. “They already gone, Pappy. I’m just providing a little rhythm for their walk.”
“Go ahead,” I said. “The bodies are just meat. If their spirits left a mark, it’ll be on the land.”
Hototo raised an eyebrow. “Damn, Pappy. You didn’t tell me you found a shaman out there.”
I smiled. “Hardly that. Just a man who knows how to use the proper tools.”
“That’s a shaman around here,” Cheveyo put in. He gestured to two nearby figures covered with sheets. “Coroner’s gonna be pissed off at you covering the bodies.”
Hototo shrugged. “Let him. It’s my mountain, not his.”
“C’mon, Pappy. I’m joking. The buzzards were circling. And you know as well as I do that there’s worse things than buzzards on the Wambli Waste.”
That piqued my interest. “Wambli Waste?”
“It means ‘Good Eagle.’” Pallaton stood up from his vigil over the bucket. Dark-eyed and taciturn, he gestured up the hill. “Because only an eagle could mount the peak, and only a good one could survive what he found there.”
Hototo smirked. “Of course, these days we call it that because nothing will grow on this side of the Mountain.” He deepened his voice. “Heap big joke on white man’s words.”
I ignored him, looking instead at Pallaton. “And what might the eagle find at the peak?”
Pallaton looked to Cheveyo with one eyebrow raised. Cheveyo nodded. “Go ahead.”
“He’d find Ahtunowhiho to assault his spirit. He’d find Chepi to assault his body. He’d find horror and helplessness, madness and grief. And unless he was a very good eagle indeed, he’d find his death.”
I turned and pointed down at the lake. “And what would he find down there?”
Pallaton’s eyes narrowed. “On a good day? If he was very lucky, and the wind was blowing his way? He might find salvation.”
“The Wanageeska are whimsical, at best,” Cheveyo said.
I nodded. “Then if I see my tiny bird-faced man again, I’ll have to thank him for taking an interest.”
Hototo threw back his head and laughed, like something out of myth. “A shaman, and touched by the White Mirror World! Who the hell are you?”
I extended a hand. “Clint Matthews,” I said. “Secret Agent X-23. Pleased to meet you.”
A terrible breach of protocol to reveal my call letters, I realize. But I was caught up in the moment.
And I’m afraid we’ll have to pick it up from there next time, sir. The doctor has arrived for one final check of my motor functions before he releases me. It seems I had a seizure in Alexandra Melmoth’s room two nights back, and they’re concerned that there may have been neural damage.
– Agent X-23, signing off.