The group take a dhow down the coast to Mersa Fatma – resting and recuperating. The coast passing gently by became more desert like as they sailed south, the temperature rising.
Mersa Fatma was a small collection of huts around a large warehouse and building complex. A concrete pier jutted into the Red Sea. Disembarking, they searched for a guide and were recommended to Jerome, older dock worker.
While he booked them into the only local hotel, Phipps headed off to investigate the train tracks he spotted at the docks. They lead into a large modern warehouse and admin office complex, with CMC emblazoned on it. It looked mostly deserted, but speaking to a local on the front steps, Phipps was invited up to speak to Signore Segni, the CMC administrator.
The admin building was deserted, except on the top floor, Phipps found a large family living, and Signore Segni. Phipps flattered the train and Segni warmed noticeably, offering him access to the locomotive if he can get it running. Sinhue showed an excited Phipps to Magazine Cinquo, where a heavily built locomotive sat covered in dust.
The others were sitting out the heat of the day talking with Jerome. He explained that the rail line was 50 miles long to Iron Point, Kolluli village and the small Dallol village. Fox can see from the terrain that this is a volcanic area.
The next morning Fox crawled over the locomotive and got it fired up. With a screech he drove it out of the warehouse, stopping on the tracks leading out of the town, facing the open desert. Over the morning they sourced supplies, tents and argued about whether to go by train, camel or take camels on the train.
In the end they set off by train in the mid-afternoon without camels. The landscape outside Mersa Fatma was empty and hot, scarred by strange chemical pools and encrustations. Fox battled mechanical trouble with the train, and they made progress until sunset then camped for the night. Dawn came and more mechanical troubles meant they didn’t start early, but by midday they arrived with a bump at the end terminus, Iron Point. Villagers and kids from Kolluli came over to see the new arrivals.
Jerome is known here, and he introduced the team, who were accepted and brought to the collections of huts for water and food. Over conversation both sides gradually open up about their experiences, and the mouth. Jerome and two of the matriarchs turn out to be Guardians, an ancient order who defeated a mouth, they call the Eating Pit, in ancient times, and somehow caused the volcano in 1926.
They obviously knew Ayers, and indicated he was still alive, somewhere in the deep desert. They advised against hunting him. From their conversation it was clear that through control of one’s desires one could resist a mouth, but the level of commitment seemed steep, and only Kent considered it.
After a restful night, they headed for the mountain on Kolluli camels. At the low ancient volcano, and the small newer eruption site nearby, they discovered a cairn to the people killed in the eruption, and bits of tools and teeth. Martin found the teeth were an odd mix, fossilized. Fox studied the terrain, it was clearly a typical volcanic site, nothing obviously supernatural, however he also noticed a figure watching them from a distance. Using binoculars they saw a native, on a camel, watching them back through binoculars. The heat haze made any identification difficult.
After a while the figure had gone, and they headed into the deep desert hunting Ayers. After a day searching oasis, a lone figure appeared on an outcrop, sun behind him.
Approaching him, they saw he was skin and bones, but with a calcified mouth in his stomach.
Eventually he managed to speak and they managed to ask “Are you Ayers?”
“Yes.” he croaked.