AGHARTA Artisan Shaving Soap | Ultra Premium CK-6 Formula | 5 Oz
Finally, AGHARTA in our Ultra Premium Formula CK-6!
First and foremost, for those who just want the straight notes of AGHARTA, behold: Talc, Ambergris, Amyris, French Vanilla Bean, Japanese Sandalwood, Cedar and Oak Moss.
[Our Story Begins Below]
Now for those who are fans of our trilogy soaps, this is for you! Read on...
This my friends has been a long time coming, AGHARTA. The final installment of our recent trilogy and what an adventure it's been. For those that follow what we do here, you know PAA is more than about just shaving, but about an experience. Maybe a shave happening in our own unique PAA universe or your own shave realm/dreamscape pieced together by stimulating all the senses. I hope that opening up a new jar of our suds or aftershave is like walking into a movie theater as the lights begin to dim, or discovering lost treasure, or listening to a vinyl record and following along with the liner notes. I know it is for me!
Soapmaking for me doesn't just end when the soap is cured. There's the story, the label design, the photos and artwork chosen to tell the tale, the research, the scent research and how they work with each other, the dry erase board, the clippings, sometimes even the travel. (Remember I'm the guy who drove to Roswell, New Mexico just to release a soap!)
This approach, if you want to call it that, seems to confuse some, especially those that really are not paying attention. They see maybe bits and pieces, flashes and confuse it for something that it's not. With their mouths always full with critique they really never have a chance to hear what's being said. Which often says more about them than us. Often I am reminded of Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott, where the denizens of Flatland are so fast to demonize, fear or despise something so quickly without understanding what they are actually seeing, ho hum.
If it was all just about money, I would just make soap and save myself some heartache. This is what we do, maybe it's a tad eccentric, maybe it's art, but it certainly drives me day in and out and I am very grateful to be able to do what I do; pouring all my interests and passions into one cup. I wish that everyone could sip from a similar cup! So thank you again to those that "get it" and have stuck with us...But I digress.
The AGHARTA Trilogy, AKA: The Shaver Mystery is what I believe to be our most epic yet! Not only do all three soaps thematically work in unison to tell pieces of the ongoing saga, but the scents are also interchangeable! Meaning, they compliment each other opening up a truly creative mix and match experience! So get creative with them in your daily combinations!
Now for a little background. I am a huge fan of adventure, fantasy and sci-fi...I geek out to it, hard. The more obscure the better. One of my favorite authors and not too well known to most is Richard Sharp Shaver. What's in a name? The man was either a genius or completely out of his mind! I was first introduced to him in my early teens by my best friends older brother. (Who would have guessed I would be a Sharp Shaver myself some day. There is no such thing as coincidence.)
His outrageous and sometimes perverse tales of the inner earth colored my adolescent mind and probably not for the better. The fantastical worlds he created were a well spring of endless possibility. What made these stories all the richer (pun intended) was that he believed them to be true!
I won't take up space with a bio on Mr Shaver but I encourage you all to look him up, absolute madness of the wunder kind! So I refer to this trilogy as The Shaver Mystery in an homage and in hopes of at least one person "getting it"...but not holding my breath! :)
That said, that was my introduction to the concept of the hollow earth. From that point on it was always of interest to me be it fiction or theory, i ate it all up and continue to do so finding new material on the subject or revisiting the classics. Note, I am not admitting to subscribe to such a belief but in reverie I do often entertain the possibilities.
Up until this point, the trilogy has only really been cryptically told in images and prosaic fragments from the prior 2 releases: High Jump 47 and Strange Island. If you are just tuning in, I suggest you read those two sales pages first and in order. Please approach them with a willing suspension of disbelief. Maybe fill in the blanks with your own whimsical additions.
Heck, you could even go back to last years Harvest Moon Trilogy and start there! That was Dixie, The WOW Signal and finally Harvest Moon. Steeplechase was also an offshoot of the story as was Ciderhouse 5, supplemental if you will. Much like Cold Spices is a supplemental part of this trilogy. Most of my labels are telling some kind of tale and are created for those with eyes to see, sort to speak. I consider them pillars holding up the PAA Universe.
But I digress yet again, pardon.
Now we get to AGHARTA, the journey is over. Up until this point AGHARTA too was propelled by visual snippets and lyrical fragments but from here on in I subconsciously, it would seem, decided to take a more traditional approach, a scent description that accidentally turned into possibly a novella. Sigh, this is so typical for me, nothing is ever simple.
I really did just set out to write, I swear, another fragmental description of the scent and the scene. This was around 7 o'clock pm last night and lasted till about 10 pm. I awoke today and was back at it sporadically throughout the day.
I really wanted folks to be able to climb into the story with me and see what I was seeing when pushing and pulling at all these things and concepts; conspiracy, scent; painting with smell, mystery, soapmaking, adventure, label and artwork design, Douglas Smythe, and all that jazz. I really owe it to the lot of you that have been patient enough to play/follow along and even do some digging yourselves, bravo!
There is a whole wacky world out there still and I do belief there is much more to be discovered under our oceans, on land, deep in the jungles, in my labels (!) and as you may have guessed by now, underneath our feet! I want you to keep that excitement you feel welling up inside you as you read these words, it's infectious and should be shared and applied to your everyday life, it's okay to be a grown up kid and it's ok to geek out on soap, you already know that much. Be kind to each other and now lets begin our race of Good vs Evil, shall we?
SPECIAL THANKS to the staff and rangers of Kartchner Caverns, AZ! I can only imagine what you were thinking when we barged in dressed for a journey to the center of the earth!
May 2016 - Deep Underground
Douglas woke up kicking and screaming in cold sweats, nearly rolling himself out of his makeshift tent. Another hauntingly real nightmare that faded just as fast as it came on. In vain he tried to grasp at the fleeting images that playfully flitted in the dim atmosphere around his bed roll. In his dream they were being pursued, for what he did not know and by whom he could not see? No one could possibly know they were here.
Looking around at the darkness that engulfed him and his small, sleeping band of "would be" explorers. Would be meaning: if they weren't lost they would be exploring. It had already been over a month now of trekking through these mysterious ancient tunnels, getting nowhere, and almost a year since this whole misadventure began...and how did it begin?
April 20, 2015
Home after 3 weeks of traveling for work he could finally sit down, just sit, nothing more except, maybe stare at nothing, completely zone out. Maybe gaze at a door knob for a few hours, anything as long as it was mindless and un-thought-provoking.
It had been go, go, go since the moment he boarded the plane out of Phoenix, nonstop wet shaving action! But now he needed to process it all, call his family, make a quick meal, unpack, pour himself a much needed drink and maybe pay some bills. Motivated by that last thought, he picked through the pile of mail that was spilling out of the drop slot of his front door in an arch; suspended animation. He should have had the post office hold it for him. He made a mental note for next time.
There were a few women's catalogs for Fran, loads of junk mail for both of them and some random letters. Douglas Smythe was a huge fan of a good old fashioned handwritten letter, though his handwriting, if you could even define it as such, was that of a 3rd grader’s, simply put, atrocious. He knew this and it seemed not to bother him, if it did, he never let on. It did bother a few of his "pen pals" however but being who they are, kind, they never mentioned it.
He separated the junk from the obvious epistolaries and headed towards the kitchen to have a bowl of cereal. Over this sad little dinner he picked through the letters and began to place them in the order he would read them in. He discovered among them six that did not contain return addresses and in a script he did not recognize, possibly written in pen and ink?
Typically he would insert his prized antique letter opener into the upper right corner of the flap and slice the envelope open, but he was not at his desk. He could get up and improvise with a butter knife, but moving more than he had to was out of the question. So uncharacteristically, he gently peeled open the letter as one does when given a wrapped gift by a stranger or a new friend, so as not to come off like the impatient beast we all are. The envelope seemed very old and opened quite easily. Inside were two pages folded twice and yellowed with age, they looked to have been torn from a diary.
"What the hell?" Doug said out loud becoming interested.
Confused he turned the envelope over again and checked the date stamp, 1947, “Right” he thought. Underneath the faded ink, a single 15 cent Airmail stamp was affixed to the corner. It didn't make sense. He then delicately unfolded the brittle pages and began to read what appeared to be journal entries from one Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Each envelope contained more of the journal entries, entries that seemed to border on the incoherent ramblings of a man gone mad! When Doug was done reading and rereading the journal he looked at the clock, it was now 1:46 am.
"Damn, I wanted to be in bed and in a deep coma by now." he mumbled scoldingly, and then, poured himself a drink.
But he suspected he was onto something big and digging into the details while physically and mentally exhausting, was always worth it, and maybe added a little more woo woo to it all, at least at this hour. The entries not only described a strange ancient world seemingly beneath our very feet but also referenced a map. A map that contained detailed instructions, and locations of entrance ways all over the globe, but most importantly, a direct route to the mythical, inner earth city of AGHARTA. Of course, there was no map included.
Had to be a joke he thought. He finished his gin and tonic and then with a sly smirk, he mixed another and stirred it with his finger. Fran, his girlfriend and partner in crime, had been away visiting with some old college friends on the East Coast. It suddenly became clear they were obviously playing some sort of trick on him, and in his, by now, over exhausted state, had been sucked into their clever prank. She would be home in a few days and he would confront her then. For now, he reinserted the silly, probably tea stained parchments, back into their rightful envelopes. In doing so he noticed something odd. A strange pattern on the inside of the enclosure.
After carefully prying it open and flattening the false envelope on the table, it was clear this was a portion of an antiquated, hand drawn map. In a few minutes and with great anticipation, he laid all six pieces out before him on the coffee table. It was a puzzle! He hated puzzles, ever since he was little. He always felt like he was putting together something that someone else took apart. Cleaning up someone else's mess never appealed to him. But this time it was different, he was part of something, seeing something through, part of an epic tale that was still being told. Besides, it was only six pieces, hard to screw up.
"Damn it, where'd I put the scotch tape?"
* * *
Almost 12 months later Douglas and a rather skeptical Fran were making their way around the Superstition Mountains, East of Phoenix, Arizona. A truly spooky place and home to the myth of The Lost Dutchman's Mine or so the story goes. Not as well known, Geronimo was said to have secret subterranean tunnels in and all around this place also. Tunnels that crisscrossed over into Mexico as well as other nearby states. Apaches would be seen in the Superstitions one minute and then suddenly, they’d disappear only then to re-surface a day later and miles or even states away! At the time this was considered great magic but over the years it came down that this was done through access to ancient tunnel systems that had been in place long before the Native Americans discovered them and put them to use confounding the white man.
With map in hand, Douglas and Fran found the entrance to what the Hopi called the underworld, home to the Ant People and what Admiral Byrd referred to as the Inner Earth. Rather than an immediate great expanse it was more of a corridor between two worlds and it would seem they had many, many miles to go.
* * *
April 20, 1935
A world away and many years before in Berlin, Maria Orsic head medium of the newly reestablished Vril Society stares out the window of the grand dining room of a Gothic era manor. The Vril Society combined ancient pagan and Eastern religion with modern occult and Nazi ideology. As in the days of old when great leaders and common folk would travel many miles to consult the oracles of Delphi so were the mediums of the Vril society used. But unlike in those days of old the common volk or people, were not welcome.
Many high ranking members of the Nazi party were secretly passing in and out of the doors of this new/old black church. The mediums used were all women with long, natural hair, unlike the popular short style of the time. It was believed the length of the hair functioned like a cosmic or psychic antenna. Antennae that would aid them in communication with the dead, the unborn and even aliens. Being the head seer Maria Orsic had it good, to a certain extent, in fact once removed, she was running the country. Aside from the most powerful woman in Germany she was also considered possibly, the most beautiful, a fact she knew well and put to good use.
Born on Hallow's Eve
Ever since she was a young girl she knew she was different, she learned very quickly that she could see and feel things few others could. She had very few friends growing up her own age, those that were, were often ghosts from other times and usually, other places. She was also a rather bright girl and this was recognized in her by a new teacher from her village that took a special interest in her. He was a very worldly man who wore a red moustache and was rumored to practice alchemy by the old women of the town. He went by the name Herr Germain.
Even when she was off to study at university, a great privilege for a woman back then, especially of such common stock, Herr Germain kept her under his tutelage visiting her at night with sacred texts. As tradition would dictate, these occult lessons lasted only as long as a candle would burn. However soon was gone the curious little girl trying to control the strange unruly forces that flowed through her. She had become by now, a cold, cunning, beautiful and ambitious young woman. She seemed to favor dabbling more on the darker side of the craft than on the light. So much so, even Herr Germaine felt uncomfortable around her. It would seem he had created a monster, and with this in his mind he confronted her one evening before her studies.
No one really knows what happened to the mystical scholar after that night. Maybe he left the city, maybe he took flight, but he was gone and she was now unstoppable.
Like a shooting star she shot in and out of certain influential social and political circles...she had a gift. She was of great use to many of the rich and powerful around Austria and Germany. When is the best day to travel? Who do the stars recommend I marry? When do I sell? When do I buy? When do we overthrow the standing government? When do we ring in the new vision? She was very successful in the "advice" she administered.
In many an ancient manuscript she would see the word Vril, an easy to overlook word that sounded nonsensical to most, but magical to those with ears to hear. The first time she heard the word Vril was in a conversation at a party in Vienna. A young, driven man with a hacking cough and a dark look in his eyes brought it up. He was speaking of a book he had read not long before, The Coming Race. Fantastic stuff, pure science fiction and easy to forget, but she didn't (and nor did he).
Now 8 years later she was running and shaping the Vril Society, not to mention the destiny of the country. Vril was real, Vril was obtainable, Vril would mean endless power for her and the fatherland. The Spear of Destiny was already in their possession and other powerful relics were being discovered around the world everyday by their stormtroopers. But if they could attain Vril, and if the legends were true, she could amplify her powers by 10 fold. She knew where it was, AGHARTA, but getting to the fabled land was proving much more of a task than the Great Mistress Orsic was used to.
Then one day while scrying she saw a foggy figure in a pith helmet, mispronouncing German words and waving a map. Who was this and from what time was he from? He was clearly American she could tell that much by the body language even before he spoke a lick of his native tongue. But anymore detail was vague and fading fast. The practice of scrying or looking into a mirror, bowl of water, or pretty much anything reflective, was not an exact science and a lot was left to interpretation, unless you really knew what to look for. Before long the scene before her dissipated but she would try to revisit this specter again later and learn more when her head was clearer. This was the closest she had come to obtaining what in her mind was her magical birthright. Her whole life up until now had been just preparation for the journey she knew she was about to embark upon.
* * *
It had been days of endless hiking and snacking in between meals for Fran and Doug. The caverns were truly an archeologists dream; cave art from all throughout the ages adorned the walls and relics and ruins of all kinds and from all cultures littered their path. It was always exciting to stumble upon something new and always a bit freaky and less inspiring to stumble upon the skeletal remains of others who had made their way into the tunnels before them. They would wonder out loud what their stories were and how they came to their eventual end.
During one of these "wonderings" Douglas was interrupted by a low scratchy moan, which he assumed at first was Fran's stomach signaling lunch time, lunch was important stuff. But judging by the concerned look on her face he quickly realized it came from up ahead.
They both raked their flashlights across the cavern, wielding them like light sabers. "I think it came from up above, from that overhanging ledge!" Fran whispered as gravel fell down on them like rain.
Before Douglas could get a word in or crack a joke, it was on top of him. It seemed like all hands; frantically poking and grabbing, not for Doug's side arm but for his canteen. Water bottle in hand and a push from Doug the it sprang back wildly and began to chug. Soon the thing began gasping and making sounds, making words, stringing them together into sentences and gasping some more. Unfortunately these words were not in English, but Fran soon figured them to be German or a similar dialect.
"It's a man!" Doug blurted out, followed by a softer; "duh." to himself.
Indeed it was a man, a wild man in a rather improvised outfit of this and that, with a great beard and long, stringy red hair. He didn't smell bad but he didn't smell good either. Douglas searched through his backpack for a granola bar and his German language book. With flashlight in mouth he skimmed the pages briskly. Knowing that this trip would take them all over and under the world he brought a small stack of different language primers and split them up between both of their packs. At the time, Fran complained about the extra weight but now she seemed more than grateful for the extra 25 pounds of books and snacks he and she had been lugging around.
First off, German was not Doug's language. It did not come natural to him as such was the case with Spanish. But he tried.
"Wer und was hubschrauber waren Ihre welpen geboren am?" For emphasis and to drive his introduction home, he waved a scotch taped map in front of the stranger and tapped his chest. The man looked at Douglas blankly. Fran looked on painfully and hoped for the best, giving Doug a supportive thumbs up.
"Let's try this again, Mein gynäkologe ist eine schwindlig..." Douglas stammered looking up and feeling pretty sure of himself handing the wild man a granola bar, then continued; “…schwester und getränke wie ein toaster" This did not have the effect he was hoping for, but it did have an effect.
"Great, just great, I hope what you're on wasn't in the water!" said the man with a light hint of a German accent, dropping the snack and putting his finger in his mouth touching the back of is throat and forcing himself to gag. With a pang of loss, Doug’s eyes followed the granola bar as it fell to the ground. Both Fran and Douglas exhaled and looked at each other relieved and somewhat hungry.
And then there were 3.
* * *
It turns out the man was far from wild, in fact, he was quite cultured and very well spoken. Once he caught his breath and realized they were not trying to drug him, he introduced himself as Aldous and apologized for his rudeness. He had been wandering the caverns without a torch for weeks now, surviving on grubs and giant toadstools whenever he stumbled upon them.The only real thing he could recall, and it was much less a real thing and more like just a made up, silly word, was Vril and it was very important that he locate it. He also considered the possible fact that this was a delusion due to a healthy portion of those curious, giant cave mushrooms that made up most of his diet. But yet still, a small part of himself couldn't dismiss it so easily.
* * *
The more research Maria did the more intel on this stranger from the future she procured. It also turned out that 12 years from now a US Admiral, ironically with the last name Byrd, would accidentally fly into AGHARTA. It is this Admiral that apparently had the foresight and ability to send the map to a one Mr. Douglas Smythe almost 70 years into the future. But why? Her information was still piecemeal and thin but it looked as though this odd looking man in a pith helmet was nothing more than an eccentric soapmaker from the future. It made no sense.
* * *
As the days past, Aldous became more coherent and was actually quite fun to have around. From what he could remember and from what Fran and Doug could piece together, Aldous had been bumbling around down here in the dark for a lot longer than a few weeks, and possibly ages! What a brilliant mind however, he knew everything about everything, a Jack of all trades, master of all! He knew all about the process of making soap and perfuming, was old hat to him.
After awhile both Fran and Doug felt they could contribute nothing of interest to the ongoing orations and just let the man ramble on as they walked. It was much like listening to an audio book on a long trip, so much so, each was hesitant to "pull over to a rest area" in risk of missing one captivating detail escaping Aldous' mouth.
Suddenly in the middle of one of Aldous' stories Doug noticed the compass. The needle seemed to be second guessing itself, whirling around it's case and then wandering back slowly. It was at this time they all noticed they felt lighter too, and reinvigorated. They could move faster through the endless passage at greater speed. How odd, but how cool. Aldous explained this away in terms of magnetism, what we and most top dwellers commonly confuse for gravity. They were getting close he assured them but when pressed how he could be so sure, he pleaded the 5th. Either Aldous was a bit mad or maybe holding something back, which was hard for them to believe.
There was now a strange, whimsical tinge to the cavern air. It creeped up on the nose like the salt of the sea does as one gets closer to the beach. But it wasn't water or salt, not even ozone, but a surreal sweetness with a rather rich, distinctive boldness to it. Words actually fail in describing it, at least in English and bad German.
If synesthesia had her say, she would describe it as a mythological symphony performed by all the heroes and villains of all the sagas, and all the epics, from all the myths up through all the science fiction films of the 20st century and all of what’s to come. Could this new, sudden appreciation of the air around them also be explained away by magnetism? If so, one would wager to bet it was that of a different sort. They were now drawn ever so nearer, as if hooked under nostril by a near do well succubus (or incubus in Fran's case). They moved on with a renewed and unexplained urgency.
* * *
Maria walked up and down the line of men in deep thought as she inspected the soldiers she had assembled as her team. 4 specialists, 2 scientists and 23 foot soldiers, many, including the scientists, were members of the Vril Society and occultists in their own right. It was in her best interest to play this expedition close to the vest and the less curious eyes from outside her inner sanctum the better off the mission was.
There were two entrances to the hollow earth she learned of, one was located on a strange island off the antarctic but another portal was much closer in the Bavarian Forest. The door to the underworld was reported to be through an ancient oak tree located dead center in the forest. She had handed over the coordinates to one of her specialists but packed a dousing wand as well, just in case. It was only known among a few within the craft that dousing was not only useful for locating underground springs but also other inter dimensional pockets and spaces.
Recalling all that she had recently learned through scrying, time seemed to play by different rules within the realms of the inner Earth. She was convinced it was layered with other dimensions that were alive and interweaving between space and time. Just the sort of stuff a dowsing rod would be drawn to. If all that failed however, there was always the Spear of Destiny which she had wrapped in cloth tape in an effort to disguise it as a walking stick. She felt rather intuitively it would direct her directly to the tree.
The Spear was believed to be the very one that the roman soldier Longinus used to pierce Christ's side at the crucifixion. Whether it was or wasn't, so many believed it to be, thus making it a rather potent or charged talisman none the less. That's really how magic works, through intent and/or through popular belief. They boarded their train to Bavaria feeling prematurely victorious.
* * *
As she had suspected, the simple use of the coordinates, map and compass proved futile. The compass was of little use once they had entered the dark, evergreen canopy of the forest. The needle spun like a drunken dervish on ice skates. Same went for the dousing rod, useless. In the end they were led by the growing pull of the spear. They came upon a shady glade and in the center of it stood a giant, ancient oak tree, the portal to the inner world.
The Oak Tree let off a certain energy, almost tonal, captivating all the human senses. Shaking off the reverie, one of the scientists planted a green candle firmly into the ground in front of the great trunk and lit it with a match. He then gingerly, began to knock on the massive tree. Three then gave pause. After a few seconds, six more. Again he paused. Finally nine more raps. A heavy door within the sacred oak swung out on invisible hinges. Everyone except Maria exhaled with relief. Now to find this Smythe character and his small team.
* * *
It was time to set up camp again. It really had become second nature to the group by now. Doug would set up the "tents". At this point in their quest the tents had deteriorated way past any real usefulness due to this unique environment they were not designed for. But the very act of setting them up tended to keep him grounded and sane.
The metal posts seemed to oxidize and corrode more and more with every new day losing critical, structural integrity. Twice Doug had awakened nearly suffocating, inhaling nylon and creating, not necessarily an unpleasant sound but a comical, vibratory buzz reminiscent of someone playing the hair comb. So he resorted to using pieces of scrap wood and roots he found along the way in place of the original posts.
The nylon material seemed to be getting thinner too, so cheap rain ponchos were repurposed and thrown over the clumsy shelters. Not like there was a chance of rain but it did help to maintain heat at night. It also helped create a false sense of security, creating a barrier between them and whatever strange critters and creatures were out there only now starting to make their presence known.
They only seemed to be blurs at first as they lazily ducked into the rocks and crevices for cover from the strangers. But as our heroes grew closer to their destination, some of these strange beings became more curious and gave them a sniff or two before disappearing through another hidden tunnel or simply dematerializing. It was always tough to say for sure their method of exit.
One memorable and popular sniffer, if you will, was what many a surface dweller would call a Bigfoot and in parts of Scotland, Am Fear Liath Mòr (Greyman). The creature was easily 8 feet in height, covered in hair and had a certain effluvium about him that would really assault ones nose within 15 feet of the it. The eyes and facial expressions were so very human causing a certain connection between our travelers and the beast. Then it was gone. This became such a common occurrence with this particular fellow that they gave him a nickname, Jonathon. Then, after awhile, they gave his nickname a nickname, Jon.
Then there were the trailing, glowing orbs seen through the corners of their eyes. They were heading in the same direction they were going, as if caught in the same invisible current. If looked upon directly, they would disappear.
Douglas was familiar with a similar phenomenon and called them Prairie Dragons. There were frequent sightings of these out West in the US as well as reports from as far away as Tibet. Aldous was astounded, he knew nothing of them. In all the time he had spent trapped in this maze, he had never come upon them. He theorized that they may be some unknown classification of bioluminescent animal, sentient and possibly the reason for the little parties no longer need for flashlights.
"The veil is thin here." He cryptically declared and then noticeably caught himself before giving any further an explanation. Fran raised an eyebrow and gave Doug a look.
So tents, though hardly protective, they were still a welcomed escape away from certain anxiety inducing stimuli lurking around without leashes outside in the caverns.
But let us return to the daily chores.
As Doug creatively constructed the tents Fran and Aldous would begin to prepare dinner, which was a regular vaudeville routine. Two cooks despite lacking a kitchen, were still two cooks too many. They could never agree on anything and each would micromanage the other. Fran would eventually win in the end. Her Kung Fu was definitely stronger than his. After eating they all sat around the fire and pored over the map making plans for the next day.
Everyone did their own meager laundry and by now Doug had gifted Aldous some of his extra clothing. Washing was done in a collapsible wash basin whenever they came upon a spring or underground river.
The topic of conversation this particular night before cashing in was not that of the map but about their strange new companion, Jonathon or Jon. Aldous was convinced their fury, ripe smelling friend was trying to communicate something of great importance to them, but what? His appearances became less random and now a few times a day rather than once every now and again as it had begun a few weeks back.
Another oddity they had also noticed were the fresh runes on the walls; etched in with a sharp stone or quartz only moments before they had stumbled across them. Was this also Jon trying to convey something? A warning or a welcome? A signpost to AGHARTA maybe?
Then there were also small piles of rocks or what Aldous called Cairns. Historically, these were man (or creature) made trail markers, or at least in modern times. Further back in the past and prehistory they were used to convey many different messages, mark dates and even bury the dead. It was unclear what all this meant and a tad unnerving to the group but they kept such thoughts to themselves as they fell asleep each night exhausted under thin nylon breathing perfumed air.
Were they lost?
* * *
Traveling through the corridors of the inner earth proved difficult for Maria and her team without a map to consult. The spear did help by pulling, but pulling where? She needed to find Smythe and collect the journal entries along with the map. Without the key details contained within them they were almost as good as lost.
* * *
"We're lost!" Douglas sighed removing his pith hat and wiping away the sweat on his forehead with a dirty bandana.
"What do you mean we're lost?" asked Fran sitting down on a rock next to him, removing a shoe and dumping out some misplaced stones.
"The panels of the map, they are in the wrong order." he held the map under her nose and pointed.
Fran didn't know why she or any of them hadn't noticed this before. It was more than obvious; streams that should have been connecting from panel to panel stopped dead and the path they had been following stopped and started at different places. Something was wrong, and where was Aldous?
* * *
Aldous thought he heard a "pssssst" from behind him as the three of them traipsed at their own pace along the trail. He turned his head back in time to see a finger from around a bend they had just past curling and beckoning him back. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to see what this was all about, he'd catch up with Doug and Fran in a jiff, seemed harmless enough. But that was not to be.
Then there were 2.
To Be Continued