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Mandy had seen Kate Winthrop in the faculty cafeteria a few times during her first year at Miskatonic University. Kate had always been in the company of Professor Young, back then, and neither of them had had any time for other people. The bits of conversation Mandy overheard as she passed by had always been full of scientific details she didn't understand, but one odd word had stuck in her head because it hadn't sounded scientific, just odd: azathoth. Being a curious sort of person, Mandy had written it down and taken some of her spare time one weekend to research every possible spelling of the word, to no avail.
She chalked it up to oddities of scientists and made a mental note to stop by Professor Young's office and ask about it when she had more time. Professor Morgan was running her ragged with medical research right now. Idle curiosity would have to wait.
About a week later she heard about a tragedy in the science department. "Professor Young got blown up by one of his hare-brained devices," one of the secretaries said. "That protégé of his is in the asylum."
"She was there?" one of the others asked.
"Apparently she saw everything."
Mandy said a quick prayer for Kate Winthrop, then went about her business.
It wasn't until a few years later, when she was doing linguistic research for Professor Rice, that Mandy remembered that strange word. The old tome Mandy had been translating contained several words she assumed were names: Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath… and Azathoth. Mandy set aside the other work she'd been thinking of doing that day and focused on her translation of this particular tome, becoming more and more unsettled as she wrote. Some of the events it described had happened in Arkham during the past few weeks, and the rest made her shiver. She finished writing the final paragraph and reread the page, then bolted out of her chair, not caring that it crashed onto the floor behind her. She snatched the paper off her desk and hurried out of the office.
Prophecies of monsters, portals, alien skies. Ancient gods. Certain doom.
She had to talk to the one person she was certain wouldn't laugh in her face about her fears, the person who had once spoken the name Azathoth and who might be able to help.
She scanned the Science Building directory until she found the name she needed.
Room 438. Kate Winthrop.
"Can I help you?" Kate Winthrop asked as she opened the door. She was rubbing at a red mark on her face. It looked like she'd fallen asleep at her desk.
"Kate Winthrop?" Mandy asked.
"Yes." She tilted her head at Mandy. "Can I help you?"
"My name is Mandy Thompson and I need your help."
"I don't have office hours—" Kate began, but Mandy interrupted her.
"What can you tell me about Azathoth?"
Kate's eyes went wide. She grabbed Mandy's shoulder. "Where did you hear that name?"
"First, from you, three years ago. And today, in a book I've been translating."
Kate pulled Mandy into the office and locked the door behind them. "I tried telling my colleagues," Kate said as she paced around the office. "No one believed me. They thought Professor Young's death had driven me insane and sent me to the asylum. I thought maybe I had gone mad." She stopped and turned to face Mandy. "But I know what I saw. I know what killed the professor was real."
"I only have my intuition and my research," Mandy said. "Some of the things in the prophecies are things I've seen happen in Arkham. I don't believe in coincidences."
"I believe," Kate said. She resumed her pacing. "It may seem strange for a scientist to talk about belief, but I trust my eyes and my experiments. I trust Professor Young's judgment, his research. This is real."
"Can I ask what happened to him?"
Kate walked over to a portrait on the wall and stared at it as she answered. "He told me he'd seen a gate to another world open near the river docks when he was a boy, and another opened in the woods when he was a young man. He said that one released a monster that killed several people before it finally vanished back through the gate.
"He'd been trying to create a device to detect and close such gates ever since. He wasn't well-respected, and at first I didn't believe him, but he was friendly and I was lonely and bored, so I helped him in his research. One night his detector indicated there was a gate near the graveyard, so we went to see if his device would close it." She took a deep breath.
"What happened?" Mandy prompted.
"At first we thought it had worked, that it had closed the gate. But after a few seconds the gate opened again, larger than before, and a giant monster came through. He told me to grab the detector and run, and then the thing tore him apart." Kate covered her eyes with her hand and shuddered.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," Mandy said. It sounded trite. She winced.
Kate squared her shoulders and turned around. "I've been doing research ever since. I can't let it happen to anyone else." She opened a cabinet and took out a strange device. "This is a flux stabilizer. It's meant to prevent gates from opening. I assume it works, since we haven't seen strange monsters in the past month."
"The prophecy!" Mandy cried. "The next one involves a portal releasing—" she skimmed through her notes "—flying beasts to plague the city. You can stop it."
"Do you have more books?" Kate asked. "What else do you know?"
"I know that a series of events will lead to the awakening of a terrible ancient god," Mandy said. "But I think if we can break the sequence, we can prevent it."
"Do you have more books?" Kate repeated. "More information?"
"Maybe. I haven't translated all I have yet."
Kate opened a file cabinet and grabbed several folders, which she shoved into a briefcase, then she packed the flux stabilizer and a smaller more fragile-looking device carefully into a case. "Let's not waste time, then," Kate said, gesturing toward the door.
Mandy appreciated Kate's sense of urgency. It matched her own.
They spent three days doing research. Kate mostly tinkered with her devices and went through her previous notes, while Mandy skimmed through books needing translations, looking for any mention of the Ancient Ones. Only one of the books, an old journal, seemed promising, but whoever had written it had atrocious penmanship. Reading the thing, much less trying to translate it, gave Mandy a headache.
Both of them became more and more tense as time went on. Mandy's research had suggested the next event would happen before the full moon, and that was tomorrow.
"I almost wish it would just happen and stop the suspense," she muttered.
"Bite your tongue," Kate said. "I wouldn't wish a gate opening on anyone."
Still, Mandy couldn't shake the feeling of creeping doom, and fidgeted and doodled more than she actually worked the next day. She kept expecting to hear Kate's detector sound the alarm, but it didn't. What if it wasn't working? What if they couldn't stop the Ancient One from destroying Arkham?
"Here," Kate said, setting a tray down next to Mandy's elbow. Mandy jumped. "Dinner."
"It's time for that already?"
Kate nodded. "It's almost dark."
"I don't think I can eat," Mandy admitted.
"You haven't eaten all day. If we have to run and stop a gate from opening, you'll need the strength."
Kate held up the teapot, and that, at least, Mandy expected she could keep down. She nodded, watching as Kate poured them each a cup before she offered one to Mandy. "We need to stay awake," Kate said.
Mandy accepted the cup of and took a sip, then made a face. "I'd prefer coffee."
"Drink it anyway. It's good for you."
"Careful," Kate warned, but she was smiling a little. "Mmm, herbal tea."
"You're strange," Mandy said, and forced herself to take another sip. She couldn't stop the shudder.
"Here, let me fix your cup," Kate said, and carried Mandy's tea back into the kitchen. When she returned, she handed Mandy her cup, then sat in the chair next to her and resumed drinking her own tea.
They looked at each other, then at the window, where the sun was setting. Mandy was sure they were both feeling the tension and anticipation. Moonrise was coming. Would they be able to find the portal in time to stop it from opening?
Mandy took another sip and blinked. "It tastes a bit like whiskey now," she said. "Did you put whiskey in my tea?"
"Yes." Kate poured herself another cup. "I thought it was wise to settle our nerves a bit, considering the circumstances."
Mandy nodded and drained her cup. "Any more where that came from?"
Before Kate could answer, the gate detector started to buzz.
Both of them leaped into motion, Mandy running to grab the flux stabilizer and a lantern, Kate to check the gate detector. Mandy stood by the door, shifting from foot to foot impatiently and trying not to interrupt Kate while she was checking the readings. After what felt like an age but was probably less than a minute, Kate called out, "Black Cave!"
Mandy had never run so far in her life. She ran until her lungs burned and her muscles ached and a stitch in her side made her want to stop. Getting to the gate was too important. She could recover later. They had to keep the gate from opening.
Arkham had always felt small before, but tonight Mandy would have sworn the town had grown to a metropolis. Neither of them could catch their breath, but when they reached the Black Cave, all seemed quiet. Kate dropped to her knees at the cave entrance, waving her hand frantically for Mandy. She handed Mandy the gate detector and took the carrying case, which she set on the ground as carefully as she could before she flicked the latches and opened the lid. Kate's hands moved, quick and sure, turning on the flux stabilizer and setting it until it glowed with a pulsing yellow light. In Mandy's hands, the gate detector went silent.
"Is that it?" Mandy asked.
Kate took the gate detector back and fiddled with it. "That should be it," she said.
Everything seemed still, as if all of Arkham were still waiting for something to happen. Then Mandy looked at the horizon and pointed. "Moon's coming up," she said, and as she did so she heard the frogs along the river start to croak, and the crickets started to chirp, and the night no longer felt so oppressive.
"Come on," Kate said, packing the flux stabilizer back into its case. "There's a bottle of wine calling our names."
"Maybe we could get something at Velma's?" Mandy said, groaning as she got back to her feet. "Your place is so far away."
Kate laughed. "Sure. Velma's it is."