February 1929. Winter in Arkham. The group had taken a month to recuperate after the Scotland episode. They decided to hide the two parts of the R’Lyeh Disk in Arkham Federal Bank and in the vaults below the Miskatonic library. They had spent several weeks delving into the archives at Miskatonic with the help of Professor Peale when they received a telegram:
GENTLEMEN YESTERDAY I MET WITH JACOB HANCOCK STOP HE
RELATED YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS IN SCOTLAND STOP PLEASE ADVISE
YOUR PRESENT AVAILABILITY BY RETURN WIRE STOP I WISH YOU
TO INVESTIGATE THE DEATH OF ERIC VON VARNSTEIN STOP I
BELIEVE HE DIED VIA SUPERNATURAL AGENCY STOP FEES AND
TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS FOLLOW AT YOUR AGREEMENT STOP IF
AVAILABLE I HAVE CHARTERED A FLIGHT FOR YOU FROM BOSTON
SIGNED WINWOOD END
Their independent investigations had indicated that the Arc of Vlactos might be found somewhere in California, so they decided to accept the offer of the movie mogul Grant Winwood and headed out to Hollywood. After a bumpy flight, they arrived in Hollywood and were chauffeured to the Winwood mansion in Belair, where they were treated to a lavish dinner with drinks afterward in a large sitting room.
Winwood related the following information to the group:
The famous director Von Varnstein handpicked his cast and began filming in 1928. Everything was under his traditional veil of secrecy. He built elaborate Babylonian sets costing about half a million dollars, a stupendous cost for that era. He erected the sets — along with temporary quarters for cast and crew — on a strip of rented land in a remote area of the Mojave. The choice of Devil’s Canyon seems to have been a fatal mistake, as a series of very strange mishaps in the desert led to the madness of several members of the crew and the bizarre suicide of von Varnstein himself.
Winwood said that he expected the investigators to stay in Hollywood for about a week, collecting information, preparing any equipment, and generally living at his expense. After a week or so, he wanted them to go to Devil’s Canyon and gather data for another week. Along with supplies, he provided a key to the cast’s quarters on the deserted set in Devil’s Canyon.
The group made inquiries in Hollywood and learned that von Varstein had been experimenting with some cutting-edge camera lenses and that he had taken to wandering about the desert with his camera and special lenses. They found the strange lenses and decided to project the remaining outtake reels for von Varnstein’s epic film Prince of Babylon through the lenses. They were quite disgusted to see that when viewed through the lenses, several horrible creatures could be seen in the background, sometimes rubbing their loathsome claws on the actors’ bodies in a perverse and lewd fashion.
Further research revealed that a vanished native tribe called the Hohtek had once inhabited Devil’s canyon and had been led into the worship of Shub-Niggurath by a degenerate missionary named Whateley. They reasoned that the Hohtek left guardians in desert and that these creatures, which they had seen on the film, were intended to protect the Arc of Vlactos from prying eyes.
The pilot Robbie took his plane ahead and landed in the canyon while the group drove in two large cars accompanied by two stagehands from the studio. While waiting for the rest of the group, Robbie poked around the abandoned set of Prince of Babylon and heard a series of strange noises around the set. When he emerged, he was dismayed to discover that the engine of the plane had been neatly removed and left on top. The group arrived some time later and they set up camp on the set.
The next day, they explored the canyon and discovered a path leading up to an abandoned cliff town of the Hohtek. While making their way up the path to the town, they suffered a rock slide that seriously injured Madame Fri Fri and one of the stagehands. These two made their way back to the set accompanied by the other stagehand. Looking through the lens, the group saw several of the guardian creatures on the cliff overlooking the path. They hurried up to the cliffside pueblo and began searching it, whereupon they found a large sunken space with an ancient firepit. Arranged around the pit were several native cachina dolls, which they deduced served as the vessels containing the spirits of the guardian things. They searched the pit and discovered the Arc of Vlactos, buried under stone and ash. As they set fire to the cachina dolls, the creatures suddenly attacked from all sides. They were visible through the lenses. The group had become quite deadly at this range with firearms and dispatched their foes with only minor injuries.
They then repaired the plane and took the Arc of Vlactos back with them to Los Angeles. They spent two weeks resting and recuperating in Los Angeles while Madame Fri Fri recovered from her injuries and then flew back to Boston.