- Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
- Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist
- Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
- Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
- Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
At the Filipovics' house, the dinner party began. As they sat down, Todor Necic mentioned that dinner was earlier than normal due to the ceremony, and when the professor asked what ceremony he meant, he said that tonight was an ancient Cigany fertility ceremony and that the investigators were welcome to come. The professor agreed that that sounded fascinating, and they all sat down to eat. The dinner was classic Eastern European fare, hearty and beet-centered, held in a room decorated with dozens of clay pots and knickknacks. The countess asks about the clay pots and Father Filipovic said that they were often dug up in the fields, dating from Roman times.
As she was looking, the countess noticed an old bone flute, almost ivory-colored, and asked Nedic if she could examine it. He handed it over, and she examined it, noticing the intricately-carved vines on it, but there was something that seemed odd. She couldn't place it, and neither could the professor, and after a time she handed it back.
As the dinner wound down, the professor asked about the old woman who lived in the forest. Nedic spoke of her with slightly caution due to an old woman who lives alone in a dark forest and hasn't been to the village for forty years. He said that she was just called Baba, "grandmother," and she lived alone and spoke to no one. The professor asked how long she had lived there, but Nedic said that he didn't know and had only spoken to get once.
After dinner, preparations for the ceremony began. While the people gathered, an old woman was seen arguing with the Cigany and stormed over to the countess, demanding through Jazmina's interpretation that the investigators refuse to attend the ceremony. The countess said that she would go pray, but that the professor should watch because of the academic value. The woman eventually grew frustrated with translation and stormed off.
The ceremony invoked a young Cigany girl, dressed in a cloak of leaves and painted with mud, being led to every house in the village and having water poured over her in the February cold. By the end she was shivering, and while she was taken back to one of the houses to warm up, the professor's memory was jogged. Something that the masked man in dream Zagreb had said in his torrent of words crawled out of his memory, and he muttered, "The Black Goat of the Woods." The countess asked him what he said, and the professor explained that the Cigany ritual had some elements similar to protective ceremonies dedicated to the Dark Mother. He couldn't explain any more than that, and eventually shook his head.
After the ritual, Todor Nedic told one of the Cigany that the party was planning to go into the woods. The old woman was dismissive of foreigners being in the town at all, but when she learned they could be dissuaded, she said that she would send her nephew with them. Before she turned away, the professor and the countess noticed that she had a bone whistle around her neck, very similar to the one in the Filipovics' house. Then, the party split, with the professor and Demir going to the priest's house and the women going to the Nedics'. The priest noticed that the professor was looking at the flute, but he was unable to answer the professor's questions about it and expressed surprise that the Cigany had a similar whistle. Then he asked if the professor wanted to tell stories, and the professor and Demir gratefully accepted, staying up late and drinking into the night.
At the Nedic house there was a much more subdued night, and the women eventually get to sleep. Jazmina awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of voices talking in low tones in the kitchen. She couldn't understand the language, so she woke up the countess and they discussed what to do. Eventually, Jazmina tried to sneak downstairs, but a squeak of an errant board silences the voices instantly. When Jazmina descended the stairs, she found Anna alone in the kitchen, making tea. She accepted Anna's offer of tea reluctantly, and drank one cup while listening to Anna's imprecations against the Cigany before excusing herself and going back to bed.
In the morning the investigators assembled in the silence of the Nedic house and the chaos of the Filipovic house, other than Rosaline, who stayed in her room due to a sudden bout of sickness. As they made to leave, Todor Nedic's sister walked up to the professor and pressed a bone whistle into his hands, explaining through pantomime that it would offer protection from the forest spirits. The professor, knowing what he knows about the forest, gratefully accepts.
Radovan Venclovic, the nephew of the old Cigany woman, was waiting for them and introduced himself as their guide. He said that he was wary of the forest but this was a request, so he would take them to Baba's hut, and they began walking. The villagers watched them go as Radovan mentioned that they got few foreign visitors in the town, pointing out the lush fields, the smoke arising from the Cigany encampment, and the verdant grass with no livestock grazing on it. Then, the investigators entered the woods. There was no path, but they followed Radovan as the woods grew darker and darker, the trees slowly began to gain coatings of mold and slime, and all other sounds vanished. Except one--the professor noticed a faint hum, just under his hearing. He stopped, looking around warily, but none of the rest of the investigators heard it. The countess offered the professor water and Radovan suggested that he stop to rest, but the professor said that he would rather get through the woods.
After several hours, the party smelled the scent of freshly-baked bread and came on a brown hut, alone in the forest, surrounded by a fence of thorns. The professor and Demir both felt eyes watching them, but there was nothing out there, and eventually they entered the hut, though not without Jazmina pricking her hand on the thorns as they entered.
The inside of the hut was cluttered with dozens of bits of statuary, with an oven filled with a roaring fire and a young woman sitting at a tapestry. Radovan immediately noticed that she looked very familiar, almost like the twin sister of a girl he knew who had gone missing, immediately making him wary. She introduced herself as Kcerca and was surprised that Radovan recognized her, but brushed it off as a strange coincidence. Kcerca said that Baba was out, but she would be back soon.
As they waited, Jazmina and the countess examined the statuary. The countess accidentally knocked over a shelf containing a bunch of statue pieces and Kcerca rushed to help her pick it up, apologizing for the mess, while Jazmina looked at the tapestry she was working on. It's a picture of a peasant village, and as Jazmina looked at the village she noticed that it was definitely a picture of Orašac.
As the statues were put back into place, a cold wind blew outside with the sound of sheets ripping and the door opened. An old woman entered, hunched over, and nodded at the party and then moved over to Kcerca and began to speak with her in an unknown language. After a moment, she asked what the investigators were there for, and when the professor said they were looking for a statue, Baba smiled and said she had plenty of statues and they would have to stay for dinner. Radovan turned down her invitation with as much grace as he could muster.
Baba told a story about her father, a professor in Sofia who kindled her interest in Roman architecture and statuary, and she became something of an amateur archeologist. She sold statuary to fund her habit, but now she was old. As Kcerca put wood in the oven, the professor told her about the statue arm they were looking for and gave it its name--the Sedefkar Simulacrum. Baba perks up at the name and begins looking around, directing a search. After a short time, she pointed it out on the highest shelf, and Demir volunteered to get it. He climbed up the shelves and grabbed it, trying to tug it free from the shelves as Kcerca put more wood in the oven. Then, several things happened at once.
The statue arms near Demir reached out and grabbed onto him as the other investigators noticed that the roof wasn't actually thatched, it was composed of writhing tentacles! Baba reached out and grasped a giant breadpan, scooping up Demir while cackling and dumped him into the oven, now a giant rugose mouth ringed with tentacles, that clutch at Demir hungrily! Kcerca pickled up a large kitchen knife and turned on Radovan, charging forward, as the shelves revealed themselves as conglomeration of bones that grasped at the professor and the countess!
The countess ran over to Demir and tried to pull him out of the oven, but Demir yelled something in Turkish and pushed the arm into her hands. Radovan, surprised, took a nasty wound from Kcerca's knife and tried to grab at her, but as the professor pointed out the door and the countess pulled the arm away and moved toward the door. The investigators jumped out of the now-high-up hut, hitting the ground lightly except for Jazmina, who twisted her ankle, but not enough to prevent her from running, which they made haste in doing. Behind them they heard a horrible discordant singing and the shrieking of Baba, answered by many other voices, crashing through the woods with their own answering song that reminded the professor and the countess of the shepherd calls of the terrible Men of Leng.
Knowing that now was the time, the professor pulled out the bone whistle and blew it. A shrill noise seemed to fill the air, growing louder and louder and filling the air until the whistle shattered into fragments, cutting the professor's face, as they ran past the briar fence, now revealed to contain hundreds of bones. Behind them, the cottage tore its tentacle-like roots free from the earth and stomped toward them, but the sound of the whistle cut through Baba's singing and the answering cries from the woods. The house staggered around, confused, and a flailing root hit Baba and knocked her off into an old oak tree with a sickening crunch.
The delay did not last long, but the investigators wasted no time in running. After a few moments, they heard the house and the other things in its wake crashing through the forest behind them. They ran as fast as they could, finding a deer path and following it to its end, and when they smelled smoke, Radovan recognized his camp and shouted that they should go there.
As they burst out of the forest, the leader of the Cigany, Marco, approaches and asks Radovan what had happened. The investigators told their story as the Cigany edged away from the arm the countess carried, and then Jazmina noticed a woman who seeemd to be an older version of Kcerca. She pointed out to her in the crowded and shouted, but Radovan shushed her, saying that the woman wasn't who Jazmina thought she was. In Romani, he told Szuba that he had seen someone who looked like her sister who they had thought lost by wolves, leading to Szuba wailing in anguish and collapsing.
These two stories combined infuriated the Cigany, who start to gather torches and pitchforks and assembling a mob. They asked the investigators if they want to join them in seeking vengeance. The professor was reluctant, but assented when both the countess and Jazmina expressed a desire to find Demir's remains. They steeled their courage and followed the angry Cigany into into the woods.
They reached the location of the house before too long, but the clearing was mostly empty. Only dead brown grass remained, though as the mob spread out to search, Jazmina and the countess found a pile of viscera, barely recognizable as having once been a man, near a tree. The countess blanched and turned away, but Jazmina carefully checked Demir's remains, finding the Mims Sahis--untouched by the horrors that he had endured--and a strange red gem that radiated an almost palpable sense of hate. Jazmina asked the others about it, and the professor recognized it as the gem that Madame Bruja had employed against the sorcerer in the Dreamlands. After a brief conversation, they took it and continued.
Before they left, the professor noticed a patch of dirt blown away from bare stone. An ancient mosiac, depicting images of tree-like abominations devouring sacrifices.
Further on in the forest, the mob entered another clearing and found, crouching like a wounded animal, the horrible house that had chased the investigators through the woods. Radovan staggered about as though blinded and JAzmina fainted away, and while the professor an the countess dragged them to safety, the mob charged forward and set upon it with axe and torch. They took horrible casualties and over half their number fell, but eventually the house collapsed and lay, hacked and burning, on the ground. The Cigany thanked the investigators for their help in pursuing vengeance and led them back to their camp, where they had a hearty meal and finally slept.
When they arrived in Orašac, they found it in the same condition as they left it...except for Father Filipovic, sitting vigil in the church over the twisted body of his wife. Nedic said that she had collapsed during the night, in front of Father Filipovic, and the investigators exchanged knowing looks before leaving him to his grief. They told Rosaline what had happened, accepted Radovan's offer to travel with them and purge the earth of this evil, and took the morning train out of the town.
Their trip back to the Orient Express was plagued with problems. In one small town the investigators were attacked by an enraged mob of black chickens, leading to a pitched battle in the streets. When the battle ended, the chickens were the white of normal chickens, and only money offered by the investigators prevented a mob of villagers from seeking redress for the death of their flocks. AS they arrived in Belgrade they were stricken with boils and spent the night in feverish dreams, but awoke clean and whole. As they prepared to board the train, they saw many figures watching from doorways, like old woman shrouded in heavy clothes, but no one was there if looked directly at. And finally, after they bought Radovan a ticket and settled into the train and sped through the countryside, a terrific storm broke and they saw, silhouetted against the hills, illuminated by flashes of lightning, something large, like a giant headless bird, keeping pace with the train but never drawing closer. Rosaline suggested that perhaps the Baba drew its power from the natural world and the iron of the train kept it away.
As they crossed the border into Bulgaria, the investigators noticed a broken-down hut near a river. The hut's thatch twitched like branches in the breeze as they passed, waiting for them, but it did not cross the border.
Annals of the Fallen
- Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
- Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
This one is extra-long!
This is one of the moments in Horror on the Orient Express I've been most waiting for because I hated
the presentation in the original. Then, Baba Yaga was just that--Baba Yaga, flying on mortar and pestle and all, and it was very hard to square her existence with the rest of the Mythos around her. Here, it's much more like "Baba Yaga" is the human mythology that sprang up around something older. Something that lurked in the forests before humans ever came to the Balkans.
Demir's death and the arrival of Radovan are due to a player shuffle, so next session we'll have Radovan Venclovic the Romani ex-soldier as a permanent party member. This does mean that the combat potential of eh investigators is steadily increasing, which is good as we head into the more dangerous parts of the campaign.
Thus ends Horror on the Orient Express, Book III. Next time, Book IV: Constantinople and Consequences!