dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​As the investigators left Constantinople, they were joined by a woman sent by Sir Douglas, who told them that she had been dispatched to help them with their mission. They quickly secured tickets to the Orient Express, but as they were going to board, the conductor stopped them and asked them about "stowaway" they had dealt with. He said there was an old journal found in the coffin and handed it to the professor, who opened it and noticed it was dated 1795, written in the same style as the journal they had found in Paris. Excited and eager to learn more of Le Comte, the professor began to stranlate the old French for the others:Dramatis Personae
  • Serjant Thierry Renault
  • Soldat Jean Dupois
  • Soldat Michel Beaumains
  • Soldat Christophe Pressi
  • Soldat Etienne Babin
Midnight, June 2, 1789

At the entrance to the Paris Catacombs, five soldiers were on guard duty, watching the reburial of bones from the city's cemeteries into the catacombs. They were there to keep orders to prevent looting, since many were starving and had little respect for the dead or the priests who accompanied them. Renault stood at the entrance, supervising his men, along with Beaumains and Pressi, while Dupois held a lantern within the catacombs and Babin kept an eye out for trouble in the streets. Babin did not notice anything brewing, but found a flier entitled "What is the Third Estate?" crumpled in the street. With a contemptuous glance over the text, he crumpled it further and threw it to the ground.

The royal physician, one Rigeau, gestured and shouted at the workers to sort the bones from the skulls, occasionally running out of breath. The task proceeded without incident when suddenly, a clattering of hooves announced a red carriage speeding through the streets heedless of anyone in the way. The soldiers nearby shoved as many workers out of the way as they could, but the carriage crashed into and through the workers that Beaumains recognized as a carriage often seen on the western forest roads, always traveling at that speed. As it passed, the soldiers saw a well-dressed man kissing the neck of a woman. He locked eyes with Babin as he passed, and for a moment, time seemed to stand still. Then the carriage was gone, and the workers stood up and, with imprecations, went back to work.

After a time, Dupois noticed that the workers were muttering about restless spirits. Rigeau demanded that Renault force the workers to continue, and Renault gathered his men and set to search the close catacombs, leaving Beaumains to watch the entrance. Down a stair, each man took a lantern and set out to search. In the dark, Renault noticed yellow eyes in the dark. He shouted at the figure to approach, but it loped off deeper into the catacombs with a doglike gait. Pressi and Dupois stayed in the catacombs, and the others returned to the surface and ordered the workers back to work. Renault did not mention what he had seen to Rigeau.

Closer to dawn, Captain Malon rode up and swung off his horse. After Babin gathered the men, the captain told them that he needed them to investigate a murder because he did not trust the police. As the others left, the captain pulled Renault aside and told him that he wanted to know what was being printed.

On the way, the soldiers noticed a crowd gathering outside a bakery, muttering and working their way to a riot. Renault appealed to their common decency, but they would have none of it, jeering at the obvious aristocrat. Beaumains argument about Parisian solidarity was more persuasive, however, and with grumbling the crowd dispersed. Some time later, the soldiers arrived at the printing press and found a crowd outside, muttering and shouting, and the landlady staring off into nothing. Renault asks her what she saw, and she explains that she was awakened by a white carriage and an aristocrat in black demanding that he see the printer. The aristocrat suggested she remain in her room and lock the door, and she did, especially when she heard horrific sounds coming from the printer's room. She did not remember the noble's appearance, only his dark eyes. On the ground was a white handkerchief, monogrammed M.A., and stained with blood.

Inside the press, the room stank of blood. A headless dog, the head close by, remained by the door. The printer's entire family was hanging from the rafters, their throats slashed and paper stuffed into their mouths. Nearby were bloodstained buckets, and the printing press bore paper that had been overprinted, the pamphlets about the Third Estate that now bore a message in blood: KNOW YOUR PLACE. Renault took one of each pamphlet and put them away. As the others were debating what could have happened, Dupois shushed the soldiers. He gestured to a cabinet, and opened it to find a puppy cowering inside. Dupois picked it up and took it with them as Captain Malon rode up and ordered the soldiers to report. His face went white when he saw the handkerchief, and he ordered the soldiers to report to Versailles on June 4 to testify.

The next day, the soldiers assembled and journeyed to Versailles to make sure they and enough time, arriving on the morning of the 4th. A line of carriages was parked nearby, one of which was white with red trim. Dupois asked the surly servant standing near the carriage who it belonged to, and they had a surly-off until passing servants revealed that belonged to one Comte Pfennelik. With that news, Renault told Dupois to lay off, and they continued on toward the palace. Passing aristocrats discussing the rumors of the day, Pressi noticed his enamorata Melodie in the distance, and they exchanged longing glances before Renault let his men free until their appointed time came. From rumors, they learned that Pfennelik was German and had recently arrived, and was already a favorite of the queen, hosting parties in his estate at Poissy. The servants had more dire news, talking of Le Comte's cruelty toward his servants and how he would watch the floggings they received.

When the Captain arrived, they entered Versailles and were led to a small room with Doctor Rigeau. The soldiers gave their account of the murders, and when they were finished, Rigeau said that Pfennelik was a danger to the crown. Before he could say more, they was a scream and chaos outside the door. A servant burst in and spoke to Rigeau, who revealed that the dauphin was dead of consumption. Through this bustle came striding Le Comte, who locked eyes with Babin and smiled when the soldier dropped his gaze. He idly commented on the boy's death, and wondered aloud about whether Rigeau's exhumations of graves had infected him, before saying he would comfort the queen personally and striding away. When Renault told this to the Captain, Malon said that his strategy of getting Le Comte banished would no longer work, and he ordered them to go to his mansion at Poissy and find evidence of his guilt in something--anything--relevant.

On the trip down to Poissy, the soldiers felt like they were being watched, and they made discrete inquiries when they arrived. An old woman told Beaumains that she wanted to be left alone, speaking with palpable fear, but they found a cobbled road leading to the estate. After dark, the soldiers made their way to the mansion. It was surrounded by a high wall, with a wood within the wall, so that the estate was only visible over the trees. They scrambled over the wall and found a profusion of roses among the trees, even in blacks and greens and royals blues, and blackberries growing in abundance. Pressi pricked himself on a blackberry, and the wound took much longer to scab over than he would have thought.

Close to the mansion were statues: Icarus with bat wings, Cupid biting the neck of Psyche, Death garbed as a nobleman, and a fanged Madonna preparing to bite the head of the child, enough to trigger an investigation by itself. Close to the house, the gardens cleared out, and the soldiers ran across toward the house. Pressi and Dupois noticed movement and did not run, and a moment later a footman noticed and moved toward them. As he ran, the soldiers who had remained hidden dogpiled him, knocked him out, and tied him up and gagged him, throwing him into the brambles afterward. This close, they noticed that noble carriages were arriving and waited for the commotion to cease. They took a moment to reconnoiter the house and orient themselves, and peeked through the windows. The nobles in the room were eating and drinking enormous amounts of food and liquor and looking at a man in the center of the room, dressed as Marie Antoinette, and being whipped by a woman dressed as Louis XVI.

Suddenly, the doors at the end of the room swung open and Le Comte entered the room. As the doors closed, Le Comte told the whipping to continue. Now it was no longer a game. The woman chased the man around the room, whipping him viciously, and then the nobles moved in and began to kick him. After a time, Pfennelik stepped in and helped the man up, and he was taken away. The crowd followed Le Comte as he took the woman's hand and entered the ballroom. When the room emptied, Renault ordered Pressi and Dupois to search the room for evidence. Pressi scrambled in and grabbed the Marie Antoinette wig that the man was wearing, the passed it to Dupois tried to find where the man had been taken. He saw blood in the hall, but there was enough blood that he wasn't sure which was the most recent blood, so he abandoned the search and exited the mansion.

The other three soldiers looked into the ballroom. There were no chairs, which was odd, and the ceiling fresco was a depiction of the Fourth Crusade's siege of Constantinople. On the stage was the body of the dauphin, but on a closer look, they saw it was a dwarf, dressed in the dauphin's clothes and made up to look dead. Pfennelik entered and told the dwarf, whom he named Dietrich Zane, that it was time for the "Music from Beyond." Zane protested, but eventually and seemingly against his will, he picked up a violin and began to play a shrieking note until another woman suggested a wedding march and placed the hand of the woman dressed as King Louis in Pfennelik's. Le Comte glowered and told Zann to play, but left the room, and soon the party dispersed. The soldiers noticed that as the nobles left, they were handed gilt envelopes, and Dupois stole one as the soldiers snuck away.

In Versailles after their report, Captain Malon decided that they would invade during the invitation's date and disrupt the so-called "Carnival of Animals," giving them a private room to plan. As they were planning, Dr. Rigeau arrived with some information--at a royal dinner, he noticed that Le Comte had a strong reaction to something in the food, and had brought powdered ingredients with him. He suggested that they throw the powder in Le Comte's face, and then departed.

When the time came, the soldiers led fifty men into the forest and camped outside Poissy. Scouts reported back that Le Comte's footmen took vast quantities of animals into the estate, and then slaughtered all of them in front of the mansion and took the heads into the estate. When the guests arrived, they were told to remove their wig and given a bloody head to wear. The nobles then entered the estate on all fours. By the time of the raid, the mansion was a madhouse full of what might as well be animals. Nobles were scampering around like animals, drinking from troughs of wine, braying, and among them only Pfennelik walked upright. At the signal of a bird call, the soldiers set ladders to the wall and marched toward the mansion from four sides.

After a short battle, the soldiers rounded up the nobles and began to search the mansion. Zann and the woman with him were trying to escape, and Renault and Dupois corralled them and ordered them to sit with the others. They said that Pfennelik was "below," and when the soldiers searched the house they did not find him, though they found a flayed figure in the foyer--a preserved cadaver in papal robes--pillows everywhere with dried bloodstains, and other horrors. With every other area searched, they descended to the cellar. Down steep steps past a stone passage lined with prison cells filled with corpses, they found a rook filled with corpses chained to the wall. Coffins served as tables, covered in scrolls with Arabic writing, and in the center was a statue that captured the light and shimmered sickeningly. Dupois took one look at the statue and stared blankly into space, unsure where he was, and Babin heard a faint moaning from the statue. Then smoke descended into the room from above!

As the smoke clears, Pfennelik was suddenly there, snarling and lunging at the Beaumains! Beaumains throw Rigeau's powder into Le Comte, and he staggered backward as the soldiers charged. He laid into them, dealing terrible wounds, but did not seem to take any damage in return, but the statue began groaning as the battle started. Babin turned and took his axe to the statue, followed by the other soldiers. As the weapons hit the statue, Pfennelik recoiled in agony, and the. The statue broke into pieces, Le Comte's limbs twisted into impossible angles, and as he screamed in agony without end, Captain Malon ordered the soldiers to collect everything within and seal the cellar door, and when the evidence was removed from the house, he ordered the mansion burned. Le Comte's madness obviated the need for a trial, and he was incarcerated indefinitely in Charenton.

When the revolution came, Beaumains deserted from the army, but the others remained loyal and were there when the doors were barred at the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs and when the Bastille was stormed. They all lived, but that was not the end of their story.

To be continued...

I don't have much comment about this one. It moved at a pretty quick pace because we didn't really have that much time in the session, so a lot of the combat was elided across, but from the perspective of our present characters we already knew the raid was successfully and most of what had happened there. It's that Part II that I'm curious about--what else is there to know?
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​​Dramatis Personae
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Radovan Venclovic, Romani ex-soldier
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
  • Yan Nikolaev, Bulgarian police inspector
The next day was their appointment with Beylab the perspires, but not until the evening. At breakfast, they discussed the man and bear they had seen. Radovan was convinced he was benign, saying that anyone who an animal trusted couldn't be all bad, but Rosaline wasn't so sure. When Feyar arrived, the party asked him about the proper etiquette for the meeting. Feyar explained that no gifts were required, putting their minds at ease, and they decided to go investigate the Red Mosque. After a long walk through the city, they arrived at a crumbling building that pedestrians walked by without even a glance at its grim-encrusted walls. Several young men, perhaps a street gang, lounged in the doorway and beckoned, calling out "Nice things! Nice things!" and gesturing to the investigators. The countess approached, asking about the trinkets, but then asked about the gang and the mosque, no whether they had seen anything unusual in the mosque at night. Feyar translated the answer--that they sometimes saw other gangs, but no one else. She asked about the Brotherhood, but the gang had only heard rumors. They took the countess's money without incident, and the investigators left.

For a change of pace, the party spent some time on tourism at the Hagia Sophia. The ancient cathedral was glorious, but had seen better days. The Basilica Cistern was across the street, so that was their next destination. That was better kept up but empty of water. After lunch, they visited the Hippodrome, and then the time had come to go to the baths and meet with Beylab. Knowing that Beylab was a stickler for punctuality, the investigators made an effort to arrive on time, and entered the bathhouse and left the bustle of the street behind. The professor checked the skin of the other bathers, but none of them seemed to have any identifiable tattoos or marring of the skin. The women went off into their own section, and the men prepared to meet the perspirer.

Beylab was lounging on a navel stone in the bath, grossly fat, and awaiting his visitors. The professor, Yan, and Radovan approached as Beylab raised a hand, and they took places next to Beylab on the stone. He greeted the party and asked them what they want to know, and the professor mentioned the disappearances of children. Beylab explained that it was an evil statue-worshipping cult, and that the children had not appeared in the slave markets. He said that the cult extended to the city bureaucracy, and that the statue's destruction was key to ending the cult. The ritual of destruction was in the cemetery, in Garaznet's grave, and suggested that the break into the grave in the night. As he reached for water and made to speak more, a shape surged up out of the water behind him and cut his throat!

Radovan and Yan heard the roaring of flames and pulled the professor off the stone as fire surged up and seared the body of Beylab. As the assassin fled, the three gave chase before they were blocked by two other bathers. Yan noticed that one of them had a mismatched ear and the other had an eye that was cloudy, and shouted, "They're here!" He tried to shove past the men but they stood firm, and Radovan's sucker punch flew wide. They made no hostile action, and in a moment it was obvious why--the flesh of Beylab flowed off his bones like a wave, surging across the water toward the men like a red tide. One of the cultists was caught by the monster, shrieking in pain as it reared up over him and began devouring him, and the party fled in terror leaving the screams behind.

There were already police outside, and when they saw the Europeans one approached and spoke in broken English, asked them to stay and and give their statements. Another policeman entered the bath and returned in moments, vomiting in the street. Another policeman later took the investigators statements, and the professor left out the parts about the cult or the monster, describing only a madman assassinating someone else in public. The police called a cab and they returned to their hotel, where the professor explained what Beylab had told them. They debated what to do, but quickly decided that they could not visit the graveyard tonight. Yan and the professor dressed and went down to dinner and had a long awkward conversation about their backgrounds, while the others had dinner sent up to their rooms.

The next morning, there was a message from the British Embassy requesting their immediate presence, so they bolted down their coffee and took the car provided. They were met by Sir Douglas Rutherford, in a clear agitation. He got right to the point, saying that his son was abducted in the last night, and asked for their help. The investigators agreed, and the ambassador said that his son James was last seen in the embassy garden and that he suspected the servants. He summoned the servants, and they stood in a line while the investigators examined them. One servant had mismatched eyes, and when he noticed the attention, he took a step back. The professor shouted to arrest him, and as guards appeared and seized him, the servant screamed that the Brotherhood had the boy and there was no hope. The Skin Beast would come and all of them were doomed. As he struggled, the tattoo suddenly revealed on his arm writhed and the skin of his face drew inward, flowing down his mouth and choking him to death.

Later, as they were drinking brandy with the ambassador, he said that he suspected the Red Mosque and while police searches had turned up nothing, he no longer trusted the police. The professor asked for excavating equipment, and while Sir Douglas was suspicious of his reasoning, he offered to provide it. He further suggested they speak to Lieutenant Douglas Hennessy about the British officer's death. The lieutenant met them in the lobby of their hotel, and the professor noticed that he was extremely nervous, constantly glancing around at the passersby. After asking what they knew, he said that the Drakes were part of a continent-wide smuggling and vice ring known for flaying people. He said that Evelyn was suspected in a murder, shortly before she disappeared, and that a local member named Phelps had recently turned up dead, but Yan realized that he was holding something back. The countess pushed further, mentioning the flayings that the investigators had encountered, and the lieutenant revealed that Mr. Phelps was deformed, half his face having been seemingly melted. The lieutenant said he was being transferred out, but asked that they tell Sir Douglas anything they discovered, and then he left.

After preparing, the investigators went down to the docks to hire a boat. Feyar suggested hiring a fishing boat, and they chartered the boat of a man named Haqim. And they were crossing the straight, Rosaline and Radovan noticed another fishing boat crossing on a similar course, but it remained at sea instead of docking, and it was too far away to make out any details. They landed and Haqim promised to wait, and the party made the short walk to the cemetery.
The countess's player: "Is this grave-robbing? Three of us are white. It's archeology."
After two hours of searching they found the tomb of Garaznet, its letters almost entirely faded away from the weathering of centuries. As Radovan and Yan began digging, Radovan noticed that the dirt wasn't as packed-down as it should be, but shrugged and kept digging. After some time, as the shovels clinking against a stone box, a man approached. He was babbling, in tattered robes, and Feyar explained that he was called the "Companion to the Dead." The professor listened, but most of what the beggar said was nonsense. He urged on their digging and said that "they" were numerous tonight as Yan and Radovan levered open the tomb of Garaznet, but when he heard the sound of stone on stone, he screamed "Don't let him out!" and leapt onto the countess and professor, flailing away. Eventually he backed away as an overwhelming foetor comes from the tomb. The lib slid back, and inside was a bubbling vat of flesh!

The flesh flowed out of the tomb and wrapped around one of the countess's legs as Rosaline began screaming in panic and Yan staggered around sightlessly. The professor threw a lantern onto the monster but it seemed to have no effect, and as he was looking for another weapon, dozens of shapes appeared out of the darkness and the Brothers of the Skin captured the party. The party was disarmed and tied to stone monuments with the weapons just out of reach and formed a circle, which parted to reveal six cultists carrying a squirming bundle. Four others brought in an older man, ancient and shriveled, on a chair born on their shoulders. He questioned them about the scrolls and the statue, but the party was silent. After a short moment, the old man looked at Radovan and began muttering. Radovan's skin twitched and seemed to rot, and Radovan shrieked for a moment and then slumped in his bonds. After further questioning, the old man again muttered and the same thing happened to Yan, though before he fell unconscious, Yan yelled that the simulacrum was in the bank vault.

Content warning: Violence toward children )

On the Golden Horn, Aktar led them to his room, a small cluttered dwelling. In the light, he seemed vaguely familiar, but none of the investigators could place it. Aktar revealed that he was disguised as a Roma, but actually worked for Ataturk spying out threats to Turkey. His daughter had been kidnapped by the cult, and he had followed the cult to their headquarters and found what remained of his daughter. He suggested they join forces and fight the cult. The investigators agreed, and they decided that they needed to get to the Sedefkar Simulacrum before the cult did. They arrived, leaving Radovan and Yan behind in Aktar's room, and found the bank closed, so they immediately changed tack and went to the hotel. The front desk clerk asked them if they had gone and come back--the cult had obviously already been there. Their roomed had Ben searched, and the scroll was missing. Aktar suggested that they must go to the cultist's headquarters immediately and warn the British and French, and they traveled to the cistern where the secret entrance to the cult's headquarters was. The stairs led down into water, but there was a small boat, and Aktar rowed them through the water to a secret passage, and the investigators travel down a spiral staircase. At the bottom were ooze-covered walls and a small door, on the other side of which was a tomb lit by a greenish glow and covered with horrific carvings.

Across the chamber was an antechamber with a guard facing away from them. Rosaline whispered that he had to be subdued, and Aktar drew a knife, crept behind the cultist, and cut his throat. As lights entered the room, shelves of scrolls were revealed, but a quickly glance didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary and the group continued on through a surgical room separated from the main room of the mosque by a curtain. The professor peeked out and saw a large group of cultists, but they were all facing away from the curtain, so the investigators slipped out into the room next door, only to find that it was a meat locker filled with disembodied limbs. There was also the body of a skinned woman hanging on a meat hook, and when the countess saw it she gasped but steeled herself. Rosaline noticed a pearl necklace lying on the floor, and she discretely pocketed it.

There was nowhere else but he main chamber, so the investigators snuck into the mosque chamber and crept into the crowd. In the center, under the mosque dome, is a stone slab with five indentations carved into it. Five children, James Rutherford among them, were led into the chamber and waited nervously near the slab. Aktar suggested that he would create a distraction while the others rescued the children, and lacking options, they agreed. As they waited, red-robed figures brought out the Simulacrum and placed it into the indentations on the slab. The old man also came out and pulled a scroll out of his robes, and began chanting. The professor understood part of the ritual, asking for power through the suffering of the flesh. As he stepped forward to end the ritual, his mouth sealed itself shut. The investigators began to usher the children out of the mosque, Aktar shouted, "foreign traitors!" and stepped forward, seizing the scroll, and completes the ritual. The statue absorbed itself into his flesh, and Aktar laughed manically and revealed himself as Mehmet Makryat, son of Selim Makryat, the new master of the Brotherhood of the Skin, and ordered the cultists to kill their old master, which they did with enthusiasm.

The investigators tried to run, but they were overwhelmed and escorted away. They were led past other cells full of maimed and mutilated prisoners, begging and whining, and shut into a cell on the top of the minaret of the Shunned Mosque. The professor understood some of the guard's speech--they were discussing the "flapping man," who might come for them, and they were desperate to retreat. As they left, the light revealed a shape in the corner, limbless and eyeless, covered in a blanket. He shouted out at the party, and Rosaline recognized the voice of Professor Smith before he fell unconscious.

Hours later, the door opened to reveal Mehmet Makryat, who lit a cigarette and monologued about his plan. He had impersonated Professor Smith from the beginning, setting the investigators on their entire quest, and revealed that he had been following them along the way and helping them overcome their difficulties. He thanked them for helping him defeat his father, and asked them how they had defeated Le Comte. They did not answer, and Mehmet explained that the Simulacrum's power was corrupting them already and they had only one hundred hours remaining in their lives, and that he was off to London to retrieve the Ritual of Cleansing that would save him from the Simulacrum's effects. With a smile, he said that he would unchain them so that they could see their bodies fall into slime, and he left. When he did, Professor Smith confirms Mehmet's story, but he said that the brothers believed the Flapping Man was a spirit of rage, and they could use that to escape. After some time, a pair of guards arrived to unshackle the investigators. As the countess passed Professor Smith, she flapped the blanket and screamed, and the the guards ran back down the stairs. Rosaline looked at Professor Smith and, after a short internal struggle, she slit his throat to end his suffering. Then the investigators fled down the stairs past the cells, past flayed skins, and the countess grabbed one and put it on. She ran out and babbled in a mix of languages, and the Brothers ran screaming in fear. The countess heard something behind her, and turned to see the real Flapping Man charging the Brothers. With that as a distraction, the party ran. Outside was James Rutherford, who ran up to them as they fled, as the sunrise washed the walls of the Shunned Mosque with blood-red light..
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
  2. Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
  3. Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist, killed by a thrown grenade during a battle with the Butchers at Sofiiski Universet, February 15th, 1923.
  4. Radovan Venclovic, Romani Ex-Soldier, driven to madness by the beast of flesh in the cemetery at Üsküdar, February 20th, 1923.
Over three thousand words. This was action-packed from beginning to end.

This part is, frankly, one of the weakest parts of the entire campaign--not only is it a railroad from start to finish, it has the players betrayed and captured by someone they thought would be their ally multiple times in sequence and the revelation that the entire quest across Europe and everything they accomplished was all at the bidding of the villain, so it would have been better if the PCs had just ignored Professor Smith's plea entirely and went on with their lives. I knew this was coming, and I've known for the entire game, so it didn't bother me that much. And it is a cosmic horror game, so it does a good job of showing the investigators' actions coming to naught. But as a roleplaying game device, it's poor form.

[ profile] mutantur said that the new version of the campaign has an option to end in a climactic battle at the Shunned Mosque where the PCs kill Mehmet Makryat and destroy the cult once and for all, which allows for immediate revenge. It's not how the scenario originally went, however, so we're going to do the original ending. That means there's two, maybe three more games and then we're done with the Horror on the Orient Express! Emoji ~ Cat smile
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​​Dramatis Personae
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Radovan Venclovic, Romani ex-soldier
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
  • Yan Nikolaev, Bulgarian police inspector
The last leg of the trip was long, but at 12:30 p.m. the investigators arrived in Constantinople. Having been warned that it was easy for baggage to get lost, Yan and Radovan immediately went to oversee the unloading. Radovan looked for the large crate Le Comte's coffin had been in, but didn't see it. Yan saw four pieces of the party's luggage, Radovan saw two, but the remaining piece containing the right arm of the Simulacrum did not appear. The Baggage Office was a nightmare of bureaucracy, shuttling the countess and professor from department to department, each of which swore that they would find the luggage but gave no impression of confidence. When Rosaline spoke to the staff of the Orient Express, however, they apologized profusely for the error and told her that they would find it and send it on to the hotel. Satisfied with this, and with the staff procuring a taxi for the party, they went on to the Pera Palace Hotel.

Constantinople was grand but appallingly dirty, with dead animals and garbage in the streets, but the hotel was clean and grand. The party checked their luggage carefully when they arrived, and soon after they got a call that their lost luggage had arrived. Everything was in order as far as they could tell, but as they sat down the countess and professor felt pain in their arm and leg, respectively, that struck suddenly and did not go away.

The investigators discussed their plans for a time. They had been given no contact and had no leads on finding the Shunned Mosque or the Sedefkar Scrolls they needed for the ritual. They eventually decided to store the Simulacrum in the vault of the bank associated with the hotel, and the hotel staff transported it without incident. The professor, Radovan, and Rosaline went to the British Consulate to check for messages from Professor Smith or Beddows, and received one from Professor Smith stating that the Simulacrum required all parts assembled and the scrolls to be destroyed. After, they reassembled at the hotel, they went on to the Topkapi Museum. Unfortunately, the professor's Turkish was not good enough to read the museum catalogue, so they retreated in defeat. Their next stop was the Great Bazaar, a madhouse of commerce. The professor bought some souvenirs:
Me: "I buy some souvenir garbage for my children."
[ profile] mutantur: "Your beloved children."
As they approached the scribes' section, they saw five Turkish men approaching them quickly and with purpose. Yan waved at them, but they continued around him toward a young scribe and began to smash his possessions. Rosaline screamed for help, the professor asked the men what the scribe's was and received a gruff reply that it is none of his business. After half a minute of beating, the men left and Rosaline hurried over to check his wounds. The scribe, Feyar, explained that the men had business with the government that went badly through no fault of his own, and offered his services. The investigators accepted, told him to meet them at the museum tomorrow, and win back to dinner at the hotel. After dinner, the professor scanned a local newspaper and noticed an article about a rash of child kidnappings. Greeks were suspected, but the group thought the Brotherhood of the Skin was more likely.

The countess and the professor still felt stiff and unwell in the morning, and after breakfast went to the museum. Feyar was there, and they entered and searched the catalogue. Listed plainly was "Scrolls, Sedefkar," with a note that they were not on public display. They sought out the museum director, Professor Azap, and the professor stated that he was writing a book about Turkish linguistic history and wished to see an example of 13th century Middle Turkish. The director was insulted, stating that the scrolls were an embarrassment, but allowed them in. However, the tubes he provided were empty, containing only a note:
The Skinless One reclaims
what is his
Cursed be Garaznet the Thief.
The director began consulting books, and the professor asked who the last person to see the scrolls was. The logbook contained an entry dated 1823 for a person named Selim Makryat, perhaps an ancestor of the Mehmet Makryat who had died three times in London at the start of their journey. With nothing else here, they left the archive. Yan asked Feyar about the Skinless One and Garaznet and the countess asked Feyar about the Shunned Mosque, but he had not heard of any of those. The screen suggested the university library, so that was their next destination. The professor looked up Garaznet, finding he was a Kurdish scholar four centuries ago, who had died without children and was buried in the Üsküdar. The countess looked into the Shunned Mosque, but didn't find anything matching the description from the records of the crusaders, and neither did Rosaline find any mention of the "Brotherhood of the Skin" by that name. She did, however, find a "cannibal cult" rumored to gather in a ruined mosque of roseate tincture. They left, with Feyar promising to meet them at the hotel the next day. After dinner, they went to a belly-dancing performance that was obviously designed for tourist pounds and francs.

On the way back to the hotel, it seemed like they were being followed by a Romani man leading a trained bear. As he passed, it seemed that he said, "Take care, my friends" in English, and the vanished into the crowds. Back at the hotel, as the professor scanned old newspapers, he saw a note about a murdered British office who had been killed by a couple involved in criminal activity, Charles and Evelyn Drake. The article mentioned a skinned monkey left in her room, which seemed strange. The cult had never been reluctant to skin humans before.

The next morning, they went to the market again. Listening to the local gossip, the party learned that the children were continuing to go missing and that the child of a wealthy European had also gone missing, so maybe the authorities would do something about it now. A young woman seemed to know about the mosque but wouldn't answer until the countess reassured her, and then she revealed that the Shunned Mosque was also called the Red Mosque, but then ran in fear. They heard the name of Beylab the Perspirer, who can find out anything. Feyar said he could not be trusted, but was willing to draft a message requesting an appointment for the following day. Next the investigators went back to the university to look for the whereabouts of Professor Sadik, Demir's uncle. They found an address and followed it, and after drinking tea in the sitting room, Professor Sadik arrived. He was unsurprised at Demir's death, saying that he always expected that he would outlive his nephew. The professor explained how a Demir had died and asked Professor Sadik about Garaznet and the Red Mosque, and while they did not learn anything new, they had the information they already knew confirmed.

After speaking with Professor Sadik, the investigators went to the Hotel Oasis to look into the Drakes' murder of the British colonel. The hotel was slightly run down, with a large man staffing the front desk. They rented a room, claiming that they knew the Drakes and asking after them. The clerk claimed he had never heard of them but Yan could tell he was lying, and the professor noticed the Drakes' names in the ledger next to two days in then Sultan Suite. That was there next destination, and strangely the door was unlocked. The room had been cleaned, but the mattress still bore bloodstains.

Down in the lobby, Radovan and Rosaline noticed that there was a tall, gaunt man who seemed to be watching them. As the countess pretended to faint to distract the clerk, the professor paged through the register and found that Charles Drake and stayed in the hotel many times, but Evelyn Drake had only previously stayed once. As the countess went back to the room, Radovan, Rosaline, and the professor went to talk to the man. He gave his name as Maurice Cotting and said he was a writer. He did not answer the investigators' questions, but Rosaline realized that he was an opium addict and might be more talkative at an opium den. They excused themselves and removed to a safe distance to wait. After several hours, Maurice left and the investigators followed. He went into a cafe, then out the back and into an opium den. They followed and sat next to Maurice, who was much more talkative now. He said he frequently saw the Drakes and that Charles Drake claimed to be a carpet importer but was actually a gun-runner, and asked for a share of the reward. The countess promised a share, and as Maurice floated off into an opium haze, the group left.

On the way back to their real hotel, the investigators saw the man with the bear again. It seemed strange, like the two were blending into each other, but when they looked again, there was no one there.
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
  2. Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
  3. Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist, killed by a thrown grenade during a battle with the Butchers at Sofiiski Universet, February 15th, 1923.
This session was pretty meandering, because we arrived in Constantinople knowing that we had to bring the Simulacrum to the Shunned Mosque and recite the ritual but didn't know where the Shunned Mosque was, where the Sedefkar Scrolls were, what the ritual was, and didn't have a contact or any other way to find the information out. There have been in-game days that took multiple sessions to cover, but this one session was almost a week.

I don't really have any other comments. This is the last slow point, then it's all a speeding train towards the ending!
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​​Dramatis Personae
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Radovan Venclovic, Romani ex-soldier
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
  • Yan Nikolaev, Bulgarian police inspector
After taking the weapons distributed by Major Kristova's associates, the inspectors sat and waited until dawn. The professor sat by himself, casting surreptitious glances at the major's associates and wondering if they could be trusted. The countess offered up a brief prayer in memory of Jazmina, thinking of all the people she had lost. Radovan cleaned the shotgun he had taken, checked his ammunition, and otherwise fell back into his soldier training. Rosaline stared off into space, almost in shock.

Near dawn, they all piled into a truck and drove southeast of Sofia, to a set of caves near a smaller village. The entrance had been concealed and behind was an obvious emplacement for an ambush, with barbed wire and sandbags set up in front of a machine gun emplacement. The actual machine gun was lying yards away, smashed to uselessness against a rock wall. There were several trucks parked nearby but all of them had ruptured fuel tanks and were undriveable. The major surveyed the carnage, hoisted his rifle, and shared a grim expression with his men. There would be no prisoners.

The cave was completely dark, with a slick floor and unsteady footing. Further in were cave paintings, a bison and hunters frozen in time. The passages looped in on themselves as the group descended further and further into the earth, and finally they heard the sound of boiling water and the faint stench of decay. Through a jagged arch of rocks was a giant chamber, full of echoes, and liberally strewn with bodies with a strange pyramid in the center. As the police fanned out and secured the room, the investigators moved in an examined the scene. The bodies had been torn apart, still clutching weapons that had proved useless against what they had faced. Radovan examined the bodies and found that there was much less blood than there should be. He looked closer and and realized that they were already starting to rot, and then realized that only parts were staring to rot. Parts which had been attached to living bodies by unnatural means.

As Radovan reeled back, the countess moved to see what was wrong and, as she crossed the room, she saw her own eye staring at her from a dead man's eye socket.

The major followed a trail of blood toward a crevice leading upward, with the sky visible through the other side. It was far too narrow for a human to make it through, and he abandoned any attempt to follow the trail. As the group approached the pyramid, they realized that it was made of skulls. Fifteen feet high, growing more and more fleshy as it rose. The top was flat, possibly intended to be used as a platform, and the countess mused that the head may be here. Radovan tried to climb and backed off in disgust when one of the skulls fell on him, and Rosaline suffered a similar fate. Yan asked what they were doing, and when the professor explained he asked for a boost and easily climbed the pyramid of skulls. It was strangely stable, and from the top he could a shrine on top with a pillow, bearing the indentation of a heavy object but otherwise empty. Yan called down that there was nothing there except the shrine, and then climbed down.

Following another trail of blood that led behind the pyramid, the group entered a narrow passage and found a dead cultist who had been torn to sheds. Behind him was a small opening, two feet in diameter, that descended down into the depths of the earth. Rosaline shined a light down but couldn't see anything, and Radovan dropped a rock. When the sound came back, Rosaline reached a hand in, twisting her arm around the passage's turns, and felt two garlic cloves and something smooth, with eye sockets. She lost her footing and her check against the rock, but reached further and further and pulled out the Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

As they existed the small passage, they noticed that most of the bodies on the ground had gone missing.

Radovan stared, seemingly in shock, but the group noticed that the other policemen were still there and had seemingly missed the bodies. One of the police shouted something, and the group noticed movement in the darkness, something darting around in the shadows. Climbing the walls and crawling along the ceiling, and a Yan called out to the major that they needed to leave immediately. A hundred feet from the exit, things came charging out of the shadows. Long-clawed, red-eyed, sharp-toothed, muzzled gray-skinned monsters, and the group prepared for battle.

Shots range out as the investigators fired at the rushing group of monsters. The major made the first kill, blasting one with its shotgun and sending it falling apart in a spray of accelerated decay, but then the monsters were on them. One of them hit Yan, knocking him to the ground, but Yan brought his pistol up and blew it apart. Another clawed Radovan and tried to seize him, reaching around Radovan's attempt to push it off and sunk its fangs into Radovan's neck...and then it crumbled as the major shot it in the head. Rosaline crushed a clove of her garlic and the creature attacking her backed off, hissing. As one of the monsters approached the professor, he drew forth the Mims Sahis, slashed the vampire, and cut it in half.

As the countess backed away from the creature attacking her, the major shouted at them to run and ordered Yan to follow them. Rosaline threw another clove to the major and the investigators moved toward the cave entrance, avoiding the creatures who reached for them, and fled through the passage toward the surface and into the sunlight. The monsters' footsteps followed them through the tunnels, but as they left the tunnel their flesh seared in the sunlight and they fled howling into the caves. The major, having followed them, punched the wall in fury and stalked to his truck. He said he had lost good men and there would be vengeance, and pulled out dynamite and passed it out to the investigators. They laid it down, triggered it, and an explosion sealed the entrance to the horrible caves where the Butchers had their temple.

Rosaline applied first aid to Radovan's wounds as the professor carefully examined the wound's reaction to sunlight. It seemed benign, and Radovan claimed that no blood was drawn, but the professor watched him all the way back to Sofia. There, the major and Yan had a private discussion and then Yan said that he would travel with them to accompany them on their trip. Yan grabbed his equipment and they all returned to the investigators hotel, where they had an almost supernatural compulsion to reassemble the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

HotOE Completed Sedefkar Simulacrum

Each investigator saw something of themselves in it, and they spent some time gazing at it. Yan asked them their plan, and the investigators explained the Shunned Mosque, the Brotherhood of the Skin, and the need to destroy it. The professor explained about Le Comte and the expectation that he would be coming for them, soon, and the investigators split up to prepare. The countess bought garlic, Yan bought wood to be whittled into stakes and "acquired" some holy water from a local church, and the professor picked up the Arabic translation materials he had had forwarded to Sofia. The professor wrote letters to his sons and daughter, and the countess bought a fashionable eyepatch. Then, they boarded the train for their last night on the Orient Express.

The investigators were exhausted, but they knew they were in danger. The professor suggested they crush garlic and apply it to the seams of the outdoor windows. Yan suggested that they jam the doors in their rooms that led to other rooms, and the countess suggested that they set a watch. After an uneasy dinner, they returned to their rooms and fell asleep, and in the night, there was a knock on the countess's door. Her questions as to the identity of the person were answered only with more knocks. The noise alerted Yan and Radovan, and Yan peeks out into the hall and saw a conductor. The conductor seemed to be sleepwalking, but they raised a shotgun, slowly, and fired. The sound raised screams and and shouts, and as the conductor raised his shotgun, Yan charged. The conductor moved backward just in time to be hit by Rosaline and the countess opening the door to their room.

As conductors came running and shouted at Yan about whether to arrest the conductor, the conductor who had the gun protested his ignorance and eventually was led away. After some brief argument about what to do, the investigators drifted into uneasy sleep. After about an hour, the professor heard a whispered voice demanding that he return the "skin." The professor said nothing, retrieving some garlic, and knocked on the door to the women's room. As the voice ranted, Rosaline knocked and the professor opened the door, shushing her. Eventually Le Comte promised to kill one passenger per hour that the Simulacrum was not returned, and the voice fell silent.

Waking the others up, the professor explained the situation. The investigators decided that they would have to track down Le Comte and destroy him, and so they girded for battle and proceeded to the Fourgon, where they assumed that Le Comte must have some coffin that protects him from the sun. As they walked down the corridor, they heard a roaring sound, and coming around the corner they saw a tiger that sprang on Yan, biting him! As the tiger's fangs sank into his flesh, Yan drove his stake into the tiger, but it didn't seem to have any effect. Rosaline crushed some garlic and hurled it at the tiger, and it recoiled and its body rippled and twisted into the form of a man. A horrific mockery of the human form, long arms and covered in scars, with a muzzle-like face, rotted nose, and hideous fangs. The countess threw holy water to no effect, Le Comte stared at Radovan but Radovan fired his shotgun, blowing a hole into Le Comte. Then the professor pulled out the Lover's Heart. The red light of hatred seared the ancient monster's face, and its body fell apart into mist as it fled.

As they entered the salon car, they were questioned by a conductor, but Yan managed to bluster enough to ward him off. To assuage further suspicious, Rosaline, Yan, and Radovan briefly went back to their room, but the professor and the countess stayed for a drink. As they drank, they heard from another passenger than one of the passengers had died.

The others returned and the professor told the conductor that he needed to retrieve something from this luggage and the conductor, who seemed unsteady on his feet, shuffled aside. They entered the Fourgon and began to search, frantically looking for a coffin or something large enough for one. They found an unregistered crate, clearly large enough to contain a body. Radovan and Yan pried it open and found a coffin, padlocked shut, and the investigators forced it open. The coffin cracked open, revealing a layer of blood-soaked earth and...Le Comte, who opened his eyes and attacked.

Yan hurled garlic and Rosaline tried to stake the vampire, who clawed her across they face, dropping her with hideous wounds. The vampire leaped up and stared at Yan to no effect, and Radovan grabbed Yan's carbine and fired, blasting a hole in the vampire. The countess quickly bandaged Rosaline as the professor pulled out the Lover's Heart and, in Latin, intoned, "Tullius Corvus, go now to thy reward!" The red beam illuminated the vampire, spreading like a bloodstain across his body, and the shock of hearing his name was the last thing he knew as his body exploded into dust and the ancient monster was finally laid to rest.

In the chaos of the passenger death, the investigators were able to scatter the blood-soaked earth and destroy the coffin. They told the conductors that there had been an anarchist bomb in the unregistered coffin, and surprisingly their story was accepted. They finally went to sleep, knowing that one threat had been dealt with, but they were traveling straight into the maw of danger.
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
  2. Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
  3. Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist, killed by a thrown grenade during a battle with the Butchers at Sofiiski Universet, February 15th, 1923.
Crawl 'til dawn
On my hands and knees
God damn these vampires
For what they've done to me

I definitely thought we were going to lose Rosaline this session, but the countess pulled a clutch first aid roll at the last moment! And it's a good thing that none of us approached the windows. There's a lot of terrible things the vampire can do from the safety of outside the train.

Le Comte is finally dead (through the professor doesn't entirely think so, and he's followed us across Europe this far so I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to be suspicious). Now we just have the Brotherhood left to deal with. Just.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​​Dramatis Personae
  • Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Radovan Venclovic, Romani ex-soldier
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
​It was a ten hour train ride to Sofia, and the party used the time to catch up Rosaline on what had happened in the forest and explain what they were up against to Radovan. To their relief, Radovan accepted their story of secret cults, lands of dream, and vampires without much question, and when the story was done, the countess proposed a toast "to those who are no longer with us." The party drank gladly, though with some tears in Jazmina's eyes as she thought of Demir.

As they lowered their glasses, Jazmina spotted her father's friend Radko Jordanov, sitting alone at the far end of the dining car and taking notes on some documents spread on the table in front of him. Led by Jazmina, the party approached, noticing over his shoulder the words "Sedefkar" and "Simulare," as well as "Dzhudzheta" underlined several times. Jazmina greeted him and he responded warmly, astonishment that they were on the same train. The party asked him his business, and he said that he was on the way to Sofia to catalogue Dr. Moric's possessions and was studying a student's old paper that had some remarkable similarities. The student Ivo Pinev found a statue head that he claimed he bought from a farmer and spun a fantastical tale of a prehuman race, which he named after the Dzhudzheta of Slavic myth. His paper was full of gross inaccuracies and he was laughed out of academia, but Dr. Jordanov added that he was surprised to see that the strange words like "Sedefkar" that he thought were simply fabrications were reflected in the papers from Mr. Moric's cache.

As he spoke, Jazmina and the countess noticed that one of the waiters had stopped doing serving and was blatantly listening in to Dr. Jordanov's conversation and taking notes in his serving pad, ignoring all of the summons from the diners. When he noticed the party's attention, he turned and began moving toward the far end of the car. When the maître d' asked him why he was leaving, the waiter drew a knife and slashed at him!

As the panic started in the car, Radovan jumped up and began leaping from table to table in pursuit, while Jazmina tried to force her way through the crowd. Radovan was notably more successful, forcing open the door at the far end and struggling with the assailant as one of the conductors tried to dissuade Jazmina pursuit. She was not delayed long, however, and arrived as the waiter was trying to leap off the train and Radovan was grabbing at the briefcase the waiter carried. As he grabbed at the satchel, the strap broke and it went tumbling off the train. Soon after, the pair were able to restrain the waiter, after which the conductor arrived with several men to haul him away.

Radovan followed his nose and found the corpse of a young man, stripped to his underclothes and missing his right hand.

The party reconvened and discussed the situation. They couldn't think of of a reason why the hand would missing, and Jazmina, the professor, and Rosaline eventually decided to go check on the man himself. When they arrived, the guards told them in confidence that the waiter had killed himself while he was in the cell. Jazmina spun a tale of a ring that the waiter had snatched from her, which got the professor entrance to the cell. The waiter had killed himself by stabbing himself in the eye, and after a moment controlling his stomach, the professor inspected the body. The waiter had both hands, no rings, no tattoos, and nothing suspicious about him. His search fruitless, the professor exited the cell and they all returned to their rooms, where the awaited their arrival in Sofia.

In Sofia they were met by a grizzled police inspector, Major Kristova, who took them to the station and questioned them about the events on the train. He seemed to accept even the strangest of their stories about cults, and when Rosaline asked if these events were common, he replied in the affirmative. He seemed like he wanted to say more, and at the countess's urging he revealed that there was a group of slavers operating in Sofia called the Butchers, who kidnapped people and occasionally took body parts as trophies. He urged them to be careful and report anything they saw, and led the group out to the street. As they left, the investigators noticed that the other policemen snickered at the inspector as they walked out.

Dr. Jordanov offered the use of his car to the group if they would drop him off and the investigators accepted. They took rooms at the Hotel de la Bulgarie, and while everyone else went to bed, the professor and the countess ordered up wine and cheese and had a quick meal before retiring.

In the middle of the night, Radovan and the professor were awoken by scuttling in the middle of the night and awoke to find disembodied hands clambering toward them! They began to scuffle, dodging the hands' attacks. Radovan grabbed his hand and hurled it out the window, and the professor tried to hurl blankets over it but failed.

In the other room, the countess was awoken by cold fingers as the hand plucked out her eye! Emoji Face gonk

Rosaline and Jazmina were also under attack, but after the hands strangled them for a moment, they let go and began to run toward the heating vents. Most of the party let their hands go, and the professor's attempts to capture his were unsuccessful.

As the countess screamed in agony, Rosaline ran over and treated the wound while the professor called the front desk and demanded a doctor. Radovan closed the heating vents and searched the room before the doctor arrived and began to treat the countess. The professor said that he and awoken to figures in the room, but they fled as soon as they noticed their targets were awake. The doctor replied that this fit with the times, gave the countess some laudanum, and said the police had been called. The police took a statement, looked around, and then left, and the group drifted into an uneasy sleep.

As she slept her opium dream, the countess had visions of running through back alleys and climbing into a black car, leaving the city and speeding off into the country.

In the morning, Major Kristova was waiting for them in the lobby. The major did not buy their story of disembodied hands, and left in disgust after telling the investigators not to call him again. As they returned to their rooms, the countess told them about her visions and had another, of the car driving through the mountains, which had a very distinctive outline.

About this time, Rosaline, the countess, and the professor remembered what had happened to the priest whose eye was taken during the Fourth Crusade.

As they were leaving, the hotel staff took the professor aside and told the professor that an eye was found in the alley behind the hotel, but it was green and her eyes were brown. The professor thanked them and the group continued on to Dr. Jordanov's house, where after an awkward explanation and breakfast, he wrote down the title of the monograph and the party split up to search. Rosaline eventually found it in the library.

As the countess was searching, she had another vision, a stronger one almost crystal-clear. A person walking through a cavern carved out of the living rock.

In the study again, Jazmina sat down with the manuscript and began to read it. It claimed that the idol was created by prehuman dwarves, ridicules the academic establishment, and says the idol was sent to Dr. Todor Mativ at Sofiiski Universet. At that name, Dr. Jordanov pales and says that Dr. Mativ had killed his wife and sons and was found wearing their skins. He rushed at the police and was shot down like a mad dog. Years later, his assistant killed herself by stabbing herself in the eye. Dr. Jordanov sat down and said that he was done with the investigation, but the countess managed to drag a promise out of him to contact the Sofiiski Universet and arrange and introduction with Professor Chedenko.

As the investigators were leaving, the countess had another vision, again in the same cave. On a huge overhang, images were carved of mammoths and men wearing antlered headdresses.

At Sofiiski Universet, the staff were supremely uninterested in the urgency of the party's plight, until a professor of English took pity and, in a roundabout way, asked for a bribe. The countess gave over the money and he led them to Professor Chedenko's office, Jazmina knocked, and the investigators entered. Professor Chedenko was slightly absent-minded and easily distracted, but when Jazmina mentioned the Dzhudzheta Idol, Chedenko opined that it was probably a fake, maybe plastic. Rosaline tried to impress the urgency of their mission onto him with Jazmina's help translating, and Chedenko offered to show them the idol. Up a stair and down a hall lined with armor, was a door, and through the door was chaos. A headless man, spurting blood, and two seriously beaten men lay in the scattered parts of the workroom. Most of the investigators were okay, but for the professor this confirmed that Le Comte truly was after them, and he fled screaming.

The others saw men in dark clothes climbing out the window. One escaped, but the others turned at the opening of the doors and moved to attack. One of them had a shotgun, but his wild firing missed as Radovan charged in toward them. The other hurled a grenade. Jazmina tried to kick it back and Rosaline tried to throw it, while,the grenade man pulled a handgun and shot Radovan in the chest, dropping him. Then the grenade exploded.

Rosaline and Jazmina were seriously wounded and the countess, though she had run, was still shaken by the explosion. She stood up and treated Radovan and Rosaline, but her attempts to save Jazmina were unsuccessful, and Jazmina bled out on the floor of the Sofiiski Universet. Emoji Oh dear

As Rosaline worked, the countess looked out the window and saw the men in black standing by a large truck with a covered back. It screamed out of the parking lot and right into another car that moved to block it, plowing through the car and sending its driver flying. This knocked off the tarp and revealed a maxim gun, which the assailants fired at all the other cars in the parking lot as they fled.

The countess applied first aid to the only one of the survivors in the room, who muttered "Men. Robes. Who wear shoulders not their own," before passing into a coma. She checked on Professor Chedenko, but found that he was dead, and as she stood up she had a vision of a group of men in black robes walking through a fanged maw carved from living stone.

The students and faculty of the university arrived and, after some panic and worry, doctors were called, and Major Kristova was there as well. He said that he would protect them from the rest of the police, taking them in as witnesses, and he warded off the rest of the police when they tried to question the investigators and took the group away.

He managed to arrange some time for the investigators in the library, and the countess asked about the mountains. The librarian recognized it as the Sredna Gora, a local mountain range. Rosaline and the professor did some general research into eyes and heads, finding a few fragments about the eyes being the windows to the soul and cave paintings being symbolic representations of the animals. Then they left the library, went into a truck, Major Kristova whispered a password and the truck drove around randomly to confuse pursuers until it arrived at an abandoned bakery, where, after an exchange of knocks and passwords, they were admitted. In safety, they shared stories with the Major, explaining the cults that chased them, and the major replied that he had been chasing the Butchers for three years and now, the location of their base was finally known. The major said they would need a plan, and then attack tonight. Then he offered the base as a place to rest.

As they rest. The countess had another vision of horrific mutilations performed by something not quite seen. Limbs ripped out with impossible force, screaming faces torn apart, before something rushed at her and vanished in an explosion of light. As the countess panicked sightlessly, her brain refusing to see anything at all, she realized that the pain and itching in her eye was gone. Perhaps she was safe?

As they were resting, the group received a call from an informant saying that they saw a truck passing near full of bullet holes. The major stood up and said that this was their chance, and after passing out weapons, they all left to take the fight to the cult.
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
  2. Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
  3. Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist, killed by a thrown grenade during a battle with the Butchers at Sofiiski Universet, February 15th, 1923.
The deaths are coming faster now.

I forgot about the eye! And those cultists in the library were much deadlier than most of the opposition we've faced this far. Shotguns and grenades? We're going to need to start carrying tommy guns like the most stereotypical of Call of Cthulhu protagonists. At least now we have a group of heavily-armed paranoid conspiracy theorists on our side. It's almost like we're playing Delta Green again!

When I failed the SAN check in the library, I drew from [ profile] mutantur's deck of failed SAN rolls and got unshakeable belief, so the professor is now even more convinced than ever before that the hand of Le Comte is behind everything. And honestly, I don't see why that's not correct. Once you admit that there are vampires, well.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
​​Dramatis Personae
  • 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
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
  2. 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!
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • 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
The train pulled up to Belgrade at 9 a.m., disgorging the investigators amongst a swarm of children eager to help them with their luggage and calling in a variety of languages. Demir snatched his suitcase back from a child and the rest of the party tried to keep track of their luggage when a young man called out to them in accented English. He introduced himself as Pieter Riticht and offered to guide them during their stay in Belgrade, suggesting the Hotel Moskva as a good place to stay. After a moment's consultation, the investigators took him up on his offer.

After dropping off their luggage at the hotel and arranging for Pieter to return in an hour, Jazmina called the National Museum to ask after the director. The secretary replied that Dr. Todorovic would not be available until 3 p.m., so the investigators decided to go to the Turkish Bazaar first and then go to the museum in the afternoon. They waited until Pieter returned to the hotel and allowed him to guide them to the bazaar.

The rest of the group was astonished to see the chan in Demir's mannerisms at the Turkish bazaar as he laughed, told jokes, needled the merchants, and was generally jovial while the professor followed along as best he could with his textbook Turkish. Rosaline wandered off to go look for antiquities and the others looked for new sets of clothes--Demir's clothes had a conspicuous hole in it, but the others' clothing was a bit worn after a month and a half traveling across the continent. As they were shopping, they noticed a fortune teller, an old woman of indeterminate ethnicity with a black hen at her feet, and the professor and countess went over to have their fortunes told. After a moment and with some reservations, Jazmina followed them to translate.

The woman reached into the hen's nest and pulled out an egg, and after waving it three times widdershins over their heads, she poked a hole in both ends and blew the contents out onto a plate. She peered at the contents and told them that they had lost someone or something, both recently and in the distant past. They seek something that was once whole and now is not, and they are on a journey. She told them to "Beware the one who is unseen" and that "The three who greet you are old as man," but did not explain and ends her divination.

As she was speaking, Jazmina had noticed that her hen was staring at the professor and countess fixedly, almost with anticipation, and as the divination ended, she questioned the fortune teller about it.
Jazmina: "Your chicken is staring."
Fortune Teller: "It is a chicken." Emoji crossed arms
She was dismissive and broke off conversation, grumbling that she didn't have to explain herself, and Jazmina did not pursue the issue.

As they left to look for Rosaline, someone called out to them from the crowd and then a man walked up and asked them to help find his lost child. Demir brushed him off, but turned back to find that his brass knuckles had been stolen. When Pieter noticed this, he apologized profusely, blaming the Roma in the city. Demir scrutinized him carefully, but he seemed genuinely remorseful and not as though he was the point man in part of a scheme to rob travelers, so they accepted his explanation.

When they met with Rosaline in an area of the market devoted to antiquities, Jazmina spotted something that looked very similar to the simulacrum! They entered the stall and asked the man about the arm, but as he brought it out to be inspected, a burly mustachioed man ran into the stall, shoved Rosaline aside, and grabbed the arm, running off into the market! The seller shouted about thieves as the investigators gave chase, followed by some of the dealer's friends. They shoved their way through a narrow alleyway, leaped over a carpet seller, and pushed into a dense crowd. At this point Rosaline and Jazmina caught up with the thief, who swung the arm at them and a melee broke out. It was brief, ending as the man smashed the arm into Jazmina's right side, causing it to shatter into pieces and severely lacerating her. The professor ran up to administer first aid as the thief withdrew to join his associates, and as the shouts of the police drew closer, Pieter urged them to run and they followed him advice.

After a leisurely lunch and a visit to the hospital for Jazmina, the investigators went to the National Museum to meet with Dr. Todorovic, which they found in a museum hall, inspecting a statue of Venus. Throwing caution to the wind for once, the professor introduced himself and his companions, explained that they came on behalf of Professor Smith of London, and sought the Sedefkar Simulacrum. Dr. Todorovic wasn't familiar with the statue, but he knew of Professor Smith and mentioned his antiquities contact in the countryside, including showing some pieces provided by said contact, but said that there was a prohibition on exporting antiquities without a specific permit and would not give the name of his contact without a permit. The professor arranged a meeting the following morning and they went over to the government offices to get a permit.

Jazmina spoke to the secretary and after being led down several corridors, through stairs, through rooms, and down a stairway that almost certainly should have led to the boiler room, the investigators arrived at a small office. The man inside was unloved by their protestations until the professor revealed his station, at which point the man mentioned the poor of his village, the orphans left by the war, and gave the professor a knowing look. After a brief bit of haggling, the professor handed over £12 and the man wrote up a blank permit that the investigators could fill out later, and they were almost pushed out before the offices closed. They went back to the hotel and had dinner, after which they spent the evening relaxing and Demir went to have his tattoos repaired by a black market tattoo artist. Then, everyone went to sleep.

In the morning Dr. Todorovic arrived at their hotel to inspect the piece of the simulacrum. He was astonished at what he saw and said that he was unable to determine its provenience or its material, but he said that when he looked at it under the microphone, the arm appeared to be carved entirely out of entwined smaller arms. After asking if he could examine the other pieces and being told there was no time, he gave the investigators the name of his contact--Father Christian Filipovic, the village priest in the town of Orašac south of Belgrade. After offering to examine the statue when the investigators make their return trip, Dr. Todorovic bade them good day.

Before arranging tickets, the investigators went to the national library to research Orašac. In addition to some national propaganda about how the village was the birthplace of first Serbian uprising against the Ottomans, they found a record about a Byzantine expedition by Nikephoros I against a local cult of Cybele, where during the burning the form of the goddess rose out of the flames, hair waving like serpents find screaming with many mouths such that hardened soldiers fled in terror, but in the morning there was nothing in the temple but ashes. Emoji octopus glasses

They went back to the hotel and packed their luggage, among sure to arrange storage of the pieces of the simulacrum with the hotel since it was far too dangerous to bring with them and too dangerous to leave unguarded. As they were packing, Demir reached to move the Mims Sahis after noticing that it had somehow come unwrapped and accidentally brushed his skin against it. Before he had realized quite what had happened, he wrapped his hand around the handle and thoughts filled his mind of skinning and using the skins to achieve...something. He made half a movement toward the pieces of the Sedefkar Simulacrum before he managed to put down the dagger and, carefully wrapping it up again, he tied it with string and put it away.

The train to Orašac was extremely crowded, mostly with Serbs, though there were also some animals as families brought food home into the countryside. At one point, the countess left her seat and when she returned, she found it occupied by a large, stubborn-looking, and very determined to remain in place rooster. Nothing she did could dislodge it, when it pecked through a coat that Demir threw over it, the investigators decided to leave the seat to it for the remainder of the journey. After fighting through a crush of people to change trains in Mladenovic and taking a small rural train to Arandjelovac, the investigators disembarked in a rural area as the sun began to set. Seeing their confused looks, a local pointed to a set of wagon tracks and Jazmina managed to convince a farmer to allow them to ride in his wagon to Orašac.

Orašac was a rural town, with dirt roads and animals visble from the road. Children stopped playing when the investigators approached, and things seemed like they might be difficult until a housewife approached and asked them their business in the village. Jazmina explained that they were looking for Father Filipovic, whereon the woman offered to guide them to his house at the top of the hill. They were greeted by the father and his wife Ibrisa, as well as the local mayor, Todor Nedic, and his wife Ilija, all of whom are happy to meet foreign guests. The priest asks the investigators their business, and when told about Dr. Todorovic directing them to the wilderness, he asks if they wish to meet "grandmother." She is a local woman who lives alone in the woods, as long as anyone can remember, but who is sharp as a tack and who has made good money from the National Museum with the sculpture she sends on. The investigators cannot go there tonight, however, since it is already very late, so the priest and mayor offer to allow them to stay in their homes and the mayor invites them to dinner.

As they leave for dinner, Rosaline notices a photo of the priest's wife from their wedding day. A younger Father Filopovic, and his best man Todor Nedic, beam out in wedding finery, while Ibrisa is also radiant. Rosaline does notice, however, that while Filopovic and Nedic look their age, perhaps in their sixties, Ibrisa appears to be her in late thirties at most now, little changed from her appearance in the photo...
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
This is the section of the original Horror on the Orient Express that I remember the most about and part of the reason for all the [REDACTED] in my earlier posts. I thought it was one ridiculous nonsequitur the first time I listened, but [ profile] mutantur has said that they've made more of an effort to blend it in with the rest of the campaign, so I'm eager to see what happened.

I really want to harness the black chickens and unleash them on our enemies, though. There was some frustration over the inability to move the chicken out of the seat, since it was set up as a moment of weirdness but without enough context to explain why it was that it refused to move or why no effort by the investigators could move it either. Fortunately, we eventually gave up and moved on without taking too much damage from the Immovable Chicken's claws of doom. I have seen HotOE players who were not so lucky.

Also, as [ profile] mutantur was describing the camaraderie on the train and the way the villagers welcomed the foreign guests with open arms, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I kept confirming everything he said. We have real-life experience with that kind of thing, in Japan. Of course, this is Call of Cthulhu, so they could be setting up for the Foreigner-Skinning Festival, but I guess we'll see! Emoji Cute shrug
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personæ
  • Asinius Ravila, Iberian medicus
  • Belasir of Tihama, Arabian sagittarius et speculatore
  • Emeric of the Suevi, Germanic auxiliārius, and a Christian
  • Galerius Evodis, Constantinopolitan optio
  • Milonius Kanmi, Carthiginian sagittarius
The legionnaires returned to the fortress with their prisoners, immediately reporting to the commander. After the local medicus saw to Emeric's injuries and they explained the bat-monsters they had fought to Longinus, he urged them to question the prisoners and learn what he cult was planning. They first tried a good cop/bad cop routine, but the two cultists just smiled with far-off expressions and ignored their questions. It wasn't until Galerius hit the boy across the face that he reacted, and that single hit opened the floodgates. The cultists began ranting about the doom and plague that would sweep over the Empire, and claimed that the "Army of Skin and Blood" was even now on its way. The legionnaires immediately reported the news to Tillius Corvus and Centenarius Longinus, who begin making preparations. At the legionnaires' urging, the refugees were brought within the walls and bonfires were kindled. As the soldiers made preparations, Galerius gave a rousing speech about the glory of Rome and the fortitude of the legions, sending up a wave of cheers from the men.

Almost as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the army arrived. Groups of skin creatures and bat monsters, mixed with howling cultists with strips of their skin ritually flayed off. Emeric was more far-sighted than his companions, and beyond the army he saw a skinned parody of horse, bearing a robed rider that lifted a curved knife above its head. Overwhelmed, Emeric began to babble Christian prayers in Germanic as the army moved to the wall and began to scale it, paying no heed to the arrows and javelins of the Romans.

Several of the monsters gained the wall and combat dissolved into melee. One of the skin beasts latched on to Belisar and began to drink his blood, only to be shoved off and then chopped to ribbons by Galerius. The other monsters are quickly dispatched now that they don't have the element of surprise, a process that repeated itself across the came. Apparently, necromancy was no match for Roman steel.

After the battle, Emeric felt slightly ill, though he waved it off as the effects of his earlier fight. Tillius ordered the legionnaires not to pursue the fleeing army, but rather to wait until morning. After several hours of fighting, they were glad to obey that order, and they went to sleep. In the morning, they met with the centenarius, who assigned another group of legionnaires to accompany them as they followed the trail to the cult headquarters. The trail required no expertise to follow, littered as it was with blood, the bodies and greasy remnants of monsters, and discarded weapons from the Army of Skin and Blood. It led into the mountains, through a narrow defile that there would have been almost no chance to find if they hadn't had the army's trail to follow. As the proceed into the mountains, Milonius notices that the other legionnaires have abandoned them and turned back for the fort, but Tillius orders them to proceed with the mission.

After a few hundred yards, the trail opens up to a bowl-like depression in the mountains, with seventeen tall menhirs, half again the height of a man, each covered in weathered hieroglyphs and with a skinned human corpse lashed to the stone. In the midst of the menhirs was a pit, descending into an unnatural darkness. A dropped torch vanished into the darkness, and it wasn't until they spread out and searched that they saw a cunningly-concealed stairway descending down the rim of the pit. With no other choice, the legionnaires descended, finding a pool of liquid blackness near the bottom. A spear poked into it came out clean, and so the legionnaires steeled themselves and kept walking. The blackness felt slightly unclean and seemed to leave a thin film on them, but they were not further harmed.

At the bottom of the stairway was a cave complex, with three tunnels leading away and mosaics of implike creatures all around the floor and walls menacing primitive humans armed with spears.
Me: "Did you say, 'Impolite creatures'?"
Belasir's player: "I also heard impolite."
The floor was covered in a curling mist and the legionnaires heard the faint sound of whispers. As well, the sound of footsteps echoed through the caves, and so the legionnaires took one of the corridors that led to the cult's food stores. Milonius suggested destroying the stores, but Tillius was against it, and so the legionnaires continued, finding a barracks with two injured cultists who they quickly slaughtered and then hid the bodies in the human skin hammocks and covered them with the human skin blankets that furnished the room. When the patrol's footsteps had vanished again, they continued down the corridor and found the cult's main room. The mist was stronger here, coming out of holes in the wall, and there was a column in the center with a flayed human figure and some kind of instruction or ritual area in the back. After ambushing the patrolling cultists and killing then, Milonius and Emeric examined the column and were stunned when it transformed into an image of their own faces, each seeing his representation. The others examined the ritual area and the rugs and wall hangings made of human skin, drawing their swords as the skins began to move and attack. There were three against six legionnaires, though, and when they were cut to ribbons another passage was revealed leading further into the cave.

Through that passage was a floor carpeted in human scalps and walled with the skins of legionnaires. Bone windchimes hung from the ceiling and in the back was a bone bedframe with human skin sheets and bedding. In the center was the cult leader, who lifted aloft a curved knife with an unnatural sheen to its blade and babbled that "Your skins are mine!" and then the skin the chamber animated to surround the cultist as he started chanting in Gothic. The legionnaires charged, but Milonius was overcome by the cult leader's magic and attacked Emeric. Emeric managed to block the blow with his shield as the others attacked the skins, and when they were shredded, the sorcerer's skin fell away. Most of it became a strange insectile monster, slithering to attack, except for the skin of his face which animated as a bat-like flitting abomination. But none of it mattered as the legionnaires charged in, and Tillius drove his blade into the sorcerer's heart, causing all the skins to crumble to dust and the mist to fade away.

But the blow unleashed a fountain of blood, much more than a human body could contain. The flood knocked Tillius over, and when it faded Asinius examined him, noting that he was still alive but in a coma. The other legionnaires picked him up and carried him out, back to the fort, and arranged for transit back to Constantinople, where the magister militum offered them two months' leave and a year's pay in exchange for a promise never to speak of this again. He also demanded that Emeric surrender the knife he had taken from the sorcerer, which he did with extreme reluctance--at this, the professor and the other investigators reading the account stopped and looked at Demir, who simply shrugged.

The legionnaires all took that offer and, after their leave, they gathered for Belasir's wedding to Nona and then, when Tillius finally awoke, his wedding to Eudoxia, held on her family's barge on the sea. Just before the wedding, the magister militum summoned them back for one more mission, saying that the the knife has vanished. All of them except Belasir agreed to the mission, but first they attended the wedding.

Tillius gave a toast to the men of the Fortes Falcones, commending them for their bravery...but ended it by saying that Tillius was dead, and then snarled at the wedding guests as a wave of pain and nausea spread through the group. Before anyone could react, he tore out his new bride's throat with his bare hands and began drinking her blood! Milonius, Belasir, and Galerius died of the poison almost immediately, but Emeric and Asinius managed to fight off the nausea and crippling pain and flee to the side, deliberately knocking over several lanterns into their flight. They leapt into the sea as the tapestries and decorations caught fire, and looking back, they saw Tillius killing the wedding guests until the flames grew too high, where he transformed into some flitting winged thing and took off into the night. They knew they were not strong enough to swim back to the Golden Horn, but a passing fishing boat saw the flames and came to investigate, hauling them aboard.

Emeric quickly succumbed to his injuries, the shock of the sea, and the poison, but Asinius lived. He finished the journal stating that he planned to change his name and take ship to Iberia or Gaul, traveling as far as he could from Constantinople and the horrific sights he had witnessed. This was the last page.

Mr. Johnson! Emoji Shaking fist

I was expecting something to go wrong, but I was not expecting the commander to turn into a vampire. Maybe a bit more explanation would have been nice, since the historical Constantinople scenarios seem partially set up to explain where le Comte came from and why a Call of Cthulhu game has a vampire as a villain. Or, okay, an evil sorcerer who just happens to have all the legendary powers of the vampire. But it doesn't, really. Was Tillius possessed by the blood? Does the Gothic cult leader live on? Is it unrelated? Who knows. It's fun to play Romans, but this didn't actually seem to serve much story purpose.

I did like the combat, though. It turns out that our modern-era investigators should probably go buy some chainmail, since that, our shields, and our high combat skills matched with Fight Back meant that we slaughtered our opposition without much effort. We need more combat prowess from our elderly academics.

I like to think that Asinius is the ancestor of Professor Durand, but assuming he had children, he died probably around 360 or so. He's undoubtedly an ancestor of the entire group of 1920s-era investigators.

Next session, back to the 20s and on to Belgrade!
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
In the comfort of the salon car, surrounded by his fellow investigators, and one new addition, Profesor Durand opened Chronicon de Tillius Corvus and began to translate the classical Latin into English.

Dramatis Personæ
  • Asinius Ravila, Iberian medicus
  • Belasir of Tihama, Arabian sagittarius et speculatore
  • Emeric of the Suevi, Germanic auxiliārius, and a Christian
  • Galerius Evodis, Constantinopolitan optio
  • Milonius Kanmi, Carthiginian sagittarius
XII mensus Martius, F. Gallicano et A. Valeriō consulibus

The men of the Fortes Falcones were in Nova Roma, supervising construction crews for the Imperator's new capital. All of them had served long years in the legions and were looking forward to finally retiring and getting their pensions and land--other than Galerius, who loved the soldier's life and was grumbling about being forced to leave. As they went about their various tasks, their tribunus Tillius Corvus found them and told them that the Magister militum had told him that he had one last mission for them, and they needed to assemble immediately. Grumbling slightly, they did so.

They waited in the magister's office, along with their fellow veteran legionnaires Laurentius (Lorenz) Germanicus and Nabidius Ursus, both of which looked very disgruntled. Galerius asked the magister's aid why they had been summoned, and while the aid demured, eventually he explained that a courier had come from Lydia, and after hearing the message, the magister had the man imprisoned and immediately summoned Tillius.

Eventually they were invited into the magister's office, and he explained his tasks. There were rumors of plague in Sardis and the Ghilian Outpost in Lydia had been out of contact for days. He required a small force to investigate in absolute secrecy. The people were saying that this was the work of a Satanic cult, and it had to be dealt with before the Imperator opened his new capital. He brusquely commended them for not trying to speak with the courier and then ordered them to leave in the morning before dismissing them. Outside, Tillius apologized for the summons and the sudden calling away from their duties, but he said he was asked for his best men. He wouldn't force them to go, but he urged them to flee the city immediately if they had second thoughts. For his part, he was going to celebrate since his amica Eudoxia had promised to marry him as soon as he returned. The legionnaires eventually joined him, though some took care of other business first--Belasir said goodbye to his own amica Nona, and Galerius and Milonius both made sure to make a sacrifice to Aesculapius. Then, with much praise to Tillius and much ribbing of Belasir, they went to sleep.

The next morning the legionnaires assembled, minus Laurentius Germanicus and Nabidius Ursus, and they boarded a ship and crossed the Sea of Marmara. On the other side, as they were relaxing, other soldiers asked them what they were doing, as is the way of soldiers, which they deflected with varying degrees of skillfulness. Then, in the morning, they left.

They rode for days through the countryside, the villagers getting less and less friendly as they went until after three days the they hid at the legionnaires approach, shouting of plague. Finally, they arrived at the fort and several outriders rode out to meet them. The soldiers anxiously asked where the reinforcements were, and Tillius assured them they were only a few days behind, having been delayed by washed-out bridges. Then, they were taken to meet Curio Longinus, the local commander, who explained the problem. There was a local cult called "The Flayed," who were harassing the villagers, and there was an illness. The Valerian Plague, it was called, and it caused fevers and hallucinations, eventually leading to death. Longinus said his men had also been attacked, and so he finally ordered all of his men to remain within sight of the fort walls. The legionnaires ask if they can speak to the refugees, and Longinus agrees, so they go to the refugee camp.

The legionnaires split up and ask about the situation. They learned that the villagers were being attacked by bats and strange, flat ghost-things, that the plague had a 40% fatality rate and there were always six days of symptoms, that whole villages had been depopulated, and that the cultists were in the mountains to the east.

While Asinius was speaking to the refugees, a plague victim surged up from his bed, raving, screaming to G-d to save him from his fate. Asinius shook him off...only to have the man's skin come off in a single piece and fall to the ground. The man vomited black bile and stopped moving, and the camp's medicus and his assistants carried him off toward the trench in the north, where they had put the bodies of those who died of the plague. The legionnaires followed, and when the oilskin over the trench was removed, they found that all the bodies were skinless and piled haphazardly, and there were no flies or smell of decay. The medicus was shocked by this, saying that they had treated the bodies with respect, and the legionnaires carefully approached to examine the trench. Belasir found a strange trail, like a man walking dragging something, and followed it to the east to see where it led. Meanwhile, Emeric heard something moving in the bodies, and as Milonius readied his bow, Asinius and Emeric drew their swords and began moving the bodies, only for something leathery and white to surge up out of the pile at them!

Despite the initial surprise, they made quick work of the thing, which seemed to be made of human skin, but there were more sounds of movement in the trench. The thing's body burned away in the sunlight, and when it was nothing but an oily stain, Tillius arrived and asked the legionnaires for a report. He agreed with their plan to check the rest of the ditch, and when Belasir returned, they pulled the oilcloth back and found three more of the things, which surged up to attack as the sunlight began singeing and blackening them. When they were dead, Tillius ordered them to follow the trail immediately, and they did, eventually finding a farm with several corpses on the ground and an ominous silence.

The legionnaires began their search by opening the barn, and again they were surprised as three chiropteran, chimeric monsters rushed at them. Emeric howled at them, foam flecking his beard, but Tillius and Galerius met the rush with their blades, cutting one to ribbons immediately.
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and me simultaneously: "Die, monster! You don't belong in this world!"
The remaining two beasts were harder to kill, with one latching onto Emeric as he barely defended himself in the depths of his berserker rage and drinking his blood, but they finally chopped down the creatures. As they did, they noticed two youths running from the smokehouse. Their skins were marked with ritualistic scars, and they were wearing black robes and carrying knives, so the legionnaires chased them down and overpowered and bound them. The youths had far-away smiles and said nothing, and Tillius ordered the legionnaires to return to the fort and report what they had found.


One of the reasons I've been looking forward to this section is that in the modern world, bat monsters running around and attacking people tend to raise questions among the players. How come they aren't being reported? Where are the photographs? In the past, where so many people already assumed that there were monsters, the gloves can come off. Bring on the Draculas.

I wasn't a fan of how two of the PCs are archers but everything we found so far takes half damage from impaling weapons. That's always been a flaw of Call of Cthulhu, though. I mean, Pickman's Model has Pickman deal with the ghouls using a revolver, and yet ghouls take half damage from impaling weapons. Mi-go take minimum damage from guns even though in The Whisperer in Darkness, a guy with a shotgun kills like a dozen of them. Monsters being unstoppable in the face of modern weaponry is a trope of Cthulhu RPGs, not the original media, and I suspect is mostly just to prevent the investigators from solving everything with tommy guns and dynamite. I just wish it wouldn't extend back to arrows.

This could have been a very frustrating scenario, what with having a commanding officer, but [ profile] mutantur struck a good balance by characterizing Tillius as a wise leader who listens to the advice of his men--i.e., lets the PCs make the decisions. Some of the orders above were made after listening to us discuss our course of action, so it was more like an imprimatur than explicit orders. If we have to have NPCs telling us what to do, having us do what we were going to do anyway is the best way to go about it.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
The party headed to the newspaper office to ask about the article on the dig site, written by one Vesna Femic. The receptionist was dismissive to the point of being hostile, but after some persuasion by the professor, including mentioning that the subject of the article's daughter was there and would they pass up this element to the story, she revealed that Fenic was nothing but a gossipmonger, scarcely better than a village fishwife. She provided an address as well, and that was the investigators' next destination.

The small cottage was in a residential area nad when they reached the door, they noticed signs that it had been forced open at some point. Checking for people nearby, the group swiftly entered and searched the rooms. They found bloodstains in the bathroom that had been hastily cleaned up, a darkroom stripped of film and negatives, a missing rug, a few loose teeth behind the couch, and a note that said:
He knows. Fired us and closed down. Summoned daughter. Acting weird. Tell you more tonight at Rose Garden. Same room.
Jazmina mentiond Lazar, one of her father's grad students, who might be this L.

The next destination was the dig site. Gianni attempted to pick the lock but accidentally jammed it shut, and Demir snapped it off after checking to see if anyone was nearby. Inside, the dig was covered by a tarp, and opening it revealed a set of stairs descending into the dark. In the light of Demir's flashlight, the investigators searched the cross-shaped building. Most of the site was empty, though it was obvious where the artifacts had been, but there was a small sarcophagus or font in the center with the lid on its side. The entire interior was lined with lead, as was the bottom of the lid. There was a strange symbol in the center which the professor did not recognize, and Demir snapped it off after a moment. As he did, he felt a forceless wave pass through him, and the professor suddenly realized what had happened.

Dr. Moric had found the Serpent's Claw, the knife possessed by Sedefkar and hidden by the Order of the Noble Shield. He planned to destroy it, which is why he mentioned a cement factory in his notes. Dr. Belenzada had tried to talk him out of destroying an old artifact and had hidden this fact from the investigators, and may have taken the knife and harmed Dr. Moric. They would have to return to the research facility.

At this point, the investigators split up. Demir went on to the Rose Garden to ask about Ms. Femic, and the others went back to the hunting lodge. The attendant at the Rose Garden unhelpful until Demir handed over a large stack of bills, which jogged his memory. He mentioned both Vesna and Lazar and the room they had rented, but mentioned neither had been there in a week and what's more, the rug had been stolen. Demir asked about possessions and was told that they were thrown in the alley out back, so that is where he went. Digging through frozen garbage, he found two rugs...with bodies in them, whose faces had been skinned off. They had no clothes or other possessions, and he moved them so they would be obvious to passersby and then left.

On the way back to the hunting lodge, almost back, the other investigators were surprised by a hideous shape that emerged from an alleyway. It was wearing the shirt and hat of a man, but was a horrifying chimera of forms--the head of a boar, the arms and body of an ape, but the legs of a human being. At the site, the countess, professor, and Gianni immediately ran. Rosaline bravely grabbed a board and swung at the monster, but was struck down in a single blow and lay unconscious in the street.

Jazmina drew her pistol and shot the monster, hitting it in the throat, but not killing it. It pursued Gianni as the professor threw a rock and missed, reaching him and grabbing for him. Gianni tried to flee but it trapped him with its long arms and, catching the Italian in its grasp, it tore off his arm and hurled it aside, squealing in triumph. The professor hammered on a nearby door, shouting in German until he caught the attention of the inhabitant, who let him and Jazmina in. Jazmina explained what happened to the inhabitant as the monster prowled outside, until eventually they heard rifle shots and the sound of boots.

The countess ran until she reached an army checkpoint and, finding they didn't speak English, French, or Russian, tried to use gestures to explain what she saw. This is where Demir found her, and the two of them successfully convinced the army to investigate. They find another patrol had already discovered something, and the professor and Jazmina exited the house to see Rosaline being treated by army medics...and a sheet lying over Gianni's body.

All the investigators cannot help but notice that the missing arm, lying near the body, is his left arm. The same arm whose partner they have sculpted in mysterious stone, sitting among their luggage.

After pausing to collect themselves and hearing from the army that they would come speak to them the next day, the remaining investigators went back to their hunting lodge, where they ordered several drinks and toasted to Gianni's memory. The countess aluded to an incident in her past where Gianni had been of great aid to her and her late husband, and they all drank and ate dinner. Demir did not order any food.

The professor ordered boar.

The next morning at breakfast, after reading an article about a čudovište ("monster") who had been seen prowling the city, they received word that the body of Dr. Moric had been found in the woods of suicide. Jazmina was disbelieving, saying her father would never do such a thing, and after going to the hospital to pick up Rosaline, who had made a very quick recovery thanks to Call of Cthulhu's generous healing rules, they traveled into the forest.

After some convincing, the army permitted Demir to examine the body since he was suspicious due to the lack of blood, but soon objected to his treatment. While the Serbian army medic questioned Demir's credentials at increasing volume, the others used the opportunity to examine the body closer. The professor found a bullet found in his back with no front exit wound, probably indicating a punctured lung; gray dust around his shoes from granite, a component in cement; and tracks like the body had been dragged her.

Jazmina tried to explain what they had found, but the army brushed her off, and she angrily told the investigators that the army said they would not put many resources into investigating the death of "a Croat." The army wanted to question them further, but Jazmina successfully convinced them that "the women" were feeling faint and needed rest, and so after saying they would be by to talk to them later, the army let them go.

At the hotel, the investigators borrowed a series of rifles and prepared to travel to the medical facility to retrieve the Serpent's Claw, and we ended there.
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
Our first death! Emoji Extreme crying

We've done pretty well in avoiding danger until now, since few of our characters are good in combat. I should have known that a random encounter would have been our bane. We should have been advancing in close ranks with shields in front and the rogue scouting ahead. Or at least, start carrying pistols. Or maybe the professor should do a quick dive through the books and learn Red Sign of Shudde M'ell or something.

I'm worried about the plan we have to attack the farm, but fortunately I have some time to think it over. If there's a way for an assault to turn them against each other so we're not fighting guards and monsters simultaneously...hmm. This need some consideration.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
Tossing and turning, most of the investigators managed to get some sleep, but Demir awoke just before dawn and noticed that the train was moving extremely slowly. He questioned the night conductor, who replied that there was some difficulty ahead, but didn't receive any elaboration, and eventually went back to sleep. After dawn, when the others awoke and ate breakfast, the train was still moving slowly, the passengers were grumbling, and the conductor made an announcement: there has been an "incident" on the tracks ahead, and the train will have to make a stop in Vinkovci while the track is repaired for three or four days. This caused some grumbling and arguing, but the conductor was firm that nothing else could be done.

Newspapers were passed out and, while they're written in Serbo-Croatian, a local English teacher spotted the professor scanning the paper for anything familiar and offered his services. He translated an article about a local archaeological dig being conducted by Dr. Dragomir Moric on "The Crusader's Tomb." The article was a hit piece, accusing Dr. Moric of hiding his discoveries due to some ancient secret, but it did prominently mention the name of Sir Miho of Dubrovnik, which the professor recognized as the man in the Latin account of the Fourth Crusade who had come to remove the treasures from Constantinople. He showed the translation to the other investigators, and they agreed that as long as they're stuck in Vinkovci, they may as well look into this tomb.

As the train slowly pulled into Vinkovci, the party noticed the conspicuous line of policemen with rifles who were awaiting them on the platform, and then there was an announcement that everyone must disembark for inspection. Grumbling, the passengers all alighted from the train and lined up in a queue to be questioned. The policemen inspected their passports and then asked if they've ever been in the area before, their profession, and if they are veterans. All of the investigators answered honestly and without any attempt at concealment or disdain, and the policemen let them go after some suspicious glances. Other passengers were not so lucky--some of those who were too self-important and demanded that the delay be ended immediately had their luggage dumped in the mud for "inspection." There had been a bombing, they heard from the chatter around them, and the police suspected an anarchist group.

As Demir assisted a man he saw being backhanded by a policeman, Rosaline spotted an agitated-looking woman and a man in a fisherman's hat who seemed to be following her. The woman ducked into the bathroom and Rosaline followed, briefly spoke aloud to herself about how competent her traveling companions were and how great they were at helping someone in trouble, and then left when she received no reply. Her announcement bore fruit moments later, however, when the woman left the bathroom, walked straight up to the professor, exclaimed her greetings, and kissed him.

As she hugged him, she whispered that she was being followed and needed help, words which were soon confirmed when a delivery van pulled up, boxing in the taxi in which the investigators' luggage was being loaded, and two men jumped out as the man in the fisherman's hat ran toward them. A melee ensued, with the party trying to prevent the assailants from reaching the woman, and the woman trying to get away. After one of the assailants was stabbed by Demir, the other two ran, and a shot rang out from their getaway vehicle, hitting the fallen man and killing him instantly. The woman introduced herself as Jazmina Moric, the daughter of Dr. Moric, and said they needed to leave immediately because the police would have them shot. The investigators didn't need to be told twice, and they piled into the taxi and sped away.

Jazmina said she was here looking for her father since she had received a strange note from him in English, talking about his excavations and how some things should remain secret. There was a message for her at the Hotel Lehrner, and she knew that he was staying with Dr. Goran Belenzada, and Jazmina asked if she could direct them to the Hotel Lehrner. After the group's assent, the taxi took them to the hotel, where she did find a strange note waiting for her:
Zagrebacka / Zvonarska / Kralja
Be careful. I love you.
Also in English. She didn't recognize any of the words, however.

After lunch and a visit to the Belenzada house, finding that the doctor was not home, they took another look at the letter. Demir suggested that they might be addresses, and consulting a map they found a streetcorner at the intersection of Zagrebacka and Kralja Zvonimia. Traveling there revealed a few stores and the book shop Odlika Knjiga, a famous seller of rare and secret books. Rosaline's eyes practically blazed as the investigators immediately entered and spoke to the owner. The professor asked about Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, which Dr. Moric had mentioend in his letter, and the owner demurred and said that he had sold his last copy and it was being held for the daughter of the buyer. At this point, Jazmina intervened and introduced herself, and the bookseller gladly handed over the book, warning the investigators to be careful as it was a first edition. This produced a moment of tension between the professor and Rosaline, but Jazmina checked the book and found a claim ticket inside with the number 187 and the note:
Go to Pouzdan Zalihi. Use your mother’s maiden name.

Key submerged in the nearby Roman Bath. I’ve left instructions. Be careful.
Rosaline left her card with the bookseller and the professor asked him about a copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Junzt. The bookseller apologized and said he did not have the German edition, since the copies were all in libraries and universities, but he had a copy of Nameless Cults, the Bridewall translation that the professor had flipped through in the library in Trieste. The professor purchased it for a considerable sum of money, and the bookseller handed it over with a note to be careful--there were only twenty known copies remaining.

After a trip to the hospital to ask about Dr. Belenzada also proved fruitless--the orderly said that he came and went with irregular hours, though he did give them the address of a medical research facility on the outskirts of the city--the investigators ate dinner. As they did, they saw a large troop of military entering the town, probably over a hundred soldiers, and they speculate that they'll probably be under a curfew soon. But not yet, so they go to Pouzdan Zalihi and after some initial confusion, find the key submerged in a birdbath in the park across the street with a statue of the emperor Valens, who was born in Vinkovci when it was still called Colonia Aurelia Cibalae. The claim ticket is for a box, some eight feet long and four across, that when opened revealed a number of artifacts packed in straw and a journal written in Serbo-Croatian. The artifacts include a silver coin labeled Unas ex tr etc, "One of the thirty" [pieces of silver], which Gianni takes particular interest in; a box with a stone carved with a pentagram-and-eye symbol and the engraving obex sancti gabrielis, "The Barrier of Saint Gabriel," which the investigators urge Jazmina to carry; and a number of texts, some of which are in Latin and Arabic and catch the professor's eye. Chronicon de Tillius Corvus, "The Accounts of Tillius Corvus," a hand-written Latin work dating from the Imperial Roman period; Kitab Rasul Al-Albarin, an Arabic text which the professor's Arabic was not good enough to understand without further study; and Sapientia Maglorum, which the professor translated as "The Wisdom of the Magi." There were also a large number of documents related to the Order of the Noble Shield, mentioned by Dr. Moric in his initial letter.

The group retired to the hotel to rest before bed. As Jazmina worked on translating her father's journal, Gianni and the professor begin reading Sapientia Maglorum. They read tales of leaping flames, of beings that danced amid the fires, of ancient Persian sorcerers calling out to the void and the stars that burned as fires in the heart of the black, and the things that answered their call. They were named with words obviously transliterated from Arabic into Latin and Greek. Words which the professor was unfamiliar with, though something in them recalled phrases he had heard the cloaked stranger in nightmare Zagreb speak--al shabb al muthlim, an Arabic phrase meaning "The Young One of Darkness," and the Greek word Ξαστυρ, "X'astur," accompanied by the sobriquet Magnum Innominandum, "The Great One who is Not to be Named."

The professor loosened his collar as he worked. He smelled smoke, and saw movement in the corner of his vision, until as he read of sacrifices being given to the flames, something in him...broke. He stood and ran from the burning building, out into the snow, where it was cold and no fire could catch, with Gianni running after him shouting his name. The other investigators, awoken by the commotion, found him in the center of the square outside, glancing from left to right, rubbing his hands with snow. It took some convincing for them to get him back inside, and only after firmly showing him that the building was not on fire, that the smell of smoke was only from the oil lamps, and that the fire in his room had been banked could they convince the professor to sleep. Demir asked him if he needed someone to watch at night, and after a moment's thought, the professor thanked him but demurred. Then the group all slept.

In the morning, they were informed that there was indeed a curfew, ending at 7 p.m., which still gave them plenty of time. They traveled to the medical research facility, but Dr. Belenzada was not there, only some taciturn guards who grudgingly served the investigators vile tea and said that Dr. Belenzada wasn't there and didn't tell him his schedule. The party waited the two hours before their taxi was scheduled to return and then went back to the hospital, where they finally found the doctor.

The doctor told them that Dr. Moric had indeed been staying with him, but that he had not seen him for three days. There had been an argument, with Dr. Moric saying his discoveries were dangerous and needed to be hidden and Dr. Belenzada appealing to his scientific mind and the desire to share knowledge, but to no avail. Dr. Moric had gone missing, and so had one of Dr. Belenzada's shotguns. The doctor says that he may have gone to Kunjevci, a forest to the south of the city, close to the lodge where the Orient Express had arranged lodgings for those who were displaced by the bombing. The investigators make plans to go on a hunting trip, and we ended it there.

The professor's first serious SAN loss! It was 2d6 for the Sapientia Maglorum and I rolled 9. Gianni only lost 4, so he maintained his presence of mind. I'm up to 29% Cthulhu Mythos as well, so I'm well positioned to follow in the footsteps of Professor Armitage and become the old guy who knows everything and helps combat the horrors. That's the path I'm trying to go down, anyway. The professor isn't going to be that much use in a fight. I failed all of my rolls in combat and got slashed for my trouble.

This is not something I remember from the old Horror on the Orient Express. I wonder if it's new for this edition? It might be, since it seems to tie in heavily with the past interstitial pieces, which I know are new.

Next session, hunting party! Emoji Dragon Warrior march
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
Having successfully evaded two cults for most of the day and boarded the Orient Express, the investigators finally had a chance to relax. They settled into their cabins and, when the time came to go to dinner, turned out of their cars and made their way to the dining car. On the way, though, they found a man in his dressing gown, standing between cars, staring off into the distance and repeatedly muttering to himself, "He called, and I have come. He called, and I have come." The professor laid a hand on his shoulder to wake him, and found it easy. The man was profoundly embarrassed, claiming to have had no dreams, and quickly made his excuses and retreated to his cabin.

At dinner, after a delicious meal, the waiter Maurice brought out a bottle of Sauternes from another guest and offered to pour it. The investigators agreed, and after the professor inspected the wine and the cork was pulled, a soothing sweet scene filled the air, bringing calm to everyone and more than a bit of envy from the other tables. The countess asked Maurice his opinion, and he took a taste and nearly swooned, saying it is the best wine he has ever tasted and that it is for such moments that he would not trade his job for a dukedom. The group--except Demir, who refused--drank their wine, luxuriating in the taste, and then looked expectantly to the corner when Maurice indicated their benefactor...only to find an empty table. Apparently he had slipped out during dinner.

Full of delicious food and drink, the investigators went straight to their beds after dinner, falling almost instantly asleep, only to be awakened just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb with their names clearly printed on it, and said that their luggage had already been unloaded. As the investigators reluctantly glanced at the fog-shrouded platform, they saw a cloaked figure, muttering to itself, and holding something gleaming white in its hand.

Since their luggage was already on the platform, they debarked and approached the cloaked man, who greeted them with a strange speech:
"What ho! Abed so early? And you too? sluggards! Did you plan to slumber like swine and forgo one of Europe's great cities, hurrying onwards to your gathering task? Bah! Come, come. I have arranged your stay here. Time flows swiftly, and we have much to talk about ere dawn. Perchance you will permit me to tell you the full strange history of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, and of what you can expect to find on your arrival in Constantinople. Hah! Follow good fellows, and let the Devil steer the course."
Before the investigators can ask him anything, he walks forward into the eddying fog, vanishing in moments. As the bells rang in the distance, the investigators found a nearby area with a lock to stow their luggage and followed him. Where he stood when giving the speech was a crumpled page from a diary, and Demir stooped to pick it up, but he quickly blanched and handed it to the Countess, who handed it to the professor. It read:
We were always destined to be together. From the moment I saw you I loved you; so beautiful and cruel, so heartless and perfect. I, your vile servant, was not fit to worship at your feet. Yet I caressed your alabaster limbs. I kissed your shining eyes. I held you close, closer than skull to skin.

I knew from that first moment of ecstasy that we were doomed to part, that you would use me and discard me as a snake escapes its old skin.

I tried to write down all you were. I thought that way I would remember you. I thought I could pin your essence down like a flayed hide and hold you forever in my heart. I should have known that any attempt to describe your loveliness was doomed from the start. Yet I wrote in a fever of longing, and I drew you on scrolls of skin. I hoped and dreamed that you would always be with me. But now you are gone. All I have left are a hollow hide and words, empty, useless, tormenting words.
There was no signature and no clue in the handwriting, but something about it seemed ominously familiar.

The investigators wandered the city of Zagreb, encountering no one, but occasionally seeing the cloaked figure of their host, always just out of reach above on a bridge or across a canal or around a corner. They followed the sound of hissing and squawking and found a statue of a gryphon and a serpent locked in mortal combat; a fish dying on the cobblestones that Gianni picked up and threw into the river; a shadow on the wall following their own, with pointed ears and long talon-like fingers, that on inspection turned out to be cast by a tangle of leafless trees; frosty message on bare earth that spelled out "But do they dream?"; a river of milk and a flagstone under which was a tarnished silver ring. And at each place they found another strange passage, written on tattoos on skin, or diary pages, or on a swirl of snow in the air. One, in particular, written in blood on the inside of a straightjacket, caught the professor's attention:
I lust. I hunger. I thirst. I rave. I cannot live without you. You are under my skin. You are my self. I had you once. Then I was perfection, killing and reveling and laughing with joy. I lost you and became a brute. Mad with desire for what I have lost I want to kill myself but I cannot. My shriveled skin resists the knife-thrust, my dead heart cannot be stopped again. I will kill all those pathetic would-be lovers who stand between us. When I seize you at last I will despoil you, ravish you, consume you. You will be me. I will be perfection, and laugh and kill and revel once more.
After the professor read it, he stood, looked off into the distance, and muttered to himself, "Le Comte."

In one square was a woman laughing and weeping alternately about a man ahead ("a man, a head"?), and when asked about the shrouded figure, she told them to:
"Ask the Tide, and name the one you seek by his proper title. She can tell you where to find him."
And she walked away, smiling, with blood on her lips. The professor addressed the black waters of the river as to the whereabouts of one Brother Merovac, called Le Comte Fenalik, but there was no reply other than the sound of the river sluggishly flowing in its bed.
[ profile] mutantur: "Is it the Styx? Perhaps. Chunks of ice whirl in lazy spirals, quiet testimony to the biting cold of the dark water. No bridge dares to conquer this slumbering wet beast."
Me: "...I'm pretty sure I saw Slumbering Wet Beast open for Seraphim Shock."
There was a man in one square turning over flagstone after flagstone, searching for something, and when Demir gave him the ring, he exclaimed with joy that now he could be married and Death should be his bride. When asked about the cloaked man, he told Demir to find the One Who Knows, and ask for "He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets." Then he stepped off the quay onto a patch of ice and sailed off over the black waters until the fog swallowed him up.

Lashed to a statue of Mary was a woman who cried out about her crime, that of assuming that as her son also suffered as all men suffer, and her toil was as onerous as all mother's toil, why was he not as worth as the son of G-d? When asked about He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets, she directed them to fort at the center of town and told them he awaited them there. She refused food, and when Demir spent time cutting her free, she fell to her knees...and as the party turned away for merely a moment, they looked back and found unmarred ropes bound her again to the statue.

When the party reached the fortress they found the shrouded man was indeed there, and after a brief acknowledgment he lets them in. Doors, bars, and gates all opened with a mere touch, and finally at the top of the highest tower, he bade them be seated. He told them he also once sought all knowledge, and he would be willing to impart what he knew, but there was danger. He claimed the skull he bore was his own, blasted by its inability to contain what he knew, but the party have already paid the price of his assistance, and so he would grant his knowledge.

And he did. As the investigators sat down, words poured almost in a torrent from his lips, burrowing into their brains. Of the secret history of the Earth, and the species that dwelt there before there were any humans. Of the ultimate futility of all human endeavor and the end of history, of the cruel Empire of Tsan-Chan thousands of years hence, of the feeble attempts humanity made to reach for the stars and the desperate retreat back to the mother world, and the dark conquerers fifteen millennia in the future. Of the Great Old Ones that lie dead but dreaming, and wait for the stars to be right. Of the ultimate source of reality, the blind idiot god Azathoth, who dances mindless to the piping of demoniac flutes from the blasphemous Throne at the center of the universe, and of its voice and soul that is the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep-

His brain reeling with what he had heard, the professor wrenched his attention away from the shrouded figure's words to find that his companions had already stopped listening--except for Rosaline, who also shook her head violently and looked away just as the professor did. As the figure saw that his words fell on deaf ears, he stood and shrieked:
"You are lost anyway! For if you have not returned to your beds at dawn, you are doomed to walk the endless night of this place with the rest of us!"
As his voice died away, the bells began to toll, pitilessly and relentlessly, and the investigators rose from their seats and scrambled down the stairs from the tower in a headlong dash through that maddening City of Bells and Towers, shrouded in fog and horror. And as they ran, stumbling in panic, as the sixth bell tolled and their doom approached, they saw the lights of the Orient Express in the distance and they flung themselves aboard as it pulled away from the station, dashed to their rooms, and opened the doors--to find they were too late! For there they were, safe in their own beds, starting awake at the interruption! And as the knowledge of their doom pierced their brains, they fell into a swoon-

-and awoke in their beds, in the middle of the night, as a violent wrench threw open their doors and they came face to face with themselves, gasping and white-faced, with staring eyes filled with fear, and oblivion took them back into its embrace rather than face what terror it was that they themselves fled from.

Only to be awoken just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb...but then he looked again and apologized profusely, for their names were not on the list. After an assurance that this mistake would not be repeated, he bade the investigators go back to sleep and exited the car.

That morning, at breakfast, the countess fussed over the professor's health...and he poured her a cup of tea.

I did not remember this at all!

[ profile] mutantur last session mentioned that this wasn't in the original HotOE and I would be surprised, but it turned out that it was, it was just much less relevant. Originally it was all quotes from The Journal Of J.P. Drapeau by Thomas Ligotti, but in the revamped version it's all quotes from the various players in Horror on the Orient Express. The first quote is from Sedefkar himself, who wrote the scrolls, and I correctly guessed that the second one in the post--the third one we found, I think--was from Comte Fenalik. There were a half-dozen others, but this is already over 2000 words long and quoting them all would add a ton of space. It's especially ironic because the session only took about an hour and a half to play through.

The professor is no longer Sanity Man. He's now Cthulhu Mythos man, with a score of 26% after the shrouded figure's knowledge dump. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd doesn't like the dark. I do. That's the way of it. Left up to myself, I leave most if not all the lights in the apartment out, since the light filtering in from the alley outside through what few openings are left in the curtains we have up is enough for me to see by. Even at night, I usually don't bother to turn on the lights when I get up and move around. The apartment layout doesn't change, after all, and my night vision is pretty good. But sometimes, when I come home, the curtains are open and all the lights are on as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd soaks up the light.  photo Dawn.png

The last couple nights, I've been reading a Let's Play of a Japanese RPG Maker game called Corpse Party. You can probably tell what kind of game it is from the title, and even though the links to the music and sound had vanished into the internet ether--sadly, since they're the highlight--I still found it creepy enough that before I went to sleep last night, I left the living room light on.

It would have made more sense when we lived in Japan, since we basically lived in a J-Horror house. We literally had an abandoned house right next to ours, plus another abandoned compound just down the street. We had steep stairs with no railing that a spirit could easily have pushed us to our deaths down.  photo japan001.gif But here, where three quarters of the apartment is always visible from any other point in it?

Well, it's the dark. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was worried that I would think less of her when she told me that she didn't like the dark, but I don't. The dark is scary! And who knows what could be out there. I can tell myself whatever I want, but my instincts are the instincts of a savannah-dwelling ape who stayed with the group or huddled by the fire and lived, while those who knew there was nothing out there were eaten by lions. So it took me a long time to fall asleep, and while I didn't have nightmares that I remember, I woke up an hour and a half before my alarm.

Maybe it's also that the game takes place in a school. I taught in a Japanese school, and I've been in other schools. They're all laid out pretty similarly, so it was easy for me to convert the minimal RPG Maker graphics in my mind into what a decayed, rotting school would actually look like. Maybe more effective than if the graphics had been more realistic.

Usually I'm fine in the dark, but it doesn't take much.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
After the altercation with the Turk the previous night, Demir was still convalescing and unable to travel far (and his player was absent), so he remained in the hotel while the investigators went to another museum elsewhere in Trieste, since they were just waiting for the translator to finish his work with Herr Winckelmann's diary. On the way to lunch, though, they noticed a man was following them through the streets, who looked very like the man that Demir had described in the library, having the pages of his book turned.

The investigators turned down a small alleyway and waited, and the man walked right into the alleyway and up to the investigators, making signs that they should follow him. After some hesitation, they did so, and he led them through the streets to a house in a run-down area of town. Entering, they found a single-room hovel with papers everywhere. The man rummaged through the papers, finally finding a sheaf of them and thrusting them at the professor, while Rosaline and the countess noticed a photo of the man, smiling, with two intact hands resting on a woman and a young boy. As they left, the man gestured frantically toward the northeast, and when the investigators began moving in that direction, he seemed satisfied and went back into his house.

At lunch, the professor read the papers. They were the diary of one Helmut Grossinger, and while fragmentary, they described a series of fantastical events. Cults living in caves beneath the earth, "human fish," limbs grafted onto other bodies and moving on their own, and names he had never heard of like "Ghatanotha" or De Vermis Mysteriis. As they talked and ate, they noticed the man with the red hair and black streak was standing across the street, watching their cafe--until a van pulled up just past him and two Turkish men jumped out, bundled him into the car, and then sped away.

After lunch they went to the library for research. They found the Postumia Caves were northeast of Trieste, and while there was a cave that was closer that was fully explored, another cave closer to Postumia had much that was still mysterious about it. The professor researched the unfamiliar terms in the diary and found nothing, but Gianni was more successful and learned that the library in Trieste had a reference copy of Nameless Cults, the Bridewall translation into English. The professor could tell that the translator had either been incompetent or taken extreme liberties with his work, but he still found himself disturbed when he opened to a random page and found an account of trees moving on their own or when commanded by the will of another.

At the hotel, the front desk told the professor that he had a message from the translator, so the investigators left again to get the translation. The professor paid the man, with a bonus for his quick work, and left. The translation spoke of Winckelmann's mission in Trieste of the "Beasts" and "Them" who were hunting him, of the need to hide the medallion before Archangeli got his hands on it, and of the need to have the amulet to enter the caves safely.

On the way back to the hotel, the professor noticed a pale-faced man dressed in antique clothing, far behind them on the street. He turned to tell the others about it, but when he turned back, it was gone. It was merely a foreshadowing of the events that would occur at dinner, however. The table rose, seemingly by itself, before falling back to the floor. Gianni cut into his chicken to find it full of writhing maggots, but when he spit out the moving piece in his mouth, it was merely normal chicken. The wine glass rose into the air, filling with blood, which poured out and made an image of Bacchus. The professor's knife moved his hand seemingly of its own accord, brandishing itself in the air. None of the other hotel guests noticed anything, and eventually the investigators left dinner before coffee and retired to their rooms.

At the professor's suggestion, they conducted a séance. Gianni had a Ouija board on his person, and the group pulled it out began chanting Johann Winckelmann's name after the professor improvised some Latin invocation. The planchette moved slowly, spelling out the letters M·A·R·C·O·P·O·L·O before the planchette shattered!

That night, they didn't get much sleep either. In the two other rooms, the candles refused to light, escalating into chairs moving, pillows exploding, the doors opening and shutting, and light bulbs shattering. Eventually, they were all ejected from their room and the doors would not open. The professor slept soundly until he woke in the middle of the night to find the fire had changed to a strange blue color and the room was freezing cold. Frost formed on the window, creating an image of Bacchus and his maenads in some pastoral scene--and when the professor took out a sheet of blank paper and pen, a similar image was created after the presence tried to write and found only scribbles coming out. When the professor got out of bed and touched Winckelmann's diary, radiating bone-chilling cold on the desk, the fire roared up, the frost melted, and the room returned to normal as a knock came on the door.

The others found the professor nearly hypothermic and bundled him into a blanket and sat him near the fire as the investigators relayed their experiences. The hotel staff thought that the rooms were ruined as a joke, or at least so they said, but they fixed the room and the investigators went back to bed. In the morning, they went immediately to the library to research Bacchus's involvement with Trieste. After some time, they found an artist named Nicholas Burnette who had been on a tour of the continent and had sketched a frieze in Trieste of Bacchus, reproduced in the account they found. It was on the "Via Marco Polo," only a few streets away.

The investigators made their way to the house and found the frieze, above a gate that was heavily padlocked. Asking a neighbor, they found that the building was abandoned, but the key was held by a widow, and the professor posed as an interested buyer. The widow was surly and suspicious, but she handed over the key and asked that they bring it back when they were done, so the party went back to the building, opened the door, and entered the dilapidated building. It was in extremely poor condition, with multiple holes in the floor and ceiling, but after the professor leaves to buy a lantern and comes back, they are able to make their way down the basement. Then, as they are examining the room, a pale-faced man in antique clothing, slightly translucent, comes down the stairs! He makes his way into the room, to a flagstone, pries it up with a pry bar, and places an oilskin bag into the hole. He moves the flagstone back into place, walks away, and vanishes before he reaches the stairs.

Working together, the investigators manage to raise the flagstone and, among the fragments of rotted leather, find a gleaming amulet, the last of Winckelmann's medallions:

Ithaqua Medallion

Gianni picked it up and as he touched it, he heard a howling, as of a great wind roaring down from the north, and in an instant the cold of Trieste's winter seemed much more bearable. He slipped the medallion around his neck and the investigators replaced the flagstone, returned the key to the old widow, and went back to their hotel to sleep. This time, their sleep was undisturbed, though Gianni dreamed of a strange hunting call.

In the morning, they took a train to the Grotta Gigante, the closer caves, and took the tour, but found that there was nothing to learn there, so after the tour they went on to Postumia, arriving just in time to take the tour there. A man named Carlo was their tour guide, and he took the opportunity to play up the mysterious caves, pointing out formations that looked like body parts and menacing Rosaline with an olm pulled from a cave lake. All of this becomes much more siinster when Carlo turns off the cave lights, lights a flashlight, and more lights appear in the darkness. A group of men, led by Antonio Tremona, surrounds the group and demands the medallion as a tentacle falls from Tremona's "empty" sleeve. Gianni says "What medallion?" and Tremona snaps at him to hand it over...and then other figures move in the darkness. The Brotherhood of the Skin had come! Emoji Axe Rage

As the two cults engage in pitched battle, the investigators flee through the caves past scenes of chaos. Cultists being eaten by giant olms. A Brother of the Skin flaying a fallen tentacle cultist and placing the skin on his own wounds while chanting. Brothers of the Skin impaled by tentacles, fighting on. Eventually, they pass through a formation that seems like a series of sharp teeth and arrive at a subterranean lake, surrounded by treasures encrusted with a thin layer of limestone...including the right leg of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, iron oxide around its end, making it seem as though it were covered in dried blood. As they entered the cavern, a voice boomed in the investigator's minds: AT LAST YOU HAVE BROUGHT THE MEDALLION!

Rosaline kicked the leg free and took the Simulacrum piece, and the group turned to go. As they did, a giant water shape formed, like a gigantic serpent, and roared GIVE US THE MEDALLION! After a moment of hesitation, Gianni complied, flinging it into the water. The shape collapsed, the cavern went silent, and the investigators ran for their lives. They stole a car when they exited the cave and found the outside was also a battleground between cults, went back to Postumia, and stayed in another hotel that night. When they went for their baggage in the morning, they found it in place, but with two mangled corpses there, mutilated beyond recognition, and the pieces of the Simulacrum had been assembled into the shape of a human body...

The next morning, they made their way back to Trieste, retrieved their luggage, and boarded the Orient Express. As the train pulled away, they saw the shape of Johann Winckelmann on the platform, who lifted a hand and smiled, and then faded away with a beatific smile on his face.

Next up, Belgrade...maybe! [ profile] mutantur implied that something mysterious and unexpected might happen, so we'll see!

This section was a bit of a Mythos Hoedown. An amulet with an image of Ithaqua on it, the Brotherhood of the Skin, cultists of the Lloigor, a legitimate was a bit much. But we made our way through it, even if we did give the medallion up to the Lloigor and furthered whatever their presumably nefarious plans are. To return, I'm guessing.

I'm not sure how I feel about legitimate ghosts in Call of Cthulhu. There's a danger in mixing horror sources, I think. When human horror, with ghosts and the afterlife, is mixed with cosmic horror, with monsters from beyond the stars, it can dilute either. If there's an afterlife and an immortal soul, does that mean that people who die are beyond the reach of the mythos? Does it dilute the impact of tentacle arms when glasses are filling with blood and light bulbs are shattering? Emoji it is a mystery I think it does, a bit. It's like having good human magic and bad mythos magic, in that providing a human source of power dilutes the "true nature of the universe" aspect of the mythos.

I mean, not as much as [REDACTED] does later, assuming that's still part of the campaign.

Also, a brief amusing aside--the professor is learning Arabic faster than Turkish, even though he's learning Arabic from a dictionary and scrolls written by a madman and he literally has a native Turkish speaker he can talk to at any time he wants. That says something about our man Professor Durand, I think.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
The wind was howling when the investigators arrived in Trieste, to the point where there were no horses on the streets, only cabs. None of the inhabitants would subject their animals to the fury of the bora (illustrative painting), as they heard some of the locals call it. They managed to find hail and taxi and check in to a hotel, a slightly lower-class/more reasonable one--replace as appropriate depending on whether you are the professor or the countess--but as they were leaving their cab, a furious blast of wind blew Professor Durand and Gianni off their feet. They weren't injured, other than their pride, but they were glad to get indoors.

After dinner where they discussed their plans in Trieste, which entirely consisted of trying to find a Johann Winckelmann at "the museum," that being the only clue they had received from Professor Smith as to the statue piece in the city, they retired for the night. The professor sent a telegram back to the University of Paris, asking that Arabic<->French translation materials be sent on to Belgrade, the next destination where they would be stopping. Demir noticed a Turkish man in a business suit and fez reading a newspaper in the lobby, but when he tried to engage him in conversation, the man brusquely said that he did not wish to talk and Demir eventually gave up and went to sleep.

That night, Demir had horrible dreams which he was unable to remember in the morning.

After breakfast the next morning, the investigators braved the bora and took a cab to the Museo Civico di storia ed arte e Orto Lapidario, where inquiring after Herr Winckelmann got them directions to the statue garden outside. It was very impressive and would have been a wonderful place to spend an afternoon without the howling winds, so when Rosaline spotted a Roman temple through a bunch of hedges, she directed the others toward it and everyone gladly took the chance to get out of the wind.

On the side of the temple was a strange frieze, of humans offering sacrifices to animal spirits. The human figure were worn, but the animals, of vaguely reptilian shape with proportions that were disquieting to look on, were unnaturally free of weathering. Something strange about the shapes struck the professor and Rosaline, but they could not place it and eventually entered the temple.

Inside, after their eyes adjusted to the gloom, the group noticed two things. The first was the large number of cats, also probably taking shelter from the wind. The second was the cenotaph in the back of the room with a dedication to Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the father of modern archeology, who died in the 18th century. A search of the premises turned up something but some archeological equipment probably left by graduate students on pilgrimage, so after speaking again with the front desk, the investigators went to the library.

Gianni looked up Winckelmann's life and found some brief biographical information while Rosaline followed a hunch about Napoleon's army, finding a reference to a document, but since she was unable to read French, she couldn't follow up on it. When the professor had a free moment he did so, discovering an account of a French soldier who brought a treasure from Paris to Trieste, but refused to give it up, claiming that it was for his "master." There were two murders, the second in revenge for the first, and the soldier died. Another soldier died as well, a third went incurably insane, and another insisted that one of the bodies was a "monster" who had attacked the first.

As this, some pieces fell into place and the professor called over the countess and explained his theory to her. From the Devil's Simulare, he knew that Fenalik had survived from the 13th century to the 18th century. He knew that the Comte had been sealed in Charenton, and that they had found a cavity in the walls when they explored in the basement. He mentioned the orderly who had been attacked, the footsteps in the empty Paris street, and hte grisly murders that seemed to be following them across the continent, and laid out his theory:

That Comte Fenalik was somehow still alive, and was following the investigators across Europe to retrieve that statue that he had held for so long. Emoji Face gonk

As the professor explained this to Rosaline as well, Demir saw a man who seemed to have no hands reading a book. He approached him to ask if there anything he could do, to turn the pages or otherwise offer assistance, but when the man saw him, he fled without saying anything. Demir was sure that his tongue had also been removed...

There was a reference to a Giovanni Termona who had purchased Winckelmann's papers, including a diary, at auction, and asking the library staffs gets an address. The professor drafts a letter, mentioning the "book" he's writing and a desire to see the papers, and since it's late in the day the investigators leave to go back to their hotel.

On the way back, they see a face peeking at them from a hotel second story which does not seem to be bothered when they stare at it. Entering the hotel, Gianni asks about the room and the clerk says it has not been rented in weeks. The professor suggests that the investigators rent the room, and they do. At dinner, he reveals his suspicions about Count Fenalik to Demir and Gianni, and Demir tells the others about the man he encountered in the library. Then Demir goes back to the old hotel while the countess arranges for the transfer of luggage and the professor asks the front desk about the waiter who also received some of Winckelmann's papers.

The professor turns up nothing, but Demir finds another Turkish businessman, wearing the same suit and reading the same newspaper, in the lobby of their old hotel. He is again unwilling to speak to Demir, so Demir hides, waits, and follows him. The man walks down to the dock, to a small pensione, and enters. Demir waits and then tries the door, opening it onto the unmistakable scent of rot that he remembers from the battlefield.

The lights are off, but Demir creeps in and checks under the stairs, finding the body of an old man who has been horrifically mangled, with organs misplaced and chunks carved out of his body. He listens at the stairs, hearing the Turks above discuss what was obviously the location of the investigators, and then begin a low chanting in a hideous tongue which grated on Demir's nerves. He pulled out three bullets, left them at the top of the stairs, and slipped out back to the hotel.

There is nothing strange about the room and no sign that anyone was watching them, but that night, Demir and Rosaline have hideous dreams. Rosaline doesn't remember, but Demir remembers something enormous moving in dark water, far below the surface.

The next morning the investigators catch each other up at breakfast--the professor, remembering Sedefkar's face-changing power from the Devil's Simulare, especially asks Demir if he would remember the pensione-owner's face if he saw him alive again--and then they go to the museum to ask about Winckelmann's medallions and the dispensation of his papers. The museum curator is happy to speak with the professor, but he doesn't know much, continually directing them to Antonio Termona who may know more. So that is their next stop.

The scion of the Termona family is a young man who is missing his left arm. He is happy to speak to the investigators, and when the professor tells him about the book he is writing he brings up Winckelmann's papers and says that the diary is written in a dialect of Ancient Greek, which the professor does not know. Antonio is willing to lend the diary to a fellow scholar and provides the name of a translator who could do the work, and then they part.

As they are talking, Rosaline and the countess think they see movement in Antonio's empty sleeve.

The professor goes to the linguist to get a translation, which the man says will be done in a day and a half. Demir leads the others to the docks, down to the pensione, to see if anything has changed, but nothing has. On the way back to the hotel, the professor passes a man with red hair but a strange streak of black in it. The professor looks behind him, but the man continues down the street and doesn't seem to be following him. Nonetheless, the professor makes sure to take a slightly different route back to the hotel, continually checking behind him to be sure he's not being followed.

When they meet up at their hotel and ascend upstairs to their rooms, a Turkish man is standing outside the room door! He turns to leave, but Demir explodes into motion, running at him and seizing him by the arm. The Turk pulls a knife so Demir draws his gun, and a struggle ensues. In the struggle, Demir tries to disarm the man but leaves himself open and is stabbed in the chest. As he bleeds copiously and collapses, the Turk runs and escapes down the stair at the far end of the hall.

The countess provides first aid as people stick their heads out of their rooms, and at a nod from the countess, the professor tells a woman nearby to call a doctor. The doctor tends to Demir and asks what happened, and Gianni and the professor explain. Demir asks if his tattoos will heal, and the doctor says that it is too soon to see and that Demir should come see him in the morning to make sure the wound isn't getting worse.

After speaking to the police, who are very skeptical of Gianni's "It was a scary foreigner!" defense but eventually come around and agree to go check out the pensione by the docks, the investigators go to sleep, where the countess has horrible dreams of being in the vastness of space and something enormous rushing at her.

The professor has 98 SAN, but his paranoia here is entirely logical! The Devil's Simulare really made him start jumping at shadows, so now he's worried that everyone is either a servant of the Comte, the Comte himself, or a Turkish cultist wearing someone else's face. If/when he loses enough SAN for a permanent mental disorder, I'm going to push hard for that kind of paranoia.

I asked if the professor could go into the Dreamlands to get more study time for the Sedefkar Scrolls, but [ profile] mutantur pointed out quite reasonably that while he was familiar with the Dreamlands and their properties, he didn't actually know how to get there without Henri pulling him in. Which is true, but Emoji Extreme crying.

There were also several instances of the bora blowing people over that I didn't include. It got pretty predictable, at least for Gianni and the professor--go outside, get blown head over heels. Emoji Psyduck
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Andres of Troyes, Frankish Knight
  • Brother David, Cistercian monk
  • Eloise of Flanders, Handmaiden to the Countess and spy
  • Gilles de la Grave, Frankish Knight
  • Renault of Flanders, Frankish Knight
The group approached the Church of Saint Mokius, carefully surveying the square in front of it. They had left their horses by the bottom of the hill, and so Eloise carefully crept through the square to get a look at the church. She spotted several warriors hiding in the rubble in the square and one man dressed as a priest, and just as she entered the church door, the warriors spotted the party. As the priest yelled for the party to give themselves up and the warriors leveled their crossbows, the party charged for the door. Brother David took a crossbow bolt in the shoulder and, as the priest began shrieking exhortations to the Skinless One, felt a strange pain in his forehead and blood dripping down his face, but they managed to make it inside the church and bar the door.

Inside, they quickly looked around. The church dome was broken, with a rent gaping open to the sky, but the rest of the church seemed intact. The more martial members of the group quickly dealt with three Italians who tried to climb into the church one-by-one and then spread out to find the relic that the Venetian priest had hidden. Eloise kept Ramaldi, who was outside the church, busy in conversation until they found the relic in a nave in the southern wall, hidden beneath a statue of the Virgin so small that they had originally overlooked it in favor of the giant statues standing in the corners of the church. Then, as bricks began to come out of the damaged wall and Ramaldi's men were almost broken through, the party entered the crypt, blocked the door behind them.

Lighting torches, the group looked around the crypt. There were several sarcophagi, some of which had been smashed and the remains within strewn around the room, but most prominent was the tunnel in the corner that seemed freshly dug. With no other options but to go forward, they entered the tunnel, following it for perhaps a hundred feet, and then almost at the end, they came face to face with the horror that had been stalking the city that the Byzantine priest claimed to have called up. A serpentine horror, with long neck and horse-like head, thrust itself into the tunnel and roared at them.

As the monster took a deep breath and flames kindled in its throat, Eloise hurled a vial of poison at it, but her throw went wide. Fortunately, the monster failed to use its breath and tried to bite, snapping ineffectually at the party. At first, they attacks were similarly ineffective, with Renault's torch failing to affect the monster and Brother David's mace clanging off its scales, but Andres managed to strike a mighty blow and the dragon--for surely it could be nothing else--withdrew. Looking down, they realized they were perhaps forty feet up, overlooking a cistern, and with Italian cultists behind, they decided to jump.

They fell into the water and splashed toward the walkway, Eloise moving separately from the others and trying to sneak around the cistern out of sight of the dragon. The dragon attacked the knights repeatedly, with many blows simply failing to hurt it, until it took a deep breath and breathed flames over the party. Andres and Renault managed to deflect the flames with their shields, but Brother David and Gilles fell, seared and bleeding badly. Renault tried to save their lives as Andres fought the dragon, managing to stabilize both them through some miracle, and as the dragon stooped over its victims, Renault dealt it a mighty blow. It hissed and dove under the cistern's waters, and did not emerge again.

Some of them staggering under their wounds, the party emerged from the cistern and found their horses, where Eloise and Brother David took some time to study the package. It had a few creepy poems and a ritual that seemed designed to detect the presence of the Skinless One, and below that, a large capsule marked all over in Latin and Greek that to open it is death. Eloise and Brother David do not open it.

On to way to Merovac, the party ran into a group of Frankish knights who babbled about how the French were being taken by strange things and there were monsters loose in the city. The party pointed them at the Church of Saint Mokius and told them about the Italian cultists and Ramaldi, after which the knights charged off now that they finally had a target.

Merovac examined the ritual and determined that it needed to be performed to find Sedefkar's tower, and that he had most of the ingredients, but would need a bit of skin. Andres volunteered some of the skin of his back, and Merovac took it and dropped it into a cauldron, after which the water turned red and revealed the tower. Renault recognized the place in the city, and after Merovac gave the group some healing supplies, they left the leper ship.

On the way to the tower, the party ran into a French nobleman and his retinue, who questioned them about their intent. Eloise noticed something odd about him, a hint of marble-liked flesh, and as he noticed her looks, he denounced the knights as traitors and demanded that his men seize them before he fled. The party tried to force their way through, but the men were unyielding and the party was forced to kill them in pursuit of the nobleman.

The tower was a dull ochre color and the inside was a parade of horrors. Bodies strewn about or suspended from the ceiling, some still twitching, or sewn into new creations that writhed feebly. Ropes of intestines stretched into a diagram, blood liberally strewn everywhere, and monsters in the shapes of devils with terrible lamprey mouths. The party fought their way up the tower until the reached the top floor, where the sorcerer Sedefkar, the guise of a French nobleman, was attempting to perform a terrible ritual in front of a vast altar made of skin with still-living babbling faces strewn about its surface. The battle was terrible, and Renault and Brother David came away with serious wounds, but through coordination and their martial prowess, the knights managed to remove the sorcerer's armor and kill him. As they did, the tower's vile decorations crumbled into stinking slime, the armor pieces solidified into more of a statue, and the sorcerer hissed, "A curse on your crusade..." and then died.

The party gathered up the statue pieces and knife and rode back to the count. On the way, they saw many crusaders in shock, distraught over what they had done, and when they reached the count he was very pleased and gave them all fifty gold marks and the services of his healers, and they went to sleep. The artifacts would be turned over to Merovac for study.

In the morning, they were summoned again. The count was furious--he informed them that the leper ship had disappeared, as had Merovac, and all the guards on the ship were found dead, drained of blood. He swore that he would give the party a ship to seek out Merovac wherever he had fled, and bade them beware. If they sought to go further east, Merovac was well known and hated there, and went under a different name.


Shock! Gasp! And now, some of why I was using [REDACTED] earlier is revealed.

[ profile] mutantur did the best he could, but I thought this was a very badly designed scenario. It was basically a playable cutscene with a pre-determined ending, so whenever we ran into a situation where there was one way to proceed but we had to roll dice to accomplish that task, he was forced into increasingly-ridiculous explanations of how we succeeded or just having us win by fiat. Which is fine with me, because if the way to finish the scenario is a lot of single-roll fail points, it's a bad scenario. If there's no option but to do X, then X should just happen.

That bit above, Renault failed to heal Brother David and [ profile] mutantur had it succeed anyway because there wasn't any other choice. That was where I lost interest in how the scenario turned out, really. I made a joke that as the professor was reading it, he said, "I think there's something missing here, the account just skips ahead and the knight and monk are healed somehow."

I also didn't really like Sedefkar. This is the feared sorcerer, infamous in history, and his tower was basically Spatterpunk Blood Feast, which sounds like an amazing metal album but isn't a great way to show Sedefkar as some kind of cosmic threat. He's just a magic serial killer, which is one of my least favorite fiction archetypes. Well, at least he's dead now after our quicktime-based cutscene. We mashed X + Y like a pro.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Andres of Troyes, Frankish Knight
  • Brother David, Cistercian monk
  • Eloise of Flanders, Handmaiden to the Countess and spy
  • Gilles de la Grave, Frankish Knight
  • Renault of Flanders, Frankish Knight
12 April, 1204

In service to Count Baldwin of France, the separate knights and monk assaulted the walls of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. After the city was breached and their share of looting had been done, they were all summoned to the count's presence. He met them in a small room with only his brother present and laid out a secret task for them.

The count believed that the rioting in the city was evidence of a malign force present, and says that his orders to turn over the loot to the lords for distribution and not unduly harass the Byzantines have both been almost completely ignored. He blames this on a cabal of Venetians--the other major group along with the French who were on the Fourth Crusade--who seek some bizarre statue and who worship an unknown pagan deity. He bade the group seek out this cabal and destroy it, and added that there were also rumors of a monster somewhere in the city preying on the crusaders and that if the group saw it, they were to kill it. Sending the group away, he told them to head to the northern basilica, where his men are holding a Venetian priest who was rescued from the cabal, and to speak to Brother Merovac the Leper, currently on board a leper ship in the harbor, and then swore them to secrecy.

Requisitioning horses for those who did not have them (i.e. Eloise), and began their ride through the city to the north, past scenes of wanton looting. At one checkpoint set up by the French, a Greek man and his teenage son were arguing with the knights, who started to arrest them as the group rides up. Eloise and Andres intervened, with Andres questioning the knights while Eloise, who speaks Greek, asking the Greeks what they were doing. They said they were trying to leave the city, and the knights said that their orders are for everyone to remain within. Eloise asked the Greeks to be patient for a couple more days, and they agreed and left. The knights did not arrest them, and they passed on.

Near a cistern entrance, Eloise spotted a French knight being dragged down the stairs and attacked by unknown assailants, and the knights and Brother David sprang into action to save him only to learn that it was a Varangian in disguise and his four compatriots jumped to attack.

They were not very competent warriors. The only wound suffered by the investigators was a light wound across Brother David's arm, whereas two of the Varangians were killed and the others fled into the depths of the cistern. After making sure that the bodies would not fall into the water and pollute it, they continued on their way.

Just before arriving in the northern basilica, they found a group of drunken knights who claimed to have been attacked by the monster. The group questioned them, but they couldn't agree on whether the monster flew or walked or was large or small, so eventually the investigators moved on.

The knights in the northern basilica were suspicious of the investigators, but Gilles and Andres have enough presence that they eventually convinced them and allowed them in to see the Venetian priest. He was raving about keeping "them" away and favoring an empty eye socket, and it took some effort by Eloise to calm him down and learn what he had to say. He had been captured by the cabal who were seeking a ritual to use the Devil's Simulare, a statue with powers from Hell itself. The priest described the whip-with-five-tails tattoo he saw on the Venetian who captured him and the location of the ritual, where he had hidden it for safekeeping behind a statue of the Virgin, and that the cabal called itself the Unburdened Flesh. Then he screamed that he could not keep them away any longer, a red eye appeared in his formerly-empty socket, and he said I SEE YOU in a voice that was clearly not his own. Then his head exploded, showering Eloise with sticky goo.

After quickly checking herself to make sure she was not infected or injured, the investigators told the knights to report back to the count, found a place to wash the pus and blood off Eloise--though not before she took a sample of it--and then discussed what to do next. Brother David favored an immediate assault on the church of St. Mocius where the ritual was hidden whereas Eloise thought they should speak to Brother Merovac and tell him what they had learned. The others agreed with Eloise, and so Brother David acquiesced under protest.

They rode to the harbor and, with some difficulty, found a boat willing to take them out to the leper ship. On board were silent lepers shrouded in robes, who directly the investigators below decks when they asked about Brother Merovac. The Brother was almost completely shrouded in robes and greeted them as they entered, then explained what he knew--the Venetian worship a being they call the Skinless One, but they lack true understanding of it. They seek a suit of armor, ceramic in appearance, that can grant its wearer true power, and the ritual the Venetian priest spoke of is what would let them find the armor. He also spoke of a Ramaldi who led the Venetians and that the doge may be part of the cabal as well, or at least sponsoring it, and of a Turkish sorcerer named Sedefkar who must be killed. He offered to perform the ritual, though as he did so he noted that Brother David had the air of a man who was learned in mysticism, and then bid them go with G-d on their quest.

Before sleeping, the investigators went to the Count and reported what they knew. The Count thanked them for their efforts and urged them to destroy the cult with all speed, then they retired for the evening.

In the morning, the investigators assembled and rode toward the church of St. Mocius. On the way, they find a strange sight--a ranting Greek priest, hung by his heels from a balcony, and two French priests with a Venetian prostitute, all extremely drunk, sitting underneath, and three dead knights and four Greeks lying around them. The drunken priests ask the knights for protection, saying that the Greek priest is a wizard and they are waiting for reinforcements, so the investigators wait. After almost half an hour of the drunken priests mentioning the black-cloaked figures skulking around the church of St. Mocius, the prostitute attempting to flirt with Renault of Flanders but falling over instead, and the Greek priest ranting about how he is a wizard who summoned the dragon from the waters to destroy the French and Venetians, the group got tired of waiting. After some debate about what to do, they cut down the Greek priest, executed him for the crime of witchcraft, and sent the others on their way.

As the game ended, the investigators rode over the hill toward the church and tightened their grip on their weapons.


[ profile] mutantur deliberately allocated the characters such that Demir's player was playing Eloise, while everyone else who is basically useless in combat in the main timeline was playing knights and the monk. It was an interesting reversal to have combat begin and just charge straight in, weapon held high, as well not always have to worry about the authorities and how we were going to explain ourselves. We did extremely well in combat too, which certainly helped. However skilled the Varangians were, their performance didn't show it.

There should be one more session of this, though you never know with our group. We have to stop the cabal and kill Sedefkar, and while that seems pretty quick, who knows what with combat being required. And our last interlude took about twice as long as expected...
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
The hotel staff were surprisingly surly and the papers were uninformative, with the exception of some notes about unrest overnight. When the investigators left the hotel to try to find the Palazzo Rezzoniani, they saw that the water in the canals was black and stank like something was rotting in it.

As they left the hotel, Maria Stagliani's maid breathlessly ran up and handed them a note, saying that her mistress was being held captive in her own home by Alberto Rossini, who planned to marry her against her will, and she begged the party's aid in rescuing her and her mistress. They instantly agreed and told the maid to hurry back before she raised suspicions, since she had slipped out under the pretext of an appointment, and when she left, Demir immediately suggested that they kill all the fascists and hurl their bodies into the canal.

The note is from Maria and asks that the party contact Giorgio, so that's what the investigators did. He was at the bar where he usually hung out with some fresh bruises and scrapes on his face, and when asked, he said that the fascists came on him the previous night but he led them on a merry chase and managed to escape. When told what had happened to Maria, he leapt up and seemed ready to storm the Stagliani estate immediately, but the investigators managed to convince him to round up some of his student friends so that together they could take the fight to the fascist scum. Giorgio said that he would need until that evening to gather them, and the professor suggested they meet back at the cafe then.

The other people at the cafe didn't know exactly where the Palazzo Rezzoniani was, but they did know the general neighborhood, and when the investigators arrived at the neighborhood they were able to get directions to the Palazzo. The building had great doors with winged lion motifs carved on the canal side and a sign advertising tours, and when the party followed that sign, they found the house of the caretaker Nonno Fideli, who indeed offered to let them into the palazzo but explained that while he would be happy to answer questions, the tour was self-guided. He told the party that they were free to enter any area that wasn't unlocked and to ask him if they had any questions and then opened the door.

The clocktower was one of those locked doors, and after Gianni's lockpicks failed to open it, Demir set his shoulder to the door as the professor went to speak to Fideli and ask him about the magnificent door carving of the winged lion. The inside of the clocktower was dim, but Demir fought down the nervousness he now felt in dark places and turned on his torch, quickly ascending the flights of stairs and breaking open the lock on the trapdoor and entering the clocktower with the statues.

There were eight of them: Death, an angel, a soldier, a Turk, an assassin, a winged lion, a rustic lass, and a rustic lad. Only a few of them had exposed legs, and after a close call when the clockwork started to move at the quarter-hour as soon as Demir crossed the room, he took out a knife and scraped the guilding on the statues' legs, quickly finding that the Turk's leg looked very strange in the torchlight.

While Demir was doing this, the professor, the countess, and Gianni were climbing up the palazzo, trying to find a good vantage point to see the next parade of statues on the clocktower. On the third floor, they found another locked door and Gianni set to it with his picks, but he overbalanced when the picks caught and fell backward into the other two, sending all of them tumbling down the stairs. Bruised and limping, they gave up and descended back to the courtyard.

Demir tried to remove the leg using some tools left behind by workmen, but it was too skillfully attached, and eventually he gave up, picked up a hammer and chisel, and smashed it out. This threw the delicate clockwork out of balance, and the statues began madly whirling about, the weapons in their hands seemingly aimed directly at Demir as he ran across the room toward the trapdoor. He managed to avoid the assassin's sword, but the angel's trumpet caught him a blow on the head, though fortunately not one that seriously injured him, and after that he slipped through the trapdoor and down the stairs. He showed Rosaline the leg and then slipped off to avoid Nonno Fideli, who was growing agitated by the noise coming from above.

The investigators--minus Demir, who smashed a window and slipped out a side away from the main door--went to talk to Nonno Fideli, who asked them where their servant had gone until the countess "swooned," allowing them to slip away under the excuse of getting her medical attention. They then went back to their hotel, where they met up with Demir, applied first aid to their various wounds, made sure that their luggage was stored at the train station, and waited for the evening.

At the bar, Giorgio was waiting for them with a half-dozen of his friends, and he suggested storming the front door, and fighting a grand battle for freedom and glory with the fascists. Demir was not a fan of this plan and instead suggested killing everything and throwing their bodies into the canal, which seemed to unnerve Giorgio a bit. After some deliberation, the investigators decided that Rosaline and the countess would attempt to enter through the front door and see Maria with the goal of throwing a rope down from the balcony and allowing the others to sneak in. This didn't work, partially because neither of the two women spoke Italian, and partially because the fascists guarding the door were not interested in allowing anyone in regardless of their excuses. The two made their exit and went around the corner, and the next thing the two fascists saw was a small army of enraged students and Demir running at them.

When the fascists had been beaten and tied up, the group tried the front door, which wasn't locked. There was a dining room to the right from which the sounds of raucous, somewhat-forced laughter were coming. Consulting among themselves, the investigators decided to coat themselves in canal sludge and burst in as though they were vengeful ghosts, the spirit of La Serenissima coming to avenge herself on those who would dare to usurp her ancient glories. And it worked--the fascists ran screaming into the night, and while the countess and professor went to get the escape gondola and make sure that it was ready, Gianni and the students entered the dining room and began to laugh and joke, closing the doors behind them.

Demir and Giorgio rushed up the stairs and quickly overpowered the fascists guarding Maria, and just as Maria and Giorgio were reunited, Alberto Rossini and a priest ascended the stairs as well. Rossini sputtered and demanded to know what was going to, Giorgio yelled, the priest goggled, and Demir snuck around and tried to choke Rossini out. Rossini noticed, but by the Demir was next to him and he managed to overpower the fascist, tie him up, and drag him into a closet after revealing him of his weapons. Since there was already a priest there, and the priest had already been paid, and the threat to Giorgio and Maria would not end without drastic measures...the investigators attended a a wedding, acting as witnesses. Demir then suggested that the happy couple take a honeymoon away from Venice immediately.

On the way back to the hotel, the investigators saw police running to and fro and fires burning in the distance, but they were not directly accosted, and they made it back to their hotel and went to sleep, awakening very early to catch the train. At breakfast, the hotel staff urged them to leave Venice and seemed relieved that they were planning on doing just that. There were no newspapers available and no one knew why.

Leaving was uneventful, though the investigators met Giorgio and Maria at the train station. They were going east toward Milan, and the group bid them good luck and happiness and then boarded the Orient Express. As they settled in and met in the lounge, the professor pulled out The Devil's Simulare and, translating the Latin for the benefit of his companions, he began reading the story of a group of Frankish knights in Constantinople in 1204--the year of the Fourth Crusade.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if automata show up in an RPG scenario they will come to life and try to kill the PCs. Emoji Awesomeface Cylon Also Cthulhu Dark Ages! Emoji cheering I am excite!

Demir's player mentioned that we had been a bit too cautious throughout the adventure so far and that maybe a bit more vim and vigor would be appropriate, and [ profile] mutantur agreed. [ profile] mutantur did not necessarily agree that the right approach to solving Maria and Giorgio's difficulties was to murder everyone and hurl their bodies into the canals, pointing out that it went against the somewhat light-hearted romantic comedy tone of the scenario. And in the end, we were decisive and no one had to be hurled into the canal, and hopefully Maria and Giorgio aren't murdered by a vengeful Rossini after the fascists seize power.

Still, we did better than the version of HotOE. There, the PCs decided that Maria should be happy to marry a man of Rossini's social standing and power, and when they heard she was being held they ignored it, stole the leg, and skipped town under cover of night. So we may be indecisive sometimes, but at least we don't make bad decisions!
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
You knew that I wouldn't be able to get through this game without making at least one DELTA GREEN reference!

The investigators woke up in the middle of the night after Henri sent them forth from the Dreamlands, and when they awoke, they heard a strange singing sound--the voice of the kidnapped Caterina Cavallaro, echoing around the hotel and the plaza outside. Quickly putting on their clothes, they went out into the streets (along with many others, likewise awakened by the singing) to try to pinpoint the location of the singer, but only ended up getting confused in the maze of smaller streets and alleys around the plaza. They did see one strange thing, though. A chameleon, wandering around the streets of Milan during winter. Unfortunately, when the light of Demir's flashlight fell on it, it ran into a side alleyway and the group lost sight of it, and in their search for the chameleon they lost the source of the melody. After an hour's fruitless searching, including Demir combing local bars to see if any of the people of, um, flexible moral character would have heard the voice and be able to help the investigators locate it, but in vain. Eventually, the group went to sleep, though the professor spent more time combing over the scrolls with his trusty dictionary.

In the morning, after breakfast and reading the newspaper accounts of the voices, the investigators decided to look into the murder of a unionist in a suburb of Milan. After a detour to the police station, where an English detective named Land that the group sans Durand had previously spoken to gave them directions to the place where Spinola's body had been found as well as noting that the body had the signs of advanced tuberculosis, which absolutely would have prevented factory work. On arriving they found some bloodstains still there, and with a bit of difficulty, followed them back to a warehouse on a deserted street. Gianni went to work on the lock and got it open, and looking inside, the group found a lot of dusty crates, a cleared space in the center, and what could only be described as an altar. The altar had a lot of blood on it, but there had clearly been two bodies on it...and chameleon tracks.

The group left and called the police. Land told them he would look into who owned the warehouse, and then the investigators decided to go speak to Flavio Conti, a patron of La Scala who had made a miraculous recovery from...tuberculosis. The countess presented her card and that got them in to his house, but he seemed agitated and refused to discuss the arts. He repeated demanded to know why they were there until Demir, growing impatient, accused him of foul play in the matter of his recovery. Conti sputtered a bit and then, as Demir pressed him, he drew a gun! As the countess screamed and Rosaline shouted for the police, Demir charged Conti, whose shots went wide. Demir managed to restrain the crazed man and tie him up with curtains, and while he still refused to answer question and threatened the investigators with vague pronouncements of doom, the group searched his room, finding a paper with Spinola's name on it, a diary with "contact: Faccia" and a phone number. Eventually, the authorities did arrive--one of Mussolini's blackshirts. He was unable to decide between Conti and the group's competing stories, and so summoned the police, and the group went to the station to give their statements. While there, Inspector Land revealed that Conti owned the warehouse where Spinola had almost certainly been murdered. Incriminating!

It was late afternoon when the group was released from the police station, so they ate a quick lunch and then went to La Scala to speak to the props manager. He was incredibly busy, but provided directions to Caterina's dressing room, which had a lot of flowers but no clues. They did find where the armor stand prop that they assumed contained the torso of the Simulacrum, but it was set up behind several sets of scenery and the props manager categorically refused to move anything to get it. Around that time, the bouncer showed up and told them that their promised hour was up and escorted them out.

Without much else to do, the group got dressed for the opera, took a quick detour to Faccia's house only to find that he wasn't home, and then went to the opera. As they took their seats, Demir snuck backstage and hid himself under a props table, watching for a moment when he could seize the torso. The curtain rose, the opera began, and the group watched. As the understudy came on and began singing the famous aria--without nearly as much mastery of her craft as Caterina had--the group noticed a strange sound coming from elsewhere in the audience. Looking around, they spotted a taller, older man who was singing...with Caterina's voice! Next to him was an old woman bent with age, crying softly, and two middle-aged men who were obviously his bruisers. Not wanting to start a scene, the group simply watched, and then turned their attention back to the opera.

A few scenes later, after Radamès has been chosen as the prince and is being gifted with new weapons and armor, the armor is taken off the stand and the investigators immediately recognize it--that is the torso of the Simulacrum!

Torso of the Simulacrum

The provided prop depiction.

The old man noticed as well, and the investigators could hear him urging his toughs to go after the Simulacrum. As they slipped out of the theatre, the group followed...except for Demir, who waited until the torso was taken backstage and then, in the confusion, picked up and took it upstairs, where he wrenched it off of its stand (though it was apparently not nailed, glued, or otherwise odd), grabbed some cloth from the seamstresses' room, rigged up a backpack, and escaped down the fire escape as the old man and his toughs entered the side door, convincing the bouncer that they were extras. The group was unable to stop them, but did manage to get in the side door as well and interfere with their investigation. The group questioned the old man as to what he was doing, and the sound of his voice--Caterina's voice--galvanized the old woman, and she leapt at him and began throttling him! He fell gasping as his toughs pulled her off him, and in the confusion, the group managed to both get away and speak to the old woman, who answered to the name Caterina but spoke with the raspy voice of an old man.

After returning Caterina to her apartment and convincing the maid of her identity, the group met Demir back at the hotel and thought about how to disguise the torso. Painting didn't work--the paint simply slid off the surface--but a seamstress arrived in the morning and sewed it up as a dressing dummy, accepting the professor's explanation for its strange appearance that, "She's Russian." Rosaline forged papers of provenance for the Italian customs officials, and the group boarded the train the next afternoon, somewhat surprised that no one had come after them.

When they received the paper at lunch on the Orient Express, they found out why. Arturo Faccia's body had been found on the roof of Milan's Cathedral, horrifically mutilated as though by a wild animal. The police were baffled, but the article did contain one other note that stood out to the investigators.

Faccia had recently returned from a business trip to Turkey.

Poor Caterina. Emoji Green crying I'm not sure if there's a way to restore her, but at least we got her back to familiar location and got Faccia killed and Conti arrested. There might be more we could have done with the other names at the party, but we wanted to get out of town as soon as possible for obvious reasons.

One thing I noticed is that the Professor started this campaign with 83 sanity and he currently has 92 sanity, so I'm imagining that he views all of this as a relaxing vacation from writing his book on German linguistic changes during the Thirty Years' War. A lovely journey through the European countryside!

Next stop, Venice!
dorchadas: (Default)
The Gabriel Knight games are one of the few game series where my sister can claim more knowledge than I can. She bought Gabriel Knight III when it came out, and while I never played it because of the III in its name--which seems odd in hindsight, because I had no problem starting King's Quest with King's Quest V, other than fifteen minutes played at a friend's house--but my sister played and beat the whole game. Without walkthroughs, if I remember right, though I know that she had [ profile] uriany's assistance with some of the puzzles. I don't know how she beat the cat hair mustache puzzle, but she did.

And now, I follow in the trail she blazed a decade and a half ago, though starting with the first game instead of the third game. As you do, when all the games are available for cheaper than they've ever been and will run on basically any platform you have. Thank you,

Note: this review will contain spoilers from here on out. You have been warned.

Based on how people react to him, this is not a spoiler.

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dorchadas: (Death Goth)
Kanji? Gasp!

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is one of the games I've had since I was a kid. The NES cart is actually in a box behind our TV right now, lacking only the means to actually play it. I managed to get pretty far through diligent practice, but I was never able to get to Dracula. I think the furthest I got was Frankenstein before I ran out of lives and continues. In the years since, though, I learned that I was going about it all wrong (about which more below) and came back to the game in my 20s and finally managed to beat it. So when I sat down today wanting to play some Castlevania, I figured I wouldn't play the game of my childhood since I'd already beaten it and moved on. But I wanted to play Castlevania III. How, then, to thread the needle?


8-bit kanji...

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dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Yesterday was the first real session of [ profile] mutantur's Horror on the Orient Express game, after a three-session long intro to 7e and character generation. Of multiple characters each, in case one dies. Hey, it's Call of Cthulhu.

(Yes, I'm in two CoC games. It's what actually convinced me to finally buy that expensive set of dice I've been looking at for months.)

I'm playing Professor Luc Durand, a professor of linguistics at the Sorbonne, since Horror on the Orient Express is a grand tour of Europe and I knew we'd need someone who could talk to all the people we ran into. I also gave him social skills so we wouldn't have to translate all our negotiations. And Library Use because CoC.

And because it's Call of Cthulhu, he looks like this:

Professor Luc Durand

I did a google search for "bearded black and white professor" and was not disappointed.

Other members of the erstwhile party are a Russian husband hunter exiled member of the nobility (played by [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, a Turkish goth ninja Bolshevik carpenter (played by [ profile] knitmeapony), an American thief "treasure hunter" antiquities and curiosities dealer (played by [ profile] goodbyeomelas), and an Italian freelance cardinal investigator for the Vatican. We went to Professor Smith's lecture, read about the mysterious man who died three times in the newspaper, heard about a magical statue in a Cheapside bedsit, then did a lot of research. Again, Call of Cthulhu.

My second greatest problem so far is that as an elderly professor, I can't really participate in most of the skullduggery so far, but that will change once we get on the way, I think. My greatest problem is that I've read multiple actual plays of Horror on the Orient Express before [ profile] mutantur told me about his plan to run it once the new edition came out--the best of which was YSDC's audio version--and so I keep remembering what's going on. But not all of what's going on, and I'm not sure if it's because this is the expanded edition or because I'm not remembering it well. Like, the guy who died three times? I remember that. The guy who spontaneously combusted? Not ringing any bells. Not letting what I already know get in the way will be the hardest part.

Looking forward to more!
dorchadas: (That is not dead...)
Silent Hill II is one of those games I've always heard good things spoken of as one of the pillars of survival horror, but I've never played it. And I figured I would never play it just because I have so many other games to play, so I listened to the Watch Out for Fireballs episode about it, thought it sounded pretty neat, and let it lie. Then a friend told me that she had copies of Silent Hill II and IV and that she couldn't bring herself to play them and did I want them? I told her that yes, that would be lovely, and when October rolled around I put Mass Effect II down and picked up this appropriately-spooky replacement.

Note that this review will be chock-full of spoilers with no rhyme or reason as to their placement. Like James, you have been warned.

You should have listened to her, James.

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dorchadas: (Grue)
I'd heard a lot about Dark Souls. I'm pretty sure it's been years at this point since it first came to my attention, but I had been scared off for a while. Not because of the gameplay or its reputation, but just because of Games for Windows Live. By the time I finally got Dark Souls, I knew that it was going to switch from GFW to Steam matchmaking at some point, so I loaded it up, played it for a bit, and then I-

Dark Souls

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dorchadas: (Grue)
I was staying in a hotel for reasons that weren't entirely clear. The hotel was built around a courtyard area, but a very odd one. The reception desk was just sitting out in the middle like a bar, with a balcony all around the irregularly-shaped room and all the hotel rooms on the mezzanine. There was a set of solid glass double doors off to the side that led out into a small garden, but one that was totally unlit for some bizarre reason.

The dream actually cycled through twice with a different man at the front desk each time, for reasons which will shortly become clear. I don't really remember the first cycle, but I do remember the revelation, which was that there were some kind of spirit possessing people and using the hotel as a blood ritual site. The first time through the hotel attendant was a shorter, heavy-set bald man, and now that I think about it, the second time it was basically H. H. Holmes, walrus moustache and all.

In the second cycle, I was staying at the hotel in a room that was near the stairs. Just before I went to bed, Bill Clinton and his security detail showed up at the hotel and wanted a room, and for some reason the attendant tried to throw me out of my room and give it to the whole ex-presidential group, even though my room was roughly 50% bigger than the bed it contained and there's no way even one person could fit with all their luggage. After a longer argument, I finally got everyone to leave me alone, shut the door, and perhaps remembering the previous cycle I got back up and threw the deadbolt. I lay in bed staring at the door until I saw someone move between the light and the crack of the door, so I got up and ran to it, but the door opened a bit--somehow, the deadbolt acted more like a door chain--and the crazed visage of the attendant thrust itself through the space opened up as he leveled a gun against my chest.

And then I woke up, heart beating and totally awake in an instant. I'm a little glad that [ profile] softlykarou had forgotten her Ventra card and was on the way home, because she came in and gave me a hug and I lay in bed and read after she left until I had to get up. My recounting mostly makes it sound ridiculous in the way that dreams often are, but it was definitely terrifying in the moment.

I blame Daylight Savings Time.


dorchadas: (Default)

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