Tag Archives: aar

After-action reports

The Downfall of Dunross

19 March 2012

Present: Ferrisa, Frelest, Goran, Wulfric, Zanatos

Two pyres were built: a crude pile of sticks for the bandits and a proper funerary pyre to honorably send the family of Hralf Haraldsunu to the afterlife. Gates were repaired, outbuildings secured and provisions gathered from the stores of Hralf.

While two of the party remained at their newly-won stead, the others continued north toward Aslov. A lone rider on horseback approached from the way they had come, a large man with long auburn hair and long beard gathered in braids. He wore a bright chain shirt, bore a gold/black round shield on one arm and gripped a long single-bladed battleaxe in the other. After a wary moment, the party exchanged greetings with Aethelred the Tall, whose keep stood nearby to the stead of Hralf. A small village lay several miles farther west and the folk there considered Aethelred their Hearthmaster, for he was mighty in battle and fair-minded. He sought an accounting of the events at Aethelred’s stead and the party’s story, corroborated by so many witnesses, among them Iron Guild warriors, was deemed truthful and sufficient. Aethelred offered to speak with them further when they returned to the stead to take up residence, then galloped back south.

After another day’s travel, the party entered the fertile farms and fields that surrounded Aslov. The Icebarrier mountains towered in the distance and the black smoke of many fires issued from the walled city of Aslov. The farm folk of the outlying steads gazed northward in wonder and worry. Two days ago the fires had started, they said. Refugees from the north, fleeing famine and war, clustered around the three great gates of the city. Others, unwilling to wait patiently to die of starvation, headed south.

It was decided to send Zanatos ahead to make contact with the recipients of the grain and iron, and to arrange for protection of the caravan from the throngs outside the gate. Moving quickly and with purpose, Zanatos completed his mission unhindered, except by desperate folk begging for food or coin. Twenty guards of the town constabulary would emerge to form a shield wall around the wagons and escort them to the High Quarter. The Iron Guild, whose mission it is to protect caravans and trade routes, would provide no assistance without payment.

The party approached the Great South Gate and dozens of refugees pressed forward seeking food. The constables emerged with clubs and shields to keep the throng at bay, but several among the crowd were armed and attempting to incite violence. A single sword thrust toward an Iron Guild guard but he cracked his spear haft on the hand that wielded it, after which a mighty warcry from Wulfric cowed the remaining instigators. The party passed within the South Gate without further incident.

Aslov looked like a city under siege. Smoke rose from many parts of the city, especially near the city’s mill. There had been a food riot two days earlier and the streets were filled with the starving and dead. Aslov guardsmen and private mercenaries hired by the city’s many merchants were posted at every important intersection and building, giving the impression of martial law. The mill was surrounded by burning wreckage and cordoned by guards who allowed no one to enter or leave the block. Grain and flour was now raised and lowered to the site from the High Quarter wall on makeshift lifts.

Shipments were finally delivered: grain to the granaries, supervised by a young lad named Wilkin who had responsibility beyond his tender years, and steel to a representative of the High Constable. The party’s diligence and sense of duty were recognized with a referral to Rodgar ap-Annwn, a merchant in need of security for his own shipments. He would meet them that evening at the Last Chance Tavern by the South Gate.

In the interim, Goran volunteered his services to the Sisters of Mercy at White House, the nearest thing Aslov had to a hospital. Zanatos and Frelest sought knowledge at the library of the Temple of Var.

The party arrived at the Last Chance and made the acquaintance of the proprietor, a retired Hearth Knight named Jorg Nader, who told tales of battles beyond the Icebarrier. Rodgar arrived late and joined the group for a round of drinks. The city was still well-stocked with drink but food was scarce. His proposal: take a wagon to the mill town of Dunross, pick up a shipment of flour and bring it to the baker at Dalsetter. The flour would be worth its weight in gold scields and must be protected from harm and theft. He provided the group with a map of the area around Aslov. They set out with the empty wagon the next day at first light, heading southwest to Dunross.

A small raiding band of orcs of the Eye Piercer tribe, know for their archery and black garb, botched an ambush and the party defeated them with steel and coldfire. One of the two Iron Guild guards was brought back from the brink of death as Goran healed a grievous arrow wound. Several miles on, the party discovered a dead horse and rider, possibly killed by the same Eye Piercers. The rider carried a note from Dunross to Aslov about a plague of rats that threatened their grain supplies and very survival.

As the sun set they discovered a travel tower of the Road Wardens, built at intervals along trade routes to provide shelter to travelers. The tower was deserted but an empty wagon and two dead draft horses were found outside. Each horse bore the bite marks of some animal and the wagon cover bore the emblem of Dunross, crossed barley sheaves over the letter D. Inside were the skeletons of two people, flesh gone and gnawed to the bone. Rats were suspected, in great numbers and of unusual ferocity. The party moved everyone, including the horses, inside the tower and barred the door for the night.

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The Stead of the Dead

5 March 2012

Present: Ferrisa, Frelest, Goran, Wulfric, Zanatos, Aethelred, (Michele)

The party is escorting a small shipment of steel ingots and grain through the eastern Freelands, north to the city of Aslov which nestles against the Icebarrier Mountains. Their route leads them up the River Crystalflow, making landfall at Bridgewater, continuing along the western borders of Nordmark, and crossing into the Freelands at the town of Nara. It is the month of Snaermonan (Snowmoon) and high winter is approaching the Hearthlands, the frigid wind already howling down from the mountains. The two carts, drawn by four shaggy draft ponies, are under Iron Guild protection, for this winter will be a hungry one and the Freelands are under threat from rough and desperate folk.

The ambush was hastily laid and reckless, and the party was ready. Bowmen rose on either side of the snow-covered track and loosed arrows. Moments later, the assailants to the left were ablaze with Coldfire and those to the right cut down by spear and axe. The bodies were poorly clothed in mixed Saxa/Anari fashion and emaciated by hunger, perhaps refugees from Heligioland to the north. Heligioland, where the winters are longer and harsher and the harvest less bountiful, home now mostly to orcs, wolves and worse.

Continuing north, they came upon a strange sight by the side of the road. A lone man sat on the ground, head buried in his hands weeping. He was a Saxa by his dress and long hunting spear. The party approached to investigate and have words with the fellow.

Hralf Haraldsunu was his name, a farmer whose stead lay to the west. A armed band of strangers had appeared at his longhouse and requested hospitality. Hralf offered it but these strangers were dishonorable men. They helped themselves to his food and drink and roughly treated Hralf and his wife and two children. When Hralf raised his voice in protest, the men slew his wife and children without thought or hesitation. Hralf claimed that he was severely wounded by a knife in the side but managed to escape. Now he wept for his shame and begged the party to take vengeance on his behalf. If they swore on the gods to do so, he would bequeath them his house and lands, for he no longer had the heart to set eyes upon the place again.

Wulfric Dagsunu swore the oath and the party set out to deal with the situation. Zanatos searched the ground thereabouts for tracks but strangely found none. No footprints or blood trails led to or from the spot where Hralf sat, nor was there sign of the passage of a large number of men. Hralf was wounded, as he had claimed, and bore the symbol of Thunor, God of Storms, about his neck. Goran the Frost Dwarf tended to his wounds.

Zanatos scouted to the west and found Hralf’s stead after a mile or two. The single thatched farmhouse was surrounded by a four foot high wall of stone, behind which could be seen three or four men with spears. Smoke issued from the central chimney and the smoke of campfires wafted from within the wall. The party moved the wagons to a clearing a mile away from the stead, under guard from four Iron Guild spearmen, and decided on a course of action.

[Can’t recall exactly who did what or the sequence of events; players, feel free to jump in and correct my account]

Aethelred the Loud openly approached the gap in the wall where a fence once stood while the others quietly arranged themselves behind cover of the wall. Markus proclaimed his presence to the two bandit guards and requested hospitality. The bandits, confused but not fearing this lone stranger, went to deal with Markus as several other guards approached.

[GM memory failure]

Long story short, the guards were disposed of as the other bandits, numbering a good dozen, shut themselves inside the house. The party’s warriors bashed the door open and the rout was on. Ranged fire covered the rear door through which the bandits imagined they could escape. None did. Ferissa’s Coldfire once again blasted many foes.

A strange mist had suddenly crept up toward the party during the battle and just as suddenly disappeared as the last bandit was slain.

Searching the stead, the party found the bodies of four Saxa: a woman, two children and a man who in every respect resembled Hralf Haraldsunu, including the silver token of Thunor. The learned among them surmised that they had encountered a genganger, the restless spirit of one who leaves some task unfinished in life and cannot proceed to the afterlife to be judged by the gods. Under auld Saxa law, the oath of a genganger carries the same legal weight as the oaths of the living, and thus the party found itself in possession of their own steading… assuming the claim can withstand challenge.

pcfarm HralfStead

 

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Nazi roadblock

PCs: Neil McGreedy (scrounger), Noah Wales (engineer), Sam Hill (Texas Ranger), Gordan (professional British soccer player)

We left off at the crash site of Jimmy Stewart’s B-24. The hydra was destroyed, the Klan militia defeated and the party had to decide what to do next. Noah was wary of going to Huntsville because it was under US Gov’t control and he feared running into agents of Howard Hughes (he stole Howard’s jet-pack). Gordan wanted to tag along for survival, Neil wanted to scrounge abandoned settlements for trade goods and Sam Hill wanted to annex Alabama to the Republic of Texas.  This plan naturally won out.

Sam promised local sharecroppers that they would be better protected if they aligned themselves with Texas and that he would drive off bandits, mutants and the KKK. The sharecroppers tended not to believe him but he persuaded them to give the party a chance to prove their mettle. They said that the Klan had setup a roadblock to cutoff food and supplies from across the Tennessee River.  Supply trucks were not getting through and anyone sent to check it out had not returned. So the party, including Jimmy Stewart and crew and three sharecroppers, piled into the Ford pickup and a captured KKK truck (hand painted white with KKK in big black letters and Confederate flags) and headed north.

The road turned into a muddy track and the ground became ever wetter as they headed closer to the river. Then the Ford, bringing up the rear, bogged in the mud and couldn’t get free. That’s when they were attacked by a group of large gators, including one twenty-footer. The gators were easily dispatched and the truck towed out of the mud. Sam skinned the giant gator for its armored hide and sent two of the sharecroppers back to town for a wagon to take the other gators back for food. The leader of the sharecroppers, Thomas Madison Washington, proceeded with the party.

The roadblock was in a railroad cutting in an embankment. Log bunkers with BARs covered each side of the road and Klan lookouts patrolled behind barricades on top of the embankment. Gordan immediately gunned the KKK truck and rammed into one bunker, taking it out. His quick action took the guards completely by surprise. The passengers in the back were thrown about and stunned; those who could leaped out of the truck. Gordan backed out of the bunker and blocked the cutting. Sam hosed down the embankment and dropped a few guards while Jimmy Stewart’s trademark voice stunned several more into inaction (they thought someone was a-shootin’ a movin’ picture).

Klansmen in white hoods and some men in US Army gear rushed toward the roadblock. Among them were two bazooka crews. Two Jeeps with .50-cals drove forward.

.50-cal tracer was going in both directions and Gordan gunned it into the bazooka crews, trying to run them over. He succeeded in taking out one bazooka but the loader ran to retrieve it.

Meanwhile, Thomas Madison Washington ran to the other bunker and stuck his 12-gauge into the aperture, taking out the BAR gunner and yelling obscenities involving crackers and people’s mothers. In a berserk rage, he then charged up the embankment into four Klansmen. He took out some and scared off the rest, then charged down the other side into more onrushing Klan militia.

By this time someone noticed that the men in US Army gear were shouting in German. Disorganized militia ran out of tents and shacks and a German officer in para fatigues emerged from a tent over which fluttered a Nazi flag. He wore an eyepatch, monocle, had a fake arm and smoked a cigarette in a long holder.  He didn’t have time to equip his other cliches, which he left in the tent.

In the time it took me to type this, I’ve forgotten half the insane shit the party pulled.  A captured bazooka took out a bunker on the far side of the embankment but not before Noah and Sam had raced forward to engage the Jeeps, ramming one in the process and leaving themselves in the line of fire of four automatic weapons. Sam blasted the German gunners (as it turns out) and only took a burning tracer through his ten-gallon hat. Sam then tried to take down the distant German officer stereotype but he shrugged off a hail of .50-cal fire, all the while laughing and taunting in German (that’s correct, he also laughed in German. YOU figure it out..)

So the roadblock was ultimately destroyed for the loss of only one of Jimmy Stewart’s crewmen (note: Mooks rolling d6 for Shooting don’t hit often, at least not when I roll for them). Finally, Thomas Madison Jefferson, wounded by BAR fire, took out the last bunker single-handed.

I’m leaving stuff out but at this point it doesn’t really matter. Lots of crazy went down tonight. Oh yeah, a creepy storm front of poisonous rain approached the area but hadn’t quite reached it yet. At least the sharecroppers claimed it was poison.

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Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves

SESSION 4

PCs present:  Dr. Kenneth Lokar (historian), Jenny Barnes (dilettante), Raymond Learson (archaeologist), Jack Storn (reporter), Penelope Murphy (paranormalist)

Rough summary of events:

  • Diamante was arrested, and along with Peter Malone and Marianne Silver (missing maid) were transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Arkham. One patrolman was assigned to guard Diamante until she recovers enough for questioning. Samson the groundskeeper is taken to Arkham Courthouse jail. Dr. Drake was politely escorted downtown to ID the body of Jonathan and give a rambling, incoherent statement
  • Some of the charges to be filed against Diamante and Samson include first degree murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and possible immigration charges pending clarification of Diamante’s status.
  • Word is quickly spreading that an Italian immigrant (“vagrant, degenerate gypsy woman”) has brutally murdered the son of a fine, upstanding family. The court of public opinion is already in session and protests will be organized both for and against Diamante, since this is less than a week after the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti. Anti-immigrant sentiment is once again in the news and rumor has it that she is an anarchist or communist agitator. Det. Strawbridge is not happy about the publicity.
  • The investigators explore the open sarcophagus in the Drake family plot.  Penelope Murphy takes several photographs of a group of frightening humanoids in a long tunnel (illuminated by her flash), one of which spoke to her. While at the graveyard, they feel a dark presence fly overhead from the woods, heading to Arkham.
  • Dr. Kenneth Lokar (PC) discovers the family copy of Cultes des Goules (Il Culto Dei Ghouls, written in Italian by Isabella Drake.) Lokar notices that the cover is human skin, which they cut away and burn. Penelope subsequently tries to read the book but none of them read Italian. They realize that ghouls may be about. Lokar wants to burn the whole manor to the ground “to be sure.”
  • After the police finish investigating the manor, the group gives it another going over. Raymond Learson (PC) tries to speak into Dr. Drake’s HAM radio. After a few periods of static, a voice speaks to him in English and, not recognizing him, says they will no longer communicate on this frequency. The radio then goes silent. They take Drake’s papers and a half-finished manuscript entitled “The Orbit of Yuggoth.”
  • They load Claudette, the other maid, into the car (drunk) and start to head back to town. Three of them actually leave for town.
  • Dr. Lokar and Jenny Barnes check out the woods to the south by themselves. They find a group of Sinti Roma (gypsies) from Hungary who are a large family of artists and musicians. The leader, Janos Reinhardt, tells of a terrifying Devil who lives in a cave near standing stones. Its master is an Italian gypsy who promises them protection if they keep their mouths shut. They find the cave empty. As they are leaving, a gigantic winged creature lands on the altar inside the standing stones. A man and woman are riding it and it drops a dead, horribly mangled policeman from its maw. Shaken, they retreat into the woods unseen.
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The Situation Escalates

SESSION 3, part 2

(A brief note on the demographics of our gaming group.  At the time we began this scenario, none of the players had ever before played in a Cthulhu RPG and I had never run one.  Two of the players are relatively new to RPGs in general, having only begun playing within the past year.  Keep this in mind as you read the session log.  I completely understand if, at several junctures, you find yourself facepalming.)

The four investigators–Lokar, Barnes, McManor and Malone–parked their cars in front of the quiet manor.  Claudette was inside tending to the ravaged Marianne Silvers and Samuel retreated to his cottage.  Dodger, Sam’s pit-bull, sprinted off to explore the nearby woods and was nowhere to be seen.

Ike Takes Names

McManor approached the cottage and paused to listen at the door.  He immediately detected two distinct voices speaking within, those of Sam and an unknown female.  Ike rapped loudly on the door, identified himself as a police officer and demanded to be let inside.  Sam opened the door after a moment and stepped outside to face the detective, closing the front door behind him.  He could not, however, conceal the sound of a second door opening and closing.  McManor placed Sam under arrest for suspicion in the kidnapping and assault of Marianne Silvers, ordering the groundskeeper to his knees and cuffing his hands behind his back.

Ike Kicks Ass

Meanwhile, the other investigators ran around to the back of the cottage where they spotted a young woman attempting to flee out the rear door.  She appeared to be in her twenties, with long, dark, unkempt hair and an olive complexion.  Her peasant dress was colorful but mud-spattered, and she was adorned with many pieces of clattering jewelry.  Spotting Lokar, Barnes and Malone, the girl paused long enough to utter a curse in Italian, make a rude hand gesture, then sprint for the woods a hundred yards distant.  Malone, wielding a crowbar that no one had seen until now, ran in pursuit.  The ex-soldier was gaining ground on the woman when she suddenly pivoted to face him, drawing forth a wickedly serrated dagger from the folds of her clothing.  Malone lunged wildly with the crowbar as the woman brought the blade in a wide arc to slash him deeply across the thigh.  A gusher of blood spurted from the gaping wound and Malone crumpled to the ground in excruciating agony.  Jenny Barnes drew her battle-tested Derringer but a single shot went wide.  Dr. Lokar, again demonstrating his fondness for improvised weapons, took off one shoe and hurled it at the girl.  All the while, Samuel was yelling from the front of the cottage in alarm and confusion.  The issue was finally settled when Det. McManor ran to the side of the building and got off a medium-range shot with his service revolver.  A .38-bullet slammed home into the woman’s belly and she, too, crumpled to the ground in pain. Lokar quickly retrieved both his shoe and the girl’s dagger, its blade inscribed with runes and enchanted to strike true and hard.

Hearing the gunfire and commotion, Claudette came running out of the manor and added her high-pitched screams to the din.  Seeing two figures bleeding on the green lawn, she ran to Malone and miraculously stopped the loss of blood with some gauze she had stuffed into her apron while treating Marianne.  If she survived this day, Claudette was finally going to ask Dr. Drake–senile or not–for that pay raise.

Ike Takes Yet More Names

The detective fetched another set of cuffs from the car, handcuffed the girl and dragged her in a decidedly unfriendly manner into the foyer of the mansion.  Malone was also carried into the foyer and placed on a spare mattress, so that he wouldn’t bleed all over the fine furnishings.  Regaining consciousness, he gazed up into the concerned face of the very attractive Claudette and asked with a sigh, “Is this heaven?” (benny awarded, lol) Lokar and Jenny searched Sam’s cottage for some clue that would clarify the situation.  Among the big Norwegian’s personal belongings they found letters from a female paramour written in the same script as those found earlier in Jonny Drake’s bedroom, and bearing the same initials:  “D.D.”  Lokar’s keen nose also faintly detected a similar scent as those sent to Jonny.  Whoever D.D. was, she was playing a double game and pledging her love to two men at once.   The letters to Jonny went back six months or more, those to Sam only three months.  Samuel, overhearing the discussion of this evidence and knowing in his heart that it was true, bowed his head and wept.  He would subsequently be much more cooperative with the investigation.

McManor directed Claudette to boil more water and bring more clean linens, then call for an ambulance.  He himself then called Arkham P.D. for backup.  No one could predict when help from town would finally arrive, so he began to question Sam and the girl.  Eventually, a story began to take shape.  Sam was an open book now and told McManor everything he knew about the girl, who said her name was Diamante.  She never told him her last name and, lovestruck, he had never asked.  Sam had heard of the girl and her relationship with Drake, and finally met her while in Arkham to buy hardware and supplies.  Diamante worked selling flowers at a street corner newsstand near the police station and said she had emigrated from Italy.  Then it struck McManor that he had probably passed her in the street dozens of times without a second glance.  Sam fell in love and Diamante promised it was over with Jonny, and Sam chose to believe her.  Jonny could never stay with the same girl for very long, everyone knew that.  Sam drove into town on the same day every week and always spent time with Diamante.  Their trysts were romantic yet always platonic but she promised Sam that they would run away together when they had enough money to leave Drake Manor far behind.  Little did the naive Norseman know that Diamante had made the same promises to Jonny.  Finally, the morning after Jonny was murdered, Diamante had showed up bedraggled and confused at the door of Sam’s cottage.  She refused to answer Sam’s many questions but instead begged him to shelter her there for a while.

It didn’t completely add up.  Jonny was insanely wealthy and could run off whenever he pleased.  Perhaps he didn’t really love Diamante, or perhaps she was after something else entirely, taking up with two men who shared one inescapable connection–Drake Manor.  On top of it all, Sam admitted that he found it strange that Diamante appeared right around the time a band of gypsies took up residence in the woods south of the manor.  These transients were known to move from town to town, avoiding both the law and angry locals.  Sam and Dodger had so far succeeded in keeping potential troublemakers far from the house.  McManor was far from satisfied.

Predictably, Ike Kicks Yet More Ass

Now Ike turned his questions on Diamante.  It didn’t go as he had expected or hoped.  Evasive at first and supplying absurd rationales for her actions, she suddenly turned deadly serious and glared at the detective with dark, piercing eyes.  Muttering something under her breath that McManor couldn’t quite understand (but that Lokar was certain contained the word “Azathoth”), it felt as though a hand had gripped his innards and twisted them as a series of chills shot up his spine.  Fear gripped the hardened cop and his body began to tremble uncontrollably.   He only regained his senses with a considerable effort but, when he did, he grabbed Diamante’s right hand in a rage and put a bullet straight through it.  Echoes of the shot reverberated in the open foyer and Diamante fell unconscious from the pain.  Marianne made a sign of the cross, then wobbled to the kitchen to brew herself a pot of chamomile tea.  Forget the raise, she muttered to no one in particular, I’m going back to vaudeville.

Lokar and Barnes pulled McManor away from the freshly bleeding Diamante to prevent him from doing further damage.  They suggested he go up into the observatory tower to attempt to question Dr. Drake.  Meanwhile. at Lokar’s prompting, Jenny was convinced to accompany him to the family graveyard that had so obsessively captured the professor’s attention.  First, however, he chanced taunting Diamante by telling her about the trunk they had retrieved from the attic.  Her dark eyes lit up when it was mentioned but she quickly changed her tune and feigned indifference.  Lokar was sure she was lying.

Ike Gets Bugged

McManor mounted the spiral staircase to the observatory and heard the strange buzzing that Lokar had described.  The detective concluded that the cause must be–insects.  When Claudette reappeared with her tea cup, Ike immediately ordered her to ring up the exterminator.  She protested that it was a Sunday but he insisted.  On her way to the telephone she lingered for a long while at the bar.

The Empty Sarcophagus

Lokar drove Jenny down the drive to the ancient Drake family burial plot.  A large, stone mausoleum stood at the center of the plot, surrounded by many and varied smaller headstones.  One could walk directly into the mausoleum to be confronted by the marble slabs fronting each compartment, the occupants identified by bronze plaques.  Here were interred the Drake patriarchs and matriarchs going back to the early days of Massachusetts.   A rather large sarcophagus soon attracted their attention, as the lid had been pushed aside.  Jenny peered into the open sarcophagus and saw that it had no bottom, instead descending straight down into a dark pit.  She dropped a stone to gauge the depth and soon heard several clicks as it bounced off stone surfaces below.  The two debated on whether to investigate further but thought better of it and returned to the manor.  It could wait.

I Brought The Law, And The Law Won

Late afternoon approached, and the front drive of Drake Manor turned into a parking lot.  First, the Arkham P.D. paddy wagon appeared.  A genial old man in an old-fashioned suit of European cut hopped out the back and thanked the policemen for the ride.  A penny-farthing bicycle was strapped to the roof of the paddy wagon.  The man introduced himself as Dr. Klaiber and set to work tending the wounded amidst an appalling puddle of blood in the foyer.  Claudette had almost forgotten about poor Marianne in the confusion and also directed the doctor to her quarters.  An ambulance from St. Mary’s in Arkham appeared shortly thereafter and, with the help of Dr. Klaiber, loaded Malone and Marianne into the back.  The policeman took custody of Diamante and gently placed her into the back of the paddy wagon, where one of the cops stood guard.  Sgt. “Hound” Bassett and Patrolman Jones began to move everyone out of the foyer where they began to take statements.  Drake Manor was now an official crime scene.

Basset and Jones politely persuaded Dr. Drake to come downstairs and offered him a ride in a real police vehicle.  The APD needed to take some sort of statement from the deluded old fool; besides, they had to give him the unpleasant task of positively identifying his son’s body.  Dr. Drake finally agreed to go with them, as long as they let him ride in the front seat.

Finally, the exterminator arrived in his van, wearing white coveralls and armed with a pump sprayer.  He gave Drake Manor a clean bill of insectoid health.  All that buzzing was just the gosh darned HAM radio in the tower, he muttered.  It was quite odd, he thought, that the only insects in the entire place were in the form of strange doodles made by Dr. Drake, scattered amongst his notes concerning the perturbations of the orbits of Uranus and Neptune…

The investigators watched the procession of vehicles drive off and pondered their next move.  What about those European vagrants in the woods?

(Thus ends Session 3, mercifully.  I immediately drove home and took two ibuprofen.   Next session will be on a day TBD.)

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Ike’s On The Job

SESSION 3, part 1

(I thought another GM was taking over with his game this week but plans changed at the last minute and I ran RoC.  I hadn’t prepped for the session and two unexpected new players showed up.  It got a bit chaotic at times and I had to take a Mulligan on one bit of evidence I relayed to the group but everyone had a great time nonetheless)

New Characters:

Detective Ike McManor.  A veteran of the Arkham P.D., Ike has encountered bizarre occurrences while investigating a group believed to be responsible for pet mutilations around the town.

Peter Malone.  A wounded veteran of the Great War, the last thing he remembers was fighting in the Argonne Forest before suddenly losing consciousness and waking up–minus one eye but with a pocket full of cash–in his hometown, Arkham.  Peter believes that the US Army is after him and will try him for desertion.

The Story Continues

(commence very bad Mickey Spillane impersonation)

Detective Ike McManor chomped the soggy end of an old stogie as he pulled up in the squad car.  McManor was a good cop, an honest cop, and he had been with the Arkham P.D. a long time.  He had sure seen some weird stuff in his day, stuff that would make your gut churn and your head spin, and had been investigating the members of some group calling themselves the Cult of Mu.  Pets had been showing up dead all over Arkham with the Greek letter μ (mu) carved into them and he needed a lead.  Freaks, creeps, bohemians, Europeans–why don’t they stay in Boston where they belong?  Ike was in a bad mood and somebody was gonna pay.  Besides, the Bosox were so far out of first place they might have to start playing local little league teams to get a win.  He wanted to blast a monster, alright–a big, green one.

Riding shotgun was a strange, troubled man named Peter Malone, if that was really his name.  He showed up one day out of nowhere when McManor was trying to collar a local hood.  The hood got the drop on McManor and was going to blast him with his heater–at least, that’s what the hood thought.  Malone was walking along minding his own business but he had an uncanny knack for sensing when something heavy was going down.  Maybe that’s what saved him in the Argonne, why he was still walking the earth and not pushing up the daisies on the end of some Hun bayonet.  He called out to McManor just in the nick of time and Ike drew his service .38 first and filled the hood full of lead.  One more stiff for the meat wagon, one less threat to honest, God-fearing folk.  McManor took a liking to the one-eyed war vet, who also believed that there was something more out there that humans couldn’t explain.  Such as why he had been in a trench moment and wandering the streets of the old USofA the next, short an eye but carrying a wad of green in his pocket.  What the hell had happened to him?   Malone was put to work digging for dirt on the Cult of Mu and McManor fronted him a few bucks and put him up at a boarding house in Arkham.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but maybe that was for the best, because the Ritz sounded way too German for Malone.

McManor heard that Strawbridge had put some P.I.s on the case and that he had been in old man Drake’s pocket for years.  “Straw” wasn’t going about it the right way, by the book, so Ike decided to check things out for himself.  He called on his new friend, one-eyed Pete Malone, and they headed for the outskirts of Arkham.  The two people sitting in the coupe at the turnoff fit the description of a couple of the P.I.s–an old codger in a tweed suit and a young, stylish dame.  Ike pulled up next to the other vehicle and got the low-down from Dr. Kenneth Lokar, some bigshot visiting professor from Hahvahd.  Lokar talked in big words and liked to show off his fancy book-learning.  Ike couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He knew there had to be a collar in it for him, so he got the other coupe turned around and they headed back toward the manor for some real questioning.   The detective would teach these rookies how it’s done.

Next:  The Situation Escalates

(I’m stopping here because it gets very hairy and confusing.  The remainder of the session deserves its own post.)

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The Old Man & The Trunk

SESSION 2, part 3

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes were made of stern stuff, having confronted a slavering horror and lived to tell the tale.  Claudette, the maid, brought them linens and hot water and helped them dress their wounds, which were painful but brought no other ill effects that they could see.  Draining a tumbler of illicit brandy he found behind the bar in the foyer, Dr. Lokar bade Jenny to continue their investigation of Drake Manor.

The remainder of the ground floor of the spacious manner was unremarkable, at least in any context that concerned Lokar and Barnes.  Old money was evidenced in the rich European furnishing, the aged portraits of distant Drake ancestors, and the many and varied statuary, pottery and other adornments.  Thieves would become wealthy almost overnight and it was a miracle that the place hadn’t been ransacked, considering the meager staff.  Obviously, Samuel and his pit bull were vigilant and effective guardians.  Or perhaps it was something else entirely that kept people away.

Proceeding upstairs to the second floor, the investigators discovered what had to be the bedroom of Jonny Drake.  Claudette did a remarkable job keeping the interior of Drake Manor clean, swept and freshly appointed.  Not this room, however.  The stale odor of tobacco and neglect filled the air as it became apparent that the room hadn’t been cleaned in ages.  Clothing, along with needles, opium pipes and all manner of illicit paraphernalia, littered the nightstand and the surrounding floor.  Jonny’s writing desk stood against the wall near the foot of the bed, piled with an unruly collection of stationary, pens, inkwells, and bound stacks of letters.  One page stood half-finished in the center of the desk bearing the salutation “Dearest Diamante” followed by pleas of undying love and unfulfilled promises of undying bliss.  Jonny wrote that he would meet this Diamante “at the usual place and time” but the letter was never, and would never be, finished.  A desk calendar stood nearby with the date August 26, 1927 circled in red ink–the date of Jonathan Drake’s murder.  Dr. Barnes took the stack of letters and shoved it into a coat pocket.

The master bedroom, obvious from the double doors bearing the Drake seal, was locked and the investigators chose to leave it undisturbed.

The Old Man

Descending once more to the ground floor, they decided to climb up into the observatory tower and confront the master of the house himself concerning the strange and fatal goings-on.  The door to the tower was unlocked and the well of the spiral stair unlit.  As they ascended, they detected a vague buzzing noise whose intensity and frequency varied chaotically.  Reaching the door at the top of the stair, Dr. Lokar rapped for admittance.  A moment later he noticed that the buzzing had ceased.  The door opened and a frail, elderly man with wispy white hair stood silhouetted in the light of an incandescent bulb–Dr. Emery Wallace Drake, the once-renowned astronomer, awarded a peerage by Queen Victoria herself for his contributions to science.

The story of his rise and subsequent ignominious fall was well-known in academic circles.  Some years earlier he began offering for publication a series of treatises dealing with the existence of life on Mars, which he claimed to have discovered.  His assertions were as extraordinary as his supporting evidence was thin.  At first his reputation suffered no significant harm but his obsession with the topic and the single-minded zeal with which he increasingly bombarded his colleagues with his views led him into severe disrepute.  Frustrated at every turn and unable to find a credible ear for the fruits of his research, he sunk into a severe depression.  He had the presence of mind to seek professional help and check himself into Arkham Sanitarium for a year, an act which stabilized his psyche and simultaneously drove the final nail into his professional reputation.  The sanitarium’s psychiatrists declared him well enough to be released and resume his life but he was never quite the same again.  He became a recluse and was never seen outside manor, rarely even pausing from his studies in the observatory to take his meals or sleep in his own bed.  A new research target was in his sights–the possibility of a hitherto unknown planet at the edge of the known solar system which perturbed the orbits of Neptune and Uranus and whose alignment with Mars was impending–and he pursued it with the old obsession.  But with the passage of years and the frailty of age came a descent into senile dementia, and there was no one left in the whole wide world who took him seriously.

Dr. Drake invited Dr. Lokar and Miss Barnes into his observatory as old friends.  It quickly became apparent how out of touch with reality he had become.  Questions were met with blank stares or jolly nonsequitors.  He was in deep denial over his son’s death, which Claudette attempted to communicate to him after Det. Strawbridge had called the manor late the previous Friday night.  Dr. Lokar even confronted the old man directly about the tragic situation deep in the cellars.  Disturbingly, Dr. Drake went so far as to insist that the two individuals must have been guests, and that the cell was the guest house.  He said he hated for his guests to be lonely, so he had them room together.  Lokar’s and Barnes’ jaws hung open incredulously by the end of the interview and they decided the old man could be of no use to themselves or anyone else in his current state.

The Trunk

Only one area of the manor was left to search, the attic.  The investigators discovered the closet containing the pull-down stairs in the ceiling and cautiously climbed up.  Only a pale, meager light illuminated the vast space despite the many windows, the grime of age having coated them almost completely.  Sheet-covered furnishings and castoff nicknacks from generations of Drakes were pushed against walls and piled on each other.   One ray of bright light, however, shone through a broken pane in the southeast corner of the attic.  Dr. Lokar and Jenny approached and saw a shattered window–shattered from the outside, such that glass shards burst into the attic.  Dr. Lokar peered through the jagged opening at the ground three stories below them.  No ladder or rope was visible, no fire escape, and no ledge upon which a burglar could perch.  Then they saw that other nearby windows, although unbroken, bore scratch marks in their think layers of filth.

A large trunk was the only item near the broken window, and it, too, had been scratched and marred by–something.  The wooden box was reinforced with metal strips onto which had been imprinted a recurring pattern or design of a sort of stylized leaf.  A metal lock secured the latch, and onto this, as well, was a singular leaf of this pattern.  Dr. Lokar searched his memory and suddenly realized that he had seen this symbol before.  In the very last document he had been able to peruse in the University’s Orne Library was superstitious talk of a warding glyph that was proof against various forces of evil.  It was an Elder Sign.  But was something being kept in the trunk, or kept out?  The broken window, the scratching, the obvious attempts to gain access to whatever the trunk contained, all played their part in answering the question.

Lokar and Barnes were able to manhandle the trunk to the first floor and out the front doors.  The contents made a dull, muffled thumping noise as the trunk was turned this way and that.  Neither investigator could articulate why but they felt they simply must spirit the trunk and its cargo far away from Drake Manor.  Lokar put the trunk into the boot of his automobile and slammed the lid.

Sam Again

Jenny swore she could hear multiple voices coming from the groundskeeper’s cottage.  She rapped on the door and called for Sam to come out and answer questions regarding the horrifying discovery in the cellar.  In the long pause before he answered, she heard what sounded like a door closing and considered the situation suspicious.

Sam emerged, shotgun in hand, and closed and locked his door behind him.  He strode to the car to speak with Dr. Lokar.  Jenny, meanwhile, loitered near the cottage attempting to discern the source of the strange voices and noises.  At one point she even grabbed a large screwdriver that was lying on the ground and tried to pry a window open.  Her clumsy, blatant attempt at breaking-and-entering was spotted by Sam, who, angered by the sheer nerve of the two, gruffly ordered them off the property at gunpoint.

Lokar and Jenny got in the car and drove back toward the main road to plan their next moves.

Next:  Ike’s On The Job

 

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The Guests of Drake Manor

SESSION 2, part 2

The maidservant, Claudette, pushed open one of the two large entrance doors of Drake Manor and accompanied Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes into the broad foyer.  Their footsteps echoed on the rich red-brown tiles as they passed mosaics on either side depicting the hillside vineyards of Tuscany.  Claudette, the sole remaining maid of the manor since the disappearance of Marianne Silvers, worked herself to exhaustion keeping the interior clean and liveable.  Age and neglect were evidenced high up the walls beyond her reach and ground too deeply into the recesses of the complex ornamentation to completely render them to their original conditions.  But fresh linens and flower were always available in the many bedrooms, except for Jonathan’s, which remained as he left it on the infrequent occasions he appeared at home to sleep off a night of heavy drinking and smoking.

(no more freshman creative writing, I can’t keep up.  The situation in the second half of session 2, continuing into session 3, becomes very complicated and confusing)

The Study

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes began their search of the manor in Dr. Drake’s study.  The heavy ebony desk was covered in a clutter of astronomical manuscripts–including Astronomia nova aitiologetos : sev physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de otibvs stellae Martis (On the Motion of the Star, Mars) by Johann Kepler and Tycho Brahe, written in Latin and published in 1609 and Percival Lowell’s 1895 English language release simply entitled Mars–and calculations of the orbits of the known planets.  A stack of texts concerned studies on Mars and speculation on the existence of Martian life.  Bookshelves lined the walls containing copies of most extant books on astronomy and astrology.  Curiously missing from an otherwise complete series were volumes addressing astronomical observations from Italy and the Americas.  Across the study from the desk, a mantle above the fireplace held diplomas, certificates, awards, and framed photographs of notable events in the lives of Dr. Drake, his late son, Jonathan, and previous generations of Drakes.

In the midst of the collected memorabilia stood a small statue composed of an unknown, semi-translucent material.  Jenny reached out a hand to pick up the item and felt intense cold which emanated from it.  Eschewing caution, she grasped the statue and was immediately overcome by an intense and varied buzzing which seemed to come from all around her, and her hand was stung by the coldness of the thing.  She came to her senses quickly and the strange phenomenon passed, but both investigators noticed a low scraping sound from the corner of the study where a length of bookcase appeared to have pivoted out of the wall.  The statue was apparently connected to a mechanism of some sort.  They tugged on the protruding end of the bookcase and pulled it far enough out of the wall to expose a passageway with steps leading down into the darkness.  Dr. Lokar and Jenny grabbed candles from the mantle, lit them and haltingly descended the stairs.

The Cellar

The air became progressively colder as they climbed down into what appeared to be a wine cellar.  Candlelight illuminated a rack covering the wall on their left, every nook filled with wax-sealed bottles of the red wine that Il Dragone–the Drake family winery in Tuscany, whose crest was the dragon clutching the world they had seen before–was known for.  Directly opposite the wine stood a rusted iron door, padlocked, with a small sheet metal box mounted on the wall near the door handle, the lid secured with a simple combination lock.  The stench of mould, decay and filth permeated the cellar.  Jenny drew her small Derringer pistol from her handbag and proceeded to strike the combination look that secured the metal box.  Several blows succeeded in breaking the mechanism and Jenny opened the lid to find a solitary key, the key for the padlock on the iron door.  Lokar and Barnes rapped on the door and were answered by several harsh, muffled gasps that sounded human but were not recognizable speech.  Inserting the key in the hole and turning with a loud click, Jenny removed the padlock and Lokar slowly pulled the heavy door open.

The Guests

Peering inside by the dim candlelight, the scene that met their gazes was at once pitiable and horrifying.  A lone figure lie face-up on the floor, emaciated, caked with layers of dirt, blood and filth and hung with scraps of tattered and rent cloth.  Roaches crawled over the body and spiders nested on walls and ceiling.  But the figure was alive, and it was a human woman.   Two white eyes, unblinking and wide with terror and madness, glared up at them as cracked lips attempted to form words–an effort they knew was futile when they glimpsed the ragged stump of the tongue that had been torn from the mouth, allowing only hoarse mumbles and grunts.

And then it came.

Lokar was standing in the doorway when it lunged at him from a corner of the cell where it had somehow remained cloaked by darkness.  The creature, and only the gods know what it was, snapped at Lokar with canine fangs dripping with saliva, breathing a hot stench into his face, biting through jacket and shirt and into the flesh of the chest.  Lokar staggered backward across the cellar and against the wine rack, crying in pain and terror.  Grabbing a wine bottle, he hurled it at the thing and missed, a shower of wine and glass exploding against the far wall.  Feral, yellow eyes, saucer-like with fear, bulged out of its elongated and misshapen skull as the thing crouched then sprang forward on inhuman hind legs coated with stiff, black fur.  The smell coming from it was nigh unbearable.  Fingers, longer than any human’s, tapered to dagger-sharp claws with which the creature grasped for the edge of the open doorway, pulling itself through.  It emitted an unnatural, growling lisp that Lokar would have sworn said, “No more!  No more!”

Darting past Lokar, it came next upon Jenny Barnes barring its path.  Dagger fingers slashed out across her arm and only a supreme effort of will kept her from the brink of madness.  She fumbled in her bag for the Derringer as the thing shoved her aside and loped toward and then up the stone steps leading out of the cellar–indeed, as they feared, out of the manor, and beyond.  Jenny darted to the bottom of the stairs and leveled the pistol.  A single shot rang out and echoed loudly in the chamber.  Already nearing the top of the steps and freedom, the creature jolted to a halt as flesh and black ichor explode out of the back of its skull.  Emitting a horrible gurgling cry, it slumped in a heap and slid down several stairs as the life–if that is what it possessed–left it.  A pool of black, viscous fluid coated the staircase.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes carried a frail and broken woman up into the study of Drake Manor.  Claudette was summoned to care for the woman, who was indeed the maid, Marianne, who had disappeared.   Startled and deeply disturbed by this turn of events, Claudette mustered her wits and carried Marianne back to her old quarters, and then rang up a local doctor.  It was a Sunday and therefore procuring a doctor on such short notice would be problematical.   The two investigators broke open many bottles of the fine wine and used it to clean the filth from the cellar, and especially the stairs.  The cellar was now stained with Il Dragone, but what of it?  A body–no one knows of what–was dragged inside the cell from whence it came.  An iron door slammed shut, its padlock was put back in place to secure it, and its key was slipped into an inside pocket of Dr. Lokar’s bloody tweed jacket.   Kenneth and Jenny vowed never to speak of the thing again.

Next:  The Old Man & The Trunk

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The Mysteries of Drake Manor

SESSION 2, part 1

(Only Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes were present for this session.  Jack Storn, cub reporter, remained in Arkham to continue his research in the archives of the Advertiser.  Raymond Learson, globe-trotting archeologist, never answered his doorbell that morning.  His whereabouts are currently unknown.  Liquor and/or harlots are believed to be involved.)

The Road to Drake Manor

The turn-off from the Arkham-Bolton Pike towards Innsmouth was like a gnarled, bony finger stabbing into the dark past.   Less than a mile from the junction the road surface degraded into pock-marked and crumbling ruts of gravel and dirt.  Old, rusted signs warning of road construction were still jabbed into the shoulder at several points but there was scant evidence of recent repairs.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and his passenger, Jenny Barnes, spent the better part of an hour being tossed about the interior of the doctor’s Buick coupe, which was now covered up the windows with dust and dirt and speckled with bare metallic dings and dents from the rocks tossed up by the tires.  They easily spotted the turnoff to the Drake estate–home of the formerly esteemed astronomer Dr. Emery Wallace Drake–the only track remotely in the location given the directions that Det. Strawbridge provided earlier that Sunday morning.   Along that small driveway–for it was no more than that–the two passed the Drake family burial plot, low headstones of various vintage surrounding a tall and impressive central mausoleum, the whole surrounded by an ancient and rusted iron spike fence.  Lokar slowed down for only a moment before continuing on to the house.

This was an impressively constructed two story villa in a Mediterranean style of architecture.  The saffron paint, which at one time must have appeared bright and welcoming, was now peeling in large strips and much faded.  Grime coated the many broad windows and settled into the crevices of every bit of ornamentation and trim.  If they had not known otherwise, Lokar and Barnes would have sworn the place was deserted.  The surrounding grounds were in a markedly better-kept state, the lawns cut and trimmed to the borders of the breezeway, bright clumps of flowers surrounded the base of the flagpole and the hedges up close under the windows neatly manicured.  As they pulled up and exited the vehicle, however, it was apparent that shrubs closest to the manor were sickly and twisted, as if some pestilence had afflicted these plants but not those mere inches further from the walls.

Samson

A tall man, blonde, sunburnt and broad-shouldered, stood at the topmost of three circular stone steps that led to the massive double doors.  His pose was rigid and unwelcoming, and his face impassive and humorless; he wore the coveralls of a working man, faded to a light blue and discolored by dirt, grime and sweat which would never fully wash out, and carried a double-barreled shotgun which he rested nonchalantly on his right shoulder.

“Are you the ones the police sent?”, he asked in a pronounced Scandinavian accent.  “They can’t be bothered to come themselves.  Why do you need to bother an old man whose only son was just murdered?”  There was more sadness than menace in his voice as he slowly shook his head in disbelief at Lokar and Barnes.  Nearby, they heard the barking of a dog.

“Sam, it’s alright.”  One of the great double doors opened and a woman wearing a plain black dress with a white, lace-edged apron ran up to the large man and the newcomers.  “The police rang up that they were coming, there’s no need to be curt with them.”  Saying nothing more, he turned and slowly shuffled off.

Claudette Jourdain

The woman introduced herself to Dr. Lokar and Jenny as Claudette, Dr. Drake’s maid.  She explained how the estate had once employed many servants but she was the last, along with Samuel Olson, the groundskeeper.  Claudette had worked for Dr. Drake for three years.  Before that, she made her living singing at the Commercial House in Arkham on dance nights.  Dr. Lokar recognized her and asked how she had come to be employed as a maid.  The work was steady, she  said–entertaining was hit or miss and at some point she had simply fallen out of love with it.   It was difficult now to keep up with the needs of the estate but at least there were only two Drakes to take care of, the doctor and his son, Jonathan.  Even so, Jonathan was rarely there and only stayed overnight to sleep off one of his frequent drinking binges.  Claudette’s eyes welled up with tears up at the mention of Jonny.  She had rather liked him for being a kind-hearted sort despite the bad crowd and decadent lifestyle he had fallen into. Because of her fondness for the dead son, she offered her full cooperation in attempts to get to the bottom of the matter.  The manor was at the investigators’ disposal, except for the few rooms that they may find locked, which she wished them to leave undisturbed.

Claudette described Sam–whom everyone called Samson as both a concatenation of his name and due to his great size and strength–as trustworthy.  They met close to twenty years earlier in Sam’s native Norway when Dr. Drake was on an expedition to study the northern lights, and they had been together ever since.  Sam had been an outdoorsman, hunter and tourist guide.

The Missing Maidservant

Finally, she mentioned another maid, Marianne Silvers, who had abruptly left Dr. Drake’s service three months earlier.  Marianne was young and annoyingly willful, and her sudden departure did not come as a great surprise.  It was very odd, however, that she had not taken any of her belongings with her.  These Claudette left in Marianne’s quarters on the first floor in the event that she sent for them.

Lokar and Barnes thanked Claudette for the information and her offer of assistance, then walked up the three stone steps to the front door.  Looming above them on the outer wall was the Drake family crest–a dragon grasping the circle of the world with its claws.

next:  The Guests of Drake Manor

(to be continued)

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The Murder of Jonathan Drake

SESSION 1, part 2

(Here’s where the game actually begins.)

Jonny Drake had departed mere minutes before the other patrons of the Desolate Highway Cafe heard a piercing wail of terror from the direction of the alley that separated the cafe from the Boston & Maine Railway terminal.  After a tense moment spent exchanging bewildered glances, they poured into the alley and tried to discern the source of the disturbance.  Jack Storn, ever eager for a story, was the first to see the smashed and blood-soaked figure lying motionless in the side alley that led to West Armitage St.

Jack gazed down silently at the body of Jonathan Drake, face-up, contorted, broken limbs splayed in unnatural positions relative to the torso.  Brain matter, guts and unidentifiable bloody bits of flesh splattered outward like a ghastly starburst, giving every appearance of a body that had fallen to earth from a great height.  Had he been accosted, taken to the top of a nearby building and been thrown off to his death?  That would have taken time and there would be evidence of a struggle.  The worst injury of all was the gaping, bloody void that was Drake’s chest.  His heart was missing, as if it was brutally and crudely ripped from him.  Storn recorded the details in his notebook.  No one else dared approach so closely.  Several people screamed or gasped while others ran back into the Desolate Highway to phone the police.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar, upon seeing the grisly scene, darted back inside the cafe and out the front door onto West Armitage, hoping to spot some assailant.  He briefly thought he spotted a dark figure turn a corner onto Gedney and heard a rhythmic loping and what sounded like the flapping of canvas sails.  A trail of blood led Lokar for a block along West Armitage and then seemed to swerve left around the corner where he spotted the dark figure.  There the trail abruptly ended as Dr. Lokar still heard the sails flapping in the dark, moonless night.  He ran further up Armitage in a futile attempt to spot the figure and finally encountered a patrolman near a police call-box.  The officer had not seen anyone fleeing the area and was only now being apprised of the situation by the duty sergeant.  Frustrated, Lokar returned to the cafe.

The police arrived quickly and began pushing back onlookers while taking statements.  Detective Sergeant Dagwood “Dag” Strawbridge lead the investigation.  He questioned Jack Storn away from the crowd and asked him not to file a report of the incident to his newspaper.  Storn protested but Strawbridge insisted and offered to explain in further detail at the police station first thing Sunday morning.  Storn was aware of other investigations that were accompanied by pleas for secrecy from the authorities and the printed stories never matched the accounts confided to Jack by his fellow journalists.  Strawbridge overcame Jack’s objections by promising a scoop on the details of the investigation and that settled matters for now.

Back inside the Desolate Highway, Storn, Lokar, Learson and Barnes shared the sense that tonight’s brutal crime was in some sense unnatural.  All four were prone throughout their lives to flights of fancy, a shared trait that had brought them together in the first place, and their various individual suspicions reinforced and amplified each other.    It was still 24 hours until Jack was to meet again with Det. Strawbridge.

(engage terse writing style; I’m bored)

Research

Jack Storn went over to the Advertiser, where his editor was burning the midnight oil.  The two men conferred on how to handle the story, the editor suggesting Jack play along with the police for now and hoping that the promise of a scoop came through.  Jack went into the archives to research stories of bizarre cases that might fit the description of Drake’s death.

Lokar, being a close friend and colleague of Dr. Galloway, was allowed into Orne Library to perform his own research.  He faintly recalled reading of medieval European cults whose evil rites included mutilation, cannibalism and human sacrifice.  Lokar doggedly spent the entire night and most of Saturday following ambiguous and tenuous leads.  A series of newspaper articles filed in a Vienna newspaper late last century described murder scenes much like Drake’s.  The last article in the series mentioned insights the reporter gleaned from a German-language volume called “Unknown Cults” but wrote that the tome was henceforth unavailable due to a government ban on subversive and heretical texts.  No subsequent articles filed under that reporter’s name could be found.

Raymond Learson looked into the religious rites of the Mesoamerican empires, known for cutting the hearts from scores of still-living sacrificial victims.  The particulars of the Drake murder did not match the descriptions of the surgical precision of the ancient high priests.  Modern cults known to exist in South America consider it a sign of prestige and standing to be able to cut the heart from a victim while leaving only the smallest hint of an incision.  The killer of Jonathan Drake exercised no such care.

Stewart Portman

The four got back together on Saturday evening and decided to seek information from Stewart Portman, the collector of rare manuscripts.  They met Stewart back at the Desolate Highway and were invited, through the feminine machination of dilettante Jenny Barnes, back to his home to view his collection.  The visit wasn’t immediately fruitful but Dr. Lokar received Portman’s promise to notify him of some promising manuscripts which were on the way from a European contact.  Jenny also received promises from Portman which she could not repeat in polite company.  Somewhat frustrated, and weary from the past day’s events, they each went home to get a good night’s sleep.

The Investigation

Jack Storn arrived at Arkham Police Station at 7am to meet with Det. Strawbridge.  Strawbridge explained that he was indebted to Jonathan Drake’s father, disgraced astronomer Sir Emery Wallace Drake, an old family friend, for putting him through school and setting the youthful but troubled Dag Strawbridge on the right path in life.  The detective had taken on the task of keeping a watchful eye on Jonathan Drake, who looked like he would never achieve much in life aside from degenerate drunkenness.  He hosted Drake on many occasions in the station’s drunk tank and did his best to keep crimes and scandal out of the newspaper.  Drake was involved in illicit behaviors and likely had enemies, and Strawbridge could not honestly claim he was surprised that Drake had met an untimely end.  It was the nature of that end that proved unsettling to the hardened detective.  Further, the murder was both a failure and embarrassment not only to Strawbridge personally but to the Arkham Police Department and unwelcome attention would be focused on both as word of the crime spread.  Arkham was no stranger to grim crime scenes – a fact not widely known – but justice was expected to be swifter and more sure when the victim was a citizen of means.

On Monday morning, in twenty-four hours, Strawbridge would have to give a report to the chief of police.  Strawbridge asked Jack Storn for his help in investigating the crime and gave him the same twenty-four hour deadline.  They needed answers and they needed them quickly.  Jack was advised to enlist the help of discreet and trusted friends to uncover any evidence of someone with the motive and opportunity to kill Jonathan Drake.  Strawbridge would even call ahead to the Drake Manor, twenty miles outside of Arkham on the road to Innsmouth, and tell Dr. Drake and the staff to cooperate with a group of city-appointed private detectives.

Jack Storn related his dealings with Strawbridge to his three companions and they prepared themselves for their first investigation together.

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