Horror On The Orient Express

Austria 1923, Part One

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Investigators have set off to follow the trail of Melisende took in search of the secrets of the mysterious amulet used against Sedefkar and the Simulacrum back in the 1207 AD.


Alvar.jpgLed by their guide Joseppi Alvar they arrived at the Austrian village of Fassendorf. Somewhere in the wild countryside around the village is a circle of standing stones said to be carved with strange symbols that match those on the amulet.

They arrived in the quiet, alpine village late at night. At their Inn they are met by only a drunken old man, Gustav Stepanek. He explained everyone else was across town at the execution of the man who murdered Stepanek’s son. Umar and Dr. Wilke departed to find out what that is all about, while Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson retired to their rooms.

An angry, if uneasy, crowd filled a church square, where the village magistrate was providing over the hanging of Metzger, the last of a line of former nobles, who after a string of outrages, was caught bloody handed committing murder. The unrepentant Metzger sneered at the villagers, before dropping to his dead. Dr. Wilke examined the body to confirm his death, though taking the opportunity to snip a few hairs.
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The next day was a grand festival day of markets, crafts, and performances, culminating in a parade of youths wearing the masks of “perchten,” folk spirits who scare away demons and bad fortune. The Investigators asked around and collected information about the history of the Metzger family, who once ruled over this land as much disliked nobles. Gregor’s grandmother, considered a scary witch by local children, may still reside in their hillside mansion, but no one has seen her for some while or has been brave enough to look in on her.

The festivities are interrupted when Miss Johnson discovers the body of the magistrate — murdered violently in the same way as Metzger’s victims. Confusion and fear spread through the town. Dr. Wilke and a crowd of drunken older men made their way to the graveyard. Otto the gravekeeper was suspected of concealing that Metzger was somehow still alive. While the protesting Otto was dragged off to be interrogated, Dr. Wilke lingered behind to discover Metzger’s fresh grave dug up from within. Using the clipped hairs, Wilke cast a charm pointing him towards where the seemingly resurrected Metzger had gone.

The other Investigators had decided to take advantage of the confusion to investigate the Metzger mansion, but Dr. Wilke arrived and convinced them to accompany him. After tramping through the frozen forest they stumble on Metzger, assaulting a young woman. Miss Johnson and Umar brought him down with gunfire, but no one is too surprised when a few minutes later he again drew breath.

Speculating that he is some form of vampire, they staked Metzger through the heart and hung a crucifix on him. He is slowed down by the trauma, he showed no sign of undeath. Metzger smirked and said he had mastered powers and secrets beyond their comprehension. The Investigators had little patience for villainous speeches, and demanded he explain himself. Metzger laughed and agreed. He would take them to the standing stones and “open the door” to the lore and power he’s discovered.

Cheerful and mocking, he took them on a hazardous hike through the dark, cold forest but by morning the Investigators were too exhausted to continue. They bind Metzger in a magic circle which seemed to limit his regeneration, and gots some rest — except Dr. Wilke who began making preparations for a fire.

Having had enough of Metzger, the Investigators killed him again and Dr. Wilke set to work burning the body. Umar and Miss Crispin decided to find the rest of the route to the standing stones on their own. After spotting them on the summit of an overgrown hill, Umar climbed up to examine them. The 12 slabs, 11 standing and one fallen, are covered with unintelligible symbols resembling those described on the amulet. Umar took careful notes, while Miss Crispin waited. She spotted an odd figure, apparently wearing one of the village’s perchten costumes, but it ran off when she spoke to it.

Back at the camp, Metzger’s body had been reduced to charred bones, which the the Investigators further crunched and ground to fragments. Umar placed the remains in a lamp and bound them within for transport while the Investigators made the trek back to Fassendorf.

At the village, Otto was still being held under suspicion and a higher ranking official had been summoned to take charge of the situation. He will wish to interview the Investigators, who state that they found and finished off Metzger. Dr. Wilke rallied his drinking friends in support of Otto.

Umar took his notes and books and locked himself in his room at the Inn in hopes of uncovering the meaning of the stones’ carvings.

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Venice 1923, Interlude

interlude.jpgAn uneasy alliance has been arranged between the Investigators, ambitious industrialist Arturo Faccia, the supernatural response division of British MI6, and ghostly spirit of Melisende, the medieval warrior-nun. Two pieces of the Simulacrum are being stored and protected by an underground vault, security guards, magic wards, and a spell that binds Faccia’s life to their security.

The Investigators meet with Miss Avon, the representative MI6’s Section for Research Operations and she explained the history of her organization, which had been secretly observing their activities so far. Her superiors, all the way up to King George V, believe this alliance with Faccia is extremely valuable in the struggles against Selim Makryat’s own criminal organization and his plans to gain the power of the Simulacrum. She offered assistance by providing false identifies for Investigators, and decoy agents to confuse and misdirect Makryat. The effectiveness of this tactic would be enhanced if the Investigators would donate a square inch of skin, to be used with sorcery Faccia had picked up from Makryat. The Investigators were shocked and offended at this, and Miss Avon respectfully withdrew the offer. Miss Crispin also raised the idea that an organization of English women, inspired by the Order of the Red Maidens might be a useful thing to attempt once more, to help protect the homefront from supernatural menaces.

It was also agreed that Prof. Smith would be kept in the dark about these developments in the mission. Dr. Wilke did send a confidential message to Smith’s butler Beddows and assistant Violet to warn them of his suspicions that Smith might not truly be whom he appeared to be. Umar received a telegram from his Uncle Sayed, saying that he made important discoveries recently and hoped they could soon meet to discuss them.
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Faccia gave the Investigators a tour of his underground vault. Built to withstand bombing during the Great War, the vault has been made spherical, reinforced with iron, and warded with stones carved with “Aklo,” the ancient sigils some believe are the primal Atlantean system of magic — though Faccia views them simply as circuitry to channel vril energies. Two armed guards, one of Faccia’s men and one supplied by Miss Avon, will be on duty at all times.

To further insure the security of the Simulacrum, Faccia willingly, even enthusiastically, offered to have his life and soul bound to magical compact created by Umar. Faccia was sworn to protect the Simulacrum, and prevent anyone, including himself, from using its power, unless two of the Investigators mutually agreed to any actions. The casting of the ritual was physically taxing to Faccia. Dr. Wikle provided some medical assistance, though he took the opportunity to communicate his dislike and distrust of the industrialist.

Much remained mysterious about what really occurred back in 13th Century Constantinople. With the hesitant assistance of Maria as medium, Miss Crispin conducted a seance to
speak with spirit of Melisende. The ghostly warrior-nun related how she had, long ago, tried to find the secret of the strange amulet that had been used against Sedefkar. The symbols engraved on it were also found on standing stones erected on remote mountain tops in eastern Europe, where local pagans were said to dance and call down devils from the skies. She’d managed to trace the oldest of these to a circle of stones near a village built next to chasm in the March of Nordgau. The sinister monk Merovac had been there before her, posing as a witchhunter. After the villagers had dragged a local woman before him, claiming she was the leader of a witch coven, Merovac had vanished, leaving the people frightened and distrustful of each other.

Melisande’s recollections became vague at that point. She apparently found the same destination that Merovac had sought, the ancient carved standing stones. Then there was a cave and disturbing buzzing presences full of terror and promises. Something pulled and fought against the spiritual contact with Melisende. Dr. Wilke reached out to maintain the link, but his own spirit was pulled away to somewhere cold and dark, where curious inhuman intellects touched his mind and pondered over what events were in motion.

With Umar and Dr. Wilke believing the amulet important to the greater mission, the Investigators deduced the location of the village Melisende described — now known as Fassendorf in contemporary Austria, and packed up for the journey

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Constantinople 1204, Part Two

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In 1923, the Investigators continue to read of the strange events of 1204 AD in The Devil’s Simulare.

The team of Crusaders presented the recovered tablet to their commander, Count Baldwin. He praised their bravery, and took possession of the strange knife wielded by the scheming Venetian Ramaldi. After resting, the team is to take the tablet to Baldwin’s holy man advisor, Brother Merovac. In the barracks, Renaud is approached by another soldier, Sir Gautmaris, who whispers that agents of Father Ramaldi’s cult are everywhere and are watching to make sure he keeps his bargain of returning the knife for a reward.
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Guards accompany the team to Merovac’s secret location aboard a plague ship anchored off the busy docks of the city. The filthy, poorly maintained ship is said to be part of the effort to conceal Merovac’s presence in Constantinople, since he has earned a death sentence from the Turks for stealing holy secrets. In the dark hold of the ship, Merovac praised God and thanked the team for delivering the tablet to him. He produced five similar artifacts and stated that they can be used to control the power of a evil statue embodying the power of Satan. While some such as Ramaldi seek to use this power for themselves, Merovac says that he only wants to destroy it.

Somewhere in the captured city is an evil sorcerer, Sedefkar, who currently commanded the statue. His lair is hidden, but Merovac’s research and spies tell of someone luring Crusaders into sin and corruption and then taking their fallen souls for some dark purpose. If the team themselves pretend to seek such entertainments, they might gain access to wherever these tempted soldiers disappear to, and thus the location of Sedefkar’s lair.

To aide them, Merovac presented a small chest containing many holy relics. If a special prayer is said, the relics’ power will weaken the Simulacrum and make Sedefkar vulnerable to moral forces. As they are under orders from Baldwin to obey Merovac, the team agrees. Gilles, curious about the relics, peaked inside the reliquary and found instead an amulet of an unidentifiable metal, covered with occult symbols. Melisende thought she might have seen such symbols carved on a standing stone on a mountaintop, where superstitious peasants attempt to call on pagan powers.

That night the team located a dreary tavern full of soldiers drinking away their pain, and made contact with a man named Gaius. He led them to a underground feast and orgy. As the festivities rapidly grew frenzied and violent, the team trailed Gaius up into the upper levels of a circular tower. They found cells holding victims of torturous experiments, as well as Sir Gautmaris, who claimed to have followed and spied on the team to report back to Ramaldi. He’d been captured after discovering an altar to Satan in the rooms above. He suggested they flee from the horrors of the tower, but the team convinced him to show what he had found.

In a chamber above sat a life-sized statue of a perfect human form, sitting on a throne filthy with blood and offal. Sulfurous braziers smoked, and the walls crawled with images of the pits of Hell. Melisende tried to scratch and burn the statue, but nothing marred it porcelain-like surface. Sir Gautmaris chuckled, his flesh bubbling and reforming into that of Gaius. He invited the team to rejoin the pain and pleasure going on below, claiming the orgy would soon engulf the whole world. He then further transformed into a tall cadaverous man in robe and turban, the sorcerer Sedefkar. In the middle of his raving about being the Scion of the Skinless One, Melisende quickly struck with her blade. Sedefkar stumbled back, merging with the statue as it rose to become a rampaging golem. Blood and flames spilled and demons crawled from cracks. It was all the team could do to stay alive and distract the Simulacrum until Gilles could raise the reliquary and speak the strange prayer. The box exploded as beam of light shone out. Sedefkar shouted that he was not the worse thing they could call down into the world and the upper levels of the tower exploded around them.

Some terrible angelic presence, beyond what could easily be put into words, descended on them. When it passed, Sedefkar was left as merely a man wearing an odd suit of armor. He fell to a careful stroke from Martinus, and as his body melted into foulness, he swore than none living would benefit from their deeds this day, and that he would rise to join the One Without Skin.

Back at Count Baldwin’s headquarters, he congratulated the team on their heroism. Baldwin gave the strange knife to his lieutenant Miho, to take back to the city Zara for further examination. The pieces of the Simulacrum were sent on to Brother Merovac’s ship. A terrified messenger arrived saying the soldiers who had transported the artifact had been slaughtered! Everyone hurried to the docks to find it littered with blood-drained corpses. One soldier, revived by Renaud, was able to report that Merovac himself had attacked them in a murderous fury, carrying off the Simulacrum. The furious Baldwin ordered the team to join Miho’s order of Knight and track down the traitor. All agreed save Melisende, whose responsibilities to her own Order of the Red Maiden obligated her to seeks answers to what the strange amulet truly was.

Miho commented that had never trusted Merovac, who had a dark reputation in the East, where they called him “The Evil One” or, in Turkish Fenalik.

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Constantinople 1204, Part One

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While resting in Venice, the Investigators are studying the medieval tome “The Devil’s Simulare” and its account of the sack of Constantinople in 1204 AD:

Financial debts and political machinations have led the warriors of the Fourth Crusade to capture and pillage Constantinople, capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Despite attempts at restraint, the city burns and suffers as so many fallen cities have before. Dark rumors of devils and Satan worship are also rampant.

After fighting off an ambush by mercenaries and an unholy creature lurking in the dark tunnels beneath the city, a group of seasoned Crusaders — Renaud of Flanders, Melisende of the Red Maidens, Martinus De L’Isles, and Gilles de la Grave — arrived before their commander, Count Baldwin of Flanders. The Count has been disturbed by both the lawless soldiers and the supernatural rumors. To deal with the later, he has been secretly consulting with a learned monk, Brother Merovac. On Merovac’s advice, Baldwin’s men had rescued a Venetian priest who had been tortured to raving madness.

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The priest ranted about a secret cult scouring the city for occult relics. He had stolen and hidden a clay tablet that, according to the cult leader, a Father Ramaldi, was a clue to the location of a statue that was the source of great evil power. The cult was torturing the priest, including cutting out his eye, to force him to reveal the hiding place, when he was rescued by Baldwin’s men. The Count then asked the team to recover this tablet from a niche beneath an image of the Virgin in one of the many looted churches in the city.

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After crossing the rioting city, they found the church already held by Ramaldi’s troops. Melisende snuck away to find a way in, while the others confronted the guards, arguing their way in with claims that they had been ordered there themselves. A scuffle broke out with Gilles brawling with the guards while Renaud and Martinus forced their way towards the other end of the ruins where Ramaldi and another robed cleric seemed up to something. A cloaked bodyguard revealed himself as a four-armed berserker and attacked.

From a hiding place in the ruined walls, Melisende observed Ramaldi completing some sort of sorcerous ritual. She interrupt with an arrow, but not before Ramaldi slashed the robed cleric’s hand with a strange knife. The cleric, cackling madly, placed something into the bleeding wound and scampered off towards the back of the church. Ramaldi cut through the air with the knife — and sliced through the stone walls where Melisende was hiding. She barely avoided the stroke and hurried through the church walls towards where the tablet was hidden. She located the image of the Virgin and a secret compartment holding a rectangle of clay covered with triangular markings. The cleric confronted her, seeing through a rolling eye in the bleeding wound in his palm.

After defeating the monster, Renaud grabbed Ramaldi’s arm and Martinus knocked away the knife. Ramaldi hissed that he’d could pay the plunder of the city to get the knife back, which tickled Renaud’s greed. He agreed to meet again the next day to work out a deal, if Ramaldi and his forces retreated. Ramaldi accepted, though he threatened consequences if Renaud went back on the deal. Left alone now, the other Crusaders noticed that Melisende had vanished, along with the tablet. Hopefully, she has just gone ahead to deliver it to Count Baldwin…

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Venice 1923, Part Three

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Previously on Horror on the Orient Express

After a night of searching, the other Investigators located Dr. Wilke’s hiding place and convinced him to return to the hotel. The doctor recounted a visit he’d had during the night: something that claimed to be Lilly had located him and requested to enter and speak with him. She said she was concerned about his distress and offered to do what she could to help, but Wilke refused her and ordered her away.

In the morning, conditions in Venice continued to deteriorate, with panic growing and spontaneous witch hunts breaking out. Miss Crispin visited the library again and found more scattered references to activities of the Order of Red Maidens, from medieval times to the Great War, though there was nothing after the bombing of the Convent of St. Agatha.
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Marino Innocenti arrived, dragging his diving equipment along with him. Dr. Wilke examined him, finding unexplainable atrophy in his limbs. Many in Marino’s shanty town had been similarly afflicted. Concerned, the Investigators decided to supply them with clean food and water so they could avoid further contamination. Marino was willing to provide instruction in his diving equipment, and there was much discussion on who should go into the water in search of the Simulacrum fragment. Dr. Wilke volunteered, though his elderly health vetoed this. Miss Johnson was the most fit, though the claustrophobia she had developed from her encounter with the Head of the simulacrum was a concern. Finally Umar was selected.

With a cold driving rain pounding them, the Investigators took Marino’s boat to the canal beneath the ruins of St. Agatha. After diving in, and an exhausting search through the murk and mud, Umar spotted a oddly clean piece of stone under barnacle covered rubble. The water grew much fouler and fish-like creatures began to swarm Umar and attack the boat. Miss Johnson helped Umar clamber aboard, along with the Torso of the Simulacrum — which was spewing a foul liquid from it stumps. Dr. Wilke skewered one of the fish creatures with his sword cane, but when it was dragged aboard he could see it was more a headless torso with a snapping mouth than any normal sea life.

The Investigators scrambled ashore, only to be attack by a massive hulk of flesh that charged out of the water towards them. With Wilke about to be crushed, and Umar unable run in the diving gear, Miss Crispin grasped the Simulacrum piece, to bond with it and calm the artifact, as described in the Sedefkar Scrolls. The crushing weight of infinite, empty void fell on her mind, but the taint of the Simulacrum faded, and the attacking creature dissolved into slime and a scattered of human rib cages and hips.

After regrouping at their hotel, the Investigators encountered Maria, who appeared possessed by the ghost of Melisende, a warrior of the Red Maidens, who claimed to have wandered the Earth for seven centuries, after a failure to destroy the Simulacrum at Sedefkar’s death. She insisted that the only hope to delay the doom it brought was to scattered and hide the pieces. The danger of gathering them was too dangerous, and outweighed any hope that the assembled artifact could be destroyed. The Investigators said they would take that risk, and the spirit insisted they would only be given one chance to achieve this.

A second visitor was Arturo Faccia, who treated them to dinner in thanks for saving Venice. He offered to provide a place to store and protect the Simulacrum, while the other fragments were recovered. Dr. Wilke objected strongly, saying they had no reason to trust a gangster who threatened their lives. Umar was inclined to take up the offer — on condition that Faccia be magically bound to the agreement, which he agreed to. Wilke was still not convinced. Finally the idea was raised that a multi-party agreement be made. Faccia would be assisted by agents of the British Government (whom Miss Johnson seemed to have strong connections with…) as well as the otherworldly supervision of Melisende. Each factions would keep an eye on the others, bound by the mutual desire to keep the Simulacrum away from Makyrat and other malevolent parties.

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Venice 1923, Part Two

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Conditions in Venice were slowly getting worse, with the polluted canals and growing fear about the recent killings.The gloomy Winter weather felt oppressive and the smell of decay and smouldering fires drifted through the city.

The Investigators had a morning visit from Carabinieri Captain Raimondi who was investigating the murder of Paolo Rischonti back in Milan. Rischonti was being painted as a communist terrorist and the police made it clear they wished to settle the case by having the Investigators sign statements that Rischonti had attempted to recruit them. It was for fear of their own safety that they happened to flee Milan in the middle of the night around the same time as his death…
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The senior Gondolier Alfio was hired to row the Investigators to the crumbling island house of Teodore Idoni, the book collector who has acquired the Devil’s Simulare. He explained that he had been looking for the book for some while. He had been surprised to find it being sold by the library, since he had assumed the book destroyed along with other treasures at the Convent of St. Agatha, which was bombed in the Great War. Idoni was willing to sell the book at a high price, but an arrangement was made for the Investigators to borrow it for 6 months for a deposit and lesser fee.

On the way back their boat was nearly upset by strange water creatures, but they kept themselves upright until they could frantically row back to the city.
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That afternoon they met up again with Alfio who had promised to show they a sight few tourists ever visited: an underground burial catacomb beneath the city. The bodies there were scheduled to be saved from the rising waters and reinterred, but Alfio knew the way through the flooded passageways to where they rested today. As the Investigators wondered at the walls of skulls and stacked bones, Alfio suddenly pitched over, bleeding from a concealed bite wound on his neck. Surrounded by darkness and scampering rats, the Investigators were address by Lilly the self-described daughter of Comte Fenalik. She inquired after their wellbeing and explained that as they were beginning to suffer the effects of the Baleful Influence, their best option was to hand over the Simulacrum fragments to Fenalik and walk away from the whole matter. She acknowledged their declining of this offer, and said she would be nearby, to watch over them and offer what assistance she could in their quest.

Though the Investigators had their hands on the Devil’s Simulare, they were still uncertain about where the fragment of the Simulacrum might be. Prof. Smith’s notes said that it had been brought by Napoleon’s soldiers during his occupation, so Miss Crispin returned to library research, eventually finding in, the Diary of Capitaine Dubois, an account of the torso of a statute that was being used for satanic worship. Unable to break or damage it, the officer gave the idol to the care of the Order of the Red Maidens, who promised to seal it away, if it could not be destroyed.

The Red Maidens were said to have worked under the cover of the Nuns of St. Agatha, so maybe the torso had been taken their convent — and perhaps fallen into the canal when it was bombed and collapsed in the War? A would-be treasure hunter who lived in one of the shanty towns outside the city was said to have diving equipment, so Umar went to locate and arrange something with him.


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Meanwhile, Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson attended the funeral of the father of their new acquaintance Maria. Also present at this dismal ceremony was Benito Andriani, whom they had met back in Milan. The surprised Benito said that his employer, industrialist Arturo Faccia wanted to speak with them. Also lurking around was Georgio Gasparetti, who was Maria’s secret fiance. The group was then joined by Blackshirt Alberto Rossini, who attempted to force Maria to leave with him. Benito insisted that it was none of their business, but the women insisted on interfering. Maria herself though proved capable of slashing one man’s face and snapping another’s arm. Rossini retreated, swearing he had Mr. Faccia’s support and they would regret the incident.

Umar had located the treasure hunter, though he found him, like others in his camp, in poor healthy and suffering from weakness and spasms in his limbs. An arrangement was made that the young man would visit them and Dr. Wilke would treat his illness in return for help searching the canal.

Back their hotel, the Investigators were visited by Benito, who was to bring them to Mr. Faccia’s villa for a little chat. They balked at the idea of putting themselves at Faccia’s mercy, Dr. Wilke in particular insisted that if Faccia wanted to talk to them, he should come to them, Benito was enraged to the point of violence and insisted that Faccia would be furious at this disrespect. When Umar arrived, he smoothed things over a little, by saying that if Benito would put his own life up as guarantee, they would go. Except for Dr. Wilke, who still refused to budge.
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At his seaside villa, Faccia proved to be more amused than angry at the escapades. He wished to discuss why his sometimes business associate Selim Makryat was interested in the Investigators and what they knew about the fragments of statuary Makryat was looking for. Faccia was not pleased by being ordered about by Makryat, when he got little in return. He believed Makryat know secrets about controlling the energy source known as “vril” and that the Simulacrum was a generator of this force. He and the Investigators agreed that would prefer Makryat not be the one with such knowledge and power. They make a tentative pact to cooperate towards this goal. He also agreed to intervene in Rossini’s interest in Maria.Faccia ended the meeting by apologizing for what might be in store for Dr. Wilke; it was unavoidable that certain lessons be taught

Back in Venice, Dr. Wilke realizing himself that he might be in danger, gathered up the team’s luggage — and the Simulacrum pieces — and with Alfio’s help, went into hiding at an empty apartment. There he waited, shotgun ready, for what might happen next.

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Venice 1923, Part One

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The Investigators fled Milan into the Italian countryside, the Head of the Simulacrum restless in Miss Crispin’s carpetbag. They hoped to find a place of refuge, but the long shadow of the King in Yellow stretched out after them. A red morning with two suns rose and the worm-men literally crept out of the woodwork, demanding someone take up the Pallid Mask. Miss Crispin’s will to resist was weakening when Miss Johnson snatched the Head away from her — and unfortunately falling under its spell herself. Wearing the Head she saw a distant vision of a strange city and a dry voice asked if she would be the new Herald. The vision became a nightmare of London transformed into Carcosa, and she declined the offer


"Then put down the Pallid Mask
"I leave it to the Skinless One to reclaim his own
“He will come for it, anon”

Miss Johnson could not resist the impulse to look upon the King in Yellow, and collapsed screaming.

A few days of peace followed before the Investigators headed to Venice with of two goals: a pieces of the Simulacrum supposedly brought into the city during Napoleon’s occupation, and the “Devil’s Simulare.” They found the historic city gloomy in winter, and suffering from an oily slime polluting its famous canals.

Scholarly tradition placed the original copy of the Devil’s Simulacrum at the Church of San Marie Celeste, but as an grey bearded gondolier, Alfio, informed the Investigators, that Church had burned down in a 16th Century conflagration. A Navy Academy stood on the bones of the old building. Umar found his way to its basement where, amidst standing water fouled by the canal, were signs of a forgotten order of female warriors. Also numerous graffiti of cats.

Miss Crispin identified them as The Order of The Red Maidens, and further research turned up folklore about the order defending peasants from supernatural menaces while their men were off on the Crusades. Less reputable scholarship also connected them with a secret cult of the Goddess Bast than survived into the middle ages under the guise of nuns of St. Agatha — a saint who, among other characteristics, was said to appear in as a cat to those who called on her aid.

Umar took to the library trying to find something of the fate of the book. He found hints that volumes from the burned library had ended up in the library’s archives, but had been sold to a collector for funds and needed shelf space. The way had been made easier, since earlier in the year a Prof. Stragliani had also been following the exact same trail.

Dr. Wilke had spend his time looking into some strange deaths than had been plaguing the troubled island city. Two people had been found dead, drained of blood. Talking his way into the morgue he discovered that the victim’s wounds were similar to those on the bodies of those attacked by Count Fenalik and his spawn back in France.

Miss Crispin noticed that the day, February 5th was the holy day of St Agatha. The city had a convent dedicated to her, but it had been bombed during the war. The nuns had all been killed and half the building collapsed into the canal. Miss Crispin felt moved to take a candle to light at the ruins — as well as some sardines for any cats who might show up.

Accompanied by Miss Johnson, she went to the remains of the church and found there was another visitor, a young girl named Maria Stragliani. She had recently lost her father and felt an impulse to deal with her sorrow by a pilgrimage to the Church. With a little hypnotic prompting Maria revealed further that a stray cat — who also made an appearance — was the one who had suggested that she come. She said that her father had been obsessed with finding a “devlish” book but had fallen sudden ill and died before finding it. The funeral was in two days and the two women would be welcome to attend. A large red-eyed crow was spotted spying on the group, though the cat chased it away.

Umar and Miss Johnson planned to visit the collector who had bought the book, while Dr. Wilke continued to pursue any clues or connections between the murders.

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Milan 1923, Part Three

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The Investigators decided their most important tasks was looking into what is going on at La Scala and the trouble production of Aida. Preparations started out with the disturbing discovery that Dr. Wilke’s playing cards, used for divination previously, had all turned yellow.

Police were stationed at the theatre, and were not enthusiastic about letting strangers wander around. Caterina appeared and explained that these were the people who has saved her, and insisted they be allowed to tour the backstage. Chaos and confusion were the order of the day as cast and crew struggled to get the show ready. The surreal world of artifice and (to Miss Crispin’s point-of-view, morale degeneracy) left the Investigators a little unsettled.

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They did reach the workshop of Paolo Rischonti, prop manager of La Scala, currently missing and under suspicion for the kidnapping attempt on Caterina. They found scraps Rischonti’s mad plans for staging The King in Yellow and evidence that he frequently bought many eccentric items and curios from Milan junk shops. Dr. Wilke located a secret passage in the undercity of MIlan, as well an empty, abandoned chest. A search of the discovered a concealed stone tile with a golden occult symbol: The Yellow Sign. Umar had encountered this cult of art and madness in the past and knew how dangerous they were. The Yellow Sign could not be unseen. Even more disturbing to Umar was the growing suspicion that the magic his uncle had taught him involved calling on forces beyond this realm, and beyond the teachings of his faith.

The investigators descended the stairs into a section of the city sewers. Dr. Wilke attempted to divine the route that they might follow, but his magic only brought down a swarm of the worm-men down on them, from which they barely escaped. Back up in the theatre the La Scala manager had become enraged about strangers wandering around causing problems. Aida must go on, and the police promised security would be increased. As crowds gathered, Umar noticed a couple crewmembers making hand signals of the Yellow Sign. He confronted them, posing as a cultist himself, insisting that they were the ones not informed about current plans. He was told there would be a meeting that night, when Umar could explain what he was talking about to Paride Pavoleri, a star of the opera and chief of the cast and crew who had seen the Yellow Sign, though not the ultimate leader of the cult.

Later that night found everyone at a subterranean lair where Cultists were preparing a ramshackle rehearsal of the King in Yellow. Some of the cast and crew of La Scala thought they were on the threshold of a art revolution that would change the world, others that this was just avant garde performance art. Paolo Rischonti, master of the Cult finally appeared, dressed as the Stranger and wearing as the Pallid Mask, the face of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Rischonti demanded the Investigators explain why, if they were a branch of the Yellow Sign themselves, they interfered with the abduction of Caterina, who was to have been brought here to rehearse the role of Cassilda of Carcosa. While Dr. Wilke played fawning cultist, Umar acted outraged that Rischonti was rehearsing the play under these shabby conditions. You do not rehearse the King in Yellow, you just do it. Rischonti agreed that if his Cassilda was delivered to him, ready to perform, on the night of Aida’s premiere, he would wait and present a complete performance of the great play for all Milan to see.

Back at the hotel, the Investigators struggled to build a plan around this thread of possibility. They had a day to rest and recover, but attempts to calm each others nerves and steel themselves for the coming struggle met with little success, perhaps due to simmering hostilities and resentments in the team. A desperate plan was eventually put together.

Miss Crispin convinced Pavoleri (with some hypnotically persuasive) to deliver a message to RIsconti: Caterina would be ready to perform, but had to meet with him at an isolation location to discuss important matters. The Investigators waited, ready for violence, at a desert warehouse, Miss Crispin dressed as Cassilda as bait. The Stranger did appear and, as he detected the deception, met with a hail of gunfire. He collapsed as waves of worm-men appeared. While Umar attempted to hold them off with holy light from the Koran, Miss Crispin snatched the Pallid Mask off Rischonti — just barely managing to resist the lure of putting in on herself.

Dr. Wilke finished off the badly wounded Rischonti and Umar used the last of his will power to keep his left arm from grabbing the mask by itself. Nerves at the breaking point, the Investigators decided to get out of Milan as quickly as possible.

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Milan 1923, Part Two

Aida.jpgAfter arriving in Milan, the Investigators discovered that the Brothers of the Skin were active in the foreign slums of the city and that the Makryats had connections with the industries that were thriving under the new Fascist government. Few clues had yet been found leading to where a fragment of the Simulacrum might be.

Captain Raimondi of the Carabinieri stopped Umar in lobby, asking about his reasons for wanting a weapon permit. Miss Crispin convinced him that they were relying on Umar for protection, and the officer says the paperwork should be completed shortly. A visit to Milan’s thriving fashion district provided new clothes to wear to the coming party, their budget kept in line by Dr. Wilke’s attitude and stinginess.

They then visited the University library to look into the strange names and places mentioned in the playscript snuck into Caterina’s notes. A long day of research turned up only a French journal account of a performance in a private club that left audience members mentally disturbed and muttering about “Carcosa” and other seeming nonsense.

In hopes of gaining some helpful omens, Dr. Wilke performed some card divination. It took some effort, but the cards did suggest some coming changes and dangerous shifts of power. Also, for some odd reason, one of the Kings in his deck became stained yellow.

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A car hired by Caterina whisked the Investigators to a noisy, champagne and jazz fueled party at the mansion of elderly art patron Flavio Conti. Dr. Wilke and Miss. Johnson kept an eye on opera star Paride Pavoleri (who had been behaving oddly at rehearsals), Miss Crispin mingled, and Umar stood off to the side of the festivities. There he caught the eye of Caterina, who was trying to extricate herself from the La Scala’s prop master Paolo Rischonti. She explained that Rischonti is constantly trying to convince her to support a new, lavish production of a play he is designing. After she excused herself to get ready for a performance for the party goers, Umar chatted with the manic prop master, who was alternatively boastful and protective of his plans to stage an obscure French play that will revolutionize theatre. Glimpses of his sketches showed sets and stagings beyond anything La Scala, or any actual theatre, could produce. After shaking Umar’s hand, he rushed off. Umar left arm was struck by a spasm of pain…

Caterina appeared on a balcony and dazzled all with the aria from Aida. For an encore she began a second, strange, discordant piece, Cassilda’s Song, that upset her as much as it did the crowd. She fled as the jazz band started to get the party going again. Dr. Wilke, hurried after her. The others conferred from a minute before following.

Dr. Wilke tried to locate where Caterina has vanished into the mansion, and encountered an armed gentleman who was also looking for something. Dr. Wilke sent him off in the wrong direction, before hearing a scuffle from a servants’ stairwell. The other investigators also ran into the searching man, who asked about “the little men” he was pursuing.

Dr. Wilke meanwhile made his way to a side door and spotted a group of very short, pale men stuffing Caterina into a large black car. Distracting the little men with magic, he managed to get into the front seat of the car but was unable to get it started before being discovered. When the others arrived, a melee broke out between the Investigators and the little men — who were revealed as fanged inhuman creatures. The Investigators managed to get the upper hand, command the car, and with Miss Johnson at the wheel, escape with the dazed Caterina. In the glovebox Dr. Wilke finds the rental papers show the car had been hired by the Paolo Rischonti.

After a night in a nondescript hotel, they reported the events to the Milan police. Caterina backed up their story, and the police insisted they will handle the investigation now. Umar tried to see if this weapon permit can be expedited, but the bureaucratic process would not be hurried.

Back at the Grand Hotel, they again encountered the gunman from the party, Benito Andriani. He explained that he works for Arturo Faccia, who was concerned about what disrupted the party. He would like to know what information the Investigators have. A little magical influence from Dr. Wilke led him to give more than his share of information and Benito related that the bodies of the little men were clearly not human and were being examined by another of Faccia’s men, one who is knowledgeable about such things. When asked if he could assist with Umar’s permit, he said he couldn’t help there, but handed over a pistol of his own. He departs, saying he would see if Mr. Faccia might provide more about the creatures, if anything is discovered.

The Investigators mulled over their options, and decided it is time to check out La Scala for themselves.

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Milan 1923, Part One

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Aboard the Orient Express, steaming its way across Switzerland, the Investigators finished reading Prof Smith’s Constantinople diary and began considering their next actions. They have only a few clues, and the names of people Prof Smith had been corresponding with, to lead them to where the next fragment of the Simulacrum might be within Milan.

Needing some food and a chance to gather their wits, they retired to the Dining car to enjoy some the luxuries available. The Maitre d’Hotel informed them the train is about to enter the Simplon Tunnel, the 15 mile passage cut through the granite of the Alps. Their meal is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Duke du Messeraine, accompanied by William Wellington, apparently under the Duke’s control. The Duke demanded the Investigators hand over the Scroll taken from Edgar Wellington. They refused and a violent struggle of sorcery and unnatural strength broke out, though the staff and other passengers remained oblivious. While Miss Johnson and Umar grappled with William, Miss Crispin and Dr. Wilke hurried back to their cabin to recover the Scroll .They were uncertain about whether it would be best to threaten to destroy the Scroll, actually destroy it, or make some use of the fake Scroll that Edgar Wellington had prepared. A battered Umar and Miss Johnson had been taken captive by the Duke, until Umar cast a spell to disrupt the electrical lights of the dining car (on due to the passage through the Tunnel). In the darkness they escaped and met the others bag in their cabin. When William charge in a few minutes later, he was met by a hail of gunfire from the Investigators, thought it took a knife strike by Umar to finally put down the thing that had been William Wellington. The Duke appeared, fist ablaze with green fire, but Dr.Wilke doused the fake Scroll with alcohol and incinerated it. Duke Messeraigne was enraged, but stated that at least Makryat would not gain the Scroll either, before he vanished.

After treating their wounds, the Investigators debated what to do next. Was the Scroll too dangerous to keep, lest it fall in enemy hands, or were the secrets in might contain be too valuable? They decided to hold on to it for now, as Umar studied it to learn about the terrible lore of Sedefkar and his crazed beliefs about the power of the Simulacrum and the Skinless One.

Entering into Italy, the Investigators dealt with the strict customs of the country and hid their more interesting suplies in Umar’s diplomatic trunk. They were also joined by the opera star Caterina Cavollaro, whom they had met on the train as it left Paris. She explained to Dr. Wilke that she was travelling incognito to relax some before upcoming performance of Aida in Milan. She promised to arrange rooms for them at Milan’s best hotel and hoped they would attend the opening night performance. Bidding Dr.Wilke good afternoon, she was disturbed by a page of a strange script that had become mixed in with her direction and staging notes.

After settling in at Milan, the Investigator decided to first speak with Father Angelico, a priest at The Duomo, the city’s famous cathedral. The Father had been corresponding with Prof Smith about spiritual evil and the possibilities that agents of Satan were active in the city. The Father mentioned that some of his own parishioners were worried about Devil worshippers in their neighborhood. Contrary to Dr. Wilke’s request, Miss Johnson slipped away for a moment to arrange a meeting with a local contact in British Intelligence. She was informed that the Makryats had connections with businessmen through Italy, and was suspected of providing gray market supplies to manufacturers such as Arturo Faccia, owner of a large automotive plant outside of town.

The Investigators caught a trolley to the industrial district of Portello, to look into the rumors that Father Angelico had mentioned. As they rode through blocks of soot stained tenements, Miss. Johnson suggested checking out one of the large factory complexes. Posing as a sports car enthusiast, she toured the plant. The name Ennio Spinola was being mentioned often by the workers, and it was learned that he was, according to a plant manager, a Communist agitator who was recently murdered by the unsavory types he associated with.

Locating the slum where workers from the Middle East lived, Umar spoke with the owner for a coffee shop and was told that some of the residents might indeed be having commerce with dark forces. Their fear and poverty was leading them to look for whatever protection was being offered. It seemed the Brothers of the Skin were at work. The owner also knew of the death of Spinola, though he had heard him described as labor advocate who had come to Portello to organize workers and protest unsafe conditions at the plant.

Back at the hotel, they met again with Caterina, who had been having a hard day herself. Rehearsals had not be going well, with players forgetting their lines, workers quitting and being replaced, and the performer of the King of Egypt showing up drunk in a ridiculous yellow costume. The next evening Caterina was to attend a ball held in her honor by the wealth but ailing patron Flavio Conti. She invited the Investigators to attend as her guests— though that would mean a shopping trip to buy suitable attire.

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