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.