Horror On The Orient Express

The End

And thus ends our campaign.

I have been keeping a blog about running the game, from a GM’s point of view, at my website below. I write about how the story developed through our sessions, particularly how it departed from the published campaign books, and how I approached it from the perspective of the “Trail of Cthulhu” rule system, rather than the original “Call of Cthulhu” rules.

https://museumoftheslightlycurious.blogspot.com/

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UnMaking

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After calming the Right Arm of the Simulacrum, Umar sat down in the dirt outside the train station in Trieste and began scribbling in the dirt with his finger. The strain of the unnatural experiences of recent months appeared to have finally broken his stoic mental state, but Miss Crispin was able to talk him back to his senses — at least the Investigators hoped.

A few hours aboard the Orient Express further eased their rattled psyches, though a strange lack of news from London was unsettling. Arriving at the Venice station they were met by Miss Avon, who started to scold them for their unauthorized activities, but even she was shocked by how haggard and ill the Investigators seemed. After a short trip on a steamboat, they arrived at Arturo Faccia’s villa. The Italian Industrialist welcome them, asking if they had seen any of the German engineer who should also have been on the same train. The Investigators declined to provide any information on the topic.
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After getting some rest and checking on the state of the Simulacrum in its vault, they paid a call on Albert Alexis, who had spent the time since his rescue from the Dreamlands studying and developing his eccentric theories on space and time and their relations to railroad lines and timetables. In consultation with Umar, a theoretical ritual was concocted that might unfold the Simulacrum, or at least the four-dimensional shadow of the artifact that existed on Earth, out of our reality, freeing this existence from its curse. All the Investigators were taught a Spell of Unmaking, though grasping such lore strained them yet further. A remaining problem was that this ritual could not be performed while confined within the Material World. Dr. Wilke suggested using the Dream Drug of the Duc de Messeraine. Alexis agreed that could allow them to cross over the boundaries of Reality, but there was no promise of being able to return — or at least to return to the world they had left.

Within a ballroom of Faccia’s villa, a complex diagram of magic circles and interlocking model train tracks was constructed around the assembled pieces of the Simulacrum. The Investigators were to dose themselves with Dream Drug and be carried off into spiritual realms to seek out and sever the connections between the Simulacrum and the physical world. Albert Alexis, Faccia, and Miss Avon bid them good luck, and the ritual was begun.

After slipping into sleep, the Investigators were assailed by nightmarish recollections of their experiences that threatened to tear them away forever into Dream. They managed to hold their identities together and found themselves on a foggy hilltop. They were shaken, but able to Shape the substance of this realm to some degree through the power of the Drug. A cloaked figure appeared, asking why they had come. He was surprised that they did not know him, claiming that every ritual, spell, sacrifice, or prayer throughout human existence had been an invitation to him. If they wished to know more, he stated, they need only follow — as he toppled over backwards into the mist.

From where he vanished, a stone stairway led down to a plateau laid out with a chalk carving of a human shape. Stone arches, carved with the same symbols as the Simulacrum stood above the outline, one at the head, one on the chest, and one on each limb. Within each arch they glimpsed another strange world, several of which looked familiar from the visions triggered by the Mi-go “gifts.”

They first entered the world of an Egyptianized London, where obelisks lined the streets, and a giant pyramid rose where the City of London once stood. The Investigators were drawn to a temple of Bast, which was guarded by sphinxes with the face of Maria Stragliani, the young woman they had encountered in Venice who seemed connected to the cat goddess through the ancient order of the Red Maidens. Within the inner temple, the painted images of priestesses all began to take on Miss Crispin’s face and a statue came to life, also with her image though covered with the Simulacrum’s designs. It attacked, demanding that she join them in worshipping Bast forever. Miss Crispin forced it away with her own Christian faith, and Dr.Wilke attacked it with his own prayers — though the use of magic hurt Miss Crispin as well. Further, when the eidolon was destroyed, Miss Crispin found her own magic abilities had vanished. A pyramid of pure white was found on an altar and Miss Crispin cast the Spell of Unmaking on it, calling on the terrible knowledge and secrets that her experiences had revealed to her.

Finding themselves back on the plateau, the Investigators next entered the arch to a battlefield torn by soldiers with weapons, vehicles, and aircraft beyond anything they had seen before. They encountered a parade of battered refugees seeking shelter. Dr. Wilke identified their leader as one of the cigani people, and he explained that the Americans, Germans, and Russians had warred back and forth across the land so much they were not sure who was fighting whom anymore. When the man saw that Dr. Wilke knew his people’s ways, he excitedly invited him to meet his band’s “grandmother” who had foreseen his coming in her dreams. At the refugee camp, this ancient woman explained that her people guarded much terrible lore and many occult weapons that the German Nazi party wanted for their war. She had no descendants to guard these secrets and insisted Dr. Wilke take this burden. When he expressed hesitation, the old woman transformed into a symbol-covered eidolon of Dr.Wilke and attacked. When this creature was defeated, Dr. Wilke too found his magic ability was gone. A necklace of pure white stones was uncovered, and when it was Unmade, the Investigators again appeared on the plateau.

They next attempted to enter the London of skyscrapers and airships that Miss Johnson had previously seen — but a blast of hot wind and sand took them elsewhere. They stood in a desert, illuminated by a pair of setting suns. A woman wearing a tattered yellow gown and covering her face with a mask appeared and offered Miss Johnson her “Second Invitation” to leave all her troubles and pain behind and join her at the court in Carcosa, where the King in Yellow had been interested in her since the Investigators’ encounter with the Yellow Sign in Milan. Miss Johnson declined, and the woman said she would accept that, and as Miss Johnson was untainted by the corruption that marked the others, there would be a Third Invitation.

They then did appear in this capital of a British Empire that had conquered the world and subjugated all non-white cultures. A strange pull led them to a vastly expanded British Museum, which both celebrated the Empire’s victory in a war against the Mi-go, and housed a collection of artifacts and treasures from around the world. There was even a display of relics from “Atlantis” — including a pure white chalice. This was the next link to be Unmade, and doing so spun the world away until the Investigators returned to their starting point again.

The next expedition was to the remains of a large city completely overgrown with trees and vines and inhabited by peaceful animals — and naked, placid, but curious humans. Miss Crispin, who was suffering the strain from all these disturbing experiences, abandoned her prudish ways and stripped down as well, making friends with the innocent people. After some simple communication, they led the Investigators to their settlement and also to the overgrown chicken-legged cottage of the Baba Yaga. The three avatars of this entity accused the Investigators of trying to bring evil again to this now pure world. But she knew why they had come and showed them a tall tree which was home to a pure white serpent that divided into an endless hydra as Miss Crispin Unmade it.

Two arches remained. They entered a forested realm in the darkness of an eternal eclipse only to be attacked by werewolves. The fight was broken off by the appearance of a robed figure and two masked attendants. The monsters were ordered away for attempting to take “prey” without permission. The robed “man” revealed himself as the Austrian aristocrat Gregor Metzger, who had managed his own undead immortality through Mi-go technology. All living things were now “prey” and they would be taken to the castle of Emperor Fenalik. The Investigators allowed themselves to be captured, thinking their next goal would be there, but along the way they felt a familiar pull from a ruined church. Umar used his magic to free them and held off a giant swarm of bats that stormed out of the castle towards them. The others reached the ruins and found a pure white crucifix, which when Unmade, sent them away again.

The last arch took them to the utterly broken and devastated landscape that Umar had seen in his earlier vision. Weird glowing aircraft flew through the smoking sky. The Investigators successfully took cover, but were then found by a group of rifle carrying Arabic men. They were surprised by the Investigators’ presence here, but became hostile at the mention of the bunker-like building they had spotted and taken as their goal. Suddenly one of the men threw himself at Umar’s feet, asking forgiveness for not recognizing their Caliph, Makryat the Great. Playing along, Umar and the others were led into the bunker, which was stationed there to guard some important relic of the Caliph’s. Within a large vault a cloth covered object sat on a dais. Umar was suddenly wracked by agony and a gory hand burst out his shoulder, followed by a sneering face that proclaimed that it was the reborn Selim Makryat. The sorcerer was reforming himself from the scars his blood had left on Umar’s flesh. " You cannot kill me! Nisra could not kill me! As long as the Skinless One calls to me I shall not be denied!" Umar attempted to magically destroy this abomination, but Makryat only absorb the power and grew stronger. The Investigators attempted to grab the object off the dais, but found it intangible. Desperate, Miss Crispin tried to use the Dreamshaping power of the Drug to make the object tangible. The only possible route to making this real was to reach through time to a future where Makryat had become manifest, leaving Umar little more than a husk. Seeing no other choice, she bent time and Unmade the perfect cube that would, in the future, appear on the dias.

Back on the plateau, the arches were gone, replaced by an outdoor cafe.The sky cleared to reveal a endless expanse of stars. Umar stilled lived, but was left a helpless ruin. The cloaked man sat at the café, leafing through piles of books. He said he was fascinated by language, how words could be so vague, yet communicate so much. What, for instance did “skin” mean, or what was it to be “skinless?”
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Removing his hat, this being revealed a face of exposed muscle and bone. This was what everyone possessed, so was skin something that served to hide truth? Dr.Wilke accused this figure as being “nothing” and it said maybe it was, that it only came to reveal truths that the Earth now would never know. The Investigators had indeed saved their world, for whatever it meant to save a mote of dust in vast, boundless cosmos. The Skinless One stood and a vast multitude of dark shambling forms stood as well. He gestured for Umar to join them. Ultimately shattered and broken, it was Umar’s destiny to join the Procession, forever.

The remaining Investigators found themselves again on the plateau, in a circle of the 6 stone arches. Except that is, for Miss Johnson, who saw a seventh entrance: this one an gothic doorway painted a pale yellow. Emily Johnson walked to the Third Invitation and vanished. Dr. Wilke and Miss. Crispin were left alone with the different realms they had visited. The war-torn battlefield seemed the world that needed them, the one they could help the most. Hand in hand, they stepped through.

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On the Train 1923, Part Two

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As the Orient Express sped across the Bulgarian countryside, the Investigators pondered what to do about the strange men in black who had infiltrated the train, as well as the “gifts” they bore. Curious, Miss Crispin touched the Bakelite sphinx figurine she’d been given and received a vision of a London with obelisk lined streets and a giant pyramid looming over Parliament. Miss Johnson’s coin also showed her London, but one with airships soaring overhead and towering glass and steel buildings.

While they discussed options for breaking into the mysterious car attached to the train, Lieutenant Hampson, the injured British soldier, stumbled into their cabin. He was relieved to find that the Investigators were bothered by the strange men, since no one else, even his nurse and Mr. Fleet seemed to care about them. Miss Crispin took the opportunity to hypnotize Hampson, though he revealed little more than he was suffering the physical and emotional strain effects of some important mission or assignment. The Investigators began to suspect that Mr. Fleet might be behind the unusual events and planned to use the train’s stop in Belgrade to investigate the strangers‘ car.

They also looked over the engineering diagrams that had taken from Kurt Groenig. Not being technically trained, the Investigators could not make out what the plans were for, but they did seemed to designed to draw on supernatural “vril” as a power source. Umar could make out the traces of the Aklo symbols and saw that these designs were ultimately another way of tapping into the cursed power of the Simulacrum.

The others persuaded Umar he should leave his cabin for the first time this trip, and they all went to enjoy an elegant lunch. On the way they passed the quiet tourist Elena Constanza and the English Baron Lord Margrave. He had an artifact he could not identify and, to humor Elena, asked Umar to have a look. Umar was presented with his “gift”: a strangely carved green jewel. The vision that struck Umar was a blasted landscape where terrified refugees fled a formation of glowing lights in the sky that scoured the earth with blast of lightning. Once the gift had been delivered Elena and Lord Margrave lost interest in the matter. At lunch, gossip reporter Jack Gatling was talking enthusiastically to one of the strange men, but refused to say what it was about, only that is was big scoop.

Later, when Miss Johnson was passing through the corridor, she heard a muffled scream from an empty cabin. She discovered Kurt Groenig wrestling with Elena. The German engineer insisted that Elena had been following him for sometime and had stolen important papers from his cabin. She protested her innocence and a search turned up nothing. Groenig was handed over to the supervision of the men, while Elena went with the women to explain more of her side of the story. Once alone with then, Elena pulled out a gun and explained that she knew it was the Investigators who had the papers, which she insisted be handed over to her. Miss Johnson’s pistol led to a stalemate. Ultimately a deal was arranged. The papers were too dangerous and would be destroyed, but the Investigators would assist in the abduction of Groenig and in handing him over to care of Elena and her employers. Who she was working for was never discovered, but Umar’s noted a concealed Russian accent in her voice.

At the Belgrade station the Investigators put their plan into motion: they would present one of the strange men their own “gift” — a smoke bomb which they’d take into the mysterious car. When it went off Miss Crispin and Dr. Wilke slipped inside from within the train, while Umar and Miss Johnson broke in from outside.

They met in the middle of a single lavishly appointed room that filled the train car. The luxury was disturbed by a dozen metal cylinders standing floor to ceiling. When examined they became transparent, revealing tubes full of bulging cerebral tissue. A curtained alcove in the rear contained only an plushy empty chair — but a voice from speakers above the chair began addressing the Investigators.

The voiced claimed to be that of Umar’s uncle Sayed. He had finally encountered the Mi-go and explained that everyone had been wrong to consider them enemies. They had brought the Simulacrum to Earth eons ago, but came to realize that was an error. Their goal now was to use the statue as a sort of lightning rod to divert the coming Procession, which they described as a discharge of cosmic energy. No mortal could endure wielding the Simulacrum, so the vampire Fenalik had been created. The men in black were agents of the Mi-go who were using the gifts as part of some indescribable experiment to learn how the Investigators had interacted with the Simulacrum. If they were to provide the pieces they had collected, the Mi-go would insure the biological habitability of Earth, at least on the level of single cellular life. The Investigators’ own continued existence could also be maintained, in whatever manner Sayed still lived. If the “Tabernacle” — Fenalik — failed to prepare complete the Simulacrum, then the disaster facing the Earth would be far, far worse.

The consensus of the Investigators was… that they’d think about it. Umar believed in a third choice. No one else, no tome, no cult had ever conceived a way to destroy the Simulacrum, but the terrible knowledge he and the others had collected hinted that such a thing might be possible. Brilliant light began to shine down through the structure of the car, from a large spinning object that appeared above them. The Investigators fled, hearing a buzzing that rose into a vibration they heard in their bones.


Your world will be Unskinned
You think you can stop it
But it has already happened
It has always happened
It always is happening

After the Mi-go departed, no one else on the train had much recollection of anything unusual. Mr. Fleet explained that they would be arriving soon in Trieste to meet the Operations Team who had recovered the Left Arm of the Simulacrum. Though there had been something of a problem…

The four members of the team had mentally degenerated into acting like serpents, fiercely protective of then arm. They did allow the Investigators to approach. Miss. Crispin used her magic to purge them of the serpent spirits, though the spiritual effort was damaging to her. Umar reached out to take the Arm, and collapsed, enduring a vision of a figured concealed in a hat and coat. He said it had much to attend to, but promised he would speak more with the Investigators soon…

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On the Train 1923, Part One

header.jpgSelim Makryat is presumed dead and the Investigators have the Sedefkar Scrolls – except for the Scroll of the Left Hand, which holds the secret of cleaning them from the Baleful Influence, a curse which poisons their bodies more every day.

With some reluctance they agreed to cooperate with Mr. Fleet from the Section for Research Operations, who had come to accompany them back to Venice, where the rest of the Simulacrum is stored. The quickest way there is aboard the Orient Express and Mr. Fleet arranged their passage.

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After recent stressful journeys, the Investigators are able to relax, a little, and enjoy the luxuries of the train. They met a few fellow travelers, including a boisterous American reporter, a solitary female tourist, and a German engineer. A wounded British soldier and his nurse also accompanied Mr. Fleet. Dr. Wilke was concerned about how gravely ill the soldier appears, but Mr. Fleet said he is receiving the best care. He also let the Investigators know that a special team was sent to recover the Left Arm and will be joining them at Trieste.

In the middle of the night at the Bulgarian border, a private train car is attached to the Express. The crew apologized for the disturbance, but explained that occasionally rich nobles or aristocrats make such arrangements with the Company. They also appeared to have paid for privacy since no one knows exactly who they are, or were interested in asking many questions.

Dr. Wilke paid an uninvited visit to the car and found it guarded by two men in black suits who spoke in odd stilted fragments, strangely friendly but forbidding him to come any further. Dr. Wilke slipped a ring off one during a handshake but found it was more just a circle of metal rather than actual jewelry.

Dr. Wilke did make friends with a countryman, Jack Gatling, a gossip reporter looking for whatever stories might be on the train. Miss Crispin spoke with several people, including Kurt Groenig, the German engineer. He explained was also travelling to Venice to see Arturo Faccia with whom he was doing revolutionary engineering work. She noticed that the notes he was usually studying contained a few occult symbols admits the diagrams and equations. Investigators found this a concern and after Miss Crispin slipped a sedative into his tea,Miss Johnson snuck into his room to steal some of these papers.

The strange men began to be seen about the train, interacting with passengers – who often came away confused and uncertain about what they had done or said during their interactions. Several passengers also were given small black boxes as “gifts” which they then seemed compelled to hand over to the Investigators. No one else, even Mr. Fleet, reacted to this behavior as if it were unusual. Attempts to scry the private car were blocked by an immensely powerful force of will power.

The Investigators cautiously examined the gifts and find each one aimed at a particular Investigator and waited to be activated by their touch. Miss Crispin was given the figurine of a sphinx, Miss Johnson a commemorative gold coin, and Dr. Wilke a spent bullet cartridge. Umar had yet to receive anything. It was Dr. Wilke who first touched his gift, and experience visions of war, and of civilians in rags and yellow stars being herded in train cars by German soldiers.

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Constantinople 1923, Part 2

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The Investigators considered their next actions after hearing Mehmet Makryat’s offer to ally with them to assassinate his father Selim. Mehmet seemed sincere in what he told them, but what wasn’t he telling?

Their night’s rest was disturbed by a series of late night explosions that wracked the old districts of Stamboul. While the hotel manager advised everyone that they were safe in the British controlled sections of the city, the Investigators sneaked out to see what was going on for themselves. After crossing the Golden Horn they discovered a disaster scene where emergency crews were struggling to put out fires from damaged buildings and medical tents filled the streets to deal with injured. Unlike other recent bombings this one had resulted in numerous civilian casualties.

While the others slipped into the scene, volunteering gratefully accepted help, Umar observed the destruction and saw that, besides bomb damage, much of the destruction was caused by something that had cut through buildings, melting the very stone. Inside the medical tents Dr. Wilke found victims suffering from burns like those caused by lightning. Miss Crispin was able to recognize and interview a Brother of the Skin who babbled about djinn and confirmed her suspicions about large metallic “bugs” being seen. Official newspaper reports later described the events only as a successful raid by British soldiers on an anarchist cell.

The next day Umar and Dr. Wilke met again with Mehmet at the bathhouse. He was more agitated than usual, saying his father was using recent events to rally more followers to his side. He was preparing some sorcerous response to the British making pacts with djinn from the beyond the stars, so time was running short. They confirmed an upcoming night when Selim might be surprised in his workshop. This could be reached through the ruins beneath the Shunned Mosque, but he warned about unnatural things that Selim’s spells had awakened there, particularly an unseen horror called “The Flapping Thing.”

Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson researched records of the sewers beneath the ancient city, and Dr. Wilke used them to magically scry a route through the ruins beneath the The Shunned Mosque. Mehmet had mentioned an air vent that opened into Selim’s workshop. They’d know the right one by the amount of blood running from it.

The Investigators descended and made their way through the treacherous and unsettling subterranean passages, facing crumbling walls, swarms of insects, and a close encounter with a massive creature that might have been the Flapping Thing, shuddering through this underworld, leaving a gory trail and the faint sound of a woman singing. Tired and unnerved by the journey, the Investigators found themselves in a bloody human abattoir that was part of Selim’s workshop of evil magic. After examining the rooms they waited for Selim to arrive.

Exactly on time, the crimelord appeared, removed the Sedefkar Scrolls from their sarcophagus, and began to study them. Umar took the moment to strike with the Mims Sahis dagger, while Miss Crispin prepared to grab the scrolls. As the knife move towards its target, Umar experience a slowing of time. Selim hissed that he’d prepared for such a confrontation by hiding the Scroll of the Left Hand. If Umar were to stop his attack and hand over the knife, he would tell them its location. Without it, the debilitating Baleful Influence would increase without end.

Umar refused to bargain and time returned to normal. The obsidian blade sunk into Selim’s neck, splattering Umar with acidic blood. The sorcerer stumbled back and then cackled, claiming “The Skinless One will not be denied! Not even the Serpent’s Fang can harm me now!” He raised his hand to strike Umar down with a spell, but found himself powerless.

The confrontation was interrupted by the vibrations caused by the approaching Flapping Thing. Selim seemed to forget everything else, and was overcome with terror. Screaming “No! It was you who betrayed me!” he ran from the room, only for his cries to be abruptly cut off by a heavy, wet impact, followed by the sound of a woman tunelessly singing. The Investigators took the opportunity to flee, grabbing the scrolls and several books from Selim’s library.

While resting back at their hotel, a flood of telegrams began to be delivered, all stating: “Deliver the Skin to the Tabernacle.” After hundreds of these arrived, one last message came: “Or we will take action ourselves.”

Umar began to study the scrolls, though what he read there appeared to affect him deeply. Dr. Wilke checked in with this contacts in the Romani community. They warned that strange men had been asking about the Investigators. They were willing to help smuggle Dr. Wilke and the others out of the city if they wished to leave secretly. On returning to the hotel he encountered a prim Englishman who claimed to be Mr. Fleet of the Division of Research Operations, come to collect the Investigators and take them back to Venice.

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Constantinople 1923, Part One

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The Investigators, after resting a bit at Prof. Smith’s camp, began to prepare themselves for a visit to Constantinople, in hopes of contacting the discontented faction of the Brothers of the Skin and to locate the rest of the Sedefkar scrolls. Prof Smith bid them well, but warned them about the dangers of facing the Makryats, whom he had encountered himself years ago. He also advised destroying any of the Mi-go artifacts they had collected, saying nothing good could come from their alien presence, but the Investigators declined.

On their journey, each Investigator increasingly suffered the effects of the Baleful Influence, their bodies weakening and they minds affected by disturbing visions.

Eventually they arrived at the ancient city, creating layers of false identities to keep hidden from the Brothers and anyone else looking for them. The city was straining under many burdens, including political changes, a refugee crisis, terrorists attacks, and signs of more unnatural forces. Dr. Wilke witnessed self-mutilating cultists in streets. Miss Crispin was given orders to “Deliver the Skin to the Tabernacle” by a child made into a Mi-go drone. Umar and Miss Johnson witnessed a rebel bombing that was dealt with by British forces utilizing puzzling techniques.
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Eventually they found how to meet with their contact to the Brothers, a man known as Beylab the Perspirer, a local fixer who operating out of a disreputable bathhouse. Beylab turned out to be none other than Mehmet Makryat – the authentic one, as all the others the Investigators had met before being his duplicates. Mehmet claimed to have been keeping recent events secret from his father and had arranged the mims sahis dagger to fall into their hands. For only it can kill his father Selim. Mehmet had no wish to serve as acolyte to his father’s mad scheme to become a god through the Simulacrum.

Mehmet would provide information about his father’s schedule and when he could be found in his secret lair within the Shunned Mosque. When Selim takes out the Sedefkar scrolls from their protective case, he would be vulnerable to an attack. The Investigators can kill him and take the scrolls and Mehemt would rebuild the Borthers as a more mundane criminal empire, without occult intentions.

Sneaking past the wards of the Shunned Mosque would still be a difficult task, though Mehmet claimed the guards there were frightened of stories about “The Flapping Thing,” a monstrous creature that been awoken by Selim’s increasingly sorcerous activities.

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Constantinople 330 AD, Part Two

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In 1923 at Prof. Smith’s archaeological site in remote Yugoslavia, the Investigators listened to Miss Crispin read the strange journal they had found in the ruined temple.

In 330 Constantinople, the Fortes Falcones continued their investigation into cultish criminal activities in a blighted distinct of the otherwise thriving city. The 1923 readers recognized that this area was to become the site of Sedefkar’s Red Tower in 1203 and is the current location of the Brothers of the Skin’s “Shunned Mosque.”

The squad had divided into three groups. Galerius and Milonius tracked down the dwelling of the last survivor of the three men who had written the letter of complaint about the gang. This retired sailor lay on his deathbed and told how a stranger from the west had arrived and gather a collection of devotees, promising great rewards if they obey him and found some treasure or source of power within the district. The man departed, but his followers only grew in number and boldness, striking down any who crossed them with a deadly bite that caused wasting sickness and death. Only an ancient idol of Apollo kept the Sailor alive this long, and once he passed the artifact to Milonius , the he quickly succumbed.

Damanais had been stationed to guard the house of the dead stonecutter whose family was being forced to hand over his body to the cult. He fought valiantly against two cultists when they arrived, but they seemed possessed of supernatural strength, speed, and resiliency and he was forced to withdraw.

Belasir had agreed to accompany Lucrious, a ranking member of the cult to an audition for joining. He explained their belief that each member could rise to a position matching their worth, but certain tests will be necessary to determine that. They descended into the catacombs beneath the city.

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Belasir’s first test was to carry a dead body to a vat on a ceremonial altar, were it is devoured by hungry black tar. This tar was then poured on another willing, if hesitant, applicant to the cult. When the substance utterly destroyed the applicant, Lucrious proclaims “He was not worthy.” He turned to Belasir and said “Now it is your turn.” Seeing he has no chance of escape, Belasir agreed. As the oily liquid poured over him, a deafening buzzing filled his head and he blacked out.

The other members of the squad gathered to compared information – and noticed that Belasir was missing. Recovering a comrade was their highest priority and so they set off to search.

Belasir woke up in a pleasant apartment attended by servants. Lucrious arrived and subserviently explained that Belasir’s passage through the ceremony suggested he may be the “Chosen One” they, the Cult of The Flayed, have been seeking. He must travel to the west into Dacia to see the “Teacher” who will know what this means. Lucious seems puzzled that Belasir has no interest in the pitcher of blood he has been provided to drink and has no hesitancy in walking into the sunlight. Belasir feels perfectly normal.

Finding the others, Belasir explained the best he could about what happened. He’d been given directions and a list of contacts of the Cult of the Flayed that will lead him across the countryside through the cult’s network and to the sanctum of the Teacher. After reporting to their commander, the Falcones are ordered to follow up on this lead and remove this threat to the Empire.

A long journey followed, with the squad moving farther and farther into the barbarian controlled countryside outside the Empire, hearing as they go stories of plagues, witches, and walking dead. The 1923 Investigators who are hearing the story realized this journey is taking the Romans to their current location and Prof. Smith’s excavations.

Eventually they found a village of crude huts surrounding a complex of stone buildings. The villagers are drained physically and spiritually and claim to only live to assist the great Teacher and share in his coming glory and ascendance.

Cautiously the soldiers entered the stone maze, its wall covered with blasphemous carvings of people worshiping insect-like sky demons. Two silent figures in robes and theatrical masks met them, but only observe. At the labyrinth’s center is a strange domed chamber with walls of metal plates and a whirling, flashing machine of unnatural proportions at its center. They were confronted by a wild-haired man who claimed he had discovered the secrets writings and awoken the sleeping priests. He and he alone was the Chosen One who will be found worthy to serve the Outer Ones who are older and greater than man, god, or Titan.

He commanded Belasir to kneel and worship him, but the spry soldier attacked, attempting to throw the Teacher into the machine. Bat creatures dropped from the ceiling to engage the others in a bloody battle of blades, fangs, and fire. Belasir grappled with the Teacher until he desperately threw them both into the impossible machine.

The others had defeated the creatures, though Damanais and Milonius lay injured and unconscious. There was a flare of strange light and Galerius saw Belasir rise, lambent, from the machine. He was greeted by the silent, masked attendants. Then the dome’s ceiling dissolved and a horrific creature, a huge crustacean swathed in fungus descended and approached. Galerius, barely holding onto his senses, grabbed the bodies of his fallen comrades and attempted to drag them out of the chamber, though unknown dangers and foes stood between them and escape. The chronicle of these events told nothing of whether they were successful.

What did follow were fragments of scenes depicting Belasir’s dissection, reconstruction, and indoctrination into the vampiric Mi-go bio-weapon that has become known as Count Fenalik.
Before turning him loose on the world they showed him an image of the Simulactum:


“We are pleased.
You are our greatest creation, our greatest success
This is your reward.
Seek it out and do as you like with its power Revel in it,
Until the day comes when we shall call on you
You shall be our Tabernacle
And deliver the Gift of Skin unto our Master”

The 1923 Investigators then found themselves in a dreamlike state in a dark room, somehow in Fenalik’s presence. He explained that he had written the book with his own blood and their contact with had activated a bond between them all. He is imprisoned by unknown forces, and renewed his offer that if only they’d return his “armor” they would be freed of all their worries. Miss Crispin asked if he recalled his original life. He did, but gave it little importance, having over the centuries, been “so many people.” She inquired if he had any remorse or would turn from his existence of debauchery and sadism, and he was clear that he had no such intensions.

The Investigators finally awoke in Prof Smith’s camp, the enchantment of the book fading. Though Dr. Wilke remained distrustful of what they had learned from Umar’s Uncle Sayed, they decided to follow the lead he had uncovered as to a rebellious faction in the Brothers of the Skin, in hopes of discovering the remaining Sedefkar Scrolls.

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Campaign Update 1/28/2018

We are slowly starting up from another, holiday related hiatus, but the campaign is getting back into business.

As part of moving to the story’s conclusion, here is a general summary of the main plot points of the campaign so far. A lot has gone on over the years, but these are the main things to keep in mind to follow what’s unfolding:

The Simulacrum
One fragment of the Sedefkar Simulacrum remains to be found. There are hints suggesting a link between the fragment and pioneering archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who is buried in Trieste.

The Simulacrum can neither be fully activated or destroyed until all the fragments are gathered together.

As there is a ritual to awaken the full power of the Simulacrum, a Ritual of Ending to destroy it should be possible. Umar can put together a rough outline of such a ritual, but it would be very uncertain and risky to perform it without more study and knowledge. Some important sources of this dangerous knowledge include:

  • Albert Alexis, dilettante mathematical sorcerer, currently staying at Arturo Faccia’s villa, recovering from a sojourn in the Dreamlands.
  • The Sedefkar Scrolls, particularly the Scroll of the Right Hand, which describes the Ritual of Enactment for the fully awakening the power of the Simulacrum.
  • General dark occult lore, i.e., Mythos Points.

The Investigators are increasingly suffering the effects of the Baleful Influence that results from being linked to the Simulacrum. The Scroll of the Left Han, contains the Ritual of Cleansing which balances the Baleful Influence.

The Investigators possess The Scroll of the Head. The other four Scrolls, according to official records, are in the Topkapi Museum in Constantinople, sent there from the British Museum after the War. It is quite likely though that they have ended up in the hands of Selim Makryat.

The Makryats
The family is run by Selim Makryat, who has controlled a vast network of both legitimate businesses and criminal operations for many decades. He is also a dark sorcerer who discovered some of the secrets of the Simulacrum and has been attempting to gather more of its power by any means.

Selim has reformed an ancient cult called the Brothers of the Skin. To many this cult is just an intimidating mask for a criminal gang, but behind that facade is Selim’s true quest for power and world dominion.

Some of the Brothers are becoming discontented with how Selim’s occult obsessions are getting in the way of profitable crime.

Umar’s Uncle Sayad has communicated with this faction and knows a way to contact their leader.

Since the Simulacrum began to awaken, Selim has become more determined and active in his goals, and has become a public figure protesting British interference in Turkey, as well as quietly gathering followers as a messianic figure.

The elder Makryat does not leave Constantinople, but works through his son, Mehmet Makryat, who is well known as an international businessman.

Mehmet uses spells from The Scroll of the Legs to produce flesh masks that allow his minions to take on his appearance and act for him. He also appears to have a limited ability to take on other faces, and to steal the flesh from others to wear as disguises.

Division of Research Operations
This branch of the British Secret Intelligence Service, under the authority of MI6, was formed in the 18th Century to deal with the newly discovered truth of vampires. After the War it expanded to protect the Empire from supernatural dangers in general.

Investigator Emily Johnson is an agent of the Division, assigned to a Field Handler known only as Miss Avon.

Miss Avon is working with Italian industrialist Arturo Faccia to safely contain the Simulacrum in a magically warded vault until means of destroying it can be arranged.

Faccia was a former ally of the Makryat’s, but is now working with the Division and the Investigators, believing he can learn how to harness the mysterious energy known as “vril” by studying the Simulacrum.

It has revealed that the Division has a secret program called “Project Edom” that seeks to not only protect the Empire, but develop new technology and weapons from occult sources.

Fenalik
The French Compte Fenalik is the most recent guise of an ancient vampiric creature. He awoke this year, along with the Simulacrum, after a century of imprisoned dormancy.

He claims the Simulacrum is his personal possession and seeks its return.

The Investigators magically bound the vampire in a cave outside of Paris.

Unable to act directly, Fenalik sent his vampire spawn Lily to follow and occasionally aid the Investigators. She also continually reminded them they how better off they would be by freeing her “father” and returning the Simulacrum to him, thus escaping its dangers.

Lily recently abruptly collapsed into a rotten corpse while screaming that someone was taking away her father.

The Mi-go
These “Outer Ones” are an extraterrestrial race that has operated on Earth for ages, occasionally meddling with human affairs, perhaps becoming the truth behind legends of bargain-making demons, faerie, and djinn.

A Mi-go base was found by the Metzger family in central Austria, and Gregor Metzger mastered enough its secrets to gain a certain immortality.

These beings know of the Simulacrum and the cataclysmic cosmic “Procession” that it summons.

They are also aware of the Investigators and given them a cryptic message to tell the “Tabernacle” that the time of his purpose will soon be here.

The Investigators recovered a medallion from the Austria base that seems to a summoning device/spell of some sort.

Shortly after the Investigators left the base it was destroyed in a gigantic Tunguska-like explosion that killed thousands and was publicly blamed on a meteorite impact.

Prof Julius Smith
After an earlier encounter with Selim Makryat, Prof. Smith discovered the existence of the Simulacrum and planned an expedition to uncover the fragments and find a way to destroy them.

After the fragments unexpectedly began awakening, Makryat attacked Smith’s home to kill him and steal his research.

Smith managed to escape, but an imposter took his place to trick the Investigators into taking on the mission, facing the dangers of the Simulacrum and baring the curse of the Baleful Influence.

The real Smith sought help from his network of contacts to stay undercover, eventually reuniting with his old acquaintance, Umar’s Uncle Sayed.

Together they have been working to research the Simulacrum and the plans of the Makryat family.

Smith has been leading an archaeological investigation of Roman ruins that he believes hold secrets of the Simulacrum.

Sayed has studying the history of the Brothers of the Skin, and the ancient cults that preceded it. The intensity of his work and the secrets he’s uncovered has led to a state of nervous exhaustion and paranoia.

Order of The Red Maidens
During the Middle Ages an order of warrior nuns began defending Italian settlements from supernatural dangers while official military powers were off on the Crusades.

They were organized as part the Order of the Saint Agatha, but there are suggestions and rumors that their origins lead back to an Egyptian cult centered around the cat-goddess Bast.

A nun named Melisende was involved in the breaking of Sedefkar’s power in 13th Century Constantinople. After the Simulacrum was stolen by Fenalik, then using the name Brother Merovac, Melisende attempted to track him down, a mission that led her to the Mi-go base in Austria where she met a fate difficult to put into words.

By the 18th Century the Red Maidens were based in Venice and were guarding the Torso of the Simulacrum. They were also seeking other fragments in order to seal their evil away as well.

The Order appears to have persisted until 1915 when their last convent was bombed during the War.

When the Investigators arrived in Venice in 1923 something that claimed to be the ghostly spirit of Melisende began possessing the body of young Maria Stagliani. The spirit believed that attempting to destroy the Simulacrum was futile and the best plan was to hide the fragments in such remote places that they could never be gathered together.

The possessing spirit on occasion has appeared to be the manifestation of some far greater than a mere ghost, and has warned of a coming apocalypse, and not to trust the various factions who have become involved with seeking the Simulacrum.

Inspired by the story of the Red Maidens, Miss Crispin has suggested the formation of a new organization that would use the skills and resources of British weapon to help the Homefront. Miss Avon agreed that this was a good idea and has lobbied the British Government to start such a program.

The orphaned Maria, lacking any family or prospects in Italy, has, on Miss Crispin’s advice, greed to emigrate to England and join this program.

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Vinkovci 1923, Part Two & Constantinople 330 AD, Part One

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In the Yugoslavian railway town of Vinkovci, the Investigators have seen to the care of Sayed, exhausted and at the edge of mental collapse from his research. Sayed apologies to his nephew Umar for dragging him into this affair, but has faith Umar will live up to the responsibility.

Sayed had collected a considerable library of occult books, including the shunned “Unaussprechlichen Kulten”, in which Sayed uncovered clues about the primal cult that has formed again and again around the Simulacrum. The scholar also acquired a strange artifact that he claims can detect the activity of the extraterrestrial Mi-go.

The Investigators next set out on horseback to visit the archaeological excavation being conducted by Prof. Smith. After some trouble with bandits, they arrived and found their long missing patron wearied but pleased to see them. A thorough medical exam convinces the Investigators that this Smith is not a flesh-masked duplicate. Smith is grateful for the Investigators’ continued help, but is concerned about the accumulating costs to body and soul.

Smith has been digging out a Roman construction uncovered by recent erosion. It is quite old, though shows signs of being altered and rebuilt for centuries. Throughout are carvings and images of humans worshipping not the gods, but unsettling crustacean-like creatures. A central panel appears to show these horrors delivering the Simulacrum from the heavens. An inscription reads:

We beseech the holy words
So we might be found worthy
With joy we give our flesh and blood
To build the Tabernacle of the Great Gift

May our prayers and sacrifice be pleasing
So we may be transfigured and purified
To deliver the Great Gift of Skin
Onto the True God of the Black Stars

Beneath the panel Smith has found a pit of human sacrifices, each with its skull neatly cut open, and a pendant show Mi-go symbols around the neck.

Dr. Wilke found more symbols, similar to those on the standing stones in Austria, and Umar managed to activate them, causing the panel to slide open and reveal a hidden chamber. Within is a half-collapsed room similar to what was found in Austria. Most everything is broken and in ruins, but a lead box is found containing a strange manuscript. This book has an 18th Century binding, but its pages have been patched and repaired for many centuries. The hand writing through is eerily the same, related what seems are historical events from over 1500 years ago….

Constantine.jpegIn 330 AD Constantinople, the city is being rebuilt into Nova Roma, the capital of a new united Roman Empire under Constantine the Great. A squad of elite military veterans, the Fortes Falcones, has been invited to a lavish banquet by their commanding officer, Tillius Corvus. To the surprise of none of them, the dinner leads up to new assignment. A Senator recently received a letter complaining of possible new organized crime activity in a certain blighted corner of his district. The politician wants to show that he is a man with connections who can get things done, and Tillius owes him a favor. Tillius in turn orders the squad to investigate, clear things up, or otherwise make the problem go away in a reasonably efficient manner.

The letter of complaint was signed by three citizens of the area, and the Falcones proceeded there to interview the three. On arrival at the riverside neighborhood, they immediately felt a sense of listless depression contrasting with the rest of the bustling metropolis. They quickly find that the first name of their list has recently died. No one is very willing to give details and all residents seemed tense and frightened.

Belasir sought out a local hole-in-the-wall pub and finds out that a Dacian passed through some weeks go and formed a cultish gang that quickly took over the district in a reign of terror. He expressed interest in working for such organization and was pointed towards an ominous figure literally lurking in the shadows. This figure expressed interest and agreed to meet later to discuss a possible employment interview. He must though be discreet and tell no one. Within his mind Belasir feels chains close on his will and he knows he cannot tell anyone.

Galerius moved to the next name on the list, a local stone cutter. The man had been sent home from his work due to lack of business— very strange in a city undergoing vast reconstruction. At the man’s home it is discovered that he too has just died of an unknown illness. Strangely, though the stonecutter’s family subscribed to a community fund to provide cremation and burial service, his family refuses to turn over the body. Galerius barged into the family quarters demanding explanations. The dead man’s mother admitted that they are being forced to give the body to the new criminal cult. Galerius insisted the law can protect them, but the woman revealed her son’s body, withered and showing two ugly bite marks on the neck. Can they protect the family from that?

Galerius ordered Damanais to stake out the apartment, waiting until the gang arrives to collect the body that night. Galerius and Milonius headed to the address of the third man, without much hope for what they will find.

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Vinkovci 1923, Part One

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The Investigators find themselves feeling more of the debilitating effects of the Simulacrum‘s Baleful Influence. A purifying ritual in the Scroll of the Left Hand is the only known relief from this curse, but the rest of the Sedefkar Scrolls are likely in the hands of Selim Makryat in Constantinople.
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The Investigators decided to track down Umar’s Uncle Sayed, who has gone missing in the Yugoslavian city of Vinkovci. Wanting to remain as secretive as they can, they charter a plane flight once again, which took them as far as Belgrade. An aerial encounter with black chickens reminded them that they are not welcome in the part of the world.

On arriving in town they are met by Sayed’s assistant Turgay. He explained that Sayed and Prof. Smith came here researching the mystery of the Simulacrum. Smith moved on to an archaeological excavation, while Umar’s uncle researched the history of Makryat’s cult. But after the disaster in Austria he grew erratic, becoming obsessed with reports of strange phenomena such lights in the sky and unexplained noises. He then disappeared without explanation. Turgay was particularly worried as one of the last things Sayed was trying to do was contact a local branch of the Brothers of the Skin, a gang calling themselves the Wolves of Vinkovci.

The Investigators began looking into what they could find out about the Wolves, discovering they were a recently arrived gang and were trying to establish themselves through protection and selling amulets of Namtar. Umar found that while his uncle had been seen around the city he was not to be found at any of the usual places a scholar might be staying.

Miss Johnson volunteered to take one of the Namtar amulets to a coffee house that was a known hangout of the Wolves. She hung around in disguise until a young man arrived. She asked him about the amulet and he nervously assured her that she need only show the amulet and ask for the Wolves and they’d deal with any trouble. The more she questioned him, the more anxious he became until he fled the coffee house. Miss Johnson followed him to a rundown apartment block, but was attacked by a hambaba. Barely escaping, she met up with the others

Deciding they needed to act fast, the Investigators hurried to apartment. Dr. Wilke magically tracked the man’s trail to his room, but they were met by gunfire and the golem-like hambaba. Umar used a spell to make the man’s gun explode and Dr. Wilke tied him up. A magic stone was found that control the hambaba and it was halted before it could attack a fleeing Miss Crispin.

Kemal, the subdued “Wolf”, explained that he and his friend Badem have been sent to this remote town as punishment for questioned the authority of Makryat. Badem had been in touch with Sayed, but the night after a meeting something attacked him, leaving him in a state of shock and confusion. Dr. Wilke found strange scars on the back of his skull, similar to the marks on the dissected body found in the alien underground lair in Austria. Dr. Wilke revived the man with drugs, and he ranted about being attacked by blinding lights and giant insects that cut into his head with machines.

Kemal and Badem are taken to the hospital, and the Investigators located the warehouse described as the location of Sayed’s secret library. After Umar disarmed a protective spell, the Investigators confronted a disheveled Sayed in his disorderly study. While pleased to see his nephew, Sayed is paranoid and a bit unstable. He believes he is being watched by the alien Mi-go, creatures from beyond earth who have some mysterious interest in the Simulacrum. From the Wolves, Sayed has learned that there is faction within the Brothers of the Skin that is discontented with Makryat’s dream of godhood. A contact within this faction might be willing to provide information helpful in destroying the mad crime lord.

But Sayed also does not trust the involvement of the British Empire in these affairs. He pulled a gun on Miss Johnson and demanded she tell what she knows of “Project Edom.” A tense confrontation ensued with Dr. Wilke insisting he drop the gun, while Umar protected his uncle. Miss Crispin diffused the situation (for now at least) by calming the distraught Sayed. Miss Johnson admitted that she has heard of Project Edom, a top-secret division of the British Secret Service that seeks to weaponize supernatural power for the defense of the Empire.

After taking Sayed back to Turgay, the Investigators began to examine Sayed’s notes, finding more of signs of his instability, as well as an intercepted note from British Intelligence about their interest in vampires, the Mi-go, and other disturbing topics. They decide to take the short journey to Prof. Smith’s excavation to consult with him on the situation.

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