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.
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.