Uriah Shambledrake, a man of more-than-modest means and immoderate appetites, is dead. His heirs, or those with dreams of inheriting his substantial fortune, descended upon the offices of Dewey Cheetham and Howe, Solicitors and Barristers, to hear the Reading of the Will. How will their fates affect the Magical Industrial Revolution sweeping the city of Endon?
Peering over his inch-thick spectacles at the strongbox and its jumbled contents, the dust-shrouded form of Wisterion Cheetham, legal counsel to the Shambledrake family, read in a faint and unsteady voice:
"To my faithful cook and sometime cottage distiller Elizabeth Ramchander, known as Lizzie Ramchander, I leave the sum of nine copper pieces and a vial of extremely potent gin which she distilled for me but which I did not have the chance to ingest."
Lizzie checked her envelope, pocketed the vial of hypergin (920 proof) and the handful of coins, and sat back with an air of distinct displeasure. Her employer was never generous (when he was present), but 9 copper pieces and a vial of her own special gin was hardly a legacy.
"To Doctor Bunckpert Noyle, who has been my physician since childhood, and who always wished to be mentioned in my will... Hallooo Doctor Noyle!"
"To my hired physician of latter days, Doctor Augustus Hartwell, I leave a figure of a gryphon that I whittled out of wood."
Doctor Augustus Hartwell scowled. True, his attempts to cure Uriah Shambledrake of The Lurch had failed, despite many hours sawing at bunions and painting his feet with mercuric salts, but the whittled gyrphon was poorly made at best. At least he'd fared better than the family doctor, who had sunk blubbering into his seat, his dreams of wealth shattered.
"To Agnes Shambledrake née Nona, the wife of my late brother Elias Shamledrake as well as the wife of several other late men, I leave a sturdy pair of boots, fitted to her size, to enable her to run as far as possible away from the remains of this family" and here Cheetham coughed with effort, wheezed deeply, and continued, "never to return."
Agnes, clad in black, with a slightly unfashionable mourning shawl, dabbed at her eyes with a silk handkerchief. "Such cruel words to a widow," she sighed, "as well as to a woman of mature years." It wasn't her fault that she'd lost her first husband to pestilential fumes, her second to his own miscalibrated top-heavy invention, her third to an overly ornate and water-absorbent bathing costume, and her fourth to mercury poisoning.
The list continued, as assorted relatives, hangers-on, and friends received bequests varying from nothing to next-to-nothing.
"To Jonty Earl, Associate Professor at Loxdon College, for producing a place for my nephew by insalubrious means, I give an enchanted smart chain, that he may whip some knowledge into that dull-witted child."
Jonty, who had agreed to accompany two of his favorite (and most likely to inherit) students to this will-reading, started awake, then carefully tucked the chain into to the pockets of his robe. A smart chain! An obedient magical servant (for 1 hour every 24). What had he done to impress the deceased, save for steering his nephew through the shoals of Loxdon College's admission process, and that for a very reasonable fee (now, sadly, entirely spent).
"To my nephew's friend and companion Haze Palewolf, I give an indestructible hat, in memory of the many hats he lost or mangled during his childhood visits to Shambledrake Manor."
Haze firmly seated the flat cap onto his head. A flat cap; Uriah was ever mindful of Palewolf's humble origins. Well, if it wasn't a fortune, it was at least a bequest.
"And finally, to my nephew and heir Thomas Shambledrake, I leave... nothing! As I have mortgaged Shambledrake Manor three times, fraudulently, as well as the estate and lands, pawned the moveable furniture, given the rest as securities for other loans, and emptied my accounts, I leave everything to my creditors. Good luck. Haw haw haw."
Cheetham could barely be heard reading "complete will and testament, signed this day" or words to that effect over the irate crowd of bankers, lawyers, and disjointedness heirs surging around his desk.
"Mortgaged to the hilt, eh?" Tom Shambledrake said to his friend Haze. "I didn't even know he was in financial difficulties. Paid for my school fees and all that, you know."
Uriah had died suddenly, after a series of lingering but mild illnesses. He'd burned to death (in his bedchamber) if the reports from other relations were to be believed. The body was identified by his signet ring, his dentures, and an old fracture in his left leg.
His signet ring. That was odd. If it was found on his body, it surely should have been distributed with the rest of the bequests. And there was no sign of it. Peculiar. Tom peered into the box that had contained the will and associated envelopes. One remained at the bottom, sealed - unlike the others - with wax imprinted with the Shamebledrake crest.
"I'm going to steal that letter," Tom whispered to his friend. "Could you..."
"Work of a moment," Haze said, flourishing his hands and casting a minor illusion to replace the envelope with a counterfeit. Tom reached in, slipped the letter into his waistcoat, and hurried down the stairs.
Tom Shambledrake, Electric Wizard
Heir to the Shambledrake estate. Tom's parents were killed when their hot air balloon was struck by lightning. Vowing revenge on the weather, Tom left his career as a political courier (the first step on the ladder) and took up wizardry. His uncle raised him from a child (of 17 and a half) to maturity (now, in theory) and paid for his first year at Loxdon College.
Haze Palewolf, Illusionist
Tom's friend and boon companion. A stage performer with an accordion, Tom never fit in with the Shamebledrake set. He scraped together enough to attend Loxdon College and study illusion magic, in the hope of taking the stage into the bright industrial future. Tom and Haze are both members of Nedalward Hall.
Jonty Earl, Dandy
An Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, Jonty is underpaid but ambitious. He currently teaches a course in Lodestones and Ferric Properties for Prof. Gortz, and slowly starves. A full-time academic position seems more distant by the day. To supplement his income, he tutors out-of-town students in the subtle arts of college life. He owes 15gp to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, an interest free loan that he has conspicuously failed to repay.
Side Note: Assistant Professor is equivalent to the former rank of Junior Lecturer. The college changed the name to make the salary more palatable.
Agnes Nona, Brawler
Sixty-five (allegedly), short, and almost always dressed in black, Agnes has survived all her previous husbands... and is looking for a new one to survive. Not that anyone can prove anything, of course. Accidents do happen. One of her husbands (GM's Note: it's unclear which) was a Shambledrake, and Tom calls her "Aunt Aggy"... and tries not to leave his tea unattended when she's around.
Possibly to keep close to Tom (and his hitherto-certain inheritance), possibly to maintain an illusion of youth for her paramour, or possibly because she'd lived through most of recent history and wanted to get a certificate to prove it, Agnes enrolled at Loxdon College, studying History. She is carrying on a steamy correspondence (and only a correspondence) with Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, whom she calls "Lord Terro Mondero". He's seen her miniature portrait... though it was painted a few years back. Quite a few years back.
Augustus Hartwell, Biomancer
A foreign doctor, Augustus intends to challenge the medical exams at Loxdon College to prove that foreign medicine deserves the same certification as local medicine. Though physicians from Foreign Parts are respected, Augustus has some unorthodox ideas that rankle both clients and peers.
Lizzy Ramchander, Potion Wizard
Brewer to the Shambledrake family (and home distiller), Elizabeth is not an academic wizard. She learned her trade the hard way, and has a permanent smell of stale beer to show for it. She dreams of one day opening a high-class establishment called "De-Ginerates", where, using her hyper-concentrated gin and Augustus's extract venom spell, they can get patrons drunk, then sober them up (without a hangover!), and reuse the gin. In Endon, they say beer is merely rented. De-Ginerates would take this to its logical conclusion.
Lizzy and Augustus share an apartment. To avoid impropriety, she gets the apartment during the day while he gets it at night.
The Story Continues
As Jonty blinked in the afternoon sun outside the offices of Dewey Cheetham and Howe, a messenger ran up, held out a sealed letter, then held out a hand for a gratuity. Jonty said "not today", glared, and cracked the blank wax seal.
To Ass. Prof. J. E, from your friend L. T.-on-B.Jonty stuffed the letter into his pocket, but not before Agnes, descending the stairs, had caught a glimpse of its colour and peculiar blank wax seal. Her hand-delivered letters from Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl were identically marked. Curious...
Beg your remembrance of a certain sum advanced to you some months past, which it has not been your habit to repay or acknowledge. Be so good as to meet a certain Mr. Snedge at the Unicorn Arms near Hasselby Court before sundown.
"We should have a drink to, err, recover from this will-reading and wash down these will snacks," Jonty said to the small crowd piling up around the base of the stairs. "The Unicorn Arms, say?"
"Ooh, thank you sir," Lizzy said, "Always happy to accept a drink."
"Err, well, that is... oh very well. All for the Unicorn Arms, then?" And so Jonty lead the somewhat disparate group down the street. Free drinks and general poverty are great social levelers.
|Logan Stahl, from Magical Industrial Revolution.|
As the group ambled west along Lewin Street, they spotted someone in an archaic suit of armour staggering, as if drunk, while being pursued by half a dozen urchins with strings and dog leashes.
"What in the blazes is that?" Palewolf said.
"Looks like one of those new Gel Knights," Augustus replied. "Animated armour. This one seems to have gone awry."
"Oh my. Should we..."
But Agnes had already crossed the street. "Hello young sir," she said to the cleanest-looking urchin at the back of the group, "what's all this then?"
"We're gunna captwure it ma'am and weturn it for a wansom."
"Ah. With string?"
"With stwing. And weashes."
"I see. Well, I might have a more expedient method," Agnes said, pulling a fencepost from the ground. She swung at the Gel Knight's head.
Across the street, the rest of the group winced. A miss. The Gel Knight stopped, turned, and extended a silver fireplace poker with a wicked point. Raising it high, it brought it down like an executioner's axe and struck the pavement where Agnes had been standing.
"Close shave," Lizzy said, panting with exertion after a cross-street sprint and desperate shawl-yank.
Agnes didn't reply. "So that's how it is. Naughty Gel Knight!" Dropping the fencepost, she swung her handbag at the automaton's head, caving it in and splitting the knight at the seams. Agnes' handbag contained her handkerchief, a few coins, a small bag of boiled sweets... and two lead bricks. You just can't trust young people these days.
Side Note: a critical hit with a reinforced handbag, wielded with two hands, will in fact knock out a Gel Knight... and many other creatures.
Green ooze boiled out of the automaton's joints, congealed, and began flowing towards the gutter. "Oh no you don't," said Agnes, and scooped a purseful into her handbag. It glorped merrily as it devoured the boiled sweets.
The rest of the group stared in astonishment. "She's your aunt, you say," Haze whispered.
"By marriage," Tom said hastily.
"You know what this means," Jonty said, eyes gleaming.
"That she married my uncle?"
"No, that we can return that Gel Knight to its owner or creator for a fee. Not only that, but we have a helpless elderly lady that was terrified and very nearly killed during its rampage."
"There's a plaque inside," Lizzie said. "41 Daudette Lane. Do you think that's the address of the owner or the wizard what made it?"
"Daudette Lane... that's near Colbraith Square. On the other side of the city! We should hurry," Jonty said. "Luckily, I have a plan."
Jonty examined the automaton's dented shell. It was far too heavy to carry, and didn't seem to be designed for a human to wear. But its internal components could be manipulated by a newly acquired smart chain! Jonty shook off the entourage of urchins, marched the shell to Loxdon College, bribed a porter to borrow the college's cart and ancient horse, covered their prize with a tarp, and set off for Daudette Lane.
As there wasn't enough room in the cart for everyone who thought they had a share in the scheme, and hiring a cab was a luxury none of them could currently afford, Jonty suggested that Lizzy, Dr. Hartwell, and Haze have a drink at the Unicorn Arms while Jonty, Tom, and Agnes returned the Gel Knight. "We'll return before sunset," Jonty said, reaching for his recently pawned pocket watch and not finding it.
|Map by Jonathan Newell, amended with this session's activities.|
"A rampage!? Oh no, it's happened again." Nero Krahlhammer, of Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner, slumped in his chair.
"I'm afraid so," said Jonty, putting on his most lugubrious tones.
"Were there many casualties?"
"Thankfully, none, but this gentlewoman here," he said, pointing to Agnes, "was very nearly killed when your device inexplicably attacked her."
Agnes burst into tears. It was one of her best skills. She cried piteously at any mention of death, husbands, and inheritances.
"There there. Have another candied fruit," Nero said, passing the bowl. Agnes sniffled and surreptitiously dropped a few into her ooze-filled purse.
"Now, this sort of thing could damage your company's reputation if it made it into the papers. I'm sure I could speak with the other witnesses, especially gentlemen of quality such as Thomas here, to ensure their, err, discretion... but some of the urchins might need remuneration."
"But I've already paid you 5 silver pieces each for returning the Gel Knight," Nero sniffed. "Oh, if only I had the ooze! You see, my HATED ENEMIES and NEFARIOUS COMPETITORS are poisoning, yes, poisoning, the ooze with control-altering substances. I'm sure of it! This was no natural fault but DELIBERATE SABOTAGE!" He puffed and dabbed his forehead.
"And how generous might you be if a sample could be obtained?"
"I'd pay 5 gold pieces for a fresh sample, but I must warn you that it must be fresh. If the ooze eats anyone... I mean anything... it could taint the assay, rendering it uselessly muddled. And you would have to find it in the sewers. Are you familiar with sewer delves? I suspect not. Quite insalubrious."
"For 6 gold pieces, I'm sure we could make suitable arrangements," Jonty said.
"But so quickly? Very well, but I must warn you again..."
Agnes presented her purse. Nero peered inside, stammered, whispered "pirates and rogues!" to himself. "But I must perform the assay first, to see if this is my ooze, and if so, whether it was poisoned. You must wait here until it is compete. Smith! Bring me the ooze press!"
"Wait here?" Jonty said, eyeing the orange-red sky through the shop window. "I have an appointment..."
"This will not take more than an hour. And 6 gold pieces... well, I'm sure a gentleman of your condition can wait.
"D'ye think they've swindled us?" Lizzy asked, nursing her one glass of gin.
"Not likely. I know where he lives," Haze said, "and where he works. Unless they got a huge reward, of course... but no. Ol' Prof. Earl would never give up his position. He's got too much pride."
"Too much pride by half," Dr. Hartwell muttered. "It is nearly sunset. I would not attend a tavern such as this without the promise of a free drink."
"I gave ye a free drink," Lizzy slurred.
"That is so," the Dr. said, examining the not-too-clean tumbler. "That is so."
Jonty, Tom, and Agnes, entered the Unicorn Arms in a cloud of dust and sweat. Jonty had whipped the poor carthorse half to death to get to the tavern on time. He was slightly worried about the horse's health, but more worried by the four gold pieces in his pocket. Tom and Agnes had demanded their payment immediately.
"My friends," Jonty said, shaking everyone's hand and palming a coin to them. Lizzy looked at hers with astonishment. A gold piece! For almost no work! Two months wages in the palm of her hand. She slipped it into her purse.
"And there's more where that came from", Jonty explained, after filling the group in on the excursion. "If we can find the rogues who are sabotaging Mr. Krahlhammer's Gel Knights, he said he'll pay. No exact figures were discussed, but, as you can see.."
The group began to conspire. Jonty ordered another round of gin, then attempted to excuse himself. "I will return momentarily. There is someone I must..."
"JONTY!" a voice slurred, as Snedge stumbled over to the table. "How're you? Well I see."
Side Note: With some NPCs and settings, a name is enough. Snedge is Snedge; no description is required. You can already visualize Snedge."Eh he he," Jonty said nervously.
"And who are these fine people. Introdusse me." Snedge drawled. He appeared to be drunk, but as his eyes met Jonty's, it was clear that the drunkenness was superficial. His smile didn't reach the corner of his mouth, and his eyes were dead and cold.
"Ah. Well. This is, err, my good friend," Jonty said, as Tom shook Snedge's hand.
"Didn't catch a name," Snedge gurgled.
"And this is another friend," Jonty squeaked, as Lizzy extended her hand... and cast inebriate on the interloper. She'd also recognized the signs of false drunkenness and hidden menace.
"Have a seat," she said, sliding a chair behind the rapidly collapsing Snedge. His eyes went glassy and his nose bloomed red. Lizzy tugged his ear and his face flushed. "Now tell us all about yourself."
"Yew bastardsh," Snedge slurred, "whadid you do to me?"
"Do not fret. Why do you want to see the Assistant Prof?" Haze said.
"Goht an message for im. None of yer busness. Private mattar."
"What sort of message?"
"Consherns some munies he owes. An I am shure he wundnt want you lot to ear about it."
"That is so," Jonty said, "now if we could all just..."
The spell wore off. Snedge instantly sobered up. "You bastards," he said. "Casting a bewizardment on a man without his knowing. I ought to call the coppers."
"But you won't, will you?" Tom said.
Snedge grunted. "You and me should have some words," he said, dragging Jonty away from the table and towards the Alley of Easement behind the tavern. Haze waited, then followed. The rest of the group were too busy arguing over who would buy the next round.
"Listen you slimy bastard," Snedge said, sticking the point of a dagger into Jonty's ribs and holding him against the alley wall, "I don't know who your associates are and I don't much care for them. You owe a debt to a mutual acquaintance, to the tune of 15 of the Monarch's finest. Our mutual acquaintance is willing to reduce that debt to 12 if you perform a little service for him."
"I'm listening," Jonty said, very aware of the dagger pressed against his waistcoat.
"There's a girl what lives at this address," Snedge whispered, handing Jonty a folded piece of paper. "Go and pick her up tomorrow night, after dark, and bring her to the second address by eleven."
"Yes, and I'm none to particular about how you get that consent neither. Whether you use menaces or drugs or some wizard business, it's all the same to me, as long as she's not injured much."
Jonty glanced at the paper. It read,
AggyAggy. Well, he didn't know this woman, and kidnapping was not exactly his business of choice... but three gold pieces and the good will of his creditor...
59 Sonper Lane S of Gaumdart Ave.
to 88 Hasselby Court E of Fanigail.
"I'll do it."
"Good man. I'm off." Snedge said, tucking the dagger into his belt and sliding down the alley.
Jonty sniffed, then turned to go inside, only to see Haze's face in the doorway.
"Augh! Uh, how much did you hear?"
"Oh, all of it," said Haze.
"I'm sure this must come as quite a shock to you. I mean, your dear mentor, involved in such a disreputable trade."
"Not really. Just letting you know that if you need assistance, I can be relied upon." Haze tapped the side of his nose.
"Well," said Jonty, deeply relieved, "that is a comfort. But this is between ourselves, you understand? Discretion, my friend, discretion."
The group dispersed for the evening. Flush with cash, Jonty attempted to increase his earnings with a bit of light gambling, only to lose 5sp in a few hours. He returned to his lodgings sad and sober. Haze, possibly to dull the growing unease over his companions moral turpitude, or possibly just for fun, elected to try opium for the first time and found it very soothing. The dreams and visions were, to an illusionist, almost heaven-sent.
Night closed over Endon. In the communal bedroom in Nedalward Hall, by the light of a dim candle, Tom finally examined the envelope he'd pilfered from the will reading. It was sealed with the Shambledrake crest. The only other mark on the outside was the scrawled name "Uriah."
Inside, written in a deep and unsteady hand, almost carved into the paper, were the words "SAVE ME".
Tom slept fitfully. Why was the envelope addressed to his late uncle Uriah, if it was sealed by his late uncle's ring? Who wrote the address? The same hand that wrote the contents? Who was to be saved, and why, and from what? And why was it in the box with the will, if the will made no mention of it?
So begins The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake.