In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Received Cryptic Clues
- Summoned A Horror From Beyond Space And Time
- Hit It With A Lightning Bolt
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, and accidental inventor of the Jonty Suit.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital.
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby. Currently dead.
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Always on a case.
Lizzy was dead, to begin with. There is no
doubt whatever about that. Though Jonty had caught her falling body, and broken both his arms in doing so, it had hit the river a corpse and a corpse it remained.
"I'm just saying that necromancy is an option," Dr. Hartwell said.
The group, dead and living, had fled the river along a path no one else could follow. They'd broken into the boat launch attached to the "late" Professor Tallerand's lair, used the teleport circle inside to instantly reach the other half of the lair under Loxdon College, and from there, plotted their next move in relative safety and obscurity.
"I'm... not sure that necromancy is a good idea," Doyle said. "I want no part in it."
"It's an option. If she were alive, she'd suggest it."
The group considered this. Dr. Hartwell normally suggested sober and conservative schemes. Lizzy usually suggested sensible schemes that everyone ignored until it was too late, or completely mad suggestions that'd get them all killed. But if Dr. Hartwell said necromancy was a viable...
"If we... pursue that option," Jonty said cautiously, "what would we need to do?"
"Tether her soul to her corpse, for a start, and keep it cold. A gentle repose spell should do it. We'll keep the body in Loxdon College's morgue in the meantime. Best place to hide a body."
"Do you have such a spell? I thought it was...." Tom said.
"Proscribed necromancy? Yes. But it should be possible to find a copy somewhere in this city. That will buy us time."
"Someone like Professor Tallerand?" Doyle grumbled. "He was in the crowd. Got a good look at him."
"Why was he there?" Tom said. "Has he been following us?"
"Don't think so. Would have noticed," Doyle said. As a professional follower-of-suspicious-persons, he was well trained to spot amateurs.
"Right. Doyle, you go after Tallerand. I'm going to go to the hospital," Jonty said. "I do not feel at all well."
The other PCs looked at Jonty with concern. Tom had cast clear! to keep Jonty alive and mobile, but lightning could only motivate flesh for so long, and Dr. Hartwell's improvised slings were soaked in blood. Despite an air that suggested his pale skin was merely a fashion choice, Jonty was clearly on death's doorstep, clinging to the frame with both hands.
Tom had suffered a mishap of his own. The overwhelming thaumic charge he'd dumped into Endon's atmosphere had altered his body. His eyes were flaming orbs, burning with orange-red light and flickering up to his eyebrowss. It was, everyone agreed, an excellent side-effect for any wizard, even if it did make him stand out in a crowd. His sight seemed unimpaired, and the flames didn't burn. It wasn't the oddest mutation seen on the streets of Endon, but he'd feel much happier with a pair of smoked glasses.
Side Note: John Huffman, the calculating golem NPC the players met in Session 7, is partially based on Charles Babbage, but is named for Hoffmann from Les contes d'Hoffmann. In the opera, Hoffman encounters and falls for the automaton Olympia. The opera also features the song "J'ai des yeux", which contains the lines "J'ai des yeux, de vrais yeux. / Des yeux vivants, des yeux de flamme." Somehow, by luck or fate, the d1000 roll on my Mutation Table produced 704: Fire Eyes.
Doyle scanned the crowd, searching for any hint of the notorious biomancer and listening to any hints of scandal or police inquiries. He didn't think they'd done was against the law... but he wasn't sure the Coppers knew that.
Someone else was searching the crowd. An elderly gentleman in a thick brown suit and unfashionable hat, clearly agitated, and unused to surveilance or crowds. Doyle tried to remain unnoticed, but the stranger spotted him and gave a little yelp of surprise, then rushed over.
"You!" he said, staring at the private detective with a look of exasperated triumph.
"Me?" Doyle said.
"Took you long enough! Where are the others? And why haven't you come to find me? I've been waiting all day."
"The others are... elsewhere," Doyle said, hedging his bets. "Have we met?"
Half a dozen expressions flickered across the man's face. "No. Or possibly yes. You've cut it very close. This address," he said, handing Doyle a faded card, "at sunrise. You, Mr. Shambledrake, and his other friends. Go! I have to start the machine."
Doyle had been hired in many unusual ways, sometimes by people who didn't know they were hiring him, but this was a new approach. He examined the card. "Edward Kovinov. 39A Obar St, S. of the Cathedral". No profession, but the card reeked of ambient magic.
After stowing Lizzy's body in the morgue and filling out the paperwork, Dr. Hartwell, Tom, and Jonty took a cab to Blumsworth Hospital. The doctors on duty at this late hour were delighted to find a patient willing to submit to magical healing, especially as Dr. Hartwell volunteered to be responsible for any side-effects. While they fussed over Jonty, painting diagrams on his arms and mixing potions, and muttering about "leaping bone syndrome" and "thaumic dislocation".
Doyle arrived an hour later. "No sign of Tallerand, but I did meet a very strange wizard. He said we need to meet him at this address at sunrise," he said, handing over the card.
"Strange. Did he say why?" Dr. Hartwell asked, turning the card over.
"No. But he seemed to know something about... something."
"Worth a look, I think," Tom said. "Now I need to get back to campus and..."
"No. None of us should go home tonight. We'll stay at an inn. That wizard, Konivov, seemed to know where to look for us. I don't like it," Doyle said emphatically.
"Seems a bit paranoid," Jonty said, "but if you insist."
"There's a coaching inn not far from here. The Maypole. I'll meet you there," Dr. Hartwell said. "I have one last errand."
"Yes," Jonty said knowingly. "And I have one as well."
"Are you sure?" Tom asked.
"I'll be as right as rain once I've had my coffee. That re-skeletonizing ray was very effective. I feel good! I feel great!"
After midnight, Dr. Hartwell searched for the unmarked lair of Dr. Fields, a disreputable and nigh-untraceable physician in Hasselby Court. His network of well-bribed urchins and former patients had, with a bit of prodding, directed him to someone who could probably supply a gentle repose spell. Fields preyed on the credulous and grieving, performing seances to sooth the souls of the living and trouble the souls of the dead.
Ahead, a cloaked and scruffy figure stepped from the shadows and tipped its hat. "You!" Dr. Hartwell exclaimed.
"Me," said Professor Tallerand. He was unshaven, exhausted, and clearly a little confused. "You seem surprised."
"Just concerned. Why are you here?"
"Why am I here? Why are you here! What is going on? This whole affair is ghastly," Tallerand hissed.
"You wouldn't happen to have a gentle repose spell on you," Dr. Hartwell asked, more to diffuse the tension than from hope.
Prof. Tallerand stumbled backwards, as if shot, then recovered. "But... all this? For gentle repose?" He reached into his cloak and tossed Dr. Hartwell a scroll.
"Oh. Awfully convenient," Dr. Hartwell said. "My thanks."
Tallerand laughed ruefully (or at least tried to). "Ghengh. What's your game, Hartwell? Who's side are you really on?"
"I'm on my side," Dr. Hartwell said, trying to imagine how the ever-cagey Doyle would handle this situation. "And I'm running out of time."
"Time," the disgraced biomancer said, "is the only thing you seem to have on your side. Well, best of luck. Let's never meet again."
Before retiring for less than an hour's sleep, Dr. Hartwell returned to Loxdon College's morgue, cast gentle repose on Lizzy's body, and inserted the scroll into her spellbook for safe keeping, leaving it on the body. If things went awry, it wasn't a spell he relished explaining to the Coppers.
Jonty's mission was less successful. After bribing the porters of Loxdon College for hints towards "unusual reading materials" and "the other faculty library", on the sensible suspicion that all the really dangerous books weren't kept in the marked and warded section of the main library. There's no point hiding the really potent stuff where students know to look for it.
The porters directed him to "the Mandrake Room", a small storeroom in an unremarkable hallway in the basement of one of the lecture halls. Inside, spell scrolls with moderately obscene end caps rested under blocks of ice. Books shivered on well-armoured shelves. A particularly nasty grimmore swam in circles in a murky fishtank. Jonty sighed and tipped the thaumovoric eel from his sack into the tank. They could fight it out. He scanned titles and plaques for any hint of necromancy, but was disappointed to find merely industrial-strength pornography, recipes for potions of dubious consent, and the sort of summoning rituals that lonely wizards invent, test, and regret.
Disappointed, he took a cab to the Maypole Inn and tried to sleep, but the residual effects of Spacebeans coffee kept him awake.
Doyle woke up the other PCs well before sunrise. He'd slept well. He always slept well when a mystery was afoot. It was the quiet, case-free hours that brought terrors and memories of unpaid bills.
Bleary and irritable, the group arrived at 39A Obar St. The workshop, one of dozens along the narrow and unswept street, was numbered but not signed. Doyle knocked on the door. An iron plate slid back, revealing two watery blue eyes under suspicious bushy eyebrows. "You! Cutting it very fine. Come inside, come inside."
"Do we know you?" Jonty asked, as the group cautiously stepped into the workshop.
"A very interesting question. I knew Mr. Shambledrake before yesterday, of course," Edward said. "He's been funding my work for years. And any associate of Mr. Shambledrake is welcome here."
Tom tried to conceal his surprise. The group looked at him, looked at Edward, looked at the well-appointed workshop and the enormous magical device at its core, contemplated their shared finances, then recalled that Tom was not the only "Mr. Shambledrake" in Endon. His late uncle Uriah, and Uriah Shambledrake Jr, could be responsible.
"But this is the first time you've met him in person," Jonty prompted.
"No, the second. That is the very interesting part. You see, I'd just activated the Temporal Funnel," Edward said, shuffling over to the device. The group stared at with concern. Thick insulated cables snaked through the workshop's brickwork, linked to a variety of high-energy thaumic batteries and regulators. The device was riddled with gems and intricate clockwork. From the side, it was around 12' tall and 10' deep. From the front, it seemed to be about a mile deep.
"A time machine?" Jonty scoffed. "Impossible!"
"Impossible until now! You see, your activities inadvertently weakened local dimensional weave. Think of space and time as a sheet of cloth. Then stretch that cloth until gaps appear in the fabric. The Temporal Funnel acts as a sort of time bucket. When I activate it, in the past that is, it creates a stasis field that consumes all local time. A bucket, if you will. Then, when it reaches a point in the future, I simply punch out the bottom of the bucket and create a tunnel through time. Pop! Bang! Ordinary, the bucket is too sturdy, but the recent dimensional rift has weakened it. Do you understand? Well, that is almost entirely unlike the truth, but it's as good an explanation as any."
"Our activities?" Jonty said plaintively.
"Oh yes. And I believe you, in particular, are currently dimensionally shivered." Edward took out a small glass cube which, on closer inspection, seemed to have both six and eight sides, and waved it near Jonty's chest. "Aha! You see?"
"Not really," Jonty replied. Edward dug in a cabinet and pulled out a small crystal rod. He waved it at Jonty's midsection. To everyone's astonishment, it passed right through Jonty's waistcoat, as if his body was as insubstantial as smoke.
"As I thought, no interaction with rutilated quartz," Edward mumbled. Seeing Jonty's face, he hastily added, "The effects should fade within a few days. Probably. It's as if part of you has been folded elsewhere. Like a letter. You can fold one corner out of sight but the writing remains."
Doyle, whose conspiracy-addled brain accepted time travel as a natural and entirely reasonable explanation for recent events, had finally caught up. "Ah. You've met us in the past, which is our future. What did we do?"
"Yes, last night. I'd just activated the Temporal Funnel when pop! There you all were! You said you had something very important to do, then you argued for several minutes, then you saw something outside the door and left in a great hurry. Let me draw you a diagram."
Side Note: If you need to predict the actions of the PCs, "stood around arguing" is like a free square in bingo.
"This is time. Time only goes forward, like an arrow, but the Temporal Funnel lets me bend it slightly. You will go from here to here. X to X. For a little over a day there will be two of you in the city. Everything will proceed as if you had not traveled back in time. You cannot use this machine to alter the past. You can use it to alter the future. From your point of view, everything that is about to happen has already happened, until you reach this point again."
"So we can save Lizzy!" Tom said.
"No, we can't. The past is fixed," Doyle said, pointing at the diagram.
"That is correct," Edward added, nodding at Doyle. "Everything that has already happened will happen again. Do not contact your past selves, or anyone in direct contact with your
past selves. Unless you remember that happening, in which case you should definitely contact your past selves."
Dr. Hartwell remembered Professor Tallerand's strange attitude and began to wonder if he was about to meet the Professor in the future... in the past. This time travel stuff was giving him a headache.
"Ah. But what if," Jonty said, "what we thought we saw happen didn't really happen? Remember the cup and ball trick? Sleight of hand. We could make it appear that Lizzy died..."
"Possible. But look, are you sure this machine works?" Tom said.
"You came out of it, so it has to work."
"Out of curiosity, what would happen if we tried to change the past?" Jonty asked.
"I'm not sure." Edward scratched his chin and looked up. "You might be stricken by coincidences. Or the entire universe might collapse."
"That sounds... unpleasant," Jonty said nervously.
"I'm reasonably sure it won't happened because it didn't happen, but just in case it might happen, don't do anything that might cause it to happen. Is that clear?"
"Not at all," Jonty said.
"Oh bother. Well, best of luck. Now just stand here. And try not to move. We're just waiting for sunrise. Good thaumic differential at sunrise," Edward said, checking his pocket watch. "Ten seconds."
"Wait, what?" Jonty said.
"Good luck!." Edward Kovinov locked goggles over his eyes, grasped a large and thoroughly insulated switch, and threw it down. The Temporal Funnel expanded. Octarine light smashed into the room, engulfing the group and wising them down a tunnel of petrified time.
Tom, Dr. Hartwell, Jonty, and Doyle tumbled out of the time tunnel and arrived in the past, somehow arriving in exactly the same poses. Edward Konivov, looking less exhausted and slightly less grimy, gawped at them, his hand on the switch.
"What! Who? How!" he spluttered.
"I'm T... I'm Mr. Shambledrake," Tom said, shaking the wizard's hand. "And these are my friends."
"Doyle Wormsby, P.I.," Doyle said automatically. Dr. Hartwell and Jonty politely declined to give their names.
"Ah, of course, Mr. Shambledrake. So good to finally meet you! The machine works! How wonderful. When are you from? How fares The Project?" he said, pronouncing the capital letters.
"The Project fares well," Tom said glibly. This was the first he'd heard of any Project, but he didn't think Edward needed to know that. "What time is it? 11pm? We are from... about a day in the future. A day and a bit. Sunrise. Err, there's going to be some dimensional fabric."
"And a letter that gets folded over," Jonty added.
"Ah! Not as far as I'd hoped, but still a success. An unprecedented success! And you're all intact."
"Was... not being intact an option?" Tom asked.
"Oh yes. Some of the things I've tried to send through come out very... well, never mind. Why have you come back? What is your plan?"
"What is our plan?" Dr. Hartwell asked.
"Save Lizzy. Somehow." Tom said.
"How? We saw her die, so..."
"What did we actually see? We saw her get turned into a toad. But what if we swap toads?" Tom gesticulated wildly for emphasis.
"We also saw her body fall from the sky. We'll need a broomstick..." Jonty said, suddenly seized by broomstick fever.
"Ride a broomstick when that lighting bolt hits? I think that's a terrible plan. We should use an illusion." Doyle suggested.
"Wait. Wait. Oh no. Alfonso the Hydra. It's 11pm. What if we kidnapped him at midnight?" Jonty groaned.
"What, rent a black coach, find masks, get mud all over Nero's boots? Impossible," Doyle said.
"But what if we did kidnap him?" Jonty wailed. "Because of the fabric of the universe?"
"You're thinking too much. Stop thinking so much." Doyle implicitly understood the rules of time travel, while Jonty's analytical mind kept spiraling into paradoxes. "We won't. Because I'll go there and I'll see who kidnaps him. And if the universe provides me with a black coach and some help, so be it, but if not then I'm not renting one."
"We could use a flesh golem," Dr. Hartwell quietly added. The group considered this. It seemed like a sensible proposal. "Transform it to look like Lizzy. I have a change body spell for that. Swap it during the fight. We'll need a reliable short-ranged teleport spell. And then..."
"We should have a second body ready on a broomstick, as a backup," Jonty said.
"How will you know when to drop it? And also, if it goes wrong, we'll have two Lizzies. Three. Two dead, one alive. Or maybe three dead. No broomsticks!" Doyle said.
"There's no need to shout," Jonty said.
"Couldn't we just use another body and not a flesh golem? Not to be macabre or anything," Tom said.
"It's safer if it can run and move. Gives us more time to make the switch," Dr. Hartwell said confidently, having digested the rules of time travel to his own satisfaction. "And I think that necromancer, Fields, can get us one."
"Ah. Good. Well, make sure we arrive here on time or the universe will end," Jonty said to Edward. "I think you said that in the future."
Doyle groaned. "You don't need to tell him that. He did, so we will."
Jonty stared into space. "I'm beginning to regret this time travel business."
"We should go," Doyle said, and moved towards the door. Just before opening it he paused, then slid the viewing hatch open, revealing the profile of Snedge, the ubiquitous minion of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl. Doyle shouted "Aha!", pushed the door open, and tried to catch the mysterious eavesdropper.
Snedge ran. Doyle sprinted after him down the moonlit street, waving his umbrella. Snedge looked over his shoulder, drew a bulbous pistol-sized weapon, and fired it at the Private Investigator. Doyle deployed his umbrella just in time to catch a ravening badger, which tried to claw its way through the fabric. "Oh ho!" Doyle cried, flinging the umbrella casing aside and revealing the rapier underneath.
From the back of the group, Jonty flung his smart chain at Snedge. The chain wrapped itself around his legs, sending him toppling to the ground. Faced with a sword and several angry wizards, Snedge sensibly surrendered. Doyle hauled him into an alley and waited for Dr. Hartwelll and his rheumatic knees to catch up.
"What's this all about, Snedge?" Doyle said.
"You tell me," Snedge replied, grinning lugubriously. "Who's the man in the warehouse?"
"Have you been following us?"
"Me? Neeever," he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of implausible innocence. "I just got here."
"Nice trick with the badgerbanger. Pity it's an illusionary badger," Doyle said.
"Yeah, I should have brought a revolver."
"Lucky for you, I did. Hands up," a voice said from the end of the alley. The PCs, clustered around Snedge, carefully turned to see another Snedge pointing a revolver at them.
One Snedge was bad enough, but the terrible vista of two Snedges, in close proximity, sent the PCs into spasms of horror and dismay. "You! But what? And how!" Jonty spluttered.
"Followed you through, didn't I? And now we're here."
"I've got you at rapier-point," Jonty added, reassessing the situation. Unlike Doyle, he'd paid for a weapon license and wore his sword as a slightly incongruous fashion accessory. People tended not to notice it until he brought it out.
"Not for long," the nearer Snedge said, and lunged upwards, smacking Jonty on the chin with a solid blow. Jonty had been hit harder by better people, and decided to stab Snedge in the chest. The sword connected, but Snedge, yelling "ah fuck!", vanished with a pop of displaced air.
"Teleporter amulet!" Tom said, slightly impressed.
"Duck you fool!" Dr. Hartwell yelled, dragging Tom out of the second Snedge's line of fire.
The second Snege only got off one shot, which passed just over Doyle's shoulder. Doyle was already charging, his rapier at the ready. He smashed the hilt into Snedge's hand, sending the revover flying, then slashed the blade across his face. The cut appeared for a moment before the teleporter amulet activated, sending Snedge howling into the void.
"Where'd they go?" Doyle said.
"Could be anywhere, but those amulets have a short range. Maybe 100 yards. But it could be any of these buildings." Tom said.
"Two Snedges! Which one is past-Snedge and which is future-Snedge? He said he went in after us... but did he come out after us, or before us?" Doyle mused aloud. Jonty groaned and covered his ears.
"Let's let the Snedges be Snedges. If you see one, hit him, but we have other affairs," Dr. Hartwell said. "We have a little under 24 hours until the lightning hits the toad."
"Gods and devils," Tom said. "The lightning. I thought it was odd. The charge I dumped into the air couldn't have done it alone."
"What do you mean," Jonty said. "It did. We all saw it. You went "augh!", stuck your hands in the air, and called down a lighting bolt from a clear sky."
"Yes, called it down, but someone needs to send it up. I've got three lightning bolts in my lightning accumulator on the roof of Krahlhammer's. I'll send them up, now, just as me, in the past, calls them down. Aha! I knew it was too powerful for a clear day." The rest of the group nodded at Tom's fixation with lightning.
"Will that take long?" Jonty asked.
"Oh, hours, if I want to do it safely. It's an accumulator. Making it de-accumulate is easy. Making it de-accumulate upwards, instead of sideways and into the building, is harder." Tom seemed lost in thought.
"Good good. You go to Krahlhammer's. Try to keep out of sight, though you weren't with us when we visited him yesterday... err, today, that is, but in the past... so that should be fine," Jonty said.
"And I will try to see who actually kidnapped Alfonso the Hydra," Doyle added.
"And we," Dr. Hartwell said, pointing at Jonty, "will find Dr. Fields and commission a Flesh Golem. We should set a place to meet, if all goes well. The Monarch's Arms near St. Nigel's Workhouse?"
Doyle stomped north, towards the apartment of Alfonso the Hydra and a date with destiny. Someone was about to kidnap the illusionist, and Doyle had a chance to solve a crime before it had been committed. "Time travel, feh," he muttered. He understood it perfectly. Years of late-night feverish paranoia had shaped his mind for this sort of endeavor.
He spotted the Eel Hunting Club on their secret red herring journey, but decided to ignore them. The students been lured to Alfonso's neighborhood by a letter offering a captured thaumovoric eel for sale, but (it appeared) were intended to witness the kidnapping and distract the Coppers. Doyle scanned the street, carefully wedged himself into set of basement stairs, and waited.
A silent masked man wearing muddy boots, stomped up to the door to Alfonso's apartment, joined a moment later by the driver of a black coach. The door wasn't locked, Doyle noted to his satisfaction. Doyle examined the coach, checked the sightlines, ran across the road, and hopped inside
The kidnappers disappeared upstairs and returned, a moment later, with Alfonso the Hydra held between them... but not actually restrained. They tossed the loudly protesting illusionist into the coach. Doyle grinned at him like a shark. Alfonso, who'd briefly recovered from his apparent kidnapping, screamed.
"Kidnapped, are we?" Doyle said.
"Err, yes. Against my will and all that." Alfonso said half-heartedly.
"You don't look kidnapped. In fact, this coach doesn't even look like a coach. The cushions are all glassy. And I think the horses don't touch the ground."
Alfonso glowered. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to create a coach, coachmen, and horses on short notice? Not one illusionist in a thousand could do it. This isn't some slapdash pumpkin-and-mouse job."
Doyle, who had no point of reference, nodded politely. "Congratulations. Now what's your plan?"
"You!" Alfonso howled, his eyes bulging. "You and that horrible woman you brought to my apartment."
"Us?" Doyle said, shocked. "But all we did was offer you employment."
"I know a shakedown when I see it. Your master, Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl can...."
"We don't work for him," Doyle said.
"What? Then you must work for the... small business owners..." Alfonso said, furtively.
"I don't think so. It's just us. The offer was legitimate."
Alfonso eyed the detective critically. "And you can protect me from Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl?"
"We can try. It's the best offer you're likely to get," Doyle shrugged.
"Then I accept."
"Good. I see you packed a bag," Doyle said, eyeing the small carpet bag on Alfonso's lap. "Do you need anything else because..."
"Oh damn! The eels! I forgot my eels," Alfonso said, slapping his forehead. Doyle sighed.
"I'll get your eels. Find me tomorrow afternoon," Doyle said. "My office." With that, Doyle leapt from the carriage, darted up an alley, and circled back to the recently vacated apartment. He reasoned that neighbors and busybodies would be clustered around the front door or summoning the Coppers, but the roof was - as far as he knew - unguarded. With the aid of a drainpipe and some loose bricks, he reached the rooftops and started along them, counting chimneys.
Snedge stepped from behind one chimney stack and, with his usual oily air, aimed a revolver at Doyle. "Thought I'd find your fingers in this pie," he said. "Kindapped the actor, did you?"
Doyle shrugged, opened his mouth as if he was about to speak, then brought up his umbrella and smacked the revolver out of Snedge's hand. Snedge stared at him with wild astonishment, before Doyle hit him in the face with a solid blow. The teleporter amulet activated, whisking Snedge away with a scream of "bastard!". Smashing glass and gurgling water echoed from the room below, followed by a fizzing burst of magic, the second clap of a teleporter amulet, and another anguished scream. Snedge, it seemed, had discovered the eels.
Doyle tried to think of a suitable eel based quip, then gave up and climbed down.
Meanwhile, across the city, Dr. Hartwell and Jonty Earl knocked on the unmarked door of Ostlebert Fields, much-rumoured necromancer. This time, someone appeared to be in.
"Ah!" Fields said, as he opened the door. He was a small, round-headed man with large glasses, oily hair, and a well-worn suit. His shoulders were so rounded as to give him a permanent shrug. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then invited the PCs inside with a curled finger.
"How can I help you gentlemen?" he said. His office was shabby and deliberately plain. A faded calendar, a few general reference books, a battered desk, and old newspapers. Only a stuffed alligator and a few potion flasks indicated that the occupant might be a wizard. A curtain of wood beads blocked off the view to the adjoining room.
"I am Dr. Hartwell. I see you know the name. Good. I wish to purchase a flesh golem, as soon as possible."
"Cash in hand," Jonty said, seeing Fields' expression.
"Ah, gentlemen, I fear that I cannot... that is to say that I have no knowledge of... that is, I am merely..."
"Dry up, Dr. Fields," a voice said. Professor Tallerand, tired and unshaven, stepped from behind the bead curtain and surveyed the group. "What," he said, "are you doing here?"
Jonty regained his composure almost immediately. "We are here to purchase a flesh golem," he said.
"But why? Fields. Out," Tallerand said, shooing the baffled amateur necromancer into the next room."And before we go any further, who do you work for?" He asked the question with such vehemence that Dr. Hartwell took a step backwards.
"We... I don't believe we work for anyone. That is, we work for ourselves."
"But you're agents of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl. He sent you to smash up my operation at the College! You're his goons!"
"That was an unfortunate coincidence," Jonty said, "Never to be repeated."
"But Tom Shambledrake..." the biomancer said.
"Tom has even less of an idea of what is going on than the rest of us," Jonty said. "Which isn't saying much."
"We are agents of chaos," Dr. Hartwell quietly lamented, translating a foreign idiom.
Professor Tallerand seemed shaken to his core. "But that is... but you... but I saw... Oh damnation! So you're not on our side, and you're not on their side... and you're not with the small business owners..." he whispered.
Dr. Hartwell and Jonty looked at each other and shrugged. "Not as far as we know," Dr. Hartwell said.
"Damnation. And now you want a flesh golem. Why?"
"It's to save a life," Dr. Hartwell said.
"Oh, well, in that case," Professor Tallerand drawled sarcastically, waving his hands in the air.
"Good. And we'll pay. We need it as soon as possible. Tomorrow afternoon at the very latest."
Professor Tallerand rubbed his stubble and examined the pair in a new light. "Ethically sourced or not? And do you need any particular commands or protocols?"
"Ah. Ethically sourced if possible," Jonty said, unwilling to investigate further. "It just needs to walk for a few steps."
"Oh, in that case, I can probably make do with beef. Well, mostly beef," Tallerand said, as academic fervor gripped him.
"And if you could also get some, ah, specialty spell scrolls ready for tomorrow," Dr. Harwell added. "I'll need one. You'll know which one when we meet," he added, savoring the chance to let the universe sort out its own paradoxes.
A few minutes later, Dr. Hartwell and Jonty returned to the streets of Endon, several hundred gold pieces lighter, but burdened by the acute knowledge of their newfound factional exposure. They'd just committed themselves to a game in which the other players, the rules, or even the stakes were unknown.
After a restful evening at the Monarch's Arms inn, Doyle, Dr. Hartwell, and Jonty set off bright and early for the east side of Endon, in pursuit of a teleport spell and (in Jonty's heart of hearts) a broomstick. They'd heard rumours of a wizard building a circle of standing stones near Monk's Garden and decided that anyone willing to set up teleportation on an industrial scale might have spare spell or two in the warehouse.
Carried by Jonty's sense of decorum, ingratiating manner, and impeccable dress sense, the group quickly secured an interview with a Mr. Earnest Perring, the mind behind the teleport circle project. In exchange for wand of reciprocal teleport with 100' range, Mr. Perring asked Dr. Hartwell, whose star seemed to be rising, to offer his "unbiased" opinion on the safety of the teleport circles once they were operational, and sign newspaper testimonials to that effect. "I require no deception," Perring added, "for I am certain that my method is completely safe. Your honest opinion, once you have examined and tested the system, is all I need."
Jonty also made discrete inquiries about buying a broomstick, but was thoroughly dissuaded by a pair of toughs who made it clear that anyone buying a broomstick this side of the river was a potential rival to "Mister Miles". Who this "Mister Miles" was, and why he felt entitled to send goons to accost legitimate men of affairs, were mysteries for another day.
Tom was still working on reversing the lightning accumulator. By late afternoon, they'd received word that Tallerand had found or assembled a suitable flesh golem, and met him at a pork warehouse near Loxdon College. They thanked the increasingly baffled professor, dressed the shambling stack of meat and stitches in a thick cloak, scarf, and hat, then considered their problems.
"We need it to be wearing Lizzy's clothes," Doyle said. "Otherwise, when we make the switch, it'll look odd. Your spell doesn't alter clothes, does it?" Dr. Hartwell shook his head.
"Not to be indelicate, but can't we take the clothes of Lizzy in the morgue?" Jonty asked.
Doyle sighed. "No, that hasn't happened yet. We need this golem to be wearing Lizzy's clothes so it'll become the Lizzy in the morgue. Do you remember what she was wearing? Well, can you purchase an identical set? Between the blast, the fall, and the river mud I don't think any of us were paying too much attention, so it should still work." Jonty nodded, still at sea.
"We'll also need a spellbook. Or a recipe book, which is what Lizzy uses. Ah, used." Dr. Hartwell said. "And a kitchen knife. Ah, what else did she have in her pockets?"
"But you didn't check the contents of the spellbook until well after her death, correct? When you returned to the morgue to add gentle repose. So you just need to return and swap Lizzy's spellbook - after we rescue her in a few hours - with the golem's fake spellbook, so past you can add the gentle repose spell, and then after past you is gone you can sneak back and remove the book, and burn the body while you're at it." Dr. Hartwell and Jonty stared at Doyle. "What?" the detective said.
"I think you should write some of this down," Jonty said morosely. "Preferably with helpful diagrams."
"It's very odd seeing yourself from outside yourself," Jonty said. "Do I really walk like that?"
"I'm afraid so," Dr. Harwell replied. After disguising the flesh golem, the group convinced a cab stall on the embankment to let them rent the roof "to watch those wizards". The stall owners were slightly suspicious, but a few handfuls of silver silenced any complaints. While watching the crowd and preparing for the swap, Doyle spotted Professor Tallerand just as Professor Tallerand spotted the group on the rooftop. The private investigator ducked back, cursing. Now Tallerand would probably want an explanation that contained some elements of the truth.
The fight, seen for a second time from a safe distance, was both distressing and entertaining to the group. Jonty saw the effects of the Jonty Suit for the first time, and prodded his torso thoughtfully. After wedging cotton wool in everyone ears to block the anticipated thunderclap, Dr. Hartwell cast change body on the flesh golem, while Doyle carefully aimed the teleport wand at the distant figure of Lizzy. The moment past-Doyle reached into his coat for the ill-fated toad grenade, present-Doyle activated the wand.
Lizzy appeared on the rooftop. The flesh golem, dressed as Lizzy and altered to resemble her in every visible detail, appeared on the embankment and was almost immediately changed into a toad. Jonty shouted, "Lizzy!" and reached out to catch her, as the teleport spell preserved her momentum.
Lizzy, who'd been running at full speed away from an eldritch monster, saw Jonty appear before her with outstretched arms and a peculiar grin. She did the only sensible thing and stabbed him in the shoulder, just as the lighting bolt hit the river and turned night into day.
"All is forgiven," Jonty said, as Lizzy fussed over his shoulder. "It was a natural reaction."
"I'm still very confused. You were down there. You're still down there," Lizzy said, pointing at the distant muddy figures of Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, Doyle, and... a body. "And I'm apparently dead?"
"Only apparently dead," Jonty said, but the subtlety was lost on Lizzy.
"We traveled back in time," Doyle said, and started to explain further when Jonty held up a hand.
"Please. Not now. I don't think I can bear it," the assistant professor groaned.
"Time travel is impossible," Lizzy said. She might not be much of an academic wizard, but she knew that at least.
"It was until yesterday. Err. Today. Or technically tomorrow," Jonty said. "It's dreadfully confusing."
Lizzy nodded, uncapped her vial of hypergin, and drank it in one gulp. Sobriety seemed unhelpful.
The reunited group attempted to make a stealthy getaway, but, while getting into a cab, discovered a sixth person climbing inside with them.
"Hallo hallo," Angelica Hartwell, freelance reporter, said cheerfully. "Quite the scene of devastation and dismay, what? And you were there... twice, it seems. I saw you in the river, and now here you are, mud free and unwounded. Well, mostly unwounded. Quite the story," she burbled. "Care to comment?"
Doyle shushed Lizzy before she could speak. "Time travel. We went back in time to prevent a larger tragedy."
Angelica scowled. "Just because some of the papers I write for run stories like 'Foreigner Bites Man' doesn't mean I have to accept any tall tale as truth. If you don't want to talk to the press, you can just say so." Sniffing, she hopped out of the cab. Doyle smiled and waved.
After dropping Dr. Hartwell off at Loxdon College to swap Lizzy's actual spellbook with the fake spellbook on the corpse, the rest of the group proceeded to a discreet coaching inn, where Jonty (increasingly drunk) tried to explain to Lizzy (increasingly mororse) that she was not, in fact, dead, on account of the fact that time was shaped like the letter S.
Dr. Hartwell waited until his past self entered the college morgue, cast gentle repose on the transfigured corpse, and departed before creeping in, taking the spellbook, and burning the body and all other evidence in the college's crematorium. He waited for the universe to implode and, when it failed to do so, decided that he'd tied up all the loose threads. Time could now proceed as normal.
As he left the college for the upteenth time that day, a sinister figure slid from behind a pillar. It was Snedge, burned, eel-bitten, harried, and exhausted.
"You!" Snedge spat.
"Me," Dr. Hartwell said calmly.
"Which one are you? First round or second round? And where are the rest of them?"
"I am... from the second round? Are you well?" Dr. Hartwell asked, with the barest grain of genuine concern. "This whole time travel business is awful, I will readily admit."
Snedge stared at him. He seemed to be trying to summon a murderous glare, but Dr. Hartwell's placid tones and the extreme lateness of the hour made it impossible. He gave up. "I'll give you and your friends one chance. Stop playing silly games and join up, or be ready to play the game for full stakes."
"I will pass along your message," Dr. Hartwell said diplomatically. "Be well, Snedge. Get some rest."
With downcast eyes, Snedge stalked off. Dr. Hartwell shrugged and caught a cab for the Monarch's Arms.
Why did a Mr. Shambledrake fund the time funnel? Who is Tallerand working for, and to what end? Who are the Small Business Owners, and why do so many people in Endon fear them? Mais où sont les Snedges d’anten?
Find out next time.