Book Notes: The Short Fiction of Max Lavergne

Who is Max Lavergne? Why is Max Lavergne? And how do you begin to review an author whose best-known work is Spiders Georg?

"Spiders Georg" has taken on a life of its own, appearing in a textbook, at least one video game, lectures, callout posts, and innumerable spinoff memes. I've checked the literature, and while I can't find an applicable X. georg (or related spelling) species named after 2013, it's clearly only a matter of time before some bored entomologist names a ravenous cave-dwelling wasp in the family Pompilidae after Georg. Lavergne, like Gelett Burgess, seems to be over it.

Lavergne maintains a tumblr and a twitter, both posting approximately the same sort of post-ironic thing, like a perpetual standup comedy gig, throwing ideas into the void. It's all in good fun. If you are an academic trying to make sense of tumblr microfiction culture, you could do worse than starting with the works of Max Lavergne. You've got 12+ years of data. Go nuts. And good luck.

Since the dawn of the internet, all lowercase text seems to signal low investment. Don't take this seriously. It's all just words. I am a hip young fun person and not a brand or a stuffy old author or a tryhard academic. Capitalization is for serious high-effort posts only. Capitalized, it'd be hostile; without caps, it's merely saucy. This self-effacing, criticism-devouring fun makes serious (or even semi-serious) analysis difficult. It's easy to imagine the response being something like: 

"look at you, analyzing themes and craft. try eating soup instead. mmm soup"

And this imaginary reply makes a very good point. Life is short and I could be eating soup right now. Still, I thought I'd give it a try. Lavergne's work is well worth examination, and nobody seems to have heard of it. Here are some notes on a few selected short stories.


Many of Lavergne narrators experience feelings of inadequacy, ugliness, failure, awkwardness, and formless frustration (see The Aftermath of the Scene at Bert Nert's, Wolfman Moves To Town, and particularly Sweet Belinda.) Few bother grappling with them. There's some half-hearted slapping at best. They never rise to the level of antihero. Beneath their tepid and feeble exteriors lurk tepid and feeble interiors... most of the time.

But sometimes, you get a story like Blu-Ray. The tone is conversational, but it's not a conversation you signed up for. I don't know how to explain it, but the narrator of Blu-Ray feels like they're telling you the story while eating. Sauce on the chin, noodles in mouth, swigs of soda. Something about the sentence structure suggests moist gulps for air and gestures with a plastic fork. And you want to be elsewhere, away from this person who desperately wants you to be sympathetic. It's a funny and deeply unpleasant story.


Since this is theoretically an RPG blog, a story about elves should fit right in. And this is a very, very funny story about elves. Anyone who's ever run a campaign with an obviously cursed sword will be pleasantly delighted.

Lavergne plays with levels of language formality (See Draw Him Red With Horns and Preparing The Beast For The Ferryman). Elvendoom shifts from high fantasy pomp to the vernacular at unexpected moments. I think people tend to miss the little incongruous jokes in traditional humorous fantasy stories like Dunsany's The Hoard of the Gibbelins because language has moved on, but they are there. The worldbuilding is superb. Galvanir is an elf who can backflip around a prison cell, fire an arrow while running, casually slay goblins by the score, move with ethereal grace and delicacy... and also has self-esteem issues, and a bald spot, and a tendency to whine. It's great.

Let Me Tell You About My Saab: I, II, III, IV, V

The Let Me Tell You About My Saab series is weapons-grade absurdist genre fiction. Some stories are likened to hypnotic car crashes. Lavergne puts you inside the crashing car. Buckle up. Entry III is my favourite. It's perfect: the pacing, the characterization, the worldbuilding, the sense of movement and scale and completely absurd stakes. 

If you like ridiculous car-based microfiction, seatsafetyswitch might also be up your alley.

The Rock Breakers

I've described Max Lavergne as "Thomas Ligotti on uppers".[1] The universe is profoundly absurd. Why worry about it. Will worrying help? Is suffering just a matter of perspective? What's it all about? And who's going around half-filling these glasses?

[1] Here, in this post.

The nightmarish dilapidated hospitals in Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco and The Shadow, The Darkness are places that both treat and spread sickness. Characters are sometimes trapped inside, desperate to escape the maze of bloodstained doctors, cracked tiles, grime, bandages, and feverish, contagious dreams. For Ligotti, the hospital-maze is the universe, and there is only one exit.

The narrator of The Rock Breakers has a desperate, utterly craven desire to get in. The laboratory-hospital is comically horrible, like a mad stock footage mish-mash, but that's how nightmares work sometimes. Even in a dream, the narrator fantasizes about a situation that would be, to most, a nightmare. Is The Rock Breakers even a horror story in the conventional sense? As an anonymous commenter said, "I can taste bile in my throat now so I guess that makes it art."

Ligotti writes, "While horror may make us squirm or quake, it will not make us cry at the pity of things." But many of Lavergne's stories are often driven by pity (of one sort or another). The narrator of The Rock Breakers is both pitiable and desperate to be pitied and, simultaneously, contemptible.

Lavergne employs dreams or stories within stories to great effect in Brine From The Higher Vats and The Tether.


Catstrata is about the hell of customer service, of subscriptions and automated payments. It's a shaggy dog story about Schrodinger's Cat, and also the horror of death in general. One day, your very real cat will no longer be there, and there is no customer service line to call. We rebel at the arbitrary cruelty of deleting a digital relationship simulacrum, but only because there was another option available. 

April is a well-crafted and devastating short story.

Unlike celebrity autobiographies and bad fanfiction, Lavergne's simple sentences are simple because are honed. They aren't polished to remove the rough edges, they're sharpened into weapons. Lavergne has craft, even when portraying simple thoughts (see I Have An Illegal Aviary, Through The Corn). Reading his stories is like firing a machine gun into your frontal lobes. His stories are long enough to work out their ideas, but no longer. In the hands of a different author, stories like The Fluid could be stretched to novel length without any benefit.

Lavergne is apparently Australian. Come on Australia, don't you have grants for authors? April feels like it could be included in an English language textbook to be dissected by generations of indifferent schoolchildren. What a legacy.

The Inherent Goodness of the Glowering Malcontent

A poem about human nature that's very fun to read aloud. I used the final lines an epigraph in the Sci-Fi chapter of the Monster Overhaul. I like putting cycles and patterns in my books, and it pleases meif no one elsethat the epigraph in the final chapter pairs with the epigraph in Chapter 1: People, which is taken from the first lines of Wisława Szymborska's A Word on Statistics.

So on a list that contains Szymborska, Shakespeare, Milton, Lucretius, the author of Ecclesiastes, and Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay... you can also find Max Lavergne. Which is arguably a condemnation of my tastes, but it's my book and nobody reads epigraphs anyway.

Final Notes

If there is any justice in the world, the blind idiot god of publishing will reach down and pluck Lavergne like a delicate flower, put him in a vase, and water him with fame and treasure, or even with moderate recognition and a mass market paperback, and perhaps a sly reference in an HBO series. In the meantime, you can buy a collection of his works, Blue Night At The Cult. Print copies are not currently available, but you can get an ebook for Kindle or Kobo.


OSR: Behind the Curtain: Sessions 5-12 Examination

I'm trying a new series of posts, where I examine my RPG sessions in detail, trying to show how I GM, what rulings I make, and issues that a narrative writeup can conceal. This type report is a lot easier to write immediately after the session, but the detailed behind-the-scenes reports often took as long, or longer, than the play reports. I don't have time to maintain that kind of output, so this is a condensed and squished version of the last few sessions.

This post won't make much sense if you haven't read the narrative session reports.

Session Reports:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,

Session Examinations: 1, 2, 3, 4,

Spoilers below. In the unlikely event that any of my players see this post, skip it. Trust me.


OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 11 & 12 - Small Business Owners

 In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Experienced The Same Day Twice
  • Thumbed Their Noses At The Universe
  • Discovered At Least One Vast Conspiracy

The PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, and accidental inventor of the Jonty Suit.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby. Saved from certain death by time travel.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Motivated by truth, justice, and tobacco.

Igor Burlakov

he first thing we do," Jonty said, "let's hire all the lawyers."

"All the lawyers?" Tom said.

"Well, some of the lawyers. What we did in the river - the portal to another world, the monstrous entity that crawled through it, the property damage and mass panic, etc. - was arguably illegal."

"The paper said no persons of quality were killed or injured," Tom said.

"Nevertheless. Lawyers to the ramparts," Jonty said. "And then, to the College. I have no doubt the faculty will have questions for you."

Lizzy gasped. "They won't expel him, will they?"

Jonty sighed. "Knowing wizards, they'll want to determine what he did, how he did it, and why, and then give him a medal." 

"It wasn't even me!" Tom said. "Guffy, Jeremy, and Nedrick did most of it. I was merely present."

"You did blast the creature with a lightning bolt," Dr. Hartwell said. 

"Oh, yes, but I had nothing to do with summoning it," Tom said, unconvincingly. His new fiery eyes made any claims of magical innocence difficult to take seriously. Eyes like that suggested cackling and ultimatums were moments away.

The law firm of Dewey, Howe, and Nephew listened to Jonty's summary of the facts, accepted a generous retainer, and promised to shield the group from legal responsibility for the previous night's events. With a pocket full of business cards and an air of invincibility, Jonty lead Tom onto campus.

Dean Bradewort, the Dean of Magic, held court in the Tortoiseshell* Lecture Hall. The porters gently steered Tom and Jonty towards the hall, making it clear that they were the last of the experimental wizards to arrive, and that the Dean was in a fine temper. "He hates getting up early," the porter explained.

*pronounced "tortoises-hell" by waggish students.

"Mr. Shambledwake!", the Dean shouted as Tom entered. "We meet agwain. How mysterwious." He rapped his cane against the side of his wheelchair and pointed at an empty seat. "Sit!"

Tom obediently sat. Jeremy Golt, Guffy Chesterton, and Nedrick Bilgent, the other three wizards behind the Jonty Cage (as well as the eels it was meant to lure) sat next to him. They looked as if they hadn't got any sleep, while Tom, despite his time-travel caper, looked both refreshed and polished. He tried to speak a few encouraging words, but the Dean cut him off.

"Siwence! You! Shambledwake! What is your part in these pwoceedings? We have heard," he said, for the benefit of the crowd of students and faculty members in the hall, "of the cwircumstwances of the swummoning, but the twestimony so far weveals you called the whitening."

"I did," Tom said, after puzzling over the Dean's question for a few moments. "I freely admit it. The summoned creature was rampaging. As per Curwen's Law, what one raises up one must also put down, and so I put it down," he said, having brushed up on his magical customs on the cab ride to the College. Curwen's Law lacked legal force, but it was the sort of thing that impressed Summoners and other wizards. 

"With a witening bolt from a cwear sky? In the cwenter of Endon?" the Dean rasped.


"Fwashy," Dean Bradewort muttered. "You damme young spwellswingers. No sense of pwoportion."

Tom wisely decided to remain silent. The Dean, after a few more remarks on the state of young people these days, returned to the matter at hand. "So you did not cweate the dewice, Mr. Shambledwake?"

"I did not."

"Stwange. It seems no wizard here cweated it. It must have spwung from the aether," the Dean said sarcastically. "For you all saw it cweated, but did not put twool to mewtal, as it were."

"Ah!" Jonty said, from the back of the room. "If it is of any assistance, the design was mine. I drew it on a napkin."

Dean Bradewort goggled at Jonty for a few moments. Several other senior wizards turned. "You?" the Dean said. "And you are? Wait. I know that fwace."

"I am Assistant Professor Jonty Earl," Jonty said.

"Yes!" the Dean shouted. "Fwaculty of Law. Why are you gowing about dewining magical dewices? Damme impertiwent of you!"

"I only meant to..."

"Be qwiet, Mr. Earwl!" the Dean bellowed, looking around for something to hurl at the Assistant Professor. "As you are no wizard,  you are neither welcome nor wequired at this inquwry. You are supwerfluwus."

Jonty fell back in his seat, chagrined. He'd expected some hostility, but to be  told he was irrelevant... Still, he noticed, several other senior wizards were eyeing him with keep interest, as if he was a particularly large frog in their salad. 

"Nowww," Dean Bradewort wobbled, "we must examine the wather stwange location of the summoning. You chwose the wiver Burwl," he said. "This pwesents some pwoblems. The laws of Endon which descwibe magical malfwesance in summoning mention the "soil of Endon". The wiver, by accident or design," he said, squinting at the students, "is not the 'soil of Endon'."

Guffy brightened up and elbowed Tom in the ribs. "He's right you know!"

"Siwence, Mr. Chesterton!" the Dean said. "I therefowre find no existing stwatute to puwnish you. For inadvisably applied magic, I fine you each 5 gold pieces. As the one holding the dewice at the time of the incurwsion, Mr. Golt is placed on academic pwobation, and must write a wery long essay on a twopic to be chosen later." He coughed loudly. "And as you wefuse to weveal why you conswucted the dewice, and why you tested it in the wiver, I feel that this inquiwy is at an end. That is aaawl. Dismiswed!"

The dismissal seemed to affect only Dean Bradewort, who, after hitting his assistant with a cane, was wheeled from the room, leaving the students and senior wizards to debate the results of the inquiry among themselves. 

"So you designed the device, eh? Professor Turnspit," the man said, extending a hand. "Don't believe we've met. I teach 'Things That Should and Should Not Be' on Tuesdays."

Jonty, who'd met the professor at least twice before, shook his hand and tried to speak, but Prof. Aster, the local specialist on rifts and thaumic convergence zones, intervened. 

"You seem to be shaking slightly. A side-effect of the device?" Prof. Aster asked.

"No, only of SpaceBeans coffee," Jonty joked. 

The wizards peered at him with concern. "You haven't been drinking that stuff, have you? Gods and devils. Well, best of luck. Now on to this device of yours. What did you say you made it from?"

After a few minutes of flattery, Jonty offered to hand over the Jonty Suit (which he kept in a carpet bag) for "academic research only", retaining all rights to patents and commercial applications. As Prof. Aster was known to shriek at the sight of lawyers and Prof. Turnspit thought banknotes were a device to lure the credulous away from the fiscal security of gold, he felt relatively safe leaving the device in their capable hands, especially since he left it in all four of their hands. Sharing knowledge did not come easily to wizards. 

Jeremy, Guffy, and Nedrick were delighted to be let off with a relatively light fine, even though they had, between them, three silver pieces and a dried beetle. Money was only money. The eels were dead (for Jonty hadn't mentioned the eel he'd stored in the Mandrake Room). Assuming no one found the money to sue them, all their problems were over.

Meanwhile, Tom was surrounded by what seemed like every elementalist on campus. His lightning accumulator had given him a reputation. His extremely public demonstration of his prowess - calling a massive lightning bolt from a clear sky - had spawned a legend. Lightning, formerly an unstable and unpredictable force, had been tamed. A new era of magic was dawning.

"With a lightning bolt like that, we could electrify all of Endon for thirty seconds," a wizard burbled. 

"And that would be... good?" Tom replied, slightly lost.

"Oh no, dreadful. Thousands would die. But still! Think of the power!" 

They decided to hold a conference on "New Discoveries in Lightning" in one month's time, on campus, for academic wizards and selected members of the public only. Anyone with a theory of lightning, a lightning-based machine, or a new type of burn cream was welcome to speak. Tom, of course, was assured of a warm reception. 

The next order of business was to collect Doyle, Lizzy, and Dr. Hartwell, and sort out this time travel business with Edward Konivov. 39A Obar St. was, they were pleased to see, intact. Edward slid open the door when they knocked, scowled, and ushered them inside.

"May I introduce Miss Ramchander," Jonty said. "She is the woman we saved using your machine. Err, it's all rather confusing, but..."

"Did Snedge go into the machine before us or after us?" Doyle asked sharply.

"Who? Oh, that horrible man. He ran in after you. I didn't have time to say anything. And then he came out before you - which is terribly interesting, by the by, and implies several unexpected aspects about the nature of the time funnel - and threatened my life. I felt it inadvisable to mention him to you when we met before," Edward said.

"Ah. And is the machine still operating?" Jonty said. Edward glanced at the twisted mass of fused metal, shattered gems, and tangled wire that filled most of the workshop, then gave Jonty a withering look.

"No. It collapsed shortly after you entered. Still, these things can't be helped," he said. "With another 30,000gp in materials I should have a much better machine working within a few years." The group wasn't sure whether or not the sum seemed too high or too low. It was certainly more than they could raise.

Edward seemed to snap back to reality. "But all of this is irrelevant. You!" he said, pointing at Tom and rattling with rage. "Deceived me!"

"I did not," Tom said, mildly aghast. He was, at heart, an honest fellow. 

"You said you were Mr. Shambledrake!"

"I am Mr. Shambledrake," Tom protested.

"But not the Mr. Shambledrake that funded my research," Edward said. "Not the right Mr. Shambledrake at all. Tallerand came to see me. Said I was a fool for letting you in at all, and that I've probably spoiled The Project."

Jonty felt his world wobble on its axis. "You know Professor Tallerand?" he gurgled.

"Of course I know him! You know him too! He said... well I won't repeat what he said about you. What is your opinion on the Project? At first, I thought you must be on the other side, but now I'm not so sure."

"What is the Project?" Lizzy asked.

Edward stared at the group. "You mean you don't know? Oh my."

"Mr. Kovinov, we know almost nothing about almost everything," Dr. Hartwell said dejectedly.

"Ah. Well, then, in brief, the Project involves the conquest of death. Gentlemen," he said, ignoring Lizzy, "if we can travel back in time to the moment a person dies, we can save them. We can - and we will - save everyone. We will build a heaven here on earth. A rational heaven of just laws and eternal freedom."

Jonty frowned. "Switching bodies? That seems impractical at best. We tried it with a flesh golem and it was a very touchy operation."

"I'm dead!" Lizzy added helpfully. Doyle sighed and, once again, gently explained how Lizzy was very much alive, thanks to time travel and a teleport spell.

"That's Tallerand's portion. Not crude substitutions, but extractions of mind and soul, and transference to imperishable and improved bodies, bodies fit for paradise. Want and hunger, disease and death, banished forever." Edward raised his hands. The group considered Tallerand's research in a new and disturbing light.

"And you think this is possible?" Jonty said. "Here and now? Your machine is broken. Tallerand is a fugitive. You have..."

"We have begun," Edward said. "Others may fill our places, but we owe the future an honest attempt, with all our strength. Someone must lay the first stone. And we have proven - you have proven, even - that our plan is possible. Every human who has ever lived, gentlemen! Not revived as some gruesome spirit or faded echo, but alive again, renewed, and free. The past, all our pasts, is merely prologue."


"Right, so he's mad," Jonty said, in the cab. "Mad as an unventilated alchemist."

"I don't know, he seemed very nice," Lizzy said quietly.

"Do you think my late uncle Uriah, or my, err, cousin Uriah Ess Dot Jay Dot R Dot," Tom said, remembering that saying 'Uriah Shambledrake Jr.' seemed to summon ominous sound effects, "actually funded his research, or is this a front for Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl?"

"I'm not sure," Doyle said, adding a new card to his mental conspiracy web. 

"We seem to know less than when we began," Dr. Hartwell said. "Why does this always happen?"

"What now? Should we find Professor Tallerand and ask him about this Project?" Tom said. Having recently met Tallerand on both sides of their time jump, Dr. Hartwell and Jonty suggested that they avoid the biomancer-turned-necromancer for the time being. 

"I should speak with my sister and return to work," Dr. Hartwell said. "And Jonty should rest."

"I'm fine," Jonty said. "I feel good! I feel great! This SpaceBeans coffee is wonderful stuff!"

"I am a doctor and I say you must rest."


Late that night, Doyle Wormsby heard someone tap at his office door. It was Alfonso the Hydra, the allegedly kidnapped illusionist, still disguised as a foreigner. Theatrical makeup, a thick robe, a turban, sandals, a smell of tinned spices formed a disguise impenetrable to most credulous Endoners. 

Alfonso hinted at a threat to his safety that had to be resolved before he could drop his disguise and join Doyle and company to talk investments and industrial applications. "They are still after me," he said knowingly.

"They?" Doyle asked, lighting what was either his thirtieth or first cigarette of the day.

"The... Small Business Owners. But I have a plan to mollify them."

"Ah," Doyle said. "Who are the small business owners?"

Alfonso started to speak, then shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me. You have to see them."

Half an hour later, Doyle performed the strangest burglary of his life. At Alfonso's instruction, he broke into a very expensive cheese shop, pilfered a 10lb wheel, and, with trembling fingers, left exact payment on the counter. "Why?" he said.

"I'm not a thief," Alfonso whispered, "and the shop is closed."

"But why cheese?"

"You'll see." 

Half an hour after that, Alfonso lead Doyle to a burned tenement house in Hasselby Court. They slipped into the basement. Alfonso placed the cheese on the remains of a table and stood back. Doyle eyed him with keen interest. 

"Ah. It's me, Alfonso," the illusionist said to the air. "I'm very sorry about our, ah, our previous dealings. I've brought you a cheese. This is Doyle Wormsby. He's a friend of mine," he said, looking pleadingly at Doyle, "and a working man."

Slowly, without a sound, dozens of rats emerged from holes in the soot-stained brickwork. Some of them wore little waistcoats. Others carried green banners. One of them, to Doyle's mild surprise, wore spectacles. Ever since he'd spotted a remarkably intelligent-looking rat listening to a Copper's address to a crowd, Doyle had considered the possibility of a society of sapient rats in Endon, and factored them into his conspiracies. A card marked "RATS?!?" held a place of prominence on his wall. He could cross off those two question marks now. The rats - very small business owners indeed - were real. 

"Ah." Doyle said. "Hello."

A knot of rats formed, debated in squeaks, then managed a passable "hello" in reply. Their combined voice was difficult to interpret, like stuck door or a creaking floor. Other lines of rats were carving neat slices off the wheel of cheese using a wire and pulley system.

"We'll just.. be going then," Alfonso said. "All is squared away. I'm going to be working with Doyle now. None of that business with the snakes anymore."

As Alfonso backed out of the room, a swarm of other rats with blue banners and blue waistcoats burst into the room. They fell upon the green-clad rats with astonishing fury. The floor was a carpet of fur, teeth, tails, blood, fabric, tiny scraps of paper, and lumps of cheese. "Run!" Alfonso said, and Doyle didn't hesitate.

"What?" he said, when they reached the street, and waited for Alfonso to fill in the most facts.

"They're... rats. Thinking, talking rats. They form revolutionary factions, though I can't tell them apart. They're always changing. Rats don't live very long, two to three years, probably less in Endon," Alfonso burbled. "Barely enough time to train the next generation in basic political theory when pop, dead, and the whole process starts over. But they're organizing."

"What do they want?" Doyle said. "Apart from cheese."

"Some of them want to kill all the humans. Some of them want to redistribute property, then kill all the humans. Some of them want to kill just the nobility. They're generally mad about how the world is organized and they want to do something about it. Can you blame them?" 

"How do you know all this?" 

"The rats sometimes came to the theater," Alfonso said. "Who could we tell? Nobody believes actors."

"And you made enemies of the rats?"

"I thought I'd go into the ratcatching business. I made an illusionary snake that could capture and spit out rats. Very intelligent, perfectly obedient. A good spell. But some of the rats were the thinking kind, and they declared me an enemy of the revolution."

"Did you make an illusionary rat-catching snake before or after learning that there are organized intelligent rats in Endon?" Doyle said. Alfonso looked sheepish. "Oh no."

"I needed the money!"

Tooth and Tail Concept Art

Doyle took Alfonso to the group's townhouse on Endon's western edge, reasoning that it was the safest place to store him until morning. The illusionist was so tired that he slept upright on the sitting room couch, while Doyle slept in an armchair in the hall. As the sun rose, every middle-class neighbor found some excuse to pass by the house and glance inside, sometimes recoiling in shock.

As the group breakfasted, Doyle relate the unbelievable truth behind the "small business owners". Jonty immediately decided to recruit the rats as spies, or, at the very least, see if they knew anything about the group's nebulous collection of enemies. Dr. Hartwell, on the other hand, was genuinely intrigued. He secretly empathized with the revolutionary aims of the rats, and decided that he could help. 

"Try to sneak Alfonso out the back door," Lizzy said. "And take him to Krahlhammer's. Wash that ridiculous paint off his face first. In the light of day he looks like a wilted carrot."

Alfonso and Doyle snuck out via the back garden, to avoid the suspicious number of dog-walkers, window-washers, and houseplant-waterers in the front street. As they passed the gate, a frost-covered and ill-omened figure rose from the dustbins and tackled Alfonso. "Snedge!" Doyle shouted, and leapt onto the pile, just as Snedge activated a teleport spell. All three vanished with a thunderclap of displaced air.

Johan Egerkrans

Doyle hit the ground with enough force to knock the wind out of him. His mind raced. Floorboards. Diffuse sunlight. Chalk marks? He rolled, saw Snedge trying to rise to his feet, and fired a light spell at the nefarious minion's face. Snedge recoiled, screaming and covering his eyes. Doyle yanked the teleporter amulet off his neck, snapping the leather cord, then gave him a solid blow on the nose. Snedge backed away, fists raised, uttering foul oaths.

With a sense of foreboding, Doyle then turned to survey the room. It looked like an old dining hall. A long table and chairs rested under oilcloths. Two doors, presumably to the stairs or passageways. And, sitting on a chair, a small round-headed man in a dark brown suit watched Doyle with mild amusement.

"Ah. And you are? Snedge, be still a moment."

"Doyle Wormsby. Private Investigator," Doyle said automatically. 

"Ah. I am Morgan, of Morgan and Trent, Solicitors and Barristers. My card." Doyle examined it, then handed over a card of his own.

"Congratulations, Mr. Wormsby," Morgan said. "You have completed a kidnapping case."

"I use the term 'solved'," Doyle said. 

"Solved a kidnapping case, then. You have restored Mr. Alfonso to us." Morgan said, his smile stopping just short of his cheeks. Deep madness glittered in his eyes, the madness of compound interest and convoluted contracts.

"Yes, and we should all go to the Coppers immediately," Doyle said. 

"Of course. Incidentally, the debts Mr. Alfonso owes to our, ah, patron, Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, are entirely legal and well documented. Which member of the Metropolitan Police did you have in mind? Victus Crane, was it?"

"He's been taken off this case," Doyle said, then added with a flash of insight. "As you are no doubt aware." He was pleased to see Morgan blink. 

"If you say so. Oh, that reminds me. You are an... associate of Mr. Shambledrake and Mr. Earl, are you not? I have a letter for them," Morgan said, producing an envelope and holding it just out of reach. "I was going to post it, but it simply slipped my mind. Would you mind delivering it to them?"

"What sort of letter?" Doyle said.

"Quite an ordinary one. It says, in so many words, that the debts owed by a certain John Huffman to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl are cancelled, and that any business interests Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl has in this John Huffman's works are equally cancelled. His Lordship is feeling magnanimous today, as Mr. Alfonso has been restored to us," the lawyer said.

Doyle stared at the letter and tried to think. If Morgan had the letter prepared, did he anticipate the teleport kidnapping going awry? Was this future sight or merely excessive caution? Was the letter a bluff? 

"Horse trading," Doyle said.

"Just so," Morgan replied. "I am pleased to see that you have grasped the essence of the matter."

"May I read the letter?"

"It is not addressed to you, so no, I am afraid not. But I am a lawyer of some repute in Endon. My word is my bond," Morgan said. Snedge, with his handkerchief over his nose, chuckled.

Doyle considered the matter. Despite everything, he liked Alfonso, and delivering him to the minions of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl was a fate few deserved. He examined the room. Grab Alfonso and dive out the window? They were at least one floor above the street. And what street? Stick the teleporter amulet around his neck and stab him, hoping the amulet activated and whisks him away? But range, not to mention the stab wound. Go for the stairs? And then what? They had the law on their side.

"Done," Doyle said. He helped Alfonso to his feet and slipped Snedge's teleporter amulet into his pocket. It wasn't much, but it was a possible escape route. He took the letter from Morgan's hands and, with a final glance at Snedge, walked out the door and down the stairs, entering the dusty Pie and Anchor tavern in Hasselby Court. Half expecting an ambush at any moment, he got his bearings, bought a newspaper, and wedged himself into a doorway to watch the tavern. 

Ten minutes after he'd departed, Snedge, Morgan, and Alfonso entered the street and hailed a cab. Doyle hired another cab and followed them to the gates of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl's mansion in Grenville Court, then drove on. Alfonso, it seemed, had not escaped on the journey, and Doyle felt he could not offer any further assistance.

Instead, Doyle went to the offices of Nero Krahlhammer, the gel knight manufacturer, and helped himself to coffee and boiled sweets. The front office was full of irate homeowners or their servants, presenting letters demanding Krahlhammer pay for their broken windows. Tom's lightning accumulator on the roof had, during their recent time travel escapade, sent a bolt of lighting upwards, and every house in the neighborhood wished to complain about real or imagined damages. 

Doyle sent a messenger to inform the rest of the group of his narrow escape and current location. Then, with the aid of a hot knife, he cut the seal on the letter from Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl to Tom and Jonty. The contents were more-or-less as Morgan had described. Doyle carefully resealed the envelope.

The rest of the group spent the morning in a state of mild agitation. Jonty dispatched a messenger to Tom on campus, but Tom decided that Doyle could handle his own affairs, and that he'd stop in after his morning classes. Lizzy made a huge pot of very strong tea. Anna Hartwell, Dr. Hartwell's sister who was staying in the house temporarily, was very amused to hear of Alfonso's misadventures, and assumed this sort of thing happened every day in Endon.

When Doyle's note arrived, Jonty had just finished a letter to Angelica Hopewell, the newspaper reporter. It was a long and slightly incoherent letter which summarized the group's fears, named several crucial players, and asked Angelica for her help and advice. It was designed to pique the reporter's interest without revealing too much. Some of the more ridiculous aspects - the time funnel, the intelligent rats, the eels - were alluded to in vague terms, if at all.

Relieved that Doyle was still alive, but annoyed that he was on the other end of the city, the group set off to get the full story. Jonty and Tom debated the contents of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl's letter, but decided, on the whole, that it was a positive development. They now had a clear field to turn John Huffman and his calculating golem into a profitable concern. 


Early that evening, at Jonty's insistence, Doyle lead the group to the burned building where he and Alfonso had encountered the Small Business Owners. Jonty had purchased a wheel of expensive cheese and a bottle of wine.

"I'm not sure this will work," Doyle said. "Or that we'll encounter the same rats as last time. I think one faction was in green, and the other one was in blue."

"Which faction won?" Dr. Hartwell asked. Doyle shrugged. "Well, for what were they fighting?" Doyle shrugged again. 

"There's no sign of a fight," Lizzy said, checking the floor. "No banners or papers. No blood."

"And no rats. Well, let's wait." Jonty uncorked the wine and cut a delicate slice of cheese. 

Half an hour later, a solitary rat poked its head from the wall to stare at Doyle. The Private Investigator nodded politely. "We're just here to talk," he said.

Rats emerged from the ashen shadows as if by magic. Lizzy whispered, "little waistcoats!" and bent to coo at the well-dressed swarm. 

"Hello, I am Mr Jonty Earl," he said, dropping the "assistant professor" for once to mask his position in society. "I believe we - that is, you and I, are equals, as thinking beings, and I wish to extend my greetings, offer you this wine and cheese, and speak with you - if you are so inclined - on matters of mutual importance."

"Bourgeoisie! Scum!" a knot of rats squeaked in chorus. Jonty nodded gravely. Dr. Hartwell, not for the first time that evening, wondered if Jonty knew what he looked like to the working people of Endon. With his silk coat, perfect stockings, carefully polished boots, and flawless teeth, Jonty presented a picture of refinement... and a caricature of all that the rats seemed to wish to devour. 

"Do you have a summary of your aims?" Jonty asked. A group of rats presented a scrap of paper on which, with considerable effort, the rats had written a manifesto of sorts. It read:

4. Deth to All Terrierz

1. Redistribution of Moveadle Proberty 

2. Deth to Nobilty and Rich Humans an Bankers

4. Rats and Humans The Same

4. Deth To Al Teriers

Dr. Hartwell peered at it. As manifestos went, it lacked refinement, but the aims were admirable. Jonty glanced at it and, unruffled, continued.

"You must know a great deal of the secret life of Endon's elite. We understand you held some antipathy for Alfonso the Hydra," Jonty said.

"Rat killer! Traitor!" the rats squeaked.

"He has been captured, or perhaps recruited is the better word, by Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl. A fate, perhaps, worse than death. Can you offer any insight into Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl's plans?"

After some debate, a group of rats whispered "Replace! You!"

"Replace us? Us personally, or all people? And why? And for what purpose? You have many ears to the ground - I hope that phrase is not offensive - and we have many questions. We can work together! An alliance!"

"You would! Corrupt! Revolution! Subvert! Goal! Tool of system!" the rats frothed, even as they cut planks of cheese and carried it to their holes. 

"No! Wait! We have much to offer each other," Jonty said, as the rats departed.

"We will! Not! Return! Here!" they squeaked. 

"Damnation," Jonty said, as the group climbed out of the burned wreck. "I had high hopes for those rats." 

The next few day, Doyle decided to return to his office to get some proper detective work done, while the other four went to Loxdon College on separate but related errands. Tom attended classes and sketched some plans for the Lightning Conference. Dr. Hartwell searched the libraries for tales of rat-based experiments, searching partly for the origin of the intelligent rats, but mostly for spells and side-effects that put the rats to a more equitable footing with humankind. He discovered that some wizards believed that rats have similarly shaped souls to humans, though far smaller, and were therefore ideal candidates for experimental magic.

Jonty invited Lizzy to the Mandrake Room, partially to check on the eel, but with one eye towards the extremely racy etchings stored on its shelves. In his mind (and possibly in Lizzy's) mere proximity to industrial strength pornography could lead to an amusing half-hour. But alas, his hopes were shattered when he beheld an empty tank. The thaumovoric eel was gone, and in its place hundreds of fist-sized snails crawled over the walls, shelves, and books of the Mandrake Room, nibbling on spell scrolls and soaking in the diffuse magic. A constellation of shining shells dotted the ceiling.

"Eee," Jonty said, pointing. "EeeeeeEeeee!"

"Oh, snails!" Lizzy said, and picked one up. Jonty's eyes bulged. The snail did not do anything unusual... at first. "Ooh, it's getting heavier," Lizzy said, then dropped the snail onto the flagstones. It hit like a cannonball, shattering one of the stones, then slowly righted itself and began the long and slimy journey towards the nearest wall.

"Ah. Don't... touch anything," Jonty said. "I will go and fetch Nedrick Bilgent." Nedrick was one of the original members of the Eel Summoning Club, which became the Eel Hunting Club, and could probably explain why one eel had become many snails. Jonty vaguely remembered some mention of the "Snail Method". He hit Nedalward Hall like a cyclone, dragged Nedrick out of bed, and hauled him to the Mandrake Room while explaining the nature of the issue.

"Aaaaah!" Nedrick said, pointing at the snails. "Aaaaah! Ooooh!"

"Words!" Jonty said.

"That shouldn't have happened! It's very exciting, of course, but also alarming. We used the Snail Method on the eels, originally, to make them breed. If you have a species that doesn't breed well in captivity, you can polymorph it into a snail, because snails breed quickly and lay lots of eggs. But they shouldn't turn back into snails!" Nedrick paused, carefully picked up a snail, and lowered it into a canvas bag.

"Are they supposed to get heavier?" said Lizzy, while prodding a snail with a bar of soap from one of her many pockets. Jonty and Nedrick stared at her and the snail with undisguised terror. The flagstone under the snail snapped in half, and then the snail and the bar of soap imploded into an eye-watering vortex of folded light and space. A fraction of a second later, the snail reappeared in a dish-shaped depression in the stone. 

"My skin feels all tingly," Lizzy said. "Do you feel warm? I feel warm."

"Aaah!" Jonty said, patting himself all over. "Nedrick, what was that?" But Nedrick was already running, snail-sack in hand. Above, the distant peal of thaumic alarms sounded across campus, as sensitive magical devices (frequently sewn into the hats of senior wizards) sensed a sudden wobble in the order of things. Across campus, Dr. Hartwell heard the alarms and saw a few curious students wander out of the library, but decided whatever was happening was not his concern. If the wizards started running, he'd of course run with them, provided they were running away from danger and not towards it.

"Ooh, that's not good," Jonty said thoughtfully.

"I can kill everything in this room," Lizzy said cheerfully. 

Ever since Lizzy had accidentally developed a cloudkill spell while trying to make lemon-flavoured hypergin, she'd taken to announcing that she could kill everything in a given room at regular intervals. For once, Jonty was happy to hear it.

"Unleash the spell, shut the door, and run," he said. "Ready?" Lizzy nodded, aimed her finger, squinted, and filled the Mandrake Room with thick yellow fog. The snails began to rattle. A few fell from the ceiling with colossal thumps.

"Faster!" Jonty yelled, dragging Lizzy along.

"Why," she said. "We're perfectly safe from cloudkill with the door shut."

"It's not the spell I'm worried about," Jonty replied, as they passed Nedrick on the stairs. Jonty grabbed the wizard with his other arm. Behind them, the snails collectively imploded. 

The trio emerged onto campus just in time to witness Tortoiseshell Hall folld gently in the middle. The building's wings remained intact, but the centre of the hall subsided and took the roof with it. Jonty sighed.

"Yoooou!" Prof. Bazzard bellowed as he trundled across campus. A senior wizard specializing in Abjuration, he held a thick shield of force in front of him, carving a furrow through the falling dust and debris. The magnificence of his beard and the fury in his eyes was somewhat diminished by his fuzzy slippers and his threadbare sleeping trousers.

"It wasn't me!" Nedrick shrieked, sealing his fate. 

Nikolai Lockertse

The next few weeks were a blur of diverse activities.

Doyle took a case to find a certain Sir Truckle's lost peacock. He didn't usually take lost pet cases, but business was slack. The case took an unexpected turn that left Jonty dueling a banknote forger above his vats of molten lead (for peacock blood, it transpired, was used by the Bank of Endon to proof the new bills against forgery).

Lizzy started work on a project to be in two places at once, using a duplicate self spell and a specially trained ooze template.

The group attended the public introduction of SpaceBeans Coffee's revolutionary Exhaustion Transfer System, which (so the founder Zeverance Revelstan claimed) would allow anyone to stay awake indefinitely, provided they hired a servant to receive excess exhaustion. Against the advice of Dr. Hartwell, Jonty paid 250gp for a wand, a tasteful case, and some instructional literature. 

Tom, after several feverish nights of effort, created a prototype Lightning Inverter, which could turn a very small amount of lightning into a slightly smaller amount of raw magic. A lightning bolt spell turns raw magic into lightning (just as a cow produces milk), but the free lightning drawn from the atmosphere by Tom's Lightning Accumulator was now, in theory, free magic. A storm-drawn bolt easily contained twenty or more charges, or a few hundred megathaums of magic. A full-scale Lightning Inverter connected to a Lightning Accumulator could beat even the largest standard magic accumulators for speed and efficiency. 

Angelica Hopwell contacted Jonty. The intrepid reporter believed Jonty was thoroughly mad and equally deceitful, but was able to confirm a few rumours. She'd heard rumours of a Shambledrake stalking the dark streets of Endon "with an axe of black glass, making deals with unsavory wizards", and assumed it was Tom. Tom denied it, of course, but nevertheless fascinated. The group demonstrated the mysterious omens that always seemed to follow the name "Uriah Shambledrake Junior" (thunder crashing, chimney pots falling, neighbors falling off ladders, etc.). Angelica said that the rumours surrounding Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl were "no better and no worse than any gentleman of his set", and refused to believe Tallerand was still alive, but the name Edward Konivov caused a reaction. 

She reported that Konivov occasionally placed cryptic advertisements in major newspapers, and sometimes lectured at Mechanics Associations, little libraries and lecture halls that were sprouting in Endon like mushrooms after the rain, funded by voluntary contributions and unseen donors. Doyle had investiated them idly, in his eternal quest for truth, and was delighted to find a link connecting them to the other factions at work in Endon. His web developed a third dimension, unfolding into a tangle of hanging cards and looped string.

And finally, Dr. Hartwell's search for experts in polymorphing rats lead him to the Leonine Cartel and Bartelby Spuggs, founding member of the Endon Whale Oil refinery. His team of wizards unreliably polymorphed pigeons, rats, cats, and stray dogs into whales, then slaughtered and boiled them for increasingly cheap whale oil.

Lizzy, informed of this later, announced that "every home in Endon will soon have its own whale abattoir!" 

For 1,000gp in hard cash (secretly obtained via a loan from the First Commercial Bank) Dr. Hartwell bought a stake in the Leonine Cartel, and promised to lend both his reputation and expertise to their future exploits. Cheap and abundant meat could solve many of the problems plaguing Endon's poor.

"Just stop using rats," he said. "They carry diseases."

Then Dr. Hatwell paused and smiled to himself. "Use terriers instead."

Joseph Wright

What is the true nature of The Project? How will the group fund all their endeavours? What is Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl's objective? Of all the fuses they have lit, which will be the first to reach a powder keg?

Find out next time.


OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 9 - A Tale Of Two Snedges

 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:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, and accidental inventor of the Jonty Suit.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby. Currently dead.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator.
Always on a case.

Alexey Egorov

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!" 

Maxim Zaytsev

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."

Timecrimes (2007)
 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.

Jan Matejko

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?"

Maxim Zaytsev

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?"

"Err, hide."

"Who from?"

"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."

"You're serious."


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.