2022/11/28

OSR: Magical Medicine in Endon

Magical healing is perilous. In the middle of a dungeon, with the nearest village a dozen miles away and the prospect of treasure just around the corner, few adventurers worry about the source, scalability, or consequences of healing magic.

In Endon, medicine is still the domain of quacks, experimentalists, and young disreputable doctors. As the game's Tempo increases, "Heal-At-Home" wands and patent medicines proliferate.

Jakub Bazyluk

1. Healing Potions

Healing potions allow someone to keep fighting at peak efficiency when they otherwise wouldn't be able to. It's hard to maim someone just a little bit with an axe, so only the best ones actually close wounds or replace blood. Many aren't even magical. Some of the cheapest, sold to factory workers or exhausted dockyard hands, are made from magical runoff or water stored in thaumically contaminated barrels. A bit of ginger, molasses, yeast, and dye can make ordinary water from the River Burl into a cheap potion.

Side Effects May Include:

  • Addiction. Not nessesarily to the magical properties (if any). Many "improved" healing potions include laudanum, coca leaves, or strange and untested herbs. It is a stimulating era.
  • Self-Injury. Fatigue and pain are sometimes useful signals. 
  • Cancer. Potion-swilling adventurers rarely live long enough to experience the long-term side effects of prolongued cellular stimulation. Potion companies in Endon deny any links between healing and cancer.

2. Extract Venom 

Spells of separation and purification have a long and troubled history in magical healing. Many common spells will separate patient and poison... in two appropriately sized buckets. A spell that aims to draw out an impurity in the blood can, if misaligned, draw out the blood instead. Dr. Hartwell pioneered the use of extract venom at Blumsworth Hospital, saving patients from the grips of opium, mercury, and arsenic. 

Side Effects May Include:

  • Failure to Find. While "venom" is a broad category, and Dr. Hartwell constantly works to broaden it, some diseases or conditions simply do not have an easily treatable liquid source. Luckily, extract venom fails gently, instead of deciding to yank something out of the patient, but not all spells are so polite.
  • DTs. Extracting opium or alcohol from a habitual user can result in seizures and death.
  • Inadvertent Purification. The spell extracts only pure (or relatively pure) substances. If a poison was made of several compounds, the suddenly purified liquid can react in unusual ways.

3. Skeleton Rays

Bone is magically resonant. A high thaumic field can temporarily reveal a creature's skeleton as shadows inside flesh, but this is less of a diagnostic technique and more of a warning sign. Still, spells that target bones specifically are common, even if a few skirt the line between medicine and necromancy. Spells like osteoblastwave and calcify can, if used carefully, heal shattered limbs or dented skulls.

Side Effects May Include: 

  • Leaping Bone Syndrome (where the skeleton, lightly empowered by ambient magical energy and definitely not temporarily animated because that would be necromancy) moves faster or more forcefully than the rest of the body. 
  • Fused or Additional Joints.
  • Antlers.
  • Elbow Spikes. Endon's army is very interested in anyone who can develop bone spurs, as they believe it will save money on weapons.

4. Alter Self

For the sufficiently wealthy, magic creams or personal wizards can halt the physical signs of aging... in theory. In practice, there are aspects of aging that magic cannot conceal. Joints still ache. Revitalized skin develops a waxy sheen. Muscles freeze or twitch unexpectedly. And culturally, in Endon, age is associated with wisdom and vanity with incapability.

Side Effects May Include: 

  • Dreadful Revelations. In a high magic field, alterations can reverse themselves. The classic "wizard melts into a decrepit living skeleton" is a staple image in penny dreadfuls. Illusionary glamours are more vulnerable than biomancy, but they are far cheaper.
  • Octarine Striations. Discerning wizards can detect traces of magic in fatty tissues and bones. Occasional use is (apparently) harmless; repeated use can lead to discoloration visible through the skin.
  • Uncanny Symmetry. The caster's judgement and memory are used to determine the spell's fine details. A careless wizard can create a face that looks almost right, but is subtly wrong. A very careless wizard can forget to include pores or eyelids.
Thomas Elliott

5. Polymorph

How does polymorph work? Are a creature's parts rearranged (bones become bones, nerves become nerves), or is the creature reduced to elementary thaumic particles, which are reassembled in a new configuration? If the former, how can several lbs of human brain turn into a tenth of an oz of pigeon brain? If the latter, how are memories - which some wizards believe reside solely in the squishy matter of the brain - preserved? Polymorphing a dying creature into a healthy one (or, frequently, a whole-but-dead one) is known as wizard's restoration, just as cure light wounds is sometimes called cleric's featherfall. The Leonine Cartel is delving into the possibilities of polymorph. Medical experimentation is only one of their ventures.

Side Effects May Include:

  • Critical Existence Failure. Polymorph is deadly, and when it fails, the results get scraped off the walls and buried in a lead-lined coffin. Wizards rarely publicize that part.
  • Dybuk Syndrome.
  • Morphic Instability. Some biomancers believe lycanthropes and other shape-changers were created through misused polymorph spells.

6. Fractional Teleport

Teleportation falls into 3 categories. True teleportation folds the target elsewhere and unfolds them at the destination. Risks include being lost between dimensions, unfolding into the middle of a wall, or misfolding on arrival. Reciprocal teleportation exchanges two volumes and masses. Differences in velocity, mass, or position can easily lead to splattering or slicing. False teleportation turns the target into mist or particles, which flow and reassemble at the destination. Fusing with objects at the destination, losing mass along the way, or simply failing to rematerialize are well-known mishaps.

Wizards dream of teleporting a disease out of a body. Surgery in Endon is extremely risky. The abdomen is a pulsating cave of horrors; individual organs are creatures best left alone. Separating a victim from a bullet, or a patient from an internal and growing tumour, is a task few surgeons will undertake without preparing their patient for the grave. Inject a tumour with antimagic liquids (including compounds of lead), then teleporting the rest of the body, could - in theory - leave the tumour behind. In practice, teleport spells have been carefully bred to keep their target in one piece, and convincing them to split a target into two controllable pieces is extremely difficult. Teleportation is not a discipline any hedge wizard or dabbler can pick up with a few weeks of study.

7. Restoration

Flesh seems to have an innate memory. Restoration-type spells turn back the clock (without, apparently, involving actual time travel), curing an illness or repairing a limb by prompting the body's memory of a past and healthy form. 

Side Effects May Include: 

  • Partial Neoteny. Reversion to an inconveniently early date. A child-sized arm is better than no arm at all, but a child-sized head can lead to madness. Glands are important, though Endon's doctors aren't entirely sure why.
  • Extruded Teeth. Restoring teeth by magic inevitably leads to the madhouse. Wizards are warned against it in every biomancy text, just after the warnings about necromancy but before the warnings about summoning venemous snakes in a darkened room. The illustrated plates are proverbially nightmarish.

8. Inadvisable Treatments

  • Troll Organs. Fresh troll blood and a quick hand with a scalpel can, according to back-alley legends, turn any doctor into a miracle worker... and any patient into a troll. 
  • Stasis. What can't be cured now can, in theory, be cured in the future. For an enormous fee, some wizards will lock a patient in a stasis spell and attach a label. Good luck!
  • Flesh to Stone. Sculpt your way out of a problem. Usually only makes the problem worse, as a slip of the chisel can sever an artery or smash a rib. Additional stone (added as plaster dust or clay) does not always know what sort of flesh it should become when the spell is reversed.
  • Lightning. Sometimes seems to revitalize dead tissues. Sometimes does nothing. Reliable alchemical lightning generators do not yet exist in Endon, but shocking grasp is relatively cheap.
  • Tuberculosis Pyrotherapy. Breathe fire is a spell with limited utility. But with it, and a strong resist flame spell, a patient can scour their lungs with fire, leaving the tissues unharmed but burning the nodules of consumption to ash. The cure works, but the spells required are sufficiently powerful that few can afford it, and fewer still are willing to dive head-first into a furnace.

Divine Magic

Grimelsnabe, God of Blood and Conquest, might heal a wounded adventurer during a quest to rob the Temple of the Five-Eyed Snake Goddess Smorgsrilla, but He is unlikely to heal Mrs. Thursdown of 44 Chusterby Lane, as Mrs. Thursdown is unlikely to play a role in Grimelsnabe's divine plots.

Endoners believe they are more pious than Foreigners. Gods in Foreign Parts require sacrifices, chanting, and a great deal of flattery. It's all very undignified. Endon's gods are a bit like deputy ministers. One is aware that they exist, presumably they're doing good work, and they must have names one could look up somewhere, but they shouldn't require constant public validation.

Oglaf (NSFW)

2022/11/14

OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 8 - The Jonty Suit

 In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Met Two Mathematicians
  • Did Not Kidnap An Actor
  • Scrutinized Eels
  • Endured the Waggling of the Eyebrows

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, with delicate fingers in many pies.

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 (of no fixed portfolio) to Doyle Wormsby.

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

Igor Burlakov

The first order of business was to wash Nero Krahlhammer's boots. Someone had coated them in river mud to frame him for the kidnapping of Alfonso the Hydra. After few buckets of water and some vigorous scrubbing, the boots returned to their home in the cupboard, and Nero returned to his usual state of mildly paranoid civility. 

After tea and tinned biscuits, Doyle suggested the group visit his office and wait for the Coppers to arrive. He'd asked Victus Crane, Thaumaturgic Detective (or "Deeker") to send someone around to investigate the apparent burglary. 

"Fheeeew," the gormless-looking constable said an hour later, glancing around Doyle's office. "The burglars ransacked the place, eh? Signs of ransackery in all quarters."

"No, it always looks like this," Lizzy said cheerfully. 

The constable scowled. "What, with the papers on the floor?"

"I know where everything is," Doyle said defensively.

"Ah, so, what exactly was stolen?" he said, taking out his notebook.

"Nothing was stolen. But the burglars used magic to open the door - you can see the residue on the lock - and then took iconographs. See the scratch marks from the tripod?" Doyle said, pointing to some almost imperceptible marks on the floor. "Next to that apple core. See?"

The constable looked, scowled, and said, "What were these iconographs of?"

"Of the room! Of my current cases!" Doyle had left up his web of red string and cards connecting everyone in Endon into a vast network of intrigue. Any spy would have their work cut out for them separating the chaff of paranoia from the grains of truths.

"You kept iconographs of your office in your office? Odd way to decorate," the Constable said. "Were the frames valuable?"

"No you don't understand, the thieves took iconographic images of my rooms."

"I don't think that's a crime. Unless they were salacious photos without the lady's consent," the constable said, clearly remembering a fragment of his training. "Was the lady from Salacia?" he ventured.

Doyle groaned. "There was no lady. The thief or thieves broke in using magic, made iconographic images of my rooms and confidential files, then left. Now is that a crime or not?"

"There's no need to take that tone with me," the Copper said. "I'll check with the Inspector."

A few moments later, Inspector Victus Crane, who'd clearly been listening just around the bend of the corridor, entered Doyle's office and surveyed the group for the second time that morning. He gently dismissed the constable, examined the scratch marks, and sighed.

"I will, of course, make the appropriate inquiries. If I was a suspicious man which," he added, "I am, I might think you concocted this story to show me that Alfonso the Hydra was not a prisoner in your office."

"Why would we kidnap Alfonso the Hydra? And if we did, why would we bring him here of all places?" Doyle asked.

"I'm sure I have no idea, but nevertheless, the idea is compelling. On a related note, I should mention - confidentially of course - that the case of Alfonso the Hydra is no longer my concern. Apparently," he said, with a trace of venom, "it was not a magical crime, despite the magical equipment found in his apartment and traces of a knock spell on the door. I've been reassigned."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Doyle said, without a trace of sympathy.

"Indeed."

"So a private investigator could be of some use?" Lizzy said, with all the subtlety of a hurled brick.

"It is possible," Victus Crane said. "But the crime scene is still sealed, of course. Though, it is odd. Something about the urchin on the corner of this street, just outside your office, reminds me of this case." Victus smiled slyly.

Doyle scowled back. He hated this sort of cloak-and-dagger cigarette-ashes-and-acrostics detective work. Victus Crane seemed like the sort of sleuth who'd gather all the suspects in a room and reveal, while gloating, how he solved the case based on a deep knowledge of ceramics and strand of lilac fabric. Doyle didn't hold with that sort of behavior.

After Victus Crane departed and Jonty got over his paranoid jitters, the group decided to follow the Deeker's advice. The urchin on the street corner was fleecing the crowd with a find-the-lady game. The Endon variant uses tin cups, a wooden ball, and a bit of practical sleight-of-hand. The PCs watched and ruminated.

"It's got to be a hint," Tom said helpfully. "Maybe the urchin was a witness?"

"A metaphorical hint. I hate those. I think he's trying to say that while we're watching the cups, the ball is elsewhere. So the kidnapping was... was a front?" Doyle mused.

"Smoke and mirrors. The letter to the Eel Hunting Club, the boots in Nero's office, the coach. All red herrings designed to send pursuit - legal or otherwise - in the wrong direction." Jonty seemed satisfied. 

Lizzy wasn't convinced. "But that doesn't make any sense. Why would he run?"

Doyle grunted. "Because we visited him. Probably scared him. If he's smart, he's in hiding now."

"He came up with that plan - the fake kidnapping, the letter, the boots, all of it - between the time we left him and midnight? Are you sure? Coz he didn't seem that bright," Lizzy said.

"He's an actor," Doyle said patiently. In his opinion, actors and smug detectives belonged in the same pit.

"But still!"

"Look, we'll keep digging. Obviously Inspector Crane is under political pressure not to investigate this case, so, to clear our names and to find this guy, let's solve it for him." 

"While you are off solving a case, some people have to work," Dr. Hartwell said, then turned to Tom. "You said your friend Guffy is in the hospital with an attack of the eels?"

"I said eels attacked him. Apparently he tried to retrieve them from the river and they sucked the magic right out of his body. Horrible stuff." Tom shuddered for dramatic effect. "I'll come with you. Guffy probably needs cheering up, and besides, he was one of the people who created the eels. Maybe he's got some insight into how we can capture them."

John O'Connor
Doyle's air of melancholy contemplation was hampered by the brilliant Malbrogia sunshine, clear crisp air, and the general tendency of actors to tell lies in a friendly and unconscious way. He'd spent all morning and afternoon tromping around Haymarket Square, asking after "Alfonso the Hydra" and his illusions. Nobody seemed to know what a Private Investigator was. He was heartily sick of explaining that he wasn't a Copper, a reporter, or a debt collector.

With Lizzy's help, he'd politely pumped one of Alfonso's colleagues for information. Three weeks ago, Alfonso had announced, privately, that he was not putting on any shows this season. Two weeks ago, he took rooms north of West Cross (rooms he could ill afford on his nonexistent savings) and launched his "Illusionary Servant" business. 

"Where were his old rooms?" Doyle asked, and was (after some additional wine) directed to an alley behind the Hydrangea theater. Two large, surly, and slightly confused men were peering at the door to the back stairs. One had just removed a prybar from his coat when Doyle and Lizzy entered into view.

"Ave you seen Alfonso the Idra?" one asked.

"No. But we're looking for him," Lizzy added, with more honesty than perhaps was wise. 

"Oh are you?" the thug said. "Well, look elsewhere."

"Why? Isn't he here?" Doyle said. "And who are you? Why are you trying to break into his rooms?"

"That's a lot of questions. What are you, a Copper? You dun look like a Copper."

"Yeah," the other thug added. "You should leave. Go 'way," he said, reaching into his pocket for a length of chain. The other thug, sensing that violence was imminent, slipped on a pair of brass knuckles.

"And if we don't go?" Lizzy asked.

"Then you'll wish you did."

The fight was brief but almost wholly one-sided. Lizzy cast inebriate on one thug, used hyperin and a flying syringe spell on the other, and then, while waiting for the effects, swung wildly with her enchanted kitchen knife. Doyle's umbrella contained a rapier, which gave him a considerable advantage over the chain-wielding thug. Moments later, the two adversaries lay on the floor of the alley, bleeding from half a dozen minor wounds and drunk beyond measure.

"Isnat fair," one groaned. "You've got a sward. And she's gon a knife!"

"I'm a cook," Lizzy said, trying to catch her breath. "I'm allowed to have a knife."

"Who hired you?" Doyle said, vigilant as ever. "We're not your enemies. We're just... trying to solve a case."

"Can't say."

"It wouldn't be a... Snedge-type person, would it?" Doyle said. Snedge, the mysterious legate of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, was a specter haunting the schemes of the PCs. His influence was more alleged than felt, but signs of Snedgery could send Jonty into a panic.

"It... it couldave been," one thug said, over the belated shushing of the other.

"Aha! And the person who hired you doesn't know where Mr. Alfonso is either, does he? Well well well. Let us take care of it. Don't tell Mr. Snedge about this."

"Can't do that. E always finds out. E's good at that. Pays good but then E's on you like mud." The thug struggled to put underworld labour relations into words. "Is not worth my life."

"But there's no reason to tell him right away. After all, you a barber-surgeon, new shirts, and perhaps a little sleep. It could be hours," Lizzy suggested.

The apartment, when the finally reached it, was a disappointment. Like many illegal apartments in Endon, it occupied a wedge of space not designed for human habitation. Between stalagmites of pigeon droppings, boxes of forgotten theatrical props, and rolls of crumbling canvas. The only clue was an empty lockbox under the straw mattress, with recent traces of orange theatrical makeup on the lid.

An interview with actors at the Hydrangea Theater produced a strange tale. It seems that an improbable number of witnesses, all engaged in entirely legal activities in the disused back stairs at 1 in the morning, saw a "swarthy fellow, obviously foreign, with a "thick accent and a headwrap thing" and a "smell of rare spices", call in the dead of night. The actors fled, of course. 

"Probably Alfonso returning to his rooms in the dead of night to retrieve whatever was in that strongbox," Doyle said. 

"What? No!" Lizzy replied. "That's insane. What did he do, kidnap himself, take a trunk of costumes and makeup with him, change in an alley, and the return to his old apartment? Why didn't he take the strongbox with him when he moved? Maybe he had a foreign friend. Maybe it was Snedge. No, wait, Snedge wouldn't have hired those two goons if he'd burgled the place disguised as a foreigner."

"How much coffee did you have?"

"Several!"

Marton Adam Marton

Guffy's illness, if it was an illness, was being treated by the standard Endonian medical logic of "like driveth out like". A chilly dip in the River Burl could be cured by ice water baths and cold towels. Dr. Hartwell's keen medical senses told him that Guffy would recover quickly if he was, instead, fed soup, brandy, and taken for a brisk walk through Endon's streets. This treatment seemed to jostle some life back into the student.

In case the group's nebulous enemies were after Guffy, Tom stuck him in his room at Nedalward Hall, then tried to understand a diagram Jonty had drawn on a napkin.

"It seems the eels are attracted to magic," Jonty said excitedly. "They consume it (as with your friend Guffy) and discharge it when threatened (as with their escape, and with Alfonso's battery system). So! Logically! One should be able to lure them with a properly constructed magical device. This!" he said, flourishing the napkin, "is just such a device."

The device, as sketched, involved two plates, each consisting of four concentric octagons of copper, with a large topaz crystal in the centre. Based on his relatively limited knowledge of magical theory, the copper and topaz  should gently radiate raw magic into the atmosphere when a thaumic charge passed through the device, creating a beacon for the magic-hungry eels. The user - for Jonty envisioned the device as a sort of magic smock- would stride confidently into the river, receive a magic charge via two large copper cables, lure the eels close, then strike them with wooden clubs. The magical charge could be turned on and off at will, so the eels would have nothing to drain.

The students of Nedalward Hall crowded around and immediately started debating the merits of such a device. The creators of the eels - Jeremy Golt, Guffy Chesterton, and Nedrick Bilgent - were all for it, and were merrily drawing diagrams and doing thaumic field calculations. Tom even asked Chastity Flintwich, who'd helped him build his famous Lightning Accumulator, for yet another favour. Students went on excursions for copper, for chalk, for galoshes, for more beer and meat pies, and for

The "Jonty Suit" (the name "Chastity Cage" was rejected after the notoriously short-tempered Miss Flintwich hit Guffy with a chair), was a work of art. Amateur art, and possibly art banned by the establishment, but it clearly looked like a magical device. Jonty had suggested a rubber undercoat, waders, and gloves. The wizards suggested that he wear the device. It was only fair. He'd invented it. 

Lizzy, who'd turned up with Doyle as the evening turned into night, quietly suggested that an enchanted item on a rope would be equally effective as bait, but her wisdom was ignored.

Thomas Elliott

By the light of two lanterns and the crescent moon, Jonty strode boldly into the River Burl. The rest of the group, along with a small crowd of wizards and curious onlookers, peered at him over the railings of the embankment. Jeremy Golt, wizard hat firmly wedged on his head and cigarette behind his ear, gripped the two insulated copper cables attached to Jonty's vest.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Dr. Hartwell said quietly.

"If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be an experiment," Tom replied, with the confidence of a wizard not currently wearing, holding, or legally responsible for an experimental magical device. 

"READY!" Jonty shouted, then held up his two wooden clubs. 

Jeremy Golt squinted and pushed a mild thaumic charge through the cables. Jonty felt a slight tingle, but the suit protected him and radiated the raw magic into the air. To those not blessed with Wizard Vision, he appeared to be slightly luminescent. 

"Any sign of eels?" Doyle asked, peering at the silty waters of the Burl.

"None. We might need more power," Tom replied.

"More power, got it! Jeremy said, grinning.

"I HEARD THAT," Jonty bellowed, but Jeremy was already dumping magic into the cables. Jonty winced as his vision briefly flashed greenish purple. The crowd winced, went "oooh!", and started to argue. Jonty was worried, but he didn't feel any different. He cautiously opened his eyes.

Arms, intact. Reality, undisturbed. He cautiously looked down. His chest appeared to be glowing blue. 

The spectators on the the embankment had a better view. Jonty was missing his midsection. A hole, ringed with blue-grey light, had neatly bisected the Professor of Law. Instead of the dark waters of the Burl, a cloudy oil-flecked landscape, lit by an unseen sun, was faintly visible through the portal.

"Curious!" Tom said. "Jonty? Are you alive?"

"I am! Should I... not be alive?" Jonty asked.

"Ah. Well. It seems the Jonty Suit generated a portal. Luckily it's an external portal, so..."

"I can't hear you!" Jonty said, as politely as he could manage under the circumstances.

"IT'S ALL FINE! STAND VERY STILL," Jeremy Golt shouted, then added, "Do you see that?"

Tom squinted at the portal. A grey dot in the centre was growing larger and larger. "Curious," was all Tom had time to say before a lump of grey flesh burst from the portal, growing to the size of an elephant by the time it hit the wall of the embankment. Moments later, the portal winked out.

The next few minutes were uniquely chaotic. The mass of flesh didn't have any visible organs. It extruded long tentacles of grey meat with bristly white hairs, grabbed onto the embankment, and tried to climb. The crowd panicked. The creature's tentacles seemed to slip in and out of existence, stretching like taffy only to appear, separated from the creature's body, a dozen yards away. Its flailing was apparently random, but was still destructive.

The crowd panicked. Jonty, who'd been facing away from the embankment, looked over his shoulder and started to run. The cables of the Jonty Suit were trapped under the beast, but he struggled valiantly in upriver, towards the lights of the Royal Docks. 

Jeremy Golt cast multielemental spray on the creature, to little effect. Doyle drew his wand of lightning spirit, looted from the lab of Prof. Tallerand, and let it loose. The lightning also coursed down the cables of the Jonty Suit and lightly fried Prof. Earl. He survived, but deeply regretted not making the cables detachable.

Lizzy, sensibly, cast grease on the creature. While it might ignore some local physical laws, gravity and friction still seemed to apply. Its grease-coated bulk slipped backwards into the river.

Dr. Hartwell and Tom ran upriver, trying to keep one eye on Jonty and one eye on the mass of grey flesh. Doyle, out of offensive spells and unwilling to charge into close combat, stood on a bench and calmly directed fleeing citizens using his umbrella.

As his vision cleared and his eyebrows stopped smouldering, Jonty saw a glowing blue eel rise from the muddy waters of the Burl. It seemed to attracted to the residual magic in the Jonty Suit, or just curious about the unusually metallic mudlark. Jonty eyed it cautiously, then hit it with his wooden club. The eel, stunned and agitated, released its stored thaumic charge. Once again, Jonty's vision flashed greenish purple. The raw magic hit the Jonty Suit and the diffuser acting in reverse, concentrating the charge and sending it back up the cables... and into the bulk of the otherworldly creature. It doubled in size.

Any remaining bystanders took this as their cue to run for safety (or a gin palace, or a newspaper reporter). The leviathantine bulk of the creature lurched and flailed. The night air was filled with screams, iron railings, lumps of masonry, and huge blobs of mud. Yet, alone among the crowd, a hunched and ragged figure watched the scene for a few moments longer than most. Doyle recognized the unsettled face of Professor Tallerand. Unshaven, grimy, and in clothes that were more patches than original fabric, but unmistakable the disgraced biomancer, necromancer, and (in a fairly direct way) source of the group's financial success. Doyle filed this information in a bulging folder marked "very suspicious indeed", then, glancing over his shoulder at the building-sized mound of grey flesh, decided to move towards the rest of the group.

Lizzy took a different approach. She drank a hoarded luck potion and charged. Kitchen knife raised like the blade of an avenging angel, she rushed the lump and stabbed with wild abandon, carving and splitting the undifferentiated grey flesh. Possibly in response, or possibly for reasons beyond human understanding, the creature formed a puckered orifice full of white glass-like strands. Moments later, it fired a beam of pure white light into the air, neatly punching a hole through the third story of a riverside building.

Meanwhile, Tom and Dr. Hartwell were hastily comparing spells. "Nothing," Tom said in despair. "But... if I can borrow some of your thaumic charge... and by some I mean all..."

"What is your plan?" Dr. Hartwell asked.

"Plan is a strong word."

"Oh dear."

"JONTY!" Tom yelled. "GET OUT OF THE RIVER! NOW!"

Doyle also had a plan. Amid the chaos and confusion, the private investigator strode boldy forth, shouting "Lizzy! Liiiiizy! RUN!" and waving his umbrella like a conductor's baton.

In the river, Jonty struggled out of the Jonty Suit and, shirtless, scorched, and covered in mud, sprinted for the embankment. He paused only to stuff a stunned eel into his bag. He reached the wall, and with the assistance of a very concerned Dr. Hartwell, struggled onto dry land. He didn't have the strength to ask questions. He could only wheeze and point at the squamous mass lurching its way into Endon.

"Lizzy!" Doyle said, finally attracting the cook's attention. He gestured towards Dr. Hartwell, Tom, and Jonty. "I think Tom has a plan. He keeps waving at me. Run! Come on!" The pair started to sprint. Doyle reached into his coat and drew a Toad Grenade, a one-use magic item he'd been saving for a rainy day. The sky was clear, but this was no time to quibble over details. He turned, threw it over his shoulder, and ran.

Lizzy, who'd been at his side a moment before, slipped on some mud and took a few steps to regain her balance. She watched the toad grenade sail past her head and towards the monstrous entity.

There was a brief green flash.

Tom watched both Lizzy and the entity transform into a pair of toads, just as Doyle reached the group. The lighting wizard slapped on hand onto Doyle, the other onto Dr. Hartwell, sucked all the free magic charge out of both wizards, and then pointed at the toads. He swung his finger upwards, cutting a line of ionized air into the sky, and dumping a few megathaums of vaguely directed magic into an already saturated atmosphere.

The sky responded. The emperor of all lightning bolts crashed from a clear sky, blasting the toads, the pavement, and a fair portion of the river into oblivion. Water boiled. Stone melted. Seasoned bystanders, watching the wizardments from a safe distance, applauded politely before the solid wall of thunder hit them and sent everyone, from the banks of the river to the gates of Loxdon College, scurrying for cover. There wasn't an unbroken window for half a mile along the waterfront.

Side Note: In the GLOG I run, wizards can try to bodge together a spell-like effect appropriate to their school by pouring any number of MD into a target and hoping for the best. Effects are adjudicated by the GM, but are usually haphazard and dangerous. 

I didn't expect anyone to use 6 MD (when 4 MD is typically considered fairly potent), but Tom is an Electric Wizard, and he did want to call a thunderbolt from a clear sky.

"YOU HIT LIZZY!" Doyle shouted. Tom lay flat on his back, smoke rising from his ears and eyes.

"WHAT?" Jonty said. "I THINK I'VE GONE DEAF."

"LIZZY!" Doyle mouthed carefully. "DEAD," he said, making the classic exploding toad gesture.

Dr. Hartwell tugged on his sleeve and pointed upwards. A body, probably Lizzy's, was falling out of the sky. Jonty spotted it and gallantly leapt into the river, sprinting (or at least sloshing mightily) through the mud. He gallantly attempted to catch the falling corpse. It, showing no respect for romance (or even mild flirtation) broke both of his arms on impact.

"AUGH!" he screamed, before pitching face-first into the mud.

Yes, it's all gone terribly wrong for the PCs. How will they recover from the loss of the only person in the group who knows how to brew tea? What is Professor Tallerand up to? Was the Jonty Suit sabotaged or merely unexpectedly efficacious? Find out at some point.

2022/10/20

OSR: Even More Ultraviolet Grasslands Vehicle and Mount Upgrades

Here are some additional Ultraviolet Grasslands upgrade. Original post is here.

Varguy

Humanoids

Human (Basic)

Capacity: 1 Sack
Cost: €7 per week
Consumes: 1 supply per week

Porter

Capacity: 2 Sacks
Cost:
€20 per week
Consumes: 1 supply per week

At the bottom of the barrel, there's not much room for upgrades. Purchase and distribute weapons and gear normally. Just don't expect to see it again.

Disposable Slave

Capacity: 1 Sack
Cost: €200
Consumes: 1 supply / week

Slave Porter

Capacity: 2 Sacks
Cost:
€600
Consumes: 1 supply per week

Addons:

Explosive Collar: €20
Occupies: 0 Stones if worn, 1 Stone if carried or stored.

Faced with certain death (in the form of cranial separation) and possible death (in the form of an ancient tomb, a perilous bridge, or a desperate charge), people can find reserves courage they didn't know they possessed. Collars are usually sold in 6 packs with a matching remote. Default range is 500'. Festive colour packs available.

Surgical Obedience: €50, 50% chance to kill the participant.
With a sharpened spoon, some ultratech crystal neuron lances, strong drugs, and a bit of elbow grease, some mad surgeons will carve out all the unpleasantly disobedient bits of a brain. Survivors will cheerfully obey any order. Eat my fingers? You've got it, boss! Charge that hydratiger? I'm on it, yippee! Considered a bit too evil by even the most jaded evil warlords.

Fabricated Backstory: €10
For a nominal cost, Psi-Priests of the Emerald City will root through a subject's psyche, extract their most shameful deeds, and write a brief report. It makes slavery more tolerable if you think they deserve it. Up to 20% of shameful deeds may be filler inserted by the Psi-Priest to maximize moral superiority.

Side Note: The caravan economics of UVG strongly discourage the use of 1 Sack capacity humans. They can carry useful gear or 1 Supply. They can't graze, so they'll eat that Supply in a week, and then what? It's just not practical. Including them on the list makes sense, both to cover normal adventuring events and to tempt new players into setting off on a 2 week journey with 1 week of supplies and some instant enemies. 
Porters, or anything that can carry 2 Sacks (1 sack of gear, 1 sack of Supplies) are better, especially if they know the terrain. The cost of a Porter (€20/week) vs. a Slave Porter (€600) means that renting is much better than buying. It's good that the cost is included though, because nefarious and shortsighted PCs might decide to raise some quick capital by hiring porters in one location and selling them in another.
Xin Xia

Undead

Skeleton Porter

Capacity: 1 Sack
Cost: €200
Consumes: nothing
Speed: Slow.

Addons:

Chrome Plating: €10

Makes stealth nearly impossible, but thoughtful bandits might think the Skeletons are deadly combat golems, glitterdust ghosts, or something even worse.

Geometric Protocol: €2

At a shouted word of command, the Skeletons assemble into a prearranged formation or shape. With enough Skeletons, a caravan can create an observation tower, a wall, or even (with 6 or more Skeletons) the famously dangerous Skelecopter.

Zombie Porter

Capacity: 2 Sacks
Cost: €200
Consumes: nothing
Speed: Very Slow.

Rubberized Coating: €10

Paint your Zombie with a thick layer of flesh-preserving epoxy. Sealed glass goggles and copper ear-discs keep the smell inside while letting the Zombie function at peak efficiency. 

Berserker Gland: €50

A vengeful bound spirit in a fleshcrafted housing. Insert it into the Zombie, and activate it later with the control wand to turn the Zombie into a relentless killing machine. The process cannot be reversed, and the Zombie cannot tell friend from foe, so plan carefully.

Brainseeker Trumpet: €20
Occupies: 1 stone
By wedging this large and carefully shaped trumpet in the nasal cavities of your Zombie, you can turn a porter into an early warning system. The Zombie will turn and lumber towards the distant odour of human flesh. To avoid confusing the system, stay downwind of the Zombie at all times.

Side Note: It's not clear what "Requires: Necromancy" in the UVG text means (pg. ###). I ruled that undead require occasional necromantic maintenance, and so someone in the caravan had to have a necromancy-related skill to keep them from falling to bits.
Alexandru Negoiță

Beasts of Burden

Pony, Mule, or Camel

Capacity: 2 Sacks
Cost: €70
Consumes: Grazing

Heroic Horse or Charger Camel

Capacity: 2 Sacks
Cost: €200
Consumes: Grazing

Magnificent Velblood Camel

Capacity: 3 Sacks
Cost: €300
Consumes: Grazing

Burdenbeast

Capacity: 4 Sacks
Cost: €600
Consumes: Grazing
Note: Rare

Biomechanical Beast

Capacity: 6 Sacks
Cost: €3000
Consumes: Grazing
Note: Very Rare

Addons:

Speaking Gem: €100

Embedded in the forehead (with a mallet). Lets the beast speak and adds a human-type personality overlay. Works on most beasts, but increases the chance of vomish infection. Obedience not guaranteed. Do not use on people, vome-infected beasts, or creatures with more than four legs.

Stepfall Shoes: €80

Made from bits of oldtech hullmetal. Only works on animals with hooves (so not camels). When moving at top speed, the plates add a tiny bit of lift, letting the beast charge across small dips, avoid gopher holes, and leap majestically. They leave neon contrails.

Afterburner: €60

Grazing animals produce a lot of gas. This convenient surgical upgrade stores the most flammable portions in a small canister, for use in cooking fires or for a sudden burst of speed. It's unclear if the speed increase comes from thrust or from fear, but it works either way.

1d10 A Bit Like A... Crossed With A... And It Has Disposition
1 Horse Beetle Superb Night Vision Curious
2 Camel Catfish An Astonishing Odour Stubborn
3 Yak Tortoise Moisture Extraction Gills Disease-Riddled
4 Antelope Metal Orb Sticky Climbing Pads Lethargic
5 Bison Cuttlefish Glow-In-The-Dark Spots Adorable
6 Iguana Rat Prehensile Nostrils Loyal
7 Toad Pig Delicious Skin Parasites Skittish
8 Newt Cement Mixer Vestigial Wings Cunning
9 Rhino Slug Root-Digging Claws Competitive
10 Ostrich Goat Hyperadaptable Digestion Inscrutable

 

Yamada

Wagons, Carts, and Coaches

Adventuring Handcart

Capacity: 3 Sacks
Cost: €10
Requires a human.

Side Note: It's odd that a handcart doesn't have the Slow tag or some other drawback. It really should. Otherwise, there's no downside to equipping every porter (or, if your GM is lenient, every skeleton and zombie) with one. The cost is trivial and it adds +1 sack of capacity (unless the intention was for it to add +3 Sacks on top of the 1 or 2 sacks carried by the human). You don't need much of a track to push a barrow, but you do need some sort of road.

Small Wagon, Rickety Coach, or Swaying Cart

Capacity: 6 Sacks
Cost:
€200
Speed: Slow.
Requires a draft animal.

Solid Coach or Wagon

Capacity: 12 Sacks
Cost:
€600
Speed: Slow.
Requires two draft animals.

Can take Road Yacht upgrades or below.

Massive Hauling Wagon

Capacity: 24 Sacks
Cost:
€1500
Speed: Very Slow.
Requires four draft animals.
Can take War Engine upgrades or below.

Addons:

Sail: €5
Adds a tiny bit of extra speed. Not worth quantifying mechanically, but it improves morale (especially if you pass people without a sail). A great way to display your company's logo.

Hull-Tight:  €20
Designed to float across calm rivers. Seams caulked, wheels detachable, handles convertible into steering oars or pushpoles.

Camo Net: €10
Not as good as true rainbow silk, but a cheap and waterproof landscape mimic. Lets you hide your vehicle from casual scouting. Just don't wander away from your camp in the dark.

Julian Holm

For other vehicles, see this post.

Theory

The UVG Caravan economy is a tidy set of interacting resources (if you prune away some of the messier bits). Speed/Time. Capacity (in Sacks). Number of weeks the caravan can travel (how many Sacks it consumes). Cost of the caravan and its supplies. Size (and risk of being raided).

And if you add the Fuel subsystem, it's even better. Fuel can't be foraged (in most regions, at least), but it can be stolen or bartered. It's an invitation to get involved in local disputes, to form alliances, to set schemes of hot metallic death in motion. Mules can graze anywhere, but a V9 Kraftfarm Autowagon with extra rattleguns has peculiar and expensive needs.

Fuel is also useful for all sorts of PC plans. Set the grasslands on fire to cover a heist. Serve fine beverages to the Diesel Dwarves (extra pentane!). 

2022/10/09

OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 7 - The Cutting Edge

 In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Obtained "Cow Medicine"
  • Rode A Bicycle In An Unsafe Manner
  • Performed Industrial Sabotage
  • Unleashed Vat 3
  • Invested Prudently

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 moral gymnast.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus is now accredited and theoretically accepted by Endon's establishment.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary (of no fixed portfolio) to Doyle Wormsby.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator.
Not so much a hardboiled detective as a fried egg sandwich with no napkins.

Richard Cooper

 

The month of Malbrogia was off to an unseasonably clear star. Endoners, used to sleet and damp socks, glanced at the cloudless sky and shrugged. It was still cold enough to require fingerless gloves, but it was a bright and cheerful cold. Lizzy Ramchander tried to keep it out of her new house.

It wasn't technically her house. She wasn't sure who owned it. Several expensive lawyers at Dewey, Howe, and Nephew had obfuscated the paperwork. But she'd seen it built and decorated. Assistant Professor Earl and Dr. Hartwell might live there, but she ran the show. The maids were gently terrified of her. Tradesmen who could stare down a brace of butlers nodded politely when she met them in the street. Number 5, Greenfield Lane was a respectable house. 

The neighbors didn't necessarily approve of the curious living arrangement, but a Doctor and a Professor added a touch of class to the new neighborhood, so they kept quiet. Lizzy wasn't the housekeeper or the cook (though she did chef some of the meals, chef being her word for "offer helpful advice and criticism, and order the finest ingredients"). New money meant new cheeses and more recognizable cuts of meat.

Doctor Hartwell spent most of his nights on a folding cot at Blumsworth Hospital, returning home at odd hours. His gentle advocacy for magical healing (and pig grease) had scandalized the parts of the medical establishment that enjoy being scandalized, but his tireless work at the Hospital had earned him a grudging sort of acceptance. 

Jonty had spent the off-season studying law. He wasn't a lawyer, and he didn't plan on becoming one, but he could lecture for hours. His protégé Tom was a well-known figure on campus. The Lightning Accumulator, his invention, buzzed happily on the roof of Krahlhammer's showroom, happily storing up to three full-power bolts at once. Getting the lightning out safely was proving difficult, however. Difficult but very exciting. He'd harnessed the lightning. The only problem was not getting it to bolt.

"But what is it for?" Lizzy asked skeptically, during dinner at the Unicorn Arms.

"Zapping our enemies," Tom said. "Or we could use it to execute criminals. It's much more humane than hanging."

"Sounds like death by sorcery," Jonty said, citing the well-known and widely feared provision in Endon's criminal code.

"It's not technically a spell though," Tom said. "It's just lighting. A spell can make lightning, but in this case no magic is required. Though if we can turn magic into lightning, I wonder if we can turn lightning into magic..."

"Chastity could help," Lizzy said, with a carefully crafted look of innocence. Chastity Flintwich had worked with Tom to design the Lightning Accumulator. She was an alumna of Mamseltrough Academy and a brilliant thaumic engineer, but notoriously hard to work with, owing to her temper, vocabulary, and accuracy with a thrown boot. Tom politely considered the idea before letting the conversation drift.

"Where are we on the U.S.J.R. case?" Doyle asked, spelling out the name in case Dr. Hartwell's suspicions were correct. 'Uriah Shambledrake Jr', said aloud, tended to invoke sound effects. It summoned thunder and lightning in stormy weather (which Tom intended to exploit), or falling slate tiles, or dropped glasses. It was an ominous name.

Tom shook his head. "No new information. We still don't know where late Uncle Uriah's money went. He can't have spent all of it, but the banks haven't found so much as an olive gumpert."

Lizzy tapped her fork thoughtfully. "We could look at the household bills for Shambledrake Manor. If we knew how many servants and visitors they had in the house at any given time, we could calculate if they spent more on food than normal, and determine if there were secret visitors."

"That's... an interesting idea," Jonty said, "but we don't know if those bills exist, we don't know  how many staff were at the Manor, and we don't know if the... the person in question lived at the Manor, and even if he did it wouldn't really tell us much." 

"But it was a nice thought," Tom added, seeing Lizzy's expression.

Dr. Hartwell Gets A Letter

The chain of stamps and post-marks started on the front of the envelope and continued onto the other side. Dr. Hartwell cut it open with a scalpel and removed the single thin sheet of paper, examining the perfect handwriting with growing concern. He checked the date on the envelope. A month past.

"Oh Anna," he sighed. Damn the post and damn his sister. Well, maybe just the post.

Anna Hartwell found her older brother at Blumsworth Hospital two days later. "A famous doctor now," she said, admiring his black coat. "Fat and learned. A real schmaltzmayster." Dr. Hartwell, who had a physique like a rheumatic hatstand, scowled. Anna was in good spirits, clean but unfashionable clothes, and carried a sturdy carpet bag full of, he presumed, all her worldly goods.

"Your letter said you met a man and that he paid for you to come to Endon."

"Met, no, but wrote, yes. We have correspondented for some months now. He is a good man."

Dr. Hartwell, who'd seen the good men of Endon, did not believe it for a second. "Who is this man? What does he do?"

"He is John Huffman of name, and of work, he is a math, err, he does the mathematics. And the wizardry," Anna said, digging through her vocabulary. "He is most clever, and writes such interesting letters. He sees the world in a most unusual way."

"So you kept up an interest in mathematics?" Dr. Hartwell said. Though he would never admit it, Anna was at least as clever as he was, but had chosen the rarefied field of highly abstruse mathematics instead of anything practical or marketable.

"There was not much to do on those long winter evenings. It was mathematics or marry a cousin," she said cheerfully, "and I did not care to marry a cousin, so now I am here. I have sold the cottage and the chickens, and come to Endon to seek my fortune, like my older brother the famous doctor." Anna grinned and gently swung her carpet bag at Dr. Harwell's legs.

"Agh! Now wait here until I am done my rounds. I will get you some new clothes, and then you can meet my friends." Dr. Hartwell dodged another friendly swing of the carpet bag. Anna did a little dance and sat on a bench. 

The problem with seeking your fortune in Endon, Dr. Hartwell thought as he made his way around the wards, was that everyone else was seeking it too. What was Anna thinking? Showing up to a strange city with an imperfect grasp of the language, a carpet bag full of clothes, and a dream? Just because he'd done it didn't make it was a good idea.

Doyle Takes A Case

Nero Krahlhammer slid into Doyle Wormsby's office with a furtive and nervous air. Lizzy, who hadn't quite got the hang of secretary-ing, handed him a mug of tea and a bun, then sat next to him as he tried to inveigle Doyle into a case.

"There's this illusionist," he said, sliding a playbill across the desk. "Alfonso the Hydra. Calls himself Alfonso the Reliable now. Used to have a stage show. For the past week he's gone door to door in Grenville Court peddling his illusions. One gold piece for six hours of tireless obedient labour from a silent illusionary servant. Seems steep, eh? Well they're paying it!"

"Why?" Lizzy asked, before Doyle could speak.

"The novelty of it. It's fashionable," he spat, "or it could soon be fashionable. It's the future, Alfonso says. Not my Gel Servants." 

"Your Gel Servants don't work though," Doyle pointed out. "They don't listen. They can't handle small details, like fire or ladders."

"We're getting closer! They've figured out stairs. Next up, cutlery. Lizzy has been a great help," Doyle said plaintively. "You must destroy this Alfonso the Reliable before he ruins me."

"You want me to murder this man," Doyle said, scowling.

"Not kill him. No," Nero said carefully, "but maybe rough him up a bit. Permanently," he added, under his breath.

"I'm not a thug for hire," Doyle said. "I'm a private investigator, not an assassin."

"Of coooourse not," Nero drawled, as he slid some paper across the desk. "Whose money is this?" he continued, in the timeless tone of badly managed bribery. "Can't be mine, must be yours." 

Doyle sighed and pocketed the notes. Money was money. "I will look into this Alfonso for you, Nero, but like a music hall girl, it's looking only, no touching."

Dinner at Number 5 Greenfield Lane

Anna and Dr. Hartwell arrived home in the late afternoon. They'd stopped at several moderately fashionable shops on the journey to ensure Anna had a set of suitable modern outfits.

While Anna and her brother had tea in the sitting room, a procession of neighbors with plausible errands called on the house, and were disappointed to discover Anna was Dr. Hartwell's charming and intelligent sister, and not a fallen woman, decadent blackmailer, or pistol-wielding revolutionary. Scandal averted (at least, for the time being), the neighbors were replaced by Jonty, Lizzy, Doyle, and Tom.

"But who is this John Huffman," Dr. Hartwell said, exasperated. "May I look at your letters?"

Anna blushed. "Oh Augustus, they are private letters. It would not be proper to show my mathematics to you or your friends."

Lizzy thought of several amusing comments including words like "multiplication" and "show your workings out", but bit her tongue. She couldn't keep her shoulders from shaking.

"I think he was a student," Tom said. "I remember hearing about him. Tomorrow, I'll ask around on campus. Just to check on his reputation. I'm sure it's impeccable," he added hastily.

"I am sure also," Anna added stiffly. "John is a good man. He writes so cleverly on many topics." She then launched into an explanation of modern mathematics, including ungeometric field space, symbolic logic, and the Reformed Calculus, that left her audience bewildered but impressed.

"I propose that tomorrow afternoon we visit this John Huffman in Needle Circus." 

"Can't," Doyle said. "I've got a case. Nero Krahlhammer hired me to track down a business rival. Someone's selling illusionary footmen to the rich and Nero's not happy about it. I'll need Lizzy's help."

"And I've got classes all day," Tom added. 

"Fine, fine. I'll go with Dr. Hartwell then," Jonty said.

"I do not need a laybvekhter, err, a body-watcher," Anna said. Lizzy's shoulders convulsed.

"In this city, it pays to be cautious," Jonty said, laying on the charm.

Jonty and Lizzy had attempted flirtation, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, over the past few months. Jonty was simply too cautious and too ambitious to settle for the bird in the hand (as it were), when potential duchesses and heiresses lurked just out of sight. Lizzy was, no matter how you looked at it, a servant, and while Jonty could probably marry a music hall dancer, a journalist, or his cousin without a scandal, he wasn't sure he could marry a housekeeper and still ascend to the lofty social heights to which he aspired. Lizzy wasn't too bothered, and switched her vague flirtations to Dr. Hartwell (unlikely) and Tom (deeply implausible). Doyle was a good enough employer, Lizzy decided, but not husband material. If he was any material at all, it was patched absorbent cloth, or possibly waxed paper. 

Gustave Doré

The Mysterious Alfonso

The next morning, bright and early, found Lizzy and Doyle meandering around Grenville Court. Doyle wore his usual clothes. He didn't have a "fancy about-town" outfit. Any jacket Doyle purchased immediately acquired grease stains on the collar and a patch of dried mustard, so he didn't bother. Lizzy was wearing her most inconspicuous clothes. She had three outfits: a fashionable middle-class dress, hat, and handbag, her old general-purpose cook-and-brewing clothes, and a secret Copper outfit (pilfered from her old workplace) which she kept in the bottom of her wardrobe. 

She'd die rather than admit that on some nights, she dressed up as a Copper and pranced around her room calling herself "Lady Detective Inspector Ramchander", berating (in a whisper) arch-criminals and cunning rogues, and accepting apologies from all her rivals.

The servants of Grenville Court were reluctant to talk about the "allusionary persons" temporarily employed by their masters. The cost was painful - 1gp for a half-day's work when a scullery maid earned 3gp in a Season - but the workers of Endon also knew a threat when they saw it. Alfonso the Reliable was making enemies faster than he was making money.

Doyle and Lizzy also found out that he was casting from his brain, not from a wand or device. "Risky," Lizzy said. "Verrry risky, especially if he's doing four times a day. That sort of thing can wear a young man out." Lizzy waggled her eyebrows, but Doyle ignored her.

They'd glimpsed Alfonso a few times. He was a middle-aged man, well-dressed, with a thick blonde moustache, large ears, and a theatrical air. He was enough of a gentleman to gain admittance, enough of a novelty to be heard, and enough of a wizard to be hired. Doyle had also located his apartment, a tiny but small suite of rooms above a milliner's shop in West Cross.

"We should break in," Lizzy said. "Take a look around. See if he's left any incriminating secrets on his desk."

Doyle sighed and cast knock on the door, holding the handle in case it slammed. The pair nonchalantly climbed the stairs to the apartment. It was full of theatrical memorabilia, old playbills, posters, and a few books of magical theory. Tidy, but clearly not ready for guests or clients. Lizzy flipped through them and checked the notes. "He's not an academic. I don't think he even knows what he's doing, on a theoretical level at least. Must have just lucked into some good stable illusion spells and found a way to sell them."

"Lizzy," Doyle said, peering behind the curtain that divided the room in half, "what do you think this is?"

"Huh. Well, that's a Brendon magic battery, an old one. Rated as a six-charger but the design had mercury loss issues, so it's probably good for four."

"Right. And that?" 

"A wooden high-backed dining chair with cables and a metal cap."

"And... those?"

Lizzy squinted. "Err... eels, I think. Pair of eels in a glass tank."

They stared at the eels. The eels stared back from their tank of murky river water. They were metallic blue, with oddly bulbous gills. Thick insulated cables ran from the tank to the magic battery, then from the battery to the chair. The entire setup looked amateurish and very dangerous.

"He's using the eels... as a magic accumulator? Then discharging the power into his head? That's dangerous stuff." Lizzy said.

"Burning the candle at both ends," Doyle replied.

"Burning the wizard at both ends if he's not careful. This is no way to run a business. Some reputable people who own shares in a related business should make him an offer," Lizzy said slowly. "A very good offer."

"Nero won't like that. And hang on, aren't you on his side when it comes to oozes?" 

"Oozes, sure, but they are so hard to train. But I've almost got the distillation ooze working. The liquor is... well, it's mostly aqua vitae."

"Still having contamination issues?"

"The last batch wasn't poisonous, but it had a peculiar flavour. And it melted the glassware."

Doyle shuddered."Right. Let's get out of here."

As they lingered over a light dinner across the street, Lizzy and Doyle watched the door to Alfonso's apartment. Eventually, the ex-entertainer returned, clearly exhausted, and unlocked the door. Before he could open it, Doyle and Lizzy were at his side like a pair of hounds. 

"Helloooo Mr. Alfonso," Doyle said, shaking his hand, "we were hoping to speak with you about a business proposition. Can we come up?"

"No," Alfonso said. "It is late and I have had an exhausting day."

"Wonderful, thank you," Lizzy said, having adjusted the words in her head. Alfonso was gently propelled up the stairs and into his rooms. 

"Mr. Alfonso," Lizzy said, before he could recover his equilibrium, "we represent a company engaged that also produces magical servants, of a sort, for the toffs, that is the gentry, of Endon. Our interests align." Lizzy had been reading a lot of trade literature.

"Wait... the Gel Knight people? Nortgreen and Louton? Aren't you supposed to be in prison?" Alfonso asked.

"No, we're with Nero Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparatuses," Lizzy replied. 

"What's with the eels?" Doyle said, pointing behind the curtain.

Alfonso looked shocked. "They're my pets. And this is my apartment. I think you should leave. But!" he added, as they went for the door, "I could perhaps be persuaded to meet with you tomorrow. Say, 10 o'clock?"

"Done!" Lizzy said eagerly.

Grids and Laws

In the muddy land around Needle Circus, warehouses and workshops were going up as fast as people could build them. Improvised housing and small shops filled in the legally mandated alleyways, often using material from the same construction sites. "87 Needle St", the address of John Huffman, proved to be down one of these crowded and unwelcoming alleys.   In their clean and shining outfits, Dr. Hartwell, Jonty, and Anna stood out, in form if not in intent.

"Are you sure this is the right address?" Dr. Hartwell asked.

"Oh yes," Anna said, holding up the bundle of letters. "It is clearly written."

"Well, in we go," Jonty said. "Try not to step on anyone."

"Anything, I think it is," Anna gently corrected, but then caught Dr. Hartwell's stern eye.

Needle Street was proverbial. It was easier for a camel to enter the kingdom of heaven, the wags of Endon said, than for a rich man to pass through Needle Street.

Dr. Hartwell's reputation among the destitute provided a sort of buffer. A foreign doctor with bad knees in a bad neighborhood, who didn't charge too much and didn't ask the wrong sort of questions, was a rarity to be treasured. Eyes watched them from every doorway, but they passed untroubled until they found the door to 87 Needle Street.

It was a shack. One room made of bricks, unseasoned timber, slate, and hope. The number was chalked on the door in a very neat hand. The street outside also had a perfect grid of 1' squares drawn on the uneven flagstones. 

Anna knocked, then opened the door. John Huffman sat inside, in a room that he clearly inhabited like a set of clothes. He had tufts of brown hair that might have been unmaintained sideburns, no chin, and a thin sheen of sweat and grease. Between his bed, his desk, the stacks of books, papers, half-eaten sandwiches, and calculating instruments, there was just about enough room for the flies, but they presumably had to queue. John didn't look up from his notes.

"Ah, hello," Anna said, after a few moments. "I am Anna Hartwell. We have corresponded by letters for many months."

John turned suddenly, glanced at Anna, and said. "Yes! Look at this," he said, thrusting a piece of paper into her hands. "I have devised a system for performing all possible operations of small integers via a series of tubes. You see?" 

Jonty and Dr. Hartwell looked at each other. Loxdon College, and wizardry in general, had a high tolerance for eccentrics and the socially inept. "Keeps to himself," they'd say, or "a bit odd but very diligent". A tendency to mumble, avoid eye contact, categorize objects, and follow rules could serve a wizard well.

The Alchemists had recently demonstrated a machine that used distilled air and coal gas to create a blue-white flame capable of cutting through 6" of steel. The flame resembled a needle of solid heat. John Huffman had a mind like that. All the attention people normally wasted on food, decorum, and self-awareness was focused into a point that burned like a falling star. Most people barely pay attention to anything. John Huffman paid 100% attention to whatever he was focused on, leaving nothing left over for meals, hygiene, or sleep.

Mathematics was not John's strong point, Anna whispered, as John dug through the piles to show her other papers. He was not a savant. He had to work out the square root of 27.4 like anyone else. It was the way he approached mathematics that caught Anna's interest. He was building a bridge, she explained, and it was up to her to invent the girders and posts. He knew where he wanted to go, and that math had to exist to support his conclusions, but he didn't have the time or the inclination to sit down and fill in the details or explain it to anyone else. She did.

"See," John said, leading the group to the back of the shed, revealing a second shed with an ancient clay golem inside. The golem's chest had been modified with a large brass box full of gears and dials. "Name two large integers."

Jonty did so. John carefully punched holes in a piece of paper, then fed it into the golem's chest box. The golem whirred and held out its hands. Fingers flicked up and down. John dutifully rattled off the resulting sum. "You see? Reliable mathematical operations of any complexity."

"Yes, but it's just a sum," Dr. Hartwell sniffed.

John grew agitated. "Everything is reducible to simple operations. Everything. You see?" He punched more holes in a card and fed it into the golem. The golem marched forwards, stepped from 1' square to 1' square in a complicated pattern, then returned to its starting location.

"Making a golem walk is not hard," Jonty said. "It's a golem. That's what they do."

"But this one does it with math," Anna said. "It reads the card and the spells inside move the limbs accordingly. It's terribly clever."

Dr. Hartwell, who'd seen Doyle's dancing gin spell perform the Kiltkicker Waltz on command, wasn't impressed. "And that's all it can do?"

"It'd be a great help with TFT equations," Anna said.

Thaumic Field Theory. The bane of an industrial wizard's life. Devourer of evenings, weekends, and pencils. It hardly mattered for minor enchantments. Nobody really noticed if a magic kettle made little rattling noises or shot out sparks occasionally. But in high-energy magical devices, like magic batteries and accumulators, the field differentials could add up very quickly. Align your enchantments in the wrong way and your new design was a very expensive time bomb. Plotting field equations usually took weeks, as very tired and irritable wizards redrew lines and adjusted variables. Nobody entirely understood it, and it only worked some of the time, but it was better than the old "guess and hide behind a wall" method.

"And banking, I suppose," Jonty said, tapping Dr. Hartwell's arm and pointing at an unopened letter sticking out of a pile. It bore the distinctive red seal of the Royal Bank of Endon, and had a certain richness about it that suggested it was meant to be read immediately and to the reader's profit. It was unopened.

"I'm just going to... open this." With a flick of his wrist, Jonty cracked the seal. John's attention was elsewhere. 

The letter was brief, sticky with compliments, and astonishing. The Bank of the Realm, via its officer Alfred Pestvage, offered John Huffman 2,300gp for the exclusive rights to his golem, his works, and his future discoveries. Mr. Pestvage invited him to meet senior bank officials at his leisure. The letter was dated a week past. 

Before a very naughty wizard offered him 10,000gp to keep quiet about what happened in his office, Jonty would have regarded 2,300gp with almost religious awe. Now, it was merely a spiritual figure. It would certainly improve John Huffman's situation. He could afford to hire someone to live his life for him while he got on with his work. The Bank of the Realm was more than just a bank. It was the Bank. And the mint too. And he hadn't even opened the letter...

Jonty's roving eye found another letter, this time marked with a black and featureless seal he knew all too well. His roving fingers found the letter was open. His roving bowels turned to ice as he read the contents. "Lord T-on-B, etc, etc, remind Mr. Huffman of certain sums etc, etc, payable immediately or interest will compound, etc, etc." The sums were not named. Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, who had once lent Jonty the small fortune (at the time) of 10gp, tended to take a lively interest in the lives of his debtors. He wasn't the sort of creditor to break your kneecaps. He was the sort to involve you in a ludicrously convoluted kidnapping-and-murder plot for his own amusement. Devils knew what he would do to a man like John Huffman.

"Mr. Huffman," Jonty asked very carefully. "How much money do you owe in total?"

John took the letter, read it, rummaged in the piles of paper for a few minutes for a fistful of IOUs and other letters, punched a series of holes in a card, and fed it into the golem. "5,253 gold pieces, 8 silver, and 4 copper. 5 copper. 6 copper. Interest."

Jonty made a little squeaking noise. 5,300 gold pieces was enough to buy a mansion in the country or a fully equipped magical production line. The small fortune offered by the Bank of the Realm suddenly looked very small indeed. "Ah. And how much money do you currently have?" 

"Six silver two copper," John said, after checking his pockets. 

"Are you able to pay your creditors back?"

"No. They gave me the money. If they wanted it, they should have kept it," John said bluntly. Dr. Hartwell and Anna shared an agonized glance.

"But... they want you to pay them back," Jonty said.

"Then they will be disappointed."

"Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl does not like to be disappointed."

"Then he should not have given me money," John said, as if that explained everything.

Anna swore gently in Foreign. Dr. Hartwell whispered a translation to Jonty that ended with "and brains like spreadable cheese."

"Mr. Huffman, do you owe money to anyone local? Say, for example, those two gentlemen of uncertain employment watching us from the doorway of that barber shop?"

John looked up briefly. "Yes."

"Oh good. I'll be right back," Jonty said, motioning for Dr. Hartwell. Anna seemed happy enough to keep John company and listen to his high-speed drone.

Alan Dard and the Needle Street Gang

Johnty approached the barber shop with an air of nonchalance that he hoped would inspire bafflement and fear. "Excuse me," he said to one of the large bowler-hatted men at the door, "who runs things around here?"

The loafer looked at Jonty, looked at Dr. Hartwell, looked up the street to the wizard, looked inside, then motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. Jonty stepped into the barber shop. From the layer of dust on the chairs and the state of the razors, it was clear that most of the activity in the building took place just behind the half-open door to the back room, where Jonty could see a chalkboard, an abacus, and the thick cigar smoke of men engaged in heavy betting. 

Alan Dard, master of the Needle Street Gang, stomped out of the back room and shook Jonty's hand, introducing himself with a hearty laugh and a cloud of tobacco fumes. Jonty did not wince, which impressed him immediately, and returned the introduction.

"And you run this establishment?"

"I run a lot of things 'round here. I'm a community leader. Voting days, tax days, civic holidays, me and my lads make sure everything runs how it ought to run." Alan lit a bulbous cigar. "So what can Alan Dard and the Needle Street Gang do for you?"

Jonty made discreet inquires about John Huffman. Alan puffed and considered the matter.

"He paid one of my lads 4gp for a bottle of ink. Didn't even look at the coins, just handed them over. He's not... quite right in the head, I think."

"You've been robbing him?" Jonty asked, leaning forward.

"Oh no, not as such. He just can't seem to help hisself. It's like he doesn't know what money is for. Spends it like water, then gets more on credit."

"Which you are happy to extend to him. I wonder why."

"He's a wizard," Allan said smugly. "And a powerful one too. You can hear him thinking. It's an investment. One day he'll be as rich as King Sheod or explode in a funny way."

Jonty considered this. "We are also investing in Mr. Huffman's future. How much does he owe you?"

"Call it 11gp," Alan said. "Not much, but more than he has, and a debt is a debt."

"I'll pay it," Jonty said. "And pay you and your... friends to watch him for a week. See that he eats and doesn't contract any fresh debt. Keep other prying eyes away. And see that no harm, or even an improper suggestion, comes to Miss Hartwell on her visits."

"That sort of thing costs. Costs a lot. 15gp," Alan said, then held up a finger as Jonty nodded. "On top of the 11 previously mentioned."

"For a week of doing what you're doing already? That's highway robbery!" Dr. Hartwell exclaimed, from the other side of the shop.

"Not this time. This is business." Alan grinned and tapped the table. "26gp is no price at all for my friendship. Unless you'd play for it, that is."

"Cards?" Jonty replied. "What game?"

"Six Man Jack or Gumpert's Away," Alan said, pulling out a dog-eared pack from his vest and starting to shuffle.

"Six Man Jack it is. Stakes are this. I win, it's 11gp. You win, 22gp. We play five sets. Three with my deck and two with yours."

"Think I've marked these cards, do you?" Alan said, grinning enormously and lighting another cigar. "It's a brave man who'd say that to my face. I accept."

Jonty spent the next hour losing, but he lost with skill and dignity, even in the face of some fairly blatant cheating and sharping. He didn't lose deliberately, and 22gp was a princely sum he could ill afford. In fact, he didn't have the money on him. Dr. Hartwell ended up topping up the pile with notes from his wallet. Allan Dard grinned like Fatty Satan* and pocketed the money.

*The legendary crocodile that lives below New Bridge, eating urchins, children who misbehave, and boatmen who owe money to people like Allan Dard.

Later, as he walked north to Loxdon College, Jonty Earl would consider that Alan Dard was not, perhaps, the sort of person one would wish to have as a friend and colleague.

"Poor Mr. Huffman," Anna said. "No one to look after him." Anna was new to Endon, but she was as sharp as a tack. 

"Yes, "Jonty added." "If only he had friends to look after his business interests. I wonder... Dr. Hartwell, do you think we could..."

"I'm sure you already have," Dr. Hartwell said. "But we will not proceed further today. We will let Tom make inquiries on campus, meet our friends for dinner, and then we will discuss business matters."

Yongming Yang

 

Slumming It At The Unicorn Arms

The group's newfound wealth had propelled them into a social class that didn't, traditionally, visit the Unicorn Arms, but Anna had insisted on visiting "a real Endon tavern", so they obliged her. It was an odd feeling, sticking out in a place where they'd once fitted in, and seeing the looks on the faces of some of the permanent residents. They rented the private dining room at the back and settled down to a dubious feast.

After trying out the local delicacies, including "boiled things", "fried meat", "potato with salt and butter", and, for dessert "more gin", the group got down to business.

Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and Anna shared their impressions of Needle Circus. Tom had inquired into John Huffman's past. He was a student at Loxon College, two years ahead of Tom. Brilliant in some respects, but reclusive and obsessive, he'd left the College after the Double Spell Contest.

"You see, some students set up a contest for the best new spell that does two things. Light and create water in the same spell, that sort of thing. Bragging rights and beer, and a bit of money, but mostly bragging rights. Entry number five demolished half the building they were holding the contest in, so I think it ended in a draw, but Huffman was entry three. Apparently he turned up and gave a lecture on the theoretical basis of the omni-spell."

The others looked at him blankly. "The omni-spell?" Tom prompted. "Like the alchemist's stone but for wizards? A spell that can do anything?"

"Right. And he'd invented one?" Jonty said.

"No, not at all, that was the bit that got him laughed at. He'd just come up with a theory of how one could be cast. It apparently was all math and things. Nobody understood it. He also mumbled a lot and talked very quickly. And then he left the College and nobody'd heard from him since, except for the letters he'd sometimes send to professors. Brilliant, like I said, but a bit odd."

"We should invest in his future, to ensure he has one. Hire a servant to keep him fed and watered and occasionally bathed. Find him a nice quiet workshop. And negotiate with the Bank, of course," Jonty said. There was something about John Huffman. He wasn't likeable, exactly. He was easily dislikable, between the body odour and the lack of any social graces, but he had a mind that ought to be watched.

Doyle and Lizzy revealed their findings on Alfonso the Reliable.

"Eels," Tom said. "Eels. There were posters for an Eel Hunting Club on campus last week. They were up for about two days, then someone tore them all down. It seemed odd."

"I remember those. Tom, can you talk to the porters? All posters have to be approved and stamped by them, which means money, which means records. I bet the Eel Hunting Club is behind this somehow." Jonty said, fully caught up in the spirit of private investigation. Doyle was contagious.

Tom nodded. Jonty continued, in his usual manner. "Right, then that's our assignments for tomorrow. Dr. Hartwell, Anna, and I will visit Mr. Huffman again, get him to sign some extremely fair contracts so we can act as his agents in negotiations with the Bank of the Realm. We need to get him out of debt as quickly as possible. Tom, you will investigate the Eel Club. Doyle and Lizzy, you will take Alfonso to meet Nero Krahlhammer and see if he can be bought or rented for reasonable rates."

The Burglarious Entry

Doyle slept in a room next to his office. He rented four rooms: an outer office and waiting area where his secretary had a desk full of sandwich material, an inner office with a desk full of notes, his bedroom, and a closet. The amount of visible floor decreased as you progressed through the rooms. The closet was a sort of primordial chaos of paperwork, lost socks, empty bottles, and odds-and-ends.

And he'd been burgled. He noticed the signs before he opened the door. The lock was untouched, but there was the faintest oily sheen of magic around the keyhole. Someone had used knock, probably within the past few hours. He took out his umbrella and prodded the door open. He prodded it again. Locked. Oh, these burglars were good.

After unlocking the door and carefully scanning the office, he stepped inside. The rooms looked exactly as he'd left them; a complete shambles. But there were subtle signs, detectable only by the terminally paranoid. He always stuck tiny pieces of straw into the drawers of his desk before leaving. Some of them were on the floor. There were also faint scratches on the floorboards. He stared at them for a few moments, circled them once, then snapped his fingers. An Iconograph. The burglars had set the tripod here to capture every detail of his office on their plates. Why?

Side Note: On some less organized worlds, iconographs use tiny summoned imps with paintbrushes to create portraits. Endon's wizards found that magically treated paper, a prism, and a few mechanisms are more reliable. Imps might not have much imagination, but it takes a special lack of imagination to draw moustaches and missing teeth on every face.

He looked into his bedroom. Oh. That's why. In a fit of manic compulsion, he'd started to plot all his theories on the wall, using cards, red string, and brass tacks. Entries like "Newt Fancier Club (Shut Down 2 Years Ago Why)" connected to "Prof. T." in a bewildering constellation of theories, facts, and wild speculation. He didn't think anything on the board was incriminating, but he had the feeling he was now playing with marked cards. 

He just hoped his enemies couldn't read his handwriting. 

Things That Go Bump In The Night

A noise like ten thousand thunderbolts smashed through Doyle's outer office. He leapt from his bed, realized his legs were still mostly asleep, fumbled for the door, and lurched into room in a haze of gin and dust. "Aha!" he said.

"Oh, you're awake," Lizzy replied. "Why did you wedge a chair under the door handle? The door opens outwards."

"We've been burgled," Doyle moaned, collapsing back onto the bed.

Lizzy looked around. "Can't have been. This place is unransackable. Get up. We've got to meet Alfonso."

"What time is it?"

"Eight."

"Eight in the morning?! No such hour," Doyle said, despairing. 

"I've got you a toasted cheese sandwich, a mug of coffee, and a baked apple with that spice that makes Jonty sneeze on it," Lizzy said, placing the items on the far side of Doyle's desk. He gave her a bleary look of resignation, then shuffled over.

"And hurry up," she said, tucking into her own cheese sandwich. "The morning edition of the Life and Times says there was a kidnapping in West Cross in the wee hours of the night, details to follow, and I bet know who the kidnapee was."

Doyle spluttered, tried to do six things at once, and sprinted for the door, pausing only to disentangle his legs from the chair, locate his coat, and stuff the baked apple in his pocket.


The group arrived in West Cross at more-or-less the same time. They'd all read the morning papers and, with the grim sense of narrative, arrived at the same conclusion and at the same address. "Oh sugar," Lizzy whispered. She was trying out new middle-class oaths. Her usual repertoire could boil an egg from fifty paces. 

A very bored Copper guarded the stairs to Alfonso's apartment. Between the paper, the murmurs of the crowd, and people whose friend had a cousin who'd seen the whole thing, the group pieced together the simple story. In the dead of the night, two men had broken into Alfonso's apartment and dragged him downstairs to a waiting carriage, which sped off into the night. The marks of a crowbar were clearly visible behind the police ribbon (blue and black, to remind people of the bruises they'd acquire if they crossed it)... along with, Doyle noted after a daringly close squint, the faint sheen of magic around the keyhole. His spell, or another one? There were also thick chunks of mud on the steps and several sets of bootprints. Lizzy scooped a few bits of mud into a vial when the Copper wasn't looking.

Victus Crane, one of Endon's rare and mysterious Thaumaturgic Detectives, walked down the stairs and ducked under the ribbon. He scowled at the crowd, then stepped on to the back of the waiting police wagon. Doyle waggled his eyebrows and beckoned. Vicutus frowned and leaned forward. 

"Who are you?" he asked, icily.

"Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator." 

"What is that?" Victus said. Doyle was asked this frequently. Private investigators had yet to catch on in Endon. 

"Like a Copper, but freelance. Or a reporter who doesn't publish," Doyle said patiently, handing over his card.

"Is that so? Well, the ribbon in front of that door still bars you.. and your friends," he said, looking around as Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and Lizzy tried and failed to be inconspicuous. "Do you have any pertinent information to add to this case?"

"No. Do you?" Doyle said.

Victus suppressed a sneer. "That is not your concern. Where were you last night? Where were your associates?"

"At the Unicorn Arms. Unbreakable alibis, or alibibis as you Coppers call them, and all that. Just tell me one thing," Doyle said, as Victus climbed into the wagon. "Were the eels still there?"

Victus paused. He seemed to think for a few moments, then stepped down, and bent very close to Doyle's ear. "Now why should you ask about eels?"

Doyle didn't flinch. "Just a thought."

"Keep thinking, Mr. Wormsby. And, between you and me, the eels were not there. Isn't that interesting?" And then, without looking back, Victus climbed into the wagon and tapped the partition with his truncheon.

"Also, I've been burgled," Doyle said casually. "So if you'd care to send a few good men to my office, address on the card, I'd appreciate it. Burgled last night, in fact. Just before this kidnapping, I think. By some very clever people. I'll see you then." Doyle smiled placidly as the wagon drove off.

The Tragic Hubris of the Eel Hunting Club

"We didn't mean for it to go wrong!" Jeremy Golt whined, wringing his hands and peering over Tom's shoulder.

Tom took the quickest route to the truth. He'd found a porter, politely asked them about the posters for the Eel Hunting Club, got Jeremy Golt's name, remembered Jeremy was an elementalist of some skill and that they had a class together, and simply sat down next to him and smiled. Merely mentioning the club had set Jeremy's guilty conscience into overdrive. Tom's reputation as a lightning-tamer (and, if rumour was to be believed, professor-killer) didn't help. After class, they'd found a secluded alcove, and Jeremy had spilled his secrets like an overcooked sausage.

"You know how summon spells sometimes bring in weird creatures, like those giant bouncing rats we had last year? The boxing ones? Well, sometimes you get eels that make lightning. They don't live for long and we can't get them to breed, but we were thinking - that is me, Guffy Chesterton, and Nedrick Bilgent, and a couple of others who weren't much use but were along for the hell of it - we were thinking that if we could summon them reliably we could figure out how they worked. I was on the elemental side, Guffy did the biomancy, and Nedrick did the summoning. We used the snail conversion trick to get them to breed, but it all sort of went wrong."

Tom nodded politely, having absorbed about half of the information. "But you called it the Eel Hunting Club."

"Well we had to do something. They escaped, see. The eels we made didn't make lightning. They ate magic, and when they felt threatened they released it. They could suck the thaums right out of  your head. It was horrible! And the they blasted a hole in the basement and escaped. We thought they'd probably die in the sunlight, but then Guffy said he'd seen one in the river, so we started the club. Went out with nets and jars. BYOB, bring your own boots, ha ha. But then one of the eels drained Guffy and we had to take him to the hospital, so that was the end of the club. Too dangerous for wizards to hunt them."

"Err, right," Tom said, nodding, as his brain tried to catch up. Jeremy was perspiring freely.

"And then some actor in West Cross wrote me a letter saying he had two magic eels and to meet him at midnight, so we got a bunch of lead and put it in a purse to try and trick him into thinking it was coins, and we dressed up in black and went up to meet him, but when we got there we saw a carriage race away from his door and the door was broken, and people were starting to call for the Coppers, so we left."

"That wouldn't happen to be Alfonso the Reliable?" Tom asked.

"Oh gods!" Jeremy cried. "How did you know?"

"It was in the papers. But you didn't kidnap him?" 

"Of course not!"

"But you were going to swindle him out of his eels, if he had eels," Tom said. A nagging voice at the back of his mind suggested that Alfonso probably didn't want to sell his eels. They were a vital part of his magic brain recharging device. But someone who knew he had eels might want some students with a strong motive to be around during the kidnapping, to keep the Coppers occupied. He was starting to think like Jonty.

"Swindle yes, kidnap no. And we never got the chance. Never even got to the address," Jeremy said.

"Fine, fine." Well, sorry your eels escaped. Probably worse than the rats.

"Oh gods! You know about the rats!" Jeremy crumpled against the wall.

Tom paused. "Yes. You just told me. The big bouncing rats that kept punching people?"

"Oh, those rats," Jeremy said, relieved. "Yes, of course, that's right, those rats. Those rats are fine." Tom gave Jeremy a very hard look. "But if you see any other rats," the stricken wizard continued, "definitely remember that they can't talk."

"Of course not," Tom said slowly. Some wizards were too eccentric for their own good.

Muddy Waters

The rest of the group wandered over to Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati. Doyle was startled to see the lock on the front door also carried a thin sheen of magic. "Aha!" he said, pointing at it. The others patiently waited for his explanation, which took a few moments, as he had a bit of narration to get out of his system first.

"Seems fine to me," Lizzy said, peering in the window. "His clerk is in there moving around. No signs of violence."

"But there's mud on his doorstep," Doyle said, pointing down. Lizzy compared it to the mud in her vial, shrugged, and carefully kicked most of it into the gutter.

Nero, when they stepped inside, was visibly distraut. "I've been burgled! Err, well, not burgled exactly. Come and see." He dragged them through the building and to the back alley, where a pair of large muddy boots were sat ominously on a flowerpot. "I found them in my closet. They are mine, but I rarely wear them. Fresh mud! It's a conspiracy of some sort, I know it."

While Nero could see a conspiracy to ruin his business in the most mundane of coincidences, the group agreed that this was very suspicious. Dr. Hartwell went upstairs to try and coax the scrying apparatus into detecting the source of the mud, while Lizzy examined the boots. They'd been forced open and tied hastily. Someone had worn their shoes inside of the boots.

"River mud, I think," Dr. Hartwell reported a few moments later. 

"Someone's definitely trying to frame us for something," Doyle said. "But who? And why?"

Who and why indeed? Who is behind the kidnapping of Alfonso the Reliable and (possibly) his magical eels? Who broke into Doyle's office? What does Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl want with John Huffman? Why is Jeremy Golt afraid of rats? Will Lizzy ever get married? Will Jonty ever get tenure?

Find out next time.