In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Evaded Punishment
- Entered the Wine Cellar
- Also Entered the Wine Cellar
- Observed A Hanging
- Discovered A Combustible Fluid
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate.
Illusionist. Tom's friend and boon companion. Slightly amoral but deeply practical.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, in debt to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, and generally involved in disreputable schemes.
Aged relative of the Shambledrakes, a serial widow, and night warden at St. Longstand's Orphanage.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus wants to overturn
Endon's stuffy and outdated medical notions.
Wizard, cook, and former brewer to the Shambledrake family, and current
cook at the Loxdon College Metropolitan Police Station. Lizzy is filled
with middle-class ambition.
The group had, by mild non-binding mumbling, consented to meet if any other Gel Knights "went awry" in the streets of Endon, in order to secure rewards from Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner. One did; runners were dispatched at considerable expense to rouse the group and bring them to the scene on the banks of the River Burl.
"Not a pretty sight," Jonty said, rubbing his eyes. By the light of the full moon, a Gel Knight staggered and swung wildly, as a crowd of amused spectators and less-than-pleased Coppers swirled at a safe distance.
"Should I strike it?" Agnes asked, shouldering a beef haunch.
"Aunt Aggy," Tom asked, his sleep-addled brain slowly registering his relative-by-marriage's unusual accessory, "why are you carrying a beef haunch?"
"Oh, this old thing?" Agnes said blithely. "It's for the orphans. I wanted to give them a good meal."
"It must weigh a hundred pounds!"
"One hundred and ten," the aged relative said.
"Goodness," Tom said, unable to find any other words.
Side Note: Agnes' player read "beef haunch" on the Brawler sheet and decided that the "improvised" part of "improvised weapon" was less important than the "1d12+SB" damage part of "beef haunch". Attempts to explain that it was just an example did not alter the plan.
"You can't approach, miss," the Copper said to Lizzy.
"Nonsense. I know you, Constable Barnes. It's me, Lizzy, the cook!"
"Oh yes. Well, still, it's quite dangerous."
"I have brought wizards. Reputable wizards! And we shall safely stop this menace with no further damage to life and property," Lizzy declared to the skeptical crowd. Dr. Hartwell tried to distance himself from the irascible cook.
"Wizards! Attack!" Jonty said, slightly carried away.
The fight was entertaining for the crowd, if a little shocking for the participants. The Gel Knight smashed Lizzy over the head with its iron poker, exposing brain matter and fracturing her skull. She fell, apparently lifeless, to the stones. The crowd gasped. Some fainted.
Jonty, having circled the automaton, flung his smart chain like a bola to entangle its legs, but missed. He resorted to entangling it with his arms. Haze sent dancing mirror images to distract the goop-filled suit of armour, while Tom used clear to jolt the life back into Lizzy. Agnes bravely strode forward, raised her beef haunch high, and delivered a dramatic but ineffectual series of blows before finally striking the Gel Knight in the head, giving Dr. Hartwell a chance to reach in and cast extract venom.
With the Gel-Knight-addling poison safely stored in a flask, the Gel Knight reverted to some sort of repair mode, and followed Dr. Hartwell like a concussed dog.
"Can we borrow a cart, Constable?" Lizzy asked, when she'd finally regained consciousness. "I feel a trifle faint."
Unable to refuse a woman with a streaming head wound and a crown of bloody bandages, Constable Barnes summoned the cart and helped load the Gel Knight aboard.
"To Blumsworth Hospital?", the Copper asked.
"Of course not! Do I look like I can afford the hospital? To Grenville Court," Lizzy said. "We must return this Gel Knight to its manufacturer." The Coppers kindly obliged.
"Not again!" cried Nero Krahlhammer, as the PCs scurried into his shop. "Were there many injuries? Oh, curse my enemies! Curse their perfidious schemes!"
"Only one injury, but that of a notable employee of His Majesty's Metropolitan Police," Jonty said tactfully, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the Copper's wagon parked outside.
Nero made a horrible gurgling noise. "I'm ruined! Ruined! I've spent all my funds on lawyers and fees. I cannot even afford to reward you, my most loyal, err, associates."
"Oh, well," Tom said, slightly staggered, "we did not return your Gel Knight in hope of a reward, but..."
"You might not have," Haze muttered.
"But to put an end to this menace threatening the citizens of Endon," Jonty said smoothly. "Dr. Hartwell, produce the poison."
Dr. Hartwell did so, and Nero grasped it eagerly. "Into the scrying machine!" he cried, then added in a more reserved tone. "I have recently purchased a scrying machine."
The magically inclined PCs gathered around the novel device. It consisted of a clear scrying orb, a variety of dials and wheels, and a slot for a scrying focus. Nero carefully positioned the vial and began to fiddle with the dials.
"Do you mind if I have a go," Haze said, after a few minutes of ineffectual buzzing and shimmering. "I studied this sort of thing at the College."
"By all means," Nero said, gratefully relinquishing his seat. Haze deftly aligned the scrying manifolds and thaumic resonators.
"Aha! See!" Nero cried, pointing at the orb. "My nemeses! The firm of Nortgreen & Louton! The scrying orb shows all! They are the incubators of this gel-deceiving poison!"
The PCs agreed that the firm's warehouse featured prominently in the scrying orb's visions. "What would you suggest?" Jonty asked.
"DESTROY THEM!" Nero howled. "Cast their works into oblivion! Smash their machines! Obliterate their pride and their memory! DRIVE THEM SCREAMING INTO THE OUTER DARKNESS!"
"Err, shouldn't we tell the Coppers?"
"Bah, Coppers. They won't act! Not without firm proof, and this orb is not sufficient. They can't search without a warrant, and wouldn't know an ooze-adulterant from phosphoric acid even if they found it."
"Perhaps we could investigate," Jonty said, "for future consideration."
"Well I hope you're not envisioning riches," Nero said frankly, "for I am nine-tenths ruined already."
"Perhaps," the sly assistant professor said. "And yet, perhaps not. Fortunes change overnight in Endon."
Halfway through the Season, the minor holiday of Perimass Eve brings business in Endon to a standstill. There is no actual Perimass, but Perimass Eve is celebrated with drinking, singing, gifts, and chasing drunken pigs through the streets whacking them with pig-bladders and shouting "a hoy hoy hoy!" for some reason. It's good fun.
Agnes, whose wealth seemed to grow like ginger beer in a street-seller's carboy, invited the group for dinner and gifts at the private back room of the Unicorn Arms. She even invited "The Foreigner" (Dr. Hartwell), though she asked Tom to deliver the invitation.
"I have gifts!" Agnes said.
- Each PC received 1lb of soap in neatly wrapped cakes.
- Tom recieved 5gp and the silence urchins discount spell.
- Haze recieved 5gp and Bertrand's hurled boot of force discount spell.
- Jonty received 2gp and the stew to soup discount spell.
- Lizzy recieved 2gp and the disintegrate beer foam discount spell.
- Dr. Hartwell received an additional 1lb of soap and a potion of ratform. Agnes smiled at him with undisguised malice.
Jonty was slightly baffled by Agnes' munificence. Early in the Season, Professor Tallerand, Senior Professor of Biomancy, had asked him to keep Agnes out of trouble for unknown reasons. From time to time, the Professor discreetly complimented Jonty on his non-existent efforts and paid him very small sums. How could Agnes could afford these gifts on a mere o warden's wages?
That evening, as pig squeals and drunken hoots filled the air, Dr. Hartwell was accosted by two of his usual crowd of urchins. As a "night doctor" and "general physician of no fixed practice", as well as a kind-hearted soul, he occasionally treated the poor of Hasselby Court at no charge.
"We found a body inna river," Perry Pint said, doffing his filth-encrusted bowler hat. "Want a first look at it?"
Dr. Hartwell agreed. A body was a body, and those patients he could not treat usually ended up at Loxdon College's dissection labs. A river corpse was usually too soggy to sell, but the Coppers appreciated the occasional tip about foul play or misadventure.
The corpse was a child, no more than eight, wearing a very plain and badly sewn industrial uniform. Dr. Hartwell tapped its chest. "Alive," he said, surprised, then spotted tell-tale puncture marks on the inner arm, "but drugged".
Extract venom was risky. If, as he suspected, the drug was a near-fatal dose of opium, the sudden shock could easily kill the muck-streaked child. Still, dead one way or dead another. He fired the spell and collected a large vial of the potent drug. The child sat up with a gasp, then looked Dr. Hartwell in the eyes.
"You!" he said.
"Yes?" Dr. Hartwell replied, baffled, as Perry Pint and the other urchins reached for their "make-sure-the-corpse-is-a-corpse" mallets.
"Doctor Hartwell. What you doing here? What am I doing here?" the child asked, with a clear and confused tone.
"I could not say. Who are you, again?"
"You foreign fool, I am Cheetham, the lawyer! We met at Uriah Shambledrake's will reading. Now tell me where I am this instant."
"Ah." Dr. Hartwell blinked. "Ah. Please, come this way."
"Elizabeth," Dr. Hartwell said, opening the door to their shared one-room apartment. "Wake up."
"Stop or I'll shoot!" Lizzy mumbled, reaching for a brick.
"It is only me. Put that away and wake up."
"Why have you brought a mud-covered child into our apartment?" Lizzy asked, sitting up in bed and pulling a dress over her nightclothes.
"I am Cheetham," the child said, "and you are... err, the cook. You were also at the will reading. Why am I so small?"
"I... what? What?" Lizzy stammered.
"Exactly." Dr. Hartwell added.
"Why do I feel so cold?" the child asked.
"We should get him into some warm clothes," the Dr. said helpfully.
"All I have is Agnes' old dress. It'll do for now. Send a messenger for Tom and Haze," Lizzy suggested.
"Already done. You change the child and put it in the bed. I will, ah, stand guard. In case of, ah, murderers."
The paid runner found Nedalward Hall and threw stones at various windows until the pair were forcibly dressed and ejected. Upon being told that Dr. Hartwell and Lizzy requested their presence on an urgent matter, they decided it was worth collecting Jonty from his apartment first.
The one-room apartment was comically crowded. Any movement required the adjustment of four or more limbs. Lizzy broke out her emergency stock of embezzled sandwiches and handed them around as best she could. Their upstairs neighbor pounded on the floorboards to no effect.
"Did you see the burn marks on his scalp?" Lizzy asked. "Eight of them, equally spaced."
"I did," Dr. Hartwell replied. "And this is not the first child I have seen in the river with these marks. There was one other, dead, some weeks ago."
"Do you think it's necromancy" Tom added, "or did someone reverse his aging. Does anyone know what Cheetham looked like as a child?" The group tried to picture the elderly lawyer, but even the most mundane details evaded them.
"Mr. Cheetham, do you remember anything before I found you in the river?" Dr. Hartwell asked.
It's all so strange. I was in my office. After the will reading. I was
waiting for someone. There was a letter. Yes. I had to give them the
letter. Uriah told me so."
"Told you so? In person? Before or after he died." Lizzy asked prudently.
before. Handed me the letter and said that someone would come to
collect it if he died. I thought it was unlikely, but then he did die. And the letter vanished."
Haze and Tom, who had replaced the letter in question with an illusionary copy, tried not to look guilty.
"For whom was the letter intended?" Tom asked.
"I... I don't remember."
"We happen to have, err, a copy of the letter," Tom said guiltily, sliding it out of his coat pocket. "Is this it?"
The child became agitated, and Dr. Hartwell made medical tutting
noises. "Yes! I remember! It was there, and then it vanished! And he was
very angry when he arrived."
"My uncle?" Tom gasped.
he was dead then. Uriah Shambledrake... Junior." Lightning split the
sky. Thunder rolled dramatically. Exhausted, the Cheetham-child
collapsed onto the bed.
"Uriah Shambledrake Junior?" Lizzy said, as another bolt split the air.
"I don't think it's a good idea to say that name," Dr. Hartwell whispered.
"Why in the world not? You're not superstitious, are you?"
"Merely practical," Dr. Hartwell said. He'd detected the faintest glimmer of magic just before the thunder rolled, and was not willing to take any chances.
"Will he live?" Jonty asked, as the group shifted around the room in a tangle of limbs and furniture.
"I do not know. He seems to be in shock. He has refused all food," Dr. Hartwell said, "and his pulse is irregular. In the books of approved necromancy that you kindly loaned to me before selling them, the loss of life-vigor is sometimes a consequence of resurrection. You see, some necromancers believe that the mind is divided in two, with the animating ethereal soul containing some memories and the rest stored in mere meat and gristle, in the brain. Now, if these two memories do not match, the person goes mad, as the tales often tell us. But in this case there is no sign of madness. It is strange. The child is quite lucid, though very weak."
"Could also be the opium," Haze said. "Speaking of, can I have that opium?"
"Of course," Lizzy said, and blithely passed it over.
"Thank you. I suspect our friend Nero Krahlhammer and his scrying orb can locate the source of this opium," Haze said, "and then we can locate the villains who are drugging children and throwing them into the river."
"Who would do such a thing?" Lizzy said indignantly.
"Yes, who," Jonty said, with a note of worry in his voice. "Also, this room is no place for an ill child. We should bring him to Agnes at St. Longstand's Orphanage. Perhaps she can identify him and his strange clothing."
"It's not far to walk," Lizzy said helpfully. The group disentangled themselves. Haze caught a cab north to Krahlhammer's shop for yet another late-night visit, while the rest of the PCs discreetly hurried to the orphanage.
"Oh, a dear little child," Agnes said, peering through the gate. "Is it one of yours?"
"Err, no," Jonty said. "We rather thought it might be one of yours."
"Doesn't look like it. It's wearing a dress. In fact, is that..."
"Aunt Aggy, can we come inside? It's dreadfully cold out here." Tom shivered for effect, brushing rain off his hat.
"If you must," she said, unlocking the gate.
"And can you check your records right away, and the records of any other orphanage you have access to?"
"Very well. What is your name?" Agnes asked the child sweetly.
"It is Cheetham, as you will recall. We met at the will reading." The child bowed slightly, despite constant shivering.
"A touch of brain fever," Agnes said, stammering, "so sad. So sad."
"No, Aunt Aggy, we think it's sorcery, or something like it. This really is Cheetham." Tom said slowly. "Now please check your records."
After tucking Cheetham into a private room, the group waited patiently for Agnes to return. Jonty kept one eye on the front door.
"It is little Tomathy," Agnes said. "Not one of mine after all."
"Are you sure?" Jonty asked sharply.
"Oh no. No no no. No. Well, yes. As a matter of fact."
"Ah," the assistant professor said. "And was little Timothy..."
"Tomathy, assigned to a 'work experience' program, perhaps at Loxdon College?" Jonty said quietly.
"Signed out but not signed back in, eh?" Jonty said.
"These things do happen," Agnes said airily, though her voice was increasingly strained and hurried. "I mean, it is not reasonable to expect me to keep track of all the orphans in this facility." She dabbed her eyes with a new lace handkerchief. "And some of them are so terribly ill."
"You mean you are selling orphans to the college for medical experiments?" Haze said.
"Not selling. Renting. For work experience! They gain valuable life skills and medical care!" Agnes burbled.
"Including the skills of dead lawyers and free opium," Jonty added menacingly.
"I did not inquire into the nature of the experiments," Agnes said. "Certainly, not all of the experiments are fatal, or even harmful."
"Some, evidently, are."
"It cannot be helped," Agnes said.
"And you adjust the records accordingly, I assume," Jonty said.
"I correct them to match the facts before me," she said.
"Aunt Agnes," Tom said, "how could you! Now, you must take very good care of little Tomathy,"
"Jimothy," Agnes corrected.
"Jimothy, until tomorrow. We are all going to go home and get some sleep, but we will meet at the Unicorn Arms first thing in the morning for breakfast and schemes.
"I won't," Lizzy said. "I have to work."
"Well, almost all of us. And then we will come up with a plan."
Jonty, who intended to spend the rest of the night planning, agreed, and the group split up temporarily.
Haze, meanwhile, had dragged Nero Krahlhammer out of bed, quickly scanned the opium in his device, lied about its origins, and returned to the orphanage to just in time to meet Jonty and Tom on the street. "The college," he said. "That's where the scrying implement focused. The east end of the college, possibly underground. Too much thaumic interference to see clearly."
"Ah!" Tom said. "The department of Biomancy is on the east end of the college, and the morgue is underground, along with other laboratories." Jonty winced.
|Dr. Augustus Hartwell|
Dawn at the Unicorn Arms
The inn did not serve breakfast, but street-sellers congregated outside, waiting for the up-all-night crowd to stagger out and seek sustenance. The group found a table in the corner, arranged their sausages, coffee, and eggs, and, with Agnes sniffling disapprovingly, began to scheme.
"I believe that Professor Tallerand is at the heart of this matter," Jonty said, opening with a salvo aimed directly at Agnes. "He asked me - though I had no notion why at the time - to assist Agnes if she required assistance. She did not, but it was a curious conversation."
"What an odd coincidence," Dr. Hartwell said. "I have an appointment with Professor Tallerand on Monday, to discuss challenging the medical exams."
"Could you move the appointment forward?" Haze asked. "I don't think the child will survive the week-end. If anyone knows how to cure this life-drain, it will be Tallerand."
"Meet him on a Saturday?"
"Yes. Oh, I suppose Jonty could introduce you!"
Jonty gurgled. "I, err, yes, I suppose I could..."
"I just remembered something," Agnes said. "I should go. Enjoy your breakfast of egg and other things. Goodbye!"
The PCs watched her leave with deep reservation. "Was there anything else you wished to add?" Tom said to Jonty.
"Only that we must be cautious. Professor Tallerand has tenure. I think he could murder orphans by the score and the college would try to protect him... and of course, he will take steps to protect himself. But necromancy is another matter."
"And we'll have the element of surprise on our side." Tom added.
"Yes, that is true." The group merrily breakfasted, until, all at once, they made the connection.
"Agnes! Oh devils! To the College at once!"
Agnes knocked on the door to Professor Tallerand's office, and, without waiting for a reply, slipped inside. Professor Tallerand was rising from behind his camelopard desk.
"I told you never to visit me at the college!" he hissed.
"He found Timobert. I mean Jomantha. I mean Timothy. The orphan! In the river. But with Cheetham the lawyer inside his head. And Dr. Hartwell knows now. Filthy foreigner! He's going to spoil everything." Agnes was almost incoherent with panic.
"Speak more slowly," Tallerand said, with murderous calm.
"The foreigner! And of course Jonty knows too."
"Oh enough of this," Tallerand said, pulling a wand from his pocket. He fired a cone of silver rings at Agnes. "I apologize, but you were becoming hysterical. I have cast ray of truth upon you."
"I see," Agnes said, as the spell buzzed through her head.
"Now, what did this Hartwell find?"
"Timothy. The orphan. Alive. He says he is the lawyer Cheetham." Agnes said, speaking each word with care.
"Ah. How did he survive? Oh, of course, Hartwell used a spell. Still, it only buys a few hours. Timothy will fade in any case. You said assistant professor Earl knows all this?"
"How did that fool get involved?"
"Knows Dr. Hartwell."
"Oh does he. And I have an appointment with Hartwell on Monday. Odd that Earl didn't think to warn me. Still, you were right to come here, even if it was indiscreet. Thank you, and I once again apologize for the spell. Now, you must..."
A knock at the door. The pair froze.
"Blast and damnation," Professor Tallerand spit. "Get into the closet." Agnes obligingly slipped inside, leaving the door open a crack to listen in.
"Come in," the Professor said, sitting and casually aiming a wand of fireball at the door from under the desk.
Jonty peered inside. "It's me."
"Oh. Earl. Come in and shut the door." Tallerand beckoned Jonty over. "Come out of the closet, Agnes."
"I think I am attracted to women," Agnes said, in a horrified and baffled tone, as she stepped into view.
Side Note: this was a throwaway OOC gag from Agnes' player, but then the group realized that it could explain Agnes' string of deceased husbands. Agnes had critically failed her Save against ray of truth, so it could, in theory, also apply to her internal monologue, demolishing illusions and revealing hidden truths.
The two academics paused, looked at Agnes, then looked at each other. "Be that as it may," Tallerand said politely, "I believe a situation has arisen that requires both discretion and action. Agnes has given me the details. I, unfortunately, had to cast ray of truth on her to moderate her feminine hysteria. It seems a certain Doctor Hartwell has become aware of my research, and wishes to... well, what does he wish to do?"
"I am not sure," Jonty said. A few half-formed plans had been discussed, but nothing definite had emerged. "To speak with you, I think. He's in the corridor."
"You brought him here?!"
"Err, yes, he wanted to see you."
"You gravel-brained oaf, you've just confirmed his worst suspicions! Listen closely, the pair of you. I want Doctor Hartwell dead by sunset. Dead. Sunset. Bring the child to me if you can, or throw it into the river if you cannot. Nothing can tie Hartwell's death back to me, you understand? Discretion, but speed."
Jonty gulped. "Isn't that a bit extreme?"
"It's him or me and he knows it. There are powers at work here, Earl. Larger patterns. Now get out of my office. Oh, Agnes' truth spell should wear off in about twenty minutes, so ensure she does not speak to anyone."
"Of course." Jonty said, pale as a ghost.
"What did he say?" Dr. Hartwell asked, once they were in the corridor. "Does he want to speak with me?"
"No. You are a horrible foreigner," Agnes said with cheerful frankness.
"We should go. Orphanage?" Jonty said, hustling the group out of the college.
"Orphanage," Agnes agreed. Tom and Haze followed, slightly confused, but ready to lend a hand.
|Haze Palewolf (with indestructible hat)|
"It seems," Jonty said, "that Professor Tallerand wishes to have Dr. Hartwell killed."
"What!?" Tom said. "Why?"
"To protect his secrets, of course," Haze said. "Not to mention the profitable cash-for-orphans arrangement he has with Jonty and Agnes."
"He has no arrangement with me!" Jonty protested.
"Yet he trusts you enough to hire you as an assassin. Curious." Haze eyed the assistant professor critically.
"I am... well, I am a member of the faculty," Jonty said, half-heartedly.
"And for that, you agree to kill me," Dr. Hartwell said coldly.
"What was I supposed to do? I had to agree in the moment, but I assure you, I have no intention of carrying it out."
"I do!" Agnes said. The other PCs stared at her.
"You what?" Dr. Hartwell said.
"I say we kill the foreigner, as the Professor suggested. He will reward you all. Make it look like a suicide." Agnes said with calm determination.
"Aunt Aggy!" Tom cried.
"Pay no heed," Jonty said, "Professor Tallerand cast an enchantment on her."
"Oh that wore off some time ago," Agnes said. "I just think it's an excellent idea."
"We are not murdering Dr. Hartwell," Jonty said firmly. "But it is probably a good idea to make it seem as if Dr. Hartwell is dead. Fake his death, you understand, for Professor Tallerand's benefit."
"The child is also dying," Dr. Hartwell said, turning away from the bed. "There is nothing I can do."
"What about a healing potion?" Tom suggested.
"That might work temporarily," the doctor speculated, "but..."
"I will buy a healing potion!" Agnes said, and both the room and the orphanage.
Side Note: "And this," Haze's player said, "is the part in the Coen Brothers' film where everything goes to hell."
Jonty peered out of the room. Feenie, one of Agnes' better-trained orphans and her chief informer, lurked behind a potted plant.
"Feenie," Jonty said quietly, "this is a private conversation." The plant rustled. "You should go."
"No," Feenie said.
"Oh fine. Then come into the room."
"No. Eres a dying boy in there."
"Feenie," Jonty said, filling his voice with as much menace as he could manage, "you will be perfectly safe in here. We're all waiting for you."
"No. You're gonna do a wizardment on me. Drain my blood or sumthins."
"I promise you will be safe. Mwahahaha," Jonty added, rubbing his hands together and waggling his eyebrows. Feenie bolted. Satisfied, Jonty returned to the room.
"Tom. Haze. Dr. Hartwell. I do not believe Agnes is going to fetch a healing potion. I believe she means to do us further mischief."
"You call this mischief?" Dr. Hartwell said. "My life is threatened!"
"Yes, well, further crimes. We should leave immediately, taking Cheetham with us, and... and tell the Coppers."
"What, tell them everything?" Haze said.
"Err, no, of course not. Just that we are in danger. We need to warn Lizzy too. If Agnes is on the road to war, she is also at risk."
"And then what?" Dr. Hartwell said.
"You have the alter person spell," Tom said. "Could you disguise yourself as Professor Tallerand?"
"For a few hours, perhaps, if I did not have to teach or speak to anyone, but not convincingly."
"I don't know," Tom said. "You would make a good professor."
"Perhaps that's how the Department of Biomancy gets all its professors," Haze speculated. "Someone assassinates the last one, steals their skin or polymorphs themself, and takes over. I mean, it's a good test of quality and skill." The PCs paused to consider this grisly idea. It was unsettling.
"Well, keep that idea in your back pocket. We should go somewhere Agnes cannot find us and discuss our next move," Jonty said.
"Miss," Constable Riley said disapprovingly, "you have visitors in the courtyard."
"Oh? Who?" Lizzy asked, looking up from the stove.
"Err, two well-dressed young men, one well-dressed older gentleman, a child, and a foreigner."
"Oh! One moment!"
"Lizzy!" Tom said. "It's all gone terribly wrong." He bent over and whispered, "Agnes wants to kill Dr. Hartwell."
"So she's said at every opportunity," the cook whispered back. "Do you remember on Perimass Eve when she..."
"No, this time she really means it. We need to hide here."
"Here? At the station?"
"Yes. Can you help us?"
"Can I help them, Constable Riley?" Lizzy asked politely.
"No miss. They have been uncooperative. They say there are threats against their lives, but refuse to point out the threatener. They make allegations without naming the alligator. It is not good, miss. I must charge them with loitering with intent to lounge if they remain on the premises," Constable Riley said, tapping his notebook. "We Coppers do not deal with intangibubbles."
"I'm sure they can stay for a half hour, in the courtyard," Lizzy said. "While I make a nourishing soup for this small and clearly ill child."
"Miss, you cannot make soup for urchins in the station kitchen," the Constable explained.
"But look at him! So pale and thin."
"Miss, if we feed every urchin, the yearly combustible budget would be excessed in a fortweek."
"I'll pay for all the ingredients out of my own pocket!"
"No, miss. And that is final."
Half an hour later, Cheetham was bundled up in one corner of the kitchen as Lizzy prepared a soup of very strange potency. She'd sent Tom out with a shopping list from apothecaries and herbalists. "Old family recipe", she explained, adding another pinch of metallic green leaves to the pot.
"That's wolfsbane," Haze said, peering in from the side door. "And oil of hemp. Pepper seeds. I think that's coca powder..."
"Did I mention that the alchemists think that explosive oil you discovered in the late Uriah's bedroom is oil of azide?" Dr. Hartwell said casually. "A dangerous liquid. Prone to detonation at the slightest shock."
"I can believe it," Tom said. His eyebrows had yet to fully recover.
"Soup is ready!" Lizzy said, testing the temperature of a bowl until it was suitably child-safe. "Now, open wide."
"We've tried feeding him," Jonty said, "but he refuses to eat."
"That's why they invented funnels," Lizzy said, reaching for one. One bowl of dangerously brewed soup was washed down with a helpfully purchased healing potion. Cheetham looked better immediately. Colour returned to his cheeks, thought it was briefly a colour associated with rotting meat or spoiled cabbage. He seemed in unnaturally good health, sneezing powerfully and kicking his legs.
"Splendid! Now, where to?" Jonty said.
"Some urchins I occasionally employ have located a suitable hide-away," Dr. Hartwell said.
"Lead on!" Jonty replied.
Meanwhile, Agnes had reached a feverish stage of panic. She attempted to openly locate "an assassin, or a killer-for-hire", at several taverns and gin-palaces of Needle Circus that she deemed "sufficiently disreputable" to hide such characters. No one took her up on her offers.
Side Notes: Agnes, being of genteel upbringing, believed any lower-middle-class tavern was a den of cuthroats and reprobates who would spring into murderous action for the promise of a gold piece. She was tragically disappointed. Also, she went searching at 11 in the morning.
"Fine!" she said to herself. "If I cannot find an assassin, I will find a corpse!" Agnes wandered up and down dark alleys, gently prodding sleeping vagrants to see if any were dead. "Where's a corpse when you need one?" she complained.
"Hold, ma'am," a voice whispered in her ear. "Your money or your life."
"My what? How dare you speak to me in that familiar tone," Agnes said, turning.
"Don't move. I've got a dagger against your ribs." Agnes looked at the shabbily dressed man, at his dagger, and up again.
"So I see."
"Now open that 'andbag."
Agnes did so, revealing three lead bricks and a small amount of dried fruit.
"What are those?"
"Lead bricks. Take a closer look," Agnes said, heaving the handbag upwards and smacking the rogue in the chest.
"That's done it. Right!" the cutpurse said, advancing. "I'll show you."
After some ineffectual scuffling, and a few minor scratches, Agnes got a firm two-handed grip on her handbag and smacked the villain on the top of the head. His neck snapped with a sickening crunch.
"One way to find a corpse. Now come with me young man," Anges said, draping the body over her shoulder, turning up his collar, and pulling his hat over his eyes. "You're drunk."
Agnes tried to avoid the main thoroughfares while steering her heavy burden back to St. Longstand's Orphanage. She dragged the body inside, discovered the other PCs had departed for parts unknown, and stuffed the body in a closet for later. She turned to see a small crowd of orphans and staff staring at her.
"This could be you if you don't listen to your elders!" she shouted, then left.
Body, obtained. Now, to track down her wayward friends and relations. Were they hiding from here? Plotting something? They'd probably want allies... yes, the cook. What was her name? Never mind. Agnes remembered where the cook worked. While walking over, she paid several silver to any urchin or messenger she passed to track down Jonty and his companions.
"Lizzy," Constable Riley said, "another visitor for you. This is not a public house, you know."
"Oh I know," Lizzy said, "but it must be terribly urgent."
"Lizzy!" Agnes said cheerfully. "How are you? Have you seen dear Tom and Jonty and Haze and that horrible foreigner today?"
"Oh yes ma'am," Lizzy said, "they left about half an hour ago."
"Did they?" Agnes said. "Do you have any notion where they might be at this time?"
"None, ma'am," the cook said truthfully. The group hadn't informed her of their plans, possibly for her own safety, but possibly because they'd once again overlooked her. They'd packed up the special herbal soup, Cheetham, some spare sandwiches and disappeared.
"Oh dear oh dear. Well, if you do see them... oh, never mind," Agnes said, eyeing the apparently ignorant Lizzy with a critical eye.
Agnes left the Copper station and spotted a likely-looking urchin lounging on the other side of the street. "I say," she said proffering two shining silver coins, "you there. Did you see three well-dressed gentlemen, a foreigner, and a child pass this way?"
The urchin, who had been hired by Dr. Hartwell to report, "if an old woman in black" visited the station, looked at the coins, evaluated his options, and decided to be a mercenary.
"Yes ma'am. They did, and they paid me to keep a look-out for you, pacifically."
Agnes handed over the coins and withdrew two more. "Very good. Can you take me to them?"
"I can, ma'am."
"What a clever child. Would you like a piece of dried fruit?"
On the first floor of a construction site in West Cross, Tom, Haze, Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and three trustworthy (though as-yet unpaid) urchins tried to come up with a scheme to evade the preemptive revenge of Agnes and Professor Tallerand. Cheetham also stood in their circle, though he did not have much to contribute.
Jonty had, once again, bared his soul to the group, revealing everything he knew about the plot while carefully cutting a Jonty-shaped hole in the tapestry. "All we need to do is fake Dr. Hartwell's death," he said.
"Or kill Tallerand." Dr. Hartwell said. "He has killed several orphans and committed Dread Necromancy."
"Or replace him," Haze added. "It's a good job with many perquisites."
"But how?" Tom added. "And what should we do about Aunt Aggy?"
As the group ruminated, one of the orphans on the ground floor spotted Agnes ducking under a fence. He sprinted towards the stairs, barely evading a hurled brick that Agnes sent in his direction. "That lady is here!" the urchin shouted.
Agnes, outside, picked up an 6' length of lead pipe with a tap on the end, eyed the first floor wood slatted windows, and started to run.
"Should we..." Jonty saying, when Agnes smashed through the wood slats in a hail of splinters.
"Either you have a plan," she shouted, pointing at Dr. Hartwell, "or I will kill aaaaall of you! I have one corpse in the orphanage already if you need it!"
"Ah," Jonty said, "we had the thought that Dr. Hartwell could replace Tallerand, using a spell, and..."
"Not a good enough plan!" Agnes howled, and swung her lead pipe with murderous force.
Dr. Hartwell, expecting to be the primary target of Agnes' wrath, stumbled down the stairs as fast as he could, followed by his urchins.
Tom, appalled, fired Yakob's ladder at Agnes, but she moved through the lighting as if it wasn't there.
Haze, sensibly afraid, cast light on his palm and blinded Agnes temporarily.
Agnes swung wildly, trying to strike everyone in the room. Haze, Jonty, and Tom were bruised, but Cheetham, stunned and ill, was struck in the head and killed instantly.
Jonty leapt beind her, holding out his smart chain like a garotte. Unfortunately, a built-in life-preservation system activated, and when he commanded it to "strangle", the chain turned red and fell to the floor, beeping quietly. "Oh damn," Jonty said, before dodging an overhand swing from Agnes.
Realizing that blindness was little impediment to someone who could swing a lead polearm like a matchstick, Haze ducked, pulled out a syringe and filled it with opium, then stabbed it into Agnes' arm. She hissed with rage and, with a clear target, put all her power behind a strike at Haze's head.
With a spray of blood and a horrible sucking sound, the illusionist fell.
"Haze!" Tom cried.
"He's gone," Jonty said pragmatically. "Get that rope!" Tom dove for the coil, sprang up, and attempted to wrap it around Anges' arms.
"Bind her!" he cried, passing a length to Jonty. But the assistant professor had other plans. He slipped the rope around Agnes' neck, putting all his weight on the loop. Agnes gurgled and tried to brain him with the pipe.
"Aunt Aggy, it's no use!" Tom said.
"Get off me you impertinent boy," Agnes shouted. "I'll kill you and that foreign doctor too!"
Jonty adjusted his grip, and Agnes began to fade. Tom stepped back and rushed to Haze's side.
"Nothing for it. I'm going to try clear," the electric wizard said, rolling up his sleeves.
"His brains are all over the floor," Jonty said.
"Lightning is the force of life!" Tom replied. Sparks flew from his hands as he rubbed them together, then slapped them onto Haze's chest. Blue-white light filled the room.
"No good," he said sadly. "He's gone."
"And so is Agnes," Jonty said. He'd maintained his grip on the rope as Agnes sank to the floor, and kept the noose tight for longer than strictly necessary, just in case.
Tom and Jonty listened as police whistles grew closer and closer. Suppressing his grief, Tom quickly looted Haze's body, stuffing his spellbook into his coat. Footsteps on the stairs. The first constable to view the scene vomited off the side of the building. Lizzy arrived and flew into suitably distracting hysterics, half feigned and half real. "If only I had been more persuasive," she said, sobbing into a distraught Constable Riley's chest, "they would still be alive!"
"She went mad," Tom said. "She wanted to kill Dr. Hartwell. She killed a child he was nursing back to health, then turned on us. We tried to stop her."
"It looks like your friend succeed," the Sergeant said skeptically.
"In self defense."
"Sir, you are telling me that this elderly... this woman of mature years leapt up to this first floor with one bound, then laid about her with this pipe, an object that requires not inconsiderable strength to lift, and then require the full efforts of two well-built young man to strangle?"
"That is exactly what I am telling you, Sergeant," Jonty said, though with a touch less conviction than before. "Though the strangling was accidental."
"What about this smart chain then?" the Sergeant asked. "Thought we simple Coppers had never seen one? De-deodand protocol activated, and very recently. No, your tale strains credulity. I am placing you all under arrest. You too, Dr. Hartwell."
"But I was the one who warned you," the doctor protested.
"And very good of you to do so, but as I said, the whole affair strains credulity. We will sort it out at the Grim . Three dead in one day," the Sergeant muttered. "A grim business."
"Four," Jonty said. "She mentioned another victim, at her place of work. St. Longstand's Orphanage. Search it and you will no doubt find another body, though I do not know whose."
The Copper eyed Jonty carefully. "We will sir. When did she mention this?"
"Just before attacking us," Tom said.
"I see. So there was a conversation? A pause to discuss the Whackit scores and the weather before, err, before the violence began?" the Sergeant said, opening his notebook again.
"Well, a very brief one. She jumped in the window and immediately attacked us, but before immediately attacking us she said something like 'I've killed someone and put their body in the orphanage'," Tom said earnestly.
"Right, sir. Now if you'll just step this way."
"Don't worry boss!" Perry Pint whispered to Dr. Hartwell. "We won't tell 'em nuffink."
In the underground cells of the Grim Baliol, Perry Pint and the other two urchins immediately folded. They'd been before a magistrate, sure, but usually for a quick spell in the workhouse or some dire threats. This was serious Coppering, with menaces and irons. One of the urchins hadn't stopped crying for hours.
Luckily for Dr. Hartwell, they confirmed every detail of his story, or at least the bits they knew. The doctor's interrogation was therefore both pleasant and brief. The Inspector who took his statement even seemed moved by his charitable nature.
Dr. Hartwell did not mention Tallerand, or the connection to the College, or the unnatural nature of Timothy/Cheetham the orphan.
Tom, morose at the death of both his aunt, his closest friend, and, he feared, his reputation, was also less helpful to the Coppers than they anticipated. His story meandered around the truth, avoiding Tallerand and the College more out of absent-mindedness than cunning. Trying to avoid further scandal, he did not mention the revivified Chetham, and denied it outright when asked.
"Now sir," an Inspector said, after many hours of solitude, "we appreciate you are trying to help your friend Mr. Earl."
"Assistant Professor Earl," Tom said, trying to summon some upper-class ice.
"Just so. But really sir, it will not do. There is no need for further deception."
"I don't understand."
"It wasn't Agnes who went mad, was it? It was Mr. Earl. He attacked Agnes, smashed the window, killed the orphan, and killed your friend Mr. Palewolf. He and Agnes were involved in the same business, trafficking orphans for purposes unknown, and they had a falling out."
"No! It was Agnes!" Tom said vehemently.
"Sir, that is simply impossible. We appreciate that you are trying to assist Mr. Earl, perhaps from fear, perhaps from loyalty, but it will not do. Mr. Earl is not in his right mind. He claims the orphan that Dr. Hartwell was tending to was, in fact, the necromantic spirit a lawyer. He claims that a woman who cannot be this side of sixty leapt ten feet in the air and was a formidable opponent in a hand-to-hand struggle. He claims," the Inspector paused, "well he claims all manner of conspiracies."
"I do not know what Mr. Earl claims or does not claim," Tom sniffed, the pride of the Shambledrakes in his veins. "I have made my statement."
"Very good sir," the Inspector said.
"I wish to speak with a Thaumaturgic Detective," Jonty said, fully composed.
"Sir," the Inspector said, "despite rumours in the press, there is no such thing."
"Look around this building for a man with a black and iridescent badge," Jonty retorted. "They do exist. I have it on excellent authority." Lizzy's information was not quite so precise, but Jonty was bluffing for his life.
"You are in no position to make demands of the Metropolitan Police, sir," the Inspector said, dripping acid.
"Correct. And yet you will fetch a Thaumaturgic Detective. I will wait."
A hour later, a black-clad figure with an oily black badge slid into the cell.
"I am Victus Crane."
"And I am Jonty Earl. You solve crimes that involve magic?"
"That may or may not describe my activities."
"Are these cells warded against scrying?"
"Excellent. There is a... a faction, at the College," Jonty said, fully composed. "It appears this faction engaged Agnes Nona as a procuress, of sorts. She supplied orphans and received money in return. One of the orphans she supplied was found by Dr. Hartwell, apparently left to die in the river Burl. That orphan contained the spirit of Cheetham, the decapitated lawyer. When we confronted her with these facts, she became enraged. We fled, but she tracked us and attacked us with murderous intent. Now I believe..."
"Our business is crime, its detection and its prevention. We do not deal in intrigue," Crane said, starting to stand up.
"What is this faction? Who is its leader? How are you involved? Why Cheetham?"
"I cannot say," Jonty said. "But I fear for my life!"
"To be blunt, Mr. Earl, your tale is a tale of madness. None of the facts make sense, either in conjunction or separately. Though you should know that we did discover a body at St. Longstand's orphanage."
"Just as I said."
"Indeed, just as you said. And if you have nothing more to say, I'm afraid we must... release you."
"What!?" Jonty said, appalled. "But I... I mean, if you send me out there, they will..."
"Who will, Mr. Earl?"
"The people who raised Cheetham from the dead!"
"I really cannot say," Jonty bleated, caught between the fire and the pan.
"Then we have nothing more to discuss. Do not leave town before the inquest, or inquests." Victus Crane stood up fully, shook Jonty's weak and trembling hand, and left.
"They let you go?" Lizzy said in astonishment, as Tom, Jonty, Dr. Hartwell, and his urchins gathered on the street outside the Grim Baliol, by the dim light of sunrise. "I've been waiting here all night for news."
"They did," Jonty said.
"I believe we are being followed, by means magical or mundane," Jonty whispered. "We are bait in the trap, worms on the hook."
And indeed, so it appeared. How would Tom avoid disgrace? How would Jonty avoid a swift trial for murder? How would Dr. Hartwell earn the approbation of Endon's medical community? How would Lizzy keep her job? Who was Uriah Shambledrake Junior? Why had Cheetham been raised from the dead? Who killed Uriah Shambledrake Senior?
All these mysteries, and many others, could potentially be resolved in the next installment of the Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake.