In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Discovered A Body
- Obtained Employment
- Confessed Their Sins To An Unresponsive Audience
- Discovered Another Body
- Were Framed
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.
Brawler. Aged relative of the Shambledrakes, Agnes is a serial widow who has recently branched out into orphan-selling and subterfuge.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus wants to overturn Endon's stuffy and outdated medical notions.
Potion 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.
One Minute After Midnight
"This way," Lizzy whispered, and scrambled down to the roof of the neighboring stables. She yanked open the skylight, peered down into opaque darkness, shrugged and jumped. Luckily, she landed on the hayloft floor.
Jonty, unable to see where Lizzy had fallen, leapt down as well. His landing was not so fortuitous. One leg went on one side of a beam, the other leg went on the other. Embedded in hay up to his waist, the assistant professor peered up at Lizzy, groaned, and passed out.
Side Note: non-lethal damage can't kill a PC, but Jonty took 12 points of it at once... right in the plums.
Below, in the stables, Lizzy could hear voices, and the flickering light of a lantern. "Coppers" she hissed. "Nothing for it."
She bit the lid off her vial of hypergin, spat the cork against the wall, used her potion wizard cantrip to recycle the "potion" by spraying it out of one nostril and into the vial, caught the cork in her teeth, and resealed the bottle. Both her eyes went bloodshot and her nose blossomed like a rose.
Side Note: Cue the music.
I'm Elizabeth Ramchander
I'll fight to the fin
Cause I'm full of gin
I'm Elizabeth Ramchander!
She hauled Jonty upwards, giggling, and tore off his jacket. She carefully removed one strap of her dress and let a bit of ankle show. When the Coppers climbed the ladder, they found two obviously drunk people (one unconscious and stinking of gin, one in the final stages of a multi-hour binge), well-dressed enough to cause trouble, and without a drop of blood on them. These were no murderers, even to a suspicious Copper's eyes, but merely two drunk fools in search of a quiet horizontal surface. A mild social disgrace, nothing more.
"Thank you ossifer," Lizzy slurred, aiming for one of the three doorways dancing in front of her eyes, with Jonty, goggle-eyed and bandy-legged, stumbling behind her. "Yee so kind. Is Constabule your real name?"
"Stick to the well-lit streets, miss," the Constable said.
"I will!" Lizzy said, weaving her way across the road, to where Jonty, Tom, and Haze peered from the edge of the small crowd. Dr. Hartwell, having also heard the commotion, discreetly joined them, but not before spotting a mysterious black-badged Copper lurking near the warehouse.
"We tried to follow Snedge," Tom said, "but he evaded us in the darkness. Jonty, are you alright?"
"fine", Jonty said, still in agony.
"And why is Lizzy drunk?"
"I'm not dunk," Lizzy said, "and he is as well."
Dr. Hartwell sighed, tapped Lizzy, cast extract venom, and decanted a mostly full vial of hypergin. Hit with sobriety all at once, Lizzy spent a few moments gawping and staring before being able to speak. "Much better. Jonty's fine. He just landed poorly. The Coppers don't suspect us."
"just need a moment. and ice." Jonty whispered.
"What is going on?" Tom asked. "Suspect you of what?"
"We found a body in the chest! All chopped up, and there was no blood which was very odd. Snedge had locked the door so we went for the roof, but he'd cut the ladder rungs. What a bastard! But Jonty used that smart chain and we climbed up anyway! Snedge was trying to frame him! Snedge left a book there for the Coppers to find, but Jonty took it!" Lizzy paused for breath. "And then we escaped by pretending to be drunk and amorous."
The group peered at Lizzy, then at Jonty. They'd shuffled over to St. Longstand's Orphanage, where Agnes was now working as the night warden, to ask her for her opinion on the kidnapping scheme. She'd made them tea. Or, more accurately, had Lizzy make them tea.
Jonty, with both pride and trousers bruised, produced the textbook. The group gathered around.
"Index of Lodestones by Neederhawl", Haze said. "That's the textbook from your class."
"And inside, this card," Jonty said. "In my handwriting - though of course I did not write it - inviting Agnes to the address where the body was found. Whose body, I wonder."
Agnes said nothing. She knew, or at least suspected, that Alice the maid had come to an unfortunate end, but it was just another move on a great chess-board of life.
"May I see the textbook?" Dr. Hartwell asked. He flipped through the pages, then closely examined the covers. "Ah. Here, a seam. And here, another. Front and back. Something is concealed in the covers. A minor enchantment, perhaps."
The group hesitated. "Should we open it," Tom asked.
"It might explode." Haze said cautiously.
"Oh for goodness sake," Lizzy said, locating a butter knife. "Give it here."
The rest of the PCs rapidly retreated to the other end of the lounge, while Lizzy maneuvered the knife around the edge of the parchment. No explosion resulted as she peeled back the pages.
"This one is a spell scroll. The one at the back is an enchantment, and it's active." The magically inclined PCs scuttled over, and, after a lively and hasty academic debate, determined the nature of both spells."
"Saw and plane corpse," Tom said, aghast. "What sort of spell is that?"
"Unorthodox and incriminating. And it's been cast." Haze said. "The Copper would have found it and assumed it was Jonty's."
"And the enchantment?"
"A minor tracking spell. It will fade in a few hours."
"Tracking for what?" Agnes asked.
"Oh, scrying, possibly," Tom said nonchalantly.
"Here? They could be scrying us know? They know where I work?" Agnes said, full of venom. "Out out out!"
"Not much point now, Aunt Agnes. If they are scrying us, they've heard all of this, or at least seen us together. And we've been here for more than an hour, so even if they are just following the spell's location without peering into the room."
"Who us 'they'?" Lizzy asked, amid the general consternation. She did not receive an answer.
"We should leave. Who wants saw and plane corpse?" Haze asked.
The wizards pointed at each other until Dr. Hartwell reluctantly took it. "It may come in useful for dissections," he said, promising to hide the spell somewhere no Copper was likely to find it. If his spellbook was searched, it wasn't the sort of thing that could easily be explained.
"Don't give the foreigner that spell," Agnes complained. "He will use it for nefarious deeds."
"What should we do with the tracking spell? Bury it and see who investigates?" Jonty asked.
"Throw it in the fire." Lizzy said.
"But that will mean its last location was this orphanage," Agnes said plaintively.
"And? They either know the spell rested here for an hour or more, or that it stopped here. Into the fire," Jonty said.
"Into the fire!" Lizzy replied, and stuffed the enchanted page into the flames.
"We should also discuss our next move. I was hoping we could all catch an early carriage out of the city, to Shambledrake Manor, and search for clues in Uriah's death."
"I have to work," Lizzy said.
"Such matters are best left to the police," Agnes said.
"No," said Dr. Hartwell.
"Oh fine. Tom, Haze?" Jonty asked. "Good. The early carriage from Redding Cross."
Saturday Morning, the Village of Tweedleham
"Master Tom! Don't you recognize me?"
"Of course I do," Tom said, clapping the aged innkeeper on the back while desperately trying to remember his name.
"How you've grown! And this is Master Haze! Why, the last time I saw you two, you were..."
"Yes, yes, great times," Haze said. "We're here to visit the Shambledrake estate. Have you seen any lawyers about?"
"Fleets of them," the innkeeper complained. "All hours, fighting and disputing. Some of them stay here, though not many are awake at this hour, and fewer still work on a Saturday."
"We'll try to avoid them then," Tom said, tapping the side of his nose.
"Of course sir. Enjoy your walk to the Manor."
"Walk?" Jonty complained when they left the High Irons Inn.
"It'll be good for you old assistant proffessor of mine," Tom said heartily. "Clean country air, tree-lined lanes. It's only four miles."
"Devils," Jonty muttered, as he tried to maintain a dignified stride. "And we should approach the Manor by a circuitous route, across the grounds, in case the main gate is watched."
"Who goes there?" said the cloaked and fowling-piece-wielding figure striding across the grounds.
Tom, Haze, and Jonty looked at each other, then stuck their arms in the air. "Tom!" Tom said.
"Ah! Young master Tom! It's only me, Solomon, the groundskeeper. I thought you were some of them lawyers, walking on the turf like they owned the place."
"I believe they do own the place," Haze muttered darkly.
"Come inside. Though I must warn you that you may not take anything from the premises, even items of sentimental value, on account of the lawyers and their wiles. They've been putting... tags on things."
"No!" Tom said, theatrically.
"With numbers on them. I believe the lawyers mean to call... an auctioneer. These are dark times."
"It cannot be denied. I wished to see the old pile.. one last time," Tom said. "You understand."
"Of course. Go in. I will wait out here," Solomon said gravely, "in case any lawyers are skulking in the shrubbery."
"I don't recall these windows being painted green," Tom said, surveying his late uncle's study.
"It's the colour of madness and inspiration," Haze helpfully added, reciting from his Illusionist lectures. "Blue-green, verdigris, derived from copper, which of course is a magically conductive metal, but also associated with arsenic, a poison."
"The windows are poisoned?"
"No, they're painted. It is supposed to provide an inspiring frame of mind."
"Any signs of evil deeds?" Jonty asked, checking the shelves.
"None. Just lawyers and tags. It looks as though they've been through the desk and contents. Ooh, here's Great Aunt Geraldine's family tree," Tom said, with reverent fondness. "And look, here's a rather suspicious ink smudge under Uncle Uriah's name."
The PCs peered at the thick and ominous smudge dutifully, their minds humming.
"Probably nothing," Jonty said, after a full minute of silent cogitation. "Still, stick the whole wad in your coat pocket. Might be a clue."
"Does this ointment smell odd to you?" Haze asked, as they examined Uriah's opulent bedroom.
"It could be the, err," Jonty said, pointing to the large greasy body-shaped stain on the floor. Uriah had burned to death in this room, apparently while tending the fire in the dead of night. The floorboards had been scrubbed, but some stains cannot be removed.
"No, I mean, acidic. Like vitriol."
"It's labeled 'aloe vera salve'," Jonty added helpfully. "Oh if only we had Dr. Hartwell here to interpret these mysterious foreign words!"
"Dr. Hartwell wrote the prescription for it. Thirty pints - thirty pints! - of soothing foot ointment. Poor Uncle Uriah," Tom said. "Suffering from The Lurch in the last years of his life."
Side Note: details on The Lurch, and 19 other Magical Diseases, can be found on pg. 44 of Magical Industrial Revolution."Explains all the files," Jonty said, examining the carefully stacked instruments of scraping.
"But not the smell," Haze said. "We should bring some back for examination." Tom dutifully ensconced a jar of ointment in another pocket of his coat.
"Were there any regions of this great gothic pile that your uncle," Jonty said, with exasperation," that your late uncle absolutely forbid you from entering."
"Well, he never let me enter the study," Tom said.
"We've searched the study." Haze and Jonty chorused. All Jonty had found was a bundle of lurid pornographic etchings on top of a bookshelf.
"But I also remember him being particularly concerned with the wine cellar."
"The wine cellar?"
"Yes. Solomon probably has the key. We should go ask him." And, a few moments later, on the lawn, the PCs confronted Solomon.
"Solomon," Tom said, with the tremor of a young man confronting a childhood figure of authority, "I require the key to the wine cellar."
"Ah. Would that be the key to the wine cellar or the key to the wine cellar," Solomon said, leaning slightly forward.
"Beg pardon?" Tom replied.
"The wine cellar or the wine cellar," the groundskeeper said, repeating the lean and intonation.
"Err, both, my good man," Tom said, putting out both hands.
"Very well," Solomon said, removing from his ring of keys a plain-looking iron key and a smaller older, rusted, and archaic key. "The key to the wine cellar and the key to the wine cellar."
Side Note: Improvising a lesser key of Solomon on the spot was, I feel, worthy of some sort of secret-GM-only-pun award. Amazing what a random table of names will spark.Keys in hand, the PCs ducked inside and stared at the wine cellar door. "An ordinary sort of door," Haze said, suspicious.
"Wine cellar first," Jonty said. "Then, wine cellar."
After digging a lantern out of a cupboard and removing the tag, the PCs search the wine cellar, finding nothing but cobwebs, mediocre wine, signs of disputing lawyers, and tags.
"Stuff it," Jonty said. "Next key." After relocking the door, he turned the archaic key in the lock. With a faint flare of octarine light, the door opened to an identical staircase.
"Careful," Haze said. "It's an illusion. And a strong one. I can't distort it, but if you move just here..." he said, sliding along a concealed ledge...
"Oh my!" Tom said. After three real stairs, the illusionary stairs continued over a deep and spiked pit. "That is very unpleasant."
"Just stick close to the wall. The real stairs are over here."
The wine cellar concealed a magical laboratory. Long basalt benches were sprinkled with minor glassware, anatomical diagrams, and a few book. Gaps, bolt-holes, and scorch marks suggested equipment and books had been recently removed, leaving relatively munane detritus.
"Approved Necromancy by Prof. Horton," Jonty said, turning over a book. "And look, The History of Tomb Robbing by Tortugal. Some of these are books of necromancy."
"Forbidden necromancy?" Tom asked, aghast.
"No, I think these are all approved, and therefore useless," Haze said. "The missing books were probably the good stuff."
"You mean the bad stuff," Tom chided.
"Well, good for necromancers."
"Was my uncle a necromancer?" Tom asked aloud. "I didn't even know he was a wizard."
"He had a magically concealed lair in his wine cellar!" Jonty said.
"And he either cleared it out just before he died or, more likely, someone came around after to tidy up and remove most of the evidence... and valuables. We should talk to Solomon."
"Yes we should," Haze said. "But we should also grab a trunk from the attic. Some of these books are still worth money at the college."
"Yes sir. Not long before you arrived. Heading west,"
"Away from Endon," Jonty added.
"Did he have a bag?"
"Why yes sir. Left it with me days ago. Said he might be called away at any time. It seems he was," the innkeeper added gormlessly.
Full of gorm,the PCs stared at the western horizon, over which Solomon had vanished.
"Indeed. We will wait here for the coach back to Endon. Keep an eye on this trunk for us," Jonty said, "and warn us if any lawyers are stirring."
And so, Jonty, Tom, and Haze returned to Endon by coach, their chest of approved necromantic volumes and minor magical tools strapped to the top. What did Solomon the Gamekeeper know? Who had entered the "wine cellar" before them, and what had been taken? Was the mysterious foot ointment the cause of Uriah's death, and, if so, was Dr. Hartwell responsible?
Meanwhile, back in Endon, Lizzy had learned that the Coppers said last night's incident was a false alarm. No murder was reported in the papers. Constable Barnes also tried to dissuade Lizzy from any inquiries regarding the "black badged" Copper seen briefly at the warehouse.
Agnes had considered moving apartments, but when Snedge walked up to her in broad daylight and handed her a note "to pass to our friend Jonty", she gave up. No doubt, Snedge and his master would find her anywhere in Endon. The note (which she sensibly opened and read), stated that "Lrd. T. on B. deducts 3gp from the d. of J.E. Balance 12gp." Evidently, despite the "kidnapping" going awry, Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl had kept his word and reduced Jonty's debt.
The group agreed to attend the hanging of Mack the Mangler, notorious murderer, on Sunday morning. Agnes had received permission from the ward authorities to take "some of the better-behaved orphans" out for a "morally uplifting spectacle", on her own time and at her own expense. She paid for a packet of penny sweets for each child, and showed up early to ensure they had an excellent view.
Mack the Mangler's exploits had dominated the more excitable papers for months. His capture, supposedly by sorcery, was equally well-reported. "Scrying" was the talk of Endon. Apparently the Coppers had tracked him by sorcery, catching him red-handed (and red to the elbows, if the illustrations are to be believed). He was captured on Friday, sentenced on Saturday, and executed on Sunday to general applause.
The only curious incident were his last words. Mack, scruffy and wild-eyed, turned to the crowd, raised his shackled arms high in the air, and shouted "Save me!" before the hood descended. Tom turned pale. They were the same words written in the mysterious letter he'd stolen during the will reading. Was there a connection? Was Mack the Mangler his uncle in disguise, or had he written to his uncle? Was it just a coincidence?
The group agreed to meet back at the Unicorn Arms after the hanging, to discuss the many mysteries shrouding their lives.
"Do you recognize any of the people in these, err, etchings?" Jonty said, slipping a packet of lurid pornography to Lizzy. "Are they relatives? Visitors? Is this blackmail material?"
"Oh my," Lizzy said, blushing. "I didn't think you could get into that position without a winch. Let me see... no. All of this seems to be merely smut." She blushed again. Perhaps Mr. Earl was flirting with her, in his clumsy academic way. Jonty remained oblivious.
Tom produced the vial of foot ointment for Dr. Hartwell's examination. Using extract venom, Dr. Hartwell drew out a mysterious clear fluid from the ointment. "This is not medicinal," he said. "It was not present when the ointment was prepared."
"Let me take a look," said Lizzy, reaching across the table. Dr. Hartwell handed her the vial, but Lizzy accidentally knocked it against the oil lamp. The vial detonated spectacularly, knocking the entire group flat, blowing out the windows of the inn, and sending shards of glass in all directions.
"Faulty oil lamp", Jonty said to witnesses on the street. "Or a student wizard playing a practical pleasantry. No fatalities, just a few scrapes. Nothing to see here."
"What in the world was that liquid? Some sort of alchemical fire?" Lizzy asked.
"I am no certain. It was fantastically combustible. If dried, it could..." Dr. Hartwell mused.
"Could have killed my uncle," Tom said, shuddering. "From walking, or from being near to a flame. Diabolical."
"I say the foreigner did it," Agnes added, pointing at Dr. Hartwell. "He had access to the ointment." The rest of the group politely ignored Agnes' suggestion.
And yet, they had no better answer. Who killed Uriah Shambledrake, and why? Who was the author of the mysterious letter, who was its recipient, and why had Mack the Mangler used the same words just before dying? Who killed Cheetham the lawyer? Why had Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl tried to frame Jonty for murder, but still paid him?
All these puzzles, and more, may or may not be solved in future sessions of the Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake.