OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 5 - Wheels Within Wheels

 In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Discovered the Mind of a Lawyer in the Body of an Orphan
  • Committed Acts of Violence
  • Were Arrested
  • Were Released Under Suspicious Circumstances

The surviving PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, in debt to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, and generally involved in disreputable schemes.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus wants to overturn Endon's stuffy and outdated medical notions.

Lizzy Ramchander
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.

Tom, Dr. Hartwell, Lizzy, and Jonty stared at each other, trying to communicate by waggling their eyebrows and surreptitious hand gestures. Jonty had insisted they were being watched, by mundane or magical means. Every pedestrian received four suspicious glances. Every loud noise set Jonty quivering like aspic.

"Breakfast?" Tom finally suggested.

After a pint of beer, a pint of coffee, a trip to the alley of easement, a baked apple, and another coffee, Jonty felt ready to whisper to the group. The noise of the Unicorn Arms should, he reasoned, impede scrying, just as the clientele discouraged Coppers.

"How deep does the rot go?" Jonty groaned. "If Professor Tallerand is involved, is the Dean of Magic protecting him? The Chancellor? Did the police release us to track us or because of political pressure?"

"I still have an appointment with Tallerand on Monday," Dr. Hartwell said. "Though whether he intends to keep it is another matter."

"Or if you will survive it. He might just..." Tom said, flicking his fingers in a vaguely disintegration-themed way.

Lizzy nodded politely. She wasn't entirely sure who Professor Tallerand was, but assumed he had something to do with Cheetham and necromancy and other illegal business. Nobody had filled her on on the whole plot, but, considering what had happened to Agnes and Haze, not knowing seemed like a good survival strategy.

"We should go to Nedalward Hall," Jonty said. "I will canvas the porters for their opinion. Tom, you can ask the other students. Dr. Hartwell, you can ask the, uh, the doctors?" Dr. Hartwell glared at him. "And Lizzy. You can ask..."

"I have to go to work. Good luck with..." she whispered, gesturing, "all of it. I will try and find you this evening." She polished off her breakfast beer and departed. 

"To the college," Tom said. 

7:05. The Street

"I could really use another coffee," Jonty said. "I haven't slept in... a while. Days?"

"A coffeeeee," a street vendor wheedled, tapping his tray of steaming glasses. "Perhapsyoucoulduse one of my magically! enhancéd! coffees! Spacebeans!"

"How much?" 

"2cp for small", the vendor said, tapping a thimble-sized cup, "4cp for medium, 1sp for large."

"And this will work?"

"If it doesn't, no money back! Caveatemptor," the vendor grinned.

"One medium please." Jonty took the cup and downed it. It was horribly burned thick coffee. "Hang on, this is whooooooeeeah!"

"Told you!" 

"To the college!" Jonty said, practically skipping. He wasn't sure his heart was still beating. Dr. Hartwell was more concerned about his full-body nervous tremor and alarming tendency to leap a few inches in the air every few steps.

Previously and Simultaneously

Next to the table the PCs had vacated, Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator, folded his newspaper and stepped into the street. The drizzle immediately intensified. He sighed, unfurled his umbrella, and looked around. Tom Shambledrake was with Jonty Earl and the foreign Doctor, buying a coffee. Coffee as black and bitter as Endon's soul.

This case had consumed his life, partly because he was a damn fine detective, but mostly because it was his only case. It promised enormous rewards. Uriah Shambledrake had sold a pig in a poke to a lot of butchers, and they were all out for blood and bacon. Was Tom part of his late uncle's financial scheme? The multiple mortgages, the unsecured loans, the fraud and double-dealing? Where had the money gone? The First Commercial Bank wanted to know. The sums involved kept its directors up at night, shivering with feverish dread. 

Tom, Wormsby decided, didn't have the money. But he did have a lot of enemies. Friday, First Commercial Bank hires him to tail Tom. Saturday, Tom's aunt Agnes goes insane and kills Tom's school chum and an urchin. With his own eyes, from a convenient alley across the street, Wormsby had seen the climactic battle. Seen the arrest. Seen Tom and company dragged off to the Grim Bailol, and seen them released.

He could have told the Coppers what he knew, but Wormsby was no snitch. Not for free. He'd been a Copper once, until his methods proved just a little too unorthodox for the starched shirts no-necks on the force. Trivialities like regular hours, documented expenses, and a clear chain of reasoning cramped his investigative style. And of course, there was the use of magic.

Umbrella up, he shuffled along the pavement, keeping his distance from Tom and the others. The hints he'd overheard from their table didn't seem to be about Uriah's missing fortune. They were all about a conspiracy at the college. Necromancy. Orphan-stealing. The stuff that nightmares are made of. Nightmares, and hush money.

7:10. The Metropolitan Police station near Loxdon College

"Miss Ramchander? Come with us." The three Inspectors peering into Lizzy's kitchen did not bear benevolent expressions. "Come with us," they said, and stuffed her into a cramped office.

"What is this about, sirs?" she said politely.

"You thought we wouldn't find out," the first Inspector said, menacingly. "But we did. We know."

"About the sandwiches sir," Lizzy said, "only, they were going to throw them away, so I thought..."

"Not about the sandwiches."

"The soup then. You see, I bought the ingredients myself, and..."

"Or the soup. You can't deceive us, Miss Ramchander." The Inspector flung a newspaper onto the desk. "You see. It's all there."

Lizzy stared at the yellowed paper. It was several months old.

"I don't understand," she said.

"There!" the Inspector jabbed a finger at the page. "An article! Your name! You spoke to the press, Miss Ramchander." The other Inspectors looked bilious.

Angelica Hartwell's byline. Her words. Her quote as "an employee of the Metropolitan Police". Her name. It was all there, of course, and it had been for months. A simple, forgettable article on the mysterious will reading.

"Do you deny it," the Inspector frothed?

"No, but it's only a newspaper article," Lizzy said, genuinely baffled.

"Only an article? You spoke to the press! You are a cook! A domestic servant! Elizabeth Ramchander, you are dismissed."

Lizzy gasped. "Fine, but I'm taking my knives," she said, after a moment. "I paid for them."

7:15. On the college grounds

"Steady there," a Sergeant yelled, as three sweating Coppers tried to maneuver a stone statue into the back of a cart. "Careful. Careful I said!"

The small crowd of porters, students, and bystanders watched the scene with deep amusement. The statue was clearly a Copper, petrified in the undignified act of shouting and waving a truncheon.

"What happened here?" Jonty whispered to one of the porters. 

"Earl, is it? You teach lodestones? Yes. Well, you see, some Coppers stopped by Nedalward Hall last night with a writ from a magistrate, allowing them to search the rooms of two students. Of course, Loxdon College has ancient privileges. The Coppers were evidently not aware of them, or chose to test them. Writ or no writ, without authorization from the Chancellor and the presence of two Porters they had no power to search."

"I assume you told them?"

"Oh," the porter chuckled, "we told them. Then some of the students told them. I believe there was a small riot. A Copper got petrified, but nobody knows how. They say it's temporary, but we've sent someone out for basilisk glands just in case."

"Do you know which students were named in the writ?" Jonty asked, dropping a silver piece into the porter's pocket. "And also, have you seen Tom Shambledrake over there?"

"I have seen Mr. Shambledrake over there," the porter winked, "but I have not seen his friend Mr. Palewolf today."

"Very good," Jonty said. "Now, the Apprentice Test is tomorrow. Please keep an eye on Tom for me. Ensure he makes it to the examination hall safely."

"Mr Earl, if you are suggesting that we porters could slip him through the hall to pass the exam, I must deny such rumours entirely. And even if it were true, it's not a one-silver job. Besides, I think he's a decent wizard."

"Oh no, not that. He'll do fine. I just would not wish to hear of him being waylaid or misdirected. Also, do you know where Professor Tallerand is?"

The porter frowned. "It being Sunday, he is probably at home."

"Are you certain?" Jonty said, attempting to slide another silver to the porter. 

"I said," the Porter grumbled, locking eyes with the assistant professor, "he is probably at home."

Deciding that the porter's reticence was probably due to a sensible desire to keep out of wizard politics, Jonty left the matter drop.

Thomas Dubois

7:20. The Unicorn Arms

Lizzy stormed into the Unicorn Arms, drank three gins in quick succession, then downed her vial of hypergin. She recycled the liquid from her nose back into its vial, then, absolutely hammered, started complaining.

"Fucking Coppers", she said. A pair of students cheered. "At's right!" Lizzy said.

"We got them good last night," one of the students said, "and we've been celebarting. Err, cerbelating. What is it we've been doing?"

"Drinking this horrible stuff," the other student gurgled.

"Right. See, some Coppers came by with a warrang," the student mumbled, and proceeded to fill Lizzy in on the attempted search of Nedalward Hall, the subsequent riot, and the general excellent humour of the student population.

"Sounds like Tom is in trouble," Lizzy said in an aside to her reflection in a puddle of beer. "I should go to the College. Good idea, me."

7:30. On the college grounds

Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator, had watched Tom, Dr. Hartwell, and Jonty enter Nedalward Hall. Porters were sweeping up the smashed roof tiles. Students were removing banners and paying fines. From behind his newspaper, Wormsby observed it all. 

Lizzy, wobbling from bench to bench, flopped down next to him. "Coppers! They dismissed me this morning," she said, to no one in particular. "For nothing! There's no justice in this world."

Wormsby grunted in agreement. "I used to be a Copper," he said. "Did my time. They dismissed me too."

"What a coincidence," Lizzy said. "Have a drink."

Liquor. It had helped Wormsby solve many cases and prevented the solution of many more. It was an old friend, but the sort of friend you didn't want to see on a cold and drizzly morning. Still, his stomach was as empty as his flask, and his flask was as empty as his coinpurse. Wormsby knocked back the drink.

"The vial of hypergin volatilized before it passed his teeth. The cloud of alcohol smashed into his lungs and stomach like an invading army and starting building siege works around his liver. Wormsby shook his head. His ears seemed to orbit a few times before settling into their usual locations..." is what Wormsby tried to say out loud. Instead, he just went "nurgh?"

"Good stuff, isn't it?" Lizzy said.

"Nurgh." Wormsby agreed. "My tongue was slowly reestablishing contact with my brain. The ground heaved like ferrets fighting in a mattress. Who was this dame? What was in that vial?"

"Who are you talking to?" Lizzy asked, grinning blearily.

"From the number of knives on her belt, the dame had to be a cook or an assassin, and assassins don't usually wear aprons. 'Say', I said, 'do you want to work for me?'"

Lizzy tried to slap him. Wormsby deflected the slap with his umbrella, stowed it, and continued narrating. "The dame had taken it the wrong way. She wasn't that sort of girl, and I wasn't that sort of guy. At least, not this early in the day. 'As a secretary', I clarified. 'You seem like you've got a good head on your shoulders.'"

"You seem like you've got two heads on yours," Lizzy said, "but that might just be the gin."

"She had a tongue as sharp as her knives. Both would be handy in a secretary. 'You've got a deal',  I said. 'Shake on it.'" Completely baffled, Lizzy shook his hand.

Simultaneously, in the porter's office at Nedalward Hall

"Tom," the head porter of Nedalward Hall said, "I believe Haze is no longer with us." The porter flipped open a thick book and dipped a pen into an inkwell. "For the hall's records, how did he die?"

Jonty looked at the book with dismay. He was aware that magical education was a risky endeavor, but surely it didn't involve this level of carnage. "Out of curiosity, how many of Nedalward Hall's students have perished recently?"

"Only sixteen first-years in my time, but I've been with the hall just under two years. This volume is mostly a prop. But we also record maimings and unexplained disappearances. In any case, Tom, did Haze die on or off campus?" 

"Off," Tom said.

"Was it any of the 3 Ds: Drunkenness, Dueling, or Disease? Was his death magical in nature? Can you please briefly summarize the circumstances of his death?"

Tom looked at Jonty, who was wriggling with ill-disguised distrust, and Dr. Hartwell, who seemed more amused than horrified. "Well. My Aunt Agnes attacked him. She..."

"Isn't your Aunt Agnes also a student here? Did she perish as well?"

"Yes, but..."

"Oh dear, two students, magical means, off campus, that means a Dean's inquiry at the very least."

"She attacked him because we'd uncovered a conspiracy," Dr. Hartwell added. 

"That's right," Tom said. "A professor of magic was buying orphans and using them for necromantic experiments."

"Necromancy!" the porter yelped. "That is a very serious charge!" Thumps and muffled words from outside the office sent Jonty scrambling for the door.  He flung it open, shoving a crowd of students back. Listening glasses, ear trumpets, and even an ear extended by a spell told a tale of obvious eavesdropping.

"Aha!" he said, pointing at the heap of limbs and robes.

"I knew it was Professor Boswell," Purbs Tinchbear said. "Knew it all along!"

"You turnip, Professor Boswell is dead," Spanker Morton retorted.

"EXACTLY! Necromancy, see!" Purbs howled.

"Were you eavesdropping?" Tom asked, mildly shocked. The students collectively denied it, even as Whiskers Loopert reeled in her retractable ear. "Whiskers! Spanker! Guffy! Purbs! Finchleah! Nibs! Bickers and Vickers! I'm shocked!"

"Haze is dead," Guffy said. "And he was one of us. If he'd been killed in a duel, or by falling into a ditch while drunk, or if he'd been lost in one of the Mirror Realms during an experiment, or if he'd turned himself into an illusion and vanished, or if he'd just exploded..."

"That'd be natural causes," Purbs said. "For an illusionist, at least. But if he was assassinated by a professor in a different department, that's not... well that's just not on!" The other students agreed.

"Especially if it involves necromancy," Guffy added. "Who did it?" 

Jonty sighed. "It was Professor Tallerand."

"I knew it!" Spanker said. "I knew it the moment you said someone was buying orphans."


"I'm studying Biomancy. I have Glands and Fluids with Tallerand, and I got extra credit for getting orphans to sign up for his work experience program. Then he said he'd found someone else, and dismissed me without giving me the credits! Damn unsporting, I say."

"You sold that man orphans?" Dr. Hartwell said, aghast.

"He said it would give them valuable life skills and free medical care," Spanker muttered.

"He did," Tom said. "The skills lasted the rest of their lives."

"But we have no proof," Jonty said. "We do not know where he conducted these experiments."

"I do," Spanker said. "I know where his secret lab is."

8:00. Just outside Nedalward Hall

The students of Nedalward Hall brought out weapons, wands, and amulets of protection. Purbs Tinchbear hauled out a morning-star from under his bed and whirled it with untrained glee. Spanker Morton had a wand he "found in the rafters", and several other students had spells loaded in their brains.

"It's Tom!" Lizzy said, pointing at one of several Tom-shaped figures dancing before her eyes. "And the others! Hallooo Tom!"

"Hello Lizzy," Tom said. "Who's your friend?"

Doyle Wormsby, PI, opened a newspaper in front of his face. His cunning disuse was hampered by some drunken fiddling with the pages, and holding the papers upside-down.

"Wait, who are you?" Tom said suspiciously. "I saw you at the Unicorn Arms! And in the street!" The other students gathered around, brandishing their weapons with more zeal than skill.

"Damn, I'd been rumbled. I had to think fast," Doyle said, carefully enunciating.

"He narrates," Lizzy said. "I don't know why. I think it's because he's drunk."

"You are also drunk," Dr. Hartwell said disparagingly, and cast extract venom on the cook. He handed her back her vial of hypergin.

"This is Doyle Wormsby," Lizzy said, once she recovered her equilibrium. "He's some sort of non-Copper-Copper."

"Why is he following us?" Jonty said.

Doyle started narrating again. "They'd had it all figured out. I had to come clean. 'I was hired to follow you by a certain bank,' I said. 'This certain bank thinks certain funds from a certain late uncle might have found their way into certain pockets by uncertain means. The bank wants me to find out whose pockets and by what means."

"Well it's not my pockets," Tom said.

"I'd already figured that out, but I couldn't let him know. Bad for business. 'Maybe', I said slyly, 'but maybe not." Doyle eyed Tom critically. Tom, and everyone else, eyed Doyle as if he was mad.

"We're going to fight a necromancer!" Guffy volunteered.

8:15. The chilly basement of Loxdon College's Dissection Hall

"We should have brought a crowbar," Tom complained, prying at the edge of the secret door with a scalpel. The other students had bashed off the tiles, clawed at the seam, and searched for a keyhole, but all to no avail. 

"Stand back," Doyle said. "I have a spell for this." 

"You're a wizard?" Jonty asked, eyeing the rumpled figure. Doyle didn't look like a wizard. He looked... well, it was difficult to say. He didn't clearly belong to any one profession, but he brought them all into disrepute. He wasn't dirty, he wasn't uncouth, and he wasn't visibly diseased or deformed, but he had the sort of face a razor can never completely shave, and a neck that seemed to instantly spawn sweat stains. The contrast between Doyle and the immaculately attired and composed Jonty was stark.

Doyle waved his hands and cast knock. The secret door burst open, revealing a dark staircase of grey stone descending into the earth. Condensation dripped down the walls.

"Brilliant," Jonty said. "You go first."

Still buoyed by the hypergin, Doyle tottered down the stairs, followed by the students, Tom, Lizzy, Dr. Hartwell, and Jonty. The eighth step clicked. Everyone froze, then scrambled upwards, climbing over each other in their haste. Elbows and oaths flew.

A dragon made of lighting billowed up the stairs, smashing into the tangled group and scorching everyone. Luckily, the damage was diluted by the sheer mass of bodies. After extinguishing eyebrows and shaking out the finger-zaps, they resumed their descent.

The stairs lead to a moderately sized laboratory tiled in grey slate. Six wooden barrels were chained along the left wall. A surgical table dominated the centre of the room. The east wall featured a few empty crates and a large wooden double door. The far wall must have contained some sort of large magical device, but all that remained were a bolt holes, scorch marks, and brackets. Even the shelves were cleared.

"Someone's cleaned this place out," Doyle said unnecessarily.

"Whatever was here drew a fair bit of charge," Tom said, examining the thick cables bundled along the wall. "These must tie into some magical batteries elsewhere on campus. Six, sevenhundred kilothaums at least. What's in those barrels?"

"Nothing in barrels one and two. Barrel three contains..." Lizzy said.

"Ribbles the helpful urchin! Hello!" A voice said from the barrel.

Lizzy carefully removed the lid. Ribbles emerged into the dim light and smiled. While Wormsby was merely disheveled, this urchin was actively filthy. Living in a barrel might account for some of it.

"Who are you? What are you?" Tom asked.

"I'm Ribbles the helpful urchin! Mr. Tallerand did potions on me. They went wrong, so he put me in the barrel and said I could not come out or help him anymore." Ribbles said cheerfully. 

"You're one of his experiments?" Dr. Hartwell said, aghast. "And he kept you in a barrel?"

"Not always. Sometimes he took me out to try more potions. Do you have any food?"

Lizzy handed Ribbles a sandwich. Ribbles unhinged its jaw and swallowed it whole. Several students went pale. Purbs Tinchbear nearly fainted. Under the rags, grease, fleas, hair, dirt, and breadcrumbs, Ribbles seemed to be more rubbery than the average urchin. Tom, with his permanent electric visions, was also astonished to find that Ribbles was a wizard... of sorts.

"What's in the other barrels?" Jonty asked.

"Straw, orphan corpse, straw, and this mysterious syringe of glowing blue liquid," Lizzy said, holding the syringe aloft. 

While Dr. Hartwell tried to teach Ribbles that soap was for washing and not for eating, the rest of the group gathered around the double doors. Doyle discovered that they weren't locked and flung them open with a dramatic sweep of his arms, revealing a hall with a spiral staircase leading upwards, a large red lever on the wall, and a second set of double doors. Dust, scratch marks, splinters, and straw suggested several large crates had been pushed through the area recently.

""Purbs, Finchleah, and Nibs, guard the bottom of those stairs," Tom said. "Let's see what's behind these doors."

The second set of doors concealed a brick wall. Silver and copper wire had been chiseled into the brickwork, forming a bound enchantment circle of surprising complexity. The wizards gathered around and argued for a few minutes, drawing diagrams on the doors with chalk. "It's a teleport spell of some sort," Vickers said. "You can see the coordinate engrams along the edge, and signs of spatial distortion in the wood grain."

"And that means?" Jonty asked politely.

"Pull lever, make spell go," Vickers grinned. Lizzy helpfully pulled the lever before anyone could tell her that wasn't a command. The teleport circle flared with octarine light. The bricks seemed to retreat into the distance, as if the wall was being pulled back like a rubber sheet. With a clap of air, the sheet broke, connecting one room to another.

This new room, visible behind a thin coronal fog, seemed to be an underground bay near the River Burl. A chain lift and hatch probably lead to a slipway, where boats could be loaded and unloaded easily. Empty barrels, straw, and a discarded hammer suggested more packing. The wizards were more interested in the teleport spell's relative stability. "It must be in a straight line, east-west. Look, no latitude-based velocity drift," Vicker said, tossing a piece of straw through the field.

Doyle scoffed. "Academics. Too many brains and not enough sense. I was a student here, once, briefly. I left to pursue my own path."


"Tuition is due in advance, Mr. Wormsby."

"Screw you and screw this whole institution!"

End Flashback

"Professor Tallerand isn't here. He might be up these stairs. It's possible the teleport spell also stretched the staircase in an odd direction," Tom said.

"Or maybe he's fled the city," Jonty said hopefully, "and we'll never see him again. It's not as though we have any evidence of his crimes."

Lizzy tapped Jonty on the shoulder and pointed at Ribbles. Ribbles smiled and said "I am full of crimes!"

"Oh devils," Jonty sighed. "And the body in the barrel. Right, well, we should send someone to find the Dean. You two," he said, pointing at Vickers and Bickers, "go find Dean XX and tell him about all this. Err, well, about most of this. Use your judgement. Well? Go!" Vickers and Bickers took off, as the rest of the group tired to convince Doyle to be the first one up the spiral stairs.

Konstantin Kostadinov

After some flattery and appeals to his profession, Doyle finally agreed to ascend the stairs first, checking each step for traps. His caution paid off. One step was hinged. He followed the pulley upwards to a small box built into the wall and carefully pried open the cover. A marble-sized glass scrying orb peered back at him, a large watery eye filling blinking in a disconcerting way, next to a large and carefully aimed wand.

Doyle carefully unclipped the wand and stuffed it into his coat. He blinked back at the scrying orb a few times, then poked it. The eye pulled back, then returned, narrowed.

"If Assistant Professor Earl is down there," a tired voice said from the top of the stairs, "send him up. Alone. Let us be gentlemen about this." 

After some convolutions and rearrangements, Jonty emerged at the front of the pack. The PCs patted him on the back as he went to meet his fate. He spent a few moments adjusting his coat and hair, then pushed open the hatch and climbed the short ladder, emerging into Professor Tallerand's office as if he was stepping onto a stage.

8:35. Professor Tallerand's Office

"Step forward, Mr. Earl," Professor Tallerand said, with icy politeness. He aimed a wand casually at Jonty. "Martin, push that desk onto the trap door."

Martin, the room's third occupant, lurched forward. Jonty eyed the flesh golem with both curiosity and distaste. It smelled like beef and moved like a puppet. Its eyes were distinctly bovine. "Have you met Martin?" Tallerand said conversationally. "He's a good and loyal servant, unlike some. Thank you Martin. Sit in that chair."

As Martin shuffled behind the desk, Tallerand continued. "You are aware that your actions have disrupted a project that will revolutionize Endon. Immortality, Mr. Earl. Transfer of both mind and soul into a new body. I am sorry about Mr. Palewolf. If he wasn't a wizard, we could have brought him back. The process doesn't work on wizards... yet."

"That's... very kind of you," Jonty said, without feeling.

"And if a few children needed to die along the way, what of it? How many die in textile mills or mines every day? I am not a monster, Mr. Earl, whatever you and your friends might think. I am just ahead of the curve. I had hoped to be gone by the time you arrived but, alas, here we are."

"Here we are indeed. Now what happens?"

"I would like to make you a proposition. That safe," Tallerand said, pointing at the wall, "contains 10,000gp in bearer bonds. Let me leave, corroborate my story to anyone who asks - including your master -  and they are yours. Cause a fuss, and they will almost certainly be sisezed as evidence."

"Your story?" Jonty said, intrigued.

"Yes. You see," Tallerand said, taking a note from his pocket and placing it on the desk, "I was overcome by guilt. That is my suicide note. Crossed the line. Dabbled in Necromancy. Terribly sorry and all that." The professor drew a wand with his left hand, while keeping the original aimed at Jonty, and pointed it at Martin the flesh golem. A powerful polymorph spell sizzled out, transforming the golem, clothes and all, into a perfect replica of Professor Tallerand... save for the bulging head, which burst like a ripe tomato. Jonty stepped back. 

As Tallerand placed a pistol on the floor near the body, he sighed. "Well, Assistant Professor Earl, what do you say?"

Jonty looked at Professor Tallerand, the body, the note, the safe, and the wand aimed at him. "I accept."

Side Note: RPGs are great. In almost any other form of media, Jonty would have at least pretended to be outraged or reluctant. Instead, he looked at the options and decided he was less outraged about orphan-murder than he'd expected. Approximately 10,000gp less outraged. 

"Splendid. One last task," Tallerand said, concentrating slightly and casting alter self. His features boiled and shifted, revealing Snedge's face. Jonty gasped, then looked closer. This Snedge was not sufficiently Snedgy. Oh, it was a good likeness, but Snedge had an aura of... well, Snedginess, that Tallerand lacked.

"I hope we never meet again," Tallerand said, and slipped out of the office. Jonty looked around, then pushed the desk off the hatch.

"Err, Tom and Dr. Hartwell, could you please come up here?" he said mildly. Tom, who (along with everyone else on the stairs) had tried to listen in without much success, emerged, then Dr. Hartwell. Lizzy followed, even as Jonty tried to close the hatch. Sensing an opportunity, Doyle also climbed out, and Ribbles followed. The small crowd of students also tried to approach but Jonty glared at them. "It's, err, politics. Wait there. Doyle, err, stand on the hatch."

"Right", Jonty whispered, "Professor Tallerand has committed suicide. There's 10,000gp in that safe. I say we take it, then call the porters and staff, saying we found the body. Well, Tom and I found the body. And Dr. Hartwell. He had an appointment. No, wait, that won't work. We'll say we went to confront him about the necromancy but found him already dead. Suicide. Very tragic.

"Did Professor Tallerand commit suicide?" Doyle asked. Jonty glared at him. Lizzy had already started stuffing bearer bonds into her handbag. 

"Dr. Hartwell, Lizzy, Doyle, and Ribbles. You should go to the Unicorn Arms. The students don't know who you are. Tom and I will stay here and wait for the Dean." Jonty said authoritatively.

"I'm not leaving," Doyle said. "This smells like a case."

"This smells like ten thousand gp in bearer bonds." Jonty said. "Which will be divided at some future date among everyone who cooperated."

"They all fit," Lizzy said, pleased, as she snapped her handbag shut. "Now who wants a sandwich?" Ribbles put up its hand and devoured another ham-and-cheese sandwich without chewing.

"But we must hurry!" Jonty whined. "Go! And quickly!"

Protesting, but not actively resisting, Doyle was hauled out of the room and pushed off campus. 

10:00. Dean Bradewort arrives on Campus

At seventy-six years of age, Dean Bradewort had steadily progressed up the ranks by outliving his rivals, doing as little work as possible, avoiding students, and reacting to loud noises with a quickly aimed and fired wand of lightning bolt. His staff tended to wake him cautiously. His wheeled invalid's chair was equipped with powerful protective spells, a rack of six wands, and a comfortable blanket for his rheumatic knees. Getting him out of his bed and onto campus on a Sunday had been difficult.

"Suwicide," he lisped. "A twagic business. Went a wittle too far with the necwomancy, eh?" 

"It appears so, sir," Jonty said obsequiously.

"Damn shame. Tawwewand was a stout fewwow. You were wight, of couwse, to spweak with him pwivately. Fowwow me to my chambers. You," he said, pointing at Tom, "wait outswide."

10:30. In Dean Bradewort's Chambers

"And that is the entiwre stowy?" Dean Bradewort said, leaning forward. The college Bursar looked on with an expression that suggested he would deny all knowledge of the meeting.

"Yes sir," Jonty said. 

"Assistant Pwofessor Earwl. You have shown dupwicity, guile, subtwefugue, and tweachery. You have deciewed the Powice. They say you have ommitted wital infowmation from your weport," he said, tapping a folder, "a weport which obwiously I cannot have wead. You are a swippery character. But the whole affair has been handled with dewicacy and with the ancient pwinciples and pwivileges of Loxdown. Have you considered teaching in the facuwlty of Law?"

"Err," Jonty said, slightly stunned, "I..."

"I will make a weccomendation." 

The Bursar spoke without looking at Jonty. "This is the official story. Professor Tallerand was illegally kidnapping orphans with the aid of a flesh golem resembling Agnes Nona. This golem went berserk and killed two people. Any stories of the golem speaking, or owning property, or acting like a person, will be explained as marsh gas reflecting off the light of a star, or something of that nature. When Dr. Hartwell realized his crimes were exposed, he did away with himself. All of this will be kept out of the papers, as much as possible. The Coppers will be satisfied. You will be satisfied."

"Entirewy cowwect," the Dean said. "Now send in Mr. Shambledwake."

Tom passed Jonty in the hall. They stared at each other for a few moments, then parted.

"Mr. Shambledwake!" Dean Bradewort said. "What in the worwld are you doing here? Your Appwentice Test is tomowwow! Get out of here! Sweep! Wash behind your ears!"

Tom leapt out of the chair and departed before he knew what was happening. The Dean was right, of course. But there were a few loose threads he had to handle first.

One by one, most of the people involved with Professor Tallerand's apparent suicide were interviewed, and they all confirmed pieces of the story. Vickers and Bickers had been ambushed by a flesh golem on the way back through the laboratory, but a well-timed acid arrow had given them enough time to escape. Doyle, suffering from mild sobriety, was given a small reward. Even Riggles was interviewed and convinced to sign (i.e. mark with an X) a document releasing Loxdon College from all liability and side-effects.

Dr. Hartwell was called in last, and congratulated for earning a medical degree from Loxdon College. It was signed and dated a week prior. The Dean thanked Dr. Hartwell for his discretion, his work among the poor, and his devotion to "his adowpted city's walues". Dr Hartwell, though not an emotional man, was genuinely touched. 

Lizzy, meanwhile, held onto her handbag with a vice-like grip. Ten thousand gold pieces. Working for the late Uriah Shambledrake, she'd made 10gp per Season including room and board. She didn't even order a drink. Instead, she bought out the private dining room on the second floor of the Unicorn Arms and ordered a feast from a nearby dining hall. The other PCs trickled back from their interviews with the Dean and enjoyed some proper food.

"We should put this money in the bank as soon as possible," Jonty said.

"You can't," Doyle replied. "None of  you can. Uriah S.'s money went somewhere, and if you turn up with cash and no explanation, it won't look good. Lawyers and bankers will be on you like flies on a... a fly-attracting charm."

"He is right," Dr. Hartwell said. "We are all under suspicion. But what if we invested the funds in a reputable company?"

"Private stock," Jonty said. "That could work. What about Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner?"

"The Gel Knight man?" Doyle said. "But his Gel Knights keep going mad and attacking people. Seems like a bad investment."

"But a good case. You see, we know something about those rampages..."

The Next Day

Tom passed his apprentice test without difficulty, using Haze's illusion spell instead of a lightning spell, both as a tribute and for sheer reliability. He'd spent enough time in the spotlight. He spent the afternoon drinking and celebrating with his fellow wizards, who could now, by ancient tradition, wear pointed hats and strut around campus.

The group decided to have Doyle convert two of the 100gp bearer bonds to cash. His profession could easily justify a sudden windfall. While Doyle did consider running away with the money (or convincing his new secretary Lizzy to split the contents of her handbag), he decided to play along for the time being. This crowd clearly had connections and knowledge. They used words like "investment" without euphemistic tones.

Equipped with his degree, Dr. Hartwell could now thumb his nose at any of Endon's "so-called physicians". His quack medicine was just as good as their tried-and-tested methods, and he had a piece of paper to prove it.

After some arguing, the group decided to invest 8,800gp with Krahlhammer, leaving a 1,000gp reserve fund in Lizzy's wardrobe. Nero Krahlhammer was delighted, especially as the PCs promised to "protect their investment" by bringing the Gel Knight poisoners to justice. He was less delighted when their lawyers (of the firm Dewey, Howe, and Nephew) drafted a ridiculously convoluted contract effectively giving the PCs control of his company, and a healthy share of its profits, without assuming any of its liabilities. Dewey, Howe, and Nephew seemed almost too eager to help Jonty and his friends.

With most of their money safely laundered, the PCs decided to improve the position of Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati. After necromancy, murder, and intrigue, a bit of straightforward industrial espionage seemed like a vacation. After all, this time the law was on their side... technically. 

But still, many mysteries remained. Who did Professor Tallerand mean when he referred to Jonty's "master"? Who was Tallerand working with? Where is he now? Where did Uriah's fortune go? Why did the police let them leave so easily?

Perhaps the next few days would explain everything.


  1. Yours may be the only play reports I've ever seen that are downright thrilling.

    And I laughed long and aloud at the 'flashback.'

    1. Thank you! They're a lot of work to write, but it's also a lot of fun. I wish I could remember half of the gags the players come up with during a session. I know there was a lot of Doyle's narration that I missed or edited.

    2. I also was slightly surprised by how normal and well-balanced Agnes' player's new character seemed. A simple private eye wizard? How humdrum. How not-likely-to-lead-to-outrageous-mayhem.

      Then Riggles showed up, and I realized I had miscalculated.

  2. The quality of the art you use in your posts is really impressive. Do you spend a lot of time searching art sites for your RPG books or is it more of a personal interest? Do you have any particular method for going about finding pieces that fit a particular genre or mood?

    Personally I have a terrible memory for specific artists and sources but I would love to get better at this. As always the quality of writing (and humour) in these session reports is fantastic.

    1. I don't spend a ton of time deliberately searching for pieces, but while I'm looking for artists to hire or just browsing, I tend to save images and bookmark portfolios. I then sort them into folders when I get time. Artstation is a decent site for browsing portfolios, as you can get a sense of an artist's style at a glance, or follow links to related artists.