In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Met Two Mathematicians
- Did Not Kidnap An Actor
- Scrutinized Eels
- Endured the Waggling of the Eyebrows
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, with delicate fingers in many pies.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital.
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary (of no fixed portfolio) to Doyle Wormsby.
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Always on a case.
The first order of business was to wash Nero Krahlhammer's boots. Someone had coated them in river mud to frame him for the kidnapping of Alfonso the Hydra. After few buckets of water and some vigorous scrubbing, the boots returned to their home in the cupboard, and Nero returned to his usual state of mildly paranoid civility.
After tea and tinned biscuits, Doyle suggested the group visit his office and wait for the Coppers to arrive. He'd asked Victus Crane, Thaumaturgic Detective (or "Deeker") to send someone around to investigate the apparent burglary.
"Fheeeew," the gormless-looking constable said an hour later, glancing around Doyle's office. "The burglars ransacked the place, eh? Signs of ransackery in all quarters."
"No, it always looks like this," Lizzy said cheerfully.
The constable scowled. "What, with the papers on the floor?"
"I know where everything is," Doyle said defensively.
"Ah, so, what exactly was stolen?" he said, taking out his notebook.
"Nothing was stolen. But the burglars used magic to open the door - you can see the residue on the lock - and then took iconographs. See the scratch marks from the tripod?" Doyle said, pointing to some almost imperceptible marks on the floor. "Next to that apple core. See?"
The constable looked, scowled, and said, "What were these iconographs of?"
"Of the room! Of my current cases!" Doyle had left up his web of red string and cards connecting everyone in Endon into a vast network of intrigue. Any spy would have their work cut out for them separating the chaff of paranoia from the grains of truths.
"You kept iconographs of your office in your office? Odd way to decorate," the Constable said. "Were the frames valuable?"
"No you don't understand, the thieves took iconographic images of my rooms."
"I don't think that's a crime. Unless they were salacious photos without the lady's consent," the constable said, clearly remembering a fragment of his training. "Was the lady from Salacia?" he ventured.
Doyle groaned. "There was no lady. The thief or thieves broke in using magic, made iconographic images of my rooms and confidential files, then left. Now is that a crime or not?"
"There's no need to take that tone with me," the Copper said. "I'll check with the Inspector."
A few moments later, Inspector Victus Crane, who'd clearly been listening just around the bend of the corridor, entered Doyle's office and surveyed the group for the second time that morning. He gently dismissed the constable, examined the scratch marks, and sighed.
"I will, of course, make the appropriate inquiries. If I was a suspicious man which," he added, "I am, I might think you concocted this story to show me that Alfonso the Hydra was not a prisoner in your office."
"Why would we kidnap Alfonso the Hydra? And if we did, why would we bring him here of all places?" Doyle asked.
"I'm sure I have no idea, but nevertheless, the idea is compelling. On a related note, I should mention - confidentially of course - that the case of Alfonso the Hydra is no longer my concern. Apparently," he said, with a trace of venom, "it was not a magical crime, despite the magical equipment found in his apartment and traces of a knock spell on the door. I've been reassigned."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Doyle said, without a trace of sympathy.
"So a private investigator could be of some use?" Lizzy said, with all the subtlety of a hurled brick.
"It is possible," Victus Crane said. "But the crime scene is still sealed, of course. Though, it is odd. Something about the urchin on the corner of this street, just outside your office, reminds me of this case." Victus smiled slyly.
Doyle scowled back. He hated this sort of cloak-and-dagger cigarette-ashes-and-acrostics detective work. Victus Crane seemed like the sort of sleuth who'd gather all the suspects in a room and reveal, while gloating, how he solved the case based on a deep knowledge of ceramics and strand of lilac fabric. Doyle didn't hold with that sort of behavior.
After Victus Crane departed and Jonty got over his paranoid jitters, the group decided to follow the Deeker's advice. The urchin on the street corner was fleecing the crowd with a find-the-lady game. The Endon variant uses tin cups, a wooden ball, and a bit of practical sleight-of-hand. The PCs watched and ruminated.
"It's got to be a hint," Tom said helpfully. "Maybe the urchin was a witness?"
"A metaphorical hint. I hate those. I think he's trying to say that while we're watching the cups, the ball is elsewhere. So the kidnapping was... was a front?" Doyle mused.
"Smoke and mirrors. The letter to the Eel Hunting Club, the boots in Nero's office, the coach. All red herrings designed to send pursuit - legal or otherwise - in the wrong direction." Jonty seemed satisfied.
Lizzy wasn't convinced. "But that doesn't make any sense. Why would he run?"
Doyle grunted. "Because we visited him. Probably scared him. If he's smart, he's in hiding now."
"He came up with that plan - the fake kidnapping, the letter, the boots, all of it - between the time we left him and midnight? Are you sure? Coz he didn't seem that bright," Lizzy said.
"He's an actor," Doyle said patiently. In his opinion, actors and smug detectives belonged in the same pit.
"Look, we'll keep digging. Obviously Inspector Crane is under political pressure not to investigate this case, so, to clear our names and to find this guy, let's solve it for him."
"While you are off solving a case, some people have to work," Dr. Hartwell said, then turned to Tom. "You said your friend Guffy is in the hospital with an attack of the eels?"
"I said eels attacked him. Apparently he tried to retrieve them from the river and they sucked the magic right out of his body. Horrible stuff." Tom shuddered for dramatic effect. "I'll come with you. Guffy probably needs cheering up, and besides, he was one of the people who created the eels. Maybe he's got some insight into how we can capture them."Doyle's air of melancholy contemplation was hampered by the brilliant Malbrogia sunshine, clear crisp air, and the general tendency of actors to tell lies in a friendly and unconscious way. He'd spent all morning and afternoon tromping around Haymarket Square, asking after "Alfonso the Hydra" and his illusions. Nobody seemed to know what a Private Investigator was. He was heartily sick of explaining that he wasn't a Copper, a reporter, or a debt collector.
With Lizzy's help, he'd politely pumped one of Alfonso's colleagues for information. Three weeks ago, Alfonso had announced, privately, that he was not putting on any shows this season. Two weeks ago, he took rooms north of West Cross (rooms he could ill afford on his nonexistent savings) and launched his "Illusionary Servant" business.
"Where were his old rooms?" Doyle asked, and was (after some additional wine) directed to an alley behind the Hydrangea theater. Two large, surly, and slightly confused men were peering at the door to the back stairs. One had just removed a prybar from his coat when Doyle and Lizzy entered into view.
"Ave you seen Alfonso the Idra?" one asked.
"No. But we're looking for him," Lizzy added, with more honesty than perhaps was wise.
"Oh are you?" the thug said. "Well, look elsewhere."
"Why? Isn't he here?" Doyle said. "And who are you? Why are you trying to break into his rooms?"
"That's a lot of questions. What are you, a Copper? You dun look like a Copper."
"Yeah," the other thug added. "You should leave. Go 'way," he said, reaching into his pocket for a length of chain. The other thug, sensing that violence was imminent, slipped on a pair of brass knuckles.
"And if we don't go?" Lizzy asked.
"Then you'll wish you did."
The fight was brief but almost wholly one-sided. Lizzy cast inebriate on one thug, used hyperin and a flying syringe spell on the other, and then, while waiting for the effects, swung wildly with her enchanted kitchen knife. Doyle's umbrella contained a rapier, which gave him a considerable advantage over the chain-wielding thug. Moments later, the two adversaries lay on the floor of the alley, bleeding from half a dozen minor wounds and drunk beyond measure.
"Isnat fair," one groaned. "You've got a sward. And she's gon a knife!"
"I'm a cook," Lizzy said, trying to catch her breath. "I'm allowed to have a knife."
"Who hired you?" Doyle said, vigilant as ever. "We're not your enemies. We're just... trying to solve a case."
"It wouldn't be a... Snedge-type person, would it?" Doyle said. Snedge, the mysterious legate of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, was a specter haunting the schemes of the PCs. His influence was more alleged than felt, but signs of Snedgery could send Jonty into a panic.
"It... it couldave been," one thug said, over the belated shushing of the other.
"Aha! And the person who hired you doesn't know where Mr. Alfonso is either, does he? Well well well. Let us take care of it. Don't tell Mr. Snedge about this."
"Can't do that. E always finds out. E's good at that. Pays good but then E's on you like mud." The thug struggled to put underworld labour relations into words. "Is not worth my life."
"But there's no reason to tell him right away. After all, you a barber-surgeon, new shirts, and perhaps a little sleep. It could be hours," Lizzy suggested.
The apartment, when the finally reached it, was a disappointment. Like many illegal apartments in Endon, it occupied a wedge of space not designed for human habitation. Between stalagmites of pigeon droppings, boxes of forgotten theatrical props, and rolls of crumbling canvas. The only clue was an empty lockbox under the straw mattress, with recent traces of orange theatrical makeup on the lid.
An interview with actors at the Hydrangea Theater produced a strange tale. It seems that an improbable number of witnesses, all engaged in entirely legal activities in the disused back stairs at 1 in the morning, saw a "swarthy fellow, obviously foreign, with a "thick accent and a headwrap thing" and a "smell of rare spices", call in the dead of night. The actors fled, of course.
"Probably Alfonso returning to his rooms in the dead of night to retrieve whatever was in that strongbox," Doyle said.
"What? No!" Lizzy replied. "That's insane. What did he do, kidnap himself, take a trunk of costumes and makeup with him, change in an alley, and the return to his old apartment? Why didn't he take the strongbox with him when he moved? Maybe he had a foreign friend. Maybe it was Snedge. No, wait, Snedge wouldn't have hired those two goons if he'd burgled the place disguised as a foreigner."
"How much coffee did you have?"
Guffy's illness, if it was an illness, was being treated by the standard Endonian medical logic of "like driveth out like". A chilly dip in the River Burl could be cured by ice water baths and cold towels. Dr. Hartwell's keen medical senses told him that Guffy would recover quickly if he was, instead, fed soup, brandy, and taken for a brisk walk through Endon's streets. This treatment seemed to jostle some life back into the student.
In case the group's nebulous enemies were after Guffy, Tom stuck him in his room at Nedalward Hall, then tried to understand a diagram Jonty had drawn on a napkin.
"It seems the eels are attracted to magic," Jonty said excitedly. "They consume it (as with your friend Guffy) and discharge it when threatened (as with their escape, and with Alfonso's battery system). So! Logically! One should be able to lure them with a properly constructed magical device. This!" he said, flourishing the napkin, "is just such a device."
The device, as sketched, involved two plates, each consisting of four concentric octagons of copper, with a large topaz crystal in the centre. Based on his relatively limited knowledge of magical theory, the copper and topaz should gently radiate raw magic into the atmosphere when a thaumic charge passed through the device, creating a beacon for the magic-hungry eels. The user - for Jonty envisioned the device as a sort of magic smock- would stride confidently into the river, receive a magic charge via two large copper cables, lure the eels close, then strike them with wooden clubs. The magical charge could be turned on and off at will, so the eels would have nothing to drain.
The students of Nedalward Hall crowded around and immediately started debating the merits of such a device. The creators of the eels - Jeremy Golt, Guffy Chesterton, and Nedrick Bilgent - were all for it, and were merrily drawing diagrams and doing thaumic field calculations. Tom even asked Chastity Flintwich, who'd helped him build his famous Lightning Accumulator, for yet another favour. Students went on excursions for copper, for chalk, for galoshes, for more beer and meat pies, and for
The "Jonty Suit" (the name "Chastity Cage" was rejected after the notoriously short-tempered Miss Flintwich hit Guffy with a chair), was a work of art. Amateur art, and possibly art banned by the establishment, but it clearly looked like a magical device. Jonty had suggested a rubber undercoat, waders, and gloves. The wizards suggested that he wear the device. It was only fair. He'd invented it.
Lizzy, who'd turned up with Doyle as the evening turned into night, quietly suggested that an enchanted item on a rope would be equally effective as bait, but her wisdom was ignored.
By the light of two lanterns and the crescent moon, Jonty strode boldly into the River Burl. The rest of the group, along with a small crowd of wizards and curious onlookers, peered at him over the railings of the embankment. Jeremy Golt, wizard hat firmly wedged on his head and cigarette behind his ear, gripped the two insulated copper cables attached to Jonty's vest.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Dr. Hartwell said quietly.
"If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be an experiment," Tom replied, with the confidence of a wizard not currently wearing, holding, or legally responsible for an experimental magical device.
"READY!" Jonty shouted, then held up his two wooden clubs.
Jeremy Golt squinted and pushed a mild thaumic charge through the cables. Jonty felt a slight tingle, but the suit protected him and radiated the raw magic into the air. To those not blessed with Wizard Vision, he appeared to be slightly luminescent.
"Any sign of eels?" Doyle asked, peering at the silty waters of the Burl.
"None. We might need more power," Tom replied.
"More power, got it! Jeremy said, grinning.
"I HEARD THAT," Jonty bellowed, but Jeremy was already dumping magic into the cables. Jonty winced as his vision briefly flashed greenish purple. The crowd winced, went "oooh!", and started to argue. Jonty was worried, but he didn't feel any different. He cautiously opened his eyes.
Arms, intact. Reality, undisturbed. He cautiously looked down. His chest appeared to be glowing blue.
The spectators on the the embankment had a better view. Jonty was missing his midsection. A hole, ringed with blue-grey light, had neatly bisected the Professor of Law. Instead of the dark waters of the Burl, a cloudy oil-flecked landscape, lit by an unseen sun, was faintly visible through the portal.
"Curious!" Tom said. "Jonty? Are you alive?"
"I am! Should I... not be alive?" Jonty asked.
"Ah. Well. It seems the Jonty Suit generated a portal. Luckily it's an external portal, so..."
"I can't hear you!" Jonty said, as politely as he could manage under the circumstances.
"IT'S ALL FINE! STAND VERY STILL," Jeremy Golt shouted, then added, "Do you see that?"
Tom squinted at the portal. A grey dot in the centre was growing larger and larger. "Curious," was all Tom had time to say before a lump of grey flesh burst from the portal, growing to the size of an elephant by the time it hit the wall of the embankment. Moments later, the portal winked out.
The next few minutes were uniquely chaotic. The mass of flesh didn't have any visible organs. It extruded long tentacles of grey meat with bristly white hairs, grabbed onto the embankment, and tried to climb. The crowd panicked. The creature's tentacles seemed to slip in and out of existence, stretching like taffy only to appear, separated from the creature's body, a dozen yards away. Its flailing was apparently random, but was still destructive.
The crowd panicked. Jonty, who'd been facing away from the embankment, looked over his shoulder and started to run. The cables of the Jonty Suit were trapped under the beast, but he struggled valiantly in upriver, towards the lights of the Royal Docks.
Jeremy Golt cast multielemental spray on the creature, to little effect. Doyle drew his wand of lightning spirit, looted from the lab of Prof. Tallerand, and let it loose. The lightning also coursed down the cables of the Jonty Suit and lightly fried Prof. Earl. He survived, but deeply regretted not making the cables detachable.
Lizzy, sensibly, cast grease on the creature. While it might ignore some local physical laws, gravity and friction still seemed to apply. Its grease-coated bulk slipped backwards into the river.
Dr. Hartwell and Tom ran upriver, trying to keep one eye on Jonty and one eye on the mass of grey flesh. Doyle, out of offensive spells and unwilling to charge into close combat, stood on a bench and calmly directed fleeing citizens using his umbrella.
As his vision cleared and his eyebrows stopped smouldering, Jonty saw a glowing blue eel rise from the muddy waters of the Burl. It seemed to attracted to the residual magic in the Jonty Suit, or just curious about the unusually metallic mudlark. Jonty eyed it cautiously, then hit it with his wooden club. The eel, stunned and agitated, released its stored thaumic charge. Once again, Jonty's vision flashed greenish purple. The raw magic hit the Jonty Suit and the diffuser acting in reverse, concentrating the charge and sending it back up the cables... and into the bulk of the otherworldly creature. It doubled in size.
Any remaining bystanders took this as their cue to run for safety (or a gin palace, or a newspaper reporter). The leviathantine bulk of the creature lurched and flailed. The night air was filled with screams, iron railings, lumps of masonry, and huge blobs of mud. Yet, alone among the crowd, a hunched and ragged figure watched the scene for a few moments longer than most. Doyle recognized the unsettled face of Professor Tallerand. Unshaven, grimy, and in clothes that were more patches than original fabric, but unmistakable the disgraced biomancer, necromancer, and (in a fairly direct way) source of the group's financial success. Doyle filed this information in a bulging folder marked "very suspicious indeed", then, glancing over his shoulder at the building-sized mound of grey flesh, decided to move towards the rest of the group.
Lizzy took a different approach. She drank a hoarded luck potion and charged. Kitchen knife raised like the blade of an avenging angel, she rushed the lump and stabbed with wild abandon, carving and splitting the undifferentiated grey flesh. Possibly in response, or possibly for reasons beyond human understanding, the creature formed a puckered orifice full of white glass-like strands. Moments later, it fired a beam of pure white light into the air, neatly punching a hole through the third story of a riverside building.
Meanwhile, Tom and Dr. Hartwell were hastily comparing spells. "Nothing," Tom said in despair. "But... if I can borrow some of your thaumic charge... and by some I mean all..."
"What is your plan?" Dr. Hartwell asked.
"Plan is a strong word."
"JONTY!" Tom yelled. "GET OUT OF THE RIVER! NOW!"
Doyle also had a plan. Amid the chaos and confusion, the private investigator strode boldy forth, shouting "Lizzy! Liiiiizy! RUN!" and waving his umbrella like a conductor's baton.
In the river, Jonty struggled out of the Jonty Suit and, shirtless, scorched, and covered in mud, sprinted for the embankment. He paused only to stuff a stunned eel into his bag. He reached the wall, and with the assistance of a very concerned Dr. Hartwell, struggled onto dry land. He didn't have the strength to ask questions. He could only wheeze and point at the squamous mass lurching its way into Endon.
"Lizzy!" Doyle said, finally attracting the cook's attention. He gestured towards Dr. Hartwell, Tom, and Jonty. "I think Tom has a plan. He keeps waving at me. Run! Come on!" The pair started to sprint. Doyle reached into his coat and drew a Toad Grenade, a one-use magic item he'd been saving for a rainy day. The sky was clear, but this was no time to quibble over details. He turned, threw it over his shoulder, and ran.
Lizzy, who'd been at his side a moment before, slipped on some mud and took a few steps to regain her balance. She watched the toad grenade sail past her head and towards the monstrous entity.
There was a brief green flash.
Tom watched both Lizzy and the entity transform into a pair of toads, just as Doyle reached the group. The lighting wizard slapped on hand onto Doyle, the other onto Dr. Hartwell, sucked all the free magic charge out of both wizards, and then pointed at the toads. He swung his finger upwards, cutting a line of ionized air into the sky, and dumping a few megathaums of vaguely directed magic into an already saturated atmosphere.
The sky responded. The emperor of all lightning bolts crashed from a clear sky, blasting the toads, the pavement, and a fair portion of the river into oblivion. Water boiled. Stone melted. Seasoned bystanders, watching the wizardments from a safe distance, applauded politely before the solid wall of thunder hit them and sent everyone, from the banks of the river to the gates of Loxdon College, scurrying for cover. There wasn't an unbroken window for half a mile along the waterfront.
In the GLOG I run, wizards can try to bodge together a spell-like
effect appropriate to their school by pouring any number of MD into a
target and hoping for the best. Effects are adjudicated by the GM, but
are usually haphazard and dangerous.
I didn't expect anyone to use 6
MD (when 4 MD is typically considered fairly potent), but Tom is an
Electric Wizard, and he did want to call a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
"YOU HIT LIZZY!" Doyle shouted. Tom lay flat on his back, smoke rising from his ears and eyes.
"WHAT?" Jonty said. "I THINK I'VE GONE DEAF."
"LIZZY!" Doyle mouthed carefully. "DEAD," he said, making the classic exploding toad gesture.
Dr. Hartwell tugged on his sleeve and pointed upwards. A body, probably Lizzy's, was falling out of the sky. Jonty spotted it and gallantly leapt into the river, sprinting (or at least sloshing mightily) through the mud. He gallantly attempted to catch the falling corpse. It, showing no respect for romance (or even mild flirtation) broke both of his arms on impact.
"AUGH!" he screamed, before pitching face-first into the mud.Yes, it's all gone terribly wrong for the PCs. How will they recover from the loss of the only person in the group who knows how to brew tea? What is Professor Tallerand up to? Was the Jonty Suit sabotaged or merely unexpectedly efficacious? Find out at some point.