In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Traded some horses.
- Radicalized some rats.
- Imploded some snails.
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator and the Lightning Inverted, which, when combined, should revolutionize magical charge production in Endon.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, and accidental inventor of the Jonty Suit.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital. Ally of speaking rats, workers, and other vermin.
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby.
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Motivated by truth, justice, and tobacco.
Doyle slipped into the Hasselby Court Mechanics' Society, paid his penny into the collection tin, slipped his flat cap a few inches lower, and slouched in the back row of the lecture theater. He'd been attending these meetings for months, disguised as his alter-ego "Michael Conan", a printer's assistant, general labourer, and taciturn misanthrope. The Societies were springing up like mushrooms all over Endon, offering quiet reading rooms, libraries, lectures, tea, and biscuits for a very moderate price. Far too moderate, Doyle had calculated, to support their expenses. Someone wanted these clubs to exist, and Doyle suspected the Project.
The Project, attentive readers will recall, is a mysterious alliance of wizards. Professor Tallerand, disgraced biomancer, and Edward Konivov the eccentric time wizard are certainly involved. Their scheme seems to be the conquest of death itself via time travel, memory extraction, and the creation of new and imperishable bodies.
And Edward Konivov was a lecturer at the Mechanics' Societies. While other lecturers spoke on practical subjects such as housekeeping, mathematics, and natural philosophy, Konivov's lectures tended towards abstruse philosophy. The audience seemed to tolerate him because he was frequently seen with Benjamin Fits, the notorious labour agitator. Fits commanded the room whenever he appeared.
Once, after following him and his cadre of scowling cronies to a tavern, Doyle saw one of Fits' attendants reveal a mysterious glass jar before Fits hastily signaled for him to hide it. The jar seemed to contain another, smaller jar, both full of a clear liquid. Doyle was intrigued, but could not find any further evidence of the jar's meaning.
It wasn't a memory extracted by Tallerand. Those, Doyle knew, glowed blue, and judging by the burn scars on the scalps of several devotees of the Mechanics' Societies, Tallerand was hard at work behind the scenes, moving skills from one worker to another, and probably duplicating them along the way.
He proposed two companies. The first would support the calculating golems of John Huffman and Ana Hartwell. The second, a far larger concern, would support the development of the Lightning Accumulator and Lightning Inverter... and far more besides.
"It'll put magic accumulators out of business," Jonty said excitedly. "Instant magic! Just add lightning."
"But lightning strikes are arbitrary," Lizzy pointed out.
"We could build a tower," Tom said, his eyes glowing more than usual. "A tower of iron! Lightning strikes the highest point available, and if we build the tallest building in Endon." Tom quickly sketched something on bit of newspaper and showed it to the group.
"It's the letter 'T'," Dr. Hartwell said.
"It's a tower! Tall middle bit, and two arms. And then I can stand on top, where the head is, and look down upon Endon while casting my spells! Mwahaha!" Tom chortled, miming vigorously.
"What about when it's windy?" Lizzy said, flapping her arms up and down. "Boing boing snap oh many casualties, infamy, etc, etc."
"Fair," Tom replied, sitting down and scratching his chin. "We should probably hire an engineer."
"One engineer? We'll need a whole fleet. We'll need a warehouse or two for the magic batteries and Lightning Inverters, and a large area on which to construct the tower."
"Needle Circus makes sense to me," Tom said. "We could even buy up the old Nortgreen & Louton Gel Refinery. I'm sure Nero would appreciate it."
Lizzy's eyes lit up. The things she could do with a proper laboratory space and some decent refining equipment..
"We'll sell magic by the kilothaum. No, wait, better. We'll charge up magic batteries and deliver them around the city, like milk," Jonty said. "A fleet of carts, with our livery painted on, delivering safe and reliable magic to your front door."
"A few charges, sure, but there's no way we could safely cart a really large magic battery around the city," Tom said. "They're wider than some of the streets."
"What about piping it like water?" Jonty suggested. "Thick warded cables to local firms that need dozens of charges a day, and delivery carts for households and smaller industries."
"Can you pip raw magic like that?" Doyle asked, then, before Tom could speak, added, "Safely, I mean."
"Proooobably," Tom replied. "Copper cables with a ceramic coating ought to work."
"What about the rain?" Dr. Hartwell said. "This will require a lot of storms."
"It already rains in Endon most days of the year," Jonty said smoothly. "Why worry? I'm sure it will be fine."
And so, Iron Spike Thaumaturgy Limited, with a nominal capital of 50,000gp, divided in to 20,000 shares, was quietly formed. Jonty added Professors Turnspit and Aster, the summoners from Loxdon College who were working on the Jonty Suit, as subscribers, and assigned them a generous 100 shares each. The fictitious Nigel Crustacean Ramchander, Lizzy's non-existent brother, received 2,000 shares, as did the very real and slightly bewildered Nero Krahlhammer. Dr. Hartwell and Jonty took 2,000 shares each, while Tom, as the originator and vital component of the scheme, took 4,200. The rest were sold to a variety of investors by Jonty, or held for later sale, or otherwise tied up in his convoluted financial chicanery.
"So... we're rich?" Lizzy said, a few days later.
"On paper, yes. I've had to allocate some of the capital to real estate projects. Advertisements. Miscellaneous expenses. But yes, we are rich." Jonty said.
"I would like 500gp for a special project," Lizzy said, extending her hand. Jonty stared at it, then cut her a cheque from Iron Spike Thaumaturgy's account.
One week later, in her newly appointed laboratory, she took careful aim at a vat of translucent green gel and cast a powerful spell. When she opened her eyes, she was beside herself in both the figurative and literal senses.
"Hooray!" both Lizzy Ramchanders said. Dissatisfied with the limited duration of her duplicate self spell, Lizzy had worked out a way to use a gel matrix to stabilize the resulting flesh double, turning the spell's duration from minutes to hours and letting her get twice as much work done in a single day. The spell didn't duplicate clothes, and the process was likely to nauseate any spectators, but Lizzy worked out a sort of quick-change system for basic laboratory clothing and installed a very good lock on the door.
Doyle spent a week going quietly mad as his secretary appeared in two places at once. Eventually, Lizzy had to tell him. "At least it's not time travel," Doyle sighed.
Jonty decided to see if the Minister of Trade, The Right Honourable Barbosa Crummies, could offer insight into clay deposits around Endon. Iron Spike Thaumaturgy might require a great deal of ceramics.
The Ministry of Trade seemed to consist of the Minister, an overworked secretary, and a stratified mesa of paperwork, maps, letters, and petitions that filled their adjoining offices.
"Don't talk to me of ceramics," Kenwigs moaned. "I found out last month we've been importing all our plates and cups from Foreign Parts. We just passed a bill that increased the tariff a hundredfold. Didn't make the papers or anything, despite quite a good speech on my part. Now I find out we've got no domestic pottery industry to speak of. Nothing to protect, you see. And all the importers have already cancelled their orders. By this time next year we'll be eating soup out of our hats."
"My goodness," Jonty said sympathetically. He knew the Gumperts, the current ruling party, were widely predicted to lose the coming election, but this scandal could be the final nail in the coffin. The most prudent of rats, Jonty knew a sinking ship when he saw one, and politely excused himself. On his way out, he confidently pilfered a map of Endon's catacombs and a few assorted folders from the stacks of paper in the Minister's office.
He pinned the map to the wall of his study. When Doyle saw it three days later, he let out a strangled gurgle, hailed a cab, and returned an hour later with a folder full of newspaper clippings. Each one was a strange cryptic advertisement placed by Edward Konivov in a newspaper. He started tacking them to the map. The lines and intersections of the catacombs of Endon occasionally lined up with the incomprehensible lines of the advertisements.
"Got it," Doyle said. "They're marking something. A supply cache? An experiment? A meeting place?"
"Not all of them line up with the map though," Lizzy pointed out.
"It's not a complete map. Nobody has a complete map, probably. This is just the official government survey. See, it's concentrated around the Auld Grey Cathedral, but there lots of blank bits... and some passages marked with skulls. Ominous."
"Those could mark... good places to find skulls?" Lizzy said, without much hope.
Tom, meanwhile, had been offered a suspiciously good deal on raw iron for his tower. Daniel Kenwigs, broker for the the Thaumaturgic Mining Guild, had eagerly agreed to meet with the "Lightning-Tamer". Tom's reputation, enhanced by his flaming eyes and his grand plans. Rumours of an "Iron Tower", the "Tallest building in Endon, and therefore the world" were spreading like wildfire.
After some preliminary small talk, Kenwigs opened with a very unusual offer. "400 tons of cast iron per Gel Knight?" he asked. "I understand you and your partners fund Nero Krahlhammer and own the old Nortgreen & Louton works."
"Gheht?" Tom gurgled, his face an impassive mask.
"500 tons? And how many Gel Knights can we expect?"
"How soon do you need them?" Tom replied, happy to be back on almost familiar ground. He wasn't sure how much iron the tower would need. Chastity Flintwich knew, of course, and she'd quoted some immense sum to him, but he couldn't visualize it. The more iron the better, he decided.
"As soon as possible," Kenwigs replied, starting to sweat slightly.
"Any special modifications or requirements? Livery? Functions?" Tom was also sweating. Some scheme was afoot, and he didn't like it.
"General-purpose guard duty. No livery or markings. In fact, if they could be, err, conditioned to attack recklessly on command, that would be for the best."
"I think we can manage an order of 10 within the week," Tom bluffed. He had no idea how many Gel Knights were available, but 10 seemed sensible.
"Excellent, excellent," Kenwigs said. "We're running a railway line to Needle Circus in any case, so we can deliver the iron directly to your building site."
"Splendid," Tom said. He'd heard of the railways, of course. Engines powered by coal and water (not magic; far more efficient to use natural means) criss-crossing the countryside, but they had yet to reach the metropolis itself. Too many issues with land ownership, too many new suburbs.
Half an hour later, Tom burst into Doyle's office and relayed the very odd conversation. Doyle slouched into action. According to rumour, many iron mines and foundries in the hills west of Endon had suddenly closed. This should, Doyle knew, drive the price of iron up, and yet Kenwigs was practically giving it away.
Dinner with a few commercial travelers and labour advocates provided half the picture. Kenwigs feared a rising tide of unemployed, unhoused, and hungry miners would see him and his company - correctly - as the source of their misfortunes, and presumably wanted Gel Knights to protect his interests.
The rest of the pieces fell into place when Doyle used Nero's scrying orb to locate the origin of a bit of iron scraped from a fresh shipment of girders. After an hour of fiddling with the knobs and dials of the orb, Doyle eventually got the device to work, but was dismayed to see that all it showed was a glowing red eye. He stared back at the symbol. After a few moments, it faded, revealing inky blackness.
"You've got it set underground," Tom said helpfully, peering over Doyle's shoulder. "Here, let me try."
"I can control the horizontal and the vertical perfectly well," the Private Investigator said, fiddling with the dials again. The orb flickered, briefly showed gravel and grass, then revealed a desolate landscape. Mine works stood silent. Smokestacks conspicuously failed to smoke. Octagonal iron pillars emerged along a ridge.
"Industrial-grade control metal or a related spell," Tom said. "Some sort of slow but persistent enchantment, I think. Enough to draw iron out of the earth and purify it. No need for miners or foundry-workers. Just a handful of men to fell the iron like wood."
"Did many people work in the mines?" Doyle asked. He already knew the answer, and didn't wait for Tom to guess. Endon was already crowded. If a space had a wall and something to keep off the rain, someone was living in it, or working in it, or painting it a dismal shade of greyish beige and trying to rent it as a studio apartment. Even the most menial position attracted scores of applicants.
Doyle didn't know much about mining, but he had the vague notion it was an organized, regimented, deadly business, with crews and leaders and camaraderie. A thousand out-of-work famers could trickle into Endon with nothing more in common than a shared accent and astonishment at urban prices, but a thousand miners could march. Ten thousand miners? Who knew how many?
That evening, while skulking through one of Endon's shadier alleys, Doyle ran into Victus Crane, the mysterious Copper employed to solve magical crimes. The two men evaluated each other with considerable frostiness. "The forger you caught escaped," Victus eventually said. "Disappeared from his cell. Did you do it?"
"Why would I catch a forger only to break them out of the most secure prison in Endon? Don't you have the place warded against teleportation magic and all that?"
"We do. And yet he's gone. And according to my superiors, it's not a magical crime, and I cannot investigate it. I think someone is setting me up for a fall. Setting us both up," he hastily added.
Doyle considered this. It seemed far too plausible. But was Victus looking for an ally or a scapegoat? Did he truly believe that Doyle and his unsavoury friends were innocent?
"What do you want me to do about it?" Doyle said.
"Finish the case. Find the forger."
"Can't you scry for him?"
"No results. He's powerfully warded. Conventional tinker-tailor wards we can break, but scrying is never infallible. Now that you mention it, did you use a scrying spell earlier today?" Victus asked politely.
Doyle shrugged. Victus reached into his coat and pulled out a blurry iconograph of Doyle's face, distorted as if seen through a fishbowl. "Scrying is currently legal," the Deeker said, "emphasis on the word 'currently'. New legislation. This is just a friendly warning."
A range of unfriendly replies flickered through Doyle's mind. "A friendly warning in return. The iron mines are closed. New method. In a week, iron will be cheaper than the new whale steaks."
"What do you want me to do about it?" Victus said, slightly taken aback.
"Put a bed in your airing cupboard and rent it to a family of four. That's what everyone else will do." Doyle lit a cigarette and pointed at the door. "That, or prepare for mob violence on a scale never-before seen in this or any other city."
|Designs for the Great Tower for London. Whitepointed files here.|
"What do you mean, memorize it?" Tom said, pointing at the blueprints spread across the table.
Chastity Flintwich gave him a look that could curdle milk at fifty paces. "Memorize it. You need to be able to visualize the tower completely, in every detail, if you want to raise it with control metal."
"It's very complicated," Tom said plaintively. "What if I get something wrong? Can't I just correct any errors are the tower rises?"
"Possibly. The errors will compound and the tower will collapse like soft clay and kill hundreds of people."
"Ah," Tom said.
"Memorize it," Chastity said forcefully.
"Do you have any helpful suggestions as to how I might do that?" Tom asked.
Chastity thought about it for a moment. "Be less stupid," she said forcefully. "And work harder." On a chart of socially graceful creatures, Chastity Flintwich rated near the bottom, alongside scorpions, earthworms, and some of the smellier types of algae. She went through at least one assistant a week. All of her words were fighting words, and, as the first and only Loxdon College Female Ambush Boxing League Champion, she was more than happy to back up her words with deeds.
"I have a better plan," Tom said slyly.
Chastity stared at him. "Doubtful," she said.
Tom's plan was eventually admitted to be better. He hired an illusionist, had them memorize the plans (with their illusionist training). All Tom had to do was control thousands of tons of iron to match the illusionary form projected in the air. "Trivial," Tom assured his friends, with more confidence than he felt. Wizards of old had raised castles and towers instantly, but no one - as far as he knew - had attempted a tower of iron. He'd need to balance a mind-melting thaumic charge with a delicate concentration-based spell.
"So you don't want an audience," Jonty said.
"Ah. That may be difficult..."
"Jonty's sold tickets," Lizzy said in a smug sing-song tone. "It will be the social event of the Season. I'm going to buy a new dress."
"You're selling tickets to the tower-raising?"
"For a moderate fee, to keep out the rabble. We will have guards and viewing stands. Concessions. Patriotic flags. I've found a workshop that will make quite tasteful souvenir models from an amalgam of tin and lead. Stockholders get in free, of course. And we will sell stock at the event." Jonty looked giddy.
"And you've purchased all the land we require?" Tom asked.
"Almost. There's one warehouse I'd like to buy, but the owners..."
"Want too much money."
"Jonty, we have too much money."
"A tiny bit of arson and we'd have almost as much money..."
"No arson, no threats. Buy them out and get the foundation slabs in," Tom said, with renewed authority.
Judge magazine, March 5, 1927. Via Yesterday's Print.|
Dr. Hartwell initially summoned rat swarms using a call vermin spell. After providing cheese, bread, and apologies to the intelligent rats thusly summoned, attempted to establish diplomatic contact with various groups and factions. He was bewildered by the continually shifting priorities of the rats, but was able, after a few weeks, to create a sort of neutral rat meeting space, complete with speech-amplifying trumpets.
He also used a crate of potions of rat-form to speak with the rats on their level, which impressed many of them. He wasn't the first human to try and insert himself into rat society, but he was the first to speak with them nose-to-nose, and to offer assistance without asking anything in return. He discovered that the odd and stilted speech of the rats was a function of their size. They had to scream to be heard. At rat-scale, they were as conversationally adept as any Endoner.
A few days later, Doyle invited the group for a delve into the catacombs, to seek out the secrets of Edward Konivov and his mysterious newspaper advertisement. Jonty demurred, pointing out that he was far too busy. Everyone else happily agreed to a bit of trespassing. Dr. Hartwell brought along the urchin Perry Pint as his assistant.
Like many river cities, Endon was primarily built on Endon. The water table was, for half the year, an inch above street level. New buildings used old foundations, old buildings sunk and added new stories on top. The Auld Grey Cathedral had, for centuries, kept pace with Endon by building roots of stone buttresses and wedges.
The expedition started in the abandoned cellar of a wine merchant, descended through a drainage tunnel and pump room, and crept along a sludge-encrusted drain pipe. The sludge turned out to be an ooze, which rose, smashed Doyle backwards, and began to flow into the room with unmistakable intent.
Dr. Hartwell ran to Doyle's side. The ooze's pseudopod had smashed the detective's ribs and punctured a lung. "Damnation," the doctor grunted. "Keep that ooze away from me!"
Tom blasted the ooze with a full-power lightning bolt, but was astonished - and a little intrigued - to find that it had no effect. "It's immune to lightning!" he yelled.
"WHAT?" everyone else replied, their ears ringing.
Lizzy, always willing to help, drew her kitchen knife and charged the ooze. She sliced wildly but ineffectually. The ooze, in response, began to engulf and swallow her. Unfazed, Lizzy cast grease on herself to protect her clothes from the ooze's digestive juices and kept slashing.
Dr. Hartwell cast fix flesh on Doyle, healing him instantly but, in a mild biomancy mishap, temporarily transforming Dr. Hartwell into Doyle's doppelganger. Doyle woke up to find a copy of himself wearing Dr. Hartwell's clothes, shrugged, turned, and ran.
"Could I get some assistance?" Lizzy asked politely, as the ooze reached her neck. Dr. Hartwell examined the situation and acted decisively. He pulled out a potion of rat-form, poured it into Lizzy's mouth, tossed the flask upwards, deftly caught the falling rat-Lizzy inside the vacated ooze tunnel, stuffed her into his pocket, and followed Doyle out of the catacombs.
Lizzy stuck her head out of the doctor's pocket and cast - or vomited - cone of dense foam at the ooze, reasoning that the smell and texture of the spell would dissuade pursuit. Tom, caught on the edge of the foam, was not pleased.
"That ooze was immune to lightning! Fascinating! I wonder if we can use it as a sort of lightning-absorber?"
"Like the ground... right?" Lizzy suggested, tracing a lightning bolt with her finger.
Tom frowned. "I suppose. Still, we should capture that ooze. Lizzy, can you get a few of the ooze-minders from the Gel Knight works to capture it?"
Capturing a lightning-eating oozes was just one of Lizzy's projects. With doubled efficiency, she had recently developed, tested, and (with Jonty's help) marketed a new brand of liquid refreshment. By feeding whale offal from the Leonine Cartel to a specially bred ooze, she could turn useless and nauseating slop into a delicious mint-green beverage.
Dr. Hartwell refused to endorse it on principle, but Lizzy pointed out that milk in Endon was heavily adulterated, usually spoiled, watered down, or otherwise unsuitable for human consumption. "That last batch of cream we tested was thirty percent chalk dust, ten percent tallow, and one percent caustic soda. And Jonty had it with his coffee."
One week later, before dawn, Tom examined the site of the tower. It was a level square, a plain of huge stone blocks and chalk markings. Stacks of iron bars, cut crudely to length, rested along the edges like firewood. Jonty had paid considerable sums to drive foundation piles deep into Endon's silty soil, buying layer after layer of limestone and iron in an effort to give the tower as solid a foundation as possible. The tower couldn't be directly connected to its iron roots or the captured lightning would simply vanish into the earth.
Soon crowds of Endoners would fill the tasteful grandstands around the edge of the site. Tom had insisted on a 50' exclusion zone, reasoning that most minor blasts wouldn't reach spectators 50' away... and a major catastrophes wouldn't have a minimum safe distance.
Little did Tom know that, from rooftops and alleyways, through scrying orbs and telescopes, persons of ill intent were watching him and enacting schemes to bring about his ruin.
Will the Iron Spike ever rise above Endon? Will Jonty's stock-trading schemes catapult the group into eternal prosperity? What of the escaped forger? The miners? The other tangled threads of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy?
Find out next time.