The Travels of Rabban Bar Sauma

In the 13th century, two monks from China, Rabban Bar Sawma and Rabban Mark, embarked on a pilgrimage. Their journey is sometimes describe as "reverse Marco Polo", but this isn't a useful comparison. The text is a chronicle or a biography, not a detailed travelogue. It's darkly comic. They seem to arrive at locations just in time for a funeral. All joy is temporary. Power is a curse. The story does not have a happy ending. It's an insightful political document.

The quotes below are taken from E. A. Wallis Budge's 1928 Public domain translation. Full text here or here (PDF).

There's a significantly more reliable 2021 translation from Pier Giorgio Borbone, but it's not in the public domain. 

The chronicle lacks the ludicrous wonders and mythic resonance of the Alexander Romance, but some aspects are still useful for the Iron Gates setting.



One day they meditated, saying, "It would be exceedingly helpful to us if we were to leave this region and set out for the West, for we could then [visit] the tombs of the holy martyrs and Catholic Fathers and be blessed [by them]. And if Christ, the Lord of the Universe, prolonged our lives, and sustained us by His grace, we could go to Jerusalem, so that we might receive complete pardon for our offences, and absolution for our sins of foolishness. Now although RABBAN SAWMA opposed RABBAN MARK, and [tried to] frighten him with the toil of the journey, and the fatigue of travelling, and the terror of the ways, and the tribulations that would beset him in a foreign country, RABBAN MARK burned to set out on the road. His mind seemed to reveal to him that there were treasures laid up for him in the West, and he pressed RABBAN SAWMA with his words, and importuned him to depart. And the two of them having agreed together that neither of them should be separated from his companion, even if one of them might have to submit to what was evil for his sake, they rose up and distributed their furniture, and the objects which they used in everyday life, among the poor, and they went to that city (i.e. Pekin) so that they might take companions for the journey [i.e. join a caravan] and provide themselves with food for the way.

Now when the Christians who were living there became acquainted with them, and knew their intention, they gathered together about them so that they might make them abandon their plan. And they said [unto them}, "Peradventure ye do not know how very far off that region is to which ye would go? Or, perhaps ye have not the least idea in your minds, or have forgotten, how difficult it will be for you to travel over the roads, and that ye will never reach there? Nay, sit ye down here, and strive to perform the works whereunto ye have been called. For it is said, 'The kingdom of heaven is within you'" (Luke xvii. 21). And RABBAN SAWMA and RABBAN MARK replied, "It is a long time since we put on the garb of the monastic life, and we have renounced the world; we consider ourselves to be dead men in respect of it. Toil doth not terrify us, neither doth fear disturb us. There is, however, one thing which we ask of you: for the love of Christ pray for us."


And the report of the arrival of the two monks reached the lords of that city, KONBOGHA (i.e. Sun-worshipper) and IFOGHA (or IBOGHA) (i.e. Moon-worshipper), the sons-in-law of the King of Kings, KUBLAI KHAN, and as soon as they heard the report they sent messengers and had the two monks brought to the Camp. And they received them with gladness, and the fire of love for them burned in their breasts. And when the Lords knew that they were "going to flee from us," they began to say unto them, "Why are ye leaving this country of ours and going to the West? For we have taken very great trouble to draw hither monks and fathers from the West. How can we allow you to go away?"

Inventory Management

And when the Lords of the city saw that their words had no effect upon them, and that they would not yield to their persuasion, they selected for them gifts, namely, beasts on which to ride, and gold, and silver, and wearing apparel [and rugs]. Then the two monks said, "We have no need of any [of these things]. For what can we do with these possessions? And how can we possibly carry such a weight [as] this?"
And the kings mentioned above replied, "Ye have no knowledge of the length of this journey, and the expenses which it demands. We, however, do know, and we advise you not to set out empty [handed]; if ye do ye will be unable to arrive at the place which ye have decided to be your destination.

The Battle of Mohi

Hexcrawling and Random Encounters

And from there they went to the country of LOTON [? KHOTAN, or HO-THIAN, or YUTHIAN, a city between TANGOTH and KASHGAR], a toilsome and fatiguing journey of two months; the region was a bare and barren desert and it was without inhabitants, because its waters were bitter, and no crops are sown there. And on the whole journey there were only eight days when, with the greatest difficulty, was sweet water found which the travellers could carry with them. And in the days when they arrived at LOTON it happened that a war was raging between the King of Kings KUBLAI KHAN and King OKO ['O-'ho, Commander-in-chief of the army of Mien?].

And OKO had fled from him and had entered [this] country, and destroyed thousands of men therein. The caravan roads and ways had been cut, and grain (?) was scarce and could not be found; and many died of hunger and perished through want.

And after six months the two monks went forth from that place and came to the country of KASHKAR [or KASHGAR, a city on the frontiers of CHINA and TURKESTAN]. And they saw that the city was empty of its inhabitants, because it had been already plundered by the enemy. And because the aim of the monks was right, and they pleased God with all their hearts, He delivered them from every affliction, and no suffering attacked them, and He saved them from obstructions by highway robbers and thieves.


And with the greatest difficulty (20) and in a state of exhaustion whereto fear was added, they arrived at KHORASAN, [a province of north-eastern Persia, which lay between Persian 'Irak and Afghanistan]. Having lost the greater part of what they had on the road, they went to the monastery of Saint MAR SEHYON, which was in the neighbourhood of the city of TUS [the capital of KHORASAN], and they were blessed by the bishop who lived therein and by the monks.

Prophetic Dreams

And again, on another night, MAR YAHBH ALLAHA saw another vision. It seemed him as if he were sitting upon a high throne and that many people were gathered together round about him, and he was teaching [them] And as he was speaking his tongue became long and longer until the greater part of it went forth from his mouth; and then it became divided into three portions, and there appeared on the tip of each portion something which was like unto fire. And the people who were there marvelled and glorified God.


One night, before he had heard of what had happened to AHMAD the king, MAR YAHBH-ALLAHA had a dream. And it seemed to him that a young man of handsome appearance came to him carrying a dish, which was covered over with a napkin, in his hands, and he said unto the Catholicus, "Stand up, and eat what is laid on the dish." And when he drew back the cloth he found a boiled head [of a man] in the dish, and he ate the whole head leaving nothing except he bones of the jaw. And the young man said unto him, "Dost thou know what thou hast eaten?" And the Catholicus said unto him, "No." And the young man said unto him, "This was the head of King AHMAD"; and the Catholicus awoke straightway and was frightened. And a few days later the report of the murder of the king, which hath already been mentioned, arrived, and the news that King ARGHON was reigning. And the joy of the Catholicus was great, not because of the death of Ahmad, but because ARGHON had become king.


And the king passed the night in the monastery. And that night, whilst he was sleeping, he saw in his dream three angels standing above him, the apparel of one of them was red, and the two others were clad in shining green garments. And they spake words of consolation to him, and gave him reason to hope that the disease in his toes would be healed. And on the following morning, the king brought out a splendid cross made of fine gold, wherein (145) rare stones of very great price were set, and in it was a fragment of the adorable wood of the Cross of our Vivifier which had been sent to the king as a mark of honour by MAR PAPA of the Romans, and he gave it as a gift to Mar Catholicus. And the king related his dream before all those who were seated there, and confessed (or declared), saying "Through the blessings of this holy hothouse I have got healing."


Political Realities

The reason for his election was this: The kings who held the steering poles of the government of the whole world were MUGLAYE (Mongols), and there was no man except MAR YAHBH-ALLAHA who was acquainted with their manners and customs, and their policy of government, and their language.

And when [the nobles of Baghdad] said these things to him he made excuses and demurred to their statements, saying, "I am deficient in education and in ecclesiastical doctrine, and the member of my tongue halteth. How can I possibly become your Patriarch? And moreover, I am wholly ignorant of your language, Syriac, which it is absolutely necessary for the Patriarch to know." And having pressed upon him their quest, he agreed to their opinion and accepted [the office]. And all the aged men, and priests, and nobles, and scribes, and also the physicians, gave their support to him.
The election of the Pope is portrayed as divinely inspired and deeply mysterious. This election, on the other hand, is practical.

Mark had recently received the name "Mar Yahb-Allah" from the late Catholicus, via a divine lottery (i.e. choosing a Syriac name from a hat). Imagine the scene:

Sawma: Congratulations to the new Catholicus, Mar Yahb-Allah!
Mark: Yes, congratulations to Mar Yahb-Allah.
Sawma: Mark.. you're Mar Yahb-Allah.
Mark: גירא בעיני (Lit. "An arrow in my eye!" or "Aww FUCK!")

Touching Moments

The Catholicus gave his permission to depart, but when the time for his departure arrived, it did not please the Catholicus to permit him to go. For he said [unto Rabban Sawma], "How can this possibly take place? Thou hast been the governor of my cell, and thou knowest that through thy departure my affairs will fall into a state of utter confusion." And having said such words as these they said farewell to each other, weeping as they did so. And the Catholicus sent with him letters, and gifts which were suitable for presentation to Mar Papa (the Pope), and gifts [i.e. offerings] according to his ability.

Despite abridgement, multiple translations, and centuries of distance, there are touches of real friendship in this text. Little human moments, like King Phillip II's showmanship in relics, King Kazan's sore toes, and, of course, the friendship between Rabban Sawma and Mark.

The Crown of Thorns. Note that this is not the medieval reliquary mentioned below. This crystal ring dates to 1896. The medieval reqliquary may have vanished during the Revolution.

Wondrous Objects

Now MARY wept on that stone, and the place hereon her tears fell is wet even at the present time; and however often this moisture is wiped away the place becometh wet again. [...] And also the BETH KAWMA (resting place) of the Three Hundred and Eighteen [orthodox] Bishops who were all laid in one great church; and their bodies have not suffered corruption because they had confirmed the [True] Faith. And he saw also many shrines of the holy Fathers, and many amulets of a magical character (talismata) and image[s] in bodily form made of bronze and stone (Eikons?).


And from that place they went to the spot where PAUL the Apostle, was crowned [with martyrdom]. They say that when his head was cut off it leaped up thrice into the air, and at each time cried out CHRIST! CHRIST! And that from each of the three places on which his head fell there came forth waters which were useful for healing purposes, and for giving help to all those who were afflicted.


And MAR PAPA said, "If we had been in the habit of giving away these relics to the people [who come] in myriads, even though the relics were as large as the mountains, they would have come to an end long ago. But since thou hast come from a far country, we will give thee a few." And he gave to RABBAN SAWMA a small piece of the apparel of our Lord Christ, and a piece of the cape (. . .) that is to say, kerchief of my LADY MARY, and some small fragments of the bodies of the saints that were there. And he sent to MARR YAHBH-ALLAHA a crown for his head which was of fine gold and was inlaid with precious stones; and sacred vestments made of red cloth through which ran threads of gold; and socks and sandals on which real pearls were sewn; and the ring from his finger; and a "Pethikha" or Bull which authorized him to exercise Patriarchal dominion over all the Children of the East. And he gave to RABBAN SAWMA a "Pethikha" which authorized him to act as Visitor-General over all Christians. And Mar Papa blessed him and he caused to be assigned to him for expenses on the road one thousand, five hundred mathkale of red gold. And to King Arghon he sent certain gifts. And he embraced RABBAN SAWMA and kissed him and dismissed him. And RABBAN SAWMA thanked our Lord who had held him to be worthy of such blessings as these.

1669 eruption of Mt. Etna

Firey Serpents

And he went down to the sea [i.e. embarked on a ship] and came to the middle thereof, where he saw a mountain from which smoke ascended all the day long and in the night time fire showed itself on it. And no man is able to approach the neighbourhood of it because of the stench of sulphur [proceeding therefrom]. Some people say that there is a great serpent there. This sea is called the "Sea of Italy." Now it is a terrible sea, and very many thousands of people have perished therein.

Damn You, Anonymous Transcriber!

Now because it was not our intention to relate and set out in order all the unimportant things which RABBAN SAWMA did and saw, we have abridged very much of what he himself wrote in his narrative in Persian. And even the things which are mentioned here have been abridged or amplified, according to necessity.
Of course, the original Persian text is lost.

Unlike some contemporary accounts, it seems reasonably certain that Babban Bar Sauma went where he says he went and saw what he says he saw. The political background of some events might be lightly edited to present the truth in the best possible light, and omit inconvenient factional intrigues, but it's a clear-eyed record.

The Circle of Loot

I don't think it's intentional, but there's a theme of looting and counterlooting in this text. Rich gifts are given and stolen. Rabban Sawma glorifies items looted from Jerusalem but, in later chapters, laments when his monastery is looted, and then rejoices when he receives fresh loot from Palestine and Syria.

There are in that church four pillars of copper [or brass], each of which is six cubits in thickness; these, they say, the kings brought from Jerusalem.


And RABBAN SAWMA and his companions saw also a six-sided paten, made of emerald, and the people there told them that it was off this paten from which our Lord ate the Passover with His disciples, and that it was brought there when Jerusalem was captured.
You'd think the gospels would mention a six-sided paten made of emerald, but no...

Forthwith he went up with the king into an upper chamber of gold, which the king opened, and he brought forth from it a coffer of beryl wherein was laid the Crown of Thorns which the Jews placed upon the head of our Lord when they crucified Him. Now the Crown was visible in the coffer, which, thanks to the transparency of the beryl, remained unopened. And there was also in the coffer a piece of the wood of the Cross. And the king said to RABBAN SAWMA and his companions, "When our fathers took Constantinople, and sacked Jerusalem, they brought these blessed objects from it."


And when the story went forth that this impudent fellow had done this without any royal command, and had acted solely because of the evil of his disposition, and the intensity of is wickedness, the Amirs and the governors who were in MARAGHAH gathered together, and took counsel, and decided to perform judgement on a following Sunday and to restore to the Cell the various valuable objects which those impudent men had carried off from it. Now these objects were of very great price, among them being the gold seal which the King of Kings MANGU KHAN [the eldest son of TULUI KHAN and grandson of GENGHIS KHAN]--May our Lord give rest to his soul, and make his portion to be with the saints!--had given to the Patriarchal Cell, and that crown which Mar Papa (the Pope) had given to the Cell, and another seal, made of silver, which the deceased King Arghon had given to Catholicus.


And the treasury of the holy church of MAR GEORGE, which RABBAN SAWMA had built, was broken open and everything that was in the Cell, the vessels of copper and iron, the carpets, and the chests of stores, which had escaped a previous looting, were all taken and carried off at the same time. But by the looting of those things the church itself was saved and delivered from pulling down and destruction. Those impudent men had fully intended to destroy the church, but God in His mercy on that church prevented them from doing this by means of the objects which they looted.


Now the object of the victorious king was to conquer the countries of PALESTINE and SYRIA. And the Catholicus wintered in the Fortress of ARBIL, and during the whole of that winter, he devoted himself to getting ready the money for [the building of the monastery of which he was laying the foundations. And when the victorious king returned from PALESTINE [and SYRIA], having conquered and broken their armies, and plundered them, and scattered, and slain and carried of the inhabitants into captivity--for he hd actually carried out what he had determined to do--the Catholicus went up again with him to ADHORBIJAN. And he began to build the monastery, and he devoted his whole care and energy to the work until he completed it.

And in the month of 'Ilul (September) of the year [A.D. 1300], KAZAN, the victorious king came to Mar Catholicus at Maraghah, and he remained with him for three days. And the joy of the Christians waxed great, and the kin (134) showed great love towards them, for he knew well that they were simple and guileless, and innocent of wickedness. And he departed with a joyful heart from the Catholicus, who had ministered unto him exceedingly well.


Later in this year, in the month of Abh, the victorious king sent to Mar Catholicus vases of crystal, and vases of glazed porcelain (kashani, in Persian djini) with (146) designs on them in gold. [The king] had brought handicraftsmen from the city of DARMASUK (DAMASCUS) and from KASHAN [on the Tehran road]. By the dispatch of these vessels [the king] showed great love for [MAR CATHOLICUS.].

Additional Themes and Notes

  • The importance of letters and seals of authority.
  • A slightly baffled authority trying to keep the lid on a multifaith empire. "Why are you fighting again? I said stop!" And then finally throwing up its hands and saying "Oh fine, have a massacre. At least it'll solve the dispute."
  • Bargaining from a position of weakness. Trying to emphasize the similarities of doctrine with practical acts (holding mass in front of witnesses so they can see the similarity in rites) to form a political alliance.
  • Dealing with volatile rulers. You think the Plantagenets were feisty? Try working with the Mongols.


OSR: Perlesvaus and the Iron Gates

The Iron Gates setting is the successor age to Alexander the Great. What if the Alexander Romance, In Cath Catharda, and the weirder bits of Benjamin of Tudela's travels were true? What if this mythic history was real history, and the world - the iron successor age to Alexander's bronze, just as Alexander's age of bronze was the successor to Sesonchosis' age of stone - was falling apart?
Artem Demura


How To Get Ahead In Life

Arthuriana heavily influences the Dark Souls series, so using Arthurian canon as the basis for the Iron Gates would be counterproductive. We already have that. You can play it now. 

But some obscure bits are well worth mining for RPG elements. Luckily, there's a team already on the project. The folks at the Maniculum Podcast take medieval texts and examine them with a contemporary dorky lens. It's very fun. I'd be interested to see their take on In Cath Catharda, if they want a medieval Irish text of dubious quality.

Perlesvaus is a 13th century sequel to Chrétien de Troyes Percival. It's very, very weird. The podcasters compare it to bad internet fanfiction.

" 'Is this macabre obsession with decapitated heads another symptom of an abnormal mentality?' "

"Ok but there's a lot of decapitated heads in medieval literature."

"I know. Imagine how many there have to be in this text to make it stand out."

"oh no"

 -The Maniculum Podcast, Perlesvaus Ep 1.

I vaguely remember reading a few pages of Perlesvaus many years ago. Evans' 1889 translation is... not great, so I doubt I got past the introduction.

While I wait for a copy of Nigel Bryant's 1977 translation to arrive, here are a few notes from the Maniculum's reading. For convenience (my own, mostly), here are the Maniculum blog posts on Perlesvaus: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

-The text is attributed to "Josephus", who could be Flavius Josephus, Josephus of Aramathea, or some other Josephus.

-There are more timeline and continuity issues than CW's Riverdale series. When is any of this happening? The past. Don't worry about it.

-A major quest item it the sword that beheaded John the Baptist. This is a strange enough item that there's a whole paper on the subject. It's not the Sword of Strange Girdles, but it's still weird.


The Haughty Maiden invites Gawain in and gives him a tour of the local chapel. Within there are four empty tombs and three recesses within the wall, filled with shrines and gems. The Maiden explains that three of the tombs are for the best knights in the land, Gawain, Lancelot of the Lake, and Percival, while the fourth one is for her. She plans to lure them into each of their respective shrines and displays the guillotine-type blades that will behead them once they kneel in the recesses, to collect their heads and keep them forever. She even has knights constantly roaming, looking for them. Talk about a superfan.

Gawain excuses himself after mass the next morning and flees from the castle, but runs into one of the roving knights on his way out. He makes a daring escape, and the tale briefly returns to the Maiden as she realizes just who Gawain really was.

-The Maniculum Blog, Ep 2

-Arthurian Dwarves!

-Reactive scenery!

As they travel, the narrator explains that the land around them changes according to the will of God, because the local knights in England get bored with normal life and always seek new adventures. 

-The Maniculum Blog, Ep 8

Ever wondered how a knight can go through a forest in Wales, find an island, land on it, then end up in Albania? That's how. God did it. Now roll for initiative.

 And yes, it's all allegorical and very, very Christian. The author might be working through trauma from the Albigensian Crusade. There's a lot going on in Perlesvaus... and I get to ignore all of it. Turn the tables on the author. You want to appropriate Judas Maccabeus for your own purposes. Well I get to appropriate your characters. See how you like it. 

Schemes and the Iron Gates

Old-school dungeon crawling naturally generates schemes. It is possible to run an RPG as a tournament-style on-rails board/war game with strictly defined mechanics, but it's a waste of the medium's potential. The first time someone threw lamp oil at a flammable mummy, or used an inventory item in an unexpected way, RPGs left the wargaming world and became their own thing.

Schemes are a major selling point. Schemes are also inherently ridiculous. 

Perhaps it's dramatic irony. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.. Even the most serious scheme, when exposed to the light, tends to have an element of farce in it. Secret names, disguise, last-minute oversights, folly, ambition, and venality.

It is difficult to create a serious, grim, fallen world Dark Souls setting when players have freedom of action.

On the other hand, in the source texts, silly things happen all the time. In Cath Catharda is fairly serious (or, at least, not intentionally funny), but the Alexander Romances are full of PC shenanigans, as is Perlesvaus.

Using Medusa's severed head as a weapon. Using a glowing gem found in a fish's belly as a light in your lantern. Sleeping in your armour because this castle is obviously a trap. Not sleeping with fair maidens because you are on a Holy Quest and are Sufficiently Genre Aware. Etc.

In a normal RPG book, I try to write tools to generate schemes, often with a humorous twist. Gaming should be fun.

For the Iron Gates, I need to write tools to generate schemes with a more somber tone, but the game still needs to be fun. Nobody's going to turn up week after week to be miserable. They can get misery at home.

Artem Demura

What Do The PCs Do?

In Perlesvaus, the world is falling apart because King Arthur stopped having adventures. That's his job. He's supposed to get out there, meet hermits, rescue maidens, receive ambiguous prophecies, and escape from perilous situations. He's not being a good king, so a variety of poorly explained curses have fallen on the land.

OSR-type games often use wealth as a motivation. Get rich or die trying.

5E-type games often use saving the world as a motivation, but tend to rely on a clear villain, an easily explained plot, and unambiguous (or at least unexamined) morality. 

But what is the motivation of the PCs in the Iron Gates? What do they do? Get rich? Gold has supernatural power. They can become the rulers of a doomed world, the latest in a chain of warlords to occupy a throne. Break down the Iron Gates? Even if that's possible, it means the end of the world as they know it. It's easy to create a setting. It's trickier to create a setting that can tell more than one story.

Exploration seems like a sensible goal, but in some games, "exploration" is just another way of saying "listen to the GM read about imaginary places." Novels do that better.

Perhaps a bit of subterfuge? The game starts out with players operating on one layer (getting rich), transitions to a second layer (getting powerful), and then a third (realizing that wealth and power are illusions and the world is doomed, unless...).

Or perhaps a more explicit Holy Grail type quest at the start? Find X item to avoid Doom Y. Oh no, while finding Item X, you discovered meta-Doom Z.


OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 20 - Colliding Fates

In the previous installment, the PCs:

  • Critiqued a constitution.
  • Plotted civic improvements.
  • Performed, and then fought, an environmental cleanup operation.

The PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate. Inventor of the Lightning Accumulator, the Lightning Inverter, and the Iron Spike.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College. Deeply enmeshed in stock-jobbery and financial chicanery.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", currently employed at Blumsworth Hospital. Ally of speaking rats, workers, and other vermin.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary to Doyle Wormsby. Can duplicate herself.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator. Truth before politics, payment before a case.

Alejandro Burdisio

The Amateur Aeronautics Society

George Miles had gifted two Miras to the Iron Spike Thaumaturgy Company to secure their support for his flying vehicle. One Mira was a new off-the-shelf model, but the second was George's personal vehicle, donated on short notice. Doyle checked the glovebox, reasoning that George Miles may have left secret documents inside. He stacked receipts, invoices, and discarded toffee wrappers in a pile for Jonty. At the very back of the compartment, Doyle discovered an old iconograph.

Judging by its faded texture and blurry edges, it was taken at least ten years ago. Its contents staggered Doyle. He dropped a lit cigarette onto the upholstery and stared. Eight wizards in a formal line stared back. They were:

1. George Miles. The "Mira", a shortened form of "Miles' Moving Miracle" or a "car" short for "careening wildly through the sky" promised to revolutionize transport in Endon. Perhaps Miles had another revolution in mind.

2. Uriah Shambledrake Senior. Tom's late uncle. Possibly involved in necromancy, possibly involved in The Project, possibly not dead at all. His corpse wasn't in the family mausoleum at Shambledrake Manor, his signet ring was missing, and he'd died under extremely mysterious circumstances.

3. & 4. Doyle didn't recognize the next two people, but from family resemblance, age, and dress, reasoned were Tom's late lamented parents Clarence and Dorothy Shambledrake. They'd died in two separate lightning-related hot air balloon accidents in Tom's early teens, allegedly, steering Tom towards a life of lightning wizardry as a form of revenge.

5. Professor Tallerand. Disgraced biomancer, confirmed necromancer and orphan-harvester, and one of the leaders of The Project. Probably involved in the revolution, or at least the Mechanics' Societies.

6. Edward Konivov. Time wizard. Workshop sealed in a stasis sphere. Left other stasis spheres with dates inside in the catacombs all over Endon. Definitely involved in The Project and the revolution, definitely knows about Uriah Shambledrake Junior. Madder than a crate of ferrets.

7. A well dressed young man Doyle did not recognize. He squinted at the face, trying to extract details from its blurry wry smile. Expensive clothes and a hint of hereditary authority suggested nobility.

8. The final figure was slightly shabbily dressed in the manner of wizards in the middle of hard work. Scuffed boots, a waterproof hat. Doyle recognized the compass and stone charms on the wizard's belt as the charms of a geomancer.

The background, as far as Doyle could tell, featured a hill and some sort of ruined stone building. "Countryside," he muttered. He didn't trust it. The country was full of hedges and sheep and people with novelty accents. No pavement, no dark alleys, and no informants.

"Tom," Doyle said, handing him the iconograph. "Explain."

Tom stared and spluttered. "I... I don't think I can! Those are my parents, there's Uncle Uriah... but they knew Tallerand and Konivov? And George Miles!?"

"So it would seem. The back of the photograph says this is the 'Amateur Aeronautics Society of Endon'."

"I vaguely remember my parents talking about that," Tom said morosely.

"Do you remember anything else? 'Hello son, just popping down to visit the Society of Evil Wizards, be back shortly.' That sort of thing?" Doyle said.

Tom searched his memory, revisiting his happy and unremarkable childhood, and the somber scenes of his parents' deaths, with growing concern. "I think there's something wrong with my brain," he said.

"You can't remember your childhood?" Doyle replied.

"No, I can, but it's all... strange."

"Strange how?" Doyle said, frustrated by Tom's lack of introspection.

Ton flailed wildly. "Strange as in strange!" he said. "I can't explain it!"

"Damn. Another dead end." Doyle lit his fourth pre-breakfast cigarette and concentrated on the iconograph. "I bet the illusionists can do something with this. If an icongraph is the image of reality fixed in time by magical means, they should be able to make it more... more big. Like using the hair of a suspect to scry for them."

"Do you think so?" Tom asked, wishing Haze Palewolf, his childhood friend, was still alive.

Doyle shrugged. "Probably. It's worth a try."

The Thaumograph Exploder

"It is possible," Professor Galbraith (Illusions and Figments) mumbled, examining the iconograph. "Experimental, of course. And slightly dangerous. Did anyone in this image die a violent and unnatural death? Apart from Professor Tallerand, I mean. Assassinated by some of his own students, I heard. Something about necromancy. Any others?" 

Tom grimaced. "Ah. Well. At least three others. Fire, lightning, and lightning."

"Relatives?" the professor said blandly. 

"All three."

"This may be an indelicate question, but did you... facilitate any of those deaths? I ask only to ensure your safety."

"Of course not!" Tom said.

"I had to ask. You see, some primitive foreigners, present company excepted," he said, looking at Dr. Hartwell, "believe that an iconograph captures the soul of its subject. This is nonsense of course."

"Of course," Tom said reflexively. "Ha ha."

"But it does capture an echo, the faintest possible echo, of the soul. It can hardly do otherwise. Thaumic field theory, you see. As light passes through the soul's resonant envelope, it... well, never mind."

"Yes, never mind."

"In case of violent death and, err, murder," Professor Galbraith said, "we sometimes find that the enhanced icongraphic view creates disturbing images for the viewer. Words like 'haunting' and 'nightmare' are loaded terms. If you experience a... visitation, try to remember that it is not your dead relatives speaking, but only their thaumic echo. Any exhortations towards revenge, complaints about your lifestyle, et cetera, can be safely ignored."

Doyle interrupted. "Alright professor, set up your highly dangerous experimental iconograph exploder. Tick tock, we're on the clock."

"Remember, whatever you see is almost certainty not physically present," the assistant said. "Keep your limbs inside the designated area. Try not to move quickly, unless there is an emergency, in which case move as quickly as possible towards the exit."

"How will we know if there's an emergency?" Dr. Hartwell asked.

"You'll know," the assistant said, closing the door. 

"How does this thing work again?" Lizzy asked.

"Professor Galbraith said it passes eight colours of very strong light through the icongraph while it's in a high magic field, and then projects the resulting image at us. That's the glowing prism down there," Tom said, pointing at one wall.

"Why are the walls covered in lead foil?" 

"Shielding," Tom said.

"Why did Professor Galbraith leave the building and walk briskly to the other side of campus?"

"He said he had an urgent appointment."

"And why is there a drain in the floor?" 

The rest of the group looked at the floor for the first time, noticing the scorch marks, drain, and chalked warding sigils.

"It's... awfully damp in Endon?" Tom said. "Oh bother."

"Spectrumation in three, two, one..." a muffled voice said through the door.

Planes of burning light slammed through the assembled PCs, revealing, after a few moments of flickering and buzzing, the iconographic image, expanded to fill the room. It was as if they were in the scene, seeing it as the iconographer would have seen it... on a very foggy day and after a few glasses of brandy.

"Are they moving?" Dr. Hartwell said, pointing at the flickering figures of the eight wizards.

"Very slowly, I think. It's like we're seeing the instant the iconograph was taken, expanded in time and space," Tom mused aloud. 

"Your parents appear to be in some distress," Dr. Hartwell said. "And oh look, your uncle Uriah has caught fire." 

"As expected," Tom shrugged.

"Look at the building behind the menacing figure and burning ghosts," Dr. Hartwell said. "It's much clearer now. Doyle?"

"It's some sort of abbey or monastery," the detective said, squinting.

"That man is moving much faster than the others," Lizzy said, pointing at the unidentified nobleman. "Oh look, he's speeding up."

"I think he can see us," Doyle said.

"That's impossible!" Tom said, without much conviction.

"I do not like the way he is smiling," Dr. Hartwell said. 

"He is definitely looking at us. And he's gone all fizzy around the edges." Lizzy whispered.

"Stop the machine!" Tom yelled. "I want to get off!"

Horrible Sobriety

"So what have we learned?" Lizzy asked excitedly.

"Almost nothing," Doyle replied. "That toff vanished from the iconograph. He's gone. Evaporated. So we can't even show people his face and ask 'have you seen this man' because he's not there."

"I heard of a wizard who painted a magic portrait of himself," Lizzy said conspiratorially. "As he got older and older the portrait stayed the same age! Oooh! Spooky!" 

"Didn't you make a copy?" Tom said, ignoring Lizzy's inane prattle.

"I did. And he's vanished from the copies too."

"That's... not comforting," Dr. Hartwell said. 

"I fear we're meddling with things we shouldn't be meddling with," Tom said.

"You've only just noticed?" Dr. Hartwell said, aghast.

"Well, more than usual, I mean."

"But do you remember anything else? Anything about the Amateur Aeronautics Society? That building? The unknown figures?" Doyle pressed.

"No! Nothing! If only I could sort out these tangled threads of memory!" Tom cried. "If only there was some way to..."

"Significantly boost your intelligence, insight, and problem-solving ability?" Lizzy said, her eyes shining. 

"That, yes."

"Lizzy..." Dr. Hartwell cautioned, but it was too late.

"Because I can! I've been working on a potion... well it's more of a spell turned into a potion... that, I think, if I get it right, will let you do..." she said, gesticulating wildly, "all the brain things. You know."

"It's not that SpaceBeans coffee, is it?" Dr. Hartwell said. Lizzy was showing signs of Tower Madness, or something like it.

"Not even close!" Lizzy said excitedly. "It's much better!"

Lizzy's explained that she had a spell called horrible sobriety. When cast normally, the spell provided a legendarily sharp-edged view of reality. Sobriety was a spectrum, Lizzy explained. Most people are a little bit drunk all the time, even without alcohol, but horrible sobriety pushed a neutral or positive value deep into the negatives. 

But this alone didn't justify Lizzy's dramatic hand gestures. She planned to potionify the spell, turning it into a drinkable liquid, then enhance that potion with herbs, spices... and a jolt of raw magic. "Normally this only works on potions I drink," Lizzy said, "but I think I can get it to work on anyone." Lizzy didn't mention that ooze-based abuse of the duplicate self spell had left her with a fluid definition of "self". All the best artists put a little of themselves into their work.

"I want no part in this," Dr. Hartwell said. "I am going to a nice quiet library to investigate that building."

Side Note: "Abbeys of Endon, Volume One AA-AB, Volume Two AC-Z" is possibly my favourite ever player-created off-the-cuff joke. I'm proud of this group.
Mingchen Shen

The next morning, the group assembled in one of the Iron Spike's workshops.

"I have discovered the identity of the building in the background of the iconograph," Dr. Hartwell said, with dark circles under his eyes.

"Is it Scythrop Abbey?" Doyle replied, equally tired.

"How did you figure it out?"

"Went to the Auld Grey Cathedral and asked Deacon Prutt, who handles the records and land transfers. He didn't want to talk about it until I mentioned the whole parliament exploding teleportation thing. Then he became very talkative."

"So you discovered the identities of the other people in the image?" Tom said.

"No. Well, yes and no. Maybe. Our vanishing friend also has an evaporating signature, which caught fire when we did the experiment with the iconograph. The other wizard might be Professor Morwent, a geomancer and 'dimensional analyst', whatever that is, who vanished some years ago. Also, Scythrop Abbey is allegedly haunted. And another thing, we should definitely investigate the alchemists. They're up to something."

"Wonderful," Dr. Hartwell said. "And now Tom, against all medical advice, is going to drink that."

"It's fine!" Lizzy said. The potion glowed the ominous purple-blue of extremely strong magical radiation hitting water and trying to turn it into plasma. Ingredients included, but were not limited to, coca leaf, toad glands, kerosene, essence of tea, and a pinch of hideously expensive monoatomic saffron powder.

"It's in an ice bath and it's capped with lead solder."

"It's full of nutrients!"

"Oh just give me the damn potion," Tom said, putting on asbestos gloves. "If I die... try to figure all this out. It's a terrible mess."

Side Note: the Potion Wizard has a cantrip that lets them "Spend 1 MD to double the duration of a potion you drink, or double its numerical effects (HP healed, damage reduce, etc.)" Foolishly, or perhaps wisely, I did not cap this doubling. And Lizzy has access to a Gargantuan Magic Battery and nearly unlimited MD. 

Thankfully, she decided two doublings was enough. Horrible sobriety merely gave Tom a +16 to Intelligence and Wisdom for the potion's duration. While stats in the GLOG are capped at 20, bonuses are not capped. Imagine how much alcohol someone would have to drink to be to get a -16 to Int and Wis. Then, imagine the opposite of that. 

Tom shot past sober, shattered the knurd barrier, caught a gravity assist off the total perspective vortex, went mad, went sane, felt every cell in his body fizz and boil, and, for the first time, saw the true nature of the universe. He didn't like it. Wizards are trained to resist ego death, and Tom's ego was the equivalent of a neutron star. He stared into the abyss, saw it stare back, poked it in the eye, and turned his attention to more pressing matters.

For a few long seconds, all he could do was suffer. This wasn't a hangover. It was worse. It was a perpetual hang-somersault. He felt like he'd aged a thousand years. Every sound was discordant agony. Every heartbeat tore him apart.

"Tom?" Dr. Hartwell said.

Tom tried to say, "Gods and devils, Augustus! I have two sets of memories! I remember being raised by my mother and, separately, by my father. And Uriah Shambledrake moves between these two sets of memories like an instrument in a fugue, bouncing between two voices, never at home in either. What am I? Who am I? Was I copied, cloned? From what evil mixture was I compounded? And why? I remember their deaths, separately, and being comforted by the other parent, separately! When did I merge? Are any of these memories real?

The crossover date can't be the only date of the balloon accident that I remember, the nineteenth of Malbrogia, or I wouldn't have memories of either parent after that date, and I do. What happened then? Was it really two separate balloon accidents, one accident doubled, or a balloon accident at all?

Does it have something to do with time travel? Who is Uriah Shambledrake Junior? Is he Uncle Uriah travelling backwards in time? Is he the origin of my doubled memories? Is he me travelling back in time to undo my current mistakes? Did Konivov travel back in time before we met him for the first time? He didn't recognize me when we met but he could have lied. Why didn't George Miles recognize me, or the name Shamebledrake? Or did he? Was he hoping for a sign, a clue, an invitation? Damn damn damn, I don't have enough information. I can see the edges of the puzzle pieces I have and they don't fit together."

Unfortunately, Tom's mind was moving far, far faster than his mouth and vocal cords, so instead he made a high-pitched keening noise while staring straight ahead.

"I think it worked," Lizzy said. "His hat's on fire."

Dr. Hartwell gave her a withering look.

"Octarine discharge," she explained. "He's thinking so many thoughts at once that he's creating a massive thaumic differential. It's why wizards wear pointy hats. Acts like the wick in a candle," Lizzy said, grinning. "Sends the heat from a brainstorm upwards."

The good doctor had seen the phenomenon before, and even experienced it during particularly intense periods of study, but usually it was a faint glow of fragmented light. The top of Tom's head looked like a blowtorch made of diamond fireworks, and the light it shed cast unnatural and writhing shadows. "You consider that a good sign?"

"It sure beats exploding," Lizzy said.

"NeedtoseeGeorgeMiles," Tom buzzed, standing up suddenly and more-or-less flinging himself towards the door.

"Miles? Oh damn, he's going for the Moving Miracle!" Doyle said. 

"GetinthebackoftheMira!" Tom shrieked.

"You don't know how to fly this thing!" Doyle yelled. Tom glared at him briefly, swatted open the glovebox, extracted the manual, flipped through it, and tossed it over his shoulder. Doyle reached out, grabbed it, and started reading frantically.

"Donowhangonthreetwoone," he said, and firmly grasped the control levers.

Endon's First Car Chase

The Mira leapt upwards. Lizzy whooped with delight. Dr. Hartwell felt his breakfast drop towards his knees, then rebound to what felt like the top of his head. Doyle closed his eyes and braced for death.

"We're flying!" Lizzy said. "You can see the whole city from up here! We must be a hundred feet in the air!"

"I don't want to see the whole city from up here," Dr. Hartwell moaned. "If I wanted to see the whole city I can look from the Iron Spike."

"Adjustangleandincination," Tom said, pulling a few more levers. The Mira gently wobbled and began to glide forward. "Ccelerting."

"No accelerating!" Dr. Hartwell yelled, but it was too late. Confident in his newfound potion-induced omniscience, Tom pulled another lever and sent the Mira rocketing forward. Dr. Hartwell's breakfast, which had just returned to its accustomed abode, tried to escape through his spine. Doyle's hat nearly escaped, but he rammed it onto his head with one hand while gripping the Mira's wooden trim with the other.

"What is that?" Lizzy said, pointing over the plush leather seat of the ungainly vehicle. "It's an eclipse of the sun!"

"Not good," Doyle muttered. Dr. Hartwell thought darkly of the rat in his basement, the polymorphed Monarch of Endon kidnapped and anointed by the sapient rats of Endon. Eclipses were said to herald the death of kings.

"And what's that!?" Lizzy said, pointing at a spreading wedge of darkness rising from the north. 

The wizards not currently steering an experimental magical flying contraption peered at the apparition. It was a dark shadow, a wedge cut in the fading sunlight, as if a giant tower was rising over Endon, and yet nothing appeared to cast the shadow. 

"It's a man on a broomstick!" Doyle said. "And he's got an axe."

"Blackglass?" Tom said, turning to look. Uriah Shambledrake Junior, it was said, carried an axe of black glass.

The figure speeding towards the car was not straddling the broomstick, but standing atop it, feet apart. It carried an axe of black glass, an axe that trailed darkness like a cloak. 

"It's Uriah Shambledrake..." Lizzy started to say. Dr. Hartwell made an anguished noise before she could say "Junior." The name of this mysterious figure seemed to conjure thunder, and the Mira felt dreadfully exposed.

"Accelerate!" Dr. Hartwell said, as the figure drew closer. Tom slammed the lever forward. Eight moveable rods at the back of the Mira fired at once, launching the vehicle forward with an eyeball-compressing jolt.

"We must be going twenty miles an hour!" Lizzy said breathlessly. "Or even thirty."

"And he! Is going! Faster!" Dr. Hartwell said. 

"Aaa!" Lizzy said, and cast inebriate. Her mutated version of the spell was predatory, and Uriah Shambledrake Jr's layed of mage armour detonated like glass flower petals.  Moments later, his broomstick slammed into the side of the Mira. All Doyle could look at was his eyes, his burning red eyes... identical in every way to Tom's. Uriah swung his axe at Tom's neck, burying the blade nine inches into the back of the seat and slicing a chunk off Tom's shoulder.

"One or none!" he screamed, in a voice full of otherworldly rage.

Tom's thoughts moved at a hundred times normal speed. He was arguably most intelligent human being in the city, and possibly in history. Unfortunately, Tom's metabolism moved at normal speed. His overheating brain had sucked his reserves dry, and now, in a moment of mortal crisis, it simply gave up. Tom slumped forward. His vice-like grip on the controls fell away.

Side Note: Horrible sobriety has a cost: 1 non-lethal damage per Int or Wis roll. And Initiative, rolled each round, uses Wisdom. I could have ruled that Lizzy's doubling effect also doubled the non-lethal damage, but I didn't think of it at the time. Tom started the day with 20 HP. He is a beefy wizard.

"Tom!" Dr. Hartwell shouted, slapping the back of the wizard's head and digging in his bag for smelling salts.

Doyle swore, drew his umbrella, hooked the curved end Uriah's axe, and yanked it out of the cloaked figure's hand. Then, with a flourish, he drew his truncheon of locking. He struck Uriah on the ankle and the truncheon transformed into a pair of manacles... with a gravity-based enchantment added by Chastity Flintwich. Uriah looked briefly surprised. Then the enchantment caught and yanked him downwards with the force of a falling anvil. 

Uriah's sudden departure swung the rear of the Mira down, pointing its nose at the sky. The vehicle began to gain altitude rapidly.

Assisted by Dr. Hartwell's smelling salts and medical slaps, Tom lurched back into consciousness, accelerated directly into hyperconciousness, and swung the Mira around in a wild roll. "Gottolosealtitude," Tom said. "I'll try to put us... down... a street," he muttered, as he passed out again.

Dr. Hartwell groaned. The maneuver put the car on the same course as Uriah Shambledrake's plummeting body. He cast cure wounds to haul Tom back into the waking world, even though he knew it was only temporary.

Black bats, or things that resembled bats, burst from Uriah Shambledrake Junior. Some gripped his cloak and arms. With his legs still locked in the Doyle's gravity shackles, he landed upright on Gaumdart Ave. Endon's citizens scattered like mice before the thresher. Uriah raised his hands and the bats flew towards the Mira.

Up close, they were clearly not bats. They were bags of black flesh, tar, and teeth, and they latched onto the car's inhabitants with ravenous hunger. Doyle and Lizzy caught mild bites, but Tom, who couldn't cower behind the windscreen, caught a bat on the arm. It chewed into him with a noise like a sausage grinder, sending flakes of bone and spurts of blood across Doyle's coat. Tom screamed and passed out again.

"Get off you bastard!" Doyle said, hitting the bat with his umbrella until it burst.

"Can you land this thing?" Dr. Hartwell shouted.

"I'll try!" Doyle examined the forest of unlabelled levers, found one he vaguely remembered from the manual, and yanked it. The Mira pitched downward. The front skids hit the rough cobbles of Gaumdart Avenue and sent up a spray of sparks before one jutting stone caught the skid and flipped the vehicle like a tossed toy.

Dr. Hartwell found himself, still in a sitting position, flying through the air about ten feet off the ground. He sighed, cast polymorph, and selected a combat-capable flying humanoid creature to minimize the risk of systemic shock. Dr. Hartwell turned into a Harpy. Thanks to a casting mishap, he left his shed skin, clothes, and tools behind, but he didn't need them. He had claws. He tucked in his wings, extended his natural weapons, and performed a diving fly-by attack on Uriah Shambledrake Junior.... though he spent the next few seconds trying to figure out how to reverse.

Lizzy was also flung from the Mira, but elected to hit the ground and roll instead of turning into a "nude woman of the feathered persuasion" as the papers later described the creature seen on Gaumdart Ave. She dislocated her shoulder and acquired more bruises than a crate of wiggled pears, but she stood up in a fighting mood. 

Doyle clung to his seat, upside-down, as the Mira hurtled towards Uriah Shambledrake Junior. The bastard is smiling, he thought. 

With a wave of his hand, Uriah created a wall of force on Gaumdart Ave. The Mira, flying upside-down and sideways, hurled towards it at the unbelievable speed of twenty miles an hour. 

Doyle sighed. "Fuck you and the broomstick you rode in on," he said, and cast reciprocal teleport. He swapped Tom for Uriah, then closed his eyes and braced for the crash.

Tom, still unconscious, landed gently on the street, surrounded by bits of the Mira's control system.

Uriah didn't have time to react before the Mira pancaked itself against the invisible wall of force blocking the avenue. 

"Doyle!" Lizzy screamed as she sprinted towards Endon's first automobile wreck. She drew her magical kitchen knife just in case.

Dr. Hartwell, after figuring out how his wings worked, landed next to the tangled mass of wood, metal, and flesh. Lizzy hurled aside bits of bonnet and upholstery to reveal the body of Uriah Shambledrake Junior. She stabbed it discreetly a few times, then turned to search for Doyle. She found him under the remains of the back seat.

"Had it," he gurgled. 

"It's not so bad," Lizzy said reassuringly.

"Can't be fixed," the detective said soothingly. "You'd never get the ribs right."

"I'm sure Dr. Hartwell can get you nice new ribs," she said.

"What does Dr. Hartwell know about mending umbrellas?" Doyle coughed.


Doyle shifted in the wreckage and produced the tragic remains of his rapier-umbrella combo. "It's past hope," he said morosely. 

Lizzy spluttered in agitation. "But are you alright?"

"I'll live. Nothing a few plasters can't mend." Doyle crawled out of the wreck,

Dr. Hartwell examined the detective's leg, gave an avian shrug, and hopped over to Tom. The lightning wizard's condition was much more serious. The bat had chewed off his arm, and, Dr. Hartwell was surprised to discover, a fair portion of his face. Tom was bleeding freely and still breathing, which was a good sign. On the other hand, Dr. Hartwell didn't have opposable thumbs. He tried to communicate this to Lizzy with a few croaked words.

"Trollblood? Trollblood." Lizzy said, nodding, and pulled a vial of the black viscous liquid from her handbag. "I'll just pour some on this... stump area." Dr. Hartwell sighed and covered his eyes. At least Lizzy had a demonstration model of the Troll Centrifuge back at the lab.

Tom sprouted a new, muscular, and significantly larger troll-like arm, and also grew an grim yellow troll-like eye. His hair turned black and quill-like, and warts spread from the wounds like lichens on old stone. He sat up, the auroral cone of intense wizard thought erupted from his skull. Dr. Hartwell honked in dismay and flapped off.

"Xplain," Tom buzzed.

"Trollblood fixed you. Uriah's dead. The eclipse is still on," Lizzy said.

"Repose," Tom said, pointing at Uriah's body, "then backSpike."

Lizzy thought about it, flipped open her spellbook/cookbook, peeled open the secret page at the back, and cast gentle repose on Uriah Shambledrake Jr.'s corpse. It's not necromancy, she thought, it's Fourth Aid. Or what comes before Fourth Aid."

"That ought to hold his soul," she said smugly. "Oh bugger, I'm melting! I'm meeeelting!" Whether from ooze-based duplicate self experiments or a Potion Wizard mishap, Lizzy liquefied.

"Well don't just stand there," she gurgled at a bystander. "Get a bucket."

In retrospect, Lizzy admitted that keeping three cakes of raw opium and an the mostly empty vial of trollblood in her apron was a mistake. Her liquefied body absorbed the lightly wrapped narcotics and the dregs of the trollblood, as well as a healthy pint of Endon's street sweepings. The effects mostly cancelled each other out. "I don't feel so good," she murmured. "I think I will have a little sleep."  Gurgling snores echoed across the avenue.

Doyle constructed a crutch out of a fender and hobbled over to the crowd of bystanders. "A cab," he shouted, and, with the unerring luck of a Civic Wizard, a cab appeared.

"Everybody in," he said, gesturing vaguely at the debris and mayhem. "To the Iron Spike. One private investigator, one Tom Shambledrake, one liquid secretary, one Harpy, one corpse. No stops, no questions. Big tip."

Jack T. Cole

The Sarcophagus

Before the potion wore off, Tom grabbed his spellbook, aimed control metal at a pile of scrap iron in the yard of the Iron Spike, and constructed an iron mauseoleum for the body of Uriah Shambledrake Junior. His magic-addled mind could see the flow of energy and calculate thaumic vertices with inhuman precision. The inside of the building resembled the outside of a sea urchin or an archaic torture device, but it would, Tom assured the group later, create an impenetrable magical barrier. Nothing could get in and nothing, souls included, could get out.

"But why?" Dr. Hartwell asked.

Tom thought for a moment. It had all seemed so clear at the time. He'd felt like a god. Now, his brain felt like soggy bread. "It seemed very important at the time. I'm sure I had a good reason."

Why did Uriah Shambledrake Junior attack? Who is he, and who is Tom? What was the Amateur Aeronautics Society? Who is the vanishing figure, and why did he vanish? Who killed Uriah Shambledrake Senior?