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18 December 2016 @ 08:14 pm
[CoC: HotOE] In a City of Bells and Towers  
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
Having successfully evaded two cults for most of the day and boarded the Orient Express, the investigators finally had a chance to relax. They settled into their cabins and, when the time came to go to dinner, turned out of their cars and made their way to the dining car. On the way, though, they found a man in his dressing gown, standing between cars, staring off into the distance and repeatedly muttering to himself, "He called, and I have come. He called, and I have come." The professor laid a hand on his shoulder to wake him, and found it easy. The man was profoundly embarrassed, claiming to have had no dreams, and quickly made his excuses and retreated to his cabin.

At dinner, after a delicious meal, the waiter Maurice brought out a bottle of Sauternes from another guest and offered to pour it. The investigators agreed, and after the professor inspected the wine and the cork was pulled, a soothing sweet scene filled the air, bringing calm to everyone and more than a bit of envy from the other tables. The countess asked Maurice his opinion, and he took a taste and nearly swooned, saying it is the best wine he has ever tasted and that it is for such moments that he would not trade his job for a dukedom. The group--except Demir, who refused--drank their wine, luxuriating in the taste, and then looked expectantly to the corner when Maurice indicated their benefactor...only to find an empty table. Apparently he had slipped out during dinner.

Full of delicious food and drink, the investigators went straight to their beds after dinner, falling almost instantly asleep, only to be awakened just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb with their names clearly printed on it, and said that their luggage had already been unloaded. As the investigators reluctantly glanced at the fog-shrouded platform, they saw a cloaked figure, muttering to itself, and holding something gleaming white in its hand.

Since their luggage was already on the platform, they debarked and approached the cloaked man, who greeted them with a strange speech:
"What ho! Abed so early? And you too? sluggards! Did you plan to slumber like swine and forgo one of Europe's great cities, hurrying onwards to your gathering task? Bah! Come, come. I have arranged your stay here. Time flows swiftly, and we have much to talk about ere dawn. Perchance you will permit me to tell you the full strange history of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, and of what you can expect to find on your arrival in Constantinople. Hah! Follow good fellows, and let the Devil steer the course."
Before the investigators can ask him anything, he walks forward into the eddying fog, vanishing in moments. As the bells rang in the distance, the investigators found a nearby area with a lock to stow their luggage and followed him. Where he stood when giving the speech was a crumpled page from a diary, and Demir stooped to pick it up, but he quickly blanched and handed it to the Countess, who handed it to the professor. It read:
We were always destined to be together. From the moment I saw you I loved you; so beautiful and cruel, so heartless and perfect. I, your vile servant, was not fit to worship at your feet. Yet I caressed your alabaster limbs. I kissed your shining eyes. I held you close, closer than skull to skin.

I knew from that first moment of ecstasy that we were doomed to part, that you would use me and discard me as a snake escapes its old skin.

I tried to write down all you were. I thought that way I would remember you. I thought I could pin your essence down like a flayed hide and hold you forever in my heart. I should have known that any attempt to describe your loveliness was doomed from the start. Yet I wrote in a fever of longing, and I drew you on scrolls of skin. I hoped and dreamed that you would always be with me. But now you are gone. All I have left are a hollow hide and words, empty, useless, tormenting words.
There was no signature and no clue in the handwriting, but something about it seemed ominously familiar.

The investigators wandered the city of Zagreb, encountering no one, but occasionally seeing the cloaked figure of their host, always just out of reach above on a bridge or across a canal or around a corner. They followed the sound of hissing and squawking and found a statue of a gryphon and a serpent locked in mortal combat; a fish dying on the cobblestones that Gianni picked up and threw into the river; a shadow on the wall following their own, with pointed ears and long talon-like fingers, that on inspection turned out to be cast by a tangle of leafless trees; frosty message on bare earth that spelled out "But do they dream?"; a river of milk and a flagstone under which was a tarnished silver ring. And at each place they found another strange passage, written on tattoos on skin, or diary pages, or on a swirl of snow in the air. One, in particular, written in blood on the inside of a straightjacket, caught the professor's attention:
I lust. I hunger. I thirst. I rave. I cannot live without you. You are under my skin. You are my self. I had you once. Then I was perfection, killing and reveling and laughing with joy. I lost you and became a brute. Mad with desire for what I have lost I want to kill myself but I cannot. My shriveled skin resists the knife-thrust, my dead heart cannot be stopped again. I will kill all those pathetic would-be lovers who stand between us. When I seize you at last I will despoil you, ravish you, consume you. You will be me. I will be perfection, and laugh and kill and revel once more.
After the professor read it, he stood, looked off into the distance, and muttered to himself, "Le Comte."

In one square was a woman laughing and weeping alternately about a man ahead ("a man, a head"?), and when asked about the shrouded figure, she told them to:
"Ask the Tide, and name the one you seek by his proper title. She can tell you where to find him."
And she walked away, smiling, with blood on her lips. The professor addressed the black waters of the river as to the whereabouts of one Brother Merovac, called Le Comte Fenalik, but there was no reply other than the sound of the river sluggishly flowing in its bed.
mutantur: "Is it the Styx? Perhaps. Chunks of ice whirl in lazy spirals, quiet testimony to the biting cold of the dark water. No bridge dares to conquer this slumbering wet beast."
Me: "...I'm pretty sure I saw Slumbering Wet Beast open for Seraphim Shock."
There was a man in one square turning over flagstone after flagstone, searching for something, and when Demir gave him the ring, he exclaimed with joy that now he could be married and Death should be his bride. When asked about the cloaked man, he told Demir to find the One Who Knows, and ask for "He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets." Then he stepped off the quay onto a patch of ice and sailed off over the black waters until the fog swallowed him up.

Lashed to a statue of Mary was a woman who cried out about her crime, that of assuming that as her son also suffered as all men suffer, and her toil was as onerous as all mother's toil, why was he not as worth as the son of G-d? When asked about He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets, she directed them to fort at the center of town and told them he awaited them there. She refused food, and when Demir spent time cutting her free, she fell to her knees...and as the party turned away for merely a moment, they looked back and found unmarred ropes bound her again to the statue.

When the party reached the fortress they found the shrouded man was indeed there, and after a brief acknowledgment he lets them in. Doors, bars, and gates all opened with a mere touch, and finally at the top of the highest tower, he bade them be seated. He told them he also once sought all knowledge, and he would be willing to impart what he knew, but there was danger. He claimed the skull he bore was his own, blasted by its inability to contain what he knew, but the party have already paid the price of his assistance, and so he would grant his knowledge.

And he did. As the investigators sat down, words poured almost in a torrent from his lips, burrowing into their brains. Of the secret history of the Earth, and the species that dwelt there before there were any humans. Of the ultimate futility of all human endeavor and the end of history, of the cruel Empire of Tsan-Chan thousand of years hence, of the feeble attempts humanity made to reach for the stars and the desperate retreat back to the mother world, and the dark conquerers fifteen millennia in the future. Of the Great Old Ones that lie dead but dreaming, and wait for the stars to be right. Of the ultimate source of reality, the blind idiot god Azathoth, who dances mindless to the piping of demoniac flutes from the blasphemous Throne at the center of the universe, and of its voice and soul that is the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep-

His brain reeling with what he had heard, the professor wrenched his attention away from the shrouded figure's words to find that his companions had already stopped listening--except for Rosaline, who also shook her head violently and looked away just as the professor did. As the figure saw that his words fell on deaf ears, he stood and shrieked:
"You are lost anyway! For if you have not returned to your beds at dawn, you are doomed to walk the endless night of this place with the rest of us!"
As his voice died away, the bells began to toll, pitilessly and relentlessly, and the investigators rose from their seats and scrambled down the stairs from the tower in a headlong dash through that maddening City of Bells and Towers, shrouded in fog and horror. And as they ran, stumbling in panic, as the sixth bell tolled and their doom approached, they saw the lights of the Orient Express in the distance and they flung themselves aboard as it pulled away from the station, dashed to their rooms, and opened the doors--to find they were too late! For there they were, safe in their own beds, starting awake at the interruption! And as the knowledge of their doom pierced their brains, they fell into a swoon-

-and awoke in their beds, in the middle of the night, as a violent wrench threw open their doors and they came face to face with themselves, gasping and white-faced, with staring eyes filled with fear, and oblivion took them back into its embrace rather than face what terror it was that they themselves fled from.

Only to be awoken just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb...but then he looked again and apologized profusely, for their names were not on the list. After an assurance that this mistake would not be repeated, he bade the investigators go back to sleep and exited the car.

That morning, at breakfast, the countess fussed over the professor's health...and he poured her a cup of tea.


I did not remember this at all!

mutantur last session mentioned that this wasn't in the original HotOE and I would be surprised, but it turned out that it was, it was just much less relevant. Originally it was all quotes from The Journal Of J.P. Drapeau by Thomas Ligotti, but in the revamped version it's all quotes from the various players in Horror on the Orient Express. The first quote is from Sedefkar himself, who wrote the scrolls, and I correctly guessed that the second one in the post--the third one we found, I think--was from Comte Fenalik. There were a half-dozen others, but this is already over 2000 words long and quoting them all would add a ton of space. It's especially ironic because the session only took about an hour and a half to play through.

The professor is no longer Sanity Man. He's now Cthulhu Mythos man, with a score of 26% after the shrouded figure's knowledge dump. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
 
 
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