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16 January 2017 @ 02:34 pm
[CoC: HotOE] An Unexpected Delay on the Road to Belgrade  
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
Tossing and turning, most of the investigators managed to get some sleep, but Demir awoke just before dawn and noticed that the train was moving extremely slowly. He questioned the night conductor, who replied that there was some difficulty ahead, but didn't receive any elaboration, and eventually went back to sleep. After dawn, when the others awoke and ate breakfast, the train was still moving slowly, the passengers were grumbling, and the conductor made an announcement: there has been an "incident" on the tracks ahead, and the train will have to make a stop in Vinkovci while the track is repaired for three or four days. This caused some grumbling and arguing, but the conductor was firm that nothing else could be done.

Newspapers were passed out and, while they're written in Serbo-Croatian, a local English teacher spotted the professor scanning the paper for anything familiar and offered his services. He translated an article about a local archaeological dig being conducted by Dr. Dragomir Moric on "The Crusader's Tomb." The article was a hit piece, accusing Dr. Moric of hiding his discoveries due to some ancient secret, but it did prominently mention the name of Sir Miho of Dubrovnik, which the professor recognized as the man in the Latin account of the Fourth Crusade who had come to remove the treasures from Constantinople. He showed the translation to the other investigators, and they agreed that as long as they're stuck in Vinkovci, they may as well look into this tomb.

As the train slowly pulled into Vinkovci, the party noticed the conspicuous line of policemen with rifles who were awaiting them on the platform, and then there was an announcement that everyone must disembark for inspection. Grumbling, the passengers all alighted from the train and lined up in a queue to be questioned. The policemen inspected their passports and then asked if they've ever been in the area before, their profession, and if they are veterans. All of the investigators answered honestly and without any attempt at concealment or disdain, and the policemen let them go after some suspicious glances. Other passengers were not so lucky--some of those who were too self-important and demanded that the delay be ended immediately had their luggage dumped in the mud for "inspection." There had been a bombing, they heard from the chatter around them, and the police suspected an anarchist group.

As Demir assisted a man he saw being backhanded by a policeman, Rosaline spotted an agitated-looking woman and a man in a fisherman's hat who seemed to be following her. The woman ducked into the bathroom and Rosaline followed, briefly spoke aloud to herself about how competent her traveling companions were and how great they were at helping someone in trouble, and then left when she received no reply. Her announcement bore fruit moments later, however, when the woman left the bathroom, walked straight up to the professor, exclaimed her greetings, and kissed him.

As she hugged him, she whispered that she was being followed and needed help, words which were soon confirmed when a delivery van pulled up, boxing in the taxi in which the investigators' luggage was being loaded, and two men jumped out as the man in the fisherman's hat ran toward them. A melee ensued, with the party trying to prevent the assailants from reaching the woman, and the woman trying to get away. After one of the assailants was stabbed by Demir, the other two ran, and a shot rang out from their getaway vehicle, hitting the fallen man and killing him instantly. The woman introduced herself as Jazmina Moric, the daughter of Dr. Moric, and said they needed to leave immediately because the police would have them shot. The investigators didn't need to be told twice, and they piled into the taxi and sped away.

Jazmina said she was here looking for her father since she had received a strange note from him in English, talking about his excavations and how some things should remain secret. There was a message for her at the Hotel Lehrner, and she knew that he was staying with Dr. Goran Belenzada, and Jazmina asked if she could direct them to the Hotel Lehrner. After the group's assent, the taxi took them to the hotel, where she did find a strange note waiting for her:
Zagrebacka / Zvonarska / Kralja
Be careful. I love you.
Also in English. She didn't recognize any of the words, however.

After lunch and a visit to the Belenzada house, finding that the doctor was not home, they took another look at the letter. Demir suggested that they might be addresses, and consulting a map they found a streetcorner at the intersection of Zagrebacka and Kralja Zvonimia. Traveling there revealed a few stores and the book shop Odlika Knjiga, a famous seller of rare and secret books. Rosaline's eyes practically blazed as the investigators immediately entered and spoke to the owner. The professor asked about Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, which Dr. Moric had mentioend in his letter, and the owner demurred and said that he had sold his last copy and it was being held for the daughter of the buyer. At this point, Jazmina intervened and introduced herself, and the bookseller gladly handed over the book, warning the investigators to be careful as it was a first edition. This produced a moment of tension between the professor and Rosaline, but Jazmina checked the book and found a claim ticket inside with the number 187 and the note:
Go to Pouzdan Zalihi. Use your mother’s maiden name.

Key submerged in the nearby Roman Bath. I’ve left instructions. Be careful.
Rosaline left her card with the bookseller and the professor asked him about a copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Junzt. The bookseller apologized and said he did not have the German edition, since the copies were all in libraries and universities, but he had a copy of Nameless Cults, the Bridewall translation that the professor had flipped through in the library in Trieste. The professor purchased it for a considerable sum of money, and the bookseller handed it over with a note to be careful--there were only twenty known copies remaining.

After a trip to the hospital to ask about Dr. Belenzada also proved fruitless--the orderly said that he came and went with irregular hours, though he did give them the address of a medical research facility on the outskirts of the city--the investigators ate dinner. As they did, they saw a large troop of military entering the town, probably over a hundred soldiers, and they speculate that they'll probably be under a curfew soon. But not yet, so they go to Pouzdan Zalihi and after some initial confusion, find the key submerged in a birdbath in the park across the street with a statue of the emperor Valens, who was born in Vinkovci when it was still called Colonia Aurelia Cibalae. The claim ticket is for a box, some eight feet long and four across, that when opened revealed a number of artifacts packed in straw and a journal written in Serbo-Croatian. The artifacts include a silver coin labeled Unas ex tr etc, "One of the thirty" [pieces of silver], which Gianni takes particular interest in; a box with a stone carved with a pentagram-and-eye symbol and the engraving obex sancti gabrielis, "The Barrier of Saint Gabriel," which the investigators urge Jazmina to carry; and a number of texts, some of which are in Latin and Arabic and catch the professor's eye. Chronicon de Tillius Corvus, "The Accounts of Tillius Corvus," a hand-written Latin work dating from the Imperial Roman period; Kitab Rasul Al-Albarin, an Arabic text which the professor's Arabic was not good enough to understand without further study; and Sapientia Maglorum, which the professor translated as "The Wisdom of the Magi." There were also a large number of documents related to the Order of the Noble Shield, mentioned by Dr. Moric in his initial letter.

The group retired to the hotel to rest before bed. As Jazmina worked on translating her father's journal, Gianni and the professor begin reading Sapientia Maglorum. They read tales of leaping flames, of beings that danced amid the fires, of ancient Persian sorcerers calling out to the void and the stars that burned as fires in the heart of the black, and the things that answered their call. They were named with words obviously transliterated from Arabic into Latin and Greek. Words which the professor was unfamiliar with, though something in them recalled phrases he had heard the cloaked stranger in nightmare Zagreb speak--al shabb al muthlim, an Arabic phrase meaning "The Young One of Darkness," and the Greek word Ξαστυρ, "X'astur," accompanied by the sobriquet Magnum Innominandum, "The Great One who is Not to be Named."

The professor loosened his collar as he worked. He smelled smoke, and saw movement in the corner of his vision, until as he read of sacrifices being given to the flames, something in him...broke. He stood and ran from the burning building, out into the snow, where it was cold and no fire could catch, with Gianni running after him shouting his name. The other investigators, awoken by the commotion, found him in the center of the square outside, glancing from left to right, rubbing his hands with snow. It took some convincing for them to get him back inside, and only after firmly showing him that the building was not on fire, that the smell of smoke was only from the oil lamps, and that the fire in his room had been banked could they convince the professor to sleep. Demir asked him if he needed someone to watch at night, and after a moment's thought, the professor thanked him but demurred. Then the group all slept.

In the morning, they were informed that there was indeed a curfew, ending at 7 p.m., which still gave them plenty of time. They traveled to the medical research facility, but Dr. Belenzada was not there, only some taciturn guards who grudgingly served the investigators vile tea and said that Dr. Belenzada wasn't there and didn't tell him his schedule. The party waited the two hours before their taxi was scheduled to return and then went back to the hospital, where they finally found the doctor.

The doctor told them that Dr. Moric had indeed been staying with him, but that he had not seen him for three days. There had been an argument, with Dr. Moric saying his discoveries were dangerous and needed to be hidden and Dr. Belenzada appealing to his scientific mind and the desire to share knowledge, but to no avail. Dr. Moric had gone missing, and so had one of Dr. Belenzada's shotguns. The doctor says that he may have gone to Kunjevci, a forest to the south of the city, close to the lodge where the Orient Express had arranged lodgings for those who were displaced by the bombing. The investigators make plans to go on a hunting trip, and we ended it there.

The professor's first serious SAN loss! It was 2d6 for the Sapientia Maglorum and I rolled 9. Gianni only lost 4, so he maintained his presence of mind. I'm up to 29% Cthulhu Mythos as well, so I'm well positioned to follow in the footsteps of Professor Armitage and become the old guy who knows everything and helps combat the horrors. That's the path I'm trying to go down, anyway. The professor isn't going to be that much use in a fight. I failed all of my rolls in combat and got slashed for my trouble.

This is not something I remember from the old Horror on the Orient Express. I wonder if it's new for this edition? It might be, since it seems to tie in heavily with the past interstitial pieces, which I know are new.

Next session, hunting party!  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif
Current Mood: curiouscurious
Current Music: The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast