Monday, March 18, 2013

Cthulhu Gaslight: One Last Adventure

During their last evening at Florence House, Cat takes the chance to ask Dai about the things he wrote in his journal and about his past and, a bit to his own suprise, Dai freely talks about it all. He's not too fond of being reminded of his childhood, but Cat has always been able to get the answers she wants from him.
Cat tells him that, if things go on like this between them, he will have to talk to her father. Dai answers that he intends to, but that he'd rather hear her opinion first. He asks Cat to marry him and she agrees.

On their way to London in the morning, Dai asks about the family laywer of the Kincaids - he wants to make sure that Cat will continue to own Florence House and the rest of her possessions even when they are married. After all, he values Cat's independence almost as much as she does and he has no intentions of taking it away. They go their separate ways once they arrive in London each returning to their home. Dai finds a letter by Colonel Douglas Rankin, a friend of his from his army days who now is in charge of a regiment here in London. At least he was, the last time they met at the regiment's ball (here Dai introduced Rankin and his wife to Cat as well). Rankin asks for Dai's help, he's in trouble and he has been demoted to a administrative job. If Cat wants to come along, that would be find with Rankin...he knows at least a little bit about the detective work Cat and Dai do.

click for one last adventure

So, his things still unpacked, Dai once again leaves his flat and goes to see Cat to ask her if she wants to come along to Rankin. Of course she does. It's obvious from the first moment that things are not going too well between Rankin and his wife, usually a couple that gets along very well. Rakin beats around the bush for a while but then he tells them that he has for some reason or other made the Chief of the Imperial General Staff into his enemy and that the man would use any excuse to give Rankin a dishonourable discharge. And that excuse may just have come along now, with two soldiers dead under Rankin's command and no good explanation for it.

The three take a cab out to the barracks. Here, the army stores artefacts that were brought into the country from all over the world until they can be evaluated. This is the job of Lieutenant Acre, another acquaintance of Cat and Dai. But not one they much like. He tried to flirt with Cat at the regiment's ball and reacted badly when she remained disinterested.

On the way to the barracks, it becomes clear that Rankin is barely holding it all together, he is ignorant of even the most basic things going on under his command. When they arrive, Dai pulls him aside and gives him a royal dressing-down that Cat has to work hard to ignore. Once that is out of the way, they take a look at the bodies of the soldiers: the men look as if something pushed open their chests from the inside. There is little left of their internal organs and their eyes are missing. Dai discovers some oily substance on the bodies and takes a sample,

The soldiers were to guard a storeroom and they were found inside, so that's where the group is headed next. Astonishingly, there is no blood to be found on the floor. But a small chest seems to have been moved lately and a closer look reveals that someone jimmied the lock. Rankin cannot say where the chest came from and it cannot be found in the inventory. It has strange writing all around its edge that Cat copies - before they open the chest, she wants to know what those signs say. They decide to hide the chest in another box and put it somewhere else on the shelves among the clutter. And then they let the guards carry away another box to a room where it will be guarded day and night, to see who takes an interest. Since it's already late, they agree to meet again the next day.

In the morning, Cat and Dai have breakfast at their usual place, the Mason and Standers opposite the British Museum. Cat still hasn't been to the office (she got a telegram from there mentioning her brother...the one she doesn't have) and she asks Dai if he wants to accompany her. But first, they visit the museum to see if anyone can translate the writing on the chest. They meet Mr Fisher, who can be convinced with the help of a small bribe, to remember that he knows someone. They make an appointment for the afternoon and then go to the office of the newspaper Cat writes for.

And there they are met with the horror that is a surprise birthday party. Unfortunately, it's one day early, to the embarrassment of the editor who arranged it all and who brought up the story of Cat's brother to make sure she came. While they talk, Cat sees a headline about a body found in the East End, with the same 'symptoms' as the soldiers. For now, authorities are saying it's a disease, although an unknown one. So they make another stop before their appointment at the museum: Guy's Hospital. Doctor Francis Stern, the pathologist, meets them and frankly states that he has no idea how the man died. But it's interesting, very interesting. The doctor is more than a bit weird, to be frank he seems not quite sane and Cat and Dai are glad to leave him to his work. Before they do, they see something moving under the doctor's skin and a black shape moving in the white of his eyes.

At the museum, they are met by Mister Hurley of the Leopold's Society. Cat and Dai have come into contact with the society a few times before and they have not gone unnoticed. Hurley tells them that if they value their lives, they will leave London now. There will be a plague of a horrendous scale - Aboth's children have been freed and will consume countless human victims to return to their home. London will fall. There is a way to stop it, but not even the Leopold's Society is mad enough to try it. Also, cities and empires fall, it's the way of the world. The society knows that and accepts it. However, they would be willing to tell Cat and Dai everything they need to know if they are willing to try their luck stopping what is happening. Not that they have any chance of succeeding.
While they talk, a young student working near them begins to cough and they see a shape moving under his skin as well.

Neither Cat nor Dai could live with themselves if they just left now to save their own lives. So they asks Hurley to show them how to stop the catastrophe. It involves a spell that needs to be sung and a stone that needs to be thrown. At what, they will see when the time has come. For their protection, Mr Hurley shows them how to draw a circle on the ground that will keep things at bay. For a time. He leaves then and his coach takes Cat and Dai to the barracks. They hold hands the whole time - they both know that they will probably die before the day is over. Dai asks if Cat could be convinced to stay behind and let him do this alone. He is not surprised when she has nothing but scorn for the idea. Doing this with her makes things both harder and easier for him and he holds her, maybe for the last time, until they arrive at the barracks.

Almost against their better judgement they talk with Lieutenant Acre. The man denies knowing anything about what is happening, but he is clearly lying. They know they won't get anything further from him and so they leave, but Cat tells him that things will stop here and now. Acre only laughs and says that if she had been a bit more friendly, all this may never have happened. A comment that makes Dai wish that the lieutenant had actually been stupid enough to challenge him to a duel after the regiment's ball. They return to the storage room and a bit of exploration reveals a trapdoor that leads down into the tunnels beneath London. With a map and some equipment they gathered at the barracks, Cat and Dai start their search. The further they go, the more of the oily substance they see and down here, it moves, flowing together into puddles, forming tentacles and once even attacking them. But they can escape and continue their search. They hear footsteps, but with the echoes, there's no way of telling where they are coming from. Both draw their pistols, just in case.

After some time, they reach a huge cavern filled with the black oil and it immediately starts moving towards them. A basin in the floor is filled with it. Before they can do anything, they hear someone cock a gun behind them. Dai turns and shoots, almost blindly, without stopping to see what or who has followed them. Lieutenant Acre collapses with a bullet to the head. They start drawing the protective circle and finish just in time, the oil reaches them when they close the circle and immediately the chalk is being scraped at by the tentacles. The oil in the basin has started to writhe, shaping itself into a huge tentacled mass. After they chanted the spell, Dai throws the stone and in the same movement, he pulls Cat to the ground, protecting her with his body, although he knows fully well that it's of no use should the stone miss.

Unseen by both of them, the stone hits the monstrous shape in the basin and a silent explosion washes over them, for an eternity that lasts all of a couple of seconds. Once it's over, they look up to see that the oil has turned into grey stone. They return to the surface through the first manhole they find and see that many people on the street are coughing up some strange residue, while others are dead. The infection had already spread far and they couldn't save everyone. But without them, many more would have died. Mr Hurley gathers them up in his coach and congratulates them. Dai is not very talk-active, he thinks that the Leopold's Society have taken the easy way out. But he's not in the mood for a discussion. Cat asks for and gets a card that will allow them to enter the club of the Leopold's Society if they ever have need to.

It's late and, in unspoken agreement, they return to Dai's flat where they fall asleep in each other's arms. The day has taught them that reality is not as safe as it seems, that eventually, even the biggest empire will fall, the strongest foundations will crumble. It's not an easy lesson to learn. But they take comfort in the thought that whatever may come, they will face it together.

Cat and Dai started out as normal Cthulhu characters and neither of us expected to play them for long. But they not only stayed alive, but turned into such vivid characters that we played with such an intensity that we could not bear to let them die or go insane. So we said: let's have one more adventure and then we'll retire them.

When Hurley told them about Aboth's children and said that they will almost surely die, we, as players, hesitated for a long time. I think we took almost ten minutes to make our decision. We knew that the GM would not bat an eye at killing us if things went wrong. He always plays fair, but he doesn't do mercy. And yes, we could have just walked away. But that would have broken the characters and so we decided to see it all through to the end.

If Dai had missed when throwing the stone, they would have been dead. As it turned out, I rolled a 23 on a 25 chance and that saved them both. We won't be playing Cthulhu with them, but we will do some freeform roleplaying with them. They may not go in for supernatural adventures any longer, but neither of them is the type to lead a quiet life and they will travel. India will be their first goal and from there, we'll see.

This last session was one of the most intense I have ever played. After it was over, we had to take some time to talk it all over and when I got home, it was a while before I was able to sleep, even at 2am in the morning.

Doctor Francis Stern, by the way, is a recurring character in the adventures told by our GM. I think this is the third time I've met the good doctor and I have already killed him once. I would have gladly done so again. It's a great character - just from the way he talks you know right away that he wouldn't be able to see sanity with binoculars on a clear day.

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