River of Shadows (1895)

Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Sun Sep 04, 2011 5:20 pm

Zelman looked around at the company, glanced down at his own dinner jacket, and snorted. "Gott in Himmel, Robert, but you were correct. I needn't have packed even the tuxedo, much less evening tails."

"Oh, be still, Bertie," Professor Wessex answered with a hint of annoyance. "Perhaps there's matters among us weighty enough to make wardrobe etiquette take a back seat."

"There is nothing important enough that it can't be discussed while manners are observed." While the doctor replied, a woman came down into the parlor wearing traveling dress and smoking a pipe. "Pardon, Fraulein," Zelman addressed her with the utmost charm in his voice but an expression of distaste on his face, "I love a good pipeful as much as anyone, but some of us are dressed for dinner and not in our smoking jackets in the proper lounge."

"Oi! 'Ere we are," piped O'Neill, "surrounded by the creepiest paintin's ever, a dumbwaiter hidden behind a clock an' not in the dining room or kitchens, and no rhyme or reason to any of the whole mess - an' this great ponce is worried about gettin' smoke on his coat!"

"Why, you little vantz," Zelman began before the detective cut him off.

"Gentleman, please," Charlie said in a quiet but cutting tone. "We are all a bit unsettled, no doubt. Why don't we all have an introduction and save our time over dinner for Dr. May?" He produced a pencil and small notebook, gazed around the parlor, and began, "I'm Detective Charles Wessex of the Boston P.D., South End. This is my... associate, Master Sean O'Neill. Here are Professor Robert Wessex and Dr. Bertram Zelman, both of Miskatonic University. Next?"
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Uzume » Mon Sep 05, 2011 5:34 am

Ignoring the large man’s comment, Maude smiled politely under a cool stare and nodded toward Dr. Zelman. She took another pull from her pipe and extended her free hand toward Detective Wessex after exhaling, “Maude Brewster. A pleasure, Detective; gentlemen.”

She made her way into the den, heading for the array of liquors on the serving cart. She gracefully lifted the crystal stopper from one of the decanters, holding it to her nose. Deciding it was indeed a fine whiskey, she poured a long drought into a small glass. Keeping to herself, she wandered over to observe some of the relics in the room more closely.
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Thu Sep 08, 2011 6:16 pm

September 21, 1895, 8:04 PM EST

“Doctor, the guests have arrived, save for Mister Webb. The table is set, and dinner is almost complete. Shall I summon everyone now?” Ibrahim stood impatiently, waiting at the edge of Doctor May’s imposing oak desk. The Doctor continued working, seeming not to notice Ibrahim at all.

“Sir-” Ibrahim began, but was silenced by May’s raised hand. The Doctor continued writing in his ledger.

“Dinner is not until eight thirty of the clock, correct?” He spoke without looking up. Ibrahim nodded. “By all means, continue your preparations, and seat the guests who have arrived at eight twenty-five. If need be, I will explain the situation to Mister Webb in private later.”

Finally, the Doctor raised his eyes to meet Ibrahim’s. He looked worn, and rightly so. This situation would be trying of any man’s fortitude under the best circumstances, Ibrahim believed, and these were most assuredly not the best circumstances. He bowed, and exited the office without a word. He knew Doctor May needed to concentrate if this desperate plan were to have any chance of success.
There is only one way of avoiding the war – that is the overthrow of this society. However, as we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. -L. Trotsky, 1939
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Thu Sep 08, 2011 8:26 pm

Zelman raised the cordial glass which he had filled at the drink cart, lifted it, and gazed at the pale amber liquid with frank awe. "Curious," he muttered, then drained the small drink with obvious relish before refilling the glass.

"What is, doctor?" asked Detective Wessex.

"Bahrenjaeger," Zelman answered. "Dr. May has a full bottle of the liquer displayed. It's uncommon even in my own country, compared to things like kirschwasser and schnapps; this is the first time I've seen it at all this side of the Atlantic." He sipped the cordial more slowly this time, and turned to Maude. "My apologies, fraulein. The prevalent ambience of mystery has ruffled us all, no doubt, but I make no excuse for forgetting how to properly speak to a member of the fairer sex. I beg your pardon." As he finished, he executed an intricate continental bow.

While Zelman made his apologies, Wessex walked over to where Sylvia and her companions stood. He placed his pencil to his notebook, looked up expectantly, and said, "And you, madam?"
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Lighthawk » Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:11 pm

"Silvia Stanley." She gave Charles a bemused smile along with her name. "Is this the new fashion, trading names on paper? I can't say that it seems as charming as shaking hands, though I suppose you get fewer smudges on your fingers."

Beside her, Claude gave a significant cough.

"Oh bother, I'm just having fun you big grump," Silvia complained coyly. "The surly one here is Claude Adams." Claude grunted at the introduction but offered Charles a hand. "The quiet one is Daryl Chambers," Silvia continued, nodding at the young man by the fire, who gave a slight wave by way of greeting. "They're my..."

"Retainers," Claude quickly interjected in the momentary pause.
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Fri Sep 09, 2011 3:26 am

Willem finished cleaning his Colt Peacemaker, carefully stowing the oil and cloths back in the case. He stretched widely, his back producing a satisfying series of pops, and then moved into a slow sequence of exercises he’d learned in Kowloon. The leisurely, deliberate movements focused his mind, calming his nerves a bit, and enabling him to ignore the painting on the wall. Even thinking about it put his nerves on edge, but not while he was practicing Taijiquan.

Ibrahim’s voice came through the speaking tube, informing him of the time, and upcoming dinner. Willem paused, ceasing his practice in mid-movement, before freshening up in the filled basin, and then patting himself dry with a towel. He holstered the Colt low on his hip before buttoning his undershirt and shouldering his dinner jacket. He gingerly made his way to the bedside, retrieving his cane and resting his weight on it before heading out the door. His timepiece showed 8:05 when he left the room and headed down the stairs; he expected to catch a drink in the den before dinner, and hopefully have time to profile the other guests.

He had become increasingly curious about the reason for this gathering, and as he knew well, the best way to learn was to ask.
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Fri Sep 09, 2011 5:01 am

Charles smiled politely, but humorlessly. "Beg your pardon, Ms. Stanley. Professional habit, you might say. I expect I'm working on a mystery which will be revealed quite plainly over dinner." He tucked the notebook away into a breast pocket, briefly revealing a snugly rigged S&W police model, and turned to the remaining occupants of the parlor - Isabel, Nathan, and Fiorina. "And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing now... and more generally, does anyone have an idea of what commonality Dr. May sees in our little company to inaugurate his society?"
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:24 am

Isabel curtseyed at the Detective, flashing a brief smile, “I am Professor Isabel Hodges, PhD, of Miskatonic University, and this is my fiancé, Nathan Jefferies, an expert with instruments both inorganic and organic.”

Nathan’s face flushed. He bowed slightly, “Musical instruments, of course. I am no expert, really…”

“Mrs. Fiorina Spencer,” the woman also curtseyed, but her face remained taut, “I believe we can rule out formal education as a commonality, Detective. I am merely a widow with some skill at hunting and tracking. I do not believe social standing is the denominator either.”
There is only one way of avoiding the war – that is the overthrow of this society. However, as we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. -L. Trotsky, 1939
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:53 am

Charles glanced meaningfully around the room, and answered, "You are patently correct, Mrs. Spencer. I suspect our host's motivations will only become clear once explained." Meanwhile, Robert glanced up intently at Isabel's introduction.

"Dr. Hodges?" he queried uncertainly. "I must admit I don't recall the name, though to be fair I've spent a fair bit of time in the field. To what department are you attached, professor?"
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Wed Sep 14, 2011 4:54 am

“Actually, Professor, I’m also in the Archeology department, officially.” Isabel cast her eyes downward, wringing her hands lightly, “Though, to be fair to you, I spend a fair bit of time in the library, or traveling to examine… certain artifacts. I published a paper in June about the significance of particular ancient religious artifacts, and their… influence on modern society. I do doubt you read it, though. It was poorly received…”

Nathan took her hand, “My dear, your findings were quite apt. Whether your ideas are accepted by the scientific community as a whole doesn’t alter the merit of your work.”
There is only one way of avoiding the war – that is the overthrow of this society. However, as we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. -L. Trotsky, 1939
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:39 am

Robert crossed over to the drink cart and poured himself a red vermouth. He raised his glass toward Isabel, sipped, and said, "Considering how the old guard of Miskatonic has regarded up-and-coming ideology lately, I'm sure a poor reception is an indication of brilliant work." Zelman clucked his annoyance at Robert's tone, but the professor continued, "I'm sorry to have missed it, but I only recently returned from Hawai'i - you've heard of Seneca Lapham's expedition? - to begin the year and compile data and begin some local research, while he's preparing to continue on to Micronesia. He thinks some local lore links to Ponape... I'm of a mind to center on the formation of subcultures right here where Pacific indicators have taken root, but surely there will be some linkages..."

"Surely I'll swallow the barrel o' me Russian if I ha' to listen to this Greek talk much longer!" O'Neill broke in. Lord above, can we please get to dinner so we can get to the cash an' then to gettin' home?"
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Fri Sep 16, 2011 9:19 pm

September 21, 1895, 8:28 PM EST

The incandescent bulbs in the small chandelier overhead flickered sporadically as the thunder crashed from outside. The old house creaked and moaned as it swayed in the powerful winds. And yet, in the modestly furnished dining area, the guests on either side of the long table were comfortable, still chatting amongst themselves in the warmth of another fireplace. All of the guests had been seated, save for the one absentee, and Ibrahim had brought out freshly-baked bread and wine to hold them over until the main courses were served.

The man was impressive, gliding from one part of the table to another, setting out covered platters before each guest, all the while refilling glasses, and nimbly dodging the odd elbow or chair suddenly leaned back. The first course was a lightly grilled local halibut with fennel, tomatoes, and roasted garlic rouille, garnished with fennel greens. Several approving murmurs greeted the lifting of the covers.

Suddenly, the overhead lights flickered out completely amid the rumble of a massive thunderclap, leaving the room lit only in the dim red glow of the fireplace. Ibrahim continued serving, not even pausing to adjust to the darkness. The murmurs were louder, now, and most sounded a bit nervous.

Just as quickly as the lights had gone out, they came back on with an odd clacking sound from the bowels of the house. At the head of the table, a man had appeared, casually sitting in the high-backed chair.

Even Ibrahim was startled by the sudden appearance of their host, “Ahem… Allow me to present your host for this evening, Doctor Alexander May…” he waited for a nod from the Doctor before resuming his duties.

May was an imposing figure, wide-shouldered and broad across the chest, with a well-manicured gray beard styled similar to President Grant. His jacket wasn’t lavish, but was well-made, and spoke of money. He held a small decanter of golden liquid in his hand, which he swirled as he spoke, “Welcome to May Manor, ladies and gentlemen, and esteemed colleagues. I apologize for the brief outage; the incandescent lights are wired to the house’s electrical grid, and become temperamental during harsh weather.”

He paused to take a bite of the halibut, closing his eyes briefly as he savored the meat, “Exquisite, Ibrahim. I hope the roast came out as delicious,” he glanced around the table and smiled, “I’ve ruined the surprise. The second course is a veal roast with mushrooms and onions in a white wine reduction.”

Ignoring the astounded faces of the guests, he took another bite, and sipped his drink. Willem scowled at him from across the table, before raising his voice to be heard over the great gusts of wind outside, “Good sir, some of us have traveled a significant distance to attend this gathering tonight, and have been waiting several hours for a simple explanation. I do not wish to be rude, but I know most everyone here wishes to know the reason we’ve been summoned.”

May held a hand up in apology, “Forgive me; I don’t often have company, nor excuse for such a lavish meal. I know some of you have discovered the brevity of the Kingsport Philosophical Society’s existence, and have been trying to deduce what the group of you might have in common. Let me be clear: the society is a front. It was merely an excuse to summon you all here without drawing the attention of… certain parties. The money promised is quite real, however, to answer that question before it is asked.”

Curiosity turned to indignation on the faces of many of the guests; May continued before any could speak, “I have selected you, and gathered you here because I need your help. As to the commonality, let me go over the room. Doctor Isabel Hodges, PhD: you have tremendous skill in numerous sciences, extensive knowledge of the occult, talent in multiple languages, and incredible aptitude in research. Your recent paper proved my selection for me.”

Isabel opened her mouth to speak, but May continued, “Professor Robert Wessex: you also have great skill in multiple sciences, talent in multiple languages, and a reputation as a man who can find things long thought lost.” He swiveled his head to the other side of the table, “Miss Sylvia Stanley: while you do not hold a degree, you are the match of any PhD at numerous sciences, speak multiple languages, and have greater knowledge of the occult than anyone in this room, save perhaps for myself.”

The lights overhead flickered again as a great booming thunderclap issued from outside. May turned to Dr. Zelman, seated to his left, “Doctor Bertram Zelman: while we have never met that I can recall, I have admired your work for some time; your skill in medicine and biology rivals my own, and you also speak a number of languages… Susana Smythe,” he began, glancing at the woman at the far end of the table before taking another sip of his drink, “You are a figure of some renown, able to investigate and research better than 99% of undergraduates and a great deal of doctors.”

Ibrahim leaned in close to May’s ear, and whispered something; the Doctor nodded, and gestured at Detective Wessex as Ibrahim left the room, “Misters Charles Wessex and Willem Klein: You both have a preternaturally keen insight, and skill with combat that have proven incredibly useful, in particular on cases involving missing persons… Perhaps you have both begun to notice a trend here?”

Both men nodded, but said nothing. Doctor May waved his arm across the table, “Mister Claude Sydney Adams: you also possess great investigative aptitude, as evidenced by your most recent triumph. Brilliant headline, that one. You are also a skilled fighter, and have a knack for convincing people to cooperate who otherwise wouldn’t. Mrs. Maude Brewster: you are an accomplished hunter and tracker with a talent for solving mysteries and puzzles. Mrs. Fiorina Spencer nee Jean: you are also experienced at tracking, able to speak multiple languages, and your reputation as an accomplished ballerina commands respect, especially from anyone who has had the privilege of watching you dance.”

Newt chimed in, “You’re that Fiorina Jean? I saw you on posters all over New York, couple years back.”

A number of people had a look of recognition on their faces at the connection; Fiorina blushed and cast her eyes at her plate. May nodded, “Indeed. She is a genuine celebrity, and one of the most graceful creatures to ever command a stage. Mister Daryl Chambers, formerly a soldier in the United States Army: you received numerous commendations during your service, and are perhaps the most skilled fighter here tonight. You are not known as a man who shies away from danger.”

May paused, a sliver of fish at the end of his silver fork, “By all means, please eat. The next course will be ready in a few moments.” Several did resume eating, before May resumed talking, “Mister Sandy Walton Dobson: My late father was an acquaintance of your father’s, did you know that? Your knowledge of historical artifacts and talent in various languages is superb.”

Doctor May pointed down the table at Cookie, “My old friend Samuel Bell, known to many as ‘Cookie’ for his time spent out in the west on prairie schooners, and known to some here as the proprietor of the Rock Lobster restaurant in Arkham: I’ve known you for years, and your knowledge of chemistry rivals mine. You’re able to banter and barter with the best, and can outcook anyone I’ve ever met. Nathan Jefferies: your musical skill is most impressive, but it is your extensive knowledge of the occult and skill with mechanical device that made you an obvious choice.”

“Oi, what about me an’ the other fellow?” O’Neill broke in. Newt had a querulous look on his face as well.

“Yes, you may have felt somewhat out of place, my friend,” May began, “But I assure you, you are not. You both have various skills the others lack, and are quite apt at survival. Have you all figured out the connection? It is simple, truly: you are all very talented individuals, far above the average person. It is this talent pool I require to assist me in a task I could not possibly complete alone.”

“And what task is that, Doctor?” Nathan asked cautiously.

“I inherited this house when my father passed away three years ago; he had become somewhat eccentric in his later years, and rarely left the premises. I myself hadn’t seen him in almost three decades. After my mother died when I was a boy, he traveled the world, becoming increasingly obsessed with certain artifacts and tomes of knowledge which he brought home with him. Eventually, he found himself at odds with a local group (some say they’re a cult) for some reason or another, and some in town believe they were involved in his death. At the estate reading, I became acquainted with a relative I’d never met: my sister, Cassandra, ostensibly of another mother, but a blood relative, nonetheless.” At this, he scowled somewhat, then sipped his drink again.

“After settling in here, my sister and I began going through our late father’s research and notes; his library is quite extensive, you’ll find. A few months later, the ‘cult’ made their displeasure known by killing several of my horses in my stables, and left a threatening letter warning the two of us to pack up and leave town. Local law enforcement was rather unhelpful in the matter, but Cassandra and I remained, determined to discover the reason for my father’s erratic, reclusive behavior. For the next two years, we traveled; I left my research at Miskatonic, and she accompanied me, following in our father’s footsteps across the globe while Ibrahim maintained the property.” Another bite of the halibut finished the plate; Ibrahim began wheeling in the serving tray with the next course.

“Six months ago, we returned with what we were certain was the cornerstone of our father’s obsession: a translation of an ancient manuscript. We had been home for merely a week when the ‘cultists’ attacked the manor in the middle of the night. My sister was taken, along with the manuscript, and a priceless heirloom which Ibrahim tells me was my father’s prized possession. I have searched the town top to bottom, I have asked every resident, and all I have found are a few pieces of evidence that my sister is being held somewhere in town. A locket she wore, with a picture of our father as a young man; the dress she wore the night of her abduction, and a note left on my front porch, in her hand, warning me to leave while I still was able. I cannot find her on my own, and I have asked you all here to assist me in locating her, and my missing property; also to help me discover what it was that caused all of these terrible events.” With this, Doctor May nodded to Ibrahim; next to the serving cart was a strongbox which Ibrahim placed on the table. May dialed through the combination, and opened it, grabbing several huge piles of money from within. He placed the great bundle of cash on the table in a pyramidal stack.

“I offer each of you five thousand dollars if you will stay and help me solve this mystery. I will not lie; these cultists may be dangerous, and it may take some time to unravel the web of secrets this town hides, but I cannot do this alone. I beg of you to help me.”
There is only one way of avoiding the war – that is the overthrow of this society. However, as we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. -L. Trotsky, 1939
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Lighthawk » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:23 pm

"...my good sir," Claude began after a moment to recover from the shock. "Surely this seems more a matter for..."

"We'll help," Silvia cut across him, and Claude stifled a sigh. He cast her a beseeching look, but she just smiled sweetly. "How could any decent person not do everything in their power to provide aid when a young lady is danger?"

"Ah, bloody hell," Claude muttered and eyed Daryl, who just shrugged apologetically. "Bloody hell," Claude muttered again and moodily stabbed a bit of fish with his knife, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing angrily. He glowered at his plate.

"We'll help," Silvia repeated, smiling at Doctor May. "As I said, no decent person should refuse to come to the aid of one in great need." Her smile turned sharper. "And I must confess, certain elements of your tale intrigue me. I don't think I could walk away from this, even without your poor sister's plight or your money." There was a sudden eagerness in her words. "I must hear more, whatever details you do have."
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Tsukiyumi » Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:49 am

“My lady, details are quite lacking in this whole affair; one of the things I needed help with. My family is too well known in Kingsport, as is my father’s feud with many people in positions of local authority. I suspect many of these people are involved with the cult my father ranted about in his journals, and are involved in Cassandra’s abduction, but I need people who can ask questions and investigate the situation without drawing the sort of attention I do in town.” May motioned for Ibrahim to serve the second course, and the man began setting out new covered plates as he scooped up finished ones.

“I have the names of everyone in town my father had dealings with, the names of everyone who helped or hindered me, and a number of leads I was unable to pursue by myself. I also have my father’s journals, notes, and other materials that could shed light on where to look. The library on the second floor is free for perusal by all, and I know of many places in town that other research could be done. I will pay for any expenses required for this endeavor as well.” After lifting the lid from his new plate, May began slicing the veal into thin strips. Again, he closed his eyes as he chewed, enjoying every bite as though it were his last meal.

“Is there anything specific anyone wishes to know?” he asked, pausing for a moment before finishing his drink, and motioning Ibrahim for another.
There is only one way of avoiding the war – that is the overthrow of this society. However, as we are too weak for this task, the war is inevitable. -L. Trotsky, 1939
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Re: River of Shadows (1895)

Postby Mikey » Mon Sep 19, 2011 2:46 pm

O'Neill had, after hastily remembering to remove his hat and then staring blankly at the array of forks for a moment, tucked into his fish with wild avarice. He paused only when he choked slightly at the mention of the sum of $5,000. He muttered something about wearing Cassandra's dresses for that much money, then renewed his attack on his dinner when the veal was brought.

Robert listened quietly, but a strange light came into his eyes at the mention of cults and ancient artifacts. At length he said, "Doctor, this opportunity is too rare and tempting to miss. You have whatever assistance I can provide."

Zelman raised his wine glass toward his host and added, "The whole business just isn't proper. You'll have my help as well."

Charles paused thoughtfully and said, "I'll just need to wire my station house in the morning, but I think you've already known that I'll help. I can't help but wonder, Doctor May, about how well-known your family and apparent assets are in this vicinity. Might these troubles be of a more... ah, prosaic nature? That is, perhaps the person or persons responsible is motivated less by your father's research and more by his wealth?"

Robert nodded at this, then said, "Perhaps after dinner and a smoke we can see your library, any notes you might have retained regarding the stolen manuscript, and any other clues to your father's research. I'm sure we can determine a further course of action from that point. I'd be most interested to see whence this 'cult' - if indeed it is one - is derived and whence its beliefs and ritual have developed."
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