This is the first part of the England chapter from the Masks of Nyarlathotep that I’m running. The other posts are available if you want to catch up.
This session was a little late running. We had planned to run it a few weeks ago but due to unforseen circumstances, we couldn’t. As a result we missed running it during the WeAreAllUs event being run by Chaosium in memory of the late great Greg Stafford.
I still ran this game with the Sartar Rune on the table in Greg’s memory. I hope he enjoyed the game because we did.
On the Atlantic Ocean, a cruise liner ploughed through the angry sea on its journey from New York to Liverpool. A storm raged overhead, making the floors sway like the room of a drunk after a six-hour binge.
In four cabins below decks, Bolan, Constanza, MacTavish and Singh had each taken one of the books they’ve bought from Erica Carlyle. The books had been delivered to Kensington’s office and collected in a dash before boarding the first available ship heading for England.
Hearing they planned to head for England, Kensington provided them with the contact details for Mickey Mahoney. The editor of ‘The Scoop’, Mahoney was the last person that Kensington knew Elias had spoken to in London, so seemed like a good place to start in their task to retrace his steps.
The books seemed important somehow. The investigators wanted to understand what use they had been to Robert Carlyle. Four of the five books were in English, with the fifth in French. As none of the group could read French, that was put to one side. Bolan took the copy of ‘the Pnakotic manuscripts’, Constanza took ‘Among the stones’, and MacTavish had ‘Life as a god’. Singh had the copy of ‘Africa’s dark sects’ they had collected from the Ju-Ju house.
Bolan struggled with the archaic translated text. He managed to piece together some fragments that suggested there was another meaning hidden within the words. He could see that there was a deeper power hinted at if he could study it further. He also realised that books contained more information than people knew, he should study every book he could get. He would now take the opportunity to gather as many books as possible in case they had secrets within them, no matter the cost.
As Singh read through his, he was disgusted by what was within the pages. The book was about the writers travel within Africa, but had graphic details of the bloody and obscene practices some tribes carried out. There was also an almost step by step explanation of the creation of the soulless monstrosities they had fought in the basement of the Ju-Ju house. This horrified him further. Singh, a deeply religious man, refused to read this practice and after finishing the book, put it to one side, swearing he would never touch it again.
MacTavish had a similar reaction to his book. The exploits detailed within also many blasphemous and unspeakable acts committed in Egypt. These had performed in the name of something called ‘the Pharaoh of Darkness’. Finding the content nauseating, he carried on and found information about something called ‘the bent pyramid’. The unsettling text made the dour Scotsman even more moody and he began to withdraw further from interacting with the others. He preferred to find solace with his own dark moods.
Constanza struggled with his book. Not being a native English speaker he couldn’t follow the strange poems he was reading. There was a couple about faraway lands he had never heard of, including some country called Egypt. The book confused him and he ended the journey with a terrible headache and feeling deeply troubled, but couldn’t place why.
Friday Jan 30th
Arriving in Liverpool, the group quickly slipped through customs with no problems. Finding their way to the train station, they headed to London by the fastest train they could get.
Bolan, owned a flat in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden so offered to house the others for their time in England. They agreed and settled into Bolan’s apartment then made plans for the next day to visit the Penhew Foundation and offices of the Scoop the next day.
Saturday Jan 31st
Their first stop was the Penhew foundation, located on Devonshire Street in Central London. The building was hidden away down a couple of winding narrow streets. It was surrounded by a high iron fence and the gate to get in was locked firmly. A plaque to one side indicated the building was open to the public from Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.
Looking over the building, Constanza noticed a single figure walk by a couple of windows inside. It was a smartly dressed man in a crisp formal uniform of almost military style. The guard glanced out at them as they stood there but gave them little notice.
Realising that they may be drawing attention to themselves standing there, they headed for Fleet Street to find the offices of The Scoop. All the time as they travelled through the bustling streets, Constanza felt a sense of awe at this city. It was nothing like anything he had seen before and it was all captivating to him.
The office of the scoop was located on the third floor of a shabby building in the middle of Fleet Street. Climbing the stairs, they saw a bustling office with staff trying to all talk over each other as they tried to assemble the next issue of the paper. They were greeted by a flustered receptionist at the desk who was trying to juggle a stack of papers, a telephone and being talked at by two other people. When they mentioned they’re trying to speak to Mickey Mahoney, she turned and bellowed into the office with a voice that cut through the noise.
“Mickey! You got another bunch here!”
A mop of red hair popped up from the middle of a scrum of bodies clustered around a drafting table. A plump, stubble covered face looked out from below the hair, a large cigar gripped firmly between the grinning teeth. Smoke wafted around the face as the eyes studied them. Pushing through the crowd, the man moved quickly towards them despite his overweight frame. Reporters and staff scattered to get out of his way as he bore down on them.
“Got a story for me? Follow me boys.” he said as he approached the group and guided them towards an office in one corner of the room. Flopping into his chair behind a desk, Mahoney beckoned them in and waved at some seats.
“So, what can I be doing for you? Something juicy I hope.”
Between them they explained about Jackson Elias and how they had come to see him about his last movements in London.
“A real shame about that guy. Nice fella. I heard about his death just afterwards as it was all over the news wires.”
Mahoney told them about a couple of stories that Elias had been interested in and that he had been asking about The Penhew foundation. Sadly there wasn’t any juicy gossip about the bunch of dry and dusty Egyptologists. He gave them the headlines of the stories that Elias had pulled from the papers archives.
In exchange, Mahoney asked them to bring any interesting stories to him. He explained that Elias had offered to bring him some before he disappeared back to New York and he felt he was still owed something. Mahoney also hinted at buying any kind of sensational story he could put in the paper. Glancing around the office, candid photos along with news articles could be seen pinned to the walls. It was obvious that sex and violence were the two main selling points for The Scoop.
Spending a couple of hours in the archives searching the papers clippings, turned up the three articles that Elias had been interested in.
The first was about Miles Shipley, an artist who had been painting savagely monstrous scenes. These had captured the imagination of all who saw them and caused great interest in the art world. His art had become something of a sensation in London where it was hailed as a new form of art movement to rival anything being created on the Continent.
The second was about a series of murders and attacks that had taken place in Derbyshire. The article was short on details, more aiming at the shock sensationalism that The Scoop was known for. There was a brief note about the attacker by the sole survivor of the last attack. It was described as a grisly creature that had been driven off by the victim through luck more than anything.
The last article was about a body found in the Thames and was linked to a series of so-called ‘Egyptian murders’. These had plagued London for the last three years and this article offered a reward for anything which helped bring in the killer.
Mahoney confirmed that Jackson had gone to speak to the inspector in charge of the Egyptian murders, Inspector Barrington.
With these articles and some hints about what Jackson had been up to in London, they headed back to Bolan’s apartment for the day.
Sunday Feb 1st
New Scotland Yard
Arriving at New Scotland Yard they were ushered in to see Inspector Barrington. Barrington was a tired looking man in a worn suit who greeted them politely but with an air of tiredness. Explaining they had come to see him in connection to the death of Jackson Elias, Barrington expressed regret at hearing of Jackson’s death. He revealed that Jackson had come to see him with some story about a cult operating in London which he scoffed at. London was a modern, civilised city and Barrington hadn’t believe this crazy American when he was rambling in his office. Now, after the details of Jackson’s death, he wasn’t so sure.
Barrington made them a promise, bring him something he could use and he would help them. At the moment his hands were tied as he didn’t have anything solid to work on but he had a few leads he was following. He could provide officers if needed for a raid but only if there was proper evidence.
The plan now was to look into this mysterious painter. Bolan was determined to find out more about him so set off with MacTavish to visit some art galleries to try and track him down. Constanza and Singh wanted to search for any useful information about the Egyptian murders, so went to see what they could find in a nearby library.
Finding a large gallery that was open was easy enough but, walking into the gallery, Bolan was distracted by a collection of rare books on display. Succumbing to his new compulsion, Bolan wandered over to the books and tried to stuff a number into his pockets. An angry member of staff stormed over and confronted him when he was spotted. Trying to talk his way out of having the police called didn’t work. They left quickly with a confused MacTavish dragging Bolan away from the books and out of the gallery.
Nearby Singh and Constanza searched for anything that may be connected to the Egyptian murders before they stopped for a break. Constanza started idly flicking through a magazine, trying to understand more about the culture of this country he was in. One of the articles was about Miles Shipley, the very artist they wanted to find.
The article was thin on details about the artist himself was overflowing with praise from others who had bought his work or had seen it. Finally, at the end of the article, it listed his address.
Taking this information, Constanza and Singh found Bolan and MacTavish and they headed for Holbein Mews.
The area of Chelsea they found themselves in was run down but clean and quiet. The occasional passer-by on the street was dressed in Sunday best after church or visiting the pub. It was a far cry from the bustle of the inner city areas they had been in already.
The address was on a terrace row, the house stood out due to the barred windows and skylight in the roof which appeared out of place. The street was quiet and there was no sign of life as Bolan walked up to the door and rapped smartly on it.
A quiet shuffling noise inside followed before the door opened and a kindly old lady smiled at him. Introducing himself to the lady, Bolan politely asked if they could speak to Miles Shipley about buying one of his paintings.
The old lady beckoned them to enter and guided the group into a small parlour just inside the house. She introduced herself as Bertha, Miles mother. She offered them tea and then disappeared upstairs to speak to her son when they had been settled.
Returning after a long pause, she said Miles was quite busy and didn’t want to be disturbed at the moment. MacTavish brought up that they wanted to buy one of his paintings and cracked open his wallet. At the sight of the money, Bertha trotted upstairs at what seemed like a slightly faster pace. Returning quickly, almost pushing Miles in front of her.
Miles was a skinny, almost gaunt figure who glanced around the room with a nervous energy. His eyes kept darting back to his mother as if he was afraid of her in some way. He looked like he had been rolling in paint rather than using it to make art, his clothes and hands seemed to be caked in the thick layers of colour. He wiped at his hands with a rag and stuck it out to shake Bolan’s hand when Bolan asked him about buying one of his paintings. After a pause, Miles realised that Bolan wasn’t going to shake his hand and get it covered in paint. Withdrawing it, he waved vaguely towards the door, indicating they should follow him to his studio.
He led them upstairs to a loft room which had been converted into his art studio. The room was lit from several lamps hanging from the room and the skylight was painted over from the inside to block out light. Even with the lights burning the room felt dark and heavily oppressive, as if shadows formed by themselves.
In the centre of the room stood a large easel with a newly started picture resting on it. Pencil marks and blocks of colour covered the canvas. Next to the easel was a table. Paints, brushes and other paraphernalia covering the wooden top. The only other furniture in the room was a table in the far corner which was covered in more painting materials.
There was one door to a small cupboard opposite this table, a large gleaming padlock held the door closed. Two of the four walls held five finished paintings which Miles swept his hand towards with a wave.
The four investigators studied each of the paintings while Miles and his Mother stood nearby watching them. Miles continued to wipe at his hands with his rag while his mother simply stood watching them with a kindly smile on her face.
Each of the paintings was more graphic and horrific than the last. The first was some kind of alchemist’s lab, smoke spilled from vials while scientific equipment filled the background. In the foreground a reptilian humanoid was posing mid dissection of a cadaver on the table in front of it. The body it was cutting up wasn’t recognisable but the detail in painting of the entrails and blood that flowed seemed horribly realistic.
The second show a scene in ancient Egypt. A golden chariot was passing through a huge mass of people who had fallen to their knees. The pharaoh in the chariot was adorned in black and gold but his face couldn’t be seen as it was turned from the viewer. Behind the pharaoh was a pair of men, impaled on stakes, their internal organs spilled down to the ground and a pack of jackals fed on them.
Third was a night-time woodland scene. A yellow moon cast its light onto a group of naked men and women cavorting around a bonfire. Rising from the flames of the bonfire, a goat headed man seemed to be conducting the frenzied figure below.
The penultimate canvas showed a man being cut open by a silver dagger being held by a black-robed figure. There was an occult looking sigil carved onto his chest which seemed to twist and move while looking at it.
The last painting was a towering mountain, possibly in Africa, over which a monstrous creature was rising up. At the base of the mountain, a temple like building could be seen with figures gathered around it. Each of the figures had their hands raised to the god-like entity in worship. From each head, a red tongue or tentacle seemed to hang down.
Bolan’s mind reeled as he looked at the paintings. He stepped around each one, his vision swimming with each step until, with a shriek, he realised he had gone blind! He stumbled forwards toward the nearest painting, almost crashing into it when a strong, vice like grip grabbed his arm and guided him away.
“Careful now deary, you nearly had an accident there. I know his paintings are quite shocking. They’re not really my thing either. Come downstairs with me and have a nice sit down with a cup of tea.” the old lady cooed as she guided him with a firm hand towards the steps down. Singh, suddenly wary, followed them both downstairs to watch Bolan. MacTavish and Constanza stayed in the studio with Miles as he checked the painting hadn’t been damaged.
When they got downstairs to the parlour, Bertha settled the still blind Bolan on a sofa and pottered over to the teapot.
“Would you both like a nice cup of tea?” She said as she bent over the teapot.
Bertha picked up the teapot and then, with a speed that belied her aged appearance, swung the teapot in a tight arc at Singh’s head. With years of fighting experience, Singh was able to dodge the blow at the last second and the teapot swam through the air where his head had just been. Reaching for the knife at his belt, Singh realised that the old woman had been replaced by a tall lizard like creature. Its head had an almost crocodile like snout appearance and a fat tail swished behind it.
Its mouth hissed wide as it lunged again towards, claws raking the air where Singh had been seconds before. Once again he had dodged aside but now he was ready. Pulling his ceremonial knife from its sheath he cried out an alarm to the others upstairs.
“TO ARMS! TO ARMS!”
He swung his knife and was rewarded with a deep cut across the creature’s body. Hot blood spurted out of the wound and splashed across the floor.
Constanza and MacTavish had been trying to make conversation with Miles but the painter just muttered and didn’t engage with them. The faint cry from Singh came up the stairs and at first nobody seemed to respond. Constanza and MacTavish looked at each other, one hearing the shout, the other not fully understanding what it was. Miles responded faster. He began to try to distract them by suddenly becoming quite animated and to point out details in the paintings. It didn’t work. Both men headed for the stairs to help their friend, only for Miles to try and stop them. He managed to grab Constanza, stopping him but MacTavish was already past him, leaping down the stairs.
In the parlour Singh and the creature circled each other, wary and sizing each other up. The creature had expected to take Singh easily when he was distracted with Bolan but hadn’t realised he was armed. Snarling it swung again and a claw caught Singh drawing some blood but it was a light touch on him. Singh retaliated by driving the knife deep into the monstrosity. He was rewarded with a loud cry and his target slumping forwards, dead before it hit the ground.
Just at that moment Bolan’s eyesight began to return and as he blinked a few times, he began to make out details through the fog of his blindness. He blinked again and saw a hideous scaly face with glassy eyes looking at him. With another scream he jumped and nearly fainted again before realising that Singh was standing over the thing with his knife in his hand.
At that moment MacTavish burst in and saw the corpse on the floor as well. Realising that Constanza may be in trouble, he turned and ran back upstairs to find Constanza still struggling with Miles. Grabbing Miles from behind, he was able to separate the two.
Miles crawled away and sat in the corner of the room muttering and rocking leaving the pair to search the room. A small key lay on the floor where Constanza and Miles had been struggling. Scooping it up, Constanza realised it would fit the padlock on the cupboard door in the studio.
The padlock unlocked with a satisfying click and dropped off the door. Swinging open the door carefully, they could see a large sheet draped over a canvas inside the cupboard.
Constanza reached forward and pulled the sheet away to reveal a nearly finished painting below. The scene in the painting was a swamp with a small island in the middle. A stone altar sat in the middle of the island and all around the swamp, serpents massed on the ground and through the undergrowth.
The painting seemed to move and swim before their eyes. MacTavish felt himself being drawn, not just towards it, but into it. He could hear and smell the swamp around him. Constanza could feel the draw as well. At the last minute he snapped his mind back to the small loft room in London and grabbed MacTavish’s arm, whirling the Scotsman away from the painting.
The cloth was thrown back over the painting and the door shut quickly.
Leaving Bolan to recover, Singh searched round the ground floor of the house but there was little of interest. A search in the cellar revealed a hidden area filled with powder, potions and what looked like the unidentifiable animal parts. One corner of the basement was filled with a large stone tub with a metal sheet over the top. Singh approached cautiously and lifted the corner of the sheet.
In the middle of the tub, the decapitated head of a woman looked up at him. Singh, his mind already hardened to the horrors of war, wasn’t affected. He lowered the lid back onto the tub and carried on searching the basement.
Miles came back to his senses once he knew his ‘mother’ was dead. After Bolan and Singh joined them upstairs, he explained that a few years before he had been approached by a man in the pub one evening. The man offered him the ability to paint more interesting scenes than the ones he already had been creating. This strange man created a powerful drug and used hypnosis to send Miles’ mind exploring in other times and locations. After he had demonstrated this power and had Miles under his influence, the man had revealed his true form to Miles.
Using his influence, this creature had forced Miles to bring him a steady supply of victims who it would then eat. The paintings brought in money and Miles brought meat for it so he could keep getting the drug. Miles told them he had a few doses left which he kept in his room.
They agreed to help Miles dispose of the body downstairs and, after checking around the house further, they stopped to figure out their next steps.
To be continued…