This session report is long. My goal was to create a session report that was much more "realistic" and capable of allowing more immersion for the reader.
In an effort to meet that goal, I have included background, characterization, explanations, ect. All in an attempt to add flesh to the story. If you dislike the idea of reading a session report that has become a novella, please save yourself the time and trouble and stop reading now. Thanks.
(Due to its length, I have broken this report into two parts. I hope to have the second half of the session up within a week).
The following session report illustrates a solo game of Arkham Horror using only "The King in Yellow" expansion. I chose to use the "Touring Performance" method due to the benefit of increased theme and mood. When playing with a Touring Performance, "The King in Yellow" cards are placed on top of their respective piles. Consequently, one will have to cycle through all TKiY cards before one gets to any of the base game items, spells, encounters, ect.
Instead of choosing randomly, I picked Hastur to be my nemesis, and I chose Harvey Walters (the professor) and Joe Diamond (the private eye) as my two characters. Joe's starting equipment included an Athame, a Press Pass, and the Speed skill. Harvey Walters began the game with The Book of the Believer, the Throne of Carcossa, the Speed skill, and the spells Summon the Beast Within, and Arcane Insight.
I was very pleased with my initial draws for my characters. The Press Pass is possibly the most useful common item in the game, and Arcane Insight is probably the best game-breaking spell. (The combination of the two might even allow me to win by sealing gates). The extra movement generated by Speed and Summon the Beast Within could make the difference between success and failure. I confess that I had high hopes for my intrepid investigators.
It was a momentary cold chill - they had been coming more frequently lately, but I brushed it off as the thinning skin of a man approaching a "more respectable" age. It caused only a brief interruption to my lecture:
"According to Sir James Frazer, the vast majority of magic actively practiced in today's world is sympathetic in nature. The principles of sympathetic magic can be divided into two laws: The Law of Similarity, that like produces like, and The Law of Contact, that things once in contact continue to act on each other after the contact has been severed. Hence, the woman who uses an egg in a fertility ritual is taking advantage of the Law of Similarity. Likewise, the savage that bathes an arrow-head that has wounded a friend in cool water, in an effor to abate his friend's fever, is utilizing the Law of Contact. Oftentimes, the two laws overlap, as is the case with the familiar Vodou dolls of ubiquitous legends".
I began sketching an appropriate chart on the blackboard.
"We can further divide magic into its positive and negative aspects which-"
"With all due respect, Professor Walters, aren't you merely wasting our time with such impractical nonsense?"
It was Randall Livingston, a bright enough lad, but one who was more inclined to focus on the potentials of upward mobility rather than the unfamiliar subjects I presented in my lectures. Unfortunately for him, he had the temerity to jump to his feet to add an aura of importance to his objection. His implied challenge to my authority would make his dressing down so much the worse for him.
I allowed the Nature of the Beast to flare within me as I redressed him. I knew that my eyes would be blazing spectacularly as I held his gaze.
"Mr. Livingston, I have traveled to many different parts of this earth. I have participated in many arcane ceremonies, and I have beheld many things that would drive a normal man mad. Do not be so quick to pass any judgements until you have lived a life more daring than that of the average milksop!"
"Or..." I lowered my voice conspiratorily for effect, "would you care to put your beliefs to the test? All I would require from you is a piece of hair, a fragment of your clothing, and some blood - not more than a few drops, mind you. Surely a healthy, young lad like yourself could spare it."
He blanched considerably.
"No, sir. I apologize if I've offended you sir."
"Apology accepted, young master Livingston. Now if I may continue uninterrupted..."
My morning lecture satisfactorily completed, I returned to my office to read the daily paper and catch up on some correspondence. Hmmm. According to the Arkham papers, a controversial play is due to begin performance in our town within the week. The Advertiser hypothesizes that producers of the play are either masters of publicity or criminal miscreants. It seems that whenever this play has been performed, madness and destruction have soon followed. Many towns in Europe were overcome with increased incidents of licentiousness and criminal behavior until the performance was banned altogether and forced to cross the Atlantic.
I tended to agree with the paper's editor who scoffed at the conflicted sensibilities of our European brethren:
My fellow art-lovers, should we pay heed to the disposition of a people who would cover their table legs out of a sense of modesty in one generation, only to expose their youths to the horrors of poison gas and machine gun bullets in the next?
Admittedly, that gave me a chuckle. However, something was nagging at the back of my mind, which caused me to rifle through my stack of older letters until I found the one I was looking for. It was from my colleague, Professor Chadwick, who was currently on sabbatical in Paris.
I have just had a most unpleasant experience, and I fear that you are the only person with whom I can confide. I went to see a notorious play last week, "The King in Yellow." (You might have heard of it, as it has quite a sinister reputation). Since decadence is in vogue in Paris these days, I attended a performance along with quite a few other expatriates. It was clear that we were hoping to be scandalized, because there was much giggling at first, and one could distinctly detect the clinking of wine bottles and absinthe decanters as the audience was gleefully preparing itself to be shocked.
By the end of the first act, however, there was complete silence, as we were all transfixed. Once the third act was underway, the theater was in bedlam. Some people were yelling and hurling whatever was handy at the stage. Others, like me, were motionless and unable to muster the energy to leave our seats. I don't believe the play ever finished - the lights were put onand the audience was led out onto the streets where the chaos continued to florish. I know everyone is going to assume that the subject matter was merely too offensive for the public(the play does consist of nudity, incest, violence, and other unpleasantries), but I can assure you that there is much more to be found "behind the scenes."
Due to some power of the actors' vocalizations, or perhaps due to some new kinesthetic devices, I felt my inner being leaving my body during the performance. I still could see my body, motionless in my seat, but my phantom drifted away and sped straight to the center of the stage. It felt as though there was an invisible cord connected to my phantom's chest, and this cord continued to pull me through a previously hidden portal at the behind the stage. I found myself within some dim antechamber, hovering before some nebulous, terrible being who held a large tome opened in his ghostly hand.
As I waited, unable to alter my situation, a chilling wind began blowing, gradually increasing in intensity until it was blowing the leaves of the book over in rapid succession, and suddenly I felt much weaker. This horrible entity seemed to be drawing energy from my inner self into its horrible countenance with a malevolent glee. The pages of his(my?) book became fulvous and dessiccated as they were flipped past this monster's visage. The book became increasingly fragmented and tattered as the gusts began ripping the now fragile pages away from the binding. Due to some primal urge, I was desparate to leap for the pages
and collect them back from the winds, yet I was powerless to move. Soon enough, the thing tossed the remainder of the tome into the ether with what couldonly be interpreted as contempt.
What followed was a rushing noise, and I found myself unexpectedly jarred back into my seat. It was soon after (during?) this event that I found that the third act was for all purposes over, the theater overcome with the sounds of hysterical sobbing mixed with the chaotic, crashing noises of sporadic violence.
Even you may find my previous statements hard to believe, but please consider this: Since that damnable experience, I have not been able to accomplish any work, nor have I been able to find any pleasures in this supposed city of lights. I find that I am lethargic, and I no longer feel emotion. I am ashamed to admit that I must have a strong dose of Laudanum in the morning if I hope to perform even the most basic necessities of hygiene. I also find myself taking another dose in the afternoon, and yet a third, at least, to help me sleep. I am only able to write this letter due to the kindly efforts of my landlady. She is a middle-aged widow who has taken pity on me, and has given me a drink mixed with such herbs and stimulants that I fear I am just as likely to be poisoned as to approach functionality. I cannot continue like this. I fear that this may be the last time that I put pen to paper. I often find myself contemplating the sweet release that the entire bottle of the opiate might bring.
My good Harvey, I hope you fervently believe that I have always respected your opinions. Because of our past relationship, I have come to believe that only you, with your wide range of personal experiences, are capable of helping me with my current affliction.
Professor Chadwick was well-known at the university for his unabashed romanticism, which was periodically tempered by bouts of melodramtic melancholia. Believing this to be one of those events (albeit one that involved more histrionic emotion than usual), I had provided him with the name and address of a reputable Paris alienist, as well as a list of some minor mental exercises that were meant to focus the mind and alleviate stress. I also told him that since the war, there was a disproportionate ratio of females to males, and that the greatest cure for depression was finding yourself within the arms of a lovely lady.
I now had cause to regret this glibness on my part. Having re-read the missive, I had experienced another chill, although this time I recoginzed its source. (It is an unfortunate, but universal truism, that we as individuals tend to pay little heed to a matter until it arrives on our doorstep).
Experiencing an unexpected feeling of urgency, I closed the blind in my office and began removing various paraphernalia from the bottom drawer of my rather overstuffed desk. In just a few minutes I had a small fire burning in a brazier atop a tripod. I focused my mind on the dancing blue and yellow flames and allowed the arcane insights to come.
Distressingly, I found the visions overwhelming, revealing more threats and dangers than even the most fervent doomsayer could have predicted. It took all of my willpower to keep myself from breaking the spell out of a sense of psychical preservation. I beheld a number of palpable threats to Arkham, and they all originated with the arrival of that cursed theater piece.
The damnable play was primarily a means for weakening the barrier between normally separated realities. This weakening would manifest in many ways and would culminate in a malignant god crossing into our world.
That entity's ultimate goal is as inscrutable as its nature, but its presence would occasion the devouring of many souls, as well as spreading the waves of despair which are consistent with its natural habitat. Apparently, the madness and destruction that are attributed to "The King in Yellow" are mere symptoms of a far more deadly cancer!
My entrance into his office caused a stirring of dust particles, and I found myself having to waft through a cloud of sparkling motes, illuminated by the slanting, late evening sunshine. My quarry was leaning back in his chair, legs upon the corner of his desk, reading the local evening paper.
"Can I help you?" he asked, without looking up.
Heh. All he needed was a lit cigarette and a fedora on his head, and he would be the perfect pulp detective.
"It's rude to wear a hat indoors," he commented.
I jumped, amazed that he could read my thoughts. Then I realized that he must be remarking on my failure to remove mine.
I self-consciously removed my cap. Curses, he had already put me at a disadvantage, and I was going to need all the confidence I could muster to appear believable.
"I'll bite again. What brings you to my office?"
This time he folded his paper and turned to give me his full attention.
"You are detective Joe Diamond, correct?" I asked.
"Last time that I checked."
"The same Joe Diamond that captured the Worchester killer? That maniac notorious for removing the innards of his victims and using them in so-called 'dark rituals'?"
"Look, what the hell is this about?" he interjected.
"I am a potential client in need of your services, but most importantly, I need your open-mindedness."
"I can be open-minded about most thing for the right price," he said, a little mollified. "But first, why don't your tell me who you are and why you need my 'open-mindedness'."
"I am professor Harvey Walters, head of the anthropology department at Arkham University. I believe that our town is in mortal danger, and I believe that you are one of the few people that I can depend on to aid me in preventing a potential catastrophe. Please allow me to elaborate."
I put before him all that I knew and suspected, drawing his attention to my newspaper clippings and the letter from poor Professor Chadwick. Before he had a chance to give me a negative response, as any reasonably sane person surely would, I placed a small, hastily wrapped wad of bills on Mr. Diamond's desk, next to my papers.
"This is all I could come up with on short notice. Consider it a retainer. Addtionally, you will have access to my personal funds."
I laid my bank book next to the cash for emphasis.
"You will also have complete access to my bank account. Please feel free to draw upon it to cover any of your expenses."
He stared down at my offerings, then looked up into my eyes.
"Look here, Doc, are you one of those smart people that get too smart and go crazy?"
"I assure you, Mr. Diamond, that I am in complete control of my mental faculties. And please do not call me 'doctor'. While I do possess a doctorate, I believe that only those skilled individuals that minister to the sick truly deserve to be called 'doctor'."
"Very well, professor, you have purchased my services and gained my interest. So tell me - what do you need me to do?"
"Mr. Diamond, it is not entirely important that you believe me at this moment, but it is vitally important that you do as you are instructed. Tonight, I need you to travel to the town graveyard, where you will inspect the oldest monuments there. Upon one you will find a word of power. Write it down and try to keep it in your mind - it will aid us later. Do not tarry there overlong, for there is an ethereal instability at this cemetery.
"The vast quantity of our emotions, our prayers, and even our souls that travel between worlds at this place create a natural weakness. Our adversary will take advantage of this to form a breach and create a gateway into our world. Also, there are many dangerous, formless creatures dwelling under that moldy earth. When that gateway appears, many will sense it, and come out and revel with the expectation that their king will be arriving soon.
"My entire purpose is to forestall this arrival, so I must beg you to make haste and leave the graveyard before any of this takes place.
"Tomorrow morning I need you to visit Independence Square, for I foresee yet another clue that may aid in solving this crisis. When you have found what I hope you will find, come and meet me at Hibb's Roadhouse. Once we are both there we can plan our next course of action."
His face was lined with deep skepticism, but I was satisfied to see that he was scribbling everything I was telling him into a small notepad.
"Just try to do as I have asked, Mr. Diamond. If I am wrong or just a madman, you will still have the money, and merely have wasted a day on wild goose chases. However, I fear that I am correct. Also, I fear that I have assigned you a case that is too hard, even for someone with your prodigious abilities, so please accept my apologies in advance if this turns out badly."
The detective closed his notepad and gave me a look of utmost intensity.
"There ain't nothing harder than me, Doc."
As I left the detective's office I noticed an uncommon brightness in the sky. Though is was still early evening, my wandering eyes were drawn to Aldebaran, a normally bright enough star that was shining with a peculiar intensity. Could Taurus' eye be going nova? Is this a good omen or a harbinger of doom? A little more anxious, I quickened my pace back to the campus.
Even before I arrived, I perceived that something was wrong. There was an unexpected cloud of smoke above my destination, aglow from what must be a local fire.
I hurried until I reached the main drive of the university, and promptly realized that our science building was aflame. Quickly closing the distance, I noticed a few panicked students pounding at a classroom window, apparently trapped within. Many other undergrads, along with some of the faculty, were running about directionless, and as near as I could tell, no one had yet tried to rescue the trapped students.
Draping my coat over my head, I plunged inside the burning structure. I approached what I assumed was the proper room, and attempted to move a beam that had burned through, and had fallen, blocking the room's egress. Using what strength my frail body could muster, I shifted the beam away from the doorway, only to have a pile of flaming debris come crashing down upon my back and shoulders. I fell then paniced when I could not muster the strength to leave this deadly scene. I would surely have perished there had not a local fire team arrived and carried me out, along with the traumatized students. I cursed my aged body then, which had almost led to my premature expiration.
As I was being led away, I allowed my inner savage to reawaken. I would not let my body fail in such a situation again! I focused my will upon the hindquarters of my brain, accessing my base animal nature. My heart began to pump faster and my muscles hardened into tightened cords, and I demanded to be let down. (1)
"You must be taken to the hospital!" my shocked rescuer exclaimed.
"Nonsense. I haven't the time. You will always have my gratitude sir, but I must go at once!"
I lept away, and began running to my study, leaving what I imagine to be a very flummoxed fireman.
Once within the secure confines of my office, I gathered all of my scattered resources that were pertinent to our occult threat. This included some unusually difficult literature (which meant that it would be another long night of further research).
Why had I not foreseen the fire and my narrow escape when I viewed the flickering visions in the flames of my brazier? It could only mean the the future is not necessarily written in stone. Upcoming events could potentially be altered given the proper foresight and capability. I momentarily grew fearful for Mr. Diamond. Could he be sucked into a suddenly appearing dimensional gateway, or be attacked unawares while searching for a clue? No. My instructions were good. They had to be. I resolved to spend the remainder of the night studying the possibilities of altering futre events, as well as attempting to learn as much as possible regarding our foe.
I awoke the next day in considerable pain, but still determined in thought and deed. Most of my morning was already gone, so I forced my aching body through my morning's preparations with more rapidity than was comfortable.
My self-assigned task was to travel to our local "haunted house" and search for signs of other-worldly disturbance. Due to its unredeemedly sinister reputation, the locals have forgone giving it a charming nickname and merely refer to it as "The Unnameable."
My journey was uneventful and I learned much during my investigations there. It is worth noting one unusual incident:
Upon climbing the creaking stairs of the house, I found a damned curious sight on the first floor landing. I beheld a pentagram inscribed on the its floorboards, complete with still-burning candle at each corner of the star! Placed withing was a short sword, fashioned in the style of ancient Rome. The blade practically burned with the candle-lit reflections of strange runes. Crouching down to get a closer inspection, I noted that the runes were not in any Latin that I was familiar with, nor did they seem to resemble any other earthly language.
Despite its puzzling appearence, I felt drawn to the weapon. The gladius practically pulsed with power, and I believed that I must have it to accomplish my goal. With a regrettable lack of caution, I passed within the confines of that magic circle and removed the sword.
Immediately, I felt a draining of energy, as thought part of my life's vitality was lost. I was momentarily stunned by the experience, and when I regained my composure, I carefully placed the blade back within the pentagram. Alas, it was to no avail.
I became aware that I was losing the day and grew anxious, so making haste, I left to keep my appointment with Joe Diamond at Hibb's Roadhouse. (2)
Arriving at Hibb's, I encountered a man outside, frantically throwing his personal items into the trunk of his car. He was excitedly talking to himself, and getting closer to better overhear him, I couldn't help but notice that his trunk was full of some very interesting items. He started when he sensed me behind him.
"Sir, you seem to be in distress. Can I help you?" I asked in my most unassuming tone of voice.
"Just stay out of my way, pal, 'cause I'm leaving this town," he replied.
"Any particular reason why?" I inquired.
"Why? Did you see the double sunset last night? I don't care what they claim about 'atmospheric gibbety-gook' - that just ain't natural. Plus, people walking around, muttering to themselves, and nudists jumping around in the town square. It ain't natural!
"Look," he continued. "I'm familiar with the weird. I sell weird junk for a living, but this place is too much for me."
"What kind of weird stuff..." I began to ask, but he had already slammed his trunk shut. He then hopped into his car and sped away, without so much as a wave goodbye.
Symptoms. Symptoms of a definite infection, but how long until it turned into a full-blown epidemic?
Joe Diamond jumped excitedly to his feet when he saw me enter. Without waiting for me to remove my hat and coat, he grabbed me by my upper arm and pulled me towards his table.
"You were right, Doc. You were right about everything."
He removed his notepad and quickly began updating me.
"I went to the graveyard, towards the historical section, just like you recommended. Honestly, I was just going to walk around for ten minutes or so, just to earn my salary, so to speak. Then I noticed a green glow coming from one of the tombstones. There was this weird, luminescent substance on it which spelled out this foreign word."
He pushed his open notepad towards me, presumedley with the word scrawled upon it.
"It's in some language I've never seen before, I thought you could figure out what it means."
I halted the sliding pad with an out-stretched hand before it reached my end of the table.
"Mr. Diamond, I believe this to be a word of power. Such words tend to disappear once said aloud. This word is for you, and I feel that you will require it in the near future."
He gave the page an intense look before tucking the tablet back into his coat pocket. Suddenly, he seemed to notice my well-worn appearence.
"My God, Doc, you look like hell!"
"I know. Part of a burning building fell on top of me last night, and things just seemed to get worse from there."
I told him of events since our last meeting. Then it was his turn.
"I went to Independence Square this morning. There were a group of young adults prancing about, hell they could have been some of your students. Well, anyway, they were rehearsing your play, the 'yellow' one, and they seemed to be carrying on with more debauchery than I've ever seen. More than I've encountered in even the seediest speak-easy, and I've been in quite a few.
"But this next part is what made me extremely nervous.
"They had this thing chained up within a clump of trees. It looked like a cross between a giant bat and a crow, only it stood like a man and was scarier than any bat that I've ever seen. I made it a point to avoid being detected after I noticed that freak of nature. That mouth looked like it could have chomped me up in just a few bites.
"So, Doc, tell me - what the hell was that thing, and what are we up against. and why in the hell did you get me involved?"
"Mr. Diamond, that strange creature was a 'byakhee', and its resemblence to anything terrestrial is superficial at best. It belongs to a race of creatures that serve our nemesis. They are semi-intelligent and capable of flying at great speeds through the ether. They are also very dangerous. Since you have encountered such a thing already, I must warn you to avoid any other strange creatures that you come across.
There will likely be many more. Some might scurry close to the ground and avoid easy detection, some resemble formless masses of darkness that will grab you unawares, and some are house-sized, terrifying monstrosities. Fight and kill them if you must, but never attempt to entreat with any of them. They are either servents of darkness, or they are malignants that are taking advantage of our town's weakened state.
"Answering your second question is much trickier. There is no definitive answer to what we are facing, but I believe that the machinator of this horrible mess is an entity known as 'The King in Yellow,' from whence the play gets its name. Depending one the grimoire, it is also known as 'The Tattered King' or the clumsier 'He-Who-Is-Not-To-Be-Named.' This 'king' is either the major-domo of, or the manifestation of, a greater being who is named Hastur by his earthly worshippers. My research reveals conflicted opinions on what this being actually is. A Professor Derleth views the thing as an all-powerful elemental of the air, while a Mr. Samuel Pearlman has named him as a patron god of interstellar travel. Most do consider him an ancient god, and a vocal minority believe him to be a physical embodiment of entropy itself. Regardless, he is extremely old, perhaps as old as the beginning of time, and I'm sure he has learned to thrive depite any attempt at opposition.
"This old one consistently feeds by sapping the will from intelligent beings, which has the added effect of increasing the level of entropy in our universe. I do not know if this is his ultimate goal or just a side-effect of his continued existence. I do know that he has learned long ago to use decadence and ennui as tools to successfully feed while on Earth, and I fear that he will not be completely sated until our world has died a stagnant death.
"Thankfully, he is confined to his world which is located in an adjacent dimension. Our worlds are separated by practically impenatrable and incomprehensible barriers, which is the only reason our very different realities can co-exist. However, due to Hastur's strength and cunning, he can periodically push his aspect into our realm, with varying degrees of success.
"Usually, he only bends the wall between our worlds enough to affect a few chosen people. Sensitives and artistic types are especially prone to its touch. Perhaps he unintentionally influences an Edgar Allen Poe or a Charlotte Perkins Gilman, along with his usual worshippers and servants. Perhaps he manipulates someone important into committing an atrocity, allowing him to gorge himself. Who can really tell what he has been responsible for? He will continue to use his puppets to meet his needs for as long as he can. Eventually, an equal force will oppose him, or the barrier will rebound and send him back from whence he came.
"This time, however, he will try to breakthrough completely, doing what he wills until he accomplishes whatever inscrutible goal he has set for himself. Unfortunately, that is what we are up against.
"Your last question is the easiest to answer. I chose you because I needed someone to help me. Someone courageous enough to track down and bring the Worchester killer to justice. Also, someone who was strong-willed enough to stick to his convictions, regardless of the personal costs.
"You see, most people would have been content to bask in the glory of ending the reign of a pathological murderer. Few would ignore the accolades and risk the wrath of the powers-that-be by insisting that there was more going on that meets the eye. Fewer still would continue to pester the authorities and the press about supernatural events surrounding the case until they were made to feel unwelcome by a once grateful town.
"Interestingly enough, Arkham does seem to be the only place in the Boston area where such individuals are generally accepted. I, myself would have probably been sent on a permanent sabbatical if I lectured at a different university."
"Well you've done your homework. I'll give you that. But here's an even more important question:
"What do we do next?"
I handed him the gladius, wrapped in an old blanket.
"You will need this. I hope it will make your tasks less difficult, because acquiring it has cost me dearly."
"It looks amazing," he remarked as he unwrapped it. "Did you take this from the university?"
I stared at the runes as they flashed in the ambient light of Hibb's.
"Be at ease, Mr. Diamond, I paid for the sword fair and square."
He wisely re-wrapped it before it attracted too much attention.
"Mr. Diamond, our task now becomes much more difficult. Do you remember those 'dimensional weaknesses' I told you about earlier? They will eventually become gateways leading to other worlds and realities- places where The Tattered King has more of an active prescence.
"He will use these gates to send forth his servants and spread his influence. Once he creates a large enough doorway into our world, he will be able to travel here in person. It is our task to close these doors and prevent this from happening.
"Our foe is not unprepared for such attempts, and consequently, these gates must be closed from the inside. We must therefore enter into one of his realms, then find the opening again once within. Since the realities on the other side tend to operate under different physical laws, the entrance and exit portals are rarely in the same place, and making matters more complicated, we must search until we find them.
"When we find the way back, we must yell a word of power or otherwise get the portal to close and step back into our world. Have you followed what I have been saying so far?"
"Yeah. I got it."
He had reproduced his notepad and was writing down everything I had said.
"This is most important: when you reenter our world, you must inscribe an elder sign on something permanent, in front of the area where the gate was. An elder sign resembles a bent pentagram with a flaming eye in the middle."
I opened one of my books to a marked page and displayed one for him. He meticulously copied it down.
"There is already a gate at the Unvisited Isle. I would like you to travel there and seal it. Remember, it may feel as though you are dreaming after passing through the portal. Be mindful that you are not.
It can be very dangerous on the other side of a gateway, and an unprepared man can easily get himself killed."
"Where are you going, Doc?"
"I'm going to church. I've got a sickness inside, and I'm hoping Father Michael can help me with it. Rest assured, my efforts will be comparable to yours. We must begin anew tonignt."
Joe eyed me with some concern, "If you say so, Doc, but I think you could use some rest."
"I'll be fine. Oh, and if you don't wish to call me professor, you may address me as 'Harvey'. We mustn't trouble ourselves with formalities with such an uncertain future."
It was early evening when we left Hibb's Roadhouse. The moon was low on the horizon, shining huge and bright, almost painful to observe. The sky was apparently full of bad omens, and I couldn't shake the feeling that we were pointlessly outmatched.
Pulling my little rowboat ashore, I tried to be as silent as possible. I had thought that the night would provide great cover, but that damned moon was a spotlight when you were out in the open. I quickly moved within the long shadows of the trees. I didn't know exactly what I would find on this island, but years of work in my profession had taught me to always be careful. It took a moment to get my bearings.
There! I noticed a shimmering of lights in those distant trees. Whatever it was, I could sense that it wasn't natural, so that would be my objective. My destination fixed, I crept into the woods, trench-coat pulled tight and .45 at the ready.
After a few minutes of trekking I could now see the lights just a little further ahead of me. Unfortunately, there was another one of those bat-things between me and my goal. The professor said that they were incredibly dangerous, but I'm guessing that it works against them. They seem almost carelessly overconfident. I was able to get close enough behind this one to point my pistol just a few feet from its skull. Hardly fair-play, but I'd be damned if I let this freak even get a good look at me.
I stopped myself before pulling the trigger. Stupid! What if there were a whole other group of actors here? I'm sure they would hear the gunshot, and probably want my blood for blowing our the brains of their pet monster.
I carefully removed Doc's sword from its wrappings instead. It began vibrating in my hand, as though it was begging to be used, so I obliged it. I grabbed the grip with both hands, and raising it above my head, brought it plunging down, pointward into the base of that beast's neck.
It must have gone through its throat on the other side, because it opened its beak-like mouth in agony, but no sound came out as it died thrashing on the ground. However, there had been a loud thud, and I guess that was enough to alert a previously undetected guard.
A man lept up, a mere ten feet away, and rushed me. I pulled my gore-spattered sword up (or my sword pulled my arms up, I'm not sure which), and my attacker instantly impaled himself from his own momentum.
His robed body slid of my blade, and he lay next to his playmate, breathing his last. His face was locked in a rictus of pain and rage, but his made it a point to fix me with his hate-filled eyes.
I left him to ponder what was left of his mortality, and investigated his hidey-hole. There was a sleeping bag laid out in a small, concealed cavity in the brush but little else. His sleeping arrangement was set next to what I now gathered was a small clearing. At one end was a glowing, circular opening that clashed jarringly with the surrounding woods.
The portal was framed by what appeared to be writhing coils of electricity, like a Tesla experiment gone amuck. Its intermittent flickering must have been responsible for the flashes of light I had seen. From within the ring, additional light and colors exuded, and as I moved a few steps closer, I could see that the opening seemed to lead into an unfamiliar, daylight-bathed world.
I continued walking closer, knowing that I was being drawn to it, but I was unable to consciously stop myself. Fortunately, a glimpse of movement in the corner of my eye, coupled with my survival instinct, caused me to turn abruptly. A large man was walking in my direction, holding what appeared to be a large watch fob outstretched before him. The fob (or was is a medallion?) was lifted to my eyes and began a spontaneous spinning. A three-armed yellow symbol had been imprinted onto its sides, and once it began to rotate, the symbol seemed to become three-dimensional, and curiously enough, its arms appeared to shift and move. I felt myself powerless to turn away from it.
The bastard had been doing a fair job of mesmerizing me, I'll give him that, but he made the mistake of stepping into the full light of the gateway. I recognized that craggy face and that foul, gapped-tooth grin.
"You!" I exclaimed as realization hit me. "I know you! You're on death row! I put you on death row!"
"Haven't you learned yet?" he practically purred at me. "The sigil of the Yellow King can release one from anywhere. Let it release you."
He continued his steady advance.
"OK, you son-of-a-bitch, let's see if it can release you from a shallow grave."
I raised my .45 automatic until it pointed directedly at his forehead.
My path to the church was fraught with frustration. My normal route appeared to have been flooded, so I was forced to take the longer path that would lead me back past the university. Upon reaching the Merchant District, I stopped in my tracks when I viewed a looming shape that was unexpectedly blocking my path.
I was just in time to see a shadowy figure running from it, fleeing into the protective darkness of the nearby buildings. My curiousity fully piqued, I moved to examine this unforseen obstacle.
I realized that I had been staring at the back of some sort of hastily constructed throne, complete with dais. It must be some form of experimental art, designed by the Miskatonic students, for the construct was fabricated out of charred timbers that most assuredly came from our gutted science building.
I couldn't help but chuckle over the gaudines of the thing. This throne was imprinted with even more bizarre knick-knacks and baubles than you would find residing in the jewelry boxes of the most eccentric collection of grandmothers. There was also quite the macabre element to its makeup. I had to step over an improvised footstool, which was nothing more than an over-turned aquarium filled with animal bones. Eerie, that.
A good measure of additional detritus was supporting and accenting its skeltal frame. Rows of milk bottles filled with various murky liquids lined the base of the right side of the chair, and mouldy books lined the other. A broken oil lamp supported an armrest. A cracked mirror was fastened to the top, where one would expect to find a familial crest. More large pieces of costume jewelry were imbeded in fractured, burnt timbers, which extended from the center posterior, forming a sunburst-like effect.
Though the design of it appeared rather random at first, I had to admit that the entire work held together nicely. It was quite the insightful tribute to the ersatz.
Then I gasped.
There was actual jewelry in the composition of the throne! That was a real pearl necklace that wove its way in and out of an armrest. Jeweled earrings were studded haphazardly into the wooden frame, and there was real silverware, golden ornaments, and diamonds (diamonds!) scattered throughout the strange seat. The idea that this thing could exist in the middle of a busy street, unmolested, was unfathomable to me. Perhaps it was a potential thief who fled into the darkness when I approached.
I confess that I felt some trepidation as I considered seating myself upon it. I might be viewed as a common pilferer or a deviant, neither one of which would boost my reputation if I were identified. However, I knew that I would forever condemn myself as a coward if I failed to try out such an anomaly.
Once seated, my ego burst forth from the sedated confines of my mind. I felt that I was master of all that I beheld. A galvanizing power began coursing through me, originating at all spots where my body had contact with the throne and spreading throughout my electrified flesh.
As the unknown energy pulsed within, my recent wounds closed and healed, and my damaged muscles reknitted themselves, stronger than before. The current quickly wound its way up to my brain, and then the visions began:
I beheld the brilliance of Aldebaren as I sat by a great body of water on a dying world. I clutched my skull in terror when I realized that Hastur, the Great Old One was stirring in the nearby depths. A large, full moon was rapidly rising on the horizon, appearing in front of a distant tower, blatantly defying all known laws of reality.
I pulled my mind away from the maddening scene
Strange, insect-like creatures relentlessly scuttled about on a dim planet, participating in terrible experiments, and pausing only long enough to worship their ancient gods. Again, terror struck when I realized that they held the brains of my brethren in liquid-filled cylinders.
I pulled my mind away from the maddening scene
I found myself back on my world, or what my world might become. Decaying men, draped in robes moved around my town, delivering packets that led to madness or death. Other men, unable to rationally deal with what their world had become, fled in droves to government-sponsored suicide booths. Many others walked around masked, either to hide their twisted insanity, or conversely, to conceal their complete lack of expression.
I pulled my mind away from the maddening scene
Enough! I could take no more! I fought the galvanizing spasms in my body and wrenched myself from the chair. I began laughing. How naive I was! Symptoms. I had thought my town was suffering from symptoms. This town, myself included, had been fully diseased for quite a while already. This throne was proof that Hastur had already been preparing us for his arrival by sickening the minds of many of my fellow citizens.
Speaking for myself, I possessed malarial chills, the inflammed brain of a hydrophobic, and a syphilitic madness to top it all off. Oh, yes. I had been a very bad lad, sticking my nose where it didn't belong, and had become thoroughly infected as a consequence.
I continued my journey towards the church, loping with newly strengthened legs, pushing past the occasional startled passerby.
I never got the chance to dig that shallow grave I had promised, because I got drawn right through that gate and into a waking dream. Oh well, the body of that bat-thing would likely give any coroner fits and turn any potential murder investigations topsy-turvy anyway.
I found that I was in a lightly wooded area, similar to where I came from, but the coloration seemed a little off. The normal browns and greens I would expect were grayed out, and the remaining colors had a pastel tint to them.
What was more disconcerting was the tendency of the plant-life to move when viewed from the corner of my eye. I would keep swinging my head to and fro, attempting to catch what might be sneaking up on me, only to have everything stand motionless when I stared directly at it.
Hmmm... My pistol and right arm were covered in that madman's splattered blood. It wouldn't do to be seen like that - I might as well just escort myself to the slammer. I reached down for some of the graphite-colored vegetation to use as an impromptu towel, but the blood responded to my desire and began removing itself in long, ropey strands, drifting away to Lord only knows where.
Feeling experimental, I had begun to wish my clothes mended and new when I felt a notable drop in the air pressure around me. Startled, I turned to see a huge vortex spinning in the air, a horizontal tornado with its wide funnel pointed in my direction. Small twigs and leaves began vibrating, then lifted and skittered past me, towards that awful opening. The vortex continued to grow in strength, and I began to be dragged along also. I fought it furiously, grabbing a tree trunk, being pulled from it, then quickly grabbing another one. I had to knock away bouncing limbs and stones as they sped past me, and dirt and debris continually blinded me, making my efforts more difficult. I fought with determination, refusing to surrender. I must keep my footing or I was lost!
It ended as quickly as it began. When I was able to open my eyes I found myself standing in a tranquil field, with no idea how I ended up there.
All around me were blooming lotuses. I could hear low voices from every direction, apparently the sounds of people engaged in their own personal conversations, but I couldn't locate a single guy or gal.
I was drawn to the flickering light of what could only be another gate at the crown of a nearby hill, and I made my way towards it.
I occasionally slowed down and eavesdropped on many of the private conversations during my walk to the gate. It's remarkable what a guy can learn from people when they think that no one's listening, and in my job it's necessary to not let scruples get in the way of learning something that could prove to be vitally important.
Admittedly, the whole situation was a little unnerving, and I ended up hurrying to the hill because I felt the need to leave this place as quickly as I could. I reached the gate and the word of power sprang to my lips unbidden.
"ROCOMAREV!" I yelled.
Immediately, a wave of energies that I had felt flowing past me into the portal halted and reversed itself, streaming back out of the portal and curving around me like an electrically charged wind. The gateway began shrinking perceptibly, so I quickly passed through it, having no desire to remain in this odd place.
I stepped into my own world in relief, before noticing that I was not back at the Unvisited Isle. Strangely enough, I had reentered Arkham at the historic Witch House.
First things first.
I withdrew my short blade and carved the required star symbol into a large tree, one which stood directly in my path after exiting the gate. I followed the professor's directions, and when I was done, the star flared with a bright, white light, before fading back into the color of natural pulp.
I was expecting another guard, and sure enough, another robed madman was rushing me, coming from the direction of the house. With little time for stealth, I was forced to quickly dispatch him with my pistol before fleeing into the surrounding woods.
I was worried about the number of bodies I was leaving in my wake, and decided it would be best to get away from my handiwork as soon as possible. From the woods surrounding the house, I was able to make my way into the deeper forest enclosing Arkham. Thankfully, the sun was rising when I exited the gate, so I was able to avoid breaking my neck while lumbering through the brambles like some hunted animal. Eventually, I circled around to the north side of town, and decided to rest in the woods adjoing the Uptown Streets.
I had found a small, cleared area which looked like an ideal spot for a breather. Someone else had already beat me there, because I found a painting mounted on an easel and a set of paints next to a moss-covered log. I got the impression that the painting was incomplete, but I admit that I don't know a hell of a lot about art.
The subject of the picture was, unsuprisingly, the surrounding woods, but there were a bunch of misty, yellowed tentacles weaving in and out of the copied trees. They were painted in such a way that they appeared to come to the foreground and grasp at the observer. It gave me a strange feeling, so I threw it on the ground. Seeing no sign of the artist, I continued to scour the area for anything else of value.
There were several beer bottles partially hidden under a pile of leaves. My heart was broken after I excitedly picked them up, only to realize that they were completely devoid of any beer. In an old surplus knapsack, next to the easel, I found the artist's paintbox and half a chicken sandwich, wrapped in wax paper. I quickly devoured the sandwich and continued my rummaging. Underneath the paints I found a crudely bound manuscript. "Understudy's Script" was stamped on the title page. I guess my absent Van Gogh was one of those fruity actors.
I skimmed the script, but all of those high-falutin' words made my sleep-deprived brain hurt. I determined that I would leave that kind of stuff for the professor, and rested my head on the moss.
I allowed myself a short nap before I decided it was time to get moving again. I hung onto the script, and grabbed the painting as an afterthought. You never know, it seems like the damndest things come in handy in this strange town. Perhaps Doc would want that too.
I had just entered the Uptown Streets when some wide-eyed joe barreled right into me.
"What's the rush, Bub?" I asked him (getting a handful of his shirt in the process of keeping him upright).
"Leggo of me. They're rioting in the streets!"
"Who's rioting? Where?"
"Half the town. Everywhere! Now unhand me before you get us both killed!"
I gripped him tighter. "You're not going anywhere until you slow down and tell me what exactly is going on. The less questions I have to ask, the quicker I let you go. Got that?"
He nodded and spilled his guts, "There was a big matinee performance of 'The King in Yellow'. I guess it was working people up inside the theater, and somehow, during the first intermission, a fire broke out backstage. The audience had to run out, and I guess trampling each other put them in a foul mood, 'cause it wasn't too long before Mr. Jeffries had them all worked up into a frenzy.
"The actors and producers came out and promised that everyone would get to see a free performance soon enough, but they acted all condescending-like. They kept laughing at and mocking the ones who had gotten hurt in the stampede and soon enough the crowd just exploded into a rage".
I released him and rubbed my aching head. Weren't they just rehearsing the play earlier? How long was I gone from this place? Why in God's name would Doyle Jeffries help start a riot?
I could hear shouting and screaming in the distance. It sounded like the rioters were coming from the direction of the university and getting closer.
"We had better get going," my interrogatee warned. "The rioters are burning and smashing and stomping anyone who doesn't join up with them."
"Wait a minute - how do you know all of this?"
His fearful face instantly tranformed into a mocking sneer.
"That fire was no accident!" he spat and fled from me, running to the southside church district.
I was supposed to meet Harvey at the church! Would he still be there? I would have to check, at least. With the rioters practically on my heals, I ran towards the South Church.
END OF PART 1
(1) Admittedly, "Summon the Beast within" increases your Combat rating, not your Fight skill, and wouldn't have made a difference anyway. However, it was a good excuse to activate the spell from a narrative perspective.
(2) Okay, trading a curse for an unique item seems foolish in retrospect. I could identify the moment that I could not successfully cast "Arcane Insight" as the moment that the game got exponentially more difficult. But I challenge any of you, especially fromer role-players, to pass up the chance to acquire a magic sword. (Shouldn't your cleric be able to fix you with a "Remove Curse" spell, anyway?)