Monday 15 May 2023

The Vanishing Conjuror

 Now that our initial series of interlinked scenarios is over (at least for the moment!) I'll try to post a bit more often in shorter bites. The three characters' ship, the Mauretania, docks at Southampton and is boarded by a group of police from Scotland Yard. They are led by the rather stolid and ineffably boring Inspector Henry Long, who insists on questioning them personally in private. In a monotone, he thanks the Captain for his time.

 Once inside, the Inspector throws off his external demeanor and turns out to be incredibly quick-witted and incisive. He says the Gorgon Sisters gave him advance warning to look out for the investigators, but he had no idea of the things they would end up doing on board the liner. A conversation ensues about Bolsheviks and cultists before he thanks them for doing their jobs and saving the three academics from Miskatonic University. He also says he will be their main contact in London from now on, giving them his card with direct telephone number. He then resumes his persona as the efficiently dull inspector and leads them out onto the deck. He tells them in trademark monotone to stay in London for a couple of weeks in case he has any further questions, but they are free to go. 

Once they have settled into their rather lovely hotel (courtesy of the Gorgons via the Inspector) they receive a handwritten note from the concierge. It's from Howard Horne, one of their favourite drinking companions from the trip. He is a theatrical agent and entrepreneur and his note is asking them to go to a performance that evening at the Mermaid Theatre; he will join them at the interval.

So off they troupe and boy is it dull: a series of mediocre conjuring acts topped off by the rather middling "Amazing Karl". Afterwards, Horne treats them to a visit to one of his well-known Soho haunts, a bar where another American is waiting for them. Horne introduces him as one of his acts, an up and coming stage magician named Will Crowther. He is from Boston and has been living in London for the last two years.

Horne asks the characters what they thought of the evening's entertainment and the consensus is not a good one. This pleases him because the one he really wanted them to see was Karl. One of his promising acts, Philip Leclair, mentioned to Horne that he was working with Karl on a new apparatus designed to revolutionize the vanishing act. However, on returning to London Horne has found that it is Leclair who has vanished and the police have found nothing. The thing is, there's quite a major charity gig at the same theatre in two nights' time and Karl is due to perform; Horne wants to know if he has stolen Leclair's ideas as well as finding out if the man is still alive.

This is where Crowther comes into the picture. Along with Karl and Leclair, he is a member of a gentleman magicians' club, rather a fine one run by a Chinese conjuror going by the name of Ching Lung Soo. The club is situated in the lower floors of a large townhouse owned by Ching Lung; the upper floor is his apartment. It's a big house for London, so Ching Lung must have made a lot of money abroad at one point. Crowther apologizes to Violet and Isobel and turns to Scott (Thomas' character), asking him if he has any sleight of hand tricks that he might be able to use to gain entry for himself to the club as a performer. Scott has a relatively high skill at throwing things, courtesy of his time in the ancient Roman army, so he shows Crowther a possible way to sleight his way through a performance of the throwing knives trick. His new found friend tells him to be at the clubhouse at 11.00 the next morning for an audition. If he fails, the group will just have to rely on Crowther to do some snooping on their behalf.

Scott gets in with no problem and is in fact complimented on his technique by one of the members of the admissions committee. He spends an amiable afternoon wandering around the place, although as a new first level member he is not entitled to go upstairs. He notes that all of the flunkies are Chinese members of Ching Lung's personal staff. They all wear a robe with a dragoon motif on the back, which is incidentally also inscribed on the plaque at the front door:

After a while, Crowther appears and falls into conversation almost naturally with the newcomer. Scott has found a storage room while wandering around the ground floor; it contains lockers for the use of members, one of which has Leclair's initials on it. He wasn't able to pick the padlock, though - could Crowther perhaps oblige? He does so surreptitiously and returns. The two of them converse for a while under the guise of Crowther showing Scott around the main library, then decide to go to the pub where they met the previous evening, which is going to be the rendezvous point while they are in London. Crowther passes Scott a notebook belonging to Leclair that includes more notes for his mechanism and mentions that he has been working on it with Karl. which makes the young German a possible accessory if indeed a crime has taken place.

In the meantime, Isobel and Violet have decided to pay a return visit to the theatre to see if they can find anything interesting or indeed incriminating in relation to Leclair's disappearance and/or the upcoming charity event. Isobel fails to pick the locks on the exits to a side alley, so Violet forces one of them. Unfortunately, this makes a lot of noise, so Isobel runs into the lobby of the theatre to warn the bored woman she meets there that she heard something at the side entrance. Violet slips inside while Isobel keeps their day manager talking and makes her way to the back of the stage and down into the large basement area under the stage. She finds an impressive dressing room with the name of one Ching Lung upon it, along with several smaller rooms, including one for Karl Weiss. 

Ching Lung's room is surprisingly empty, but Karl's contains three large packing crates. They are not locked or anything like that, so she lifts the lids to see what is inside: three stone components that will fit together to make an impressive archway (a gate), with a Chinese dragon sigil carved into the lintel. The room goes decidedly cold all of a sudden and this is what she sees:

Poor old Leclair is suspended in midair, surrounded by blue flames and in agony. He catches sight of her and manages to squeeze out a warning, something about releasing him by opening the gate and also needing to stop the Chinese man. He then fades from sight. This costs Violet a point of sanity.

She replaces everything and makes her way back upstairs. She definitely feels spooked by what she has just seen and makes quite a bit of noise on the way. Fortunately, though, Isobel covers for her with the manager until Violet has safely left the building. The two meet up again and head off to their rendezvous pub.

Everyone fills in everyone else on their various escapades that day. They have dinner in the pub and then head off to their hotel. Violet has no knowledge of gates from her Mythos knowledge, but starts to look through the various books she was given on the Mauretania. This is going to take a while, so she sets the morning aside to do more research while the other two head off to Leclair's lodgings (address obligingly supplied by Horne), but this turns out to be a bit of a dead end. Returning to the hotel, they find that Violet has enough information to realize that the archway she found is a very particular form of gate, one that is keyed to a specific place or creature and that requires a ritual to open correctly. This is completely unlike the gate they found under an abandoned house in America. Violet thinks that Leclair must have been shoved through the gateway without the ritual and so is stuck between worlds. This tallies with Scott's ideas about the magic circle he has just joined - it really does look like a front for a cult. Maybe Leclair found out something a bit too sensitive?

The implications are worrying - if the Chinese magician is really the leader of a cult, and if his summoning arch is at the theatre, then presumably his act is only going to become rather too real. They call Inspector Long and he agrees to infiltrate the theatre with armed police on the grounds of subversive activities. The plan is for his people to wait long enough for Leclair to materialize and then take out the magus; subordinates will apprehend the rest of the cultists and shepherd out the crowd. This is a rather well-known charity occasion, so there will be some of the aristocracy present, even perhaps minor royalty. The presence of armed police there will not be too unusual, even for Britain. It will be the job of the investigators to use their Elder Signs to stop whatever is coming through that gate.

In the event, it actually works. The Inspector and his two armed compatriots wait until the gate pulses ominously and then put three bullets neatly straight into Ching Lung's torso. He goes down and out. Panic breaks out but the players, whose seats are nearest the stage, manage to rush up the stairs and force back whatever that thing is. Leclair's smoldering yet strangely unburned body is lying in the middle of the floor, twitching, so at least he's alive. Something very large but, fortunately, as yet unseen, is trying to slurp its way through the gateway, tittering obscenely. However, all three characters make it in time to present a united front and whatever it was returns whence it came.

This is the second time in quick succession that the group has foiled a ritual summoning. They still don't know exactly what either thing was, and probably don't want to know. In her books, Violet manages to find an illustration of a blobby thing with lots of tentacles and mouths, about twice the size of a human, that can apparently only be seen once it starts to feed on the blood of its victims...


  1. Fantastic story line - you were giving me goose bumps

  2. Thanks! This was an old Games Workshop scenario from the mid-80s (I still have my original). They did quite a lot of really good work back then - innovative.