A Book at Bedtime
It takes a couple of weeks to trek back to Manchester.
Harry Pike, manages to shake off his foreboding of doom but decides that the Gypsy Bone must be cursed and vows never to use it again [GM:his first attempt to use it botched and backlashed badly].
Clara is intrigued by the Necromantic Tome. Each evening, she studies it until she can stay awake no longer. It is in latin but much of it appears to have been copied and translated from ancient greek during roman times with additional sections having been added in the dark ages. A number of necromantic processes are described…
- How to turn a living person into a zombie-like state. A temporary change that grants additional strength, pain resistance and tremendous regenerative powers to the victim in exchange for the zombie-like appearance, reduced mental faculties and slavish obedience.
- Animating a corpse as an almost mindless shambling slave
- Calling the departed spirit back into its body
- Using a series of tattoos to grant magical toughness, strength and regeneration
- Animating a severed limb with minimal intellect and imposing the owner’s will into it
The book is interspersed with sections from Revelations that talks about the end of the world, four horsemen of the apocalypse and the rise of a terrible monster. It is similar, but not exactly the same as the known biblical text. Seems to be based on an earlier common text.
Finally, the book contains many pages of astrological tables, which Clara can tell describe the positions of hundreds of stars and seems to focus a lot on a constellation called Ophicius and is an image of a man grappling with a large serpent.
Back in Manchester, Dr Dee is pleased to see them. He has been growing more concerned. Harry gets paid for the return of the book (and secretly for the safe return of Clara). The others were volunteers on this mission.
Dee claims to have heightened magical senses and is horrified by the amount of corruption emanating from the book. He decides to cut out the astrological pages and destroy the rest of the book but asks the companions to assist him as he is worried that something might happen. He will send away the rest of the resident priests and serving staff so they can use the old chapel building undisturbed tomorrow afternoon as it would be best to deal with this during daylight and in a consecrated place.
Harry and Ezekiel retire to a local tavern for the night while Clara returns to her home, a small house in the college grounds with a single old serving woman. Masa has his own sleeping cell in the College.
The following afternoon, Saturday, June 2nd 1601, when all the other residents have been sent away, they meet to deal with the book. Dee has placed it on the altar table and surrounded it with magic circles, pentacles, a ring of salt and numerous candles. He is waiting for them at the door, stroking the scruffy-looking college cat, Ratso. It’s a friendly creature and keeps the rat population in check, although he only eats the heads and always leaves the bodies by the door,
While Dee is thus distracted, Clara slips into the Chapel and investigates the Altar and the book, disturbing the magical protections. Dee blames himself for not having warned her and for not including the Arts in her education. It will take him a few hours to replace the magical protections so now the ceremony will take place just after sundown. He tries to explain to Clara what he is doing and that magic is becoming “too easy” these days.
As the time approaches, the heroes take their positions. Dee says that all these preparations might be for nothing, but wants to err on the side of caution. His magic circles should imprison anything that emerges and the holiness of the Altar should burn its evil away in a few moments. He warns them not to enter the circle, even if he is in danger. Then he starts to cut out the first of the pages.
A wind gutters all the candles, sending shadows into every corner. Then black smoke begins to pour from the book. It flows over the altar onto the floor and spreads like a low mist. Dr Dee exclaims whenit rolls past the magical protections!
in moments the flow increases to a raging torrent. It spills across to the walls and then the level rises. In seconds the entire room is black, floor to vaulted ceiling.For each of the people trapped in the dark, sounds are deadened and they feel isolated and afraid.
Some time later, possibly days or even weeks…
Harry Pike is confused, he’s not sure how he got here but it’s hot and dark, he is standing knee-deep in warm black water, near the edge of some kind of vast lake, fringed by strange trees. The night is full of noises, chirps and croaks he’s never heard before. Something brushes past his leg, something long and rough. Snake! Since the terrifying vision caused by the gypsy witch’s foretelling bone, he has had bad dreams about snakes. Three v-shaped heads break the surface. Harry fights, runs, is pursued onto the shore. When he hits one of heads, the others twitch in pain too and he realises they are linked. Although they each have their own eyes and mouth, they are apparently tentacles of some larger creature. He manages to crush them and stands facing the dark water as hundreds more begin to emerge.
Ezekiel doesn’t remember the journey from Manchester to the graveyard in cheshire where he buried his wife and child. But here he is, kneeling in the dirt, scrabbling to get the last few clumps of earth from the coffin lid. Ever since Clara Dee had told him what she had read in the Book, he had been racing here, panicked, feverish. Perhaps they were still alive, even now, even after all these months. Oh God, perhaps they had still been alive when he buried them. He tore the lid off and saw the scratches and broken nails on the underside. Bile rose in his throat. He saw the contorted faces and wept. then they reached for him and tore at his flesh. He was forced to smash his dead daughter’s face in with the butt of his crossbow and then scramble backwards to get a clear shot at his wife.
Clara felt as if she was waking from a drugged sleep. She was strapped to a table in a dimly-lit cellar. She was shaking from the closed-in space even before she felt the light touch stroking her arms. The patchwork zombie face of Mrs Swann appeared above her, talking across her to Dr Swann. “These will do nicely. strong but still elegant.” The demonic face pulled back and the Dr leaned over, raising his bonesaw. Panic flooded Clara and she tore free of the table. she managed to draw her rapier and wounded the Doctor, but the zombie was too strong, she was going to die in this terrible place…
Hattori Masashige wasn’t sure if it was because of his arcane training, but he felt he had not succumbed to the fever dreams that had assailed his companions. as the smoke faded, he could see their sweating, tired faces, and see Dr Dee, slumped over the Altar, still twitching and moaning. Then he caught sight of movement in one of the doorways as a ninja, slipped out of the shadows, his long narrow blade glistening with arcane energy. This wasn’t just common ninja, but like Masa himself, an adept with arcane training. He crossed the room and skewered Ezekiel. The man had no chance against the unexpected attack, blood bubbled in his throat, another strike and he would be dead. The ninja muttered a summoning, calling to a powerful Oni. It would only take three substantial wounds to complete the call.
A second ninja, sword glowing, like the first, came from the other doorway and struck Masa, he too was chanting the summoning call. One more bloodletting would do it. Masa struck back but their blades clashed. Clara and Harry rushed to Ezekiel’s aid but the ninja was too skilled. He parried the maul and sent the rapier spinning away into the darkness then thrust again through Ezekiel’s throat. Masa watched the corpse of his friend fall and heard the final syllable of the summoning spell. In the doorway of the church stood the Oni. Twice as tall as a man and heavily built. He had a single curved horn jutting from his forehead. A silvery thread poured out of Ezekiel’s eyes and mouth and shot across the room to be inhaled by the Oni. “Ahhh…”. The creature licked its lips. “Shall the rest of your friends die, or will you yield?”. Masa knew that Ezekiel’s spirit had been consumed and taken down into one of the special hells. He made the Oni swear to let the others live and then plunged his own blade into his guts.
They were all stunned by their own visions of horror and despair. But they were back in the room and each seemed to have somehow come through the ordeal. A groan from the old man slumped by the Altar, then he stood and a faint glow of golden feathered wings rose above him, just for a moment. “I’m sorry my friends, I underestimated the danger.”. Quickly he finished cutting out the pages he wanted and then burned the rest of the book.
They exchanged stories about their ordeals and learned about Dee’s. He had spoken with the angel Uriel, more clearly than ever before. Then Uriel had laughed and told him it had all been a trick to bring them to this moment. The angel revealed himself to be Satan. Dee had prayed and believed this must be a false vision and the strength of his faith had eventually snapped him out of it.
Afterwards, he gave the pages to Clara and asked them all to undertake a much longer mission. He had a colleague in Prague – Tycho Brae, a famous astronomer. Tycho should be able to decipher the astrological tables and workout how long they have left and where on earth the stars would have these exact positions. He suggested taking a ship from Liverpool to Plymouth, from there cross to Le Havre, then Paris, Strasburg, Nuremburg and thence to Prague. This route would avoid the disputed territories of the Low Countries where war still simmered with the Spanish and also avoid going back to London (Harry Pike seemed keen to avoid London).
The next morning the body of the old college groundskeeper was found on the steps of the church building. Just the body, no sign of the head. It appeared to have been torn off rather than cut. There were a couple of cutlass-sized cuts on the body. The attack seemed to have happened in the man’s little shack. The furniture and the door were smashed. Eventually they found tracks where the body had been dragged to the church and dumped. There were additional tracks, apparently a tiger, a big tiger!
“It’s the cat!” Harry seemed sure. Clara remembered that Ratso had indeed been nearby when the darkness poured out of the Book. While the others prepared weapons,
Clara went looking for the cat, with a saucer of milk. Ratso came trotting to her. She scooped him up and carried him around the back of the church…