Jonathan Asbatch received a letter from Baronet Godfrey Sommers, a minor Conservative minister in the House of Lords and the father of Arthur Sommers, one of Jonathan’s university friends, asking to meet him at the Wyndam Club the following evening on a matter of grave urgency and of the utmost delicacy.
Jonathan met up with Sommers, a tall broad shouldered and dour man in his late sixties, bald headed with an iron-grey forked beard and sharp, flinty eyes, who was accompanied by his solicitor Mr. Clarence, a non-descript, humourless, late middle aged man in the Strangers Room of the Wyndam Cub, off St. James Square.
Sommers shook hands with Jonathan and introduced him to Mr. Clarence after offering him a drink and cigar. Informing Jonathan that Mr. Clarence had all of the pertinent information and that it is Mr. Clarence that he wished Jonathan to report to during his investigation.
Mr. Clarence informed Jonathan that Arthur Sommers had gone missing under mysterious circumstances some eight days previously. He had recently become somewhat estranged from his father and disquieting rumours had reached their ears that he had been seen keeping company with some undesirable characters in the West End. Adding to this, there appeared to be some form of altercation in Arthur’s apartments the night that he had vanished and that in the weeks prior to this event, his communications with his father were infrequent. It was feared that Arthur had gotten himself into difficulties and so his father had taken steps to keep the matter out of the newspapers and to minimise police involvement in an attempt to avoid any scandal.
Four days before the meeting with Jonathan, matters had taken a darker turn when they had received what appeared to be a blackmail letter of some kind, making dark hints as to Arthur’s fate and enclosing a key to his apartment as proof. Left with no option, it was determined to pay the blackmailer for news of Arthur’s whereabouts and to keep the villain’s silence. Clarence travelled on the Baronet’s behalf to the rendezvous as indicated on the note. However, he was approached by nobody for the money that he had brought and since then there had been no further contact from the man, nor had there been any sign of Arthur.
At the end of the solicitor’s explanation, Mr. Clarence explained that, as a gentleman and friend of Arthur, who in turn, spoke highly of him to the Baronet in his correspondence, it was hoped that he would be able to locate the man, or, at least uncover what had befallen him by looking into the affair more closely.
Agreeing to aid the Baronet, Sommers senior thanked Jonathan and departed, leaving Clarence to take care of the more practical matters. Clarence provided him with the key to Sommers’ apartment and offered him a retainer of twenty pounds per day for the duration of his investigations. He also suggested that Jonathan may like to talk to Peter Blaylocke, a friend of both Arthur’s and Jonathan’s. The two men had had a tremendous fight a few weeks previously.
It was decided to check out Arthur’s apartment first. Outside the building, a respectable Georgian terrace, Jonathan, had a strange feeling that they were being watched and out of the corner of his eye he could have sworn he saw movement, however upon closer inspection there was nothing there.
Upon knocking on the door, the investigators were met by Mr. and Mrs. Giles, the housekeepers of the apartments, who informed them that Arthur was a good tenant who had never really caused any bother and that they too were concerned for his well being and whereabouts. They informed the investigators that they had slept through the incidents, but that they should talk to Marcus Borelli who lived in the apartment above Arthur’s. Mr. Giles then happily showed them to Arthur’s apartment, where it was observed that there had been no sign of forced entry, saying that it had been left exactly as it was at the request of Inspector Harry Bridger of Scotland Yard.
Inside Arthur’s apartment’s sitting room, it was immediately apparent that there had been signs of violence, with two armchairs that had been overturned, the contents of a bureau spilled out onto the floor and several scuff marks and scrapes on the floorboards, as if several people had fought in the room. Upon further investigation, Edith noticed a single arcing blood splash against the dark flock wallpaper and a few blood spots on the floor leading to the door. Jonathan also found what appeared to be another blackmail note (this time addressed to Arthur) hidden inside the pages of a book entitled My Years Among the Natives by the Rev. W.F. Baines, details below:
To Arthur Sommers esq.
Sir, know that your sins have found you out.
Surely not even the wiles of so beautiful a creature can have blinded you to the depths to which she has had you sink for her amusement or to the terrible danger you are now in.
If you have no care for your own life and reputation, then what of that of your father and your family? Would you have them smeared with the taint and filth of what you have become? Would you have your family’s good name become a byword for licentiousness and sin? Are you so base as to ignore what such a scandal would do?
Unless you wish for all the dreadful consequences of your actions to come to pass and your worst fears to be realised, you must do as I say.
Only I can save you, only I can make the scales fall from your eyes and see the way clear for you to make amends. Only I can save your life.
Go to Purbrights the pawnbrokers on Fall Row in Limehouse, and ask for the man Jakeswill there, he will instruct you further how to contact me,
Go soon if you value your life and your family’s name.
Your friend, S.
Also discovered in the room was a small calibre bullet in the wall where it had passed through the mirror over the mantelpiece, several half written poems eulogising the beauty of “this Eastern Empress of Dark Splendour”, some half started letters addressed to Arthur’s father in a noticeably shakier hand and a couple of small clumps of straw that had a faintly cloying perfume smell. Penelope holding one of the clumps of straw used her gift of psychometry, falling into a trance, which Harry found to be unnerving. In her vision, Penelope saw an animated humanoid creature made of straw, boiled fat, leaves, tears, chicken bones and old rags being assembled by a hauntingly beautiful woman with dark brown hair. She then saw other similar creatures as they went into a room and fought two men, one of whom fled the room before she could see his features, the other was captured and carried out to a carriage and driven off into the night.
Checking the rest of Arthur’s apartment, the investigators found in Arthur’s bedroom a new Webley Mk I.455-calibre revolver, which Penelope took. The revolver was complete with case and cleaning kit, purchased from J.J. Fenks & Co. of the West End. There were also 24 bullets that Arthur had crudely attempted to scratch crosses into the bullet heads. Also in the bedroom was a theatre program for a production of the Duchess of Malfi which had run as the previous month’s production at the Orpheum Theatre. Underlined in the program was the producer’s name, Frederick Milton, with a note scrawled in pencil beside it, which read “Her Escort according to A.T!”. Jonathan realised that the A.T. was probably a reference to Abner Travisham, a noted dilettante and infamous society gossip, who also must have attended the play that night.
After searching Arthur’s apartment, the investigators decided to head on up to the second floor and to speak to Marcus Borelli. Borelli, an Italian national was something of a tortured soul, being slight in build with long straggling hair and large watery eyes, he was a concert violinist of some note. He quickly told the investigators all that he knew, becoming quite excitable at times. He told them that at around 9 o’clock, Sommers had received a guest, which Borelli was aware of because he had been in his chair by the open window at the time as he couldn’t get to sleep. The visitor had been there for approximately three hours before the incident had happened, he could hear them talking, often with raised voices, but was not aware of what the conversation was about. A little before midnight, a carriage pulled up outside and somebody entered the house (he heard the front door open) but did not look outside. He “felt an overwhelming, nameless dread, as a child may for a coming nightmare”. Shortly after the carriage arrived he heard shouting and the sounds of struggle from the apartment below. Looking out he saw the shadows cast by the wildly swinging swinging light in Arthur’s sitting room on the pavement outside; they revealed to him what he believed to be Arthur and another man grappling desperately with three impossibly tall, long-fingered sticklike figures. There was a howl of pain, a gunshot, then the sound of running down the stairs, followed by the front door banging open and footsteps running into the night. Silence followed and a few moments later Borelli looked on, “paralysed in terror” as the door was opened again and “narrow men” came out, carrying what he believed to be the unconscious Arthur Sommers to the waiting carriage. The third paused and looked at him in the window with “an unholy white face”, Borelli then fainted. After coming to, he ran downstairs and implored Mr. Giles to fetch the police.
After leaving the apartments, the investigators decided to travel on to the Orpheum Theatre in search of Frederick Milton. However, when they arrived, they were informed by one of the stage hands that Milton had been dead for two weeks, having committed suicide. During their investigation at the theatre, they found out that Milton and several others had been involved with a mysterious Eastern European aristocrat named Madame Byragan, who was the centre of several decadent parties held at the theatre and elsewhere. There had been a couple of disappearances as well, a young actor named Edgar Dane and an aspiring actress named Lily Foile. Lily had however returned almost two weeks previously wandering the streets, her clothes in disarray, her right hand mutilated (missing two fingers), blinded in her left eyeand in a state of profound shock with little knowledge of what had happened to her. They interviewed Lily who was only vaguely aware of her surroundings, she could remember attending several parties after the evening performances and meeting both Arthur as well as Peter Blaylocke and “Dear Max”. She could remember parties in a fine house on the Strand, “where something crawled”, but other than that she couldn’t remember much. The investigators were informed that Max was Bartholomew Maxwell, the artist who had painted the backdrops for Duchess of Malfi.
After visiting the theatre, trips were made to Harrods to try and ascertain the perfume on the straw and to the gun shop, but nothing of note was learnt from either of these two fields of enquiry.
As it was getting late, the investigators decided to quickly call in to visit Jakeswill at Purbright’s pawnbrokers, where they eventually, after some bribery from Jonathan, managed to find out that the man who had sent the blackmail message to Arthur was a Dr. Josef Salt, a back street abortionist, who was presently laying low in a lodging house in Pennyforth Street at the edge of the Jago, one of the worst crime ridden slums in London. During the interview, Edith, due to her medical background, realised that Jakeswill was a serious opium addict.
The next day, the investigators, who were accompanied by Charles Van Winstin Hine headed off to see Maxwell. His address, which was given to the investigators by the Royal Society, turned out to be an artist’s studio located above an old disused farrier’s yard in Greenwich. The place had an air of neglect about it and the wooden building was of a tumbledown half-rotted quality. A rickety wooden staircase attached to the outside of the building accessed the studio, whose door they discovered was locked. After knocking it appeared that nobody was home and so consequently the investigators decided to force the door and make their way inside, where the first thing that they encountered was a distinct smell of turpentine.
The studio was a large open plan room, with dirty exposed woodwork and a few grimy and cracked windows letting the light in, divided up by erratically placed drapes and hangings of soiled muslin. The room was a chaotic scatter of artist’s materials, paints, easels, canvases, brushes, charcoals and sheaves of paper. Almost every wall and post was covered in a wild profusion of sketches and paintings, most half-finished, torn or cut. Buried under this artistic detritus were the fragments of Maxwell’s life; an unkempt bed, scraps of food and cutlery, empty gin bottles, candle stubs, playbills, newspaper cuttings and discarded clothing.
Maxwell’s work, as evidenced around his studio, had plunged deep into the abyss of vice and visceral torment. Blazing forth from every canvas and sketch in black, vivid reds, deep rust and gold, were images of contorted depravity, horrific mutilation and torn flesh. Amid scores of works that had been half finished or cast aside by their maker, were dozens of exquisite renderings of bodily destruction and immorality utterly shocking in their impact and realism that no Victorian sensibility could countenance.
A detailed search of Maxwell’s papers and the art adorning the walls yielded the realisation that certain images were repeated and expounded upon again and again. Laid out and displayed in sequences of three were images of headless yet mobile figures, orgiastic and murderous rites held beneath a shadowed threefold picture or image, and a beautiful woman’s figure that shifted and blurred into a variety of horrific forms. The investigators recognised the features of Lily Foile in the works and Jonathan also recognised the features of both Arthur Sommers and Peter Blaylocke. Also found was a torn sheaf of sketching paper with what amounted to the confession of a madman written on it:
I have seen her her Chernabog call her I have seen dear god what have I seen red and gold and the workings of man stripped down to the base flesh we are all dirt dirt inside and filled with emptiness and sweet red longing Chernabog watches us rutting like beasts and hungers for the dirt inside us with his black kisses black god the old ones knew him and now I have seen and cannot unsee him she is his bride I think his daughter wife crone mother feeder whore with her bloody pits and need I cannot escape true face in red red red Chernabog dear god I she am lost what have I done to deserve this what did they make me do I woke today to find I have lost she was dead next to me all gone to rots of dear god I have done this must make remake the three stop me me please red sleeper waits like Wilde more that he knew was true image is truth outside Chernabog waits mankind nothing but a tide of meat touching my soul black and shriving must paint things I see crawl behind my eyes mad now I not little lost Max oh god what have I done where is the rest of her god-by Max gone to dirt forever more Amen
Penelope had heard of Chernabog and informed the others of his significance.
Heading towards the far end of the studio, Jonathan and Harry revealed the headless corpse of a young woman reclining indolently in an iron roll-top bathtub, half-filled with black, clotted and reeking blood (far more, and older, blood than could have come from that one body – which was no more than a few hours dead at most). Upon closer examination of the body it was revealed that gouging wounds had been dug into both of her palms and there were ligature marks around her ankles. The word ‘Chernabog’ had been carved carefully into her stomach. Edith’s trained medical eye revealed that the woman had been in her early twenties, and that her head had been removed by a number of hacking blows and that she had been exsanguinated in the manner of a hanging animal. There was no sign of her head. Above the bath was an iron hook imbedded in the ceiling and beside the bath was a coil of greasy rope. On a shelf, under a window behind the bath, were a variety of jars and bottles containing reddish-brown pigment and purifying chunks of flesh, along with a mortar and pestle.
As the investigators were getting ready to leave the studio, Maxwell returned, looking dishevelled and accompanied by a somewhat drunken young woman, evidently a prostitute. Seeing the investigators, Maxwell drew out a cleaver, wailing like a dervish at their ‘disturbance of his great work’ and charged to attack Charles, but was quickly put down by gunfire, with Harry’s shot totally removing his leg and killing him instantaneously. The prostitute fled despite attempts to stop her.
After leaving the studio behind, the investigators decided to head off to their final lead and to see Dr Josef Salt, whom they had deduced was the original blackmailer. They tracked Salt down to his lodgings on Pennyforth Street at the edge of the Jago and it was decided that Harry and Penelope would enter the lodgings under the cover of a couple in need of an emergency abortion. Charles, Edith and Jonathan were to wait outside and to enter if they heard gunfire.
They had little trouble getting past the landlady and her son after paying out a bribe and made their way to Salt’s room, where they found the man was wounded. Their cover was quickly exposed for the sham that it was and Harry leveled his shotgun at Salt, with Penelope also leveling her handgun at him and they decided to interrogate him. Salt informed them of the location of the house on the Strand and told them that was where they were likely to find Sommers, or what was left of him. He informed Harry and Penelope that Byragan was not human and that he thought that she was Baba Yaga herself, however, Penelope realised that Salt had confused Baba Yaga with other witch folklore and several other eastern mythical creatures.
Leaving Salt behind, the investigators decided that it was time to launch a raid on the house on the Strand. Consequently they sent Charles out to reconnoiter the house, whilst Harry went to Scotland Yard to speak to Inspector Harrison Craddock and ask him if he could lend them any assistance with regards to the raid, informing him that he suspected that Arthur Sommers was being held there at the house.
Later that evening the investigators, enlisting the aid of both Reginald Black and Takeshi Takemori as well as Craddock and five constables raided the house on the Strand, with one group attacking the front of the house and the second group entering through the back door.
As they entered, some the raiders had an uneasy feeling. Inside they could hear the strains of Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabreplaying, where they found Sommers’ neighbour Borelli, playing the violin, his fingers bleeding from having played for several hours, accompanied by a woman playing the piano. Two figures, a man and a woman, were dancing, these both arose to attack the investigators as soon as they were seen, but were killed quickly. It was discovered that Borelli and the woman were in some kind of a trance and were still ‘playing’ their instruments when they had been taken from them. Meanwhile the other group encountered the ‘maid’ who was discovered to be a Straw Men who seriously injured one of the policemen, but was eventually taken down. As this fight ran to a conclusion, four more people came charging down the stairs from the first floor, all four, three men and one woman, were all naked and armed with razors, also both Penelope and another of the policemen were attacked by Straw Men, with Penelope being seriously maimed, being very fortunate not to lose her right arm, although the nerve damage in it has rendered it useless. A battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of the cultists and the destruction of the two Straw Men, however, both Penelope and Charles were seriously injured as was one of the policemen and so it was decided that they would leave the house and sit out the rest of the fight, whilst the remaining investigators and police continued downstairs into the basement.
In the basement, the investigators found the body of the actor Edgar Dane and were set upon by three more Straw Men, one of whom injured Harry, but light work was made of them by Takeshi as it was discovered that his attacks with his sword were far more effective than the firearms or nightsticks used by the other investigators and police. The other things of note that were discovered in the basement were two bubbling cauldrons, clearly used by Byragan to make the Straw Men.
Once the basement was cleared, the investigators and police headed upstairs to the first floor where a quick search revealed a bath that was full of blood and floating dolls’ heads as well as three bedrooms whose beds clearly showed many signs of previous use. There was also a library whose many books had been previously destroyed.
Noticing a stairway leading up to the second floor, the investigators headed on up, where they encountered the naked form of Lily Foile, suffering from shock, her hands having been stitched over her mouth to prevent her from screaming out and she had been tied to the rail of the stairs. The investigators untied her and seeing that she was suffering from shock, Edith used her chloroform to render the woman unconscious whilst one of the policemen stayed with her to keep her safe.
At the top of the stairs, Takeshi opened a door and two Dimensional Shamblers were revealed, sending Takeshi into a stupefied state and also sending Craddock into an erotically charged bout of insanity. Fortunately the other investigators managed to take out the Dimensional Shamblers and Edith, again with the use of chloroform, rendered Craddock unconscious. Meanwhile the investigators were under attack from Byragan herself, who transformed into her true form that of a naked hag with arms that ended in wicked looking claws and eyeless sockets that continually wept. She made short work of one of the policemen, attacking him and then beginning to fornicate with him, little mouths on her body beginning to suck at him. Eventually she was downed by gunfire, however, she was not dead and could be seen to be regenerating, meanwhile Jonathan found his friend Arthur, strapped naked to a St. Andrew’s Cross barely lucid. Harry and Reginald were trying to find something that they could destroy in order to finally destroy Byragan, when Harry came across a gilded triptych in Byragan’s bedroom. The gilded triptych showed three pictures, one of a beautiful young woman, certainly very much the same as the image that Byragan had been portraying, another of an old hag and the central picture depicted a huge bloated headless figure that had mouths in the palms of its hands. Upon seeing the tryptich, Harry shot it with his shotgun, however, the triptych was not destroyed and the ‘unconscious’ Byragan leapt to her feet, sprinting into her room and clawing Harry to death. With Harry’s death, both Jonathan and Reginald ran into the room and managed to destroy the triptych with their rifle and elephant gun respectively, enraging Byragan who leapt at Jonathan, trying to tear him apart, but fortunately Reginald managed to destroy her in time.
Having destroyed Byragan and rescued Arthur Sommers, the investigators had finally managed to solve the case and discovered that they could count on the aid of Baronet Godfrey Sommers, who although deciding to retire from politics in order to care for Arthur, still had many contacts at his disposal.