The Taint of Cthulhu
New York to London, March 26 - April 3, 1926
Well, you can add sea travel to my ever increasing list of phobias. Could it be a mere coincidence that two separate groups of people, seeking to thwart two different organizations of corruption and terror, should board the same ship for the same trip, and both be plagued by members of yet another evil and twisted cult? Perhaps these links aren't tightly intertwined, but I believe something is afoot and stirring in the world: something vast, hideous, evil, and somehow unified. It gives me some small comfort to find others doing their part to battle the advance of the forces of darkness, and to know that I and my friends are not the only ones pitted against the fiends that would place the world under the domination of outsiders.
So much for my flights of fancy, for I intend to make my journal an accurate account of all my friends and I have discovered, in the event that we fail in our task, and another band, in an even more desperate time, must take up the yoke. But for now the task falls to our own team of diverse, talented, and capable people: Mac Cochran, Miranda Vaughan, Jack Diamond, Kim Lovell, Karen Eisling, Kevin Scully, Patricia Cartier, and myself, Franklin Meyers.
We knew our task, and knew it well - that much at least we learned from our investigation of the Cornwallis estate. Baron Hauptman, of Klausenburg, Romania, was the head of some fantastic cult bent on world conquest, and perhaps even worse, and he and his organization must be stopped at all costs. But to defeat Hauptman, we must find out more about him, which meant travel to Romania in search of this monster. Patricia found berths for us on the next steamship to leave the States for Europe: the Mauritania. Despite my earlier misgivings about Patricia, she has proven herself to be a great asset in planning our travels, a task at which she has had much experience during her short, but privileged life. Miranda, Mac, and I took advantage of the three days before the ship sailed and researched the family history of Baron Hauptman.
As tantalizing as these snippets of information were, they fell short of what I and my companions had hoped to find. What irregularities had prompted Louis to send a patrol? What was the real reason for the Turks abandoning the siege in 1389? Why and how did a simple local monk defeat what an entire Turkish army could not? We hoped we'd find answers in Romania, as well as the Baron himself, and this "Young Master Edward", who was placed at the center of Hauptman's plans in his letters to Cornwallis.
We boarded the Mauritania on the morning of March 29. The trip to London was to take six days, and so we expected to arrive on April 3, and then catch the next departing train for the Alberg Orient Express. The Alberg was cousin to the Simplon, but ran less frequently, and over more rough and hostile terrain, making for an additional 8 days of travel from London. We were concerned that time was running out, and the additional week of travel worried me to no end - and who knew how long we'd have to wait for the next Alberg to leave Paris! We could, of course, take the Simplon to Bulgaria, and travel north, but alas, that way is closed to several of us, ever since our campaign against the Brothers of Skin several years earlier.
Among the other passengers boarding the Mauritania with us, was an important looking individual, whom we later learned was the Count Kurosov, and his staff. Just before us on the gang plank was a priest, who normally would have attracted little attention, but for his dirty and unkempt appearance. We quickly found our cabins on Deck A, and set about exploring the ship and sampling its amenities.
That night we dined at the captain's table, a privilege awarded to those traveling in first class, and met the Count himself. The Count spoke no English at dinner, having his secretary interpret for him, but he seemed like a pleasant enough fellow. As we returned to our rooms, we saw the scruffy looking priest, loitering about the hallways. At least the priest had cleaned up and shaved since we last saw him, and looked more like a priest ought.
We saw the priest skulking about on A Deck before breakfast the next day, and then again after lunch. Jack once approached him to ask if the fellow was looking for something, but the priest fled before Jack could get close. While this was strange, we didn't think a priest was anything to be alarmed about, and so ignored his odd behavior, at least for the time being.
We had a much nicer surprise later on in the day, when we ran into Professor Fuda, an old friend from Arkham University. Fuda was traveling with two graduate students, Hargrove Thorpe and Richard Essex, to do some research in Jerusalem, but the old boy seemed nervous and distracted - quite unlike the easy going professor I knew. When I commented on this, Fuda turned a little pale, and whispered that they may be in trouble, and he and his students would love to talk to us about it in detail, perhaps the next evening. Fuda left us for his cabin (also on A Deck), and we prepared for the evenings' dinner and masked ball.
Late in the evening, after the ball, we returned to our rooms, and once again found the priest hanging about. It was obvious that he was not interested in our cabins, as he always remained on the opposite side of the ship. We walked down to Fuda's cabin and asked if he knew who had the suite of rooms in which the priest had so much interest. Fuda had studied the passenger list before boarding, and knew the name of everyone on A Deck: first of all, there were no priests, and second, the Count and his retinue occupied the suites in question.
We split into two teams, and blocked each end of the hallway where the priest stood, and closed in on him, in as non-threatening a manner as possible. The priest bolted into the men's room, where Jack, Mac, and I followed. We asked the priest what he was up to, and found he could speak English, but he only gave us vague answers about "priestly duties" and excused himself as he left the bathroom, and went down the stairs at the end of the hallway. A moment later, Jack and Miranda were following him from a discrete distance. The priest left the stairs way down below, on C Deck, and entered a cabin, where Jack and Miranda waited and listened. The two could hear a muffled conversation between the priest and two others, but it was in a language neither could understand. After several minutes, Jack and Miranda returned and reported on what they found. As suspicious as the priests behavior may have seemed to some, we really had no evidence of wrong doing, or that he didn't have a valid reason to be on A Deck all the time.
In the early hours of the morning, Karen awoke to the sound of a strange chanting coming from the ventilation grate near her bed. Karen could not make out actual words, and fell back asleep as the chanting faded away.
The priest once again brought attention to himself by conspicuously being absent from A Deck both before and after breakfast. This so aroused our curiosity and suspicion that we went down to his cabin and knocked. There was no answer. Using the skills of his profession, Jack opened the locked door, and we carefully searched the cabin. We found a number of papers and a book by Karl Marx. We also found what looked like a plan to assassinate the Count, and the date and time on the plan was for that very morning! Quickly my friends raced towards the quarter deck, where we knew the Count was playing a private game of shuffleboard, while I raced towards the bridge to notify the captain of this plot, and obtain help.
My friends reached the quarter-deck just as the priest pulled a gun and shot the ship's steward, who was keeping random passengers from the shuffle board area. Two other people leapt over the barrier and charged the count, with pistols raised. Jack, Mac, and Miranda had already drawn their guns and fired, wounding one of the attackers, and causing the priest and the other attacker to pause, startled. This split second hesitation was all the Count's bodyguards needed: one guard shielded the Count with his own body, while the others drew weapons. The attackers got in one more shot, hitting the guard in front of the Count, but the other bodyguards, with help from our team, soon filled the would be assassins with hot lead, quickly slaying them. I showed up a few moments later with the captain and ship's security officers in tow. The Count was very grateful for our help, and speaking in faltering English, he invited us to a private feast that night to celebrate.
We dined with the Count that evening in a private drawing room. The food was magnificent, and the Count was a most congenial host. It seemed that he was the last legal heir to the Russian throne, and was on his way back, via Hungary, to reclaim the crown and throw out the communists. He was disturbed that someone must have learned the details of his plan, and sent assassins to stop him. He must now change his plans altogether, and arrive in Russia from some other country. The Count then asked us of our plans, and when he found that our final destination was Rumania, he laughed, and claimed that our meeting must be more than mere coincidence. He told us that he knew the schedule of the Alberg Orient Express very well, and that it left Paris on April 3, the same day we would arrive in London! The Alberg now only ran once a week, and so we'd have to wait a full week before taking the eight day trip to Romania. The disappointment on our faces was obvious, and the Count laughed one more time and said "Now it is my turn to do you a good favor!" He then presented us with eight one way tickets from London to Budapest on the British dirigible R-35. The airship left London on April 4, and arrived in Budapest early morning on the 6th. From Budapest, a local train could take us to Cluj, Romania in a few hours, and a hired car should see us in Klausenburg by the end of the day. This was indeed good fortune, for it would reduce our trip by a full 12 days! We returned to our cabins in high spirits, and slept soundly.
Professor Fuda met us at breakfast the next morning, and stated that tonight would be a good night to "talk", and that he might be able to shed some light on our own quest. He kept his remarks cryptic, fearing that someone might overhear, but promised to explain all in his suite that evening.
We met Fuda, Hargrove, and Richard in their suite after dinner. Fuda explained that he and his students had thwarted the plans of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, an evil cult of deep one worshippers in Kingsport. Unfortunately, the cult was not entirely disbanded, so Fuda feared the cult would seek them out and destroy them. Fuda had learned of several scrolls in Jerusalem that contain spells they could use for defense, and so he and his companions set out from Arkham as quickly as possible. Fuda then produced a strange disk made of smoky glass. He said that he recovered the glass from cult members in Kingsport, and found it to be the famed "Glass of Mortlan", which when properly used could be coaxed to reveal scenes from the future, past, or present. Such scenes, Fuda whispered, were usually pertinent or prescient to those gathered about the glass.
Fuda set up a brass brazier in the center of his room, in which he placed a black powder, which produced a heavily scented smoke that rose and filled the room when lit. On one side of the brazier Fuda placed a lit candle, and on the other side, he placed the glass in a bronze holder. The candle light shown through the smoke, and was then bent by the glass and projected as a wavering image onto the wall. Fuda began to chant softly, as the image on the wall danced, whirled about, and then took shape. A dark cavern by the sea was painted in dark grey strokes, and people dressed in strange garb danced around a great fire in the center of the cavern. A flash of light leapt from a cavern wall, and many of the dancers fell to the ground, as the fire went out, and the scene snapped to black.
We thrust the door open, and found a man dressed as one of the ship's crew standing in the doorway. The man made up some excuse about having been asked to fix something in the cabin, so we tied him down and called for the ship's purser. When the purser, Malcom Pinkum, arrived we explained that the sailor had been listening to us at the door, and then lied about it when we caught him. Pinkum was upset with the man, and had two security guards take him to the brig for questioning. Pinkum apologized for the intrusion, asked if we could be present at an inquisition into the affair the next day, and left after we answered in the affirmative.
Late that night, several of us were awakened by the sound of chanting coming up from the ventilation shafts. The shafts run down into the lower, engineering decks of the ship, with which we were not familiar, so we didn't attempt to investigate the sound any further, but rather slept fitfully for the rest of the night.
Fuda and his students joined us for breakfast, after which a sailor came to our table and informed Fuda that he had a message in the Marconni room. Fuda was expecting confirmation of their tickets on board the Simplon Orient Express, and quickly made his way out of the dining room. Hargrove and Richard excused themselves, and went out for some fresh air. We thought it odd that Fuda would have to go to the Marconni room for a message that could have been delivered to him, and so several of us hastened to follow. It became obvious that Fuda was not being led to the Marconni room, which was near the bridge, but back down to A Deck. On A Deck, another sailor joined the first, and they began to drag Fuda further down the stairs. Unfortunately, most of our guns had been confiscated after the incident with the Count's assassins, so we charged the two sailors, and managed to drag Fuda away. Two more sailors arrived, and boxed us in between them and the original two. As they closed in, Pinkum arrived, and we thought we were safe, but Pinkum laughed at us, and told his men to subdue us, or even kill us, but do so quickly.
For some reason, I remembered that I had Hauptman's spectacles with me (I always kept them in my jacket pocket) - these are the very spectacles that Hauptman gave to Cornwallis, which resulted in such tragedy. I quickly held the spectacles out to one of the sailors, and told him they would give him great powers. The man took the glasses, looked at them, and tentatively put them on. I told my companions to get ready to run. As Pinkum and the other two sailors approached, a large gash formed in the side of the sailor wearing the spectacles, as he screamed in pain, fear, and agony. We ran past his shocked companion, and back into the dining room, where we startled the rest of our group, who were still at the table. As Pinkum and crew dashed into the dining room, those of us who still had fire arms drew them and fired. The sailors advanced, but after the first few fell, Pinkum left, leaving the remaining sailors to guard his escape. We quickly disabled or killed his men, and chased after him. We fired at him as he ran near the railing on the side of the ship, and he fell overboard into the sea.
I returned to Deck A to retrieve the spectacles, and hid them before going back to the dining room. The captain had arrived at that point, with a large number of security guards. We expected the worst, but strangely enough, after hearing our story, the captain seemed somewhat relieved, and simply confiscated the rest of our weapons. He also ordered several of the guards below decks to "route out the rest of them." We weren't certain what these cryptic comments meant, but we suspected that the captain had known of Pinkum and his cronies for a while, but for some reason never acted against them.
The Mauritania arrived in London the next morning, and we said farewell to Professor Fuda and his students. As a parting gift, and for saving his life, Fuda had left us with the book, Nameless Cults, which I will peruse as soon as time permits. The captain ordered our weapons packaged and sent ahead to the dirigible, R-35, thus assuring that we would quickly leave England, and any legal entanglements.
With any luck, we'll make it to Romania without further incident, where our investigations will really begin.