Venice: Death (and Love) in a Gondola
January 22 - 28

While waiting for the Orient Express to depart from Milan, the investigators idly watched the other passengers board the train. A particularly sorrowful Italian lady caught Ian's eye. The poor woman was very distressed, and was sobbing quietly about her father, who had died a few days earlier. The lady, Maria Stagliani, was returning to her home in Venice to arrange for her father's funeral. She expressed her gratitude at Ian's concern and kindness, then went to her compartment.

The train left Milan after dark, and by the time it was halfway to Verona, Constantine, Dr. Marabou, and Professor Vaughan had left the dining car for the comfort (and privacy?) of their compartments. In the passageway between two cars, they were assailed by a horrendous stench: the foul fetid odor of rotting flesh, but the odor was limited to this passageway, and soon dissipated.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful, and the train pulled into the Venice station on schedule. Waiting for Miss Stagliani was a well dressed dumpling of a man, who sweated profusely and was accompanied by half a dozen blackshirts. The odiferous man's name was Rossini, an important government official in Venice, who wanted to take Maria to her home in his motor boat. It was obvious that Maria did not wish to accompany the sleaze ball, and as the investigators intervened on her behalf, a young man dashed out from the crowd of passengers and demanded that Rossini leave Maria alone. Rossini's blackshirts moved menacingly towards the young man, whom Maria called Georgio, but the investigators skillfully defused the situation, and rescued Maria by posing as friends of the family, who had accompanied her back to Venice to attend her father's funeral.

The team hired a boat, and took Maria home, and along the way she told them of her love for Georgia, and complete disdain for the foul-smelling Rossini, who had been trying to get her to marry him. Ian asked if she knew of the Gremanci family (mentioned by Professor Smith as a possible owner of part of the Sedefkar Simulicrum), and she replied that it was a popular name in Venice - on that was a part of local legends, for generations ago, the Conte Alvise Gremanci was thought to have been a sorcerer. At home, Maria once again expressed her gratitude to the group, and recommended they stay at the Gritti Palace, a posh nearby hotel, while in Venice. The investigators said their farewells, and quickly checked in at the recommended hotel.

The next morning the investigators awoke to a foul smell, as the canal waters took on a smelly, oily sheen: the odor reminded Miranda and the Professor of the stench in the train on the way to Venice. That day the group searched the archival records at the Franciscan monastery at the Frari looking for the Gremanci family mentioned by Professor Smith. After spending hours toiling through musty books and scrolls, the group found a record of the purchase of a doll works by Conte Alvise Gremanci. The team felt that this must be the correct Gremanci, and returned to their hotel, where they called the Gremanci Doll Works, and set up tour for the next day. The canals had been cleaned out by the returning of the tide, and no longer smelled of rotting flesh.

That evening, Georgio visited the investigators at their hotel and asked for advice on how to handle the current situation the Maria and Rossini. The group offered some advice, and Georgio took them on a walking tour of Venice. He asked them to attend the funeral for Maria's father, which was on the day after next (Friday, the 26th). Late that night, the investigators were awaken by screams of Morte! Morte! Looking out their windows, they saw a woman running through the fog, screaming.

At breakfast the next morning, the investigators hear about a grisly murder the night before: a woman witnessed the murder of her lover. His body was found that morning impaled upon a ten foot iron spike, with its throat torn out. As the team prepared to leave for their tour of the Doll Works, they were given a note from Maria Stagliani, inviting them to attend her father's funeral, and to visit her home afterwards.

At the Gremanci Doll Works, the team was taken on a tour of the shop by Sebastiano Gremanci, an affable fellow who invited the investigators to dinner at his home, where they could meet his family. During the tour, the team learned that the Doll Works also manufactured prosthetic limbs, which prompted the group to ask about an unusual artificial limbs that may have passed through the shop. Sebastiano could not remember anything out of the ordinary, but when convinced of its importance to the investigators, he suggested looking through the old records, which dated back to the purchase of the Works by the Gremanci family. At lunch, the canals were once again filled with a noxious odor. That afternoon was spent in the old record vault with Sebastiano, scanning through the mishmash of old records. At the end of the day, the team finally uncovers a record dated from August, 1797, documenting the purchase of a prosthetic left leg from a French soldier... the leg was made of some strange ceramic material!

Returning to their hotel rooms, the investigators heard strange stories from the staff that the statues at the Basilico San Marco had wept blood during the evening service.

The group hired a gondola and joined Sebastiano and his family for an enjoyable dinner.

At breakfast early the next morning, the team read in the newspapers of another grisly murder, that of a gondolier found torn to pieces in his boat. The story stated that the remains were drained of blood, and included wild speculations included maniacs on the lose, evil occultists, and ghouls. Seeing the investigators studying the story, their waiter confided that last night his brother-in-law saw Death poling a gondola down the Grand Canal.

As the investigators set out for the Doll Works, they once again noticed the pronounced stench of the canals. Ian picked out bits of gossip from the locals saying the foul tidewaters had crept into the low lying houses and churches. At least one child who played in the water was deathly ill, with black blotches spreading across his limbs. People talked of the Black Death, and wondered if it had returned.

Their search at the Doll Works was limited to only a few hours, because the team had promised to attend the funeral for Maria's father, which was scheduled for later on that day. The group spent that time weeding out irrelevant entries, but found nothing of interest.

The funeral passed without incident, and was attended by both Rossini and Georgio, who avoided one another. The reception at Maria's house was long, painfully uncomfortable, and ended just before dinner time. The investigators hired a gondola, and agreed to give Georgio a ride to his domicile. On the way back, however, Georgio noticed that the gondolier was taking them in the wrong direction. The man refused to answer any questions, or alter his course until Ian held a gun to his head and demanded that he turn the boat around. Reluctantly the gondolier led them back towards their hotel, but along the way he called out for help from some nearby blackshirts and stopped poling the gondola. The investigators managed to move the boat along (slowly at first), and bribed the screaming gondolier into silence. Upon seeing the stack of money Constantine offered, he jumped into the water and bid the investigators be gone. The team managed to avoid the blackshirts, and ditched the boat far from their hotel. Georgio thanked them, and went off on his own.

Late that evening, the investigators heard a commotion from the hotel lobby, and found that a couple had seen two huge fish with recognizable limbs and hands in the Grand Canal.

The group awoke the next morning amid reports of isolated looting and violent mobs in several parts of the city. As they made their way back to the Doll Works (Sebastiano agreed to let them in on Saturday, when the shop was usually closed), they could see spires of smoke rising from fires that had been set the previous night.

By noon, the investigators had found another reference to the odd prosthetic limb, stating that the limb was now affixed to a statue at the Palazzo Rezzoniani. The statue had been struck by lightning, and the Conte Gremanci ordered to repair it. The team found that the Palazzo Rezzoniani had been a noble's palace that was now a public museum, but only open by appointment during the winter.

Back at their hotel, the investigators were met by Maria's maid, who told them that Maria was being held captive in her own house by Rossini and his blackshirts. She was certain that Rossini planned to force Maria to marry him, and was planning to bring a priest who would perform the ceremony, even against Maria's will. The investigators set out to find Georgio, who was at one of his local haunts to which he had taken the team several nights before. Other than storming Maria's house in force, Georgio had no plans for her rescue, but begged the investigators to help her.

At Maria's house, the team (plus Georgio) found several blackshirts watching the front door, so Mac and Zelda climbed upstairs to listen at the shuttered windows, while Constantine worked on a plan to distract the thugs at the door (hoping she could do better than with Faccia's gatekeeper in Milan!). Mac managed to break open the shutters to Maria's room, and helped her out, while Constantine knocked several of the blackshirts about, and Ian held them off at gun point. Luckily for our heroes, the motor-boat the blackshirts used to come to Maria's was tied to the small dock, and that Rossini had left in another boat to bring a priest. Indeed, as Constantine drove the boat away from Maria's house, the group passed Rossini, looking quite confused and dumbfounded, heading back with the priest. The investigators sped away, with Georgio and Maria groping one another madly in the back seat. Georgio directed Constantine to a safe spot where he and Maria could "disappear" for a while, but promised to try and set a false trail for Rossini and the blackshirts to follow in order to keep them away from the investigators. He also provided directions to the Palazzo Rezzoniani.

On their way to the Palazzo, the investigators saw mobs roam the streets, lighting fires, breaking windows, and beating people in the streets. At one well lit campo, they watched as a mob beat and stab an epileptic in mid-seizure. The small canal behind the Palazzo was mercifully dark and empty, as the team tied the boat to a small quay and walked around the massive structure.

Exceptional luck was with the investigators, as they found a lamp, some rope, and a metal bar with which to pry open one of the side doors to the Palazzo. Within the inner courtyard of the building, the team found, quite literally, hundreds of statues, each of which, it seemed, would have to be searched! The bell from the adjacent clock tower began to ring, and looking up, Professor Vaughan gasped as she recognized the mechanical figures parading around the clock as those from her trip to Dream Lausanne. Making their way to the tower, the investigators quickly beat down the door, then climbed the rickety stairs up to the clock room itself. Within, the group found a myriad of gears, chains, ropes, and pulleys, along with eight mechanical figures, three of which revealed exposed legs: a Turk, a soldier, and a rustic lass. Scratching the paint off of each leg, Mac and Zelda eventually found that the left leg of the Turk was of the same material as the rest of the Sedefkar Simulicrum. Using the rope to tie the leg to the surrounding superstructure, the team waited for the mechanical figures to move, hoping that the motion would tear the leg from the Turk.

Looking through one of the tower windows, Ian caught site of a hideous, humanoid figure, which seemed to fall back away from the tower. When he peered out the window, however, he could see no sign of the figure.

As the clock struck the half hour, and the figures began to move, the Turk was pulled loose from its mounting bracket, and began to spin about wildly, causing the rest of the mechanism to fall apart: slowly at first, but increasing at an alarming rate. The leg was indeed pulled from the Turk, and Mac picked it up and ran (the best his poor crippled body could) towards the trap door, after the others.

As massive gears, springs, and other bits and pieces of the clock assembly crashed down around them, the investigators pelted down the staircase... too fast for Ian, who lost his footing and fell down the steps for almost their entire length. Barely conscious and able to walk, he was led to the boat, where the group sped away... to a new hotel. That evening the investigators called the Gritti Palace and arranged for their belongings to be left on the station platform for the east bound Orient Express.

The next day the investigators laid low, allowing the police to assume that the rampaging mobs broke into the Palazzo and vandalized the clock. As the investigators purchased their tickets for the Orient Express, they were given a note from Georgio and Maria, who had taken the earlier west bound train to Milan, out of Rossini's sphere of influence.

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