Dream Zagreb: In a City of Towers and Bells
February 1 - 3

Life on the Orient Express was an indulgence in the most luxurious atmosphere of the day. Indeed, at the height of its popularity, only a few of the most prestigious hotels could boast the service, staff, food, and conveniences of the Express. Had George Nagelmackers lived to travel aboard the Trieste to Athens leg of the 1920s Simplon Orient Express route, he would have been pleased with the result of his efforts the century before. Passengers on the Express were typically from the upper echelons of society, and embraced one another as long lost friends, and displayed unrestrained generosity.

As the Orient Express pulled into the station at Trieste, the investigators were confronted by Tilly Shaw, journalist for the London Times, who had witnessed the supernatural demise of Constance Bluestone. Not wanting to attract attention to themselves, the team humored the reporter, and agreed to answer her questions over dinner aboard the train. The dinner was marvelous, and the group gave a guarded account of what they were doing, and how Constance met her end. After dinner Maurice, the investigators' waiter, informed them that the gentleman at the far table had given them a fine bottle of sauterne. Maurice opened the bottle and sampled the wine, his eyes rolling back into his head as its smooth, spicy bouquet wafted around the dining car, causing other diners to look at them with envy. The team could not resist, and soon drained the bottle, which did much to restore their spirits after the incident in the Trieste station. After discussing their plans for their next stop, in Belgrade, the group retired for the evening.

The investigators awoke the next morning at 3:00 AM as the night conducteur knocked on their doors, calling out " ZAGREB!" The team decided to ignore the call, because they did not plan to stop at Zagreb, but the conducteur was persistent, and insisted that they were on his list of passengers scheduled to depart at Zagreb. A voice called out from the platform, taunting each of the group by name as it promised to provide them with vast amounts of knowledge - including information about the Sedefkar Simulicrum! Looking out the window of her compartment, Zelda saw a cloaked figure standing in the thick fog, holding a skull in one hand while beckoning towards them with the other. She also saw all of their baggage, already unloaded and sitting on the ground. After much discussion, it was decided that Ian and Dr. Marabou would remain on the train with their baggage, which they had the porter reload, while the rest of the team, along with Tilly, would follow the cloaked figure. By the time Mac, Professor Vaughan, Zelda, and Tilly had dressed, the cloaked figure had vanished in the fog, leaving them to wander after him towards the city center.

The fog thinned a short distance from the platform, revealing a dark, star filled sky, and the city of Zagreb with its network of narrow canals and bridges awaiting in the shadows ahead. At their feet, the investigators found a burned scrap of paper, which contained a bizarre entry from someone's journal - perhaps an inhabitant of this place. The cloaked figure was standing on the nearest bridge, motioning for the group to follow. The group trudged across the bridge and into a square, where they heard the sounds of hissing and squawking, but when they drew near, they found only a statue of a serpent and griffin fighting. At the foot of the statue was another, confusing entry from the journal. Zelda and Professor Vaughan returned to the train and brought Ian and Maranda back with them, then the group pressed on. As they searched for the cloaked figure, they encountered one bizarre scene after another: a silver fish lay flapping on the cobble stones in one alley, frightening shadows leapt out from courtyards, stone gargoyles on a cathedral laughed down at them, a tree with purple fruits with severed hands gripping them, faceless children running mindlessly past them, and a war of mice and frogs. As they wandered in the darkness, they continued to find pages from the mysterious journal. The bells in the clock and church towers chimed the hours as the team doggedly tried to follow the cloaked figure. The hours of four, five and six had chimed by the time the investigators found a man, searching the cobbles on all fours and professing great sorrow at the loss of some artifact. On another island, they encountered a crying woman who shrieked " I've seen a man, a head, ahead!", and then burst out laughing. When asked about the man, the woman told them to " Ask the tied, and name the one you seek by his proper title, she can tell you where to find him." Just who the " tied" soon became apparent as the team encountered a woman tied to a statue of the Madonna. Unfortunately, the group had no idea what the cloaked figure's title was, and so they continued walking through the town. Near the west end they found a street lined with theatres and pubs. Strange and fantastic creatures wandered past, moving from one building to another. In a small alley off the main street, they investigators encountered a stream of milk, seeping from a wall, down the street, where it vanished beneath a cobblestone, underneath which a slurping sound could be heard. Mac lifted the stone, revealing a puddle of milk, in the midst of which was a gold ring, which was greedily drinking the milk. Tilly took the ring, and the team made their way back to the man searching amongst the cobblestones. Upon seeing the ring, the man cried out that it was his wedding ring, and snatched it from Tilly's hand. When asked about the cloaked figure, he informed them the figure's title was " He that knows great men's secrets," and with that, he laughed and ran off to meet his bride, death. Returning to the woman tied to the statue, Professor Vaughan asked about " He that knows great men's secrets", and the woman replied that he awaited them at the bridge to the fort in the center of town.

When the cloaked figure saw the team approaching the bridge, he cried out " At last!",

then turned and led them into the fort, as gates and doors sprang open at the touch of his hand. Up to the top of the highest turret he led them, and as they looked out upon the city below, he turned towards them. He explained that before he could impart his vast knowledge to them, he was obligated to warn them that there was such a thing as too much knowledge. He too had once searched for answers to great questions, and had discovered so many secrets that his skull could not hold them all. The figure paused to hold up the skull he carried, and then drew back his cloak, displaying a sunken face: that of a head with no skull! The group insisted that he continue and tell them the information that he promised, and so the figure began to speak.

What he told them about the nature of the universe was terrifying, and the investigators felt their sanity quickly crumble beneath the onslaught of horrid and fantastic revelations, which they knew to be true! He babbled about Azathoth, the blind idiot god, the center of infinity, who gnawed hungrily at his creation in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes. He foamed at the mouth while spouting quotations from the followers of Shub-Niggurath and his Dark Young. He raved about Nyarlathotep with a thousand forms, messenger of the outer gods, and for whom some alien race had created the Sedefkar Simulicrum as an icon of power and worship, which was brought to earth by the Great Old Ones. He cackled with glee as he revealed the nature of some of the Great Old Ones trapped upon earth, awaiting the day when the stars were right and they would escape their prisons: Great Chthulhu, Nyogtha the thing that should not be, and Ithaqua the wind-walker, for whom the medallion Mac possessed was a talisman of power. The team listened eagerly to all the figure told them, as their heads began to bulge, and their brains strained at the blasphemous terrors they were struggling to contain. Professor Vaughan and Dr. Marabou broke free of the spell, and started to leave, at which point the bells in the city began to toll the hour of 7:00. The figure laughed at them, exclaiming that unless they returned to themselves by the last stroke of seven, they would remain with him forever.

Quickly the team raced from the tower, and ran through the city streets, stumbling in the shadows in their haste. All but Mac tripped and fell on their way to the train, which was pulling out from the station as Mac leapt onto it, and sped to his room. As he opened the door, he saw himself, waking with a start and staring back at him.

Mac awoke with a start as someone barged into his compartment. He looked up at the door and saw himself, breathing heavily in the doorway and staring down at himself. Mac passed out from shock.

At 3:00 AM, the conducteur knocked on Mac's door, calling out "ZAGREB!" Mac got up and went to the nearest of his companions' doors, Dr. Marabou's, and knocked loudly, but there was no answer. He persuaded the conducteur to use his master key to open the door, where they found Miranda, fast asleep. Nothing they did woke her, or any of his other companions, who were also found asleep in their compartments. A doctor was called, and he diagnosed that they were suffering from some form of sleeping sickness, and might recover in time.

Mac also convinced the conducteur that he was mistaken in thinking he or his companions were to depart at Zagreb. The conducteur apologized profusely, and assured Mac that his companions would be well taken care of until the train arrived in Belgrade, where they would be taken to a hospital. Mac returned to his bed where he fell asleep, and so missed the forlorn cloaked figure standing on the platform, waving to the train as it pulled out of Zagreb.

That afternoon in Belgrade, Mac had his companions taken to a hospital, while he checked into a nearby hotel, and the bulk of the team's luggage was left in storage at the station. The day passed with no change in his friends' conditions, but the next morning they all awoke at the same time, 3:00 AM, screaming.

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