The Bank of England

Posted: June 16, 2012 in Online Reality Game

Charles came to a halt before the gaping spaces. Soon this area would be crowded, but who knew if further dangers lurked.

“This is all wrong. How has such a feat been achieved?”. Part of him wanted to pursue those responsible for the massacre. But as he gazed into the darkness he realised the ladders ahead were ominously placed. The doctor knew he would struggle to traverse such a precarious path. The fencer though…

“I’ll not cross those, but if you need my aid at all James, just give me the nod.”. Perhaps shining a torch to light the way, or using his weapon to provide cover to anyone crossing the ladders would be valuable. At least until the darkness enveloped them…

While he waited to see what the others would do though he focussed his thoughts on the occult symbol. Did he recognise it? And what was it made from?

Charles looked around for something heavy; part of a rail, or loose pipe he could wrench from the wall. Failing that he would use the weight of his boot, and turn whatever strength he had at attempting to damage or erase the symbol. It was wrong and served the purpose of men who had shown themselves evil. It did not belong in the King’s realm.

James follows Charles and peers disbelievingly into the dark space. He puts a toe experimentally on to the first rung, then withdraws it.

“In there, are you mad? There is a fully competent and well-staffed constabulary a few short flights of stairs away, you know. They’ve signed up for exactly this sort of thing, and I feel it would be positively uncivic to deny them their calling.”

James has clearly now calmed down enough to regain some of his wit, which he is clearly currently using to fend off the horrors that his rational mind – damn that nagging thing – is stubbornly trying to get him to revisit. He has also regained his sense of proportion, which is coincidentally very close to his sense of self-preservation, and it is telling him that staying down here is a good way to end up stacked like so much firewood like these unfortunates.

“Besides, we suspect where it goes – where we just came from. Why should we want to go back there!? I have already barely clung on to my poor sinner’s soul already today, I feel a fortifying drink at a congenial club to be a more appropriate rallying point.”

[OOC – I suppose my thoughts were that the bodies were described as varied by mostly poorly dressed Asians. So, it seems they were not just unluckily standing at the station, waiting for a train, but rather marched here en mass while alive, and then killed? Perhaps, being poor, with promise of pay? I don’t know. Would be hard to get an army of beggars here in that way without comment from authorities, which has me worried about what’s happened above.]

Just because it is easy to misinterpret text and your characters are ‘really’ there with this happening around them, so they would know/sense this stuff:

• The sub station you have come to is not a public station. The conductor mentioned that it was a side station used to service the Bank of England and it is clearly a much more utilitarian place than the other stations you have seen with no signs or maps or advertisements on the wall.
• The stairs will presumably lead up to the bank, and at a guess will be locked and guarded above. It is an underground route into the premises of the bank.
• The victims do not look like train passengers — they are mostly Asian and all very poverty stricken in their appearance. The most likely way they got here is through the storm drain that the assassins used to escape — though they could have been marched down the main tunnels at some point during the middle of the night when they are not in use. They most certainly did not come down through the bank. It would also occur to you that the victims did not all need to be here when the killing started. They may have been brought in in batches through the sewers and dispatched upon arrival.
• There are hundreds (apparently) of victims. Even working quickly it would have taken the assassins a long time to kill all of them. This process was started well before you descended to the underground and boarded your own train. The doctor will also notice some flaking splashes of dried blood at the edges of the gore that must be hours old.
• The ladders are long — at least 20 – 30 feet — and probably could not have come through the sewers. They must have come in through the railway tunnels — but who knows when.
• When you boarded your train there was no indication of any problems on the lines. If the holes had been there for a while, the trains would have stopped running within half an hour as they crashed into the open space. This has all manifested very recently. Indeed, you were there no more than fifteen minutes ago when your train was cut in half by whatever did this.
• The holes, as you inspect the edges in the tiles of the station wall are cut as clean as a whistle with seared edges as if the tile were exposed to intense heat. This reminds those who saw it of the edges of the carriage walls in the part of your train that was cut in half. The direction of the openings that you can see seems to point towards where your train was destroyed.
• When you looked down into the big hole that ate your train, you did not see any lights or ladders. Good chance the ladders do not go that far. Where might they go? What’s between the station and your train?

Madalena and Michael look at the symbols drawn on the station platform in what seems to be black paint. They are done with skill, but in a hurry, they would judge, reminiscent of the stylized alphabets of the east where writing is done by brush rather than steel nibs. As a group the symbols mean nothing to either of them, although there are any number of individual sigils they recognize: The elemental sign for earth, the symbol for both Jupiter and Saturn among others. Most of the glyphs are unknown and somewhat disturbing to look at too closely, almost as if they had a life of their own beneath the rivulets of blood and were straining to be free.

Madalena will take pencil and use the flyleaf of a book in her bag to try and jot down as good a representation as she can of the design.

As James speaks of the police, Madalena looks up from where she has been trying to transcribe the symbol on the platform.

“Sir, I have no wish to cast aspersions upon your country’s police, but I think that an atrocity such as this is likely to far beyond any experience or competence that they might be able to bring to bear. This is nothing but the vilest black magick, and no policeman of my acquaintance has the imagination to conceive of such a thing.”

“You are correct, I am sure,” she continues, “that these voids were created via a similar means to the great one into which we were nearly drawn, but they are on a much smaller scale. My intuition tells me that whatever terrible thing passed upon this platform was the cause of the great void, but the lesser ones here may have been merely a means of entry prior to that. Whoever used them had the forethought to bring ladders – it could be profitable to discover where their origin is, if anyone feels up to the task.”

James chortles a little at the notion of black magick, of all things! The symbol on the floor looks more like… like some sort of experiment in the physical sciences. He spends a few moments formulating a tremendously satisfying and witty riposte, unfortunately blanking out a little at Madelena’s clever account of the situation, and is on the point of delivering it when he is accused of not being up to the task.

By a woman! And an apparently foreign woman at that!

James Wodehouse winces theatrically, draws himself up, turns, and without pausing for his better judgment to once again ruin his day, attempts to glide across the first ladder in one breathless rush.

Madalena is surprised and yet rather impressed with James’ apparent Devil-may-care bravery. The contrast between his occasional diffidence and his bursts of action in the tunnel seems a stark one.

“What an extraordinary man,” she cannot help exclaiming aloud.

James is well coordinated and once he starts out across the ladder he finds the going hair raising but not especially difficult. When he reaches the end of the first ladder he can see it rests on a raised edge of seared bedrock formed where two bubbles have come together. Another ladder reaches out into darkness beyond him and he can see a larger opening perhaps 25 feet ahead with yet a third ladder proceeding on into the bowels of the earth. Behind him the other remaining passengers from the ill fated train are dark silhouettes staring in at him with the bright lights of the station behind them.

There is a distinct odor in the hollow space of something nauseating and rotten.

Teetering at the second hole, James looks back. It occurs to him he has no lamp and, feeling that he has made his astonishing bravery sufficiently obvious to all present (not least himself), he glides back along the ladder to the platform.

“It’s dark, I… Well, ahem, the ladder seems sound. Fairly stable.”

He looks between the assembled personages and the forbidding darkness a few times, trying to get a read on what they intend to do exactly.

“Bad smell, though. Broken gas pipes maybe, or…” he gestures at the bodies, “more dead.”

Good old practical Charles is thinking about the bubbles, and in particular which way they run.
If they emanate from the symbol underground, below the bank of England, he’s wondering what the potential ‘target’ is.

Can he tell which direction then go? (Given he knows generally the direction which the tube line he is on runs in). Can he tell if the bubbles appear to be consistent in size, or if they vary/increase/decrease? From the image you sent through of the station it looks like they head South East (though there was no orientation on that map)

As James tip-toes along the ladder into the darkness of the void, the others can hear the first faint voices of the passengers and crew from the second train – the one their conductor saved from a nasty crash by hanging the red light. The crew from the second train seems to be leading the passengers along the same route the first conductor used – along the siding line to the sub-station that services the bank.

As the new arrivals come closer, those on the platform hear the first incredulous notes of surprise in their voices, then horror and finally fear as they discover the bodies on the rails with slit throats and the river of blood along the track bed.

As James bounds back along the ladder into the relatively brilliant light of the very utilitarian station, the conductor of the second train emerges from the dark train tunnel and sees the small group standing by the hole in the corner of the platform.

“Murderers!” he cries in fury. Then over his shoulder he calls “There they are! The filthy killers!”

A dozen or so men, some in suits, some dressed as workmen, run forward out of the tunnel and start to climb onto the platform to apprehend those standing there.

“No, no!” cries James, raising his arms. “We are passengers – from the other train!”

James thinks dashing back along the ladder at this point may be interpreted as an admission of guilt, although he keeps the possibility open.

Charles heard the oncoming passengers and advanced toward them, his hands raised. His uniform would identify him and his voice called into the darkness “Is anyone hurt? I am a doctor. Some tragedy has occurred here; we fled the advanced train.”

As the conductor emerged into the dim light Charles moved toward him as openly as he could. “Sir, please, hold the other passengers back. People do not need to see this.” He hoped to appeal to the man’s sense of responsibility and make him feel in charge rather than threatened.

“Tell me how I can help you.”

The doctors heart pounded in his chest as he realised he could be about to be assaulted by a confused mob. Still, a man in the king’s army did not panic. The least he would do is buy time for the other innocent passengers.

As the mob of men approach them, Rene fades towards the back of his rag tag group. ‘Better to let the brave and the foolish approach the angry mob,’ he thinks.

Michael moves to one side, behind Captain Hills-Nicholson and drops the dagger he took from one of the assassins onto the ground.

Penelope is not so diffident. She is an aristocrat and the very idea that she might be confused with the sort of person who would commit such an act is unthinkable – and outrageous!

“I am Lady Penelope Barchester,” she announces in a commanding tone – the voice of nobility born addressing lesser beings. “My father is the Duke of Barsetshire and you are being impertinent!”

Stepping to the edge of the platform where the conductor gives ground, as do the other passengers who only seconds before were intent of bloody revenge, she survey’s the new arrivals.

“I am late for a very important appointment,” she says in a low but nevertheless chilling tone. “The City and South London Underground Railway publishes a timetable that indicated that I would arrive at my destination almost twenty five minutes ago. I have not arrived. I am indeed stranded underground in some dismal side station surrounded by dead people. My train has been cut in half, my fellow passengers have been murdered, and I have been personally threatened by Laskar assassins.

“Do not think, my good man that I shall not complain of this treatment to the management. I shall. In the most strident terms.”

She stands aside to allow the uniformed man who is by now pulling at his cap and almost bowing down in front of her to mount to the platform.

“You may now show us the way out of this station. And be quick about it!”

“”Yes, mum!” he stammers. “Yes, yer Ladyship. Sorry about the confusion, mum. Only it looked . . .”

She raises an eyebrow and draws breath to speak again, but he hurries on.

“The exit is over there, mum. Up them stairs. Maybe I could move them bodies for you?”

Lady Penelope gives him the faintest nod of acknowledgement and he hurries to start pushing piles of forlorn bodies aside to clear a path up the stairs. He is soon splattered with sticky blood as reward for his efforts, but he does create a pathway to the stairs which are open beyond the first few steps.

The young woman turns and gives a mischievous wink to Captain Hills-Nichols.

“It never does, Captain, to let them think they are in charge. They are not.”

She swings her umbrella with the hidden sword and strolls delicately past the murdered victims, stacked like cordwood, towards the stairs where the conductor is still clearing the way through. Some of the newly arrived passengers mutter behind her back, but she has clearly established herself as someone who is not to be disobeyed, and she ignores them completely.

James, now presented with the choice between venturing deeper into the gloomy earth towards who-knows-what, and bobbing along in the wake of this magnificent Lady Penelope like so much flotsam, chooses the latter. He closes his jaw and follows her.

“Good show, my lady,” he says, arriving at her side swiftly in an effort to intercept the wink-favoured Captain’s attempts to do likewise, and casually offering a hand to assist in navigating the carnage. “Can’t be having the riff-raff runs things now, can we?”

James motions encouragingly at the conductor to hurry it up a bit with the corpse clearing.

James hurried forward to catch up with Lady Penelope just in time to offer her his arm as she stepped over a corpse’s out-flung arm and a puddle of blood. She rested her hand on his arm thankfully and smiled at him, a radiant smile that drew him in to her world for just a second and pushed the horror of their surroundings into the background.

“Thank you so much, my dear,” she said in a low, husky voice that thrilled him. She glanced down at her shoes, expensive suede boots with a delicate heel and colored laces. The leather was stained with grime from the tunnels and blood from the platform.

“I don’t think these shoes will ever be the same again,” she sighed regretfully. “I bought them in Paris.”

Behind them, Charles offered medical services to any of the passengers from the second train who might need it, but no one asked for help. Their twists and sprains paled into insignificance as they caught sight of the victims of the bizarre massacre on the station platform. One or two vomited violently and all turned pale, their moaning and grumbling silenced by the immensity of the horror that confronted them.

The conductor cleared away the last of the stacked bodies blocking the stairs and led the way upwards, bowing and scraping for Lady Penelope and her escort. The steps turned once to the right and again to the left and then stopped at a landing. A strong iron door closed off the corridor her. The conductor hesitated a moment and then found a pull cord against the wall. He tugged on it and a bell clanged faintly on the other side of the door.

Twice more he had to pull the rope before a small window in the door at head height slid open.

“What the devil are you doing there?” snapped a bristling mustached face through a grillwork of steel mesh.

“Been an accident on the main line,” said the conductor. “Lots of people dead. This is the only way out.” He stepped forward to speak quietly to the man behind the door, but his voice was not made for whispering and those in the front ranks could hear quite clearly.

“Murder on your platform too. Hundreds of bodies. Better get the Peelers.”

The mustachioed man’s eyes opened wide in surprise, but he held his ground.

“You’ll have to wait here until I can get the governor to open the gates. I can’t let any Tom, Dick and Harry through here – even if he is in a uniform. This is the Bank of England!”

Lady Penelope stepped forward and treated the fellow behind the door to the same imperious tone that had swayed the conductor below – but to no effect. This fellow was made of sterner stuff. He nodded and “Yes, Ma’am,” –ed and “No, Ma’am,” –ed for several minutes, but always came back to his resolution.

“I cannot open this gate without the Governor’s express permission, my Lady. It is a security measure to protect the treasures of the country. You must understand that, my Lady. It is no reflection on your status, Ma’am. The King himself could not come through this gate without the Governor says so.”

Eventually his patience wore out and he simply shut the sliding panel in her face.

Long minutes passed as the stair well behind them filled up with the last of the passengers from the second train. The air became warm and then thick with body odors and the stench of bad breath. A lady feinted and Charles knelt beside her to revive her with smelling salts from his bag.

After an interminable wait of perhaps half an hour the sounds of locks and bolts being opened on the far side of the door brought a sudden rush or relief to the crowd. When the door finally opened, however, a gasp of surprise greeted the sight on the far side. A rank of soldiers carrying rifles stood three deep in the corridor beyond. In front of them was a tall, portly man in an expensive suit wearing a monocle.

He held his hand up to halt the many expostulations of indignation and innocence.

“I am Sir Bernard Wittington, Governor of the Bank of England. I understand there has been an accident in the underground train tunnels, but you are all standing in the Bank of England without permission and at this moment you are all guilty of criminal trespass. We have no intention of pressing any charges. But we also have no intention of allowing a crowd of unidentified strangers traipse through the bowels of the nation’s treasury without at least confirming your story.

“Are there any injured or sick who need immediate attention?”

With remarkable efficiency Sir Bernard and his troops began to manage the situation without allowing anyone to leave or wander off unattended. Passengers were escorted to toilet facilities as needed and rooms, albeit sparse and furnished only with hard backed chairs, were provided where the passengers could sit. Through all this hard faced soldiers with weapons at the ready observed passively and moved to intercept anyone who tried to leave the designated areas.

Lady Penelope tried again and again to exert the privilege of her rank and was each time rejected, politely but firmly by Sir Bernard who was clearly a very calm and experienced negotiator. He never lost his temper, no matter how vile the imprecations hurled from the crowd, and he never once waivered in his control of the crowd.

After an hour or so another group of people joined the ranks of the bank employees and the soldiers on guard. A dozen or so uniformed policemen took up position alongside the soldiers and three plain clothes detectives spoke briefly to Sir Bernard. The eldest of the three then turned to speak to the crowd of passengers. He had salt and pepper hair and a short but bristling beard shot through with streaks of grey. He spoke with a distinct working class south London accent.

“I am Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard,” he said. “There has been a robbery at the bank. Someone has tunneled in to the vaults from the station below. The station you all have so recently emerged from. We know there was an accident on the train line, and there are engineers looking into what happened there. But my job is to solve a crime.

“It is quite possible that the thieves are among you. I’m sure that most of you are exactly who you say you are. But it would be easy for those who broke into the bank to mingle among a group of strangers and try to affect their escape hiding amongst you.

“It will take some time, but my plan is to speak to each of you individually and establish your identity. I will also be asking you what you saw on the station and in the tunnels below.”

A general hubbub of protests issued from the crowd.

“The longer you protest, the longer this will take,” said Lestrade, not in the least bit swayed by the anger of the group.

“I understand that there is a group among you who were on the first train and arrived at the station before the passengers from the second train. We will start with them. Lady Penelope? Will you accompany my sergeant to the interview room?”

One by one, the surviving passengers of the original train are conducted into a small office and interviewed by Lestrade and his detectives. They ask who you are, if you have any form of identification, and then they ask for a detailed description of what happened. I don’t expect you to write it all down, but I do want you to write back (just to me) the highlights of what you intend to tell them – and more importantly, if there is anything you wish not to tell them.

I can’t think of anything James would leave out or lie about. The bit about the ‘magic light’ he would probably misremember as something more mundane, like the guy throwing a torch at them. He might describe his own role slightly more heroically.

He’ll hand over the dagger he pocketed, saying he took it to defend against more of the blighters. He would hand over the medallion, but I’d rather James genuinely forgot he took this unless pressed, which isn’t unreasonable given he was a bit shell shocked at the time.

His attitude won’t be defensive or guilty, more like ‘what are you civil servants going to do about this?’ and ‘I have a dinner engagement to get to.’

Charles will be extremely helpful and honest with the soldiers in particular, quickly making his rank and details known (hopefully they will have mutual respect). His loyalty is more to the army than to the other passengers at this point, and will give a detailed report on what was seen, and who attacked who, including revealing James climbed along some of the ladders.

He will suggest his belief that the robbers came through the bank of England, and then away through the tunnels. He won’t suggest the voids are magical, but will suggest they are somehow engineered as a getaway or route to the vaults.
He will indicate the direction of the route, and urge Lestrade to send troops South West in the line of the bubbles toward any other vulnerable/valuable targets. He will mention the names of the warlord etc that were given by the assassins.

He will ask Lestrade if he is suspicious of any particular passengers, and indicate that he can vouch for them. He will offer to shadow a passenger/befriend them if Lestrade is very suspicious, and promise to report back.

James begins the interview feeling relieved that this catastrophic, though admittedly exciting, event in his life is safely behind him, and ends it feeling positively rattled. The sudden crash, the flight through the tunnels, and the encounter with the strange Chinaman had set his heart racing, but the unsettling assured words of this fat man and the threat that they described wormed their way into his heart and nested there. Even the piled corpses which even at the time he had been conscious of blanking from his memory now rise bloated to the surface of his thoughts.

So he is quite subdued as the interview closes, and allows himself to be ushered into the street, which now seems so inimical to him. He breathes the reeking fumes of London air, no real relief from those tunnels at all.

God, I need a drink!

He hails a cab, and is about to step into it, but then has doubts and waves the irritated driver on. He hails a second cab and, eyeing this driver suspiciously, orders a destination two streets away from his home address and climbs inside, meaning to walk the rest of the way and then lock himself in for the night with his drinks cabinet for company.

Rene has been compliant throughout the whole ordeal with the police. Answering questions when asked and giving his full account of the events that transpired. He gives his due diligence but is not overly enthusiastic about talking to inspectors who clearly wouldn’t have much more of a clue than he about what exactly happened down in the tunnels. When the fat man with the cane enters however Rene feels compelled to tell this man every detail of what he encountered in the underground. Showing his sketch of the dark symbol and even getting as technical as possible with his hypotheses and scientific knowledge of what he saw. If anyone could offer to sate Rene’s curiosity it was this mysterious man.

And once the not so subtle threat to his life was revealed and offer of assistance, Rene’s desire for answers and security would compel him to seriously consider the proposal. “Monsieur, I am not a citizen of your Empire nor some brave hero but I have seen things today I couldn’t begin to explain if I were to live as long as you say this Fu Manchu gentleman has. I’ve seen what these people are capable of and it leads me to heed your warnings. You seem to know much about this man and his organization. I am a man of science thrown into a dark world of mysticism but if I can be of assistance, you have me,”

[OOC – I think James is more the sort to make his troubles go away by not thinking about them. He does some pacing around, has a few drinks, calms down, then decides spending the evening in his club doing more drinking with familiar faces will cure everything. He tells his manservant to go out on to the street and hail a cab, and then dashes from the door into it when he has done so, slinking down into the seat with his top hat tipped forward until he reaches the club, repeating the procedure at the other end.

Assuming he manages all that, James probably tells all that has happened to him in lurid detail to his friends after an amount of prompting appropriate to seem reluctant, perhaps theatrically demonstrating his sword fight with a pool-cue from atop a table.

The next day he plans to sleep in and recover, read the papers, receive callers and the like, and hopefully this will all seem like a bad dream by then.]

Charles had been open and honest with the authorities as soon as the questioning had begun. He had no reason to doubt His Majesties police, and the appearance of the soldiers only served to reassure the doctor further.

When the fat man arrived Captain Hills-Nicholas had stood respectfully and extended a smart salute. He nodded agreement and did not quail as conversation turned to duty and battle. “Sir, I chose to enter the service of the King many years ago. I have only last month returned from guarding the farthest corners of His Empire, and if there is but the slightest threat to London, then it is my honour to serve.”

He frowned and added “But I must ask, what is your name? What is your rank? You are clearly a fellow of import to command this force and hold the respect of Lestrade. I would know my commanding officer?

“There are many fine men in the army; my own regiment is unstationed at the moment. Why do we not turn our force against this Fu Manchu? If he dares to threaten us on our own lands, then the devil should feel our anger. I could return to my regiment this evening and ready them for an outside attack. We would teach those devils a lesson!”

Charles was direct and unsubtle. In the army you had to be like that.

“Even if this Warlord is a descendant of some fellow 150 years before…” (Charles assumed the fat man had mis-spoken. No man lived to 150), “…he is still a man. What is this ‘joining’ you offer? What do you ask? I am at your service.”.

After the conversation was finished Charles would gladly offer his details to the other passengers and let them know where he could be contacted. Hills-Nicholas was lodging in a house near the barracks which was reserved for officers who were on leave and unstationed, though few stayed for longer than 6 weeks before the King would have new orders for them

OOC – Charles doesn’t leave the bank until late after discussion with the Fat Man. Depending on what else the Fat Man says next, he will probably loiter to share a taxi with another of the passengers if they chose.

Michael’s impatience with the forces of the state and their high-handedness simmers gently through the long wait and he is cold-eyed by the time he is interviewed, telling the police as little as possible.

That stance does not survive the encounter with the mysterious obese man. Michael cannot decide what he thinks of him but there is something of the secret society about him that has always thrilled Michael. Even the evident likelihood of his violent death at the hands of an ancient Chinaman does not entirely take the shine from it. He tells the man everything he knows, possibly more than he knows in some cases – he wants to impress the man, not just to seem worthy of protection but because his obvious intelligence and power is flattering to Michael.

He asks little of the man except, rather simply: “I don’t need to think about it, Sir. I want to join. When do I begin?” Accepting whatever answer he is given, Michael hurries into the night, anxious to get home. Seeing a fellow passenger from the train carriage, he shyly hails him.

“That man…extraordinary. What did he say to you?” [this is directed at Charles]

Charles nodded gravely as ‘M’ gave his details. The doctor was still skeptical, but would heed the given warning for what it was worth. He’d seen enough in Tibet to wonder if there was more to the world than his practical parents had taught him…

“The Diogenes Club. I had an officer who used to go there once…” That had been years before and Charles hadn’t seen old Colonel Lloyd Halsey since. Hadn’t the old officer disappeared or something? Charles couldn’t quite remember. The fleeting memory only served to make M’s words more mysterious.

“Very well ‘M’. You know where you’ll be able to find me. I will await your contact.”.

With that, Captain Hills-Nicholas had been excused from the ‘interview’ and made his way into London’s dark evening. He didn’t know what to make of everything they had seen. Should he go back to the barracks? Or maybe someplace else. Any brooding on the matter was quickly halted though as a familiar voice called from close by “That man…extraordinary. What did he say to you?”.

Turning to see Michael he felt a quiet reassurance. Something in the shared experience bonded those few passengers and here was a man Charles could relate to. Here was a man who gave his real name and didnt talk in riddles.

“Indeed, quite a fellow that one. He…”, the doctor paused. Had M held the same discussion with all the passengers? That would be logical…or perhaps his position as a Captain in the army made Charles more trustworthy. He hedged his bets. “Called himself ‘M’. Said we ought to be careful out here… What did he say to you?”. Charles voice trailed off as he waited to see if Michael would confirm what he’d been told.

As they walked Charles found himself glancing left and right into the deep shadows of side alleys and curtained windows. The city he’d felt at home in only a few hours before suddenly felt menacing and off key. “Where are you staying Michael?”. The doctor signalled for a passing cab to slow down. “I’m lodging in a house near the barracks. If your place isn’t close, I’m sure there is a spare room you could take?”. Charles left his meaning unsaid. If their lives were in danger they’d be safer together…

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Two days pass. The newspapers, after their initial horror at the loss of life in the collapse of the underground railway tunnels, quickly turn to blaming the government, questioning whether the new Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, is up to the job of running a modern country. For the average man on the street, however, the incident is already becoming a thing of the past — except for those forced to find alternative means of transportation to and from work.

The weather remains cool with occasional cloudbursts to soak the city.

As our heroes mull over what has happened and how they will respond, each receives by hand delivery a cream colored envelope containing a monogrammed calling card with the single initial M. On the back of each card in beautiful cursive script is the summons:

“New Scotland Yard at 6 pm. Ask for Lestrade”

The offices of the Metropolitan Police force have become legendary. Scotland Yard, a name that recalls their original facilities in a stables nearby, has recently been renovated and increased in size as the modern police force takes on more and more detectives and administrators. Lestrade’s name is well know, apparently, and those asking to see him are conducted quickly to a second floor turret office, already crowded and redolent with cigarette smoke. The bulk of the fat man known simply as M is perched on the swivel chair behind the desk and Lestrade himself is leaning with his hip on the sill of window that looks out over the Embankment and the River Thames beyond, swollen and brown with the recent rains.

When you are gathered, M speaks in his deep, cultured tones.

“Lestrade and his men have been busy. They have discovered many things which I wish you all to know. I will let him tell you in his own words.”

Lestrade coughs self-consciously but launches into his tale in much more common accent than M’s.

“We have spoken to the officials at the Bank of England, The holes leading from the railways station intersected a corner of one of their deepest vaults and a series of ladders allowed entry. The very presence of the long ladders indicates that this was indeed the main purpose of the incursion. We have no idea how the holes were created,” he glances uncomfortably at M as he says this, but the fat man merely looks back blandly. “But we do think we know why they broke into that vault.

“Only one thing was stolen. An antique chest of cedar wood lined with lead. The contents of the chest are cataloged as being:” he reads from a type written sheet of paper, “One gold ring set with sapphires and emeralds bearing an occult symbol as a seal. One leather bound manuscript of parchment folios, illustrated and written in Coptic with a gloss in Aramaic, tentatively dated as third or fourth century Egyptian in Origin. One obsidian sacrificial knife or athame with a handle of bone, tentatively identified as human in origin.”

He looks up from his sheet.

“You’ll be wondering why these objects were stored at the Bank rather than a museum,” he says. “So did we. The Director of the Bank looked up the records and told us that they were initially housed at the British Museum but were moved to the Bank some thirty years ago at the specific request of Sir Richard Burton, the man who originally discovered the chest and artifacts in a tomb in Persia during the 1850’s. Apparently there was some urgency about the request — to defend the realm — the transfer order says. The order was signed by her Majesty Queen Victoria herself.”

Lestarde looks at M who takes up the tale.

“Clearly Fu Manchu has stolen these objects with some necromantic purpose in mind. There can be little doubt he commands arcane forces and for him to spend so much effort and energy to steal these objects makes me believe that something even worse is in the offing.

“When last we met, I asked for your help. I had not expected to do so so quickly but I ask you now to assist us in discovering what game this fiend has in play. The police are good at uncovering facts, but not imaginative enough to follow their import.”

Lestarde squirms a little at this but says nothing.

“You gentlemen come from many different backgrounds. You are not investigators by training, but you have been touched by Fu Manchu and I can offer you now the opportunity to track him down before he does more damage.

“What say you?”

James looks around at the others quizzically, before tapping out his cigarette and offering his response.

“Well… why not, eh?” he says, with a nervous laugh that somewhat spoils his carefree attitude. His sleep has been troubled of late, and his face looks uncharacteristically haggard.

“Can’t be having dastardly foreigners running about London, pilfering willy-nilly, can we? eh-hem <cough>.”

“But ‘arcane forces’? Really, gentlemen.”

After this unnecessary expostulation, James lapses into more uneasy fidgeting, smoking and frowning in further efforts to disguise his true motivation, which is that he is scared. Damned scared.

Charles’ research into Fu Manchu has uncovered that the word Manchu means Leader or Warlord. The epithet Fu means Great — so Fu Manchu equates to the Great Warlord or Great Leader in English.

Charles has been lucky to come across a fairly modern American pistol that fits the bill for Michael. The Savage Model 1907 .380 caliber automatic pistol is compact in size, easy to fire, packs a fair wallop and holds ten rounds in the clip. One of his Army officers has one and is willing to sell it along with a holster, spare clip and 50 rounds of ammunition.

Charles frowned at what he heard. He’d been about to say the same thing as James, but a small part of him held back. The doctor had been stationed in some far flung places…he’d heard and seen things that he didnt think were possible, and so despite his doubts he continued to listen.

“Do you know anything else about these items, or if Burton has ancestors who might help us? If so, a letter of introduction might be favourable…”.

Charles glanced cautiously around the room.

“The Great Warlord ” (his research had shown that was exactly how ‘Fu Manchu’ translated) ” and his cronies murdered many good people of London. It is a crime that cannot be left unpunished. I for one would see it as my duty to assist with any investigation. Can you get word to my regiment that I will be posted on special duty?”.

He paused, considering the dangers ahead.

“We have seen that Fu Manchu is a merciless killer. You said yourselves that we are in danger. To stay safe we will need to avoid our usual haunts and will require resources, is there any way you can help? For starters, I know a couple of trustworthy chaps back at the barracks. Assign them to my service. Then, if you have funds to support, I intend to book 3 separate suites in 3 separate hotels in 3 separate names. We will use these as a base for investigations, and I would ask those men to guard them.”

The doctor drew a deep breath and looked to the other passengers.

“My friends, for good of for ill I believe we are in this together. What you do next is your own choice, but I would urge you to join me.”

Michael lets the others take the lead for now. He knows the British Museum well – there may well be those there that can help them on Burton’s mementoes.

He says to Charles: “I agree we need to show solidarity or be picked off one by one. Though I should warn you, my own resources are not as plentiful as perhaps others in this room.”

He says to Lestrade: “These officials at the Bank. Do you consider them fully questioned or might there be more to discover in their records?”

James waits for M’s response, then ruminates aloud.

“Sir Richard Burton, eh? A renowned swordsman, among other things; wrote a fine book on the subject. Yes, I suppose following in that man’s footsteps could do wonders for a gentleman’s reputation.”

He is enthused for a moment by the thought of dueling with this ‘great general’ fellow, no doubt in a suitably dramatic locale and for the freedom of some dusky princess.

“Oh, and I agree – I expect the British Museum will have required detailed notes on the providence of the items in question when they were received. I don’t believe Burton was a knight at the time.” This latter remark said with some sarcasm and a wistful puff of smoke.

M greets Charles’ suggestion of seconding members of the military to act as body guards with a dubious eye.

“The fewer people who know where you are the better,” he says. “You would not believe this devil’s reach when he decides to twist a few arms. No man alive can be expected to protect you when he thinks his wife or his mother or his daughter might be at risk if he does. I can make arrangements for you to be freed up from your duties,” he nods at Charles, “and for you private chaps, I can offer a small stipend to cover expenses, keep the larder full and what not. Hardly a living wage, but enough to get by at least.

“Inspector Lestrade will also provide you with one of his young men to act as a liaison – a contact in the Force you can trust. Detective Constable Teale will be able to reach Lestrade at any time.

“As to Burton’s descendants, his wife died many years ago and they had no children. Their property – it was mostly hers – reverted to the family. A nephew, I think – Baron Arundell – if memory serves. He took possession of the entire estate at Mortlake. The Burtons are buried in a most unique tomb. It resembles an Arabian Tent, also at Mortlake, near Richmond, on the Surrey side of the River.

“You might well start there.”

To Michael’s question about the interrogation of the bank staff, M lifts and eyebrow.

“You have a dim view of authority young man,” he says. “I approve heartily. Their questioning continues under the direction of Lestrade and young Teale, but no evidence has surfaced that implicates any of them. We will keep you informed.”

To James’ comment about the British Museum, echoing the Captain’s own, he nods in agreement.

“Knowledge will be our strongest defense against this monster,” he says. “His foul game is afoot. By the sheerest chance we have a whiff of what he is planning, and now we must search heaven and earth to find out what he plans to do with these objects he has gone to such great lengths to steal. The British museum will do well as a starting point.”

He takes one of his plain calling cards from his enormous waistcoat pocket and scribbles a quick note on the back of it.

“Give this to Sir William Bracknell at the Museum. He is the curator of the rare manuscripts section of the library there and a member at my club. He will afford such assistance as he can.”

“I agree that you would do well to leave your current residences. I suspect they are already under surveillance. Lestrade has provided secure exit from the country for the two ladies, and he may be able to help you with safe houses in London. Whatever the details, it is best I do not know.”

The big man draws out an elaborate silver sniff box, extracts a pinch of white powder and inhales it. Lestrade looks annoyed at him.

“Do you have any questions, gentlemen? Otherwise I bid you Bon Chance”

James sighs, some part of him regretful that Lady Barchester has been so cruelly whisked away, admittedly to safety.

“My current residence had been growing tiresomely familiar anyway, a change of address will be no great hardship.”

He makes a mental note to have his manservant take care of the details. Somewhere tasteful, top-floor.

“As for questions, now I can think of none. But it may be a convenience if we are able to contact you in a pinch later, over the telephone – perhaps by means of those public police-boxes. A key, or permission, or what-have-you, would be marvelous.”

Charles listened carefully as M’ elaborated on his tale and offered what support he could. When he spoke of the devils reach he nodded sagely. “True. Perhaps the fewer men risked by this mission the better.”. James and Michael seemed hardy enough fellows and they at least would believe in the threat they faced.

“So we have the museum, and Burton’s property at Mortlake. I’d say a visit to Baron Arundell might be in order once we know a little more of our subject matter. Who knows what Sir Richard left at his estate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the attic was full of unusual finds or diaries of his voyages.”. Sorting through such things would be another matter however. Surely the museum would be more ‘focussed’.

“M, I would ask that you send Baron Arundell a letter of introduction on my behalf, though if you would be kind enough not to mention these other chaps I’d be grateful.”. When the time to visit came it might be handy if they had different courses of approach. Charles could try the ‘official’ enquiry, while the others might try an alternative approach, say posing as tradesmen. “Perhaps do not be specific about the threat, but make him aware some unsavory characters have been showing unwelcome interest in Burton’s artifacts and that the King offers our support to ensure his security is adequate.”.

Unless M or Lestrade had any more to add, Charles would finish his drink and stand. The dark wooden panels of the room made it feel cozy and safe. Yet the single window over London’s rooftops displayed a cold grey day outside. Reaching for his coat he pulled the collar up around his neck and invited the others to join us.

“Unless there is more to add, I say there is no time like the present. Let us pay a visit to Sir William Bracknell.”. He saluted to the officers present and made for the exit. “I will flag a taxi and have it drop me off around the corner, just in case we have anyone watching us already. It wouldn’t do to have them trail us to the museum. I will await you four streets north and one east.”.

With that, Charles slipped from the room, the weapon in his pocket suddenly feeling heavier but more welcome than before.

“Very well,” says M. “I will write this hour to Arundell and ask him to receive you in two day’s time. He’s a bit of hot head, but his heart is in the right place. He’ll do as I ask.”

As they leave Inspector Lestrade’s office the young Detective Constable Teale offers them each one of his calling cards: Claude Eustace Teal
.
“My telephone number is at the bottom,” he says. “I will arrange accommodations for tonight at number 22A Old Castle Street, just off the Whitechapel Road, near Aldgate Station. Here is a key. My men will be close by watching over you.”

Despite Charles’ elaborate precautions, he detects no sign of being followed and soon alights from his third cab at their final designated rendezvous. The others also notice no lurking strangers and they make their way nonchalantly towards the side entrance to the museum recommended by M.

“Private entrance,” says the uniformed guard who answers their knock. “Public enters through the front door. Though it’s getting late. Museum shuts in half an hour.”

Presenting M’s calling card they are reluctantly allowed inside to wait in a narrow corridor while the guard takes the card in to Sir William’s office. The surprise on his face is clear when he comes out a moment or two later to invite them inside.

“Sir William will see you now, gentlemen,” he says in a hushed voice as if he had just witnessed a savage dog lick their hands in pleasure.

Sir William Bracknell is well dressed in old fashioned but very well tailored clothes. He is perhaps sixty years old with graying hair and the erect stance of an ex-military man. He stands to greet them and moves with a distinct limp around the desk. A heavy cane stands in an umbrella stand nearby.

“You come well recommended, gentlemen,” he says flicking M’s card with his thumb and returning it to them. “What Mycroft desires it is my pleasure to provide. How may I help you?”

Michael plans to let his posher companions do the talking for now, contenting himself with giving the room (and its occupant) a thorough looking over. He also keeps an ear out for anyone using the corridor outside – he has no intention of the devil reaching him so early.

“Mycroft, eh?” James comments, airily, and seems about to expand on this, but recognizes the man before him as the sort not overly fond of airy or unnecessary remarks, and his mouth, as it were, refuses the fence.

“Ahem. Wodehouse,” he introduces himself, and the others too, if they are not forthcoming.

“You will forgive my friend here,” he says, noting Michael’s skittish behaviour. “If you are familiar with M – uh, ‘Mycroft’ – then you also may appreciate that our business with you is important and urgent. We are out-flanked, as you may say, and like any good soldiers, press the attack!”

He expects this waffle is going down well with the old bird, and charges into the breach without further doubts, but is infected somewhat by Michael’s conspiratorial unease, and lowers his voice.

“We were given to understand that that great world-trotter, Sir Richard Burton, deposited within these hallowed halls certain Persian relics, and that these items were re-housed in the Bank of England three decades ago. Our purpose here is to discover, if we can, the exact nature of those items.”

“No doubt, you had records, and… what-not.” He waves his hand as if to indicate they might be sitting on a shelf nearby. “And as a museum, I expect you are quite good at holding on to dusty, out-dated bits of paper.”

James chortles as his own witticism, then seizes up quite visibly as it occurs to him that he has probably committed one of those astonishingly fatal gaffs that have made him persona non grata at certain family functions.

James wilts under Mrs. Hasting’s disapproving glare, feeling like a school-boy being chastised for some basic error.

“Sh-sherry sounds just the thing,” he coughs out, tugging at his over-starched collar.

He wishes he had that bit of paper M. had. Or been less distracted by the mortal fear he felt during most of that particular interview, and could remember exactly what he read out.

He offers: “Some kind of ring. Or was it a jewel? And a sort of book, I think. Also, a knife. In a wooden box. Have a rummage, see what you come up with,” and concludes with a chipper smile which he has been reliably informed by certain ladies is “knock-out.”