Horror on the Orient Express: London, part 1
Edelmiro Cervantes - Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klauss Fischer - German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung.
Flora Bianchin - Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close.
Mikhail Sokolov - Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky - Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo.
Lavinia Wray - English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.
Our story opens at the Imperial Institute in Kensington, where Professor Julius will was giving his Challenger Trust Lecture on the evening of January 3rd, 1923. As members of the SPR and recent contributors to Smith's research, the investigators were invited to the dinner as well as the cocktail party to follow at the Oriental Club.
As expected, Smith’s lecture was an all around success. He was in fine form and kept the crowd entertained as well as informed. The feeling in the room is that the SPR will have a good shot at this year's Challenger Trust Grant. Getting a hold of Professor Smith at the Imperial Institute proves difficult, so the investigators decide to save their personal congratulations for the Oriental Club, where there's rumors of an open bar!
The cocktail hour is a whirlwind of booze, dancing and conversation. Flora and Lavinia attract particular attention as ladies are only rarely allowed in the building. Much free alcohol is consumed and by 9pm Lavinia, Flora, and Dr. Fischer are thoroughly soused, while Mikhail, Viktor (weened in vodka) and Edelmiro retain their faculties.
In the midst of the crowd, the investigators note a sour faced man of Eastern extraction who appears to be trying to get ahold of Professor Smith. Viktor decides to take the diplomatic approach and introduce himself. The man speaks in a halting accent, stating his name is Memhet Makryat and he has an urgent matter to discuss with the professor. Coincidentally, the professor has just stumbled, having gone a glass of port too far, and Edelmiro is helping him to a finely appointed couch.
Makryat produces a portion of a newspaper and speaks urgently to Professor Smith. Smith seems to be brushing him off and shaking his head until he looks up at the investigators and smiles to himself. He explains that his friend Memhet is an importer who’s been helping him acquire artifacts from Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. A regular customer of his, Henry Stanley, is missing and the rumor is he suffered an accident of spontaneous combustion.
This fascinating epiphenomena is worth studying in it's own right, and Memhet’s concern makes the investigation all the more worth it. The professor, having taken a fall in the Balkans this summer, isn’t fit to go stomping around London looking for clues. Memhet is crestfallen at this, though he attempts to conceal his feelings and quickly presses the professor on an additional matter, a meeting to discuss some books he’s recently acquired.
The investigators stumble home, a new case in hand. They meet the following afternoon for tea across from Lavinia’s place of work: the British museum. Over tea and biscuits they divide up the tasks: they want to interview Memhet about his relationship with Mr. Stanley, look up any medical documentation on the other case of spontaneous combustion mentioned in the article: a gentleman from Kent in 1919, and meet up at Stanley's apartment in the evening and see if anyone is about.
Flora and Dr. Fischer travel to the office of the London Coroner's Court, and the rest make their way to the crescent treasury in Islington. The coroner’s office has limited information, only that the 1919 case was ruled Death by Misadventure, and the Crescent Treasury is shut up tight. A kindly cobbler across the street advises the “Old Man” who ran the Crescent Treasury shut the store and took off a week and a half ago. Mikhail decides a break-in is in order, but it’ll have to wait until after dark.
Meeting up in Stoke Newington, they meet Stanley’s nosy landlady offering tours of his Death Room. 2 shillings later, the group is examining the upstairs room. They discover strange sooty marks, a train afficiando's encyclopedia open to a section on the London-Liverpool Express, and, looking behind the desk, a receipt from the Crescent Treasury for an oddly inexpensive model train toy. Furthermore, the landlady volunteers the visiting card of Mr. Arthur Butters of the London Train Spotters Society, who apparently came took some of Henry Stanley’s property for safekeeping, after discovering he was missing.
Mikhail and Viktor are now certain that they must get inside the Crescent Treasury. Accompanied by Lavinia and Edelmiro, they head back to Islington. Meanwhile the doctor and Flora go to visit Arthur Butters. Mr. Butters is a little unnerved to receive visitors after suppertime, but when Flora and Dr. Fischer explain that A) they are working to locate his friend who’s mysteriously disappeared (the truth) and they are, in fact, fascinated with trains (a lie) the meek little train spotter is very welcoming. Of predominant interest to the investigators is the model train set Mr. Butters acquired from Henry Stanley’s room. Mr. Butters explains that the London-Liverpool express model is exquisite, custom-made with a degree of detail rarely seen. Furthermore, it’s a highly morbid model given the fact the train is famous for derailing and killing all crew and passengers aboard. Mr. Butters is happy to let the doctor and Flora take the model, as he’s unsettled by it.
Meanwhile, in Islington, Mikhail is picking the lock on the back door the Crescent Treasury. He manages to pop open the door and permit access to himself and his companions. The group does a quick sweep of the one bedroom apartment upstairs find it cleared out. The shop counter downstairs contains a ledger with curious entries, including mentions of an expensive custom model train set purchased from an estate sale of Randolph Alexis and then sold to Mr. Henry Stanley for a pittance. Edelmiro has heard of Randolph Alexis: an infamous occultist who managed to offend the sensibilities of the Golden Dawn and the Order of the Silver Twilight, leading to his expulsion from both groups. He was reported killed along with the other passengers of the London-Liverpool Express derailment of 1897. Edelmiro seems to recall his son was also keen on the occult, but he disappeared some years ago.
The two groups meet up a Viktor’s house in Chelsea. There is discussion about next steps, but things go sideways in a hurry when Mikhail figures out how to set up the train model’s complex track, sets up the board behind the house, and turns it on. After a handful of revolutions around the track, both Mikhail and Edelmiro (who is standing in the frame of the back door) witness an electrical surge that brings a ghostly set of train tracks racing into existence down the alley that separates the row houses Viktor and his neighbours live in from their various garages and sheds. Through a billowing cloud of black smoke and electrical discharges emerges the true to life London-Liverpool express of 1897!
As Edelmiro calls for the rest of the investigators, passengers in Victorian attire swirl around Mikhail, pleasant at first but then twisting and distorting into haggard, hungry dead. Mikhail is carried aboard the train by many revenant hands. The remaining investigators, taken aback by what they see materialized in Viktor’s backyard fall into a pattern of fight-or-flight: Lavinia, Edelmiro, and Viktor are cautious, while Flora and Dr. Fischer bolt for the open door of the train car to rescue Mikhail. The remaining investigators can only watch a follow for a little distact as the train departs through a bring wall at the end of the alleyway.
Onboard, a host of wretched, undead froth at chance to suck Mikhail’s soul from his lips. Fortunately, the close rows of bench seats prevent Mikhail from being swarmed, and he’s able to wriggle away as Flora and Dr. Fischer distract the fiends. Flora employs a fire poker swiped from Viktor’s kitchen. Dr. Fischer opts for Marquis of Queensbury rules. The fight is brief, as the investigators figure out they are grossly outnumbered and make for the empty train car behind them. When the train arrived, Flora had noted the face of Henry Stanley from the window crying out for help a window of the third car, finding it barred from the inside, she pounds on the door and shouts Stanley’s name. Another man answers, haggard looking and wearing a tattered Victorian suit, but not appearing to be one of the wretched dead things in the front car.
The weary looking fellow introduces himself as Randolph Alexis. He’s been hiding in the barricaded sleeper car at the end of the train for years. When asked about Henry Stanley, Randolph points half-heartedly toward the last door at the end of the sleeper car, advising he’s a small minded fool who will be of no help. Flora goes to check on Henry, while Mikhail and Doctor Fischer converse with Alexis. The would-be sorcerer advises something went wrong with an incantation he was he tried to complete on the train back in 1897. He advises this is a pocket universe where time had but a toehold on physics. As near as he can figure it’s 1911 back home. Mikhail informs him he’s a little off in his calculations. Randolph sighs and says, all the same, they need a solution soon, pointing out the solid shadow of the train consuming the darkness outside.
Meanwhile, Henry Stanley, is ranting to Flora that he’s been trapped on a train for what feels like weeks with a mad-man, looking toward the other rooms on the sleeper car and shudder. Flora inspects one room and finds a pile of bones Randolph shrugs and acknowledges is his son, who built the train model to come to rescue him. He then shows the investigators his more fleshy model of the toy train set. Doctor Fishcer, is just about the point on the fact his organ train (which the players started calling the Oregon Train, after the “Oregon Trail” video game) is missing the ramps to provide the gate sigil its three-dimensional quality when there is a sudden sound like thunder and the train begins to slow. Back in the physical plane, Viktor has turned on the model and let it run its course again!
This time, when the passengers debark, the remaining investigators are ready. Viktor stabs the first woman who approaches him, Lavinia levels a rife at the pack of passengers, and Edelmiro, spying his friends in the third car, hurries to try and retrieve them. The pack of undead monstrosities is split between fighting off Viktor and Lavinia at the door of the first coach and breaking through the barricade at the rear car with all the fresh souls hiding inside it.
Struggles ensue on both ends of the train. Doctor Fischer manages to get a window of the rear car open, dislodging the black frost of the pocket dimension that had frozen it shut. Randolph Alexis spares no time, knocking Henry Stanley into the pack of hungry dead at the door and leaping out the window. Edelmiro brandishes a knife outside the train car and Alexis turns about and flees down the alleyway at a dead sprint. Edelmiro pursues, but the mad man is just too fast. Back on the train the doctor helps Flora out of the car, where she promptly falls face first into the cobbles. Mikhail helps the doctor, holding off the hungry dead with his pistol, and then manages to barely escape.
Covered by Lavinia and Viktor, the rest of the group make for the house, barricading themselves inside. The hungry dead, some shot through by Lavinia’s rifle, paw at the door and windows ineffectually as the train rolls away into the night. As it vanishes, its former passengers loose a silent scream and fade into nothingness, their tortured souls utterly destroyed by separation from the bizarre limbo-like plane that sustained them. Shakily reflecting on this metaphysical truth, and the loss of Henry Stanley, an innocent, the investigators decide to stay at Viktor’s home for the night, light a roaring fire, drink tea, and get a small amount of the sleep.
Studying the remains of the train model overnight, Viktor comes to an understanding of how it works and thinks if he had the time and the tools he could reproduce the spell. He regards it not it as magic, but as some form of experimental mathematics. He shakily collects the morning paper and notes two curious articles: “Man Dies Three Times in One Night” and “Professor’s Home Burns.” It's about this time a pair of constables arrive to inquire about complaints of gunshots, various industrial noises, and smoke and soot phoned in by his neighbors last night.