Sunday, July 3, 2016

CoC #34: Masks of Nyarlathotep #14 "A Jolly Right Time in Shanghai"

May 22, 1925 - Shanghai Harbor, China
The mysterious sounds and smells overwhelmed our investigators as the SS Vahanna pulled into Shanghai harbor.  Despite the western influences, this would be the most foreign environment they had entered yet.

For the crew since Cairo, Dr Bob Wintermute,  Steven O'Hara, Francois Guerin, and Father Dorian Dolan, being followed the second they got off the boat was old hat, but thanks to RJ Cunninghame's safari credentials, they were far better armed to handle anyone who got too close. 

They checked into their hotel in the American quarter and poured over the few clues they had: a matchbook from the Stumbling Tiger Bar, found on Jackson's body the night he was murdered, a blurry picture of yacht taken in Shanghai harbor, the first three letters of the shp "DAR,"  and three recent newspaper articles cover a fire in a monastery, a strange calamity at the Seaman's Club, and a pair of vicious murders just down the street from the Stumbling Tiger on Lantern St.

May 23, 1925 - Shanghai, China
The Stumbling Tiger Bar was little more than a ramshackle pavilion with a dirt floor and a well-stocked bar.  The bartender, a half-Chinese half-Scott named Fergus Chum became quite friendly with his new best friends, offering tourist advice and a tour of the local "flower shops."

Wintermute dropping Brady's name and a handful of Mexican silver dollars to the self-proclaimed "McChum of everyone" only slightly changed his demeanor...

"Brady? He saved my life once!" But he's not here anymore.  Running guns to Rangoon!  Maybe Burma for a Charles Grey.  He did the same for him in Nicaragua." 

He had zero knowledge of Elias.

The bar was quite roomy, even for Saturday morning.   A few Chinese nationals drinking and conspiring along the walls, one decently dressed Japanese man sitting at the bar, of whom only Francois noticed that copious amounts of liquor he was ordering was intentionally hitting the floor and not his mouth, and one completely out of place American.  The American seemed the least likely to shoot them, so they struck up a conversation with him.

The American, a reporter named  David Kavia, was happy to meet anyone, including westerners, who weren't immediately looking to take advantage of him.  Make no mistake, years of travelling the world, writing for numerous New York newspapers, and a new assignment for The New Yorker taught him how to handle himself.  He had been sent to China to do an expose on the brutal violence of the New China Army, a new organization that was half-political, half-military, and completely anarchistic in its random assaults across the countryside.  He had arrived at the end of April and kept  running into dead end after dead end.  The student demonstrations that had sprung up a week ago had even dried up his professional contacts, including his translator.   Trading stories and legends between a mysterious Chineese army and the worldwide conspiracy the other investigators talked about seemed like everyday matters to David.  He'd have a story one way or the other.

David was most perplexed by RJ.  It took him a moment to collect his thoughts, and then, like an excited schoolboy, he exclaimed, "And I am incredibly honored to meet the man who save Theodore Roosevelt's life while on safari in Africa.  I am a bit concerned as to why you attached yourself  top these men in the month of May, when the real Richard John Cunnighame passed away in England two months ago..."

RJ was flabbergasted (Not as much as the other investigators, none of whom had heard of RJ 's exploits rescuing former Presidents from a lion.)  He insisted he was the gentleman he was, even going so far as producing papers confirming recent travel and requests from the Governor of Hong Kong for animal specimens.  The conversation (if not the suspicions) were soon dropped, as the group grabbed dinner and decided to spend the night visiting the local "flower shops".

After a night of carousing, some truth to the other's conspiracy talk was proven true after, as David found himself being followed by a very sober version of the drunk Japanese man from the Stumbling Tiger.  He managed to dive into an alleyway and man, and reached his hotel room otherwise unabated.

May 24, 1925 Shanghai, China
David met the group for breakfast and recounted his tale.

RJ and Steven went to the Garden of the Purple Clouds of Autumn , a monastery where an overturned brazier had a set a tremendous fire, killing a number of people.  The monks there were quite friendly , if not helpful with information.  They remembered a perfectly still and quiet day with no wind, before the monstrous fire whipped itself into a frenzy.  The monks did not recall any Jack Brady, although they might be able to recognize them if they only had a photo... which was back at the hotel.  Leaving the Garden, RJ noticed two Chinese, who were obvious tails.  After participating in a game of pantomime, the tails disappeared into the crowds

Dr Wintermute went back to Fergus and asked for a reliable translator, and by the afternoon, Li-Wen Cheng, a student and librarian assistant the Methodist College in Shanghai arrived in the hotel lobby.

May 25, 1925 Shanghai, China
RJ and Steven went back to the Garden, the only picture of Brady in hand.  The monks could only confirm that he had been there sometime in the past, but couldn't remember if he had been there the day of the fire.

Dr Wintermute, Francois, David, and Li-Wen leisurely walked down Lantern street to investigate the brutal murders in the brothel, err... "flower shop".   Mexican silver dollar bribes flowed freely to get information out of any and everyone.  The murdered prostitute was one of three people living in the tiny room, along with a woman named Quivering Jade, and an American named John.    John had not been seen since, and Quivering Jade had already been sold to two different brothels.  Interviewing the man running the second brothel, it was revealed that she never arrived as expected, but no one had followed up .   The quartet also noticed a westerner in a trench coat and fedora carefully watching them, only to slide into the throngs when they tried to approach him.

Bob and Francois also decided to perform a late-night/early morning stakeout of the Japanese area of the harbor, in the look-out for a foreman matching the description of the man at the Stumbling Tiger.  He was certainly not there, although they did spy two individuals spying on them from atop one of the warehouses.  They arrived back at the hotel without incident.

May 26, 1925 Shanghai, China
Steve and Francois decided to check out the Seman's Club, where a pier had collapsed.  Despite reports claiming a natural undermining caused the collapsed, both Steve (via Mechanical Repair) and Francois (via Geology) knew that to be false.  Someone... or something ripped out the pier supports from the habor floor.  Upon looking at guest registry, they uncovered a Mr John Smith, who had just arrived to stay at the club the night before the accident.  Waving Brady's picture at the staff confirmed that he had been at the club as the enigmatic Mr. Smith in the registry.

May 27, 1925  Shanghai, China
The investigators set aside an entire day to visit the Chinese Museum, and were left largely disappointed.  The curator of the museum quickly dismissed direct questions regarding the Bloated Woman and other occult activities, rather providing them with a list of thirty experts and the occults, mysticism, naturalism, history, etc, who could be consulted in person, for a small fee.  At least two different groups of people could be spotted tailing the party, but yet again, no anticipated altercation actually transpired.

May 29, 1925 Shanghai, China
After two days of hunting down Chinese experts who were useless towards their search for knowledge of the Cult of the Bloated Woman, they arrived back to their room to find an officer of the Japanese Imperial Navy standing in the middle of the room, armed with a Lewis Gun in hand, and the remains of some unfortunate Chinese littering the floor between the bed and the window.  The officer introduced himself as Captain Isoge Taro of the Japanese Imperial Navy... and the poor actor at the Stumbling Tiger bar. 

Japanese intelligence had uncovered rumors of a weapon being developed by one of the factions in China.  Numerous parties had seemed interested in the investigators, and upon neutralizing certain threats to them without gaining any additional intelligence, he decided it wise to speak "straight from the mouth of the horse."    He had already accessed your room (and respectfully decided not to ransack it for intell), when the two Chinese tried to break in via the window.

It was concluded that the faction in question might be associated with the Cult of the Bloated Woman.  Once specific intelligence was gathered, Captain Taro could possibly provide naval support to the operation, only if he could claim the weapon for the Emperor.  The thought of battleships and destroyers combatting cultists was too enticing for the investigators to say no... for now. 

Taro somehow managed to dispose of the bodies without ruining his uniform.  No one questioned the bullet holes in the wall after the group checked out of the hotel and checked in somewhere else. 

May 30, 1925 Shanghai, China
Taking a break from uncovering useless experts, the investigators went down to the docks to go through records of any yachts visiting the harbor.  The obvious match was the Dark Mistress, belonging to a Mr. Edward Derby of London, England.  Wandering the docks, they could see not only one of the Chinese hooligans watching them from an observation point, but the trench coat and fedora wearing individual mere feet away, apparently each one oblivious to the other. 

The student protests erupted into gunfire in other parts of the International Settlement, so it was deemed wise to barricade themselves in the hotel. 

May 31, 1925 Shanghai, China
The streets of Shanghai felt far more dangerous than usual.  Picketers and riots were in numerous parts of the city, and many of the Chinese workers in the International Settlement went on strike in support of the students.

The 25th name on the list provided by the Chinese Museum finally hit gold.  The occult expert Mu Hsien heard the interest in the Order of the Bloated Woman and unleashed a torrent of knowledge the group was not suspecting.
  • The cult was growing in power yearly, and may be responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of disappearances reported every year in China...  and many more unreported cases.
  • Severing the arms of victims is a trademark of the cult
  • Cult members want to summon their goddess through a rift in the sky. 
  • A year after that rift in the sky was open, the world will be filled with other evil entities,
  • Since they were working against the cult, the investigators were never permitted to return to his house ever again.
"Never come to my house again.  You have endangered us all."

June 1 - Shanghai, China
Checking out libraries, markets, and newspapers for any and all information, the investigators noticed new tails, this time Chinese in non-descript olive military uniforms.  They keep their distance and left after a short time.

June 2 - Shanghai, China
Paranoia finally hits the investigators, and they believe the Mu Hsien is either part of the cult, or in danger from the cult.  This is confirmed by the afternoon, as many of the other "experts' they spoke with have been found murdered.  Severed limbs are mentioned in some of the cases.

They decided that scoping out the Mu's house, possibly breaking in was the next logical step.  Most decided against sneaking in via the sewer system, so they hired a few non-striking painters to set up
scaffolding outside the walls of Mu's compound.  They also hired kids to play outside the compound, so if anything would occur, they were to run directly to the hotel.

June 3   Shanghai, China
At breakfast a strange figure took a piece of toast off of RJ's plate.

"I understand you fellows are looking for me.  I'm Jack Brady."

Brady spent a leisurely morning having breakfast with the group, filling them in on the details of the Carlysle expedition that no one else knew:
  • Roger Carlysle was being driven mad by dreams and actively encouraged by M'Weru, his "African fling"
  • The other members of the expedition were even crazier than Roger, actively seeking and summoning secrets that no man was meant to know. 
  • He kidnapped Roger in Kenya and the duo escaped to Hong Kong, where Roger was currently safe in a sanitarium. 
  • He was going to slink into the shadows of Shanghai, "never seeing any member but Roger of that damned expedition.  So I thought, until I looked through naval glasses at a certain yacht, and saw Sir Aubrey Penhew preening on the deck of the Dark Mistress."
  • He had scholars translating The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, looking for a way to stop the impending darkness.  They should be complete with their task shortly. 
  • After the solution is found, he planned a full frontal assault Sir Aubrey's compound/lair on Grey Dragon Island, with help from the New China Army.
With the Japanese Navy their possible ace-in-the-hole, the investigators were game with the plan, despite the fact, as RJ Cunnighame declared, "We're Having a Jolly Right Time in Shanghai!"

The penultimate live session of Masks is upon us.  Jack Brady is alive, the situation is more dire than any of them imagined, but there is a plan.  A very dangerous plan. 

Despite numerous bloodthirsty cults/individuals following them, there was no reason for conflict.  Outside of some early brothels when only the Japanese officer knew about them, they stayed together, stayed safe, and were more valuable as extra scouts to these entities than dead westerners.
It might be smart for the investigators to change hotels again...

Due to scheduling, and a strong desire to finish this campaign by the end of the summer, we'll be running the timeline between Brady's appearance and some point before the trip to Grey Dragon Island as a play-by-email.  This way we can resolve a few conflicting issues before the finale. 

The End is Near... but not if they can help it. 

Next: Masks Episode #15 - Washing the Dishes

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