From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she smelled like someone made up to be seen from 30 feet away.
— With apologies to Raymond Chandler
It was a very bad morning for Damon. Sleeping on a half-broken couch in his office was old hat by now, as was the morning sound of a stone gargoyle landing outside the window at dawn, or a feline deity demanding breakfast. Nothing that a bad cup of coffee or three wouldn’t fix, especially with some bourbon thrown in. Memories of the previous night were fuzzy — something involving a beautiful woman, a fist fight, and alcohol. Just like every night. Through sheer force of will, the detective managed to keep one eyelid propped open as he rolled out of bed and onto his feet, fumbling for his coffee cup.
There was an angel sitting behind his battered desk.
She looked like a goddess, radiant and attractive beyond the understanding of mortal men – brunette hair worn off the shoulder, alabaster skin without a trace of imperfection, and blue eyes as wide and alluring as the sky on a summer day. Full, red lips that were made by some deity for the very purpose of being kissed. Looking up from the newspaper she was reading, she cocked her head to one side and gave Damon a smile full of hope and trust. “Like a puppy hoping for a home,” he thought sourly. His heart still skipped once.
Then he caught a whiff of the smell. A smell he normally associated with back alleys, strays hit by a railrunner, and the city morgue on a warm day.
“Awake?” said the angel with a voice like honey and milk. She tapped the newspaper. “I was just reading the obituaries. So strange to see my name there.” She smiled again, all innocence and trust. “Thank you for agreeing to find out who killed me. It really means a lot.”
From the corner near the food bowl Ubaid piped up “And you complain about the things I drag home!”
Thus read the introduction we had received via a email: on Sunday we played a new episode of the adventures of Damon Sainte, P.I., an ensemble cast setting my husband wrote for the game Bloodshadows from West End Games. The most recent episodes were posted here and here. Our player characters this time were Damon Sainte himself (Steve P.), Cat the former pit fighter and current casino owner (Maureen), Chummie the newspaper boy with a not-so-imaginary friend (Adi), and Marycete the nurse, a worm collective animating a dead body (me). Short descriptions of all character backgrounds are found here.
Damon questioned the dead dame, Dottie. She was sure she could not have died in her sleep has the obituary claimed. And she wanted Damon to investigate.
Her last memory was of having gone to sleep in her home in the wealthiest part of town, the Diamond Districts. She lived with her parents — and their twenty-five or thirty servants and employees of the art gallery. Dottie did not work or study but she painted and entertained many suitors. No pets, no enemies. But Alfram Gallery was known as the most prestigious in Galitia.
When she had come to, Dottie had found herself in a corpse rendering factory. Horrified, she had escaped and wandered the city until she had run into Chummie, who had sent her to Damon. According to her, they had started talking and in fact had had this entire conversation, when Damon had suddenly fallen asleep mid-sentence. Dottie had politely waited for him to wake up, passing the time by reading the newspaper. She pointed to her obituary, which mentioned that her service would be held at the Church of the Reflected Word — the very same one controlled by Cat’s patron, the powerful Chaos mage Aloysius “Mercurial” Jones.
Damon went to find Chummie, singing the news on the front steps of the Cat’s Claw. Chummie confirmed that he had brought Dottie the night before; however, he was now selling the morning newspaper and the headline informed Damon that Rickard Alfram and his wife had died in a fire during the night. Damon winced. He went to fetch Cat and asked for her help in handling the case, urging her not to let Dottie know yet that her parents had died; he wanted to wait until the right moment. Chummie, curious about the case, decided to stick around until someone shooed him away.
They took Dottie to see Marycete for an examination, so the unsettling but professional nurse could determine the cause of death. After an examination both physical and metaphysical, Marycete discovered that both Death and Entity magic had been used. Otherwise, the body was in excellent shape, and Marycete politely informed Damon that should the current occupant no longer need it, the collective would be happy to use this body. She explained that Death magic was unaligned, but Entity magic was aligned with Chaos
This got Cat’s attention. She went to talk to Aloysius Jones, who sounded uncharacteristically distracted and tired. He had not heard about the fire; he was wary and advised destroying Dottie. He said he would postpone her service to combine it with her parents’. When Cat questioned him about Rickard Alfram and his art gallery, Jones mentioned in an off-hand way that they had been holding many pieces of unusual art, including the painting “Death Approaches.” Cat glanced at the wall and realized that the painting she had seen there before was gone.
Meanwhile, Chummie decided to help with the investigation by checking with his newspaper contacts. He visited the editor and learned that the fire had spared the gallery and the art, with the damage concentrated in the residential portion of the Alfram Building. Young Chummie heard a theory that the fire had been set to get the art sold for pennies on the dollar in the estate sale — and also managed to get his first taste of whiskey and his first cigar.
During this time, Marycete did more research on spells that could have been used to kill or possess Dottie, perhaps to use her access through the wards of Alfram Gallery. It was odd that Living Being magic had not been used as part of the spell; it suggested that either Dottie had not been a human being in the first place, or that her consciousness had been replaced by an extra-planar entity. Both were possible but from what Marycete learned, it was unlikely that the same faction would have been responsible for her parents’ death.
Everyone brought their information back to Damon, who decided it was time to visit the gallery. The crime scene was guarded by a single Sentinel, a White Hat. Chummie distracted the cop by pretending to have lost his mother, allowing the others to sneak in and investigate. Cat searched the gallery on the ground floor, which had sustained only minor smoke and water damage, and Damon and Marycete headed upstairs to check the burnt-out living quarters.
With some poking around, Cat found Aloysius Jones painting, “Death Approaches.” It showed a gloomy landscape with a and old house far in the background, and a shadowy, nebulous mass in the left foreground; however, the running figure who had been in the right foreground last time she saw the painting was now missing. When she tried to examine the dark amorphous shape, Cat found herself sucked into the painting, running for her life!
In her new surroundings, Cat was filled with a sense of supernatural terror as she fled from the looming shape. The only refuge in sight was the old mansion in the distance, so she ran for it and made it just in time. Inside, dust covers hid all pieces of furniture. Hearing the door rattling, Cat made her way to the second floor, then the third. There, she found a single item that was not covered: a kerosene lantern, atop the shrouded shape of a table. And there she also met someone who also call themselves “Cat”: a large white feline with the body of a puma but the ears of a lynx who claimed to be a god. It too was a prisoner, unable to tell time.
Upstairs, Damon and Marycete find two charred skeletons but Marycete’s examination suggest that did not curl up in the characteristic way of people who die in a fire. She suspects they may have been killed before the they burned, and also puzzles why they have not been taken away from the crime scene yet. Damon looks for traces of accelerant but it’s like looking for water in a swimming pool: it looks like the entire floor went up in flames simultaneously, probably thanks to a spell.
Damon and Marycete went back downstairs to regroup and leave before the cop showed up but Cat was nowhere to be found. They could hear the Sentinel approaching; Chummie has stolen his hat and led him a merry chase but the cop had realized this must be a distraction and headed back to the crime scene. Chummie was still trying to get his attention but the cop would have none of it.
Damon spotted the cursed painting and realized that in the right foreground, Cat was running for her life. He grabbed the painting and high-tailed it through the back door before the cop could find him. But Marycete’s Karnos collective was not nearly as nimble so she stood her ground instead. When the Sentinels burst in and demanded to know what she was doing there, she dodged the question and asked why the remains had not been taken to the morgue. The Sentinel was confused about the skeletons’ presence; he said a morgue vehicle had been by earlier and taken bundles away which he had thought were the victims’ remains. He agreed to check on this when he got off shift if Marycete would get his hat back from Chummie.
Damon, running with the dangerous artwork, snagged a sheet from a clothesline in a side alley to cover the canvas. He then headed to the residence of City Elder Caiphas Bennington, who still owed him a favour. But as soon as Bennington started examining the painting, he was sucked into it like Cat had been! Appalled, Damon covered the painting again and decided to take it back to the source, “Mercurial” Jones himself. He headed to the Church of the Reflected Word where Jones had his office, but this time he carefully explained the events before uncovering the painting.
Aloysius used a spell to yank Cat back from the painting, along with Caiphas Bennington, the cat-god… and the monster. A deadly fight broke in Jones’ office. Jones and Bennington cast spells against the monster, but as the cat-god was being dismembered, Jones yelled for Cat and Damon — who had done quite well but did not have the power to stay in a struggle of this calibre. Without needing to be told twice, Damon and Cat ran downstairs into the crystal cathedral.
Meanwhile, Chummie felt a pang of pain and terror, and realized with amazement that someone else had summoned Gorge, his well-kept secret and not-so-imaginary friend. This had never happened before. He started running in the direction pulling at him — towards the Church of the Reflected Word. Unable to catch up on foot, Marycete hailed a cab and followed.
Chummie ran into the crystal cathedral, looking for a corner to hide in. He came face to face with Damon and Cat who were running down from the administrative area, and hastily changed direction, avoiding his friends. Chummie raced for the restroom in the back, slammed the stall door behind him and started casting a Binding on Gorge. He was successful but the magical backlash had him vomiting copious amount of powerful green acid. Cat, Damon and Marycete ran in to help him and barely avoided being burned by the acid. Damon snatched the boy before he could fall in the hole burning through the floor.
But another hole opened up in the ceiling of the church area, with dark tentacles reaching down. Through the hole, Jones and Bennington could been seen still fighting the monster. The church emptied of the few faithful it had held. Cat and Damon attacked the tentacles, which had already wrapped themselves around Marycete. Recovering from his ordeal, Chummie called to Gorge and ordered him to stop and leave his friends alone. The monster was grudging to obey, but this provided the two mages the chance to send him back into the painting. The crystal cathedral that was home to the cult of the Reflected Word was a bit worse for the wear, as were Damon Sainte and his friends.
End of the first part.
Some questions to investigate next time:
- Why did Damon suddenly fall asleep the night Dottie first came to see him, and apparently just before the arson of Alfram Gallery?
- Who is the spirit animating Dottie’s dead body? And who placed it there?
- Why did Dottie want Damon to investigate?
- Would bringing Pyro Cross for an examination of the arson scene yield any useful information?
- Who wants to scoop up the Alfram art collection? Are multiple factions vying for it?
- How did Aloysius Jones’ dangerous painting end up in the Alfram Gallery? Is it related to what had him distracted and tired?
- What killed the two people whose skeletons were found on site? Were these even the remains of the Alframs?
- What was taken away from Alfram Gallery by the people pretending to be from the morgue?
- What exactly is Gorge?? Why does Chummie have the ability to control him?
- Is Chummie Jones related to Aloysius Jones? It’s a common last name, but an unnerving coincidence.
Credits: The character pictures were selected several years ago by the GM so I’m not entirely sure of the sources; this is my best guess based on some Google searches. No copyright challenge intended.
- Cityscape Snapshot by Atomhawk, concept art for Necessary Force.
- Private eye from the Private Investigator Directory.
- Body painting from the “Make-up Art Cosmetics Body Painting Cheong-sam Spectacular” held in Shanghai Toronto Art Gallery on October 28, 2005.
- Newspaper boy photo by Philippe Gendreau.
- No source found for the vintage photo of a nurse.
- The Gorge monster is actually a picture of Hedorah from Gojira tai Hedora, aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.