Secret World by Gaslight: The Masks of Venice

Prologue

The weather was abysmal, even by Darkside standards, that area of London where event the shadows seemed to travel in pairs. There was an old Templar phrase about letting the waters carry all the excrement into the sewers, though by the way the rain was falling at the moment it would be a blessed miracle if the sewers did not flood and overflow and bring the effluence back onto the streets that had banished it in the first place.

Nicholas Sanders shivered and wondered how long he would have to wait. The rickety stairways and platforms off the locale offered scant shelter and he had no intention of suffering the filthy streets of the area any longer than he had need to. It was rumoured that a sneeze would kill you in Darkside; the sharp intake of breath would drag the poisoned air into your lungs, the percussive sneeze stop your heart and your wallet would be removed before your limp body reached the grimy cobblestones.

Where the devil was the man? They had arranged 8 O’clock sharp and Sanders had heard the chimes of a nearby church tower ring some moment before. He would give him 5 more minutes and then report back to his superiors detailing that the contact had failed to appear. This was not the first such occurrence and no doubt would not be the last; these people were a law unto themselves and any such dealings were entered into with a insouciant pessimism.

A creak of rotting timber from above alerted him and him looked upwards, his head moving from one side to the next in the vain hope of seeing something in the darkness. “Hello? Somebody there?” Nothing. “Dash it, if you wanted to meet outside of the rain you should have made it known sooner.” Nothing. No response. “Hello?” Sanders sighed with an impatience brought from damp clothing and a promise of a brandy in front of a roaring fire back at the Temple Club. “I’m coming up.”

Sanders made up the rain splattered steps slipping almost immediately and grasping a hold of the wooden railing that threatened to detached under the pressure and send him falling the short distance from the staircase. He swallowed and continued his climb albeit in a slower, careful fashion. The frame creaked like an old man’s bones on a winter’s morning and Sanders felt not a little relief as he reached the summit and saw into a dwelling of sorts; rude would have been an understatement. A mattress that had clearly seen better days and not a lot worse lay crumpled in the corner, thin covers scrambled into a pile at its base. Next to it various sticks of furniture; a chair, a small bookcase and side table that boasted, if boasted could ever apply to such circumstances, a single candle soldered by wax onto a simple small plate.

Sanders looked around in contemptible wonder. “What on Earth? Do tell me you actually live— Hello? I say, where exactly are you?” A sound behind him, he turned, jumping at the shadows made by the feeble flame of the candle. He rolled his eyes with recognition. “Oh, at last. You nearly foreshortened my very life with—. Well, never mind. Have you got it? You know… the— have you got it? The Uppers and Betters are starting to get a little… you know… Well? Have you?”

The other’s silence gave Sanders the merest prickle of fear at the back of his neck. He swallowed. “No disgrace if you’ve not yet. It was never an easy mission. Plenty of time and opportunity if you’ve… Wait, what’s that on your…? Oh, dear God—”

If there was a scream that burst from the rafters of Darkside, the incessant rain muffled most of it and ears in that area were normally deaf to that kind of thing.

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The request came with the morning papers; The Times, of course. A filthy little urchin who had the temerity to hammer upon the front door crying aloud someone about an urgent message in whatever vernacular passed for Cowmmon English until he was properly sent around to the tradesman’s entrance with a twist of the ear. In his grubby little hands was a message from Charles Hawkesmoor. A man well known around Temple Hall and particularly well known for not seeking assistance. And yet the missive requests just that. Assistance. Yours.

There was no time given only that your presence was required at the specified location with the utmost haste and that you were to make yourselves known to a representative of Her Majesty’s Constabulary upon arrival.

Thus here you are, treading carefully upon the dirty cobbled lanes of Darkside, a perfumed handkerchief to the nose to ward off the stench and a feeling that there are eyes upon you every step you have made.

============================================================================

Jane Branwell reaches what appears to be her destination and looks around with disdain. She checks the piece of paper that had been thrust towards the house maid some 45 minutes previously and looki around again as if finding it impossible to reconcile the location request with the reality.

Jane sighs

Emma Darkmoon arrives shortly after, a frown on her face as she glances from the ragged note to her uniformed compatriot. “Fancy meeting you here. And at this hour.”

What the two of them wear is a uniform of the Temple Hall, Ealdwic, London. Home of the Templars and also of many secrets. Their dress is not that of armed service but that of support duties with a long skirt, corest and coat in the deep blood red of the Order. For her part, Jane wears a small top hat perched at angle that might be considered by some as to be askew and which is held rigidly in place by many pins.

Jane looks up at the voice and looks a little surprised. “Miss Darkmoon?” She recovers. “What in the world brings you to this little stain of iniquity? I can hardly imagine that you have been just passing in the area?”

Sarah Silvers arrives soon after the other two rather surprised by the two women standing together.

[Jane]: “I see from your attire that you are ready for a morning’s work at the Hall, but this is surely not on your way between your home and there?”

Emma tips an imaginary hat. “Miss Branwell. No, I’m most certainly not here for pleasure. I received a most unusual note this morning. Scrawny little fellow. Wouldn’t let off until the servants let him deliver it personally.”

[Jane]: “I see, and, oh.” The colour leaves Jane’s already pale features as she notices the arrival of Sarah Silvers. “I could not possibly suspect such a coincidence that would have Miss Silvers at this very spot at this very moment. I rather speculate that Mr Hawkesmoor is more in need of her talents than ours and that we are here purely for support, both physical and moral I daresay”

Sarah glances up at the two of them before speaking. “A coincidence? No, none at all.”

Jane looks grim. “Honestly, they keep us confined to the Hall offices for dusty administrative duties and archiving and the only time that we are allowed out to assist with proper Temple Hall work is when they want our blood for something”
Jane glances at Sarah, “I intended no offence”

[Sarah]: “None taken dear. Your assertion sounds about right to me.” Sarah smiles lightly.

[Jane]: “I do not pretend to agree with everything Mrs Pankhurst is suggesting, but I do rather feel that we are able to contribute more to society than filing and childbirth, and be recognised for it”

[Emma]: “We’ll have our day. Sooner or later, we will have it.”

As the group move forward their path is blocked rather rudely by a man in a constable’s uniform. “Aye, aye, and where do you think you’re all off to? This is a scene of interest to Her Majesty’s constabulary and as such is not permitted entrance to any members of the public, particularly any well to do ladies looking for a bit of excitement at viewing a gruesome murder or suchlike.”

Jane splutters her indignation

Emma blinks.

Sarah stares at the man in disbelief

Emma holds her note right in front of the man’s face. “We’ve been summoned.”

[Jane]: “I will have you know that we are representatives of The Temple Hall Society and our presence has been requested by none other than—”

[Constable Perkins]: “I don’t care if you’re 'ere at the request of Queen Victoria. I has me orders. No one is allowed up 'ere. We can’t have ladies getting their thrills at scenes of gratuitous violence. Why, I’d do me discs in in no time at all 'aving to carry them back down because the poor dears 'ave fainted at all the gore.”

[Sarah]: “They speek the truth and only the truth.” Sarah adds.

[Constable Perkins]: “Eh? You wot? 'Oo does?”

Emma raises an eyebrow. “You’d disobey Her Majesty?”

[Constable Perkins]: Sounds a little unsure of himself but is reluctant to sway from the four words that he holds quite dear to his position in life. “I gots me orders.”

Sarah groans and looks at the other two women with her. “Well we appear to have reached an impasse.”

A voice calls from the stairways and platforms above. It sounds commanding, well-educated, used to giving orders. And having them followed. “Constable? Constable! I requested the presence of certain people from Temple Hall some considerable time ago. Have you had any sight of them?”

[Constable Perkins]: “Eh?” The constable ignores the women for the moment and looks upwards, calling back. “No sir, no sign of them. Just some ladies who ought to know better.”

[Sarah]: “That would be us! Hello yes we’re here from the Temple Hall!” Sarah waves her arms and calls out.
This time it s the other man’s turn to say “eh?” A head peers over the wooden railings and looks down, his features shadowed. “Damnit man! Those are the very people I have been waiting for! Kindly stop your shilly-shallying at send them up to me, post haste!”

Jane blanches at the curse word

The constable looks flustered and suddenly embarrassed by the presence of the women, not knowing what to do with himself or his helmet that he has removed and replaced several times in quick succession. Finally, he steps back and bowing slightly invites them to pass.

Sarah curses under her breath. “Men these days think they know everything I swear!”

Jane walks past pointedly not looking in his direction or even acknowledging his existence

Sarah follows.

The wooden steps are a little slick after the rainfall the previous evening, however sawdust has been scattered in places to allow better purchase. Sodden wood chippings will stick to the soles of their shoes for much of the day…

Upon arrival at the top of the stairs, they can see into what looks like a small room, or rather a space that has been made into one with mismatched furnishings and drapery that has been accumulated over time rather than with any intent or purpose.

[Emma]: “I daresay I should’ve borrowed some Wellington boots from the staff,” she mumbles, annoyed.

[Jane]: “Wellingtons? Sniffs Jane. And be thought of as a common tradesperson?”

Within the room a rather tall, broad-shouldered man stand with his arms folded staring down at the floor deep in thought. He is bald though with some rather fine whiskers that form a handlebar moustache meeting well-trimmed sideburns that link one side of his head neatly to the other. The man turns and looks at the three of them blankly for a moment as if having arranged for their arrival he is at a loss of the reason why.

He blinks and blusters. “At last. I trust that I did not interrupt your leisure or shopping?” He looks at Sarah strangely, almost as if regretting an earlier decision. “You understand that I would not normally resort to this, but it appears that I have need of your services.” His gaze falls on Jane and Emma, “And I imagine that Ms Silvers will need your support in order to achieve this.”

The man remembers his manners and introduces himself “Charles Hawkesmoor, at your service.” He bows slightly and formally with the briefest of clicks to the heels of his boots. A small chain with a familar white cross dangles to and fro with the movement.

Sarah nods silently “I was simply sitting at home, I am glad to help at any time request of me.”

Hawkesmoor indicates a prone form on the floor of the living area. There is a small sheet draped over the man’s face
Emma covers her mouth with a gloved hand.

[Sarah]: “Quite a pity this one…”

[Hawkesmoor]: “I am afraid that this will not be pretty. The man has been murdered, of that we are certain. However, we are unable to establish his identity or what could have caused his… demise.” Hawkesmoor again looks at Sarah rather strangely, his features troubled.

“I… I understand that you have certain… abilities… Such as… Dash it, I don’t pretend to understand all the mumbo jumbo that goes on in Temple Hall. I pride myself on being a simple man with simple tastes and simple methods for achieving results. But,… they tell me that you can commune with the dead? With their blood, if timely enough, and recount their last moments…”

[Sarah]: “Would you like me to start the inspection then Mr. Hawkesmoor?”

He nods hurriedly as if nervous of speaking out of turn or untoward. He reaches down to take the corner of the cloth. “I must warn you that the… that the features are rather badly disfigured. If any of you feel faint, please let me know a the earliest opportunity and I will endeavour to have a chair brought for your recuperation”

Jane glares. “I rather think that we are as capable of withstanding anything that a man can.”

Emma nods. “We’re not chinaware, you know?”

[Sarah]: “The rumors are true, yes. But few people get to watch.” Sarah looks as if she’s smiling but frowns as Hawkesmoor lifts the sheet from the body. She leans in and inspects the man’s bloodied disfigurement.

As the light reclaims the man’s features if becomes instantly apparent that his eyes have gone. More than gone, gouged away, from eye to eye and taking most of the bridge of the nose with it . In fact a section of the man’s face appears to have been crudely removed like an inexpert hand attacking clay. Part of the man’s face has been removed along with an area of skull beneath revealing little more than darkness beyond. The shape the hole leaves is not disimilar to a inverted mask of sorts

Emma gasps. “Good Lord! There’s not much left of his head!”

Jane recoils, her hand over her mouth as she hoarsely takes the Lord’s name in vain. “Dear God…!”

Sarah silently cringes but it doesn’t keep her from continuing he inspection. “What or who ever did this really had murder on the mind…”

[Jane]: “More than just murder, surely? He appears to have taken his eyes and brain beneath? Surely it was a savage attack, no mind behind it at all? What kind of creature could do such a thing?”

[Emma]: “Has an animal attack been ruled out? Given our… surroundings?”

Hawkesmoor stares at the corpse brooding. “From what I can glean or understand. This is not a natural incident. Hence why I took advice on the situation and requested your presence.”

Sarah touches the pooling blood around the floor to her fore fingers and rubs it around in her hands slightly before running a finger covered in blood down her forehead. “Join me and take hands as we pray ladies.”

Emma moves to Sarah’s left side and holds out her right hand.

[Jane]: “Will this be the same ritual as last time? Last year with that priest and the…” She crosses herself before moving to Sarah’s right and offers her hand.

Sarah takes both of their hands and hums to herself before their hands start to glow a red colour.

Emma takes a deep breath.

Jane blinks, her face looking uncomfortable for a few moments before she finds a peace of sorts.

The vision is hazy and slow to form. Whilst Sarah bears the brunt of images, both Emma and Jane get ‘impressions’ from their contact

Darkness. At first. Not from lack of anything to see but because there is little light to add sight. The vision moves like the point of view of a turning head and the entrance to the area they find themselves is now clearly discernible. There is a sense of waiting

Emma shivers almost imperceptibly.

Sarah grips their hands even tighter than before, blood oozing from the sides.

After a few moments, a man enters, reasonably well-dressed. More upper middle-class rather than any of the old families. A familiar white cross dagles from a small chain above his tie.

The man enters the space and looks around, inspecting the items, picking a couple up and putting them down without interest. He looks around before appearing to notice from where you can see through. He says something though you are unable to hear what is spoken as there is no sound with this vision

He frowns a little as if trying to work something out, but his face falls slack with the fear of realisation and he attempts to retreat. He stumbles and looks behind him. He trips over something, possibly bed lined and he falls backwards his hands reaching up to defend himself as other hands from around your vision reach down towards him

The last thing you see is his mouth open wide in a silent scream before darkness descends and you are back in Darkside. Your Darkside. Now.

Jane stumbles, a little unsteady upon her feet and a slight dizziness behind her eyes

Sarah gasps for air when the vision ends and unclasps her hands from the other two.

Jane shakes her head and hearing Sarah’s gasp moves to steady her. Emma puts her hands on her knees to steady herself.

Hawkesmoor darts forward to offer balance. “I knew it…! Dash it I knew that I should never have involved—”

Sarah holds up a hand to fend off any assistance and remonstration. “A vision can take a lot of energy out of you…” Sarah breathes.

Hawkesmoor looks suprised and a little dubious. “What, you saw something? What? Tell me!”

[Sarah]: “Thank you for the support. There wasn’t much to see really.”

Sarah recounts the vision describing the man entering the area, who judging by his clothing and the remnants of his features is not the deceased form on the floor near them.

Jane looks down at the body. “But this is not the man we saw in the vision. I mean, I know that we can no longer rely on…” She swallows, her features twisting as it appears to have been acidic. “But this man is a different shape to who we saw. And attire.”

[Sarah]: “Is there anyone else you might know of who looks like that?”

Hawkesmoor rubs his whiskers slowly. “From your description it rather sounds like you were looking at Nicholas Sanders. He’s one of ours. Currently missing.”

[Sarah]: “Hmmm might as well as put up a wanted notice for him.”

Hawkesmoor ponders as if deciding upon how much to reveal

[Sarah]: “Perhaps he was placed here as a distraction?”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Sanders was due to meet with someone regarding a little area of interest that we are working on. Need to know basis and you do not nearly have the level of clearance. Suffice to say, one may assume that this may have been Sanders’ contact, and we will have to redouble our efforts to locate him.”

Hawkesmoor appears to come to a decision. “You have my thanks, but I rather feel that it would be best for you to return either to your homes or to the Hall if you have duties pending. We-- I can continue the investigation from here.”
[Jane]: “Why of all the—”

Sarah wipes her bloody hands down her stark white dress not caring a single bit. “So after all that I have dseen and relayed to you, you do not consider that you need our assistance any longer. I fear that you may be making a terrible mistake…”

Jane looks righteously displeased “We are no longer to be a part of the investigation, despite what we have achieved thus far?”

[Hawkesmoor]: “You have provided valuable assistance for which I am grateful. But the remainder of the investigation must be conducted through normal methods”

Sarah nods “You mean male methods…”

Hawkesmoor]: “I mean strict procedural investigation that does not endanger the lives and welfare of persons not trained for the rigours and perils that… that… things like this can produce!”

Sarah nods slowly and silently, her expression neutral, it is a terrible neutrality, one that has decided not to lift a finger whatever the outcome might be otherwise. “Come ladies, let us leave Mr. Hawkesmoor to his hubris.”

Emma bristles with annoyance and indignation. “I beg your pardon, you mean that you are sanguine for us to be just dismissed like this without—”

Sarah holds up a finger. “My dear, Mr. Hawkesmoor has made his decision and I imagine that there is no amount of debate or remonstration that will sway him. I suggest that we attend Mrs. Miggins’ tea shoppe for a light tea in order to restore our blood sugar levels and continue with our day. It would not do to become fatigued. I bid you good day, Mr. Hawkesmoor.”

Hawkesmoor nods as the three ladies leave, pretending not to notice the stern glances from two of them. He shivered. It was like being around his aunts all over again. He looked down at the corpse and rubbed his face. What now?

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What a blast from the past. It’s been a while since we did that one!

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The note arrives at Emma’s desk at approximately 3 O’clock on the Thursday after the trip to the shadows of Darkside with Sarah and Jane. The messenger does not wait for a response, merely walks away possibly with more missives to pass on. The letter is neatly written with Miss Emma Darkmoon written in a cursive hand above a small sealed wax circle bearing the Temple Hall emblem and keeping the two folded sides of the paper together.

Upon breaking the seal, the handwriting continues in a neat fashion requesting both your attendance and assistance at the Temple Hall library archives.

“I would consider it a great assistance if you could contact one of the archivist bods there and find any information you can about a set of masks from 18th Century Venice”

“Yours C. Hawkesmoor”

Looking at the office clock Emma sees that it would only be around one hour before the library closes.

=====================

The Temple Hall archives are like a lot of the buildings dotted around Temple Square, classical architecture that always seemed to be looking back towards the past whilst attempting to hold back the present with anything to hand. The interior was similarly constructed, although years of expeditionary forces and campaigns had rather left a surfeit of items and a dearth of cataloguing. Hence there were piles of books, manuscripts, etc rolling out of doorways, sometimes with large notes attached to the top of the pile with intriguing scribbles such as “Egypt, 1922, don’t tell Howard.”

People rush around carrying items such as piles of books, folders, and in some cases short swords. A woman stood in the centre of the reception hall . Occasionally, someone carrying various objects would stagger near her and she would inspect the items and scraps of paper though her large round spectacles and direct them onwards in a direction they had not previously headed. She looked like one of those policemen that stand in traffic ensuring that there are no accidents or delays and that what needs to flow does flow. And efficiently And most importantly; quietly.

A couple of large piles of Mesopotamian pottery had resulted in her back being towards the entrance as Emma approached. The woman appeared to have noticed a painting or something within the painting that had utterly entranced her.

Emma clears her throat. “Excuse me?”

The woman jumps, the quiet efficiency almost uncontaminated by human speech.

[Emma]: “Oh, my apologies, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The woman rearranges the large round spectacles upon her nose that appear to have become awry in her mild fright. “Oh no, no, ma’am. It is quite all right. I should not have been idling my time with aesthetics. I’m sorry, may I help you in some way?”

[Emma]: “Oh, I hope you can. I’m here on behalf of Mr. Hawkesmoor. He’d like me to compile any information I can find on a certain set of masks made in Venice in the eighteenth century.” Emma glances at the clock. “I’m so sorry for the short notice. I only just received his note.”

She blinks. “I’m sorry, but who did you say that you were here on the behalf of?”

[Emma]: “Mr. Hawkesmoor. Is that a problem?” She frowns slightly.

The woman clearly pales at the confirmation of the name and appears to cross herself. She takes a deep breath and swallows as if reliving a terrible incident. “Mr. Hawkesmoor is a very… loud and angry, angry sounding man…”

[Emma]: “He is certainly used to getting what he wants. But he has also been a great benefactor to the Hall.”

[Agatha]: “He has been excluded from entering these grounds as a result of a 5 minute tirade in the reading room where he repeatedly ignored all attempts for the cessation of his shouting and reduce our Junior librarian Mary into floods of tears. We had to send her to the quiet room with a tartan blanket and a cup of sweet tea. She really was quite upset by the whole matter and, if I being honest, between myself and yourself, discretion being key.” She leans forward. “I really do not believe that Mary has been all quite right since,” she whispers. “If you know what I mean.”

Emma raises an eyebrow. “Is that so? Well, you’re quite right in banning him from the premises if that’s how he chooses to behave.”

Agatha nods with a shy smile as if a test has been passed.

Emma offers a hand. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Emma Darkmoon. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

Agatha shakes her hand. “I’m sorry, Agatha Reynolds, I am one of the archivists here.” she pushes her spectacles buck up the bridge of her nose with a finger. Her lens appears to have a spot of grubbiness from previous times.

Emma smiles. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

[Agatha]: “I’m sorry, what did you require assistance with?”

[Emma]: “I am looking for any information you might have about this set of eighteenth century Italian masks. Venetian, to be precise.”

Agatha “Masks you say…?” She ponders. “I wonder if the correct frame of reference is masques rather than masks…” There is no differing of inflection in the two words. “There was some information we stored regarding… which were from around… and we certainly… if not…” Agatha 's eyes appear to be looking towards the ceiling as she speaks and thinks, the whites showing more than most people are comfortable with. [Agatha]: “I wonder if…”

[Emma]: “If?”

[Agatha]: “Well, that is to say… I may not be correct… Or even in the right area… but…?”

[Emma]: “Stop second-guessing yourself, my dear, and spit it out!”

Agatha looks up and adjusts her spectacles. “I’m sorry?” She looks as if only just remember Emma’s presence

[Emma]: “You said you had a hunch about those masks before you got lost in thought?”

[Agatha]: “Oh, indeed! Although they might actually be masques… you see—”

[Agatha]: “Actually, I rather think that it would be more appropriate if I simply show you. This way if you please?”

[Emma]: “Certainly. Thank you.”

Agatha walks past Emma, leading the way out of the main room and along a dusty corridors where in some places large sheets cover sections of the archives. “Please excuse the mess, we are undergoing some renovations at the moment. You see the denizens of Temple acquire so much information and artefacts that we have had to extend the archives somewhat”
“In some cases there are objects where will not be able to ascertain their use or purpose for many years and so we must store them securely so that later generation may be able to unlock their secrets.”
“This way please, Oh! Mind that ladder.”

[Emma]: “Oh, no need to apologize. I imagine in a few hundred years, the entirety of London won’t be enough to store all of our accumulated information.”

[Emma]: “Keeping all of this…” She gestures, “organized and catalogued must be quite the challenge.”

[Agatha]: “Oh, it is, it is! Thankfully we have a near infallible method of knowing where each object is and what stage we are at with our understanding”

Emma laughs softly. “I would be absolutely dreadful at it. I keep misplacing things all over the estate!”

[Agatha]: “The librarians.” She beams. “Each librarian is employed on the understanding that they possess an Eidetic memory. We would have two or three per section and we have regular testing session to ensure that the records are maintained. So much safer than paper. Paper cannot run if there was a fire. Ideally, we would want to store the information about what we have here somewhere separate. A location where the only purpose it served was to store information for swift and reliable access. Until then, we librarians will undertake the task.!”

[Emma]: “I’m certain that skilled minds will always be needed!”

Agatha reaches a large solid looking door and withdraws a set of keys from somewhere within her clothing. She begins to unlock the door but pauses, turning slightly towards Emma, her face serious for a moment. “I must ask you to be incredibly careful once we are in here. Please do not touch anything, anything at all. I will explain once inside”

Emma]: “How positively mysterious! You have my word.”

[Agatha]: The door is opened and a switch turned that appears to bring luminescence into the room. The room itself is rather small and it is not difficult to avoid the arrangement of object on the wall in front. Set into the wall are five masks of various shapes and decoration. It is apparent that there are spaces for several more. “May I present… The Masques of Venice…”

[Agatha]: “These are all that are recovered from a sect that occurred in the mid-eighteenth Century Italian states where a troupe of masqued performers would enter a town or city, entertain and move on to the next place. However, it was said that they always appeared to leave something behind, or rather take something with them. A person, money, sometimes just a feeling. Certainly they rarely returned to the same location twice.”

Emma stares for a moment. “You actually -have- them? I imagined with any luck I’d possibly find a book or two on the subject…”

[Agatha]: "Oh, these are not all of them, by any means. Merely the ones that our valiant gentlemen from Temple Hall have managed to wrest away from those thieving vagabonds. “You see, these masks are worn by people, The people are worn by the masks…”

[Emma]: “Worn by the masks?”

[Agatha]: “We are still attempting to find a safe way of discovering how this all works, but what we can ascertain presently is that once the mask is placed over the wearer, their soul is absorbed into the mask and a malevolence that was int eh mask inhabits the body and uses it for… well, for transportation if you like?”

[Emma]: “The mask possesses the wearer?”

[Agatha]: “Really, they were quite the scourge of the southern areas of Europe for quite some years until the Templars organised and hunted them down, managing to secure the five you see here.” She looks slightly troubled, “However there are still at least 7, maybe 8 currently at large we believe. Which have been handed down from generation to generation, keeping the sect alive and the malevolence within.”

[Emma]: “And these performers, would they wear the masks voluntarily or rather use them on others?”

[Agatha]: “It does, and each mask had its own… powers if you like. Once had the power of combustion, another control over low temperatures, another could charm its victim into performing any task. Once the mash is on, they have no choice. It remains secured to their face until the wearer’s energy or life force is utterly diminished. Then before that is absolute it locates a new bearer and manipulates a situation where an… exchange may occur.”

“From what I’ve read, once the mask is removed, it leaves quite the grotesque impression. The wearer is quite dead of course, but I’ve read that the face is dissolved by a shape that resembles the mask and one is quite able to see into the victims head”

[Emma]: “You don’t think Mr. Hawkesmoor could have come into possession of one of the missing masks?”

[Agatha]: “Mr Hawkesmoor? Possess one of the masks? Oh I sincerely hope not. Why, even if he were to locate once, or even come across a rumour of its existence, he understands that he must report it and report it immediately. These masks are far too dangerous to be allowed loose. " She pales, particularly in a busy city like London.”

Agatha looks at Emma, “Why, do you believe that…?”

[Emma]: “How else would one explain his sudden, I daresay urgent, interest in these obscure creations? I had never even heard of such a thing until today!”

[Agatha]: “It is not a piece of knowledge that would consider appropriate for mass consumption. There would be the worst panic. And likely attacks upon Italians and street performers. No, sometimes it is considered expedient to keep that world utterly secret.”

Emma nods. “Quite so.”

[Agatha]: “But do you honestly believe that Mr Hawkesmoor capable of such an undertaking. I admit, I do not like the man; he is a boorish oaf, more content to hear the sound of his own voice that to respect the sanctity of a place of learning. However, were he to…”

[Agatha]: “Why the possibilities would be utterly horrifying.”

[Agatha]: “Miss Darkmoon, if there is a Mask of Venice loose in London, then I doubt that there is a man or woman alive in these few miles of the British Empire whose life is not in the most terrible danger.”

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Jane enters the tavern, checking the sign above the doorway to ensure that it is the correct location. She is unused to such environments and would prefer to dwell within their walls as litttle as possible. Upon crossing the threshold she is met by an assault upon the senses as the tide of humanity appear to be squeezed into the small space; a fog of tobacco smake clogs the air which is already overrun with the noise of its patrons and the smell of spilled ale.

Jane looks around peering through the crowd trying not to wrinkle her nose at the clientele, the smell, or whatever her shoe may have just stuck to, and spots the reason for her journey. She presses her way through the crush of the lower classes and reaches one of the ‘snug’ areas.

Emma arrives within five minutes of Jane, looking a bit distraught. “Ah, Miss Branwell. How good of you to meet me on such short notice!”

[Jane]: “Really, Ms Darkmoon,” she remonstrates. “Could you not have arranged to meet somewhere at least not more salubrious, but where the entirety of the flooring is not covered with-” She inspects the ground distastefully. “-sawdust.” Jane inspects the sole of her shoe critically

[Emma]: “I do apologize for the…” She seems at a loss for words for a moment. “Venue.” She finally concludes the sentence. Emma gestures towards a part of the bench that, if not clean, looks at least passable. “Please.”

Jane nods, accepting the apology. “Your note was most insistent. What on earth could have happened to warrant such haste and subterfuge? Miss Pearson was quite alarmed by your non-arrival today.”

Jane looks at the bench critically and withdraws a handkerchief from her purse which she uses to lightly brush the seat. She studies the square of frail white cloth afterwards and drops it into a nearby bin, having given up all hope for any restoration. She sits.

[Emma]: “I’m afraid we may have a bit of a situation and I wanted to meet someplace where we couldn’t be overheard by…” She lowers her voice conspiratorially. “… -his- cronies.”

Jane looks around. “Whose cronies?”

Emma looks around the room uneasily. Then, satisfied that nobody was paying the two women any attention, she lowers her voice even further. “Mister Hawkesmoor’s.”

[Jane]: “Hawkesmoor? That oaf? Has he been troubling you? You should inform Miss Pearson at once! She will brook no interference with her ladies no matter the rank or position of the miscreant!”

[Emma]: “You see, a note was delivered to me last night. From…” She whispers. “Him.” She clears her throat. “A request to find any information on a certain set of objects at the library.”

Jane frowns, “That seems a fairly mundane request. We receive such communiques most of the time. ‘Take yourself there, pick up this, look out for that’, our work is never done it seems.”

[Emma]: “Of course I know better than to refuse such a powerful man. Thus, I arrived at the library just before closing and met a very helpful young woman. An archivist by the name of Miss Reynolds. But I digress.”

Jane nods either agreeing or wishing the tale to continue. “Carry on”

[Emma]: “This bright young woman suggested that what may have seemed like a, as you so succinctly put it, mundane request for information on eighteenth century venetian art could be something far more sinister indeed.”

Jane raises an eyebrow “Sinister? In what way? Left-handed?”

[Emma]: “No, I mean that these masks that Mister Haw…” She cuts herself off just in time. “That he has found such a sudden interest in may indeed be very dark magical objects that have once been used to commit unspeakable acts and spread terror all over Italy. The library has some of them in their possession, I’ve witnessed them with my own eyes. But their collection is incomplete. Some are still… well… unaccounted for.”

Jane raises an eyebrow. “Terror all over Italy? What, like General Garibaldi did forty years ago?”

[Emma]: “Oh no, no such grandstanding. As I understand it this was much of of a, erm, ‘cloak and dagger’ operation.”

[Jane]: "Cloak and Dagger? " She looks dubious. “In what way?”

Civilian: You looked different in the fairy tales.

[Emma]: “Those masks. Or… masques.” She tries to make the words sound different but fails utterly. “They…” She looks at a loss for words once again. “Miss Reynolds described as the masque wearing the victim. Draining them in the process. Disguised as performers, these hoodlums would enter villages and seek out the masque’s next victim.”

[Jane]: “Draining them? Draining them of what? You really need to start talking some sense, Ms Darkmoon.” She leans forward and sniffs as if attempting to discern Emma’s breath. “How long had you been here before I arrived? I rather think you may have imbibed a little too much of the local brew. Let me take you to a nearby tea shoppe. We can talk plainly and try to sober you up a little.”

Civilian: I bet you’ve got some stories to tell…! But not to me, oh no…

Emma flusters. “I assure you I’m as sober as I’ve ever been in my life!”

[Jane]: “But the things you describe? They more akin to folk tales or the kind of things that people tell over campfires to scare others, like that Mr Louis Stevenson”

Civilian: Our fight pit’s brilliant, like a little circus, only with punching.

[Jane]: “Ms Darkmoon, you know as well as I do that some of the events that occur within and without the walls of Temple Hall are not always for our eyes or our ears. That we contribute to the good being done in the world can often be enough.”

[Emma]: “Quite right. But young Miss Reynolds as quite well-informed and was all too happy to share her knowledge!”

Civilian: Our fight pit’s brilliant, like a little circus, only with punching.

[Jane]: “Ms Darkmoon. Emma. Clearly something has upset you. You say that these… masks… are somehow enchanted?”

[Emma]: “Yes, yes. Each was unique, you see. Each of them had a special power. But all of them, when their… duty… was done. Left the victim dead, drained, and unrecognizable. As I understand it, these ‘performers’ would then retrieve the masque and, well, their bounty, and move on to the next town, never to be seen again.”

[Jane]: “But you say that these ‘performers’ have been met by the Templars and dispatched?”

Civilian: Come home Lancelot, all is forgiven, eh?

[Emma]: “Only five of the masques are in the possession of the library, at least that many again are still unaccounted for. As for the performers themselves, I cannot say. My concern is that Mister… -his- … sudden interest in the masques is that he has attained knowledge of the whereabouts of an unaccounted-for masque, or else has procured one of them already.”

[Jane]: “Well, I am no great follower of the carnivale , but I have not seen any posters advertising their arrival this season. Of course, I cannot account for the rest of London, particularly Darkside. And it is believed that these masks are living entities that prey upon their wearer, and moving from person to person once their well runs dry? And you believe that Mr Hawkesmoor is somehow implicated in all this?”

[Emma]: “I do believe that his interest is conspicuous, certainly. And he’s a powerful man. Powerful men always desire more power.”

[Jane]: “But as I understand it, he was called to investigate the death of that poor individual. Perhaps that is what he is doing?”

Emma looks taken aback for a moment. “Oh.”

Jane looks thoughtful. “But if you are right and these mask are as you say, then he could be in the most terrible danger. You said that you had received a note from Mr Hawkesmoor asking you to look up these relics?”

[Emma]: “Yes, yes. I have it right here. It arrived by messenger yesterday afternoon. And…” She lowers her voice yet again. “Did you know that the man himself got thrown out of the library and banned for causing a scene and mistreating the staff?”

Jane narrows her eyes, “Well, that has been the least surprising aspect of your conversation thus far. But tell me, have you replied to Mr Hawkesmoor with the information you gained?”

Civilian: Don’t really understand what you do, but I appreciate it.

[Emma]: “I have not. I thought it best to seek your counsel before proceeding. Where these artefacts are concerned, we need to tread very carefully indeed.”

[Jane]: “Oh, indubitably. But I suggest firstly that you must reply to Mr Hawkesmoor at your earliest opportunity with the information you have; for if he is indeed a character of suspicion we would be wise not to alert him to our awareness of this. And if is truly a noble member of Temple Hall, then he will need all the information he can get in order to thwart these… ‘performers’.”

Emma nods. “I will write up a report and have it delivered by messenger post-haste.”

Jane nods. “Good. I feel that we will need to keep a special eye upon our Mr Hawkesmoor, either to save him or to thwart him.”

Civilian: I’d say getting crapped on by a Tower raven is a good omen.

Jane turns to the civilian. “Would you mind terribly taking your excruciatingly tangential chatter to another part of this establishment? My colleague and I are attempting to have a conversation, and are finding it increasingly difficult with your nonsensical utterings!”

Cvilian: Charmed, I’m sure.

[Jane]: “But first, we will need to find out a little more if only to reach the same level as the major players in this performance. I suggest that we meet at the scene of the crime and do a little investigation of our own. See if there is anything that our illustrious Mr Hawkesmoor may have missed.”

[Emma]: “A very sensible idea.”

[Jane]: “I imagine that that unctuous little constable has left the post by now. I fear that it will have to occur after the working day. Miss Pearson is already on the warpath with your absence this morning. I believe that should two of her ladies not be at their desks until cessation of duties that she would imitate the eruption of Krakatoa.”

[Emma]: “I will return to the Hall immediately and write to Mister Hawkesmoor.” She waves the note. “This should be excuse enough for my temporary absence. I hope.”

Jane beams. “A splendid plan. I have a good feeling about this, Miss Darkmoon. One that will show what we women can do with or without the sanction of men. For be in no doubt, Mr Hawkesmoor will be receiving our assistance in these matters… Whether he appreciates it or not!”

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Returning to the scene of the crime, Jane Looks around. “It comes as no small relief to note that that odious little man is no longer here.”

[Emma]: “He is most certainly sitting in a pub, patting himself on the back.”

[Jane]: “Whilst one applauds the noble experiment of allowing the working classes to participate in the course of upholding the law, there is a very great danger that they will entertain ideas above their station. After all, was it not Lord Acton who wrote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”?”

[Emma]: “Fortunately we don’t have to worry about absolute power just yet.”

[Jane]: “No, you are quite right. We worry more about the glove rather than the wearer.”

They pause, looking up towards the room where the mystery began.

[Jane]: “Shall we take the final steps to the scene and perform a little investigation? I am uner no illusions that the long arm of the law or even Mr Hawkesmoor will make a return, however the area itself does encourage me to ensure that our dalliance here is completed swiftly.”

[Emma]: “Certainly.”

[Jane]: “And on we go! I would caution care with the steps my dear. It has rained since we were last here and whilst it may have swept the effluence into the sewers, I believe that it has left these steps quite slick and footing unreliable.”

[Emma]: “Whomever constructed this must not have paid any mind to public safety.”

[Jane]: “Or longevity of use.”

The entrance to the room awaits them.

[Jane]: “The final few steps. I wonder that if by crossing the threshold we enter a stage of a journey that may be impossible to retrace. Or that we possible started upon it when first we made this transition.”

Emma frowns. “Do not let the gloom of the setting affect you.”

[Jane]: “In this district, it would be hard to avoid anything else. But again you are correct. Brave heart, Jane. Brave heart Emma. we must remember why we do this.”
They enter the small room. It is as dishevelled as last they were here, the body is thankfully removed, however there is a stain, a residue of its last position apparent in the centre of the floor.

[Emma]: “It appears to me as though they only thing taken into evidence was the body itself.”

Jane removes a tissue and vial from her handbag and applies one to the other, bring the handkerchief to her nose. She offers the vial to Emma.

Emma gratefully accepts the vial and lightly wets her own handkerchief before handing it back. “My thanks.”

[Jane]: “And yet, I cannot help but think that the location is important. There would be many places for any meeting or transaction to take place, especially in this area. And form what we may be given to understand, the performers were not shy in their actions”

Emma enters deeper into the room, taking care to avoid the human shape left upon the floor.

Jane peers into the gloom, picking up the least dirty of sticks in the vicinity and inspecting objects, turning some over

[Jane]: “A couple of books here. Looks like they are in Italian. I fear that I did not pay sufficient attention in my lessons with Miss Clarke to be of any use in even the basest of translations.”

Emma produces a box of matchsticks and proceeds to light the oil lamp left on the table. “This should bring some light to the situation, literally if not figuratively.”

[Jane]: “And yet the more light we offer, the greater the shadows that surround us.”

[Emma]: “They must have thought these books unrelated to the investigation?”

[Jane]: “Or perhaps they considered everything in this room to be the detritus of casual dwelling. This has probably been home to many over the years. A roof when no other sanctuary is available.”

Something glints in the corner of the room, briefly caught by the lamp’s glare

[Emma]: “What was that?”

Jane continues to inspect her corner of the room, “Hmmm?”

[Emma]: “I thought I saw something move.”

Jane straightens up and joins Emma. “Really? Whereabouts?”

Emma points towards another stack of books near the far corner. “Behind that.”

Jane looks around quickly and finds a broom handle and edges warily towards the corner of darkness. “It could be a crow or feline having made their home here,” she offers

[Emma]: “It would not surprise me. But I’d rather be sure.”

[Jane]: “Please hold the light a little higher, I would like to know what I might be striking and where to strike.”

Emma raises her arm and inches closer to the stack of books.

Jane edges closer and gingerly pokes the stick into the shadows of gathered refuse.

“Oi!.”

Emma jumps.

Jane tkes a step backwards and glances at Emma. “Did you hear something?”

[Emma]: “I think there’s someone back there!”

Jane inclines her head to listen. “I cannot hear anything further”

Emma raises her voice. “Is someone there? Identify yourself!”

Silence

Jane jabs her stick into the darkness with a more confident thrust

*“OI!!!.”

Jane steps back again

[Rattus]: “Can’t a bloke get any sleep? Isn’t it enough that I risks me life from all and sundry to find a place to lay me 'ead and then I gets poked in the face with a stick?”

[Jane]: “DId I catch you in the face? I do apologise.”

[Emma]: “My good man, are you aware that you’re sleeping in a crime scene?”

[Rattus]: “It may be a crime scene to you, darlin’ but it’s a bed in the dry fer me.”

[Emma]: “Blood, guts and all?”

[Jane]: “Kindly address us in the correct etiquette. WE are not your ‘darlin’s’ as you say. We are your ‘ma’ams’ and please remember it is ma’am as in ham, not ma’am as in harm.”

The voice becomes low and not a little sly. “Blood and guts? Whatchoo know about blood’n’guts?”

[Emma]: “I know that you stepped right into both on your way to… bed.”

[Rattus]: “Oh… that… gyarn.” There is the sound of scraping. “Come fer a bit of a gawk haves yer? Posh birds getting their jollies from a bit of the violent conduct, eh?”

[Jane]: “I can assure that we have no such—”

[Emma]: “I beg your pardon? We’re women of the Hall and we will not be spoken to in such a way!”

[Rattus]: “Oh,” the voice affects an upper class accent dripping with irony. “Hall is it? Oh, I do say. How very la-de-da. Or should I say death-de-death.”

[Jane]: “That does not even make sense.”

[Rattus]: “Well, I’m sorry… I lacks your education and Hellocution.”

[Emma]: “Are you threatening us?”

[Rattus]: “Freatening you? I ain’t freatening no one. I just wants some peace and quiet from all the comings and goings around 'ere. Templars, Old Bill, clowns”

[Emma]: “Old Bill?”

[Rattus]: “You know? Old Bill, the filth? Peelers, rozzers, coppertops?”

[Emma]: “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow.”

[Rattus]: “The police! Jeez, is that what a classical education gets yer? Not even knowing that?”

[Emma]: “How does one arrive at the Police from ‘peelers’, ‘rozzers’, ‘coppertops’ or ‘Old Bill?’” She whispers.

[Jane]: “I understand Peelers is from the former Prime Minister Robert Peel who introduced them as a replacement to the Bow Street runners. and coppertops from the metal stud that is atop their helmets. Rozzers, Old bill and filth escapes me, I’m afraid.”

Emma clears her throat. “So this is one of your, erm, sanctuaries of choice?”

[Rattus]: “Yeah, well I’m not able to stay at my place in Belgravia on account of it bein’ done up at the moment.”

[Jane]: “I really do not think that this sarcastic individual is particularly helping our investigation.”

[Emma]: “Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary of late? People who wouldn’t normally frequent this area? Present company excluded, of course.”

[Rattus]: There is a dry laugh. “Wot? In Darkside? The weird is the effing norm around 'ere, ain’t it?”

Jane sighs “Anything more unusual than your normal unusual…”

There is a pause that lasts long enough to become a silence.

[Emma]: “Well, have you?”

[Rattus]: “I might 'ave?”

[Jane]: “Oh, at last! What, pray, have you heard?”

[Rattus]: “Wot? Just like that? Gyarn… I mean… wot’s in it for me?”

[Emma]: “Not having to fear for your life when you close your eyes is not incentive enough for you?”

[Rattus]: “Well, that ain’t gonna pay fer me next meal, is it?”

[Jane]: “Oh, you wish recompense? How common”

[Rattus]: “C’mon, anyfing I’ve seen 'ere over the laast few days 'as got to be worth a couple of bob?”

Emma looks the man up and down. “Perhaps if you invested in a bath and a haircut instead of the bottle you could seek proper employment.”

A face looms out of the shadows, the skin alabaster white all bar the cuts and scratches that cover it. The hair is lank and greasy in several shades of dark brown, whilst the eyes are like coals. However the most striking features are the nose which is both large and pointy and the mouth where the front teeth are particularly long and prominent. “Really? You fink anyone’s going to want me workin’ fer them? Eh? Eh??”

Jane recoils. “Dear God.”

[Rattus]: “God ain’t got nuffink to do wiv it darlin’. I’m sorry… -ma’am…-”

Jane turns to Emma, though her voice is not nearly as hushed as she intends

[Jane]: “He looks like some form of rodent”

[Emma]: “Smells like it, too.”

[Rattus]: “Oi! I’m still 'uman. Still gots feelings…”

[Jane]: “If you are ooman, ehem. -Human- They you will have the name that you were christened with, if you were indeed christened.”

[Rattus]: “Ain’t got no name, least not one I can remember. Parents long gone, I mean, look at me. You’d abandon me if you saw this comin’ outta yer missus, wouldn’t yer?”

Jane recoils with a disgusted expression. “That was a little more detailed than I anticipated.”

[Emma]: “How do you introduce yourself to people, then?”

[Rattus]: “People just calls me ‘Rat’ or ‘Ratty’ or ‘Rat-boy’ or “oi you!” or ‘freak’ I answers to most fings.” he looks expectantly. “'specially if there’s a bit of coin in the offing…”

Jane sighs and looks into her handbag, withdrawing a purse. She notices the look on ‘Rat’s’ face and turns to one side in an attempt to conceal. a moment later she turns back. “I have a silver shilling here if you would start providing us with something useful.”

Rattus’s eyes glow with the reflection of the coin. “I fink I can helps yer there…”

[Jane]: “Not until you provide me with satisfactory information”

[Rattus]: “Wot? How do I know yer gonna pays me afterwards.”

[Jane]: “Well, look at it from our point of view. How do we know that the information you have is relevenat or useful?”

Sounds of guttural mumbling. “Gyarn…”

Jane looks at Emma, “What do you think? Are we wise to place any faith, or money for that matter, in him?”

[Emma]: “It’s a gamble, to be sure. But it’s our best lead yet.”

Jane nods “You are right, we are not exactly blessed with an abundance of options”

[Jane]: “Now, Mr Rat, have you come to a decision?”

[Rattus]: “Gyarn. I’ll tell yer half of what I knows, and if yer likes what yer hers then you can stump up fer the rest.”

[Jane]: “That seems rather fair. Does it to you, Emma?”

Emma nods. “A very sensible idea.”

[Jane]: “Okay, Mr Rat, please commence with the extent of your information.”

[Rattus]: “You wot?”

[Jane]: “Tell us what you know…”

[Rattus]: “Ah right, speak English then.”

[Jane]: “I-ll have you know that I studied at the—”

[Emma]: “Oh, do calm down and let the man speak.”

Jane looks aghast at Emma.

Emma holds up a hand. “Nobody is questioning your education, but do let’s focus on the circumstances at hand.”

There is a low chuckle. “If you two ‘ladies’ have finished?”

Jane is speechless

[Emma]: “Please, go on.”

[Rattus]: “This bloke yer after. Tall cove is he? Bald like a coot? Massive great moustache from ear to ear? Likes to hear his own voice whether people are around or not?”

Emma narrows her eyes at Rat. “If you’d like to get paid, I suggest you start telling us something we don’t already know.”

[Rattus]: “Just confirmin’ we’re talinkin’ 'bout the same fings. Place like this, people come and go all the time…”

[Emma]: “Is that so?”

[Rattus]: “Yep, so just makin’ sure that we’re on the same page, so to speak. The stuff you want to know about. That the bloke?”

[Emma]: “He is a person of interest. You can start with him.”

[Rattus]: “'e’s one of them cross- blokes, inne? No, don’t bovver to admit or deny, I knows, I knows. I sees 'em around. They fink they’re being all secret and stuff, 'iding in plain sight, but I know 'em I does, I knows 'em.”

A pause, gauging for reactions before carry on.

Emma waves a hand. “Yes, yes. Very observant of you.”

[Rattus]: “Anyways, I sees 'm up 'ere. I sees you two too, wiv that uvver bint. The one that does that blood fing. Messy, that”

[Jane]: “No-one ever sees me though, oh… no… Not unless I wants 'em to.”

[Emma]: “You seem to have an aptitude for hiding.”

A grin in the darkness.

[Rattus]: "Anyway, this bloke of yours. ‘E turns up wot wiv a couple of uvvers bein’ ‘ere earlier, seein’ the corpse wiv ‘alf a face and leggin’ it, screamin’ like banshees in the night. Even the folks at Temple Hall gonna 'ear sommat 'bout that, ain’t they? So, ‘e comes on, ‘as a look around, yer know. Looking’ like ‘e’s lookin’ rahter than yer actual lookin’, if yer know wot I mean?
“Then 'e sends 'his junior off to sends messages, then I sees you all come truping around 'ere, don’t i?”

[Emma]: “I don’t quite follow. You mean to say he fled at the sight of the corpse, but returned to… put on a show?”

[Rattus]: “Nah, 'e’s 'ere, but ‘e’s not lookin’ around fer clues or anyfing like that, as if 'e already knows wot ‘e’s gonna find? Then you all do that holdin’ hands fing, and then you leave and it’s just 'im and the corpse again.”

Emma frowns. “Then what?”

A grin in the darkness, “Is it worth paying fer what 'appens next?”

[Emma]: “I do think Mr Rat has earned his coin. Don’t you agree, Jane?”

Jane sighs with bad grace and unsure of how to complete the transaction, but reluctant to move any closer towards the rat-faced man, she simply lobs to coin towards the darkness where it disappears, the only sound being that of metal being momentarily clamped between teeth

[Jane]: “And so…?”

[Rattus]: “So, 'e then calls down to that copper an tells 'im not to let anyone else up 'ere, then ‘e goes through the blokes pockets. Does it properly an’ all, like a feef.”

[Jane]: “Like a what?”

[Rattus]: “Feef. You know someone 'oo feeves fings.”

[Jane]: “Oh, you mean a thief!”

[Rattus]: “That’s wot I said, din’ i? Gyarn… Keep up!”

Emma sighs.

[Rattus]: “Where was I?”

[Emma]: “You said he was going through the victim’s pockets.”

[Rattus]: "Yeah, that’s right, 'E 'as a rummage and finds some bits of paper, 'as a read, seems to nod to himself and then stuffs them in 'is pocket. Then the copper call up to 'm and says that the medics 'ave arrived fer the body. He calls them to come up. They takes the body away and 'e follows them.

[Jane]: “Seriously, a shilling for that??”

[Emma]: “Now, now. Let’s not be ungrateful, my dear.”

[Rattus]: “There was… there was. somefing else…”

[Emma]: “Yes?”

**[Rattus]: “**Well,” the voice has an unusual cadence to it, almost like fear. “Well, after they all goes, I’m read to get out of there. I don’t wants to be stuck in 'ere a moment longer. But then a couple more blokes turn up. I didn’t even 'ear them come up the stairs. At first I fink it’s too dark to make them out, but then I realise it’s not even noon and even Darkside gets some sunlight a couple of hours in the days. It’s not that they’re in shadow, it’s like they -are- shadow. Well, all except their 'eads…”

[Emma]: “And you’re quite certain they were not just wearing black cloaks?”

[Rattus]: “Naw, no cloaks or nufing like that, they was like them acrobats, but in shadder. They were wearing these fings you see on dolls from the italy. You know, them 'alf masks, all decretive and that.”

[Emma]: “And what did these masked figures do?”

[Rattus]: “They looked where that poor sod 'ad died. Then they looked at each uvver, nodded and seemed to smile, I don’t know 'ow I know theis, but they did! They smiled at each other and then just kinda… left.”

[Jane]: “Could he be describing the troubadours your contact was relating to you?”
Emma nods slowly. “I believe Mr Rat has seen these mysterious people with his own eyes. And it paints a grim picture around Mr Hawkesmoor.”

[Jane]: “It seems that he is in league with them. Either intentionally or unwittingly. With what Mr Rat has told us, it seems that we cannot possibly trust MR Hawkesmoor to do the correct thing. We must stop him. Either from furthering these performers’ wishes or becoming their next victim?”

[Emma]: “Yes, but we must proceed carefully. This is a very delicate situation indeed.”

[Jane]: “Perhaps we should try and contact someone of a higher position and explain everything we know? If someone were to infiltrate the hall with one of those masks, it could be calamitous”

[Rattus]: “Gyarn…”

3 Likes

It is but a short perambulation from the public house to the steps to Temple Hall, and they make it within minutes.

[Jane]: “Right, Emma. Once we enter the Hall, you should find one of the superiors, preferably Mr Hawkesmoor’s and try to tell them of the situation. I will dart across to Miss Pearson and inform her of our delay in returning to work. I will then come and find you, administrative duties allowing.”

[Emma]: “Let us hope we’re not already too late.”

[Jane]: “I rather think that we have discovered things in the very nick of time. That really was excellent work you undertook at the Archives.” They reach a seperation of the paths. “Right, this way is me and that way is you, all being well, we shall meet again within a jiffy!”

Emma becomes entangled within the labyrinthine corridors of Temple Hall. People walk past looking busy or discussing things with other people who look busy. Regardless, all seem rather too busy to notice Emma lt alone answer any queries that she may have

What signs there are appear to either be woefully out of date in that they lead towards people long since having shuffled off their mortal coil or to corridors that one would swear was where they first started.

By accident or predestination, Emma chances upon a copperplate sign that states that the inhabitants are concerned with “European Folklore and threats”

As she nears the door, it opens and a young bespectacled woman leaves, gently closing the door behind her. She carries sheaves of papers and does not appear to notice Emma for she walks straight into her, the files and papers cascading across the immediate area.

[Emma]: “Oh, no, look at that mess!” Emma exclaims as she kneels down to start picking up the strewn papers. “My dear, you really should watch where you’re going!”

[Charlotte]: “What?!? Of all the–!” The woman hisses. “Can you not watch where you are going??”

The woman looks at Emma, mildly surprised that their words should be similar and spoken at the same time. However, this appears to break any ice and her face softens into the hint of a smile that improves her countenance significantly.

[Emma]: “Oh dear, we seem to have made rather a mess. I do hope these are numbered.” Emma smiles as she hands over a stack of papers.

[Charlotte]: “Well,… I was just getting them prepped for the internal post over to the archives. I daresay that they could put them back into order. In fact I rather believe that that would be an enjoyable half day for them.” She straightens up, brushes herself down a little and thrusts out her hand. Charlotte Buchanan!" Her voice is at the upper end of middle class, the short sentences and low amount of syllables making her appear posher than she probably is.

Emma shakes the woman’s hand carefully so as not to risk another spill. “Emma Darkmoon, pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

[Charlotte]: “Oh, Darkmoon, eh? Not one of the Basildon Darkmoons are you?”

[Emma]: “Oh, no, ma’am. London-based. Always have been, always will be, I daresay.”

[Charlotte]: “Huh!” she grins cheerfully. “Well, you learn something new every day. I say, can I help you with anything? You look rather lost and it’s not often that people find their way all the way along here.”

[Emma]: “Well, I may have taken a wrong turn or two. I was trying to locate a superior officer of Mr Hawkesmoor’s, but…” She glances at the sign. “Maybe two wrong turns make a right and this could be right up your street, so to speak.”

[Charlotte]: “Hawkesmoor? Tall chap? Rather well-dressed? Large handlebar moustached that joins one ear to the next like Tower Bridge across the Thames? Bald as the proverbial coot?”

Emma chuckles. “The very same! You see, my colleague and I have reason to believe that Mr Hawkesmoor has gotten himself entangled in a sinister plot surrounding a set of eighteenth century Venetian artifacts.”

[Charlotte]: “Really?” Charlotte’s eyes widen for a moment filling the entirety of her lenses. “He was just here not half an hour ago providing an update of his investigation. We still have not found poor Mr Sanders. Mr Hawkesmoor looked quite tired by the whole affair.”

[Emma]: “Mr Hawkesmoor summoned us to the scene of a murder, yesterday. That is how I and my colleagues got involved.”

[Charlotte]: "Gosh, really?? How exciting! Oh, I mean how dreadful. Charlotte breathes “How positively, dreadfully exciting.”

Emma frowns slightly. “Miss Silvers was called in because of her special…” She clears her throat. “Ahem, talents. Miss Brandwell and I were there to lend support. Get the blood flowing, as it were.”

[Charlotte]: “Gosh.” I am sure that Mr Hawkesmoor was suitably grateful for your assistance!"

[Emma]: “Oh, I would not bet on that just yet, my dear. You see, we do not know if his involvement in this plot is of his own volition or by sheer coincidence. Or to put it more plainly, whether he is a victim or villain.”

[Charlotte]: “Villain? Mr Hawkesmoor? Oh, I can assure you---- No, surely not! The hero of Krishnapur? The man who recovered the lost agates of Elyzium?” No, I can’t believe it. I won’t! We all have our part to play in keeping the world safe," Charlotte looks proud and appears to stand straighter if only for a moment.

[Emma]: “Pray tell, have you heard of the ‘Masques of Venice’?”

[Charlotte]: “Masques of… Oh, I do believe that the gentlemen were discussing something around masques. I assumed that it was all to do with the Ball this coming Saturday.”

[Emma]: “I’m afraid not. These aren’t mere carnival trinkets, but dangerous artifacts used to commit the most heinous crimes in Italy and indeed much of Europe.”

[Charlotte]: “Gosh, across the continent? Is Mr Hawkesmoor aware of the extent of this?”

[Emma]: “I’m afraid he has not been very forthcoming with his personal knowledge. But my colleague and I. That is, Miss Branwell and I. We have good reason to believe that he is acquainted, if not in cohorts with, a number of individuals currently in possession of some of the missing artifacts.”

[Charlotte]: “Then we must have it out with him and clear this matter up once and or all! I am certain that there is a perfectly valid explanation for all this. I can take you to his office now. Come along, I will drop off these items for the archives along the way”

[Emma]: “I certainly hope not.” She mumbles under her breath.

[Charlotte]: “Here we are.” Charlotte knocks gently upon the door. “I am sure we cn resolve this satisfactorily. Mr Hawkesmoor, Might I come in?”

An answer came there none.

[Charlotte]: “Mr. Hawkesmoor? It’s Charlotte. Charlotte Buchanan.”

Charlotte raps upon the door a little harder. “This is most odd, he should be here…” Her voice trails off as the door swings open with a whining creak.

[Emma]: “I have a bad feeling about this…”

[Charlotte]: “This is most alarming. All office doors should be kept locked if unoccupied and should be left latched if occupied. There is etiquette to maintain!”

[Emma]: “We ought to find one of the guards!”

[Charlotte]: “Indeed!”

The door creaks open further under its own volition, the light from the corridor seeping into the room and picking out details within

[Charlotte]: “Oh my.”

[Emma]: “Guards?” Emma calls out with little hope of her cry reaching a guard’s ears.

Within seconds a pair of burly semi-armoured paladins arrive. The first, blonde with a short moustache looks around suspiciously. “What is it? What’s occurring?” His welsh accent sounding menacing and a little worried in equal measure.

[Emma]: “We came to see Mr Hawkesmoor only to find his office doors ajar and no response from within.”

[Paladin]: “Okay,” he breathes in deeply, his shoulders broadening as his chest rises. “Leave this to us.” He gingerly pushes the door open and peers inside. “Cor, it’s bloody dark in there, innit? Here, get a candle or sommat for us, Warren?”

The other Paladin, assumptions indicating ‘Warren’ nods and departs, returning almost immediately with a small candelabra. The first paladin looks at him with a roll of the eyes. I only wanted to look into the room, not perform the sacrament!"

[Paladin]: “Never mind, give it here.”

Emma suppresses a chuckle.

He enters slowly, the light filling the immediate area and showing a room that has been ransacked, though it may be closer to say torn asunder with furniture, decoration, papers lying broken and torn across the various surfaces.

"Bloody 'ell, " says the Paladin.

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Charlotte Buchanan looks around in horror, "I–I— should get one of the… uh… officers… They can help! Be… will be as quick as possible

[Paladin]: “What the bleedin’ ;ell’s been going on around 'ere then?” He regards Emma suspiciously through the slits in his helmet.

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[Jennings]: “What’s the matter of such a noise?” A tall, gaunt, and extremely unpleasant looking man appears from around the corner. “I’m sorry to inform you, but some people are working here. And they prefer to do it in silence. What is the reason for this noise making?”

Emma tries to regain her composure, looking from one man to the other. “We came to see Mr Hawkesmoor only to find his office doors unlocked. We called for the guards immediately, of course.”

The paladin performs a quick salute. “Sorry sir, been a bit of a situation. Will ensure that any noise is kept to a minimum, I will have to ask you to step back a little. We’re not sure of the cause of if there is still danger present”

Jennings looks inside Mr Hawkesmoor’s office, “He might make a mess out of his office, sure. But at least he did it all quietly.” Jennings steps back.

Emma frowns. “You were in your office all day and heard nothing? How peculiar.”

[Paladin]: “You 'eard nothing? Sir?”

[Jennings]:“Yes. And I got used to it, frankly. You see, my constant guidance and advice about the noise level made Mr Hawkesmoor quite a quiet person.”

Emma shuffles past the paladin to take a closer look at the office.

[Paladin]: “Indeed sir? Can I ask, sir if you 'ave seen Mr 'awkesmoor about, recently, sir?”

[Jennings]: “If I hear anything I’d be here in a moment. Like I did when you started this hubbub here.”

Emma investigates the office, careful not to touch any evidence.

The Paladin notices Emma enter the room. “Uh, 'scuse me Miss, I can’t allow you across that thresh’old. Could be anything in there.”

[Emma]: “My good man, I believe if something or someone wanted to attack me, they would have done so by now.”

[Jennings]: “I usually prefer not to get distracted by other gentlemen working here, unless our duties are related somehow. But I think I saw Mr Hawkemoore this week.”

[Paladin]: “It could be important , sir. Looks like there’s been an attack on Temple Hall grounds, sir. And we don’t know if there’s a victim missing or a perpetrator!”

[Jennings]: “But when I think about it, I usually see him more often.”

[Paladin]: “Today sir?”

[Jennings]:“I imagine Mr Hawkesmoore could be out of the office for several days. Can’t say for sure, we don’t interact on a daily basis, you see.”

[Paladin]: “I see sir, I mean, Yes sir!”

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Emma produces a box of matches and proceeds to light an oil lamp that appears to have survived the carnage.

[Jennings]: “I hope you find Mr Hawkesmoore if he’s missing. I don’t want to go through all that noise education again with some other person. New colleagues are the worst, you see.”

The room lights up with a warm glow extending around the walls and showing the destruction caused in a ‘new light’ Chairs are upturned, bookcases and cabinets tipped to the floor with their contents strewn around. Mirrors are smashed as are several glass ornaments

[Paladin]: “Lumme,” says the Paladin looking around. “Someone did a job in 'ere and no mistake. And you really 'eard or saw nothing while all this was going on sir?”

Jennings peeks inside again and marvels, “Oh my, I would like to have the person who did it so quietly as a colleague.”

[Emma]: “It beggars belief that someone could have done this in silence. Perhaps your hearing is not what it used to be, sir?”

[Jennings]: "Not a sound, Miss. Jennings thinks for a moment, “But… could be, could be. Maybe my colleagues weren’t getting quieter after all. Just me getting deafer.”

[Emma]: “Or perhaps Mr Hawkesmoor had his office magically warded to keep out prying ears?”

[Jennings]: “I wonder if it was a trick someone played on me; tired of my constant advice. It could also be a trick that I heard some annoying tune all day. In the corner of my ear, so to say. Like an opera. Quiet, but very annoying.”

Emma wheels around. “A tune?”

[Jennings]: “A sort of whistling. And the tune itself sounded Italian to me. As for the warding, could be, could be. As long as things are quiet, I don’t dig deep to see why they are.”

[Paladin]: It would be helpful if we knew what the office was life beforehand so we could tell if anything was missing"

[Emma]: “Miss Silvers should be able to help with that, but I believe she is not in today.”

[Jennings]: "I tried my best not to invade Mr Hawkesmoore’s workspace. Especially since he respected my desire for silence recently. So I can’t be much of a help, I’m afraid. “Sometimes, good manners hurt investigations, it seems. But it’s a price a gentleman should always be ready to pay.”

[Paladin]: “Silvers? 'Er?” the paladin shivers in a way that the armour fails to conceal. “She’s a cold one, that one.”

Jennings uses this opportunity to explore Mr Hawkemoore’s office without breaking his unspoken rules of politeness. What if he could be of some help?

[Paladin]: “Lawks, now there’s two of 'em in there. … Ehem. I really must insist that you vacate the room if only for your own safety as well as that of an investigation taht will 'ave to be instigated.”

Emma starts to collect the mess of papers that are strewn across the office.

As the papers ruffle together a small envelope slips out and drops to the floor.

[Jennings]: “On my way,” Mr Jennings replies and leaves the room. Jennings still looks inside from the corridor, though.

Further looking about the room shows slashes across paintings and something carved into the desk, looks like words carved into the veneer.

Emma picks up the envelope.

There is a faint perfumed scent discernible, the envelope has been opened previously and the flap lifts easily revealing a card within

Emma examines the card.

It is an invitation in flowing and elaborate italic script inviting the recipient to attend a masked ball to be help at the Ealdwic Palace Ballroom on the following Saturday. t allows a guest also.

[Paladin]: “Can I ask that you not pick anything up please miss? We need to leave stuff as it is for the investigators and we don’t need you tidying stuff up before they get here, I know you means well, miss”

[Emma]: “And what’s that there on the desk?” Emma points and deftly slides the card into her coat while everyone’s heads are turned the other way.

[Paladin]: “The desk?” The paladin finally enters the room if not a little nervously and follows Emma towards the desk.

[Emma]: “There appears to be a message carved into it.”

[Paladin]: “Eh? What’s it say?”

Peering at the desk, the angle of light picks out the letters carved into the surface, the lettering in a familiar flowing style:

[Emma]: “è solo quando viene indossata la maschera che tutto è rivelato” ~~ it is only when the mask is worn that everything is revealed.

[Paladin]: “E solo what?”

[Emma]: “I believe that is Italian.”

[Jennings]: “Like a tune I heard,” Mr Jennings adds.

[Paladin]: “Oh, right.” THe paladin sounds wary as if the letters might contaminate something. “What do they mean in proper english?”

[Jennings]: “Maybe that one is in English,” Mr Jannings points to a note leaning against a bottle, undamaged in all the chaos around.

[Emma]: “Where did Miss Buchanon run off to? I’m certain that she could help with the translation!”

[Paladin]: “What’s that sir?”

[Jennings]: “Some note?” Mr Jennings shrugs. “It looks untouched, probably was left after all the destruction commenced.”

The Paladin looks around. “Whereabouts is that, sir?” He moves his head around attempting to see through the slits

[Jennings]: “Next to that bottle,” Mr Jennings points.

The Paladin walks over to where he was pointed and locates the note and bottle. He peers at the note . “”Something… a… something… gift…” it says I think? ‘old on, there’s something smudging the other letters.” The Paladin wipes the card against a bit of cloth. "That’s better, " he peers at the card. “Dunno though, 'alf of it’s in English the other ‘alf aint’”

[Emma]: “What does it say?”

[Paladin]: “Something… Gift. Dunno the other word. What’s ‘etwas’?”

[Jennings]: “This means ‘some’,” Mr Jennings replies. “And although the word ‘gift’ may seem familiar to you, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

[Paladin]: "Yeah? Well that’s just bad English, innit? Some Gift? don’t make no sense, it should be ‘a gift’. " he chuckles . “Stupid foreigners…” The Paladin shakes the bottle, “Wonder what’s in this then? Might be brandy, that would be a decent gift.” The Paladin goes to pull the stopper from the bottle.

[Jennings]: “It was probably a gift for Mr Hawkesmoore,” Mr Jennings says. “It would be impolite to take it like this.”

[Emma]: “Oh, no… No no no. Put that down."

[Paladin]: “Eh? What you on about? put what down?”

The stopper comes loose

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[Emma]: “I’ve seen that word before, on certain bottles at the Chemist’s. Usually underneath the symbol of a skull-and-crossbones. I believe that’s poisonous.”

A curl of greenish gas slides from the neck of the bottle

[Paladin]: “What the—?”

Jennings takes several steps back further into the corridor, away from the room

Emma slowly backs away from the man and the bottle.

The gas reaches the eye slits in the helmet and curls into the gap

[Paladin]: “What? Eh? Oh–oh–oh!–OH”

[Emma]: “Hold your breath and take off that helmet at once!”

The armoured man begins to shake, a gurgle distorting his remaining one syllable exclamations

Emma looks around at the other guards. “We need a doctor, immediately!”

More tendrils of greenish gas escape the bottle and seep into the room

Emma grabs the man’s arms and tries to drag him towards the door, to no avail. “Dear Lord, this armour must weigh a hundred stone!”

Jennings runs away to his room

The armour, or at least the man inside appears immobile as the gas diffuses further

Emma stares at the other guards. “Don’t just stand there!”

The other guard, Warren you think you remember his name as, rushes in and attempts to tug on the other arm.

[2nd Paladin]: “Blimey, he’s locked up, we’re never going to be able to shift 'im!”

The other Paladin attempts to grab Emma’s arm and pull her towards the door. “Sorry Miss, we need to gets you out.”

[Emma]: “We have to get some fresh air into this room or this man is surely done for!”

[2nd Paladin]: “'es not moving in 'is armour Miss, 'e’s already done for. That armour’s gone rigid 'cos 'e is. e’s a goner, Miss!”

[Emma]: “I don’t like this, but we can’t risk any more casualties.”

[2nd Paladin]: “We’re going to need to get out and seal this door up sharply!” The Other Paladin drags Emma out and upon reaching the safety of the other side of the threshold, pulls the doors together. “Call the cleaning team!” he shouts. “We’re going to need to seal for forty eight hours, at least!”

[Emma]: “We will have to ascertain Mr Hawkesmoor’s whereabouts, and his role in this… Situation.”

[2nd Paladin]: “With all due respect, Miss, we 'ave to evacuate this area so that no other bugger gets snuffed like poor malc there.”

[Emma]: “They’re not mutually exclusive objectives!”

Emma is bundled away from the room as a team of oddly clad figure rush past with various implements and containers. After a short while, Emma finds herself alone in the corridor, activity taking place a distance away

Emma fishes the invitation out of her coat pocket. “At least we have a lead…” She murmurs to herself.

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Emma notices that everyone is rather more interested in the office than her and wanders down the hallway, lost in thought.

A voice cuts into these thoughts.

[Jane]: “Emma? Emma? Are you quite all right, my dear. You are most dreadfully pale”

Emma’s head jerks up. “Oh, Miss Branwell. I didn’t expect to see you down he…” She looks around, trying to orient herself. “Where are we?”

[Jane]: “I’ve been searching for you for the last few minutes. When you had not arrived at our meeting place, I made for the offices you said that you were going to. Then there were all these alarms sounding and people rushing around, I thought. 'Well, if there’s trouble I wager that Emma Darkmoon is involved somehow.”

Emma blinks. “The alarms, right. I’m afraid our masqued plot has claimed another victim. One of our own.”

Jane looks as alarmed as the klaxon that even now is only just fading. “One of our own, but who? Are you hurt?”

[Emma]: “One of the guards. I… I don’t quite remember his name. You see, we came upon Mr Hawkesmoor’s office, but it was unlocked and in a dreadful state of disarray. Then suddenly there was this bottle and the poor paladin couldn’t help his curiosity…”

Jane’s eyes widen even further “…And then what?”

[Emma]: “He… he choked. Went stiff as a washboard almost in an instant. The other guard said he was already beyond help and dragged me out of the office.”

[Jane]: “Why, what was in the bottle?”

[Emma]: “It was labelled with the German word for ‘poison’. Must have been a potent brew indeed, the poor guard hardly had a whiff of it before he doubled over!”

[Emma]: “I have also learned from one of his colleagues that Mr Hawkesmoor has been rather curiously absent these past few weeks.”

Jane gasps, “Oh, how terrible. It is a wonder that it didn’t affect more people!”

[Emma]: “Yes, quite. The office is on lockdown now, of course.”

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Jane raises an eyebrow. “Has he now… Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice…”

Emma 's face brightens. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My niece absolutely adores that story!”

Jane beams. “But did you learn anything from Mr Hawkesmoor’s superiors?”

[Emma]: “I’m afraid not. Unfortunately I got sidetracked by a young assistant who upon hearing about my mission insisted on seeing Mr Hawkesmoor himself at once. And, well, you know how that ended.”

[Jane]: “Ah,” she looks disappointed. “So we are no further than we were before. Exasperating. Something big is brewing, I can almost sense it. And if the upper echelons will not listen to our warnings, we will have to prevent whatever is going to happen ourselves”

[Emma]: “I’ve only managed to uncover a little bit of evidence before the guard’s unfortunate demise stopped my examination of the office. For one, there was a message scratched into the surface of his desk.”

[Jane]: “Really? What kind of message?”

[Emma]: “I think I wrote it down somewhere.” She checks her pockets. “Oh, here we are. I believe it’s Italian. Do you know anyone who speaks Italian?” She holds out a small notebook.

[Jane]: “Oh, I learned a little Italian at my finishing school in Switzerland. Ah,” she sighs. “Such a wonderful time, the snow covered peaks, the crisp mountain air. It truly was an idyll.”

[Emma]: “That sounds lovely.”

Jane peers at the notebook. “Is this what was on the table?”

[Emma]: “Oh yes, it was crudely scratched into the surface.” She again rummages in her pockets. “The other piece of evidence…” She produces an ornate card. “… is an invitation to a masquerade ball to take place this very weekend.”

[Jane]: “Oh, oh my, now that -is- intriguing! May I?” Jane attempts to take the notebook"

[Emma]: “Oh, please do.”

[Jane]: “Let me see… hmm, I am most terribly rusty. It has been an absolute age since I last had cause to use my meagre vocabulary. Not since… such a romantic language. You can see why Shakespeare set so many of his plays there… Now, let me see… Well, ‘maschera’ is mask. Which seems rather fitting… And then there’s to put on and also to reveal… hmmm… Do you have a pencil that I could borrow, please?”

[Emma]: “Oh, certainly. Here you go.” She offers one.

[Jane]: “Much obliged. Now…”

Jane begins to write, then cross out and then write again, occasionally pausing to ponder briefly before more crossings out and writing. There, I think I have it. Sorry for the delay, I really need to brush up my Italian. We’re taking in Lake Garda next tour."

Jane holds up the notebook where beneath some crossed out attempts reads “It is only when the mask is worn that everything is revealed”. Again, it has to be a link. But who scratched it in and why? And why the poison? I don’t know whether we are being led a merry dance or that people are trying to stop us from getting any further by killing us!"

[Emma]: “You have me at a loss. The carving is too crude to compare to handwritten notes. And I couldn’t tell you whom the poison was meant for, nevermind who sent it.”

[Jane]: “I feel that someone is being mocked. If not us, then another”

[Emma]: “Indeed.”

[Jane]: “The question is, what is the next step to take…?”

Emma holds up the invitation card. “When was the last time you went out to a Ball?”

Jane looks at the card and is about to reply when she grasps Emma’s meaning. “Oh, My dear Miss Darkmoon… not for an absolute age…!”

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Jane looks around, her head bobbing in and out of the spaces between the crowds alighting from carriages and entering the ballroom, as if seeking someone. She turns this way and that with not a little exasperation

Emma makes her way through the crowd towards the entrance.

[Jane]: “Oh, oh at last! Ms Darkmoon. I am aware of your many assets, but I fear that punctuality is not one of them!”

[Emma]: “I do apologize. My driver is off battling the flu and it took forever to get a carriage!”

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[Jane]: “No matter! You are here. You have the ticket?”

Emma pulls an envelope out of her jacket pocket. “Right here.”

Jane looks relieved. “I was worried that we would not be able to get inside. I have been finding out about this ‘Masqued Ball’ and it appears rather… involved…”

[Emma]:: “Then we had best be on our guard.”

Jane nods and turns to alight the steps leading to the Ballroom’s entrance. "It seems that these invites were sent some weeks before and to various members of various nobilities and hierarchies.

[Emma]: “It’s quite the crowd, but I daresay we blend in splendidly.”

[Jane]: “…including the high families of our own Temple Hall… I understand that the Tyburns were invited, however their daughter Julia remains at home. The Plimmswoods are also in attendance which rather alarms me.”

Emma raises an eyebrow. “That can’t be a coincidence, to have so many representatives of important families gathered in one place!”

[Jane]: “That was precisely my thought. Though the person who has organised the event is a very respected member of the London Set, so I wonder if we are either reading too much into all of this and that it is all perfectly innocent. Or…”

[Emma]: “Oh, I’m quite happy to enjoy a night of dancing and wine if it turns out that we’ve been wrong.”

Jane nods. “Or, somehow the Benaissa-Smythes have become embroiled in this whole sorry affair and are bring people to their peril.”

[Emma]: “Best not dilly dally then. Shall we?”

Jane nods again, her face attempting impassive but still bearing a modicum of worry. “Any sight or sound of our Mr Hawkesmoor?”

[Emma]:“Not a peep.”

[Jane]: “I do not know if that is something additional to fret over or just hope that he is otherwise engaged. I fear that that is a pipedream however.”

[Emma]: “I’m afraid you may be right. His involvement surely isn’t over yet.”

*A young man in dark red and black livery welcomes them and asks to see their ticket. Emma hands over the invitation with a big smile.

*The young man’s smile fades to a frown of confusion as he reads the scripts and looks up towards the two women and back to the card. “Uhm… -Mister- Hawkesmoor?”

Jane darts a look at Emma and puts on her most engaging smile and upper class accent exuding privilege. “Ah yes, about that, I am afraid that my husband, the poor dear is under the weather and has taken to his bed. I hope that he shall be in better health soon. Ordinarily he has the constitution of an ox… if not the manners… However, I would not miss a ball like this for the world so I invited my friend Ms Darkmoon to keep me company. I do hope that that is satisfactory?”

Jane murmurs an aside to Emma. “Rather quick thinking on my part I thought?”

[Emma]:“Let’s hope he buys it!” Emma whispers back.

"The young man nods and looks relieved at the avoidance of any difficulties. However, his brow crinkles again. “But if you are Mrs Hawkesmoor… Why did the other lady have the ticket?”

Jane blinks

[Emma]: “My good man, surely you know that the Hawkesmoors are a big and influential family. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if half a dozen of them were invited tonight!”

[Usher]: “But… but she said that you were a friend… not a Hawkesmoor…?”

[Emma]: “Are you feeling quite alright? I’m accompanying Mrs. Hawkesmoor on account of her husband’s poor health. Dear Lord, if you question everyone this thoroughly this event will never get started! Just look at the crowd…”

[Jane]: “And I would hardly be carrying the ticket myself! The… the very idea!”

*Whether it is to avoid further argument, the desire for a quiet life or just that he actually believes the reason, the young man returns the tickets, performs a swift and slight bow accompanied by a click of the heels and bids them to enter the ballroom.

[Jane]: “I should think so too.” Jane enters without even looking at him

Emma gives a tiny curtsey before gesturing for Jane to enter. “After you, my dear.”

—------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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*Upon arrival a lady offers to take their coats and hats.

Jane thanks her, and Emma looks around as she hands over her coat. “Have they redecorated? It’s very red.”

[Jane]: "The lighting is certainly… atmospheric…

Jane blinks at Emma’s dress. “Oh my dear, I had no idea that it was going to be that sort of event?”

[Emma]: “Oh, it’s not too forward, is it?”

Jane appears to be looking for appropriate words. “It is certainly… ahead of the season?”

[Emma]: “My seamstress tells me this design is straight from Paris. Everyone will be wearing it soon. Oh, I do hope I don’t stand out.”

[Jane]: “Oh, I am sure that you may turn some heads…”

[Emma]: “Well, nothing I can do about that at the moment. But you look lovely, my dear!”

[Jane]:: “But first things first. We need to mingle with the rest of the guests and seek out any with----” As they enter the main ballroom, the party has already begun with many couples performing waltzes on the ballroom floor. Everyone wearing a Venetian Mask… “A mask worn…”

[Emma]: “Were we supposed to bring our own masks?” Emma whispers.

[Jane]: “I do not recall seeing it mentioned on the invitation. Certainly it indicated that it was a masqued ball, but I—”

[Facilitator]: “Masks, ladies?” Another young man, standing near them upon the threshold of the entrance and the ballroom floor bears a pile of masks stacked like plates at a teroom

Emma picks a mask from the stack with a smile. “Thank you.”

[Jane]: “All the same…?” Jane looks over the masses on the floor. “See some with plumes and others with different decoration.”

[Facilitator]: “I’m sorry ma’am, the masks are based on the time of arrival. I am sorry that those you see are already taken.”

[Emma]: “Curious.”

[Jane]: "No matter! I am sure that I can endure… ‘’ She studies the mask in her hand. “…The plain set.”

[Jane]: “There. How do I look?”

[Emma]: “Oh, it matches your dress fabulously!”

[Jane]: “Thank you, Emma. It is a small mercy.” Jane notices Emma’s mask is a different colour. “What on earth…? I understood that they were supposed to be the same?” Jane looks around but the young man is no longer there. “Oh, of all the—”

[Emma]: : “Oh, I… well, he said time of arrival mattered? Perhaps I received the last black mask? I was rather hoping for blue, as a matter of fact.”

[Jane]:“Let us find a suitable vantage point where we can observe and hopefully spot something to our advantage.”

[Emma]: “Upstairs, perhaps?”

[Jane]: “That is an excellent suggestion”

*The music continues as a waltz, the orchestra upon the stage are Austrian and playing well. “An der schönen blauen Donau” comes to a well-performed conclusion and there is a smattering of applause as the couple on the ballroom floor pause to take a breather and refreshments.

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[Jane]: “That was quite a recent piece of music. I rather liked it.”

[Emma]: “Very nicely performed, but I’m concerned about the main event.”

[Jane]: “Main event?”

[Emma]: “Call it a gut feeling, but I think someone is setting the stage for something big. The decor, the lighting, the music… This is no simple ball.”

*The orchestra resume their positions and the opening notes of La gazza ladra floats over the ballroom. People smile in recognition and partners are taken and slowly moved across the floor.

[Jane]: “Oh, I like this one also. Rossini, isn’t it?”

[Emma]: “Not the first time Italian music has come up in this investigation. Let us hope it’s not a bad omen.”

Jane peers over the balcony and sighs. “This is like looking for a needle within a haystack…”

[Emma]: “In for a penny, in for a pound. We can only wait.” She frowns. “Big guy, top left corner. Looks like he’s waiting for someone? Or something?”

[Jane]: “Where?” She peers, scanning the crowd.

[Emma]: “In the corner. Looks like he’s eaten an ox or two. Luxurious beard.”

[Jane]: “Oh, the rather large gentleman? Seems rather nondescript to me.”

[Emma]: “Indeed. But he hasn’t moved since we arrived. He just keeps staring at the dance floor.”

*The man removes his mask and begins to fan himself with it, clearly not used to the clothing he wears, the amount of people in the vicinity and the closeness of the surroundings. He becomes recognisable as he waves the mask back and forth. “Mr. Hawkesmoor.”

Jane gasps.

Emma 's eyes widen.

[Jane]: “It’s him! But how?”

[Emma]: “The masques… it has to have something to do with the masques.”

[Jane]: “Clearly he has ways and means of entering places that the rest of us are unaware. We must challenge him now.”

[Emma]:“Are you quite sure that’s a good idea?”

Jane rises from her seat and in her hast fails to see the wine waiter leaving the bar with a tray of red wine. They collide and the liquid flies in various directions, the majority of which appears to be down the from of Jane’s dress. “Oh! Oh! Of all the stupid…!”

age4

*The waiter is effusive in his apologies.

[Emma]: “Oh, dear!”

**The waiter attempts to dab away the stains with his napkin.

[Jane]: "Never mind that now! " she hisses at the waiter. To Emma she urges. “Quickly! Find that Hawkesmoor and discover his attentions. I will follow once I have dealt with this idiot!” The last few words were directed at the still apologising waiter.

Emma rushes down the stairs and tries to wring her way through the crowd of dancers.

age5

In the the time it has taken to reach the dancefloor and to weave in and out of the dancing couples there was a worry that her quarry may have been lost.

A darting shadow catches her eye, noticeable by its solitary nature and lack of engagement. It appears to be attempting to get behind the orchestra. The figure, surely Hawkesmoor disappears through a door at the back, checking around to see if there are any witnesses.

Emma follows, trying her best to blend into the crowd.

Apparently satisfied he disappears through the door.

Emma leans against the door and listens for any footsteps from the other side over the noisy dance floor.

The noise of the orchestra and steps of the dancers make it difficult to discern, but there does not appear to be any noises beyond the door.

Emma looks up at the balcony in hope of catching Jane’s attention.

There is no sign of her erstwhile companion. It looks like her sartorial difficulties are taking longer than planned

Emma sighs and, with a quick glance behind, slips through the door. She pulls off one of her gloves and wedges it into the door as the pulls it shut. “Let’s hope Ms Branwell finds this.” She murmurs to herself as she turns around to take in her new surroundings.

age6

*The area is poorly lit, but there are steps leading down, as if to a cellar.

Emma slowly climbs down the stairs, careful not to make any noise with her heels.

The door all but closed reduces much of the sound left behind in the ballroom and there is the merest hint of footsteps below and ahead. The wooden steps end after maybe a dozen or so and the ground feels rougher with some loose stones underfoot. It appears to be more of a shaft than a basement. Ahead are the noises of someone attempting to move as silently as possible along a passage where every noise echoes sevenfold.

Emma groans in frustration and takes off her shoes.

A few steps along and the third loose pebble she stands on feels like a bruise will be left. There is a sudden sense of fur skittering across her toes.

age7

[Emma]: “Good Lord, I did not sign up for this!” Emma whispers to herself.

It seems easy to keep out of sight and sound of the figure ahead, as they are seemingly oblivious to their pursuer. The passageway appears to get lighter and after a few steps there is definite illumination ahead. Judging by the packing rates and equipment, someone has been busy. Several someones even. It looks like a lot of organisation has been going on. As Emma reaches the edges of the area, She notices the figure looking over some of the crates.

Noises further ahead seem to increase in volume or maybe shorten in distance. The figure at the crates looks around and seeks a place in the shadows. A soft padding accompanied by a tuneful whistling gets louder.

Emma darts behind a pillar to avoid detection.

A figure, lithe and shrouded in darkness apart from a face mask as pale as bone enters. They move with a graceful confidence, as if the area belonged to them. Moving towards one of the boxes near to where the other figure chose to hide they pause, almost sniffing the air. Reaching into one of the crates they carefully remove two smaller boxes and brushing off the remnants of straw leave the room as they entered whistling a familiar tune that could be La gazza ladra.

Emma observes, hidden behind the pillar.

A few moments pass without movement or sound. Eventually the figure rises from their hiding place and looks thoughtful towards the direction of the masked figure and moves to the open crate, peering inside.

He slams his fist on the edge of the crate in apparent frustration

[Emma]: “What are they doing?” Emma whispers to herself. “And why isn’t Jane coming?”

Emma steps out of the shadows. “Mr Hawkesmoor. Would you care to explain yourself?”

The figure jumps in surprise, spluttering. “What the devil!?” He peers towards the source of the query. “Miss Darkmoon? What in the name of all that is holy are you doing here??”

[Emma]: “I could ask you the same thing. Why, I believe I just did!”

He narrows the distance between them, his voice becoming a near hiss. This is an extremely delicate and I might add -dangerous- investigation! Do you have any idea of the nature of the forces at work here? Do you??"

[Emma]: “Yes.” Emma replies flatly. She narrows her eyes. “Do you?”

He attempts to continue his admonishing but is brought up short. “You do?” His eyes narrow slightly. “And what exactly do you know?”

[Emma]: “I know about the masques’ power, and I know about the devastation they left in their wake the last time they were unleashed upon Europe.” Emma snaps back. “They need to be under lock and key. Under the Hall’s guard!”

[Hawkesmoor]: “But how on earth…?” His frown smooths with realisation. “The archives. You learned when you retrieved the information. I had hoped that using the services of those under the charge of Miss Pearson that I might obtain the details without any others realising. I had not anticipated that you would become interested yourself.” He looks glumly at Emma. “I fear that my investigations and your insatiable curiosity may have placed your life in peril, Miss Darkmoon.”

Emma narrows her eyes even further. “Is that a threat, Mr Hawkesmoor?”

He looks surprised and not a little hurt at the suggestion. “What? No, of course not! I merely meant that our presence here is precarious indeed”

Emma 's expression softens. “Then you’d better get me up to speed, haven’t you?”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Miss Darkmoon, -what- I need to do is get you as far away from here as possible!”

Emma crosses her arms in defiance. “I assure you, I am not some damsel in distress!”

[Unknown]: “Oh but you are.” A voice from the shadows speaks as Hawkesmoor’s mouth hangs open. “You are both in the most terrible distress.”

A mask followed by the rest of the wearer emerges from the shadows. “But do not worry overly, that distress will be relieved in the fullness of time.”

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donata1

Hawkesmoor turns around towards the voice and sees similar figures emerging from the shadows, each carrying weapons of various types and ages. Each figure also wears a Venetian mask of different designs to the others, all of which appear to display a smiling mischief.

[Emma]: “Oh dear.” Emma whispers to herself as she counts the masks.

Hawkesmoor attempts to place himself in front of Emma as protection, however this becomes increasingly difficult as the figues advance as a circle that is rapidly narrowing. “Stay close m’dear, I will not allow any harm to come to you.”

[Emma]: “That’s easy for you to say. If these masques have even half the power ascribed to them…”

Hawkesmoor clears his throat. “I must warn you that I am proficient in the art of Dimac, taught by the great Counte Dante himself!” Hawkesmoor’s warning, however, does not cause the figure to pause their advance

[Mask]: “Seize them,” what might be their leader says simply. Emma’s and Hawkesmoor’s arms are grasped by rough and surprisingly strong arms for figures that appeared so willowy.

[Emma]: “How dare you!” Emma exclaims. “Take your hands off of me at once!”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Unhand me Sir! Or, indeed madam! I am merely the vanguard of a force of Templar troops currently on their way to thwart your nefarious machinations! If you agree to surrender to my custody I will plead for leniency upon your behalf!”

[Mask]: “Ooh!” taunts the figure. “Templars, eh?" The voice sounds continental, lyrical in a sweeping fashion, and not a little sarcastic. “How many troops?”

[Hawkesmoor]: **Many troops."

[Mask]: Many troops?"

[Hawkesmoor]: “Many, many troops."

[Mask]: “Then let us pause a moment so that we may hear their approach." The figures cease all noise, though do not release their captives. All seems to be listening.

Emma chuckles. “You fools. Do you really believe you’d hear them coming if they do not want to be heard? We’re Templars, not sellswords.”

Hawkesmoor clears his throat. “Elite of the elite”

*They continue to listen in quiet for the next few moments. After a few moments the masked figure begins to mime playing a flute whilst marching on the spot.

[Mask]: Seems more like the silence of shadows." The figure taunts, her voice travelling in decreasing echoes along the tunnel. “Still nothing? No more words of bravado based on a foundation of ashes? Very well. Bring them.” The figure strides towards the tunnel on the far side of the area

*Hands tighten on arms and the figures drag Hawkesmoor and Emma after her.

[Emma]: “Mark my words, you shall regret this before the night is over.”

[Mask]: “By the night’s end, your life will be full of music and laughter, my dear…” The figure speaks over her shoulder, her words flowing past like notes dancing on the air

Hawkesmoor continues to struggle as they are dragged onwards. “If you let me go for just one second I’ll give you the trashing of your lives!”

[Mask]: “Do not let him got for even a second then, my dears” the figure calls back

*Through the tunnels the two are half led, half dragged. Parts of the tunnels have collapsed, Cobwebs with what looks like a century of dust clinging to it are everywhere. They reach a chamber of three pyres lined in a row.

[Hawkesmoor]: “What -is- this place?” Hawkesmoor breathes

Emma suppresses a cough. “Certainly hasn’t seen a housekeeper in some time.”

*Ahead a figure stands in shadows before a large door.

donata2

[Figure] “Is that them? Are they arrived?” The voice is like the others, lyrical, southern European. Mischievous.

[Mask]: It is. They are…" The figure with the captives intones.

[Figure] “At last. This will make our Nine. And thus the door will be opened. And so the Masques of Venice will be able to enter Agartha and spread our music and laughter”

[Emma]: “Who are you? Identify yourself!”

[Figure] **“Who am I? Why surely, Emma Darkmoon you recognise your old friend…?”

Emma narrows her eyes.

*The figure turns around. Familiar, a white evening gown stained with red wine, her hair styled in the season, a plumed Venetian mask covering her eyes. Jane Branwell.

[Emma]: “You!” She points at Jane, accusingly. “You set this all up?”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Dear God,” gasps Hawkesmoor. “It’s…”

donata3

[Donata] "Not at all. This was a happy accident. Serendipity I believe. The body my mask was on was waning so badly. You might even have noticed me in the booth next to yours at the dance. So when Ms Branwell was indisposed due to an accident, I took possession.Please, don’t think of it so much as losing a friend, but gaining a… Maestro… Maestro Donata Giullare!”

[Emma]: “You will regret this.” Emma repeats…

[Donata] "Do not concern yourself. It was ever so quick and painless. The mask lifted from my former, declining face, a brief hold of the head from behind and then fitted ever so simply upon her own. That ‘clumsy’ waiter was so helpful… There was the merest of gasps from Ms Branwell’s lips before I took control and banished her to the recesses of her mind. I can hear her still. Though not nearly so loudly now.

“What is it the French say? ‘Je regrette rien?’ And soon, neither you nor Mr Hawkesmoor will have any worries, fears… anything at all, in fact! Your bodies shall be carriages for our essences and we will be a force in the halls of the Templars and along the branches of Agartha. We shall be everywhere and everywhen!”

“Nine persons from the cross. That’s what the inscription says. Nine persons from the cross and this door, this portal to infinity shall be ours!”

[Hawkesmoor]: **“We will stop you! We will never let you get—”

[Emma]: “Such abominations will never be allowed to walk the endless branches!”

[Donata] “Oh, hush. I trust that neither of you will be as tiresome once my brother and sister flows through your minds.” She looks behind her. “Are they ready?”

*"The figure nods and two more appear from the shadows bearing soft cushions. Each with a plumed Venetian mask upon it.

[Donata] “Be so good as to place them upon Mr Hawkesmoor and Miss Darkmoon”

The figures nod and the three advance upon Emma and Hawkesmoor. Jane, or rather, what was Jane begins to giggle, then laugh.

[Emma]: “You cannot do this. I will not allow it!” Her voice desperate, almost pleading against the sense of injustice.

Donata’s’ mask appearing to glow, she throws back her head and laughs a lyrical, flowing laugh that echoes along the long tunnels beneath London.

Hawkesmoor attempts to struggle with renewed vigour, his voice sounding desperate “I’m sorry Miss Darkmoon. I truly am…”

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[Donata] “I find it easier if you don’t resist. It changes nothing, just makes for a smoother transition”

Emma struggles against her restraints.

Hawkesmoor struggles fiercer as the hands bearing the masks get nearer, twisting his head as the edg rushes against the skin of his cheek

[Donata] “Clasp their heads still. This is taking far too long.” ‘Jane’ orders

A single gunshot rings out, chipping away a section of a nearby column, followed by the sound of numerous military boots approaching rapidly

gas1

Donata curses in a foregin language. “Who the—?”

Hawkesmoor, half straining against his captors, half cheering. “See I said that I had it all in hand!”

[Emma]: “I thought you were bluffing.” Emma remarks with astonishment.

[Hawkesmoor]: “To be honest, Miss Darkmoon, so did I…”

A group of heavily armed and armored people rushes in, although their armor is covered by fancy white suits with bright teal details.

*With the projectile commotion the hands holding them slacken slightly

Emma ducks out of the grasp of her captor and takes cover behind a nearby column.

[Leoncello]: “Everyone stay where you are!” The man in a fanciest suit and in the plumiest mask (different from the cult ones) announces.: Several gunshots follow Hufflepuff, all of them miss.

*A mixture of uniformed soldiers enter the chamber led by a figure in a grey white suit, bearing a plumed mask from the Ballroom upstairs where the festivities are likely continuing utterly oblivious to the events occurring beneath them. The man who spoke before raises his hand, no more shots are fired at Emma.

[Leoncello]: “My name is Adrian Leoncello. I represent the Council of Venice,” he introduces himself, as his men continue to aim at everyone is the room, although not shooting.

Donata hisses at the mention of the name. “Leoncello… how did you track me down…?”

[Leoncello]: “And as it was made clear seconds ago, you better not move,” he nods in Emma’s direction. “She was lucky because we knew she’s not one of you yet. I would not stop the firing otherwise.”

Hawkesmoor takes the opportunity to shake off his captors, knocking one to the ground with a solid punch to the jaw.

[Leoncello]: “Oh, it was not easy,” Leoncello smiles. “But the Council is good at solving any tasks, even the impossible ones.”

[Emma]: “I can’t say that I approve of shooting first and asking questions later. Nevertheless I am grateful for the intervention.” Emma interjects with a slight smile.

Several shots are immediately fired in Havkesmoor’s direction, making several holes in his captor before he reaches the ground.

Hawkesmoor nods an acknowledgement of thanks "The Templars have been working alongside the Council of Venice for some time now, Miss… miss… Donata?”

[Leoncello]: “Shooting first is what keeps the Council afloat. And we have all the right to shoot now.” Leoncello moves closer to the others “Mister Jennings proved to be our most valuable asset in solving this case.”

[Hawkesmoor]: “As did Miss Darkmoon, here” murmurs Hawkesmoor.

Donata’s expression curls into contempt beneath the mask. “The ‘Miss’ you refer to is nothing more than a vessel, a means of transport for the spirit within the mask.”

[Leoncello]: “He witnessed some interesting things and reported to the Council immediately. With so many details.”

[Emma]: “Is there any way to save Miss Branwell from the possession of this masque. She is one of ours, after all.” Emma asks.

[Leoncello]: “And Miss Darkmoon, of course. Although her cooperation wasn’t as direct.”

[Donata] “You speak as if that opportunity may arise, that you have won the day. I can assure you that that is by no means the case.”

[Emma]: “Do we have the means to identify which masque this is?” She points at Donata.

[Leoncello]: “Unfortunately, we are not sure about the possessed. We shot everyone and had no chance to try to remove the masks’ effects. But it seems like a good opportunity to try what we can,” Leoncello raises his hand again, and his men take several steps in Jane’s direction, still aiming at her.

[Emma]: “Our captors claim that there lies a portal to the Hollow Earth just beyond that door.”

Donata watches him evenly as he approaches.

[Leoncello]:: “There is no need to identify the mask. We know what it is.”

[Hawkesmoor]: “We do?” enquires Hawkesmoor. “I mean, yes, we do, of course”

[Leoncello]: “We don’t know how powerful it grew, though. But in any case, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Leoncello says. Then he shouts. “Men!” Two of the armed Venetians rush towards Donata.

[Donata] “You pursue me across continental Europe and now you seem so reluctant to speak my name Leoncello…"

[Leoncello]: “Knowledge is power. And we keep it secret. I know you. And that’s what matters. For the rest, ignorance is a bliss.”

[Emma]: “I sense that these two have history.” Emma remarks to Hawkesmoor.

A contemptuous smile dances beneath the mask. “Regardless, you are too late. Attack my brethren, our future, our glorious eternity depends upon it!”

[Leoncello]: “What?” Leoncello looks around, unsure whether there are more masked people than he expected. His men start to shoot.

gas2

From the shadows, figures emerge, dark, almost wraithlike, their forms are blank bar from the head that bears a simple mask, pale as bone, that seem to almost hover in the air. They leap for Leoncello and his squad!

More shots follow from the Venetians.

Leoncello quickly regains his confidence after he sees the attackers and counts their numbers, which seem higher than the squad, maybe 2 or three ‘masks’ to each of the soldiers. They struggle in melee, and Leoncello’s men draw rapiers.

Hawkesmoor struggles with a ‘mask’ on each arm. He tries to bash one into the column that Emma hides behind.

After firing both of his guns, Leoncello discards them and draws a rapier and a dagger himself.

*A mask launches themself at Leoncello attempting to grasp both wrists.

Emma picks up a piece of rubble from the ground and hits the nearest shadow over the head. The figure slumps and sags to the ground.

Not being able to defend himself any further, Leoncello shouts several syllables and disappears.Seconds later, he appears closer to the entrance and further from the battle.

More Council men arrive, guns blazing. Leoncello slowly walks behind his advancing men. “Never challenge the might of Venice,” he says.

[Hawkesmoor]: “Much obliged, Miss Darkmoon!” Hawkesmoor, his right hand free strikes the other mask to the ground.

Donata curses and staggers back towards the large doors behind her. “You have still lost, Leoncello. I have amassed all the energy I need!"

[Leoncello]: “You Florentines never learn. Fire!”

gas3

[Donata] “Agartha! The Hollow Earth will be mine. Our essence will graps the strings that make the world dance. We will become its puppeteers!”

Council men who aren’t tied in melee open fire at Donata, and the figure dances between the bullets, gracefully as if to unheard music. She laughs and rushes through the doorway.

[Leoncello]: “And if there is indeed an entrance to the Hollow Earth, let his… her soul rest in piece.”

Donata rushes into the next chamber, there is a scent of honey in the air and at the far end a golden glow containing images of impossible branches and skies. However, a large automaton stands between Donata and the window . As jane approaches, it thunders a large metal fist into the earth sending a shockwave back into the previous chamber.

gas4

Hawkesmoor staggers, and cough as dust drops from the ceiling, loosened by the tremor

Leoncello staggers, but only a little, as if he expected it.

[Emma]: “What was that!?” Emma peeks out from behind her pillar.

[Leoncello]: “Oh, marvelous things,” Leoncello walks to Emma, as the last of the masked figures lay defeated. “They protect the Hollow Earth,” he explains.

gas5

Donata staggers against the impact, falling to her knees as the automaton’s chest opens and a cone of flame erupts, engulfing her. The once white dress blackens quickly and she screams, her hands rising to her face to the mask as if to keep it in place. Her skin chars and flakes and for a second she is still as the scream fades. Then piece by piece, the body crumples and crumbles beneath itself, the mask the last to drop as it rests upon a small heap of ashes.

gas6

gas7

[Leoncello]: “I’m sorry,” Leoncello tells Emma.

Hawkesmoor attempts to turn Emma towards him to deny her the view of Dontata and Jane’s fate. and embrace her to stop her being able to turn back to look. “DOn’t look, Miss Darkmoon, it is too horrible to bear witness”

Emma slumps down against the pillar, breathing heavily.

*The automaton begins to creak to a halt, it’s foot hovering in mid-air for a heartbeat before slamming down upon the mask and pulverising it.

*The doors begin to close of their own volition and slam shut

[Hawkesmoor]: “Miss Darkmoon? Are you quite all right? You’ve had a distressing time of it of late. Experienced things that no lady should ever have to. No one would blame you if you were to succumb to your emotions”

Emma takes off her mask and throws it against the nearest wall, shattering it into a hundred pieces.

*The other figures are dispersed, their forms lost to the shadows, only their masks remain. They lie on the floor like forgotten accessories after a Ball has finished

[Hawkesmoor]:“Miss Darkmoon?”

Emma pulls herself up and jabs Hawkesmoor in the chest with her forefinger. “This is your fault!”

"Hawkesmoor staggers back a step more from the shock of the accusation rather than the force of Emma’s prod. “My-my fault?”

*A flutter of dust drifts down from the ceiling.

[Emma]: “Yes, yours! If you had been open about your investigation and fully involved the Hall, none of this would have happened!”

[Hawkesmoor]: “But Miss Darkmoon. I took steps to prevent you all from becoming involved. I know that it would be dangerous, dash it!”

*A small piece of masonry falls from somewhere above and bounces off the base of a column.

[Emma]: “All you did was make yourself look suspicious!” Emma’s voice reaches a high pitch that shows the true extent of her agitation.

[Hawkesmoor]: “I am part of the clandestine operations of Temple Hall! It is our raison d’etre!”

*A smattering of masonry dust falls at Leoncello feet with a loud clump

[Emma]: “Well, perhaps you shouldn’t be! You clearly have not figured out the ‘clandestine’ part of it!” She practically yells back.

Leoncello looks at hes feet, “I suggest we continue our conversation somewhere more pleasant.”

Hawkesmoor opens his mouth, but fails to find any words to utter

[Leoncello]: “It’s always easier to settle arguments when you enjoy a good view on the Mediterranean and some good wine.”

Hawkesmoor turns to Leoncello and clears his throat. “Yes, quite right. I rather fear that this area may have become structurally unsound”

Leoncello looks up to check whether any more pieces of masonry are going to fall down.

[Emma]: “I daresay I could do with something stronger, Mr Leoncello.”

Cracking noise, a low rumble.

Leoncello raises his hand, and his men scuttle to the exit. He then smiles at Emma and follows them, too. “Let us go.”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Miss Darkmoon?" Hawkesmoor sounds wretched. “Emma? Please. Let us leave here”

[Emma]: “Yes, let’s. Before this whole place comes crashing down on us.”

They reach fresh air, the tunnels finding an exit near the recently completed Bazalgette sewer system.

Hawkesmoor looks around, almost unable to look Emma in the eye. “London continues on, it seems. Ignorant of the disaster that nearly occurred beneath it. Thanks to you, Miss Darkmoon.”

[Emma]: “I rather think it was a team effort, all things considered.”

Hawkesmoor blusters. “Of course, of course. I–I will be recommending a commendation for your assistance in the matter, Miss Darkmoon. The high-ups of the Hall will learn about your part in all this.”

Emma chokes back tears. “I shall attempt to inform Miss Branwell’s next of kin before news spreads.”

Hawkesmoor nods, “Of course, of course. We… could let the Hall administrative team complete that duty if you would rather— if you feel that…”

[Emma]: “No… no, I think it should be me.”

Hawkesmoor nods, of course… Of course…"

[Emma]: “Pray excuse me, Mr Hawkesmoor, I have difficult matters to attend to. And do think twice whom you ask for assistance and what you share with them should you ever encounter any artifacts of unspeakable evil again in the future.”

[Hawkesmoor]: “Yes?” Hawkesmoor sounded a little hopeful in his query.

[Emma]: “I do so hope that that blood comes off.” Emma nods towards Hawkesmoor’s hands before departing without another glance.

Hawkesmoor’s shoulders sag a little and he sighs. His life by necessity is a lonely one and his work reinforces that. He watches Emma Darkmoon walk away from him along the London streets that were now warming with the sunrise. He lifted his eyes to watch the dawn chase away the last vestiges of night leaving the sky tinged with a bluish black hue like a bruise. He sighed again and made his way towards Temple Hall. There would be a report to complete.

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With a lot of thanks to everyone who participated in this!

Aeryl
Arcanefall
Evan/ Onkel

Any/ all errors are mine own. Sorry for the time it has taken to edit and post this!

===================================================================

Secret World By Gaslight is part of Roleplaying group based around, but not exclusive to The Devil’s Due Group. We RP Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Saturday night is “Alternative Night” where we explore times and spaces not within the original game and go from Victorian times to Swinging sixties. From Moonbases to Deep Sea bases. From other realities to FutureShocks.

If you are interested in taking part, please contact me here or on Discord. The plots can sometimes last a while but please don’ts let that put you off - we can always find a way to involve people and have had many come for one session and add a lot to it, as well as those who stay for the entirety :slight_smile:

3 Likes