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Friday, August 29, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 35 - Jailbirds and Chameleons

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The investigators finished the last session by escaping from the fire at the Nairobi Star, only to be confronted by a very angry man with a large elephant gun, the barrel of which was still smoking from the shot he had discharged above their heads.

"I've had enough of you Mrs Smythe-Forbes!" he shouted, his face turned ruddy under his slouch hat. "Your stories are ruining my business with your lies, and I won't take it any more!".

Mrs Smythe-Forbes tried vainly to placate the man, who turned out to be Colonel Endicott of the Endicott Game Lodge. He blamed Smythe-Forbes and her stories about the deaths near his lodge for a severe downturn in his safari business. Now wasn't the time to resolve the issue however, as the flames from the burning Star offices rose higher into the night sky.

Umm, oops!
"There's a fire! The building is on fire!" Colonel Endicott shouted, suddenly noticing the conflagration behind the investigators. Within a few moments the Colonel, Smythe-Forbes and the investigators had managed to organise a few locals and were vainly trying to douse the flames with buckets of water. In the distance a bell could be heard ringing, and soon after a horse-drawn water tender arrived, complete with hoses.

After a couple of hours the fire was out, though a great deal of the Nairobi Star offices had been destroyed. Exhausted and covered in soot, the investigators retired to their hotel to rest for the remainder of the night. Colonel Endicott had disappeared in the chaos. Before they went to their beds Jacob demanded an explanation of the strange things he had seen, and George came clean about their investigation into a worldwide conspiracy of cults.

During their discussions at the hotel bar the investigators were interrupted by officers from the King's African Rifles who told them that they were under arrest for murder and arson! Hubert's first instinct was to run, and he bolted out of the door into the street, which didn't do much to persuade the soldiers of his innocence! One of them gave chase and soon found Hubert cowering behind some rubbish. "You're nicked mate," he said flatly.

They brought out a short Indian gentleman who nodded at the investigators and told the officers, "That's them sir, they started the fires, I'd stake my pension on it". George knew they were in trouble, and that the sentence if found guilty was likely to be death by hanging. He tried to use his role as a diplomat to argue his way out, but the soldiers would not be persuaded.

So it was that a short time later, still protesting their innocence, the group found themselves locked in a small cool room in the local jailhouse. They were left to stew for the rest of the night before there was a knock at the door and a soldier entered then marched George out of the cell. He was taken to a small room where an officer questioned him about his personal details and reason for being in Nairobi. George answered truthfully, though without mentioning the Mountain of the Black Wind or the Cult of the Bloody Tongue. He was then returned to the cell, and the other investigators had their turn with the interrogator.

Later that day there was another knock in the cell door and a smartly dressed man entered. He introduced himself as Mr Neville Jermyn, a local barrister who had been assigned to represent them in the forthcoming case, and told them that a magistrate would be assigned to hear the proceedings. Jermyn said that he would be back daily to keep them updated with how things were proceeding. He then questioned each of the investigators about what had happened on the train and at the Star offices.

Jermyn seemed optimistic about the chance of the investigators being found innocent, as all of the evidence so far was only circumstantial. The barrister did return later to inform the investigators that a magistrate had been appointed, but that he wouldn't arrive in Nairobi for another three weeks. Due to the nature of the alleged crimes bail was unlikely.
Oops again!
George mentioned the Carlyle expedition, and Jermyn seemed interested it the unexplained aspects of the expedition's fate. The players didn't bite however. What can I do if they decide to ignore potential leads eh?

The investigators were left to their own devices for the rest of the day, and spent the time worrying about another fire attack. Hubert seemed to be acting a little strangely, but that was excused considering what he had been through recently. Over the next few days George attempted to contact the local diplomatic office, but the reply was not helpful - George Kirkham was supposed to be in Cairo and the diplomatic service was not amused! (Amusingly George's player had forgotten this rather vital piece of info from their time back in Sydney).

After the a week of being confined in the cell the group got an unexpected visitor. Mrs Smythe-Forbes had come to see them. She told them that the Star offices had been very badly damaged and that the printing press was no longer working; parts were being arranged to be sent from Mombasa. In the meantime she had managed to keep a low circulation irregular edition going by employing scribes from Browntown.

She had come to see the investigators to see if they would be prepared to offer up an interview. Hubert repeated his claim that the train porter had been smoking in the water closet. They asked her about Colonel Endicott and his spat with the paper, and she explained that he was upset with stories she had printed about the deaths at his game lodge that had attributed them to a man-eating lion. Hubert asked her is she would pass on a note to the colonel for him, and she agreed though with little hope he would respond. They didn't take the opportunity to quiz her about the Carlyle Expedition - you can lead a horse to water...

On the 11th December the investigators finally got their day in court. It was a relatively brief affair, held before a small crowd from the general populace, and after only a few hours it became apparent that the King's Africa Rifles had no real evidence and an obviously annoyed magistrate acquitted them of all charges.

The first the investigators did on being released was to go and see their old "friend" Nails Nelson at the Loyal Defender pub. They had not been talking to him for long before the manager of the pub arrived and told the investigators that they were no longer welcome in his establishment. They didn't put up a fight and left without incident.

Back at the Highland Hotel they were greeted by the manager who informed them that their belongings had been held in storage and that they were to take their stuff and leave the premises forthwith. It seemed that their recent notoriety had caused Whitetown to ostracise them. The manager suggested they head for the railway station.

The group had other ideas however, and decided to head to Tandoor Singh's tea shop on Biashara Street first. Jacob decided to try to disguise himself. His character sheet described him as "a master of disguise", but unfortunately his player had neglected to put any skill points at all into the Disguise skill. Oops! Needless to say, it was the least convincing disguise in history, and he looked like a poor Groucho Marx impersonator.

On entering Singh's shop George immediately recognised the Indian man behind the counter as the same person who had been watching them back in Mombasa rail station. After a moments hesitation Jacob took the initiative and shot Singh with his shotgun! This was the same tactic they'd used on Doctor Huston in Australia, but I was safe in the knowledge that it wasn't going to work on some of the encounters they had coming up.

Tandoor Singh's speciality?
Jacob's weapon did more than enough damage to finish Singh off, which was a shame as I was looking forwards to him using his Strike Blind spell to boil the investigators eyeballs, but a Keeper can't have everything! Luck continued to be with the investigators and no-one seemed to have been alerted by the shotgun blast.

A quick search of the shop revealed a poorly hidden trapdoor in the floor of the storage room that lead down to a dingy dug-out chamber. The single room was about fifteen feet square with an eleven-foot high ceiling. There was a centre support pillar, and the walls were shored up with boards and timbers. Successful Spot Hidden rolls revealed a number of overlapping but regular depressions in the floor, each about three feet wide and six feet long. Three niches each on the north and south walls held candles.

Against the east wall was a four-foot-high statue of crudely carved black stone, a deformed dwarf-like figure with four eyes. Its four arms each bore a tulwar. Three large tentacle-like appendages were in the place of its feet. The central pillar had a set of handcuffs attached to it.It was obviously a place where terrible deeds had been committed.

In one corner there was a large cabinet with a crude padlock that Jacob managed to pick with ease. Inside they found a carved cleaver, an ancient book written in a language no-one recognised, some incense cones and a yellow robe. They gathered the loot and decided to bury Singh's corpse in the sand floor of the room. Despite uncovering an already-buried corpse, it had overall been a successful raid - quick, bloody, but rewarding, and this time no innocents had died!

It was now early afternoon and the investigators had to decide who to hassle next. They decided to try Endicott's lodge next, and Jacob went off to locate a truck to "borrow". In the few hours since spending several weeks in jail on a murder charge they had killed someone in cold blood and were working on stealing a vehicle. Luck finally left them however and Jacob couldn't find a suitable truck to nick.

He went back to the Loyal Defender but was again accosted by Nails' manager and turfed out. Nails let Jacob go with the offer of finding the group some transport. In the meantime the investigators decided to head to Blacktown and look up Johnstone Kenyatta. It didn't take long for someone to point them in the direction of the KCA, the Kikuyu Central Association.

Johnstone Kenyatta
They arrived to find a busy establishment that seemed to be some kind of political association. Kenyatta, a tall charismatic man met them, and on George's mention of the Carlyle Expedition ushered them into a private room where they could talk safely. His English was excellent, and he listened intently to their questions.

Kenyatta revealed that he had heard of the Bloody Tongue and that his grandfather had been a murogi, a diviner. "How ironic that, as I strain toward your heritage, you reach toward mine."

He thought for a moment then nodded to himself as if reaching a decision. He left the room briefly then returned with some instructions for the group. He was sending them to a friend who could help. They were to follow a remarkably tall black man, well dressed in a white suit, but with no shoes, at a distance.

I was glad the investigators hadn't decided to unleash on Kenyatta as well. He's a real historical character (always fun to throw some of them into a period Cthulhu game). He would later change his name to Jomo Kenyatta and lead Kenya to full independence in 1963, eventually becoming the country's first president.

The man Kenyatta had instructed them to follow silently lead them deeper into Blacktown. This part of Nairobi was poor, but its people seemed cheerful. Most of the houses were one-room, mud-wall buildings, roofed by bundled grasses and broad leaves. Their guide lead them to a small house with a painted yellow door and stepped inside.

When the investigators stepped through the yellow door, they found themselves in a small shed, beside a high-wheeled yellow Rolls-Royce roadster of indifferent condition. Their silent guide held open the door and motioned them to sit in the car. In a few minutes they were bouncing along a dirt track several miles outside of Nairobi, scattering bicycles and animal-drawn carts as they went, and leaving behind a long cloud of dust.

After a couple of hours driving down dirt tracks the Rolls Royce arrived in a circle of grass-roofed mud huts. The driver motioned them to stay in the car then got out and spoke at length and in persuasive tones to a young, delicate-looking man. It was hot in the car, and soon the village children gathered around and peered in, their bright round eyes polite and curious. When the investigators waved or spoke, the children giggled and whispered.

After a while the driver came back and fetched the investigators from the car, then introduced them to the young man, Okomu. He then got back in the Rolls Royce and drove off, leaving the investigators in the village!

Okomu spoke harshly to the group, demanding to know why they should be allowed to speak to "Old Bundari". The mention of the Bloody Tongue, along with a successful Persuade roll by George had the desired effect. Okomu agreed to take them to Old Bundari, but warned them that he travelled in a different world to the rest of them, and that they were to sit in silence before him until he returned from his travels.

From the outside, Bundari’s hut had the smooth curves of a Masai hut. It was larger and differently constructed than the conical mud dwellings of the rest of the village. A gated fence surrounded it. Passing the door curtain, the investigators realized that Bundari’s house was formed like a snail’s shell - the entrance passage winding all the way around the outside of the single centre room before opening into it. The way was unlit, but everyone saw the fetishes, signs, and masks arranged on both the inside and outside whitewashed walls of the passage.

In the central room, more such symbols could be seen, arranged in arcane patterns. Across from the interior door was a small old man, sitting so still that he seemed to be dead. Occasionally Okomu unfolded a leg and rubbed it to restore the circulation, then folded back the leg to its original position.

After several hours of sitting in silence Old Bundari's eyes suddenly snapped open, an intangible liveliness that was not previously present apparent in his body. He looked at each of the investigators in turn, then spoke to them. To George he said, "You should not be here. You should be in the land of the Pharoahs". To Jacob he said, "You should not be here. You should be in jail". To Sebastian he said, "You should be here. You are from the New World, but you belong in the Old". Finally he addressed Hubert. "You should also be here. You are a great hunter".

The old man continued.

"Your mission is perilous, and the time is desperate. Shall I tell you pleasant things, or the truth? The Bloody Tongue grows arrogant. People across the land disappear into the Mountain, stolen by the cult for a horrible sacrifice to come. Leaders are brought low by corrupt thoughts and deeds. Many of us must pray continuously to Ngai, the lord of the Kere-Nyaga to stave off this evil. If you seekers have courage, you may achieve much. You must hurry, the birth is close. Okomu can help make the arrangements you need. But he cannot do what I can: I have gifts for you".

Old Bundari then gestured to Okomu, who brought forth two gifts for the investigators. The first was a fly whisk with an ebony handle that was carved with Kikuyu symbols. The old man told them it would protect them from evil and help them find what they seek.

The fly whisk.
Okomu them brought forth a small brown cage in which was a small, warty, three-horned chameleon. Old Bundari told them that if they fed her daily with flies the creature, called Who-Is-Not-What-She-Seems, would help them if they but released her against their enemies, but only once. He then stared intently at them again, and asked what else they would know.

Who-Is-Not-What-She-Seems
They asked about the Mountain of the Black Wind. Okomu told them that it was a terrible place, shunned by everyone. Even the greatest spells cast against that place had no effect. It was so called because a terrible god inhabited it. Once a year he unleashed the Black Wind, which brought plague, famine, and disaster.

To satisfy the god, the Bloody Tongue abducted villagers and sacrificed them. Then the god appeared in all his terrible glory, nearly as tall as the mountain itself. The god’s priestess lived in the Mountain. It was she who prophesied the coming of the god’s child, part human and part monster, and who would soon to soak the land with blood. It was the fate of the investigators to stop the imminent birth of the god's child.

Jacob mentioned the Eye of Light and Darkness, and Old Bundari's eyes lit up. With such an artifact they might be able to forever chain the god within his mountain. Hubert showed Old Bundari their translation of the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, and Old Bundari nodded slowly, telling them it might be possible to craft the Eye.

"Gentlemen, you must prepare to travel to the Mountain of the Black Wind. Once there you must stop the birth of the son of the God of the Black wind. If you don't the son will rise, and he will open the Gates and bathe the lands in blood. Once you have stopped the birth, you must place the Eye upon his altar, and chain the god forever, stopping the Gates from opening".

Old Bundari then begged time to rest from his travels. He bid the investigators to stay in the village whilst he made preparations. Okomu lead them out and to another hut that had been prepared for them.

Three weeks passed as they waited for Old Bundari to summon them again. George fed Who-Is-Not-What-She-Seems daily with flies, forming a strange bond with the creature. Though they could not speak the language, the investigators found the Kikuyu villagers welcoming and caring, and they rested well and could not have asked for better hospitality. It was the happiest time they could remember for a long time. Jacob seemed to be struggling with the possibility of killing a child in order to save others, a crack in the facade of the East-end gangster appearing. He wasn't sure he would be able to go through with it.

Okomu arranged for the book they had found in Tandoor Singh's cellar translated. It was written in Hindi, and a few days later he returned with a rough translation, much of which was gibberish. One prophecy in particular caught their attention:

"And then shall the Gate be opened, as the sun is blotted out. Thus the Small Crawler will awaken those who dwell beyond and will bring them. The sea shall swallow them and shall spit them up and the leopard shall eat of the flesh in Rudraprayag in the Spring".

Over the last few days visitors and elders from other nearby tribes began to arrive in the village. Eventually Old Bundari summoned the investigators once again, Okomu coming to collect them. The elders from the various villages were arranged around a dirt circle, in the centre of which sat the old murogi. Together they cast the ritual of the Eye of Light and Darkness beneath the light of a full moon, chanting from moonrise to moon set. Each of the onlookers donated a little blood (and POW), and the Eye was etched into a slab of granite, though Hubert and George decided to skip the ritual.

The next day they were ready to leave. Okomu and several Kikuyu warriors would travel with them, leading them to the Mountain of the Black Wind. Okomu carried the Eye, strapped to his back in a wicker bag.

Kikuyu warriors
They set off into the wilderness, heading for Ndovu village which was within striking distance of the Mountain of the Black Wind. They found the Aberdare Forest to be uniquely temperate. Giant cedars, olives, camphors, and figs thrived there, gradually giving way to montane bamboo as the altitude rose. The undergrowth was often very thick, making for slow travel off the trails. Frequently the mountain slopes were cool and wet from mist, fog, or rain. Many rapid streams had to be crossed. Forest antelopes, giant hogs, duikers, elands, leopards, and lammergeiers were seen.

After several days the small band arrived at Ndovu village. Okomu warned the investigators not to reveal that they were headed to the Mountain or to mention the Bloody Tongue. They rested a little and gathered their supplies. It didn't matter - none of the villagers spoke English, though the investigators could detect a slightly uneasy atmosphere.

Two days later they continued their travels. They reached a wide saddle-shaped pass that separated Mt. Kenya from the Aberdare range. As the investigators strolled down the north side of the pass, they came upon a mountain meadow perhaps a half-mile broad. It was blackened, as though someone had seared the ground with a gigantic branding iron. All animal trails now skirted the area, and the investigators had to hack their way through disturbing, deformed underbrush. A foul odour hung over the place. Okomu revealed that this was where the remains of the Carlyle Expedition had been found.

They crossed the corrupt place and made camp for the last time. The next day would see them arrive at the Mountain of the Black Wind.

Approaching the Mountain
As the next morning dawned everyone was pensive and quiet. A sense of fate hung heavy over the group as they set off.

After a day's travel north a dank conical mountain rose abruptly from the broadening plain. Everywhere else the forest had thinned and the grass taken hold, but on the slopes of the Mountain of the Black Wind a dark and lurid green forest persisted.

In the valley below the mountain the investigators spied a throng of thousands upon thousands of cultists. Those assembled before the peak appeared to come from East Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Most wore their best regalia in honour of the approaching marvel. Sudanese, Arabs, Bushmen, Indians, and Europeans could be seen, as could many Malays.

Shortly after darkness fell, a priestess emerged from a cavern situated halfway up the mountainside. Her voice carried clearly on the winds, despite the distance, and the investigators found that they could understand her words, despite not speaking Swahili.

Tonight is the time of greatness, when our lord sends us his chosen seed! Tonight comes the dread child and its terror to confirm us! Nyar shthan, Nyar gashanna! Nyar shthan, Nyar gashanna!

The echo rolled back from the mountainside and filled the plain. She repeated this chant over and over, and the vast throng before her picked it up. Drums pounded the rhythm of the words again and again, and the thousands of cultists begin to sway. “Nyar shthan, Nyar gashanna! Nyar shthan, Nyar gashanna!

Clothes came off as the frenzy built. The starlit sky grew darker as clouds formed. Lightning flashed, closer and closer, heading directly for the peak. The peal of thunder grew louder. A wind rose - chill, thin, and sharp. A plume formed above the mountain.

Nyar shthan, Nyar gashanna!” The naked cultists grabbed random prisoners from cages, and hacked at them in the most cruel and despicable fashion; the blood of dozens of men, women, and children washed the plain. Beneath the storm-wracked sky, an enormous bolt of lightning struck the mountain-top with a hideous roar.

That seemed like a good place to leave things! The session video is embedded below.

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