Steampunk Monster Hunters #8: “Werewolves of the Orient Express”

by mshrm

We had another break in the regular schedule, and it looks like we’re going to have yet another one, coming up. Upheavals and changes in Real Life™️, you know.

Much accumulated experience was spent, with two big purchases standing out.

As previously mentioned, Mercy has been saving up for Ritual Adept, last session’s award gave her all the points she needed, and “conversations with an angel lead to increased enlightenment” gave an in-game explanation. Mercy has now effectively “multi-classed” to Sage/Witch. Ritual Adept removes a lot of the restrictions hampering free use of magic, but as we learned in this session, one’s Path skills are what determines what one can actually do, so I’m expecting Mercy’s skill levels to start leaping upwards next.

The other big expenditure came from Tommy Nine, who bought off Killjoy. When he fell into that haystack last session, something inside his mechanical workings broke. Whatever it was, it must have acted as some kind of inhibitor, because, when he woke up… he had regained access to his human emotions!

During the before-game conversation, a few economic points came up. First, that Nayler, being ridiculously wealthy, had been picking up the tab for the whole gang; second, that there wasn’t much reason for it, since all the PCs are either wealthy or non-human; third, that Nayler’s actual income is so high that he really can afford to throw money around like it’s nothing. This discussion had an impact on the party’s spending habits during the session.

Who’s Who

  • Esmerelda Wagstaff, Accidental Hero Inhuman Changeling; plucky boy hero
  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando; not her first time on the front of a speeding locomotive
  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero Sleuth; child celebrity
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage; knows the secrets of the universe
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie; unexpectedly adept with a sword
  • Tommy Nine, Operative Experiment, undercover mechanical man

What Happened

The group had a bit of downtime, at home in London, while Mercy questioned “Angelica”, the messenger angel in the form of a meek little girl who they had recently rescued from the faerie circus. During this time, Mercy had one of her “special” dreams, in which she was being chased through some dark, tunnel-like space, where an icy wind whistled, but she never caught sight of her pursuer.

Nayler pondered over what to do about the destruction of his prized balloon, finally deciding to write it off as a loss, since rebuilding it would take time and money that he would rather invest in new, more exciting projects. Realizing that the balloon had been uninsured, since no one in England offered insurance on mad-science airships or other weird inventions, he resolved to invent airship insurance.

But first, Nayler announced, he must research paper armor! His observations over the past few months had pointed out that the supernatural often tries to kill those involved in monster hunting, and this group was mostly armored in light summer clothing. (Tommy Nine being a notable exception.) He proposed to discover a new kind of lightweight body armor made of paper. When he mentioned this idea to Margaret, she pointed out that magic had already solved that problem; Ghost Shirt charms were common and easily purchased by those with the appropriate knowledge.

And so, of course, nothing would else would do than a shopping trip to find such charms. After a day of disappointment, they finally found themselves in a dusty apothecary’s shop, where the proprietor was just explaining, for the second time, that no such charms were to be had… when (Margaret rolled a 3 and) in walked a charm-producing witch with a basket full of Ghost Shirt charms to sell on consignment. Nayler handed over a small fortune, and when the group next met for tea, everyone received a protective charm in the form of a glass bead, to activate when broken.

Finally, Mercy’s discussions with the otherworldly angel-child bore fruit. She was able to piece together bits of Angelica’s story to discover that she had been sent as a messenger to a particular place, somewhere within sight of “the victory arch, the tall one”. Margaret was able to recognize this as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

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So, off to Paris! For a change, Mercy made the travel arrangements and paid everyone’s way for this trip. They travelled across the English Channel by boat, arriving in Calais, where they were met by a driver with a covered coach, which carried them over several days to Paris.

By the time they arrived, Esmerelda was feeling the strain of days of travel with no excitement. She insisted that they locate a mime, with Nayler seconding the plan. They both looked around, as the coach passed through the streets of Paris, but saw no mimes. Esmerelda began asking passers-by for directions to see one of France’s famous mimes, while Nayler flashed considerable amounts of cash. Shortly, an older gentleman stepped forward, tipping his hat and conveying through gestures that he, himself, was a mime. Though, he “said”, leaning against an invisible mantle and smoking a cigarette that wasn’t there, he was off-duty at the moment.

While Esmerelda egged him on, Nayler offered the gentleman wads of cash to perform for them. Annoyed at the distraction, Margaret leaned out of the coach to comment that Nayler’s money, being English, was no good there, in France. The mime vigorously gestured his disagreement, and began working through the standard trapped-in-a-box, walking-into-the-wind, pulling-a-rope routines while Nayler tossed one-pound banknotes. Charmed, Esmerelda applauded… then, overcome by the spirit of chaos, kicked the mime directly in the shins!

Luckily, the mime was dedicated to his craft, and maintained silence even in the face of injury. He stuffed his overcoat pockets with cash and limped away, gesturing for someone to call a doctor. Our heroes tried to pull Esmerelda back into the stage, but she slipped away to perform one final trick. She tiptoed up behind the slowly-escaping mime and performed a nigh-supernatural feat of sleight of hand, stealing the man’s overcoat right off his back without him noticing!

Esmerelda donned her new coat and split the cash from its pockets with Nayler, who was delighted with the show. Urged to move quickly by the law-abiding members of the group, they returned to the coach, which hurried away.

Back to business! Asking directions from the locals, they quickly located the neighborhood of the Arc. As they traveled, Angelica became more and more excited. Finally, as they came within sight of the Arc, she pointed. “There!” she cried. “There is where I must deliver my message!”

It was a tiny garret atop a tall house, many streets away, but still within sight of the tall monument. Applying all the Area Knowledge, Streetwise, and Navigation that they could muster, along with the cheerful obedience of their hired driver, they made their way through the narrow streets to the house. It turned out to be a once-fine home, now fallen into disrepair and disreputability. Esmerelda and Margaret slipped into the shadows, and Lucretia, Nayler, and Tommy walked up to the front door, while Mercy hung back at the gate with Angelica, her wings concealed under an oversized man’s coat, to see what response her comrades would provoke.

Out back, Esmerelda discovered a group of disreputable types, passing a bottle back and forth. Taking on the appearance of a similarly-disreputable type, she joined them and claimed that a bar up the way was giving out free drinks, they should all go and take advantage! They didn’t exactly believe her, but they also didn’t want to risk missing out, so they left the area to check, just in case.

Meanwhile, the front door crew discovered that the front door didn’t even really latch. As it swung open at their touch, they saw that the once-great home had been remodeled to offer dozens of tiny apartments. A steep, narrow stair led to the upper floors.

Seeing this, Angelica broke free and scampered through the door and up the stairs. The group gave chase, but didn’t try to stop her, only followed her lead. She brought them to the very highest point in the building, the garret room she had pointed out from the street, where she was halted by a locked door.

Locked doors might stop angels in the form of children, but our heroes aren’t so easily stopped. Lock picked in seconds, the door swung open to reveal a scene of carnage. Mercy covered Angelica’s eyes, everybody made a Fright Check, and Nayler fell back on clinical detachment to maintain his composure while reconstructing the crime scene.

“One victim,” he said, stepping gingerly around the small room, pointing out details. “Not that you would think so, at first glance. Victim was kneeling here, attacker takes the victim unawares from there, attacker demonstrates superhuman strength and sharp claws here and here and there…”

“Werewolves!” Lucretia announced. She immediately reloaded her guns with silver, with nearly everyone else following suit before long.

“But from where?” Margaret asked, gesturing around the tiny room. It had one window, hanging open over a drop of at least fifty feet, and a single door, which they had found locked from the inside.

Angelica finally struggled free and cast herself headlong into the room. There, she stood up straight, throwing off her overcoat, and revealing her true form. Shining with light, she took on an adult form, wings spread from wall to wall, hair brushing the high ceiling. “Your prayers have been answered, Talgo Nostrum,” she announced in a voice like a trumpet. “The knowledge you seek shall be granted: The key to finding Baba Yaga’s vulnerability can be found in the catacombs of Odessa, on the night of…” and then she named a date only four days away, and vanished in a cloud of sparkling light.

Shaken at this development, most of the group withdrew from the room while Margaret examined the scene for clues. She found a few odds and ends, but nothing that shed any further light.

Outside the room, the others discussed what they had learned. “Baba Yaga’s vulnerability”? That sounded interesting. But where was Odessa? Combining their knowledge of geography, they realized Angelica must have meant the port city on the shores of the Black Sea. Could they reach that city by the stated date? No, not without some kind of supernatural intervention or some such.

“Well,” Nayler mentioned, “there might be one way…”

From keeping up with news of mad science around the world, Nayler knew that Dr Gordon Smythe of Bavaria had recently perfected his Device For The Drilling Of Tunnels And The Automated Laying Of Railway Tracks. Dr Smythe had put his Device to good use, and had announced the opening of a new rail line traveling from Paris to Istanbul (actually, no, in spite of the singing that broke out at the time, it actually was Constantinople, as subsequent research shows that it became Istanbul in the 1920’s, long after 1851 – research the GM should have completed before the game, rather than after, a failure that shall be noted in his permanent record) Constantinople, with the first train leaving in only a few hours. The maiden trip would be a luxurious affair, with only a few cars drawn by an experimental high-speed locomotive, also designed by Dr Smythe, who would personally act as engineer for the trip. It was expected that they could complete the trip in somewhat less than three days, setting a blistering pace for rail travel, and incidentally leaving just enough time for our heroes to sail into Odessa by the appointed hour.

Dr Smythe billed it as his “Orient Express”.

Obviously, it was agreed that everybody had to be on that train. Esmerelda and Nayler discussed the possibility of stealing the train outright and leaving early, but realized they might have difficulties figuring out Smythe’s proprietary brand of weird science. Most of the group ended up buying tremendously-expensive tickets. Margaret went to Dr Smythe’s office, where she was recognized as “Margaret Anne Chapman, the World’s Greatest Girl Detective” and was able to parlay her reputation into a free ride for publicity purposes.

Meanwhile, Esmerelda skulked around the railyard for a time, looking for a good chance to mug a conductor or someone and take their place, when she spotted Dr Smythe himself, approaching the locomotive. Thinking quickly, she assumed the appearance of an earnest teenaged boy and approached him, expressing an enthusiasm for trains and a willingness to assist the doctor. As it happened, they hit it off on the spot, and the doctor accepted, offering Esmerelda a spot next to the engineer’s seat and the chance to learn how to drive the locomotive so Dr Smythe could catch cat-naps during the easier parts of the journey.

The others enjoyed the company of the rich and famous, along with fine dining and excellent vintages, as the train left Paris and built up steam.

After the first day of the trip, as they made their way through the Alps, Nayler made his way forward to the engine to meet Dr Smythe, playing on their mutual appreciation for the weird arts and mad sciences. After the doctor was engrossed in conversation, Esmerelda and Nayler struck, injecting him with a powerful sedative and restraining him in a small closet.

(Flashback, in the style of a heist movie, to the entire group talking over the plan. “Since we can’t steal it from out of the yard, what’s we’ll do is…”)

Meanwhile, in his guise as an automated domestic servant, “Thomas” Nine had made his way to the connection between the forwardmost dining car and the first passenger car. Working as quietly as possible, he disabled the connection. They left dozens of France’s rich and famous slowly grinding to a halt behind them. Relieved of all that weight, the train surged to new heights of speed.

They were left with the experimental locomotive, manned by Esmerelda and Nayler, with Dr Smythe unconscious in the closet, and a single dining car, bearing the rest of our heroes, along with three waiters, one chef, and one maître d’, who had been staffing the dining car at the time of the mutiny. The staff were quickly convinced to keep quiet and play along.

The train blasted through the miles, making record time beyond all expectation. Eventually, once they were many hours and many miles away from the mutiny, they took Dr Smythe out of the closet and allowed him to regain consciousness, convincing him it was too late to make any trouble.

Everything went relatively smoothly until they entered the Carpathian Mountains. There, they encountered poor weather. Snow reduced visibility and began to drift, reducing speed. To alleviate this, Nayler made some modifications to the locomotive’s “elemental fire” engine, to redirect some of the engine’s output to a flamethrower mounted on the locomotive’s front, which Lucretia volunteered to man.

It was here, with high embankments on either side, slowed by snow, that the monsters struck.

First, Lucretia was taken by surprise when a huge bird came out of the sky and pounced, restraining her. The others were barely forewarned by the sound of a howl, then they, too, were under attack. Werewolves jumped onto the moving train, landing on the catwalk around the locomotive and between the two cars. One landed at a window and was able to grab Dr Smythe around the neck!

Unaware of the others’ troubles, Lucretia fended off the giant bird’s pecks for a moment before bringing her silver-loaded pistols to bear. The were-eagle died immediately after.

Inside the engine, things didn’t go so well for the werewolves, either, thanks to the widespread use of silver. Margaret shot more than one wolf in the head. Esmerelda, still disguised as an earnest young boy, tried to stab the wolf grappling Dr Smythe, but wasn’t able to break its grip until Nayler pulled a silver broadsword out of nowhere and cut its arm off. Tommy Nine left his position at the rear of the dining car to join the battle, only to find himself and Mercy threatened by the three waiters, when they, too, transformed into wolves!

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Surrounded!

In the locomotive, another werewolf jumped forward to grab the doctor, but this one had learned from his packmate’s fate; it grabbed the doctor’s collar in its mouth, using him as a human shield. Thinking quickly, Esmerelda snatched at Dr Smythe’s collar with one hand while slashing through his clothes with her dagger in the other hand, cutting him free of his clothes to release him from the werewolf’s grip! As they tumbled free, the startled werewolf took a silver bullet to the head and fell from the still-moving train.

Meanwhile, back in the dining car, Tommy grinned. “Finally,” he muttered, stepping to one side and unlimbering his mad science machine gun. He delivered a small fortune in silver at a high velocity to the waiter-werewolves, introducing them to new careers as mist. Mercy, being squeamish, was very ill.

As dawn broke, hours later, the abbreviated train arrived in the vicinity of Istanbul Constantinople.

Cool Point: Esmerelda, for cutting Dr Smythe free of his clothes to release him from the werewolf’s grip

 

 

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