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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Fungus

Dr Samuel Christian Chiltern is a driven mycologist and brilliant in his field. Unfortunately, he is so wrapped up in his work that he does not easily interact socially with the real world – Chiltern is rather shy and doesn't take well to strangers. While discussing mycology he is fluent and clear, but as soon as conversation strays from his field he develops nervous twitches and uncomfortable mannerisms. However, his worst trait is his failure to admit to being wrong.

Chiltern is happy to talk about his new discovery. He explains that his studies have proven, beyond all doubt, that the samples he took in the three states all came from the same plant. However, he is at a loss of how to describe it, as the fungus does not behave anything like other fungi. He has a specimen in his laboratory should the investigators show an interest.

The fungus has taken over one corner of a workbench. Thin tendrils reach out from a large glass tank filled with soggy leaves. The tendrils have spread out, dangling onto the floor. One of them has reached a phone book and is feeding from that, reducing the directory to a pulpy mass covered in pale fur.

Chiltern uses a spatula to push aside the decaying leaf litter to reveal a fleshy lump the size of his fist. Thin tendrils sprout from this, and he explains that there are other lumps, or nodes, in the tank. Chiltern is particularly interested in the nodes as he hasn't discovered any in the field to date; these have all been grown from cuttings taken in the field. He is still examining the fungus and has yet to form any theories.

Chiltern is reluctant to provide details of the exact locations of where he found the fungus, although that is driven from a sense of scientific confidentiality rather than anything more sinister.

If asked about Dr Meredith, his ex-wife, Chiltern scowls nervously. He worshipped the ground she walked on, and she treated him by divorcing him - he isn't even allowed to see his son. His is still emotionally scarred, and it hasn’t helped that Dr Meredith has publicly denounced his work. It is a subject best avoided.

Possibilities

1 The fungus is concentrated around the nodes which are greatly dispersed in the wild. The nodes themselves are about the size of a three-storey house, growing in large subterranean caverns which glow eerily with a weak phosphorescent light. Land around the fungus is rich in mutated flora and fauna. Trees suffer attacks from fungi of myriad colours, and the area is generally damp and unhealthy.

There is also an effect on communities drinking untreated water drawn from wells tainted by the fungus. Such communities become isolationist and secretive. Inbreeding is common, as are wine-stain birthmarks. Such communities have even been known to practise cannibalism. As a side effect, such people are susceptible to the temptations offered by the Outer Gods - and temples to blasphemous creatures can sometimes be encountered in such communities.

The fungus' most visible symptom during an investigation is the large proportion of cultists with wine-stain birthmarks. Simply destroying the cultists will not be enough - the fungus must be destroyed as well. (At the very least, the water supply needs purifying.) The sheer scale of the fungus may become apparent when investigators encounter different cults worshipping different gods in different parts of the country all displaying the same wine-stain birthmarks.

2 The fungus is a huge Mi-Go supercomputer wrapped around the globe. Each node is, in human terms, a processing centre and may grow to the size of a small house. The fungus may be found in all locations that the Mi-Go have been know to frequent.

Each node (the exact number of which is known only to the Mi-Go, but it is believed to be no more than three dozen or so) is carefully monitored by the Mi-Go. The Fungi from Yuggoth themselves (often through their human agents) watch over the nodes to ensure that each operates undisturbed. The nodes are usually located in isolated areas, but there is a chance that construction activities will disturb one. When a node is threatened, the Mi-Go will act - preferably using government agents and legal means, but with direct force if absolutely necessary.

The computer's purpose is unknown - although it has been suggested that its existence is the reason that the Mi-Go remain on Earth. Whether the Mi-Go serve the computer or whether it serves them is a subject open to debate. Certain serpent people texts uncovered at Borobodur, Java suggest that the Mi-Go act on the computer's behalf – for what reason, the texts do not disclose.

3 The fungus is not of terrestrial origin. In 1908 a comet fragment collided with the earth over the Siberian wastes. The comet was mostly rock and ice, but also carried a Mi-Go terraforming fungus. From its cataclysmic arrival, the fungus buried into the soil and spread across the globe.

The fungus is engineered to provide a climate on Earth similar to Yuggoth. Once the fungus has infiltrated an area it attacks the native flora, killing it and replacing it with a new ecosystem. The fleshy nodes (which grow no larger than a soccer ball) contain the genetic information for a variety of fungoid forms. At present the fungus has only colonised several subterranean caverns. Where active, the Mi-Go have encouraged the fungus' growth, achieving toe-holds in remote areas.

Elsewhere, the fungus slowly creeps around the globe, burrowing invisibly through the earth's crust. Once this phase is complete, it will move toward the surface and smother the planet in a thick, fungal embrace.

© Steve Hatherley

Monday, 21 March 2016

Seven Woodcut Blocks

It's an online auction for seven woodcut blocks by Thomas Kilner. The seller's username is bugman666, and the starting bid is £100.

Thomas Kilner (1803-1831) lived in London and was an artist of minor repute. He was a member of the occult Order of the Silver Thistle, and illustrated the order's only publication with a series of 35 woodcuts. He was savagely attacked with a knife while sleeping. The murderer was never found.

The Order of the Silver Thistle was an occult society formed in 1820 by James Pinkney. The order broke up in 1831. The order published one book, Light of the Seven Orders of Truth, a 128 page volume written by Pinkney. No volumes are known to remain intact.

Possibilities

1 The auction is a lure. Bugman666 is an avid collector of magical esoteria and artefacts. He knows that the order was involved in powerful occult rituals, and hopes to lure other magically-inclined individuals to bid. His plan is to sell the woodcut blocks and get a postal address (he'll insist on a real address, not a mailbox). Bugman666 will then make a personal visit to rob the seller not only of the blocks, but also any other artefacts, books or ephemera he can find at that address.

2 The winner of the auction is Colin Jessop and he has been fascinated in the Order of the Silver Thistle for the last five years. Colin has collected anything and everything to do with the order that he has laid his hands on, and he would love to meet some like-minded individuals to reform the order.

3 Bugman666's real name is Thomas Kilner and he is now nearly 200 years old.

The order's last ritual in 1831 was livelier than they could have anticipated. Through powerful magics that they never really understood, Kilner underwent some fundamental physiological changes. Nobody else survived.

Kilner is now an ageless vampire, and hates his pathetic existence. He has few vampiric powers but must drink human blood once every few years or so. The rest of the time he spends in his increasingly dilapidated house, feeding from rats and spiders. As his resources and finances dwindle, he finds new ways of raising money - including selling his work online.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Type Case

Some months ago a type case (a wooden tray divided into sections to hold the various metal letters of a typeface used for printing) was sold in an auction. According to legend, the typeface was used to print an occult book.

Possibilities

1 The type case was sold to a collector, and one day the collector decides to print a book (a short treatise on astronomy) using the typeface and an old printing press.

Everything is normal until the book is finished. Then a buzzing is heard in the whole house and the collector (and any guests) start suffering nightmares...

The typeface is evil...

2 A printer bought the case to publish profane books. As soon as the first page is printed the bad luck begins.

First, the printer loses two fingers to the printing machine, Then his assistant injures himself. And then the office cat dies...

Eventually the printer is found dead, having committed suicide by putting his head into the printing press.

3 A poet buys the type case to print his works at home. He publishes a limited collection of his poems and sells them through libraries and exhibitions.

Although his poems are about spring, summer and love, readers of the collection experience depression, hate and fear. They also suffer from an inordinate number of paper cuts - for some reason the little book of poetry inflicts paper cuts. It is as if it needs feeding...

© Jochen Koltermann 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Forked Tongues

Martin Coleford-Johns is fascinated by dinosaurs. His father worked hard uncovering fossilized skeletons of the giant creatures and passed the bug on to Martin. It was only natural that he should attend Oxford and study the science of palaeontology. Now, at the age of 42, Martin Coleford-Johns is the acknowledged leader of the field.

Tall and good looking, many women have fallen for this aristocratic figure. However, Martin has but one passion - dinosaurs. He is distant and uninterested in anything except his favourite subject. When anyone mentions anything to do with the prehistoric world he suddenly becomes lively and alert, almost undergoing a complete personality change.

However, this reclusive man does not like to publicise his work. He lives in the family house set back in extensive gardens behind high brick walls. His two servants, a butler and a maid, aid him. Currently he has only one heir, Justin Coleford-Johns. The boy is at boarding school, his mother having died in childbirth.

Coleford-Johns rarely appears in public, preferring to work either in the field or in the extensive laboratories constructed on his grounds. When he does appear (evening engagements only) he is always impeccably dressed.

Visitors to the house are unwelcome. If the visitors cannot express an interest in either the extensive reptile collection or the study of fossils then they will be shown the door. Otherwise Coleford-Johns will talk animatedly to his fellow devotees on the subject until he grows tired of them.

The Coleford-Johns family has for years been a sanctuary for the Serpent People. With the aid of Consume Likeness the Serpent People have taken the place of Martin, the butler and the maid. There are other Serpent People hidden about the house.

The only human member of the family is Justin, and he is kept away from the house as much as possible. Once he has bred and has at least one heir, the Serpent People will kill and replace him as well.

The house is filled with reptiles and dinosaur books. The shelves are lined with anything even vaguely connected to the subject. There are fossils and bones and several scale models of dinosaurs. There are also several Serpent People tomes, but they are well hidden. Lighting in the house is always soft to avoid casting betraying shadows. The Serpent People never go out in bright sunlight and have most of their needs delivered direct from Harrods.

Coleford-Johns has a purpose other than the study of fossils. He is engaged in a programme to return the People as rightful masters of the Earth. In rooms concealed below the house he has several clutches of Serpent People eggs, just waiting to hatch.

His fossil hunting expeditions across the globe conceal a more sinister purpose. Chipping at rock in distant countries is a good cover for his true goal - finding the lost temples of the Serpent People.

The Serpent People were a violent, possessive race and fought many battles with other aliens that wanted Earth for their own. However, their enemies were cunning and powerful and, at the end of the Permain Era, they began the preparations which would preserve their ancient race until such time as they could reclaim the world for their own.

Their preparations consisted of a series of temples scattered across the globe in isolated locations. In each, a number of the Serpent People were placed in a state of deep hibernation, along with much of their (now lost) technology and sorcery. Eventually, when the wars were over they would awaken to reclaim the Earth.

However, something went wrong and the temples' inhabitants never woke. As the Earth grew older its crust moved and shifted, crushing many temples. Others were lost as the land dropped and the sea rushed in, or were found by other races and destroyed. Now, 230 million years after their construction, there are only a few of the temples left. Martin Coleford-Johns wants to find them.

Possibilities

1 Justin Coleford-Johns is troubled by nightmares about reptiles. In them he dreams of giant walking snakes which talk in strange hissing voices. Sometimes, in the really bad nightmares his father turns into one of these creatures. Periodically he runs away from the boarding school, but is always found and sent back.

2 Carelessly, slip Martin Coleford-Johns is photographed in broad sunlight while working on a large fossil in Utah, America. The photographer is a journalist reporting on the expedition and does not notice the strange, inhuman shadow. However, while Martin is still in the USA, the photograph is printed in one of the London papers. The paper has the print in its files, the shadow is much clearer on that.

3 Should reports pointing to a new Serpent People colony reach his ears, Martin will begin to investigate. Stories of dinosaurs, giant reptiles, and samples of shedded skin will stir his interest.

If the Investigators are involved he may try to infiltrate the group by casting Consume Likeness. Coleford-Johns may decide to use one of his different forms to avoid attracting attention to his sanctuary.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Harsh Words

It’s a sudden pain in the head, a searing agony that slowly subsides into a pounding headache. And there are the words, meaningless words:

"Kath rinto Cha’col neblod zin."

Possibilities

1 The words mean "Embrace the waters and rejoice" in an ancient, nearly-forgotten language. They are the result of a powerful spell that has recently been cast. The spell only affects potential deep ones - and all of them within the spell’s range will have felt the effect.

The spell triggers "the change." Fairly soon, everyone affected will learn that the only way to completely ease the pain is by immersion in water - be it a bath, swimming pool or the sea. Over time, physical changes will become apparent, until eventually the call to the sea becomes too strong and they are never seen again.

2 The words are instructions, and with them comes an image of a distinctive building at night, and on that building a gargoyle. Through trial and error, the victim learns that to ease the pain they have to be actively working on visiting the building. First they have to find the building, then travel there. Then, once they are standing at the corner of the building below the gargoyle’s perch, at night, they must shout the words. Only then does the pain finally ease.

Upon hearing the words the gargoyle blinks and turns its head. Then, under the cover of darkness, it spreads its stony wings and flies heavily into the night to assist whomever (or whatever) summoned it.

3 The words are instructions; simple commands that the victim is compelled to carry out. The instructions are meaningless - go to the third stair, walk on the left side of the street, comb your hair backwards. After completing the first task, the pain fades. Then, after a while, a new instruction arrives…

The victim only recently recovered from a head injury that resulted in hospital treatment. Although the head surgeon is internationally renowned, he is also a servant of the mi-go. In their service he implanted a device during surgery. The device conveys mi-go instructions, and is now being tested.

Unfortunately, this model of the device doesn’t appear to be working well as the instructions are being followed incorrectly. Soon the mi-go will need to kidnap the victim and harvest the device to find out what has gone wrong and where they can make improvements...

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Followers

You are being watched. You cannot see the things that follow you. It could just be your imagination, but movement at the edge of your vision and malicious chattering voices in the wind, haunt your every waking moment. At night they come closer and hide behind reflections in mirrors and darkened windows. And if you turn out the light . . . they become really bold. So you sleep with the light on. Always.

It’s that or the nightmares . . .

Some nights you wake unable to breathe as if something heavy is sitting on your chest. And the room still smells of fetid breath and damp fur.

Possibilities

1 Your block is the subject of secret government experimentation. An experimental drug has been introduced into the water supply, in minute quantities. The drug is heightening everyone’s paranoia and is affecting their sanity.

As well as your own difficulties, other residents are affected. Arguments flare at the slightest provocation. Nobody talks to their neighbours. Security systems are installed. And then nice Mrs Dolittle, who made you cookies the other day, is arrested for making a stew with her husband’s head.

After that, the experiment stops and things slowly return to normal. Nobody is any the wiser.

2 The shock almost killed you. You were having a cup of coffee in a café when suddenly another customer screams and flails at the air as if attacked by something. You stood up to help but, like an after-image of bright lights, you could see things swarming over him. Or at least that is what you think you saw.

Since then you have perceived those things everywhere. And they know that you can see them. Whatever their malign purpose, they wish to do it unobserved and are Now out to get you.

3 For hundreds of years scientists have observed, catalogued and dissected things to see how they work. If a few dogs die of lung cancer or a rabbit has its eyes burnt out, well, it’s all for the common good. We need to know that cigarettes are bad for us and that our cosmetics are kind to our skin.

Now scientist of a different hue are making the same justification. They come in the night and drug you so that you can not remember exactly what has happened and they take you away and conduct experiments. A dissection one night, mazes and electric shocks the next. It’s cruel, yes, but they need to learn a few things before they arrive and it is all for the common good. Well, their common good - and they have never considered that any other kind matters.

© Nathan Gribble

Night of the Long Knives

The investigators are invited to a revue of Chinese theatre by Professor Charles Ashbourne, expert on all aspects of China. He tells them that it is a social invitation but hints that there is some point to the meeting.

A treat of Chinese culture is in store. Jugglers, gymnasts, dancers in dazzling costumes and paper dragons. The finale is a lady conjurer assisted by two giant Mongols. After an impressive display of magic and muscle flexing the finale, the classic box-of-swords illusion, starts.

Both assistants are too massive to fit into the box so the conjurer calls for a volunteer from the audience. Much to his delight, Ashbourne is chosen from several enthusiastic volunteers. He steps into the box and the door closes behind him.

The two Mongols spin the box then thrust their swords clean through it. The box is rotated again to show the swords protruding right through the box. Then the conjurer screams and faints.

As the house lights go up blood can be seen running down the blades. The swords are withdrawn and the dead body of Professor Ashbourne tumbles from the box. The curtain drops, none too soon.

Possibilities

1     Ashbourne's death was an unfortunate accident, a trap door that should have opened below him malfunctioned. The theatre's insurance company has made a substantial out of court settlement to Ashbourne's widow.

2     Access to Ashbourne's papers will point towards his investigations into Chinese Tongs in London. In particular he seems fascinated by Dr Cheng, an almost legendary figure wielding absolute power. Ashbourne was getting too close and was eliminated.

3     Ashbourne's wife was having an affair with the son of a peer of the realm. Using his contacts in the Chinese community, they arranged his death. In return they are to pay the Tongs half the insurance money that Mrs Ashbourne stands to receive from both her husband's and the theatre's policies.

© Garrie Hall

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Snails

It's a massive snail. It's body must be nearly 9" long (and maybe 2-3" in girth), with a huge shell to match. Worse than that, it's in the cellar. The cellar was always damp, but never home to giant snails...

Closer inspection reveals that there is a crack in the cellar wall, and the snail has come through from next door. The neighbouring house is owned by Sebastian Crease, a thin gentleman in his late-fifties, who lives alone.

Possibilities

1 Sebastian Crease is a discredited scientist - having been fired from his previous employer he is trying to create a comeback. His cellar is filled with test tubes, petri dishes and tanks full of snails. Crease is trying to create a cheap, nutritious superfood based on snails that he can sell to the agribusiness that fired him. He has successfully bred snails up to 9" long, but is aiming for twice that.

2 The snail is a rare Amazonian Flesh-Eating Snail, and Crease is a snail enthusiast. He keeps them in his cellar, which is full of tanks containing specimens from across the globe.

Unfortunately, Crease is now dead - he slipped on a step-ladder while changing the light bulb in the cellar. He fell onto one of the tanks, shattering the glass and his body ended up on the floor in a pool of blood, a shard of glass in his windpipe.

As for the tank, it contained the giant Amazonian Flesh-Eating Snails, and they have been gorging on the feast. With Crease's corpse mostly consumed, they have gone in search of other food.

3 The Grand Vitae Society is an illustrious thirty-year old society that researches ancient Roman customs and traditions - and re-enacts them. (Since the death of society founder Lucius Splitfoot three years ago, the society has become more enthusiastic in its re-enactments and recent gatherings have repeated some of Roman society's worst excesses.)

Sebastian Crease is a prominent member of the society and is responsible for providing a particular Roman delicacy for the next meeting - fattened snails. He feeds the snails on a kind of pap made from, amongst other things, sweet wine and honey. The snails have thrived.

Having successfully bred the snails, Sebastian is now trying different recipes for cooking and serving them. Anyone who calls is invited to try a plate of meaty snacks and titbits...


© Steve Hatherley

The Plated Skull

The high-ceilinged, oak-panelled entrance hall of The Whistable Reserve, an exclusive Knightsbridge gentlemen's club, is lined with artefacts gathered from across the globe. The artefacts comprise various tablets of stone, a few ancient tribal weapons, some mysterious urns and jars - and in the pride of place, a hideous plated skull. In front of the skull is a faded handwritten label: "Plated skull, Thebes 1936, circa 500BC."

The artefacts have all been donated to the Whistable Reserve by members, either in the course of their membership or as part of their will.

However, there is something strange about the hallway - it is reportedly haunted and cleaning staff refuse to clean after dark. At least, not without a full member of the Reserve present to watch over them.

Possibilities

1 The plated skull isn't human. The skull has been taken from one of the skeletal warrior-guardians of the legendary Fleece of Gold. The bronze plating is etched with celtic designs and appears to have been added to the skull much later. It is quite battered - neither the skull nor the plating is in good condition.

The original guardians of the Fleece of Gold were magical warriors, and skull still contains magical reserves. That energy sometimes leaks out, giving the hallway its haunted reputation. Should the skull somehow regain mobility, it will unthinkingly try to carry out the last orders given to it - to kill all those aboard the Argos.

2  The plated skull is a gregori, or "Witness". The creation of a gregori requires a ritual sacrifice. During the ritual the victim's soul is trapped into an object (often the victim's head or skull - sometimes some other object). The ritual is difficult and expensive, and gregori are prized items as a result.

The gregori itself has only limited consciousness, but perfect recall. With the right ritual, the gregori will reveal everything that it has witnessed since it was created. The plated skull was created in Ancient Greece, and it has 2500 years worth of memories to reveal.

3  The plated skull belongs to the club's founder, Sir Wilberforce Whistable. Sir Wilberforce had two great loves in his life - the occult and exotic wines. He founded the Reserve in 1880 so that he could and other like-minded gentlemen could combine their interests in civilised oak-panelled surroundings.

Sir Wilberforce died in 1916 and he left his skull to the Reserve. The Reserve had it partially-plated in silver and put it on display in the Reserve's hallway. During the war, the Reserve moved its prized possessions to a country estate in Shropshire to escape the Blitz. When they returned to Knightsbridge in 1945 (the club had survived the war largely unscathed), many of the Reserve's records had been lost and the skull became labelled as an archaeological find.

The wine cellars of the Whistable are fully stocked and extensive. Some of the wines even date back to Sir Wilberforce's era - although they are now largely undrinkable.

© Steve Hatherley

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Jars

In a remote corner of Laos, on a hard-to-reach plateau, are hundreds of massive stone jars. They cover an area of 30 square miles and are scattered through the thin forest with varying density. In places they seem to cover the ground, with barely space to walk between them.

The jars themselves are huge, typically three feet tall and carved from granite. Many of them appear to have been moved to the plateau, for reasons unknown. Some of the jars have lids - perhaps all of the jars once had lids, and a few are sealed. Others have strange markings carved in their sides.

The plateau is sparsely populated, and the natives have no more idea of what the jars are for than anyone else. They use handy jars for storage, or as water butts. Most of them, however, are just left.

Possibilities

1 The jars are stone-age artefacts and were carved 3-4000 years old. They appear to have been used by the stone age tribes of the area for storage - as some of them have been found to contain pots and shards of bamboo. The jars also seem to have some kind of religious significance, as several of the sealed jars have been found to contain skeletons.

2 The jars had originally been brought across from the dreamlands. They had been used by the Men of Leng centuries ago to transport moonbeasts into the waking world. The jars have since been left scattered, debris of an ancient scheme. They have since been used by the local people for storage.

The jars are not entirely benign, however. In the original scheme some of the moonbeasts were missed. Some have died, and strange twisted bones can be found in a few of the jars. In one or two of the sealed pots, however, hibernating moonbeasts wait for the unsealing. They are unlikely to be pleased when they finally awake.

3 The jars are ancient artefacts of worship. Long ago, the people of Laos worshipped an avatar of Nyarlathotep, the Bloated Woman. She would visit annually, and would be most displeased with her people if the offering had not been properly prepared. They were therefore always most eager to prepare it properly.

The offering, a vile mixture of rotting herbs, pustulent body parts and live sacrifices would be prepared over the course of several months and poured into a hand-carved stone jar. The lid would then be sealed and the concoction left to turn in the sun for several weeks. At the time of the Great Coming, the jar’s lid would be removed and, upon smelling the fragrant aroma belching forth, the Bloated Woman would arrive to bless the people of Laos.

© Steve Hatherley