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1873 - Year of the Slasher

This is an attempt to give readers a brief idea of some of the sort of things that went on in Inferno. It can't hope to be representative, but it should give you an idea of the feel of the early stages of the game, before plotlines started to get going. There's much more related to this, and to the rest of the game, on the UKG web site. Before reading this you should read Jeremy Wasden's review, in last issue of Flagship.

1873, and fear stalks the night-time streets of London. A killer is abroad, nicknamed 'Jim the Slasher', a bloodthirsty madman who mutilates his victims, and only the foolhardy stir abroad in the dark warrens and alleyways of Whitechapel.

The Charlies, London's incompetent and corrupt police force, are busily staking out Fenchurch Street Station: the first Slasher killing was in the Old Kent Road, and Detective Inspector 'Doughnut' Pascoe fancies he sees a pattern in the killer's movements.

Members of the Inferno Club, that secretive organization dedicated to the governance of the world, acting on other information, believe they have a means of locating the Slasher, whom some fear is no ordinary mortal. The Archbishop of Canterbury, vocal proponent of traditional Christian values, has led all manner of prayer vigils in the hope of purging the diabolic influence he is sure lies behind the Slasher's evil ways, but with little effect so far.

But not all are engrossed in this particular affair. Some have their own fish to fry...

Mr Charles Darwin, House Virgo, biologist of controversial repute (Wendy Prosser)

Another Slasher murder, screams The Times; once again, Londoners are gripped by mortal fear! (Fortunately, I seldom visit the city - I am loath to leave the house, after the recent theft of my research notes. Why have the police been so incapable of finding the thief?) Forgive my wry smile, though, at my colleagues' attempts to catch the cove! for the irony is clear: the Inferno Club, stalking the Slasher, stalking his prey through those noisome streets - hunter and hunted, tooth and claw. Are we so different, Archbishop, from the birds, or from the beasts?

When my Magnum Opus is published, you will have cause to bleat, be warned - you and your sinister Church Militia of the Lamb! For the world did not begin on October 26th 4004 BC, as Archbishop Ussher decreed, and nor was Man created by God - our species evolved by natural selection, from anthropoid forms, and shared its ancient homeland (now sunk beneath the Atlantic waves) with a race of intelligent, squid-like creatures - beings from another world! Hide if you will in superstition, like the Slasher in the night; you will not escape for long! For these truths are incontrovertible, forged in the bright furnace of science - as is the way of House Virgo. The way of The Future, no less!

House Pisces, the Mages, took the lead in combating the Slasher, but not without competition from their Conjurer rivals in House Scorpio, led by Mr 'Karageorge' Petrovich, General Louis Perisson and Mr McGregor Mathers... who were of the opinion that perhaps valuable use could be made of the demonic Slasher, if demon he indeed was. Not only that, but Mr Ferdinand Lancelot Gaboon's famed Flying Circus was in the vicinity, with an elephant named Titan dangling beneath in a steel cage; handy (Mr Gaboon thought) to drop, should the Slasher need squashing.

<Extract>

Dame Elizabeth DuQuesne-Black, House Pisces, President of the British Red Cross and noted for her work with the insane (Duncan Cockayne)

From the abandoned draft of a letter written by Dame Elizabeth to her House colleague Mr Jacques Clouseau, the day after the Slasher Hunt. This incomplete text has been further edited in the interests of propriety and discretion.

"... that I could simply scream!... as I predicted... , the whole affair has been a debacle! Perisson actually went through with his... notion of 'enough fire-power to level Switzerland'!... unleashed in a Whitechapel alley too narrow for a dog-cart, against a creature that can no more be shot to death than a forest fire!

"Meanwhile, that... little... Petrovich, and Scorpio's Member of the Twelve, McGregor Mathers, had set about usurping the whole plan under our very noses... plainly intent on capturing rather than destroying the Demon Lord. In a crystal pyramid... dancing around a chalk circle waving chickens in the air! If they hadn't been putting us in mortal danger (and worse) it might have been amusing, in a Music Hall sort of way.

"Dear Autumn and I had to step in... Mathers went quite berserk... had to be dealt with... distracted us long enough for the Demon Lord to seize control of a... elephant which that... Gaboon was dangling in a cage for some reason... the... mob blazed away once more... incinerating the brute. Then,... a... combination of injury and insult: our Piscean colleague Edward Carter... revealed his treacherous hand... rendered... us unconscious just long enough for the burning elephant to drop onto us... unharmed naturally... all to do again and a traitor to deal with besides. Damn it!"

</Extract>

Dealing with the publicity from the incident, and cleaning up the mess, was left to the politicians of the Inferno Club.

<Extract>

The Marquess of Salisbury, House Gemini, consummate political fixer (Tim Lomas)

Ah yes, The Slasher, caused me more than a little irritation I must say.

You must realise that as Marquess of Salisbury I have better things to do than get involved in such matters, we employ people to get their hands dirty sorting out these things.

Personally I was abroad, things to do in the United States while the noisy types were blowing up East London. After having suggested that their plans seemed somewhat excessive, it being rather difficult to avoid having half of London notice bits of it being blown up and having been asked to "hush it up" using my contacts in the House, I came to the conclusions I was dealing with a bunch of political incompetents, and made damned sure I had better things to do, 3000 miles away seemed to be just about far enough.

Can you imagine the scene, Their Lordships getting all interested in the destruction of a pile of streets over beyond the City and myself or the Archbishop getting to our feet and telling them that it's merely the local law enforcement types inviting someone to aid with a few enquiries they wish to make? If I'm going to make a damned fool of myself I had no intention of doing so in this damned fool way. I may have got away with it for a few of our older Peers, especially after lunch, but there are still a few members of the Upper House with brains which occasionally function and spark with curiosity when the bang is loud enough.

To add insult to injury the fools leave a dead elephant lying round. I realise that the populace of the East End aren't the brightest candles in the candelabra, and you can probably get away with explaining away fires, loud bangs and a few of the other obvious effects but even they're going to start asking questions when they find a dead elephant blocking the alley. Rats, no problem, probably a good dinner for someone. Cats and dogs, commonplace, kick them into the gutter and someone'll sort it out, dead elephant, oh yes, we had 3 last week. Sorry, did you say ELEPHANT? Bloody great big grey thing with a trunk? Well, there's a thing you don't see every day...

What was I doing in the States which was so important? Well, people to see, things to do, you know what it's like. Well, you probably don't, but that's of little import.

</Extract>

Exciting though the Slasher Hunt affair proved to be, it was something of a debacle; thanks, most opined, to the mixed intentions of those involved.

<Extract>

Miss Charity Wells, House Aries, adventuress and private investigator (Claire Fayers)

It seems that every one of us in the 'grand hunt to catch the evil and notorious London Slasher' had their own aims and motives. Some wanted to kill him for the glory and prestige. Others wanted to control the demon for their own nefarious ends. Me? I was worried. The previous year I had paid a brief visit, purely in the interests of scientific research, to a certain Count in Transylvania, and now I found myself in the embarrassing position of being a vampire. I was fairly confident the Slasher couldn't kill me - but what of the rest of the group if they found out? It would only take a well-placed stake.

Thankfully, the rest of the group weren't too bright. Far from suspecting me, they begged me to write their battle plan and, when I suggested we should start the hunt at night, they all agreed enthusiastically. Then an anonymous friend thoughtfully offered me a load of demon-killing metal. Not nice stuff to be around if you're a vampire, but I stuck it out bravely.

Nevertheless, I was not feeling my best on the night we met to track down the killer. Still, we had fun throwing demon-killing weapons at him and dropping dead elephants on his head until the magicians starting fighting among themselves and let him get away. The demon lived to fight another day. But so did we - and we got him in the end. But that is another story.

</Extract>

It was not until some time later that House Pisces managed to identify the demon-possessed killer and to 'cure' him.

<Extract>

The Honourable Auberon Wylde, House Taurus, master illusionist and currently in secure accommodation (Stuart Lorimer)

Well, my dear fellow, I must admit I'm still in the dark about the whole bally business - and me Her Majesty's favourite 'Master of Obfuscation' too, heh! All I know is, I'd been feeling damned queer for God only knows how long, but then I'd put that down to the mercury fumes from the Dimensional Mirror I'd been developing at that Hawksmoor church in Limehouse in which I'd taken up residence - you know, 'Auberon Wylde Through The Looking Glass' and all that? But I digress, dear boy. House Pisces have been terribly agreeable about the whole thing - especially as it seems we... I killed all those filthy whor... er, unfortunate women. It was him that did it, though; my childhood companion, The Man Who Isn't There. You know, from the poem:

'Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who isn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
Oh how I wish he'd go away...'

Except he never did go away. Everyone told me he was 'imaginary' so, in the end, I stopped talking about him. He was always there, though - and when I joined the Inferno Club (which I was led to believe would be a perfectly pleasant League of Fit Young Gentlemen) he started, well, whispering to me again...

He's gone now, of course - cut away by the sword of the Archangel Whatsisname - and I'm only half the man I was. Funny thing is, I miss the old blackguard, truly I do. And it's not as if he was doing any harm. Not really...

You must excuse me, it's time for my laudanum.

</Extract>

And all the while, far away across Europe, an almost equally diabolic mind was plotting its own schemes of death and destruction...

<Extract>

King Morgan of Bavaria, House Sagittarius, recent arrival on this ancient European throne (Simon Taylor)

A Message to Tamburlaine Khan, Member of the Twelve for House Sagittarius

My Lord,

This is a short report to keep you up to date with what is happening in the Kingdom of Bavaria. Whilst hunts for strange creatures go on in London events here are a little more politically focussed.

As you know, from my humble beginnings as an anarchist with a desire to foment war wherever and whenever possible my agenda has changed somewhat.

An opportunity to rule Bavaria was an opportunity I was not going to ignore.

After inveigling my way into mad King Otto's employ as military advisor my original aims became somewhat muddied. I had intended to simply use Bavaria's forces to start a war that with the right pushes and tweaks would spread across Europe. The King himself was quite mad and, along with interference from other power blocs bringing their influence to bear it was becoming increasingly difficult to manipulate my position in the way I wanted.

So, I took the only action left open to me - I used my anarchist forces to start a rebellion in the country, crushed them using the military might at my disposal thus making me a public hero and at the same time had the King killed so I could take his place. Ruthless? Undoubtedly. Worthwhile? Similarly so. Killing Queen Irena was an unfortunate side-effect but unavoidable in some senses. That King Otto's children: Paul and Perdita escaped, smuggled away by servants of the household, is a little more unfortunate. That I suspect they were really spirited away by another member of the Inferno Club is even more complicated. Still, not an insurmountable problem I hope...

It was then that the re-appearance of the Khiron Commission became apparent. The Khiron Commission are, as you well know, opposed to war in all it's manifestations - I could not allow such an organisation to stand in our way.

And so, I had the leader of the Khiron Commission killed. Brice Eberlicht was a fool and an enemy of House Sagittarius - ever since his treacherous abandonment of House Sagittarius he has proved a thorn in our side. I trust my disposing of a treacherous enemy of our House will reap me suitable reward.

I should point out that I feel I may have made a mistake in my planning here, oh Great Khan, one that could back-fire upon me but I hope this not to be the case. To deflect attention away from House Sagittarius I appropriated a knife from a fellow Infernal - one Edward Carter. This Carter person was subsequently blamed for the murder of Brice Eberlicht, the head of the Khiron Commission. He also discovered my involvement and threatened to reveal my killing of Eberlicht. Whilst not overly worried by the reaction I am worried that the fact that Carter has since been murdered could reflect badly upon me. I wish to assure you, master of mine, that I had nothing to do with Carter's death. It may be however that other's do not see things this way, particularly if Carter expressed his concerns to others before his death. Killing a non-entity like Eberlicht is one thing, killing a fellow Infernal would be an entirely different matter.

Still, Bavaria is now a relatively strong power, I have risen from lowly beginnings to a position of great power - the only King in the rolls of the Inferno Club. My masterplan to conquer first Switzerland, then Italy is drawing closer. With these forces at my command, along with our more traditional and altogether more powerful allies, I can then begin the Great War which I so desperately crave.

Yours sincerely

King Morgan I of Bavaria
Formerly known as Morgan Leman, anarchist of uncertain beginnings

Footnote: King Morgan's error of judgement did backfire on him in summary fashion as he was held responsible for Edward Carter's death: a charge he denied until his dying breath: and was executed by the order of the Inferno Club's judiciary system in the form of House Libra.

</Extract>

It fell to the elected Vizier of the Inferno Club to try to understand the implications of what the Members had witnessed.

<Extract>

Albert de Bonvoisin, House Aquarius, Belgian arms dealer and philanthropist (Bart van Bael)

A copy of a letter to Henri Giffard, House Taurus, from Albert de Bonvoisin, House Aquarius.

See, my dear Henri, this Slasher proves my point about demons! They are a danger to humankind. Uncontrolled, despite the claims of the demon-lovers in our club. I said it before: anything not fully controlled by us should be considered a danger to the club, and we should strive to either control it, or ban it from Earth altogether!

I understand from your report about the mail system, that even 0001 - our great leader, ha! - uses minor entities, demons, to telepathically transmit his messages. In a way you confirm my theory that he's NOT to be trusted?! As long as I'm Vizier, I will continue my attempts to slowly break the Club's ties with 0001. By locating and coordinating those who fight the uncontrollable, I'll try to give the Club full control over the world. You know my mission: Earth for humans only. Humans are cattle, and we are the cowboys. Full control, that's what we need! Puppets on a string! I realise that as Vizier, I must wear a mask of strict neutrality. It will not be easy. The magical Houses especially will not accept losing their power, so they should not be alarmed in advance!!!

Self interest? Yes, a healthy dose, of course! Ah my friend, you know me well enough to see through my disguise as philanthropist. Getting rid of magic can only secure my own position! My agents are capable of covering every move I make. And I'm one hundred per cent confident that they can deal with every kind of physical attack, except a magical one. So Henri, continue your work to find scientific methods to neutralise magic, I beg you. But be very careful, my friend, the demons have already lured so many with their fast road to power! Always keep this danger in your mind! Always!

Your friend, Albert de Bonvoisin.

Handwritten sidenote in the margin, red pencil: "January 6, 1880 - Henri von Giffard joined the demon-using House Scorpio. I warned him! Time to improve relations with Pisces..."

</Extract>

</Main>

<Report>

An extract from 'The Hunting of the Slasher', a report sent to all players

They hunted it with pyramids, they hunted it with guns;
They hunted with an elephant quite desperate for buns.

... The prime coordinators, Colonel Graaf, Miss Wells, Mr Dawson and Mr Fielding, met to discuss locations and layouts. The latter three were already intimately familiar with the topography of the area, from their earlier investigations or in Mr Dawson's case from having lived in the area, and they found that the former Dutch rebel swiftly grasped the essentials of the terrain, displaying a startling gift for the allocation and placement of the forces at their disposal. Seclusion away from prying eyes, routes of escape, and such were all considered - Mr Dawson ventured to suggest that the location for the battle might be chosen with a view to minimizing collateral damage, but this fell on deaf ears - before deciding on the elbow of Crutched Friars with Seething Lane.

Did a hint of worry pass through the minds of the coordinators, thinking perhaps that Jim the Slasher would have to be the most complete idiot imaginable not to get a hint that something unusual was going on in Whitechapel, with a huge elephant trumpeting away in the sky above, the streets full of armed people and foreigners, all manner of magical paraphernalia, hymns blasting through every window, and the usual inhabitants of the streets completely driven off them? Perhaps he might even warily stay out of the area altogether? If so, it was not sufficient to make them change their plan.

Mr Petrovich carried a great crystal pyramid to the location Colonel Graaf had decided best for the trap. Most of the taskforce were rather surprised to see this pyramid, but Colonel Graaf seemed to trust Mr Petrovich's judgement in bringing it. It was placed on the ground, and Mr Petrovich began sketching a complex pentagram around it, with Mr Mathers's help.

Peter Darkenford now appeared on the scene and met with Mr Petrovich. They discussed in hushed voices how best to track the Slasher's movements, and Mr Darkenford began to concentrate. Edward Carter also lent his abilities to this aspect of the effort.

Baron von Poelzig, at the head of a squad of medical students each with his own hissing Steamatic Personal Protector (it was noticeable that the Baron himself eschewed such a measure) awaited casualties, somewhat behind the front line. Charles Southville, tearing himself away from vital Parliamentary business, met up with Dame Elizabeth DuQuesne-Black and Autumn Kincaid at the Inferno Club and escorted them to the East End, his rapier by his side.

Mr Carter and Mr Darkenford both struck gold at the same time, Mr Darkenford nodding as though to something invisible and whispering in Mr Petrovich's ear, Mr Carter writhing briefly in pain and lifting one shaking finger to point. The Slasher, as predicted, was approaching the position of the trap.

Mr Gaboon carefully manoeuvred his airship so that it was directly above the Slasher, who could only be seen as a murky human-shaped figure slipping through the darkness below.

Mr Petrovich waved all those with weapons to hold their fire, while he and Mr Mathers set up the most extraordinary spectacle of chanting and dancing about the place, beating their breasts, tipping their heads back and yodelling, at the same time sacrificing four black cockerels Mr Mathers had brought along for the purpose. The pyramid started to glow faintly with a baleful corpse-light. Those onlookers of a religious disposition crossed themselves and muttered words of prayer, to be silenced by a furious glare from Mr Mathers.

A stench filled the air, the warm, metallic stench of the charnel-house, and the Slasher was in the alley. All present were overcome with dread, with only Miss Kincaid, Mr Fielding, Miss Wells and Captain Blakely failing to quake in their boots. General Perisson, panicking, broke and took to his heels away from the scene. The Slasher was still indistinct to view despite his (its?) proximity, as though it carried a toiled knot of darkness around it, woven close by. Occasional bursts of red-purple fire lashed their way over its surface, as though it were trying to free itself from invisible bonds.

As it advanced towards the pyramid, it became apparent that its steps were dragging and resistant, and Mr Mathers howled in triumph as he and Mr Petrovich spurred their efforts to ever greater intensity. The pyramid was now glowing a bright and sickly green.

Non-one but the Scorpians seemed quite sure if this was a good or a bad thing, with Dame Elizabeth and Miss Kincaid in particular looking very uneasy. But step by step the Slasher was drawn into the pentagram.

There was a mighty detonation as it stepped unwillingly over the bounds, and the pentagram shot fountains of white sparks up into the sky, setting light to two of Mr Gaboon's balloons and causing considerable damage to the nearby buildings. But as they died down the Slasher could no longer be seen - instead, slumped against the pyramid was a huddled human form, that of a man dressed in dark clothing - but little could be made of him, as all eyes were drawn to the awful but compelling flame-like shape that now raged and roared within the crystal pyramid, battering itself against the walls.

"Let rip with everything you've got!" cried out Miss Wells, and waved her arm; at once there was a huge barrage of gunfire, flame, missiles and all sorts from all the armed combatants, lasting about five minutes. Above it could be heard the triumphant cry of Mr Mathers: "I have you now, great one, bound to my will!"

As the noise died away, though, his voice came again, saying "No - wait! Stop! How dare you! Witches! Aaugh!" The smoke cleared as though swept aside by a mighty breath of wind, to show the crystal pyramid still standing unharmed on the lip of a sizeable crater, at the bottom of which lay the Slasher's battered and charred body.

The pyramid was now glowing gold, and quicker than it can be written, it exploded with an immense concussion, just below the threshold of hearing but felt by everyone present through every fibre of their bodies. Razor-sharp fragments of crystal shot out in all directions.

There was an immediate chorus of rattling clangs as all the Steamatic Personal Protectors in the area activated, shooting down steel curtains about their wearers, followed by pained yelps from those who had got their feet trapped underneath.

The reddish flame that had been confined within the pyramid poured out upwards, stopping when it reached the cage with the elephant in. The trumpeting noises took on an agonized tone, but no-one had eyes for the hapless Titan, for Mr Mathers, a look of fury on his face, was pulling out of the air in front of him what looked like black handfuls of raw malice. He cried out "Azoth! Benaim! Miluctador!" and hurled the black essence at where Miss Kincaid and Dame Elizabeth were standing close together. As it flew it took on the form of two jet-black ravens with eyes and claws of fire.

Captain Blakely bravely leapt in front of Miss Kincaid and levelled his pistol at the ravens, but she, moving quicker than the eye could follow, thrust him aside with uncanny strength and batted the two hell-birds out of the air, their bodies slamming hard against walls to either side and at once evaporating to leave only trickles of viscid slime.

The expression on Mr Mathers's face turned swiftly from purple rage to grey panic as the two Pisceans advanced on him. He looked for support from his House, but Mr Petrovich was trapped inside his SPP and General Perisson had long since fled. Suddenly Mr Mathers's entire form burst into white-hot flame. He tottered and danced for a moment, like a puppet, then collapsed into a heap of ash as though his strings had been cut.

Up above, the trumpeting had now stopped, but the red flame was still gathered about the dangling cage, flickering balefully. Dame Elizabeth and Miss Kincaid looked up towards it, but then they both suddenly dropped unconscious to the ground.

All was panic once more, and those with weapons blazed away wildly up into the sky. Mr Gaboon, realizing his airship would be destroyed unless it rose, bellowed out a warning using his Stard Sound Amplifier, cast loose the chain and allowed the cage to plummet to the ground. All those below who still could scattered, before the charred remains of five tons of elephant smashed into Seething Lane.

Everything was silent. The red flame had dissipated, who knew whither. Miss Kincaid crawled out from under the fallen cage, dragging the crushed form of Dame Elizabeth, but within a minute both were sufficiently recovered to depart the scene, without speaking to anyone.

Baron von Poelzig and his medics moved through the scene, dispensing treatment and soothing words to all. One by one the Steamatic Personal Protectors' curtains were rolled back up into their bodies. The rosy light of dawn tinged the sky in the direction of Shoreditch, as the battered brickwork of Whitechapel cooled.

It was only then that Miss Wells thought to look to identify the body which the Slasher had been inhabiting. It was gone - disappeared or vanished -leaving behind only a pair of charred white evening gloves. A little way down the alley, a manhole cover gaped open, the stench of the great sewers the Romans built, running down to the muddy Thames, rising from it.