Sunday, 11 May 2014

XI: Kshesinskaya's Apartments, Midnight

Midnight finds you back at Kshesinskaya's flat. The place is empty now, and silent.

She leads you up the stairs to her loft room. The moon shines in through the skylight, making everything glow a faint silver. You can hear distant sounds from the city beyond - late night revellers, the rumblings of trams.

There are three paintings in the room.

The first, a very small painting, is of a key, held by an old man or woman's hand.

The second, very large, depicts a dark, featureless figure standing behind a kind of veil.

The third and final one is another arrangement of something like the qliphoth. Ten trees in a forest, with a lurid, starry sky above them. In the centre there is a figure, turned away, with his back to the viewer.

"Here are my pieces," the ballerina says. She appears to be studying your reactions. "What do you make of them?"

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

X: At the Ballet

The following night sees Brindleton, Kitson, Claspington, Foxworth and Hodgkiss turn up at a small, boutique theatre in Covent Garden, to watch Kshesinskaya's performance in La Sylphide. Those of you who know anything about ballet think it's a decent production. To those of you who don't know anything about ballet, it seems to involve a fairy, witches, and lots of prancing around.

Afterwards, as arranged, you gather at the performers' entrance to the rear of the building, down a cobbled alley. One of Kshesinskaya's men - a huge ox of man, built like a brick shit-house - who you recognise from the party meets you, and nods you inside. He leads you down a narrow corridor (ballerinas scampering by) and to Kshesinskaya's changing room.

The prima donna is sitting by her makeup table smoking a cigarillo. "Gentlemen," she says, her face as expressionlessly beautiful as ever. "Let us not waste time. You have an interest in Defernex. Tell me more."

Saturday, 22 March 2014

IX: At Kshesinskaya's Salon

Matilda Kshesinskaya holds an open salon near Covent Garden, where the great and good of London's high-brow entertainment world can often be found. It is a fine example of fin de si├Ęcle decadence and opulence - like something out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting - full of smoke from cigarillos and the smell of vermouth and gin. There is a permanent sense of a party going on which is always slowly winding down, but never really ending.

Kshesinskaya herself is small, beautiful, and extremely cold. She is surrounded by various men who hang on her every word and who she clearly despises. She has the look of a Turkish princess, and indeed she is often said to be a descendant of a prince of Tartary. She greats you politely enough, offering her hand - as if expecting you to kneel and kiss it.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

VIII: To London!

The following day, Brindleton manages to get the diary back into its rightful place, through a combination of unusual requests and his gammy leg/arm/heart playing up due to whatever mysterious ailment he sustained during "the war". You then head to the Tyne docks, where Kitson's boat is moored, and set off.

Within a few days you are moored on the Thames with rooms at Brindleton's Badminton Club.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

VII: Admiral Nelson and The Tynemouth Circle

After questioning the East African sailor and detouring for Brindleton to telegraph an old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Blanche, with some queries, you head off in the direction of the Tynemouth Circle. This is a gentleman's club of some distinction, like The Grey Society. Ordinarily only members may enter, though there is a reciprocal agreement with The Grey Society to allow visitors. One of the butlers shows you into a oak-panelled room with leather chairs inhabited by mostly frail old men swilling brandy.

The one called Admiral Nelson is in a booth on his own. He is old, bearded, and sure enough missing one arm and one eye. Somewhat perturbingly he does not have his empty socket covered - it is a black pit in his face, surrounded with vivid pink scars.

"Yes?" he says brusquely as the butler introduces you and recedes.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

VI: To Tynemouth

The next day dawns crisp and sharp and you meet at the station, heading towards Tynemouth along the banks of the Tyne. Tynemouth itself is quite a genteel, well-healed village that is on the very mouth of the river where it meets the North Sea. It has a ruined abbey and various monuments as well as traditional English seaside resort-type attractions.

On the train, with plenty of time to do it, Brindleton attempts to finagle the diary he found open. He manages to do so without breaking it. However the pages are filled with strange pencil scratchings - triangles and other geometric shapes, with dots and lines. It's clearly been written in code.

Any research conducted in the library at The Grey Society has not revealed a great deal about Kabbalah. However, it does reveal that there is way of representing the tree of life as having 11 Sephira rather than 10. The 11th Sephirot is "Da'at", which unites all the others and represents the "divine light". It is not often shown because it cannot be seen by everybody - only those it is revealed to through their self-giving qualities.

First, you stroll to the quays at North Shields, trying to look for Arabic-speaking sailors. Sure enough, there is exactly such a "rest home" as Brindleton postulated - a slightly ramshackle old church that has been converted into a flop house for sailors.

Monday, 3 February 2014

V: The Group Comes Together

Everybody gathers together in the room with Catherine and the painting. The Baron seems resigned to the fact that he needs your help and expertise - although goodness knows why.

Brindleton is the only one who remains absent. "Where is your military friend?" the Baron asks. "I hope he has not become lost."

Thursday, 30 January 2014

IV: Discussions and Diversions

Claspington, Brindleton, Kitson and Hodgkiss gather in the sitting room together, discussing art, France, Arabic phrases, and so forth.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Foxworth hits upon the plan of coming between the Baron's daughter and the painting. As soon as he does so, she becomes agitated. "No!" she yells and tries to crane her neck around to see it, half-standing. The look on her face is one of fear and almost physical pain.

"Please," the Baron hisses. "Stop! It has been tried! She will not tolerate it!"

Sunday, 26 January 2014

III: The Baron's Daughter

Hodgkiss examines the room he is in, but doesn't notice anything particularly amiss - it is a sitting room, with what looks like a low table, a chaise-longue, and some arm chairs, and a desk. It's dark, though, and there is no electric light in the room. He hears the door to the room next door opening and closing.

Downstairs, Claspington, Kitson and Brindleton are chatting to the butler about art. [Let me know what questions you'd like to ask Smith, if any, and if there's anything you'd like to do.]

Meanwhile, the Baron leads Foxworth up the stairs to the landing, and then opens the first of two doors, leading him in to a chamber lit by lamplight. It is a grand room, with a high ceiling, and expensive curtains.

Sitting in the centre of the room is a pretty girl, somewhere between 16 and 20, who is obviously the Baron's daughter. She is sitting in front of a painting, staring at it intently. Next to her is a trolley holding a pail of water and some glasses, and a plate of half-eaten food. There is also a bed-pan next to her.

"She's been like this ever since she saw the painting," the Baron said. "She eats and drinks in here, and...well, so you can see. If we try to remove her, she simply becomes impossible."

The painting itself is highly unusual. It is a collection of 11 people arranged roughly in a rectangle, viewed from above. Each is looking upwards towards the viewer. Their arms are linked together in a kind of web. Their faces are pale, and yet seem somehow to have a luminescent green hue lurking underneath.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

II: The Sending of a Telegram and Visiting the Baron Charles Segovia's Rooms in Newcastle

You head into Rothbury by horse and cart, driven by one of the Reverend's servants. It is a short journey, and from there you head to the post office to send your telegram. The woman at the post office tells you to call back tomorrow afternoon or the day after, when you may have your reply.

You then go to the station for the train to Newcastle, and arrive in the city in the mid-afternoon. The Baron of Segovia's residence is in the heart of Newcastle, in a large apartment with a doorman. On announcing yourselves to the doorman, he goes inside and reappears some minutes later: "The Baron would be delighted to see you," he says, although he somehow conveys the impression that the Baron actually would be anything but.

You are ushered inside and invited by the Baron's butler, Smith, into a plush sitting room with a log fire. A few moments later the Baron himself appears - a small, rather shrivelled man with squinty eyes and pince-nez. "Ah, delighted, delighted..." He says, knowing each of you. "To what do I owe the pleasure? And please, Smith, bring these gentlemen a drink. Brandy, sirs? Sherry?"

Thursday, 16 January 2014

I: The Meeting at Cragside, March 16th 1897.

The Manor at Cragside: a sprawling country mansion set in 400 hectares of gardens, forests, and trees, a short distance from the town of Rothbury. Recently inherited by the Reverend Gerald Foxworth from his deceased great-uncle, Sir Upton Foxworth, it has an extensive staff and is in excellent condition - all except for the chapel, which has fallen into disrepair.

You are gathered in Sir Upton's billiards room, at the top of the house. As well as housing a billiards table, it is where Sir Upton liked to retire of an evening and it is well-stocked with brandy, port and sherry, as well as smoking materials and a small library.