The scroll is translated into English. We review it, mostly Hassan and Miss Barrington.
The train will leave Lausanne at 5:40AM, so we spend the time before then studying.
Going through Italy, there will be a customs check and duties imposed. Firearms aren't really allowed. The fascists and Mussolini are on the ascension, him having been recently elected. We discuss the best ways to go through customs while not having the statue arm show up on a customs registry, maybe having Miss Edwards cast it into a plaster statue.
Bennington is willing to cover the costs for the group to get permits for the guns so we don't have to smuggle the guns in or check them with Wagonlit. Miss Barrington covers my permit, and registers me as her 'bodyguard'.
At 6 AM, our rooms are ready, and at 6:20 we're underway. From Lausanne to Milan is about 6 hours, so we get there at 12:23PM. Miss Barrington crashes in Nikolai's bed while Edwards is working on the statue-arm-covering. Some people stay up, while others microsleep, but at one point, we all fall asleep at the same time and… dream.
We're all together (sans Nicolai) in the dream on a cobblestone path with steps leading up to a platform from a lane on the edge of town. A sign reads 'Ulthar Station'. No tracks laid, though. Weird imprints vanish off to the distance on the ground in either direction. A sign on a velvet rope barrier says 'cats only'. Tons of cats here, tabbies, white, Siamese, Abyssians.
Barrington sees Sofia, and another little cat next to her as well. The kitten first and then Sofia come to us. Introductions are made, and we meet Sofia's son Blackjack. Dreamland Express is the name of the train. "The train travels all the way to the Gulf of Nodens but I'm planning on debarking at Ira." Why are the other cats not so friendly? "I've worked with humans before. I expect to see a few of them on the train – 'Mackenzie and Monsieur Karakov'" What do you do with the humans? "Both of them are here to learn. Both have spent extensive time in the libraries along the express's route. As an Ulthar cat I have sway in the stops." Sofia's willing to help us get access to the libraries. What's the cost? "We would need to work out an equitable trade. For intros, help with your studies, general guidance and touting, not much… an item of meaning… just from one of you." We ask her about the Skinless One (in arabic) and she mentions back "The Sorceror" (also in Arabic). "What I know of the Sorceror is a grisly little tale that most in Ulthar know. The tale of the Sorceror and the Crone. The Sorceror married late, and foolishly, and as a reward, he surprised his young wife with her lover, ripped the hearts from their bodies and burned them to ash. Their broken bodies, he tossed to the dogs. He didn't plan on the dead girl's mother, a crone, who prayed daily before the churches for vengeance. The church, built on an old temple foundation from the Older Gods. The sorceror saw a gemstone shaped like two hearts combined, but the crone took it and hid it, the sorceror unable to find it even after torturing her. As she burned, she mentioned "hate is stronger than love, and death stronger than life. Only in your dreams will you find it." To find it, the sorceror searched high and low, and eventually burned himself to death in his crypt in an attempt to find it.
"The sorceror speaks English just like you do" says Sofia.
How did you meet Mackenzie and Karkoff? "I live in Ulthar but my family's in Ira"
Then we hear thudding, and see coming out of the mists, 'the train'. The train is a collection of beasts from alien lands, able to move in any direction. Spherical creatures, a mass of tentacles, with a carriage on top of them. Dream carriages, they have an indistinct floorplan and can reshape as necessary. The engine beast seems to be being fed part of the second beast.
A man walks up wearing a decades old uniform of the Orient Express, introducing himself as Henri (of the Intro game!). He knew Barrington's parents, in fact! He was taken by the darkness 30 years ago, but hasn't aged since then, and has created the Dreamlands Express. Cats have a special status in the Dreamlands. When a nonhuman rides the Express, I ask them to wear a human guise. Henri believes the unique actions on the Orient Express from the intro game resulted in the odd connection to the Dreamlands Express. The Dreamlands Express stops don't parallel the real world stops. At the Gulf of Nodan, things may be unburdened from you, and you can make decisions, like whether you want to continue visiting the Dreamlands.
There are three passengers in the salon car that are from the Orient Express and have visited a number of times, that you may talk to. Mackenzie, Karkov, and Madame Bruja. Is Sofia trustworthy? "For the services that she offers. She will bring you to the libraries that pay her the most." There can be dangers to giving away something real — what Sofia asks would be valuable to a sorceror — but you should not have any enemies yet. Something real can hold magic like a cup can hold water.
Henri has seen Saroch here (Jason's character from the first game).
There are invisible attackers… they are in a plane in the sky. You can see their blood inside once they attack. (Flying polyps)
The dream ends.
Sunday January 14th, 1923
The Milan train station when we pull in is… odd. Few people, rubble in places. Conductors are confused too, going out from the train to see what's going on. Apparently the new government decided that the central station needed to be remodeled… and started by pulling everything down first. The conductor comes back and says… "There are simply no passengers boarding from Milan. There should have been a dozen. They just didn't show up."
Hassan goes out to talk to a porter — what's up? Church full like Christmas but not as many people on the streets.
Telegram from Beddows: "our friend is safe. Lantern and I travel to Edinburgh to investigate libraries."
We exit the station, and see a newspaper. Miss Cavollaro is missing, abducted FROM THE TRAIN STATION. Not been seen since she left the train yesterday at 1pm. The city around us is equally vacant. We find a taxi driver, who also doesn't know why people aren't out. His wife was crying when he left for no apparent reason. Priests were crying during mass. Last week's mass was fine — the streets were busy yesterday. "Like people roar with emotion and then do nothing"
We make it to the Galleria, which is adjacent to the Duomo… and now there are crowds in the streets. ALL the people are here. The hotel we're staying in is IN the galleria, above one of the famous cafes.
But… the people are weird… kinda spaced out. Barrington goes to one woman and asks about her kids (there are NONE) here, and the woman takes us to her apartment, getting more concerned as we draw close… then she finds the kids, is tearfully reunited… and spaces out again. Nothing obvious in the apartment that would cause weird behavior like drugs or such. Back at the plaza, Hassan shouts at the crowd "Where are your kids" and causes a mass stampede as people run to go to their kids. Emergency services respond… but not enough. And the blackshirts show up… but are actually helpful?
Miss Barrington asks the family if they had any dreams… the kids say no, the woman says she dreamed of an old friend, boyfriend, who's dead, died in the war. Woke up knowing she had to get to church — went to 3 masses, all at the Duomo. Suddenly the door flies open, a husband rushes in, makes sure his kids and wife are ok… and then he goes slack as well. The family was out yesterday but got tired so came back early from the Parco (Parco Sampione). "The lizards were singing." What? "Little chameleons, singing, just before dusk.” Glowing all colors, one I haven't seen before.
We go and find a local church near the family. Hassan goes down to the plaza and talks to the blackshirts. There was a huge protest this morning with crowds protesting that some union member was killed, around 7AM, until just before noon. Union member died last night.
In the local church, there is a priest wearing the vestments to say mass. "I abandoned my church. I went to Mass at the Duomo instead of giving Mass." He heard a female voice singing in Italian, a soprano like Miss Cavollaro. It could have been her, although he hasn't heard her. Barrington talks the priest into giving Communion.
3 varieties of affected:
- Entirely caught up
- caught up but broke out
Barrington buys earplugs for all of us on the way back to the plaza, where we regroup. Working theory is Miss Cavollaro is being used to somehow effect this spell. I put in earplugs since I don't speak Italian anyway. We go into the Duomo and it's empty. There's a man sitting in the pews — just one, not a priest. He seems normal? "I had been ill for some time, and am not now." Had tuberculosis. "We're not the only ones that are OK… there are some others that were with me at the hospital. We've stayed in connection today." He was on laudanum for the pain, as were his other sane friends. I walk around alone and confirm that we're alone in the basilica with this guy. He wants us to come meet his friends at the Teatro di Scala. Claudio is the gentleman's name.. portly, which is unusual for a TB sufferer. We go to the Scala theater, and meet a guy at the stage door, Flavio. Claudio looks at us and says "They've seen the color before", and lets them go inside. Hassan and Barrington go inside. The theater is fairly abandoned. Lots of weird props backstage. He takes them to a small group of people sitting. An Italian man, Arturo Faccia, an older Italian woman, and a set of identical male twins. Arturo somehow is talking with Miss Cavollaro's voice. "So where is the arm, Miss Meadowcroft?" Arturo: "I have a great need for the arm, the torso, and all of the pieces". Barrington refuses to tell where the arm is, and gets shot in the leg for her trouble. It's on.
We hear a gunshot from outside. I draw my gun and kick down the stage door. Edwards runs around the door and takes a shot at Benito unsuccessfully. Hassan pulls his wrench and goes after the guy on him, but then gets shot, not too badly. Bennington runs into the theater, heading for the fight. Barrington dives for cover and draws. Hassan hits the twin that shot them with a fatal wrench to the head. Barrington pops up and shoots Arturo. With his dying breath he says, "But… I was supposed to be immortal…"
Flavio is found by Bennington, hiding with some clothing mannequins in the storeroom, and Miss Edwards has Benito well in hand when I show up with a gun. She takes his brass knuckles and we gather everyone on the stage. We search everyone, using the magic hankies.
Searching the Salims: Clothes and gun, but no wallet or identifying features. Something feels weird about his chest, so I open his shirt… pustules and bone and growths… including bone growths on his… belly? The growths on the twins aren't identical.
Flavio speaks Italian and French, and the old woman speaks a number of languages… but in a man's voice.
On Arturo, in a pocket, Edwards finds something fleshy, maybe rodentish, the color of the statue material, big enough to fit into your hand. Maybe a fetal pig. Delicate, bleeding from the hole in its chest (which is located similarly to Arturo's chest).
The old woman claims to be Miss Cavollaro! But she doesn't sound… or really look… quite right. She tells a story of Flavio picking her up, then her being under a stone altar. Another man, Arturo, took her voice.
Flavio's story: He did have TB, which Arturo cured. There was a ceremony, under the church, around 2PM in the afternoon. "It's all spiraled out of control, and I didn't know what I was doing." Arturo said that the statue was here in the theater.
Benito: Flavio brought me and said that I needed to watch the back door. I'm Flavio's bodyguard.
Flavio didn't believe the Salims were all there, but thought they were mute. The old woman was once Angelica, Arturio's wife.
Arturio has a library at his house. That's worth investigating. Flavio says the torso is here, so we search, and find it – in the costuming department being used as a dummy, the 7th costuming dummy, but also the obviously glowing one.
While attempting to counter the argument that the remaining Salim is a monster that should be destroyed, Miss Barrington manages to learn the spell Control Salim. But now, she agrees that it's a temptation of power that she shouldn't have. I cut its throat.
Why wasn't Benito affected by the ceremony? Arturo gave Flavio something to give to Benito — a medallion. Barrington takes the medallion, says it's an Elder Sign medallion, and gives it to me to wear. I put it on.
We throw the Salim bodies into the furnace that heats the theater. We decide to keep Arturo's body and the torso with us, the body in case it's needed later for a spell reversal.
Us, with Hassan and Miss Barrington wounded, Benito and Flavio coming along, and a cart with two chests, one holding a torso and another a dead Arturo, leave the theater.