“Four blissful days I have had to concentrate solely on my notes and experiments” writes Doctor Laburnum. Things are going well in the lab, Modo is delighted to be helping, and have his own room in the attic.
For Svetlana, the period of waiting has been rather less agreeable. She has been subjected to a personal call from Wilhemina Josephine Sophia Isabella Cranshaw – Matron of the Mourners Guild chapter house on Goosebutt Lane, Chelsea. The building is Lichgate House (once Lindsey House, a real building – Goosebutt Lane is entirely fictitious, though :)). Apparently Frank and Ernest, the ever helpful doormen of this establishment have noted and reported a number of “gentlemen” callers.
The Matron is a formidable woman, and less than impressed that Svetlana has been entertaining such “riff-raff” as Barnaby Smith, a common Undertaker, and that dastardly Erasmus Drake! Miss Cranshaw goes on at great length about how dangerous he is, and how other Mourners he’s been associated with – “you didn’t think you where the first he’s brought low, did you?” – have all “come to a BAD END, one way or another”.
“He will be the ruin of you, Miss Dasvidanya, if you continue to associate with him. And I will not allow his influence to tarnish the reputation of the Guild. He is forbidden to enter these premises, regardless of any invitation you may have extended. Likewise that foul-mouthed pest, Mr Barnaby Smith. If you must continue to associate with them, you will do so elsewhere. You will not act in a manner that brings the Guild of Mourners into disrepute, am I understood? Erasmus Drake, I remind you, is very dangerous. Very Dangerous Continue to have dealings with him, and it will end badly for you. Very badly. One way or another. Have I made myself clear?”.
Svetlana was somewhat taken aback by this tirade, and endured it with stoic reserve. “Yes Ma’am”. “No Ma’am”. All the while thinking – “Oh just get out, you dried up old has-been!”. She’d known, sooner or later, that this was bound to happen.
Mordechai made use of the time for more meditative training form Mr Gottipatti, his spiritual Guru, whilst Elizabeth continued her total dominion over her neighbours by means of endearing cheer and endless supplies of tea and cake.
On the fifth day, Armand Duval entered the city, bringing more of his feral brood to the rookery in Limehouse. THe plan swung into action. Everyone convened at the appointed stables, horses where waiting and they (Svetlana, Mordechai, Elizabeth, Dr Laburnam, Desdemona and Barnaby) rode out of the Metropolis to the copse of gnarled trees they had chosen as their ambush point. Elizabeth received word (via Lydia) that Duval had left the rookery as they where en route, and they arrive just in time to be advised that he had left the city. That gave them a scant ten minutes to take up their positions before he reached the woods.
Duval’s carriage came into view, pulled by four horses. Mordechai took careful aim, and neatly shot the coachman. He rolled off his seat and bounced along the ground, stone dead. A second shot damaged the hitching gear and the coach slewed around somewhat, before swerving to a halt, the horses straining at their harnesses.
Svetlana approached the carriage, the Doctor close behind. Elizabeth elected to remain with Mordechai, a safe distance away. Barnaby and Dee approached from their hiding place on the other side of the road. Svetlana threw open the carriage door, throwing herself aside as two quick shotgun blasts greeted her. Someone with lesser reflexes would surely have been blasted to shrebons by the assault! Dee climbed up the back of the carriage, Barnaby rushed in where Svetlana had taken cover – they’d fired both barrels, right? Shame the fetching Dhampir woman lurking in the carriage was armed with a six barrel rotary shotgun! The third blast from the gun sent Barnaby flying backwards, leaving him a crumpled, bloody mess, having taken an incapacitating torso wound!
The Doctor’s record of the battle from this point gives a wonderful impression of the chaos that unfolded, so I’ll hand over to her account.
“From this moment the sequence of events becomes unclear to me, as each of the party entered the fray, I tried to stabilise Mr Barnaby, and when I next took stock of my surroundings, Armand Duval stood atop the carriage, the limp form of Desdemona in his arms. I recall the anger that washed over me, and raising my pistol to fire twice at the vampire. I am sure I hit him, but to little effect other than to draw his attention in my direction. My struggles against him were entirely ineffectual, he bit me and I found myself struggling for conciousness. I remember Svetlana coming to my aid, and trying to shoot Duval again and apparently failing. The Vampire then turned his attention to Svetlana, and in all honesty she seemed to fair little better than I against the monstrous Duval”.
Svetlana had stepped in to the carriage doorway and dispatched the Dhampir woman with quick blows from her exculpi, Duval had heard someone on the roof of the carriage and swung out of the other door and vaulted onto the roof to deal with them. Mordechai and Elizabeth had cautiously closed the range a bit, but not much.
Duval easily bested Dee, leaving her unconscious in his arms – he was about to rip her throat out with his fangs when Mordechai shot at him – he missed, and his “shooting into melee” roll caused him to hit Dee. One fat damage roll later – fatal torso wound! “Meh,” quipped Mordechai’s player, “she’s a lousy Undertaker, its a kindness, really”. Such a wonderfully callous demonstration of “Killer Instinct” in action :)
This is when the Doctor looked up, fired and scored two hits on Duval, barely inflicting flesh wounds. He tossed Dee casually aside, and leapt on the Doctor, grappling and biting for a serious neck wound. Elizabeth couldn’t hit the broad side of anything with her medium pop-gun (uh, revolver!) and Mordechai was now trying to close in and use his axe. Svetlana lashed out at Duval, and got his attention.
He dropped the Doctor and lunged for the Mourner. A monster attack roll wasn’t worth a second chance – he was likely to hit with his numbers, regardless. An equally monstrous damage roll would have inflicted a fatal wound…
A quick going over the situation caused Svetlana’s player to deem it unlikely that forcing a re-roll (or two) would help much (she wasn’t wrong, Duval is over five hundred years old, with suitably appalling stats… she was looking at the very least a serious wound, with better than even chances of incapacitating or fatal. Hey, they knew how old he was…). She called on The Devil’s Own Luck!
Barnaby groaned. Everything hurt. He could hear fighting. Although blood pounded in his ears, he couldn’t seem to feel his chest. Standing just to one side, he saw the Doctor, her face pale, blood pouring from a vicious bite on her neck, she looked fit to collapse any second.
He observed wryly to himself that things must be in a bad way, he wasn’t even distracted by the Doctors cleavage, what with her laboured breathing and all…
Svetlana was just ahead of him, locked in combat with Duval, and though her blades flicked left and right, high and low, blocking strikes from the vampires blade as she dodged his biting lunges, she looked only to be delaying the inevitable. He could hear running feet and the sound of Lizzy firing her little pop-gun over to his left. He looked in that direction, and his eyes focused on the shattered form of Dee, an arm and her neck clearly broken, spattered with what must be most of her own blood.
Something deep within Barnaby snapped. With a bestial roar, he hauled himself to his feet, working the pump of his shotgun even as he used it to lever himself off the ground. He staggered forwards a few steps, and loomed up behind Svetlana, just as the vampire had pinioned both her arms and readied to plunge his fangs into her exposed neck. He shoved the muzzle of his shotgun into Duval’s lunging face.
“Suck on this, mate!”. BOOM!
Since this is all down to Devils own luck, no rolls were made until damage was determined – and I figured Barnaby shaking off his near deadly injury just long enough to save the day would make him especially insufferable!
A monstrous damage roll saw Duval’s head obliterated by the wounded Undertaker (On any lesser wound, I would have had Duval take flight – they would have a few attempts to take him down at range before he gained cover that blocked line of sight).
“F**K yeah” he observed dreamily, and passed out.
They had slain the ancient vampire. But at what cost? Dee lay dead, Barnaby not far from fatally wounded himself, and Doctor Laburnam and Svetlana seriously wounded, too. Svetlana decapitated Dee’s corpse, to prevent any possibility of her rising as an animate or vampire, the Doctor checked over everyone’s wounds, Mordechai and Elizabeth made the carriage roadworthy again – turns out Elizabeth knows her way around a coach and horses.
Inside they found the Dhampir woman still alive, if unconscious. They stabilised her, and gathered Desdemona’s remains before heading back to the Metropolis with their captive.
The Doctor made this sinister note as they drove home:
“It almost feels disrespectful of me, but despite our intense association, Desdemona was not human and does not require the same dignities as a human being. I have taken her corpse for further study”.
Early the next day, the peace at Foxglove House was shattered by the arrival of Erasmus Drake. He was not a happy man. He roared and raged at the party (they had all elected to stay at Foxglove House after their harrowing battle the day before), demanding that they flee at once to whatever hiding places they could find, for however impressed he might be by their prowess in destroying Duval, whom the Noctuary had been trying to find a way to deal with for some time, they had only dealt with one part of the situation.
It transpires that Erasmus (without revealing his or Svetlana’s Noctuary connections) is well informed on the doings of the master vampire, Duval. His activities have been studied at length – he has been creating a harem of “Dhampir Brides” that act as his loyal bodyguards and minions. At the heart of this behaviour seems to be some obsession threat has not yet been fathomed. This is why he visits the city to terrorise expectant mothers, that they might produce more Dhampir for him. Apparently, by means of conditioning their mental state from birth, and feeding them his blood, he is able to bend some to his will – the males and those female’s he cannot bind to his will are destroyed (Daniel was lucky, his mother was hidden away before Duval came to take her to his castle as he did when she had her first Dhampir child, Ramona).
This is all rather hazy, rules wise. Dhampir are immune to vampiric mind control powers. They also hate vampires and attack on sight. No real reason is given for the latter, though its perfectly understandable for creatures of such high passion that are aware of their own tragic past. But what if Duval is able to take them from the moment of birth, and bend them to his will? So he has brain-washed those he can, and destroyed the others. The bit about feeding them his blood is a reworking of Dracula’s ability to sense those victims (Lucy and Mina) that he had bitten. Duval gave his “Brides” his blood regularly, so that they could sense him, and come to his aid if he was in need. He is ancient, after all, so perhaps he exhibits some vampiric powers not yet observed or recorded in more youthful vampires of the last two centuries. The feral vampire children are those who where not born Dhampir, or who could not be dominated, or had been born male. As I say, all rather rules-hazy, but I was shooting for a suitably Victorian web of obsession, lust and control, and this seemed to fit the bill rather grotesquely!
They needed to flee, he insisted, because the “Brides” would surely seek to exact revenge, and there are known to be at least a dozen of them.
“Mr Drake became apoplectic with rage and horror when he found that we had one of these “Dhampir Brides” unconscious in a guest room upstairs! He insisted that we all leave, hide, and somewhat disappointingly, that we destroy the Dhampir woman" notes the Doctor in her journal.
Svetlana performed that particular deed by means of swift decapitation – they sent Bessie home, gathered up Modo, Eugiene and the Doctors Housekeeper and fled to what hiding places they could – none of them went to their own residences, renting out rooms at guest/flop houses as quickly as could be arranged.
The following morning, Erasmus Drake gathered them together and reported that six of the Brides had visited Foxglove House during the night, and then systematically checked all other known residences of the party. One of the Doormen, Ernest, at Lichgate House, had sustained serious injuries (a smashed arm that later had to be amputated) when they tried to gain entrance to Svetlana’s residence. Barnaby was nowhere in evidence – either he had crawled into some filthy rat-hole and escaped notice, or he had been found and killed.
Drake then offered to furnish them with whatever aid he could, if they chose to try and stand up to the Dhampir Brides. Various strategies for drawing the Brides out in small numbers into manageable conflicts where discussed at length, and eventually a plan emerged. A drinking establishment was chosen, close to a branch of the OUD (Ye Olde White Harte, a pub), on the basis that any serious outbreak of fighting would draw any Undertakers and similar from either the pub or the OUD.
The plan worked a treat. Mordechai approached the pub alone, and making no efforts to conceal himself. Just before he reached the pub, two of the Brides came at him from a narrow side-street. Although Lydia’s ghost was on hand to alert the rest of the party as they lurked nearby, by the time they got to Mordechai, the fighting was done. The Undertaker had shot both women dead in short order. They didn’t seem to be that much of a threat, at least in small numbers.
An anxious week passed, but no further attacks came, and there was not so much as a sighting of the Brides. A new plan was hatched. It was time to return to Kelvedon Hall. Erasmus Drake arranged for the hiring of Archibald Tuckers “Armoured Excursion Engine”, which Elizabeth elected to drive – Tucker still wanted no part of stroming a “nest of vampires!”. It was, she found, alarmingly easy, the controls consisting of two levers, which she equated to two horses pulling the contraption along. Drake also sent for two Undertakers – Graham Saunders, Albert Campbell – to join them for their foray to the Hall. That made them seven (the two new guys, Mordechai, Elizabeth, Svetlana, the Doctor and Daniel – Barnaby had still not re-surfaced, and even so, would still be recovering from his severe injuries), so they went out and hired another Undertaker at the Nearest OUD branch – Gertrude Siddall. With Lydia as well, this made them nine in all, and they surmised at least nine brides (including Ramona, Daniel’s sister), remained. Possibly more.
Using her gifts, and with Lydia’s help, Elizabeth was able to track down the mothers of two of the Brides in the spirit world, and the ghosts agreed to help by possessing their daughters if Elizabeth could weaken the veil and help them to cross over when the time was right. The Doctor seemed impressed as she noted that “Mr Saunders and Mr Campbell seem remarkably unphased by the unusual nature of our preparations” – little did she realise that they are Noctuary agents, well used to such strange goings on.
The journey to Kelvedon Hall was uneventful, if slow – the Armoured Excursion Engine may be secure, but it doesn’t get much beyond walking speed – perhaps a heady 5 or 6mph!
As they approached the gates of Kelvedon Hall, rifle shots begin to patter on the exterior of the vehicle. Watching closely through the narrow vision slits in the thick armour plating, Mordechai counted four muzzle flashes after the first shot, then flung open the top hatch, aimed at the lone figure behind the gatehouse parapet, and fired as the gunman reloaded.
The engine ground into the steel gates, and its determined force splintered the wooden beam barring the gates, and they where in!
As they disembarked, rather cautiously, into the deserted courtyard, a man opened a window on an upper floor and yelled at them to go away and leave the inhabitants in peace. This was not quite the resistance they had expected to encounter!
After some shouting back and forth, four of the Brides emerge from the Hall, led by Helena, their de-facto leader. She quickly confirms that Ramona is alive, in the “maternity ward”, standing guard over Agnes and two other girls who are due to give birth any day now. Helena also explains that whilst all the Brides could at first contemplate was revenge for the death of their master, these feelings have now faded, leaving only loss and confusion. This is most likely due to the Brides no longer ingesting Duval’s blood at regular intervals. It seems Duval keeps a dozen “Brides”, and when one he deems suitable reaches her middle to late twenties, he kills her in the hope she shall rise as a sentient vampire to be his eternal, actual, bride. So far it seems, this part of Duval’s master plan has not borne fruit.
Oddly, the party do not pursue this line of enquiry further. Elizabeth calls forth the ghosts of the three mothers, and they possess their daughters and impart such information and affection as they can. Then they fade from the aether, including Lydia, finally at peace, their children free of Duval’s depraved tyranny.
Agnes and the two other pregnant girls are more than happy to go back to London – they can’t believe they’ve escaped this nightmare alive! Ramona also agree’s to go with them, to move to the city and try to get to know Daniel better. The other Brides elect to remain at Kelvedon for now, as they are at a loss as to what to do – they have no family or connections in the city – Kelvedon and service to Duval is all they have ever known – they are afraid of the Metropolis, and its people. Except for Helena – she goes with them, with the intention of trying to keep in contact with the seven Brides who remain at Kelvedon, and work towards gently bringing them to the city at some point in the future.
All three of the pregnant women go into labour that same day, brought about by the arduous journey to London, their relief at having survived, and the shock of everything they have been through. Over the course of one busy and exhausting night, Doctor Laburnam delivers three Dhampir girls, although one of the mothers, Nancy, sadly dies shortly after giving birth, the strain being just too much for her.
After such a frantic day, the Doctor ruminates on what has happened and all that they have learned, and her final note on this chapter is as follows:
“It would appear that Duval was obsessed with creating the perfect vampire bride by brutal, convoluted means, with only a small chance of success. Quite why he should be attempting such a thing is not clear”.