BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Hex, Session XII – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Organon of Magic”

The characters in this session were:

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Hurogg, a (vaguely) human barbarian of staggering size but seemingly dim wit.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.

XP Awarded: 300 XP.

It was winter in Hex, and the city was swathed in cold, grey mist. Even the weather-witches of the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm had been unable to ward off the brutal winter storms which blew down from the Troll Country to the north. Mount Shudder was a stark white tooth, and the city itself had been blanketed in heavy snow. Though the Radula River rarely froze, this year it had become a solid sheet of ice for over a month, and a Frost Fair had sprung up on its frigid surface. While sea and river trade had been halted, a thriving winter market did bustling business on the river, tents and booths clustering around boats stuck in the ice. Children skated and played games on the ice, while carriages, ignoring the city’s bridges, conveyed people to and fro as if they river were a road.

eltham-frost

Not everyone in the city was enjoying the cold and snow. The city’s stevedores and other dock-labourers had been put out of work, as had the mudlarks who usually comb the banks for scavenged scrap. Hex’s fungoids had retreated indoors, made uncomfortable by the intense snows. The dagonians, too, had become somewhat torpid and sleepy, being cold-blooded. But the worst hit were the waspkin. The insectoids had almost entirely gone into hibernation to wait out the long winter – perhaps not too soon, considering the conflict that sprung up around Vespidae, the so-called Thirteenth Queen, who disappeared weeks ago. A few of those waspkin unable to shelter in the Nests of Stingsworth or Suckletown had died, their stiff little bodies discovered in snowdrifts.

And what of our heroes – if we should call them such?

After his guest, the Cat Prince Nahotep of New Ulthar, had spent a week at his abode before moving on to the homes of other Hexian elites, Armand had busied himself with certain experiments, using a magical window purchased from the alchemist Valdemar Sluice and certain botanical clippings the gentleman-adventurer had scavenged in his forays into the Old City, Faerie, the unreal city of Carcosa, and elsewhere. Lines of research subjects snaked from his greenhouse doors into the snow; on these he tested new concoctions distilled from the essences of love-plums and poisonous fungi and hallucinogenic sallowmoss, magically transformed through the metamorphic light of the tinted window. As he purified a batch of suicide-inducing liquid, his undead butler, the reanimated Bernard, shuffled to the door of his laboratory.

“A most unusual visitor just stopped by, sir,” the beautifully embalmed butler said. “A fox, on his hind-legs, clad in a neat waistcoat. He brought you this.” Bernard held out a small card…

Meanwhile, in Corvid Commons, Garvin Otherwise – magical thief and Ravenswing burglar – had been living a strangely uncertain life, haunted by the itching feeling that nothing he saw was real. After his visit to another reality he believed to be his home, Garvin mused that Hex itself might be nothing more than a grand illusion. Distracted though he was by such skepticism, Garvin nonetheless continued to ply his trade, purchasing a pair of goggles enchanted to see in the dark from the Midnight Market. Once back in his attic abode, the thief was surprised as a small rat scurried from a hole in the ceiling, bearing with it card in its mouth. Its eyes glittered with unusual intelligence. Garvin took the card when it was proffered; the mouse, lingering, squeaked, until the thief offered a suitable morsel by way of tip. He looked at the card…

Cephalus the dagonian – labour lawyer and martial artist extraordinaire – had a busy, if uncomfortable winter, dealing with the complaints of the city’s abruptly shiftless dockworkers. For reasons that will become clear, the currently male dagonian had a guest: a man, or man-like thing, called Hurogg, hulking and muscular, tall as a trollblood. When a dog barked outside Cephalus’ office, something tied to his back, it was the lumbering Hurogg who went to investigate, returning with the surprised and rather terrified pup in hand, which, upon release, whimpered and bounded away in relief – though not before Cephalus procured the card…

winter

We must not forget the charitable Sister, the Lengian cleric. With mounting disapproval from the older nuns of the Mother of Spiders and growing awe and reverence from the younger, Sister had taken to absenting herself from the Temple in favour of helping the frozen poor. She was ladling soup to a band of ragged urchins when a squirrel scuttled down to her, bearing with it a mysterious card. This she took, taking care to feed the squirrel, too, for its trouble.

And now, a surprise, for a person not glimpsed since the beginning of this chronicle now makes his reappearance: Alabastor Quan. It took the poor gnome rogue many months of trudging through the Whorl to finally escape its eldritch depths, lost and alone. Bjorn, he could only assume, had been devoured by whatever foul, skittering creature still stalked Alabastor himself through the dark; as for his other companions, he knew not where they had fled, or whether they still lived. Sustained on lichen and water, Alabastor grew more grizzled and more crazed. None of his thieving ways proved helpful in his escape attempts, and though the curious magical dagger he carried was strangely and blissfully quiet, he became maddened nonetheless by the endless tedium of the Whorl, till, one day, he discovered the trap’s secret, and freed himself of its hold. Returning now to the surface, he trudged through snowy streets, unclear how much time had passed, not knowing for sure if he was even the same Alabastor as the one who had entered the Old City what seemed a lifetime ago. He made for the abode of his old friend – the chambers of Yam.

But what of Yam – gnome illusionist, perennial graduate student, delver into ancient mysteries? Yam the inscrutable, Yam the ingenious, Yam the inventive? There are two Yams, now, of course: the familiar Yam we have all grown to know and love, and a second Yam, from the bucolic reality nicknamed “Arcadia,” brought from that rustic land to the bustling metropolis of Hex – a wide-eyed, only slightly bumpkinish version of Yam. Already the pair had installed a ramshackle bunkbed in their rickety Mooncross chamber. Imagine, now, their identical delight as a pair of pigeons landed on their windowsill, each carrying a card in its beak!

And yet, tragedy: only one of the cards was for Yam, the first Yam. The other card, it seemed, was for Alabastor, who, intrigued, accepted it from its pigeon carrier.

These mysterious cards, as you might surmise, bore a similar message. In Hex, there are some invitations that one simply does not ignore: the summons of the Hexad Council, for instance, or the request of the Magistra’s High Archon. The cards our heroes have received are such: the cards of Master Melchior himself, one of the most powerful archwizards in Hex, founder of Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment, a living legend in the magical community, and a towering figure in Hex’s history and mythology. It seems he humbly requested their presences, in his office at his school, in the Dreamer’s Quarter in Hex, that evening at seven o’clock. Conveniently, none of the invitees had prior appointments at this hour. And so, attending to final errands, they gathered at the gates of Hex’s oldest and most prestigious university.

Dreamers' Quarter

The Dreamer’s Quarter was a shadowy, alluring section of the city, nestled between the opulence of Fanghill to the northeast and the exotic tiers of Cobweb Cliffs to the southwest, the green gloom of the Feypark and Ambery nearby, and the whirring machines of Mainspring to the south. Despite being surrounded by such wonders, however, the Dreamer’s Quarter seems a world of its own. Its streets were almost eerily quiet – not silent, but curiously muffled. A light fog usually drifted through the streets, which were narrow and lined with trees. Ivy grew on the walls of the tall, ornate buildings, most of them five or six storeys high. There were several places of note here, apart from the prestigious Master Melchior’s school: the Institute for the Magically Insane, a large asylum for those maddened by magic, and the Gate of Horn, an extrusion of the Old City, which was said to lead into the Dreamlands themselves, but which stands shut at almost all times. The feeling here could be aptly described as sleepy.

The people here were a mix of species, but most were human, gnome, or homunculi, with a fair smattering of Lengians and cambions as well. Though certainly not common, there were also a number of unusual figures – almost certainly Fairy visitors, marked by their pointed ears, strange eyes, and garments of gossamer. Apart from homunculi the many wizards, witches, and other spell-casters who called these streets their home employed a variety of demonic and elemental servants, as well as animal familiars distinguished from strays by their elaborate magical collars bearing their summoners’ arcane marks, could be seen in the streets.

Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment was the oldest and most well-respected institutions of magical learning in the city of Hex, and thus in the world. An opulent campus whose ivy-strangled towers and domes distantly echoed the alien aesthetics of the Old City, the university lay at the heart of the Dreamer’s Quarter. Its baroque facades, broad quadrangles, and tall spires projected grandeur, gravitas, and an aura of wisdom. The university’s guardians, of course, were legendary: a pair of permanently charmed griffins, supposedly bewitched by Master Melchior himself, who stand their majestic vigil at the school’s wrought-iron gates. Within, students could be seen practicing their spells, enchanting summoned familiars or one another, or reading from weighty tomes. The pair of griffin guardians prowling at the gates spread their wings in formal but still fearsome warning as the party approached, converging on the gates.

griffin

“Who would enter Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment?” the left-hand griffin asked, regarding you with tawny eyes.

“Do you have proof of your invitation to these grounds?” the right-hand griffin sternly requested.

It was now, with keen senses prickling, that Garvin felt the weight of eyes on the back of his neck, and, glancing backwards, glimpsed a cowled figure standing atop a nearby spire – gone as soon as it was seen. The thief shivered for reasons apart from the cold as the party showed their invitations, earning entrance to the school’s grounds.

The front courtyard of the school was a grassy lawn with a small pool and well-manicured trees. At the centre stood an imposing statue of Master Melchior himself, as he appeared before his body perished and his brain was transferred into a jar of alchemical liquid: a bald, clever-looking man with a pointed beard. As is the norm, his expression seemed faintly amused and curious. The statue bore an elaborate staff in one hand. The surrounding buildings included the student residence, the dining hall, the administrative offices, the university’s fortress-like library, and the Department of Memory Magic, as well as the personal tower of Master Melchior himself. Archways led into adjoining parts of the school where additional classroom spaces, faculty offices, and other university buildings could be seen.

Students here were not just human, but of every species in Hex and beyond. A small group of dagonian students swam in the pool – a rare sight outside of Croakmarsh or the docklands. Even spot a hulking trollblood student and, bizarrely, a waspkin student in ill-fitting robes, could be seen. This latter Garvin approached, speaking in buzzing Vespine as best he could.

“Strange to hear my own language outside Stingsworth,” the waspkin student responded. The two struck up a conversation, swapping rumours of the Thirteenth Queen, and the waspkin asked to test out a spell on Garvin, who politely refused, with a promise to return on his way back. The group now made for the tower of Melchior himself. Inside, they climbed a spiral stair lined with portraits of the famous wizard till they came to the headmaster’s study: a spacious, wood-paneled room filled with books, magical objects, and other artefacts, including such oddities as a flowering plant with eyeballs for blooms, a taxidermy manticore, a collection of animated statuettes, and a small fire elemental living in a glyph-graven brazier. Sitting atop a huge desk of dark wood was a tank of alchemical liquid in which was suspended a brain – Melchior. Reading a book at the desk was a man, who stood when the group entered: a rather short, clever-looking fellow, bald, with a silvery beard and twinkling eyes, dressed in rather old-fashioned scholarly robes. They recognized this figure from the statue in the courtyard – it was the semblance of Master Melchior himself, whose body has been dead for countless years.

francis bacon

“Greetings,” Melchior said “It is good to see several of you again, and to speak to you using a more civilized form. This body, of course, is an illusion – my true self remains imprisoned in glass.” He gestures with one long-fingered hand at the brain in the jar. “Thank you for meeting me here. I have been quietly following your work here in Hex for the past year, ever since young Valdemar hired some of you to retrieve the Viridian Tablet from the Whorl. You have managed to get yourselves involved in a rather fascinating array of situations, and acquitted yourselves rather well. I have for you what you might consider a job offer, quite possibly the last you will ever need. But before arriving at my offer, perhaps you will indulge an old professor a bit of pontification about his research?”

The group indicated their assent.

“I hope I am not being immodest by stating that I am one of the most well-known wizards in Hex. Indeed, I am even older than most would guess. I was part of the original expedition that discovered the Old City in the first place, before Hex was built. I have been part of this city since it was nothing more than an archeological camp amongst the ruins. There is no one living more knowledgeable about the Librarians and their teachings than I. I have studied every branch of magical learning, and though this school is dedicated to enchantment and the magic of the mind – magic which has helped to preserve me these many centuries – I consider myself a student of all magic, of magic in its totality.

“When I was a younger man, I often delved into the Old City itself, saw with my own eyes the works of our predecessors. To those outside of Hex, our city is a place of marvels and miracles,   where nothing is impossible. Even those native to the city proudly think it a centre for magical learning, the most advanced in the world. But those of us who have studied the Librarian writings, or spent time in the city beneath, know that we have barely scratched the surface, lingering on the threshold of true understanding. True, we have mastered a few tricks, things the Librarians would have considered petty magic: reanimating the dead, summoning a few spirits from the Underworld, changing one substance into another. But our works are nothing compared to those of our predecessors, who not only visited other worlds and planes of existence, but created them, wrought whole new realities, rewrote the laws of the multiverse as they saw fit. We are but dabblers, dilettantes, neophytes. We preen and preach and lecture to our students and imagine ourselves masters of time and space and matter, but our towers of knowledge are built on foundations of sand. The more I have learned, the more I have realized how little we truly know, and how much more there is to learn.

“Now, I will be the first to admit that our species have not proven ourselves fully worthy of the powers the Librarians possessed. We are a fickle and often foolish people.   I have lived for many centuries, have seen my share of war and calamity. But I have not grown cynical, despite the horrors I have witnessed, despite our frailties and feebleness. I believe we are capable of greatness, of rising to the heights of the Librarians, even of surpassing them.  There are some reactionary souls who believe our supposedly corrupt natures mean that we should abandon our quest for knowledge, should wallow in ignorance, should hold ourselves back from understanding.   Such folk, ultimately, believe we are unworthy of enlightenment, that we must hold ourselves back from progress. There are others, too – often those who purport to be pious worshippers of the gods – who hold that there are some things we mere mortals were never ‘meant’ to know, but which should remain sacred and secret, forever beyond our reach. I cannot align myself with such conservatism. Yes, of course, magic can be dangerous, and power can be abused, and the universe is stranger than any of us dream, but that is no reason to curtail our need to better understand – and, yes, control – our reality.

“My researches into the writings of the Librarians have been extensive, but full of maddening gaps and references to missing texts. I have become aware, over the course of centuries, of a masterwork of the Librarians, a kind of cornerstone of their knowledge, the Organon of Magic, divided into thirteen volumes. Each volume of the Organon is devoted to understanding one of what we might call the ‘Greater Mysteries’ – the fundamental forces and principles underlying the nature of magic and the universe.

“Not only are these thirteen volumes individually valuable, full of the Librarians’ most complex formulations and most advanced spells, when combined together I am convinced that they would form a single, coherent theory of magic, from which could be extrapolated all sorts of new forms of magic. It is this unifying theory of magic that I have long sought. I have assembled pieces of it based on guesses and experiment and those scraps of knowledge we have dredged from the Old City, but much of it remains elusive even to me. But were I to possess the complete Organon of Magic – all thirteen volumes – I believe I could complete this unified theory, publish a New Organon, translating and explaining and expanding the knowledge of the Librarians. Such a work would revolutionize the practice of magic in Hex. Given time and careful application we might feed the hungry, cure the sick, end all poverty, and explore countless new worlds beyond imagining. I do not imagine wielding the power the Organon blithely, or for any petty end. I am not a man who covets authority for its own sake, or dominion over others. I already have all of the wealth and prestige that I might ever desire. I seek this knowledge not to further my own, private ends, but for the good of all. I know that for all your adventurousness, many of you care about more than gold. Some of you strive to improve the lives of the poor, to end oppressions that have too long endured, or, like me, to unlock the secrets of the cosmos.

“You may think this prevarication rather unnecessary, but I wish to be clear in my intentions. For, as you have doubtless guessed, I wish to employ you to procure the Thirteen Greater Mysteries of the Organon of Magic. Indeed, as it happens, you have already found the first, though perhaps you have not realized it.” He looks to Garvin. “Some time ago you retrieved the text known as the Myxonomicon – the Book of Slime – from the Old City. This is, in fact, the first of the Greater Mysteries.

“I have, in my many years, managed to amass a fortune fit to rival that of the merchant princes of Hex. Though I am not the wealthiest man in the city, I can be reckoned among its richest citizens nonetheless. In exchange for the complete Organon in its entirety, I am prepared to part with a sum that would ensure a life of comfort and leisure for all of you all: a million guineas of Hexian gold.  For each volume that you acquire, you would receive a small portion of this total – ten thousand gold pieces – but the lion’s share of the sum would be yours only after all thirteen of the Greater Mysteries are assembled.

“I have, over the years, researched the locations of the Greater Mysteries in tremendous detail, and I believe I have learned the approximate location of all but one. You would have full access to my notes and researches, to aid you in recovering the Organon. And should you require further assistance, I will do my best to provide it. However, I must caution you that retrieving these thirteen volumes would be more dangerous than any task that any of you have yet attempted. Some of you almost certainly would perish in the attempt. A number of the Greater Mysteries are held deep in the Old City, and others in places just as perilous. But none of you are strangers to danger. What say you?”

V0017640 An alchemist in his laboratory. Oil painting by James Nasmyt Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org An alchemist in his laboratory. Oil painting by James Nasmyth. By: James NasmythPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Garvin was the first to reply. “No one knows what happened to the Librarians,” the thief mused. “But some say they tampered with powers too dangerous to comprehend, or wield safely, and destroyed themselves. Couldn’t we be setting ourselves up for the same fall?”

Melchior scratched his beard. “A philosopher’s question, and a worthy one,” he said. “It is true, that is one theory – but I do not believe it. I have become convinced that the Librarians left this multiverse for one more sublime, that their departure was quite intentional. Undoubtedly, however, the Greater Mysteries are dangerous. But I will labour over them carefully before publishing my translation. Anything too dangerous I would withhold from the public, of course.”

Alabastor had his own query. “I’ve been… doubting the nature of my reality,” he said. “Is there any way to truly know that what you are experiencing is real?”

“Ah! I wrote a treatise on this subject,” he said. A book floated from the wall into Alabastor’s hands.

Sister had an alternative objection. “My worry is the opposite,” the Lengian cleric said. “How can we be sure that this great magic will actually help everyday people? How can we be sure it won’t just make the rich richer, the powerful more powerful?”

Cephalus concurred. “Yes. That was my thought, as well. It is my mission in life to help the working class. Can you promise this magic will not lead to yet more exploitation?”

“I do plan on disseminating this knowledge,” Melchior said. “But the magic the Greater Mysteries contain – it could remake this world! It could end all need for work, feed millions, clothe us, shelter us, cure what ails us. Without the need to fight over scarce resources – gold, iron, territory, even time itself – there would be no need for war, for crime, for strife. This knowledge could bring about a world of unimaginable wonders.”

Armand was more pragmatic in his questioning. “These advances you plan on giving us,” the gentleman-sorcerer mused. “I would prefer if they were… somewhat closer to a thirteenth of the total.”

“May I be frank?”

“Certainly.”

“I would not trust you not to simply retrieve one volume, collect a princely sum, and then end your quest. But I need all Thirteen Mysteries.”

“Are we not gentlemen? Surely you trust me to keep my word.”

“My good Vicomté de la Marche, were your party entirely men and women of such honour and distinction as yourself, I would have no qualms. But – and here I hope my honesty does not offend – your number also includes… well, less scrupulous individuals. This is, indeed, part of your value. But my trust can only be extended so far, I regret.”

“Very well,” Armand said, bored-sounding. He glanced at his nails. “This publication process. There will be some sort of committee? Editors and the like?”

“Yes, I imagine so.”

“I would like to be included.”

“I see,” Melchior said. “Very well. You shall all be given a chance to read the New Organon of Magic and provide your input before it is published.”

Yam, meanwhile, had conjured an illusory moustache on Melchior’s brain-jar. The enchanter’s illusion turned and perceived the trick, and began laughing uproariously.

“Ha! Hahaha… my my.” He wiped simulated tears from his simulated cheeks. “Yam. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Hmmm…” Yam thought. “This quest. Will there be cool shit?”

Melchior laughed again, a deep belly-laugh. “Of course that would be your only concern! Yes Yam, there will be cool shit indeed!” The archwizard swore with gusto. “Any further questions or requests?”

A few minor logistical details of communication were worked out. Then, abruptly, Hurogg spoke to Cephalus. The dagonian furrowed his brow, and handed a piece of parchment to Melchior.

“This potion,” he said. “Could you… make this?”

Melchior’s illusion studied the parchment, then nodded. He turned to a small laboratory occupying one corner of the study, and with astounding speed, prepared the concoction. “Here you are.”

Hurogg nodded and, carefully, handed the phial to Cephalus for safe-keeping.

“How many people have you hired to look for these books?” Alabastor asked, cagily.

“You are the first,” Melchior said. “I have sent no others looking directly.”

“Then why now? What’s special about this moment?”

“My researches into the texts’ locations has only recently truly coalesced,” Melchior replied. “But, in truth – it is you who are special, you who convinced me an expedition to obtain these texts might be fruitful. You retrieved the Myxonomicon!” He smiled. “If there are no further concerns,” Melchior said. “Are we agreed?”

One by one, the party signaled their agreement. Melchior’s illusion smiled, and took out a series of notes from his desk.

“Here are my notes on the Greater Mysteries’ locations,” he said. “Study them carefully. If you have need of anything, let me know. Good luck!”

The party took the notes and departed, descending the staircase back to the university. The notes were as follows:

The Thirteen Greater Mysteries of the Organon of Magic

Master Melchior supplies the group with notes on the location and nature of each of the Thirteen Greater Mysteries.

Volume I: Myxonomicon, The Book of Slime

Also called the Book of Slime, the Myxonomicon is a history of the extreme prehistoric ages of the world and details curious experiments the Librarians performed on forms of early life. Long thought lost, the tome has been recovered from the Old City by an enterprising group of adventurers.

Volume II: Oneironomicon, The Book of Dreams

The Oneironomicon or Book of Dreams contains much knowledge of the Dreamlands, a partially immaterial or “psychicical” plane of existence, home of the Lengians and many other creatures. The Librarians evidently had explored parts of this plane and have compiled various magical spells for manipulating it and its denizens in the Book of Dreams, which also contains magic relating to other psychic phenomena and mind-magic. I believe the Oneironomicon lies somewhere deep below the Dreamer’s Quarter itself, in the Nightmare Tunnels – likely, my researches suggest, within the Egregor Vaults, where the dreams and nightmares of those who dwell above coalesce into physical form.

Volume III: Sarconomicon, The Book of Flesh

The Sarconomicon contains knowledge of the transformation and alteration of living beings, the reconfiguration of organic matter. Though known as the Book of Flesh it could as-easily be called the “Book of Metamorphosis” or “Book of Change.” It was using formulae from this powerful text that Hex devised the terrible poisons used to curse the wretched city of Teratopolis, warping its residents into their current horrific forms. The text was long thought destroyed during the explosion that levelled the Alchemist’s Guildhouse. However, my researches have suggested that the tome may have survived, as records extracted from the Midden indicate that the grimoire was being housed in the archives below the district. To retrieve it would require delving into the tunnels beneath the scrapyard, daring the mutant vermin, ghouls, and scavenger gangs who infest the ruins.

Volume IV: Haemonomicon, The Book of Blood

Unfortunately, I believe that the Book of Blood no longer resides within Hex. The Haemonomicon contains not only the secrets of blood as a substance, but of bloodlines – the biological code from which all creatures spring, and which the Librarians could splice and intermingle as a weaver does threads of cloth. The text supposedly lays bare the very essence of life itself, the vital energy that grants living beings their animacy. The petty experiments of the alchemists in Caulchurch are but childish dabblings compared to the masterpieces of the Librarians; indeed, many believe that the various species that reside on our little world are the results of their experiments. Sadly, I have concluded that the only copy of the Book of Blood is now in the possession of the Countess Erzsébet Scarrow, one of the vampiric aristocrats of Erubescence. The Countess is impossibly old and powerful, and Castle Scarrow is said to be near-impregnable, guarded by a veritable legion of undead. It would take a small army – or some incredibly skilled burglars – to retrieve the artefact from foreign soil.

Volume V: Hylonomicon, The Book of Trees

The so-called “Book of Trees,” like the Book of Flesh, bears a name resistant to translation; it might also be rendered “The Book of Matter” or “The Book of Substance.” It contains Librarian knowledge of that which pertains to the essence of things, their basest and innermost nature, rather than the panoply of forms into which they can be shaped or the properties they may possess. Certainly, as the moniker Book of Trees suggests, the Hylonomicon relates to what might commonly be known as “nature-magic,” as well as the fabrication of objects and beings. This tome seems to have passed into the possession of the legendary cambion magus Myrddin, who, in his twilight years, became somewhat eccentric and retired to the depths of the Tangle forest, building a large manse somewhere within its depths. Attempts to locate Myrddin’s manse and recover the artefacts there have thus far met with no success, in no small part due to the malevolent Fair Folk of the Tangle.

Volume VI: Thanatonomicon, The Book of Death

The Book of Death is an extended study of endings and of magic used to create or forestall them. Unlike the Pneumanomicon, which deals with the shades of the dead, or the Abyssonomicon, which deals with Hell, demons, and the damned, the Thanatonomicon includes knowledge of preventing and circumventing death, as well as causing it, and of harnessing the peculiar energies of death. When combined with knowledge from the Book of Blood and the Book of Time, the Book of Death supposedly contains the secrets of true immortality. Unlike its sister-text, the Book of Ghosts, the Thanatonomicon has never been retrieved from the Old City, though reputedly several assassin’s guilds have been searching for it. My research suggests that the book is likely in the Dregs, the tunnels below Caulchurch, in a shrine dedicated to the Unspeakable One known as the Shrouded Lord.

Volume VII: Pneumanomicon, The Book of Ghosts

The dread Book of Ghosts contains Librarian discoveries around the nature of the soul and the liminal state between life and death, or “undeath.” The grimoire is said to contain detailed instructions on something called “ghost husbandry” – the breeding of the dead – as well as methods for calling forth the ghosts or spirits of animals and inanimate objects, such as the souls of ruins. The Pneuomanomicon was unearthed from the Old City some centuries ago and for a time resided in the personal collection of the famed necromancer Genevieve Chancel, but never became an official part of the Académie Macabre’s library. I strongly suspect the text now resides within Genevieve’s tomb within the depths of the Catacombs beneath Grey Hook. Genevieve herself gleaned much from the Book of Ghosts, but during her investigations of the grimoire she became horrified by something she read and convinced that the Pneumanomicon would be dangerous in the wrong hands; she said as much to me before passing into the next life herself. If the Book is indeed buried with her, it will be well-protected by whatever wards and protections guard her resting place.

Volume VIII: Abyssonomicon, The Book of the Underworld

While the Book of Ghosts deals with the spirits of the dead in this plane, the Abyssonomicon, or Book of the Underworld, considers the plane which some religions have called “Hell,” and the magic associated with its denizens. It seems the Librarians were aware of this plane’s existence and had certain wary dealings with the various diabolic inhabitants of that place, though based on other writings it seems clear they did not regard them with the same superstitious awe as many humanoid cultures do today.  The Book of the Underworld was reputedly used to create the Square of the Seal before the Infernal Basilica. Although my suspicions have not been confirmed, all evidence suggests that the book was stolen by the infamous rogue demon Malephar, the leader of the thieves’ guild known as the Horned League. According to my contacts in the criminal underworld of Hex, this guild is based in Behemoth Bend, near the Hellpits.

Volume IX: Anarchonomicon, The Book of Chaos

The crazed contents of the Anarchonomicon were said to be the obsession of Zachariah Soulswell, the deranged architect and one-time dictator who created Delirium Castle, and who some say resides there still. The Book of Chaos contains a Librarian analysis of entropy and disorder, and spells to control – or, rather, channel – these unruly forces of flux and decay. The constant, random growth of Delirium Castle is likely the product of the knowledge within the Book of Chaos. Though he possessed many treasures, doubtless Zachariah would keep the Anarchonomicon somewhere especially secure, such as a high tower or a treasure-vault below the fortress.

Volume X: Astronomicon, The Book of Stars

The Astronomicon contains both the secrets of light – most enigmatic of energy-forms, yet so vital to our survival – and of fate. While common charlatans will attribute all manner of superstitious nonsense to the “arrangement of the stars,” scholars know that most such fortune-tellers are naught but peddlers of nonsense. Nonetheless, it is said that the Librarians were able to use the position of the stars to divine many other truths about the nature of reality, extrapolating from their locations in space and time to help determine secrets of the primordial past or predict future events both celestial and otherwise. The Book of Stars contains many secrets of this sort. My researches suggest that the Astronomicon is located not in the Old City of Hex but in what some have termed the Vessel, the Librarian space-craft adrift at the edge of our solar system, where the text would have been used to help navigate the stars and the vast gulfs between them. Of course, getting to the star-faring craft will be extraordinarily challenging. Many have hoped to find some portal to the craft in the Old City, but no such door has ever been found. It must be theoretically possible to construct a ship of our own to reach this ancient hulk, but such an undertaking would be truly astonishing.

Volume XI: Scotonomicon, The Book of Darkness

Though the Book of Time may be more powerful and the Book of Anathema more esoteric, none of the Greater Mysteries are more feared than the Scotonomicon, the Book of Darkness, supposedly “forbidden” by the Librarians themselves. The grimoire supposedly contains rituals that surpass even the diabolic rites of the Book of the Underworld, rituals which require acts that even the notoriously amoral Librarians, who created and destroyed life on a whim, considered abhorrent. I seek this tome not to use the fell magic within it, but for the insights that the Eleventh Volume will shed upon the others, for this book, like the others, helps to assemble a complete portrait of the nature of magic as the Librarians understood it. I believe that the last copy of this sinister tome was purloined by a death-cult dedicated to the Pallid Worm, who operated outside the city in a temple-complex on the slopes of Mount Shudder. The cult was destroyed some years ago after it was found that they were performing human sacrifices and committing other heinous deeds, and their headquarters lies abandoned; the book was never found, but I suspect that the temple contains secret chambers, and its lower levels were never fully explored.

Volume XII: Xenonomicon, The Book of Anathema

Of all the volumes of the Organon of Magic, the Xenonomicon remains all but opaque to us, for the Book of Anathema contains descriptions and magic related to what many believe to be the homeworld of the Librarians, the distant plane that cosmologists have called Anathema, a place so utterly alien and other that most mortal minds can scarcely comprehend it. The Book of Anathema has never been retrieved, but my researches have led me to suspect that the tome can be found somewhere in the legendary Tower of Whispers, the strange spire within Engima Heap into whose depths even the most skilled of magic-users fear to delve, and which reputedly contain horrors and wonders beyond all comprehension.

Volume XIII: Chrononomicon, The Book of Time

The Book of Time is perhaps the most powerful of the Thirteen Greater Mysteries, containing formulae and spells that unlock the secrets of past and future. The Librarian ability to travel backwards, forwards, and sideways through time, to split and splice timelines, to loop, rewind, or freeze time, and to otherwise manipulate the fabric of time are all described in this ancient tome. The location of the fabled Chrononomicon remains lost, though the infamous witch Wilhelmina Wormsfleur, now incarcerated in Spellcage, was said to have once possessed a copy. Wilhelmina has refused to speak with me, but perhaps she could be persuaded to give up the location of the Book of Time…

still-life-with-books

The party now prepared to leave, Garvin lingering for a moment, allowing the waspkin student to charm him temporarily, before they left via the griffin-guarded main gates. As they departed Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment, a large hansom cab pulled up, its windows shrouded with black curtains. The cab was drawn by a pair of strange steeds, one a whirring mechanical horse venting steam from its nostrils, the other a reanimated horse with carefully tanned skin tattooed with necromantic glyphs. The cab was driven by a figure swathed in a grey cloak and hat, their features obscured. The door to the cab opened and a tall, curvaceous woman with midnight black skin peered out at the newly-hired adventurers. She wore a dress of Lengian silk – effectively a chic, unobtrusive suit of armour. She regarded them with startling pale eyes, inclined her head, and then retreated into the gloom of the carriage, leaving the door open. Presumably they were intended to enter…

One by one, with varying degrees of reluctance, the party entered the hansom, too intrigued to ignore whatever mysteries it held. Inside, the carriage was revealed as far larger than its exterior dimensions would suggest, with a dozen padded leather seats. The windows were shrouded with curtains, but also seem to be warded to obscure the city outside.  The woman was seated on one of the luxurious seats, a drink in hand; a homunculus in a smart little suit was here as well, a bottle of wine in its gnarled hands, and offered a drink to any who wish, though none chose to partake.

“You may call me Caligina,” the woman said. Her voice bore the trace of an unplaceable accent. “Members of my organization are not usually forthcoming about our affiliation, but in this case, it has been decided that an exception should be made. I am an agent of the group known as the Velvet Shadow.”

None of them were ignorant of this name, though it was known especially to Alabastor and Garvin – the Velvet Shadow was known throughout Hex and elsewhere, for they operated far beyond the walls of the city. They were a mysterious guild of spies and assassins who are said to have agents everywhere – from the homes of the elite and in the darkened alleys of the seediest slum. Their fees were exorbitant, but they could be hired either to procure information or for more violent ends – though they had been known to refuse certain contracts for reasons they do not disclose. It was widely rumoured that they recruited out of both the Courtesan’s Guild and the universities of Hex, seeking those skilled in the seductive and magical arts.

“I know that you have just been to visit Master Melchior,” Caligina said. “I know the offer he made to you, and that he has told you what he knows of the Thirteen Greater Mysteries. The Velvet Shadow would like to make you a counter-offer.”

Outside, the sounds of the city were muted and distant-seeming.

winter 2

“No doubt Melchior’s offer was enticing,” Caligina said. “The Velvet Shadow is prepared to match his sum. In addition, after receipt of the full Organon of Magic, you will each be able to make a single request of the Shadow, free of charge. If you wish to learn some secret, we will discover it for you. If you wish someone dead, we will kill them for you.

“We do not seek to impugn the nobility of Melchior’s motives. Though he is powerful, it is not power itself he craves, but knowledge and understanding. But this thirst for knowledge can make Melchior blind. He has sought hungrily after it these many years of his life, and made the city what it is today. In many ways it is a city in his image, devoted to the ideals he cherishes: enlightenment, rationality, wisdom. But as you all know, Hex is more than its academies. Crime, corruption, violence – all have flourished here, in the shadow of Melchior’s spires. It was with the magic Melchior helped discover that the Elder Trees were first tapped of their sap and the waspkin cast from their homes. It was the delving that Melchior began that unleashed the Plasmic Woe that remains trapped in the Warded Ward. The diseases of those penned in the quarantined zone of Catch-All are not natural plagues, but infections born in alchemical cauldrons, or carried up from the darkness of the Old City. Melchior considers these things unfortunate, but he does not acknowledge his part in creating them. They are the by-products of his enterprise.

“I am sure Melchior sought to dismiss these very concerns by telling you that seeking knowledge and progress are worthy ends, and that those who naysay such endeavours are reactionaries and cynics. But the Velvet Shadow shares in Melchior’s belief that knowledge is always worth seeking. We are, after all, a society of spies. Discovering the forbidden and the secret is half our purpose and livelihood. Nor do we shirk from the exercise of power, as the other half makes clear. But we have never sought to control the city – rather, we help to maintain the balance of power, to tip the scales in important moments.

“If you bring the Organon of Magic to Melchior, I have no doubt he will compose his new translation, publish, disseminate the secrets he gleans, and those with the learning and means to use that knowledge will exploit it. The city will change, as it has done before, and will again – but, at the end of the day, the divides will only deepen, the powerful growing yet more powerful.

“If, however, you instead bring the volumes of the Organon to us… we will keep them safe, protected. We will study them closely, and, when we judge the time to be right, we may reveal them, carefully, to those who can be trusted with the power they contain. This is, after all, our trade – the obtaining, keeping, and revealing of secrets.”

The party considered this information carefully, weighing Caligina’s words. Alabastor spoke, voicing the objection many were thinking.

“What – what is your vision?” He asked. “What’s your endgame here? Melchior seems to want a magical utopia. But what do you want to do with all of this knowledge?”

“A worthy question – and one I can answer simply: nothing. We do not intend to use the Organon at all, but to keep it safe, and secret – protected.”

“Melchior has promised us editorial input,” Armand said. “Can you promise us the equivalent?”

“I will have to speak to my superiors,” Caligina replied. “We would not stop you from reading the texts, studying them, offering your opinions. But our plan is not to release the Greater Mysteries, but to keep them hidden, and safe.”

“Why hire us?” Cephalus asked, suspiciously. “You’re so well-trained, experts. Surely you could retrieve these texts.”

“Our numbers are few,” she said. “And our training… extensive. We cannot afford risking our operatives on such dangerous missions. We wish to hire you for the same reason as Melchior: because, ultimately, you are both capable and expendable.”

“Were your agents watching us?” Garvin asked. “On a tower, before entering Melchior’s School, I saw a grey-cloaked figure.”

Caligina frowned. “We watch everyone,” she said. “But we didn’t have an agent posted there. That wasn’t us.” She smirked. “You wouldn’t have spotted our agent.”

The other party members mulled this over.

“You need not decide immediately,” Caligina said, as the carriage stopped before Armand’s house. “But we will be waiting.”

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2 Comments

  1. D.Skelector

    The staging (mise en scène I would say) is quite artfully done! Bravo!

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