Black Lodge No.19: Exploratory Alchemy
This post serves as an introduction to the Sterritt Strategy Black Lodge 19 series. Herein contained is the introduction chapter and its related content. Black Lodge will accompany the development of a game of the same name, and hopefully in time they will grow together into one multiverse spanning several releases.
A dream darkly formed by night. Whisperings on the minds of men illuminated by oil lamp by higher powers. A vision of the Cosmos united by black rites. Such are the ways most expect mortals to find their mystic society. Alas this is the embellishment of years of Romantics and dreaming poets. Such is not the method by which Black Lodge No. 19 was formed, nor the implementation of the Black Oaths, nor by any means the adaptation of the Rites in Darkness. These were all implementations founded on the principles at the core of a pair of Gentlemen Practitioners from Cambridge, divided in belief united in goal. This is their legacy.
Queen's College, Cambridge, Great Britain: 1805
A slender man cloaked in a black mantle grips the rail of the Mathematics Bridge with his left hand. Looking down upon the surface of the river below, his mind is elsewhere. He was freshly graduated and fresher hired a new associate professor in the new field of Chemistry. His mind at the moment was thinking of what he was going to go forth and pursue. Lately the field had bored him, there was only so many times he could read what some Frenchman had discovered that had made the Royal Society quake in their boots at the implications before he was to lose purpose.
His name was Lloyd Aleister Costain, a son of the Isle of Man. More directly of a man that failed his dreams of uniting a fishing empire, succumbed to his illness and drunkenness before he could infect Lloyd with his miseries. His uncle left raising him to Eaton, and kept tuition paid. That was all Lloyd could have hoped for anything further he needed not. He was a man of twenty some years lean, learned and morose: the perfect student. He was Cambridge's golden boy while he studied, helping many professors and graduating with enough support that the College wanted to hire him. So here he was standing on the edge of his new career, everything he had ever dreamed of, only it felt empty.
He had spent much of his time here directed in his approach and in the material of his studies. Taking on the experiments others had concocted or theorized and effectively implementing them. Now that it was his time to direct his own fate he could not determine what exactly he was to do. The water rippled as a boat punted under the bridge, he was distracted from his dilemma for a moment by the sight of two students laughing as they punted along not a care in the world for their own destiny.
He needed somewhere quieter to think in, his feet and cane did his walking for him he merely counted the paces and looked to the brick walls of the Old Campus of Queens. Later he came to the heavy set doors of the library. The place he was looking for, and mentally at some level always resided in. Almost instinctively he walked to the shelves that captivated his every waking thought for years, he traced a finger across the names, Von Helmont, Boyle, and Black. These were some of his boyhood heroes, great men who illuminated the world out of the darkness of ignorance and superstition. Aye the change was a gradual and slow process but ever so slowly Britain was dragged kicking and screaming as it went head forward into a brave new world, intellectually at least.
Then he stopped in his tracks, cane slightly off the ground in his next stride. It was beautiful if it worked, if not it was at least enough of a mental cleansing to get back to the good work. He recalled a colleague beleaguering the Father of Physics for practicing pseudoscience, namely Alchemy. Now his mind was spinning on the idea that Newton, paranoid that his work would be stolen and misconstrued, every Professor's worst nightmare, had made his notes and findings in cipher and that the unintelligible babble about Greek gods and Coptic scripts were actually real Chemistry, experiments and theories, written as alchemy so none would pilfer them. There was one problem; he was in the wrong library, what he needed was at Trinity not Queen's.
Costain found that only a minor annoyance, he exited the library at a less leisurely stroll headed out onto the street between Queen's and St.Catherine's and headed towards the College. Before long he was surrounded by students in blue robes ambling around as the often do. He headed towards the Wren Library, which housed all of the elusive books, and journals Newton ever wrote as well as anything else worth reading at Trinity.
Journals as rare as these were not merely left lying about. They were stowed behind the Master Librarian's desk, chained in reserve. Something of a trifle to get to to discourage students from needless sporadic readings, less they actually learn something.
Costain approached the desk of the Master Liberian, fortunately for him he had the man himself, a frail elderly gentleman Lloyd recalled from when he borrowed material from here as a student.
"Ah, Master Costain, how good of you to make the walk up here." the Librarian said barely looking up from the logbook he was meticulously surveying. No doubt looking for who had run off with something of some moderate importance to some faculty member with clout.
"A pleasure as always sir." Costain was thinking too quickly about something just out of his reach. Costain could see the sturdy old door behind the desk which lead to the private collection named after whomever left enough money to run Trinity the longest, lately at least.
"What is it that you are here for Costain, I guess it's Professor now is it not?"
Not one of these conversations again. Lloyd had had it with the never ending droning of congratulations and well-wishing he received just when he was getting started with the real purpose.
"Yes I dare say it is. Now if I may I need to look into a manner with relation to Newton."
"Ah yes, you wish to read the journals?"
"Yes" Costain was already done with this conversation, he just wanted to reach what he was looking for.
The old man unlocked the door it creaked on its aged iron hinges the centuries of use making the door difficult to open. Then at last Costain entered the stairwell down to the achieve below Wren. There he came to a bust of Newton denoting he was in fact in the correct department. Costain's cane clicked sharply on the tiled floor at a steady driven pace until at this point it stopped as suddenly as it was uncanny. Here they were a series of black leather notebooks. Taking up most of a bookshelf. Here was the repository of most every thought left of one of the greatest minds in the whole of history. Here were the rough books that provided the burden of truth that backed thoughts as monumental as Newtonian Physics, Calculus, and all other ponderings of the man Costain took to be his inspiration. Yet here I am not to pick through the celebrated and the known, but the shunned thoughts, those of practices unscientific and quiet likely mad.
He open one of the journals and by a stroke of luck it was what he was what he was looking for. The uneven scrawl of Newton was difficult to decipher, even as glyphs and letters, let alone what those letters actually read. The true issue What made the issue truly infuriating was that none of it made any inherent sense. It was a pigeon, a mash of letters and symbols and pieces of almost words from Coptic, Greek, and Latin scripts. Presumably some of this was in English.
If I can prove this is but a rouse it will cement me as a name worth knowing at least.
Costain took the notebook he was examining, technically it was supposed to stay here, but he was going to see what he could do to examine it more closely. He was always glad that Queen's and Trinity did not have any noteworthy bad blood. Colleges at Cambridge always had tumultuous relations, for reasons as varied as buildings blocking other college's views, rowing competitions, or just the general struggle for brilliant minds and resources. If this were St.Catherine's Costain would have to pocket this and run for the door, given that this was Trinity he hoped for a more legal borrowing.
He climbed the stairs looking back only once when he had the most peculiar feeling that something, no someone, was watching him. He called out only to hear his dull echo muted by the shelves of material.
Costain felt uneasy as he opened the reinforced door to Wren Library. The Librarian was back to reading, lost in some logistical nightmare, probably caused by some lazy assistant, or pilfering student.
Costain cleared his throat and inquired, "Is it at all possible to borrow something from that section."
The old man looked up at Costain with an expression that could have been considered lethal. "Absolutely not! Do you have any idea how valuable these are? It's bad enough I have to track down some babblings of a Flemish monk from the late Dark Ages, but if I had to go looking for Newton's own... The Master of Trinity would call for my head! Now if you are done making a mockery of your position. Good day to you sir."
And with that he retired to his townhouse for the evening. Book still in his possession. It was buried deep in his overcoat's pocket until he entered the building. It was a stout sturdy built brick building. Located near to Queen's on Downing Place a quick but notable walk from Trinity. His mind was preoccupied with all manner of possibilities.
There was a problem though, ciphers. Costain had little knowledge of how to unscramble the mess of letters into words that meant anything. Newton had clearly applied some method of cipher to this. That is unless the word 'OHYZQVF' meant anything to anyone. This took awhile to understand. The Latin and presumably English seemed to have been scrambled, and possibly interchanged. Newton was already well known for his use of ciphers. Costain was of the opinion that his logic was obscured by a mistake in the understanding of the cipher.
When he reached his desk, which was already cluttered with papers and books, which were unceremoniously cleared by stacking them on the floor. Costain then copied a section over to a spare scrap of parchment. Then he determined to see if it used rotate thirteen. Replacing each letter with its alphabetic opposite. That turned the a word from something much like the above to: 'BUSMILDE' still nonsense.
Frustrated Costain then determined there had to be another part of the cipher being implemented. He had figured the first part of the issue, but alas there was still something obscuring the meaning. He stood thinking of the letters. They were clearly moved from the order they were meant to be read as. The only question was by which method were the being scrambled. Then he attempted all manner of rearranging the letters. In Latin nothing much made sense. English provided some relief 'Sublimed' an odd word for many but often used in alchemy.
Costain let out a curse. So Newton used the terminology of his time surely he did not believe in it's nonsense. He carried on the process across the page, found a number of words had to be Latin. Odd it made some bit of sense given allocations for the language of the time. The experiment in question seemed nothing out of the normal, a simple mixture of basic elements. Then it was to be burned, and apparently produce a thick smoke.
Well let's see if Newton knew his chemistry.
Every good chemist worth his salt ought to have themselves a laboratory of sorts in their residence. Or so at least were the words that Costain lived by. He ascended into the room in the attic which he allocated to serve such a purpose. He lit the lamp took the parchment over the workbench and sought to what materials he required, Sulfur, Tin, soot or Carbon, and salt. Costain had everything he needed in these regards. He set them and began weighing out the measures called for. Then came the mixing he used a mortise and pestle probably much like s Newton had.
He began the process of grinding and stirring the substances together. Carefully trying to make sense of it all. Then he reached a problem, Vulcan. What did that mean? After a bit of argument he determined to burn it. and thereby brought a match to the lamp and then introduce the substance to the flame.
It was largely inert. Perhaps he means heating.
Thus Costain poured the substance into a vial and held it over the fire. The substance began to lose their crystalline structures becoming a liquid. Then he drew it off the fire and let it cool. It had become a solid again after a few minutes. Then Costain determined to light it. The vial was pushed from his grip and smoke billowed through the room. Costain coughed heavily as it filled the air quickly filling the attic. He collapsed fading into an unconscious state.
Lloyd awoke with a start. The morning light entering through the east window. He descended wondering what all had happened. He entered his room, and wondered why all the papers had changed around on his desk. Clearly he was delirious, perhaps even dreaming. Then he noted a copy of the Times was on top. He paused, he had not grabbed a paper recently. Boorish fear mongering things they were in wartime. A dream perhaps, only one was to know for sure?
Then he scanned the cover. Napoleon Stabbed to Death by German Nationalist! Clearly I need to relax more... wait... I can read in a dream? Then he read a date June 13th 1809. No this cannot be correct. It is 1805 as clear and simple as my diploma on the wall. He glance up at the now dusty frame it hung in. Confused he fled the room paper in hand to the parlour below. Outside his window crowds were gathering cheering at the news of the death of Napoleon. The Wars are over? If this is not a dream, what is it?
He glanced back at the paper. Apparently one Friedrich Staps had stabbed' the Emperor' in the heart while he was on parade in Austria after some great victory over the Austrians, apparently while local Germans up rose killing several French soldiers before Staps was killed and the revolt quelled. How does an Emperor arise out of the Revolutions of France, was this not the very fate Robespierre and others claimed to have purged so many to prevent? And odd too that a title so noble would come from... the French? Austrians clung to The Emperorship for years, a decaying and empting title. Yet France reaches it before Britain. Nonsense.
The crowd outside was jubilant and large enough to have to be sincere, he noticed his neighbors with the vague recognition that accompanied the unique place of acquaintances with academics. Mrs. Smith, wife of a colleague; Mr. whatever his name was; the old lady who he saw heading into a carriage from her house a few times in the late hours; the thick necked broad shouldered workmen he saw in the alleys around Cambridge. This was too elaborate to be staged.
He returned his gaze to the paper. Across the Germanies people were cheering for a United War against the French aggressors. Troops in Holland were closing in on the Hague. The Anglo-Iberian Forces had taken Salamanca. The Prime Minister Sir Spencer Perceval had stated to Parliament that the Wars in Europe were going smoothly, and that The Walcheren Campaign had been a masterful success of British logistics. How did we get into Holland? And what the Devil is a Walcheren? Some islet in the North Sea? An a possibly United Germany. Costain shuddered. Such a thing must be averted.
There was a knock at the door, accompanied by two more in a methodical pattern. Costain stared at the door confused, in the months he had occupied this townhouse, no one had come to visit him. He had not divulged his address to anyone in the habit of making social calls. He cautiously stalked towards the door sure to grasp his cane tightly. Through the door's peep hole he could see a heavy set man in an overcoat wearing a dour expression that seemed to be part of the nature of his face. He wore no wig, and was clearly balding. It was a face Costain had not recollection of.
In a moment of sudden and likely clueless abandon he unlatched the door opening it slowly. The older man looked to him with a smirk and quickly offered a peculiar handshake wrapping Costain's thumb and hold it at an angle. Clearly I should play along. He invited himself in nearly wordlessly as he took off his mud flecked overcoat and hung it on the rack by the door, after removing a brass and mahogany case from its breast pocket.
"We did it, old boy." He smirked while saying it, jowls fighting their dour disposition.
Costain blinked, he had never seen this man before, much less be well enough acquainted to be familiar enough to allow him in this easily. He noticed the older man glance an inquisitive look to him.
"Ah, yes, clearly... it is done" Costain stammered.
"What's the matter, boy?" his eyebrows tightened.
"Merely sidetracked, by... side projects." Costain could sense this man was not to be trifled with.
The old man chortled "Sounds like your ideal week." He opened the box drawing forth a long tube like object that permeated the smell of tobacco. Drawing an object out of his waistcoat it briefly bathed the room in a pale green light. Costain stared as he let it puff and offered him one. Costain shook his head.
"Damn shame about Herr Staps though. We could have used him." Staps, Staps... wait that was the name of the nationalist that stabbed Napoleon... that means. Costain drained of all color.
We did it. WE did it?
The image of the smoking man burned with the same green flame into Costain's vision. Then everything began to fade in a smoky haze. Costain awoke with a start back on his laboratory floor, the sun was just rising he held a broken vial in his hand.
What was that?
 An actual Experiment from one of Newton's notebooks accessed via the Newton Project: http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/texts/newtons-works/alchemical
 An attempted assassin of Napoleon, but apparently successful herein: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Staps
 In case you are as confused as our good professor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walcheren_Campaign
Thank you all for reading this will be continued into the rest of the series shortly. Please let us know how you feel about the series and any questions you may have about the Lore or its development.
My thanks for those who found typos of various natures.
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