Black Lodge No. 19: Parlour Games

Black Lodge No. 19: Parlour Games

Before I can get to the meat of the matter I must first address my undying gratitude to all those involved in the drafting, editing and review process to help make this project successful.

Namely Ms. Hannah St.George for her early edits and commentaries, which greatly reshaped this piece and Miss Sara Shore to whom I owe the fact anyone can actually read this in a manner that is capable of being understood. Thanks!

Also to be noted this is the 2nd part, you can find out more about the rest of the series here: 


Part II

Queen's College, Cambridge, Year is in Question

It was a dark day in Cambridge, dreary as it always was. Queen's College was quiet this morning; the Mathematics bridge stood sturdy over the river Cam. It also held before the tide of students and Professors stumbling across it lost in their thoughts lost in dreams or thought experiments respectively. It is known after all, that dreaming professors are merely exercising less well maintained thought experiments.    

One such person, a tall, gaunt, gentleman walked cane in hand, arm along the lightly worn side rail. His mind was lost among secrets and shadows. He was Professor Lloyd A. Costain, a recently hired professor of Chemistry. His eyes were sunken and his face seemed contorted in some manner of contriving. He was, however, youthful- especially for a man of his position.

Lloyd wore a black greatcoat and scarf against the chill. His breathe hung on the morning air. The coat had another reason, it carried a pair of books. One was an innocuous sight on a Professor, Lavoisier's Elementary Treatise on Chemistry; the other was of an odder pedigree: one of Newton's less well known journals, on no mere subject as Calculus or Physics but on Alchemy. It spoke of Greek Gods and mystical proportions needed to create The Stone. Most would think this was a passing fantasy in a beautiful mind, or that the academic merely wanted to unravel the thought process of another English mind. As incorrect an analysis there has never been. It felt heavy in the breast pocket. He had technically stolen it. Or was it moreover, a liberation from one that had no use for it to one that did?  

Professor Costain was indeed looking into the arcane. His previous experiments had sparked the full range of his interest. As he walked along the wooden bridge that the students were already jokingly attributing to Sir Isaac Newton, his mind was full of calculations. He was eager to try other experiments. The only problem was the never ending logic puzzle of Newton's notes. What could have Athena or Vulcan as their stand in? And Why were pre-graduates always this dense?  He was absent-minded to the students walking past him; most greeted him kindly as most would to a favorite Professor, or at least one on whom they were relying to make the grade. Costain however was silent to them. Some thought this unusual, but they accounted it to the busy mind of an academic- one that was probably thinking of some grand experiment to present before the Royal Society or whatnot.

He had crossed into the Cloister Court, cane tapping on the paving stones as he walked. There he had finally been pulled out of his conundrum by one particular observant and curious case, a student.

"Sir. Professor Costain?"

"What is it my," He turned to meet the nuisance, he saw a young pale boy with black hair and a square jutting chin in a deep blue gown, hiding a slight limp. More importantly it was a face he did not recall. "And who might you be?"

"Byron, sir. Lord Byron." Byron.... Byron?[1]  Costain had heard of a lad by that name but couldn't place him worth a damn. Silly little lordlings were just part of the facade around here.   

"I'm here from Trinity, sir." Right, blue gowns for Trinity. Trinity. The book seemed to grow heavier in his pocket. He was just there; how could he have forgotten the robe color? That brought about much internal chastisement.    

"Of course. by whose request?" Students did not often wonder so far afield as another college at Cambridge on their own initiatives. It usually took some cajoling to convince them to go anywhere but lecture, or the nearest pub shortly afterwards.

"I'm here on behalf of Master Knox. He told me to give you this." Knox, Costain racked his brain for an image of the man and could not for the life of himself or any other recall a Master Knox. Probably some upstart Newton lover missing his material. The material I liberated. Newton's journal grew heavier. Then Costain's eyes flashed to the parchment in the youth's gloved hand.

"Yes, thank you," Costain looked up to see the swish of a blue gown as the boy was already halfway to the entrance by the Old Library, which conversely was where Costain was headed. The Professor considered the Parchment once he saw his own name, "Lloyd Alexander Costain" in a neat, if not heavy handed script. The ink was barely dry and had run on the 'y'. Whoever this Knox was, he wanted this letter to arrive quickly. And so Costain strolled to the large oak doors of the old library after slipping the letter into the pocket with Lavoisier's treatise in it, not wanting to soil anything worth reading.

He walked more briskly down the bookcases, their occupants neatly tucked into place in their usual assortment he passed the first enclave. It was full of talkative students trying to understand some author or another and those wanting to be left alone he sought the second, eyed an empty both looked it twice over to make sure no one was lingering. Taking off his greatcoat and perched it over the back of the chair, he sat down and methodically emptied its pockets of both books and parchment.

Dear Sir,

I hope this letter finds you well. I see we have a common interest in Newton. Moreover, the thought occurs to me that there may be a chance to meet another mind in Interests. Meet at 10 Mill Lane- knock thrice and say to the Doorman "Inter et tenebras lucem " He'll show you to the parlor. Oh and do keep this discreet: some of us have lives to maintain.

Until then,

Dr. James E. Knox

Trinity College

Strange, it seems there are others afoot in this study. Perhaps I shall get to know the man who also dabbles in this. Or is this all a ploy to regain Newton's notebook? Odder still a Trinity professor this far from Trinity. 10 Mill Lane was a mere few block from Queen's, after all, and not all academics have the time to punt down the river or take the long stroll. Images of chastisement flashed before his eyes, the sort of chastisement that could mean less stipend and unwillingness to offer assistance on research. Fearing for losing the mere possibility of gaining tenure before such a thing was even likely, Costain knew what he had to do.

Professor Costain worked through the rest of that day in a haze. His lecture on the nature of matter was delivered quickly and efficiently, and he handled all questions from his students in a brusque and condescending manner. Very far indeed from his typical mild mannered nature. His students noticed, though none of them felt confident enough to bring the demeanor of their lecturer into question. Most of them accounted it as stress under his newfound position, or some hitch into one of his side projects, or perhaps it was from a lack of companionship after years of cloistered academia finally affecting him. Unbeknownst to them it was entirely systemic to the need to determine who Knox was and what he knew of the studies of Newton. And more importantly had he figured out any of the equations. Had he had the visions... What would he see?

Or was this all a practical joke from some bored student at Trinity? 10 Mill Lane, it was a building secluded from the road by a surrounding courtyard. Yes, he could remember the place. He passed it often enough, as it was a block over from the Old Court and just before St.Catherine's. The thought that a member of the Trinity faculty would venture this far from their domain did not sit well with Costain.  

It was quarter of Three in the afternoon before Professor Costain had the time to cross the Old Court from his office to Mill Lane. He counted his steps, a nervous habit from his schooldays at Eton. Thirty got him to the other side of the Court, ten more to the lane, and just fifty more saw him to the gate to the courtyard. 10 Mill Lane was a grey brick building, built in similar style to much of Cambridge. The Lane of small shops and townhouses gave way to a black iron fence, cast with figures of two gargoyles rampart across the divide of the gate. They were frozen mid-snarl in cast iron, their malevolence captured in its full vulgarity. Costain waited there, hand gripping the ivory knob of his cane as he heard footsteps from one of the sides of the court. A large, heavyset man came into view through the bars.

"Wotcher?" Said a voice thick and coarse.

" Inter et tenebras lucem " said Costain crisply. He had been thinking the phrase over and over again for at least an hour.

"Ah, Master Knox will be waitin' for yah, Professor Cahz-tin, try the parlor." Damn, even the doorman knows who I am... This will prove interesting.

Costain walked across the cobblestone square. He regarded the building he was heading towards. It was perhaps thirty five feet across where the building extended as an entrance several yards out from the main wall of the building. The door was a heavy hardwood with a black iron knocker and grate above it. Above the door was the number nineteen in brass. They must have mislabeled the place during construction. Strange, the laymen here are normally more meticulous than this.

Costain knocked thrice upon the door. The sound of the knocking reverberated on the clearly cavernous room behind it at a volume loud enough to be heard through it. After the knocking, the heavy doors swung open as if on their own. Costain's ears popped as if he were leaving submersion.

The room in front of him was tiled in black and white marble alternating in a chessboard pattern offset 45 degrees from the door. The ceiling was high and vaulted, and the dimensions of the place seemed off. It was as if someone had knocked down a higher floor, but there were no marks in the white plastered walls where said floor had been. Straight ahead there were two even more colossal doors, the left was black as pitch, the right almost translucent in the sunlight creeping in through the open doors. Along both sides of the room there were two smaller, less elaborate doors leading into antechambers and presumably a living space, leaving the massive formal doors as the parlor. Costain walked into the room and noticed it was unseasonably cold as he saw his breath.

"Ah, Professor, I was expecting you." Costain nearly jumped at the sudden voice. He turned to the door on the left and noted a short fat man in a powdered wig, with a large bulbous nose that appeared to have been broken at least twice. He looks familiar...  

"Master Knox, I presume?"

"You are correct, Professor Costain. Lloyd if I recall? I see my troublemaking students can still send a missive better than study."

So he appears to be a professor. Interesting.

"Why am I here, sir? I have much to study and time is precious..."

"Yes I'm quite sure that you need more time to figure out what you've uncovered."

He knows, but how? The Librarian?

Costain noticed the fat man barely blinked. He attempted to speak a few times before uttering "I have no idea what you are referring to, sir. What is your field, Knox, if I may be so bold?"

The man barked a short chortle, and invited him into the parlor to have this discussion like civilized gentlemen, which is to say over brandy. Having done so and now in an altogether more normal and comfortable space, Costain was beginning to wonder what all was amiss in this house.

He strongly resembled the man in his...hallucination? It was no dream but that did not mean that it was some grand premonition, much less a prophecy. What madness was this?    

"Now if I dare recall you had asked me what I study," seeing the Professor nod he continued, swirling his glass, "I am a surgeon by trade, veteran of His Majesty's Navy; finally retired after the American insurrection and His Majesty's Navy could find no use for an old fat man. But I figure all of that would be utterly uninteresting to you."

Knox took a quick sip of his drink and Costain felt obliged to follow suit. It was a good vintage, after all.

"Now, as to our mutual research experiments: tell me, what do you know of alchemy?"

"An outdated name for feeble attempts at Chemistry. Surely not the sort of pursuit for a man like yourself?" Let's hope he is not one to call out my practice. He knows I have delved into the matter- best not to show that I know something may have worked.  

Knox chortled again, a sound that left impressions of a bulldog. "So you were looking to Newton for experiments that needed to be empirically disproven?"

Costain reddened a little. Hopefully the man is toying with me. "Of course, unless the man was ahead of his time in yet another field and hiding behind layers of a cipher. Which, considering the nature of Cambridge's favorite son, might yet be the case."

Knox looked at him firmly for a moment. "Tell me, what do you know of this house?"

Costain tried to remember if there was any significance to this address other than its unsettling interior. "It is just a house near Queen's to me." A previously entirely disinteresting one at that.  

"Ah, so you haven't read much into the old Hellfire Clubs then."

"A Hellfire Club?" Gentleman's clubs with a flavor of mocking Satanism, to cover up humanist ideals in less civilized times. Not the kind of thing that results in a professor gaining interest.[2]

"Yes, quite. Normally professors would have nothing to do with that sort of thing."

What parlor trick is this?  

"Pardon?" said Costain.

"I could tell what you were thinking, my boy. One with our interests ought to hide their thoughts better," Knox paused sipped the brandy and continued, seemingly in need of moistening his tongue. "Yes, up-jumped pseudo-Satanists are hardly my concern- that is, until they start unraveling reality itself."

This place is festering with madness clearly. Newton having the ability to concoct a mixture that causes one to hallucinate is one thing. Satanists blowing holes in.... did he say reality?

"And how, pray tell, did they manage that?"

Knox looked at him quizzically while sipping his brandy, "How indeed. They must have channeled a great deal of power with a great deal of recklessness."

"You don't mean to say you believe in magic, do you?"

"What's left to believe in?" Knox looked to Costain, "Follow me if you'd like, though I warn you Chemistry will seem lackluster after this."

And so the lanky man followed the blustering fat man back into the Hall, inspired on by either a moment of bravery, stupidity, or plain old wanderlust. That, or the entirely British notion of being polite even if your host is quite possibly mad.

"My associates and I acquired the place after said Lodge disbanded. We've been working to restore it to some semblance of normalcy." Knox said, slowing in pace as they reached the foyer.

"Associates?" asked Costain.

"We formed a Trust to look after this place lest it be crawling with dreaming poets and other wastrels. I am one of its two active partners. The rest rather like to remain silent."

The doorman entered through the front door. Now that Costain was paying him more attention, he noticed that the doorman had one blue eye and one brown. His neck was also almost as thick as his shoulders. He seemed to all the world a lumbering brute of a man.

"Ah, Mr.Reed here acts as the other active member of the Trust," mentioned Knox, "And helps oversee the property."

"Thank yah sah," said Reed, "Showing Professor Costain around?"

"Why yes, I dare say I am," answered Knox.

"In that case you want tah take this." The large man handed Knox a longer than usual double-barreled flintlock pistol, out from under his greatcoat. Some manner of custom order. Probably from Joseph Manton.[3] Costain knew little of arms, but enough years of academia meant one understands what a dueling pistol is, and what name should be on the case.     

"Done loaded 'em with silver, case of the things 'ind the 'oors a'ain."

"Thank you." Knox accepted the pistol and held it in his right, his left still gripped the brandy glass, gently swirling it.

"Wait, what things?" Costain looked hopelessly confused as Knox lead the way to the mismatched doors. "Gentlemen, you can stop this charade. Surely this is all a game of smoke and mirrors."

Reed looked at him sideways. "I says that meself 'till one of the things in the 'oors tried tah eat me."

Things behind doors, rooms that ought not to fit in buildings... This is a farce!

Costain remained silent as Knox pushed open the black door, entering into a long and poorly illuminated room with a central table and bookcases flanking it to either side.

"After you, Professor, unless you'd rather not tour the library?"

Costain was willing to play along. Perhaps this all had to do with some elaborate joke and that Lordling, whatever his name was, was about to round the corner to attempt to scare him. Or, more terrifying still, perhaps Knox really was a fanatical pseudo-science believing moron. Yet he was clearly important to the not-dream. Vision seemed too otherworldly to address that as.  

As he entered the room, he could have sworn he heard voices other than Knox's or Reed's. They certainly weren't his own, and they seemed to be chanting something or another. But when he listened closer, they faded into silence. The ceiling of the room was lost in darkness above in the rafters. Costain swore he was hallucinating, for it looked like there were stars in the sky of the ceiling. Returning his gaze to something more reasonable, he looked around the room. There were thirteen chairs at the long table, one had a gash in the black leather back, and all were emblazoned with the number 19.

"19 seems to be a popular number," noted Costain.

"From what I could tell they numbered their Lodge that for whatever reason. I have no inclination." he spoke in a half whisper. Costain looked to what Knox was transfixed upon: a door to the right-hand side of the back wall was adorned with two large black iron latches and reinforced with the same material in two pairs of strips across at the hinges.

"Where does that lead?" he asked.

"I don't know yet. Mr.Reed and I have only just uncovered this room last week. Took us a while to figure out how to get in here."

"How is that? The door is obviously presented in the front hall, and it had no obvious lock."

"Ah, you see we very specifically had to open the Black Door. The White Door leads to somewhere very different indeed- we'll get there later. I do believe this would better suit a learned man."

Costain was puzzled. The entrance to this room clearly had two doors on it, and there seemed to be no clear space where a room next to it would somehow deviate to. Clearly he thinks me a fool.

Then he looked to the bookshelves themselves. They contained all manners of musty leather bound tomes, most were black leather with gold script on the particular shelf he was looking at, as if it were a matched collection. He read the titles and understood Knox's interest. This particular shelf happened to hold a serialized formatted Commentary on the Notebooks of Newton. Costain pulled the book from his coat pocket, flipped through a few pages to remember the look of the short hand, and then closed it to select one of the Commentary's volumes.

"Careful now, we haven't checked these shelves as well as we should have," Knox's face was whiter than previously having lost most of its usual bluster. "Did a bit of a rushed job on cleansing and purifying in general if you ask me, but the Trust is not known for its patience."

Costain was interrupted from trying to question by a most strange mixture of knocking, banging, scraping, and some kind of guttural screaming in a language that made German sound like water music.      

"What the devil!?"

Knox leveled the pistol at the door. "The interim inhabitants of this place. I am fairly certain they're on close relations with aforementioned being, or at very least are more of that world than ours."

Costain grasped his cane harder in hand. "You mean to say you bought a house full of demons?"

That'll be the day when Cambridge has to explain that one of its buildings was not just haunted, but inhabited by beings from a Calvinist Ministers nightmare.   

"Well no, the Trust did. I merely help oversee it. I suggest we continue this back in the hall."

Costain nodded and began a slow retreat with the surgeon. Then all Hell broke loose.

Well, probably only a small part of Hell, and it probably was already loose come to think of it. The thing was tall and horned, and vaguely resembled a too large man. Its mouth was overfilled with filed long fangs for teeth. Red eyed and black as pitch, the oil lamps in the Library flickered and died as it bellowed.

Then there was the loud retort of the pistol, blasting out like cannon fire in the confined space. Dr. Knox had fired on the beast. The silver shot had taken it in the chest. Burning blood cascaded from the entry wound as the beast let out a terrible howl. Then another as the other barrel sparked to life, glancing across the monstrosity's thick skull.     

"So tell me, is this all still smoke and mirrors?" asked Knox as he traced his finger through the air, muttering something under his breath and attempting to focus. Something was coating his fingers, dripping as it went.

Costain attempted to speak, but found it difficult as he gazed into the eyes of an enraged monstrosity. Then there was a door, black with a brass knocker. Knox was midway through opening it. Costain froze- that was his own office door. He was peeking into his office, materialized from smoke between the injured creature and Knox.

"Welcome to the world of Magic, Professor Costain." said Knox, frustration half gone, "Now if you'd please, I'd rather not have to explain to Queen's why there's a fiend bleeding on their floor." The creature bellowed and broke into a charge. "Get in here, you idiot!"

Costain leapt through the door. Knox struggled to close it against the monster on the other side. Its claws were burrowing into the varnish of the door. Strange, seven fingers and is that an extra joint? Costain joined him in his effort to close it, brushing aside further inquiries.

The creature relented as another shot rang out through behind the door, louder that the two previous. Black blood ran down the clawed hand trying to enter. The door slammed, and suddenly the pressure against it faded. Costain, in what may pass for a moment of foolish abandon, opened the door again.

It opened to the lonely hallway that it normally did, the dark vaulted ceiling greeted him. They were clearly in his office. That was the hallway that lead off to the rest of the department.

"That's not possible!" shouted Costain, as he flapped the door several more times.

"That's Magic for you, Professor Costain. Full of impossible things."

 

[1] Yes, that Byron. He was, in truth, at university at Trinity at the time. For those seeking further knowledge about the poet: https://www.biography.com/people/lord-byron-21124525 

[2] Hellfire Clubs, were, historically speaking, gentleman's clubs for practicing 'less than moral' affairs. They grabbed themselves as Satanists and generally caused a raucous. Further reading on the real life Clubs: https://www.historicmysteries.com/hellfire-club/ . Author's note I do not wholehearted support the source on all things but in this they seem to half some semblance of 'evidence' remember the nature of Secret Societies while reading.   

[3] Influential British gunsmith of the period, a maker of fine pistols and other fine arms. More on him from his own company's view: http://www.josephmantonlondon.com/


Thank you for reading I am honored by the support this project has garnished in the few short weeks it has been live. Remember to join the notification list if this project interests you, and I will keep this series going on a bi-weekly basis (editing takes time). 

- John G. Sterritt

Weekly Strategist Update VI (11/13/17)

Weekly Strategist Update VI (11/13/17)

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