Centurion Chronicles #6: The Bloody Gambit
The Story Continues…
Each year scientists, academics, captains of industry, and other august individuals gather for the annual award of the Ziggenheim Grant. It is a sizeable cash prize, awarded to a researcher who is on the cutting edge, of the fringe, in some kind of scientific field. This year the contest is being decided at the remote castle of Himmelgerührt, located just outside of Zurich; with The Centurion Club, Trueman International, and the enigmatic billionaire Dr. Garrison Grayson putting up the funds for this years award. The current front runners are, in no particular order, Dr. Abram Brown (Dr. Grayson’s pupil with research involving organic constructs and seashells, Dr. Friedrich Zeram (considered the frontrunner with research on magnetism and how it affects human psychology), Dr. Humbaar Knichte (A geological chemist with research regarding chemical interactions between certain minerals), Dr. Micheal Gerald (a marine biologist who has learned how to communicate with dolphins in the Indian Ocean), and Dr. Roger Rox (a scientist who has created a geological catalogue of the entire planet).
Along with contestants, Judges are also selected by the Grant backers to determine the winner. This year the Centurion Club and Trueman International are selecting the judges; Dr. Grayson has elected not to suggest any judges because of his pupil’s participation and his desire to not unfairly influence the selection process. To that end Henry Smith has nominated Dr. Joseph Kenrick, Jack Scaper, Lady Laura Bancroft, and Mokgosi Ramotswe to represent the interests of the Club and to select the best candidate to win the Grant. (Mokgosi was leery of trusting Henry’s offer and of him safeguarding the Heart of Hakkar, but when he learned that Special Agent Allen Irons would be in charge of Senator Trueman’s security detail he would was unable to turn down the opportunity to face Irons again.)
The Centurions travel on the Areo Nautillus to the remote mountains in Switzerland, where Himmelgerührt stands atop an isolated, snowy mountain peak. Jeeves Cutler remarks that an oncoming snowstorm will make future travel by the airship difficult. They disembark and are greeted warmly by Dr. Grayson, where he personally greets each Centurion and remarks on some of their exploits. He then directs them inside to the Ballroom where a gathering of guests, contestants, and judges have already commenced. He remarks that he is waiting the arrival for one more guest, but plans on attending the party shortly.
The Centurions quickly split up and blend into the party. Jack takes on the disguise of a Minor Swiss Baron as he is concerned that Senator Trueman will recognize him. Mokgosi makes the biggest splash as he goes to have a pointed conversation with Agent Irons who is at the bar drinking shots of whiskey. (Henri Raoul Gaston happens to be working as a bar tender for the event.) Jack tags along behind Mokgosi, hiding himself in the crowd. Dr. Kenrick uses this opportunity to speak with Dr. Brown, who is busy stuffing his face with food at the buffet table and enjoying his drink. They begin with a lively conversation about Dr. Brown’s research; however this conversation is interrupted by Dr. Evelyn Kenrick, Joseph’s younger and very competitive younger sister. She quickly demonstrates her own superiority of the sciences, impressing Dr. Brown and embarrassing Joseph. Joseph then realized that Dr. Evelyn is representing Trueman International as a judge as she brags about winning the Ziggenheim last year. Joseph though, using his knowledge of culinary pursuits, is able to lure Dr. Brown into speaking about his work with him again; leaving Evelyn stymied.
Laura and Jeeves start to mingle with the crowd and find themselves approached by a grateful Dr. Adelaide Swann, another judge representing Trueman International, and now Captain Montgomery Swift (promoted to commanding the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment). They exchange small talk with Laura and Jeeves, where Captain Swift gossips about the formation of the The League of Nations and that the Manchester is here to act as security for its members as part of its rotation of duties. Dr. Swann then draws Laura to meet Dr. Gerald who she introduces as absolutely charming.
Joseph finds that Dr. Brown is more interested in food than in discussing his research, but Achmed Al Atrash (also acting as a judge representing Trueman International) interrupts the conversation asking for sometime with his good friend Dr. Kenrick and introduces him to Dr. Rox. Dr. Kenrick remembers reading Dr. Rox’s catalogue and with his photographic memory is able to personally recall every boring detail. Dr. Rox, familiar with Dr. Kenrick’s exploits, quickly corners him, ignoring Achmed, and begins to speak about his grand plans for a journey to the center of the Earth. He grows irate at mentioning the other competitors and stomps off when Dr. Kenrick does not show as much enthusiasm as he had hoped.
Meanwhile, Mokgosi sneaks upon behind Agent Irons as he sits at the bar, putting a knife to his back. They begin to exchange pleasantries and Mokgosi finds himself becoming strangely unnerved by Irons calm reaction to this provocation. After Irons threatens him, Mokgosi stabs him, inflicting a deep wound. Irons turns and faces Mokgosi and an aura of violence surrounds him, as the party goers shy back from the sudden violent conversation. Jack, seeing some of Irons other agents and the Senator himself beginning to approach the scene, attempts to diffuse the situation with Irons. Mokgosi, frustrated by this turn of events, stabs his knife into the counter top and storms out of the ballroom.
Jack as the Baron, begins to speak with Irons, but Senator Trueman arrives, interrupting Jack, and takes Agent Irons aside. Jack is able to ease drop and hears Trueman chewing out Irons and sending him away to get cleaned up. Senator Trueman noticed that Jack was listening in and sees through his disguise as the Barron, but identifies him as Jack’s more permanent secret identity; a reporter for the Chicago Herald. Trueman begins to speak with Jack about the stories of Jack Scaper and chews him out for not finding any more leads of the events. The Senator leaves and Jack takes the opportunity to embrace his reporter persona and ditches the Swiss Baron disguise.
Joseph notices that Dr. Knitche took the distraction as an option to slip away. He catches up to him in the hallway and attempts to begin a conversation. Knitche appears to be a shy introvert and not used to this kind of attention. He engages in little small talk, before slinking away from Joseph. Inside the Ball Room, Jack, as a reporter, takes the opportunity to approach two different groups of people. First, he engages Dr. Zeram in conversation and learns about some of his research in how magnetism affects human psychology; Jack finds him to be quite arrogant and to be a bit of a windbag. He also manages to engage Senator Trueman and Dr. Mathias. Mathias is eager to share that he is hear to present a paper and to listen to the other scientists’ research. Jack is able to notice that Trueman and Mathias appear to have a relationship of some kind, but is unable to fathom the depths of it.
Suddenly, Joseph and Mokgosi hear a chambermaid scream in the guest wing. They race to her location and find her laying on the floor in front of Dr. Knitche’s room. She claims a swarthy man dressed in a hotel uniform was attempting to enter Knitche’s room; but slapped her and ran down the hall when she approached. Mokgosi tracks his footsteps, allowing he and Jack to race after in pursuit. They follow the assailant down a twisting staircase and find that he has re-entered the party.
Jack sees a frantic Joseph and Mokgosi suddenly charge into the ballroom. He notices a swarthy individual leave through a servant door and approaches them. Joseph explains who they are chasing and Jack quickly points the way. Their conversation does not go unnoticed and Captain Swift approaches them, quickly following along, upset over the assault of an innocent woman. They follow the swarthy man into the bowels of the castle.
They follow him deeper into the castle, Mokgosi able to follow his trail through multiple servants. They come upon Corporal Fitz “Sneezy” Luckenbill, Corporal Giles “Sleepy” Pike, and a demoted Sgt. George Jefferson. Captain Swift orders them upon the manhunt and they follow Mokgosi on the trail of the assailant. The twists and turns lead them even deeper into the castle and to the boiler room.
Joseph attempts to enter, but finds that the room is full of steam and swarthy men in hotel uniforms. Joseph attempts to push past, but he is quickly rebuffed. Joseph grows more strident, when suddenly the Centurions and their allies realize that all the men have tattoos of The Brotherhood of Set. They find themselves quickly surrounded by the assassins with the searing mists acting as a dangerous barrier. Jack sends Sleepy to get the assistance of Laura and Agent Irons.
A melee ensues. Mokgosi and Joseph charge in, heedless of the weapons, swinging their fists. Captain Swift and his soldiers open fire, covering the battling Centurions. Mokgosi manages to disarm one, providing himself a pistol, as Jack distracts him. Meanwhile, armed with only a roll of quarters, Joseph continues the fisticuffs knocking assassins into the searing pipes. Mokgosi fires a shot and blasts a group of assassins with searing steam knocking them off their feet. Things quickly reach to a boiling point as a loud whistle fills the room and is followed by an explosion!
When the boilers explode Jack makes it out unscathed, Josepth gets seared rolling out and Mokgosi is able to grab a body of one of the assassin’s and use him as a human shield to shelter himself from some of the blast. The Centurions have little time to rest as they hear shooting and screams coming from the ballroom. Joseph stops to bandage his wounds as the rest of the Centurions and the soldiers charge upstairs.
Prior to the explosion, Sleepy finds Laura and Jeeves in the ballroom. He relays Jack’s message and slips off to find Agent Irons. Laura and Jeeves attempt to find the boiler room, but become lost in the twisting passageways. Providence strikes as they cross paths with a chambermaid with gold eyes. Laura has seen those before and realizes the chambermaid is none other than The Whirlwind! She and Jeeves resolve to follow her carefully.
They follow her up the winding staircase back into the guest rooms. They can hear the voices of Agent Irons and Sleepy in conversation in the hallway as Sleepy tries to convince Irons about the danger threatening the keep in the boiler room. Laura notices The Whirlwind touch a ring on her finger and she vanishes from sight! Laura quietly walks up the stairs and peers down the hallway. She can see Irons, wearing only a bloody white undershirt with his stab wound bandaged up, arguing with Sleepy.
Suddenly, The Whirlwind appears beside him and opens fire, narrowly placing a bullet in his head. Laura and Jeeves resolve to watch the fight between Irons and The Whirlwind, but Sleepy gets caught up in the middle, aiding Allen Irons. Laura opens fire and charges into the hallway, her duel pistols thundering bullets down the hallway. An odd alliance forms as Laura finds herself battling The Whirlwind by Agent Irons’ side!
An explosion from the bowels of the castle causes the entire place to shudder, briefly interrupting the ensuing gunfight. The Whirlwind takes a moment to flee down the hallway with Agent Irons and Sleepy in pursuit. Laura stops briefly in Irons’ room and steals a container of baby powder, before chasing after her in pursuit. Laura briefly loses sight of both The Whirlwind and Agent Irons, but is able to follow them to the ballroom where the party is still ongoing!
Laura rushes in seeing Agent Irons and several of his security agents locked in battle with The Whirlwind amidst a crowd of cowering people. Irons, now armed with a large machine gun, is opening fire on The Whirlwind, armed with her familiar over-sized rifle. Laura uses her grappling gun and pulls herself up onto a chandelier above the crowd. Mokgosi and Jack arrive on scene. Mokgosi, seeing the exchange of gunfire between The Whirlwind and Agent Irons becomes overwhelmed by his need for bloody justice and fires upon Agent Irons, helping The Whirlwind kill several of his agents. Jack takes the opportunity to slip unnoticed into the crowd and vanish.
Laura entangles The Whirlwind in her grappling gun suspending her upside down in the air. This does little to damage The Whirlwind’s marksmanship and between her and Mokgosi, Agent Irons ends up passing out from several gunshot wounds onto the ballroom floor. Joseph arrives in the room and begins to look through the Eye of Set and realizes that The Whirlwind is alone and there are no other Agents of Set in the room! Laura is surprised to see that the ring The Whirlwind was using is no longer on her finger and has vanished.
The Whirlwind, twisting upside down in the air, fires upon Mokgosi, wounding him severely, before she can finish him off; Jack appears in the armor of a decorative knight and charges her from across the ballroom distracting her. Laura uses the opportunity to fire a well placed shot, knocking the rifle from The Whirlwind’s hands. Mokgosi charges across the room, sliding across the floor and claims the rifle for his own. Joseph takes the opportunity to demand the Whirlwind’s surrender and she, while upside down raises her hands and complies.
The Centurions have little time to rest. Some of Agent Irons’ security detail remove him from the room; Senator Trueman demands that the Centurions hand The Whirlwind be handed over to him for custody. The Centurions balk and an argument ensues, only to be settled by Captain Swift; he points out that The United States refused to ratify the League of Nations Charter and has little authority here. He points out that the Manchester Regiment is here to help provide security and that he will take The Whirlwind into custody. Greyson is able to direct Captain Swift and his soldiers to a isolated location in the keep where they will be able to keep watch over The Whirlwind.
The Centurions then return to Knitche’s room and with the aid of hotel staff are able to enter. They find that the window is open and that Knitche left a suicide note indicating that he jumped to his death. Almost instantly the Centurions notice several irregularities. It appears their was a struggle at the open window and two people went over. They were unable to see any bodies because of the height, the jagged rocks of the mountain, and the swirling snow storm occurring outside. The letter was typed and it appeared Knitche was forced to sign it, also his research was out of order. Lastly, the Centurions found some small scrapes of odd dust that they pocketed for later examination.
Their investigation is interrupted when they hear the scream of another chambermaid. They rush to a private dining area where they see another cleaning woman screaming in terror at the sight of Dr. Gerald laying face down with Mokgosi’s dagger in his back. Senator Trueman, recognizing the knife, accuses Mokgosi of attempting to murder the good doctor. Mokgosi deflects his baseless accusations and points out that he left the knife stabbed into the ballroom counter after his confrontation with Agent Irons and anyone could have picked it up. Joseph realizes that Dr. Gerald is not dead and is quickly able to stabilize him. Greyson has some of the hotel staff move the still unconscious Gerald back to his room to help him recover.
The Centurions go to question The Whirlwind to get some answers. They finder her chained to a metal pipe sitting upon a chair, watching them calmly. She deflects most of their questions, claiming that they are all uninitiated, but admits that she was not here for Knitche, but instead for Agent Irons and the Centurions themselves. She claims her order has marked them for death as they will impeded the Day of Return. While she sheds no more information about the murders, she does indicated that in the days to come something truly wonderful and glorious is about to happen.
The Centurions leave The Whirlwind, now having more questions than answers. They return to the dining room to speak with the rest of the guests, realizing their is still a murderer in their midst.