Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. H.P. Lovecraft, Collected Letters

A Winter's Tale

He stumbled and fell once more to his knees on the stony slope. His nightshirt flapped in the grey dawn wind over hastily pulled on riding breeches. It was impossible to see through the tears and locks of hair streaming across his face.

With one arm, he pushed himself upright again and looked behind him. He could just make out through the mist his friend and servants chasing him in the half-light. Onwards! He forced himself to move, to keep ahead of the pack.

At the top of the hill he clambered onto the flat-topped stone. He knew it was where the ancients left their sacrifices to the dark god of the land, hoping and praying to be looked upon favourably by the deity and ignored. He drew a revolver from his belt and waved it at the sky.

[A lone figure crying in the wilderness] "No more!" he screamed to the heavens. "You have taken from me all that means anything. But I know your secrets. I will have my revenge!"

His face contorted in pain and fear. Wild-eyed, he threw his head back and laughed at the sun fighting to rise above the fog.

The muzzle of the revolver fitted snugly under his chin and gently, softly he pulled on the trigger.

Before the hammer fell and the lead slug tunnelled through his brain, he was tackled by his servants and forced down protesting into the moss and heather.

The polished marble slab gleamed and fluoresced in the stark purple light. Scientific instruments, flasks and other apparatus around the darkened chamber reflected the focus of the lamp's attention.

On the slab lay the naked body of a woman, her red-hennaed hair dull in comparison to the red of the meat revealed under the layers of skin carefully sliced and peeled back with care. Thin lines of blood trickled through the grooved edges of the slab and dripped into a golden jar on the floor below.

From somewhere in the shadows came and hiss, a sinister sibilance which, had the woman been capable of hearing, would have triggered unconscious memories of fear deep within her mind.

"We are now ready," it spoke again.

The parishioners, rugged against the cold, filed from the small church of mossy stones standing alone on the promontory. The wind was winter's last attempt to dominate the churchyard. It tugged at the fog which lay in the dales and valleys obscuring the land and forcing the worshippers to keep to the tracks worn deep into the limestone and granite through countless centuries. They travelled this way last week and the week before. They knew they would travel this way next week and ever more.

A cry, dismal and pained, drifted over and through the crowd. They shivered and drew their coats tighter about themselves.

"It be more cauld this year than last," they told each other.

"Aye. More cauld indeed."

A young one pulled at his mother's hand.

"What was that cry, ma?"

"Hush, bairn. 'Twas naught but t'blow."

The crowd parted and separated, each going in his or her own direction and soon swallowed from sight by the mist. The pale dawn sun struggled in vain to penetrate the greyness.

Dr Elizabeth Plummer sees an advertisement in the newspaper asking for research assistants to help with a project. The name of Arthur Gordon Paley attached to the advertisement convinces her that her meagre practice (what sane person would trust a woman doctor) can do without her for a few weeks while she makes some cash.

The others are asked by Mr Lothar Samuelson, the head of the workhouse to which they all have a connection, to absent themselves for a months or two while an investigation by several bodies of concerned citizens ('nosey busybodies') conclude their investigation of reports of missing children, mistreatment and psychological torture of all kinds rumoured to take place there.

After sharing a compartment, all step off the train at Ripon station and are met by Braithewaite, Professor Paley's butler, who conducts them by carriage to his house and grounds a little outside of the town.

Paley is in the process of packing up and moving to London for a period. Labourers lift furniture and packing crates onto a wagon.

The house is in mourning, the portrait in the hall is covered with a black cloth. Dr Imogen Wentworth sneaks a peak under the cloth and sees the image of a beautiful young woman in the full bloom of health. The nameplate states her name is 'Elizabeth.'

Paley looks and acts like nothing so much as a London businessman. He is of medium height and build and dresses well although all eyes are drawn to the black armband of mourning he wears on his sleeve.

He outlines that last time he expounded publicly a theory, he was ridiculed by his peers. This experience obviously still burns him and he's not prepared to undergo it again. Hence, he has hired the player characters to start where he started and attempt to follow the trail he blazed before them. If they come to the same conclusion. He suggests that they start where he did: a peculiar fossil in the local museum at Robin Hoods Bay.

The team can call upon him at his house in London or on Braithewaite here at Ripon for any assistance or advice. He expects the job to take no more than three months total and offers a guinea (one pound, one shilling) a week for the group to defray expenses.

Paley asks if they have any questions and, after a brief discussion and an exchange of contact details, Paley excuses himself to catch his train to London.

Samuel Tyler terrifies the removalists' boy into making a booking for them on the railway to Whitby and thence as far along the incomplete line to Scarborough as possible. The boy is also to hire a carriage to take them from the end of railway construction into Robin Hoods Bay.

William Thatcher visits every pharmacist and apothecary he can find to stock up on the nerve tonic he requires to maintain his composure and a mental order. He suspects that there will be little chance to refill his prescriptions away from the larger cities. He makes whatever excuses he needs to get storekeepers to fill the order.

The women investigators examine the library and try to make something of their new employer. He's an amateur antiquarian who's making a bit of a name for himself by showing myths of the world have a basis in misremembered or exaggerated fact. Examples include angry gods rumbling the earth before a volcano blows, etc. He has written seven books and monographs but has produced nothing in the last few years. The focus of his work shows an obvious shift over time from world-wide focus to Britain in particular. He has examined many legendary figures such as Robin Hood, St George and Arthur. His attention in his latest work turns to the regional stories.