Creaky Gloom

Gang Wars: The Story In Full (part 1)…

The roots of the Gang Wars story lie back in the many other stories written in Steelhead. From the kindap & murder of poor Li Fe in ”Creaky Gloom” to the assassination attempt on the Dragon Lady in ”Steal Head” the criminal gangs (or, more importantly, their corrosive effect on the communities of Shanghai) have been evident. I invented the Tong as a foil for my Dr Beck stories, a boogieman to provide him with something to fight against in his efforts to help the poor of Shamian Alley. I always hoped they would be used by other writers and storytellers to add colour to the city but I couldn’t have hoped for the interest that led to the Gang Wars story.

Although the Tong first made an appearance in my darkly comic & noir-esque tale Goodunnit where a Tong fence meets a very nasty end at the hands, or rather the mouth, of the Tong’s most feared killer The Voice it wasn’t until Darien Mason had them meet an angel one dark night that I began to hope they would have a life beyond my own scribblings…

The Tong

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The Yakuza

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Gang Wars

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Useful Links:

All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

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Steal Head: The Story In Full.

The great thing about multi-participant roleplay is the sheer scope & inventiveness of posts and photos that people post to their blogs. Unfortunately it can mean that it’s hard to follow the ebb and flow of the tale and sometime you can miss whole chunks. To try and address this I maintained a record of everyone’s posts and listed them in a chronological order that made sense to the tale. If you’ve never read “Steal Head” before, or are returning to re-read it, I hope this guide helps you find your way through what proved to be an amazing four months of my life 🙂

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The tale begins…

All across Steelhead, people start having nightmares… ((An OOC call to join in the nightmares!))

Dr Beck writes to the Town Council for the first time…

A vandal paints graffiti around town

A message is revealed and the Sentinel is on the case!

Dr Beck writes to the Town Council for the second time…

Dr Beck writes to the Town Council for the third time & Capt Creighton delivers a photograph…

Steal Head Arrives in Town!

Lunar calls for an expedition to the site of the photograph.

Dr Beck writes to the Town Council for the fourth time & Capt Creighton delivers a photograph from the expedition…

More from around Steelhead on the spate of vicious murders! ((An OOC call to join in the murderous fun!))

Dr Beck falls to the creature and a rescue is undertaken.

The end of Steelhead’s nightmare, yet Ya Yiwama claims one final victim…

In the murky waters of Steelhead’s Shanghai port, the legacy of evil battles on…

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Steal Head: The End.

All “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.

Snatched From Steelhead: Chapter 3 – Back to New Babbage

The owl gazed at Dr Beck with eyes as inscrutable as time itself. For his part, Beck stared back with his one open eye full of confusion and sleep. He propped himself up on his elbows and blinked a few times. The owl sitting on the back of his chair failed to vanish and instead stared coolly back him.

“Erm, hello?” Beck mumbled. The owl blinked once very, very slowly. “You’re one of the Mayor’s owls, aren’t you? One of his messengers?”. Blink. Beck stood up and gingerly walked towards the owl as if it were a fiver pound note on a windowsill in danger of blowing away. The owl just sat and watched him. “Do, er, do you have a message for me then?”. Blink. Beck waited. The owl watched him. Beck shuffled his feet a little. The owl tipped his head almost imperceptibly in such a way as to make Beck feel decidedly nervous. “If you do, may I have the message, please?” he asked. The owl did nothing for a very, very log second before tucking its beak under its wing and pulling something small out from its feathers and flicking it towards Beck. The still sluggish doctor missed it and it fell to the floor at his feet. He bent to examine it and saw it was a small, folded piece of paper roughly half an inch square and one eighth of an inch think. “Thank you. Does the Mayor expect a rep…?” he stopped as his hair was ruffled a sudden breeze and he looked up to see a small cloud of soot fall from his chimney as the owl left. “…ly. I’ll take that a no, then” he completed to himself. He looked at the paper in his hand for several seconds before unfolding it. It was a letter from the Mayor himself, handwritten in his swirling spidery script…

To: Dr. R. Beck.
No. 13 Shamian Alley, Shanghai, Stlhd.

Dear Sir,

Following your rather vocal appeals to the citizens and civic leaders of New Babbage over the recent incident involving one Captain Kuroe I have been visited by a representative of Mayor Tenk who wished to discuss the matter as well as possible solutions.

To cut a long tale short the accused will receive a fair trial in a location still to be decided (although I favour Steeltopia, it is possible that Caledon may be chosen). In the meantime, and following rumours not only of limb amputation but also of beatings meted out to the prisoner, I have agreed you will travel to the William Wilde Hospital in New Babbage and act as his personal physician and, after a fashion, his guard until the trial is completed and justice seen to be done.

I realise you are a busy man and therefore I have booked you on the noon steamer from Steelhead Harbour to Clockhaven.

Travel well and I know I need not remind you to uphold the proud reputation of our city at all times and be the best ambassador we can expect, so I won’t.

Respectfully yours,
TotalLunar Eclipse.
Mayor of Steelhead & Environs.

Beck read and re-read the letter several times as the full weight of its message sunk in. He had to go back to Clockhaven. Today. Now. He had to pack. He had to be ready and on that steamer in time, Steelhead was counting on him. “Oh God, I need a cup of tea,” was all he could say.

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Half an hour after the Clockhaven Queen had paddled away from Steelhead and out to sea with a nervous Beck onboard a tall, worried Chinese man was knocking on the locked surgery door. He was scared and upset. Back at home his wife had sunk further in to the darkest places of her mind and had become all but lost to him. He was sure she was in danger from herself and he needed the English doctor to come and help. The doctor had been so good to his wife since their child had been snatched and killed. The doctor would be able to help. The man knocked louder, “Dr Beck! Dr Beck! Li Fe father! You come help Dr Beck! Please come help!”

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To be continued…
All the “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The background to the Ashiko Kuroe case can be found here.
2) Captain Kuroe’s letter to Steelhead can be read here.
3) The appointment of Mr Byron Wexhome by Mayor Tenk can be found here.
4) Mr Wexhome’s initial investigations can be read here and here.
5) Mr Wexhome’s proposed Plan can be read here.
6) The terrible tale of poor Li Fe can be read here.
7) Dr Beck’s near-fatal last trip to Clockhaven is journaled here.

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Mutations: Chapter 3 – Smoke and Water

Beck rode back in silence; both rider and mount had a lot to think about and the winding path around Spirit Lake and back home afforded them plenty of time to do it in. Once they reached the blacksmith outside Shanghai, Beck passed his surefooted steed back and retrieved his bicycle for the last part of his journey through the tunnel and onto the rickety wooden bridges that clung to the side of the crowded harbour. Normally he cycled slowly along these, having more than once nearly tumbled over the edge in the past, but now he peddled urgently with a seemingly scant regard for his safety. He’d been eager to get back to his practice before nightfall but something he’d seen when he looked at Antfarm had shaken him to the core and now he had a very different destination in mind.

Down in the belly of Shanghai, as night seeped its way across the water and squeezed itself into the alleys, snickets & ginnels criss-crossing between buildings, parents fussed and worried over their children. Those rich enough set guards to watch over their wards whilst others less well off locked and barred their homes and prepared to spend another uncomfortable night propped up in a chair with a gun nestled on their lap. The parents in the slums had no such comforts, and indeed, far more reason to worry. Their homes could not be barred and bolted, the heaps of rotting wood and crumbling brick they had no option to live in couldn’t even keep the night breeze out, let alone a child-snatching nightmare. They couldn’t afford gaurds to patrol their streets and watch their windows. Oh they had tried, exhausted men and women banding together after long, hard days in the cannery. They took hour long shifts from their precious sleep to walk the streets and alleys and watch over their sleeping children, but the Tong smelt money and sent in their thugs to deliever a series of painful lessons; pay us to protect your streets or no one protects them. Now families gathered even more tightly together, taking it in turns to sleep through the darkness of the night whilst someone sat awake, boning knife or fish-hook at the ready.

Beck could taste this atmosphere, could taste the fear and anguish and resentment, and it made him sick. Not since Manchester had he felt such terror infesting one place and he’d been living in it every day and every night since little Li Fe’s bones had been brought to his surgery. Well not tonight, he had decided. He couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t take the constant pall of dread, the sense of impotence, the bloody memories. Not tonight. As the sun set behind the harbour, the shadow cast by the glorious Sun Tower falling across the slums as if to deny its wretched residents any crumb of comfort by cutting off their light first, Beck propped his bicycle against the rear of the Dragon Lady’s hotel and slipped in a secret door.

“Ahhh, Meester Smeeth, welcome back,” the greeter’s tone a perfect blend of ice cold warmth, his spell gutting fish had apparently worked wonders on his attitude. Beck all but ignored him and instead allowed himself to be led through the heady, sickly smoke to a cot by one of the pipe girls. Unlike the poor women owned by the Tong, the Dragon Ladys girls were never forced into anything as seedy as common prostitution. That wasn’t to say such a path was closed to them, but if they chose it they ceased to be pipe girls and instead moved behind the curtain, deeper into this dimly lit underworld, and became concubines, dreams wrapped in flesh and silk, soft-skinned angels bestowing their graces upon mere mortals. Beck had always resisted their siren song no matter how insistent the call, but despite his resolve in his mind he was an adulterer; another failing, he thought, to add to his legion. He climbed into his allocated cot and loosened his collar while the girl handed him a pipe and turned to leave. As she walked away, her hips swaying back and forth beneath her exquisite red hanfu, Beck tried to ignore the knot of desire that twisted in his groin and the shame that it brought. Instead, to block it out, he put the pipe to his lips and drew in a cloud of sweet, thick smoke. Somewhere deep in his brain the rational, lucid, controlling part of him collapsed like a marionette having its strings cut. He was free once more…

The smoke moved about him and through him. It infused his skin and flesh and bone, it swirled into his ears and nose and mouth filling him up with warm water from the bottom of the ocean. He was a fish swimming through himself in the depths of his own smoke and he was empty of purpose and memory as he drifted on strange currents, uncaring and unknowing. Until the hand. It reached through the smoke and the water and caressed his cheek, rocking him, tugging him. He turned away, pushed it aside. Not here! Not now! The currents raced and he pushed off into them, determined to get away, to stay free! But the hand was fast and strong. It fought for him, grasping and grabbing. He swam and dodged, flipping and wheeling to get away but it was tricksy and swift. And then, it had him. Strong fingers took hold of him and held him fast.

“Dr Beck…?” words darted around him, quicksilver through the smoke and water. He opened his eyes, staring up from the murky depths and into a woman’s face. For a moment he couldn’t place himself, a young well dressed white woman here? What would a respectable woman be doing here?

Er, yes? What can I do for you Miss…?” his mouth felt strange and full of seaweed and fish scales.

“Rhianon Jameson,” she said offering a gloved hand and Beck moved his own dull, dead hand to meet it, “I was hoping you could help me find someone. It’s quite important.”

“Hmm, yes, who is it?” he mumbled.

“A man who goes by the nom de plume the Scientist. He apparently knows some powerful medicine. I must find him, and time is running short.”

Beck’s face froze. Him! This woman was looking for him! God help her because if she found him no one else could. “I’m, ahhh, afraid I don’t know anyone with that name,” he tried to sound as sober as possible, please believe me please believe me please believe me he thought.

“You lie, sir. I can see it in your face,” her voice had a steel-edge that matched her eyes.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know…” A wave caught him, currents and undertows pulling him away as he started to drift off. The hand grabbed him again, he opened his eyes and she had him by the arm, anchoring him in the swell of the opium’s ebb and flow.

“Dr. Beck!” she was angry now, “You call yourself a medical man; you took an oath. And yet you are willing to let a man die – for what purpose? To protect the Scientist?”

One of the attendants appeared by her side, politely asking that she stop but she was having none of it. Around the small den people in various states of drug-induced apathy were gawping at the most unusual scene unfolding, all except Beck. He was staring at his hands as if trying to remember what they were called. No, not to protect him, he thought, to protect you! “Dangerous,” he said at last.

“I understand danger. I can take care of myself. Just tell me where he is!” Her tone was diamond hard.

“I don’t…know. I really don’t. He didn’t want anyone to find him. All I know is…Babbage…” Beck mumbled through the fog behind his eyes.

“New Babbage? Where?”

“Hmm, not sure. Find…” his voice trailed away as a wave narcotic slumber crashed against the rocks of Miss Jameson’s enforced lucidity. The attendant called for reinforcements. Footsteps coming near. He must warn her. He must.

“Find who? The Scientist?”

“No, not him. Find Lo Ping. Elderly chap. At least I think so…can’t really tell. He’s the only one…only one…who knows how to locate Scientist. SssssallIknow. Nowleavemealone.” Beck’s connection with the world was severed. The waves roared over him and pulled him far out to sea. The woman became but a distant speck on the horizon, a pinprick of light lost in the stars who were themselves extinguished by the ocean closing over him. He sank into it, to the bottom of its warm, cosseting depths to where his beloved waited for him with their children and he was disturbed no more…

Rynes Addiction_007

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To be continued…
All the “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) For more on Miss Jameson’s hunt for The Scientist, read her blog here
2) For more on the death of the Chinese boy Li Fe, read about Creaky Gloom on this blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.

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The kindness of neighbours…

When I moved to the wilderness of St Helens I knew that food would be a problem. Of course I could go to town to buy provisions but that would defeat the object of coming out here. I toyed with asking Beck to bring what I needed on his visits, but in truth I don’t want him to visit. He’s nice enough and means well, but he is… a complication. No, I needed to be as self-sufficient as possible as possible, but even so I still needed to get food from somewhere until the land thawed out enough to plant, let alone grow, my food. So thank the gods for Mara Razor and her mill!

Situated across the mighty Spirit river from my own land, I first saw Mara’s mill in operation when I had toured the region looking for somewhere to live…
Steelhead St Helens Tour

Mara had brought in farm animals and begun to grow her own food in order to to feed the ever hungry mouths of her charges, the Scamps and urchins that had made my life in the city so difficult. Without her bravery, I have no doubt that many of these wee tormentors may have fallen to the monster Creaky Gloom!

I had Beck approach Mara with a proposal – for a modest, regular payment she would provide me with enough food to see me through winter. To my delight she agreed and ever since she has left a packed basket on her pier and all I have to do is row across and pick it up. It was just this I was doing when I noticed something rather nice – she has found a replacement for poor Horace, her donkey so cruelly killed by Gloom.
Steelhead St Helens

It fair made my day and as I paddled back to my campsite I found myself looking forward to the day ahead cutting and shaping logs for my planned cabin…
Steelhead St Helens

Steelhead Stories: The Hunt for Creaky Gloom – The Cost of His Crimes

The scamps had found Li Fe. Or what was left of him. I’d seen cannibalism before, back in Manchester, back in the dark days, back when I still had children. How in God’s Name was I going to tell a mother that her only child had been eaten by some monster from our collective nightmares?
Steelhead Stories: Creaky Gloom

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For all my Creaky Gloom posts, click here.

For more about the Hunt for Creaky Gloom read these posts:

Steelhead Stories: The Hunt for Creaky Gloom – Trouble at t’mill!

It was barely my first night in my new home and already my isolation was being disturbed. It had started during the day when I noticed some kind of kerfuffle across the water at the mill. Mara Razor’s place was being over run by children, the scamps of Steelhead and urchins from Babbage all seemed to be converging on the farm in what looked like some kind of mass exodus!

Then came the terrible sounds in the night! I rushed out of my tent and across the river I heard an animal screaming in terror and pain! I was about row over when torches emerged from the mill. I don’t know what happened, but someone, or something, had attacked Mara’s animals.

And now… now I can just make out the children all building rafts and getting ready to sail across towards me. I know I’m being foolish, I know I’m being a coward, but I can not face them! If they come this was that I am going to hide in the forest until they have gone – I know where there is an empty cave…

St Helens Stories: Strange Sounds at the Mill

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For all my Creaky Gloom posts, click here.

For more about the Hunt for Creaky Gloom read these posts:

Steelhead Stories: Something Creaky This Way Comes…

A gloom has fallen across Steelhead! A foul creature by the name of Creaky Gloom (a supposedly indestructable spirit called a Slaugh*) has followed the Scamps into the city and is preying on our children. It would seem that he – it! – has already stolen away little Li Fe from the slums and if the tales of this swine are true then the poor boy may well have been eaten!

No one is entirely sure what this Creaky Gloom wants, but there are reports from New Babbage (where the monster was first seen) that he is on the hunt for a scamp named Quill, but for what nefarious reason no one knows.

I’ve had some posters printed and hopefully we can get enough of them around town to warn the children. Get a copy here and spread the word!
Steelhead: Creaky Gloom

The sheriff has asked for people to remain calm and not take the law into their own hands, but I seriously doubt he can stop parents desperate to protect their off-spring from taking drastic steps. I have a horrible feeling that things are going to get much worse…

* He’s unlike any Slaugh I’ve encountered before – back in Manchester, the Slaughs came across the water from Ireland at Feg’s call as massed clouds of screaming, hungry ravens that stripped people of their flesh (and more) leaving terror in their wake.