R'lyeh Noir
rating: +19+x

R'lyeh is risen. Cthulhu left to do whatever eldritch horrors do, not really caring about the things creeping, crawling, and thinking on the earth. Now it's thirty years later, the middle of the roaring twenties, and the risen city is filled with hopeful newcomers, jazz, booze, crime, and uncounted eldritch oddities, that luckily don't interrupt daily life too much.

It was nine in the morning, and Jim was contemplating the matter of opening a bottle of gin while puffing a cigar. His office was smokey, dark, warm, and, at least for him, unquestionably cosy; so he didn't plan to leave unless a job came around. His unhealthy train of thought was interrupted when he heard steps coming down the hallway. Unsteady but fast steps, a newcomer in a hurry. The man who came through the door a moment later certainly fit that description. An American wearing a modestly expensive suit under a dark trench coat, with an inconspicuous hat and newly wet and slimy shoes. More importantly though, he was carrying a briefcase, which he sat down onto the table before saying:

"So you're the one they call 'Slim Jimmy' around here?"

Jim gave off a pained grin, "Gutter humour."

"Well, your eye certainly looks like I've been told."

"The spoils of a bad decision. Now, sit down. What are you here for?"

The man sat down, before opening the briefcase and turning it over to Jim. Inside was a stack of documents and, on the very top, a picture. The man in that picture looked no older than forty. He had hair that was not quite short and just bright enough to not quite be blonde; a moustache just short of respectable; and a fencing scar on his left cheek.

"This is Jonathan McKenzy. He was an agent of ours some seven years ago. He's in R'lyeh since yesterday and we need him found. Or the documents he has anyway."

"Seven years is a long time."

"The picture is more recent."

"Not what I meant."

"In the war we had him bouncing around Austria and Germany. When they sent Lenin to Russia, we sent him to keep an eye on things. There he defected to the communists. Almost immediately after the war ended, they sent him back to Germany. He stuck around there for a while, but when things got dicey, he defected again. Quite extravagantly, I might add. After that, he bounced around Europe for a while. Worked for and against pretty much everyone between the Atlantic and the Indus Valley." The American sighed and paused. "We didn't really care for a long time, then it turned out that he had stolen long-lived intel from just about everyone he's ever worked for. As I just said, that's pretty much everybody. We found out when he tried to sell the stuff in Sevilla. We almost cornered him there as well, but he narrowly got away and laid one hell of a false trail. We only realized that he was on a ship to R'lyeh minutes before said ship arrived. We've done a surface sweep, but the trail ends at a pawnshop close to the port. The old lady that owns it said he had 'Literally sold everything but the shirt on his back, the trousers on his arse, and a briefcase.' That's where you come in."

Jim had lost patience and was pouring himself a glass of newly uncorked gin. "You do know he's probably on enough morphics by now that he could be a fucking cat, right?"

"Yes, we are aware. That's why we're considering outside help at all."

Jim took a sip and pretended to take a moment to think. "Finding a man like that is not going to be easy, especially if he's on morphics, which he definitely is. I have my renown for a reason, though, I might just pull it off. But it'll cost you. Half in advance and no guarantees."

Five days after taking the job, Jim was back in his office, contemplating the merits of this case, as well as his choice of profession.

It hadn't taken long for Jim to pick up the trail where the Americans had lost it. He, unlike them, knew a whole lot about morphics, the people that sold them, and what effect they usually had. From the very beginning he had suspected, that McKenzy had been unwise when he had used morphics; as spies using morphics tended to be. He had asked the hypnotist for a weak imprint, so as to keep them from identifying him later on. That had, of course, not been a very good idea.

'Morphics' were the stuff distilled out of starry black ooze from the tunnels under R'lyeh. It had found its way into just about all of the alcohol produced in R'lyeh, because a small dose of the stuff kind of just made you unnaturally expressive in a way. In a dose like that, it wouldn't grow you an extra limb or anything. If the dose was big enough however… Only the most sturdy of drunkards ever unintentionally got to a point where their body started shifting significantly, but if you took the distilled stuff, proper morphics, then the existence of your bones started to depend upon whether or not you thought you had them.

There were enough folks with a disposition that would justify using the stuff. Spies in need of a new face were rarely among them. For the stuff to work, you had to actually believe that you were what you wanted to be; and you had to keep being convinced of that until the morphics were out of your system. To accomplish that, you usually employed a hypnotist. Someone to inscribe the identity you wanted to have into your mind, so that the morphics would actually do what you wanted them to do. The issue with that was, that an imprint like that could get lost.

Jim knew that well enough from his own experience. He had tried taking morphics to lose some weight quite a while ago. It had worked great at first, but a few too many remarks about the weight loss, a few too many people greeting him as 'Slim Jimmy', and the imprint had gone to shit. It had turned out that things that one hated about oneself were a cornerstone of one's self-image. So since morphics more or less just fit your actual body to what you think you are… At least the whole ordeal had given Jim a very sharp and very weird right eye. A useful thing in his profession.

Thoughts of mistakes long past aside, McKenzy was likely experiencing something quite similar on a technical level. A vague imprint would be weak by its very nature, so from the very start Jim had suspected, that McKenzy might not be able to keep his old form from showing up once in a while. Luckily for him, that suspicion had been confirmed on that very day.

Since the job paid unreasonably well, Jim had a lot of spending money, which delighted him because it gave him the opportunity to actually use all the contacts and contractors that he knew; which was every last one of them in R'lyeh. So the first thing Jim had done after taking the job had been to send out descriptions of McKenzy and the papers he wanted to sell to every contact he had. Sure, he didn't trust all of them, but that wasn't the point. Everyone in R'lyeh that was involved with this kind of business would know, that Jim was looking for those papers and, that he was willing to make a deal if necessary. And the generous bounty Jim had placed on sightings of McKenzy would ensure, that if McKenzy showed up anywhere, Jim was likely to hear of it.

Spreading those descriptions bore fruit more quickly than Jim had expected. One of his better eyes on the streets had spotted McKenzy walking towards the Tomb Gate and was now trailing him. Of course, when Jim arrived at the scene, McKenzy was long gone. The report was invaluable nonetheless:

McKenzy had been absent-mindedly walking down Main Street towards the Tomb Gate, as those afflicted by the Waking Call tend to do. His form hadn't been entirely solid, though. It had varied between a slouched over version of his original form and a barely walking puddle of starry black ooze inhabiting his clothes. That kind of transformation was known to Jim. The morphics still knew the thing they were transforming was supposed to be vaguely human, and they knew what it wasn't supposed to be, because of the hypnotists imprint. But there was no solid sense of self that didn't conflict with the imprint, so there was nothing a new form could be built upon. The back and forth between original McKenzy and starry black ooze presumably meant that his old sense of self was occasionally returning in such force that it broke through the imprint.

Adding to that, when McKenzy finally spotted his pursuer, 'It was like his fucking spine came back all at once.' He had been all original McKenzy for a good bit after that, dodging and weaving through alleys and side streets. The watcher had managed to stay on the trail for some while after that, but it was hard to trace anyone through the narrow streets, labyrinthine alleys, and slimy tunnels of R'lyeh, so someone as experienced in running away as McKenzy would inevitably escape.

That was about all that that had amounted to, though. The clothes McKenzy had worn at the time had been found in a pawnshop not long after. But Jim had been able to draw some solid conclusions from that sighting. It didn't look like McKenzy had a significant amount of control over his form at this time. Apparently the form wasn't stable either, but rather caught somewhere in between his original form and a rather impractical non-form. It seemed sensible to assume that leaning on his experience would bring back his old sense of self. In any case, at that point it hadn't seemed that the morphics would be an issue, though that thought had ultimately turned out to be too optimistic by far.

What was certain, however, was that McKenzy was afflicted by the Waking Call. Jim had too much of a conscience to be glad that that bastard Cthulhu had forgotten to turn off his alarm, but it did tend to come in handy in his line of work. The 'Waking Call' was essentially a series of worsening nightmares, compelling you to throw open the Tomb Gate to wake the sleeper inside. Of course these days, 'the sleeper' was usually only the horse sized tentacle house cat, that Cthulhu had left behind, but that didn't make the dreams sting any less. People would likely have never started moving to R'lyeh, if throwing open the gate once wouldn't permanently relieve you of the dreams. In any case, any newcomer to R'lyeh would at some point have to wait through the mile long queue in front of the gate; which was certainly useful if you happened to be looking for them.

That night, Jim had worked his way through the extensive dossier the American had given him. McKenzy's resume certainly was nothing to scoff at. Presumably that had been the reason why so many people had been willing to work with a rogue agent like him. He spoke pretty much all European languages to a degree and the major ones fluidly; he had enough experience in locksmithing and cryptography to start a solid career in either; and he possessed some measure of proficiency with every weapon from a shiv to a stationary machine gun. In short, Jim was dealing with an experienced agent that had previously shown to be to escape just about any search.

More interesting than his adversary's skill set, however, were the events that led to him being a rogue agent. More specifically, the events around his betrayal of the communists in Germany. The Americans didn't know a lot about why McKenzy originally defected in Russia, but they seemed to believe it was because of a genuine belief in the communist cause. If that had been the case, then that idealistic fervour had not lasted long in McKenzy. Whether his defection in Germany was fuelled by pragmatism or a newfound dislike for his previous ideals, it certainly had not been impeded by any sort of remaining love for the revolution.

When McKenzy arrived in Germany, the communists there were not in a good situation. Things had started going sour from the very start, when the parliamentarian government reached an accord with the remainders of the military. The declaration of the socialist republic and all the surrounding events had ultimately turned bloody for the communists. Things had only stabilized, not improved, when McKenzy arrived there. The now firmly established parliamentarian government had incorporated most of the remaining imperial institutions, most importantly the military, the judiciary, and the police force. In essence, the communists were faced with an establishment that was firmly biased against them and on top of that, an increasingly violent right wing.

The actual betrayal seemed a lot more extreme than was typical of McKenzy. The details of the transaction were not known to the Americans. What was clear, was that, in the summer of 1920, McKenzy had sold the location of many of the communist safehouses in Germany to a high ranking police officer. The sheer number of them had been too big for the police alone to raid all of them at once. It followed, that while the police forces limited themselves to raiding the bigger safehouses in densely populated areas, they outsourced most of the remaining ones to the Freikorps. Specifically, to those Freikorps that remained active as paramilitary groups, after they had been officially disillusioned earlier that year. The sentences following the police raids were excessive in relation to the crimes at hand. The result of the less official raids had obviously been far more drastic.

How much of this, McKenzy had known ahead of time, was not clear. What was clear, however, was that his role in the raids had not remained hidden to the survivors of the ordeal. At least not to all of them. No less than five of them were known to have given chase. The paths they took around Europe were obscure and only partly known to the Americans. It was clear, though, that they crossed McKenzy's path many times. For the first few years, not much had come of that. Then one of them managed to corner McKenzy in Istanbul; then another one did in Paris; then in Kraków; then somewhere in the Scottish highlands; finally, a few weeks ago, in Sevilla. None of them had survived the confrontation.

How McKenzy had managed that, Jim wasn't entirely sure. They had crossed his path unscathed before, many times. Clearly, there was more than simple martial prowess on McKenzys part at play here. All of his pursuers had been experienced agents; all of them competent, deadly, and well connected; and luckily for Jim, all of them were described in great detail by the dossier.

Throughout the next day, Jim had received reports, not of McKenzy being sighted, but of various people asking questions about the detective hunting him. Interestingly, Jim had been quite familiar with said people and their current status.

A former student of chemistry and known revolutionary, who had been found, shot dead, in an alley in Istanbul, two years ago.

A bohemian author, who had been found dead in her hotel room in Paris, poisoned, one and a half years ago.

A former left wing politician, known to have gone underground in 1919, and who had mysteriously fallen out off a clock tower in Kraków, a year ago.

A former secretary to the chief prosecutor of Munich, who's mostly decomposed body had been found in a Scottish moor, nine months ago.

A former doctor, found floating down the Quadalquivir near Sevilla with three bullets in his chest, a few weeks ago.

Jim had looked very closely at all the dosier had to say about these people after that. They obviously shared political beliefs and a killer, but more interestingly, they had all been active in the same area before McKenzy's betrayal. The dosier suspected, that they had all been part of the same cell, and that their safehouse, located in Munich, more precisely the district Schwabingen, had not been sold out by McKenzy in his grand betrayal. McKenzy would certainly have known about it though, because, if that cell was not merely a figment of the imagination of American spies, it would have been the one that McKenzy himself seemed to have been operating from most of the time.

It seemed as though McKenzy had intentionally spared the safehouse, in which he had presumably worked with the very same five people, that were currently asking questions about Jim, when they rightfully ought to be rotting six feet under somewhere in Europe. The only reasonable explanation, was that McKenzy had attained quite a lot of control over his form after all. A kind of control that once in a while came quite easily to spies and actors. A kind of control that would make things very hard for Jim.

Jim theorized, that McKenzy had probably known these people very closely. Knowing them well enough would probably help him to put himself into their mind to such a degree, that the morphics mad him assume their form. Still, that kind of flexibility might only be the start to something much more. Spies and actors did usually know how to place themselves in a hell of a lot of roles, after all. If McKenzy got the hang of doing that to a degree where the morphics would respond, even if the role was less familiar, Jim would have a hard time. At least, he thought, McKenzy would likely not be able to keep such a form while camping in the line to the Tomb Gate, hopefully.

Jim knew a lot of people in R'lyeh, a lot of eyes and ears, and he was spending a lot of money to make use of all of them. By the end of the day, one of these investments paid out, confirming some of his more pessimistic suspicions.

The deep fisher crews were usually worth keeping an eye on, when you were in Jim's profession. 'Deep Fishers' were groups that that went down into the labyrinthine and wet tunnels under R'lyeh, looking for anything of value, be it living, dead, or somewhere in between. The job was hard and dangerous, so the crews were always looking for more hands, and they were more than willing to skimp on the bureaucracy in order to make the job more appealing. In short, it was the perfect job for someone on the down low and in need of money.

McKenzy had entirely avoided being seen by any of the lookouts in his original form that day, until he took a job with a deep fisher crew. He had appeared as a regular bruiser down on his luck at first. But he had lost focus once, while listening in on two members of the crew having a fight in Russian. Thoughts of languages and long ago days in Moscow must have taken up his mind then, because he had reverted to his original form almost entirely. It had only been a short moment until McKenzy had caught on and reigned himself in, but one of Jim's contacts had noticed and had sent someone back out to the surface with a message under pretences. Of course, he hadn't been as subtle as he'd thought he'd been. McKenzy had quickly realized he had been found, so by the time Jim had gotten there, the expedition had devolved into a manhunt through the tunnels.

The chase had taken almost the entire night. Numerous close encounters and ample trickery on McKenzy's part had made the whole thing feel like an incredibly competent game of cops and robbers. He had changed faces, laid false tracks, hidden in slimy pits waiting for pursuers to pass. He had almost gotten away a dozen times, and he had had twice as many opportunities for deadly ambushes. He hadn't used any of them though, so while Jim really had known better, by the end of the night he was instinctively acting as though he was dealing with a pacifist. He was only reminded of that 'pacifist's' kill count when he had rounded a corner, seconds from catching up to McKenzy, just to stare down the barrel of an old British service revolver.

It was at times like those that Jim was glad for his strange right eye. Most of what he had gained on that night he had read out of McKenzy in the short time they had been face to face. That eye had allowed him to see it all: That McKenzy's eyes were just a little more wet than you'd expect; that the man facing him now was entirely in the original form of McKenzy; the subtle expression of disgust on that face; the trained calm of the hand holding the revolver, despite the cold and clam. Jim had done the only reasonable thing there was to do then: Raise his hands, sit down, and cross his legs while watching McKenzy back away. Even so, Jim now knew more about McKenzy than before, and McKenzy knew he wouldn't be able to find safe employment even with the more secretive employers of R'lyeh.

The days that had followed had been slow-going. There had been two sightings, the first of which had not amounted to much, while the second turned out to simply have been the person that McKenzy had sold his clothes to, after being seen with them throughout the chase on the previous day. But Jim had eyes everywhere, so he was reasonably sure the lack of sightings were caused by McKenzy not leaving his hiding place a lot. Most of all, Jim had called in favours to put up an excessive watch of the Tomb Gate. The waking call only ever got worse over time, McKenzy would have to get there eventually. Besides, he should be running out of money by now, and there was no chance in hell he'd be able to sell his papers anywhere in R'lyeh for the next decade. Leaving also wouldn't be easy. The Americans had eyes on all the ships leaving R'lyeh. They would spot anyone on a morphic overdose. If all else failed, Jim planned to starve McKenzy out, even though his advance payment was running out at an alarming rate.

Jim perked up when the messenger came in. All news, he thought, ought to be good news by now. He only hoped it wasn't another false lead coming to take him from his cigars and his gin.

"Express mail from a certain someone." The messenger smirked.

Jim raised an eyebrow.

"The guy you've been looking for, actually. McKenzy." He tossed the message onto the desk. "He gave no return address, though."

Jim didn't quite know what to think. He stared at the envelope for a moment, as the messenger took his leave. It was too slim to be a bomb, and Jim was positively sure, that McKenzy was not versed in the newly emerging ways of calligraphic assassination. He opened it, the message wasn't long or complicated:

Meet me at the café on Prickfinger street.
19:00, today. Come alone.

Yours truly,
Jonathan McKenzy.

Jim closed his eyes and thought. It was perhaps the eighth or ninth thing that occurred to him, that it was six thirty now, and that Prickfinger Street had a tendency to move. He was out of the door in seconds.

Jonathan was sitting by a window in the café at the top of Prickfinger Street and drinking wine, while looking out over the city. The morphics were doing their thing, reminding him of painful realities. Here he sat, an amorphous blob of despair one moment, regretful old Jonathan in the next. Back and forth, back and forth. He felt the old fencing scar dig in to its old depth at the thought and wanted to cry. How cruelly useless this super weapon, he had heard so much about, had turned out to be. Change your face, be another person, just like that. Of course, it couldn't ever be that easy. How ironic, to define oneself by the very wish to be someone else.

Meanwhile, the papers in the briefcase beside him were torturing every instinct he had gained throughout his career. They shouldn't be with him, ever. He shouldn't be out here at all. The entire plan was absurd. That was part of the point, actually. More importantly, though, he had to be rid of the papers. They were worth many times their weight in gold to the right buyer, but the right buyer was nowhere near, and this cursed chase had to end.

He took a deep breath and tried to focus on the view again. The clouds above R'lyeh were turbulent as ever. In most places they were as dark as the greenish black stone most of the city was made of, but when they broke up and the sun broke through, which it always did somewhere, they were painted in shimmering oily rainbows. He blinked, and the street had moved again. There was a new view of the same grand and crooked and only partly motionless buildings of R'lyeh, and of the lights in the bigger streets, and the same shimmering sky from before.

The house below the window wasn't far off now. In fact, it looked as though Jonathan could just step through the window and be gone from here. The appearances might be deceiving, though, as they always were in R'lyeh. Still, his instincts shouted at him to take the opportunity already, seven was fast approaching, this would likely be his last chance. But Jonathan stayed right where he was, looking into his wineglass now, to banish thoughts of escape.

He heard the door open, and he heard the detective come in. Judging by the sound of his breathing, he had had to run here to arrive in time. Jonathan steeled his resolve. He turned around, his fingers quickly finding the old service revolver in his coat's pocket. The detective was standing there, looking at him with a face full of questions. The outline of the revolver was clearly visible through the pocket. Jonathan picked up the briefcase with his free hand and tossed it to the detective awkwardly, who in turn set it onto the table beside him and flipped it open. He looked at the documents for only a second or two before closing the briefcase again.

"Well, goodbye." The detective said and turned to leave.

Jonathan watched him closely until he was gone. That was that, he thought. His life's work, gone. The result of all of his sins, traded for a little peace. For the first time this week, he felt that things might work out alright for him. He took another sip of wine and looked out of the window again, watching Prickfinger street move again, and again, and again.

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