Last time the Company, or the Pius Cabal, as they are often referred to now, traveled to the city of Victoria, killed Akkran the slaver, and took control over his house.
We started with a few hours of calm, where the Company sat down in the late slaver's throne room and laid out their combat-strategy and discussed the order of things.
They were interrupted by one of the marines who reported that there was enemy activity on the square in front of the slaver's house. Just when the soldier left the room, someone else entered.
The uninvited guest was a young man, extremely beautiful, dressed in a black silk tunic with silver embroideries, and a luxurious cape, draped around him like a tunic. He seemed at ease in the situation, and spoke with a deep, almost soothing voice. He introduced himself as Caracalla.
With him was a tall, muscular man, cleanly shaven, both head and face. Dressed only in a loincloth and a loose robe hanging open over his shoulders, the tattoos that covered him from head to toe were clearly visible. He did not speak, and stood quietly, head bent, with the fingers if his hands forming a cage. This was the Painted Man.
Caracalla quickly had everybody's full attention, and as he himself said, he was "very pleased that fate had blessed them with this wonderful opportunity." His magnetic charm and animal attraction quickly had the heroes fumbling their words.
As fortune would have it, the Dark Prince had some business with the late slaver, and he came hoping that this could be resolved without un-necessary bloodshed.
The business was about a simple slave, a master jeweler, and the Dark Prince was prepared to offer the Company as much as three hours before the slaver's house was stormed. Additionally, he gave the heroes two paths they could follow. Now, the Company, the Pius Cabal, the last hope of Man, were a little antagonized by the young half-god. When he told them that Armand's assault on Cora had been successful, and that the plagueship Naglfār had left port this very morning, and would reach an Erian port within the fortnight, they did not see this as relevant for them.
And here it got interesting. Tradesmaster Drake/M'narcel (whom the Dark Prince already knew of; his mother had, according to him, helped him free his name) was speaking for the Company, while van Zaar and Banzel had prepared an course of action. They planned to repeat the success from the slaver's death, with a magically prepared and assisted shot to the head. They planned to take out the Painted Man. Now, at this point, the heroes have almost mastered the art of telepathic communication, and can thus, as long as Galan keeps the spell going, coordinate their actions without speaking. Still, when the plan sprung into action, nothing happened. Rather, Banzel's pistol, the one he took from a Proxima after a firefight in Göteshafen in the early days of their adventures, misfired. And between the Painted Man's hands there was a swirl of magical energy.
Drake/M'narcel noticed that what the tattooed nefandi was holding was actually the entire throne room, and that he thus had total control over the local paradigm. Galan now set about unraveling the spell enough to drive a bullet through the wards and protective fields surrounding the nefandi. He managed to nick the enemy in the arm. And then the shit hit the fan.
The Painted Man brought his hands apart with a sound similar to that made when an apple is broken in half, and dropped his cloak to the ground. As a cold, vast darkness crashed over the heroes like a mighty wave, Drake/M'narcel made two new discoveries. First that not only had the Painted Man controlled the paradigm, he had also submerged the entire scene into the dark caverns of the Deep. Now that he no longer contained them, they were litterally in way over their heads. The second discovery was that the nefandi wasn't technically there. He was in fact skin-riding the tattooed body.
When the wave receded, Caracalla was gone, and things were now starting to look bleak in earnest.
And this was when van Zaar decided to pull the mother of all rabbits out of his sleeve. He had been preparing his spell since the failed attack on the Painted Man; van Zaar undid the entire ill-fated chain of events, from immediately before Banzel took his shot.
And thus, just like that, nothing drastic or terminal happened. They somewhat politely told Caracalla thanks, but no thanks, and saw the Dark Prince off. The Painted Man lingered until his master had left the slaver's house, then he folded up on himself and vanished.
Alone again, the Company prepared to defend the fortified city-estate. Banzel and the Prince ran to the front courtyard, while Galan, Drake and van Zaar took to the rooftop terrace to coordinate the defenses. On the roof, Galan used his magical powers to get a full picture of the situation. A full company of pit-orcs, with a great, mallet-wielding troll, were in position on the square in front of the manor, while a company of Hollow Men, elite Blood Legion, with ladders, were moving in on the rear wall. Drake went down to muster the slaver's surviving guards (last chapter he managed to scare them into obedience). Let it be said that the Warlock can be right terrifying when he sets his mind to it.
At this point, Drake remembered that there was a pit below the throne room. Faced with a prolonged battle that would, like as not, have ended in tears, the Company decided that even for them, discretion was the better part of valor.
The marines and the Enæïd fell back to the pit, while Drake's lads got the honor of buying them time.
In the ancient catacombs beneath the city, Galan and Banzel (the former with scrying ahead, the latter with opening new tunnels, or closing old ones) took the party safely to a chamber. While the men rested, the Cabal convened for a council. Several wooly theories were explored, and van Zaar took the opportunity to rattle the bones again. They also discovered that the floor of the catacombs was covered in broken bones, effigies were disfigured, and beneath the layer of crushed bones they found a dark glyph of denial. After a period of back and forth they decided to break the glyph. The result was perhaps not spectacular, but both Galan and Drake became aware of the proximity to another realm.
After another stretch of heated debate, the Cabal, in its infinite wisdom, determined that they should not let themselves be distracted by the big picture.
Lt Lance (the young officer of the marines) had a falling out with van Zaar over this decision; he went so far as to call him a coin-clinker and a banker.
After having figured out their mission (again) they declared themselves saboteurs, and set out to weaken the city's defenses, all the while avoiding the hunting packs of Orc, the forge demons, and the other nasties that swarmed through the catacombs in search of the Pius Cabal. Come morning, Banzel had undermined a section of the city walls, and almost as the sun broke, Galan was telepathically contacted by Octavian. The Hermetic told them what they had known since a few hours past noon the day before, namely that the gateposts on Cora had been lost. His ship was shadowing the Kraken on a south-westerly course, but could do naught about it. He also informed them that the Marshall of the Host had dedicated all the dead of the storming of Mulwar to Dìs, the god of death.
At this point the Cabal decided to call it quits and return to the Host. So they broke another dark glyph of denial, pierced the Gauntlet, and entered the Underworld. They passed through old tunnels and soon found themselves by the shore of a large, underground body of water in a vast, pillared chamber. When the ferryman came, Banzel could pay the fare with the pouch of assorted change he got from his senile grandfather before he left Pendrell.
Arriving in the newly taken city of Mulwar, complete with all the soldierly pastimes belonging to a fresh victory, the Company made their way to the Marshall's command-post. Here van Zaar tried to convince the commander to not attack Victoria due to the presence of the Dark Prince, and something about a prophecy, and doom... And after some more semi-coherent rambling about the end of days they were all dismissed.
End of chapter, and now it'll be a few weeks til the next one due to honeymooning and vacations.
Storyteller's note: First off, I must say I'm pretty impressed with the group, the bad thing is that so are they. In all seriousness, though, even if they would have lost the fight with the Painted Man, or at the very least won an extremely expensive victory (we're talking dead characters here), the manner of retreat just gave them even more of a swagger. And (tongue firmly in cheek now) swaggering players is not a good thing. It's time to put the fear of the dark back in them, I believe...
Don't get me wrong, though, I don't begrudge them their success, but while they are congratulating themselves, the world is going to shit around them. There are so many bad things happening on Argos right now... And here I was starting to feel optimistic about it.
I also see a few things I should cover within not too long, like the Death-worshipping Stygian Empire, for one.
Also, I see that I need to step up to the plate where group-integration is concerned. Running a game with five players is a completely different one than I'm used to, and I see that it is easy for them to sort of fall between the cracks when things speed up.
Lastly, I will confess that the Painted Man's presence is the result of a bit of thievery on my part. I took him from Peter V. Brett's book, The Painted Man and made him a nefandi. The picture in this post is from that same site.