The last chapter ended with the Company waking up after the long nightmare in the middle of the day. This chapter started with them trying to figure out why they were sick. Besides, Banzel was in no shape to travel.
M'narcel, besides being the only one besides the Prince who wasn't afflicted, was also the only one with any medical insight (both arcane and academic). Also, he used to study the gentle art of poisoning before he was called to adventure. And so, after his preliminary examinations, he could reveal that poisoning was indeed the cause of the ailment.
Now, determining the poison after the fact is a most difficult task. So the good medicus went outside to summon a spirit, as is his way these days. After a couple if hours sitting in the sun he returned; a snake had told him, "poison from stolen stinger." A most straight forward answer, coming from a spirit.
The next step was fast, and it was determined that it was the ammunition Banzel had taken off the Hellghast that was causing it all. The radiation was causing their bodies to break down. The 21 brass-cased shells are now stored in a lead chest. The rest of the day was used to sit back and enjoy the shade -- the Pius Cabal decided to rest.
Before going to bed, Banzel, the one hardest afflicted, quaffed a waterskin of the Vìs he brought from the encounter with Blackstaff. On waking up the next morning, the heroes found that anything organic in a three yard radius around Banzel, clothes, blankets, boots, tent, grass, had decomposed. Banzel had discovered a cure for his desease, while simultaneously proving that gorging oneself on Mana can cause unexpected effects. Fit as a fiddle, Banzel started up the Automotor, and thus the Company started on the way home.
There had been some debate about what to do with the men left in the halfway fort. Van Zaar would rather he didn't have to see any of them until they were back on Pius, and suggested that they be given their marching orders through arcane means. Someone here made it a heated discussion when it was suggested that van Zaar's true motivation was his dislike for Lt. Lance. On the captain's orders, they followed the roads along the river. Through the liberated Muhwal, Free City of Man (full of the Host's followers and former slaves) to Fort Pius (so named by the Glencaellyn Rifles). Here the Prince did some packing, and with the Automotor loaded close to submission with the entire marine command, and the Pius Cabal rode off the theatre, flanked by the running Enæìd. [Storyteller's note: It amuses me no end that sometimes the worst thing you can do to your players is to be nice.]
They find the stretch of coast where they hid the Pius, and within the hour M'narcel found the Shaderealm where they had anchored. They come in to the shallow river valley through the vegetation beneath the ruined aqueduct. They are hailed by the picket, and let through to the idyllic scene; the ship anchored in clear water, green trees, sailors working on the ship, carrying baskets aboard, or lounging in their free-watch.
The passenger they had asked to keep an eye on the ship had left a letter when he left five days ago, and all was in order. The crew seemed happy. And this freaked the captain out. There was some general paranoia at first, not at all helped by enthusiastic sailors or the fact that the captain couldn't see their thoughts. The majority settled when M'narcel declared that he could sense the ship's Awakened spirit.
Since they have to wait for the tide, they couldn't sail in almost twelve hours. Banzel got right to work with his new Project, building an airship. He recruited the ship's carpenters and sailmakers as well, and utterly dominated the ships attention. The captain was in a foul mood, and decided he hadn't talked to Octavian in a while. Sadly this didn't work, as the captain's Arts do not cover the Sphere of Spirit, and since they're anchored up in a spirit realm he can't reach out.
As the night fell, it became obvious that Banzel needed more time. M'narcel had also gotten involved at this point. His previous experiments with wind spirits made him attempt to bind one to the airship. He climbed up to the crowsnest and launched a kite into the winds. It took a while before something took the lure. For two hours he battled with the windling before it got away, the kite falling broken to the deck.
The captain was somewhat put out by the situation. It got even worse when he found that he could not commune with anyone outside the shaderealm. When the weighing of the anchor was postponed to allow Banzel time to finish, Galan withdrew to brood in his quarters. Van Zaar kept walking around all night, slipping in and out of subjective time.
Come the day after, the Pius weighed anchor and left the shaderealm. Banzel still had some work to do on his great project and was still at it in his workshop.
On entering the graphite-grey waters of the Bay of Oden the crew could see the heavy, dark stormfront of the blockade.
A few hours after the ship entered the bad weather the aft lookout called sails. Captain Galan quickly ascertained that it was a Black Ship, one they hadn't encountered before, and that it was coming up fast on an intercept course. Not long after the first contact another ship was called, this time ahead. This was the Sepulchre. They had sailed into an ambush. The two Black Ships planned to catch the Pius between their broadsides and send her into the deep.
Thanks to the captain's hard sailing they managed to outsail the ship behind them, but the Sepulchre lying ahead was drawing relentlessly closer. On the decks of the enemy ships the men on the Pius could witness a horrible ritual taking place. Twelve young girls were brought up, then thrown overboard as the crews chanted, "Bait! Bait! Bait!" The Pius was also coming into range of the Sepulchre's guns by now.
Galan had taken the Hermetic pistol (taken off a defeated Proxima on the first voyage of the Pius) to the bow, and as he fired at the Sepulchre's captain, the rest of the Cabal sprung to action. From the captain's cabin Galan opened a portal to the aft castle of the Black Ship. Aegir and M'narcel charged through, and the Enæìd attacked the Sepulchre's captain, Radoslav. M'narcel's plan was to command the drowned men and take control of the Black Ship -- this didn't work as planned. The Prince and the dark mariner fought in a flurry of blows while the forlorn crew pushed the worlock towards the railing. Severly wounded, Aegir felled his foe, only to see the massive bow of the Sepulchre push through the waves. The Black Ship was diving. Galan back on the Pius felt his spell being severed, but managed to keep the portal open long enough for the Prince to drag M'narcel through.
On deck, Banzel became aware of something large moving in the dark water. Something had answered the summoning. The ship following them, now close enough that M'narcel could feel its name, Despair, was coming up on range, and around them great tentacles were flailing as the enormous seamonster maneuvered to attack. It was obvious to the heroes that hard sailing alone would not be enough to escape, so they turned to magic.
Using everything they knew, the magicians of the Pius Cabal managed to get some distance on both the monster and the Despair, but it would not be enough. And so, when the Sepulchre rose to the surface again, within range, things looked bleak.
They decided that the only way out of the trap was to make the Pius fly. The airship's balloon was rigged to lift the ship, everything, cannons, food, goods, even the Automotor, was thrown overboard. Great spells were cast, all the Mana the Cabal possessed were used to fuel the magic, prayers were uttered, and at last, with cannonballs zooming towards her, Pius took flight.
The chapter ended with the Pius sailing above the dark clouds of the blockade.
Storyteller's note: This was an interesting session. The lads are now starting to fully realize two things. First, that they are now right powerful magicians, second, that their enemies have noticed them.
They now have less than four days to locate and stop the plague ship Naglfār, their ship is unarmed, and they have provisions for one week on half rations.
The good men of the Pius Cabal are truly living in interesting times.
Oh, and make sure you click on the octopus-pic to get the full experience.