Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Chapter summary: Into the Breach
This time I'll go for a slightly different approach, as 1) it's been a week and a half since we played, and 2) we did about 22 hours of gaming in two days. What follows is a not necessarily chronological, or even entirely accurate, account of the events.
Cast: The entire Pius Cabal, including the long lost Dr. Drake, a.k.a. Arkrash Mnarkl, a.k.a. Percival O'Conner.
The following takes place between 29 Novium and 7 Decanum, YE 1022.
After lengthy preparations, the cabal mounts an attack on the heart of the zombie plague; they face the OUT in personal, if highly magical, combat, they make new alliances, acquire new resources, are faced with problems of far reaching proportions, and Bansl wrecks a bakery.
The heroes received word from Mistress Severa that Proximus Redmayne needed to talk to them. As usual, Galan and van Zaar were most reluctant to meet anyone in person. When they had finished grumbling in their in their beards, they agreed to come to Redmayne's location. Here they met Dr. Drake (last seen a few days before the Battle of Geminon Field). Accompanying the shady theurge were Sheperd, a Dream Warden they first met while they were fighting on the Dark Continent.
Werk, the border-town where they met, became their first base of operations.
Stage 1: Preliminary Intelligence
As per usual, the cabal was reluctant to enter a situation they were not certain to control, and so they first tried to gather as much information as possible. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to find the Truename of the plague demon, but they were able to learn a few other things, as they spoke to a number of strategically placed individuals.
Sheperd recommended they go to the Great Library of Dreams, as there is a tome there about the Ars Abyssal, the dark magic of the Nefandi. He also gives them news about what's going on in the Dreaming.
Annalea Castillaverde, the leader of the resistance on the Western Isles could divulge some information on goethic science, and how to fight the OUT. She sold the cabal a new rote, Unravel the Blasphemous Pattern, a spell specifically designed to neutralize the goethic reactors driving the much feared Reavers.
Reed, the Storyteller, the Keeper of the Lament of the Orc, was visited on recommendations from Sheperd. Most of the questions he were asked were about issues not pertaining to the upcoming battle, but he answered in depth.
While in Werk, Velimir Tito encountered an angel, and saw it cut the throat of an infected man in public. He approached the entity, and discovered it to be St. Semion, the patron saint of surgeons.
Interlude: "What technological terror is this?"
While in Werk, Bansl built a "Zombie Harvester". This mechanical monster was designed to house the entire cabal inside an armoured cabin, and in front it had a massive, rotating contraption that, according to the Master's calculations, could shred at least four zombies each second. The whole thing was propelled by a purpose-built steam-engine.
That night Bansl takes it for a test-run in the narrow cobblestone-streets of Werk, and crashes it through the walls of a local bakery. This results in an angry mob that is intent on lynching the mad engineer, until he manages to calm them down. In the end, the crowd decides that the machine is such a marvel that Bansl is dragged into the nearest public house and forced to spend the next hours toasting the end of the Red Death.
The reverie was abruptly interrupted by an attempt to sabotage the marvellous invention. Van Zaar manages to interrupt the saboteur, and in the commotion he ended up in hand to hand combat with the Hellghast. The half-fiend then lead the heroes on a merry chase, as his blood-brother snuck into Galan's bedroom and all but killed him. When the hunt was called to a stop, they found that the captain's bed-linens, now splattered with his blood, had been taken by the attacker. This was something of a concern, as it meant that the enemy now had his Corpus.
Stage 2: Building an Offence
As the enemy now knew that the Pius Cabal was preparing to enter the Redlands, they decided to hide in the deserted wastelands closer to Zalburg. Here they field-tested the Zombie Harvester, and they took a closer look at their target, the Cathedral of the Soul Ascended, in the centre of Zalburg.
Dr. Drake, in the guise of a raven, approached the Raven King, a spirit holding court outside the city, and the lord of the mighty host of ravens attracted to the vast, and steadily growing, piles of corpses. After long and hard negotiations, the Raven King agreed to put his army at the cabal's disposal for the main assault. The price was steep, and in the end the spirit lord received a large quantity of mana, as well as Dr. Drake's Oath of Servitude for a year and a day.
After having spent a few days in open country, the heroes move their camp to Geistwald, west of the Redlands. Here Velimir Tito sets out to recruit the local spirits to the cause. Deep in the woods, he finds that the Heart Tree was cut down in the Great War a thousand years ago. He also finds the small group of spirits still living in the woods, and when the sun sets, he has become the lord of the Shadowrealm of Geistwald, with the title of baron. Apart from his only knight, Sir Malkemus, none of his new subjects are suited for the planned assault.
As the magicians had decided that they wanted a Host of Angels on their side when they attacked, Tito, Prince Aegir, and Toadface, then ventured back to Werk to recruit St. Semion. They find the reliquary in the possession of an ageing monk, and after Aegir had failed to inspire the near-sighted old man to heroism, Tito is given temporary custodianship of the remains of the blessed saint.
Interlude: In the Sign of the Turtle
The cabal followed Sheperd's advice and went into the Dreaming. Here they found the library, and each claimed a book. Among these were the tome mentioned by Sheperd. Afterwards they went to the Harbour of Longing to look for the Nightmare Prince's ship. Not finding it there, they followed Toadface on a spirit-walk, as it were. In a small boat they set out across the ocean, and after a long voyage made it to the Primordial Sea. Here Toadface found his totem, the great turtle Runungar, and eventually they were sailing over the stars.
The tiny vessel travelled on Testudo, the constellation of the turtle, and above them the heroes could see the Crater of Yogoth on the dark side of the moon. They saw the towers of the Thulists, they saw roads, and even what appeared to be a town. Crackling from the barren land beneath them, they heard voices and strange music. Then they returned to Argos.
Stage 3: Let Slip the Dogs of War
The assault began with van Zaar's tame zombies. The Adeptus of Death had captured a brain of zombies earlier, and strapped with bombs, they were sent into the city of Zalburg. Not all made it to the cathedral, and some of them blew a hole in the barricades of Sanctum*. As this happened, Toadface infiltrated the city, and then turned into a giant -- this was his Masterpiece in the Arts of Life. While Dr. Drake led the army of ravens against the cathedral, the giant proved to be a most effective distraction. He quickly found himself the target of all available OUT ordnance, and only through focussing all his powers were he able to sustain the barrage.
With the Raven King's host quickly filling the cathedral, the remaining heroes teleported in. The combat with the Falangists and Hellghasts inside was quick, as neither side could see much in the immense chaos caused by thousands of the black birds. All the Thulists not killed by the cabal suffered death at the countless sharp beaks.
The demon Mekelrad, trapped inside a thaumatechnological force-field, proved to have an agenda of his own. As Galan had been discovered by the fiend when he scryed the building earlier, it teleported him inside his prison, and attempted to make him kill his manifestation. If that happened, the demon would be free to manifest elsewhere. The heroes quickly understood that they would have to bleed it of its Essence first, and when Dr. Drake, Tito, and St. Semion joined the fight, the fiend was doomed.
There were complications, as the Thulists had come very close to finishing their foul project. Deep inside the cathedral, they had built an abyssal reactor. If this device were to become fully operational, it would siphon dark energy directly from the Abyss into the world. Mekelrad had been trapped so that they could use the almost unlimited Essence it drew from the swarming zombies to power up the reactor. Now they attempted to force-start it by increasing the draining of the demon.
While the battle with Mekelrad was fought, and van Zaar sought to deal with the scientists who were manning the controls, Bansl took it upon himself to act as a human fuse. Gripping the main conductors of the machine sucking Essence from the demon, he absorbed an enormous amount of energy -- Toadface, by now down to his normal size and inside the cathedral, had his hands full preventing Bansl from burning to ashes.
At last the demon was dead, and van Zaar, having neutralized the scientists, started the process of a controlled shut-down of the abyssal reactor. The ravens started to leave, and the battle was won.
* Sanctum was a walled quarter in Zalburg, housing more than a thousand living. The cabal had decided that they in all likelihood were cultists, the lot of them.
Stage 4: Hold the Fort
The battle had taken no more than a few minutes, but now the OUT started to prepare their counter-assault. In the air three white Reavers appeared, two companies of Falangists were approaching from Castle Ludwig north in the city, the cathedral was shelled from a position outside the city walls, and there were still Hellghasts around.
Aegir nearly lost his life trying to gain control of the cathedral's roof, and Galan managed to neutralize the cannons, and even teleported one down to them. The shardakeem ammunition, however, being anti-magical, remained behind. Aegir, healed by Toadface, set out to fetch enough shells to at least knock the hated Reavers out of the sky. This proved a lot more dangerous than the prince had thought, as the same Hellghast that almost killed him on the roof lay in ambush.
As the prince was running the gauntlet, the Falangists were closing in on the cabal's possition, and something had to be done. Dr. Drake snuck out, and as the Hellghast snipers were now busy hunting the Exalted, he managed to summon the great nightmare-beast N'Gartl. As the terrible dream-demon ripped through the ranks of the Falangists, the Hellghasts and the Reavers were distracted from the prince. He made it to the abandoned monastery where the gun-placements were, but was unsuccessful in ferreting out his enemy. Only after a combined effort from the cabal's magicians did he get his revenge.
By now N'Gartl had penetrated the OUT base in Castle Ludwig, and the remaining Thulists abandoned Zalburg. The zombies were feasting madly in Sanctum, and the Battle of Zalburg had been a victory for the Pius Cabal.
Stage 5: Loose Ends
The abyssal reactor was shut down, but as it resided in a Blight, and as it was constructed of large quantities of shardakeem, it could not be moved without a rather complex and lengthy logistical effort. The cabal therefore decided that Bansl should encase it in layers upon layers of thick, led-lined rock, in effect creating a massive sarcophagus in an attempt to shield the surrounding world from its radiation. Thus they left it.
Van Zaar, the Master of Time, sent a letter back in time for Onkl Smit of the Syndicate. Here he told him that Wezell had to have a force ready to enter the Redlands to mop up the zombies, and take control of the region.
Galan's Corpus had vanished. What the Thulists did with it is not known.
After the battle, most of the cabal returned to the Pius, anchored in the Hannuman port of Petra. Bansl, Toadface, and Dr. Drake joined Baron Tito, and together they organized the baron's fiefdom in the heart of Geistwald. Toadface built a fortress of impregnable vegetation, and Bansl constructed a beautiful mansion. Tito spent his time setting up his court -- the Raven King had sent what may be seen as overly many of his subjects to his new ally. Fifty nests were built in the new court.
[Picture source: tfsimon.com]