14:00 – 14:20 – With further progress to the back of the vessel impossible, the group decide to head towards the front.
They pick their way through the horror of the death haunted decks, though the wailing spectre remains worryingly silent.
“I wonder if it was shocked that I could see it, and has retreated as a result?” Muses the artificer out loud.
“Well, if I see the damn thing, it will find out what it feels like to die a second time.” Growls Vladislav in response.
The darkness weighs heavily upon the group as they duck their way along, their backs aching, their eyes fixed ahead as they try their best to ignore the nightmare detritus that hangs and glistens on almost every surface.
14:21 – 14:23 – More organic slime drips and effervesces obscenely in the corridor that leads to the helm room, and the group become aware of an increase in the psychic pressure; a steady gathering of the unholy, chilling energy associated with the haunting entity. In the dismal glow of their weapons, the party spy another heavy door up ahead; similar to the one that guarded the engine room. Unlike the previous door, this one appears to have a small crysteel viewing window – though with the vessel being upside down, it is low to the floor.
The atmosphere here is drenched with pent up horror. A leaden dullness seems to dampen sound and further dim the light, giving everything a deathlike, nightmarish quality; unreal and hard to clearly perceive. The horrible, soul-prickling presence is also here; breathing icily down each adventurer's neck, raising goosebumps and coiling unseen like some hovering, tenebrous serpent.
A thick pool of tarry, organic muck puddles by the door, and with a deep sense of horror the group identify that the numerous scratches dully torn into its surface are fingernail marks – the desperate scrabbles of dying ghaerduun as they tried to gain access to the chamber beyond.
Swallowing his gorge, the artificer kneels down to peer into the window, his knees sinking into the cold rotten slime. His breath fumes in the icy air, and he realises that he is shaking. The rest of the group stand still, their innate sense of looming danger screaming silently that something is truly amiss. Clenching his jaw against the shivers that now shudder through him uncontrolled, Ormid leans down, putting his face horribly close to the putrid remnants of the long dead ghaerduun, and peers into the window.
Frowning, he leans closer, wiping away the spotty patina of oily muck that skins the pane. He jumps briefly as he sees his own reflection staring back at him – hollow eyed and slack faced – and silently chastising himself for being so silly, he moves his face close to the glass...
...And recoils in horror, a scream torn from him by the sudden surge of adrenaline that drenches his body...
Ormid leaps back, shaking, pale, sweating. He reaches out for the walls his whole body weak with involuntary tremors, a sob escaping his lips before he manages to get control of himself. Everyone reacts to this scene, the terror infectious, the air curdling with malevolent power.
“H-his face.” Mutters the artificer, “Peeled. Screaming...his face....”
At once the unnatural wailing engulfs the area – deafening and crushing. It resonates through the bulkhead of the vessel and turns the air to ice with its distorted, despairing screams. Suddenly, the door to the control room begins to blister wetly, and a foul, oily fluid begins to seep from its slick surface. The wailing impossibly gets louder and suddenly the vaporous form of the haunting entity makes itself seen. It is a floating mass of dimly luminous mist, constantly in motion. Shimmering and pulsing like a thousand torn bandages, the mist constantly shrouds and reveals the twisted thing within; a ghostly ghaerduun – peeled and broken, its belly opened, its lidless eyeballs boggling in its ravaged skull. It has no legs, and its arms are broken and locked into horrible shapes. Its mouth is open far too wide, the things entire face warped by the dislocation, and it is from its nighted throat that the soul-ripping sound emanates.
“ENOUGH!” Screams Vladislav suddenly, twinned balls of spitting, snarling power appearing in his spike gauntletted hands, “YOU'RE MISERABLE RIGHT? WELL, I'LL SEND YOU TO HELL SO YOU CAN SEE HOW BAD IT CAN REALLY GET!”
A fierce coruscating light tears at the looming darkness - the effulgent light of the Helldazzler's flaming and lightning infused aura. A high-pitched whine cuts through the screaming as he summons his most ferocious spell, and suddenly the wailing stops, the ghost regarding Valdislav with...
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” It howls in an archaic language – an ancient dialect of Tradespeak, “PLEASE NOOOOOOOOOOOO! SPARE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
The horror that has almost crushed the party suddenly ends, the atmosphere immediately relaxing, leaving only the foetid dankness of the enclosed vessel and its bad air.
“We can work together maybe?” Whispers the ghost; no longer a horrifying apparition, but now a translucent ghaerduun, dressed in the leathers and pouches of an engineer, “I could get this vessel working for you if you like – though would need help of course?”
Panting, the group stare at each other, a sickly metallic tang heavy around the organics as their fear sweat oozes out.
“My name is Yrlantir, and I was chief engineer on this vessel. I believe that maybe we can help each other yes?”
Before the group can answer, the first wave of psychic power hits the vessel's side, spiking painfully through the minds of the group, and with a sick sense of despair, the group realise that the Ur'Leth, having sensed the change in the haunted vessels state, have renewed their attempts to kill them.
“Agreed.” Growls Shadevia
No one argues.
14:24 – 15:40 – With Yrlantir taking over the roles of the many crew members, the group are assigned to posts most befitting their skills. Ormid is initially placed with the reactor chamber – a place of wonder to him, with its dully glowing taintstone core and runic containment and dampening fields. However, he is quickly reassigned after his overly enthusiastic jabs at the consoles there see the Glorious Brick smashed hard against the jagged rocks of the tunnel, a number of warning runes lighting on several consoles to report significant damage, and of all people, Llewellyn is assigned to the enginarium,
The Veteran is put in charge of powering the weapon cells (experimental “Implosion Torpedoes” are the ammunition), whilst Ormid is in charge of managing various mechanical sub-systems. Shadevia is placed within the vessels observation chamber, her keen eyes well suited to seeing things out in the eternal gloom of the deep waters.
With everyone finally where they need to be, the huge vessel, its engines roaring to life, rights itself, and begins, slowly to edge its way out of the tunnel where it had lain for so long.
Outside, the waters are thick with the Ur'Leth, hundreds of their thralls, and formless, gelatinous things, rimed with ice, that pulse and slash in the dark. They bombard the vessel with their attacks, both physical and psychical, and warning runes begin to flash across a dozen control boards as they begin to damage essential systems, or breach hull sections.
“Get us moving!” Screams Shadevia, “Veteran, take out that massive Ur'Leth and blow us a way out!”
The engines roar become a productive whine as Llewellyn teases their settings, and everyone feels the vessel come fully to life. Ormid adjusts various systems, redirecting power and healing the wounds the Brick has sustained, whilst Shadevia works to guide Yrlantir and Veteran.
Out in the darkness twinned bursts of green-black energy erupt around a particularly massive Ur'Leth and the cloud of minions surrounding it. The monsters are immediately liquefied, their bodies caught in awful, primal energies. The spheres of power then collapse inwards with a hollow boom, tons of water flooding with a thunderous roar to fill the gap, the resulting shock waves stunning hundreds more monsters nearby. Everyone hoots with raw, savage joy, and the vessel roars through the messy cloud of dead.
Onwards into the gloom the vessel plunges, narrowly avoiding catastrophe on several occasions as it scrapes along unseen ridges, or barely avoids smashing into suddenly looming cliffs. Shadevia's sharp eyes and sharper commands however keep everyone on target, and the thump and boom of implosion torpedoes is soon replaced by the rumbling rattle of open waters pressing on the hull as they burst into a vast cavern with only one exit. With joy, the shadeling sees that far beyond that tunnel lie lighter waters, and almost certainly the surface. However, her joy curdles as something massive and tentacled suddenly rises from unseen depths and blocks the exit with a massive, circular maw, lined with rows upon rows of straight, gnashing teeth.
“Kraken!” Screams Ormid “The whoreson is still alive!”
“Ramming speed!” Screams Shadevia, her normally sibilant voice cracking and insane. “Veteran, prepare to fire torpedoes!”
“WHAT?” Yells Ormid and Yrlantir together.
Chuckling the warforged begins to prime the weapon systems again, and everyone feels the vessel pick up speed as the vyrleen opens up all the energy channels and gives the engines a brief, terrific blast of power. Ormid manages to snap out of his temporary shock and immediately begins to stab at controls on the panel as numerous warnings flare up, screaming about various systems get pushed beyond their prescribed bounds by Llewellyn's actions, and everyone braces as the monstrous mouth looms closer and closer.
“FIRE TORPEDOES!” Screams Shadevia, the Veteran responding at once, sending twinned flecks of darkness hurtling towards the looming horror. The seconds of their passage seem to last for days, and it is not until the Brick has passed into the mouth that they strike something deep within the beast, erupting and turning its guts to soup.
Alarms scream and wail and everyone is almost thrown to the ground as the shock wave hits the vessel, and as it powers through the entrails and bowels of the gargantuan sea dweller. Passing like a monstrous bullet along the entire length of the thing, the Brick emerges from its rear in a huge cloud of gore, trailing smoky columns of blood and faecal matter as it soars towards the luminous waters above.
Dead in seconds, the kraken twitches as it sinks into the darkness below, wreathed in ink, blood and it own liquefied guts...
15:41 – 23:00 – The Brick is brought within a few hundred feet of the surface. However, with the adrenaline gone from her system, Shadevia's pressure damaged body shuts down, and she passes out, bleeding.
It is decided that the group will rest, whilst Yrlantir uses “experimental” remedies to cure the shadeling's pressure sickness.
The group try to find some quarters that are comfortable to them, and rest as best they can in the death-stained vessel. Yrlantir expresses his gratitude for their part in “Snapping me out of my indulgent malaise”, and offers, once their mission in Virian is done, to help them with the remainder of their mission as best he can. “Assuming you need a submarine of course.”
The party agree.
23:10 – 23:25 – The Glorious Brick is brought slowly to the surface, and Shadevia, now recovered, is the first to get a glimpse of the Risen City.
It isn't pretty.
The harbour is choked with the half-sunken corpses of a number of large ships; merchant vessels by the looks of most of them, the waters greasy and frothy. Beyond, the rainy night is thick with smoke and darkness, the buildings along the waterfront being burned out shells. In the distance she can make out the hellish glow of large fires illuminating the lower surfaces of several vast columns of black smoke rising from the unseen blazes, whilst tatters of paper and other detritus swirl through the dark air.
The Brick rises fully to the surface in a rumbling wash of bubbles, noisily nosing aside the shattered wrecks in the harbour, and sending a number of figures scurrying away in fright.
23:40 – 00:05 (4/1/50) – The group emerge from the submarine into a wet, overly warm night. The air smells of burning and of fish, and a dismal roar can be heard coming from the heart of the city – the cumulative voice of countless fires and angry fighting. The sharp crack of discharging firearms also echoes from within the city, and everyone looks uneasy at the thought of entering the war zone.
“Do we know where the Disciples are based?” Asks Llewellyn quietly.
“Only that they are in Virian.”
Vladislav snorts. “So much for the 'Risen City'. This place is dying.”
“And we should be careful we don't follow suit.” Comes Veteran's grim reply. “Come on.”
The group move through the harbour, and into the darkness of the nearest street, hoping to find someone they can interrogate about the whereabouts of the Disciples of Change. By the dim glow of their weapons, the group can see that the streets are places of death now. Rubble – scorched and often smeared with cooked on blood – lies in drifts everywhere, and smoke swirls through the air. Rats feast on those that have not survived the riots, and the stench of death often reaches from some hidden place to tug at the group's throats.
Not all the dead are hidden however. As they wander, the group come across numerous inhuman acts carried out in the frenzy of violence that has consumed the city; corpses hanging from crudely tied nooses, bodies piled against bullet riddled, blood stained walls, severed heads spiked as grim warnings and even individuals nailed to building by heavy masonry spikes. Madness it seems has grown from the righteous rage of the populace, and what must have begun as an ordered social uprising, has rapidly turned to something far more malevolent.
00:06 – 00:16 - Soon the party are deep within the cities outer district, the darkness almost physical in its embrace. The biting smoke coils in the gloom, and the rattle of settling dirt and scurrying rats is omnipresent. Suddenly, from a shattered building on the parties left, there is a flash and a deafening bang. Shadevia, having spotted furtive movement a moment before, leaps forwards and shoves Ormid out of the way, a bullet spanking into a wall behind where his head was. Voices, roaring in Upper Malgorothian pazni, sound from the road ahead, and from within the shattered homes that line the street, and hulking armoured men, their skin, weapons and armour blackened deliberately with soot, emerge, bellowing battle cries. Up close, the group can see that each has a waxing crescent moon tattooed on their forehead and on each cheek. Several of these men also bear heavy steel shields, upon which is wrought a device - a rampant lion in black, above which hangs a triangle of three white waxing crescent moons - that Vladislav recognises.
At sight of this, he begins to swear loudly and brutally in a mix of pazni and trade, his body suddenly wreathed in a mantle of swirling flames and sparks.
“Vorgorian BASTARDS!! Where is your master? WHERE IS COUNT KHEBLETZI?”
“It seems our ally has some baggage.” Whispers the Veteran as he strides to meet one of the men.
“Indeed.” Whispers Shadevia as she raises her bow and launches a volley of arrows.
The battle is as brutal as any the group has fought, and last less than a minute. Llewellyn skilfully takes out the hidden sniper; scrambling to their position and then employing deadly hit and run attacks; shattering a shin here, crushing a knee there.
“Keep him alive!” Bellows Vladislav as he charges one of the men, an axe of lightning and acid writhing in his spiked grasp. “We need to find the Count!”
Shadevia stands back and puts her skills to excellent use; sending volleys of arrows – many of which bear fiery enchantments – into the four men who battle Veteran, Ferrous and Vladislav down the street. Ormid stands between the archer and the front line, hurling healing at his allies, and awakening various arcane mechanisms he has woven into their equipment to enhance their attacks or directly harm the enemy.
The Veteran, his guardian and Vladislav battle toe to toe with four men amongst the heaped rubble and swirling smoke of the road ahead. Three of the enemy bear heavy broadswords, which they wield with the skill of experienced soldiers. The fourth man bears a massive two-handed axe, which he swings wildly. Many of his blows are massively telegraphed, and miss their targets. However, now and then they make devastating contact; splitting armour, cracking bones and sending gore flying.
Despite the enemies initial surprise, the group rapidly get a handle on the situation, and soon all but two men lie dead.
The sniper is hauled down to the street, whilst the group turn to interrogate the swordsman they knocked unconscious. Unfortunately for this man, Vladislav looses it. Spittle froths at the corners of the Helldazzler's mouth as he drops onto the soldier's chest, and roughly grabs him by the shoulders. He then begins to scream at him in Pazni, shaking him violently, the downed man's head smacking against the rubble with each savage shake. The Veteran tries to calm him and fails, and after that, no one dares to interrupt the furious mage, even when the sounds of impact become wet, and the first lumps of sopping pink begin to glisten on the stones. Absolutely no one is surprised when the soldier soils himself, begins to fit, and then dies.
Enraged, Vladislav leaps up, his eyes wild, and begins to stalk towards the sniper. However, the group close in, hands raised, and beg him to calm. For his part, the half-conscious sniper grins mockingly at the Helldazzler, and slurs something thickly at him in pazni. Vladislav looks like he may try to barge through for a moment, but then seems to get a grip and to calm down.
00:17 – 00:23 – The group turn to the man, and with Vladislav translating for them, begin to question him. Firstly Vladislav wants to know where “the traitor Siskeer is”. The sniper grins but says nothing. Ormid tires to reason with the mercenary, his pleasant offers of freedom and survival clashing with the open threats made by the warforged. Alas, their “good cop, bad cop” routine fails, and the hardened merc remains silent.
Realising that they are getting nowhere, they begin to question the mercenary about the situation in the city, and whether or not he knows where the Disciples of Change can be found.
He remains uncooperative.
His death follows moments later.
“My friends” begins Valdislav, still panting with adrenaline, “I must warn you. These men server Count Vorgor Khebletzi, a powerful warrior Lord from my homeland who was driven out by his three neighbours after years of his attempted invasions of their lands.
“Vorgor has a bastard brother named Siskeer Yenvanovich, and as a Helldazzler, I am duty bound to find the treacherous bastard and to kill him.”
“What happened?” Asks Llewellyn.
“Siskeer was a promising abecedarian, close to becoming an initiate. His command of invocatory magic was astonishing, though he showed a cruel edge that could make him foolish. However, when his brother decided to leave his lands, Siskeer murdered several of his fellow novices, and managed, somehow to slay one of the Order's initiates, stealing a potent tome of spells in the process.
“A warrant has been issued on his head and fingers, and I will not leave here until I have completed that contract.”