Cast: Dellin, Ranthin, Archibald, Bronan, and Rufus
Continued from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous episode…characters have battled past the rear-guard of Toltevsky’s hideout, and are ready to charge into the entrance.
The characters make their way cautiously into the cave entrance to the Vivisectionist’s lair. After a hundred feet or so, the path through the cave turns into a crafted flagstone tunnel. Rufus casts Marsh lights to light the way, but spooks the other characters in so doing. They make their way through the tunnel, past the jail cells, and to the big double doors that mark the entrance to Toltevsky’s lab.
The find the doors unbarred, and so they enter. A few things are noticed immediately: the lab is in shambles, the desk and bookcases overturned and papers and other stuff scattered over the floor; a corpse is dangling like a marionette, tied by ropes to the rafters; there is a puddle of blood underneath the corpse, which has apparently been disemboweled; there are runes in blood surrounding the puddle; there is a crow nailed to the wall with a dagger, and there is also a note stuck to the crow.
Ranthin plays rear-guard and watches for oncoming danger down the tunnel. Rufus and the others enter the lab to take a closer look. Bronan notices the iron door on the far end of the “operatory”, and it is securely locked. Rufus glances at the bloody runes, and makes his way to the note and crow. Archibald and Dellin immediately recognize the dangling corpse as being Dr. Toltevsky. Someone has apparently gotten to him first!
Archibald puzzles out the meaning of the runes, reading them aloud as he recognizes them: “Per Veil, Ego Voco Nex”…Rufus hears what Archibald just said, translated as “Through the veil, I summon violent death,” and shouts that they need to leave immediately. At the same time, Rufus feels the winds of the Aethyr swirl and gust towards the corpse, where a black vortex visible to his witch-sight has appeared. To Rufus’ magic sense, it appears the vortex is sucking in the Aethyric winds and that the vortex is growing. The vortex is centered in the body cavity of the disemboweled corpse, about 5-6 feet off the ground.
Dellin’s hair stands on end, and even though he can’t sense what Rufus does, he knows from his sixth sense that something bad indeed has happened. He grabs the dead crow, which he recognizes as “Handsome” and the note, stuffing them into a pack and moves out of the room, behind Rufus who as already run out screaming doom and gloom. Archibald assumes that he’s accidentally cast a fear spell, so he casts courage on Bronan to steel his will.
Bronan and Archibald remain near the corpse as the vortex becomes visible even to them and a large bony/spiny mantis-like protrusion emerges from the void and anchors itself on the floor, like something monstrous is starting to pull itself through the rift. Meanwhile, Toltevsky’s corpse is swelling into a bloated sac of protoplasm. Bronan takes a swing with his axe at the corpse, which explodes into chunks of gore, and temporarily blinds Bronan as the bloody mess splashes over his face and body.
The “thing” is still coming through the rift even though the corpse has been destroyed. More protuberances appear in the void. Archibald has had a few seconds to think things over, and from his theology knowledge, he’s decided that he might have just accidentally summoned a Greater Demon into the world. Oops. He and others yell at Bronan to retreat, as they move out of the room. Just then, a spiked tentacle whips out of the void, narrowly missing Bronan and smashes into the overturned bookcase, where it gets temporarily stuck (a critical failure rolled by GM…saved Bronan’s life).
Bronan clears his eyes, realizes he was about 3" from death’s doorstep, and decides that fleeing is the better part of valor in this case. The characters all run out of the tunnel, through the cave, and back outside. They survey the battle below the bluffs. It looks like Ostermark’s men have won, but with massive casualties. There is less than a dozen defenders surrounding the Duke, and they look to have just dispatched the final Black Knight. They spot the characters emerging from the cave and ride to the path up the bluffs while the characters run down. Choppy and Spike are nowhere to be found.
Dellin retrieves the note he grabbed from the lab and gives it to Archibald to read it. Archibald relates that the note says something to the effect of: “Dearest Einhorn: You should have taken me up on my offer. I do so hate rejection. Dr. Toltevsky was a brilliant man who fortunately left highly detailed and clear notes of his research. I now have the means and the power, so you’d be advised to keep out of Brettonia and away from me. —R”
Archibald and others believe the note, which is written in a feminine hand, is from Lady Rene De Rochelle.
The characters and Ostermark‘s group meet on the path and they notice that a mounted army flying the Empire’s colors are galloping over the battlefield towards the bluffs. They also notice a dark cloud on the horizon. Archibald’s excellent vision sees that the cloud is an enormous swarm of black birds (thousands). He describes the leading banner of the approaching forces to Ostermark, who identifies it as Murdoch Einhorn.
Archibald relates that Toltevsky is dead but that a “major death demon” is coming. Ostermark had brought some extra horses up the hill with him, and so the characters each have a mount. They all try to gallop down the rough narrow pass to flee before Einhorn arrives. Ostermark’s trained men make it down the path, but several of the characters who have no horsemanship struggle. Archibald’s horse refuses to move, because Archy is yanking back on the reigns frantically while kicking the horse in its sides. Rufus falls off his horse. Ranthin and Bronan do better, but they can’t maintain the pace. Dellin is an experienced rider, but turns back to help Archibald and Rufus. Ostermark yells at Dellin to meet him at a certain road-side inn on the route to Ostermark. Ostermark and his remaining entourage flee the scene before Einhorn arrives, but unfortunately, the characters are unable to do so, and are trapped on the narrow path by Einhorn’s vanguard, which waits at the bottom.
Archibald moves down the path to talk to Einhorn. Einhorn accuses Archibald and the rest of interfering with the Empire’s business and a number of crimes. Archibald protests and says that Toltevsky was killed by Rochelle, and gives the note to Einhorn as proof. Einhorn swears when he reads the note, but is undaunted in his quest to apprehend the characters…except for Rufus, who is being saved for Augustus Grimm, who rides with the main forces (which are still a ways away across the battlefield).
Around that time, a gargantuan worm-like monstrosity bursts from the cave entrance at the top of the bluff — it is hundreds of feet long and has a maw like a lamprey eel’s, but with bony mantis-like mandibles surrounding the mouth area and several spiny whip-like tentacles lash out from the maw, stretching almost a hundred feet themselves. The demon is beyond huge, and is struggling to extract itself from the tight confines of the tunnel/cave through which it has been summoned.
Everyone is terrified by the demon. (Well, almost everyone). The horse bolt, soldiers flee, and general chaos ensues. The swarm of crows attack, and all this together allows the characters to escape, fleeing into the wilderness. A few instanity points are gained due to the trauma and terror of the demon’s emergence.
The characters regroup at their old camp site. Lt. Bronn’s horse has gnawed through its reigns and escaped. They gather some horses and make for the road to Ostermark. After a day’s travel or so, they find the inn that they were referred to. Ostermark is there with his remaining men.
Ostermark and the characters have a conference in a back room, and the entire situation was explained to the Duke. The Duke requests the character’s continued assistance as an escort back to Ostermark. He even offers Bronan to be a sergeant for a squad of soldiers in his retinue. The characters agree to escort the Duke home, where he plans to gather his armies and prepare for conflict. Ostermark also observes wryly that the demon should occupy the armies of the west for a while. He also suggests that the characters treat the battle as a glorious victory — that the goal of eliminating the Vivisectionist was accomplished and therefore the losses endured by the soldiers was not in vain. Archibald later gives a motivating sermon to lift the morale of the surviving soldiers.
The characters each earn 350 xp for the combined session (this one and the previous). They gain a valuable ally in Duke Ostermark. No monetary reward was offered, other than employment in Ostermark’s retinue…except for Archibald who is a priest of the light and thus can not serve directly as Ostermark’s retainer.