Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Aelric Shadowstar, Apparently)

We're almost at the end of The Enemy Within II: Lost in New York so here's an update on the party.

Rudiger Adler, by this time having moved on to vampire hunting as a career, despite the lack of vampires in Altdorf.

Drandruel, the wood elf warrior who seems to have triple-backflipped out of a wuxia film.

Magnar, a lump of steel with a dwarf inside. Somewhere.

Aelric Shadowstar, high elf mutant wizard.

Thorek the Mighty, suicidal slayer looking for a daemon of note to kill.

Having filled themselves with tea and toast at the town house of Gravin Clothilde von Alptraum the party rushed to the temple of Sigmar where despite the early hour a large crowd had already gathered to watch the great and the good of the Empire arrive for the service; Aelric's fine robes and decorative face mask drew some speculation that he was Balthasar Gelt, the supreme patriarch of the colleges of magic.

As it turned out Gelt had arrived earlier, along with a number of other luminaries, including, er, Luminary Mauer, Friedrich von Kaufman, and more than a few of the Empire's Elector Counts, the nobles who held the power to decide the identity of the next Emperor. I cannot imagine why the players thought that some sort of dramatic event might occur at the service.

Colthilde von Alptraum did arrive, and Captain Marcus Baerfaust also seemed to be absent, although some of his Averheim Greatswords were in attendance in full dress uniform. Before the player-characters could get too suspicious, a couple of them spotted the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum in the crowd and tried to push their way through the assembled nobility to reach her; Drandruel found herself face to face with some sort of Sigmarite zealot, all wrapped in chains and little iron prayer boxes, showing clear signs of attempted self-immolation, and who seemed keen that everyone should REPENT OR DIE, while the rest of the party got tied up talking to a pleasant but somewhat doddery priestess of Shallya. By the time they could get away Ketzenblum -- if it was her -- had disappeared.

The service began and so the player-characters had to choose between taking their seats -- near the back of the temple with the other less important guests -- or making a scene; they chose the former and sat on their hands, eager to burst into action, as the Grand Theogonist -- Volkmar the Grim, also an Elector -- began his long and pious sermon. At the appointed time the temple's great bell rang but instead of the expected clear peal the sound was a sickening warped rumble, a sound that forced people to their knees, clutching their hands to their ears as their balance failed and their stomachs emptied.

The odd zealot Drandruel had met earlier sprinted down the central aisle of the temple, spewing blue and purple smoke as he ran and soon he, the great altar, and the Theogenist were all lost in a noxious cloud. As the bell continued to ring the player-characters leaped into action but found the panicking crowd an obstacle; worse, the zealot's tiny prayer boxes flew out of the smoke and disgorged their impossible contents, a stream of bright pink daemons of the sort the party had seen before.

A desperate running battle followed as the player-characters fought their way through the daemons in an attempt to reach the bell tower, a task made more difficult as the bell's ringing filled some of them with terror and sent them fleeing in the opposite direction. Rudiger was first to the tower and discovered a group of soldiers in the belfry, accompanied by a scarred woman and a figure clad in dark robes and an ebony mask; the Black Hood himself!

Rudiger decided to wait for backup and soon Drandruel and Magnar arrived to even the odds a little. Thorek and Aelric remained below, unable to pull free of the daemonic mêlée; the bell's ringing had an odd effect on the elf's mutant physiology and with each tolling his body warped and changed until he became some sort of tentacled giant, as terrifying as any of the daemons he was fighting. As the former elf staggered up the stairs to the belfry where some sort of magic shielded his companions from the bell's effects, one final peal twisted his body and he hunched over in agony. When Aelric stood once more he found that he had been returned to his former (s)elf, with all mutations gone.

Thorek was not as lucky. Swarmed by daemons and all out of Fate Points the dwarf's, er, fate was inevitable and he was torn to pieces by the giggling, dancing things. All agreed that it was what he would have wanted.

Up in the belfry the surviving members of the party confronted the Black Hood, who was revealed as Marcus Baerfaust. The soldier's attempt to win the party over with his grand scheme to destroy the nobility and bring democracy and to the Empire failed to convince them and they charged him and his minions. They managed to halt the ringing of the bell before it shook the temple to bits but Baerfaust was a little more resilient, his impressive combat abilities boosted by some sort of unseen magic. In the end he too fell but before he could be captured a hole appeared in the air and blue tendrils of energy dragged him screaming into some other realm.

The player-characters were heroes!

There were some casualties in the temple below but the movers and shakers of the Imperial political system had all survived so the dread spectre of democracy was beaten back once more. The player-characters were rewarded with big bags of cash and free room and board in the apartments attached to the Imperial Palace, and the Emperor Karl Franz himself, much recovered now that Baerfaust's influence was gone, met them in person to thank them for their great deeds.

Everyone lived happily ever after.

Oh. No. Wait.

A week later, von Kaufman and Luminary Mauer met the player-characters in secret and told them that the portal in the belfry was not quite as closed as everyone thought and that the Empire needed some brave heroes to go through and bring Baerfaust back, dead or alive.

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