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The Enemy Within: Death on the Reik (S2E5)

(originally posted 30 Sep 2018)
 
 
Captain's Log: Festag, 6th of Sigmarzeit, 2512.
Captain Johann Dasbuut speaking, Harbull is still wonderfully writing this log as our ship’s doctor and chronicler. I believe it is now early morning, so without further ado…

We stood inside the middle of the signal tower the night before, contemplating who should delve first into the darkness below. Werner elected himself to go down into the trapdoor, after we had secured a length of rope (50 feet, an "adventurer's length" - Harbull) and lit our lantern. I felt he had done more than enough scouting in the last few days, so I asked him to let me lead the way instead. We briefly duelled, with each of our weapons being ferociously yet politely insisting on leading the delve:

"No no, I implore you to let ME take the lantern."

"YES but I feel, just for your safety, that I should be the one to lead the crew into the horrid depths!"

And so on.

Werner won the very mannerly argument, so he lowered himself into the gloomy pit and I followed him soon after.

At the bottom were three doors, one to the north, east and west. They had locks but no handles, peculiarly. A proper lungful of dust rained down from the ceiling frequently enough to give us pause. Stupidly I looked up and got dust in my eyes. We hadn't even entered this horrid mound properly and already tears of pain and suffering were oozing from my eyes. Covering my eyes and trying to stifle swears, lest something goes bump into us in the middle of the night, Werner poked the east door with his axe-handle. There was no doubt about it, the door was securely locked. Finally ridding the dust from my eyes, I heard something behind my left ear... go back? My eyes were momentarily blinded but Sigmar knows that my ears work. I asked Werner if he had heard a spirit's whisper. He heard nothing of the sort, no ghostly messengers or anything. It was at this moment I wondered how much of Chaos demons and other horrors a man could witness before he starts to hear things...

I'm not mental, before you ask, there is a very reasonable explanation for what had happened which I will get to soon enough (as reasonable as you can get when sorcery is involved…). Talk of the teufel, we abandoned our idea of kicking down the door and alerting sleeping monstrosities and called upon Wanda's lock-picking magic instead. She immediately noticed that the southern wall, upon her arrival, resonated with the small tube that the Dwarf-eater had around its neck. The southern wall was the one I mentioned in my last entry, the dead end on the clear path to the mound, and this tube appeared to be the magical key for opening it. We quickly deduced that it must have gotten inside the mound that way and used its inhuman might to climb or leap through the trap door above. I told her of the voice I heard when Werner prodded the east door, and she warned us not to touch it again for we must have disturbed a spectre. After Wanda weaved her minor magic, the western door was opened and we stepped inside.

It was a laboratory, well stocked with beakers, tubes and all sorts of alchemical tools I had frankly never seen before. Most strikingly, there was a book-stool (lectern…) shaped like a grotesque gargoyle, holding on its outstretched wings a large tome. Everything was in remarkably good condition despite how old it seemed. The room itself was curved in shape, think like the shape of the arc component of a sextant, with one door to the north and another towards the north-east. It was clear the place was composed of curved rooms forming a circle around a central chamber, and I began to mention this until our light dredged a horror from the darkness. It was a lumbering corpse with a twisted ankle, its right arm bone jutting out of its flesh and a tongue lolling where a jaw once was. We all froze in absolutely object (abject, abject!) terror, wordless and wide-eyed. Harbull, now that we’re on the subject, could you please write down in this journal to remind me to start an “empty your bowels before adventuring” rule? Thanks. All of us were stunned by this hideous thing, except our trusty marine Werner. He leapt into battle, sword raised, and split its head in twain while suffering a heavy blow from the deadly creature.

We called Harbull down to see if he could help with the wound. He did what he could, said it might be some sort of concussion and that it needed time to heal. Wanda was disappointed in our doctor’s work, told him to wait in the room under the trapdoor and expressionlessly shut the door. Don’t look at me like that Harbull, I apologized already… no, don’t put the journal down! I’m sorry. Okay, where was I? We found that the living corpse had another tube around its neck, much like the Dwarf-eater, but unlike that ghoul it had six points at the end instead of five. I took this brass tube and the lantern, deciding to lead the way due to Werner’s injury. I opened the northern door and the light illuminated a grand library. My mind was not on the books, however, as another moaning corpse shambled towards the light. It held closed a large gash in its stomach with one hand and attempted to strike with the other. I charged forward and brought my sword down between its eyes, messily sticking it in its skull. I looked back to my crew to tell them the coast was clear. They looked deathly afraid. Two moans came from deeper into the library. Shite.

Two more of these undead bastards moved towards me, ravenous for living flesh. I was in a state of panic. My companions in the laboratory were scared out of their wits and I couldn’t pull my sword from the dead fiend’s skull. One approaching horror had no flesh on its face, the other had been speared so much it reminded me of the fancy cheeses I once saw being exported from Marienberg. These things made me sick to my stomach, brought me closer to idea of death and becoming a corpse just like them… I unslung my shield and bashed one of the things in its maggot-ridden face. Its head jerked back into place, completely unfazed by the blow. I was hoping it would get a concussion, but I momentarily forgot that, yes, the braindead zombies were in fact mindless. Dammit. Thank Sigmar they fought like drunken sailors. While holding off these things at shield’s length, I heard smashing glass and glanced back into the laboratory. Harbull was let back in and his sling stones hit everything in the room but the zombies, which explained the noise. Werner stood there with his mouth agape while Wanda couldn’t get a good shot with her crossbow. The Chaos Gods were laughing, and I felt the grim weight of imminent doom on my shoulders.

But I wanted to live. I’m Captain Johann Dasbuut, I wouldn’t allow my crew to be slain so ignominiously by this… this… skeleton crew! Like a grisly retelling of a Bretonnian knight tale, I shoved the unholy beasts back, stood on the shoulder of the corpse and ripped out my sword from the skull-stone. My sword bit cleanly through the right arm of skull-face and the left leg of cheese-cadaver. Black and viscous liquids gushed from their arteries as they wailed in their death spasms. With my sword and shield thoroughly soaked in unholy blood, I walked towards the laboratory. I barely swerved out of the way of an errant sling stone and saw that another foul creature had entered from the central chamber. Finally, and thank Sigmar for this, Werner’s terror gave way to rage. I almost felt sorry for what happened to the creature when Werner began his flurry of killing blows. Almost. With the blighted undead dealt with, we scooped up the brass tubes around their necks and raided the library for valuable books. The library itself was the largest room of the circle, taking up the northern half in space. We got seven fine looking books! I have no idea of the actual content of these tomes but they look fancy and, crucially, are probably worth something to the scholars of Altdorf. When we were about to leave the library, Wanda told us all to wear the six-pointed brass tube necklaces just in case the evil sorcery of the next room tries to sway us. Upon putting it on, she told us with a smile she now controlled us because of her ownership of the unique five-pointed brass tube. I felt a magical force tighten around my neck, my body and will were no longer my own but rather under the control of the witch. I had been usurped, lead into a trap and ensnared by some sort of enslavement tube! A magical mutiny, the very worst kind.

… No, I'm joking, it wasn't magic but rather a complete bluff on Wanda's part. I immediately took the tube necklace off and put it in my pocket, despite her order not to. It was a ruse, and a damned good one too, but I was too paranoid and wary at this point to believe her without concrete proof. On the other side, with a door to the south east, was a study. It had a wall entirely decorated with constellations. Remarkably accurate, from what I’ve seen at night from the aft of our vessel anyway. On the other wall, towards the central chamber, there were several paintings of a noble family. Don’t have even the slightest idea of which one, but regardless they’re probably worth a lot to somebody. On the previous owner’s desk, we found a hefty journal. It would take at least a week to fully read. Wanda also found inside it a strange and disturbing map of the Empire. It had an upside-down triangle drawn onto it, with a circle around the southern point. Wanda informed us that the lines were the orbit of a comet, or something like that. It sounded like the works of an approaching evil, that I am sure of. Wanda had also found a magical staff within in the room, which she theorized was used by a former necromancer to control the undead prowling the mound. See, necromancy brought the spirits that spoke to me, I’m not mad!

Finally, onto the central chamber itself. It was a large circular room, with a similarly circular wall made of steel in the middle. On either side of this steel wall were two black handles for turning it. Wanda quickly ordered Werner and I to push it counter-clockwise and, sure enough, an opening in the steel wall was revealed. In the very centre of the room, on the floor, was a six starred shape that was glowing (a hexagram). Wanda found, after Harbull could not find anything unusual, that at each point of the star was a hole. Each hole was big enough for one of the six-pointed brass tubes to fit as keys. Finally, the way to the true treasure. One, two, three, four, five…

We needed six keys. We had five.

Well, time to go searching for the sixth key. If we meet that necromancer, I’ll have a few choice words for him…

Signed, with one of those fancy underline signatures,

Captain Johann Dasbuut.
 
GM comment: I would also like to record my admiration for this bit of Wanda dialogue:

Wanda: Aha, this means you all have to do what I say now, because you're all wearing six-pointed stars but my star only has five points.
Johann: I'm going to take mine off.
Wanda: I order you not to do that.

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