Approaching the crypt at dusk

Approaching the crypt at dusk

When last we left our PCs they had cleared out a goblin nest near their onsen, at great personal cost to Azahi the Troll-slayer, and put paid to a potential threat to their new demesne. Upon returning to the onsen they were called back to Separation City by Baroness von Jungfreud and, after a day of rest and healing for poor Azahi, they returned to town. This time they took with them Grunstein, the Jade order mage, who had recovered from his case of hideous Blacklegge disease.

When they returned to Separation City Baroness von Jungfreud arranged to meet them for a picnic, perhaps her last of the spring. As is typical for such a notable’s picnic, she had brought with her several servants, a fire to cook upon, and even a small tent beneath which to retire from the sun. She had also brought with her a scraggly, wild-eyed man in a battered hat and leathers, who traveled under the name Gregor Thorveld and claimed to be one of that rare and feared breed, a witch-hunter. Judging by his nervous manner, continually jittering eyes and uncertain speech he was either constitutionally a coward, or had seen far too many witches.

The Baroness's servants prepare the picnic

The Baroness’s servants prepare the picnic

Baroness von Jungfreud told the characters that there were rumours of disturbance in the graveyard, that one of the graveyard guards had been ambushed with a rusty old arrow and that she wanted them to investigate. The graveyard had been used to bury the victims of the recent plague – about 50 to 100 in all – and she was worried that the PCs had failed to kill off all the plague cultists. Perhaps one had stolen back into the graveyard and was hiding there amidst the corpses of his victims? When asked why the victims had not been burnt, Baroness von Jungfreud somewhat sheepishly confessed that in fact the town Physician had overseen the burial … that same town Physician, of course, who was working for the plague cult. Thus all the groundwork had been laid for even a minor functionary of the cult to dig up some hunk of ghoulpox’d rotten corpse and dump it in the water supply – again.

It was then that she introduced Gregor, who she assured them sternly would help them to make up for any mistakes they had made in eradicating the cult. Through clenched teeth they introduced themselves, and discovered that he had come to Separation City on the strength of rumours of chaos and murder, and had offered to aid Baroness von Jungfreud as part of his role as a witch hunter. The town currently lacking any sturdy fighters, she had agreed to take him on and would send him with the PCs. Although she was dismissive and hypocritical about the responsibility for the plague cult survivor, she did give some implicit indication that she understood her responsibility – she offered them 5 gold coins each to clear the graveyard, a huge amount for such a simple task. Assured of reward, they set off immediately.

Separation City graveyard is separated from the town by some distance, and set on a hillside that backs onto the forested mountains beyond. It is surrounded by the typical wall that surrounds any Steamlands graveyard, about 4 metres high and designed to be hard to scale from the inside. This graveyard had two entrances, one main entrance facing the Iron Ring section of town (distantly visible to the south) and one, higher up along the wall near the end of the cemetery, that was much smaller, much less secure, and opened to a small path that led to a “secret hot spring,” a hot spring that has no real facilities and is used in the open air by anyone who cares to visit. Why this was located in the graveyard was a mystery to everyone, but the PCs immediately recognized the risk – the plague cult seemed to have a thing for causing trouble in hot springs. They had the town guards bar the main gates and set forth for the hot spring. By the time they had arranged all the details it was dusk, but they didn’t let this deter them, and approached the spring.

The spring itself was just a small pool, perhaps thrice as long as it was wide and large enough for four people to bathe together. On one side was a rundown shack; on the other, thick bushes. As they investigated the spring Grunstein noted a disturbance in the Winds of Magic, and was able to warn the rest of the group before a spirit manifested over the pool and drifted forward to the attack.

The battle was over quickly. The spirit attacked Azahi but could not harm him, and the four of them soon dispatched it, though its ethereal form made it hard for their weapons to hit it. Finally Grunstein’s magic dart destroyed it, and it drifted away in a cloud of sparkling motes. The place from hence it had come was now revealed to be an opening in the woods, with a narrow and overgrown path leading further up the hill. This path had obviously been hidden by some kind of illusion that the spirit’s presence maintained; with the spirit gone they were able to see the path. The path itself had obviously not been used for a long time, and was covered in vines and brush. Somewhere down that path in the gloom, Laren thought she saw movement. After a pause to gather their thoughts, they plunged into the path.

After about 30 metres the path veered left and out of sight beyond thick brush. As they approached the corner two skeleton archers emerged from the shadows of the trees ahead. One fired two arrows at Azahi in rapid succession, hitting him in chest and shoulder; the other did the same at Gregor, hitting him once. Laren returned fire and they charged into battle, again rapidly destroying their enemy. These enemies carried arrows that appeared similar to those described by the graveyard guards. Obviously they were getting closer.

Moving further along the path after only the briefest of pauses, the characters saw a rundown and overgrown crypt ahead of them. Laren approached stealthily, finding the door open. From within came the smell of roasting flesh and incense, accompanied by a querulous voice chanting rhythmically and beating some form of small drum. As the others cautiously approached she moved to the doorway and looked in upon a horrifying sight.

The inside of the crypt contained a large sarcophagus at one end, and several smaller sarcophagi upright around the walls. Hanging from one of these on a portable umbrella hook was a coat and hat. On the main sarcophagus was a collection of magical paraphernalia: burning incense, a silver dagger, some gems, candles, a shrivelled newt. Facing them but some distance away stood a tall, angular man in a perfect threepiece suit, fob-watch in pocket, monocle in one eye. In front of him was a strange device, a kind of travelling lectern such as some preachers or musicians sometimes use, made of polished brass and obviously quite expensive, robust enough to hold a large book from which the man was reading. Between this scene of scholarly fastidiousness and the somewhat chaotic collection of magic items on the sarcophagus a magic circle had been painted on the floor in blood. Inside the circle a small child roasted on a spit over a small fire, still vaguely alive and burbling and gasping its last horrified breaths. A small skeletal familiar turned the spit rhythmically.

Laren gasped in horror and opened fire on the wizard. As he turned to face her, hideous beasts materialized from the gloom. Two crypt ghouls came prowling out from behind the sarcophagus and shambled forward to the attack; a darker, more terrifying spirit form coalesced near Laren and drifted forward to strike at her. Battle was joined. Gregor moved forward to take a shot at the ghouls but was so horrified by what he saw that he turned and fled. Azahi charged forward to attack the ghouls but was also shaken by the horror of the scene, and so terrified of the undead and enraged that he opted instead to strike at the wizard. As he did so a ghoul leapt on his back and began gnawing at him, digging closer and closer to his jugular with its teeth. Overwhelmed by the terror and burdened by the weight of magic and beast, he fought poorly and increasingly desperately. Grunstein helped as he could, his powers bolstered by drawing on a shard of wyrdstone that lay on the sarcophagus, but he had to leave to support Laren as she withdrew across the overgrown path. She and Grunstein prepared to sell their lives dearly in the gloom of the path, facing up against the Cairn Wraith and one ghoul. Grunstein was close to death when Gregor, regretting his flight, returned to the fray and helped to dispatch their enemies. Inside, Azahi managed to slay the wizard, shake off the ghoul and destroy it; but so desperate and exhausted was he that he simply sunk to the ground, hand gripped around his falchion blade so tight that it bled. The others flocked to him and helped him back to himself, but he would never be the same again.

They destroyed the magic items and looted the bodies. On closer inspection the wyrdstone Grunstein had been using was discovered to be that most foul substance, Warpstone, obviously being used by the necromancer to fuel his foul rites. Grunstein investigated the book from which these rites were read and found it was a speak with dead spell; the necromancer had been planning to raise the ghost of a resident of this crypt. Such a terrible book and such an evil substance would need to be destroyed, and not just in the local Sigmar temple – a journey to Heavenbalm would be necessary soon to destroy such abominations.

Notes on the necromancer’s body suggested he was looking for a member of the Family Azeem, who were buried here. This family ruled Separation City until the von Jungfreuds arrived 12 years earlier, and the necromancer’s notes suggested that the person he was attempting to bring back from beyond had been murdered by the von Jungfreuds. He had traveled here from Heavenbalm to find out something about the past in Separation City, and he was not alone; he was a member of a clique based in Heavenbalm, who met at a tavern there called the Seventh Banner.

Now the PCs began to wonder – was there something special about Separation City? Why was it that all these people had an interest in this town? Twelve years ago the von Jungfreuds had come here, and had been willing to do murder to take control of the town. How had they been able to arrange their possession of this town and why? How come this tomb was so forgotten and hidden? Then, was it a coincidence that a powerful disease cultist based in Store – the mysterious “F” – had sent a strong disease cult to overwhelm the town, coincidentally using von Jungfreud as the centre of the plot and killing her husband? And why was this necromancer here trying to turn up secrets from 12 years ago?

The PCs realized that there was a mystery about the town, and that it could be answered only through investigations in Separation City, Heavenbalm and Store. Since they had an evil book and warpstone to destroy, there next course of action was obvious – they would travel to Heavenbalm to the temple of Eight Banners, to destroy the book and the stone; and while there they would hunt down this necromantic clique, and find what it aimed to achieve. They would regret the day one of their number crossed paths with Azahi, Laren, Grunstein and Gregor …

A few mechanical notes: upon sight of the ritual all the PCs had to do corruption checks and several failed. Somehow Grunstein managed to use the warpstone four times and only incurred one point of corruption. By way of contrast, Azahi gained the frightened condition and once the ghoul attacked him he started incurring serious fatigue and stress, ultimately accruing four temporary insanities – one of which was permanent. This battle was a very close-fought thing indeed.

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