Spare the lash and victory can be yours ...

Spare the lash and victory can be yours …

Having scouted the immediate vicinity of their landing point, our heroes needed to prepare to storm the ziggurat, which would mean taking on guards in two distant towers, and whatever soldiers were huddled in the main part of the compound.

The safest approach appeared to be splitting the party, and this is what they decided to do. Dean sneaked into the powerplant, while Ryan slipped away to the opposite end of the ziggurat to approach its guard tower, and Thorne ran around the base of the ziggurat for no apparent purpose except the joy of the miasmic air.

Dean’s stealthy incursion was successful; he was able to sneak into the base of the powerplant, climb some stairs to a high room that was clearly the control room, and confirm that it was a nuclear plant. From there he found a gantry that led joined the control room to one of the two watchtowers. He slipped into the watchtower when the two occupants weren’t looking and crept through a doorway that led inside the ramparts of the ziggurat. Here a narrow corridor led right through the ramparts to an observatory that overlooked the outer slope of the ziggurat, and the grim cloud of the miasma. On the left side of this narrow corridor was a door, through which Dean could hear a group of people arguing about a plan…

Voice 1: I say we use the negotiating tactic. There are too many to fight. We can send our last captive back with a message, then meet them and tell them to give us what we want. They’ll do it, they always do.

Voice 2: This community is big though, Marionetta, too big … they likely have warships, they might be able to hit us harder than we can handle if they know we’re here.

Voice 1: Not if they can’t see us, they can’t do –

Voice 3 [interrupting]: What if they have radar or satellite? They might work it out. A couple of lucky shells from a big warship and we lose the plant. Plus we only have the one captive, we’re running out and we need to drain that one or we’re going to be naked.

Voice 2: I agree. We roll the swarm over them and hit them quietly while they’re fighting it. They have a big ecosystem, they’ll throw everyone and everything at defending it. While they’re trying to protect themselves we slip in, grab everything we can and get out. They won’t even guess where we came from, and we’ll be safe.

Voice 1: But they’re big, we can get them to give over more than we can take … more food, more women, more than we need … it’s a big chance …

Voice 4: Okay folks, I got some draining to do, I’m out. We can figure this out over dinner. Keep tight …

[Various voices indicating assent and farewell]

Dean, realizing he might be caught at the door, slipped away into the observatory. No one emerged from the door, but he decided discretion was the better part of valour and ducked out of one of the observatory windows, creeping around the outside of the ziggurat to return to his colleagues.

Ryan had not been so successful, however. He drew close enough to the watchtower to see that it held two guards, but as he was assessing their position one saw him and opened fire with a sniper rifle; the other began ringing a bell. Ryan was forced to slip away fast into the mist, keeping low to avoid bullets that would carve him open through his weak sharkskin armour, and returned hastily to where Crimson waited. Realizing that the alarm had been raised, they peered over the ramparts and saw a gang of 6 men running out of the aircraft sections towards the watchtower where Ryan had been seen. It was time to act …

As this scouting had been happening, Thorne had run halfway around the base of the ziggurat, youthful exuberance carrying him forward faster than commonsense could catch up. He passed a trio of boat ramps, with three boats hitched up high on the ramps and connected by winches to the top of the rampart. Passing through this he ran on until he came to another boat ramp, upon which a huge dead jellyfish was beached. Three men stood on the far side of the jellyfish, near a cart of some kind that was full of jellyfish parts and waiting to be winched up the ramp. Thorne seized the moment of surprise, sneaking up behind them and grabbing a long, thick jellyfish stinger from inside the cart. Appearing around the edge of the cart, he whipped this at the nearest man, whose back was turned. It slapped all across the man’s back and over his shoulder, but he simply flicked it off irritably, and turned around to see where it had come from. Somehow these men were immune to jellyfish! Instead of falling paralyzed and screaming to the ground Thorne’s target charged forward to attack. One grabbed a boathook while the other two charged in with knives, but they were no match for Thorne’s savagery, and soon he had beaten all three to death. From there he crept up the boat ramp toward the ramparts. Here he found a small building that contained a biodiesel fermenter of some kind – clearly these people had found a way to convert dead and rotting jellyfish into biodiesel. Thorne was investigating when he heard the bell ringing, and wandered off to see what the fuss was about. However, he emerged from the mist at the wrong point, and the men in the watchtower opened fire on him. The 6 guards that Crimson and Ryan had seen charging up the ramparts now turned and chased after Thorne, who decided now might be a good time to return to his colleagues. He turned and fled back the way he had come.

The watchtower battle

Ryan, Leviathan and Crimson waited for Dean to return to them and then all four slipped down the ramparts and into the powerplant. They passed through the control room with the intention of reentering the watchtower unobserved, but as Crimson opened the door to the gantry someone above fired at him – they had been seen by the guards in the watchtower. They had to charge across to the watchtower under fire, but once inside they fixed the problem quickly with a well-thrown grenade. Dean climbed up into the watchtower itself, taking possession of a sniper’s rifle and using it to fire across at the sniper on the other watchtower. The mist and distance confounded him though, and he and the sniper in the far tower exchanged pointless shots.

Down below in the tower Leviathan, Crimson and Ryan were attacked by three of the leaders that Dean had heard in the inner room. These three were a huge, heavily-armoured man carrying an old-fashioned glaive; a small and fast-moving man with a knife; and a lean, vicious-looking woman with no weapons at all. The battle was short and brutal, with Crimson delaying the armoured man while Dean fired crossbow bolts at the other two, Leviathan tried to kill the smaller man and Ryan tried to avoid being killed. They were starting to win, the armoured man badly hurt and the little man dying, when the woman dropped a grenade at her feet, obviously intending to kill everyone in the room. Everyone managed to dive out of doorways and avoid the worst of the blast, but were still hurt. Fortunately the explosion ended the battle, and they were able to pick over the woman’s splattered remains for a key. With this key they opened a door to an armoury just inside the doorway, and found a heavy machine gun with 30 rounds of ammunition. Dean and Leviathan took this up to the watchtower and returned to a futile engagement with the sniper in the far tower, while down below Crimson and Ryan explored the complex of rooms inside the ramparts.

Desperate science

The first room opened into a kind of conference chamber, where Dean had previously heard the leaders conferring. At one end of the room was a large screen, that showed a static view of a laboratory. As they watched, a man appeared on the screen and saw them! For a moment they stared at each other, and then the man uttered a stream of profanities and dashed out of the room he was in. The screen must have been linked to some remote part of the complex, and the remaining leader was now aware that the game was up. They rushed inside the ramparts to find a way to get to him, but couldn’t find anything, and soon returned to the watchtower. At this point Thorne rejoined them, having given his six pursuers the slip through a tunnel in the ramparts. In fact, his pursuers had been forced to retreat by Dean’s heavy machine gun – they had fallen into Dean’s field of fire as they ran along the ramparts looking for Thorne, and after the first two were heavily injured they retreated towards the other watchtower.

The battle with this watchtower remained futile, although Leviathan and Dean were nearly killed when the distant guards unleashed a torrent of anti-drone rockets on their tower. These rockets fell short but Dean and Leviathan had to take cover from the onslaught. Dean managed to recover from this and finally reeled off a lucky shot, blowing the distant rocketeer’s brains out, but during all this time they had been ignoring their surroundings. Finally Leviathan noticed a bank of cctv screens on one side of the watchtower, one of which showed a man in the control room of the nuclear plant, madly fiddling with controls.

The implications were obvious. They charged out of the watchtower to the control room, but were trapped on the gantry because the man had locked the control room door. Inside the control room red lights were flashing and a klaxon was screaming. Leviathan hurriedly placed some explosive on the door handle and blew his way into the room, the explosion so perfectly set that it blew the inner doorknob out perfectly, preserving the door and driving the doorknob deep into the man’s chest[1]. The door swung slowly open, to reveal a room bathed in emergency light and a calm electronic woman’s voice saying, “Three minutes to initial containment failure. Please evacuate.”

Three minutes!! Leviathan began working madly to understand the controls of the plant. He soon identified that the plant was a liquid salt-cooled thorium plant, so meltdown would release a huge quantity of molten salt into the plastic innards of the ziggurat, undoubtedly sinking it very rapidly. This would release the miasma, which probably would drift away from the Hulks, but it would definitely kill the entire group, and they would lose the ziggurat. Everyone watched in horror as Leviathan struggled to reverse the shutdown, scrabbling at controls and desperately running from panel to panel. Finally, with just seconds to spare, he managed to cancel the reactor core failure, and reverse the meltdown. They all fell back onto the panels in relief, and watched as the system returned to normal.

Aftermath

The remainder of the guards were easily dispatched, being mostly injured and trying to flee. The last two had to be shot down as they tried to escape in a boat, with one choosing to dive amongst the jellyfish and take his chances on the ocean rather than face the party. They found the scientist cowering in his lab underneath the second watchtower, and here they found a horrible scene of torture and cannibalism: two fishermen from the Hulks, held captive in cells near the lab, hideously deformed with thousands of jellyfish stings, and near to death. Exploring the ziggurat, they found a captive slave woman, one arm disfigured with jellyfish stings, who told them the tale of the stings. Captives would be tested for their reaction to jellyfish stings, and if they reacted a certain way they would be taken out to sea in small boats and submerged in the miasma, held in the water until they were insane with the pain. They would then be treated in some way, and their blood drained and drunk by the pirates on the ziggurat. This blood would grant the pirates temporary immunity to jellyfish stings, though the immunity required regular boosting with fresh blood. The slave woman had failed the initial reaction to the sting, so she was not drained but kept alive and used. The pirates, it appeared, were also slavers and cannibals.

Common custom in the Flood holds that cannibals are to be destroyed, down to the last man and child: anyone old enough to walk who has tasted human flesh or blood is to be exterminated. It is grim work, but it is a strong custom that stems from the last years of the era before the flood, when desperate communities turned to cannibalism as their societies fell apart, and cannibalism is viewed as a throwback to the worst horrors of the collapse of landborne society. It is known that some floating communities maintained the tradition, and they are seen as horrid abominations to be destroyed at any cost. It was necessary for the characters to hunt down everyone on the ziggurat and destroy them, saving only the maid and the scientist. The scientist would, of course, die horribly, but first he would be taken back to the Hulks and forced to teach them all he knew about the jellyfish.

The characters returned triumphant to the Hulks, to announce to Captain Dilver their successful acquisition of a nuclear-powered ziggurat and the extermination of a cannibal jellyfish pirate cult. Soon they were ferrying soldiers and scientists back to the ziggurat, guiding them around it, and helping to secure it. Though they had nearly all died, their mission had been a resounding success, and position of trust with Captain Dilver assured. The Gyre had become incalculably richer through their efforts, and even Dilver had to concede that they had done well. He fated them personally, inviting them to a private party on the war sloop the Gunfather, so that they had alcohol and fine foods and a grand view as the scientist was flayed and hoisted high on the Eiffel tower, for the birds to pick to death.

A successful adventure indeed …

fn1: Leviathan’s player rolled an incredible 48 with three criticals on the demolitions check!

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