Tycho Brae’s illness gets worse over the next couple of weeks. It isn’t helped by a herbal remedy that Clara attempts that seems to make him delirious so he muttered “Harbingers…” in his sleep. She estimated he had about six weeks left and that for the last two, he might be bedridden and raving. After her special “remedy”, it seemed he might only last four weeks. He had continued to make strange calculations based on the astronomical observations of the Ophiccus Constellation and link them to prophesies in Revelations. He had become obsessed with working out exactly when and where “the Stars would align” and more and more worried that he would not have the time and ability to finish.
While waiting about in the city for his snakeskin armour to be stitched, Ezekiel hears rumours of a healer in Leipzig who can heal any sickness by touch.
He is a reformation monk, based at the University. It seems that the healing weakens him, so he is only doing one per day and the Dean of the University is controlling access, supposedly to the worthy but this often seems to mean the wealthy!
It is 150 miles or so, 4 days by horse, 6 by carriage. Harry was confident he could persuade the Dean to give Tycho priority. Clara thought they could afford to pay with the money her uncle had given them.
Tycho was already resigned to his fate and needed to be convinced that his calculations could be more easily completed if he wasn’t dying. Fortunately they were able to hire a skilled Physician, Dr. Bundhilfe to travel with them in the carriage. Clara took all the books she could cram into and onto Tycho’s carriage so the old man could continue to work during the journey.
The journey took them through Dresden where a nobleman Elector Heimlich Schachzug had been cured of TB. There was much talk on the road and in the inns about Brother Edmund Brunner, the holy man. It seems he had been praying at a woodland cross somewhere north east of Dresden when a holy hermit had approached him and told him to go forth and bring an end to suffering. He found that he could heal the sick by a laying on of hands although this seems to bring on a Rapture that leaves him weak.
He travelled to Leipzig and ended up at the Reformation Church of the University. Pilgrims seeking a miracle cure are flocking to the University but the Dean was being very protective to avoid wearing out the holy man.
The next day, Tycho became exhausted and Dr Bundhilfe recommended stopping at an inn for a day to let him recover. As they were now within a few hours of the location of the place where Brunner met the hermit, they decided to go exploring.
At the village of Coswig, they were directed to the site of the Fallen Cross, where Brunner is reported to have had his encounter with the Hermit. After another hour traipsing up into the hills overlooking a bend of the Elbe, they found the stone cross lying on a ledge of the hillside. They managed to work out that the cross hadn’t fallen, but was built lying down and that it had “teeth” digging into the earth to hold it in place. Masa detected strong protective magics on the stone and Clara believed the inscriptions (from the 11th century) were about protecting the land.
Ezekiel and Masa spotted a shadowy figure in a cave a bit higher up and set off to sneak around behind it. Meanwhile, Harry and Clara started digging under the cross to see what it was covering. It was hard going but after a while the earth between two of the stone teeth began to crumble and fall back into a hollow under the cross. A foul stench of decay billowed out. Peering in, Harry could see bleached white bones, and the glint of expensive jewellery, a brooch and gold buttons on the scraps of once-fine clothing. Having some experience of the robbing of graves, he reached in and pulled the scraps out. The brooch had a sort of family crest on it that seemed like an early version of a local noble family. It was pretty valuable-looking stuff. Then he noticed there was blood on his hand and on the cloth. Wet, sticky blood!
Clara peered in and could see a glistening red mess, bubbling and growing over the bones. The corpse inside was regenerating. Frantically they tried to return the loot and seal up the tomb but red mist seeped out and reformed into the naked pustulant form of a fat old man. His mad face leered about and he cackled “Free at last”. His distended belly seemed to pulse and stretch alarmingly as if it was about to burst.
Clara screamed loudly and shot him. Masa and Ezekiel, started running back. Harry clobbered it with his mattock but the thing was unnaturally tough. It glared at him and tried to overwhelm his will, but somehow, luckily for Clara, he managed to keep control. More hammer blows and more shots, to little avail. Then the thing screeched at them and they were struck with a wave of fright. It tried again to control Harry but failed and finally he connected with a powerful strike. The distend body exploded, spraying festering, hissing bile all over Harry and all over the little hilltop. Clara managed to duck most of it but Harry breathed it in and began to feel very ill indeed. He ran down to the river to wash it off.
Despite the stinking slime all over the place, Clara knelt down by the cross and scrabbled at the edge, reaching under to retrieve the brooch. She too felt the sickness getting inside her and followed Harry to the river. They were both infected and both could see the pulsing movement and stretching of their bellies that looked like the early stages of whatever had happened to the corpse under the cross.
Masa could tell that the magic had been broken and they later discovered that the cave was empty and had probably had some form of projected illusion cast from the creature. Possibly the protections were beginning to weaken as a result of the resurgence of Magick. He identified the creature as being some kind of Plague Demon (he actually called it a Plague Oni). The sickness should have stopped when the Oni died but clearly something was keeping the infection going and the two victims were going to get worse, much worse and soon!