Savage 1600s

The First Horseman

They headed for the tavern avoiding any incidents with the watch. They all smelled pretty rotten after their night’s adventure. They had been splattered with plague foam and then engulfed in thick black smoke. Ezekiel peered into the stable but saw nothing interesting other than a stableboy. Masa sneaked up and peered through the windows of the inn, climbing up to look in one of the open-shuttered windows. He spotted signs that the magical, bloated rat female may have been there just a few minutes ago. The two beds in the room had both been slept in and the sheets were still warm.

They ran down to the jetty but it was another dark, overcast night. There were signs that a small rowing boat was moored there earlier and tracks of the giant rat and two men.

They managed to attract the attention of two boatmen, labourers who search the river for scraps of useful rubbish, and hasty negotiations got them rowed downriver after a small two-man boat the workers had just seen go by. They soon caught up and saw that a tall blond man in fine clothes, presumably Lord Hawthorne, was rowing and a scruffy-looking servant was standing in the prow looking ahead. The boat was leaving a faintly visible wake.

They also spotted a second wake nearby from a submerged swimmer. It was the huge bloated female rat. It turned towards them. Ezekiel and Harry shot it with crossbows and the thing thrashed about, bobbing to the surface. It tried to cast a spell on them, which Clara and Masa recognised as a mist-summoning, but another volley of shots finished the monster off. It exploded in a welter of foul black ichor that rained down on the boat. Fortunately everyone on the boat managed to resist the magical plague!

They continued to overtake the smaller boat. Lord Hawthorne was clearly in some sort of zombie-like state, taking orders from the scruffy man who looked similar in build and features to the rat men they fought earlier. As they got closer the rat man took a shot with a pistol that misfired and he hurled it away in disgust, gave some final instructions then dove nimbly overboard and swam towards them, too deep to get a shot at him.

Suddenly his powerful hairy arms were at the side of their boat, tugging, Masa was tipped into the water but the others managed to cling to the boat. It was clearly a desperate attempt to delay them and let Hawthorne get away but they quickly skewered the rat man and his corpse sank beneath the dark waters. He didn’t seem to be carrying much other than leather armour, rapier, pistol and daggers.

Their rowers didn’t like the idea of chasing a man who was clearly a noble and argued for more money but were told that Hawthorne was a Jesuit and they quickly caught the smaller boat. Harry smashed a hole in it and it began to sink. There was a brief fight with Hawthorne who was strong but lethargic. Lord Hawthorne was quickly and brutally murdered. They knew he was an unwilling victim but decided that it was vital to the safety of the realm that the Harbinger was denied its Vessel.

Hawthorne was travelling with relatively few possessions. They paid off the rowers with his fine boots, rapier and pistol. He was carrying no money (presumably the rat man had the purse) but they did find fine clothes in a suitcase in the boat.

There was nothing more to do than wait another day and night for the appointed hour.
It was more overcast than ever.

After weeks of measurements and calculations, Masa and Clara were finally agreed on the exact time and place for the Harbinger’s arrival. On the south bank of the thames a hundred yards east of Tower Bridge about an hour after sunset. Judging the exact time was no easy matter because of dense cloud and a thick fog that rolled up the river in late afternoon. They waited in heavy rain, beneath the eaves of a house owned by an import/export merchant Henry Weston. The Westons were at home but seemed to be ignoring any outside noises from the small group hiding at the corner.

A few minutes before the predicted time, a rolling thunder began to be heard, rising to a deep vibration that shook the foundations. Loose slates clattered off nearby roofs and shouted cries of alarm drifted through the mist. Overhead the bright red streak of a comet was seen, angling down sharply.

The calculations had been correct. The comet struck only a dozen yards away, but the physical impact was surprisingly small. A wave of dread pulsed out from it seeming to affect a large area of the city as screams were heard even across the river. Ezekiel broke and ran, taking a while to gather his courage and slink back. The others somehow resisted the horror.

Before them on the shore a tornado of circling fury had appeared. A pillar of roiling black smoke, twenty feet high and ten across with flashes of fire and lightning. A booming voice in their minds began to cry..
WHERE ARE MY BRIDES? MY VESSEL? WHERE IS THE BLADE, ESCAVOL ?”

From nearby, they heard the sound of solidiers, some fleeing in panic, other being rallied by their commander to move in and investigate. Their voices were muffled. harry went to intercept them and found a troop of pikemen with heavy leather cloaks and helmets with huge bird-like beaks. They were dressed in the Plague Doctor costumes that the Privy Council had been stockpiling. They were Robert Cecil’s men and they recognised the imposing figure of Harry Pike as some of them had been following the group around town for the last couple of weeks.

Harry told them to keep back and they were only too happy to take his advice.

The column of smoke was condensing by the time Harry and Ezekiel rejoined their companions. Clara decided to start preparing a spell to Banish the spirit using components gathered by Masa. This would be very dangerous and would take some time to prepare for.

Suddenly the voice in their heads returned. “PRIESTESS? I SENSE YOU NEARBY. WHY HAVE YOU NOT APPROACHED TO GREET ME? COME TO ME AT ONCE!”

At that moment Ezekiel was lifted from the ground an pulled around the corner. Harry and Masa managed to grab him and slow him down but they were being pulled inexorably into the open. Ezekiel realised that it was his snake-skin armour that was being dragged and managed to shrug his way out of it. The armour had been crafted from the skin of the serpent-priestess in Prague. They had not known of any connection between her and the harbingers.

The black and yellow diamonds of the armour flashed, reflecting the flames in the smoke as it vanished into the column.

AHHYOU ARE DEAD. YOU ARE FORTUNATE THAT THE BLOOD OF STARS STILL BURNS WITHIN ME. I SHALL BRING YOU BACK BEFORE THE POWER FADES IF ONLY TO PUNISH YOU FOR YOUR MANY FAILURES.”

Sickening sounds of something wet, something squelchy could be heard from inside the column, a whimper and then a woman’s scream and her weaker mental voice…

“Lord, I died in your service before I could recover the blade. Surely that loyalty counts for something. Others were sent to prepare for your arrival here. They have failed you, not I.”

SILENCE! WITHOUT THE BLADE OF IMMORTALITY, MY SACRIFICE THIS NIGHT WILL KILL ME. THE SERPENT MAY RAISE ME UPON HIS ARRIVAL, AS I HAVE YOU, BUT UNTIL THEN I WILL BE DEAD. THOSE WHO BROUGHT YOUR SKIN HERE ARE MY ENEMIES. THEY WILL SEEK TO PREVENT MY WORK. DESTROY THEM NOW, WHILE MY POWER IS IN YOU, AND YOU WILL REGAIN MY FAVOUR

View
Rodents of Unusual Size

Over the next few days they continued their search for the Necromancer’s second lair. They were looking for somewhere near the river. Based on the tracks Ezekiel had found, somewhere they could hide three foul-smelling giant rats with bloated bodies.

Clara continued her measurements and calculations of the exact location of the Harbinger’s destined arrival. It was on a stepped terrace between the house of John Shipston (a rich merchant) and the south bank of the Thames, a few hundred feet from Tower Bridge.

Masa spent a few days building a blackpowder bomb and a few smoke grenade eggs. Harry bought some strong, flammable spirits.

They got lucky and overheard some citizens talking about the horrible smell near Blackfriars Playhouse. The playhouse was in an old church building and had a small compound including a warehouse and a gated river entrance.

That evening, after the patrons had all gone in, they drifted up to the river gate. It had a fancy new padlock and the water tunnel led under the compound wall. While the other men held the boat steady, Harry used a crowbar to snap the link and open the gate. Clara was keeping watch and spotted a shifty-looking tramp on the opposite bank, stirring a low fire and watching them intently. Something unnatural about his eyes caught her notice even at that distance. They rowed across to confront him but he ran nimbly round a corner and vanished. Checking the tracks in the muddy bank, it appeared that he had indeed vanished. The tracks stopped abruptly in an alley between two high-sided buildings. he might have been able to climb it but, when Masa scrambled up, he could see no signs.

They rowed back over to the entrance and went in. They passed under the wall and under the first warehouse. The roof of the tunnel was a heavy double door, clearly bolted from above and weighted with barrels or sacks.

They passed on to a small underground basin with steps leading up to a smaller building. Kicking through the wooden door, they were surprised to find three humanoid rat men waiting in ambush with swords drawn. The rat men were strong and skilled and very quick but it was not enough to save them. When the first two were quickly cut down, the last, whose black fur was soaked, seemed to flicker and vanish before their eyes. He had transformed instantly into a normal-sized rat and made a dash for a small hole in the wall. Harry’s maul crashed down on him and he transformed once more. this time into a bloody smear.

They flung open the inner door to a foul-smelling building, once an office but now the sleeping quarters of three immense female rats, easily the size of large pigs. The hideous creatures had bloated plague-filled bellies, rippling and swelling with every movement. Their bellies looked very similar to the plague demon and to how Harry and Clara had been when they were infected, but much worse.

To add to the horror the creatures began to hiss and squeak in a strange language and wave their hideous long-fingered paws. Two of them emanated waves of fear but our heroes had faced worse. The last was casting at the ground beneath her where a few of the flagstones had been lifted to reveal the dirt.

They threw in the bombs and the whiskey and a torch and slammed the door. The explosion was huge in the confined space and the fire swiftly consumed the room and then the rest of the building. They could see two exploded corpses in the flames but the third had vanished. Masa believed she had cast a spell to pass through the earth, leaving no tunnel.

The room was drenched in festering slime from the corpses and the smoke that billowed out carried the stench of infection too. Our heroes were forced to retreat and searched for the last monster rat as they left. The theatre crowd poured out and formed a bucket gang to prevent the fire from spreading. A few of the crowd began to cough and splutter as the smoke infected them but most of it burned away cleanly.

They slipped back to join the crowd and spotted a spy watching them who they believed was one of Robert Cecil’s men. He was probably the hooked-nose guy who hired Marston to spy on them earlier.

They found no trace of the last plague rat.

They did manage to find out that the buildings had been rented a few days earlier by Lord Hawthorne (the man mentioned in one of the letters carried by the Gypsy Clee) He had given his address as a riverside guest house a few miles down river.

View
Just Messing about on the River

Map of London from 1600

In the Waterfront tavern, they quickly examine Clee’s stuff. There are the letters, a few pounds in cash, the crude black medallion with a white bone and a heavy padlock key. Cleetis Rose seems to have been an alias for Clee. This is further supported by the little boat outside having an painted Rose on the prow. They also searched the boat before the watch arrive, and find that the collapsible mast has a lot of recent scratches on the tip of the fixed stump (about 3 feet from the waterline). This suggests he has been taking the boat into a low tunnel.

Ezekiel and Masa spend the next week searching the river banks and asking around in seedy places, trying to track Clee’s movements. Ezekiel begins to hope that the “P” at the bottom of the letter, refers to “Volodya Putin”, the necromancer who killed his family. Clee, had sold them to Putin, so they had worked together in the past. They hired a few bargemen to give them a tour. There were lots of tributaries, lots of wharves, several warehouses and private houses with river entrances, either tunnels or built on stilts.

Meanwhile Clara is wandering around town, guarded by Harry, with measuring sticks, a sextant and maps, trying to calculate the exact spot where the first of the Harbingers will reach the earth. It seems likely to be within half a mile of Tower Bridge. With luck, they will narrow it down further next week, a few days before the actual event.

They spot that they are being inexpertly followed by a scruffy fellow (wearing good shoes) who, when roughly questioned by Harry, says he is John Marston, a Playwright. He has been offered a small sum of money to keep tabs on Clara and note the locations they visit and if they appear to have found a particular spot. He has been told to go to The Olde Swan Inn on Saturday Night and his contact will meet him to get the info. Marston describes the contact as having a beak of a nose, a sallow complexion, middle-aged and with long, straggly grey hair. The man was a londoner, by his accent and wore decent quality clothes, like a middling merchant.

Marston was a very ineffectual spy, clearly just doing it half-heartedly in order to make a few shillings. When harry pushed him away down the road, he hung about a bit and said sheepishly, “but I live the other way!”.

They went to the Inn to see if they could spot the contact. A number of off-duty members of the city watch were in there, and they seemed to have a few shillings extra to spend. This was unusual, according to locals. Our heroes watched Marston go in, but decided not to follow. Ezekiel found out there was a sort of walled garden out back where gentlemen could rent female companionship. He tried to climb a drainpipe on a building on the other side of the street but fumbled it. Near the top it pulled away from the wall, leaned slowly across the street and dumped him into the garden of the Inn. He managed to charm his way out without being arrested as the three soldiers in the garden were otherwise engaged.

Marston was having a good night. His play had been performed at the Blackfriars Playhouse. It was a bawdy satire, attacking another playwright and had some good insults in it. They were managing to avoid certain restrictions by having it performed by the Blackfriars Child Actors Company in a Playhouse that used to be a catholic church. Marston was being bought drinks and stayed at the Inn well into the night.

Eventually they gave up their vigil, deciding that Marston’s contact was probably working for Robert Cecil (the Imp) , Spymaster for the Queen.

During the week, they had also heard rumours of a Jesuit Plot to spread disease and that the Privy Council were preparing for it by laying in medical supplies. They had also learned of some “miracle” cures at three hospices along the river banks. A few sick people had woken up at these hospices with all their symptoms cured. This sounded suspiciously like the work of a Plague Demon such as they had fought near Dresden a few months earlier. That had drained away illness from several people to brew up a more virulent sickness.
They thought that the “bitches” mentioned in the letter might be giant rats who were absorbing sickness ready to become Plague Bombs.

They visited one of the Hospices, near the Temple buildings on the north bank. Clara had her measuring devices and they managed to get allowed to measure up the Hospice ready for some potential building work. Clara even went into the Pox Ward, where the most infectious victims were kept and asked around. it seemed that the few people who had been cured, had been bitten by rats in the night and then woken up cured.

They had a few uneasy moments when they spotted the pathetic bloated figure of Mary Miggins, once keeper of a pie shop, now poxed and penniless. She was heavily pregnant and the monks who tended her didn’t know if she would last the week and whether death or birth would come first.

Finishing off the surveying the grounds, Clara was shown into a storeroom where they had some brand new Plague Doctor outfits, heavy leather robes and gauntlets and special helmets. These had been supplied by a government grant just last week. It seemed that Cecil was taking the threat seriously, at least enough to lay in supplies.

They caught a rat in the cellars of the Temple Hospice and brought it back to their own tavern in a heavy sack. Clara had tried to detect if it was magical but got backlash and lost her powers for a few hours. Later Masa had a go and found very faint signs that the creature had been magically influenced last night but was now free from it. Unable to find a way to get any more info from the rat, Harry killed it.

Another few days searching and Masa and Ezekiel found a likely gated tunnel in the South bank. The tunnel led to a Warehouse district with a covered basin for unloading. Clee’s key fitted the padlock and they all floated inside in a rented rowboat. They entered under cover of night so as to avoid being seen by the watchmen. Halfway along the water tunnel they found a secret hinged section in the wall and managed to push through into a hidden tunnel running parallel to the bank. A few yards along there, they were attacked by four zombies who rose up from hiding in the shallow water. These were probably the “Drowned Guardians” mentioned in the letter.

Despite wobbling about in the boat, they managed to destroy the zombies (the drowned guardians) without too much problem. searching the three caves ahead they found that Putin (assuming it was indeed him) had had a bedroom/study here until very recently. He had left swiftly 2 days ago. It occurred to them that the crude medallion might have been a symbol to prevent the Zombies from attacking.

Ezekiel also found tracks for three very large rats (pig-sized) lying in one of the chambers and found tracks of a man, wearing excellent boots, who had apparently stood very still in the corner of the office. They thought the man may have been “the Vessel”. There were no obvious clues to where Putin had gone. The only other thing they found was fished out of rats’ latrine pool by Clara. It was a soggy, foul-smelling book about the Roanoake Colony and it had a single page cut out, a Map. It was fairly common knowledge that the Roanoake Colony, in the New World, had been found abandoned 10 years before and the only clue was the word CROATOAN written on the wall of the little fort.

They continued with their measurements and calculations and, as near as they could tell, the Harbinger would arrive at a spot on the south bank of the Thames, almost opposite the Tower of London, perhaps half a mile from Putin’s abandoned base. The necromancer had kept a short barge in the tunnel too and the barge was now gone.

View
Vengeance

When they got back from the Grand Hunt after an outdoor lunch in Richmond Deer Park,
Clara discovered the Book of the Tentacled Horror had been stolen from her locked trunk, in her locked room. They all had a hunt around and discovered each of their rooms had been entered and carefully searched. Everything examined and put back in place except the book. It is a pretty damming piece of evidence. If the discoverer wanted to accuse Clara of Witchcraft, she would probably get executed for it.

Dr Dee is the only one who remained at the palace. His room was also searched. He said a maid came in to clean his room and he sent her away. A short time later a servant brought him a message to come for a meeting with Robert Cecil (Secretary of State, Spymaster, known as the Queen’s Imp). He went to Cecil’s office and had to wait an hour before being told that important matters of State meant the interview had to be cancelled.

They suspected Cecil. Clara tried to get an interview with him, hoping for an opportunity to search his office, but they failed to get an interview. She took a huge risk and listened at the inner door, overhearing “… Don’t really believe anything will happen, but to be on the safe side, I’m spreading a rumour about a Jesuit plot and using that as a reason to make some other preparations – just in case…”

Ezekiel fetched Harry to the Palace from the Turks Head tavern (Harry’s unofficial “office”) and, with some difficulty, got him into the tower rooms and up to speed with events.

It seemed that Harry’s summer break had been quite profitable and he had managed to remove his Wanted status. Thomas Percy, the instigator of the warrant against him had met with an unfortunate accident. The “Hero of Prague” had an excellent alibi, as tales are still coming in from Europe about him.

The consensus of opinion was that Cecil had sent an agent to search their rooms and he now had the Book. As they were still alive, they were in no obvious immediate danger but politics seems more deadly than monsters. Harry went back to his office.

The next day they left the palace and took rooms at The Saracen, considerably more up-market than Harry’s local. Ezekiel went to fetch Harry again as they were intending to wander around London taking measurements and doing final calculations to work out the exact location where the Harbinger was destined to arrive in 3 weeks time. As he had now had the Queen’s promise of financial backing, Dee was able to get a loan and pay them all for their adventures so far, 20 pounds each and an extra 5 for Harry for the safe return of Clara.

While in the Turks Head, Ezekiel overheard one of the less savoury patrons speak the name “Clee”. This was the name of the gypsy bandit who kidnapped his wife and daughter, then sold them to a Necromancer, Ezekiel had been hunting Clee for years. Always, when he caught up with the dashing outlaw, the man had managed to slip away.

Ezekiel and Harry followed the little man to yet another tavern, The Waterfront, on the banks of the Thames, less than half a mile from London Bridge. This place was built right onto the riverside, had a jetty on one side with mooring for a few barges. Currently moored outside was one laden barge, one empty barge and a small skiff. From inside the tavern came the sound of fiddle playing and a smooth baritone voice that sent shivers of ice through Ezekiel’s veins. it was Clee! With half a dozen of his river pirate friends. They sent a boy to fetch “a young woman called Clara Dee and a yellow skinned man from the Saracen Inn” the boy said that the yellow fever was bad and their friend should get hisself to the local hospital where miracle cures could be found. He returned swiftly with Clara and Masa who agreed to help.

They burst into the bar through all three of its doors, weapons drawn. Clee recognised his nemesis and sneered at them, stirring up his companions to attack. The gypsies were no strangers to combat but were totally outclassed by the heroes. Masa dropped two of them in the first round [GM: First Strike and Riposte]. Harry felled the largest of the thugs with one mighty swing of his hammer and then dropped three more in as many rounds. Ezekiel and Clara concentrated their fire on Clee who ducked and dived and swirled his cloak, proving a very hard target.

Clee leapt onto a table and struck at Masa. They fenced skilfully, neither managing to seriously wound the other. Clara’s bullets and Ezekiel’s bolts whizzed past their heads. When a bolt pierced his flamboyant hat, Clee looked aggrieved and said “that was my favourite hat! I think we must be about even now” He dived out of a rear window, into the river. Ezekiel let out a scream of frustration, he couldn’t let Clee escape again!

While Harry paused for a drink, the others rushed outside, Masa and Clara clambered over the laden barge and onto the skiff, Ezekiel rushed down a narrow alley to the water’s edge. Clee, bleeding from a couple of wounds, was waiting below and lunged up to skewer his enemy, but Ezekiel was too quick and put a bolt into his shoulder. Clara shot him with a pistol bolt too, then finally Ezekiel tucked his wife’s handkerchief into the gypsy’s pocket and put a bolt right through his brain. They dragged his corpse out of the river and left it lying in the alley.

Masa had found Clee’s satchel under his seat in the bar, it contained a few letters, some money and a couple of grenades. Ezekiel searched the corpse and found fine jewellery, money, fine clothes and weapons and a strange, crude wooden disk, 6 inches diameter
painted black, with a white bone drawn on it and tied to a leather thong like a medallion.

View
The Queen and the Imp

Masa spent his downtime in and around Manchester College gaining a new Edge.

Ezekiel went off alone intending to pursue his Vow (to pursue the Gypsy outlaw who kidnapped his family and sold them to a Necromancer). He didn’t manage to catch up with them, but did manage to gain a new Edge and a new Hindrance (Loyal) and he returned to Manchester .

Harry was still somewhere in London, and remained out of touch [GM: this week it was Harry’s player who was away]

Dr Dee was pleased with what they had accomplished but alarmed by the news that a biblical plague was heading towards London. He sent letters to the Queen asking for an audience to discuss matters vital to national security. He is running out of money and wants to be sure his companions can travel freely around the world to investigate and prevent the apocalypse. In attempts to communicate further with the Angel Uriel, he had become more dependent on opium, supplied by Masa.

Unfortunately he is viewed as a foolish and scandalous figure by the majority of the country. Although he was once a trusted advisor to the queen, and also served as an agent and ambassador to some of the houses of France and Germany, it would not do for Elizabeth to be known to still favour him. One of the main reasons for his public humiliation was that a charlatan spoke with the Angels and told him he had to share his pretty young wife. Dr Dee was so keen to believe in the Angelic Voice that he agreed.

Eventually the Queen replied, inviting him and his trusted companions to meet with her and discuss their adventures, The letters managed to convey cryptic warnings against open communication of anything supernatural. They would be arriving in London early July 1602 and the first of the Harbingers (the first Horseman of the Apocolypse – Plague) was due to arrive there in late August.

King James of Scotland had recently (1590) published a book called Daemonologie that strongly asserted the existence of Witchcraft and that it must be stamped out. He had also instigated a series of Witch Trials and personally tortured and executed dozens of witches in Scotland. Where, in earlier years there was an acceptable interest in the occult, kind herbalist wise women and learned ‘natural philosophers’ like Dee, there was a growing feeling that any type of occult dabblings would lead to inevitable corruption of the soul.

Dee and Clara, Masa & Ezekiel travelled down to Richmond Palace on the banks of the Thames. despite the secretive sneers of some of the courtiers, as an old friend of The Queen, Dee got them lodgings at the top of one of the Palace towers and arranged a private audience. They would speak with the Queen that night in her chambers just before she went to bed.

Dee was in one room, Clara in another and Masa and Ezekiel in a third. Ezekiel searched their room and discovered small vents in the ceiling. These could be explained away as ventilation for smoke but were probably listening tubes. Masa went up to the roof to see where the came out but was prevented by a guard and asked to go back inside.

Dee warned them about the Queen’s Spymaster, Robert Cecil – a small man with a limp, and yet the most powerful man in England. Dee was briefly an agent for Robert’s father but had never met Robert. The Spymaster was apparently a big fan of King James’ anti-witchcraft stance so they must be very careful not to give any hint of their own abilities. They were in the monster-hunting business but were not themselves monsters!

Later, in the antechamber of the Royal Suite, while they were alone, Clara started to give them a final warning about the things they weren’t going to mention. The others managed to shut her up before she had gone too far [GM:She double-oned] as they had spotted possible spy holes around the walls.

A short, limping man in fine clothing strode into the room without knocking. He nodded curtly to our heroes but grudgingly shook hands with Dee. “My father told me you were once of use to him. You must not over tire the queen or fill her head with fanciful nonsense.”. Then he glanced in the direction of the spyholes, scowled and strode out.

A few minutes later, the soft lute music from inside stopped and a young woman walked out, carrying her lute. An old handmaiden ushered them through a very fine wardrobe room and into the bedchamber where they were shocked to see that the Queen was already in her bed. Her face was a mask of almost featureless white paint, thin and small. Her wig lay on a table nearby and her head was almost bald, just a few wisps of grey and numerous pock marks. Also nearby, draped on a mannequin, was her huge golden state robe and giant white ruff. In just her light blue bed robe, she was clearly a tired old woman (69).

She greeted Dee warmly and got brief introductions. They all had the sense to bow correctly and they were wearing brand new clothes (the finest they had ever had, but not quite fine enough because of Clara’s frugal purchases – she had spent only 20 pounds, a vast fortune, instead of the 30 pounds required to get the latest court fashions). Feeling suddenly shabby, Clara had an attack of nerves and interrupted the Queen. There was a flash of anger but later she mellowed and seemed to like a bit of plain-speaking.

Elizabeth had the musician recalled to play loudly and got them to come closer. The only person wh could have overheard much was the old nurse.

They told her most of their tales, of the resurgence of Magic, that it was linked to an astral conjunction, that they had fought various magical monsters across Europe and that, according to their calculations the next few years would bring about an apocalypse unless it could be stopped. They showed some of Tycho Brae’s calculations about the star positions and explained that a Plague (of biblical proportions) was coming to London within a few weeks.

Hearing this, Elizabeth said that it would not be possible to evacuate the City and that she would not run and hide from this Invader, any more than she would from the Spaniards. She seemed tired and disappointed that the crisis would come during her own lifetime. She had had bad dreams of late but found that her “Imp” did not like to have dreams influencing State decisions. She apparently called Robert Cecil her Imp (even to his face) but nobody else would dare to do so.

She agreed to ride to the hunt the next day and would be pleased if Clara would join her. The others were free to hunt too. She apologised that she could not be seen to spend more time with Dr Dee. perhaps Clara could explain while they were alone in the open air, exactly what they wanted from the Queen (financial support and possibly a fast ship and crew ready to take them anywhere on the globe).

The next day, despite being mounted for most of the morning, Ezekiel manages to track some deer in Richmond Park and bags the first kill. Elizabeth, now resplendent in her public facade, throws him her handkerchief. Clara and the Queen manage to get a few minutes alone and speak mor openly. The Queen is happy to provide some financial backing but cannot arrange to provide a ship and crew without the backing of her Privy Council (and that means the Imp). He won’t waste resources on mere rumours and vague threats from the stars. If they can find human agencies or a cult that is behind the threat, she believes he will then be more likely to agree, indeed he would relish a chance to publicly execute some witches as he is trying to curry favour with King James in the event that he succeeds to the English Throne. She arranges for personal letters of introduction stating that the bearers are “friends of the Queen” and asking that they not be hindered in their travels. While not a guarantee, these should be useful in most of Europe (except the Catholic bits).

Overall it was a successful visit, despite the lack of courtly and social skills. They now have some Royal backing – Dee was almost bankrupt, having given Clara the majority of his savings already.

View
Not Feeling So Good

After the defeat of the Plague Demon but the infection of Clara and Harry, they decided to split up. Ezekiel returned to Tycho and the Dr and would join them in Leipzig in a few days.
[GM:Ezekiel’s player couldn’t play this week]
]
Meanwhile the others headed direct for Leipzig, buying horses from a local gentleman farmer on the way. Clara was too pushed for time to haggle a decent price.
They had a few hours of light left and made good time at a steady trot. For the boys this was a painful experience, bringing them fatigue. Clara however has the Riding skill and was fine. They pushed on through the night and the infection swelled at sunset but they managed to resist getting worse (this time).
The road was full of sick pilgrims at makeshift campsites. all heading to to see the Healer.
they came across a troop of seven lepers. Harry might have ridden through them but Clara gave them a few silver coins, actually handing them the money, not just throwing it on the ground, so they gratefully stepped aside.
Masa and Harry were pretty fatigued by riding by the time they reached the city gate, a couple of hours before dawn. The poorer pilgrims were camped in a tent city. They rode to the head of the line, Harry glaring at anyone who got in the way.
At the city gate the guards were openly taking bribes to let people in. Clara paid up and the small gate was opened to let them through. A woman in the crowd tried to give Clara her sick baby to take with her but she pushed it back and went in.
All the inns full with petitioners. While Masa and Harry stood stretching their aches and pains, Clara went to fetch a hot breakfast from a bakery and mulled wine. By the time the sun rose they were feeling better and had reached the University grounds, In the dawn light Masa could see how sickly the others were and regretted accepting the bread from Clara’s hand. [GM: he made his Vigour roll and they became a bit more aware of the seriousness of their condition

The University had guards of its own, also wanting a “consideration” for waking the Dean and telling him they wanted an interview. One was given some money on the quiet and told them that the Healer was nearly done for and probably wouldn’t be good for more than a couple more healings.

Inside the university at last, they spoke with Dean Koenig he knew of Tycho as the old Astronomer had studied there once. They eventually convinced him to let them see Brunner partly due to their new reputation as the heroes of Prague.

Father Brunner was in a very bad way. They were initially suspicious that he was some kind of fake, or even a Plague Demon himself, but he seemed very, very devout. Clara heard him praying, admitting he didn’t feel worthy of the great honour and that he was sorry he wasn’t stronger.
They swapped stories about meeting the “hermit”. They let him see their distended bellies, all pulsing in unison. Once he believed they had really defeated a Plague Demon, Clara decided to tell him all about the “Rise of the Serpent” and the link to Revelations. This convinced him to try to heal Clara, Harry and then Tycho.
Clara was healed and Brunner became further weakened but began to pray. Clara prayed with him for two whole hours and he seemed to regain some strength.

While they were praying, Masa used his Magick skill and a dose of his magical components to investigate the priest. It seems the Plague Demon infected Brunner with the power to steal away the symptoms of any sickness in order to “bake” a really bad plague which he would then pass on by touch (and finally by exploding)! The people he healed were only supposed to be relived of their visible symptoms and should still have died a few days later as well as becoming carriers of the new Plague. Somehow, Brunner’s faith had transmuted the power to provide actual healing. It was probably Brunner’s extreme faith, and the recent surge in Magick, (particularly Plague-related Magick, as they would later learn) that loosened the bonds on the Plague Demon, allowing it to briefly manifest to the priest.

Brunner and the Dean also arranged to summon senior churchmen from the city to perform an exorcism to drive out the Demon from Brunner (if he survived the healing attempts). They agreed to try the Exorcism after Brunner healed Tycho who should arrive the next day.

That evening, Father Brunner managed to heal Harry too and was again weakened. They all prayed together for a couple of hours then slept a few hours.

Tycho and Ezekiel arrived the next day. Brunner managed to heal Tycho, although the effort nearly killed them both. The Exorcism was a great success and the demonic influence poured out of Brunner’s eyes, nose and mouth to form into a sphere of bubbling ichor about the size of a man’s head. It came to rest on the Altar Cloth and rapidly cooled and hardened.

They wrapped it gently in the cloth then packed it into a straw-filled box. They decided to return it to the Fallen Cross and try to re-seal the magick to contain it. It would take religious faith to re-activate the magick and the priests agreed to accompany them, sneaking out of the University grounds leaving the Dean to deal with the disappointed pilgrims. Tycho’s carriage driver had to make a very careful turn journey as the “Plague Bomb” seemed to become egg-shell thin and light. After a couple of days, they reached the place. With shaking hands, Brunner started to carry it to the hollow under the cross but Clara had to take it from him as he had spasms of nerves. She managed to gently place it into the coffin-sized space and then Harry carefully packed the hole with earth. Finally the priests prayed over the cross and a shaft of sunlight struck it, illuminating the runic writing for a few moments and everyone felt a warm tingle. Masa was able to confirm that the Magick was back in place.

Our heroes returned to Prague Observatory with Tycho and waited a few more weeks for him to finish his calculations. The first Harbinger would take about 18 months to arrive in London (from the time when its star vanished from the constellation almost a year ago). It was now early December 1601 and the stars would align again in August 1602. The Harbingers are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the first one approaching is “Plague”. The next star is expected to vanish a few months before or after the arrival, while the constellation is pointing somewhere else on earth. Tycho Brae and Johanes Kepler agree to keep monitoring it and send them a message when they know for certain.

Meanwhile the heroes return to England, arriving in mid-january.

[GM: I decided to give them some “downtime” to let time skip forward a few months.
There are some simple house rules for this mainly to do with gaining edges or reducing hinderances. The basics are to choose three skills and narrate how you use them to pass the time. Then make rolls against 3 target numbers (4,6 &8) and see how many successes you get.
Clara spent an advancement to gain an Arcane Background (Sorcery). Normally this is only available as a starting option but, due to the resurgence of Magick caused by the “Serpent” and our heroes’ frequent exposure to magick, it is allowable. She will have to spend future advances to gain and improve her Magick skill and Knowledge (Occult).
Harry spent his time getting rid of his “Wanted” hindrance, he used Intimidate, Notice and Fighting skills and so Sir Thomas Percy is now no longer around to pursue him.
]

View
The Road to Leipzig

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!

View
GOLEM

GOLEM
Just as the angry crowd was relaxing, with the explanation that the sneaky jews had engineered the whole “Golem” scam, There was a huge crash from within the synagogue and thru the dust of a collapsing wall stepped the “non-existent” monster!

It became the centre of a visible blast of shock and awe, radiating across the city square and beyond. Almost everyone, jew and gentile alike, stood aghast as the ponderous figure of a man, eight feet tall, made from wet clay, stomped down the steps. It trampled the bodies of the Snake-woman’s henchmen at the bottom of the stairs, crushing them with its enormous weight, then lashed out to punch the nearest person. This was one of the jewish defenders, the huge fist smashed into him, killing him instantly.

Our heroes, perhaps becoming used to the sight of magical monstrosities, leaped into action. Harry taunted the creature, trying to lure it away from the synagogue doors to allow others to slip inside and find out what had happened to Rachel (the snake- woman) and to the Chief Rabbi. It had sounded like they were arguing during the fight with the henchmen, but as neither Harry nor Ezekiel spoke hebrew, they could not really tell.

The Golem itself had a crudely-drawn hebrew word on its forehead. Clara (just arrived at a run led by Masa) shouted out that it spelled LIVE and that somehow, that word was the key to defeating it. If the word could be changed by some means to something like HALT or DEAD, the creature should return to being un-animated clay.

Masa and Ezekiel began to manoeuvre around it looking for a way into the temple. It strode forward to kill another of the jewish defenders and moved away far enough. As Masa slipped past, he felt a tingle (because of his Magick training) and realised that you had to stand within about ten feet in order to call out alternative words. Clara knew that the words had to be changed one letter at a time and make proper words each time.

There followed a protracted battle with the creature with Harry managing to hold it at bay, trading mighty blows and Ezekiel sending quarrel after quarrel into it, while Clara stood behind Harry, shouting Hebrew words. A few more times the creature emitted a burst of dread but our heroes prevailed.

Meanwhile Masa dashed into the building and found the Rabbi, dead, in a pool of blood. It seemed he had had his throat slit, in some sort of blood ritual, the moment he activated the Golem. The snake woman had stepped through the blood and gone up the stairs. Masa followed, pausing only to magically enchant his blade, and attacked her on a veranda overlooking the square, watching the fight. He managed to kill her before she managed to bite him and poison his spirit. When slain, she transformed into a huge snake.

Outside, Clara reached the end of her word puzzle and the Golem slowly turned and stomped back into the temple, returning to the inner chamber and deactivating.

Our heroes manage to explain it all away. Jews and Gentiles alike were killed by the monster, and the Rabbi was killed. They managed to put all the blame on the snake-woman (clearly a servant of the devil). An uneasy peace has come to Prague.

Masa harvested some magical components from the Snake corpse to replenish his supplies. [GM: 1 + number of pips above 4 on a Magick roll]

Ezekiel wanted to get some leather armour made from the yellow and brown skin, diamond pattern. [GM: it will take a week but be leather armour with +1 extra armour value].

View
CSI Prague

Our heroes meet up in the evening and determine that Masa’s mysterious prowler seems to be Rachel, the neice of the reclusive Rabbi.

They examine the tracks by the observatory and find that there are indeed footprints leading through the wall into the low bushes. The tracks are confusing but Ezekiel thinks they show that the woman turned into a huge snake (proper real-life giant python sized) and slithered off down the hill.

The research turns up some interesting results. The constellation that seems to be the key (a man wrestling a serpent) is incomplete. One of the four stars that constitute the man’s arms has vanished. It takes a lot of effort to track back to when it was last seen but it seems to have been about 18 months ago. This event appears to coincide with the sudden upsurge of magic. Although the mathematics of it is too complex for the others, Tycho Brae believes that the constellation was “pointing” at London when the star disappeared and that it will be in a similar conjunction in another six months. Tycho is getting weaker as his illness progresses. Clara is helping with herbal remedies but he is slowly dying. He seems to believe that the observations are in some way linked to passages in Revelations. The “serpent” in the stars may be linked to the apocalyptic monster. They have come across the phrase “when the serpent rises” a few times during their adventures. It was written about in letters between necromancers and mentioned by the tentacled horror in the basement in Chateau Beauvais.

The next day, Ezekiel and Harry go to meet Rachel in a cafe in the Jewish Quarter. She is accompanied by a couple of bodyguards. One is a huge brute of a man who remains outside. The other, moves like a dancer and keeps his hand on the hilt of his rapier. Rachel again tries to get Ezekiel to tell her if he has any special weaponry for dealing with magical monsters. he remains cagey. She apologises that her uncle does not wish to be disturbed at this time and the interview is over.

Harry and Ezekiel spot that they are being shadowed through the city streets by the wiry bodyguard and they corner him in an alley. They try to intimidate some information (fortunately he speaks some english) out of him about Rachel but only learn that she is a recent arrival, her father died about a year ago and she came to work for her uncle. Now he and his muscular accomplice are now her bodyguards.

They let him go on the basis of professional courtesy. As he didn’t blubber and beg for his life (the usual response to Harry’s intimidation) they are aware that Henrick is more than a mere lackey. They warn him that Rachel may not be who she says she is, but he does not seem unduly concerned.

The next morning, there is uproar in the city as another Golem killing has occurred. An officer of the town militia (known as an oppressor of the jews) has been found murdered in his home.
Ezekiel, Masa and Harry rush to the scene and investigate. At first glance it looks as though the kitchen door was smashed in (traces of clay) and then the victim had his head crushed on the kitchen floor. There are a few more traces of clay and some distinct clay footprints by the door.

Judging by the size and positioning of the footprints the creature would be about 8 feet tall and pretty broad. To have stood where it would have been to deliver the killing blow, it would have been between a table and the stove. There is clay on the edge of the table, but none on the stove. The footprints look fake too. They have crisp edges where there should be a smudge if the creature was walking.

On closer examination of the kitchen door, the lock appears to have been picked before it was smashed open. The blood splatter from the corpse indicates that it took a few hits to crush the head.

The sequence of events seems to be… Somebody picked the lock and sneaked in. The officer came down to the kitchen and was struck on the back of the neck and knocked to the floor. Then his head was smashed by repeated blows with a large hammer. Then the clay was applied to the scene. Finally the door was smashed and the noise drew the attention of the neighbours.

With some difficulty (because of the language barrier) Ezekiel explains all this to the captain of the city militia. [GM: This was not helped by a couple of double-ones!]. The result of the explanations was that a hue and cry went up “there is no Golem!” “It’s a filthy trick!” “Kill the jews!”.

Our heroes suspect that the Rabbi may be innocent and that Rachel (shape-shifting snake woman) might be behind everything. They decide to rush to the Synagogue to prevent a miscarriage of justice. They are only minutes ahead of the mob. Masa rushes to fetch Clara.

They warn the small crowd who are outside the Synagogue and try to convince them to let them in. The two mercenary bodyguards turn up and Ezekiel tells them about the Golem murder and the approaching mob and asks to be let in to speak with the Rabbi.

The bodyguards attack. The big one has a mattock (similar to Harry’s) but it is caked with blood and clay! There is a fight in the entry hall. The bodyguards are tough. Ezekiel is heavily wounded before the mercenaries are taken down. While they were fighting, the raised voice of Rachel could be heard arguing with the Rabbi. Unfortunately they weren’t speaking english.

Harry and Ezekiel drag the mercenaries out and throw them to the crowd (the wiry one is dead but the big one is only unconscious) They are just trying to explain that there is no Golem and that these men did the murders when…

View
Prague

GM:we had a few months hiatus due to other games. Rather than re-starting with 2 PCs heavily wounded, we catch up with the heroes having rested for a few weeks and then made their way across France and Germany, to finally reach Prague on Tuesday 14th August 1601.

In the approach to Prague they had learned a bit about their destination.
The city was in a state of civil unrest due to the oppresion of the Jewish inhabitants, many of whom had been driven out in recent years.

They were intending to meet with Tycho Brae, a renowned Dutch Astronomer, working at an Observatory in the outskirts, funded by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. Asking the locals for directions, they learn he is almost more famous for his pet Elk, (sadly deceased after getting drunk and falling down stairs!) than he is for his scholarly works.

The Observatory turns out to be a small waLled compound on a hill, surrounded by vegetable gardens. They ride into the courtyard and meet with a young (30-ish) Johannes Kepler who is the assistant (though he insists he is the colleague) to Tycho Brae. Brae is older, about 55, but is very sickly, pale and feeble. Clara diagnoses he has some bladder infection that will probably kill him within a few months.

Their letter of introduction, from Dr Dee, begs Brae to assist our heroes with understanding the astronomical prophecy from the ancient necromantic tome. They stress how important this is and, though he is skeptical of their tales of monsters and magic, Brae’s respect and friendship for Dr Dee makes him agree to help.

It will take several weeks to work through Tycho’s library of astronomical observations. Masa and Clara are able to assist but Harry and Ezekial find themselves at a loose end. Fortunately for them, there are rumours that the jews in Prague are protected by a Golem. This creature apparently struck down some enemies of the jews a few years earlier. The threat of this monstrous protector seemed to stop the worst of the violence for a while. The victims were found with their heads bashed in and only a few huge wet, clay footprints at the scene. In the last couple of weeks there have been two more murders of known anti-semites with similar signs that the Golem is on the move again.

Harry and Ezekiel offer their unpaid services as “monster hunters” to the local authorities. They spend a couple of weeks looking for clues but lack of friendly contacts in the Jewish Quarter, and the fact that they only speak english, makes it difficult. They want to get an interview with the head Rabbi, The Maharal of Prague, but he is reclusive. The rumours are that he constructed the Golem during the Pogrom 3 years earlier. Ezekiel, aided by a jewish translator, Issac, does get an interview with the Rabbi’s neice Rachel who is her uncle’s secretary.

Rachel is a slender, raven-haired woman in her mid twenties. She has only been in Prague for a year. She is well-educated and can even speak a bit of english. She explains that her uncle prefers to remain in the Synagogue and it is not possible for gentiles to meet with him in the current climate of distrust and hatred.

When she is told (by Issac) that they are experienced “monster hunters”, she becomes very interested and starts questioning them about their experiences and what they are doing in Prague. Ezekiel ends the interview before revealing too much but she says she will speak to her uncle and meet him again tomorrow. During the conversation, Ezekiel notices she says something about “these jews” that suggests she does not consider herself to be one. She hurriedly corrects herself. He also gets the impression that Issac is telling her more about them.

Harry thinks they are being followed back through the city but can’t be sure. They avoid returning to their inn or to the Observatory and manage to give their pursuer the slip.

Later that day, up at the observatory, Masa spots a dark-haired woman peering in through the window into the Library. He runs outside but the woman is gone. she could only have vanished by walking through the wall!

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.