Down we progress, slipping on our photo-visors, or in Jahr’s case checking his photo-lenses are in snugly. The lads shake into order, Jahr pushing Franz into scout position with a jocular thrust of his grenade launcher. Zarkov scuttles and clanks behind me, and Grimm strides a meter or so behind Jahr.
We are delving into what is recognizably the lost wing under the Cathedral. The design and décor reflect the earlier period of its construction. An air of unearthed dankness lies heavy in our nose-filters. But not completely neglected. Footprints can be picked out in the dust lying thick on the steps.
I remind the team that it is possible the nun Chelia Coyle has found her way in here, and that she is probably not an enemy.
“Probably dead and hidden somewhere,” Grimm grunts callously.
Franz steals forward silently. Almost immediately, a challenge erupts in stereo. I respond in (poor) High Gothic with the names of the three symbols we learned of. It is not the correct password!
Battle layout: The corridor is around 4m broad. Two servitor-beasts are housed in opposing nooks. Franz is right between them, Jahr around 9m back.
Round 1: Franz hoses one with autofire, managing to land only a single shot which deals solid damage, then reels under the claws of the beast-like servitors [fails dodge on reroll, 7 and 8 damage past armor]. They are Arco-flagellants from an earlier age, their claws lethal! Franz is looking very battered already! [Rk 1 crit, no actual effect]
“Excuse me, may I cut in?” Jahr yells, [OK on Fear] charging forward and chopping the wounded beast hard [18 + 2 Pen on righteous fury] – it seems badly wounded.
Mola [fails Fear test, result of 137, wigs out, attacks nearest friend while laughing hysterically] levels her autopistol at Grimm’s back and blazes rounds into and past him. They splash harmlessly off his heavy armor [she has dum-dums loaded in the autopistols] and he barely notices. Grimm [OK on Fear] aims at the head of the wounded beast, but it evades his shot. Zarkov [OK on Fear] levels his bolt pistol and wastes an expensive round.
Round 2: Franz throws himself back [disengage, half-round retreat] while the flagellants turn their attention to Jahr! The wounded one slashes at him with raking sweeps [two attacks as it has not moved] and Jahr parries off [reaction parry] a nasty blow. But he can’t parry the mate of the first one, and its claws slam through his armor, cutting deep [2 wounds]. Jahr’s ax blurs [rapid attack] but he does not connect [one dodged, one misses]. Mola ceases her hysteria [WP recovery check OK] and moves forward to one flank [half-round] while drawing a more effective weapon, her manstopper-loaded Stub Auto. Grimm makes a called shot on the wounded flagellant’s head, which flies off: the thrashing corpse spraying blood and oil over the surrounding combatants [-10 to remaining flagellant, Jahr, Mola and Grimm himself]. Zarkov drills the unwounded flagellant with a bolt [6 dmge].
Round 3: Franz takes a Stimm and draws a Carnodon. The flagellant continues to drive in at Jahr, failing to connect [Jahr dodges] but Jahr shares the same lack of accuracy. Mola moves closer and fires at point-blank range but the impact is soaked up. Grimm fires again, hitting the thing’s left leg [11 dmge] while Zarkov advances and misses again.
Round 4: Franz aims his Carnodon and hits [reroll 8 dmge] and the thing is clearly enraged, chopping right through Jahr’s armor twice [17 and 20, a total of 13 wounds]! Jahr hastily retreats [disengage, 1/2-round retreat]. Mola is now at point-blank range and opens up with a burst, striking the beast twice in its left forelimb [9 and 9, a Rk 2 crit]. Grimm fortuitously hits the same arm with his lawgiver’s next round, tearing the limb off: the beast expires!
Zarkov swiftly examines the wounded. His medicae skills restore Franz and Jahr to full mobility, and we resume our exploration. Now, Jahr takes the lead and Grimm Zarkov and I spread out behind him, Franz well to the rear.
At the far end, the corridor opens into an ancient circular robing-chamber or such, now converted to a makeshift scriptorium. Around the concave walls stand four lectern-like stations, a servitor plaugged into each, and each servitor writing, writing, writing copies of pages from Visions of St. Drusus Vol.4.
“These servitors appear to have been impressed from one of the ecclesiarchy academies,” muses Zarkov, finishing examining the tattoos on the wretches.
I check on my data slate just in case I’m wrong. But I’m not.
“The Visions of St. Drusus. There’s no such work.”
A rough, natural grotto is the only other egress. It too has been turned into a scriptorium: or more accurately, into a forger’s work-bench. We find three excellent examples of the forger’s art:
- Life of St. Drusus
- Blessed Word of St. Drusus on Matters of Piety and Morality
Under these is a letter instructing “Venomskin” to travel to Gunmetal City. Franz recollects [Common lore – Underworld] that this Venomskin is a known forger.
These supposedly genuine works the forger is turning out are stuffed full of false teaching. And the fact they purport to be the wisdom of the blessed St. Drusus doubles their heresy. It’s time to return with the evidence, and report.
We are feeling as though we have enough evidence to leave for Gunmetal City ourselves. I send the encrypted updates off, and we contact Drook to begin making our excuses. But his news changes our plans.
Ignato has disappeared! His destination is unknown.
After laying some plans, Franz and I, dressed in sight-deflecting gear, creep up to Ignato’s quarters. The “automata” prove mere suits of antique armor. So much for Franz’ scouting! But his lock-picking is up to the job and he opens the door [rolls 10 on Security].
Ignato’s sybaritic bed-chamber contains an unusual life-support device that Zarkov decides must allow rejuve treatments. It has been used extensively and recently.
The study contains many sheaves of parchments. I set to.
After diligent work I have reduced the mountains to three key letters.
- Letter 1: An instruction from a member of a “Secret Synod” to a Brother Vraine, encouraging him to replace Ignato and take his place, keeping Ignato imprisoned;
- Letter 2: Brother Vraine reporting to the Secret Synod that he will use Venomskin to generate destablizing works;
- Letter 3: A reply to the previous, endorsing the forgery plan and instructing Vraine that should there be a leak, all those with any knowledge are to be eliminated, and he to flee. They suggest that before he does this, he arrange some catastrophe that will account for all this. Ignato himself is not to be freed nor killed.
We present his evidence to Sister Oksana, and our creds persuade her that we are of the Inquisition. It is not long before we are ready to hire passage to Gunmetal City!
+++++++++++++++++Data slate paused+++++++++++++++++
The team gains another 250 xp. Apparently we could have earned 300 but were docked 50 for revealing ourselves. We felt OK about this because we needed the Adepta to use their <ahem> manpower to search the place.
So, with 450xp earned so far, it’s off we go, departing the palatial suite of the top level of Scintilla, to the slag-heaps of the sub-levels of Gunmetal City!
+++++++++++++++++Data slate resumed+++++++++++++++++
It is hot! Our cheap transport draws nigh the stop with an air of not bearing any responsibility for our choice, and we gaze up through the dust-filled heatwaves at the immense hive. We can only see the lowest level, and only a segment of it: slagheaps, clinker-heaps, streams of once-molten metal, and the vast jumble of effluvia and discards known as “hive-falls.”
Blinding Gulch lies next to one such hive-fall. It is a medium-size settlement of scavengers. Our routine intel-gathering has netted the information that Blinding Gulch is home to two rival gangs, the Skarit’s Dragons, and the Cadavers.
“I wonder if we may be able to play one side off against the other: us in the middle, gathering Thrones. And information,” I suggest to Grimm. He grunts neutrally, casting a suspicious glance my way.
As we disembark, we observe a jumbled pile of bodies lying where they have fallen in combat. Some are crudely armored with a plate-work similar to that worn by the 3rd-eye mutant, others with leather strip. The latter have faces made up as skulls.
“They’re Cadavers, then,” I deduce.
“You sure know a lot of fancy words. I just calls ’em bodies,” remarks Jahr.
I am saved from trying to explain or shoot the barbarian in the head by a hail from the direction of a rock outcrop. We appear to be covered by a rifle.
Grimm moves to open “negotiations” but I wave him down: a wounded gangster is a perfect entree to one or other side. [Mola rolls 02 on Charm]. I use as much cant as I can recall, and seem to strike the right note.
Breshk, as he’s known, asks for our help returning to Blinding Gulch. I agree. Franz is still stiff from his wounds but is perfectly able to support the wounded Cadaver. It seems the bodies are already looted, so there’s nothing to delay us.
As we mark some 200m progress, we are challenged to surrender by a Skarit’s Dragon who rises out of rock cover.
Round 1: Franz begins assisting Breshk to cover. Zarkov makes a called shot on the leader’s head, burning his ear off [11 dmge, no armor]. Skarits throw down with Stub Autos, roughly one per active opponent. Grimm and Mola both dodge [Mola’s 1st-ever dodge success, an 02 again]. Mola rolls into limited cover and draws her Carnodon. Grimm, secure in his massive armor, makes a called shot on the leader’s head, killing him. Jahr raises his grenade launcher to a good angle and drops one right behind a gangster, but he rolls clear of the blast. And into the open.
Round 2: Zarkov makes a called shot to the exposed Skarit’s head [11 damage]. Skarits fire again – there are around three left – and Zarkov is hit [2 wounds]. Mola shoots the wounded man in the nose, blinding him. It’s her first use of the Carnodon, not a bad result. Grimm makes a called shot on a different Skarit but he dodges, only to catch the full blast of the fresh grenade Jahr has rapidly reloaded! The Skarit fragments messily.
Round 3: Franz is now ready and makes a called shot on the last unwounded gangster, hitting him [9 damage]. Zarkov’s las-gun jams. The Skarit returns fire at Zarkov, luckily without really harming him [8 damage = soaked]. Zarkov’s mecha-las reaction fire kills the blinded Skarit. Mola makes a called shot on the now-wounded Skarit, blowing his head off.
“And that’s why you Cadavers need to hire us,” Mola remarks.
Yeehaa! I love a good tribute to the western and hard-boiled classics. I suspect the scenario ahead of us forces us to be stupidly loyal to one side only, but we’ll see if we can work it the Clint Eastwood/Yojimbo way.