USW: Early Modern Magick

Session 1: The Ascension of the Magdalene

N.S. Wednesday, December 22, 1610 / O.S. Wednesday, December 10, 1610

Having been contacted by Father Giacommo and the Knights of Malta, the group appears to have a simple objective: break into Emperor Rudolf’s Wunderkammer and retrieve the lost Caravaggio painting known as The Ascension of the Magdalene. A disgruntled merchant known as Thomas Morrow has revealed the secret entrance into Rudolf’s Wunderkammer, and so the Knights have access to that information. Unfortunately, most of the other factions who might have an interest in the painting likely also have interest to that information. Additionally, it is likely only a matter of time before the Emperor hears of this betrayal and enhances security.

Time, therefore, is of the essence.

Goffhilf Adlermann, Konrad Osterwald, Mannfried Handel, and Ross Gorman accept the job, understanding that they can keep whatever they retrieve, and recovering the Magdalene will result in a grand reward for all of them.

The group agrees to meet by the secret sewer entrance sometime after dusk but before the secret sluice gate in the sewer opens at midnight.

Goffhilf does not make it in time, leaving Konrad, Mannfried, and Ross to infiltrate the Wunderkammer. Wandering along the riverbank in the woods, Konrad and Mannfried quickly lose sight of the stealthy Ross, but notice the presence of a soldier crouched in the treeline with a musket pointed at the sewer grate entrance. Konrad and Mannfried decide to sneak around and surprise the guard. They are unsuccessful in surprising him and he fires his musket before resorting to his rapier and shouting in alarm. They manage to grievously, although not fatally, wound him as the reinforcements arrive, forcing them to retreat against the assault of six armored men armed with rapiers and pistols.

Unbeknownst to them, Ross has used the distraction to begin picking the lock on the sewer grate leading to the Wunderkammer. Once successful, he closes and re-locks the door, jams the lock, and wanders into the pitch-black depths.

Konrad and Mannfried manage to pick through the woods to avoid their persuers. They also note a small contingent of men — mercenaries, by their look — headed toward the sewer grate. Once they determine that they have lost their persuers, and that Ross is still not around, they decide to return and see what transpired.

They come across an apparent skirmish along the riverbank, revealing that the guardsmen were slain and two of the mercenaries were killed. Konrad and Mannfried grab pistols, shot, and crossbows before proceeding. Once they arrive at the sewer grate, they see three men. Two stand guard while one appears to be picking the lock.

Safely hidden among the trees, Konrad and Mannfried begin loading pistols and the lone musket and readying themselves for combat. As they wait, the man picking the lock appears to jam his shoulder and drop to the ground howling in pain. Konrad and Mannfried use this as their opportunity.

They fire a volley of bullets, and though it leaves only minor wounds, it does force the mercenaries to take notice. As the guns are depleted, Konrad and Mannfried draw weapons and enter into combat. Mannfried is killed by crossbow bolt, but Konrad decapitates the man responsible. The other two men surrender and flee.

Meanwhile, Ross picks through the darkness, finally unlocking another grate and jamming the lock. Heading to the right, he unlocks and jams another lock before realizing that he has trapped himself in a dead end in the dark. He begins working on unjamming the lock so that he may free himself, particularly when he hears shouting and gunshots.

With only minor injuries, Konrad prepares to force open the sewer grate and press forward to find Ross when Goffhilf manages to catch up to him. Working quickly, and shouting to Ross down the corridor (and learning that he is trapped), Konrad manages to force the grate and he and Goffhilf make their way down the corridor.

The junction in which they find themselves is filled with about a foot of water, and water is pouring from several drainage pipes in the ceiling. The light from the lantern reveals Ross behind a grate; in the light, it is much easier for them to break the lock with an iron crow.

Apart from the dead end to the east there are passages to the north and west. The group opens the west door first, goes down the corridor to find another locked grate, and then backtracks and tries the north exit instead. As they enter, they hear footsteps — idle chatter and echoes suggest another contingent of guards come to examine for interlopers. As Ross goes ahead to pick the lock on the next grate, Goffhilf and Konrad wait for the guards. They start heading for the north passage, so Konrad takes a potshot with his musket, forcing them to take cover.

They fire into the corridor, only grazing the pair. As they reload, Goffhilf runs into the thick of them, grabs one soldier, and rubs his hand against his face. His features are erased by this maneuver. As the guard drops his weapon and clutches his face, two of the others flee while two more stand in shock. They are quickly slain, but both Goffhilf and Konrad crack under the pressure and begin savagely hacking at them with their weapons. Ross, returning to investigate the scene, is similarly dismayed and runs and hides at the far end of the corridor.

Once those present recover their wits, they move forward, picking the lock to reveal a large cistern. They understand that this drains at midnight to allow access to the Wunderkammer. With roughly four hours until midnight, they wait. They eat some rations and Goffhilf cuts runes into his flesh as part of his eldritch ritualism.

Finally, the water begins to bubble and drain through a sluice gate. A ladder is revealed in the side of well leading down to a door. Finding it locked, Ross begins picking it. Within a few minutes, it is opened and the group proceeds. A switch is just inside the door, and they activate it to find that it will hold the sluice gate open. They close it to make certain that no one can follow them into the Wunderkammer.

The hallway leads into a circular chamber over a hundred feet high. The spiral staircase, collection of handtrucks, and pulley system suggests some manner of loading dock. The trio ascends the stairs; as they reach the top, the air gets noticeably cooler, almost unnaturally so. Cautiously, they open the door before them.

They find that it is on the other side of a tapestry. Pushing it aside, they find themselves in a stonework room piled with carpets and decorated with tapestries depicting mythical beasts. Central to the room are three such creatures — a griffon, a centaur, and a unicorn. However, even the meager torchlight reveals that these are all taxidermied natural animals that have been stitched together to resemble the mythological creatures in question.

Moving onward, the group enters a hallway with four hallways branching off and another exit to the front. The side hallways — two to the left and two to the right — all lead to closed doors, while the far end leads to another open chamber. The group bypasses the doors, heading straight for the open chamber. A square chamber with two double doors at the far end, this room contains tapestries depicting various warriors throughout history in fanciful armor. Four suits of armor stand in each corner. As the group crosses the room to the large double doors, the suits of armor begin rattling and moving toward them menacingly. The things are incredibly tough, and deal savage blows with their swords, but Ross is the first to realize that he can zip around the back of the things and pull out the key that winds them. As it rips free of the springs and gears holding it in place, the suit of armor deactivates. One by one, they neutralize the mechanism on each of the armored suits.

With Konrad and Ross badly wounded, Goffhilf attempts to heal Ross — a scratch closes, and the touch of magic unnerves Ross to the point that Goffhilf decides to avoid doing that again. With nowhere else to go, the group backtracks to the side hallways. They note movement out of the corners of their eyes, but when they look, they find nothing. As such, they decide to proceed.

Going into the first door on the right, the trio finds itself in a room with a replica of a castle ballroom in a glass case. Various tracks, coupled with figurines waiting in the wings and a key in the front of the device, suggest that it is a clockwork display. The shelves are similarly lined with clockwork toys. Having just had an unfortunate encounter with clockwork mechanisms, the group decides to close the door.

Picking the room across the hall, the group finds shelves filled with jars of pickled fetuses, usually in some state of mutation — two-headed calves, deformed children, and suchlike. The trio similarly decides to leave this room.

Picking the next door on the right, the group comes to a room filled with weapons of all sorts. One rack contains daggers, while another contains objects such as a donkey’s jawbone and a blackthorn cane. The daggers “feel” wrong or evil, while the other weapons “feel” good. The room also contains racks with fine rapiers, pistols, and muskets, each exquisitely crafted and bearing the markings of the Holy Roman Emperor. At the far end of the room, in a place of honor, is an old, rusty gladius. It bears the inscription “MEA CVLPA” on one side and “BRVTVS” on the other. The group takes the rapiers and firearms, rolling them up in carpets and tapestries, while Konrad takes the “holy” weapons and the rusty gladius. The daggers are left behind. The group leaves their loot in the hallway and decides to investigate the last door, although they feel the temperature of the place increase unnaturally as they move to investigate.

This last room contains cases containing several divination tools from around the world — Tarot cards, runes, bones, dice — as well as various volumes on the subject. At the far end of the room is a low pedestal containing an iron box. A Latin inscription is on the box, although no one present can read it. Unable to open the box, they decide to let it go until safely out of the Wunderkammer.

With nowhere else to go and no Magdalene in hand, the group returns to the grand foyer containing the clockwork knights. They contemplate the front door until they recall that they arrived through a secret passage, prompting them to check for secret passages. Sure enough, they find a secret door behind a tapestry on the east wall. It leads into a cavern. A lake apparently bisects the cavern from the far end, and the water glows with a purple light. Two boats shaped like swans and made from bones sit in the water, awaiting travelers.

The trio decides that this seems too ominous for them. They return to the hallways and gather their loot; this is roughly when Goffhilf notices that the three taxidermied creatures are looking at the assembled party despite the fact that he is reasonably certain that they were facing into the center of the trophy room when the group entered. The group, wordlessly, decides to leave on this cue. As they pass through the secret door, Konrad begins weeping tears of blood. As they reach the spiral staircase, Konrad’s bloody weeping stops.

The group quickly backtracks through the sewers, leaving the lever for the sluice gate activated so they can move all of their stolen goods through the secret doorway. As they exit the sewer onto the riverbank, they notice several people hidden in the woods, apparently in several small groups. Goffhilf steps forward and addresses them, indicating that they were just here to steal some valuable pieces, but so far as they know, the Magdalene is still inside for any who wish to take it. As the other factions appear to try to determine their next move, the trio simply walks away.

Strangely, when they return to their inn rooms, they find that the parcel of rapiers is missing, although they still have the other weapons, various tapestries and carpets, and the iron strongbox. They open it to reveal a set of cards within, apparently painted by Caravaggio, based upon the art style.

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