N.S. Wednesday, October 8, 1631 / O.S. Wednesday, September 28, 1631
As Tiedemann Fürst continues down the road in his cart, Goffhilf, Maksymilian, and Ross discuss what they will do next. They decide to continue to Würzburg, then follow the River Main to Karlstadt, and then finally travel the mile or so south to the Mound.
As the group walks to Würzburg, they see several horsemen riding towards them. They step off the road to allow them passage, and as the riders approach, the group notes that the four of them are wearing coats with the colors of the Swedes upon them.
As they step into the ditch, Ross nearly stumbles over a body — whom she recognizes as Mannfried Orben, their companion from whom they were separated quite a while ago. Ross tries to awaken him as the men approach and give greeting. Goffhilf, being Swedish himself, gives them greeting and speaks to them briefly. When he mentions that they have been warned to avoid Karlstadt, the Swedes seem interested and thank him, turning in the opposite direction and riding away.
Meanwhile, Ross is successful in awakening Mannfried, who seems very surprised to be here as he was last in a bed in an inn. His memories of the past few weeks are fuzzy, but Ross updates him on what has transpired. He dresses himself and decides to travel with them, particularly since he has nowhere else to go.
After a couple of hours’ walk, the group approaches the walled city of Würzburg. As the travelers approach, they see a group gathering on a nearby hill. They deign to avoid the activity of this place, instead skirting around and hitting the River Main. After a walk of an hour or two, they spy a village along the Main. It appears to be largely abandoned, and not wishing to potentially deal with plague, they decide to avoid the village.
It is roughly noon by the time they hit Karlstadt, and they find themselves staring at the city’s walls. On the other side of the river lies a bridge into the city as well as a large tent city. A small group of people, escorted by soldiers, appears to be crossing the bridge into Karlstadt. Once again, the travelers decide to avoid the city, backtracking until they find a bridge across the River Main. Once found, they follow the River again so that they may find the Mound.
It is another hour or two before the travelers find themselves in the swamp. Despite the fall chill, they find themselves slapping away gnats and mosquitoes. They finally approach a semicircle of standing stones around a hill, with two stone doors recessed into the hill. One appears to be partially opened. Maksymilian lights a lantern and gives it to his man, Aleksy, to carry. Once the group enters, the travelers see a pit filled with an acrid-smelling, oily, brackish substance. Not wishing to cross it, they call across to Willibald Schwartz. Receiving no answer, they prepare to cross, when suddenly, a large cat of living crystal and a strange man emerge from the gloom on the other side of the oily pit. The man is a trifle rotund and balding, and while he wears fine clothes, he also bears a decaying child’s head in his hand and holds a crossbar attached to a small skeleton. Maksymilian explains they were sent by one Tiedemann Fürst with the understanding that Schwartz would have need of them. He indicates that he is familiar with Tiedemann, and that he does indeed have a task to ask of the travelers. He bids them to follow and retreats into the darkness.
Seeing no other way to pass through the oily pit, and determining that this must be the inflammable stuff of Tiedemann’s warning, the travelers prepare to go through it. They prepare to strip, holding their equipment above their heads, and Maksymilian asks Aleksy to douse the lantern before they cross.
Once safely across the oily pit, the travelers clean themselves the best they can, redress, and relight the lantern before continuing. As they walk forward, they notice alcoves with macabre, lifelike statues of children on pedestals. Continuing forward, they eventually reach an open room. Schwartz and his crystal beast reside here with a bloodstained altar at the far end. Needles and thread lie upon the altar, and it appears that he lay the small skeleton upon the altar as well. To the left of the altar sits a lifelike child statue appearing as a cherub, but with the facial muscles visible. To the right of the altar sits another child statue, this one with all the skin stripped to the bones below the waist. The child holds two platters, each platter holding a jar containing a brain preserved in fluid. The walls are covered in insane ramblings, some carved and some written in feces.
Schwartz explains that he does, indeed, have a task for the travelers. Schwartz reveals that worship of an entity known as the Insect God is a factor in this region. This entity seeks the destruction of all mankind, and Schwartz — for obvious reasons — would prefer for humanity to not be destroyed. The cult’s old headquarters are inside Goblin Hill, to the northeast. He indicates that the cult’s ritual requires a solid ruby ant statue that was lost some time ago. If it is destroyed, the ritual can never be performed.
Schwartz indicates the item can be found if the travelers travel back in time to when the original cult held sway. He has a ritual on a scroll for just such a purpose, whereupon he pulls a scroll out of the cherub’s quiver. The ritual should send them back in time for roughly an hour, and should return them to wherever they left at the ritual’s end. Since the ritual requires some esoteric components, he also has a bag containing the appropriate items. That bag also contains another ritual scroll which allows for the channeling of power necessary to power this ritual.
He continues to explain that the travelers are free to do whatever they wish with the statue, but they must break it. He also recommends they give no piece of it to any loved ones, as such things can be corrupting influences.
Content that they have all the information they require, the travelers bid him farewell and quickly leave his sanctum, returning back over the oil pit and redressing before leaving the swamp.
The travelers decide to immediately travel to Goblin Hill, making the long trek and arriving as dusk approaches. Wanting to fully assess the situation, the group decides to wait a safe distance away from the entrance and extinquish the lantern, waiting to see if anyone is coming or going. They assume if they see no lanterns, the place is likely abandoned; if they see lanterns, then they should proceed more cautiously.
After night falls, they approach. They come across a corpse, obviously infected with plague, in a thicket, and wisely decide to travel around it. They also come across a sign labeled “Welcome!” A second message beneath it is scrawled in Arabic, although no one can read it.
As they approach Goblin Hill, the travelers see no lights and so decide to relight their lantern. As per Tiedemann’s instructions, they replace the foliage over the entrance as they enter, and open his mapcase, finding a relatively detailed map of the complex. Following the directions, they travel through caves until they find themselves at the mouth of a cavern filled with blinking, dazzling lights. Goffhilf investigates, and as his eyes clear, he sees a multitude of statues carved into the rock. They depict various human-insect hybrids intertwined in such a way to make it difficult to determine when one begins and one ends. The eyes of each statue appear to be the source of the blinking.
Indicating that the coast is clear, Goffhilf instructs the others to come to the entryway. As their eyes clear, the enter the rest of the complex.
This portion of the cultic complex features walls of rough-hewn stone. The travelers walk down a corridor flanked by insect statues, and then continue along corridors following the instructions on Tiedemann’s map. They come to a room full of cages, but see only skeletons. Oddly, each skeleton is missing a left foot and a right hand, and each has a small gem amidst the bones.
With nothing to do here, the travelers continue carefully along the tops of the cages and go to another room marked on the map. This features several columns around the sides of a great sand pit. This room is marked to indicate that what Schwartz seeks is here, but no gems are in sight. The travelers try an unmarked room on the map, but only find some sort of crypt. Deciding not to disturb the remains, they return to the corridor. Goffhilf decides that he will enact the Song of Ancient Days ritual given to the group by Schwartz, but to empower it, he foregoes the Fires of Pure Will ritual, instead preferring his own magick system. He ties a tourniquet, and roughly amputates his own hand. As he does so, the place seems to thrum with power, and a minor earth tremor wracks the area. Goffhilf then begins to enact the Song of Ancient Days, which requires several minutes of chanting and the breaking of several objects with a stone hammer.
At the end of the ritual, there is a brief feeling of vertigo. The room grows a little more chill, and there seems to be less dust in the area. The travelers decide to look into the sand pit room. Quietly opening the door, they look into the room on some sort of ritual in progress. Several figures clad in robes are standing around the sand pit while a man at the far end stands next to a four-foot tall statue of a ruby ant. They are chanting in a language the travelers cannot recognize. As the cult has not noticed the travelers, they quietly close the door and travel to the cages. As they approach, they see several guards who seem surprised to see interlopers. Two of the guards charge forward, and Maksymilian orders his man, Aleksy, to deal with them. The men pull knives and try to attack Aleksy, but to no avail. He dodge the first and grabs the knife arm of the second, grabbing his shoulder with his free hand and crushing it. The second guard panicks at this brutal display of violence, while Aleksy finishes the job, crushing the man’s throat. He drops the lifeless body and continues forward into the cages. Aleksy grapples with another cultist, but the two topple into the cages atop a prisoner missing his left foot and his right hand. After he finishes the cultist, he looks to Maksymilian as to whether he should continue on the prisoner. Maksymilian declines.
At this point, the scene is more readily visible. Each cage holds a single prisoner missing the right hand and the left foot. Most of them are in different states of panic, but one looks up this scene calmly. He is whole, retaining all of his limbs, and looks upon the scene with a certain cool detachment. He acknowledges Maksymilian as he approaches the edge, and speaks in a language the travelers do not understand.
Meanwhile, the events of the day have all gotten to Goffhilf, who charges at one of the cultists. He falls into the cage and then tries to kill the prisoner within before Maksymilian manages to calm him down.
As the cultists flee and Aleksy picks off the stragglers, Maksymilian gives the other scroll case to the calm man. He opens it, reads the message within, smirks at the travelers, and nods in acknowledgement. He then frees himself and vaults up the cage to go elsewhere.
With that portion of their mission completed, the travelers return to the hallway to wait. As they do, the stone door leading into the sand pit is open, and a cultist is frantically telling the others about something. When he sees the travelers, he frantically points at them and tells the assembled cult something. The high priest pushes the ruby ant statue into the pit, and a large creature resembling an antlion rises from the pit before withdrawing. The cultists draw daggers, and Maksymilian orders Aleksy to push them into the sand pit. He grabs the stone door, rips it off its hinges, and proceeds to shove several of the cult bodily into the sand pit along with the door. As cultists approach, Aleksy tears through them until the remaining cultists cower at the far edge of the room in a stalemate. Likewise, a small contingent of cultists comes upon the travelers from another passageway, but decide to wait, as the travelers are heavily armed.
All told, the travelers wait roughly three hours before the passageway changes again and the cultists disappear.
Once they have returned, they decide to get the ruby ant statue. First, they test to see if the giant antlion is alive by throwing a rock into the sand pit. Sure enough, the thing bursts forth and tries to bite at it. Mannfried, having obtained a lightning-producing rod in a previous escapade, decides to use it. Goffhilf throws another rock and Mannfried electrocutes the thing, blackening its carapace before it retreats into the sand. They throw a third rock, but the antlion does not go for it.
The group decides to tie a rope to Aleksy and send him into the pit to attack the antlion. They do so, and lower him into the pit. The antlion emerges from the pit as he disturbs the sand and begins attacking him with its pincer-like jaws. Mannfried and Ross both throw spears at the antlion, but to no avail. Aleksy manages to carve a chunk out of it with his hands, but the antlion shears Aleksy’s left arm off. He does not bleed; instead, the open wound reveals twitching mechanical components and gears, revealing him as a clockwork man.
Finally, Goffhilf slides down the pit to engage the thing. Unable to get a good hit on it, he grabs Aleksy’s leg and smacks the creature, channeling his magicks into it. The thing begins to shudder before collapsing into a greyish, sticky goo.
Maksymilian, Mannfried, and Ross pull Aleksy and Goffhilf back to the upper edge of the sand pit, and Maksymilian orders Aleksy to grab the ant statue along with his missing arm. They make certain the rope is secure, and lower Aleksy into the pit. When he tugs on the rope, they begin hoisting him back up.
With the ant statue retrieved, the group breaks it into thirds and places the pieces within their backpacks. The travelers then quickly make for the exit.
Back into the October night, the group wanders a mile or two away from Goblin Hill before resting for an hour. As they passed a town on the way to Goblin Hill, they decide that they will travel to it after they rest.