USW: Early Modern Magick

Session 2: Better Than Any Man, Part 1

N.S. Wednesday, December 23, 1610 / O.S. Wednesday, December 11, 1610

Goffhilf, Konrad, and Ross slowly awaken. As they prepare for their days, they awaken their comrade, Nicholas Schlender. Nicholas was otherwise engaged the previous night, and so missed their escapades in the Emperor’s Wunderkammer. They inform him of the previous night’s activities and suggest that it may be prudent to leave Prague as soon as possible.

As they are eating breakfast in the common room of the inn, they are approached by a man who seems to know who they are. He indicates that he was sent to meet them by a man named Tiedemann Fürst. This man Tiedemann indicated that he has a job for them, and that they can meet him if they travel to Würzburg. When they ask where to find him, the man indicates that he was told Tiedemann would find them. He also says he knows no more than that; he was merely hired to deliver the message and be on his way.

The group assembles their things and tells the innkeeper that they will be staying another day, going so far as to pay for the room. Then, under the pretense of completing business in the town, they take their things and leave.

The trek to Würzburg is relatively uneventful. On the second night on the road, they hear some wolves in the distance; in the morning, they attempt to hunt them for their pelts, but have no such luck.

It is roughly ten days, or January 2, when they arrive in Eger. As Konrad and Ross are still injured from their experiences beneath the Wunderkammer, they decide to stay in Eger to recuperate. They send Konrad and Ross to receive medical attention, while Nicholas takes a job as an accountant and Goffhilf tries to find odd jobs around the city. From what the doctors say, it will likely be about a month before Konrad and Ross should really travel again.

On January 16, Goffhilf marks an increased military presence in Eger. They are definitely Imperial soldiers, and they definitely appear to be looking for something. Goffhilf tells the others, and heedless of doctors’ warnings, the group gathers their things and prepares to depart. However, they are found by the military first. A middle-aged man with the detachment of soldiers introduces himself as Jan Mydlář — the Emperor’s master executioner — and indicates he is here to arrest Goffhilf. He lets the others go about their business. The soldiers begin escorting Goffhilf to a nearby guard station.

Nicholas and Ross — or Rosaria, as she is wearing the feminine garb she usually avoids while traveling on the road — take the cart and begin hatching a plan to retrieve Goffhilf. They decide to assault the guards by surprise and take him in the confusion.

They manage to catch up with the soldiers just as they are entering the guard outpost. Nicholas and Rosaria take positions; Rosaria prepares to hand loaded guns to Nicholas as he fires.

A shot rings out. Several of the guards take cover, while some drop to the ground and throw Goffhilf down with them. Mydlář takes the opportunity to attempt to kill Goffhilf; Goffhilf responds by rolling out of the way and focusing his will to wipe Mydlář’s face off. In the confusion, something happens and Goffhilf’s facial features are erased.

Nicholas and Rosaria notice that some commotion is happening among the group of soldiers and take the opportunity to take another shot. It hits Mydlář in the shoulder, forcing him to retreat. The other soldiers take aim and fire, peppering Nicholas with a volley of shots. He collapses to the ground, barely moving, three crimson eyes opening on his torso.

While this is happening, Goffhilf focuses his will to alter his face so that he does not look as he did before. As some of the guards try to manhandle him, they see that it is a different man and toss him back onto the street.

Rosaria jumps into the cart and tries to usher it to ram the guard station. The horses, however, have a different idea, and veer onto the street. Several soldiers give chase. Goffhilf takes the opportunity afforded by the confusion to try to resuscitate Nicholas, but to no avail. He grabs his fallen comrade’s coin purse and fades into the crowd.

Rosaria manages to lose her persuers and quickly leave the city gates before the soldiers close Eger to search for the interlopers. Goffhilf similarly manages to escape, and Konrad fortunately sumbles out of whatever watering hole in which he found himself. Rosaria hides herself and the cart alongside of the road, and manages to find both Konrad and a stranger wearing Goffhilf’s clothing, drawing their attentions to her hiding place. Reunited, they take to the road once again.

It is early morning on January 26, 1611, and the group only has a couple more hours before they should hit Würzburg. As they continue along the road, they see a cart and horses by the side of the road. A man, sitting on a barrel and smoking a pipe, sits by the side of the road. Two other men stand near him.

The man on the barrel introduces himself as Tiedemann Fürst. He indicates that his associate just arrived, and that he was expecting all of them. He also expresses his condolences for the losses of Mannfried Handel and Nicholas Schlender.

Tiedemann proceeds to explain that he needs them to perform a task for him. In twenty years, he will meet them at this spot, and ask them to deliver something on his behalf. He apologizes, as it is a little confusing, but he tells them that it will make more sense as they proceed. He suggests that they are destined to do these things.

When Tiedemann’s companion asks for clarification, saying all they have to do is return here in twenty years, Tiedemann says that it is not quite accurate. He takes a slender wooden dowel and shoves it in his pipe. As the end catches fire, he uncorks the barrel — enough for a fine, black powder to begin spilling out — and shoves the lit dowel into it.

The barrel explodes. The assembled party feels the heat from the explosion, and —

They are back by the side of the road. It appears to be shortly after dawn. Rosaria’s cart is gone. She notices slight differences in the treeline — a tree that was just a sapling a moment ago is taller here, another tree has been cut down there.

It is also a little warmer.

While the group tries to determine what just happened, they make introductions to the two newcomers. A scrawny man in a large ushanka introduces himself as Maksymilian Rusnak. He further introduces his man as Aleksy.

As they determine what they will do next, they spot a cart coming up the road. As it approaches, they realize that the cart is being driven by none other than Tiedemann Fürst. Unlike the landscape, he appears not to have aged at all. He greets them as he approaches, and begins explaining things. It is currently dawn on October 8, 1631. War has been raging across the Holy Roman Empire for roughly thirteen years, and there is no end in sight. Word has it that the Swedish army is on its way south, and is headed to march on Würzburg. They will likely hit Würzburg in roughly a week.

In the midst of this chaos, Tiedemann has something he requests of them. If they follow the River Main north to Karlstadt, and then travel a couple of miles south, they should reach a mound with a circle of standing stones. A man by the name of Willibald Schwartz resides in this mound, and he will ask the group to perform a task. Despite his eccentricities, the group should take his offer. When they do what he asks, that will lead them to an area roughly ten miles northeast of Karlstadt, where they will find a hidden lair in the swamp, an open cave covered by vegetation. Tiedemann tells them that they should replace the vegetation they disturb, so that no one knows of their passing.

Tiedemann continues, telling them that they should follow Schwartz’s directions. While doing so, they should use the map that Tiedemann gives them to navigate the place. In addition to Schwartz’s request, Tiedemann requests that they find the cages where prisoners are kept. In one of the cages will be a man who is not missing any limbs. They are to give that man a second note, which Tiedemann gives them. Once they give the man the note, they are discharged of their duties.

Fürst indicates that he has nothing to pay them, although given the current chaos, they are more than welcome to keep whatever they find in the course of their investigations. When they ask, he indicates that he expects they will take whatever they find back to their own time with them. He also indicates that the ritual will likely return them to their own time once the Swedish army rolls through — at that point, it will be too difficult for them to complete their goals.

He further indicates that if they do not do as he asked, then he will be forced to fix the situation himself, something he assures them they will not want. He also warns that they may want to avoid hanging around Karlstadt too much, for reasons he suspects will become obvious.

As he is about to leave, they ask him what to do about food. He asks if they have money, to which they reply that they do, but he throws them a pack filled with food. He says that should last them a couple of days, certainly long enough for them to resupply.

Fürst continues down the road on his cart, leaving the group to contemplate its next move.

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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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