The enclosed cul-de-sac provided a good deal of security from the execution being interrupted by a threat coming from the crowd, but it didn't provide much in the way of defense from an airborne assault. The sky began to darken, and then piercing screams were heard; a number of witches astride broomsticks, goats, and massive hogs descended from sky to rescue Imogen from the noose. At the sight of the witches, the crowd panicked and people began to flea the cul-de-sac. Which, of course, posed a problem for Pen, Tristan, andTobias--they wanted to make sure the execution proceeded as planned, but they would have to make their way through a stampede of frightened citizens to reach the gallows.
Pen used his shield like a plow to rush his way through the crowd; Tristan parted the crowd by invoking the authority of St. Othric; Tobias used his magic to move through the fray and take shots at the witches on the gallow's platform. (Luka was stationed on a rooftop above the chaos.) On the platform the witches were engaging the templars acting as guards in a bloody conflict to rescue Imogen. Tobias, Tristan, and Pen continued to work their way toward the gallows. An eerie black shadow began to seep from the ground around the gallows; from this writhing, shadowy emanation stepped a number of man-like things covered in garish, fungal protuberances. The fungal men staggered forward to grab Imogen and drag her back into the shadows from whence they came.
Pen, Tristan, and Tobias reached the platform. Pen and Tristan charged the gallows while Tobias turned his dire magic on the witches from below the platform. Pen attempted to pull Imogen away from the fungal men; he could not wrest her from their grasp, but he did engage in a bit of tug-of-war with the condemned's body. Ignoring the other foes on the gallows, Tristan speared Imogen through the midsection, making certain that she would not escape the grave this day. At first, the group assumed that the fungal men were allied with the witches, but as they began to engage with templar and witch alike it became clear that they were pawns of a third party.
The fungal men pummeled Pen with their fists, angered perhaps by the damage he was causing them. Luka took musket shots at the creatures attacking his friends on the gallows. Another figure appeared from the encircling shadows, a tall, thin, aristocratic figure dressed in old-fashioned finery. Tristan recognized this newcomer instantly; it was Edgar Bolgakof, one of the vampire clan who had killed Tristan's family. Strangely, Bolgakof's lip curled in malicious recognition, even though Tristan was a mere child when his family was slain by the Bolgakofs. Pen attacked Bolgakof, embedding his sword in the torso of the monster. Tristan kept the hated monster from retreating with harrying halberd attacks. Eventually, Edgar was able to slip away from Tristan and retreat into the writhing shadows with his remaining minions. The shadows receded, leaving the party on a gallows crowded with fungal-covered corpses, dead witches, and injured warriors of the Church.
The sun still shown in the wake of the shadow-magic, but strangely it seemed dimmer now, as if a veil had been drawn over its luminescence. In the days that followed, the sun remained inexplicably diminished in strength.
After reconvening in the basement of their church, the characters decided to cast a wide net for further information to guide their next move.
- Tobias met with Ivara a few times. She told him that the attack they thwarted was due to her mother's coven sending witches to rescue Imogen from the clutches of the Church. She also told him that Bolgakof has likely attempted to abduct Imogen to use as a hostage to keep the coven from opposing the vampire lord--known only as "the Master"--that Bolgakof serves. The Master is, of course, the "darkness coming to Krevborna" that Ivara has been working to thwart. She provided Tobias with a map to Bolgakof's fortress when informed that Tristan has designs on killing him. She also mentioned that she could arrange a meeting with her mother if the party wanted to form an alliance with the witches.
- Pen kept an ear to the ground within the Church itself, fearing that there is some sort of nefarious connection between Bolgakof (or his Master) and a plot within Church. He only heard idle talk about how horrifying the incursion of supernatural forces in Chancel was deemed to be.
- Luka found his mentor Horace drinking a disgusting-looking hangover cure and pressed him for information about vampire slaying. Horace stressed that not all vampires are of equal strength; those from weak bloodlines can be bested by a group of skilled adventurers who are prepared for the hunt.
- Tristan made a new contact, Arleth Latunsky, a member of the Sacred Butchers--a specialized branch of the Church of Saintly Blood that is devoted to the extermination of the undead. Latunsky, an older man who now drills young recruits in martial matters, told Tristan that the Bolgakof vampires have one great weakness: they were prone to anger and when enraged were liable to fight with abandon and disregard for their own safety.
The group then decided it was wisest to pursue at least a truce with the witches before moving against Bolgakof. Pen found an ancient cemetery to serve as the neutral ground for their midnight meeting. Atop a hill, flickering lanterns placed to give them some light among the tombstones, the group spied a woman in a satin gown, smoking a cigarette from a carved holder, winding her way toward them in the darkness. She introduced herself as Nadine Olashenko, and told them she admired the steel of their spines for choosing to meet with her in such a desolate and moribund location. She quickly dispelled the fear that she might bear them animosity for the death of her daughter; she explained that she had many daughters, and to lose less essential ones was but the price of war against the invasion of the foreign Master. She was willing to consider the group allies, especially when they expressed interest in tracking Edgar Bolgakof to his lair. She told them that the use of holy power could at least momentarily halt the vampire's supernatural ability to heal himself, and wished them happy hunting.
Before departing to find Bolgakof's fortress, the group bought pistols, holy water, and a boat to strap to the roof of their carriage. They arrived at the silent fortress without incident. Tobias used his fiendish familiar to scout the outside of the fortress. Beyond the portcullis behind the drawbridge, the familiar could see a long dining table, at which was seated four fungal corpses sitting in absolute stillness. A glance in the windows of the tower revealed a workroom filled with piles of strange fungal matter and a dismembered corpse hanging from a hook on the first floor, a fungal greenhouse on the second, and an observatory of sorts on the third. Several blackened windows prevented further spying.
And there they stand, considering their options for how best to tackle the vampire's castle.
* * *
XP - 375 for Pen, Tristan, and Tobias. 175 for Luka (didn't arrive until after the big crowd panic)
Inspiration - everyone gained Inspiration during the big discussion of what to do next: ideals, flaws, bonds, etc. were all in motion for sure.