Leaderless, luckless and unfortunately currently not even legless, the party regroups to assess its lack of progress and abundance of dead ends. A re-re-re-review of the letter from the notorious “F” adds nothing to the picture other than the possible future usefulness of the “prying Sigmarite priest” and the ambiguity of drafting in the reference to setting up “our stage”—literal or metaphorical? But syntax never slayed a dragon (as the old and slightly peculiar Empire saying goes), so in time honoured fashion (and having learnt nothing from previous experience) the adventurers split up.
Torus and Immolatus run a ‘sting’ operation from Doktor Verfullen’s office on the basis that if they couldn’t work out who was the leader of the entertainers from the entertainers themselves, then surely the leader would need to make contact with Doktor Verfullen. All they need to do is wait—Immolatus posing as the good doctor, Torus to act as the significantly more unattractive than usual receptionist.
Meanwhile, Grudge will set up an aerial viewing of the entertainers from the town walls and Yuri will mingle with the crowd at the entertainers’ site.
As Torus and Immolatus arrive at the surgery of Doktor Verfullen, they find the door locked with a notice to the effect that the premises have been closed by order of Lady Agnetha. With their usual respect for authority, our paragons rip down the sign and (using Torus’ skulduggery skills) pick the lock. Unfortunately, even though the lock is successfully picked, Torus manages to jam his lock picking apparatus in the lock. Fortunately, he is able to remove it without leaving obvious signs of “we have just broken into this surgery”.
Once inside, it transpired that paranoia or bureaucratic efficiency has resulted in the inner door also being locked. Again, Torus tries his skulduggery skills, but fails dramatically. What now? Break the door down? Sit outside as prospective customers and hope to surprise the Unknown Enemy that way? Or look in the top drawer of the receptionist’s desk and use the key you find there? A difficult decision…
And so they open the inner door, adopt their roles and wait. And wait. A minute passed. Another minute… passed. And then… a minute passed. A coughing plague victim pokes his head in to ask what is happening and whether the doctor is in, and is lied to by Torus with customary ease. A minute passed. And so on. By sundown, it is apparent to all that no one of interest is coming. Off to the show! On the way they drop in to the Bucket of Blood Inn, where they have discovered the Doktor stays.
Yuri wanders around the site of the upcoming show. There seem to be four entertainers, dressed in the Old World’s version of garish red and yellow lycra and busily engaged in setting up the stage for the night’s entertainment. It may be Yuri’s imagination, but do they move with a certain unnatural vigour? And when he speaks with them, does he detect an unpleasant odour? Or is it just the smell of sweat from their exertions? The other two members of the entertainers’ party are a butch hairy male and a butch hairy female. The latter is helping to set up, while the former is engaging in feats of strength to the “oohs” and “aahs” of the gawking onlookers. Both of them also seem to be keeping an eye open for possible trouble. Yuri identifies them as tribal types, probably from the North. Perhaps they explain the smell…
There are also three caravans—one silent, one from which grunting and rattling sounds emerge, and the third the source of the music. When Yuri asks en entertainer about the grunting, he is met with a generic response about the exciting and interesting events of the evening. All in all, another blank is drawn.
Up on the parapet, Grudge is interrupted by a city guard, inquiring as to his purpose on the wall. Knowing full well that city guards are rarely well paid, Grudge inquires what the usual ‘viewing fee’ is. Once he pays his 2 silver, he settles down to wait and watch.
Back at the Bucket of Blood, the innkeeper confirms that the Doktor has a room at the inn, and unsurprisingly allows Immolatus and Torus to ransack it mercilessly. Torus emerges 20 shillings richer, but none the wiser as to the identity of ‘F’ or his pupil. So the evening’s entertainment beckons!
As the daylight dims and the crowds wend their way to the front of the stage, Torus joins Grudge on the walls and Immolatus joins Yuri in the mingling throng, each of them placed at opposite ends of the stage (Yuri with the closest view of the musical caravan). The music swells as one of the entertainers completes his welcoming spiel and the acrobats begin their rather average routine. Still, the hicks from this back-end of nowhere town seem to be enjoying the show.
The change in the music is so gradual that the screams from the crowd are the first indication that this show may not actually be as tedious and normal as first expected.
As the music grows in volume and becomes a nauseating, drumming, pounding rave beat, a number of the crowd are seen to develop the symptoms of the Green Pox at an astounding rate—pustules swelling and exploding, flesh sloughing off in sickening strips, liquids exploding from all orifices. When the four acrobats leap into the crowd and commence dancing with the crowd and slaughtering the helpless, the party realise with relief that they no longer need to strain their brains trying to puzzle out clues—at last they can plunge into the red frenzy of battle!
Unfortunately, the music of chaos has triggered a response in the pox festering in Immolatus and Torus, and their symptoms grow quickly worse—Grudge and Yuri thank again their lucky stars once again that they shook off their pox. Torus, shaking with ague, also suffers the ignominy of falling from the wall, wounding himself in the process. But this does not prevent him, and the others of the party, from plunging into combat—Grudge leaping from the wall to save time and hitting the ground running.
The tribal strongman attacks Immolatus, hitting and wounding him before falling to magic darts. The woman throws herself at Yuri (not in a good way), and they exchange blows before Yuri overcomes her (definitely not in a good way). The acrobats—cackling with glee, feasting upon buboes and diseased flesh—turn their attention upon Grudge and Torus. Torus kills his first adversary, but is wounded in the act by an infected blade, and is set upon by another. Grudge cuts the arm off his target, but it takes more than that to kill a crazed servant of chaos, and the final acrobat appears before him.
All the while, the mind-numbing musical beats continue, distracting our valiant adventures (indeed, twice driving Torus to drop his bow). Whirling, dying, pox-ridden bodies and body parts fly around the combatants.
Suddenly a figure bursts from the third caravan, holding out a parchment list a crying “Who is interfering with my quota?” Unbelievably, the town of Hugeldal has been visited by a Plaguebearer of Nurgle, accompanied by three music playing nurglings! With equal degrees of bravery and sheer stupidity (actually, more stupidity probably), Yuri throws himself upon the demon and they exchange blows. The nurglings bound off into the diminishing crowd, ganwing on wounds, tunnelling into burst pustules, and generally doing all those truly disgusting things that nurglings like to do.
As the combat continues, Immolatus, Yuri and Torus are progressively worn down until their wounds are at critical levels. Grudge largely avoids combat as he dashes back and forth between other people’s engagements. However, at last he manages to kill and break free of his acrobat adversaries, and as the city guard arrives to aid Torus, Grudge and Yuri finish off the Plaguebearer. The guards and Torus dispatch the nurglings, and a weird and eerie silence falls upon the field as the music of the damned finally ceases.
The adventurers peek into each caravan. The first is a disgusting mess. The second is also, with the added bounty of a caged mutant (quickly dispatched by Torus). The third is worst of all, but they see some papers written in ugly and indecipherable characters; though they do recognise the town crest of Ubersreik. Some strange coins are also sitting in a wooden box on the desk. Immolatus torches all three caravans.
Suddenly a piercingscream rings out—Lady Agnetha is standing at the town gates, cradling and mourning her dead son. Each of them has obvious effects of the pox. Back at the inn, the Doktor is dead—a putrefying mess in the dark. The innkeeper is surprisingly unharmed, but is seriously contemplating a change of career.
So what now? The party was sent to conduct a circumspect investigation, and has unravelled plague, death and demons.