Or “A Turn For the Wirtz…”
In the warm, dim glow of the early morning sun, the entrance to the sewers looming in front of the party seems almost innocuous. Then ‘Noseless’ Brant turns the key and throws back the creaking door. “Welcome to my wonderful world”, he beams. Given his odious visage and annoying personality, the vomitous odour wafting from the portal, and the watery glint of light off the effluent beyond, the World of Brant is a rather questionable travel location…
As the band steps into the reeking red brick tunnel, coughing and spluttering and trying desperately not to lose breakfast so soon after ingesting it, they note that Brant is blithely unaware of his surroundings. Of course, his attitude to the smells is based on his main physical attribute (or lack thereof). But he is known as ‘Noseless’ Brant, not ‘Blind’ Brand, and so his casual approach to the visual horror before him can only be based on years in the sewers, inuring him to what can only be described as a veritable litany of putridness. There is, of course, excrement in all its guises, in every state (liquid, solid, semi-liquid, semi-solid) and colour (brown, brown, light brown, dark brown, brown, grey-brown, green-brown, brown grey-brown… you get the idea) imaginable. But there is also worse—the bodies of rats, cats, dogs and other beasts that cannot even be imagined in their matted, gnawed, putrescent, soaking, filthy state. There are unidentifiable lumps and bumps; sudden motions and slow movements; swirling, rainbow, oily runnels and choking, oozy festering channels. Before long each member of the group is prepared to swap a swarm of chaos demons for any longer in the festering tunnels. But they have a job to do; one which clearly in hindsight was not paying nearly enough…
Despite the fact that light will only make the nightmare landscape clearer, it’s clear that operating in complete darkness would not be particularly sensible, so Torus begins to prepare a torch for ignition.
“Hmmmm, I’d be wary o’ that” says Brant, holding up his own covered lantern. “Been known to be some strange gases down ’ere that tend to set them things off. You gots to watch fer strange smells as a warnin’…” Our travellers eye each other—there is nothing but strange smells down here. And what would Brant know about smells? Still, the advice makes sense, so rather than naked flame, Immolatus sets a magic glamour of light upon the end of his staff.
As well as the sights and smells—and in some ways more disturbing than either—are the sounds from the darkness. Dripping water and other liquids, echoing and magnified to have an actual life of their own; the scuttling and chittering of rats and other subterranean creatures; and the unidentifiable slobberings, sighings, wheezings… even giggling… out of the shadows. Just the wind searching through the tunnels? Or something worse, and unmentionable?
“There’s no such thing as giant rats” Grudge reminds Torus, none too convincingly.
“This way, this way” says Brant. “I’ll take you to the rough spot near where Wirtz vanished.” (The ‘rough spot’? There’s a rougher spot?)
The party moves through the dark, Brant’s lantern and Immolatus’s enchanted flame throwing malformed shadows and shapes upon the foetid walls. As they move, the adventurers realise that the old advice that, over time, you get used to awful smells is… complete rubbish. Nothing gets better, and each five minutes feels like five hours.
So, centuries later, the bold and grimy heroes are led to a dank, square room with a central grill, which is clearly an overflow point for collecting storm water… and every other vile object that happens to arrive. In one corner is a pile of sodden boxes and other random detritus.
“Well, here it is,” says Brant. Yuri scrabbles through the boxes and after some time finds a hidden manhole.
“Do you know where this goes?” he asks.
“Nope. Well, I’ll leave you to it then,” and off goes brave, helpful Brant. Gazing after his vanishing lantern (and detailed knowledge of the sewers), not a few of the party wonder if anyone would notice the quick and violent disappearance of Ubersreik’s Master Sewerjack. However, the opportunity to act on inclination quickly passes, and our adventurers are left alone in the flickering dark.
Girding their loins and other body parts, they lift the manhole and head down into the (even more) stinking (even more) dark. At the bottom, boot-deep in muck and mire, they look around. Immolatus, trusting his sorcerous intuition, leads them unerringly toward their goal, Torus supporting him with observations revealing the occasional passage of unidentified third parties.
After a time of squelching progress and tentative detective work, a distant noise is heard. Squeaking, scuttling, scratching—getting closer and closer. “Giant Rats?” breathes the party…
Nope—just a swirling horde of large sewer rats that breaks like a tide of fur, claws and flesh from around the corner in front of them and crashes upon the party, flinging biting, scrabbling rodents upon one and all. Suddenly each one of them is beating off multiple attacks of tooth and claw. Flailing through the furry torrent with magical flame and mundane steel, the party finally carves a path through the swarm, to emerge beyond, jittery and shaken. Perhaps a mere handful of Giant Rats would have been preferable…
Onwards now, through the darkness until Immolatus leads his colleagues to the half-eaten remains of a human body, lying deep in the filth of the tunnels. It isn’t Wirtz—this body is dressed in the tattered remains of a green jerkin and a robe. Not the attire of the City Watch; instead, it is strangely reminiscent of the attire of the cultists at Hugeldal.
A quick search of the corpse reveals 3 shillings and a note:
The mysteries of life and death
are not within your holy books
or even written in the stars.
They are inscribed on your very flesh.
Each gangrenous wound, each
itching boil, each suppurated abcess
illuminates the majesty of the
true master of the world.
Also—although it is hard to tell with such a badly preserved body (eye balls long disappeared, flesh extensively gnawed)—but do the remains of the chest suggest particular trauma in that region?
On the party goes, following instinct and subtle clues (and, in Grudge’s case, critically wounding himself upon a spiked board, submerged and unobserved under the sewer’s foul liquids), until they once again hear faint noises from out of the gloom. But these are not the dry sounds of rats on the move—they sound wet and slobbery; could it actually be… someone, or something, eating?
Of course it is! Cautiously rounding a corner, the nightmare tableau of three Crypt Ghouls stooping over their unwholesome meals is revealed. Seeing the light, and sensing warm, fresh meat, they raise their bloodied heads—“Braaaaains! Braaaaains!” (Why this peculiar ghoul predilection for brains? Why not liver, or kidney? Or a nice backstrap. Although “Baaaackstraaaap. Baaaaackstraaap” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…)
Fighting their almost debilitating fear, the band flings themselves upon the Unholy Creatures. The combat lasts longer than expected—they are hardy adversaries, and are joined by three more ghouls shortly into the combat. They even land a few blows, but no diseases are transmitted and eventually axe, sword, fire and arrow prevails over claw and fang.
Panting, the adventurers stand over the battered ghoul corpses. Quickly Yuri applies rough first aid—a risky business, in the dark, and deep in unhygienic slime, but the efforts are both successful and contamination-free. Looking around, they see large double doors in one wall of the room in which they stand. Torus leans forward to listen at the door—and jumps back, with some evil crawling creature nibbling at the inside of his ear. A Grim World… etc etc. Batting the critter away, Torus confirms that he heard some liquid noises from behind the doors.
Rapidly deciding that, although discretion may be the better part of valour, it’s not nearly as fun as indiscretion, Yuri and Grudge burst through the doors to behold—a Demon!! Yay, another one!
This slimy daemon-beast resembles a huge, pallid slug, but with two webbed claws at the front, and a mass of paralyzing tentacles, teeth, and tongues for a head. Belying its repugnant appearance, it seems bizarrely friendly, its tentacles quivering with excitement, and its slugtails wagging, splashing toxic slime everywhere.
The giant slug-puppy slowly oozes towards the party, emanating the most curious sensation that it wants to hug and be as one with the adventurers (a Zen slug-puppy demon?). Once again, tendrils of fear work their way through our party’s psyches. They are perhaps not nearly as jaded and robust as they would like to think…
Those with ranged weapons—namely, Immolatus and Torus—start to argue about who will strike first. So Grudge and Yuri decide to short-circuit the prevarication and leap to the attack. After all, if you’ve killed one demon, you’ve killed them all.
Grudge lands a solid blow; the creature strikes at Yuri with its glistening pseudopods, but luckily misses, and Yuri counterblows. To the extent that one can tell such things, the slug seems to be weakening. Then things get really serious—Immolatus conjures a fully powered magic dart swarm. Like rain on jelly (a ‘blender and jelly’ analogy is a little too anachronistic) the darts shred the demon, spreading goo and slime onto the already filthy walls. Is there the faintest feeling of unrequited love from the monster as it is spread widely around the near vicinity?
Beyond the splattered remains of the beast is a single room with a domed brick ceiling, off which lead three entrances to three smaller rooms. In the first room is an iron gate, behind which crouches a gibbering figure, dressed in the remains of the clothes of a city watchman. It seems that Wirtz has been found, in body if not in spirit. He is a bedraggled, unkempt, slobbering, incoherent mess—and his eyes have been gnawed out of his face.
Attempts to communicate fail dismally, as he continues to gnaw at what looks awfully like the remains of a rat, and gibbers a bit. Torus finds a key and goes so far as to enter the room to attempt to speak with the wretch, but it is hopeless. All he finds is a note, written in blood from the hacked stumps of Wirtz’s fingers, which reads:
Grandfather will watch
the ‘great ones’
Dance and caper
while they can
They know not that
the Fraternity of the
are the true masters of
The party prevails upon Torus to leave the room (and lock the door behind him!)
The other two rooms are effectively empty—some broken, decrepit furniture and odd circular runes being the main forms of decoration. Immolatus casts back though his knowledge of the arcane to confirm that these are runes of Nurgle, at which Grudge has a brain wave—the text of the various notes, the attire of the corpse, the demon, it can mean only one thing: “I think we’re dealing with Nurgle Chaos Cultists!” he proclaims. Embarrassed, the band of adventurers doesn’t quite know what to say, and are saved by a scream which erupts from Wirtz. Running to his cage, they sees his chest writhing, flailing and roiling, the flesh over his ribs bubbling with sub-cutaneous energy, and then with a vile splattering and ripping Wirtz’s chest explodes to release six bloodied nurglings like horrific newborns. If the Old World had cinemas, the parties would have been reminded of Ridlius von Scottus’s classic Alienus (only multiplied by six).
Stunned, the party can only watch as the nurglings leap through the bars and charge past them, giggling and screeching, down the hallway. Then, as if a spell had broken, the adventurers turn and charge after the foul creatures.
Torus decides that he is not fleet enough to catch them, so stops and nocks an arrow. It is a difficult shot in the dark, against small moving targets, but in an inspired piece of archery Torus’s arrow plucks a nurgling from the floor and drives it against a wall, kicking and struggling to the end. Of the others in the group, only Grudge can keep up with the demons, his stubby legs pumping like a piece of dwarven machinery unknown to the Empire at large so a reference to it in this context will mean little to anyone. Waving his axe, he slices one nurgling in half (each half continuing to run for a pace before it looks at its other half, realises it’s dead, and falls over) and squashes another. But then they are at a ladder, and up it flee the nurglings, throwing open a manhole and plunging pell-mell into—Ubersreik’s busy market. Of course. They could have fled into an alley, or a warehouse, or a brothel—somewhere they wouldn’t have been noticed. Instead, out into the biggest crowd, in the marketstrasse, at its peak of business. Chaos has immaculate timing…
Immediately the market square rings with screams and cries. Grudge starts yelling “hairless rats!” in an attempt to quell fears, but within moments the terrified crowd converts this cry to “hairless demons!”, “demon rats!”, “hairless demon rats!” and even “harbinger ranting doctors!” (possibly someone was a little hard of hearing…)
The three remaining nurglings part ways, one towards a priest of Sigmar, one towards a raving Sigmar flagellant on a podium and one towards a small group of children playing ring-a-ring-a-rosy. Grudge heads for the priest and Torus and Immolatus to the flagellant. Yuri starts towards the children but is interrupted by a flagellant handing him a sheet of parchment—“Repent! Repent! etc etc.” So Yuri hits him. Hard. Then continues running after his target.
Grudge reaches his destination first, flicks the nurgling off the priest and squashes it with his axe. Sub-consciously, the rest of the party sighs with relief that he didn’t try a reckless blow with it. Torus lunges for the flagellant and his nurgling, grabbing it, landing and holding it writhing and struggling on the ground as Immolatus raises his staff for one of his first ever melee strikes—and misses. And again. And again. Like a game of ‘Whack a Daemon’. Almost insane with frustration, Immolatus raises his staff for yet another effort—and the flagellant leader reaches over and splatters the nurgling with his whip. “See,” says Torus to the flagellant, “it’s so much better to use that on other creatures.” At which the leader begins calmly mortifying his flesh again (seemingly heedless of the demon bits embedding themselves in his skin as he does so. Now, there’s someone to watch for mutations…)
Yuri reaches the children, only to find the nurgling has insinuated himself in the dancing circle, the children too terrified to stop, as the chaos beast laughs and capers and sings alongside them. Conscious of the bad publicity associated with hacking little children to bits, Yuri carefully tries to stab the creature without doing any collateral damage, and finds himself missing the annoying little object of his attacks. Again and again it darts out of the way, but eventually finds itself impaled. Released from their fearsome playmate, the children run screaming. Best keep an eye on them too…
There is a lull. But as we know, lulls never last long. Scarcely has breath returned to tired lungs when the flagellant leader starts building himself into a cyclone of righteous wrath. “The proof is before ye! Chaos arises, and the End of Days nears, when Sigmar will judge ye all, and most will be found wanting and be cast into the foulest of Pits!”
(Just come out of those, thinks the party)
Mr Sensible, the Sigmar Extremist, continues his rant. “And who is responsible?!? Who is known to cavort with daemons and the filthy whores of Chaos?”
(Whores? Did someone say whores? Where?)
“The von Bruners.” (Oh, not real whores, then) “They have led our City down the Path of Evil! They must be punished! They must Learn the Error of their Ways! Painfully… etc etc.”
The party wonders whether they should perhaps have allowed the nurgling to eat this guy and save a lot of trouble. But it’s too late now—as the mob turns up the hill towards the nearby von Bruner mansion, waving their metaphorical pitchforks, our brave heroes give serious thought to moving off to the nearest pub for a cleansing ale. However, they recall that von Bruner and Aschaffenberg are connected (Ludmilla von Bruner being Lord Rickard Aschaffenberg’s wife), and with the notorious non-syllogistic thought processes of the rich and shameless Aschaffenberg could easily blame them for any misfortune visited on the von Bruners.
Grudge turns to the priest of Sigmar. “It would seem that things may be moving adversely to a point of no return. We need the words of a man of authority and power to assuage the torrents of anger, to pour calming oil upon troubled seas.” (Actually, he didn’t quite say this—more like “Quick man, calm the fuckers down before they burn everything”. But it doesn’t sound suitably Epic).
“Perhaps they have a point,” says the priest. (Great!) “We should summon the city watch however.” (Helpful. And then maybe he can say a few prayers over the burnt remains of the von Bruner mansion. As always with religion and priests, they talk the mumbo-jumbo, but if you actually want something done you have to do it yourself.)
The band splits up, some off to the mansion and some to the authorities. As Torus races away to (hopefully) summon the city watch, Grudge helpfully shouts after him—“See, I told you there’s no such things as Giant Rats. Sure, there’s ghouls, and some nurglings, and a monstrous slug-puppy daemon… but no Giant Rats!”