Or “Never Trust a Man with a Sub-Optimal Allocation of Facial Features”
The next day, the team heads off to The Hill and Madame Beaumarteau to purchase appropriate costumes for such a dazzling event. Torus ends up dressed as a white witch hunter, Immolatus is resplendent in a dress, Yuri is in some bird and harlequin outfit, and Grudge selects a silver penis mask and black tights (obviously still groggy and not thinking too straight after his combat with the flagellants). This of course results in to any number of ‘humorous’ comments from his companions along the lines “Don’t ask me—mask me!”, “Put Your Ass Next to My Mask”, etc. It rapidly looks like a very, very bad—and all too expensive—idea.
While in the shopping mood, the adventurers make some additional purchases, notably a sling and shot for Torus. They sit around and rehashes the political situation, with some focus on Margrave Reinhardt von Mackensen as a possible solution to the problem of an otherwise very bad bunch of potential candidates.
And so to the ball. Arriving stylishly but not too late, there are already many attendees.
Yuri enters first, and is loudly introduced by the doorman to the thronging, noble crowd. Who ignore him. He immediately begins searching for possibly underground access to the premises. After all, any Chaos attack is bound to be surreptitious and secretive, right? They’re scarcely going to be knocking at the front door, are they?
Next to make their entrance are Torus and Immolatus, sweeping majestically (cough cough) into the ball ome minutes later. They too are loudly introduced by the doorman, and are also completely ignored. Torus heads upstairs to case the joint. Picking a couple of locks as he goes, he discovers that the mansion is clearly a rented property, with little in the way of entrenched—mostly storage rooms and servant quarters. Most of the rooms are unlocked, and none reveals anything of interest—not even any snogging couples at this early hour.
Immolatus notices von Bruner arguing with a young man dressed up in von Bruner livery with the cheeky addition of stuffed fabric tentacles as a costume, and moves on to Aschaffenberg, who is quick to point out (to the extent he can be bothered to talk at all to such lowly scum) that he didn’t invite any of the party to the Ball. The invitation was a forgery.
Aschaffenberg’s embarrassed, sotto voce direction to Immolatus is “Don’t draw attention to yourselves…”
…as Grudge walks in….
…to be introduced as quietly by the doorman as possible…
…as a silence gathers among the crowd, who turn to stare disbelievingly at the sight of a skin tight clad gnarly little bearded dwarf hidden behind a silver penis mask. For a second the night hangs in the balance, the adventurers hold their breath—then with a collective shrug the nobles return to their respective conversations. After all, it is the Ubersreik Masked Ball…
As Yuri wanders around the back and outside, searching for possible points of ingress, Immolatus notices one of von Saponatheim’s men surreptitiously spiking Aschaffenberg’s drink. Swiftly, Immolatus knocks the drink out of the Baron’s hand, cementing his reputation as a klutz but possibly saving Aschaffenberg from a dangerous—or at the very least embarrassing—incident. Is von Saponatheim the quarry?
Torus sidles up to Baron von Holzenauer for a quick chat, and quickly discovers that he also did not invite the adventurers, and that his purported invitation was also a forgery. Two out of three ain’t good. A quick check with the current prime suspect, von Saponatheim, confirms the party’s worst fears—he also had no intention to (and in fact did not) invite them.
This is terrible—not because some secret hand has deliberately and fraudulently arranged for our heroes to be present at the Ball for undeniably deadly reasons, but because it begs the question—why In Sigmar’s Beard did the party actually bother to jump through all of the nobles’ hoops? They could have just sat around at the pub and waited for the mysterious invitations to arrive.
So what now? Circulating and chatting really isn’t the adventurers’ strong point. Grudge notices some dwarves at the front door arguing with von Holzenauer—assuming they’re trying to get in for the free beer, he walks over to get them in. Of course, he has totally misread the situation—they don’t want to come in, they want money that von Holzenauer has borrowed from them. Tempers fray a bit (presumably not helped by the fact that the money-lending dwarves are in heated discussion with what is effectively a shiny penis-shaped mirror, and seeing one’s reflection in that particularly disturbing scenario is never conducive to rational and level-headed negotiation). Finally, the dwarves leave, with imprecations and dire threats hanging heavy in the air. Grudge however achieves no useful social benefit from his involvement—von Holzenauer wanders off (presumably to borrow some more money…)
Yuri, meanwhile, is still doing his investigative turn. Now outside in the dark, away from the bright lights, fine food and ample, pale décolletage, he hears the sound of barking dogs from the far back corner of the property. Casually looking over the wall, he starts to chat up a woman nearby. With consummate social skill, he manages to end up on the receiving end of a challenge from her husband. As he begins to disentangle himself from potential affray with the slightly disingenuous excuse that he couldn’t see too well in the dark, Yuri notices a sudden crescent of light as the kitchen door opens below. Suspecting the worse, he leaps over the wall—and plunges like a shapeless turd to the courtyard below. Ouch. However, he does notice the signs of spilled water by the well. Could it have been some servant merely drawing water from the well, or could the cultists have emerged from the sewers below? Carefully ‘Sherlock’ Stubbindrikov begins a hunt for footprints, but somehow slips on the spilled water and slimy cobblestones and finds himself once more lying on the ground, another wound on his person. Covered in stains, grass and mud, he tries to wipe himself clean, but he only makes it worse—his once fine plummage and harlequinary now reduced to a formless muddy mess. Perhaps he can pass off his costume as a sewer jack…
Yuri gives up on his external investigations and moves into the kitchen. As he does so, the chimney in the kitchen starts belching black, dense, eye-watering smoke—“oh My God—the chips!”. No, this is not merely the effects of a forgotten suckling pig—there is something nefarious afoot. From his vantage point below the level of the billowing smoke (well, almost), Grudge notices a cultist kneecap, and promptly smashes it to little bits. In what must be a fair bit of pain, the cultist drops a vial of some substance, which Grudge manages to snatch from the air before it falls and smashes on the ground.
Meanwhile, in the dining room as the smoke slowly makes its billowing presence felt, Torus and Immolatus notice von Saponatheim’s suspicious man from earlier in the evening surreptitiously spiking the punch. In a later age they might suspect Rohipnol, but in the current circumstances surely it can only mean… CULTIST! CHAOS! BURN HIM! Immolatus trips the perilous punch poisoner, who unfortunately drops his vessel of toxin in a billowing cloud over all the food. The party is really descending into chaos—literally.
“It was definitely better last year…” one of the guests is heard to mutter.
The triumphant adventurers drag the protesting perilous punch poisoner to his master and wicked Master of Chaos, von Saponatheim, who unfortunately convincingly protests that, sure, he was trying to make everyone nauseous to turn von Holzenauer’s party into a disaster, but the burgeoning Chaos fight in the kitchen has nothing to do with him. He would never countenance having such riff-raff at the Masquerade Ball (a not-so-subtle dig at our adventurers?)
If this was a novel, the failure of that particular denouement would mean that a sudden event would occur which…
And outside a carriage from hell arrives. There is a scream at the gate, and from the gloom emerges a wagon drawn by emaciated horses. Accompanied by a horde of diseased cultists, nurglings and probably tax collectors, it draws up to the gate. It is suddenly pretty clear that secrecy is not part of plan after all. This is a full frontal assault with all the subtlety of the moon of Morrsleib, hanging green and baleful in the night sky.
As if in a breathless, hushed pause, everything suspends briefly—the carriage door opens and out steps an enormous, brutal-looking, truly terrifying (and nasty as crap) Chaos cultist and behind him, from the darkness of the cabin, steps—no, you have to be kidding me… Noseless Brandt! Our erstwhile sewer jack!
(Each of our Protagonists makes a mental note that the list of reasons never to take up a job as an Underling sewer jack has just increased by one… your noseless Boss is likely to be a Chaos Cultist Grade 1.)
Time returns with a rush, and the guests and guards are beset on all sides. The noise is sudden and overwhelming—the screams of women, the shouts of men, the gibbering of nurglings, the flatulence of Grudge. The Ball is a swirling, whirling maelstrom of chaos and carnage. “Up the stairs!” shouts one of our party. Some of the guests start heading to the upper floors, while the adventurers form up in defence against what looks like a particularly nasty piece of combat. “This was one invitation we should have turned down—there’s not enough free food and booze in the whole Empire to make up for this…”
The champion moves forward, ugly and ugly and ugly. Our heroes set themselves on the lower stairs, blocking access to the upper floors (and the frightened throng) and prepared to sell their lives dearly. Actually, prepared to kill as many creatures as possible and then run.
As the Chaos champion enters the melee, Grudge, Yuri and Torus all hit, healthy strikes that chisel away at the massive, warped, truly vile frame, but not enough to stop the ponderous killing machine. He returns the favour with interest, sending Grudge reeling. But our heroes are back in the fray, landing more blows until Immolatus finishes him off with a magic missile.
“You cannot kill m…” mutters the Champion as he pitches forward on his face. Famous last words—it’s just unusual that they come from one of the Bad Guys.
Brandt seems just a little perturbed, and more than a little pissed. This was not in the script—a Champion of Chaos is supposed to do a little more carnage than that. Oh well, if you want something done…
Which is why they invented the spell Nurgle’s Hand. With fiendish gestures and guttural murmurings, Brant unleashes his noisome power upon Immolatus, who suffers severe but non-terminal injuries. Now it is the Noseless Bastard’s turn…
The battle still rages. Bodies, and parts thereof, lie everywhere. Guests run this way and that, screaming as they are cut down by cultists or ridden by cackling nurglings. Blood, gore, brains, indeterminate bodily fluids. Mixed with the smoke from the kitchen, the smell and filth is overpowering. There is a very good chance that von Holzenauer will not be getting back his bond for the lease.
Adopting an adventurous fighting style more suited for his idiom, Torus steps from his vantage point on the stairs onto a stuffed bear, and then leaps for the chandelier so that he can swing and land on Brandt. Of course, he misses—this is perhaps more his idiom.
Acrobatics and flamboyant Flynn-ism is obviously catching: Yuri, too, decides on an adventurous approach to his combat with Brandt. Elegantly he runs up a pile of bodies and launches himself from the Champion’s corpse, but finds his foot entangled on the grotesque armour. Less elegantly, he trips, slips on the ichor-drenched floor and falls heavily. Somewhere, the Gods laugh.
Now it’s Grudge’s turn. Somehow failing to learn his lesson from the attempts of his companions, he launches himself through the air at Brandt and surprisingly lands an effective blow. But then falls to the side. Substance over form, that’s the motto.
Enraged, Brandt lashes out at Grudge, for minor damage. Now it’s Grudge’s turn to seek recompense for the many days of discomfort, mud, blood, injury and bad beer. With a final massive blow to Brandt’s nosehole, the dwarf finishes off the Nurgle-worshipping mastermind.
All is quiet, save the quiet sobs and last, dying gasps of the wounded and… dying (obviously). The scene is unbelievable, and will live forever in the memories of those guests who fail to seek solace in alcohol or drugs. OK, so most of them will forget almost immediately. Still, for now it is a vile, sobering vision. Slowly down the stairs, effectively arm in arm, come Aschaffenberg, von Holzenauer and von Saponatheim—is this a turning of a corner? Has this night of horror drawn them together, unifying them and offering hope for Ubersreik? Nope. Within seconds each is off, expounding their individual exploits and disparaging the efforts of their competition.
Sickened by their self-interest, Grudge turns to the Margrave and suggests that what Ubersreik needs is a single, unifying, external leader who will end the divisiveness and help Ubersreik to recover from the trauma of the evening Chaos attack and lead the city into a new, brighter more prosperous age (or mono-syllabic words to that effect).
The Margrave looks at Grudge with a mixture of puzzlement and incredulity, and replies “After this evening’s events, I’m heading straight home. Ubersreik can stew in its own filthy juices, as far as I’m concerned”.
“Et tu Margrave? And so falls Ubersreik…”
Dispirited, our weary adventurers head out into the night air. Looking up, they see that the bilious green of Morrsleib has given way to the true moon’s silver light. Which is all well and good, but you can’t eat, drink, sell or have sex with silvery light. This adventuring lark is turning much less profit and much more personal damage and angst than seems tenable. The Accountants’ Guild looks more tempting every day…