Things begin auspiciously enough. Tristan consults the stars and detects nothing untoward in our future. Meanwhile Miss Stanley travels to Bromwich Manor to find out about local politics. She and Isabel are both very smooth talkers. Isabel tries to ascertain whether Miss Stanley is a threat, and Miss Stanley assures her that she, we, are only here to help. And wouldn’t Isabel like to be a part of the larger order of good works that we represent? Isabel looks wistfully towards the library where Tristan is consulting his books about the stars. Eventually, Miss Stanley is able to query Lord Marnham about the local power structure. She finds out about Benedict Radcliff, The Red Cap, who is now occupying Dudley castle and calling himself the Baron of Dudley. There is no Baron of Dudley. Dudley falls under Bromwich Barony – and the only two other baronys in the area are Tamworth and Feltham. Lord Marnham has, as it happens, reached out out to Tamworth and Feltham, but relationships have not yet been fully established. We’ve only known of the Red Cap in the last few months as several people have come to Bromwich fleeing his sword. The very reserved Sister Amelyn, for example, is from Dudley.
At the priory, Jules is praying in seclusion. Arthur and Theo attend masses and spend time in quiet contemplation and prayer. Arthur prays ardently that God will reach out to Theo and feels that this experience may help guide Theo onto the right path. Theo strains to hear the word of the Lord, but Iskcaron speaks to him instead. Theo did pick up some pebbles on the way to the priory so he could practice moving them with sorcery. He understands that Fire and Air are the destructive elements and Earth and Water the restorative‡ ones.
Before leaving the priory, Jules and Theo have a private conversation. Jules tells him that she’s sorry for having doubted him and that she trusts he’ll make the right decision. Theo says he was impressed by her presence of command and he wants her to help him find that strength of will in himself. She says she’s leaving the Canes de Deus, but will continue to fight for us. She does not think that she has the right to judge others. He accepts her decision and they embrace. She gives the same news to Arthur who is much less understanding of her decision.
It is raining too hard to hunt Soulridden, so we decide to cleanse the cave with the statue of Asmodeus of corruption.
[There was an authority 2 vs courtesy 1 roll between Miss Stanley and Theo: Miss Stanley convincing Theo to take a larger role, as the heir of a noble house, in Lord Marnham’s political education.]
On the way to the Cave
We stop in Wednesbury, where Jules gets a leather jacket that will provide her with some armor and we pay our respects to the church. We also stop in Walsall, which is still under construction, but the new, smaller, church appears to be finished. Richard of Tate has taken up the mantel of preaching there. The defiled rooms of the Tavern/Trade-house have been cleared out.
In the Cave
Stanley and Arthur cast blessings on the party to ward us from corruption and grant us true seeing. Theo and Tristan work together to find the location of the cave; Theo leading us. Iskcaron was getting more and more angered as we approached the cave, urging Theo not to interfere with his tomb, and goes ominously silent as we make our way down.
We again enter the large cavern in the earth and see the unholy altar resting upon tortured figures. We again see the statue of Asmodeus; covered with the grime of thousands of bloody handprints.
We prepare everything to the best of our ability and Arthur begins the ritual. People feel visions of their hearts’ desires clawing for their attention, but its like they have hands holding their gaze steady.
They all share a vision: Sacrifical rites are performed upon an altar before the statue of a charismatic man, his arms outstretched. The worshippers place their bloody hands upon the statues, then each others flesh.
When they return to reality, they see that blood is dripping down Asmodeus; pouring out of all of his orifices. Theo sees this but believes that because Arthur is here, all will be well – and remains devoted to the ritual. Miss Stanley also has faith in Arthur’s faith. Tristan thinks the bleeding might be a good sign. The ritual continues.
We see what looks like a druid, or a warrior priest, bearing red armor and a red horned helmet. He is leading a ritual sacrifice of several savages held prisoner; men with long blond beards. Saxons. He then removes his own armor, places himself upon he altar and plunges the bloody dagger into his own heart.
Staunchly we continue the ritual; our minds focused, our spirits strong.
We find ourselves not in this cave any more, but looking at an army of the Cornovii, led by a young warrior bearing a horned helmet and slaughtering many savages. We then find ourselves back in this room, watching a druid speaking with an artist carving the statue. “It shall be in his image, as his sacrifice shall protect our people in this life and the next.”†
We return to find that blood has begun to pool out from around the base of the statue. And pulling themselves out of this bloody pool are fat foot-long worms; with veiny many-forked tongues.
Theo briefly steps back from the ritual to use sorcery to find out whether they are antagonistic or a consequence of the ritual. He determines that the lay lines of the chamber abruptly disappear at the position of the statue: they go from this plane into another plane. An infernal one. The ritual continues without his voice.
Savage raiders [Picts, Scots, Saxons] pillage the land. Then, separately, Cornovii pray within a dark chamber to a horned face painted in blood upon the wall.
The blood has spread to the point that Miss Stanley is standing in it. A fat worm comes up and bites her and though she is trying her hardest to continue with the ritual, the venomous pain takes her out of it. The ritual continues without her voice, but with Theo’s again.
A king sits at the bedside of his queen, holding their newborn son. “His great future has been foretold. His name shall be Aberthol.”
With Miss Stanley doing her best to assist Jules in the process, Jules is able to cut the worm’s head off. Theo and Tristan evade the bloody pool; Tristan backing off and Theo climbing onto the altar. His appearance there disconcerts Arthur, and the ritual falters. Meanwhile two creatures made of blood appear, flanking Asmodeus. Blood demons, whose arms grow out in thick extrusions. Jules immediately moves to fight them; tossing her wolf-cloak at Theo so that he can use it to help protect Arthur from the blood pool. Tristan tries to help her combat the demons by binding one with unholy magic. Stanley stays the course with the ritual.
A Cornovii war lord is crowned king and high chief of the Britons. This is the man who we saw as the father in a previous vision. He and his queen receive a prohecy from a druid. “I will teach your son my ways and he will become a great warrior, leading our people against a new threat. His deeds will bring much honor to your house and the Horned God. And after proving himself worthy, his sacrifice shall ensure an honorable position at our god’s side.”
One of the blood demons is able to close with Jules and covers her mouth with its own, filling it with blood so she is drowning in it. Theo uses air sorcery to fight the demons and with a surge of energy, a bolt of lightning, part of the one holding Jules explodes. Tristan tries to better understand the nature of these creatures, finding out that the worm is a lower form than the others. Stanley, oblivious to all that is occurring behind her, continues to focus on the ritual and Arthur takes comfort from her steadiness..
Blackened bodies lie everywhere, some of them staggering to their feet to rise up against a Roman garrison. The city of Viriconium. We then see a city ablaze, an army of man and the dead drive out the Romans; led by a warrior in red armor bearing a horned helmet.
Tristan uses unholy magic to cause demon to fight demon. Jules is grievously hurt and gasps ‘Light the candle.’ at Theo before collapsing just outside the reach of the blood pool. Stanley and Arthur stay the course. The ritual continues. [Theo’s action to help Jules or also fight the demons? Or dodge them with move? Unsure.]
A Roman emperor gives his daughter’s hand in marriage to a Cornovii war lord. The emperor takes his army and leaves the city, while his daughter waves at him in farewell. There is a great battle with romans fighting romans. That emperor is victorious. There has only been one emperor ever in Viriconium: Magnus Maximus, who defeated emperor Gratian.
We hear a terrible screeching as the ritual ends. We are elated. But then the statue begins to move. The blood demons stream into him and all the gore turns into into red armor. He holds a gladius of blood in his hand.
Miss Stanley throws up a ward of protection and Arthur asks for holy armor. The demon steps forward. The time has come to either fight or flee. Theo knows he is meant to perform even tasks that are beyond him in the name of God, but he wavers and then heads for the exit.
Arthur takes up his sword, filled with the rush of having completed the ritual, and rushes across the altar toward the warrior. Though his strike is true, he realizes he is far outclassed by this demon. In the end, the creature is too much for him. He is able, with his fellow Canes help, to slay it – but it slices him cleanly through the chest in turn. He dies with Theo’s name on his lips.
† Suggesting this is the Horned Warrior, not Asmodeus, guys.