Session 9. – Rat Scratch Fever.
It was nearly dawn before we returned to the IZ. Along the way, we made a stop to buy some ammunition and sell the horse and loot that we’d picked up on our foray, got a nice chunk of scrip for it too. I also popped in on my armorer to pick up my new “hat”. The helmet that he’d sewn into the liner added some weight, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. Besides, I’d seen what can happen when an unlucky blow is struck to an un-protected head. Jack saw my hat and was impressed enough to place his own order. I took some extra time to speak with the shopkeep about my next request. I commissioned a modified duster, made in the fashion of the Dukes of York. I had him add some metal plating to the back and chest, just in case.
We reached the compound and I had Jack and the other wait outside while I went to see about getting admittance for Jack. Mary was in the front office. She seemed glad to see me. She also seemed pleased when I informed her that I’d gotten that “problem” taken care of. I mentioned Jack and she directed me to McKinney, I went straightaway to his office.
His door was open and McKinney was playing cards with the twins. I noticed that they both had shiny new pistols at their hips. He asked, why we were late? Where was James? I pled ignorance to any knowledge of James’s whereabouts. He didn’t question my story and when I mentioned Jack, he gave me a pin for him and asked me to bring him up. I did so.
After escorting Jack into McKinney’s presence, he told the twins and I to get out. They remained on station outside his office, while I went back downstairs to chat with Mary. I was in the middle of smoothing the events of the past few days over when after a few minutes, one of the twins poked his head out from the stairwell and told me that McKinney wanted to speak with me again. I went back up and saw Jack and the twins standing in the hall. Jack was wearing an actual MSEC badge on his lapel. I guess this means his interview went well?
Not so well as it turns out. As soon as I’d closed his door, McKinney tore into me. His first words being, “You left James out there for the buzzards!” He then proceeded to harangue me for 10 more minutes about obligations, dishonesty and withholding information. He followed his lecture up by putting me on notice. Despite my… objections, I held my tongue. Despite my opinion of James’s unreliability, further cemented by the episode preceding his death, where he admitted to having run into a group of Guild and confessed to being friends with individuals who had just crossed said Guild, thus necessitating his flight into the woods to avoid capture or death, I remained silent. Hell, we’ll probably end up seeing James’s picture on a wanted poster in a couple of days. Then we’ll see if leaving him for the vultures was such a bad idea.
I was then sent to fetch the others. I took Jack with me and scolded him for blowing the cover story. He simply responded that McKinney has the sight, and I would never be able to lie to him. Given some of the things that I’ve seen, that makes sense. But as for never being able to lie to him, challenge accepted.
Upon return to the office, McKinney briefed us on our next job. We were behind schedule so we had to move quickly. We were to go back into the sewers. South of the Little Kingdom, near the wall to the Southern Q-Zone, there was a section of sewer tunnels. This particular section was secured by a gate, closing off access to the sewers beneath the Q-Zone. Our mission was to make our way to that gate and ensure that it was open. We’d be meeting a contact down there, a woman known as Cat. We needed to ensure that she could move her shipment through the gate. McKinney kindly provided us with a stick of dynamite in case we needed to blow open the gate. He didn’t know much else, except that Cat’s employers were paying well and that this couldn’t be screwed up.
We were then shuffled off. Stephen had been assigned to drive us to a point where we could enter the sewers. He drove through the streets like a maniac. Judging from the rather large bump and subsequent screaming, I believe that he had probably run someone over as well. At any rate, he got us to the Little Kingdom in record time and we were able to easily find the sewer grate McKinney had mentioned. Despite our annoyance at once again being back in the sewers, we made our descent.
We reached the bottom of the ladder and begin moving to our destination. Our route would take us across several tunnels, requiring us to wade or jump channels of sewage. My attempts did not go so well and more than once, I ended up slipping in the filth. The stench will never come out of these pants. Despite the setbacks, we moved steadily onward. Xun ran out ahead and we quickly discovered our target when, upon his entering a wider space, we heard someone cry out, “Hey Sarge, there’s a light coming.”
The rest of us move up to discover the area before the gate that we needed to open had been turned into a makeshift guard post. The guards had blocked of one access with a ramshackle wooden barricade. Xun had already moved around the other way and he motioned us to follow. He set his lantern down to provide us light and then kept moving. Jack, however, hugged the wall and throwing a couple stones as a distraction, snuck up past the barricade. The guards called out to us to evacuate the area or risk deadly harm. Jolly nice of him to give us warning. Xun then ported up right next to the guard post, while I shuttered the lantern to give us some cover. It’s on.
Xun nailed the guard nearest to him with a punch while the Sgt. took a shot at him. Jack then shot one of the other guards. Then a construct that I recognized as a Guild Warden, lumbered out of the post and attacked Xun. Its retractable fist attack was able to hurt him, but luckily “Cid” hit it with an ice attack and froze it. I then put a round into the thing.
A guard and the Sgt. began to move down the tunnel towards us. The guard attempted to shoot me, but the corner from around which I was firing proved to be excellent cover. Another punch from Xun killed his guard and he then teleported into the guard post, out of our sight. Jack continued firing at the guards still within the post. Another icy blast from Cid kept the Warden frozen in place while 2 hits from my carbine forced the guard with whom I was engage to retreat.
I thought about moving forward, then I noticed something. The walkways on both sides of the tunnel had been trapped with a very sophisticated mechanism. I realized that it had been planted just in front of the area where the guard had ceased moving. I called out a warning to Cid, not to advance further down this passage. Xun began to pummel his guard while Jack dispatched another. Cid kept the Warden frozen and finally another round from my carbine brought it to a halt. With this side cleared, I unshuttered the lantern and began moving back to the other side of the barricade.
Jack and Xun both killed another guard apiece. Xun then squared off against the Sgt., Jack attempted to help but ended up shooting Xun instead. I’d reached the barricade at this point, just in time to see Jack clamber over the top. The Sgt. was swinging at Xun with an axe, but Xun being wiry was able to dodge. Jack then punched the Sgt. which seemed to daze him. Xun followed it up with another roundhouse, giving Jack an opening. He hit the Sgt. right between the eyes. From his reaction, it looked as though the strike had blinded the poor sod.
I climbed over the barricade, but things were well in hand. Despite being blind, the Sgt. lashed out blindly and managed to clip Xun. Under blows from the both of them, the hapless man soon went down, where Jack quickly dispatched him. I began healing while Cid looted the corpses. We got some decent gear from them. Once we’d gotten ourselves back into shape, we saw to opening the gate. It was simple for Xun to pick. It was good timing too. Not 10-15 minutes later a woman approached and asked if the way was clear? Upon receiving the affirmative, she crossed through. We opened the barricade to allow her passage. Behind her, dragging a loaded sledge were 2 flesh golems! The sledge was loaded with at least 30 corpses. We had a couple Guild bodies left and asked if she wanted them. She gave us a scrip each for loading them, although the golems didn’t seem happy about it. Cat then thanked us, curtsied and proceeded on her way.
Cat was not a minute or 2 gone when we heard something coming from the tunnels to the left. It was hard to make out at first, then I realized that it was the music of a flute! I warned the others that we had to get out of here, now! We began retracing our steps to the exit. As we moved, I told them about the stories that I’d read; the tales of the Plague and hordes of rats swarming through the streets led by a piper who seemed to be controlling them. This proved to be all too true as moments later, rats began squirming out of crevices in the walls and heading straight towards us.
We began a running fight, killing rats as we moved working our way to the manhole where we’d made entry into the sewers. Our need to hurry became all the more urgent when we saw a group of rats merge together into a roughly humanoid form! This “rat man” stood 3-4 feet tall and moved on 2 “legs”. This is not a good development.
We’d made it about halfway back when someone came around the corner, very near to our ladder to the surface. It took a moment, then we realized, he looked exactly like Jack! They exchanged some angry sounding words in Chinese. Then Jack pointed to him and spoke something to Xun. Xun then teleported nearby and shoots at the newcomer! Cid and I aren’t sure what to make of this, but we did agree that this seemed to be a beef between Chinese, so we elected to stay out of it and kept moving toward the ladder.
After taking fire from both Xun and Jack, this newcomer seemed to reconsider his situation. He spoke angrily at Jack and threw the pistol that he’d held. It landed far behind us, amongst the swarms of rats! He then turned and fled, disappearing into the darkness. Jack seemed very agitated by this and once again called to Xun in Chinese. Then he turned back and began firing at the rat man! Cid and I kept moving and reached the landing before the ladder to the surface, meanwhile the sound of the flute drew ever closer.
Jack had begun re-tracing his steps, firing all the while. He destroyed one of the rate men, but another formed, right over the spot that the pistol had landed. I reached the ladder and took up a firing position and began to shoot at the rat man. The piper was drawing ever closer, I figure we only have half a minute before he is upon us. I shout a warning to Jack and Xun. I don’t know what is so important about this pistol, but I’ll not die for it, nor for them.
Jack’s next shot destroyed the rat man and we saw the pistol fall from its collective form. Jack shouted to Xun and continued to fire at the rats surrounding it, despite the fact that he was becoming encircled! Xun, teleported to the site of the pistol, picked it up and began to run for us at the ladder. Another rat man formed up nearby. I kept shooting and killed another of the giant rats although my next shot ricocheted. 20 seconds.
I sling my carbine and climb up the ladder, pushing away the manhole cover. Below me, I saw Cid freeze the nearest rat man. Jack, who had somehow gotten away from the rats that had been attacking him, reached the base of the ladder, firing as he ran. As I climbed out, I saw 2 more rat men form up, I also saw a light coming from around the corner. I yelled that he was only 10-15 seconds away.
I had just hit the street when Xun appeared next to me! Hot on my heels were Cid then Jack. Once they were out, we slammed the cover back down and were about to take off when we noticed something. Behind us, the mouths of 2 of the alleyways were bricked up! They were all clear when we arrived, what the hell was happening!
That question was answered soon enough. We saw, coming up on us from down the alley, 3 Witchling Stalkers, A Handler, and behind them an older man in mage robes. He looked directly at Cid and said “Son, it’s time to come home. I’m bringing you in.” Just when I think that this day couldn’t possibly get any more jacked up, this happens. I glanced over at Cid and as all the blood had drained from his face, I took that as a sign that this man was indeed Roger Jones’s father. Damn! Well, we’ll deal with that problem later. I backed up a step and put 2 rounds into the closest WS, causing the little bastard to blow like a firework.
I was glad that I backed up. Xun pulled the stick of dynamite that McKinney had given him, lit the fuse and tossed it. I understand why he so freely offer it up, that must have been a bad batch for I’d seen James do more damage with a belch than was caused by that pathetic excuse for an explosion. Cid had challenged his father, demanding to know why he’d sided with the Guild? His father (whose name we later learned was Ronald) replied that there had to be some law. He then told Cid that he would mourn his loss and threw a fireball at him! Cid responded with an ice blast. I guess this answers my question regarding Cid’s ability to take on his old man.
Cid’s attack hit Ron and he promptly disappeared! Cid yelled out that it was an illusion, but he would have to have been close. The ability to channel spells through an illusion of yourself! Now that is a spell that I wouldn’t mind learning! Luckily, Xun spotted Ron on a rooftop down the alley. One teleport later and he stood next to him and promptly began throwing punches.
The 2 remain WS had moved up to melee with Jack and myself. I backed off and headed around a nearby building to gain some distance for firing. I stole a look at those bricked up alleyways as I moved. If Ron is an illusionist, then it’s doubtful that those bricks are real. No time to test my theory at the moment though. One bit of luck, the flute music that had stopped just below the sewer cover through which we’d fled had begun to move away. Good! The piper is the last thing that we’d have needed.
Jack was right on my heels, moving around to the buildings other side. I heard Cid fire off another icy blast. As the Handler’s voice cut off mid word as she ordered him to surrender, it seems that he was able to freeze her. That’s good as the 2 WS were after Jack and myself. Jack shot and killed one while I was able to wound the other. Behind us, we heard Xun’s fists pummeling Ron. Given the crack and yelp of pain after, I’d say that Xun just broke one of Ron’s ribs.
Jack and I kept up our move and fire retreat. I was able to break away and oved to try and help Xun with Ron, my first shot missed though. Cid fired another ice blast at Ron, but the magic seemed to be absorbed by a medallion that hung around Ron’s neck. Cid exclaimed, “Blast! He’s wearing the Amulet of Abundajo.” I think Cid is going to have some questions to answer after this. Xun’s next punch dislocated Ron’s right arm. That threw him off enough for me to line up a shot. The round from my carbine punched a hole through Ron’s chest and pushed him off the roof. He landed in a crumpled heap on the cobblestones below. Cid at once ran to him, I’m not sure if it was to see if he was alive…or dead?
Meanwhile, Xun had teleported to the roof alongside where Jack and the WS were fighting and began to shoot down. I took position outside the alley to try and get a shot. What I got was charged by the WS as Jack ran out of the alley. I took a good shot from its sword, luckily my brigandine took most of the blow, it still hurt like a bitch though. Despite knowing what would happen, I called for Cid to blast it. I can take it exploding in my face, not so much more swords to the gut. So, Cid blasted it, it exploded, and my clothes officially moved into the total loss category.
In the aftermath, I used a couple bodies to heal everyone including myself. We got a bit more loot of everyone. Cid shared some scrip that he took of his father, the amulet he claimed for himself. As it was obviously a family heirloom, no one objected. We also got the Handler’s Runed Greatsword. This is an interesting piece of hardware. We decided to hold onto it, besides, it’s not as if we could just walk into a weapons shop and sell the thing. Maybe The Spruce would have some ideas of what to do with the thing?
Once everyone was healed and we’d gotten everything of value, we helped Cid wrap Ron’s body in a tarp and carry it out of the area. None of us pressed him for any answers. That would come later. We didn’t speak as we walked, but we could all hear Cid, quietly muttering to himself. He seemed to be analyzing his father’s actions, working out the mechanics of the spells that he used. In some ways it is a shame. Ron was obviously an accomplished magus, I bet that there were a lot of things that he could have taught us.
Through the Breach, Into the Unknown
Journal of Dr. Thaddeus Sartorian - Session 9: Rat Scratch Fever.
Chronicle of the adventures of Dr. Thaddeus Sartorian in Malifaux
Session 9. – Rat Scratch Fever.