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06 March 2017 @ 11:05 am
[CoC: HotOE] The Army of Skin and Blood  
Dramatis Personæ
  • Asinius Ravila, Iberian medicus
  • Belasir of Tihama, Arabian sagittarius et speculatore
  • Emeric of the Suevi, Germanic auxiliārius, and a Christian
  • Galerius Evodis, Constantinopolitan optio
  • Milonius Kanmi, Carthiginian sagittarius
The legionnaires returned to the fortress with their prisoners, immediately reporting to the commander. After the local medicus saw to Emeric's injuries and they explained the bat-monsters they had fought to Longinus, he urged them to question the prisoners and learn what he cult was planning. They first tried a good cop/bad cop routine, but the two cultists just smiled with far-off expressions and ignored their questions. It wasn't until Galerius hit the boy across the face that he reacted, and that single hit opened the floodgates. The cultists began ranting about the doom and plague that would sweep over the Empire, and claimed that the "Army of Skin and Blood" was even now on its way. The legionnaires immediately reported the news to Tillius Corvus and Centenarius Longinus, who begin making preparations. At the legionnaires' urging, the refugees were brought within the walls and bonfires were kindled. As the soldiers made preparations, Galerius gave a rousing speech about the glory of Rome and the fortitude of the legions, sending up a wave of cheers from the men.

Almost as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the army arrived. Groups of skin creatures and bat monsters, mixed with howling cultists with strips of their skin ritually flayed off. Emeric was more far-sighted than his companions, and beyond the army he saw a skinned parody of horse, bearing a robed rider that lifted a curved knife above its head. Overwhelmed, Emeric began to babble Christian prayers in Germanic as the army moved to the wall and began to scale it, paying no heed to the arrows and javelins of the Romans.

Several of the monsters gained the wall and combat dissolved into melee. One of the skin beasts latched on to Belisar and began to drink his blood, only to be shoved off and then chopped to ribbons by Galerius. The other monsters are quickly dispatched now that they don't have the element of surprise, a process that repeated itself across the came. Apparently, necromancy was no match for Roman steel.

After the battle, Emeric felt slightly ill, though he waved it off as the effects of his earlier fight. Tillius ordered the legionnaires not to pursue the fleeing army, but rather to wait until morning. After several hours of fighting, they were glad to obey that order, and they went to sleep. In the morning, they met with the centenarius, who assigned another group of legionnaires to accompany them as they followed the trail to the cult headquarters. The trail required no expertise to follow, littered as it was with blood, the bodies and greasy remnants of monsters, and discarded weapons from the Army of Skin and Blood. It led into the mountains, through a narrow defile that there would have been almost no chance to find if they hadn't had the army's trail to follow. As the proceed into the mountains, Milonius notices that the other legionnaires have abandoned them and turned back for the fort, but Tillius orders them to proceed with the mission.

After a few hundred yards, the trail opens up to a bowl-like depression in the mountains, with seventeen tall menhirs, half again the height of a man, each covered in weathered hieroglyphs and with a skinned human corpse lashed to the stone. In the midst of the menhirs was a pit, descending into an unnatural darkness. A dropped torch vanished into the darkness, and it wasn't until they spread out and searched that they saw a cunningly-concealed stairway descending down the rim of the pit. With no other choice, the legionnaires descended, finding a pool of liquid blackness near the bottom. A spear poked into it came out clean, and so the legionnaires steeled themselves and kept walking. The blackness felt slightly unclean and seemed to leave a thin film on them, but they were not further harmed.

At the bottom of the stairway was a cave complex, with three tunnels leading away and mosaics of implike creatures all around the floor and walls menacing primitive humans armed with spears.
Me: "Did you say, 'Impolite creatures'?"
Belasir's player: "I also heard impolite."
The floor was covered in a curling mist and the legionnaires heard the faint sound of whispers. As well, the sound of footsteps echoed through the caves, and so the legionnaires took one of the corridors that led to the cult's food stores. Milonius suggested destroying the stores, but Tillius was against it, and so the legionnaires continued, finding a barracks with two injured cultists who they quickly slaughtered and then hid the bodies in the human skin hammocks and covered them with the human skin blankets that furnished the room. When the patrol's footsteps had vanished again, they continued down the corridor and found the cult's main room. The mist was stronger here, coming out of holes in the wall, and there was a column in the center with a flayed human figure and some kind of instruction or ritual area in the back. After ambushing the patrolling cultists and killing then, Milonius and Emeric examined the column and were stunned when it transformed into an image of their own faces, each seeing his representation. The others examined the ritual area and the rugs and wall hangings made of human skin, drawing their swords as the skins began to move and attack. There were three against six legionnaires, though, and when they were cut to ribbons another passage was revealed leading further into the cave.

Through that passage was a floor carpeted in human scalps and walled with the skins of legionnaires. Bone windchimes hung from the ceiling and in the back was a bone bedframe with human skin sheets and bedding. In the center was the cult leader, who lifted aloft a curved knife with an unnatural sheen to its blade and babbled that "Your skins are mine!" and then the skin the chamber animated to surround the cultist as he started chanting in Gothic. The legionnaires charged, but Milonius was overcome by the cult leader's magic and attacked Emeric. Emeric managed to block the blow with his shield as the others attacked the skins, and when they were shredded, the sorcerer's skin fell away. Most of it became a strange insectile monster, slithering to attack, except for the skin of his face which animated as a bat-like flitting abomination. But none of it mattered as the legionnaires charged in, and Tillius drove his blade into the sorcerer's heart, causing all the skins to crumble to dust and the mist to fade away.

But the blow unleashed a fountain of blood, much more than a human body could contain. The flood knocked Tillius over, and when it faded Asinius examined him, noting that he was still alive but in a coma. The other legionnaires picked him up and carried him out, back to the fort, and arranged for transit back to Constantinople, where the magister militum offered them two months' leave and a year's pay in exchange for a promise never to speak of this again. He also demanded that Emeric surrender the knife he had taken from the sorcerer, which he did with extreme reluctance--at this, the professor and the other investigators reading the account stopped and looked at Demir, who simply shrugged.

The legionnaires all took that offer and, after their leave, they gathered for Belasir's wedding to Nona and then, when Tillius finally awoke, his wedding to Eudoxia, held on her family's barge on the sea. Just before the wedding, the magister militum summoned them back for one more mission, saying that the the knife has vanished. All of them except Belasir agreed to the mission, but first they attended the wedding.

Tillius gave a toast to the men of the Fortes Falcones, commending them for their bravery...but ended it by saying that Tillius was dead, and then snarled at the wedding guests as a wave of pain and nausea spread through the group. Before anyone could react, he tore out his new bride's throat with his bare hands and began drinking her blood! Milonius, Belasir, and Galerius died of the poison almost immediately, but Emeric and Asinius managed to fight off the nausea and crippling pain and flee to the side, deliberately knocking over several lanterns into their flight. They leapt into the sea as the tapestries and decorations caught fire, and looking back, they saw Tillius killing the wedding guests until the flames grew too high, where he transformed into some flitting winged thing and took off into the night. They knew they were not strong enough to swim back to the Golden Horn, but a passing fishing boat saw the flames and came to investigate, hauling them aboard.

Emeric quickly succumbed to his injuries, the shock of the sea, and the poison, but Asinius lived. He finished the journal stating that he planned to change his name and take ship to Iberia or Gaul, traveling as far as he could from Constantinople and the horrific sights he had witnessed. This was the last page.

Mr. Johnson!  photo shaking_fist_emoticon.gif

I was expecting something to go wrong, but I was not expecting the commander to turn into a vampire. Maybe a bit more explanation would have been nice, since the historical Constantinople scenarios seem partially set up to explain where le Comte came from and why a Call of Cthulhu game has a vampire as a villain. Or, okay, an evil sorcerer who just happens to have all the legendary powers of the vampire. But it doesn't, really. Was Tillius possessed by the blood? Does the Gothic cult leader live on? Is it unrelated? Who knows. It's fun to play Romans, but this didn't actually seem to serve much story purpose.

I did like the combat, though. It turns out that our modern-era investigators should probably go buy some chainmail, since that, our shields, and our high combat skills matched with Fight Back meant that we slaughtered our opposition without much effort. We need more combat prowess from our elderly academics.

I like to think that Asinius is the ancestor of Professor Durand, but assuming he had children, he died probably around 360 or so. He's undoubtedly an ancestor of the entire group of 1920s-era investigators.

Next session, back to the 20s and on to Belgrade!
Current Mood: shockedshocked
Current Music: Square Roots podcast