The Lost City of Var

Playlist: The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Tight Fit

Yazd - Isfahan Road, Persia, 29th October 1940, 20:30 - 30th October 1940, 01:14

Before setting out, Birapeer ran back up the bank and scanned the entire horizon for lights - perhaps indicating a potential attack. There was nothing to see.

Jamshid Spahany, Zoroastrian Priest

With the single remaining headlight casting crazy shadows across the bumpy road, Cyril nursed the battered and bullet-pocked truck along the road towards Isfahan. It seemed as if they would make it, but as they started the last mile towards the city, the engine emitted a hideous metallic tearing and the truck stopped dead.

Keeper Note: Critical Jury Rig, followed by an 00 on Drive Auto. No, fellas, it's not goin' anywhere.

With the bonnet up again, Cyril and Birapeer discovered that the engine had a "leg out of bed"; one of the pistons had come off its' crankshaft and smashed out through the side of the engine casing. After some thought, Birapeer managed to disconnect and remove the destroyed piston and patch the crankcase to the point where the engine would run. However, when Cyril whacked it into gear, an even more horrendous crunch announced the final and terminal destruction of the engine.

1918 Truck

After a brisk morning stroll into Isfahan, Joe and Anné knocked on the door of the local motor dealer and mechanic. Despite a lack of Arabic, Joe's sign language and waving of large-denomination Toman notes added to loud beratings from the mechanic's wife was enough to rent them the man's ancient flat-bed lorry and a tow-rope. The vehicle looked as if it dated back to the previous war, but it trundled them out to the scene of the disaster and was able to haul the wreckage back to the garage. With Jimmy's translation, Joe left instructions for their own truck to be repaired, and the party retired to bed, while Jamshid went back to the temple leaving them with the precious ashes.

Isfahan, Persia, 31st October 1940, 09:28

Khourush Spahany

The next morning, Khourush Spahany dropped in to see how things had gone. When Joe explained where he had left the battered vehicle, Khourush laughed. "Oh, that's my cousin, Cyrios," he said. "Let's go and talk to him."

On arrival at موتورهای سریع (Speedy Motors), Joe was rather surprised to find their transport almost completely dismantled. After a brief exchange with Khourush, Cyrios shrugged and looked apologetic. "Apparently," explained the bazari, your colleauge told him to scrap the truck, not repair it. Cyrios says it's about all it's good for anyway. It needs a new engine, and he hasn't got one to fit it."

Muttering darkly but mildly unfairly about Jimmy's facility with languages, Joe hunted around Cyrios' yard, eventually locating a large car and a small van which he tested, found workable, and struck a generous deal with the mechanic for the purchase of.

Back with the agents, it took only a short discussion for them to agree a course of action; go and look at the hill at Marabin. As the rest tooled up with their heaviest weapons, Anné looked uncharacteristically hesitatant. She was, it emerged, not totally happy with any plan involving a wholesale massacre of a civilian French expedition. Marcus, however, pointed out that Lane's dig had been sponsored by the Vichy French government and supported by the Nazis of Nachtwölfe, which really meant that they had already chosen which bed to lie in.

The Hill at Marabin, outside Isfahan, Persia, 31st October 1940, 10:02


TacMap, on my new table-sized Battlemat!

Rather to Joe's alarm, the rest of the group were quite happy to let Jimmy handle the drive out of Isfahan and around to the back of the hill; but rather to his amazement, the photojournalist managed to weave the car neatly through the rough scrub once they'd left the road and get to within easy reach of the cliffs at the back of the hill. With the car parked, the team prepared for the ascent. All were clad in local clothes instead of their usual attire, though Birapeer was still wearing his turban.

Birapeer, the most experienced climber in the group, took point, climbing slowly and carefully up after a detailed survey of the rock face. He attached a rope at several points as a guide and safety measure for the others, and reached the summit without difficulty. A quick scan over the edge showed him that the ruins seemed to be deserted, and he signalled the others to climb after him.

The Hill at Marabin

The ropes were a good idea, as Jimmy did slip once, but other than that nobody had any difficulties. When the agents were all up, they spread out to explore the ruins.

The majority of the temple ruins were spread around the upper slope, just under the summit, with the Tower of Sacrifice perched at the very apex. After some exploration, several of the agents had found isolated bootprints, indicating someone in modern and probably military boots had walked around up here in recent days. Near one of them, Anné found a small splash of dried blood.

Marcus made the Voorish Sign and was immediately aware of a low-level aura of powerful magic enveloping the entire hill. Threaded through it, and far sharper, he felt black and red threads of hideous violence and evil; far more than mere murders should invoke. Shaking his head slightly, he filled the others in.

Joe and Anné examined the two Atlantean statues, and sure enough the moveable arms were gently indicating downwards, showing that there was a Palladion piece somewhere within the hill, though not yet very close.

Birapeer and Jimmy crawled to the edge of the slope leading down to the dig and peered over. A hundred yards below them was the flatter land that had allowed the Nachtwölfe engineers to get their equipment close to the hill and start tunnelling. A plank fence surrounded a compound containing several wriggly-tin shacks, a couple of local vehicles, and two large tunnels boring straight back into the hill below them. Men in the same overalls Joe had seen a couple of days before were moving around, and a loud, regular grinding mixed with the sound of diesel engines floated up to the watchers. Jimmy tried to take a picture, but was unable to manouvre his camera to get an angle without exposing himself to probable observation.

Also visible in the compound was a group of four other men, dressed in European hot-weather clothes but rather cleaner. These were sitting around a table playing cards, and even at this distance projected an appearance of boredom. These, presumably, were the French archaeologists.

Joe joined them and be and Birapeer studied the rocks of the hill, considering whether they would have a chance of creating a landslide with their available explosives. Neither could recognize the rock of which it was made, but it was clearly an igneous formation and robust as anything they'd ever seen. Those who had built the temples - and presumably, the lost City of Var - had chosen well.

The agents spent some time watching the dig, getting familiar with the personnel. There seemed to be around eight of the Nachtwölfe engineers - who seemed to pull extra duty as guards as well as technicians - and just the four archaeologists. Of Bertrand Lane there was no sign. The discussion as to whether to attempt a night assault was still going on when, quite suddenly, a different note entered the backround noise of the drilling, and it suddenly stopped. With an air of resignation, all the visible Nachtwölfe engineers put down whatever they were doing and trudged off down the tunnels. The investigators looked at each other. No armed guards in the compound! Now was their chance.

Beretta M1934 Automatic

Rapidly descending the gentle slopes on the 'front' side of the hill, the group split into two halves and approached the compound from both sides. As they went, Birapeer pulled a pistol from his belt, reversed it and handed it to Jimmy. "Do you know how to use that?" he asked. Jimmy looked unhappy with the idea. "I'm more used to 35mm than 9mm," he pointed out. Birapeer showed him the basics of safety catch and trigger and made him take it.

The two groups swarmed over the wooden fences and into the compound, nearly noiselessly, until Jimmy caught a foot on the top of the fence and went flat on his face on the other side. One of the Frenchmen looked up, hearing the sound, and froze at the sight of heavily armed civilians. "C'est une indignité de routine," said Jimmy lamely, and innacurately, confusing "inspection" with "indignity". The Frenchmen appeared rather nonplussed by Jimmy, but their eyes tracked past him to Birapeer and Joe unslinging their machineguns and all four froze in place. Birapeer gestured to the ground and all four sprawled on the dirt. "Where is Lane?" he asked, and whether any of them spoke any English or simply recognized the name, one pointed at the tunnels across the compound. Joe hurried over to cover the entrances.

Selecting a hut that seemed to have a lock, Birapeer herded them in, searched them for weapons they didn't have and keys that they did, and locked them in. He and Anné then did a quick search of the huts, mostly to check for other people. In one, to enter which they had to break the lock, they discovered the oddest thing imaginable; some kind of costume hanging on a peg. It had a pair of wings crudely hammered out of tin, a mask mocked up to look vaguely like a lion, and heavy metal claws with a grip for human hands. These had dried blood smeared on them. He fetched Marcus, who looked at them for a long time. "There is a legend," he said, "of a creature named an Aeroimanius; a lion demon." He looked uncomfortable. "It's invisible; and it eats eyes."

When they described this find, most of the agents - especially the ever-sceptical Joe - concluded that here was the answer to the "monster"; the Germans had been faking it to scare the curious.

The tunnel entrances - Green is Cyril, Blue Birapeer, Lilac Jimmy, Red Joe and White Anné

Those watching the tunnels had discovered that there was a string of electric lights leading down each to the end around 50 yards in, where a larger pool of light was occluded from time to time by people moving across them; presumably the digging face. A whispered council of war was held. Birapeer and Joe were all for simply filling both tunnels with .303 rounds until it went quiet, but Marcus and Anné were reluctant to murder Lane out of hand; despite who he was working for, the archaeologist Marcus remembered was not an evil man. So they elected to offer a chance to surrender. They pulled some crates of gear across to provide cover in front of the tunnels, and Cyril and Anné placed themselves at the corner of each tunnel with a readied grenade each.

As they did this, the drill on the right started up again, and Joe realized they were out of time. He drew a deep breath and bellowed; "Ergeben Sie sich und kommen Sie den Tunneln heraus!"

There was a pause, and then a voice called back, "Wer das fragt?" (who's asking?). Joe, not in the mood to help anyone with their homework, repeated his earlier instruction. "Wer ist das? Welche Autorität hast du?" (who is that? what authority do you have?) came back, and he and Birapeer opened up a warning barrage of ten rounds each aimed at the lights running down the tunnels, taking most of them out. A volley of pistol shots was the reply to which, one of which smacked into the crate Birapeer was kneeling behind, and the agents decided that negotiations were over.

Nachtwölfe Engineer

Anné and Cyril pulled the pins and flicked their grenades backhanded down the tunnels. Cyril's hit an obstruction three-quarters of the way down, but Anné's bounced neatly underneath the mounting frame of the right-hand drill before exploding. Birapeer and Joe had already opened up a full-blooded volley down each tunnel, hammering .303 rounds down the shafts and into the smoke and flying chips of rock. When they stopped firing and paused to listen, there was no sound from the dig faces for a long moment. Then a weak cry of "Kamerad!" came from the left-hand tunnel. Jimmy tapped Birapeer on the shoulder. "That means comrade," he explained. "I think he's trying to surrender." The journalist leaped over the crates and trotted off down the tunnel, his pistol lying forgotten atop the crate he'd been sheltering behind. Watching him go, Joe shook his head and hefted his weapon before setting off down the other shaft.

When he got to the end, Jimmy looked around through a cloud of dust to see three German engineers, riddled through and through and clearly very dead, sprawled on the rough rock floor. A fourth, his right hand clamped around his left bicep to stem the flow of blood, was propped against the back wall, shocked and in no condition to cause further trouble. He gazed curiously at the drill rig. A heavy steel frame supported the body of the drill and its diesel motor. The drill bit itself was studded with blue objects, and looking more closely Jimmy realized that this was more of the Blauer Krystall used by Nachtwölfe in many of their blasphemous devices. However, the drill tip was splintered, and the engineers had been in the process of unbolting it and replacing it with one of several from a box nearby.

Blauer Krystall Pendant

Bertrand Lane. Deceased.

On the other side, Joe and Anné were looking at a scene of the utmost destruction. Anné's grenade had blown the drilling machine - and most especially the Blauer Krystall drill bit - into fragments and blasted the resulting shrapnel through the entire cavern, instantly killing everyone inside - including Bertrand Lane. Even more remarkable, every piece of the blue crystal in the tunnel was burning with a cold, blue glow of a shade Joe knew only too well. He didn't need to look to realize that his own pendant crystal was also glowing. As he stood there, he thought he heard whispering, and turned suddenly - to see no-one there. Strange thoughts drifted across his mind and he shook his head, glancing at Anné - but it was clear she wasn't experiencing the same thing. She had searched daintily through Lane's shredded, blood-soaked jacket, and rose holding a small black volume - his diary.

Birapeer meanwhile had carried out some rough-and-ready first aid on the captured engineer, and, hauling him to his feet, set him walking out of the tunnel ahead of him. This went fine for the first ten feet, and then he passed close to one of his dead fellows. His shoulders twitched, and Birapeer hefted the Bren in case the man attacked him; but instead of turning, he dropped, plunging down onto the corpse, hands clawing at the dead face. For a horrified moment Birapeer just stood there, gaping - and as he did, a shadowy apparition appeared over the slavering lunatic; a shadow of a humanoid creature with a leonine cast and huge dark wings. He shook his head and it faded. Reversing his weapon, he slugged the German in the back over his kidneys, knocking him sideways and plunging him into unconciousness. As he rolled over, Birapeer and Jimmy recoiled in shock; the man had torn one of the corpse's eyes out and started to eat it!

Birapeer dragged him out, tied him hand and foot, blindfolded him and gagged him.

Bored French Archaeologist

Anné and Jimmy meanwhile had started interviewing the clearly terrified French archaeologists.

"Tell us what you were doing?" queried Anné. One of them shrugged with the ghost of a smile. "Nothing," he said, in a way that was obviously honest. She had to give him that one; that was what they had been doing, after all. Jimmy pitched in. What he tried to say was "Tell us or - you die!" but he actually said something about custard and silk ties and four puzzled Gallic faces turned back to Anné. She sighed, and widened her questioning.

Although they were afraid enough to tell the agents whatever they wanted to hear, their story seemed believable. They were assigned to this job for their skills in local archaeology by the museum; they had no idea what the Germans were after or what the real objective of the dig was; they were frustrated and bewildered at this pointless dig low on the hill when there were perfectly good ruins on the summit just begging to be excavated; they'd never heard of Nachtwölfe, Atlantis or the Cup of Yima; they had suspicions that the Germans were killing people but had no idea of how or that it was linked to some mythological monster.

Meanwhile, Joe had found a spare set of Nachtwölfe overalls in one of the huts. Pulling them on, he took a weapon and went down to the main gate into the compound, where he sat on a rock. This proved to be a good idea, because some minutes later a car roared up from the town, screeched to a halt and four of Isfahan's local police climbed out and headed for the gate. "What do we hear, the recent, sir please?" asked one in fragmentary English. Joe stood and packed every scrap of Teutonic arrogance he could into his reply, "Äh, alles ist unter Kontrolle. Situation normal!" The man blinked. "But, the bang, the big noise - we heard, what is please?" Joe waved a dismissive hand. "Ich hatte eine leichte Funktionsstörung. Aber jetzt ist alles in Ordnung. Uns geht es gut. Uns geht es jetzt gut, danke. Wie geht es dir?" This mixture of plausible explanation and brow-beating seemed to be enough for the local flat-foots, because they apologized for disturbing the esteemed foreign guests, returned to their car, and drove away.

With the compound secured, all the agents now had to do was sit tight until midnight, perform the ritual and collect the Cup of Yima. With no remaining opposition, this should not be at all difficult.

The Hill at Marabin, outside Isfahan, Persia, 31st October 1940, 23:45

As midnight approached, the agents moved up to the temple Jamshid had indentified for them, and prepared to complete the ritual - all except Birapeer. Uncomfortable as ever with participating in religious rites not of his faith - though not intolerant - he offered to stay and guard the portal until the agents returned.

Jamshid had instructed them on how to set the fire and provided them with the necessary sandalwood to do so. He had also pointed out the correct incantations, carefully transcribed onto several pieces of paper, to be read whilst the fire is being made, and which ones were to be used when painting the ash onto their eyelids.

Jamshid had advised them of which temple is the most suitable, at least in terms of being largely obscured from the drilling site below. However, neither he nor the elders had had any solid advice for the investigators as to where the mystical door was likely to appear; they would just have to keep their eyes open for it. The elders had provided the investigators with water, which they used to wash their hands with before starting the ritual; it was also to be used to make a paste with the ash for anointing their eyes. The rituals had been written out in English.

Thirty minutes of chanting and meditation flowed by, and each of the agents felt it when the flames ignited; it drew power from each of them to complete the ritual, and for a moment each felt a weariness that soon passed.

Carefully, they made the ash paste and, intoning the correct verse, applied it each other’s faces.

As they'd been cautioned, The Door of Twin Flames did not appear within the fire temple where they had conducted the ritual. Glancing around, to no-one's surprise they noticed a bright, flickering glow emanating from the Tower of Sacrifice atop the hill.

Climbing to the summit, the group discovered a ring of orange fire encompassing the tower’s interior. In the centre of the circle was a second blue flame, shaped into what appeared to be a doorway. Although the orange fire was emanating a considerable degree of heat, it did not appear to be affecting the agents in any way. When approached, the flames parted to allow them access to the circle’s interior, closing again behind them with a crackling rustle.

The Door of Twin Flames

Birapeer took up a guard position at the entrance to the tower. To his un-anointed eyes, the orange flame was all that was to be seen or felt.

The blue flame was, conversely, radiating an intense coldness but, as with the heat of the fire, other than being generally aware of the temperature, it had no effect on those who had taken part in the ritual. One by one, they stepped through the flames and into what lay beyond, leaving Birapeer alone in the flickering firelight.

Keeper Note: There's quite a lot in the original adventure about the Nachtwölfe team coming to find what's going on; the idea of the PCs dealing with them first seems not to have occurred to the author!

Each felt a slight shiver as he pierced the flames, but no harm from the fires. Glancing around, they found themselves in a tunnel; smooth and painted with intricate designs. A glance back showed the tower and Birapeer looking around, weapon in hand.

The beautiful images of gardens and buildings and robed figures enjoying a variety of activities painted on the tunnel reminded the agents forcefully of what they had seen of Atlantean design; the compasses from Tsering Lama or Cascata di Lares. The compasses which, up until this moment only pointed at the hill in general, now became much more reliable as a means of navigating through the tunnels towards their destination.

The tunnel through which they entered the hill soon opened up into a vast cavern filled with buildings of all shapes and sizes, dimly lit by a phosphorescent glow emanating from the rocks surrounding them. The chamber seemed as if it would completely fill the hill at Marabin; it might even have been a little larger, although it was hard to tell in the near-gloom. A little scouting revealed that the city within the cavern appeared to have been laid out in a cartwheel-like pattern split further into concentric rings of buildings. The street plan reminded those who had studied Erlichman's notes of his sketch maps of Atlantis, at least in the overall scheme if not the exact detail.

The huge city, iluminated only partly by the ambient glow and constructed of cyclopean blocks of dark stone, gathered around them oppressively, the endless eyeless skulls of the abandoned houses seeming to stare at them from all around. With many nervous glances, the party began to trek across the ruins, heading for the centre as indicated by the two compasses.

As he walked, Jimmy began to realize that there was more of an echo to his footsteps than he thought. The realization caused him to halt for a moment, and he frowned. The echo of steps he was hearing carried on for a moment or two after he stopped, then paused. In a whisper he mentioned this, and everyone halted; then Marcus took a couple of steps; the same thing happened. Jimmy repeated the action, and again the sound of a follower was faintly heard. Hesitantly, Marcus made his Voorish Sign again, and receieved a strong, sharp impression of strength, power, frustration and pain, focussed in one direction. He turned to look - and a huge, dark figure erupted from the shadows and hurled itself at Jimmy Wispa.

The Aeorimanius, and the inadvertent ritual that awoke it...

Two enormous clawed hands slashed through the air and blood splashed as they tore into the photojournalist, hurling him to the rocky floor in a splatter of gore. "Stay down, Jimmy!" shouted Joe; tactically sensible but unnecessary - Jimmy was well beyond disobedience at that point. The thing whirled on Joe, the person who had last spoken, and it dawned on him that it was reacting to sound not vision as they all got a good look at it.

The aeorimanius was taller and more powerfully built than a man, and had the head of a gigantic lion. In place of its eyes, there were only livid, scorched sockets. Broad, almost angelic wings sprouted from the creature’s massive shoulders, and its naked male body was etched with writhing, serpentine symbols. In place of hands, the aeorimanius had feline paws equipped with razor-sharp claws, now dripping with human blood.

Quick-acting as always, Anné slashed at it with her phurba, but her training was not in hand-to-hand combat and it passed harmlessly by the rapidly-moving creature. She backed out of the fight, thinking furiously. The aeorimanius threw its head back and roared hideously, a shattering, dreadful sound that wrenched at the courage of everyone around it. Cyril and Anné were left sickened and shaking, and it lashed a claw at Marcus, who twisted frantically aside just in time.

The empty city rang like a bell as Joe opened up with his Bren, standing opposite Jimmy's crumpled form so that any misses would not strike an ally. The bullets seemed to strike the creature; but they had no perceptible effect and the tanker snarled in frustration.

His hands shaking, Cyril reached down and pulled the Arclite Electric Rifle from Jimmy's inert form, flicking the power switch on as he brought it up. Anné lowered l'Etranger to the ground and unslung her own Lightning Gun. Marcus weaved back in and stabbed with his phurba but he too failed to connect. As he did, Joe racked his brain for the word for a moment, then bellowed "Stop!" in the Atlantean language.

The thing's head tilted towards Joe; and then it turned away from him and lashed out at the other two agents around it. Marcus once more ducked the strike, but Cyril did not and a great gash was opened on his chest. Despite not knowing the language, he tried to reproduce the word Joe had used and gasped, "Stop!" at it as well. As it paused, he pushed the contacts of the Arclite almost into its face and triggered a blinding actinic discharge of electrical energy which scorched and burned the thing and caused it to turn its blind, snarling face back towards him.

From twenty feet away, and despite her shakes, Anné managed to strike it with a second lightning bolt while screaming "Stop attacking us!" in fairly clear Atlantean. Simultaneously, Marcus cried the word again and Joe stabbed it with his phurba, the strike going deep and drawing black blood. Trailing smoke, scorched and wounded, the thing turned to flee, and Anné shot it again squarely between the wings with her lightning gun. It stumbled, coughed, and went down on its' face. Leaping over to where it lay, Joe stabbed it again and again with his phurba until even he was reasonably convinced that it was probably dead.

Marcus and Cyril bent over Jimmy's torn form and found he was still breathing. Marcus bandaged him while Cyril intoned the Healing spell, shuddering as the unclean energy washed through him. Jimmy's wounds began to close and his breathing steadied.

Session Date: 30th October 2018