Enter the Black Sun

Playlist: Monsters - Blue Öyster Cult

The Hill at Marabin, outside Isfahan, Persia, 1st November 1940, 00:50

As the agents regained their breath, and Jimmy's ripped flesh slowly knitted itself back together, they looked around to decide where to go next. It wasn't a difficult deduction to make. The streets of the desolate metropolis wound inexorably to the very centre, where a small, shrine-like building stood alone in an empty square.

The tiny building was, unlike the rest of the carved and painted structures the investigators had passed, very plain and simple. The wrought metal gate set into the northern wall led into a stair well, which ended twenty-one steps later in a short, arched antechamber with a door set into the facing wall.

Going through the door revealed another antechamber with another door. This pattern was repeated a further five times. Opening the final, seventh door, brought the investigators into a circular chamber with a pool of iridescent turquoise water at its centre which reflected a many-eyed sun symbol mounted on the room’s ceiling.

Ancient Rhyton

Set into the wall were seven niches, each containing a rhyton (drinking horn), whose cups were mounted into a variety of mythological beasts. Only one rhyton, that in the central niche, was carved from a golden crystal and ringed with seven circlets of engraved glass in a style that looked somehow familiar. The mount, made of red orichalcum, was in the shape of a simurgh, a benevolent bird-creature with the head of a dog, the tail of a peacock, and the paws of a lioness. This, surely, was the Cup of Yima.

Resisting the urge to check the distance-viewing powers attributed to the Cup, the investigators carefully packed it into Anné's special handbag, then added all the other rhytons for good measure, as they were toweringly significant archaeological finds all by themselves. Jimmy used one to experiment with drinking some of the water from the pool, which he found slightly stale but otherwise simply water. He then took numerous photographs of the chamber and its contents for his records.

Their progress through the Lost City was much like their entry; straightforward, but unsettling in the darkly shadowed and peculiarly lit blocks of the ancient buildings. Finally, they climbed the access tunnel and came into sight of the Door of Twin Flames ... through which, they realized, daylight could be clearly seen.

Worried glances were exchanged. To the best of their knowledge, it should have been a little after 1am. Cautiously, they emerged, glancing around.

The Hill at Marabin, outside Isfahan, Persia, 1st November 1940, 11:50

Keeper Note: Because Luigi and Jenni came to play this week, Lucky Jake and Jack 'Egypt' Dorset (a character prepared in case Chappie showed up) were suddenly always with Birapeer on guard outside the portal. Weren't they?

Jack 'Egypt' Dorset

Birapeer, Jake and the archaeologist Jack Dorset were in the tower, looking cautiously at them with readied weapons as they emerged; all three looked exhausted. After careful questioning, the agents who had passed into the City of Var discovered that slightly under twelve hours had passed for those outside while they had been within. That time had not all been uneventful.

When the wait began to look as if it was going to be extended, Birapeer had collected loose stone and crates and created a wide redoubt just outside the tower door, with enough curvature that he could shelter from anything hostile coming up the hill or anything nasty coming out of the portal.

Around two hours ago, a thick mist had suddenly gathered around the hill, just level with the lower edges of the ruins, around 120 yards from the summit. It had accumulated until the top of the hill was completely isolated from the world below, and - in defiance of a slight but persistent breeze - remained in place ever since. To the three watchers - and especially to Birapeer the pilot, familiar with mist and clouds - it felt distinctly unnatural. Joe had a thought, and Cyril did some internal calculations; sure enough, the mist had started accumulating around about the same proportional time through the interval as the party's acquisition of the Cup of Yima.

Viktor Spiegel, Canon of the Black Sun

Reinhard Völker, Master of the Black Sun

As they debated what this meant, developments occurred. The mist swirled and the sound of footfalls became audible, both marching and irregular. After a few moments, figures began to emerge, spreading out into the ruins. Some looked rather like SS stormtroopers, though for some bizarre reason they were all wearing gas-masks; others looked like big rangy men wearing some kind of metal helmet-mask that totally enclosed their heads, and with some kind of clawed gloves on their hands. Leading the latter was a tall figure in a strange variant of a German officer's uniform, walking with the full arrogance of an SS officer; at the rear of the troopers was a peculiar figure in robes with an antique-looking helmet and some kind of cloth mask over his face. Both wore swords of some dark metal that most definitely was not steel.

Birapeer unclipped a hand grenade and passed it to Jimmy. "Here," he said quietly, "we need everything we can get. Give it back if you don't use it." The photographer clutched it uneasily.

Most of these new arrivals halted at around a hundred and twenty yards distance, but the apparent officer drew his sword and, accompanied by a trooper carrying a white flag of parlay, stepped a little forward and called up the hill.

"Good afternoon," he called in a sarcastic, contemptous tone and a strong German accent. "I am Reinhard Völker, Master of the Order of the Black Sun. We have no interest in your pitiful little band,” he sneered, “but we want the artefact you have just recovered. Those upstarts Nachtwolfe have acquired entirely too many of them, and it’s time they learned their place.  The Order of the Black Sun will take charge of this one. If you surrender it, you may go free, unharmed.”

"We have got the Artifact," called Jimmy loudly, playing for time. Birapeer trumped his play by unleashing an entire drum magazine at the two apparent leaders of the German force.

Black Sun Trooper. Not Bren-proof.

A hundred .303 rounds hammered down the slope, and Völker, caught completely by surprise, staggered under the blows of the first few that bounced harmlessly away from him and then went down in a great spray of blood. His fellow leader, Canon Spiegel, was rather less chivalrously tucked away behind his own men, several of whom were cut down by the burst. A number of the rounds did reach him, but were deflected away from him by some unseen force, several of them into more of his soldiers. Those men returned fire, but the range was extreme for their MP40 submachineguns and the bullets skipped and whined around the hillside.

Cyril angled his rifle at one of the mysterious helmeted men who had been following Völker. His bullet was well-aimed, but the man seemed to be armoured; it glanced off with only a seeming graze. He shook his head, a motion more like that of an animal than a human. Jack followed his lead, with similar results, as the Canon threw his hands up over his head, howling out a series of chanted words that grated on the hearers' ears like a nail dragged over slate. His finger pointed at Birapeer, and for a moment utter, unreasoning terror flooded his mind. He forced his mind to the tenets of his faith and chanted a mantra; a moment later, the fear drained away again. He began the process of detaching the empty drum and loading a fresh one.

Die Toten

The strange, helmeted soldiers appeared to be less than perfectly under control, because six of them started sprinting up the hill at the agents - fast! - while four loped sideways across the hill towards the canon and the few remaining troopers. As they passed over where Völker's riddled corpse lay, they overran the now cringing trooper still clutching the futile parlay flag. Without breaking stride, they tore him into bloody shreds and gobbets in an instant.

Marcus Brody lifted his hand and made the Voorish Sign, and once again realized that the spell was a two-edged sword. He recoiled, pale and shaking. "They're dead," he croaked, "my God; they're already dead!" He had seen the full horror of Die Toten, Black Sun's undead soldiers created from the corpses of some unknown battlefield. Soldiers denied their rest despite their deaths, forced to fight, kill and suffer once more, forever.

Anné fired at the approaching monsters with l'Etranger, and stared as her bullet too achieved next to nothing. She laid the rifle down and grabbed for her Arclite instead. Beside her, Joe cut loose with his Bren, and though the rounds seemed to do far less damage than they should have done, four of the things went down under his hail of fire.

Keeper Note: Arthur - yet again! - Pushes a failed roll, and with a grenade - again! - and spectacularly fails the re-roll. Fortunately the scatter dice did not result in the grenade bouncing backwards into the tower or there'd have been words said. Like "ouch."

Jimmy went pelting past Joe and Birapeer, out of the door of the tower in a run-up to throw his grenade. The moment before he threw it, he caught a foot in a rabbit-hole and went flat on his face, tumbling over and over nearly twenty feet down the hill, the grenade flying out to his left, bouncing off down the side of the slope to reupt harmlessly in a shower of earth and priceless archaeological remains.

Cyril hurled one too, but he too was inaccurate and it blasted a crater well away from their foes. Marcus, of all people, managed to lob one accurately, and it dropped at the feet of a Die Toten. The blast blew it to pieces; but as the pieces scattered, it was quite plain that rather than the meat of a fragmented man, the remnants were carrion. The agents reeled at this blasphemous semblance of life made plain.

Lucky Jake

At the side of the tower, Lucky Jake stepped quietly out of the door and headed down the slope, 90 degrees away from the onrushing enemy, and walked quickly down the hill. Before anyone noticed what he was doing, he disappeared into the mist.

Down the hill, the Canon had produced a tiny black metal knife, and appeared of all things to be preparing to cut himself with it. The four Die Toten that had charged him had torn apart the remaining troopers around him, but were standing some ten feet from him, quivering with anticipation but prevented from reaching him by something. He was intoning some sort of invocation as Birapeer swung his reloaded Bren up and blasted another entire drum over the area. The Canon toppled over backwards, but from the lack of gore it looked as if he'd simply been overbalanced rather than killed. Birapeer dropped the Bren, drew his kirpan and tulwar, whispered a prayer and charged screaming down the hill, expecting nothing but death.

Behind him, Jack's rifle barked again to no visible effect, and Cyril jogged forwards a few yards and threw yet another grenade. Luck was with him this time, as it bounced merrily down to land neatly near where the Canon lay before exploding. The effect was instantly visible in the actions of the Die Toten; two spun and started up the hill towards Cyril, Jimmy and Birapeer, and the last one leaped onto the fallen Canon and tore him to bits, sending sprays of blood and the odd kidney into the air.

Keeper Note: The guy's a natural; rolls a Malfunction with his Lightning Gun straight after fumbling a grenade.

Coming to himself, Jimmy pulled himself to his feet and, seeing the Die Toten sprinting towards him, unslung his Arclite rifle, pointed it and pulled the trigger. Instantly, he knew that his tumble down the hill had done it no good; a horrible spittling crackle emerged, and a massive electrical discharge blasted into Jimmy's left arm, scorching it badly as the weapon failed.

Walking further into the mist, Jake suddenly halted. The sensation was like sunburn; all his skin was prickling and stinging. Looking down at his hands, he could see he mist was sinking into his flesh as the pain increased. He was drawing breath to scream when he noticed that the mist, released by its' caster's death, was thinning. A few moments later it was gone, leaving him sore all over - all over! - but basically unharmed.

Byakhee - "There flapped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things…not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, but something I cannot and must not recall."
—H.P. Lovecraft, The Festival

Birapeer and the Die Toten closed rapidly on each other, silver blades and black waving as they prepared to engage; at which point Joe, who'd replaced his Bren's drum, opened up once more and blasted both of them over backwards. The fighting stopped, except for the last Die Toten which was still tearing apart the Canon. As Marcus watched this, he saw a misty cloud appear over the scene which rapidly coalesced into a hideous shape he had seen before. This last shock was too much for his strained mind, and his hallucinations returned, convincing him that he was once more covered in spiders - and that this time he should eat them. Tearing at his clothes and trying to stuff non-existent arachnids into his mouth, he staggered back into the tower.

Cyril and Jack fired at this new arrival, but distance and their shaking hands defeated their aim and they missed. The byakhee, summoned but finding no master or victim to placate it, turned in fury on the only being within reach, and seconds later was ripping the bewildered Die Toten to bits before fading into nothingness once more - but not before Jimmy managed to get a photograph of it.

SS Degen - this is plain steel, whereas the Black Sun ones are black

With the fight over and the mist rapidly fading, the agents hurried down the hill to check the remains of the enemy. The troopers had been equipped with MP40s, more modern than the MP38s some of the party possessed, and they swapped these out before smashing up the remaining weapons - they didn't want the Qashq'ai bandits getting hold of those as well! Each of the officers was equipped with a long, straight sabre - the SS degen - made of some black metal that was very much not steel, perfectly balanced and carved with obscure runes down most of the blade. Birapeer and Anné took one each.

Mauser C96 'Broomhandle'

Völker had also been armed with a paired set of black Mauser C96 'Broomhandles', antique but still effective, the world's first automatic pistol. The Canon had had one as well. These were exquisitely well made, and Birapeer, Cyril and Anné took one each, as well as the peculiar 7.63mm cartridges the weapons used.

The claws of the Die Toten were somehow blended with their arms, replacing their hands, but were made of the same black metal as the swords. They looked as if they'd make nice, vicious daggers, and the agents hacked free enough to make more than one each.

The Mist was not harmless

Descending the hill, they paused at the Nachtwölfe dig site and Anné went in to check on the imprisoned French archaeologists; Vichy or not, they were her countrymen. She rather wished she hadn't; their immersion in the mist had eroded their skin completely away, leaving bare flesh and muscle which itself looked corroded and corrupt. Death had not been quick and she turned hurriedly away from their faces. A can of fuel from the drilling machine stores and a match sufficed to hide this evidence of Black Sun's horror from the unready world.

Then they hurried down and round the hill to retrieve their truck and headed off away from Isfahan into the sunset before the local police could show up to ask any awkward questions. The third piece of the Palladion was theirs, and some R&R in good old Blighty seemed like a damned good idea before setting off after the final two pieces.

Keeper Note: This campaign will be pausing at this point, for a variety of good reasons -

  1. The next part of the Shadows of Atlantis adventure is unusable as written for the party we now have, so I will need to basically take the raw concept and rewrite it completely. I can't do that and keep up a weekly session at the same time.
  2. I'm a bit fatigued (though not tired of this campaign!) and would like a break, and a year old seems an auspicious time to do that.
  3. I feel like changing seats and playing for a bit, so Steve is going to run his old-school-death-trap 1st Edition AD&D campaign for a while.

The adventure will continue...


Session Date: 6th November 2018