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A Star O'er Jersualem

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It seemed like a sign.

While on Crusade, you saw it: a star plunging from the heavens to the Earth, a tail of brilliant red-orange hair following behind it. Your retinue are starstruck, calling it a sign from God. You swear that you can feel the ground tremble after it lands.

Of course, you could leave it be and return to the important duties of the Crusade- or you could investigate.

Do not meddle in the affairs of the heavens!

See what wonder has fallen from among the stars. [Adds Modifier: Starstruck (+1 Learning, +0.25 Piety)]

Louis Capet, by the Grace of God Duke of Anjou, was on Crusade, to seize the Holy Land, and he had more than done his share: his men had fought at Aleppo and clambered over the walls of Antioch- securing the duchy as a seat for his cousin, Charles. If the heathens did not push them back into the sea, then the dynasty would get something out of the crusade.

But that was a rather cold way of looking at the world, he thought. To walk the streets of Jerusalem as the savior did, to see those streets and crest that famed hill… it made his heart thrill with rapture. They were walking on holy sod, a point that only seemed proven by that falling star.

Who could resist following a star in the Holy Land, just like the Wise Men of old? He was no king- not that his ancestors hadn't made a valiant effort- but he still felt an impassioned urge to follow the star, even after the faint rumble he could feel after it landed.

That was concerning, admittedly. He had a sinking feeling it probably wasn't the land trembling in joy for the savior's coming, or anything to that effect.

Still, they and their baggage trains crept in the direction of the star and the small village they had heard was in the area.

The first thing you noticed was the smoke. As you approached, it rose in great columns, thick and black like pitch. After that came the faint smell of something burning. Scents that were completely unrecognizable, but definitely noxious. Your men hack and cough as you approach.

As you pass through some farmland, you see something that defies belief: a great furrow in the earth, although the sort of plow they could make a cut in the earth like this would shame a cathedral's size.

Your men carefully clamber down the sides, marvelling at the size of the ditch. One of them finds something in the dirt, a piece of jagged metal half buried- he touches it and screams.

Leave this foul land behind while we still can! [-10 Prestige]

Carry on.

He was horrified to see what touching the metal fragment had done to his man at arms. The skin was a horrific motley, the scent of burned flesh lingering in the dry air.

The Duke wavers, but eventually gathered his courage to go onwards. Whatever heated that metal to such incredible temperatures must have been something truly unique. Still, he wasn't cruel enough to make the man explore while his hand was burnt- so he and a few others were send back to rendezvous with some of the other crusaders while Louis carried on.

They all tried to avoid the trench, both for fear of those superheated metal fragments, and for more mundane worries of collapse or flooding. It was still hard to believe just how great the cut through the land was.

The smoke which rose into the sky served as a beacon- as if the trench was not yet enough of a trail to follow- which guided them towards whatever had caused them.

He couldn't help but feel a little worried. There was something… off about this now. He had a sinking feeling that the star may not have been quite as holy as it first seemed.

Did they not call Lucifer the Morningstar, the shining one? It was presumptuous to think that a group of men such as they- that any group of men, even- could overcome the snares of the devil… but they would investigate it, first.

A great structure of metal sits half buried in the sands, smoke rising in great plumes. It was clearly no normal meteor or fallen star, the lines too straight and the design too intricate.

The smoke leaps from several tremendous funnel like structures at the ship's rear, while an odd ring-like structure that seemed to have encircled the ship like a girdle lays shattered in pieces, some of them glowing a faint blue.

You get the most unnerving feeling of standing upon a precipice, and not just because of your vantage point on top of a hill. You cannot be entirely certain if you will return again if you plunge in, but curiosity gnaws at you. What secrets does it hold? Is it right for me to leave it there?

Leave it! Flee from this devilry! [Adds Modifier: The Crusader Who Ran (-0.5 Prestige), removes modifier Starstruck. Leaves the wreck to its own devices.]

Carry on boldly. We cannot leave whatever this is alone!

While they approached, a few of the men quietly prayed, clutching rosaries in their hands- Louis himself could feel the weight of his own collection of amber beads. As they created a hill and saw it, he thought that perhaps their prayers were justified.

It was hard to describe the shape at first, in large part because it was half buried. An odd sort of arch, shattered and damaged in places, rose above a body like a spear or club, although he had never seen a spear with what looked like washbasins on one end.

Great cuts were on the ship's metal sides, and those were presumably the source of the metal fragments left behind. Whatever it was, it also seemed to be shedding scales: dozens of the pitch black objects had fallen from the thing's underbelly.

He could not begin to say what it was, but he knew one thing for certain: this was no mundane object. This was some sort of… if his Latin was correct, an extraterrestrial.

"By God's most merciful wounds…" before Louis could chastise the man for using the Lord's name in vain, he noticed something near one of the thing's openings.

It was faint, half lost in the dirt plowed up by its spectacular landing, but he could see stains. Like blood. Looking around, he spotted a farmhouse in the distance. Or what was left of it, anyways. Even from here he could see the pale rib bones of dead cattle ringing the house.

He gripped his sword and pointed in the direction of the cut in the great structure's side. "Onwards, men!" They were hesitant to follow.

The insides are cramped, the walls thick with odd piping and dense collections of brightly colored cables, wrapped in brilliantly colored material of a make he could not describe. It evoked revulsion within him, inspiring uncomfortable thoughts walking through the veins and muscles of some tremendous, metallic beast.

The unnerving sense of being in something alive was compounded by the faint rumbling they could hear, along with the sounds of liquids flowing through the pipes they walked by. Every creak and sign of the damned machinery which composed the structure made the men shiver with fright.

Their armor scraped against the piping, and Louis drew a small dagger- one emblazoned with a golden fleur de lis, in honor of house- knowing full well how swords would function in such close quarters. He could barely execute a swing in here…

He was contemplating what exactly that odd, noxious smell was when he heard something skittering towards him from a side passage. In a smooth movement, guided by instinct, he plunged the knife in the direction of the sound- pinning a foul, bug-like creature against the wall it clambered on.

Looking at the creature- and the foul, blue-green liquid that wept from its wounds- he couldn't help but feel intense revulsion. The legs- a dozen of them- skittered feebly as the disgusting tangle of pincers snapped at the air. He cast the creature to the floor and with some effort, crushed it under his boot.

If there was any doubt, it was long gone. This metal vessel was the home of devilry of the foulest sort. A test perhaps, as Satan tested Job? He could not help but feel a little terrified. The snares of the devil had ruined men much greater than he, after all…

As they traveled further into the ship, the odd smell lingered on the air, something almost like a latrine in the great crusading camps… at least until a powerful charnel-smell choked it out. Following it, Louis and his men beheld a sight from hell: bodies of both men and their livestock lay in great piles, viscera strewn about, bones shattered, and cavities torn wide open… and all around, in every body, on every inch of flesh, were bugs, just like the one he had slain.

Louis stared, horrified, as one of bugs crawled out of a shattered skull, the shivering claws still slick with the fluid that the brain would have been immersed in. He barely managed to keep himself from vomiting- he definitely didn't want vomit in his armor, nor did he want to disrespect the dead anymore than these monsters already had.

His men were equally shocked by the sheer butchery they had walked into, and while the shock was still wearing off, the bugs skittered around them. They didn't really react until one of the creatures leapt at them, landing on one of Louis' men at arms and rapidly circling his body, searching for any chink in the armor, no matter how small- which it eventually did.

With a howl, the man collapsed, the bug-like creature having crawled into the eye hole of his armor, making short work of the soft flesh inside. When Louis grasped the beast by a bloated abdomen and pulled it out, red and gray chunks flew out as well. The man was gone.

"Back! Back!" He shouted, lashing out with dagger and boot in an attempt to crush the swarms of bugs while they were still distracted on feeding- he really tried not to think about his knife sinking into the human flesh they were feeding on, his boots crushing bug and bone alike. They could go far enough to crush them with their hands, but even then they were pouring in from other portions of the ship (pouring out, out, out of the rotting corpses…) in numbers too great to possibly plug.

The corpse-smell was overwhelming, mixed with the reeking scent of human waste; the thought of these profane beasts venturing out into the world sickened him. These damnable creatures would bring nothing but ruin and destruction if they were not stopped. In time they would come to Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre, to Constantinople, to France… to Antioch. He felt as if something hardened in his chest, turning from liquid fury to cold resolve. He would not flee now.

Fueled by desperation, he hacked at the walls, the odd tubes and metallic sinews that covered his surroundings. As if they were veins, liquid sprung forth, although none of them seemed quite like blood, with odd colors like black and purple and clear…

Those odd, thin strands which lined the walls… seemed to have hearts of copper. The last thing he saw was sparks jumping from those copper insides, flying in the air… so much like stars.

As you travel into the ship, you find foul creatures, which swarm your group- creatures which you beat back, although with significant casualties. But more kept coming. More and more and more… Eventually it becomes clear that drastic action needs to be taken. The beasts from the stars were contained, even if at tremendous cost. We can only pray no more are to come… but for now, at least, it can be said that a few fought for others: for their fellow men, for their faith, and for some, their dynasty.

A Last Stand! [Your character dies! Adds Dynasty Modifier: Those Noble Few (+5 Controlled Territory Defender Advantage, +3 Number of Knights, -5% Men-At-Arms Maintenance, +0.05 Prestige per Point of Martial), +150 Renown.]

A quirk of dynastic politics meant that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was eventually united with the Capetian Duchy of Antioch. Over time, the state would carve out its own place within the Holy Land, led by Good King Charles.

But he was no self made man, as much as some people seemed to think. His throne came into his hands by grace and by the works of his cousin Louis. He had made no small effort to find some trace of his relative, and would eventually come to what was known as the Trough. The dirt had long been overgrown with grass, the trench used for little more than holding particularly escape prone livestock, but the ruins remained. If you followed it, you would come to a cursed lake, where the water glowed blue and was sickening to drink. Diving too deep would kill you, but sometimes, on clear days, through that blue glow, you could catch faint glimpses of something metallic.

The King of Jerusalem would make efforts to pray there for his cousin once a month. As would his heir, and his heir after him.