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Jagdteufel IIby Bruce Heard
Type: Light warbird, Waffenadler class
Date of Commission: AC 1009
Port of Call: Freiburg
Service Record: Shortly after its commission, the Jagdteufel was based in Stonehaven in the HW. It participated in the defence of Stonehaven against the Alphatian air assault of AC1010. As the situation grew more desperate, the Jagdteufel was ordered to Freiburg with a request for reinforcements. It was intercepted just before crossing the anti-magic zone and crash-landed in the HWs frozen wastes, its altar damaged and its skygem knocked out of place. The skygem was lost in the snow during the landing and the crew spent months trying to locate it. Most died of cold and starvation until it was finally retrieved. Threatening to collapse from structural damage, the Jagdteufel set sail with the survivors, three sailors and the ship's cleric. The captain and several knights had died in combat fighting the Alphatian airships, and the rest of the crew perished in the following weeks. The Jagdteufel made it back to Freiburg in AC 1011 after stopping in a Lietuvan forest for urgent repair.
In AC 1012, the Jagdteufel becomes part of the relief fleet to evacuate Karl Hundkopf from the HW. Alphatians intercept the Heldannic airfleet. Amidst the violent engagement, the Jagdteufel escapes once again and returns to the surface world with a few of Karl Hundkopf's warriors. Rumours mention a ghost from crew who died the previous year had warned the first mate of the impending Alphatian attack.
In AC 1014, the Jagdteufel participates to the Heldannic retaliation against the Davanian Simbasta, following the fall of Vanya's Rest. The ship is damaged when the artifact fails to provide lift, and lands in a thick forested area. The ship is recovered a few days later. The entire crew is gone. There are signs of violent combat aboard and the decks are covered with blood. After adequate repairs and a new crew, the ship remains at Vanya's Rest for pilgrimage escort duties. Rumours still speak of the dead crew's ghosts occasionally paying a visit.
In AC1015, the Jagdteufel is assigned to the relief of Freiburg. Myoshiman warriors are kept at bay while the Simbasta contingent disembarks from other warbirds below. The Jagdteufel, flying air cover, is nearby when dragons of the Wyrmsteeth Range suddenly ambush the bulk of the fleet. A huge red appears out of nowhere and brutally attacks the Jagdteufel. Severely damaged and engulfed in flames, the warbird crash-lands in the nearby hills as the huge red quickly flies away. The ship is found a few days later, clean and undamaged but totally empty except for the charred remains of the crew, still at their posts. The ship presently rests on a landing cradle in Freiburg, pending further investigation.
The Investigation: it was revealed that the dead could not be raised or contacted. Further research reveals that the Simbasta never attacked the Jagdteufel after it landed in the woods the year before. The Davanian warriors claim they were unable to find the elusive warbird at all and that they would not have massacred an isolated crew anyway, much less hidden their bodies.
The Truth: ****************SPOILER WARNING*****************
The ship was possessed ever since it was built. The wood that was used in its construction came from a cursed area of the Altenwald. It was the ancient prison of a powerful demonic entity that goes back to the early years of the Antalian race. The entity was confined to a group of trees, forever remaining the captive of the trees and their seedlings as they died out and grew again. Thinking they were desecrating some sacred druidical grove belonging to their freehold enemies, loggers working for the Heldannic Knights cut down those unusual trees and shipped them to Freiburg's ship yards. The lumberjacks all died horribly during the days the trees were fallen and shipped out, taking all knowledge of their deed to their graves.
Even the hapless warbird's name -- "Hunting Devil" -- came about in a bizarre way. The official in charge of the ship yards was found dead in his scriptorium, his hair white and looking decades older than his real age. It was found several months later that among ships to be commissioned, the Jagdfalke's name had been crossed off the books and replaced with "Jagdteufel".
As a result of the trees death the demonic entity was able to take over the warbird. It is still tied to the wood but, when appropriate, can cause the entire vessel to enter the Abyss (or whatever demonic plane). Survivors are then killed horribly and their souls harvested to become the servants of the Jagdteufel's demonic host. The souls of those who die on the ship while on the Prime Plane are equally forced to serve the sinister entity, as were the original lumberjacks.
The entity will prevent major damage from destroying the warbird itself (using former crew members' ghosts to deliver warnings), and rely on powerful illusions to conceal the warbird's departure to the outer planes and its subsequent return. Besides entering its home plane, the entity can allow the Jagdteufel to retain flight ability without its skygem. The subterfuge could be unveiled should a powerful cleric manage to isolate some of the ghosts from the demonic spirit, and communicate -- which isn't a Heldannic speciality. The warbird requires a major exorcism to be freed from its demonic host and banish it to its home plane. Destroying the warbird would release the entity and probably cause it to seek another vessel.
About the skygem falling into the snow.
Back to retroactive designing to make things fit -- I'm thinking that there is a safety device that helps prevent the skygem from being stolen. It consists of a (Heldannic) prayer deactivating the skygem before it is removed from its altar. If pulled out without this precaution or knocked out of place by a violent shock, a skygem would naturally shoot upward and travel as far as it can before being totally consumed. What happened in this case is that the demonic entity was powerful enough to capture and hold the skygem, much like a poltergeist. The entity then cruelly toyed with the crew, moving the gem about when some thought they could see it.