ZEITGEIST [ZEITGEIST] The Continuing Adventures of Korrigan & Co. - Page 96
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  1. #951
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Decatur, GA
    Ah, Asrabey is always such a gem, ain't he?

    Poor Big Jack; we hardly knew ye.

    Rumdoom has his vices, but aqueous nookie ain't one of them, apparently.
    Laugh gideonpepys laughed with this post

  2. #952
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 201, Part Two - Seriously – YOU’RE Betraying Us?!?

    It was evident that the ritual he had used to hijack Beshela’s communion had left him in control of the titan: At his command, she unleashed her most terrifying weapon – a deadly ululation that had driven hundreds of sailors mad, and sent thousands more to their watery graves. The entire unit quailed, and some fell. Little Jack was shattered mid-flight, and Uru plunged towards the sea. (Though sorely afflicted by the ululation, his natural reflexes caused him to right himself, and he landed lightly, cat-like.) Then Asrabey swept his flaming sword in a wide arc, creating a wall of fire around She Who Writhes’ main body.

    Within the kraken, Rumdoom knew that Beshela was not dead; Asrabey may have thought he had dealt the killing blow, but the Blood of Ostea had sustained her. Now the kraken tried again to control him, ordering that he attack and slay Beshela. Rumdoom had had enough of this, and he shrugged off the charm, stepped up to the feminine avatar, invoked the power of his tyrant’s teeth and crushed the avatar with a single blow. At once, the cavity walls became slick with liquid and it began to fill up with digestive juices.

    Outside, Quratulain shot at Asrabey, Asrabey threw his lion shield and pinned Uriel. Then he dashed out along a tenctacle that acted as a convenient bridge beneath his feet, taking him exactly where wanted to be – within melee range of Uriel, who he sought (and failed) to dominate. Uriel and Quratulain were both grabbed by local tendrils: Uriel invoked a spell and became incorporeal; Quratulain cut herself free.

    Rumdoom scooped up Beshela in one giant arm, then deftly rolled a grenade to a spot where he hoped it would do most damage. (This was one of Alden Wondermaker’s advanced jobbies.) The grenade blew a hole in the side of the kraken and Rumdoom flew out, using the power of his golden icon.

    Asrabey took Uriel by surprise, when he struck him despite his ghostly form; Uriel had forgotten that eladrin could now affect the spirit world due to their affinity with Av, the new plane of death. Asrabey grinned. “I like this new world. After centuries of duty, I am no longer subservient to the likes of you.”

    “Oh, but you are,” replied Uriel. Asrabey attacked him again with renewed ferocity. Quratulain distracted Asrabey with another hail of bullets. Uriel fled, and flew up to where Rumdoom had borne Beshela. “Welcome back, Lady Beshela,” said Uriel, bestowing his healing magic upon her. She looked about her and said, “I must find a way to calm my mistress!” But the kraken’s ‘face’ was wreathed in grasping flame.

    By now, the group was flagging. Leon was only just limping along; Uriel had been sorely injured by Asrabey; Uru had been lying low since falling out of the sky; and Gupta was lying still at the fringes of combat having been struck by a writhing tentacle. She reinvigorated, thanks to the arcanoscience of Wolfgang von Recklinghausen. Then she fired Reason in the air and bought the group some time.

    Not much though. Yes, the magic rifle stayed the hand of Asrabey for a second, but She Who Writhes writhed on and was duly struck by punishing bullet.

    Leon took a risk and teleported closer before dispelling Asrabey’s flaming wall. At once Beshela leapt down onto her mistress’ face and resumed her communion.

    Things got really scrappy now, as Asrabey sought to fight his way back to intercept Beshela, lashing out with a flaming burst that snagged the lurking Uru, who dropped onto the surface of the waves and struggled to get up.

    Blood from the kraken stained the water, and as Uru floundered on its surface, the blood began to coalesce. …

  3. #953
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 201, Part Three - Bloody Tidings

    Quratulain and Rumdoom went toe-to-toe with Asrabey, until She Who Writhes clipped Rumdoom with another titanic tenctacle, giving Asrabey the chance to make a break for it, running along one of her enormous limbs.

    From the pool of blood around Uru a form of pure crimson emerged, feminine but barbed. As the figure rose, a dozen bloody chains struck out from the pool, trailing from hooks in her arms and back and legs. One such chain caught Uru by his cloak and lifted him up from the water. He surrounded himself in a cloud of darkness, but the figure still spoke to him – to all of them, audible above the din of the storm, the waves and the battle, completely heedless of the strife:

    “Long did the seneschal of the Demonocracy wait in her prison, roiled with bitterness and hungry for her revenge. As she bled into the sacred well, Ashima-Shimtu found she could see through the seas and glimpse the tide of history. But centuries tempered her anger, and a foreign power—empathy—began to stir within her.”

    Quratulain, healed by Uriel, fired her guns again and again at Asrabey, and dropped him before he could reach Beshela. Leon phrased a curse so powerful it stunned She Who Writhes, then stuffed Asrabey into the absurdist web. Uriel reshaped Rumdoom’s hammer into a mattock, making it much more effective against the soft-bodied kraken. The giant dwarf began to do some serious damage.

    “In this new age, her bonds are weakened, and the red waters of a world named Ostea grant her the power to do more than simply watch. Yet Ashima-Shimtu seeks not to use these powers for herself. She remains a prisoner, and places the decision to free her in the hands of foreigners. She wishes to show good will, however, and so offers tidings that may be of interest.”

    By now, Uru had begun firing at the kraken from where he dangled. Uriel was not convinced he was taking in Ashima-Shimtu’s message, so he healed him and said, “You go fight, I’ll listen to the demon.” With Asrabey down, Quratulain, Rumdoom and Uru were concentrating their fire on the kraken. Quratulain was using the captain’s weapon she had found in the royal vaults, and her blows made her comrades’s blows easier. When She Who Writhes began writhing once again, Beshela broke off from her communion to announce, “She fears. My mistress fears!”

    Rumdoom was subject to attack after attack and succeeded in batting them all away, until one huge tentacle finally clipped him and sent him plunging into the pool near the titan’s beak. Without thinking (did she ever ‘think’?) She Who Writhes opened her beak and swallowed him…

    “First, a glimpse: Philosophers and politicians of several nations travel west, but toward what end Ashima-Shimtu cannot see.”
    (So far so good, thought Uriel; this, at least, we know is true.)

    “Second, a warning: When Ashima-Shimtu gazed upon the western shore of the land of beastmen and fallen dragons, something gazed back – a fearful intelligence, the like of which she had not seen in this world before the sky grew dark.”

    Now Rumdoom really gave She Who Writhes good reason to fear, carving his way out from inside her for a second time. The kraken sagged with exhaustion and coughed more blood into the sea.

    “She yields!” cried Beshela. No need for communion now. “My mistress begs to be allowed to return to her slumber at the bottom of the ocean!”

    They tried to bargain for advantage, but none was granted. This creature did not think the way the other titans did. For her part, Beshela offered her own boon in return for her mistress’ life. Forewarned by Harkover, they granted the titan mercy and she at once dissolved into millions of smaller tentacles that dissolved into the sea. Never before had a titan been defeated but by a monarch of Risur!

    The fight was over, but Ashima-Shimtu was still talking:

    “Third and final, an opportunity: The island at the axis of the world, much contested these past decades, fell to invasion shortly after the heavens rained and the sun departed. A fleet of gnolls under the banner of a steel dragon conquered the island…”
    (Uru gave a little cheer at this.) “…and may have prevented the one called Nicodemus from completing his grand design. Retaliation was attempted by the navy whose flag bears scroll and sword, but the kraken queen drove them back.

    “Now the titan’s dominion has passed, and the seas reopen. Soon the axis may shift again, and whatever secrets lie there will once again be obscured. Ashima-Shimtu entreats her heroic jurors to reach the island while they still can. Her own liberation on another mysterious island can wait.”

    Uriel nodded and said, “I look forward to it.”

    At once, the blood simulacrum began to dissipate. Before it did so, Rumdoom asked the demoness what she could tell him of the Deep Ones in the Cold Claw Sea. After a moment she replied:

    “The same alien force is present there as on the eastern shore of the dragon-lands. Ashima-Shimtu fears to probe more deeply, as the alien mind may gaze back!”

    Nevertheless, Rumdoom pressed her for tidings of Hildegaard. “Is she still alive?”

    “Yes. And safe. For now.”

    This was a relief, but most mysterious. Further answers would not be forthcoming, however, as the simulacrum now crumbled entirely – scabbing, cracking, flaking and blowing away.

    End of Session

  4. #954
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 202, Part One

    Farewell to Asrabey

    Moments after the titan’s withdrawal, the Coaltongue returned from outer space, plunging into the sea and causing an immense tidal wave. Though dramatic, it soon settled.

    Korrigan was troubled. While they had drifted through space, his son had pointed at the distant Gyre and said, “That is where we need to go”. Korrigan asked him how he knew, and Kai simply shrugged. Such esoteric knowledge was second nature to him and he could not explain it. Korrigan was reminded of the vision he had in the Ziggurat of Apet many years ago – a vision in which he was holding his unborn son and cycling through strange environments that seemed as alien as other worlds. Overhead was a starless sky. (Later, on hearing about all this, Quratulain would ask Kai what bullets she should craft for their next mission. Kai said, “The ones that kill ghosts and other things you can touch.” But it wasn’t clear if this was based on a premonition, or just a guess.)

    Putting all of this to one side for the time being, Korrigan went to catch up with the others. They told him everything that had happened and it was clear from their report that urgent action was needed.

    But first, Beshela demanded that they hand over Asrabey. She did not want to rely upon ‘mortal justice’ which might see him languish in a prison for just a small fraction of his long, eladrin life, only to be released when everyone had forgotten his crime. Beshela would punish him in her own way.

    Korrigan asked what that would entail. “I will drown him,” said Beshela, bluntly. Korrigan reflected on all the aid Asrabey had given them over the years, but concluded with some reluctance that his recent actions had negated that good will. It was far more important to foster Beshela’s allegiance than to balk at her severity.

    They removed Asrabey from the absurdist web. Before handing him over they asked how he had come into contact with the Ob, since communication was so difficult. Asrabey said that he had not – that the decision to join them was his own, and that he had hoped to offer the kraken to them as a prize. Gupta double-checked his claim, using Nicodemus’ ring to first locate Nicodemus himself to test that this method still worked. It did; he was in Cherage. Then she tried it on Asrabey and confirmed that he was not as yet an Ob officer, or a sworn affiliate of the conspiracy.

    This done, they handed Asrabey over to Beshela. Tendrils of seaweed writhed up from the water and ensared him, dragging him beneath the waves. Moments later they coughed up his crown, shield, sword and sandals – all magical items which Beshela said they could keep. Beshela also offered her help. She could transport them anywhere they wished to go by sea at some speed.

    Next Steps

    The group was torn by competing exigencies. Rumdoom was keen to travel south as soon as possible and rescue his wife. The others agreed that it would be very helpful to find out what was going on with the Deep Ones, so the effort would not be entirely focused on just that.

    Even more pressing was the need to get to Axis Island before their enemies did. Korrigan returned to Slate to consult with his military advisors. They told him that the fleet was as ready as it would ever be, but only about a third of the ships had been fitted with Wondermaker’s weapons, and a quarter of the fleet at been lost when the Danorans invaded Flint. The Danorans were generally faster and their fleet was larger (although they too must have lost an unknown number of vessels). Even if the island could be taken, even if Pemberton allowed them to do so, holding it would be extremely difficult whilst simultaneously preparing to defend Risur. It would also be harder to gain Pemberton’s trust if they showed up mob-handed.

    In the end, it was decided that the Coaltongue would head for Axis Island as fast as possible (which was very fast indeed), before the Danorans were able to capitalise on the defeat of She Who Writhes. The rest of the fleet would be ready to follow if called upon.

    Once word of this mission got out, Korrigan received a request from Alden Wondermaker to join them. Here was an opportunity to check out Pemberton’s technological developments, even consult with him if possible. Korrigan was loath to risk such a major national asset, until it was made clear that Wondermaker would not be coming along in person – he would be sending his avatar: the top-hatted, clockwork gentleman who had first visited them in Seobriga. Permission was duly granted.

    Permission was also granted to Kieran Sentacore, who wished to accompany the king as royal biographer and scribe. They also chose to bring along the Sunfish, which was small enough to be carried on the deck of the Coaltongue.

    None of this was to be done at Rumdoom’s expense, however: Leon volunteered to make the journey south, borne through the seas by Beshela to the place where the deep ones dwelled. It would be easier for him to go unseen, and escape unharmed, than it would be for the whole unit to go, and it meant that their forces would not be too deeply divided. Leon promised Rumdoom that he would return with Hildegaard if it was possible.

    Royal Duties

    Before they departed, Korrigan put the finishing touches to various bits of business that had called him away over the last few days:

    Something needed to be done about the Governorship of Flint. Delft was struggling. There was nothing major happening under his governorship, no sign of a 'change'. As RHC Chief, he was firmly associated in the public's mind with the old order – an order Korrigan had promised to alter. Thames Grimsley was busy pushing for elections as soon as possible. He was slightly stymied because he couldn't organise mass gatherings, but his campaign for election was well underway. Korrigan’s political allies did not think Grimsley would be a good governor, but he was almost certain to win a free and fair election. Was now really the time to bring true democracy to Risur? Korrigan interrogated them: Grimsley had been an ally and fellow-traveller up to now. Did they regard him as an extremist? The answer was more subtle - they simply thought he was too much of a populist and too melodramatic and emotional for such a serious role.

    Korrigan punted the issue into the long grass by establishing a committee to set up the legal foundation for the elections, and establish the scope and power of the elected officals. While there was one governor, there also needed to be an advisory council with wider representation, a system of petitions, limitations on the executive power of the governor (certain major decisions and reforms would have to be approved by the king and/or require public consent). And of course, the election itself would have to be organised in a way that didn’t run the risk of a raising hive mind. Perhaps instead of the voting points where people gathered there could be vote collection brigades that went from door to door and collected votes from people at their place of residence?

    To lead this committee, Korrigan called on his old friend Alderic Woodrow. Woodrow reminded Korrigan of their many discussions about how Risur would be well-served by the establishment of a centralised, formal code of laws. He hoped that with a sympathetic monarch, this mammoth task might now be undertaken. “A strange thing to focus on when the sun has vanished, perhaps, but chaotic times call for greater order.” He offered to refer to the project as the ‘Baldrian Codes’. After talking to Alderic in some detail, to gauge if the lawyer’s overall vision aligned with his own, Korrigan gave him the go-ahead to prepare draft outlines for his subsequent approval.

    One major concern was how King Baldrey’s absence would be handled, now that it was obvious that he intended to handle the Obscurati threat personally. Who would be in charge while he was away, and of what? Duchess Ethelyn had petitioned for the responsibility of fending off a naval invasion and the surviving Risuru fleet (based in Shale) was very loyal to her. But Harkover Lee did not like the idea of putting her in charge of anything. He could not forgive her attempt on Aodhan's life. Obviously, Korrigan did not want to alienate Harkover, but he also wanted to negotiate arrangements that would best benefit the country rather than cater to specific factions and interests. Currently the country was in a state of emergency and on high alert; security and the provision of basic needs of the populace were the top priorities. With regards to Ethelyn, Korrigan made the case that while she indeed attempted a coup against Aodhan, she did so to protect Risur's interests first and foremost which testified to her loyalty to the kingdom over her brother or even the king. Also, from his previous encounters with her, Korrigan believed she had re-evaluated her previous stance and actions. Given that she was the most suitable to lead the fleet as far as ability and experience went, she should be tasked with doing so. Harkover dutifully agreed.

    There were other matters too: Persistent Yerasol veterans still demanded the arrest and punishment of Leon Veilleux, whom they had reason to believe remained a close ally of the king. They were horrified that King Baldrey chose to overlook his many war crimes, particularly since the king was a war hero and ‘one of their own’. The king told them that the man now known as ‘Leon the Clever’ was a member of the Unseen Court and as such beyond the jurisdiction of Risur. Not only was he a changed man, but right now he was performing an invaluabe service to the country. It was a form of atonement, so to speak. There may be some who thought that only blood can repay blood but surely they could also appreciate the value of a former enemy turned sides.

    There was some overlap between the Yerasol veterans and Vekeshi. Korrigan remembered Gale’s plea on behalf of the mystics that they be allowed to ‘step into the light'. Korrigan reached out to the mystics and brokered a meeting with Admiral Dawkins, aka the Great Stag, during which he negotiated a relaxation of state sanctions on the movement, in return for their vocal support of Leon – who was after all a member. Dawkins also returned Gale’s favour and spoke up for her. It was a shame, he thought, that the public still regarded her as a terrorist. So Korrigan called on his carefully fostered journalistic contacts, and persuaded them to report her more recent, public-spirited behaviour, and to re-evaluate her earlier actions, especially crimes of which she had been falsely accused. (He also provided detailed statements in relation to the current events, and the importance for Risur to stand strong as the world around was swept over by chaos and malicious folly.)

    Korrigan had a soft spot for Gale, and made a point of seeking her out to ask if the governorship was something she would be interested in. Gale laughed at first, but soon warmed to the idea. She joked that she was very grateful to be cleared of her crimes, but hoped the king would soon move to make them redundant. Improvements to working conditions were just a half measure, she said, the rampant industrialisation that had seen Risur (and Flint in particular) become hollow copy of Danor must end. Korrigan kept his response to this very vague and non-committal. There were certain thoughts he had been weighing in his mind in this regard, but it was too early to speak on them.

    Korrigan was also keen to re-establish contact with his carefully nurtured contacts in each nation – first to be able to learn about the situation in those lands and secondly to have a foothold if he needed to somehow affect or sway events there. Glaucia in Ber; Aulus Atticus and Ken Don in Crisillyir, the anti-Jierre movement in Danor; their eladrin friends in Ushanti and Sentosa. Sendings would not work, so he tasked Lauren Cyenburg with dispatching trustworthy agents. After learning about the world congress being called by Nicodemus, he also wanted to ensure they had spies in place to keep track of everything going on there. “Consider it done,” she said.

    Uriel was sent to speak with Morgan Cippiano to find out if he heard anything from his homeland, and where he stood now that the clergy appeared to have aligned themselves with the Ob. Cippiano did not know this and was alarmed – though Bishop Antonescu’s divinations had warned them that something terrible was happening; a threat to their very faith. Cippiano had sent his own messengers since She Who Writhes was put to rest, and hoped to have more detailed news soon.
    Last edited by gideonpepys; Thursday, 1st November, 2018 at 08:17 PM.
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  5. #955
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Decatur, GA
    Good kingship.

  6. #956
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 202, Part Two - Pemberton Industries, Axis Division

    On their way to Axis Island, they reprised their philosophical debate with Rutger Smith from five years earlier. Kieran Sentacore joined in too. Both had once been firm adherents of the Panoply, and remained sympathetic to the politics of that movement, but each had undergone a crisis of sorts on learning that William Miller, the group’s founder, was none other than Nicodemus himself. Yes, the rational thing to do (as Korrigan often reminded them) was to divorce Miller and his teachings from what he had become, but this was not satisfying on an emotional level.

    Rumdoom’s interjections on eschatology had been all-but ignored last time round. The conversation had been dominated by Smith and Malthusius. But Uriel, on this occasion, was uncharacteristically silent, and Rumdoom’s confidence had grown, and now he warmed to the subject. Eschatology, he said, was focused on the end of things, but Rumschatology was all about control. “Control of the end,” Sentacore nodded sagely, filling a blank he imagined Rumdoom had left to show he had understood. “No, control of everything,” Rumdoom insisted, leaning in close. He told them about his newly developed power to issue a ‘fiat’ that altered fate, a much broader application of his trusty knack for good endings. The implication was clear – Rumdoom wondered how close his branch of eschatology came to the global control now imposed by the Ob. Both Sentacore and Smith sought to reassure him – of course he wasn’t as bad as them, he wasn’t trying to control everything and everyone. But Rumdoom rejected their mollifications and insisted that maybe he was.

    Gupta had not joined them for dinner. She spent the journey in her berth, applying the divination magic of Nicodemus’ ring to everyone they knew, including Korrigan (just in case…).

    Approaching the island from the south, they slowed down and made their presence clear, sailing close to a lookout point on a small isthmus to the east. About an hour after that, two dots appeared in the sky, the dots grew steadily, and minutes later they were buzzed by two flying machines, each occupied by a pair of gnolls: a pilot in goggles and a leather cap; and a ‘spotter’ equipped with binoculars. Having identified them – they flew the Risuri flag and the easily recognisable unit made no attempt to hide – the fliers buzzed away.

    Uru suggested that they sneak onto the island using the undersea entrance through the mines, just like last time, but Korrigan preferred a more direct approach. Although wary of Danoran involvement, they took the Coaltongue round to the north, and sailed right up to the fortress, dropping anchor just out of artillery range. They could see that Pemberton had greatly augmented the defences along the wall. His flags now fluttered over the fort.

    Eventually, Pemberton appeared on the battlements, and addressed them using a magical ‘macrophone’ similar to the one Korrigan had recently commissioned. He welcomed them and asked them what they wanted. Korrigan explained that they had come to parley, and that they hoped to find common ground in this new age. Pemberton sought and received reassurances that they did not intend to take the island. Korrigan pointed out that he had left his fleet behind. Pemberton took a moment to consider this, then he invited them in. Korrigan said he would go alone, but Pemberton refused to allow them to come without the Coaltongue. If anything, the Risuri flagship would serve as proof of their reciprocal trust. (If he couldn’t take them out, he could certainly sink the Coaltongue. …)

    The great sea gates open and they sailed in, through walls and past stone wharfs crowded with heavily armed gnolls. (Korrigan was slightly disappointed to find that the Rites of Rulership did not extend here. No people, no power.) When they disembarked, they saw bloody smears everywhere, and each gnoll had a freshly blood-stained muzzle. (Gnolls were not known for taking prisoners.)

    Through this fetid, flyblown atmosphere came Pemberton, dressed in a sharp, white suit, and accompanied as always by the sniggering Pardo. Gupta made sure to keep herself in Pemberton’s line of sight. She had done something different with her hair. Pemberton overlooked this for now, and led them to a table with a commanding view of the harbour, where they were served limeade and sat down to talk. Pemberton wondered how they knew he had taken the island. Korrigan’s response was cagey. Pemberton was cagey too, when discussing his own plans, but was frankly dismissive of the king’s offer to join forces and try to hold on to the island. They weren’t just up against Danorans now – the whole world was arrayed against them. Pemberton’s small force was effective, yes, but no match for the armies of nations. This was frustrating for Korrigan who could not stand the idea of letting go of such a valuable territory. He pressed the issue, and the conversation stalled momentarily.

    “What do you plan to do when the Danorans come?” he asked in exasperation.

    “I plan to get the hell out of here,” said Pemberton. “But by then I hope to have the answers I came for.” Then he invited the king and his entourage to lay down their burdens for a time, and come to explore the island with him – specifically, the site of the ritual seal, where it was clear things hadn’t gone according to the Obscurati’s plan. On the way, he would introduce them to another of his guests, a ‘mutual friend’ who had only recently decided that Pemberton “wasn’t so bad after all”. Together, they had come up with a little plan that the unit might find interesting. This mystery guest was none other than Brakken of Heffinata, who had infiltrated Pemberton’s forces on behalf of the nation of Ber. “I thought he was big for a gnoll! But it turned out to be a very clever mind trick.” Right now, Brakken was out with an elite party of gnolls searching the island for Ob survivors.

    Pemberton was confident that nothing on the island could pose a threat to the unit, but there were odd planar fluctuations and he didn’t want to risk any more of his loyal subjects. So this trip would only include the unit, Pardo and Pemberton himself (both of whom were obviously in duplicant form.) It was a few miles to where Brakken was searching, but handily the Obscurati built roads, so Pemberton offered to drive them in his experimental steam-powered road cars. These vehicles had a very industrial aesthetic with lots of exposed metal, no roofs and no windows; Pemberton hadn’t gotten around to gussying them up yet, but of course for public production they would have fine upholstery and leather seats.

    Since each car only had four seats, Pemberton gave the unit a quick lesson in how to drive them. Uru was excited to learn, but torn: Pemberton had agreed that he and Wondermaker could stay behind and lend their expertise to his ‘latest bit of tech’. Both were eager to learn more about the ‘dragon-fliers’ they had seen earlier. (“Take a look around at your leisure. Just don’t do near the central keep. My subjects get touchy when strangers approach my lair.”) So Uru would not get to drive a car – that task fell to Gupta and Thurgid Ironspoon. (Rumdoom and his entourage would squeeze into one car; Gupta, Quratulain and Uriel took a second; Korrigan joined Pemberton and Pardo.) Transmission was a bit awkward right now, but after a few minutes they got the hang of it and caravanned out of the fort.

    “I should thank you,” said Pemberton as they drove, shouting over the noise of the engine, “for giving me the idea to take this place when we last met up on Macdam. I never thought the chance would arise, but I’m nothing if not an opportunist. Say, you must tell me how it went down with She Who Writhes.” Korrigan explained that she wasn’t the only titan they had dealt with recently – all but the Voice of Rot, in fact. “Four titans?” hollered Pemberton. “If I’d known that, I’d have thought twice about letting you in here! You know, I once had a run-in with the Father of Thunder. This was in my youth, of course. I heard he was up and about, and I thought to myself, ‘Grady, it’d be a damned shame not to take a crack at the old son of a gun before whichever king was in charge of Risur put him back to sleep’. I tell you, that horny bastard did not appreciate me strafing his herd. Zapped me good!” Then he shook his head in amazement and repeated, “Four of ‘em!”

    The four-mile drive to the island’s central valley should only have taken a few minutes, but as the cars neared a mining village, trouble struck at a sort of parking lot for industrial machines. They heard a lumbering crash of metal and felt an unwelcome presence in their minds. A few hundred feet out they spotted a twenty-foot tall construct lumber into view from behind a crane, headless but with some wispy tendrils trailing upward from the cracked hole between its shoulders.

    Pemberton clapped his hands once with excitement and gunned the car’s engine, driving straight for the golem. “This damned monster killed a half-dozen of my subjects. Now I hate to ask a favour of my guests, but I’m about to drive very close to it, so if you would be so kind to do what you’re good at?”

    They did just exactly that, with Pardo lending a hand, while Pemberton enjoyed spinning the car around the battlefield. Gupta switched to hybrid form to make the most of her feline reflexes, weaving between obstacles while Quratulain focused on shooting the golem. Korrigan took to the air and issued orders. It turned out that the golem was currently host to a hivemind, capable of weakening their mental resolve, and lashing them with psychic tendrils. When it tried to control Gupta she shrugged it off (thanks to Korrigan’s crown) and identified its mental ‘scent’ – formed from the psyches of the very Ob loyalists they were looking for. The hivemind was difficult to get at; the golem was tough to damage and leaked huge, necrotic pools of witchoil. Rumdoom leapt through the air and knocked it prone. Korrigan remembered how they had dealt with such thoughtforms in the past and he attacked it with his mind – yanking it out of its construct armour and then solidifying it. Quratulain redoubled her onslaught now that it was vulnerable and blew the hivemind to pieces. Once it was gone, the golem staggered about a bit and then grew still.

    Once the commotion of battle died down, Brakken and a squad of gnolls emerged from the nearby jungle. Brakken was mentally exhausted, having focused all of his psychic powers to keep the hivemind from sensing them. He gave a cheery wave to the unit, then rushed to the body of the monster. He held a hand out to it and concentrated, then announced that he had a sense of where it came from – one of the mines a quarter mile up the mountain. Gupta confirmed his guess that it had been formed by Obscurati hold-outs.

    They decided to detour up to the mines before heading to the ritual site – a journey they would need to take on foot as the going was too rough for the cars. As they travelled Brakken said that he was pleased to see them, and said that he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them and the example they had set. Spurred to act with greater bravery, he volunteered for active duty, no longer satisfied with the deskbound role of a diplomat, and was sent by the Ber’s secret service to track down and infiltrate Pemberton’s organisation. But now he saw that the greater enemy was the Obscurati, and had sensed enough of the dragon’s emotions to know that he could be trusted as an ally. Unable to contact the Bruse, he had decided to act on his own initiative and work to defeat the Ob by revealing himself to Pemberton and coming up with a plan. “It felt a bit desperate and risky. But now that you’re here, I think our idea might work,” he said.

    End of Session

  7. #957
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 203, Part One - Needlewire Parley



    On the way up to the mine, Brakken warned them that they were being followed. After concentrating for a moment, he said that he did not think the minds he had sensed were fully human, nor were they animalistic. Whenever they slowed, their pursuers did likewise; when they stopped (like now) they stopped – always remaining at a distance that was just beyond the range for Brakken to get a full ‘read’ on them. Brakken suggested that the others go on ahead. He would wait here, invisible, and would identify them when they approached.

    The unit acquiesced to his plan, and pressed on with only Pardo for company. They reached the entrance to the mine and Uriel examined it. A large group of people – perhaps two dozen or more – had entered and not come out. Korrigan strode in, planning to challenge the occupants openly, only to discover their dead bodies in a cave not far from the exit. They lay still and peaceful, as if taken in sleep. Uriel was about to use location loresight, when a noise disturbed him. A nervous, mousy woman approached from another passageway. She was dressed in the garb of a genteel explorer – high boots and tweed, but she was very dishevelled: spectacles broken; dark stains around her mouth and on her fingers.

    They reassured her that they meant no harm, and on demand she gave her name: Cosette Arianne. At once, she begged them for food and water, and to get them away from all of her dead friends. While they moved to grant her initial request, she offered to take them up to the ‘ritual site’. Uriel read her thoughts while she talked and found that they were warded by a magical ring. But Quratulain’s methods were deductive, and she recognised the speech-patterns of ‘Cosette’. The Humble Hook, too, recognised the spirit of its old master. This was Nicodemus!

    Able to communicate without speaking, they relayed this information to the others. Gupta took out and began to play with Nic’s old Ob ring. He noticed the gesture and gave up trying to parley his way out of the cave. Instead, he asked for Leaf of Nicodemus. One of Rumdoom’s entourage obliged.

    Nicodemus remained courteous, but was subtly more on edge than the last time the party met him. He lamented the death of his agents and his own inability to protect them. And he asked the unit how they managed to sabotage the ritual. When they denied their involvement he said that they knew the saboteur’s orders came from Risur: powerful divinations had confirmed as much. He assured them that if they’d only cooperated with him, the ritual would have been safely completed, and the world would still have a sun, for one thing!

    They didn’t let him have it all his own way. Both Uriel and Korrigan frequently challenged his assumptions, exposed his hypocrisy, and promised to continue their efforts to thwart him. For his part, Nicodemus promised that the Obscurati would try again, and this time they wouldn’t allow any resistance. Even after five hundred years, he had still hoped a relatively gentle hand could guide people to the right path, but now he would have to take more forceful measures. “Fortunately, Risur is the only nation holding out against me. The leaders of every other civilised nation are already en route to attend our Forward Symposium. There, we will rally them against you! Perhaps the ensuing war, while tragic, will help cement the bonds forming now between the obedient nations of the world. Thank you for dealing with the threat of She Who Writhes, by the way. It will be much easier to conquer Risur now. Can I ask you to do the decent thing and ensure this woman survives?” Then he stubbed out his cigarette and vacated her body.

    They grilled Cosette, having removed her magic ring to allow her mind to be checked for discrepancies. She asked them to let her keep it, as it was her mother’s. It was this ring that had saved her from joining the others. She went on to describe the formation of a hivemind: When reinforcements did not come, many days after the accident at the site, and the invasion of the gnolls, the other Ob agents began to act strangely, often speaking at the same time with the same sentences, or eerily completing each other’s thoughts. Eventually, the hivemind fully manifested, and the thoughtform fled the mines leaving Cosette alone with dozens of catatonic companions. In the intervening weeks Cosette resorted to cannibalism, too afraid to leave the caves. Desperate and fearful, when she heard ‘foreign voices’ she used a supply of needlewire she had found on one of the senior officers, knowing that it somehow connected them with the ‘high-ups’.

    Her main duties had been back at the fort; she had no knowledge of the ritual site. “Don’t worry, we do,” sniggered Pardo. They took her back to the roadcars.

    On the way back, Brakken spoke with them telepathically and said that he had made contact with their cautious followers. It was a group of deep faen who said they wanted to speak with ‘the frozen dwarf’ – Rumdoom. It turned out that they were formed variously of the deep faen tribes-people who inhabited the Yerasol Peninsula, and those from the jungles of Elfaivar who had followed the colossus here, and joined up with Rumdoom back in Methia (until they reached the sea and parted company). They were all very happy to see Wuzwaz, their shaman, who had joined Rumdoom’s entourage. When they had calmed down, and stopped dancing around, he interpreted their words: Uru (‘the Fading One’) had got them started on this quest, and Rumdoom (‘the Avatar of the End’) had encouraged them further and now they sought approval for their success: They had made contact with forces inimical to the Ob, and joined them in sabotaging the ritual at the heart of the island. How did they do that? They blew it up! Some of the native islanders laughed at this, and flicked out white tongues. Pardo confirmed that this was consistent with their findings, but expressed surprise that they had been able to invoke such power. Then the deep faen told them that the whole attack had been coordinated by a witch called Jenny Greenteeth. Korrigan was alarmed, and sought answers as to her current whereabouts, but he deep faen did not know. She was no longer on the island. She and her allies had infiltrated the Ob, and had ‘channeled the might of the great serpent’ into several huge explosions. They were very pleased to have seen the back of the sun, and much preferred things the way they were now. Rumdoom thanked them for their ‘help’, and gave them a second mission: to hamper the Ob at every turn, should they return to claim the island. The agreed enthusiastically and scampered off to comply.

    Back at the roadway, they sent Cosette back to the fort with the rest of the gnolls, giving them strict instructions not to eat her. They also contacted Harkover to inform him that the Ob already knew that She Who Writhes had been removed. Then, with Pemberton, Pardo and Brakken they drove the rest of the way to the ritual site.
    Last edited by gideonpepys; Thursday, 8th November, 2018 at 01:53 PM.
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  8. #958
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom

    Session 203, Part Two - Founding the Rebellion

    Unharnessed energy pulsed through the atmosphere long before it could be seen. It was disorienting, almost nauseating. The mountainous, forested terrain meant that, until they entered the central valley, they could only see the cause at the very last moment: tendrils and arcs of planar energy trailing high into the air, from the centre of a dry lake bed. Half a mile away they could see the broken form of Borne, pinned under a vast golden disc – hundreds of feet wide, and dozens of feet thick. The Axis Seal.

    Pemberton halted the roadcars at the lakes edge and they disembarked to investigate. Uriel strode out onto the lake as far as he could safely do so, until static energy caused his shock of white hair to writhe, and – following an instinct by which he understood what he needed to do – entered a kind of communion with the site. His principal concern was to learn if this ritual could be repeated.

    Before doing so Uriel had asked Gupta if she could focus her mind on the site, but she was evidently dealing with a personal crisis of sorts. She sat slumped in the car, staring at the broken golem, watching the deadly planar arcs trace patterns across it. Back in Methia she had learned that the souls of her family had been drawn into the golem when it had crushed their home. What had happened to them now? Uriel would have to handle the esoteric matters alone.

    What he later told the group was this:

    The ritual actually involved the entire island, but it was centered on the Axis Seal – a hundred-foot diameter disk of gold. That seal lay atop bedrock, the centre of which was a twenty-foot diameter hemispherical depression, ten feet deep. It was from this depression that intense blasts of energy from across the multiverse now flared out. If the seal were properly fixed atop this bedrock, it would focus that energy and create a sun.

    Around that depression, carvings of primitive orcish runes formed seven rings, each ten feet farther out. Spaced somewhat irregularly around these rings were vertical pits. The rings represented, in order outward:

    • The plane of fire.
    • The plane of air.
    • The world itself, which had no pit, but was surrounded by a smaller ring that did, representing the plane of life.
    • The plane of water.
    • The plane of earth.
    • The plane of space, which was surrounded by a smaller ring that had its own pit, representing the plane of time.
    • The plane of death.

    Each pit was about five feet in diameter and contained the fifty foot long white stone shaft of a petrified tree. Halfway down that shaft, a small alcove held a golden icon that represents a particular plane – those icons were marked with symbols representing a constellation associated with each plane, and were enchanted with powers linked to that plane’s energy.

    (The Ob had bent the rules a bit, and in the alcove of the shaft for the plane of space they shoved a second small icon representing Baden, the ghost moon with a Flight trait.)

    Uriel also established that it was not possible to get close enough to the ritual to actually interact with it and even long-distance magical attempts to use telekinesis or scrying were dangerous, acting as a conduit that would channel the destructive energy from the seal directly into the caster if he or she maintained the spell for more than a minute or so.

    Most importantly, however, the answer to his primary question was, yes – the ritual could be redone, in theory.

    Meanwhile, the others focused on a cluster of bunkers to the right of the roadway which had all been ripped apart from within. Hidden among the rubble of the bunker by the road, they found that the burn marks from the explosion had a strange arcane pattern, one which they recognised. It didn’t take long for them to confirm that, yes, the power of the explosion was provided by the Voice of Rot, who transmuted the flames to not just burn flesh, but to consume life force and dispel magical defences.

    Pemberton let them look at the site for themselves, then he began to talk about what he and Brakken had in mind: “ A new conspiracy, one to fight against the Ob now they’ve stepped out into the open. You may want to teleport back to Risur to bring in other allies, but for now I think we should keep the foundations of our conspiracy as secret as possible. Only me, Brakken, Pardo, and you.”

    Brakken stepped in to emphasise how firm global support for the Obscurati’s seemed to be. “Most people are just naturally loyal to them, and only a few who had dealt with the group before were able to resist being so swayed. Risur is, simply put, outnumbered. A direct fight won’t succeed.”

    “We have to work,” Pemberton says, “like a conspiracy. Our mission is to figure out how the Ob pulled it off, and then put it back on. That might not be the right metaphor, but nevermind. They’re sucking the life and fun out of the chaotic mess I liked living in. I don’t want to turn into a cog in their machine, but they basically rule the world now. Fortunately for us, I have experience with fighting authority and concealing my intentions. We have to be discreet, be brilliant, and then be gone before they catch us.”

    Pardo interjected: “Given the name of the Obscurati, if we’re opposed to them, I think we should call ourselves the Illuminati.” (Great minds think alike!) Pemberton scoffed, then asked Pardo to explain what they learned from ‘that dying mage’. Pardo said they were able to interrogate a mage who survived, and learned that the original plans for the ritual were stored in a vault somewhere in Alais Primos, the capital of Crisillyir. The mage then died of his injuries. Uriel, whose communion with the site was over, asked to be shown to the man’s body, to converse with his spirit, if possible. Pardo shifted somewhat uneasily and confessed to having eaten it. “I didn’t realise it would come in handy,” he said.

    “This is really where we need your help,” said Pemberton. “If we want to redo the ritual themselves and fix the world, someone needs to break into that vault. The specific incantation to perform the ritual would need to be recovered.”

    Uriel then revealed that the larger hurdle would be that of the golden icons: each infused golden with energy from a specific world. This spirit of Toteth Topec had already said that the orcs travelled to other worlds in order to attune the icons with them. Pardo nodded in agreement: this is where the gnolls had come unstuck. The Obscurati had used an eldritch telescope on this island to aim at planes. But now the night sky was starless. Even if Pemberton Industries could create a colossus of its own – a machine strong enough to withstand the energy coming out of the open seal – it would be useless without the appropriate icons. And they didn’t know how to get those. (The unit already had the Golden Icons of Apet, Avilona, Nem, and Urim, and the island already had an icon of Jiese. But Av, Mavisha, and Reida’s icons were unaccounted for.) Kai tugged at his father’s coat-sleeve and said, “That’s why we need to go up there.” He pointed into the sky, towards the Gyre.

    Brakken then revealed another part of their plan: not getting caught and killed. He reiterated that the Obscurati was now no longer hidden. In Crisillyir, Danor, Drakr, and even the states of the Malice Lands, the Obscurati openly worked side-by-side with the local governments to establish new laws set forth by the Ob’s leadership. Most governments seemed to be cooperating with the Obscurati, and Nicodemus had called a conference in a few weeks in the Danoran capital of Cherage to decide the future of the world.

    Brakken’s plan was to infiltrate the conference, learn the Ob’s plans, and possibly delay hostile actions against Risur, Pemberton, and anyone else involved in this rebellion. Pemberton lamented that the Obscurati had caught on to his use of duplicants, so that option was off the table.

    Attacking the conference was mooted, but Pemberton and Brakken both warned against that. Trying to stop ‘an open discourse’ would make it easier for the Ob to paint Risur as enemies. Brakken thought it might be better to work to dissuade other nations from hostility.

    Up to the point when the unit arrived, Brakken had been planning to go to the conference as a diplomat from Ber, ‘with Pemberton as my only passenger’. Now he hoped they would all agree to come along. Since the Great Eclipse, Brakken had expanded his psionic abilities. Among other things, he had found that he could now form a minor ‘gestalt consciousness’ with other willing creatures. While others inhabited his mind, Brakken could even channel their abilities and skills as an extension of himself. Brakken was confident he could house several minds in his body, effectively allowing members of the unit to accompany him to conference, along with Pemberton. Brakken assured them that there was no sharing of actual thoughts; people had to intentionally communicate within the gestalt, so it wasn’t like anyone was going to be controlling anyone else’s mind, much less reading them. (Although he could do that too, of course, even without gestalt.)

    Pemberton summed things up: First they would focus on infiltrating the Forward Symposium and hopefully get information to help this new conspiracy avoid being tracked down by the Ob. Second they would need to retrieve the details of the Axis Seal Ritual from Alais Primos. Third, they would need to find a way to relink the lost planes, or to find new planes to link to. Fourth would be redoing the ritual. Somewhere in there, they needed to figure out how to destroy the Obscurati and Nicodemus himself once and for all.

    While they talked, Rumdoom’s entourage had carried on poking around in the rubble, and were able to find something the gnolls had missed. They called the others over to look at it, and when they saw the intricately made duplicant (a more refinement of Pemberton’s duplicant technology) Uriel immediately put two-and-two together and recognised the lingering presence had had felt hiding from him (rendered difficult to perceive by the crackling ambient energy). In a stern, commanding voice, he called out, “Xambria! Come here.”

    Xambria was compelled to do so – Uriel had mastery over all disembodied entities, be they psychic or spiritual, but she may have done so anyway, desperate to leave this lonely place: “A lot of good people died here,” she said sadly.

    There ensued a halting conversation, difficult and full of disappointment. Xambria was keen to stress her regret at the way things had turned out back on Mutravir. She did not want to harm her friends, and had hoped that they would be persuaded of the Ob’s cause, given time. Time in captivity, yes, but better that than forestalling the next step in the evolution of mankind out of sheer superstition or ignorance.

    Concerned, Uriel asked if she still agreed with what the Ob had done here. Xambria answered, without wavering: “Yes.”

    He had to admire her for that, but her stubborn response – her refusal to give him anything he could work with, even under these circumstances – stirred something like anger in him. He threatened to leave her, bound to the ritual site, then relented. Perhaps it was the years she spent bound to Malthusius that caused him to sympathise, but he could not bring himself to give up on her. She had been through so much – lost her own body; lost Malthsuius; lost Conquo. Uriel felt that he ought to give her one last chance and so he resisted Gupta’s suggestion that she wipe Xambria’s mind completely and insisted he be allowed to take her into custody (where he hoped to talk her round). Korrigan extracted his promise that she would not, could not escape. Uriel confirmed this, and bound her psyche to the head of the duplicant she once inhabited, before pulling it off to take with them.

    They were suddenly interrupted by the sounding of a car horn. Sitting in one of the road-cars was El Extraño. “I am here to save you, despite this dragon’s attempt to conquer my Homeland,” he said. “We, of course, defeated our overlords long before you even considered defeating this Obscurati. The noble line of El Extraño can keep a secret, and just like the enlightened people of Ber, we shall cooperate with those who are unlike us, no matter their flaws.”

    The kobold pointed at Pemberton and snapped, “Do not interrupt! My operatives traversed the ocean by hiding inside of undead whales, which your kraken could not detect. I am amazed you did not consider this option. They then spread across northern Lanjyr and have reported to me critical intelligence. They have already prepared a location near this Forward Symposium where you will be able to hide. It is large enough.”

    Again he pointed at Pemberton, his face severe, and cut the man off just as he was about to speak. “Failed usurpers will hold their tongue! The Obscurati have placed a divination beacon that disrupts information in a factory complex in Cherage, where they are slowly constructing a second colossus. My people discovered it by granting hivemind consciousness to the rats of the city and establishing two competing spy guilds, which we reward with pepper cheese. These rats have excellent taste. We regrettably have not refined their fashion sense. Without being detected they have inscribed the names of Pemberton and Brakken into the beacon’s stone obelisk. Even as we speak, they are adding the names of the Risuri constables known collectively as ‘the Unit’. Now you shall be protected by the same anti-divination wards the Obscruati ringbearers had. Their preparations for the symposium will likely keep them from detecting our sabotage, but do not rely on it in the long term. My eyes will handle the mundanities of your mission to this symposium, and will report any information they discover in the city.”

    El Extraño glared at Pemberton and twitched the scaled tendrils of his moustache. “You will want to remove the pyrotechnics I hid inside your bedchamber. That was not an assassination attempt. I had a better surprise appearance planned, but I had to abandon it because a fleet of Danorans is about to attack the island, and it is in our mutual interest for you to evacuate at once. You should get to the fortress now, but not to defend it. The facility was never designed to resist an attack with the current nature of magic.”

    He threw leather bag out of the car, to land at their feet, then shifted the vehicle into gear and drove off. “Do not be impressed,” he called over the roar of the engine, as he drove away into the jungle.

    Now they were one car short for their journey back, but looking inside the bag they discovered that El Extraño had left them with teleportation scrolls.

    “We should all just retire and leave the Ob to him,” said Korrigan.

    DM's Note: Apologies to the original author of 99% of the above. I use the text of the original adventure in my session reports when our campaign doesn't diverge much, or when there is a lot of exposition. When I post here, all I'm doing is reposting those reports, which I write so my players have an ongoing record of this very complex campaign. There are a few additions here - most notably Xambria's reappearance - but not many.

    On Xambria: She joined our party for a time (many years, in fact), but became enamored of the Ob on Mutravir and exposed the unit, hoping to capture and persuade them. Things did not go according to plan. Left behind with the Ghost Council, I figured the Ob would soon realise she was an asset. As an expert on all things Ancient, and inhabiting a mechanical body that might better resist the energies of the Axis Seal, I thought now would be an appropriate and fun moment to reintroduce her - not as a 'monster' to be fought, but as a defeated foe, for them to make a moral decision over.
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  9. #959
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Decatur, GA
    Dude, you've got the saddest Xambria.
    XP gideonpepys gave XP for this post

  10. #960
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Quote Originally Posted by RangerWickett View Post
    Dude, you've got the saddest Xambria.
    I know! Xambria’s arc has been a poignant one for us. I love having antagonists who are well-meaning, selfless and reasonable. So thanks for that.

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