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Barsoom Tales II: Romance, Revolution and BLOODY REVENGE!!! -- COMPLETE

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 18

Arrafin screamed for the second time in twenty minutes.

Elena's death had stunned the young Naridic girl and she'd had no time to process the terrible demise of her best friend when they began the tremendous ritual of restoring the soul of the Blood Mother.

She watched in renewed awe as Yuek Man Chong, the Demon Goddess, the most powerful being in Barsoom, her lover, worked the raw deadliness of Shadow with an ease and strength Arrafin knew no mortal could possess. Even the explanations of the ritual had left Arrafin uncomprehending. Madame Yuek's mind was capable of operations Arrafin could not conceive of, and worked with a will and an unyeilding rigidity that frankly terrified the girl. As Shadow's relentless power fountained out of the goddess (no other word could describe what she was seeing) standing before her, Arrafin scrambled to recall her tiny part in the whole affair.

"We have to drop the Thadorik points in a staggered sequence, hold them temporarily while we assign the link to the next shard, then restore the points and make sure the link's embedded. It may take a couple of tries, but I think it's the best way. Finally we have to generate a matrix into which we can insert the linked shards. Collapse the matrix and we'll have a soul."

It was impossible, but Arrafin managed to find the portion of the swirling, roiling sorcery that required her attention and began the calculations that would bend that energy to her will. Working within the mammoth power of her lover was like standing beneath a dark and threatening sky, but a sky she knew would never allow any harm to come to her.

The shards drifted together, nudged in a metaphysical matrix by the currents of Shadow until they began to align, revealing patterns and complexities Arrafin had no sight of before as they began to arrange themselves in shifting arrays. Arrafin tried not to be awed by the experience, tried to keep her focus on the job at hand.

Gral helped, as terrified as the little owl was at the earth-shattering energies whirling around them. He pulled her back on task whenever her concentration threatened to waver, and his love and constant devotion beside her kept her from getting so scared she couldn't function.

It was like designing and assembling a great temple, watching all the blocks fit together and the craftsmen labour in their thousands, but this temple was a living person, a soul with all the infinite richness and complexity of a real person, and changing, fluctuating all the time. As Arrafin got more used to what was happened, she became fascinated by the process and lost her fear. She realised she could FEEL the soul, as though she had met this person before. The sensation was so strong she laughed, delighted as though greeting an old friend.

And then the Shadow pulled away, sucked back into the towering potency of the Demon Goddess, and Arrafin had just a sense of how Farouk had described her.

"A gate. A great pillar of Shadow, a raging wind of darkness, a hollow hunger wide enough to swallow all of Barsoom."

But there was an old woman standing there, a Tianese woman who face Madame Yuek with a look so fond and loving Arrafin was startled by a rush of jealousy, especially when the elderly lady put her hand on Yuek's cheek and spoke in Tianese.

"My love. I knew you would bring me back. And I am sorry."

Arrafin wanted to speak then, she wanted to scream as a sudden realisation struck her -- that this had all been planned, planned by the Blood Council. Planned somehow to destroy the woman she loved.

But she had no chance to speak. The world exploded around her in a sudden blast of electric green flame and her lover snapped backwards across the pagoda's floor, slamming into a pillar hard enough to shake the entire structure around them. The bizarre green tongue of flame buzzed and crackled beside her and with stunned eyes she watched the old Tianese woman produce a knife and advance on where Madame Yuek lay pinned and writhing in agony.

Arrafin screamed and started after the old woman, no idea what she was going to do, just be there and stop it stop it stop--

Shang appeared in an explosion of Shadow, cackling and pointing and at that moment Arrafin understood everything that had just happened. The depth of the trap and the betrayal that the Demon Goddess had just fallen into.

And it was all Matai Shang's fault.

Isaac stood just in front of the old bastard's bizarre arachnid construction, still stunned and unable to process what was happening. Arrafin shrieked over the deafening cacophony already filling the air inside the pagoda.

"Isaac! Stop him!"

She hurled her newly heavy satchel towards her friend. It didn't fly very far, but on the polished marble of the pagoda floor it slid effortlessly across to crash right into the myriad legs of Shang's weird contraption. The Naridic girl pointed and Shadow erupted around her, twisting into wild arabesques for a second before sucking back into the ground.

And the bag heaved, twitched and erupted.

Isaac backed away from Shang, stumbling in his haste to get out of the range of those metal legs, but he stopped suddenly in confusion as Arrafin's satchel ripped open.

And out came dozens of tiny figures made up out of bundles of twigs. Moving quickly, if stiffly, the figures immediately began clambering into Shang's mechanism, stuffing themselves into gears and hinges and pulleys. Twigs snapped and metal squealed, and suddenly Matai Shang looked a lot less happy.

"I don't believe it."

Without wasting any more time, Isaac leaped at the ancient sorcerer and aimed as heavy a blow as he could muster with his enchanted blade, Magreb.

*****

Etienne rushed over to the two Blood Council women. Kimiko Torokan stood braced, the emerald-tipped staff in her hands, her face tense with concentration as she did whatever she was doing to keep the Demon Goddess screaming like that.

The other, older woman, the one they'd rescued in Luc'Davarionne, stepped up to block the Kishak youth.

"Don't, boy. Don't even think about it or I will turn you inside out."

Etienne swore.

"Do you not see MATAI SHANG standing right there? He's going to kill every last one of us. You have to do something!"

"This is bigger than you. Keep out of it."

"Okay, that's it."

Etienne punched the elderly Lohanese woman in the face.

*****

Nevid drew back behind a pillar, his mind numb with terror, when Shang appeared. He tried to remember the calculations in the spellbook that he'd borrowed from the Demon Goddess' bookshelf, but his mind stammered and shook and he knew it needed to be precise. Relaxed.

With a gasp, Nevid drew a deep breath into his lungs, and stepped out onto the pagoda floor. Matai Shang's contraption appeared to be spasming and jerking and Isaac stood amidst the steel limbs, just winding up for a heavy wood-cutting stroke on the ugly man seated before him.

Somehow, the sight settled Nevid's mind and he stared as everything seemed to slow down. His heartbeat stilled and between one contraction and the next, something inside him opened and to his horror, Nevid felt the dark terrifying kiss of Shadow rise up inside himself. Tendrils of inky blackness spun out around the Saijadani youth as he attempted the most complex calculations he'd ever come across.

*****

The bag cast at Shang, the spell cast, Arrafin forgot all about him and her friends. She threw herself after the old Tianese woman, pushing aside screaming civilians as she tried frantically to interrupt the Blood Mother's murderous advance on the Demon Goddess. As she slowly gained ground on the old woman, Arrafin realised her quarry was singing.

"Exalted! Exalted in Bliss!
Ye who know the Goddess,
the Supremely Blissful One."


"What is wrong with you?"

At last Arrafin managed to grab hold of Tsin Kwan's robe and yanked the old woman backwards. The Blood Mother looked around in shocked dismay.

Arrafin managed to position herself between her still-screaming, writhing lover and the knife-weilding Blood Mother.

"No. No. She's changed. She's. No!"

The old woman smiled with crinkly eyes and a kindly grandmother's air.

"So thought I, once. But she cannot change, child. I love her, too, and this I do out of love. It is for the best. The Goddess must die."

"No!"

Arrafin lunged forward and the two women struggled, even as just behind them, the object of their dispute thrashed and shrieked, helpless as the emerald flame poured into her. Shadow rippled off her in all directions, slashing great gouges in the stone and blowing apart pillars. The whole structure began to shiver above everyone, adding its shrill tearing noises over the ongoing screams and terror filling the air.

*****

Kimiko Torokan hung on. This moment. This was all that mattered. Delivering the world from the greatest terror it had ever faced. The Demon Goddess fought and screamed, but Shang's weapon worked as he promised it would, tearing away at the layers of sorcery that had bound the insane young girl for so many centuries, ripping at the very fabric of her existence.

She was unaware of Shang's presence, unaware that Etienne stood pleading only a few steps away, aware of nothing but the titanic forces battling over the Demon Goddess.

More came away. Enormous tracts of the vampire's power ripped from her, until there was almost nothing left. The gate within her narrowed, collapsing in on itself. The hollow shrank to a point, impossibly small, only just barely holding itself in existence. Torokan poured on the power, determined.

This moment.

*****

Isaac lifted Magreb up high. She seemed eager, hungry in his hands, and with the loudest, bravest yell he could manage, Isaac whirled the blade downwards, fully expecting the weapon to simply bounce of some sorcerous protection.

But instead, the steel slammed into the old man's chest like a cleaver into a joint of beef, snapping bone and and spraying blood with a hiss of gore.

Matai Shang screamed, and only then did Isaac realise the Lohanese sorcerer had brought an entourage; half-a-dozen yammering sycophants scrambled towards him from all sides. Isaac made no effort to flee. Instead he wrenched on the sword, roaring in triumph as the blade tore and ripped deeper wounds in his ancient foe's body. Blood and organs spilled across the polished metal of the spidery chariot.

Shang was dying. A twisted arm reached up and the old man snarled, blood frothing on his lips, and Isaac felt that hair-raising sense of Shadow erupting around him. A very great deal of Shadow.

"Oh, right. Sorcerer. Crap."

*****

Nevid took one more breath. He'd raised both hands in front of himself, reaching towards Matai Shang, but without conscious intent. Only his will acted of its own accord, compelling his mind to run in exact and sophisticated patterns that conducted the Shadow around him in just the right structures.

What had not been became. What was evaporated. And Nevid's will ruled all.

He reached out towards Matai Shang with his will, found the great burgeoning eruption of Shadow the Lohanese sorcerer had pulled into existence, and yanked on it.

It came.

*****

Isaac didn't worry about why nothing had happened. He just swung again. And again and again and again, chopping Matai Shang into grotesque pieces as he hacked in a wild frenzy.

*****

To Arrafin's surprise, Tsin Kwan fell backwards. There was a nasty crack as she hit the floor, and the old woman arched in pain, slashing out wildly with her knife.

"You don't understand! There is no other way!"

Arrafin jumped backwards, ignoring the frenzied woman and turning to face her screaming, convulsing lover.

Who collapsed as the emerald power suddenly winked out. Arrafin ran towards the slumping figure.

"Man Chong!"

She ran right into somebody who hadn't been there a second ago. Someone tall and dark and... very very handsome.

"Farouk! You have to help us! Elena's dead! Help us!"

"No."

"What?"

The impossibly heroic man backhanded Arrafin across the face and the girl sprawled backwards to crash down next to Tsin Kwan. Both women stared as Farouk tenderly lifted the stunned and helpless Yuek Man Chong.

Without a word or backward glance, he set out for the exit to the city. With a Demon Goddess over his shoulder.

*****

For just a second, not even a heartbeat, Nevid understood power. He held within him not only the reckless amount of Shadow that he himself had called up, but all that Matai Shang had just planned to make use of.

For the briefest moment, Nevid's soul soared on a column of dark energy so vast he could see all of Barsooom spread out beneath him.

And then something slipped. His mind lost track of a value, he forgot the next step in the iteration, he stuttered.

Where Nevid had once been, there only dust.
 

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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 19

The old woman was tougher than she looked.

Blood Sister Morikage reeled back from Etienne's punch, but one elderly hand shot out and a nimbus of dark power erupted around her fist, blasting forward at the half-Kishak just as he was wincing at having punched a sweet little old lady.

The sweet little old lady's sorcery knocked the young man backwards, tearing a gaping wound in his side and knocking him flat. Etienne bellowed obscenities and clutched at the blood gushing from him. He tried to get to his knees, gritting his teeth at the pain and swearing constantly.

"You f**king bitch. I'll f**king kill you."

Torokan looked back and forth between Etienne and the rapidly-getting-away form of Farouk ibn Zaoud, running out of the pagoda with Madame Yuek over one shoulder. She yelled at the OTHER old woman, Blood Mother Tsin Kwan, who was just getting to her feet in the middle of the pagoda.

Etienne slipped in the pool of blood at his feet, but he managed to stand up. Morikage shook her head.

"You're tough, young man. I'll give you that."

She held up both hands, and this time black radiance surrounded both of them.

*****

"Hey! I killed him! Matai Shang! I just killed Matai Shang! Guys! Guys?"

Nobody appeared at all interested in Isaac's triumph over their hated enemy. He frowned at the chaotic scene before him.

To his left, Etienne appeared badly injured, and about to be killed by Blood Council magic. Directly in front of him, Arrafin and another Blood Council woman were scrambling to their feet in the midst of still-screaming civilians, both staring after a tall, dark, handsome form running away with what appeared to be a woman slung over his shoulder. There was no sign of Nevid, but that didn't really surprise Isaac.

He shrugged.

"Alright, new plan. Kill every Lohanese bitch in the room."

He drew both of his pistols and fired one at the sweet little old lady in front of Etienne, and the other at the old woman standing over Arrafin. Neither appeared at all disquieted by pistol balls blasting by their heads.

Isaac scowled.

"Alright, new new plan."

Shang's minions clambered around him, reaching out for the torn and bloody corpse of their beloved master, paying no attention to Isaac. He drew the sword Magreb and jumped down from Shang's mechanical chariot-thing and stood looking back and forth between the old women, trying to decide which needed killing first.

"That's enough planning for one s**tstorm."

*****

"No! Leave her alone!"

Arrafin ignored Tsin Kwan and scrambled to her feet. Tears poured down the young girl's cheeks as she cried out for her stunned and suddenly kidnapped lover.

Her cries rose in volume, become a guttural roar, and the Blood Council woman beside her leapt back as waves of black radiance exploded around the Naridic girl. Arrafin's eyes went black and inky threads wound through her hair and her skin as she screamed and thrust a hand out at the retreating genie.

The marble floor at Arrafin's feet shattered and blasted upwards in a shower of chunks, fragments and dust, and like the sudden furrow of a massive plow, the explosion raced across the pagoda floor straight at Farouk, knocking him into the air. The spirit struggled to stay upright but stumbled and the beautiful woman sprawled from his grasp.

Madame Yuek sat up, dazed.

"What the f**k is going on?"

Arrafin shrieked and ran, but before she could get there, Faruok had recovered and snatched the woman's hand, yanking her towards him. She saw Arrafin and clawed, reaching out, screaming the girl's name, but Farouk crushed her in his arms and, limping now, dragged her from the pagoda.

*****

Kimiko Torokan halted in mid-yell. The pagoda overhead was beginning the groan and shiver, and the whole place was obviously about to come down around them all. The Demon Goddess was not yet dead, their primary benefactor had against all odds been taken out of the fight, and her ex-boyfriend was looking really pissed off.

Really pissed off and really close to death. Torokan turned as Morikage began the spell that would tear his heart from his chest.

"Wait!"

The old woman paused, confused, and then jerked, coughed and fell to her knees, with both of Etienne's knives hilt-deep in her torso, blades angled up under her ribs.

Blood Sister Morikage stared up at the younger woman, her eyes fading as she tried to speak. A fleck of blood appeared on her lips and Torokan was suddenly nauseous.

"She was eighty f**king years old, you son-of-a-bitch! What have you done?"

Etienne snarled and yanked his knives free.

"Don't you tell me to stay out of the way again. I'll decide what's too big for me, you conniving bitch."

Torokan swore. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. This was a mess. Morikage died, convulsing. Arrafin unleashed an earthbolt of staggering power, but that spirit was still dragging the Demon Goddess somewhere.

"You don't understand a f**king thing, you dumb street punk."

Etienne didn't even give her a look as he ran straight for Farouk. Torokan staggered, trying to catch her breath. The Blood Mother was closing in on the spirit and the Demon Goddess. This would be over soon.

She hoped.

*****

Uncertain as to exactly what was happening, Isaac trotted to Arrafin, who was reeling from the spell she'd just cast. He took her around the shoulders.

"Arrafin? What's going on? Shang is dead, what are you doing?"

"Isaac!"

"And what the heck is Farouk doing-- hey! Isn't that whatsernuts? Madame--"

Arrafin pulled herself from him and pointed at the old woman with a knife, who was just catching up with Farouk.

"Isaac! She's going to kill her! Stop her!"

It all came together for Isaac at that moment. The Blood Council were trying to kill the Demon Goddess. That old woman evidently had a plan, and if he stood by, the ancient insane evil that had bewitched his dear friend would come to an end. Arrafin would be like she used to be, sweet and thoughtful and kind. Right from the start she'd been the nice one, the one everyone liked. She'd been the reason the whole group had stuck together. Because of Arrafin they'd gone to Al-Tizim. Because of Arrafin they'd gone to Shaer. He remembered when she learned of her brother's death.

He remembered that night on the beach in Salejo, when she'd walked off alone into the darkness and none of them had thought to stop her. Maybe it had started then. Maybe she'd gone to meet her new love further down the sands.

He looked down at the distraught, tear-streaked face pleading with him and he knew the Arrafin he remembered was never coming back. Whatever had happened to her, whatever that vampire had done to her, it was done now. And she loved Madame Yuek.

Isaac took his cigar out of his belt and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed grimly and drew his sword.

"Alright. I'll stop her."

*****

Had Etienne been paying more attention, he might have noticed ribbons of blackness looping around the Blood Mother, sinking into her crimson kimono as she strode towards Farouk and the Demon Goddess. But had he been paying more attention, he might have wondered just how many old women he was going to kill today.

His blades dripped blood as he ran in a half-crouch, cutting diagonally across the pagoda floor to intercept the Blood Mother before she reached Farouk and his struggling, shrieking burden. He lifted one knife high over his head, the other at his waist, and spun, kicking out low as both weapons licked across the woman's body.

Both weapons bounced off her thick brocade kimono and she slashed at him as she passed by. Only Etienne' quick reflexes and well-honed sense of self-preservation kept the woman's blade from slicing open his throat, and even as it was he took a deep cut in his shoulder.

The half-Kishak swore and dropped both knives, fell to his knees and clutched at the two wounds he now bore. He looked up as both Isaac and Arrafin rushed past him.

"Go get her. I'll be fine here."

*****

The old woman was tougher than she looked.

As Tsin Kwan caught up with the limping, stumbling, struggling Farouk ibn Zaoud (who was actually starting to show some annoyance at the furious, obscenity-laden struggles of his kidnappee), just as he was leaping down to the grassy lawn in front of the pagoda, she ducked under his wild, half-blinded swing, and slammed her little knife into his side.

Colour and shrieking madness erupted around them, and Farouk seemed to suddenly transform into a thousand shapes at once, twisting and dissolving in front of them all as the old woman howled and kept both hands on the hilt of her blade, shouting in Tianese. Arrafin recognized some of the words as a sort of incantation, a command upon the spirit. Isaac and Arrafin halted, stunned by the frenzied spectacle in front of them.

As Tsin Kwan finished her incantation, the wild prismatic fury around her sucked in on itself and what had been Farouk seemed to suddenly slurp up into the knife she held, and Madame Yuek fell to the grass, still cursing and struggling.

She got to her knees, her hair wild and unkempt, her outfit torn to shreds and her now-mortal skin bruised and bleeding all over. The Demon Goddess looked like hell.

Tsin Kwan smiled down at the disheveled, but still beautiful young woman before her and raised her knife. She spoke, slowly enough for Arrafin to understand.

"I love you, Goddess. Now our souls are joined. Now I can sever you from the Living World, Goddess. Be at peace."

The knife plunged downwards. Arrafin's scream was not enough to stop it.

But Isaac's sword was. He leapt down at the two women and wound up over his head, swinging the blade in a flat descending circle to hammer into Tsin Kwan's side at waist level.

He cut her in half. There was a flash that Arrafin recognized as sorcerous protections getting blown away, and then the magical blade ripped through crimson silk and flesh, snapping her spine with an audible crack before bursting out the other side. The Blood Mother sprayed organs and gore in all directions as her bisected corpse collapsed.

Madame Yuek wiped unidentifiable gobbets of flesh from her face and looked up at the Saijadani.

"Even for me that was kind of f**ked up. But I thank you."

Isaac found he was panting, exhausted. Wild-eyed, he watched as Arrafin leapt to the grass and threw herself at the blood-covered Madame Yuek. The two women embraced tearfully. Isaac staggered over to Etienne and helped the younger man stand up.

"Well, that's over, I guess."

"Guess again."

They turned to see Kimiko Torokan standing in the middle of the pagoda floor. The high structure was swaying noticeably, and a constant rain of debris and beams told of impending collapse. The civilians and Shang's minions had all run from the building, leaving her alone, surrounded by half-a-dozen corpses. She held the emerald-tipped staff in one hand.

"The Demon Goddess must die. Stand aside, Arrafin, or share her fate."

"No!"

Arrafin stood up, fists balled at her side. Righteous fury galvanized her.

"Look at her, Torokan. She's mortal now. She's not a goddess. She's not a vampire. You don't have to do this."

"It must be done. Stand aside, Arrafin."

"Never!"

The emerald began to pulse with a malign gleam, and both Etienne and Isaac rushed forward.

Arrafin reached out with one slender hand, and with no sign off effort, called up a wild storm of Shadow around herself. As before, the ground before her erupted and shot forward, blasting into the marble floor of the pagoda, blowing apart a dozen pillars before hurling Blood Sister Torokan into the air.

The kimono-clad body slammed into a massive chunk of marble, twisting sickeningly and then getting hammered back into the ground.

"I think you got h--"

Isaac paused. The entire pagoda collapsed, sending up a massive choking cloud of dust and splinters. The four survivors staggered backwards, watching in horror as where the pagoda had once risen now lay only a disordered heap of stone and timber as high as a two-story building. Somewhere underneath all that lay Blood Sister Torokan.

"Okay, I'm pretty sure you got her."
 
Last edited:


frostrune

First Post
No offense to the other characters but I'm glad Isaac is still kickin. Surprised but glad.

Very dramatic fight. In my experience very seldom does the climatic encounter live up to its billing. If this played out at the table even half as awesome as the text then I am sure the players loved it.

Excitred and sad that the ending is near. Well written Barsoom.

Frostrune
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
That battle (which was actually MORE complex in real life than I was able to present here) is one of my shining moments as a GM. It took two full sessions to play out and everyone was utterly gripped throughout.

Elena's player was actually playing Kimiko Torokan, so I didn't know how that was going to go. I was running Shang and Madame Yuek and Farouk (and there were a couple of other parties that I've left out of this telling). The statblock for the Demon Goddess at the start of the battle was massively intimidating, but to my surprise the Blood Council took her out of the fight immediately (I actually expected them to go after Shang first, but Elena's player had a real hate on for Madame Yuek by this point), so she never got to use any of her earth-shattering abilities (like, for example, the ability to deal 40 points of Constitution damage to everything within 800' as a free action). The emerald staff acted like a Mordenkainen's Disjunction, severing her connection to the Shadow Realm so she A) couldn't use any sorcery, and B) gradually had all her necromantic power stripped away from her until all that was left was her original mortal self.

She's now basically like a 10th-level aristocrat (with perhaps another 10 levels of the Unbelievable Bitch prestige class, but those don't count).
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 20

The dazed little group of survivors -- Etienne, Isaac, Arrafin and Madame Yuek -- staggered away from the ruins of the pagoda, dust still billowing about them in choking clouds. They crossed the well-kept lawn but came to a stumbling halt as Arrafin teetered, pointing.

"Oh, god. Elena."

Their friend's body lay where it had fallen, the back of her head a shattered ruin. Isaac tried not to cough as clouds of dust continued to roll past them. There was nothing to say. Arrafin had turned to bury her face in Madame Yuek's shoulder.

"Oh, Elena."

Etienne cleared his throat.

"Do you think the skull...?"

"No, Etienne, she's dead. It can't bring her soul back. That's gone for-- what is it?"

Arrafin's question was addressed to her lover, who was staring upwards in consideration. Overhead the endless swirling nightmare of souls continued howling and writhing, their remorseless sorrow only held off by the magic of the Blood Council Sanctuary.

"Her soul, darling. It hasn't gone far. It's up there. It's in there somewhere."

The two women exchanged a look.

"That laboratory of Shang's. How far is it?"

Isaac shrugged.

"A few hundred yards, I guess."

Madame Yuek was barely listening. She snapped her fingers at Etienne.

"You. Fill the skull and apply it to her wound. Then bring her with us."

Arrafin tossed the half-Kishak youth the marble skull of Suelekar ben Azan and, grateful for something to do, he rushed over to the nearby pool and filled it.

"Pour it on her. On her head."

Skin knitted together and bone regrew as the back of Elena's head restored itself. Madame Yuek nodded in satisfaction.

"Bring her."

Exchanging an uncertain look, Isaac and Etienne picked up Elena's already-cooling body and followed the two women out into the blasted ruins of Zuyang.

The anguish of the disembodied souls pressed upon them immediately and all of them struggled to keep their minds focused. Isaac stared down at the bare rock swirling with dust before him as he dragged the weight of Elena's body with him. They made their way, leaning against the wind, to the upturned blocks that led down into the relative quiet and calm of Shang's strange laboratory.

The girl still lay there, strange tubes pumping in and out of her body. Madame Yuek took in the scene, quickly appraising the array of technology. The tall woman leaned over the table and tugged experimentally at one of the tubes that fed into the girl's mouth.

Her thin body arced as she screamed and gibbered in agony, frothing and convulsing. Madame Yuek released the tube and the girl collapsed, gasping for breath. Her limbs were skeletal, skin just hanging off her. A fetid smell came from her body and Madame Yuek turned her over to examine the horrid sores that infested her back. Flesh had begun to rot and the stink was horrific.

"That's gangrene. She's only got days to live."

"Should we --"

Isaac couldn't finish the sentence. After all they'd been through, coldly taking this poor girl's life seemed too heartless.

Madame Yuek clamped a hand over the girl's face, braced her other hand on a scrawny shoulder, and twisted.

SNAP

"There."

She set about yanking the tubes free, and shoved the corpse off the table to sprawl on the flagstones.

"What the hell are you--"

"Shut up. Put your friend here."

Arrafin was examining the crystal spheres on the wall. Isaac tried to object, but then Madame Yuek simply grabbed Elena's body and dragged it up onto the table. She ripped the dead woman's clothes off and stabbed the tubes into her skin.

Isaac and Etienne both just stared, but the real grotesqueness had only begun.

Madame Yuek climbed up on the table beside Elena's body, spread her legs and with an expression of concentration, began pushing another set of tubes up into her own crotch. She winced once, then lay back on the table. Catching Isaac's horrified look, she offered a sneer.

"Only a live soul can power the operation. And of course Shang would engineer this to use a woman's. Darling, do you know what to do? I can't do any sorcery now, since those Blood Council bitches..."

Arrafin came over, worried.

"Well, it's a Kereseemar search algorithm, right? I thought I would be able to limit the depth with a Kau Lang assessment, since we know she died today. So the Kau Lang pass first, then for each vertex remaining I can..."

The two women's conversation became immediately incomprehensible to Isaac and Etienne, but quickly enough Arrafin stepped back to the spheres and Madame Yuek lay down on the table and began inserting more tubes into various parts of her face.

Arrafin concentrated. This was much harder than the spells she'd been using earlier, as she was having to make up much of the actual computation on the fly. She drew on Shadow, wobbling a bit as the relentless driving horror of Zuyang pressed in on her, but the cold purity of sorcery allowed her to focus and she sent her senses whirling upwards into the terrible whirlwind of dead souls above them.

Pain.

Unending.

Unceasing.

Pain. So much pain.

Arrafin was unaware of falling to her knees, unaware of Isaac grabbing her and holding her steady, as she filtered through the madness of unliving souls. All doomed by the Demon Goddess, her lover, to an eternal torment here above the city where once she'd ruled as a mad goddess on earth. She could not hear herself groaning as she struggled to proceed with the search for Elena's soul, trapped here with all the others.

Fragments of personality and memory tore at her, terrible visions and horrors pressing upon her as she considered and discarded one after another. Souls. Human souls, once vibrant and alive but now husks of pain and terror. She felt them grasping at her, envious of her life, pulling each one like a little bit more weight on her shoulders as she struggled through the wild maelstrom.

At last. Elena. Her friend, not so overwhelmed as the other souls. Not lost. Still with hope. Arrafin somehow grabbed, or pulled, or implored, or bullied her friend downwards. Down to life. Down. Into a place of safety. A shelter. A prison.

Isaac held his young friend as she reeled and collapsed, and then Arrafin was back and standing, wobbly on her long thin legs but reaching up for one of the spheres, which had gone dark in its core. Something swirled.

Arrafin lifted the sphere and turned, placing it into a depression on Shang's machine. A sudden rattling shriek filled the room and the mechanism began to shudder and give off sparks. Dials whirled. Vents hissed.

And Madame Yuek screamed as the tubes in her body drew out SOMETHING. Arrafin pointed and yelled over the noise, "Hold her down! Don't let her hurt herself!"

Isaac grabbed the Lohanese woman's shoulders and Etienne took her ankles and between the two of them they were able to keep her in place, but the woman was strong and certainly kept them engaged with her wild thrashing. Arrafin watched, trying to sense the flows of Shadow's dark energy, leading them in the right direction here and slowing them down just a little there. She was so engrossed in what she was doing she never noticed the desperate struggles of her beloved.

Nor did she notice when Elena started breathing.

But everyone noticed when the Saijadani woman sat up and screamed.

Even Madame Yuek went quiet for a second.

"Holy crap."

"turnitoffturnitoffturnitoffARRAFINTURNITOFF!"

At Madame Yuek's shriek, Arrafin jumped and turned back to Shang's machine, willing the sorcerous flows to halt. She snatched the now-clear crystal out of the depression it sat in and Madame Yuek collapsed, sobbing.

Elena sat there looking around at everyone.

"What?"

*****

Hours later, they stumbled up a steep hillside road past land that had once been cultivated -- the flat, regular divisions showed that -- but was now simply a mass of tall unkempt grass and the occasional spindly tree.

The road itself wasn't much, either; cobblestones remained in sufficient number to show where the road had been, but it was well-overgrown with weeds and tangled vines.

They had climbed several hundred feet since leaving Zuyang behind them, and were slowly feeling some relief from the ominous pressure of the undead souls. That terrible tower of death still hung in the air behind them, rising far above them still.

Ahead, a low stone wall and tidy-looking red tile roofs told of some habitation.

The group was somewhat larger. After leaving Shang's laboratory the five encountered the surviving civilians and managed to get them out of Zuyang before that place's terrible power claimed another life. Elena, ignoring her friends, chatted with these folks, comforting the most stunned and shocked among them and reassuring them they'd get home safely. She stayed with them as the whole group passed through an open gate and into a wide yard where a few goats nibbled at shrubs and chickens bobbled about as though only miles away a great and terrible evil didn't sit rumbling into the sky.

At their arrival, two bald men emerged from one of the low buildings and stared in surprise. They came forward and bowed and spoke in a language none of the four spoke.

Madame Yuek did, and after a quick negotiation, the men smiled and ushered the group through the yard and up a few steps into a wide hall lit by hanging lamps.

"They're monks. They'll feed us and maybe allow us to stay a few days."

Elena sneered.

"Who put you in charge, you evil bitch? I wish you'd been killed along with Shang."

"Elena!"

"Shut up, Arrafin. This is all her fault in the first place. People are dead, Arrafin! Thousands of people are dead because of her!"

Arrafin ran to confront her friend, but Elena pushed her aside easily. The big Saijadani woman yanked a pistol from her belt and levelled it at Madame Yuek.

"She deserves to die."

Madame Yuek stared.

"Well?"

Elena's voice rose up in an unsteady shriek.

"Well? You killed them! All those people! YOU killed them!"

Arrafin tried again to get at Elena, but this time Isaac held her back. More roughly than his usual self, he shoved Arrafin back and joined Elena. Etienne grabbed the angry Naridic girl.

"You're evil. We all know it. I don't know if you turned good or something because of Arrafin but--"

Isaac broke off as Madame Yuek burst into delighted laughter. She covered her mouth and controlled herself, but could not keep an amused smile off her face.

"Forgive me. You were saying?"

Elena broke in.

"Are you sorry?"

"Am I WHAT?"

"Are you sorry for what you did?"

Madame Yuek's smile disappeared and her dark eyes narrowed.

"Sorry? You ask me-- F**k you. You want to kill me, little bitch, go ahead. Shoot me. I'm right f**king here. But don't think you can sit in judgement on me. I am the f**king Demon Goddess and I am not to be judged by some f**king PEASANT girl."

She spread her hands.

"So shoot me."

Arrafin broke free of Etienne and ran in front of her statuesque lover. She stood right in front of Elena's pistol.

"Please. Please. I love her."

Elena scowled and lowered her gun.

"Fine. You win. I can't shoot you. But I can watch--"

The whole conversation halted as more of the bald men came in.

Carrying swords. They yelled, and Madame Yuek sighed.

"Oh dear. It seems they've figured out who I am. They're going to kill us all."

"Oh, thank heavens," said Isaac as he drew his sword, "That was getting scary."

Etienne slipped past the first rank of swordsmen and found himself amongst their leaders. He chuckled confidently and spun low, lining up the first one for a--

They were better than he'd expected. Etienne had three blades in his stomach before he reached his target. He groaned and collapsed.

Isaac laid into the nearest group, and this time the underestimating was on the other side as the big Saijadani broke through parries and avoided cuts easily, leaving stricken men in his wake.

Elena stretched out a hand and sent a purple glow blasting into the midst of the onrushing swordsmen, knocking men flying and blowing apart the rough chairs and tables behind them. She realised her outstretched hand contained a pistol and fired it into the face of the nearest attacker. He fell back, kicking and screaming.

Arrafin tried, without noticeable success, to push Madame Yuek behind her and unleashed one of her earthbolt spells, sending more warriors blasting in all directions.

*****

In a cell on the other side of the world, watched by Collette de Maynard, an old woman died.

*****

"Isaac? What's wrong?"

Isaac dropped his sword and swayed in place, though no one had struck him that Elena had seen. Their attackers had retreated in confusion, their numbers decimated, and both Elena and Arrafin ran over to their friend.

They leapt back as he turned with a terrible snarl, then leapt back further as he fell to his hands and knees and then, right before their eyes, turned into an enormous black panther.

"Uh. Isaac?"

The panther snarled once more, then leapt out the high windows of the hall and disappeared.

"Uh. What?"

"Your friend."

Elena and Arrafin, both in identical states of shock, turned to see Madame Yuek holding up Etienne's body.

"He's dead."
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Apologies everyone about the delays for this last episode. It's not going to go up this week, either, but next week for sure. Sorry!
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 21

Three angry women stood around the limp body of Etienne.

Arrafin glared at Elena. Elena glared at Yuek. Yuek yawned elaborately, one slender hand in front of her mouth.

"Do you have a better idea? Or are you just going to stare at me until your friend starts to decay?"

Elena's scowl took on an even angrier twist. Behind her, the remaining civilians waited silently, watching the bitter exchange with worried, uncertain eyes.

"Do you have to be such a bitch all the time? Our friends are dead, you evil c**t!"

Yuek smirked, but Arrafin spoke before Elena lost her temper entirely.

"Elena, she's going to help bring Etienne back. Please."

"It's okay, darling. She'd like to forget that I already helped bring her back."

"F**k you! I wish you'd left me dead! You think this erases the millions you've killed?"

"Pull your gun out again, Elena. I bet that makes you feel better."

"What is WRONG with you? Don't you have any--"

"Didn't you hear Isaac? I turned good. I'm all better now."

The three women went back to glaring at each other. Etienne's body lay on a hastily-assembled travois, wrapped in torn robes. His injuries appeared to have healed, but he lay lifeless and empty. The travois sat cross-wise in the ancient road, with Arrafin and Yuek standing on the side back towards Zuyang, the terrible whirlwind of souls still visible rising up behind them, while Elena stood on the opposite side, with the civilians behind her.

Arrafin's mouth twisted as she considered Yuek's words.

"Speaking of Isaac..."

Elena sighed.

"You mean, our friend who used to be Isaac until he turned into an enormous panther and ran away? Yeah, well, if I run into him -- and he's not a cat -- I'll tell him you're... what? Coming along a little later? With Etienne?"

"Yeah. We'll be along."

"Fine. Then I'll see you soon."

"Yeah."

"Great."

"Okay."

"See you."

"Yeah. See you."

Arrafin and Elena stared at each other. Elena thought back to how her friend had been at first, shy and lost in books and so unaware of the world around her. A girl, coltish and hesitant. They'd all felt so protective towards her. And now. Standing beside a former monster who'd lost all her supernatural powers, but who stood no less striking with her exotic beauty.

Still. A monster.

"How long were you lying to us, Arrafin? Did you laugh at us? Did you think you were better than us?"

"Elena. It doesn't matter now."

"It matters. It matters that you went behind our backs when we trusted you."

Arrafin shook her head.

"I love her."

Elena turned her glare on Yuek.

"I will always hate you for taking her away from us. You'll always be a monster in my eyes."

For just a moment, there was a sympathetic sadness in the Lohanese woman's slanted eyes.

"We have that much in common, then. Come on, Arrafin."

Yuek hoisted up the travois with an easy shrug of her shoulders and without looking back began dragging Etienne's body back down the pitted cobblestones. Arrafin brooded at Elena but just as the Saijadani woman turned away, the Naridic girl rushed at her and threw her thin arms around broad shoulders.

"Elena. I'm so sorry. About. About everything. I didn't mean. I just."

She pulled back, tears in her eyes.

"I do love her, Elena. I can't explain it. Maybe after we've got Etienne back we could. Maybe talk about it. If you."

Elena's scowl twisted even further.

"Yeah. Of course. After you get Etienne. You better go."

They stared at each other, neither quite able to find the words to express what they both feared. The ending of a friendship. Arrafin had a terrible premonition she would never see Elena again, but she couldn't follow her friend.

Not when her lover was headed in the other direction, grimly dragging Etienne's corpse behind her.

"Be safe."

The two women turned away from each other. Elena strode further up the inclined roadway and gathered the civilians around her.

"Alright, everyone. We're going to get out of this. The coast is a few days' journey from here, and from there we can find a port city if we just keep heading south. From there I'm sure we can find transport home."

They had a thousand questions, all of which were variations on "Are we going to survive?" Elena could only offer reassurances she didn't feel herself, but she got them moving and that was enough for now. The little band made its way up the switchback road leading over the ridge that overlooked the city.

At the top of the ridge Elena looked back.

Zuyang lay spread out across a broad valley beneath them, black ruins in a blasted landscape. It looked like some sort of angry god had punched the earth here, pounding the city flat and spraying death in all directions.

Far below, just where the road entered the crumbling remains of the city wall, she could make out two figures making their way into the heart of the metropolis.

Elena scowled and turned away. She concentrated, seeking for some sign of her friend Isaac. To her surprise, he was nearby and asleep. She crossed over to Hauthar, the burly Naridic soldier.

"One of my friends is down in that ravine. He's asleep, but we should be cautious. He--"

"Yeah. He turned into a cat."

"That's the one."

"Let me load my musket."

*****

Two women staggered into Shang's laboratory, both wide-eyed and panting. Arrafin leaned against a wall, trying to catch her breath.

"Did you? Did you see? Shang? And. Collette?"

Yuek let Etienne's body crash to the flagstones.

"Shang? No. I just heard. So much screaming. Ancestors."

Arrafin put her hands to her head. She concentrated hard, trying to drive out the visions and terrors that had filled her vision.

"Okay. We have to do this. Do this now."

Yuek was already unstrapping Etienne's corpse from the travois. With an unladylike grunt she heaved the half-Kishak onto the first table, and stabbed tubes into him. She reeled backwards but managed to pull herself up onto the second table. Her grunts of pain were more ladylike as she inserted unsavoury tubes into her own body.

"I hate this bastard. Arrafin. Tie me down. So I don't thrash."

"Right, right."

It seemed like their breathing was somehow amplified, echoing in this terrible gleaming chamber until it was even louder than the hurricane outside. Arrafin fumbled with straps and then found one of the remaining crystal spheres. She cast her mind upwards.

oh my god what's baby the baby she the whole wall i never fire god my arm how my arm where the noise fire what help me help me help help help help help

Arrafin collapsed to the floor, drooling as her mind continued to sort through a frantic mass of shrieking memories, seeking those ones that belonged to her young friend.

And at last. Brash and reckless and brave. Etienne.

She yanked, no cajoling this time no time she just pulled and pulled and slammed Etienne into the sphere. She had just enough strength to drop the sphere into the mechanism.

Yuek, as dazed as she was, lay crying in anticipation of the agony about to strike her. She heard the sphere drop into place and for a second thought that maybe it wouldn't work this time.

And then her body heaved, arcing up as she screamed, tearing out the back of her throat with her terror and her pain. She felt Shang's legacy reaching into her, torturing her one more time and an endless parade of the tortures she'd suffered and inflicted over centuries hammered through her now-mortal mind.

Yuek Man Chong screamed and screamed and screamed. Her soul was partially drawn out of her, bound into Etienne was a sort of stitching for his own soul. She was weakened and torn and the pain went on and on and on and she screamed and screamed and screamed.

Arrafin put her hands over her ears. She couldn't watch her lover suffering so she watched Etienne, watching his eyes and his chest, waiting for the sudden inhalation there it is and she leapt for the controls, shutting the infernal machine down immediately.

Yuek wept, moaning with sobs as Arrafin untied her. Her dark eyes rolled alarmingly but she managed to focus on Arrafin at last.

"Ara-chan. I don't feel so good."

Untied, she crashed to the floor in a tangle of long limbs. Her head flopped to one side and she lost track of Arrafin until the Naridic girl grabbed hold of her.

"Okay. It's okay. Etienne? Can you walk?"

"Eerg. Afl."

Arrafin took a deep breath and tried not to cry. She could feel her sanity slipping away, and memories of what Elena had done to herself here kept coming back to her. She had a pistol in her bag...

With a shudder, Arrafin drew the gun from her bag and hurled it off down the length of the lab. It clattered and slid under some mechanical apparatus.

"Okay. Man Chong? Can you stand? Come on, I'll help you to the Sanctuary. Come on, my love. I'll help you."

Leaning on the skinny Naridic girl, Yuek managed to get to her feet and they made their unsteady way out of the lab.

"Etienne? Just wait here. I'll be right back, okay? Don't move."

"Blbbgfm."

"Good. I'll be right back."

Gral fluttered over their heads as they climbed the stairs, but zipped down to tuck himself into Arrafin's shoulder as they emerged into the insane fury of Zuyang. Arrafin yelled over the shrieking winds.

"Come on. Come on, just a little more. Come on."

Slowly, staggering from one foot to the next, the two women made their way around splintered blocks of granite, past the mute foundations of what were once houses or business or something, across a dust-strewn street full of holes and irregular lumps where cobbles had come loose. Yuek fell to her knees, and Arrafin, unable to support the weight of the larger woman, collapsed with her.

"Ara-chan. I can't. Just leave me. Let me die, Arrafin. Please. I hurt so much. Please. I'm so tired, Ara-chan."

Arrafin burst into tears, but she turned her sadness into rage and heaved on her lover's arms.

"Come on, damn you! I have been through too much to give up on you now. Please, Man Chong, please. I need you. Please. Come on. Just a little further. You can see the gate, right there. Come on. Please."

She pulled and pulled, and at last, the bone-weary Lohanese woman struggled to her feet and they limped the last hundred yards to the Sanctuary gate.

Inside, the terrors subsided. The grass was green and thick and Yuek crashed down, fainting. Arrafin knelt beside her, still manic with fear and stress, stroking black hair from a still-perfect face.

"Safe now. Safe and perfect always now. Always love. Always."

Her head came up, lolled side to side, and focused on the gate.

"Etienne. Yes. You stay. I get. Him. Back soon. Love. Love. Always."

Arrafin pushed herself up and staggered back into the ruins. She had to get Etienne. The slight figure, bent sideways against the howling wind, reeled drunkenly along the devastated street.

In the wrong direction. Arrafin was lost.

She saw Matai Shang suddenly before her, laughing as he tore her father to pieces.

No. Vision. Not real. No.

Stones melted and ran, laughing at her, making faces. Her lover's face, laughing and sneering.

No.

Something shrieked, sobbed and a child ran in front of her, laughing and spurting blood from its mouth. Arrafin leapt back, tripped and fell.

Her head struck an upthrust stone. Bone cracked and splintered. Blood erupted from a terrible gaping hole in the back of her head. Her eyes stared upwards, empty, dust starting to gather on the still-wet corneas.

Gral shrieked inside. His tiny body clung to her as he keened a grief no creature so small had ever felt. All his world died before him and he had only suffering to replace it.

*****

In the relative calm of the Sanctuary, a beautiful if somewhat bedraggled Lohanese woman opened her eyes.

"Arrafin?"

Yuek Man Chong sat up, looking around her.

Looking around at all the dancing, capering, giggling figures around her. Looking up at the couple standing there. The woman smiled and made a gesture of introduction to the antlered man beside her.

"The King desires you. You shall be his slave now. And you shall please him, Beauteous One."

Overhead, thousands of dead souls, unaware of anything around them, unaware even of the new soul that had joined them, just kept screaming and screaming and screaming.

THE END
 
Last edited:

frostrune

First Post
AHHHHHHH!!!! They're all dying. I have a feeling Madam Yuek will sacrifice herself to bring Arafin back.

My man Isaac is still kickin though.:]

This is a rough end game for the heroes. Good story though.

Frostrune
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Sorry, I forgot to type the last two words of that last update. Sorry about that.

Not so much of an extended ending, you see. That was the end of the last session.

So I know, I know, you want to know what happened to everyone.

Arrafin does NOT come back. She stays dead. Etienne, Elena and Isaac all receive boons from the Tarn -- there's actually a bit of story missing around them, as Nevid had forged a bit of a relationship with them.

And uh, Nevid didn't die here in the actual campaign. He survived this and JOINED the Tarn (that was the boon he asked for).

So Season Three started with Isaac, Etienne, Aubrey (remember Aubrey) and two strangers suddenly finding themselves in a bizarre jungle. The strangers included the Old Kook (who turned out to be a member of the Tarn who was sort of "riding" Nevid around) and a Kishak woman who turned out to be the Nevakada officer responsible for the party's case file. She'd been blamed for the disaster on board the party's ship (where the Nevakada totally failed to kill the party with a bunch of demons) and had been sent here.

"Here" turned out to be a wacky "dimension" called Kiriku, which had been created ages past by the goddess Ky'in when she needed somewhere to put a vast army of draconic sorcerer-soldiers that just wouldn't die. Kiriku wasn't as stable as Barsoom and it appeared that folks who hung around here started to change into awfully weird forms.

Like Spider Women. And Ghouls. And Yang Fei, the giant centipede with a cheerful fellow's head, who joined up with the group and followed them around.

Elena showed up as well, and it turned out the Nevakada had acquired all these "demons" that they could control but that they didn't really know very much about. What they did know was that if they commanded a demon to take someone away, that someone was never seen again. Because they brought the someones to Kiriku. And it was impossible to get from Kiriku back to Barsoom.

Of course, PCs being PCs, they found a way, but they inadvertently made it possible for Gedak Gan, the Tyrant's Shade and ruler of Kish, to return as well.

If you've been paying attention, that will surprise you, since the Tyrant's Shade was already ruling Kish. It turned out there'd been a switcheroo, and so our heroes found themselves having to fight not one but TWO mad undead emperors with legions at their disposal.

It also turned out that Barsoom wasn't TOTALLY stable itself, and that in fact it was beginning to unravel. Mechanisms had been put in place long ago, but the knowledge of how they worked had been lost and the mechanisms were starting to fail.

Season Three ended with the fights against the Shades (and this is where Nevid actually died, in exactly the manner described in this Story Hour).

With respect to the fate of Arrafin and Madame Yuek, the ex-vampire was returned to the mortal world after a year and day as the brutalized slave of the Tarn, and immediately set about trying to recover her beloved. By the time the PCs made it back to Barsoom, she had gathered an army and collected a bunch of sorcerers and was trying to get someone to retrieve Arrafin's soul.

Unfortunately, Matai Shang wasn't quite as dead as everyone had hoped.

Season Four started with the Blood Council coming to discuss some things with the party.

First off, the BC admitted that they'd been running a sort of breeding program a la the Bene Gesserit, to produce a sort of super-psion that could resist the goddess Ky'in who was making her big comeback play (this had actually started in Season One, but things were finally coming to a head). Thing is, the BC were basically decent folks and never "bred" people forcibly. They just tried to encourage the right strains to cross paths, and threw obstacles in the way of undesirable matches.

But once the Blood Mother had her mojo back, she realised WHY Shang had destroyed the BM's soul in the first place. He'd taken control of the BC for a century, and had "accelerated" their program with forced breeding of prisoners, and had produced their Kwisatz Haderach well ahead of schedule. The child was born the same year Matai Shang died. The child had been prepared with special rituals and so now, the one hope of humanity to resist the encroachments of an insane, all-powerful goddess, was a baby...

...with the soul of Matai Shang in its chubby little body.

Our heroes set about trying to assemble a "dream team" of powers to face up to Ky'in, but things went from bad to worse: the great warrior king of the draconic Keyadar managed to follow them from Kiriku and began laying waste, Barsoom was struck by dozens of bizarre asteroids that brought with them the intelligences of the ancient foul evils that originally created the entire world, which set about dominating religious practices across Barsoom so as to allow themselves to manifest fully in the world.

Things went very poorly indeed. But it turned out that the TARN were in fact one of these alien entities -- one that had been bound to Barsoom as a spirit and now manifested itself as this bizarre court of creatures -- and with its help they learned of the Ghostwalk -- a half-dimension leading to Omean, the Buried Sea (where human souls go when they die), and where Ky'in, in the midst of a desperate battle, had hidden the Seven Thrones, which were the control systems for Barsoom itself.

On the Ghostwalk they met the soul of Madame Yuek -- she had been killed when warlords directed by the infant Matai Shang defeated her army and she was impaled in front of the great palace that had been (unknown to her killers) her family's ancestral home. She never did manage to retrieve Arrafin's soul, which remained trapped in the whirlwind over Zuyang.

Isaac's curse was part of the Ghostwalk -- Ky'in had created three potent guardians for this place but a curse upon them made them into uncontrollable beasts. All Ky'in could do to limit their savagery was to bind them to mortal bloodlines. But that meant Isaac could traverse the Ghostwalk and restore the Thrones.

But the Thrones were damaged because the "maintenance system" for Barsoom required human souls. It turned out that humans had been CREATED by the ancient evils as "walking batteries" -- unlike the evils or the Keyadar, humans could carry within them BOTH Shadow and Dream, and as such they were very useful for managing and directing supernatural energy. So thousands of souls were needed to restore the systems of Barsoom and somehow reverse the damage being done by the returning ancient evil. Temperatures were dropping and the atmosphere was thinning all over the world. It was only a matter of time before everyone in the world died.

Shang got on board with the Save Barsoom program but Ky'in had to be destroyed first. That accomplished (and one of my great regrets as a DM is that the battle against Ky'in was TOTALLY :):):):)ING LAME), our heroes settled into the Seven Thrones and did battle against the ancient evils, and triumphed. They found a way to release the souls over Zuyang and channel most of them into the maintenance systems so that Barsoom could survive -- in the process Arrafin's soul was released so she and Madame Yuek got to go into eternity together. I was glad they got a sort of happy ending, as Madame Yuek is easily my favourite character ever. I killed her off because I knew I was having way more fun telling her story than the PCs, and that's never good for a game. But I love her to pieces still.

Really, I wrote this Story Hour so I could tell HER story. Or at least part of it.

Etienne, Aubrey and Nevid all died along the way (well, technically, Aubrey was sold to some Spider Women as breeding stock...), but Elena and Isaac both survived the entire campaign run.

Whew.

There were pretty lengthy breaks between seasons -- nearly a year passed between Two and Three, and it was at least six months between Three and Four. By then I was hitting my limits as a 3rd edition DM and found creating and running high-level opponents more tedious than fun. The party finished the campaign at around fifteenth level, I think.

Good times all around. Season Four wasn't as good as I was pretty fatigued, and got a lot more busy with jobs and stuff, so I just couldn't put the prep time in to really nail the details right. I still feel bad about it to this day.

But my players were awesome all the way through, and making up that story with them was never anything less than inspiring. I had no idea what was going to happen when I started the campaign, and it far exceeded my expectations.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Oh. Well, that was still an extended ending. After the "bad guys" were all beat you still had characters die, even. :)

Anyway, pretty sweet setting. I've said it before and I'll say it again; it's amazing how many of the same kinds of themes and stuff that I really like this setting ended up hitting as well.

Coupla quick questions. The Goddess of the stewardesses game; was that Ky'in, then? Or someone else? How did that "mini-campaign" relate or fit in with the main Barsoom action?

I totally agree on the limitations of higher level third edition play, sadly. Although I really like d20---enough so that I struggle to seriously consider moving on, that's one of it's big bugaboos for me as well. I just can't run it effectively at high levels, and as a player, I find it somewhat unsatisfying as well. I greatly prefer single digit levels. Mostly I just find ways to end campaigns before it becomes an issue, but if I didn't want to do that for some reason, I'd seriously consider adopting E6 or something like that to prolong the sweet spot indefinitely.

What happened in the earlier sessions that you never wrote up? You've mentioned them a few times, but nothing substantial. I presume that's because it stands alone, apart from the main action, but I'm curious anyway.

And are you ready to get cracking on your next story hour now? ;)
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Right, the Angels. Ha, ha.

That set of games took place in Tianguo during the terrible hellish regime of the Demon Goddess.

Yep, our brave and good-hearted heroines were, unbeknownst to them, serving the whims and savage appetites of an insane vampire who was torturing and slaughtering millions in her palace. They never knew, and I just figured that folks out on the fringes of the Empire wouldn't really have any idea what was going on in the center.

Would have been fun to get to that reveal with the flight attendants, but never quite got there.
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Actually, no, not at all.

The prehistory of Barsoom goes like this: first there's chaos, opposed by nothingness. Out of the boundary there, consciousness forms. Multiple consciousnesses form. Consciousness desires to sustain itself rather than be consumed by either chaos or nothingness, and so creates a "place" -- the first place that ever existed.

(all this is largely lifted from Brust's To Reign In Hell, actually)

These consciousnesses were not human in any way shape or especially form. They don't even have "form" as we would think of it. They are what on Barsoom are known as spirits -- random spontaneous generations of consciousness within the chaos.

So "place" exists, and quite possibly numerous "places". It probably takes a number of tries to figure out how to make "place" exist for a period of "time" -- which is pretty much the beginning of the idea of "time".

In some of these places consciousnesses experienced the desire to get :):):):) done and created various forms of life. One form was a draconic humanoid known to humans as Keyadar -- very powerful in many ways (especially sorcery (also they're just really big bastards)) but limited. They can only draw on Shadow (nothingness), and have no way to connect to Dream (chaos). But they're useful, it appears.

Consciousness (whatever these things are) creates more life, and eventually comes up with the idea of humans -- creatures that can embody BOTH Shadow and Dream. Very exciting.

With these new toys, Barsoom becomes a feasible project, using human souls to keep the whole thing stable.

However, the Keyadar grow restive and with all the power they've been amassing, manage to drive most of the consciousnesses right out of Barsoom. Many are destroyed, and those that remained were forced to accept bizarre or limited forms. One such was the Tarn, which become a bound spirit that manifested as a whole host of individual creatures. Another (not seen in this telling) was Mullah, the spirit of the wind that served as the holy voice of the Naridic religion. Another was known as the Green Serpent, and sought sacrifices in dark jungles.

So then the Keyadar were in charge, and they liked that. But now it was the humans getting uppity. One great sorcerer-king named Kushan Kal Kabbar tried to fight them, and gathered together his best warriors, and made them in to undead monsters who could hunt and destroy Keyadar, and who would never truly die. But that was not enough to bring them down.

But in the end it was the sorceress Ky'in who overthrew the Keyadar regime, by suborning one of the key Keyadar generals, Essermane Varag, who she rewarded by trapping forever behind a faceless black slab. Much of the Keyadar population were tricked into an alternate dimension that they could not get out of, and then Ky'in was in charge. And she was, of course, completely insane. And things were bad.

So eventually folks got together to do something about her. About two thousand years before the campaign began, a Naridic king named Suelekar ben Azan and his Lohanese wife, Bai Xue (or something) cooked up a plan and trapped Ky'in in an alternate dimension (you're seeing the pattern now, aren't you?). At the same time, Bai Xue founded the Blood Council to A. make sure such powerful figures never arose again, and B. to create a human being who could truly stand against something like Ky'in without risking the destruction of the world.

Ky'in was still worshipped in Kish as a goddess, along with a few other legendary figures, but to no avail as she had no access to Barsoom.

Matai Shang comes much after that, although exactly when is unclear. But about two hundred years ago he sees the infamous beauty Yuek Man Chong and spirits her away to his little theme park of torture and terror, turns her into a vampire, then turns her into a goddess, and sets her on the Blood Council (after she's had a century of ruling Tianguo with real fun and games). To his surprise she breaks free of his control and runs away, tries a variety of means to put an end to first her condition and later her existence, and is really in a not very good place when our heroes come stumbling along into the mix.

Whew! Now most of this I didn't have in mind when I started. I knew there was a crazy goddess named Ky'in who had been kicked out and was trying to get back, I knew there was a bad sorcerer named Matai Shang, and I knew there were dragon-people called Keyadar that had been mostly wiped out long ago. None of the rest of this (including the ideas of "Shadow" and "Dream") existed when the campaign started. I just randomly gave Elena psionics in Season Two and had hinted at magic, especially of the necromantic variety, but it wasn't until Arrafin got that book that I even started to worry about metaphysics and magic and all that. And at first all I had was Shadow -- it wasn't until the first genie appeared that I started trying to fit psionics and spirits into the cosmology.

So the whole thing emerged organically out of the actual playing of the game -- I had no idea the Tarn weren't just a bunch of fey when they first appeared. It was only later I realised that they were actually one of the Old Ones that had been kind of messed up.

And yet it always seemed like I knew what was happening, and looking back, it all fit together so very well that it's hard to believe I made it up as I went along. I really regret not doing a better job running Season Four, because the connections that pulled everything together were really blowing my mind, but it became hard to share them with the players via the game.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
That's always the way it works for me; I start with pretty darn vague ideas about big things like, say, cosmology and the whole secret history of the world. Which is kinda funny, because all my games end up being about the secret history of the world, but I end up making half of it up as I go.

I wonder if Chris Carter ever had that thought when he was making up his secret history of our world in The X-files. Somehow all my games gravitate towards fantasy X-files. Oh, well.

So, how does psionics fit into the grand scheme of things, then? A kind of Blood Council invention?

Also: Ky'in. I like that name.
 
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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
No, psionics is the ability to manipulate the Dream Worlds, in the same manner that sorcery is the ability to manipulate the Shadow Realm. Dream energy is chaotic and wild, and sorcerous energy is consuming and nullifying.

There were also characters who could summoun temporary entities out of the Dream Worlds to serve them in some fashion or other (Elena eventually acquired this ability).

The thing that Barsoom was most missing was any sense of religion. It's very tough to build what feels like a consistent society if there isn't some sort of religious practice and discussion going on. This Kishaks had some sort of worship, but other than that there wasn't much, and it started to feel artificial. There weren't any holidays, for example. Or temples or things like that. It's a problem.
 

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