[ZEITGEIST] The Continuing Adventures of Korrigan & Co.

SanjMerchant

Explorer
I love how everyone wrestles with the ethics of the situation Gupta's created except Rumdoom, who's just all "gods make a very satisfying 'thump' when they hit the floor."
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I love how everyone wrestles with the ethics of the situation Gupta's created except Rumdoom, who's just all "gods make a very satisfying 'thump' when they hit the floor."
Actually, he just made a very interesting speech to Korrigan. Details forthcoming in session 242.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 240, Part Five

Reflection


You awake, scattered across the ground in a snowy forest. The fey are not here. And nor is Uriel.

Embers of blazing thistles drift by on a wind, briefly providing enough light to make out the debris of the Coaltongue, nearly crippled but otherwise lying without even a hushed whisper in this night-time wood. Your injuries won’t kill you, and the damage wrought on your vessel can be repaired, but as your gaze drifts upward, you see a starry abyss looking back, its nebulous teeth poised to crush your world.

You are back in Risur, many months after you left. Your mission has failed. Your path to the Gyre has been cut off, and what little hope you had left has, like a candle reaching the end of its wick, guttered and turned to smoke.


They had arrived a few feet from the entrance to the Ziggurat of Av. The once-stone building was still formed from brass, but the fires in the Antwalk Thicket had long-since died out, and the trees and greenery had grown back. Bizarrely, though, the whole scene was coated in an inch of snow and the temperature was freezing – far colder than any part of Risur became at any time of year. The leaves were brittle and coated in ice.

Some distance away, a section of the forest had been cleared to make way for a railroad which stretched away to the south. That was new! A train had been parked here, but the crash of the Coaltongue had derailed it.

The unit and the crew were wholly uninjured and rested.

Of course, they noticed Uriel wasn’t with them immediately, and tried to make contact to no avail. But before long they were distracted: The crew of the Coaltongue were helping two figures out of the wreckage. Admiral Smith waved to get their attention, and they could see that Benedict Pemberton and Pardo had taken possession of the duplicants they had stowed on board (hoping to join them in their quest to the Gyre).

They strode purposefully towards them, Pemberton limping from damage to his duplicant. He began to speak some distance away and continued to yell even as they drew closer:

“Am I glad to see you. Just in the nick of time as always. How did it go?”

They told him their mission had failed, less than a day after they reach Av.

Pemberton was crestfallen. “A day? You’ve been gone for months! As far as everyone else is concerned you’re dead and gone! To say things haven’t gone well in your absence would be an understatement. I might be your only ally left in the whole world.”

He gestured at the derailed train. “The new ruler of Risur built this railroad to help access the plane of Jiese through the portal in the Ziggurat, but ‘local fauna’ forced them to abandon that project, so they sealed the portal. That was several months ago, and the world has gotten dangerously cold since then, but I’m not sure if the two are related.” Korrigan was keen to find out who this new ruler might be, but politely waited for a pause in Pemberton’s story. (A pause which never came.)

Pemberton recounted the events of the past few months. It began with soldiers captured from the invading armies in Risur, soldiers who were possessed by powerful Obscurati ghosts. They let themselves be taken to prisoner of war camps, where they overpowered the unsuspecting guards, before they triggered the formation of hiveminds. Somehow the possessing ghosts managed to stabilize the hiveminds so they were able to draw people in and make them obey, but the hivemind did not become insanely single-minded like previous manifestations had. The Risuri soldiers, outnumbered by the prisoners, weren’t able to resist the combined psychic will, and they became loyal to the Obscurati.

This continued like an avalanche rolling down a hill; the more people caught in the hivemind, the more easily it could pull others into itself. It spread faster than a disease; it spread like an idea, and almost as soon as someone became aware of the risk, their minds were overwhelmed.

Most of Pemberton’s duplicant spies were discovered and absorbed into these new hiveminds, but before that happened he learned of panic in numerous cities. People had only a vague idea what was happening, but knew that crowds were a threat, so many fled had into the wilderness.

“Me and my gnolls are fairly safe on our island, I hope. But I can’t speak for anyone else.”

While Pemberton went on to suggest that they use his secret base as the launch-pad for a counter-strike, Korrigan, Uriel and Gupta became aware that Pardo had sidled away from the group and was stood with his head cocked at a very strange angle. He noticed their attention, and so did Pemberton, who stopped talking. Before his master’s gaze, Pardo cowered like a beaten whelp.

“I’m sorry, boss,” he whimpered.

Pemberton uttered a first querulous syllable before it was cut off with an involuntary cry of pain, the source of which could not be determined. But it was clearly agonising and sustained, and no sooner had it begun than Pemberton’s duplicant collapsed to the ground, no longer occupied.

Before the unit could focus their ire on Pardo, a shining portal appeared in the air close by, and a horde of foes materialised: dozens of highly advanced military constructs, and with them two Ob necromancers, Xavier Sangrea, Campion Pryce-Hill, Justin Rollins and Lauryn Cyneburg. The unit braced itself, but did not engage in hostilities right away. The Risuri Minister of Infiltration pulled the portal shut with a snap of her fingers. “Hm,” she said, glancing at how close they arrived. “My aim has improved.”

In the centre of the ambush party stood a man so nondescript and non-threatening that they didn’t notice him until he spoke: “Of course you would show up a day before I solve this. I suppose you think you’re swooping in to,” he chuckled, “‘save the world’?”

He took a drag on his cigarette. Some of the unit recognised this host body as the courier Nicodemus occupied when they first encountered him, outside Reed Macbannin’s mansion. He went on:

“Your former allies, who now see the wisdom of my new world order, told me your mission. You were going to use the Axis Seal yourself with your own new planes.

“Imitation is flattery, and I’m glad you wanted to follow my lead, but it was your noses stuck where things didn’t need sticking that caused the situation we’re in. I assure you we have ‘saving the world’ in hand, and this will all turn out tidy and safe if you don’t cause any more trouble. But maybe you’ve found something useful?”

He sucked in a long drag from his cigarette, cracked a charming smile, and gestured for the unit to respond. They chose not to.

“Perhaps not? Oh well, maybe you’ll listen to reason, then. Your friend Doctor von Recklinghausen,” and here he nodded at Gupta, “was able to use autopsies of the Gidim to figure out how to stabilize the hivemind effect. It’s much more complicated and technological than just that,” he added nonchalantly, “but I’ll only reveal more to those who are members of my ‘conspiracy’.”

“So here’s my final offer for you to work with me, rather than against me. Rest assured that I have a new plan for the Axis Seal which will put an end to all the chaos that broke out since the Great Eclipse, and I promise that if you pledge your loyalty I’ll surrender to you once the ritual is complete, to let you judge if my actions were justified. Of course, pledging loyalty in this case entails being bonded to a hivemind, so you don’t turn against me at the eleventh hour, so you’ll just have to trust me, but I promise, once this is all over…”

“You’re not too good at keeping your promises,” said Korrigan.

“Tell us,” said Leon, “Are you more confident now than you were before all the eladrin women were killed?”

“Or before the sun disappeared?” said Uru.

Their glib responses were more infuriating to Nicodemus than a stoic or melodramatic refusal might have been. The kind of anger they last saw in Cherage flickered across his features.

“You’ll have to excuse us, but you’ve given us a lot of material,” said Korrigan. “We could burn you all day.”

“You failures!” Nicodemus erupted. “Your greatest achievement is failing to prevent me from saving the world. You’re sentimental saboteurs, blindly clinging to antiquated morals, measuring the suffering of people today over progress and the needs of countless yet to be born. I am creating the shape of things to come, and in that new world, people like you will have to go!”

At that, his welcome party moved to attack.

Uriel, from his ethereal vantage, focused his mind and desperately sought a means to make himself known, or to intervene.

End of Session

 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 241, Part One

Ambush Squad Battle - Round 1


Quratulain was first off the mark, strafing the enemy with force beams from her blaster, to test their defences. She hit a construct, Nicodemus’ host, Pardo, one of the occultists and Justin Rollins. None of them dropped save Nicodemus, who fell to his knees. His head sagged on to his chest. Only the fact that he raised his cigarette to his mouth betrayed the fact that he was still alive.

Uru delivered the killing blow to Rollins, without pausing to consider whether or not the royal technologist was compelled or dominated in any way. Though Rollins stopped chuckling in his usual, avuncular manner, and his legs gave way for moment, he stood back up and kept on going, though the way his limbs moved was odd.

Leon teleported into the ideal position to bathe the foe with a pacifying light from the Wayfarer’s Lantern. When they levelled their weapons at him, he realised it hadn’t worked; the Ob were not to be undone by their own weapon! Quick as a flash, he teleported out of danger again.

With Lauryn Cyneburg involved, Leon was not the only one to bampf around the battlefield. She appeared in the very midst of the fight, cocked her head for a moment as if calculating, and then the entire battlefield shifted. Everyone was repositioned according to her whim; individual unit members moved adjacent to foes who appeared to be waiting for them. Then she teleported away again, to the top of the ziggurat.

Pardo was now next to Gupta. He pounced and knocked her prone, then used his devour anima power to draw one of her key powers out of her mind. She had seen him do this before, guessed which power he was after, and resisted.

Korrigan counselled his allies to conserve their strength if possible: from what Nicodemus had said, this was going to be a long day. Then he responded to Cyneburg’s manoeuvre by giving tactical orders of his own: Gupta jumped back to her feet on his command; Uru leapt out of Campion’s reach; Rumdoom – surrounded by a half-circle of constructs, protecting the two occultists who were already weaving a spell against him – dashed forward to knock these defenders out of the way. Quratulain said, “I’m fine, thank you,” and stayed where she was, surrounded by constructs.

The construct squads attacked everyone they could, either with grindsaw arms in melee, or with a turret fusillade. Quratulain was beset by a dozen of them. She fought them off as best she could, then lobbed a grenade at her own feet and excluded herself from the blast with the firesight eye. The constructs were badly damaged but kept on coming.

Pardo sought to keep Gupta from escaping him: a barely visible coil of psychic energy streaked from his mind into hers. Again she fought it off, realising at once that this was not an ordinary aspect of his suite of capabilities. Something was amiss here.

Justin Rollins had been planted in the very epicentre of the fight, where he was able to draw a bead on all enemies, and lay down suppressive fire with his pistols. He also summoned a mechanized shotgun, which hovered in the air beside him, and began firing repeatedly at Korrigan. Having done so, he tried the same sinister psychic trick that Pardo had, but Korrigan’s mind was a bastion.

Cyneburg had cleared a nice big space next to Xavier Sangrea. He took out a glowing crystal, threw it into this space and thereby summoned a gargantuan entity which most of the unit recognised from their adventure on the Avery Coast Rial Line: the Screaming Malice! He muttered arcane words of control and the beast lurched towards the unit.

Uru was right next to it, backed away as best he could, and cried out, “Ash wolf! We call upon your promised aid, here in the very place where we rendered ours!”

Campion Price-Hill wasn’t about to allow his target to slip away further. “Come here, you slippery little wanker,” he snarled, trying to use the same strange psychic power that all of these Ob fighters seemed to possess. But Uru was no longer the slouch he had been when it came to sheer willpower. He was a titan-in-training! Campion gave a cry of frustration when the spell didn’t work and launched himself at Uru wielding long knives.

Keen to put some distance between herself and the relentless Pardo, Gupta used her Golden Icon of Apet. Instead of taking her up to the first tier of the ziggurat as intended, she found herself diverted to the very top. (“A dimension beacon!” Leon realised.) This planted her right next to Lauryn Cyneburg, and so she used the very power Pardo had tried to strip from her, asking her a question to befuddle her mind: “Did you really think I didn’t want to be next to you?” But it didn’t work! Cyneburg’s mind was shielded in some way, a fact Gupta reported to the others. (It must have been something to do with the hivemind phenomenon Pemberton had warned them about.) Cyneburg responded with a spiteful punch. “This really wasn’t how I wanted to spend my afternoon,” she sneered. Gupta found herself thrown through the air, landing on the steps further down the ziggurat.

As Rumdoom crashed towards them through the construct squad, the Ob occultists worked together to summon shadowy tendrils that curled all about the Stone of Not, and sought to wrest it from Rumdoom’s grasp. Rumdoom yanked it free, and Notted one of the nethermancers, obliterating him entirely.

The Screaming Malice shrieked a bloodcurdling shriek, freezing the marrow of both Uru and Rumdoom and, having thus fixated them, sought to swallow them whole. Uru only just managed to throw himself out of harm’s way. Rumdoom found himself caught in its great maw and struggled to free himself. It was tempting to grow to giant size, but he decided to save that for ‘important people’. …

At the very edge of the battle, Amielle Latimer appeared. Her arrival provoked disembodied wails of protest and anger that seemed to emanate from within their foes! “They’re possessed!” Amielle shouted, taking aim with her rife. “Controlled by the ghost council!”

They needed to be freed – at the very least, Cyneburg did. (It was too late for Rollins, and Pardo was in duplicant form.) Uriel, watching all this, unseen, felt that he could help, if only he could make himself known somehow, or better yet manifest on the battlefield. As he focused his mind and strove to convert what he was seeing from a mere vision to a new reality, testing the idea of translating himself form once place to another, he was struck by a sudden realisation: The act of doing so would be the very thing that prevented him from returning from the Gyre as the others had. It would stretch his soul too thinly. If he pulled back, he might be able to find away to return to Lanjyr in physical form.

Uriel brushed aside all of his doubts and concern for himself, and determined to communicate with his friends at all costs.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 241, Part Two

Round 2

The attempt was all-but impossible; to return from the Gyre in any way, shape or form could not be done. Uriel tackled the challenge with every ounce of his strength, every scintilla of his substantial intellect, but he could not find a way, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the fight before the ziggurat raged on:

Quratulain threw another grenade at her own feet, and this time blew the construct squad to smithereens. She fired another towards Korrigan, exluding him from harm and damaging the constructs that had mobbed him. Then she took a pot-shot at the occultist she had injured earlier. Insubstantiality could not save him from her blaster beam and he fell.

Uru responded to the arrival of the slow-moving Malice by calling upon the genius loci. The spirits of the Antwalk Thicket rose up in his defence and began to attack all of his foes. Uru caused the very earth itself to rise up and surround Justin Rollins, ending his suppressive fire and the incessant pounding of his shotgun.

Leon focused on the ghost council and realised that they could be harmed by the usual means, but while using force or magical weaponry would also harm the host, psychic attacks could ‘kill’ the ghosts themselves. He tried a quick mire the mind on both Xavier and Pardo, but the ghost council prevented such magic from affecting them. Mind control and charms were no use.

Another trait imbued by the ghosts was suddenly revealed when Pardo took flight, literally spirited through the air, honing in on Gupta, who was still stumbling down the steps of the ziggurat.

Korrigan came up with an idea to allow the unit to regroup: He ordered them all to use Fourmyle Jaunt at once. They followed his orders, and one by one were diverted to the top of the ziggurat! Rumdoom teleported himself out of the jaws of the Screaming Malice, took a breath and shrugged off the malign influence of its piercing shriek.

Justin Rollins flew out of the trap Uru had placed him in and flew in pursuit of more targets, as did Xavier Sangrea.

Gupta whispered a fey incantation and struck Pardo with lightning courtesy of the Father of Thunder. (Quratulain felt a pleasant stirring in a her belly at this.) Then Gupta invoked the magic in her little book on William Miller (ensorcelled in the Navras Opera House) to wink out of sight.

Rumdoom fired his shotgun at Pardo.

The Malice shrieked again, denied fresh victims, and began to lumber towards them. In the distance, deep in the forest, it was answered by a vast, lupine howl.

The Ash Wolf!

Again, Uriel tried to translate himself into this time and place. Even with Gupta’s aid, he could not do so. The effort was very taxing. How much use would he be if and when he arrived? At the very least he could tell them to keep fighting, to oppose the Ob at every step, in the knowledge that their other selves were still scouring the Gyre, and that he would find a way to get the golden icons to them.
 
In a campaign this long, I wonder how many of the returning NPCs the players recall. Do they enjoy everyone here being a familiar face?

Nice trick with using the teleportation beacon to regroup.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
In a campaign this long, I wonder how many of the returning NPCs the players recall. Do they enjoy everyone here being a familiar face?
Yes, I'm always gratified by the level of player buy-in. The only character who they didn't recognise straight away was Justin Rollins, who hadn't even been mentioned since Sept 2017! (And in passing at that.) Sangrea had been quite the focal point for a while, and I'd reintroduced him as one of Nicodemus' guards during the Forward Symposium.

I added him (and Campion Price-Hill) to bump up numbers for my larger group. You'll notice, also, that Pemberton and Pardo were at hand because they had duplicants stowed on the Coaltongue, rather than through divination or prediction. Just a bit of DM preference, but it also means the players' actions (inviting them along in the first place) had a greater impact than they might have otherwise.

Also - what happened to Pemberton? (After he screamed in pain and vanished.) Two things: Firstly, I need another solo mission for my six-man group. (Okay, there's seven, but we'll get to that some other time.) Rescuing Pemberton will be one of those. I figured if the Ob had taken control of his gnolls, they wouldn't miss the chance to try to deal with him, and have already proven themselves capable of taking out dragons if they need to, when they almost did for Harkover during the assassintation of Aodhan. Now all I need to do is decide which major Ob NPC to put in charge of that. Lya maybe?

Secondly, I want the duplicants that make the missions possible to be provided by Alden Wondermaker (the Clockwork King) because he was asked to create them months - perhaps even years ago - by King Baldrey.

Nice trick with using the teleportation beacon to regroup.
It was! And a nice use of his simple power to grant a move action to his men: "Everyone! Fourmyle Jaunt! Anywhere! Now!"
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 241, Part Three

Round 3


Quratulain began firing her lantern blaster at the ghost council’s expendable hosts, first targeting Rollins, who was already dead, kept aloft by their puppet mastery. But Xavier Sangrea used Malice magic to switch the shot to Uru, who cried out in pain, and slumped, despite being hidden.

Uru then used his ghosts to take control of Pardo’s duplicant body and send him to fight the Screaming Malice. It almost worked; Pardo struggled to move in that direction, but the ghosts possessing him re-exerted control .

Leon, who hadn't moved to the top of the ziggurat yet, did so and tried to horrify Lauryn Cyneburg. Again, the magic failed. The ghost council was strong!

Cyneburg responded to all this company by saying she was never one for crowds, then used her famous explosive jaunt trick to plant three fires seeds atop the ziggurat and then bampf away. Both she and Pardo used their gestalt mind power on Korrigan and Quratulain to keep them from moving away from the fire seeds. Quratulain was affected, and rooted to the spot.

Korrigan grabbed Quratulain and jumped off the edge onto the tier below, ordering the others to move too. Uru flew high into the air on Little jack. Rumdoom invoked his Icon of Avilona and flew down to tackle the Screaming Malice again.

All of a sudden, Uriel arrived, appearing, in an oddly translucent form, on the second tier down. “About time,” said Leon, “Where have you been?”

“I’ll explain in a moment,” said Uriel, almost reeling from the effort, before invoking his incarnation Cardinal Tadeas and castigating the ghosts that lurked in Campion and Xavier Sangrea with an extremely powerful divine spell, driving them into range of Cyneburg’s fire seeds.

Sangrea followed Korrigan’s lead and leapt off the upper tier to join Quratulain in melee. This was a mistake. She shot him, point-blank, with her lantern blaster and killed both him and the ghosts that possessed him. She fired again, and dropped Pardo, ghosts and all.

“I’ll deal with Cyneburg!” declared Uriel, concerned that she would be killed without any attempt to free her.

Rumdoom was fending off the remaining constructs when the Screaming Malice attacked him again. Two heads shrieked; two bit down on him, and began a tug of war. Rumdoom swung the Stone of Not and obliterated first one head, then another, freeing himself, but even he was exhausted by now.

Amielle took a pot-shot at another head. A palpable hit, but not the right kind of weapon.

Campion Price-Hill flew up after Uru, determined to take him out. He was wearing special, dark glasses which prevented the deep faen from hiding from him. Uru ducked and dodged, then surrounded himself with a magical cloak of darkness that even Campion could not see through.

Uru flew even higher, and now he could see the tops of the trees swaying as the Ash Wolf charged towards them at great speed!
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 241, Part Four

Round 4


“I’m sorry to spoil the excitement,” Quratulain said, apologetically, as she aimed her shrink ray at the Screaming Malice. This proved to be slightly premature, however, as the transmuting magic of her lantern blaster interacted strangely with the intrinsic wild magic of the malice beast. Instead of shrinking, it began to grow more heads! Now it had four more, in addition to the two it then regrew. Oops!

Leon cast a teleportation spell at both Campion Price-Hill and Lauryn Cyneburg, knowing that it would spirit them both to the dimension lock, right next to the fire seeds planted by Cyneburg herself. The fire seeds exploded, injuring both of them. Cyneburg grimaced as she flew out from the cloud of smoke, clothes and hair singed. She landed next to Korrigan and pointed a finger at him – a paralysis spell of some kind. Although he shrugged it off, it prevented him from speaking. “Neat trick,” he said to Cyneburg, telepathically, before using the same means to order Uru to ‘execute the traitor’.

Fortunately, Uru knew exactly who he meant – not Cyneburg, but the only remaining member of the strike force who had sided with the Ob before he was dominated: Campion Price-Hill. He took a great deal of pleasure in finishing the turncoat off with a well-placed shuriken.

Uriel, keen to ensure the same fate didn’t befall Cyneburg, took control of the ghost councillors that were possessing her. He tried to command them to leave, but some aspect of the hivemind phenomenon made that impossible – they were linked to her somehow. Still, it felt as if he had pried them loose. Uru, of all people, suddenly became aware that it would be possible to encourage Cyneburg to fight the hivemind off. (Unbeknownst to the reflected Uru, his Gyre-based self had now unlocked the secrets of the Lost Eye, and knew how best to deal with ethereal undead.) With the combined help of Uru, Uriel and Gupta, Korrigan commanded Cyneburg to get a hold of herself. She gave an agonised cry and then fell to her knees. Uriel could see that she had freed herself and quickly destroyed the ghosts. He did the same to those still controlling the deceased Campion.

“Now, I must talk to you!” he said to the others. “I don’t know how long I’ve got!”

“Wait a moment,” said Korrigan, who didn’t know what he was on about, “the battle is not yet over!”

Many of the unit were truly exhausted now, including even Rumdoom, but the Screaming Malice kept on coming; a few straggling constructs were easily picked off, and though it might have been tempting to withdraw, the Malice could not be left to rampage through the Antwalk.

Fortunately, the Ash Wolf kept on coming too. A fireball hit the malice first, then the Ash Wolf leapt upon it, plunging past its heads and sinking its fangs into its body.

Despite Uriel’s protestations that he had something important to say, Korrigan went to support the titan, as did Quratulain, Rumdoom, all of the others in fact. The Screaming Malice did not last long after that.

When it finally subsided, they became aware of movement at the epicentre of the battle. Uriel sought to speak again, but he was interrupted by Nicodemus, whose host body had managed to light another cigarette and give a hollow laugh, before saying:

“It’s not worth throwing more resources against you in open battle. You’re a terror to behold, it's true, but you will fail because you lack leverage. I do not. If you can set your pride aside for one day, I will have this fixed and we can stop this worthless violence. But continue to move against me and I promise you, every city on this world will burn. In a thousand years, no one will remember their names even if millions die. They will only know that I secured a perfect world. My conscience can abide a scorched earth. Can yours?”

Then Nicodemus abandoned the poor courier, who fell forward onto his face.

“You are dealing with the Avatar of the End!” cried Rumdoom, just a couple of seconds too late.

End of Session
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part One

Awkward Conversation


“It’s done,” said Uriel, shaking himself free for speech. He looked wan. “I have told our reflected selves that we will find a way to send the golden icons to them. I could not summon them to me, as am able to other items I have known. But I think I have hit on the means.” He looked at Kai. “You will be the link; I will send the icons to you. When we reach the Gyre.” Kai nodded to show his approval and squeezed his father’s hand. An important task! Uriel continued: “I was able to summon the golem heart from the volcano, though. They now have a means to recreate Conquo.”

The group had stood in awkward silence while Uriel made the impromptu attempt, with Gupta and Korrigan lending their aid when it was needed. Now that he was done, they became aware of that awkwardness. The graveyard was silent. Srasma was gone; the eladrin ghosts were all gone too.

Korrigan turned to Gupta. “Why did you do that?” he asked.

“This was the path that was offered to me,” she said.

“I didn’t hear that option,” said Korrigan.

“You were there when we heard the song of Vekesh. I chose the missing verse.”

“Well, if you laid the choices out in front of me, I would have advised you against this course of action, but I wouldn’t have opposed you. What’s done is done.” They could all hear the unspoken accusation: that Gupta had turned down the opportunity to restore thousands of eladrin women to life.

Gupta said, “It is a realisation of my destiny. No forethought was involved, but I’ve no regrets. I won’t squander the power I’ve been given.”

“I hope so. I have seen many times before how people are corrupted by power.”

“You are empowered by Risur.” Gupta did not need to add that he was uncorrupted.

“And you by all women; your realm is greater than mine.”

Korrigan went on to say that he did not think gods were good for people (which is why he had let the unit deal with the situation in Alais Primos, lest his personal feelings got in the way). Uriel agreed: “Not in the way they are used by the clergy, perhaps.”

Kasvarina now spoke: “These gods are eladrin gods. Humans make gods to be worshipped. The eladrin create them in celebration. Gupta’s choice was to accept the short-lived gift of a dead god. What the eladrin need is a new, living goddess of womanhood.”

Korrigan scowled. He did not agree.

Uriel said, “All I know is, the more power you have, the more rules the universe puts in place to bind you.” He gestured to Uru. “Soon you will be unable to move beyond the mountains, for fear of angering the other titans.” Uru didn’t mind; he liked the dark places he would soon rule; why leave? Uriel went on: “As a goddess, you will be worshipped, and wield great power, but you will be confined in that power, like the king on a chess board.”

Korrigan said that he respected Gupta’s decision and again hoped it was for the best. Leon was asked how he felt, as a Vekeshi and member of the Unseen Court and his response was as sanguine as always; Kasvarina was clearly in support, despite everything she had lost as a result. Miller said nothing, but looked around his empty monument blankly.

Then they noticed that Rumdoom was scowling. “Loyalty is a two-way street, Korrigan,” he said. “You didn’t step in when we needed you. I need to know that in a fight my back is safe but your inaction has made me question that. Here we are, at the end of times and the Avatar of the End has his destiny to fulfil. Are we really on the same street, you and I?”

Korrigan’s response was dismissive. “How many times have you been absent when we needed you? I will take such criticism from Gupta; not from you.” With that, he set off down the trail back to the lighthouse. They all followed in frosty silence. The cracks were beginning to show. They weren’t the ‘unit’ any more, but coalition of hugely powerful individuals, each with destinies of their own to fulfil.

As they went, Uru came up alongside Uriel and asked him quietly what happened back on Lanjyr. Uriel told him everything: how they had battled the Ob strike force and won. “I managed to free Cyneburg from dominance. Sadly,” he said, “the Royal Technologist fell before I could help him.”

“Finally!” said Uru, who, it would appear, had a very long and inexplicable shit-list.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part Two

Party Time


They had not gone far before they heard the music. It wasn’t just Catahoula’s drums, but a whole band, and multiple voices. Rock Rackus had gotten bored drifting in space and docked. Amielle and Sly Marbo – who they had placed in charge of the Coaltongue in their absence – had decided that some shore-leave would be good for morale, and had docked too. There was now a lively party going on, as Rock accompanied Catahoula, or maybe it was the other way around.

Korrigan approved, and let it be known that they would spend the rest of the day and the next morning here on Ascetia. Uru wondered if they had time – was there any kind of time factor on them throwing themselves into the Gyre? Uriel quoted Kai: “Lanjyr has the best stories. I’m sure our aid will come at the most melodramatic moment, no matter how long we take.”

That was all Uru needed to hear. “Well, in that case…” he said, and whipped out a parcel of fey pepper, snorting it all up in one go. When asked if he oughtn’t to have saved some for later, Uru said, “Uriel can always make more for me.” Uriel was horrified at the very suggestion – a clear misuse of his magical powers.

Gupta found herself in empty shock. Usually she was the charismatic focus of any party she threw or attended. Dockers’ shindigs had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. But not this time. She was exhausted. Sly Marbo tried to encourage her to join the fun. “What’s up with you, girl? This could be your last opportunity to let your hair down.” Gupta smiled bleakly and shook her head in response.

Rumdoom was in a funk too. For the first time in years, he decided to get thoroughly smashed, rejecting all company and setting about his mammoth task with a grim, angry will.

Uriel conjured a magical meal for two ships’ companies. A huge feast!

Leon used the oil of Nem in his Wayfarer’s Lamp to make it possible for him to dance with Kasvarina. Neither of them noticed Kai, watching them from a distance. He knew what had happened to his mother, and who was responsible. Now she was gone, disappeared inside this woman who was dancing with Uncle Leon. He was confused and a bit angry too.

Despite failing to notice the little boy, Kasvarina’s thoughts were nonetheless on the same subject. She said that she felt she ought to apologise to Korrigan, as her actions had caused him such suffering. But for once in her life, she couldn’t find the words or the confidence to do so.

“We are all flawed. There is good and evil in all of us. Korrigan knows that. You should talk to him.”

They danced for a few minutes more, then Kasvarina vanished. Leon’s hand was suddenly empty. Just as she and Lavanya had both predicted, the Ob had finally found her, and she had been drawn back to Lanjyr.

Leon sought to distract himself from sadness, and asked Rock to come with him into the Dream Palace, and sing a song to Linia, to see if it might wake her. Uriel overheard and offered to come too, to bring her some food if she was indeed roused (and to keep an eye of Rock). They were all very surprised to find Linia awake, sitting on the edge of her bed, looking tousled and confused. She was very imposing, much larger than they were, even with her great white wings folded.

Leon told her how she came to be here and she thanked them for her freedom. Uriel offered her food and she accepted it graciously, setting it aside for now. Leon then asked if, when she was feeling better, she might do him a favour. “Would you be willing to try to step through one of the portals to Lanjyr? As you did not come with us to the Gyre we now travel, you cannot exit that way, just as we cannot step back to Lanjyr. But it may be that you could go back to our home on our behalf, and take a message for us.”

“And maybe some items?” Uriel suggested. (The golden icons?!?)

Linia said she would be willing to try, when she was rested. Now she said she felt tired again. They withdrew from her chamber, taking Rock with them. As they left, they realised he hadn’t said a word – just stood and stared at the angel with a half-open mouth.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part Three

One to One


While the party was still in full swing, Korrigan left the hubbub behind and followed Miller down to his bench at the end of the wooden walkway, where Miller sat overlooking distant planar fragments and the void between them. Korrigan joined him and was silent for a while. Then he spoke:

“I often wished I had an opportunity to speak to William Miller of his Pala years. His ideas have inspired thinkers for hundreds of years, myself among them. These ideas have developed and taken root in the hearts of many, to the point where no one man can claim the ownership anymore. Still I imagined Miller would be happy to see how his work carries on and evolves, bearing fruit many years after his death. Ironic. Of course now I know that he is still around, wearing the name of Nicodemus, and betraying by his actions every principle his followers believed him to teach.”

Korrigan paused for a moment, deep in thought.

“I understand his motivations. But I strongly disagree with his goals and even more with his methods. This is why I do all I can to oppose him. Even so I keep wondering if there is a chance to change his mind, to bring out that part of him that desired peace and justice for all people. Unfortunately, every encounter with him served to deepened my doubts. His convictions are akin to madness, and his arrogance seems impenetrable. I began to believe that William Miller I knew from the written works is lost forever. And now, here you are...”

“Indeed,” after a moment’s thought. “ But I do not know how different I am to this Nicodemus of yours. I have spent five hundred years powerless to intervene in mortal affairs. The thought of what I might have done had I remained able to do so fills me with dread. I shared, once, the capacity of my reflected self to put morality aside in pursuit of a noble goal. I believed then - as he believes now, I think - that my true sacrifice was the willingness to shoulder the burden of extreme guilt for the sake of others.

“But I do regret that now. Is that the difference between us? Remember: he bore my name in the years after the Malice. Pala was his creation, not mine. Those are his ideas you follow. Our ideas. But he cleaved to them for a long time after we parted.

“What happened in Pala or in the intervening years must have tempered him somehow.”

Korrigan gave a grunt and said, “It is all too easy to say ‘I will take the burden of guilt’, but the words are meaningless unless the one taking such responsibility can be held accountable.

“Nicodemus has been able to escape accountability for far too long. He has been gambling countless people's lives again and again, but it was always someone else who paid the price, and so he carries on gambling, raising the stakes every time. I fear he is far beyond the point where any reckoning is possible. All I could hope to do was to stop him.” Korrigan sighed. “But meeting you gives me a new hope. You admitted your own arrogance rather than allowing it to drive you. Fate was kind to you sending you here after the tragedy in Methia. You have had the chance to reflect on it and thus hold yourself to account. You have done the work of conscience on behalf of… the other part of yourself. And that's why, if you what you say is true, and we can return to Lanjyr by merging the two reflections, I urge you to go with us. No matter what happens I will do all I can to stop Nicodemus. But I also believe that everyone deserves a chance at redemption. This is your chance. Come with us, rejoin Nicodemus to become whole once again, and put a stop to his madness. If you can.”

Nicodemus shook his head. “Change is only possible for the living. While I can instruct, counsel and warn, I fear that trying to take an active hand in events would only bring out my worst traits of bitter arrogance. I have tried to meditate to overcome these flaws. Honestly, though, I am convinced that I cannot change my nature. It is better that I not be involved. After all, I'm basically the same person as Nicodemus, and Nicodemus’ refusal to accept failure has perhaps doomed the world. Besides, who's to say that I would win? Nicodemus might subsume me. He has become much more powerful than I, and I have to admit that I fear him.”

“I understand,” said Korrigan. “I understand the doubt and the fear. After all you have spent five hundred years away from our world. You have a nice place here, quiet, comfortable. It's probably nice, too, to have no physical needs. The world cannot affect you and you cannot affect the world, and before long, I imagine, you may start believing that it absolves you from any responsibility to try. But don't tell me that deep inside you don't feel the gnawing guilt. Did the shrine you built for Srasma make you forget the countless lives that were lost? Did breaking in tears before Kasvarina undo all the pain and suffering caused to her by her loss at Methia or manipulations and betrayal by Nicodemus in the years after that, resulting in the loss of her other daughter, too? And you may not have even realised, but today with us arrived another woman you tricked into helping you in the Vault of Heresies and then betrayed leaving her imprisoned for hundreds of years.” Korrigan paused, then continues in a calmer voice. “Kasvarina may have forgiven you, but what about your own conscience? There is a reason why you are still here after five hundred years, while other spirits have long moved on. You have given us information that may help us return to Lanjyr, and now I am giving you advice in return. This is your chance, perhaps your only chance. You can try to find peace in redemption or you may be satisfied to linger here in this state of meaninglesness forever. I am not asking you to take over Nicodimus, strong as he may be, I am asking you to try and stop him. Just like I am.”

Korrigan stood up. “Now I will be leading my crew against Egalatrix to deal with the menace that has terrorised the planes of Gyre for so long. Afterwards, if we survive, I will return to ask you again. You have time to think about your answer.”

With that, he walked back to the lighthouse, where the party was still in full swing.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part Four

Obliatas


Word spread that they would soon be moving out. The party was over; most had gone to sleep, or sat up around makeshift campfires, exchanging stories. Calily came to sit alongside Korrigan.

“It’s odd to find myself saying this, having held Egalitrix so firmly in my sights for so long,” she said. “But I can’t help thinking about him,” she nodded over at Catahoula, who was talking with some of the fey. “What if we don’t come back? And no one ever tries to help his people? I don’t know. Maybe they could be persuaded to ally with us if we offer them aid?”

Korrigan considered her words carefully and was persuaded. They would detour to offer help to Iratha Ket, and then begin to plan their assault on Egalitrix. To avoid complications, he managed to convince Rock to remain behind – to rest up on Ascetia while they explored Iratha Ket.

Uriel considered their map of the Gyre. Obliatas lay between them and their destination. Korrigan’s intention had been to travel around it, through the dead motes, but Uriel was intrigued by Obliatas, and his curiosity prevailed. They would travel through the space the sun now occupied. (Rumdoom was not best please. “I’m hungover,” he said. “I don’t want to go anywhere near the fucking sun.”)

For fear of what the undead-hating star might do to their ghost friends, they asked them to wait in the Dream palace for a time. Uru went there too, as it was impossible for him to divest himself of all the ghosts that inhabited him.

The approach to Obliatas was fraught. The plan itself was small – a glowing light at the centre of an otherwise empty mote. But the object was so bright it was difficult to approach. Uriel could not be blinded by radiance, and floated the idea that he weave the fate of blindfolded crewmembers, allowing them to perform their functions, but the crew were having none of. So he had the ship approach as close as it could, and set off alone on a stone discs to investigate. Korrigan meditated and accompanied him as an mental projection.

As they drew closer they became aware of a telepathic ‘voice’ – a shrill and unhinged babble at first. Then it appeared to notice them and asked them who they were, how they came to be there and what they wanted – querulous, but not demanding.

Uriel set about trying to communicate with the thing, first answering its questions in a careful, neutral and non-committal way. With patience, he was able to unpick its story through the babbling:

The star Obliatas was the centre of a system where the planets were drained of life by a cosmic undead horror. Originally the avatar of a sun god, Obliatas was stranded after all the followers of the god perished. It swore it would destroy all the undead it found, but the horror left the system, and Obliatas eventually found itself in the Gyre.

Obliatas had been in the Gyre for nearly a thousand years, and after a period of mourning (and gradually losing its mind), the sentient sun began to wander. Eventually it discovered the undead civilization on Iratha Ket, and has spent all of its years since trying to destroy the inhabitants – rising above them, until driven away by their magic. This, then, was the cause of the irregular day-night cycle in the Gyre.

While he kept the sun ‘talking’, Uriel studied its energies and realised they could be used to fill any of the types required for the Axis Seal Ritual. Not as a sun, though, it was not powerful enough for that. That facet of the ritual still eluded them.

Uriel was careful to make no promises and eventually withdrew from his conversation with Obliatas.

They continued on their way, but the sun followed them. It demanded to know where they were going. They did not respond, but casually veered away towards the nearby empty mote, as if that was where they’d been headed all along. Obliatas tired of following them once it was clear they were not heading for Iratha Ket.

In the ‘empty’ mote, they suddenly had to undertake evasive manoeuvres. All around them floated dead ships of all sorts, most of alien design.

“I thought you said this was empty?” Korrigan asked Calily. Here, she confessed, was the drawback of her explorations: she had conducted them mostly on foot, and where she could not walk or run, had been forced to rely on the word of other travellers.

If they’d had time, this place would have been a treasure trove to the archaeologically minded. As it was, they released their ghost friends from the Dream Palace, and Uru tried to make contact with the spirits of the ships. Though they were not truly sentient, they all pointed at the centre of the moat, giving inchoate ‘worship’ to the King of Ships. They travelled there to take a look.

While they went, Uru knocked on Rumdoom’s door, and negotiated his way past the diffident dwarven wardens. To Rumdoom, he declaimed, “You are the Avatar of the End! And if you go outside, you will see a graveyard of ships and the King of Ships!”

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” said Rumdoom and came up on deck to humour his friend.

Soon they arrived at the centre of the mote, and there sat a red-and-white metal ship, not entirely unlike their own in design, but smaller and lacking a funnel. Not military in function, Uriel thought, but scientific.

Korrigan used the Humble Hook to learn its name. The king of ships was…

Boaty McBoatface!

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(Look! It even has a teleportation circle!)
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part Five

Iratha Ket


The world of Iratha Ket had been eaten away by the depredations of Obliatas, leaving only a crescent city and its river. For fear of infection, they warded themselves and descended on stone discs, leaving the Coaltongue behind. Flying low over the rooftops, they used ‘macrocasters’ tp declare themselves friends and tell the citizens of the city that they had heard of their plight from Catahoulie the wizard, and were here to offer their aid.

As they landed, excitable sketetal crowds gathered and began to celebrate in song. With seemingly perfect coordination, disparate groups of townsfolk threw miles of red carpet down to create a guide-path, then cajoled the unit through the city as they sang of the history of the plague, showed off the headstone-filled graveyard, introduced the two current waking lovers Pookie and Bunk, and pause before the palace to look up at the black curtains drawn across the window of the king’s chambers, before finally surging up the stairs to where Queen Atchafalaya awaited them.

“Remember to keep your distance,” Leon advised. (This was not a disease he wanted to catch.) “No ceremonial kisses.”

“Why not?” asked Quratulain. “We’re all dead anyway.”

As the song ended the queen — her bony wrists jangling with red cat bracelets, her white skull dotted with black paint to give her a dubious smirk, her dress slinky and provocative, even though she had no flesh anymore — invited them to dine with her and the still-living couple. She wasn’t hungry, of course, but there was plenty of food — beans, corn tortillas, peppers, and cheese mostly — for guests. Plus enough tequila to last until the world was ground to dust.

They were polite in their refusal. (Except Rumdoom, who growled that this was a truly terrible ending. “A few quick whacks with the Stone of Not…” he suggested, but this was ignored.)

Queen Atchafalaya asked them why they had come. Although he did not want to make their help seem contingent on anything, Korrigan explained that they were travelling the Gyre seeking worlds to bond with their own. At once, the Queen was concerned that if they used her world’s energy, then the plague might spread to their world.

The queen lamented that her husband is sick, not in his flesh because he had none, but in his soul. It seemed the lot of her people that they would fail to heal those they loved. Moreover, without King Calcasieu’s aid, the angry star Obliatas was slowly destroying their people, since not everyone could get indoors fast enough. The fishermen, especially, were having trouble since there was no cover on the water. To this, Bunk mentioned that he wasn’t really a big fan of fish anyway. This drew everyone’s attention to the fact that he hadn’t actually eaten anything on his plate. Neither had Pookie.

Uriel got a sense of the selflessness and determination of the people of Iratha Ket. “They’re not terrifying monsters,” said Uriel. They even had a bit of fun with their bodies — popping off limbs for gags and such. (The court jester, Kisatchie, had popularized his catch-phrase, “Wait, that’s not my femur!”) Yes, they were dead, but they maintained a belief that the needs of the living were the priority. If they had to end their existence permanently to save the remaining sleepers, they did do it gladly. So it was no surprise to him when he investigated the traits of the Iratha Ket and discovered that greater altruism would be a consequence of bonding with the plane. That and spontaneous musical numbers (which drew a groan from Uru and Leon in particular).

So the unit began their investigation into the disease. Uru started poking around with the food to see if it was poisoned. The skeletal healers assured him that they had already considered that. What they established early on was that the disease was caused by a parasite – but a parasite that remained undetected when they conducted… they hesitated over the word. “Autopsy?” said Uru. “I do them all the time. Sometimes I even have a reason!” Uru then went on to suggest that if they couldn’t find a physical parasite, perhaps they were dealing with a mental one. “Something like the gidim?” he suggested to the others. Leon quieted him and asked the healers to describe what methods they had tried.

The healers went on to explain that they had tried herbal medicines, prayers, trials of faith, bleeding, burning, various poisons, moving the victim to nearby planes (which always led to the destruction of many bodyguards because the neighbourhood was very unfriendly), and even resurrection magic. The last option didn’t work at initially, but once they tried waiting a few months it was a temporary success. The subject thrived at first but got sick again within a month, even without other living people around to reinfect him. In any case, the city did not have enough spell components to resurrect all the people in stasis.

What about the origin of the plague? The royal physician Opelousas (who kept a bottle of tequila inside his ribcage, which he insisted got him drunk despite his lack of metabolism) said the king took all the record books to his private quarters, and had been dwelling in the past ever since.

Uriel asked if it would be possible to look at those texts. The courtier told him that no one was allowed to enter the palace. Burly skeletal guards prevented them. Uriel tried to persuade them of the urgency but they said it didn’t matter how they felt – the guards were under orders from the king himself, which no one – not even the Queen – could countermand.

During this conversation, Uru had already left, stolen past the guards and found the king in his chambers. Calcesieu heaved a forlorn sigh, just as Uru reached out to steal the historical records. Uru felt sorry for him and decided to speak with him instead. The king was barely perturbed by the sudden appearance of this strange individual, and went on to detail the contents of the historical texts: How shortly before the plague sprung up there were many reports of people having strange dreams, like they were being watched from the stars. Many more saw swooping colours in the sky one night. And what about all the singing? True, the king was a great musician, but people never spontaneously broke into musical numbers before the plague. Ever since it struck, though, people have felt somehow more connected to each other.

“More single-minded?” Gupta said with heavy emphasis, when the information was relayed.

This was all the evidence the unit needed to pursue Uru’s early intuition, beginning a careful probe of the minds of Pookie and Bunk. Korrigan sought to aim his thoughts to cause a thoughform to release its prey, but he could not see a target to aim at. Instead, he used telepathy to guide Pookie’s mind, and encourage her to rid herself of the parasite, if it was there.

It worked! The tiny incorporeal thing came free, though it would have gone unnoticed were it not for their combined efforts and abilities. They thought it solid and disabled it. Xambria identified it as gidim weapon. But where were the Gidim, then?

The question was lost as a sudden, uproarious celebration broke out. Pookie was able to eat! While the unit worked on Bunk, another musical number swelled up all around them, fuelled by optimism at that new development. Despite the unit’s protestations that this was all rather premature, Queen Atchafalaya took up their revelation about ‘healthy thinking’ and swirled it into a sympathetic song about the depression that had gripped the king. When Bunk proved able to eat too (and gave up another thoughtform parasite) the queen quickly awakened dozens more of the loving couples, and had them accompany her (physically and lyrically) as she professed her love once more to Calcasieu.

Thousands of citizens of Iratha Ket were jangling their bones in jubilance when ominous light aroses, and Obliatas begins to sear the undead. The song paused (although a really devoted violinist kept playing a frantic trill). People looked to the skies, feeling crestfallen, denied their moment of celebration. Then the black curtain on the king’s chamber was pulled aside, and the king lept into the sunlight, spinning as he landed and raising a defiant voice. The people cheered, and the king swept past the newcomers, asking them to join him as he sang.

“This news demands a celebration, and the best parties go deep into the night, so the sun should come back tomorrow!” As if scolded, Obliatas retreated, and a massive carnival atmosphere gripped the plane.

While the carnival raged on around them, Uriel led the unit’s attempt to confirm the efficacy of their cure. They were able to establish that the gidim were truly gone, and may have been gone for a very long time – that the parasite they had inflicted on these people was all that was left. Perhaps it had been too deadly, leaving them with insufficient minds to feast on? Whatever the answer, the plane was now safe.

Over the din, Korrigan idly asked the king, “What will you do about the threat of Obliatas?”

The question had the effect of causing a sudden end to the music and the dancing, as the entire world responded with dismay in unison with Calcasieu. He hadn’t thought of that!

Queen Atchafalaya urged them, “Please consider bonding with our world, now that it is clean. That would rescue us from this terrible fate.”

Korrigan said he thought that ‘greater altruism’ might be a useful trait for their world. Combined with Etheax and Caeloon, it might create a benign idyll. Uru shuddered and dubbed the proposal ‘Planet Soy’. Neither he nor Leon was prepared to suffer the corollary – a tendency to launch into spontaneous musical numbers.

Despite their misgivings (delivered telepathically, so as not to alarm their hosts), Uriel forged an icon.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 242, Part Six

Plans


As they travelled back to Ascetia, through the graveyard of ships, so as to avoid Obliatas, Calily pressed Korrigan to begin thinking about tactics. “As we get closer to our goal, I grow less and less inclined to throw myself at the legion with bold abandon! They are formidable and they are many.”

Korrigan agreed that detailed strategizing should be their next step. Of greatest concern, having witnessed the legion in battle, was their ability to teleport. “No matter where we strike, the demons we face there will be able to summon others, who will summon others, and so on in a chain reaction, like a blood clot.”

Knowing the layout of the fortress would be vital, and they had just the deep faen for the job.

They also discussed the possibility of striking at multiple places at once. Though that would spread their numbers thinly, it would prevent the legion from mobbing a single group. It might, however, result in the sacrifice of huge numbers of their allies.

Uriel wondered if they could weave a protective ritual – a circle against demons – and place it in the handle of the Cracked Cauldron. But that might only buy them a little time, as the demons built up outside.

“I wonder how their hierarchy functions?” he went on to say. “Does their domination derive from on high? If we take out Paelyrion, will that disrupt the whole legion?” He decided that the only way to find out would be to capture a chained legionnaire alive, to examine the chains in action. They tried to recall any information they had on how long Paelyrion XVIII had been in the Gyre, cut off from the rest of the legion. The Humble Hook had granted Korrigan a glimpse of the wicked life of the pit fiend Brhan Kinoro, and from that they knew that Paelyrion had led the legion here for thousands of years.

Another major threat was posed by the enslaved creatures of Elosfasp – the supplicants and ravants. Korrigan’s initial idea had been to avoid Elofasp entirely, but he was beginning to think they should investigate the plane and see if a strike there might be worth the risk of alerting the legion.

Approaching Egalitrix was not without its risks, however, so they decided to send a smaller, sneakier force: Uru, Leon, Uriel and Quratulain would scout the plane, assess the situation, and take action if appropriate. Otherwise, they would leave without creating a disturbance, better to maintain the element of surprise.

“If the opportunity arises, we must also try to capture a live specimen,” Uriel reminded them.

End of Session
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 243, Part One

The Spawning Hive


Leon, Uru, Quartulain and Uriel were all set to reconnoitre Elofasp and capture a devil. Uriel cast a magic circle ritual into the Cracked Cauldron, and Uru took the handle, so they could pin one of the legion quickly. Before they approached the plane, they asked Calily what she knew about it, but she confessed her notes had been word-of-mouth. She had avoided it due to its inherent dangers and its proximity to Egalitrix. She volunteered to join their scouting party and they accepted.

From what they hoped was a safe distance, they peered at the plane through a spyglass and saw unusual terrain: spindly spires rising above a dense jungle. Leon teleported Uru and himself just above the canopy, and they flew down to the ground, invisible. The immediate area was safe, and they used Uru’s radio to confirm this, before Leon went back for the others.

While he was gone, which was not long, Uru explored a little and his termorsense revealed something very large moving through the undergrowth – large enough that he might have sensed it through ordinary means. It was moving slowly and was far enough away that it did not propose an immediate threat.

They discovered themselves unable to communicate with the ship through telepathy; Uriel sensed some sort of psychic disruption – an emanation powerful enough to occlude other psionic waves. Leon cracked a wooden bead he had found on Padyer, providing himself with barkskin.

Uriel closed his eyes and channelled the Hierophant. “There are no demons or devils within a mile of us.”

They stole slowly forward and came to a trampled clearing where several enormous beasts munched on foliage. They looked like hairy sauropods (which the unit had seen in Ber). Quratulain studied them, but said she needed more ‘input’ to draw any conclusions about them.

Circling round, they headed for the nearest spindle. Uriel sought to find a small example of local fauna, so that he could polymorph into it. As it was, he was the only member of the group not easily able to sneak through the undergrowth. But before he could spot a suitable creature, his clumsy movement drew the attention of the gargantuan herd. Honking angrily from holes in the top of their heads, they thundered towards the edge of the jungle!

Leon bampfed them all away, back to the Coaltongue. They circled round, found another insertion point close to the spindle, and returned even more cautiously, with Uriel now a mouse in Leon’s pocket. When they drew close to the spire they saw that it was a focal point for the hairy beasts, and when they investigated more closely they saw it was made from gravel and debris held together with a natural cement, like an enormous wasps’ nest. The beasts went in and out of it at ground level, but there were no other entrances higher up. Leon levitated up to the top of the tower and Uriel used location loresight. He sensed that all the beasts they had seen were controlled by a dormant sentience within this structure.

While they were up there, he scoured the treetops for more signs of the legion and – as well as some large, flying, lizard-like creatures with three long necks – very far away, he spotted a Golden Legion windskiff.

Leon teleported them all towards it. Where they arrived, the local fauna comprised those same flying lizards Uriel had already seen. Many of them wheeled around another gravelly spindle. Uriel meditated and sensed the presence of devils: half a mile away now, moving quickly and erratically.

Again, Leon levitated upwards, and they caught sight of the windskiff, banking sharply and moving away from them. They teleported towards it again and this time they got close enough to see that it was chasing one of the three-headed lizards. A laughing horned devil finally hit it with his chain and it fell from the sky. The windskiff went down after it. They hurried to find the spot.

The windskiff was crewed by only six legionnaires. They now stood impassively on the skiff as their leader, the horned devil, kicked at the corpse of his prey and jumped up and down on it, laughing and crowing and gesturing as if showing off to his dominated subordinates.

In this part of the jungle, there were small, flitting creatures like foot-long mosquitoes. They didn’t seem to be bothering the devils. Uru set off on Little Jack to disable the skiff, but he reckoned without the side-effect of the Cracked Cauldron Handle. The little flying beasts were enraged by its presence, and were suddenly on him from all sides, jabbing their proboscises into him, and sucking his blood. His hapless cries alerted the devils.

Before they could react, Quratulain decided to deal with the skiff herself. She stepped out the undergrowth, shouldered the Nok Gun, and took out its propulsion unit with a single shot (albeit one that threw her onto her back). Uriel cast his overawe spell on the horned devil, trapping it in radiant light. Leon teleported onto the skiff and attacked the devils with blade and spell. They were struggling to regain their footing and he was too close to attack with their gearlances. Calily leapt in behind him, disarming several. Both of them were swarmed by bloodsuckers.

Quratulain sat up, drew her pistols and ripped through the legionnaires with multiple shots. Leon and Calily finished them off.

Though beset by bloodsucking insects, Uru played his part, and trapped the horned devil in magic circle. It bellowed foul-mouthed insults at them. Then Leon lit the Wayfarer Lantern, filled with Oil of Urim, granting everyone armour able to fend off the pests.

Quratulain noticed they were not attacking the devils. But she did not think it was their intrinsic nature that protected them, rather their golden chains. Uriel unravelled them from the legionnaires. Holding a chain was not enough to make them safe, the bloodsuckers still came at him. He wasn’t prepared to try wearing one here, until he’d had a chance to examine it.

The swarm had gotten steadily worse. Every bloodsucker in the area was drawn towards them. So they decided to interrogate the horned devil elsewhere. Leon hit it with a curse of incapacity and they bundled it into the absurdist web. Instead of going back to the Coaltongue, he took them to the Dream Palace.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 243, Part Two

Another One Bites the Dust


Uriel and Leon examined the chains first, establishing that the bonds connecting them to the legion were strong, even here on a demiplane. They created a link from the wearer, in a hierarchical pyramid that did not stop with Paelyrion XVIII, but with Egal the Shimmering himself, out there in the multiverse somewhere. (So it wouldn’t do any good to kill Paelyrion if doing so caused them to be surrounded by legionnaires. The legion would soldier on regardless.) Uriel tested the chains. They could be broken by anyone with sufficient strength – Rumdoom, for example. Doing so would weaken the devil, eventually killing it if they were not repaired. They could be more carefully removed with the right ameliorative spell or ritual.

They invited Linia to be present at their interrogation of the horned devil (once it was released from the absurdist web into a carefully prepared magic circle). She accepted without much enthusiasm, more out of boredom than anything else, and though her presence drew filthy insults from the creature, it did not do much to dent its singular devotion to the legion. The devil answered all of their questions with the same barked response: “Loyalty is prosperity! Prosperity is freedom!”

Tiring of this, Leon invoked his terrifying presence which cowed the thing into breaking its eternal vow. Almost at once, its skin began to blacken around its chains, and before long these burns caused it such agony that answering their questions was impossible. In the end, it was reduced to a charred heap, but not before they had gained the following intelligence:

Does the legion have a base on Elofasp? Yes.

Where is it? At the centre of the plane, in the largest hive.

Do these chains protect you from the creatures of Elofasp? They do, since we enslaved their queen after a great and terrible battle.

Will we find this queen in the central hive? Yes.

What strength of numbers have you guarding her? Enough to easily defeat you! Long live the legion!

These were its last intelligible words.

Thus equipped, they hatched a simple plan to dispatch the queen of Elofasp and thereby free her spawn.
 

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