[ZEITGEIST] The Continuing Adventures of Korrigan & Co.

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 244, Part One

The Best-laid Plans


While Elofasp was dealt with, Gupta took stock of her newfound divinity. She did not feel that much different. Maybe that would change over time, if she accrued worshippers. She tried talking to Rumdoom’s followers, but they were a diffident bunch, particularly now that their leader had begun to distance himself from the rest of the unit. Her attempt to use them as a sounding board fell flat, and Rumdoom himself was too busy sulking to engage with her.

Meanwhile, Korrigan focused his mind on the main task ahead: the assault on Egalitrix. On their return to Ascetia from Iratha Ket, they found the fey in a minor mutiny, refusing to get back on board the Pleasure. “We like it here,” they said. They hated metal ships that belched smoke – it was all Rock could do to distract them with inane partying. Before he left for Elofasp, Uriel suggested contacting the undead of Iratha Ket for a replacement crew. Korrigan did just that.

Queen Atchafalaya said that Iratha Ket did indeed have sailors, and they would be only too happy to return to their old lifestyle, now the seas of their homeworld were gone. They would even be prepared to risk their own unlives in honour of the alliance between Iratha Ket and her saviours. This, she fervently hoped, would persuade King Baldrey of the benefits of that continued friendship. The subtext was all too clear – she hoped to persuade him to bond their plane to Lanjyr and thereby save it from destruction.

This led to a discussion about where Iratha Ket would fit. It could replace Nem, preventing spirits on Lanjyr from being so strong; Av would then go back to being the plane of life. “But I thought you liked Mojang?” asked Kai, artlessly, kicking off what threatened to be an even more involved conversation, before Korrigan focused the group on matters in hand.

Even with its new skeleton crew, the Aural Pleasure was a knackered: hull damage from her crash-landing back on Av; poorly maintained guns that made her a liability in combat. How could it best be deployed? How would they deploy their other allies – Doverspike? The Huldregaal? The Caeloon Monks?

At this point, the strike force returned from Elofasp with good news: they had knocked out the Legion’s means to control their enslaved beasts, and the beasts had turned on their erstwhile masters. They needed to strike against Egalitrix as soon as possible, to capitalise on whatever turmoil this created.

Korrigan established their mission priorities:
  1. Rescue Thisraldion
  2. Take out Paelyrion
  3. Inflict as much damage as we…
Calily gently reminded him about master Chyak. Ah, yes. Apologies. So the priorities were:
  1. Rescue Thisraldion
  2. Free Master Chyak
  3. Take out Paelyrion
  4. Inflict as much damage as we can.
Gupta wondered if she could sense Thisraldion’s location, due to his/her fluid or binary gender. Although she could not pin-point the monarch from this distance, she was certain she would be able to do so at closer range, if she had the Third Sword of Srasma to hand. So she went to the eladrin graveyard and reclaimed it. Then, despite the fact that the graveyard was now empty – determined to maintain a marker of her respect for this place – she planted Lya’s rapier instead – a sword that had served as her primary weapon since Lya’s defeat in Pemberton’s volcano lair.

Rejoining the main conversation, she found them mulling over all manner of tactics: Sneaking in and scouting (but that would take too much time); a full frontal assault (far too dangerous); decoy and bluff (which began to gain traction). Eventually, someone pointed out that they didn’t know much about Egalitrix itself, and it was decided they should at least attempt a quick recce before they committed to one specific plan of action.

There was no time to rest. They shared what healing they could among those who had fought recently on Elofasp, and set off for the edge of Egalitirix.

On the way, Leon visited the Huldregaal on Av. He arrived in the clearing where it had last been seen and found its close ally Etiotek Ekiokiet waiting for him. They had driven most of the devils away from Av he said. The Huldregaal seemed to grow stronger with each devil it slew. Some had even been absorbed into the creature. Etiotek said they would be happy to fight for Thisraldion and for Av, but they would not come aboard a metal ship until the very last moment. Leon said he would come back for them when they were needed.

Doverspike was very excited when they returned. He looked more like what they might have imagined was his ‘old self’, having gorged on the lake of blood they had left him, and was very keen to make amends for his life of wickedness. When he joined them, gliding almost silently alongside the Coaltongue, Uriel declaimed in draconic: “Doverspike! You are our big hitter! Our strongest ally! We are expecting big things!”

Doverspike threw a cartwheel and roared in appreciation. Leon asked, “Tell us what you can do.”

“This…” said the dragon, and transformed into a mile-wide fog-bank.

Interesting!
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 244, Part Two

The Flying Fortress


When they neared Egalitrix, Uru and Leon ranged ahead. They found a vast area of empty space, at the centre of which sat a mechanised mountain: a fiery volcano that had been tamed and turned into a floating gunship, thousands of feet long. It bristled with gun ports, but no immediate entry points were evident from this vantage.

They decided to press on with the plan they had agreed upon earlier:

Leon would weave an illusion over the Pleasure, making it appear to be crewed by legionnaires, who had somehow rescued the ship and were now desperately trying to return to base, pursued by the RNS Coaltongue. Their hope was to draw out as many defenders as possible, lure them away and destroy them, while the unit (hidden on the Pleasure) would teleport on to the fortress and gain access as best they could.

Behind the Coaltongue was a wide fog bank; hidden behind that, the great monastery of Caeloon – a vast paper building, floating on the winds of the Gyre. Calily assured them that, if protected from fire by the fog-bank the monastery would be able to deal with multiple windskiffs (as would Doverspike, hidden within the fog).

They approached from the side, to avoid the forward towers.

Once they got closer, they saw distant activity, and Korrigan trained his psionic eye on what turned out to be a flight deck. Half-a-dozen windskiffs were being prepared for take-off, and as they lifted away, hatches opened to allow more to come up from below.

This would be a great spot to teleport onto.

Of course, so doing would mean the illusion on the Pleasure would cease, but the plan was now for their allies to kite away as many devils as they could.

They only waited until the first wave of windskiffs drew closer. Then they gathered around Leon and he teleported them…

… into a magma reserve, redirected by arcane defences!

A terrible fate for most attackers, but for the unit, a mild inconvenience. Some flitted or floated above the lava; others were resistant to fire. In any case, Leon was able to use his last drops of Trial by Fire and render them all resistant to the heat, whereupon they sought to get their bearings and salvage what they could from this setback.

(While they did so, Leon registered the intuitive flash that had occurred as his teleportation magic was deflected: a powerful demonic mind was aware of his attempt and had chosen to throw them in here. As it did so, Leon had caught a glimpse of that presence – it was Paelyrion XVIII himself, glaring at him from his throne at the head of a great banquet table in a magnificent golden chamber that was bathed in the light of the caldera, with rivers of fire flowing down either side, and a great window behind him, looking out on the fortress from above…)

Premature End of Session
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Okay, good. So that wasn't too mean of me.
No, but it was stupid of me, because I glanced down at the adventure text, read 'magma reservoir' and assumed that meant 'caldera', which took me by surprise as it skipped the party to the end of the fortress (which I hadn't prepped for at all). So I called an end to the session with over an hour to go, and went off to nurse my wounds, only to realise my error on the train journey home.

Sometimes you have to run with a mistake, but other times its better to admit it and rewind a bit. That's what we did in this case, because it turned out the adventure-as-written was way more fun than the adventure-as-misread.

Still, it's a good job I didn't soldier on with the Legion Command encounter (which I was sorely tempted to do) because then I'd have felt even worse, what with it being irreperable and all. Anyway, the version written up here is the fudged, amended version (with Leon's 'glimpse' of Legion Command explaining how they came by that description, despite ending up another level, and simulaneously making amends for hurling them into the caldera without first making an attack roll (which is another mistake I made)).

I had a funny feeling that the approach to Egalitrix would be a bit of a minefield as there are a lot of moving pieces and variables, and the party could choose any one of a number of strategies. And I was right!

In my defence, it turned out that I was on the cusp of a nasty bout of flu and was off work for the next two days.

Things have been going much more smoothly since then.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 245, Part One

The Magma Reservoir


Though immune to fire, thanks to the wayfarer lantern, they were still half-blinded by the heatwaves and vapours, but could just about make out moving figures on the ‘shore’ where the magma reservoir ended. Rumdoom was more able than others to shrug off the difficulties of the situation, and trudged through the magma towards them.

When the mists cleared on reaching the ‘bank’, he found himself in a turbulent room full of groaning pipes, where low-ranking devils were cleaning the metal floor with mops. They turned to regard him in blank surprise. There was evidence of recent carnage in here – body parts and broken chains; their mops were bloody. To the rear of the group, the only alert member bridled at his presence: a succubus unfurled her wings and hissed like a cat.

Rumdoom had been told to try to break the devils’ chains. He had a go at doing so with the Stone of Not – a blunt instrument if ever there was one. He succeeded in obliterating the nearest devil in its entirety.

Korrigan ordered everyone else out of the magma. They responded with alacrity. Korrigan himself swigged a brass-skin potion that would keep him immune to fire even when the lantern oil ran out.

Rumdoom thought that the succubus looked like a threat, and ran up to her; Uru popped a janitor from and immediately melted into the gloom. Quratulain, having jetted out of the magma with her rocket boots, drew her pistols and took out half-a-dozen more mooks. Scanning the room as she did so, she noticed the slumped form of a dead Elofasp Ravant. It looked like it had taken out a whole company before they finished it.

Now the succubus muttered a word in infernal and a portal opened just behind her. She darted through it. Leon teleported next to the portal, invisibly. Through it, he saw an immense treasury, with orderly stacks of gold ingots, row upon row, rising to a ceiling height of fifty feet. Gold collected from a thousand worlds. Among the stacks were devils – elite stars, legionnaires, and at least one horned devil. The succubus sought to muster them, though Leon knew her portal was temporary and would wink out shortly. Gupta stood in wonder and tried to tell how long it would take the devils to respond, and where they would do so. The answer was here, in the next five minutes or so.

The unarmed janitors, those that had not been slain already – fell back on their only other means of attack, spraying hellfire breath all around them. Needless to say, it didn’t do them any good.

While Quratulain dealt with the remaining janitors, Rumdoom used trial and error to figure out how hard it was to break the golden chains with his bare hands. Assuming he could grab a hold of them, it wasn’t all that difficult, given his knowledge of the runes of destruction.

While they did this, Korrigan contacted the Coaltongue telepathically. They had come under fire from the starboard fusils (a rumbling the unit could hear through the hull). The devils did not seem to care about hitting their own windskiffs. But Doverspike’s fog cloud had surged forward and enveloped them before they could be hit. Korrigan told them they were ‘safely’ on board Egalitrix and would continue with their mission. Amielle should let him know if her circumstances changed dramatically. Then he gave Uru the order to fuck up the engines. This was a general order: keeping out of sight he was to see what he could do to damage Egalitrix.

Uru was already on it, looking for somewhere to stick his rod – an immovable rod that he had picked up on Padyer. This mechanised mountain was like a gremlin's playground! Gupta gave him a spectral knife she had found that could cut through any material to aid in his sabotage mission. Then she drew the Third Sword of Srasma, and focused on Thisraldion:

Her hunch that, being of binary gender, Thisraldion could be located by the sword, was proved right. She knew him to be ‘about six-hundred feet away, up one level, and at 7 o’clock’ (using Uriel’s orientation method, with the magma at ‘six’).

Meanwhile, Uriel had transformed into a small, swift bird, and flew about the area searching for exits. He found a large hatch at ‘twelve o’clock’ (assuming the magma was at ‘six’), and reported back. Korrigan looked through the hatch with his psionic powers and found a mechanics shop full of enslaved devils. In the meantime, Uriel had found another exit – an open stairwell to another, louder engine room, where he could see many more chained devils and one or two succubi. (The chamber near the magma was split into two levels, with a gantry throughout at the halfway point giving upper access to more of the machinery. Steps from this mezzanine led to the next level of the fortress proper.) Uru said he thought that would be the actual engine room: pipes from this floor led up there, siphoning energy from the magma reservoir.

Leon had spent the time analysing his own teleportation powers. He figured out that the defences around Egalitrix would not interfere with internal teleportation. (But if he wanted to fetch the Huldregarl, he would have to defend against Paelyrion – which he could attempt to do so, now that he was aware that Paelyrion could divert them if they came in from outside.) This done, he suggested a strategy – that they wait for reinforcements to come from the treasury, and teleport out to the now-empty treasury when they arrived.

This was such a good idea that they responded to it immediately, gathering atop the gantry, disguised under an illusion (while Uru continued to fiddle with the machinery). They waited. The roar of the engines could not entirely drown the pounding of the guns. At length, the devils arrived, rushing through a portal: a succubus, scores of legionnaires, and a horned devil. At once, Leon spirited the group away.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 245, Part Two

Finding Thisraldion


On arrival in the treasure vault, they found a token force had been left behind: a succubus, a company of legionnaires, and a handful of elites, gathered some distance away from their arrival point. Once again, Rumdoom was first to react, engaging his Icon of Avilona to fly at the succubus and swing at it with the Stone of Not. He missed! Uriel cast a spell to undo his action, and this time he hit. The succubus vanished.

Quratulain took down the elites with her pistols; Leon waded in with his dreaming blade and a witchfire spell; Gupta wounded the rest with a Vision of Srasma and they mopped them up in no time. Then Gupta reoriented them, using the Third Blade: Thisraldion was now on the same level as them, at ‘9 o-clock’, but more-or-less the same distance away as before.

Leon grabbed one ingot for everyone and put them in the absurdist web. Quratulain noted signs of an earlier struggle with supplicants of elofasp. They had spilled a lot of devil ichor before their sharp forelimbs were torn off and scattered about. No clean-up attempt had been made here yet.

Uriel sought exits, and found a hatch in the bulkhead at ’12 o’clock’, and a sealed hatch in the ceiling (with no steps or stairs leading down from it). Korrigan looked through them both. First, the ceiling hatch, through which he saw feet, many feet, and the scores of devils they belonged to, standing above them in a battery-style ‘barracks’. Gradual, flowing movement in one section suggested some were filing out through another exit. Through the 12 o’clock hatch, he saw the engine room they had seen from below. It was dominated by an enormous turbine. Many devils laboured there to keep it turning, and to guard it. There were at least two succubi too.

Uru reported in. He had found a defunct eldritch machine which may once have created the fortress’ ammunition. It hadn’t been used in a long time. He had also worked out how to cut off power to the engine room above, and set about doing so. Once done, he would render the controls inoperable, so power could not easily be restored.

While he did so, they hatched a plan and entered the engine room disguised as elite star legionnaires by one of Leon’s powerful illusions. The curious, suspicious succubi immediately approached, circling them like predatory birds and demanding to know what they were doing there.

Though not well-versed in the art of deception (they usually relied on Leon for this sort of thing), Uriel was the only one capable of responding in their demonic tongue. To add authenticity to his response, he used their own harsh-sounding names (courtesy of Korrigan, supplied by the Humble Hook and shared telepathically) and the name of the succubi that had fled earlier. She had told them to search for intruders, he said, and kept on walking confidently towards the first hatch he saw, at 9 o’clock (as if he knew exactly where he was going):

It was wide open and led out into a huge hangar where windskiffs were kept. The ceiling where they stood was fifty feet high, but to their right, where the space widened out, it was at least a hundred feet up. Four skiffs were being winched up through four hatches in the ceiling, beyond which the faint light of Obliatas could be seen – the flight deck they had first tried to land upon. More skiffs were being brought into place by devilish ground crew, and legionnaires and steam golems were being loaded on to each. Korrigan told Amielle to expect more skiffs. She responded in the affirmative. Doverspike had already made short work of another skiff, laughing as he did so. The Coaltongue and the Pleasure were both dealing with a third. “Egalitrix itself is turning slowly towards us; we can’t see out of the fog, but Calily told us.” Korrigan reminded her not to leave the fog bank.

There were a lot of exits from this enormous hangar – above them, opposite them, at 6, 9, 12 o’clock and elsewhere. From where they stood they could guess that their own vessels were fighting off windskiffs at 3 o’clock (or starboard). Egalitrix must be turning to bring more guns to bear.

Without pausing they headed across the hangar towards a hatch directly opposite the one they came through. They were ignored by the devils in the hangar. As they went they noted signs of conflict here too – bloodstains and corpses. Clearly, a sizable Elofasp insurrection had been put down here, and their arrival had interrupted the clean-up operation.

From the hangar, they walked into another engine room, identical to the one they had just come from. (One engine per wing, perhaps?) At once, they were accosted by a succubus. Again, Uriel responded in the demonic tongue, telling the succubus that there were intruders aboard the fortress, and that their orders were “to reinforce the prisoner area.” He read the demon’s surface thoughts as he said this and she thought to herself, ‘He must mean the treasury, where the fairy king is being held…” How very convenient! They were waved through, and thanks to the succubus, knew exactly where to go, assuming the layout here mirrored the opposite side: through the 6 o’clock hatch, where they came to another, extraordinary treasury. This one did not lack defenders: there were hundreds of legionnaires, dozens of elites, a horned devil and two succubi spread throughout chamber.

High above the chamber floor, suspended from a golden cage, they saw Thisraldion – chained, kneeling, head bowed.

At once, the horned devil barked at them, demanding to know why they had come. Uriel told him the same story, which convinced him, and they walked across the chamber to get closer to him, communicating telepathically as they went, waiting for the best moment to strike. Rumdoom would go for the horned devil; Quratulain would take out the succubi; Gupta would deal with the legionnaires.

They were just seconds away from launching their ambush, when Star Marshal Lacacia arrived.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 245, Part Three

Last Stand of the Star Marshal


The Star Marshal’s sudden arrival took them aback. She appeared right next to them , accompanied by two horned devils and a towering glabrezu, and addressed the whole room in a commanding voice: “Intruders have penetrated the fortress. I recognise their vessel from our raid on the fairy plane and have come to prevent them from rescuing their king.”

Quratulain said to Korrigan, telepathically, “I hope you’ve got a good one-liner for when we emerge from hiding.”

As if on cue, Gupta kicked things off, treating all foes to a horrifying vision of the fall, a power now augmented by its presentation of two falls for the price of one (as well as all the willpower Gupta could muster). The hapless legionnaires could not cope and all who saw the vision – some two-hundred and fifty of them – were slain in an instant.

At that, Korrigan revealed himself and said to the Star Marshal, “You and what army?”

With a roar of appreciation, Rumdoom launched himself at the horned devils guarding the Star Marshal, swinging at both with the Stone of Not. He hit one and it vanished, but the other one dodged aside. Korrigan urged him to swing again. He did so, and the second one vanished too.

Quratulain had already calculated the angles and judged the distances. In a series of swift movements, she shot and killed one succubus with her lantern blaster, then pivoted and killed the other, on the opposite side of the room. There would be no further reinforcements.

Leon uttered a curse of incapacity and caused the glabrezu to flounder.

Deeming it appropriate, Uriel called upon his incarnation Babatunde for the first time. This was the godhand who defended William Miller at Pala. The others saw his fists glow with radiance, and golden light limn his body like a suit of armour. He pounced at Star Marshal Lacia and struck her twice. Denied allies, she was unable to defend herself and cried out in horror.

Gupta had been subjected to the lascivious sorcery of the Star Marshal before, and did not want to risk repeating the experience. “Will you defer to the true rulers of Egalitrix?” she asked. Lacacia was stunned by her effrontery and could not bring herself to act, save to attempt to defend herself against the assault of the godhand.

Everything seemed to be going pretty well, thought Korrigan, as Quratulain took out a whole squad of elite stars with her pistols. Without the need for his personal involvement, he contented himself with providing salient advice and general battle management tips, which caused the unit to tighten its performance even further: the remaining horned devil found it almost impossible to hit Uriel with his chains.

Leon teleported, to levitate alongside Thisraldion’s cage. Close up, he realised that the monarch of Av had refused to be dominated by the Legion. His bowed head was evidence of his continued determination to resist the influence of the gold chains that were wrapped around him. He had been beaten, that much was clear, but they had imprisoned him here because his resolve had not been broken.

Without raising his head, Thisraldion said. “Hello, Leon. Would it be possible for you to remove these chains, I wonder?” Leon teleported both of them far down one of the aisles of ingots, away from the ongoing combat.

The remaining elites – four whole units – threw their gearlances at Uriel, Quratulain, Korrigan and Rumdoom. They defended expertly, smashing the missiles away or sidestepping them. Uriel turned the tables on the Star Marshal, using one of Babatunde’s tricks – he grabbed her to use as a shield against the gearlances and left her collapsed under a heap of gold chains.

Uriel pounced back onto Lacacia, subjecting her to a flurry of blows. She used the chains themselves to defend her, but some of his attacks were keenly felt. Gupta kept up the relentless attack, bone-cursing the Star Marshal. She cried out, shrugged off the curse, and tried to weave her own curse around Uriel. She failed, and was beaten into a final stillness.

Rumdoom dispatched the glabrezu with the Stone of Not. The sole remaining horned devil flew up and attacked Rumdoom from above. He grabbed the devil’s chain, yanked it towards him and killed it.

Keen to comply with Thisraldion’s wishes, Leon used starfire to burn through the golden chains that bound the monarch. Perhaps Thisraldion had not understood the danger this presented, as the instant the chains were removed, he cried out in pain, and his flesh began to blacken; not as fast as it might have affected other devils, as he was not entirely dominated by the legion, but it would, surely, eventually, kill him. Leon passed him a healing potion and called for aid.

The elites rained down explosive attacks on Quratulain, Gupta and Korrigan, who were clustered together, working in tandem. Quratulain enjoyed the effects and, though sorely injured, Korrigan and Gupta remained standing. That was enough for the elites. They would fight to the death if ordered to do so, but other contingencies must have come into play when faced with insuperable odds in the interior of Egalitrix. They yanked their gearlances back to them and began a steady, defensive withdrawal.

Even while his allies harried the retreating elites, Leon brought Thisraldion to Uriel, then lit the Wayfarer Lanter, having filled it with oil of Arboretum. Between Uriel and Korrigan, they were able to heal the monarch and rid him of the legion’s curse.

At once, Thisraldion gave them thanks, then he stood, raised his arms aloft, and summoned his vorpal sword into his hands. It arrived with a snickersnack. Wielding it with happy abandon, he joined Quratulain and Rumdoom in their assault on the retreating elites, dancing around the chamber, lopping off devils' heads to the left and to the right. None of the devils got away.

Word came from Amielle. “How long are you going to be? Rock’s not sticking to the plan! Do I follow him?”

Korrigan told her to sit tight. They still needed to find Master Chyak.

Thisraldion knew where he was: “When I was first brought here, I was taken before General Paelyrion in an attempt to cause me to submit to the legion. Master Chyak San-Cho is his personal bodyguard.”

“Uh oh…” said Gupta.

End of Session
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 246, Part One

Red Alert


Uru was now in starboard the engine room, having cut off the power from the magma reservoir and rendered the means to restore it inoperable. This would mean that whatever changes he was able to make in the engine room could not be reversed. He studied the machinery, and decided to alter both the pitch and the yaw (without concerning himself with the possible consequences), causing Egalitrix to tilt its starboard guns away from their allies and begin to turn in a tight circle. First, he looked for a way to damage some superficial components, to give the impression that fixing them would solve the problem. Then he pulled a lever into position and jammed the immovable rod into place in a vital area, where it could not easily be seen. At once, the devils in the engine room became aware that something was wrong, but Uru instantly vanished, ghost-stepping out of the engine room into the hangar, to follow the unit as best he could towards the treasury.

The change in pitch was imperceptible from within – the floor did not ‘tilt’: Egalitrix, as a plane entire, observed its own internal laws of gravity (otherwise, god knows what might have happened to the lava). But the starboard guns ceased firing as they could no longer find their targets.

By now, the rest of the unit was beginning to regroup, having cut down the last of the fleeing elites. Suddenly, a horrifying noise beset them all, affecting every non-devil on the vessel, using a mechanism similar to that on the flagship – only this one broadcast an infernal voice, not a blaring alarm. It spoke in a harsh guttural tongue, so loud they had to cover their ears. Only Uriel understood the words:

“Intruder alert! Intruder alert! Foes in the port-side treasury! Neutralise at once!”

Above, the ceiling hatch opened and legionnaires poured in from the barracks – they simply fell through the hole, teleporting to the ground at the last second. What had been empty space between the unit members was suddenly filled with scores of foes. The hatch from the engine room was thrown open too.

Rumdoom channelled the Icy End into a cold burst sufficient to slay dozens of the them; Uriel used deathly gaze to stun all of those who could see him; Gupta shifted into tiger form and cleared a passage all around her; Quratulain did likewise. Then Korrigan ordered everyone to cluster around Leon and Leon teleported them all up to the flight deck (where they had first intended to arrive).

Another wave of windskiffs was just taking to the air. The dogfight between their allies and the legion skiffs was still going on; the Aural Pleasure had left the safety of the fog bank and was heading for Egalitrix, for reasons best known to Rock Rackus; the Caeloon Monastery had left the fog bank too, and they watched as it folded its wings, swallowing two approaching windskiffs in an instant! then it changed shape again to avoid an incoming barrage from the fortress.

Because Egalitrix was now tilting and turning sharply towards their allies, it was able to bring a terrible weapon to bear: the forward towers were topped with a brand that focused the energy of the caldera – a bright arc of plasma lit the sky, and only narrowly missed the Pleasure. Audible, even at this distance, was Doverspike’s whoop of excitement on witnessing this phenomenon. He now breached the fog cloud too, crashing through the mast of a nearby wingskiff in his eagerness to know more.

But the unit was distracted from all this by matters closer to hand: they were surrounded by devilish ground crew – dozens of legionnaires, half-a-dozen succubi and four enormous steam golems.

Thisraldion sat cross-legged on the deck, with his vorpal sword on his lap, as if meditating. Leon quickly teleported away to fetch Uru. As he went he said, “Quratulain, I will need your help. Do you have your rocket launcher? I want to take out the window up above us.” (They saw it, high up in the side of the mountain, with twin rivers of lava streaming down from underneath. Leon told them when he caught a glimpse of Paelyrion on his golden throne, the huge window behind him had looked out over the two brand towers.) Quratulain said she did – somewhere in the folds of her robes, but right now, she was aiming the Nok Gun at a departing windskiff. She fired, and brought the vessel down. Gupta shifted into hybrid form and again invoked a Vision of the Fall, which was hugely effective in wiping out legionnaires. Uriel cast his deathly gaze and stunned the succubi, then he invoked his high-ranking clergy incarnation, Cardinal Tadeo. Rumdoom swung the Stone of Not at a steam golem, and it winked out of existence. Korrigan sent his mind’s eye up to look through the high window Leon had seen, but it was tinted glass.

The steam golems attacked; the unit defended against their whirring blades as best they could. Thisraldion jumped up, and began to pirouette around the flight deck, lopping the heads off the stunned succubi.

By now, Quratulain had stowed the Nok Gun and drawn her rocket launcher. Korrigan gave her the order to fire, keeping his mind’s eye in place so he could study the results. The rocket struck the window and exploded, but the window remained intact – magically reinforced!

Leon arrived back with Uru, who used his ghosts to take control of one of the steam golems and set it on another. Rumdoom ‘notted’ the third. Then Leon teleported all the way back to Av to fetch Etiotek and the Huldregarl: More devils had appeared on deck; it was time to call in reinforcements.

“Where to now?” someone shouted.

“Why don’t we take the stairs?” asked Thisraldion, pointing to the rear of the covered portion of the flight deck, several hundred feet away.

Uriel had a hand of fate ritual pre-cast in the handle of the Cracked Cauldron. He used it, and the spectral hand pointed at the very same stairs.

They set off at a run, except Quratulain, who stayed behind to wait for Leon.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 246, Part Two

Legion Command


Leon hurriedly negotiated with Etiotek Ekiokiet. The tiny, winged plant-like sprite had done as he was asked, and made sure that he and the Huldregarl had returned to the appointed spot. But both he and the forest spirit he served/controlled (it was never clear which) were loath to accompany Leon onto a ‘metal world’ unless it was absolutely necessary and their presence would not be required for very long. Impatience would achieve nothing, so Leon had to take pains to reassure them.

Meanwhile, the others were making for the staircase, with Quratulain picking off as many interceding devils as she could – clearing a path through the covered part of the flight deck. No matter how many devils she killed, though, they still kept coming: succubi portal opened all around her, and more legionnaires poured through.

Just then, Leon returned. With him, the surging volatile mass of the Huldregarl, and the tiny iridescent green form of Etiotek. At once, Leon opened a dimension door between them and the stairs, and they got there ahead of the others. By now, many, many devils were in pursuit.

They began the long run up the spiral stairs. Most of them had means to propel themselves that did not cause them undue exertion, but climbing them did take a very long time. They could hear the legionnaires clattering up behind them. Leon asked the Huldregarl to prevent the legionnaires from following them, and the creature obliged by lurking on the staircase – ably supported by both Etiotek and Quratulain, who would pick off any stragglers that managed to get past the vengeful forest spirit.

Elite guards awaited them at the top, guarding a closed set of double-doors. Uriel summoned a swarm of insects to assail all their foes; Leon added the last drops of powerful Colossus oil to the Wayfarer Lantern; Rumdoom and Thisraldion carved through the elites; empowered by the lantern, Uru knocked the locked doors off their hinges with a single kick.

To bamboozle the occupants of the chamber beyond, and afford himself a vantage, Leon created an angled portal right next to them, with the other end looking into the room from the opposite corner of the chamber:

The throne room of Legion Command was dominated by an extremely long, narrow table, flanked by seats of different sizes. At the table sat succubi, horned devils and two pit fiends, only now motivated to action, as if whatever business had previously engaged them was more pressing than the invasion of Egalitrix. Seated in a raised throne at the far end was the rail-thin form of Paelyrion XVIII. Twin rivers of lava bridged by six iron grates, ran through channels down the length of the room, fed by the caldera and pouring out down the side of the mountain on either side of the huge window which overlooked the brand towers and the dog-fight in the sky.

Taking the direct route through the broken doors, or stepping through Leon’s portal, brought the unit into combat with elite guards and the horned devils, who – along with the succubi – had surged forward to intercept them. Rumdoom, Uru and Gupta cut them down with ease, while Thisraldion dealt with the elites.

Paelyrion and the pit fiends did not move, remaining at the far end of the chamber. The burning pits of Paelyrion’s eyes flared, and the river of lava closest to the door, rose up and reached for Korrigan and Gupta. Gupta, catlike, threw herself clear. Korrigan was grabbed and held – though his brass skin potion kept him from burning. Paelyrion then barked an order in infernal: “Bring them to the mirrors!” A company of elites teleported close to Rumdoom and grabbed him with their gearlances; then they teleported with him back across the room and subjected him to the influence of a mirror of opposition, just like the one they had uncovered on Mavisha. Rumdoom pronounced a fiat to escape being drawn in, and the mirror darkened. But there were many of these mirrors lining the throne room:

The succubi moved to stand alongside the mirrors and cast spells to switch places with the unit members. Leon and Uriel shrugged off their influence; Gupta was not so lucky, but she was able to resist the power of the mirror, which duly darkened. The remaining succubi surrounded her and stabbed at her with their golden daggers. She fought back with her huge claws.

Rumdoom issued another blast of cold; it fizzled out harmlessly, whereupon Uriel cast his powerful undo spell, and Rumdoom’s cold burst destroyed the elites that had grabbed him.

Korrigan transformed into a Bolt of Avilona and took up a central position in the chamber, able to influence everything around him. Uriel used magic to leap across the room to stand beneath him, where he too could help support the rest of the unit.

“Snickersnack! Snickersnack!” went the vorpal sword, and more devil-heads rolled across the floor.

Uru was under the table by now, scuttling beneath it to get close to Paelyrion and the pit fiends. The fiends’ fiery auras caused him to quail, but he levelled his crossbow and got off a shot before he withdrew – ghost-stepping to hide beneath the huge window. Up close, he could see that there was some sort of mechanical design to Paelyrion’s throne, which he was keen to investigate further. (Also, he could see the heavily chained figure of an elderly monk, who must have been Master Chyak, standing just beside the throne, motionless.)

Leon succumbed to the succubi now, and was yanked across the room to stand before a mirror. It failed to dominate him and grew dark. Leon then cast a nightmare spell on one of the pit fiends, causing it to see its own allies as a threat. It lashed out at the other fiend with its golden mace; the other fiend roared in pain and hit it back!

Paelyrion ordered the remaining elites to attack Uriel; he fended them off as best he could.

“Such might,” said Paelyrion. He clapped lightly in mock applause. “Do I sense a king among you? Let us see whose treasury is superior.” From the air above Korrigan and Uriel, tonnes of golden treasure crashed down. The elites bampfed away in the nick of time; Uriel leapt clear too. But Korrigan was caught by the avalanche and buried.

All six of succubi were now attacking Gupta, hissing maliciously. Could it be that they sensed the female divine? That they wished to slay a goddess? But their daggers failed to strike. For the first time in months, Gupta resorted to an old trick: she took out Mother’s Rabana and used it to perform docker’s jank. In her place now stood Thisraldion, who took great delight in decapitating the succubi. Only two escaped his vorpal blade.

Rumdoom leapt onto the table and struck one of the pit fiends with the Stone of Not. The fiend was too powerful to be destroyed by the stone, but the blow was still a sound one. From his new vantage, Rumdoom saw another arc of flame from the brand tower, as it cut uselessly through an encroaching bank of fog. The waning arc illuminated the dark shape of Doverspike as he returned to dragon form, crashed into the middle section of the tower and spiralled up towards the top.

Another version of Korrigan appeared in the air above the heap of treasure where his other self was trapped. “There are many things that are worth more than gold,” he declaimed.

Leon maintained the nightmarish confusion with which he had afflicted the pit fiend, and it continued to attack its comrade. The other pit fiend realised what was happening and turned its attention to Rumdoom, who parried its blow with the haft of his weapon.

Paelyrion was still seated – just a few feet away from Rumdoom now. He did not appear to regard the situation as particularly urgent or dire, despite the decimation of his henchmen. He raised a casual hand and flicked his fingers as if summoning a waiter. At that, Master Chyak San-Cho sprang into action.

Master Chyak was bound by many, many chains. He whirled one round his head, hurled it at Rumdoom, caught him by the leg and – despite his sizable bulk – yanked him bodily into the closest river of lava. Rumdoom gave a growl of pain and struggled to get up, when Master Chyak struck the back of his knee with an artful wing chop, and caused the dwarf to fall back, unable to move.

For the first time in a long time, Rumdoom become conscious of his own mortality.

End of Session
 

Galandris

Explorer
I am... terrified about this campaign report. I just started what should be a heavily-modified 5e Zeitgeist campaign, and I stumble upon a campaign log unfolding over 8 years and going... The thread is extremely interesting (so the point of this post is mostly to thank Team Korrigan and their DM), and I suppose I should start my own recap, but I am not sure my players will have the stamina of such a long endeavour.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I am... terrified about this campaign report. I just started what should be a heavily-modified 5e Zeitgeist campaign, and I stumble upon a campaign log unfolding over 8 years and going... The thread is extremely interesting (so the point of this post is mostly to thank Team Korrigan and their DM), and I suppose I should start my own recap, but I am not sure my players will have the stamina of such a long endeavour.
First of all, thank you for your kind words - you are most welcome.

Secondly, and more importantly, some reassurance:
  1. We took a huge, three-year mid-campaign hiatus, from 2014 to 2017.
  2. We've covered Acts II and III since then.
  3. The only reason Act I appears to have taken so long is that we ran sizable 'buffer adventures' between the first five adventures. Not just side-quests or diversions, but entire 'modules'. So that Act, for us, was ten adventures long.
  4. Our approach to #8, Diaspora, saw the globe-trotting events expanded to encompass the character arc of one of the PCs, to such an extent that it doubled the length of the adventure, taking us 7 months.
It won't take you anywhere near 8 years. But when it's over, you might wish it had. What the hell will we do with ourselves in February?!?
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 247, Part One

His Celestial Eruption, General Paelyrion XVIII


A sudden flash in the teleportation circle saw the arrival of another pit fiend – this one looking battered, scarred and very, very angry. It was Pahlo Vilk, the fiend they had faced on Elofasp, and the sole survivor of the legion’s outpost there. It had taken this long for him to accept defeat and flee, and now he saw the architects of his failure, here in the throne room of Paelyrion. Vilk gave a terrible roar and summoned a golden legion company to his side. The other two pit fiends did likewise, and the throne room was suddenly filled with devils.

Uru shot and killed the injured pit fiend, vanishing into the gloom of the grim candle. Thisraldion decapitated the two remaining succubi. Ordinarily all this prancing and lopping would have exhausted him, but the fey monarch was fabulously invigorated by the oil of Colossus in the wayfarer lantern – as was everyone else.

Korrigan’s body still lay trapped beneath the mound of treasure Paelyrion had dropped on him, but had entered into a kind of trance or stasis while his mental projection ranged about the battlefield. Seeing the tide of battle shift, he flew to the centre of the chamber and gave orders which the others followed: Leon teleported Rumdoom out of the lava and away from Master Chyak; Rumdoom arrived, slumped and smoking in one of the horned devil’s plush chairs; “Mind the leather!” bellowed Paelyrion, eyes flashing; Uriel came up alongside Rumdoom and fully healed him with a single touch; Rumdoom struggled to his feet.

Quratulain, who had been backing up the Huldregarl at the top of the spiral stairs, heard Vilk’s bellow and responded to this new threat, activating her jet boots to reach the throne room quickly, and drawing her vekeshi blade to shield her from the pit fiend’s fiery aura. Appraising the situation in an instant, she threw a grenade into the midst of the remaining elite star unit, killing them. Leon then used his nightmare power to confuse Vilk, who began to swing his golden mace at the legionnaires he had summoned. Knowing that his mind was stronger than some of the other unit members, Leon also teleported next to one of the central mirrors, causing it to darken. Gupta switched to hybrid form so she could cast bone-pointing at Vilk. The fiend would need to steady its mind or take terrible psychic damage, but it was driven by the nightmare inflicted by Leon, and fought on.

Using the telepathic network Korrigan had established with their allies (all save Rock, who stubbornly continued to wear his tin-foil hat) Calily spoke to them: “Where are you now?” she asked. “Have you located Master Chyak?” They confirmed that they had, and were in the process of trying to free him. “Is there any visual clue as to your whereabouts that we could see from above?” she asked. They told her that they were behind a large window above the twin rivers of lava. (A quick glance out of that window revealed point defences firing incessantly. Though they couldn’t see the target, Amielle had told them that both Rock and the Caeloon monks had broken ranks and left the fog cloud; Doverspike, too. The dragon had gone to investigate the brand towers and had disappeared inside.)

Now that they were ruining his upholstery, Paelyrion got personally involved. He teleported from his throne onto the long table, next to Uriel, Korrigan and Rumdoom, clawed his own palm, which began to blaze instead of bleed, and blasted them all with terrible fire, hot enough to burn even Korrigan in his astral form. Then the general ordered all of his legionnaires to attack. They teleported from all sides to surround Uriel, Korrigan and Rumdoom, and assail them with their spears. Vilk followed the legionnaires he had summoned, flailing at them with his mace, coming to a halt atop the pile of treasure beneath which Korrigan still lay.

Uru took advantage of Paelyrion’s removal and occupied his throne. At once he realised that this was a control mechanism for the unsustainable energy levels that the legion siphoned off the caldera, preventing it from exploding. If only he could figure out how it worked…

Master Chyak saw Leon was isolated and leapt across the room towards him. A pit fiend followed. Master Chyak paused only to find Leon’s weak point, then struck his sternum with a powerful blow. The tiefling’s vision blurred as colours transposed across the spectrum, and he felt snapping throughout his body, as if a thousand tiny ligaments had torn. Leon reeled, as if trying to learn how to use his mind and body all over again. Then the pit fiend struck him too, and he teleported away.

Gupta found herself in Vilk’s searing aura, and she took off at speed, circling round the central scrum. Then she invoked her triune’s blessing to lend aid to Leon and Thisraldion. Blessed, Thisraldion teleported between Chyak and the pit fiend, then teleported away again with a haunting laugh and a blinding flash, which affected both of his foes.

Astral Korrigan rose up into the air again and gave orders to bolster his allies; Uriel used his deathly gaze to stun the legionnaires that assailed him; Quratulain shot Vilk; Rumdoom crashed through the stunned legionnaires to attack Vilk too; Leon – crouched behind Paelyrion’s throne, saw the point defences outside fire a massive volley and fall silent. Then he drew the Wand of Egal the Shimmering and used it on Paelyrion, so that the general could no longer teleport. “Master?!?” asked Paelyrion , baffled.

When he saw that his legionnaires had been frozen in fear by Uriel’s spell, Paelyrion’s tone changed to one of defiance: “You think to control my minions?” he scoffed, before he ordered them to attack. Their devotion to the legion was such that his command freed them from the spell and they attacked again.

Uru had worked out how to control the throne, and that doing so would cause the volcano to begin to erupt. His fingers hovered over the controls and were stayed only by the entreaty of his comrades.

Gupta had figured out how best to co-ordinate with Thisraldion, having studied his capabilities since he joined them. She drew a wand she had found on Padyer and used it to cast a wall of sleep across the chamber. Thisraldion then used his controlling presence to vie with Paelyrion for command of his legion. In that moment, the fey monarch won, drawing all of the legionnaires through the magical wall, causing them to pile up in an unconscious heap. Then he set about killing as many as he could.

“Frankly, Paelyrion, I’m not impressed,” said Korrigan. “I thought you had a disciplined army at your command, but it would appear that they are all asleep at their posts.”
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 247, Part Two

Reduced Circumstances


Time to bring this to a close, thought Uriel, who concentrated all his arcane energies on trapping Master Chyak in a beam of radiance. Sweat appeared on his blue brow. “Rumdoom… could you please remove the monk’s chains?”

“Hold on a moment,” said Rumdoom, first dropping Vilk, before he turned and plodded towards Chyak. Leon, recovered thanks to Gupta, appeared on the table beside the remaining pit fiend, attacked it with his Dreaming Blade and confused it magically. Then Quratulain set her lantern blaster to ‘shrink ray’ and fired it at Paelyrion. It worked! The general now stood just twelve inches high.

In a high-pitched voice, he cried, “I’ll show you who’s small! A ruler’s might is measured by the size of his coffers!” He caused another pile of gold to fall on Rumdoom and Leon, then ordered the pit fiend to attack Uriel, freeing it from Leon’s spell. The fiend did as it was ordered. Uriel parried with the Staff of the Hierophant, all the while keeping his radiant beam focused on Chyak, at the cost of much effort and energy.

Suddenly, the whole chamber was lit up by a bright glare from outside, followed by a muffled boom, as the brand tower Doverspike had attacked exploded. All of the combatants paused for a moment, distracted by the glare, before it gradually faded. Amielle told them that the fog bank had instantly vanished, exposing he Coaltongue. There were windskiffs in the sky all around them; Rock and the Pleasure could not be seen; the Caeloon monastery was approaching Egalitrix, dodging each fusillade by folding itself into different shapes. Korrigan took this all in and gave Amielle the order to retreat. She did so, pursued by windskiffs.

“I feel like Doverspike more than made amends for his wicked life,” said Uru, and everyone agreed.

Feeling the sudden urgency of the situation, and unable to restrain himself any longer, Uru set off the auto-destruct sequence from the throne. Paelyrion gave a strangulated cry of alarm. (Reading his surface thoughts, Uriel could tell that the general had completely forgotten about this function.) But the general could not teleport back to the throne to prevent it! When the switch was thrown the whole mountain rumbled.

Another voice reached them telepathically: Etiotek and the Huldregarl were now in retreat. “The Huldregarl is replete! Too many devils give him indigestion! We have done all we can!” The pair of them rushed into the throne room – tiny Etiotek riding the Huldregarl like a thick, black wave; behind them, devils could be heard, clamouring and barking and clattering down the corridor.

Thisraldion saw his subjects arrive, and called out to the Huldregarl, “Do you have room for dessert, at least?” With that, he teleported the forest spirit across the room, to join him in finishing off the somnolent legionnaires.

Gupta realised they needed to leave in haste, and took on tiger form, before digging Korrigan out of the treasure heap with ease – empowered by the Colossus oil in the wayfarer lantern. She took the comatose king in her mouth, like a drowsy kitten, and bore him away.

Quratulain and Leon joined forces to fell the last fiend, but it stood firm; Rumdoom smashed his way out of the treasure heap; Uriel struggled to keep Master Chyak held in his radiant beam, while simultaneously casting reshape matter on his chains. This worked – now he needed to get close enough to free him from the legion’s curse. Paelyrion, spotted the threat and set the fiend on Uriel, who struck him with his golden mace. Even this was not sufficient to cause Uriel’s spell to falter. So Paelyrion dropped more gold on him, but Uriel dodged aside.

Lava began to spit and bubble in the caldera.

Movement outside the huge window caught their eye. Having ducked and dodged its way here in a variety of shapes, the monastery now hovered outside, unfolding a forecourt upon which stood two dozen, poised monks. At their head was Calily. She struck the glass just where Quratulain’s rocket had hit it and it shattered. The monks leapt inside.

“Master Chyak!” they cried, just as Uriel reached out to free their master from domination. His spell was so successful, Chyak was able to regain his wits immediately. While his acolytes helped to finish off the lesser devils, Chyak leapt at Paelyrion, and punted the diminutive general across the room to bounce off a pillar. Paelyrion struggled to his feet and Chyak was on him again, knocking him to the ground and stomping on him mercilessly as if trying to finish off a particularly stubborn cockroach. Each time the general let out a moan, or flinched limb, Chyak attacked again, until Paelyrion was still.

As if on cue, the lava welled up and surged out of the caldera, catching all of the devils that had just run into the room in pursuit of the Huldregarl.

The Caeloon monks leapt back into their monastery; the unit, Master Chyak, Cailily and their fey allies, all gathered around Leon. By the time the lava reached where they’d been stood, they were gone.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 247, Part Three

Negotiating the Treacherous Northern Gyre


They flew back to Ascetia. There was no sign of Rock. Calily said that she had seen the Pleasure hit by point defences and lose forward momentum, but had lost sight of the ship in the heat of battle.

Master Chyak told them they had earned the undying loyalty of the monks of Caeloon, and when told of the situation, hoped that they would choose to bind his world with theirs. Uriel requested the opportunity to spar with him, but Chyak declined, having had his fill of violence. Before the monks departed, Calily gave each of them a big, long hug.

Thisraldion also thanked them, and spoke of the reinforced bond between the Dreaming and Risur. “We will return to our shattered world,” he said, “and see you again when you bond with us.” Thisraldion was able to teleport all of the fey with him, though Sly Marbo remained on the Coaltongue, bidding his family farewell.

On Ascetia, William Miller was waiting for them. He had taken Korrigan’s words to heart and would join them in their voyage to – and through – the Gyre. “I will take my own medicine, in other words,” he said. “What you said was true. I must overcome my fear. And besides, it wouldn’t be right to expect you to make the sacrifice alone. This is as much my fight as yours, if not more so.”

Using the gidim vortex array, they scanned the surrounding worlds and charted a path through the rest of the Northern Gyre, but before they set off on the Coaltongue, they had some unfinished business: Until now, they had neglected to establish the planar traits of Ascetia, which turned out to be a heightened awareness of the importance of history. They created a Golden Icon of Ascetia, in case this turned out to be useful in constructing their brave new world. Next, with Leon’s help, they gingerly retraced their steps to examine the traits of Egalitrix and Elofasp:

By now, Egalitrix was a cooling mass of lava. A few hapless windskiffs buzzed around like forlorn wasps, their hive destroyed. Keeping out of sight, if only to avoid complications and delays, Kai and Uriel set about learning the history, and establishing the traits of the plane (while the others looked for Rock, to no avail): Kai said that bonding with Egalitrix would make the world more greedy and factories ‘bigger and better’ – “like Jiese, but you can’t stop it very easily”; Uriel uncovered the story of a world that had destroyed itself in pursuit of gain. The last survivors were wealthy industrialists who watched their planet die from the lap of luxury, atop a volcano that provided an endless supply of power. Eventually, the rest of the world crumbled away, leaving behind just this bastion of avarice and exploitation. It was, of course, ideal for the Golden Legion to claim as its capital in the Gyre. Paelyrion had greatly admired these industrialists, adding many of them to his ranks as horned devils, and modelling Legion Command on their vast ‘boardroom’. Having rid Egalitirix of the Legion, the were able to create an icon, before moving on to Elofasp.

It took several attempts to find a safe spot on the Spawning Hive. Kai then established the trait of the plane: animals would be larger and more obedient. Uriel learned that Elofasp was once a colony of bizarre alien beings of colossal intellect, but one of their elder brains was slain and consumed by an immense telepathic insect. Massive spawn rose up around the world and overwhelmed the original inhabitants. The fate of Elofasp was darker than its trait suggested, and they found that having rid the plane of the Legion, they could create an icon.

These last two planes were revisited by teleportation, while the Coaltongue set off from Ascetia. The next unexplored plane they reached was Apo – a twenty-mile-diameter hoop. Descending on stone discs, they found its edge was a hundred-foot-wide shelf of mortared bones. This surrounded a vast plain of segmented plates with complex repeating patterns that formed a labyrinthine road, fifty feet wide, weaving toward the centre of the plain. It looks like there might be some puzzle to decode. Scattered around the plane’s perimeter were roughly-carved wooden signs that read “Warning: Invisible Lava.” (Leon checked. There was no invisible lava.) Uriel and Kai set about doing the usual. Kai had great difficulty explaining the trait, but it seemed to involved the random appearance of ‘black blobs’ that killed everything they touched. They figured these might be similar to the horrifying spell sphere of annihilation. Uriel then declared that this entire world was a trap set by a god of trapsmithing to defeat heroes as powerful as them. It succeeded, then fell into the Gyre.

While they absorbed this information, seven spots on the labyrinthine road begin to glow with red light. The nearest was right where the bone shelf touches the patterned floor. Would this be enough to whet their curiosity? No, as it turned out:

“Let’s get out of here,” someone said.

“If we can…” said another.

They could and they did.

On to Ringes, a barren moor, where they established the trait of murderous violence, and an equally troubling history: a plague wizard, who died and passed her power on to her evil, feline familiar. This familiar, Ystis, was out there somewhere even now, having brought about the demise of the rest of the world’s inhabitants. From a great distance, Korrigan saw a throne of bones, with feline dander scattered all about it. Again, the unit feared that their departure might be prevented; again, they were able to leave without incident and thus avoided a second, but this time all-too-literal cat.

And so to Guay, the Grove of Dreams. This world was a pleasure plane created by a god of artists as a gift to his beloved, a mortal painter. Trees of countless variety seemed were perpetually lit by a non-existent, setting sun, and every surface was unreal, its shape and texture either cloudy like watercolour or stiff and layered as if painted in oils. Uriel looked into the past and saw it unfold even more vividly than on other worlds:

The artist enjoyed her time here, but the god kept making excuses why she could not leave, so she painted a mural on the inside of her villa, showing the god as he slept, with a doorway beside him. When next the god slept, indeed this door appeared, and she stepped into her lover’s dreams, discovering that he had killed everyone else who had ever seen her work, so that he alone could enjoy it. Still inside his dream, she painted another mural, this showing the god finding the artist dead by hanging. Then she left his dream and hid, and when the god awoke he was convinced the artist was dead. In despair he hung himself.

The foolish painter, though, thought she could paint a portal back home, but she was trapped. She eventually went mad and hung herself too, but not before desperately painting every surface she could: her home, boulders, tree trunks, and even the withered corpse of the god. A recurring motif was windows within windows, and beautiful women whose eyes were hidden by flowing hair desperately trying to smash their way free. Often it seemed like the women are trapped inside the painting, trying to get out.

While Kai tried to establish the trait, a figure approached through the painted trees. It was Leone Quital! The Steelshaper cursed them bitterly, said that Gupta’s newfound divinity was tainted by her curse, and that Rumdoom would betray them. They were about to respond, when they all awoke, having not realised that they had fallen asleep.

Gupta stood in wonder, and realised that this would happen again, before Kai could establish the trait of the plane. Leon experimented by casting daydream on Gupta (with her permission) to see if the dream he imposed was in any way altered. Though it played out as he intended, he got the feeling that he could enter the dream and interact with it, as if it were a demi-plane. Unsure of the consequences of doing so, he left it alone.

Shortly after Gupta ‘awoke’, they were approached again, this time by Rush Muchhausen, who – in equally bitter but more colourful language than Quital – hurled imprecations upon them: Their group was falling apart; Korrigan’s leadership was failing; the Ob would defeat them because the Ob was unified.

Again, they awoke, without having realised they had slept, unsure of exactly when the dream began, or if they were actually still in it (a thought which prompted them to examine the phenomenon; they weren’t – for now.)

So Gupta used her ability to impart an ideal to her listeners, again with their permission. She told them that their next dream would reveal the ‘secret’ of this world – the means of their escape from the dreams, to successfully discover the trait of Guay and possibly bond with it. Uriel prophesied that this attempt of Gupta’s would work.

At once, they became aware of an enormous presence. A vast serpentine form slithered and crashed through forest, keeping largely out of sight (though they caught glimpses of it through the trees). Now the Voice of Rot addressed them: It could see all the deaths they had caused in the past, and knew which ones caused them the greatest regret. It took particular delight in knowing that the demise of Jenny Greenteeth had troubled Korrigan. Then it crashed out of the treeline and swallowed Kai in an instant, followed by Korrigan, Leon, Uru, Uriel, Rumdoom, Gupta, Quratulain, all of them. …

When they awoke – with an initial start, followed by huge relief – the dream was over, and they were not troubled by another. Kai established the planar trait – dreams became real, and could be affected, added to, stolen from; even ideas and memories could be added and removed. Uncertain of what benefits this might bring, they created a golden icon, and left Guay behind.

There weren’t many planes to go now. Reida was close. Their confrontation with the Voice of Rot was at hand.

End of Session
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
DM's Notes

A sneaking suspicion of mine was confirmed at the end of Session 247, and this had a huge impact on my planning for the end of the campaign. Put simply, the Gyre just didn't hold that much interest for my players any more.

While most DMs are familiar with the idea of cutting a combat short when it turns into a grind, it's harder to extend that discipline to story-telling in the medium term. But as you will see from the 248 session report, that's exactly what I decided to do.

Having watched their response to Apo, Ringes and Guay, I could be almost certain that Garboral, Metarie and Bonalithe would hold little interest for them. I don't think this is a weakness of the adventure, I think it's a strength: the Gyre isn't chock-full of attractive, useful worlds; and once the Legion has been dealt with, the hex-crawl has really reached its climax.

So I decided to skip to the end.


We would begin the next session on Teykfa, and tell the story of their journey through the remaining planes in flashback (with the group able to interject at key moments; in particular, to decide if they wanted to bond with a specific plane).

This meant we were back on Lanjyr by the end of session 248 (having brought the group close enough to Reida to see the dark shadow of the serpent underneath it).

I'm glad I decided to do this, as it injected proceedings with a sense of drama and excitement they might otherwise have lacked. The potential anti-climax of grinding through those last few planes was avoided and suddenly the end is in sight!
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 248, Part One

Reflecting on the Gyre


After a few more days, and some minor adventures, the Coaltongue arrived at Teykfa – the second-to-last plane in the Gyre. One of the first worlds with intelligent life in the multiverse, Teykfa saw its last sentient life end eons ago, but the plane did not enter the Gyre because of the steady ticking of Teykfa, a megastructure carved into the heart of a parched desert mountain. Crafted of rust-resistant metal alloys and perfectly balanced with dozens of redundant structures, the mechanism functioned as a clock that kept time on a geologic scale. Once, vigilant stewards wound its counterweight, but even after they perished it took millions of years for the structure to run down. Soon it would tick its last. The planar trait was that people were more aware of the scale of time, and could better weight long-term consequences. Time could be manipulated. Indeed, time passed very slowly here on Teykfa, and for a group that was about to breathe its last, the hiatus was welcome.

They had visited other planes on the way here, of course, but none of them had been hospitable or worthy of much attention. Gardboral was a chimeric maelstrom where they encountered gargantuan elementals composed of fire, stone, ice and lightning. They avoided these giants for long enough to learn that generating numerous, and increasingly large elemental beings was the unappealing trait of the plane. Eons ago, this world underwent a final epic battle between giants and normal men, and the giants won, ascending to the form of titanic storms as a reward for their victory. Now nothing persisted here except these titans whose sole desire was to destroy interlopers. One almost caught the Coaltongue as it circled high above, but Sly Marbo was on the alert and used the fey portal pad just in time.

*​

Metarie provided a slightly longer diversion. Long, long ago Metarie was a nature preserve in a great plane-wide city whose people relied on innovative mechanical technology to keep out their world alive even as they hollowed out its core. Carelessness led the people of that plane to ignore for too long the primitive three-armed gremlins, who out of jealousy sabotaged the machines that ran to the core. The world collapsed under its own weight, and only the gremlins survived, frolicking in the ruins of a culture they still instinctually resent. All the unit saw when they arrived was a vast swamp, but they could hear a rumbling engine in the distance – the hiss-churn of a steam boiler. It turned out to issue from a hole that had been punched in the surface of the plane, revealing nested layers of marsh. Each layer had bits of boggy ground covered in tall grass separating murky ponds, all of it beneath a looming canopy of moss-draped trees that supported the layer above, in a kind of swamp sandwich. The roots of the trees above wove into columns that supported each layer, and many of these columns were infested with carnivorous fireflies. Who knew how many layers there were? The hole they found went down just three, and the unit sent Uru on ahead to investigate. Little Jack’s wings stopped working halfway down – their first sign of the planar trait. Technology was naturally disrupted, here on the Swamp of Sabotage. It was necessary for the others to follow on their magical stone discs - to rescue Uru and to further investigate the noise; all save Quratulain, who soon began to suffer the same effects as Little Jack, and returned to the ship before any serious damage was done.

At the bottom of the hole, the others found an early Golden Legion vessel that ran on steam, not diesel. It must have crashed here thousands of years ago. Its crash punched a hole a hundred feet wide, and now it lay in a pool of water, conspicuously clear of any overgrowth. The ship’s hold was full of treasure, and its pit fiend captain – Kebez Pol – was still alive, locked inside the steam boiler. The hatch was irreparably rusted shut. The boiler still ran, filling with water from above, and driven by the pit fiend’s own aura. The heat could not kill him, but Kebez Pol was insane from isolation. They decided to put him out of his misery. Rumdoom, in particular, wanted to give him a ‘good ending’.

While they were thus distracted, the gremlins stole their stone discs. How the creatures managed to figure out how to use them was anybody’s guess. Uriel summoned them back to him one by one, then they bonded with Metarie and returned to the Coaltongue.

*​

The coastal flats of Bonilathe shuddered with thunderstorms, as the sentient staff of a long dead weather mage tried madly to stop itself from being drawn into the Gyre’s teeth. The staff was trying to create intelligent life by striking pools of primordial ooze with bolts of lightning, but so far the best it could do was conjure reptilian beasts of high animal cunning. They typically killed each other before they could do anything useful for the poor, desperate staff. The planar trait was, bizarrely, that storms spawned reptilian creatures. Leon offered the staff a ride, and it accepted with great relief. He studied it to see if he could tap into the weather mage’s power. It was only too eager to help.

And so, having decided not to bond with Bonalithe, they came at last to Teykfa, and there they waited.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 248, Part Two

Killing Time on Teykfa


Korrigan was given to understand that they could spend as much time as they chose to here without any real time passing in the Gyre. Nonetheless, he decided that there was nothing to be gained by spending any more than a couple of days here. Already the morale of some crew members was waning. The thought that they would all be throwing themselves into the Gyre in a short while, on the promise that some other version of them was still alive elsewhere didn’t exactly fill them with optimism. Uriel told them that he had seen Admiral Smith with his own eyes, alive and well. They were happy to hear this, but still…

Sly Marbo, not wishing to spook the crew sidled up to Uriel and asked if he had seen a version of him. Uriel confessed that he hadn’t, and saw no reason why Sly should sacrifice himself – it was not necessary for his knowledge of what had happened in the Gyre to be returned to Lanjyr. Perhaps he could return to Av, and await the plane’s re-bonding? Sly said he would try to do so; it gave him added impetus to keep the Coaltongue safe.

Uru gathered his engineers together in the shadow of the great clock. With the desert sand whirling about them, he inculcated them further into his tech-obsessed mini-cult, dispensing fey pepper to all. “With dirt in our mouths and oil on our hands, we go to face our end.” They were all prepared to die in battle with the Voice of Rot.

Gupta felt happier now. “Is the dawn any less beautiful because the sun has risen?” she wondered aloud. She had been riven by vengefulness after since she realised that her family was lost. Their souls had been trapped in the body of Borne, and Borne had been broken apart on Axis Island. And so she had joined the Vekeshi and sought a darker path than the one she first chose to bring their killers to justice. Now, though she felt no less driven and purposeful, that drive seemed positive – focused on creation rather than destruction. Although she was supposed to be a god now, she didn’t feel like one. But she did have a profound sense that her newfound divinity connected everything somehow.

Uriel needed answers about his role. He knew he had to get the golden icons to the others somehow, and he also knew that he did not return to Lanjyr in physical form. So he took the icons and strode out into the desert, saying he would be back in a few days. He was gone for thirty.

Uru spent the extra time in communion with the Lost Eye, which granted him ever greater power over spirits – a power he hoped would soon be part of his portfolio as Titan of the Mountains. It would also be fun to wave it in the serpent’s face. He also studied the great clock, and figured out how to work it. Just before they departed, he would wind it back, so that if they bonded with Teykfa, the plane would not be about to tick its last.

Leon felt that it was decision time – that they ought to decide what planes they would bond with here and now, while they had the chance to talk at length. How knew what exigencies would press on them back home? Uriel said they had just a day to stop Nicodemus. There would be no time to discuss the new world order in any detail, and how would they even know what planes were available? Then he realised one way they could solve that problem: Linia. She could return to Lanjyr, and although she could not take the icons, she could take words and ideas. He spoke to the angel and she agreed to try. It was decided that they would hold a council meeting when Uriel returned. In the meantime, Leon bonded further with his new staff.

Quratulain made grenades. Her supply was running low. She engraved into each one the story of why they were killing who they killed, and why they deserved to die, like a babushka whispering to her eggs what their future would be. How she knew, she couldn’t say. Thanks to Uriel’s long absence, she had time to make very many, as well as make modifications to all of her weapons and armour. Alterations to the latter were in any case necessary: during their long hiatus on Teykfa, Quratulain began to show. She was now in her third month of pregnancy with what must have been a very large baby. It did not concern her that she would have to throw her child into the Gyre as well. She felt that everything was for the best.

Rumdoom kept himself apart from the others, surrounded by his retinue. There were large, worn stones all around the central mountain, that had stood the test of aeons, and once may have been mountains themselves. Rumdoom began to practice striking them with the Stone of Not, obliterating them in an instant. Each time, he would target a larger stone. By the time Uriel returned, he was able to vanish truly gargantuan boulders, and he noticed that the Stone of Not felt heavier. The Herald of the End was sure that an apotheosis was imminent.

After a month, Uriel came back. He was different – less earthbound, perhaps. Though his manner was always kindly, he was distant, as if focused elsewhere. He told them he knew what to do now, and that he would not be returning home. Instead, he hoped to transcend the physical, as the inhabitants of Teykfa had once done. In this form, perhaps, he might somehow return to Lanjyr, but he could not be certain. What did know was that he could send the golden icons to Kai. But it would be better only to send a small number. Leon nodded in agreement – the others were prepared to decide which planes to bond with.

Over many days, they held a council-meeting in the Dream palace; not as a unit, or as a king and his retinue, but as equals, inviting all of those they travelled with to contribute. They contemplated the many options they now had, and decided what planes they would choose.

Once they were done, they bid farewell to Linia, who departed for Lanjyr with word of their decision. “Head for Flint,” they said, guessing where their other selves would go.

Then they boarded the Coaltongue and set off for Reida, to face the Voice of Rot.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 248, Part Three

Blank and Pitiless


Beyond Teykfa floated a field of cracked debris, the celestial backwash of grinding teeth at the centre of the Gyre. The thunder of stone crushing against stone resounded from all directions, and what clear paths there were did not last long. Filtering through the rubble came a pale glow from the last life of ancient worlds being snuffed, and something silver glinted at the precipice of annihilation.

As they flew through the enormous debris field and neared the shining silver ring of Reida, the edges of the nebula to either side grew closer and closer, their misty thunderheads occasionally flickering with arcs of energy. By the time they were clear of the drifting stones, the walls of the universe were only a thousand feet apart, and they narrowed rapidly. What from a distance appeared as placid patterns in clouds were visible here as tight bands of roaring wind that carried shredded shards of stone toward the ultimate nexus of the Gyre. There the two halves of the gear-tooth nebula crashed into each other, creating a blindingly bright vortex.

Emerging from the asteroids, it took a moment for their eyes to adjust, and then they saw – floating just a few hundred feet off their starboard bow – Reida. Though once a vast world thousands of miles in diameter, in the Gyre Reida had shrunk to a fraction of that size – maybe three-hundred feet across. The reflection of the Gyre’s light off the silver ring was like a mirror in the sun, but still they were able to see that something immense shifted and slithered along the plane’s shadowy underside.

Prompted by their imminent end, William Miller suggested that they each choose someone from back home to be their focus – the person who they could concentrate on as their physical form was torn apart when they jumped into the Gyre. “Or in case you fall,” he added, gingerly.

Since his wife was already here with him, Rumdoom chose Vlendham Heid; Uru chose one of the children who tended his garden – the little remade boy, whose feet were caterpillar tracks made by Uru himself; Leon chose Kasvarina; Quratulain chose Ashima-Shimtu, as they had shared a prison together for many hundreds of years; Gupta focused on Von Recklinghausen, whom she had maintained as the target of her vengeful gaze since she last saw him in Ursalina; Korrigan chose Matunaaga.

Uriel made no such choice as he knew he would not be returning.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 248, Part Four

Known Unknowns


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

Nicodemus was gone. His dead host fell forward into the blackened snow.

Again, Uriel tried to speak, to pass his urgent message on to the others; he only maintained this projection with great effort and strain, and each second ran the risk of losing his connection. But the others were used to seeing him in an astral form, and again waved for him to wait, in deference to the Ash Wolf.

Uriel was not to be put off this time: “I bring you urgent word from the Gyre!” he cried, in an unaccustomed tone that got their attention. “I do not have long! I could be drawn back at any moment. Know this: we were reflected when Av sundered. One version of you remains in the Gyre, and has bonded with many planes. Our mission has not failed! We have found a way to send the icons to you – to Kai. I will send them to you soon, my boy, as your link to the other worlds is so strong.” Kai flushed with excitement. “I do not know when they will arrive, but I know you will get them in time. One thing I can give you now, I hope, is this…”

With great strain, Uriel summoned Conquo’s golem-heart from the volcano where it had fallen. It glowed with heat, but that did not harm Uriel. Nonetheless, the effort severed his connection and without another word, he vanished. The golem-heart fell hissing into the snow.

“What do we need this for?” someone asked.

“Who knows!” was the general consensus. They picked it up anyway, and at last turned to thank mighty Ash Wolf. The fey titan had finished off the Screaming Malice, and now towered above them, panting heavily. It told them it was not as strong now that Av was gone; the strength of the titans was fading fast. Korrigan still hoped the Ash Wolf might be able to help them in the final battle, but Uru told the titan they considered his debt repaid.

The Ash Wolf bowed. “Good hunting,” it said, then loped off through the forest.

Lauryn Cyneburg, who sat at the foot of the ziggurat, nursing her wounds, gave a cough and said, “I suppose you’ll be wanting a detailed report now? How much was Pemberton able to tell you?”

She was as acerbic and business-like as usual, but Korrigan could tell something was weighing on her mind. Some bad news she had yet to deliver. He decided not to press her, but answered her question instead. They knew that Nicodemus had used the hivemind phenomenon to take control of all the major nations, and that he was within striking distance of his ultimate goal - to successfully perform the Axis Seal Ritual. Then, of course, there were Nicodemus’ own, disturbing last words:

“It’s not worth throwing more resources against you in open battle. You’re a terror to behold, 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?”

Cyneburg gave a grim nod. “The Ob were afraid of your return. They know how hard you are to put down. So they set up an insurance policy. Wherever you strike, they will send a warning to all of the other major cities of the world – Flint, Slate, Cherage, Trekhom, Seobriga, Alais Primos. Everywhere you have allies and close connections. If you don’t surrender, the world will burn.”

“How?” asked Korrigan.

“That, I don’t know. Though my mind remained instinctively curious even after the Ob took control of me, and picked up on a lot of what was going on around me, that only lasted for a while, it seems. My knowledge of recent events his hazy; incomplete.” She gave a long pause, strengthened her resolve, before she went on: “There’s something else you need to know. They took out some of your allies who they knew they couldn’t control. That vsadni in Drakr, for example – the one in the big tower. They rolled some of Dengar Kreigshaff’s big guns up to it and blew it to kingdom come. Worse still, they… I… we…” Another pause to steel herself. “We killed Wondermaker.”

“The Clockwork King!” they gasped.

“His mind isn’t real, it couldn’t be possessed. They knew he’d never submit to them. So they tracked him down to his quarry lair and killed him. Killed the formorian that carried him, smashed open the jar around its neck…” They could imagine the rest. “I was there. I took them there.”

Gupta had always had a soft spot for Cyneburg, who it seemed always had a soft spot for her too. She sat down next to her and offered what comfort she could. They didn’t hold her actions against her. To get her mind off self-loathing, she asked what else Cyneburg could tell them.

“The seat of power in Risur has been moved to Flint. They’ve put Harkover in charge. Slate has no industrial sector, so it wasn’t much use to them. Flint was set to begin producing enchanted machinery. A lot of cargo ships from have been going to Axis Island, laden with parts to repair the colossus. Rural Risur gave them a bit more trouble, as populations were sparse and hard to infect with the hivemind. They sent military units out to domineer the people, since the new dark world is struggling to produce enough food. In Ber, it seems the more savage races like goblins and gnolls have proven resistant to hiveminds that are based on the idea of civilization, so the Beran military has been rounding up ‘primitives’ in camps. I didn’t know what happens to them after that. I don’t have much news from Crisillyir. There was a rumour that Nicodemus was looking for a female who was held in a Clergy prison, not to punish her but to recruit her. Danor was already loyal to the Ob, of course, but they set about publishing more ludicrous propaganda to convince people that everything was going according to plan. That makes me wonder if maybe there’s some secret core of resistance causing them trouble. As for Drakr, they were tasked with producing gargantuan anti-aircraft cannons to be delivered and installed at Axis Island.”

“That’s where we need to go,” said Uru. “Right now.”

The others disagreed. They didn’t want the world to burn if they could help it. Also, Gupta recalled the intense energies around the Axis Seal, which they had seen on their visit with Pemberton. The Ob had Borne to deal with them; what could the unit do?

Thinking back to that moment made Gupta aware of another presence she had sensed back then as well.

“Xambria!” she called.

Xambria had arrived on Lanjyr with no host. Uriel, her advocate and defender, had not returned, and so she had stayed silent. Now she acknowledged her presence, nervously. Gupta had once threatened to erase her mind.

To her own surprise, Gupta felt her bitterness towards Xambria soften, and almost before she knew what she was doing, she offered her erstwhile friend ‘headspace’. “Unless you’d prefer one of Pemberton’s duplicants?” Xambria did not relish the prospect of occupying one of those cold, clumsy things, not after the sleek, bespoke design Wondermaker had created for her. She gratefully accepted Gupta’s offer, and entered her mind, saying as she did so, “I’m sorry.”

“That’s past now,” Gupta replied, then they turned their attention to the present:

If Axis Island was off-limits, at least for now, where should they go? It would be a good idea to move away from here, they realised. The Ob could send more foes against them.

“You should be careful about teleporting,” said Cyneburg. “If you go anywhere they have controlled, they’ll know. Telepathy, too. That’s a giveaway. The hivemind can sense it.”

Uru invited them all back to his place. Not the old garden in the well, but his new domain beneath the mountains. The Ob couldn’t trace them there!

And the Coaltongue? “Let’s send her at high altitude towards Flint.” The crew had already righted her, and they were firing up the flight components. Korrigan went to give them their orders in person. Rutger Smith came to greet him and Korrigan had to resist the unaccountable urge to give the admiral a big hug, as if he hadn’t seen him for a very long time. They shared as much information as was necessary and told them they would rejoin the ship when they had fixed on a plan.

The Coaltongue took off, and so did they, courtesy of Leon – arriving in Uru’s cavern, which was now filled with dark, exotic flora and fungi. His little gardeners gathered around him and he thanked them for keeping it so well. Then, before they got down to the urgent business of deciding how best to oppose the Ob, Uru – responding to a hunch – approached the memorial effigy of Conquo he had created in his garden, and which now formed an impressive centrepiece. The thing was even bigger than Conquo had been, formed from knotted branches, with a hard, outer carapace. Uru was sure it must have grown since he first made it. He climbed up to the chest, and placed the golem heart within it.

At once, grasping vines snaked out to envelope the heart and connect it to the effigy, which gave a sudden shudder. Uru jumped off and floated to the ground. A bio-machine! Created by accident!

Beneath a beetling brow, crystalline eyes lit up and the thing made a noise like a deep sigh in basso profondo. One by one, it wrenched each of its massive legs free of their moorings in the loam of the garden, then turned its glowing eyes upon the unit.

“This is much cooler than the lava,” said Conquo. “What happened?”
 

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