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ZEITGEIST [ZEITGEIST] The Continuing Adventures of Korrigan & Co.

gideonpepys

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

Another Unexpected Ally


“Too much to tell,” replied Uru. “A long, long time has passed. You should know, though, that the valley is safe.” The valley of the gith, where Conquo had spent many, happy years. Why he chose to say that, Uru wasn’t sure – after all, he had seen it destroyed with his own eyes. So he added, “Or at least, its people are. Safe and well, in their flying citadel.”

Conquo nodded, a trifle bemused; Lauryn Cyneburg gave a cough of chagrin. “Well…” she managed. They waited for her to find words. “I seem to remember a report from Axis Island – that the maustin caji were sailing on the sea fortress.” They waited. “That was some time ago.” They waited. “The outcome can’t have been good.”

Another ally lost? There was so much bad news it was like digging yourself out of an avalanche.

Uru tried to focus them on action: “So when do we move on Flint? That’s what we’re doing, right? I have an idea! Why don’t we make a mechanical, female dragon to lure Harkover out of hiding?” They laughed, then realised he might be serious.

Lauryn Cyneburg rolled her eyes. “Will it have boobs?” she asked.

“About Harkover,” said Korrigan. “Is he dominated?”

Cyneburg said she didn’t know, but that he was a key component of the Ob’s plan – the lynchpin of their defence of Flint, and by extension, Risur. “You can bet he’s got more than just one or two ghost councillors defending him, unwilling or otherwise.”

More bad news.

Suddenly Quratulain – who had been thinking about things, calculating away quietly and figuring out their best course of action, and oddly – announced that she knew how they could withstand the intense energies pouring out of the Axis Seal:

“The Sacrament of Apotheosis!”

It took a moment to absorb this revelation. Did they…? How would they…?

“We all witnessed the sacrament performed – two or three times, in fact. Uriel isn’t the only one who can remember what he hears,” she said. “The sacrament will protect us from energies of that kind, and grant us other powers besides.”

“We will need worshippers,” said Korrigan. “Rumdoom is the only one with those.”

“I think you’re underestimating yourselves,” said Lauryn Cyneburg. “The people of Risur believe in you, King Baldrey. In all of you.”

“Belief in an idea will suffice,” Gupta agreed, “it doesn’t have to be a god. But even for that, we still need to free people.”

“There might be a way in there,” said Cyneburg. “Not everyone is controlled. There are still a few hold-outs who might be able to help if we can find a way to...” She stopped short and glanced about in irritation. “What’s that buzzing noise? It’s coming from your backpack!” She pointed an accusatory finger at Uru.

It was indeed. Perhaps one of his spy-crabs, had gotten out of the tin? But no – it was the musical box the Clockwork King had sent them, a very long time ago in Ber. As soon as he took it out, it activated, unfurled and took on the form of a miniaturised, mechanical Tinker Oddcog. (A little in-joke from way back when.)

He gave a little bow and said, “Alden Wondermaker, at your service!”

“I knew you were too clever to get yourself killed by the Ob!” said Uru.

“I hope you’ve got a plan,” said Leon. “Because we don’t.”

“I do indeed,” said Wondermaker. “But it is, in many ways, your plan, your majesty.” And he bowed again to Korrigan.

End of Session
 

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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 249 Part One

Operation Ettin


Wondermaker knew about the Ob’s ‘scorched earth’ threat, and had a means to counter it: a two-headed plan he called ‘Operation Ettin’. The first half was not all his doing: since King Baldrey had asked him to create duplicants similar to those used by Pemberton, he had worked steadily to reverse engineer the examples they had captured. Though his version was not exactly the same as Pemberton’s, it worked on the same principle.

“For many months, I have worked to plant a number of these duplicants across Lanjyr, in all of the major conurbations, which are now under threat: Slate, Ber, Cherage, Trekhom, Alais Primos. You would have to split up and work alone, or in pairs, but I’m thinking that you’re powerful enough to do that.

“But your foremost concern will no doubt be Flint. With Harkover in charge, there is no chance you can reclaim it without working together. So we need to stop Harkover from warning the Ob before we move on the other cities. That’s where the second head of Operation Ettin plan comes in: I’m not the only one to escape the hivemind. The Mayor of the Nettles did too. Isaac says he can use Cauldron Hill as a focus for a ritual that will block sendings throughout Flint.”

The little Tinker Oddcog model gave a nod and a salute to Uru. “You’re right, I am clever! Clever enough not to hang my brain in a jar around the neck of a retarded formorian!”

That got a laugh and a nod of approval. “I wonder if we’ve ever even seen his real form,” said Xambria (speaking telepathically).

“Will the Ob bother with Slate?” asked Korrigan. “I’ve heard it’s not much use to them.”

“If you plan to use the sacrament of apotheosis, you need to free as many minds as possible,” said Cyneburg. “Your closest connections are with Flint, but Slate is your capital, no matter what the Ob says.” They nodded in agreement, and Cyneburg then asked, “What about Pemberton? Shouldn’t we make an effort to rescue him, if possible? He’s enormously powerful, and must have been up to something while you were away.”

“And if we don’t help him, the Ob may have two dragon tyrants on their side,” said Xambria.

“I don’t have a duplicant in his lair,” said Wondermaker. “It’s too well hidden in the Archipelago.”

“We’ve never seen it,” said Leon. “I can’t get us there.”

Uru floated some ideas for communicating with Pemberton technologically, but the others said it was almost certain he would not be free to receive or respond, and there was a risk that he might be dominated. This was the problem with trying to contact any of their allies.

Then someone suggested that they try to use Pemberton’s own duplicant – the one he had sent to the Gyre with them and abandoned on the battlefield near the ziggurat of Av – to try to make contact. Could that be done?

“There might be some traceable, residual energy,” said Wondermaker. “If you get the duplicant I can certainly try.”

Without further ado, Uru and Leon bampfed off to do so.

Gupta then asked Xambria if she could recognise from a distance whether a person was part of a hivemind or not. “Absolutely,” Xambria replied. “As could anyone capable of sensing psychic energies.”

Assuming they were now working together again, Wondermaker tentatively asked if the unit would like a new bespoke golem for Xambria to occupy. “I always kept a spare,” he said. “In case yours was lost; before you…” No one needed him to say, ‘betrayed us’.

Everyone looked at Korrigan.

“Why not?” he asked, without pause. No one needed him to say, ‘Everyone deserves a second chance’

Leon and Uru returned with Pemberton’s duplicant. Ob operatives had already shown up on the battlefield: Soldiers on skis, with rifles over their backs. They were looking for clues. Leon and Uru had snatched the duplicant and left without being noticed. It was now suggested that they ought to go back and get Pardo’s too, just in case, so off they went.

The conversation then turned to how they could contact Isaac. Isaac was hidden somewhere in the Nettles. That was convenient; Uru still had a teleportation circle there. But Wondermaker couldn’t tell them exactly where he was. Having established that one another was free from the hivemind, they had kept a discreet distance lest the other became compromised. “In the event of your return, I am to point you in the direction of a safe house, five miles to the south of Flint, in a village along on the rail-line from Bole. A disused barn with a painted red roof.”

When he came back with Pardo’s badly damaged duplicant, Leon confirmed that knew the village. There was a train station there. As it was outside Flint, and they weren’t teleporting from outside Risur, they should be able to get there without alerting the Ob.

A sudden, piercing shriek echoed throughout the cavern and everyone jumped. It was Tokoloshe, ejected through a fine spray of holy water, like a cuckoo. “Can’t you turn that fucking clock off?” Cyneburg demanded. Uru explained that it only chimed on certain days in the clergy calendar, and would not go off again while they were here.

Returning to the matter in hand, Wondermaker said that Thames Grimsley and some of the dockers were also free, but he had not maintained regular contact with them, or made any contingency plans such as the one he had made with Isaac. “I think they’re hiding somewhere in Pine Island.”

Leon had a Dreaming Palace exit in the bayou to the west – in the cave where the Thinker had dwelled. They could get the others to the safe house, then go and look for Thames, using phantom steeds to traverse the bayou at speed. For now, though, they would all travel together.

Conquo would have to go in the absurdist web. A ten-foot-tall golem couldn’t sneak through a farming village. Conquo shrugged and acquiesced.

They decided against communicating with the Coaltongue from a distance, and elected to go there instead, to share developments, and give Admiral Smith clear orders.

Uru asked for a moment before doing so. He had felt a sense of growing power and strength since coming to the mountains – a sign of his burgeoning titanhood. He also felt an affinity with, even a power over, the spirits that dwelled here, both those that had come at his invitation and those that had haunted the caverns beneath the Anthras since time immemorial. Where did this stem from? (And had he not experienced a similar surge of power over the spirit world, when they had sought to free Cyneburg from the ghost council?) Instinctively, he felt the vulnerability of a rival titan – that his possession of the Lost Eye of the Voice of Rot provided the opportunity for him to lay claim to that aspect of the serpent’s portfolio: dominion over ethereal undead.

He had kept the Cyclopean Revelation in the Dream Palace and asked Leon to retrieve it, but when they tried to do so, they discovered that it was gone. His other self must have been using it in the Gyre! Knowledge of this reinforced his conviction; the spirit world would be his to command. He was ready to go.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 249, Part Two

Glimpse of the Age of Reason


Picking their way through the woods on the way to the safehouse, keeping a safe distance from the train tracks, they came across a train that had stopped to clear the tracks of snow. On closer inspection, they saw that although this was a freight train, brand new passenger cars had been added to the rear. Rows and rows of passengers sat in clean and comfortable but very basic compartments, each lit by with the dim blue, pacifying glow of a wayfarer lamp. The soldiers at the front of the train worked to clear the track in almost total silence.

Soon they reached the outskirts of the village, where a great deal of land had been recently ploughed to increase food yield. More arcanoscientific gas lamps shed a dull red light over the crops to keep them warm. A couple of soldiers were trying to start up a steam-driven auto-plough, watched without interest by an early-morning working party. Xambria said that they were linked by a hivemind, though the connection was weak – nothing like the powerful, uncontrolled hiveminds they had seen just after the Great Eclipse. Nicodemus had wrought very clever changes in the way the phenomenon manifested.

There was a sudden disturbance when a gnome suddenly appeared – caught out in the open when his invisibility magic ended. Korrigan knew him to be Weebit Vallshallow. He panicked for a moment and froze. “He’s wrong,” said a bystander. “We must help the little bastard.” Weebit tried to cast a spell, but everyone nearby converged on him as one, grabbed him and hoisted him off the ground.

Weebit cried out, “Let me go! I’m not causing any trouble!”

Another villager said, “You shouldn’t hide. That’s so old-fashioned. Cooperation is the new thing.” Weebit kept yelling, and so someone muffled his mouth. He bit the person, who ignored the pain. Someone else said, “He must be sick of loneliness. The rumours spooked him. Here, little one. Let us help. We shall subsume your fear so your mind will no longer be capable of dissent. It’s much more cooperative.”

Watching from a distance, the unit exchanged grim glances, and decided against any action. “We will save him by saving the world,” said Korrigan.

Weebit began to calm and relax. Xambria could see the hivemind absorb him. His vision drifted into the middle distance, and then he nodded slowly. “I understand now. Thank you. Let me go where I can be useful.” The crowd put him down and clapped briefly. One of the soldiers told Weebit that his magic might make him a security risk, so he should travel — in a group of course, so he was safe — to the re-education schools at Dawn Square in Flint.

Moving on stealthily, they came to the edge of the village and quickly found the ramshackle barn with the red roof. As they approached, Leon saw an invisible sigil on the door. It was a warning. “Do not enter. Walk on. Isaac.”

They did so, covered by an illusion, and came to the empty village green, where there were many different roads to choose. While they stood there trying to decide, they heard the squeaking wheel of an approaching handcart. It was pulled by an elderly woman who Uru recognised as the puppeteer, Miss Fortune. Gupta checked with Xambria; she was not dominated. Without acknowledging them, Miss Fortune stopped and opened her cart, setting up her makeshift theatre. A couple of villagers stopped to watch for a moment, but finding nothing to interest them, moved on.

Disguised as country bumpkins, the unit approached as the puppet show began. The story of a land under a magical curse unfolded: all of its people were listless and half-asleep, thanks to the spell of a wicked magician. The king of the land returned from a long journey and sought to free his people from the curse. He found that he could do so simply by revealing himself to them, such was their love for him. But when he moved on, those he had freed caught the sleep again from others. The king learned that he could only free them for good by finding a way to speak to the whole land at once.

When the puppet show was over, Miss Fortune began to pack away. “You’ll find the Mayor of the Nettles in the woods behind his mansion,” she said softly, as if to no one in particular. Then she pushed her squeaky barrow away.

Uru still had a teleportation circle in the Nettles, at the bottom of the disused well where his garden used to be. They went there, confident that travelling to a circle would not alert the Ob. Coming up onto the streets, they found that the whole area was mostly abandoned. Uru’s street lights were unlit. Below them, they could see other city lights, and the glow from half-a-dozen or more huge wayfarer lamps, erected in every district but this one. The Ob hadn’t built anything new here, and had seemingly evacuated the district.

There must have been some hold-outs hidden away, though: As they made their way towards the mayoral mansion, they came across a group of children playing ‘The Unit’. The youngest was protesting at being forced to play Uriel. The others insisted that Uriel was the only one left. “I don’t get what he does!” cried the runt. “I want to play Quratulain!” The eldest boy explained that he was already playing Matunaaga. “You can’t have Matunaaga and Quratulain in the unit at the same time!” Another, bespectacled child argued that there was, in fact, a period of overlap, and his superior knowledge of detail appeared to cause an even bigger argument. While they bickered, Uru approached in the guise of another urchin. “Hello. Mind if I join in?” he said. “I want to play Uncle Uru!”

They regarded the newcomer with horror. “No one plays Uncle Uru!” they said, glancing about them. “He might notice!” Having got their attention, Uru sang them a new song and told them to go and sing it in the rest of the city. The song told of the return of the Heroes of Flint. He gave them a coin each to bolster their resolve. The street kids took a second, sceptical glance at the newcomer, but pocketed the coin and scampered off.

While this went on, Rumdoom had remained staring fixedly over the rooftops of the city, surrounded by his loyal retinue. Suddenly he announced, “I’m going to my church.” And without further word, he departed.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 249, Part Three

Moving on the Capital


In the woods behind the mayoral mansion, they found Lieutenant Dale, hiding out and watching the only trail. They saw him before he saw them, and Uru snuck up and surprised him. Once he had recovered from the shock, he was his usual upbeat self, overjoyed to see them, and keen to lead them to Isaac. “When we heard you were coming, Isaac wouldn’t believe it, but I knew it was true. You always turn up at the last minute and save us!”

He took them to a hidden entrance in the side of the hill, covered by a camouflaged tarp. Once it was pulled aside, they saw aelectrical light from within. A short passageway gave onto a cluttered lab, with two pallets at the far end; another curtain hung over the entrance to a smaller chamber.

Isaac responded to their arrival without pleasantries, he simply shuffled about the lab, gathering equipment, while describing the nature of the ritual he intended to perform. They asked if there was anything he needed. “Not really,” he said. “I’ve got everything here. The whole thing should take half-an-hour to an hour, tops.”

Uru asked him how his wife was. Lin pulled back the curtain in the far doorway and clicked her pedipalps in a thri-kreen greeting.

Wondermaker’s avatar reanimated and said that they would need to gather witchoil for his duplicant technology, which his assistants were already bringing to the hill. Lieutenant Dale said he would get it, and set off to do so straight away.

They asked Isaac if he had any news from the city – any ideas about how they could best reclaim it. Isaac shrugged. “Not my department. You’d better ask Thames. He said he’d keep an eye on things if he could. When last we had words, I told him to go to Pine Island. The positioning of the gas lamps mean that the dampening effect of the brown light is weakest there. But I don’t know exactly where he is, or how to contact him.”

“Don’t worry,” said Uru. “If he’s in Flint, I’ll find him.”

They asked Isaac what he knew about other key figures, and this is what he told them:

Harkover ruled over Risur from the Governor’s Island. Isaac advised against approaching it until the sending barrier was complete. “Harkover would surely notice your approach. The island is heavily warded, with spectral hounds that can sniff invisible creatures, widespread wards that illuminate anyone disguised or polymorphed, bound nature spirits that warn of anyone magically travelling through the earth or water, and teleportation beacons that redirect intruders to the Pine Island barracks.”

Delft was now the Chief of the Secret Police, based in the old RHC headquarters. It might be a good idea to free him if they could, such was his influence over the security forces.

Gale had been dominated too and operated from the Cloudwood. Not the deep jungle, but an area that had been rapidly cleared and linked to the Central District with a new rail line. Gale was employed to summon clouds over the city every day, to raise morale, oddly. (Apparently, still people feared the sunless sky.) She did so every morning at around this time.

That was an opportunity they didn’t want to miss. They would move quickly and attempt to intercept Gale, removing her from the hivemind if possible. Xambria reminded them that key personnel might be possessed by ghost councillors, in which case radiant damage would be necessary to free them.

Leon and Uru would revert to their original plan and approach Pine Island from the bayou, to make contact with Thames.

Before they left, Wondermaker asked Quratulain if there were any upgrades she would like. “Perhaps some improvements to my rocket boots? I don’t feel as manoeuvrable as the others.” Wondermaker said he had just the thing. “That’s good,” said Quratulain. “I need to be able to move quickly around the battlefield. After all, I’m killing for two now.”

The main group moved from Nettles into the Cloudwood itself, to avoid heavily populated areas. Clouds were already beginning to form with unnatural speed, so they needed to get through the jungle quickly. Conquo offered Quratulain a piggyback as he brachiated through the trees; Korrigan flew; Gupta went in tiger form.

Leon and Uru arrived in the Thinker’s Cave. To Leon’s surprise, he found that the five planar idols had returned, and now stood on their pedestals: the Jade Leviathan; the Bloodstone Ape; the Granite Crocodile; the Amethyst Ouroboros and the Crystal Tesseract. He had saved most of them from the clutches of Jenny Greenteeth’s coven, but the Thinker had spirited them away when he vanished. They were connected to the original planes that had governed Lanjyr before the Ancients first performed the Axis Seal Ritual. Leon tried to contact the Thinker now, but to no avail. How the idols came to be here he could not say. Although using it was fraught with risk, he took the jade leviathan, knowing how useful it could be; Uru took the bloodstone ape. Leon put the rest in the absurdist web. Then they rode on phantom steeds to Pine Island.

The others had reached the southern edge of the Cloudwood, where a deep scar had been carved into the jungle and logging proceeded apace. They saw Gale, about half a mile away, hovering about three-hundred feet up, arms raised, focused on her weather magic. Quratulain drew a careful bead on her.

Korrigan flew even higher, above the forming clouds. Then he used his clairvoyant eye to blast through the clouds in the form of a lightning bolt, and appear right in front of Gale. He blasted her with radiant energy from his holy sword; Quratulain hit her with a ghost-touched bullet. Hit twice in rapid succession, the ghost councillors quailed. Korrigan ordered Gale to snap out of it.

Gale’s expression changed from one of vacant shock to a broad smile of pure pleasure. “Your majesty!” she cried. “Welcome home!”

By now, Leon and Uru had reached Pine Island. Here, the streets were swept and only faintly lit by the brown gas lantern to the North. Most of the houses and buildings were in good order, and police were doing early morning rounds, visiting each house to ask if anyone needed assistance. But no one spoke except when necessary to coordinate action. No one seemed to be daydreaming, or preoccupied, or bored. Everyone functioned like a cog in a machine. Leon could see thousands of invisible, spider-thread filaments rising up from throughout the city, where they joined up with countless tiny, knobbly thoughtforms, all linked together in a mesh.

Uru knew exactly where Thames Grimsley was. The spirits of the city told him. He and two dozen other dockers were hidden in a public library. No one came here to get books anymore; no one needed or wanted to read. Thames’ response to their arrival was… as… melo… dramatic… as usual, emphasising the force of will they had employed to remain free: They had done so by reminding each other daily of the wonderful individuality they were able to express before the Obscurati came to power. They accepted a harsh life as long as they could speak their minds, so the Ob’s promise of security held little sway over them. Thames couldn’t resist a sideways jibe at Gale: “Wouldn’t it have been better if I had been Governor? The Ob wouldn’t have found me so… easy… to control.”

Getting down to business, they asked him what he could tell them about the city. The dockers knew a great deal about the changes that had been wrought over the last few months: There were seven lantern towers. One to the very north of Pine Island; another on the east bank of Stray River; a third in the Ayres, where industrial fishing had overtaken the luxury houses of the rich; the North Shore Lantern Tower stood atop the lower of the two peaks of the Great Horned Mountain – the higher peak had been cored and levelled so that immense anti-aircraft batteries could be installed; in Bosum Strand, the lantern stood in Dawn Square, where it bathed the re-education camps; the Central District lamp was on the roof of RHC HQ; another stood on an artificial island in the middle of Parity Lake; the last was in the newly cleared section of the Cloudwood.

Leon said they wanted to reach as many people as possible with the news that the unit had returned. Word came from Korrigan that Gale was free, and the plan was to have her use her weather powers to enable him to address the entire city, but the dockers had a plan to spread the word in a more direct fashion: they would hijack an incoming train bound for Dawn Square, release the prisoners into the city to tell as many people as would listen that salvation was at hand; then they would ride the train to the square and bring the news to the brave folks in the re-education camp. “We’ll make plenty of noise, but for added impact, it would help if the king was there in person.”

Leon nodded. But when could they take an incoming train? “The advantage of organising a train heist in a fascist dictatorship,” said Jered Lawman, “is the trains always run on time. There should be one approaching from the south in about two hours." That was too long to wait. "We could hit an earlier one, but that’s passing through in just five minutes!”

“Consider it done!” said Leon.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 249, Part Four

The Return of the King


Coordination was a lot easier now they could communicate via messenger wind. They had a long list of things to do:
  1. Seize the incoming train, and release the prisoners into the city.
  2. Wait for the dockers to reach Dawn Square, then teleport in, courtesy of Cyneburg.
  3. Address the whole of Flint using Gale’s storm magic.
  4. Free Delft. (Leon & Uru were assigned to do this to coincide with the Dawn Square operation.)
  5. Take out the North Shore guns. (Without causing casualties among the dominated guards, if possible.)
  6. Bring in the Coaltongue to support in their attack on Harkover.
They told Isaac to begin his ritual and set the wheels in motion.

*​
The train heist went without a hitch. There were almost no guards, and those there were had been influenced by the blue lamps intended for their charges (and were, in any case, as keen to be freed as anyone else). They were told to travel into Flint and spread word of the king’s return.

Thames and his men took the train on towards Bosum Strand; Leon sent word to Korrigan that they were on their way; then he and Uru teleported into RHC HQ. There was no need to avoid detection now.

Leon’s spell brought them slap-bang into the middle of Stover Delft’s office – the big one he’d inherited from Saxby. Although Uru and Leon were both invisible, their arrival displaced air in the room, and raised the hair of all those present:

Delft was sat behind his desk. Taking notes on the other side was officer Dima. Flanking him were Carlao and Serena, who had been recalled to Flint to rejoin ‘Unit B’ shortly before the unit left for the Gyre.

Knowing she could be dangerous, Leon cast a daydream spell on Serena, while Uru pronounced a rhyming couplet to excoriate the ghost councillors surrounding Delft. They wailed in protest, but their vice-like grip was loosened. Leon appeared and urged Delft to free himself from their influence. King Baldrey had returned!

Delft spat an arc of brown goo across the desk that spattered all over Dima’s notes.

“We won’t be needing those,” he said. “We’ll take our orders from the King instead.”
*
Not only was Dawn Square the site of the Bosum Strand Lantern Tower, but the surrounding buildings had been converted into lodging for the city’s ‘re-education camps’. Tall brick walls topped with barbed wire surrounded the whole area, and a riflery detachment kept watch from atop the lighthouse tower.

When the train pulled in to the new Dawn Square station, Grimsley and his cohorts set off fireworks from the windows on one side of the train, facing the guard tower. They disembarked from the opposite side, and told the guards there that the king had returned, and to let them pass. The guards were shaken free from the hivemind and went to tell their allies in the tower to stand down, while the dockers used their musical talents to draw the attention of everyone in the camp – inmates who were only too happy to hear their good news.

Thus it was that everyone close by was focused on the central square when Korrigan, Conquo, Quratulain and Gupta appeared. Conquo immediately planted his feet and began to grow, doubling in size, to tower over thirty feet high!

Korrigan hovered in the air just above him and declared: “The king has returned! There is a rot in the land, and we are here to cut it out!”

His voice was carried by the clouds, so that everyone in Flint could hear him.

He was greeted by a rapturous cheer that echoed from all sides and went on and on. Conquo stomped towards the nearby lantern tower. The soldiers there looked unnerved and began to evacuate, but there was a construct squad in there too, and they levelled their rifles.

Another human figure now appeared, hovering above the square. It was Harkover Lee.

When he spoke, his voice was also magically magnified, and it served to quell the good cheer:

“Greetings, my former monarch and honoured heroes of Risur. I ask that you surrender. For the past five years I have watched your rise and you have been nothing if not loyal to your nation. Now if you wish to save your citizens, you will do the bravest thing and let yourselves be defeated.

“Centuries ago, your nation coerced me into becoming a docile pet, and when Nicodemus freed me he promised he would do the same to the people of Risur. Now they are my pets. If you persist in your arrogant belief that you have the right to direct the fate of these people, then your last directive shall be for them to perish in fire.” He cupped his gold wizard’s orb in one hand, then gestured with his other hand at the glow of red lantern light, slowly spreading through the city from the direction of Central District. “Moments ago I gave the order for the city’s gas lines to be flooded with energy from Jiese – pure elemental fire. In a matter of minutes it will reach high enough concentrations that it will explode, obliterating this city and all of its people. What is more, I have alerted Nicodemus, and the capital cities of the other four great nations are each lighting their own funeral pyres. You cannot save them all.

“Cast down your crown. Forsake the throne. Or this great city will die.”

End of Session
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 250!!!

The Battle for Flint, Part One


Rumdoom strode through Flint, from the Nettles to Bosum Strand, where his church was based. He told himself and his followers that no one would pay them any mind. There was no need to skulk. And he was right – despite his stomping footfalls (courtesy of his tyrant's teeth necklace), they arrived without incident, to find the grand building standing empty, locked up, unlit. The adherents of Rumschatology had proved no more resistant to the dominion of the Ob than any other citizen of Flint.

Rumdoom nodded in affirmation of something he had been thinking for a while now. He hadn’t come all this way because the church was important to him, he realised, but because it was not. Coming here just proved it, he wasn’t disappointed in his followers, or concerned for them. He couldn’t care less. He didn’t need them anymore. The end was nigh.

He turned to his immediate retinue and told them as much – that they need no longer follow him, but should seek their own destiny; their own ending. “This is the end for Rumschatology,” he said. They stood dumbfounded. One of them, whose name he couldn’t even remember, began to cry.

“What about me?” asked Hildegaard. Rumdoom looked at her blankly but did not reply. She nodded her own affirmation. “Then I will find my end by your side.”

“Me too,” said Thurgid Ironspoon.

Just then, the words of King Baldrey were broadcast across the city, and the cheered response of its citizenry filled the air. Shortly thereafter, the sky turned red. Freed from their wary injunction on telepathy, Korrigan told Rumdoom what was happening: that the Ob had flooded their lanterns with energy from the plane of Jiese and in who-knew-how-much-time, they would explode. “We need to take those lanterns down quickly,” said the king. "Rumdoom, get you head for the North Shore lamp? And maybe deal with the gun battery too."

Burning in a fire was not the kind of ending Rumdoom had in mind. He summoned his clockwork carriage and set off for the bay. Hildegaard and Thurgid went with him.

Left behind, the rest of his followers hastily conferred. That the Herald was divesting himself of followers was a sure sign of the end times. They agreed to disperse and find other adherents, to tell them to prepare.

*​

Leon and Uru were in RHC HQ having just freed Delft and co. from domination. They heard the king’s speech and received his telepathic warning. Uru took a look out of the window and saw that the red light was spreading out from the Governor’s Mansion. “Let’s deal with them in order,” he said to Leon. “You know about lanterns; I know about fucking stuff up. Between the two of us we should be able to figure it out. Isn’t there one on the roof here?”

Delft said he would be able to handle that. Uru asked for an assurance. “All due respect, but things tend to go wrong when we leave them to other people.” Delft guaranteed that he would handle the lamp. Leon gave him a moment – to open his office door and shout orders to his people to get out on the streets and free more citizens from the hivemind – then teleported him up on to the roof. From there, he and Uru went to the Stray River tower (Gale having contacted them by messenger wind to say that she would handle the lantern in the Cloudwood).

*​

“Is it shooting time?” asked Quratulain. The king said ‘yes’, but gave a general order that Harkover was not to be killed if at all possible. Quratulain fired her lantern blaster at the distant, hovering man. In response, Harkover gave a short laugh, before his body tore apart, revealing a huge dragon with crimson scales and wings scarred with defensive runes. This was the draconic tyrant who once ruled swathes of Ber under the name Inacht the Hex-Eater. Screams rose up from the citizens in Dawn Square. Inacht batted his wings and flew even higher, before bombarding the unit with unerring, flaming missiles.

Gupta, in tiger form, protected herself with the patient revenge of the Vekeshi. Harkover might not have been her foe before, but those controlling him – the ghost council – certainly were. Others had their own defences, which did not defend them entirely, but protected them from the worst of the dragon’s attacks.

“Hold on!” cried Korrigan to Kai, over his shoulder. The he flew into the air as fast as he could and, wielding the Sword of Maur Granatha, issued a proud challenge to the tyrant: radiance would punish him if he sought to harm others. Already, Korrigan could feel the rites of rulership begin to bolster him in his battle for the kingdom.

Harkover responded by flying to meet the king, shooting all five of his fiery missiles at him as he came, and opening his great maw to bite him. Korrigan flitted to one side at the last minute, and struck the dragon with his holy avenger. In that instant, an entire congress of ghosts was lit up, floating in and around the dragon’s head, barely visible but compelling loyalty from the erstwhile Principal Minister. The dragon struck back with his claws, tearing through Korrigan’s defences and marking him with a sigil that burned with its own radiant light. Then the dragon withdrew, firing on the other unit members as he did so, despite punishment from Korrigan’s challenge. Korrigan gave pursuit, swigging a potion of brass skin from the Borenbog’s Gourd as he went. All the while, the tyrant was subjected to blaster fire from Quratulain.

Although the city defence squads had been freed from the hivemind, the nearest lantern tower was still defended by the Ob’s mechanised soldiers. As Conquo advanced, drawing power from the earth, and growing even bigger with every step, the construct squad opened fire. Their bullets bounced off him uselessly. Now almost as big as the building itself, Conquo pulled himself up on to the roof and reached for the lantern. With terrifying ease, he smashed his fist into the tower and yanked the lantern free from its moorings. At once the air was filled with gas. “Uh, Gupta,” he said. “It’s leaking.”

By now, Gupta had given up prowling about in tiger form, waiting for the dragon to land; here was a tyrant whose cunning overcame his arrogance. So now she stood as a hybrid, aiming Reason at him. Conquo’s call interrupted her shot. She looked at the lantern building and at once came under fire from the construct squad, as did Quratulain. Ducking down, she stared in wonder at the wrecked tower and immediately yelled a warning:

“It’s going to blow!”

And it did. Conquo rode the wave of the explosion, leaping onto the rooftop of another building. Gupta stood at the very edge of the blast radius, and her hair was ruffled and slightly singed. The construct squad was obliterated and some of the city defence squad died too.

Inacht the Hex-Eater saw an opening, folded his wings and dropped like a stone, straight past Korrigan and towards his more vulnerable allies.

Quratulain readied herself and drew two blades: a dragonbane sword and a vekeshi blade.

But the dragon did not close for combat. Though its fall seemed inevitable, it suddenly spread it wings and came to an impossible halt about twenty feet up, buoyed by telekinetic magic, and scoured Gupta and Quratulain with fiery breath. Their magical fire resistance melted away, and Gupta could feel Harkover’s magic working through the blaze in other ways, drawing her life-force away to bolster his own.

Conquo threw a chunk of building at the dragon; Quratulain began a predictive equation to calculate the tyrant’s next move; Korrigan transformed into a lightning bolt and reappeared just behind the dragon’s head, then he grabbed the great beast by the horns and sought to wrestle him to the ground.

“How does it feel to be the plaything of these ghosts?” asked Gupta. Inacht the Hex-Eater felt her fey magic begin to work upon him. At once, a contingency of his own freed him from her spell and he teleported away into the distance, dropping down beneath the rooftops, out of sight.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 250

The Battle for Flint, Part Two


Rumdoom hadn’t used Fourmyle Jaunt for a while, and came up just a bit short. He had taken his carriage to the dock of the bay, and teleported to the North Shore beacon, only he had missed by about two feet. He managed to save himself and Hildegaard and Thurgid (whose respective aims were better) yanked him into the lantern tower.

By now, Gupta had warned them all that simply destroying a lantern would cause an explosion. (Not the devastating blast Harkover intended, but dangerous nonetheless.) So Rumdoom ran down towards the ground floor to see if he could find a way to disable the lantern down there. Sure enough, there were tanks and pipes and control mechanisms, but there was also a construct squad. Rumdoom threw an advanced grenade at them. He was a dab hand with explosives, and took the whole squad out at once. But when he picked himself up from cover, he heard the tell-tale hiss of gas from the pipes he had also ruptured.

Outside, the city defence squad were trying to decide what to do. They had been freed from the hivemind by the voice of their king, and had watched the distant conflict above Dawn Square with an admixture of hope and horror, before the explosion from inside the lantern tower drew their attention. The sudden appearance of a group of yelling dwarves terrified them – all the more so when they recognised the leader as Rumdoom Kagan: if he was running, so should they!

Most of them were clear when the North Shore lantern exploded.

*​

Uru’s approach to dealing with the Stray River lamp was much more subtle. Hidden from view, he and Leon were able to take their time. But the mechanisms were complex and not designed to be obstructed by just one or two people. It would take many hands to turn the lantern off. Fortunately, Uru had many hands at his disposal. The trick was to focus on getting them all to work in concert. It took some time, but all of a sudden it was done and the Stray River Lantern winked out. Leon spirited them both to the northern tip of Pine Island.

*​

With Inacht having vanished, the defenders of Dawn Square had to figure out what to do next. It was decided that Korrigan and Conquo would deal with the remaining lanterns: Conquo felt sure he could master this ‘Fourmyle Jaunting’ trick and get to the lantern in the Ayres (which he could see from the rooftops); Korrigan would do the same and handle the lantern on Parity Lake. Quratulain wanted to chase down the dragon. Her predictive model suggested that he was somewhere out over the bay, from where he could strike in any direction. Korrigan asked her to stay put for now, so they knew where to find her. Gupta would stay in Dawn Square too, imparting ideals to the newly freed citizens – deputizing them to spread the word and free any of those still dominated from the hivemind.

Rumdoom reported that he was now heading for the North Shore gun battery.

The Parity Lake lantern rose on stilts from toxic waters. The defence squad assigned to the building had just won a fire-fight with the construct squad, but had lost a number of men. Still, they were cheered by the arrival of their king, who asked them how to switch off the lamp. They didn’t know, so he told them to get themselves clear as best they could, using rowboats tethered to a ladder that led up from the lake. Then he flew up to the top of the tower and gave the soldiers as much time as he dared, before he destroyed the upper level with an Urimshock and flew out as it collapsed. The whole structure exploded shortly afterwards.

Conquo waded up onto the magically extruded island in the Ayres. His Fourmyle Jaunt had brought him up a couple of hundred feet short, and he had dropped into the water like an immense boulder. Then he simply walked along the bottom and emerged on land, only to be subjected to gunfire from a construct squad and a city defence squad too; out here in the Ayres, the king’s words had not carried so powerfully. But their bullets were useless and Conquo simply strode through them. “Leave,” he told them. “If you know what’s best for you.”

*​

Leon and Uru were just about to deal with the Parity Lake lantern when Harkover struck. Leon caught sight of him as he rose above the rooftops, but the dragon’s flight was so swift, it was upon them before he could react, getting a swipe in at Leon with its sigil claw, afflicting him with cold damage before he teleported away to another rooftop. Uru stood his ground at first, and tried to drive away the ghost councillors, as he had done those afflicting Delft, but these were more senior councillors, ferociously loyal to Nicodemus, and there were many, many more of them. Realising he had failed, he ghost-stepped through the floor into the tower interior, then turned the lantern off with ghost hands from there.

While sniffing about for the deep faen, Harkover threw five almost casual fire bolts at Leon. Leon used his own wayfarer lantern to give him immunity to fire, then he teleported even further away, certain that Uru could look after himself. But he had reckoned without the incredible perception of the dragon, who soon figured out exactly where Uru was, and came crashing through the wall to bite down on him. Uru threw himself clear, then jumped on Little Jack, and desperately sought the location of a tunnel, a pipe, a sewage-line, anywhere he could flee that the dragon couldn’t follow. But the north end of Pine Island was poorly served in this regard; the nearest escape route was a quarter-of-a-mile away to the south. Uru fled in that direction anyway, and Harkover followed. The dragon was faster, but Little Jack more manoeuvrable, weaving this way and that through the streets of Pine Island to try to throw the dragon off in a terrifying game of cat and mouse. But Harkover Lee had more tricks at his disposal than a mere tomcat, and – swiftly growing tired of the chase – simply picked Uru and Little Jack out of the air with a flurry of firebolts.

Uru lay in the street, seriously injured, Little Jack inactive at his side. The dragon loomed over him and drew in a breath, the dreadful precursor to dragon fire. Then something out of sight added a bright glow to the sky, and when the dragon tried to exhale, that brightness had drawn all of the oxygen from the air. Nothing happened. Until a figure – propelled at speed by telekinesis – flew out of the shadows and struck the dragon as hard as he could on the snout. It was Andrei von Recklinghausen! The glowing figure was Brajham Silverspire, the ever-burning sorcerer; with them was the ghost of Doctor Wil Stanmore – all members of Unit B. Delft had told them they had been canny enough to elude the Ob; what had become of them, he could not say. Now they had remerged and were doing all they could to defend the city. But they could not hope to hold their own against the dragon.

At that moment, Leon returned. He was the greater threat, so Harkover swiped at him; Leon defended himself with his Silksteel Mantel. Uru crawled closer to him, hoping for rescue. Harkover used his terrible breath weapon again; it did them no harm, thanks to Leon’s lantern, but now that magical defence was stripped away. By now, their unit B allies had vanished, having bought them some time, but unable to harm the dragon further.

Leon whisked Uru and himself away to Dawn Square.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Session 250

The Battle for Flint, Part Three


Korrigan had taken out the Parity Lake lantern; Conquo had destroyed the one in the Ayres. Shortly after Leon’s return to the square, both the Cloudwood and the RHC lanterns winked out too, courtesy of Gale and Stover Delft. That threat to the city had been thwarted; now they needed to finish off Harkover.

Korrigan ordered everyone to the North Shore gun battery. Rumdoom was already there. Leon fetched the others. The city defence squads soon shrugged off the influence of the hivemind when they saw all the Heroes of Flint gathered together, and they prepared to defend against the dragon. Their hope was to draw Harkover to them, open fire on him with the guns, then bring the Coaltongue down from above the clouds. So they made the dragon aware of their location and waited.

Moments after they issued their challenge, Harkover began burning the city, scouring the rooftops with his dragon-breath.

Change of plan:

“Get us on the Coaltongue,” Korrigan said to Leon. And to Admiral Smith: “Prepare to engage!”

*​

Too weak to fight on himself, Uru strapped himself into the cockpit of the Sunfish, to bring the Tyrant’s Eye to bear. They were taking a great risk, using their ship this way, as it was the only means of getting to Axis Island in time to stop the ritual, but there wouldn’t be much point in doing that if they left their people to burn.

Harkover began evasive manoeuvers as soon as they drew near, strafing the deck with fire bolts, keeping clear of the brand. Uru got off a solid hit with the Tyrant’s Eye, limiting the dragon’s options even further. Korrigan then transformed into a bolt of Avilona and struck at the dragon with his radiant sword. This seemed to have an effect: Harkover thrashed and bit at the ghosts that formed a halo around his head, but he couldn’t harm them. The ghosts dug their incorporeal talons into his head and he stopped resisting.

“Loyalty!” he roared. “For two centuries my loyalty to my ruler was absolute. Now Nicodemus rules, and yet you disobey! I shall bury you for defying my liege.” He chanted, swept low to the ground, and tore an entire building free from the earth. Then he hurled it across the city at the king, carried by streaks of golden magic.

Korrigan dodged aside.

From the Coaltongue, Conquo threw Rumdoom at the dragon. Rumdoom struck with a thud, and clung on, Invoking the Icy End of the World, harming both himself and Harkover. Harkover sent out more firebolts, before Leon appeared in the air alongside him and imposed a curse of mouthless muttering. Now they learned how Inacht became known as the ‘hex-eater’ – the dragon ate Leon’s hex, in a single snap of its enormous mouth! Then it breathed consuming fire on Leon and Korrigan. Both were hurt, but Rumdoom’s Icy End prevented the dragon from healing. Harkover flew clear of it.

“Nicodemus is not your liege!” cried Korrigan. “He is your slave-driver. But I’m not going to hold it against you.” And so Korrigan focused his next attack on the ghost council, drawing his symbol of the sun, and wielding against the possessing spirits. For a second it seemed as if it had worked, and Harkover came to his senses: “My king!” he cried. “The world is under threat! The great capitals of the nations of Lanjyr and… Sentosa! Nicodemus seeks to conquer the enclave as a gift to Kasvarina!” But once again, the ghost councillors gained sway, recovered from the power of the symbol, and took control of Harkover. He gnashed at the king and strafed the deck of the Coaltongue with bolts of fire. Conquo threw cannonballs back at him.

“Can anyone else bring radiance to bear?” cried Korrigan. At that very moment, a bright light appeared in the sky. It streaked towards them and brought the fight to the dragon straight away. It was Linia, the angelic warrior they had rescued from the Vault of Heresies! She struck the beast with her radiant greatsword. The ghosts quailed.

As she fought she said, “Your majesty, I bring word from yourselves in the Gyre. They have chosen planes to bond with and ask that I relay their choices to you.”

“Now is not the time!” said Korrigan. “We must first rid our friend of possession!”

Linia struck again. “It is no good!” she said. “There are too many ghosts. You could fight them for hours and still they would cling to him. You must defeat the dragon itself.”

“Then we will rely on the Blood of Ostea,” said Korrigan, “and hope that he survives.”

At that, Rumdoom let go of the dragon, activated his Icon of Avilona, drew the Stone of Not, and pronounced a fiat on his next blow. Knowing it could not but strike true, he invested it with all the strength that he could muster, and augmented it with the power of the tyrant’s teeth. It was indeed a powerful blow and Harkover roared in agony. Blood curled down his face from his eyes, but he smiled and glanced at what remained of the cursed Cauldron Hill. Though his next words were a whisper, they were perfectly audible nonetheless: “May the witches of the hill now take their vengeance with my aid.” Rumdoom groaned when the foul curse struck him, flagging in mid-air, feeling as weak and powerless as he did years ago when he first stood atop Cauldron Hill. The great red dragon laughed and circled like a vulture. “I have deprived you of your power,” he crowed, “now I mean to deprive you of your life.”

While the dragon was distracted, focused on Rumdoom, the Coaltongue had swung around with incredible alacrity. Leon had urged Smith to fire the brand, but he weapon could not easily be brought to bear. Harkover was very well aware of the danger and kept clear of it. Uru, denied a target for the tyrant’s eye, had switched his efforts to turning the ship at speed. All of sudden, Smith had his target and fired. The brand struck Harkover squarely and tore a chunk out of one of his wings; the dragon roared in pain and frustration at having allowed this to happen. Now his left foreleg dangled uselessly, and he no longer fought with cunning or reason – enraged, goaded by the ghost council, he crashed into the Coaltongue and thrashed about him with claws, fangs, wings, tail, seeking to do as much damage to the ship as he could. But this was a mistake. At close quarters, the unit had the advantage. Conquo, Rumdoom, Gupta, Quratulain, Linia, Leon and Korrigan all rained blows and spells upon their dominated friend. One, last, desperate trick remained to the dragon. He turned invisible, and remained so, even as he attacked, doing tremendous damage to the ship. The fight raged on as they sought to force the dragon off the Coaltongue.

At last, they succeeded, and Korrigan clipped Harkover with a final blow from his Holy Avenger. Unconscious, the great dragon fell, sustained by the Blood of Ostea

But no one was in a position to save him.

All were exhausted.

He fell.

When he crashed into the ground, even the Blood of Ostea could not save him.

Harkover Lee was dead.

End of Last Session Report of 2020

Merry Christmas, and a Happy new Year!
 





gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Or did I put that in his stat block?
Yep. I was going to say, if it’s a pop culture reference, it was probably you! I often take those juicy little bits of flavour text from the stat blocks and weave them into the narrative.

Re, the death of Harkover. Came as a bit of a surprise that. I felt sure that the players would keep him alive. But when it came down to it, no one could actually save him. They sat there looking at their character sheets, drawing blanks.

Tragic, especially since in combat there are glimpses of his true self that prove he’s being dominated. But dramatically more satisfying somehow.

Eventually, when he was already declared dead, someone turned to Rumdoom and asked if he couldn’t have used his Good Endings power to save him. Rumdoom said, “Yes, but that was a good ending, wasn’t it?”
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
So who's all here?

I might be on a hiding to nothing with this one, but I am interested to find out who reads this campaign journal and thought that now - during a seasonal hiatus in our game, as we head into the home straight - would be a good time to ask. (Once we're done, in a couple of months, it will feel a bit redundant.)

There seems to be a fairly steady number who check the thread out but I have no idea if they are just passing through or if they read it regularly. Of course, there are one or two who make comments and/or leave reactions, which helps me to convince myself that I'm not just shouting down a well, and I am grateful for that. Otherwise, on the new and improved site, there is a 'views' counter that seems to suggest a steady 1000-or-so views for every week I post (so maybe 250 per post). But again, I don't know how these things are counted, and whether its, like, one guy reading each post 250 times!

Anyway, I'm interested to hear from anyone who reads us. A simple shout-out would suffice, but if you'd like to tell me a bit more about how long you've been reading and why you read (and whether you're also running Zeitgeist), that would be interesting too.

This is all just a matter of pure curiosity, it's not like I'll be using the feedback in any meaningful way! I've been meaning to ask for ages, but thought I might draw a blank. Don't leave me hanging, people!

(Cue sound of desert winds, and tumbleweed.)
 




Galandris

Adventurer
I read it with interest. I wonder how my players will react to the campaign (we are on a holiday hiatus and they just started the second adventure, so I fear they will have forgotten everything when the break is over...) Keep up the good job!
 


gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Well, that went well. Since I posted my invitation for folks to stop by and say hi, we've had another 1000 views, but only three very welcome responses to my invite. (Thanks, guys!) The question as to who exactly checks out this thread must remain a mystery, which is kind of what I was expecting.

Now, on with the story:
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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