Oubliette: Session Twenty-Six: The Witch-King & the THRONE.
(THE THRONE; "Throne of Geth" by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss.)
A lovely session, despite Tracey's neck hurting & James being in a bit of a sulk. Music for The Fallen Kingdom of Arioch was provided by Tettix, in particular "Rites," "Cabinet," & "Technology Crisis I & II." We started out with an Experience Recap; everyone is saving up there XP! Curie First-Light of the Storm-Struck Tower to buy more Medicine, Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus to buy either Majesty or Nightmare & Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House to buy his fifth dot of Resolve & get to ten Willpower. That is all meet with me. We followed that up with a Willpower Recap, where everyone explains their character's motivations from last session, & we see how successfully they cleaved to their Virtue or Vice, especially if it lead to sub-optimal strategies for "winning," at the cost of being true to the character. We capped our prologue off with a Story Recap of last session, which left our heroes standing at the brink of the Weeping Thern, Curie having used his primitive neural jack to interface with it & compell it by offering up one of his most bittersweet memories, of happier times when his father was still alive-- the father that Curie failed to save, the prosthetic body becoming instead Curie's "son," the prodigal automata Tesla.
(The Inner Workings of the Weeping Thern; art by Emmanuel Shiu.)
The base of the Weeping Thern opens like a beaded curtain, leading to a undulating tunnel going straight down. It contracts with an almost peristaltic motion, like a vast throat swallowing. Slumberheart tries to climb down first, using the slow ripples of the wave like stairs, but slips right at the top, almost plunging seven stories down-- but he's caught by the incredibly (some would say supernaturally) agile Blue Glory. After rescuing him, she hops down from one temporary peristaltic ledge to the next with no problem-- & she is the only one who takes her monstrous mount with her, the hippodracofelis Herakles Nightmare being well suited to climb. Curie, on the other hand, has problems of his own. Crazy problems, that is, because Sam decides-- this is why playing a roleplaying game is better than reading a book, because of madness like this-- that Curie wants to be swallowed. If the walls are undulating like an esophagus, why fight it? Why indeed. I figure-- it has to go against a lot of instincts to let yourself be swallowed, so I have him make a Resolve or Composure roll plus Athletics (comperable to the Strength plus Athletics roll the others made) to get gulped down.
In the belly of the beast, they see flickering silhouttes, pilgrims in the corners, in the distance, just out of the light of the strange bioluminescent bugs in the air-- candlelight bright, things halfway between dandelion fluff & shrimp bob in the air, pale white. I place out glass bead counters on the table-- vuggs, I call 'em, in memory of a particularly engaging game of Balderdash with Theresa & Pamela back in high school-- & move them around in winding trains, in response to the players tentatively chasing after them. There is a little whispered cat & mouse, & then I start messing with the Players. Blue Glory hears her abusive half-brother's mocking laughter come from one of the groups. Slumberheart's heartplug starts leaking through his tunic. Curie can feel his arm getting heavy, alien-- the linkage with the Weeping Thern sending tendrils of metal through his cybernetic limb, the invading threads metastasizing, growing into his nervous system. Blue Glory's teeth are loose in their sockets, & she can feel sharper teeth behind them, pushing them out, growing in rows, her blood congealing, going sour in her veins, curdling.
(The Witch-Knights; art by Michael Franchina; animated gif by me.)
The Players (& thus Characters) are starting to get itchy, suspicious, repelled, repulsed...as they do, I let Curie & Blue Glory make Perception checks, since they both have Auspex. By the way-- in the next game I am totally replacing Investigation with Perception. Wits plus Composure is a clunky rule & Investigation hardly ever gets rolled...& the "research" angle of it is better handled by skills like Academics, anyhow. Curie & Blue Glory both watch a line of gaunt translucent pilgrims condense, almost like frames of animation coming together to make one moving image. The wave-forms collapse & a skeletal death-knight is left behind, hazy outlines blurring spectral & fractal at the edges. A successful Academics roll recalls to Slumberheart & Blue Glory are figments of the semi-mythological Witch Kings of Arioch, the historical rulers of Arioch that came before the Demon Prince's dynasties. There is a fray! A battle between these necro-holographic Witch Knights & the players; two of them, one unspotted until it attacks. They don't heed metal or any substance besides flesh, weapons sliding through them, their blades slipping through armor, bone hands cold & hungry on the skin below. Blue Glory & Curie are reminded of the black ghost in the mines they encountered in Aubade a decade ago; Curie is clever enough to reason that these creatures-- vitabaric or necrobaric projections of some kind, he thinks-- would probably draw energy from his anabaric lightning bolts, so he sticks to trying to drain them with his cyborg tentacle arm. 'cause he has one of those. Oubliette, everybody! The battle is strange-- when the Characters hit the Witch Knights hard enough they burst into spirals & swirls of pale colours, like a broken mirror of themselves, hovering about. Eventually-- using his Singing Sword like a tuning fork-- Duke Slumberheart rids them of the two lingering spirits.
(Carkoon of the Ninth House; "Elric: The Balance Lost #2" by Francesco Biagini.)
(The Phylactery Ring; ring by Bloodmilk.
The group finds Carkoon, then, standing in the midst of thrashing coils of the Weeping Thern's tendrils, thick coils knoting over themselves like a snake swallowing still thrashing prey. They jerk & seize, but the group sees Carkoon in the midst of them-- haggard, entranced, staring at something on the ground. The group make their way through the tentacles-- half-animalistically interfacing with them, slipping between their spasms, using sympathetic links to lull them into a techno-organic slumber. Up close, they can see that Carkoon has the look of a strung out junkie; his wine skins & canteens are all lying about him empty, he is gaunt & has pissed himself; he looks like he hasn't slept in weeks & his on the edge of fatal dehydration. On the ground in front of him is a ring, a black stone set almost flickering with evil. The Witch Kings were believers in phylacteries, in bottled souls. Carkoon's sword-- not the massive one he used ten years ago, as Slumberheart shattered that blade in the gladiator's arena-- lies in the coils of the floor, sunken in, as though he went to smash the ring, but thought better of it at the last moment. Slumberheart touches Carkoon, seeking Truth...& he goes dead in the eyes as well! Blue Glory is too Prudent to jump in-- her virtue-- but Curie is enough of a Futurist to dare it, trusting that he break back out. He does, but just barely-- it seems that there is a sort of puzzle inside Carkoon's head, & without the circuit being completed, he'll be stuck. & so in they go, embodying components of Carkoon's past. There is a kabuki dream theater interlude, where James plays Carkoon, Sam plays the treasonous Tinidril & Tracey plays the suicidally romantic Tinidril. These dream sequences are becoming a trademark vignette of Oubliette-- there was one with Miss Glass & one with Noam as well. & hey, come to think of it, those tubes plugging into Noam looked a lot like these metal coils here in the Weeping Thern...regardless, things play out & I ask James-as-Carkoon "which Tinidril is real?" He picks the death obsessed Tinidril & they wake up...but something, some homunculus of memory, some delusion lodges in Slumberheart's mind as they all snap to.
(The Witch-King;"Demondude" by Anthony Jones, photo by me.)
Blue Glory, first thing, destroys the ring. Crash! Just as Slumberheart was starting to reach for it, too. I was prepared for that eventuality; I knew what the Powers Tree would have been for it & what it would take to master it. It would have ended with a power based on the sword Endura from The Wizard Knight & balanced like the "Summon Wolfbrother" Gift from Werewolf: the Forsaken. Anyhow, Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus don't shiv; she busted that thing with her glass sword. Smash! A howling, & then the lost souls are extinguished forever...which seems almost to trigger something else! A "clunk" sound, like the noise of a massive auditorium's fluorescent bulbs being turned on. Ka-chunk! Unearthly spotlights, shining a black, ultravioletesque sort of light down on...THE THRONE, a tangle of thorns & needles fit for a giant. Sitting on it was a bloated, flickering undead giant, a deathrattle in its throat. A wraith-like form of puissant shadow, swirling with unlight. An axe of cutting self away from nothingness, storms of souls & screaming shades dancing all about it, flashing across the floor like so many doomed whips of hate. Yes! It resembles nothing so much as a ghostly creature akin to the Ultra of Lookout Hill. Of course, my Players being "My Players," they just got all samurai polite. Big boss battle? No thanks, that is why they took all the ranks in Status & Title & Persuasion & Manipulation & Presence & whatnot. They are machines of courtly grace! Like, confronted with the Lord of the Nazgûl, they just...appeal to his memories of courtesy & noblesse oblige. They mollify him with due reverence & sincerity. It was pretty wonderful. Slumberheart had to struggle with the Singing Sword-- possessed by the artifice obsessed witch-knight ghosts-- but they did it. Pretty fantastic, actually. As it evaporates, the fetters to this world dissolving in fulfillment, they realize that it sat upon more than "a throne," but the THRONE, the "arcana" mentioned by the broken automata. That, combined with the Ultra-like appearance of the Witch-King, lends credence to their theories that the arcana & the Ultra are tied to the pursuit of the role of Monarch. Slumberheart, meanwhile, pricks his finger on one of the sharp spindles of the throne, which gives him a serious case of Kirby thumb...