Last session had ended in a cliff-hanger, with Bedwin lost in the depths of a wet, ancient conduit, & I knew starting the new session would be hard, getting any sort of emotional investment after a break. Tom (Bedwin's player) wasn't there, so the players knew that looking for him would be fruitless, knew that since Tom had been talking about having to withdrawn from the game there was a good chance Bedwin was dead forever. My players were gems though-- Tracey got up & put on make-up to do some noh theater type grounding, Sam & James got into the psychological urgency of it, the music swelled up at appropriate moments-- we got on track. Over-all, too, I think the session went well; it was a transition from the tense, action packed battle scene to a more cerebral plotting. As a storyteller, it was very helpful, too-- now we have a plan, an agenda lined up. I stepped in as an NPC-- Lupus Crucious-- & used that as a voice to steer the conversation to staying on topic. I don't like "DM avatar" style NPCs, so sometimes I am wary of that, but I need to remember that a guiding NPC can be a useful narrative tool, especially when the groundwork is there-- it wasn't a mysterious old man at a bar, but an existing character, tied to the group, with the appropriate skills.
The last session ended with the SNAP! of the rope which tied Bedwin to the party as he descended a pipe into the dark. Lorelai examined the rope-- she grew up around ships & boats & knows all kinds of knots & things-- & determined that some might force has jerked the rope apart, as you might break a piece of thread. Balthazar wanted to go charging off in rescue-- a startling bit of bravery & camradarie from a gentleman all to eager to protest his heartlessness! Damocles restrained him, reasoning that whatever may have so quickly & silently grabbed Bedwin would surly do the same to them, as they dangled helplessly in the air. Their only hope was that they could find him somewhere in the acursed Demi-lion theme. So down they went. The room below them held lions-- semi-feral, they wander the theme freely-- & our heroes had hoped to by-pass them by the conduit-- a path clearly closed to them. Instead Lorelai thought back to the pillow-talk she had had with one of the theme's dwellers in happier times, Sophie Demi-lion, & reasoned that, if the keeper of the lions had fed them blood & raw meat to keep them fierce, perhaps blood would mollify them? Demi-lion truly is a house of blood! So she cut herself & bled into a bowl, & Balthazar hovered near, like a moth, but was restrained from lapping it up by cunning words. & so down they went-- to see the lions. Two were panther-sized, reasonable, but the leader of the pride was huge, hundreds & hundreds of pounds in weight, with rows of teeth stacked behind another, & a tongue not hairy but toothsome, like sharkskin. Their thirst was slaked, & the heroes passed unharmed (& luckily so-- a lion is dangerous bussiness in the World of Darkness!)
The floor below that was hellish-- they all could smell the odor of the charnal house, spilt blood & opened bowls. Guided only by torchlight & the supernal senses of their warlock Balthazar, they went down. Furniture was over turned, the floor black & sticky, but no bodies? Ah, but going behind the curtain to manipulate the controls of the floor-doors sealing off each level, Balthazar saw a horrid sight: the bodies hammed into the wall, impaled through the sternum by metal spikes, faces carved off (collected?) & leering, stacked & croweded. Balthazar, shaken, mortified, still couldn't stop himself-- blood-hungry, wicked in craft if not spirit, he cracked open a bone & sucked forth the marrow before trying the controls: locked! He worked on them for some time, alone with the murdered corpses of the innocent, before finally jimmying it open.
There is someone down there! Balthazar's preternaturally sharp ears detected their heartbeats, & they smelled the smoke of recently blown out candles. Alerted, Damocles cried out that they meant no harm-- & so a man's voice called out to tell them to come down, & throw down their weapons. Damocles sheathed his weapon but wisely pointed out that they weren't suicidal. The voice told them to light the candles, & so they came down & lit them. There was further banter, but Balthazar tired of the game & raised his voice, demanded an accounting-- the loss of Bedwin having taken a toll on him. Out came-- Diti Bedevilled, naked, body covered in mica-flecked paint, in a white pompador & boots-- & some of the rebel Scars (pictured above). Ah-ha! Diti was of a mood to parlay (in my game, NPCs assume the dangerous adventurers want to kill them, & rather than fight to the last breath for no reason, are inclined to molify them, as a rule). She told them Bedwin was lost, certainly killed by their god, The Drowned, who my players have decided to call The Whale. Diti said to them that they worship The Drowned, though the Drowned does not need their worship. They worship it to receive its gifts of blood. She said it had been here forever, since the Drowning of Karn at least, hence the name. Diti went on to say that the city of Malake would need The Whale, since the Shining Horde were bringing with them their own god. Lorelai asked after her friends, was also told that while Sophie was fine, Luce had-- gone bad, & been responsible to the slaughter above. Diti went on to say Jan had taken up with the Shining Horde's politics, & that she was in control of the Theme now. The heroes nodded & took their leave-- but once out of earshot, swore vengence!
Back at their theme, Dragonfly, the players talked, with their proteges Mathio & Lupus present (an aside-- distinguinshing between the two is difficult, but Sam says that Lupus being "cagey" & Mathio being "spastic" comes across-- go me!). Lupus drew forth a piece of parchment, scraped it clean, & started trying to draw up the lines of influence, help the players decide on their next move, while Damocles read a letter from his mentor, Agrippa. These two directions in the story collided in mid-story: for what were Balthazar, Lupus, & Lorelai discussing but a danglign player in Malake's power structure but the same as Damocles read in his letter about: The Goat-In-Iron! Moreover, Agrippa wrote of the Goat-In-Iron without Damocles ever having mentioned him! This, coupled with Lupus' insistance that "character shows!" & that Lorela's dubous nobility was not dubious at all, drove their plan: They would meet with the Goat-In-Iron, hope that he can help Damocles claim control of his possibly mystically seperated arm & the Sword Reborn. Then they would go to the Aristos; the Dux has recently coined a new rank of nobility, the baronet-- a title for sail, for coin or land or whatever you might negotiated. Lorelai would assert her title as Demoselle of Lalala & negotiate for the title of baronet as Master of Dragonfly (as she is now, by law as well as pragmatically). Then, fully invested with the privilages of the nobility, she would challange the blood magus, Adelard (who has the Dux's air to whisper poison into) to a duel, & appoint Damocles her champion-- who with his newly won powers will strike him down. So, Balthazar set this plan in motion for them, arranging a meeting with the Goat-In-Iron via the goblins...
A Shining Horde ornithopter, dropping propaganda leaflets.
(leaflet pictured above showing Synod forces leader Isambard of the Standing Theosophists sept)
From Agrippa the Believer of the Shining Sun Rising, Cutting a Golden Path Through the Incumbent Darkness Sept
To Sharif Damocles the Dragonfly of the Shining Sun Rising, Cutting a Golden Path Through the Incumbent Darkness Sept
Rising up the pen & the inkwell is as natural to the warrior as the sword & shield; luckily for you, tables have round divots for inkwells! & by the Stroke of Lux, you have no need for a shield, eh? If your mission seems unclear, perhaps it isn't a sword you need to cut through it, but the aforementioned pen? Write of your troubles, to me, or simply to clear your head. You may find it does wonders. I am glad for what you say of friendship between your city & the Synod; perhaps I can afford you introductions if you have need of them? Simply ask, or tell me what name to write them to. With any luck, they'll owe our sept a favor or two.
You've mentioned your friend Lorelai before-- I am pleased to hear she is free, & an official of the city no less! Remarkable; friends in politics can come in very hands...though of course you already know that, don't you "sharif"? I am unclear as to how your young lady friend came to hold title in Lalala. I should speak on this; Kereo, be careful with you quill. I am not sure how the nobility of your Malake work, but as I understand it, it is much as traditional nobility-- human beings who hold copious wealth, under the Mandate of Lux. Owners of property, a right given to them by Divine Providence. I am both more & less sure how Lalala operates. The monarchs of that place-- are an oddity. There are conflicting stories. Rumors. Or rather-- At face value, Monarch Clwdwyg & Monarch Gloriana have ruled there for...quite some time. Nearly a thousand years, in fact.
Most assume a dynasty, outside of Lalala, but within, they simply accept that the Divine Right of their monarchs is...more on the Divine side. They say Cwdwyg is the master of the Wild Hunt, who rides with nightmares & baying hellhounds in pursuit of the white hart. Or that he has a single black crow's wing, & a golden kris knife. They say that Gloriana wears a star on her brow. That she carries a poisonous green apple, & that her ladies in waiting are pixies, that naiads draw her bathwater. Other nobles...I don't know much about. Do they exist? Apparently so? & why does the Combine tolerate the Monarchs, when they have scrupulously destroyed the rule of man in favor of the rule of law? Curious, as I said. Whatever the answer, I will venture this-- whether accidental or purposeful, mistaken identity or not, it ties her to the faerie world, for better or worse.
As to your friend Gaspar! I have seen it spelled many ways, & I believe the spelling "Ghul" is older even than ghoul or gool. Gravetouched or no, Kult-dweller or not, no matter to me. I have heard tell of his saint-- Eivon the Defenestrated. They show him with the head of a blue locust, & say he stepped through a door way between Urth & somewhere else, & that his symbol was thus:
Still, a saint can be a bosom companion to many-- those that Lux has drawn close to himself reflect Lux's glory like a mirror. I have heard say that those counting stones of his are a mighty augury, that his symbols & books are puzzles. Cryptic for the purposes of being cryptic (crypt-ic, if you'll allow me my joke-- Kereo, stop laughing & back to writing!). That the words are changed every time a scribe copies his books-- that the errors in transcription reveal greater truths than the attempt to copy truly. Kereo, I wil read this before it is sent, so don't get any funny ideas. Lastly-- I have heard that ghouls, if they do not dwell in graves, feast on the offerings left for the dead, & sleep in dirt, can provoke dark feelings in mankind. That there are some ghouls who roam the country, eating human flesh, & raising whole towns to panic. Keep your eyes open to make sure Gaspar lives a life proper to those who stradle life & death!
Speaking of life & death, a quick note on blood-- especially since you have mentioned this other friend of yours, Balthazar, in the context of being, let us say "difficult" to kill. Some who subvert the Holy Life of Blood to their own purposes-- Warlocks of the Sanguine Humor-- can display life beyond life, & life beyond death. Often they achieve this by hiding their Life away. Typically, their Heart, the seat of Blood. They might hide it away, hoping against hope that it is never found, or they might keep it with them, relying on misdirection to deflect suspicion-- remember that misdirection is often the most dangerous power of the sorcerer, beyond imps, demons, & genii. Of course, I'm sure your friend is above board. Still, never hurts to be prepared, yes?
This protege of yours, Mathio. Let me speak on his behalf for a moment-- yes, I'll presume to! Hear me out. You should call him Mathio, if that is the name he's been given by you & your woman & your friends. Not Obsamathio. You see, names in Lalala are as much personalities as they are signatures. They represent your flaws, so those you meet can excuse them. Opsimathio is the "Late Learner" as in-- an unschooled, slow child. I'm sure he isn't, since you seem so fond of him. If he's happy being Mathio, I'd go with that. Still, I do hope you find some way to bring him down to the monastary when this all is over-- he seems ripe for our sept, as you seem eager to sponsor him.
The surface of the blade-- like faces? Interesting. I thought it looked more like wootz-steel, at first, & the rubbings don't quite do it justice. Still, it matches very much with what I've found. In fact, entirely. Let me relate to you a few couplets & a story:
"The blade descends with so much force
his iron-skull cannot slow its course.
It splits his forehead, cuts his tongue;
between his teeth the sharp edge goes,
witnesses that most gruesome blow
that left the great ghost clove in two."
Just a fragment from a larger work-- a work actually in the keeping of ghouls. I have a theory, so let me posit it. A little bit of backstory: you are familiar with the Kult idea of an "afterlife" are you not? That all those who die take leave-- invisible leave-- of their God granted bodies & sink beneath the Urth? To another place. The story that the poem above speaks of relates to such a myth. In these places, they say, nothing grows, no game runs in the fields, no jewels exist to be tilled from the earth, & no metal, either (Except perhaps in Paradise, the Kingdom of their Skeleton-Queen, Gemma Redivistus, who they would have us believe is Gemma Auctoritas' corpse).
As there is no bronze or iron to forge a weapon from, the ghosts turn upon their own kind, or upon themselves. With hammer & tong they beat hands, feet, entire beings into armaments. Like a bladesmith, they fold them in upon themselves, or fold in new "souls" (for so they call the invisible self, seperated from the self of life). Hammered, forged, honed, these are the fierce & terrible weapons of their "Underworld" (though some are said to have flaming brands instead).
The sword you carry, or those like it, they call THE SWORD REBORN. For death, as we know, is a door you can only walk through once, until Lux comes to build the new house that door leads to & we all live in Perfected Flesh. The horrible weapons of the dead stay with them, for what force can pluck the swords of the Underworld up? Well-- some force supposedly can, for that is precisely what THE SWORD REBORN is said to be; a weapon of unimpeachable character, forged at an unthinkable price.
As for this Goat-in-Iron, I've found some little mention. He appears to be some sort of Chthonic saint of some old Lux heresy, picked up by the Lux Niger splinter sect-- you remember them, they are the poor sods who agree with the Kult lunatics to the south, that there is some "invisible" spirit--- convienantly not detectably by any theosophy but their own. Goat-in-Iron is a godling or saint, as I said, for some kind of death faith-- snake worshipers, or so Gaius Red-bottle of the Dim Star Opposition sect says, though no one else says anything of use about them. Right around you; right near Malake or Englezarke. This Goat-in-Iron lived below ground-- Hellen Fair-hair of the 99 Drams of Whiskey sept says he was attended by gargoyles (she probably means goblins)-- in the heart of a huge furnace. There he was chained, bound to some kind of strange infernal engines. Curiously, the legends don't talk about him trying to break free; instead, like a captain lashed to the mast of a sinking ship. Odd, but certainly monstrous. Potentate of some hell or another. Does that help, or shall I keep digging? Any tips?
Enough of this doom & gloom! Or well—I'm sure you haven't had your fill, as you have always been a dark & gloomy lad. But I certainly have. I'll see what I can do about sending up a few kegs—In these times, it can be dangerous! I'm less concerned with the army reading these letters, myself, but I am certainly of the opinion that were we to send a keg that something dubious might occur in transit! I'll ask the other monks what they have to say—if no, in a year or so perhaps Kereo & Priam will be fit enough to escort some of our brew up to you. Perked your ears up, didn't I Kereo! Well, enjoy your politicking—I can't say as I would!
Under the the Sign of Lux, Unconquered as Always,