(The Baronessa Octavia Malleus at the Accolade)
(Fashion by Alexander McQueen)
Yesterday's session had a bit of a shaken-start, but in the end like a bruised martini it got the job done. The session was Lorelai & Damocles focused, since James wasn't there to play Balthazar. I don't mind having a smaller group of players; you can sort of play them off each other. It balances the drive of the narrative (which I know I have a tendency to pace slowly-- we all decided last night that I couldn't call my game "Weird Opera" since it doesn't really have operatic pacing, & it more like a novel) with the improvisation necessary to deal with an open-ended range of options. There was tension when I first arrived; there were needly-needlings (as the fox would put it) that must be taken care of! I pitched in & helped straighten things out, talked to the cable guy about gaming while listening to electronic beats, & at last things were whiz-bang, ready to go! A few notes before I recount the happenings: James did end up showing, late, & he played Damocles's ward, Mathio. Also, the drinking continued, but at a nice slow pace; we had a buzz on but no one was drunk.
(The ridgeline overlooking Malake, the White River & the mountains known as the "Walk" or the "Wall")
(Toad River, photo by Michael Christopher Brown)
We pick up with Lorelai & Damocles heading northward, in a fat black beetle of a carriage. Their driver is anonymous, professional. With them come Mathio, & one of Lorelai's courtesan friends, a girl named Viola, who identifies Queer & dresses in drag. One of Lorelai's tenants (for she now holds the title to the Dragonfly theme), Calphurnia, has offered her the use of her "spring cottage", as a resting place while they travel to rendezvous with the Dux. (Perhaps my story style is best called "Weird Picaresque"?) The trip is lovely, & they stop to picnic & as they travel Viola tells Lorelai shocking information about her twin brother, the mercenary-slave named Legend. He has mutinied-- stolen some fabulous jewel & fled! Details are thin on the ground, but at least there is some news of him. So they talk, & flirt, & entertain each other as such folk do. In time, they arrive at Calphurnia's cottage, a strange wooden mansion. "Don't go into the basement!" she warned them-- & they do not. There are six rooms besides, & a cupola. The cupola is like an upside-down belltower, but instead of a bell there is a cauldron, & it is used to smoke meats; the attic is vast & filled with hanging, string-tied haunches. The rooms are all "themed" bedrooms, & are as follows: a torture/bondage room, an armory full of weapons, a treasure full of coins, a hydroponics garden, a room with one wall all glass overlooking the ridge, & a cold pool of salty water, kept refrigerated somehow.
(The Shining Horde is mobilized)
(Photo by Safin Hamed)
They split up into different rooms, & two uncanny things happen that night. Mathio rouses Damocles & Lorelai (Damocles slipping silently to his feet, sword already in hand, by the time the second knock lands) & calls them to his room-- the one with the window taking up the wall. Across the ridge, below them, the forces of the Shining Horde are on the move. For some time now they have been stalled, stopped-- waiting for something. That something is one of their living gods, the Eidolon, & now they are no longer waiting; now their divinity has come to them. The other piece of strangeness is that someone, in the night, has apparently come into the mansion & taken up in the torture room. Viola is sleeping in the treasury (she called dibs) & so it isn't her; when they knock on the door, there is muffled sounds of moving furniture-- the door opens only a fraction, jammed by a chair. A grubby face peers out & grunts monosyllabically, resisting efforts to coax or intimidate him out of the room. They'd been forewarned that Lupus (the aristocratic disciple of Balthazar) was inviting a "surprise guest" to meet them there. The moving torches of the invading army have motivated our intrepid duo & assorted hanger-ons; they wake the cab driver (sleeping in the back, the seats folded out like a futon) & prepare to leave. Their carriage is not alone; a once-elaborate but now decrepit (think: a rust-eaten Rolls Royce) is there as well, & while Damocles, Mathio, & Viola are loading up their cab to depart, Lorelai sneaks aside & spots the skulking figure from the other room! She is magical, magnetic, beautiful & coy; she lures the figure over to her with cooing sounds & bread. Bread! Only to discover that the tall, oddly misshapen figure with too-short hands & a staggering walk is in fact two dwarves (by which I mean: achondroplastic) , one standing on the shoulders of another! They follow Lorelai & Damocles's cab in their own.
(The Bloom, a place of the Dux's)
(Architecture by Siamak Hariri)
Along their way to one of the palaces owned by the Dux, something terrible happens. The sun disappears at noon. It rises that morning, but while the characters stop for lunch (& throw bread at the dwarf(ves), in case they are hungry) it gets gloomy, then overcast, twilight, dusk, &...darkness. Night falls, & now in the sky there are five comets instead of the three there were yesterday. Portents are dire indeed; Lorelai has some skill with augury, & she reads a tangle of events; the arrival of the god from the Shining Path, & turn of the millennium, all inauspicious indeed; & now the sun has gone out. They hurry to the party, to court. It is very informal; the Dux & the Baronis all entreat among themselves unofficially, being people of Quality & not seeing need to stand on ceremony when ceremony isn't demanded. Dux Thibault Salarius is there, as is the foul warlock Adelard who stole Lorelai's blood with threats of rape & terror. His wife Xenobia is there with him as well. The Dux's son, Baroni Malphas Salarius, is there as are some of the Rosecrucians-- Baroni Corvulus Crucius, one of his wives, Beatrice, a son, Anthimus, & a daughter Azalais & the Baroni's champion, Aud Guntresdottre. Most surprising of all-- Baronessa Octavia Malleus (pictured above) whom the Dux says is the first Malleus to leave their ancestral manse in three generations. She smells of the sea, & blood, the intoxicating scent of the strong fermented blood that has passed Lorelai's lips twice. Others are of course there as well, but these are those of most note.
(The Dux Thibault Salarius & the strange Xenobia)
(Art by Jean “Moebius” Giraud & Jason Chan)
This is the big leagues now: & Lorelai leaps into it! No, she dives in; not feet first, head first! Damocles flanks her, playing the strong silent type. She schmoozes, glad-hands, gossips-- but not for ill, flirts with Octavia (who bites her) & even speaks with Xenobia. Xenobia, covered from the top of her neck to the bottom of her feet. Too-tall Xenobia, teetering & willowy. Fingers absurd; does she have an extra knuckle or just very long fingers? (I wore my "spooky gloves," which had an extra, nazgul-like joint) Xenobia is autistic, more or less; she recognizes she is supposed to be displaying the ability to communicate with others but ends up coming across distracted, confused, & melodramatic. After that unnerving conversation, Lorelai sees an opportunity-- the Dux is bored! She speaks with him, succinctly but not crassly. She makes known what she offers-- she is a girl of humble origins who somehow has started being spoken of by the fey people in Lalala as a "demoselle," as a dame, a noble. Mysterious, but Lorelai also is the landlord of a theme, has the loyalty of a wizard & a champion, has soldiers & position under the Doge. She puts out her reasons & lets it be known that she wishes to be granted the title of Baronet. To rise in the ranks, so to speak. The Dux speaks a little about the purpose of granting titles to those born without them, & they both congratulate each other on being admirable: & so the Dux agrees. She is to be accoladed the next day!
(The Cave of Starlight)
The ceremony of Accolade starts with a ritual bath, for purity. Lorelai is supervised in the bath by the Baronessa Malleus & attended by Viola-- or in other words, they have a nice little threesome. Lorelai is starting to get the feeling that the Baronessa is falling in love with her. Next, Lorelai dresses in a red vestment (for blood, & battle), black shoes (for death), & a white ermine stole (for purity) & prays in the chapel for a solid nine hours. She prays to Lux, & to the angels of her folk religion-- she prays for: the safety of Malake, in Englezarke her family, & for safety & prosperity, for the nobility so long as it is just, for good judgment, to be civic minded, for the fortitude to oppose the comets, the fortitude to resist greed, the fortitude to resist the fishgod, the laundry list of NPCs including Fleance, the Dux, The Baroni Crucius, the Baronessa Malles, the Rood People & poor Bedwin. In the midst of her prayers, the sun crests the horizon & rises, & I tell her to add the Virtue "Fortitude" to her character sheet. The ceremony is in the Cave of Starlight, & she is the only one who will ever be dubbed there; it is a place just for this one ceremony & no more. She swears her oaths of fealty, is granted a symbolic collar & spurs of gold, an ermine stole (the one she is wearing) & a horse named Hastur. The collar & stole harkens back to ancient nobility when the gift & honor would quite literally have been just a fur coat. Baronetta Lorelai Odanata she is proclaimed!
& then immediately following her uplift in rank to Baronetta, she challenges Adelard to a duel!
Adelard, as mentioned, menaced Lorelai quiet sincerely. He invaded her room, threatened her with "marriage" & death, unless she let him take her blood. Which she did-- symbolic rape, & literal witchcraft. She challenged Adelard to a duel of death & exile, for crimes against her honor & her person, with Damocles as her Champion. (I still am really impressed-- rather than take a different path & assassinate the fellow, Tracey came up with the plan of just honorably, legally dueling them; this game is on a different path than the last.) Mathio, as Second, & Xenobia, who Adelard appointed his Second, decided the place of the duel, & the time, & the paces. Damocles has been prepared; the Baroni Covulus Crucius (who is the brother-in-law of Adelard, to his chagrin) was dueling with him & Mathio clearly to impart some knowledge about Adelard's style of fighting. The time came at last & I put on the song I'd selected for the scene, the "Adelard Must Die!" theme.
Seven paces! In the jungle, the very same jungle where our story first began, at night. A clearing, cut by a forest fire. They follow small Key Deer trails; they graze the clearing, keeping it clear of shoots & thus preventing it becoming over grown. Drakes swarm wherever Lorelai goes! She sees a frilled drake sucking an egg, eating the eggs of a serpent-- a good omen at last! There are fat black butterflies everywhere; one lands on Mathio's bare arm & causes a rash before he can shoo it away; they are toxic, poisonous. There is no moon, no stars, just darkness lit by the twinkling of fireflies, & the torches Mathio puts up around the clearing. The field is mostly clear, there are some pools of water & some stands of pricker bushes, but by & large, it is free of obstacles (they didn't choose Now Here Beach, a strange, kitty-litter like place of diatom skeletons, nor did they choose the Petrified Forest). Adelard takes off his jacket to reveal he's only wearing Feyd-like briefs & has a great big Y scar running across his chest like an autopsy has been done on him. Great, that guy. He has a rapier in one hand & a syringe in the other. Clash! Damocles leaps forward. Not naturally; like a rushing wind, like a striking bird of prey, like a Great Dragon drawn forth from the reaches of Hell stooping to snap up his prey! The force of his Pride swells up in him & he sprints terrifyingly across the clearing towards Adelard, whose face splits open along his cleft palate, showing a vaginal opening, full of rasping baleen, rimmed by dead black eyes & red wriggling tongues constantly keeping the eyes moist! Horror, but Damocles is full of the Dragonmind, the force of Pride, & cannot be swayed from his relentless course. It is a samurai film, James says. Adelard leaves a wicked gash across Damocles's cheek, but Damocles cuts into his mid-section-- empty of any organs! Bones snapping, Adelard tried to fight on, but Damocles is too quick for him, already he is gone & cutting again! & Again! Three mortal blows & at last Adelard falls, & then a fourth, as Damocles hews off his head. Lorelai prayed again! & I had no successes on fifteen dice! Oh, the battle went unequivocally to Damocles.
Now, if Balthazar's ritual suicide works out as planned, Adelard might even be dead...(What?!? tune in next week!) The session ends with celebratory drinks, but not too many, for as they return to Malake they say that the Shining Horde has not been idle: the "guns" on their ornithopters are in fact nozzles for spraying napalm.
(Fires from the Shining Horde ring Malake)
(Photo by Mike Tsikas)