My Oubliette campaign has been on hiatus for some time, & it has been making me sad! Further more, I painted myself into a corner-- brewing a War-- which my players weren't interested in. They disengaged, I fear, despite their lip service. So, rather than actually have a war, I'm going to "fast forward" past many events of the war, leaving them in media res, which will ironically free them from narrative constraints. Usually you drop people in the middle of things to sweep them up with the plot, but by making the plot the status quo, it will free them up to go scurrying around on missions & get on with the business of being player characters. So this week I've been writing them emails to summarize the war between Malake & the Shining Horde, & they've been very responsive. In-character letters, written vignettes, stuff like that. I've collected here only the bits I sent to all of them.
Lorelai, Damocles, & Mathio ride past the flames set around the City of Malake, which burn the verdant jungle & pampas grass, blazing until they hit one of the many cliffs & chasms set about the city, or the river. Lorelai, ever practical, wets silk cloths to cover your faces with to filter the smoke, & Damocles takes the idea one step further, soaking the pack blankets of the horses in the river to beat off sparks or ash that might land on the
carriage or spook the horses. The driver steers clear of any trouble, as well as he can, taking back roads traveled by milkmen & moving along cliff-edges where the scree & rock can't burn. Eventually the driver brings you to a place where refugees are disembarking by boat, fleeing the city. Without too much difficulty you convince one of the Doge's Elite, a Sea-Wolf, to smuggle you into the city on his return trip, & he's soon glad for Lorelai's boatsmanship, as she steers from the rear, regal in her new stole, & golden collar, with a trident across her knees. The nearer you get, the more you see pieces of paper clogging the canal-- you fish some out to confirm your suspicions that yes, they are further propaganda, of all stripes.
The City of Malake comes up on you, or you come up upon it-- both & neither, for the river that you move on also moves you, & moves through the Black Glass of the City of Mirrors. You press through the cliffs cut into the earth & due to a trick of perspective they seem to part, as a curtain, the red of the stone giving way to the vista of the ink dark Themes. At first you fear the worst, for the metropolis flickers with hungry glints of orange & flame, red & fire, but you realize swiftly that the mirrors that bend the light to keep the city illuminated are magnifying the situation. The City stands!
But not unmarked. Most of the more temporary structures interlinking the Themes have been destroyed by the gouts of fire the Ornithopters of the Shining Horde somehow spat. Rope briges & wooden catwalks were burned away, & much of the plaster, crennelation, & masonry on the faces of the Black Glass are damaged beyond any probably repar. Still, the Doge has used the cities resources cleverly & to full advantage; on the city's canals there are pump boats spraying water at lingering fires, & bucket brigades organized by the themes sharifs & wardens. You are challenged before being able to enter the city-- there is are nets of chain strung across the entry point, & heavy makeshift "barricade boats" ready to be pushed in the way-- & above you rocks wait to topple. Clever- no one ever said Fleance wasn't. Your boatsman knows the proper call words & codes, & when word gets out the the famous diplomats Lorelai & Damocles are returned, two kayaks come with you in escort. You demure speaking to the Doge immediately-- you want to check in at home.
Outside of the door to the Bulb, many of Lorelai's friends & proteges, the girls of Dragonfly, wait. They are shellshocked & spooked by the events of the past few days, but there are women among them with a clear head & steady presence; Viola parts with you, giving Lorelai a lingering kiss on the corner of her lips. Some of the Drakes, the Elites of the theme, have been attempting to take charge, running water here & there, but the Theme escaped the brunt of the blaze. Lupus & Balthazar have not, however, eturned. When Lorelai & Damocles arrive, you can feel morale surge, & start to return, & when news of Lorelai's Accolade to Baronetta gets out, you can almost hear it physically leeing through the cracks of the theme on the rumor mill, spead on wings of gossip.
Balthazar & Lupus join you at the Theme in good time; both of them seem both more & less. More & less what exactly, you couldn't say. Balthazar is clearly caught on the cusp of one of his depressions, but seems to have avoided falling entirely into it, while Lupus seems distracted, unfocused &...something about his face just isn't right. Balthazar's Alien Hand seems if anything more animated in the wake of whatever happened to him, as if making up for the crestfallen demeanor of the rest of his body-- his slumped shoulders, his crooked brow. Damocles can feel a sort of humming, throbbing energy passing between the two of them; a web in which his blood brother & the apprentice have ensnared each other. Balthazar proudly, if bitterly, assures you that Adelard is dead-- & dead for good. He speaks of a behemoth that lumbers between the beams of the sun, & of names you've heard before, but disjointedly, distractedly, defeatedly; it is difficult to pin down any specifics other than that the warlock's heart has been destroyed.
A few days pass-- tense days, with the occasional strifing from the sky-ships, blowing brimstone & napalm upon the city, keeping everyone in a seige mentality. Blitzed. Nights of sounds; of music instruments without known analog making strange sounds in the distance, of arms of fire encircling hills like serpents. & so when the time is right-- when the newly inspired Aristo, Octavia Malleus (dark of hair) has made her way through the barricades about the city, when Wilhemina Incarnadine (hair pompadoured) has a chance to make herself proper, when Fleance the Younger can spare himself from the frantic task of preparing for war-- you meet, to discuss the treaty between the nobility & the democracy of the City of Malake. When you meet at the Sea-Wolf theme, the first thing that strikes you is that Fleance has lost an eye. "Nothing of note. An assassin-- one of the Scars. Makes me look distinguished."
& Together, the Six of you-- Fleance, Octavia (who bears the sigil of the Dux to press with his signature), Lorelai, Wilhemina, Damocles & Balthazar-- create the Aurelia Carta, the Golden Charter. The debate spans some time, as each side presents various arguments & ridiculous demands, but these are poo-pooed by the more level headed members of the party, & all of you realize the pressures the city is under. Each day you see the Doge appraised of reports from the field-- you get the impression that he has sent some of his best men into the breach in advance of open hostilities-- in fact, the very supporters he normally keeps close to keep his hold on the city. He has gambled & gone for broke in support of Malake-- if it falls, all he has will be ruin.
The Aurelia Carta! When finally agreed upon, herein lies the consequences:
I. That all mortgaged Themes, all Themes with forfeit leases, all Themes owned or controlled by the Doge or his supporters, all Themes in lien or of doubtful provenance, in essence all Themes not unilaterally held & controlled be summarily SOLD to the Dux (who in turn sells them to the Baronis). This influx of wealth to the city essentially turns the warchest of Malake from a pauper's purse to a king's ransom-- quite literally. It ties the fate of the Aristos to the City, while establishing their power & control as landlords-- in effect, the Aristos BUY their rank, their value, their position, by investing in economy.
II. The various rights & duties of the nobility; that a Just Aristo be granted Privilige & that an Injust Aristo be denied it.
III. The Doge is in no uncertain terms to remain an elected freeman. The same process of election-- of councils who appoint councils who appoint councils ad naseum-- is kept, with one small change-- the INITIAL selection of electors is done by the nobility. Octavia lobbied long & hard for the final ratification of the position by the nobles but Fleance refused. Also, the Dux has a vote in each ratification-- a single vote.
IV. The Doge is equal in rank to the Dux. The Doge is appointed For Life. Additionally, the Doge will NOT be granted titles if he retires, nor will his children be granted inherited titles; Fleance lobbied for this but Octavia (wisely) pointed out the possible conflict of opinion.
V. The Statement of Nobility & of the Election of the Doge as DIVINE MANDATE.
Before you can fly truce to the Synod & make your parlay to them in hopes of drawing them into your war, the first real battles with the Shining Horde begin. Their warriors are hooded, hidden from you with tall pointed hats, or in heavy robes. They carry scourges to whip with (themselves & others), chopping swords to cut with. Some fire what Balthazar tells you are a kind of rocket-- things halfway between firework & missile, that whistle then explode. The melee is confusing, chaotic. They pant & scream in odd, inhuman tongues-- though Lorelai knows it. The Horde fights in what seems like a wild crush, but with Lorelai's help you translate some of their maneuvers-- moving in circles across the battlefield to keep soldiers fresh & spoiling for a fight at the front & letting the wounded retreat, sweeping in Crane shapes across the pampas, with a column leading at the front, or strafing across like a Serpent.
You discover under their hoods they are men the same as any other. Damocles' Sword Reborn drinks deep, feeding the earth red-- the Horde seems to wear much white, & it turns crimson under his ministrations. Balthazar's gun speaks to answer the question the sword begs: Bang, bang, bang! You see dots, pips on the white of the soldiers. You see them hope for death. Steel rings on their fingers. Some wear pocketwatches, chain fobs an obvious mark of rank. You fight, & where you fight you win. Mathio & the Drakes break the advancing column of a Crane & the wings scatter, picked off by the other Elites. Lupus rides with his brothers under the Standard of the House Crucious; they raid supply lines, topple hills, make daring, almost foolish trysts to break whatever hold they take on the cliffs surrounding Malake.
But you are moving backward. The line is advancing, & you cannot be everywhere. The Wardens of Moldeworp Theme & their Sheriff fall & a chain of pueblos are occupied. The battle rages, the Horde relentless, for....days? Time is always on their favor; cursed time ticks for them! The sun stays put for their seiges-- & you know it is meant to set. The dusk does not come until they have finished their night-time advance, & you loose the train of them. Their supplies are early, your supplies are late. You hunker down & dig in when the ornithopters come & wait...& wait...& wait...as they spray napalm & fire down, charring crops that should have come to harvest, except they just would not turn. They fight with fire, earnest fire of ideology.
Ultimately, you salle forth to meet them before they can reach the suburbs & holdings in the east, before the can fortify a line as them come down from the hills & mountains-- but you fail. You make them pay to take their position, but they dig in. They have encroached upon the land of Malake. They buzz like termites around the hills, quarrying, mining, stripping trees of the jungle, digging vast earthworks for mysterious reasons.
Smuggling yourselves & the other ambassadors to the Synod forces is no easy task. The roving bands of the Shining Horde are always about, moving in secret, but you are no strangers to stealth & guile yourself. You travel with newly enfranchised nobles & representatives of the Doge, but everyone is aware that this mission is able to happen as your sufferance-- & that you are to credit with the mist falling from the Dux's eyes with the death of the unbeatable Adelard. You sneak under cover of darkness, & yes, even now temporal distortion works against you, dawn chiming earlier than you'd hoped, forcing you to cut your travels short & do it in two parts. While the day passes you hide in a muddy, smeared foxhole-- a reminder of strange times in the goblin battlefields. The ambassadors are not happy to be so degraded, belly down in muck, but a stern word from Damocles, a kind word from Lorelai, & a strange word from Balthazar silence them.
You are eventually led to the leaders of the Synod Expeditionary Force; passing through ranks of hussars & musketeers. Isambard of the Theopsophic Standers sept is the head; a small man, almost a dwarf. He wore an eyepatch before, & now he does not-- you see both of his eyes shot though with cataracts. He stares near you when you speak, almost through you, but never again can he look at you. Andromache of the Dowsing Square sept is with him, with the two long carbines strapped to her legs in custom holsters; you were unclear of her rank in all this but now you realize she's a near equal with Isambard. You meet in tents with raised wooden floors, held up by cunning ropes & poles.
The "negotiations" go well. The other abassadors give the proper speeches & introductions & do much of the talking. You recognize that you are here with a deceptively simple purpose, twofold. On one hand, you must assert the claim of the Aristos to Divine Mandate, & their stake in the governance of the city of Malake. This is hard, considering the open secret that the Synod wants to use the opportunity of Malake's vulnerablity to de facto take it over. Still-- the Divine Mandate is true in both Fact & Spirit of the law; you have no hidden agenda on that matter, & eventually Isambard & Andromache accede, but only after days of tedious court room drama-- the Barristers & Soliciters of Malake are legal experts & with Wilhemina & Balthazar's theological aid, the force acknowledgement.
Then comes the second, more difficult part: seeking succour. For a moment, it seems touch & go-- the Synod has the opportunity to leave: when the accept the Mandate of the Aristos, they make some noise about departing. Well, with the aid of the Divine, the will of Lux, Malake should be fine. Well, if the nobles are truly claiming stake in the leadership of the city, then they should be able to defend it themselves. So forth. Damocles recognizes that this isn't bluster; this isn't bluff; Lorelai is there however, with brave words & well reasoned pleas, to change their vinegar bitterness into sweet wine. Malake must make concessions to the Synod-- which is when the real gritty negotitions take place.
The end result is the first amendment to the Aurelia Cara-- The Aurelia Bulla, the Golden Bull, for it is sealed with the token (or "bulla"-- the translation to Bull is a pun, but the accurate & widely used one) & chop of the Pontiff. Aurelia Bulla outlines the rights of the Church in Malake; not the Synod, the Church-- Damocles advocates for the seperation, & no one seems to mind, seeing no difference between the two. You & the other ambassadors offer, in effect, a stock in the potential of Malake-- if the Shining Horde can be defeated, the Church has every reason to, in the future, remain an ally of the City & to respect its sovereignity, & allow it to make money by being a free society & melting pot, as it was before all these Troubles began. Some important priviliges granted in the Bull are:
I. The creation of a Sovereign See in Malake-- a sort of miniature city-within-the-city outside of the Doge & Dux's authority, under the Church's. Part & parcel of this is the right of the Church to their own trials-- giving ordained clergy a sort of diplomatic immunity.
II. A single vote in each of the elections for the Doge, mirroring the Dux's right-- to be administered by the Hierophant of the Soverign See.
III. The "voluntary" tithe of 10% of annual earnings made by the Aristos & Doge to the Church-- you recognize that Isambard may be pious, in his way, but he is a politician of the Old School-- without financial cause, he's unlikely to accede in the City's favor.
IV. Rendering various sales & trades free of tax-- in specific, sacraficial animals, incense, purchases of the Church-- in effect, creating the Church as a tax-exempt not-for-profit...even if it takes in money.
When the Shining Horde cross the line-- it is devastating. Their strike forces-- Lorelai says the name translates as "Cadre" or "Cadre of the Juggernaut" are peers with a swordsman of Damocles caliber. Damocles can recognize the signs of an austere lifestyle spent in training-- the proverbial children raised by monks to be fighters. & what fighters they are! You would have to give them a gruding respect if it weren't their knives in your friend's throats, their feet crushing your comrade's windpipes. They whirl & dervish & fight with all their limbs-- like they have more fists & feet & punches & blades than anyone has any right to. They vault across embankments, barrel through formations, striking at Elite, at Officers, at Aristos. They are cutting down the leadership of the army; both Malake & Synod.
The Synod has brought its resources to bear on the warfront. They have hussars-- heavy calvary with curved sabers & "wings" fluttering from their back. They have musketeers, who provide much needed distance killing. They have goblin sappers, who undermine the fortifications of the Horde, who act as auxilleries to the mustkeers. They have vellites, lightly armored infantry, moving quickly across the field to back up the City's infantry.
In the brief moments of peace, Mathio, Salazar, Calibain, Tibault, & some of the other Drakes approach Balthazar. "We've got these." Mathio says, opening a chest full of pistols, of Synod stamp. "We didn't loot them. Or-- we did, but the commanding officer--- it was a massacre. We promised him we'd give his men vengence. Balthazar-- Damocles can't teach us everything. He has one hand. We all," he gestures about him, "have two. We can learn his sword style-- we are learning it, but we're wasting our options. So I want you to teach us how to shoot. We've got a free hand. Put a pistol in it." & so he does.
But the Cadre keep coming-- they are by no means unkillable, but aren't for one-on-one fighting, not if you can help it by Lux. Three of them tag team a marooned unit of Rhino Warriors, cut off by a Crane manuver, & hack them to pieces with kris knives. Mathio & Damocles, Lupus & Damocles, Damocles with a partner take them down one at a time, carefully-- but they pay the penalty; in a clash, Balthazar firing supression, tomahawk whirling, in the mix, but too slow-- two Cadre slip out from around a bunker, & one over the top-- three of them for the five of you, & you win but they are knives that cut as though fresh from the furnace, they are hands in points stabbing at eyes, kicks to knees-- bones are broken, cuts go deep. None of the three escape-- you all see to that, doing the grim work of killing a retreating woman as she tries to acrobat her way clear-- but you are hurt, & leave the field after a week of hard campaigning.
Lorelai is not untouched by the trouble & violence-- far from it. There are...forays into the City. Something between spies & terrorists, assassins & propaganda fanatics. Men-- almost universally men-- who come in by the waterways. Singly, one at a time. Many are caught in the nets, the pillars, the bars, by patrols. But some few sneak through. Whether cunningly disguised as birds, or caked in mud, crawling across the bottom of the river, somehow these madmen, these Fanatics, get in. Just a trickle, but enough to raise the level of stress, of havok. They commit acts of random violence, random graphitti, scrawling logos, attacking women, upsetting boats, setting fires. & when caught, screaming rote memorized phrases in the vulgate-- "We are watching!" "Hope for you yet!" "Better!" "Sin is the enemy!"
They come after you. You know it-- you know they footpad through the city to the Dragonfly. The Theme has been largely untouched, & you know they hate it. Some intellegence has come to them, somehow-- they know you are the architect of their misfortunes. They know Lorelai has bridged the gap between the Nobles & the City-- they hate you for it. They know you were instrumental in adding the Synod to Malake's allies. They hate you for it.
But Lorelai is not defenseless. & will not be terrorized. They come & they die on her trident. The wind blows her hair about, the rain falls when she is angry. It is the season of storms, & Lorelai is amidst them. She is at the center of a group of Drakes who would die to protect her & she still confronts them; for they come. She is boat-crafty; she poles in gondolas, seeking out these insurgents, spotting them for crossbowmen, harpoonists. Day & night, when the incursions are at their most intense, when bodies surface from those killed trying to enter every hour of the watch but still some slip through. But not one makes it into her House. One comes close enough to scrawl with a jagged pick in the marble face of the entrance-- carving a crooked, simple skull-- & picks the lock on the doorface-- opens it, spooking one of the younger girls, who cries out & drops a crystal decanter full of alcohol she was taking to the injured for antiseptic. But there he stayed, at the door-- Lorelai, returning from her boating, looking for spies, head bruised, skull cracked from a nasty upset, her boat capsized & her head hit by the gunwale, finds him first. Lorelai, cut about the ankles & calves by Fanatics hiding under the boat, spears him to the door.
He wriggles for too long.
The Shining Horde is more than a Military force. Much as a modern, civilized army often has camp followers, there are those who have come with the Horde through the Gap-- but to a much greater extent. Streaming through the pass through the mountains come what you would expect to be civilians-- supply lines, families, craftmen. They are not, however, civilians, not in the traditional sense at least; the crowds of people will gather at the fringes of each of the major battles, almost like spectators at a sporting event. Then-- if things seem to be turning against the Horde at a crux point of the battle, almost as if they were possessed of one mind, the watched with rise up & riot into the battle-- old women with farm impliments, children with hammers & kitchen knives. Even worse, you'll sometimes find that children are taken into battle-- as the months go by you find among the bodies of you fallen foes youths & younger-- true children, dressed in the hoods & uniforms of the Horde. Still, Malake (nobles & otherwise) & the Synod seem to be holding the forces of the Horde at bay during the rainy season.
After a few months of stalemate, the mud & trenches bloody between the City & the Horde, the Ornithopters begin to "Colour Bomb" Malake. The name "Colour Bomb" spontaneously arises among the people of the City, but the veterens in the Synod who have touseled with the Horde before tell you that is was the name they gave it to-- it accurate describes what happens. The Horde's buzzing air vessels begin dumping a sea of Alchemical powders on the City: potions of dust made from spices & alchemical reagents. Cinnamon, ground pepper both heavy in the mix, lending a small of spices, irritating the membranes, making eyes water, throats choke, noses hemmorage snot & blood. Then too in the mix are strange drugs; euphorics, hallucinagenics, barbituates. A cocktail aimed to set the people into misery, confusion, & horror. The first few days of colour bombing are a nightmare-- Balthazar, Damocles, the cities lumieres, the mechaniks & machinists of the City desperately work the ancient mechanisms of Malake's black glass depths to filter the air; there is some success with sealing the Themes entirely, & moving those in less protected (to airborn poisons) places into those with better filtration; Lorelai helps organize those people she can reach through word of mouth & takes them through the underground tunnels of the City thought routes Balthazar makes safe through his always on-going talks with the goblins-- he is away, down, deep in the depths more & more often.
Before you all, on the big walnut table from Lorelai's dining room (now dragged to the center of the room) are repurposed chess pieces. White pawns for the Shining Horde, the knights & bishops the Cadre, the Rooks to stand for the traitorous Scars, & then behind them-- the Queen & King. The ornithopters-- or where you guess them to be. You've had the Drakes observing them, coming & going, & Balthazar, when asked, lazily, distractedly, pointed to a winestain on the table cloth. "Here," he says-- which possibly fits with your intel. So you put them there.
Surrounding the table is Damocles, Lorelai, Balthazar, Lupus (you finally realize what is wrong with his face: there is no colour to his eyes), Mathio (with a fat black pistol with a wooden grip at his waist across from his curved sword). "I am sick," says Damocles, "of being on the defensive." He is preaching to the choir.
"We've been stuck like this for three months." say Lore. "We've called it a stalemate, but even with the goods we smuggle downt the river, or through the Synod, we're being squeezed."
"More so with these air raids; fire," Mathio.
"Dreams are grey." Balthazar, nodding.
You plan the assault. The ornithopters, or so you believe, are hidden behind a force of Scars, amidst the semi-civilians. They seem, by their positioning, woefully under defended, but then, they can always leave, if trouble comes their way. & you aren't so naive as to think there aren't some secret, ultra elite guardians. Still. A guerilla assault, such as Balthazar's bandits...er, soldiers...have been carrying out could work. If the right team could do the job. Which of course-- will have to be you. Even Lorelai will go; she speaks the language & she can take them part of the way past the Horde, by boat, up the "secret canal" near the Malleus manor.
Disembarking from the low slung gondola (disguised as a log) you sneak & fight your way through the Scars without difficulty; these are old hat to you, gladiators & escaped slaves. You slink through without much incident, & those who present a chance of incident-- the guard who spots you, the former rich-kid girl who blunders into you on her way to take a squat-- are silenced. Throats cut before they can say anything, cry out & alert the others to your presence. Balthazar gets cuffed in his head for the effort, Damocles kicked in the shins, Lorelai's Rood-made scale gets a long scratch into the leather from a dirk, but you are a whisper moving through the Scars.
All of you move with cunning & stealth, doing sweeps looking for a suitable landing spot for the ornithopter, when you spot it-- in a bowl of land, excavated into the earth & then hard covered with chalk, under a canopy of what looks to be sewn together leaves. Just one, unfortunately; the other must be berthed somewhere else, more is the pity. It looks even more like a bug when it is at rest, tucked up with lines leading to it-- fuel, perhaps, or lubrication or who knows what.
You are in the fight before you know what is happening. Damocles' sword flashes out, ghostly white under the stars, & there is the sound of it's rippled blade against glass again & again-- parry, parry, parry! Frantic. Balthazar's gun is in one hand, his axe-that-is-a-pipe in the other. Lorelai's weapon is braced, as she shakes herself into attention, the fangs of the trident hungry, almost humming, smelling like oozone. Mathio is just a fraction behind Damocles & Balthazar, trying to position himself to flank Damocles as they have done with the Cadre. Lupus draws his sword & draws back, almost rearing like a serpent, appraising.
What is it?! A girl fashioned of ceramic & glass, iron & brass. It fights like the Cadre, but faster, insanely fast, switching from opponent to opponent, silent as you could hope for. Like it was spoiling for a fight & doesn't want to ruin it with reinforcements. Impossibly strong-- now it picks up Mathio & hurls him into Lorelai, knocking them both down, the sides of her trident scraping a gash in his arm. Swords slide off its curves, but Damocles is as always aiming for weakpoints, joints, under plates & panels. The only sound is your grunts, the clash of arms, & a slow sound (familiar to Balthazar) of gears grinding. Hands like pincers grasp for Balthazar & they blur; they turn to after images. Balthazar is here, or possible not, possibly there, or maybe not; all these different places almost but not quite at once, but the doll-like figure is there with him.
Lorelai is up before Mathio, striking for the clockwork thing's back while it is occupied in a stationary race with Balthazar. She see's the filagree & craftmanship, the artistry & ornamentation built into the creature's shell, & the blade's of the trident (given to her by the red haired twin) tear at the tulle of the doll's skirt, the points jab in a joint articulating the back to the waist & with leverage she..
...flips it & the thing, rubber ligaments inside it strainging, comes at her, claw-made hands coming to pluck out her eyes, & then Damocles is interposed, one of the automatic monster's hands glancing off his pauldron, the other coming in, breaking a collar bone. Lupus strikes at the thing while it is on Damocles-- you realize it has kicked its feet up onto his chest like a cockroach, perched atop Damocles' body-- the young noble hits it with the hilt of his sword, knocking an arm loose, the other without purchase on Damocles the thing spirals, light as a puff of dandilion seeds in the wind, clattering to the ground but up already again...
...but back up & springing for Damocles again, sprinting across the amber pampas (grey in the dark). Damocles brings up his sword & winces but Lorelai is there before him, working with the reach of her pole arm, the weapon reversed, the bracing spike of the trident smashing into the battle-doll's face, making a spider-web of cracks across it's cheek, as Balthazar is on it now, three barrels of his star-bourne pistol jammed into it's back & roaring! BANG! BANG! BANG! The element of surprised shattered but then-- what good is succesfully sneaking to your death? Lupus grabs Mathio-- physically restrains him, tears him away from the life or death brawl. "We have to set the charges! Come on, you idiot!"
...the dense, solid cast feet of the wind-up doll-thing whip out at Lorelai, breaking ribs, but the arm that swings at Damocles goes awry, off kilter. The warmachine rolls over on its back to try to smash Balthazar in the ground-- successfully-- & Damocles brings the point of the Sword Reborn down (gritting his teeth, swallowing a mouthful of pain from his shattered clavicle) sheering through its belly, cracking a piece of armor & black lining. Inky oil (iridescent when the light hits it) spills out, & two fistfuls of cogs & toothy wheels. That is the turning point-- the thing still strikes out quick, arm a moray eel darting out of coral, & it is still strong enough to break Balthazar's nose with a headbutt, to stomp on his inseam & crush his foot-- but even injured as you are, you have matched it. There are shouts, as the Scars run for you, but you fight the thing till it's mainspring gives, till it drops like a puppet whose strings are cut.
You are standing around it, triumphant but sore hurt, when you see the Scars running toward you, gladiators, prize fighters, unransomed, faces a mess of scar tissue, weapons torn from the hands of the dead. Behind you, Lupus & Mathio are running to meet you. Damocles lifts his sword in a rough duelist's salute; Lorelai sets her pretty jaw & arches on the balls of her feet, swinging her weapons to the ready. Balthazar looks up distractedly from reloading his weapons, hitching it into the crook of her arm.
& that is the silhoutte framed by the sunburst of the explosion behind you, as the mines prepared by the goblin sappers turn the ornithopter into a bird of fire with plumage of shrapnel. BOOM.
You shouldn't celebrate. The City of Malake is under siege, & the attacks against the troops on the front have only gotten worse, in the wake of your destruction of the ornithopter. Of course, there is the counter argument that you were effective-- the other ornithopter is still present, but the Horde isn't risking it in battle, or on raids-- mostly it stays at the outskirts, doing high altitude reconissance, with the ocasional strafing run in battle-- but no more Colour Bombs, no more attacks on the City. The Doge & the Dux have explicitly ordered you out of combat for the next few weeks, until you heal; Damocles' arm is mangled, Balthazar's foot is broken, & Lorelai's ribs have turned her torso beneath her breasts into one big bruise. In point of fact, you are threatened with house arrest, when Damocles' fervor seems like it might become an obstacle. So you do. Celebrate. In point of fact, Luce & Alexi throw a fete in your honor. Diti is at the battlefield, along with many of the Scars she brought back to the city with her, but Demilion opens its arms to you.
Opens its arms & its legs with all the sadomasichistic extravagance it can spare. All the presence of the Dragonfly girls is requested; the party is full of nobles holidaying from the warfront (most as injured as you, trying to put a good face on it), & civilians caught up in the mad feverpitch of the end of the world. The sky at night is red with the light of five on rushing comets, Malake has been under assault for months on end, the sun doesn't rise & set as it ought to, the river runs red with the blood from battles, & for one night those free to do so fuck & drink & smoke & play. The air is heavy with hashish (imported from the Synod) & opium (imported from the Shining Path), & there are drinks a plenty, of ever colour, in every shape glass you can imagine.
Baronessa Octavia is there, as well-- whom you haven't seen in some time, with her hair in rings, her skin powdered & flanked by ribbons. You are led to understand that she waits in her ancestral home most of the time, the decaying mansion where Lorelai first found her, like a spider in a web. No-- like bait in a spider's web. For, as enemies come to snatch her up, perhaps for ransom, they...don't come out. The Acolytes of the Box hunt the jungle about her home-- & have been eating well. But for all the Demi-lion are there, for all that Octavia is there to, there is no drink more interesting than wine-- no piscine delicacy, no marine delight.