(The Pale Bride; NSFW pictures here & here; "Scars" by Ivan Hidalgo.)
In the last session of my Oubliette campaign, our heroes had hounded the Man in Black, chasing him across country, across County, harrying him until a brief confrontation left him speeding off into the distance. Our session picked up from there, almost immediately, with the party heading across Almond County toward the Baobab palace. We set up Sam & Tracey's living room, brought in the table, I put in the CDs, & got to playing pretty quickly. The musical accompaniment was focused on CocoRosie, a dash of Sigur Ros, & Portishead (& Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man). Dinner was meatball subs & salad. Everybody was awake & unoccupied; hooray! It was raining all day, but I managed to get there & back without getting soaked, which I count as a victory, as I had my backpack full of books. Now, those are just the details of the mise-en-scène. It might also be worth noting that the players couldn't roll for a damn. The dice were against them all, on nearly ever roll. It was sort of astonishing. On to the meat & drink.
(The goats of the scrub & the Royal breed; "Crazy Goats," by unknown; "Manx Loaghtan" by Farmers Guardian.)
Almond County is a orange outback, a place that looks deceptively hardscrabble but is fertile when tended through stewardship-- which is exactly what the aristocrats of Anise strive to do. The plain ranges from savanna to taiga, as the climate shifts. The most notable piece of flora, besides the occasional straggly tree, are the thick baobabs, some of which grow to immense proportions. The baobabs & other brush are over-run with trips of goats (trip is the collective noun for goats), goats that climb up in the branches, avoiding predators with sprints if they come after them to climb. These goats are semi-feral, tended (& milked, sheered, butchered) by the nomadic people of the county, mobs of people who migrate to keep the resources managed. The Royal breed of goats is kept near the Baobab Palace & branded with the Lazy Eight (∞) of the Countess & the Claws (♋) of the Wildgrave. Besides the goats, most notably the vast mammalian turtles-- glyptodons-- roam Almond County. Wait, did I just say "Baobab Palace?" Why yes! The Wildgrave-- Iron Head Crab-- owns the Baobab Palace, a huge living baobab that has been hollowed out & the insides painted with tar. The Palace is several stories high, & surrounded by smaller baobabs to stable the noble's destriars. If you recall, in Anise nobility the Graves keep the castles, while the Counts-- who sometimes have holdings of their own-- tend to travel from their subordinates palaces, going from place to place as they govern.
(Countess Almond, Yellow Knife on Stone Table & Wildgrave Iron Head Crab;
"Unknown" by Manuel Albarran, “Hypnose”- Emily Didonato shot by Anthony Maule for Numero 115.)
Blue Glory on Dark Water's father the Licorice Duke is the over-lord of these lands, & she knows some of them from court. Finding a warrior-lady-in-waiting, Cutting Ribbons in the Wind, she announces her presents, along with the presence of Curie Firstlight, the Gleaner from Aubade. Unannounced, but present, are Nobody & his bodyguard-- Duke Slumbering Heart Dwells on Hill & Long Cleaver of a Thousand Helms. They are "incognito"-- a polite fiction supported the Duke's mirrormask & Long Cleaver's devilmask. Because it might be politically untenable for a rival duke to be gallivanting around in the Licorice Duchy, everyone seems content to accept that Nobody is no one important, no one of note, no sir. For now, at any rate. The party retires to get ready-- the Duke pouring kettles of scalding hot water over his body, punishing himself with burns until Long Cleaver intervenes by getting into the hot water with him, forcing the Duke to stop heating it any further. Meanwhile, in the other changing area, Curie & Blue Glory change & get ready-- Curie being uninterested in Blue Glory in that way, as he fancies the lads. My game! The important stuff happens in the communal baths.
The interior of the Baobab Palace is rugs & painted murals; tree root pillars with windmill arms for steps. Countess Yellow Knife reclines on the steps, as do her braves & the Wildgrave-- & the Countesses' Human vizier, Road of Lace, who is standing at her lord's right hand. When Blue Glory & the rest come into the room, the Wildgrave stands, & the Countess inclines her head. Blue Glory tells the story, of how she & Curie & "Nobody" chased the Man in Black from the Abaia Mind Control Zone. The Wildgrave-- who obviously feels cooped up, who has a reputation for flying the coop, for sleeping on the ground while policing her domain-- says she'll investigate, as she knows these lands better than anyone. She rounds up warriors & departs. Meanwhile? Tea Ceremony. Oh, Countess Yellow Knife might be a spitfire, might seem laissez-faire, but she's all about the civilized life. She rolls out the rug & does the whole thing herself-- turning the tea pot to display the art, the cups, the bones, the nines. The party comports themselves well, except Curie, who is a little over-anxious-- they can tell that despite her calm demeanor, the Countess' nerves are a little ruffled by the party's appearance. Long Cleaver hesitates, but tastes the tea to make sure it isn't poisoned, & to show he is polite. Blue Glory successfully hides her memories of petulance-- learning the stuffy art of the tea ceremony in her father's court. "Nobody" sips from his cup but once, but displays an amazing degree of grace doing so. My game! The important stuff happens during the tea service.
(Countess, Wildgrave, Vizier & Braves; photo by Mordicai.)
After the tea ceremony, the Countess offers the services of her Vizier Road of Lace as a tattoo artist. Well, Curie Firstlight has some ink already-- a tattoo of The Chariot, with one of the "horses" done in negative space & the components exploded as on a technical diagram. Long Cleaver too has tattoos-- much like Russian prison tattoos, the Hungry Templars have their own traditions of symbolism. While there is discussion, the Vizier, Road of Lace, sneaks away to confer with Blue Glory in secret. They return, unnoticed, & the tattoos are decided upon. "The word for tattoos is the same as the word for the etchings on a blade, did you know?" opines the Countess. Laceroad uses a reinforced stick with a needle at the end to do it-- all by hand. Blue Glory gets a blue lotus silhouette below her bust, with black water below. The Duke declines, but asks on behalf of Long Cleaver, too duty-minded to inquire for himself-- Long Cleaver gets a snake with a skull head on his back, striking, decorated with glyphs. Curie has the Chariot embellished, has Hermit-like lanterns added, one of the lanterns composed of negative space, like one of the creatures pulling the Chariot. While the tattoos heal, Curie gives his spiel about "anabaric power"-- the interest of Yellow Knife is piqued, but her vizier's perhaps more so.
(Karnak of the Ex Mob; "Atam Masquerader" by Phyllis Galembo at the Alok village, Nigeria.)
Of course, I'm never content to let it rest there. Woosh! A flash of white! I guess the "samurai" vibe was really coming across, because the rest of the scene was very, very grinder, very action flick. Blue Glory flung off a dagger at the pillar the flash of white went behind-- "assassin!"
(The Pale Bride & the Karnak Ex Mob; photo by Mordicai.)