(Jadis Aeon reading the Book of Flesh; Sophie Ward as Mary Florescu in "Book of Blood".)
Another session of my Oubliette campaign! Yesterday was originally supposed to be just a think-tank, an evening for character generation after the party splitting up. The plan was-- & still is-- to alternate sessions, with each session being two original characters & two new characters. Sam & Tracey had already put a lot of work into their characters online, & so they put forward that we skip the Oubliette Social & get into the nitty-gritty. "Hm, I already know what I'm going to do..." I said, & so I agreed. Somewhere along the way we lost toughlad though, who plays Duke Slumbering Heart Dwells on the Hill; he'd confirmed but said he had to leave early, but then ended up having to work a double shift due to a sick Dante. Well, he had missed the jist thread, & didn't know were were planning on playing. Crossed wires! We did play though; I separated the Duke off from the thrust of the story, & ended the session primed to re-insert him, so it worked out. Dinner was Hawaiian pizza! Tom & I rode the Q train down together, arriving a bit early; then we closed the session up at about nine. All in all, I think it went well; I was able to keep to the pacing I had in mind originally.
(The Bridge of Dust & the skirmish between Templar paddleboat & Antiphon naval forces;
"Sydney Harbour Bridge" by Matt Blyth, "Youth Olympic Games in Singapore" by Vivek Prakash.)
Crossing the Bridge of Dust was largely narrative; the whole span of the thing extends across the Big A, a river about the size of the Mississippi, the border between aristocratic Anise & diabolical Antiphon. The swirling orange Dust hangs heavy over everything, drinking in the sound, deadening the senses. Below, one of the fire-belching paddle-boat of the Hungry templars scatters the many small vessels of Antiphon, the sort of routine engagement always occurring on the expanse of the frontier. The Duke bears the Key of the Solomonari in his hand, so as Long Cleaver of a Thousand Helms & he approach, things start to fall into place. The Sigils, the Seals, the Goetic spells & curses on the Bridge of Dust start about a quarter of the way across, becoming more frequent as they progress, till at three quarters of the way the bridge is just covered in them; embossed gold, spray paint, scratched in-- all manner of Marks & Hexes. As they step over the edges of the Circles they hear whispering, muttering, distant howling, creaking, statis. The Key, won from the treasury of the Magnus Loci, stands them in good stead, & they cross without further ado. I should say-- Long Cleaver crosses, & doesn't even stop to consider that he's been separated in the crossing. You see, the Dust is an ancient weapon-- from which side, who can say-- that alters moods, memories, perceptions. In fact, though Long Cleaver doesn't have the Theosophic know-how to realize it, the Dust is similar in many ways to the Red Mist the party previously encountered. Regardless; Long Cleaver crosses alone.
(The Vanitas Vichey mime-assasins; "Moko Jumbie" by Andrea De Silva; photo by Mordicai.)
When Long Cleaver came off the bridge, the first thing he noticed were at least a dozen bodies, lying dead, sprouting arrows. There was a tumbledown field of battle; a place of dirty brown grass watered with ages of killing-- but not enough grass to keep it from going to mud & muck. There were a few standing pillars & then a long grassy berm with sharpened logs sticking out of it; an embankment from previous battles. Of course, as he came across, the pillars jumped out & attacked him, they stone casings rattling into capes, like Frodo's elfcloak in Mordor. The Vanitas Vichey! As Long Cleaver's Cadre, the Haax Karls, can trace the history of their reaving, reaping fighting style back to farmers with scythes, so can the Vanitas Vichey trace their route back to theater performers; mimes & cutpurses. They are mostly naked under their robe, but for their distorted Tragedy masks-- though two of them wear some pieces of armor. The fight is joined by surprise allies; arrows raining down on the Vanitas Vichey who swarm Long Cleaver as he sits high on his blood-thirsty destriar Great Thunder on the Plains. Hiding in some brambles are a beautiful, if dirty couple-- Raphael & Tif'eret Herald. No friend of the Infernal Church of the Authority, they are taking their orders from a Lower Power! Battle is joined, & I think once the kinks worked out, it went well! Tom's dice betrayed him, utterly betrayed him, but Sam & Tracey made up for it. I actually wondered if they'd get more beat up than they did! The Vanitas Vichey had a power I made up for them-- I converted some of the damage they'd deal to "attribute damage," which I'd apply randomly-- I rolled a d10 then counted through the attributes in order, with a 10 being user's choice. Long Cleaver ended up with four points of lethal damage & four points of stat damage, but then, being a damage soak is an important tactical position! One of the Vichey ran away, but the others (almost gleefully) fought to the death. Raphael rained down hails of death dealing arrows, accounting for the majority of the fatalities, along with one notable disembowelment by his sister.
(Tif'eret & Raphael Herald; "my lovely doll..." by Lesta Westphal.)
Who are Tif'eret & Raphael Herald? They are the Chosen of the Traveler, Volgadeus, the Crimson King! They are the priests of blood; the Long Arm & the Eye! They are also incestuous siblings; twins. They are, in short, a huge disaster. Still, in Antiphon, they are what pass for allies-- the Authority of the Church, that great satanic divinity, is their enemy. Long Cleaver falls into their patterns, their ways-- after they return to the abandoned cannery where the twins have been hiding, he rides back to the field of battle to steal two corpses-- one for the Heralds to desecrate in their profane rituals, & one to feed his destriar. Needless to say, premeditated us of humans as food & for necromancy required some Humanity rolls, but the dice finally liked Tom; he isn't a subhuman monster yet. Sam & Tracey are great, & really enjoyed having their freak leash off; they figured that the short session was the best opportunity to play some Chaotic Evil characters, & they are good at it. The Heralds, guided by the sister-- Tif'eret-- know prophecies. They waited here for Long Cleaver; they tell him the Woman in the Charnal House will lead him to the Towers Two & he will regain his Twin there. A few more divinations guide the party's actions; Long Cleaver strips his armor & wears the cape & mask of the dead Vanitas Vichey, carrying a sack with his gear over his shoulder in a bindle hung from his no-dachi. The Heralds help him stow his mount in a jury-rigged stable, & they set out. Thus, they come to the great city of Antipater!
(Antipater, in cityscape & map form; Artist unknown; map by Mordicai.)
Cities are uncommon-- one hasn't existed in this campaign yet! Anise doesn't have them-- it is all wide open spaces, beautiful vistas, & palaces, faerie-tale castles. There is a disgusting green Fog hanging over Antipater (see also, Red Mist, Bridge of Dust...) & everyone is short & squat on their starvation diet of carbohydrates, everyone looks the same with their shoddy clothes from the same tailors all trying to rip off each other. Above, on elevated viaducts, sprout open fires! Flames roaring in a ring around the inner city! The diviniations of Tif'eret had led them to believe that entering through the north gate, into the Charnal Ghetto, was the correct path. The streets are bustlign with dirty faces; a boy tries to pick Long Cleaver's pocket & Tif scares him away with a flourish of her sickle. The great masses of people are shocking, even to the twins, who mostly live in the woods & outskirts. Antipater is typical of Antiphon's cities-- full of crumbling cathedral skyscrapers, huge buildings built by generations of zealotry & slavery then left to crumble & decay. Antiphon tends to go through population booms-- while Anise is stable at roughly 100,000 people, Antiphon swells to half a million...which then die from plagues, war, ethnic cleansing. In fact, that seems to be happening now, in the quarter of the city they are in; cages of people packed like sardines, starved. The Inquisition is out & about on the streets-- the players play it cool, don't meet anyone's eye. Raphael asks for directions, & they go towards the "Charnal House." They are almost there when from the balconies of many skyscrapers come the muazzin's cry-- the Call to Prayer! The Authority demands constant obeisance! The players all fake it; they say the prayer by subtly weave in blasphemies & the names of their demonic patrons.
(Jadis Aeon & The Towers Twin; "Lady Drinking Chicken Blood" by Yuma Toko & "Abysm" by Ralph Horsley.)
Within the Charnal House there are many children, aged between eight & fourteen, hard at work. Their faces bear the same features as many of the people in the cages outside. A few words exchanged with the party sends them scurrying off, returning with a white haired (though still somewhat young) woman carrying...a chicken under one arm? & that chicken has a tube collecting its blood, dribbling in her cup? Why that is Jadis Aeon, of course, the proprietor & manager of this fine establishment. Jadis invites them up to her office-- there is a second floor overlooking the bottom floor, with offices more like cattle pens then offices. She seems to have expected them-- "The Book" told her to, of course. The Heralds & Cleaver reply similarly, guided by prophecy, & say they were told by otherworldly powers that she would take them to the Tower Two...& so she agrees to! Just that easy! Long Cleaver tells her he chases the Man in Black & she knows just who they mean; why, twenty years ago he attacked her. Drank her blood, left her with chronic anemia-- hence the balm of poultry blood. Jadis has the children bring out a palanquin for her & the others to ride in-- Long Cleaver balks to which Jadis replies that perhaps he'd prefer if the children had no work to do, & could join their families in the fires? The Herald siblings have no such qualms; Raphael even jostles the carriage extra hard when he gets in.
(Carkoon, Adept of the Order of the Dog; "The Inner Noise" by Jana Schi.)
The Towers Two are huge-- easily over a thousand feet high, each. They sit in a small lake that is tempestuous, tossed by unknown forces. The Inquisition lets no one in past the Ring of Fire, except on Tower business-- but there are rumors that the water is home to a beast, or many beasts, or machines. At last they are let out in the labyrinth innards of the Towers. Jadis leads them through hallways, down turns, into doors & out of rooms...all the while, it seems someone is ahead of them, opening the doors before they get there, turning corners when the party enters a hallways, always just out of sight. Jadis Aeon leads them at last to a small corridor of cells, prison chambers where men & women are kept on cots, two to a cell. The people have bodies covered in tattoos, in scars, in woad & markings; kept nude & sedated. At the end of the hallway, there is a door, which she leads them into. It is a room, modest in size-- a functionary's room, an office. The walls, floor, & ceiling are all of white tile, slanting towards a round drain in the floor. There is a table, in three parts; like an OR table it can be folded in parts or all together. On the walls there are dozens of human skins-- faces intact, hands intact, embalmed rather than cured. Jadis gets one down & begins to study the markings-- there are words. "The Book of Flesh," she clarifies, & returns to reading. Tif'eret joins her, batting her eyelashes-- the words on the corpse-leather appear to concern the lineage of nobility, the heritage of aristocracy, the lines of descent & inheritance. The King of the World, from far past to near future. There is a flash of psychic knowing as Tif'eret caresses the skin, of other hands touching the human skin-- Jadis, the Man in Black, & a figure with horns...who then enters the room! Carkoon of Arioch, & with him the missing Duke Slumberheart!