(Hologram of the Pearl Queen; "Lady in White" by Kekai Kotaki.)
Just a few days before game, Tracey gave advance warning that she was going to be late to the next Oubliette session, an announcement which was shortly followed by Radarless adding that he wouldn't be able to make it either. Last game left me with plenty of odds & ends unused, which will find their way into a future session, but they were sort of predicated on having the whole band back together. That is fine; the nature of the hobby is a certain ebb & flow to players! & heck, sometimes interstitial episodes can be the most memorable, so lets embrace it, turn into the skid! I threw together a "bottle episode" for Curie First-light & Duke Slumbering Heart Sleeps in the Blue House & got ready to roll. What ended up coming out of that sort of frenzy was something much more like an "old school" session of Dungeons & Dragons than most of my games are. A cthonic complex of tunnels, traps, puzzles, creepy crawlies! James had joked about "the Star Trek episode where Worf & Riker are trapped by a cave-in" but I was taking that seriously.
(The Wicker Glum Mob-- Duck, Niggle & Barrow; Art by Colin Fix.)
Not ones to make your humble Narrator's life easy, Duke Slumberheart had stayed awake-- perfecltly still, mimicing sleep by entering a light meditative trance-- while Curie had climbed to the top of the ruined staircase inside the crumbling Tower to make his bed there. Slumberheart begins to smell a sort of relaxing scent...jasmine? No, that eerie candle scent, the smell of bubblebath. Nothing to worry about. Everything is fine here, just strange chemicals. Still, the thumping of Curie's body-- encased in pounds & pounds of armor-- rolling down the stairs makes Slumberheart a little curious. A little...Curie-ous? Curie meanwhile wakes up to a couple of points of bashing damage...no big deal The creepy little fellows all around him aren't anything to freak out about or anything. Nope, not even as they push, pull & shove his body toward a sinkhole in the ground-- a cascade of dirt greedily sucking at the surface. Things are certainly copacetic. So the fellows wrestle with the Demi who are dragging Curie under, but the small humanoids are surprisingly strong-- & spooky!-- & even Curie's Inspector Gadget tentacle arm can't save him once he feels his legs being snared below him. On the plus side, that means there is probably air down there, so he lets go...& Slumberheart dives after him.
(Creche of the Blue Cloud; photographer unknown.)
They land in a pile-- ouch!-- in a cavern filled with a pool of what looks like...a liquid...no wait, a gas...no it is both, a blue Cloud that calls to mind the orange Dust & green Fog found in Antiphon, the yellow Gas in the mines of Aubade & most succinctly to the red Mist in the Terror Wolf Mob creche. Curie sees one of the small people scurrying up the cliff face, hiding behind a cunningly made wicker hunting blind; he examines the rope around his ankle & sees that it is pitoned into a seam in the rock with a chockstone. Curie is worried that something is going to splash out of the water, but no, no worries on that account yet; he cuts the cord binding him -- more switches of reeds-- & eventually Curie & Slumberheart coax the Willow Glum Mob out of their hiding-- or at least, three of them. In tongue-biting lisps, the one in the crown-- "Duck" says that the "other one like [Curie]" came & woke up their god, & they want it back. The "unthergrafth" has their god, now. & the "unthergrafth" controls the "bad blue doors." Fair enough-- Curie knows his "son" Tesla was here, & feels a certain sense of responsibility to clean up after him. Duck sends "Niggle"-- the stilt-walking knife-handed one-- with them to help show them the way.
(The Wicker Glum Mob-- Duck, Niggle & Barrow.)
The group takes strange little coracles across the blue Cloud covered water. Again, the ubiquitous wicker, with a strange white leathery cover-- sandy, like sharkskin-- on top, & a make-shift chimney, allowing access to the clear air above. The bottom of the boat has openings for the paddles, & they scoot along across the cavernous lake. Curie needs a bigger catamaran but, well-- The Chariot (his patron trump) provides, & the Wicker Glum just happen to have one on hand. The rough, semi-natural cavern the Demi live in gives way to a square slate door covered in dots, circles & dashes, with four holes at about waist height. Niggle gestures to the door, holding up both index & ring finger (hard to do! Try it!). Oh, it is a fingerslicer-- no one even pretends not to understand that. Curie tries his metal hand, but no luck; it needs flesh to work. Curie does it again with his meat arm-- "I can always build new fingers!"-- & the door slides open to the side with a hiss. Examining the mechanism shows two major levels of occupation-- well, three if you count the Wicker Glum Mob-- with one being the stone & another being an even older, ceramic substrate. The "code" on the door seems to contain instructions; Curie keeps trying to figure out. They pass through rooms with vertical glass tubes inset-- "woosh" whispers Niggle. Another fingerslicing door, & Niggle murmurs "last one" as they go through it with index & pinky-- from here on out, the Wicker Glum don't know the finger combinations, though Curie & Slumberheart are starting to see a pattern in the Braille-like bumps.
(The Amphibigator; photograph by me.)
"shush" says Niggle, as they enter a naturalistic part of the-- well, lets just call it a dungeon, shall we? There are exposed rock faces & a pool of the blue liquid, with a persistent bubbling & churning that lead Slumberheart & Curie to understand that the water-- if that is what the liquid here & back in the main cavern is-- is being brought in from somewhere else & then taken away somewhere else. Like an aquarium, or the tanks at an amusement park. Niggle's shushing of them only helps so much-- the clanking Gleaner armor Curie is wearing wakes up the beast! An albino Ambibigator! A pale Frogodile! A giant aquatic reptile with sharp teeth, to get to the point-- & toothy sharkskin, & blisters all over its back that turn out to be eggs, bursting to let caiman sized young chomp all over our darling protagonists. The creature-- confusing traits aside, mostly a crocodile of some stripe-- grabs Curie & tries to drag him under, while Slumberheart lets fly with the Singing Sword! Like a tuning fork it rings out, delivering a devastating slice-- you've heard of two strokes, one cut? Measure twice, cut once? The opposite of that! The doombabies are all over Slumberheart, chomping away. Niggle, hiding in the corner-- discretion clearly a better part of valor, even if you are a creepy stilt-&-mask wearing, knives-for-hands having little guy-- helps now, stabbing some of the smaller newborn hatchlings while the cavegator drags Curie under.
This is when I learn the great thing about alligatoroids-- they are dumb as heck. As a Narrator, I'm usually pretty keen on noticing the antagonist's odds of survival-- villains will run away or surrender or play dead as the case may be, depending on how the fight goes. This goes for animals, too-- I figure most predators will retreat to lick their wounds if the tide turns against them. Reptiles though, they are dumb as heck! The response to danger is bite harder, pull away under water! Curie has been shocking it with his Piezo-Anabaric Emitter-- now built into his arm-- but while that might make a mammalian enemy let go, it just makes the undercroc bite harder. Curie starts holding his breath & begins using some of his more recent inventions-- devices that use vitabaric force, what Curie calls the energy of living things. Curie start sucking the life out of the gator as it death rolls him, banging him against the walls & sinking ever deeper. As the big critter goes under, it yanks the sword out of Duke Slumberheart's hand-- suggested by James, taking my ideas about Players adding complications for their Characters to heart. I gave him a point of Willpower for it. Slumberheart dives after Curie-- a direct reversal of the time Slumberheart left Curie to be eaten by giant koi-- & they tussle in the water. Just like Red Sonja! & then, with a splash, Slumberheart surfaces, while Curie eerily climbs out like the spaceman in "The Impossible Astronaut."
(Untergraf Endurance in the Labyrinth, with autobolters & necrotic gates.)
The next section of the labyrinth is more of the finished slate panels & leads in three directions, & Curie goes off into his own little world of over-analysis & hubris-- he's figuring out the binary of the different door slots, working on the trinary code, trying to sort for some kind of pattern. Along the way, something occurs to him-- if Tesla was here, then...how did he get through the doors? If you need a hand of flesh to activate the tumblers, well...then Tesla must have gotten one. That is...interesting to know. Once he shakes himself out of his fugue state, it also occurs to him-- of course! Check the floors! They investigate & find evidence-- disturbances in the dust & all that-- showing that all three of the doors had been opened, but that only two of them had been entered. Curie & Slumberheart debated for a little bit-- based on various arbitary criteria-- & then agreed on a door, & opened it.
It led into another corridor of slate with the so-called "woosh" tubes, but these seem to be broken down, filled with loose debris-- Curie speculates that they are air tubes, or pump off run-off from the Blue Clouds, or-- well, know knows. You know who knows? Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus does, in fact! Shaking off the soporific stupid of the Blue Clouds, Blue Glory went in search of her missing comrades-- funnily enough, just as Tracey came home! Isn't that interesting how that works? It turns out the "woosh" tubes are part of the system that created the dirt sinkhole in the first place-- a kind of vacuum that regulates contact with the surface, whatever its original intention may have been. Blue Glory finds one that is stuck open, & cautiously-- ever prudent-- starts scaling downwar, coming to the same conclusions as Curie & Slumberheart regarding two layers of occupation.
(Untergraf Endurance in the Labyrinth; "50s Alien Mask" by Schell Studio.)
Meanwhile, trouble! As Slumberheart, Curie, & Niggle enter the chamber-- seeing that ahead it zig-zags on, deviating from the pattern of the preceding "woosh tube" corridor-- a hideous, horrible blue glue flashes into being, in a circle behind the last one in! The same necrotic burning flame, the jets of disintegration, bane of any living flesh, that the party previously encountered set into the floor of the Terror Wolf Mob creche, a decade ago. As Slumberheart goes on ahead, a turret pops out of the wall-- an arbilast made of...of...what do you call that stuff? Metal. It shoot needle-like bolts, one of them scrating across Slumberheart's arm. (When dragging Curie under, initially, I rolled five successes on a single die-- 10, 10, 10, 10, 9-- but after that my dice were useless, which is probably for the best, since I beat up the characters pretty badly with incremental bruises, bites, & bashes.) Blue Glory popped down the hole, unexpectedly-- hullo! & then the brawl was in earnest! Curie ended up trapped between two of the blue hissing hateful gates, while Slumberheart deals with one of the bolters. Blue Glory goes on ahead & (hey Tracey, welcome to the game...oh look, I just rolled tons of damage against you!) gets a high speed needle in the knee-- shattering her kneecap-- for her trouble.
Curie spots a sensor hub for the automatic bolters-- or are they remote controlled?-- & yells to Blue Glory, who pops the glass cover off with her sword. Inside are tubes, almost like Chinese finger traps, oogling around. Blue Glory starts ripping them out, as a grim looking Alpha in tattered finery pokes a flechette gun around the corner & starts shooting needles like the metal arbalest's bolts. Curie is meanwhile occupied by the blue gates, which start closing on him; Slumberheart & him shout back & forth, worried they blue forcefields will converge & melt Curie away within his exoskeleton. Seeing the ancient Alpha shooting at them from behind the corner, Blue Glory moved with hypernatural, cat-like speed-- the acme of feline aggression, almost a mirror of her terrifying destriar. With literally unbelievable quickness, she crosses the zipper-like length of the room & handily disarms the Alpha, knocking the gun from his hand & across the room. He tries to run, but again, Blue Glory is already in his way, her ceramic sword to his throat. Niggle leaps at him with knifehands out, but Curie hits him with an agonizing bolt of anabaric force, & Niggle falls to the ground whimpering like a kicked dog.
(The Court of Waiting; artwork by Adam Baines.)
Dropping to his knees in failure, the old Alpha says he is "Endurance in the Labyrinth," the Untergraf (compare to the more modern styling, Grave) of this place. His last line of defenses disabled, & clearly over-matched physically, he bids them to enter the Court of Waiting. The white statue in the middle, to Curie & Blue Glory, is highly reminiscent of the Trump known as The Hermit, but to Duke Slumberheart, it only looks like a veiled sculpture of the Pearl Queen. Untergraf Endurance in the Labyrinth is broken, defeated-- his thousand yard stare lets you know he really has been isolated down here, as he says, "so long. So, so long." The untergraf was-- at least, according to him-- put here to keep something away, forever. When Slumberheart speaks of being a duke, Endurance in the Labyrinth acknowledges that, but makes it clear that his task was not one with exceptions, or margins, or wiggle room. Now that he has failed-- failed in the task that was given to him & that eclipsed his life-- he is dishonored, his purpose meaningless. He can tell that the party will have their way, & he has resigned himself to the ruin of his life. All he asks is that he be allowed to die before his shame is complete-- that they kill him before they break the seal on the door, that he be allowed to perish with at least the last shreds of dignity. Blue Glory is ready to do it in a heartbeat-- that's my girl!-- but Slumberheart wants to pardon him, wants to act as the Queen's mercy. Curie begins to drain the lifeforce-- the untergraf's Will-- & Endurance in the Labyrinth sinks to his knees, eyes pleading. & so Slumberheart strikes off his head.
(The Broken Golem; "GRACE" by Neil Ellis.)
In the other room, beyond the great rolling door, is another bulb-shaped corridor, but where the previous corridors have been slate, this is whitewashed, impecibly kept up, presumably by the now-dead Untergraf Endurance in the Labyrinth. Previously-- when the blue gates disappeared after Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus subdued the untergraf-- Curie Firstlight had pried a slate panel off the wall to find that the entire surface was honeycombed-- hexes, top & bottom & all around. The necrotic field had been emitted from there. The group argues about who should go forward-- while Blue Glory climbs into the ceiling's crenelations "just in case"-- as both Curie has a personal stake, videlicet his "child" Tesla, & Slumberheart has his stored up feelings (a jumble of courtly love & loyalty) for the long-missing Pearl Queen. At the other end of the hall, a mechanical woman waits-- very much resembling the fossil automata from the first session. Like the previous damaged golems-- those encased in sediment-- it replays a hologram of the last thing it saw; in this case, The Peal Queen. (Pictured above; her first visual appearance, I wanted to make it count, & Kotaki is amazing.) Furthermore, the sword in her hand is explicitly the same sword of the Man in Black's Possible Sword. The damaged android starts to speak...
thou hast errored in messiah state…not present locally in current cycle 29B hex…zzzzkkkkk…crown state metaculture found…hierarchy messiah state not present…xxxxxxkkkxxxx….system-wise apocalypse inevitable in current state…so shall ye be forged in darkness…arcana status: QUERY? Ye seek to be judged but hierarchical CREW representative is not located. Wilst thou assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? XkkkkZzzzzK… system-wise apocalypse inevitable in current state…so shall ye be forged in darkness…arcana status: QUERY? Ye seek to be judged but hierarchical CREW representative is not located. Wilst thou assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? wwwrrrrwwwrrrr…THE SIN & THE FRUIT must be XxxxXXXX….Wilst though assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? XkkkkZzzzzK… reboot not possible… thou hast errored in messiah state…not present locally in current cycle 29B hex…zzzzkkkkk…crown state metaculture found…hierarchy messiah state not present…ssshhhhzzzhhhhh….system-wise apocalypse inevitable in current state…so shall ye be forged in darkness…arcana status: QUERY? Ye seek to be judged but hierarchical CREW representative is not located. Wilst thou assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? XXXXhkkkkaaaarrgh… system-wise apocalypse inevitable in current state…so shall ye be forged in darkness…arcana status: QUERY? Ye seek to be judged but hierarchical CREW representative is not located. Wilst thou assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? Zzzzzzzzzzz…THE SIN & THE FRUIT must be ZZkkkkxxxxx….Wilst though assess this unit’s operational status: QUERY? zzzzkkkkaaawwwwrrkkk… reboot not possible…