(The Spirit as True Love Waits; Anais Pouliot by Sylvie Malfray..)
Sunday's Oubliette session was a lot of fun; it was relatively short & very roleplaying heavy. The sort of session that made me laugh when I read this comic strip, since pretty frequently my roleplaying campaign is a bunch of fictional characters sitting around & talking about their feelings, building towards catharsis. Hey, if your protagonists don't have a psychological break now & then, what will they do, just become sociopaths who break into people's basements, murder everyone they meet & steal whatever isn't nailed down? Oh, that is exactly what will happen. They'll become "adventurers." Anyhow, I am ranging off topic. We started with an "Experience" recap, which is something Tracey has suggested to help her keep track of things, & something that will help me as the Narrator keep track of things. Experience points are weird to keep track of; I have tried to keep a running tally of them, along with a list of things that everyone has purchased, but even so, it remains wonky. Not in a way where I'm a suspicious bean counter or anything. Still, it was a very profitable discussion for me & Sam. Sam wins the Most Valuable Rules Wonk award for this game. I let him retool his Gleaner suit a little bit, trimming the bulk & excess armor (& armor rating) for something a little more sleek & science-fiction.
With the Experience he gained from trimming a few Powers, he got...a Mount! There was some discussion of a six-legged zombie cyborg horse, but we steered away from that; I made the case that his character Curie First-Light of the Stormstruck Tower (along with Lovelace Vespers) is the visible "bridge" between the kingdom of Anise & their annexation of the neighboring country, Aubade. Curie, an Aubadean who pledge himself to Anise, is becoming the junction of the two, & his new destriar reflects that...as well as the new, less unhinged outlook Curie is taking. He found a wounded destriar, a hippocanis that fused the traits of a draft horse & a wolfhound, that had been crippled in a fight that claimed his rider's life. Curie slaved away with the help of Eight Moons of Delight & they were able to create animal prosthetics for the beast-- its name is Fenrir, dubbed Fenrir Stormstruck by Curie, following the naming conventions of Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus's destriar, Herakles Nightmare. Also, last session, Curie had hung himself on a cross & let himself be struck by lightning as part of his radical experimentation. Sam had mentioned his problems with Willpower limits, videlicet having to spend a point to activate a Power & then not being able to spend more to augment that roll. The proposal I offered him was to be able to spend more than one point of Willpower in a round-- on unique rolls-- in exchange for no longer regaining Willpower after a night's sleep. Seems fair! & it hints at deeper change going on. Maybe the Chimera are on to something!
(The Graveyard of Fireflies; "Hotaru" by Digital Photo Blog..)
After running through a recap of last session, we started with a brief dinner scene, where Curie & Blue Glory sat with Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House & Lovelace Vespers. They dined in the Hunting Lodge of the Black Palace, where the Licorice Duke has mounted the heads of the destriars of the foes he has slain-- including the mount of True Love Waits, Slumberheart's first betrothed & the older sister of his current fiancée, Rise Up With Fists. They discuss things...awkwardly. Tensely. There is a crackle in the room. Without meaning to, somehow they convince Lovelace-- daughter of the new Duke of the new Peppermint Duchy in Aubade, due to marry the sinister heir to the Licorice Duke & Sugar Plum Duke in his own right-- that it is her duty to marry the loathsome Black Jaguar on Golden Scales. If it will save lives, if it will prevent war, then she owes it to her people & all that. She takes her leave of them, & Slumberheart flips the table in frustration.
In the morning, at Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus' urging, they set off for her Cave, whose waters might have what it takes to heal the permanently damaged hand that Slumberheart burnt in Antiphon. Curie has offered to amputate it & replace it with something else-- Slumberheart has given Eight Moons of Delight some ideas to work on in that direction-- but in the meantime, Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus has another possible path to rehabilitation. The Cave is a sacred site-- dedicated to the Four-In-One; the Star, the Lovers, the High Priestess & Temperance-- & Blue Glory has been one of its guardians. As she is the Winter Champion, so too is she the Spring Guardian; a distinct seasonal theme has emerged around Tracey's character. She warns them that there will be a price-- "Life in, live out," she tells Slumberheart. Curie brings Fenrir-- not riding him but walking him for physical therapy as the biomechanical & vitabaric implants integrate & heal-- & Slumberheart walks too, because his mount, beatific White Bodhisattva Anointed by Rose Water, won't let him ride. & so they travel until dark-- slower than it would normally be-- & come to a place flickering with lights, swarming with fireflies (the so-called "lightning bugs"). This is their graveyard, where their migration ends, & they flash now in droves, caught up in the ecstasy of the last days of their lives.
(Wildgrave Iron Head Crab; Emily DiDonato for Numéro #115 by Anthony Maule..)
They are confronted by-- but not surprised by-- Wildgrave Iron Head Crab, the Alpha who serves the Cave as its summer guardian. The Four-In-One-- Virgin, Lover, Mother, Crone-- has called her as the Lover. She asks them if they have brought offerings, & they have not. Curie's familiar, the woodchuckesque Tertimanus, scuttles about on his back. Blue Glory says that Curie isn't to go in, & neither will she-- Duke Slumberheart will go alone. She vouches for him. The Wildgrave holds out her hand & tells Slumberheart "Your weapons-- you will not need them." & he, unlike Luke, hands over his miraculous magical sword, the Singing Blade. As he goes in, Rosewater nudges her many-antlered head forward, & Blue Glory shrugs. "Two. They are both going."
(The Crystal Cave; Reed Flute Cave by Sean Hsieh..)
(The Blue Room; photographer unknown.)
The cave is eerie, accompanied by the sound of drips, of water silently falling into water. The liquid itself is blue, luminous-- perhaps akin to the blue Cloud below the ruined Tower, or 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. The mirror sheen of the water is distracting, removing the sense of ego as things are doubled upon themselves. As above, so below. Rosewater splits from Slumberheart, & as if in a dream Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House hears a noise from one of the alcoves, & following it he finds a Blue Room, with a figure on the bed.
(The Spirit as True Love Waits; Anais Pouliot by Sylvie Malfray..)
(The Spirit as Rise up With Fists; Jenny Lewis, "Under the Radar".)
The next bit is a showcase for James & Tracey-- James winning the Most Valuable Character Episode Protagonist award & Tracey taking home the coveted Most Valuable Storytelling Supporting Ensemble prize. My favorite kind of vignette, where I just get to just sit back & watch things unfold. James & I have been taking a very cinematic approach to his character; we've left a lot of elements about his past undecided, & have said that things crystallize & become real when they are "on screen," but are often otherwise left unsaid. That gives us a lot of room to play with, & I tapped Tracey to help fill out some of it. Between the two of us, we worked out that the Four-In-One spirit of the Cave would embody four women of Slumberheart's potential romantic interest, & seek to seduce him. Seduce is the wrong word; the spirit isn't a succubus, but "life in, life out" is a literal statement. To heal his hand, Slumberheart would need to pay a real & carnal toll.
(The Spirit as Miss Glass; Photo by Laurent Auxietre.)
(The Spirit as the Pearl Queen; Magdalena Frackowiak by Aitken Jolly.)
Tracey played the Four-In-One, as it started in the form of True Love Waits. Slumberheart is physically weak-- he is slender like a willow wand, fast & severe but not strong. True Love Waits overpowers him, is physical where he is cerebral. Doesn't he owe her this? She tears at her quasi-military garb. Rebuffed-- "I am promise to another"-- the spirit takes the form of Rise Up With Fists. Previously, we had alluded to a sexual interlude, but now I made James put an answer to deeds done in the dark; yes, they've consummated their betrothal. Rise Up With Fists is more passive aggressive, where her older sister was aggressive, but again Slumberheart refuses. The demonic but beautiful Miss Glass is next, her body a slither; she is young, she needs to be protected, but she is wise & weird as well. She is the easiest for him to turn aside. The last form is the Pearl Queen, under a white lace veil. It is real, I assure James. Slumberheart knows it is. & perhaps time travel, or holographic embodiment, quantum cloning, makes it so. It is real, & they are close, but again he says no.
(Tertimanus & My Dear Wormwood; "His Only Wish was to Touch" by Ryohai Hase..)
Throughout all of this, Sam has been perched at James' feet, playing the voice in the dark. Or even, I should say, the Voice in the Dark. A wretched voice urging ruin, the end of the Licorice Duke-- by means most foul. Revenge most bloody for the death of True Love Waits! The treason Rise Up With Fists considered, carried to black fruition! A throne of bones in Anise for Miss Glass to sit upon! The Licorice Duke must be the reason the Pearl Queen left; he must be executed for his crimes! The voice is persistent & its Foul Whispers are unnatural to the cavern. Eventually-- refused four times by the supplicant, Slumberheart-- it turns its attentions on the voice-- revealed to be My Dear Wormwood! The ghost of the Licorice Duke's first wife, unjustly murdered by him when he was Thorned. She sunk her spectral claws into Curie when he was lost in the Undercastle & had tainted him with her unfulfilled rage. Embodied in Tertimanus-- literally, as some of her bones found their way into the little creature-- she'd escaped the dismal dungeons to come here. Exorcised, held by Tertimanus, cut free, Slumberheart sees them embrace, melting like snow in the sun. Outside, Curie fiddled with the no-longer functional alchemical cyborg-- "wot? Ah dinnae know why eet stopped workin'!"
(The Egg; Rose Trelis Faberge Egg..)
As he leaves, Slumberheart sees his mount White Bodhisattva Annointed by Rose Water lying on her side-- an unnatural position. Rosewater is a creature very much like an elk, with the face of a beautiful woman & a hundred antlers branching from her head, something resembling the Forest God from Princess Mononoke. She is curled around a jeweled egg that she has licked clean. Some time ago Slumberheart realized she was in heat, & all signs point to Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus' mount Herakles Nightmare as the sire. When Duke Slumberheart finally exits, holding the egg, Rosewater behind, the fearsome countenance of Herakles confirms it, as he lunges-- saberteeth snarled-- at Slumberheart, dragging Blue Glory forward with him. The Duke holds his ground as the beast sniffs him & the egg, & the tense scene evaporates, somewhat, the destriars protectively around Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House as they all return to the Black Palace at the heart of the Licorice Duke's domain.
(The Licorice Duke, Black Bear on Black Cedars; Jason Isaacs in El Escorial Conspiracy.)
(The Sugar Plum Duke, Black Jaguar on Golden Scales; Fashion by Katie Eary..)
Offline, the Players & I had talked about the direction we wanted to go next, & when they returned to the Place Palace, we had a scene symbolic of that discussion-- they met with the Licorice Duke, who offered them two choices. See, the result of the Peacock's Dilemma had been that the Licorice Duke (& Duke Slumberheart) would declare Miss Glass empress of the world, & that Miss Glass would declare Black Bear on Black Cedars king of Anise. To both those ends, the Licorice Duke proposes two options: one, that Blue Glory (his ambassador to Miss Glass), Slumberheart & Curie lead an army in conquest against the infernal theocracy of Antiphon in order to fight their way through to Arioch, the Decadant kingdom where Miss Glass is, currently. Two, to take a more covert route, to fly over Antiphon in one of the new Heavier-Than-Air ships that Anise is constructing with Aubadean technology, to slip across the border & arrive in Arioch more discreetly. The Players (& thus the characters) chose the latter route. They take their leave, & shortly thereafter encounter the sneering Black Jaguar on Golden Scales, who brags that he has been appointed to lead the Hungry Templars & the Thorned Paladins into Antiphon. He menaces them a little but the party isn't moved by him-- except to hate, perhaps.
(The Heavier-Than-Air Vessel, The Bumblebee Art by Dave Holland.)
(Chaplin Rush; Photo by Topher Adam, mask by Tom Banwell.)
They go to see the airship, freshly constructed by one of the mysterious Savants that live in the towers around the Black Palace, of which Curie First-Light is one. You know-- as an aside, I think that Curie's "Anisean name" is First Light Storm Struck. That is what they probably hear when he introduces himself, his first name being a strange foreign nomenclature. The ship is fairly big, with a belly fit to stable their destriars-- it will accommodate them & crew, but not much else, as much of it is given over to the four cavorite engines. The ship is unnamed, & so Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus dubs it "The Bumblebee," since that is what it looks like, to her. Funny enough, the ship has one of the big anabaric cannons at the rear-- a "stinger," as it were. The anabaric canons are powerful air-to-ground weapons, but they aren't much good ship-to-ship-- they need the...well, grounding of the ground to operate. The ship is nice, & Curie has a chance to knock around on-board for a day or so, setting up interface ports for his cybernetics on the bridge & in the engine room. The next day, as they prepare to leave-- scheduling it to cross into Antiphon after dark-- they meet the ships captain. Chaplin Rush, from the Fall of the 101! One of the so-called Earnest Atheists, the iron-lunged man who was accomplice to Coyote's Lucky Day's betrayal of Blue Glory & Curie but had come back in the eleventh hour to rescue them from the tragedy of the skyscraper's destruction.