(Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House; Art by Min Yum.)
This Sunday we had a brief Oubliette game, starting late & ending early. Fine with me; that means half the prep for next session is already done! So instead, we just ended up running a few quick set pieces in Arioch, the Land of the Damned. Just hanging out in the Decadant Wold, in the Fallen Kingdoms, everything ought to play out alright, yeah, don't you think? Well, I mean; last session I gave leprosy to Slumbering Heart Dwells in the Blue House, James' character, so maybe not so alright, after all. We started the session off with XP recap, & a summary of previous events, & then got kicking...starting with me asking James to pick which Attribute dot he wanted to permanently lose. Because, hey, leprosy, everybody! Tzaraath, more specifically, I should be clear; a supernatural & spiritual illness, not the actual medical leprosy. Curie Firstlight of the Stormstruck Tower & Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus are safe, & all three are with the proto-Karnaks called The Old Ones, staying in their massive city-sculpture, the Leng Arcology. Flying fish take to the air, snapped in mouthfuls from their flock-schools by wyverns; puffins cling to the rockface, uttering eerie caws.
(Derleth the Old One; Thor concept art by Michael Kutsche.)
The Old Ones live in stone bubbles, & they bunk the panhumans with their destriars-- keeping them in the section where the wyvern riders live. They offer to bring the characters food, but Curie, Blue Glory & Slumberheart decide they will come to dinner with The Old Ones. The hall they are taken to is roughly the size of the main concourse in Grand Central Station, with circular tables & communal eating. The foot is slices of fish served attached to vegetables; like nigiri sushi with the sea weed wrapping the tuna to a leek, or salmon to a carrot slice. Served along side if a potent rice moonshine, & a small tray of pills. The Old Ones are normally taciturn, emotionless; they have a Borg-like rapport, & have been nothing but abrupt & laconic with the outsiders, but here in the eating area they are wild, like Charismatic Christians, like snake handlers; speaking in tongues, flailing about, ecstatic. Our heroes blend in, but aren't really part of the celebration; they don't draw notice, but are clearly not part of whatever energy The Old Ones share.
The next day, The Old Ones have brought one of their more farther flung members to speak with them-- Derleth. They meet over breakfast, in the now-empty cafeteria, where they are served soy cakes with cranberry compote-- the sort of foods that can be grown easily through hydroponics. Derleth is with Shantak & Yith; the Players reasoning that The Old Ones have some sort of telepathic link, letting Yith translate the Argot for the others; Shantak fairly clearly has a leadership role, or at least a position as a liaison. When The Bumblebee had first arrived, Curie (using his eidetic memory) happened to discuss what he had heard from the fossil automata (& the second automata): The Sin & the Fruit; the cancerous Ultra: The Throne & the Brand; & from Noam's dream: The Cenotaph & the Stone. Derleth-- who speaks in a sort of mash-up between a pirate accent & Locutus, with a bit of a facial tick-- tells them that these are guidelines to creating an Ultra; a transitional creature beyond an Alpha, on the way to becoming...something else. Curie calls it "The Omega." The Old Ones don't have much to say beyond that, but it sets the wheels turning, especially when they realize that the "Book of Iron"-- dating from the War of Iron between the Automata & the Haemophages-- could quite certainly be related to the Fortress of the Ferra Incunabula, since "ferra incunabula" roughly means...well, "iron book."
(Pardoner Hnakra; "Baron Stroll" by Craig Mullins.)
During the ten years between sessions-- the long between seasons pause of a decade when Curie built his golem-son & Blue Glory & Slumberheart went to the Savage Lands & Decadant World, respectively , Slumberheart spent in duels. He fought the various gladiator-champions of the Adeptus, one champion a year, defeating them but sparing their lives, turning that faction of Arioch to swear fealty (in secret) to Miss Glass, the vampiric heir to the mantle of the Pearl Queen. Now, sick, dying, they come to him. The Old Ones have said that Slumberheart can be saved if he gets a heart plug, & so it will be. First, the Old Ones have one more question-- a treaty negotiation, with Slumberheart as herald of Miss Glass & Blue Glory as ambassador from Anise. For their succor & their aid to the fledgling delegation of the heir, when her suit sits on the edge of a knife, they wish neutrality. They wish their island to be outside the scope of the Queen's domain, & the party agrees. That done, the Old Ones are glad not to have to kill anyone, & they take the group to Pardoner Hnakra, the man waiting for his friend, the primitive, the gladiator Slumberheart. "Slumbie!" he calls, fondly, like the Rockbiter. Hnakra is dressed in the robes of the secret church of Arioch, the Hierarchy, & it an easy three meters tall & probably shy of half a tonne, but only just. Formerly a member of the Ars Hus, the Order of the Pig, he seems overjoyed to see Slumberheart, & for his part the normally melancholy Slumberheart seems happy, even though his illness.
(The Subterranean Valley of Dor; "cotg 3" by Nayiri.)
The trip across the channel to the mainland is on one of Hnakra's pleasure barges, a shallow ship with vast paddle wheels operated by human power-- a hamster wheel of slaves, climbing & pulling & always moving. Hnakra is quite charmed by Blue Glory & her fearsome beast, & offers them a dose of Pollen, the drug du jour, imported all the way from the spider-things in the Savage Lands. He offers them Up, Down, Strange or Charm, & all three decide to do Charm with him. Hooray, paranormal MDMA! The group have a fun time spazzing out, Hnakra shooting fruit out of people's fingers with oversized hand cannons, everyone just awash in a buzz of magical camraderie, everyone's essential self mingling. Just a few biolumenscent grains each, swimming around in a glass vial. The dose carefully measured, they arrive at the underground grotto called the Valley of Dor in just a few hours. As they pull in, their voices catch on the walls-- they have been carefully carved to turn the echoes of spoken words into hauntingly whispered "...arioch...och...och..." Fat moths flicker in the lamps light, braziers clutched in the hands of triceratops-headed idols.
(Banth, Slave of Doktor Ghek; "Nekromantik" by Katarzyna Konieczka.)
The Doktor that Pardoner Hnakra is taking them to lives in the corridors of the Valley of Dor. Imagine a hospital-- a big one, like New York Presbyterian-- then imagine all the electricity shut off for a hundred years. The place is retrofitted, of course, with candelabras & torches, & more archaic implements of medicine & torture. For of course, Ghek is one of the foremost Seekers of Truth & Penitence. Slaves scurry around in the shadows, their faces hideously distorted by elaborate dental prosthetics. One, Ghana, gravitates to them; while Slumberheart preps for surgery, Curie wants to look in at Ghek's laboratory & Blue Glory-- under some duress, for she's feeling exhausted after the trip & the drugs-- sets up a sort of nest for herself in the observation theater of the operating room.
(Doktor Ghek; Art by Dave Rapoza.)
Doktor Ghek speaks with my patented Peter Lorre accent-- last seen when I played the Gnome Wild Mage Encre Panache-- & washes his hands all the time. He wears a big gurgling green pump on his back that hisses & moans & seems to be connected by tubes to his own heart plug. Slumberheart has requested that he make the plug in the shape of a keyhole-- the better to build a lock for it, & to perhaps appeal to his sense of poetry, since his name is Slumbering HEART Dwells in the Blue House, after all. Ghek is also one of the ceremonial gladiatorial champions that Slumberheart duelled-- what better way to determine political positions than secret duels, after all?-- & is a member of the Ordo Capri, the Order of the Goat, another of the guilds of the Adeptus.
(The Operating Theater; Concept art by Albert Ng.)
From here, events proceed quicker & quicker. Slumberheart is shown into the operating theater by one of Doktor Ghek's slaves-- he is no where to be found-- who giggles ominously at the spikes protruding from the table. Half an iron maiden more like, in truth. She titters & says she'll change it over, & pulls a great big theatrical level-- cha-chunk, the spikes receded into the metal table. She has him strip down naked & lie down-- Curie insists on staying in the room even as the slaves try to shoo him out-- & then Ghana & the other bond-slaves of Doktor Ghek begin to restrain him, leather cuffs tight, buckles cold. Slumberheart is nude, naked-- not a hospital gown or small clothes for him-- the ice chill of the table a slab against his back as it is tilted back. The slaves scurry out, leaving Slumberheart on the table, Curie in the corner. On his last legs, exhausted like Blue Glory, he takes a bump of cocaine to stay afloat, awake.
(Shaman of Belphegor; "Numbing Dose" by Brad Rigney.)
The Doktor is IN. A hulking figure in skin & hair, a metal shark-smile-- monstrous, weird & diabolical. Shamanism & alienism, entwined-- the Doktor is a Shaman of Belphegor, the secret god of invention & discord & rending claws. Enemy of beauty, penetrator. The long shining hypodermic needle on his arm lends credence-- the size of a bastard sword, with a gauge as big as the circle of your finger & thumb. Under the mask, Doktor Ghek is breathing heavily, the rasping carnal gasps of your Killer BOBs, your Jason Voorhees. He comes & straddle the naked Slumberheart, needle pulled back like a piston, pounding breath accelerating till at crescendo the stabbing needle plunges down, into the duke's chest, sliding between his ribs, puncturing his heart like a balloon. Roll a chance die, I say! I'm committed, in my mind, to killing his character on the roll of a one. A three; not an exceptional success (I knew what would happen then, as well...) but not a dramatic failure. The hands of the Doktor are grimy with old blood as his fingers puzzle about inside of Slumberheart-- who is hemorrhaging from his nose & lung, body traumatized & wheezing out the last few crooked pumps in the old ticker. Ah, but Slumberheart is strong, has made the decision to live, made it when accepted Rise Up With Fist's marriage proposal. He struggles, burning Willpower, but he is a man of iron will. Doktor Ghek rattles the seal into place & starts pumping the blood out of Slumberheart's body with a hand-bellows, running it through a ticking, struggling machine-- dialysis by hand. I had James erase Slumberhearts three lost dots of Attributes & write down three points of aggravated damage...& that is how Slumberheart got his heart plug.
(Pardoner Hnakra, Doktor Ghek & various attendants; photograph by me.)