December 21st, 2010

rose code

Oubliette Session Ten: The Undercastle & The Arcanum.

(Zoroaster Vespers & Søren Cockscrow, Jacks of Cups & Pentacles, respectively; Jarvis from Tron: Legacy & artist unknown.)

I haven't been able to play Oubliette in a while-- I took November off to focus on NaNoWriMo, & the every other week timing just fell in such a way that it has been about two months since last time. It was nice to see my players again-- hello toughlad! Hello Sam! Hello Tracey! I had a few mimosas in me when I got there around four, so we had a little social chit-chat & set the room up for game, & then got kicking, down into the nitty-gritty. I started in by asking everyone to wrap up what they remembered from last time, & with a few guiding hints we all slowly got back into the correct headspace. That accomplished, I put on Charles Park II by Makeup & Vanity Set to provide the mood music, & we got right into it. They had been betrayed by the Sugar Plum Barons & by Blue Glory on Dark Water's half-brother, Black Jaguar on White Snow. The Licorice Duke, regent of Anise, had been removed from the fray by his bodyguards through a secret panel in the wall-- a panel Blue Glory found & tripped, in chase. It took them a moment to realize she'd disappeared, but Curie Firstlight searched for the panel & tripped it & followed in the dark after her, side by side with Coyote's Lucky Day, the Karnak recently thrust into their circle.

(A mysteriously nude Thoreau Twilight; "Richmond" & "Wiesenberg" by Miru Kim.)

The secret path in the crawlspaces of the wall led Blue Glory to a stair down & a path outward-- trails she expected, having played in the secret places of the palace as a child. There was, however, a secret secret door-- a hidden entrance in the already secret passageway! Which led to an odd protrusion of the castle's foundation-- an old stone well descending into the depths. A hole in the heart of the Black Palace, & radiating out from it a sense of significance & menace. Blue Glory waiting at the edge for Curie & Coyote-- & then they descended into the Underpalace together. They head a voice beckon them; "this way!" & so they followed-- Curie handed his anabaric torch to Blue Glory & she led the way. They came to a vast round porthole of a door, a rolling portcullis with prongs jutting from it...& a strangely naked Thoreau Twilight entwined & clamboring among them! Thoreau Twlight is Blue Glory on Dark Water's mother, a human from Aubade, the concubine of the Licorice Duke. She slips in through the door as it rotates closed behind her. Curie & Blue Glory figure out the locking mechanism-- the rungs all rotate between each other, giant tumblers where the body is the key-- & he coaches the brachiating Blue Glory through the uneven bars, & the door swings open.

It opens into a dungeon, torture tools caked in blood. Coyote investigates-- it is, oh, about thirty years old. When did the Licorice Duke go from being a serial wife-murderer to a benevolent dictator? Oh, about thirty years ago. It is important to note the recent life of Black Bear on Black Cedars, the Licorice Duke of Anise, & the recent history of Anise. Rival with Slumbering Heart Dwells on the Hill--the Saltwater Duke-- the Licorice Duke was the winner in the civil war; breaking Slumberheart's sword, killing True Love Waits-- the Marsh Mallow Duchess-- & marrying Sweet Ballet Macabre-- the Spice Drop Duchess. The Licorice Duke is an Alpha; all the nobility of Anise are Alphas, & they are prone to a manic-panic wishy-washy persona; when they are good, they are very good, but when they are bad...they are very, very bad. The Licorice Duke is Bluebeard, he's Sultan Shahryar from A Thousand & One Arabian Nights; his first wife My Dear Wormwood cheats on him & he goes mad, insane, evil-- killing spouse after spouse. Until Thoreau Twilight joins his harem, & soothes & tames him. The dungeon is spotty with the remnants of his wicked ways-- & in a tunnel slanting downward, they see a nude female figure, & chase after her.

(Wind in the Corridor; Big Boss from the Metal Gear Solid series.)

The next chamber was the Armory of the Black Palace, filled with row upon row of matched sets of muskets & spiked maces. & with the dying body of Wind in the Corridor, the master of arms of the Palace & the tutor of Blue Glory on Dark Water. A Beta himself, he had taken her under his wing, teaching her hand to hand martial arts as well as a range of weapon techniques. He wheezed, dying-- Black Jaguar on White Snow had betrayed him-- he gestured at the empty racks in the center of the armory, indicating that the terrible & great weapons therein had been looted by the traitor. He died telling Blue Glory that her mother had been good for her father, & extolling her to remember her meditation. Curie Firstlight tries to resuscitate him with the anabaric spark, to no effect. Blue Glory grits her teeth, & on down they went. Through a garden of fungus & night blooming plants set in hydroponics. To a small room with a single window-- the deduced that the chamber was in fact as large as those above, but filled with machinery, all contested to this mirror-- which could see to the ends of the borders of Anise...& in some nebulous cases, beyond, showing the whole of the Licorice Duke's kingdom.

(A the pursuit of Thoreau Twilight into the Lake of Tears; "Croton" by Miru Kim.)

All along the way, the anabaric torch carried by Blue Glory on Dark Waters dimmed, struggling, circle of light creeping ever closer. The torch is symbolic of the Trump called the Hermit, a sacred lamp in mimicry of the gods that Blue Glory & Curie venerate. The fact that the mounting evil of her father could dampen its glow...well. Onward they followed the dancing naked figure. They came next to a lake-- a black body of water with just two coracles tied along side. Salty-- they could taste the bite of the water in the air. They paddled across, coming to a tunnel, searching their feelings, praying-- knowing they were nearing the end of the depths of the Undercastle. The Undercastle, which I designed to mimic the staging in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle.

("Thoreau Twilight" revealed as My Dear Wormwood; "Cata" by Miru Kim.)

The body laying out among the bones is too big to be Blue Glory's mother-- too tall, too alien. It isn't familiar, & here in the tiny circle of light cast by the lantern it becomes clear that they haven't been following Thoreau Twilight at all. "What is the first story you ever told me?" Blue Glory asks. "Stories are for whores!" the figure answers. "I knew it!" exclaims James/Coyote. It is My Dear Wormwood, the ghost of the Licorice Duke's dead bride, here among the bones of all those who followed her. Coyote is possessed-- he says a few mean-spirited things, but then Curie has the idea to empty his piezo-anabaric emitter of all its charges & try to...suck the ghost in! Which has the unintended result of...possessing Curie! Blue Glory calls on her connection to the Hermit, on Curie's ties to the Chariot, & the spirit is forced out-- & they exit the Undercastle by means of a huge slab of a door, perfectly hidden in a cliff-face, unable to be opened from the outside.

(The real Thoreau Twilight; artist unknown.)

Outside, they see a circle of flames. Blue Glory whistles for her mount. "You know he's very far away, it will take him a while to get here," I tell her, & she says she knows-- so of course then I tell her that her hippofelis Herakles Vagabond comes bounding up to her almost immediately. What? She swings up & the approach the kindled torches-- it is Thoreau Twilight, the real Thoreau Twilight, the actual living one. She has brought Curie's wagon, & Blue Glory's destriar, & Coyote's Lucky Day's giant cassowary. They can't go in pursuit of Black Jaguar on White Snow, she tells them. Why? Blue Glory intends to kill him. That is why. They can't kill him-- he's the Licorice Duke's heir. End of story. He's a traitor, they argue, but it doesn't matter. For that matter, Thoreau Twilight tells them, if she brought the Licorice Duke out his his nadir of jealousy & evil, perhaps Black Jaguar can yet be redeemed. Either way-- they are being sent to Aubade, as per the earlier discussion with the Duke. Thoreau says she has friends there-- listen for the password "pelagic argosy."

Off they go-- there is a bit of a time dilation as they travel for several days at a fair clip to get to the border. In that time, Curie Firstlight begins...some kind of transformation. Since the Baobab Palace he has been tinkering with something in his mind-- a connector, a link, a unified interface port. To the point-- he's designed & prototyped a cybernetic implant, a plug socket...that will plug directly into his nervous system. Into his body's anabaric potential. Anabaric? More like vitabaric. He's designed a screw that will twist in his flesh & plug itself in at his wrist; it will take a bit of surgery, but just a bit. He swigs from a bottle of scotch-- the same stuff he used to sterilize his tools & the part-- & then slash! & twist! Meanwhile, Blue Glory on Dark Waters looks on in distaste.

(The Arcanum: the Jacks of Cups & Pentacles with followers; photo by me.)

The border crossing into Aubade is an odd affair. I change the music-- now were are listening to a mix of carnival barkers & numbers stations from the Conet Project, as the border town is full of dictaphones & phonographs spewing out strange messages, advertisements, propaganda from the Arcanum. People wander about with umbrellas in the rain, whose sticks glow in the dark-- Bladerunner parasols. The building is full of flickering gaslights, & everywhere the hardworking weirdos of Aubade dressed in the peaked caps & high shoulders of the local garb. I failed here as a Narrator-- I should have been using an Irish or Scottish accent, since that is what Curie talks like. Something to remember for next time. The party is subjected to medical & fitness tests, asked what languages they know, tested for special skills. Curie is exempt, as a card carrying member of Aubade's guild of Gleaners, & Blue Glory finds that she actually already has a file here, under the pet-name her mother gave her, Descartes Midnight. She lists her occupation as "animal trainer," & Coyote's Lucky Day lists his as "explorer"-- Descartes (we'll call her that for the time being) demonstrates with Herakles Vagabond & Coyote sketches maps from memory.

(Cavorite airships in Aubade; by Ian McQue.)

They get their traveling papers & are dismissed...only to be stopped by the Arcanum outside...including two Jacks! The Arcanum is organized into four branches-- the Pentacles, the Wands, the Swords & the Cups-- & those are divided into hierarchies, from two to ten. The head of each order is the Jack, & to see two together here means it is serious business. They ask the party to accompany them-- they are very polite, but the armed members of the Arcanum make the request somewhat perfunctory. Still-- Coyote, Descartes, & Curie play it cool & make sure they go with the Jacks as guests & not as prisoners. The Jack of Pentacles-- Søren, the other Jack calls her-- runs an exasperated bad cop routine, while the other Jack-- Zoroaster, or Z, she calls him back-- is the nice one. The It doesn't hurt that the Jack of Cups-- an Alpha counting on his fingers & running numbers in his head-- drops concerns about a spreading "argosy," a disease with a particularly "pelagic" character that they are worried about. They take them to an airship for the moment, to hold them as guests there for now.

(Gödel Dinnerbell, the Chimera; Fremen by AJ Trahan.)

In the belly of the vessel-- which Curie discovers is "heavier than air," & uses both lighter than air gases & a core of "cavorite" very much like his own [black element]-- they meet a faceless gentleman who says he is named Gödel Dinnerbell. I tied a sweatshirt over my face as a mask, at this point. He says he is being held as a terrorist & a "mental enemy of the state," as a Chimera. Which he is, of course. The Chimera are a group of metamorphosists, of transcendentalist post-human fanatics. The lowest levels are philosophical extropians, but as you rise in the ranks you replace parts of your body with machines & devices, you become part one thing & part another. Gödel breaks out a deck of Tarot cards to do a reading-- Coyote declines, but not the others. He uses The Hermit to symbolize Descartes, & she draws the Hierophant reversed, then the Two of Pentacles ("ah, the Juggler!" he says) & finally the Four of Swords. For Curie, he draws the Chariot to represent him-- & Curie pulls the Two of Cups reversed, & then the Devil reversed, & finally Nine of Wands. With that, Gödel is taken away out of the cell...& the Jack of Cups comes in to announce that they are at their stopping point, since they have been in motion this whole time...

(The Dig Site; sketch by Sparth aka Nicolas Bouvier.)