(The Fairy Floss Forest & wild destriars; Infrared trees by surfwithberserk.)
Yesterday's game was a lot of fun, but very much a curveball! Well, I've had worse derailments! The game wasn't taken off course so much as my expectations for pacing were totally wrong. Last session was very high in roleplaying content-- mostly just Characters sitting around, talking about their feelings, pursuing their own personal melodramas, caught up in in the politics & soap opera of the campaign. Very Game of Thronesesque, if you ask me. Don't get me wrong-- if Players want to sit around & run internal games where the psychology of their Characters is paramount, I'm totally on board! I just thought that after a couple of sessions, they'd be ready to roll out immediately. I was wrong! Radarless hadn't been able to make it to the last game, but I was bringing his character Long Cleaver of Dark Mountain Wind in as the story hook. "Come adventure with me!" so to speak-- or anyhow, he came as a neutral diplomat between the Spice Drop Duchess, Danse Ballet Macabre, who is married to the Licorice Duke, & the Saltwater Duke Slumbering Heart Sleeps in the Blue House & his recent betrothed, The Marsh Mallow Duchess, Rise Up With Fists. I expected that when Long Cleaver showed up, everyone would pack up & go, but there was instead more drama to unfold. Awesome-- character generated plots definitely are my favorite.
(Rise Up With Fists, Duchess of Marsh Mallow; Jenny Lewis, photographer not known.)
We start with Long Cleaver & the Karnak Savage the Perfumed Axe mounted astride his huge Wooly Triceradon-esque destriar arriving at the Palace Dolorosa. It is a bit of a hilarious comedy of errors (& eventually a comedy of heirs...) as Long Cleaver asks for Slumberheart & Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus, & everyone rushes around, up & down in the elevator. When Curie First-light hears that everyone is rushing about getting ready to leave, he's heartbroken. At the Festival of Lights the night before-- everyone is still recovering from their hangovers-- Curie thought he had spotted someone he's been looking for. The description he gives is: "six & a half feet tall, average build, probably wearing a hooded cloak & strange boots & gauntlets. He's shy, & often wears a mask like Alphas do, to hide his face. Speaks with a big of an Aubadean accent, though less thing [Curie's]. Answers to Tesla." Curie doesn't want to leave till he's had a chance to look for him, & so they stay put for another day & another night. Just enough time for Slumberheart to be a huge, adorable Romantic Comedy disaster. He invites Blue Glory & his betrothed (fiancée sounds too modern) Rise Up With Fists to the rooftop deck to talk-- Long Cleaver comes with him. Slumberheart announces that he represents the supposed heir of the Pearl Queen, Miss Glass, & that he is here in advance of the seven thousand strong army he has raised in Arioch. & he announces that the he has an assassin pledged to destroy him, Raphael Herald, the killing machine whose sister & incestuous lover Slumberheart failed to save. Just a couple of wonderful things to drop on the day after your engagement. This leads to a scene that is "what if Aaron Sorkin had written the Batman screenplay that Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton in?" as Slumberheart & his male friends-- Long Cleaver & Curie-- sit at a dinner table set for fifteen alone, talking about marriage on paper & poltics, while Blue Glory sneaks through the labyrinth of servant's corridors, finds Rise Up With Fists & her handmaids waist deep in water sparring with some brutal kickboxing.
(Potions for Foxes; sic, "Stag" by Anthony S. Waters & Steve Prescott.)
Blue Glory has been out & about-- she takes her feverdreamish creature, Herakles Nightmare, out hunting in the dim glow of twilight, catching giant owls & collecting the feathers while her destriar eats them. She also sneaks around quite a bit-- something has changed inside of her in the last decade, lending her a feral & feline aspect, & the sounds of the Palace keep her moving, always detached, always separate from everyone else. The twin handmaids-- the Dames Running Devil & Charging Sky-- keep Curie informed of their investigation, & asks about himself-- it seems Tesla was there, but no one has seem him since. Slumberheart & Rise Up With Fists have agreed to a date for a wedding-- a year from yesterday, at the next Festival of Lights. Long Cleaver sees something in his mirrors...he is in a deep, dark place, but then-- he is a deep, dark fellow. Eventually-- Slumberheart somewhat in his cups from his sit down with Long Cleaver & Curie-- Blue Glory convinces him that what is needed is for him to apologize to Rise Up With Fists for springing the whole "oh I have fundamentally mixed allegiences" but more importantly for treating their marriage solely as a political expedience. In her chambers, he stammers out an apology but she tells him to shut up & put out the candle. We'll leave the rest to the audiences imaginations. I will say that when they leave the next morning, Rise Up with Fists mounts her destriar, Potions for Foxes, & rides to the edge of the pink Fairy Floss fields with them. She tries to think of a good token to give Slumberheart. Curie suggests underwear. Rise Up With Fists isn't that kind of girl. Instead, she slashes Slumberheart's cheeks, just below each eye. On cut on each cheek, so anybody who looks at him will see her claim.
(The Fairy Floss Forest & wild destriars; Infrared trees by surfwithberserk.)
The Licorice Mob-- or their envoys, Savage the Perfumed Axe & Hopping Lace, as well as the gargantuan Hunger for the Secret Life, their communal destriar-- come along as well. Savage the Perfumed Axe was a notorious firebrand, giving a message of Mob-- meaning the nomadic commoners least governed by the Alphas-- independence. This led to constant localized uprisings & raiding, until the Licorice Duke's forces intervened. The Licorice Duke captured Savage the Perfumed Axe & rather than punish the Mobs, he punished Savage the Perfumed Axe by cutting out his tongue-- but then placed him back in charge, as a deputy of the Duchy. Long Cleaver, who traveled with the speechless Savage, tries to understand why the Karnak has chosen to work for the Duke, but can't quite get his head around it. The group moves across the Fairy Floss- trees & grass of pink & white-- & they elect to take the road, rather than ride across the plains, especially since Curie has a wagon (a wagon but almost a Chariot, thanks to his close ties to that eponymous divine Trump). It gets...weird. Long Cleaver is involved in bloodletting-- he draws the Duke's blood with his sacrificial blade...while on the other arm, Curie takes a blood sample for his "vitabaric calculations."
(Wild destriar of the Fairy Floss; "Sable" by GunnerRomantic.)
Everyone is a psychopath! Curie has a strange clockwork-&-flesh familiar, Tresmanus, & Long Cleaver cuts off a little piece of his skin to help Curie fix it up-- when Curie declines it, Long Cleaver shrugs & tosses it to the maw of his alligator-rhino-like destriar, Great Thunder on the Plains. His body is a roadmap of pain! Meanwhile, Blue Glory is astride Herakles Nightmare scouting ahead, & decides to bring down one of the almost albedo zero opaque black destriars roaming wild throughout the Fairy Floss forest & fields. She & Herakles sprint suddenly, leaping upon one with fierce claws, but bringing it down without harming it. For all that Herakles Nightmare is a living terror, he is Blue Glory's creature through & through. The black destriar has almost human-like teeth, a crook in it's neck like a giraffe, like a coiled snake. They let it go & it stumbles to its feet & sprints off, confused to be alive. Onward they travel, chatting among themselves-- Curie & Long Cleaver arguing about theosophy & the occult, Slumberheart sort of apologetic but game for anything, Blue Glory ahead, separating herself from the group.
(The Bell Tower, sacred to the Tower Trump; illustration by Brendan Deboy.)
They travel together-- the Karnaks of the Licorice Mob last, following a bit apart-- for the day, a full clip of travel, until at last Blue Glory spots a bit of masonry peeking through the trees. She stops & waits for everyone to catch up, & they all look upon the ruined belltower together. Curie has become increasingly devout to the Trumps, & while Blue Glory's faith has lapsed, Slumberheart's has grown & diversified. Long Cleaver my not share their reverence for the Trumps-- not as such, yet, though Slumberheart suspects otherwise-- but he can sense it too. This place is holy, sacred to the Tower, as are all broken towers. Curie & Blue Glory when The 101 fell, the quintessential Tower of its time. In Aubade, they even track their calendars by it, & now know they are in the Age of the Tower. The headstones are a later addition-- while the people of Anise are traditionally agnostic, apparently some adherents of the Trumps recognized the broken belltower as consecrated & used it as cemetary. They saddle up to it, examining it, sort of just looking at it, when Long Cleaver notices that there are the faintest whisps of recently doused smoke. Like that, Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus scuttles into the darkness, ducking behind a tall gravestone, vanishing from sight. The others approach, cautiously, Long Cleaver leading the way.
(The Black Friar, Odd Elements of the Eclipse, & the imp Slattery; photograph by me.)
The voice that calls out is gruff-- "who're your friends you've brought, Firstlight?" he says. Strange-- Curie, with his eidetic memory, doesn't recognize the voice. They go back & forth-- who is who? No, who are you? & is that a Hungry Templar destriar? Eventually Long Cleaver goes to negotiate with the figure, who introduces himself as Black Friar Odd Elements of the Eclipse, a Hungry Templar. Is he alone? Well, "more or less." Fair enough. Long Cleaver deduces-- from the strange rank ("friar?") of the fellow & his insignia-- that Odd is a member of the Hungry Templars on the other side of the river, a loyalist to the Black Pilgrim who helped Long Cleaver & Duke Slumberheart cross the Bridge of Dust in their pursuit of the Man in Black. He & Long Cleaver affirm that neither of them is there to mess with the other one, & so Odd invites the rest of them to come on up to the Belltower, & Long Cleaver offers to share their food with the Black Friar.
(The Black Friar, Odd Elements of the Eclipse; "Captain Not So Nice" by Colin Fix.)
Inside, they all introduce themselves-- but Odd Elements of the Eclipse has already noticed Slumberheart & Long Cleaver, both of whom have a reputation that proceeds them. Blue Glory stays hidden, while Curie Firstlight gets to the root of the misunderstanding-- when the Black Friar said "Firstlight!" he mistook him for someone else, another figure in armor stomping around the boarder between Anise & Aubade. Not Curie Firstlight, but Tesla Firstlight. The fellow that Curie was looking for before-- who is following who? In any case, Odd Elements of the Eclipse proposes that, as soldiers are wont to do, they kill time by playing cards. Of course, when you are a soldier from another country behind the lines, sitting down to a campfire with a famous war hero who disappeared & it rumored to be The Devil's pupil, a duke who famously headed a faction of a civil war who is now renowned for his deadly skill with the blade & a man in mechanical armor who breaks out a bottle of aubadean (videlicet, scotch)-- & unbeknownst to you you're being watched by the mountebank Blue Glory-- you don't play for coins! The Black Friar offers them the stakes of secrets or favors & the gentlemen choose favors. They get to playing! I break out the Tarot deck. I've removed all of the Major Arcana-- the Trumps-- & we are playing with just the Minor. (In fact, I've left The Tower in the deck-- & I have a bit planned for if it ever comes up-- but it never does.) I ask if they want to play "in the Hand" or "on the River"-- basically, five-card stud or Texas hold'em-- & they choose the River. Sam deals, since he's got a knack for card games. Good-- I thought I remembered the rules but I am terrible at them, actually, it turns out. Ante is a small favor-- they come in medium & large as well-- & so they begin.
(Slattery the Imp; "Infestation," illustrated by Francisco Ruiz Velasco, sculpt by Alessandro Baldasseroni)
While they play at the game, Blue Glory creeps up the wall of the belltower, finding a comfortable perch. She seems something skittering, hiding, small puffs of crumbling masonry. A strange, impish creature, which Blue Glory thinks looks immature, hiding amongst the nooks & crannies of the relic belfry. Below, the cards shake out after a few hands, & The Black Friar is the big winner-- Curie owes him a small favor & a large favor, Duke Slumbering Heart Sleeps in the Blue House owes him three small favors, & Long Cleaver of Dark Mountain Wind owes him a small & two large favors. In exchange, he owes Curie & Long Cleaver each a small favor-- Curie is interested in calling in his small favor to switch the large to a medium, which Odd Elements of Darkness says he'll only do if both Curie & Long Cleaver trade in their favors, which they agree to, leaving the Black Friar's slate clean of debts. Not content, Long Cleaver's soft spot & over-protectiveness toward the Duke kick in-- he offers to take on all three of Slumberheart's small favors as large favors. Now-- behind the scenes, the Black Friar isn't eager to give up having a duke owe him some favors, but this offer is just too good to be true! So he accepts, & the final tally leaves Curie owing the Black Friar a small & a medium, & Long Cleaver owing him a small & five larges. With that everyone eases into bed; despite their camaraderie Long Cleaver stays awake a watch, & Slumberheart stays awake the whole night, feigning sleep while remaining alert. Blue Glory has herself in a crook of tumbled masonry, & she stays up as well, keeping her eye on the diabolical critter.