Autumn 80, 501 AOV
GM’s Note: Many of the events that follow were predetermined, not by the writers behind Zeitgeist, but by the GMs that ran it. A vote was held on the EN World forum back in July of 2013, with 85 voters, to determine the Obscurati’s new course for the world. Concurrent with the voting period (during which, people were allowed to change their votes), a discussion was held by a smaller group among the voters (including yours truly, Elfshire), each taking on the role of Obscurati officers and arguing for or against various proposals, in-character. This included a complicated proposal by a user going by the handle of “Ajar,” who created a character named Dame Constance Baden to propose the MAP compromise. It was so well-received by Ryan Nock and the forum users, it became canon.
Midnight – technically Day 2 of the Convocation.
After the voting session had ended, a few people went off to their rooms for the night, but a surprising majority of individuals stayed up to continue talking of the various proposals, and of the nigh-infinite possibilities presented through the opportunity to change the world. Several smaller movements began to emerge within the living population of officers in attendance, already divided in support for the five plans presented earlier.
But in addition to sparking new ideas, a tangible animosity grew between Miller’s Pyre and Colossus, with each claiming the other was too idealistic or tyrannical, respectively. Many also displayed their disdain for the Watchmakers, especially after it became known that their form of control wasn’t entirely invisible—powerful or strong-willed individuals could theoretically be totally aware that they were being manipulated, and so would be forced to live a hellish existence as an unwilling puppet. Amielle attempted to smooth things over with the officers by offering ‘immunity’ to the control, gifted to the Ob, its allies, and their descendants.
Oscan (Hugo in disguise) was skeptical of the offer, and so began to spread a plausible rumor around the room: “I get the feeling the Clockworks are just saying this to get on people’s good side. They’re lying for votes. You know, false advertising? I’ve been among the criminal element long enough to recognize this.” After making similar comments to two individuals, he sat back and watched his addictive opinion spread through the room, and soon enough people had lost all interest in talking about Watchmakers’ proposal.
Over the next hour or so, conversation fluctuated between the three most popular proposals ( Panarchists, Miller’s Pyre, and Colossus). Reed Macbannin made a half-hearted attempt to keep Arboretum relevant, but few cared to listen for long. Erskine Haffkruger wasn’t even talking.
Following a spiking interest in Colossus, Erdanen Torrance gave a spirited speech to the room about the Ob’s moral duty to go with Miller’s Pyre, but this only further polarizes the factions against each other. Livia attempted to unify the debaters again by reminding them, “we’re the best and the brightest, we’re above this sort of thing,” but conversation continued at an angry volume. At this point, Erskine pulled out a bag of popcorn, enjoying himself quietly in the corner of the room.
Xavier (Qiyet in disguise), who had until now been trying to sleep, entered the room with weapons drawn, but this didn’t even faze the crowd, continuing to devolve into less and less tactful arguments. A man dressed in ranger-like attire came up, introducing himself to Xavier as Bob Stela. “It’s good to see someone else not from the main nations,” he said.
Xavier raised his voice above the building din. “Whoever gets this room QUIET first will get my vote!” Bob added, “Me too!”
The rowdy tables quieted for a moment, bemused at first by the backwater monster-slayer’s brazenness, and his assumption that anyone would care about his childish proposal. Then a wave of understanding seemed to pass across some of their faces, as they realized just how closely the various factions were currently tied, and how much impact two votes might have on the next session. Before anyone else could act, the ghost of Amielle Latimer pulled a spectral handgun from her coat, blew a very real hole in the ceiling, and shouted, “Everybody to bed!”
The crowd dispersed. Xavier nodded to the ex-tiefling. “Thank you, ma’am. You have my vote.”
“I’ll be watching for your name on the board tomorrow, Xavier,” she replied.
Some unspecified amount of time later, Hugo awoke, but not in his Oscan-flavored duplicant body. He awoke in Bleak Flint, with a few RHC attendants and Tinker Oddcog standing by. “Oh! You’re awake,” remarked the gnome. “You’re not supposed to be awake.”
Hugo began freaking out as a free action.
After verifying that the equipment seemed intact, Tinker admitted he couldn’t immediately identify the problem, and so began a lengthy process of disassembling and reassembling the Pilot-Duplicant linking apparatus, but even afterward, it refused to work. “Well, you must be dead!” he concluded. “Someone iced your duplicant.”
“But then, we’re compromised. Right!?” Hugo asked. “They’ll know Oscan wasn’t real!”
“Right, your duplicant’s corpse is going to be a big obvious metal dummy.”
Hugo wrung his hands, pacing back and forth. “Whatdowedo? Whatdowedo? Whatdowedo?”
Tinker shrugged. “I mean… are you a religious person? You could pray. I mean, I’m not, but I’ve heard it works for some people. Or maybe you have a good luck charm?”
Hugo searched his belongings, pulling out a cigar gifted to him by Captain Rutger Smith back in his first mission, then dismissed it and pulled out a pocketwatch instead. It did little to calm him down. Tinker rolled his eyes, advising his fellow technologist to just ‘not get killed in his sleep,’ next time. When that didn’t help, he distracted the constable by asking for his help on his next invention.
Well before dawn (though there was no sun in the Bleak Gate version of the Obscurati palace), Qiyet awoke after a scant few hours of sleep, disturbed only momentarily by a muffled commotion outside, around 3:00 AM. Puzzlingly, ‘Oscan’ was nowhere to be found… Hugo wasn’t an early riser by habit, so this was immediately suspicious. There were no signs of a struggle, though; his bed was unmade, but his shoes were gone, as well as anything else he’d normally leave the room with. He’d even locked the door after exiting, apparently.
A paperclipped note slid under the door. “Meeting Nic. Follow me. Don’t be seen.”
Qiyet cracked the door open, managing to glimpse Grappa at the end of the hallway, accompanied by two of the Bookpin guards that had been glimpsed at various stations around the palace: ostentatious-looking warriors in polished plate mail, bearing longswords, shields, and a backup pistol, cloaked in purple capes held by golden book-shaped brooches. As she made her way after them, she reached out to try to connect to Hugo’s telepathic augmentation. “Are you like, building shit, or what happened?” she asked.
“Nah, everything’s fine,” came a weary response. “I just really needed a drink.”
“Listen, I can’t talk right now,” Hugo replied dismissively, then stopped answering.
(Out of Game) Talon’s player: “… But Hugo always talks!”
Using her keen senses as an urban ranger, Qiyet immediately ascertained the most likely room her coworker could be in, judging from the known radius of his telepathy and the moment she first came into contact with him. Risking her mission of tailing Grappa, she broke off pursuit and entered a nearby lounge, finding ‘Oscan’ drinking whiskey—and Erskine, in the corner of the room once more. They didn’t appear to have been talking.
“Hair of the dog, huh?” asked Qiyet, trying to maintain some level of cover with a stranger present.
“Don’t talk to me about dogs,” Hugo replied. Not being much of a drinker, the young constable had never heard the phrase before in his life.
“Oookay. I’m gonna go exercise.”
Hugo nodded. “Let me know when something interesting happens.”
Qiyet hustled back onto Grappa’s trail, following him upstairs and across to the other end of the building, the so-called ‘forbidden wing’ that Nicodemus had warned them not to pry into. The two guards paused here to watch a pair of hallways, while ‘Leone’ went on to the meeting.
Thanks to the Surgeon’s adjustments on her soul, Qiyet had forgotten her minor arcane talents involving teleportation and invisibility. But she decided to make up for it with sheer martial alacrity—she blitzed across the distance pummeled both guards into unconsciousness before they could so much as shout, even though the pair of them stood about fifty feet apart! Even better, she was reasonably certain neither of them had been able to see her (Xavier’s) face, unless they had darkvision… and they were both visibly human. Qiyet’s duplicant body could see perfectly fine in darkness, of course. She took off their pins as a precaution (unable to tell if they were magical), hiding them in a nearby potted plant.
At the end of the wing, a few stray Ghosts Council members stood watch outside the windows, while Nicodemus, Vicemi Terio, Cula Ravjahani, ‘Leone,’ and Han Jierre sat at a table together. As Grappa arrived, Nicodemus rolled out a map of Lanjyr and began to talk, occasionally placing glass beads to mark locations of interest.
“Since the colossus broke free eight months ago (he places a bead in Flint), it has battled with the fey titan, She Who Writhes. Since it was designed to resist divination, we can’t tell exactly where it is, but we believe it is making its way toward Elfaivar.”
Vicemi explained further. "At first, we wondered why the colossus chose that particular path, and now they have a theory. At the same time the colossus escaped, an eladrin warrior named Asrabey (Cula rolls her eyes) abducted Kasvarina and spirited her away to the Dreaming. We’re fairly certain that Asrabey thought Kasvarina was just a hostage, not one of the founders of this conspiracy, and given her condition, it’s unlikely she can compromise us.
“Kasvarina is still an officer of the Obscurati, of course, so we cannot divine her location, but we can trace Asrabey, and I assume the two remained together. He headed to Elfaivar, then disappeared entirely near some old eladrin ruins (bead), which we believe have an entrance to an eladrin enclave, which exists between the real world and the Dreaming. That was five months ago.
“My theory is that somehow, the colossus is drawn to Kasvarina, perhaps because their memories were both locked away by the same man. So far we’ve refrained from rescuing her, since the risk of an assault on an eladrin conclave is quite high, and because without her memories Kasvarina isn’t actually useful to us. Now, though, it makes sense to secure her.”
Nicodemus says, “We have a plan to restore the colossus’ memories, but it requires bringing it to a specific location.” He looks meaningfully at Han. Han curses, then nods. Nicodemus continues. “Then our first priority after the convocation ends will be to regain control of the colossus. We still have a few of the prototype golems that were put away for a rainy day, and if we can’t find a way to restore the mind of the colossus, we can always try implanting one of the other golems’ minds.”
Nicodemus pauses to ask ‘Leone’ if he would be able to manually control the colossus, in the event that had no mind implanted at all.
Grappa stammered, then said “No, that would be too much for me.”
Nicodemus replied that they would keep Leone on hand just in case, to help them at least slow the thing down. He then asked for a dossier of vulnerable points to target, and said it might be time to start coming up with fall-back options if the new colossus minds won’t work.
Cula chimed in, claming, “I could probably find out what enclave Kasvarina is in. I just need to know what resources I can bring in for the rescue.”
Nic held up a hand. “We’re not making any plans until we know who’s still on our side.” He asked if anyone had any other pressing business, and when no one answered, he suggested they all get a filling breakfast.
Qiyet took this as an opportune moment to leave—but before her exit, she caught a glimpse of Livia Hatsfield, watching from a vent in the ceiling.
Han, Cula, and Grappa stood to leave, but Nicodemus called ‘Leone’ back for a moment to ask what faction he voted for. Grappa answered, “Watchmakers?”
Nicodemus and Vicemi exchanged glances, and after a moment’s hesitation Nic suggested, “Keep an open mind to other, more popular proposals.” Grappa left.
Nic asked to be alone, and once Vicemi was gone, he lit a cigarette and gazed quietly out the window over the pitch-black sea.
The higher-ups likely noticed the KO’d guards on their way out, but if this caused a stir or aroused suspicion, no one was there to witness it.
At 6:00 AM, the guards began to make wakeup calls to each dormitory. Livia and Xavier were both convincingly awakened, despite having only returned to bed minutes before. Breakfast was served, and during the meal Bruce McDruid caught up with Dame Constance Baden, who looked terribly underslept, having apparently spent most of the night working on what she called the MAP Proposal, a novel configuration of planets that would allow several of the planar traits desired by Miller’s Pyre, Arboretum, and Panarchists, essentially combining them into one plan for the world’s future. Bruce rebuked the idea, so she went off in a huff to display her notes to a less Colossus-centric audience. Livia in particular managed to convince many listeners that the compromise was in everyone’s best interests. Erdanen slid her a mimosa.
During the talks, Hugo wandered up to the Portal Gallery, and Qiyet followed. A few ghosts minded the paintings, but other than that, the two found themselves alone in the Colossus demiplane.
“Who are you?” Qiyet demanded.
Hugo smirked. “Heh. Let’s just say… you know ‘him’ better than you know me.”
Hugo shook his head ruefully. “Mr. Fancypants. Mr. Perfect. Hugo… f***ing… Von Gearkinson.”
He wrote the name “Oscar” on the clay stele at the back of the demiplane, although the letter “r” was cuddly misshapen to be easily mistaken for the letter “n”. Then he started to work out some aggression by hurling giant stone blocks into walls. Most of what he said didn’t make much sense, but Qiyet came away with the impression that her coworker was suffering from some kind of multiple-personality disorder. He even called himself ‘Oscar Ashberry,’ a name he had taken during the party’s mission on the Avery Coast rail line.
“I’m gonna leave you with your thoughts,” Qiyet resolved, deciding there was little she could do for Hugo in this time and place.
“They are mine, after all,” Hugo (or rather Oscar) nodded.
Qiyet stealthily sent a message to Tinker via Gale’s messenger wind: “Duplicant’s not dead, but Oscar is here.” It would take about two days to arrive in Bleak Flint.
Back in the lounge, MAP was steadily gaining traction, and Vicemi made it a point to say it would be an actual choice during the next vote. Impassioned debates continued to decline into ugly rumor mills, with some officers accusing others of belonging to unofficial radical factions.
The three major factions start to make concessions, appealing to the eight ‘Other’ voters from yesterday, as well as any fringe-supporters that may change their minds.
- Colossus changed its name to Colossal Congress, adding a clause that would allow for Ob rulers in their new world to be impeached by their constituents. If more than half of the ruled populace voted against their ruler, they would lose all their power.
- Watchmakers changed their name to Watchmaker Watchmen, claiming they could still ensure the purity of the thousand-year destiny AND keep the Ob from becoming enslaved by essentially creating a city-sized demiplane to house the Ob until the clock wound down. Qiyet pointed out that even if they did this, re-introducing the Ob’s descendants to the populace would reintroduce the notion of evil. This earned a glare from Amielle, and from there on, her faction was pretty much sunk.
Discussions continued to be heated. A fistfight broke out in a hallway between two Berans. This all happened before lunch! And moving the crowd into the Main Hall for the meal only made things worse. Catherine Romana fanned the flames, saying, "Oh, who trusts anyone else here? We don’t know each other. I barely trust the people who say they’re on my side to actually vote as they claim they will. So why in the world are you trusting our gentle leader Nicodemus? He keeps hinting that all he wants is peace, that he values the ideology of some writer who’s been dead for five centuries, but I’ve known plenty of politicians.
“You can’t trust words. All you can trust is that people are afraid of losing power. We’ve gotten here because we’ve been ruthless. Let’s not pretty it up. I tell you this, if you idiots vote to give up the authority that we have earned over this world, you’ll be showing yourselves as weak. And this man, this conspiracy? It doesn’t need weak people.”
Vicemi was soon fed up with the commotion, and called an emergency vote, if only to shut people up for a bit. Nicodemus steps up to the podium for a final word before the vote begins.
GM’s Note: I completely forgot to read Nicodemus’ pre-vote speech at the table.
“We all have different ideals, but before we vote I want you to understand what led me to found our organization and pursue this long, grand work. It wasn’t a desire to gain power myself, or to punish those who had abused their power. I started down this path because I’d seen that intellect, wisdom, and good intentions were feeble weapons in the face of propaganda and fear.
“The problem with this world is that the dreamers and poets are blind to its real face. It’s easy to mock as childish those who grow upset when the world isn’t ‘fair.’ The habit of accepting injustice as the way of the world has become too familiar, and while I shed my innocence long ago, I never fooled myself into thinking it is good that I’ve had to do these foul things.
“I do think any of these proposals would result in a materially better world. And I will support whichever wins, as will the Ghost Council. But only one of them will make a world good enough to balance out the evil we’ll create to get there.”
Nicodemus then stepped down, and placed his vote-marker on the board, under ‘Any.’ The Ghost Council followed suit, and then the officers approached table by table, though a quick roll-call determined that Miss Baden and Grappa were absent. A few ghosts were dispatched to find them, but the vote couldn’t wait.
|Day 2 Voting results
||Kiov, Bob, Xavier, and Amielle
||Erskine, Luc, Reed, Erdanen, Han, Livia, Cula, and Bree
||Catherine, Bruce, Oscan
||Nicodemus, Vicemi, and remaining Council votes (24)|
As the last magnet was placed (and members of Colossus started to look smug), the ambient lighting cast by the gaslit lanterns on the wall started to glow blue… and then everyone started to relax into a calm, quiet state—with the exception of Nicodemus and the ghosts.
“Will everyone who did not vote for Colossal Congress please join me outside in the grand foyer.” This seemed like a reasonable request to all present. The other 20 people stayed seated, content to relax in their chairs until otherwise interrupted. But as people file out toward the main doors, Oscar snapped out of the trance, quickly laid a spell of camouflage on himself, and darted to one of the side exits behind the curtains on stage.
As the door was shut behind the supporters of MAP and Watchmen, the effects of the lantern faded in seconds, and they found themselves looking at a mob of over one hundred ghosts, floating together in a tight group. Nicodemus turned to those who came out with him. “Those inside would ruin this world if they were allowed to come into power. In my time I’ve seen plenty of monarchs and oligarchs just like them who have lashed out when their authority and dominance is threatened. I don’t like what we have to do now, but the most efficient way to avert this threat is to strike now. This small dishonorable deed will be balanced by ages of greater prosperity for all of civilization… But I need your support in this decision.”
Qiyet questioned if this was really in the spirit of the occasion, having called everyone for what they assumed would be a fair vote, but Nicodemus assured everyone that he had planned this all along. Part of the reason for the Convocation was to determine who among them was corrupt, and liable to work against the Obscurati’s vision for a better world by trying to claim power for themselves.
Amielle and Macbannin remained impassive, but the rest of the officers in the crowd began to nod assent. Soon about twenty people, speaking somberly and reasonably, urged Nicodemus to do what must be done. But just before he could order the Council forward to slay the members of Colossal Congress, Erskine Haffkruger spoke out in a defiant yet folksy voice.
“Now hold on jus’ a second here. I came to see internecine cockfightin’, not a one-sided pig slaught’r.”
Nicodemus paused, looking baffled. “… Who are you?”
“I was once called Gradiax the Steel Lord, and I have a message for you and your lil’ organization. Whatever you try to do to this world, I will stop it. Because there is only one true ruler of this world, and that is dragonkind!”
And then, Pemberton’s dwarf-shaped duplicant started to tick loudly.
Quick-draw Latimer reacted first, swearing under her breath and fleeing through a wall. Nicodemus yelled to the Council first, “Get in there and kill everyone!” and to the living crowd second, “Everyone out!” Then he picked up ‘Erskine’ and threw him fifteen feet, just shy of the the door.
The Ghost Council swept into the Main Hall, killing the entranced bystanders with every flavor of touch-range arcane magic in the book. Qiyet bull-rushed Pemberton out the door, and Oscar mage-handed the door shut to try to shield Qiyet from the blast. Livia and Erdanen ran upstairs, while Cula stepped into the Main Hall and shut the door behind her. Macbannin held a door open while the living noncombatants fled in both directions from the Foyer.
Pemberton stood up on the doorstep, dusting himself off and laughing. “Well, at least this should wake up your entranced victims!” Then he exploded, though the shield of solid wood protected people from the blunt of the damage. The members of Colossal Congress snapped out of their stupor, and the shockwave doused the blue flames. People started to scream, fleeing from the Council.
Bruce ran like hell toward backstage, then turned left into the storage room, where he saw two more Councilors taking a Bleak Golem out of storage. He left, heading to the lighthouse exit instead, but the ghosts summoned a wall of ectoplasm to cut off the door. Cula joined the ghosts in the massacre, cutting down swaths of them with a barrage of magic missiles from her wand.
Upstairs, Oscar joined forces with Erdanen and Livia to concoct a complicated scheme to… knock a hole in the floor. Livia had envisioned using the power of the Colossus plane to create a diabolic planar cannon, using the superpowered occupant’s strength to hurl boulders out of the painting, but halfway through Erdanen pointed out that none of the matter in the paintings was real, and none of it could leave. Half-assing it with a vandalized lantern taken from a wall (and aiding it with ordinary magic spells), Oscar was able to create a hole in the floor just big enough to wriggle through. Erdanen fled the scene, and Livia went back downstairs.
Nicodemus watched somberly as the Ghost Council finished up, and his wounds healed as the seconds passed. Livia asked if he needed anything from her, but he casually declined, saying “The purge is well underway.” Bruce, Catherine, and one other Colossus member (later identified as the halfling inventor Alloquicious, head of Iron Cell and inventor of the Steam Suit exhibitioned at the Kaybeau Arms Fair during Chapter 3) managed to get through the wall, after tearing at it with desperate hands, Bruce’s shillelagh, and a wolf summoned by Catherine.
They fled into the lighthouse, but Catherine was quickly mobbed by the ghosts, disappearing into their spectral swarm. “We should split up!” Alloquicious cried, seeing the golem still in pursuit. “That way, they can’t get us both!”
Bruce yelled back, “You go left!” conveniently directing him away from the nearby dock at the bottom of the cliff, where he spied a ship waiting. Rather than chance the long stairs down, he lept from the heights, plummeting 40 feet onto the deck, cracking a few ribs, and ending up right in front of Amielle Latimer.
“Are you the last?” she asked.
“Cast off!” she cried to the helm, staffed by a number of guards she’d evacuated from the mansion.
Meanwhile, Qiyet had spent most of the combat running the entire length of the west wing, heading toward the meeting room and hoping to find Grappa. She found him there, strangled by a length of rope, seated in a chair by the window. Dead. Again.
Oscar stuck his head down through the hole he had created, getting Nic’s attention. He sprinted below, then growled, “Get down here.” The words seemed to close around Oscar’s brain until they were all he could think about, injuring his mind with the sheer need to obey. He took a lash of psychic damage, then forced himself through the splintered hole and fell twenty feet, but managed to land on his feet, unharmed.
“Oscan Ligurio,” Nicodemus intoned, instantly recalling the man’s name. “Thought you could escape the purge, did you?”
“I’m usually pretty good at escaping,” Oscar replied, staying in character even to the bitter end.
“Not this time you’re not. You have no place in the new world. Greedy creatures like you cannot be allowed to taint the Obscurati, nor can you spread our secrets to the outside world.”
Thinking quickly, Oscar prepared to sever his link with his duplicant body. “Well, then it’s a good thing Pemberton gave me an insurance policy.” Then his face went blank, turned into a mannequin like shell of metal, and fell over. Hundreds of miles away, Hugo screamed as he got the mother of all migraines. The duplicant headset—which he wasn’t even wearing—burst into flames.
On the ship, Amielle fills Bruce in to the plan from here on out. She and Reed are resisting the rest of the Obscurati, though they’d hoped to save more than just Bruce. They did manage to rescue the godhand that had been captured earlier, at least. They hope to be able to take their information to Flint, and give it to a certain group of constables Reed knows…
Back at the mansion, a roll call was taken to make sure everyone’s safe, and the body of Dame Constance was discovered in her room, burnt to cinders. Vicemi apologized for the dramatic end to the Convocation, far messier than they’d planned, and arranged for everyone to leave—there was a short delay, as one of their ships wouldn’t respond to their signalling. But soon enough people were sent home.
After spotting a strange light on the island of Mutravir, an encamped RHC field operative hasty Sent back to Flint, ordering the comatose constables’ bodies to be brought out of the Bleak Gate. From the island, a ferry started to bring people back to the Crisillyiri mainland. Xavier looked over at Livia, whispering, “We’ll be in touch later.”
“Who are you, again?” Livia asked, but Xavier was already walking away, with the Humble Hook around his neck.