Zeitgeist

Homecoming
Kasvarina's story leads the party back to Risur.

Once Hugo returned the Arc to Kasvarina, she reported feeling the presence of three more memories: one atop Cauldron Hill, one in the vaunted Navras Opera House, and one memory belonging to Talon Silverhawk, near what turned out to be his childhood home in Parity Lake.

After hearing the options, Qiyet voted to seek out Talon’s memory first, on the assumption it would cause less chaos, and therefore wouldn’t harm the party’s efforts to seek out the other two memory-events. Talon’s witty reply, “have you met me?”

“You’re chaotic,” the martial scientist admitted, “but you’re not chaotic on a global scale.” She paused. “It’s not gonna get us kicked out of Flint, right?”

“Depends on what it is,” Talon said with a grandiose shrug.

Memory-Event: Sons of Flint

Talon stopped as the manifestation faded, staring in the direction he was left facing. Slowly, he took off the Arc and handed it back to Kasvarina. The group traveled on to the Navras Opera House while Hugo recalled some of its history—he’d attended when he was a boy, due to his mother’s interest in the arts.

Memory-Event: Navras

Immediately, the party concluded that the final flicker of the event signified that Kasvarina had somehow snuck into the night of the hall’s debut, but she claimed that the last scene felt unfamiliar, as if it weren’t actually her own memory. To her, it didn’t even feel like a remote viewing of hers—like she hadn’t even spied on it with remote magic, back in its day.

Qiyet asked why Kasvarina believed she was shown the meeting with Navras at all—it bore little relevancy to the Ob or to the eladrin’s major life events in general. “I believe it’s just another small consequence that came about from the life I lived… a symbol of the tragedy I caused, and the loss experienced by myself, the eladrin, and Elfaivar itself.”

“You should write a book,” Talon cracked.

There was speculation among the group as to how Navras could’ve known that Kasvarina had slain a fellow Triad matriarch, when the details of the fight against Rilego had been lost to time (and perhaps purposefully obscured by eladrin leadership in order to prevent a civil war). They settled on the idea that his status as a performer granted him sufficient connections to learn a secret that the old Kasvarina would’ve assumed was kept safe due to eladrin politics.

Hugo made a side trip to his workshop at this point, while the rest of the party went out for hibachi. Kasvarina took offense at the incredibly inauthentic Elfaivaran cuisine, though Kida maintained that the “fortune cookie” was a post-Malice innovation, and certainly not a gimmick thought up by Flint-born elves looking to turn a profit in the restaurant business. Though forced to accept the theory as plausible, the matter of whether Kida herself believed this possibility is still debatable.

When Hugo rejoined the party, he was accompanied by a veritable clone of himself, clad in a fancy black suit with green accents. Kasvarina’s face betrayed a hint of distrust as Oscar introduced himself, but ultimately she said nothing; who was she to cast stones? She didn’t trust herself. “Don’t worry,” Oscar said, “Now that I have a body, I’ll be a ‘good boy’.” He and Hugo seemed to reach a moment of peace, at least for now.

Heading up the switchbacks of Cauldron Hill, the heroes stopped at MacBannin’s old estate, now used as the base of operations for Captain Dale and his Cauldron Hill Commandos. Qiyet gave the fellow martial scientist a piece of cherry pie in thanks for his previous instruction, and Dale looked highly flattered by the thoughtful gesture. He accepted the takeout box and sent the group on their way.

Memory-Event: Mindtaker

Kasvarina stood, and mulled over the details of what she’d just seen while the party led her out of the Bleak Flint facility. “It makes sense now, why my memories were sealed away.”

“I must say,” Qiyet remarked, “your behavior with Leone was very concerning. I’m interested to know how drawn you are to becoming that person again.”

“Or do you agree with what Grappa did to you?” inserted Templeton.

Kasvarina did not hesitate to reply. “I’m grateful for what he did,” she claimed. Qiyet was naturally suspicious of her sincerity, but sensed no overt deception (20 Insight). “I can still feel myself wavering from time to time—between holding to my original ideals, or giving in to the frustration and anger sparked by everything that’s happened since the Malice. But I believe I’m making progress toward casting off my ruthless mindset.”

“So why did you feel so comfortable with the idea of killing Grappa?” Qiyet asked. “What were you feeling at that time?”

“I didn’t go into that room to kill him,” she maintained, “but he was a security risk, and I had to at least gauge the level of threat he represented to us.”

A brief discussion followed on the importance of Borne, particularly the comment about not wanting to upset Borne “at such a late stage.” Going over their notes, the heroes recalled Tinker’s intel on the capabilities of the colossus:

…to be able to lift a flat object one hundred feet in diameter, weighing just over 14,000 tons, and hold it up with one side angled on the ground. It needed to be able to withstand truly extreme energy, equivalent to standing in a volcano, as well as to resist kinetic injuries.

It needed to stabilize its own magical energies, without having to rely on power from other planes. Tinker notes that the last refit they made before Borne’s ‘episode’ was to open a small hollow in the colossus’s chest, about big enough to hold a pumpkin, which had a pipe that could feed in some sort of liquid fuel.

It also needed to be able to function underwater for extended periods, at pressures seen only deep under the ocean.

Kida theorized that the Ancient ritual site used to change the elemental planes surrounding the world (hinted at during ObCon) must be located somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, beneath a huge golden disk. Borne, therefore, was meant to be used to lift this disk.

Qiyet frowned. “But why would you make a self-aware construct for that? Why not just build a huge lifting-machine, like a crane?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Kasvarina chimed in. “Based on what we know of Borne—specifically that he’s built to withstand both physical and magical stress—it’s possible that the ritual itself gives off a phenomenal amount of energy when activated, such that no normal person could stand near enough to make the alterations that the Obscurati desires. In that case, Grappa and I would’ve had to not only train him to understand magic, the planes, and several other topics, but also to indoctrinate him as a believer in the mission of the Obscurati.” This rang true to the constables. Colin and Linus, the two prototype golems rescued from the Bleak Flint facility, had clearly received comprehensive educations.

Qiyet followed with more questions. “What sort of emotions did you feel with regards to Borne in that last memory? Did you view him as a tool, or did you have some kind of emotional fondness for him?”

Kasvarina thought on that, her eyes turning glassy and mournful. “I did have a fondness for him,” she admitted. It was clear to the party that she was feeling conflicted about her actions once more; she likely didn’t consider her behavior or the Obscurati at large to be evil, at least not in that time or place. She was acting in what she believed to be the world’s best interests, and her judgment was colored by the fact that she’d been cut off from everyone she’d ever loved. “I remember feeling nervous, even violated at the idea that Grappa may have done something to harm our child.” Kasvarina caught herself, looking embarrassed at the unorthodox use of the word, describing a titan of adamantine, but she did not retract it.

“So would Borne have been intended to be—or was he already—a spellcaster?” Kida asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Kasvarina answered. “I feel his education in magic was mostly practical and scholarly. At most he might have been a ritualist. Why?”

“Well, it’s entirely possible, especially given the theory of Borne being meant to perform the ritual on his own, that this could be a situation in which the ritualist would be required to sacrifice themselves.” Kida held up her hands in allowance. “Granted, there’s a lot we don’t know: like why the golden disk is in place, or why the Ancients did what they did, or what they did, or what ”/characters/nicodemus" class=“wiki-content-link”>Nicodemus himself knows of the ritual. But far better for him to sacrifice a golem instead of, say, himself."

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Kasvarina said quietly.

The party switched topics, lest things get too gloomy for the chronically overwhelmed guest among them. They asked what Kasvarina remembered from this point, as it was obviously the last of her missing memories. She claimed that Grappa led her to the colossus, using his magic to alter some enchantment on the back of his head. By her description, it seemed likely he’d used the same amnesia-inducing seal that he placed on Kasvarina, though in this case it reverted the young golem’s mind all the way back to near-infancy. Grappa then made for Flint Harbor, but was pursued and confronted by Leone Quital. Eventually he was cornered and killed, in a manner consistent with Hugo’s object reading result from just over a year ago.

Leone took her back to the facility, where she was grilled about her purpose there and what she remembered. Unable to answer their questions, she was kept confined to her room for “matters of security.” Leone and a few others were among her interviewers, but she seemed confident that none had smoked in front of her.

Weeks later, during the Borne incident, she recalls seeing Asrabey Varal burst into her quarters, claiming that he was there to rescue her. She had no idea who he was, but seeing as how she was a prisoner of an unknown organization and her would-be savior was clearly a warrior of Elfaivar, she decided to trust him. When she saw the colossus and heard it cry out to her, she was afraid. Who wouldn’t be, seeing such a titan focusing on them?

Asrabey made no comment on the battle raging around them, racing with Kasvarina past the likes of Lya, Leone, and the then-constables. He returned her to Elfaivar by crossing through the Dreaming, finally bringing her to Sentosa which he thought to be safest. Athrylla Valanar called her an “honored guest,” but Kasvarina sensed from the start that this was not fully sincere. Off-hand, she yet has no idea if Athrylla was part of the revenge plot that ended in Launga’s death, but she believes at least that her former ally feels guilt—either from direct involvement or from her lack of action taken against Latika and Sor Daeron.

“There’s something else,” Kasvarina mentioned. “This whole time, encountering these memory-events has been helping me to remember the lessons instilled in me by all the training I’ve had over the last five centuries.” Matriarch and conspirator she was, but she was also a powerful Elfaivaran warmage, and she claimed she could now cast at her full strength, including the spells she’d seen in her past like lightning blade and power word: blind.

Hugo pointed out that this meant that she could now un-geas any Ob officers she’d ensorceled, but with the third death of Grappa, the party no longer had anyone within their lists of contacts whom could benefit from this new freedom. Oddcog alone would’ve had the necessary height in the organization to bear the enchantment, but he spoke as if he’d somehow wriggled free of his geas already. Amielle Latimer and Reed Macbannin were potential candidates, though they hadn’t been seen since ObCon.

“So, we have no leads,” Qiyet groaned. The one new possibility for a lead they’d turned up was visiting Amielle Latimer’s original workshop, now a themed restaurant in Cherage.

Calling in an RHC favor, the heroes had a long chat with Harkover Lee, drawing on the dragon-turned-minister’s firsthand experience of Lanjyrian history to gain a new perspective on the timeline of Kasvarina’s life and the Obscurati’s Grand Design. When asked of Triegenes and the Demonocracy, Harkover admitted that few dragons were active in the northern continent during their reign; dragonkind had grudgingly accepted that the ruling demons were not to be trifled with, though he’d heard of rare alliances between the two.

As for Skyfall (an incident originally mentioned by Pemberton; a moment in history after which dragons lost their flight forever), he was able to pinpoint its occurrence to the winter of 195 AOV… after which followed a century of largely deserved retribution from the mortal races. The wizard did not believe the event’s effects to be limited to dragonkind, but there exist few other creatures in the world who could feel the disturbance—the smaller the creature, the smaller the effect. By rough estimation, he theorized it would only truly interrupt the natural-winged flight of creatures roughly horse-sized and larger.

However, Harkover knew nothing of the source of this global anomaly; there had been no events of likely significance that year. The party naturally assumed that the change coincided with someone in the Obscurati swapping out the plane of air as a test, but the old dragon confirmed that Avilona had been in the sky for as long as he’d been alive, considerably longer than five centuries. By contrast, he and his kin were keenly aware of the disruption that occurred during the Malice, even though they were not directly affected (indeed, eladrin were exceedingly rare in Ber during that time).

“If I may,” Kida asked, “however long you have lived, and however long the dragon empires existed, was there any overlap with the civilization we now refer to as the Ancients?”

“That I could not tell you. I am old by your reckoning, but I am not so old that I have ever known an Ancient. Woefully, dragons have never been a united race, and they have not kept a written history of the world or their affairs.”

“Would you know how long ago they lived, perhaps by divinations upon the artifacts Risur has uncovered?”

“No. Divinations become less and less clear the farther back in time one glimpses, until it becomes fully unviewable. The oldest such glimpse of the past I’m aware of dates about two thousand years before Kelland’s triumph and the founding of Risur, and the Ancients’ empire was in ruin by then.

Harkover pointed out that contacting ‘spirits’ (such as those in the Ghost Council, or other perished Ob deserters) might be easier if the ritualist used a physical token of the deceased as a focus.

View
Trial of the Far Future
Rock Rackus commands an airship.

“Constables,” spoke Rock Rackus with awkward solemnity, appearing to them in a darkened forest. “Is that an asteroid I do spy?”

Through a gap in the canopy, the group witnessed a white conflagration barreling through the sky, tumbling end over end as it streaked past. The air roared with its passage, and light flashed as it landed in some far-off spot. A heartbeat later, the ground lept, and only then could the ear-shattering explosion be heard.

“Son of a bitch!” Rock shouted, abandoning all attempts at civility. “There’s more of ’em! Follow me!” The docker took off, leading the party and a mass of other hazy-outlined people in a mad dash through the woods. Every few seconds, another ‘asteroid’ fell to land in the forest nearby, often opening a bizarre rift that revealed a thick shell of crystal just below the natural soil. One of these rifts opened directly in front of their path, and white-hot fire shone deep inside the jagged scar in the land.

“We’re almost there; get to the ship!” Rock shouted, but as he and the party made ready to jump the chasm, a handful of gold-armored fiends appeared. The darling of Flint called them out as ‘The Golden Legion,’ which was a name the party had encountered twice before: once from Xambria Meredith, who had herself discovered that The Ancients had encountered this warlike force, led by an individual called Egal the Shimmering, who was listed in an old Clergy text of various evils and heresies. She theorized that the ‘Golden Legion’ might have been the source of the Ancients’ plentiful gold, which would explain their apparent inability to smith other metals. The devil Belcamp (encountered and slain by the party in the Vault of Heresies) also claimed to be part of this Golden Legion.

Whatever their nature, most of them resembled ordinary humanoids, just armored by a thorough wrapping of spiked golden chains that dug into their flesh, and wielding golden shields and lances. Their leader, however, was a true fiend: ogre-sized and four-armed, he attacked with crablike pincer limbs, while his more humanoid hands cast fiery spells. Above all their heads, fiery crescents floated, like broken halos.

Five white-flamed torches awaited the party on the ship Rock urged them toward, and only a token effort was spent fighting the Legionnaires, though the party was keen to note that the golden chains wrapped around them didn’t seem to deter them from using teleportation magic to cross the chasm. With the torches in hand, Rock stood at the ship’s helm and ordered his crew to cast off—and it was at that point that the party realized there was no water below them at all, just an endless sea of darkness and stars.

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Trial of the Near Future
Atop the Lance of Triegenes.

The next trial brought the party to what they eventually determined was the top floor of the Lance of Triegenes—the shining pinnacle of the Clergy’s old capital, Methia, which stood over a thousand feet tall. Its placement in the party’s supposed ‘future’ was odd indeed, for Qiyet knew the structure to have long been collapsed, save for a broken husk of its lowest floors. Only magic had allowed a structure that tall to exist in the first place, and now that Methia was the center of a null-magic zone, it could never be rebuilt… at least, not unless the Grand Design were to do away with the antimagic effects of the Malice altogether!

The tower’s layout was beyond opulent, with a floor made of solid topaz and amethyst, and four platinum-bound portals on balconies thrust out to the four cardinal directions. One such portal showed a golden dome beyond it, surrounded by the glint of sunlight off countless silvery spears… but in the next moment, a chorus of moans broke through the scratchy flutter of the wind, and four wraith-like figures clad in yellow flames emerged to consume the living heroes.

The wraiths were swift, and utilized unfair tactics: they swooped in through the walls, then skirted out into the empty air to avoid reprisals from their melee-focused opponents. Talon thwarted this with a unique fly-teleport combo attack, which also sent one of the spectres plummetting to the ground and out of the fight entirely. Eventually they wore down their foes, aided in particular by Hugo’s anti-insubstantial magic missiles.

In the center of the chamber lay a figure cloaked in shadow, which not even darkvision was able to pierce. But as each shade was destroyed, its yellow fire lit the room further and further… and just before the vision ended, the party was able to glimpse the face of Andrei Von Recklinghausen!

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Trial of the Recent Past
Pemberton's lair, reborn.

With the world around them colored in sepia tone, the party still recognized their surroundings as Pemberton’s old volcano lair, complete with the (inactive) duplicant of Tinker Oddcog sitting in a custom-made powered steam suit. Rather than face the foes of their past, there was a new task to be completed: a number of small red flames appeared in the air around the large chamber, and the party split up to capture them—seeing as how the appearance of the grey flame ended the first trial.

Collecting the flames themselves was an easy feat for such a mobile party, particularly “Burning-Eye” Kida ve Alema; she even had time to stop by Pemberton’s schematics room and steal a handful of blueprints. But the duplicant of the folksy-voiced industrialist was not as dormant as it seemed.

He only traded a few words with Kida, calling her the “little yap-dog of the constables,” and expressing his ire at having to be brought back to see the site of his daughter’s death. Somehow, Pemberton had figured out this wasn’t real?

Kida merely replied that it wasn’t their group’s intent to put Pemberton through this, “but if we’d known, we would’ve done it anyway.” She also let it slip that they were no longer constables of Risur.

“Useful information,” Pemberton mused.


Incredibly, once the heroes found themselves back in the temple, the blueprints that Kida had stolen were still with her! They detailed a very early concept build for a dragon-sized, dragon-shaped duplicant…

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Trial of the Distant Past
Delft asks the constables to fetch the Duchess.

The inside of Ingatan’s temple seemed oddly normal and humble, considering it was the resting place of a major artifact. Prayer mats were still laid out in the main meditation chamber, likely laid there centuries ago by the temple’s original monks. One of the walls displayed a perfectly-preserved fresco of Ingatan himself, here depicted as a rotund, four-armed figure flanked by elephants. Each of his hands held a differently-colored flame. Qiyet, who had recently brushed up on her religious studies after obtaining the Humble Hook, correctly identified these flames as representing periods of relative time: the distant past (grey), the recent past (red), the near future (yellow), and the far future (white).

Glancing around the length of a hallway leading further in, the party discovered a series of doorways, three of which were clouded over by colored fog that seemed to match the fresco: one each of grey, red, and yellow fog. The fourth doorway was not shrouded at all, and only led into a closet-sized space from which unusually warm air was wafting out. The group correctly assumed these doorways would lead to the trials that Lymae ve Alema had mentioned, and so began with the grey-fogged door.


After passing through the fog, everything they saw was colored in black and white. They stood on the deck of a great seafaring vessel, except the area had been converted into the site of a grand party. Dozens of guests moved about in amusement, sharing laughter and casual conversation alike. The familiar face of Stover Delft emerged from the crowd and he waved to the heroes.

“Do me a favor and go make sure the Duchess isn’t ‘sleeping through’ the king’s speech in order to embarrass her brother.”

It seemed the party had found themselves in a recreation of [[Chapter 1: Island at the Axis of the World. | Spring 6, 500 AOV]], the night of Duchess Ethelyn’s attempt to sabotage the Coaltongue and murder her brother, King Aodhan. Templeton had taken on the appearance of his good friend Arthur Pierson, while Kida now looked like Darsys, the group’s old warlock, and Talon now resembled Drew McTaggert, who would later die at the hands of Asrabey Varal during the attempt to arrest the Duchess.

Armed with the knowledge of what was about to transpire, the group (Qiyet in particular) tried to warn their old boss that someone was going to try to blow up the ship, but Delft only gave them a quizzical look and asked how much they’d had to drink that night. Failing that, the direct approach was their next best bet. Hugo and Templeton went straight to the steamship’s massive engine, where they captured two engineers they recognized as saboteurs, and Hugo was able to quickly undo what little damage they’d done to the delicate equipment. Qiyet ran into Sokana Rell, who’d caught the ranger in a nasty spell during their first encounter—she tried to get the upper hand on the ranger again, but was dropped with one blow! The party’s skills had indeed grown.

Kida and Talon made their way to Ethelyn’s room, where they had a hell of a time trying to convince the woman to come up onto the deck and hear her brother’s speech this time around. Tensions rose, and when Talon tried to take her by the shoulder and lead her forcefully from the room, she cried out, “Beshela!”

Pallid, tree-trunk-thick tentacles burst in from the portholes lining the Duchess’ quarters, grasping and slamming at the heroes while Ethelyn teleported out of the room-even through an opaque door. A kraken was attacking the ship, and its master soon appeared: none other than Beshela, archfey of the sea and servant of She Who Writhes. A battle commenced, and the two companions found themselves hard-pressed to fight a royally-empowered druid, an archfey, and her monstrous pet. Beshela could command water itself, shaping it into crushing torrents or invoking dire thirst in her enemies, and she would not listen when Talon pleaded that he was not her enemy. Indeed, Talon had become a mortal of note to her, and a proven ally of fey interests, but this Beshela had never met Talon—and Talon didn’t even look like himself, at the moment.

The fight continued, with Qiyet the first to arrive as reinforcement after hearing the commotion at the back of the ship. Again and again the temporally-displaced heroes tried to get Ethelyn to see reason: they told her that they knew of the prophecy she had heard, and they said she’d been right to fear a conspiracy. But though shocked at to hear her opponents speak of things they couldn’t possibly know about, she remained unconvinced… until Qiyet remembered she was still carrying the vision-journal of Nevard Sechim, late skyseer and trusted friend of Ethelyn’s. Kida used a hurler-snatcher to take the book from her ally and cast it into the Duchess’ hands. As it fell open, Ethelyn’s eyes grew wide in realization. The constables were telling the truth! The pages started to burn with grey fire, and then all turned to white…


Hugo ran up, out of breath from legging it across two lengths of a ship’s deck and up one flight of stairs. “Guys, I made it…” he huffed, ready to join the fight. But when he looked up, he and the whole party were standing in a bare stone room with a washing basin and five clean white robes hanging on the wall. “… What??” He was too late to help.

View
The Lost Arc
A sliver of Reida fell from the heavens long ago.

Asrabey was quick to suggest the death of the Ob researchers, but was eventually talked down to taking them as captives. Templeton pointed out that the secret society had a proven ability to re-recruit their fallen members as ghosts, thereby losing none of the intel they may have gleaned before their deaths. As free agents, the ex-constables also took a moment to liberate the researchers of their supplies, which included a generous crate of residuum and a Wayfarer’s Lantern, which Talon knew how to craft fuel for, thanks to his time spent joined to the mind of Bruce McDruid. Leaving Linia with the captives, they entered the hidden eladrin enclave of Sentosa.

The settlement was nothing short of idyllic, filled with art and architecture Kida had only ever seen in ruins or old drawings. Sliding doors, curved tile roofs, and colorful clothes accompanied the four-thousand or so eladrin, including a surprising population of eladrin women (a mere 60/40 split from what the heroes could guess). Though of the elderly population, there were almost no women at all. The people seemed gladdened to see the party, given their reputation with the Unseen Court, and merchants that they passed by offered them steep discounts on their wares.

Eventually they were guided to a three-bedroom home, outfitted with silks and fine furniture, and guarded by at least twenty eladrin samurai bearing short swords, mithral breastplates, and shortbows. Inside was the raven-haired Kasvarina Varal, tapping a mithral dagger into the table while reading an account of a failed revolt against the dragon tyrants of Ber from four centuries ago. At her side was Asrabey, along with a aged half-elf the party would come to learn was named Kieran Sentacore—a historian abducted from the Danoran colony of Rationalis and pressed into becoming Kasvarina’s tutor.

The former Ob founder spoke with the party at length. She claimed to have lost much of her memory, though she retained all knowledge of the first 200-or-so years of her life, right up until the early days of Elfaivar’s march toward the second Holy War (just before Year 1, AOV). She remembered nothing of the fighting itself, nor the horrors of the Great Malice which ended the war and wounded Lanjyr itself. To her, she was marching with her fellow soldiers one day, then woke up in a strange underground facility the next morning… she couldn’t have known at the time that over five hundred years had passed!

Since being rescued by Asrabey, Kasvarina had spent her time in Sentosa learning as much as she could of world history, but very little seemed to spark her memory. International news about a secret conspiracy calling itself the ‘Obscurati’ painted a loathsome picture for her… the colossus they created had called her “mother” while she was escaping the Bleak Gate facility, so there was no way she could deny to herself that she had been deeply, deeply involved in their plans.

Humbly, she asked the party for their help. She wanted to undo as much of her old self’s machinations as possible, but to do that, she would have to learn what exactly she had been doing the last five centuries. To the north, she claimed, there lay an eladrin artifact, a crown called the Arc of Reida. It had the power to recreate the past, if its wearer revisted the areas of important events from their lives. Of course, leaving the enclave would be dangerous; she would be hunted by both the Obscurati and the wayward colossus. She would need bodyguards.

In discussing the threat of the metal titan, Kida mentioned its name: Bourne. Suddenly the amnesiac looked up and smiled, then seemed to fall in upon herself, shivering and cowering. She claimed to remember a tiny moment in time: seeing Bourne when he first woke, and feeling pride at her part in the accomplishment.

“There was more to it than that, in your eyes,” Qiyet insisted. “There was cruelty.”

“… Yes,” Kasvarina admitted. This brought her to her second point. On top of the risk of being hunted, there was also a grim chance that in viewing her own memories, she would slowly revert to the cold, calculating personality that had willingly, eagerly helped the Obscurati for so long. This was why she needed the Risuri knights in specific: only by traveling with the Obscurati’s greatest foes could she hope to retain her current viewpoints. Each memory she would regain, they would witness as well, and they would hopefully be able to color her perceptions and keep her mindful of the greater good, rather than cling to whatever tragedy had turned her to such dark scheming. She and Qiyet agreed to a pact with that in mind: if she judged that the eladrin was drifting back to her old ways and was beyond redemption, she would end Kasvarina’s life.

But before any of that could happen, they would need to convince Sentosa’s ruler, Matriarch Athrylla Valanar, to allow Kasvarina to leave. At the moment, she was a permanent “honored guest” among her fellow eladrin; much like her tutor Kieran, she was as good as a prisoner, here. As a former matriarch and member of the Triad of Endurance (three matriarchs that had ruled since the malice and did not age) Kasvarina suspected that she represented a threat to Athrylla’s power, or else her history with the Obscurati made her too risky to release.

Being held in such high regard among the fey, it was simple for the party to secure an audience with the matriarch, though she stated flat-out upon the broaching of the subject that she had no intention of allowing Kasvarina to leave, nor did she feel she needed to justify such an action to outsiders. She did not send the party away however, and they ended up making a strong case for Athrylla to reconsider her decision, basing their argument primarily on the fact that Kasvarina regretted her part in the global conspiracy to the point where she was willing to sacrifice herself to make amends, were she allowed to join the party and seek out the secrets of her past.

GM’s Note: Adding in a circumstantial modifier of +15 from these two strong points, the party managed a Diplomacy result of 44.

Unfortunately, even this moving speech failed to budge the stoic Athrylla, and after a brief audience to confer with her advisors, she upheld her original decision. Kasvarina (summoned during the proceedings to confirm her convictions) commended her benefactors on their attempt, for it was far better than she and Asrabey had ever managed on their own. She could sense that they were close to swaying her, however, so she suggested they set out to find the Arc without her, and return with it as proof of their capability and determination. Retrieving a long-lost artifact, she knew, would not be without trial, but she wished them luck as she plotted their destination on a map: an old temple known as Ingatan’s Refuge, dedicated to the mischievous eladrin god of knowledge.

The journey through the eladrin jungle was more annoying than trying. Having bested Drakran winter and malice beasts, there was little in the way of predatory or environmental dangers now that could truly threaten the heroes. But late one night just before reaching the temple, things began to get more eventful.

During second watch, Qiyet insisted on staying up to watch over the camp, even though Hugo had already volunteered for the duty. The young technologist knew that she still harbored a deep distrust of him and his other half, and he took this moment alone with her to attempt to allay her fears, but the martial scientist would have no part of it.

“I don’t enjoy losing control of myself,” he insisted.

Qiyet dismissed him. “That doesn’t seem like the case. You change back and forth; and I’m not even sure there is an Oscar. I don’t know what you are anymore… but I care about the people who are on this team.”

Hugo was crestfallen to have so extensively lost the trust of someone he considered a friend (Especially, someone who fought by his side since the beginning of his R.H.C. adventures.) , but he said nothing more of it. He resolved to learn better control of his darker side.

On toward morning, while Kida was dismantling a set of tripwires she’d set during the night, she heard an unfamilar voice. A woman, calling to her softly through the trees, speaking words she hadn’t heard since her childhood: “I have bled in the forest, hidden and quiet.” A poem, which slowly came back to her as she stood in silence.

“I have bled in the forest, hidden and quiet,” the voice repeated.

“I have bled in the sea, strong and fierce,” replied Kida.

The voice continued. “I have bled in dark places that are full of mysteries—”

“—enriched with forces that are beyond even our combined understanding,” Kida finished.

Then they spoke as one, “I do not fear you.” The speaker then stepped out from her hiding place and identified herself as Talios Valanar (a distant descendant of Athrylla). She came bearing tidings from Kida’s sister, Lymae, who was now acting raja of an independant tribe of eladrin who had made Ingatan’s refuge their home in the eladrin wilderness. As her sister’s right hand, Talios had taken it upon herself to intercept the party before they could reach the tribe’s village, in order to deliver a message of caution. Lymae was overjoyed when she had learned the local fey were abuzz with gossip of the arrival of “Burning-Eye Kida,” and Talios feared the woman’s hero-worship of her sister would cause her to lose face among her people, particularly since she hadn’t been leading them for all too long. Their previous raja, along with many of their warriors, had been cut down by an outpost of Clergy soldiers in the area. Talios advised the group to remove this threat in order for the mostly-human party to earn the tribe’s tentative respect. Otherwise, whatever boon they sought from Lymae would surely be granted to them, but at great cost to Lymae herself, and the act would only cause further turmoil among the already stressed and harried people.

Templeton balked at the notion that their group was mostly human, since only Hugo truly fit that description (and even he was starting to slip from that description, the more machinery he incorporated into his body). But Talios explained that where Templeton saw one human, the eladrins would see three. One full human, two half-humans, and a human descended from lycanthropes. Qiyet smiled, realizing that for once, she’d be visiting a culture that didn’t despise her orcish half.

This was not to last, however, as the party turned due west and found Vigil Longis right where Talios told them it would be. A rough looking set of structures surrounded by wooden palisades, it was hardly a bastion of the Clergy’s might, though enough defenders had survived the jungle skirmishes with the eladrin that even powerful Risuri knights would have trouble in a stand-up combat.

Qiyet and Templeton took to the fore of the negotiations early on, with Qiyet putting the defenders on off-balance by claiming their party was dispatched from Crisillyir, following up on a report of false followers of the church. With Linia at their side, casting her companions in the glow of her lightning halo, it was not so easy to dismiss her claim! Arguments escalated, racial slurs were hurled, and Templeton found his hand shaking, drawing closer to his handcanon to remedy the insult.

Before things could get out of hand, the outpost’s leader finally arrived, a man in golden armor by the name of Aulus Atticus. Rightly skeptical of such a diverse group of individuals appearing without notice, he didn’t buy into their claims, and (at Qiyet’s skillful pressing) defended his continued genocide of the eladrin people, despite the good and just nature of the god he claimed to follow. In the eyes of the Clergy, the ‘knife-eared savages’ were no better than the Demonocracy that Triegenes himself destroyed: they were monsters, inherently evil, and their numbers needed to be erased from Lanjyr.

The party countered, thrusting forth Linia as the living embodiment of his religion’s fall from logic and good will. He didn’t believe that she was truly an angel, nor that she had herself fought at Triegenes’ side a millennium ago, but he agreed to meet with a representative of the party as a show of good will. The party chose Linia, though she had little confidence of changing the zealot’s mind.

None heard the conversation that followed, both speakers now in range of the other side’s weapons and so held in a tense stalemate. Aulus seemed to rebuke Linia’s frankly unbelievable words, and in an attempt to discredit her holy appearance in the eyes of his followers, he summoned an angel of his own. Linia balked, not thinking mortals capable of such magic, but after momentary interaction it became clear that this winged being was simply a temporary creation of holy magic—a mere summoning spell. Though cognizant of its surroundings, it could not speak, and would only follow the orders of its creator.

When the conversation was over, Aulus was in awe of the angel, of the stories she told and the things she knew about Triegenes that no one could remember now, not even the hierarchs. Linia bargained that she would teach he and his men all she knew, but only if they journeyed with her out of the area and did not return. It was not what she had come to Elfaivar to do, but now that the chance was in front of her, she felt it must be seized.

Fond farewells were exchanged, and Linia was gifted one of the golden feathers from Gale’s messenger wind so they could keep in touch. Especially heartfelt among the goodbyes was Qiyet’s, for she took the immortal aside and revealed the artifact that had been in her keeping since her departure from Mutravir. Qiyet expressed uncertainty about why the Hook had chosen her, but Linia was secure in the relic’s wisdom.

“Qiyet, what is it that you want in this world, more than anything else?” she asked the ranger.

“To better myself, and to protect those around me,” she replied.

“Then there is no better person to wear that pendant. Remember that even Triegenes himself was only a fisherman, but a fisherman with the heart of a hero. It sees that same greatness in you.”

While Linia gave her farewells to the others, Templeton took a moment to bequeath the Arsenal of Dhebisu to Qiyet, as he realize that since it could not take the form of a firearm, it was nigh-useless for his own modern-military fighting style. “Outrunner, I know better than to ask you to swear some formal oath,” he admitted, “but you’re still true to your promises. Just, use this to fight chaos, okay? You’d be far more effective with it than me.” He pointed out that the half-orc was already proficient in all types of killing tools, so she was the perfect choice to wield it.

Their objective accomplished, the party turned around and soon arrived at Ingatan’s refuge, where they were dramatically greeted by Lymae Ve Alema jumping off a ledge and welcoming them to Bramblehome, a series of buildings incorporated into giant thorned vines growing up around a cliff face and flanked by waterfalls. Above the village, nestled into the rock itself, was a giant statue of Ingatan, with the single-story temple spread out before him. Though wary, no eladrin raised objections when the party voiced their aim of entering the temple and retrieving the Arc.

Lymae warned them, however: the artifact was sealed behind a set of trials, scenes from the past and future of those who sought the Arc, usually twisted to provide even greater danger. Once, these were a means of introspection and meditation for Ingatan’s worshipers, but now they were a fatal series of obstacles left to protect the artifact itself. Many warriors had been slain by these trials over the years that Lymae had lived among the tribe, but her most important advice was for the group to promise each other that they would continue their adventures together—if they held to their word, then the temple could not scatter them when they faced trials set in their future.

“Since joining the RHC, your lives have become paramount to my concerns,” Talon said, “and I will see this through to the end, not just to protect Risur, but the world.” The group echoed his bold sentiment, and Kida stated that she would need someone like Talon to help restore balance between Risur and the fey when all this was over.

Hugo took a moment to remember why he had joined the constabulary too: to be a hero.
“Despite my inner darkness, that desire is still with me. And I can’t do it without Team 1,” said the young technologist.

Pledged to their cause and to each other, the companions entered Ingatan’s temple.

View
Chapter 8, Diaspora
The party searches for Kasvarina.

After regrouping in Flint, the loose ends of the party’s spying efforts at Mutravir were wrapped up. Delft was brought up to speed on their findings (though not informed of the finding of the Humble Hook), Linia volunteered to join their next efforts, and Constable Von Gearkinson was taken in for psychiatric evaluation. It was determined that this ‘Oscar’ personality was indeed a result of a sudden onset of multiple personality disorder, likely caused by a combination of work-related stresses and the psychic strain inherent in sharing headspace with Xambria Meredith for months on end. All divination and Risur-loyalty tests confirmed that Hugo was not carrying any foreign entities, and while surly, his ‘other side’ was not an enemy. He still bore watching, though.

After hearing out the particulars of the Grand Design and the other details garnered from the Convocation, Delft reported that unfortunately, the RHC had not been contacted by any of the turncoats. The ship carrying Amielle Latimer, Reed Macbannin, Bruce McDruid, and the unknown godhand had either gone into hiding, or had been captured by the Ob after Talon Silverhawk’s connection with Bruce was severed. Moving forward, Delft suggested that the party continue their successful campaign of recruiting former Ob members (which had already netted them such stars as Nathan Jierre, Kaja Stewart, Alexander Grappa (RIP), and Tinker Oddcog). The party, he thought, should go to Elfaivar and search for Kasvarina Varal, supposedly one of the Ob’s founding members who had lost her memory. Even if she couldn’t remember the conspiracy’s secrets, she had some important connection to the colossus Borne, and recruiting her before the Ob found her would surely deal their plans a major blow.

One last announcement was to be made before their departure to Sawyer, in the Risuri colony of Kellandia: the constables were all getting fired. They were free to keep their equipment (minus their ship), plus a final stipend of eighty thousand gold, but following that, the government could no longer afford to keep their gear up to date. From here on out, they would be independent investigators. True, they would have to give up some of their badge-granted authority and diplomatic immunities, but they would also be free to seize enemy funds and resources for their own use without fear of it being labeled as corruption. They could also act more fully in their own discretion without fear of causing an international incident, though Delft promised that both he and the King would have their back if they ever needed it, and they’d be more than happy to continue having enchanters on standby for the buying and selling of magic items.

Upon arriving in Sawyer, the party made their way to the docks. Delft had arranged for them to meet up with two captains: Glidewell, of the RNS Alesia, and Wheatley, of the RNS Chell. Both were veterans of the last Yerasol War, and long-separated friends of Talon. Glidewell turned out to be a woman of few words, but Wheatley and Silverhawk got along as if the years had never passed, reminiscing about close calls and favors owed. Wheatley referred to Talon as “Doge” at one point, and Talon reminded the wiry man that he’d saved his life after one of his infamous blunders. This seemed to provide the necessary encouragement for him to go on an otherwise insane voyage up one of the larger Elfaivaran rivers in search of the colossus, who’d made landfall just a week or so prior.

The threats of the untamed jungle were no match for two ships with trained riflemen and five Risuri knights. It wasn’t hard to follow Borne’s trail, as he left a swath of flattened jungle more than fifty feet wide, not to mention deep footprints that snapped huge fallen trees in half. Eventually, they reached a ruined dock lined with massive crumbling statues of eladrin warriors, which gave way to a ruined city some seventy square miles in size. Initial investigations concluded that there was some magical barrier in effect which was both keeping out the natural creep of the jungle vegetation (thus preserving the state of what had to be Malice-era ruins for the last five centuries) and blocking out extraplanar disturbances, particularly creatures. Linia found herself unable to enter the city at all, and Borne’s footprints could be found circling the border of the area, likely unable to step into the city despite numerous attempts. Templeton made a note of this—it might be handy to replicate, if possible.

Among a few buildings of note were an ancient temple to Srasama, filled with Clergy graffiti, and discarded weapons of their faithful. There was also a pit shaped like an inverse ziggurat, lined with faded writing, and superimposed with illusory script that appeared when touched. Kida ve Alema took interest in the inscriptions, reading what she could and taking notes—they referred to the Seedist god Ingatan, whom holds power over fire and knowledge, and was often depicted as a malicious trickster in folklore.

But most interesting by far was a squat, single-room temple whose carvings and symbology were all purposefully chiseled away and rendered blank, while its only entrance was sealed with a great slab of stone. Qiyet muscled away the blockade (after Hugo’s attempt with his bracers of mental might failed utterly), revealing little inside but a great brass urn raised on a stone plinth.

Talon stood nearby while Qiyet and Templeton entered, and Hugo sat on the ground nursing his strained arms. The urn appeared to be filled with blood, but little else was there to learn from or loot, so they turned to leave. Appearing between them and the exit was a robed figure—and though they didn’t see it at first, her face and hands were made of curious jointed metal, though she was unlike any earthly construct the ex-constables had ever seen. In her hand, she held a stone that glowed with brilliant blue light like a fallen star.

“Will you stand against Chaos, no matter its shape?” the woman asked, in an old dialect of Elvish. With Kida still doing translation work, only Templeton understood her, so he answered that he and his companions were standing against forces that sought to change the very fabric of reality. The asker seemed interested at his answer, circled him, and then challenged him: “Then arm yourself and prove it.” The stone in her hand flashed, and became a gleaming blue katana.

Templeton met her blade for blade at first, but asked her if it would be dishonorable for him to use his firearm in this duel. She answered, “I know not what sort of weapon that is, but if it be a weapon and not a spell, you may use it.” She seemed surprised by the blast of pellets that followed, but she adjusted her stance accordingly, and Templeton found himself landing surprisingly few hits in the battle that followed.

Every few seconds, her glowing weapon changed into a new form: from standard fare like a longsword and a greataxe to more exotic fare, including a bola, a spiked gauntlet, and a whip. Though formed of light, each blow cut or smashed as sure as steel, and she drew the gunsmith’s blood again and again while he hastened to keep his shotgun loaded. Qiyet shouted words of encouragement and advice, but it seemed Templeton was outmatched. He was stubborn as a dozen mules, though, and growled that he would not let himself give up, finding new reserves of strength even after being brought within a blow or two of death on several occasions.

“Enough,” the woman said, holding up a hand. “What you lack in strength, you more than make up for in endurance and tenacity; no challenger has fought through all seventeen favored weapons of mine without yielding.” She stepped forward, and her strange armament became a stone once more. “This… is yours. Use it well.”

The stone was a magic item known to history as the Arsenal of Dhebisu, a fallen star which had been used by an ancient eladrin heroine to slay a rhakshasa. The construct warrior-woman identified herself as an inevitable (specifically, a kolyarut), a servant of Order in much the same way that Linia and angels like her were servants of Good. She explained that she had been ordered to guard this place against those who would worship the fallen god, the traitor of the eladrin pantheon who had fallen from divinity and become the monster mentioned in myth.

After leaving the guardian to her task, the party (minus Kida) pressed on toward the inland edge of the city, finding a cluster of people gathered around what was once an entrance arch through a ruined wall. Eschewing caution, Talon approached and called out a greeting. “Hey guys!”

The group froze, a pair of watchers atop the nearby towers looking down in shock. Someone shouted, “RHC!” and everyone went for their weapons.

It turned out the group was a team of Ob scientists and researchers examining the strange border around the abandoned city. Their efforts for the moment were focused on disarming a trap on the archway itself which would summon a guardian. Snipers took potshots at the approaching party, while the head mage put up a wall of fire to deter their progress, and to coax them into going around, rather than directly through the archway. Talon went straight in anyway, teleporting through the flames.

“You fool, you’ve killed us all!” He shouted, seconds before a mighty lion guardian appeared. The beast was bigger than a horse, and it was joined by 9 spare heads which floated freely of its body and set upon Ob and ex-constables alike. Following a minor glitch of priorities, the two groups agreed to set aside their current quarrel and fight the thing together, though in the end only a few Ob flunkies survived anyway. The two tieflings in particular seemed adamant on fighting the party, citing an allegiance to their sovereign and the late Lya Jierre.

The battle was costly. Area attacks seemed to have little effect on groups of heads, and each snarling face seemed to have some new power: laser breath, poisonous fangs, healing tongues, and more. Talon was brought low by a deadly petrification gaze, though his prudent selection of gear allowed him to delay the effect long enough to get in a few more good strikes. Kida joined the battle, and Linia swooped by, destroying heads one by one with her mighty hammer. Qiyet was in her prime as well, splitting heads with one strike almost as often as the angel. In the end they left the lion’s body headless and blind, and whittled down its vitality while surviving the waves of flame it put out. Kida’s chief contribution to the battle was seeking out and destroying a Danoran artillery piece which had begun shelling the entrance arch regularly mid-battle, running up a sheer cliff to do so and taking out the two unprepared gunners with ease.

But before they could even get their breath (and with poor Talon still a solid statue), a planar rift opened on the archway, and out stepped Asrabey Varal, Vekeshi dreadnought and would-be assassin of Ethelyn Lesterman more than a year ago, the first deadly foe that Team 1 had ever faced, and likely a better swordsman than anyone in Lanjyr even today. He was not pleased to see Qiyet in particular, who had killed him in that conflict on Axis Island, necessitating his revival with the powers of the Unseen Court.

He clearly wanted the heroes to leave, but they urged him to see reason. They wanted to speak to Kasvarina, to use her as a resource to strike back against the shady organization that Asrabey had gone to great lengths to rescue her from. Asrabey reminded them that he was not their ally, and their problems were none of his concern.

“Oh I thought you would care about preventing the destruction of the entire Dreaming, we’ll just be on our way then,” said Templeton.

Asrabey called out for them to wait. He was incredulous, but demanded that the gunsmith explain himself. They told him of the Obscurati’s plan to change the very nature of reality, and that it would likely sever the world’s ties to the Bleak Gate and the Dreaming in the process. Only with Kasvarina’s help could they hope to learn enough secrets to shut the conspiracy down for good. The dreadnought admitted with great hesitance that he was powerless to do the same; he could not even leave this hidden enclave with his wife, at the order of their host. When Kida pulled rank as a powerful member of the Vekeshi, he finally relented, and granted them entrance to the true city, hidden between this world and the Dreaming: Sentosa.

View
Blue Banquet
The Obscurati turns on itself, culling corruption.

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.”

“What!?”

“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.”

“Who?”

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 Votes Notable Supporters
Watchmen 6 Kiov, Bob, Xavier, and Amielle
MAP 18 Erskine, Luc, Reed, Erdanen, Han, Livia, Cula, and Bree
Congress 20 Catherine, Bruce, Oscan
Other 0
Any 26 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.

“Yeeaahh…”

“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.

View
Into the Lion's Den
The Obscurati's Grand Design, unveiled at last.

Autumn 65, 501 AOV

Following a tip from Alexander Grappa, the party met him in a hotel in Mirsk, where he outlined a plan to hopefully unmask some of the Obscurati leadership once and for all:

“The opportunity we have waited for has finally arrived,” he said, "if the five of you have the courage to take it. I admit, the plan which I’m putting forth here may disquiet the moral sensitivities of some of you, but believe me when I say that such drastic measures are very necessary.

“My employers are taking a bit of a risk, it seems, and are calling a Convocation, to which they have apparently extended invitations to almost every ranking officer of theirs—exactly the sort of people your RHC has had trouble running down. Normally, I would be unable to speak of this to you, but most of this is guesswork on my part; I suppose you might say I have slightly cheated my geas, as I do not strictly know I am revealing any specific secret plans. I do not know the purpose of this Convocation, though I must logically conclude that they are calling a vote of some kind. If they were merely disseminating information, there are far easier ways to do it.

“What I do know is that I have been asked to stay here at this hotel from Autumn 72 to 74, and I believe I will then be asked to escort a few individuals to the site of the Convocation. If I can manage to get the five of you into that group, it is my hope that you will have unparalleled opportunity to learn of my employer’s goals and secrets… or failing that, an excellent opportunity to strike at their leadership and make a few important arrests.

“My plan here is to use the Surgeon’s gift, Mortal Possession, to have the five of you inhabit the bodies of five of my ne’er-do-well colleagues, giving you an unassailable cover identity for this mission. With my aid, you should even be able to draw on the personality and memories of those you inhabit; even an individual unskilled in deception could fool their host body’s own mother with conditions like these.”

The thought of using magic to enslave a sentient being and control them like a puppet was abhorrent to Qiyet Outrunner, though she wasn’t the only constable with misgivings. After much debate, Kida asked Grappa to weaken the ritual, such that as ‘possessors,’ they would have no control over their hosts, and merely be along for the ride. Though they would not be able to make arrests or intervene in whatever the conspiracy was planning, they stood to learn a great deal.

Hugo, only recently parted from the disembodied intellect of Xambria Meredith, had no inclination to put himself in a similar position again. Instead, he suggested contacting Tinker and using duplicants technology to copy the Ob officers’ appearances, then pilot them to the meeting place for some risk-free spying.

In the end, Hugo and Qiyet used duplicants, while the rest had their souls implanted directly into the Ob officers as ‘ride-alongs.’ The real bodies of the constables were then shipped back to Flint while the well-disguised party made its way to the Obscurati’s secret palace on Mutravir Island, not too far off the coast from Vendricce. As predicted, the true meeting place was on the Bleak version of the island. Hugo made sure to contact the RHC back in Flint, having their real bodies moved over to Bleak Flint—this way, if their Ob hosts were to perish or the ritual were to expire, their souls would still be able to find their way back to their original bodies.

For the lead-in to this next scene, read Interlude – A Gathering of Minds.


Autumn 79, 501 AOV

Once greeted by Nicodemus, the party was passed on to a volunteer in the hallway who had agreed to take on the task of room assignments—a half-elven man by the name of Erdanen Torrance. Livia Hatsfield (Kida) was to room with Erskine Haffkruger, Kiov Hetman (Templeton) was paired with Bruce McDruid (Talon), and Oscan Ligurio (Hugo) ended up with Xavier Sangria (Qiyet) by design, since they were the only two ‘conscious’ constables.

The newcomers were given opportunity to explore the mansion, though a few areas were deemed off-limits (notably, much of the west wing and the lighthouse tower). For a previously-uninhabited manse located in the middle of nowhere, the place was richly appointed with carpets, gas lighting, chandeliers, copious food and drink, and a surprising amount of printed literature and light research material.

Snacks were provided, but it was clear that events would be starting soon. Kiov hobnobbed with the ghost of Amielle Latimer, one of dozens of spirits joining the living here, as part of Nicodemus’ so-called Ghost Council. She gave out cigars, asking everyone to enjoy them twice as much as usual, since she could no longer partake in them herself. Erskine awkwardly made conversation with the other latecomers, alluding to his dreadfully boring work as an Ob biologist. The party also met the acquaintance of Dame Constance Baden, head of the Ob’s Blue Sky Cell, which researches unusual or radical concepts just to push the boundaries of modern-day magic and science.

Soon, all in attendance were called to the Main Hall.

Lights dim, and the crowd murmur fades out. Two incandescent calcium oxide spotlights shine down on a stage podium, slicing out a single bright oval in the dark hall. Nicodemus steps into the light and places an unlit lantern the size of a pumpkin on the podium. He surveys the crowd for a moment, then begins his oration.

“We have gathered for this convocation because we share a purpose.” As he speaks, he draws a cigarette from a case and lights it with a match. He takes a casual drag and continues, speaking through the smoke.

“That purpose is to fix the unsteady course of a flawed world. Some of us have worked to kindle industry, thinking progress and invention will defend nations from war and suffering. Others have ingratiated themselves with the callous and corrupt, ready to unmask their true faces and replace them with more honest and just leaders. You’ve unearthed ancient relics that revealed the forgotten origins of today’s woes, and have with regrettable necessity silenced those who would have revealed and thwarted our Grand Design.

“Few of you have been trusted with the full extent of our agenda. You know simply that I or one of our other officers asked you to cloak yourselves, and then to strive and correct some flaw of society that the common people and their complacently powerful masters have chosen as ‘the way things are.’ Unlike them, we have not been content with an imperfect reality, because we rebel against the conceit that the inertia of the world cannot change, that its course is set, that there is an inescapable fate, or destiny.

“But the truth is, at their basest physical level, life, our planet, and everything we know is swayed by forces beyond us. If I may move from broad strokes to scientific particulars, our world is connected by ancient magic to eight planes—elemental realms of fire and earth and air and water, and inscrutable lands where time and space, life and death are corporeal and manifest. Look skyward and you can see these distant discs tracing their orbits through the night.

“These eight are but a handful in an infinite starscape of planes, and some of our agents have peered into the night sky to learn their nature. One airy world they spied through a powerful lens reveals itself to generate calmer and more predictable storms than we have here. Another planet, a dappled purple and yellow orb, is possessed of warm clouds and a strong cheerful emotion, while countless miles away a hazy nebula is wracked by eternal lightning—destructive, swift, and powerful.

“Now, we have a world of our own full of elemental air energy, but its skies are thin, and the winds are erratic. Imagine if, instead of that plane, our world was infused with the energy from one of those others. It would change our climate. It would change, on a subtle level, the emotions you feel when looking at the sky. More than that, it would change the very fate of civilization.

“There is an ancient ritual seal, crafted and hidden by our distant ancestors, who chose which of these realms ours would be linked to. But we have learned how to open that seal, and we are ready to change which planes dance in orbit with us. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true purpose of our convocation. My name is Nicodemus, and though it was I who set this endeavor in motion, it is the right of you, the agents and officers of the Obscurati, to set a new course for all the people of this world.

“For centuries prophets have sought visions in the night sky, and why? Because those eight worlds have power over us. The motion of the stars allows different ideals to gain ascendance: war, decay, chaos, exploration, order, creation. But no longer shall the procession of heaven obey the whims of an ancient, absent clockmaker. Now the hand that controls the zeitgeist shall be ours!”

The audience applauded, but before the excited whispers among the table could discuss these revelations further, Han Jierre took the podium, outlining the specifics of the Grand Design. Following that, he organized the officers into five groups, which would rotate through and hear the leaderships’ initial five proposals for world change.

During these talks, a grisly murder somehow took place. The body of Ramos Zoltan (owner of all the prisons in northern Drakr), was discovered in the walk-in icebox off from the palace’s kitchen. He was coated in a light sheen of frost, suggesting he’d been there for at least the duration of one of the five sessions. A wound was inflicted on his chest, consistent with a knife or dagger of some kind, but no weapon was present—instead, a white stone carving of a serpent lay in the dwarf’s lap.

Xavier Sangria (Qiyet) was permitted into the room and saw the body firsthand; the guards were at a loss, as they were basically all hired on as muscle—there was no notable law enforcement or crime-inspection talent among them. Nicodemus arrived shortly after, but seemed disturbed, muttering that the man’s spirit was gone. As word spread through those in attendance, a cautionary rule was given to only travel in groups of three or more while the Ghost Council set to finding the culprit.

In the meantime, the Portal Gallery was opened upstairs. Walls were lined with framed floor-to-ceiling paintings, through which people could step into small demiplanes that demoed the potential changes proposed by the five main factions, as well as a number of ‘just for fun’ worlds: a wintry hill where one could change into any animal they desired, a stormy sea one could fly over without the aid of spells, a pool of lava that couldnt’ harm creatures, and more.

The Arboretum showed off plants that could be grown by stretching them like clay, as well as trees that bore impossibly lush fruit… and even one that grew haunches of beef. Erskine was there, explaining in his monotone voice “We’re still working on one that cooks the beef as it grows.”

The Panarchists made a three-story house with no doors, that one could navigate by innate teleportation ability. As promised, traded favors or belongings now came bundled with psychic ‘prompts’ to return. Livia tested the limits of the plane’s healing ability by falling backward off the roof… she was in a severe amount of pain afterward, but only for a few seconds until the various wounds knit together and disappeared.

The ghostly attendants at Miller’s Pyre didn’t let anyone into the painting; rather, they assembled an audience outside of the frame, then pushed two prisoners (condemned murderers) into the demiplane and informed them that only one would get out alive. Both men scrambled for weapons, and one proved far quicker, putting a blade to the other man’s throat as he cowered. A tense moment passed, and the men began to talk… against all odds, they came to an agreement. If only one could get out alive, then at least he would return to bring food for his fellow who would remain trapped, for now.

A trip into the world crafted by Colossus gave mighty abilities to those who enetered. Strength, athleticism, resistance to harm, the same healing factor granted in the Panarchist world, and an improved ability to shake off deleterious effects. If one carved their name onto a clay stele seated on a prominent pillar at the realm’s center, they also gained the power to sense everything in the demiplane without regard to their line of sight, improved perception, and the ability to teleport anywhere.

The Watchmakers also had more of a non-interactable show for their painted domain. Another prisoner was put into the painting, at which time a 60-second clock started counting down. Devoid of his free will, the man infallibly broke into a smile, pet a dog, lit the fuse on a bomb, then began a series of events that ended in him ‘accidentally’ shielding himself from the resulting explosion. Then he danced a jig and walked out, just as the clock ran down. Each time he was put through the show, he became more panicked, disturbed by his inability to control his actions, and paranoid that something would go wrong next time.

A pair of guards came by again and again during this exhibition, pulling away a different officer with each trip. One by one, each of them were taken to see Nicodemus himself, as he questioned them on the proceedings, their views, and on the details of Zoltan’s murder. While Oscan (Hugo) spoke with measured guard, Xavier (Qiyet) was far more frank and earnest. She asked Nicodemus about Zoltan’s soul (indeed, it had been somehow banished, and Nic could now not bring the dwarf to become part of the Ghost Council) and about the wisdom of leaving the fate of the world up to a vote.

“Surely there are certain plans you don’t agree with?” she asked.

Nic smiled, gazing at the lit end of his cigarrette. “That’s why I have a vote, too.”

As he turned to pace about the balcony atop the lighthouse, the world seemed to slow for a moment, and Qiyet saw a small metal object slip out of Nic’s shirt and land on the floor. No one was watching, so the disguised constable pocketed it before returning to her room for the night. After conferring with Hugo, they determined it was none other than the Humble Hook itself, coveted by the Clergy as a piece of the god Triegenes. It had been lost for quite some time… and now it had found its way to a most unlikely owner. In Lanjyr stories abounded of artifacts as mighty magical items with wills and goals all their own—had it given up on Nicodemus, and now chosen to throw in its lot with a martial scientist, dedicated to bettering herself, as its first owner once had? Such questions couldn’t be answered here.

For the final scheduled event of the night, everyone was once again gathered in the Main Hall, where they cast their vote in a non-secret ballot:

Day 1 Factions Votes Notable Supporters
Watchmakers 6 Leone, Kiov, and Amielle
Miller’s Pyre 12 Nicodemus, Oscan, Cula Ravjahani, Erdanen, and Xavier
Panarchists 9 Luc, Livia, Han, and Bree
Colossus 10 Catherine Romana, Bruce McDruid
Arboretum 4 Erskine and Reed
Other 33 Vicemi and the Council (25 ghosts total)
View
Visit with the Surgeon
The lich's magics are recovered.

After pumping what information they could from the two Ob-funded scientists, Gangenwieck and Thornsenkertz, the party pressed on to the final chamber, where the lich rested over a foot deep in the ice, totally motionless. Before even attempting to talk with him, they had Hugo perform a Reverse Portal ritual, bringing in Leone Quital and the rest of Templeton’s squad, just for backup purposes.

Once Leone was cuffed into unconsciousness, the bargaining began. The surgeon spoke with an incongrously smooth and gleeful voice, slathering on the charm to his supposed liberators and offering them further boons in exchange for their help. “Perhaps the martial-minded among you have always wanted to master the arcane arts? Perhaps some among you were born with quick minds, when you’d value quick hands even more? All these things are possible for me. With but a few minutes of soul-surgery, I can alter your body and memories; no door is closed to you. You can be anything you like, just give me permission…”

Rightfully, most of the party was spooked by the idea, but Qiyet stepped forward. She had been focusing on the techniques taught to her from her study-abroad program in Elfaivar of late, and though occasional teleportation was helpful, she found the overall style incongruous with her self-crafted fighting technique. After detailing the possibilities to the lich, he agreed to alter her memories, dimming the lessons gleaned from eladrin warriors and strengthening the fundamentals she’d learned back in the Jierre Academy of Arms, a set of core maneuvers known to some as Elementary Stances.

After granting this adjustment for free (and assuring them that he’d avoided learning mind-control magic during his existence, to make his service more palatable to the Demonocracy), he requested all those present to enter into a pact with him. He would grant them the soul-manipulation magic that Grappa had requested, but once he did so the party would be required to free him. If they tried to leave while he was still trapped, the power of the pact would turn their blood to ice. The constables agreed, fancying their odds against a lich who hadn’t had a chance to hone his spellcraft in centuries.

First, the Surgeon removed Leone’s soul. Even though the man slept, the pain of the removal brought his consciousness to the surface, and he screamed. He used every ounce of his strength to try to throw his captors away from him as they pressed him up against the wall entombing their undead benefactor, but Templeton and Talon held him fast, while Hugo kept a chunk of ice against the back of his head (thanks to his investment in a belt of endurance). As his cries died away, the ice turned black, and the lich informed them that their enemy’s soul could be destroyed forever if they sundered the ice here and now.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” Templeton asked the silent, fragile container housing Leone’s soul. “These days, this sort of thing doesn’t even bother me anymore.” He slammed the ice against the ground, watching the color bleed out from the dozens of tiny shards until nothing remained of their unrepentant rival.

This process was repeated again, though with a more permanent form of crystal plucked from Kida’s seemingly bottomless inventory. The soul of Xambria Meredith was finally removed from Hugo, and placed into the body of Thornsenkertz, leaving the Ob researcher trapped in the crystal. Finally, the lich taught the details to a more limited form of the soul transfers they had watched; a ritual he called Mortal Possession. Grappa listened intently, and Hugo took the time to copy notes into his own ritual book, as well.

“Now fulfill your half of the bargain,” the lich decreed, suggesting they use heat to simply melt him free… only the party realized they had journeyed to Drakr with no kind of fire magic whatsoever. Undeterred, Talon began to shave away layers of ice using an adamantine battleaxe, and within a half hour or so, the lich was able to stand up and shake the remaining ice from himself in the alcove the warden had carved.

“You will all have a place in my future domain, once I’ve had my revenge on the Clergy…” he laughed airily, but the constables were in no mood to let him live out his dream (though they still had little love for the Clergy leadership). As he saw them level their weapons, he shouted, “Fools! I stood with the mighty armies of the Demonocracy. I helped them fell legions of your kind in my day, and you think you can stand against me!? Your souls will only fuel my rage across this continent…!”

Kida pulled out her fracturing handgun and fired off a spray of shrapnel—unexpectedly, the lich burst into thousands of bony fragments, and the fight was over before it had started! At first, the constables refused to accept what had happened, searching the ice nearby for the lich’s phylactery, or some other sign that he had somehow escaped destruction… but a careful check of the Ob notes by Xambria and Hugo revealed that the Surgeon’s phylactery had, in fact, been destroyed very soon after uncovering his frozen form, just as a precaution.

The real battle only began after the constables left that chamber, finding the Khangitche Odul with a dozen or more of his fellow frost giants, arrayed against them with a wall of mostly-dwarven prisoners, including Kvarti Gorbatiy. The greedy giant announced that he had decided to change he and Talon’s deal from earlier, since it seemed the party were traveling with untold wealth just hanging off them in the form of expensive magic items. Talon warned him not to try – that the very items he lusted after were deadly in the hands of the constables, and that they would destroy the Khangitche and his tribe, if they needed to. Odul was unmoved, and ordered his fellows to kill them all.

Kvarti joined the fight after being tossed a carbine and a sack of bullets, but the battle was long and bloody. For once, none of the party dropped from their wounds, despite the arduous circumstances! But the giants were all formidably tough—even the weakest of them still took several hits from the powerful members of Team 1 before succumbing to their injuries. One by one they were all taken out; and when Odul himself was felled, his three mages tried to surrender, only to be wiped out since the party was in a very unforgiving mood.

Templeton despaired at the sheer amount of evidence they’d left at this dig site; it would only be a matter of time before the RHC’s involvement here was discovered by the Obscurati, he reasoned. Xambria suggested they simply leave nothing behind, using munitions from the party’s ship to collapse the excavated chambers, nurturing the idea that the frost giants had simply rebelled, taken everything of value, then flattened the place in their anger, burying it under tons of ice. From there, Xambria would use her notes to figure out where she needed to be to meet with an Ob contact, while Grappa would take a train into Crisillyir and try to slip back into Leone’s life. Both promised to contact the constabulary immediately if they found information they could use against the Ob, or an opportunity they could exploit.

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