Zeitgeist

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)

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