Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 57 -- Sunday 31st October 2010

In which many doors open, new and powerful acquaintances are made in the emerald spire, and the extraordinary value of one of the company's recent acquisitions starts to come into focus.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

October 31st, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

The party spends the rest of the day recovering from their ordeal in the sewers, except for Jonas who is dispatched to stealthily recover any remains he can find of the civilians who were killed. He agrees to this with a murderous twinkle in his eye and melts away into the crowds.

November 1st, 370 PKR

The company takes a few minutes to register their interest for the Pillar to Post race, due to start in a couple of weeks, at a small office in the First Ward (the wizard's quarter of the city). Their team is, for the moment, submitted unnamed, but Elumai nominates herself as the contact.

Later in the morning, a young lad turns up with a wax-sealed letter for Elumai. Inside, there is a note written in elven and a broach depicting an eight-pointed compass. The note reads simply, "Save your friend." Berend offers the boy and his pa free breakfasts at the inn as reward (and perhaps, in the interests of cultivating a useful employee) while Elumai examines the broach.

It's unremarkable except for the trace amounts of divination magic it's emitting, and Elumai wastes no time casting Object Reading on it. In answer to the question of who the note came from, the momentary image of one of the clerks from the eladrin consulate flashes across her mind. To the question of how it might be used to help her, she receives the image of a delicate male hand with a silk handkerchief attached to a gold ring, holding the broach in its upturned palm; the sun is setting in the background, and glittering water lies all around.

Finally,
to the question of how this relates to her friend Seraiya, she receives an image much like the second one, except the background is instantaneously replaced with thick marshland, and the silhouette of a distant, canted three-pinnacled tower can be seen in the background. Against all odds, she recognises this foetid bog as an area of the Feywild where she was taken as a child to master hunting and survival in the wilderness, a place called Karrick-Kurr.

She reports these findings to her friends, and the suggestion is made that the images may have depicted a Fey Crossing somewhere on the Tondo-Ghantsee lake. However, any possibility of investigating is at odds with the party's stated intention of attending the planar symposium due to be held at the Basilica this evening at 5pm, so it has to be put off for now.

After asking around, they find out that the keynote speaker, Fennig Darshue, is a dwarf; that the whole affair is invitation only; and that several higher-members of the Court of Cloaks are likely to attend. The problem of getting an invite seems readily solvable: make contact with Lord Hottentoat, who contacted them earlier regarding his friend Lord Riva, and sweet-talk him into gaining them entry. This requires them to venture for the first time to the great spire Emerandes itself, from which the city gets its name.

The inner wards of the city are ringed by huge civic edifices put over to the service of either the city, the mages, or the King. Several of these have distinct dwarven lines to them, a fact not lost on Berend as the company passes beneath the columns of the Basilica, the great courthouse of the city, but as they enter the First Ward, the tenor of the environment radically changes. Mages fly to-and-fro. Small communiques zip and dodge along broad, uncrowded streets towards their recipients. Golems and other automata step aside with a muttered and mechanical "Excuse me sir". Gratutitous displays of power, magic, and wealth force themselves upon the party at every turn, and it's a far cry from the dark, topsy-turvy, and tumble-down streets where they've spent the majority of their time in the city so far.

Overlooking it all is the Spire itself, one of the great Citadels of Cradle Plain, reputedly marking the grave of one of the beings who fell to earth aeons ago in an ancient epoch declared taboo by the gods of the present day (and by Osternagum, the great prophet of the mages who brought knowledge of magic to the Plain). The spire itself is a multi-faceted pillar of shining green, several hundred feet wide at its base but narrowing all the way to its cloud-rimmed tip almost half-a-mile above.

One hundred steps are carved into its base, rising to three huge archways and granting ingress to the grand entrance lobby of the the Citadel. Inside, hundreds of people mill quietly about: members of the Court, floating or walking solemnly by, those who aspire to the arcane disciplines, and multitudinous visitors amongst them.

By far the centre of attention is the huge bronze frieze hung on the wall, an elaborate display which encompasses fully one third of the circumferance of the lobby. Known as The Lattice, it is the summation of all arcane knowledge on the plain, the laws of magic inscribed by equations, pictographs, glyphs, and various esoteric symbology, at once simple enough for novices to grasp and yet full of contradictions and subtleties which only the most experienced practitioners can hope to fully understand. From a distance, the inscriptions describe grand, beautiful patterns; up close, these patterns seem to repeat at ever-more complex levels. Empty spaces of virgin polished bronze, gaps even in the knowledge of the Court of Cloaks, are many.

The company accosts the nearest official, a blonde-haired mage whose plainness is offset by the complex golden patterns inscribed on her face. She greets them politely, and as it is their first visit, invites all of them to contemplate the mysteries of the Lattice.

"It is not just the truths of magic that lie trapped in the Lattice, but the truths of life. For one is the other."
-- Court of Cloaks official, the Grand Lobby of the Spire

They show her Lord Hottentoat's invitation and she immediately walks off to summon the wizard. A few minutes later (where in the meantime Elumai takes a few seconds to correct a nearby acolyte who has been teaching improper somatics to a rapt group of students), the clockwork monkey they saw earlier skitters across the polished green-tiled floor, scampers up Finial's leg, and starts sniffing his ear. Finial offers it one of the ball-bearings from its earlier visit. The monkey accepts, and a beautiful friendship seems inevitable.

"Ah!" says a creaky voice from behind them. "I see you've been re-acquainted. He was terribly sorry for his earlier rudeness, but he had a lot of pressing errands that day, I'm afraid."

The party turns to see a hunched old wizard approaching, dressed in dirty (but pearlescent) green robes, leaning heavily on a black quarterstaff shod with silver. Wisps of grey hair frame his lined old face, and the outline of a white lightning-bolt is inscribed, somewhat half-heartedly, from his forehead across one eye to his cheek.

Elumai bows but he waves her off. "None of that, none of that! Well then, you received my summons I see, and only a day late in arriving! Heheh." He instructs everyone to link hands, takes Elumai's delicate palm in his, and there is a sudden drunken rush of air before the party finds itself in Hottentoat's apartment.

Carved seemingly from the crystal of the tower, the room is bell-shaped and hung with various colours of curtain and weave, likely to provide some solace from the unceasing and innate green-ness of the apartment. A window of thick glass looks out, from their current vantage, onto nothing but blue sky. The room, which doubles as a laboratory, seems a mess to everyone except Elumai, who discerns a certain symapthetic order amongst the chaos.

There are several workbenches, all strewn with cogs, springs, cut pieces of metal, tiny clockwork engines, and various other materiale. At the arrival of Hottentoat and his guests, two metal dogs bound out of a side room, buffeting several thick curtains aside, one jumping up at Berend and the other at Elumai, their inner workings of bronze ticking and spinning in a complex dance. From another corner, a fat, miniature gnome shuffles out from behind a curtain, looks around, harumphs! magnificently in a slightly tinny voice, and starts to clean the place with a dust-pan and brush almost as big as he is. "Turing, must you do that when I have visitors?" asks the wizard curtly, but he is ignored. Completing the menagerie, a parrot made entirely of what looks like stained glass swoops down from the ceiling and perches on Hottentoat's shoulder, nibbling at his ear.

Finial enquires as to whether these are the wizards own creations and Hottentoat nods, splendidly pleased to have been asked.

"Yes yes, all my own work. I call it inanimation. None of this suffusing machines with living spirits nonsense. I find the idea acutely offensive. No, I say that with sufficient programming, you can instill a perfectly adequate semblance of life in these creatures without stealing that spark from some other potential soul who might have a much better use for it."
-- Lord Hottentoat shares his opinion on constructs

"Like a warforged?" enquires the paladin, and Hottentoat looks taken aback,

"I should say not! And I'm surprised you even know the word, sir! Anyone so well-versed in ancient history should know the fate of the warforged, and their creators. There's no slavery here, and no chance that my little friends will rise up, destroy me, and rampage across the world! They just don't have it in them! Do you, you just don't have it in you, do you Rufus..." The wizard sets about petting the larger of the two dogs, which sits and wags its metal tail in appreciation.

Over refreshments (prepared by an increasingly exasperated Turing) the party tells of its adventures with Calamachia. "You found a working Forge?!" he cries, aghast, grabbing some note paper and a quill. "You must show me. Turing! Turing!" There's a crash of crockery and the gnome waddles out of the kitchen carrying a rolled up map of the Plain.

As the party indicates the Rowenoaks where the brothers Cannith led them unwittingly to the Forbidden Forge, they get a good look at Hottentoat's splendid and detailed map. Elumai is particularly interested in multiple sets of contours overlaid on the geography and seeming to focus around the Citadels of Emerandes, Phalax, and Lovosignum. Hottentoat prompts her to speculate on what they might be, but Elumai, suddenly feeling the pressure of a student being asked a difficult question by her teacher, can only guess in vague terms. The old cloak is symapthetic. "Confluences of magic, my dear, energies between the shadows of the Citadels. Even we don't know exactly what they mean, but they are there."

Despite this, Elumai does notice subtle interference patterns which seem to coalesce around where she knows of three fey crossings (her home Dyanosis, and the Fey Consulate and the lake here in the city), and points them out. Hottentoat perks-up at her observations. "Very good my dear, very good! Riva was right about you, I see! In time, one of your heritage and skills might not even have to chart crossings into the Feywild, you might be able to simple see them for yourself. Can you imagine?"

Coming around to the subject of the invitation-only planar symposium, the company is soon filling him in on the Seraiya situation, as well as the fact that they have come into possession of a plane jammer once owned by the Reverend Tarq Frushante. Hottentoat knows little of the planes or Tumerex itself, but is stunned into disbelief that they claim to have a planar vessel, something he hasn't heard of existing for hundreds of years, and supposes that Fennig Darshue would dearly love to get his hands on it (as would the Court itself). After a moment of strange, distant contemplation, he is able to recall exactly in which room Darshue is staying, and pens a simple letter of introduction which might lend them more credibility upon a visit.

And then at last Hottentoat comes to the business at hand. Apologises in advance for any deception on his part, he reveals that in fact he doesn't know Riva personally, and is most definitely not his friend... in point of fact he can't stand him, seeing him as an unsufferable egoist who prefers accolades to be on lavished on himself in place of the Court. The old wizard doesn't approve of such behaviour, but it seems his suspicions run far deeper about the enigmatic Dustboot who saved Elumai's life so many months ago.

Upon finding out that Riva had Raised Elumai from the dead, he seems most perturbed at the scale of such a gift. "I mean no disrespect, but why would he do such a thing? Give of himself in this manner? He must have taken quite a shine to you my dear. And you've felt entirely yourself since this procedure?" Elumai can only nod, troubled by Hottentoat's concern and his reluctance to elaborate on what exactly Riva had to "give" in order to resurrect her.

The news does little to allay his concerns. "I've long had my suspicions about him. His fascinations are unkind. His obsessions, shadowy. I opposed his appointment to the Dustboots many years ago on the basis of an intuition, but nevertheless the vote was passed. I feared that away from the spire, separated from the oversight of his peers, his nature would assert itself in ways we would come to regret.

"Since his appointment, I've spent considerable resources and called in many favours to keep an eye on him; a responsibility of my position, you see. Magic is a dangerous business, to its practitioners, to the King, to the city, and to the Court. It's no coincidence I'm sure that you found yourselves embroiled in the affairs of the Samazar Splinter -- you knew of them as the Mages of Saruun -- while in his company. It wasn't the first time he had dealings with them, long a thorn (if you'll excuse the pun) in the Court's side, ever since the day they rejected our authority and formed their own secret enclave. Disbanded, now, you tell me? And not under instruction from Lord Riva? Hmm, perhaps, perhaps not. I wouldn't be surprised if he engineered it in some way, although perhaps I'm giving him too much credit.

"And so to the matter of his recent disappearance. A member of the Dustboots entirely outside of our supervision is unprecedented and has caused no small degree of consternation at all levels of the Court, all the way up to the Emerald Magister himself, and this is especially true given the worrying company Riva has kept in recent years.

"He's had dealings with several unnerving groups, shall we say. The Old Hands at Sixth Sea, a very unpleasant bunch; the Samazar Splinter, as we know; and the Black Mantissa in Lukktor, a murderous cult with a long and bloody history..." (Lukktor is a name familiar to the adventurers, having been the source of the ruined caravan which Azurami and Xavier came upon and swore to avenge.)

"On the face of it Riva seems to have been doing his job.
Before he disappeared, his reports were frequent and punctual. The Splinter is now disbanded, due to the actions of a group he himself patronised. But there's something about these cults, something I can't quite put my finger on... the necromancy of the Old Hands; the Splinter's independent work into the Rockworms of Kworm, if you're to be believed, and who-knows-what-other interplanar mysteries; and the Mantissa, brokers for powers far darker than shall be named here..."

As the subject of flurock comes to light, Hottentoat offers his thoughts on the petrified worm-flesh, recounting legends that those who came into contact with a Rockworm could subsequently smell the children of Kworm from miles away. "
The Rockworms of Kworm are sSome of the most powerful creatures of old, endlessly burrowing through the earth. Legend states that if they should ever reach the World's core... poof! Everything will be destroyed in a moment of infinite consumption. Your experiences of these creatures, long thought extinct, are not to be taken lightly, and I shall report them to my superiors immediately."

So the old wizard arrives eventually at the question he has been waiting to ask: will the company take it upon themselves to track or find Lord Riva, and report back to him on their findings? He offers a bounty from the Court treasuries to sweeten the deal, and suggests that Lukktor, a town under the sway of several insidious cults, will be a good place to start. "I do not recommend that you simply walk in the front gate and start asking questions, however," he warns. "They will be the equal of you, I'm sure."

The party agrees and takes its leave, Hottentoat promising to meditate on the information given to him (which encompasses much of what they've experienced to date, including their strange experiences with Aiyanna and her group below near the Seven-Pillared Hall). They stop by the treasuries on their way to Fennig Darshue's apartment.

A gruff and harassed voice shouts back at them as they knock on the door. "Too soon! I'm not ready!" but Elumai insists that they're not here on symposium business. "Will these interruptions never cease!" says a half-clothed dwarf as he pulls the door angrily open. Laid out on the bed behind him are multiple exotically-coloured garments, and a large, dropping feathered cap hangs from a coat-stand near by.

Clearly, they've caught Darshue at a bad time. The company wastes no time with banter and asks the dwarf directly what he might know about re-joining the bisected halves of an interdimensional plane-jammer. Darshue, however, is unimpressed. "If such a thing existed, I would surely know everything about it. Since I do not, it does not. And I do not know you... is this some kind of joke? A distraction by that wizardly fellow who I embarrassed so thoroughly last year?" Darshue pokes his head out of the door, looking up and down the corridor outside for anything suspicious.

Much to his consternation, however, Elumai pushes past, grabs the nearest garment, and begins dressing the flustered dwarf, the rest of the company piling in behind her. "Alright then, on the infinitessimal chance you're serious, and given your colleague's obvious expertise in matters of hosiery, ask me your ridiculous questions again!"

When shown the rubbing of the planar map that the party took from the ship, the dwarf's attitude radically changes. "I say... yes a fold just there and the third principle of harmonic release... where did you find this wonder? I certainly didn't draw it. Tumerex? I don't believe a word of it."

Extricating himself from Elumai's attentions, he pulls a monocle from a nearby drawer and stares at each of the company in turn. "My word. It's all true! The signs of interplanar transgression are clear as day on the lot of you. If I could just..." From under his bed, he pulls what looks like a circular disc of glass, utters a nonsensical command word, and the glass fogs over. "Ah, excellent image quality!" he exclaims, showing them a ghostly image of their silhouettes from which various prismatic auras can be seen to emanate. "Have a seat, then," he says smoothly, finally closing the door behind them, "I can be a few minutes late to that lecture, I'm sure."

The company fills the dwarf in on a few more details, wary of revealing too much. "So, a plane jammer? Damaged, you say... well I wouldn't worry about that, it'll maintain its relative spatial integrity no matter how damaged... but more to the point when can I see it? Your secret is safe with me, you can be sure. Perhaps honorary navigator would be a suitable role? What's the control mechanism?"

Berend recounts their failed attempts to establish mental control of the ship. "Ah yes, a finely honed mind is needed. (I'm at your disposal.) You need to visualise the location of the ship in five dimensional space, such is the nature of all things. (I could certainly do the job for you.) There are even rumours these things have a semi-sentience all of their own. (But I would certainly be willing to give it a try.)

"To the question of repairs, on the one hand it's simple metallurgy, any good blacksmith could re-form the shell. But it's the translocation that's the tricky part... you have to reform the outer slipshell, something requiring powerful minds, or a focus into which they've imparted their energies. They would need schematics, I'm sure, and be fully informed of what it is they're attempting. But yes... I don't see why that wouldn't work..."

Berend is intrigued albeit reluctant to propagate news of the planejammer any further than he needs to, and the prospect of a fleet of ships cruising the cosmos under the control of the mages, whilst exciting to Fennig (obviously) gives the rest of the group more pause for thought. As they make to leave, Fennig is gripped by a moment of panic. "Wait! How will I contact you? Where are you staying? What are your names?" but the party simply waves goodbye and closes the door in his face. Then, with much to ponder, they return to the Fall Right Inn.

1 comment:

Wedge said...

Four hours of pure roleplaying and not an attack roll in sight. Who says D&D is nothing but hack'n'slash?

These were important moments for the adventurers as they started to make contacts in high places and (hopefully) began to enjoy a bit more context about what they'd been doing for the last eleven levels. Since much of the Heroic Tier was preparation for what would come later, I'm fully sympathetic to their clamour for more information. Foreshadowing vs. payoff is a difficult line to walk and I've tread a bit too far on the wrong side of it in the past couple of years.

It's also a challenge building a city when I deliberately took a small-scale view of Cradle Plain and didn't plan the whole thing out in advance. Certain things you can visualise beforehand, certain things you have to decide on the fly. The challenge is to be consistent. We'll see how it plays in later sessions but so far I quite like the city we're creating between the lot of us, a good mixture of the seedy and the exotic.

As the tenor of the campaign world resolves it's also an interesting look into my own take on fantasy, kind of a strange hybrid of medieval high magic mixed with contemporary scientific language and ideas. This flavour comes out in everything from people's names to their manner of speech (not that I'm flattering myself in my ability to create interesting NPC's, believe me; they all sound the same to me on playback).

Things get serious for our heroes in the next session or two, and a death may be involved. I can say no more.