Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.14

In the previous chapter, the Lamplighters, having barricaded themselves in the library of a ruined monastery to recuperate. gathered round Jeffery Llywellyn as he read a thousand year old scroll describing a series of events in the provinces of Britannia during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

***

Dies Jovis, Julius 6, 119 - Aquae Sulis, Britannia, SPQR

"That afternoon, we returned to Gaius' villa to refresh and see our children.  They had spent the day horseback riding and making music.  After the spa, I regretted not joining them.  Nonetheless, an early meal and bedtime awaited them, while we were to dine on on Gaius'  barge floating down the River [Avon].

"Our host had gone all out.   We dressed near twilight and rode to the docks carried on litters.  As we traveled we saw the lucky residents and guests dressed in their finery and heading for the play.  My wife noted with excitement that we would attend tomorrow.

"Once at the docks, I gasped.  To see here in Britannia of all places, such a barge.  Behold, the polished wood handrails, posts, and columns.  The bright canopy of colors covering nearly a third of the deck.  The couches piled with pillows.  A bowl of fruit and glass of wine waited each of us.  Behind our couches, a slave stood with a large ostrich feather fan.   A dozen black oars jutted into the water.

"Braziers were lit as we climbed the gangplank.  Gaius greeted us and promised a night of dining, music, and action.  We relaxed on our couches to sip wine and listen to the Greek musicians from that morning.

"The first part of the trip brought us through twilight.  Evening birdsong filled the air and the smells of cooked foods wafted up through the decks.  On either side of the bank we could see farms and orchards, and to the south a faint fog formed.

"A magician from Tyre, whose name I forget, entertained us with juggling as we ate boiled eggs, small rolls covered in poppy-seed and honey, and hot spicy pork sausages.  Plenty of wine and water with floating fruit satisfied our thirst.  My wife and I as well as the Ciceros ate with relish.  The strain of the day seemed to dissipate.  

"However, as the magician performed some trick with scarves, the barge lurched.  Gaius quickly returned to the desk.  He apologized but told us his pilot had knocked small hole in the hull as he clumsily steered the barge over some rocks.  However, he he knew a flat field nearby where we could continue our meal as repairs were made.

"Quintus immediately suspected foul play.  He seemed increasingly paranoid about eating or drinking, claiming we were all about to be victims.  Fortunately, Flavius calmed him to some degree.

"One shore, our meal continued under a great pavilion tent with pastry pies of wild boar, pickles and mushrooms.  The magician entertained us with sleight of hand.  Then we ate boiled crab stuffed with bread and cheese as a man and his little dog Muffin made us laugh.  Such an amusing dog.

"Two beautiful dancers entertained us as oysters and potatoes were served.  Gaius offered them for a night, and while I was tempted, my wife's look kept me quiet.  However, Flavius asked for both.

"Finally, a pair of gladiators went through some clever maneuvers as we ate chilled berries with honeyed cakes.  Flavius offered Gaius a handsome some for the gladiators to fight to the death.  One of them, the short one I think or no perhaps the tall one, was killed much to everyone's delight." 

I ran a brief combat between two low point fighters until one dropped to zero and I declared him dead.

"Finally, the repairs were complete, Gaius informed us we were an hour and a half delayed, but would be back in Aguae Sulis soon.

"Though night was warm for Britannia, there was still a damp chill. The braziers and wine helped.  Everyone dozed on their couches until we were close to town.  Flavius noticed first that it appeared we were gone longer than expected as the dawn was breaking to the east.

"The smell of smoke made us realize something wasn't right.  We stood by the rails toward the town watching the strange orange glow illuminate the night.  Then the wind shifted and the screams came with it.

"Rounding the bend, we saw the town in flames.  Boats moored on the docks were in flames.  People were running about with torches and weapons.  After we saw a woman in the distance jump to her death from a rooftop, Gaius told us he was taking the barge back down river.  He refused to come close to the town.

"Flavius was furious.  'My niece and nephew are at your villa!' he shouted.

"Gaius agreed to set the barge to shore and give those who wanted to go armor and a gladius, but he would not risk going into the town.  With some discussion, Flavius, Quintus, and myself decided to rescue the children, while Titus would accompany Servia and Julia to safety."  Titus' player had to leave early, so we found a good stopping point for him.

"Flavius claimed the armor of the slain gladiator as his own, then we three set ashore a mile from town.  After some discussion, Quintus and I agreed with Flavius that we should circle the town instead of going through it.  While it would add distance, we hoped to avoid the worse.

"Even then we could spy figures jumping to their deaths.  Near a granary on the edge of town we found several townspeople hung.   A nicely dressed patrician screamed, "He is here!" before dousing himself in oil and fire.

"Truly, the world had gone mad.

"Near a series of shops and homes we spotted a mob rushing toward us screaming.  'We have seen him!  We have seen the King!' We thought it best to hide, but Quintus knocked over a cart of wine jugs sending them crashing to the ground.  Flavius led us into an alley where we used debris to limit the attackers approach, and the three of us held off twenty men and women from whom reason had departed.

"The entire time Quintus yelled.  'I knew it!'

This encounter saw Flavius use Tactics to build a makeshift barrier and limit the assailants that could get them at a time.  

"The gods blessed us that day as we escaped with minimal harm.

***

"But at the villa we were not so lucky.  The gates of Gaius' home had been burst open, and many servants and slaves lay dead.  Among the survivors, we learned that the fires had begun not long after our troubles on the river.   The lunacy spread through the town as mobs rushed from villa to villa chanting.  'Give us your children and they shall be spared!  The Last King demands your children!'  Thinking they might be Briton raiders from the north, the servants hid the children.

"Unable to stop the onslaught, those who survived watched as the mob drug the children out of their hiding places - as if they knew - to a woman on a pale horse.  Tall and thin she wore white robes and a pale mask.  When she descended, they saw she wore a pendant with a strange symbol that seemed to writhe.  She spoke with children then blew a long horn.

"As they waited, she told the children, 'The King might choose you for a great honor.'

"Then a thing appeared form the sky.  Covered in hair, it landed - great wings held high - and snatched child away.  Soon two more appeared.  We wept but she just smiled and the mob moved on."

***

Dies Veneris, Julius 7, 119 - Aquae Sulis, Britannia, SPQR

"We quickly conversed and decided the arena was our destination.  Flavius noted with a calm yet distant demeanor that the dawn was not far off.  I didn't see how the night had passed so quickly.

"Weary, we struck on."  They were losing FP at this point as they rolled to stay awake.

"The town as quiet now.  The fires that had engulfed it the night before were dying down.  The screams had become silence.

"Overhead, in the inky night we spied lit by a pale light a boy flailing as he flew through the air.  Shortly there after we saw the thing of black fur, wings, and ram horns.  Quintus became ill now.  He was convinced that anyone we might would be dangerous.

"As we crossed the streets that stank of fire and blood we heard low crying but saw no one.  The street to the arena was particularly terrible with corpses everywhere and burned buildings.  The gates yawned open and above them an enormous torn banner read 'The King Arrives.'

"Dismounting we marched inside ready for any confrontation, but the air was dead and the silence watched us.  Bodies were everywhere - littering benches and aisles, tramped on staircases.  Some of those with swords had fought and killed, while others had fallen on their own blade.

"Stepping in the center of what would have been the gladiator arena, we saw the stage set with what appeared to be a throne room.  The actors in costume each lay dead, a pale mask in their hands, with no signs of violence but a look of profound horror on each of their faces.

"I struggled to stay calm by thinking of my daughter.  Flavius seethed at the waste.  Quintus suffered the most.  Deluded and afraid he stabbed each dead actor so they could not follow us.

"One of the black furred creatures swooped into the Senator's box, and when it did we saw three figures inside.  We marched with the silence of death to the arena steps and to the box.  Two creatures sat on the top of the arena watching us, but did nothing even though Quintus menaced them.

"Two stone columns flanked the Senator's box's great oak door.  On the door had been painted the strange symbol of the play.

"Flavius shoved it open, and as we entered we spied a man seated at a desk writing on wax tablets, a flat man and tall woman kneeling on the floor, and what remained of a man on the settee.  "Welcome of the Court of the King," the corpse wheezed and it flowed and oozed over the settee like an octopus not a man.

"I stumbled backwards as the fat man rushed Flavius and Quintus.  The pale woman began making strange gestures with her hands.  As she did, an odd glowing symbol appeared in the air.

"The man at the desk, Carbo, packed each wax tablet in a satchel and rushed to the window.  The great horned-bat thing appeared and made off with the satchel as Livius Carbo threw himself from the window.

"I gained enough sense to rush across the room only to see Carbo laying broken below.

"The woman finished her gestures and a light flowed into Quintus and Flavius, yet only Quintus backed away in horror.  Flavius yelled and buried his gladius in the fat man.

 "The woman began her gestures again and without much thought, though I am but a scholar, I buried my gladius in her throat.

"The creature on the settee laughed at us.  Flavius, now in a rage, having lost his reason like yet so very different than the cowering Quintus, yelled at it.  'Are you the King?'

"The creature wheezed.  As the sunlight poured into the room and the boneless thing began to dissolve into a grey dust, it rasped.  'I am not he.  I come to prepare the way for he who comes after me.'"

***

"We found the children in a room off the box along with nearly forty others.  Many of them never recovered from their shock.

"My daughter, Avinina, faired better than most.  Good feelings between my family and the Cicero's continued and she was eventually married to young, Philo.  The pair live outside of Roma now, managing the Cicero's interest in the City.

"Young Faulta had no recollection of anything that occurred.  Though even as a grown woman she will not go out at night.

"Quintus suffered progressively worse paranoia until he was locked away by his brother.

"Flavius' had trouble with his temper.  He never lived to serve in the family mercantile as he was killed fighting the Picts during the construction of the wall.  Some of his soldiers say he smiled when he died.

"Titus, Julia, and Servia were spared the worse of the events.  Titus returned to Londinium and after the death of his father became the family patriarch.  His sister Servia never remarried, but did move to Roma with her son years later.  She and my wife, Julia, remained friends up until my wife's death.

"And myself?  The things we saw I have never forgotten.  Most nights when I can not sleep I wander my home checking the windows and watching the sky.  There is a Stranger in the city, I think, and pace some more."

***

This session was inspired by Ripples from Carcosa.  While Call of Cthulhu / BRP is a decent system, one which I ran in the late 1990s, running GURPS this past year I have come to appreciate the depth of the characters.

I have wanted to pickup many of the the new GURPS titles, but will have to wait until I can afford them.

That said, I did get a new softcover print-on-demand of GURPS Thaumatology.    

The story of the Lamplighters returns with Its Hour Come Round At Last 1.15.

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