Friday, March 31, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.1

Session played: March 4, 2017

Our first session for Volume 2, this played out as a strict investigative game where I gave them clues and they decided what to do.  Its Hour Come Round at Last is my bi-weekly tabletop game played in GURPS 4th edition.

***

Monday, June 12, 1916 - London

At the end of the previous week, MI 18 HQ in London contacted Alaard Vick, Geppetto Ponzi, and Reginald Smythe III and asked them to come in Monday morning - Smythe asked for elevenses.

Monday morning, Alaard took the train into London from Oxford, while Smythe had Nigel drive him, and Geppetto took a carriage.

They arrived just before (or just after) eleven am and were shown to a sitting room in the basement that Lady Margaret had setup next to the new library.  She and Alaard worked to create a London library for occult books.  The more delicate works were to be kept at the Oxford site.

Lady Margaret served as the Librarian of the HQ Library and also entertained.  Her sitting room opened into an atrium that ran through the center of the building where she had arranged a flower garden and water features.

When everyone had arrived, she called for tea, cakes, and a bottle of brandy.  She gave her hand to Geppetto and Alaard, but kissed Smythe on the cheek. 

"We have a few items to cover before Watson arrives," she told them.  "My researchers and newspaper cutters have found two incidents to bring to your attention."  Stirring her tea, she read a sheet of typed paper in front of her.  "The first is a newspaper item from the Times, March 1865.  Oxford girl, A.L. disappears between Godstoy and Bisney in October of 1864.  She returns one March after noon and was found in the river.  She thought she had only been gone a long afternoon rather than six months.

"She claimed to have found a hole and to have visited another world where she met horrific creatures who threatened her as well as strange but beautiful creatures.  She appeared unharmed other than her dunking.  Doctors assumed some kind of exposure madness but could not explain the missing time."  Lady Margaret handed the paper to Alaard he reread the copy of the cutting closely.

"This is nearby my home and our Oxford branch," he told them excitedly.  "I will speak to my daughter, Viola, and ask her to see if there are any local records."

Lady Margaret smiled.  "And I will have the researchers continue to look for related information.  Granted we only have four researchers right now and two clip newspapers."

Ponzi huffed.  "We need to hire more people around here."

Alaard added.  "Give the nature of what we do, you can't just hire anyone"

Lady Margaret stirred her tea. "The other item on the morning agenda are a series of explosions heard near Colchester."  She withdrew a series of newspaper clippings.  "These explosions were heard at an estate, owned by one Jason Bourcher, residing in Fingringhoe near Colchester."  She passed around the newspaper clippings of the sounds of explosions at the estate, the police investigation, and interview with Bourcher,.

Smythe poured himself another brandy and asked, "How are we involved?"

She opened another file.  "After the police investigation, MI-5 did their own.  Just like the police they found nothing unusual.  The house is old and in disrepair.  No sign of German saboteurs, which is what they suspected.  Here's the MI-5 report."

Lighting a cigarette, she continued.  "However, Watson has us monitor reports that come in from Richard Donovan II.  Donovan worked for Scotland Yard and MI-5 now after the reorganization."  Taking a deep inhale of tobacco, she withdrew another report.  "In his personal report, he mentioned seeing a three-eyed bird on the estate.  His version was not included in the official file and Donovan was placed on administrative leave."

"Why does Watson monitor Donovan's files?" Smythe asked her, passing the report on to Ponzi.

"His father," Lady Margaret replied, "was Richard "Dick" Donovan of Scotland Yard, the Home Office, and later the Lamplighters.  A contemporary of your own father, Reginald.  You might have read his detective stories in The Strand when you were boys."  Turning to Alaard, "or young men."

Alaard looked up from the report of the three-eyed bird.  "What happened to the father?"

Lady Margaret nodded. "Many of his cases dealt with jewel thieves.  From the files though, it seems these jewels weren't anything the police could identify.  No diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Just odd crystals."  He closed the file and passed it to Smythe.

Smythe sat his glass on the table.  "Let's see if we can get someone out to fetch Donovan's records at Scotland Yard."

The door to the sitting room opened and John Watson arrived out of breath.  "Sorry to keep you waiting, Lady Margaret. Gentlemen." Taking at an empty chair, he accepted a small dish of cake and a cup for tea.  "Now, the matter I am about to discuss is related to a personal friend, so I expect your delicacy.  That said, his concern is related to the work we do here."  Watson ate some of his cake and tea before continuing.  "Last night, I dined with my old college friend, Edward.  Edward Call.  He's now an affluent physician living here in London."

Clearing his throat he continued. "Recently, he was invited by a colleague to join some fraternal order in South London.  I assumed it was some Freemason imitator and wondered how much poor Edward was being taken for." He began rummaging in his coat pocket. "When I saw the name, I determined the department should investigate."  He passed a business card reading Order of the Silver Gate with a stylized gate.  "It could be nothing, but I have asked Call to be available for dinner tonight.  This is department business but...:

Smythe leaned in and took the card.  "I know just the club."

***

That evening the team met Doctor Edward Call at a a plain building in Knightsbridge..  No recognizable sign identified the places, but once inside Smythe led them to a quiet room on the top floor overlooking Hyde Park a few blocks away.  The decor and furniture was expensive without being opulent, and the wine was excellent.  All had dressed in evening formal, while Smythe sent Nigel around to Edward with a rental.

Like Waton, Call was in his sixties and now a retired physician.  Mostly bald and thickset, Call, Watson had told them, had been an avid equestrian as a young man, but a fall let him walking with a cane.  He admired Smythe's club - "One of my clubs," Smythe admitted - commenting on its tastefulness.

 Their dinner interview went smoothly, Dr. Call remaked he had been invited took to be a neo-Masonic social club but now had his doubts.

“Everyone was friendly and well-spoken.  Many of the members are well off and I believe of high intelligence.  All in all they seem a good group of men.  I came way with a most favorable impression of the Order and the sort of person they wanted as a member.

“And yet, I could not help but finding it an odd place.  There are far more employees than seem necessary and they aren’t all the right sort of help.  Low class, foreigners.  One of them, a tattooed Pole I think, had this strange three bladed fan-like tattoo that seemed to move on its own when I looked at it.  Nearly made me sick
.
There are entire floors of the building that are sealed off from prospective members.  I took a wrong turn after going to the Water closet and was escorted back by that tattooed pole fellow. The whole place has an air of secrecy to it.”

At the mention of the tatoo, the team took interest and asked Call about the next meeting.  Call noted their next meeting was that Friday, June 16, 1916 and he would be happy to bring them as potential initiates. 

*** 

Tuesday, June 13, 1916 - London

 The next morning, the team met with Watson to discuss their dinner and the Order of the Silver Gate.  He agreed it fell under their domain for investigation.

Alaard spent the day searching (Research roll) for anything about the Order and located a reference to a book Daemonic Kultes of London written by  Herbert Grobenach of Paddington in 1735 that mentioned the Knights of the Silver Gate.   He also found the name of a local historian Barnaby Pritcher who wrote extensive histories on West Barnes.  His contact at the British Library agreed to search for the books.

He and Lady Margaret's newspaper clipping staff also found reference to a missing man from Mitchum, a neighborhood near Motspur Park (formerly West Barnes)

The London Times - June 1, 1916
  • Police today sought the information from the public concerning the puzzling disappearance of Mr. James Clark from his home at 1312 Newton Circle, Mitcham.
  • He was last seen at home by his wife at about ten o’clock on Monday night.  Mr. Clark is of medium build, brown hair, and 34 years of age. An omnibus driver reports seeing a passenger resembling Mr. Clark headed toward West Barnes at about 2:30 in the morning. Mr. Clark keeps a law office in West Barnes. His is a public-spirited, outgoing personality. Friends at Masonic Hall and at the Order of the Silver Gate expressed dismay when apprised of his disappearance.
Lady Margaret also briefed them on a followup to the A.L. case in Oxford from the 1860s.  Her researchers the day before found an account from April 1875 about a girl A.L. of Oxford who claimed to have gone through a mirror  and returned.  She became ill after refusing to eat and died two weeks after her wild claims began.  Autopsy showed all of her organs were reverse of normal.

While Alaard stayed at headquarters for research, Geppeto Ponzi contacted (Contacts) some associates in the Irish mafia of London as he looked into the Order and their muscle.  He found - thanks to Diplomacy, Charisma, and Luck - they had been supplying the Order with a steady stream of Eastern European security at surprisingly high turnover.  He also found they were avid purchasers of the morbid paintings of a Belle Epoque French artist, Sabine Chanteur.

Smythe spent the day at his clubs discretely asking about the Order or anything like it and finally came across a flier regarding a weekly lecture series sponsored by the Order called: Look to the Future. Furthermore, his tennis friend David Archibald, whose father was a member, told him there were two leaders: John Scott who ran things, and Carl Stanford who gave speeches at the Order and the Look to the Future.

*** 

Wednesday, June 14, 1916 - London

The morning of Wednesday, the team met up at London HQ again for tea, cake, and brandy, while Lady Margaret Jameson gave them any updates.  Two new agents to MI 18 but with police experience had been dispatched to Colchester, or more precisely to the village of Fingringhoe to investigate the explosions and any three-eyed birds.  The pair checked in the day before on arrival and were staying at The Whalebone.

Lady Margaret's researchers found another reference to disturbances of the Oxford area.   

April 1876, a year after the death of A.L.
  • Reverend Doctor Eric Bellman led a team of investigators to determine what had happened to A.L. on the river.  They claimed to have found a hole that appeared and explored it.  
  • His entire team, which notably consisted of a Reginald Smythe I, vanished after the hole disappeared. 
  • Six months later all but Smythe were found floating face down in the river.  They were each reported as mad.  
  • One of them, George Butcher, had changed.  His skin was glossy black and his hair glossy white.  He died three days later.
  • A journal was found on Bellman, but was written in nonsense rhyme.  One passage wrote, "It has taken Smythe.  Beware the JubJub bird!"
  • One P. Fogg of London arrived to take charge of the scene and had the entire group committed to an asylum.
Alaard mentioned his daughter, Viola, had been unable to obtain the medical files, but was now going to visit any of the locals who might recall the incident.

 Ponzi decided to tail Richard Donovan and learned from the man's housekeeper he had been spending time at the British Museum and Library the past few days.  There he found Donovan looking into the Bourchier family of Fingringhoe, books on Norse myth, and trying to find a copy of the Demonic Kultes of London.  

Alaard and Smythe visited James Clark's wife in Mitchum.  Smythe charmed Annaleigh while Vick questioned the housekeeper.  Smythe steered the conversation to the garden where he learned the members of the Order of the Silver Gate had given Annaleigh a present: a blue spore mushroom.  This he collected.

Alaard learned from the housekeeper that Annaleigh had taken a large payoff from the Order in order to stop searching for her husband.

***

The story continues with Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.2

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.1 - Caravan to the Frontier

Played 2/28/17 to 3/9/17

In volume 2, I decided to run a hybrid play-by-post and online game. The following begins the adventures of a squad of Cymru wardens.  It takes place four months after the events of FoLW 1.24, but only includes Dinty and Edwina from volume one.

***

The 15th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the city of Cymru, on the continent of Tirane, on the world of Eifer.
Horror from the Pit

In the months following the opening of the Horror-Portal to the south, the people of the city of Cymru had been on edge.  Many of the holy warriors and priests of Grumbar as well as Desna went to fight back the incursion.  The Cymru Counsel hired troops to accompany them, and later shipped all prisoners out to workgangs supporting the warzone and the other hinterlands.

Finally, winter came to an end, though barely.  In the months that followed the opening of the Portal, the weather had worsened.  Though never a bitter cold climate, the winter of the Year 21 and 22 after the Opening of the Caers experienced brutal snows and ocean storms.

After the dissolution of the North Cymru Irregulars, the members went their separate ways.  Malpais Rana woke from a fever dream and headed south to his people.  Grind and Piper traveled east in search of a hidden Fae city.  Louis went to bed one night and was not seen the next.  Nota’Cor, Rolli, Dinty, Edwina, and Al took the clockwork automaton, Zanpip, back to Professor Andalus before going their own ways.  Nota’Cor was determined to hunt the wizard Rista.  Rolli vanished as quickly as he had come.  Dinty returned to the service of the Temple of Desna - with some chastisement and penance from the Priestess.  Edwina returned to the streets, stealing what she could to buy medicine for her sister.  While Al, disappeared without word.

As the winter progressed, the Cymru Counsel formed the Cymru Wardens in an attempt to patrol and defend the villages and towns loyal to the city.  Since the noblin patrols had also gone south to fight the Horrors, the Wardens were also tasked to keep the roads open.

Recently, the goblin Dinty, with permission from the Temple of Desna, joined the Cymru Wardens.  Soon after he found the human, Edwina, jailed for theft and sentenced to serve on a work gang at the Horror-Portal. Dinty convinced the Cymru City Guard to reassign her to the Wardens.  For the next week, Dinty and Edwina split a bunk bed in the North Gate barracks along with other Warden recruits. The ten or so other recruits kept to themselves.

Finally the time came for the new Wardens to leave Cymru.  One afternoon during a particularly nasty rainstorm, one of the ranking members of the newly formed Cymru Wardens, entered the barracks, informed them that the next day they all marched north, and they would be divided into teams of five under a Warden Commander.

Just before evening mess, the recruits marched to the center of the barracks yard and stood still, while three wardens (a pair of dwarves, and a human) approached.  The two dwarves took turns calling names until they had five recruits and then led them away to eat.

The human stood before them looking wet and tired. He wore a visible symbol of the goddess Desna around his neck.  “I will spare you any embarrassment and not give a speech about how great you are.”  He eyed them.
Corporal Dinty

Dinty (a fine goblin of noble bearing with a prominent nose and devastatingly beady eyes that often looks confused) he knew from the Temple.  The human girl, he knew Dinty had recruited from jail.  Otso, the samsaran - a healer on loan from the temple of Morrit - stared off into space blinking and muttering.  Rounding out the group, was the enormous shmkia, Goreal, with its big bearlike head with small black eyes and wild coarse brown hair, snorted tiredly and stared at Dinty; the goblin simply nodded to the warden.

Scratching his butt, Dinty hocked a loogie and elbowed Edwina.  He was sure she wasn’t paying attention.  Edwina jumped with a start, blinked, and looked around quickly realizing she’d been staring again.  Dinty looked around at everything, except the behemoth bear staring at him.

The human cleared his throat.  “For those of you who do not know me, I am Hal Saldana, Paladin of the goddess Desna, blah, blah.”  He spit.  “Don’t think the paladin bit means I’m nice or only drink milk.  I was a soldier before Desna called me.  And in this business, I’m a soldier still.”  He stared up at Goreal.   “You have joined the Cymru Wardens.”  He eyed each member of the group.  “Your job will be the thankless task of defending the frontier and trying not to die.”  Spitting again, Hal walked back to his place in front.  “Therefore, you will need to learn to rely on your team members.  Or your ass will be a rotting corpse.”

“Dinty, you have been promoted the rank of Corporal in the Wardens for your experience, my familiarity with your skills, and your unfortunate membership in the North Cymru Irregulars.”  The human glanced down at the goblin.  “This isn’t the army.  You role will be support and logistics.  You will make sure this motley bunch pulls together.”  He pointed his thumb at the shmkia, “Sometimes, that just means pointing them in the right direction and hoping.”

“We will be recruiting more for our station as we travel, but until then this is your team.”  He saluted.  “Desna have pity on you all.  Dismissed until first light when we march out.”

Dismissed, the new recruits shuffled off to mess before settling in to pack their gear and get ready for their journey.
Otso

Otso, the samsaran, watched the his squad mates depart with a cool detachment before slipping back to the barracks. He spread his last orchid flower petals on the floor and lit a stick of incense, then kneeling before his bunk, he prayed to Morrit the Piper, Lord of the Dead to protect them on their journey or else return them to the Wheel for rebirth without the taint of undeath.

He quietly focused on his breathing, trying to call up a memory of his before-lives, but his mind remained blank.  Smoothing his tunic with his thin blue hands, Otso smashed out the incense and gathered the flowers.

Opening the windows to the barracks, he let the flowers drift off in the spring winds.  “Well, time to eat.”

***

The 16th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the northwestern section of the city of Cymru

The next morning, up before dawn, Hal Saldana’s squad of Warden’s stood by the last wagon of the caravan.  A few minutes earlier, the paladin had led them here and told them that the Wardens had assigned this squad guard the rear of the caravan.  “It’s because I’m human,” he spoke bluntly.  “They’d prefer my squad in the back.  Less reliable, the Colonel said.”  He spat.  “I will be guarding the center wagons with the other paladins.”

He examined the squad.  “Dinty, I leave you in charge.   That means making sure everyone stays together, and if we are attacked try to keep everyone alive.”  He pointed at the shmkia.  “Goreal, you are too big for the wagon, so you will have to walk.  The rest of you can walk or ride.”  He nodded and looked at the sun, “Let’s hope the gods don’t decide to have fun with us today.”

Dinty saluted Saldana and then turned back to his squad.  “Right, you lot heard the man and by Holy Desna we’ll watch the rear like no other! Watch your backs, watch your squadies backs and above all else be wary of any four legged creatures we might encounter. They're all in on it!”  Otso frowned at the comments on four legged creatures.  “ Edwina you're with me. Goreal you stay 10 paces back as a rear rear guard and the samsaran can ride the wagon.”  Dinty skill Teamster at 10.   Roll 3d6.  Result 6.  Dinty skill Tactics at 10.  Roll 10

The samsaran climbed into the back of the wagon and stowed his pack and staff. “I am called Otso.” It was soon obvious to him that Dinty had worked caravans before as he expertly organized the wagon and the draft horses then positioned his team for defense.
Goreal

Goreal, wanting to add to the conversation, mumble his replies.  Being ten paces back, he realizes he’d have to raise his voice loudly for anyone to hear.  “That’ Dinty’s a little bossy,” he said, “but he seems to know what he’s doing.”

The samsaran sat among the bags of food and other supplies.  He watched the sky brighten as they traveled beyond the western gate. “The gulls have not arrived yet from the north,” he told Dinty.  “I can not recall a time in all my lives, when the gulls had not already come to Cymru this month of the year.”  Otso shook his head and watched the shmkia trying to listen and stay back.  “This summer will be unlike any other.  Cold and wetter in Cymru.  Who knows what it will be like in the village where we will be stationed.” Otso, Racial Memories - IQ 13, roll 11.  Skill Naturalist 13, roll 13

“I don’t know what birds have to do with anything,” Dinty replied surprised.  “I don’t think they're in on it.” He waved his hand toward Otso. “I try not to think about things I don’t understand.  Gawds, don’t give me a headhurt or you’ll get first watch at camp tonight.”

As if summoned, a shadow darkens the wagon as a winged creature flew overhead, silhouetted against the sun for just a moment. There was a whoosh, almost silent, as the creature’s wings beat against the sky, and then plummeted soundlessly toward the earth, it’s shadow widened on one of the goats being herded behind the wagon. As the creature rapidly draws closer, it shrieked a cry that is equal parts raptor and man.

As the creature fell, it came into clearer view. Roughly the shape of a man, but with huge feathered wings that opened to slow its descent, it spun at the last minute. Bringing its feet down toward the ground, huge black talons sprouted from clawed feet adorned with golden feathers. Brawling at 13 - Roll 9

The goat slammed against the ground, and the talons dug into its flesh, sending rivulets of blood streaming down the animal’s sides. It bleated, answering the beast’s shriek with a cry that was likewise almost human. The predator landed with a crouch atop its prey, then stood to its full height, easily a head taller than an average human.  A pair of huge yellow eyes took in the surroundings before its wings beat the air again; it rose.

Dinty and Goreal both have Combat Reflexes and made their Perception rolls against the surprise. Otso also reacted.  Everyone else was surprised this round.

Dinty shot a withering glare at Otso. “You brought this on us.” He pulled his crossbow and aimed it at the interloping avian terror. Calmly taking stock he said, “We’ll gladly exchange food for services. Far be it for me to prevent the death of a four leg, but you should know that if you steal our food not only do you break the law of Cymru. You also open yourself up to being its replacement in our stockpile. Licking his lips he looks pointedly at Goreal who is behind the raptor. What do you have to say fer yerself?”

Goreal moved menacingly towards the birdman, responding to Dinty's glance.  He prepared to strike or grapple and keep the thief from flying away.

The creature had startled the horses drawing the wagon, and the driver struggled to keep them in check. Otso scrambled toward him to lend a hand.

The Garuda eyed Dinty and his crossbow, then his talons reflexively tightened around the goat. However, his wings began to patter a little faster, and he slowly descended toward the ground. The goat, still alive, bleated in pain.  Something like confusion came over the creature’s avian face, but it made no move toward the long pole-arm strapped to its back, nor toward the roped harpoon looped around its belt. Finally, the bird-man spoke in a strangely accented Dwarvish.

“You would feed Nikala? You would bring a great dishonor to you and your family,” the Garuda said, folding his wings across his back completely.

Goreal watched for Dinty's command and wondered: "Why would the bird-man would kill the goat, if eating it will cause others dishonor?"

Dinty said. “I don't know nor care about all that honor and foolishness. I know that we could use a good pair of eyes to help us watch for danger and another sword arm never hurt the cause neither. If it makes you feel better we could let the bastard loose before you stole it.”

Nikala looked around, eyeing those who’ve stopped in their tracks at his intrusion. “This one is Nikala. This one will take your food and give you eyes. Yes. You have no honor, but neither has Nikala.”

The wagon driver driver with Otso’s aid steadied the horses.  Edwina, standing beside Dinty stared surprised at Nikala until finally she realized she had been staring.
Paladin Hal Saldana

From in front of the wagons, came yelling as the dwarf Warden Commander Angus Gravefury and paladin Hal Saldana approached the scene with guards in tow.  “Is this the thief that’s been raiding livestock?  Where are the nets?”  Hal Saldana raised his hand.  “A moment, Angus.”

Approaching the group, he paused.  Saldana stood over six feet tall.  Dressed simply in a common clothing and chainmail, only his symbol of Desna marked him as more than a mere soldier.  “Dinty, what is going on here?”  Eyeing the Garuda, “Any reason you flew into an armed caravan and killed a goat?”

Dinty mocked. “This one is Nikala. This is our new scout, he's taken my offer of food in return for keeping us aware of what might be creeping up on us. It's up to yerselves of course but I think we could use some eyes in the sky. Plus he looks like he could fell a horse in one blow!

Nikala eyed Saldana, regarding him with caution. “Nikala has no honor. Nikala must hunt. The brood no longer has need of us or our bloodlines.” Then, turning to Dinty, he says “Nikala does not like horse. Too much is wasted. Too many eyes to Nikala, make it hard to hunt.”

Dinty slapped his leg. “Do ya hear that cap’n he don't like horses neither! We definitely need him now.”

Hal stood for a moment then looked behind at the angry dwarf, Angus.  “Dinty, the godsdamn dwarves would as soon hang him as recruit him.”  Hal watched the garuda thoughtfully. Loudly he called,  “And you Nikala, you admit to stealing livestock?”

The paladin looked from the dwarves to Dinty.  What a day, he thought. “Ok. Nikala.  Do you accept the offer of pardon I, by way off the impertinent yet ever resourceful goblin Dinty, offer you?”  He stopped and started at the garuda. “Swearing, on whatever gods or honor you believe, your loyalty to the Cymru Wardens, to fight in defense of the people of the villages, the roads, the towns, etc, and also to stop killing their damn animals?”  Hal spat.

Nikala turns his eyes to the goat beneath him. It has bled out while the conversation continued. “I cannot bring this one back.” He catches himself. “No stealing. Only hunting. Only thought hunting was especially good around the stone ground nest. Sometimes, hunting is best close to the nest.”

Otso, the samsaran, walked closer.  “I’m afraid it is correct, Commander.   The goat is dead.”  Nearby, Edwina suppressed a snicker.

One of the dwarf commanders stepped forward.   “I dunno like this one bit,” he said, his voice thick with the accent of the eastern Caers.  “You want a bird to swear?”  Angus laughed.  “”Why not you’ve already got a bear?"  And pointed to Goreal who looked up at the mention of his name and gave a big toothy grin.

“Yes, Nikala will swear. Nikala has no honor but does not wish to be dishonorable.” The Garuda straightened, appearing strangely excited, youthful. “Nikala will bring you eyes. And bring you his blade. Nikala will bring you the sky for your kindnesses.”

Hal nodded. “Welcome to the Cymru Wardens, Nikala.”  He took his butterfly pendant and said a brief prayer.  “With us you will defend the roads, the villages, the towns, the people.”  He thought for a moment.  “And the livestock, from bandits, soldiers, monsters from beyond, and your run-of-the-mill goat-eater.”  He turned to Dinty.  “Show this one the ropes.  Best case we get it to the frontier where we can get him fully settled.”  He turned to the caravan.  “We’d best be on our way.”

Dinty laughed. “Right you are cap’n! All right you lot, back to it! Don't act like you've never seen a samsaran summon a birdman afore!"

Goreal interjected quietly “I have not”.

Dity waved the bear off.  "And you Nikala, time to start earning your keep.”

That night the caravan stopped at a waystation.  Camp was made.  Food was eaten.  Watches set.

Being used to a soldier's life, Dinty does what he always does. He says his prayers, sharpens his weapons and keeps a close eye from a sensible distance on the caravan horses. He makes his rounds and makes sure the others are doing their jobs. When he gets a chance he will extol upon Nikala the evils of horses and revel in Nikala’s “shared hatred” which he assumed was Nikala’s meaning when he said he "didn't like horses.”

***

The 17th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: on the road west of Cymru

The next morning they packed and moved on to the village of Hygom.  Everyone seemed in better spirits after a night's rest and a full belly.  As the caravan took to the road, the samsaran took his staff and set pace with the shmkia.  Despite camping in an old tent beside a dusty waystation, Otso’s clothes looked neat and his white beard groomed.  He carried a hunk of dried beef, which he cut in half, the offered part to Goreal.  “Good morning to you, shmkia.  We haven’t had much chance to talk.  I am Otso.”

Goreal took the dried beef, which looked small in his giant hand, and ate it in one bite.   He grinned at Otso, “It is a good morning; Atgur blesses us with his presence!”  Goreal looked to the skies while shading his eyes.

Otso laughed as he picked out the shmkia’s words over the chewing.  “Atgur?  Our sun in the Old Tongue.”  He smiled calmly.  “Do your people revere Atgur?” he asked.

“Atgur protects all, Atgur will be there for us whether we show reverence or not.”  Goreal says with a smile and a nod.

Otso watched the large bear-like creature thoughtfully and debating for a short moment patting its arm in understanding.  “The gods are like that.  And yet, what does Atgur ask of you?  For myself, Morrit the Piper asks us to contemplate the Wheel and the return we will surely face.” Glancing at the early morning sun, he continued. “Many of his followers hunt the undead and the necromancer as Wheel-breakers, but the Lord of the Dead has many faces.” Otso paused.

Goreal said. “Atgur asks for nothing.  We follow Atgur’s example, to show our gratitude for the protection Atgur provides our world.”

“I see.  You revere Atgur, yet he demands nothing of you.”  Otso laughed. “Perhaps, I should have followed Atgur instead.   Morrit can be exacting.”  The samsaran watched the cypresses sway in the cool spring air.   “What does Atgur tells us about the chill this year?”

Goreal looked a little confused, “Atgur is not a god of words, Atgur is a god of action.  Atgur fights the cold and dark, no matter how long it may take, victory will come. Does Morrit share the secrets of the gods with his followers?” Goreal eyes grew wider at the prospect of this.

Otso considered the question.  “He does through his teachings, his priests, dreams and visions to his followers.  As Atgur warms the earth and dispels the night,  Morrit teaches us about the Wheel and our place in it.”  He stopped and drew a circle with spokes in the dirt with his staff.  “We are born, we live, we die, we travel to the place beyond and await rebirth.  Morrit protects our travel after death and struggles against the curse of undeath.”  Otso continued walking.  “We priests of Morrit lay the dead to rest.  Other times we heal the sick and injured.  Sometimes we return some to the Wheel when it is clear they are too quickly embracing Chaos.”  He sped up a bit to catch the wagon and keep up with Goreal’s long strides.

Goreal spent the rest of their conversation pondering if slowly embracing Chaos was somehow better.  He worried that asking about this might look stupid.

***

When they stopped at midday to rest, the paladin Hal Saldana returned to the rear wagon to check on his troops.  Nodding to Edwina, who sat idly on the edge of the wagon eating a pear, he went looking for the garuda.  The girl watched him go, licking her fingers of pear juice.  She glanced at the olive trees nearby.

Beneath them sat the Garuda, kneeling on the grass and dirt, his wingtips dragging patterns in the dust. As Edwina watched, the Garuda looked to the sky, reaching out with another hand to pick something off the ground. As Nikala lifted it, Edwina realized it was a rabbit, likely something the Garuda had drummed up on the hunt he’d presumably left on at the crack of dawn, returning before most of the camp, save for the last watch, had awoken.

The Garuda never took his eyes off the sky, but held the rabbit above his head. The blood had long since dried to clots in the rabbit’s fur, like Nikala had saved the animal for this occasion. Looking back down, there was a rending sound, and Nikala stood again. He was, she realized, tearing the creature apart with his hands and beak, but he consumed none of it’s flesh. Instead, he scattered the animal around, tearing it apart joint by joint.

From a nearby olive tree, a raven squawked, then glided to where Nikala was finishing this grisly task. The raven began to hop around the ground, picking at choice morsels here and there, seemingly inattentive to the other birds that began to launch themselves out of the trees to partake of this feast as well. There was a cacophony erupting in the olive grove as ravens and other birds walked the ground around Nikala, who kneeled amongst them with his head down for a moment, then stood again, walking away from the buffet he’d created for his smaller cousins.

Hal approached the olive grove, fighting a feeling of disgust.  Desna counsels us to judge only those who consort with Horrors, he thought, not to judge those whose ways are not our own.  He glanced at Edwina, who now looking ill, tossed her pear away.

Approaching the garuda, he called.  “Nikala, I want to talk.”

The garuda shifted his head, showing Hal the side, one giant yellow eye focusing on him, the pupil large, but narrowing in Hal’s direction. “Yes,” Nikala said. “I have many words for you. Ask me which ones to say to you.”

Hal took a deep breath.  “You agreed, when talking with Dinty, in joining us, but I wanted to see if you knew what you were joining.  We are the Cymru Wardens:  new group formed because frankly most of the soldiers and guards have been shipped south to fight the Horrors.”  He turned to observe the dwarf commanders.  Not yet time to go, he thought.  “You said you had no honor.  Why is that?”

Nikala blinked that huge yellow eye. “No nikala has honor. We are cast out of the nest.” He breaths a sharp puff of air, something that might be a forlorn sigh. “We..I fight for my brood’s mother, for her to be Matriarch after Matriarch died. She is defeated, and now her children are all nikala. Our honor is lost, our right to the blood of the nest, gone. We must go, or face death.”

“I’m not sure I completely understand,” Hal told him.  “You have no honor?   What will you swear by then?  Your gods?  Your family?”  He paused.  “The Wardens are new enough we have no set traditions.”  He glanced at the Nikala and looked again at the pieces of rabbit.

The eye stared, unwavering, though after a long moment, it blinked. “Nikala will still swear to the gods. Swear to Great Brood Hen. Wise Night Flier.” Finally, the garuda breaks his gaze, sweeping an arm around the olive grove. “The One Who Eats Death, I have just made offerings to him. I would swear to him. Or to the Watcher, who watches over the Cousins, who watches over all nikala.” He touched the long pole arm strapped to his back, the blade glinting menacingly as he followed up with a strange hand motion. “The Hunter, who gives us bounty and keeps the ground creatures safe until harvest.”

He fixed his gaze on Saldana again. “Swear to all of them, or the ones Hal Saldana chooses with his words.”

Hal thought for a moment watching carefully.  “Swear to defend those who need your strength and to your duty as directed by your superiors in the Wardens so long as as such orders uphold the common good.”  He coughed.  “By what gods you revere, by your life and blood, and by your weapon.” Hal spit in the dirt.

“Yes. Swear to all my gods. Defend those who have need of Nikala’s strength. Swear to act with honor, though I have none, and to listen to your brood’s leaders. Swear to uphold the common good. By my gods, my life, my blood, and my weapon.”

Hal saluted Nikala.  “Good.  As a Warden Commander, I declare any and all crimes you may have committed against the Republic of Cymru to have been pardoned.  Welcome to the Wardens, Private Nikala.”  He began to turn and stopped.  “When the time comes to face whatever fickle Fate has chosen for us, may we all do so unwavering and clear-eyed.”

***

Still feeling ill from watching the bird-man destroy the rabbit, Edwina climbed down from the wagon and decided to find Dinty.  Walking beside the other wagons and squads, she stopped suddenly when someone called her name.

Dinty spied her by the wagons and called. "Awh Ed, how are you enjoying your first caravan? Keeping a safe distance from the evil in our midst I hope."

Looking around nervously, Edwina replied.  “Umm, what evil, Dinty?  Is there something I should know.”

Dinty laughed. "No, no… (under his breath) she doesn't know, shouldn't scare her. ( Louder) Oh no, nothing at all, just discussing the weather and what not. It's an unnatural cold and there's no birds. That's what Otso told me! But don't fear you have the paladin's and the faithful followers of Desna at your side to help ward it off!"

She smiled with relief.  “I’ve always thought it strange you have been a soldier instead of a wild goblin, Dinty.”  Surprised by her words, she continued.  “And a follower of Desna.  How does a goblin do that?”   She leaned against the wagon and watched Dinty.

Several humans, a gnome, Galna, and a dwarf, Quintin,  sat near their wagon and became agitated at the sight of Dinty and Edwina talking so close to their wagon.  Finally, the dwarf called to them.  “Look you two.  Watch what yer doin’ wit our wagon," he drawled in an Eastern accent.

Dinty smiled at Edwina. "Nothing to worry about good saer, I'm watching it sit there and she lean against. I'm good at watching things, that's why I'm a warden! You'll never have to fear of things not being watched with swarthy wardens such as myself around! Why … whoa, hold on… oh nevermind I thought that this tiny lass moved your wagon a hair but rest assured she did no such thing. You're welcome for my observance of the situation. Now my companion and I must go over there and watch other things."  With an exasperated sigh, Dinty motioned for Edwina to follow muttering under his breath about not needing more things to watch.

Edwina followed Dinty across the clearing.  “You handled them pretty good.  I guess you got that from soldiering so long?”

Dinty shrugged. "Some, but mostly growing up in the temple of Desna taught me that words will get you out of many perils when you are my size. Wild gobo rely on their numbers to win the day. I must rely on my head and alliances with bears and ogres and bugbears and really anything on two legs that is really big...Bird people..."

Edwina smiled.  “And human girls, too.” The sound of shouting could be heard around the wagons.  “There’s the sign to march.  Guess we’d better get back.”

The story continues with Fragments of the Last War 2.2 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part II, The Trial.

***

We've been using Google Docs for the PBP.  A good start but some kinks to work out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.0 - Volume Two: MI-18

September 1915 to June 1916 - The United Kingdom
Dr. John Watson

Following their return from Paris, the Lamplighters, working with Doctor John Watson, began transitioning their organization to the Directorate of Military Intelligence,   While MI-18 would be part of the greater intelligence network, few were to know the true nature of their work.  Since the current cadre along with Dr. Watson were the senior members of the new organization, they sat down to identify the mission of MI-18.

 1.  Much like their predecessors, the group felt that defending the United Kingdom and the World from malevolent monstrous creatures and those who would use said creatures or lore to cause harm to humanity was the primary goal of MI 18.
  • They were still uncertain as to whether the rat-faced creatures represented a hostile threat.  
  • To this end, MI 18 purchased Merriweather's land near Recluver Kent, and has begun the setup of a building in place of the the old house where preparations can be made to enter the caves.  
  • Watson is looking for soldiers who can deal with what will find and then train them in the usage of flamethrowers.  
  • Bertrand spent time at his house in Shropshire understanding and eventually communicating with the Sword of Paracelus.   He soon began calling it the Sword of Fenrir, who despite "false propaganda" was an enemy of the aetheric Horrors. This marked the first usage of the phrase aetheric for the current Lamplighters.  
  • They worried about Bertrand Merriweather's mental health, but Allard and Doctor McKinley weren't much better.

2. With David Watson incapacitated, much of the history, artifacts, and libraries of the Lamplighters could not be found, leaving them with many questions about the secret history of England and those who defended it.
  • They identified the search for artifacts, books of lore, crystal-tech, and the histories and treasures of the Lamplighters as one of the major goals of MI-18.  
  • Allard Vick has helped set up the beginnings of a Library and Basement storage for non-dangerous artifacts at the new headquarters. 
  • When Dr. McKinley is not using it, he stores Der Gerbrachen Tram here.  
  • Lady Margaret Jameson, recruited to MI-18 by Reginald Smythe III, oversees the library and artifacts as Alaard is mostly in Oxford unless in the field.  
  • Lady Margaret also began studying the book, the Magnus, which Smythe bought for her at the Paris auction, and is learning Enochian and Dee's ceremonial magic.
  • Also, Jameson and Smythe began seeing each other socially and are courting.
Lady Margaret Jameson

3. Doctor Thomas McKinley and Alaard Vick both felt MI-18 needed research labs, and Alaard found an abandoned 19th century coal power plant near the house he and his daughter share.
  • Vick is a librarian at Oxford College, and because he revealed much of what he learned to his daughter, then tasked her with research, Dr. Watson found it necessary to bring her in.  The daughter is only a Dependent at this time, so she doesn't operate like an Ally for Alaard.
  • Alaard chose a building for his research with the ankh he purchased in Paris.  Contacting it in a meditative state, the ankh told him it was a servant of Isis and could teach him Kemetic magic. Alaard routinely has his mind filled with visions of the past and has even come to believe he might be a reincarnation of a god or pharaoh.  
  • I built a symbol magic system (with severe minuses) that relies on Thaumatology, Symbol Writing (Kemetic), Ritual Magic (Kemetic).  This permitted Alaard to begin learning symbols - thus far he knows Create and Protection as VH skills capped at the lowest of the previous skills.  He also takes a -5 to the rolls, but that can be reduced to a -4 if an hour is spent meditating before hand. (Meditate skill)
  • He then draws - failure makes the process take longer and a critical failure means he starts over - the symbol on something and activates it later.  The margin of success determines the Damage Resistance.  I am thinking he could receive either bonuses to his roll or to results if he used an additional skill like Calligraphy or even metal working for a longer affect.   
  • The ankh promises to teach him more, but we have already seen some strain on Alaard's mind.
  • Also, McKinley and his research biologist friend at Cambridge identified the blue spore and fungus as being ingenious to Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.
  • The doctor took over one warehouse of the research facility to grow his own fungi (including those he'd found in medieval France) under laboratory condition.   He noticed odd behaviors among the rats he injected with the blue spores, including their eyes turning blue.
  • McKinley also found, from his readings in Der Gerbrachen Tram, that smoking the spores and meditating could generate the dreamlike states he'd experienced before where he could share thoughts with this fellow Lamplighters even if they were hundreds of miles away.  He had a much harder time with one he didn't know.
  • His experiments with the blue spore, meditation, dreaming, and Der Gerbrachen Tram led him to a vision of the past in which Sherlock Holmes, Reginald Smythe II, Tali's father, and several others were in a glen in England rushing toward a wagon all while avoiding a giant anthropomorphic plant that sliced people in half with its scythe hand.  When the opened the wagon door and saw a man with no skin and no eyes sitting in a chair - very alive - McKinley woke screaming.  
  •  McKinley learned a Precognition advantage called Dream Visions and a linked Mind Reading and Telecommunications advantage called Dream Share.  They only work when he (and if he has a target) is/are dreaming.

4. Smythe and Ponzi felt that one of MI 18's important roles was to Gatekeep information regarding what they are currently calling the Unnatural.
  •  As such, they argued that much information needed to kept from the public.
  • Also, that those who possess such knowledge must be recruited or dealt with by violence, threats, bribes, etc. depending on the person.
  • Beyond, Alaard's project to examine libraries, Ponzi argued the need for a newspaper clippings office to look for any odd stories they needed to investigate.
  • Both Smythe and Ponzi mentioned they would use their different social networks (the elite and the criminal classes) to monitor anything outside the papers or police.
  • Dr. Thomas McKinley
  • Both spent time networking in their social circles.

5. Finally, Watson and Smythe - in agreement - reminded the team that as supporters of the English Crown (whether by birth in the case of Smythe, McKinley, and Merriwether or by adoption in the case of Vick (perhaps reluctantly) and Ponzi.) they had a duty to provide England with a Technological Advantage over their Enemies, current (the Central Powers), and possibly future (everyone else.)
  • They were particularly interested in finding more of the clockwork/crystal tech and hopefully replicating it.  
  • They were also interested in portal technology that could lead them to other worlds or times with technology they could use.