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Author Topic: [Actual Play] The Smith Apocalypse  (Read 8344 times)
Keith Senkowski
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On A Downward Spiral...


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« on: May 29, 2006, 04:57:59 PM »

First off, all the pieces of this puzzle can be seen here.  This is versions of the various worksheets I use for the game, which are all a part of Conspiracy of Shadows: Apocalypse, which I hope is done by GenCon at the latest.

It began with Apocalypse creation.  I asked questions, the players answered them.  We negotiated on points so that everyone got to introduce something they thought was hot.  It worked swimmingly, and the fruits of that labor can be seen here.

Apocalypse creation has two parts, the framework, which encompasses the who, what, when, where and why of the whole game, and the meat, which is the mechanics of this type of game.  Without explaining everything that is in the text of Apocalypse, let me skim the neat shit in the mechanics.

The first thing we did is to create order the Thresholds, which are pre-made turning points in the narrative we are working on.  As you can see in the link above, they are pretty loose, and that is by design.  The idea is for them to be markers to look forward to, and not set in stone events.

Once we negotiated through that process, which allowed us to refine the ideas everyone had in their heads based on the negotiation of the framework, we set the pacing.  The goal is to play through this in around 7 to ten sessions total, so we can then pick up Burning Empires post GenCon and jump into some sci-fi, well apocalypse.  We opted for a sort of downward spiral, with lots of room to work in the beginning, with no time towards the end. 

This pacing, in game play, is controlled by the Players (as you will see in my next post on the subject) and their use of Destiny and Doom, but these actions are prompted by how hard I as the Game Master will push them.  If I feel there is a need to slow things down a bit, I simply pull back on the reigns and stop pushing so hard, forcing their hands.

Once we had the Apocalypse well in hand, we dove on into creating the Cell.  Lots more negotiation of what people where interested in playing.  The Framework of the Apocalypse worked in our favor, as it gave everyone a place to fit their characters.

There was only one problem though.  One of the Players, Neil, ran into trouble with the character Trigger.  He felt that creating a Trigger before the creation of the Conspiracy was hard.  I'm sure he will comment on it, on his own.  I tried to explain it this way.  We don't need to know that a Conspiracy exists to know Mulder (ala X-Files) was Triggered by the abduction of his sister.

Once they were done, and I had copies of their characters, I proceeded to create my Series Bible.  The first thing I did was write up my Marker's sheet, which is a sheet with my notes of what is important to the Players about their characters.  For example, I wrote down about Phil's character, Santiago, Hatred of Narrlachi - Racist!.  It doesn't say racist on his character sheet, but it was obvious and came out in play.  This sheet is crazy important as it lets you keep tabs on what is important so you push the right buttons for the right Players.

After the Marker sheet I created the NPC relationship sheet.  At first I just gave names to the people mentioned in our Apocalypse creation process and put it aside to work on the Conspiracy and Issues Web, which is a relationship map that splits everyone into three categories, Society, The Cell, and The Conspiracy.  I put these together almost at the same time, jumping from one to the other as ideas grew and as I kept going back to the  Marker sheet.  Once I was done with these, all I had left to do was plan out my first episode...  which I completely neglected, but I will touch on that when I talk about the first session in my next post here.  In the mean time, take a look at the NPC Markers, The Conspiracy, and the Issues Web and post any questions of comments you have about the prep process (which takes one session, plus about an hour of my own time).

I expect to post about the first play session tomorrow and to touch on what we sorted out mechanically, what I think I did right, and what I think I did wrong.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2006, 10:00:55 AM by Keith Senkowski » Logged

Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Keith Senkowski
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Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2006, 09:49:50 AM »

I'm not going to get into the specifics of what happened in the fiction/color.  Neil writes a mean story hour, which he will post here when he is done, so there is no reason for me to hit that shit.  Instead let me touch on some mechanical stuff, what I think I did right as a GM and what I think I did wrong...

What I Did Wrong
I didn't prepare an opening episode.  Not beats/bangs pre-generated on my part.  No sense of where we where going to go.  It was a combination of laziness and being busy with other shit.  The end result was that we suffered from the starting up a new game shakiness for like the first hour or so.  It took far longer than I would have liked to get things firing all at once.

In a related issue, I focused too much on one Player's Markers (Phil).  It happened kinda organically, but I should have been more aware of the goal of a first episode, push everyone's markers about equally.

Solution: Easy enough to fix of course.  I need to have some pre-planned Beats/Bangs for those slow moments that always happen at the beginning of a session.  This is all in Conspiracy of Shadows and expanded on in Apocalypse.

Information overload on my part.  I needed visual aids or something.  The problem with a Conspiracy game is that there are lots of people with lots of different agendas.  I can keep track of them for myself and know who does what and why (for the most part at least).  The Players on the other hand need a cheat sheet for all the people introduced. 

Solution: I'm working up a cheat sheet for the Players.  The idea is that the GM pre-populates the fucker (X is the Ruler of Y), draws any relationship map lines between people, and gives it to the Players (likely the one most apt to record this kinda shit).

Other than that I can't think of much else I fucked up.

What I Did Right
Staying Open: Their Kicker was kinda weak.  A Chase Scene.  No reason why or what and shit, and before we started up they didn't have any answers.  So fine.  I made sure the hunters where vague enough to be taken any way we needed, and everything worked out fine.  The key for me was to just create "doors" interesting for each Player to want to open.

Pushed Hard: I came into this session with the mindset that I was going to push them all hard.  I ended up pushing one Player the most (Phil), but they all got a share.  I pulled no punches in the opening Chase Scene.  I had the hard ass get in Rodrigo's face cause I knew it would fire up Oscar.  I was ruthless in my interrogation of Santiago (Phil's character).  My only misstep was I didn't push Neil directly.

Pacing: In Apocalypse the Players control the pace of the Apocalypse, but the Game Master is still responsible for the pacing of the game session.  Even without the Beats/Bangs I think I did a fair job of pacing the session.  It wasn't super tight, but I tried to break up the action, give them time to negotiate among themselves, but not too much time.  I paused to slow stuff down and tried to keep the Chase Scenes and conflicts tense.  Of course, the boys may have their own thoughts on this.

Mechanics Notes:
Chase Scenes: These worked really well, I thought.  There is something nice about having the players seem to want to flip the next card and hope that there are no hazards.  What is also good is that it provided me with the clarifications I need to add to the text.  Also, I noticed that I don't need to stack the deck as it where on the side of the Hunter.  The rule that all the Hunted roll dice, and the lowest score is the one used for the conflict works brilliantly.  Gotta love playtesting.

Doom and the Apocalypse:  I think we may have a record.  Doom was used in like the first 15 minutes during the Group Kicker.  They where way ahead in the Chase, but got caught anyway, and where forced to use Doom to get away.  It was awesome, but the whole process brought up two things with Apocalypse:
  • Doom use, because it is so important, should move the Intensity up two slots instead of just one (which is what Destiny does in the system).
  • There really only needs to be one Intensity Description/Narration per game session/episode.  More than one will slow down play as people try to think of something.

That's all I can think of right now.  If you got any questions or comments post 'em up...
« Last Edit: May 30, 2006, 09:51:28 AM by Keith Senkowski » Logged

Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2006, 04:14:18 PM »

“Since days long past, the children of Azani, later called the Voru, have separated their spiritual lives from their daily chores.  As such, a man may have two social standings- one that is based upon his trade and a second which represents his religious station.  A laborer in the city market may preside over a Vorish community as their spiritual leader, or shaman.  This separation is aided by the wearing of masks during religious or spiritual activities, preventing the wearer from being identified.  The Scions of Voru, a secret society in Borva, have adapted this ancient tradition of mask wearing in their war against the Narrlachi.”      

---from the annals of The Cup Knights, Florenta Castle



THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH
Their ears were filled with the sounds of their own breathing and the slap of their footfalls on ancient stone.  They raced passed shattered doorways yawning into darkness and tombs that disgorged their contents into what had once been streets.  All around them the catacombs seemed alive with the sounds of their flight.  The coded message from The First Son of Voru had been simple; the meeting place clear.  Through their masks, they labored to suck fresh air into their lungs.  They cascaded into a corner too sharp to navigate and rebounded.  Ahead of them, the narrow alley rejoined the street and the ceiling opened into the distant darkness above.  Somewhere behind them, dogs barked, men shouted, mail clinked, and the torches seemed to grow closer.  How could they have found this place?

The pudgy figure known as The Bird, stumbled across a pile of loose stone and fell.  He skidded to a stop among refuse and bones, scrambling to regain his feet.  The Boar’s arms coursed with strength as he all but tossed his struggling companion into the front of the group.  They slowed for only a moment but it was all the time their hunters needed.  Fresh shouts in broken Vorish came from behind and the torchlight moved with renewed purpose.  

They passed into a market square, its fountain long since ruined and crumbling.  There were no turns to make; no way to hide the torch which they so desperately needed.  Without it, there was no light in the vast undercity beneath Borva but with it, they could not hide.  Their throats burned with the hot, dust-filled air as the torches moved ever closer.  Hunted and hunter passed through the square, the distance between them narrowing with each step.  Soon, the torches shed light across the features of the men which held them.  The clink of the dogs’ chains echoed in the wake of footfalls.

The Boar glanced over his shoulder in time to see one of the pursuers catch his arm on an outcropping of stone.  The torch fell from his grasp, burning one of the dogs and inciting the others to riot.  The Boar did not have time to watch the outcome.  Behind him, the others did not wait for their kennel master.  They charged on, leaving him to deal with his hounds.  

With The Bird at their lead, the three men hesitated at the next junction and in that moment, they were caught.  A hand came out of the darkness to clasp the robed shoulder of The Birch.  The masked man turned and slashed wildly with his dagger, meeting an Omeronish face laced with pain.  

Blood flowed and the dogs, coming from behind, bowled into the legs of their companions to reach the source.  Pursuer and prey were knocked into one another with the dogs running among them, trailing their chains.  A sharp pain shot through the hand of The Birch and he kicked his way free of one of the beasts.  The Omeronish men suddenly found themselves forced to fight off their own mongrels as their prey fled into the darkness.

The three men threaded their way through the catacombs.  To an outsider, their path seemed like a random series of twists and turns.  They clambered through the remains of windows, and ducked low to disappear into tunnels that passed between streets. Somewhere, in what once might have been a cellar, they stopped and closed the door that had been recently re-hung.  Scattered throughout the catacombs, the Scions of Voru had refurbished a number of safe rooms.  The installation of a door, and rags stuffed beneath it, allowed for the use of light without alerting other passerby – which included slavers, smugglers, and a small community of Vors in hiding.  

The Birch tended to his wounded hand as best as possible and after waiting for a time, the three men ventured back out into the undercity once again.  From the safe room, they made their way directly to an exit which would deposit them in the market district of the Borva.  From there, they contacted the other five members of their cell and retold the events of the evening as they moved.

“The Last Son summoned us to a meeting Below.”, the Boar’s voice was deep and earthy, “Not long after we arrived, men came with torches and dogs.  They chased us until their dogs made fools of them.”

The newly awakened men listened with awe to the Second Son of Voru.  His mask was nearly as old as Borva itself, cut from stout wood and fashioned in the long shape of a Boar’s head.  Two tusks sprouted from its lower half, the bone worn smooth with age and handling.  Smaller teeth rimmed its upper edge, allowing the wearer to use it as a weapon in close quarters.  

“Then the First Son may already be caught?”, one of the men ducked as the group re-entered the catacombs.

“Yes.”, the face of The Boar looked over his shoulder, “But we cannot abandon him.  We will return and ambush our pursuers.”

None knew the catacombs of Borva better then The Boar.  He picked his way across the forgotten streets, leading the group to the same intersection where they had stood not more then an hour ago.  This time, they had come prepared, using a hooded lantern and only a weak candle.  Down the passage, they saw the torches and heard the voices of their attackers.

The Birch motioned for silence as he strained his ears to hear their conversation, delivered in their native tongue.  At length, he backed around the corner to the rest of his companions.  His mask was oval, featureless and flat.  Where his nose would be, the body of a birch was carved into the wood.  Its branches and leaves widened just above his eyes and covered what would be his brow.  The white birch seemed to flicker in the candlelight as he whispered, “They wait for us because they will not be paid without our heads.  They are also speaking of an informer.”

Eyes twinkled and teeth ground at the mention of the word.  Within moments, The Birch had drawn a rudimentary ambush that would drive the pursuers into a flooded cistern nearby.  They would split into two groups of four and surprise the Omeronish men from the opposite direction of the well, pushing them in the desired direction.  They worked against the pressure of time, knowing that The First Son could arrive at any time and be ambushed.  When they were in place, the signal was given, three taps of a metal pommel against the stonework.  

Backlit by a torch sputtering to life, The Boar charged out of the darkness with a guttural growl.  Men scrambled and shouted, backpeddling as they tried to clear blades from belts.  A second group of men emerged from another hallway, driving the Omeronish into flight.  They fled down the long corridor, rounding the corner with a momentum that could not be stopped.  They plunged into the cistern, screaming with flailing arms.  Weapons were tossed into the darkness as hands reached for the lips of the cistern.  Four of the five men sunk immediately with the weight of their mail.  The fifth hung precariously to the lip of the cistern, thankful that he had worn only a leather jack.

Two pairs of hands hauled him up out of the water, and bound him.  The Birch motioned to the man’s surcoat - the long irised eye of the Orthodox Church, with whom the Scions of Voru were associated.  Men looked at one another in confusion.  They stowed their captive in a nearby room, took up positions in the hallways, and extinguished their torches.  Then they waited in darkness for the arrival of their leader.

Untold minutes passed and out of the inky air, came the double tap of a pommel on stone.  Light a torch and come to my sound.  The Boar did just that, finding one of his men carrying the unconscious form of Adriano ca Murego, the First Son of Voru.  They recalled the other men and adjourned to a nearby safe room.  Once a great cathedral, the vaulted ceilings stood tall into the darkness and gigantic murals covered the dusty floors.  It was the largest of their hideaways, its doors secured by a large wooden beam.  The Omeronish man was placed in one corner while The Birch tended to ca Murego.

“How did this happen?  Where did you find him?”, The Boar looked from his leader to his soldier.

“I heard a sound and I found him amongst some fallen stone.”

The Birch looked up from his patient, “The First Son of Voru does not stumble in the catacombs.  The wound is shallow.  He was struck and fell unconscious.”

“Hmm.”, The Bird made his way across the room, “Then let us get some answers from this sloppy Omeronish pig.”

His mask hid the upper half of his face.  Made of porcelain, it was dyed red, with a long, thin beak for a nose; bright feathers and small pieces of glittering glass adorned it.  The Rake, as he was sometimes called, had taken the festive mask in a twist of dark humor.  His lips peeled back in a snarl as he delivered a kick to the Omeronish man.  Another kick followed, and another.  The beating went on until the man flinched at the sight of movement and blood speckled the surrounding floor.  It was how The Bird had become The Rake.

“I think he’s ready to talk.”, the bird-masked man made a show of wiping his pudgy hands off.  

The Birch moved to the man’s side and removed his gag.  The hostage spit a mouthful of blood onto the richly tiled floor and heaved for air.

“Who hired you?”, the masked man’s voice was rich and calm.

“The Church.”

The Birch looked back over his shoulder as his companions, then back to the man, “Who within the Church?”

“The Sec…the Secretary.”, the man sputtered.

“Ah, and who expects your return?”

“We belong to the crew of the Fair Maiden.”

“And when do you set sail?”

“Three days..no, two.”

“Not you, my friend.”, the masked man restored the gag as the man’s eyes widened with protest.  The Birch walked back across the room where Adriano ca Murego was beginning to sit up.

“What…what has happened…why am I here?”

“We do not know.”, The Boar said, “We were ambushed.”

The other man rubbed his head but kept his mask in place.  It was a plain mask with the symbol of the Sky Father carved into its face, “I was as well.”

“Did you see who it was?”, The Birch asked.

“No.  They struck me from behind.”

“We captured one of their men.”, the tusked face motioned across the room, “He wears the surcoat of the Church and claims to have been paid by the Secretary.”

“Ah, yes.  The Secretary is no longer loyal to the Church, he is the tax collector’s creature now.  It is, in fact, what I came to discuss with you tonight.”

“How long have we known?”, the Second Son asked.

“Not long.  Iago the Bald owns the Secretary and he is, in turn, Vlaz Noyar’s man.”, ca Murego shifted his gaze to The Rake, “What can you tell me of Iago the Bald?  Surely you know of him.”

The Bird shrugged, “It is not of much interest.  His vice is women or so says his bookkeeper.”

“They mentioned an informer.”, The Birch said calmly.

“That is impossible.  Only the Archbishop, myself, and my-“, ca Murego froze, “personal guards know.”

All eight men suddenly stood still as the First Son of Voru struggled to his feet, “I left them to guard the entrance that I used- the Cathedral in Oldtown.”

The Boar looked up, “Bring them here.”

“No violence.  Do not insult them or raise their suspicions; Radek is likely to be wild if he is insulted.”

Three of The Boar’s soldiers nodded and left the cathedral.  When they returned, perhaps an hour later, two more men accompanied them.  The first was a Vor, lanky and with the shoulders of a laborer.  An unruly beard covered his chin and he wore his dark hair short.  In contrast, the other man’s hair hung in a red-blonde braid that ran to the small of his back.  A long drooping mustache covered his upper lip and fires burned in his eyes when he saw ca Murego.

“What has happened here?!”, Radek surged forward to the First Son of the Voru.

“An excellent question for the man assigned to protect him.”, The Boar said flatly.

The Cup-Knight-turned-resistance-fighter was on his feet in an instant, his face only inches from the boar-crafted mask, “I was following my orders.  You were the one he was meeting.”

“I wear the mask here, do not-”

“To your pagan gods, in your pagan undercity.  I am nobility, I need no mask.”

“And you are not Vor.”, the man with the mask of a tree said quietly.

“I swore an oath to protect this man.”, he gestured to ca Murego, “What oath have you sworn?  What have you done?  What binding words have you spoken, scholar?!”

“How was there anyone in the tunnels?”, The Boar drew Radek’s attention back to himself.

“None came by us.  This happened on your watch.  Where have you been?”

“That is where we have been.”, The Birch pointed to the man in the corner.

“Mercenaries.”, Radek spit.

“Do they look familiar Radek?”, the tusks of the mask almost touched the Cup Knight’s face.

The other man’s lips came back in a snarl, “If you would like to draw blades and settle this Boar, then let us do so.”

“That is the work of the informer.  They pit us against one another to no good end.”, The Birch shifted where he stood.

“Yes, everyone calm yourselves.  There will be no more bloodshed here tonight.”

The other guard fidgeted nervously as ca Murego interceded.

“Is something wrong Alfonso?”, asked The Birch.

“No, I am only…concerned for the First Son…and I…am nervous for his well-being.”

The featureless mask nodded in understanding.

“Let us go from this place and think upon what has happened.  Boar, this task falls to you.”, he gestured to walk away from the group, “Let us speak a moment.”

When they had walked the length of the room, he whispered quietly to his lieutenant, “I would start with Alfonso.  He has the most to gain.  Radek’s family has wealth and he himself, pride.  Neither of which Alfonso possesses.  Find the informant for me.”

The First Son of Voru spoke loudly again, “I suggest that we all leave by different exits.  Let no man be seen with another.  Go.”

And they did, all save The Boar and The Birch.  The creature said to the tree that Alfonso should be followed and the tree nodded in assent.
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2006, 04:17:01 PM »

THE BIRCH
Following at the edge of Alfonso’s torchlight, The Birch trailed the unsuspecting guard out of the catacombs.  The exit led to an abandoned basement in the waterfront district where The Birch shed his mask to become Sylvani ca Lucien.  Sylvani ca Lucien was a scholar and a talented linguist, paid by the Narrlachi to educate their brethren in the language and lore of their lessers.  

Sylvani slid from shadow to shadow, following in Alfonso’s wake.  Up one street, across another; closer and closer to Alfonso’s home until he turned and headed into a tavern.  Sylvani waited for some time before slipping in after him.  At the bar, Alfonso stood next to another Vorish man.  The two men spoke for some time and then the stranger left.  Sylvani left with him.

It was some time before the shadow-scholar realized that he had been led around the same district by his prey not once, but twice in circuitous routes.  When next he rounded the corner, the other man had vanished.  Defeated, Sylvani returned to the tavern to find that Alfonso had already departed.

THE BIRD
Down amongst the tanners, dyers, and slaughterhouses, there was a small shop that specialized in trade goods.  Its proprietor was a pudgy Vor named Santiago whose friendly demeanor and sense of humor endeared him to many of his customers.  And like many shops, it had a back room that was not for everyone’s viewing.  It was in this room, that four suits of mail and four matching blades were stored.  It had taken some work for The Rake to retrieve his prizes from the cistern, but he had persevered.  

It was as Santiago re-emerged into the front room of his establishment that his vintner came calling.  Of equal age to Santiago, the vintner’s forearms were hard and laced with muscles where Santiago’s were soft with lack of labor.  He rolled several barrels into place, making small talk with the merchant who paid him.  

As the vintner exited, another of Santiago’s customers entered.  Olive skinned and Vor by birth, Black Hektor had earned his name for the state of his teeth.  In many ways, the two men who greeted each other were not so different save for the hunger that seemed to hang in Hektor’s every move.  It was well known that Black Hektor was responsible for supplying any number of nefarious groups in Borva, ranging from slave traffickers to local banditry.  

He grinned at Santiago, “It would seem that one of my companions has recruited some new hands which puts me in the market for a dozen arms.”

“Four, I have.  Mail with blades to match.”

The olive skinned fence raised his eyebrows, “Truly?  Let us take a look.  Oh, and of course, I will require my usual…supply.”

They adjourned to the back room where Santiago retrieved the brick of Ochevo, a chewable plant that turned teeth prematurely black.  Black Hektor looked over the hauberks, cocked his head to one side, and then promptly backed away from the arms.

“Is there a problem?”

“I think that I must seek out my needs with our mutual friends.”

“Why is that?  I will not make them too expensive, on my word.”, the chubby Vor grinned.

“It is not that.  Look here.”, Black Hektor motioned to the smith’s mark on the wargear, “That is likely to upset certain people at the gate.”

“So?  Grind the marks off.”

“Ah, but that costs money.”

“Money that you will save because the swords are free if you buy the mail.”, Santiago continued to grin, “As long as you tell me what the mark means.”

The fence chuckled, “And a quarter off this week’s supply.”

Santiago pretended to think it over, “Done.  Tell me what you know, you cur.”

Black teeth were displayed in a grin, “These items belong to a fort south of Borva.  There is a group of Omeronish who are similar to the Cup Knights in Florenta…and they are generally against the Narrlachi.  If one were to be caught with these, well, let us say that there are not many of these items in Borva and questions would be asked.  And there would probably be visitors.”

“Well, that is an interesting tale but the trouble is yours now, you black toothed bastard.”,

The two men laughed, coins were exchanged and Black Hektor told Santiago that his people would be by for his goods.

THE BOAR
Outside of the Trading Post, the vintner mounted his wagon and drove his horses towards the docks.  Rodrigo ca Boriga had inherited both his trade and his insurrection from his father.  Beyond Borva, the Boriga Lands remained largely untouched by war and Narrlachi, short of taxes they inflicted.  The mask that he possessed had been handed down for so long that its origins had melded into the family’s history.  It was as if the mask had been there are their founder’s birth.  For generations, the strength of the land, in the form of grapes, had been the success and fortune of the Boriga family.

The Fair Maiden was not hard to locate.  Fresh hulled and scarless, the ship seemed to bob contently against its dock.  A mix of Omeronish and Vorish men were busy loading crates into the hull.  Rodrigo halted his team and waved to the midshipman, “Setting sail soon?  I thought I might interest you in some wine.”

The midshipman made his way down the gangway; around men rolling barrels and hoisting crates.

“Can’t buy it unless I have a little taste first.  Captain’s orders.”

Rodrigo smiled and hopped down from his seat, “Fair enough.”

The midshipman sampled the vintner’s offering, “What about half a dozen casks?”

“Well, I only have three with me but I can bring the rest back tonight.  Perhaps I’ll bring something special for you and the captain.”

“Brandy?”

“I’ll see what I have in my storeroom.”

The midshipman stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Augustus.  He led Rodrigo aboard the ship where the vintner was paid for the three casks in his wagon.  Men unloaded the new cargo and brought it aboard.  Among the laborers was Alfonso who chatted amiably with the men and seemed to know his way around the ship.

The vintner left the docks with an open wagon and a plan for the evening’s return trip.

THE BIRCH
Not far from where the vintner had begun to drive his wagon away from the docks, Sylvani and a fellow scholar were discussing the merits of a particular Vorish philosopher over drinks.  It just so happened that the drinks happened to be served at a particular tavern where Alfonso and his companion had been the night before.

And while the pair of scholars debated the thoughts of a man long since dead, Sylvani’s eyes watched for the return of either man.  Several hours into the afternoon, he was rewarded with the most interesting of circumstances.  Six Omeronish mercenaries entered the tavern.  They wore boiled leather and carried swords at their sides.  Those same blades would cause a Vor to be arrested; they were permitted no armor and only a long dagger in public.

The mercenaries scattered themselves across the tavern and not long after, a well-dressed Vor appeared and proceeded directly to the bar.  Several moments later, Alfonso’s companion joined the newcomer.

Meanwhile, Sylvani’s companion had seized the silence to expand upon a point.  He took Sylvani’s distraction as consideration for his points and was determined to make use of it.  At length, Sylvani nodded and agreed to all of the points that he had not heard.  He made his excuses, drained the remains from his cup and called it an evening, following the well-dressed Vor and his six mercenaries from the tavern.

At dusk it was not uncommon for many people to be in the streets and so the shadow-scholar’s presence went unnoticed by the group of men.  He followed them out of the dock district, through the markets, and up into the wealthy mansions that had once belonged to Vorish families.  Now, only the Vors who had paid to retain their homes lived there.  The rest of the residences had gone to powerful Narrlachi and it was into one of these compounds the men went.  It was the mansion of Vlaz Noyar.

THE BOAR
By the time that Rodrigo had returned to his home, restocked his wagon, and returned to the Fair Maiden, the blood red moon had risen high in the night sky.  Only last night, had the moon undergone its transformation from pale white to bright maroon.  Men that he had spoken with wrote it off to an early autumn moon or to the tides but no one seemed concerned.  It bathed the city in an orange-crimson glow.

Augustus and another man were coming down the gangway as Rodrigo pulled up to the ship.  They exchanged greetings and the other man was introduced as the captain.  The remaining three casks were brought aboard and paid for, while the brandy was opened in the captain’s quarters.  

Rodrigo poured round after round, asking the sailors questions about their destination and their crew.  The ship was newly outfitted by a merchant prince who would be joining them when the vessel set sail.  Half a dozen men had taken shore leave and failed to return, but the captain had replaced three of them with local laborers, including Alfonso.

When Rodrigo left that night, the blood flowed quick in his veins but a lifetime of drinking had taught his body tolerance and he remembered all that had been said that night.

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH
They met as they always did, once a week at a place determined by coded messages left at dead drops in the catacombs.  They closed the door to the  safe room and placed the torch in the wall bracket.

“I followed Alfonso the night of the ambush.  He met another man, a Vor, in a tavern.  I lost that man when I tried to follow him but he came back to the same tavern the next day.  This time, he met a Vor traveling with six bodyguards and they came from the house of Vlaz Noyar.”

“Interesting since Alfonso has joined the crew of the Fair Maiden.”, The Boar said succinctly, “He sets sail tomorrow or the day after.”

“Even if he sails, we do not know who this middle man is.”, The Birch said, “We can assume that Alfonso is the informer and the other man is Vlaz Noyar’s…but the middle man we know nothing about.”

“If Alfonso sets sail, perhaps he will be seeking a new informant.”, The Boar grinned behind his mask.

The Bird shifted, “Perhaps we can get one of our men to become just that.”

“Or perhaps, if the informer is the right man, Alfonso’s companion may seek to gain other things through him.  Arms, contacts, murders.  What better eyes to have then those upon the gate.  I think it should be you.”, The Birch’s tone was calm; rational.

The Boar nodded his agreement.

“I will think about it but let us be sure that our first informant leaves, otherwise there will be no room at the inn.  Let us send a message.”

And so in the darkness, the surcoat from the surviving Omeronish mercenary was stuck to Alfonso’s door with a dagger.

THE BOAR
In the morning, the crew of the Fair Maiden found their favorite vintner waiting at their gangplank.  Rodrigo waved and exchanged pleasantries with a few of the crewmen but did not see Alfonso.  The captain and midshipman ventured down the plank to chat amiably with the wine merchant before another Vorish man appeared on the docks.  Flanked by bodyguards, the man strode purposefully towards Rodrigo’s wagon.

The captain beamed, “Ah, Rodrigo, this is the vessel’s owner, Adriano ca Radu.  My lord, this is Rodrigo ca Boriga, the vintner of which we spoke.”

The well-dressed man smiled, “I have heard your vintages are quite good.”

Rodrigo produced another bottle of brandy from beneath the wagon’s seat, “There is no need to take it on rumor, please take this bottle and see for yourself.”

The man motioned and one of the mercenaries retrieved the bottle from Rodrigo’s hand.

“I will return in three weeks.  If your goods sell,” the man looked skyward in thought, “could you accommodate us with ten more casks?”

“I would be happy to.”

“Good, then let us be off, Augustus.”

The merchant prince strolled up the gangway, followed by his men and then by both the captain and midshipman, who nodded to Rodrigo.  The vintner raised his hand in silent reply.

THE BIRD
He coiled wide fingers into a fist and knocked on the wooden door.  Sometime between last night and this afternoon, someone had thought it prudent to remove the bloody surcoat.  Silence reigned from beyond the door.

Santiago waited a few more moments before repeating the motion with more force.  To either side of the door, the windows had been boarded up and the door, when he tried it, was barred from within.  It was not the first time that someone had wanted to keep Santiago out of their house.

He walked the perimeter of the small dwelling, eyeing windows for loose boards and found what he was seeking.  Facing the alley, one window had been neglected and Santiago hauled himself up through it.  He slid a long dagger from its sheath and drank in his surroundings.

What meager furnishings there were had been overturned and ransacked.  Drawers and dressers hung open, yawning emptily.  There had been a departure in great haste.  One floorboard had been pulled up to reveal a now empty hiding place for valuables.  Alfonso, his wife, and their children were gone.  

Santiago smiled pleasantly to himself.

THE BIRCH
Those men who showed aptitude were taught the secret language of symbols used by the Scions of Voru.  It was required of those who led their own cells so as to provide a secure method of communication.  Small scraps of parchment were left in dead drops, allowing cells to communication without ever meeting.  To onlookers, the scraps of paper were nothing more then a collection of random drawings.  

Sylvani ca Lucien found such a note for himself waiting at his dead drop.  Strangely though, it had been marked for The Boar and requested a meeting between the two cells.  Its author was The Shroud, named for his veil-like mask, and though Sylvani did not know him, he knew of him.  Sylvani found it difficult to believe that a cell leader would mistake the locations of The Boar and The Birch but perhaps difficulties had prevented him from reaching the other drop.

Upon arriving at the church’s library where he was employed, Sylvani surprised the other scholars by suggesting a day trip to the surrounding wineries.  

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH
The Boar had called the meeting, reaching out to ca Murego.  They met in the cathedral room, where ca Murego’s cell sharpened swords and oiled leather jacks.  The men worked in tense silence; the air hummed with the anxiety of a raid.  None asked and none spoke of such things.

The three men were understandably surprised to see The First Son of Voru flanked by both Alfonso and Radek.  

“Why did you not set sail today with the Fair Maiden?”, The Boar asked without waiting for pleasantries.

“Be-because that was not my task.  I was to gather information aboard the ship.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was collecting information for me.”, ca Murego interjected, “Tell them.”

“The men that attacked you were from the ship.  I learned that and saw them load a locked chest into the hull.  They said it was books from the library.”

The Bird cocked his head, “And where is your wife, Alfonso?”

“At home, of course.”

“Is she?”

The two words hung in the air and suddenly the six men were silent, staring at one another.  The only sounds were those of whetstones and creaking leather.  

“When..when last I was there she was.”

“Well she is there no longer.”, The Rake cocked his head to the other side, “Your house has been abandoned and boarded up.”

Alfonso looked frantically from The Bird to ca Murego.  

“Why did you tell the captain that you would sail with him?”, The Boar crossed his arms.

“I…I did no such thing.”, Alfonso moved away nervously, “He must have misunderstood.”

Radek put his hand on the hilt of his sword and took one step forward for each that Alfonso took away.  

“On the night of the ambush, you met another man on your way home and shared a drink.  That man speaks with others from the house of Vlaz Noyar.”

“Yes, yes, that is my cousin.  He…he deals in goods and so he must deal with Vlaz Noyar’s men.”

The Birch looked to ca Murego, who nodded in recognition of the relationship.  The First Son of Voru stood, “Alfonso, Radek, excuse us for a few moments.  Perhaps you can help the others with their preparations.”

The four men walked as far away as the room would allow.

“His house is abandoned and the captain told me that he had enlisted him as a crewman.”, The Boar hissed.

“Perhaps we have the wrong man.”, The Birch said, shocking them all, “He need not tell us of the books aboard the ship if he was the informer.  He could have said nothing.”

ca Murego pursed his lips, “There is too much risk.  We must remove him as a possible threat.”

“What do you mean?”, The Birch shifted his stance.

“What do you think I mean, Birch?”

“You would kill an innocent man, one of our own?  Are we so quick to do the Narlachi’s work for them?”

“There are ways of making an innocent man look guilty.  He can be removed without us dirtying our hands.”

“But we do not know that he is guilty.”

“Many things point to him, Birch, and only a few moments ago, you all but accused him yourself.”

“And you said only a few moments ago, that there were ways of making the innocent look guilty.  Answer me this, how does Radek know my station?  He called me by my trade on the night of the ambush.”

The First Son of Voru exhaled through his mask, “What would you have me do?  I have listened to your counsel in the past.”

“Exile him…but I would see no harm come to a fellow Vor.”

“He is more dangerous to us in exile then he is here.”

“If we could determine Radek’s innocence or guilt, we would know.  Send the Cup Knight away.”

“I cannot.”, ca Murego looked over his shoulder at the man they spoke of, “He was a gift to solidify our alliance in the south.  I would disgrace him by sending him away.”

“Then make it so that he asks for your leave.  Do you know from where he hails?  Perhaps there is an urgent need of him there.”

“We would need someone he would believe…another Cup Knight.”, ca Murego’s gaze fastened on The Bird, “Can you produce for me a Cup Knight?”

Lips curled into a wicked smile, “That should not be difficult.”

“There, then it is settled.  I will keep Alfonso by my side and grant Radek’s request to return home when he makes it.  We will see who the informer is in that way.”

“May I suggest, First Son, that you tell Alfonso you have chastised us for our mistreatment of him.  Bring him back into your folds.  Make him believe that you trust him more then our accusations.”

“It is sound advice.  Consider it done.”

Two days later, a Cup Knight arrived at the city of Borva, seeking to deliver a message to a sword brother named Radek.  The Cup Knight asked his master’s leave and was relieved to have it granted.  He left the city the very next day, bound for home.
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2006, 04:17:28 PM »

THE BIRD
“How did Orval do?”, Black Hektor leaned on the counter of the shop.

“As real a Cup Knight as I have ever seen.”, Santiago smiled back, “And here is your share for finding such a fine actor.”

The fence hefted the purse in his palm, feeling its weight, “Perhaps I could purchase my weekly supply now?”

The two men passed into the back room where Santiago retrieved a brick of Ochevo.  He put it down on a nearby table, and drummed his fingers across the top of it.  It took Black Hektor a few moments to realize that it was occurring.  He looked up from the stolen fineries.

“I have another proposition for you.”

Black Hektor ran ragged tongue over equally ragged teeth and lips.

“There is very little risk in it for you.  The whole business can be done in an hour or two.”

“Yes?”

“Are you still in possession of the blades I sold you last week?”

The other man chuckled, “Well, they are not in my possession but I could…retrieve them.  Why?”

“A man like me sometimes needs to be introduced to people that he would not normally meet.  It is just such an occasion that we are in.”

“And what does that have to do with a-“, the bandit fence stopped short.

“I would like you to wear that blade into a specific tavern, and…well…be arrested.”

Black Hektor took an involuntary step backwards as if recoiling from the idea itself.

Santiago raised a thick hand and dropped two coin purses onto the table, “One is for you.  When you are pressed for information, you will reluctantly give them my name and buy your freedom with the other.”

“You seek to be arrested?  What gain does-“

“See, see!  You are already thinking beyond your responsibilities in this arrangement.  Do not worry yourself with such things.  I run a business and I cannot do that from jail.  You play your part, and I will play mine.”

“Perhaps I should take two weeks supply just in case something….does not go as planned.”, Hektor rubbed a hand across his stubbly chin.

“Of course, but not at a discount.  You have just been well paid.”

There was a long moment of tension as the men stared at each other and then dry lips peeled back to reveal two rows of blackened teeth.

BLACK HEKTOR
As soon as the sun had set, Black Hektor ventured out, hiding the long blade beneath a voluminous cloak.  He walked quickly, keeping his head down and wondered how the chubby merchant has talked him into such a venture.  The tavern was not hard to find and he went directly to the bar.

He drank the first cup in a single pull and only after it was refilled, did he find the courage to reveal the blade.  He pulled the cloak back over the scabbard, displaying a blade far beyond the legal limit for a Vor to carry.

Every eye in the bar went wide at the steel on his hip.  Murmurs rustled through the tavern.  What’s wrong with him?  Is he mad?  Drunk?  High on Ochevo?  Does he seek his own death?  Black Hektor had been in any number of awkward situations and he did his best to keep his composure.  He drank the second cup and had it filled again.  Two cups later, a man approached him.  He had the bearing and olive skin of a Vor but something in the shape of his eyes spoke of another nation. 

To onlookers, the two men engaged in a quiet conversation.  The bartender suddenly found something to do in the kitchen and Black Hektor found himself sliding the blade out of its sheath- just far enough to reveal the smith’s mark.  The other man nodded in recognition.  More hushed conversation followed and not too long thereafter, a group of Narrlachi guards made their way into the tavern and took a semi-drunk Hektor away.

THE BIRD
The knock seemed particularly loud in the silence.  Perhaps it was because Santiago had been expected it all evening.  He opened the door to find a Vorish man staring back at him.  Beyond the newcomer, six Omeronish men did their best to appear inconspicuous in the empty street.

“It is not to late for business, yes?”, the man said.

“What is a merchant if not open for business.”, Santiago stepped back from the door, allowing the other man to glide in.

He closed the door behind him, “I am looking for some particular items, yes?”

Santiago motioned to his goods, “You see all that I have to sell.”

The man chuckled, “I have it on…partially good faith that you sometimes have other things for sale, yes?  Things that are not in this room?”

It was Santiago’s turn to chuckle, “I suppose I have been known to have a thing or two that not everyone is interested in.”

“Good.”, the man’s smile vanished, “Let me see those things.”

“Well, I have nothing at the moment to see.”

“Let me be blunt, yes?”, the man narrowed his eyes which suddenly did not seem so Vorish, “You sold a man arms and armor that had a certain mark upon them.”

“I sell many things to many people.”

The man tossed down a hefty purse, “Now do you remember?”

“Yes, yes.  Four suits of mail and matching blades.”

“Where did you get them?”

“You must understand,” Santiago shrugged nervously, “I am a man with soft hands.  I buy and sell things.  I want no trouble.”

“And you want to keep them soft, yes?”, a knife flashed and stuck into the coin purse on the table, “My hands are not soft.  You will tell me want I want to know.”

Santiago nodded slowly.

“Where did you get them?”

“I stole them.”

“Lie.”

Santiago made a spectacle of staring out the window at the men in the street and then looking back to his interrogator, “I…I recovered them from bodies of their owners.  They were drown.”

“Where?”

“In a well below the city.”

“And what is a man with soft hands doing so far beneath the city?”

“I do business with certain…”, Santiago swallowed slowly, “people.”

“Tell me about these people.”

“They cannot know that I speak of them.  I…I must maintain appearances.”

“Appearances, yes?  Isn’t that what is it all about?  How we wear one mask when we are in certain company and another elsewhere?”
“Yes, yes.  They wear masks.  I do not know who they are.”

“Tell me, what kind of masks?”

“They are masks; costume masks, carved masks, whatever each man can come by.”

“Tell me of one.”

“A horse.”, Santiago spit out, “I have seen a man where the face of a horse.”

“Tonight, you will tell me a little something and this bag will be yours.  In two days, I will be back, and you will tell me more and you will be paid even better, yes?.”

Santiago licked his lips and nodded.

“Good, yes.  Tell me something that will happen soon.”

“In four days, there is something happening on the docks in four days.”

A calm demeanor seemed to wash over the man’s features, as if satisfied.  He smiled, withdrew his dagger from the purse and opened the door.

“I will see you in two days, yes?”, and vanished out into the night.

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH
By the next day, Santiago had retold his story to both Sylvani and Rodrigo.  They would now have to orchestrate something in only a few days time to verify Santiago’s falsehood about the operation on the docks. 

In the meantime, they had arranged to meet The Shroud that evening.  Suspicious of an ambush, Santiago had used Black Hektor to broker an arrangement with the slaving syndicate of the undercity.  Through the bandit fence, they paid for the use of the slaver’s territory as well as their muscle.  Several slavers would stand by and act in their defense if things went poorly.

Intentionally, they went late into the catacombs, knowing that the meeting grounds were already secured by the slavers.  When they neared their destination, they lowered the hood of their lamp and went by its weak light.  At the designated intersection, they tapped two times on the wall with steel.  The other party should have lit a torch but there was nothing but the shifting of feet.  The Birch wrapped his steel against the wall twice more.

A torch flickered to life, revealing the gauzy mask of The Shroud beneath it.  The men made their way down the long corridor, bereft of side passages.  They stopped when the man spoke, “Good, you’re on time.”

Unlike The Birch, The Boar had not only had heard of The Shroud, but knew him as a tall, thin figure.  The hand that held the torch belonged to a short, stout man.  The Boar whistled, calling for the slavers to descend.  Nothing stirred except the flickering torch.

“RUN!”, The Boar shouted hoarsely.

The other figure surged towards them and hidden feet shuffled in the dark.  The three men scrambled backwards down the corridor, tripping over the bodies of slavers and Scions alike.  Their ambushers overtook them where the corridor became an intersection but before blades could be drawn, there was a great clamor.  From the other hallway, a dozen torches bobbed into view, revealing their holders – a motley collection of long haired, scarred faces with butcher’s blades and axes in hand. 

One slaver had escaped the ambush and it would be the imposters’ doom.  The slavers had returned to avenge their comrades and perhaps collect a few more bodies for the trade.  They washed over the would-be Scion imposters like a dirty, gray wave.  Blood crazed howls and screams of agony chased the three men down the hall.

They did not look back. 
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2006, 06:46:23 PM »

I'm new to CoS so I thought it might be helpful to other newcomers out there to show how and where we (as a group) used our Doom and Destiny points.

1.  The first point of Destiny was used during the chase scene when the Omerish kennel master dropped his torch.  However, they still beat us on the chase roll so it didn't really have an impact despite the penalty die.  Since this was the first usage of Destiny for this session, we decided on the blood red moon for extra apocalypse flavor.
2.  The first point of Doom got used to escape after they caught us.  Sylvani used his doom which is "As I spill blood so shall mine be spent" to narrate the escape based on the spilling of the blood.  And his was spilled when the dog bit him.
3.  Santiago spent a Destiny point as a complication to have someone recognize to whom the mail and swords belonged to.  It just so happened that it was Black Hektor and, well, we liked him so damn much we bought him as one of our three contacts for our cell.
4.  Rodrigo spent a Destiny point to say that Alfonso was on the Fair Maiden when he checked it out.
5.  Santiago spent another Destiny point to say that despite all the evidence to the contrary, Alfonso was there when we met up with ca Murego.  As you can imagine, this single point of Destiny spun the story in a completely different direction.  Its a weird thing with Destiny - used at the right time they can reverse or alter entire plots.
6.  Santiago also used his Doom to escape from the ambush at the end of the session.  We, once again, blew our chase rolls and were caught almost immediately.  His doom is "My exploitations will be my downfall." so he employed the slavers (since he was exploiting them through Black Hektor) to save the group but also declared that they would want a meeting where they would make additional demands due to their dead companions.
7.  Though not in the piece, Sylvani also dropped a Destiny point after the Doom to say that the slavers had also kidnapped Black Hektor as an insurance policy for just this kind of situation.

So the opening to the next session should be pretty cool with a mob of angry slavers sitting down to "negotiate" the price of their dead friends and Black Hektor's freedom.
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Keith Senkowski
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On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2006, 09:48:51 AM »

For some reason, it was all in our collective brain that the slavers all look and act like Reavers from Firefly/Serenity...  Our inner nerd at work I guess, but I love the idea of when the other slavers show to save their asses at the end they come flying out of the darik tunnels like madmen, attacking the imposter cell...
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
O. Rodriguez
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2006, 08:13:33 AM »

I'm late to the party, but at least I showed.

CoS made me realize something about our gaming group. We like to push forward and cause conflict. I think this is great, mind you. However, I think it hurts us when it comes to pacing. In CoS, we'd spend what Destiny or Doom we have to make something happen, glance at our sheets and realize that we're running out of the mechanical means of effecting the game. It is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, and less interesting to me, the advancement of the Apocalypse depends on the spending of Destiny and Doom. We set the cycle up so the effects snowball at the end. At the rate we spend, we may race through two or three stages in a single session. Or we might not. It's something to watch, nonetheless.

Second, and much more interesting to me, how does the use of Destiny and Doom change the skeleton that Keith prepared for us to interact with. Did my desire to place Alfonso on the ship change his relationship map? How about when Santiago payed to move him back into the conflict? I know Keith is being extremely flexible and trying to keep up with where we are interested in moving, but how much will the skeleton change based on our use of destiny and doom? We'll take a look at it when we wrap up and get answers then.
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2006, 05:28:41 PM »

BEYOND
Their voices, though low, hummed with agitation.  Between them, an ornate lantern struggled to cast its light further then the small table and failed.  Shadows rippled across black robes as the quiet argument continued between the three men.  Their heads twisted and turned as they looked back and forth to one another; a parody of birds made true by the long-nosed, porcelain masks they wore.  The first man insisted that they must be killed while his counterpart swore that they still had use.  The third man offered fuel to each side when it burned low but took no position of his own.  Only when the other two had begun to rise from their chairs, did the third man raise his hands and declare that he had a plan in which both factions could be satisfied.  They looked warily at one another and then third man laid out his designs.
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2006, 06:55:03 PM »

THE BIRD (5th Moon, Day 2, 5 PM)
The man at the other end of the table wore no shirt, only a silk vest.  Pink, puckered scar tissue covered his chest and arms as if dozens of worms had died beneath his skin.  Scattered among the pink streaks were the rounded shapes achievable only through branding.  Small carpenter’s nails had been driven through the lobe and cartilage of each ear, and the edge of his mouth had been cut wide and healed.  The result was a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to the middle of each cheek; a harlequin’s grin despite the straight lipped expression.  His name was Turi and he was the slaver king of Borva, “Your meeting has cost me much.”

The Bird spread his hands, palms up, “And you have been paid for just such an occasion.”

A long wooden table separated the two men by its length.  Hektor said mid-distance on one side of the table, bruises and cuts already swelling with infection.  His short time under Turi’s hospitality had been brutal and dark.  

“Four of my men died.”

“So kidnap more.”

Scattered around the room, perhaps a dozen slavers stood in attendance to their king.  They tensed with the glib comment.  

“Unlike you, we cannot use drug-addled mutts.”, Turi flicked his eyes in Hektor’s direction, “It takes a special kind of man to do our work.”

The Bird sighed, “I am a business man.  I have paid you for your service and the service has been rendered.”

“Yes, we know your business.  Your dog has told us who you are.”

The Bird blinked lazily despite his fluttering heart, “You suddenly believe drug-addled mutts?  We all have our pawns.”

“We sent a note to your shop and you came, did you not?  You brought your problems into my territory and now you have made them my problems.  So there is now another price to pay.”

The Bird began to sweat beneath his mask.  These were not poor men turned to banditry; they were slavers, killers, men who lived in the dark below the city.  They would kill him or sell him just as easily as another might purchase goods in the market.  They would have their price paid one way or another.

“What is this…price?”, The Bird focused his voice, trying not to recall the thoughts that had just raced through his mind.

Turi grinned, and the scars seemed to reach to his ears.  He held up two stubby, battered fingers, “In two days time, there is to be a meeting between my rival, Sergei, and the Narlacci.  This meeting will seal a bargain between the two and allow Sergei to threaten my work.  I want this meeting ruined.  Can you do this?”

The Bird shrugged, relieved that it was a task with which he was familiar, “It should not be difficult.  Do you have the details of this meeting?”

Turi produced a small piece of paper from the interior of his vest and held it up.  One of the other slavers emerged from the darkness beyond the table and carried it from one end of the table to the other.  He slapped it down on the table in front of The Bird, kept his hand on it and put his face only a few inches from the mask.  An uneven row of fishhooks had been driven through his eyebrows, “Do not fail, fat little merchant.”

There was a long electric moment as the two men stared at each other and then he withdrew, leaving the paper.  The Bird took the note, stood and motioned for Hektor to do the same.

“He stays with us until the job is done.”, Turi said without moving.

“If you want the job done, he comes with me.”

“What use does this mutt have?”

“I say again, we all have our pawns.”, The Bird grabbed Hektor by the arm and they began to move towards the door.  Two slavers moved to block the exit.

“Fine, fine.  Take your pet with you.”, Turi looked back over his shoulder, “LYDIA!”

A woman – a completely unremarkable Vorish woman - stepped out of the darkness of the catacombs.  She wore the simple homespun garments of a freewoman.

“If your dog goes with you so does she.”

The Bird looked at her, back to Turi, and sighed, “Come along, then.”

The three unlikely companions made their way through the deserted undercity and into the streets of Borva.  The sun hung onto the edge of the world, bathing the streets in the bright red-orange glow of the day’s end.  The small company traveled through abandoned alleys and unused streets, allowing The Bird to keep his mask in place.

They shuffled into the rear most room of Santiago’s store.  They rested their legs, drank warm water from a pitcher, and after a time The Bird announced, “I have business to attend to.  You two will wait for Santiago’s return.”

Lydia was immediately on her feet in front of the door, “Not without me.  The only business you have for the next two days is ours.”

The Bird lashed out with an open hand but the woman stepped back, easily avoiding the slap.

“Hear me, merchant and hear me now.  Perhaps you do not fear death.”, she shrugged, “But remember that few travel darker paths then us.  There are things worse then death.  You visit the catacombs but could you live there?  In the darkness?  Locked in a small room?  Waiting in excitement and fear for the knives to come, because they bring the only light you see?  Living among your offal and piss and blood and sweat.  What will you do when you have forgotten what you look like?  How long would it be before you forget your own name and gibbered to yourself in the dark?”
 
Her last word fell into silence.  No one moved, or breathed.  Hektor sat frozen in his chair and The Bird stared blankly at the woman in the doorway.  Then, slowly, Santiago removed his mask; there was no need to play the game any longer with her.  His heart pounded in his chest, “You may come but I must gather a few things and send Hektor on ahead of us to ensure our safety.”

She narrowed her eyes, disliking it, “He matters little.  You are the one who has shown he will run.  You have run in the past.”

“Only when chased.”, Santiago’s mouth twisted into a grin.

Lydia slid back into her chair while Santiago pulled open the trap door in the floor.  He motioned for Hektor and the bandit fence scurried over.  The merchant descended into the floor and retrieved a brick of Ochevo from his cellar.  When Hektor leaned expectantly into the opening to grasp it, instructions were whispered.  A few moments later, Hektor had gone, drugs in hand, and Santiago fluttered around the store, making imaginary arrangements; stalling to give Hektor time.

When he was satisfied with his “preparations”, he called Lydia to him and they set out for the meeting.  They crossed from street to street, neither speaking nor looking in the other’s direction.  East of the warehouse district, the city sewers sloshed into the bay.  Where the polluted water met land, the slums of Borva rose up.  

Santiago was used to smell of refuse in this area but the air smelled of something stronger, more wretched.  Their bellies writhed against the nauseating smell that rose up from the beach.  Dead fish covered the sand from waterline to where the shacks began.  The red moon had risen into the night sky, casting its crimson glow onto the bay.  Like rubies, the glittering reflections of dead fish sparkled in the dark waters of the bay.  Each wave brought more carcasses to rest on the beach, and washed a few more out to sea.  The smell of death covered the slums and those that they passed covered their mouths with rags.

They choked down the smell and arrived at a small, wooden shack. Hektor emerged from some nearby hiding place and gave Santiago a nod to confirm that all was in order.  The merchant knocked on the door; once and then thrice in rapid succession.  The door opened to reveal a dark haired man who grinned as his eyes met Lydia’s.  She turned, producing a dagger from a hidden sheath but she was too late.  Already, half a dozen men had descended on the woman as Santiago and Hektor had faded away.  The ambushers formed a rough circle around Lydia, swinging the heavy, wooden truncheons they carried.  The man in the shack leaned against the doorway and watched.

When it was over, two of his men lay dead and a third would probably not live through the night but Lydia was unarmed and shackled.  She growled like an angry beast, refusing to submit.  One of the men kicked her over into the black mud.

Bitch.”, Santiago spit and sent a kick into her ribs, “Animal.  No one runs me.”

She refused to make a sound, absorbing the blow with willful silence.

“So’a, I must tell you I didn’t believe your’a man, when he came to me today.  I mean’a this is one fat prize.”, the man from the shack had moved to stand beside Santiago.  His name was Sergei – Turi’s rival – and he knew exactly who Lydia was, “I mean’a, it’s too good to be true.”

“Well, too good or not, I am happy to have her off my hands.”, Santiago turned to face the man, “And speaking of hands….”

Sergei grinned and dropped a heavy purse into the merchant’s outstretched palm.  With little fanfare, the men hauled their prize into the darkness of the night.  Santiago sifted through the purse and selected a handful of coins.  The merchant chuckled to himself.  He has just paid me to disrupt his own meeting.  

He called Hektor over and held the purse out, “Take this.  Hire enough bandits to disrupt this meeting that Turi has spoken of.  The rest is yours for your part in this.”

Hektor revealed his twin rows of black teeth as he scooped the purse up, “But Santiago, what will you do about Lydia?  Turi will ask for certain.”

Santiago waved a hand, “I have two days to worry about that.”

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH (5th Moon, Day 2, 11 PM)
The Bird was late to their meeting and though the others could not see it, he was tired and sweating.  He closed the door to the safe room behind him and settled into a chair.

The Birch nodded at him, “We have discussed the dead drops and the informant’s use of them.  We are unsure of whether or not The Shroud delivered the message in error or the informant’s directions to the imposter were wrong.  We have decided on a new location.”

“The birch tree at the church in the garden district.”, The Boar said, settling onto a stool.

The Bird nodded, “Turi and his men were angry about their losses.”

“They were paid for a service and rendered it.”, The Second Son of Voru shrugged.

The Bird chuckled, “I had considered asking for a refund but decided against it upon seeing them.”

“And what of the ambushers?”, The Birch interjected, “Do they live?  Have you bargained for them?”

The Bird realized that he had forgotten to bring it up with Turi.  He cursed silently to himself, “We did not discuss it.”

“I assume that they would be willing to part with the men as they are merely additional merchandise.  We should be able to purchase them.”

The Boar nodded, his tusks catching the lantern light, “Yes, indeed.  Do this.”

“I can provide the coins but I cannot meet with them.”

The Boar’s eyes narrowed, “What do you mean?”

“The coins I have but our relationship is….unstable….complicated.”

“Who else could broker such an arrangement?  Not us.  No more then you could discourse with the Head Librarian or Narlacci guardsmen.”, The Birch’s eyes narrowed.

The Bird’s mouth opened but The Boar cut him off, “Purchase these men from Turi.  You have twenty four hours.”

The Bird’s shoulder’s sagged as he nodded, “I will do what must be done.  Twenty four hours then.”

THE BIRD (5th Moon, Day 3, 1 AM)
As he walked the long-forgotten streets beneath Borva, The Bird contemplated his choices.  By the time he had emerged onto the streets above, the moon had passed its zenith and he had come no closer to solving his dilemma.  His shoulders hung heavy and his mind whirled, trying to find some new angle with which to approach the problem.  He was pulled from his thoughts by the sight of six Omeronish mercenaries, lazing around the front of his shop.  

Their eyes followed him as he passed but they made no move to stop him as he entered his store.  The Cousin was sitting pleasantly in one of the chairs from the back room.  He picked idly at the fingernails of his left hand.

“Hello, Constable.”, Santiago said more harshly then he had intended.

“Indeed.”

“What is that you want?”

“Ah, let us to business, yes?  I want you to do something for me.”

“Do something for you?  Our relationship is one of information for coin.”

“I prefer to think of you as an employee and myself as a contractor with work which you have no right to refuse.”

“Information is one thing, actions are another – my hands are soft.”

“But I am…upping the ante, as you would say, yes?  I am moving our arrangement forward…and I am not out of coin.”

“Then I am not out of information.”

He smirked and looked up from his nails for the first time, “Two days from now, there will be a meeting on the docks, yes?  My employer wishes to see that this meeting iz not interrupted.  He has heard rumors, yes?”

“I am going to give you this information for free.”, Santiago narrowed his eyes, knowing that he could not play both sides of the meeting, “Sergei is not to be trusted.”

The Cousin shrugged, “That is not for me to decide, yes?”

“There are many players involved.  There is no way to ensure the safety of the meeting.”

“Hmm.  That iz interesting.  It sounds as if you have a lot of work to do.”

The merchant forced himself to chuckle, “Me?  It looks as though you have a lot of work to do, Constable.”

The picking stopped and when The Cousin’s face turned upwards again, his eyes were chips of stone, “This iz not a request.”

“And I cannot help you.”

“You vish to go your own way?  That iz fair.  Men can go their own way.  You will not see me again.”, The Cousin stood and made his way towards the door, “Men who go their own way also die in accidents.  They go overboard in the middle of the night, yes?  Or fall of the piers.”

He opened the door and looked over his shoulder, “Can you swim, Santiago?”

And vanished out into the night.

THE BOAR (5th Moon, Day 2, Midnight)
He had gone directly from one meeting to another; from conversations with his peers to those with master.  The First Son of the Voru had called for him and The Boar had come.  They met in a safe room, no larger then a closet and known only to them.  The First Son was there when The Boar arrived.

“Alfonso has disappeared.”, ca Murego said flatly.

“Where did he lose you?”

“Six miles south of town.  We stopped at a roadside inn for the night.  When I awoke the next morning, he was gone - along with three horses and another merchant who had stayed the night.”

The Boar grunted disapprovingly.

“That is not all.  Six more of our men have disappeared in town.  No bodies, no threats, no ransoms.  Gone.”

“That is not all.”, The Boar clenched his jaws behind his mask, “The Shroud and his cell have been killed.  We were ambushed by imposters wearing their masks.”

“Who were they?”

“We will know by day’s end tomorrow.”

“The Archbishop must be informed and I cannot do it.  You must relay this message to him.”, ca Murego produced a small inkpot and parchment from one of the holes in the wall.  He scribbled out a message in symbols and signed his own personal design.  When he had finished, he handed it to The Boar.
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2006, 07:05:32 PM »

THE BIRCH (5th Moon, Day 3, 1 AM)
The banging slowly made its way through his dreams and woke him.  Sylvani sat up and heard the frantic thumping at the front of his apartments.  He pulled a rough robe over his head and approached the door.

“Who is there?”

“It is me, Sylvani.  Furio.”

A fellow librarian.  Sylvani unlatched the door and opened it, revealing another gray robed figure clutching a book to his chest.  He hurried inside.

“Close it, close it.”, he motioned towards the door and Sylvani complied.

Furio cleared a small space on a nearby table and opened the book, motioning a confused Sylvani to him.  The younger librarian was still speaking in whispers, “I was in the library tonight…late, shelving books…and I heard arguing.  There were two men in one of the private rooms.  They looked Vorish but something about the one man was…off.”

Sylvani put a hand on Furio’s shoulder, “So there were two men in the library after it had closed for the night?”

“Yes, yes.  I don’t know how they got in but when they left, I found this book on their table.  It contains family histories – genealogies, records of births and deaths – and this,”, he flipped to the tattered remains of a page, “is yours, Sylvani.  They tore pages out and your family’s was among them.”

Sylvani’s eyes narrowed as he skimmed through the rest of the book.  Eight pages were missing in total.  He recognized two of the names which should have been present according to the alphabet but were not: ca Murino, and ca Lanrine.  He looked up at the other librarian, “It is tragic crime that they would deface the volume but do not worry so much, Furio.”

Sylvani led the man across the room to a daybed, “It is late and you are shaken.  Stay here and in the morning, we will take your tale to the Head Librarian.  He will see to it that these men are punished.  Who would want to collect our histories besides?  They are a sad story.”

Sylvani smiled, hiding his own concern that a man who fit The Cousin’s description – Vorish but not – was collecting information about him.  When he had settled Furio’s nerves, Sylvani took a second look at the book and retired.

In the morning, they arrived at the library only to find that Rodrigo ca Boriga, the vintner was waiting for them.  He had a delivery to make for the festivals next week and had come early to the city.

“Ah, Master Boriga, I had meant to bring something for you when we visited your orchard last week.  Come see me in my office when you have finished.  I will make arrangements for your payment.”

It was not long before Rodrigo joined Sylvani in his office.  They made idle conversation while the vintner handed ca Murego’s letter to the librarian and the librarian, in turn, penned Furio’s tell in shorthand so that he would not have to speak it.  To someone beyond the door, the two men sounded as if they were discussing old techniques for winemaking.  When they had finished their exchange of silent information, Sylvani proceeded to the Head Librarian’s office.

There, he retold Furio’s tale, displayed the book and convinced the older man that the crime should be reported to the Archbishop.  Further, that he should be the one to go, as his name and family were involved in the vandalism.  The Head Librarian seemed to chew on his lip for a moment before acquiescing.  He wrote a short note, sealed it with wax and handed it to Sylvani.

“When you return, could you see that these books are placed in the Special Section.”, the older man patted a stack of books beside his chair.  There were six tomes in all, each four or five inches in height; leather bound with wooden slats to support their weight.  The Special Section was the equivalent of their own black library – a collection of unpopular writings that was not broadly spoke of. 

“What are they?”, Sylvani ran a hand over one of the embossed covers.

“Histories, rescued from this very library before the invasion.  Now they have returned to us much as the peace in this city has.”

“I will see to them.”

Sylvani arranged for the books to be moved to the section of the library under Furio’s providence.  And less then an hour later, presented himself to the Archbishop’s Secretary for admittance.  The rail thin man wrung his hands and insisted that the Archbishop was simply too busy to see anyone.

“I am on matters from the Head Librarian.”

“I will be happy to convey your message to His Eminence, but”, more hand wringing, “as I have said, he is a very busy man.”

“I am afraid that the matter is one of great importance to the library.  Without engaging in details, let us say that it involve the extirpation of certain monographs.”

The hand ringing ceased for a moment as the other man attempted to make sense of the words, “I…I see.”

“It is a delicate subject as it relates to the comportment of certain parties and their debasement of specific decrees erected to bulwark against this very thing.  I’m sure you can understand the sensitive nature of such a topic.”

“Indeed.”, The Secretary said blankly.  He blinked once, twice, “Indeed.  Let me…let me see if His Eminence can spare a few moments.”

He knocked quietly on the large, wooden doors, opened one and slipped through.  A few moments later, he re-emerged and motioned Sylvani towards the door, “His Eminence will see you now.”

Sylvani passed through the threshold and the door clicked quietly shut behind him.  The Archbishop was in his sixties, white wisps of hair curling up from his head as if the remains of a smoldering fire glowed beneath the bald scalp.  He removed a pair of glasses and looked up, “Master Lucien, come in, come in.”

“Good day, Your Eminence.”

“Ah, we are too few and this congregation too small to bother with formalities.  I keep a Secretary only to make myself feel more important then I am.”, he smiled warmly.

Sylvani returned the gesture, “One of the librarian’s has reported a crime – vandalism of one of the historical tomes.  He saw a pair of men arguing in one of the private rooms, past library hours.”

“Do you have the tome with you?”

“Indeed.”, Sylvani proffered the book.

The Archbishop returned his glasses to his nose, and flipped the cover open.  The Boar’s letter lay atop the next page.  Without looking up, the Archbishop opened it and read it.  When he had finished, he dropped it into a nearby brazier where it began to blacken and burn.  He continued on with his examination of the book while Sylvani recounted the description of the men.

“Well, it is sad tidings you bear today….and disturbing.”, the older man glanced at the brazier, “This kind of activity must be stopped immediately and permanently.”

“I completely agree, Your Eminence.”

“Tell the senior librarian of lower level that his services are no longer required.  He is to be retired…permanently.”

Sylvani nodded, taking the news calmly, “And who shall I name as his replacement?  Shall I let his librarians determine that for themselves?”

“No, I believe that his direct understudy will be more diligent in controlling these…incidents.  Also, release any librarian that should take issue with the removal of the section head.  We cannot abide disharmony, it benefits no one.”

“I will see to it, Your Eminence.”

The older man nodded and placed his hand on the book, “I will personally look into this matter and see that it reaches its conclusion.  When the tome is ready to be returned to the library, I will call for you.”

Sylvani stood, “May Albin give you strength.”

“And you, my son.”

Sylvani ca Lucien turned and left the office, mentally reeling at the instructions he had just been given – murder The First Son of Voru and any who stand with him.

THE BIRD (5th Moon, Day 3, 8 AM)
At the same time that Rodrigo was delivering his casks to the library, Santiago was making a visit of his own.  The solution had come to him in the early hours of the morning.  His shoulders and neck ached from the stress of the previous day and the hard sleep following it.  Too many slavers in my life and suddenly, he had his angle.

He dressed, shaved, and collected a stash of coins from beneath the counter.  And as the city awakened, Santiago made his way to the docks; to a very specific tavern, on the docks.  Outside of the door, two men played cards while sitting on a bench.   They looked up, recognized him from their “meeting” yesterday and continued to play. 

Santiago stepped into almost empty tavern.  Its only occupants were a group of men gathered around a corner table.  This was where Sergei held court; the heart of his slaving operation.  There was a chorus of protests as one of the men announced his winning hand.  Sergei threw his cards down and spotted Santiago standing nearby.

“So’a, you bring us more good tidings?”

The pudgy merchant shrugged, “Perhaps.  I want to talk about this meeting.”

“What meeting?”, Sergei said slouching back into his chair.  One of the other men collected the cards and began to shuffle them.

“The meeting that is happening just down the street tomorrow.”

Sergei’s eyes flicked to his men, “Get out.”

There was a confused moment where no one moved.

“Get out, I said!”

Men scrambled to their feet.

“Take the cards.  Leave the coins.”, Sergei waved a hand, “Sit down.”

Santiago accepted the invitation, folding his arms and smiling.

“So’a how did you find out about the meeting?”

The merchant shrugged, “That is not the important question.  The important question is why do I care?”

“Why do you care?”, his hands moved in the air; as necessary to his speech as the words themselves.

“Because there are bandits coming to disrupt your meeting.”

Sergei rubbed his stubbly chin, “Hmm, so again I must ask, how’a did you know?”

“Because I hired them.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No.  In fact, I want you to retrieve some…merchandise….from your competitors.  Can you do that if I can tell you where they are?”

“Pfff.”, Sergei slouched back in his chair, “You thing I’a do not know where they keep their cattle?  But you have not offered me’a a prize.”

“I have given you information about your meeting.”

“Perhaps I move it.  Perhaps I bring twice as many men to it.  This’a information is worth little.”

“I can offer you something you cannot get on your own.”

“What?”

“The man in the silk vest.”

Sergei’s eyes widened fractionally, “Turi?  You can get me Turi?”

“I can get you a meeting with him.”

“I do not want to’a meet with him.  I want his fucking head on this’a table.  Can you do that?  Can you give me that?”

The room lapsed into silence.  The slaver could see Santiago thinking about his offer and he decided to sweeten the pot, “If you can give me that, I will get your cattle…and you can keep part of his’a…territory.”

“I am a business man, not a slave trader.”

Santiago’s mouth formed the words but Sergei had seen the glimmer of greed in the man’s eyes, “Who’a has said that you must do work with your hands.  Perhaps’a you can work with your mind.  You know’a, like an merchant prince, an investment.”

He watched the merchant struggle within himself.  It wouldn’t be long now.

“And’a, men like us, we are always useful.  It is’a always good to have friends like us.”

“Yes.”, Santiago nodded slowly, “Consider it done.”

THE BIRCH (5th Moon, Day 3, 8 PM)
When night fell, Sylvani engineered enough work to ensure that both he and Furio would be required to stay past closing of the library’s doors.  They shelved books and made small talk, laughing about odd titles or scandalous stories associated with authors.  At one point in the evening, Sylvani explained that he had books to shelve in the Special Section and that he would return once it was done. 

He made his way into the cellar, lit a lantern and opened the door through which deliveries were made.  Two of the men from their cell waited outside, their cloaks pulled high to cover their faces.  Sylvani pretended not to know who they were, for while he had seen their faces a hundred times, they had never seen his, “I…are you….the books?”

“Yes.”

Sylvani stepped back from the doorway and pointed to the six tomes that had come from the Head Librarian’s office.  They entered, collected the books, and then, with each man gripping three volumes to his chest, they disappeared into the darkness of the alley.  Sylvani watched them go and then turned away from the open door.  He counted to thirty, then thirty again and suddenly bounded up the stairs, shouting Furio’s name.  The two librarians nearly collided at the top of the stairs.

Sylvani exaggerated; heaving his chest in deep breaths, “They…they…”

Furio stared wide eyed at him, “Are you all right?  Are you hurt?”

“It was…the same men…and they stole the books from the Head…Librarian.”
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KVargo
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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2006, 07:33:22 PM »

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH (5th Moon, Day 3, 11 PM)
The Bird was the last to arrive at the under-cathedral.  A six man column followed him into the room.  Three of its members wore rough sacks over their heads and the other three were The Boar’s soldiers.  Sergei had delivered on his end of the bargain.

The Boar nodded and the sacks were removed to reveal Vorish faces.  Sylvani recognized a fellow librarian, named Hugo, among them.  They had seen better days.  The cuts and scrapes along their faces were outlined with infection and they winced at the brightness of the torch.  Hugo ran a thick tongue over his cracked lips moments before The Boar’s fist caught him across the jaw.  It knocked the unsuspecting librarian to the ground.

“No more.”, The Birch said flatly.

The Boars head whipped to one side, his gaze a burning fire.  The Birch held it for a moment before turning back to the men, “Tell us.”

“Wa…water…”, Hugo whispered as blood trickled from his lips.

The Birch looked to The Boar and then after a moment of silence, jerked a wineskin from a nearby soldier and passed it to Hugo.  When he had drank his fill, he reached out to give it to the next man.

The Bird kicked the wineskin from the man’s grasp, “First one, then you speak.  Then maybe another.”

Hugo stared up at them, “We serve this country.”

“As do we, so tell us your tale.”, The Birch knelt down.

“We serve a greater purpose then your little war.  You do not understand, She is coming.”

“You will find few subjects with which I am unfamiliar.  If you wish to speak of old gods, speak.  If you wish to speak of the gods before gods, then speak…but do not be vague.”

“She is coming and those that are not changed will be turned to blood and ash and bone.  You do not understand.”

“Take the one on the right; loosen his tongue, Rake.”, The Boar motioned with his tusks. 

The Bird did as he was ordered, snatching the weakened man by the back of his hair and dragging him into a nearby alcove, separated by a curtain.  He threw the man down and began to kick him.

The Birch winced behind his mask, “I cannot stop them forever.”

“It would seem,”, Hugo wet his lips again, “that you cannot stop them at all.”

“Do not mistake for fair treatment for softness.”, The Birch’s eyes narrowed in his mask.

“The change is coming and you cannot stop it.”

“Enough.  Put them in the cell with the other mercenary.”, when one of the soldiers passed by The Boar whispered, “No food or water, only wine.”

The Birch joined The Boar, “Harm will not loosen their tongues.  No more then it would work upon you.  They believe in whatever they speak of.”

“Every man breaks.”, The Boar’s teeth ground out behind his mask.

The Birch held up his hands, “Your plan has wisdom; the wine is an excellent plan.”

“And if it does not work, we will try harm next.”

“If we kill them, we will learn nothing of their purpose, or of their group.”

“So you would do nothing while they kill ours?”, The Boar growled.

“If another group exists, there is the potential for an alliance.  Murder them and there is nothing.”

“We have three, we can afford to make two mistakes.”, the mouth grinned beneath The Bird mask.

The Boar stalked off into the corridor beyond the cathedral and The Birch followed.  At the first junction, he caught up to The Second Son of Voru. 

“There is something else.”, The Birch whispered, “The Archbishop has asked that we kill The First Son and that you ascend to his place.”

The eyes across from him glimmered again, “Who is this man that thinks he can order the murder of the man who keeps him informed.  It was The First Son who reported the problem.”

“I recite his words to you.  That is all.”

“The Second Son of Voru ascends only when The First Son falls in battle or is proven a traitor - no other way.”, The Boar’s words were final.

Another lantern emerged into the corridor behind them.  The Bird stood at the doorway to the cathedral, “Come.  We should discuss the price we have paid for these hostages.”

The two men returned to the doorway.

“What price?”, The Boar grunted.

“I thought these men were purchased from Turi.”

“I told you that relationship was complicated.  I was forced to pursue other means.”, The Bird looked over his shoulder into the room, “We must deliver Turi’s head to his rival.”

“What?”, The Boar’s eyes narrowed within his mask, “You made a bargain that was not yours to make if murder is your end.”

“You told me to get these men.”, The Bird hissed, “And I did.  I found a way.  MeI did it.”

“And you will tell your tale in full.”

It was The Bird’s eyes that narrowed now, “Turi was angry, as I said.  He felt that we owed him…more.”

“When one is paid for protection, one may assume that it is dangerous work.”

“That we had brought our troubles to his doorstep.”

“HE WAS PAID.”, The Boar growled loudly.  The other men in the room looked up momentarily before resuming their tasks.

“He wanted a meeting disrupted on the docks; a meeting that would make his rival more powerful.”

“And you struck this bargain, even though he had no right to claim a higher price?”

“They were animals.  Almost a dozen of them; they would have eaten me.”, The Bird said through pursed lips.

The Boar scoffed but the other man continued, “He set a minder with me; a woman who was to stay with me night and day.  Now, tell me, how was I supposed to accomplish anything with her in tow?”

“You removed her.”, The Birch said calmly, “Where is she now?”

The Bird shrugged, annoyed, “I sold her to Sergei.  She has been sent out of the city.  I know not.  When I returned to my shop last night, The Cousin was there.  He wanted me to ensure that the same meeting was not disturbed.”

There was a desperate fire behind the long-nosed mask, “I am a business man.”

“As well as an assassin and slaver.”, The Birch said coolly.

The Bird hissed again, “I took the only avenue open to me.  I had no choice, it was out of my control!  I had to do whatever it took to save my skin!”

The words died into silence, their importance echoing in the skulls of the men who had heard them.  The Bird opened his mouth to speak but The Boar preempted him, “And now you will have new minder, as it appears you cannot be relied upon to make decisions.”

The Second Son of Voru barked, “Ricardo.”

One of the men looked up from sharpening his blade, sheathed it and hurried over.

“You are now his guard and guardian.  Stay by his side and provide him counsel when the time for decisions come.”

Ricardo nodded, “I will do-“

Thunder echoed in the hallways.  The door to the prisoners’ room exploded in a hail of wood and the soldier that had been propelled through it, hit a nearby wall and collapsed.  In the now empty threshold, the man who had once been Hugo hovered a handsbreath above the floor.  Behind him, in the cell, the shattered bodies of the other prisoners lay in pools of their own blood.  He was naked, arms outspread, and an unseen wind rippled through his hair. 

“SHE HAS BEEN RELEASED!  IT HAS BEGUN!”

THE BIRD
His body froze.  Somewhere in the depths of his mind a tiny voice cried out this cannot be.  He watched The Birch duck beneath some unseen projectile and The Boar draw steel and charge, screaming, into the room.  The Bird looked down to see hands on his clothes and then someone pushed him to the ground.  He saw The Birch looming over him and watched as he ducked yet another unseen missile. 

There were muffled thumps somewhere beyond his field of vision.  He managed to turn his head and see the man and The Boar tumbling to the ground together.  There was a brief moment of stunned silence and The Bird began to push himself to his feet. 

“Watch out!”, The Birch raced across the room and shouldered The Boar aside as he struggled to disentangle himself.  The Second Son of Voru went sprawling as The Birch leapt back. 

The man that had crumpled to the ground was jerking, as if undergoing his death throes and suddenly, he was swept upright again by preternatural winds.  His mouth opened but it was not his voice that spoke.

“THEY HAVE CHANGED AND THOSE THAT HAVE NOT ARE DOOMED TO ASH.”

The thing that had been Hugo collapsed for a second time.  The Birch suddenly started to swing his arms back and forth in front of him, as if swatting a bug away.  He retreated, step by step, across the room, screamed once – a howl of desperation – and backpeddled into the wall.  The Boar tackled him and they went to the floor in a jumble.

They rolled to a stop on the floor and suddenly, a fresh blade appeared in the hand of The Boar.  He slashed at the other man’s neck, “DEMON!  YOUR EYES!  I SAW YOUR EYES!”

THE BOAR
His mind did not have time to process the creature that hovered in the doorway but his body had time to react.  The blade leapt into his hand after a lifetime of secret training and his voice filled the room, “The Vor do not consort with demons!”

He charged the floating man-creature, bringing his blade up from the floor.  It bit deep into the man’s ribs pushing him sideways through the air.  The Boar twisted his torso, throwing his weight into his left shoulder and sending it into the thing’s chest.  The momentum carried the demon, back first, into the wall with The Boar following.  Twenty six inches of steel went through the creature’s belly before it had time to rebound from its impact.  Its weight suddenly returned to it and fell forward on top of The Boar.  The two bodies went down onto the dusty tiles.  The Second Son of Voru scrambled to his feet but an impact drove sent him reeling sideways. 

The Birch backpeddled from the fallen man just in time for the creature to rise into the air again.  It stared forward unseening, reciting its message in a voice that did not belong to the body.

“THEY HAVE CHANGED AND THOSE THAT HAVE NOT ARE DOOMED TO ASH.”

The Boar watched as the man collapsed for a second time, and beyond him, The Birch began scrambling backwards.  He waved his arms in great sweeping arcs, fending off an enemy that was not there.  The Birch screamed as if struck by red hot steel and then The Boar tackled him to the ground.

The stared at each other, their masks only inches apart and The Boar realized that there was no white to the other man’s face.  The whole of his eyes were as inky black as his lacquered mask.  Steel appeared in The Boar’s hand as he slashed at the other man’s neck, “DEMON!  YOUR EYES!  I SAW YOUR EYES!”

THE BIRCH
It could not be.  Hugo hovered in the threshold and around him, a maelstrom of pale apparitions swirled.  Like a small storm, they dove through his chest and emerged from his back, whistling in the air around him.  And suddenly, they spiraled out as if shot from ghostly crossbows.  Like bolts, they flew through the air disappearing into the ceiling and walls.  The Birch ducked as one passed directly overhead.  As he did so, he saw The Bird’s paralysis and threw him to the ground.

“The Vor do not consort with demons!”, The Boar’s voice echoed over his shoulder. 

The Birch lifted an arm to shield himself from another hurtling spectre and saw Hugo tumble from the wall, taking The Boar with him to the ground.  But the spirits had not ceased.  They writhed and shrieked, running their ethereal hands along The Boar and re-entering Hugo’s corpse.  For a split second, The Birch watched the ghostly energy reanimate Hugo’s remains; watched the jerky twitches that began in his limbs.

And he raced across the room to push The Boar clear of the resurrecting man.  With one fell movement, Hugo’s body swept up into the air, and a legion of voices, speaking as one declared:

“THEY HAVE CHANGED AND THOSE THAT HAVE NOT ARE DOOMED TO ASH.”

Then, as tub of water with its stopper removed, the specters fled their temporary home en masse.  A great gout of spectral energy bursting from the dead man’s remains.  The last of the ghosts stopped in mid-flight, turned its attention to The Birch and approached him.  The Birch retreated from the ghostly image, swiping at it with outstretched hands.

“You have been chaaaaannngggggeeedd.”, it hissed and put a single ethereal digit to The Birch’s forehead.

He screamed and was suddenly falling as The Boar tackled him to the ground.  He stared up at the maw of a boar who’s eyes were wild with fear.  The Birch saw the edge of a blade in his peripheral vision moments before he felt it sting and heard its wielder scream, “DEMON!  YOUR EYES!  I SAW YOUR EYES!”

THE BIRD, THE BOAR, & THE BIRCH
“OF WHAT DO YOU SPEAK?!”, The Birch struggled to get out from underneath The Boar.

“No man can see his own eyes!”, The Bird shouted from behind somewhere, “You have both gone mad!”

Staring back from either side of the tree image, were the whites and blacks of a man’s eyes.  The Boar’s hand stalled, halfway through a second swing of his blade, “Your…your eyes….I…”

The Boar seemed locked in his own thoughts, powerless to stop The Birch from skittering free and clasping a hand to the blood that welled across his neck.  The wound would bleed but it was not serious.  The men around the room stood with their hands on their hilts, unsure of how to act.  The Birch collapsed into one of the chairs, still holding his neck.  A long, uneasy silence filled the room.

It was The Birch who broke it, “How long do you have to kill Turi?”
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KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2006, 05:46:28 AM »

Let me start off with the calendar.  I thought it might give some continuity to the fiction pieces so I implemented Polian's calendar.  It has 13 months, and each month has 8 Moons (think of them as half weeks) and each Moon has 3-4 days in it. 

Here's the usage of Doom and Destiny for this session:

1.  Santiago used his Doom (My exploits will be my undoing) in order to narrate selling Lydia to the slavers.
2.  Rodrigo used a Destiny point to say that Ricardo is loyal and it not part of the cell, but another member of the Scions.

That's 3 more points added to our total of 9 which meant that we reached our first Threshold this session. 

In addition, Santiago rolled the first Taint check in the group - as a result of selling Lydia. 
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Keith Senkowski
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Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #13 on: June 16, 2006, 06:02:23 AM »

This one started off much more smoothly.  I was well prepared and the guys where in a groove.  The game still focuses on Phil (Santiago), but that was more how things turned out on their own.  He just kept diggin himself holes...

Neil mentioned the Taint roll.  Phil basically had to roll a 12 on 2D6 to earn Taint...  and he did...  which was fucking awesome.  However, as we worked out his Taint, I came to realize that Taint needs to be better explained...

We also came up with an interesting way of handling damage, which I think works better than what is in the book.  Neil gets most of the credit for this...  You still have the penalty dice during the conflict as normal, but instead of having penalty dice as you "heal" you gain a temporary negative descriptor for the duration of the healing.  Feels more organic...

We also reached the first Threshold for the Apocalypse (the last scene with the dude who goes nutso).  It seemed to work well enough.  The fight was a little anti-climatic for me.  I didn't work up the character and just used the goon rules.  That made him easy to give a smacking to.  I should have known better.  Named characters, like say the Lady who is posted on the bobgoat.com site would not go down so easy...
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
KVargo
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #14 on: June 16, 2006, 06:50:09 AM »

I agree about Hugo.  I thought we would be in some serious, Call of Cthulu-esque trouble but with he went down with three successful conflict rolls from Rodrigo.  Maybe you could just design a template for The Journeyman...so an NPC uses his normal stats but once he "changes" he adds these set "x" things to his sheet, including a name.
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