Fireborn: Dark Phoenix

A letter from Deep Ocean
Midwinter-5-1935, Urnheim

Rotis came stumbling through the window, blathering about killing a voice in his head with the help of this ‘ether’ – he’d handed a recipe over to Marius. They all had one too, he was sure. But they have to hear their voices first. A voice of authority, who they’d willingly obey without question. His had been Lady Syri; he knows that for Jaxar, it was the Verugid from the ziggurat-dream, the ‘Afterlife’, despite Jaxar’s apparent skepticism. Everyone else? He’s not so sure, but ‘she’ – this not-Mistress – had spoken of ‘plans’ for Radomir, too…

The voices are X4, Rotis swore it was true. How did he know? Because Deep Ocean did – when the not-Mistress spoke caution in his head while he faced the strange being, it had boomed: “X4 SINGS”. No one else had ever overheard her; but Deep Ocean had even been able to ‘echo’ back her words. That voice was X4, Rotis vehemently said again. And it’s inside each of them as well. Ordering them around too, whether they hear it or not. But he might also appear a bit drunk and deranged, wildly gesticulating with near-empty bottle of Pengolds 1919.

The funny characters towards the end of his annotations to a letter supposedly from Deep Ocean read ‘Asmodeus’ in the Drakaric script; the old Blackscale stories Rotis heard long ago from a ‘friend’ tell of such a demon of fire who battles a demon of ice in the world up above for dominion, both eager to corrupt those of the Earth who stray too far into the light. And so they the Blackscales remain underground, the Hidden…


An Interview with a Presence

Following James’ recommendation (and the fact that Rotis cannot be trusted to accurately portray what happened) I am giving a potted summary of what our investigations found.

The prophet said that the spooky red ghost was afraid of us, and since we were essentially more trouble than it was worth, it released us. Though he stated it wasn’t defeated. Merely cowed and fleeing. He has also become more, and more blue in tone by spending time with us. As if being with people has made him more… peoply; less ghosty. The prophet also mentioned that the memories here are only of those at the moment of death, and that some with the true knowledge of what this thing is or was, left and escaped. Thus meaning their memories are not captured here.

We enquired about the kobold who also escaped the ship with us. The prophet suggested that they couldn’t be reached by conventional means, but since the spooky red ghost was fleeing, all barriers were down and we could now reach places we couldn’t before. Though he wasn’t sure how long this would alst, and that we should probably be quick about things

The room the fight happened in yielded very little. All the elven corpses vanished, although the smoking mummies remained. The monitors were mostly smashed but showed a variety of scenes for deserts, to bar rooms, even Trynshm. We hypothesise these are memories of those absorbed by the dreamstate.

The large metal cylinder was also less than fruitful. After one button press on it’s control panel, all the monitors turned off and a series of smaller metal cylinders rose from the platform around the larger one. The could not be detached, but could be pushed downwards, whereupon they would spring back up. Marius hypothesises that it is some form of power source. Though the workings are unknown.

Beyond this room was just a repeating set of sarcophagi over and over. So we gave up and returned to the main chamber.

Rotis opened a portal to the kobold survivor. We were taken to a white room lined with monitors. There was a table and chair, some dirty dishes, and a bed with an old emaciated kobold in it. They sat bolt up right when we entered. Once the portal closed the only exit was a door behind us, which had no handles, or means of opening, and sounded more like a wall than a door. Attempts were made to open it. The attempts failed.

The kobold (who said his name was “Engineer”) was quite senile, and also an echo like entity, much like the prophet when we first met him. Getting straight answers out of Engineer was quite difficult, so for the sake of brevity I’ll just list what Marius believes the whole story to be:

The ship was travelling from “home” (which is very far away) to “somewhere,” names of both are unknown. They were leaving “home” because it wasn’t safe, it was dangerous. More details weren’t available. The ship was attacked by the “alien hexapods.” Their motivation is unknown and unclear. But I think they had something to do with the ship crashing. The spooky red ghost (which Engineer called The Presence,) was originally attached to one of the Hexapods, but seems to have attached itself to the Engineer. Engineer escaped the ship and landed on warm sandy beaches. There might have been other survivors, but we think they all departed in separate directions. Engineer wandered for a very, very long time, and eventually came to the ziggurats. They were already abandoned when he arrived, and it is implied that the 4 armed (hexapod) on the throne was already here when Engineer arrived. Engineer referred to the mummies as “The Wrapped.” There was apparently a 7th pyramid, but it is buried beneath a landslide at the far end of the valley.

He then spent an indeterminable (but implied to be a very long) time translating the inscriptions. Eventually he went to ziggurat 6 (or pyramid gamma as he called it), and descended to the lowest level by the same route we took before we ended up in the ship dream. He entered what he called room 18 and found a single sarcophagus sized for a child, or kobold (we couldn’t open it in the dream, implying no one had ever looked inside.) It was here that he believes he fell asleep. In actuality it is more likely he died of extreme old age, or just from being horribly, horribly depressed at all his chums having died in the ship accident.

He then thinks he woke up in the small white room, having been saved by his friends, and that everyone was now miraculously alive! They even built a tier 3 medical facility to help him get better (though this was then moved?) We think it is at this point he entered the dream state. The Presence also apparently kept him safe, and alive, and sometimes visited him. He also mentioned having “spies” who told him things. I suspect this are some from of the spectres we’ve seen, that wandered around looking at things and gathering experiences.

After a great deal of circular and confusing conversation, Rotis seems to have managed to trap the senile Engineer in a logic loop of things which couldn’t be real and the whole room and Engineer vanished. Leaving us in the aforementioned room 18.

We had a conversation with the Prophet, and some accompanying visions, of him entering this room and “tearing out its [the presence’s] heart.” This involved him entering the room with a bloodied knife and opening Engineer’s metal exoskeleton skin. Whereupon a lot of old, decayed skin and bones fell out. A thin red mist attached itself to the Prophet and then he clutched his head. I believe this was “the presence” attaching itself to the Prophet in much the same was as we believe happened with Harding. The Prophet knew that there was power here, that’s why he came, apparently he got the information from a partner (a mage), but ultimately betrayed any agreement they had and took the power for himself as the mage would be have been a “dark god.”

The majority of the sun-like imagery, the absorbing of memories, and a progression towards unity seem to have been “inflicted” and impressed upon the presence by the Prophet because of the violent nature of him “tearing out its heart” and wounding it and causing it hurt.

Eventually Rotis grew bored with the Prophet and tried to blow him away, in doing so, he summoned the Prophet (Manx’s) brother. This caused the prophet to vanish. In an attempt to try and reach the actual presence itself, rather than these echoes, we kept badgering it, pointing out how all these echoes it was conjuring were dead. There was a lot of flowery imagery around mirror’s and reflections, and not knowing one from the other. And how it was questing for unity and how this was the afterlife etc.

Manx’s brother was replaced by Harding, who had also come to this room, and seen the vision and realised the Prophet was a fraud, and that he was the worthy one blah, blah, blah. Classic Harding self aggrandising wankery. He had some unflattering things to say about Radomir, and how he had come here only for fame and power and money. (Which seems to have worked as we all know Radomir is a famous explorer.) Harding implied that the presence has been attaching itself to people and driving them mad, as the experiences of the mad are so much more vivid and interesting. The presence is BIG on new experiences. Even if it ultimately seems to end up hashing out the same things over and over.

Rotis eventually blew away Harding, by shooting him in the chest at point blank, which caused the gunshot wound in his side to appear which was inflicted in the first fight. Harding was replaced with a small kobold child with white skin. This was the first imprint the presence seemed to have ever had on it. Though the details remained hazy. Things got a bit sad, and Rotis was characteristically unempathetic when Marius gave the little kobold a comforting hug.

From the kobold we learnt that the presence was supposed to protect and keep alive its “host.” It’s not sure what it is, or what it’s supposed to be, but it knows that it’s different from what it was supposed to be, and doesn’t think it’s supposed to be able to think. And only thinks when people are around. It has no memories before attaching itself to Engineer. It seems to see view it’s inability to keep Engineer alive as a failure, and appears to be suffering some serious GRIEF. Engineer died alone, and is thus likely the source of the ominous “Everyone dies alone catchphrase” This was further exacerbated by Manx “tearing out it’s heart” by disturbing Engineer’s remains. As a result it acts VERY hostile towards anyone who comes to the ziggurats. Mostly to try and prevent anything like this happening again. It doesn’t seem to have a good comprehension of mortality.

It also appears that Manx took the presence with him (which is very confusing as we thought we were talking to the presence), but the elves then appeared later and one of them was carrying it with them. It could tell because of how it shined? It then said that it wanted to sleep. Which caused the entire dream world to start to crumble into nothingness. So we left.

I am of the opinion that all the evil and violence we have suffered here and the hands of the spectre and the presence, are simply a result of something that is very, very sad, and incredibly lonely lashing out because Manx was a disrespectful, power hungry, asshole.

I think that the presence is still somehow tied to Engineer’s remains, and his exoskeleton (which is broken in some way?) and will continue to lash out at anyone who comes here. However, I believe that we could possibly help the presence, by assisting it overcome its sadness and grief. Ensuring that Engineer’s remains aren’t just a pile on the ground would be a start, and repairing the exoskeleton it is linked to (though this admittedly might prove to be a very long term effort.) If possible I think we should take Engineer’s remains, the exoskeleton and the presence with us. Not by force, but by consent. At its heart it is very lonely, and wants new experiences, which we could offer it. I suspect it could be a very helpful ally further down the line.

Now I’m sure some of us are in the mood to smash the spooky red ghost into a million ephemeral bits, but if we were in its position would we have acted any differently? Rotis is naturally in favour of unilateral murder and destruction, because he doesn’t understand it, and thus fears it because he’s prone to bouts of intolerance, paranoia, and extremism, as I’m sure you’re all aware.

Also, if we leave the presence here, its possible the Arcallians will send more people who will either die at its hands, repeating this awful cycle again, or manage to drag it away and inflict all manner of horrors upon it. In addition, if we are to find whatever this power or presence is out in the wider world, we are unlikely to be able to accomplish this on out own, without its help.

We should approach our next decision with patience, compassion, and empathy.

The Syakhl Spectre
Or, "The Terror of the Tombs: A Radomir Zheng Adventure"

People began to realise they were trapped in a dream when…

[To be completed later…]

…and then, Lentitia woke Tomaz from the dream; and shortly after Lieutenant Parasca, Gavril, and Borse wake up too, reporting that “The Prohpet” inside the dreamworld had told them that ‘it’ was cowed and releasing them all, and something about how it was being overwhelmed by having so many living people fighting back all at once. Teyranik also awoke around this time.

A few minutes later, Ensign Cozma wakes up as well, saying that Lady Syri, Marius, and Rotis had decided to follow the thing while it was frightened and vulnerable and find some ‘answers’, and that the Prophet was going with them. He also reported that Syri, Rotis and Marius had all recommended the party make a move to recover the supplies that Hardin stole, at the minimum.

Rotis is still asleep and Marius is still ‘projecting in’ through him. About 40 minutes affter that – they too awake.

APs earned: 18
AP Total: 65

[Since John won’t be here next session I’m recommending that Marius posts up his summary of what happened, his thoughts, and any recommended courses of action he wishes to suggest.]

The Murderous Minister
or, "The strange tale of the missing porter"

After setting up camp, the party (minus a porter) went to explore Z1, the first ziggurat, as this monolithic structure had a broken door that could allow limited entrance (Z2’s door was heavy and still sealed). Inside was found a tomb filled with corpses in sarcophagi, mummified by the cold. There was evidence that the toms had been sealed from the inside and that those who did so had sealed themselves into sarcophagi and committed ritual suicide. Strange apparitions appeared at times, and appeared to be replaying actual events, including speech, that everyone could understand; specifically it replayed a murder, apparently committed by some dead adventurers who’d broken in some long time previously.

The murals around the walls depicted a variety of scenes but seemed to have the sun as a focus and had heiroglyphic writing with them.

The lower floors seemed to contain a mass grave, and evidence of something unseen attacking a lone person wandering through it. Strange sounds were heard from upstairs and it was later found that a body, from a high niche in the wall of the mid-layer, seemed to have fallen somehow and smashed on the ground.

After leaving Z1, the porter Teyranik was found to be missing, along with dynamite, water and food supplies, with evidence the camp had been looted by persons unknown. Tracking them in the rocky, windswept valley was tough and prone to sidetracking. Rotis and Aethelthior returned to Z1 reasoning that the strange noises might have been Teyranik; instead they found a mummified body walking around, evidently with hostile intent towards them. Fleeing Z1, the body did not (apparently) attempt to pursue.

In Z4, an unconscious explorer was found suffering from frostbite, hypothermia, and malnutrition. The ziggurat itself didn’t seem to contain many tombs at all; in fact the central chamber seemed to be set up more like a religious gathering-place, with an altar and (smashed) stone benches. The lower levels seemed to contain rooms with rotted and decayed furniture, but a route down below was blocked by a heavy stone door that did not seem easily moveable. No sign of Teyranik was found.

In Z3, the largest and most central ziggurat, the windward sides had eroded badly and were open to anyone who wished to enter. A dead elf was located inside and had had some coinlike object in his hand at some point before dying and being mummified in the cold sand; apparitions suggested the killer was another elf, who had been trying to hide something that the deceased did not agree with hiding (though the killing apparition, unlike the others, had two differently-coloured layers of light to it). Lower down in the basement area was a large area with a large pile of skulls, a lot of sarcophagi, and a throne on which an unconscious uruk was seated wearing golden regal jewellery; alongside him was a mummified and broken corpse that had apparently once sat on the throne before the unconscious ork replaced it, and it had worn the jewels – though most oddly, the mummy seemed to have two sets of arms bandaged across its chest. While retrieving him and the jewels, strange things began happening (including knocking sounds from the inside of several sarcophagi) so the party opted to retreat for the night, since there was no sign of Teyranik here either. A purple apparition appeared and began following Aethel closely until he left the ziggurat entirely.

On the way up, two apparitions (one of which, like the elf, had the two-colour oddity but had a different coloured interior) discussed. The multicolour one was called ‘Manx’, and the other was his brother, it seemed from the talk; Manx was accused of leading ‘followers’ here under false pretenses and that nobody could live here, so it would not be a new imperial capital. Further talk discussed how a growing number of suspicious fatalities and sightings suggested “something” wanted them gone. However before the apparitions faded away, they revealed a secret passageway in the stairwell to the surface, but vanished into the doorway while still speaking.

After resting for the night, during which Rotis spent most of the night walking around the mountain to look for enemy encampments that might have taken the supplies, the throne-uruk was found to be missing.

In Z5, a group of defenders were located, and seemed to consist of at least two Uruk and at least one kobold. Their accents suggested they were Arkalian, and their admissions suggested they had come here with “Minister Hardin” but had deserted him after realising he was crazy – they cited leaving injured people outside to die (for being ‘proved unworthy’) as evidence. They admitted they’d taken a lot of Hardin’s supplies to try and force him and his loyalist followers to negotiate, and were waiting them out; they suspected Hardin might have been the supplies-thief. They also expressed a willingness to make some kind of a deal against Hardin in due course but were wary of unexplained New Urgenians appearing from nowhere, and said Hardin had been very preoccupied about Radomir.

Hardin’s loyalists were deduced to contain one or two Uruk and eight to ten kobolds, including the injured or comatose. The Z5 persons declared “the spectre” the source of the injuries, a few deaths, and other mysterious ailments, and said that Hardin called it the “guardian” and believed it would keep him, and those with pure faith in Solaris, safe from heretics and infidels. (hence his belief that those who suffered any significant mishap were cursed and had been proven unfaithful).

Finally, the group entered Z6, which was identified as Hardin’s stronghold. Radomir used a previously unadmitted power to shape rock, which he still seemed to be learning how to use, to make a new entrance in the side of the ziggurat, and Aethel used some of his sculpting magic to remove the inner layers of plaster and mural (which Radomir couldn’t, it seemed, reshape) – laying them down carefully for later study.

Z6 was partially buried and areas of it were in a state of some collapse. In the upper chamber, two kobolds were found on bedrolls and with thin blankets on them (and with evidence of a fire at some time in the recent past but entirely extinguished now); one, a male, was dead and had been for some time, the other, a female, was severely hypothermic and comatose but alive. A greenish apparition sat on a rubble pile nearby and watched the pair. When the group attempted to leave the chamber, the apparition began following.

A purple apparition seemed to appear, walk to the central chamber, point either up or down stairs, and vanish again; this continued for several repeats before Rotis and Jaxar gave up on observation and returned upstairs to regroup.

Downstairs once again, an ambush was sprung in the main central chamber, with some pistol and knife-armed kobolds, an Uruk rifleman, a pair of kobolds using an uruk-sized rifle between them, and Minister Hardin himself. A fight ensued in which Jaxar, Aethel and Radomir were seriously injured, and Marius narrowly escaped with some minor stab wounds. With concerted efforts the party persuaded the riflebolds to surrender; and took down all others. All through the combat new greenish apparitions began following combatants, to the irritation of those who attempted stealth; and the purple apparition repeatedly walked around those who had fallen.

Combat finishes with a capitulation from the two kobolds left standing (who had exclaimed with horror at seeing ‘the prophet’ fall in battle, seemingly referring to either Hardin or Radomir – though more likely the former); Radomir is unconscious as are most of the enemy combatants. Supplies and Teyranik remain unaccounted for. Enemies remain unlooted and allies, untreated (and the room is brightly lit with green apparitions following most people now, a purple apparition hovering over Radomir and Hardin’s prone forms, and the words “EVERYONE DIES ALONE” written in various different styles and colours and sizes across the walls, ceiling and floor, glowing very brightly. They do not seem to be fading.

AP Earned: 10
Total AP: 47 (thankfully 42 has been averted. The Universe will not now be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable.)

Zounds, Ziggurats!
Or, "The Heroic Discovery of the Ancient Shrine"

After a long, arduous journey, the party finally arrived at the shrine on the slops of Mount Syakhl. Nobody (Arkalian, at least) appears to have got here yet.

Radomir revealed he’d been here before, the place seemed to be haunted, and most of the people he came with before are dead now, but it’s possible to worry too much about these things.

APs earned on the Journey: 3 (already awarded for milestones on journey).
APs earned for arriving successfully: 3

AP Total: 37

The Secret Sits
We run around in a ring and suppose...

[Edited to add an option 6 I was reminded of earlier!]

As promised, the day after the factory breakin, Doctor Raykov provided you with (freelancer) journalistic papers for the Daily Courier, the local paper.

After some investigations and bank robbing (in the nicest possible way) around town, the party found that the Cyraean Workers’ Republic was interested in their activities and interested, too, in working with them – something that held some interest for Jaxar and a little for Aethelthior (albeit with major reservations in the latter case), but was soundly opposed by both Radomir (for reasons of personal loyalty and fundamental disagreement with their ethos) and Marius (for reasons of their genocide against the ‘slave race’ in the early days of the Republic’s founding).

Radomir, however, had been approached by Patriarch Verrisch Vanadich of the Detective Enforcers with a similar offer; and the party was more amenable to this as an option. A meeting was arranged.

Patriarch Vanadich arranged a fancy dinner at the King’s Head Restaurant, and offered a copy of the Royal Secrets Act to each of the party; the agreement, to be paid 1 guilder a month for as long as the contract is in force, but in return to be bound to keep secret any information learned in the course of their duties to New Urgen. Payment for any specific work performed – and danger pay, potentially – would be discussed on a case by case basis.

Rotis seemed uncertain whether he should agree without his mistress’ permission but signed anyway; Aethelthior had more fundamental disagreement since, as an Elven citizen, he was very concerned that acting as an agent and employee of an Uruk government could compromise both New Urgen and himself if it were ever revealed. He did however agree to a handshake promise not to reveal any information gleaned directly from New Urgen’s authorities by virtue of this rudimentary alliance; but also promisd that if he learned other information in the course of his adventures and travels and felt it was important for Elven authorities to know, he would tell them. The one concession he made was to inform Vanadich of what he was revealing if(/when) it came to it. Vanadich agreed, reluctantly, since it seemed Aethelthior’s aid might be important in this instance.

Vanadich however revealed that he had not previously been made aware of Lord Apargopolous’ ‘arrangements’, and his opinion that the New Urgen military had badly mishandled the situation by keeping Lord Apargopolous’ security light and not demanding access to more of his information and sources. His main short to medium-term worries are that despite some setbacks to their efforts, the New Arkalian Navy-Bloodforce-Solarian alliance was on the verge of becoming the major player in Arkalia and becoming the acknowledged goverment there; and separately, that Lord Apargopolous (and his younger son Hergert) were kidnapped by the invaders at Trynsham and may end up revealing the secrets that New Urgen as a whole doesn’t seem to know.

He also mentioned “Aetherlord” and “Kingmakers” as names that have arisen in his enquiries and asked if you knew the terms or groups or persons involved. The party did not (or claimed so, perhaps).

He therefore has several ‘jobs’ he thinks need addressing urgently (this is expanded and clarified from last night, since it was getting very late!):
1.) The Solarians have promised to reveal a ‘new shrine’ of some kind. If true, and he thinks it is, it is likely within the regions barred by the Treaty of Grelda; but he seems to have a lead on the location and seems to prefer that a New Urgenian discovery of it be made, before the Arkalians can get there (as this would provoke an international crisis and lend legitimacy to Princess Ioanna’s claims on Arkalia’s throne). Since Radomir is a famed explorer and Aethelthior is an Elf who can legally travel with an entourage beyond the borders, he thinks this would be a useful avenue to pursue.
2.) Lord Apargopolous acquired artifacts from two “sites”; their locations aren’t precisely known but at least one appears to be in Birren’s Land somewhere. Locating one or both of these “sites” and ensuring New Urgen can secure them before the Arkalian terrorists can extract information from Lord Apargopolous and loot them, is important.
3.) The New Arkalian Navy has recently built new shipyards and refitted old ones, and is now capable of building simple steam-ships for its war fleets. He thinks this, and other circumstantial evidence, means the Navy has access to its own advanced technologies, either by piracy from others (it is known Apargopolous lost several shipments to piracy); or possibly because they have their own supply, which may be the same as Lord Apargopolous’ “Sites”, or may be separate. With Jaxar’s Blood-Force history it may be possible to infiltrate (or simply find weaknesses and attack and seize) and learn their sources.
4.) Lord Apargopolous was robbed by a pair of as-yet-unidentified orcs posing as Kobold Society members; and they sent a crate to a local man named Silverio Giacomelli. Since the party have already begun looking into this angle, learning who he was, who he worked for, and what his interest was in the affair, may likewise be extremely illuminating.
5.) He’s sure the party has other avenues they can or will wish to pursue. He is open to suggestions as to what and how.
(6.) – Party suggestion was made that seeking out a first-generation birrenian kobold might yield dividends, but would be difficult and/or expensive – though Korakova is likely to have the most in the world, outside Birren’s Land).

He says he has ‘others’ who could pursue many or all of these things as well, though it’s unclear how much (or how imminent) progress is possible with each line of investigation. He also says he’s aware that you have acquired some evidence related to Mr Giacomelli. As long as he’s informed what information was acquired he’s no objection to you keeping any valuables you found; stolen individual pieces of research aren’t his key concern as long as the Sites are unknown and Apargopolous is missing.

He presumably knows other information but hasn’t revealed it. If anyone has immediate questions, ask via Skype or private message here (or openly in the comments if it’s retroactively inserted into the dinner talks) and it may be answered.

APs: 3
AP Total: 31

Flashpoint in the Factory
or, "The Brave Investigation of a Deadly Spy-Ring"

The Cigarillo Factory was investigated. However a government raid interrupted, but not before you provided a scoop for the local paper and earned a good rate for one night’s work.

Plus, APs.

AP: 5
AP Total: 28

An Overheard Conversation

The conversation next door proceeds slowly. Four voices are fairly clear; a fifth, sometimes addressed as “Meselheim”, is muffled oddly. The language is difficult to make out but between all of your knowledge, you piece together the Arkalian conversation.

“Meselheim”, it seems, Is in charge; though the other four seem oddly dismissive and undeferential towards him, even though when he gives an order, they simply agree to do it. After a few minutes, you have the impression from the tones, that “Meselheim” might be a messenger of some kind, passing on instructions (or reminding the men of instructions) from an authority that they do recognise, and accept he is authorised to speak for.

Meselheim, at times, seems to refer to the group collectively as “Cobras”.

The man called Sokolev – probably the Sokolev Gerasim that Jaxar has mentioned he spotted and knows from a long time ago – seems to be in charge officially, to judge by the way that everyone (including, sometimes, Meselheim) show.

The discussion they’re having at the moment is the benefits of sending the “last shipment” for “the Zhorak “ to collect. While three of the men seem to support this – and sending the “raw materials” too – the rest, including “Meselheim”, say it’s best to drop them overboard and get away from the factory before any “suspicions” develop from “Kardevron’s involvement”.

One of them points out that if “the Zhorak” isn’t going to collect the last shipment (and they just dump it in the river/sea) they will have trouble getting to the “Slader dock” since they don’t have a map of “the reefs” and that besides, they wouldn’t dare risk a “third party captain” knowing that information. Meselheim agrees vehemently and says they will have to report to “Solaria” and await new orders.

The men worry that if they go to “Solaria” they may be sent off to “Ortorten”, but are assured by “Meselheim” that that mission would be volunteer-only. One man – whose name seems to be Sergei – seems very happy at the idea and says he would lay down his life to prove to the world that Solaris was a force beyond immortal emperors and merchants. His colleagues are dismissive of him, but in a way that seems to be friendly (but awkward) banter rather than bitter division.

After perhaps 10 minutes “Meselheim” tells them that “a close ally” has urgently asked to speak with them, and that “the Admiral’s” standing orders to “Meselheim” are that if this ally makes any requests they are to be treated as priority orders. The others seem confused and protest, but Sokolev silences them and says that of course, any friend of the Admiral’s, they will hear out, and to “connect” them whenever they’re ready.

Then there is a long silence which Sokolev breaks.

“Hello? Meselheim?”

[Musical link for the following conversation: ]A deep, oddly booming voice answers.

“No. A new mission, priority, for Cobra Squad. Bring me Jaxar Tilton.”

“Jaxar..? You mean Ga-”

“Dead or alive. If dead; no significant decomposition permitted. No significant thermal, chemical injuries even post-mortem. Body to be kept intact for sampling. Do this and you will be rewarded. Do you understand?”

There’s a long moment of silence and some whispers that you can’t make out.

Then Sokolev replies. “Actually, we’re not sure we do; we’ve been after Kardevron for months, we’ve never been given any… instructions on how to treat his body. We don’t really understand why there’s a sudden interest?”

There’s a long silence. Then…

“You have identified Jaxar Tilton as your Kardevron.”

Sokolev is silent for another long moment. “But that’s just an alias, I don’t-”

He’s interrupted. “Jaxar Tilton is a more important identity. Jaxar Tilton is a Trynsham identity.”

Sokolev breaks another odd pause. “Trynsham? I suppose he was looking for our operatives, I don’t-”

“6 survivors known, at Trynsham Station with X4 sample. Further 5 suspected present within infection window soon after. You will bring me Jaxar Tilton, dead or alive, for the furtherance of vital research. This is priority above your equipment; your factory; your lives. Fail and you will be made to suffer greatly in punishment. Succeed and you and all your men will receive 5,000 Guilders each, and be granted any power you wish of the Sixth Concentric Tier.”

There is a long silence.

Then the deep voice speaks again. “Do you understand?”

More whispering, this time more urgent.

“…yes”, Sokolev says, simply.

Meselheim responds. “I heard all that. This is unorthodox but the Admiral was clear, and I’ve never heard Deep Ocean give a command that urgently, so as soon as you’ve sealed the valves and covered over the factory, find that Tilton man and bring him in. You know what to do.”

Sokolev replies, “Shall we just dump the shipment in the river and head after Kardevron?”

Meselheim thinks. “Make sure the factory won’t survive the night, and dump the last rounds wherever you think necessary. Then get out of there and let it be an unexplained tragedy. No witnesses… obviously.”

Sokolev replies, affirmatively. “Understood. Rastok, out”.

Then there is the sound of chairs scraping, and Sokolev continues – this time in New Urgenian. “Vitomir, Sergei, shut down and tidy up here, then come find us. We need to be gone within the hour. Bring anything you don’t want to carry with you; we’ll burn it in the engines. Give us a minute downstairs, though… we need to take care of something.”

The Sergei voice leaps in. “Sir, we know cremation in the furnaces can’t be traced, we-”

Sokolev interrupts. “Not at half power, sergeant. This will take a bit more ingenuity, but we’ll deal with that after we deal with him. Now get on with it, we don’t have much time if we want the bonus the… ‘friend’ mentioned.”

Two muted “Yessirs”, and the door outside opens… and two sets of footsteps walk past, and down the stairs. Within seconds you hear a door shutting, and the place is quiet – but the remaining men must be in the next room even now.

Another abandoned scrap of paper, ripped in two and crumpled, its contents slashed with ink
Frostheim - 14 - Rastok

Quietly thoughtful – even anxious – as his companions reasoned how and why they ought to break into the cigarillo factory, Rotis had slipped away to be alone. The following scrap of paper may have been found, scrunched-up and discarded with slashes of ink through the entry of the 12th, later on that day.

Attended lecture; like a Pengold’s 1921, my Mistress. Redeeming qualities that parallel the 1919 Grange of your own political aphorisms, but crass to the discerning intellectual palate: 11th Frostheim. Neither sympathy nor pride will fill Croc’s peoples’ hungry bellies, nor cure them of their ailments. Subsequently I attended once again to Doctor Raykov’s muddled office; I trust you’ll find my system better-suited to your tastes.

: 12th Frostheim.

Of course, the truth was just as you had circumcised; the evidence of Blackscale craftsmanship concealed within: 13th Frostheim. Mistress, I wish simply to report the delightfully incredulous expression the discovery did enlist upon Jaxar’s visage. Further, too: Marius employed that I should share my knowledge of Drakarik script, confirming your suspicions. No further proof of Radomir’s adeptness with the Art, however.

Mistress, I must concede distress: 14th Frostheim. I cannot refute the reasoning that we have to strike at once upon the factory, nor that as a group we do ensure that no vital evidence will be neglected. But I must insist that I can only Solicit the Truth alone, it is the done thing.

Thank you, Mistress.

As I consider your proposal, I sit here with the white-striped bijou resting in my palm. I can only speculate as to its ultimate purpose. Much else appears clearer to me. Transarbinan meddling in local affairs is indisputable. In seizing your rightful property, Aziz Farukan will have established a line of supply from Trynsham to the sea and to home; that his fellow Transarbinan, Jacomelli, had anticipated still the arrival of stolen goods after the capture of Trynsham points only towards collusion between Transarbinan entities and the brigands in Trynsham. The productive alliance between Lord Acropolis and the state – evidenced by his tremendous output of patents, fruits borne by the excavation of Blackscale artefacts no doubt – may have qualified a threat (or, at least, stirred interest) to the Scientological supremacy of the League. Indeed, a letter to Jacomelli betrayed the paranoia of ‘enemy spies’ within Arcopolis’s lavatory.

Following the subsequent relocation of all Agropolis’s operations to Trynsham came the invasion. So there is no doubt that this was the prompt – the arrival of something, some precious artefact, prompted the attack. I must carefully scour the lavatory for lingering traces.

The mole, of course, was the Lord’s Arkalian wife. Further, I’ve little doubt that this Solarian ‘holy site’ was discerned from the spoils of Trynsham. Perhaps it is Birrensland itself, ultimate source of the ancient treasures. Supposedly, we shall know soon enough.

The Truth beckons. Jacomelli was a vociferous ally of my destitute kin, and a letter to him spoke of ‘Seekers’. I sense a potential connection to the ‘Strugglers’ who had threatened the lav, due to the intention to purchase slaves. After tonight, I shall resume my investigations with the utmost diligence.

I will break nothing but the veal that obfuscates the Truth from you, my Mistress.

Your devoted, ever-faithful Rotis.


Investigating the Items
or, "A Strange Tale of Mechanism and Mystery"

[Detail to be filled in later; in the meantime, APs]

APs: 4
AP Total: 23


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