Archive for November 2011

Chapter Five: City of Shadows (Part 2 of 2)   Leave a comment

(Part 1)

Captain Manx tracked down Utashki within the Arena fighting pits. The taciturn Ukari was cool to Manx’s entreaties, but eventually agreed to answer his questions. That civility vanished, however, when Manx mentioned his son. Utashki’s sister had been kidnapped off of Ukar by Chainers and sold into prostitution. Utashki had recently acquired the money to buy out her contract, only to learn that a young man matching Hal Jr’s description had absconded with her. Realizing that Utashki might be more of an obstacle than an ally, Manx left quickly.

Fannagus, Ferizio and the few surviving Engineers returned to the pilgrims’ suites via flitcar. The others straggled in soon after, having seen the city of Achaeon going dark around them. Fannagus explained the source of the disturbance: the power plant meltdown in the undercity, caused by the lion-masked partisans. The pilgrims quickly agreed that getting out of Achaeon was now a priority. It was then that Sir Victor noted Deacon Nedeau’s absence. Brother Sand told him that she had mentioned paying a call on an Eskatonic priest who was visiting the city: Father Flavian, Victor’s old friend from the university!

Fannagus pulled Ferizio aside and grilled him on his disappearance. Ferizio explained that Master Long had sent him a note, asking him to come in secret to the power plant. He had debriefed Long on the last few weeks, from Sutek to Kish to Criticorum. He had tried to stick to the arranged lie about the quantum core being lost, but Long hadn’t believed him. The Master Engineer was about to return to the suites and seize the core when the partisans had arrived, locking down the facility. Fannagus shook his head, frustrated at the loss of life and materiel. “No more secrets,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at his friend.

Sir Victor, Countess Adorna and Acolyte Gwinn plunged back into the chaos of Achaeon, looking for Father Flavian. Rioting crowds all around them smashed windows and looted, panicking with the loss of power. Desperate, Victor called on Ibrahim Amarjah, the headstrong young bravo who he had nearly dueled at Lady Corezza’s funeral. He found Amarjah conferring with other nobles. Amarjah embraced Victor as a brother, since the two of them had shared Corezza’s trust, and explained what was going on. “Today is a great day, my friend,” Amarjah said. “We have struck our first blow for home rule!”

(Back in the suites, Brother Sand was explaining some of the revolutionary chaos that was afflicting Criticorum. Old al-Malik families were feuding with the Istakhr al-Malik, fighting to dislodge the “usurpers” and restore home rule. The fighting had never reached Achaeon before that afternoon, however, and had never been so direct)

Victor redirected Amarjah’s revolutionary zeal into something more useful, convincing him to help in the search for Flavian. Amarjah agreed, bringing a retinue of nobles and leading Victor to the local Avestite temple: a fortified outpost near an incinerator shaft. The revolutionaries caused a distraction with a frontal assault, while Victor, Adorna and Gwinn sneaked in a side entrance. They found Nedeau and Flavian in an interrogation room. Nedeau taunted Gwinn, telling her that Victor and Adorna, two unsanctioned psychics, had manipulated her. “The acolyte is here of her own free will,” Victor insisted aloud. At the same time, he sent a telepathic message to Adorna, asking if she could erase Gwinn’s memory later. Outnumbered and outgunned, Nedeau let the pilgrims leave with Flavian.

Victor had one last favor to ask of Amarjah before departing. “I could find allies for the cause on Shaprut,” he suggested. “If only we had a way to get there …” Amarjah gave Victor his signet ring, telling him to make use of the family Charioteer.

Finally, back in the pilgrims’ suites, Fannagus was awoken by a brilliant glowing from within his robes: the quantum core, active without his doing. Fannagus plugged it into his think machine to run diagnostics, but the core overpowered his boot sequence and began running its own program. The Engineer stared in awe as his computer compiled an intricate 3D rendering: a schematic for how to repair the ruined power plant …

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Posted November 28, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Five: City of Shadows (Part 1 of 2)   1 comment

The psychic screaming in Sir Victor’s head grew louder as Deacon Nedeau drew closer with her terrible relic. Gritting his teeth, Victor maintained that he had no idea what she was talking about. When she pressed him, he admitted having studied with a Father Flavian in the Eskatonic Order, but confessed nothing further. Mollified, Nedeau pocketed her relic and withdrew. Victor breathed a sigh of relief, then checked in with Countess Adorna, confirming that she was a telepath like him.

Captain Manx set out to track down Utashki, the Ukar who seemed to have a similar interest in Manx’s son’s whereabouts. Inquiries in the undercity pointed toward the Arena, all abuzz in preparation for an upcoming gladiatorial tournament. Utashki had tracked his quarry to the grand melee, a brutal slaughter full of the dregs of Achaeon’s underclass, and had entered the tournament to find him. Figuring that his services as a Muster might be useful to someone who needed gladiators, Manx set off for the Arena to make himself useful.

Engineer Fannagus and his Hazat aide, Manuti Lesange, approached the power plant in the lowest levels of the city. Guards paced outside, armed irregularly and all wearing matching respirator masks styled like a lion’s muzzle. Fannagus bluffed his way past them (“problems with the trip-selector switch in T-18B”), but felt nervous at the lack of Engineer presence. His suspicions were confirmed when he came to a catwalk overlooking a reactor room and saw the Engineers herded together at gunpoint. Ferezio was among them – as was Master Hazuki Long, the senior Engineer who had dispatched Fannagus on the pilgrimage.

Sir Victor and Countess Adorna had a telepathic conversation while strolling through the gardens of the Li Halan enclave on Achaeon. Adorna described the cool formality of her strict family, while Victor shared his embarrassing failings at traditional noble pursuits. Neither had ever shared a telepathic bond of such duration or intensity and the two quickly became close. That newfound connection was endangered when Lady Maryam caught up with them and cheerily offered to accompany them to tea. But Adorna induced a “forgetting trance” on her, much to Victor’s delight, and the two psychics continued on their way.

Manx introduced himself to Lady Louise Abahr Howeitat, a lesser al-Malik noble with a functionary role in administering the games. She complained of her difficulty in finding an exotic weapons specialist to fight a captive Vorox she found. “Often, you’ll find experienced fighters slumming it in the melee, hoping for easy pickings,” Manx offered. “If I might peruse the roster …” Armed with a list of fighters, Manx descended into the fighters’ dormitories.

Fannagus plugged his think machine and the quantum core into the power plant’s data terminal, initiating an overload in one of the reactors. While the guards hustled some of the Engineer hostages off to deal with the crisis, Fannagus and Lesange overpowered the remaining guard and spirited Ferezio away. Fannagus sent Ferezio and the other Engineers off, trying to duck back inside to rescue Master Engineer Long. He found Long and one of the guards at a core terminal. Fannagus watched, separated from them by a pane of resistant glass, as the guard shoved Long out of the way and, over his protests, pulled a massive lever. Alarms sounded and warning gauges spiked red as nuclear coolant was vented, heralding a meltdown …

Posted November 21, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Four: City of Spires (Part 2)   Leave a comment

(Part 1 here)

Victor’s plans for Corezza’s funeral unfolded in an opulent al-Malik ceremony. Family members and friends competed to outdo each other in a display of public mourning, rending their clothing and pulling at their hair. A handsome young man, Sir Ibrahim Amarjah, waxed poetic about his love of the late Corezza and how dark the galaxy was without her. He laid the blame at the feet of “that dog of the Hawkwoods,” challenging Victor to a duel.

Fannagus ferreted some security footage out of the apartment’s service panel, discovering that Ferezzio had received a message and left without warning. He cornered the steward who delivered the message, who described the messenger as tall, hairless and “wearing robes much like your own” – Engineer robes. Deciding he needed some backup, Fannagus flexed the contacts he’d made on Sutek, stopping in at the Hazat compound. He was passed off to house concierge Manuti Lesange, an intrepid young investigator who took Fannagus’s case very seriously. Lesange spirited Fannagus off in a flitcar to the Engineers’ real seat of power in Achaeon: the arcology power plant.

Manuti Lesange, Hazat concierge

Captain Manx was frogmarched into a car by his captors and taken to an abandoned warehouse on the lower levels of the city. There, he met the brains behind the operation: Major Lexa Cassardi, his old rival from the Muster. Cassardi accused him of misappropriating Muster resources not on behalf of his missing son, but on behalf of the Scravers. She brought in the Scraver flunky who had escorted Manx to his meeting with Dean Toth as a witness. Manx countered Cassardi’s accusations with the honest truth – that his son was the reason he’d committed these infractions – but she wasn’t hearing it. “We’ll continue this conversation on Bannockburn,” she said.

Victor managed to talk his way out of dueling the intimidating Ibrahim, claiming that to shed more blood on the day of Corezza’s funeral would dishonor her memory. Ibrahim agreed and was swayed by an equally strong passion to proclaim Victor a friend. Victor’s funerary efforts met with Duke Ivan’s approval, and he and his party returned to Achaeon.

Sir Ibrahim Amarjah

Manx’s captors escorted him toward the spaceport, keeping him covered with a snub gun. On an elevated walkway, Manx ran into an exceptional bit of luck: the Muster officer who had loaned him the original bodyguards was coming down the other way. Manx played up the anger of a hurt customer, pretending that the original bodyguards had simply wandered off. “How are you going to make this right for me?” he demanded of the Muster officer. The officer stammered his apologies and interrogated Manx’s captors. In the few seconds of confusion, Manx took off at a sprint.

Victor, Acolyte Guinn and Brother Sand arrived back at the pilgrims’ suites. Looking around the empty apartments, Victor found Deacon Nedeau and Countess Adorna in a sitting room. Nedeau had the same curio box that she had brandished at Victor on Sutek, and Victor’s head was filled with the same insufferable buzzing. But that was nothing compared to the shock he received when Countess Adorna locked eyes with him and sent him a telepathic plea: help me … help me … help me …

Posted November 15, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Four: City of Spires (Part 1)   1 comment

The pilgrims spent another week on Kish, making the rounds and soliciting alms for their pilgrimage. On the night before their departure, a grand party was held. Here, Sir Victor was introduced to Countess Adorna Choi Seng Li Halan, whom Prince Flavius intended to send on the pilgrimage in the deceased Lady Corezza’s place. Adorna was struck mute by a childhood malady, leaving her shy and withdrawn. Victor greeted her with all courtesy regardless and introduced her to the other pilgrims.

Countess Adorna Li Halan

Prince Flavius chartered a diplomatic liner to convey them to Criticorum, the next leg of their journey. The pilgrims made the trip without incident – a welcome relief after their last jump – and docked at the spaceport of Acheon. A flitcar conveyed them through Acheon’s towering spires and dense city blocks to a Li Halan compound, where they were granted a luxurious suite.

Here the party split up. Captain Manx went to track down a pilot who could convey them to Kordeth, the Ukari homeworld, one of the last leads he had on his son. Since he wanted a pilot who would claim to fly the pilgrims to Shaprut but would secretly ferry them where he wanted, he needed to scrounge in “Little Urth,” the seedy levels of Acheon beneath the city’s smog banks. He stopped off at the local Muster office first to recruit some hired muscle. En route to the lower levels, however, Manx’s goons tipped him off to a tail – the same thugs who had trailed him on Sutek! Marveling at how they’d caught up with him, Manx devised a plan to turn the tables.

Sir Victor took Lady Maryam, Brother Sand and Acolyte Gwinn with him to the estate of Duke Ivan ibn Hatar il-Aqsa al-Malik, Lady Corezza’s father. He conveyed the news of Lady Corezza’s death in person, calling on Brother Sand and Acolyte Gwinn to corroborate his story. Duke Ivan’s reaction was odd, alternating between doting civility and the elaborate metaphors in which the al-Malik are known to talk. His mood grew chillier when Sir Victor exclaimed out loud that an item was missing from Lady Corezza’s effects – the relic she had given her life to obtain.

Duke Ivan al-Malik

Engineer Fannagus was examining this relic back at their apartments: the quantum core, a processor that ran an entire arcology. Rigging up a means to interface the quantum core with his own think machine, Fannagus was rewarded for his efforts with a burst of code. He was delighted to learn that it was a language he recognized – a late derivative of Suprema – and went on a sixteen-hour research spree. He emerged from his room, blinking and unshaven, to realize that everyone else had left, including Fez.

Sir Victor had a private audience with Duke Ivan, who made clear how little he thought of Victor’s improbable story. He suggested that paying for Lady Corezza’s funeral would go a long way to smoothing over the ill feeling. Victor agreed, asking for time to gather funds and solicit aid from other members of the Criticorum nobility. Since al-Malik funerals are renowned for their opulence, he would need all the help he could get.

Captain Manx lured his shadowers into a utility stairwell and sent his bodyguards out of sight. He confronted the thugs following him head on, demanding to know “what in the name of the inky-black demon-infested space between the stars do you think you’re doing?” The thugs blustered back at him, gloating that he’d made a bad enemy in Major Lexa Cassardi. Manx was wondering how to act on this bit of intel when two muffled reports and the thump of two bodies distracted him. A stealthy Ukari assassin emerged from the stairwell, his weapon trained on Manx. This was Utashki, whose name Manx had overheard in his drumming-out over a year ago.

Utashki

Posted November 7, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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