THE CIPHERED SCROLL QUEST

Brass Jester

Rune Priest
‘Wake up my pretties, it’s time for you to die!’

The voice was harsh and accompanied by a hammering on the metal bars of the cage.

‘Wake up, wake up. Remember to put on a good show – the crowd have paid good shinies to watch you die.’

‘Cage?’ thought Thecla, struggling awake through a fog of swirling thoughts. ‘Last thing I remember is being in a tavern on the edge of the City of Bridges.’

Her companions were stirring awake as well, Edgar the (somewhat dim-witted) Glaive, Fluke, a Nano like Thecla herself was, Coronilis and El Greco, both Jacks. They all had their weapons, but their other equipment was missing.

The goaler hammered again on the bars. He was a bald, bearded man wearing a studded leather harness; he carried a short spear, orange sparks dripped from the glowing tip.

‘The pit, go for the pit.’ A weak voice came from the next cage. A prisoner, emaciated and covered in horrible rope-like burns lay there. ‘The pit leads to freedom. I tried but I was not fast enough and thrice-accursed Ptolus let loose the Bellowheart. Soon I shall die.’

The rear wall next to the cage slid open into the arena. Ribbed metal walls surrounded an area of close-packed drit, a low wall in the centre concealed the pit. Banked tiers of spectators were howling and cheering for blood. Running towards them was a large group of Margr – goat-headed abhumans.

Edgar and Coronolis ran out and Edgar executed a flawless side flip over his companion, hoping to awe the Margr. El Greco shot an arrow at the nearest, she missed and found that an invisible wall protected the spectators. Fluke magnetically pushed a Margr over the central wall, then hovered over the floor, attempting to propel herself to the pit. Suddenly Edgar grabbed Coronolis and threw him into the pit! *

The Margr fought back with bone spears and the company took minor damage. Meanwhile, Coronolis fell through a succession of curving tubes to land in a chamber half-filled with seawater. He had to fight the Margr that was already in there.

The arena started to flood with water from vents round the walls and a huge shout went up from the crowd.

‘Rippy Fish!

The Company ran for the pit, fighting off Margr as they did so. Edgar was the last to leave, adopting a heroic stance with an exaggerated bow as he did so.

The Tunnels

Several passages led off from the flooded chamber, they picked one and found themselves in a chamber filled with half-melted machinery. Coronolis examined the machinery whilst Fluke examined the six spheres set in the ceiling. One activated and began sweeping a ruby-red beam round that burned when it touched. Edgar grabbed it and they threy a cloak over it. The cloak began to smoulder and burn so they exited the chamber,

An impossibly large chamber, totally black with a slender bridge leading to a central platform suspended over the void. On it stood a figure, surrounded by a swirl of orange and yellow. Thecla approached across the bridge.

‘Iadace,’ said the figure in a sing-song voice, ‘Come closer. I am Margolis of Lenth and I would offer a bargain. Knowledge in the Truth in return for the total life force from one of you.’

‘Err – no. I don’t think so,’ demurred Thecla.

‘I cannot persuade you? It is a good bargain.’ Margolis watched as Thecla returned across the bridge.

A circular chamber with a hovering disc of synth surrounded by a low handrail. Some examination and they determined it was a transport device. The climbed aboard and the disc shot up through the ceiling, went through some bewildering changes of direction and emerged through the floor of an oval chamber. A faceless humanoid automaton stood there, inscribed with the quatrefoil symbol of the Order of the Truth.

‘I speak in the Truth of the Truth. Your are in the Arechive of Ghan. I speak in the Truth.’

The Arechive

In a large central chamber with a raised dais, they found a series of low tables set with different foodstuffs, a selection of cyphers and their missing packs and equipment. Fluke especially enjoyed tasting the fermented squirrel and froment rolls. They chose various cyphers and talked about what had happened.

They had all met in a tavern at the end of one of the bridges leading to the City of Bridges, capital of the Sea Kingdom of Ghan. It was the 8th Sojourn, the Night of the Burning Moon, and a national holiday in Ghan. Across the many piers and tiers of the City were many parties and merrymaking; drinks were free and plentiful.

‘Iadace and welcome to the Arechive of Ghan.’ The speaker stood on the central dais and wore the orange and black robes of the Order of the Truth. ‘I am Frater Bellias; you have all passed the tests and we now require you to carry out a mission for the Order.’

‘Tests?’

‘The arena and the tunnels were tests of your abilities.’

Thecla looked hard at Frater Bellias. ‘Wait – you were the prisoner in the next cage. So, this was all a set-up? You could have just asked.’

‘How else were you to be tested? Twice has this message been sent, on both occasions it has failed to be delivered.’

They agreed to deliver the message; it was held in a sealed synth tube entrusted to El Greco. The message had to be taken to Fallside, a factorium three days journey away and delivered to Frater Neymich, the Aeon Priest. They stopped overnight at the Arechive, each one had an individual room catered for their needs.

The Journey

They left the City on the 9th Sojourn; the weather was hot; the sky clear blue and cloudless. Leading their pack aneen across one of the bridges to the mainland and then followed a trail up into the hills and along the coast.

Mid-morning, they came across a collapsed bridge spanning a small river; Edgar tried to jump across and landed in the water. He crawled up on to the opposite bank as Fluke floated across to join him.

‘Friend, you may be in need of a rejuvenating fungus.’ The speaker was a humanoid standing next to a pack aneen loaded with bags and boxes. He wore an open robe and a loincloth, two long tendrils sprouted from his forehead, and he had a large nose with four nostrils. As he spoke, a bifurcated tongue flickered out. ‘I am Liem the Fungus Seller.’

‘What can you offer?’ asked Edgar. Liem sneezed out something into his hand.

‘Ah. Skonk. Popular in Navarene but this has gone off. Something else perhaps?’ He pointed to an orange growth on his lower body. ‘Flame of the Klang. Let it grow on you and break of a piece each day to heal any hurt. No? Then this (he held up an ivory pellet,) a poison purge; projectile vomiting purges any ingested poison.’

‘I think your sales pitch lacks something. You might have better luck in the City of Bridges.’

‘We can recommend the free drinks at the tavern near to the entrance.’

After midday, faintly on the wind came the sound of melodies. Edgar suddenly warned against continuing – something warned him about going on. ***

‘Run!’ he yelled. ‘Don’t go near them.’ ****

El Greco’s tracking skills found them a way round and as dusk was falling they came across a red stone tower set back from the trail. The tower was built of Redstone; red stone striated with irregular black lines – no matter how the stone was cut the lines always joined at right-angles.

The tower had two floors, over the entrance was inscribed (in an archaic version of the Truth) [WELOME TRAVELLER].

The ground floor could stable the aneen, the upper floor contained a central meeting room with an octagonal table, several sleeping rooms and hoppers of foodstuffs – all good, wholesome food.

‘I’ve come across these towers before,’ said El Greco. ‘Built by a Travellers Aid Society, free for all to use but you are expected to contribute something.’ She pulled out a Water Breathing cypher and left it on the central table.

10th Sojourn

Outside of the tower was a large group of Wolf/ Ursoid aliens. They wore tattered grey jumpsuits and looked desperate. Thecla went outside to try and talk to them. They spoke limited Truth, but Thecla finally got the gist.

* They were very hungry

* They had come here by accident and were looking for a way back

* They were looking for a tower that went from the Earth to the Sky

* They really were very hungry. They would like to buy one of the Company to eat them.

* The are offering a large bag of shins and cyphers

* The person would not suffer – they would be torn apart in a feeding frenzy. The others can watch if they want to.

They refused the offer of food and rations (“nei cultural”), so the entire Company beat a hasty retreat (although there was some confusion when the leader thought that Edgar was offering himself up.) They were wary of pursuit and Coronolis used his mechabird to spy on them, but the hungry aliens just wandered off.

Mid- morning, they came across an ambush site. Three wrecked wagons, the aneen pulling them killed by crossbow bolts. The wagons had been looted. Three bodies, two men and a woman, lay on the ground: a huge cloud of bloodflies buzzing around them. The woman’s throat had been cut and the ring finger on her left hand was missing. One of the men, a mutant because of the long fleshy tendrils sprouting from his forehead, had been stabbed. The third man wore the orange and black of the Order of the Truth, his cloak was torn open, and his bare chest was covered in a tracery of thin white scars, like thread-like burns. His ribcage had been crushed. They searched to see if he carried a scroll tube like El Greco but found nothing.

They camped overnight off the trail; it was Sojourn, and the night was warm. The night sky was filled with remnants of stars, dimming novas and the huge swirling expanse of the Spiral Maiden. ***** Edgar’s attention was taken with a bright blue-green star.

‘That’s the planet Mars,’ said Thecla, who knew this sort of thing.

‘Why is it blue?’

Thecla shrugged. ‘It just is. What other colour would it be?’

11th Sojourn

The weather was cooler with scattered clouds to the north. They cam across a stone hut on the cliff edge, the door was stove in and a foul, fish-smelling residue covered the door frame. There was no-one in the hut, indications were that two people had lived there. Buried beneath the fireplace were 80 shins and two cyphers.

‘They must have left in a hurry then, not to have taken these.’

At Midday, cresting a rise, they saw Fallside ahead of them. A huge factory dominated a village of green and red huts, green to the north and red to the south. Two huge pipes jutted out over a slipway down the cliff to the sea, one dripped green sludge, the other dripped red sludge. Steam, smoke and fumes belched from the building and a faint cacophony of alarms could be heard.

Coronolis sent his mechabird to scout out the factory and the village, inside the factory there was no-one tending the green, red and black machines and it was obvious something was going to blow. There were many signs – “Greens are better than Reds”, “Careless Talk Costs Production”, “Reds are better than Greens”, “Speak only to your Faction”. He sent the mechabird outside and saw a larger grey house with three people outside it. They looked up and pointed at the bird.

The Company approached the grey house; they saw a woman and two men. One of the men was gnawing on a hunk of gallen meat. The woman stepped forward; she wore leather armour but carried no weapons. Her eyes were yellow and vertically slit.

‘Nothing to see here, we were here first.’

‘We just came to deliver a message to the Priest.’

‘A message?’ The woman smiled and glanced at the two men. ‘He’s busy right now, but if you hand it over, we’ll see that he gets it.’

Suddenly an agonized scream rang out from inside the hut, followed by another and another.

The bearded man tossed the gallen meat and looked at the other man. ‘Pay up Ysin – I said the old fool wouldn’t keep his mouth shut.’

‘Calaval’s Teeth Besc! With what that thing is doing to him! Hold! Watch him Pytha!’

Edgar pulled his axe and, using it as a counterweight, somersaulted over Besc and Ysin, then ran into the hut.

‘Toorkman! We’ve got company,’ called Pytha, ‘nothing we can’t handle.’ She flexed her arms out to an impossible length, like coiled serpents; Besc readied a mace and Ysin pulled a verred.

Inside the hut, Edgar saw the Aeon Priest tied naked to a table; a spider-like device was slowly crawling over him, leaving white thread-like burns in its wake. Controlling the spider from a wrist device was a woman, she wore a jet-black tunic, had straggly dark red hair, green eyes, and the entire left side of her face and scalp was a blistered mass of raw flesh. Standing next to her was a regal man with ornate armour; the armour had an armorial crest. He looked up as Edgar crashed in and pulled a curved weapon from his belt; a purple ray lanced out and blistered the wall behind Edgar. Edgar struck at Toorkman – a superb blow that put him down unconscious. The woman glanced down at him and put up her hands; the Agony Scarab whirring back to its wrist mounting.

Outside the fight had not gone well for Toorkman’s band. All three were down and bleeding out without being able to land a return blow. ******

Neymich was hurt but Thecla was able to heal him.

Now, what to do with Toorkman and the woman?

‘He should die. In fact, they both should.’

‘Wait!’ said the woman. ‘I an SinyS, a licensed member of the Guild of Torturers in Rarmon. I am working under contract and there are severe repercussions for killing a member of the Guild.’ *******

‘How would they know?’

‘As I said, I am working under contract and there are severe repercussions. If you kill him, then the Guild and I don’t get paid. The Guild will not like that.’

Toorkman struggled awake. ‘Do you know who I am? I am a member of the ruling family of Ancuan.’

El Greco found that she could open the scroll tube (‘it had “attuned” to her), inside was a message –

Iadace Neymich in the Truth

It appears that our worst fears are to come to pass. As you know from your studies, four hundred Turns ago, in the time of our Founder Blessed Calaval, the Red Star appeared in our skies. That time disaster was averted. Now an augury has predicted the return of the Red Star.

Loarn was right and we were wrong to dismiss him.

You are charged to assemble a band of adventurers (start with the message bearers) and travel to the Observatory in Bodrov. Learn what you can from the Observers and seek to avert the coming threat of the Red Star.

In the Truth of the Truth

Aliser, Venerence of the Ghan Arechive

They opened the vault in the Priest’s house and found two artefacts, lots of shins and some cyphers. They took Toorkman prisoner, carried Neymich but let SinyS walk with them. They made some distance from Fallside before the factory exploded, from the cliff they watched the entire cliff crumble, carrying the factory and the village into the ocean.

They started back towards the City of Bridges when the air was filled with a heavy vibration. They looked up to see a gargantuan flying city descending towards them.

‘It’s Volanitin.’

… to be continued

——————————

GM notes

A FTF Numenera Game I ran on Saturday 25/11/23 for Ben, Lisa, Jenny and my niece Sarah and her son Toby. Ben, Lisa and Jenny had played before (back in lockdown) and retained their characters, Sarah and Toby had never played so I gave them a choice of 6 pre-gens.

Edgar is a Foolish Glaive Who Charges Right In (Ben)

Fluke is a Graceful Nano Who Controls Gravity (Lisa)

Thecla is a Charming Nano Who Works Miracles (Sarah)

Coronilis is a Mechanical Jack Who Fuses Flesh With Steel (Toby)

El Greco is a Swift Jack Who Hunts (Jenny)

* This was nothing to do with me! – Edgar did it off his own bat.

** I made my own set of cards for these, with name, description, level, use, duration, and effect. I didn’t record what they’d picked – it’s a surprise for me.

*** Okay, this is where it gets complex. Fluke, Edgar, and El Greco had a series of adventures run during lockdown in 2020; they advanced to Tier 3. For this Game they wanted to keep their characters; but jumping Toby and Sarah in Tier 3 would be too much. So, we decided that this was set in the past for Fluke, Edgar and El Greco, but what they “knew” from the earlier Games were Glimmers of “Echoes from the Future.”

As the Doctor put it “It’s a kind of timey-wimey thing.’ Maybe they spent some time in Shallamass, where this sort of thing happens all the time.

**** There is a rather nasty plant creature called an Orgulous which they have encountered before. It is only Level 4 but its combination of abilities makes it far more nasty. As written, the Singing Bubbles were not Orgulous, but it is great that players remember this sort of thing.

***** The Andromeda galaxy, now very much closer.

****** Really! This should have been a matched fight but the dice were with the players and Pytha, Besc and Ysin went down in short order, with the characters barely scratched.

******* SinyS appeared in an on-line Game I ran and proved to be so popular that I brought her back and she got involved with one of the Player-characters. She is my homage to Severian, from the Book of the New Sun, an inspiration for Numenera.



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One day I will get a ftf campaign of Numenera. The little tastes that @Brass Jester and @First Age gave me showed me the system is fine. However the fiction from MCG made me want to visit for an extended time.
 
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