So you look into the land, it will tell you a story
Story about a journey ended long ago
Listen to the motion of the wind in the mountains
Maybe you can hear them talking like I do
They’re gonna betray you, they’re gonna forget you
Are you gonna let them take you over that way?
- Song of the Path of Tears
[GM Note: This is a report of a part of session 8 of the Spiral Confederacy campaign. Session 8 covered a lot of different events, which are too much to describe in one post, so I’m breaking the write-up over three or four separate posts to keep them manageable]
Having successfully recovered what they believed was the Tablet of the Gods, and received a beautiful spaceship in exchange for trading away their dead cargo, the PCs returned from Slainte to The Reach. On the Reach they investigated the Tombspine again, and then they set off to Niscorp 1743 to interview the Oracle Simon Simon had established there. Unfortunately, once they were in jump space their living human cargo woke up.
Red Cloud of the Coming Storm
They were two days into their jump journey, the sky outside the ship its traditional inky, swirling black, all of them enjoying the luxury of having their own cabins and space to move during the week of idleness. Lam had set up a hammock on the bridge and was sleeping as close to the ship’s controls as she could safely get, while the rest of the crew attended to the activities they usually used to pass the time during the endless boredom of jump. Ahmose set about exploring every nook and cranny of the Left Hand of Darkness, familiarizing herself with every twist and turn of its structure against the inevitable time when they would have to defend it against boarders. She was leaning on a wall of the main deck, thinking of defense plans for the corridor linking the recreation area and the forward officer’s cabins, when the spaceship spoke to her. “Captain Ahmose,” It said in its smooth woman’s voice. “I am sorry to interrupt your tactical planning, but I feel I need to warn you that the patient in the medical bay has awoken, and is damaging my medical equipment. Please come and attend to him.”
Ahmose ran to the medical bay, calling to the rest of the crew as she went. They gathered outside the medical bay, Lam carrying a laser rifle, and turned on the screen next to the door. The Left Hand of Darkness showed them first the cryogenic tube that their cargo had been stored in; it had slid out of its wall mount and opened, just as if someone had activated it from outside. The cameras panned to show a scene of rampant vandalism, containers and medical supplies smashed and scattered over the floor, a diagnostic tool broken, and a broken batch of chemicals of some kind burning steadily on a bench. Finally the camera panned around to show their cargo, standing in just his loin cloth in front of a bench at the far side of the medical bay from their door. He was looking around wildly, and in one hand he held a huge hammer wreathed in fire. As they watched he began smashing the hammer down on the bench, scattering more medical equipment and sending wildfire flicking across the surface of the bench.
Ahmose turned on the intercom, and addressed the room.
“This is captain Ahmose. Please put the hammer down.”
The man froze at the sound, turned to face the door. Then he began yelling a stream of invective at the ceiling, looking wildly around the room to find the source of the sound. Nothing he yelled made any sense to them. Ahmose asked ‘Darkness if it understood, but the ship replied “I’m sorry Captain, I am familiar in over 70 languages, but this is not one of them.”
“Fine,” Ahmose grunted. “‘Darkness, please increase the CO2 level in that room until the man passes out. If we can’t speak to him we’ll restrain him.”
“Very well.” They waited and watched for a few minutes. The fire on the pool of burning chemicals began to dim, but the man’s hammer did not stop burning. At some point he began to look dazed and weak, but then he fell to one knee, whispered something to himself, and surged back to his feet, energy renewed.
Ahmose turned to Michael, the ocean priest, who had joined them in the hall. “Michael, is this man working some magic like yours?”
“Perhaps.” The priest was watching the screen intently, as if trying to read the cargo’s mind. “I can work a small invocation to enable us to communicate with him, but I need to be in his physical presence, not merely speaking through one of your technical tricks. Can you let us in?”
Ahmose nodded to Lam. “Sure, but if it gets out of hand the man goes down. We’ll see if any of his little magics are proof against a laser rifle on stun.”
They opened the door and Ahmose and Michael stepped through, Lam lurking behind. Michael whispered some small incantation, and suddenly the man’s ranting became coherent.
“WHERE IS SHE!? WHERE IS THE WITCH!? SHE WAS MINE!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER?!” He smashed his hammer down on the table, tongues of flame bursting across his hands. He did not charge forward though, perhaps wary at the sight of five people watching him.
“Please sir, calm yourself. I am Ahmose, captain of this ship. What is your name?”
He stopped in mid rant and looked askance at her. “Was it you who imprisoned me in yonder coffin!?” He demanded. He had a deep, mellifluous and multi-layered voice, and an imperious look and tone that suggested he was used to giving orders. “Did you take my witch? DID YOU?!”
Lam made to speak, but Ahmose silenced her with a gesture. “Give me your name first, sir, then we can speak of this ‘witch.’ You are a guest on my ship, and should behave accordingly.”
The man lowered his hammer a little. With his free hand he touched his belly. “I am Red Cloud of the Coming Storm, priest of the Eternal Sun. Are you my captor?”
Somewhere behind Ahmose, Alva sighed the sigh of a man deeply disappointed. Everyone knew his opinion of priests.
“That depends on your behavior, Red Cloud. We rescued you from a …” Remembering she was speaking to a priest of a remnant planet, Ahmose stopped herself from saying things he could not understand, or that Michael’s strange incantation could not translate. “… a bad situation. The ‘witch’ was dead when we found you.”
“What? Rescued me?!” His voice began to rise, and he hit himself on the chest with his free hand. Now that he was in motion, not lying in the cold cryotube, they could see that his body was a lithe mass of rippling muscle, smooth gold-toned skin drawn taut across a young warrior’s body. “What lie is this? I was in battle with the witch, I almost had her, and then suddenly I lost consciousness. You ambushed me in that battle and stole my prey! She was mine! I had the license!!” His voice rose higher, eyes wide with rage. “SHE WAS MINE! MY WITCH TO DESTROY! WHERE IS SHE!?”
“We did not ambush you! We found you in the … coffin … and rescued you from certain death. The witch was already dead.”
“Words – lies? SPEAK THE TRUTH!” After a moment he lowered the hammer, eyes narrowing. “Ah, I see that you are. So you found me already in my coffin, and put me into this dungeon…” He gestured around him. “Why? What is your purpose, woman?”
“Well, we hoped in time to find a way to return you to your … um … lands. But we did not expect you to awake from the … coffin. Please, Red Cloud, put the hammer down. We can speak calmly.”
He did not lower the hammer.
At that moment Lam pushed forward a little, so that Red Cloud could see her, and helpfully declared loudly, “You’re on a space ship, priest man, flying between the stars, and we rescued you from a burning station. You should thank us!”
Ahmose turned to glare at the foolish pilot, but before she could speak Red Cloud had his hammer up again, flaring brilliant orange. “Silence, you PALE WORM!” He looked at Ahmose. “You say you are captain here! But you let this PALE WORM speak!? It is an abomination! It should be killed and its body rendered down for magical components!”
Everyone looked in stunned silence at the gold-skinned man. He stared back at them furiously, almost quivering in rage. Only Lam moved, looking around at her friends in shock.
Simon Simon spoke first. “That’s a bit unreasonable, Red Cloud Storming, don’t you think – ”
“SILENCE, PALE WORM!” He took a step forward, and Lam raised the rifle. Ahmose raised a hand to stop him.
“Stop! No one here is being rendered into magical parts!” She held out her open hand. “These are my crew and you will speak to them respectfully, or by all the gods of the underworld I will stuff you back into that coffin myself, and shove that hammer into your mouth until you SHUT. UP.”
Red Cloud came to a sudden stop. He looked at the group of five, and the angry captain, and the room, and realized that perhaps his situation was not the best. The flames wreathing the hammer faded, and then the hammer itself began to fade, dissipating into nothing after a couple of seconds. Lam gasped in amazement, but had the good sense not to speak.
A moment later, exhaustion from months of cryosleep overtook the priest, and he fell to the floor in a daze.
There cargo was awake. They didn’t know what to do with him. They could not even speak to him if Michael were not present to work his strange magic. They could not return him to Dune, since the Navy required him for a task and they could not break the blockade; but they could not put him back in his cryochamber, not now that he was conscious. They simply had to fit him into the routine of the ship, even though he did not understand anything about it – indeed he came from a desert planet that had no oceans, and might have no concept of a ship at all. After a few hours of thought, once they had fed him and checked his health, Ahmose realized that maybe, if his planet had magic, they might have flying ships, and when she asked him, carefully, she was able to confirm that yes they did, though these vessels were exceedingly rare. She tried to explain that he was on a ship like that, only bigger, that flew between the stars.
This didn’t work, as he burst into an angry stream of rhetoric – the stars were tears cast across the fabric of the universe by an ancient sleeper woken by a nightmare, or some such, and to fly between them was blasphemy. Indeed, to think anything else was a sure sign that the person was a heretic witch, such as the one he had been hunting.
Ahmose calmed him down and managed to learn about the witch he had been chasing, who was apparently an adherent of a secret sect of heretics who believed that the stars were not tears on the fabric of reality, but other worlds, or maybe dreams, and maybe his world was a part of a bigger dream and the stars were all parts of it. This was apparently a great heresy, and anyone who believed it needed to be hunted down and killed. Red Cloud of the Coming Storm made a mission of this, and had been in battle with the witch when suddenly everything went dark and he had gone unconscious. He knew nothing about how or why he had been knocked out. He was obviously used to winning battles and being listened to, and couldn’t comprehend having been ambushed and captured.
He also could not understand much of the ship’s basic functions. Running water shocked him, and they could not speak to him clearly about the eternal night outside the ship, or about their destination or how the ship flew. When they tried to explain anything in too much detail, he would become confused and then angry. He was very quick to anger, and obstinate in his beliefs. Only Ahmose had any understanding of this – to her Red Cloud was like one of her oldest and most rural relatives back on her home planet, people who were so old they could almost remember the world before uplift, and could not understand all the modern changes that had come over her planet in the past century. But they were old and fatalistic; Red Cloud was young and vigorous, and refused to accommodate anything into his beliefs if it did not make sense.
He also had a deep hatred of pale-skinned people, who were apparently an abomination on his planet, very rare, and treated exactly as he had said. Ahmose was a rich dusky brown, but Simon Simon, Alva and Lam were all pale-skinned space dwellers – and not only were they anathema to him, but they refused to show him any respect or deference. For the first two days of their shared journey he would only refer to them as “Pale Worm” and would lose his temper if they spoke to easily to him.
After two days the effort of adaptation became too much for Red Cloud, and he retired in a state of near-depression to hide in his cabin. They set ‘Darkness to monitor him, and began investigating the means by which his cryochamber had opened. ‘Darkness kept detailed logs of the function of everything on the ship, but there was no evidence of any kind of glitch or bug – the records simply showed that the cryochamber spontaneously began its awakening cycle. Simon Simon spent days delving carefully into the deepest possible recesses of ‘Darkness’s coding to see if he could find any bugs, viruses or sleeper programs inserted by DK, the man who sold them their ship, but he found nothing. They looked at video footage of the tube and saw no one tampering with it. Finally, paranoid that the priest had an invisible ally on board, they locked everyone in the ready room and flushed air out of all the rest of the ship, hoping to kill any invisible intruders.
Nothing. There was no explanation, technological or sentient, for what had happened. Their super high-technology brand new ship had simply suffered an inconceivable malfunction that had wakened their cargo.
Only Ahmose had an explanation: “Perhaps his god woke him?”
Nobody else wanted to credit that explanation.
They could think of nothing. They could do nothing except welcome Red Cloud of the Coming Storm onto their crew, and hope their mission was not now ruined.
Red Cloud sulked in his room, and they sped through hyperspace towards Niscorp 1743, and the Oracle. The crew had no faith in gods or spirits, though they had seen plenty of evidence of both, but they could place faith in an AI. Perhaps the Oracle could tell them what had happened.
But secretly they all dreaded it. What if the Oracle could not answer their questions? What if Ahmose was right?