Gloom: Jealousies

Chapter 
NUMBER

Conservation of Minotaur

1.23.2022

Your sword nearly slips from your hand as you dispatch the final loper. Quickly scanning the area for new threats you find nothing more dangerous than a few gristle worms and other small scavengers, nothing to fear as long as you keep moving. Only partially reassured, you remain wary as you struggle to wipe the tainted fluids from your hands and sword hilt. It’s nerve-racking work to spot the threats in this place. Sound is muffled, the air is thick and wet, heavy with the stench of gangrene. The environment assaults the senses, concealing threats until they’re almost upon you.

As unpleasant as close quarters fighting might be, and it is obscenely unpleasant in this little pocket of Gloom, you’re thankful that you learned to use a sword. Simple firearms became unreliable within hours of arrival and more sophisticated weaponry failed almost immediately. Even your camp knife, the best modern metallurgy has to offer, soon became pitted and dull. Only the minor enchantments that Seledon placed on your sword have kept it sharp and you fear those are beginning to unravel. You dearly hope that’s the greatest concern.

As if reading your mind, Steve asks, “Emilia, how’s the Portarray doing?”

“Same as last time you asked, the wards on the satchel are holding but not so well I don’t want to get on with it. Now let me concentrate!”, she snapped.
Emilia’s got the Sight and her divination magic’s top notch but it’s draining to use here. You’d hoped she could take us straight to our missing friends but instead she’s had to resort to dowsing and triangulation. She’s put on a good face but the strain is wearing her down.

After a quick break to treat the wounded you continue on, following Emilia’s pendulum. It’s been guiding you in the same direction since your arrival, so either your friends haven’t moved or Emilia’s dowsing isn’t working properly. You choose to believe they’re stationary, given the grim alternatives. Besides, you rationalize, they were abducted, it’s only reasonable that they’d be restrained.

As the minutes turned into hours you began to wonder if you’d find your comrades. Now, as the hours close on your first “day” in this place, you wonder if there’s anyone living and sane left to find. This little pocket of misery oozes corruption that seeps into your pores. Your skin feels thin and inflamed, even the tiniest of scratches rapidly turn red and puffy. The reek from Casey’s wounded arm is enough to overpower the general miasma and antibiotics have only slowed the infection. Everyone feels ill and feverish.

By the middle of day two your triangulations indicate that you’re getting close. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see their location from atop of the next rise.

Still, you begin to wonder if you’ll be alive and sane when this is all over. Your skin is slick with clammy sweat and you’ve begun to catch glimpses of things that aren’t there. The rest of the team isn’t much better, and Casey is in bad shape. He began to hallucinate and mumble about 30 minutes ago, his words confused, hard to decipher, yet deeply unsettling. You’d send Casey back right now if you could.

“We’ve got to get Casey someplace with real facilities! I’ve done all I ca–”, Chris began.

Emilia cut him off, “If we open that satchel we’re done, we all go home, now.”

“Look, I know it’ll shorten the clock, but if his fever doesn’t come down he’s not going to make it!” Chris tried again.

“You aren’t listening! It’s not ‘shorten the clock’! If we suspend the wards and break the seal we won’t be able to put them back. Then it’s 15 minutes, tops, before the Portarray is toast.”

In a moment of lucidity Casey interjects, “We aren’t leaving anyone in this place!”

“We don’t have much time left anyway. The satchel won’t last more than a couple of hours regardless. And the way this place has been…infecting us I’m not sure it will be safe for us to stay that long. If it gets too deep inside our spirit we’ll take it back out with us and then…”, Emilia trails off.

Casey hurries to fill the silence that follows that cheery pronouncement, “We’re almost there, let's not waste our time!” and turns to make his way up the ridge before anyone can argue.

You take the final few yards on your belly and cautiously peer over the top of the ridgeline. Below you is the first work of construction you’ve seen here and unquestionably your destination.

“Huh”, Steve whispers, “I guess it kind of makes sense.”

And it does, it just isn’t what you were expecting. A large maze stretches out beneath you, crumbling and ancient looking.

“What do you think, Emilia? Can you get us to the center of that before we’re out of time?”

“Just watch me.”

Everyone scrambles down the broken face of the ridge as quickly and quietly as they can. You’re all on edge, it’s been at least an hour since the last loper sighting and you’re concerned by the possible implications. Seeing no immediate threats you hurry to the maze entrance.

Once inside Emilia takes the lead, moving at a near jog. You slow only occasionally for her to check the pendulum. Left, right, straight past 2 passageways, right, left and then straight again. Casey leans on Steve for support, his breath now ragged panting interspersed with fevered outbursts. You feel driven forward through the twisty corridors, unseen dread at your heels.

Emilia guides you through an opening on the left and you nearly stumble as you enter an open square filled with tall, silent figures stretching out into the gloom. It takes what feels like an eternity to understand what you’re seeing, horror slowly mounting until you have to clench your jaw not to scream.

You’ve found your friends. The necromancer who sent them here has wrought a terrible revenge. There is Monte, the warrior who taught you to use the sword, recognizable only by his fabled axe, Shield Splitter. His once majestic horns have been consumed by this place, now nothing but wisps of keratin waving in the heavy air. His skin is in tatters, internal organs clearly visible, bloated with corruption. Tovra, the first to welcome you into their community is behind him. Targris the sorceress to his right. All the rest are here as well, their vacant eye sockets staring through you.

“We’re too late”, Steve whispers, “What do we do?”

Nobody responds, you all just stare in horror until Emilia shakes herself. She peers intently at the defiled bodies standing before you, examining them with the Sight.

“They’re still alive!”, she cries in shock. Then in a more subdued voice, ”There are magics that could heal even this if they’re still alive but…”

“But what! Let’s fire up the Sieve and get everyone out of here!”

“It’s not that simple. I’ve been watching it, this place corrupts the flesh and infects the spirit. It’s contagious. If it’s sunk into them this deeply we could be taking it back with us. It could infect other worlds and everyone in them.” Glancing unconsciously at Casey, she continues, “I’m not even sure we can all safely leave.”

At that moment Targris makes a tortured movement, spreading her hands in some form of evocation. A beautiful swirling blue light appears between them, contained within a transparent vessel.

Emilia stares at it in wonder, “That’s a Spirit Jar and it’s nearly full! If Targris sequestered their spirits before they became infected we could take them out, save them from this place. We might even be able to restore them to new bodies or at least give them a new existence as Autonomous Ego-States. There are a lot of risks and little certainty, but it’s a chance.” Glancing at Casey, “If we take it with us we may need to add one more.”

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Do you:

A: Offer mercy to your tainted minotaur allies, tearfully taking Shield Splitter from Monte before destroying their physical forms with the legendary weapon one by one. Then turn on Casey, and ask if he has any last messages to his family before quickly and painlessly dispatching him. You know it will weigh on your soul for all of your days, but the taint here can not be spread, the risk is too great.

B: Targis, Monte, and the other captured minotaurs are lost, and it is too grave a risk to bring them anywhere else. Convince them that the best thing they can do is one last act of defiance: unleash a warded black powder bomb that you have brought to destroy the necromancer upon its return. It is a dire option, especially what happens if the corruption has gotten through the bomb’s wards and it doesn’t explode? If it works it would put the minotaurs out of their suffering and remove a grave threat to their homes and families at the same time.

C: Seize upon the hope that the Spirit Jar represents: save the souls and leave this place and the corrupted bodies behind as quickly as possible. Instruct Emilia to secure the Spirit Jar, and perform the same rituals upon Casey, sealing his soul against whatever foul infection of this place is running through his body. There are magics and technologies that can make new forms for the souls to inhabit, and becoming an Autonomous Ego-State isn’t a bad alternative. There is risk that this realm has seeped beyond the bodies into the souls and the Spirit Jar is tainted, but no one should be left behind.

D: The Para Initiative can work miracles. With allies who have the technology of Delphi, the knowledge of the Infinite Library, the riches of Capitol, or perhaps even -electrical- assistance from that strange woman in another wasteland not entirely unlike this one, someone must be able to restore the minotaurs and Casey’s bodies and souls! You have faith that there must be solutions to the problem, even if they might be costly, and no extreme measures need be taken. There’s always a solution, there has to be. You take the Portarray out of the warded satchel to take everyone home, it will all turn out alright.

[Historian's Note: Half of the initiative favored using the Spirit Jar with 12 votes, while bringing back body and soul both was favored by 7, destroying the forms of the tainted was favored by 4, and 1 thought this was the best opportunity to eliminate a threat with a bomb.]

Casey’s eyes go wide as Emilia forms the sigils, hand gestures, and incantations that pull the ethereal energy of his soul out through his orifices, across the foul air, and finally swirl into the Spirit Jar with that of the minotaurs.  You collect Skull Splitter from Monte’s form while Chris removes the black powder bomb from their pack and sets a fuse long enough for the team to Portarray away to safety. Hopefully it will collapse the center of this maze and obliterate the corrupted bodies being left behind.

After that moment, the coming weeks are a blur for the team. Safety Ethics Assurance, once made aware of the contamination threat, follows protocols to quarantine and contain all of those potentially infected. Delphi-assembled clean rooms are reinforced with warding circles from a book Scribbs recommends. Technicians and magicians make regular checks on the situation to make sure nothing of the putrid place reaches out a tendril into the world.

Biosynthesizers are encoded with pre-mission health scans of Casey, templating him a new body almost identical to the one he left with. It’s an energy intensive process, but what are joules for if not to help members of the Initiative?  Unfortunately for the minotaurs, not a shred of their bodies remain, and the Archeo-Teleo Linguists report that it would go against their culture to be put into the body of another. Fortunately, a clever biologist from the Knowledge Corps comes up with the solution of simulated gene cross-breeding to make unique new bodies for each minotaur, which answers the Minotaur taboo of copying a body sufficiently.

The greatest moment of tension is reopening the Spirit Jar to perform the rituals required to move the souls to the newly fabricated bodies.  Despite everyone being on guard about the corruption seeping out, none is detected.  Casey and the minotaurs are assigned to the care of various Archeo-Teleo Linguist spirit guides and thought analysts to begin rehabilitation from the trauma of the suffering and destruction of their bodies they have undergone.

The team is eventually released from containment, but with instructions to report for routine scans every cycle, and to report any feelings out of the ordinary. Safety Ethics Assurance has ongoing concerns that the taint of the journey may be somehow distributed below current detection abilities.

[SHK-E Outcomes: It was a great act of the HEART to rescue the minotaurs and Casey, despite the controlled risks to SAFETY from the invasive realm and the moderate ENERGY costs of containment and body reconstruction.

SAFETY: Dangerous
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Good
ENERGY: Poor

Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersands’ Illustrated Arcana
Gloomspark Portarray]

Chapter 
NUMBER

A Most Surprising Hero

2.13.2022

By: 

You’re awakened by the sound of a shout echoing on stone walls, “Parts!”

Looking around, you find yourself in a small, stone, cell with nothing more than a thin pallet on the floor and a bucket in one corner. With a sinking feeling, you check the door to the lone exit and find it securely locked. Its scratched and battered face is broken by a covered slot at the bottom and a small barred window near the top.

Standing on tiptoes, you’re able to get a dim view through that opening. Peering out, you see a long corridor that disappears into darkness. Doors identical to your own line its length in both directions. What little light there is emanates from evenly spaced globes of glowing energy, floating untethered, near the ceiling.

The light globes appear to be magic, but this doesn’t feel like anywhere in Fantasia. Gloom perhaps?

As you contemplate this, glancing back and forth down the corridor, you hear the voice call out again, “Parts! Get up here. I need your eyes!”

You hear a repetitive squeak, like a shopping cart with a bad wheel, coming from the shadows to your left, and the faint rattling of chains.

Angling yourself to get a better look in that direction, you see a strange figure emerge from the shadows, pushing a cart loaded with buckets. The creature appears to be an odd patchwork of different humanoids, and even animals. Its face appears all too human, however, features of at least three different men stitched together to make a whole, the skin a jaundiced yellowish green. Even so, he moves with surprising grace. Especially once you take in the heavy chains that encircle his neck and connect the manacles at his wrists.

As he draws even with your cell you whisper urgently, “Hey! Where am I? Why am I here?”

The squeaking stops and the creature extends his long legs, like those of a praying mantis, to bring his head level with your own. Up close you realize that his skin is extremely pale, almost bloodless, the sickly green you’d attributed to it an artifact of the spectral lighting. He glances sharply to his left, his eyes flashing like those of a cat, and then back at you.

He opens his mouth to speak and the insistent voice echoes down the hall again, “Parts! I will not ask again!”

His mouth snaps shut as he startles, then he turns his head to call back, “Yes sir! Coming sir!”

His voice stuns you with its unexpected beauty. It sounds like he swallowed a harmonica, yet somehow managed to integrate it with the rest of his chimeric body to create a voice composed of beautifully intertwining chords.

With a quick glance back, he moans resentfully, “See what you’ve done!” as he scurries out of sight, pushing the squealing cart.

Time is hard to track in the perpetual twilight but, gauging by your thirst, you’d guess it’s been at least 2 cycles since your encounter with Parts and some indeterminate time since your arrival. No one has come nor gone in that time and while you’ve heard occasional banging and frantic scratching from some of the other cells, your attempts at conversation have been universally ignored.

You’ve begun to worry that you’ve been forgotten when you hear the squeak of the cart making its way toward you. It stops at regular intervals, during which you hear a short musical tone, followed by a scrape and then a metallic clang, a pause, then the musical tone, scrape, bang! The cart moves a little closer, pause, music, scrape, bang! Pause, music, scrape, bang! You count 36 repetitions before you can make out what Parts is doing.

As he reaches each pair of doors, Parts “sings” a short melody and the slot at the bottom of the door opens, at which point he shoves a tray with gruel and a bowl of water into the cell, after which the cover slams itself shut.

Though your throat is parched you desperately try to engage your jailer in conversation once again, “Hey, could you please tell me why I’m here?”

No response.

“What have I done?” you try again through cracked lips.

Still nothing.

“He calls you Parts, why is that?”

Not looking at you, he says nervously, “That’s my name. Parts…” Wringing his hands til his chains clank together, he continues in obvious terror, “S-s-s-pare Parts.”

His musical harmonies still muted, he finishes, “That’s part of my job.”

Before you can ask for clarification, he squints up at you, as if trying to make out your face in the dim light, “You’re not like the other residents. You can still talk. You must know things. Things Sir wishes to hear from your own mouth.”

He quickly “sings” the slot on your door open and shoves a tray in. Before you can get another question out he turns to continue his work, all further attempts at conversation met with a sharp blast of music, the scrape of metal on stone, and a bang!

Your food must have been drugged because the next thing you know you find yourself strapped to a chair facing a desk crowded with an alembic, notebooks, and other alchemical paraphernalia. Craning your neck, you can just make out a pair of pale feet on what appears to be a mortuary table.

Your movement is greeted by a rich baritone, familiar from its shouted commands, “Good, I see you’re awake.”

A human looking man of indeterminate middle age walks from behind you to take a seat at the desk. His features are bland and unremarkable, his hair an ordinary shade of brown, shot with grey. He’s of average height and weight, with a slight pot belly. The only notable part of his appearance are his eyes, colored an icey blue, they shimmer with undisguised magical power.

“I’d introduce myself, but names do have power. You may call me sir, or Necromancer, if you must.” he continues, “I won’t bother to ask your name, but you will give it to me from your own mouth, should I decide I have a use for it.”

“Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll need you to tell me why Para has interfered with my business in Amasu. Do you have any idea how long it took me to convince the Urugali to lock up those annoying spirits?” he asks with a tone of mild disappointment.

“Why should I tell you anything, you evil glitch?” you reply hotly.

“First, I assure you that I am not evil, malice serves no purpose and is a waste of energy. Secon-”

“Tell that to the minotaurs!” you cut in.

“Minotaurs?” he seems confused by your outburst. “Oh! So Para interfered with my experiment there too? It seems your master is causing more interruptions than I’d thought.”

He pauses to consider, then continues, “I will explain my motivations on that minotaur issue and then you will tell me about your master’s objectives. Once we understand each other I’m sure there will be no need for conflict between us. The three Realms are vast, Para can take what he wants as long as he extends me the same courtesy.”

The Necromancer leans back in his chair as he warms to the topic. “You need to understand that I had no desire to cause undue pain,” he explains, “any discomfort or other suffering was merely a byproduct of the research. Using the minotaurs was strictly a matter of efficiency. Their village was located on a ley line junction that I needed, they refused to leave. Coincidentally, I also had interests in an inhospitable region of Darkrealm, and I needed test subjects. They had to be removed, it seemed best to make use of their passing. If Para cared about suffering he would not have interfered, a few more weeks, at most, and I’d have had my results. As it was, I had to start over.”

“So, now it is your turn to explain what your master wants. Start by telling me why he released the Nefer-Ta?”

Close to a rev drags on like this; sometimes the Necromancer grills you cycles at a time, often asking questions that could be answered by anyone with a few decimes research in the public datasphere back in Synthex. At other times, buildcycles will pass before you are summoned to have some obscure, yet specific, piece of information extracted from you.

Meanwhile, you spend your efforts on trying to befriend the only other being with whom you have contact. Though the process is slow at first, after some buildcycles Parts begins to open up a little.

“You have a beautiful voice, is it yours naturally or was it given to you so that you could open the cells?”, you ask one cycle, during mealtime.

He smiles shyly, “It’s mine! The only thing left that’s mine.” he says with obvious pride.

Buildcycles later, when Parts is particularly talkative, you ask, “We’re in Gloom, I mean Darkrealm, is this where you’re from?”

“Oh no! I’m from Flux, before sir took me. I don’t know if you’ve been there but it’s such a wonderful place! Things aren’t rigid or dark like they are here. I miss the freedom of it, and my friends and family!” Parts replies fiercely.

He looks around fearfully, as if afraid he’s been overheard in this implied disloyalty and hurries on with his duties, refusing to be drawn into further conversation.

First one and then two cycles pass without any sign of Parts and you begin to worry that something has happened to him. On the third cycle, just after you’ve finished the last of your hoarded water, you hear the squeak of the cart and peer hopefully down the corridor, only to see a bloated, long limbed, loper going about Parts’ duties.

“Parts, is that you? Are you OK?”, you ask in concern.

“I’m not sure,” he replies sadly, his usual, beautiful voice playing in a mournful minor key, “this body hurts and itches. The adjustment has never been this hard, and it keeps feeling worse instead of better. I don’t like it when sir experiments.”

He slumps dejectedly against the wall, leaving a slimy trail of corruption on the stone, “Is it this hard everywhere? I barely remember Flux, maybe I’ve imagined it. Sometimes the residents here make up fantasies when they can’t stand it any longer. I’m not sure I can stand it any longer, I’ve got to make a change. You’re my only friend, tell me, what can I do to make things better?”

Thinking hard, you ask, “Parts, how does the Necromancer switch your whole body this fast? I don’t see any way he’s doing a whole brain transplant this quickly, even with magic.”

“Oh, the brain is just a place to manifest,” Parts tells you. “I’m really in here.” he says, carefully opening a seam in the loper’s, or rather, his, chest, to expose a brilliant blue gem, a miniature spirit jar. “The only physical part of me is my voice, and sir has gotten very skilled at splicing it into just about anything.”

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Parts has asked you for direction and seems ready to do whatever you suggest to make a change, do you:

A: Tell him to steal back your Portarray, then remove his spirit jar and flee back to Initiative headquarters with it. He will need a new body and, unless the energy shortage has improved during your captivity, he will have a long wait. Even if they can synthesize a body for him, they won’t have health scans to work from and you have no idea if they’ll ever be able to reproduce his voice, but at least he’ll be free.

B: Through the last rev you’ve spent in conversation and interrogation with the Necromancer, you’ve come to understand their goals more fully. They are gathering energy and knowledge with the intent to create an entirely new Verse (or ‘Realm’, as they think of it)! While you find some of their methods abhorrent, you do think there’s a real chance that you could broker a non-interference agreement that would prevent further conflict between you. Tell Parts to arrange for another meeting with the Necromancer so that you can make this proposal. Include Parts release, to act as a go between, as a requirement for the deal.

C: No one should have to stay in this place! Tell Parts to release all the other prisoners at once and escape in the chaos. If things go well, you can then take as many of the Necromancer’s notebooks and other intelligence as you can carry and make your way physically to the nearest Initiative outpost. Some of those cells undoubtedly contain lopers, and probably worse, so you’ll need to be prepared for threats beyond the Necromancer.  Your conversations with the Necromancer leave you with no doubt that there will be no hesitation to destroy this stronghold and everything in it, if that is the most pragmatic course of action. Once this kicks off you’ll want to move fast! There’s a lot of risk with this choice, but a lot of potential reward as well.

D: You need an agent in the Necromancer’s camp and it’s the best role Parts can play. Convince him to work as a spy. If he sends a message through the Portarray to call for your rescue, he should still be able to maintain his cover. Once you’ve escaped you can set up a system to communicate with him to retrieve his intel.

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[Historian's Note: The Para Initiative was divided between two popular plans, with 40% favoring a quick escape with Parts' soul stone, while 60% thought it best to get an agent in place before escaping.]

Considering your options, you realize that loosing the other prisoners, while briefly satisfying, could also lead to disaster and possibly your own demise. The other extreme, negotiating a treaty with the Necromancer, seems feasible but you fear that sooner, rather than later, they will perpetrate some new act of horror on an innocent third party that can’t be ignored. You could take Parts’ spirit jar and escape using your Portarray, but the Necromancer is a potentially serious threat, plus the information they have about the nature of some of the Verses is incredible! You know you have to have an agent working for you in their camp and from what you’ve seen Parts is literally the only choice.

While your training as an Explorer isn’t focused on spycraft, you’ve been taught a number of SENTINT techniques as a means to develop rapport with the members of newly encountered cultures and quickly gather key information from them. Some of those methods are very effective at recruiting and developing intelligence assets and turning them into agents. You’ve already successfully deployed a number of these cultivation techniques in your efforts to befriend Parts.

Now it’s time to take those efforts to the next level. Ideally, you want to make Parts think it’s his own idea to stay behind to help prevent atrocities and pass information to the Initiative. Your training has taught you that the ideologically motivated agent is almost always more reliable than one who works for some sort of payment. Besides the only payment that’s of any value to Parts is his freedom and his voice and neither of those are within your power to give if he’s to work for you. With this in mind you set out to radicalize Parts to your cause.

The process extends your imprisonment several more buildcycles, but in the end you feel it’s all been worth it. The hardest part was working out the technical details to create a dead drop for Parts to conceal his intel where the Sieve can retrieve it. You found it relatively simple to convince Parts that the Necromancer is evil and must be stopped. He was reluctant at first, but once he was transferred out of the loper body he became more tractable to extending his time here indefinitely.

Now everything is in place for your escape and Parts new life as a spy. You provide Parts with instructions to discreetly pass information through your Portarray so that the Initiative can pull you out of here and then give him a final pep talk.

“You’ve got this Parts! The Realms are going to be a better place for everyone thanks to your efforts. I know it’s hard, but you’re the only one who can do it, and I have faith in you.” you say with conviction.

“I can do this!” he agrees with tones of enthusiasm. Then, in a more mournful key, “I will really miss you though. You are my only friend.”

Then he quickly pushes his squeaky cart away and soon after you feel yourself Seived away…

[SHK-E Assessment: It takes an ice cold HEART to leave Parts and all of those other prisoners in the hands of Necromancer, and also some ongoing ENERGY investment to operate the dead drops.  The Para Initiative is confident that the KNOWLEDGE gained about the Verses and the SAFETY improvements from knowing about the operations of this other paraversal actor are both well worth the cost.]

SAFETY: Poor
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Excellent
Energy: CRITICAL

Para Initiative Reputations:

Interventionist
Friend of the Keep

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
‍Gloomspark Portarray]

Gloom: Jealousies

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