The characters in this session were:
- Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
- Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
- Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
- Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, also a disciple of the mysterious Archdemon known as the Engine.
- Vespidae, a waspkin bard/cleric – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons, and a devoted follower of the Queen in Yellow.
XP Awarded: 700 XP
Vespidae’s hive has been developing recently, and ever since she acquired the Yellow Sign, she has been noticing something subtly different about her pheromones – something almost intangible, but growing in intensity. It reminded her of the scent of the Queen in Yellow, but blended with her own. One thing was certain: she no longer smelled simply like a “dead drone,” the pariah-scent her exile had infused her with.
For weeks now, she had been converting the puppet factory of the Marionettist – now cleared of zombies and Crowsbeak thieves – into a new home, moving in her automaton and sculpted duplicates, like the drones of her own nest. Rooms were set aside to make room for a shrine to the Queen in Yellow, while Vespidae boarded up the windows and doors, ensuring the only way in was from above, through the roof.
She’d also been noticing something else. Waspkin had been buzzing by her new home with increasing frequently. They’d been perching on nearby roofs, watching her. Many of these waspkin smelled strange – some were the hiveless waspkin of Suckletown, others mutilated or outcast, lacking limbs or antennae, marked with the pheromones of exile. But some smelled of the hives of Stingsworth. Loyalists to the Queens of that district… yet drawn here, for reasons that remained unclear.
One day, Vespidae left her home to discover that left on the roof was a strange gift, like a tribute: a portion of Royal Jelly, the alchemical substance consumed by waspkin drones to transform them into Queens. Vesdpiae eyed the substance warily, not consuming it, but not throwing it out.
However, other matters were afoot. Having retrieved the script for the play The Tragical History of Robin Redcap, the adventurers had secured themselves invitations to the premiere of the bloody play by its writer, Vittoria Wolfsheart. They had also been asked by the playwright to keep an eye out for the play’s namesake, the sinister Robin Redcap, who they had last seen raging furiously in Faerie, having barely escaped with their lives after stealing back the play from his ruinous, otherworldly keep. Vespidae, meanwhile, had donated a sizable portion of her adventuring earnings to further supplement the play’s budget, buying additional special effects of a magical and mundane nature.
At night, the district of Faunsweald bustled with activity. Banners advertising the many plays being staged in the theatrical quarter fluttered in the night breeze, illuminated by gaslamps and magical lights that shift in colour. Occasional illusions cast by apprentice stage-wizards offered “previews” of the performances within. These included a number of prominent advertisements for Edwin Fouchard’s latest offering, The Deadliest Marriage, a violent satire of romantic comedy which seemed to involve a lot of blood-spattered wedding guests. Occasional glimpses of The Tragical History of Robin Redcap could also be seen. To the east, the gaudy songs and laughter of Groanwell could be heard, the nightly debauchery of the pleasure-district.
The play-goers – Vespidae, Garvin, Armand, Caulis, and Sprigley – met at Cruor Row. Sprigley seemed oddly changed, having acquired what looked to be a clockwork arm and even more ritualistic tattoos. The fighter, unhinged by his time in the Old City, seemed to have taken to worshiping one of the Chthonic Gods, an entity he called the Engine. He still possessed Robin Redcap’s pike. Cruor Row led from the streets of Stumpridge into Faunsweald, and connected several major theatres, including the Prism, the Fates, and the Chiaroscuro. Of the three the Chiaroscuro was the largest and newest, an opulent theatre and opera house, currently decked out with banners and signs proclaiming the premiere of Vittoria Wolfsheart’s latest tragedy.
As the group prepared to make their entrance, several heard a buzzing sound from nearby, as shapes appeared in the night sky, descending rapidly. Warily they watched the shapes draw closer: a dozen waspkin, some clutching javelins, others stiletto blades that gleamed with poison. A heady pheromone stink suffused the street. Vespidae recognized the scent immediately as that of the Royal Guard of the Queens of Stingsworth, the waspkin matriarchs of Hex.
“Traitor!” one of the waspkin chittered to Vespidae in Vespine.
“Abomination!” another proclaimed.
While the Guards berated Vespidae, Garvin slunk into the shadows and picked the lock of a nearby printing house, creating an escape route.
“Drone, you stand accused of conspiring to supplant the rightful rule of the Twelve Queens of Stingsworth!”
“You would corrupt us with your devotion to Blasphemous Idols!”
“Your punishment has been decreed.”
“Your wings, limbs, and antennae will be removed, but you will be kept alive. Your life will be lengthened, and you will be imprisoned in darkness, unable to fly, to walk, to dance, or to spread your evil through the city.”
“Submit to justice and your rebel followers will be spared.”
“Resist and you will all be slaughtered!”
“I meant no offense,” Vespidae insisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your falsehoods will not save you,” one of the Royal Guards warned. “We have watched you, gathering your followers. The speak of the Thirteenth Queen. Your insurrection will not be tolerated.”
At this point, another group of waspkin emerged from the shadows – a group which had been following Vespidae, it seemed. Some were missing limbs or eyes or antennae; all reeked of exile.
“We fight for the Thirteenth Queen!” the rebels proclaimed. “Down with tyranny!”
While others of the group tried to protest, the Guards moved in. The resulting fight was fast and brutal; Sprigley sustained a wound but cut down one of the Guards, while Garvin, firing from the shadows, dispatched another. Vespidae used
burning hands to scorch her foes while Armand used fire bolt to incinerate another. The fight continued, the Guards swarming, jabbing with their poisoned weapons. Vials of pheromones, brewed in the cauldrons of Valdemar Sluice and used by the party to help identify themselves to Vespidae, made the battle suddenly more complicated, and at one of the “Royalist” guards, seemingly swayed by the chemical sovereignty that Vespidae now exuded, abruptly joined the “rebels” fighting to defend their transgressive new Queen.
A crowd swiftly gathered, but they assumed the battle to be a staged spectacle, half illusion and half acting, put on in anticipation of some new play. Applause filled the air as the last of the Royal Guards fled, only to be skewered by a javelin from Vespidae. Not quite knowing how to react to the applause, the group bowed and concealed the bodies in the nearby printing shop that Garvin had broken into, then moved on to the playhouse as if nothing had occurred.
The theatre itself was a huge structure of at least five storeys with a massive, bulbous dome at its centre. Perched at the four corners of the marble monstrosity were stone statues depicting allegorical representations of comedy, tragedy, history, and spectacle. The foyer of the Chiaroscuro was sumptuously carpeted and adorned with baroque, intricately ornamented architecture. A huge, crystalline chandelier dangled overhead, while on the walls, enchanted paintings of actors and actresses in famous roles looked down at the well-dressed men and women who lingered here, availing themselves of the well-stocked bar. Some of these characters included a representation of the mad mage Xavier Soulswell, who briefly seized control of the city and erected Delirium Castle, as well as the vampiric aristocrat known as the Countess of Carnage, a fictitious noblewoman from the distant undead metropolis of Erubescence.
The stage had been set with various props and painted backdrops that had been enchanted to appear more realistic. The backdrop here depicted a dour landscape with a stern-looking keep in the background – quite similar to the actual Castle of the Bloody Vale. Trees and other vegetation are evident in the foreground. A small conjured stormcloud overhead periodically rumbled, its thunderous foreshadowing occasionally warning theatre-goers that the play would begin in half an hour.
There were hundreds of seats in the Chiaroscuro, most of them in the pit, but many more filling the numerous balcony levels that rose on three sides of the grand, impossibly ornate room. Many audience members were already taking their seats. Of particular note was a large box in which were ensconced a party of obviously foreign travelers garbed in the costume of the southern plains and deserts. Foremost among this group was a large domestic cat placed in a special divan, afforded the finest view in the house; the cat spoke with various retainers and servants quite normally, and was obviously an individual of some considerable importance.
The many balcony seats were stacked atop one another in four levels, with stairways and small elevators leading from one level to the next. Near the stage there were also private boxes thrust out from the main balcony to afford the rich occupants a finer view. Servants and ushers milled about bearing refreshments to those in the balconies and showing patrons to their seats.
The playwright Vittoria Wolfsheart awaited the party in her private box, given a privileged view of the stage. She wore a dark purple gown that set off her porcelain white complexion, and had pinned her hair to further emphasize her horns.
“I’m glad you could attend,” she said, greeting you with a curtsy.
“A charming production, from the look of it,” Armand said, with a haughty sniff.
“So far there have been no signs of the real Robin Redcap. But perhaps it might be of benefit for you to have a look around the theatre, just in case.”
“Hmm, I think I’ll take up position in the rafters,” Garvin said, eyeing the catwalk above.”
“Let’s check backstage,” Caulis said to Vespidae and Sprigley. “Then maybe we’ll join you here, Vittoria.”
Backstage at the Chiaroscruo, actors practiced their lines while the stage-wizards wove illusions to grant their costumes additional verisimilitude. The actor playing Robin Redcap could be seen, looking strikingly similar to the thin-limbed, white-bearded Fair Folk, as could the muscular Duke Gothmord. Peasants were having dirt and blood smeared on their faces. More props could also be seen here, including various fake grimoires, torture instruments, candles, “magical” crystals, tools, and fake weapons. The director, costumers, carpenters, and other stage-hands were bustling about, getting everything ready for the play. Vespidae, enthused with the artistic spectacle, spoke for awhile with the stage-illusionists and actors, providing additional instructions – a privilege earned from the substantial contributions the waspkin had made to the production. Eventually the director shooed them back to the main room of the theatre.
The party began their preparations. While most of the group stayed in the private box, Garvin had carefully scaled the rafters, talking his way past the stagehands lighting the production, so that he could get a good view of things from above. Caulis, summoning their pseudodragon familiar, sent the creature to patrol the theatre and report anything unusual. Armand and Caulis briefly visited with Nahotep, the cat-prince from New Ulthar. The creature – one of a race of familiars who overthrew their wizardly masters and became rulers of their kingdom – was charming and debonair, visiting Hex on a kind of grand tour, consulting with some of the city’s necromancers on arcane matters, and generally soaking in the sights. Nahotep seemed sympathetic to Caulis, a liberated homunculus, and lamented the fact that so many of the mandrake-root-folk were still slaves to their creators. Armand, ever the silver-tongued sophisticate, invited Nahotep to dine and stay at his townhouse for a time, an invitation which was politely accepted.
A few minutes later, the curtain rose, and the play began…
The play began as expected, but Vittoria’s revisions – based on Robin’s scribbled suggestions – quickly became evident. In this new version, Robin is not an innocent spirit corrupted by Duke Gothmord, but a malignant sprite who warps the heroic, armour-clad ruler into a bloodthirsty maniac. In the opening scene, Gothmord rescues several peasants from the marauding Redcap, and binds the fairy to his will. The scene, at the edge of the Tangle, is given atmosphere and verisimilitude through the use of painted backdrops and elaborate magical illusions.
It was at this point in the play that Caulis’ familiar became aware of something: a pallid figure had appeared in a box opposite Vittoria’s watching the play intently. The homunculus informed their companions, and they confirmed that the figure appeared to be none other than Robin Redcap himself.
The play progressed, Duke Gothmord becoming increasingly depraved, warped by Redcap, abusing and even kidnapping his serfs. As the intermission approached, the scene shifted to a dungeon in which a local woman was imprisoned – the witch unknowingly captured by the Duke. It seemed a torture scene would soon commence, to judge from the instruments arrayed onstage. At this moment, though, Robin seemed deeply bored; they could see him yawn from across the theatre. Vespidae, worried that the fairy would launch himself into a bloodthirsty rampage if not entertained, held up her Yellow Sign, invoking the goddess of art to intervene, to infuse the play with vividness and inspiration. The Sign gleamed in the darkness, and a numinous chill fell upon everyone in the theatre, gooseflesh breaking out across everyone’s skill as the drama on stage became suddenly intensified.
Instantly – but, somehow, without anyone noticing the moment it happened – the actress playing the witch was replaced with none other than Magdalena, the sculptress who had been left marooned in Carcosa. Duke Gothmord picked up a glowing iron, preparing for some gruesome, sadistic torture, suddenly gleaming with what looked like real heat. He approached the surprised and genuinely terrified Magdalena. The crowd craned their necks, and even Robin had sat up, suddenly transfixed.
Vespidae, alarmed by the effect her invocation to the Queen in Yellow had had, flitted to the rafters to confer with Garvin. The Ravenswing thief and arcane trickster cast mage hand to deflect the branding iron, while Vespidae cast silent image to make it look as if the iron had struck, producing a horrific burn. Magdalena was screaming now, though more from disorientation than pain. Robin seemed pleased by the gruesomeness of this display.
Sprigley, noticing Magdalena, realized that something alarming was afoot. As Duke Gothmord approached with a new torture implement, the mercenary fired a shot from his pistol at the seemingly psychotic actor, wounding him in the shoulder. He leapt from the box and ran through the crowd towards backstage, amidst whoops and screams and confusion from those around him. The audience, thinking this some experimental contrivance of the play, applauded uproariously as the scene ended and the curtain fell. Intermission began.
At intermission, Armand slipped quietly into Robin’s box and, stealthily, slipped poison purchased at the Venom Mart of Cobweb Cliffs, into the fairy’s wine. In addition, he attempted to cats a charm over the fey, to further endear him to the performance, but this failed to penetrate his resistance to such magic. Fortunately, Robin did not notice.
Backstage, Magdalena was untied by Sprigley, while the wounds of the actor were treated, and Sprigley managed to convince him that the bullet was supposed to be a blank. Meanwhile, up in the rafters, Garvin and Caulis’ familiar could hear what sounded like approaching buzzing – like a swarm of wasps approaching the theatre. Moments later a group of ragtag waspkin – some missing limbs or eyes or antennae, others garbed in rags – appeared at the rear entrance. Vespidae, backstage, greeted them.
“We have come, Thirteenth Queen,” one said.
“The Royalists approach. They mean to kill your Grace. But we shall not allow it!”
Vespidae, mind reeling, nodded, and sent out a pheromone mist in response. Thrust into this unexpected role, she decided to play her part as best she could.
“We’ll fight here,” she said. “Stage-illusionists… could you disguise these waspkin? They’re, ah, extras for the big battle. They’re supposed to look like evil fairies.”
The grumbling stage-wizards complained about the sudden change, but given the close relationship between Vittoria and the party, consented to these alterations.
The intermission buzzed in more than one way, as audience-members gossiped, remarking on the bloodiness and horror of the torture scene and the boldness of Sprigley’s “experimental” intervention.
The curtain rose on the finale of the play, beginning with the scene of Robin Redcap’s liberation. Scheming with the witch – played now by the original actress – the Robin character finds a way to wriggle free of his magical servitude, wreaking vengeance on the Duke. As the final scene of bloodletting began – in which Robin was supposed to rampage through the keep in fury – the waspkin Royalists burst into the theatre from the foyer, having swarmed in the front door. At this moment, stage illusionists bewitched the attackers to resemble “good” or “Seelie” fairies, all gossamer wings and light. Meanwhile Vesdpidae, lurking backstage with her motley band of followers similarly ensorceled to appear as “evil” fairies, rushed forwards, and the battle was joined.
The ensuing combat was bloody and spectacular, equal parts battle-dance and genuine battle, illusion-clad waspkin falling left and right, javelins flying. Sprigley, back onstage, joined the brutal melee. The real Robin Redcap, gleeful, watched the carnage with obvious satisfaction, while his stage double snarled commands to the fairy troops. The audience, impressed with what they believed to be special effects, went wild. Garvin sniped from the rafters, picking off waspkin Royalists… but then, with a final charge, the Royalists swarmed Vespidae, thrusting javelins through the drone’s body. She quivered and fell still, a look of absolute peace on her face, her deathwish finally satisfied, her last performance complete, her longed-for sacrifice at last consummated. In the frenzy the real Robin Redcap stormed onstage, leaping in a single bound, setting about him with vicious claws, tearing waspking apart left and right.
At this moment, Garvin acted, unwilling to let his companion die. Using a pocketwatch snatched from the cabinet of curiosities of the Van Lurken house which he had later learned had the power to modify time, he rewound the time-stream by a few moments and, just before the Royalists descended on Vespidae, fired a magical bolt into the stage-floor. Arcane darkness blossomed from the bolt, obscuring everything in shadow.
The darkness cleared like tenebrous mist. Bodies lay in pools of waspkin blood… but Vespidae was nowhere to be seen. If she was dead, her body had vanished – or, perhaps, some other fate had befallen her, for several of her rebels were missing as well. The audience went wild with applause and horrified delight, and Robin, clapping maniacally, vanished from the box, leaving behind a smell of carrion and black roses. The surviving Royalists, unable to locate their quarry, fled into the night.
The stage-hands would later report that they were too confused in the slaughter to notice if Vespidae and some of her forces had slipped away. Was she dead, or had she disappeared, to take up the mantle of the Thirteenth Queen?
Only time would tell…