Eoin Dooley has recently been running the Blood & Dust quick-start adventure for Spire. What follows is an account of their second session. Be aware this will have spoilers for the adventure.
Red Row is on fire. A riot has spread through like a shockwave, smashing windows, tossing rubble, and leaving people bloody on the street. The Weeping Maiden’s enchantments were akin to gasoline that the prison uprising ignited, cascading from flashpoint to flashpoint, and now the district is engulfed in chaos. That is what Seiger and Illyria see from their rowboat as they emerge from the depths of Endline. The sight terrifies them, as they know now that the Dust Machines will have kicked into overdrive, feasting on the entropic energy in front of them, so they make for Dacien’s church, both for as a rendezvous and also maybe some back-up praying.
Dacien emerges from the basement of her church, having concluded an hours-long ceremony that saw her enter the first circle of Scryatrices. Her robes, now of fine cloth and silver sigils, juxtapose with the mass of battered civilians taking shelter on the main floor and the sound of gunfire and shrieks. She walks outside, and out of the fracas emerge Loz and Quenelle, awkwardly proud of being top-tier shit-stirrers. Dacien berates Loz for giving in to Lekolé’s influence. Quenelle argues this was needed to achieve the ultimate goal of liberating Red Row. Seiger and Illyria then show up and explain exactly why this the worst possible thing that could be happening, as well as the mechanics of the Dust Machines. The gang realise that they’ve likely played directly into the hands of whoever is behind this, and that a lot of people are going to die no matter what. A gaggle of cast and crew from the Weeping Maiden arrive, begging the party for shelter in the church. They are allowed to hide out the riots inside, though whether the party is now uncomfortable with needless violence or they wish to vengefully extort them later is unclear. But it suffices for the desperate.
The team put their heads together and realise that the only way to salvage the situation is to take back control of the Dust Machines. Towards this end, two plans of attack. The first is to rewire the Machines. Rather than have them absorb and direct entropic energy, perhaps they can direct positive energy which will inspire Red Row, possibly even all of Spire, with Quenelle and Loz acting as focal points for the energy – their prison break technique put to restorative use. Perhaps they could even take the Weeping Maiden actors or some of Quenelle’s fans to put them in the Machines in a strong display of thematic irony. Loz and Seiger will meet with Loz’s retroengineer contact, Jackson Crouch, who was kicked out of the order for his heretical experiments, to ascertain the possibility of this and recruit him regardless. The second is to redirect the Machines. If they can find representations of a more useful target – perhaps the Aelfir council – they can buy themselves space and power to restore Red Row more directly. Quenelle, Illyria and Dacien head towards a manor Councilman Drynn was known to be staying in, to ascertain the effect of the Machines on their target and any other useful information. Loz gives a rousing speech about what each of them are owed by the Aelfir – and notes that oppressed gods become devils. Illyria imbues the speech with arcane knowledge, finding dormant ancestral abilities in Seiger and Loz she will trigger for the assault on the camp. Athelmayas and Madame Cazanoux protect the church, and the final mission commences.
The party boys find Jackson drinking himself to an early death in a quiet pub. They explain the situation and Jackson, even if smashed, is familiar enough with the theory to make rewiring the Dust Machines possible, though time-consuming, and in need of new catalysts that aren’t nihilistic cultists. Easier to make the signal stronger or weaker. Also, if they tampered with anything the retroengineers will be expecting trouble. Seiger says they did a bit but they put it all back – ‘it’ being a person – so, uh, no trouble right? Jackson, frankly, doesn’t care, he just wants the big fucking gun he made back in his hands. The one that sentry had. The one that will be pointed right at them. At least the drunk is eager.
The three mystics, however, find Drynn’s manor a ruin beyond description. The walls, the fences, the very foundations, have rotted to dust and mulch. They step over maggot-ridden guards and hide their noses from the sickening stench of decay. The Dust Machines worked overtime the last few hours. In the distance, they see an Aelfir woman in finery with four Solar Paladins in gleaming armour. Councilwoman Thorns-On-Silk steps over the wreckage and finds a twisted, blind, toothless Drynn half-buried under rotten wood. She smiles, grabs his neck, and needs only shift her fingers slightly to snap his spine, and his skin sloughs off like an overripe peach. It is now obvious who told the guard to work overtime, and who commanded the retroengineers. Quenelle sneaks over to see if Thorns-On-Silk leaves anything that can be used with the Machines – and their hand pushes through a crumbling wall, leaving them stumbling out in front of the Big Bad and her elite guard. Thorns-On-Silk recognises the celebrity, and orders the Paladins to destroy the now confirmed agent of the Ministry. No matter what, Quenelle and everyone Quenelle has known or cared about, will be hunted down, tortured, and killed by Aelfir inquisitors. Dacien bathes the Paladins in Limyé’s calm to stall them, and the trio run full pelt back to the river, abandoning any chance of taking new people to put into the Machines.
Rowing on the river, the party are quiet as they realise how hopelessly outgunned they are with Paladins in the shadows behind them. Illyria reveals that Loz descends from House Yssen, the Unquiet Blades, and Seiger descends from House Malrique, the Unlidded Eyes, who cannot be surprised or ambushed. Seiger sees a plume of smoke behind them that belongs to the engine of a small barge, and a vision of a figure standing at its prow. He is wreathed in cordite smoke, and his only visible facial features are glowing red eyes half obscured by a broad-brimmed leather hat. Two revolvers, black and white, are holstered by his sides. Brother Hellion and his followers have found them too. They row into the canyon-like channels of the Endline river. Illyria knows the place well, and steers the boat into an eddy tucked out of sight around a bend. She smacks on a train carriage and a pile of equipment for infiltrating the retroengineers camp falls into the boat. There is a beat where they realise this boat is the only way out without entering the Vermissian. The party clamber up the side of the river as the Hellionite barge passes, and sails straight for the retroengineers. Brother Hellion shouts a challenge for Seiger, and is promptly shot at by the sentry with the big fucking gun. However, the bullet passes right through Hellion and into the floor behind hm – because no gun can shoot him unless he wills it. He laughs. The Hellionites return fire, and butcher the grounded Knights.
Loz, wanting to draw the conflict out, invokes Lekolé to set fire to the store of gunpowder on the barge. The barge detonates, taking a handful of Hellionites with it, but not the divine lunatic now shooting point-blank at the oncoming swordsmen. The party sneak to the train where the Dust Machines are stored, all except for Seiger, who Brother Hellion spots and attacks. Seiger summarily beats the shit out of him (GM note: rolled a 10 with single die, then rolled an 8 for damage. After Armour, Hellion had one Resistance left). Hellion catches an almighty overhead swing between his revolvers, and sinks to a knee. This provides an opening for Illyria, tracking the zealot with her crossbow from above. She fires, and the crossbow bolt sticks into the mist of Hellion, killing him. Yet, Brother Hellion is no mortal. He is a monster of smoke and fury. The Sage’s mind is battered by its soul, overcoming her and entering into her body. Unbeknownst to everyone else, the mind of Brother Hellion slowly begins to take control of Illyria’s faculties. No matter what, Illyria’s identity will be subsumed by Brother Hellion’s, and her control is slipping even now. The remaining combatants flee, leaving the Machines to them. Illyria tosses her crossbow to Loz, and takes the revolvers from the corpse.
They descend into the reeking, wretched chamber where the Machines do their work. Neither of their plans are possible. They lack new people to put in the Machines, as well as any representation of Aelfir targets. Worse, Quenelle feels a presence the others do not, something watching and whispering to them. Dacien scries and sees inside the Vermissian, with a wall of black, writhing tentacles reaching for Quenelle. The Hungry Deep yearns for the perfect Idol, and wishes to consume them. This was why Illyria had seen Quenelle wandering the Vermissian in a trance – the Hungry Deep called to them in their sleep. In that moment, Quenelle realises that if the Hungry Deep gorges on their perfection, it might slow the destruction in Red Row. It might give them an opening to inspire the people directly. Quenelle moves aside the representations of Drynn, and cuts a lock of their hair to be placed between the Machines. The only problem is time – the Paladins will be here soon. Seiger and Loz decide to hold the front line and meet the Paladins directly. Dacien will wait in the chamber to stall any who arrive, and blesses her love Quenelle with shining moonlight. Illyria escorts Quenelle, Jackson and Seiger’s squire Vennis through the Vermissian. They emerge by the destroyed Voloren Standard barracks, and Quenelle begins to play a new song on the viola.
(GM note: This was the piece used as Quenelle’s song, and it was played over the remainder of the game)
Quenelle walks forward, spotlit by a moon that isn’t there. Their viola pierces the violences around them. A small crowd begins to form behind them, a procession enchanted by song. Illyria stays behind, smiling sadly at her friend, and then turns back to the Vermissian. As Quenelle’s song plays, Illyria walks far into the impossible tunnels, far past anything she knows or recognises, walking as long as she can to drive the spirit of Brother Hellion and his revolvers deep into the bowels of the earth. Illyria Lox will never be seen again, and nobody will know why.
The Dust Machines take effect on Quenelle. Hair turns white, then falls out. Teeth turn yellow, then black. Skin wrinkles. Joints twist. Muscles atrophy. Eyes turn rheumy, then to cataracts. Quenelle plays on flawlessly. Seiger and Loz walk out to meet four Paladins face to face. They sing an old Drow folk song as they do. Loz invokes Lekolé’s rage, a ring of fire erupting around them, he himself ablaze too, and shoots one dead. Seiger charges, but soon finds himself outmatched, wearied and bloodied. He roars his name, causing the Paladins to pause, then turns, declares his love for Loz, kisses him, and then drops his sword to tackle one of the Paladins into the river. Weighted down by armour, the two drown. Loz fires Illyria’s crossbow, then takes up Seiger’s sword to continue the fight. He slays one, but the last Paladin skewers him. Loz grabs the Paladin in a bear hug, and summons Lekolé one last time, as the two are incinerated in a pillar of flame.
Quenelle reaches the church, where a huge crowd has gathered to see the Idol degenerate to nothing, for no cause they can see, though to the Drow among them, the reason is obvious. Quenelle is no Idol now, but an icon of violence degrading something that once was perfect. Quenelle plays their last in the centre of the crowd, and withers away to dust, carried away on the air. The Dust Machines have done their work, and the Hungry Deep has eaten. One of her fans, Molly, who viewed them as a mentor, steps forward with her own viola, and begins to play a counterpoint.
In the reeking darkness, Dacien waits to give her life. She waits for hours, singing softly all the while, never certain if it was time enough, but nobody comes. Eventually she steps out to ash, and finds Seiger’s sword stuck in the ground. When she touches it, symbols of Limyé, Lombre, and Lekolé appear, united as the one true mother goddess, Damnou. She carries the sword back to the Knight-Admiral’s boat, and drifts back to Red Row, alone.
At a later time, Dacien will reclaim the Dust Machines with those inspired by Quenelle. Her church will become an epicentre for Ministry activity. The cultists in the machines will be euthanized, and replaced with Aelfir inquisitors and sympathisers, for they will become torture machines. For Quenlle’s performance did not change the fact that they were caught by Thorns-On-Silk, no, now the Councillor shall wage war upon Red Row to stamp out any remnant of the icon and their final song. The rule of gangsters in Red Row is over. Now far more guards and agents of the Aelfir shall walk the district. Dacien, who began this story as a new recruit, shall lead a cell of Ministry agents against them all in turn, and will not rest until Thorns-On-Silk dies. The Councillor will relish the challenge. ”
Eoin Dooley – GM – @eoin_dooley
Dave Fennell – Lozlyn de Vire – @MysteriousDrD
Jess Bernard – Quenell Laurant – @InfiniteJess
Aisling Reina – Ganford Seiger
Ciaran Monaghan – Illyria Lox
Samantha Keaveney – Dacien Theroux – @sampersand