March 1st — The Eleventh Tribe, Session Fifteen
Year Three, Spring
This session was missing the players of Placeholder, Tribble, and Dusty
Having concluded their business with Copper, the 11th Tribe emissaries make their way from the Forge to the domain of Arc-Fault — The Knot.
The Knot is not really a nest, but a web of heavy skeins of burning lines and cables — bundles of them tied together with wire — crossing and knotting around each other. Hylins make little burrows in amongst the wires, suspended over the sheer drop, it's a precarious and tenuous place, with few big spaces suitable for a meeting. For that reason Placeholder and Dusty wait at the end of the conduit from the Forge, while the others go in search of Leckie.
The party stumble (literally) across a pair of Hylin sisters, the tiny Socket and large Relay. Socket offers to lead them to Leckie, who is conducting experiments for Arc-Fault, but Relay insists that they should go and see the Master Tinkerer first, since they are strangers. Rivet blinds her with dubious logic, persuading her (at least for a moment) that, since they have already met the sisters, it doesn't matter who they meet first any more. While Relay puzzles over the reasonableness of this they others scurry off with Socket.
The Burning Voice
Leckie is a little distance away, working on some sort of web of burning lines that she's spliced together. It's obvious to Rivet that this is work in progress. Tribble worries that Leckie won't even recognise him, its been so many years, but Leckie has a picture of him in a locket that she treasures (Lozenge's player spent a luck on this fact) and she recognises him at once, and Rivet too.
Although Leckie is initially a little suspicious of Rivet's motives ("Did Volta send you here to ... kill me?") she is quickly persuaded that her father and friend are there to help her. Reassured, Leckie explains the secret to her masterwork. While working with Volta's Lightning Canon she came to realise that the energy in the burning lines carried some sort of symbol, what she calls the Burning Voice, the voice of the Eaters. It gave her the idea that it might be possible to send your own message along a Burning Line, if you had sufficient power and could make and break the connection. It was this that made her steal the canon plans and go to Arc-Fault. She was sure that Volta would work out what she was doing and steal her invention, whereas the ageing Arc-Fault would be easier to fool. Unfortunately she's come to realise that she needs capacitors like the ones Volta has — one at each end of the connection. Without these she can do nothing!
Tribble explains what the 11th are doing in Tangle, and she immediately suggests that if they help her get some capacitors, and then set up her invention at both ends of a burning line, then the proof of a signal will instantly guarantee her a Mastership. Then she can give them her vote! Of course, it may mean stealing the capacitors from Volta ...
Rivet suggests that they could trade for them instead, perhaps from Plug, another Master. But first they should speak to Arc-Fault.
Arc-Fault? Leckie says — but don't they know that Xerox, the fixer from Stationary, is here, in the Knot, with half a dozen guardmice! She arrived the previous day, looking for the 11th Tribe, and is with Arc-Fault right now!
Although Rivet favours simply grabbing the others and making for Plug's nest right now, the others want to know what Xerox is doing, and what she wants. They decide that Rivet and Loop — neither of whom are well known members of the 11th — should go to Arc-Fault's lab with Leckie and see if they can't overhear something of interest. Lozenge, too recognisable to go openly, decides to follow covertly.
The plan is quickly put into action, and seems initially to be going well: Leckie, Rivet, and Loop do a solid impression of flunkies performing an experiment, and get to overhear Xerox insisting that Arc-Fault help her find Leckie, who she believes is connected to Tribble of the "Canteen outcasts". A couple of Stationary guardmice lounge nearby, well armed, but not paying attention to the tinkerers.
Sadly, they do spot Lozenge sneaking along a bundle of wires overhead, as do another four guardmice who are on the second swag of wires. The guardmice surprise Lozenge and manage to pin her down by her paws, but she breaks free. Loop, seeing this from below, can't help but cry out, attracting Xerox's attention. Before she can act, Rivet pulls his pistol and levels it at her, demanding that everybody freeze, or he will shoot Xerox! The guards on the lower level freeze, but the ones overhead lose their grip on Lozenge, who knocks one right off the strand, and leaves another hnaging! Luckily the Stationary mouse falls safely to the bundle below.
Xerox tells Rivet to put the gun down, and her force of will is so strong that he almost does it, but he regains his courage and keeps the gun (shakily) aimed. She tells them: "There's no need for this, I just want to speak to you." Rivet lowers the gun, and they agree to talk. Lozenge even goes so far as to haul up the dangling stationary mouse.
The 11th Tribe?
Xerox makes it plain, there can't be an 11th Tribe; the treaty of the ten tribes can't be changed, because their whole society would collapse. She has a different offer — Canteen can become a subsidiary part of Stationary. Semi-autonomous. Tribble could be a Secretary, and perhaps the remaining Clippies could be transferred from Carpet Tile to Canteen. It's an expedient offer, designed to find a way out of the confrontation between tribes; naturally Lozenge hates it. Lozenge insists that Xerox must know that the treaty has Canteen as a member instead of Carpet Tile, but is confused to discover that Xerox seriously believes that this is not the case. They realise that the original treaty must have been altered in the past, but Xerox insists that this is impossible, though she is reluctant to say why.
Loop tries her to persuade her to open up, pointing out that they have to resolve this impasse somehow. Eventually Xerox agrees. She tells them that she is certain that the treaty can't have been altered because it was written — somehow — by the Eaters themselves! The treaty is written on a series of paper strips, on which special mystical symbols are embossed into the paper. It's not something a Hylin could do, ergo, the treaty must be genuine.
"Symbols like these?" Loop asks, producing the fragments of paper tape produced by the Eater Beast in the far up (back in session six).
Xerox is, for the first time, unsettled. If the device that produced the treaty exists, and the Canteen mice have access to it, they are incredibly dangerous. It's clear that she's torn between the desire to resolve the conflict, and to wipe out the 11th before they can tear down all of Fac'Tory! To her, the treaty is sacred. Lozenge chooses this moment to make a counter offer. They could choose to alter the treaty, removing Asphalt and replacing it with Canteen. Xerox is aghast! If they do that, the whole ten tribes will collapse. The only way they could do that is if all ten tries — including Asphalt — agreed! It's insane.
Instead, she begs them to accept her original offer. Lozenge refuses, but admits that he can't speak for the whole tribe. They come to an uneasy agreement, Lozenge will take her offer back to Canteen and give it a fair hearing to the Tribe as a whole. With little more to talk about (other than to ask after Placeholder), Xerox gathers her guardmice and leaves. Once she's gone Arc-Fault finally recovers his courage and tries to shock them all with one of his tinkered things, but Loop calms him down. It turns out that the old tinkerer is exhausted from the confrontation, and he insists that the party come back in the evening after he's had a lie down.
To Plug, or not to Plug
Rivet suggests that they could use this time themselves to go to Plug's nest and try to obtain the capacitors. Leckie says that they need to steal back the Lighting Canon plans, so that Arc-Fault doesn't work out what they are doing, but they agree that they won't do that yet. Instead Tribble and Leckie will stay here, to speak to Arc-Fault (and stop him getting suspicious), while the others go to see Plug.
Dusty tells them that there are two routes to Plug — a quick route through Breakers Nest that will take a few hours, or a long route that would take days. It seems obvious that they should take the short route, until Socket (whose been hanging around unnoticed the whole time) tells them that Breakers has been abandoned after some sort of disaster a few years ago. She doesn't know what the disaster was, but no one goes there now. The players decide to take the quick route anyway.
Dusty, Rivet, Loop, and Lozenge make their way along the dusty rope of wires that leads from the Knot to Breakers. A similar hank of wires runs alongside in parallel. They are nearing Breakers when suddenly a dart (actually a thorn) flies out of nowhere and buries itself only a whisker away from Lozenge's paw! There, on the other strand, is a hunting party of ash-grey mice, hunters from Asphalt! Even across the huge gap (a 9 dice obstacle) they can smell the scent of stale blood, and feel the aura of menace that surrounds the creatures. Dusty and Rivet panic and dash for the shelter of the empty nest ahead. Loop and Lozenge decide to try and take cover on the far side of the strand, but not before Lozenge is peppered with thorns and badly wounded. Loop makes it, but Lozenge is pinned down and hanging from the wires.
The Asphalt mice chase in pursuit. They have plenty of thorns, while Lozenge, Loop, and Dusty, have no ranged weapons at all. Rivet, however, has his pistol, and he bravely stands his ground and looses a shot at the hunters. Amazingly (he rolled all successes) the shot carries one of the cannibals straight off the wire and down down down into the churning machinery far below. The other hunters, wounded and shocked, take cover.
The party take the chance to run into Breakers — a big metal box full of racks of ceramic blocks and buzzing wires. Although they can see nothing, they can feel a breeze on their whiskers, and smell a stale dusty scent overlaid with mould. Dusty, who has been there before, tells them that there is an open central passage that leads to the nest, which is in the middle of the blocks, and then out the other side. It seems easy enough to follow this route by touch, but Lozenge smells something she has smelt before — the stench of death. She puts her paw down on something soft and fuzzy that sticks to her paw. It's a corpse, and something is stuck to her! (she takes 1 sick).
Lozenge, feeling unwell and uneasy, persuades Rivet to use the last of his firesticks to make a light. At once they see that they are surrounded by corpses, and that everything is covered in a thick layer of mould. Twisted stalks of fungi burst from the bodies, twisting out of their eye sockets and mouths! It's nest rot, and Lozenge is infected.
The Rot Ghosts
Lozenge wants to get out, now! But the route back would expose them to further attacks from the hunters, so the only way is forward. Loop, hoping that there are ghosts here that could aid him, produces the skull of an ancestor from his pack and invokes a vision. This is a bad idea. He sees at once that he is surrounded by ghosts, but that these are fungi ghosts! A collective evil animated by the nest rot! "Flee!" his ancestor tells him, "I can't help you here!". Loop sees the rot ghosts extend their mycelia into Lozenge, who at once grabs a handful of fungi and tries to thrust it down Rivet's throat! Rivet manages to fight him off — it helps that Lozenge is badly wounded and sick — and they flee the empty nest before more of them can be infected ...
- I hesitated about whether to apply higher Danger for being in the open air of the Knot. In the end I decided not to do so, but it might have been better, it didn't feel quite precarious enough.
- Plot-wise, things are starting to come together. I'd been waiting for an opportunity to reveal the structure of the Treaty for ages.
- Although we didn't use the revised "save from death" rules, everyone was very aware that Tribble would cost 5 luck to save. It made them very nervous of letting him get into any danger, and that's a good thing. We had the sense that his "luck was running out", which is exactly right.