After some lengthy preparation (each Hylin gets 1d3 scraps — Atrox takes string) the group set out for the distant monolith, after an inspirational speech from old Tonic. Merlot, who has been amongst the Black Dusters with her plague mask, declares that they are safe (a week has passed and no one is sick), but the party decide not to take them on their trip.
Their route takes them all the way up the Brick Vertical (scene of the encounters with the Black Dust Tribe and the Rats), to the level above, where there is wood above, and wood below, and the space Between is filled with a layer of ash, and then great clumps of some sort of fur (Eater hair?). The trip is long (takes 1 Rest) and tireing — everyone takes 1 Exhausted Damage, and must each 1 Food or take 1 Hungry as well. Some of the characters, notably Behold and Chardonnay, are in a bad way.
The mice find a spot to sit and eat, resting against a large wooden block or pillar that seems to separate the floor and roof of the level. While resting his back on it, Chardonnay hears muffled voices; not Hylin. Investigating, he discovers a colony of woodlice feeding on the rotting wood. Woodlice are gossips and information traders, so he quickly drags Marcus over to talk to them.
The woodlice — who speak in a chorus of repeating voices — are happy to trade information for information. Chardonnay boasts about how "The Great Champion Chardonnay" defeated the one-eyed rat. The woodlice eagerly measure him (so that they can describe him) and repeat the details. In return they tell him about the pack that one-eye had been thrown out of, the Eater Kit Pack, and it's Queen. The Pack is not far off to the left, on this level.
Marcus decides to try and trade for information about food. Merlot tries telling them about the usefulness of plague-masks, but woodlice don't have mouths to cover, and she forgets to arrange a trade beforehand. Marcus offers to trade the location of woodlouse food, for Hylin food. The woodlice agree, and he tells them that there are places in the Dripping Level where magic Eater liquids soak the wood. He says these liquids make Eaters strong, and will do the same to the woodlice. The Woodlice tell him that the Eater who lived above the Quiet Level has vanished, and suggest Stronger Eaters are Eating them!
Chardonnay suggests that they could just eat the woodlice, but Marcus gets them to give the information they wanted. The Woodlice say that there is a route past the rat pack that leads to a place on the very edge of the Empty where there is earth full of Hylin food, like worms, and roots. This is the opposite direction to Glenlivit's suggested plan, and there is some argument about which way to go. Merlot tries a vision to guide them, but the result is unclear. After a vote it is decided to devote a little time to looking for the mice Glenlivit mentioned — if they don't find them, they will turn around and follow the woodlouse route.
The mice prove surprisingly easy to find (Merlot makes an excellent roll, and spends one success to say that they find the mice quickly). They come across one mouse, scrabbling around in the ash. It is nervous till it sees Glenlivit, and then bounds up like an enormous (to a Hylin) puppy. The mice can't speak, and it takes a lot of work to get concepts across to them, but Merlot gets across the concept that they want to find more mice, and the mouse leads them to a family of four more mice, who have made a pile out of bits of broken plaster and are playing at balancing on top. More successes are spent to establish that the mice look well-fed and co-operative.
Merlot mimes being a hungry mouse-pup, so the mice decide to take her to their source of food. They lead the others to a place where the loose hair filling the level has been packed tight to make a big open space. In the middle is the monolith — a shiny black metal structure, 10 Hylin-lengths tall, and 25 long. When Glenlivit saw it last, it was safely inside the Between, but now the roof of the Between is missing! It looks like an Eater has taken a bite out of the Between! The mice run out happily and vanish round the back of the structure.
The open space is scary. No one wants to go out into it, but Marcus makes an inspirational speech and gets them to follow the mice. Round the other side of the metal thing they find the mice gathered around an odd long tube of brown paper, open at one end. Inside vague shapes are visible. No one knows what it is, but Atrox agrees to go inside. He finds a wall of something beige and knobbled, but when he nudges it with his nose it falls on him! He panics, runs around, the end of the paper tube gets crumpled, and he's trapped inside! Luckily Chardonnay manages to haul him out, but then has to sit on him when he whips out a dangerous chemical and tries to set the tube on fire in revenge!
Now Jinzu and Merlot decide to do their own investigation. There is a bit more confusion as they step on one another, but they realise that this is a giant packet full of food! It is filled with enormous beige rectangles, with round corners and white paste inside (Custard Creme biscuits) — 10 FS. Marcus suggests they need to get the mice away from here, so that Cold Stone can have all the food. Chardonnay suggests eating the mice; Glenlivit protests!
Marcus decides to eat some buscuit and then pretend to die, so that the mice get scared and run off. His acting only confuses the mice, but it convices Merlot, who starts squeaking that he's actually dead! Behold drags off the biscuit (to use as poison) and puts it on his snail, which has started to climb the monolith. He clings onto the snail and tells it to run (crawl), closing his eyes so he doesn't have to look at the Empty above. The snail obediently climbs the monolith, goes across it's top and then, finding a nice gap, goes inside, upside down! Behold opens his eyes to see that he's upside-down ... then the lid closes! He's trapped inside!
Meanwhile, the Hylin below are causing panic. Chardonnay and Atrox are fighting, then Chardonnay makes off to attack the mice, while Chardonnay pours out his pouches in the hope of tinkering something. Jinzu is running around in circles wailing about Marcus, who is still pretending to be dead, and Merlot is trying to get the mice to flee. As a result the mice actually do get scared, and start running off in every direction, because the food is now scary! Unfortunately for Merlot, the mice are convinced that she is a defenceless pup, so they grab her too, and run off with her into the Between!
At this point Chardonnay declares himself the victor, and jumps to the top of the monolith, in the hope that the Eater Beast will appear for him to fight. Instead he spots Behold's snail trail and realises he is trapped inside. He tries to open the entire monolith himself (by balancing on the hasp of the lock and mightliy pushing the top on) but instead gets himself trapped in the gap! He is crushed by the lid and, when he manages to wriggle free, falls to the ground. Chastened (and hurt) he crawls away and lets Atrox rig up something to open the lid.
Without Merlot, and out of time and energy, the party haul one of the biscuits back to the Nest. Between the biscuit packet, Behold's cache, and their individual stock of food, they manage to supply 17FS. Not enough to totally avert the famine, but certainly a partial success. Things would have been a lot worse without their efforts!
Five days later Merlot finally escapes the mouse nest and makes her own way home.
End of Year
Because this is the end of Winter we do ageing effects and Improvements. Chardonnay gets a new Legend "I bit off more than I could chew", and Marcus gets one for coming back from the dead ... again! Everyone gets a year older (and less lucky), and both Chardonnay and Marcus lose some Dice from age — only 1 Edge in Chardonnay's case, but three Stats in Marcus' (he is now 8 years old). No one dies from old age.
At the player's assistance we rolled a dice for each Black Dust Hylin, to see what happened when they took the Cold Stone test (drink a random liquid and see if you die), allowing players to spend Luck to turn a failure into a success. As a result nine out of ten Black Dust mice survived, including Kiri, Iro, and Parro.
- Everything went very smoothly. As with the previous session the lack of remaining Rests created urgency.
- The negotiation with the Woodlice was great fun. I did it only through RP (didn't force dice) but that was no problem. There were plenty of dice rolls in the session (many of which ended badly for the party as it happened).
- I gave each player 1 Luck at the start of the session, because the adventure was 2 sessions long. This worked fine.
- Players are still relying on me to suggest things to spend successes on, I need to encourage them to have their own ideas — possibly by shutting up and letting them choose!