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Summary[]

Join Alex, Helen, Bryn, Lydia, and Ben as they reconvene and get some answers. This week Hamid needs some deep breaths, Cel drags Wilde into the hug, Azu is genuinely touched, and Zolf learns the consequences of an old failure.

Synopsis[]

The party are all on the steps of what was once Barret's estate in Other London, and head inside. Azu is looking up at Gragg, very impressed by his size. Gragg notices, and appreciates the attention. Inside is a very familiar-looking hallway (to Zolf and Hamid). The windows have been blacked out and mattresses and other soft things have been pushed up against the walls to block sound. Zolf wonders to himself what happened to Barret. The party enters a large room, in the middle of which is stood Wilde. Wilde greets everyone, and briefly shows his lack of veins, although he doesn't strip off as in previous procedure- the ship has sailed on the old quarantine procedures given their situation. Zolf wonders if they should trust Chinua's information that the inside of the eyelid is the first place the veins show, pulling down his own eyelid. Azu mentions that the veined creatures she and Hamid met were very obviously infected. Hamid notes that for the party it's only been 15 minutes, so any infection wouldn't show yet. Cel says that they have apparently been in Other London for three days, to which Zolf, Hamid, and Azu are surprised. It makes sense to Wilde, however, who says there's a lot at play.

Wilde tells them that there's some food prepped for them in another safer room, as well as some new information and new people to introduce them to. He also says that there's currently no rush, and that Skraak and Sumutnyerl are both fine and are out on patrol at the moment and will be back later. He says that he, Skraak and Sumutnyerl have been in Other London longer than the rest of the party. Zolf says he hopes they're not working with Barret, as he's an awful person. Wilde flourishes his fingers a little, and says Zolf may be a little ahead of him there. Hamid and Azu chime in, saying Barret should be in an Artemesian jail in Damascus, Grizzop having put him there. Hamid asks with trepidation how long has passed while they were in the void. Hamid starts hyperventilating, given the trauma associated with the last time he lost time during planar travel. Wilde reassures him, saying Skraak and Sumutnyerl had been in Other London for about a week, Wilde himself had been there about four days, then Cel three days. Hamid ascertains from Zolf that Zolf, he, and Azu have been in Other London for less than an hour- they guess around 15 minutes. Wilde adds that he knows it hasn't been years, and the world hasn't changed significantly in their absence. Hamid is reassured. He suggests that they don't jump into any more portals, and Wilde agrees. Zolf agrees, excepting circumstances where death is the alternative, and Hamid says that in this instance he didn't think the alternative *was* death. Zolf shuts him down, and goes off to eat.

Hamid isn't satisfied, thinking Zolf hasn't learned from previous experiences, and calls him back. He says Zolf may be the leader in the field, but that jumping into the flower portal expecting the others to follow was a terrible decision (they got trapped in nightmares, they've lost time again, been injured, and been separated and surrounded by blue-veined creatures), and that Zolf needs to examine that decision as it wasn't the right one. Zolf turns back to look at Hamid, just sighs, and turns back to get food. Azu isn't happy with him. She tries to de-escalate, saying to Hamid that maybe this is a conversation to have later. Hamid thinks that Zolf just doesn't care at all, and especially not about what Hamid has to say. Hamid followed Zolf's order even though he disagreed with it, and Zolf needs to think through the consequences of his party-leading decisions. Hamid is becoming stressed, saying they don't have time to talk about these things. Wilde says gently that they have some time, now. They're not in immediate danger, as long as they don't wander around outside. Azu suggests they eat something and breathe to calm down, and they can resolve the situation later. They go through to the dining room, Cel exchanging awkward looks with Gragg- Zolf and Hamid are always like this.

In the dining room is a buffet of sorts: tins, stale bread, and so on. The dining room is in the centre of the building, and is therefore safer than rooms with exterior walls- the party can talk freely here. Wilde says that it's only him here at the moment, but that others would be here later- they had thought it better to start with only 'friendly faces'. Azu sits between Hamid and Gragg, and finds a common interest with Gragg of being tall and strong- Gragg talks about the Other London Games that used to be held here, in which he held some strength records. Apart from Azu and Gragg's enthusiastic conversation, the other party members are largely quiet and tense.

Eventually, Wilde asks if everyone is feeling ready to talk about more serious things. Cel asks if they can take notes because they keep losing their memory, to which Wilde is concerned. Gragg explains that it's due to memory moss, and that the effects will wear off. Cel is also beginning to get patches of memory back: Gragg having a scare with a blue-veined creature, Cel caving in a tunnel, Cel meeting Gragg after first waking and being nursed by Gragg whilst incapacitated.

[Here, Lydia notes that the GM taking control of a character like this should be done carefully, and that the players have discussed this off-recording and trust each other as a group. Out of character, Alex says that on day 1, Cel was brought back to consciousness and nursed, day 2 they were trying to find their friends with Gragg's help, and day 3 escaping a blue-vein creature and succumbing to the moss.]

Cel chats with Gragg, but he defers from giving them debrief information, saying he always mucks that sort of thing up. Cel and Gragg reminisce about having spent some nice evenings together, making traps together and teaching each other poems. Cel also enthuses about eels, having lived coastally for large portions of their life, and teaches Gragg one of Zolf's sea shanties. Gragg loves poetry and songs, and Cel and Gragg become fast friends.

Wilde reiterates that Sumutnyerl and Skraak will be back in a bit, not knowing when the others would turn up, and that it's been a week for them. Cel wonders about the plane of clockwork, and Zolf tells them it was the Plane of Lawfulness. Wilde says that the planar shards hit Skraak the hardest, but that everyone's OK. He explains that the 'beasties' (the blue-vein creatures) are the result of the blue-veins being added to corpses, and not to touch them.

Wilde tells them that The Simulacrum has 'flowered'- that the seed in the original simulacrum in the sewers was what caused the start of the infection. Zolf doesn't take this well. Wilde tells them that the infection would have started anyway, and that if they had found the part of the simulacrum containing the seed, the infection would just have started in a different place (see Plot Notes for a continuity note). Zolf leaves the room, struggling with the news (he is entering a depressive episode). Wilde continues, saying that the infection would just have gone off in a meritocratic vault rather than the sewers and the infection was an inevitability. At Hamid's asking, Wilde informs them that the sewage silo in which they found the arm and head of the Simulacrum was dredged for parts, and that those doing the dredging were the first victims. Wilde tells them he was found by 'friendlies' rather than enemies, and that he'll introduce them later.

After 10 minutes or so, Wilde goes to find Zolf, who is sitting on the steps outside, sitting by him in silence. Zolf tells him to go back inside and give the others the briefing, and that he just needs to know what to do to 'make it right'. Wilde replies that that's what the briefing is for, and Zolf asks for just a quick summary- he can't face sitting in a room full of people in this state. Wilde calmly agrees, saying that Barret will be along soon, and that the Cult of Hades are effectively their allies now. At this information, Zolf snaps, asking only that he be pointed in a direction so he can sort things. Wilde takes a breath (although doesn't seem too put out- he is probably used to Zolf being like this), and says that there will be discussions about this, and that Zolf can sit them out if it will help. Zolf agrees, telling Wilde to go and have those discussions without him, and to leave him alone. Wilde asks only that he doesn't leave the compound.

Back in the dining room, Wilde tells the others that they'll be doing this without Zolf, at which the others are perturbed.

BREAK

Wilde tells the others that he was rescued in other London by someone wearing a cowl and with tentacles for a face, and that they're around although not in the building now. The others aren't happy about this- Cel says they thought these were the 'bad guys', to which Wilde says they still essentially are, although the world isn't so black and white as that. Hamid is particularly put out, since this is the group that kidnapped their families. Wilde admits he was scared, but that things could have been worse. The squizzards brought him to Barret's complex, and introduced him to Barret, who has also come back to Other London. The squizzards seem to be facilitating travel- a squizzard guided the party to the compound, for example, and it was a squizzard that cast the sendings for Hamid.

In terms of what happened: Tesla was exiled after the lightning rail disaster, and fled to north America somewhere. Whilst there, he came across some interesting plants, and started work on the simulacrum upon his return. When looking for funding for the project, the Cult of Hades made contact with him and funded his work. They funded his trip to the Garden of Yerlik, and while he was staying with Sumutnyerl's people, he and Sumutnyerl had some kind of relationship, leading to them being "emotionally compromised". Tesla then recognised the dangers of his work and axed the project. The Cult of Hades, however, wanted the work continued, and got in touch with Edison to finish the job. Tesla, not happy with this, made arrangements for the simulacrum to be destroyed, by founding the Serpentines: he was behind the attack on the auction that destroyed the simulacrum. The destruction of the simulacrum then led to the infection (it is unclear whether a similar infection would have taken hold if the simulacrum had not been destroyed). It seems that Tesla's original motive for building the Simulacrum was a curiosity project- to see if he could. The Cult of Hades, however, were interested in the simulacrum in order to build an anti-Meritocratic army. They had already mass-produced the simulacrum shells before the prototype was destroyed, waiting for key components (seeds and fluidics) to be made available to make them functional.

The Cult of Hades is an anti-Meritocratic organisation, but are less discriminatory in their methods than the Harlequins, even going to the lengths of hiring or summoning the squizzards. The Cult of Hades has been trying to get in contact with the party, by bringing Barret to the party in Damascus, and by bringing Chinua to the Ursans' city. The cult say that Chinua is fine, and not a hostage. The simulacrum, despite being made originally by Tesla and Edison, has 'evolved', and has become the blue veins. London has fallen, Other London is home to a large, mature seed that is connecting the gestalt hivemind. The Cult of Hades' objective was to overthrow Meritocratic rule by any means necessary, and made strange allies in the process, even squizzards. However, they dislike being ruled over by an extraterrestrial plant even more than by dragons.

Azu asks whether the Cult of Hades were planning to rule the world after overthrowing the Meritocrats. Wilde says that the Cult have said no, but that he himself thinks that they probably aren't telling the truth and that the Cult wouldn't mind being in charge. At Cel's asking, Wilde says that Barret will be coming to talk to the party later about the way to actually fix the problem. Cel is very unhappy with the situation (the allies).

Wilde also informs the party that the Harlequins are 'gone', or at least central command is. Cairo fell, and Wilde says he knows Hamid's family weren't there at the time but that he doesn't know if they're OK. He says he knows Curie's dead, and that Cairo is lost to the blue veins. Hamid and Azu are devastated. Wilde says that means their list of possible allies is short. He says that he doesn't know where Einstein and Ed are, as they're (rightfully) maintaining a comms blackout. Azu admits that she accidentally called Einstein on the mobile stone, to which Wilde is surprised. He ascertains that Azu still has a stone, and that she literally just spoke with Einstein, and that he sounded like himself and said he was busy.

Assuming that this intel is reliable, it seems that the first signs of the veins appearing within the eyelids within two days has been verified, and that the infection appears to be intentional- it's not just an organic spread. If the hivemind wants to infect something it will go after it; similarly, somebody could be exposed but not infected if the hivemind doesn't want that person. It explains why places have been infected in the 'worst order possible' and why they are never drawn out into an unwinnable fight. The infection seems to pass by touch and intention, not airborne. Azu asks if there's one big brain out there controlling them, and Wilde replies that the 'big brain' is a distributed network amongst the hivemind. Azu asks what it wants, and Cel asks if there's one thing they can destroy to stop it. Wilde says he doesn't know but that he thinks so. He says that he thinks the Cult of Hades knows, or at least has an idea, and that they are coming to the compound to sound out the party to see if they would be willing to chase it down. He says he doesn't know anything else.

Hamid asks about the one big plant in the centre of Other London, similar to the one in the Garden, and asks if that's how they got to Other London, via a portal. Wilde says the Cult of Hades doesn't know, but that there are parts of London that are awash with the root structure of the plant. Hamid says there are likely four plants: the one in the Garden of Yerlik had three flower buds, each associated with a different location, so presumably the other locations have similar multi-headed plants. Wilde concurs: Svalbard, London, Yerlik, and somewhere in North America, wherever Tesla originally made contact with these plants. Cel asks is this means that infections have been happening in North America too, and Wilde says that's possible but there's no way of knowing whether it's worse there, or has barely started. Hamid adds that the infection hasn't spread from the plant in the Garden of Yerlik, and wonders if there's an infection in Svalbard too. Wilde says he doesn't know, since the squizzards don't like to give away more information than they have to.

Hamid asks Wilde if he can call his brother on the mobile stone. Wilde tells him to call, saying there's not much they can do if the infection wants to compromise them at this point.

[At this point, Bryn mentions out of character that he has been pronouncing Ishaq's name wrong (the Cairo pronunciation of 'sh' is different from other Arabic-speaking places), where the 'sh' sounds more like an 'ss'- so phonetically, Ishaq would be pronounced 'issak'. Note- the editor is not from an Arabic-speaking culture and if somebody with better knowledge would like to reword this explanation, please do!]

Hamid calls Ishaq on the mobile stone, and asks if he's alive. Ishaq replies that he is, and confirms that the family has moved away from Cairo to the safety of 'the middle of nowhere'. He asks whether Hamid is alright, and Hamid says he's alright for now. Ishaq says that Ed says Hi, and Hamid says hi back. Ishaq says that Einstein has been too busy to spend much time with the family and that it's mostly just been the family and Ed, who looks after them. Azu asks if Ishaq has heard from Emeka and Vesseek, and Ishaq replies that he has, and that they were in Cairo when it fell, but that they made it out and rejoined with- At this point Ishaq becomes very cagey, likely because adults have told him to stop giving information over the stone. Hamid, crying, says that he has to go because it's not safe, but that he gives everyone his love, tells them to keep looking after each other, and he thanks Ishaq before saying goodbye. Azu hugs Hamid, and Hamid suggests Azu contacts Emeka. Azu says that Emeka is more likely to be in the thick of things, and that she doesn't want to distract him (she then struggles for words). Wilde reminds them that the hivemind knows what they know, and that they need to be careful with what information they give- if Azu contacts Emeka they can't exchange information about their locations or activities. Azu, struggling, says she's rather not know, and that it would be worse if she called and something had gone wrong with Emeka.

Hamid hugs Azu back, and Cel leans in to hug too. Gragg gratefully gets in on the hug too, and Wilde is beckoned over by Hamid, awkwardly patting Gragg's arm until he is also pulled into the hug, awkwardly.

Wilde also adds that there's not much in the way of resistance apart from Gragg, Barret and the squizzards. Hamid asks Wilde who had been cursing him, and he replies, with difficulty that that was the Cult of Hades- they didn't like Wilde interfering with their plans. Hamid says it can't be easy working with them, but that if they're the only way to defeat the veins then they'll have to do. Wilde is unconvinced that the Cult of Hades are the only way, but is gritting his teeth for now. He tells the party how the cult has been tracking them, however- in Cairo, during the assault on the Heart of Aphrodite, the Lads and Blokes took body parts from the party when they were unconscious (locks of hair, maybe blood, part of a tusk). Hamid adds that Barret's ring could also have tracked them.

Wilde also has some good news. It turns out that, as well as him being a little more 'mellow' since his resurrection, he's also connected with the others back on the bear via Carter and Sassraa (this is a 'positive' of resurrection- he says there are negatives but not what they are). He says he can't talk to them exactly, but that he knows that the rest of the Vengeance crew knows the party is OK, and that they are planning to help in some way. He says that the experience of being part of this resurrected community means he has a very strong idea of all the people above him (presumably referring to the bluevein hivemind in upper London), but that Carter and Sassraa's presences are like familiar voices in a crowded room, and that Sumutnyerl says this isn't unusual and not to worry. He says he can't pass messages and that the connection is more feelings-based.

Hamid asks Wilde if Kafka had anything to do with the Cult of Hades, and Wilde says the Cult wouldn't tell him, but that he suspects that there is a link. Hamid tries connecting Hades (god of death) with the dark magic the Romans used, with the summoning of the undead and 'evil priesthoods'. Wilde adds that Kafka did have a 'rule the world, throne of bones' feel. Cel and Azu wonder if the army of zombies was being summoned to fight the Meritocrats, and Wilde says that's his working theory. Hamid wonders why the Cult of Hades hasn't tried to repurpose the blue veins rather than fight them, and Wilde guesses that they did but that they failed.

Zolf is sat on the steps outside the room, listening to faint clicking from the 'beasties'. A cloud of steam appears by the gate, and stood there is Barret, a short-ish human, flanked by two cowled squizzards. Zolf locks eyes with him and gives a murderous stare and Barret gives a lazy two-fingered salute back.

Quotes[]

Zolf: "We're not working with Barret, are we? That guy's a dick"
―Zolf asks Wilde if they have to work with Barret.

Hamid: "Can we please not jump into any weird planar portals again?"
Wilde: "I second that!"
Zolf: "If the alternative is death, no."
Hamid: "Well- I'm not sure the alternative was death..."
Zolf: "Then... then sure, you can think that."
Hamid: "And we could well have died in the planar portal, or been stuck for years while the world got even worse!"
Zolf: "Incredibly, a lot of things we do is dangerous. Now, I'm going to go eat."
―Hamid and Zolf argue about the circumstances leading to them jumping into the flower bud portal.

Azu: "Have you ever bench-pressed two halflings? Because they can be really fun, because like-"
Gragg: "Oh, yeah, yeah, no, er, so there's the, er, there's the Other London Games which hasn't happened in a while obviously , but- yeah I used to, er, hold a couple of records" (Gragg then sheepishly and easily lifts a chest of drawers in one hand)
Azu: (applauding) "I'm sorry, I never meet people- well, very very rarely meet people who are taller and as strong as me, so this is a delight! Er, you're very..."
Gragg: "Well- how do you think I feel?"
―Azu and Gragg talk about their mutual height and strength.

Wilde: "It would seem that the simulacrum that you originally were commissioned to track, protect, etc., may have flowered- which is what kicked everything off."
Zolf: "I beg your pardon? Do you mean that that bloody head I couldn't find is the entire problem?"
Wilde: "..........yes. And it's not your fault, either."
Zolf: "..........uhhh...OK-"
Wilde: "Let me give you some more before you react: It would have gone that way either way. If you had found it, it would have just gone off in a different place."
Zolf: "I'm not in the business of what-ifs any more, but I need... a moment." (Zolf leaves the room)
―Wilde informs the party of the infection's source, and Zolf doesn't take it well.

Gragg: "Is- Is Zolf really upset? Is- is that why?"
Wilde: "Yep, yes, erm, that's... that's why, Zolf is very upset."
Gragg: "Right, yeah. It was, it was ambiguous..."
Wilde: "No, it's not ambiguous, Zolf is quite upset, that's why he's not coming in here."
Gragg: "Thanks for clarifying, I do appreciate that."
Wilde: "Yeah, it's fine. I'm going to press on, though?"
Gragg: "Yeah, you do you!"
―Wilde and Gragg (both played by Alex in wildly different voices), discuss Zolf's mood after he leaves the room

Plot Notes[]

When Wilde says the Simulacrum caused the infection, Zolf asks if it was the simulacrum's head that he didn't find in the sewers that caused the problem. Wilde says that it was, and this news is the trigger for Zolf to spiral back into a depressive episode. In fact, Zolf *did* find the head in the sewers (see episodes 7 and 8), and Bertie even put his hand inside it, pretending to talk to it like a ventriloquist's puppet. They gave the head to Haringay. This doesn't really affect story continuity, however- Zolf may not remember finding the head, and Wilde's information is second-hand at least- so the seed could quite easily have actually been in inside, say, the chest cavity instead, or have fallen out of the head- the point is that Zolf still blames himself for not retrieving the seed during their early mission.

Trivia[]

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