Titus, Gallus, Scythia, Cortez, Dorn and Wollsey approach the Moon Gate of the Manse of Gabriel Sophano. Set in a high wall of black stone, gates of polished adamantine stand open, twinkling light in the morning sun. Around the edge of the gates’ vast mouth are inlaid symbols of the phases of sun and moon, with the simple dark circle of a moonless night above the apex of the gateway. Around the gate flock costumed figures in carriages or atop riding beasts held by jewelled halters. Around these exotic figures throng footmen, guards, and equerries in a kaleidoscope of liveries. Above the crowd hover raptors, their eyes plucked out and replaced by augmetics that scan the crowd jostling for entrance through the Lunar Gate.
As they reach the front of the crowd present at the Lunar Gate, they see the formidable security of Gabriel Sophano. Two ancient, ornate gun servitors with heavy bolters and another pair with lascannons face the throng of waiting guests from just outside the gate, while two functionairies in sober black check the validity of each invitation. They seem to be uninterested in the guests themselves, with a sole concern being the authenticity of a guest’s invitation, which they check by pressing the seal attached to it to a hand held device of tarnished brass. The device projects a holographic cone of light and air that fills with rotating numbers and symbols. The functionary nods and allows the guest to pass.
It is then that they experience a “deja-vu” moment when a foot carriage of pink crystal approaches the gate and presents their ticket to the functionary, who somberly presses the brass device to check its validity. The swirling cone suddenly turns from blue to an angry red, and the shakes his head and point back away from the estate. An elegant lady with a long curled white wig and powdered features with a purple jeweled mask is quite irate, going into the price she paid, and how there won’t be any time to find another, but her pleading falls on uncaring ears. She seems about to order her footmen to proceed as the gun servitors turn ever so slightly towards her. Reluctantly, she turns aside back into the streets of Xicarph.
A memory of a shower of bullets and death comes to mind, but no, that didn’t happen did it. Things this time may not go exactly as they did the first time around.
The path from the Lunar Gate into the estate of Gabriel Sophano is cobbled with stones that each have a unique shape, color and hue, with gilded lettering telling the name of a system visited by the Sophanos from which it was taken. The forest to either side of the winding lane carries artificial hints of fragrance, changing as often as the flora itself, each section different from the last. Broken ruins of ancient structures plucked from a hundred worlds are visible within, abandoned and given over to moss and Ivy. Guests can be seen wandering within, some reveling, some steeling themselves for what’s to come. Three large domes of sparkling crystal rise up in the distance on what must be the far side of the estate, beyond a large column of light shooting directly up to the Hub far above in the Crystal Dome of Xicarph as sounds of revelry and music echo to you from up ahead.
The manse itself is circular and rises in three colonnaded tiers to a great crystal dome that apes the dome that contains the city of Xicarph, which the manse sits at the center of. Numerous entrances are visible, but its main entrance is via a set of silver doors that are reached by a great spill of broad steps. The Manse is surrounded by jet black obsidian paving stones of various shapes seamlessly joined together to make a vast canvas into which are set large precious stones at irregular intervals. Opulent carriages and all manner of riding beasts are parked at the edges, with footmen waiting in attendance. Cortez reasons that the gemstones represent planets of the Calixis Sector, but the map appears to have too many stars listed upon it than are part of the sector today.
Inside the main entrance to the Manse is a grand hallway a dozen meters wide or more, with thick, heavy carpets woven with deep subtle patterns. The walls are lined with rare plants in huge vases, larger than life paintings of long forgotten scions of the Sophano line, and tables of rare wood inlaid with polished stone upon which sit priceless items of unknown origin. Servitors with enamblled machine components move through the crowds handing out glasses of rare liquors and exquisite sweetmeats and patries. Music and laughter spill in from the immense double doors of black wood at the end of the hallway, beyond which can be seen a grand ballroom.
In the Grand Hallway of the Manse that leads to the Theatre of Clocks, the Scythia approaches an old man who stands out from the crowd not only due to his obviously advanced years, but also his lack of retinue, bodyguards or any other hangers on. He is relatively simply clothed in a noble fashion long out of style and wears a simple mask that barely covers his eyes. You don’t see any obvious signs that he is armed. ‘Greetings youngstes. First Festival of Tattered Fates, I take it.’. His name is Claudius Vipus of Baraspine, and he has been cut out of his shipping business by a younger relative, his nephew, Antonius, and his one time close friend and business associate, Master Nonesuch of the Sophano Prime Mining Association.
The cell continues into the main ballroom. At the center of Xicarph is the estate of Gabriel Sophano, at the center of Gabriel Sophano is the manse, and at the center of the manse is the Theatre of Clocks. This great circular atrium is the entrance hall into the rest of the manse and is also its ballroom and rises through all three floors of the manse to the crystal dome that sits at the top. The floor itself is white marble, but its center is dominated by a device of a multi-rayed black sun inlaid in brass and granite. Every inch of the walls are covered with ticking clocks and time pieces of every conceivable shape, size, and design, their mechanisms exposed like the insides of a patient on a surgeon’s table. More double doors of black wood lead away from the Theatre of Clocks into the curving corridors and spiral staircases that access the rest of the manse.
At the center of the inlaid device in the theatre is a six meter high column of whirling clockwork, lever arms, scything blades, and turning cogs made of glittering steel at the heart of which swings a great pendulum weighted by a curiously cut coal-like stone of iridescent mineral the size of a large fist.
Many powerful guests and their entourages have gathered within the theatre. Some are engaging in displays of martial prowess, either directly or by getting their hirelings to do it for sport, while others are dancing or playing music. Above all, though, is the sport of posturing and gossip. Occasionally performance dancers, musicians, and acrobats take up space on the floor, but most of Theatre of Clocks is the place to converse and align oneself for Carnival of Blood.
Circling each tier of the manse are pillaried promenades called The Solar Colonnades. The pillars are made of a white marble said to have been mined from within the solar system itself. Ancient sculptures look down from plinths and niches along the colonnades. Accessed from great bay windows, it is here that many of the thousands of guests mingle amongst the splendor of the sculptures and the wondrous view across the other towers and domes of Xicarph.
The cell decides to split up and cover more ground exploring the Manse separately.
Group A (Scythia, Dorn, Gallus) meets a group of nobility led by someone named Alton Sinclair, lord Vaxanide. Modestly dressed for a Noble, Lord Vaxanide has a modest retinue and seems to be in a jovial, celebratory mood. Recently a large deposit of Nilium was found during routine Mechanicum Geomantic surveying on Vaxanide. They are excited to start getting extraction underway, the value of it is astronomical, and Vaxanide be well above its Tithe for the forseeable future.
After shuffling him and his entourage on, they notice an eye looking at them from behind a wall, then discover a secret door! Scythia opens the door and rushes into the breach followed by Dorn, but they are just in time to see a black robed person rush around a corner and down some stairs out of sight.
Group B (Titus, Cortez, Wollsey) notices a person being carried by a couple of black robed persons into a doorway upstairs, but when they move to follow them they spot the cane and mask of none other than Master Nonesuch, and just in time are able to dodge into a side room where they have a conversation with one Dame Obelia, a grand dame in an ostentatious gown that would be more fitting of a grand ball on Scintilla. She’s carrying a simple masquerade mask on a stick in one hand and has a glass in the other. She appears to already be quite drunk. A large man in simple graceful attire attends to her in silence. She regales them with conversations about the Sophano family:
“Erasmus Sophano, rogue trader, master of the vast power of the Sophano, and last of his line, disappeared many years ago. Now presumed deceased, the huge wealth of his line is locked in legal dispute in the Courts of Solomon. Though some whisper that scions of the Sophano line may still exist, they have proven reticent to come forward to claim the great prize of Sophano’s legacy.”
“Erasmus Sophano lost his beloved wife and only daughter to a vicious war between the members of the Sophano line fought for the inheritance of the Sophano rogue trader warrant. He later hunted down and killed every member of his family and their families, friends, allies, and associates.”
“There is one thing that Erasmus Sophano desired after the death of his wife and daughter—to undo what happened, return them both to life, and return to the life that he led before they were slain. Sophano was willing to pursue any means to this end.”
Prominently featured in the salon where Dame Obelia’s conversation happens is a giant painting entitled “The Death of Tanis,” which features a warship bearing the Sophanos’ golden spider heraldry beside a world dying in the light of a burning black sun.
Continuing on, Group B finds Gallia, standing vacantly in a forgotten corner of a hallway just off the Theatre of Clocks on the lower level. She is wearing a velvet jacket over her bright dress and there is an acrid smell of fresh blood around her. The group soon discovers that she seems to have had her heart ripped out from her chest. There is an empty hole where it should be, but she doesn’t seem pale, and is still standing on her own accord, moving compliantly in the direction when nudged. She is left behind as the group hurries to meet up with Group A before venturing into the hidden parts of the Manse. Unfortunately the layout of Gabiel Sophano isn’t always clear, and they struggle to find them.
Group A decides to continue on into the walls without waiting for B, when deafening chimes fill the air, and every wall and surface vibrates to their note; the crystal of glasses sings, and dust rises from the relics of Gabriel Chase. It is as if the manse itself is producing the chimes, and as the 10th and final note fades, a sound like the winding of a thousand cogged mechanisms comes from the walls and then abruptly ceases. Those who look out at the sky see that a dark bite has been taken from the sun. As the last chime sounds, they hear a monstrous whirring and clanking of machinery in the walls all around them. Then the corridor shakes like dice in a cup and is flipped upside down, dropping them from what is now the ceiling to the floor. The ends of the passage they were in disappears to be replaced by dark, rusted metal doors. With a final clank of gears, the metal doors grind open, and from the darkness beyond come scuttling servitors, their flesh dead and grey, their brass weapon limbs clicking like hungry jaws. Amidst the Heavy Stubber Fire, Chainaxes, and falling damage they managed to eventually fight them off and continue into the hidden pathways.
Group B, managing to get behind the walls, trys to locate Group A, but instead comes across the macabre remains of a vile ritual. A charred mass of human bones are scattered around a distinct oval pattern of heretical runes written in blood. In the corner there are a pile of rent red robes with the golden spider of Sophano on them.
Group A finds a Pillar of Bone deep within the hidden bowels of Gabriel Sophano in an alcove with an immense fresco depicting a scene of death, with piles of dead bodies surrounding a twisted pillar of bone. Dark shapes fire sick beams at soldiers wearing black carapace armor emblazoned with the golden spider of Sophano. A noble figure at the head of the forces of man stands larger than life pointing a powersword at the pillar and a large black shape standing before it. A similar pillar now sits in the middle of the alcove with a black cloak beneath it. Lettering below the pillar spells out ‘Victory at Slaug’. While examiling it, a stunning beauty of a lady with a parasol that has a silvery brass skull head on the end manages to get right up to them without them noticing. She is a gregarious fashionable and quite attractive blonde noblewoman in a severe high collared dress that shows nothing while leaving little to the imagination. While she is pleasant to talk to, Scythia and Dorn can’t help but this there is something terribly wrong with her. She rebuffs Scythia’s charming conversation and seems to be in awe of the beauty of the Bone Pillar. The group decides to run rather than wait for her friends, as she has “requested”. They barely are able to flee out from behind the walls into the main areas of the Manse.
Group B manages to see Group A flee from the hidden pathways, then sneaks up to see what’s going on with the Lady. Titus manages to find a hidden study within the hidden passages that appears to be the study of Erasmus Sophano! There is a map of the Calixis Sector that shows Erasmus Sophano had and maintained several holdings and interests on many worlds. Those of particular interest to him in his later days included the mortuary complex known as the House of Dust and Ash on Sophano Prime, a strange folly he had built outside the city of Sinophia Magna on the planet of Sinophia, and a hospitaler temple on Solomon.
On the wall is the aged portrait of a man with a buxom woman and a small girl no more than five years old. They are all relaxed and smiling in a lush garden in bright golden sunshine. An inscription carved roughly into the frame reads: “My Josephine, My Josette, what cruelty has taken you from me? I will undo the wrongs done to us, and we will be together again, laughing. I promise.”
On a desk there is the remnants of a burned journal. One of the pages, burned at the edges still clearly says “… with their petty little war. I will show them horror. They will know fear. I know what the Mordichotte’s cultists desire! I now the true face of the Blood God whom they serve! I will …”
The rest is illegible save for the lone word “exterminate”. The group takes the Journal SURE that the rest of the non ruined pages must contain some other piece of very valuable information, if only they can decode it (Hint: It does. Triumph)
Groups A and B, finally together again, meet up a young noble trailed by an entourage of a half dozen hardened looking retainers. His stamped metal feral world style helmet mask cannot hide his handsome features. ‘Impressive!’, he says in apparent approval, “Sire Terrik Doru of Gunmetal City, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance!” then finishes his introduction with a sweeping bow. They talk and make friends before the cell heads down to the floor of the Theatre of Clocks to await the Grand Conjunction. Wollsey makes himself a contact and increases his influence.
As the 12th hour strikes, the lights within the manse flicker and then plunge the whole manse into darkness; screams abound along with a few shots in the darkness before the lights abruptly snap back on. A commotion immediately forms around the Steel Clock. The Steel Clock has been daubed in blood, parts of it are now in furious motion where none were before, and a palpable aura of cold now radiates from it. Sticky red finger marks can be seen on several of the levers and gears and in a crimson print across the clock face. Lodged inside the mechanism, you can see the shape of a human arm, severed above the elbow. Obviously this is Gallus’ arm that was lost to the Widower in the fight outside the Fates Wheel.
The light has fled as if before the dark clouds of a storm. A cold breeze blows, stirring gowns and feathered finery, though Xicarph is sealed in a dome of crystal. Guests throng to the Theatre of Clocks. Servitors pass through the rooms and promenades, lighting huge candelabra of pale candles. In the candlelight, a hush falls as minutes pass and many of the masked faces turn upward to watch the light become blotted out. Others in the crowd finger their weaponry and edge into position, waiting for the permitted carnage of the revel to begin. The barest sliver of light, like a ring of silver, can still be seen behind the dark orb that has eaten the sun.
In the last seconds of light, the countless clocks of the Theatre of Clocks, which have struck the hours of a thousand different worlds for a thousand years, begin one by one to tick in unison with the Steel Clock. The guests begin to mutter, surprise showing in every gesture and glance; such a thing has never happened before. With a sweep of the pendulum of the Steel Clock, the last clock falls into rhythm with its fellows and the air resonates with the ticking of a thousand mechanical hearts. Then as one they strike the 13th hour in a great chorus of noise and chaos.
As the final, 13th note is struck, thousands of hands reach for masks and draw weapons. There is a heartbeat as the chime holds in the air, and then the world is plunged into a twilight gloom. All is primed, taut anticipation, but before a shot can be fired between rivals, an exultant voice shouts words as loud and terrible as the chiming of the Steel Clock. His heron mask glittering in the candlelight, an all too familiar figure leaps onto the plinth of the Steel Clock and gazes around smiling. ‘Look, look at the sun!’ he calls out. Above Xicarph shines the sun, so bright that it cannot be looked at, but it gives no light. All around in the impossible darkness, people begin to scream, and the sound of violence erupts in a desperate, panicked rush. ‘Come, Widower of Sophano, show me your face. It is your hour, and you will unmask.’
A figure walks from the seething crowd, his robes billowing in an unnatural wind, his eagle mask still in place. ‘You!’ shouts heron mask, and the wearer of the eagle reaches up and removes his mask.’
‘Fool,’ the Widower growls in a voice that is a hundred different voices blended into one. ‘You have brought the
Sophanos by-blows here and sealed your doom! You thought to tame me, but you know nothing! You are nothing! By their blood I have summoned the black light of death for this world, a shadow out of time captured centuries ago by the Traveller but no less lethal now. In death I shall be free of him who comes!’ Suddenly the mechanisms of the great Steel Clock begin to whirl and change, and unholy howling echoes from the machine.
The deathly fires of a black sun crawl round the dark totality of the eclipse, blacker than the darkness of the void. All around the chamber, men and women scream. Some fall to their knees beneath the black light, clawing at their eyes and faces, while others lash out
The Widower, disguised as Eagle Mask (was he wearing his skin? Ewwww!) fights with Heron Mask around the Steel Clock as the group jumps into the fray. Heron Mask is quickly taken down, but not before gravity fails, causing everyone within a short distance from the clock to take falling damage. Many nobles are severely injured or killed by this, and the group isn’t feeling well either. The Widower wades into the cell as they pound on the Steel Clock. Scythia goes down, the Dorn, Wollsey, Gallus … some of them are able to stand up again and rejoin the fight. A desperate attempt is made by the Widower at taking down Cortez before he is able to finish destroying the clock, but he fails.
The Black Sun fades, and the Emperor’s Light once again shines upon Xicarph.
With half the cell on the ground incapacitated, a person walks out from amongst a nearby group of people, clad in deep grey robes with their face obscured by a cowl. They are carrying a bolter in their right hand in a loose style that belays they are comfortable in combat. The strides stop a respectable distance away, when they raise their head and show their face.
“I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see you guys again. Who’re the new faces?”
It is Attilus, the long lost Primus.
“Before we continue, I’d like to introduce you to someone who’s been very helpful to me in Xicarph.”, Attilus states, when from out of eyeshot to the side comes none other than the Spider Bride flanked by several of her ladies in waiting. She is dressed in a more casual gown than you saw her in the Twilight Gardens, but is still clad in the same mask. “I hear you’ve already met milady, though… “. A faint skittering sound can be heard from somewhere nearby. “I see things so clearly now, thanks to her. I was meant to find her, and Fate has brought us together. We shall never be parted.” Attilus turns to stare at you with cold eyes burning with desire. “Just give me what I want, and we can all part ways amicably.” One of the Spider Brides ladies appears to be carrying a hat box.
Reluctantly, the group hands over the face of the Widower, for they are in no shape to fight another foe. Revenge will have to wait.
On the way out the door in the Grand Hallway, Titus notices amongst the paintings one of a tall, thin man with brown hair and hazel eyes in a long black naval style coat with his right hand on the hilt of a blade. A stylized spider broach similar to the one found in the Red Cages is on his left collar. The painting is titled “Ezekiel, Moritat du Cote”
The healing takes place over a few weeks back in a cheap rented place in the arena district, as it takes about 5 weeks before al’Subaai arrives to collect his lost cell.
Once aboard The Sabre, the acolytes are able to collect all their lost items, left behind when they were abducted. Inquisitor al’Subaai is there and gives a proud, almost boastingly pleased speech.
“You have survived, but I am not surprised. Each of you have each already survived where a legion of others have failed and fallen. Oruc Cortez, the sole survivor of the Malgrysian Reis’ cover up of his forbidden dig on the world of Avitohol. Protégé and prized student of a Magos bent on learning the forgotten secrets. Who knows what he is looking for. Do you? Scythia, you alone survived to reach this point from those in your fallen cell. I commend your fortitude to have come this far against odds stacked against you so. Dorn the Drusus Dragoon. How many others in your company survived the fighting deep in the underhives of Tranch, from the struggle with the mutants? None. Only you. Gallus Mordichotte. Do you remember the death of your parents? Do you remember how you alone survived? I have often wondered why did he leave YOU? Sur Trantor. Survivor of the family internecine fighting that is so common, and who knows what else. And last, but not at all least, my prized Acolyte Titus. Where all the others were found, products of their own circumstances, you alone I claim personal credit for. The hundreds of promising young candidates I gave to Claude and Julian to pare down. So you see, you are each and every one of you are a truly unique survivor and a paragon representations of the best there is in the Imperium of Man. Through your actions shall it be purified.”
(It dawns upons the players, if not their characters, that al’Subaai very well may be of an Istvaanian bent)
With a nod to the acolytes and a note that he must get back to the other ship and discuss some matters with Interrogator Rand, he informs the Acolytes that word has been received from Augustinius on Sinophia, and bids Titus to take his cell and go retrieve this wayward acolyte.