A Story of Capal in Five Parts

by joshua [at] bloodandsacrifice.com (Joshua and Laura BishopRoby)

Jon Bard, member of the Eighth Tribe and disillusioned playwright for Capal's Troupe of Dreams, is approached by a cell of inquisitors. All they want is for Jon to betray his cell by getting them inside the Hoy Polloy, the grandest theater complex in the City. All they want is to investigate rumored Z'bri Taint lurking at the heart of the complex. All they want is to implicate the Troupe's leaders as Tainted -- which suits Jon Bard just fine.

Under the Big Top is a short story in five parts, one of which will be released every Friday until the conclusion of the story. This is meant to support the Capal Book of Days, now available in your friendly local game store. Follow Jon Bard and the investigators into the depths of the Hoy Polloy, and see what lurks in the heart of Capal, the Rising Star.

 

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Part One: Inquisitors at Midnight

A scribbled note found in the residence of Jon Bard, member of the Eighth Tribe:

I don't have much time; I told them I was gathering my things and saying goodbye to Eleesha -- they don't know, apparently, that Eleesha left more than a week ago. You know us players of the Troupe: always a lover or two in our beds and a glass of wine at our hands. Sometimes even the worst reputations can be useful.

I am, however, wasting precious time. A cell of strangers pounded on my door in the dead of night, dislodging the snow from my roof. They identified themselves as fellow members of the Eighth Tribe, fulfilling their cell's charge by investigating and cleansing instances of Taint. I was, at first, alarmed, and thought that they had come for me. I know that I do not carry the Taint of the Beasts; I had a Marian through here and he assured me everything was clean. The truth, however, has never stopped these latter-day Inquisitors from burning a political rival's house to the ground. I was relieved, then, when they told me that they needed my help, but as they continued, I wasn't so sure I should be.

"We suspect the Hoy Polloy hides a locus of Taint," the leader said, voice as dead of lyricism as a stone. I recognized her: Diana of the Torch, one of the more fervent Herites building Capal's new religion. "Our cell does not possess the political resources to force your own cell into allowing us to investigate their buildings," she continued. "The Troupe of Dreams is much beloved, and very rich -- a hard target for lowly investigators such as ourselves. Such a Taint, however, cannot go unchecked forever, lest it touch all who visit the circus. It might infect -- it might have already infected -- much of the populace."

As a seasoned citizen of Capal, I knew better than to believe such statements at face value, but I harbored consideration under my facade of suspicion. It might explain Jonas' recent fits, his inability to direct anything that inspired or extolled. How I had argued with him as he maintained that our sacred charge, given to us by the Jacker himself, was to entertain and pacify the masses of the City. Perhaps a tendril of Flemis thought had wormed its way into his mind, until he forgot the ideals of the Eighth and the Nation of the Fall. I was well aware of my status in the Troupe; I had already been 'invited' to seek membership in another cell, if I so chose. That the invitation had come from Jonas, and that Jonas and the rest of the cell's leaders would surely fall if my visitors were correct... those thoughts lurked in my mind, as well.

"You want me to get you inside," I told them, skipping over what would no doubt be an hour of their hackneyed and verseless conversation. "I am still a member of the Troupe, even if I and the directors have had our disagreements of late." They were silent, too wary to tip their hand too soon. I could see the discomfort in the big one's face, and in a flash I saw that he would rather be killing something than talking to people. I think I had seen him among the Forlorn Hope veterans in the last Convocation; no wonder he disliked talking with us lesser citizens.

The other one, thin as a bone and still bearing Yagan tattoos across her face, merely looked on, silently allowing Diana to do the speaking. Before she could, I put up a hand. "Let me get my things, and kiss Eleesha goodnight. I will not tell her where I am going, but I must tell her I will be out." They assented and I crept back here, to fetch my long-disused swords and to provide myself with some measure of assurance.

If you find this missive and I have not returned to my home by morning, something has gone wrong. Know that my cellmate Jonas Hawker of the Troupe is remiss in his duties and has abandoned his charge in favor of growing rich off the masses in Capal. Goddess willing, I will return and tear up this note by morning; Goddess willing, the Troupe of Dreams will be cleansed of corruption again. But this is Capal, after all; you can't be certain of anything.

Chapter Resources: Jon Bard of the Troupe

Jon's slight build and antipathy towards horses made life among his birth tribe, the Joanites, more than difficult. He was not suited to be a warrior, and was mocked and marginalized because of his inability to live up to the tribe's harsh standards. The one spark of joy in his life was the hymns of Joan and the battle-chants describing the Joanites' greatest deeds. Instead of a warrior, Jon became an artist. In time, he and his works became popular, nearly eclipsing his poor fighting skills. When he penned a praise-filled epic about a great Joanite hero who had Fallen, however, he found himself cast out for his audacity.

On Hom, Jon came to hear the Prophecy of Joshua, and began to collect stories about the Lost Tribe as well as the Fallen. He came to understand that the 'Eighth Tribe' was split and divided, and many on Hom hated who they should call their brothers. Jon concluded that the Eighth Tribe did not have any communal stories to provide a foundation for their society; he therefore went about collecting stories and creating his own, trying to provide the spark of inspiration that could galvanize the Eighth into one unit.

Even an awkward ex-Joanite cannot resist the call of war, and Jon Bard joined the warriors who raided the H'l Kar, and later those who marched on Capal. His habit of leading troops in song and chants before battle earned him the attention of Mek and his command staff, who asked Jon to join a new cell, the Troupe of Dreams, charged with keeping the army inspired and entertained. After Capal fell, the Troupe took up residence in the Hoy Polloy to continue performing their duties.

Lately, Jon has become worried that the leadership of the Troupe have lost their focus, and have become rich and lazy. He hopes that he can find the cause of this loss of vision, or perhaps create a scandal to remove them.

Highlights: Idealistic, Wary, Hopeful

Attributes: BLD -1, CRE +1, KNO +2, INF +1, PER +1, PSY +1, WIL -1, STA 20, UD 3, AD 4

Eminences: Devotion and Unity

Skills: Combat Sense 1/+1, Dodge 2/0, Hand-to-Hand 1/0, Human Perception 1/+1, Lore (Eighth Tribe) 2/+2, Melee 2/0, Music 1/+1, Mythology 2/+2, Read/Write (Tribal) 2/+2, Sneak 1/0, Theatrics 2/+1, Synthesis 2

Equipment: Paired short swords (AD x12)

Part Two: Everlasting Love

Diana of the Torch of Inquiry waits upon Jon Bard's answer:

I do not like this Jon Bard. Everything he says is too practiced, too rehearsed. I can feel Savrin growing tense behind me; he has little patience for those of with too many words. I could feel things slipping out of control, but before I could say anything, the Trouper spoke again.

I narrowed my eyes, glancing over his slender frame. He wants to say goodnight to his current lover. This too sounded a little practiced, but Savrin made a grunt of assessment, and I felt I had to follow through.

"Fine," I told him, my face solid with purpose, "but do not linger. And be smart about this; we may not yet hold the political sway to bring the Troupe to its knees, but we certainly have enough to catch the likes of you, already in disfavor with his cell. If you're thinking of running out, or more fun still, running us on a merry chase, you will have much to be sorry for in the morning."

He simply nodded, leaving us in the falling snow. He could have invited us inside; he could have brought us in from the cold. The night had already been long enough as it was...

On her patrol, Diana of the Torch:

I don't have much time; I've ventured off the route and if I'm not at the check point by the twelfth hour, Savrin is going to lay into me again. I know what I saw, though. I won't allow his clouded vision to fog mine over, too.

The snow here... the snow. It was never so bright on Hom, never so clean looking. It fell through the trees, dribbling down into a muddy slush you had to wade through. The snow here in Capal falls on stone, creating obelisks of ice that reflect in the moonlight. The banks are high on either side of the street, stealing the sounds of my feet as I skulk through the darker parts of town. I can hear the raucous laughter pouring from the House of Masks, but I know that isn't the laughter I hear in my head, in my dreams. The One Goddess has pointed me the other direction; it is for Her that I seek out the Hoy Polloy.

It's been two days since my dream, two days since I've tried to convince Savrin that action needs to be taken. But he's afraid of the Troupe, and rightly so, perhaps. They've grown fat on their power, much as others have since the conquest of the Wall. Where before we could stand hand in hand, we now must make nice to placate those who hold tight the reigns of the city. I've arranged a double shift tonight; I have an extra three hours to patrol the outskirts. And as long as I make duty-check, none will be the wiser. Not that it will matter -- I'll have the proof I'll need and no one will be able to deny me then.

I see it now just as I did in the crazed slant of my dream: the Hoy Polloy, a carnival of color covered in snow; the lights, so many lights, shine from their windows, painting the snow on the eves in brilliant colors. It's backstage I need to go, then. Backstage is where I'll find... I don't know, really. I'll find it. Whatever it is that the Goddess has turned my dreaming eye towards. I know it pulses dark, writhing under its bonds, yet still able to coil its ghostly fingers around our hearts -- around my heart. I'll find something there, I'm certain of it.

Diana of the Torch speaks behind the Curtain:

"This, this here," I said; I could feel my voice tremble in both fear and a triumph. This is what I saw in my dreams, this was what I was sent here to find. Jon Bard pulled up beside me, running his hand over the aged door.

"I believe it's an old storage room, but I don't remember what's inside." His gilded little tongue finally faltered and I felt the coil of hubris wrap around my spine once more. I reached out and touched the door myself, wanting to feel the grain of wood under my fingers in a confirmation of reality. But it was so cold, colder than the snow outside should have allowed for. It was as if it drew the heat from my hand, leaving me with a growing numbness and the dull sensation of desperation. I glanced across to the Lightbringer, but he didn't seem to notice the chill. Were we too late, or was he simply too accustomed to the taint surrounding him? Savrin moved behind us, pushing his own way up to the door; the Yagan held back as the Jacker pushed past her. Maybe she felt it, too.

Peals of laughter distracted us all, the darkened stage we had passed earlier alive, suddenly, with a lewd performance to entertain its drunken audience. I recognized it vaguely as a bastardization of an old Evan passion play. The couplings twisted from symbols of fertility into a bawdy display for the Liberated; they left the Word of Eva behind and revelled in the freedom of their shackles. I had to smile despite myself. I need not approve of the delivery system to approve of the message.

Savrin grunted, pulling us all back. "It's here. I can feel it. Let's go."

Chapter Resources: Diana of the Torch of Inquiry

Born to a Voyeur, young Diana was exposed early on to the harsher realities of the Lovers Tribe. She would trail after her mother in the woman's duties, watching from behind veiled archways as punishment was carried out against the wicked. Her natural curiosity, and untarnished love of Magdalen, made her an eager student when her own time came.

But all does not sit well when the idealist meets the harshness of politics. Turned bitter against the sweet words of her loving sisters, Diana grew from naive child to unsympathetic woman, calmly seeking out right and wrong and enacting her vengeance. It was only a matter of time until she felt the biting sting of retaliation, her fall from grace a lavish production that left her broken on the Fallen Bridge.

Betrayed by all she had loved, all she had lived for, Diana quickly embraced the path of the Herite and began a slow exploration of the One Goddess. Always the exceptional Dreamer, her skills were tested again and again in a series of visions sent by the One, but the elusive understanding of Synthesis at it exists apart from the Fatimas continues to escape her. Frustrated, then, by her continued failure, she has fanatically devoted herself to the worship of the Goddess through no other intermediary, and scorns the Fatimas for holding humanity back.

Her entry into Capal came during the Liberation when she joined the first infiltration group, rousing the Serfs and channelling their rage into rebellion against their Zbri masters. So devoted was she to cleansing the city of taint and establishing a common peace, that she quickly drew attention to herself and was asked to join the Torch of Inquiry, an important new Cell. As a founding member, she was allowed to set policy, but quickly thereafter fell into disrepute as her "fanatic" ways and "extreme" policies left her a distrusted wild card. Her rise to prominence has been slow since then, despite her seniority, requiring her to prove her actions far more thoroughly than her Cellmates. While leaving her discouraged, she nevertheless makes the necessary sacrifices, and takes her triumphs, wherever she can.

Highlights: Zealously Devoted, High-Strung, Bold

Eminences: Conflict, Recognition

Attributes: AGI -1, APP+1, INF -1, PER +1, PSY +1, WIL +2, HEA +1, STA 25, UD 3, AD 4

Skills: Combat Sense 1/+1, Dreaming 2/+1, Etiquette 2/-1, Grooming 2/+1, Human Perception 1/+1, Investigation 1/+1, Law 2/0, Lore (Eighth Tribe, River of Dream) 1/0, Melee 1/-1, Notice 2/+1, Read/Write (Tribal) 2/0, Ritual 2/+1, Seduction 1/+1, Streetwise 2/-1, Synthesis 1

Equipment: Quarterstaff (Parry+1, AD x11)

 

Part Three: Blood of the Wicked

Savrin recalls his team's entry:

Once the door was found, my team filed in like an efficient machine -- just as the Keeper contraptions are supposed to work, and never do. I led the way, bucklers first, and had the room beyond and everything in it memorized before Diana and Elgiva set foot through the door. I could feel rather than see Diana as she stepped in behind me, her strong presence a vague prickle on the back of my neck. Elgiva, on the other hand, slid into the room with the dank sense of death. Useful as she is, the Yagan still makes my skin crawl. Jon Bard stumbled in after them, breathing heavily and still muttering about his own ignorance.

I silenced him with a curt gesture and moved into the room, an odd shaped triangle that looked like it had been used for storage many years ago. The thick layer of dust along the once-bright tapestries and miscellaneous crates of props and masks suggested that the things had been in storage for longer than normal. It was like the room had been forgotten -- I grated my teeth. Melanis.

A path of footsteps and scuffles led from the door and wound through the crates and boxes. I read it like others can read books. Awkward steps on misshapen feet, a crate dislodged from its rectangle of dust on the floor -- sloppy tracks, leaving little dust along their path; they believed no one would ever come through that door. "Four to six Serfs," I told the others quietly, "and they've been dragging others through here to their Master."

The Bard sucked in a terrified breath, the typical reaction to hearing about unliberated Serfs -- those still worshipping the Beasts. It brought a vindictive grin to my face to consider what he must be thinking. Their Liberated cousins, those once-Serfs that the Lightbringers doted on so, had washed and folded his clothes, had cooked and served his meals -- what if they forgot the One Goddess and turned back to the Z'bri? How many ways might they slit his throat before he even knew? Perhaps he might reconsider his Lightbringer stripes, and their empty-headed rhetoric that everyone possessed the capacity to know the One Goddess. Perhaps he might reconsider how necessary we 'Inquisitors' were in rooting out the last vestiges of Taint from the City.

There was little time to imagine the useless playwright's political conversion, however, as the tracks wound around a defilade and down a circular hole into a lower level. There had most likely been a lookout, which meant they would know we were coming. I examined the hole circumspectly, knowing full well that arrows and slings -- or worse, brain balls -- might be aimed upwards at whichever head first came into view.

I gathered my team around me and discussed the situation. Jon Bard was included by his insistence and his claims to have once been a Joanite. It quickly became apparent that we had one option; despite how little Elgiva might have liked it, there was no other way into that den but frontal assault. Trust a Tribal, even one accepted into the Eighth Tribe, to quail at the thought of shedding her own blood for the greater good. I cut my palm and smeared blood across my face, shouldered by bucklers and readied my sword. Chanting a battle cry, I dropped through the hole, a flurry of blade.

They were waiting for me, perhaps eight or ten Serfs crowding around the bottom of the ladder. I plowed into the mob, uncaring for my own safety, opening a space for Diana and Jon and eventually Elgiva to come in. My compatriots were soon at my backs, and I was grateful for their help. The Serf defense buckled and broke, and a few scurried backwards to cower at the feet of their master, a monstrosity of soul-black eyes and grasping hands. It flung its arms in the air and keened, a sound that would send hounds running. I could feel its Sundering like a white-hot wire twisting into the back of my brain, tempting me to forget why I was here, what this piece of metal in my hand was, what devotion I had for the One Goddess.

His blood poured down my blade.

When the thrill of battle died down, we finally had a chance to look about ourselves. The chamber we were in was large, and some walls were made of World Before poured stone. The rest looked to have been chiseled out of the bedrock that undergirds Capal. More of the fabled catacombs -- the labyrinthine corridors underneath the city that supposedly ran for miles and hid all manner of twisted Z'bri wonders. Most of the tunnels we found were underneath the walls around the city, connecting to Citadel. Most were also destroyed by the Keeper explosives that created the Breach. Pockets still remained here and there. Some hid Z'bri and other dangers; others now held homes and even businesses, but few of their tunnels led far. None of the pockets yet discovered opened into some unknown nerve center of Capal's Z'bri, either.

This particular complex was larger than most, and we spent an hour combing each room for escaped Serfs, always wary that their master might return in one of their borrowed bodies. All our care, however, would not prepare us for what we found in the last chamber.

Chapter Resources: Savrin of the Torch

A young hellion among the Dahlians, Savrin was renown across Vimary as a trouble-maker and casual thief. After a run-in with the Terasheban Watch, he was relegated to the Autumn Caravan where the Marshal would no longer need to deal with his hijinks. The once-directionless Dahlian took to life in the Outlands, finding the impersonal challenge of the wilderness more gratifying to overcome than the witless prudery of Evans and Terashebans. When his appreciation of the Outlands extended to the love of a Horse Squat maiden, however, even Dahlia had to draw the line. The Dancer appeared to him in Adawe and banished him there; the caravan abandoned him as far from Vimary as Tribal knowledge extended.

When the Horse Squats next moved, the Squat maiden rejected Savrin as an uncouth foreigner; the Riders left Adawe without him. It took Savrin over two years to return to Vimary, his already-harrowing route complicated by the Rhanto Z'bri. When he appeared on Hom he was a lean, stubborn and humorless killing machine. The Jackers accepted him immediately as their brother, and it was not long before he was fighting with them at every opportunity. It was all too easy to descend into an orgy of mindless killing than face his own failures and the emotional wounds left by Dahlia. Savrin allowed his identity to become nothing more than a slayer of Beasts.

All that changed on the Wall, where Savrin fought beside Mek in the final Breach. Like many cells, Savrin's was decimated that day, leaving only the once-hellion, once-warrior, now friendless soldier, alone. At the first Convocation of Cells, Savrin saw the beginnings of greatness in what would become the Rising Star of Capal, but he feared that Capal, like his own cell, would fall to the Z'bri. He therefore joined the Torch of Inquiry in their purges of the City, ensuring that no more brave members of the Eighth Tribe would die to Z'bri treachery.

His career with the Torch has earned him respect in addition to that which he earned as a veteran of the Forlorn Hope charge, allowing him the privileges of rank that other cellmates like Diana might have had. While his leadership abilities are vestigial, he makes the best effort he can, usually taking the greatest risks himself in order to shield his team from danger.

Highlights: Quiet, Impulsive, Dedicated

Eminences: Bravery, Motion

Attributes: AGI +1, BLD +1, CRE -1, FIT +1, INF -1, PER +2, WIL +2, STR +1, HEA +1, STA 35, UD 7, AD 7

Skills: Acrobatics 2/+1, Athletics 2/+1, Combat Sense 3/+2, Dance 1/+1, Dodge 2/+1, Dreaming 1/0, Hand-to-Hand 2/+1, Interrogation 2/-1, Intimidation 2/+1, Leadership 1/-1, Melee 2/+1, Music 1/-1, Notice 1/+2, Ritual 1/0, Speak (Confederation) 2/0, Survival 2/-1, Theatrics 2/-1, Synthesis (Righteousness) 2

Equipment: Bucklers, Long Sword (Parry -1, AD x18)

Part Four: Trapped in Light

From the Dream-Sending of Elgiva, Yagan within the Eighth Tribe:

Blessed Crone, I pray you hear my call. I have lived among the heathens for five years now, and while You have hid Your face from our Tribe I have never lost faith. Now, dear Mother, I need You more than ever, if not for the salvation of my body, at least for the preservation of my words.

My cell came down here, beneath the Hoy Polloy, to find the source of Taint which threatened all the free peoples of Capal. We found the Z'bri and his Serfs, but we found so much more, as well. Hidden deeper still than the Beasts' lair, behind barred doors and sinister traps of living flesh, was carved another chamber, lit from within by an ephemeral glow. We forgot all thoughts of vengeful Z'bri and lurking Serfs as we stepped into the light, amazed at its radiance and ensnared by its flowing, pulsing source.

The room was roughly spherical, its walls nigh-perfect if it were not for the crude gouges that had torn the chamber from the bedrock. Pillars, gnarled and twisted like my mother's hands, rose from the ground, each bearing a fleck of light at its peak, curling within globes and prisms of crystal. The pillars formed an irregular circle around the center of the room, where a massive slab of granite presided over its lesser subjects. Crowning this great column of stone was a cacophony of light, streaming from point to point in a confusion of tangled brilliance. It was beautiful, and it was trapped, railing against the confines of light and crystal that kept it bound in that forgotten chamber.

Perhaps my comrades asked in amazement what it was; perhaps I preempted their questions when I spoke; I did not hear, for I had no ears for them. "A spirit," I breathed stupidly, but elaborated: "Genus Loci, a place spirit, and a great one. It presides over a location and embodies all that it is." I stumbled forward, eyes never leaving the coiling strands of light, trying in vain to understand its nature. Bound by the Z'bri, it may have been corrupted by their presence, turned from the One Goddess into a Helot and servant of the Beasts. As beautiful and incredible as it may be, I feared that it might be just as dangerous, as well.

I spoke my fears to the others, but they were undeterred. Diana swore that nothing so beautiful could be a willing thrall of the Z'bri, which brought a wicked curl to my lips. The Eighth Tribe are like children without parents, with no perspective and with no lessons to prepare them. Beauty was no indicator of righteousness, I knew, but I had seen how they strived to clean and paint the city above, and knew they could not distinguish the two. Savrin spoke next, and what he put forward was almost sense: that if it were a Helot, it would not be so bound. Before I could reply, Diana surged forward and demanded we free the thing from its imprisonment; Savrin was only too eager to agree. I looked from my cellmates to the spirit, and for once I felt what they must feel: a longing to be free, to break all things that held them down. I wondered for a moment if I had finally become one of them, or if such feelings were coming, not from my own heart, but from the condensed incandescence before me. Forgive me, Mother, but I agreed.

Blood and bone were necessary, and I called the others to me, even Jon Bard, who needed some additional prompting before he uncurled his hands before me. I raised my knife and thrust it down, until I could feel the bone of the blade contact the bone of his knuckles. I repeated the same procedure to the others and myself, knifestrokes matching the cadence of my chanting, until we had eight hands covered with streaming blood. The others began to pick up the words of the chant, and stepped in time around the chamber, until we formed a smaller circle within the pillars, surrounding the caught spirit.

I lifted one bloodied hand into one of the shafts of light that arced from the spirit to the prisms, casting the crystal in shadow and my own blood limned in dazzling light. My hand grew warm, and the darkened crystal chimed in mourning. I raised my other hand to intersect another beam of light, and nodded towards the others to do likewise. Diana stretched to block two rays of light, and Savrin cupped his together to catch a broad swath in red blood. The prisms wailed for the lack of their light, but I could see the place spirit frothing and foaming, its power no longer leeched away from it. My hands were on fire. I locked eyes with Jon Bard, chanting forcefully, and demanded with my gaze he do likewise; to eclipse the last two lights. The crystals' cries were unbearable, and they shattered at their own sound. The incredible light left the room in a rush. The spirit was free, and our troubles had begun.

Its voice made the walls tremble: "Where are my Masters?"

Chapter Resources: Elgiva Lanig'on of the Torch

Far younger than she appears and her companions believe her to be, Elgiva had only begun her apprenticeship as a Flesher when Joan's Crusade brought the wrath of the Hl'kar Z'bri onto Vimary. She was forced to relocate to Hom with the rest of her tribe, but unlike most was still young enough that she adapted to the new way of life easily. Her sudden friendships with the Fallen prompted her grandmother, the clan's Little Crone, to take the child under her ancient wing and instruct her in her Yagan heritage. Elgiva learned the wisdom and beauty of service to Baba Yaga even as she watched the Children of Hom playing in the streets outside. While Elgiva never came to hate the Fallen, her estimation of their ability certainly suffered by her grandmother's acerbic tongue.

Elgiva's grandmother died of a poor diet and the bitter cold of the winter after Capal fell. In Elgiva's mind her grandmother left at the same time Baba Yaga did, and the loss of both of them shattered her clan. Her grandmother had never named a successor, and the Fatima's absence meant that no one else would, either. For the first time in her life, Elgiva found herself very alone, lost and without food on the devastated island of Hom. With few options available to her, Elgiva joined a caravan of refugees heading for Capal, lured by the rumor of lush fields and plentiful stores.

While many refugees arriving in Capal found it necessary to perform simple labor to receive a part of those plentiful stores, Elgiva was spared that destiny by her forgotten friends, the Fallen she had once known on Hom. The Yagan lore that her grandmother had taught her proved to be useful to those taming what had been a Z'bri city less than a year before. The Taint lay thick through the city, and forgotten curses waited to trap the unwary. Her years of service to the Torch of Inquiry as a Tribal eventually earned her an invitation to join the cell, and the Eighth Tribe, as well.

Like many Tribals inducted into the Eighth Tribe, Elgiva sees no disloyalty in her membership. She still worships Baba Yaga and believes that her work lays the foundation for the day the Eighth Tribe recognizes the 'Lesser Tribes' as equals. She looks forward to the day when the Seven Sisters will be welcomed into Capal and returned to their rightful place as advisors, guardians, and liaisons to the One Goddess.

Highlights: Quiet, distant, disturbing.

Attributes: APP -2, BLD -2, FIT +2, KNO +2, PSY +2, WIL +1

Eminences: Death and Fate

Skills: Animal Care 1/+2, Combat Sense 1/0, Dodge 1/0, Dreaming 2/+2, Intimidate 2/-2, Lore (Spirits, River of Dream) 2/+2, Melee 1/0, Mythology 2/+2, Read/Write (Yagan) 2/+2, Ritual 2/+2, Sneak 1/0, Synthesis (Dream Travel) 2

Equipment: Bone knives, ritual implements

Part Five: The Demands of Flesh and Spirit

Jon Bard accounts for the finale:

With the spirit freed into the River, the room had abruptly become the dark of the grave, and sight became a memory. I could not even hear the Inquisitors' breath, but perhaps this was because nothing could be heard over the terrible voice of the place spirit as he thundered, "Where are my Masters?"

Savrin stepped forward (I could barely hear his feet against the gravel of the floor) and replied in a smooth, utterly content voice: "We have killed them, spirit."

Wind rushed through the chamber, making my hair slap at my cheeks and chin. "I must have Masters!" the spirit cried, and then lower, an intimation in each of our ears: "You will be my Masters, now."

Diana's voice came from across the chamber, dashing my first greedy hopes of having a pet totem. "No, spirit, you are free. You have no masters any longer."

"Who will tell me what to do?" the spirit demanded, almost plaintive, now, "Who will tell me what to believe? Who will tell me what is important, and what is not? Who will order my dreams and let me understand what is best for my charge?"

I could hear Savrin echo, "Charge?" and found a bitter smile on my face. Heaven forbid a spirit have a charge as does a cell; the Jacker probably worried that this spirit would be demanding representation in Convocation, next.

Elgiva's voice, strangely calm and liquid, without the harshness of age that had accompanied it before, wrapped around the chamber with the still confidence of experience. "What is your name, spirit, that we might better advise you? We cannot tell you these answers, for you are a free spirit, but we can certainly help you begin your journey towards understanding." For a moment, I almost believed her sincerity.

"I am Jeinus Loki Q'pal," the spirit hissed, the harsh syllables of the Z'bri tongue raising the hairs on the back of my neck.

"Q'pal?" Elgiva responded, "then you are the place spirit for the entire city? Is your charge all of Capal, great one?"

"I am the spirit of Hate, and the spirit of Bondage," the spirit replied confidently, but then the facade broke. "Once I was the spirit of Prosperity, and the spirit of Protection. Before that I was the spirit of Exploitation, and before that, almost before I can remember, I was the spirit of the Rock, a holy place where men came to worship me." The spirit paused, and the wind around us ebbed and died. "If my Masters are gone, am I still to be the spirit of Hate and Bondage?"

"If you are the spirit of Capal," Diana said, fanaticism creeping into the edges of her voice, "then you are these things no longer. Capal is now a city of Hope and Freedom."

Elgiva snorted audibly across the chamber. "If he would match what exists above, then Hate and Bondage would suit him perfectly. Do not lie to the spirits, child, else they will turn on you when the discover the truth." The old witch turned her attention to the spirit. "In the city above, there are many people, most of them new to you. There are some who call themselves the Eighth Tribe, who hold the rest in bondage--"

"You lie!" Savrin spat, and I could hear his feet throwing gravel as he crossed the room to where Elgiva last stood. "You tell us not to mislead the spirit, when your only intention is to turn him against us, against the entire Eighth Tribe!"

"Capal is a city of Freedom," Diana maintained from her corner, "a City whose purpose is to liberate all of humanity from the yoke of the Z'bri and the ignorance that has grown since the collapse of the World Before."

"My brothers ride out to slay Z'bri wherever they hide," Savrin boasted, although his voice betrayed his wandering footsteps, still trying to find Elgiva, wherever she hid, herself. "Capal stands for winning freedom from those who would oppress us."

"And still you oppress those who do not fulfill your estimation of valor," comes Elgiva's voice, somehow directly behind me. Savrin lets out a low growl, and I can hear his footsteps turn towards me.

I stammer, trying to say something so that Savrin can identify me as a friend, so that he does mistake me for Elgiva and sheathe his sword in me. "And when all Z'bri are dead, humanity will be free once again." I even say it with a servile smile that Savrin cannot see, hoping that he will accept it, a pathetic confirmation of Jacker policy.

But Diana's voice slides through the room, and I can almost hear her shaking her head to her words. "That is only the first step. After the Z'bri are gone, the world must be re-educated to understand its role, and its relationship with the One Goddess... without the interference of the Tin Goddesses," he adds, and probably looks daggers into the darkness.

Footsteps pass me, and I can hear Savrin's breath and the whisper of metal on metal. "When the Z'bri are gone, that will be enough," he tells Diana curtly.

"You will never be free without the guidance of the Sisters," comes Elgiva's rasp.

"We will never be free until we can speak without swords," I mutter, but the room amplifies my voice until it is almost a shout. Savrin stops in his tracks, and I stagger backwards, hands over my face. "I mean -- forgive me!"

"You were not on the walls that day!" Savrin shouts, advancing on me. "All your pretty words will gain us nothing without the strength of steel to back it! How dare you make little of what we won through force and arms!"

"Force you would not have it were not for Lilith," comes Elgiva's chiding voice, not without irony. "And she was not even a real Fatima. Do you think you might have won if Joan and Tera Sheba had not slew Wormwood?"

Savrin snarls and spins away, leaving me to collapse against the wall, heart hammering in my chest.

In the slight silence that follows, the spirit's voice rises in the chamber again. "None of you can tell me what Capal is now? Are you not the masters of the city, yourself?"

"I can tell you what Capal is," Diana responds haughtily.

"Not without injecting your ridiculous Herite theology into it," comes Savrin's bitter voice, and there is the sudden clang of metal against stone. Savrin curses.

"A theology which is twisted and perverse without the Fatimas to guide you," is Elgiva's reply, something between a chuckle and a worried gasp coloring her words.

"I must know what Capal is," the spirit pleads. "I must know what I am to be."

Somehow, I doubt the spirit will be getting a straight answer until blood is spilled.

 

Chapter Resources: Jeinus Loki Q'pal, place spirit of Capal

In the fall of the World Before, the Z'bri who took up Capal as their home captured its place spirit and bound it down, trying ceaselessly to corrupt it into one of their loyal servants, a Helot. Political fractiousness doomed the attempt, as the Melanis who had it bound kept its existence a secret, hoping to take the entire city once its place spirit was their possession. The great spirit was, however, too vast, and called on too much memory of what Capal had once been to be so easily subverted. Instead, the Melanis fed the spirit lies as to what happened in the city above, until the lies became the reality, not without Jeinus Loki Q'pal's help.

All that Capal is, its place spirit embodies: it is the form and essence of the city and its residents. While its understanding may be flawed and obsolete after its capture and bondage by Z'bri, its influence is still subtle and pervasive. The spirit's beliefs and values inspire the dreams of the city, and guide the development of its social, political and economic systems through subtle manipulations and coincidences, most of which even the spirit is unconscious of.

While not as old as the mountains, this spirit is still ancient, and its memory goes back into the depths of history, into the World Before and beyond, to the world before that. It is not in its nature to remember the specifics of those ages, however, but the overall sense of the time. The spirit's memories are composed of impressions and zeitgeists, the overall personality of each successive era of Capal. It could not explain the workings of an automobile, but it could explain how humanity turned their backs on it and other spirits, paving over the once-holy Rock to build their city.

While bound, the spirit's only source of information was the Z'bri who whispered lies to it. Now free, the spirit desperately wants to discover what has become of its charge. What the spirit comes to believe about the city will in turn influence the city towards that goal. The spirit's first impression of the city, delivered by four members of the Eighth Tribe who cannot agree with each other, is less than satisfying, although unless checked the city will begin to decay into increased infighting and backstabbing, unraveling what has taken five years to build.

Highlights: Confused, Powerful, Inquisitive

Attributes: CRE +2, KNO +10, PER +5, PSY +10, WIL +20

Skills: Dreaming 4/+10, Human Perception 5/+10, Intimidate 2/+10, Law 2/+10, Lore (Zeitgeists of Capal) 5/+10, Navigation (Capal) 2/+10, Notice 4/+10, Read/Write (languages of Capal*) 5/+10, Speak (languages of Capal*) 5/+10, Trade 5/+10, Idyll of Dream (can give the target vision of Capal's history), Compel Testimony (can compel a target to explain or describe their beliefs), Spirit of the Place (influences the development of Capal)

*Jeinus Loki Q'pal knows all the languages that have been spoken in Capal, dating back into the World Before and beyond.