Our second Album Adventure is based on The Smell of Rain by Mortiis, a gothic synth/baroque-pop band from Norway. The Smell of Rain was released in 2001 by Earache Records.
Somewhere in the Ninth World is a hidden treasure, not just a mere artifact or cypher, but a living remnant of the ancient past. What knowledge might it contain - what secrets could it unlock? Such a discovery would be unprecedented and could revolutionise the current understanding the Aeon Priesthood have of ancient technology.
With that in mind, the priesthood have started a quest. This treasure must be discovered before the wrong people find it first,
Getting the Players Involved
If the players have gone through the last adventure successfully, they have the knowledge in their heads of where to go. If they never went through the previous adventure, they may meet Aka, who having passed through the Maelstrom herself has the knowledge and is trying to gather a group of reliable and hardy people to help her on her quest.
The players may also meet Eben, the insane priest from the last adventure that disappeared. He survived and whilst he doesn't have the knowledge himself, he has learnt of it and has aligned himself with the Convergence to acquire it for their, and his own, nefarious ends. Eben may also want to hire or recruit some assistants on this quest.
Spirit in a Vacuum
The knowledge of the treasure indicates that it is hidden on a yet undiscovered island far off the coast of Qi. Qi, being the seat of the Amber Pope and the Order of Truth, make it an excellent place to recruit more people for the quest and in fact the very first thing Aka wants to do is report her findings to the Order of Truth and the University.
Unfortunately, not all is well in Qi. The ports have been closed pending an investigation into an attempt upon the Amber Pope's life. The city is in lock down and while new arrivals are welcome, though carefully screened, no-one is allowed to leave whilst agents of the Order investigate and the Zhev assist.
The mad mayor Marvyr Rann has little to say on the matter, and remains as always hidden away on his dirigible above the city.
Visiting the Port
The captain of the port authority is Wulward Ligh, a salty, lithe man with a mostly faded Ghanian accent whose right arm is made of a leafy, plant-like material. Found pacing back and forth along the docks or arguing with merchants and guards alike, it is clear he is in a bad mood. When approached by the players, unless any of them are Ghanian or look like sailors or merchants, he shoos them away.
Can't you see I'm busy. I've no time for tourists.
If the players accost him to try and gain his attention, he reaches a hand to his blade in anger, but catches himself, flushes red with embarrassment and barks irritably at them.
What is it? The port is closed and I'm left with this awful mess to clean up, so make it quick.
Either through overhearing conversations and orders or by talking directly to Wulward, the players learn that the port is closed due to an attempted assassination. The ships are all locked down for searches and all cargo and equipment is being searched for evidence. The process will take days and in the mean time trade goods will spoil, passengers will not get to their destinations and messages will not be sent. As a result, the port authority has a lot of paper work and people to deal with, angry, irritable people.
To make matters worse, this whole ordeal happened during the height of an investigation into a smuggling ring and now the port authorities hard work has been ruined, wasting months of undercover work and investigations. Wulward is furious, but he is just about managing to keep a lid on things - he knows full well an outburst will only make things worse and he's been through worse ordeals at sea than this.
No matter what he is offered, Wulward is not willing to open the ports for anyone or anything. He is an honest man who plays by the rules and not even the King of Ghan himself ordering him to open the ports would make him budge if he hadn't received official orders from the council granting him passage during the lockdown.
As long as the players haven't annoyed him, he does mention that if the players want to make themselves useful, that his messenger girl, Ttayla Rkinsburg, could do with some protection. He has a message for her to deliver to the council regarding some irregularities they have found on one of the ships, but with things being so hectic at the moment, a little muscle to make sure no-one tried anything wouldn't go amiss. He says he has already left a message for her to deliver in her lockbox back at the port authority offices, if they head there now, they can catch her before she leaves.
Ttayla Rkinsburg 2 (6)
Her parents may or may not be alive, where they are now is of no concern to her - they abandoned her a long time ago, at least, as far as she was aware. Recent things have led her to believe that they may have been killed by the very same underworld element she used to work for - another reason for her fierce loyalty to Wulward and his naive ideals.
Petite and athletic, Ttayla was made for running, hiding and climbing. She is an expert in parkour and acrobatics, part of the reason why she is such a successful messenger. She knows the city like the back of her hand and knows every shortcut and hidey-hole worth knowing about.
- Street knowledge and dealings with the criminal underworld as level 5, movement tasks as level 5
- Ttayla prefers to run, something she is much better at than fighting. However, she knows how to use small blades and her fists of necessary. She also has no compunctions about fighting dirty. She might respect Wulward's code of honour, but you don't get dragged from the gutter without bringing some muck with you.
- Ttayla is a pleasant and friendly person as long as you don't dig too deep. For people that pry into her life, her business or her friends, like Wulward, she is extremely suspicious. She makes a point of double-checking what she is told and rarely takes things at face value. Earning her trust is not easy, but once you have it, she will never betray it.
If the players approach Ttayla, she is sceptical that Wulward would have sent them and double checks with him. She questions why he would even trust strangers with her safety, claiming they could be the assassins, or agents working for the Marish Clan, looking to steal her messages. Wulward is calls her paranoid, but take her warnings seriously and thinks better of it, telling the players if they can keep up with her, they are welcome to try but she is right, and better off on her own. He then grumps about them bothering him repeatedly and tells them not to bother again unless they have something of dire importance - and he means dire - or else he'll have them chucked in the brig for obstructing a city official in his duties.
Visiting the Council
If the players visit the Council of Spheres at the palace (with or without Ttayla), it is heavily guarded. The councillors are both afraid for their lives and busy discussing what to do. They are merchants at heart, their power directly proportional to their wealth, and they do not think that the city can remain closed much longer. It has already harmed their interests, but they feel that the favours they can extract from the Order of Truth for their generosity will be well worth the inconvenience.
While the council itself is closed to any and all visitors, the lay council formed of priests from the Order is willing to here from one of their own, even in this great time of suspicion and (attempted) murder. If the players have Aka with them, they can gain an audience with the lay council, if not, they might be able to negotiate. The guards are tired and have been working long hours. Worse, with the city on lockdown, food prices are going up and luxuries are rapidly outside the grasp of the average guard. Knowing the power they have over people, the guards may encourage a bribe in the form of a luxury snack or gift, worth in excess of 100 shins. Otherwise, they do their jobs and keep people away from the council, though they do make a note of all those that attempt to enter.
If the players are with Ttayla and she is willing to vouch for them, they can get in to see the lay council without issue.
The University of Qi is in a shambles with the recent events, but is open and the players have no trouble finding people willing to hear about the treasure they seek. However, when such conversations turn to leaving the city, the priests roll their eyes. This isn't the first tale they've heard trying to convince them to petition the council to let someone out and they are highly suspicious and may even report the players to the authorities.
The city within the city, the Durkhal complex is sealed and the Zhev units, flying, cylindrical automatons, are patrolling in full force. All those that approach are questioned and searched, then sent away. There are no exceptions.
Out and About Around Town
In the taverns, on the streets, in the markets, rumours are flying thick and fast about the assassination. Some think it is all a ruse to lock them all up, a conspiracy to keep the people of Qi contained for some nefarious purpose. Some claimed to see the assassin,, some claim that the assassination was a long time coming whilst other decry such an atrocity. What is clear to anyone looking below the surface chatter however is that people are scared and nervous. The city is like a pressure cooker and if someone, anyone, isn't found to take the fall for this, it might just go pop. Furthermore, the criminal underground is making a move. Smuggling just became a lot more lucrative, and smuggling people out of the city is a trade the Marish Clan are more than happy to profit from.
Already some people have made a break for it. The vast city above, the various homes and stores in dirigibles moored above the city against the great spires has seen a few dirigible unmoor and attempt to flee. Zhev have stopped them all so far, but the Zhev are stretched thin and the right distraction might allow a vessel to slip out of the city, a fact that the assassin (if one even exists) is no doubt also aware of.
The Assassination Attempt
After a full day and night of being in the city, riots breakout and the lockdown is released. The capture of the assassin is announced and things begin to return to normal, but the city is on edge for some time and the rumours don't die down for months afterwards.
Eventually, through one method or another, the players leave Qi for the mysterious island in the sea that they can picture in their minds.
The island is densely packed with jungle and the ground is very hot, the thin strip of beach they land on is covered with large, jagged rocks and blue sand.
The players soon learn that the plants and tree of the jungle are extremely poisonous. Eating any of the vegetation on the island results in immediately moving one step down the damage track.
There seem to be no animals at all on the island and it is deathly quiet, nary the sound of an insect buzzing or a bird tweeting, only the quiet sound of wind through leaves and the sea crashing against the rocks on the shore line. Exploring the island for a while reveals very little, and the island, being little more than a tiny, dense grouping of trees and plants surrounded by rock, can be fully explored in less than an hour. The only thing of note is an ancient metal hatch in the centre of the island.
The old hatch is carved in various strange symbols unrecognised at first glance by anyone. Attempting to decipher the glyphs is a difficulty 7 task and succeeding reveals that they say "DANGER! QUARANTINE. DO NOT OPEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.". The hatch looks like it is thousands, if not millions of years old and is heavily pitted, scared and caked in grime and dust. The symbols however look newer, as if they were carved more recently (within the last few thousand years perhaps) and with great effort.
Opening the hatch releases a burst of hot, moist air and those within immediate range of the hatch get a tingling sensation in their hands, arms and faces (harmless, but fun to induce some paranoia). Through the hatch is a ladder that descends towards a circle of light far below.
As soon as anyone begins climbing down the ladder, everyone on the island must succeed at an intellect defence roll of difficulty 5 or be blinded by visions beamed directly into their minds. The visions are maddening, images of speeding across layers of clouds thousands of miles in a moment, images of humanoid aliens clutching at their faces, their skins melting away, followed by the flesh and skeletons, leaving behind a blue mist that almost looks like a screaming face. Stars and planets fly past, a trail of blue mist streaking into the starry abyss into something, a head, a gigantic human head carved of a perfectly black material, breathing in the blue mist as if sucking it in from across the furthest reaches of space itself. Those that see the visions whilst on the ladder must make a speed defence roll against a difficulty of 4 or lose their grip, falling 30ft to the circle of light below.
Once inside the structure, lights flicker into being and illuminate the inside in a sickly yellow glow. The room is a large, hollow hemisphere with a radius of 30ft. The walls are not perfectly spherical, but the overall structure seems more or less bilaterally symmetrical, the line of symmetry going from North to South. A large bulge sits either side of the line of symmetry at one end of the wall, stick out into the room. At the tip of the bulges is the same material with makes up all the walls, a solid, black metal or synth, but in this case it looks scarred, like a scab that has mostly healed. Looking back up towards the hatch, the top of the room is filled with clouds of blueish mist. The clouds seem mostly stationary and don't seem to rise or fall, or obscure the hatch or ladder. Like the jungle above, the structure is unpleasantly hot and the damp air makes breathing difficult.
Situated around the floor are a number of small, fist shaped holes that lead into pipes. Where these pipes lead or what they are for is not clear. Some contain wires and cables, others contain dust and grime. On or around some of the holes are remnants of other structures that must have been ripped away, melted or forcibly removed in some fashion, but nothing about what they were can be learned from the remaining fragments and it was clear it happened a long, long time ago. Attempting to use electrical devices with the wires causes the sickly yellow light to flicker, but otherwise does not seem to have an effect.
At the end of the room opposite to the bulges is another hatch, marked with some of the same symbols as the first. Those that succeeded before (or succeed at a level 7 intellect task) can decipher them simply as DANGER!. The hatch is stiff and heavy and requires a level 4 might task (with a minimum spend of 2 might to attempt) to heave open. Opening the hatch pull up the mummified remains of a humanoid alien with 3 eyes (long since turned to dust) clutching at the other side of the hatch. It isn't clear whether it was trying to hold it closed or trying to get out, but either way it's limbs are mangled around the handles, it's long body serving as an explanation for the extra weight of the hatch. Shaking the hatch or interfering with the body causes it to crumble, it's limbs left in the hatch as the rest of it falls away with a dull thud to the floor below.
The Inner Sun
The room below is brightly lit, perhaps too brightly. Descending into the room reveals the source of the light, still a sickly yellow colour but far brighter than it was in the room above. The room is mostly cylindrical, though a large triangular indent about the height of a man is on one wall below the space between the two bulges in the room above would be. At ninety degrees from that on the East and West sides, are strangely shaped bulges higher up on the walls, almost against the ceiling. The room narrows slightly towards the floor.
Along the walls of the room are several ancient pieces of machinery. None appear active but there are several pipes and cables running from them up to the ceiling and to the bulges and indentation on the walls. What is most impressive however is the light source, a miniature sun floating in a crystal cage. Looking directly hurts the eyes, but small flames and jets of material can be seen rippling across it's surface as it slowly spins, suspended by some unknown force. Dark, unhealthy black and red patches bubble up to the surface from within it every now and again and when they do, the light fades slightly and those looking up into the previous room see the lights dim and flicker.
Smashing and tearing apart the machines lining the walls yields 1d6+4 cyphers, but with an intellect roll against a difficulty of 4, the machines can be partially reactivated. If reactivated, blue fields of light shimmer into life around the miniature sun, various glyphs sliding across their surfaces. The pipes in the indentation begin pumping and then shudder in an ugly sounding crunch before the machines go silent again and the flickering displays fade from view. Whilst looking at the displays, those beating an intellect difficulty of 5 notice some numbers counting, the numbers are somewhere exceeding 18000000000 and smaller number along side those seem to be counting up rapidly as the seconds pass.
Suddenly, the miniature sun goes out, plunging the room into darkness, a faint blue glow begins to form and the mummified remains of the alien stir, then get up. It's lurching gait is hampered however, when suddenly the gravity in the room disappears and the sun reignites, but in the same bluish glow as the mummy, and loose items and detritus from the room begin getting pulled into the Falling Maw (Ninth World Bestiary, pg. 51).
The Mummy 1 (3)
The mummy does not attack, but it is a terrifying site and lurches unsteadily in a way that could be perceived as a threat, due to it's severe state of decay.
Speaking in a raspy voice, in tries to communicate in a language not heard in the Ninth World, or perhaps even any of the worlds before it, and deciphering anything it has to say is a level 7 task.
- 1 (it is very fragile)
- The mummy is incapable of combat, it's arms are gone, still lodged in the hatch mechanisms and it is so decayed standing at all is barley within it's capabilities. From an arm socket, some of it's cybernetic components jut out and in a vain attempt to communicate, it tries to stab one into a player in the hopes that it will allow a mind-machine connection.
- Interacting with the mummy is difficult. Without arms it can not gestures and it can only speak in languages no human being has ever heard. If it is healed or restored using some kind of cypher, it tries to gesture or otherwise indicate that the players should try and use the machines in the room. If not, it tries to interface with them as best it can to provide a method of communication.
The room is too small to avoid the electrical attacks of the Maw but it doesn't try to attack unless threatened. The Maw is the last remnants of whatever once inhabited this place, the minds of many encoded into the dying sun, now taken form as a living singularity. Over a billion years of solitude has driven it mostly insane, but it clings to the idea that it can live in some form once more. It knows a great many things, but all those things are gone now - the beings in the Maw existed before the birth of our universe and most of it's knowledge, if it can even be extracted, is completely alien and has no basis in any of our laws of reality.
That said, it does say that what once was is what will come to pass, and in strange, jumbled concepts it explains it is dying and will answer a single question about anything the players can ask. Whatever it is, the Maw can provide an answer, but it might be cryptic or sound nonsensical to the players minds, but always correct, at least as far as the Maw is concerned.
If the players manage to ask a question, the Maw answers and then in a warping of space, blinks out of existence, dealing 5 points of electrical damage that ignores armour to everyone in the room. The gravity returns and the mummy crumbles to dust.
Below the Maw is a final hatch. This one has no symbols upon it.
The alien mummy is not of their race, instead they were explorers from a prior world that discovered this place. However, it was deadly toxic to them, the energies the Maw used to encode itself driving them insane and dangerous. The locked the place down and marked it with warnings in case other found it.
The hatch below the Maw is a connection to it's previous universe. While that universe is dead (or should be) the machinery maintaining it is long since defunct and wherever it points to now is unknown, even to the Maw. The old connection was kept as a sort of power source, a drain that the craft acted as a sort of plug for, stopping our own universe from draining away. The potential energy generated by plug powered the ship, until the connection failed aeons ago, now the only power that remained was the captive, compressed star, repurposed and encoded into a storage device for the survivors.
Opening the final hatch reveals an endless expanse of stars. Floating in the starry abyss spins a great black monolith. Without any points of reference, it is impossible to tell if the monolith is small and nearby, or massive and miles away. Whatever the monolith is, the players instantly get the feeling that it isn't meant to be there and that just as they have seen it, it has seen them. Whatever, wherever, is behind that hatch, it is unspeakably evil and immensely powerful. And now, it is awake and it has seen the players. Players with the Mad descriptors, begin babbling in fear as the monolith spins slowly in the dark night:
I have seen the vacuum's eye and now I see the thing that I be. Don't want to go back to that place. Don't want to go back to my soul.
Closing the hatch stops the babbling, as does leaving the room.
What the players do from here is up to them. They might have no way off the island or they may choose to try and explore the strange sea of stars beyond the final hatch. They might wisely close the hatch and flee as far as they can and hope they can forget the deep feeling of existential terror they felt observing the monolith. Boats can be fashioned from the jungle with some effort and before long, if the players have no way off the island, someone or something can come along to rescue them, or at least have its transport borrowed, stolen or commandeered.