Sofia falls back into her body. This is the fourth time she has died – the previous times, the team made a beeline for Fairview, Oklahoma, and each time, they encountered stiff resistance even though they used different angles of approach. Since that clearly is not working, she has decided to try an alternate tack.
As the need for intelligence is the most pertinent, she summons Bon-Bon, the jive-talking dewdrop faerie that has been squatting on the Bavinger House environs and comes to an agreement with the diminutive fae: Bon-Bon will scout out Fairview for her and Sofia will host a pizza party for the faerie’s friends. This is evidently a Big Deal to the fae and Sofia learns that Bon-Bon has a friend whose wizard does this sort of thing.
Matias and Brandon find her waiting on them as they pull into the yard and, after a cursory greeting to her son, Sofia begins grilling Brandon about what he has learned about Doctor Solomon and why he has been following him. Mister Harris is clearly exhausted but he spins an engaging tale about a demon-possessed stripper that Solomon spoke to in a language that made Brandon’s ears bleed. From this tale, Sofia deduces that the thing inhabiting her mentor is gaining power by draining the spiritual energy from evil creatures such as demons. This concerns her a great deal. Brandon is not able to assuage most of her concerns however and he knows little else that she is of use to her, although he does point toward Howard and Jack’s boss, Agent Curtmantle who has also been popping up on Harris’ radar of late. She sets that aside as not relevant for the moment.
Once the team is gathered again, Sofia instructs them to gear up as they are about to venture into the Nevernever and will be entering Winter. She lays out the dos and don’ts – as the other members of the team have reset due to the groundhog day spell, they are all taken aback by her new, no nonsense attitude; she warns them against taking iron into the Nevernever and, while clearly speaking to Lee, states that they should all keep their damned mouths shut since the Fae never do anything for free. She also drops hints to Jack about the Schattenjäger box when she tells him he might want to don his stupid-looking cape. The team agrees to meet at Neutral Grounds. And yes, Jack is slightly disconcerted when he opens his box and finds … a stupid-looking cape inside.
At Neutral Grounds, Sofia asks Lei if she has seen Doctor Solomon but the shopowner cryptically replies that she has not seen him in quite some time which could be taken any number of ways. Gathering the team, Sofia leads them to the Blazers Ice Centre, which will serve as their origin point to venture into the Nevernever. Only Sofia is truly prepared for how cold Winter is – she did warn them! – and they set off into the snow and ice.
Thirty minutes into their hike, they stumble upon the site of an ongoing skirmish as several draugr – undead warriors frozen solid – bring down a giant. The two remaining draugr hiss their displeasure at Lee’s presence and charge forward, but the team make short work of them, especially when Sofia hurls fire at them. On they press until they come before Highfrost, a fairly large fortress of eternal ice and rock. As before, the Winterfae turn angry glares at Lee but Sofia announces her presence and demands an audience with her grandmother. Almost instantly, a Sidhe lord appears and introduces himself as Artegal. After glowering at Lee, he offers to escort Lady Sofia to Her Grace.
Inside the keep they venture where they Lady Ceridwen is holding court. In the center of the grand chamber, four giants fighting to the death upon a wide ring that slowly begins to tilt back and forth. There is no grace to this fight, only raw strength, and when the victor emerges, a hissing cheer goes up; to the four mortals, it is a sound like dozens of fingernails simultaneously upon a chalkboard. Lady Ceridwen sees her granddaughter (and great-grandson) and smiles before gesturing. Instantly, all of the other Sidhe fade away like ghosts.
Ceridwen examines each of the team in turn, blurring between them as she pronounces her views. Mat she is greatly pleased with as he “smells of rage and fury and madness” but Lee is Summerbound and Ceridwen declares that did he not wield Ævenchos, she would feed him to her wolves and suck the marrow from his bones herself. Jack is identified as a Hunter of Shadows who stinks of the Dragonslayer but is obviously new to his position. And Sofia herself … well, she clearly has brought powerful allies and the magic wrapped around her right now like a noose … Ceridwen has not seen such a thing in a century or more.
Sofia uses this as her opening gambit, pointing out that she would not have brought Summerbound into her grandmother’s House if the situation were not dire, and then makes an offer: she needs knowledge and is willing to give up that which is most precious to mortals: Time. For every question answered by her grandmother, she swears to serve the Sidhe for a day, as long as she does not violate the Laws of Magic. Ceridwen is greatly impressed by this and agrees. The other characters are surprised to learn that they have all died three times already…
The first question asked is how to defeat Nihancan’s spell since Sofia guesses that it works for him the same way it works for her in that if he dies, then time is reset for him. Ceridwen’s answer is not especially helpful: “The magick is tied closely to the form he wears now – it is a conundrum: to end the spell, you must tear him from your mentor but in doing so, you will likely kill him and destroy your efforts. Already, the earth itself groans to be free from this … but I have little doubt you will find a way.”
The second question asked was concerning Nihancan’s identity. Sofia wants to know who he is and Ceridwen’s answer raises more questions than it answers: “Who is Nihancan? A mortal fool who thought himself greater than he was. The Faceless King seduced him from his worship of the White God and turned him into a Herald. I know not the specifics of how he Fell or who he was before he became the Herald, but I know he was once a holy man and was slain by the last true Druid to have walked the land. When? I have no head for dates as you mortals define them. The one you call Arthur ruled over Prydain. Does that answer your question? I am certain there are others who can answer that better than I. "
Question three involves Nihancan’s goal. Put simply: what is it? “He wishes to restore his master and free him from his prison. Should that transpire, you mortals shall face a grave threat that none of you are ready for.” This prompts Mat to blurt out hints of his future flash – red skies, demons raining down from the sky, Mat himself a vampire, Lee a Fae’s dog, Sofia scarred, and Jack crucified. All eyes turn to him and he shrugs.
Question four is simple: Can Solomon be saved? “I cannot answer that. Some things are beyond even my sight, Childe of my Daughter.”
The second answer alters the fifth question and Sofia inquires about this Faceless King. Ceridwen replies, “He is a Fae Lord who refused to bend knee before the Queens and so, they united to wage war against him. It was a glorious war that tore down mountains and uprooted seas, and in the end, even they could not kill him, so instead, they hid him away in a prison of lost hope and broken dreams. Naturally, mortals sought a way to free him because that is what you do. " She smiles dreamily when she speaks of that glorious war.
As she speaks, Sofia can feel her skin growing tighter and tighter (which is really bizarre.) Ceridwen seems to notice this as well and frowns. Time grows short, it would seem, and Sofia has much to do. With a gesture, the Fae causes dozens of icy stalactites and stalagmites to scream out of the ceiling and the the floor, punching through Sofia…
Which causes her to fall back into her body several hours earlier, only moments before Nihancan departs Bavinger House via the Traveling Room.
- Points awarded: 2. Bonus to LabRat – she drove most of this session and came up with a wickedly awesome bargain with Cerridwen that impressed all of us. WxMAN also got a bonus point because his giant was the last giant standing following the fight. His victory cheer was “Dumb Luck!” (because it was, what with all of the All-Out Attacks taking place) and we decided the giant’s name was Dumluk. I altered that to Dümlük because everything is better with umlauts.
- This is the second session of the “grand experiment” and thus far, it has worked out pretty well. The players are helpful and seem to be enjoying themselves.
- As a GM, playing an incomprehensibly powerful (within limits) entity that is cryptic and thoroughly inscrutable is really hard but I think I did okay with Cerridwen. She relayed information (which the PCs currently do not find especially useful, but that will (hopefully) change and made an adequately creepy impact on them. I am very pleased that LabRat declared her intention to visit “grandma” via our message boards almost a week in advance; there’s no way I could have done this extemporaneously.
- Amusingly, all three of the giants went down due to leg injuries. This highlights a problem with the regular GURPS “random hit location” chart that I’m going to review further when I have the time. That said, I’ve decided that, should the winning giant ever make a return, he shall be known as Dümlük Leg-Breaker.
- Regarding Mat’s outburst about future knowledge – he decided to make an On The Edge check to determine if he would speak and promptly rolled an 18 on 3d6. So he blurted out the future knowledge, thus drawing his great-grandmother’s attention … and his mother’s…
- The Faceless King is a direct link to another game of mine, this one ran on Saturdays using Fantasy Grounds and set in 5th Century England. That game is currently on hiatus and only one of the players (Gigermann) in Red Sky is involved, but I may have just implied that his character is going to end up killing another one of the player characters in that group after the other PC “Falls to the Dark Side.” That revelation might have had more impact if Gigermann had caught it the first time …