Spirit of the Century: The Story So Far

Spirit of the Century has been pulled out a few times for Tuesday Knights, but usually only as filler material. Since it is getting a block of its own, I thought it was time for a recap.

The Pilot Mini Series:

The heroes attend the event of the season. Lady Steel absconds with an ancient map but they pursue her and recover it. In the confusion, someone kidnaps Professor Higgins.

Special #1:

Flashheart and Washington take Professor Higgins’ niece to safety while The Darkness teams up with Miss Henslow and The Masked Vigilante to track down and rescue the Professor. Their only lead is the knowledge that he was seeking to acquire the Marble of Ramesses at auction, so they bid on it in an effort to smoke out other interested parties. They win the auction and meet Herr Rudolph Templemann, a German with his eye on the Marble. A cursory investigation of his home revealed nothing of note, but placing the Marble together with the map caused the shifting images on the parchment to take solid form clearly pointing to a temple in Egypt.

The Unaired Episode Dredged Up Because The Network Couldn’t Get Regular Programming:

The heroes fly off to Egypt to track down whatever it is that the map points to. Unfortunately, they get caught in a storm and crash land in the desert.

After an initially tense encounter with a group of nomads, our heroes are taken to their camp where they befriend Ismail ibn-Gazi, the tribe’s Oxford educated chief. The next day they set out for their destination accompanied by some tribesman. There is no sign of a temple, so they make camp in an old fort. That night, one of the tents catches fire, and the group is attacked by another Bedouin tribe — these guys aren’t so friendly. Driving them off proves to be no problem for the team and, as the sun rises, they notice the Marble of Ramesses is warm to the touch and vibrating gently. Placing it back on the map, it becomes clear that this is the right place.

A moment later, the temple they were looking for erupted from the sands; it had been buried for centuries, but no longer.

The Long Awaited Announcement:

The TK Channel has ordered six episodes of SotC which will air at 7pm on Tuesday nights starting Feb 16.

String of the Serpent

London, England, a few years before the start of World War II

Our heroes find themselves in the ballroom of The Ritz Hotel in the midst of a cocktail party. The guests can be divided into two groups; there are numerous well-respected academics and there are those willing to pay for the privilege of meeting them and patronising the Higgins’ expedition — due to leave for Egypt within the week buoyed by the funds raised tonight. There is a small stage at the end of the hall, normally the home of a small orchestra or band, tonight it is deserted – at least for now. The podium and whatever is behind shielded by a small curtain suggests this state of affairs is going to change.

Basils’ senses have been attuned to the supernatural ever since the fateful day when he thrust his left hand into a circle of power, disrupting a dark ritual and saving Europe from an incursion of darkness beyond human imagining. After that incident he found himself able to wield unnatural forces and set himself down a road which would allow him to battle the forces of evil under the mantle of The Darkness. That, however is history, right now what matters is that he feels emanations of power somewhere in the room, but he is finding himself unable to put his finger on the source.

This may have something to do with the presence of James Washington, an academic of great repute who once came face to face with the Madness of the Universe and survived. The event left him a powerful force for Reason, and his presence is sometimes all it takes to nullify magical energies. At this moment, James is standing surrounded by fellow academics who are being regaled by his tales.

Harry Flasheart, famed for his daring exploits in the skies and in the bedroom (not to mention in the other bedroom, on the sofa, and behind the rose bushes), is even now abandoning his wealthy, but not entirely youthful, companion. He has set his sights upon a young lady helping herself to a glass of punch, for she appears to be unchaperoned.

The Darkness paces the ballroom, hairs standing on the back of his neck. He feels sure that something is wrong and has a fundamental need to, at the very least, find out what it is. Eventually, his eyes fall upon a gorgeous woman representing the peak of stereotypical Nordic beauty. Her blonde hair cascades from her shoulders onto her grey evening dress, which glitters in the light. This is Lady Steel and seeing her causes everything to make sense to Basil. These two share a great deal of history, the complete relating of which would take more time then we have available. The pertinent facts of the matter are these. Steel is a demoness, a seductress, and partner in crime of the ironically named Lightbringer — Basil’s identical twin brother, Albert.

“Darling!”, she exclaims, “I thought you were still in Zurich. I trust everything is going to plan?”

Having posed as his nemesis once or twice before, Basil slides into the role and begins to gently probe for information. Sadly, he is not going to get very far with this line of inquiry as his colleagues are about to join in with his fun.

Harry has turned the charm up and discovered that the young lady was one Jessica Fletcher, niece of Professor Higgins. Under normal circumstances he would… well, let us say ‘follow his usual pattern’ and leave the details to your imaginations — some heroes make better role models then others. However, it is at this moment that he spots Lady Steel and decides that renewing his acquaintance with her is more pressing then wooing the attentions of young Jessica.

Washington has also spotted the devilishly attractive woman and feels a glow of anger bubble up inside him. It is hard to associate with The Darkness for long without enjoying the debatable pleasures of a meeting with this aristocratic demoness. His experience was rich with violence on the metaphysical planes. Extracting himself from the group hanging on his every word, James makes a bee-line across the chamber.

The pair arrive simultaneously and Lady Steel’s amaz… fantas… entirely mundane ability to put a man who looks like her lover together with a pair of allies who frequently work with The Darkness together blows Basil’s cover out of the water.

Laughing gently, but secretly glad she gave nothing important away, as she was sure that the knowledge that The Lightbringer was doing something in Zurich would do them no good, Lady Steel takes her leave and departs the little group taking steps to mingle with others in the crowd, frustrating the respective plans of our protagonists.

The three have little left to do but enjoy the party, which they do for about half an hour before Professor Higgins takes the stage and begins his speech. It consists of the usual self-promotion, expressions of gratitude and so on. However, things are about to get more interesting. Unusually, the Professor, having recovered some sort of artefact on a previous expedition, has been keeping secrets. Now it is time for the great unveiling so Higgins reaches for the cord hanging beside the curtains shielding the artefact, he pulls it and a gasp escapes from the collected breath of the audience.

The velvet covered board is very nice, but hardly a great artefact. Higgins basks in astonishment of the audience for a few moments before something alerts him to the fact that their reaction isn’t to whatever is supposed to have been resting on the velvet.

“The map! It’s been stolen!” he cries, a clear cue for an eruption of muttering, gossip and excitement amongst the crowd.

It is at this moment that Lady Steel takes advantage of the commotion to make her exit. Unfortunately for her, she chooses the exit that takes her straight past James Washington who takes off in hot pursuit with Basil and Harry not far behind.

Steel’s route takes her though the working areas of the hotel, up some back stairs and too the roof. She seems unaware of the pursuit, likely thanks to The Darkness concentrating on weaving a sheet of shadowy, cloaking energies around her pursuers.

They reach the roof in time to see Steel picking up a small packages from beside a ventilation shaft and walking to the edge of the building. It is a long way down. With a firm shake, the contents of the package expand revealing it to be a small hang glider, the material a perfect match for the demoness’ dress.

As she bends her legs to leap from the building an escape, Washington charges forward and wraps his arms around her waist.

“The glider is magical!” cries Basil, his senses keenly focused after channelling the energies just moments before.

He isn’t wrong. Unexplainable forces crackle over the glider for a moment before shorting out through the sheet proximity of Washington, and the glider plummets to earth.

It is the awning over the hotel entrance that probably saves their live. Lady Steel gracefully slides off it and lands her feet, sauntering off into the night. Our redoubtable Mr. Washington, on the other hand, is not so lucky as he hits it awkwardly and rolls off to crash into the roof of a parked automobile. The impact winding him such that he probably hasn’t noticed the wreck of the glider smashing into the bonnet of the vehicle a moment later.

Meanwhile, Basil and Flasheart have rushed to the edge of the roof and seen everything. Concerned for their friend and worried about the escaping Lady Steel, Basil forgets that he is not an athlete and attempts to slide down the drainpipe. It is only Harry’s bold head-first dive after him that saves him. Harry is thankful for the leather of his boots protecting his ankles as he uses them to grip grip the drainpipe while his hands are occupied with catching The Darkness. The scuff marks are going to be a nightmare to remove, but they land safely, just as Washington begins to pick himself up.

There is only one thing to do — pursue Steel.

The Darkness takes the lead, his senses shifted to another plane of existence where the trail of a demoness is as distinct as a zebra at a tennis match.

With her glider destroyed, she is forced to improvise. There is a boat waiting on the Thames, ready to carry her downriver and into open waters. Were she aloft, it would be a simple matter to land on deck and escape, but the intervention of her paramour’s brother and his friends put paid to that plan. She curses as she reaches the banks of the river — the tide is out, the water levels are low, and her transport cannot pull in close enough.

Lady Steel is scanning the locale, looking for a new escape route when our heroic trio catch up with her. Cornered, she sees no option but to fight and draws her blade.

Outnumbered, our heroes seem to have the upper hand, but she is no mortal thief, able to be defeated so easily. Her dress shimmers in the moonlight, it looks almost scaly. In the course of a few seconds, the visage of the beautiful woman dissolves to reveal a gigantic serpent.

Rearing up, she hisses before shooting forward to wrap her elongated body around James Washington, slowly squeezing the life out of him while Flasheart and Darkness desperately try to penetrate her scaly hide and make her release him.

In his youth, Washington became widely travelled. There were few parts of Earth he did not visit, and a few places elsewhere that he did. He spent a good deal of time in Asia and learned a great deal under the tutelage of one Mr. Lee. Sometimes a mysterious bond is forged between Sensei and student, and I confess that I don’t understand how it works. This was one of those relationships.

The short figure emerges from the streets with a speed that belays his advanced years.

“Mr. James!” he cries, “I felt you needed this.”

Washington, despite going faint from lack of air, can feel the hilt of a sword being pressed into his open hand. This is his blade, received on a trip beyond the mortal world, it enforces order and ends chaos. One swing and it cuts deeply into the body of the snake.

Steel recoils from him. The tables have turned and sacrifices must be made. Diving forward, she slides between Washington and Flasheart with ease, snaking, if you’ll excuse the pun, behind Mr. Lee and shedding her skin.

One again in human form, albeit with a gaping hole in her dress revealing a savage wound across her side where Washington’s blade cut, she grabs the elderly teacher and places her blade against his throat.

“You seem to have me outmatched today,” she pants slightly, “you may have the map and this gentleman, but I go free.”

There seems to be little choice, and Basil, James and Harry agree. Steel, knowing these Englishmen would not break their word, thrusts a folded parchment into Lee’s hands a shoves him towards them before striding off into the night.

The parchment, as Steel said, contains a map — but it’s outline shifts under their gaze and imagery fades in and out. This is no simple case of ‘X marks the spot’ nor, for that matter, is it their property.

Arriving back at the hotel to return the artefact, they find a greater commotion then expected. The missing map has become a secondary consideration — Professor Higgins has vanished.

Series 13 – Episode 1 – The shortest route is not a straight line – Part 2

When the group reached the more populated areas of the realm they found themselves pushing through crowds of people who were fascinated by the strangers arrival. One question could be heard on many of their lips, “Have the Solars returned?”

Time was passing so seeking a faster route to the gate that was their destination, Ragara Anja suggested using the canal network and asked if they should risk using the, much faster, gold channel.

Agreeing that it was for the best, the team took up their places aboard a barge requisitioned by the beautiful Sidereal. The boatman poled the vessel into the centre lane and it shot off across Yu-Shan at a fantastic rate.

It was not a great many minutes later that they arrived at their destination and departed from the barge. As the last of their number stepped onto the jetty they spotted an intimidating, mustachioed figure in robes rich enough to challenge the fashion sense of Lord Typhon approaching. He was accompanied by a tough looking assistant.

Ragara Anja had seemed uncertain about if they should be using the fast lane, and it seemed that her concerns were justified. The portly figure introduced himself as The Imperial Censor of Travel and demanded to know by what authority they dared use the gold lane.

Son of Stone and Oak gave silent prayer to The Unconquered Sun for granting him the foresight to take advantage of Heaven’s Gaze’s library while waiting for dinner to be served a few days previously, and channeled a little essence to aid his recall. He then fixed the official with a steely gaze and launched into a tirade of bureaucratic minutiae, quoting obscure travel regulations and invoking rarely seen clauses.

When he finally finished, the Censor broke eye contact, mumbled something that was probably an apology and backed away, shooing his assistant as he went.

The journey out of the city was much like the inward journey, and Ragara Anja explained how the purposeless gods came to be. The tale plucked at Son of Stone and Oak’s heart strings and he became more subdued then he usually was during a journey through places he didn’t truly understand – and there had been many of these journeys in the few months since he had left his homeland and found himself caught up in a battle for Creation itself.

The gate to the Blessed Isle was also guarded by a Celestial Lion, but the creature granted access once Lord Typhon and Ragara Anja explained the situation.

Before the group departed, the Lion warned that there was those in heaven who would welcome the return of the Solars, but also those who would work against them, and confessed to being one of the former.

Before stepping through the gateway, The Wanderer In White plucked a few blades of grass from the field and gave the sent of them to his animals, before tucking them away in a pouch. The gods of the grass would ensure it stayed fresh forever.

The head of The Lap may not have been the warmest place in Creation, but it was in the South, and the altitude was not so high as the point where this gate exited – very close to the centre of Creation, near the peak of The Imperial Mountain.

The ground was covered in snow, and a chill quickly settled in. Ragara Anja did not hesitate to teleport the group to the outskirts of the city, where it was decidedly warmer.

A group of Solars, Dragon Kings and Sidereal were not likely to be welcomed with open arms at the centre of power for the Dragon Blood Empire, so it was under cover of rain and darkness that the group headed to the palace of The Roseblack.

With a little expenditure of Essence, The Wanderer In White heightened his senses to incredible levels, such that he could make out the outline of the god of each rain drop that fell from the sky. With this level of awareness he stepped the group through the streets and alleyways, avoiding all others who felt the need to be out on a night when enough water fell from the sky to flood Nexus.

The final hurdle was the approach to The Roseblack’s estate, a relatively busy thoroughfare that one of Lotus of the Solar Light’s stature would be be hard pressed to cross unnoticed.

To sidestep the issue the group sequestered him within an outbuilding, accompanied by Ragara Anja, while the others made their approach to the abode of The Roseblack.

The Wanderer In White handed the doorkeeper a token, insisting the he take it to The Roseblack and that she would recognise it. Leaving the visitors standing in the torrential downpour, the functionary hurried off to perform this service.

Nearly quarter of an hour later he returned and bade the group enter, whence they were escorted into the presence of one of the most powerful Dragon Blooded in Creation.

The traditional round of small talk ensued, and The Roseblack made arrangements for the rest of the group to join the assembly.

They turned up shortly thereafter, although Lotus of the Solar Light was looking distinctly more human then he had a half hour previously. Gone were his scales and claws, replaced by rippling muscles covered with dark chocolate skin and a mighty battle axe. Some form of glamour? Or a deeper magical change? The group didn’t know, but there would be time to find out later. First, there was business to discuss with their host.

She knew, already, that the invasion was coming, but the might of the enemy was, it seemed, not enough to provoke unity from the Houses. Two of whom had already sent their armies off to face the Alchemicals on two fronts.

It was a foolish gesture that would lead to their certain destruction.

The Roseblack became hopeful at the prospect of the elemental allies that the Solar’s could bring to the battle, and less so at the thought of some of the more unsavory forces they could call upon.

She made it clear that any Solar presence on the battlefield with the Dragon Blooded would lead to a disastrous three-way melee – the hatred of the ‘Anathama’ was too deeply ingrained for most Terrestrial Exalts to work with the Solars.

Any involvement from her guests would have to be discrete or far from the fields of battle.

So it was that they were returning to The Wanderer In White’s suggestion of attacking the Alchemical supply lines when The Roseblack received another visitor.

Accompanied by two worryingly nondescript bodyguards, Lady Mnemon, daughter of The Scarlet Empresses and likely the strongest Dragon Blood active in Creation, entered the room.

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 September 2008 )

Series 13 – Episode 1 – The shortest route is not a straight line – Part 1

Previously:

The massed alchemical forces of Authocthon marched on Creation. They met our heroes at the gates of The Lap and battle was inevitable.

Mighty though a Solar Exalt is, they are few in number and could not hold the raging army swirling around the city.

Heaven’s Gaze entered the gates of Yu-Shan and convinced those with the power to use it to save The Lap. So it came that The Lap existed 20 miles to the south east, and had always existed there. The invading force marched on – toward their true objective, important enough for them to bypass The Lap entirely.

Now:

The sun rose over The Lap, a city still showing the scars of the battle that never happened. Some of those instrumental in saving it are still within the city, recovering, training, and helping with the rebuilding efforts.

On the road to the city, Lotus of the Solar Light, loyal worshiper of The Unconquered Sun and member of the rare race know as The Dragon Kings had travelled south from the Blessed Isle, a sense of unease growing within him at the sight of a massive convoy of mechanical vessels taking the opposite route.

His seven foot form, covered in scales and bulging with muscle was enough to freeze the blood in the veins of most mortal men, and the guards in the watchtowers of The Lap were no exception. He marched through the ruined gates while they fled to beg the presence of the Solars still within the city.

The Solars were greeting the dawn, and planning their next move, the Wanderer in White favouring an attack on the enemy supply lines, when the interruption came. They abandoned their discussions to face this new threat.

There was a sense of unease in the air when they challenged him, they were confident they could defeat the creature if there was need, but at a time like this, any new enemy was enough to make the heart sink and allow despair to strengthen its position.

It took the intervention of Ragara Anja to settle the matter. Lotus of the Solar Light had had dealings with Braxus before but that charismatic paladin had secluded himself in meditation within his airship hovering above the city, he had been unseen for days. However, Ragara Anja had been present at those events and could vouch for the scaled one.

The matter of allegiances settled, the Solars invited the Dragon King to join their council of war, now the wounds of the battle were healed it was time to return to the frey.

Shunning the Great Hall of the palace for a smaller room where they could be more comfortable, the fellowship breakfasted and heard the news their new companion brought with him.

The information came as a mixed blessing, if the Alchemicals took control of the Isle then Creation would be in even greater peril then it was already. However, as Son of Stone and Oak pointed out, this might finally give the Dragon Blooded the motivation they needed to involve themselves in the fight.

Getting to the Isle and warning the Dragon Blooded became the overriding priority, but getting there quickly enough would prove a challenge. Braxus’ airship might be fast enough, but would attract unwanted attention. The Empire was notoriously unfond of the Solar Exalted and would have to be approached through back channels. Fortunately, The Wanderer In White had had prior dealings with The Roseblack and believed himself able to get them an audience with her.

Reaching her would still be a problem. Flying to the city in a golden airship would not be subtle enough, the forces of the Empire would likely array against them if there were to try such a bold approach.

Ragara Anja suggested that a member of the Eclipse Caste might be able to persuade the Celestial Lions that their need was valid, and gain them permission to cross the paths of Yu-Shan.

So it came to pass that a band of some of the most powerful beings in Creation came to stand on the giant head carved out of the mountain into which The Lap is built. Ragara Anja concentrated for a moment, then passed her hand through the air, tracing the outline of a doorway.

The path taken by her hand blazed with golden light and she stepped through into heaven, accompanied by Lord Typhon.

The land beyond the gate was blanketed in grass of the brightest green and bathed in glorious sunlight. It was beautiful, and a sharp contrast to the mountain top from which they had stepped.

The gate was not unguarded – a golden lion, a full seventeen feet from paw to shoulder, stood before it and challenged those wishing to pass.

Channeling Essence from the air around him and focusing it through his anima, Lord Typhon invoked the ancient treaties between Yu-Shan and the Caste Eclipse, his caste mark blazing out from his forehead announcing to all that he was a Solar of that Caste, Exalted by the power of the Unconquered Sun, and willing to use the power of his rank to achieve his goals.

The Lion bowed, a remarkable sight in itself, and granted Typhon permission to enter heaven with those under his protection.

So it was that the others left the cool mountain top and stepped into Elysium fields, bathed in warm sunlight with air that was perfectly still.

The route to the Blessed Isle took them through the city, and they found their way impeded. First by the spirits of purposeless gods, who’s touch was disturbing, but ultimately insubstantial. They dissipated when Lord Typhon shouted out that their time was past.

When the group reached the more populated areas of the realm they found themselves pushing through crowds of people who were fascinated by the strangers arrival. One question could be heard on many of their lips, “Have the Solars returned?”

Exalted – Series 13 – In Brief

Episode 1: The shortest route is not a straight line

23/Sep/2008

After the Battle of the Lap, Braxus goes in to seclusion while our heroes travel through Yu-Shen to warn the Blessed Isle of the impending invasion of Alchemical army. They meet The Roseblack but are interrupted by Lady Mnemon.

Episode 2: …

30/Sep/2008

Episode 3: …

7/Oct/2008

Episode 4: …

14/Oct/2008

Note: Series 13 is a shorter than usual series, featuring only four episodes.

Voyage Into Darkness (2257 segment)

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, approaching the tenth anniversary of the Battle of the Line and the end of the Earth-Minbari war. December 2257: Babylon 5 has recently opened its doors as a diplomatic station, and is a centre for trade for humans and aliens located in neutral territory.

The EarthForce explorer vessel Lancelot is on a stop over at Earth to resupply and perform some crew transfers before starting a mission of exploration on the galactic rim. Captain Horatio Grisham commands; he has a reputation for being something of a maverick. Rumours are circulating that he’s been assigned this mission to lower his profile.

En route from Babylon 5 are members of a survey team that includes both military personnel and civilians (who either have specialised skills thought to be useful on the mission, or special knowledge about the region where the ship is heading).

The central characters of Babylon 5 were equipped with greatly differing agendas, lots of secrets, and fought amongst each other to a great degree. This made for great drama, but running this type of game would make it hard to keep everyone involved, and I don’t think I’m up to it at present.

Player characters will all be members of the aforementioned survey team. This gives everyone reason to work together and provides scope for civilian and alien characters despite being based on an EarthForce vessel, but doesn’t prevent them from pursuing their own agendas (rather like Crusade).

That said, having Narn or Centari in the group would complicate things, due to the enmity between those species (and certain other reasons). Having such characters would complicate a number of plots I have in mind and likely force the group in a certain direction once galactic politics reach boiling point. Should the group include representatives from both, and then party in fighting could reach extreme levels. I’m not going to rule them out entirely, but if people would like to play a non-human then I’m going to look more favourably on Minbari and League characters (since they tend not to have entire species out for their blood for extended periods of time)!

I am planning on starting with beginning level characters, so the Lancelot comes complete with an NPC captain, but he might not be around forever. Then there is the other advantage of the survey team, which is that that it lets me nudge the PCs off in a shuttle and remove the spectre of someone standing over them. Grisham is a representation of the EarthForce command structure, not an NPC who will micromanage the players.

I have made a resolution not to let the canon railroad the plot. JMS’ masterpiece will be vulnerable to player machinations, and certain plotlines I have in mind will see player involvement in events that could dramatically alter the course of the Shadow War. This has the advantage that I can let players dabble with key events without having to stop them breaking the plot, but means that the TV show could become increasingly less reliable as a guide to what is happening as time goes on.