Welcome Feast and Entertainment:
Later that ‘night’, starting at 16:00, a meal is served at the fairgrounds. The performers are greeted, given refreshment at long tables set up under the Maypole. Bunting and ribbons flutter in the breeze. Beyond the festival ground there is a glimpse of farmland and in the uncertain light, the sea. The food is good. There are pies, flagons of ale, salad, and steaming meat cut of a saddle of extremely large animal bones. The many vegetarians amongst the group might think before trying this dish. About an hour into the feast, dancers and vocalists serenade the Citizens from a small stage set up within the tables. Around 18:30 the hosts prod everyone to their feet and over to what appears to be a very old amphitheater. Stone seating is worn comfortably smooth.
Initially, it dark. The entertainment opens with the thunderous percussion of at least eight Tycho drummers. The drumming is immense, magnified in intensity by the peculiar acoustics of this excellent venue. In unison, torch bearers light braziers and urns behind the stage and within arches in the proscenium. Beyond and above this, several more bonfires are lit in urns cut into the backdrop of the cavern wall.
Onstage female dancers execute a delicate form. The women wear loose and revealing gowns of lustrous sheen and color. The dancer’s long eye lashes, palms and feminine curvature have been subtly accentuated by the fantastical application of bioluminescent make up in several hues. The arrangement is naturalistic; they are flowers, opening. Hunters arrive, bare-chested, with spears. There are other creatures represented, possibly insects. The dancers wear man-sized carapace costumes, very realistic. The hunt is now on the water. Children have come onstage carrying boat hulls. A beast appears; some sort of huge lizard. As in a dragon dance, the monstrous toothy head, and a long flap of alligator skin covers several dancers, whose hands can be seen holding up the affair at the monster’s blank and open eye sockets. Venturing into the crowd, townsfolk good naturedly join in, taking swings and even striking the beast with their torches. Eventually, the hunters overcome the beast.
First Night: the Passage of the Corn Fairy:
At some point on the first night after arrival, the sharp eyed sentinels posted on the shorelines fortified massif passes word that the creature approaches. Apparently without concern for their safety, people rush down to catch a glimpse of the passage of the immense insect. Although the visiting Citizens may have been told what to expect, the reality of seeing a huge and dimly seen moth-like creature is shocking and deeply impressive. As the creature moves down cavern, wind from its great wings can be felt. For the inhabitants of Vassa, this event marks the beginning of the New Year; the jumping off time for the Caving caravans to harvest silk from the spent egg cases of the monstrous Corn Moth; and the season for outbound mercantile shipping.
the Festival of the Corn Fairy:
It is the season of the Festival of the Corn Fairy; celebrating the arrival of a vast moth-like form that historically migrates past this point on the estuary in a night or two. The community holds a Bacchanalia and other rites, including the random sacrifice of a participant, snatched by pterodactyl’s nesting in the crags of the Sacred Place. This occurs at the most sacred moment, when attendees are high under the influence of Myconid vapors; inducing group telepathy with all beings in the immediate area. Thus, everyone is eaten by and eats the sacrificial victim. Throughout the long, long night lasting until participants literally collapse unconscious, wild Bacchanalia reigns. Epic quantities of strong drink are consumed as is the fermented regurgitation of the captive Snok-Trux.
In the drugged and drunken confusion of the festival, attendees see many strange things you might expect and a few completely beyond the pale. At the climax of the sacred festival, one of the visiting musicians is took up by the wild beasts and torn asunder before the horrified eyes of his companions. There is nothing to be done. For many, it’s a good night: sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, your sister, or just the livestock in wild abandon. For others, a bad trip; waking up with a ringing hangover to torn, missing or muddied clothes; all metal adornments, buttons and buckles mysteriously vanished, to be replaced by gnawed shoe leather, frayed threads and rust stains.
Very few people from Vassa attend. It appears to be a matter for the priesthood. The Citizens are welcome to tag along. A few laborers push the cart with the body, led by a very strange creature; some sort of sentient fungus. It turns out this is the town’s priest of the cult of Cerus, a Myconnid named Baht. Some may recognize him from the terrible scene at the Sacred Place where the monster swooped down and took our companion. He is very calm, very philosophical. It says that his kind has collaborated with the Halflings for many generations; that they have “grown together”. He explains what will follow. The body will be stripped of flesh; a ceremony honoring the cycle of life, and the renewal of fertility will be performed. Normally, the bones of an outsider would be placed outside the cave; Townsfolk with families are interred separately from outlanders; i.e. those who aren’t ‘spoken for’. It has been decided to “mingle your bones with those of Vassa”.
(picture) A cave mouth, lined outside and inside with skulls and bones. Everywhere is carefully stacked the accumulation of hundreds of generations. The corridors are of stacked skulls and bones from floor to ceiling. The flesh is dissolved from the bones in a sunken chamber: small vents near the floor open onto another chamber. The body is laid out and left to be carefully cleaned of flesh by the town’s captive gelatinous cube. Hal Tenbraun and the Myconid priest placed the dreadful taboo object (the disintegrator rifle) here for safekeeping.
Inside the Cleaning Chamber:
Someone spots the glint of the thing, and may recognize it for what it is: another tangible link to the Father Culture. Players decide how to handle this; but probably recovering the artifact is the next step. Whoever goes in has to be very small; it’s a tiny opening. In the chamber beyond are several revelations. There is a very large but dormant gelatinous cube (the City Slime). It is sated and not accustomed to live meals. As the Citizen enters, it withdraws in apparent disgust.
More disturbingly, the grotesque and almost unrecognizable body of Daphnine Tenbraun hangs here; suspended by ghastly crystalline growth. Daphnine’s body is totally encrusted in complex metallic crystals; her skull is fleshless: its tissues have been replaced by the growth of a dull faceted metal. She is still alive, deathless, and immobilized where her new form has merged with the walls and floor. It’s evident that the plague that consumed her did so without any clear purpose.
Returning the Relic to the City, Survey is Authorized:
Within hours they are summoned to a large empty assembly room in the commercial building. As they enter, they notice the camera crews are present, odd. Inside, three walls are lined by Ministry of Culture/Department of Defense drummers, at attention. Standing in a formal yellow uniform, the party might recognize the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture (!), flanked by Grix, the creature from Ecology. In the middle of the room is a scroll, held down by a stone paperweight. No one speaks. The cameras are filming everything. At a signal, the drummers let out a deafening martial clatter from their snare-drums.
From nowhere, fanfare. The object is changing; inflating. Extending silvery legs, it rises to eye level. A metallic sphere forms, studded with optics and projectors. Abruptly, light and crisp and convincing sound pour out of the device. Holy shit! It’s not a paperweight, it’s the City Sigil! A holographic image of Secretary Nox is projected from the ‘paperweight’. A second much larger image of the interior of the Council Chambers, full of dignitaries, somehow manages to convey the gravitas and severity of that room. Tribune Salubrious, an immensely fat Orc and Speaker of the Council of Sixteen, stands and raises an imposing hand. His corpulent body and flawless green complexion done up in complex robes, at once elegant and commanding. Deep in Bartertown, at the front of the assembly, the Undersecretary is seen to speak softly into the cuff of her formal uniform. Far away, deep within the Council Chambers, and almost simultaneously, Secretary Nox raises his arm to his ear. Holy shit, this is live!
See Tribune Salubrious’ speech: Survey 4 is Authorized.