Thursday, January 18, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 6

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

New clues:

  • Bar doesn’t trust Terra, thinks that Terra is uncompromised by the lichen
  • They have civvie MOPP gear, a sprayer, and concentrated hydrogen peroxide
  • Terra has a sample of the lichen


Bar finds an unoccupied research lab (3,1) several floors up and they toss their bags in a corner. Terra grips her apple as though it were the last handhold over an abyss.

She slices it up and slices the slices. She smears highlighting chemicals onto a slide and smears a cutting against that. The microscope lights purr faintly as she zooms in, looking for cellular structure.

T: 2, 5

It has no cellular structure. Nothing. There’s bits that look like crystallization and bits that seem to… flow, to pump, to move. But no cells. It’s like zooming into a hunk of metal, though one with some highly differentiated parts.

As she watches the structure expands outwards. Growing with no visible means of such. Something coming into place out of nothing.

“Flatland,” she murmurs. “We only see a little bit of the whole, the bits we are capable of seeing."

Terra tastes bile.

“Well, it’s not lichen,” she calls to Bar. She looks up.

Bar is gone. His bag with the biological agents suit is gone.

Terra sighs. She has one last question to answer - will the hydrogen peroxide do anything to the lichen?

Yes: 2
No: 6

(The dice gods favor the mythos AS THEY MUST)

The solution does nothing. Terra shrugs. She shoves the microscope and apple into a trashcan, hearing metal and plastic crack. She pours in a bottle of methanol and lights a match.

Reduction Roll => 4! Reduced to 4 Insight.

Smoke rushes up; the apple sizzles, the fruticose blackens.

“Well, that works.” Terra murmurs, staring into the blue-tinged flames.

She leaves. Behind her, the fire smoke fills with particulate matter. Little flakes drift up and out like a grey snow.

Eventually the fire alarm sounds.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“OK, OK, OK. Bob had talked about using fire in his note. Before… they got him. Just need to get to a 7/11…”

Bar drives frantically, slamming on the gas and the brake. Night has fallen and the town is unusually sedate for a Thursday.

Can he get enough supplies to do some damage?

B: 2
F: 5

Reroll with Insight!

B: 6
Insight: 3
Fail: 5

Insight check: 2, no change

Bar gathers up jerry cans from several gas stations, filling them. He buys cleaning rags and a Bic lighter. He finds himself staring at the beer in the gas station. He shakes his head as though coming back to the moment and leaves. His car is loaded down with gasoline and stinks of it. He rolls down his windows and drives back to campus.

Now all I need is campus police to come along, thought Bar. Find a brown beardy guy who got kicked out of this school, with a chemical protection suit and a shit-ton of gasoline. I’m sure that would go over well.

I’ll just tell them the biology department is full of pod people! Of course!

His laughter is deep and genuine. He laughs until he cried, until he can barely see, just hitting the brakes in time to avoid a concrete embankment.

He parks and heads to one of the back doors of the building. Looking around, he carefully pulls out a cat’s paw tool and lock picks.

B: 4, 6
Insight check: 4, no change

The itch of a memory half-forgotten distracts him, looking at the flat lock surface, the cleft of the keyhole, empty expressionless - Bar grits his teeth and ignores the feeling. The deadbolt moves and the door is open. He tapes over the deadbolt and wedges the door with his cat’s paw tool.

He is walking back and looks up. Lance Gleason stares at him from the doorway. Bar drops the jerry cans and steps back, shocked. Gleason flees into the building.

“Fuck!” Bar pants. He grabs the jerry cans and moves in, nylon bag swinging over his shoulder.

Insight check: 2, no change

The department’s air is full of tiny flakes which waft gently through the air. Bar stops before the threshold and begins to put on the hazmat suit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Her office light was on. Terra had meant to go straight to the basement, but her office light was on. The lights were triggered by motion sensors - it was a pain, if you were writing, every 15 minutes you had to flail about to keep them on.

Someone was in her office.

She paused outside the biology building. The air is full of grey flakes, like ash. Edged in a metallic blue.

“I should put on my suit, I suppose,” Terra said, thinking of what she ingested before.

Will she?
T: 6
No: 4
Insight: 4

She dons the suit and gas mask. Her view warps around the edges slightly. She breathes and the sound of it, and of rubber valves fluttering, fills the tight space around her face.

She goes inside, goes up to the third floor.

The hallway is dim, fluorescents only on at irregular intervals. One side is interspersed with doors, leading to offices or small classrooms. The other is a floor-to-ceiling window, all along the hall. Beyond it, dimly visible through the reflected hallway lights, Terra sees a few patches of light from streetlamps in the North campus. Otherwise the school is a dim outline, a vague suggestion.

The lichen floats through the air serenely, unaffected by the overhead air vents.

She rounds the corner. Her door is slightly ajar. Bright light from her office shines into the dim corridor.

She tries to sneak in, but the suit rubs against itself with every step, swishing.

Bob looks up as she comes in. His bald pate shines under the mirror as though shellacked. Before him is a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and three glasses.

Insight: 5 ++

He looks up at her and smiles warmly. He stands up.

“Terra. I know this is a shock, but it’s alright. Is, ah, Babar with you?”

Terra stares at him. “You can’t be you. You can’t be.”

Bob smiles and points to the seat in front of her desk. “Please, I can explain.”

Terra stands frozen. Bob shrugs.

“Well, you see.” He threads the corkscrew into the wine bottle. “I thought the lichen was, you know.” He smiles. “Some kind of monster.” Twist. “Out to destroy us all.” Twist. “I had no idea, no idea… It wanted to partner with us, Terra. Save us.”

He smoothly pulls the cork from the bottle, pours himself a small measure, another for her.

“It helped me. It fixed me. I was an alcoholic, before. But I’m not an addict any more.” He takes a small, measured sip. “I’m better. But I’m still me.”

“I saw.. your body.”

“Well, yes. The lichen absorbed my memories and consciousness through that hole, you know, in my skull. A brain is hard to duplicate precisely without… touch. A given body’s facsimile is easier to manufacture.”

“I…”

“Listen, Terra, I know this is a great deal to absorb. But soon things are going to change here. I’ll change. And I want you to be able to change with me, you know? To join in.”

His eyes sparkle as he gazes at her. Terra tastes bile in her mouth.

“Like Lance? Like Ben? Blank-faced, dead-eyed?”

Bob waved dismissively, leaning back. “Lance and Ben are still walking around in the flesh. It made some drones to try to herd you here, that’s all. Their visages, not them. They’re fine. I mean, idiots, but they’re fine.”

A door opens behind her. Someone in a suit walks in, an elderly man, pallid and tall. Dr. Gingery.

He smiles blandly, but then, Terra thought, he always did.

“It’s almost time,” he says.

The lichen in the air reverses as though on tracks, begins to move forward again, lurching, whirling faster and faster. It thrums against Terra’s mask, blinding her, shakes the flourescents until one shatters and another is blinking. A gale of grey and blue screams into the room. In between flashes of light she sees that Bob and Gingery are still. She looks closer.

They are writhing piles of fruticose curls, unwinding from human shapes to masses. What was Bob creeps towards her; Gingery’s arcs between the door frame, trying to trap her. She hears Bob’s voice:

“We will have you join us Terra. You know why. You belong to it. Try to remember.”

Insight: 1

Terra tries to break through all this and flee the room.

T: 5
F: 1

She runs and dives through the fruticose and it claws at her, it pulls at her mask, and she slams a hand on it to keep it in place. She tumbles out of the room and begins to run.

The ashy flakes in the air are dancing, faster, slapping into the exterior window and cracking it, tapping fluorescent lights and smashing them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Footprints in the lichen. Two sets. Bar’s breathing fogs the mask. The suit crinkles and folds around him. The jerry cans in his nylon bag pull and twist the strap.

Lichen drifts through the air, covers the floor and walls of the basement in a metallic blue flakes, peeling away like dead skin.

Thicker and thicker. The footprints, once cleaner spots on the tile floor, are now concentrated cracks amidst layered sheets. Coils of the stuff have crawled from a doorway down the hall.

Has Bar managed to sneak in somehow, have Lance and Ben lost him?

B: 5, 1
Fail: 4

(So yes, he’s actually managed to creep in.)

He keeps slowly twisting to look behind him, convinced they’ll be there, staring. The lichen drifts serenely in empty halls.

“I don’t have enough gas to just burn down the building… And everything in here is fucked.” Bar murmurs to himself. “They must have some kind of gas main in here, for the labs that use burners. If I can light that off…” He changes course.

Searching for the gas main:
B: 4
Fail: 5

(The failure involves getting caught or herded by the drones)

Reroll with insight!
B: 6
Insight: 2
Fail: 2

Insight check: 5 ++

(Bar finds the gas main, BUT the lichen starts freaking out. Terra is upstairs and It’s Time and all that.)

The lichen in the air twitches and begins to quicken. Bar pries open a panel as it rushes around him. He sees the caked layers of lichen on the floor moving around, growing, shifting into and away from each other like tiny tectonic plates. The airborne flakes whirl at him and for a moment Bar sees them transported through him, in him, growing out, his skin covered in a patina of the stuff…

“Anytime it wants. You can finish me whenever you want!” he screams into the maelstrom, bending a pipe with his cat’s paw. “Come on!”

Gas seeps out of a pipe as he cracks it. Bar opens a jerry can, pouring gasoline as he backs away into the gale.

B: 4
F: 2

He backs out a decent way. He runs out of gasoline with the doorway in sight. He pulls the lighter from the nylon back, lights the gasoline on the ground. The flame catches and races down the hallway. He looks up, a hard grin on his face, watching the flame dance.

Before him, only ten feet away or so, are Ben and Lance. The fire burns between them and past. They have eyes only for Bar.

He runs.

B: 2, 5
F: 4

Bar sprints, fighting the mask for air. He makes the doorway and peers back over the threshold.

Lance has stopped there like before. He holds up a hand and Bar is lifted off his feet as the gas main explodes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Terra is outside when the explosion hits. The building shakes and part of the roof fires off into the air, raining debris down. She’s thrown to the ground, her mask cracking.

She lays there for a time, ringing in her ears, as debris splatters the lawn. Eventually the sounds die down. She slowly picks herself up.

The sky is full of lichen. Rancid flakes of it fall from the sky, others soar upwards, caught in a thermal over the burning center of the biology building.

“We didn’t kill it,” she murmurs. “We’ve just helped spread it. God…”

One by one, the stars are obscured.


Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 5

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 5

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

Clues

  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)
  • materials storage moved to biology department (4)
  • Dr. Troy Gingery led this movement and a subsequent dangerous chemical cleanup that wasn’t really announced (4)
  • Dr. Troy Gingery was a rival of Bob’s. (4)
  • Dr Lance Gleason and Dr Ben Samuels have duplicates on campus who chased Terra and Bar (4)


(Their plan: Teaching Hospital for supplies, then biology department)
(I’m rolling for Terra getting gear, as always, it's Human and Profession d6s in that order)
T: 1, 1

“So you’re saying you can’t requisition anything for me?” Terra said.

“We have some N95 respirators…”

Terra glared at her hospital contact, Shelly Millard, hands clenching. Her face begins to twitch hideously, in anger or fear, Millard can't tell.

Reroll with insight: 1, 6
Insight: 5
Extra insight check! : 2 (Since I re-rolled with insight and got a 6 for Terra’s profession, I check insight) (I think I mistakenly bumped up her Insight from 4 to 5 here because the Insight die in the re-roll was a 5. EH)

Shelly crumbled under Terra’s glare. The biologist never blinked, even as her face spasmed.

“I’ll... see what I can do, Terra.”

Terra remembered something as Shelly turned around. “I also need a pump-sprayer and concentrated hydrogen peroxide for it.”

"Great!” Shelly called out as she left.

She left. Terra turned to Bar, told him to wait at the counter, and hurried off to a bathroom. Inside, she pulled the photo from her uncle's notes. The writhing pattern written in wood, and the woman.

“Not my face, not my face”

She murmured, over and over, as she ripped the photograph up and flushed it away.

Insight Reduce Roll: 1! Terra loses Insight.

The fragments swirl and are gone, and Terra feels that the other woman must be as well. Somehow.

She comes back as Shelly carried out a heavy black duffel bag and plopped it on the pharmacy counter.

“Will that be all?” she asked drolly.

“Thank you Shelly. Really. Thank you.” Terra said, leaning in. Shelly looked almost as scared of the genuineness in Terra’s voice as she had at her twitching intensity.

Outside, Bar glanced over at Terra.

“So now what?”

“I think this is what was used, more or less, to clean out… Something. Something that happened to the lichen stored under the bio department, if that’s what’s down there.”

“It couldn’t have worked that well, if we’re where we’re at now.”

Terra shrugged.

“You want to walk, go ahead. But I think we both owe it to Bob - Bob’s memory - to go down there and try.”

(roll to avoid searching lichen duplicates? not yet!)

It’s getting into late afternoon. The two head to the hospital cafeteria and eat. Bar searches through his pockets.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just my lucky coin.”

“Your name is Bar and you're in AA?”

Bar shrugged. “It’s short for Babar. I just got tired of that kid’s book getting brought up. Anyway, it’s how I met Bob."

“I didn’t know he was in there.”

“Yeah, he was a great guy. Really friendly.”

“Bob never, well. I think he must’ve saved that side for the meetings, then.”

Bar looked at her quizzically.

“He was just… very driven. Very driven. Very intense. I guess it was just how he dealt with knowing all this, knowing it and never saying anything, knowing and hoping no one else ever would.”

“What do you think we’ll find in the biology department?”

“I’ve worked there for 20 years. It’s not a sinister place. But…”

“What?”

“I guess I don’t really know it. If Ben and Lance are going to come and chase after us, all…”

They both thought of those empty, expressionless faces. It hadn’t looked like the two were breathing hard as they came on. They looked untroubled, almost serene. Terra had never seen either of them look so relaxed.

Terra finished her soup, chews on her grilled cheese. Puts it down slowly.

There’s fruticose edging out under the cheese. Scraped by her teeth. She’s already swallowed, the bite traveling into a deep, growing emptiness inside her, a hole full of bile and fear. Bar takes a bite of apple, pauses. Slams his hand on the table as he leans to the side, vomits.

A trail of lichen stretches from the core of his apple.

INSIGHT:
T: 6, ++. Good thing she destroyed some evidence before this!
B: 2

Terra feels vertigo. She sits wondering if she can detect the lichen inside of her. If a bite of it will survive her stomach acid.

“No reason to think I’ll be alright from this,” she murmurs.

Bar retches again. She reaches out and grips his hand. He pants and looks up to her.

“We need to get to a lab,” she says.

"Did you swallow any? I think I got all that back up..." Bar says, coughing.

"I'm fine. I think I stopped just short of it. Listen, we need to get to a lab... This is the first sample of this rat bastard, we need to find out what it is."

(Does Bar believe this? Bar: 2, Terra: 1, so, nope.)

“Wait.”

The kitchen staff is gone. The off-hours cafeteria is empty save for the two of them.

“I want to check back there.”

Bar hops the counter and checks the back area, kitchen and dishwashing nook. No one is around. A large steel vat of water boils.

“Bar?” Terra calls out.

“They’re gone,” he says to himself.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 4

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3

Clues:

  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)



Terra heads to Grace’s office, piles of folios to sort and catalogue on one desk, Grace almost buried amidst it all. They talk about material storage from old scientific trips.

Investigate: 3, 5

(Everything and something more.)

Storage was moved from the library basement back to respective departments, in the late 90s. It was actually something Bob Knafferly strenuously fought against. The effort had been led by Dr. Troy Gingery, now the head of the Biology department. Grace had figured Bob’s standing had been greatly diminished by Gingery’s ascendence.

Terra remembered some Sunday during winter break where the biology department was closed for a deep cleaning… Gingery had been there, directing workers, who donned chemical suits and respirators. She hadn’t thought much of it as she had been fighting tooth-and-nail for a grant at the time.

As she left Grace’s office, she ran into Dr. Samuels, one of the professors she’d ducked earlier, a biologist roughly her age and a million times more valued by the department. He glared at Terra, who bared her teeth.

“You forget to bring Lance back with you, Ben?” she asked.

His countenance flickered with confusion, some barbed quip caught in his teeth. He coughed as though clearing it.

“I just got here, Knafferly. Ah, excuse me.”

He brushed past her, then turned back at the threshold, smiling sharply.

“We don’t all have to struggle morning and night to make our way, you know.”

He closed the door. Terra fumed on top of the confusion - Samuels and Lance Gleason were both in the library earlier. She had walked right past them.

Terra insight: 6 +++

Terra pales. Blank expressionless faces stare at her in her memory, stare past her. Two bland men striding forth in perfect lockstep. As though connected. As though built together, conjoined, despite the distance between them. She rushes to the elevator, not noticing the rust flake with its branching nub stretching out...

“He wasn’t lying.” Terra said to Bar, who jumped in his seat.

“Fuck! Terra, you startled -“

“We walked past Ben and Lance on the way in, two professors from my department…”

“So?”

“Ben hadn’t been in before I saw him. He had just arrived, as in, after us. But he was here before as well.”

“He’s just lying to you, Terra. You know how these Chosen Ones are.”

Does Bar believe this, really?
Bar: 6
Fail: 3

He does but he still gets an Insight Roll! => 4, ++

Bar is rubbing a bronze coin between thumb and forefinger. He begins sweating.

“He’s lying…” Bar repeats, quietly. “Lying. Just rust.”

Lies pile up, Bar thinks. You think they’re protection, but all you’ve really done is dug a grave and called the earth around you a wall. We’ve been lying to ourselves all the time, all this time. This thing has been happening for a long time. But we don’t look, we can’t. 1840s, that archeology class I took, read about some prospector out in Alaska who was haunted by someone with the same face as his dead wife. He died in a sanitarium. Walls closed in on him and became a grave...

“Bar?”

He shakes his head. The one-year coin skitters onto the keyboard and he snatches at it.

“Did you find her schedule?”

Bar investigate roll: 6.
Insight check! 4, nothing.

“I did… but... Haun is a strange one, you know? Used to be very active on social media, posting all the time, her family, kids, activism, that sort of thing… In the last six months it’s all dropped off.”

“She might be busy.”

“Not here. She teaches one class and it looks like some of her research efforts have stalled. Also, this. She made one post in the last six months. A week ago.”

LOOKING FORWARD TO DECEMBER

“Not exactly her normal style,” Bar says, scrolling through older, erudite posts.

Two people walk in from the far end of the computer lab.

It’s Ben and Lance again, together. Their expressions are flat. They pan their heads around the room slowly. They don’t speak to each other but move in sync.

“We should go,” Terra whispers, ducking below the cubicle fabric wall before them.

“What-“

Terra grabbed Bar’s shoulder and dragged him behind her, low. His one-year coin fell out of his hand and rolled off into the lab.

Behind them, soft footfalls on the carpet. Bar glances back and sees Dr. Lance Gleason sprinting towards them. Face placid as if he was sleeping, but for open eyes.

“Book it!” Bar pulls his arm from Terra’s grasp and they run, panting, faces contorted with fear.

ESCAPE:
Terra (using the library and campus as cover / obstacles): 3, 5
Bar: 3, 1
Fail: 1

They run out of the library’s lab, through the ID check as someone exclaims and curses, but they are gone, through doors and into the lawn and turning. The footfalls follow for a while but are diminished. Eventually the two are behind the Philosophy department, it’s Corinthian columnade screening them from view as they hunker in a deep doorway.

“What the fuck was that? Those are professors you know?” Bar panted.

“I’m not sure.”

INSIGHT:
Terra: 5, no change
Bar: 4, no change

“Aren’t you?"

“Not my face, not my face,” she mutters to herself.

“What?”

She shakes her head.

“We should head to the biology department. But first I need to pick up some supplies in the teaching hospital.”

“Are those two going to be… looking for us?”

Terra shakes her head.

“Why don’t you ask them, Bar? How would I know?”

She strides off. Bar looks after her for a moment, then jogs to catch up.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 5

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 4

New clues

  • materials storage moved to biology department
  • Dr. Troy Gingery led this movement and a subsequent dangerous chemical cleanup that wasn’t really announced
  • Dr. Troy Gingery was a rival of Bob’s.
  • Dr Lance Gleason and Dr Ben Samuels have duplicates on campus

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 3

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3

The library, for all its height and sprawling stone heft, has low ceilings, the tiles of which often show signs of old water damage. It is musty, slightly humid, cramped.

A pair of prim professors walked out as Knafferly and Alvi walk up the stone steps - do the professors notice the two?

Terra: 5
Bar: 3
Fail: 2

Terra looks away casually, and Bar is walking just behind her enough they don’t notice. The professors stare placidly ahead as they walk past, not talking.

“Who were those two, Terra? That you were, hm, avoiding?” Bar asked, sliding his library card through the turnstile’s reader.

“Avoid? They’re just some professors in my department. I wasn’t trying to avoid them” Terra said.

“Sure. ‘Cause, I thought you were, so, I tried to look inconspicuous.”

“Great, Bar.” Terra said flatly.

They head up to the biology research depository, the ninth floor. The carpet by the elevators is damp, the ceiling-mounted sprinkler having leaked again.

“Alright. Most of Bob’s work is over here,” Terra gestured. “You start there, I want to see about any other expeditions out this way. It’s a pretty unique location. I’m surprised Bob never spoke of it.”

Terra: 5, 1
Bar: 1

Bar doesn’t find much about Bob’s expedition to Alaska, other than an oblique footnote in a current professor’s publication he skimmed by mistake. (Adina Haun, anthropologist.)

(Terra discovered everything and something extra - legend, etc)

There were prior expeditions, in 1939 and in 1898, through the University. Both had ended dreadfully for the academics - no findings of serious note, other than a drawing of a shape familiar to Terra - the stump, eroded into the form Bob documented. A stump of wood preserved for 100 years.

Terra also saw footnotes that led to the autobiography of an Inuit trapper, using the pen name Jack Anawak, who grew up in the region. He, with his brothers, journeyed through the expedition site, practicing his trade, but reported that the flesh of beasts in the area was wrong, somehow - that it did not provide any sustenance. They was eventually tracked and hunted by a man with his own face, who the group barely escaped.

Terra reports on the prior expeditions and tries to keep the… face-stealing nature of this research from Bar. Can she?

Yes: 2
No: 3

The book is underneath everything else, a bookmark sticking out.

“What’s this?”

“Oh, a red herring, you know…”

Bar flips it open to the marked page, eyes flickering back and forth hungrily.

“A stolen face? Seems a theme.” He doesn’t look at Terra.

She shakes her head.

“That wasn’t… my face. She just looks similar. Not the same.”

“Sure."

Terra stares at Bar, who keeps reading the notes. “Listen,” she says, "I’ll go talk to Grace, the head librarian here, about materials storage under the library. Why don’t you snag Dr. Haun’s schedule from the computer lab downstairs?”

Bar nods and gets up.

He heads to the elevator. A single curved leaf of rust is in the carpet in the middle of the carpeted landing. No metal above, no metal around that’s rusted, despite the wet.

Bar insight: 1. No change!

“It’s nothing,” he thinks as the elevator dings. Someone gets out, but Bar is focused on the floor, then jerks his gaze away and heads inside.

A fruticose branch now juts from the flake, unseen.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3

Clues:

  • Bob’s notes detail an Alaska expedition which uncovered a voracious and unknown lichen, which seemed clumped around a curiously eroded stump of wood. (1)
  • One of the people on the trip, in the 80s, has the same face as Terra Knafferly, Bob’s niece. (1)
  • Bob’s suicide note spoke of a gate and various incoherent things. (2)
  • Adina Haun mentioned Bob’s expedition, which otherwise seems scrubbed away. She’s in the Anthropology department. (3)
  • More face-stealing, now from the 1800s (3) and evidence that the lichen-stump Bob found has been around (but not transportable) for a long time (3)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Creeping Fruticose 2

(Part 2 of my solo Cthulhu Dark playing.)

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 2

Terra wakes up blearily, makes instant coffee, toast, and walks from her apartment block, through the sleepy downtown restaurants and bars, and onto the northern section of campus. Past the huge stone library with its tiny windows like some many-eyed pachyderm, past the colonial-era English and History department buildings, and into the Biology building, all glass and steel. A clock dully clicks through the first seconds of 7:43am as she walks by, her uncle’s notes pressed against her through her bag.

A tall, thin brown-skinned man sits on one of the desks in her classroom, re-reading a sheet of paper. Younger than Terra by at least a decade, short hair and stubbly. His long legs were crossed at the ankles, his pose one of forced calmness. The skin around his eyes was bruised and bleary.

“Terra Knafferly?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Bar.” He stood. “Bar Alvi. I, ah. I knew Bob. I’m really sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, I -“

“Listen, Bob, he, uh. He didn’t leave you a note, right?”

Terra frowned. “Mr. Alvi, no, he didn’t.”

Alvi held out the sheet of paper. It shook in his hands. “Have you his notes?”

“I don’t see what that has to do with, with what he did. With any of this.”

“Just read the note.”

IT IS A GATE. THEY ARE NOT MAKING ART, THEY ARE NOT MAKING SCULPTURE. THEY FORGE A GATE AND MORE WILL COME, MORE WILL COME. I’M SORRY THEY ARE COMING, THEY WILL NOT MAKE ME ONE OF

I FEAR THE LIBRARY BASEMENT STORAGE WAS COMPROMISED. BURN IT FOR ME PLEASE.

I’M SORRY

(Terra Insight Check -> d6 => 3! ++)

(Alvi already has insight of 2 from this)

“How…” Terra holds one hand just under her mouth, fingers upon one cheek, thumb on the other. As though to stop the words.

“Bob and I had a dead drop.” Alvi shrugged. “It started as a joke. Well, I thought it was a joke. I guess it was Bob’s idea. Just a place we stuffed notes on campus, little things. Haikus. Jokes. The occasional cigarette.”

“Bob smoked?”

“Yeah, I mean, once in a while. Once in a bit. So” Alvi looked hungry, eager. “I mean, I know this is weird… but is there anything weird from his notes?”

“Yes… Yes.” Terra digs out the notes, flips open the folio to the photo of her double. She pushes the notes into Bar’s hands like they were burning her, then she marches up to the whiteboard and begins writing.

“What the fuck…”

(Insight check Babar: 3. ++)

CLASS CANCELLED TODAY: HAVE FUN! on the whiteboard in large black letters. Terra turns back to Alvi, trying to keep her face neutral. Unlike the smiling photograph.

“I guess we ought to go to the library, Bar?"

“Sure,” he said, shakily.

On the way there, Terra summarized the notes as Bar looked far-away, barely responding.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 3

Babar Alvi, failed chemist postdoc, urban explorer
Insight 3

Creeping Fruticose 1

This is some Cthulhu Dark solo play. I use Miso RPG when needed, quite rarely, and some notes / ideas for a lichen's creeping horror and the like (little clues that show up, NPCs). Most of the locations are from going to a giant University at some point. The first PC is:

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 1

---------------

Terra rubbed her eyes and ran fingers through her greying hair. She'd just finished grading for tomorrow's morning class. She swept the post-its on her desk into a drawer, and then cracked open one of the withered cardboard boxes from her uncle's storage unit. He hadn't left a note, and Terra doubted the box's contents would help her understand his suicide, but she wanted to look.

Investigate rolls: 4, 4 (Person and Occupation, in that order)

Bob Knafferly had squirreled away notes and photos of an trip to a remote section of Alaska in 1978, when he was a budding biology professor. He had found a lichen of previously unknown existence, which alternated between crustose and fruticose forms. Flakes of rust-like material, or leafless, branch-like structures in maggot-white. It was virulent and present throughout an isolated area but had not spread. It seemed to be centered around a tree stump which had eroded in a strange way.

It didn't make sense that Terra had never heard of this trip, or the lichen. It was a find worthy of a publication. And Bob had been prolific.

A photo slid out of the last folio and Terra saw the central stump, looking like it had been carved into a writhing art project. It was covered in a crust of lichen. Holding it, squatting beside Bob and smiling at the camera, was a woman with Terra's face.

Insight: rolled 3, so it gets raised to 2.

"That's not me. That's not me. No. No..."

She pushes off from the desk, then jerks back to cover the photo. She rubs her face and looks at the wall clock: 11:40pm. Pitch black out the window above her desk. She leaves the room, shutting the door, and goes to bed.

Her dreams are of branching strands of lichen pouring into lopsided wooden corridors, into which she wanders. Pursued by someone unseen.

Terra Knafferly, biologist and academic
Insight 2

(This is Terra's character sheet after this scene / part of the adventure.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dragon's Blood Pools: A History of God, Dragon, Devil, Death

In the beginning

God made the world and the high elves. His perfect people, who he loved. God appeared among them and she told them that she would test them, though she already knew, her chosen people would pass all tests.

The Devil and the Dragon waited, as they had before and before. The Dragon sent monsters, giant beasts, wyverns, tried to break the high elves. The Devil's agents tempted them with forbidden knowings, sin.

The high elves conquered the monsters, took them apart and put them together again, altered, experiments. Volunteers gave into demonic temptation within hyperbaric chambers, were studied and killed and studied. Through their self-gained knowledge, the elves brought the Devil and Dragon to heel for their God, who was glad. She watched as the high elves made, from clay, slaves who could marginally think. Humanity. 

The elves, ambitious, wished for more to win for their God. In their Faraday-cage labs, in chambers sterilized of divine presence and sight, they created Death. Then their final creation unmade them. 

God put herself against Death and was destroyed and unmade. He remade himself in titanic form and Death cut through his flesh and ended him, and she began again. And again. The world was wracked. Dragon, sensing opportunity, joined with God and fought. The Devil laughed and sold to everyone demon legions. The Earth splintered, Time shuddered and ate at itself, blood rained. The four sides fought though centuries to a stalemate. 

Now

We live now in the armistice. The four do not vie directly against one another, though their abandoned children do as they will.

God weeps for his dead children, Dragon sucks its wounds, the Devil cavorts, and Death waits.

Their waste and cast-offs haunt the world.

Dragon's Blood Pools

The blood of Dragon was spilt across the world. Many tiny droplets fill pond-sized sumps and sit, waiting, black and boiling. Full immersion in a pool will grant a character +3 hit points. They will also note on their sheet a counter: Dragon's Blood, 1/3. The second bathing confers 3 hit points, the counter advances, and they take on some aspects of Dragon - solid golden eyes, patchwork scaling, sulfurous breathe. The character will detect as evil regardless of actual alignment. 

(The golden eyes have a melt-value of about 80 gp each, but they are universally accepted prosthesis. As such their value tends to be around 200 gp.) 

The third exposure to Dragon's blood - as little as a pint - will turn the character into a monster. Often a wyvern. 

A given pool has 1d6 uses. Each use visibly lowers the pool as the blood is absorbed, and after absorption the person is extruded from the pool as if it were birthing them.

Many modern armies contain an elite cadre of soldiers with identical golden eyes, known for their resilience and tenacity. Mercenary commanders often sport the eyes as well. 

Flesh of God

The Flesh of God litters the world in places where she was deathlessly struck down: sometimes as a titanic being, sometimes as something the size of a high elf (7' tall). The flesh does not rot, and tiny motes of light dance from it. 

One must save vs poison if eating the Flesh, 5 pounds are needed. To fail is to die. Passing the test allows one to remain at a fixed age for 15 years. During that time, the character can concentrate and allow the Flesh to absorb one failed save if the save would have meant death. At that point the character begins aging again normally.

Animals which eat a portion of God's Flesh can become intelligent and gain the power to speak.

Royalty and nobility depend upon Flesh. Some of their court wizards claim they can prepare the flesh such that consumption is not dangerous. Nobles will often forgo taxes or criminal investigations of adventurers, if said explorers can produce a few pounds of Flesh.

Demon Horn

As punishment, devil soldiers would have their horns lopped off by their superiors. If hollowed out and made into a bugle, the horn can be blown to cause unintelligent animals to flee, 1-2 HD humans/humanoids to check morale, and cause plants within 50' to wither and die. There is a 1-in-20 chance the call summons up a 1d6 HD demon missing the horn. The horn has d6 uses before turning into a foul ash. If carried openly, the horn gives a +2 reaction roll bonus with humans who hate demons (i.e. worshippers of God, any humans living near demon encampments, etc).

Demon armies heralded battle's beginning with horn-blowing, though most of Dragon's forces were not put off by the foul smoke and screaming horror that these instruments put forth. In modern times, the horns are often used by one well-provisioned army or mercenary company against another. 

Death's Artifacts

Death leaves nothing upon the Earth but scars of infertile land, where sometimes the dead are restless. In other places time is bent, broken, because Death was too thoroughly driven away. There things which were destroyed may still exist.

High Elf Temples

Some high elves still live in deathless slumber atop stone beds, inside of ancient buried temples to their prowess. They await foolish mortals' proximity, so that their artifacts will wake them. Then they will begin to experiment again upon the cracked and jagged Earth.