In the Shadow of Princes

Rome on the Brink and the Death of a God

Conclusion of the Roman Campaign

As the year 999 draws to an end, the world stands on the brink of destruction. After days of fighting and revolt in the Eternal City, the Golden Empire of Rome has all but fallen. First, a desperate ploy by William Marshall in the Roman Coliseum led to the incapacitation of Emperor Golan Trevize. During yet another degrading spectacle of arena combat, Marshall summoned a burning wicker man golem. The golem rose out of the arena sand to engulf Trevize in a blaze of cleansing sacred flame. At that moment a series of explosive charges detonated in the arena stands, stirring the Roman mob into a teeming frenzy. As the dust and smoke settled, Tobias, Salvor, and the other gladiator slaves assembled into a united fighting force bent on attaining freedom at all costs. With no sign left of either Marshall or the Emperor, the party forced its way through the arena catacombs and onto the streets of Rome.

During their run through the catacombs the party encountered a strange envoy: young Jean-Claude Delong, the twelve year-old celestial phenom, born of angelic parents (Lady Lisette and Lord Jean-Claude Delong of Timberley). J.C. was apparently sent as a part of a rescue mission organized by the notorious and ever-vigilant Britannian super-spy, Queen’s Special Service (QSS) operative, Julian Beech. The explosions in the arena? Also courtesy of Sir Julian. Apparently, Aran Lynch, a confidant of Lord Salvor, who recognized the Britannian Battle Lord during a gladiatorial match, was able to not only get close to the once (and future?) Lord Protector but managed to leave Latia (Italy) bearing a communiqué from Salvor for the Exiled Britannian Government to relay to the marshal of Rome’s northern legions, a disaffected Roman general known as Belisarius. Salvor’s message amounted to a warning of impending worldwide disaster. Belisarius has responded favorably to Salvor’s entreaty and turned rogue against his government’s Phoenix Order masters. Young J.C. imparted all of this news and more.

And more is where it got interesting. With Emperor Golan Trevize apparently neutralized by William Marshall’s mystic assault, an invisible, impenetrable sphere of force manifested around the city. With the party unable to leave, eventual capture appeared inevitable. The Emperor’s psyche was temporarily suppressed, but he was slowly regaining cognizance. When he awoke, it would be too late; there would be no chance for escape or survival.

The force sphere had been a safeguard measure meant to ensure the Phoenix Order’s safety while Golan recovered. Its psionic triggers were encoded deep within Golan’s subconscious mind and set to unconsciously trigger in a catastrophic eventuality. Moreover, in order to direct the conscious willpower necessary to raise and sustain the sphere, Golan tethered his subconsciously encoded imperatives to the material life of Rome itself, to the living citizens of the Eternal City. The belief and faith that sustains the spiritual life of Rome’s citizens provides the raw psychic energy that powers the sphere. Short of instantaneous and near-universal apostasy, there was no way to extinguish the source of the sphere’s power.

But Julian deduced a means by which the failsafe could be overridden. In order to harness the spiritual-directed, psychic power of the city, Golan constructed mental portals at each of Rome’s seven greatest temples and shrines. These places of worship, located near each of Rome’s fabled seven hills, each functioned as psychic collectors, literally drawing in the psychic energy required to power the sphere. Julian learned that the collecting portals located at these sites could be materially traversed, meaning that they permitted a person to actually enter the Emperor’s mind. Julian was certain of the possibility to use these portals to enter Golan’s mindscape and dismantle the sphere’s psychic imperatives.

He believed this because the imperatives actually manifested symbolically in Golan’s pseudo-material mindscape. To ensure that the failsafe protocols would endure for an extended period in his subconscious, the Emperor laced the necessary psychic imperatives to his most intimate neural pathways. Thus the failsafe imperatives were mapped upon Golan Trevize’s subconscious dream-life and manifested in his memories and dreams as vital components of his living body: eye, heart, hand, arm, rib, thigh, tongue. These seven manifestations of Trevize’s vital persona (Vitaes) were each keyed to distinct and significant memories or themes in Golan’s life. In turn, each of these seven Vitaes and meme-themes mapped upon Rome’s physical geography and coincided with a distinct temple or shrine at each of Rome’s seven hills. By entering each of the seven shrines and navigating each of the seven associated meme-themes, it would be possible to disrupt each of Golan’s imperative-programmed Vitaes and thus defeat the failsafe screen.

After their escape from the Coliseum, the party split ways: Salvor and Ahmed would take the surviving gladiators to each of Rome’s seven hills and work to lower the force sphere. Claiming that Golan’s vindictive bio-machinest, Vento Parmezzius, had obtained an item of doomsday proportions, the Strider Tobias, accompanied by Sebastien Gauge and pursuing a vendetta against Parmezzius, opted to follow his own, undisclosed agenda. Both groups hoped to follow separate paths and ultimately achieve mutually equitable goals.

But things never go so smoothly. Salvor’s initial attack upon the Temple of Apollo led first to a wasteful skirmish with Phoenix Archon Delora Delarmi and subsequently to a near-fatal (but narrowly avoided) clash with Rome’s sentinel Colossus. Obviously potent artifacts, gleaned from a raid on Golan’s home palace, had to be jettisoned into the Apollo-gate before the Colossus could force a surely devastating confrontation. Fortunately, the party managed to secure the Eye of Trevize from the Emperor’s subconscious Tower of Brass despite the chaos. The party briefly encountered a group of six-armed alien creatures known as “The Destroyers.” Chalk-white and clothed in darkness, these six-armed creatures instilled obvious fear in the Tower’s reptilian denizens and promptly disintegrated the Tower just as the party escaped.

Subsequent parlay with Archon Delarmi revealed that the Emperor’s sudden disappearance had led to a power struggle in the capital, as certain urban religious leaders now vied to overthrow the Phoenix Order’s Imperium. Unable to commit to an all-out struggle with Salvor’s band (or overcome by the absurdity of negotiating with a twelve year-old boy, as J.C. used his telepathic powers to relay the tongue-less and voiceless Lord Protector’s thoughts), Delora temporarily withdrew her forces.

Salvor and Ahmed, seeing to their wounded and beginning to realize the difficulty they now faced in a city at war with itself, likewise withdrew and advanced to the Temple of Mars in search of the next Vitae. Bitter street battles withered their force, but the party managed to make the trek in a stolen air skiff. After entering the second portal, Ahmed and Salvor became lost in a frozen, snow-swept dreamscape. Initially following a set of giant sleigh-tracks, the inexperienced and disoriented trackers eventually stumbled upon a mountain chalet, occupied by none other than Phillipe Depardieu, the storied rebel Psion who defied Trevize’s will. Apparently, Phillipe had fallen into a mental trap while following a lead against Phoenix forces in Southern Capetia (France). The trap had literally subsumed Phillipe into Golan’s mind, in which the hapless Psion was forced to unwittingly live a false life: predictably, all for a girl: the roguish Parisien beauty Cassandra. Ahmed and Salvor trashed the psychic parasite that had posed as Phillipe’s lady-friend and revealed the truth of his predicament. They subsequently joined forces and trekked together into Trevize’s mental storm.

A strange journey led them across a broad swathe of Golan’s subconscious mindscape. After a brief jaunt over rough seas, the party arrived in a meme-theme resembling the Latian town of Florence circa 558 P.C.E. Here, they glimpsed three centuries into Trevize’s past and encountered him as a young boy. Upon learning that the young Golan had been mysteriously orphaned, the party encountered a mysterious spectacled noble, calling himself Kalix, who promised to take the boy and care for him. They refused to leave Golan to the care of the gaunt stranger and pledged to support Golan. With this promise, the party secured the Tongue of Trevize and emerged from a portal in the twin Temple of Honour and Virtue near Mt. Aventus.

At this point quite cut off from their men at the Temple of Mars, Salvor, Ahmed, and Phillipe crept overland through the streets of Rome. Upon rendezvousing with the gladiator forces, the party likewise crossed paths with Aran Lynch and a few other Special Servicemen under Julian’s command. Apparently Julian had made contact with the other party (consisting of Sebastien and Strider) near the city’s main Sky-Port Tower. Sebastien and Strider had obtained a lead on Parmezzius while infiltrating the Sky-Port. A search of the city’s travel logs indicated that Parmezzius had used a transport and gone to the Forum of Trevize (formerly the Forum of Rome). Following up on this contact, Julian’s agents soon learned that Sebastien and Strider had been apprehended in their assault on the Forum.
Lynch relayed this information to Ahmed, Phillipe, and Salvor, who promptly set out to rescue their captive allies. More vicious street fighting, followed by some impressive psionic pyrotechnics from Phillipe scattered an entire Praetorian squad and dispatched a number of bio-mechanical “War Dogs,” which now roamed the streets in force, dispensing indiscriminate death: apparently, Rome was now under an indefinite curfew. With night falling, Salvor et. al. went to work in earnest, storming the Forum of Trevize and overpowering the flight of Sky Centurions assigned to guard it. Swearing vengeance, Centurion Gaiseric withdrew from the field for a second time with an outmatched and severely demoralized cadre of followers.

Once freed, Sebastien and Strider proved invaluable in securing control of the Forum, as the now-combined party faced off against a horde of animated caryatid columns and a fearsome Crystal Golem (Psion-killer). In the wake of the battle, Strider took up the adamantine mace of the Roman Senate, a ceremonial weapon gifted to the Republic by none other than the heroic Lord Fredrick Brasden of old. The party also found a new ally in Senator Francesca Giotto’s faction of rebellious senators, a group of disaffected representatives of the old Republic, hostile to Golan’s Imperium. The political situation had apparently grown increasingly dire in only a matter of hours, as the party’s continued victories continued to undermine Phoenix authority and thus embolden the Imperium’s opponents. Redoubling his resolve to capture Parmezzius, who once again fled the scene, Strider prepared to set out for Parmezzius’ personal palace and research centre, The Baths of Trajan, which Senator Giotto now claimed to be Parmezzius’ current hideout.

An air of dissent overcame the reunited-yet-fractious party. Salvor would not trust Strider’s motives and Strider would not reveal the object of his quest to find Parmezzius. Unable to come to an agreement, Salvor flatly pledged to follow at Strider’s side until Parmezzius was found; the late Lord Protector would know Strider’s secret one way or another. Strider, threatening bloodshed in case his self-appointed chaperone should dare to offer opposition, relented and allowed Salvor to accompany him.

Morale low, tensions worn thin, the party proceeded to Trajan’s Forum, a bath house pleasure palace. A brief but bloody battle overcame Parmezzius’ Storm Sentinels and secured the unmanned palace gate. Perhaps fatigued from the fighting of the previous hour or perhaps frustrated by their own mutual mistrust, the party was subsequently unable to understand the riddle of Parmezzius’ Baths of Transference, a fact which only compounded their general dissatisfaction. After fighting through the courtyard, they came within the central manor of the sprawling bath complex to find it dark, dank, and seemingly abandoned. Passing by the unnaturally roiling waters of the palace’s central pool, the party approached a stairwell leading downward, below the complex.

Fate intervened to separate the party as a pit trap divided Salvor and Phillipe from Sebastien and the Strider. The separated parties independently completed the Battle of New York and AshramTemple Vitae quests. Then, subsequently, they rendezvoused in a mindscape of Trevize’s memory of his last moments spent aboard the God’s Hammer satellite. Golan joined his expanding thoughts to a machine known as the Worldmind which stretched his own mind outward across the world in search of more psions like himself with whom to converse and share a new dawn of human cooperation and understanding. Instead he found himself howling in pain on the floor and gasping the name “Bishop!”, all the while declaring: “He’s in the machine!” In a matter of moments Golan`s writhing body disappeared from view, psionically teleported away from the orbiting vessel. After witnessing this, the very moment of Golan’s corruption, the party realized the satellite had been damaged in the Worldmind`s malfunction and that its orbit was quickly decaying. On cue with the departure of Golan, even amidst this chaos, 3 Psy Weavers and 4 Cerebriliths emerged from the emperor’s tortured mind to attack the party.

After the battle, with catastrophic orbital decay seeming imminent, Archon Mako Kobayashi materialized within the mindscape to help save the PCs. He brought them back to his personal residence in Rome, where he’s secured the body of Trevize. Kobayashi went on to relate the worsening chaos of Rome’s civil war. He himself had now broken off from Caesara Morella and his fellow Archon Delora Delarmi, who had by this time countered the rising unrest and insurrection in Rome by declaring themselves emergency custodians of the Imperium and joint executive trustees of the Phoenix Order. For his own part, Kobayashi had come to the slow realization that for these past two decades of Empire and slaughter his master had been suffering a psychosis of some kind. Without the express will of Trevize to guide him, Kobayashi refused to follow the leadership of Morella and Delora, a duo unquestioningly devoted to the lowest directives of Golan`s perverted vision of global order.

The PCs proceeded to make e a truce with Kobayashi, who allowed the party to recover in his healing tanks and then teleported them to the Temple of Mars the Avenger for the final Vitae quest. The party had chosen not to pursue Parmezzius and instead elected to bring down the impenetrable shield surrounding the city and make a play for escape. After completing the quest, the party found itself beset by three centuries of roman soldiers backed by a coordinated complement of phoenix adepts. But with the shield now lowered, the party had a surprise of its own in the works as Denille Olivaw and Simon Lebeau teleported themselves into the action all the way from their hidden base in Ireland. Denille had been scrying the whereabouts of his allies and learned of their predicament days earlier. With the moment to strike at hand, he and Simon traversed the intervening miles using Olivaw`s vaunted Leyman magick and caught the Romans entirely off guard.

A final sky centurion helmet relayed communiqué from Julian Beech now revealed the location of Parmezzius and the rest of the Phoenix leadership. Now acting in direct mutiny against the will and authority of a newly revived Golan Trevize, Delora, Morella and their followers had absconded to Parmezzius`s secret Vatican laboratories beneath St. Peter`s Basilica. This was apparently the main research base of the nearly completed Flagullum project, the doomsday weapon that Salvor had warned of.

Each for his own reasons, the members of the party now converged upon the Vatican for a final showdown with Parmezzius and the Phoenix Order. After battling Archon Numa and a few scattered bands of roman soldiers, the party arrived at St. Peter`s square to face a mob of animated caryatids. Once within the basilica a deadly dragon engine threatened the party with fang and fire. Now as the party descended into the Vatican grottoes, they came upon a climactic battle as Trevize and Kobayashi pitted themselves against the rest of their erstwhile Phoenix Order allies. Incredibly, Golan Trevize stood before his foes powerless, void of all his once god-like psychokinetic prowess. The rending of his psychic Vitaes had left his mind something of a tabula rasa and so he faced the greatest battle of his life as nothing more than a man. But he was not alone. Along with Kobayashi and a handful of Praetorians loyal to the fatal end, the party counted themselves among the allies of Golan Trevize.

It seems the loss of his psionic capabilities triggered a change in Trevize’s psyche. After awakening from a stasis chamber in the inner sanctum of Kobayashi, his last faithful Archon, Trevize renounced the Phoenix Order and all the works he had wrought during his reign as emperor. Backed by Kobayashi’s personal cadre of loyal praetorians, Trevize marched on the mutineers’s hideout on Vatican hill in a doomed attempt to retake control of the Phoenix Order.

And yet the spectre of the once god-like scourge of Trevize loomed over the battle still, as an entity known to the Phoenix mutineers as the `Demi-Urge` gathered consciousness within the Vatican crypt chamber as a swirling anthropomorphic vortex of shadow casting darkness. This Demi-Urge represented the cast off leavings of Trevize`s corrupted and corrupting power. Whatever had tainted his mind on board God`s Hammer so many years ago lingered still and now haunted these very stones as a nightmare made real with all the vaunted powers of Golan Trevize at its disposal. The spectral Demi-Urge now sought a suitable host in which to fully manifest itself and continue the terror Trevize had so unwittingly set in motion and so it hid in the shadows of war as titanic forces struggled for dominance.

William Marshall re-emerged here as a twisted Blackguard, corrupted by the psychic domination of Archon Delora. He spurred his mutant war-charger into the party`s ranks slaying Simon Lebeau with a horrifying charge. The party countered in kind as Phillipe Depardieu unleashed his psychical fury against Archon Zozimus in a killing blow of shocking violence. Bodies dropped on all sides and the Phoenix forces readied themselves for retreat unwilling to risk further losses. All the while Parmezzius lurked in the background using his Phoenix masters in order to enact his own escape plan. For an instant, the party caught a glimpse of this shadow play as Face emerged briefly to bizarrely taunt the party with the sight of Jimmy Nails`s teleportation device. Sideshows aside, the climax of the battle came with the Demi-Urge`s sudden assault on Phillipe Depardieu. After the death of Zozimus, the Demi-Urge responded to Phillipe`s anger with the promise of limitless power. At the penultimate moment of contact, Golan Trevize hurled himself in the way of the onrushing Demi-Urge in an act of selfless courage. Devoid of psionic power, Golan`s form was rejected by the Demi-Urge and consumed in a maelstrom of psychokinetic fury. This fury shook the very foundations of the basilica and led to a massive cave-in. The party barely made it out alive with the assistance of Denille’s teleportation magic. Shortly thereafter the party revived the fast fading life of of Simon throught a potent miracle channeled through a reliquary fragment of the True Cross, a relic recovered during the party’s search of the Basilica.

Thus the Demi-Urge was hurled back into formless chaos unable to reform sentience by its own volition. And yet certainly it is only a matter of time before someone seeks a way to summon its dark power once more and offer it yet another chance to manifest. For now the raw power of the Demi-Urge has been channelled to the Roman sentinel colossus, which even now bears down upon the Britannian Expeditionary Force.

Now the Divine Emperor, Golan Trevize, is dead, perished in a fight against his own mutinous followers. His last lieutenant, Kobayashi, breathed his last here as well, fighting to the end until the loss of Trevize prompted him to simply wink out of existence, as the psychoportive nomad finally found freedom beyond the cumbersome shell of his mortal body.

During all of this another battle was being waged in the necropolis below. A separate party comprised of Jimmy Nails, Francois Belmont, Dah Moe, Hud vanDoren, and Nigel Seldon attempted to capture Parmezzius but failed to slip past the technomancer`s defenses. They had arrived at the Vatican under orders from Sir Julian just prior to the Phoenix`s first battle with Trevize`s forces and attempted to navigate the Phoenix base through stealth. Operational successes achieved in their earlier deactivation of the Milan Flagullum installation were not to be duplicated in Rome as Phoenix Arcani espionage agents thwarted their assault and repulsed them even as the other party`s defeat of the Demi-Urge in the grottoes above set off a series of earthquakes that ultimately cratered the basilica and its surrounding environs, thus forcing an emergency retreat.

The two parties are now about to converge at the BEF field camp north of Rome on the eve of what is sure to be a decisive battle for the future of Europa. But beyond hope for a military victory here and an end to the European War, the threat of the remaining Flagullum installations looms large to those who realize the truly global stakes at risk in the coming weeks and months. Even with Golan Trevize gone, his legacy remains in the twisted minds of his followers and his plans are thus still very much operational. Jimmy Nails turns attention to cracking the Phoenix data encryption protocols in order to glean where the Phoenix has built the remaining Flagullum devices, the true engines of destruction in the current struggle. And yet he must help ensure the survival of his allies in the inevitable Battle of Rome in order to ensure himself the manpower to actually engage the Phoenix Order in the coming battles abroad. Careful balancing of time and resources is required, especially with the Golden Empire nearly brought to its knees and the momentum of the war seeming ready to shift.

Comments

harold_may

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.