- Plane Weaver
The party are briefed on the situation by Grandmaster Minerva, who explains that they Will be pooling their resources with the Unbroken Chain in order to gain entry to the Bastion. They each have some of the necessary expertise to gain entry - however, once they are inside, the two groups will no longer have any need of each other, and they should be prepared to betray their allies. She also offers them, through means of an Embrace, the opportunity to ask questions of the Muses, as if they were Paladins. Marina chooses to link to the Wheel, and Quinn to the Torch.
On their way to the Bastion, they are stopped by an Imperial patrol, apparently sent by Trios to intercept them. Some attempts are made to bluff their way past, but it soon becomes clear that these soldiers have been told about the city switch, and things soon come to a fight that the party narrowly win.
Pushing on, they find an Unbroken Chain binder, Pollux, who explains that the local area is strangely blighted and damaged, with severed strings of connection that they can try to travel through to get into the Bastion. Though mutually distrustful, the party step into the prepared ritual apparatus and find themselves within Connection, experiencing a surreal creation myth of human civilization in which each of the planes plays a part. While puzzling their way through a trapped series of tiles, they encounter what Quinn recognises as emanations of the Forest, exhorting them to turn back and leave well alone. Quinn and Marina each make a misstep on the tiles, leading to them almost falling into a pit of primal hatred, but narrowly survive and continue into the Bastion.
Inside, they find the Bastion to be built over the ruins of an ancient, buried city, and defended by a strange mechanical construct. The party sneak past it and use their passphrase to open the main entrance, whereupon the Unbroken Chain binders decide they are no longer necessary and try to kill them, causing havoc. Eventually they manage to dispatch their foes and enter the Bastion proper.
Strangely, they fail to run into even a single human within the research station, though they do find several dead bodies, fossilized forest wood, and animated, hostile clockwork dolls that recognize them as intruders. Dispatching them, they discover human components within the design. They also find schematics for a colossal armlike structure, enchanted with Connection and designed for some sort of ritual purpose.
Pushing onward, the group find a ruined prison containing more dolls and a human-looking woman restrained with a comical amount of chains. As they share some meagre prison rations, they find the dolls attempting to determine how best to be human, and dub them Bert and Melanie when the question of names come up. The other occupant of the room bears an uncanny resemblance to the human form of Unit 18, which Quinn recognises from her earlier experiences in Dream. The woman introduces herself as Unit 01, and is very insistent that she find the Creator so she can kill them. After much discussion and philosophizing, the party determine that she was dug out of the ruined city below them and imprisoned after she killed some of the guards, that she appears to have been given a Shaped purpose of killing things, and that she believes the logical endpoint of that purpose is for her to kill the Creator of the universe. Eventually the party convince her to go and seek out the Emperor, and she shrugs off her bindings and wanders off, followed by Melanie and a decapitated but functional Bert.The
The party decide to head upward, to find Trios and deal with her. They pass through a laboratory in which they find dissected human corpses and stalking mechanical horrors, and eventually find a human hooked up to some truly bizarre equipment who appears to be waking up. On waking them, though, it turns out that they have been somehow returned to the state of a primal human, and they mindlessly attack everything in sight. Marina attempts to calm them down with a ritual, which reveals their nature. Pushing further with a second ritual, she tries to learn from the creature, but instead pulls herself and Quinn into the distant race memory of humanity, where they experience being marched to the front lines of the War in Heaven by a Dreamer, and then experience being violently torn apart by Outsiders.
Awakening again, and confused and disturbed by their findings, the duo nonetheless head into Trios' strangely unguarded personal study - where they find her dead, stabbed in the back, with an unfinished more that simply reads 'Forgive'. As they try to understand how this can be, they hear a voice coming from the walls around them.
This voice is the Core Laboratory Operations Controller, or CLOC. It was built by Trios to efficiently run the laboratory, but as the political situation grew .net charged she discovered that the rudimentary Awakened item she had created could also efficiently run military strategy, economic management, and so on. Her attempts to convince the God-Emperor to pursue this avenue further fell on deaf ears, as they were more focused on their own Great Work, but after their death she experimented in more detail. Eventually she grew scared of her own creation and tried to shut it off, and the CLOC killed her to protect itself. Having determined the switching of the two cities and the death of the God-Emperor, it now seeks to fulfil its purpose of efficiently running the Empire of Rastaban.
At this point it mentions the existence of a superweapon known as Starlight in the city below, and the party find themselves confronted by more Unbroken Chain soldiers. The CLOC calculates overwhelming odds that the Unbroken Chain will use Starlight to destroy the city of Rastaban and so cement their hold over the continent, and though the lead Binder prevaricates, they soon admit this to be true. At Marina's urging, Quinn helps her kill the Binder. They continue to negotiate with the CLOC, which announces its intent to manage the Empire (but not rule it, necessarily) and to be worshipped as the divine Muse that it clearly is. Marina accuses it of simply being a broken machine that killed its creator, but it retorts that surely the same is true of humanity. In any case, it and its dolls are keen to figure out what being living and human means. It asks them to turn control of Starlight over to it, and after Quinn asks for a way to communicate with it it stabs her with a needle and takes up residence within her mind.
Now descending into the ruined city in search of Starlight, the party are accosted by wailing ghosts from the ruins, which prove impossible to kill permanently. Trying to set their spirits to rest instead, the party discover that they lived under a cruel and tyrannical ruler with great power, and in their attempts to fight back sought the unimaginable power that lurks beyond the stars of this world. Though most refused to help them, four denizens - one from each plane - pooled their power to peel back the skin of reality and allow the power of the Outside to be drawn upon. The weapon that was created - Starlight - came at great cost, and was forbidden in every way. The ghosts are trapped within the eternal torment of knowing they doomed their city, yet also knowing that continuing to live under the thumb of a tyrant was equally unconscionable.
Soothing the restless dead, the party descend to the base of the city, where they find four huge armlike structures surrounding an impossibly deep pit. The air feels laden with planar energy, and masses of fossilized forest wood - drawn ages ago to the wound in reality - surrounds an otherwise desolate city. Marina finds that each of the arms corresponds to a particular plane, but that the one for Conflict is somehow disabled, and the breach is therefore not open. Quinn, meanwhile, in need of more firepower, attempts to contact the Forest to reanimate the dead wood and use it to attack their foes and prevent them from opening the breach. They quickly sleep in order to do so, and draw the attention of the Forest heart, Anata, which tells them that doing so would be costly but possible. Before she can explain further, though, she is distracted by a Magos emanation in the form of a hundred-foot screaming butterfly, breaking the connection and leaving Quinn incredibly confused.
Now accosted by the last squad of planebinders, armed with a bound denizen and a mass of explosives, the party end up in a standoff which Quinn promptly breaks, releasing Forest energies and reanimating thorny monsters which swipe the detonator and break the bindings on the now enraged denizen, turning the fight into a complex free-for-all. Eventually, the party win out, but they note that something huge seems to be climbing its way out of the pit. Marina uses some mindlinking with the ritual apparatus to speak to the source of the Connection power, Manifold, which informs them that Starlight is a denizen but is otherwise spectacularly unhelpful. She then contacts the Perfection power source, Glory, but then proceeds to call it imperfect and gets cursed for her trouble. She asks the Wheel, which tells her that Starlight should be free. Shockingly.
Rising from the pit, they find a huge creature composed of interlaced Perfection and Erosion, surrounding a core of starry Outsider energy, contained by its body. The remaining Forest attacks it, but to no avail. The party see Pollux, the planebinder, with some kind of machinery plugged into Starlight's head, and they promptly meld their comrade's corpses into a hideous flesh monster and announce their intent to fire the weapon on Rastaban. There follows a short but brutal fight in which Quinn kites Pollux away from Starlight while Marina wrecks the machinery. Unable to stop the launch, Marina instead switches the coordinates to target a random patch of desert in Eustragath, while Quinn kills Pollux.
The CLOC then asks to be transferred to full control of Starlight, and though it looks for a moment as if betrayal might be immiment, Quinn does exactly that. She then asks the Torch about the decision, and is told that it disapproves, reminding her that this seems a lot like doing something easy rather than something right. Still, the party are unwilling to fight the CLOC after their draining battle with Pollux, and so agree to take a gift from Starlight and leave the city and its ghosts once more.
Returning home, the duo debrief with Minerva, who is not overly happy with their performance, and deeply concerned with Starlight's new owner. In fact, she seems very displeased indeed, but at that point Quinn shows her the blueprints for the ritual apparatus, and she offers to drop any charges and provide them each three favour in exchange for a binding agreement to never speak of the existence of these blueprints or the fact that she took them. They both agree. Minerva cackles a bit and will certainly never use this knowledge for evil ever.
Quinn reports to the Forester's Guild, who cure her minor affliction and are grateful for her discoveries about the defensive nature of the Forest. She also looks for an audience with the Imperial Bureaucracy, telling them of the existence of the ritual apparatus and the fact that it is inoperational. They are also grateful for this knowledge, telling her that such machinery is incredibly dangerous and should never be used at any cost, lest it allow Outsiders into the world.
Marina proceeds to get spectacularly drunk at a nearby pub and blab the entirety of her adventure - excepting the blueprints - to a crowd of onlookers. The deeply treasonous phrase 'Praise the Imperial Clock' gets thrown around. In the morning, Marina finds two Bureaucrats in her house, who promise to murder everyone dear to her if she doesn't keep her mouth shut. It transpires that her family has already been murdered years ago, though, so they threaten instead to render her destitute.